A Few Thoughts on Global Warming

Global warming and climate change are obviously hot button issues. But they are issues that people who have nothing to do with science seem to comment on a lot. I suppose I am being a bit hypocritical when I talk about it then, yes? I suppose so. But this is my blog and my perrogative. I will preface things by stating that I do have a degree in physics and astronomy so, while not explicitly about the climate, I feel that I can make halfway intelligent comments about the issue. I will also be a bit hypocritical because I will be pointing to people that aren’t climate scientists. I don’t mean to suggest that just because you aren’t a climate scientist, you shouldn’t comment on the issues, but it would be better if you (and I) were.

So here we go. Do you trust your weather man to predict what the weather will be like tomorrow? How about in three days? How about 10 days out? How about 100 years out? No? I wouldn’t figure so. Obviously climate scientists will have a bit more understanding than your local weather guy pointing to a few Doppler images, but not that much more. Climate conditions are complex and chaotic, it is fairly ambitious (to put it mildly) to suggest that climatologists can look at temperature data going back the last 100 years (realistically, only a portion of that data is accurate or comprehensive) and be convinced that over the next 100 years the average global temperature is going to go up by a degree or two.

Am I denying that global warming exists? Not flat out, but possibly. At least I have never seen any convincing evidence to suggest that it is happening and that it is truly a bad thing. There have been numerous scientific studies that could go both ways. But here is the thing about science: it is supposed to create a model of reality that can then be used predictively. (Basic example: you want to figure out how forces work, you set up experiments to test how objects of different masses react to different amounts of forces. Eventually you have enough data to realize that F=ma. Since we can reasonably assume that F=ma isn’t going to change, we can use that formula to predict outcomes of similar situations. This is a simplistic example, but still valid.) Right now, there is not nearly enough scientific evidence to support any sort of predictive model. Even if the current data did suggest that there is a warming trend (which is not necessarily the case), there are so many assumptions that have to be made and believed for us to arrive at any sort of “scary” results. How can we assume that current conditions will remain the same (and in a complex, chaotic situation, they don’t) so as to keep the trend going in the same way?

I like Michael Crichton. I don’t think he is necessarily any sort of authority on global climate change, but a number of years ago he gave a speech called “Aliens Cause Global Warming” (which I wrote about here) that, while controversial, I think was pretty insightful and still well worth the read. His main thrust was that policy should be separated from science… and that that is not the case with global warming and climate change.

Last year there was an article published by the Telegraph called “ There IS a problem with global warming… it stopped in 1998” that also had a few interesting things to say and started with a view similar to Crichton:

For many years now, human-caused climate change has been viewed as a large and urgent problem. In truth, however, the biggest part of the problem is neither environmental nor scientific, but a self-created political fiasco. Consider the simple fact, drawn from the official temperature records of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, that for the years 1998-2005 global average temperature did not increase (there was actually a slight decrease, though not at a rate that differs significantly from zero).

Yes, you did read that right. And also, yes, this eight-year period of temperature stasis did coincide with society’s continued power station and SUV-inspired pumping of yet more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Moreover, this article (via Ace) notes:

Wingham et al. report that “overall, the data, corrected for isostatic rebound, show the ice sheet growing at 5 ± 1 mm year-1.” To calculate the ice sheet’s change in mass, however, “requires knowledge of the density at which the volume changes have occurred,” and when the researchers’ best estimates of regional differences in this parameter are used, they find that “72% of the Antarctic ice sheet is gaining 27 ± 29 Gt year-1, a sink of ocean mass sufficient to lower [authors' italics] global sea levels by 0.08 mm year-1.” This net extraction of water from the global ocean, according to Wingham et al., occurs because “mass gains from accumulating snow, particularly on the Antarctic Peninsula and within East Antarctica, exceed the ice dynamic mass loss from West Antarctica.”

So should we be worried about Global Cooling instead of Global Warming? An article at the Canada Free Press written by Timothy Ball (who does actually have a PhD in Climatology) starts out thusly:

What would happen if tomorrow we were told that, after all, the Earth is flat? It would probably be the most important piece of news in the media and would generate a lot of debate. So why is it that when scientists who have studied the Global Warming phenomenon for years say that humans are not the cause nobody listens? Why does no one acknowledge that the Emperor has no clothes on?

And the always wise Mark Steyn cleverly points out (and go read the whole thing):

Alas, the science isn’t so solid. In the ’70s, it was predicting a new ice age. Then it switched to global warming. Now it prefers “climate change.” If it’s hot, that’s a sign of “climate change.” If it’s cold, that’s a sign of “climate change.” If it’s 53 with sunny periods and light showers, you need to grab an overnight bag and get outta there right now because “climate change” is accelerating out of control.

