Climate Science Rules

Over at the Register, Stu has an interview with Professor Mike Hulme:

Just two years ago, Mike Hulme would have been about the last person you’d expect to hear criticising conventional climate change wisdom. Back then, he was the founding director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, an organisation so revered by environmentalists that it could be mistaken for the academic wing of the green movement. Since leaving Tyndall – and as we found out in a telephone interview – he has come out of the climate change closet as an outspoken critic of such sacred cows as the UN’s IPCC, the “consensus”, the over-emphasis on scientific evidence in political debates about climate change, and to defend the rights of so-called “deniers” to contribute to those debates…

Here it is.

A good excuse to recycle one of our favourite videos:

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24 thoughts on “Climate Science Rules”

  1. I followed this on WUWT, and publicised this place.

    Let me recap: This man is pretending reasonable; but he uses the term “climate change”.

    WE ALL KNOW, he included, that he is talking of Catastrophic Man Made Global Warming. If he weren’t, then he’d be supporting more CO2 in the atmosphere, if he really did believe that trace gas controlled Earth’s surface temperature.

    But he doesn’t use that available argument as he doesn’t believe it. I would call this guy a philosophical and political whore, if I didn’t actually appreciate whores. This man is scum. He is not reasonable. He is two-faced.

    He doesn’t give a foot about athelete’s foot, nor global warming. It is an excuse, a ladder, for his personal advancement.

  2. Robert, we try to make the point that science is neither decisive, nor instructive. The orthodoxy we intend to challenge claims that it is both.

    It seems perfectly reasonable to us that a position can be held that ‘climate change is happening’, and even that it will be problematic and calls for a political response, but to not wish to use alarmist language to advance that view. Moreover, Hulme’s view seems to be that we need to know what we’re asking science before we can understand what it ‘tells’ us. As we’re fond of saying, ‘politics is prior to science’.

    Far from being a ‘whore’, or ‘scum’, Hulme has bravely offered a perspective that challenges all sides of the debate, particularly those who believe that the science is instructive, whichever ‘side’ turns out to be in possession of the best science.

    If you want, we can delete your comment, and say no more about it.

  3. Mike Hulme does seem to be getting it in the neck from all sides now, but having read the interview I found I couldn’t argue over anything he said about the very issues that prompt me to describe myself as a sceptic i.e. the worrying state of political influence on Climate Science, and its potential distorting effect upon any real knowledge, this is the very thing a scientist should be concerned about no matter what his underlying belief about the level of danger of man made influences today. However we now have a situation where bio-fuels, windfarms and unproven electric cars are financially artificially boosted because of an underlying claim that they are scientifically required to save us, which I think is patently untrue. I suspect that a lot of this technology will prove an over funded distraction and cause a boom-bust a bit like the recent dot-com boom, some will make their money, but overall it will be waste of time and resources for the rest of us. Maybe Mr Hulme does indeed have some human self interest in knowing that there may be a time of reflection where the behaviour of the ‘science’ community will be analysed very critically one day, and he may be wisely declaring his position early, but I think that should not be faulted.

  4. As the science behind catastrophic AGW becomes totally discredited, its main proponents will be found to be telling us that it was all our fault for listening to the experts.

    Not content with destroying the credibility of one science, they are attempting to destroy the credibility of all science, to “innoculate” us against taking any science seriously, to always put politics before science.

    This is scary stuff. I’ve just finished reading about the fall of the Roman empire, and the implications are quite depressing.

  5. He is right, science cannot provide the answers to all our problems. The issue is social and political and we need to examine the idealogies behind the polarised positions. What I believe he is advocating is that we take this debate to a new level.
    Time to put our cards on the table?

  6. “Science is neither decisive or instructive”! What sort of gibberish is that? It is precisely because science will always trump social and political ideologies in the end, that the time is ripe for ex-alarmists to slowly distance themselves from the consensus bandwagon. The $trillions wasted on Kyoto etc. were because social and political ideologies were promoted above science.

