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My Position on Global Warming and Climate Change

If I can be classified it would be as a left-leaning environmentalist, with a history of environmental concerns dating back to my pre-teen years in the 1960s. I was one of the founders of the Alberta Greens political party in 1990 based on support for a federal Green candidate in 1988, and was the party's president until 2004 and then CFO until a right-wing takeover in late 2008.

I have organized my position on global warming/climate change as a self-interview because my concerns have arisen as I have been asked more questions about this and some of my green friends exhibit shock at my position.

Q1. Is Global Warming Happening?
It is impossible to know if global warming is happening without waiting for hundreds or thousands of years to see if short term trends go up or down. Of course we can't wait that long, so the question is whether catastrophic global warming is imminent. That also is impossible to know. If the changes are small they are also manageable.

It is also impossible to define a global temperature. Even small biases in measurements made in a small number of points over the globe (such as heat island effects due to measurements near growing cities) can create false temperature increases. When extrapolated and fed into a mathematical model that accelerates them, dire predictions can appear on computer screens around the world.

Q2. Why are you speaking up now?
I feel forced to speak now as environmentalists are trying to enforce adherence to the climate change theory even as more and more evidence comes out against it. For a long time I didn't speak because I'm not a climate scientist but I gradually realized that all the people telling me this were not climate scientists either and, in fact, I am probably far better educated and experienced to comment than most of them.
Q3. Don't the data show an unambiguous trend?
I recently looked at arctic and antarctic ice area data. The arctic data does show a trend towards lower amounts of ice since records began in 1979 but antarctica shows, if anything, the opposite trend. Longer term records only show the decline in arctic sea ice since about 1979. It is quite likely that this is due to data from 1979 on not being comparable. Furthermore, 30 years is not even a drop in the geological bucket. To state that this is a firm trend, when it is only found in the north, and records for the last couple of hundred years are not available, is not warranted.

A panel, including James Hansen, wrote in 2000 that global warming was real despite there only being evidence that the surface was warming, not the troposphere (indicating that the atmosphere was not actually warming). They defended this by saying, "The disparity between surface and upper air trends in no way invalidates the conclusion that surface temperature has been rising" (but that's not the question. Is the atmosphere warming?), noting that despite their best efforts, "a substantial disparity remains" (between surface and tropospheric temperatures), admitted that other factors were highly significant (including volcanoes), blamed human activities for global cooling (including ozone-depleting substances) and finally "cautions that temperature trends based on data for such short periods of record, with arbitrary start and end points, are not necessarily indicative of the long-term behavior of the climate system".

Clearly there is data in both directions. But the climate of the planet varies with every day, every season, with influence from many human activities, amounts of volcanic activity and from variations in the output of the sun. Climate is incredibly complex, with many feedback loops that are poorly understood. It is impossible to draw conclusions based on a few year's data especially when the data is being interpreted by scientist who have a priori decided what the trend is.

Furthermore, 'ClimateGate' is just the most recent evidence that data is being manipulated to make the picture cleaner and more biased towards global warming being real "Manufacturing Certainty".

Q4. Don't You Believe Any Warming is Happening?
That's not the question. Only if the warming that is happening is intolerable should we take these dramatic actions. If mild warming to the planet is occurring, any disruptions will occur over many years and can be easily mitigated. After all, dramatic changes in the earth have occurred relatively frequently due to perfectly natural events like tsunamis, landslides, volcanic eruptions, raising and lowering of land and sea levels, floods, earthquakes and so on.

The actions being proposed by climate change proponents are dramatic, have significant side effects, probably won't have the desired effect, but can only be justified if the changes in climate are so dramatic that the very future of humans is threatened.

The right question is, "Don't You Believe that Catastrophic Global Warming is Imminent?" No, I don't.

But even the acceptance of a minor warming trend is problematic. Antarctic sea ice appears to show no trend since 1978. Arctic ice shows a small trend downwards since 1978, but one that is dwarfed by the annual variation and that could easily be reversed by a few cold winters. Data from half a million years ago shows several warm periods higher than today. Data from five million years ago based on sediment cores shows a general cooling trend meaning that today the earth is cooler than most of the time from 3 million years on back and that many warming periods to today's values or higher have occurred in the past.

