• Tue
  • Dec 23, 2014
  • Updated: 11:02am
Lai See
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 February, 2014, 4:34am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 February, 2014, 4:34am

People would be idiotic not to question climate science


Howard Winn has been with the South China Morning Post for two and half years after previous stints as business editor and deputy editor of The Standard, and business editor of Asia Times. His writing has also been published in the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Wall Street Journal, and the International Herald Tribune. He writes the Lai See column which focuses on the lighter side of business.

The debate over climate change and global warming shows no sign of losing its intensity. Those that disagree with the view that man's activities are contributing to global warming are branded as right wing, in the pockets of business, Fox News junkies, on the take from vested interests and a lot more. Only idiots we are told deny or are sceptical of "science." Yet the scientific method thrives and moves forward on scepticism.

It is true that science and its discoveries have been a powerful engine of growth. But its not all been one way. The bedrock of scientific research is that the same experiments yield the same results no matter who does them. However scientists at the biotech company Amgen, a few years ago attempted to replicate 53 cancer-related studies, but were only able to replicate six. Bayer HealthCare had a similar experience in only being able to reproduce a quarter of the result of 67 studies.

We are frequently told that we should believe that global warming science is irrefutable because the UN Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change report is supposed to be based on the work of 9,136 scientists and their 2,239 peer reviewed articles. However it's worth bearing in mind that the IPCC is not a scientific organisation. Its charter restricts it to looking for human induced global warming, rather than what occurs as a result of natural climate forces. In practice it is not interested in views which do not support the influence of human activity, specifically carbon dioxide.

However it is not unheard of in the past for the scientific consensus to be wrong. Tom Quirk, a former research physicist and a member of the Australian Climate Science Coalition, notes that for many years it was received medical opinion that "ulcers were caused by stress, spicy foods, and too much acid."

Subsequently two Western Australians Barry Marshall and Robin Warren proved that they were mostly caused by a bacterium and were better treated by antibiotics and not by surgery and drugs. The pair were awarded the Nobel Prize for their efforts but not before enduring criticism that they were peddling nonsense.

There are parallels with global warming with huge vested interests within the science community, finance, politics maintaining that anyone that denies global warming is idiotic. A huge one trillion US dollar industry has grown up around global warming. Making sense of climate is a difficult and highly complex operation. Climate models attempt to replicate, natural variability ocean currents, the intensity of sun cycles, estimate changes in cloud cover, vegetation and the changes brought on snow and ice cover. Then the impact of increasing levels of man-made C02 are combined with this.

However there is considerable disagreement among the scientific community about the efficacy of the models. The models have difficulty in replicating previous temperature let alone forecasting the future. There are a host of issues about the IPCC reports which have been raised by the Inter Academy Council, the world's premier scientific body, which are critical of the IPCC. Its August 2010 report on the UN's climate body identifies: political interference, conflicts of interest, bias, claiming certainty in absence of evidence, vague statements not supported by evidence, management problems and so on. Given all this it seems perfectly justified to be at least sceptical about the claims of the IPCC, and the so-called catastrophic consequences of global warming. Indeed if nothing else it is scepticism that has kept science honest. Given the billions of dollars that are being poured into policies on the basis of alarmist climate forecasts people need to be asking a lot of questions about the science.


Loneliness kills

Loneliness can be twice as unhealthy as obesity according to a study of loneliness among older people in Britain. Scientists tracked more than 2,000 people aged 50 and over and found that those who were the most lonely were almost twice as likely to die during the six year period of the study than the least lonely, The Guardian reports. Those who felt lonely had a 14 per cent greater risk of dying than the average person in the study. These figures mean that obesity has half the impact on early death as loneliness. Poverty increases the risk of an early death by 19 per cent.


Have you got any stories that Lai See should know about? E-mail them to howard.winn@scmp.com


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This article is now closed to comments

Even if something can not be scientifically proven, it doesnt mean it doesnt exist. A little common sense tells you that if humans dump millions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere it will have an impact.
Many companies and people every day take decisions based on non-scientific standard information after considering pros, cons, possible outcomes, likelihoods and worst-case scenarios.
To prove climate change to a non-debatable scientific standard is impossible as we only have one experiment...our planet....and after this experiment we get no second try.
Given the impact if humanity gets this wrong, working based on worse case scenarios is the only sensible way to go.
It is laughable to suggest that the money invested in mitigating climate change is more than small change compared to the money invested in the fossil fuel industry and the money those invested in fossil fuel business are prepared to spend to defend their business model against scientifiic enquiry. It cannot be proven that human action will cause a climate disaster this year or this decade, but nor can you predict when you might have a car accident - but you still wear seatbelts just in case. If there is even a low chance of global average temperatures rising 2C or more, or sealevels rising more than 1m we should be taking a precautionary approach and not waiting for proof beyond all reasonable doubt.
And beside that a lower consuming, sustainable lifestyle for all can benefit both this and future generations of humans and the other species we share our planet with.
Howard, I generally agree with most of what you say (apart from your obsession with Deborah Annells). However your repudiation of climate change science does you no favours.
What is not settled? There are a bunch of things we can debate about climate change, in particular when it comes to the degree in which various things contribute to it, and some haggling can be done about the precise pace (past and future).

But that it 1) is happening, and 2) that the only plausible causal explanation is a man-made one (ie the 'greenhouse effect) has long (long!) moved well past just a consensus hypothesis. As far as there is absolute 'truth' in science, the existence of man-made climate change fits the bill.

Sure, we should keep an open mind, and sure, we should always question any such established truth. Yet the climate change theories have been examined, questioned and re-examined from all angles for decades now, and you really have to be a scientific whackjob to still believe that man-made climate change is not occurring. It is right out there with thinking the world is only 10,000-odd year old, that the sun turns around the earth, or denying the theory of evolution.

Do you really think that if there was a shred of credible science that could be used to defy the climate change scientific consensus, that the combined auto, aviation, oil, gas and mining industries would not be clamouring it from the roofs?

Get over it. Climate change is real, and mankind is causing it. Period. We are really well past that stage of the debate. It is not 1997 anymore. Now let's debate what we can do to stop it, slow it, counter it and/or cope with it.
What are Howard Winn's credentials for sounding off about climate science?
Dear Mr Winn, a very disappointing article packed with half-truths innuendo and assumptions. Increasing CO2 causes increased retention of heat, which causes disruption to weather patterns, heating of the oceans and acidification of the oceans. All the reputable US government scientific bodies explain that we are affecting our climate by our actions. Why are you taking the position of a know-nothing?
Winn's perspective is not just wrong. At this point, it should be prosecutable as a form of criminal mischief. THE SCIENCE IS IN. There is NO disputing that, except for those with ulterior motives (i.e., some form of greed).
Truly, truly disgusting.
There can be no question that human activity produces increasing levels of pollution which are harmful and affect climate. the only question is how and to what degree - big questions with almost infinite variations - but only an idiot would accept Fox News' bigotry that there is no effect.

The notion of heresy has no place in science. Claims in science are always subject to skeptical enquiry. This is part and parcel of the scientific method.




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