Judith Curry’s Testimony: Where There’s Smoke…
January 20, 2014
The practice of marching out credentialed spokespeople to front for a destructive, rapacious industry is time honored, having been perfected by the Tobacco industry in past decades – as the nauseating video above reminds us.
These clips came to mind as I was reviewing recent hearings before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. I posted Dr. Andrew Dessler’s testimony in support of the scientific community last week.
Congressional Climate deniers have, in recent years, presented classics major “Lord” Monckton as their “expert” witness, so those of us that follow such things are always eager to see who will debase themselves by following in His Sublime Excellency’s exalted footsteps.
The selection of Dr. Judith Curry as tool of choice was not a huge surprise. Deniers will claim that Dr. Curry has some kind of status or respect from her peers, or that her views carry weight, or that she presents science in the spirit of inquiry and dialogue.
The video below, however, (posted by denialist “Steve Goddard”) of Dr. Curry receiving an award from a table full of the anti-science activists should speak volumes as to who she is, and how she views her own work – “dumpster diving”, as her new Tee shirt depicts.
Ok, I’ll start.
One of Dr. Curry’s early talking points is that “Increasing Antarctic sea ice extent” somehow weakens the science of global climate change.
You’re never surprised to hear this kind of thing from Marc Morano on Fox & Friends, but to see someone who should know better try to throw that against the wall is jarring, and revealing.
It’s a bald faced cut and paste of a popular, and not-too-bright – climate denial meme, that I took apart in a video some time ago – by interviewing specialists in the field who know well what Antarctic ice is doing, as well as what it means.
Rabbett Run adds:
..Prof. Curry really does not believe that increasing Antarctic sea ice extent casts any doubt of the AR5′s conclusions because she knows why the sea ice in Antarctica has been increasing (or perhaps not increasing as much, that may be another interesting tale of whom do you believe, theory or observation, as a recent preprint casts doubt on the magnitude). In a 2010 PNAS paper, Accelerated warming of the Southern Ocean and its impacts on the hydrological cycle and sea ice Prof. Curry’s abstract reads:
The observed sea surface temperature in the Southern Ocean shows a substantial warming trend for the second half of the 20th century. Associated with the warming, there has been an enhanced atmospheric hydrological cycle in the Southern Ocean that results in an increase of the Antarctic sea ice for the past three decades through the reduced upward ocean heat transport and increased snowfall. The simulated sea surface temperature variability from two global coupled climate models for the second half of the 20th century is dominated by natural internal variability associated with the Antarctic Oscillation, suggesting that the models’ internal variability is too strong, leading to a response to anthropogenic forcing that is too weak. With increased loading of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere through the 21st century, the models show an accelerated warming in the Southern Ocean, and indicate that anthropogenic forcing exceeds natural internal variability. The increased heating from below (ocean) and above (atmosphere) and increased liquid precipitation associated with the enhanced hydrological cycle results in a projected decline of the Antarctic sea ice.(emphasis added)
A key distinction in the two senate hearings was that Andrew Dessler focused on what we know, whereas Judith Curry focused on what we don’t know (though “AndThenTheresPhysics” made a good point that Curry goes far beyond that, by e.g. proclaiming confidence in certain benign outcomes (e.g. regarding sensitivity) while claiming ignorance in areas where we have a half-decent, if incomplete, understanding, e.g. regarding the hiatus). I have argued before that emphasizing (let alone exaggerating) uncertainties is not the road to increase people’s understanding of the issue, where what we do know is much more important to convey (if your goal is to increase the public understanding of scientific knowledge). Alongside that I argue that much more attention is needed to explain the nature of science, which is needed to e.g. place scientific uncertainties in a proper context.
Herman Daly said it as follows, in a quote I’ve used regularly over the past few years:
If you jump out of an airplane you need a crude parachute more than an accurate altimeter.
Judith starts off by signalling her intent with the following – all excerpts are from the first page of her testimony:
I am increasingly concerned that both the climate change problem and its solution have been vastly oversimplified…
…My testimony focuses on the following issues of central relevance to the President’s Climate Change Program:
- Evidence reported by the IPCC AR5 weakens the case for human factors dominating climate change in the 20th and early 21st centuries.
- Climate change in the U.S. and the importance of natural variability on understanding the causes of extreme events
- Sound science to manage climate impacts requires improved understanding of natural climate variability and its impact on extreme weather events
Right from the beginning you can tell that Judith is about to launch an attack on the science and sidestep the action plan itself. She’s also going to misrepresent the science. For example, Judith’s first dot point is wrong, plain and simple. As each major IPCC report is published, the evidence that it’s human factors which dominate climate change emerge more strongly.I’m not about to rebut every one of Judith’s denialist talking points. Most of them were just her misrepresentation of one or other IPCC report or highlighting some detail or other that is still the subject of research. Her testimony had little or nothing to do with the topic of the hearing. She appeared to be using the hearing to preach from the pulpit to her denier fans. However I will highlight a couple of points she made.The first is that her whole argument seems to be a giant straw man. The climate action plan is about action. It has only a few paragraphs on the rationale in a section headed The Case for Action on pages 4 and 5. Instead of referring to the rationale for action as set out in the action plan, Judith refers to a speech made by the President:
The premise of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan is that there is an overwhelming judgment of science that anthropogenic global warming is already producing devastating impacts, which is summarized by this statement from the President’s Second Inaugural Address:
Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.
And then she goes into a long spiel about how the science is not settled. It’s all uncertain. Her mostly unstated message is that the government should sit on its hands until every last bit of climate science is known, packaged and gift-wrapped with a pretty bow and passes the scrutiny of science deniers like herself. Fortunately governments don’t wait for 100% + certainty on any other matter before them or there would never have been a single policy initiative made by any government ever. Unfortunately they do give science deniers like herself a platform.