Global Warming 3: Few Like It Hot
February 21, 2007
Soaring populations want equality, jobs, comforts, profits, food and reproduction. Surely that is quite understandable, but here’s the bill. Such desires cause copious emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The GHGs trap solar energy so temperatures rise. Higher temperatures feed glacial meltdowns, thawing tundra, rising oceans, failing ecosystems, extreme weather, additional GHGs from dwindling reservoirs, extinctions of evermore species, infectious diseases, migration and more.
250 years of irrationally exuberant excesses flung Earth from relative stability into a pandemonium never before experienced. Thirty five years ago, evidence pointed at global cooling because of uncontrolled sulphur pollution. Today the issue is the opposite due to long standing carbon imbalances. These opposing events do not cancel out as some loudly shriek. Both concerns were and are valid and point out what pandemonium means. The bloody system is way out of whack so extremes are the norm. Accept it. Act on the root issues. Skip the blabbering.
Another example of complexity: as skeptics point out, higher temperatures support growth in biomass which is, then, capable of absorbing more carbon gases. Such gains partially compensate for losses due to deforestation, urbanization, infrastructure, acid rain and rotten tundra. Great, but it only works to a point – yet higher temperatures and positive feed back loops destroy the ecosystem of the biomass, reversing the trend once again. Earth’s climatic and ecological balances and checks are in such turmoil that equilibrium no longer exists. What historically was stable now accelerates or decelerates out of control.
Speaking of biomass: deforestation in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil and elsewhere hugely adds GHG emissions. Not only are the air cleaning powers of the rain forests’ photosynthetic processes (”lungs of the world”) destroyed, their storages of carbon gases are no longer contained. The stored carbons flow back into the atmosphere with nowhere to go. Higher temperatures, less storage, the spiral continues.
These little examples highlight Earth’s complex ballet of actions, reactions, feedbacks and climatic chaos. Push the climatic balloon, allegorically frying a chicken. Stab again, the balloon goes poof. Dump its remains, choking the very last chicken. Without chickens, the fox goes extinct. The nomad relying on fox fur follows into oblivion. The nomad’s herds scatter, find no food and head into the sunset. Wolves, bears, flies and eagles starve and disappear. With no natural fertilizers, the land barrens. With no crops or chickens, farmers perish. No more farm food, cities suffer. Governments fall. Social fabrics disintegrate. Chaos, riots, crime, war and illness follow. Cities die. Nations die. Earth dies. Fantasy – sure. Reality – more than you might think.
The rising GHG mix causes the warming but is not by itself dangerous – we can and will be able to breathe at any reasonable, expected carbon gas concentration. It is the slow, unstoppable rise in temperatures that causes the damage to practically our whole foundation for life. This post covers the triangle of emissions, concentrations and temperatures. These elements interact to form a deadly Cool-Aid cocktail. I’d really hate to see us turn into another Jonestown.
With George Bush of the US, Hu Jintao of China, Manmohan Singh of India and John Howard of Australia leading the way, the skeptics have their day in the Internet spot light and in newspapers on the right side of the fence. Most of it is just silly polemic and neocon rhetoric, but this essay is an equal opinion blog (EOB). So here are their key arguments with my Italic comments:
- Thousands of independent scientists and thinkers doubt Global Warming exists. That is probably true. There are also thousands of scientists and thinkers that deny the Holocaust. Others debunk Evolution. Millions still believe there are WMD in Iraq. Every one has a right to an opinion. Taking needed policy action is a different, responsible and urgent matter.
- Climate change (warming and cooling) has been happening for millions of years. Absolutely true. But in millions of years, there has never been as extreme warming as has already happened in the last fifty years or so. The rise in temperatures is certain to continue, breaking new records. The cooling cycles of the past are somewhat comparable in magnitude to Global Warming (although inverted) and resulted in ice ages. Ice ages drastically changed the fundamentals of life. So will Global Warming.
- There is no catastrophic warming taking place. Wrong. The catastrophic effects of warming are occurring right now and are well documented. Most of us humans are not yet impacted because we live in areas far away from the immediate impact clearly seen in, for instance, Alpine and Polar areas. Check the facts, please.
- Humans are not big players in global carbon cycle. Wrong. There is too much evidence that 1) man made emissions of carbon rose dramatically to levels never seen, starting in 1750, 2) atmospheric concentrations of carbon gases rose in a similar manner as easily explained by pure physical laws and 3) temperatures followed accordingly in a clear cause-effect manner. The world isn’t flat, either.
- Scientists claimed we were heading towards an ice age just 30 years ago. That is true but remarkably effective pollution legislation broke that trend, perhaps too well. It would be nice if the same legislation, the Clean Air Act in the US, would be enacted on carbon emissions as it legally should. That would ease the dangers significantly. Mr. Bush disagrees.
- Climate change must be seen as the norm not the exception. Absolutely true. Eventually Earth will cool down and probably enter another ice age, perhaps in a few thousand years. The very real question is if mankind and most other species of today will be around to face that particular issue.
- We don’t have the tools to model climate accurately. I agree. Climate models are not a magic bullet and are in some cases grossly overrated. Most handle masses of data well. Many display the impact of assumptions as probabilistic scenarios. They cannot forecast the future accurately. There is a big distinction between “forecasts” and “scenarios”.
No doubt this discussion will continue and not end till only one human is left. There is nothing wrong with that. The challenge is to not let such differences delay urgent actions till it is too late. Not only is the problem made by man, the solution must come from man made too.
About the Essay and Its Eight Parts
I split the essay into eight posts because of its size. Click here for more details on each post.
- The first post examines the basic reasons why we ended up in this dreadful mess.
- The second post covers the political and UN scene.
- The third post deals with rising temperatures.
- The fourth post bares secrets about the forecasting business.
- The fifth post explains the contribution of rising populations to the problem.
- The sixth post discloses public and not so public opinions on Global Warming
- The seventh post looks at ill effects caused, right now, by Global Warming.
- The eighth post finishes up with a view of possible solutions.
There is an elaborate link and TOC (Table of Content) system to help you get around the mass of material in this essay of eight posts. Use it to find what is of your most immediate interest. Just above, there is a TOC button that lets you enter the navigation system. Enjoy.
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- GlobalWarming:1 – Culprits, Scoundrels and Villains
- GlobalWarming:2 – Politics, Scandals, Mass Committees
- This Post: GlobalWarming:3 – Few Like It Hot
- Top of post
- Biomass, Complexity and Balloons
- To All You Skeptics
- I Ain’t Seein’ Nuttin’ Strut
- Confusing Trends, Cycles and Useless Tales
- Troubles In Climate Land
- What On Earth Does It Mean?
- Farming Greenland Fiesta
- Next and Previous
- GlobalWarming:4 – Disastrous Disaster Forecasts
- GlobalWarming:5 – Just Too Many Of You
- GlobalWarming:6 – Lies, Madness and Some Truth
- GlobalWarming:7 – Terrifying Evidence
- GlobalWarming:8 – Cataclysmic Apocalypse?
This essay contains real life mini stories usually about small, even insignificant effects of Global Warming. The aim is to make you consider reality, survival, pain and your own future. I cite simple stories about how some of us (humans, animals, plants, oceans and everything else) are already in, or cause, deep trouble. Here are links to the various little puzzle pieces:
- Allegro to “There Ain’t No Global Warming”
- Adagio to the Krill
- Mountain Top Chorale
- Tiger in Your Tank Two Step
- I Ain’t Seein’ Nuttin’ Strut
- Farming Greenland Fiesta
- Ballad of the Lemmings
- Carol to Failures
- Ode to an Ancient Past
- Cacophony of a President
- Tale of the River
- Northeast Song
- Chant for the Confused
- Hymn to the North
- Parchment Míddjarn
- Anthem to the Oceans
- Aria for the Polar Bear
Images in this essay
The photos in this essay pay tributes to the politicians of the world. After all, they are the ones who are supposed to get us out of this mess. So I thought perhaps a little support from this blog might make them change their minds and actually make some difficult but constructive decisions. Of course, I don’t want the tributes to look like unethical bribes, so perhaps a few of the photos are just a tad impolite. Perhaps others show events or persons our ruling class would rather forget.
