Sunday, January 10, 2010


I read an interesting article. It's about one of the climate scientists whose emails were part of the latest "gate." In the process, I learned some things. Unfortunately, I also had my worst fears reconfirmed: I made the mistake of reading the comments.

It's the perfect microcosm of where we are, politically speaking. Never mind the status of climate science, per se, or why it is that what side a person is on depends entirely on one's political leanings and, often, one's religious beliefs, rather than on any sort of data analysis and science. Just read the comments, and note the content: personal attacks, ignoring arguments, repetition, and virtually no addressing of the facts in play. It's appalling. Dispiriting. Predictive.

In my view, a reasonable discussion of climate change ought to include the addressing of several questions: does carbon dioxide cause a greenhouse effect? Can it be shown experimentally? Is there a documentable rise in CO2 levels in the atmosphere? What is the evidence that the rise is anthropogenic? Can adding literally billions of tons of the gas to the atmosphere annually be shown to be trivial? Is there demonstrable acidification of the ocean? If so, to what extent is it anthropogenic? How does it affect ocean flora and fauna, and is this good or bad? Is the temperature of the ocean rising? Why? Is there increasing release from the ocean floor of methane? If so, has it to do with temperature and/or acidification? If it is occurring, is it true or untrue that methane release is a positive feedback loop (with methane being a potent greenhouse gas which causes more warming which causes more methane release)?

More: given the evidence of previous climate changes (ice ages forming and receding), what is the evidence that the current receding of glaciers and polar ice is different? Is it at the same rate as past ages, or not? [I don't think there's a need to address the Hannitobeckian argument that cold snaps in winter disprove climate change.]

The above, best I can tell, are the central issues raised by climate scientists, the vast majority of whom seem to answer affirmatively regarding the greenhouse effects of human activity, and the unprecedented rapidity with which ice is receding, the planet warming. And yet the arguments in the public square, exactly like those in the comment thread in the referenced article, rely on personal attack, off-point distractions, ignorance and ignoring of the scientific arguments. The important stuff is entirely out of the argument.

Not unlike pretty much the entire spectrum of political intercourse in this country.


  1. As a geologist I am very comfortable with the multiple working hypothesis - I would like someone to start examining the other ideas out there. The Danes have been on the case for a long while, studying the sun. Who would have thought the sun would be involved in warming? The first paper to read is Friis-Christensen and Lassen (Science; 1991) If you can find the entire issue in the reference library, you will see the editor’s comment referred to this paper as hitting the ball into the anthropogenic court. The causation is under scientific review, however, and while the radiation from the sun varies only in the fourth decimal place, the magnetism is awesome. The correlation broke down when Pinatubo erupted in 1991; my tomatoes did not ripen that summer either. Is this the exception that proves the rule?
    The important correlation between warming and cooling is the sunspot peak frequency, not the actual number of spots. However, we all realize correlation is not causation. Sunspot peak frequency proxies for the rise and fall of the sun’s magnetic field. Cosmic radiation is currently at its highest ever measured because the sun and earth’s magnetic shields are down; climate is changing. The climate celebrities, however, are linking climate and the carbon economy. Maybe not evil; just wrong.
    The third ranking gas is CO2 (0.0383%), and it does not correlate well with global warming or cooling either; in fact, CO2 in the atmosphere trails warming which is clear natural evidence for its well-studied inverse solubility in water: CO2 dissolves rapidly in cold water and bubbles rapidly out of warm water. CO2 has been rising and Earth and her oceans have been warming. However, the correlation trails.
    Svensmark of the Danish National Space Center has experiments scheduled for the Hadron collider to test his basement experiment. Elevated solar flux (> 10 protons per cc) appears to cause fog in the Great Lakes and clouds too. The hypothesis of the Danish National Space Center goes as follows: quiet sun allows the geomagnetic shield to drop. Incoming galactic cosmic ray flux creates more low-level clouds, more snow, and more albedo effect as more is heat reflected resulting in a colder climate. An active sun has an enhanced magnetic field that induces Earth’s geomagnetic shield response. Earth has fewer low-level clouds, less rain, snow and ice, and less albedo (less heat reflected) producing a warmer climate.
    That is how the bulk of climate change likely works, coupled with (modulated by) sunspot peak frequency there are cycles of global warming and cooling like waves in the ocean. When the waves are closely spaced, all the planets warm; when the waves are spaced farther apart, as they have been for this century, all the planets cool.
    Many answers yield many new questions: the change in cloud cover is only a small percentage, and the ultimate cause of the solar magnetic cycle may be cyclicity in the Sun-Jupiter centre of gravity. We await more on that.
    Although the post 60s warming period appears to be over, warming and attendant humidity have allowed the principal green house gas, water vapour, to kick in with more clouds, rain and snow depending on where you live to provide the negative feedback that scientists use to explain the existence of complex life on Earth for 550 million years. We can likely kick much of the carbon economy sometime late the twenty-first century, but we must not rush to judgement for the wrong reason. The planet heats and cools naturally and our gasses are the thermostat. Nothing unusual is going on except for the Orwellian politics. In other words, it is not the heat; it is the humidity.

