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ICYMI: Climate Scientist Admits Policy Best Left to Policymakers


In a remarkably candid column last month, climate scientist Tamsin Edwards argued that her profession would be better served focusing exclusively on what they are qualified to comment on: climate science. Climate policy, Edwards says, is better left to the politicians. From the Guardian:

I believe advocacy by climate scientists has damaged trust in the science. We risk our credibility, our reputation for objectivity, if we are not absolutely neutral. At the very least, it leaves us open to criticism. I find much climate scepticism is driven by a belief that environmental activism has influenced how scientists gather and interpret evidence. So I’ve found my hardline approach successful in taking the politics and therefore – pun intended – the heat out of climate science discussions. […]

But it’s not just about improving trust. In this highly politicised arena, climate scientists have a moral obligation to strive for impartiality. We have a platform we must not abuse. For a start, we rarely have the necessary expertise. […]

There are many ways to try to minimise climate change (with mitigation or geoengineering) or its impacts (adaptation) and, given a pot of money, we must decide what we most want to protect. How do we weigh up economic growth against ecosystem change? Should we prioritise the lives and lifestyles of people today or in the future? Try to limit changes in temperature or rainfall? These questions cannot be answered with scientific evidence alone. To me, then, it is simple: scientists misuse their authority if they publicise their preferred policy options.

If you missed this appeal when it originally ran two weeks ago, do yourself a favor and read it now. Edwards reminds her colleagues—and the public—what falls under the purview of science, and what does not.

Greens often assume their policy suggestions to be unassailable because they have science on their side. This isn’t nearly as true as they think—recent evidence suggests, for example, that the world isn’t warming nearly as fast as most climate models predicted. But even when the science is solid, the people with the best understanding of science have an extremely poor track record of designing workable and politically practicable solutions to the problems they diagnose, with the global climate treaty as exhibit A. While those with the scientific chops work to understand why warming has plateaued over the last decade, a different group of people with a very different skill set should be working to set agendas, informed but not bullied by the former group.

[Earth image courtesy of NASA ESA]

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  • Andrew Allison

    I am really disappointed by VM’s continual misstatement that, “recent evidence suggests, for example, that the world isn’t warming nearly as fast as most climate models predicted.” The measured temperature data, readily available from, clearly demonstrate that 5- and 10-year average temperatures peaked in 2005 and have been DECLINING ever since. This is simply not debatable, and what it means is that ALL (not most) AGW climate models have been shown to be wrong, and that anthropomorphic emissions DO NOT account for the rapid increase in temperature from 1976 to 1997.

  • foobarista

    Even if the world was heating up “on schedule”, the models were perfect, and man-emitted CO2 was the undeniable smoking gun, the solutions proposed by the greens wouldn’t work, as they rely on an elaborate chain of global command that simply doesn’t exist.

    Their solution is a bureaucratic machine of the Obamacare variety, rooted in gigantic treaties and managed at a global level, administered through the UN. Given the corruption, incompetence, and general badness that will manifest itself, you’ll just have a gigantic cadre of hugely overpaid bureaucrats with a tacit incentive to actually keep CO2 going up, along with the cash and power they’ll grab.

  • Eric J.

    The only problem with this is that politicians as a class are more blinkered and venal than scientists, and shouldn’t be trusted to make policy either.

  • DiogenesDespairs

    The main vector for using climate to impose policy is the argument that human-generated carbon dioxide is the main cause of warming and must be controlled – usually using draconian, statist solutions. If is not.

    The fact is, there has been global warming, but the contribution of human-generated carbon dioxide is necessarily so minuscule as to be nearly undetectable. Here’s why:

    Carbon dioxide, considered the main vector for human-caused global warming, is some 0.038% of the atmosphere[1]- a trace gas. Water vapor varies from 0% to 4%[2], and should easily average 1% or more[3] near the Earth’s surface, where the greenhouse effect would be most important, and is about three times more effective[4] a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So water vapor is at least 25 times more prevalent and three times more effective; that makes it at least 75 times more important to the greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide[5]. The TOTAL contribution of carbon dioxide to the greenhouse effect is therefore 0.013 or less. The total human contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide since the start of the industrial revolution has been estimated at about 25%[6]. So humans’ carbon dioxide greenhouse effect is a quarter of 0.013, works out to about 0.00325. Total warming of the Earth by the greenhouse effect is widely accepted as about 33 degrees Centigrade or 59 degrees Fahrenheit. So the contribution of anthropogenic carbon dioxide is less than 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit, or under 0.1 degree Centigrade. Global warming over the last century is thought by many to be about 0.6 degrees Centigrade.

    But that’s only the beginning. We’ve had global warming for more than 10,000 years, since the end of the last Ice Age[7]. Whatever caused that, it was not human activity. It was not all those power plants and factories and SUVs being operated by Stone Age cavemen while chipping arrowheads out of bits of flint. Whatever the cause was, it melted the glaciers that in North America once extended south to Long Island and parts of New York City[8] into virtually complete disappearance (except for a few mountain remnants). That’s one big greenhouse effect! If we are still having global warming – and I suppose we should presume we are, given a 10,000 year trend – it seems highly likely that it is still the overwhelmingly primary cause of continued warming, rather than our piddling 0.00325 contribution to the greenhouse effect.

