Too Cool for School
As someone who posts to websites often, has a blog, and freely gives out his (public) email address, I get a LOT of unsolicited email. And a lot of it is stunning. For some reason, my frequent posting to places like Green Housing leads to a lot of stuff like the “Overpopulation Time Bomb!!!!” email I mentioned previously. One that I got recently was “Pressure your congressperson to adopt to Kyoto Accords on global warming”, etc., etc.
Now, I will admit; I’ve never, ever been worried about global warming. Ever. Not once. Waterworld, The Day After, Split Second (never heard of that one, have ya’?), none of them struck me as more plausible than When Worlds Collide. Some of this may be a book I read in high school about the ‘little ice age’ when world wide temperatures plummeted for the 200 or so years before 1450 and things stayed cold until about 1850. Crop cycles were disrupted, health declined, etc., etc. In a rather, well, chilling passage, a French priest wrote of a winter so cold that most of the birds died and hundreds of oaks burst asunder.
Now, since it took about 200 years to cool down, the author figured it would take a bit more than 100 years to warm back up. Especially since the climate in southern England (where we have a lot of archaeological climate data) still isn’t quite where it was in the early 1100’s. The book I read (trying to ID it at Amazon) predicted that the return to pre-little ice age temps would conclude about 2050-2100.
In other words, climatologists have had reason to suspect we are within a normal climatic warming trend for about 25 years. Add in the fact that further research revealed the Medieval Warm Period – before the Little Ice Age, the climate was warmer than the current average for a period of about, oh, 400 years from the 9th to the 13th century. In other words, climactic archaeology shows that the world was warmer than it currently is for about 400 years, rapidly cooled (well, ‘rapidly’ in global weather terms), was cooler than currently for about 400 years, and then began to rapidly warmed up. And we are probably in a ‘warming up’ phase right now.
Huh. Now, I wrote a paper on this in high school in 1984 after reading some trash novel about the coming ice age and how New York would be frozen in. [BTW, thanks, Aunt Marilyn, for all those pulp, trash science fiction, and damn-near-softcore-porn novels you always had lying around when I was a kid. I wouldn’t have the deep appreciation for real literature I have today without your help]. At that time these weather researchers expected global temperatures to rise (rapidly from the viewpoint of history, slowly from the viewpoint of a human life) over the next, oh, 50-100 years, stabilize for a while, then go back down the same way.
Flash forward about 10 years and people are worried about global warming. I shook my head at this and moved on. But this email (remember that?) got me to thinking; was I being complacent? Is human activity combining with natural processes to really muck things up? Was I being prideful?
Well, deciding that I was probably guilty on the ‘prideful’ thing, I did some research. Fascinating stuff, research. Especially when you are researching global warming, a topic so political that I’m amazed at the stay-at-home attitudes of both sides of the abortion debate in comparison. A lot of the research on global warming is pure, unadulterated, rank junk science propping up a political/social agenda. And many of the people that lend their name to the issue obviously know little, if anything, about it (I’m looking at you, Dave Matthews).
Is everyone ready for the inevitable “He’s going to bore me to DEATH” with numbers? You know, I am!
To begin, the fact that global mean temperatures are increasing is, indeed, a fact. What is in question is; A) is it increasing because of human action? B) is it increasing rapidly? And C) are we now in a warmer phase than has ever existed before in human history, so that civilization itself will collapse if we don’t do something drastic, and pronto? For brevity’s sake (rare for me, I know) I will refer to the belief that global warming is man-made and very, very dangerous as “global warming”.
Let’s start with the ‘smoking gun’ or the global warming advocates, a data analysis by Mann, Bradley, and Hughes in 1998 (hereafter ‘Mann’s report’ or somesuch). This analysis of data from 1400 AD to 1995 or so ‘proves’ that global warming is man-made and precipitous and that the Earth is warmer now than it ever was before in human existence. The ‘big deal’ of this paper was a sharp increase in global mean temperature over the last hundred years or so. Called the ‘hockey stick’ because of the sharp curve in temperatures, this increase (roughly equivalent to the Industrial Revolution and cars and stuff) demonstrated directly that human action is cooking the planet.
