Wizards of Oz

"Life is fraughtless ... when you're thoughtless."


Climate Change: Yes, but Why?

Personal opinion: I believe too many people are accepting what the mainstream media feeds them regarding climate change without digging into the data.

Is climate change happening? Certainly -- the receding polar ice is indisputable evidence of increasing temperatures. Where the train runs off the rails is when we try to ascribe causality.

We too easily accept the conclusion ("accusation"?) that humankind MUST be the cause -- that the increase in alleged "greenhouse gases" must be why temperatures are increasing, so therefore let's cut emissions -- reduce coal burning power plants -- buy E85 vehicles
-- spend BILLIONS on carbon scrubbers and other retrofits to "dirty" systems.

But too few are questioning the models that present that data. Too few are asking about those funky "weighting" factors to make the models fit the data (e.g., why methane gets a 1.1 multiple but CO2 gets a 1.4). I've asked a few climatologists, who have answered they don't know. Which proves the dictum, "All models are WRONG, but some are useful." In fact, one can correlate the data showing Republicans in the U.S. Senate to observed sunspot number. Gotta be a causal link, right?

Then I ask why, if CO2 is the cause, we haven't seen similar increases in atmospheric temperatures at higher altitudes over time. Wouldn't it make sense that the "greenhouse gas blanket" that traps heat would trap more heat at the ambient altitude of the gases? (And don't cite the planet Venus as "evidence" of CO2's infrared transport capacity -- Venus's atmosphere is nearly 90 times as dense as Earth's,with no carbon cycle for surface reclamation of carbon emissions, and their daily rotation is slower than their "year" around the sun.) Same answer from the scientists -- nobody was willing to assert causality when challenged with specifics (instead a couple retreated to "confidence levels", the refuge of the risk averse who don't really know for sure what they're talking about).

Prof. Freeman Dyson, harshly maligned by climate change ideologues, has some good points in A Many Colored Glass that challenge the popular theories. But Dyson's main point is that there are not enough "heretics" in science -- that we need more people to stand up to popular opinion and challenge presumptions, at risk of their own reputations. I'm reminded of the late U.S. Air Force Colonel John Boyd, who would tell his subordinates that they will come to a choice: they could either be somebody (and fit in the "corporation" with its individual rewards) or they could do something (and make a real difference).

Of course, it's easy to accept as fact the slick presentations of a former-politician-cum-businessman. But ask yourself, next time you see "An Inconvenient Truth", why the preponderance of data shown only goes back 80 years. And why polar caps on Mars are receding at an even faster clip than on Earth. And why there is such intolerance of debate -- especially by noted professionals who suggest decertification for meteorologists who disagree with human-based causality.

Bottom line: we are good at reductionist analysis -- breaking problems into tiny pieces and solving each one in turn. But we are lousy at the complex interactions of billions upon billions of entities. And if you want to see for yourself the paucity of research in the infrared transport properties of greenhouse gases (or any gas for that matter), check out this query from Google-Scholar showing a grand total of six articles -- including one related solely to Venus, and one to financial transactions.

So, take the leap. Remove the veil. And ask the hard questions, rather than simply accepting what the Wizards tell you.


Endnotes: I do not work for the oil industry (or any energy-related industry, for that matter). I have no vested interest in any kind of policy (or lack thereof) regulating carbon emissions. We have over 100 trees on our property, so our calculated "carbon footprint" is negative (and certainly far less than fellow Tennessean Al Gore's, even with his "purchased offsets"). And a hat tip to Dr. Ed Smith Jr., from whom I grabbed the photo at the top of this post -- it's Earth, but it's upside-down and sideways.

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At 19/9/07 21:33 , Blogger mark said...

Hi Shane,

How few scientists, four hundred years after Descartes, have embraced his perspective of systemic skepticism? Why are scientists -of all people - at times such fervent dogmatists?

Why is this ? Perhaps Thorstein Veblen should have writyten a third volume about the scientific class.

P.S. As an aside, if I ever found Freeman Dyson arguing vehemently against my position, I'd at least have the humility to re-check my premises.

At 20/9/07 02:59 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

systemic skepticism?

Hear, hear! Or is that, Here, here?

There is the possibility of dogmatic skepticism. For instance, I want to ask many pundits, theorists, concerned citizens and politicians: What is so terrifying about the "Global Warming" proponents? I can guess a few of the answers; I'm just doubtful that those answers will be persuasive.

Here's a bit of oddity to shake up the skeptics: I just happened to watch An Inconvenient Truth last night (for the second time) -- before this post was written!!! So, WTF? Was it God or Chance? What are the odds?

Unlike the first viewing, I actually teared up during this viewing. I have a huge post percolating in my mind about this issue, but I really doubt -- I'm skeptical -- that it would matter much.

For instance, the normal skepticism in me leaves me wondering whether many of the changes proposed by Al Gore and others might really be very good -- even if the reasons behind them are some elaborate hoax to scare people predisposed to being scared by things they believe are hoaxes.

