Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Good News? Not Yet.

Once in a while I see some talk about how increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere cannot be causing any global warming, because carbon dioxide only absorbs infrared radiation in certain narrow bands, and all the radiation in those bands is already captured by the current level of carbon dioxide. Sounds like good news! But I've always seen this argument buried among numerous other good news arguments, and somehow as I checked out each one and wound up disappointed, I never quite made it down the list to check out the saturation argument.

Until now. Here's a fine summary, and a fine example of the work of Spencer Weart. He is the author of The Discovery of Global Warming: A hypertext history of how scientists came to (partly) understand what people are doing to cause climate change. If you haven't dipped into that website yet, well, I wish you would.

12 comments:

Eleutheros said...

Laura,

Interesting. I read the entire linked summary carefully twice. It is the most perfect example of a non-sequitur that I have ever seen, the writer falling into the very problem he cites for the earlier work. That is, he says previous scientists treated the atmosphere as a single unit, then he proceeds to deal with the stratosphere as if it were an isolated phenomenon.

Ten years ago when I read the first stirs of the global warming idea, I was concerned that a great deal of effort would be wasted to reduce CO2 and then regardless of what happened, the warmists would congratulate themselves. If the temps went down, they would say "See, we've saved you!" If the temps went up, they would say "See, it would have been even WORSE if we hadn't done something!"

But the fact is that in ten years the levels of C02 have risen and this year global temperatures have fallen.

arcolaura said...

And I need to read it carefully again, but it's music festival season (I accompany my kids' solos) and I have been neglecting the music to work on the house renovations, and now I am neglecting everything to work on the music, and underneath it all I have a quietly panicked feeling that I am fiddling while Rome burns.

I've been hearing about the recent downturn in global temperatures. Who knows what is going on? As you suggest, this is a huge system with all sorts of feedbacks and thresholds of change. When there is a downturn for a few years, is that the beginning of a large trend, or is it a small reset due to the crossing of some threshold somewhere, or due to some new and different influence that has come into play, while the major engine of change continues to run? Off the top of my head, I would wonder whether the explosion of development in Asia is creating enough aerosols (reflecting incoming solar radiation back to space) to cause a cooling effect that is masking the ongoing effects of CO2 increase.

Your argument about self-congratulation regardless of results can be turned on its head. No matter what the messenger of warning says, those warned can always look back and say, "See? Nothing terrible happened. Why should we listen to any warnings?" And in fact that is one of the favourite arguments of those who don't want anything done about CO2 emissions. Look, they say, look at all the predicted catastrophes that didn't happen: cities clogged by piles of horse manure; population growing faster than agricultural production; the destruction of the ozone layer. And yet there was huge effort applied to resolve each of these problems, so how can one use these examples to justify applying no effort at all?

Eleutheros said...

Laura:"And yet there was huge effort applied to resolve each of these problems, so how can one use these examples to justify applying no effort at all?"

I know you won't mind me playing Devil's Advocate here a bit...

You post is called "Good News? Not Yet." It might as well have been called "Bad News? Not Yet." That is, first there is no compelling argument yet for human caused global warming. One telling phenomenon is that warmists have changed the hue and cry from Global Warming to Climate Change.

One criterion I use to judge the value of such dire warnings before I dismiss them is the veracity of the advocates. Do they engage in mendacity and fabrication to enhance their point? In the case of 'Global Warming' I'm afraid it's so, in fact rampant.

Just as an example, and I could give you fifty of them, in Gore's 'Inconvenient Truth' he says Polar Bears will be extinct by 2030 and cites a measured population of bears which has declined by X% over the past few years. What he doesn't say, although he well know it, is that the decline was because four of the bears drowned in a storm all at once. And since the time of that incident, that population of the polar bears is up by 90%.

The arguments for Global Warming are fraught with such examples of out and out mendacity.

Also, a few years ago the warmists said that if we did not begin drastically reducing green house gasses by 2006, it would be too late forever, the trend would be irreversible. OK. We didn't reduce them. So it's too late now, right? Why continue belaboring the point?