  2. There's a Danish statistician named Bjorn Lomborg who has made a bit of a business for himself trying to tackle the science (and math) at a basic level. It's an interesting read.

    Of course the comments posted on an internet forum like that are going to be depressing. Only the most polemical bother to read or post there, most of the time.

  3. OK Sid, your right, there IS global warming...
    That Ice that's missing from Greenland??? Its in my Driveway.
    In the Atlanta Suburbs...
    Its been in the teens for a solid week..There's been days when Duluth Georgia was colder than Duluth MINN-A-SODA.....
    Umm course, could just be that its friggin WINTER!!!! happens every year.
    And guess what, I'll bet in June it'll be up in the 90's...
    Can't wait till February 2d and Al Gore comes out of his hole...

    Frank, "Freezing my Ass off in Georgia" Drackman

  4. Sid,

    Great to see you back in the saddle, carrying out the Lord's work.

    However, your link is broken. Weirdly, it shows up as correct on this ("Leave your comment") page, but not in the original...

  5. anonymous: I appreciate your comprehensive comment. I've heard the argument and, no astrophysicist I, must rely on others. As you said, it's controversial" among scientists.

    Plus, as you seem to agree, I've always thought that whatever the "truth" is, what current climate science suggests we do is exactly what we need to do, given that fossil fuels will run out.

  6. Frank: In the spirit of my suggestions of what climate commentary ought to include, I nearly rejected yours. But I figured it can't hurt to remind ourselves what idiotic arguments look like. So thanks for that. (Not that it's relevant, but up here in the Pacific Northwest, before mid-January, birds are back, some shrubs are budding, and I'm gonna have to mow my frickin' lawn.)

  7. Sam: a burst of posts, no knowable reason. Meanwhile, the link works fine for me. Maybe this will do it for you. (Same link, different place.)

  8. You're worried about "the entire spectrum of political intercourse in this country"

    and yet you publish a comment like:

    "the Republicans, the RWS™, the teabaggers, all actually want to see another terrorist attack on the US."

    Well, I guess you proved your own point.


  9. jd: fair enough. Touché. All I can say is there was a time when the tone was a lot less destructive, and if it still were, I think I'd be a little more contained. I admit the comment is reprehensible; although I'm not entirely sure it's incorrect. (Of course, the same thing was said about Ds who criticized Bush's war.) Maybe I should have said "Cheney, those teabaggers who consider Obama a Nazi and "the evil one," and all of the RWS™ associated with Fox News." I stand corrected.

    I hope to hell we never find out, but my prediction stands: if there is an attack while Obama is president, the response from the right will be nothing like that from the left at the time of 9/11. Then, most everyone started from a point of togetherness. Think it'd happen again?

  10. Hey Dr. Sid,
    I've seen little discussion of the warming of other planets & moons in our solar system that correlates with the warming we have seen on earth.

    I've also seen arguments using Venus and it's 900 degree fahrenheit temperature as evidence of the greenhouse effect, but it fails to mention that Venus' atmosphere is 97% CO2, that it's atmosphere is so dense that it would crush a human, that it's devoid of water, and that it's closer to the sun.

    It's an interesting topic that should be further studied, but I feel there are too many unanswered questions to both totally deny it exists or assume it exists and hinder the development of the world's economies (and thus contribbute to the continued starvation of people).

    There should be enough impetus to develop alternate energy sources based soley on our current energy situations implications on foreign policy anyways.

    I often wonder why we have not developed any new nuclear energy plants in the US as of late. I believe France gets most of it's electricity from Nuke.

    Random Fact: Polar Bears can swim ~300 miles in the ocean. Thought that was pretty cool. I'd be shark bait in 30 minutes.


  11. PT: I'm one "liberal" in favor of nuclear power. I'm not alone.

    To me the most compelling argument that warming is happening and is anthropogenic is the rate at which it's occurring now. Changes that took place over thousands of years have happened in forty years. We've never added billions of tons of carbon of human origin to the atmosphere until very recently. I'm also persuaded by the physics of positive feedback.

    There are so many things that make me want to live for another hundred years (with the option, of course, of bailing at a time of my choosing): I want to know about global warming and its effects, I want to see what happens when the tea party wing of craziness gets its way politically. I'd like to see what happens with Iran, and whether radical Islam is finally a matter of history (with the occasional suicide bomber here and there....)


Comments back, moderated. Preference given for those who stay on topic.

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