    Yet even that trend-continuation needs to be proved. Evidence is that the Medieval Warm Period centered on the 1200s was somewhat warmer than we are now[9], and the climate was clearly colder in the Little Ice Age in the 1600s than it is now[10]. So we are within the range of normal up-and-down fluctuations without human greenhouse contributions that could be significant, or even measurable.

    The principal scientists arguing for human-caused global warming have been demonstrably disingenuous[11], and now you can see why. They have proved they should not be trusted.

    The idea that we should be spending hundreds of billions of dollars and hamstringing the economy of the entire world to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is beyond ludicrous in light of the facts above; it is insane. Furthermore, it sucks attention and resources from seeking the other sources of warming and from coping with climate change and its effects in realistic ways. The true motivation underlying the global warming movement is almost certainly ideological and political in nature, and I predict that Anthropomorphic Global Warming, as currently presented, will go down as the greatest fraud of all time. It makes Ponzi and Madoff look like pikers by comparison.

    [1] Fundamentals of Physical Geography, 2nd Edition

    by Michael Pidwirny Concentration varies slightly with the growing season in the northern hemisphere. HYPERLINK “”

    [2] ibid.

    [3] HALOE v2.0 Upper Tropospheric Water Vapor Climatology Claudette Ojo, Hampton University; et al.. HYPERLINK “” See p. 4.The 0 – 4% range is widely accepted among most sources. This source is listed for its good discussion of the phenomena determining that range. An examination of a globe will show that tropical oceans (near high end of range) are far more extensive than the sum of the earth’s arctic and antarctic regions and tropical-zone deserts (all near the low end). Temperate zone oceans are far more extensive than temperate-zone desert. This author’s guess of an average of 2% or more seems plausible. I have used “1% or more” in an effort to err on the side of understatement.

    [4 NIST Chemistry Webbook, Please compare the IR absorption spectra of water and carbon dioxide. ] HYPERLINK “”

    [5] Three quarters of the atmosphere and virtually all water vapor are in the troposphere. Including all the atmosphere would change the ratios to about 20 times more prevalent and 60 times more effective. However, the greenhouse effect of high-altitude carbon dioxide on lower-altitude weather and the earth’s surface seems likely to be small if not nil.

    [6] National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. HYPERLINK “” The estimated 90ppm increase in carbon dioxide, 30% above the base of 280 ppm, to a recent reading of 370 ppm, equates to just under 25% of present concentration, the relevant factor in estimating present contribution to the greenhouse effect.

    [7] Oak Ridge National Laboratory

    [8] New York Nature – The nature and natural history of the New York City region. Betsy McCully

    [9] Global Warming: A Geological Perspective John P. Bluemle HYPERLINK “” This article, published by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency, is drawn from a paper by the author in Environmental Geosciences, 1999, Volume 6, Number 2, pp. 63-75. Note particularly the chart on p.4.

    [10] Ibid.

    [11] Wikileaks: Climatic Research Unit emails, data, models, 1996-2009 HYPERLINK “,_data,_models,_1996-2009”,_data,_models,_1996-2009.

    See also HYPERLINK “” and

    HYPERLINK “” and, more diplomatically: HYPERLINK “” Et al.


    What initially troubled me was the aberrant behavior of the climate research unit at East Anglia University, which has been the main data source for AGW arguments. They initially refused (!) to reveal their algorithms and data on the grounds that they were proprietary(!!). They responded to critics with ad hominem attacks and efforts to block their publication in scientific journals. Now, as I am sure you know, this is not how one does honest science, in which you PUBLISH your data and methodology and invite critical comment to ferret out error or oversights. It took the now-famous Wikileaks “Climategate” to pry loose the data and expose their machinations. Yet despite the devastating blow these revelations should have to their credibility, the AGW “cause” has taken on a life of its own.

    Fundamentally, the argument seems to rest on a logical fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc – after this, therefore because of this. We see a rise in temperature and a rise in (principally) carbon dioxide, and therefore conclude one must have caused the other. It does not necessarily follow at all. There can be other causes entirely behind both phenomena, and as you see above, almost certainly there are. Beyond that, I have encountered numerous assertions of fact that cannot add up given the physical properties of water vapor and carbon dioxide that go unchallenged. One-sided arguments proliferate and people arguing the other side are frequently denounced as being employed by business interests rather than rebutted on the merits.

    In sum, I have not come lightly to the conclusion that the AGW argument as it applies to carbon dioxide is largely untrue and certainly does not account for more than a very small, nearly negligible part of the phenomena we are seeing. The implications of widespread assertions of and belief in such an untruth are staggering, and potentially enormously destructive. It is unwise indeed to let oneself be stampeded in this matter, and stampede is clearly what many have been and are trying to induce.

    I can understand politicians behaving this way; a carbon tax or carbon trading regime would allow enormous revenues to fall into their hands. I can understand “Progressive” ideologues; it logically leads to enormous expansion of government power over industry, the economy, and the daily life of individuals, which they regard as a good thing. I understand the environmentalists; they want to shrink the size and impact on the environment of modern civilization. But responsible citizens need to put aside such considerations.

    Harold Seneker

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