So I linked to an article about climate/global warming on facebook, and drew an incorrect (overstated) conclusion from it. Bummer on me! Thanks to Jim for pointing that out!
In the course of the comments, my cousin asked me what I thought of assertions by Les Woodcock. This is my answer to my cousin; if I have something wrong here, please comment and point me to more info. Peer-reviewed research papers (or overview/surveys of such) preferred.
Not knowing who Les Woodcock was, or what the quotes were, I went and googled him. Right? First place to start?
So at first, all I could find was the same couple of phrases, almost all on known right-wing American websites: "former NASA" "eminent scientist" "laughs at man-made climate change". Same phrases over and over. (Your results may vary as google is now like that.) Did not see citations or links to sites that were _news_ oriented (lots and lots of opinion and blog, yes). I did find what I think might be the original interview article in the Yorkshire Evening Post website: http://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/ne
Here's the main bit of quotation--this is Dr. Woodcock talking:
“The term ‘climate change’ is meaningless. The Earth’s climate has been changing since time immemorial, that is since the Earth was formed 1,000 million years ago. The theory of ‘man-made climate change’ is an unsubstantiated hypothesis [about] our climate [which says it] has been adversely affected by the burning of fossil fuels in the last 100 years, causing the average temperature on the earth’s surface to increase very slightly but with disastrous environmental consequences.
“The theory is that the CO2 emitted by burning fossil fuel is the ‘greenhouse gas’ causes ‘global warming’ - in fact, water is a much more powerful greenhouse gas and there is is 20 time more of it in our atmosphere (around one per cent of the atmosphere) whereas CO2 is only 0.04 per cent.
“There is no reproducible scientific evidence CO2 has significantly increased in the last 100 years.
“Anecdotal evidence doesn’t mean anything in science, its not significant.
“Events can happen with frequencies on all time scales in the physics of a chaotic system such as the weather. Any point on lowland can flood up to a certain level on all time scales from one month to millions of years and its completely unpredictable beyond around five days.
“We can go back to great floods and Noah’s Ark in the Middle East regions which are now desserts [sic].
“The reason records seem to be being frequently broken is simply because we only started keeping them about 100 years ago. There will always be some record broken somewhere when we have another natural fluctuation in weather.
“Its absolutely stupid to blame floods on climate change, as I read the Prime Minister did recently. I don’t blame the politicians in this case, however, I blame his so-called scientific advisors.”
So a little more about Dr. Woodcock, because I did find out more with my later google searches:
But my cousin asked me what I thought of his assertions. Well...
* "the term 'climate change' is meaningless" -- I disagree: not in terms of social conversation it's not. It communicates something to people, which is meaning. It is not, I agree, the most precise term one could use, although one could argue that because there's some local and regional variability in future climates, "global warming" would not be a better term.
* "Unsubstantiated" -- well, that begs the question of what is sufficient evidence, given the outright impossibility of running a controlled (planetary) experiment with multiple trials. (Although I'm remind of Neil deGrasse Tyson saying "something BAD happened on Venus"). The null hypothesis might be "what we see with respect to changes in greenhouse gas(es)/temperatures/sea level rise/season timing shifts/etc. is fully explainable _without_ using any of the changes known to be produced by human activities, e.g. without industrial and agricultural revolution-produced greenhouse gases and/or other pollutants."
To date, however, the usual other factors (solar forcing, "natural variability", volcanoes, for example) are not large enough (or apparently in the case of recent solar activity, trending the other way) to explain the measured CO2 changes nor the temperature changes -- based on our current understandings (and models, feedback cycles and more) of the atmosphere. It is possible (and probable) that our understandings of how the atmosphere and climate are linked will improve as we keep studying them, so good science keeps testing the null when our understandings change. (Policy, however, can only draw on "best we know so far", and that is actually pretty well substantiated at this point.) (I didn't get into re-researching this "unsubstantiated" question; there are piles of scientific journals, let alone papers, that speak to this. I used to skim several regularly when I worked in the Science Library at Middlebury and was teaching the environmental science lab there. The research has moved from the "huh, the big picture is this, really?" to the "and this little bit seems to work this way" in the past 20-odd years.)
