Sunday, January 20, 2008

Global Warming

In this inaugural post, I would like to discuss the issue of what is generally termed Anthropogenic Global Warming. This term is used because the Earth for all of its history has been warming and cooling. The Sahara Desert used to be green. Minnesota used to be covered by a giant glacier, which is why it is so flat and has so many lakes. These facts are well known, and disputed by no one.

Therefore the term Anthropogenic must be used. "
Anthropo" means "related to humans", and "genic" of course is related to "genesis", meaning "to come from". The question is: are human beings, through the consumption of carbon based fuel sources like oil products and coal, creating an increase in the so-called "Greenhouse Effect"?

This Greenhouse effect is so called because solar radiation, passing through the windows of a Greenhouse, warms the air inside. Since the air has nowhere to which to
reradiate that absorbed heat, it warms up. This is why your car is so hot on sunny days, and why cracking the windows helps. Cracking the windows enables the air to expand, mix with cooler air, and thus lower the overall temperature. This analogy, while not exact, is intended to convey the idea of heat collecting without dissipating.

With respect to the Earth's atmosphere, there are numerous Greenhouse Gases (you will often see
GHG's as a shorthand), including Carbon Dioxide, Nitrous Dioxide, Methane, and most importantly Water Vapor. In effect each of these acts as one-way filters. Sunlight passes through the atmosphere, and reaches the Earth, where it warms plants, soils, and oceans. Since light is energy, that energy is absorbed by the Earth, and some of it is converted to heat, which in effect changes the frequency profile of that radiation. This new frequency, generally in the infrared portion of the spectrum, is blocked by the identified GHG's.

Depending on the source you look at, somewhere between 60% on the low side, and 95% on the high side of the Greenhouse Effect results from water vapor. This effect will vary depending on the clarity of the day. Clouds block the sun, and so block the sunlight from getting in. Where there are no cloud, though, water is by far, hands down, by all accounts the single most important
GHG.

Carbon Dioxide represents on average about .03% of the atmosphere, as near as we can determine. It is essential for plant photosynthesis, and it is abundantly clear that even apart from its beneficial effect with respect to the Greenhouse Effect that life would be impossible without it.

As far as a frame of reference, it is the source of carbonation in soda drinks, the reason Pop Rocks fizzle, and the reason bread dough rises. It is what you exhale when you breathe out, and the actual reason that you breathe. Our brains, you see, respond not to decreases in oxygen, but to increases in CO2 in our blood stream.

Carbon Dioxide is, in other words, not only not pollution, but exceedingly beneficial.

You have, however, likely heard differently, or at least heard this framed differently, so let us now dig directly into this debate.

In 1988, James Hanson--who is on the government payroll at
NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Sciences--testified to Congress that the Earth was warming, and that in his view the collective carbon dioxide emissions of industrialized nations were largely to blame. This basic claim has been expanded and amplified in the intervening 20 years or so, and today represents a principle reason for the large scale concern bordering often on hysteria.

Self evidently, Summer and winter represent in almost all climates variations in temperature that are not catastrophic in any sense. The difference between New York City in the summer, on average, and the New York in the middle of winter, on average, might be 60 degrees. This is roughly the temperature difference between having an atmosphere, and having no atmosphere.

Moreover, as you drive south from New York, the temperature gets steadily warmer, and this is true at all times of the year. If temperature per
se were the only determinant of well being, then the Caribbean ought to horrific. In fact, it would be paradisical if most islands were not overpopulated (another issue entirely).

The case can in fact be made that for much of the world, longer growing seasons would actually make life better, and shorter winters life less unpleasant.

So why, first of all, the concern about warming?

The one thing we hear over and over is that the seas will rise. In the era of the dinosaurs, the seas were roughly 300 feet higher. What changed was that for unknown reasons much of the water in the oceans was frozen into glaciers at the North and South poles.

Let us take that as a worst case scenario, one which no one predicts. You know what happens? The poles become habitable, and ocean reefs will be able to grow farther north. Plants of all sorts and varieties thrive, and areas which were previously uninhabitable become bread baskets.

