[Coral-List] Expert Disagreement in Climate, Science

Douglas Fenner douglasfennertassi at gmail.com
Tue Jan 10 12:37:37 EST 2017

    I agree with those that have replied to you and thank them for
clarifications.  There are a few other things that I'll try to clarify a
    I have a lot of sympathy for much of what you say, and agree that the
terminology of global warming and climate change may seem confusing to
those that haven't spent much time reading up on them.  The things that are
going on around the globe that involve climate, temperature, CO2, ocean pH
and several other related things are complicated.  Much of science is
complicated.  I dare say much of geology is complicated.  Yet in spite of
the complexities of geology, when the evidence supporting plate tectonics
(originally called "continental drift") became strong enough, geologists
accepted it and writers of popular science explained it to the public, and
the public did not reject it.  Today it is not controversial.  The big
difference with global warming and climate change is that the evidence of
plate tectonics did not point to humans as the cause, did not predict that
if humans didn't stop causing it that there would be huge damage to the
environment and human civilization, and that major changes to human society
would be required which would cost some large industries and human society
a lot of money to change.  But climate change and global warming did, and
people differed on what they thought should be done about it, and the
industry that would be affected (fossil fuels) funded people to sow doubt
in the public's mind about the science, some of the people being people who
did a similar job for the tobacco industry.  Records show clearly that the
tobacco industry knew full well that tobacco caused cancer and nicotine was
addictive, but lied deliberately to protect its profits, and eventually
lost in court big time.  The records now also show that Exxon has long
known from its own scientists that CO2 emissions from fossil fuels have
caused global warming.  But someone who is smart enough to publish lots of
papers in the science of geology could probably learn enough about climate
science to understand the differences between climate change and global
    But complexity is part of science.  So is specialization.  Only those
who work in a particular specialization can begin to know all the ins and
outs of all the complexities of the methods and data that provide the
evidence that either fits with theories or doesn't (and therefore disproves
them).  Even people who work on the same general discipline can have a hard
time judging the evidence in a different specialty, it's even harder for
the general public to understand and judge.  But when the vast majority of
scientists working in a specialty come to one conclusion about a general
aspect of science like plate tectonics, other scientists realize that's the
best current available science, and accept it as they do similar things in
their own specialty.  Except when industries and political organizations
decide it is to their advantage to weigh in and fund those who have
expertise in persuading the public, including the use of propaganda and
disinformation.  The complexity of science, limited amount of scientific
training in the general public, etc. makes it easier for propaganda efforts
to persuade the public of things which the scientific evidence doesn't
       The term "climate change" was introduced largely because there is a
complex of things going on, which include global warming, but also
including several other things that are not global warming, and they have
common or overlapping causes.  First, global warming is an average, and at
any one point in time, the weather can be colder than it was a short time
ago (so there is variation like there is in all of nature).  Second, global
warming is producing a variety of things other than warming, such as local
droughts, increased rainfall some places, ice melting, sea level rising,
increased intensity of cyclones (= hurricanes and typhoons) and so on.
Those are not themselves warming, but are in part produced by warming.  So
an umbrella term was needed, and the one that caught on is "climate
change."  That wasn't a complete solution of the problem, since CO2 which
is implicated in global warming and the things it causes is also the cause
of the reduction of pH in the ocean, which has been dubbed "acidification"
(though it as I think you pointed out correctly it only involves the
reduction of the basic pH of seawater and is not projected to go below pH
7, and so some consider it misleading.  I would argue the term refers to
the direction of change not the absolute pH, but in any case it might not
be the best possible term.)  It is also clearly not global warming.  You or
