Friday, April 3, 2015

Will Forbes Backtrack?

One of the biggest media stooges for the fossil industry is Forbes Magazine. They are terrible about running articles and editorials denouncing climate science. At first, this might make sense. The fossil fuel industry is a heavy hitter and is able to provide Forbes with lots of financial support. But, on the other hand, there are plenty of industries that stand to lose because of climate change and these are the magazine's customers as well. Does it make sense to provide deceit to support one customer at the expense of others? I suppose if the money is enough, it does. See the Wall Street Journal for another example of this policy.

So, it was with some surprise that I read an article in Forbes laying at least some blame for the California drought on climate change. Is the magazine changing its tune? I bet not. They have had scientifically accurate editorials before. I guess one accurate article in ten counts as providing a balanced viewpoint, in their logic. Still, it is interesting.

I still have some issues with the article in that it hedges on the question, 'is the drought due to manmade climate change?' This is the 'have you stopped beating your wife' question brought out all the time. I say that because I want you to define 'caused' before I give an answer. A question like this is always asked of scientists in order to get an answer that can be manipulated. Let me explain.

Imagine a common courtroom scene and the defense is cross-examining the scientific expert witness. The defense lawyer asks, is there a probability that two people, who are not related, can have exactly the same DNA? Yes, there is a chance. Ah hah! So, there is a chance the DNA evidence is actually from someone else.

What is missing from this answer is how large that probability is. If there is any chance at all that at any time in the history of the universe, two beings, somewhere on all of the planets in all of the galaxies that have ever existed since the beginning of time, or ever will exist before the end of time, could have the same DNA? Yes, there is a chance.

That is how the mind of a scientist works. But, that isn't the same as what the average person thinks. To the average person, when a scientists says there is a chance it means it is a reasonable expectation, not something that has to be expressed in scientific notation.

Is there a chance I can win the Powerball fifteen times in a row? Yes, there is a chance. Really, really small chance, though. And, that's the point.

What is the probability that we would have the drought of today without manmade climate change? My estimates are that the probability is prohibitively low. It is possible there would be a dry-spell from normal climatic patterns, but there is essentially no chance that we would have what we have today without manmade emissions changing things. Reading the scientific literature leads me to conclude that it is not possible to have the situation we have today without manmade emissions. Yes, the California drought is manmade.

We, as scientists, need to start saying it in terms like that. Yes, there are naturally occurring patterns (we know this because the climate scientists have done the hard work to identify them). But, those naturally occurring patterns would not lead to this current situation.

Now, we just need to ask if Forbes has stopped beating its wife.

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