This report is the cornerstone of the arguments of those who advocate drastic action to curtail global warming. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) issued all sorts of recommendations based upon this report, including a lot of the third Kyoto Accords. This clear demonstration of anthropogenic (i.e., ‘man-made’) global warming was the last nail in the coffin of nay-sayers that ‘deny’ global warming.
In 2003 McKitrick and McIntyre, two Canadians, published a paper in a peer-reviewed journal where they claimed to demonstrate that Man, et. al. got their data analysis wrong. McIntyre and McKitrick show in their paper that the Mann data was manipulated, that extrapolations were really, really forced, and some of the data points were used ‘inappropriately’. Their own analysis of the exact same data showed that the 15th Century was warmer than the 20th and that there was no ‘hockey stick’ at all, let alone in conjunction with industrialization. Combined with the fact that the Mann paper had conflicted with many previous studies that showed that the 20th Century is not the warmest in the last 1000 years this seemed to blow global warming’s ‘best offense’ out of the water.
That’s when things got interesting. Three other papers after Mann had also shown the 20th Century as warmer than the 15th. Mann and his co-authors then replied that the two Macs had not used the original data, but a different set. And a number of ad hominem attacks were launched against the two Macs; that they ‘aren’t scientists’ (McKitrick is an economist – he certainly knows statistics, and McIntyre is a statistician for a number of mining companies); that ‘they “analyzed” the data on an Excel spreadsheet, not a scientific program’ (not true, they provided the software); and that ‘they don’t understand how to manipulate data’ (they used the exact same procedures that Mann did).
A number of environmentalists used columns and blogs to attack the credibility of everything McKitrick had ever written on global warming and said it was all flawed. Others rebutted these articles, also mainly on blogs and columns. Some tried to discredit the journal the two Macs had published in, neglecting that many other ‘respected scientists’ publish there. A real mess, actually. The two Macs replied to Mann’s rebuttal, stating that they used his new, ‘correct’, data and got the same ‘no-hockey-stick’ results and countered that he had not yet explained some of the more ‘inventive’ uses of data in the Mann paper. The journal Nature limited the two Mac’s rebuttal to 500 words, then rejected it because the information was too technical to be conveyed in 500 words. The rebuttal is available online, but dismissed by global warming advocates as ‘rejected by a peer reviewed journal’.
Mann did, however, respond to the full rebuttal with more reasons why the extrapolated data should be manipulated a certain way. The two Macs responded by generating random numbers, manipulating it as Mann did in the second response – and got the ‘hockey stick’ chart from trendless data (in other words, no matter what numbers you used, Mann would get his hockey stick). Mann replied that only he had the data that made the process ‘unbiased’ and refused to provide it. The two Macs complained to Nature under that journal’s rules that all data pertaining to a aper be freely available. Finally, after Mann never provided it, Nature issued a statement that the Mann paper had important errors that affected the integrity of the work, or the reputation of the authors, or the reputation of the journal. In other words, the Mann paper was ‘unpublished’ by a peer-reviewed journal. Mann wrote a correction where admitted that much of the material he said he used weren’t while some unmentioned data sets were – and concluded by saying that didn’t affect the results. Nature let that be that, and effectively said that this statement by Mann that his results were good even if the data and data manipulation weren’t, ‘republished’ the Mann paper.
Confused yet? This is only the controversy over ONE paper. An extremely important, influential paper – but only one. So now some people write the Mann paper off completely, and some still use it as the core of climate science relating to global warming. Some see Mann as a liar, others see the two Macs as incompetent rubes opposed to ‘real science’.
