Pruitt must launch public climate science debate soon
By Tom Harris
OTTAWA – OPINION – Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is right to speak about the need for a full-blown public debate between scientists about the causes and consequences of climate change. In his February 6th television interview on KSNV, an NBC affiliate in Las Vegas, the administrator explained, “There are very important questions around the climate issue that folks really don’t get to. And that’s one of the reasons why I’ve talked about having an honest, open, transparent debate about what do we know, what don’t we know, so the American people can be informed and they can make decisions on their own with respect to these issues.”
Pruitt told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on January 30th that a “red team-blue team exercise,” an EPA-sponsored debate between climate scientists of differing view, is under consideration. It is crucially important that such a debate go ahead. The public needs to understand that even the most basic assumptions underlying climate concerns are in doubt.
Scientists taking part in a red team-blue team exercise would naturally address questions such as:
- How much recent climate change is natural versus human-caused?
- How good are the computer models for forecasting future climate?
- Is extreme weather really increasing?
What they will probably not look at, but should, are the very basics underlying today’s climate change concerns. For example, the experts must:
- properly re-examine whether the Earth really has warmed in the past century
- determine if carbon dioxide (CO2) levels really have risen since the 1800s
- if levels have actually risen, are human activities primarily responsible?
Contrary to popular belief, these sorts of questions are not at all settled. Former University of Winnipeg climatology professor Dr. Tim Ball is an example of a well-qualified expert who does indeed question these fundamentals of the climate debate.
For example, Ball explains that, while it is claimed that there has been a 0.7 degree Celsius temperature rise in the past century, it is not actually possible to know this.
“The best weather stations in the world, in terms of the density of the network, the quality of the instruments, and the monitoring of the sites, are in the United States,” said Ball. “But, even there, meteorologist Anthony Watts’ Surface Stations study showed that only 7.9 percent of existing stations achieved accuracies better than +/-1 degree Celsius. So how can you claim that a 0.7 degree increase over 100 years has any meaning whatsoever?”
While many people assume that CO2 concentrations have risen in recent decades, some scientists dispute this. Ball points out, “The CO2 level from pre-industrial times was completely manipulated to show a steady rise from 270 parts per million [ppm] to the current 400 ppm. Scientifically valid chemical measurements of 19th century CO2 levels in excess of those of today were simply ignored.”
And if there has been a rise in CO2 levels, it could simply be a result of outgassing from the oceans as they warmed due to solar changes. Human activity may have had little affect. Ball explains that the total estimated human contribution to atmospheric CO2 is less that the uncertainty in the estimate of CO2 emitted from the oceans, so determining the human contribution is not currently possible.
There are scientists who do disagree with Ball, of course. But even they cannot be completely sure of their position. The red team-blue team participants must leave no stone unturned and dig deeply into even the most basic assumptions of the climate change debate. For essentially nothing in science is a known fact. They are merely the current opinions of experts based on their interpretations of the observations and their understandings of today’s theory. And different experts have different opinions, even about issues that many scientists assume are settled.
Pruitt told the Senate committee on January 30 that the proposed “red team-blue team exercise” would be “an opportunity to the American people to consume information from scientists that have different perspectives on key issues.”
Its high time the public was given the whole story on this, one of the most important issues of our age. Let the climate debate begin!
Tom Harris is executive director of the Ottawa-based International Climate Science Coalition.