OCCASION, INCLUDING words. Something in us insists that we take verbal shortcuts. Nicknames. Abbreviations. Shorthand of extended phrasing. Take global warming.
The full descriptive phrase for the topic on everyone's lips these days is Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW). This is a very specific subset of a broader concept, also called (confusingly enough), Global Warming. The generic Global Warming (GW) is a pretty well-established fact that the earth is warmer today than it was a various specific times and in general epochs in the past. Most folks probably think of the subject, if they do at all, in terms of: there is "now", and before "now" there was "The Ice Age." "Now" takes on the elastic characteristic of consisting of any time from now-now back to "a long time ago" when ice sheets had recently covered the earth to miles thick. Describing this period, it seems witless to assert that the earth has not warmed in general. It would be equally witless to insist that all locations on the globe have forever and uniformly warmed since that earlier epoch. The atmosphere is nowhere that uniform.
But the topic of our muttons is the former concept (and this is essential): Catastrophic warming. Anthropogenic warming. And Global warming. In order to meet the tautological definition of its terms, the phenomenon must rest on all four legs of the stool.
It must be catastrophic in that it must cause, on balance, more harm than good, and a great harm -- a harm that could conceivably mean the death or thrusting into misery of millions, perhaps the entire population of the world. If not that, then to whom or what is as yet undefined. Humanity, it appears, must be on the hook for the continued well-being and survival of no less entity than the whole planet. Burdened with such a weight, indeed might Atlas shrug.
Agronomists assure us that average increases in both CO2 and temperature most definitely will lead to increases in the vitality of plant life, including crops. Life would seem to become more-pleasant in warmer climes. Rarely does someone from the Carribean retire to the Yukon. Rather, the traffic is far greater the other direction -- north-to-south. Myriad other benefits may be predicted to attend.
Against this, we are forewarned of various phenomena: rising sea levels, increased storm activities, the spread of tropical disease vectors (mostly mosquitos, it appears) to temperate zones, drought, death from dehydration and starvation, massive migrations and social disruption. I may be straw-manning this argument a tad. These are what I have heard to be those threats argued to be the major threats facing mankind from CAGW. If my understanding is accurate, then the threats are largely chimerical. They are highly unlikely to eventuate. It's particularly amusing that urban sophisticates pushing this nonsense seem unaware of the ironic fact that most polities north of about the 45th parallel claim as their "state bird" the lowly mosquito. If the spread of mosquitos is a major threat of global warming -- sorry, too late. And so-forth. There are other arguments in the warmists' argumentarium, but I have not heard them voiced very often.
In order to match the predictions, the warming must be anthropogenic. This relies on the knowledge that humanity's activities do, indeed, "spill" carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but also on ignorance as to the minuscule amount in comparison to the whole this represents, the limits on the process (the greater the CO2 concentration, the less the incremental effect on warming -- in the laboratory, at least), and on the nature of natural feedback, which governs complex systems. Indeed, the warmistas have to go through incredible contortions, assume grand effects which are evident nowhere in nature (the catch phrase: Name three positive feedback systems in nature. Get back to me on that when you’re done.), and assume the worst-case scenario in any given set of circumstancs. Only the last should not be seen as prima facie evidence of intent to defraud, but only when it stands alone. In train to the others, well... It can in no way be demonstrated that mankind is the primary or only driver of warming.
But even so ... so what? (See "catastrophic" above.)
And, in order to match the predictions, the warming must be global. It does no good -- and a great deal of mischief -- to claim on the basis of suspect instrument readings (ably explained by Dr. Pournelle here) that the average of readings shows a warming trend. First, it commits the common category error in confusing the map with the ground it purports to represent. The best map is still only a guide. To claim that a map is an accurate depiction of its subject is purest sophistry. We know for a fact that there are vast swathes of the earth's surface where there is no temperature record at all, and that the rest of the record is rife with siting bias, observation errors, and the simple fact that the "network" of reporting stations was intended as neither a network nor a record of climate -- and, as such, is so close to useless for the purpose as to obviate the whole question.
Therefor, we cannot say with any reasonable degree of certitude that the earth has warmed or cooled to any degree (pun int) of precision. We cannot even honestly say what the earth's temperature is. If you don't know where you are or where you've been, how in hell are you abe to say where you're going?
Which brings us to the last leg of the stool: warming. In order for Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming to prove true, the planet must definitely be shown to be warming. It's a pretty safe bet, but it is far from a surety. The only way that it can be shown at all is by way of some pretty suspect statistical tricks. Depending on the end points you pick, over the last 150 years, the actual instrument record shows either warming or cooling of less than the amount the "trick" referred to in the ClimateGate emails imposes on that record. Less than, if memory serves, one fifth as much. The cooling apparently evident in satellite records (which are somewhat more reliable in their coverage and lack of bias, but less so in that they are calibrated by the same surface record we find so lacking) over the last decade is, it would seem, greater than the claimed warming over the previous century. So... if, when the phenomenon was first brought to public attention in the 1908's, the warming thus putatively observed were true, it would now seem to have gone away. And by no correlation with human activity whatsoever, let alone with CO2 concentrations, which have steadily risen over the same period. (at least, as far as we can tell from observations downwind of volcanoes -- any one of which can swamp human exhalations with CO2 in a single eruption).
For the topic at hand to justify of all the sturm und drang, all of the proposed theft of wealth from helpless citizens in richer nations, to be showered on tin-pot dictators and other kleptocrats, the total dislocation and disruption of the world economy, the death, starvation and disease that will surely result from it, it must demonstrate clearly and unequivocally: Catastrophic. Anthropogenic. Global. Warming.
It has not been demonstrated that the phenomenon exists. It is not incumbent upon those who defend themselves, their lives, their families, their wallets from predatory statists to prove that this is so. It is required of the warmists that they prove their contention. They. Have. Not.
At this point in the discussion, in fact, it should be incumbent upon the warmists to demonstrate why they should not be held liable for criminal prosecution for their attempts to defraud the nations of the world, induce panic, and pull off the most colossal scam of all time -- and to hell with proving global warming.
Cross-posted to Eternity Road.
Originally appeared December 14, 2009.