Those of us following the debate on climate change have noticed that activists are not shy about abandoning one theme and grasping hold of another. Surface temperatures were the primary focus of the debate–until suddenly they were not, the pause that dare not be named having had an effect on their arguments.
More recently, sensitivity, labeled by the IPCC as the most important unresolved question in climate science, is now being hidden behind a curtain after observation-based estimates bring in lower values. It has happily been replaced by Xtreme Weather, which can be brought into play with the tossing of a dart at a map of the world.
I have noticed that Dr. Doom, aka Michael Tobis, has made two comments recently about the over-emphasis his political opponents (including myself) place on attribution issues.
In this post he writes in the comments, “This so grossly overvalues the attribution question that my head threatens to explode.”
And later he says, “I have more to say about this but for now, the naysayer’s overattachment to the attribution question is the honest but misguided part of their obsession with Jones and his mailbox.”
I sense in this the beginning of another campaign theme. We ‘nay-sayers’ who have acknowledged recent warming and the potential for a large human contribution to it are naturally curious about quantifying the different human contributions to warming. There are many, ranging from deforestation and black soot to cement production. There are also natural contributions, some of which we cannot begin to quantify–but some of which we can.
Tobis’ argument, assuming he develops it further, is treacherous and extreme. If we don’t need to attribute climate impacts to a cause, then all impacts will be laid at the doorstep of industrial emissions of CO2. It will serve to undermine the foundations of the recent Fast Mitigation initiative, which calls for a focus on mitigating other causes of warming than CO2 because it is quicker to implement and more efficient in the short term.
But the fact is that some have postulated (and even have rough figures suggesting) black soot may be the cause of up to 30% of human contributions to climate change and that deforestation is the cause of 17%. That’s almost half.
This lack of intellectual curiosity on Tobis’ part to me suggests that de-emphasizing attribution is a political ploy meant to maintain all focus on CO2. The idea that proper attribution of recent warming and other impacts to the correct causes is not important can only be taken as an attempt to deflect attention and energy from the real complexity of climate change.
Tobis has a history of making really savage (and fact-free) political attacks for short term gain, both against policy preferences and personalities. One example is his vicious campaign against Judith Curry, where he labeled her incompetent, hinting that she was suffering from ‘neurological decay,’ while later admitting he had not read any of her work. He is willing to sacrifice the rules of reasonable discourse for an advantage, believing as he does that emitting CO2 is the ‘equivalent of mugging old ladies.’
I hope he doesn’t get away with this attempt to devalue investigation of every aspect of this sector of science.