Sunday, August 06, 2006

 

The End of Another Debate

This is a reprint of my response to Mark A. Rose at Right Minded. Unfortunately, Mark's other concerns will prevent him from continuing to debate this issue with me. I'll finish critiquing his alredy posted articles, but he has indicated that he will not have the time to respond further. I'm disappointed, but I appreciate his comments and responses thus far. Mark conducted himself as a gentleman, and I always appreciate a good debate. I guess I'll have to keep searching for someone in the blogosphere that is truly willing to debate the scientific issues of global warming from the right.

Mark,

I'll go ahead and answer you last comment here, and then comment on your recently reprinted article at my blog and give the reference here when that's up.

As you have noted, climate is complex with feedback that can happen, leading to many potentially complicated scenarios. I assume that you understand the Gulf Stream and its importance to the temperature of Northern Europe. If the Gulf Stream stopped functioning because of an influx of colder water into the system, caused by melting glaciers due to global warming, then the result for that particular area would be for the temperature to decrease. The Gulf Stream contributes significantly more of a warming effect to Northern Europe than global warming does, at least for the short term.

This is not trying to have it both ways. It is a scientific prediction based on understanding the Gulf Stream, how it works, and its localized effect on climate. Note that is localized, not global. Global warming, naturally, has predicted and continues to predict increasing temperatures when measureed globally.

A true example of trying to have things both ways would be to declare both, "we only have at best 100 years worth of weather records to go on" and "historical and geological records tell us that the earth's climate has undergone wild fluctuations throughout the eons." When you want to make a point about climate fluctuations, ancient historical data is so solid that you "know...that the earth's climate has undergone some wild fluctuations." When a point is made about the most recent 2000 years, data confirmed through many different measurements, suddenly, we cannot make any definitive statements.

You ask why we should believe forecasts made by global warming scientists. I offer two simple reasons. First, as I pointed out, global warming skeptics and scientists both made predictions of the future for 2005-2006 back in 1999-2002. Skeptics said that the warming trend would stop since the El Nino effect of 1998 and the sun's cycle (which was at its maximum at that time) were causing almost all of the noted warming. Global warming scientists said that, while those effects were not negligible, that the warming trend was mainly being driven by increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and that was going to cause the warming trend to continue. We're now at 2006. With the measurements of global temperature more accurate than ever before, the predictions of the scientists were correct and the predictions of the skeptics were plainly wrong. So, the first reason is that we've had both sides make their predictions and one side's was clearly right and the other's was clearly wrong.

Of course, the global warming scientists could just have been lucky. This brings us to point #2. The science behind global warming and the greenhouse effect is well understood. If this was any other scientific theory, there would be no further debate. It's only because this theory has policy implications that people, like you, are uncomfortable with, that this science ever gets questioned at all. The theory is solid, the observations and measurements completely back it up, and the scientific community, with a very few exceptions, completely backs the conclusions. Of course, there is a lot of debate on EXACTLY what will happen, how fast the temperature will increase, how fast the ice will melt, etc. These predictions are more like predicting the weather, and many computer models have been created to try and war-game different scenarios. However, the very simple theory and science shows that the temperature will continue rising as long as we continue to increase the CO2 concentration. That's about as hard as predicting what will happen if you freeze a full bottle of water or boil a pan of water.

You talk about "The Day After Tomorrow." Personally, I think anyone who bases a scientific discussion on a fictional work is not too smart. I haven't seen the movie, so I don't know anything about the science in it, but I seriously doubt it is good. I have little doubt that it does try to shock its viewers.

I believe that you are misrepresenting Sir David King's comments about "The Day After Tomorrow". He said it was "remarkably realistic, in parts," which leads us the question, which parts. He went on to say specifically, "The cooling caused by a weakened Gulf Stream would not actually counteract the general warming caused by increased greenhouse gases. Northern Europe is more likely to get warmer than colder." Thus, your contention that he ever made some case that the rapid freezing depicted in the movie would happen is false. Like I said, I didn't see the movie, so I have no idea what parts he thought were realistic, but any reading of his comments on the movie lets the reader know that the rapid freezing part wasn't one he thought was scientifically accurate. So, your whole article about "global warming alarmists" was based on an op-ed piece in a Bangladeshi paper and a Hollywood movie. I think your causes for alarm are a little unfounded.

On to cycles. We were specifically discussing global temperature, so I was referring to cycles in global temperature, not just any old cycles in the past 100 years. For that, the trend has been up from 1906 to 2006, with a plateauing between 1940 to 1975 or so. So, yes, cycles happen all the time. I happened to run two complete cycles in my washing machine just today. Strangely, though, no cycle in global temperature since the beginning of the industrial age, just an upwards trend.

We have little reason to believe that the Medieval Warm Period was anything more than a local weather phenomenon, not a global one, so I don't think this is very relevant. Global warming is just that. Warming on a global scale. Even if this is not true, and the Medieval warming was on a global scale, the theory of global warming does not preclude past warming for other reasons. It just says that we understand the current warming and why it is happening. If I take a bowl of water and place it outside, it will heat and cool based on a daily cycle. I could also use a hot plate to heat the water. Your objection is like saying that the hot plate couldn't cause the heating that we see when we turn it on because we've seen heating in the past that was caused by the sun.

