Full disclosure: I consider myself to be an “agnostic” about “climate change” (formerly termed “global warming”). I realize that this is tantamount to heresy in the modern world.
But I have sincere doubts. What can I do?
Oh, I see the press releases plainly enough. I just lack the faith. From time to time, my doubts blossom into questions.
For instance, left-leaning communications mogul Ted Turner’s Cable News Network (CNN) just published the article “2015 is Warmest Year on Record, NOAA and NASA Say.”
Journalist Brandon Miller states:
“Last year was the Earth’s warmest since record-keeping began in 1880, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA said Wednesday. …2015 [saw an] average temperature across the entire planet 1.62˚F (0.90˚C) above the 20th century average, more than 20% higher than the previous highest departure from average.”
One of the things that struck me was the phrase “since record-keeping began in 1880.”
Pondering this, I formulated what you might call an epistemic question for “climate change” believers.
It is reasonable to think that what climatologists think that they know about “climate change” arises from scientific data. Moreover, it is plausible to believe that at least a good portion of this scientific data is meteorological data. However, detailed meteorological data only goes back 135 years.
Given this, it seems to me that climatologists might be on firm ground when they speak about meteorological fluctuations within this 135-year period. However, things are a bit dicier when it comes to extrapolations about past-epochs for which we do not have detailed meteorological records.
To put it slightly differently, it might well be that 2015 is the hottest year on record from 1880 to 2015. But I fail to see why I should get worked up about this – even if it is a fact. So what if 2015 is the hottest year in the past 135 years?
To get worked up, I would have to believe (something like) that 2015 is the hottest year on record for hundreds or even thousands of years. And, although I could be mistaken, it sometimes seems as if this is pretty much what “climate change” believers really think.
My epistemic question is this, then. Why should I think that patterns emerging from 135 years of detailed meteorological data are representative of trends that would be alarming on a world-historic scale?
Let me try to be a bit more precise.
If, as mainstream geologists claim, the earth is roughly 4.5 billion years old, then 135 years represents three millionths of one percent of the age of the earth. (135 divided by 4.5 billion is 3.0 x 10-8; that is, 135 / 4,500,000,000 = 0.00000003. The decimal 0.00000003 is .000003%.)
To put it another way, if we had detailed meteorological data for the entire history of the earth, we would have 4.5 billion years’ worth of data to use for climatological theorizing. But we actually only have 135 years’ worth.
Now it just seems problematic to me to have only 135 bits of data from a set that has no fewer than 4.5 billion members and yet claim dogmatically – as many “climate change” alarmists do – that we have sufficient data to draw hard and fast conclusions.
In what other area of human inquiry is it permissible to shame “unbelievers” for their lack of faith in conclusions based upon three millionths of one-percent of all of the relevant data?
“Wait a minute!” someone might shout. “We’re not concerned with the entire history of the earth. We’re only concerned with the time period that humans have inhabited it.”
If we take this worry seriously, then we should perhaps alter our calculations. Humans have been on the earth for about 200,000 years, according to the current, received opinion.
This does make the difficulty that I am raising somewhat less intractable.
135 years out of 200,000 is 0.000675. On this way of reckoning, we have detailed meteorological information for 6.75 hundredths of one-percent of the relevant data set.
Admittedly, this is a much higher percentage. In fact, if my math is correct, it is 22,500 times better – an improvement gotten simply by considering 22,500 times less time than 4.5 billion years.
Even so, I have to ask: Is this sufficient data with which to draw climatological conclusions that cannot be permissibly or rationally doubted?
If we had detailed meteorological data for the entire period of human inhabitation of the earth, we would have 200,000 years’ worth of data to use for climatological theorizing. But we actually only have 135 years’ worth.
I apologize to true believers, but it still appears to me to be unreasonable to dogmatize from 135 bits out of a 200,000-piece data. It would be like guessing what a 200,000-piece puzzle pictures after examining only 135 pieces.
Maybe some scientists are astounding guessers. Maybe the alarmist guesses are correct. But what I want to know is: is it irrational for me to doubt them? 
 Don’t let anyone fool you into believing that skepticism may be permissibly applied to every contemporary opinion. Our culture has its dogmas just as surely as did Medieval Europe during the height of Christendom. It’s respectable to be as skeptical as you like with the tenets of Christianity, for instance. But when it comes to “climate change,” unbelievers are derided for their blasphemy of Scientism.
 Brandon Miller, CNN, Jan. 20, 2016, <http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/20/us/noaa-2015-warmest-year/>.
 Of course, I am ignoring analyses of earth core samples, ice samples, tree-ring samples and whatever else from which meteorological data might be adduced. I think that this is justified, firstly, because the article to which I am reacting makes no mention of these things. Secondly, I take it that such adductions are not indubitable. In fact, my quick-and-dirty researches suggest to me that such inferences are controversial. Thirdly, and finally, I am not sure that if one counted them it would boost the data set percentages high enough to be compelling.
 Perhaps “climate change” apologists should embrace young-earth creationism. If one takes seriously the speculations of 16th-17th-century Irish Bishop James Ussher, and sets the date for the beginning of the earth at 4004 B.C., then it turns out that the earth is only around 6,019 years old. 135 years is 2.2% of 6,019 years. (135 / 6,019 = 0.02242897491. )
 The most persuasive argument that I have ever read in favor of implementing measures to ward off “climate change” proceeded something along the following lines. It may be prudent to take action to guard against high-impact, low-probability risks. For instance, many people think it wise to carry flood or earthquake insurance, not because they deem these risks to be likely but because, despite their unlikelihood, they would be devastating if, against the odds, they actually occurred. Similarly, or so one might hold, even if “climate change” – in the sense of catastrophic global warming – is extremely improbable, it may still be prudent to hedge against it because it would be devastating if, against the odds, it did occur.
I have some sympathy for this line of argument. I might even say that I agree with it. But what I have no sympathy for is the sort of bullying that takes place when extrapolations from less (possibly far less) than one percent of the relevant data are trumpeted as undoubtable or incorrigible. (See David Roberts, “The Arguments That Convinced a Libertarian to Support Aggressive Action on Climate,” Vox, May 12-13, 2015, <http://www.vox.com/2015/5/12/8588273/the-arguments-that-convinced-this-libertarian-to-support-a-carbon-tax>.)