I’m currently working on a new theory of ice ages. I’m building a computer heat flow simulation model to demonstrate it. It’s one in which the main player isn’t the Sun or the atmosphere, but the Earth beneath the atmosphere: the forgotten Earth.
Because in all the standard atmospheric heat flow charts (right), the Earth plays no part. It’s like the stage in a theatre: it’s what the actors stand on. And in the drama of climate science, the main actors are the sun, the atmosphere, clouds, carbon dioxide, latent heat, evaporation, rain, snow, wind. The Earth beneath them is just the setting in which the drama is played out. It does precisely nothing.
The play is a whodunnit. And anyone who’s read the book knows that it was carbon dioxide what did it. He looked like he was just a bit part player, but he was the star of the show, or rather the villain of the piece. And climate science has been the Columbo or Maigret who pieced the evidence together to find the guilty man.
The problem the climate scientists were trying to solve was simple: what had caused the ice to melt away at the end of the last ice age, 12,000 years ago? Was it the Sun, was it the atmosphere, was the orbit of the Earth? What could it be? The Sun was almost invariant, and so was the orbit of the Earth, and so was the composition of the atmosphere. There had to be something hidden in there that was having this effect. And suspicion gradually fell on carbon dioxide. It seemed an unlikely candidate, as a trace gas in the atmosphere, present as a tiny fraction: about 200 parts per million.
But it was the only thing that was changing. Everything else was pretty much constant and unchanging. But carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could easily double or triple. So it had to be carbon dioxide that had caused the warming. It had to be. And so the climate scientists started building a case against carbon dioxide, and adding feedback effects to multiply its influence. From being a benign gas (on which plant life depended), carbon dioxide was gradually demonised. It might look innocuous, but it was actually the real villain. The trace gas had become the star of the show.
The same whodunnit was actually being played out 50 years earlier, as epidemiologists set out to find the cause of the lung cancer epidemic sweeping the world. What had changed? Hardly anything had changed. But, hey wait! People had started smoking cigarettes! Smoking had long been regarded as an innocuous pastime, but maybe it wasn’t. The epidemiologists started building the case, showing how the rise in cigarette smoking corresponded neatly with the rise of lung cancer in the Western world. It had to be smoking that caused lung cancer. It had to be. There were no other suspects. And pretty soon, not just cigarettes were being demonised, but cigars and pipes and chewing tobacco as well. Anything that even looked like a cigarette was being demonised.
The same play was being acted out centuries before in Europe, when crops failed and rivers froze and people started looking round for something that had changed. Nothing very obvious had changed, so it had to be something hitherto regarded as innocuous that was actually really dangerous. And what could be more innocuous-looking than a few old women who lived alone with a menagerie of cats and dogs? Pretty soon the case was being built against them. They used strange herbs. They had strange practices. They said strange things. They cast spells. They had occult knowledge. And pretty soon the witchfinders were hunting down these witches, whom they’d thoroughly demonised.
Something alarming happens (crops fail, ice melts, cancer multiplies), and people look for causes. Nothing obvious is causing it, and so whatever is the cause must be something usually regarded as completely innocuous. So suspicion falls on something innocuous. And an elaborate case is built against it. As the case grows stronger, all concerned grow more and more convinced. It has to be that. There’s no other possible explanation.
It’s something that happens in the absence of knowledge. When nobody knows what’s causing something, then absolutely anything might be the cause. Everything becomes suspect.And since what has happened is very dangerous, it is a matter of urgency to find the culprit. And so faint suspicion rapidly turns into absolute conviction. There’s a rush to judgment because there’s a need to find out quickly, and set minds at rest. Somebody needs to be arrested, and put in jail. While nobody has been arrested, it’ll mean that the killer is still out there somewhere, poised to strike again. It doesn’t really matter if they’ve arrested the wrong man: all that matters is that someone has been arrested. If the sheriff says he’s sure he’s got the right man, and the deputies standing behind him all nod in agreement, who’s going to argue with him? He knows his job, doesn’t he? Didn’t we hire him to do this particular job for us, just like we hired the dog-catcher to catch dogs? The guy’s an expert, for heaven’s sake.
But these days we’re watching a variant play in which we’ve ceased to believe the experts. We no longer trust the climate scientists. We no longer trust the epidemiologists. We no longer even trust the witchfinders. We think they’re just fobbing us off with bromides. We think that they’re just going through the motions, and pretending to do their job.
Do you really trust Columbo? He wears a crumpled old coat, and he drives a battered old car. If he was a really successful detective, wouldn’t he be driving a Ferrari, and wearing Armani suits? Aren’t good detectives highly sought after, and highly paid? How do you tell if someone is an expert? Do they wear cufflinks? Do they wear tiepins on their ties? Do they have small hands?
The loss of faith in experts extends everywhere. Have you lost faith in politicians? Me too. Lost faith in bishops? Me too. Lost faith in doctors? Me too. Lost faith in economists? Me too. Lost faith in the BBC? Me too. The list is endless. It’s hard to think of anyone or any institution in which I still retain much faith.
And that’s why I’m building my own climate model. I no longer believe in the expert climate scientists’ models. I think they got the wrong guy. I don’t think I can leave it to them to do the job. I think I have to do it myself.
Do I trust myself? Well, not really. Never mind climate science: there’s an awful lot that I don’t know about almost everything. But I’m prepared to at least try to understand. And I’m not sure they’re even trying. I think they’re just repeating what everyone else is saying, what everybody knows.
I have my own suspicions. I’m building a case. And the case is getting stronger. Pretty soon I’m sure I’ll be utterly convinced. It’s the Earth itself that is the culprit. Nobody suspected her.
From an email I got from Nisakiman yesterday. He’d tried and failed to post a comment:
“I wanted to make the point that despite the attitude of the harridan, she was in fact the only one who had that approach. All the other doctors and nurses that I dealt with were splendid, and the subject of smoking was never even mentioned during my stay in hospital. All they wanted to do was help.”
“I’ve been feeling better the last few days. I went yesterday for a pub lunch with my two boys, and was gratified to see how easily two pints of Wadworth 6X slipped down my neck. :) The eldest boy flew back this morning, with the prospect of a 21 hour journey ahead of him, poor bugger. We had a few days of drinking some of the finest wines available in the world today (all of them falling into the ‘top 2%’ category) all salted with snippets of information about the wines themselves. As I think I already said, both the boys have been in the industry most of their lives, have sommelier qualifications and have vast knowledge about the subject, which adds a whole new dimension to the enjoyment of the wine you’re drinking.”