08/16/2010 11:21 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Apple Fools' Day Again

I was on a plane all day after my post last week about the new iPhone app for climate cynics, "Our Climate."  So I didn't have a chance to respond to the numerous posters who caught me in a mistake -- evidently the application was not actually released by the Watts Up With That? website, but simply promoted on that site.

Here's an excerpt from WUWT's own webpage about "Our Climate":

"Great news, and a present for the many readers of WUWT. The "Our Climate" iPhone App has made it through Apple's review process unscathed and the App is now available for download on the iTunes Store worldwide."

It continues with an extensive quote from the sale pitch on the website. There is no mention of Aeris as the releaser in the WUWT review, only of "the App Developer, Paul of Aeris Systems Ppt."

And the first commenter in the App Store on version 1.0.0 of  "Our Climate," Taftdev, wrote: "It's about time we have the ability to lookup info on an iPhone app about the science of climate that is not doctored to fit an agenda of the greens. WUWT has been a consistent source of info on the truth about climate change...."

So WUWT seemed to be marketing "Our Climate" as its own, and the first reviewer seemed to be thanking WUWT. As a result, I made a mistake.

Lots of people noticed. Indeed, based on the percentage of comments on my post that specifically cited the misstatement of WUWT's role, that was the main thing people noticed. And I'm glad to admit the mistake and correct it.

But the intensity of the outrage over my mistake does seem a bit over-the-top.  Why are so many people hyperventilating about the distinction between "released" and "promoted"? It's curious.

There were also a number of posts that defended WUWT, praised the content of the "Our Climate" iPhone app, or generally attacked the idea that man-made climate change might be a big deal and a real threat. This particular post of mine was not, and did not purport itself to be, a serious response to those concerns. Just a few days earlier, though, I had written a post that dealt with one aspect of this issue -- the consequences of destabilizing the climate -- and I post with fair frequency on various aspects of the topic.

My post on the threat of extreme weather attracted only ONE response, whose key point was: "How on earth are we supposed to 'destabilize; the climate? Are you not careful with your words or do you really believe that the climate would become instable with more CO2? In the latter position you would find yourself rather lonely."

Indeed, the threat of CO2 destabilizing the climate was precisely my point -- increasing the concentrations in the atmosphere of gasses that retain an increased fraction of radiation reflected by the earth's surface has the same impact as turning up the burner underneath a pot -- it increases the amount of kinetic energy. Eventually, the system hits a tipping point where the "pot" boils over -- generates a major hurricane, alters the patterns of precipitation over Central Asia, locks a high-pressure system keeping out precipitation over California's Sacramento Valley -- whatever. More kinetic energy in the atmosphere means a less-stable climate regime, just as an increasingly hotter pot eventually boils.

The one comment to my "Our Climate" post of sufficient substantive detail to merit a response asks: "How can it be self contradictory to argue that internal or external climate forcings are large and that the net sum of feedbacks is small or negative?"

Such a statement would not be self-contradictory -- it's somewhat redolent of the Gaia hypothesis, previously articulated by James Lovelock, that the global biosphere managed its feedback loops to ensure that the net sum would be small. I don't think the data support it, but the idea of a self-correcting, ever-stable climate system is not self-contradictory.

But that's not what "Our Climate" claims. Its first tip on the top ten list is that the climate has, indeed, changed in major ways, and rapidly, in the past, due to forces other than human intervention. This is one of the facts on which all sides of the debate can agree. But that fact, unfortunately, is quite sufficient to establish that we cannot count on climate feedback loops yielding a "net sum" that is "small or negative." The preponderance of scientific opinion is that under present circumstances the feedback loops, while operating in both directions, are likely on balance to make the climate less, rather than more, stable. But you might disagree with that -- you might think that under present circumstances the feedback loops are likely to work against climate instability. What you can't do is have it both ways by saying that  feedback loops can be counted on to prevent rapid climate change and that there has been lots of rapid climate change in the past.

Again, I apologize for my error about WUWT's role in promoting "Our Climate." But I don't apologize for my view that climate cynics are defying not only the scientific consensus but also common sense by arguing that we can indefinitely continue to modify the chemical composition of the atmosphere and count on avoiding serious results from a destabilized climate. This amounts to self-insuring against catastrophe, but on a time scale that ensures that our generation avoids paying the premiums, and our grandchildren suffer the losses. There is a term for this -- it's called stealing from your children. It's wrong.