anyone else can invent any term you like and use it all you want, there is
no language police.  If your fellow scientists find it useful and/or the
public or media find it catchy, it may catch on and become widely used.
You're free to promote it all you wish.  If you or someone else comes up
with a better term I'll applaud you.  In general, I suspect that anything
that requires a paragraph to explain, or even a sentence, is unlikely to
catch on.  So, at the moment, "acidification", "global warming" and
"climate change" are all in use.
      I simply point out that claiming that there is great uncertainty \ is
one of the tactics of those who are funded by the fossil fuel industry use,
to try to sow doubt in the public's mind.  Maybe "it is all too confusing"
is their newest claim.  Something they do certainly must be working, at
least in the US, where a large segment of the populations thinks that
"global warming" and "climate change" are hoaxes, or believe that it is
natural, or that scientists don't agree on them, or there is lots of doubt
in scientists minds, etc.  And of course a US president has just been
elected that has publicly stated that climate change is a Chinese hoax.  In
fact, among publishing climate scientists (neither I nor you, Gene, are
publishing climate scientists), an overwhelmingly majority accept the
evidence that global warming and climate change are real and that humans
are the primary (but not only) cause of the current warming (but clearly
not of warming and/or cooling in the geological record, since humans
weren't even present during most of the geological record).  Anyone who
wishes to can change their views at any time, and my memory was that in the
past on coral-list you pointed out that there were cold periods as though
that showed that there was no global warming and the "hiatus" showed there
was no global warming, but now you seem to be saying that you accept
evidence that global warming is real.  We all have a right to change our
views as more evidence comes in, many or most scientists do that from time
to time.  Though one of the goals of those who work to discredit climate
science is to do everything they can to drag their heels and slow the
acceptance of the science, giving the fossil fuel industry more time to
make profits.
      I agree that scientists would do well to have some degree of
skepticism.  Of course, when a theory like Einstein's theories of general
relativity and special relativity make predictions that are confirmed by
every test that is made, and alternative theories have all failed tests,
then it is clear that Einstein's theories are the best available scientific
theories and supported by the evidence.  Being super critical of them might
help someone develop a new theory, and that's perfectly fine.  But to base
public policy on anything that contradicts relativity would be very foolish
and not serve the public good.  Same true with other theories that have
massive evidence that supports them, such as plate tectonics, evolution,
the planets orbiting the sun instead of them all orbiting the earth, earth
being nearly perfectly round instead of flat, and global warming/climate
change.  The US military certainly includes global warming and climate
change in their planning, based on the best available science, because the
potential consequences for the country of being wrong are very high indeed.
     There is a major difference between a scientist who uses a healthy
skepticism when considering science, and someone who applies skepticism
vigorously to theories they don't like, but clearly doesn't apply any
skepticism to the the theories they do like and promote.  Someone who does
that consistently and vigorously is often called a "denier" these days,
though anyone can call them anything they want.  When the pattern of bias
is consistent, then the person can be seen not to be following the
evidence, but some other agenda, often ideological.  That's not science,
but saying it is just being skeptical is a way to masquerade as science.
It's part of a deceptive practice.  Deception or attempted deception is
thought by some to be common in politics.
     You ask whether we know if computer models accurately replicate
nature.  My understanding is that there are ways of getting at this with
climate models.  Not only can the results of the model be compared to the
climate change that the earth has undergone so far, and climate change that
occurs after the model was constructed, but they can be checked to see if
they predict some of the shorter-term changes that are ubiquitous and
strong around the earth, such as day-night changes, seasonal changes, and
differences with latitude.  As long as you check things that were not used
in tuning the model in the first place, they are are real tests of
predictions of the models and thus tests of the models.
     Cheers,  Doug

