Dismissing Factual Claims About the Atmosphere Isn’t Science


Jeff Jacoby has a great column in the Boston Globe about the reasonableness of doubt about extreme climate change claims:

Yet for all the hyperventilating, Pruitt’s answer to the question he was asked — whether carbon dioxide is the climate’s “primary control knob” — was entirely sound. “We don’t know that yet,” he said. We don’t. CO2 is certainly a heat-trapping greenhouse gas, but hardly the primary one: Water vapor accounts for about 95 percent of greenhouse gases. By contrast, carbon dioxide is only a trace component in the atmosphere: about 400 ppm (parts per million), or 0.04 percent. Moreover, its warming impact decreases sharply after the first 20 or 30 ppm. Adding more CO2 molecules to the atmosphere is like painting over a red wall with white paint — the first coat does most of the work of concealing the red. A second coat of paint has much less of an effect, while adding a third or fourth coat has almost no impact at all.

This paragraph reminds me of the time I spent my half hour lunch break from construction sitting in my van on a snowy day arguing back and forth with a PolitiFact journalist about his bogus rating for Republican Congressional Candidate John Loughlin related to global warming.  I forget the specifics, but key was the notion that 94% of greenhouse gases are natural, most of it water vapor.  It’s a notion I first encountered in this 2007 Anchor Rising post by Monique (which she raised as a reminder for years afterwards, as you can see by searching “6%” here).

The reporter took much the same rhetorical approach as those who’ve attacked Pruitt and (I’m sure) Jacoby: dismissal, mockery, and scorn.  As fun as DMS may be, it isn’t science, and it shouldn’t be a basis for public policy that affects people across the globe.

  • Mike678

    Religions don’t need facts or proof–they have faith (and some, a $ motive).

  • BasicCaruso

    Pruitt uses the false frame that scientific theories can proven with certainty. Monique makes that same error over and over, but perhaps she can be excused for the confusion lacking a background in science.

    fwiw ALL scientific theories are provisional. None of them can ever be proven. There is always the chance that despite all evidence that a theory is correct, new evidence may be discovered that causes the theory to be modified or abandoned. That IS the very nature of science.

    Yes, “We don’t know that yet,” but it is a strong hypothesis based both on recent science and on studies of the climate record, for instance see the “faint young Sun paradox” or studies like this one linking rises in CO2 to the end of the last ice age. Proof? No. Cause for alarm? YES!

    “We find that global temperature lags a bit behind the CO2 [levels],” explains paleoclimatologist Jeremy Shakun, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fellow at Harvard and Columbia universities, who led the research charting ancient CO2 concentrations and global temperatures. “CO2 was the big driver of global warming at the end of the Ice Age.”

    • Mike678

      Ah, Russ and his logical fallacies. So entertaining!