Understanding Belief Change (Thoughts on Reading AR5)
The global warming ideological movement is now in its final throes, and people like me, who love to observe and analyze belief systems, and especially their life cycles from birth to death, have a ringside seat to witness its final disappearance.
It will take five to ten years for this to be generally admitted, but the global warming ideology is now hemorrhaging beyond any hope of recovery and we can watch its entertaining collapse with eager anticipation and high amusement. Gloating would be childish but some degree of serene gratification is entirely appropriate.
Given that the fate of global warming is now sealed, the interesting question is how its obituary will be written. Ten years from now, the present adherents of catastrophic global warming will all be voicing what is now called the skeptical or realist position. How will they get there?
It seems unlikely that they will say: ‘We were seriously wrong. Sorry!’ A few of them, no doubt, but not the majority.
It also seems unlikely that they will do what they did with acid rain: just suddenly stop blathering about it. For years they were screaming at us that acid rain was destroying the world’s forests, which would bring about ecological catastrophe. Scarcely a day went by without some new media reference to the horrors of acid rain. Then it all stopped, and we haven’t heard a peep about acid raid for many a long year.
The difference is that global warming is, culturally speaking, a much bigger deal than acid rain. More noise has been made about it, more politicians have staked their reputations on it, numerous best-selling books have been written about it and countless international conferences have been generously tax-funded (to the tune of trillions) to talk about it.
If they suddenly stopped mentioning global warming without explanation, people would notice. But aside from that, the folks who promote the global warming belief-system are not conscious hoaxers. They really do believe in it, so they’re going to have to find a way to explain to themselves how and why they have abandoned that belief and replaced it with the beliefs they now abhor: global warming is nothing to worry about, and more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not a bad thing at all. The fact that they really do believe in catastrophism explains why they cannot take the tent down in a disciplined and co-ordinated manner. Since their disillusionment will be uneven, they will start turning on each other, snarling viciously, the way they now turn on their skeptical scientific critics.
Of course, memories are highly fallible, and people are often capable of forgetting what they used to believe in. So, I confidently expect some people to deny that they ever believed in catastrophic global warming. Just think of it! Ten years from now, some people are going to be denying that anyone ever believed what they now loudly proclaim they believe!
Naturally, there will be some definite recanters, people with unusual moral courage or those approaching retirement who calculate they can no longer be injured by the militant global warming ideologues. These will probably be few, but definitely expect to see some. Fritz Vahrenholt is one of these. There will soon be several more, and there will be no converts in the opposite direction.
The really fascinating thing is how the adjustment process will take place. What, specifically, will these global warming believers say from day to day and week to week, to account for the uncomfortable changes they are undergoing?
There are essentially five likely techniques:
1. Abandoning their specific claims while ever more loudly declaiming the general summary of these claims. (Yes, polar bear populations are growing, Arctic and Antarctic ice are both increasing, glaciers are in great shape, extreme weather events are at an all-time low, it keeps getting colder, and so on and on and on, but still, global warming is building up and catastrophe is just around the corner.) This can’t go on forever. Even the journalists (always the last people to notice anything) will perceive that it is all in the believers’ heads; nothing remarkable is actually happening out there in the climate.
We can see this process in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5, Part 1), where the body of the report retreats in several key places from the Fourth Assessment (AR4), while the concluding summary for policymakers is even more apoplectic in its wording than the conclusion of AR4, Part 1. Six or seven years from now we’ll be due for a Sixth Assessment, and that will present the IPCC with a painful dilemma (the crisis will come sooner, because it takes several years to prepare these reports, and there are always rumblings a couple of years before the report is finalized).
If the body of the report again records retreat after retreat while the conclusions for policymakers become yet more extreme and strident, this will be just too embarrassing a joke. They can’t do that again, so what will they do? I imagine they will most likely postpone the report for a while, and then come out and actually admit they have had to reduce the estimated risk of catastrophe. Perhaps they will produce two reports, allowing a minority report for the first time. Perhaps AR5 is already the last, and AR6 will just never get off the ground. Whatever they do, those of us who fondly appreciate la comédie humaine are in for a real treat.
2. Surreptitious retreat, admitting it’s not as bad as they once said, but insisting it is still very, very bad. This can later be stealthily modulated into ‘not so very bad after all’.
3. You can’t be too careful. Yes, the whole thing was overblown, but it’s better to err on the side of caution. And who knows what obscure undetectable demons might still be lurking somewhere in the climate?