Q5. Aren't Hurricane Katrina and the Burmese Typhoon Proof that Global Warming is Happening?
Yes, but not of climate change. These tragedies have something in common with a third, the Indonesian Tsunami. The problem is that tsunami's are not connected to climate change, but to geological phenomena (movements of tectonic plates). The common denominator in the increased devastation is coastal forest destruction. Allowing coastal forests to regrow will provide a buffer of protection to people all over the world from these destructive ocean events. It is entirely speculative that reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere will have any benefits. Given the randomness with which these events occur it is not clear how you could ever determine whether changes to the composition of the atmosphere were helping to reduce the frequency or destructiveness of severe weather events.
Q6. Aren't Some Proposals of Climate Campaigners Justified?
Yes. Some actions (such as reducing use of fossil fuels) can be justified for other reasons. I am concerned about actions that can only be justified by prophesies of climate doom. These actions are clearly counter-productive if we are not facing climate doom as they take considerable energy and will produce their own side effects. We should focus on actions that can be justified as solutions to known problems which means that we can ignore climate change and go back to real environmentalism.

If you should only undertake actions that have a justification other than climate change then you can factor climate change out of the equation. Furthermore, climate change action requires global agreement, which simply will not happen. At Copenhagen we see true climate change fanatic James Hansen arguing against an agreement because it won't be extreme enough.

Q7. If Some Actions Are Justified Isn't Climate Change Campaigning Good?
No. The focus on climate change has resulted in orders of magnitude more talk than action. Climate change action is only perceived as useful if actions are universal. However, action against other environmental damage is beneficial on a small scale. Public transit would be a benefit to the world if only Canada invested. An end to mountain-top removal coal-mining would be a benefit to the world if only the USA did it. More bike paths would be beneficial if only Holland built them. Reforestation would be a great thing even if only in Nepal and Burma. Reduction of coal-burning would be a benefit to the world if only China did it.

Traditional environmental activism is "Think Globally. Act Locally". Climate Change is "Think Globally. Act Globally". Even if global action on CO2 was warranted, it will never happen because it is impossible to get such sweeping global agreements, it just leads to treaties with nice words that can be safely ignored.

Q8. Isn't Talking Good?
All climate change campaigners appear to do is talk. I am confident that no substantive improvements to the environment will ever occur because of global warming actions. But that is not a problem for some people – money will be made through massive increases in research funds, speculations on the carbon market and installation of equipment of speculative value, such as systems to pump CO2 into the ground.

What the planet really needs is action justified by traditional environmental principles – reduction of exposure to toxic chemicals being one of the primary goals. And CO2 is not a toxic chemical. Other goals should be the elimination of unsustainable killings of animals (especially fish), reduction in extraction of raw materials (including fossil fuels) and a halt to habitat destruction, especially of forests and ocean environments. Many of these things will, as a by-product, reduce the production of CO2.

Q9. Aren't Carbon Taxes and Trading Good?
Climate Change is based on a neo-liberal philosophy. I define this as a fundamental belief that government is bad and that the free market is good, but a grudging acceptance that government influence is sometimes necessary, but only through a free market mechanism. Carbon taxes will not influence the behaviour of the well-off (look at how much more they spend on cars than they need to). And if the funds are merely redistributed they won't pay for things like public transit, bike paths or energy conservation projects. And redistribution of carbon taxes and carbon cap-and-trade are invitations to fraud, which will make many neo-liberals very rich, and make the planet poorer.
Q10. Aren't Carbon Credits Good?
We are now realizing that carbon credits are likely to result in the eviction of poor people in the third world to make space for trees to assuage the conscience of rich people in the first world. If even this much happens. There are many avenues for fraud in the carbon credit market leading to an incentive to produce paperwork indicating that carbon is being sequestered when it really isn't. Only the perception counts. People may claim credits for things that already exist, claim double credits in different places, or simply claim credits for things that don't exist.

Another example of corruption is the excess credits mysteriously given to steelmaker ArcelorMittal and Eurofer in Europe after extensive lobbying of the European Commission, including threats to move jobs out of Europe. This will result in windfall profits to these companies for not producing a harmless gas that they would never have produced anyway.

