Last year, Dr Richard A Muller caused quite a stir by publishing the conclusions of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) study, which, despite receiving significant funding from the Koch Brothers and the fossil fuel lobby, bravely admitted that late 20th Century warming is unprecedented and real (i.e. not an artefact of the location of measurement locations).Last Saturday, Muller went one step further and, in an op-ed piece in the New York Times newspaper, admitted that he now accepts that ongoing warming is “almost entirely” the result of human activity (i.e. the burning of fossil fuels). It seems that Anthony Watts was so surprised by this that, presumably on being alerted to its imminent publication, Watts immediately cancelled his planned vacation and released into the blogosphere an un-peer reviewed, pre-publication paper; which seeks to cast doubt on the validity of the BEST study’s original conclusion. Unsurprisingly, Watts et al claim that they are merely doing what Muller et al did last year (i.e. publishing online first). However, I think there is a significant difference here, which is that the BEST team headed by Muller is comprised of scientists well-respected in their field, whereas Watts et al are not. So what is all the fuss about? Well for those who do not want to accept that recent warming (and/or climate disruption) is unprecedented or primarily caused by human activity, it will always make sense to start by denying that it is happening and/or that we are causing it to happen (i.e. the first two of the six pillars of climate change denial [with my thanks to Robert Henson]). Muller had nothing to gain from publishing what he did last year and, in doing so, he annoyed an awful lot of his hitherto friends and financiers; who have thus been reduced to disowning him and/or claiming that he was never a true sceptic. However, this is patently ridiculous because, even in his new op-ed piece, Muller continues to demonstrate that he does not understand how climate models work (describing them as being “notorious for their hidden assumptions and adjustable parameters”) and, by implication, that he does not understand that concern over anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is derived from undergraduate-level study of thermodynamics and palaeoclimatology. But this should not be allowed to detract from the main point of his piece, which is to assert that humans need to accept that we are all responsible for what is now happening; and that we therefore need to take responsibility for what happens next. Nevertheless, I must confess to being amused by Michael Mann’s tweet regarding Muller’s long road towards embracing reality: “At this rate, Muller should be caught up to the current state of climate science within a matter of just a few years!” (as reported by Desmogblog recently). Given some of the things Muller has said in the past, I think Mann’s cynicism is understandable; and I would therefore still like to see Muller admit that he should not have previously cast doubt on the integrity of climate science and scientists by appearing to either misunderstand or misrepresent the meaning of the infamous “hide the decline” UEA/CRU email. Unfortunately, rather than concede that Muller has now done a demolition job on both of these first two pillars of climate change denial, Watts et al are therefore still trying to cast doubt on the validity of what BEST did; by asserting that 50% of the warming recorded across the contiguous USA is not real. However, even if there is some validity to their criticisms, does this change anything? Not really, I suspect. Unless of course you are a conspiracy theorist; and believe that someone is trying to get you worried about ACD as a pretext to tax you more heavily, etc., etc.. It would therefore appear that Watts et al are trying to use this uncertainty to cast doubt on the validity of the warming measured over the remaining 98% of the Earth’s surface; despite this being accepted as fact by professional and academic institutions all around the world. Again, such a fact only appears suspicious to those who presuppose that someone is trying to fool them. However, who is it that has a long track-record of trying to misrepresent science to the public? Is it scientists, or is it big business? This is not a difficult question to answer and, in the absence of personal expertise – it is the main reason why Occam’s Razor should be accepted as a valid basis on which to proceed – the most likely explanation (requiring the least number of contingencies and/or assumptions about hidden motives and/or conspiratorial behaviour for which there is no solid evidence) is probably the correct one. Instead of which, thanks to a post-modernist penchant for (1) distrusting all external authority and (2) invoking the fallacious marketplace of ideas (i.e. the Dunning-Kruger effect), large numbers of people continue to prefer to believe that the majority of relevantly-qualified, active researchers into climate science are either stupid, incompetent, or simply “in it for the money”. I will leave the final word to Public Relations expert (turned climate activist) James Hoggan:
Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy… There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.
———– Further reading: Although now a bit dated, this piece by Hoggan – promoting his (then new) book Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming (2009) – is still well worth reading: Slamming the climate skeptic scam (15 June 2009)