“Changing climate” or “Human caused climate change”?

Committe Hearing UN Climate Pledge

Today I watched the archived webcast of the Full Committee Hearing – The President’s UN Climate Pledge: Scientifically Justified or a New Tax on Americans? with the statements of Dr. Judith Curry, Karen Harbert, Jake Schmidt and Dr. Margo Thorning, followed by a question-answer session. At first it seemed less interesting, I heard such statements before and the Q&A session started a bit dull. However, my interest quickly raised when Mr. Beyer (Representative Virginia) asked some questions to Dr. Curry about her statements. I found his questions very interesting because it clearly showed how his beliefs prevented him from understanding the presented arguments.

Let’s look at his questions:

I found myself deeply troubled by Dr. Curry’s written and oral testimony. and I respect your career and your academic background and am grateful that you are here. But I found your testimony just full of internally conflicting facts and opinions and in almost total conflict with everything I read in the last 15 years in every journal that I could get my hands on.

That is strange. I had read the written testimony and heard the oral testimony, yet didn’t find “conflicting facts and opinions”. Her story made sense. I think that the confusion came from a misunderstanding of the skeptical argument by the different definition he uses. He continues:

So let me offer three examples and ask Dr. Curry for a response.

First, you are highly critical of the precautionary principle. By the way, there is a third option out there: we do nothing and the worst happens and we are embarrassed for the generations to come because we didn’t react. But…

That third option was a reference to the two possible consequences that Dr. Curry was talking about just before that. The first was spending all that money and nothing happens with the climate, which means an opportunity loss. The second is that if the climate turns out worse, then we get inadequate solutions, damaged economies and technologies that aren’t up to scratch. The third option proposed by Mr. Beyer is indeed a possibility, as is: we wrecked our economy, leaving the next generation with a deep debt and are embarrassed for the generations to come for our gullibility.
Whether we take action, or don’t take action, we could potentially be embarrassed for generations to come.

You are highly critical to the precautionary principle. you said, quote:
“extensive costs and questions of feasibility are inadequate for making a meaningful dent in slowing down the expected warming. And the real societal consequences of climate change and extreme weather events (whether caused by humans or natural variability) remain largely unaddressed.”

Second, you, …, quoted from your written testimony, quote:
“Is it possible that something really dangerous and unforeseen could happen to Earth’s climate during the 21st century? Yes, it is possible, but natural climate variability […let me emphasize…] perhaps in conjunction with human-caused climate change, may be a more likely source of possible undesirable change than human causes. In any event, attempting to avoid such a dangerous and unforeseen climate by reducing fossil fuel emissions will be futile if natural climate is a dominant factor”.

As far as I can see, these two statements are not inconsistent. They actually say the same thing: extreme events will happen regardless of our influence and in deep uncertainty the better option would be to strengthen our resilience.

The emphasized part is not necessarily an admission that humans have a dominant effect on climate. It is not because humans have an influence on climate that this is significant. Also here, it is better to work on resilience than on a high cost, inadequate solution.

Then the very next page:
“Climate change may exacerbate environmental problems that are caused by overpopulation, poorly planned land-use and over-exploitation of natural resources. However, it is very difficult to separate out the impacts of human caused climate change from natural climate change and from other societal impacts.

I don’t think that is inconsistent either. The same here, that climate change can worsen other environmental problems doesn’t necessarily mean it is significant. However, I could imagine that it could be perceived inconsistent when one is sure that humans are the dominant factor in the changing climate. Certainly when one believes it is catastrophically.

So does it really make a difference. We can’t change sun spots, ocean circulation, or even cloud cover. But we can impact the human caused part of this wicked problem.

That is reducing the “wicked” problem to a “tame” problem, yet still calling it a “wicked” one.

And finally at the end of your testimony you say:
“There is reason to be concerned about climate change”
what sorts undoes the first eight pages,

No, it isn’t. The problem here is that both have a different definition of “climate change” and therefor are not talking about the same thing.

Uncertainty is a two edged sword; future climate outcome may be better or worse than currently believed.
Then you propose more different set of solution based on climate pragmatic, accelerated energy innovation, building resilience to extreme weather and no-regret pollution reduction.

That seems reasonable to me. If there is uncertainty about the problem (and about the solution as well) and we know that extreme events will happen again in the future, it is better to strengthen us against them. Pursuing a costly solution with unknown consequences and outcome is not a logical thing to do when there are clear dangers that we are sure of will cross our path.

So it almost like Climate Change is real, but let’s not talk about fossil fuel burning and the impact on green house gases and what it does on all this.

Well, climate change is real, but Dr. Curry is talking about a changing climate while he is taking about human caused climate change. The first one is real, for sure. The second one we are a lot less sure about.

The answer of Dr. Curry on these questions was:

Okay, the confusion is this: scientifically the term “climate change” means a “change in climate”. And it changed for the past four billion year or so. This whole issue of human caused climate change is a relatively recent notion. So climate is always changing and it is going to change in the future. The issue is how much of the change is caused by humans. We don’t know. We don’t know what the 21th century holds. Climate change may be really unpleasant and that may happen independently of anything that humans do. My point is that we don’t know how much humans are influencing climate and whether it is going to dominate in the 21th century. Given that we don’t know this, we are still going to see extreme weather events, whether or not humans are influencing the climate. This is what I am talking about, that we really don’t know how the 21th century climate is going to play out and that we should figure out how to reduce our vulnerabilities whatever might happen and that includes extreme weather events that are going to happen regardless whether humans are influencing climate change.

My impression is that they both start from different perspectives. Beyer starts from a certainty that this (expensive) pledge will be effective in countering our influence. That is what the (scientists in the) media are telling him and he has no reason to doubt the majority.

Dr. Curry starts from an uncertainty, the topic is incredible complex and the future uncertain. That is what the observations show and she has no reason to doubt that either.

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