Warming debate continues — This scientist has no doubt about it: Skeptics just wrong

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In a previous letter, I responded to what I consider to be some bogus assertions and motivated reasoning in Dr. David Myerowitz’s Nov. 3, 2013 op-ed in the Inter Lake on “Climate Controversy: Is Global Warming Settled Science or Political Dogma.”

Here, I address more of his claims, which he attempts to “peddle” as evidence that the climate isn’t warming and that increasing CO2 can’t cause global warming. I also address his attempt to discredit scientific evidence that is contrary to his claims and the source of such evidence.

Myerowitz claims that the record expansion of ice in the Arctic in 2013 is proof that the climate isn’t warming. Each year, the expanse of Arctic sea ice decreases in the spring and summer as temperatures increase, reaching a minimum in September when it begins to increase again as temperatures decline in the fall and winter. The minimum extent of sea ice remaining at the end of the melt season is referred to as perennial sea ice.

Long-term data on the summer minimum extent of this perennial ice (National Snow and Ice Data Center’s website at http//nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/), which Myerowitz ignores, show a rate of decline of 7.1 percent per decade over the 34-year period of measurements from 1979 to 2013. This means that the minimum area covered by perennial sea ice has declined at an average rate of 24,500 square miles each year over this period. Further, the duration of the melt season of Arctic sea ice has increased. Both of these findings are unambiguous evidence that the Arctic is warming.

So why does Myerowitz “cherry pick” only the 2013 and 2012 data for comparison out of a 34-year record and ignore the long-term data. Cherry picking is choosing data for the sole purpose of supporting a pre-conceived conclusion, which in Myerowitz’s case is to “prove” the climate isn’t warming. Using what I call his motivated reasoning, he ignores the definition of climate change, which is a change in average climate conditions over times scales of decades to centuries or more. Then he selects data from two consecutive years in which the minimum extent happened to be greater in the second year than in the first, which he wrongly interprets as evidence that the climate isn’t warming. Thus, he mistakenly believes he has “proved” his claim.

In my opinion, his “cherry picking” only data that he believes supports his pre-conceived claim, while ignoring long-term data that clearly refutes his claim, is clear evidence that he has no objective interest in seeking or acknowledging the truth about global warming.

Myerowitz also uses motivated reasoning to justify his claim that the increase in CO2 can’t be the cause of — in his words — “the increase in earth’s temperature for a couple of decades at the end of the last century” because it comprises only 0.0391 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere. While the relative abundance of CO2 in the atmosphere is correct, his argument that increasing CO2 does not affect climate because of its low abundance is false because it is based on a logical fallacy. In this case, he distorts a truth in an attempt to support something that is completely inaccurate.

If one followed his logical fallacy, the combined effect of all greenhouse gases on our climate ought to be negligible because their combined concentration is small. In fact, however, their effect on our climate is very large. If not for the presence of the small concentrations of CO2 and the other naturally occurring greenhouse gases, the average global temperature of the Earth would be almost 60 Fahrenheit degrees lower than it is, which means the Earth would be an ice-covered planet. CO2 alone is estimated to account for 26 percent of the total greenhouse effect, almost three orders of magnitude greater than its relative abundance in the atmosphere.

Further, CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and other human activities have increased its atmospheric concentration by almost 43 percent since the industrial era began, and this increase alone accounts for 73 percent of the human-caused radiative forcing of climate over the past 250 years.

Myerowitz’s claim that CO2 does not have an important effect on climate and that raising the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere doesn’t cause an increase in global temperature is like arguing that temperatures in a greenhouse won’t increase if you close all of its windows. But then, ideological deniers of human-caused climate change aren’t inclined toward using logical reasoning or letting facts get in their way.

Myerowitz attempts to discredit the source of evidence that contradicts his beliefs by his specious references to climate models as “phony” and “worthless.” His gratuitous words wrongly imply that current models have no physical basis, are not useful or essential in climate research, and are intended to deceive.

Climate and Earth system models are mathematical representations of what is currently known of the processes that dictate the behavior of the climate system, including interactions between the atmosphere, ocean, land surface, ice, and the sun. They are approximations of the system they are designed to simulate, and their applications in climate research are not intended to deceive anyone.

Given his predisposition to deny the validity of any scientific evidence of human-caused global warming, it’s not surprising that Myerowitz attacks climate models since they are a key source of this evidence. They are also one of the sources of evidence on which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concludes that “Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system” and that “Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Myerowitz also unjustly impugns the scientific qualifications and integrity of scientists whose research is the source of evidence that contradict his beliefs by his specious reference to them as “so-called scientists” and “political hacks.” He ascribes them with having tyrannical power and politically driven motives by claiming that “climate scientists and their politician sponsors”… are “trying to destroy the greatness of this country.”

These are gross distortions of the motivation of climate scientists, and reflect his irrational, ideologically driven fear that any results of climate research incongruent with his beliefs will affect his personal lifestyle.

The truth is that climate scientists are not “political hacks” and their research is neither driven nor motivated by politics or ideology. They are not pressured by politicians to make up results and they would not succumb to such pressure if it were ever to occur because they know it would compromise their professional scientific integrity and destroy their professional career. They are also not about attacking the idea of capitalism or the free market. They are dedicated and honest professionals motivated by scientific curiosity to advance society’s knowledge of the Earth’s climate system, including how it responds to natural and/or human-induced forcing and what the potential consequences are of natural and human-caused climate variability and change. They are not trying to destroy anything.

Just because Myerowitz refuses for purely ideological reasons to accept the validity of scientific findings coming from climate research does not justify his casting aspersions on the professional motives and integrity of the scientists who conduct that research.

Jerry W. Elwood, of Kalispell, has a Ph.D. in environmental science. He is the retired director of the Climate Change Research Division in the U.S Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

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