Digital Diatribes

A presentation of data on climate and other stuff

The Weather Outside

Posted by The Diatribe Guy on February 7, 2007

As a Wisconsinite, you’ll forgive me if I lack the vision that my socially aware friends in faraway places enjoy.  I’ve been told that we are in danger of catastrophe because of global warming.  Now, someday I will likely spout off about that in elegant detail, but let me keep it general for the moment (which will be long enough in itself). 

My main issues with this global warming thing is not that I necessarily think the world is not warming.  I am not convinced of that, but I am respectful of science, and I won’t ignore measurable and observable things.   If temperature readings say that there has been an increasing trend in global temperatures, I can accept that.  Notwithstanding the evidence that this warming actually peaked nearly a decade ago, let’s just say such a trend actually exists.

My problems are two-fold with respect to the global warming discussion.  Actually, maybe three-fold.  I don’t know, as I type it will probably be more, so let’s just find out as I go.

Keeping it general, the first issue I have is when science moves from observations of something that is determinable, to developing theories as to the cause of those determinations (still no problem), to stating unproven – and unprovable – theories as fact.  The relevant example here being “people are the cause of global warming.”

Furthermore, there is an even greater problem when those who question those theories are shunned and ridiculed.  To me, that is a much greater issue than the actual theory itself.  

Second, I am very leery of bedfellows.  When global warming activists start blaming the existence of humans on just about everything, and when said activists happen to be pro-population-control, and when those same people will call China’s one-child-only policy a good a positive step in the direction we all should go, well then it presents a serious question in my mind about whether or not they are coming to their conclusions about global warming based on reasons of science or on reasons of social agenda.   Clearly, not all who are concerned about the potential effects of global warming have such extreme ideas.  But nearly all who have these extreme ideas are in the “Global Warming is destroying us” crowd.  Prove me wrong.

My final issue with all this is the causation vs. correlation fallacies that are so rampant.   It goes something like this:  There is more Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere.  Temperatures have increased.  Therefore, more Carbon Dioxide increases temperature.   This is a fallacious argument.  One could just as easily assert that increased temperatures cause more Carbon Dioxide.  Few make this argument, but there is no more reason to not make this argument than there is a reason to make the other.  Both are workable theories (for example – greenhouse gases released by insects increases with temperature, as do emissions of such gases from the world’s oceans.  One could argue that something else increased temperature and the result were more greenhouse gas emissions).  There is yet another possibility:  the two have nothing to do with each other, and the increase in both is either coincidental, or alternatively that the inrease in both measures is caused by a third factor (or a fourth, fifth, …, gazillionth factor).    I am not arguing for or against any of these things at the moment.  I am just pointing out that the scientific process goes awry when such a simple thing as assuming causation occurs when it should not be assumed.

The real issue with the last problem is that other evidence gets ignored when the cause is already assumed.  How many of us have seen the charts of Carbon Dioxide cycles in ice core samples, that shows this spike occurring every 100,000 years or so?  How many of us have been witness to charts of solar activity showing us a much stronger relationship between temperature fluctuations and cycles on earth in relation to sun activity?   How many of us know that only 2% of all greenhouse gases are attributed to human activities?  These are worthy and valid questions that should not simply be ignored.  

However, all that said, neither is questioning the causes behind global warming a license to ignore responsibility for the condition of our surroundings.  We are stewards of this beautiful earth.  Having dominion does not mean exercising authority with reckless abandon.   We should take reasonable and relevant steps to keep our world clean and safe.  But understanding this does not mean adopting policies where abortion on demand and a contraceptive mentality takes over, where in our “wisdom”, we have determined that the best way to sustan life is to limit life.  Nor does it mean adopting standards that will hamstring progress and create hardship for many people.  There is always a proper balance that can be struck.  It seems we seldom seek that balance, instead opting for one extreme or the other.  I suppose it’s natural to fear that giving an inch will allow someone else to take a mile.  If only both sides could give a few inches…

Anyway, to get further into all these studies and get in depth on any of them would make this a multi-page entry.  While this would be interesting to me (perhaps not others), it is not the real point of this post.  And why should you believe me, anyway?  I’m an actuary, not a climatologist. 

So, what is my point?  In all honesty, it’s to complain about the temperature outside right now.  It’s about a week now since the thermometer has hit 10 degrees Fahrenheit, and much of that time has been spent in the sub-zero range.   And yet, I see on my TV that people are concerned about how warm things are.   Are you all insane?  What do you want from us!!!

Right now, I’m just trying to keep the beer in the garage refrigerator from freezing.  A little warming just doesn’t seem like a bad thing…

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7 Responses to “The Weather Outside”

  1. inel said

    I can answer some of your questions later, or you can visit my blog where I have copied a few lengthy comments in response to others’ random questions on climate change. You might find some worth a glance.

