Debate Is Heated, but Planet Keeps its Cool

Published October 23, 2013

The debate on climate change is over. Anthropogenic (human) activity is increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which in turn is causing the global temperature to rise. Anyone who disagrees is a denier and an impediment to climate science.

 Not quite.

 A new book, Climate Change Reconsidered-II Volume One: The Physical Sciences (CCR-II), by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), published by The Heartland Institute, is sure to heat up the climate science debate, even if global temperatures are not responding in kind.

 There are two important reasons to take issue with the no-debate position described above.

 First, the most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) demonstrates global warming has not occurred since 1997, despite an 8 percent increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels since that time. Furthermore, that 8 percent increase represents 34 percent of all of the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution. At this juncture, drawing causation between CO2 emissions and temperature would seem an over-simplification of global climate systems.

 Second, and more importantly, when it comes to science, the debate is never over.

 Despite what many people seem to think, science does not occur on a linear trajectory, and knowledge is not manufactured by people crunching numbers in clean white lab coats in ivory towers where they find definitive answers.

 Science and the discovery of knowledge is an interactive messy process. In order for this process to work, a fundamental rule must be followed, as stated eloquently by Jonathan Rauch in his book Kindly Inquisitors:

 “[Y]our knowledge is always tentative and subject to correction. At the bottom of this kind of skepticism is a simple proposition: we must all take seriously the idea that any and all of us might, at any time, be wrong.” [italics in original]

 By accepting that we are not immune from error, we implicitly accept that no person, no matter who they are or how strongly they believe, is above possible correction. If anyone can be in error, no one can legitimately claim to have any unique or personal powers to decide who is right and who is wrong. Therefore, a statement may be claimed as established knowledge only if it can be debunked, in principle, and only insofar as it withstands attempts to debunk it (Rauch 1993 pp. 46–48).

 This leads to two conclusions:

  •  No one (or organization) gets the final say on scientific matters.
  • No one (or organization) has personal authority to decide a scientific question is “settled.”

 These principles have important implications for the climate change debate because the rules of liberal science not only allow but require that those who claim anthropogenic origins for recent rises in global temperature allow their theory to be checked.

 Therefore, the NIPCC’s critical review (checking) of IPCC reports is not an attempt to sabotage the advancement of knowledge but a necessary requirement for science, and any attempt to paint it as unscientific is itself unscientific.

 Over the past 16 years, the models used by the IPCC to predict rising global temperatures driven by anthropogenic CO2 emissions have been contradicted by the observed evidence. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen without a corresponding rise in temperature and Antarctic ice mass sits near balance.

 Clearly, if the predictions made based on IPCC models are not supported by real-world observations, the models need improvement. Whether excess heat is being absorbed by the deep oceans, or increases in global temperatures near the end of the twentieth century were driven primarily by natural forces, it’s obvious there are additional factors affecting the global climate that must be taken into account.

 This is certainly not to say that attempting to model and predict what will happen in the future is not a worthwhile pursuit. It does say, however, the IPCC models aren’t there yet. CCR-II explains why.

 The debate on climate science is not over, and it never will be. Instead of stooping to name-calling and belittling of those who hold differing views, real scientists check each other’s work to produce the best science possible. CCR-II is a valuable resource for this pursuit.

 Isaac Orr is a speaker, researcher, and freelance writer specializing in hydraulic fracturing,
agricultural, and environmental policy issues. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin
Eau Claire with studies in political science and geology, winning awards for his undergraduate
geology research before taking a position in the Wisconsin State Senate. He is the author of a Heartland Institute Policy Study on hydraulic fracturing.