I just can’t take it anymore. I can’t stand hearing Ted Cruz murder climate science anymore. A few weeks ago, Steve Inskeep interviewed Cruz, the Republican Presidential c
lown car driver candidate. For anyone who follows climate change politics, it will come as no surprise that he said some remarkably foolish things. After all, like several of his Republican peers, he’s not a scientist and can prove it. He’s a pugilistic sophist of a lawyer hellbent on winning arguments by any means necessary.
He’s peddling the faux pause and bad satellite data arguments and wrapping it all in a bow by calling it pseudoscience. If you want to read what others have said about it, there’s plenty to check out. Katie Herzog wrote a snarky take down at Grist. On the satellite data and faux pause, meteorology professor and former Admiral David Titley has already pointed out to Cruz himself that he is misreading the data. “I’m just a simple sailor, but it’s hard for me to see the pause on that chart. So I think the pause has kind of come and gone.” I’ll get to that data later.
I want to focus on a particular statement. Cruz said, “Climate change is the perfect pseudoscientific theory for a big government politician who wants more power. Why? Because it is a theory that can never be disproven.” What’s awesome is that climate change could be disproved.
“Really?” you ask.
“Yes!” I say.
“But how Peter?” you respond, flummoxed.
“This way!” I exclaim, giddy with mischief. “You can show the fundamental properties of greenhouse gases are other than what they are alleged to be. Then their concentration in the atmosphere won’t matter for the global climate. They wouldn’t alter temperatures, the hydrologic cycle, and their combined effects on the biosphere and humanity. The predictions about an altered Earth wouldn’t hold up! Hahaha!”
“That sounds impossible,” you say, eyeing me with furrowed brow and a smirk.
“It would be amazing!” I say and begin dancing around with glee.
What if someone disproved that carbon dioxide and methane weren’t greenhouse gases? That would overturn almost two centuries of science that started with Joseph Fourier’s discovery of the greenhouse effect in 1824, Tyndall’s discovery in 1861 that carbon dioxide blocked infrared radiation, Arrhenius’ first calculations to determine warming from a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the work of the Air Force to track missiles, and more! [See Skeptical Science’s timeline] It would be a scientific revolution that would overturn our conception of reality and indeed modify how infrared detection works because…well…Hmm.
That’s not going to happen. That’s basically impossible. We might discover that methane’s heat trapping property is actually more in the near term than was previously thought (it is). But we aren’t going to disprove that greenhouse gases are greenhouse gases or that their concentrations won’t raise temperatures.
Or maybe you could disprove another “theory.” Maybe you could show that temperatures aren’t rising or that greenhouse gas concentrations aren’t rising. To do this you’d have to prove that all those thermometers were wrong. You’d also have to prove that all that carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, CFCs, and HFCs from fossil fuel sources, lost forests, melting permafrost, agriculture, and other industrial sources are magically going somewhere else…like heaven! But they aren’t. They are wrapping the earth in a thickening blanket that’s raising the earth’s temperature.
On the Cruz theory, the following charts from Australia, Berkeley, and the Scripps Institute are nonsense because they are pseudoscience…or something. Somehow they aren’t showing things as they really are.
The above chart shows the annual mean temperature in Australia from 1911 to 2015. The black curve shows the 5-year running average. With a line of best fit it looks like this:
You’ll notice the general trend moving toward higher average temperatures. [To play with these time series visit the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.] Huh. I wonder if that’s happening elsewhere?
We can do (almost) the same thing with the contiguous United States. See!
Those pesky scientists at Berkeley were looking at a different landmass of comparable size to Australia (but for a longer time) and found a similar trend. From 1920 to 2010 both of them show a warming of roughly 1 degree Celsius. We can do this the globe over. We have. That’s what the IPCC has done. See. There’s that damn pesky trend again!
And based on our understanding of atmospheric greenhouse gases we would guess that the rising temperatures positively correlate with and are caused by increasing the amount of greenhouse gases we know are going into the atmosphere from deforestation, agriculture, and most of all people burning fossil fuels. And look, we know those concentrations are going up as the Keeling Curve from the Scripps Institute shows.
Studies show that for the last 1,000 years recent warming and greenhouse gas concentrations are unusually high and rising at a very rapid rate. Watch Michael E. Mann explain how these things interact as he explains the “hockey stick” (that shape of that trend from above over the course of a millenium):
Yeah. I don’t think anyone’s going to disprove all that. It’s basically impossible. Could there be another way to disprove climate change? Sure.
Maybe all that abstract data doesn’t matter. You know? If it’s just junk science then there’s no other evidence that rising temperatures and more greenhouse gases are doing anything. Surely Cruz and the
excellent scientists discredited contrarian Judith Curry can disprove thousands of studies and the lived experience of people across the globe showing that recent rising average temperatures aren’t melting ice sheets and glaciers, isn’t adding energy to the atmosphere that’s increasing the frequency and intensity of droughts and floods, that there are not climate-related migration of species including adelgids and ticks and lots of others, the increased mortality of forests and extinction of some species because of altered climatic conditions, sea level rise (that link has a conservative estimate) more record highs than record lows, increasing tropical cyclone intensity, and too much other stuff to list.
I’m just a simple township supervisor and an educator, but it’s hard to not see a rapidly altering climate before my eyes. I don’t think you can disprove all of that. It’s basically impossible.
But it’s not impossible in principle. That’s where Cruz is wrong. It’s not pseudoscience. Pseudoscience can’t be disproved because there’s nothing that can refute it or because it’s peddled as truth while being repeatedly debunked. Think creationism and intelligent design neither of which have any testable predictable hypotheses flowing from a meaningful theory supported by evidence. As Carl Sagan said, I can’t disprove that there isn’t an invisible purple dinosaur in your garage or that UFOs haven’t come to earth. But there’s no evidence to show me that they exist beyond the wishes.
There is plenty of evidence for climate change.
So Cruz, while totally wrong, is sort of right on one thing. It’s not that climate change can’t be disproved. It’s that it won’t be disproved. Why? Because you can’t disprove reality.