Now many scientists and ideologues that believe in global warming argue that the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age only happened in Europe, while others support the contention that it was global. See, if it was limited, then on the Mann paper and those like it are correct. If it was global, Mann and supporting papers must be false because Mann shows a global warming trend during the Little Ice Age as well as showing global temperatures as too cool if the Medieval Warming Period was global.
In other words, if Mann is correct all previous climate research is wrong, the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age only affected western Europe and North America, and global warming is a fact. If Mann is wrong, the MWP and LIA were global and global warming is a natural trend that will peak soon and has nothing to do with human activity. One or the other.
But who is right?
Well, the two Macs weren’t the first to criticize Mann. The biggest problem most scientists have is that they heavily manipulated a lot of data from before 1850 that has been demonstrated as accurate. And while they used archaeological data for all periods they also “added in” actual thermometer readings for the 1902-1980 period and extrapolated backwards from it. In other words, they used two completely different sorts of data for the periods of 1400-1901 and 1902-1980. Guess where the ‘hockey stick’ is? Yup, 1902+. The data summary provided by the two Macs from the same data without the ‘culling’ and without the added-in data from a different set is a dramatic match to previous research and clearly shows the MWP and the LIA exactly as previous work predicted them, both in duration and degree. And when the two Macs went to the original data that Mann didn’t use but had been verified as accurate, it still matched previous works and didn’t match Mann’s conclusions.
As an observer, the thing I find most disturbing about Mann and the other papers supporting it is that many of them have never made their source data available. Now, in scientific journals there is a rule that this data must be available so that other scientists can see if they have the same results. Mann has never released his core data and admits that the data he gave to the two Macs and others who wanted to check his results was incomplete and full of errors. So his paper failed the test of peer-review (as Nature originally admitted). While previous climate papers and current ones that support the global MWP and LIA have available data, Mann and the supporting papers do not. Why is that? Why is it that the papers that support global warming can’t be confirmed? And, if the data isn’t available, why were these papers published?
As you can see, I’m tending not to buy the whole global warming story. Paleoclimatology was firmly sure that the MWP and LIA were global. Indeed, some argue that if they were just isolated to Europe then we don’t know nearly as much about climate as we think we do. But within the last decade the MWP has been rejected as never happening (indeed, now the 15th Century was cooler than the 20th) and the LIA was recovered from in about 50 years. At the same time, there are still plenty of papers being generated that support the MWP and LIA being global. I am suspicious.
The reason I am suspicious is that science isn’t what it used to be. The fact of the matter is that Einstein, Sagan, and Hawking mucked it all up and got famous. Mann’s paper is now setting the energy and foreign policy of a dozen nations; he’s a darling of hundreds of groups, and his opinion is highly sought after - all because he proved global warming. Its probably a safe assumption that, given the world’s political *cough* climate, he could have easily anticipated this development. At the same time, the two Macs could have just as easily predicted just what a splash their own rebuttal would make and the notoriety it would generate.
But additional facts are always out there, somewhere. Mann himself recently told a Senate committee that his work is mainstream, mainly because it is part of the U.N.’s IPCC report (which he chaired, BTW). Two scientists disputed this claim, stating that the vast majority of climate literature supports the global MWP and LIA and refutes Mann’s work and the handful of supporting papers. These scientists, Soon and Baliunas, were labeled as ‘fringe scientists’ with no expertise, no knowledge, etc. Their paper that disputes Mann’s work was savaged, even though it was published in a peer-reviewed journal. Indeed, many called for the editor of that paper to be fired simply for publishing something critical of Mann’s work. Soon and Baliunas, by the way, are Harvard astrophysicists whose paper was on solar cycles and global climate – well within their expertise.
In other words, global warming advocates are opposing those who disagree with them not because of their science but because of their conclusions. Whenever you begin excluding people from ‘the truth’ because their conclusions are different from yours, you are practicing heresiology; you are expelling heretics. Now, this is perfectly legitimate in religion, but completely unacceptable in science. In effect, it shows that a large number of people in the global warming group are no longer thinking rationally about climate. You agree with them or you are ‘fringe’, ‘corrupt’, ‘partisan’, etc. Never a good sign.
