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What are the best resources for examining the evidence for anthropogenic climate change?

by Matthew Barnett1 min read6th Aug 20198 comments


Climate Change
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A while back I was researching the evidence for evolution. It's not that I didn't initially believe in evolution or understand natural selection, but it's just that I didn't really understand the full breadth of the evidence and predictions that the theory makes. Before, I had a tendency to simply assert that "the evidence is overwhelming" in discussions without really going into detail.

When I began researching evidence, I had a few choices. I could just read basic surface arguments that I found on the internet, such as this article from Khan academy or the Wikipedia page. While these resources are valuable, they aren't very comprehensive, and don't appear like they'd convince a hard-nosed skeptic. There are popular books, such as Jerry A. Coyne's Why Evolution Is True and Richard Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth. The last two sources left me feeling like I still wasn't getting the full story, since they assumed a beginner background in philosophy and science, and weren't as nuanced as I wanted them to be (although I did not read both of them cover to cover).

Eventually I stumbled across 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: The Scientific Case for Common Descent by Douglas Theobald, which exceeded my expectations, and satisfied my desire to understand the evidence for common descent. While this last work does not assume the reader is a professional biologist, it also doesn't shy away from presenting specific technical evidences and the context they play in modern biology.

I wonder whether there is a similar publication which can satisfy my desire to understand anthropogentic climate change. My prior is that climate change is real, and primarily caused by human activity. I believe this because I generally side with the scientific consensus, and most intelligent people I know believe it. However, I am a little embarrassed from the fact that I couldn't really convincingly argue with a skeptic. I imagine a highly educated climate change skeptic like Roy Spencer could argue circles around me, which is never a good sign.

In light of the previous discussion, what are the best resources for understanding the full breadth of evidence for anthropogenic climate change?


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I would say the best resources are the sceptic pages partly because I am one and partly because if you can understand the sceptic point of view you might be able to argue against it more competently. This one in particular has many interesting articles linked along with a daily dose; https://notrickszone.com/. Another personal favourite, among many, is https://www.thegwpf.com/

I recommend starting with the original greenhouse effect forecasts that were made over a century ago (by someone who expected global warming to be desirable). That model still looks pretty good, except that CO2 emission forecasts of that time weren't very good.

I could not find one a few years ago. I read the last couple of and the first IPCC report. Read sceptic books and blogs and looked for refutations. I took what looked like the 3 strongest sceptic arguments and studied them in detail (all proved fallacious). Though I did conclude that there had been early on an overconfidence about the accuracy of the projections.

Analogously I am looking for the best rebuttal to Richard Carrier's book questioning the existence of the historial Yeshua / Joshua / Jesus (in Greek). It is difficult because almost all biblical scholars are in a position where even entertaining the question might be a career threatening move, and all the texts basically simply assume his existence. I read Bart Ehrman's attempt (https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Did_Jesus_Exist%3F_(Ehrman_book)&_%28Ehrman%29=) and found it an embarrassment (to him). I have looked at the Josephus and Tacitus texts and find them to be very weak evidence.

I have looked at the Josephus and Tacitus texts and find them to be very weak evidence.

That's interesting to me, since I have generally just taken the existence of Jesus as a given. I haven't studied historical Jesus much so my opinion was mainly based on what I assumed was the scholarly consensus. I knew Richard Carrier existed, but I didn't know how much weight to give him.

1waveman2yI think most people were the same. I was. Our default is to believe what we are told, especially if told by >= 3 people (a heuristic that is good to know if you want to convince someone of something). In one sense it doesn't matter much because even assuming he existed, there is IMHO very little reliable evidence about what he said or did. Scholars widely believe that the eucharist, the feeding of the 5000 and the sermon on the mount were later additions to the story. It is worth noting the trend here. Over time the historicity of biblical figures has eroded as older figures are gradually accepted as legendary. Usually this process occurs by the time honoured method of "science advances funeral by funeral". A new generation comes through who accept e.g. tha Abraham or Moses were mythical figures.
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The question you should ask for policy purposes is how much the temperature would rise in response to different possible increases in CO2. It's basically a matter of estimating a continuous parameter that nobody thinks is zero and whose space of possible values has no natural dividing line between "yes" and "no". Attribution of past warming partly overlaps with the "how much" question and partly just distracts from it. That said, I would just read the relevant sections of the latest IPCC report.

I am no scientist. I accept that anthropogenic climate change is a real. The problem I have is the apocalyptic rhetoric attached. Human beings love to claim things are the end of the world when they're most certainly not. There are plenty of examples of that in recent history (overpopulation, peak oil, the first time environmental collapse was supposed to kill us, etc.) that have come into fashion and then are gone in a decade or two. How am I, as an ordinary person, supposed to tell the difference between a real crisis and largely empty apocalyptic cultural movements? Climate talk often feels like religiously based end times thinking.

It's pretty clear to me that creating a climate theory that accounts for past results is useless here. For climate modelling to indicate that things are desperate it must predict the future. If someone can say *the temperature will raise by X here in Y time* then that's a good start. As far as I'm aware, no such modelling exists (and certainly not in an easy to explain and consume format suitable for the majority).

On the pragmatic front, climate action feels like just more baizuo virtue signalling. We have one climate but there are multiple countries, any of which can undo any efforts to remediate climate issues. The West isn't going to hand the third world the required technology gratis, nor is it going to invade simply to stop people burning brown coal. This feels exactly like recycling - lots of emotive messaging and expensive sorting programs just so all the garbage can be sent to the third world for poor people to rip apart for metal salvage and burn the left overs. Is anything that is being suggested or done for climate actually efficacious? Is there any point if it can simply be undone by others?

Again on the pragmatic front, and somewhat more cynically, I am forced to ask: Who profits? "Follow the money" is an excellent adage when it comes to figuring out what's really going on in a situation that otherwise appears complex. If the overarching messaging for the population is "Change your behaviour in this direction, think this way, believe these things, accept these impositions" especially when those running the show are doing the exact opposite of what the messaging suggests, then that tends to erode my faith in that messaging. If you're constantly flying to climate conferences on your Gulfstream between hanging out on your super yacht then I'll look to your actions rather than your words.

Finally, if climate change is a problem and we want it fixed then that's almost certainly going to be dependent on building a profitable industry catering to that. If you want something done then the easiest way for that to happen is by paying for it. If people can get rich from fixing the climate then the climate will get fixed (to a point anyway, no one that profits from a problem is ever going to let that problem truly end. Just ask any activist or charity). The UN certainly isn't going to get it done.

Thanks for your input :).

Is anything that is being suggested or done for climate actually efficacious?

I am perhaps more optimistic about being able to find effective climate change action, since there are effective altruists who are working on the problem. Have you tried looking at the effective environmentalism Facebook group?

If the overarching messaging for the population is "Change your behaviour in this direction, think this way, believe these things, accept these impositions" especially when those running the show are doing the exact opposite of what the messaging suggests, then that tends to erode my faith in that messaging.

My guess is that in 30 years if climate change is no longer treated as a very serious issue by scientists, it will probably be because we developed a technological solution, rather than some type of moral shift or political action. I agree that personal behavior changes are pretty weak variables when we consider long term trends.

That said, politics can still be important to the extent that it can ensure some type of differential technological progress. Subsidies for solar energy are one example of this.