  7. “… social and political ideologies were promoted above science.”

    That’s precisely the kind of gibberish greens come out with.

  8. Empirical evidence will in the end decide who is right and who is wrong. In fact that is what is happening.

    I’m mildly horrified that you think science should be subservient to ideology. If the greens disagree with you, then I’ll side with them for once.

  9. “Empirical evidence will in the end decide who is right and who is wrong”

    Empirical evidence cannot speak, nor decide. (It’s not decisive).

    “horrified that you think science should be subservient to ideology.”

    It is horrifying that you think ideology should be ‘subservient to science’, (whatever it’s supposed to mean).

    “When people attempt to rebel against the iron logic of nature, they come into conflict with the very same principles to which they owe their existence as human beings. Their actions against nature must lead to their own downfall.” – Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf.

  10. You’re not even being pedantic. Evidence has by definition a significance for someone seeking an explanation. Under strictly controlled conditions, it can even be called experimental data. So, if you labour under the misapprehension that gravitation obeys an inverse cube law, you might find the evidence provided by the motion of the planets extremely decisive! In fact the empirical evidence would speak clearly to you if you had the wit to listen.

    As for ideology being subservient to science, well that’s sort of a definition of an enlightened mind. You apparently take the opposite view.

  11. “You’re not even being pedantic. Evidence has by definition a significance for someone seeking an explanation.”

    And you’re not being at all logical. If evidence is significant to a human already seeking an explanation, something exists prior to evidence.

    “you might find the evidence provided by the motion of the planets extremely decisive”

    The evidence doesn’t make the decision. The human does.

    “the empirical evidence would speak clearly to you”

    No, it doesn’t. Evidence does not speak.

    “ideology being subservient to science, well that’s sort of a definition of an enlightened mind”

    That’s what the Greens say.

    A more enlightened mind might ask why it is necessary that ‘ideology’ and ‘science’ are related – and through what – in such a way as to make one ‘subservient’ to the other.

  12. TEH – ‘It is precisely because science will always trump social and political ideologies in the end’.

    The problem we have with this view is that it seemingly defers the whole debate to scientists. The consequence of that is to admit that the possibility of global warming legitimises environmentalism.

    But why shouldn’t people who hold with right of centre political ideas criticise environmentalism on it’s own terms, without recourse to language about ‘the climate’? Similarly, why should someone holding a left of centre perspective be reluctant to criticise Green ideology?

    It could be argued that ‘science’ has been used to prohibit or limit the expression of political ideas and ideologies, and the result is Kyoto, etc.

    We make the argument, however, that environmentalism is ideological insofar as it intends to change the world, but that it has risen to prominence when political perspectives have been historically weak. There is no ‘Left’ to speak of, that has any continuity with the Left of the past. Similarly, the Right is pretty aimless.

    TEH’s point seems fairly redundant.

  13. To the editors: “The problem we have with this view is that it seemingly defers the whole debate to scientists. The consequence of that is to admit that the possibility of global warming legitimises environmentalism.”

    Come off it guys, environmentalism doesn´t require “legitimising”. Clean air, clean water
    and an overall flourishing healthy biosphere are prerequistes for human health. How can you argue otherwise? Science is a tool for knowledge. How else are we to understand our world?
    You say “But why shouldn’t people who hold with right of centre political ideas criticise environmentalism on it’s own terms, without recourse to language about ‘the climate’? Similarly, why should someone holding a left of centre perspective be reluctant to criticise Green ideology?”

    People who hold with right of centre political ideas may criticise environmentalism to their heart´s content. What they may come up against is the the tricky problem of convincing people that dirty air, polluted water supplies, exhausted,contaminated land and the general destruction of our natural world on which we so depend, is a trifling price to pay for human “progress” ( which, incidentally, is a term in great need of clarification)

    Green idealogy is science based. What else do you suggest we base our ideas on?