4. Making little adjustments here and there, without affecting the overall results. This is a bit like someone who has embezzled a lot of money from a company and still has a highly-placed job in the Accounts department. He tries to move a few thousand dollars around every month, and keeps on improvizing new stories to conceal the fact that a big sum has gone missing. One day, independent auditors walk through the door, and then the game’s up!
5. Finally, this is the one that I find most fascinating and most amusing. I think they will adopt the practice of announcing amazing new discoveries, which are in fact exactly what the skeptics have been saying for several decades. We have already seen some hints that this ploy is to become standard.
For reasons familiar to those who follow climate science, these amazing new discoveries will mostly be about the effects of aerosols and clouds.
Aerosols are due to fine particles which exist naturally and are also generated by industrial activity. To explain why their climate predictions always turn out to be false, and always erroneous in the same direction, the IPCC folks have been assuming that newly generated aerosols exert a cooling influence, difficult to quantify but always just enough to explain away the difference between the catastrophic warming effects of carbon dioxide (which never actually happen, remember) and the actual observations. In simulating climate with models, they can add in an aerosol cooling, so that the current lack of warming can be rendered compatible with a hypothetical warming that is never actually observed.
The idea is that Chinese industrialization is increasing the number of aerosols or changing their character so that there is greater cooling from aerosols than in the past. And so, industrialization, which brings catastrophe through carbon dioxide warming, just coincidentally rescues us from catastrophic warming because of the cooling effect of aerosols. This sounds like a stroke of luck for all of us, but wait, the IPCC’s models show that the cooling effect of aerosols eventually won’t be able to counteract the warming, so in this way we can reconcile the two propositions: a. We’re doomed (unless we dismantle modern industry), and b. The data keep loudly insisting that nothing remarkable is happening.
Unlike similar ad hoc expedients in the realm of theology, aerosols can be observed and analyzed. So we can expect to see the results of research into the effects of aerosols, and these results will of course amount to the conclusion that the cooling effect has been over-estimated in the models. If that’s so, then the counterfactual warming, or what warming would have been without the added aerosols, would be less, and thus the failure of nature to comply with predictions of increased warming would be even bigger, casting greater doubt on the assumptions in the models which yielded those predictions.
Climate realists have always argued that the net effect of clouds is probably to act as a negative feedback on warming: as the troposphere (the part of the atmosphere nearest the surface of the Earth) warms, this increases humidity, which increases clouds, which reflects more heat back into space. Thus, the warming is limited by a natural thermostat. (Clouds are very complicated, and do all sorts of things, and there are other feedbacks which no one pretends to have yet understood, but the skeptical argument is that their net effect is probably to moderate, not amplify, changes in global temperature.)
The catastrophist doctrine absolutely relies on the net effect of such feedbacks being to amplify the natural greenhouse effect by a factor of at least 3; that’s how they get those scary warming scenarios. Where did the idea of this huge amplification come from? Certainly not from any observations. Satellite measurements confirm the obvious: that when the troposphere warms, more heat is emitted into space.
Now again, clouds and other manifestations of water vapor are not like the Holy Spirit. They can actually be investigated and measured. Over the next few years we can expect to see studies of clouds and water vapor which keep finding more and more corroboration for the skeptical arguments for negative net feedback. In other words, the climate has low sensitivity to minute increments of carbon dioxide, just as common sense suggests.
We will see the results of one study after another, of aerosols, clouds, and other matters, which conform to the realist arguments and contradict the assumptions underlying catastrophic global warming. Naturally, these will often be published along with hot-tempered protestations that they do not in any way, shape, or form, challenge the unassailable truth of catastrophic global warming. But that doesn’t matter, or rather it mainly matters as part of an ephemeral process of adjustment in beliefs. Ignore these obeisances to the sacred tenets of the belief system, look at the actual conclusions of the studies, and hold your breath for the entire delusional structure to come crashing down.
What these future studies will do is to legitimate a narrative less upsetting than ‘We have made a horrible and costly mistake’. That narrative is ‘We didn’t know about these surprising facts which go against the global warming belief-system, but now, thanks to astounding new findings by intrepid researchers, we do know about them. The fact that we now have to admit that the denialist psychotics were right all along is sad and regrettable, but no more than an ironic coincidence.’
Who will really be taken in by this kind of drivel? I can’t say. People’s credulity is more baffling than climate feedbacks.
Belief change is real. It affects all of us. It will govern our children’s future. We should all be concerned about the fateful impact of belief change. But let not your heart be troubled! Belief systems have always changed and always will. Keep watching. Even amateur observers can monitor and document the signs of belief change everywhere.
And believe it or not, the results of belief change are not catastrophic; they are mostly benign, and (like the results of natural climate change) absolutely nothing to worry about.