Many islands and coastal nations do indeed disappear, unless Dutch-style dikes are built, but the outcome--while highly disruptive--is one which takes place over many dozens of years, and allows for
accomodation.

It would be, in short, hardly the end of the world as we know it. All of our social institutions would survive, and it's far from clear the net effect would not be beneficial.

In none of these scenarios does the Earth become uninhabitable, and frankly in none of even the most overblown, flamboyantly dramatic scenarios do we even return to the state I mentioned, which as I said the Earth has been in before, and in which life thrived.

If our concern is with the poor of the world, then why is so little said about the role of energy in the building of the industries that enable developing countries to develop? It's unclear the Earth will warm, but it's abundantly, categorically clear that power plants in hungry nations do a great deal of good, and that such plants would be strongly frowned upon if the
UN's IPCC ruled the world.

Still, in all honesty it must be said that studies have been done showing an enormous economic cost to the projected effects of global warming (one study showing a 20% shrinking of the global economy)--not to mention the large scale displacements of people--so it does matter whether the science is valid or not. To that we will now turn.

The Science
I would like to address this basic issue in two ways: first, by a review of relevant facts, and secondly by a more philosophical review of the underpinning thinking.

Anthropogenic Global Warming is a hypothesis. The way this works is you generate an idea, which in this case can be summarized as follows: "the consumption of carbon based fuels for modern industrial economies works to increase atmospheric CO2 levels, which ought in turn to lead to increasing global temperatures, in ways unlikely to be self corrected other natural processes."

What two data points would be most relevant to this hypothesis? Obviously, historical CO2 levels, and historical temperature levels. What we would expect to see would be CO2 levels steadily increasing since the dawn of the industrial age--when large scale coal burning become common--up to now. We would expect to see temperatures increasing in a similarly linear fashion.

Obviously, the
IPCC, in claiming a clear human influence, believes it has such evidence. The single piece which caused a simmering concern to burst into wholesale panic was a proxy study done by Michael Mann and colleagues at the University of Virginia. If you have heard that the 90's was the hottest decade on record, and that 1998 was the hottest year, then you are familiar with Mann's work. He has a website, if you want to review it.

His goal was to place 20
th Century temperatures in context as best he could, and of course the only way to look back into the past is by proxy data. Data carried by non-human substitutes for thermometers.

He chose tree rings as a principle source, particularly for the periods more than 300 years or so ago. Trees grow more when it is warm, and less when it is cold. The rings are larger when the trees grow more, and smaller when they grow less. We can look at a given species, and compare the actual rings to actually measured temperature records for the last 100 years or so, and extrapolate from there about what the temperature might have been. If, for example, a tree grew X amount in 1945, at an average temperature of Y, then a similar amount of growth in 1545 ought to indicate a similar temperature.

If that sounds dubiously approximate, it is. For example, you might see as much growth with a long mild summer, and long mild winter, as you would see in a short hot summer and long cold winter. It's impossible to know for sure. For this reason, statistical corrections are used.

Although not a statistician himself, and in my understanding not employing any on his staff of
Paleoclimatologists (specialists in past climatic periods), he developed his own algorithmic corrective process, which when developed (you run it through, and something pops out like a picture) showed a graph which has become famous, in which the temperature for roughly the last 1,000 years is roughly steady, then at the latter half of the 20th Century rises rapidly. It looks like a Hockey Stick, and has thus come to be called that.

If you look at this graph, it is difficult not to become alarmed. It seems so obviously to show a major aberration in temperature that it is difficult to explain in any other way than that offered by the
AGW proponents. And as Mann himself often points out, he was not the only one to conduct such an analysis. However, in my understanding, all subsequent such analyses were conducted in similar manners, with similar bases of data. That they yielded similar conclusions is unsurprising.

The devil, as they say, is in the details. There are in fact two principle bases of criticism with respect to his work, and the work which followed.

