Science in dispute

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I THINK that Tom Ballantine (“Why wind power is worth the risk” Letters, 10 May) misunderstands the paper on climate 
experts that seems to have 
energised his contribution.

Attempting to assess credibility or expertise is a fraught issue. The authors of the paper decided they knew the attitudes of other climate scientists rather than the more definite method of actually polling them. In its desire to label what I regard as the essential need for scientific scepticism as denial, this 
publication introduced a reprehensible and unscientific moralistic tone.

The senior author of the paper actually predicted future global cooling in the 1970s.

There have been a number of rather more believable investigations of scientific climate opinion and these indicate a range of attitudes, although most accept some contribution of mankind to climate change.

It would be difficult to assume there was none, since forests have been converted into cities, over a billion acres of natural land are now farmed and massive quantities of dust, soot, methane, aerosols and CO2 have been put into the atmosphere.

But accepting a contribution does not lead to the naive view that sees climate temperature changes as solely the result of mankind’s activities and in particular fossil-fuel burning and atmospheric CO2.

No climate scientist knows the actual sensitivity of the atmospheric temperature to CO2 and one attempt to estimate it, using proxy data from the climate recovery from the last Ice Age, came up with a figure of under 2C for a CO2 doubling, much lower than current views. 

Climate science is constructed on models. These are only projections with a lot of assumptions, not predictions; they are only as good as the information put into them. No climate model has yet accounted for the apparent stasis in global temperature for the past 15 years despite continuous rises in CO2.

The reason for the stasis is not known but suggests that there are unknown climate characteristics that can counteract the potential warming effects of CO2. 

Even if there was a consensus, as Mr Ballantine mistakenly assumes, a scientific consensus is often temporary. Halobacteria and gut ulceration, tectonic 
plates, evolution, relativity, 
Copernican revolution etc, are all examples of the consensus being confounded by sceptics who thought differently and did not accept the prevailing view.

(Prof) Tony Trewavas

Scientific Alliance Scotland

North St David Street

Edinburgh

IN answer to Tom Ballantine (Letters, 10 May) there are two striking examples of why, in the face of uncertain evidence of dangerous climate change, it may be better to do nothing than do the wrong thing.

Subsidising biofuels in order to reduce dependence on fossil 
fuels has diverted agricultural land from food production to producing fuels such as the 
biodiesel we now put in our cars. The policy has driven up food prices, hitting the world’s poor and those on the margins of 
existence. It doesn’t make sense to use speculation of future harm to justify current harm to the poor.

Secondly, subsidies for wind farms substantially come from increased fuel prices, which disproportionately affect the poor who pay a larger proportion of their income on fuel. The subsidies tend to go to those with capital, such as landowners and large companies. It is the Robin Hood principle in reverse – robbing the poor to give to the rich.

In response to my questioning his arguments from authority, Mr Ballantine repeats the discredited mantra that “97 per cent of experts” can’t be wrong.

That he asks for examples of those who disagree with him suggests he might benefit from reading more broadly. Richard Lindzen, atmospheric scientist 
of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, would be a good place to start, and Freeman Dyson, theoretical physicist, also has useful things to say about the obsession with climate 
models in the face of empirical science.

There are many, many more who disagree with Mr Ballantine’s alarmist position.

But the prospect or otherwise of dangerous climate change does not depend on argument from authority or numbers of adherents to a view. Empirical observational science is more to be trusted than model-based, doom-laden, predictions.

(CLLR) Cameron Rose

City Chambers

Edinburgh