Comment and Review of Seth Millers’ article: What climate skeptics taught me about global warming.
The latest climate change research and observations are downright frightening, Among the plethora of sobering news:
- We have measured three years in a row of record breaking global surface temperatures (Plait 2017),
- Global sea surface temperatures are warming faster than previously thought (Romm 2017),
- The Arctic is at its second-lowest sea ice minimum and the lowest average annual sea ice extent in modern history (Romm 2016), and
- Research forecasts that the world’s coastal cities face inundation by 2100 if we continue our current green-house gas emissions path (Romm 2016);
- I could go on…
Yet the leader and his team’s nominal appointees of the incoming executive branch of the United States Government mostly consist of climate reality deniers from the top on down. This as scientists and public health leaders call climate change among or the biggest threat to human health we face this century (Lancet Commission on Climate & Health 2015).
With so much utter disconnect between the science and the unprecedented risk that further delay or lack of effective policy countermeasures will likely have on public health and societal well-being, it’s probably a good time to look (yet again) at why most climate scientists believe what they do and why theri warnings need to be urgently heeded. Just how do the thousands of scientists in the field conclude that there is a strong link between green-house gas emissions and global warming and its myriad impacts?
Enter a discussion by Seth Miller, “What climate skeptics taught me about global warming” (Miller 2017). What stands out in his post, especially to other scientists and public health practitioners, is his reference to and utilization of the way public health epidemiologists approached the argument that smoking causes lung cancer (bias alert, I am an epidemiologist!). Millers discussion and his introduction and review of Hill’s Criteria (Hill 1965) is a good read for any scientist and those interested in science, because of its clarity and review of far-reaching principles for what constitutes sufficient “proof”.
Miller takes the well documented history of the relationship between cigarettes and lung cancer into the sphere of climate change by applying Hill’s criteria to the key question of whether humans are warming the earth by our massive emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. I won’t repeat Miller’s entire essay, it’s well worth a complete read on its own (link below), but I will list his summary of Hill’s Criteria because of its generic science communication usefulness:
- Strength: How strong is the relationship between the factors (CO2 and temperature)?
- Consistency. Is the data consistent across multiple measurements, at multiple places and times?
- Specificity. Is the change that we are seeing specific to this point in history?
- Temporality. Which came first in modern times, the CO2 or the warming?
- Dose-response. Does the temperature increase scale with CO2 increase?
- Plausibility. Does the causal relationship make physical sense?
- Coherence. Do the data fit in with current theory and knowledge?
- Experiment. Can we alter, prevent, or improve the situation with an intervention?
- Analogy. Is there an analogous, better-understood system that makes the CO2 climate hypothesis plausible?
Spoiler alert: Our understanding of the global CO2 and temperature relationship survives this rigorous examination. Miller concludes, “The evidence supporting man-made global warming creates one of strongest science stories I have ever seen.”
“A magical thing about structure, it gives you no place to hide” (comment on Seth’s original article, Alex Williams, January 9, 2017)
I recently came across a discussion (Kasprak 2016) about a century year old newspaper clipping sourced from the March 1912 issue of Popular Mechanics (Molena 1912) that writes about global warming having a considerable effect “in a few centuries”. Well, now into the second century after this article, here we are. It is real, it is happening now, and it threatens practically all our accomplishments and every future aspiration for public health.
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Hill, Austin. 1965. “The Environment and Disease: Association or Causation?” Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine 58: 295-300.
Kasprak, Alex. 2016. Climate Clips. October 18.
Lancet Commission on Climate & Health. 2015. Health and climate change. Accessed 2017.
Miller, Seth. 2017. What climate skeptics taught me about global warming. January 3.
Molena, Francis. 1912. “Remarkable Weather of 1911.” Popular Mechanics, March.
Plait, Phil. 2017. New Study Confirms Sea Surface Temperatures Are Warming Faster Than Previously Thought. January 5.
Romm, Joe. 2016. Arctic death spiral: Icebreakers reach North Pole as sea ice disintegrates. September 12.
—. 2017. Warming crushes global records again in 2016. January 2.