If We Were Wrong

What if we were wrong about this whole climate change thing? What if global warming was actually nonexistent/natural/a global conspiracy?

I, for one, would be thrilled.

Yes, there would be humiliation, and all the effort we have spent on communication would be a waste, but that would be a small price to pay. For two reasons, being wrong about this would be so worth it.

Firstly, can you imagine having this weight off our shoulders? Can you imagine not having it wiggling its way into every thought you have about the future? I want to have kids one day….but what state will the world economy be in by then? I want to travel to the Amazon….but how many of its species will be lost by the time I get there? And all because we were too lazy, around the turn of the century, to do anything to stop it.

We probably could have saved ourselves, but we were too damned lazy to try very hard, and too damned cheap.

-Kurt Vonnegut

Secondly, what an incredible scientific opportunity it would be for this problem not to exist. I think that we can agree that a great deal of climatological theory and methods would have to be wrong for climate change to be proven natural/nonexistent/a global conspiracy. Anthropogenic global warming fits perfectly with our understanding of the climate system, and if it were proven wrong, a huge hole would be blown in this understanding.

We would have to rebuild that hole. We would have to redo all kinds of science. We would have to rediscover new ways of doing everything. How amazing would that be? What kind of an opportunity would a scientist rather have?


12 thoughts on “If We Were Wrong

  1. Hi kate

    I agree. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish we were wrong. I have a son (12) and I want him to have a world that has the same biological riches that I experienced as a child, and to have the same opportunities in his life as I have had, not limited by a world turned upside down by agricultural crises, water shortages, mass human displacements due to rising sea levels etc. I wonder also what is the motivation of the skeptics and why they are so angry about AGW.

    Many skeptics have some link to the energy industry, or mining. Dr Ian Plimer, a prominent skeptic and author of a controversial book on the topic, is on the board of several mining companies(http://www.prwatch.org/node/8686).

    Are they prejudiced in their viewpoints because of these associations? I can’t say that with confidence. I can say though, that the only vested interest I have in climate change is my son’s future. As I have noted in a post of Scott Mandia’s blog (http://profmandia.wordpress.com/2010/03/11/taking-the-money-for-granted-%e2%80%93-part-i/#comment-409), my research grants would continue whether I was a skeptic or an accepter of AGW. All that matters is that I write sound scientific papers, train students, and spend the funds according to the guidelines of the funding agencies. And frankly, if I or another scientist were able to demonstrate that we are all wrong and AGW isn’t real, and that was published in a top science journal (and they WOULD publish it, because it would be sensational), we would get even more research funds. Any alternative viewpoint is rhetorical conspiracy theory. perhaps that is why the anti-AGW analyses only appear in the blogosphere and not in the scientific literature. It doesn’t pass peer review, i.e. it isn’t sound science.


  2. Of course if we are wrong the deniers will jump up an down cheering and might even feel that their approach to science (throw as much mud against the wall, even if it is contradicts the previous mud you threw) has been vindicated, even though it is hopelessly wrong.

    That would cause lots of damage to the public understanding and acceptance of science. And that worries me a lot, because even if we get lucky this time our luck will run out one day.

    But at least we could focus our energy on solving other issues that demand our attention.

  3. We probably could have saved ourselves, but we were too damned lazy to try very hard, and too damned cheap.

    -Kurt Vonnegut
    About sums it up. Lets hope I am wrong because I believe that we are so very close to too late.

    It probably is already too late for my part of the world. [citations needed re: 50-year summer temperature projections] and our water supply is already stretched.

    Australia, I presume? -Kate

  4. I often place peoples positions on Climate Science into one of 4 positions.
    Starting from the far right, we have “the deniers”, loud, loutish and seemingly unable to think. Moving one spot to the left I have the “Skeptics”(I am one). Thoughtful (I like to think most of us are), curious and very suspicious of sensationalized science.
    Now, going over the line are the “believers”. For the most part, exactly the same as the deniers, just a different point of view. Then we have.
    The TRUE BELIEVERS. Gosh, most of those I have met are exactly like the deniers, loud, nasty and unable to think for themselves.

    Unfair of me I know to go right to left, but I just couldn’t pass up on the temptation.
    Anyway, a few quick things. I hate trends. If this goes like that, and if that goes like this, and it we dont (or do) that, then there will be a catastrophy. Way to many “ifs” for me. The historical projections seem to we out of wack for short 2-3 month periods, way more often than not, so I find it difficult to trust longer projection periods. That was number one.

