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Global Warming: Are the Skeptics Right?

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Charles Murray
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Re: Global warming
Charles Murray   2/3/2012 12:20:27 PM
For all I know, Rob, that 95% figure may be correct. But I guess that's the point. No One knows for sure. And I suspect that the number of scientists who don't believe is bigger than we are led to believe.  

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Global warming
Rob Spiegel   2/3/2012 12:23:53 PM
This is interesting, Chuck. For years I assumed the skeptics were shills for the extractive industries who didn't want to see public opinion go against their goods (oil, gas, coal). You article points out there are legitimate scientists who have a different point of view. 

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Re: Global warming
Evo1   2/3/2012 2:28:57 PM
Well, you have to dig a little deeper into the editorial and its authors to really see what's going on. First, while they all have superficially impressive credentials, most of them also have fairly close associations with the petroleum industry. And 3/4 of them have little or no expertise in climatology or any closely related field. Not all scientists are really qualified to speak on climate change, so while they may be leading scientists and engineers, that doesn't automatically mean that they know anything substantive about the topic at hand. That's not to say that we should discount everything they say. Certainly we should question whether all the claims about predicted climate change are accurate, especially if they don't match up with known data.

But at the same time, some of their statements are pretty stupid. To claim that CO2 is automatically not a pollutant simply because it is a naturally occurring, and even important part of the atmosphere is not only grossly over simplistic, but incorrect. Just because iron is a necessary nutrient for forming hemoglobin doesn't mean that it can't also be a poison. Like CO2, it is necessary in extremely small trace amounts, but at higher levels it is in fact extremely toxic and does lead to several deaths every year, particularly in children. Excess CO2 is a pollutant, and can be damaging to the environment in a number of ways, of which elevated temperatures due to increased greenhouse effect is just one.

So when looking at the "95%" figure on scientists who support the claims that global warming is a significant problem, the question isn't so much whether the number is correct as it is "who are the remaining X%, and why don't they agree?"

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Global warming
Rob Spiegel   2/3/2012 2:39:48 PM
Good point Evo1. From a completely non-science observation, weather is certainly odd in recent years, with each of the last three decades getting warmer. Just in the last two years, we experienced record-breaking drought, fires, cold temps, hot, temps, floods, and tornados. Time after time, we see some extreme in terms of "hottest in 150 years," or "coldest on record," or "widest tornado ever recorded."

It's a bit creepy out there.

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Global Warming
Droid   2/3/2012 6:11:10 PM
Having little or no expertise in weather or climate studies, most of us cannot speak from a vantage point of hard scientific knowledge. However, this article does touch the surface of why so many of us have the raised eyebrows of skepticism when it comes to this subject.  

While I wouldn't be so brash as to completely discount the notion of global warming or more specifically man-made global warming, I remain solidly in the skeptic camp for several reasons.

First, it does seem curious that the believers and non-believers are often split so conveniently along other ideological lines.  For example, why does a belief in global warming seem to be generally associated with the politically left while most of the skeptics are on the politically right.  Further, why are all the so-called solutions to global warming so conveniently politically left solutions and so conveniently similar to the solutions which might have been proposed back in the '70's when gobal cooling was a discussed. 

The second extraneous reason for skepticism has to do with research funding. If the idea of global warming were to suddently disappear, it might be safe to assume that a number of those involved in scientific research of the issue would lose funding.

The third reason for skepticism is a simple look at the historical climate record. Since historical records give clear indications of past climate change, it seem presumptuous to think that present day climate should be rock-steady from here on out.

Finally, there is skepticism because of the number of factors involved. Anyone who has performed design of experiments on complex processes knows that it is often difficult to correctly identify all the factors and interactions which affect the result being measured. Unlike a scientific experiment which we might duplicate in the lab, climate can really only be observed and we cannot readily play with the knobs to adjust the factors while observing the results minutes later. Regardless of the supercomputers working on this problem, it seems a stretch to say that we've largely pinned down the cause for climate change in this entire complex process to one factor -CO2 from the evil fossil fuel and it's carbon emissions.

Charles Murray
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Re: Global Warming
Charles Murray   2/3/2012 7:13:03 PM
Good points, Droid. I had the opportunity to speak to Professor Happer of Princeton at length, and he went out of his way to mention that this group includes scientists on both sides of the political aisle. Several of the 16 are registered democrats; one is a socialist. I can only imagine that his reasons for mentioning this is to reduce the number of politically-based attacks. My impression is that Professor Happer is sincere in his scientific belief.  

Glenn Tamblyn
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Some of the Science behind Global Warming
Glenn Tamblyn   2/3/2012 9:09:30 PM
It is easy to think from comments such as those made by these 16 in the WSJ that there is serious uncertainties about Global Warming. Of this list only Kinninmonth, Lindzen and Tennekes have backgrounds in Climatology/Meteorology. Burt Rutan for instance is an Aerovautical Engineer.

