Headline Climate Science Built On Shifting Sands – Book Review

Headline Climate Science Built On Shifting Sands – Book Review.

“Heat waves in the U.S. are no more common than they were in 1900, and the warmest temperatures in the U.S. have not risen in the past 50 years,” says Steven Koonin in his book “Unsettled. What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, And Why It Matters”.

“When I tell people this, most are incredulous. Some gasp. And some get downright hostile,” writes Koonin, a top scientist in the Obama administration with a formidable career record of scientific achievement.

The often superficial, mendacious, headline-hunting media, politicians on the make with a special mention for Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, and corrupt or superficial scientists get the treatment. Despite the insistence of the conventional wisdom, climate science is far from settled he says, although he agrees humans are having an unspecified impact.

“Most severe weather phenomena remain within past variability. Projections of future climate and weather events rely on models demonstrably unfit for the purpose,” he says.

Koonin, a theoretical physicist and professor at New York University, quoting data on climate science published by the U.S. government and the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC), also says this.

  • Humans have had no discernible impact on hurricanes over the past century.
  • Greenland’s ice sheet isn’t shrinking any more rapidly today that it was 80 years ago.
  • The net economic impact of human-induced climate change will be minimal through at least the end of this century.

Koonin also says the rate of sea-level rise has not accelerated.

Those of you who have sat through tendentious “documentaries” showing videos of raging floods, out of control fires, unprecedented hurricanes and general climate doom and gloom from the likes of Sir David Attenborough, will be more than a little puzzled. Prime Minister Boris Johnson hasn’t spared the hyperbole either, with his one minute to midnight mantra. Prince Charles has a record going back at least 20 years of saying unless we act to thwart the “climate emergency” tomorrow, the earth will die. If they’d simply checked their facts, they would never have dared make these empty claims.

Parents of children driven to depression and skiving off school to become climate activists might be more than a little angry as they wonder if they’ve been fed a bunch of one-sided lies driven by politics not science.

Koonin doesn’t deny humans are impacting the climate; just the degree of impact and the scale of the problem. He also deplores the lack of quality in current climate science which is being used to justify actions likely to have a profound impact on our way of life. 

When I first started writing about human induced climate change as Reuters’ Science & Technology Correspondent back in the mid-90s, I turned to a subject I knew from headlines rather than research. But I had expectations. After all, even then, the BBC was reporting as fact that global warming was upon us, it was all our fault, and we’d all die soon if we didn’t listen to those that know best and act.

Even top climate scientists weren’t convinced
Imagine my amazement when I started talking to the world’s top climate scientists and found a completely different story. The science wasn’t even close to being proven, and I had great difficulty finding anyone to say the link between excessive human-made carbon dioxide (CO2) and a changing climate was clear. There were many assumptions, but no proof. Yet the BBC and the mainstream media (MSM) constantly reported a proven doom scenario.

But complying with Reuters standards of balance and fairness (here’s a sample of my stories https://www.wintonsblog.com/page/16/) I produced many stories which summed up the fact that nobody really knew a) did CO2 impact climate? b) if so, how much was down to human influence? I still don’t really understand why the BBC was so adamant the science was settled, or why the MSM (with some honourable exceptions) went along with it. I’m sure it was more laziness than any kind of conspiracy.

Since the mid-90s, climate science hasn’t progressed much, but now the politicians are relying on computer modelling for the ever more hysterical climate predictions and panicky plans. These models are notorious for predicting unreliable scenarios, not least because they are loaded with assumptions that are often highly speculative and politically motivated.

Climate change denier
Koonin knew his pronouncements about popular held beliefs on weather, temperature, burning forests and barely moving sea levels would spur interest from the public and inevitable cries of “climate change denier. In my efforts over the years, I’ve found that pointing out the fact the weather was at least as warm 2,000 years ago (plentiful red wine in Roman England) and again roughly 1,000 years later (colonisation of Greenland) prompts the question, how come temperatures spiked before we were driving around in gas-guzzling SUVs? And global temperatures fell between 1945 and 1975 as CO2 output soared. Could it be that the sun’s influence might be the most potent influence on our planet’s temperature?