I could not resist a few shots from that old classic movie “Some Like it Hot”. I produced the factual graphs from my own databases, combining data from many sources.
This blog, its design, text content (except quotes from others) and my own images and graphs are copyright © Leading Design, Inc 2006-2007. All Rights Reserved. I make absolutely no claims on images or quotes from other sources.
The Northern Hemisphere is in deep winter at the moment. The Summary Part 1 of IPCC Global Warming Report is just out, predicting dire consequences of hot weather. Some people have a tough time seeing warmer climate as their butts freeze off. Others think cool weather means there is no Global Warming. A few still enjoy denouncing science for the hell of it. Let’s listen to the views of the doubters in the “I Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Strut”. Quotes are from all over:
“Hey, Al Gore: this global warming is killing me. It’s practically 10 degrees, and dropping.”; “Gee…must be global warming! My water pipes frozen for the first time in 22 years where I live in California, gee…must be global warming!”
Man made global warming is junk science propounded by anti capitalists/ socialists and Marxists with the sole purpose of attacking big businesses — that’s ALL it is. There is no substantive proof to support their claim, there never has been and there isn’t any now. It is plain old fear mongering.
Where has Global Warming been hiding this week? Certainly he is not at the bottom of my woodpile because I have burned so much fuel I can almost see down to bare ground. I worried that Global Warming was stuck somewhere in a Buffalo, N.Y., blizzard, but saw no sign of him on the news clips from that snowbound part of the country.
Global Warming is a delusion that requires nothing less than rehab. The media have almost completely lost contact with reality. They don’t even know that they are embarrassing themselves by passing off New Age drivel as science.
These [pro Global Warming] political guys have axes to grind in the weather thing and what some say will be needed to avoid climate catastrophe. Among them are official folks who seek mainly to choke down the productivity of the United States. Folks like the Chinese, the Indians, and other relatively poorer countries have huge stakes in getting bigger pieces of the world economic pie.
That [Global Warming] is garbage. Brave, knowledgeable voices are raised in dissent, but the scientific snobs and know-it-alls in the media ignore them. With their superior noses raised in the air, they deny what common sense tells us all every day — that the world is flat. But get this: A bunch of kooks in white jackets recently released another report [IPCC 2007] that said our flat Earth is the subject of “global warming,” which, of course, is nonsense.
[Global Warming] is not a coordinated conspiracy but a fashion, in which self-interest and ideology combine and green activists, politicians and journalists help each other to get more funding, more sensational stories and more enemies to blame.
Czech president Vaclav Klaus criticized the UN panel on global warming, claiming that it was a political authority without any scientific basis. “These are politicized scientists who arrive there with one-sided opinion and assignment,” he told interviewers. “Each serious person and scientist says that global warming is a myth.”
To many, the dire implications of last summer’s blistering high temperatures seemed irrefutable, at least until the record setting lows of this winter. The inarguably “conclusive” proof offered by those who claim the planet is getting steadily warmer has borne little or no repeatable evidence of a scientifically established pattern.
The “Ain’t Seein’ Nuttin’ Strut” explains the errors of the Axes-to-Grind Snobs, Liberal Kooks, Know-it-All New-Agers, Superior-Nose Socialists, Junk Scientists, Fashion Marxists, Politicized Scientists, Conspirator One-Siders, Self-Interest Activists, World-Is-Flat Sensationalists and Delusional Straight-Jackets.
Here are more characteristics of Global Warming scientists and believers from allegedly serious sources: Flat Earthers, Control Freaks, Population Cullers, Global Warming Charlatans, Fascists, Self-appointed Cultural Kingpins, Do-Gooders, Vile Propagandistic Personality Attackers, Force Feeding Dogmatists, Grant Seeking Automatons, Doomsayers, Brainwashing Repeaters, Fear Mongers, Intellectually Spayed Cheerleaders, Whiners and Whimperers, Lunatic Lefties and Wing Nuts, Bush-Haters (aka, sore losers), Tree-hugging Maniacs, Loony Liberal Leftists, Liberal Environmentalist Whackos, Parallel Universe Frolickers, Crusading Alarmists, Hysteria Scientists, Liars and Propagandists.
Quite a mouthful, isn’t it. Constructive debate is always good and very much appreciated. One has to admire the innovative control of the English language by these quite expressive skeptics. It would be nice if they spent a bit of time on actual analysis proving their stand rather than on reinventing the English language. Paranoia, anyone? Last gasp, perhaps? Damn the Torpedoes, Custer’s Last Stand, Hold the Alamo?
Ellen Goodman of the Boston Globe compared the Global Warming Deniers to Holocaust Deniers. Perhaps the Skeptics viewed the above descriptions as a way to pay the Liberal Kook Fascists back for that clear and present insult. Does it make a difference that poor Ellen is outnumbered at least forty to one, given the little sample above? Are we now even and perhaps able to become adults?
I do agree with conservative commentators that comparing the Holocaust with Global Warming is not real accurate. For one thing, Global Warming most likely will indiscriminately kill far more people than the Holocaust did.
Now, how come January was ridiculously hot, February turned out colder than hell and most of Jetblue’s east coast airplanes seem parked under five feet of snow? What about the “temperatures that are up a measly 0.6 degrees in 100 years”? Why should we care about that Global Warming nonsense?
The first post in this series, GlobalWarming:1, discussed the basic features of carbon gas emissions and concentrations. Mankind’s eternal thirst for better lives drove up emissions from the energy production that allows us jobs, transportation, lots of food and comfortable homes. Equatorial less developed regions busily mow down their forests to earn timber cash and farm land. The end result is unprecedented levels of carbon concentrations and higher temperatures. Signs and evidence of Global Warming ill effects abound world wide.
It’s time to be specific about how temperatures, emissions and concentrations interact in their intricate play that has such a drastic effect on climates and, ultimately, our way of life.
GHGs are crucial to our survival. Eliminate the atmospheric concentration of these gases and we will freeze to death very quickly. It would lead to a catastrophic drop in temperatures of 20-30 degrees, causing another very major, final ice age. But that is not what we need to deal with. The risk of such a drastic cooling disaster is quite remote at this time.
Balance is the key. Either too much or too little carbon in the atmosphere spells disaster. That balance has been maintained naturally for millions of years with plenty of up and down cycles. Our problem is that humans decided to upset that natural balance by its spewing out unnatural amounts of GHGs. We are now out of balance.
Let’s use a metaphor for a minute to illustrate emissions of gases and the resulting concentrations. Imagine a water hose. Turn the hose on and point the stream into your pool. It will take quite some time before the water level in the pool increases significantly. The pool may have a drain. That drain offsets the inflow of water from the hose.
Global Warming works the same way. The difference is that, first, the pool is very large – all the oceans, atmosphere and biomass. Second, we are not dealing with a single garden hose: there are thousands of high volume fire hoses spewing out vast volumes. Third, the number of fire hoses is increasing rapidly. Fourth, the drain is at or close to capacity. Even turning off the hoses will not stop the rising trend because of the system’s inertia.
