Climate Skepticism and Schneier’s Law

Repost, first posted on July 18, 2012. I am reposting a couple of things I have written about Crichton and his “State of Fear” novel, which is the most harmful book in history, since I am just publishing my second global change science fiction novel “Tasneem”, and that novel is in part an answer to Crichton.

In the “Author’s Message” at the end of his global warming science fiction novel “State of Fear”, Michael Crichton asserts this:

Nobody knows how much warming will occur in the next century.

He is partially in agreement with his opponent James Hansen about that. As Hansen wrote, commenting about Crichton:

He doesn’t seem to have the foggiest notion about the science that he writes about.

If Hansen is right, that would establish that Crichton didn’t know how much warming will occur in the next century, since Crichton didn’t know what he is talking about in the first place. So they would both agree on that.

But Crichton didn’t write “I don’t know”. He wrote “nobody knows”.

That is a common fallacy. Just because somebody, even after reading some books on the subject, doesn’t know or understand something, that does not prove that nobody else knows.

To actually prove a statement like “Nobody knows how much warming will occur over the next century” would imply having checked what everybody else knows. And then proving that their efforts are insufficient.

Crichton has disqualified himself from such an undertaking the second he falsified Hansen’s testimony in his book (see the reply by Hansen cited above for details).

This is basically the same fallacy as asserting that “it is impossible to power a nation with renewable energy”.

I recall my post with the title Schneier’s Law and renewable energy from last November. There I explained that proving a negative statement like the above is impossible. And the statement is worth only as much as the efforts invested to try doing it anyway.

Schneier’s Law says, in the words of Cory Doctorow:

Schneier’s Law: “any person can invent a security system so clever that she or he can’t think of how to break it.”

The application for the prediction of global warming would be:

Any person can state that he or she can’t think of how to predict global warming.

And just as in the field of cryptography, that statement is only worth as much as the effort put behind trying to do the prediction anyway.

That said, Crichton is actually right. Nobody knows exactly how much warming will occur.

But the reason for that is that we don’t know how much more carbon dioxide will be released before humanity finally wakes up, ignoring Crichton’s efforts to confuse the issue.

I don’t know either. I am not a climate scientist in the first place. But from all I hear the question at this particular point of time is not if catastrophic climate change will happen. The only question is the amount of the damage. And if there is still time to avoid a positive feedback loop completely out of control of humanity, with global meltdown as a consequence.

Published by kflenz

Professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo. Author of Lenz Blog (since 2003, lenzblog.com).

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