  14. SJones – ‘Come off it guys, environmentalism doesn´t require “legitimising”. Clean air, clean water and an overall flourishing healthy biosphere are prerequistes for human health.’

    Environmentalism isn’t simply a position on clean air and water. Similarly, criticising environmentalism isn’t a commitment to an argument against clean air and water.

    It gets even more murky when you introduce the concept of an ‘overall flourishing healthy biosphere’. What the hell is it? Not even ‘science as a tool for knowledge’ (whatever that is) can yet determine what constitutes such a thing.

    Being such a nebulous concept, the desire to protect an ‘overall flourishing healthy biosphere’ can extend well beyond the rational. For instance, environmentalism’s political capital is invested in the precautionary principle. This allows environmentalists to extrapolate from only superficially plausible science, that change is equivalent to damage, and we are therefore committed to an ‘unsustainable’ system that will lead inevitably to catastrophe. The process of industrialisation, while indeed ‘dirty’ at the outset, led to new ways of producing things which are cleaner, and which wouldn’t have been developed had we been worried about clean air, clean water, and an ‘overall flourishing healthy biosphere’.

    It’s not true, you see, that human interests are always the same as nature’s interests. Furthermore, it is not the case that an argument for clean air, clean water, and an ‘overall flourishing healthy biosphere’ are automatically legitimate. It would indeed be a wonderful thing if no factory needed to emit any pollution, but the world would be a lot less comfortable, a lot less rewarding, and a lot more painful without them.

    ‘Green idealogy is science based. What else do you suggest we base our ideas on?

    It isn’t science based. Green politics is prior to science. It attempts to legitimise itself with science, but that’s not the same as being ‘science based’.

  15. There have been plenty of ideologies that either masquerade as science or claim their authority from it. A dead give away a resistance to questioning and debate.

    The evidence is stacking up that (stalled for a decade) global warming is not going to be catastrophic and the anthropogenic component is tiny. The expedient thing to do now, for anyone wishing to preserve their scientific reputation in the long term, is to get on the fence. Bravo Professor Hulme!

    The problem with the debate so far is the lack science, and the excess of ideology.

  16. Editors
    “Environmentalism isn’t simply a position on clean air and water. Similarly, criticising environmentalism isn’t a commitment to an argument against clean air and water.”

    Have to disagree with both these statements. Simply, clean air and clean water are basic to human health. Ensuring those two elements is primary.

    “It gets even more murky when you introduce the concept of an ‘overall flourishing healthy biosphere’. What the hell is it? Not even ’science as a tool for knowledge’ (whatever that is) can yet determine what constitutes such a thing.”

    What is a flourishing healthy biosphere?? You mean you don´t know?
    Must I also define `knowledge´ for you? And the concept of `tool´?

    “Being such a nebulous concept, the desire to protect an ‘overall flourishing healthy biosphere’ can extend well beyond the rational.”
    You saying it is a `nebulous concept´ highlights the fact that you don´t know what it is. Suggest you brush up on the physical sciences: physics, chemistry and biology and their related diciplines of atmospheric science, oceanography, botany, zoology, astrophysics, physiology, medicine… And that for starters. This might give you a clearer idea of what I mean by the term. Unless we both understand what the term means, then we will not be communicating effectively and therefore unable to say whether the desire to protect it, or conversely; to trash it, “can extend beyond the rational” or not.

    “For instance, environmentalism’s political capital is invested in the precautionary principle. This allows environmentalists to extrapolate from only superficially plausible science, that change is equivalent to damage, and we are therefore committed to an ‘unsustainable’ system that will lead inevitably to catastrophe.”

    The use of the terms `superficially plausible´ to describe science is yet another indication that it is your grasp of the science which is superficial(as demonstrated above) rather than a description of the science.

    Change is not synonomous with damage, and it is wiser not to confuse one with the other.