The “Draining Reservoir” oceans serve as a huge depository for carbon, amounting to 36 TERATONNES. That’s 36 thousand billion metric tons. The atmosphere contains 0.8 teratonnes and biomass stores 1.9 teratonnes. Oceanic and some biomass carbons are freely exchanged with the atmosphere in a complex balancing act.
The balanced carbon cycle says: Start: emit gases, man made or natural, into the atmosphere. Deposit some in the oceans. Deposit more in biomass. Balance the atmosphere gas mix with the deposits so that the inflow and reflected outflow of Sun energy maintains a steady, life supporting climate. Go back to Start, for ever.
The out-of-balance carbon cycle says: Start: emit too much gases, man made or natural, into the atmosphere. Deposit some, but not enough in the oceans. Deposit more, but not enough in biomass. Watch how the inflow and reflected outflow of Sun energy goes out of balance – too much energy remains on Earth. See temperatures go up, leading to more carbon emissions. Witness how the ecosystems break down. Go back to Start, till the “positive feedback” catastrophe is final. Then really start over again. New life forms will eventually evolve.
Some argue that Global Warming is a cyclic, self correcting phenomenon that needs no interference by humans. Such arguments refer to “while the 2005 hurricane season was bad, the 2006 season came in far less severely than predicted” or “while January 2007 was warmer than expected, February is colder”. Others observe that the Middle Ages were warmer than normal followed by a mini ice age in the 1700s, neither being explained by greenhouse gases. So what’s up?
A cyclic pattern oscillates around a trend. In climates and other environments, the cyclic components usually vary far more than changes to the trend. Climate trends typically change very, very slowly or are even stationary compared to other familiar trends. Temperatures may be up less than 1 degree while, say, GNP is up 2000% over some period of time. Your weight is probably up from 1500% to 4000% from the day you were borne, while temperature levels are up a degree or less in your life time. Yet even minuscule changes in climate trends cause massive changes to the environment. Sudden changes to stable trends are truly a reason for concern.
Ideally, we’d like our climate trends to be flat, not changing up or down from a natural equilibrium. Cyclics best be minimal with no extremes. Today, such ideal conditions are not present. They never really have been consistently in effect.
The analysis of Global Warming is all about judgment and probabilities. There is no certainty as is obvious from the low quality of day-to-day weather forecasting. It is a given that many answers are possible. Some answers are more probable than others or are more logical. Other views are more responsible than the opposing rhetoric. Sadly, many published views are plain wrong, irresponsible, obstinate, reactionary or overly liberal and much else ad infinitum.
Several layers of cyclic short and long term patterns apply to climates. Longer term deviations, such as 10,000 to 100,000 years of ice ages were typically associated with deviations of about six degrees Celsius below the temperature trend.
Over the past 2,000 years, longer term up/down variations in temperatures did not exceed 0.15 degrees prior to the current, major run-up of a degree or so. Short term day-to-day, day-to-night or, at least, season-to-season temperature variations are as large as 40 degrees Celsius, depending, of course, on where you live.
Some cyclic climate variations are totally independent of GHGs as emitted by human activity, nature, underwater reservoirs or what have you. They may be caused by sun energy variations, changes in Earth’s rotation or even shape, cosmic rays, atmosphere water content (including clouds) or the near randomness of major volcanic activity or meteors hitting us at some probable interval.
Day-to-day or month-to-month cyclic weather patterns are not well understood at all. Mid or longer term cyclic patterns are equally mysterious, no matter how big your computer is. Still, you can consider probabilities. Limited as our overall understanding is, there is a body of empirical evidence we can rely on, reducing uncertainty considerably.
For instance, the Middle Age warming followed by the mini ice age is not explained by variations in GHGs. Nor are short term events such as the strength or frequency of hurricanes in one particular season. The eruptions of the Mount Tambora, Krakatoa and Mount Pinatubo volcanoes caused cooling worldwide for several years, unrelated to man made emissions. Yet, the explosive rise in man made GHG emissions in the last 250 years very clearly caused a significant part of the increase in temperatures.
Disbelievers argue we are in a natural cycle and that the temperature will peak and start declining real soon without the need for humans to interfere or change their habits. Two points are in order.
First, going back 650,000 years, the many major temperature peaks and bottoms were not caused by humans. The downs caused ice ages. It is not clear exactly what the ups brought or how they compare to today’s Global Warming, except the magnitude was far smaller. It is known that the low temperatures likely were caused by major volcanic activity, plate tectonics and large meteor hits, followed eventually by warming as Earth struggled for, but probably overshot equilibrium.
Earth and some form of life will survive Global Warming, future Global Cooling and other horrors it encounters. It always has. Each cycle causes massive changes to the order of life and being. Species die, new ones come along. Few if any species go back to the beginning of time. Earth is 4.6 billion years old and primitive forms of life started the journey soon thereafter, successfully coping with every disaster in its way.
Mankind has been lucky enough to survive from its evolutionary beginnings about 2-8 million years ago, depending of your definition of “human”. Modern humans are 200,000 years old, truly new kids on the block. We survived the last ice age fine. Eventually, we will be as obsolete as dinosaurs. Maybe that time is now, maybe not. Spiders showed up 400 million years ago and are doing quite well today. Plants and fungi go back 500 million years. Perhaps we’ll be as lucky, most likely not.
If what we experience is a mere cyclic event, we are not close to the peak of that cycle. The typical climate cycle is from 10,000 years up to about 100,000 years. A switch to lower temperatures is nowhere in sight. The only observed temperature cycle in the last 2,000 years took 600 years to fall from peak to bottom. Earlier, temperatures rose for 1,200 years from at least year 0 and on.
We are perhaps 250 years into a warming trend. No sign points to a slowdown as it would if we approach the peak. Instead, the trend still accelerates. The current rate of increase is about 1/2 degree every twenty years. Suppose this is a natural cycle that will last, say, two hundred years. Then temperatures might peak around 3-4 degrees higher than today, allowing for some eventual slowdown in the growth trend. That is not a positive outlook.
The current, dramatic climate change is not just another natural cycle. Perhaps some part is. Unfortunately, a cyclic impact, if any, makes the situation worse, not better. If the cyclic element is real and adds several degrees to the GHG effect, we are that much closer to doomsday.
Here is something for astronomy buffs. Check out the planet Venus. Venus atmosphere is quite different from ours. It lacks very much in oxygen. But it contains some 13,000 times as much CO2. That means Venus’ atmosphere is 97% CO2. Guess what? Venus is a very hot place where no life (in our sense) is possible. Its surface temperature is about 480 degrees Celsius (900 degrees Fahrenheit). Some call Venus a case of runaway greenhouse effect. Be warned.
While the cyclic patterns are important, no such phenomenon beats a 650,000 year trend and how clearly that trend is broken today. For 649,750 years the average temperature was cyclic but averaged out neither going up nor going down. Some of the cyclic patterns are explained – very likely – by GHG concentrations. Other parts may be explained by different events as discussed above.
Below is a composite of several different Antarctic ice core samples, going back 650,000 years. As you’ll see later, CO2 concentrations, as measured from trapped gases in ice, are real good indicators of ancient temperatures. The graph is as accurate a picture as possible not only of CO2 levels but of temperatures.
Historically, CO2 concentrations vary from 170 to 280 PPMv around a 235 average, or a variation from the trend of 28%. Today we are a frightening, accelerating 64% above that historical average or 126% above previous lows. The several lows of 25-30% associate with ice ages lasting up to 100,000 years, completely changing life on Earth.
