My Pick-Up Truck and the Quality of Global Warming Reports

The struggle against climate change is making fast policy progress in the civilized world. It’s got to the point where I can foresee the authorities confiscating my good Toyota pick-up truck that has given me good service for eight years and continues to act just right. In California, they make no mystery of their intent to force me to replace it with a small electric sedan I won’t be able to afford. In the meantime, the same California is not able to guarantee enough electric power to keep my light bulbs lit 24/7; another story, obviously, a good one.

My problem is that I have not changed my stance on the credibility of the climate change narrative since I bought the truck. So, I feel tyrannized.

Recently, there was a long lasting, intense heat wave in the western United States where several people died of heat stroke. As I write, severe flooding seems to be ending in Germany, in Belgium, and in France. In the first country, at least one hundred people drowned.

Being a retired old guy, I listen to the media, or watch it, or read from it a good portion of the day. I do this daily, in at least two languages, English and French. There isn’t a day in my life when I don’t hear heat waves, or floods, or this and that blamed on “climate change.” The media personalities and journalists who assert those links all have one thing in common: None possesses the credentials to judge whether such a link exists at all. Climate change ideology has spread so successfully that every Dick, Tom, and Harry with a B.A. in Communications (or less) feels free to pronounce on such causal relationships as if they were simply mentioning that the sun rises in the east. Well, it’s not like this at all, not by a long shot.

Before I go on, we need a reminder: I mean by “climate change”: the narrative that includes all three statements below:

1 the climate is changing significantly in ways that affect people adversely;

2 this change is due to human activity and specifically the release of so-called “greenhouse gases,” (Human activity includes such things as manufacturing, reliance internal combustion engines, including in cars, cattle raising);

3 the adverse effects are such that we, collectively, need to address them right now.

Baselines Climate Change Advocates endlessly publicize: hottest year in 37 years, or most hurricanes in a period of two years since 1920, or highest tide since 1882. All such announcements are worthless and therefore misleading. There is no evidence of change without a baseline and the baseline has to make sense. It cannot be picked opportunistically, of course (as was done on the occasion of the “hockey stick” scandal; look it up). It cannot be selected mindlessly. Let me give you areal example. It may well be that the Greenland glaciers are melting unusually fast. And, of course, it could be a result of human caused global warming (oops, climate change). But, we know – because a noted environmentalist told us (Jared Diamond) – that the Norse inhabitants of Greenland were raising cattle there around 1100. You can’t do this today in Greenland because it’s too cold. So, if it was warmer there a thousand years ago, what’s left of the inference that it’s what happened in only the past 150 years of Industrial Revolution, etc (make it 160, 200, no matter) that produces the heat that melts glaciers? My point here is that what you infer from change observed from a bad baseline is not only a little off; it’s simply wrong. Climate Change enthusiasts and passive believers alike do this all the time. They also don’t accept corrections based on a more reasonable baseline.

Measurements The Climate Change narrative is chronically plagued with measurement issues and downright falsehoods. If you want to tell me anything about the condition of my house and you begin with a statement to the effect that one wall has sunk by 240 inches without my noticing, you are done; I have no reason to listen to anything else you have to say. Be gone!

I don’t normally read scholarly research supporting the climate change narrative. I shouldn’t have to. I am just a citizen. If you want me to alter my life drastically, it’s up to you to give me good reasons in a language I can grasp without two or three doctorates (additional doctorates, in my case). I do read the reports made of it by non-scholarly sources that I think intellectually respectable. The Wall Street Journal is one. (More on this below.)

Here, there are two nested problems with ways to assess climate events commonly found in the media. People have a tendency to confirm what they hear by saying, Yes, it’s never been so hot, ever. The first problem is that when this is said, the reference is almost always to the person’s personal experience. That can seldom exceed 90 years, a period insufficient to cover anything blamed on the 150-plus years since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The second problem is that, obviously, almost everyone has bad memory and forgets events at random. Here is an example: When I was a small child, I remember distinctly newspaper photographs of the sea frozen in the English channel, together with one radio comment to the same effect. My siblings living at the same time in the same place, remember no such thing. They have forgotten or I have produced a fabricated memory. Either way….

This past weekend’s Wall Street Journal takes apart a more sophisticated kind of measurement fallacy, one committed by a fairly respected federal agency. (Roger Pielke Jr, WSJ; 7/17-18/21; p. C4.) The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that natural disasters causing one billion dollars of damage or more were seven times more numerous in 2020 than they were in 1980. The NOAA adjusted for inflation, of course. It did not compare 1980 dollars with 2020 dollar. Good enough, right? Not so. How much damage a given disaster causes depends on its severity but it also depends on how much is available to be damaged. There is incomparably more value to be obliterated today in America than there was in 1980. The same tornado occurring on the same day in the middle of the Sonora desert will cause much less damage than it would in Time Square, perhaps a million times less. That’s not a small error. The NOAA mistake is monumentally misleading. If you corrected for the amount available to be damaged, you might find that there was actually seven times more destruction in 1980 than in 2020. (I am not accusing anyone, except of gross incompetence. It’s not all bad faith.)

To aggravate again the severity of my judgment is the fact that real scientists with real credentials almost never step out of the ivory tower to condemn publicly the thousands of false statements made in their name every day.

Things have not changed much in eight years with respect to credibility. I don’t have any reason to change my mind and to consider the narrative favorably because it has not improved in rigor or in accuracy. They may be able to tear me off the seat of my pick-up truck but that will not alter my judgment that the repression is based on snake oil merchandising and on primitive superstitions. Yes, you can quote me.