It isn't that warnings need to be heeded, they need to be examined. And when they come up short, as this one does, they need to be dismissed

arcolaura said...

Well, Eleu, I am surprised to be having this discussion with you, and deep down, a little disappointed, but I'll take it as a welcome opportunity to re-examine my own biases.

On the change from "global warming" to "climate change" - I don't hesitate to call it global warming. It is argued that "climate change" gives a clearer idea of what may happen on the more local scales that individuals are looking at. However, the system is being examined on a global scale, not a local scale, so let's go ahead and call it global warming. If a scientist or an activist can't explain the difference between a global trend and regional or local effects, a name change is not going to fix the problem. No, it's going to compound it, by giving fodder to those who are looking for signs of deception.

And speaking of deception, I can't judge regarding Gore, because I've never paid him any heed. You say he knowingly used a deceptive story about polar bears, but I wonder if it could actually be a plain old mistake. There are two reasons I say this. One, I have noticed that much of what is being said about global warming is not debate (which involves listening) but pontification. Where pontification prevails, erroneous statements can be repeated to an astonishing degree without ever being corrected, because the speakers have no interest in listening to criticism. (And this happens on both sides of the issue.) The second reason I would suspect a mistake as a possibility is this: if Gore can overlook an image problem the size of a mansion that confronts him every time he goes home from a jet-and-limo speaking tour, I'm sure he can also overlook the need to background-check his stories.

I wish the veracity of advocates was a reliable guide to the value of warnings. In my experience, though, it is the very nature of advocates to have a certain arrogance that makes them unreliable. Some are so arrogant that they advocate causes purely for their own gain; others are more subtly arrogant, assuming that they can know what is best for me better than I can know it myself. They have set themselves up as gatekeepers of information. I make a habit of getting past them and finding the information for myself.

As a result, I have come to read bits and pieces of the scientific literature directly, just to check on things. Sadly, once I get past the advocates and work back through news reports and press releases and into original research papers, I often find evidence of mendacity on the part of those denying that global warming is a serious concern. I have made a hobby out of following up the "good news" arguments, truly hoping to find verification of the good news, but instead, again and again uncovering deceptions upon which these arguments are founded. I have grown rather tired of my hobby lately, and mostly moved on to other things. But I looked back through my old blog posts and found a revealing personal favourite. To my surprise, it is titled Not for Gore's Sake, but for Your Sake.

Eleutheros said...

Laura:"Well, Eleu, I am surprised to be having this discussion with you,"

Yes, one mightn't think it. But let me take you a step further.

Floating up the objections to the Warmist point of view and seeing if they survive scrutiny would be a valid modus operandi IF the Warmist point of view were on more solid ground.

But, and humor me here for a minute, if the Warmist spiel is bogus, let's just imagine that for argument's sake, IF it is bogus, then shooting down the arguments against a premise that scarcely exists is meaningless. You'd be able to do that like shooting fish in a barrel no matter the premise.

My approach was not so dissimilar from yours. Since the inception of the theories of Global Warming, I've taken each posit and assertion and looked to see what objections there are to it and if they hold water. By and large the objections hold water.

That is, the evidence that the climate change we are observing is caused by human activity is very tenuous and sketchy at best. Might be, but there is no compelling evidence.

A very great many of the scientists, nearly half and a disproportionate share of the prominent ones, who were first cited in the original study submitted for the Kyoto Treaty, have recanted their position and no longer hold that there is any evidence that climate change is caused by human activity. Their reasons for recanting are compelling.

But my main problem with the gist of the Warmist philosophy is that the world is facing some real, inevitable, problems, and ONE of them is climate change no matter what the etiology of it.

Item: The world is not going to materially change its ways. Heck, here in the US we are willing to starve people to death to fill the tanks of Hummers with ethanol. Real, observable, undisputed, and happening in real time. Yet we are unwilling (collectively) to change it. Not only can we not legislate a change, but we are passing legislation that makes it all the worse!! (Ethanol subsidies, for example).

