Patterico's Pontifications


Notes From A Proud Global Warming Skeptic (part 3)

Filed under: Accepted Wisdom,Environment — Justin Levine @ 10:47 pm

[posted by Justin Levine] 

This series of posts isn’t just to spout off my own personal opinions (after all, who really cares?), but to stimulate a much needed debate. However, one commenter asked me a legitimate question – what exactly do I believe or not believe as a self-proclaimed “skeptic” on the global warming issue.

In a nutshell –

I am certainly NOT disputing the fact that the climate is changing – but I believe that the climate is ALWAYS changing. Therefore, the mere assertion that “the climate is changing” is insignificant.  

I also don’t dispute that the nature of the recent changes have brought about slight warming relative to last few hundred years.

I don’t dispute the fact that the Earth is currently the warmest it has been in roughly 400 years. (Nor do I know any other self-proclaimed skeptics who dispute the last 3 statements above.)

I believe that comparing changes over merely 400 years to be a very short time span relative to Earth’s modern climatological history – and thus is of little scientific use.

I believe that specific and accurate temperature records only go back to about 1850. So when someone refers to it being “the hottest since daily temperatures have been recorded”, they are only talking about the last 150 years at most (which one again, I believe to be scientifically insignificant).

I DO dispute the notion that the Earth is warmer now than it has been in the last millennium (1,000 years).

I don’t dismiss the notion that the changes are brought on at least in part by human activity – but I don’t believe that it has contributed to the majority of the net changes (like everyone else on both sides of the debate, I can’t specifically quantify it with any certainty – but I believe mankind to be significantly less than 50% of the overall cause.)

I believe that the level of changes in temperature are still relatively small in terms of concrete degree measurements. (Correspondingly, I believe the amount of changes caused by man-made factors to be even more miniscule.) I believe that “record tempertaures” can be set and measured by less than one-tenth of a degree – so I am not automatically concerned when we have set “record” temperatures in the last 11 of 12 years going only back to 1750 (which I beleive is the base year that the IPCC uses in its report summary.)

I do NOT believe that any of the current (or likely future) changes will lead to dire consequences (* perhaps the key belief here in this debate) .

I do NOT believe that the Earth will automatically continue to always get warmer and warmer if we fail to do anything about CO2 levels relative to where we are right now.

I believe that a cooling trend (relative to where we are right now) will eventually happen as part of Earth’s natural changing cycle EVEN IF CO2 levels increase substantially to where we are right now.

I hope this clarifies things for the debate.  Now at least we can be clear about what you all think I am in denial about.  Furthermore, I assure that I have an open mind about everything listed above. However, I need to be convinced – and merely asserting that there is “consensus among all scientists, except for those in the pcokets of big oil” is irrelevent to me regarding this particular issue.

Enough of my “beliefs” for now…back to the science.

[posted by Justin Levine]

14 Responses to “Notes From A Proud Global Warming Skeptic (part 3)”

  1. I do NOT believe that the Earth will automatically continue to always get warmer and warmer if we fail to do anything about CO2 levels relative to where we are right now.

    Do you believe that CO2 is transparent to visible light, but not long-wave (infrared) radiation? Do you believe in the law of conservation of energy?

    For me it just comes down to simple physics. The earth’s atmosphere is an energy reservoir that we are making “deeper.” Venus is a good example for how this works.

    The historical charts of temperature, CO2 concentration, solar radiation, etc. go a long way to corroborating the physical theory for me. (And proxy data can be just as useful in the absence of direct measurement if you know and understand its limitations.) But to deny global warming requires a denial of sound fundamental principles.

    Doug (5d0532)

  2. The historical charts of temperature, CO2 concentration, solar radiation, etc. go a long way to corroborating the physical theory for me

    I am glad you brought up historical data, because a look at a much longer set of data for instance the last 500 Million odd years since the Pre-Cambrian die off shows that

    We are now in one of the Coolest, Driest, most Carbon Dioxide periods of the last half Billion years.

    Explain how puttting something back into the atmosphere something that once was already there during periods when life on this planet was the most prolific is going to cause an Eco-catastrophe.

    BTW 95% of the Heat Trap effect is due to Water Vapor and droplets. I don’t think we want to turn the Earth into a global desert to keep it at the abnormally low temperature levels of the Mini-Ice Age we are emerging from.

    Dan Kauffman (839d43)

  3. Actually, the data show that CO2 is higher than only the last 200 million years, but perhaps that’s a quibble. Or perhaps it’s just that, as you go back, the certainty of CO2 levels is minimal.

    HOWEVER, it’s pretty clear that in human history (the last 3 or 4 ice age cycles or so), that CO2 levels wereat a minimum at the ice peak, and at a maximum at the mid-points between ice ages. So, there seems to be a long-term coupling of CO2 & average temperature. These variations have been natural, or at least non-industrial.