First is methodological. When Mann's work was subjected to rigorous analysis by two Canadians, Ross
McKitrick and Steven McIntyre, they found that the conclusion reached by Mann--the "Hockey Stick" effect--could be erased entirely by eliminating one series of proxy analyses that appeared to have been in effect cherry picked to yield the hockey stick result. The data mining looked for aberrant samples, and then weighted them disproportionately. In my understanding, every professional statistician who has looked at this issue has--regardless of their thoughts on the AGW issue--found flaws. The issue is summarized here.

What you need to know is that if data is discarded which seems to have been mined solely to skew the results, no large scale aberrations in either direction (warming or cooling) remain, and this result has been found consistently by multiple researchers.

As importantly, it was a commonplace prior to the ascendancy of both the
AGW hypothesis--and those supporting it--that there has been substantial temperature variations within the last 1,000 years in Europe. This in fact was the consensus when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change first convened in 1990, and was reiterated in 1995. What changed that consensus was Mann's paper.

Perhaps most importantly, it was well attested that Greenland was in fact warm enough to grow crops on during what was called the Medieval Warming Period. It had far less icCheck Spellinge on it, in other words, making the current apparent melting a return to a condition it has been in before, and our current temperatures unexceptional.

This is key: the contextualization of current temperatures. Is this the exceptional period we are being told it is, or has it happened before? According to many, it has been warmer in the last 1,000 years, meaning that CO2 cannot have been the cause of those temperatures. You can look at good reviews of this issue here and here.

The bottom line is that all reconstructions of the past 1,000, much less 10,000 years are subject to large experimental bias, in the sense that we really don't know how accurate our readings are, and they in any event quite frequently seem to show no exceptional patterns.

The smoking gun that the Hockey Stick appeared to show, in others words, is a dud, at least currently.

But what about what we might term "thermometer time", the period since widespread measurements could be made with thermometers?

What we have in this regard is more data, but data that is of uncertain reliability. In general, the practice for those taking regular temperatures was to write down daily the high and the low. Would-be temperature historians average the two, and hope thereby to generate a useful average.
However, how many readings do you think we have from the mid-Pacific from 1742? How about from Himalayan mountaintops in 1875? Brazilian jungles in 1902? Some, possibly, but hardly many, and even the two-a-day method is suspect.

In fact, a man who has sat on the Expert Review Panel of the IPCC virtually since its inception, has written a letter to a colleague supporting his call for the abolition of the IPCC, and cites in particular the cavalier nature of the IPCC's treatment of temperature data:

"To start with the "global warming" claim. It is based on a graph showing that "mean annual global temperature" has been increasing.

This claim fails from two fundamental facts

1. No average temperature of any part of the earth's surface, over any period, has ever been made. How can you derive a "global average" when you do not even have a single "local" average?

What they actually use is the procedure used from 1850, which is to make one measurement a day at the weather station from a maximum/minimum thermometer. The mean of these two is taken to be the average. No statistician could agree that a plausible average can be obtained this way. The potential bias is more than the claimed "global warming.

2. The sample is grossly unrepresentative of the earth's surface, mostly near to towns. No statistician could accept an "average" based on such a poor sample.

It cannot possibly be "corrected" It is of interest that frantic efforts to "correct" for these uncorrectable errors have produced mean temperature records for the USA and China which show no overall "warming" at all. If they were able to "correct" the rest, the same result is likely."

Thus a man intimately familiar with the basis of the discussion is making what appear to me to be common sense points. The Earth is large, our measurements are few, and likely only reasonably accurate since the dawn in the last couple decades of accurate satellite data.

Moreover, what is not generally known is that the existing scenarios actually predict warming that is 2-3 times what is predicted at the surface.

If you read this report
--written as he says by a contributor to the IPCC's 2007 Report, and an eminent scientist in his own right--you will find that the math used by the IPCC to calculate heat radiance and its effect on atmospheric temperatures predicts very large temperature increases in the upper atmosphere, which ought, if their math is correct, to be very substantial, and much larger than any increases on the surface.

But they are not.

