Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Should you be a Global Warming Skeptic?

If you want to be scientific, the answer is "yes". Science relies on skeptical reception of new theories; like the Legal system, it is an adversarial arena where the strong theories survive and the weak theories are passed over.

More than anything, Science relies on data. The most elegant theory is empty, if the data contradict it. The old saying is true: The Scientist proposes and Nature disposes.

This post outlines serious problems in the data behind the theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). But before we start, let's take a short look at the climate history of the last millennium.

Has the climate changed over the last 1000 years?

Yes, and in a big way, several times. The following figure is a reconstruction of the global temperature over the last 1000 years:

The planet started warming around 800AD, and reached a maximum called the "Medieval Warm Period" (MWP) a couple centuries later. The MWP is understood to be as warm - or probably warmer - than it is today. Around 1300AD the temperature began to fall dramatically; in the space of just a couple generations all of the warming from the MWP was erased. This period is called the "Little Ice Age" (LIA), and it was absolutely catastrophic for the populations of the time. As examples, a population weakened by repeated crop failures was decimated by the Black Plague, and the Norse colony of Greenland starved to death.

The Little Ice Age continued into historical times. Not only do we have written records describing what are clearly much colder conditions, but we have thermometer readings from around 1650AD and later that confirm that temperatures have been increasing - at least up to 1940 or so. We'll come back to that later - there are disturbing questions about the thermometer record.

Reason #1 to be (scientifically) skeptical about AGW: The climate has changed several times over the last 1000 years, and things have been getting warmer for at least the last 150 years, probably longer.

If we've only had thermometers for 350 years, how do we know the temperature 1000 years ago?

Scientists use "proxies" - things that react to temperature, and which are measurable. Trees will tend to grow faster when it's warmer, and slower when it's colder, so examining the tree ring width will tell you that some years were probably warmer, and some were probably colder.

There are other proxies, notably ice cores drilled from glaciers, which also provide visible annual layers. Colder years will typically have more snow and less melting, and so the layer will be thicker; warmer years have less snow and more melting, and layers will tend to be thinner.

You have to be careful using proxy temperatures, though. People tend to forget that one of these things is not like the others:

Proxies are not thermometers. There are other things that effect tree ring width than temperature: drought, shade from older trees that are nearby, etc. There is a maximum biological limit to how much a tree can grow in any year, no matter how hot it is.

This means that joining ("splicing") historical temperature data from two or more different data sets - say, tree rings for 1000AD to 1750AD, and thermometer readings from 1750AD to the present - is tricky and error prone. Certainly the annual temperature variation will be different; other things like rate of change may very well be off as well.

Reason #2 to be (scientifically) skeptical about AGW: Any time you see a long-term climate record chart (like the one I used earlier), you should ask to yourself: "How many different data types did they use, and how accurately were the data sets spliced together?" We'll come back to this in a bit.

What About Al Gore's "Hockey Stick"? chart? It showed that warming was historically unusual, sudden, and very pronounced.

You don't hear much about the "Hockey Stick" in the press anymore, although it was all over the news back in 1999. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) relied heavily on it, and the Kyoto Accords were based on its analysis. Countries signing the treaty agreed to cut their Carbon Dioxide output levels (unsurprisingly, none have). George W. Bush took a lot of heat (so to speak) from progressives when he (like Bill Clinton before him) refused to submit the treaty to the US Senate for ratification.

The Hockey Stick appeared prominently in Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth in 2006, even though the Hockey Stick itself was the subject of a considerable scientific controversy, and was soon shown to be not just incorrect, but likely knowingly falsified. Two amateur researchers, Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick demonstrated conclusively that one of the data sets used by the stick's creator, Michael Mann, was inappropriate for showing temperature. Further, one of the data sets was labeled "Censored" (suggesting that Mann knew or should have known not to use them), and his computer model contained a bug that caused even random data input to produce a Hockey Stick shaped curve. The best introduction to this controversy is "Caspar and the Jesus Paper", although Orson Scott Card has an excellent - if pungent - introduction, too. You can find both of them here.

Reason #3 to be (scientifically) skeptical about AGW: The "Hockey Stick" is a big, big problem for people advocating for AGW, with its documented history of exaggeration. This is why you don't hear about it anymore.

OK, no Hockey Stick. What have temperatures really been doing? Is it getting warmer?

