Climate science settled?

What if climate science appears unsettled after all?

This may seem a hypothetical question, according to mainstream conclusions and convictions. It is nevertheless essential to pose this question, in the name of proper science. Having doubts and imagining the improbable is a hallmark of good science, and a duty of every scientist. Great minds like Galilei, Newton, Curie, Einstein, Feynman and Hawking did exactly that. They doubted what was considered ‘settled’, and so brought humanity new insights and understanding.

There is no such thing as ‘settled science’

It is therefore unwise and even unscientific to state that ‘climate science is settled’ and that ‘there is no room for doubt’. It may seem obvious, but that is all the more reason to force ourselves to embrace doubts and improbable alternatives. A large degree of scientific consensus has never been a guarantee for ‘truth’, and we have seen many times in history that science is indeed never settled.

I am not denying any of the present day climate theories, simply because I am not a climate scientist. I am not even sure what climate science is. Is it physics, meteorology, or geology? Is it astronomy, chemistry, biology, mechanics, aerodynamics, hydrodynamics, or perhaps a bit of everything? Whatever climate science may be, I am having doubts about climate theories because I was taught during my chemistry study to always have doubts about scientific theories. I was taught to always search for counter facts and alternatives to established theories, because that is more effective and innovative for scientific progress than piling up confirmations.

What would happen if climate theories appear wrong?

I am imagining what would happen if in 20-25 years from now the present climate theories appear wrong after all. I am imagining what would happen if the energy transition fails but global temperatures start decreasing nevertheless, or if the energy transition succeeds but global temperatures keep on rising nevertheless.

I am imagining that many scientists and politicians would then develop additional theories and policies to prevent the disproval of their earlier theories and policies. That would be very human, but also very unscientific. No one can deny the possibility that these imaginations of mine may become reality. That is the reason why I am advocating more room for doubt, alternative theories and counter arguments. This is the key to scientific progress and new insights.

The essence of empirical falsification

Philosopher Karl Popper has shown us the essence of empirical falsification, which distinguishes real science from pseudo-science. This starts by paying more attention to and even actively searching for facts and figures that do not support or even refute present day climate theories. This is precisely what Einstein and other great scientists did in their field of expertise.

It works something like this: I formulate a theory that water always boils at 100 °C. I and many others put a thousand kettles on a stove, which all confirm my theory. One scientist however has doubts, and climbs up a mountain with her kettle and stove. She finds that up there water boils at 95 °C. This refutes my whole theory, and I decide to extend it: The boiling point of water depends on altitude, at sea level it is always 100 °C.

Falsification of theories is key to new insight and innovation

I again get a thousand confirmations, but another scientist also has doubts and swaps his kettle for a pressure cooker. He finds a boiling point of 120 °C at sea level, refuting my extended theory. I adapt my extended theory to: The boiling point of water depends on pressure, at ambient pressure at sea level it is always 100 °C. In spite of a thousand confirmations, one scientist continues to doubt this, and replaces the tap water in her kettle with sea water. She finds a boiling point of 109 °C, refuting my adapted extended theory.

I add ‘pure water’ to my theory and once more get a thousand confirmations. One scientist still has doubts, puts pure heavy water (D2O) in his kettle and finds a boiling point of 101,4 °C. I decide to turn my growing frustration into joy about all these new scientific insights, and reluctantly compliment the doubtful scientists who felt like nails in my coffin for so long.

Doubt and criticism appear unwelcome

This is in my view the essence of scientific and also psychological innovation. It does not appear to happen in climate science however, at least not in the public domain where it should be happening. I see instead increasing polarization between conformists and non-conformists, illustrated by the phrase ‘climate skeptic’. Skepticism (an ugly word for doubt) is to be embraced in my opinion, not opposed or ignored.

In climate science, there are many counter facts and figures available. There are also alternative theories to explain the observed global warming, for example the influence of solar activity. These counter facts and alternative theories are in my view disguised treasures, but somehow do not appear in official climate publications and conclusions from e.g. the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

Restriction of free speech and independent science

We have in 2023 even seen a public boycott by the IMF (International Monetary Fund) of physics Nobel laureate John Clauser, after criticizing the IPCC on this. I cannot exactly determine to which extent Clauser had a valid point, but the fact that he was not publicly interviewed by main stream media and given a full podium to underpin his criticism terrifies me.

These are woeful developments. This is not about facts, figures and conclusions confirming or refuting mainstream climate theories. It is about important influential authorities and institutions not being open to criticism from serious corners. It is about tunnel vision, about converting science into conviction, and about claiming an absolute truth – something associated with religion.

Antithesis of enlightenment

Galileo Galilei risked his reputation and freedom by publishing that the earth orbits around the sun instead of vice versa. The Pope punished him with a publication ban and lifelong house arrest. Today, scientists all over the world risk their reputation and even their job and career if they criticize climate theories or climate mitigation measures. This also happens to business leaders and politicians.

Those who have the courage to voice doubt and criticism nonetheless, are often treated as outcasts. This is the antithesis of enlightenment and our carefully established rights of free speech and unprejudiced scientific independence. Everyone in these enlightened times is free to doubt the existence of a god, but apparently no one is free to doubt mainstream climate theories without some form of public disapproval.