The Other Side of Global Warming
|Part 1, Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition
Part 2, Model Behavior
Part 3, The Climate Record - Fact and Fiction
Part 1, Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition
By Rich Trzupek
If you're a Monty Python fan, there's a good chance one of your favorite memories is the "Spanish Inquisition" episode. That bit is hilarious, and not just because of the goofy costumes. What really puts it over-the-top is our realization of how far modern society has moved from medieval times. We've understood for centuries that civilized folks don't need to employ the rack and thumbscrew to promulgate their views. Rational discussion, an unbiased assessment of scientific fact, and reasoned persuasion should be all that are needed.
We think of the contrast between those two approaches whenever we hear people refer to the "scientific consensus" on "global warming" (technically, it's known in the scientific community as "anthropogenic global warming", but we'll stick with "global warming" here) - the theory that humans are largely responsible for global climate change. Set aside for a moment that science doesn't operate by consensus. Consensus decides elections and arguments on the Bear's starting quarterback. Science is what science is. The earth revolves around the sun, for example. And it revolved around the sun even when "scientific consensus" said it was the other way around.
A couple of decades ago you'd have found a "consensus" in favor of communist rule among Eastern Europeans - at least until the Berlin Wall was turned into souvenir paperweights. Our favorite "consensus" was that expressed in Saddam Hussein's last election in 2002, in which he received 11,495,638 favorable votes. That total was 100% of the Iraqi voting population, topping the 99.96% approval he garnered previous to the '02 election. That "consensus" probably didn't bring him much comfort as he was being fitted for a hemp necktie.
Ironically, the idea that there is "scientific consensus" about global warming requires one to ignore a whole lot of scientists in the first place. For example, a recent survey, conducted in 2006, among members of the National Registry of Environmental Professionals showed that 34 percent of environmental scientists and practitioners disagree that global warming is a serious problem facing the planet. 41 percent disagree that the planet's recent warmth "can be, in large part, attributed to human activity."
Clearly "consensus" has little meaning when you have to lean on people to get it. If anything, in that situation, it tends to lend doubt to the proposition in question. The incongruity of the "consensus" argument on global warming first struck me when I read the position of an editor in a chemistry trade publication more than five years ago. He said essentially that he had no obligation to publish contrary views on global warming, since global warming skeptics were no better than "creationists". Comparing folks who found scientific holes in an exceedingly complex theory to people who believed the earth was only 10,000 years old seemed a bit much - but as it turns out, his attitude on global warming skeptics was hardly unique.
In subsequent years we've seen the following:
*In Oregon, Governor Ted Kulongoski called for the removal of George Taylor as State Climatologist, because Dr. Taylor expressed reservations about global warming. Presumably the governor knew more about climate science than a university professor trained in the field.
*Dr. Heidi Cullen of "The Weather Channel" publicly called for the American Meteorological Association to decertify any professionals who did not toe the line on global warming. George Orwell would have a tough time finding a better example of "groupthink".
*In Denmark, Bjorn Lomborg, once director of the Institute of Environmental Assessment in Copenhagen was convicted by the Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty of "systematic one-sidedness" in his book "The Skeptical Environmentalist". One of his sins was presenting another side of the global warming question. His conviction was later reversed by the Danish science ministry, which called the original conviction "clearly wrong".
*Various environmental groups have called for public humiliation or even Nuremburg-type trials for those who question global warming. That attitude has permeated the popular press, as evidenced by the writing of Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman: "Let's just say that global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers, though one denies the past, and the other denies the present and future". Associating global warming skeptics with the stupidity and dishonesty of Holocaust deniers is not only insulting, it's childish.
*At an individual level, the attitude that global warming is beyond question is beginning to lead to a "Unabomber attitude" among environmental extremists. Dr. Timothy Bell, a former climatology professor at the University of Winnipeg received numerous hostile emails, including five death threats, after participating in the BBC documentary "The Great Global Warming Swindle".
With regard to global warming, it's fair to say the earth's climate system is so awesomely complex that no one fully understands it, which makes it all the more disturbing when those who follow the time-honored scientific practice of questioning a current orthodoxy are subject to harassment and intimidation. And what makes it even worse is that the current orthodoxy on global warming is almost certainly wrong, as we will see in the articles which follow.
This situation is without precedent in modern times: one set of scientists is systematically silenced, not because they are asking illegitimate questions, not because they haven't been able to develop meaningful data, but simply because their questions and data make another group of scientists and politicians feel uncomfortable. This is science with an agenda, which is to say that it's not science at all. By definition, science's only agenda is to discover the truth and, from that point of view, questions are always welcome. The global warming proponents have perverted science in a way we have not seen for hundreds of years.
