Missing from most, if not all, coverage of last month's climate science report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was the fact that their most important conclusions are impossible; not merely contested or exaggerated, but literally impossible.
Consider the following from the IPCC full Working Group I report, Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis, issued on August 9:
Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.
It is obviously a mistake to refer to "global average air and ocean temperatures…and global average sea level" as "observations." They are the results of statistical manipulations of thousands of observations in different places and at different times.
But, more significantly, the idea that any of the science conclusions of the IPCC are "unequivocal," or, as Al Gore often asserts, "truth," is irrational.
Plato defined truth as something that is universal, necessary, and certain.
It is universal in the sense that it applies everywhere. Whether you are in Athens, Sparta or on another planet, it is true. It also applies "everywhen," now, in five minutes or in a billion years.
Truth is also necessary. It must be the way it is; there is no other explanation possible. It is unequivocal.
And truth is certain. It is not a matter of probability. It is in the bank.
Truth applies to things like mathematics or chess in which we write the rules. Two plus two equals four. The Queen can move vertically, horizontally or diagonally in a straight line around the chess board, as long as no pieces are obscuring her path. Those statements are true and unequivocal.
But truth never applies to our findings about nature, which are educated opinions based on scientists' interpretations of observations. And philosophers since ancient times have recognized that observations cannot prove anything to be true. In contrast to being universal, necessary, and certain, empirical evidence is particular, contingent, and has some degree of probability.
So, contrary to the IPCC's confident pronouncement, observational evidence cannot be used to prove anything to be true or unequivocal. Not only are our methods of observing imperfect but we all have biases that affect how we interpret what we see.
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