Understanding Belief Change
(Thoughts on Reading AR5)

The global warming ideological
movement is now in its final throes, and people like me, who love to observe
and analyze belief systems, and especially their life cycles from birth to
death, have a ringside seat to witness its final disappearance.

It will take
five to ten years for this to be generally admitted, but the global warming
ideology is now hemorrhaging beyond any hope of recovery and we can watch its
entertaining collapse with eager anticipation and high amusement. Gloating would be childish but some degree of
serene gratification is entirely appropriate.

Given
that the fate of global warming is now sealed, the interesting question is how
its obituary will be written. Ten years
from now, the present adherents of catastrophic global warming will all be
voicing what is now called the skeptical or realist position. How will they get there?

It
seems unlikely that they will say: ‘We were seriously wrong. Sorry!’
A few of them, no doubt, but not the majority.

It
also seems unlikely that they will do what they did with acid rain: just
suddenly stop blathering about it. For
years they were screaming at us that acid rain was destroying the world’s
forests, which would bring about ecological catastrophe. Scarcely a day went by without some new media
reference to the horrors of acid rain.
Then it all stopped, and we haven’t heard a peep about acid raid for
many a long year.

The difference
is that global warming is, culturally speaking, a much bigger deal than acid
rain. More noise has been made about it,
more politicians have staked their reputations on it, numerous best-selling books
have been written about it and countless international conferences have been generously
tax-funded (to the tune of trillions) to talk about it.

If they suddenly
stopped mentioning global warming without explanation, people would notice. But aside from that, the folks who promote the
global warming belief-system are not conscious hoaxers. They really do believe in it, so they’re
going to have to find a way to explain to themselves how and why they have
abandoned that belief and replaced it with the beliefs they now abhor: global warming
is nothing to worry about, and more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not a
bad thing at all. The fact that they
really do believe in catastrophism explains why they cannot take the tent down
in a disciplined and co-ordinated manner.
Since their disillusionment will be uneven, they will start turning on
each other, snarling viciously, the way they now turn on their skeptical scientific
critics.

Of course,
memories are highly fallible, and people are often capable of forgetting what
they used to believe in. So, I confidently
expect some people to deny that they ever believed in catastrophic global
warming. Just think of it! Ten years from now, some people are going to
be denying that anyone ever believed what they now loudly proclaim they believe!

Naturally, there
will be some definite recanters, people with unusual moral courage or those
approaching retirement who calculate they can no longer be injured by the militant
global warming ideologues. These will
probably be few, but definitely expect to see some. Fritz Vahrenholt is one of these. There will soon be several more, and there
will be no converts in the opposite direction.

The really
fascinating thing is how the adjustment process will take place. What, specifically, will these global warming
believers say from day to day and week to week, to account for the
uncomfortable changes they are undergoing?

There are
essentially five likely techniques:

1.
Abandoning their specific claims while ever more loudly declaiming the general
summary of these claims. (Yes, polar
bear populations are growing, Arctic and Antarctic ice are both increasing,
glaciers are in great shape, extreme weather events are at an all-time low, it
keeps getting colder, and so on and on and on, but still, global warming is
building up and catastrophe is just around the corner.) This can’t go on forever. Even the journalists (always the last people
to notice anything) will perceive that it is all in the believers’ heads;
nothing remarkable is actually happening out there in the climate.

We can see this process in the
IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5, Part 1), where the body of the report
retreats in several key places from the Fourth Assessment (AR4), while the
concluding summary for policymakers is even more apoplectic in its wording than
the conclusion of AR4, Part 1. Six or
seven years from now we’ll be due for a Sixth Assessment, and that will present
the IPCC with a painful dilemma (the crisis will come sooner, because it takes
several years to prepare these reports, and there are always rumblings a couple
of years before the report is finalized).

If the body of the report again
records retreat after retreat while the conclusions for policymakers become yet
more extreme and strident, this will be just too embarrassing a joke. They can’t do that again, so what will they
do? I imagine they will most likely
postpone the report for a while, and then come out and actually admit they have
had to reduce the estimated risk of catastrophe. Perhaps they will produce two reports,
allowing a minority report for the first time.
Perhaps AR5 is already the last, and AR6 will just never get off the
ground. Whatever they do, those of us
who fondly appreciate la comédie humaine are in for a real treat.

2.
Surreptitious retreat, admitting it’s not as bad as they once said, but
insisting it is still very, very bad.
This can later be stealthily modulated into ‘not so very bad after all’.

3.
You can’t be too careful. Yes, the whole
thing was overblown, but it’s better to err on the side of caution. And who knows what obscure undetectable
demons might still be lurking somewhere in the climate?