    The use of `unsustainable´ to describe a system, means that by definition the system will break down. That is what an unsustainable system is. It is a system that will break down because it is unsustainable. If a system is sustainable then it won´t break down because that is what the word sustainable means. Get it?

    “The process of industrialisation, while indeed ‘dirty’ at the outset, led to new ways of producing things which are cleaner, and which wouldn’t have been developed had we been worried about clean air, clean water, and an ‘overall flourishing healthy biosphere’.”

    Wonderful bit of `Homer Simpson ´logic! But perhaps it has also been because we got worried about the clean water , clean air and the OFHB that led to producing things that are cleaner?
    Agree with you about the process of industrialisation being dirty at the outset. Still is dirty , so perhaps if we stop worrying about it, it will become cleaner, as your clause suggets.?

    “It’s not true, you see, that human interests are always the same as nature’s interests.”

    No I don´t see. What are `nature´s interests´?

    “Furthermore, it is not the case that an argument for clean air, clean water, and an ‘overall flourishing healthy biosphere’ are automatically legitimate. It would indeed be a wonderful thing if no factory needed to emit any pollution, but the world would be a lot less comfortable, a lot less rewarding, and a lot more painful without them.”

    Neither is it the case that the argument for clean air, clean water and an OFHB is automatically illegitimate. It would indeed be a wonderful thing if no factory needed to emit pollution into the air we breathe or the water we drink and generally contaminate and degrade the OFHB. And there. dear sirs, is precisely the rub. How to have all those comfortable rewarding things and not pollute the OFHB?? Challenging huh? Creative new thinking, perhaps? Technologial innovations that free us from dirty 19th century practices. Or perhaps you are afraid of change? you have certainly mentioned on other posts that you worry that Greens are out to change the way we live, so I can only assume that you don´t want to move forward on new technology and creative new 21st century thinking? Prefer to stay huddled in your cave, crowded round your coal fired power stations.?

    ‘Green idealogy is science based. What else do you suggest we base our ideas on?

    “It isn’t science based. Green politics is prior to science. It attempts to legitimise itself with science, but that’s not the same as being ’science based’.”

    This is just silly. Of course it is science based. What do you think we do? sit round plotting the revolution and fabricating scientific facts to support our case? “Humans need oxygen!” “Oh, ha, ha that´s a good one..” “trees produce oxygen..” “brilliant Dr Brocoli !! stick that in the manifesto.. that will fool the punters!” Like I said.. silly.

  17. Assuming this is a genuine question and you really don´t know what it means:

    overall: total, inclusive of all parts (not to be confused with protective garment to keep out the dirt and wet of same name)

    healthy: not sick, ill or diseased. State of wellness. Beneficial.

    flourishing: thriving, prospering, growing vigorously.

    biosphere: Life on Earth (or any other planet). The sum of all organisms living on Earth and the space they occupy: the lithosphere, the hydrosphere and the atmosphere. The concept also describes the interactions that take place to maintain the conditions for life.
    Earth system. The ecosystem of the entire planet. Big ball of life…and how it functions.

    And please don´t ask what is the meaning of `life´.

    But I would like an answer to my questions above.

    Hope you are well and flourishing!

  18. Well, everything to do with science actually. Physics, chemistry and biology and the related disciplines of geology,paleontology, volcanology,seismology,oceanography,glaciology,meteorology,climatology….etc etc etc.
    Not sure what your point is. What other method do we use in order to understand how nature functions, if not science?

  19. “healthy: not sick, ill or diseased. State of wellness. Beneficial.”

    Does humans being healthy and prospering in ever greater numbers mean the biosphere is healthier?

    A likely first objection is, “but that’s not sustainable!”

    OK, so does a slowly progressing cancer, which isn’t aggressive enough to kill its host, is that cancer “sustainable” and therefore “healthy” ?

    Well, the host wouldn’t feel too healthy anyway.