There's no doubt that it is warmer than it was in 1750. Direct temperature measurements show this, and the historical record provides supporting evidence. For example, the Continental Army dragged captured British cannons from Ft. Ticonderoga down the frozen Hudson River during the American War of Independence. Ice simply doesn't get thick enough today. Likewise, the story of Hans Brinker skating on the frozen canals of Holland suggests that it was a lot colder several hundred years ago.

But no Hockey Stick. Let's look at this, from a skeptical-but-scientific perspective. First, a Hockey Stick graph of historical temperature, from the IPCC:
Looks like a Hockey Stick, right? To analyze it scientifically, first look at the time scales - 1000 years or more. Obviously, this is not a representation of thermometer readings, so what data were used? In this case, it is a combination of tree rings and thermometers (the black line after around 1850 is the thermometer data). Remember the rule of different data sets:

How well did they splice the data together?

We don't know, but we should be (scientifically) skeptical:
I made the point that this offended my scientific training: When one gets an inflection point right at the place where two data sources are spliced, as is the case here, one should be suspicious that maybe the inflection is an artifact of mismatches in the data sources, and not representative of a natural phenomenon. And, in fact, when one removes the black line from measured temperatures and looks at only proxies, the hockey stick shape goes away:
Stop and look at that for a minute. You can clearly see the Medieval Warm Period around 1000AD, you can see the Little Ice Age bottom out around 1700AD, and you can see that we're a little less warm now than we were in the MWP.

The data here are purely tree rings, so we're comparing the same thing. The moral is that sometimes when you try to turn an apple into an orange, you get a lemon. Notice that this does not say that things are not warming - in fact, it confirms the warming trend. What it suggests is that historically this is not unusual. Neither is it sudden, or a Hockey Stick. Remember, this data is all from the IPCC's own report.

Reason #4 to be (scientifically) skeptical about AGW: The data do not show sudden warming, except at the point where you join two different types of data together.

What about Carbon Dioxide?

We now need to shift from history to Chemistry. We've heard of the "Greenhouse Effect", where sunlight passes through the atmosphere to the ground, the energy is absorbed and re-emitted as heat, and the heat is trapped by the atmosphere. In more precise scientific terms, certain gases are transparent to visible light, but obaque (blocking) to heat (infrared) radiation.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is one of a set of greenhouse gases, including methane and water vapor. One justification for the Hockey Stick that proponents of AGW theory used was that the Industrial Revolution began to produce large amounts of CO2 around 1850, which is when we saw the spike in temperature. There are a couple problems with this:

1. Correlation does not imply causation. Just because something happens at the same time as something else, doesn't mean that it's caused by it. If we see a big increase in, say, the number of lemons imported from Mexico, and simultaneously see a big reduction in the number of traffic fatalities, we shouldn't jump to the conclusion that Mexican lemons reduce traffic deaths. This seems obvious, but is really at the heart of the proposed policy mitigations like Kyoto, Cap and Trade, and Copenhagen.

2. More importantly, CO2 is a very - even surprisingly - weak greenhouse gas.
What this means is that as you put more CO2 into the atmosphere, it has less and less of a greenhouse effect. This isn't really surprising, because this sort of "exponential decay curve" is the norm in nature - things tend to rapidly achieve equilibrium because this "negative feedback" keeps things from running away out of control. Chemistry (actually spectroscopy) tells us that CO2 is not really opaque to infrared except at a very narrow frequency band, and therefore "leaks" heat back into outer space at the edges of the bands.

Reason #5 to be (scientifically) skeptical about AGW: CO2 is a surprisingly poor greenhouse gas.

So why all the talk about CO2?

Proponents of AWG know this, and have proposed a theory of "Positive feedback", where CO2's greenhouse power is multiplied, or "forced", sort of like Popeye after he opens a can of spinach. This forcing is reached after a particular CO2 concentration, and causes a "runaway greenhouse effect". There is a fatal problem with this: we simply don't ever see this in nature.

The universe is stable because of negative feedback. The best (not to mention shortest) description of this is:
Name three positive feedback systems in nature. Get back to me on that when you're done.
There is, of course, a theoretical justification for positive feedback from the AGW proponents - the details are complex, and I don't want to get into them. Instead, is there a way that we can test the theory? There is indeed. We have measurements of both temperature levels as well as CO2 concentrations for at least the 20th Century. How do they match?