Today’s GHG concentration is unprecedented. What will this upward anomaly do to us when it already hit twice the historical records and is spinning out of control? Check the graph below:
Here is a somewhat technical note (skip if you like): A 150 PPMv change in the concentration leads to a temperature change of 1 degree Celsius. Thus, a 50% change in CO2 concentration results in a net temperature change of about 7%. The implied elasticity of temperatures to concentrations then is very low at 0.15. Since 1750, the CO2 concentration went from 270 to 385, up by 45%. The .15 elasticity leads to a theoretical temperature increase of a little less than 7% or, in absolute terms, about 1.0 degree, very consistent with measured data. Back to Earth!
The 650,000 year trend is clear – temperatures as well as GHG concentrations averaged out and were remarkably steady. The long term temperature trend was flat and the GHG concentration was stable at 230-235 PPMv. These steady averages are no longer valid. The current temperatures and GHG concentrations are in the order of three times more out-of-whack than ever before in the known history of close to a million years. The trend suddenly is shifting upwards due to the magnitude of current emissions and concentrations. The inertia of the system makes it almost impossible to break the continued upward shift for up to 40 years, even with the most aggressive actions to curb emissions.
The long term trends are broken and shifting. That is sure to impact climates that are unstable in the first place. The issue is that our lack of understanding of these complex relations makes it impossible to forecast exactly what will happen when, where, how and why. All we can say is that we are way out of line and the signs are bad. Our limited knowledge confirms we’re in trouble. See the Odes, Ballads and Arias of this essay for anecdotic evidence.
In the never-ending Global Warming debate, skeptics claim that while temperatures and greenhouse gas (GHGs) concentrations are up, the cause is not man made emissions. Or, man made GHG emissions cause only a tiny part such as 3% of the total. Hence we need not and cannot take action, nor should we try. We are not responsible, liable or guilty. Such is the stand of a skeptic.
Some of the skeptics make valid points and should not be ignored. They may possibly be right. There is nothing wrong with drawing different conclusions from the same ideas and data. Consider that while most scientists agree with Einstein’s relativity theory, others don’t. Life goes on, no big deal. No one owns or knows the answer. Unfortunately, Global Warming is an urgent issue and we must decide on a course of actions real soon. Debate is nice but results are better.
Here, I won’t rehash the basic point of whom or what causes Global Warming. That’s for other parts of these essays. The question is nearly irrelevant. Temperatures are up. Concentrations of GHGs are up. That we must deal with without the distractions of some silly blame game.
From my particular point of view, the evidence is overwhelming. Man made GHG emissions over the last 250 years are the main culprits that may eventually kill us all. The real question is not why or how temperatures are up but what the heck we do about it. Let’s run a little allegory on that theme.
The vast majority of us will die of “natural” causes, such as cancer or heart disease. There are several real life options how to deal with such a probability. One approach is the prevention of the diseases. Another approach is to cure those inflicted. A third option is to do nothing because the condition is “natural” and/or countermeasures are “beyond-ones-control”, “against-ones-beliefs”, “too-expensive” or perhaps “hopeless”.
Prevention of the diseases makes a lot of sense. Eat healthy food, exercise, don’t smoke, drink one glass of red wine a week but no more, munch aspirin, use green light bulbs, pray, check your prostate/breasts and/or colon regularly. Do not indulge in poor behavior such as smoking pot, burning wood, popping pills, robbing banks or watching TV. Those are good guidelines but they do not guarantee the outcome. Nothing compels anyone to follow these suggestions. In fact, few do and most never will.
Cures to the diseases become an important issue if you are inflicted with one of them. At that point, prevention becomes meaningless. It doesn’t matter if the condition is caused by our own behavior, genetics, the environment, imported oil or plain bad luck. All that matters is what you do about it. You’ll either pursue the third “no hope” option (below). Or you’ll engage in a fight involving many available, but expensive technologies. These technologies usually come at a personal price – they carry severe side effects, costs and are not guaranteed to work.
Many people choose the third option – throwing up their arms in despair and fade away. We all have to make decisions, no blame allowed. Some feel they have a right to lazily smoke, drink, use drugs and, when disease strikes, continue to lazily smoke, drink and use drugs. The dire side effects of curing the disease may be too overwhelming or even against religious beliefs. Procrastinators delay facing facts, going back to bed. Fools refuse to acknowledge reality and head for Las Vegas. The glove does not fit all hands. But it is wrong if this option is applied across the border.
Global Warming is not different from the little tale above. We are inflicted with the disease of overheating temperatures, inertia and, as George W. Bush put it, an addiction to oil. Little does it matter if the problem is natural or unnatural, man made, cyclic, religious, magical, wizardly or even a partial hoax.
We know where we are. Prevention and cures are the true issues, not the hand wringing of Why or How Come. The options are exactly the same as in the little tale above; only the means are different. Here are two proactive although generic ways to deal with Global Warming. Both ways are the main subjects of this series of essays and I’ll be a lot more specific in time:
Start real preventive actions. The cancer is here in force but hopefully is not yet so irreversible that we are already lost. We must tackle the primary suspect, GHG emissions, real soon. Many well understood equitable options already exist. They are technically simple but hard to act on, tough to face and grim to implement. Enforcement is not a popular subject, nor are mandates. Options boil down to political willpower, leadership, mandatory limits (caps), monetary incentives (taxes and/or option trading), technical innovation, significant personal sacrifices and a lot of luck. Incidentally, the current version of the Kyoto Protocol is neither a workable solution, nor an excuse not to act.
Work on a cure. A cure means reducing current high temperatures. Some early ideas are available but difficult to apply. Scientists and engineers look at “out polluting the pollution”, shooting a few thousand giant or millions of small mirrors into space, deploying huge stand-alone scrubbers, bombing clouds, farming GHG muzzling creatures in the oceans and a few other bioengineer ideas. Prevention is much easier than finding these types of cures. If prevention fails, these ideas may be our only remaining weapons. (Perhaps Sir Richard Branson’s $25 million reward will help, as offered by the Virgin Airlines chief to whoever can suck a billion tons of carbon gases out the atmosphere. Actually, perhaps another way is to ground his and other airlines.)
The third “do nothing” option is not for most of us as the crisis pressure escalates. I don’t believe we are sufficiently fatalistic to just disappear into the eternal sunset together with our kids, grand kids and the rest of the tribe. Saying that we need not, cannot or should not take action to prevent or cure the Global Warming disease is utterly wrong for the vast majority of us. The approach is incredibly cynical and unethical. Perhaps experts such as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney can stomach it, but we peons cannot. Such a policy should not be forced on us but it may be: to date, there are no truly effective preventions or cures in sight. The political willpower certainly is not present – anywhere. Nor is personal responsibility sighted in any evident manner. The suicidal third option is in effect by default. That is very bad news to most of us.
Speaking of bioengineering – let’s set off a dozen obsolete B41 nuclear bombs, each of 25 mega tons, in well placed areas. Global Warming is no longer an issue due to a dust filled atmosphere. Sun energy can not find its way in and it will get real cold. How about that idea? Which continent(s) do we sacrifice? One in the North and one in the South? Perhaps Argentina and Alaska? Consider the cost – almost zero with no taxes, mandatory caps or other unpleasantness needed.
Another bioengineering possibility is an asteroid hit, perhaps a remote possibility short term but sure to happen at some point. The effect would be similar to that of the nuclear bombs, minus the radioactive fallout. A sizable asteroid can release the energy equivalent of a dozen B41 bombs. At this very time, the asteroid Apophis may hit Earth on Sunday, April 13th 2036. The probability of a hit rather than a close fly by is 1 in 45,000, or quite low. Apparently there are some technology ideas about how to steer the asteroid away from Earth if it is set to come too close. Perhaps that technology should be used to steer the asteroid to a hit instead?