In short, I think we can completely ignore the Mann report and the other recent papers that support it. While embraced as received truth by many environmentalists, it is in contradiction of a great deal of other science work being done.
This still leaves the question – is global warming real? Yes, I noticed that the above only stops a handful of scientific papers. Let’s move on to the real question.
Everyone should know the drill by now – the Earth’s temperature is what it is because of the greenhouse effect; sunlight falling on the Earth warms the surface and reflected infrared radiation is absorbed by ‘greenhouse gasses’. This keeps the Earth at its current just-right temperature. One of the greenhouse gasses is carbon dioxide; human industry is dumping massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere; therefore, the greenhouse effect is increasing. If we don’t do something, the Earth will warm up until civilization collapses under melting icecaps, super-hurricanes, and no crops. There is clear, irrefutable evidence that man-made carbon dioxide is heating up the Earth this way – that is global warming.
While this is the ‘elevator pitch’ of global warming and is probably well-known by virtually everyone in Europe and the Western Hemisphere, it is amazingly over-simplified. So over-simplified that it can be misleading. For example, while the greenhouse effect depends upon the so-called ‘greenhouse gasses’, there is one such gas that dominates on Earth – water vapor. As a matter of fact, water vapor (i.e., clouds and stuff) is responsible for 98% of the greenhouse effect.
On top of that, the absorption of radiated infra-red accounts for only about 25% of the total greenhouse effect. That’s right, the actions of greenhouse gasses, the only issue mentioned 99 times out of 100 in global warming discussions, is only 25% of the total greenhouse effect (the rest is convection and conduction at about 37% each). So the non-water vapor greenhouse gasses account for about .5% of the total greenhouse effect. That is ½ of 1%, by the way, not five percent. By itself, a doubling of carbon dioxide could not under any model increase average global temperatures by more than 1.7 degrees centigrade.
But global warming advocates state that CO2 doesn’t act alone; the .4 to 1.2 degree centigrade increase that most models predict from doubling CO2 in the air will, they say, increase the amount of water vapor in the air. This would amplify the effect and result in a total increase of about 5 degrees centigrade – pretty darn serious! But, unfortunately, the assumptions made about the increase in water vapor and the actions of the increased water vapor are just that – assumptions. For example, most models predict that water vapor will increase, but cloud cover won’t. The reason? Well, the energy increase absorbed energy by doubling carbon dioxide would equate to about 2 watts of energy per square meter of the Earth’s surface (why that weird number? You’ll see). But clouds reflect about 75 watts of energy per square meter. So a 2% increase in cloud cover would negate the doubling of CO2.
Now, the mechanisms involved are far more complicated than that (for example, very high altitude clouds can increase greenhouse effects instead of reducing them, like low level clouds do). For example, many computer models predict an increase in temperature associated with diminished snow cover (it gets warmer=less snow; less snow=less reflection of sunlight=warmer Earth). Problem is, recent research indicates that a reduction in snow cover results in increased cloud cover to an extent that to total greenhouse effect may be negative, i.e., it makes the Earth cooler.
The main problem is that weather/climate actions are stunningly complex, complex enough that the term ‘butterfly effect’ is used. In short, the butterfly effect is the concept that weather actions are so complex that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Japan can cause a storm in France weeks later. All existing models of global warming are completely insufficient in the face of this. The biggest issue for current global warming, for example, is the very obscure physics of water vapor. Right now all models show increases in temperature resulting in an increase of water vapor at all levels of the atmosphere equally. If the actual increase is off by as little as 4% weighted toward low-level humidity, however, the net effect would probably be equilibrium or a decline in global temperatures, not global warming.