* He's correct that water vapor is a powerful greenhouse gas, and there is much more of it in the eath's atmosphere. It also has some maximums that it can reach, governed by temperature and pressure. People are researching its role as well. Methane is another (extremely) powerful greenhouse case, and worthy of more analysis (which is happening, though not by me).
* "No reproducible scientific evidence CO2 has significantly increased in the last 100 years" What? This leaped out at me. Unless by "reproducible" you mean "have to be able to go back in time to measure it" he's wrong.
There are multiple types of instrumentation (e.g., infrared detectors in multiple research stations [with differing funding sources], space-based dectectors) currently in use. For measurements older than say, 1958 (when the Mauna Loa direct measurements begain), people have taken ice core samples and analysed gas contents in frozen/preserved air bubbles. This is quite reproducible: go get another ice core sample and examine it. Preferably have different scientists and research organizations do this and compare results. Oh, that's been done? Yep. Check out the variety of authors in this quick search http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=%22i
* "Anecdotal evidence ...not significant" In general I agree with this. There are very good uses for anecdotal evidence, especially where there are a lot of anecdotes: it's a great source for leads on interesting questions. And of course a *lot* of anecdotes can make for interesting crowdsourced data sets. However, it's rarely good enough to draw firm science conclusions without running statistical analysis.
* "Events can happen with frequencies on all time scales" well, generally, yes, this is what underlies the probabilities (60% chance of X) in weather forecasting. He's wrong about "completely upredictable beyond around five days", although the uncertainty of longer-range forecasts for specific events ("rain 5 cm" say) does rise.
* references Noah's Ark ... um. Is there actual historical evidence for an ark, and if there is, is that single data point useful in looking at long-term trends? It's very dangerous to use *any* single event (not even current ones which are easily measured and documented) as *either* support or counter to a trend. Dangerous in the sense of terrible scientific argumentation: you wind up being _wrong_. Single events that appear to counter or support a trend do have to be taken into account in context of the trend, the probability of variation within the trend, and so on. So it's stupid to mention this...unless you're not doing science, just politics, because this kind of story (single data point) tends to be really powerful...anecdotally.
* references floods in now-desert areas: there's incredibly interesting environmental geography research going on (and has been for decades at least) looking at how and why desertification happens. So this seems like a tangent, rather than a counterfactual.
* reference flood records being kept for only the last 100 years: that may be true, but I suspect there's actual written documentation of flooding in the UK dating back to the Romans; Romans and monks tended to take excellent notes.. On the other hand, it's also quite possible to document floods based on things like iron composition in the soil, so you can dig trenches and pits and look at varying concentrations of different metals, sands, silts, organic matter, and get some evidence for flooding periodicity. I did not check this claim.
* blame floods (some or all or size of) on climate change: well, yes and no. They happen, they have been happening, so that's just part of the climate. The scale and frequency (and sometimes causes) appear to be changing: is there enough data to say what the causes are for a given area (hydrologic shifts? water use? precipitation?)? Do changes in the scale and frequencey match what we have been expecting from our analyses and predictions of climate? I don't actually have this answer, but to dismiss it out of hand as the quote suggests he is is to dismiss potential evidence for and against your standpoint. A really good scientist is interested in *all* the evidence, whether it supports or disproves her preferred hypothesis.
That below part:
So back to CO2 has increased -- searching variations of the phrase "measuring atmospheric CO2" -- I have not found anything saying that the trend over the last 100 years is other than upward. I found data and graphs from different locations and sources. I tried to ignore anything that didn't have something about *how* it was measured, because that suggests someone else could come and measure too (replicable). I of course found citations to research papers that I can't access from home/without subscription/university library, and some pages written for students and layfolk as well. So some below:
Global trends: http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/g
Two sites' data: http://co2.utah.edu/co2tutorial.php?site=7&i
ice cores info/data:
Want more data from more places? Sounds good to me. So these monitoring sites in the Scripps Institution of Oceanography Air Sampling Network have links :
Another monitoring site in Tasmania:
And a wikipedia page, included NOT because of the content of the page, but for yet more references in case you would like to read them for yourself:
So, what do I think of Dr. Woodcock's quotes? He sounds like someone who has not actually been reading the research papers even as skimmingly as I have. But it was good to go back and refresh my head with bits.