So does anyone think there's a snowball's chance in Hades that we are going to voluntarily embrace or legislate a drastic change in our lifestyle based on a computer model of climate change that may or may not be correct?

But the perseveration over the man make aspect of climate change sends us all of into useless directions where we ignore the real, addressable problems that are right there before us and speak with an impatient voice.

People are far more comfortable dealing with a problem about which they can do nothing, than a problem about which they can.

arcolaura said...

Again I wish, for a moment as I read through your comments, that I had more time to dig deeper for information. But then I read your comment about real, undisputed problems right in front of us, and I have to agree. Although I may have said at times that climate change was the "number one issue for me" or something like that, it has not been a fad concern for me, but rather a natural extension of my ongoing concern about limits to growth and our collective blindness to those limits. But your comments help me to consider whether I have given too much of my time and energy to worry over climate change, and to hoping that I could inspire people to personal change over this particular issue. I saw an intriguing news item the other day about survey findings that the more people know about climate change, the less they care about it or feel responsibility or power to do anything about it. Also, I have been increasingly aware of the tendency of activist or policy driven solutions to backfire and create more problems elsewhere. Yet at a basic level, it seems obvious that the actual changes needed to solve one big real problem are usually the same changes needed to solve all the other big real problems: more conservative lifestyles, not depending on resources beyond their limits to regenerate, and so on. If climate change is related to human activity, such changes would be among the best we could make to solve it, and at the same time, even if climate change is totally unrelated to human activity, making changes such as these would make us and our biosphere less vulnerable to its effects.

I guess I do share your skepticism that such changes would ever be made, and yet I feel I have to try. Whether through runaway global warming, or relentless industrial agricultural destruction of soils and ecosystems, or overfishing and ocean acidification, it seems obvious to me that we are driving a mass extinction and we will not correct that by chasing after rare species to protect them, or by slightly altering the way we go about having everything we can imagine to want. Although it feels like far too little, I think you are right, the truest response is to focus on the things that I know are the right direction, instead of doing a big flurry of questionable activity about the most scary looming issue. I need to keep focussing on the real underlying questions/quests of:
1) how shall I live my own life in right relationship with all?
2) what can I offer to others to help them do the same?

arcolaura said...

I've been carrying this discussion around in my mind.

...if the Warmist spiel is bogus ...then shooting down the arguments against a premise that scarcely exists is meaningless. You'd be able to do that like shooting fish in a barrel no matter the premise.

I'm not sure I understand what you're saying here. I do sometimes wonder if I am falling into the trap of searching for information just far enough to find the piece that restores my confidence in my original belief (that the arguments supporting a reduction in CO2 emissions to mitigate global warming are honest). However, having been reading widely around this issue since the late '80s, and as I said, deliberately digging into articles that are skeptical about global warming and a human cause for it, I think I have had fairly good exposure to a range of opinions and information. Sure, I have sometimes just Googled the name of a skeptical author and read a rebuttal of their article, but other times I have followed up the skeptic's cited background material as well as looking for other opinions on the same topics. On the whole, I have found a great deal of mendacity and very little substance on the skeptical side of the discussion.

What bubbled to the surface of my mind as I thought about "shooting fish in a barrel" is this: in terms of shooting down arguments, the skeptics have it far easier. They don't have to convince a careful, critical reader. They just have to make a statement that eases fears about global warming and sounds good enough to get repeated. A statement like that will find an eager audience.

arcolaura said...

Having said all that, I'm game for some more reading (although I may not get to it for another month or so). How about posting about this on your blog, with a list of those recanting scientists, or some links to more information?

Eleutheros said...

"What bubbled to the surface of my mind as I thought about "shooting fish in a barrel" is this: in terms of shooting down arguments, the skeptics have it far easier. They don't have to convince a careful, critical reader. They just have to make a statement that eases fears about global warming and sounds good enough to get repeated. A statement like that will find an eager audience."