Rather than lots of science and math and stuff, he looks at what the proponents of AGW say. And find a lot to be desired:
5. The claimed “proof” of positive feedback is a model prediction of a hot spot in the tropics at mid troposphere levels. However all the experimental evidence from many, many measurements has failed to find any evidence of such a hot spot. In science, a clear prediction that is falsified experimentally means the underlying hypothesis on which the prediction is based is wrong.
8. If I adopt this 10:1 ratio by looking at the last 100 years worth of data I find 1910-1940 temperatures rising while CO2 was not. 1940 to 1975 temperatures falling while CO2 rising, 1975 to 1998 temperatures rising while CO2 rising and 1998 to 2009 temperatures falling while CO2 rising. Three quarters of the period shows no correlation or negative correlation with CO2 and only one quarter shows positive correlation. I do not understand how one can claim a hypothesis proven when ¾ of the data set disagrees with it. To me it is the clearest proof that the hypothesis is wrong.
Reason #6 to be (scientifically) skeptical about AGW: While positive feedback is theoretically possible, it does not seem to be happening, based on the evidence.

I thought there was a consensus that Global Warming is occurring? The "science is settled", isn't it?

Actually, there's never been a consensus. We'll come back to this later, but the most interesting thing about this argument is that it's not a scientific argument. Science simply doesn't care about consensus, it cares about data and reproduceability of results. If your data is solid, and other people can get the same results, it simply doesn't matter if you run with the crowd or not.

And if you've read this far, you know that the science very much is not settled, and where, and why. However, it's worse: the historical thermometer records appear to have been modified in a way that introduces significant warming where the original data shows none:
The Fed.Gov says that the lower 48 states have warmed on average by 0.6° between 1940 and 1999. Of that, 0.5° is from adjustments, not from raw data. In other words, 83% of the warming is from adjustments.


A week ago, a group called the Climate Science Coalition of New Zealand made a bombshell announcement: all of New Zealand's reported 1°C warming between 1850 and 2000 was due to adjustments.
Keep your eye on this, because there are a lot of people looking at the difference between "raw" temperature data and "adjusted" temperature, all over the world. We're seeing more places - for example, Norway - that have this divergence between recorded and reported temperature, with all the recent warming due to ill-defined "adjustments". The implication is immense:
Like I said recently, almost every climate scientist uses data from one of a very small number of data sets. If the people who control the data sets can inject a warming signal, then you will indeed reach a consensus that the climate has been warming. All scientists using those data sets will find the warming signal. The science will, in a sense, be "settled".

It will be wrong, but it will be settled.
Reason #7 to be (scientifically) skeptical about AGW: The temperature readings in the major climate data sets have been modified in a way that guarantees a global warming output. Why and how has not yet been well explained.

Well, shouldn't the Deniers explain what's going on, if they don't like AGW?

Actually, no. It's not their job - scientifically speaking - to explain what's causing the warming. It's the job of the AGW proponents to provide a coherent theory that is backed by observational results. So far, they have not.

At this point we've seen that the theory of AGW does not map well to the historical record, and that the scientific justifications for CO2 forcings are highly problematic. That's the state of the science. Everything else is something other than science.

But since we've left the realm of science, and entered the realm of politics, there is a lot to see that should give anyone a healthy case of skepticism:

There is evidence that the most important climate scientists have tried to subvert the peer-review process, used to vet papers submitted for publication in scientific journals. This includes getting "friendly" reviewers assigned for papers that support their theories, and hostile reviews for papers opposing them. There are credible charges that they worked to get the editor of at least one scientific journal fired because he published papers with opposing views.

There is evidence that these same climate scientists conspired to subvert lawful Freedom Of Information Act requests for the data and computer code used to produce their results. One of these scientists has been suspended from his job as head of a climate research organization, another is being investigated by his university. Add in the overheated rhetoric by scientists saying that people who "deny" AGW should be jailed, and you have something very unscientific, and very unsavory.

A (non-) scientific reason to be skeptical about AGW: Something stinks. It's going to get worse before it gets better, as people investigate just what's been going on. As more and more rocks get turned over, we'll see what else crawls out.

Skepticism? Science demands it in general. The science of AGW in particular demands a whole heapin' helping of it. Yes, you should be an AGW skeptic, if you want to be at all scientific.

