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The" Null Hypothesis" - that such climate change that is occurring is natural and not man-made - "Remains Unfalsified"
, 29 May 2010
This review is from: Climate: the Counter-consensus (Independent Minds) (Paperback)
I can't think of when I last read a book that started with an introductory essay by the publisher to explain why he had persuaded - reading between the lines, brow beaten? - the author into accepting a title for his book that he not only didn't like but with which he may positively have disagreed But that's how this one starts - and Bob Carter goes on in the book, inter-alia, to remind us repeatedly why the idea of consensus - pro or counter - has no place in science. While he does report many arguments by other climate change sceptics to disprove theories by "alarmists", he is very careful not to suggest that these constitute a consensus - scientists who seek to disprove the so-called "consensus" do not need to agree with each other.
The author identifies three "realities" of climate change, which he calls the science reality, the virtual reality and the public reality, and he examines these in turn. The first four chapters are devoted the examining the science, and much of the material here will be well know to anyone who has followed the climate change debate. Carter is a paleoclimatologist, and specifically an expert in the climate records from the oceans, and is therefore very much within his area of expertise when he examines evidence for temperature and CO2 concentrations over geological timescales and from oceanic sources. He concludes that there is no evidence that late twentieth century temperatures or rates of change were exceptional in a historical context, and points out that the world appears actually to have been cooling since 1998.
In the two chapters on the "virtual reality" Carter exposes the limited value of the computer models on which most "alarmist" arguments are founded. While the basic argument is not new - see for example the Pilkey's excellent book on modelling - Carter cites numerous papers challenging individual assertions in the IPCC's reports and brings it all together clearly and concisely. He suggests that in the absence of compelling empirical evidence that mankind's activities are changing climate at anything more than a local level, the "null hypothesis" that they are not - and therefore that any global climate changes are natural in origin - should stand.
Dr Carter suggests that there are more than 100 sub-disciplines of climate science, and that like most other climate scientists, he has deep expertise in at most two or three of them. The remainder of the book is devoted to examining the "public reality", and here it must be pointed out that he writes not so much as a scientific expert but rather as a layman. I found this to be the most interesting part of the book, with Carter exposing how politics has come to dominate a supposedly scientific debate. He is surprisingly measured in his choice of language, and if I have one disappointment about style it is that Dr Carter does not write with the same engaging and outspoken humour with which he speaks about these subjects; if you haven't already done so, look for his videos on You Tube (search for "Bob Carter torpedoes", for example) and you'll see what I mean. Perhaps he is keen to avoid any suggestion of the ad hominem and belittling attacks that have been a feature of climate debate.
If there is one omission, then I think that it is this. Carter frequently refers to the step-change in global temperature as a result of the El Nino "event" of 1998, and he mentions several other oceanic systems that might have similar effects. As a scientist who has studied the oceans over millennia, he would have been well placed to give us an explanation (or perhaps several alternative ones) of where the energy that can cause such step changes comes from.
Carter points to evidence that the world may now be set for a longer period of cooling, and that that may be rather more harmful than increasing temperatures would be. He suggests, therefore, that national climate policies should be designed not to reduce CO2 emissions nor to stop the warming of the planet - which is a futile objective whatever the cause - but to deal more effectively with such changes as do occur: with storms, droughts and other natural calamities, and with the effects of temperatures changes, be they higher or lower. And, he suggests on the final page in an argument similar to Bjorn Lomborg's, it would be beneficial to take that quarter of the world's population that is suffering conditions of poverty out of that situation not just because that is a worthy aim in itself but because they would then be able to contribute better to the world's wealth and thus its ability to adapt to whatever changes come our way.
I was hoping for the "page turner" impact of anther book in this Stacey International Independent Minds series, "The Hockey Stick Illusion" by A. W. Montford, but this one didn't quite deliver it. It's not a dry book, however, and is well worth the read if you are interested in the "global warming" debate. Sadly, I expect, it will be read primarily by the "climate rationalists", as Carter describes them, and not the "alarmists". We shall have to wait and see whether Carter is right that the former are now winning the debate.
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