No, I'd opine it's the Warmists that have it easy. It's fun to be frightened by a boogie-man. OOOOO. Global warming! We're all gonna die! It's an easy sell. UFO's and the occult experience were wearing thin and we so much need a good thrill.

It seems, then, Laura, that I have not put forth my posit in an understandable format. If you were examining a situation that was on solid footing, say, that there is a connection between smoking and lung cancer, then floating up the rebuttals and seeing if they held firm or crumbled away would be a useful mechanism.

But if you posit something that is inherently bogus to begin with, you learn nothing by advocating the rebuttal to see if it holds true or not.

Let's try it, "The government is putting chemicals in the atmosphere by means of con-trails from airliners to control the people."

Go ahead, try to rebut it. What??? You think that!! Why, it's easy to see that the chemicals have gotten to you."

Global warming has gone far beyond a scientific inquiry into the realm of a cult. If the temps get warmer, that's global warming. If the temps get cooler, that's global warming too. If the temps stay the same, that's global warming as well. It doesn't matter what the data is, what the trend is, whatever happens, it's a bad thing and it's global warming.

Just as an example, Laura, and I could cite you a score of them, when hurricane Katrina hit, it was proof positive that man made climate change was wreaking havoc. It would only get worse! The following hurricane season was predicted to be even worse! One of the worse on record!

It was one of the mildest.

So was the season that followed that.

You can't have it both ways. If a violent hurricane season is evidence of global climate change, the two of the mildest seasons on record is evidence that said change is bogus.

In the past four years, three major "Global Warming" conferences were called off due to record cold and snow. A reasonable person would be embarrassed. But an cultist would not.

Alas, Laura, my blog has nothing to do with such as 'global warming'. It is dedicated to what a person can do personally to improve their individual lot. The very long list of the scientists cited by warmist who have recanted their position is rather common knowledge, except, it seems, among warmists.

Eleutheros said...

But, to get you started:

http://www.canadafreepress.com/2007/global-warming051607.htm

Eleutheros said...

Laura,

This illustrates much of what I've tried to say:

http://tinyurl.com/49fukz

"But now, with recent data showing an unexpected rise in global emissions and a decline in energy efficiency, a growing chorus of economists, scientists and students of energy policy are saying that whatever benefits the cap approach yields, it will be too little and come too late."

That is, even the true believers are saying that even IF we capped emissions right now, it would not affect global warming. So if a global effort to cap emissions would do not good, then what's the point of the "I'm doing my little bit to help" approach?

None, says I.

So if climate change is under way, irregardless of its origin and etiology, it behooves us to adapt to it, not to try to change it.

As you can see, the hue and cry is now that the "scientists" are saying that we need to give them massive amounts of money for decades to come up with the likes of carbon sequestering schemes. Suspicious to me that the raisers of the alarm all seem to be in a position to line their nests from this new tack.

Now all this is from the believers in man made global warming. You can imagine those, like me, who hold that a convincing case has never been made for the notion are all the less likely to get excited by the "we've got to do something" exhortations.

arcolaura said...

Thanks Eleu. I haven't looked at your second link yet, and won't get to it for some time. The Canada Free Press link didn't work so I am including it again here. I skimmed through it, and I do recognize a lot of those names. I have seen plenty of mendacity from many of those very scientists.

And this very weekend I have been resolving to cut back on my numerous activities that are beyond my personal resources of time and energy, so I simply cannot dive into a big discussion here at this time. In a similar vein, I would agree with you that we cannot well afford to be pouring money and effort into carbon sequestration schemes. Nor can we as individuals well afford to rely on some huge distant governmental or intergovernmental programs to solve the problems arising from our own fossil-fuel dependent lifestyles - problems that indisputably include extremely rapid changes in atmospheric and oceanic chemistry, whatever the climatic and ecological impacts may be. I have said for years that I wish people on both extremes of this conflict could stop polarizing the discussion so we could concentrate our energies on actions that we know will improve things, no matter who is right.