What’s True and What’s False in Obama’s Latest Global Warming Claims

By William M Briggs Published on August 5, 2015

There is so much hyperbole surrounding the topic of global warming that it is becoming nearly impossible to distinguish among points that are true, points that might be true or false, and points that are simply false. So let us take a gentle approach in the hope that we may reach what the philosopher David Hume called “the calm sunshine of the mind.”

President Obama unveiled his global warming plan Monday. In it he claimed that “2014 was the hottest year on record globally.” This is false. But even if it were true, the claim by itself has no meaning. It would be a fallacy to suppose that the anomalous reading must have been caused by mankind, especially in the face of the failed models and the implication we do not know all the causes of climate change.

This criticism applies to any weather or climate observation. But we must be sure of making correct statements about observations. President Obama for instance claimed that storms are growing stronger and in number. That is also false. Indeed, the opposite is true.

The President further claimed that 14 of the past 15 years have been the hottest on record. This too is false. There are many times in human history where it has been much hotter.  The President’s claim is also true, but only if we consider (one version of) the satellite record of temperatures which began around 1980.  Human history has lasted longer than that. Additionally, that same satellite data also shows that the planet has not been warming for almost twenty years.

In his speech, the president said that the earth’s climate has been changing. I am an actual climate scientist and can verify that this is true. And not only that, it always has changed. There was never, not ever, a point in the history of our planet in which the climate was static. This is such an important but always-forgotten point that it must be repeated. So let’s do that: the earth’s climate has always changed.

And always will. Nobody can stop it. That is, it is impossible to stop climate change. I mean “impossible” in its plain-English sense, as in not possible by any means.

Another truth: mankind affects the climate. Yet every species affects the climate. Mankind, therefore, is not unusual.

Here is a falsity: all of the changes we have observed in the climate over the past few decades have been caused by man. There are, of course, many people who say that all observed changes were caused by mankind. These people are not climate scientists and are ignorant of the field. I use “ignorant” in its technical rather than pejorative sense, as untaught or uninformed.

A truth, not mentioned in Obama’s speech: we climate scientists do not know the full effect mankind has on the climate. The models we have created based on our theories of how the climate works have performed badly over a long period. This logically and necessarily implies those theories are in error. We do not know where they are in error: if we did, we could fix the models and they would work.

Once again, many people believe, or claim to believe, the opposite. These people are also ignorant in the technical sense. The President says, for instance, that “carbon pollution is the biggest driver of climate change.” This, we now know, is false.

President Obama wants to “address the threat of climate change” by enacting a suite of regulations. He claims these regulations will, for example, “Prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths,” “Prevent 1,700 non-fatal heart attacks,” “Prevent 90,000 asthma attacks in children,” “Prevent 300,000 missed workdays and school days,” “Nearly $85 a year on their energy bills in 2030,” create “tens of thousands of jobs,” and many other things.

These claims are based on statistical models built on top of climate models. Since the regulations are not yet in place, the claims cannot be known to be true or false. Yet the climate models upon which the claims are based are already known to be in significant error; thus is it reasonable to conclude that these surprisingly precise health and economic claims will also be in error.

And this is before we consider the error naturally present in the statistical models themselves, error which necessarily must make the claims even less certain. The level of confidence expressed by the President here is thus unwarranted.

Perhaps the claim of job creation has the most weight, given the plausible assumption that many of the new jobs will be government bureaucrats. But that assumption fails to take into account a basic principle of economics: opportunity costs. The money spent to pay for those government bureaucrats won’t be available to pay for private sector good and services, and by extension, the private sector jobs needed to generate those goods and services. Socialist economies typically have a relatively high percentage of their workforce employed as government bureaucrats, but that doesn’t mean their overall job market is thriving. Greece is one obvious example.

The President also claims, “Children, the elderly and the poor are most vulnerable to a range of climate-related health effects, including those related to heat stress, air pollution, extreme weather events.” These claims are true on average. But it’s a logical fallacy to conclude from this that mankind is causing illnesses because of his effect on climate. The claims are also false by omission. Many more people suffer the ill effects of cold than of hot weather, including children and the elderly.

The president made many other claims in his speech that also quickly collapse. Almost every turn of the speech was marked by either falsity or unwarranted confidence. It is therefore demonstrably true that President Obama is ignorant about the climate. This is troubling because he proposes specific actions capable of producing wide-ranging, unintended and negative consequences — including greater poverty and even harm to the environment. Given that it is his moral duty to act on the best information, he is thus acting irresponsibly.

The only other possibility is that Mr. Obama does know the true state of the climate but is willing to lie about it.


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