Debunking Cato’s Claims on Climate Change

A few days ago I commented on Cato’s advertisement on climate change. James Hrynyshyn initially tried to ignore this but has now reviewed the scientific claims in their ad.

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  1. 1
    Fritz says:

    I really with Cato had gone with the much more supportable “CO2 reductions give far too little social good for the vast amounts of money they will cost” approach.

  2. 2
    Fritz says:

    Sigh — “wish”, even.

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    Robert L. says:

    The de-bunking is at least as selective and misleading as anything in CATO’s ad.  The primary issue is that the ad is designed to counter the idea that AGW is a proven fact as opposed to a theory that, while it is in the majority, is not without problems or naysayers.   The CATO ad is not designed to prove that global warming is false in 100 words or less so it is not “de-bunked” by having failed to do so.

    Moving to the specifics, the claim of no significant warming for the last 10 years is grudgingly accepted by Hrynyshyn as true but immediately followed by the ‘this is consistent with long term variations on an upward trend’ argument.  This is true but the temperature trend is also consistent with a ‘global warming has stopped’  argument or even a ‘the earth has entered a cooling period’ argument.  In any case it directly contradicts the hockey stick temperature chart used to sell global warming in the first place.

    There is a similar sleight of hand in the second argument.   Even the breakthrough institute (solidly on the side of AGW) has called Al Gore on his slides indicating bigger storms and more damage due to global warming: it is not proven and NOAA has said it is incorrect. The IPCC has also made the bigger, badder storms claim.  Hrynyshyn hand waves his way past this saying that it doesn’t prove that anything else about global warming is false.  Again, that’s true but if Gore and the IPCC are simply wrong about a claim they have repeatedly represented as fact, then why should we assume this is an isolated case and that it does not affect their credibility on anything else?

    Finally Hrynyshyn again hand waves his way past the argument that global warming models have predicted atmospheric warming that hasn’t occurred again saying in effect that ‘so what if we’re wrong about this, we’re right about the other stuff.’   This is an interesting argument similar to what we’re seeing with Arctic melting: if the Arctic is supposed to be ice free 20, 30, or 50 years ahead of schedule this is somehow spun as meaning that the models are even more correct when in fact it means they have at least major deficiencies.  Problems with models mean they are based on a flawed understanding of what is going on. 

    Again, does this disprove the greenhouse gas caused global warming theory?  No.  But it does raise questions and that was the point of the exercise.

  4. 4
    Eclectic Radical says:

    This is one of the most insidious techniques by which the  right seeks to undermine science, the statement that something is ‘only a theory’ rather than ‘proven fact.’ By the scientific method, nothing is ever a one hundred percent proven fact. There is always room to apply doubt should circumstances change and theories are constantly tested against themselves and improved.

    The problem with this argument, however, is that a proven theory has withstood and continues to withstand rigorous testing and scientific review. Theories are not adopted willy nilly, they are tested and re-tested. If a theory continues to be upheld, then it is the closest thing to fact available. Gravity is ‘just a theory’ as well, as is thermodynamics. These theories are proven and continue to be proven.

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    Fritz says:

    Eclectic — there is a bit of a difference between a theory and a computer model.

    I find it of concern than the models are showing significant errors when run over a few years of data but then those models are being used to make climate predictions over a 50 or 100 year timeframe and then people are using those predictions to drive very expensive public policy without a lot of publicity regarding the error bars in the calculations.

    But, yeah, the hockey stick is dead and people should probably stop beating Gore over the head with it (assuming he is no longer trying to use it).

  6. 6
    Eclectic Radical says:

    Fritz, regardless of the quality of the computer models, I was replying to Robert’s ‘just a theory’ phrase, dismissing ‘theory’ as something unworthy of serious consideration or weight.

    There is disagreement over the computer models, and I do not follow environmental issues closely enough to make an educated statement about their accuracy or inaccuracy. Independent of computer models, there is a significant body of evidence of serious climate aberrations from the norm simply over the last decade. Something is definitely happening. Precisely what and precisely what can be done about it are still under debate, but the scientific consensus that something IS happening is irrefutable.

    Something is not a ‘theory’ until it has been scientifically upheld and accepted. Until then it is a ‘hypothesis.’ There is no such thing, in scientific parlance, as ‘just a theory’ and Robert is incorrect to use the phrase.

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    Robert L. says:

    I never used the phrase “just a theory”  nor did I deny that AGW was the majority opinion.  What I tried to get across was that there is still debate and, even if the AGW people are correct, there are still serious gaps in their understanding. 

    In short, I am agreeing with CATO that the science behind AGW has not withstood and does not withstand rigorous testing and scientific review to a degree that we should not be taking huge steps based on the assumption that it is true.

    It was Al Gore who said  “the debate in the scientific community is over.”   All of the statements about how the “science is done” are the ones that go against the scientific method and give a deliberately false impression of monolithic views and scientific certainty, exactly what the CATO ad is designed to dispell.

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    Robert L. says:

    Sorry: should have said ‘. . . AGW has not withstood and does not withstand rigorous testing and scientific review to a degree that we should not be taking huge steps based on the assumption that it is true.”