    On to number 2. Has anyone here looked at the rainfall averages for the majority of Austrailia? What I looked at, from the Austrailian bureau of Meterology shows that actual rainfalls are rising. http://www.bom.gov.au/cgi-bin/climate/change/trendmaps.cgi?map=rain&area=aus&season=0112&period=1900 I found that to be informative. I had believed that “yes Virginia, there is a drought”. Perhaps the water shortage is more due to how it is handled, from when the drop hits the ground, to when what is left flows into the ocean. A growing population seems to be sucking up more water then what it used to, (sounds like California??).

    I am hoping for some insired rebutall

    Best to all.

    A few quick points: First, distrusting long-term projections because short-term projections are often inaccurate is really the wrong way around. Climate projections are based on averages and moving averages, which are far easier to calculate as the period of time becomes longer. For example, predicting the outcome of one dice roll is scarcely more than an arbitrary guess, whereas predicting the outcome of a hundred dice rolls is far easier, especially if you know whether and how the dice are weighted, etc.

    Secondly, try playing around with the period drop-down menu in the link to the Australia map. From 1900-present the trend, overall, is pretty flat for all seasons, but as you move to shorter periods of time, drought conditions become very obvious. The shortest period of time, 1970-present, is particularly striking. I assume that this would imply there were wetter-than average conditions early- and mid-century, and then an accelerating drop in precipitation towards the end of the century. Do you know of somewhere I can look at trends in Australia precipitation from ~1900-1950?

    Also look at the annual reports by NCDC on severe weather conditions across the globe – choose the year from the drop-down menu on this page. In the precipitation section, Australian drought is frequently mentioned.

    Best of luck. -Kate

  5. I am not a climate scientist, but I agree 100%.

    I would love to suffer the humiliation of being wrong – at least a large monkey would be off all our backs.

  6. >I think that we can agree that a great deal of climatological theory and methods would have to be wrong for climate change to be proven natural/nonexistent/a global conspiracy.

    I guess that depends on what being wrong means. The IPCC Report is set up as WG1 says CO2 causes global warming, WG2 says global warming causes great deal of damage to society, and WG3 says these are policies that could stop, adjust to the damage.

    Now it’s possible that just WG3 is wrong, and the solutions required do not help, which is more economic and has little impact on the science. Or perhaps there are other solutions that solve the problem cheaply. Or perhaps WG2 is wrong and the damage is not as much as thought. Or Perhaps WG1 is wrong not on CO2 causes global warming, but on the amount.

    All of these are positive developments, except the first one, in a sense mean that the science is all wrong, but it would not require overturning science to find out these errors.

    A very good point. I was generally referring to WG1 when I said “what if all the science is wrong?” -Kate

  7. Yes Kate, Australia.
    Sorry cannot find the particuar report, The Aust Govt Climate Change site uses the IPCC projections which would make the climate unpleasant.

    Rather unpleasant projections for the US

    Extreme weather events will occur exacerbating the climate change effects. The above linked report which states the European Heatwave of 2003 in which many died would be an exceptionally cool year by centuries end.

    An interesting paper on the subject of limits to adaptability.
    And Sceptical Science’s take on the article

    The global change report and the adaptability limits paper combine to make scary reading.

  8. Even within WG1, I don’t think it is necessary for everything to be wrong for good things to happen.
    We are talking about some models, with a wide range of possible results, though the published ones at ClimateExplorer do not have as wide a range as gets discussed in the media.
    The difference between top and bottom of the range means that some of the models must be wrong as is. Perhaps warming is not as much as WG1’s range. That would still mean CO2 causes global warming, sea levels rising, attribution of global warming to human activities, paleoclimate, etc, probably 8 or 9 of the 11 chapters.

  9. Thanks Kate, I did go back and do some “playing around” with the drop down graphs. And I was able to find the “short term” trends you pointed out. And, cough cough, yes you are right. in that locale rainfall is down, over all, based on the last 100+ years of statistics. And, I agree with you, that the longer the base line, the more accurate the projections.

    I guess my big problem revolves around “how short” can a long term baseline be? With approx 100 years of rainfall stats, how do we know that this is a drought, and not a return to normalcy after years of excessive rainfall. Pallisers triangle springs to mind. A few short but wet years made the area look lush and fertile. Once yearly moisture levels dropped, wow what a difference. Most of Southwestern Sask and Southeastern Alberta were settled on Pallisers report. (still one of Canada’s more intreging areas in my mind) This year, lots of rain. most years as low as 250mm (10″). I am afraid that the hype and sensationalism will have us (as a society) basing our economic future on misguided ideals.

    A really interesting area of science that is forthcoming is traditional knowledge. For example, in the Arctic, the Inuit people rely on ice for nearly everything, so the timing of when and where ice is has been passed down for generations. Read more in this report. -Kate

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