Q11. What's Wrong with Climate Reparations?
Sending huge amounts of western money to third world countries is a truly horrible idea. This will do nothing to reduce CO2 emissions, and will almost certainly not produce the mitigation projects that it is presumably intended for. Most countries are ruled by corrupt elites (high level corruption is rife in countries as diverse as America, Nigeria and China), and most of this money will disappear into their pockets, or in megaprojects such as large hydro-electric generation dams that will not improve the life of ordinary people, and may end up displacing them.

A more fundamental problem that neo-liberals don't understand is that money does not actually solve all problems. If the west continues to operate mines and oil production without adequate safeguards for workers, the environment and people in the vicinity; if hydro projects continue to displace people living sustainable lives; if plantations continue to gobble up land and produce crops for export not for local consumption; if chemical production continues to poison workers, rivers, air, groundwater and our food – what does it matter if buckets of cash are shoveled into capital cities where little will leak out?

What is needed is local government action to eliminate bad practices and a reforming of global ties to put principles of fair trade (which value the environment, workers and people in both trading nations) above the principles of free trade (which value only free movement of capital and goods). If an industrial practice is not in the overall interests of a nation it should be banned – not taxed or traded.

Q12. Can't we Trust Scientists?
There is a lot of evidence that the activity often called science, and the scientists who practice this activity (as opposed to those few who have a monk-like dedication to the scientific method), are not trustworthy. Peer review is a bankrupt process, for example. It is lousy at detecting fraud but very good at suppressing innovative thought. Financial conflicts of interest are frequent and rarely disclosed. Scientists often fall into the trap of focusing on their next grant rather than what important questions need to be asked (including questioning their own assumptions and biases). The prejudices of the system are amplified in this way. Those who conform are rewarded with grants which inform the granters that this is a subject of great interest.

The proof of this is that there have been many scientific errors that have survived for decades – Piltdown Man, Radical Mastectomy, (opposition to) continental drift, irradiation of the thymus, the germ theories of scurvy, pellagra and SMON. We, like all generations before us, falsely believe that all false beliefs lie in the past.

The ClimateGate scandal illustrated this problem well. Without access to data scientists cannot fully evaluate the work of others. Phil Jones, the head of the CRU, at the center of this scandal, said, "Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?" That is exactly why the data should be released. If it can pass scrutiny from a skeptical, critical, cynical scientist then our confidence in the data and interpretations drawn from it will be much higher. It is a waste of time to give data to a scientist whose intention is to prove that previous interpretations are correct.

Q13. Do you agree that no credible scientists questions global warming?
This is one of the most absurd aspects of the global warming debate. This can only be put forward by people who have no understanding of science or even simple logic.

It is not even possible to define the term "scientist", let alone, "credible scientist". If those who believe in climate change are put in charge of defining "credible" then they will define it as people who agree with them. This is how dictators come to believe that they are democrats – because all critics are silenced.

There are credible scientists who oppose the global warming/climate change theory just as there are credible scientists who opposed the HIV=AIDS=Death theory, educated and accomplished scientists who oppose some or all vaccination, those who oppose water fluoridation as well as many other sacred cows of modern science. All of them get the same treatment they are marginalized by preventing them from publishing, denying them grants and ridiculing them as "not credible", "cranks", "conspiracy theorists", "isolated", "paranoid", "delusional" or even "dangerous".

There is a list of 800 peer-reviewed papers supporting skepticism of man-made global warming and an annotated bibliography describing important elements of a smaller number of papers (PDF).

Q14. What's Wrong with Computerized Mathematical Models?
A lot. They tend to reflect the prejudices of the designer. They can be tweaked until they produce the 'right answer'. But what is the right answer except what the designer expects – their prejudices?

How can a climate model be validated except by monitoring its predictions over many years?

A good example of the problems has occurred in South Africa where mathematical models have accused AIDS "denialists" of hundreds of thousands of deaths. In this case it has been possible to consult actual statistics (ignored by the modelers in favor of statistics fabricated by WHO in Geneva) that show that the South African population is steadily growing, with no signs of any unusual rate of deaths let alone a population decline. Yet, due to prejudices in favour of the HIV=AIDS=Death dogma the fraudulent mathematical model is widely cited despite its obvious flaws, presumably because it is what the establishment wants to think. People who say that AIDS drugs are toxic and ineffective must be silenced so anything that does the job is acceptable – even lies.