UPDATE 2 December 2009 16:29: Welcome visitors from The Gormogons. I must say that the Czar of Muscovy is - as any good Autocrat should be - a mixture of absolutely gratifying combined with absolutely terrifying.

UPDATE 18 December 2009 18:23: I've updated this post and turned it into a slideshow.


Anonymous said...


I've been following the 'global warming' hoax for years, and in the recent days following the 'hack' almost minute-by-minute.

Your presentation of the essentials is the most solid and complete I've found.

Job well done.

Borepatch said...

Anonymous, thanks. What was hardest was picking what to leave out, and just focus on the essentials.

Paladin said...

Awesome Summary that I'm gonna save for future use.

I read this recently and thought about you:

"Science must not impose any philosophy, any more than the telephone must tell us what to say." - G.K. Chesterton

TOTWTYTR said...

Made of Awesome. That's a great, easy for non scientists like me, to understand.

If my memory isn't faulty, during the Medieval Warm Period, civilization advanced dramatically. The warmer weather meant better crop production, less time and energy spent finding food and suitable shelter, and other conditions conducive to more "free" time to do things like write, paint, sculpt, invent, and build.

With the onset of the "Little Ice Age" all that stopped as people's time and efforts turned back to survival.

Stasis is bad for advancement, and things like Cap and Trade, promote stasis. Which would suit some, especially the political class, quite well thank you.

It's about control, not the environment.

BobG said...

Good summary. I've been going over some of the files, and there is some interesting stuff going on in them. The collection of them can be found here:

cbullitt said...

Nice treatment.

scotaku said...

So you're telling me I don't need all these f*cking lemons.

Excellent precis, Borepatch. And I agree that it's not up to "deniers" to explain the warming. Too often I'm hearing AGW folk say that it is. If you have a theory, you have to prove it and defend it.

And sometimes concede that it's wrong.

The Czar of Muscovy said...

We linked to this as the single best essay on the entire subject by any author.

By the way, my word verification word was "pregers." What are you implying?

Z@X said...

Ted, this is great work. If I were in college, I would want you as a prof.

Check out the following if you haven't already:

Anonymous said...

Hey, I watched some of the videos at
Climate Denial Crock of the Week and they hit on several of your arguments. For example, there was no significant medieval hot period.

Could you please address these issues?


Anonymous said...

Outstanding analysis. I'm very impressed. While not strictly scientific, there is another reason to be skeptical which you may have intentionally omitted:

Reason #8: Money. Scientists extort funds from governments and voluntary contributors by fomenting fear. How much funding would the researchers get if their hypothesis was, "The climate is not threatening."?

Tam said...

"For example, there was no significant medieval hot period."

Right. Vikings farms in Greenland were known for their ice cream trees and snow cone bushes.

Borepatch said...

Anonymous (9:30):

I'm not sure what they mean by "significant" - it seems weasle-wordish, and with the allegations that major AGW proponents may have said "we need to get rid of the medieval warm period", they don't really advance their cause that way.

A more rigorous answer would be to look at the temperature chart labeled "Historical Temperature Reconstructions". This is from the IPCC report (AR4). It's not my data, it's the AGW proponent's.

Also, the Medieval Warm Period was the accepted history until Michael Mann's Hockey Stick in the 1990's. He was the first one to "minimize" the MWP, although his algorithm and data are known to be a problem. As it turns out, Mann has a new article out last month (need to dig up the source), and the MWP is back.

Seems the Denial Crock folks are relying on outdated science.

ASM826 said...

If you look at an enlarged copy of that poster, you can see the fake barrel in that Garand.

Here's one:

Click to biggify and then look at the muzzle.

Thanks for being all over this topic, it's saved me from having to post on it.

Anonymous said...

Well done, indeed. I was discussing this with a friend of mine recently and I think I'll point he to this because it draws a better picture than I can.


Borepatch said...

ASM826, great catch. Kinda makes me a little sad to "Hollywood Bubba" a fine old rifle like that.

ASM826 said...

I know a fellow that was involved in Garands used in movies. Think "saving Private Ryan" and "Flag of Our Fathers". Anyway, he has one of the prop Garands, it's made of extruded plastic and painted to look like a rifle. In closeups, and in the scenes at Arlington when the Marines are performing close order drill, those are real Garands. He told that if you look closely in the beach scene in "Saving Private Ryan", you can see one of the prop rifles floating in the surf.