The scientific revolution that began centuries ago has had some stumbles, but on the whole it has been an overwhelmingly positive development for human civilization. When it comes to a complex scientific question like the extent of human influence on global climate, it's natural that citizens would have reasonable expectations of society's scientific professionals.
In that sort of situation, everybody expects a dispassionate collection of facts. Everybody expects a careful evaluation of that data. Everybody expects a fair discussion of the meaning of that data.
Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.
Part 2, Model Behavior
In Part One, we asked the question: Why do advocates of global warming feel the need to browbeat their critics into silence? In my humble opinion, it's because the global warming case is so weak.
If you've got 75 minutes to spare, google "The Great Global Warming Swindle" and watch the video. For the skinny on it, along with some additional facts, read on:
The global warming scare is based on two facts (actual scientific facts, not "scientific consensus"). 1): human activity increases the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2); and 2): CO2 in the atmosphere slows radiative energy transfer, thus warming the earth. In other words, CO2 acts to hold more heat in the atmosphere. Both of these propositions are true, and no legitimate scientist will deny either of them.
So - case closed, right? Cars and power plants do lead to warming! But the actual question is (or should be): Is that warming at all significant? If you burp, does it affect the weather in China? Well, yes, and well, no, not really.
For example, if you own a pet - say a dog - every breath he takes uses up oxygen and puts CO2 into the atmosphere. And if he's like most dogs, you've also got to deal with "tailpipe emissions", which are mostly methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than CO2.
Of course one dog isn't going to lead to melting glaciers. Ah, but in the US we've got 10's of millions of dogs, and cats, and gerbils, etc. Added together, they're putting out a lot more of these gases. Luckily the busybodies haven't come down on pets (yet) but just wait (can you say PETA?). So, how can we tell if a given source of CO2 is going to cause a significant problem?
A first step is to look at the relative amount of CO2 emitted from a given source. Natural sources like volcanoes put out a lot more CO2 than do human industrial and transport activities (power plants, cars, airplanes, etc.). So does decaying vegetation. And so do animals and microorganisms. All of those natural sources put out much, much more CO2 than human activities. In total, human activity is responsible for much less than 10 percent of the CO2 going into the atmosphere. And although the US is currently the single major source of that kind of CO2, it's expected that sometime this year China (Kyoto exempt) will overtake us.
So it's clear that humans are a minor source of this greenhouse gas. How important is this particular gas in bringing about climate change? It's not the only factor modifying the climate, and no legitimate scientist would claim that it is. We now need to look at how much effect CO2 has on the climate, especially in light of the fact that we make a small contribution to CO2 levels in the first place.
CO2 itself is responsible for well less than 10 percent of atmospheric greenhouse warming (water as vapor and clouds is by far the main factor). So, the net effect of American cars and power plants on global climate through CO2 emissions is - to use a technical term - teeny, in the greater scheme of things.
But, to be fair, let's accept the idea that upsetting a natural balance, even in a small way, can have effects that are much greater than we expect. How can we tell if that's the case here?
Fundamentally, there are two approaches: 1) modeling, and 2) studying the climate record. Currently the predicted dire consequences of global warming are based largely on mathematical modeling.
Ask 100 people in a panic over global warming (you can start with Al Gore) to explain modeling, and you'll get 100 blank stares. That's because modeling something as complex as the climate is hellishly complicated. To do it thoroughly, you've got to include everything from the flux of cosmic rays to the amount of snow cover on the earth's surface, and dozens of factors in between, and then see how a small change in CO2 affects things. Nobody's models include all these factors, and nobody is completely sure how to weight the ones that are included. And the ones that aren't included can be overwhelmingly important: precipitation and storm systems keep the global temperature about 70 degrees F cooler than it would otherwise be for example. (That is, without rainfall and storms, the average temperature of the globe would be about 140 degrees F).
Now consider that we don't even know the total amount of annual global rain/snowfall - how can we be sure we know how to model it (if it's even factored in at all)? Trusting these mathematical exercises is an act of faith. That's not just my view, but that of scientists who (like me) use simpler atmospheric models used in air pollutions studies. Those types of models are much less complex and, unlike climate models, we can look at real-world data to see how accurate those models are. After 30 years of development, the best air pollution models are accurate to within +/- 1 percent.