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    Ron Chusid says:

    You are taking Gore’s statements out of context. There is a strong scientific consensus on climate change (which Cato’s ad does nothing to dispel). Gore was reacting to the tactics of the right (including Cato) to claim in the media that this is an undecided and controversial area as opposed to one where there is a strong consensus among scientists actually working in the field. His intent was to debunk such false claims, not to say that all knowledge of the subject is frozen or to contradict the scientific method.

    Such tactics of distortion only act to further lower the credibility of global warming deniers.

  10. 10
    Fritz says:

    Ron, I think there are two very different issues being combined. 

    First — are human activities at a scale to measurably alter mean temperature?  That seems to be pretty well agreed upon.  However, much of the data that Gore, et al, used to make this a world-stage issue was shaky and was based on larger natural cycles (the rebound from the little Ice Age a few hundred years ago) with human changes on top.  But, well, so what?  By itself this is not surprising and warning crop land a little is not so bad a thing (especially compared to our other large-scale activities like shifting the ocean ecosystems toward jellyfish instead of fish).

    The more interesting (to me) question is whether human changes are going to be large enough in the next hundred years to really screw things up.  In other words, is Greenland or Antarctica going to melt?  At this point I don’t trust the models anywhere near enough to want to cripple the world economy on that bet.    Unless that level of catastrophe can be shown to be likely I think there are better things to spend money on — for instance I am really excited at the idea that we have the ability to exterminate HIV with the drugs we have.  That is worth spending some billions of dollars on.

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    Ron Chusid says:


    The denialist line seems to be to pretend that things are not looking as bad as the predictions. The reality looks far different with many reports suggesting that actually conditions are even worse. For example, see today’s post on the topic.

  12. 12
    Fritz says:

    I’m not seeing a northern passage for shipping as “even worse”.   And the data on the Greenland ice cap are mixed at best.

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    Eclectic Radical says:

    Robert, I quote:

    “The de-bunking is at least as selective and misleading as anything in CATO’s ad.  The primary issue is that the ad is designed to counter the idea that AGW is a proven fact as opposed to a theory that, while it is in the majority, is not without problems or naysayers.”

    That is a long winded way of saying ‘just a theory’ and it specifically compares ‘theory’ to ‘fact’ in a manner that suggests the former to be inferior to the latter when what we call ‘scientific fact’ is proven theory. A theory is as close to ‘fact’ as empirical science commits to, if a theory is not considered strong enough to be factual it is called ‘a hypothesis.’

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    Fritz says:

    Eclectic — I believe your definition of “theory” needs some work.  String Theory is called a “theory” and not even the string theorists consider it strong enough to be factual.  The non-string-theorists call it “not even wrong”.

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    Ron Chusid says:

    Plus, beyond the difference between the scientific and common use of the word theory there are also some quite strong scientific consensus statements. The scientists who actually work in the field are quite convinced.

    Sure, maybe virtually every scientist is wrong. Given a choice between the scientists in the field and deniers who do so based upon political ideology (and sometimes economic interests) I am not going to ignore the scientific consensus.

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    Eclectic Radical says:

    ‘String theory’ is still hypothetical, it has yet to be proven. It is referred to as hypothetical in most scientific exchanges. ‘String theory’ is public parlance for a set of hypotheses which, if proved, would properly become more than one ‘theory.’

  17. 17
    Fritz says:

    It’s probably semantics, but I would call string theory a theory (those versions that have testable predictions — the other versions I call religion) and evolution more like a law.

    Most of the global warming/climate stuff I call “insufficiently verified computer modeling”.

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    Eclectic Radical says:

    ‘Law’ is a very tricky word in science. We talk about ‘the law of gravity’ and ‘the laws of thermodynamics’, but we are talking about theories that have stood up to empiric testing. The same is true of evolution, and even these theories change constantly as science expands our knowledge. Evolution according to Stephen Jay Gould is very different than Darwin’s original hypothesis, and many of the ‘Darwinian’ hypotheses have actually been disproved even as the evolutionary process itself has been confirmed. Certainly, they are all proven theories.

    String ‘theory’ is still subject to debate to the degree calling to a proper theory is questionable, especially as even the string theorists don’t entirely agree on their hypotheses. Quantum physics in general, while very interesting, is more philosophy than science. Some of it is verifiable by experimentation and some is not, but most of it is about pondering what we do not know.

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    Chris Yorke says:

    The original Kyoto protocol was sold on the basis of a ‘no-regrets’ plan of action. It was not supposed to be indisputable science, but rather, a consensual assessment of probable outcomes.
    While no educated person disputes the fundamentals of Arrhenius theory behind atmospheric warming, plenty of scientists doubt that CO2 levels are the most important climate forcer.  Even if carbon emissions are very important, there is still more debate on whether we can do much, if anything, to change climate direction in 50 years. It is going to be an immense challenge to remove carbon from the energy industry, but even this exorbitantly  expensive goal would probably reduce CO2 emissions by only 50-60% of today’s levels. In conclusion: it is extremely unlikely that anything done by Obama will have a discernible impact on the earth’s climates in his lifetime.  Only time will tell.  Is this going to be a case of all pain, no gain?

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    Eclectic Radical says:

    It is useful to know that, when one is talking about reductions, generally speaking, ’50-60% of today’s level’ translates into 40-50% reduction. A reduction of more than two thirds to half of our emissions is a LOT. One can question how much good that would do, but it isn’t wise to dismiss a 40-50% reduction as ‘only’… it is significant.

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