I will quote him at length:


"At the very heart of the IPCC's calculations lurks an error more serious than any of these. The IPCC says: "The CO2 radiative forcing increased by 20 percent during the last 10 years (1995-2005)." Radiative forcing quantifies increases in radiant energy in the atmosphere, and hence in temperature. The atmospheric concentration of CO2 in 1995 was 360 parts per million. In 2005 it was just 5percent higher, at 378 ppm. But each additional molecule of CO2 in the air causes a smaller radiant-energy increase than its predecessor. So the true increase in radiative forcing was 1 percent, not 20 percent. The IPCC has exaggerated the CO2 effect 20-fold.

Why so large and crucial an exaggeration? Answer: the IPCC has repealed the fundamental physicalthe Stefan-Boltzmann equation - that converts radiant energy to temperature. Without this equation, no meaningful calculation of the effect of radiance on temperature can be done. Yet the 1,600 pages of the IPCC's 2007 report do not mention it once.

The IPCC knows of the equation, of course. But it is inconvenient. It imposes a strict (and very low) limit on how much greenhouse gases can increase temperature. At the Earth's surface, you can add as much greenhouse gas as you like (the "surface forcing"), and the temperature will scarcely respond.

That is why all of the IPCC's computer models predict that 10km above Bali, in the tropical upper troposphere, temperature should be rising two or three times as fast as it does at the surface. Without that tropical upper-troposphere "hot-spot", the Stefan-Boltzmann law ensures that surface temperature cannot change much.

For half a century we have been measuring the temperature in the upper atmosphere - and it has been changing no faster than at the surface. The IPCC knows this, too. So it merely declares that its computer predictions are right and the real-world measurements are wrong. Next time you hear some scientifically-illiterate bureaucrat say, "The science is settled", remember this vital failure of real-world observations to confirm the IPCC's computer predictions. The IPCC's entire case is built on a guess that the absent hot-spot might exist. "

Bottom line: what they predict, isn't happening. And as he points out, the tone of the IPCC's report from 2007 was markedly scaled down relative to 2001, even though to all non-detail level appearances it was scaled up. He even rebuts Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" in detail.

Noteworthy there is that a British judge mandated that British schoolchildren be told of 9 scientific errors before they could be shown the film, lest laws against the "political indoctrination" of school children be violated.

Temperatures, in short, do not appear to be rising significantly, and in any event we can, with reasonable confidence, believe that it has been warmer in the recent past, and that warming now is natural and nothing to be concerned about.

What, then, about CO2 levels? Has the predicted rise happened?

First off, there are enormous methodological problems with CO2 measurements. Look at a picture of the Earth. Do you see clouds? Do you think it likely that CO2, like water, interacts with the atmosphere in fluid ways? For obscure reasons, the IPCC, in my understanding, treats CO2 as "well mixed" for their analytical purposes, meaning that a CO2 measurement at noon at the North Pole is theoretically as good as one taken at midnight at the equator. Yet humidity goes up and down, doesn't it? Why is CO2 any different?

It is well known that the solubility of gases in liquids is a function of temperature. Our oceans cycle relentlessly from North to South in what is referred to as thermohaline circulation
. The thermo of course refers to temperature, and haline to salinity.

Aeronautical Engineer Jeff Glassman has developed, based on his own research, a detailed model
showing how CO2 is taken up by cold waters, and released by warm waters. The oceans cannot differentiate between manmade CO2 and natural CO2, and the relative proportions of manmade to natural (estimated at roughly 1 part manmade to 15 natural) CO2 make our own contributions minescule compared to the effectively limitless potential of the oceans to absorb CO2.

He makes the further important point that what the Vostok ice cores
show is that CO2 levels rise AFTER temperatures. As mentioned, temperatures have gone up and down continuously as long as life has existed on this planet. What the Vostok samples were initially supposed to have said was that increases in CO2 led to increases in temperature, which is the basic AGW hypothesis. However, later it was determined that CO2 levels lagged temperatures.

AGW supporters then argued that CO2 levels amplified existing warming, and that the same will happen in our era if our current production of CO2 is unchecked.

However, if it were true both that warming causes the release of CO2, AND that CO2 amplifies that warming, why has our climate never run away? Why have we not returned to the era of the dinosaurs, or something even warming? As far as that goes, why do we keep having Ice Ages, which are much, much, much more common than warming episodes?