There are many in the U.S. who question the current conventional wisdom about climate change, but fewer here. Opinions have become partisan and attempts to shut down debate quite outrageous. Even President Barack Obama joined in, echoing the mantra that because 97% of climate researchers agreed human activity was warming the planet it was case closed. This so-called 97% consensus (the study that produced that number has been convincingly debunked-Koonin) didn’t stand up to investigation, while it’s clear that science is proven by evidence, not a vote. But still the number is common currency in the warmists’ armaments because to the uninitiated it serves to quickly close down arguments. “You are a liar and climate change denier”, was how one ignoramus insulted me on LinkedIn. The truth is, to be insulted by a know-nothing doesn’t really count.

Koonin devotes a chapter seeking to establish why wrong, superficial science seems to have won all the arguments to such an extent, massive government policy changes are imminent. First, he blames the media’s irresponsible urge to cause a storm to boost sales and clicks.

“Reporting on the scientific reality that there’s been hardly any long-term change in extreme weather doesn’t fit the ethos of “If it bleeds it leads”,” Koonin said.

Journalists as missionaries
He bemoans journalists lack of scientific knowledge and the lack of time for serious research. I have to disagree with him on that. My 4-years covering Science (see the link to my stories) wasn’t boosted by any great scientific knowledge, just an O level in Physics. But what did help was Reuters’ (I can’t attest to current policy) insistence on balance and fairness. There was no possibility of one-sided reporting if both sides are given the time of day.

Journalists also became missionaries to save the world. One former colleague of mine from Reuters who no longer works there proudly told me a couple of years ago that there was no way anyone disagreeing with the conventional wisdom on climate change would get past him and into print. He was saving the children of course. These zealots have no idea that censoring an argument they don’t like is uncivilised and counter-productive. Just think Galileo.

Politicians love the idea of posing to save civilisation, but a couple get special treatment from Koonin, going far beyond “denier” name calling to brazenly undermine the scientific process.

“Two billionaire politicians, Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, whose goal was “making the climate threat feel real, immediate, and potentially devastating to the business world” conspired with some scientists and others to produce a series of reports mischaracterising the extreme emissions scenario (IPCC’s) RCP8.5 as business as usual,” Koonin said.

This was accompanied by a campaign to infuse the notion into scientific conferences and journals.

“Those who seek to corrupt the scientific process in that way are playing the same game as the anti-science crowd they loudly decry. Fortunately, the deception is now being called out in leading scientific journals,” Koonin said.

Some scientific institutions come under fire too, often summarizing or describing data in reports in ways that are actively misleading.

Demonstrably misrepresenting
“As a scientist, I’m disappointed that so many individuals and organisations in the scientific community are demonstrably misrepresenting the science in an effort to persuade rather than inform,” he said.   

Koonin wants sustained and improved scientific observations to better understand the complex climate models, which failed to even predict accurately known warming from the past after being fed the data. If they can’t even “predict” what was actually known, there clearly is much work to do.

Before revolutionary and massively expensive new policies are implemented Koonin wants the science to become more settled.

“I believe the socio-technical obstacles to reducing CO2 emissions make it likely that human influences on the climate will not be stabilized, let alone reduced, in this century. If the effects of those influences become more evident and more severe than they have been to date, of course, the balance of costs and benefits might shift, and society might well shift along with it. But I’d be surprised if this happened anytime soon,” Koonin.

Here’s his bottom line.

“What I think we should do, in short, is to begin by restoring integrity to the way science informs society’s decisions on climate and energy.”

And from my experience, leading media outlets like Reuters and the BBC reinstating long-term commitments to openness and balance would make a big contribution.

(Unsettled? By Steven Koonin is published by BenBella Books Inc)

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