Additionally, I once quipped on Dan's site that The Global Warming Issue could actually be used to co-opt the Left into helping to shrink the Gap.

And more.

At 20/9/07 03:22 , Blogger Curtis Gale Weeks said...

I want to add a thought I had last night while watching AIT, before I forget it, a thought experiment perhaps:

If we are to believe that humanity can't alter the global environment negatively in the way Gore suggests we are -- the Earth is just too big, too complex -- then I would think we should not believe that we can do anything about global warming that isn't being caused by humans. Right? Right? So in other words, we are fucked either way. If Gore's right, we won't do anything about it because we think he's a grand hoax and, damn, we hate hoaxes -- FUCKED. If Gore's wrong and the global warming, though really happening, is not human-caused, we still can't do anything -- FUCKED. We are tiny and insignificant and certainly may not be masters of our shared domain.

I have never liked the argument from ignorance. I.e., "Well, we don't have the data Gore says we have -- that's just fudged numbers -- therefore, humans aren't causing global warming." Let's have a little skepticism from the anti-Gore League, please!

Rather, to borrow Gore's quote of Churchill, we are living in an age of consequences. If I move my big toe, there will be consequences I cannot foresee or see -- although they might be small and hardly worth worrying over. To judge the consequences of human industry, collectively, and say they are having no effect whatsoever on the warming that is occurring, is to call human industry, collectively, a big toe. A big toe that can do nothing about the "non-human-caused Global Warming."

I.e., we're all very Fucked.

There is another issue, just now occurring to me. Naturally I suppose that the paradigmatic conflict is this, between these views:

1. So many billions of humans doing their individual things, individual activities, and not coordinating, are WEAK. They're not affecting the environment negatively, positively, etc.

2. "Well, Curtis, if we just accept that we haven't caused global warming, we might get to the point where we can consider how we can act in a concerted way to slow down or fix the non-human caused Global Warming."

So there's the conflict between emergent phenomena and concerted, planned phenomena. Which is stronger? (Oh, I have loads to say on that; but that'll have to be its own post.)

The third, if there must be a #3, is simply, "Shut up Curtis. We're FUCKED. Can't you get it? No matter what is causing Global Warming, we just need to adjust best we can. Hell, I've even heard that Global Warming is not happening AT ALL..."

</end of rant caused by too little sleep>

At 20/9/07 05:02 , Blogger deichmans said...


I think the dependence on funding and grant approval has done a lot to encourage dogmatism. Consider the scale of contemporary science -- chief scientists have to be more Program Manager than "Natural Philosopher". So funding is essential, and when most of the funding is controlled by politicians it's easy to sacrifice "systemic skepticism".


Nice rant. :-) Perhaps there is a 5GW element in the alarmist nature of the climate change debate? However, being an intractable optimist, I don't think we're inexorably doomed -- I have faith in the resilience of the Earth.

Having personally driven the breadth of North America, I can appreciate just how small we are. Of course, I'm more concerned about depletion of the ozone layer (I've done the chemistry involved with chloroflourocarbon depletion of O3 -- it's spooky!) than about the gradual increase of CO2 in our atmosphere (from approx. 325ppm when I was born to about 360ppm today). And I have not yet been satisfied with the physics of surface temperatures increasing because of CO2 -- too many inconsistencies between the cooling stratosphere, the warming surface, the neutral upper troposphere and the globally homogeneous distribution of CO2 in the atmosphere.

My point is: look for better scientific evidence of causality before you reorient your entire economy (and hope the Chinese and Indians reciprocate). I will confess to a healthy dose of Realpolitik here: I do not want to invest a substantial portion of GDP on ineffective measures that (a) ultimately make no global difference, and (b) sacrifice national competitiveness.

At 20/9/07 08:33 , Blogger Dan tdaxp said...

Extremely good post! And discussion!

At 20/9/07 15:59 , Blogger Jay@Soob said...

"The third, if there must be a #3, is simply, "Shut up Curtis. We're FUCKED. Can't you get it? No matter what is causing Global Warming, we just need to adjust best we can."

This, in my opinion, is the vantage point we should be looking from when dealing with climatic change. Assume we're fucked, as it were, and concentrate on adaption. Also, as mentioned above, a more complete analysis of the effects (i.e including the benefits) of GW would be nice.

Shane, regarding methane, a friend and I have been discussing the GW issue on and off again for some weeks. He's near convinced that methane is a much more troubling factor of increasing the planetary temperature than CO2. He's got a firm grasp of the chemical science of it and pokes some impressive holes in Gores documentary. I've shot him an email asking him to guest post his argument at Soob.


I agree with shane, the GW theory has become an industry. I'd also add a healthy amount of pure arrogance (which can be useful in small doses) and a fatalistic sort of anthropocentrism.

At 20/9/07 16:16 , Blogger mark said...

Hi Curtis,

"What is so terrifying about the "Global Warming" proponents? "

Nothing. Most of their "solutions" have been proposed before, in slightly different form, with unrelated, previously fashionable, justifications.