I am a Mechanical Engineer by training but I have spent the last 5-6 years self-educating myself about Climate Change. Abd Debating/Arguing with skeptics. In the process I have come to realise how few of the dissenting scientific opinions are actually from people that I would call 'honest brokers'. Routinely they will make statements that simply are not true, but that can't be clearly seen to be false by a lay audience. Seldom if ever do these 'skeptics' publish in the scientific literature and of the few papers that have been published, they are usually filled with flaws that lead one to suspect the purpose of the paper was simply to claim that publication has occurred with out regard to the quality of the science done. Because then they can use the claim of publication in their on-going PR campaign in the general media.

For example, in an interview here Kininmonth makes the following statement - a regular claim from skeptics.

WILLIAM KININMONTH: That is certainly one of the points in the letter that over the last decade there has been no significant change in temperature of the globe.

Technically true if we are only looking at surface temperatures although once we allow for the effects of the El Nino/La Nina cycles, warming on the surface has continued. What he fails to mention, knowing most people won't spot the omission is that warming, as in accumulation of heat, doesn't just hhappen to the atmosphere. In fact that is only a small part of the heating in the last 1/2 century. 90% of the warming has gone into the oceans with the atmosphere accounting for only 3%(The land and the Cryosphere accounts for the rest). So by only looking at what atmospheric temperatures are doing, without showing what has happened in the main heat sink, he paints an incomplete picture.

Some skeptics will then claim that the oceans haven't warmed either in the last 10 years. However they don't cover the decades before and the figures they cite are actually for the top 700 metres of the ocean, not the whole ocean. But they don't say that.

So here is Ocean heating for the top 700m and the top 2000m since 1950:


As you can see the oceans have continued warming all along. It is just that the last decade has seen a change in some of the ocean's circulation patterns, drawing more heat down to deeper layers. This has kept the upper ocean cooler and thus held air temperatures down. However warming has not stopped.

There is more of this including alternative analysis of sea level rise due to heating here.

If you look at the vertical scale above, the total warming is over 2*10^23 Joules. That is the equivalent of over 2 1/2 Hiroshima bombs every second since 1970. And since warming of the oceans is such a large component of the total heast accumulation, this cannot have come from heat transfers from the other heat sinks - Air, Land, Cryosphere. Heat generated from within the Earth is nowhere large enough to account for this either.

So this heat can only have come from an energy imbalance between the energy reaching the Earth from the Sun & the energy being radiated by the Earth to Space. Since we know that the Sun's output has if anything declined slightly over the last 1/2 century, something effecting the heat loss to space is the only remaining viable answer. So GH Gases, Clouds or Aerosols. Aerosols have a cooling effect and may if anything have moderated the warming. Clouds might do it but it would require a significant change in the mix of cloud types since some are cooling and others warming. And a cloud based explanation would produce a specific signature to the heating pattern - more heating during the day and summer. Incontrast GH gases would produce just as much warming at night and in winter. Also they would cause cooling in the stratospherewhere as a cloud explanation would not.

And observations show the warming pattern matches GH gases.

So a fairly conclusive case that GH gases are causing a net heat imbalance for the whole planet.

Someone like Kininmonth (or Lindzen) has the professional background to know that it is this sort of whole-of-system data that needs to be examined to draw a conclusion. Yet they are out there presenting to the lay public (and even Congress) ideas that seem plausible because they are cherry-picking what data to present.

Draw your own conclusions about them but to me, they are embodiments of an old idea. How to Lie Artistically. Tell The Truth, But Not All Of It!

Glenn Tamblyn
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Re: Global Warming
Glenn Tamblyn   2/3/2012 9:42:15 PM

It is entirely possible that there are many people in fields outside Climatology who are quite sincere in their views but are inadequately informed about the subject. And even a Professor of Physics can fall prey to this.

But there is another dimension to this and how people react which is the Psychology of Denial. When confronted with extremely difficult news, such as our impending death, one reaction some people have is denial of it. And since this denial is a deep, and needed, psychological reaction, most of it is unconscious. At the conscious level they may not be aware of it. But the deep drive means that this cannot be admitted. And then evidence to the contrary will be rejected since it threatens the defences that denial constitutes.

How does this relate to Climate Change? In several ways. Firstly Climate Change puts forward a quite frightening future and one that s individuals we can do little about. Grounds for a denial reaction. Secondly the actions needed at a society to deal with it involve substantial upheavals to our societies and economies, upheavals that can appear very frightening with uncertainty about whether there is light on the other side. Thirdly the nature of the threat and the changes required to address it can be interpretted by some people as a repudiation and denigration of their lifes work, building the society, economy and system we currently have. All 3 reasons can trigger a denial reaction.