There is no way that climate models are more accurate than the best air pollution models. But let's say that these climate models meet that +/- 1 percent standard. That translates into an accuracy of +/- 5 degrees when predicting global temperatures. Ready for the punch line? Al Gore and his supporters are using these models to predict climate changes less than that!
A basic principal of science is this: you can't use a tool to measure something that is less than that tool's ability to detect. Yet, that's exactly what Al Gore wants us to do.
It's also well-known that the models don't even predict the kind of warming that actually is occurring. The models say that greenhouse warming should be most rapid 10 kilometers up in the troposphere. In actuality, the greatest rate of current warming appears to be at the earth's surface.
It is scientifically indefensible to claim that climate models can come anywhere close to predicting global temperatures tomorrow, much less 50 years from now. Worse, it's absolutely irresponsible to make public policy that will affect the lives of billions of people based on a tool that is no more accurate than Madame Zelda's crystal ball.
But, if we can't have confidence in the models, we still have the climate record. We can look back and see how CO2 has affected weather over thousands of years. It is the climate record that Al Gore cites as "absolute proof" that humans are going to melt the planet. Not suprisingly, the "inventor of the internet" plays fast and loose with the facts, as we shall see next.
Part 3, The Climate Record - Fact and Fiction
In Part One, of this series, we pondered the question: why do people who support the proposition that human activity causes global warming try so hard to discuss any discussion of the issue? Why is this vitally important question "off limits" among many politicians and members of the mainstream media?
In Part Two, we started to examine the "evidence" that's supposed to show that humans cause global warming. Part of the argument is based on computer modeling. Yet, a close look at modeling shows that this tool is woefully inadequate. The other half involves looking at history, which should give us a glimpse at the way CO2 has affected the climate in the past.
Fortunately, we have a clear record readily available, one that goes back hundreds of thousands of years.
As ice builds up on the earth's surface over the millennia, it provides a snapshot of climate conditions and CO2 concentrations when it was formed. The vast majority of ice on the planet is contained in sheets covering Antarctica and Greenland. Together, these ice sheets store about 95 percent of earth's ice. (And ice continues to build up - not melt - in those two places, by the by).
Scientists drill deep into the ice, pulling out what we call "ice cores". Those cores provide a historical record that shows - quite clearly - how CO2 and global temperatures fit together.
So what about the historical record? Well, human industrial activity (and with it CO2 emissions) really began to take off in the mid-1940's, with the post-war boom. Global temperatures actually dropped over the 35 years following that point, and only began a new upward march around 1975.
How about going back further - tens, even hundreds of thousands of years, as the Goracle does in "An Inconvenient Truth"? As Al points out, there is a clear correlation between global temperature and CO2 concentration, a correlation that spans millennia.
But here Gore makes the most fundamental mistake in statistics: he misses the fact that when two things happen together, it does not mean that one caused the other. Yet, in the world of Al Gore science, every time it rains, when you see a bunch of people with umbrellas, it must be the people opening those umbrellas who are causing the rain.
Because what Al doesn't tell you is that if you look at a graph of temperature and a graph of CO2, on the same time scale, you find that the CO2 follows temperature by almost a thousand years. In other words, first it gets hot, then CO2 goes up - not the other way around.
There's a very good reason for this observation. Most of the CO2 in the world is trapped in the oceans, dissolved in water. When the planet heats up, that CO2 is released. When the planet cools down, the oceans are able to absorb more of it.
Confronted with the fact that CO2 has always followed (not led) warming trends at a congressional hearing, Al admitted that's the way it's been for hundreds of thousands of years - but that's not what's been going on for the last 35 years. OK Al. Whatever.
Why climate science suddenly changed in the 20th century is not something Al explains. But then again, if you look for scientific explanations from a guy who flunked out of divinity school, you shouldn't expect too much.
Let's pause to say that it seems pretty clear that the planet is getting warmer at this particular moment in time. That is not unusual. It has done so in the past. In medieval times, for example, global temperatures were much higher than they are now, without any industrial activity to blame.
Likewise, if we look at the history of this planet over thousands of years, it's clear that the planet is typically much colder than it is today. Ice ages are the norm, not the exception. In a thousand years, we might be praying for global warming - although I doubt that we could ever produce enough CO2 to stop a determined glacier creeping down from Canada.
If CO2 never led to significant global warming in the past, it's very unlikely that (relatively) small amounts of man-made CO2 are doing so now. So what's likely going on here? We'll need another column to do the topic justice, but in short, the activity of the sun correlates to global temperature much more closely than does the amount of man-made CO2. And Al, that's a fact.