    Does the presence of any foreign organism in my body mean I am not healthy? Well, I seem to benefit from gut bacteria.

    If we didn’t need plants and trees, should we keep them around? ie. if all our food and air could be manufactured synthetically, is it morally required that we keep nature around? Well perhaps not, but lets say we simply need them for human health and we can’t do without.

    What then does “sustainable” mean?

    If we use less resources, there will be more resources for later, and so that looks more “sustainable”. But if through using fewer resources, we can only support fewer people, then what’s the point, if those people have to live in more primitive conditions, and have more primitive lifestyles and cultures. ie. more racism, more ethnocentric violence, more wars, more brutality.

    The more people we have, the more brains, the more technology, the more globally connected we become, the more we move towards united humanity in peaceful coexistence. As we haven’t achieved that as yet…. we obviously have further to go, much further. Staying where we are NOW is NOT sustainable. Any major disease, asteroid, or war, could easily wipe us all out. History does not end today, and there are many human potentials which we have glimpsed but haven’t as yet achieved in any significant numbers. If we go bust in the process then so be it, but we cannot sustain staying at our current level of development. We are as a race still very underdeveloped. I don’t know where people got the idea that the West is “developed”…. we’re just not as undeveloped as some places.

    So we must progress with culture and technology and wisdom. More wisdom means more technology. Which means more power. More energy. More materials and resources.

    Yes, we do need to make industry cleaner, but not at the expense of industry itself. We are still primitive and our current technology, solar or nuclear or oil, cannot sustain us. And having fewer people won’t sustain us either–that just prolongs the decay, like trapped miners trying to breathe slower.

    I don’t think we can consider ourselves “sustainable” at least until 20% of us are colonizing other worlds, or have connections to other worlds beyond ours, and for that we need human wisdom to progress much much further. We tend to stop killing each other when we no longer need to to survive. In peace we can afford to practice being more altruistic and compassionate. Being green is just a very small part of that move forward.

  20. I think you are all arguing past each other. Mike Hulme is partly to blame: He’s trying to make philosophical points when it’s all really quite simple.

    a. Is industrial CO2 demonstrably warming us?
    b. If so, by how much?
    c. Is that bad or good?
    d. Has the large funding available caused scientists to lose objectivity and pretend to know things that they really don’t?

    And the answers are:
    a. While it’s scientifically plausible, it’s not really possible to separate out natural variability. Those who say it is are guessing or lying.
    b. Anything above 1 degree per CO2 doubling is mere guesswork disguised to look like science.
    c. Probably good (albeit by complete chance) – the planet is greening and all the talk about more extreme weather is alarmist hogwash belied by the data.
    d. Oh yes!

    The environmentalist ideology is also very simple: If it happens naturally we know it’s ok but if it isn’t natural, be suspicious.

    Industrial CO2 isn’t, of course, natural. Greens have no trouble disbelieving scientists when it suits them so yes here they do have a hidden agenda. No it’s not socialism (many are privileged toffs)! Their hidden agenda is merely that they want clean, green energy to sustain us in the future. It’s not exactly a bad aim. They cannot be happy about the result of jumping on this bandwagon though – ie the return of nuclear power. Talk about unintended consequences!

  21. To Stefan. You make some good points. Human development is a good idea, but what constitutes human development? Can we develop not only along material lines but also along other dimensions, become wiser, as you mentioned? Becoming more “altruistic and compassionate” and “… united humanity in peaceful coexistence” are wonderful ideals, but we need some serious overhaul of our values and some serious self examination of our practices before we can even begin to envision such a world.

    You say “If we didn’t need plants and trees, should we keep them around? ie. if all our food and air could be manufactured synthetically, is it morally required that we keep nature around? Well perhaps not, but lets say we simply need them for human health and we can’t do without”
    Ask yourself if you would really prefer manufactured synthetic food? What would we manufacture it from if not from natural elements? Which is what nature does anyway, so why bother going to all the trouble and expense of synthetic manufacture?
    I also wonder if nature is morally required to keep us around? Or perhaps nature doesn´t have a conscience, or even care.

