Climate Science's Troubles With The Physical World

My original concern about global warming back in 2003 was quite simple: if we are experiencing climate change, where is the change? Something noticeably different, that is, such as a weather pattern consistently showing up in places where it had never or seldom been seen.

Alas, I soon discovered that those questions are considered blasphemous or worse, by many people deeply and wholly convinced about the Truth of Climate Science. And in fact, there are signs that mainstream climate science is curiously uninterested with verifying what the physical world actually does: for example, check the disdain reserved for the IPCC’s own Working Group II Report “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability”, the one that after all contains the most practical chapter of them all, “Assessment of observed changes and responses in natural and managed systems“.

Here’s RC’s take as of last January, eulogizing about the Working Group I Report “The Physical Science Basis”:

In this case, it appears that not enough people with relevant experience saw this text, or if they saw it, did not comment publicly. This might be related to the fact that this text was in the Working Group 2 report on impacts, which does not get the same amount of attention from the physical science community than does the higher profile WG 1 report (which is what people associated with RC generally look at). In WG1, the statements about continued glacier retreat are much more general and the rules on citation of non-peer reviewed literature was much more closely adhered to. However, in general, the science of climate impacts is less clear than the physical basis for climate change, and the literature is thinner, so there is necessarily more ambiguity in WG 2 statements.

How come the WG1’s report is superior to WG2’s? Because it deals with “hard data and peer-reviewed studies”

To be fair to our colleagues from WG2 and WG3, climate scientists do have a much simpler task. The system we study is ruled by the well-known laws of physics, there is plenty of hard data and peer-reviewed studies, and the science is relatively mature. The greenhouse effect was discovered in 1824 by Fourier, the heat trapping properties of CO2 and other gases were first measured by Tyndall in 1859, the climate sensitivity to CO2 was first computed in 1896 by Arrhenius, and by the 1950s the scientific foundations were pretty much understood.

I am pretty sure most scientists of all sorts (but not climatologists, as it seems) would find it peculiar to see the physical impacts of a scientific theory relegated in the background so that people can celebrate their “relatively mature” science. And no, the belief that understanding some physical mechanisms means understanding what happens in the real world is a naive, dangerous fallacy.

The same attitude surfaces at Connolley’s blog. Look at the recent “case closed!” about WG1’s science

[…] we have all the evidence that is required (disclaimers: I’m only really speaking about WGI stuff, because it is the only thing i have a clue about, and I’m not saying we should shut down all the physical climate change research. There are plenty of exciting and interesting things to discover. But they won’t change the big picture […]

In comparison to that, poor WG2’s authors become little more than amateurs

WG I would never have made the mistake WG II made over this 2350 / 2035 stuff, for two reasons. Firstly, they are subject to line-by-line scrutiny because people actually *care*. And second they just do a better job with better people.

Has any climate scientist actually read the WG2 Report? Here’s one that hasn’t, and forgets two thirds of it

I know a little about Working Group II – as well as climatologists, it is written by hydrologists, glaciologists, economists, social scientists and medical scientists and considers the potential impacts of climate change

Tellingly, not even the Aristotelian phalanxes at Skeptical Science can come up with much about “empirical evidence“.

What is happening here? Perhaps, the physical world is just too complex to deal with, for people used to draw their neat theories (and models). In truth, so far there still is nothing to show for climate change, and yet plenty of educated scientists are so convinced by it, nothing would ever change their mind. Hence the need to elevate “climate science” above those earthly, physical troubles, to a realm where it actually works.

The realm, that is, of meta-physics