Once again, you talk about how little CO2 there is, but you discount what an important greenhouse gas this is. Though it exists in much less of a concentration than H2O, it contributes 1/4 to 1/3 as much to the greenhouse effect as H2O does. Repeating that it is a trace gas doesn't change that. As I've also said repeatedly, if we agree global temperature is rising and that there is a knowable cause, then CO2 is an obvious choice, since we can also measure that it is increasing. H2O is a poor choice, since we can measure that it is not increasing. The sun is also a poor choice since we know it is currently at the bottom of its 11-year cycle. This is logic 101. Since you love the car analogy so much, I'll try to put it in terms you might understand. You go to a mechanic because your having trouble turning. The mechanic notes that your front left tire is very loose and wobbly and that the nuts need to be fastened. "WHAT?!" you exclaim, "this is a big car. The engine is lot bigger and important than those lug nuts. The problem must be there." You go to mechanic after mechanic insisting that the nuts could not be the problem. Finally, you find a mechanic that agrees. You pay him $3500 to fix your engine. After that, the problem continues, but at least you were right according to that last mechanic, so it was money well spent.

The first, and I feel most authoritative article from your Wikipedia cite is "The Earth's Annual Global Mean Energy Budget", published in 2006, and that gives 26% (the dead middle of my range), so I don't think my figure was incorrect. Even if it's 9% (the lowest possible given), that's still pretty significant, seeing that we've driven the concentration up by almost 25% in the past 100 years. So, at least we agree that CO2 is, by volume, much more important than H2O when contributing to global warming, and thus an equivalent volumetric increase in CO2 could drive a much greater temperature increase than H2O.

Skipping to the end, we have: "you must understand that there are authentic scientists on BOTH sides of this issue. The pro-global warming crowd does not have a monopoly on credible scientists."
Here's a partial list of scientific bodies that have endorsed the current theory of global warming based on the research and evidence to date:

US National Academy of Sciences
American Meteorological Society
American Geophysical Union
American Association for the Advancement of Science
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Union of Concerned Scientists
NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Environmental Protection Agency
Royal Society of the United Kingdom
National Center for Atmospheric Research
Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society

Who's on the other side? A few scattered scientists, most getting paid by the oil and gas industry? You sound very much like a cigarette company executive saying that they have credible scientists that question the link between cancer and smoking. The last credible objection to the evidence for global warming was that the satellite data didn’t match the surface measurements and didn’t show the warming trend. Much was made of this discrepancy by scientists that didn’t agree with the theory. However, the discrepancy was shown to be due to data collection (http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/2005-08-11-global-warming-data_x.htm).

Now, we're finally to my favorite part. "The purpose is to address global warming as a political issue" followed by quoting the one time you use the word "political" in the entire article. Well, your intent would have been clearer if you'd actually discussed politics and policy instead of science. Let's pick out a few times in the article where you discussed science:

"Nature causes the earth's climate to vary. We know this, because historical and geological records tell us that the earth's climate has undergone wild fluctuations throughout the eons." Is this a political or scientific assertion?

"Global warming alarmists used to have the theory that humans were introducing so much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere that it was going to trap an inordinate amount of incoming solar radiation, which would warm the earth abnormally." Political or scientific?

"It was a logical scientific theory, but it was doomed because it cannot be proven that any warming in the earth's thermal regime is attributable to human activity and not the natural cycle." Political or scientific?

That takes us to the end of the second paragraph. I could go on, but I'd pretty much quote the whole article. If you want to discuss political issues, then do so, but don't get upset when I disprove your scientific assertions because you used the word "political" in one sentence.

Since you're graciously giving me the final word, and you've given me a nice segue for it, here it is. You, and countless others, are mixing the scientific debate about global warming with the political one. Because you don't like the potential policy consequences of the science, you attack the scientific basis for those proposed policies. You are convinced that the science must not be right, because, if it were not correct, then the policies based on that science would collapse. While this is a reasonable strategy while the science is still questioned, there is eventually a point where arguing in this fashion becomes counter-productive. As the science becomes accepted by more and more people and the evidence that the theory is correct stacks up higher and higher, basing disagreement on the idea that the science is not correct becomes more and more difficult.

I believe that if you were to examine this issue without any dog in the fight, you'd agree that the case for global warming as a result of increased CO2 in the atmosphere is very, very strong. However, because you fear the implications of that conclusion, you read and write articles questioning the science, highlighting any perceived minor anecdotal issue. Unfortunately, for you, this behavior is very counterproductive. If you don't like the policy propositions that are being made in response to the science, then spend your time arguing against them and promoting research into scientific solutions to the problem (e.g. http://yinyangtree.blogspot.com/2006/07/two-random-dispatches-about-global.html).

To illustrate this point, let's take a hypothetical future 10 years from now. Let's assume that, in 2016, we've had ten more years of increased temperatures and the public has accepted the theory of global warming as proven. What will happen at that point? Who will they trust to set policy to address the situation? People, like you or most Congressional Republicans, that chose to steadfastly refuse to accept the science or the people you currently term "global warming alarmists"? I think considering the answer to that question should be very important to you.

If all the scientific institutions that I mentioned above are correct about what they have researched, studied, debated, and written about for years now, that's the future that you are helping to bring about with every "scientific" critique of global warming that you write. The alternative is simple. Accept the science and support scientific research to find ways to counteract global warming. I personally think that this is the only solution that's going to work, but I fear you and people like you are handing the policy decisions to those who will *vainly* and *foolishly* try and restructure the world economy and its growth to solve this problem. I'm asking to re-examine the issue anew, with the idea that the problem can be real, even if the currently proposed solution is false.

Thanks for a stimulating conversation.

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