Daily Archives: June 1, 2012

What is a climate scientist? Indeed, are there any?

We hear the term frequently, but what qualifies some people and not others to be classed as climate scientists?  You might think it is just someone who studies things that affect the climate. But very many people do that, not just those who call themselves climate scientists. The term actually seems to refer solely to a group who have commandeered the term for themselves and share a particular viewpoint, with partly overlapping skills in a subset of the relevant disciplines. In recent times,it seems that to be an official ‘climate scientist’ you must believe that the main thing that counts is human interference and in particular, CO2. All other factors must be processed from this particular bias.

To me, the climate looks like it is affected by a great many influences. Climate models produced by ‘climate scientists’ have been extremely poor at predicting changes so far, and one reason for this is that they exclude many of the relevant factors.

I am struggling to think of any scientific discipline that doesn’t have something to say about some influence on climate. Many branches of chemistry and physics are important in understanding how the atmosphere works, and the oceans, and glaciers, and soil. We have some understanding of some natural cycles, but far from all, and far from complete. We need biologists and chemists and physicists to tell us about soil, and forests, and ocean life, and how species and entire ecosystems react and adapt to changing circumstances, with migrations or adaptation or evolution for example. We need to understand how draining bogs or chopping trees to make room for biofuels affects the climate. How using bio-waste for fuel instead of ploughing it into the ground affects soil structure, plant growth, and carbon interchange. We need to understand how cosmic rays interact with the earth’s magnetic field, how this is affected by solar activity, how sunspots form, and even gravitational interactions with the planets that affect solar cycles. We need to understand glacial melting, how glaciers move differently as temperature changes, how black carbon from diesel engines affects their heat absorption, how clouds form, how they act to warm or cool the earth according to circumstances. We need to understand ocean cycles much better, as well as gas and heat interchange between layers, how this is affected by weather and so on. I could go on, endlessly. We need to understand the many different ways we could make energy in the future, the many options for capture and containment of emissions or pollutants, or positive effects some might have on plant growth and animal food chains.

But it doesn’t stop with science, not be a long way. We also need people skilled in anthropology and demography and sociology and human psychology, who understand how people react when faced with choices of lifestyle when presented in many different ways with different spins, or faced with intimidation or eviction because of environmental policies.  And how groups or tribes or countries will interact and distribute burdens and costs and rewards, or fight, or flee. And religious leaders who understand well the impacts of religious pressures on people’s attitudes and behaviours, even if they don’t subscribe to any organised religion. Clearly environmental behaviour has a strong religious motivation for many people, even if that is just as a crude religion substitute.

We even need people who understand animal psychology, how small mammals react to wind turbine flicker for example, and how this affects the food chain, ecosystem balance and eventual interchange with the atmosphere and the rest of the environment.

And politicians, they understand how to influence people, and marketers, and estate agents. They can help predict behaviours and adaptation and how entire countries may or will interact according to changes in climate, real or imagined.

And we need economists to look at the many alternatives and compare costs and benefits, preferably without ideological and political bias. We need to compare strategies for adaptation and mitigation and avoidance. Honestly and objectively. And we need ethicists to help evaluate the same from human perspectives.

And we need loads of mathematicians, especially statisticians. Climate science is very complicated, and a lot of measurements and trend analyses need in-depth statistical skills, apparently lacking in official climate science, as evidenced by the infamous hockey stick graph. But we also need some to model things like traffic flows so we can predict emissions from different policies.

And we need lots of engineers too, to assess likely costs and timescales for development of alternatives for energy, transport, entertainment and business IT. We need a lot of engineers!

And don’t forget architects, who influence energy balance via choices of shapes, materials and colour schemes as well as how buildings maintain a pleasant environment for the inhabitants.

Ah yes, and futurists. Many futurists are systems thinkers with an understanding of how things link together and how they may develop. You need a few of them too.

I have probably forgotten lots of others. The point is that there are very many factors that need to be included. No-one, and I mean no-one, can possibly have a good grasp of all of them. You can know a bit about a lot of things or a lot about a few things, but you can’t know a lot about everything. I would say that there are no people at all who know about all the things that affect climate in any depth, and therefore no group deserves a monopoly on that title.

So, if you only look in any depth at a few interaction in the oceans and atmosphere and ignore many of the rest of the factors affecting climate, as ‘climate scientists’ seem to, it is hard to see a good reason to continue to hold the title any more than anyone with another label like astrophysicist, or politician. ‘Climate scientists’ as we currently classify them, know a bit about some things that affect climate. So do many other groups. Having skills in a few of the relevant areas doesn’t give any right to dismiss others with skills in a different few. And if they consistently get it wrong, as they do, then there is even less reason to trust their particular viewpoints. And that’s before we even start considering whether they are even honest about the stuff they do talk about. And as Donna Lamframboise has pointed out recently, they don’t deserve to be trusted.