4.
Making little adjustments here and there, without affecting the overall
results. This is a bit like someone who
has embezzled a lot of money from a company and still has a highly-placed job
in the Accounts department. He tries to
move a few thousand dollars around every month, and keeps on improvizing new stories
to conceal the fact that a big sum has gone missing. One day, independent auditors walk through
the door, and then the game’s up!

5.
Finally, this is the one that I find most fascinating and most amusing. I think they will adopt the practice of
announcing amazing new discoveries, which are in fact exactly what the skeptics
have been saying for several decades. We
have already seen some hints that this ploy is to become standard.

For
reasons familiar to those who follow climate science, these amazing new discoveries
will mostly be about the effects of aerosols and clouds.

Aerosols are due
to fine particles which exist naturally and are also generated by industrial
activity. To explain why their climate
predictions always turn out to be false, and always erroneous in the same
direction, the IPCC folks have been assuming that newly generated aerosols
exert a cooling influence, difficult to quantify but always just enough to
explain away the difference between the catastrophic warming effects of carbon dioxide
(which never actually happen, remember) and the actual observations. In simulating climate with models, they can
add in an aerosol cooling, so that the current lack of warming can be rendered
compatible with a hypothetical warming that is never actually observed.

The
idea is that Chinese industrialization is increasing the number of aerosols or
changing their character so that there is greater cooling from aerosols than in
the past. And so, industrialization,
which brings catastrophe through carbon dioxide warming, just coincidentally
rescues us from catastrophic warming because of the cooling effect of
aerosols. This sounds like a stroke of
luck for all of us, but wait, the IPCC’s models show that the cooling effect of
aerosols eventually won’t be able to counteract the warming, so in this way we
can reconcile the two propositions: a. We’re doomed (unless we dismantle modern
industry), and b. The data keep loudly insisting that nothing remarkable is
happening.

Unlike
similar ad hoc expedients in the realm of theology, aerosols can be observed
and analyzed. So we can expect to see
the results of research into the effects of aerosols, and these results will of
course amount to the conclusion that the cooling effect has been over-estimated
in the models. If that’s so, then the
counterfactual warming, or what warming would have been without the added
aerosols, would be less, and thus the failure of nature to comply with
predictions of increased warming would be even bigger, casting greater doubt on
the assumptions in the models which yielded those predictions.

Climate
realists have always argued that the net effect of clouds is probably to act as
a negative feedback on warming: as the troposphere (the part of the atmosphere
nearest the surface of the Earth) warms, this increases humidity, which
increases clouds, which reflects more heat back into space. Thus, the warming is limited by a natural
thermostat. (Clouds are very
complicated, and do all sorts of things, and there are other feedbacks which no
one pretends to have yet understood, but the skeptical argument is that their
net effect is probably to moderate, not amplify, changes in global temperature.)

The
catastrophist doctrine absolutely relies on the net effect of such feedbacks
being to amplify the natural greenhouse effect by a factor of at least 3;
that’s how they get those scary warming scenarios. Where did the idea of this huge amplification
come from? Certainly not from any
observations. Satellite measurements
confirm the obvious: that when the troposphere warms, more heat is emitted into
space.

Now
again, clouds and other manifestations of water vapor are not like the Holy
Spirit. They can actually be investigated
and measured. Over the next few years we
can expect to see studies of clouds and water vapor which keep finding more and
more corroboration for the skeptical arguments for negative net feedback. In other words, the climate has low
sensitivity to minute increments of carbon dioxide, just as common sense
suggests.

We
will see the results of one study after another, of aerosols, clouds, and other
matters, which conform to the realist arguments and contradict the assumptions
underlying catastrophic global warming.
Naturally, these will often be published along with hot-tempered
protestations that they do not in any way, shape, or form, challenge the
unassailable truth of catastrophic global warming. But that doesn’t matter, or rather it mainly matters
as part of an ephemeral process of adjustment in beliefs. Ignore these obeisances to the sacred tenets
of the belief system, look at the actual conclusions of the studies, and hold
your breath for the entire delusional structure to come crashing down.

What these future
studies will do is to legitimate a narrative less upsetting than ‘We have made
a horrible and costly mistake’. That
narrative is ‘We didn’t know about these surprising facts which go against the
global warming belief-system, but now, thanks to astounding new findings by
intrepid researchers, we do know about them.
The fact that we now have to admit that the denialist psychotics were
right all along is sad and regrettable, but no more than an ironic coincidence.’

Who will really
be taken in by this kind of drivel? I
can’t say. People’s credulity is more
baffling than climate feedbacks.

Belief
change is real. It affects all of
us. It will govern our children’s
future. We should all be concerned about
the fateful impact of belief change. But
let not your heart be troubled! Belief
systems have always changed and always will.
Keep watching. Even amateur
observers can monitor and document the signs of belief change everywhere.

And believe it
or not, the results of belief change are not catastrophic; they are mostly
benign, and (like the results of natural climate change) absolutely nothing to
worry about.