I happened to catch a bit of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s press conference defending the Trump’s Administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. The men and women of the press kept asking Pruitt, in so many words: ‘All the climate scientists believe that climate change is real and dangerous, so why don’t you?’ Careful thinkers will recognize this as the Argument from Authority, and therefore not a valid argument. But in any event, I have a question for all those ‘scientists’ telling us that climate change is a grave threat: How will we know if you’re wrong? Because if ‘climate science’ is really science and not just advocacy, the scientists should specify the specific circumstances that would disprove their theory.
An important scientific principle states that a scientific hypothesis must be refutable; that is, the theory must give us a way to determine if the hypothesis is false. For instance, Albert Einstein, when he put forward his General Theory of Relativity, specified some specific circumstances (having to do with the apparent positions of stars during a solar eclipse) that would refute his theory. This scientific principle is closely associated with the work of the great philosopher Karl Popper.
For Popper, a theory is scientific only if it is refutable by a conceivable event. Every genuine test of a scientific theory, then, is logically an attempt to refute or to falsify it, and one genuine counter-instance falsifies the whole theory.
Following Popper, if climate alarmism is scientific, then what is the ‘conceivable event’ that would falsify it? To date, the predictions of climate alarmists have generally proven to be wrong, but none of these failures has prompted climate scientists to abandon their alarmism.
For instance, in 1988, NASA’s top climate scientist, James Hansen, predicted that a rising sea level would submerge New York City’s West Side Highway within 40 years. We are now nearly three quarters of the way to Hansen’s deadline, and New York tidal gauges have risen only about three inches. If the West Side Highway is still above water 11 years from now, will that be sufficient to refute climate alarmism?
In 2007, Prof. Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University predicted that Arctic sea ice would completely disappear by summer 2013. When that did not happen, he revised his prediction to summer 2016 and wrote a book called A Farewell to Ice.
Yet, when figures were released for the yearly minimum on September 10, , they showed that there was still 1.6 million square miles of sea ice (4.14 square kilometres), which was 21 per cent more than the lowest point in 2012.
Other scientists have made similar predictions regarding sea ice.
The view was supported by Prof [Wieslaw] Maslowski, who in 2013 published a paper in the Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences also claiming that the Arctic would be ice-free by 2016, plus or minus three years.
If Arctic sea ice still exists in September, 2019, will that be sufficient to refute climate alarmism?
Climate scientists predicted a rising global temperature, but until the most recent El Niño event, the global temperature had been flat for nearly 20 years. This failed prediction is referred to by climate scientists as the ‘pause’ or ‘hiatus’ in global warming, terms that implicitly assume that global warming will resume. None of the climate scientists predicted this ‘pause,’ which seemingly constitutes a very significant contradiction of the theory. Yet even this prolonged pause was not sufficient to shake the confidence of alarmists. How long would a pause have to last in order to refute climate alarmism?
To the best of my knowledge, climate alarmists have never told us how we can know if they are wrong. But if their theory is not refutable, then it is not science, but an ideology. As physicists like to say, a theory that is not refutable is ‘not even wrong,’ meaning that it does not rise to the level of a legitimate hypothesis. So far, climate alarmism is not even wrong.