Out in the webiverse someone asked me “Willis… do you consider yourself a denialist?”
Mmmm … an excellent question, with an answer which likely won’t go the direction that they think.
First, the term “climate denier”, or in this incarnation “denialist”, was specifically chosen for its overtones of “Holocaust denier”. It is used as a pejorative term for anyone who disagrees with any aspect of climate science, usually without any attempt to say what the person is “denying”.
Now, I know for a fact that the Holocaust was real, because immediately after the war my grandmother, the Captain’s daughter, was in charge of several camps for “displaced persons”, most of whom were Jews who had been in the slave labor camps and the extermination camps. She saw all of that almost while the crematoria were still warm … she talked with the people who’d suffered intolerably. Her testimony, along with a mountain of other testimonial, documentary, and photographic evidence, establishes the truth of the existence of the Holocaust far, far beyond reasonable doubt.
Here’s the sneaky part. The link between “climate denial” and Holocaust denial lies in what is said to be denied. The clear implication in both cases is the claim that the person is denying THE TRUTH. They’re not not saying people are denying some mere supposition. They’re not claiming that “climate deniers” are denying some half-baked theory.
The clear claim is that both “climate deniers” and Holocaust deniers are denying THE TRUTH.
Now, this is mondo sneaky because this framing entirely pre-empts the discussion of what might or might not be true about the climate. It does this by subtly but strongly implying that THE TRUTH about the climate is already established.
Not only are they saying that THE TRUTH about climate is established, but the further claim in calling someone a “climate denier” is that the person using the term 1) knows THE TRUTH, and 2) knows that the person is “denying”, not just scientifically disputing but “denying”, some specific part of THE TRUTH.
And the final hidden claim is that THE TRUTH is not just established, but it is as solidly established as the undeniable truth that the Holocaust occurred.
So when a person calls someone a “climate denier” or a “denialist”, they are implicitly asserting that the following are true and valid statements:
• THE TRUTH about the climate has been established.
• THE TRUTH about the climate is as solid and fact-based as THE TRUTH about the existence of the Holocaust, i.e. it is 100% undeniably and inalterably true and backed by a mountain of evidence.
• They know THE TRUTH about the climate.
• They know that the person they are calling a “denier” doesn’t simply disagree about a specific scientific idea, but instead they “deny” something that is obviously and demonstrably THE TRUTH.
All of that makes the use of “denier” an underhanded attempt to get people to believe that climate science is settled … and that is absolutely not THE TRUTH …
It is also a term with very ugly overtones. As a result, I and others have repeatedly asked decent people to cut it out, because it is both untrue and insulting.
The response has clearly revealed that I greatly overestimated the number of decent people among the climate alarmists …
The proper term for folks that disagree with various aspects of the mainstream climate scientists’ claims about the climate is “skeptic”. They are properly skeptical of the unproven idea that the temperature of the earth is greatly affected by the CO2 going from three-hundredths of one percent to four-hundredths of one percent of the atmosphere.
That might indeed be true, although I don’t think so … but at present it is assuredly unproven.
Now, it has been shown that when CO2 increases, it increases the atmospheric absorption of outgoing radiation, and thus increases the amount of thermal radiation from the atmosphere, about half of which heads downwards towards the surface.
But it has NOT been shown that this increase in radiation is perforce accompanied by an increase in the surface temperature.
However, me, I don’t consider myself a skeptic. Instead, I consider myself a heretic, meaning that I do not agree with the current underlying fundamental assumption of how the climate works.
That underlying assumption involves what is called “downwelling radiation” or “radiative forcing”, meaning the radiation headed down towards the surface. This is the sum of solar radiation plus thermal radiation from the atmosphere and clouds.
The assumption is that if the downwelling radiation increases, the surface temperature perforce has to rise. Not only that, but the temperature rise varies perfectly linearly with the increase in radiation. If you double the change in radiation, it will supposedly give you double the change in temperature.
Now, intuitively you’d think that would be true, that the more radiation that hits some surface, the warmer it would get. We’re told that it’s just “simple physics”. And indeed, for a simple physical system like a block of iron that’s basically true.
However, the climate is an immensely complex system, with important phenomena occurring on a time scale from nanoseconds to millennia and physical scales from nanometres to planet-wide.
Not only that, but according to the Constructal Law as well as Le Chatelier’s Principle, the climate actively responds to the changing conditions by moving towards the status quo ante. We see this in the endless twists and windings of lowland rivers. They are always changing, jumping out of their beds and cutting new channels … but the overall length of the river hardly changes at all. Constructal law at work.
So as an example of the thermal response of another complex system to increased radiation, consider how much your core body temperature rises when you walk from the shade into the sun. Thermal input, aka “downwelling radiation” has gone up by hundreds of watts per square metre and the core body temperature has … done nothing …
The reality is that complex systems cannot be analyzed using just “simple physics”.
So no, I do NOT believe what almost everyone in the field believes, which is that global temperature is a linear function of the amount of incoming radiation. I say that the climate responds to changing radiation input just as the body responds to changing radiation input, by shifting and evolving in such a fashion as to negate the effect of the increase in radiation.
The climate is best modeled as a heat engine. Why? Because at the most basic level, that’s what it is. Like all heat engines, it has energy coming in at the hot end (the tropics) and is rejecting energy at the cold end (the poles). Like all heat engines, it turns energy into mechanical motion. The climate heat engine turns solar energy into the mechanical motion of the various circulations of the atmosphere and the oceans. The frictional resistance to these mechanical motions of ocean and air is equivalent to a brake on a heat engine.
And here’s the interesting part.
Over the last century, the average temperature of the planet-sized heat engine that we call the “climate” varied up and down from its century-long average by about one-tenth of one percent … and as a man who has been involved with a number of heat engines, I can say that that is shockingly stable.
This is particularly true when you consider a couple of things. First, the existence of the poorly-named “greenhouse effect” means that the global surface temperature is well above what it would be if there were no atmosphere. (For an explanation of how the greenhouse effect actually works, which has absolutely nothing to do with greenhouses, see The Steel Greenhouse, People Living In Glass Planets, and The R. W. Wood Experiment.)
Second, the clouds reflect about forty percent of the available sunlight back into space. This is a huge amount of energy, about a hundred watts per square metre.
So our temperature is balanced well above what it would be without an atmosphere. And even with that, clouds are shedding some 30% of the available energy back into space, so it could be much, much hotter … but it’s not. Thus, the temperature is controlled by nothing more solid than clouds, winds and waves … clouds and winds and waves that come and go … and despite that, the global temperature only varied by ±0.1% over the 20th century.
So I don’t study what almost all climate scientists study, which is why the global average temperature varies so much.
I study why it varies so little … which is why I describe myself as a heretic rather than a sceptic.
Here, life in the lockdown continues … if being free to work in my shop and wander through acres of protected forest out past my back yard can be fairly described as being “locked down”. I truly cannot conceive of, and I have great compassion for, what lockdown means for a family of four in some city apartment building, with both parents out of work and rent coming due …
As I’ve said since it started, end the American lockdown now. It is injuring and killing far more than the virus is, particularly at this late point in the game.
I do think, however, that we are coming to the end of both the coronavirus and the BLM riots. So I leave you all in hopes of a much brighter future for my granddaughter above, and for you and all of your family,
As Usual: I ask that when you comment, you quote the exact words that you are discussing. This avoids most of the misunderstands that are so rife on the intarwebs.
The Math: For those interested in the faulty math behind the fundamental equation falsely claiming that temperature is a linear function of downwelling radiation, see my post The Cold Equations.