As far as modifying the rifle, if someone was going to point a Garand at me for a movie, I would want to inspect the rifle myself, and a solid rod where the barrel is supposed to be would be a huge comfort. I feel pretty sure that I wouldn't have to act scared, though.

Old NFO said...

Well done sir, well thought out and well presented!

Lord T said...

Very well put. I'm going to link to this tonight.

Anonymous said...

Excellent summary. I'm linking to it from my FB page (something that seems to annoy my green-leaning friends !).


And please have a look at my graphic:

Blackwing1 said...

You may want to mention that water vapor contributes about 95% of the greenhouse effect on Earth. That was always pointed out in an *asterisk* on all graphs, with a footnote stating, "Water vapor excluded". About a decade ago they stopped putting that note on their graphs of relative greenhouse effects, since it was "accepted as a convention by climate scientists that it was simply assumed, and no longer needed".

And I've got bridge for sale in Brooklyn.

EnlightenedSpartan said...

This is an outstanding overview of the problems with the general global warming argument.
Its obvious that much of the general acceptance of the theory comes from the media hype of the matter. This hype has made the masses confuse their "benevolent" and environmental agendas with support of the global warming theory.
Environmentalism is fine but it needs to be focused on realistic and important matters like reforestation, wildlife support, and pollution. (CO2 is NOT pollution)

Roger said...

Great Blog.

My blog supports your assertions in every way, but with an entertaining/layperson can understand slant.
I notice you mention New Zealand and our climate temp data. Check on my blog for a video of an Member of Parliament questioning the house on this.
Last Tues I spoke to this MP and our Department of Climate(NIWA) is now trying to back engineer the reasons for the adjustments.

Great work you are doing!



Aretae said...


Just discovered this post. It's one of the longest pro-skeptic posts on global-warming that I've seen, with mine being the other one.

I love your pro-skepticism (as opposed to anti-AGW) approach. I wish more folks took it.

Anonymous said...

It seems like you have forgotten that there are also other, more effective greenhouse gases than co2. You should compare the emissions of all those gases (e.g. using CD equivalent) and the temperatures in the 20th and 21st century to be more specific. Or to be even more specific, understand that the effect is not as simple since we are talking about an entire planet. Looking at the temperature range decade by decade is not scientifically interesting. In my opinion your arguments are simply too simplistic to be scientifically sufficient.

Borepatch said...

Anonymous, you are correct that my analysis is simplified, and I'm not approaching this with the goal of sufficiency.

Rather, my goal is a sniff test. If, as you correctly point out, other gases (e.g. water vapor) have much more powerful greenhouse effects, and if the computer models rely on forcing (small increases in CO2 lead to large increases in water vapor, leading to > 5 deg temperature increase), then the mechanisms seem broken.

It's all well and good to say that decade-by-decade ranges are not scientifically interesting, but 70% of the last century does not show the claimed correlation.

At some point, we're justified in saying "It seems that the scientists don't know as much as they claim, because the data is not backing their hypothesis very well."

A different way to say this is that the models poorly predict or retrodict the climate record (which is, BTW, manipulated in a way that further increases skepticism).

As I said, my arguments are admittedly not sufficient. However, it appears that the current hypothesis is equally lacking.

Erin O'Brien said...

Here is an atmospheric CO2 graph spanning 650,000 years from NASA.

As for a more personal assessment of the dangers of CO2, I'm pretty sure if I pull my Mini Cooper into my garage, close the door and start the engine, things will not end well.

Thank you for your perspective on this topic.

Borepatch said...

Erin, thanks for stopping by.

Several comments: Your Mini Cooper would not be deadly because of the Carbon DiOxide. It would be deadly because of the Carbon MonOxide. CO2 needs to have much higher concentrations to be dangerous (e.g. call for scrubbers on submarines or space ships).

It also seems strange for NASA to only go back 400,000 years - geologically this is only the blink of an eye. The CO2 levels seem to have been much higher in the past than today.

Even so, the CO2 concentrations suffer from precisely the same problems the temperature reconstructions do: there is a splicing of proxy (ice core) and measured data that occurs 120 years or so ago.