This basic notion is called feedback, and use of this idea is why we keep hearing that we only have a few years before it's too late. Supposedly there is a tipping point, beyond which the climate will run out of control. Yet, the basics for such a tipping point are right there in the sedimentary record, and it didn't happen. We know it is possible, since CO2 levels in the pLE

This is because in the real world there are both positive and negative feedback loops. CO2 levels have always gone up and come down as the ocean temperatures-and corresponding capacity for CO2 absorption--have changed.

Yet what about this claim we hear constantly that CO2 levels are the highest in 420,000 years? First off, the 420,000 years number comes from the estimated age of the Vostok record. Essentially they are comparing data from a single source, to that which can be obtained today. In turn, the bulk of the data in use today comes from a 50 year study done in Hawaii by Charles Keelling.

Any extrapolations made from this data rest on two assumptions: first, that CO2 "clouds" do not exist, and that CO2 somehow behaves different from other gases; and secondly that the Vostok data is sufficiently complete that it can be used as a basis for generalized conclusions.

With respect to the first assumption, simple chemistry tells us that CO2 has a solubility curve, as well described by Jeff Glassman. Simply put, cold water holds more CO2 than warm water. Hawaii is in the middle of a lot of relatively warm water, and it is therefore quite conceivable that the readings taken there are not typical of the entirety of the atmosphere, and are in fact unduly high.

Dr. Vincent Gray--remember, one of the original members of the IPCC Expert Review Panel-- has in fact alleged that much of the CO2 data has been fudged:

"The other flagship set of data promoted by the IPCC are the figures showing the increase in atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide. They have manipulated the data in such a way to persuade us (including most scientists) that this concentration is constant throughout the atmosphere. In order to do this, they refrain from publishing any results which they do not like, and they have suppressed no less than 90,000 measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide made in the last 150 years. Some of these were made by Nobel Prizewinners and all were published in the best scientific journals. Ernst Beck has published on the net all the actual papers."

In short, we began with a paucity of data--CO2 being yet harder to measure than temperature--and even that data set has been unjustifiably reduced so as to, apparently, engineer uniform data.

With respect to the second assumption, that Vostok is a fair representation of historical CO2 levels, Jeff Glassman makes a very valid point
:

"Check the Vostok data. The CO2 samples number 283, covering 414,085 years. The average spacing is 1463 years. The chances of sampling an epoch like the present 50 year record, if it existed, is about 50/1463 or 3.4%.

That translates into a 3.4% confidence level for the statement that the present CO2 trend was unprecedented in the last 420 Kyears. That confidence level does not begin to rise to an acceptable standard for a scientific conclusion. . .The CO2 growth rate at Mauna Loa is unprecedented because no comparable measurements exist."

Thus we see that the projections of the hypothesis are at best weakly confirmed, and at worst (for them) falsified outright. There are methodological problems, empirical problems, problems of sloppy math, and most of all a lack of the sort of concrete predictions that would enable them to overcome their otherwise lackluster performance.

The bottom line is that the alleged phenomena of large scale, rapid warming and greatly increased atmospheric CO2 levels do not appear to have come true. In point of fact, even if the earth were warming, there are multiple plausible hypotheses for it, but for now we do not even need to proceed to an explanation of something it is not clear even exists.

It is now time for a more philosophical treatment, which will be shorter.

What is science?
It is in the nature of religions to assert truths, and force compliance with them. Witches in the Middle Ages were burned because they were considered to be agents of the Devil. Quite often, the evidence marshalled against them consisted in little more than the accusation itself.

Today, on the internet, "evidence" seems quite often to consist in little more than name-calling. Several of the people to whom I have linked have been publicly lambasted, and in at least one case found cause to file several lawsuits, for nothing more than stating the facts as they saw them.

Science is supposed to be an antidote to that. When witches were accused of being in league with the Devil, did it make any difference to the truth how many people believed these charges? Did it matter how many Cardinals sided with their Church in condemning Galileo, or how many Biology Professors sided with Hitler?

