Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Explaining Away Climategate - 1

was triggered by the release of thousands of emails and computer programs from the UK Climactic Research Unit (CRU) late in 2009. See Jon Stewart's hilarious and surprisingly fact-filled take and this attempt at Explaining Away Climategate.

This is the first of a series of new Topic postings that detail the viewpoints of the major groups involved in the controversy:

ALARMISTs - Believe the Earth is in imminent danger and near a Global Warming "tipping point". The science is settled. Humanity must be saved by drastic and immediate action to curtail further release of carbon gasses caused by unprecedented levels of burning of coal, oil and natural gas. Alarmists believe the greenhouse effect will melt much of the polar ice, reducing the albedo (reflectivity) of the Earth and setting in motion a further increase in temperature that will cause sea levels to rise by five meters (16 feet) , flooding low-lying territory, and causing widespread storms, droughts, and crop failures. Alamists believe anyone not in favor of immediate strong action is a Denier.
DENIERs - Believe Global Warming is a hoax, fraud, and conspiracy by politicians and their allies among rogue scientists eager for government-funded research grants. Cap and Trade is a scam and a wedge towards world government that will bankrupt the US and other nations by wrecking our economies. Humans do not have the power to change the climate even if they wanted to. Deniers believe anyone who accepts Global Warming is an Alarmist in the grips of a new "religion".

Both of the above groups are, IMHO, spreading LOUD-MOUTH PROPAGANDA.

There are three groups whose arguments are, IMHO, SCIENCE BASED:

Warmists - Believe the Earth has warmed 0.8ºC (1.5ºF) over the past century and that human activities are mostly responsible. They say that it is now warmer than it has ever been in recorded history and that temperatures will rise 2ºC (3.6ºF) or more and sea levels will rise 2 meters (6 feet) or more within the next few decades unless we take strong action to drastically reduce the burning of previously-sequestered carbon (coal, oil, gas). They believe we may be near a "tipping point" beyond which we would be powerless to stop further warming.

The Warmist arguments and conclusions are science-based and supported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and many government-funded climate researchers. Warmists control the major data centers that gather and process temperature data from around the world. They also manage most of the climate models used in climate research. The scientists charged with malfeasance in Climategate are Warmists.

Sceptics - Believe the Earth has warmed by 0.5ºC (1.0ºF) or less over the past century and that human activities are responsible for only a small fraction of that rise. Skeptics believe that natural cycles of the Sun and multi-decadal oscillations of sea currents and other effects outside human control are responsible for nearly all the warming. They point out that historical records of human settlement and crop growth in Greenland and other northerly regions that are no longer suitable for agriculture proves the Earth was warmer as recently as 1000 years ago. Ice core and tree ring data backs up these findings. Skeptics say the fact that warming has paused over the past decade despite continued rapid rise in CO2 proves that the IPCC models are wrong with respect to CO2 sensitivity.

Skeptics have used science-based arguments to show that many climate monitoring stations in the US and elsewhere do not meet NASA's standards for placement away from sources of artificial warming. This has exaggerated the apparent warming as has faulty processing of the temperature data by over-zealous scientists who have fudged the data to support their pre-conceived notions about Global Warming. They accuse the Warmists of intimidating the editors of major scientific journals to suppress peer-reviewed papers that deviate from the official line. The Skeptics are the main force behind publicizing Climategate.

Lukewarmers - Believe the Earth has warmed by about 0.5ºC (1.0ºF) over the past century and that human activities are responsible for some fraction of that rise. They note that CO2 and other carbon gasses have increased rapidly and that, apart from climate considerations, this rapid rise needs to be addressed in a reasonable, responsible way, reducing use of fossil fuels via a revenue-neutral Carbon Tax. Such a tax would also reduce the dependence of the US and our allies on petroleum from the Middle East and other unstable areas.

While accepting much of the Warmists science-based arguments relating to the rise in global temperatures and sea levels, they also accept much of the Skeptics science-based arguments that much of the warming is due to natural cycles outside the control of humans and that the Earth is not near any "tipping point".

In any case, the Lukewarmers believe we can and will adapt to climate change as humans have in the past.

FULL DISCLOSURE: My personal views are somewhere between Lukewarmer and Skeptic.

Ira Glickstein

NOTE: The above figure is from a presentation I am preparing to give to the Philosophy Club in The Village, FL on 15 January 2010 (4PM, Mulberry Center). I plan to post several more detailed postings on this Topic over the next weeks.


JohnS said...

Ira, it grieves :>) me to find that I am in almost full accord with you as I too am somewhere between a skeptic and a lukewarmer. My one disagreement if it does exist is I am in favor of a slower, more economical, approach to the reduction of carbon emission in the U.S. As I cannot understand the logic of the frenetic efforts to pass a health care bill that doesn’t go into effect until 2014; I cannot understand the urgent efforts to reduce carbon emissions via reducing coal and oil (and all its products) without alternative fuels (power) and associated infrastructure in place. I do not understand Washington’s propensity to function only in a crisis mode, to act precipitously, to throw money at every problem and to disregard economic reality. I guess I am a balanced budgeteer.

Howard Pattee said...

Ira, I think that is an excellent review.

I mention only one additional point: In deciding what to do, one must consider the benefit of payoffs and cost of penalties. Think Russian roulette. At what probability of disaster would you play it? What if you don’t even know the probabilities?

Experts have suggested several possibilities for disastrous “tipping points.” One example, roughly one-third of all the CO2 emitted by human activity is ultimately absorbed by the ocean. This slows down the rate of increase of atmospheric CO2 concentrations. As the ocean continues to absorb CO2, however, the rate at which it does so is expected to decrease because of the chemistry that CO2 uptake causes. Global warming should then increase rapidly and irreversibly.

There is a finite risk of doing nothing.

Ira Glickstein said...

Absolutely correct Howard that we need to balance the probability of disaster ("tipping point" leading to severe Global Warming) and the cost if it happens, against the cost of taking some drastic action now. We also have to take into account the probability that drastic action to curtail carbon emissions prior to the availability of sufficient alternative carbon-free or carbon-neutral energy could wreck the world economy and lead to violence that would kill more people that a Global Warming disaster.

As for yor concern about the saturation of the oceans that would reduce their ability to continue to uptake CO2, you brought up that point on the right day. Just today, Science Daily reports research published in by Wolfgang Knorr of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol.

Here is an excerpt:

...some studies have suggested that the ability of oceans and plants to absorb carbon dioxide recently may have begun to decline and that the airborne fraction of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions is therefore beginning to increase.

Many climate models also assume that the airborne fraction will increase. Because understanding of the airborne fraction of carbon dioxide is important for predicting future climate change, it is essential to have accurate knowledge of whether that fraction is changing or will change as emissions increase.

To assess whether the airborne fraction is indeed increasing, Wolfgang Knorr of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol reanalyzed available atmospheric carbon dioxide and emissions data since 1850 and considers the uncertainties in the data.

In contradiction to some recent studies, he finds that the airborne fraction of carbon dioxide has not increased either during the past 150 years or during the most recent five decades.

Ira Glickstein