Which leads to the point: for humans to play around with climates, by carbon emissions or nuclear bombs, is an extremely dangerous game. We stubbornly play Russian Roulette as we have for 250 years. We released the energy equivalence of many dozens of nuclear bombs into the atmosphere. It’s a good idea to stop that practice. It is exceedingly difficult to avoid the punishment. In Crime and Punishment, committing, then justifying a crime for megalomaniac reasons quickly turns into disaster and punishment. Dostoevsky knew his stuff.
Here is a good question. Do GHG emissions and concentrations actually impact temperatures? Let’s leave the issue of the relationship of emissions and concentrations alone. It seems to be a no-brainer that emissions cause higher concentrations. Let’s examine how concentrations interact with temperatures using the Vostok ice core samples covering 450,000 years:
Given the graph, it is real hard to discard the notion of a very close relationship between concentrations and temperatures. Some will argue that the data is not totally certain. In particular, the temperature data is uncertain and based on all kinds of assumptions. That is true but let’s leave that issue for later. Right now, we’ll assume that the relationship in the graph is true.
Next, what precisely is that relationship? I’ll use “elasticity” here as a measurement of how concentrations interact with temperatures. Elasticity is a term from macroeconomics: a number describing how a percent change in something results in a (different) percent change in something else. For instance, if the price of booze goes up 10%, perhaps demand for booze drops 10%. That is an elasticity of -1.0. If you add 10% more power plant capacity, then perhaps carbon emissions go up 15% (made up numbers). That is an elasticity of 1.5.
I already mentioned (remember?) that my data indicate an elasticity of 0.15 for concentrations to temperatures. That means a 10% increase in concentrations results in a 1.5% increase in temperatures. Checking that number against the Stern Report, I’m in line at the low end of that report’s elasticity range from 0.1 to 0.3. The Stern report does not use the elasticity concept but it is easy to convert from one way to the other. They say doubling GHG concentration will cause temperatures to rise 1.5-4.5 degrees. In my analysis, the doubling results in a temperature increase of 2.0-2.5 degrees, well within the lower end of the Stern range.
As skeptics would put it, what’s that junk science got to do with anything? Let’s make it real by considering the whole way from an oil field to the Arctic ice melt downs.
The very process of extracting oil from Earth produces GHG emissions. Once extracted, the oil is sent on its way in leaky pipelines, adding more emissions. It ends up at a port terminal, is loaded on a tanker with yet more leakage/emissions. Hopefully the tanker won’t run aground a la Exxon Valdez in which case we have real bad case of emissions. As the tanker moves across the oceans, it emits GHGs, burning fuel. If the journey is safe, the oil is offloaded at an oil refinery (more leaks) and converted into gasoline, heating oil and all kinds of other things. Of course, there are additional emissions at this stage. Then consider gas which is distributed to gas stations (leaks) by GHG emitting trucks, pumped into the gas station reservoir (leaks). You pump the gas into your car (smelly leaks) and drive away, with each mile adding more emissions to the poor air. Sorry, the catalytic converter on your car produces, not reduces, CO2!
In short, a ton of crude oil in the journey from its earthen origin to its final use emits plenty of GHGs. Some of those emissions end up in “carbon sinks”. Some remains in the atmosphere and adds to the existing carbon concentration. Partly because we’re running out of natural, conventional carbon sinks and mostly because we are just pouring carbon into the air, concentrations are up dramatically.
Suppose we double emissions – well within the sorry results to date. That leads to an increase in atmospheric concentrations of 5%, using my database numbers. Thus, the elasticity of emissions to concentrations is 0.05.
So here is the chain effect: Increase carbon emissions by 100%. That increases GHG concentrations in the air by 5%, which in turn increases world temperatures by 0.8% or a little more than 0.1 degree Celsius. That actually looks like good news – doubling emissions cause a tiny increase in temperatures. Not so fast, consider two pieces of bad news:
First, we tend to double emissions every 20-25 years so even a low sensitivity eventually leads to very damaging increases in temperatures. Second, the low sensitivity of emissions to temperatures works not only on the upside as shown but also on the downside. Modest drops in temperatures require huge reductions in emissions.
The analysis here is quite simpleminded and we need some refinements before we can really understand what is going on. I’ll leave the subject and return a little later.
So far, all I’ve said is that there is a strong relationship between emissions, concentrations and temperatures. I have not really said that concentrations cause temperature changes or if it is the other way around. So let’s examine this issue.
Many Global Warming skeptics argue that temperature changes lead changes in concentrations over time. Thus they claim emissions are not the cause of a warmer climate. They often use the data similar to that in the 450,000 year Vostok graph above as evidence. Without trying to debunk one set of data over another, the Vostok data does not indicate that concentrations lag temperatures consistently. To me, it looks like, on the upside, concentrations are close to simultaneous with temperature changes. On the downside, it does looks like concentrations lag temperature changes. Of course, the current concern is not what happens on the downside – the concern is what happens when concentrations rise and Vostok data tells us there is no big lead or lag effect.
The fact is that emissions and concentrations both lead and lag temperatures depending on many factors. There is no question that high concentrations lead to higher temperatures. That is a well established scientific fact. However, higher temperatures also lead to more carbon emissions. For instance, frozen biomass thaws, emitting its load of previously frozen carbon gases. Melting of glaciers and sea ice reduces the reflection of excess solar energy since ground “whiteness” is darkened. Lastly, it is entirely possible that non emission factors (solar energy, clouds) start a warming trend, eventually causing carbon releases.
The interactive relationship of temperatures and emissions/concentrations is generally characterized as a “positive feedback loop”. That means that the change in one factor leads to a change in the other factor which, in turn, reinforces the change in the original factor, causing a loop that eventually can result in catastrophe. Such a feedback loop is currently in effect. Arguments that carbon emissions do not cause Global Warming are wrong, a waste of time and let’s just move on.
Post 1 of this essay showed the long shelf life of GHGs. The most common gas carbon dioxide’s shelf life runs from 50 to 300 years. Some gases will remain in the atmosphere up to 50,000 years, although in small densities. Some of the atmosphere’s current mix contains gases from prehistoric times. Small parts of the CO2 content dates back as far as the start of the industrial revolution.
The GHG concentration is a mix of the latest emissions as well as emissions of previous years. That leads to inertia in the system – it is very hard to reduce the concentrations quickly even if emissions are forced down by large amounts. Here is a graph of the life cycle (shelf life) of carbon dioxide from my analysis:
To my knowledge, there is no real data on the life cycles of GHGs. The CO2 graph above is purely “trial and error”, attempting to explain known concentrations with known emissions considering the life cycle where the shelf life and half-life are somewhat known. No doubt this methodology can be improved.
The life cycle curve above is optimistic compared to some other data – I use a half life of 67 years and most of the gas emitted in some particular year is gone (oxidized, absorbed, broken down, sequestered) after 150 years. Other data indicates a half life of 100 years and a shelf life of up to 300 years which, of course, means an even larger inertia.
The graph below shows the importance of gas life cycles. A simple scenario of drastic cuts in annual emissions (greenish line) is plotted against the effective life cycle emission levels (solid red bars), calculated from the life cycle in the graph above. The difference between the two curves is the inertia. The life cycle emissions in the atmosphere are 25 times as high as the annual emissions.
The graph’s annual emissions decline far more than is likely or probably even possible. Even so, the life cycle emissions (concentrations) continue up for forty more years. Then concentrations head down. There is no such thing as a rapid turn around in concentrations or temperatures. Temperatures will rise for years, no matter what is done.
Without showing details, the graph data implies an increase in concentrations to about 425 PPMv by 2047 and a rise in temperatures of less than 1 degree Celsius thanks to the huge and very steep curtailments in annual emissions. Emission cuts as pictured would enormously reduce but not eliminate the risks of serious trouble. I’ll cover scenarios like this in Post 8 of this essay.