    I have to run to a meeting now >>>>>>> but before I go, you are right to question things, you are right to wonder why we are worried about warming when it is so bitterly cold, and I hope I have time to answer your questions tomorrow. Meanwhile this is all I have time for now:
    more extreme weather is expected because of global warming;
    the preferred name for global warming is climate change, and this terminology makes unbearably cold weather more comprehensible in the overall picture of what is happening to our climate;
    as the mean average temperature of Earth rises, the climate (that’s the long range view of the long term atmospheric conditions) will change, and weather patterns (those are the short range view of the short term atmospheric conditions) will change making storms, for example, more extreme.

    So, I am sitting here with unusually cold temperatures for Britain (-5˚C walking to school this morning: not normal for us!) and major snow storm alerts for tonight and I sympathise. I really do. I was wearing my warmest duvet jacket and fingerless gloves at my keyboard earlier today, as I challenged myself not to turn the heating on while the kids are at school. What a challenge!

  2. tamino said

    Something you should be aware of is that opponents of action on global warming are far more guilty of ignoring or twisting sound science than overzealous environmentalists. In fact, many of the reasons you give for reserving judgement are not fact-based, but manufactured by those who wish to deny reality for political or monetary reasons.

    One example: the statement that only 2% of greenhouse gases are man-made. This number is arrived at by taking all the CO2 that goes in and out of the atmosphere from all processes each year, and taking the fraction that comes from humankind. This ignores the fact that the vast CO2 exchanges between ocean, atmosphere, soil, and biosystems are in equilibrium; the inbox balances the outbox, giving a net atmospheric change of zero. That’s why until the industrial revolution, CO2 concentration was stable for at least 11,000 years at about 280 ppmv (parts per million by volume). The present level is about 380 ppmv; that’s an increase, not of a mere 2%, but of 35% — and the increase is entirely due to human activity (burning fossil fuels and altering land-use patterns). Its attribution isn’t simply based on estimating emissions from industrial processes, and making a “correlation is causation” argument; fossil-fuel carbon has a unique “istopic fingerprint” (greatly reduced C13 and almost no C14) that matches the isotopic fingerprint of increased atmospheric CO2, but doesn’t match any natural process.

    There are many other very common objections that are very persuasive to the lay reader, but to the scientist are simply ludicrous. For example: the oft-made claim that one big volcanic eruption releases more CO2 into the atmosphere than all human activity through all of history. The truth is that the CO2 emissions from a large volcanic explosion are measured in megatons, while the emissions from industrial activity in the U.S. alone, in one year alone, are measured in gigatons, and of course 1 giga = 1000 mega.

    In fact, all the objections that you state simply don’t stand up to close scientific scrutiny. You seem like a reasonable, open-minded person, and I applaud your skepticism. But you need to be aware that the causes of your doubt come from the very same politicized mangling of the truth which you (and I) obviously deplore.

    I haven’t yet seen this kind of deliberate deception coming from the global warming activist camp. I don’t attribute that to purity of heart or scrupulous honesty on the part of environmentalists. The reason they don’t lie to make their case, is that they don’t have to. When it comes to global warming, I don’t get my science from environmentalists, or from fossil-fuel industry shills — I get it from climate scientists. Their near-unanimous opinion is well represented by the report of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

  3. Diatribical Idiot said

    My initial response, as a man new to the blogging world, is to be in awe of the internet. When some goofball typing a random post elicits responses on a random subject from halfway around the world, then one has to sit back and say “this is pretty cool, this whole internet thing.”

    My second response is to say thanks for the comments.

    My third response is to say that I don’t have time to respond right now, and I am certainly willing to listen to all the information. I am not, and will never be, someone who can be held up as an example of someone whose opinion holds any weight in the matter. Nor am I in the field of climatology. Nor do I receive funding from anyone, although I wish I would. Just ’cause. I do no direct research. I rely on others to do that. Then I read their research and form an opinion.

    I am, however, cursed with this element of common sense that forces me to view certain things with an air of skepticism when it seems to go against that sense. I am not here to say my common sense is infallible. It has not, however, often let me down, and it therefore deserves a certain consideration. And it is that common sense that propels me in asking certain questions.

    I do understand the overall concept of climate change. I understand the arguments made on behalf of global warming. Have I heard and considered every last shred of evidence? Nope. I have a job and a family. But I have considered a reasonable amount.

    Of course, all comments for and against are welcome. As time allows, I will compile my own evidences to at least present in a fair way the arguments against climate change being caused by humans. I was unaware that they had apparently been twisted and misrepresented in an unscrupulous way, while the pro-global warming evidence is squeaky clean.

