Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Global Warming Debate

The recent posts on global warming (GW) have generated several good comments for which I am sincerely appreciative. I welcome the opportunity to debate the facts and the science. Be assured, there is good reason for debate. It is not a slam dunk as a former CIA head once unwisely declared about WMD.

Good friend P.J. from Tampa commented on the Left Coast blowhard contribution to global warming; my point, exactly.

Reader Sray questioned Crichton’s motive since he clearly does not believe in GW, and Sray thought that Mike ought to stick to things he understands. Well, Crichton is a very bright guy who researched the GW subject for two years and concludes that the debate is not over. I give more intellectual weight to Michael Crichton than to Laurie David.

Anonymous pointed to a web site (Real Climate) for “balance” to Crichton’s book. I read the article “Michael Crichton’s State of Confusion” on Real Climate but came away more skeptical of the conventional wisdom than before. As for balance, the scientific literature and the popular science books overwhelmingly support the establishment view. It is Crichton who provides some balance. I went to the Library and found only two of twenty books on GW that presented contrarian views: Is the Temperature Rising by S. G. Philander and The Satanic Gases by P. J. Michaels and R. C. Balling.

Tom pointed me to a long National Geographic article on GW in Sept. 2004. It was another good example of the dogmatic, flamboyant, sloppy-science treatment of this subject that is all too prevalent. The article begins with some absolutist statements: “There is no question that the Earth is getting hotter – and fast.” The question is “how much of the warming is our fault?” Later, we learn that “Human activity almost certainly drove most of the past century’s warming.” The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is quoted on the projected temperature rise over the next century: between 3F and 10F depending on the CO2 rise. Climate expert Jerry Mahlman warns that “controlling the increase would take 40 successful Kyotos.” (Heavens above, we must be doomed.) Much of the article shows great pictures of ice melting in the artic and glaciers that are disappearing from Glacier National Park in Montana. And friend Tom mentions other anecdotal evidence about Minnesota fishermen falling through the weakened ice. But global warming is not local nor is it anecdotal.

The trouble with the global warming ideology is that global climate change is the most natural thing in the world. For over 4 billion years the Earth’s temperature has varied significantly. (More than once the Earth was entirely frozen.) The variations have been quite regular, with a period of about 100,000 years, over the last million years or so. (Temperature is driven by the strength of solar radiation and the concentration of greenhouse gases. A short treatise on the “Temperature of the Earth” is available to anyone who asks.) For the last 10 thousand years we have been in an interglacial period of relative warmth during which civilization had the chance to emerge. But we will fall back into the 2.5 million year long ice age before very long. During the recent interglacial the temperature was much warmer about 1000 years ago and colder about 400 years ago when we experienced a “little ice age.” Since around 1850 the Earth has been warming slightly, although in 1975 the big environmental panic was a “looming ice age” that Newsweek worried would lead to catastrophic famines. Newsweek’s solution: melting the Arctic ice cap by covering it with black soot.

The global surface temperature rise over the last few decades has been either 0.17C/decade if you adhere to the U.N. Panel or 0.03C/decade if you believe the annual satellite measurements that began in 1979 or the balloon data that has been accumulated even longer. Two papers in the July 2004 issue of Geophysical Research Letters by Douglass and Singer reported measurements taken 7 feet above the ground that confirm the satellite and balloon data. Extrapolation of these data yields an increase of 0.3C to 1.7C, while the computer models predict from 1.4C to 5.8C, with journalistic emphasis on the upper end. As computer models are becoming more refined they tend to agree more with the lower end and with the better satellite and balloon data, hardly a catastrophe.

As Crichton states, “Before making expensive policy decisions on the basis of climate models, I think it is reasonable to require that those models predict future temperatures accurately for a period of ten years.”

I agree with Crichton.

I will discuss the folly of those expensive policy decisions like the Kyoto Protocol in a future post.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, I might actually agree that models should show good results before we do the really expensive things to mitigate CO2.

The thing is, the simplest things actually save us money, and the typical anti-GW type will fight those too.

I actually cut my electric and gasoline bills in half. It wasn't hard. I just got rid of my old refrigerator, switching to a not very expensive Sears model. And when it came time to replace my two cars, I picked replacements with better mileage.

That stuff will save me money, improve our national security, reduce the agreed polutants like SOx and NOx, and finally ... as an added benefit ... reduce CO2.

Again, the crime is that Crichton and his followers say "do nothing" rather than do the easy, sensible, things.

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