It is in no way hopeless, unnecessary or uneconomical to cut emissions. Reducing emissions is the only currently practical way to turn the climate change around. The graph shows just how drastic the cuts must be to make a truly significant impact.
Ice ages occurred in cycles of between 40,000 to 100,000 years. The last ice age ended 10,000 years ago. If you are familiar with, say, Scandinavia or the Northern parts of America you may have noticed that the North side of rock formations are sloped and smooth while the South side is ragged and much steeper. That is caused by millions of tons of ice gliding over the rock surface. Today millions of people live in these areas without worrying at all about ice ages.
Going even further back, the first ice age occurred about 2 billion years ago. The most severe one happened about 700 million years ago – practically all of Earth was covered by ice. Additional ice ages date back to 450, 300, 40 and 3 million years ago.
The graph indicates six, possibly seven ice ages over the last 650,000 years. The ice age about 400,000 years ago probably did happen but the ice core data is a bit inconsistent for that particular event. The last ice ago produced ice coverage of the Northern hemisphere up to 4,000 meters thick. Ocean levels fell by 130 meters.
GHG concentrations during the ice ages dropped 28%. Today’s concentrations are 64% above the same average. Ice age temperatures dropped 6 degrees. Today’s temperatures are up only 1 degree or so but are likely to keep going up some 3-5 degrees more, bringing the total to the same magnitude as the ice age anomality.
Ice ages are associated with atmospheric and solar energy changes: cooling factors such as clouds, low atmosphere humidity, decreased levels of GHGs and reflections of solar heat from an increased snow pack. Differences in Earth’s orbit could be a factor – the orbit may be closer to or further from the sun. Other variations involve volcanic activity and meteor hits.
How are ice ages relevant to Global Warming? Ice ages happened and they were caused by the inverse of the Global Warming effects. The causes of ice ages are well within the inverse limits of the known or expected effects of Global Warming. The drastic climate changes and major upheavals of the ice ages might mirror what we will experience from Global Warming.
Ice ages caused massive changes. Large mammals disappeared as did many small ones, birds, fish and plant life. Just about everything across the range of species either suffered or flourished. Up to a quarter of all living things became extinct, replaced by others.
Currently, the largest mass extinction in 65 million years is underway. The rate of extinction is up by a factor of 10 -100 times of historical averages. No one expects this trend to reverse anytime soon. Half of all species may be gone in 100 years as a, mostly, consequence of human acts.
During the last ice age, world population was about 3 MILLION compared to today’s level of 6.5 BILLION. For each person affected by the last ice age, today 2,200 persons will suffer the inverse effects of the climate change. The space and resources needed by one person last time now must be shared by 2,200 people.
Certainly our resources today are far beyond those available to people during the last ice age. Some resources are not; space being one. Suppose one million people out of the three million total had to migrate to avoid being crushed under 4,000 meters of ice. Today, the equivalence is migrating 2.2 billion people out of harms way – a very tricky preposition, especially considering Earth is no bigger than before.
Our sophisticated resources work well today but are untested when places such as New York are under water. Technology is great when it works but is a major anchor around our necks if it doesn’t. We are exceedingly dependent on a very complex infrastructure that could easily break down. Do computers work without power? What if food cold storages become warm storages? How do we migrate out of harm’s way without fuel? You imagine the rest.
Perhaps the survival skills of our 10,000 year old forefathers and mothers far exceed ours. Ironic, isn’t it. On the other hand, there probably are 3 million of our 6.5 billion that will prove to be adaptable enough to survive almost any challenge. The question is which 3 million? Let’s just leave this speculation right here. There is no way to say what will happen 30-40-100 years down the road. But some planning would be reassuring. We are not looking at an insignificant event such as Katrina. We may deal with the equivalence of a million Katrinas. Personally, I have trouble with the idea that the Department of Homeland Security will be able to handle that.
Ice ages caused major changes affecting all living species. They lasted a long time. Everything indicates we are approaching extremes of, at least, the same magnitude. Extinctions are already underway. Record temperatures are pretty much locked in. The human catastrophe can easily go beyond anything experienced, ever, including during the ice ages. That’s the downside. The upside? You tell me. Change that light bulb, will you. Buy a smaller car. Do your part.
Over the last few hundred years, CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is up about 65% compared to the 650,000 year trend. Temperatures are up about one degree Celsius. According to experience, the increase in carbon concentration should have upped temperatures by from .8 to 3 degrees. The actual 1.0 degree increase is at the very low end of expectations.
Flattening the emissions within a few years together with inertia in the system will add another 2-4 degrees, bringing the increase to around 3-5 degrees, not counting the effect of probable additional increases in emissions. The IPCC Report tags the range at 1-6 degrees, including various ideas about emissions. The Stern Report puts a 50% probability on an increase of more than 5 degrees.
At this stage of the analysis, a temperature increase of 5 degrees Celsius is realistic as long as substantial reductions in emission growth are achieved. I’ll be more specific in Post 8 of this essay.
Currently GHG concentration is about 385 PPMv. 550 PPMv is viewed as a critical milestone level. That level may easily be reached anywhere from 30 to 100 years from now, depending on how much and how soon emissions are cut. The worst case scenario – growth in emissions continue at the current rate of 1% per year – results in a very deadly level of over 1,000 PPMv by the end of the century and maybe 10 degrees higher temperatures. Then the ice ages with their measly 6 degree change will look like child’s play.
The three graphs below use identical data but highlights shorter and shorter time periods to demonstrate the tight relationship between concentrations and temperatures. Temperatures are measured in deviations (anomalies) from a flat long term trend; concentrations are actually measured levels. The impact of concentrations on temperatures is close to simultaneous and consistent with the sensitivity and elasticity data discussed earlier.
The graphs are consistent and straight forward with the exception of the medieval warming and the mini ice age of the 1700s, neither of which were explained by GHG emissions going up or down. The medieval warming and the mini ice age were really quite minor effects – the temperature anomaly was no larger than .15 degrees Celsius. Today’s anomaly is .8 degrees, five times as much.
When dealing with a reluctant world wide audience and trying to make a complex point, you better have good support for your arguments. If not, your opponents will find ways to crucify you. Actually, even if your data is flawless, the opposition will find ways to crucify you. But credible data helps a lot in that battle. Here are a few points about Global Warming data.
To get the best view of today’s Global Warming, it is necessary to understand how temperatures interact with GHGs. Such analysis means going back in time much further than humans, not to mention measurement devices, existed. It is common to consider data millions of years old. There are calculations of temperatures going back 2.7 billion years.
Galileo, among others, invented a rudimentary thermometer in the 1500s. The first Mercury versions showed up in the 1700s. In the 1800s, people such as the weather man realized this tool was useful for analytical purposes. That’s when actual measurements of temperatures started to be recorded. Today, there are thousands of stations providing precise measurements in infinite detail.
However, a precise set of thermometers does not mean that you have good global data. Just take a simple issue such as coordinated temperature measures globally. Coordinated might mean that the measures are taken at the same GMT time. Then some temperatures are taken in the middle of cold nights as opposed to those taken where it is day. So to correct that, why not use local time? Then we are no longer coordinated, the time difference may be up to 12 hours. Is it the chicken or the egg? Top that off with thermometer calibration, sensitivity and handling issues, human factors, measurement location relative to heat emitting cities and industry…. and so on. Measuring things is difficult and a complete science in itself.
This graph illustrates how different ways of looking at the same thing result in quite different data series. Without diving into details, I use a composite (yellow in the graph) of many sources to arrive at “my” temperature data. Typically, that composite is a simple average.