  4. inel said

    Hi! I just returned from my meeting, and can see that you and tamino have continued the conversation. Jolly good. I view everything with healthy scepticism too, and I’ll even let you read about a recent one of my suspicions here and my subsequent discoveries here.

    I don’t think anyone has time to consider every last shred of evidence. What tamino and I can help you with is sorting the wheat from the chaff. He is an expert. I am not. In fact, I just began looking into the details after I watched An Inconvenient Truth during the Christmas holidays. So I am in no way an expert, and I receive no money from anyone, and I have other work to do, and a husband and three kids to care for, BUT I still want to contribute to progress on the climate challenge front. I have been a design engineer and a technical support engineer, and have also taught engineers. I am not interested in selling a story, I want to solve practical problems: that’s my modus operandi and it is the work habit of most engineers, which is one of the reasons the internet is free and so cool 🙂

  5. tamino said

    I was unaware that they had apparently been twisted and misrepresented in an unscrupulous way, while the pro-global warming evidence is squeaky clean.

    If you read Michael Crichton’s State of Fear, in his supplementary material he states that in 1988 James Hansen (NASA’s chief climate scientist) predicted the future of temperature change, but that comparing the prediction to what had since been observed, Hansen’s prediction was 300% too high!

    Crichton got his information from well-known denialist Patrick Michaels. In fact Hansen’s team made three predictions in 1988 (to which he testified in Congress). Scenario A was described as “on the high side of reality”, because it assumed rapid exponential growth of greenhouse gases and that there would be no large volcanoes during the next half century. Scenario C was described as “a more drastic curtailment of emissions than has generally been imagined”; specifically, greenhouse gases were assumed to stop increasing after 2000. The intermediate Scenario B was described as “the most plausible,” having continued growth of greenhouse gas emissions at a moderate rate, and it sprinkled three large volcanoes in the 50-year period after 1988, one of them in the 1990s. Scenarios A and C were meant to generate some idea of upper and lower limits of possibility, while scenario B was the actual prediction.

    Patrick Michaels took the graph from the 1988 paper and erased the results for scenarios B and C, showing only the curve for scenario A in public presentations — pretending that it was Hansen’s prediction for climate change. Hansen’s prediction for scenario B — the actual prediction — was made nearly 20 years ago, and has turned out to be right on the money.

    This is clearly not just a difference of opinion. It’s deliberate fraud. Unfortunately, this kind of tactic is par for the course from the denialist side. The fact that denialists use such subterfuges doesn’t prove the case for global warming. But if you want to apply common sense to the issue, you need to be aware of this.

  6. inel said

    P.S. I forgot to send my response to your sentence:

    I am not, and will never be, someone who can be held up as an example of someone whose opinion holds any weight in the matter.

    Your opinion does matter.
    Everybody’s opinion on climate change matters.
    It is good that you are raising questions. I hope you can satisfy yourself with answers.

    tamino is right about frauds, hoaxes, myths, and debunking techniques—the lot. Much of it was learned from the tobacco lobby. Smoking is good for you, right?

    Personally, I was amazed at how many visitors reach my own blog after I wrote a post that has the words inconvenient+truth+myth in it. I was not writing a myth, but that is what many people are looking for!

    tamino explained that I should not have been surprised, but I was.

    Before last year I had been fairly engrossed in kid-related day-to-day survival issues for ten years. When I decided to venture into the fascinating world of climate change to unravel more details after watching An Inconvenient Truth, I found it hard to believe the volume of lies and absurd lengths to which unscrupulous people will go to discredit truth—just because the truth about climate change … is … inconvenient!

  7. Diatribical Idiot said

    I truly wish I had more time. At some point, I will do my level best to respond to some of your points in more detail. I am not promising a quick turnaround on this, so I will get to it when I can. My blog is not an apologetical work or scientific blog dedicated to a particular subject. It’s a mish-mash. That is not to say I do not want discussion on particular subjects, and I will respond in kind when ready – which could be hours, days, weeks, or an eternity.

    A couple quick responses that do not require investigation on my part: An interesting example regarding the documentation/misrepresentation in “State of Fear.” I have not read it, but I would like to read it. It is, to say the least, not the primer in my opinion formation. Neither have I seen “An Inconvenient Truth.” I would also welcome viewing that. However, an obvious truth here is that Al Gore is coming from a particular point of view. Clearly, his documentary is not intended to provide balance. While potentially very beneficial in viewing the debate, it cannot and should not be ignored that Gore has a long history of political and environmental activism, and is painting the most dire scenario imaginable. Perhaps it is out of goodwill, but he comes from that perspective nonetheless. And I will also suggest that Gore is not immune from error or misrepresentation to make his case.

    Whether reviewing Crichton, Gore, or anyone else, it is important to know the persepctive they come from when examining the evidence they present.

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