He goes on to say:

If “global warming” is real and if man is responsible, why then do so many “experts” need to rely on obviously fraudulent data? The famous “hockey stick” graph showed the planet’s climate history as basically one long bungalow with the Empire State Building tacked on the end. Completely false. In evaluating industrial impact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change used GDP estimates based on exchange rates rather than purchasing power: As a result, they assume by the year 2100 that not only South Africans but also North Koreans will have a higher per capita income than Americans. That’s why the climate-change computer models look scary. That’s how “solid” the science is: It’s predicated on the North Korean economy overtaking the United States.

I am pretty worried.

So what is my point with all of this? Don’t freak out. Listen to actual scientists and not policy makers. But I also want to end with this: Be good stewards of the earth! I don’t bash global warming because I want to be able to pollute the earth more, I bash it because I want to live in reality. Just because our CO2 emissions might not actually be playing a factor, doesn’t mean we have a free pass to be irresponsible. The earth is a pretty good place to live so we should still to our best to treat what we have been blessed with in a caring manner. But stop freaking out. And stop wasting money trying to prevent the atrocities of global warming… they just aren’t there.

Categories: Science, Social Commentary
  1. February 7th, 2007 at 22:42 | #1

    terribly refreshing.
    my fear is that no one is questioning the industry that surrounds all the frenzy…

    Keep it coming!

  2. February 8th, 2007 at 10:21 | #2

    Based on your post above, I think you’ll appreciate several of my global warming-related posts — including one about Al Gore speaking in Madrid — at my blog, Bob McCarty Writes™. Let me know if you do.

  3. salmypal
    February 8th, 2007 at 11:00 | #3

    Isn’t it somehow unbelievably arrogant to think that humans control everything. We’ve “caused” global warming, the great Kyoto plan will fix it…HA! Those countries that signed onto Kyoto are not meeting it’s standards and have even exceeded the U.S. in CO2 emissions. What if the sun is getting hotter…can we control that? I don’t think so. Definitely we should be good stewards of the Earth, it’s practically the first thing God asks of Adam, but don’t you think God sustains us, the environment, the universe. Nobody ever seems to talk about it, probably because it’s not very “scientific”, but I think it’s key and I consider it everyday.

  4. February 8th, 2007 at 13:22 | #4

    Hey Andrea! Nice to hear from you again!

    my fear is that no one is questioning the industry that surrounds all the frenzy…

    I agree. And then the problem becomes that when people start to question one of two things seem to happen: 1) you are labeled a right-wing whack job who is in the pocket of big industry or 2) things get bogged down in the policy makers and bureaucracy of it all. So how can things change? I wish I had a good answer to that question!

    Looks pretty good there Bob, I enjoy your warning labels. heh. The post on Al Gore boring all the scientists was pretty good too. I cannot imagine a scientist sitting and listening to his lecture. Not good times!

    I think it is all extremely arrogant Sal! God has provided for us. He does sustain us. And, fortunately, he has given us minds to work with which means that when we do run out of fossil fuels, we will, shockingly, be ok. Because God does care for us. I am not really sure why people are so afraid of running out of oil. Do they really think we are that dependent on them? Do they really think that God’s provision only extends to oil? And I says that in the context of the global community and not just for America. God has provided for everyone, we are pretty sharp and will not just cease to be part of God’s community because we run out of oil!

  5. February 8th, 2007 at 15:10 | #5

    Great post! Your post basically questions whether or not global warming is even happening. The current climate scientists have leap frogged that issue and the fact that man is causing it. It is closed for discussion and anyone that questions it should be discredited.

    I personally believe “Man Made Global Warming” has been created as a political tool. The people the say they believe it only want to use it as a way to control governments, especially the USA. Unfortunately too many Americans are buying into it and are far too willing to give up our rights as Americans to “Protect The Planet”.

    It’s pretty sad when you have The Weather Channel disseminating Man Made Global Warming as fact. I put this issue in the same category as Evolution except it is far more dangerous. I’m fine with people believing it, but when they want to use the issue to control the globe that’s when I start worrying.

