04 December 2008

Global Warming (Climate Change)

As part of a Geology 110 class I am currently enrolled in I was assigned to watch Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and the film The Great Global Warming Swindle as part of a unit on Climate Change. 

I don't want to get into all the nuts and bolts here, but here are a few points I would like to make:

1. Al Gore and other proponents of the human-induced climate change theory are vehement in their belief that the debate is over. There is no scientific basis to oppose this theory, and there exists a "consensus" in the scientific community in support of it. In Gore's movie the former vice president specifically states that a search of over 900 articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals yielded no results in opposition to his theory. 

This strikes me as ridiculous. Science is all about debate. There are very, very few absolute laws in the scientific world. And even with something so widely-accepted as correct like the law of gravity, if new evidence disproving this law came into evidence, the reality of gravity would be reconsidered. 

Yet here we have a theory dealing with one of the most volatile and misunderstood aspects of the world, weather, and we're 100% sure we know what's going on. Scientists can't even predict whether it will rain or not this weekend, and somehow they're dead certain about worldwide weather conditions over the next century. 

And there is, in fact, plenty of scientific opposition to the theory of man-made climate change. 

This attitude of "we're shutting our ears to opposing viewpoints la la la I can't hear you" is honestly frightening. 

2. The basis of the human-induced climate change theory is data taken from ice core samples retrieved from Antarctica. The short version is this: when snow falls, it traps atmosphere in little bubbles inside. Drilling down into the ice, scientists can analyze atmosphere from hundreds of thousands of years ago and determine its composition and even the temperature from that time. 

Both sides of the discussion use this data, and both reach very different conclusions.

Gore notices an obvious correlation between CO2 levels in the atmosphere and global temperature. He then deduces that CO2 levels cause temperature, like so:

His opponents, however, use the age-old argument that correlation does not necessarily prove causation. Just because the trains run on time in Budapest whenever I eat oatmeal for breakfast does not mean it logically follows that my eating habits control the Hungarian rail system. 

In fact, graphs like the one below show that CO2 levels do in fact rise and fall with temperature, but lag behind global temperatures changes by hundreds of years. Temperatures rise or fall and then CO2 levels rise or fall to follow it.

Bottom line, there is controversy surrounding the very base level of human-induced climate change theory. In my research, I have yet to see a response to the above chart. 

Then we have the claim that global temperatures have actually been falling since 1996, despite rising CO2 levels thanks to the U.S. and developing nations like India and China. 

3. Carbon dioxide is not an inherently damaging substance. It's a naturally-occurring carbon atom combined with two oxygen atoms. Every living thing emits CO2. Trees, cows, people, snails, algae, everything. Volcanoes emit CO2. I'm all for limiting truly damaging emissions, such as those from coal-fired power plants and cars, but CO2 on its own will not kill us all. 

4. And finally, climate changes. As the charts show (no matter who is using them), temperature fluctuates all over the place. The continents drift. Mountains erode. Animal species die out. All of this has been going on long before humans existed on the planet. The belief that humans control the weather is borderline narcissistic, in my opinion. 

Back in the 1970's, the fear among scientists was one of human-induced global cooling. Here's a link to a Newsweek article from 1975 lamenting an increase in tornadoes and other calamities. The author says climatologists " are pessimistic that political leaders will take any positive action to compensate for the climatic change, or even to allay its effects."

Sound familiar? A mere thirty years ago we were scared out our minds that human industry and technology were freezing the world. Then, somehow, the temperatures stopped falling, and did we see a mass retraction from these scientists? Nope. Instead, as the world temperatures started to rise again, these same individuals are whipping us into a terrified frenzy because human industry and technology are frying the world. Forgive me for being skeptical. 

So here we are. In all of this, my main point is that there is in fact plenty of legitimate debate on this topic. Whether or not you are swayed by the opposing arguments is almost irrelevant. If all I communicate is that the claim of a "scientific consensus" is bunk, I'll be happy. 

I find it interesting that many of those who believe in human-caused climate change are those who have rejected God and traditional faith. I think many of these individuals fill their need to believe in something with faith in global warming. Just an observation. 

So take the time to research and investigate the data on your own. For an issue that can have such far-reaching effects on our lives, do we really want to trust a politician on this one?


*Liese said...

Random: I saw that movie at Target "on sale" for $20. I thought that was a bit outrageous.

MooKoo Joe said...

I actually posted some of my thoughts on 'Global Warming' a little while back.


I must say I agree with pretty much everything said within' your post.

hernadi-key said...

information for you..
Global Cooling or Global Warming ???

There is huge disagreement in the scientific community about global warming. Researchers on either side have no trouble finding data to support their chosen theory. Recent climatic events highlight the importance of not over interpreting short-term data - temperature fluctuations either up or down. The environmental alarmists who have been overstating connections between extreme weather conditions and a man-made warming trend are on the opposite side of other researchers who are sounding the warning bell about global cooling. Both sides of the issue must be careful to avoid distortion of facts to support beliefs...




