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Global Warming Debate Finally Over? Five Questions For Richard Muller

By MasterResource | Wed, 26 October 2011 12:29 | 10

In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, The Case Against Global-Warming Skepticism, California Berkeley physicist Richard A. Muller describes the results from a recent re-examination of climate records and declares the debate is finally, really, truly over.

Skepticism, Muller explains, may have been warranted before (how generous of him!), but now that the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project folks have worked over the temperature data again, there’s no more cause for skepticism about whether or not the globe has warmed.

Warming Red Herring - and Five Real Questions

Muller is right about the globe warming, but his framing of the debate is a red herring: arguments over climate change are not about whether one accepts or “denies” that the climate has warmed in recent years.

In fact, as I’ve been explaining to some colleagues and friends today, the proponents of urgent action on climate change like to conflate five separate questions into one question in order to tag their opponents as being “unscientific,” “deniers,” “flat-earthers,” etc.

Here are the five key questions that Muller and any critic of so-called climate skepticism must confront:

Q1: How has the global average temperature changed in recent history?

Q2: How much of that change is attributable to human activities, and how much to a given activity?

Q3: What can we expect to happen to the climate in the future?

Q4: How will those predicted changes affect people in the future?

Q5: What should we do today in response to Q1–Q4?

Question 1: A Warmer World?

Muller and others have addressed Q1, which is the stuff of hard data, adjusting it for various discrepancies, and plotting it out. That’s real hard-science, and I agree, that’s about as real as we can hope to get with scientific thinking.

Still, expect debate over a number of points of the analysis from different quarters, including Steve McIntyre at Climate Audit. After all, the magnitude of actual/factual warming is a theory-driver about the sensitivity of greenhouse-gas forcing on climate.

For questions 2 through 5, however, you depart the realm of hard science for the Assumption Zone.

Question 2: Anthropogenic Warming

So, for question 2, you have to start making assumptions about how the climate works, and what is “natural,” and by comparing that to observations, estimate how much change you can attribute to human activity. You then need more assumptions and estimates to tell you which human activity contributes to the observed change, and how strongly.

These are not simple questions, as the drivers of the climate are many, and some of those are non-linear. Skepticism on attribution of change is reasonable.

Question 3: Future Climate Change

Question 3 is even tougher than question 2, as making projections of the future requires highly advanced computer modeling. Current computer models have very little skill at predicting future states of the climate even in the big picture, much less at regional levels and over discrete actionable time periods of say, a decade at a time.

And, as you’re trying to predict future greenhouse gas emissions, you have to start throwing economic assumptions into the models on top of the physical assumptions you threw in for question 2. I’d say skepticism at this level is obligatory if anyone has paid attention to the limitations of computer models in recent years.

Question 4: Good or Bad Consequences?

Question 4, not surprisingly, entails yet more assumptions about how humans will react to future changes in the climate at both global and regional levels. It also entails assumptions about human technological development, economic activity, the population level, advances in medicine, agriculture, transportation, and so on.

I’d say a lack of skepticism at this level is actually a sign of irrational belief in the ability to predict what can’t be predicted.

Question 5: Policy Choices

And with question 5, you inject a bunch of values on top of your assumptions, since the question of “what do do” has nothing to do with science, and everything to do with values: how much do I save for retirement, versus putting toward my car loan today? How much do I put aside for my kid’s college education versus buying them a new baseball glove today?

These are not science questions at all.


Climate activists would like to conflate five questions that are partly hard science, partly soft-science, and entirely non-scientific and suggest that they all point to one answer: the immediate reordering of civilization based on carbon controls. This may let them defame anyone who disagrees with them as a “denier” of scientific reasoning, but it is an inaccurate characterization of the arguments over climate change.

Questions 2, 3, 4, and 5 anyone?