On Wed, Jan 4, 2017 at 3:51 PM, Dennis Hubbard <dennis.hubbard at oberlin.edu>

> Hi all:
> Gene makes some valid observations about what we know vs what we infer, and
> the general confusion that arises from terminology. While I am not an
> expert on much of this, I would like to offer some perspective on two of
> Gene's points (a lack of knowledge has never stood in my way - and I'm
> happy to observe that I'm in good company).
> Regarding "global warming" vs "climate change", part of the intent was to,
> in fact, show that "up" was not an inviolate thermal trend. We know that
> patterns in the tropics can be decidedly different by region or latitude.
> But, more important, the problem is not just a warming planet, but a world
> in which climate is increasingly variable. Things like ENSO contribute to
> the variability in an overall warming trend. Synoptic satellite
> measurements are now showing that sea-level rise is not evenly distributed
> (even if we take away local tectonic motion). Sea level is rising in much
> of the western Indo-Pacific region and on the GBR at over 10 mm/yr,
> compared to less than 2 mm/yr along much of the eastern US coast. This has
> been explained as a response to larger-scale atmospheric forcings (again,
> ENSO-like processes).
> Because sea level cannot continuously rise more at point A than at point B
> (lest we build a slope down which one can water ski), these patterns must
> change over time, evening out to the global average (presently at ca. 3.5
> mm/yr). This suggests that even things like ENSO, similar cycles in other
> oceans and even the "ocean conveyor belt" must change temporally; some
> evidence suggests a temporal scale of 30-60 years.
> So, "Climate Change" is probably a more correct descriptor than "Global
> Warming". My suggestion is that we try to educate the public better rather
> than opting for lowering scientific rigor to the level of the average
> American voter (remembering that we are  the only nation to not adopt the
> metric system).
> Regarding models, I agree with Gene's suggestion that we might not fully
> know whether they accurately replicate nature. However, we can still
> consider several factors that can at least approximate the level of
> correspondence. First, the models start with measured data that provide a
> reasonable picture of how temperature and sea level have changed since the
> late 1700's. The obvious caveat here is that tide gauges and weather
> stations were poorly distributed at the time of the Declaration of
> Independence, but error bars can reasonably characterize the nature of the
> reliability of an annual data point. Starting with this record, climate
> scientists move on to basic atmospheric and oceanic physics. While the
> relative impacts of various controlling factors (including "randomness")
> are less-than-perfectly constrained, modelers can manipulate each within
> reasonable limits to come up with a "best fit" for the observed changes in
> temperature or sea level. The big assumption here is that the match
> suggests that we have reasonably weighted these variables for the known
> past and can, therefore, reasonably use them to model forward.
> One might reasonably argue (and I have) that this approach is imperfect.
> However, one can still make reasonable calculations of the magnitude of
> error that a particular assumption can cause and use this to constrain the
> potential errors within a given modeling scenario. At the same time. one
> can also focus on the things that have changed dramatically (e.g., carbon
> dioxide concentration in the atmosphere). Because these seem to dominate
> the math when we do this exercise, the models appear to not be as bad as we
> might have argued. In contrast, the range of C)2 values used in the various
> modeling scenarios clearly show that future decisions will have a much
> larger impact than natural changes over the past couple of centuries.
> I will end this logical foray with two observations. First, even if one
> doubles the measured changes in atmospheric CO2 prior to the industrial
> revolution, the agreement between the model and the record shifts little.
> In contrast, since 1900 the changes have resulted in major upward shifts in
> temperature (and presumably atmospheric instability, aka 'climate change").
> Thus, the models are vindicated, at least at a semi-quantitative level.
> Perhaps even more telling, each successive IPCC report provides a range and
> a median scenario for warming. In each report, the new "median" shifts
> toward the upper end of the previous range - a pattern that might leave you
> warm, but not "fuzzy" about the climate. As a colleague once argued when
> his data were challenged, "You may not feel that my 19 data points going in
> the same direction are statistically valid, but if you walked into a casino
> and rolled craps 19 straight time, would you ask for a new pair of dice?"
> Climate science is far from perfect, but it seems clear that variability
> (climate change) is as important, and maybe more so than average change
> (global warming). Remember that it's not the average increase of summer
> temperature that is killing very old and very young folks in Chicago (or
> the corals in the GFBR) - it's the extreme swings.
> Happy New Year to all - and to the non-Americans, you can now relish the
> knowledge that North Korea no longer has the craziest leader.
> Dennis
> On Wed, Jan 4, 2017 at 7:47 AM, Eugene Shinn <eugeneshinn at mail.usf.edu>
> wrote:
> > Do coral-list readers remember back when we all talked and worried about
> > global warming? As I recall that was mainly before the 1998 El Nino.
> > Then for about 20 years global temperature flattened somewhat and
> > sometime during that time global warming became “climate change..” As a
> > result of this change the subject became more confusing especially for
> > the public and coral biologists. Geologist, however, have always known
> > that climate has been changing. Such change is most obvious in
