The chattering climate apocalyptics are in a state of high state of agitation as a result of EPA Administrator Pruitt’s comment that “I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”
The main stream media and some charter members of the climate club reacted predictably by trotting out the infamous 97%, other elements of the climate orthodoxy, and hanging the label of “denialist” around his neck. It would have been refreshing if at least one major newspaper could have asked for an explanation of why he held a view that was at odds with many scientists. Reporting is supposed to be about digging for facts; not pre-emptive dismissal.
Mr. Pruitt did not say that the earth had not warmed, he did not deny that climate changes, and he did not say that there was no human influence on the climate system. His sin was to challenge the certitude of the adherents to the climate orthodoxy. There is an abundance of evidence that the case that humans are mostly responsible for warming since the middle of the last century is a construct that rests on a shaky scientific foundation.
No one disputes that CO2 is a greenhouse gas that warms the earth and no one challenges the conclusion that a doubling of CO2, absent positive feedback, would increase global temperatures by 1 degree C. The IPCC and other climate advocates assume enhanced feedback that will cause temperatures in the future—note that it is always decades in the future—will be significantly higher. While these assertions are made as if there is no uncertainty, the IPCC estimates that climate sensitivity is somewhere between 1.5 degrees C and 4.5 degrees C. A factor of 3 difference undermines the certainty with which advocates make their announcements and predictions.
In addition, if the case for human causality was so compelling, climate advocates would not have to resort to statistical tricks and manipulation to mislead the public. Each year, NASA announces with great fanfare that the current year is one of the warmest on record or in the case of 2016 was the warmest on record. What NASA doesn’t tell is that for most of the years in question, the difference from a prior year is measured in tenths of a degree and often within the margin of measurement error. In the case of 2016, it was warmer than recent years because of El Nino but it was not the warmest ever recorded. 1934 according to NASA data was the same as 2016.
Even the extent of warming is open to debate. Since the end of the Little Ice Age, the US temperature record shows a cyclical pattern but also a warming trend. Over the course of more than 120 years, surface measuring stations and devices have changed. The location of measuring stations, the development of urban areas, and the switch from mercury thermometers to electric thermistors affect temperature recordings. Urban development creates heat islands and adjustments are necessary to correct for the heat they retain. Those adjustments are based on beliefs and assumptions. An audit of the more than 1200 measuring stations by Anthony Watts found that “89 percent of the stations – nearly 9 of every 10 – fail to meet the National Weather Service’s own siting requirements that stations must be 30 meters (about 100 feet) or more away from an artificial heating or radiating/ reflecting heat source.” https://wattsupwiththat.files.wordpress.com/2009/05/surfacestationsreport_spring09.pdf
In 1954, Darrell Huff wrote the classic How to Lie with Statistics. A sequel could be written just relying on the analytical tricks and misused statistics used by climate advocates.
The case for skepticism about the climate orthodoxy provides a strong platform for Mr. Pruitt to stand on. If he holds the EPA staff to accepted standards of scientific evidence, the case built during the Obama Administration by Gina McCarthy will wilt away. That would be a real public service.