LaPaube said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LaPaube said...

I want to extend your argument and take the next step. Let's assume that you are correct that there is no scientific consensus about the effects of human behavior on the recent global temperature increases, and also accept your implied argument that human behavior has little or no impact.

The major policy or behavioral implication of advocating the position that humans don't affect the global climate is that we don't need to move beyond burning fossil fuels for energy (mainly coal and oil). It's the old "smells like money to me!" argument.

But even laying aside global warming, there are other good reasons for us to forsake fossil fuels. You can read about the health effects of fossil-fuel combustion pollution in these papers: http://fhssfaculty.byu.edu/Faculty/cap3/. There's not much to argue about in these papers, because instead of statistically accounting for everything that happens to the planet you just have to observe the physiological effects on people who breathe in varying levels of pollution. Personally, I think that the negative health effects alone are enough reason to develop new energy sources.

Then there is the national security argument, which is something to the effect that since we buy oil from other countries, we're in danger. If you believe that, then you would want to go to greener energy. In fact, you've said on this blog that you want greener energy.

Beyond those arguments, we have an obligation to be stewards of this earth, to replenish it, and fossil fuels cause some of the worst pollution. It's just bad, there's no two ways around it.

So while the debate about human causation of the recent global warming might be an interesting intellectual question, for practical purposes there is no reason to argue about it. We should all want the same policy outcome, treehuggers and defense nuts and religious people and people who breathe alike, which makes me think that whether there's scientific consensus about global warming or not has no practical relevance.

Brandon said...


The major policy or behavioral implication of advocating the position that humans don't affect the global climate is that we don't need to move beyond burning fossil fuels for energy.

No, it's not. You'll notice I made no such assertion in my post, nor have I read it in any of my research.

And sure, there are scientists working for Exxon-Mobile who fight against the theory of man-made global warming, just like there are government employees whose salaries depend on the theory being real. The money argument cuts both ways.

If I understand the rest of your comments correctly, it boils down to, "Even if global warming is bunk, we should still be good stewards of the earth and develop alternative energy sources." And I agree 100%.

The problem is that a.) environmentalists cannot agree on any of the current alternatives, or b.) the alternative is impractical, or both.

For example, wind power is being criticized because it kills birds and ulgifies landscapes. Solar power just isn't efficient enough to power everything. Nuclear power gets irrationally shouted down.

So what is left? I'm all for developing new technology, and I don't see anyone stopping entrepreneurs from doing so. But at this point, counting on "efficient, clean, alternative energy" to come around sometime in the future seems a bit short-sighted to me. We have to use what works, and our current coal- and gas-powered plants are far cleaner today than they were 30 years ago.

I will continue beating my "nuclear power and the electric car" drum for the foreseeable future. Once environmentalists are on board, I'll take them seriously. For now, they're just blowing smoke.

LaPaube said...

I didn't say that you wrote that energy was the main policy implication of the debate. I say that, and I defy anybody to prove me wrong. On the Inconvenient Truth website and the companion stopglobalwarming.org, the only actions it asks people to take are actions that reduce energy use. I've never heard anybody imply any desired response to global warming besides burning less fossil fuels.

The fact that we don't have a replacement technology ready now is not a reason to give up on research and start hoping that pollution isn't really bad for the earth. It's a reason to redouble funding and focus on development so that we can come up with solutions. And yeah, obviously I know that we can't stop burning oil and coal this weekend.

Again, because we can all agree on additional reasons to become more green, the argument about whether climate change is man-made is irrelevant to practical purposes. More importantly, it distracts from the dialog that matters, which is convincing people to reduce current energy use and support initiatives to find alternatives. I'm sure you won't argue that alternatives will be developed faster if people feel an urgency to have them. So even if you don't "believe" in global warming, you should be glad of the political momentum it is building for those initiatives.

Brandon said...

The fact that we don't have a replacement technology ready now is not a reason to give up on research and start hoping that pollution isn't really bad for the earth.

Who is advocating giving up on research?

So even if you don't "believe" in global warming, you should be glad of the political momentum it is building for those initiatives.

Ah yes, the ends justify the means. Using lies, fear-mongering, and distortion to attain a good thing acceptable. Rubs me the wrong way.

And if I understand correctly, we've been improving air and water quality for decades before the global warming scare began. We don't need Al Gore lecturing us to work on that.

LaPaube said...

See, now you've lost objectivity. you went from writing a blog post that says, "Hey, who knows if global warming is man-made or not," to saying that anybody who accepts it is using "lies, fear-mongering, and distortion." Publicizing scientifically established results is not lying or fear-mongering. That's just an insult to those people. The issue goes beyond what Al Gore is doing. Judging the science of climate change based on what Al Gore says is like judging a physics theory based on what Oprah told you about it. And especially when you consider that you watched a far-left wing and a far-right wing propaganda piece about it, you didn't really venture into what anybody would call the academic debate.

