NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- "There is no scientific proof that human emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) are the dominant cause of the minor warming of the Earth's atmosphere over the past 100 years."
That statement is from Senate testimony from Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore, a scientist himself, albeit one in the consulting business these days. The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change would beg to differ. The group earlier this week published the third installment of its Fifth Assessment Report, citing thousands of papers drawing together the work of tens of thousands of scientists in a claim that global warming is largely caused by man-made pollution, most notably carbon dioxide. The latest addition to the report offers recommendations for immediate, worldwide reductions in CO2 emissions in an effort to avoid catastrophic outcomes for the planet.
Moore's views represent those of a great many denialists, whose arguments are an onion with many layers and no substantial core. Further, the fact that he himself is a scientist bolsters the popular notion that the scientific community is deeply divided on this issue. Professional dissent of various stripes is present in any scientific debate, and rightly so, but the consensus among scientists is real, and from a professional view at least, Moore's objections represent a small minority.
Moore takes direct aim at the methodology behind the IPCC findings. Rather than measurable proof, he said, the scientists are relying on computer models, which are only as accurate as their human programmers.
"We may think it sophisticated, but we cannot predict the future with a computer model any more than we can make predictions with crystal balls, throwing bones, or by appealing to the gods," he said in his written testimony in February.
Moore apparently thinks computer models are useless because they deal in statistical probabilities and require human input of data. On the contrary, computer weather models have proven incredibly useful in predicting tornado and hurricane paths and strength trends, not to mention rains, floods, dry spells and droughts, for at least a generation. The models can give us information we desperately need to improve quality of life and to save lives. We aren't going to throw those away because one scientist thinks they are too imprecise.
The argument against computer models also ignores the diversity of models that are out there and the consistency of the conclusions those models point toward. Moore emphasizes disagreements over the role of water vapor. It is true, there is more disagreement over the role of water vapor in the global warming process than there is about global warming in general. A study published last year indicates that additional water vapor enters the stratosphere -- high above the CO2 -- as a result of global warming and significantly heightens the warming effect.
Yet even if some details of this or that model prove to be incorrect, the predictions already made, even with the relatively rudimentary tools of 20 years ago, have held up remarkably well. This has also long been the case with weather models: Their track record is far from perfect, yet good enough that we don't want to live without them.