  6. February 11th, 2007 at 10:33 | #6

    Matt, Interesting posts. Overall my views on Global Warming were very similar to yours. I read the article you quoted “There IS a problem with global warming… it stopped in 1998″ (I even link to it on my blog) and concluded the global warming was a farce. However, later I opened the April 2006 APS newsletter and found a Viewpoint letter by James Hansen (http://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/200604/viewpoint.cfm). James Hanson is one of the authors of the research that Michael Crichton sites in his book State of Fear (fictional book based on scientific data designed to discredit concerns about global warming). The article is of the opinion that Crichton repeated skeptics misinterpretations of the research. This article includes the actual data from that research compared to observations. It clearly shows that the nominal prediction is very close to observation. Matter of fact the largest deviations from observation occurred between 1991 and 1998 because the analysis assumed a volcano eruption in 1995 when one actually occurred in 1991. You will also see in the chart that the temperature did slightly decrease between 1998 and 2004 as stated in the article you quote. Why? Because 1998 was an peak and 2004 was a low! So do I conclude that global warming is happening… sure…. I now accept that. Are humans the cause? I’m still not sure. But one thing I am sure of is that having a degree in physics (I have a physics degree myself) and spending a few minutes on Google is not going to give me the answers. At this point I think I have to leave it to the climate experts that can dedicate 40+ hours a week to this topic.

  7. February 11th, 2007 at 14:11 | #7

    Good additions there guys, thanks for that.

    I liked what Crichton had to say in State of Fear and understand that some of his claims came under some criticism. That being said, much of the data is difficult to interpret and that and absolute claims on either side are dubious at best.

    It seems that the “Global Warming Issue” has two main constituents:

    1) Is global warming happening at all?
    2) If it is, is it caused by man.

    While I might conceded that recent trends may indicate a warming pattern (but I am still not completely sold on that), evidence to suggest that it is caused by man made “efforts” seem fairly weak.

    I still think it is completely inappropriate and irresponsible for people (especially some media outlets) to claim that global warming is a fact when it is fairly clear that even climate scientists aren’t entirely sure what is going on.

    But one thing I am sure of is that having a degree in physics … and spending a few minutes on Google is not going to give me the answers. At this point I think I have to leave it to the climate experts that can dedicate 40+ hours a week to this topic.

    Jayson, I could not agree more with that statement. :)

  8. February 11th, 2007 at 17:19 | #8

    The other issues here is: “so what?” What do I do if it is happening? And if it isn’t happening, would I be doing anything different?

    I support alternative energies. But until they become as feasible as coal power and oil, they will never really work. I am completely fine with using nuclear power but people still have their hangups there. The reality is this: when we need alternative energy sources, they will be there; people are pretty inventive.

    I don’t know much about bio-diesel. It seems like a good alternative to petroleum based products, but again, the reality is that I have a feeling it isn’t actually that much more environmentally friendly than regular gas: all the processing and farming that is involved with growing and harvesting corn and turning it into a usable fuel source seems like it will be using lots of energy… and oil based fuel. (I could be wrong here, but that is what it seems like to me)

    Again, I think it comes back to being good stewards of the earth and being responsible. The chances are the average middle-class person can’t really do that much damage on their own… I do find it ironic that many of the proponents of the environmental movement are celebrities who (chances are) love to fly around in private gas-guzzling jets and SUVs. I digress… and I’m ranting. I am done now.

  9. MrPete
    February 15th, 2007 at 03:00 | #9

    If you want a serious, independent look at the science and math (it’s mostly math these days), visit http://www.climateaudit.org — there’s a bit of hyperbole due to the inevitable trolls, but for the most part you’ll find amazingly articulate statisticians and scientists going over everything very very carefully.

    They don’t have an agenda other than the truth.

    So far, the bottom line is that we’re being sold a bill of goods at a very high price.

    Just one example: a basic assumption of tree ring models is that plant growth is monotonic with temperature: growth increases as temperature increases. Any gardener knows that’s hogwash. Beyond a certain point, it’s too hot to grow well.

  10. February 17th, 2007 at 16:00 | #10

    This issue isn’t driven by reason. There’s no scientific evidence which proves that human events cause global warming, there isn’t even definitive proof that global warming is occurring. Like Salmypal said, it’s incredibly arrogant to believe that humans have the power to alter the course of nature. Some of far out warming zealots thought President Bush had the power to stand at the shores of New Orleans with a Shepard’s cane and a bathrobe like Moses to challenge hurricane Katrina and make it stop.

    There are plenty of Phd moonbats who would even like to blame the Ice Age and it’s mass extinction on humans. This warming hysteria is no different. It’s just a bunch of hot air from far left loons like Al Gore and an assortment of folks who incessantly moan about things that they would like to think that they control.

  1. February 11th, 2007 at 17:58 | #1
  2. March 12th, 2007 at 23:05 | #2

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