WASHINGTON, June 2, 2017 ⏤ Amidst the hysteria and hyperbole that have followed President Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, one consideration has been ignored: Science affirms that his decision was rational and reasonable.
Science is an approach to knowledge built on skepticism; scientific knowledge is conditional, never final. It proceeds from theories that produce testable hypotheses. Those theories can be proven false, but can never be proven true.
Scientific knowledge does not depend on consensus. If every scientist in the world believes a result, that result is only accepted as true until further evidence shows otherwise. Consensus is characteristic of politics and religion, not science.
The Paris accord was a political agreement. The signatory nations presented their various plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and were allowed to present them without scientific vetting, emission benchmarks, or any other trappings of a serious, science-based plan to cut emissions. It ratified their decisions to do what they already intended to do.
Had the plans been followed scrupulously, and were the climate models accurate, they would have slowed the global temperature rise by less than the forecast rounding error. Is that worth doing?
There exists a consensus that greenhouse gasses are the main cause of earth’s warming. The gas most discussed is carbon dioxide (CO2), which unlike other important greenhouse gases, most notably water vapor, is produced by human activity. Carbon dioxide is opaque to infrared radiation, unlike nitrogen, which comprises 78 percent of our atmosphere, and oxygen, which comprises 21 percent.
Oxygen and nitrogen are 99 percent of our atmosphere; the remaining 1 percent is composed of trace gases like water vapor, argon and carbon dioxide, at 0.038 percent.
Laboratory tests have shown that CO2 is indeed less transparent to heat than are oxygen and nitrogen. It’s like the glass in a greenhouse: Light shines through, is absorbed by the greenhouse contents, then re-radiated not as light, but as heat.
The glass is transparent to light, but not to heat, which is trapped.
That, say proponents of the human-caused-global-warming model, proves the dangers of CO2 to our environment.
But it does not.
Those experiments are done with high concentrations of CO2. The concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere is 0.038 percent, or 380 parts per million. And while those experiments show what happens in a lab setting, that setting is nothing like real life.
The experiments don’t account for CO2 absorption by oceans and plants, changes in cloud cover, and myriad other factors.
At this point we leave the world of experiment and enter the world of mathematical modeling: Assumptions, best guesses, equations chosen by the modelers, known relationships, hypothesized relationships. We move from knowledge (science) to more-or-less informed belief.
The Mission Statement for the 2017 Earth Day stated:
“The March for Science champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence-based policies in the public interest.”
It goes on to speak of resisting efforts that are “discrediting scientific consensus.”
“Our understanding is constantly changing, presenting us with new questions and answers. Science gives us the ability to examine these questions, enabling us to craft improved policies and regulations that serve our best interests. Political decision-making … should make use of peer-reviewed evidence and scientific consensus… ”
We’ve returned to “consensus.” Science isn’t about consensus; the concern with consensus is anti-science.
The organizers’ statement acknowledges new questions and answers, but it cites the examination of questions as a primary prerequisite for crafting policies and regulations to serve “our” best interests. Omitted is the requirement for proof, reproducible results, and falsifiable answers in crafting those policies.
President Trump issued this statement:
“Rigorous science is critical to my administration’s efforts to achieve the twin goals of economic growth and environmental protection. My administration is committed to advancing scientific research that leads to a better understanding of our environment and of environmental risks. As we do so, we should remember that rigorous science depends not on ideology, but on a spirit of honest inquiry and robust debate.”
Given what’s at stake for all of us, as well as our posterity, Trump’s approach isn’t just politically smart, but the approach most consistent with the methods and ideals of science.
Bill Randall is a former U.S. military weather forecaster, having served as Staff Meteorologist for the Commander, U.S. Sixth Fleet during Operation Desert Storm. He is also a former military instructor at the Dept. of Defense (DoD) Consolidated Weather School where he has been recognized as the top instructor for the 3350th Technical Training Group (Weather Specialist Course).