We now know that climate change scientists are guilty of the same desire – to silence their critics by denying them the ability to publish, by demonizing them in the press – by using the infrastructure of science to punish them. Mathematical models are infinitely malleable and are important tools in this endeavour. Whether they are accurate is something we won't know for many years.

Q15. Is Global Warming a Scientific Theory?
No, because it is not a testable or falsifiable hypothesis.

It's a bit like asking whether there are a series of 100 '1' digits in the full expansion of pi. You produce consecutive digits for an arbitrary amount of time and don't find such a string but it doesn't tell you whether you haven't yet looked far enough or there is no such string. It's worse with Global Warming because there is no identifiable mathematical signal that says, "Yes, it is happening". 10 years of warming (even if you accept that there is such a thing as a single global temperature) could be followed by 20 years of cooling. You simply cannot know.

The flipside of this is that there is no way to refute the theory. 10 years of global cooling does not prove that global warming is not happening, it could just be that other temporary factors are overwhelming the human signal.

If there were no side effects from reacting to global warming this wouldn't matter, but there are.

Another way to look at it is that a scientific theory should have predictive value. Global Warming theorists make a lot of predictions but we are expected to accept them and act on them long before we can know whether the predictions are true. Scientific theories make predictions that can be tested and shown to be reasonably accurate before the theory is accepted.

Some global warming proponents claim that this doesn't matter. According to the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) when faced with the coldest Chinese winter since 1951, "Professor Chen Xing, a climate change expert at Nanjing University, said people should not include blizzards when trying to overturn the hockey stick forecast. 'The models are not meant to generate a weather forecast. They are a hypothesis and should not be used as evidence in decision making,' he said."

But that is exactly what we are being asked to do. A prediction is made that sea levels will rise therefore we should plan to evacuate some islands. A prediction is made that average temperatures will rise therefore crops should change to those that prefer warmer weather. If predictions cannot be made then Globel Warming is not a scientific theory. If predictions are made and they are dramatically wrong, then the Global Warming hypothesis is falsified.

Q16. Isn't Climate Change a Simple Explanation for a Complex Phenomenon?
Yes, suspiciously simple. But even the full Global Warming theory that predicts that greenhouse gases alone will bring catastrophic change to the earth's climate is too complex for most proponents. It has become solely a CO2 theory, with other global warming gases (including that notorious pollutant water vapor, as well as cow farts, i.e. methane) being virtually ignored.

Global warming is also in the process of edging out other (real) problems. The process is simple, the author of an article says that a particular problem is caused by a combination of global warming and another well known problem (such as deforestation) or natural phenomenon. They then continue to talk as if global warming was the only problem, successfully having evicted yet another long known environmental problem from attention.

Q17. Isn't Global Warming Denial A Right Wing Conspiracy?
Two problems here. First of all the phrase "denial" is deliberately chosen to evoke those who deny that the Nazi extermination campaign of Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals, Socialists and other "undesirables" occurred. It has also been invoked to dismiss people who claim that HIV is not the cause of AIDS ("AIDS Denialists").
It is more honest to talk about Climate Change Skeptics.

A lot of these people are right-wing, sometimes exceedingly far to the right. I can't comment on whether there is a conspiracy (legally a conspiracy can involve as few as two people) but it is clear that at least some skeptics are motivated by their philosophical position. Many right-wing climate change skeptics are indeed anti-environmentalists.

But the fact that I despise the politics of some of these people doesn't make them wrong on this issue. It clearly should not change my position on a scientific issue.

