A couple of weeks ago I wrote concerning the then forthcoming 6th International Climate Change Conference hosted by the Heartland Institute (with many co-sponsors including the NCPA). I said at the time, that people interested in the current state of climate science or politics should attend live or in person. I couldn’t have been more right. The conference had a number of informative, fascinating and entertaining discussions concerning various aspects of climate science. The general consensus was that there is still a lot we don’t know and can’t explain about how the climate works. As importantly, the conference presenters and participants generally agree: 1) there is certainly little evidence that a climate disaster caused by human activities in the offing based on current evidence; and 2) that since catastrophic harms from future warming are highly uncertain, indeed, unlikely, that massive government interventions in our personal and economic lives are unwarranted.
While there were many fine presentations I want to focus my comments primarily on two presentations by the same speaker, Colorado State University’s Scott Denning. Denning was a lively and engaging speaker – he put on an entertaining performance and much of what he had to say struck home – particularly his admonition to be skeptical and follow the scientific method. However, his presentation fell apart on one critical – the critical – point. Denning argued that understanding climate change was easy. For Denning, global warming is all about “Heat, heat in and heat out.” Denning, argues that all you need to know to predict climate change is how much heat is coming into and out of a system, and in the case of anthropogenic warming, since we know that increasing CO2 keeps more heat in the system, he argues, that we know how much energy (heat) should be emitted for per volume of CO2 increase: it’s been known since 1863. More CO2 (pick your level) = More trapped heat (warming). Simple, huh! Just one problem, this may be true in a closed system where CO2 and radiant heat are the only variables, but the Earth’s atmosphere is not a closed system and there are a variety of variables that add heat and take heat CO2 from the earths atmosphere. Indeed, if it was as simple as add CO2, calculate temperature change the models wouldn’t consistently get the predicted rise in temperature wrong. The models don’t accurately represent past and present temperatures based on known CO2 levels – thus they can’t be trusted to predict future temperatures based on estimated CO2 levels.
As was hammered home again and again by other scientists in attendance and on the podium, the earth’s climate appears to be much less sensitive to increased CO2 levels than either the models or Denning’s simple physics predict. This should not be surprising since the IPCC admits that it has low or, at best medium, understanding of the majority of the factors that push temperature up or down.
And if we know very little about the basic science of climate and the role humans can or might be playing in it, we know vastly less about the various types of results that might obtain if a modest warming were to continue (or restart – since we’ve had virtually no warming for 10+ years), whether they will be bad or good, and for whom and how bad or good? And we know less still about the types of benefits or harms that might result from public policy efforts to prevent anthropogenic climate change (if, or to the extent, it is occurring). All we can say with some certainty is that they will be expensive and raise energy prices. Whether that expense will reduce warming (if that’s a good thing for humans overall), and whether the benefits from the response will outweigh the expense is more than an open question. While various independent economic analyses indicate that the harms from proposed climate remedies will outweigh the measurable benefits, since we can’t say with any confidence if the climate will continue warming or by how much and what the results of further warming will be, and to what extent policy responses will mitigate the harms (or reduce the benefits), we can’t be sure of much – other than costs. A carbon tax, cap-and-trade, direct regulation or government technology mandates, whatever the policy or mix of policies chosen, will be expensive. How expensive, what or how great a benefit (or harm) produced; all up in the air!
I encourage all interested parties to view the available videos.