But let's assume that the "More CO2 -> Higher temperatures" hypothesis as the null hypothesis. If we test this against the 20th century's (raw) temperature data (in the GHCN), we find that 75% of the century shows no correlation between CO2 and temperature, or negative correlation. It's pretty hard to take the hypothesis seriously when the observed data over such a long period don't validate it. In fact, the data appear to falsify it.

Erin O'Brien said...

Sorry about my dio/mono mixup.

Charts and science and arguments aside, I now that there's a terrible dome of brown/gray muck that hovers over most municipal areas. We have it here in Cleveland, but I think Los Angeles is the worst I've ever seen.

It comes from our cars, but where does it all go?

The old-timers used to say "dilution is the solution for pollution." That's why you had your old-time smokestacks, but the peeps got wise to that after a while.

And even if our emissions dilute, they haven't gone away.

All the crap we pump into the air has to go somewhere. Maybe it turns into unicorn food and rains down on green Elysian fields, where pink cherubs frolic among mythical creatures.

Yeah, yeah. All I know is that I do my damndest to reduce my filthy contributions, it ain't much, but it's the best I can do.

Borepatch said...

Erin, thanks for coming back, and for engaging in rational dialog (unfortunately rare these days).

I agree 100% that pollution is a problem, and we're still cleaning up from past mistakes. You can't eat the fish from the river in myu town because of PCB contamination.

I'd argue, though, that the biggest pollution issues we see are local, not global. Good policies can help a lot here; bad policies can hurt terribly. For example, the Gasohol policy seems pretty clearly to be contributing to rainforest clearcutting in the Amazon.

Unfortunately, the major proposed policies (Kyoto, Can and Trade) seem to fall on the "Bad" side of the line. IOW, they will hurt poor people (raising energy costs, reduce employment, etc) without doing anything to clean up actual pollution issues.

The suspicion is that the environmental movement is focusing on huge, fundraising scare campaigns rather than on actual problems. There's not a lot else that explains what's going on.

bohu said...

According to the book "1421", it was possible to circumnavigate Greenland as late as the mid 1400s. So the medieval warming period must have been much hotter than today.

Jennie said...

Hi Borepatch,
are you tired of taking comments on this post? :-D

I like your skeptical slant. I appreciate your level headed approach.
I'm not sure where I stand on AGW.

At first I thought it was highly plausible. I look at what humans are doing right now to the planet. We burn down forests and plant crops in inappropriate places, using up and polluting our own resource base in the process. Erin mentioned the obvious air pollution problems over major cities. If we can do all that, it doesn't seem that far fetched to me that we're having an affect on the natural balances that control climate. But, then as you say, the data doesn't seem to correlate between CO2 and warming.

I do agree that these climate changes are cyclical, and that it's likely things were much warmer at some point(s) in the earth's past.

BUT, here's the kicker for me personally, and you even touched on some of it. Those temperature swings were devastating for human populations. Human populations that were much smaller than what we're dealing with now. Populations that HADN'T damaged their land/water/air/wild food stocks to the extent that we have today.

I think arguing over the A part of AGW misses the more salient point. IF we are in a warming trend, it's going to be devastating. I've seen some pretty convincing papers on some of the feedback loops we may be dealing with. Ice caps that melt, thus reflecting less heat back out to space, warming the oceans even faster, shutting down some current loops through the combination of temp change and salinity change. Warming temps allowing pine beetles to thrive in higher altitudes, destroying the white pines, which leads to faster snow melt in the spring and rivers that no longer run all year, which has consequences all the way down stream to the ocean. Those are just the two off the top of my head.

Arguing about the W part seems silly too, although it seems you're not arguing that part, thankfully. :-D

I think if we can slow the process, it would be in our best interest as a species, regardless of who or what is causing it. And while I agree we should be skeptical, if we wait too long to accept the data,the consequences will be catastrophic.

We need to be addressing even the chance of this happening, and making plans and putting strategies into place to deal with weirder weather and water patterns. Our current agricultural practice of large monocrops is not suitable for these climate changes. Our current population distribution is not suitable for the sea level rises we could be looking at. We're not going to have the fossil fuels to coast our way through anything as long lasting as a climate change. Strategies need to be devised and tested and implemented to keep people fed and healthy without further damaging the systems we rely on.

