“Unless this really is just an argument about climate change.” Andrew Coyne concluded an argument in favour of carbon taxes with this withering dismissal of doing nothing in the face of a universally acknowledged crisis. To deny it you’d have to be from outer space. What a coincidence.
If we’re not arguing about climate change, I’d sure like to be. And though I’m not from outer space, certain eccentricities notwithstanding, some important evidence is. Including warming on Mars, Jupiter, Pluto and Triton during the sun’s late-20th-century hyperactive phase. Voters there seem uninterested in curbing their gas consumption. But the evidence I currently have in mind is from closer to home.
It’s from satellites. They’re up in space and looking at the Earth and one thing they’re looking for is this famous warming of which the models have long spoken. And having trouble finding it.
Now you might be wondering why they’re bothering to look. To hear proponents talk, a crisis of man-made global warming is an established fact. We know temperatures are rising, they say, we know humans are causing it, they say, and we know it’s having a disastrous impact already, they say. But how do we know any of these things?
Well, as to the disastrous impact, once you get past the lurid stuff about New York City being overrun with rats or the supersized poison ivy, it comes down to a supposed spike in floods, rain, drought, forest fire, hurricanes and other bad stuff, part of the dogma of climate change to the effect that all effects of warming are bad, and bad things, no matter how common they used to be, are now only an effect of warming.
Journalists speak uncritically and apparently without fact-checking about “the rash of floods and forest fires across the country” while even Doug Ford’s minister of the environment calls climate change a “critical issue that we must deal with”. But as I’ve already noted we have good records of extreme weather at least in the last 50 years or so and quite simply it hasn’t increased. Not even the IPCC says it has.
Which downgrades the situation from “disaster is occurring” to “disaster might one day occur”. Though again on the unproven, implausible and circular theory that warming never improves weather because warming is bad because it causes bad weather and therefore it will cause bad weather.
So what about the human impact on whatever is happening? Again it’s far from clear. We know temperatures have fluctuated cyclically through the Holocene since the last glaciation ended 12,000 years ago (as well as semi-cyclically throughout the past 500 million years, though also very erratically). We believe the cycles have on the whole been trending downward since the Holocene Climatic Optimum some 9,000 to 5,000 years ago on various grounds including that as glaciers retreated in the 19th and 20th century they uncovered tree stumps from Roman times. But we’ve been on an upward part of the cyclical pattern since the mid-19th century and so it’s problematic to ascribe whatever warming has occurred since 1950 to a different cause than the previous century or so.
The reference to “whatever warming has occurred since 1950” might seem a blasé dismissal of a scary upward spike. But here things get even murkier. We think we’ve seen mild warming since Prince Albert’s day because thermometers tell us so. But thermometers have changed, like a great many other technologies, since the Steam Age so the record is not seamless. (Ocean water temperature records are even more problematic). Moreover, we tend to measure temperature in cities because we live there, and we know cities trap heat locally, meaning part of the increase is definitely an artifact.
So we’ve looked for other ways to measure temperature and one that’s become possible thanks to new technology is satellites. And what have they to say?
Oh dear. They say the models are wrong. They look where the models say the impact of warming should be strongest, in the lowest layer of the atmosphere in tropical regions, and find very little. Even worse, according to meteorologist John Christy of the University of Alabama at Huntsville, which maintains the best if most controversial satellite temperature data series, the models that best match what the satellites are seeing are the ones that say GHGs have no impact on global temperature.
The models are, of course, being revised. To predict even more warming. So someone’s lost in space. But just maybe it’s not me.