Measuring atmospheric gas content goes back to the early 1800s. Organized recordings of GHG emissions or concentration started in the early 1950s. Today, thousands of stations around the globe provide an extremely detailed look at the current status but not long term historical levels. To make this mass of raw data useful, assumptions are made so computers can consolidate different measuring devices and techniques and all kinds of other differences between stations.
For long term data, ice cores from Antarctica provide excellent views into past atmospheric conditions. The most fabulous set of cores come from the Russian Vostok station, providing information going back up to 400,000 years, covering four ice ages. The Taylor Dome also provides vital information. The Europeans maintain several ice core stations under their EPICA program with cores going back up to 900,000 years. Other stations provide additional data.
An ice core is simply a sample of ice collected from a certain depth in the continental Antarctic ice shelf or wherever there is ancient ice present. The idea is that the deeper you drill, the older the retrieved sample is. To make this useful, you need to translate depth of the sample to physical time using precise assumptions. Then you analyze the core sample and find traces of the air as prevalent at the estimated physical time, typically in air bubbles. A few assumptions lead to an estimate of, say, CO2 concentrations for that point in time. Then another set of assumptions lead to an estimated temperature for that period of time, often based on the estimated CO2 level.
The ice core estimates are subject to lots of assumptions and limitations. They are effective in analyzing thousands of years of data but cannot tell the status of, say, last July 4th. For recent data, the Mauna Lao Observatory on Hawaii and many other stations measure the actual air content.
Additional temperature estimates rely on old tree age rings – a wider ring means faster growth for the tree due to warmer temperature and the reverse. Other indirect, arbitrary clues come from ancient leaf deposits thousands of meters below surface, rocks, historical harvest reports and recorded annual events such as thawing of snow, spring/fall signs, severity of winters and summer heat waves and much else. Needless to say, these measurements are not precise and depend on subjective interpretation.
Here is the point. Measuring anything is far more complex than most of us assume. All kinds of assumptions and other guesswork are involved. That is true today and it is certainly true going back a few million years. There will always be controversy about the data supporting – or not – a galvanizing issue such as Global Warming.
Several criticizers of the Stern and UN reports make a rather severe accusation that the reports use falsified historical data to fit their politic, biased view better than the original data. Here is the “hockey stick” argument:
According to the critique, the UN in 1996 published a graph of temperature changes that showed a peak in the middle age. A later graph published in 2001 apparently did not show that peak, making today’s increase that much more alarming. The critique explained how the UN falsified the data and accuses the UN of doing it on a regular basis. The skeptics declare Global Warming is junk science.
Others claim historical data on carbon concentrations is biased downwards by unscrupulous researchers to exaggerate the apparent severity of current levels. Yet others argue that the data on man made emissions relative to natural emissions is utterly wrong and misleading.
Who can tell? Sometimes data is “massaged” to make “communication clearer”. More likely, the data is revised as research provides better measurement techniques. There were probably some fairly innocent reasons to change the UN data, if indeed it was changed. What bothers me is that rarely can I see the basis for the complaints in the data I use which typically is a composite of the data from several sources. All I can do is to place my bet and move on.
Data on, in particular, long term global trends usually must be corrected over time. Measurements from different origins are calibrated and spliced using ever improving algorithms as technology evolves. See this:
Behind the emerging consensus on climate change lie more than 150 years of slow, painful negotiations over global standards for measuring, recording, and communicating about the weather.
[This example] illustrates the complex combination of social and technical problems that affect the implementation of standards. The consequences for the detection of climatic change can be profound.
Criticizing the validity of data used in scientific studies is as common as the studies themselves. Sometimes the critique is well founded, sometimes not. Occasionally a doomed scientist is caught flat footed while trying to increase grants based on sensational results. In other cases, the fraud is institutionalized. Medical research, biotech and the drug industry each has a history of abuses.
In many cases the complaint is just a ploy by competitors or conflicting interests to divert attention. The tobacco industry did it for decenniums. So does the oil industry, more recently. The White House also does it as a matter of policy.
In the case of Global Warming, accusations of wrong assumptions and inaccurate data are common. The vast majority of scientists still back the overall notion we do have a serious problem. I’ll go with that majority. You can’t dismiss thousands of pieces of evidence on the basis of one or two instances of possibly incorrect data.
This one is easy. No, computers and the complex climate models are not reliable in any sense of the word. If you think differently, be my guest. I’ve spent a fair part of this essay trashing low quality forecasting for what I believe are good reasons. Astonishing amounts of bad analysis and inaccurate forecasts get their moment of fame for no good reason – more in the next post of this essay.
Having said that, many of the major climate models are built by very smart people with huge budgets subject to intense competition and extreme scrutiny. These people know the limitations and understand much of the complex theories. They realize that the results depend on a mix of real and imagined input data and assumptions. They understand the output is just a probabilistic and essentially subjective indicator, not a certain, unbiased or undisputable fact.
The problems of even the best of forecasting and complex models usually start when results are published and get into the hands of those that do not understand the limitations. That includes the skeptical amateurs, many journalists and commentators, politicians, bloggers and the general public.
You need a mechanism for analyzing masses of diverse, incomprehensible data. The crucial part is realizing these models are just tools and part of a larger picture involving thinking rather than blindly accepting a mechanical view provided by Big Brother.
First, Are Global Warming uppers, downers, reservoirs and trends related? Answer: By any statistical standard, the relationships of emissions, concentrations and temperatures are very, very strong. The relationships are consistent across the border and with plain basic theory. However, historical Global Warming relations face a breakdown as we are already far outside anything experienced in modern or much of ancient times.
Second, is the temperature rise consistent with historical patterns – is it simply a natural cyclical matter of limited, temporary importance? Answer: The current climate pattern is without modern historical precedent and may become as severe as that of the ice ages, inversed. The ice ages produced enormous upheavals on the few living at the time. Given the size of today’s populations, the current issue is far more severe than that of the ice ages. The medieval temperature spike was far smaller than what we experience today.
Third, what is the impact of leads, lags and inertia? Answer: Inertia makes it impossible to quickly reverse trends. The next fifty years will see continued increases in temperatures, no matter what we do. Still, reducing carbon emission is just about the only weapon we have. Leads and lags are interesting phenomena but not real important.
Fourth, is the rise caused by non-human events such as a natural increase in CO2 or perhaps the natural and temporary effects such as solar activity? Answer: Essentially, who cares? The only effect of a possible cyclic pattern is to make matters that much worse, not better.
Fifth, is the data reliable? Some accuse the UN of falsifying historical data to make its points more plausible. Answer: I don’t know. I doubt the UN deliberately is misleading the world using fraud. That would simply be too risky. Possibly there is some incompetence that most likely will be corrected over time.
Sixth, much of the climatic research relies on high speed computers and complex models that have never been accurate in the layman’s sense, thereby casting doubts on any conclusions. Answer: This concern is valid. Never expect black boxes to make believable decisions for you. They are only tools assisting old-fashioned thinking.
The scientific analyses of Global Warming as published in the UN IPCC report, in the Stern report and, for that matter, right here are pretty much correct. It makes no sense arguing about the basic conclusions. The Why and Who are perhaps interesting issues for the history books but the only real thing that counts now is What To Do and How To Do It Now.
Skeptics keep rambling the same paranoid, useless monkey wrench points over and over, lacking the ability to listen and/or move on. Why Global Warming is a left/right issue is beyond comprehension. In what way is a rise in temperatures associated with liberal beliefs? Why is the denial of such a trend a corner post in US conservative policy, absurdly denying simple facts and needlessly going against the world? The neocon obstructions appear as foolish and random as is the blind support of a meaningless, lost war in Iraq.