The best way to test a model is to compare it to the known past. In other words, use your model to ‘predict’ what happened over, say, the last 100 years and see if it matches reality. We can only really go back to about 1900 for weather data because before that weather information is indirect; we have temperature and humidity levels after about 1900 that are fairly accurate, but before that we have to figure out weather from things like tree-ring thickness. When you take current models used to support global warming they predict that the last century should have seen a total increase in temperature of about 2 degrees centigrade with most of that occurring in the last 30 years of the century. In actuality the climate record show an increase of temperature of about .45 degrees centigrade with the majority of it occurring in the first 40 years of the century and a small spike in the last ten with a minor cooling phase in the 1970’s.
Here’s another kicker; according to isotope samples about 440 million years ago total CO2 levels on Earth were roughly 10 times what they are today. In computer models that support global warming the mean temperature must have been no less than 8 degree warmer than today. However, the Earth was in the grips of an ice age at the time. Even indirect evidence refutes these models.
The models also call for an increase in equatorial ocean surface temperature of about 2 degrees. There is a change of about .3 degrees, no more. In other words, the models fail miserably. Every single application of current climate models that support global warming to the past century grossly overshoot actual warming during that period.
And interesting look into ‘climate hysteria’ can be gleaned from that book I read so long ago. In the 1950’s and ‘60’s the Earth had a minor global cooling trend. The result was a slew of papers, books, and pop-culture obsession with ‘the coming ice age’. One prominent science writer issued a book that mocked skeptics of the global freeze theory and stated bluntly that the possible dangers were so great that the absence of confirmation should not prevent us from acting. Sound familiar? Two of the scientist/authors who issued books warning of the coming ice age (Schneider and Tickwell) are now prominent proponents of global warming. In other words, many of the people who spent the 1970’s warning of global freezing are now warning of global warming.
We are now in a situation where the predictive models for global warming fail repeatedly and there is some evidence that the major supporting works for global warming were faked. The result has not been self-reflection and review, however, it has been to expel ‘heretics’. In 1988 Lester Lave was dismissed from a Senate advisory committee where he served as a scientific resource because he said that the evidence for global warming was ambiguous. In 1989 Dr. Newell of MIT lost National Science Foundation funding when his results refuted global warning; his reviewers said his results were ‘dangerous for humanity’.
Many environmental advocates are calling for an end to research and a start to drastic action to end this obvious, imminent threat. In other words, they don’t care for facts, they want action! Environmental advocacy is a big, powerful business. Environmental NGO’s in America control hundreds of millions of dollars in donations and grants. Environmental groups in Europe are full-fledged political parties. Global warming has been a easy tool for fund raising and access to power. And many are using this influence to silence any dissent. Then-senator Al Gore led this charge with an editorial in the New York Times that equated the fight against global warming with the fight against Nazism.
Dr. Aaron Wildavsky, a professor of Political Science, once said this,
“Warming (and warming alone), through its primary antidote of withdrawing carbon from production and consumption, is capable of realizing the environmentalist's dream of an egalitarian society based on rejection of economic growth in favor of a smaller population's eating lower on the food chain, consuming a lot less, and sharing a much lower level of resources much more equally.”
In other words, the primary motivation of a great many global warming advocates is political, not environmental. One call from the IPCC was to reduce all CO2 emissions 60%. This would involved shutting down a significant number of factories, eliminating virtually all gasoline-powered cars, and throwing literally millions of people out of work. In 1999 it was estimated that reducing CO2 emissions 10% in America alone would cost about $250 billion a year for 10 years! The costs involved in the proposed 60% global reduction would dwarf the expense of WWII by all sides and the human impact would be potentially as great. The major sufferers would be Third-World nations who could not afford to implement new and cleaner technology. And the major shifts in transportation would radically alter Western society, especially America. Indeed, based upon a rather controversial report on methane emission by cattle (methane is a greenhouse gas), some are calling for legal controls on the number of cattle to ‘protect the Earth’ – many of these proponents are also members of groups like PETA.
In short, I do not worry about global warming. Not then, not now.