Q18. Is this a Secret Plot to Create a Global Government?
If it was a secret plot I would, by definition, not know about it. I shudder to think that the people who can't run America, can't run Russia, can't run China and can't run any other country in the world, would think they could run the world. But, maybe they are megalomaniacs. If so, we don't have a lot to worry about because even the most powerful country in the world, that spends more on the military than all other countries combined, cannot subdue either Iraq or Afghanistan. The chance that a bureaucracy trained in words (usually more resembling smog than a scalpel), not deeds (like the UN), could ruthlessly rule the planet is infinitesimally small.
Q19. Is CO2 a Pollutant?
The claim that CO2 is a pollutant, recently supported by the EPA, is one of the most damaging aspects of the climate change theory. CO2 is essential for life and the only way it could be associated with ill health is if there is so much that it displaces the other gases, such as oxygen, that are essential for life. By that definition everything is a pollutant.

Traditional pollutants cause cancer, birth defects, mental disorders up to and including paralysis, metabolic disturbances, immune deficiences, skin disorders and so on. CO2 does none of those things.

To call CO2 a pollutant is to completely pervert the meaning of the term "pollutant" and eliminates the true horror that true pollutants represent to human and other life forms.

Q20. How can Action to Reduce CO2 Emissions not be Good?
Burying CO2 securely in the ground (perhaps by reacting it) costs energy. Therefore, to produce the same amount of energy more coal will need to be burned (about thirty percent by this MIT estimate). This would increase the amount of arsenic, mercury, chromium, cadmium and acid rain and only reduce the amount of CO2.

Far more scary are plans to pump particulates into the atmosphere, plans that are being taken seriously. A logical extension of this is that countries that pump huge amounts of particulates in the atmosphere already, such as China, should get credit for the cooling impact of their activities.

Nuclear energy is also being promoted by some advocates of global warming fear, including green guru James Lovelock. This has two well-recognized problems, the risk of a catastrophic accident, like Chernobyl, and the lack of any method to dispose of the reactors (not just the nuclear fuel) after the reactor needs to be taken out of service.

Q21. Won't Environmentalism Benefit?
This singular focus on climate change risks destroying the environmental movement. It removes the focus from local issues if they are not related to CO2 which reduces the activist base. If climate change is discredited then the organizations associated with it are discredited. Personally I have stopped funding environmental organizations who have climate change as their main focus. This now includes most environmental organizations that I used to donate substantial amounts of money to regularly. When the climate change theory collapses so will many environmental organizations. People may stop taking the warnings of environmentalists seriously even when they are well-grounded in real environmental issues.

I have felt my doubts silenced by self-censorship for some time now. The proponents of global warming are so self-assured that it appeared to me that all environmentalists shared this viewpoint except me. But as I started to raise hesitant doubts I was surprised that my concerns were actually shared by many other environmentalists who also felt silenced. I am afraid that this could lead to a big split in the movement as more people come out against this theory realizing that it is irresponsible to stay silent.

Q22. But it has encouraged young people to get engaged
Yes, but they are being encouraged to be engaged with a simplistic, "explains everything", theory. They are being encouraged to demonstrate for virtual remedies, such as carbon trading. They should be demonstrating against real environmental crimes, and demanding real changes like decreasing energy consumption, reforming transportation systems and cracking down on toxic emissions.

What would have happened if the demonstrators in Copenhagen had broken into the Bella Center? What could they have done? Produced a piece of paper to be ignored and misinterpreted by governments worldwide?

Q23. What is your scientific background?
I have an HBSc (four year degree) in Botany and Mathematics with a thesis involving complex mathematics and computer programming published in the international journal Taxon in 1981. This led to a career in computer programming and then telecommunications. I am accepted as an expert in telecommunications without a single for-credit course in that subject because I, and colleagues, literally wrote the book on some aspects of cellular communications in the 1990s, developing standards that are still in wide use today.

My interests in science include a philosophical interest in the limits of scientific knowledge. When studying biology in university for five years I specialized in Taxonomy, the endeavour of trying to organize organisms according to evolutionary relationships. I realized that, in this field, the more precise the statement about relationships the less likely it is to be true and, at a certain point, the truth will never be known because you cannot go back in time and see what the situation was, say, one million years ago. I also realized that the fundamental unit of this science, the species, cannot be defined in a universal way, but only relative to the type of organism being studied (and even then there are many exceptions). Many taxonomists don't want to face this reality. This gave me a good understanding of this problem in other fields, where you have to live with generous helpings of uncertainty, making certain predictions futile.

