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Climate skepticism: The top 10

BBC News – November 12, 2007

If you are a global warming skeptic (or if you deal with one regularly), you need to read this article on BBC. It covers a claimed top ten reasons that skeptics likely cite regarding global warming and then gives a short reason why the excuse is not valid.

I think that the list doesn’t include one of the toughest arguments. The cost of preventing global warming may exceed the benefit. This is a particularly gruesome argument and I don’t personally subscribe to it but it is a difficult argument to counter. Using today’s technology, the only real way to reduce carbon dioxide production is to significantly reduce the standard of living of industrialized countries and emerging industrialized countries. While this doesn’t sound so terrible the logical outcome of this is to also reduce the the benefits from that standard of living (quantity of food produced, availability of health care, etc.). It is fairly well documented that in times of severe economic hardship, people will die. If fighting global warming results in more deaths than not fighting it – is it worth it?

I point out the above argument because the first fallacy of this top 10 list is that it is a top 10.  Several of the points on the list are obviously not credible arguments against global warming and so I question the list. Interesting that RealClimate also complains that it is a simplistic list.

Rather than give the BBC counter-claims for each point I encourage you to go to the source (link below). Here is the list and a few comments from me on their conclusions. I am kind of hard on BBC because most of their list would not make an educated global warming denier list and the ones that are brought up repeatedly, the BBC didn’t do a great job of refuting.  Granted the scope of their article was to respond in about one paragraph and that simply is not enough room to make any convincing or complete discussion.

1. EVIDENCE THAT THE EARTH’S TEMPERATURE IS GETTING WARMER IS UNCLEAR

I don’t know anyone credible that is denying that Earth is slightly increasing in temperature.

2. IF THE AVERAGE TEMPERATURE WAS RISING, IT HAS NOW STOPPED

This claim isn’t valid from either side. Making any conclusions on less than 10 years worth of data is absolutely bogus since it is too susceptible to annual variations. Interestingly, a skeptic arguing for 2 cannot argue for 1 since the arguments are self-eliminating.

3. THE EARTH HAS BEEN WARMER IN THE RECENT PAST

BBC’s answer on this one is kind of weak.

4. COMPUTER MODELS ARE NOT RELIABLE

BBC really didn’t refute this one and I still don’t like computer models. I think that it is a cop out to say that we can’t do better in this area. We need to invest more heavily in our modeling before we invest in possible solutions that may not affect the outcome. If we are going to invest 1 trillion dollars on global warming prevention, it seems a safe bet to me that we invest 100 million dollars to make sure that we understand the true problem, the vast majority of its causes, and the vast majority of its effects.

5. THE ATMOSPHERE IS NOT BEHAVING AS MODELS WOULD PREDICT

This is basically the same arguments at 4 and the BBC answer doesn’t seem to address the issue.

6. CLIMATE IS MAINLY INFLUENCED BY THE SUN

I have seen the BBC argument before and from what I could tell, it is based on computer modeling.  So if BBC doesn’t make a good argument on 4 & 5 then 6 falls apart as well. Also, much of the sun argument has to do with cosmic rays and this isn’t covered by BBC and it is not taken into account in most (all?) climate models.

7. A CARBON DIOXIDE RISE HAS ALWAYS COME AFTER A TEMPERATURE INCREASE NOT BEFORE

I agree that it is largely true and largely irrelevant as the BBC states. However, it is a huge portion of the argument that Mr. Gore makes in his award winning film “An Inconvenient Truth”. The skeptic argument only makes sense in the context of the inaccurate “insinuation” by Mr. Gore that history has proven that warming is caused increased carbon dioxide. If you read this site regularly, you know that Mr. Gore didn’t actually say it was the cause but he insinuated it.

8. LONG-TERM DATA ON HURRICANES AND ARCTIC ICE IS TOO POOR TO ASSESS TRENDS

I don’t get it.  BBC says that the data is not complete but that is okay since the small amount of data agrees with the hypothesis so we can include it as fact. Bad argument. The reality is that we don’t know enough about hurricanes and arctic ice to use it as a gauge and just because the short term analysis agrees with something does not prove causation or linkage. This is the same basic argument that is used by both sides: “here is a small amount of data that agrees with what I am saying therefore what I am saying is correct.”  This is simply bad logic, bad math, and bad science.

9. WATER VAPOUR IS THE MAJOR GREENHOUSE GAS; CO2 IS RELATIVELY UNIMPORTANT

Water vapor is the major greenhouse gas.  There is no question about that.

I am not sure where the 98% claim came from as it is simply not true. This is a molecular thermodynamic problem that can be understood fairly easily although the actual number is a little hard to get at since the atmosphere is so big and its influences and responses are not totally understood. RealClimate.org supposedly consulted on this article with BBC and they cite that water vapor is 66%-85% so I am not sure what BBC cites that water vapor is only 50% with clouds being another 25% (although this does hit the RC range). RC cites inaccurate claims of the 98% number but, frankly, their site is the only place that I have ever read that incorrect claim.

10. PROBLEMS SUCH AS HIV/AIDS AND POVERTY ARE MORE PRESSING THAN CLIMATE CHANGE

BBC really doesn’t answer this claim.  They punted and talked about Kyoto.

Go to this site to read the entire BBC article.  Also, I originally found out about this list from RealClimate and they evidently had a hand in the article (which explains some of the BBC answers).

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