Is there a way, you think, to move past the sticking point of the Anthropogenic part, and deal with the GW part? Deal with it like rational people, facing a challenge, knowing we don't all agree on all the truths, but seeing enough to know we need to work together to mitigate the suffering that will happen after a few crop losses. I feel like we're already seeing some of it in Africa. And in the arable land grabs being seen from large population countries like China.

Anyway, this comment has gone long enough, thanks for letting me comment on such an old post. I don't remember how I stumbled onto your blog, but I'll probably swing back by.

Borepatch said...


Older posts are moderated, and sadly I'm a lazy blogger. Sorry if this was stuck in a moderation queue for a while.

I think you hit of two key issues in your comment: the "A" in "AGW", and local impacts to the environment (crop mono culture, destruction of lands in the developing world). Let me take them one at a time.

1. I'm willing to be convinced that the "A" in "AGW" is the decisive component of the warming signal since ~ 1860. However, we have to look at the data. The correlation with CO2 in the 20th Century is simply terrible, and needs to be much better explained. It's fine to say "it's really complicated" (I believe it is), but you need more than 30% of the data set to line up with you.

Well, for me, anyway.

2. I personally believe that local pollution and land use problems are the dominant problem most people face. If you were to moot spending a trillion dollars (and the IPCC proposed programs are 10 or 20 times that), would you spend it on a not very well justified carbon reduction program, or would you spend it on programs to reduce local pollution and land despoilation?

You could probably toss in an anti-Malaria program, and really supercharge the results.

And so I find the "precautionary principle" as currently described somewhat wanting. The reason is that the principle never gets applied to the proposers: if there's even a slight chance that you could make a much bigger impact funding different mitigation proposals, doesn't the Precautionary Principle say you're obligated to do so?

And no, I'm not being snarky. This is the lives of millions we're talking about.

Jennie said...

"If you were to moot spending a trillion dollars, would you spend it on a not very well justified carbon reduction program, or would you spend it on programs to reduce local pollution and land despoilation?"

Oh, absolutely. I am always heartened to see any action towards dealing with this problem, but local solutions using some of that cash would definitely go farther and be better spent.

I advocate that people spend much more of their time and energy fighting the local battles. Sadly, more seem interested in national politics than in real change at a local level. With the national argument seeming to consist mostly of toddlers yelling "drill baby drill" against other toddlers yelling "tax carbon" that's not even an argument, and neither makes sense.

Anyway, thanks again for letting me comment, no apology needed for the lazy moderating, I'm just as guilty. :-D

Ed Darrell said...

Now that we know most of your complaints about data are inconsequential at best, and wrong in several cases, isn't it time to revise your views?

You also failed to discuss the most important data we've been using for 60 years -- the changes in plant zones, the migratory changes of birds, insects and mammals, and the physical changes of the planet itself connected to warming.

Warming is not the question. The question is, what is the cause of the unnatural warming?

Which would you rather spend a billion dollars on: Graves for those who drowned in the storm surge, rebuilding the houses of the survivors, or preparing those same people in those same places to survive the storm?

Prevention is almost always cheaper than mitigation, especially if we prevent deaths.

Air pollution control shouldn't be an issue. You're arguing for polluting the air. That is, at base, wrong.

Borepatch said...

Ed, I've put up a number of arguments, each backed up to sources that support it. You've basically made a bunch of generalized assertions.

Which of my arguments are inconsequential? Why? What backs up your arguments? This is the sort of thing that drives intelligent discussion in general, and the scientific method in particular.

As to the supposed deaths from global warming, the part of the IPCC report that's being walked back the fastest and the furthest is the bit about storm deaths and damage. Roger Pielke, Jr.s blog is all over this issue, and it seems that even the IPCC no longer is trying to make the case for increased storm damage and death due to global warming.

As to "pollution" including carbon dioxide, feel free to come back and elaborate on this particular topic, but not until you stop breathing. Come on, seriously - some of us are trying to breathe here. Your CO2 exhalations are polluting out air.

Of course, if you weren't talking about CO2, please let us know what you meant. All the discussion is on CO2, so something other than this would be novel, to say the least.

Borepatch said...

More seriously, Ed, you are in essence restating Bjorn Lomborg's position: that if the climate is changing, we're better off adapting to the change.

I actually have some sympathy for this position. The advantage here is that it's irrelevant whether the change is man made or simply part of a long term natural trend.

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Squirrel said...