> > Pleistocene ice core records that clearly show periodic glacial and
> > interglacial (warming and cooling) periods as well as concomitant CO_2
> > ups and downs. Beside ice core data recent melting of glaciers of course
> > is undeniable evidence of warming. So why is it called “climate change”
> > instead of climate warming? And of course we have all seen the decline
> > in coral reefs. My 56-year photographic record in the Florida Keys
> > dramatically show coral demise began in the late 1970s and culminated in
> > the early 1980s. Unfortunately the reefs have experienced a downhill
> > slide ever since.
> >
> > We have all worried about how to get our message to the public and
> > decision makers. We have not done a good job of it. I suspect the term
> > Climate Change has made communicating with the public more difficult.
> > The problem is we have used the term Climate Change almost
> > interchangeably with CO_2 /Methane and greenhouse gases. As a result the
> > whole complex subject has become emotional economic and political.
> > Emotions are so strong that if one questions whether CO_2 is the cause
> > he or she is labeled a “Climate Change Denier.” Why not CO_2 or Carbon
> > denier? These arguments must be very confusing to nonscientists. So when
> > a politician calls Climate Change a hoax does he or she really mean
> > temperature has not risen or fallen in the past 100 years or do they
> > mean that they do not believe CO_2 and other greenhouse gases are the
> > cause? These become difficult questions when we don’t clarify what we
> > mean. Regardless what skeptics may believe they are nevertheless branded
> > climate deniers and compared to those who believe the Earth is flat.
> > Good scientists have always been skeptics regardless of the subject.
> >
> > The recent election has multiplied our concerns and postings on the list
> > continue to confuse global warming with climate change. The term Climate
> > change logically means temperature can go down as well as up. So why
> > can’t we just say what we mean? To make the subject even more confusing
> > many have begun to say carbon is the major cause of warming when they
> > should be saying Carbon dioxide. As scientists we like to see evidence
> > based on a controlled experiments. Those are experiments where we treat
> > X number of organisms with varying amounts of a substance B, and compare
> > results with X number of subjects not treated with substance B. I
> > realize that’s old-fashioned scientific proof but it is straightforward
> > and even the most ardent skeptics can understand the results.
> >
> > Unfortunately we cannot perform these kinds of straight experiments. We
> > lack reference planets the same distance from the sun as earth to serve
> > as a reference. What we have done is show experimentally in the
> > laboratory (as did Svante Arrhenius back in 1896) that raising CO_2
> > levels increases adsorption of infrared radiation and thus raises
> > temperature. We then infer (note I said infer) that CO_2 also raises
> > atmospheric temperature as it does in laboratory experiments.
> >
> > We know the computer climate model outputs are mathematically correct
> > but do we really know they accurately replicate nature? A little bias
> > one way or the other can influence the outcome. One should also be
> > suspicious because many models (there are more than 20) is that while
> > CO_2 has continued to rise since 1998 global temperature did not rise at
> > the rate predicted by most models. The public and many politicians are
> > often reminded of these problems so it is no wonder that many are
> > confused and remain skeptical. I am confused as anyone. The message in
> > the  Australian youtube does not clarify the problem for most of
> > us..<https://www.youtube.com/embed/BC1l4geSTP8> I suggest we drop the
> > term climate change and say what we mean-----global warming.Gene
> >
> > --
> >
> >
> > No Rocks, No Water, No Ecosystem (EAS)
> > ------------------------------------ -----------------------------------
> > E. A. Shinn, Courtesy Professor
> > University of South Florida
> > College of Marine Science Room 221A
> > 140 Seventh Avenue South
> > St. Petersburg, FL 33701
> > <eugeneshinn at mail.usf.edu>
> > Tel 727 553-1158
> > ---------------------------------- -----------------------------------
> >
> > _______________________________________________
> > Coral-List mailing list
> > Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
> > http://coral.aoml.noaa.gov/mailman/listinfo/coral-list
> --
> Dennis Hubbard
> Chair, Dept of Geology-Oberlin College Oberlin OH 44074
> (440) 775-8346
> * "When you get on the wrong train.... every stop is the wrong stop"*
>  Benjamin Stein: "*Ludes, A Ballad of the Drug and the Dream*"
> _______________________________________________
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Douglas Fenner
Contractor for NOAA NMFS, and consultant
"have regulator, will travel"
PO Box 7390
Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799  USA

phone 1 684 622-7084 <(684)%20622-7084>

Join the International Society for Reef Studies.  Membership includes a
subscription to the journal Coral Reefs, and there are discounts for pdf
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"Belief in climate change is optional, participation is not."- Jim Beever.
  "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts."-
Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

99 Reasons 2016 was a good year.  https://medium.com/future-
9iznf7pfk  Check items 42-59.

43. Global carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels did not grow
at all in 2016, for the third year in a row.  Scientific American
(though emissions didn't increase, the total amount in the atmosphere
continued to increase)

44. Renewables now account for more newly installed capacity than any other
form of electricity in the world, including coal. Gizmodo

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