    Just a small point that often crops up is; why do you consider yourself somehow separate from nature? Why do we have humans on one `side´ and `nature´ on the other?
    Isn´t this division rather artificial and more a product of divisive thinking than actual reality which seems to indicate that we are part and parcel of this universal system?

    Energy is good! But does it have to be equated with burning fossil fuels and nuclear power, with all the attendant problems of pollution and waste disposal? We haven´t progressed much since the cave man days in respect of burning carbon for our needs, and many of our our so called modern inventions were invented in the century before last. Nuclear fission power is very high risk and fusion seems to elude us for the time being. We need some serious new ideas and that means thinking outside the box.
    One of the main objections I have to the current energy question isn´t just about how we produce it. But how we use it or rather misuse it and abuse it. Petroleum is one of our most precious resources, yet we waste it in so many ways. Energy efficiency is clever and intelligent and we should be focusing very clearly on that goal.

    Colonising other worlds is all very well, but shouldn´t we be a bit more critical of the manner in which we are colonising this one before we decide to take our crappy, dirty 19th century technology to outer space?

    I agree with your basic point though, we think we are developed, but we are mere babies to what we could become if we really got our act together, cleaned up our own crap and started living up to our label of `humanity´ . Developing means maturing intelligently?

    To JamesG “The environmentalist ideology is also very simple: If it happens naturally we know it’s ok but if it isn’t natural, be suspicious.” With respect, this statement is just simplistic nonsense. Earthquakes are ok? Hurricanes are ok? Viral and bacterial infections are ok? But trains and buses and bicycles are not ok, neither are houses and shops and schools and hospitals? Telephones? computers?
    I appreciate that you consider the idea of clean energy to be “not a bad aim”. Nuclear power is very problematic and its use simply bolsters our unthinking use of energy rather than encouraging us to think `clean´- Chuck another uranium rod in the chamber darling, I need to take a power shower, these hydrocarbons do stick so-

    Perhaps if you really want to know what Greens think and why they think it, and not what you think we think, you should do a little more research. Be open minded. Clinging to outdated positions and holding entrenched opinions is not the way for us humans to develop in an intelligent creative manner, is it?

  22. Stefan
    With respect you made up a strawman to argue with. I wasn’t sneering at greens. In fact I defend them whenever I can and I thought that was what I was doing here. But yes I believe the credo is as simplistic as that when talking purely about the fouling of our environment. Most of the other things you mention are NOT environmental issues. Of course if you presume that CO2 is really such a huge danger then absolutely everything we do is affected. Perhaps that’s your point but it’s still your argument and not mine.

    Perhaps even, as some conservative commentators have noted, this “everything is affected” argument is the real attraction of CO2 control for would-be world-improvers. The trouble is that a lot of the proposals will do a lot more harm than good. And this is mainly because too many intellectuals do not want to see both sides to an argument: They are too busy being smug and self-righteous.

    I also remind people of the dangers and costs of nuclear energy whenever possible – as well as some opportunities. And I agree totally with your last statement. So why don’t you try persuading your colleagues to be more open minded about climate science. I’ve done so and found it’s mostly pessimistic conjecture. I suspect it all stems from opportunistic grant-seeking overhyped by those smug, politically-correct hypocrites as suggested by Craig Bohren – a talented atmospheric physicist – who smelt the corruption, opted out and hence lost out on the grant avalanche.

    I believe green ideas and energy ideas can converge to a clean, sustainable energy future but it all needs to be based on honesty, truth, humanism, real experimental evidence and real open-mindedness. We have a long way to go before that happens. We’d all welcome the real environmentalists into the realist fold to build a clean, green, poverty-reducing, sustainable future.

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