Science is not a popularity contest. It doesn't matter how many people believe something, one trenchant and indisputable fact can overturn the whole intellectual system in favor of something radically new, and in general that something is quite small.

What scientists MUST do to warrant the name is make predictions, and reassess their opinions if what they predict does not happen.

The last 7 years have not shown increased warming. In particular, the projected 2-3 fold increase in the upper atmosphere is entirely absent. CO2 measurements are entirely suspect, and all that remains are computer models. In point of fact, 2007 showed an unpredicted and unexplained global COOLING.

Yet "the map is not the territory". Models are not reality, and their only conceivable claim to validity is repeatedly accurate predictions. If someone can find me a list of predictions made by AGW enthusiasts that have come true, I will link it HERE. I have seen none, and I don't believe one exists.

We were told a few years ago about an increased risk of hurricanes, after Katrina. This did not happen. In fact, the season was milder than normal.

We need to be clear: there is nothing whatever wrong with decreasing carbon emissions. If it accomplishes nothing else, it should decrease somewhat the importance of the Middle East, at least to the US (the Chinese and Indians will likely take up any slack we leave). There is nothing wrong with conservation, and with taking better care of the environment.

However, these common sense and unobjectionable types of projects should never be confused with the apparent desire of the UN to use the AGW hypothesis to foster a transnational government with a socialist agenda.

Here is Brian Eno on Global Warming:
"Things change for the better either because something went wrong or because something went right. Recently we've seen an example of the former, and this failures fill me with optimism.

The acceptance of the reality of global warming has, in the words of Sir Nicholas Stern in his report on climate change to the British government, shown us 'the greatest and widest ranging market failure ever seen'.

The currency of conservatism for the last century has been that markets are smarter than governments: and this creed has reinforced the conservative resistance to anything resembling binding international agreements. The suggestion that global warming represents a failure of the market is therefore important. Technical solutions will hopefully be found, but the process will need to be primed and stoked and enforced by legislation that would be regarded as big government socialism in the present climate. The future may be a bit more like Sweden and a bit less like America."

Or take a look at this piece:

"For decades, environmentalism has been the Left's best excuse for increasing government control over our actions in ways both large and small.

It's for Mother Earth! It's for the children! It's for the whales! But until now, the doomsday-scenario environmental scares they've trumped up haven't been large enough to give the sinister prize they want most of all: total control of American politics, economic activity, and even individual behavior.

With global warming, however, greenhouse gasbags can argue that auto emissions in Ohio threaten people in Paris, and that only global government can tackle such problems. National sovereignty? Democracy? Forget it: global warming has now brought the Left closer to global government, statism, and the eradication of individual rights than it has ever been before."

Summary

I could be wrong. My understanding of the facts might be erroneous. If anyone sees any flagrant errors, please let me know. However, it seems to me that a lot of very intelligent people whose funding is no more suspect than that of UN employees (remember the "Oil for Food" scandal?) believe, increasingly, that this issue can more accurately be characterized as an indirect attack on the Capitalistic system than a sincere effort to provide an unbiased voice to the entirety of the evidence.

Here is a list, which I intend to be expanding, of people who are scientifically qualified to evaluate the evidence, and who have come down against the IPCC's supposed "consensus", and in favor of explanations that are not catastrophic, and which do NOT require large scale government regulation of free enterprise.

I will add a response in advance, as well, to those whose education was insufficient to teach them that ad hominem attacks are the lowest possible form of argumentation, and do not even rise to a level sufficient to be called debate.

To take the most obvious example, does the explanation "of course they think like that, they are "right wing", carry any more weight than "of course they think like that, they are "left wing"?
Is any meaning conveyed other than that people think the way they think because they think the way they think?

I don't think so, and I think this is a pretty moderate, intelligent position.

I don't believe that labelling an argument constitutes a counter-argument. In fact, in general it constitutes an evasion which I generally take to be a de facto admission of intellectual bankrupcy.

Read the links, and if you choose to comment, comment in detail with respect to specific claims they have made. Their qualifications are irrelevant: if they make factual claims, show me where those claims are falsified.

Thanks for your time!!!