    Now, the HIGHEST level CO2 has been in human history has been 300ppm (0.03%), presumably at the warmest periods. It is now 390ppm. And climbing. This increase is CERTAINLY the result of burning fossil fuels and clearing forests (especially rain-forests). It is man-made.

    So, the simple questions are these:

    1) Is this historic level of CO2 a cause for concern?

    2) If not, would a higher level be cause for concern?

    3) If YES to 1) or 2), what are you, personally, willing to do to reduce your part. What have you done? NOT WHAT OTHER PEOPLE SHOULD DO. NOT WHO YOU WILL PAY TO AVOID CHANGE. What activities of YOURS have you changed?

    4) If NO to 1) and 2), what are you willing to bet? Is there anything you do that YOU would be willing to change just in case you are wrong?

    Kevin Murphy (0b2493)

  4. and again, that’s 20 million, not 200. Typo.

    Kevin Murphy (0b2493)

  5. (I happen to be a scientist not a science-fiction author. I’ve published papers on a variety of gas-phase pollutants.)
    1) No.

    2) No. The entire system is _not_ ‘open-loop unstable’. The whole ‘Venus’ analogy runs into the problem that Earth _was_ once a ‘reducing atmosphere’. We aren’t going to exceed those levels of carbon dioxide. Ever. (We’d run into other problems first, lack of oxygen being one.) Venus is flat out hit by too much solar radiation for liquid water. If you could swap Earth and Venus, Earth would be a hellhole and Venus would not.

    3) 1 car family of four. heavily insulated, very small house. Purchased 8 acres, and am ‘reclaiming’ it from ‘gravel lot’ to ‘half-forest, rest wetlands’. Could go on, but it will be dismissed anyway.

    I’ve reduced where I can, and now I’m waiting to see. Reasonable reductions are… reasonable. Going crazy is not. Especially since we’re giving India and China a complete pass. I’m supporting a vast resurgence of the energy plan of a country well-regarded by the Greens – France. Nukes everywhere. Then double that. As a bonus, with this level of nuclear power, we’ll be able to flat out turn carbon dioxide is into something useful. Like gas. Or perfectly clean coal and bury it. Whatever ends up being sanest. Cheap energy is the key piece to a long list of remedies.

    _IF_ we’re driving Earth off the rails, then we’ve already been ‘pushing’ for far too long for a _complete_ cessation to have any measurable effect for quite some time. (I seem to remember 25 years being the estimation for a in Science) All the sizable sea level rises are that far off also.

    So _IF_ we’re driving the Earth off the rails, we’ll have pretty definitive proof by 2020. Awareness of the issue is _not_ a problem. People are proposing a wide array of semi-crazy ideas for ‘how could we fix it if true?’ The ideas change, but the drive remains the same. “Reducing ppm CO2 in the atmosphere” doesn’t seem to be all that likely given the current models. So, probably something involving additives or structures in orbit perhaps. And the price of getting to orbit is plummeting.

    Note that I do think the _heating_ might be an issue. It is the focus on ‘mad-made’ and ‘CO2’ that is excessive. I’ll second Dan’s point – water is quantitatively much more effective as a heat trap.

    Al (b624ac)

  6. The whole ‘Venus’ analogy runs into the problem…

    For the record, I only mentioned Venus as a counter to the idea that CO2 does not affect temperature; I didn’t mean to imply that a similar climate was in our future.

    Thanks for your comments; they’re very interesting.

    How do you propose to handle nuclear waste, and do you see it as an acceptable trade-off for the benefits?

    water is quantitatively much more effective as a heat trap.

    Yes, but 95% is probably higher than reality, humans only affect water vapor content indirectly (e.g., by increasing atmospheric temperatures), and the effect is a positive feedback.

    Doug (5d0532)

  7. Al–

    I’m an engineer, not a scientist, although my degree says “physics.”

    I don’t disagree with a lot of that. However, I don’t really view heat directly produced by human activity as a problem — blackbody radiation is a 4th power law and therefore is pretty hard to screw with — so long as one _is_ radiating to space and not just trapping the energy. Local daytime heat buildups might be a local issue, though.

    I will point out that one of the most cost-efficient things everyone can do (and I’ve done) is to replace all non-reading lights (hall lights, enclosed fixtures, outdoors) with compact fluorescents, now that basic CF’s go for only a few bucks.

    It’s even cost-efficient if you throw away your still-good incandescents, as those burn about 4 times the energy for the same light. You save 2-3 cents a day per bulb given 60watt bulbs and 5 hours a day useage. Pays itself back in 100 days. One of those things that there is really no reason NOT to do. They make crappy reading and whole-room lights, though.