Just keep this in mind: we are already experiencing the harsh impacts from Global Warming. That is beyond dispute. Existing emissions, no matter what we do, will drive up temperatures for at least the next fifty years. If it makes you feel better, blame UFOs, cosmic rays, sun spots, Al Gore, terrorists, Ralph Nader, leaky borders, gay marriage, politicized scientist propeller heads or yours truly. It makes no difference. Just please consider taking action.
Fact: if we stay on today’s horrifying growth pattern, we are sure to experience a catastrophic outcome. The world in fifty years will be very different from today without doubt. The state of the world in seventy five years depends on how we act now. How old will your grand kids be? What about your great grand kids?
Here we go again. “Farming Greenland Fiesta” is a little piece about some Greenlanders enjoying the effects of Global Warming. As always, good news to some is bad news to others. This event may be good for a few in a place far away from most of us. Sadly, millions may be fleeing rising oceans while the Greenlanders happily plant their broccoli and tend their cows (Source: here):
Known for its massive ice sheets, Greenland is feeling the effects of global warming as rising temperatures have expanded the island’s growing season and crops are flourishing. For the first time in hundreds of years, it has become possible to raise cattle and start dairy farms. There are many reasons for this agricultural boom, the most important being a rise in temperature.
Ferdinand Egede would be a perfectly normal farmer if it weren’t for that loud cracking noise. Wearing a plaid lumberjack shirt and overalls, he hurries through the precise rows of his potato field, beads of sweat running down his forehead.
The cracking noise has turned into a roar. What’s happening in the sea below Egede’s fields doesn’t square well with what one would normally associate with rural life. The sound is that of an iceberg breaking apart, with pieces of it tumbling into the foaming sea.
He pulled 20 tons of potatoes from the earth last summer, and his harvests have been growing larger each year. “It’s already staying warm until November now,” says Egede. And if this is what faraway scientists call the greenhouse effect, it’s certainly a welcome phenomenon, as far as Egede as concerned.
For farmer Egede, the only evidence of a bygone way of life can be found in the crocheted hunting scenes hanging on the wall next to a giant flat-screen TV in his living room. “Hunting is getting more and more difficult,” he says. “The fjord hardly ever freezes over in the winter anymore; nowadays, snowmobiles would sink.
Cattle will be added to the mix on the island’s rocky meadows, part of a new dairy industry officials envision for Greenland. One day in the near future, the island’s farmers could even be growing broccoli and Chinese cabbage.
Only 19 cows currently graze on Greenland. “Each of them has a name,” agricultural consultant Høegh adds with a grin. Nine are owned by Sofus Frederiksen, an athletic Inuit with an angular face who drives like a man who knows that no one monitors driving speed on Greenland.
In his Landrover, the 42-year-old Frederiksen hurtles along a dusty trail [to where] his cows graze the slopes unattended. But winter is a different story when it comes to feeding cattle. Milder temperatures could soon allow him to harvest two crops of hay each season. When that happens, perhaps Greenland will live up to its name as it did when Vikings settled on this icy island.
“What we are experiencing here is a genesis,” says reindeer man Stefan Magnusson, his voice filled with emotion. “Just a few years ago there was ice where we are now standing”; Magnusson’s reindeer graze an area of about 1,500 square kilometers (579 square miles). “It suddenly starts raining here in February or March,” This is fatal for the animals, because the rain quickly freezes, forming a crust of ice over the grass.
For now, Magnusson is hoping to strike it rich with a possible mining deal. The metal, he says, is used to forge the hard steel used to make ball bearings. “That’s why the world needs vanadium like crazy right now.”
Perhaps your next meal of broccoli will come from Greenland. Meanwhile, if the Greenland ice sheet melts as is feared, Manhattan, London, Florida, Holland, the Maldives, Indonesia and Bangladesh will be partially under water, to cite a few examples. Good news to some is bad news elsewhere.
GlobalWarming:1 discusses why Global Warming happened, who and what causes it, ending up with a list of villains. It did not go into the consequences of Global Warming. It didn’t discuss what is happening to the oceans, the Arctic, Greenland, El Nino, eco systems, weather impacts, tundra, ice packs, the Kyoto Protocol or the Stern reports or other Global Warming topics. That is yet to come.
GlobalWarming:2 covers two main subjects. First, the UN provides a real mixed bag of positive and negative influences on the fight against Global Warming. The positive is that they try, have some credibility and many resources. The negative is that they fail. The Kyoto Protocol is not reducing emissions, nor are the associated reports. The CER system is causing more trouble than good. Solutions exist but are not acted on. Second, industrial strategies and national policies do little to reduce Global Warming – in fact, the opposite is generally true in spite of rhetorical lip service.
The current Global Warming:3 examines the basic root cause of our problem: rising temperatures. Is the increase real and does it matter? Is it natural or caused by man? Are the temperatures unusual compared to history? Do GHGs actually cause the increase? What can past temperature variations tell us about what we face today? Can you even trust the basic data and analysis of temperatures? The post answers those and other questions in exuberant detail.
GlobalWarming:4 shows Global Warming is not the first disaster forecast ever done, published and hyped. There were many in the past and as a rule they failed. The disaster in question simply did not happen because extending some historical trend into the future does not work – trends change. So the question is – why is this particular doom and gloom outlook right? What is different this time? As you will see, plenty is different.
GlobalWarming:5 reviews the role and issues of population growth. This is a vital issue for future emissions as shown in GlobalWarming:1. Historically over the past 250 years, the explosive growth in populations explains two thirds of the increase in GHG emissions. The rise in personal carbon use must be reversed as must other issues related to unbalanced growth in populations.
GlobalWarming:6 summarizes some important and a few not so important opinions on Global Warming. Global Warming is a battle ground, galvanizing the left against the right, neo conservatists against liberals, the sane against those not quite sane, the religious right against evangelists, politicians against constituents, reactionaries against activists, bloggers against bloggers, late show hosts against ratings, journalists against circulations, spokespersons against skeptics and, not least, scientists against scientists. This post contains a small sample of the rare truth, accusations, biases, opinions and propaganda thrown left and right, up and down.
GlobalWarming:7 is perhaps the meat of this series. It gets into the details of what is happening right now in the some 25 different real life areas. The true impacts of Global Warming range from ocean bottoms to mountain tops, from oil fields to highways, from tundra to tropics and from farm fields to smoke stacks. These items are not forecasts, assumptions or opinions but verifiable hard facts. The picture is indicative of your, and my, future. The earthly signs get worse by the day.
GlobalWarming:8 paints three scenarios (not forecasts) of what might happen in the future. There are pessimistic, optimistic and middle of the road pictures. The three scenarios use simple, common sense assumptions, very different from the elaborate, multi million $ systems enjoyed by the UN, the Stern Report, EPA and others. The big systems rely on myriads of assumptions as input, many of which aren’t really known and/or subject to lots of complexity. I favor the KISS approach.
I’m by no means competing with the “big” studies or the smart people putting them together. I used to be a forecasting guru working for the UN, the World Bank, FAO, OECD, the EU and many Fortune 500 companies. I guess I have a right to an opinion. No one is required to consider my views.
I am completely nonaffiliated. No political party enjoys my support. I have no axe to grind. I receive no monetary compensations, grants or sponsorships. There are no PayPal buttons on these pages. I have no obligations to fulfill. Office politics do not thrive around here. I promote no agendas except my own – the survival of us all. Occasionally, I put up some of the photos from my portfolios and my photo business.
GlobalWarming:4-8 will follow together with other commentaries and follow ups. Hang in there. The links below help you navigate this monster essay. It’s all quite important to your health.
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