I strongly suspect that, if market-based or even decentralized remedies that do not centralize power in national governments and international bodies, are shown to be useful in moderating global warming, that most of the "proponents" are going to show scant interest in pursuing them.

The Clinton-Gore administration pursued a negotiating strategy at Kyoto designed to strengthen the hand of bureacracies over the economy and private industry, not to reduce net planetary CO2 emissions. Part of a systemic strategy to get highly unpopular liberal activist policies into law via the treaty ratification provision instead of by statute.

(They tried this with gun control too by ginning up a "small arms convention" group at the UN)

This pleased unelected liberal activists, bureaucrats and European Social-Democratic politicians -as well as China and India who were to be permitted to crank up CO2 emissions to the moon.

Democratic politicians in the Senate, rightly concerned with the reaction of voters, employees and businesses back home who would be stuck paying the *enormous* global bill for a treaty that did not actually help ease global warming, revolted en masse and rejected Kyoto.

At 21/9/07 08:30 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This posting could lead to a huge number of comments and reactions, but since you advertised it ..

Here are just two (of many) examples where this seems to have gone off tangent:

* "But ask yourself, next time you see "An Inconvenient Truth", why the preponderance of data shown only goes back 80 years."

It seems the movie that you saw is different that the one I did. There is data discussed/shown that goes back 650,000 years (Antarctic Ice cores, I believe); there is data going back 10,000+ (if I recall correctly -- off top of my head ... based on glacier ice cores and otherwise); there is 1000 year data; there is 150 year data about global temperatures; and there is 50 year data (CO2 measurements in Hawaii).

Why 150 years of temperature records (actually now 145, I think, data back to 1862)? Because that is the start of, basically, global records using 'modern' thermometers. Why 50 years of CO2 measurements? Because that is when accurate measurements of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere began in a rigorous, continuous, recorded, traceable manner. Etc ...

There is not a "preponderance" of data going back 80 years ... this misconstrues the evidence that Gore presents/discusses.

* "And why polar caps on Mars are receding at an even faster clip than on Earth?"

1. Is every planet the same? Just asking ...

2. The only characteristic Mars/Earth share is the sun and solar radiation has been shown, clearly, not to be able to explain warming patterns in the recent decades. (Even though solar radiation has a role in Climate Change and is one of the natural players as to drivers for climate change, even if not part of the causation for current Global Warming.)

3. While we have good information, writ large, about Mars, the evidence base for claiming "Mars Global Warming" is extremely limited and, in fact, based solely on data from one specific area. I would recommend that you look to RealClimate's discussion: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=192 which concludes:

"Thus inferring global warming from a 3 Martian year regional trend is unwarranted. The observed regional changes in south polar ice cover are almost certainly due to a regional climate transition, not a global phenomenon, and are demonstrably unrelated to external forcing. There is a slight irony in people rushing to claim that the glacier changes on Mars are a sure sign of global warming, while not being swayed by the much more persuasive analogous phenomena here on Earth."

At 21/9/07 08:37 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

By the way, RE Economy --

So, why not -- if there is uncertainty, in your view, as to reality and extent of threat -- support a 'no regrets' strategy?

* Massive energy efficiency -- wring the waste out of the economy & make America richer/stronger

* Renewable energy -- diversify the energy portfolio, increase security (reduced disruption potential) and strengthen economy

* Efficiency + Renewable will improve the American economy (reduced fossil fuel imports, export of technology, move to 'jobs' in local communities against export of money for fossil fuel extraction), Americans' health (reduced pollution, reduced asthma, reduced mercury, etc), strengthen resiliency in face of natural or manmade disasters

Why not support a "no regrets" strategy on the off chance that the 1000s of scientists who have concluded that Global Warming is real, is a real threat, and is driven by human emissions at this time might, just, perhaps, may be be right?

At 21/9/07 09:19 , Blogger deichmans said...


Thanks for writing. Fair enough about AIT's reliance on recent data -- though I stand by my premise that it is selective and not comprehensive (q.v., the lack of upper tropospheric temperature data that contradicts the "message"). I'd like to know what other "tangents" you see in the post.

As for "no regrets" strategies -- I wish it were that easy. Yes, conservationism is good -- I am a big fan of efficiency and alternative energy sources. I'm also bullish on nuclear (particularly the promise offered by fusion a la ITER, albeit 20-30 years away). Curious that the left side of the aisle in Congress has so few who have publicly expressed their support for nuclear energy (other than a few Blue Dogs, like Cong. Lincoln Davis in TN).

However, many of the "fixes" seem like they're more directed at subordinating corporate flexibility to central government oversight (q.v. ZenPundit's note on Kyoto above). I believe in entrepreneurialism, and I support "Affirmative" concepts of social responsibility (i.e., organizations should initiate actions that benefit both the environment as well as their stakeholders). But I am leery of top-down mandates that erode competitiveness without a demonstrable positive effect in the long term.


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