My interest in ecology is long-standing, even before winning a science fair prize in 1973 (at the age of 17) for a study of microclimatic changes between forest and nearby cleared power line areas.

Climate science has a different problem than taxonomy or evolutionary biology. It is somewhat easier to go back in time to get data (from ice cores, etc.), but it is no more possible to go forwards in time. Again, the more forceful the statement, the less likely it is to be true, the longer the time period, the more the uncertainty. Evolutionary biologists are usually smart enough to avoid making predictions about the future of organisms that exist today but many climate scientists seem unable to resist the urge.

I work on a regular basis with engineers in a field where firm predictions can sometimes be made. Systems can be arranged so that, in some cases, under the same circumstances, exactly the same event can be repeated any number of times. Although, to be fair, this is surprisingly often not the case, even for fully digital communications systems like the internet. The predictive ability of some complex systems leads some engineers and other similar professionals to misunderstand biological systems that are not amenable to predictions produced from reductionist mathematical models.

I have also extensively studied supposedly infectious diseases, particularly AIDS, reading literally thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers on this subject (and a similar number of other documents), and in 2008 was appointed to lead the main group of scientists who question the HIV=AIDS hypothesis (Rethinking AIDS) – the first leader who was not a professional (i.e. paid) scientist or academic.

My interest in HIV/AIDS has led me to the hypothesis that many so-called infectious diseases actually have environmental causes. It has also led me to understand the dangerous seductiveness of a theory that claims to explain too much and that is so flexible it can bring completely different diseases that arise in completely different circumstances under its wing. Similar to climate change, proponents of the HIV=AIDS=Death dogma often claim that there are no credible scientists who oppose them, defining "credible" to mean someone who supports the establishment theory. Trafficking in circular logic is the main crime these scientists (who ignore the scientific method) share.

Q24. Is the Sea Level Rising?
Verifying whether sea levels are rising at first seems as simple as determining whether temperatures are increasing. But the problems are the same. Where should this be measured? And, how can tiny long term increases be extracted reliably from data that contains much larger short term variation (both sea level and temperature can vary significantly within a few hours) and possibly medium term bias?

Sea level is obviously affected by the daily tides which are caused by the gravitational pull of the sun and the moon. Land in many places is rising or falling due to natural or man-made events (such as excessive removal of water).

While many scientists are convinced that there are small increases in sea level already, and catastrophic increases pending, Dr. Nils-Axel Mörner, a highly credentialled scientist, disputes this.

Q25. What About Extreme Cold Events?
The 1990s did appear to be a relatively warm decade but more recently there have been many areas experiencing exceptionally cold winters. The winter of 2009/2010 seems in keeping with this trend. By January China was reporting the coldest winter since 1951 and the pro-global warming newspaper, The Independent, was forced to report in January that the UK was experiencing the coldest winter in 30 years. In mide-December, Edmonton, Canada, broke its coldest temperature record with a day reaching down to -46C. Heavy snow caused chaos in Spain in January.

2010 continued this trend with new cold weather records being broken during a Global Warming conference in Cancun starting on December 5th. Illustrating the randomness of weather a warm autumn in Alberta was followed by a cold spell in late November that was so intense that only Antarctica was colder.

Q26. Is There a "Global Temperature"?
How could you possibly measure global temperature let alone monitor long-term changes that are greatly outweighed by the many times larger and routine hourly, daily and monthly fluctuations? Good question. An abstract of a paper by Danish and Canadian mathematicians states:
“Physical, mathematical and observational grounds are employed to show that there is no physically meaningful global temperature for the Earth in the context of the issue of global warming. While it is always possible to construct statistics for any given set of local temperature data, an infinite range of such statistics is mathematically permissible if physical principles provide no explicit basis for choosing among them. Distinct and equally valid statistical rules can and do show opposite trends when applied to the results of computations from physical models and real data in the atmosphere. A given temperature field can be interpreted as both ‘warming’ and ‘cooling’ simultaneously, making the concept of warming in the context of the issue of global warming physically ill-posed.”
Not only do they not believe that the concept of a global temperature is meaningless but they also claim that the same data can be interpreted as going in both directions.

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© Copyright July 9, 2012: David Crowe.