Then consider how different personality types react to being told their rights/entitlements may be curtailed, and that we may have caused harm. Some react by accepting this and seeing a personal duty to act on it. Other personalities react by not wanting to confront the consequences of actions, getting defensive & angry and attacking the messenger.

Lots of fertile ground for folks to reject Climate Change for reasons other than the science then if necesary rationalise this bias post-hoc.

If you Google Happer for example you will find a paper he has written attacking AGW. Yuo will also find some serious rebuttals of what he has written, tearing him apart.

One thing I always find informative when reading the writings of high-profile skeptics is whether their language tends to contain political views or emotive description of proponents of AGW as 'Alarmists'. This word in particular is rather telling. If the predictions of AGW come true, then a word such as 'alarming' is quite appropriate. 'Alarmist' however has a conotation of unjustified alarm. And a presumption that, 'of course it is unjustified'. Rather than a 'on the balance of the evidence it is unjustified'.

How many people who use the word 'Alarmist' have efectively rejected AGW as 'preposterous' based on an unwillingness to countenance it - 'of course the Unsinkable Titanic couldn't sink. That's Preposterous!', rather than as a result of a disassionate enquiry into the matter.

Such a person may seem totally sincere on the subject and will give you chapter & verse on why. But if you challenge their reasons their later reactions can be quite informative.

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Global Warming - manmade?
jhachen   2/4/2012 9:56:33 AM
I am an engineer working in the oil industry, and I also care deeply about our environment. I strive to be objective in my opinions, however reading most articles and blogs it seems that most people are very one sided, looking at one side of the argument only.  One of the things that confuses the argument is some people talk about global warming and others talk about man-made global warming.  They are two distinctly different arguments.  

I think there is a strong argument that we are currently going through a global warming period.  Most data shows the earth is very warm, certainly on the warmer side of recent history.  The uncertainty is about the cause of this warming.  

From what I have read, it is not clear that there is a strong case to demonstrate this is due to man-made activities.  This even includes the recent IPCC reports I have read.  It is a complex problem, and all potential causes and potential feedback loops need to be discussed.  

Who knows of a good objective article that gives an objective view with credible facts?  One that doesn't choose only the facts that support their conclusion, but chooses both pros and cons of their conclusion?

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Re: Global Warming - manmade?
Cassiopeia   2/4/2012 10:02:52 AM

Whilst a Mechanical Engineer by training, I also took a post-graduate degree in Environmental Science back in the early 1980s. Even as far back as that, anthropogenic climate change was taught as factual and non-controversial. Since then there has been even more independent lines of evidence to support the science. Only at this stage did the subject become political when the fossil fuel industry launched a concerted and coordinated campaign starting from the mid 1990s to undermine climate change science and the scientists who work in this field. Their purpose was to create doubt in the public's mind about the reality of global warming, and delay regulations which might limit greenhouse gas emissions to the environment. Even the oil industries own scientific and technical experts were advising that the science backing the role of greenhouse gases in global warming could not be refuted although this was later cut from the records.

So only as the evidence of greenhouse gas warming became undeniable did the fossil fuel businesses realise they might have confront the growing pressure to reduce global warming. As a consequence, they employed a host of
public relations experts, some who had successfully delayed regulations against the tobacco industry, to weave a web of misinformation using a variety of unscrupulous media and various 'junk science' websites. Their methods were not based on physical science but psychology, targeting both uneducated and low income groups using tried and tested methods of persuasion. These included: peer pressure, misrepresentation, over-simplistic arguments, reiteration of falsehoods, attacks on individuals and groups, and claimed threats on personal liberty and wealth.

The main object was not to win, but provide the impression of an informed 'debate'
and to cast 'sufficient doubt' on climate science by spreading confusion and uncertainty. This would allow these businesses to fight a delaying action to avoid regulation, and thereby impose an enormous cost to future society. Anyone who wishes to understand more about this I can highly recommend the book Merchants of Doubt by Erik M. Conway and Naomi Oreskes.

Whilst more than
97% of scientists who are active publishers in the field of climate change accept the reality of AGW (anthropogenic or human induced global warming), a very small number of climate scientists and non-specialists lured by money from the fossil fuel lobby were recruited into the Climate Denial camp. Their names often appear in petitions, mixed with fake identities and even the decreased, to make it appear as if there is a substantial proportion of scientists which oppose the AGW consensus. This figure was confirmed by a more recent study which included an extensive dataset of 1,372 climate researchers and their publication and citation data to show that (a) 97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of ACC outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and (b) the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.

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