Sorry if it's inconvenient.
In part one of this series, we took a look at the way that legitimate scientific discussions about global warming were being systematically silenced. In parts two and three, we examined the science behind the theory that human activity causes global warming and we found that science wanting.
If you accept those propositions, or even if they just make you think, the natural question to follow is: why? Why would a group of people engage in this kind of deception? Why would they want to silence voices of dissent? What's the point?
I can not speak for the global-warming Nazis, but I can offer an opinion. In my view, there are three groups involved here: politically motivated scientists, pseudo-scientists and politicians; the mainstream media; and the public at-large. Each is motivated by different factors.
The first group is most similar to a group of petulant 8-year-old children. They simply want to be noticed and what they do or say to be noticed doesn't matter all that much. They see a world in which other people make the decisions and dammit, what do those people know? Look at me! Look at me!
That mindset has given rise to people like Climatologist Steven Schneider. Back in the 70s, Schneider was warning everyone about global freezing. He then believed that human activity would lead to a new ice age. Then, he decided that he was wrong; we're going to boil to death, not freeze to death.
Paul Erlich is probably the king of this mindset. Thirty years ago, Erlich said that the world would run out of petroleum and natural gas by 2000 and would be so over-populated that mass starvation would kill off the planet.
None of that happened of course. We've found decades worth of oil and natural gas reserves. Global population will start to decline in the next 20 years. You would think that being so wrong, so often, would result in guys like Erlich being dismissed for the cranks that they are. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. Erlich, and those like him, continue to have a voice as long as they have the imagination to predict a new disaster, no matter how far-fetched.
And that's why global warming is so attractive to publicity-hungry scientists, pseudo-scientists and politicians. They are going to save us from the end of the world. How can you beat that? What better evidence can they have for showing how smart they are, and how stupid the people in power are? The powers-that-be are ignoring THE END OF THE WORLD. That makes the doom-mongers heroes, and they absolutely relish that role.
Which brings us to the mainstream media, the CNNs and USA Todays of the world, who so willingly sign on to the global warming fantasy. What's their motivation?
One part involves a lack of expertise. We're talking about journalism majors here, not people who spent much time in science classes. When it comes to science, they are going to rely on "experts." And what "experts" will they choose to listen to? In general, the answer is not the dry climatologists who want to sift through intricate data. Journalists don't have time to do that, nor much interest in doing so.
They rather listen to the message, not the substance of the message, which brings us to the second part of their motivation. "The World Is Coming to an End" is a much more interesting story than "No, It's Not." If someone with a Ph.D. behind their name were to publish a paper that claimed excessive exposure to moonlight turns people into vampires, the popular press would publish the story with glee.
The mainstream media can be very clever when it covers non-technical issues. But, when it comes to issues that involve science or technology, they default to sensationalism. Just ask any doctor, or engineer, or airline pilot, or anyone else involved in a technically oriented profession. Invariably, they will tell you that the mainstream media covers their profession with all the insight of a fifth-grader. Global warming is just another example of that phenomena.
And that brings us to you, the public. The majority of you, if the polls are to be believed, accept the proposition that humans cause global warming. Why should this be so?
I don't think that you have an agenda. You're not looking for attention. In fact, I suspect that you would prefer the happy ending to the "end of life as we know it" story.
But you are understandably concerned about your world. You've been lied to before and you're very sensitive about being fooled again, as you should be. Plus, you don't have the time or the inclination to dive into the nerdy details. From your point-of-view, you've got one group of people who say "don't worry, everything's cool," and another group of people who say "we're in grave danger, if we don't do something quick, we're all going to die."
In the absence of any other information, the second message is clearly more powerful. It's as if your on vacation and one neighbor calls and tells you that your house in on fire, while another tells you that it's not. You're not there. You can't assess the truth yourself. So, naturally, you'll do the safe thing. You'll dial 911.
In this case, dialing 911 is not only a pointless exercise, it's incredibly damaging. Not to the United States, which is a nation rich enough to absorb the blow of paying for the global warming fantasy, but for all the poor nations of the world that will be devastated by the economic chaos to follow.
We have reached a crossroads. If we are willing to be fooled by so obvious a fraud as global warming, if we are willing to silence every voice in the name of "good-think," we will have surrendered society over to every alarmist with a scary story to tell.
We're better than that. We certainly deserve better than that. If Al Gore needs to feel important, let's let him design the new Internet. That will keep him busy and will prevent him from doing even more damage to a planet that is in pretty damn good shape, whether he will admit it or not.