    Kevin Murphy (805c5b)

  8. I’m in the reverse, my degrees say ‘chemical engineer.’ It all gets a little fuzzy when you’re doing research.

    Strongly urging everyone immediately switch to compact fluorescents comes under ‘reasonable’ not under ‘panicking’ as far as I’m concerned. Other than task-lights or mobile lights, I’ve been there for quite a few years. I like the LEDs for reading, also quite efficient.

    The ‘Pebble Bed’ type reactor, if I’m reading and remembering correctly, has the enriched uranium encased in aluminum oxide. This is ‘Alumina’, something quite akin to the thermal tiles of the Space Shuttle. Aluminum oxide is exceedingly _chemically_ stable, used in reactors up to 2000K or so in reactive environments. (Think atomic hydrogen, fluorine, gas-phase metals.) I think the decay from there – as it is inevitably degraded by the radioactive environment – leads along a pretty quick path to inert.

    There’s a lot of _peripheral_ low level equipment and stuff that’s inevitably going to get irradiated, that hasn’t been the fundamental problem thus far. It has been the bits directly interacting with the fuel rods that end up irritatingly radioactive. Once you aren’t talking plutonium-as-byproduct anymore, and you aren’t talking byproducts-have-billion-year-half-life, you’re generally talking about something with less long-term radioactivity than the rock you started with.

    This whole field has effectively been shelved in actual deployments in America. Yet there’s been 30 years of research on exactly these same problems. This is _still_ going to be the main concern.

    Al (b624ac)

  9. If you look at the science, our planet has survived CO2 levels far higher than anything we’ll ever see. Climate may change, but we’re not going to have a “Venus” here any time soon.

    Coming off the Little Ice Age at the end of the 1800s, maybe it’s not that surprising that things are getting warmer every year. The “record high temperatures” we’re seeing may be the equivalent of pointing out that a particular day in July is the warmest one since January.

    tbrosz (7c998b)

  10. our planet has survived CO2 levels far higher than anything we’ll ever see.

    Maybe so, and it has also survived several mass extinctions in the past, but we don’t want to encourage that type of behavior, do we?

    Doug (3b32e8)

  11. Way back in the 1970s they were blabbering about golbal cooling and a new ice age now its global warming its a big fat lie being spread by unscruplous persons like AL GORE and the eco-freaks to control our lives and AL GORE himself is the biggist source of HOT AIR around SQUAWK SQUAWK

    krazy kagu (e22b83)

  12. […] had been attached to Rosie O?Donnell?s body)?I was actually kind of moved by Gore?s plea …Comment on Notes From A Proud Global Warming Skeptic (part 3) by … Way back in the 1970s they were blabbering about golbal cooling and a new ice age now its global […]

    Al Gore » Al Gore March 30, 2007 11:32 am (80eeac)

  13. Global warming is real! But being an anti-AlGorean does not make one a “skeptic” of this or other scientific Truths, merely a “skeptic” concerning some of AlGore’s claims.

    While temperatures are about 1 degree F. warmer than a century ago, and about as warm as they have been in over 400 years, we are actually about tied with temperatures in 1998 and the early 1930s, within the accuracy of the data compilations and local (urban) effects.

    Yes, CO2 is a greenhouse gas, meaning it lets through light while blocking much of the infrared. However, as CO2 levels increase, its increasing effect is logarithmic, not linear or exponential, meaning it levels off at higher amounts.

    CO2 was likely not the driving force behind the climate of the last 400,000 years. The ice ages have been coming so regularly every 100,000 years that they are almost certainly due to some regular cycle like the Milankovitch cycles of Earth orbit and tilt. So it is more likely that CO2 was an effect, rather than a cause.

    On the whole, there is very little evidence of bad things happening due to warm periods, and a lot of evidence of bad things happening due to colder periods (not just the ice ages, but also lesser coolings in the 400s and 1400s).

    As it happens, I favor most of the sane options which should be backed by a rational AlGorean, anyway. I like CFLs, nuke plants, plug-in hybrid and other research, and even taxes on fossil fuels (if they offset, say, income taxes, and aren’t just growing government). This is primarily for other reasons, both environmental and geopolitical, but as a practical matter this would permit me to make common cause with politicians and other results-oriented AlGorean peoples.

    DWPittelli (87ad39)

  14. If you’re putting a ‘pollution tax’ on, there should be a lockbox aiming it towards energy and pollution research.

    All ‘sin taxes’ should be organized in this way. You want to prevent the bureaucracy from treating it as their private purse. You end up with other portions of government failing to reduce drinking, or gambling, or whatever… because they’re actually making money on the ‘sin’.

    A ‘user tax’ on gas already happens, so you’d have a mixture. But still.

    Al (b624ac)

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