By. Kenneth P. Green

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  • Anonymous on October 26 2011 said:
    I'm not sure where the difficulty is here. 1) The earth is warming. 2) All major science academies attribute this dominantly to human release of CO2. 3) It logically follows, I believe, that as long as C02 continues to accumulate, that temperatures will continue to increase. 4) and 5) Good/Bad/Consequesnce: These are the only questions that are debatable at this point, I believe
  • Anonymous on October 26 2011 said:
    Climate change is as real as climate mitigation is and one cannot survive without the other like a boat that is sinking and the hole must be plugged. In other words climate change is not about a changing climate, it’s about controlling Nature's changing climate. How? By taxing the air with bank funded corporate run carbon trading markets ruled by politicians. The science can study the effects of a supposed worst case scenario all it wants but it won’t make it real. Burning witches didn’t prove witches were real and history will mock us all for this era of CO2 environMENTALism.
  • Anonymous on October 26 2011 said:
    What is the problem here? If everyone cannot fall into line and accept the dictates of one's betters, then we should put them into concentration camps and re-discover "the final solution" for all of these deniers. As Robert F Kennedy Jr. said, the skeptics are traitors. Everyone who is anyone agrees with all of this, just ask them!So get on the bus, or we'll throw you under it, you traitor skeptics, you! 8)
  • Anonymous on October 26 2011 said:
    Jack, you have completely missed the boat. The only thing you got right is that the earth is warming. All of the major science academies DO NOT attribute this to human release of Co2. In fact, the rise of Co2 FOLLOWS warming. All of the proponents of this insane idea have based their assertions on their very own computer climate modeling programs. The variables in the program are filled in with these agenda driven fools best GUESSES! The fact of the matter is the earth has warmed and cooled for millions of years and will continue to do so for millions more, regardless of what we humans do.
  • Anonymous on October 26 2011 said:
    I astonished that the writer of this article recommends we consult Steve McIntyre's blog. Steve McIntyre was wrong about the station data, as Muller has shown. How about pointing your readers at qualified, credible sources who have a track record of publishing competent observations and opinion? Oh, and your assertions about modelling are wrong. Modelling done by the experts since 15 years ago has turned out to have been correct. Modelling done by the contrarians has turned out to have been incorrect.
  • Anonymous on October 26 2011 said:
    "Question 2: Anthropogenic Warming"No assumptions have been made about carbon dioxide's ability to absorb infra-red radiation. Measurements made in the lab and calculations made from those measurements show that the CO2 added to the atmosphere since 1800 on its own must produce 0.6 deg C of the existing 0.7 deg C warming.There are no assumptions in that figure (0.6 deg C).
  • Anonymous on October 30 2011 said:
    There is such a thing as natural warming. When that is the case then CO2 increases will follow warming. But if CO2 is increased by human activity then it will contribute to warming. What is important is not the warming but the rate of warming and humanity is causing that rate to increase. If there is any agenda it is on the part of those who deny the science because of their political beliefs. This includes Mr. McIntyre and his associates. Look how political and completely non-scientific the posts of Bill and Alfonso are. They're pretty typical of the denier posts I've read everywhere. Not skeptics, deniers.
  • Anonymous on October 30 2011 said:
    a) Average Temperature rise has been steadily climbingb) It has been climbing at a “steady” rate even though our CO2 output has increased by a hundred foldUnlike all those books, charts and pretty drawings, The numbers don’t lie.CO2 is not the cause of Global Warming, the figures prove it … and they are all numbers, no charts, not hockey or cricket sticks, no drawings, animation or silly looking cartoons… all just plain numbers.
  • Anonymous on October 30 2011 said:
    We're so doomed... The loudest (and most certain!) groups are the extremes in this debate. There's no certainty here... This is a risk management issue...our focus should be on diversifying our patterns of activity to mitigate multiple "complementary" risks including:Energy security.Competing rural/urban Sprawl reduction. Adaptation & town/community planning for inevitable natural disasters. Pollution related health issues.Sovereign indebtedness..Start by saving yourself some money... turn lights out, get your home insulated, share car(s)... reduce anything that is misallocation of resources & capital...
  • Ted Colby on December 03 2011 said:
    The warming and cooling cycles of the globe have been observed for centuries. In the early 1950's the common notion was global cooling. In this time period the alarmists were heralding the potential arrival of ice-bergs in New York harbor. How fickle we are. CO2, the heavier than air gas that mammals exhale supports life on the planet. That CO2 has any impact on the natural cooling and warming cycle of the earth is pure fiction.

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