Beloved of climate scientists, the term ‘forcing’, as in Radiative Forcing, puzzled me when I first started to read climate papers. I really didn’t understand it, although I could see what it was supposed to mean. It just didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel scientific and I still cringe every time I read it. I thought it was just me, but a rant from anna v on a WUWT post, and comments from E.M. Smith and a few others show I am not alone. Phew! Anna, a retired physicist, said:
“Forcing as used in climate “science” is not a physics term.
Force in physics is clearly and well-defined:
F=ma where m is the mass and a is the acceleration a body undergoes when interacting.
As a verb in physics it has no defined meaning.”
Forcing exists in mathematics, horticulture for example, and has very specific meanings. In climate science, do we actually need it? It is a term I would never think to use myself. I don’t need to. If I want to talk about changing climate, ‘climate change’ is fine; ‘warming’ and ‘cooling’ or just ‘change’; ‘feedback’ (positive or negative) is clear too and is used widely (e.g. in biochemistry); ‘amplification’ might be useful too and perhaps ‘drivers’. But I have no need to use ‘forcing’. Here’s how climate science defines it:
…[change in the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere] has been evident as a consequence not of natural processes but of man-made pollution, through emissions of greenhouse gases. By altering the global energy balance, such mechanisms “force” the climate to change. Consequently, scientists call them “climate forcing” mechanisms. (Source: ACEIP – Climate Forcing)
My instinct would lead me to use “cause” in the first case, and “climate changing” in the second. Nothing wrong with that. Both are neutral. You see my scientific training drummed it into me to use neutral terms where possible, to be non-judgemental with language. “Phenomenon” was the preferred term unless your paper proved the mechanism and you could justifiably use a word that described it. But of course “the science is settled” and we have already decided that man and CO2 are the cause of the planet reaching a ‘tipping point’ /sarc off.
Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with coining a new term, we do it all the time, but this is an insidious term, cleverly chosen to deliver additional messages – that of unnaturalness, undesirability and single direction motion. The word map shows a good half of the related words are linked in our minds to unpleasant things like violence or coercion. Our unconscious minds tell us, ‘climate forcing’ is a bad thing, an unnatural thing. Yes, the word delivers all the right messages for the Climate Change Lobby and once again impartial, high-minded science is subtly subverted.