Brandon said...

Claiming there is a scientific consensus about the theory is a lie. Claiming the theory is gospel truth is a lie. Claiming the oceans will rise over twenty feet if we don't stop emitting carbon is a ridiculous lie.

That's my point. Point me to a more centrist global warming theory, if you don't mind. I was unaware Gore's movie was unacceptable to real scientists. It did win an Academy award, after all.

LaPaube said...

I assume that those are statements from those films. If they aren't real claims, then there are claims like them. So, what makes them lies? I mean, you're stating one position as authoritatively as the opposition states its view. It kind of sounds like you mean that the actual lie is the statement that they *know* that this is gospel, but then you're saying that you *know* that it isn't true. So either you're all lying, or nobody is.

Anyway, my point is that you accuse people of "fear-mongering" and lying as if there's some conspiracy to deceive everybody. I have a hard time believing that. I see it as simply people who are convinced by one side's reasoning, trying to raise awareness. In my opinion, there's nothing sinister about it, and it's not a deceptive way to induce action that they want for some other reason.

To see the body of scientific work on this, you need look no farther than Google Scholar. If you're on a university computer you should be able to access most of the journals. It's going to take a lot of reading though.

Brandon said...

To return to the religious comparison... it's like the existence of God. You and I believe in God, we have faith in God, but we cannot provide solid, unequivocal proof that He exists. And if we say we can, we are lying.

Same for global warming. There are millions upon millions of data points out there dealing with global weather trends, and no one can say with 100% certainty that humans are frying the globe. To make such a claim is lying.

...it's not a deceptive way to induce action that they want for some other reason.

There are those who want to see current industries die. Granted, they are whackjob fringe members of the environmental movement, but they exist. And if they can use the threat of global warming to shut down the factories and power plants that we subsist on, they will. See Obama's comments about coal a month ago:

"Under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.

"So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them."

To destroy the coal industry because it is dirty and not renewable without having a viable alternative ready to go is insane. And again, what is the impetus for said cap-and-trade programs? Global warming.

Major policy decisions are being made on the assumption that this thing is 100%, scientifically iron-clad. And. It. Is. Not.

I will begin my research on Google Scholar today.Though to be honest if scientists can all look at the same data and reach entirely different conclusions, I don't think I'll be finding the truth about this thing any time soon.

LaPaube said...

I really want to let this go, but I have to ask you because your first two paragraphs illustrate a point that I wanted to bring up anyway. God exists. You and I know that, and someday everybody will know. So if we say that God exists, does the fact that some people disagree make it a lie? Obviously not. So I don't see how you justify calling it a lie when people say that humans are causing climate change. They could easily be right, so how can it be a lie if it's true?

So, since I feel that they are sincere in saying that, I think it's good that global warming will be the reason that some people will take political or personal action to reduce energy use and develop alternatives. The ends don't need to justify the means, because there's nothing wrong with the means.

Brandon said...

To be blunt, I'm getting a bit tired of you picking and choosing what parts of my comments you want to respond to. You ignore major parts of what I'm trying to say and it's frustrating.

To repeat: Saying "I know for a scientific fact that God exists" is a lie, even if He does exist. It's a bit nuanced, but this is a correct principle.

And if you want to believe the global warming crowd is all about merely reducing energy and developing alternative energy sources, that's fine.

We're done here.

LaPaube said...

I'm not trying to provoke you or be contrary for the fight's sake. If you're going to write posts about controversial issues and allow comments, then you should be prepared for people to ask you to clarify and justify your stand.

Brandon said...

I'm fine with defending my position; what bothers me is the cafeteria-style argument. I try to respond to every point made by the individual I'm conversing with, and when the same courtesy is not reciprocated, it's annoying. Little progress is made when one person is picking and choosing what points to respond to.

stokermw said...

LaPaube, the problem with your argument is that with the exception of global warming, the hazards of fossil fuels can be ameliorated with modern technology. We have made tremendous progress in reducing harmful emissions from fossil fuel combustion over the last 30 years. Furthermore, most of today's harmful emissions come from plants (and cars) using old and outdated technology. Ironically, the furor over global warming actually inhibits the adoption of modern technology as companies are not willing to invest in infrastructure that may have a politically uncertain future.

In my mind the primary question of global warming boils down to what should we do about coal. If global warming is not a concern, we should focus our efforts on developing clean coal technology (including coal liquefaction for transportation), since most of the technology already exists and the U.S. has enough coal to supply all of our energy needs for the next 200 years, which should give us plenty of time to develop an abundant, cheap, renewable energy source.

However, if global warming is real then we should abandon coal and focus on other energy sources, but currently we don't have the technology to make them viable in the near to intermediate future (10-20 years).