Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Global Warming Saga: A simple view on an over-complicated story.

Andrew D Atkin:

I have already written on this issue, but I think I can make a clear and simple 'master picture' which I would like to contribute.

As follows:

Nobody is arguing that an increase in CO2 will lead to some increase in average global temperatures, in itself. But it is only a very mild greenhouse gas. If we doubled the CO2 concentration in our atmosphere (from where it is now) we would get around a 0.5 to 1 degree Celsius increase in average global temperatures, which is benign and probably even eco-beneficial.

[Our world would support more plant growth overall if it were a little warmer than today, and CO2 is plant food. CO2 is literally (and vitally) an atmospheric fertiliser].

So where is the argument? How the apocalypse? The argument from the IPCC (Inter-Governmental panel on Climate Change) is based on the idea that the marginal increase in warming coming from an increase in CO2 will be amplified by positive-feedback; that is, a slight increase in warming will heavily snowball via reactive processes in the atmosphere, so that we end up with a temperature increase not just about a half a degree greater (from the CO2) but eventually more like 3 or 5 degrees greater (or more?).

If I may speak frankly...Bollocks! If it were true that the earth responds to marginal increases in temperature with a positive-feedback loop (or "snowball" for common language), then we would have already turned into a Venus countless times over from temperature variations that have always (and continuously) happened throughout our ecological history (variations in the suns output being maybe the most significant).

Small, common changes in temperature do not lead to major changes in climate. The medieval warm-period did not turn into a runaway greenhouse effect.

So where did the IPCC get its evidence from? How did it reach its 'weird' conclusions? It did so from computer models. They developed computer programmes that (they claimed) simulated the environment.

Straight off the mark we should be laughing. Because to even suggest you can *accurately* simulate the climate for over a long period of time is a nonsense. This is like claiming divine knowledge - that we don't have. To model the environment so as to simulate it you have to understand it explicitly and be able to measure it - with all the many, many variables accurately accounted for.

First, we just can't do that (yet). We can barely measure known climatic variables, let alone (fully) understand how they all work against each other (which is no doubt why there is still so much debate, research and theory within climate science today). And even if we could measure and account for all the climatic variables (so as to develop accurate long-range cybernetic simulators) we would still require enormous long-term testing so as to develop a simulator that has a reasonable accuracy.

To believe that the IPCC has a "from the God's" cybernetic crystal-ball is one hell of a stretch.

Addition: 30-7-11: Here is an article that appears to vindicate my assertions. You will notice they're talking real world data - not computer models. The former answers to the latter, not the other way around. Models are the guess - real world measurements are the fact.


My conclusion is that we cannot take the computer models seriously. And also, the simple fact that trivial temperature variations (that happen all the time) do not lead to runaway-greenhouse effects suggests the obvious: that the IPCC is a political organisation established to achieve a political end. And an end that has nothing (nor ever did have anything) to do with saving the world from global warming.

Here is a relevant article by Lord Christopher Monckton, probably much more relevant than what I have just written:

And finally, people like Richard Lindzen (people who study direct measurements of climate - not people who pretend to believe in garbage-in/garbage-out computer simulators) have (supposedly) discovered that the climate is in fact a negative-feedback system (like a natural governor that tends to keep things constant). The latter is far more believable to me, because it would explain the relative stability of our climate in response to normal temperature variations.

...Monckton did another good talk, relating to my central points (posted 11-05-14):


  1. My biggest hang-up regarding the Global Warming issue has always been in the accuracy of the data. If you believe the Earth to be about 4.3 billion years old, how in the world do you justify making predictions based on 11,000 year old ice core samples? Even if you were to start with just the rise of mammals, about 65 million years ago, the sample size is still too small to make any accurate predictions.

    I reserve my greatest contempt though for the scientists who allowed this debate to become politicized into its current manifestation. Now, instead of a rigorous discourse to see if AGW can even stand up to the Scientific Method, skeptics are told that ‘a consensus has been reached’ and are marginalized into the same category as holocaust deniers.

  2. vandiver49: Yes, labelling objective thinkers as "deniers" (associatively linking them to "holocaust deniers") only discredits the alarmists to anyone who has half a brain. It's so obviously inappropriate.

    A thought: Maybe the problem with propagandists is that they're educated on what works from an historic view (as they must be of course). When the public learns to see the (going) manipulation techniques for what they are, you then have to move on to new ones(?). Effective propaganda probably requires more intuition than historic knowledge.

    They need to wake up to the fact that this "holocaust denier" thing isn't going to wash. The following link is another example of a remarkable propaganda fail (apparently):

  3. Andrew, many global warming alarmists are not concerned about an apocalypse of the type you described. In fact, many of them believe the Earth cannot exceed a temperature gain of more than about five degrees, due to the stabilising effect you mentioned.
    They are more concerned about a disruption to our current eco-systems; the shift in the natural balance of life, that could lead to mass extinctions, including our own. And if the human race does manage to survive, it could be at an enormous cost. Millions of people could die when their property is destroyed by rising water and hurricanes. This is the message we are supposed to believe. This is the apocalypse.
    Anyone who studies the climate properly will tell you that global warming decreases the occurrence of hurricanes as the global temperature differences decrease. A warmer Earth is actually more stable.
    If the oceans rise, the amount of land lost to the water will be nothing compared to the amount of land that becomes more fertile due to the warmer soil and increased CO2. Land ownership has always been a political issue -- if some people lose their ability to grow food for themselves, it will be because of political corruption - not rising water.
    If we do achieve this theoretical five degree increase in temperature, there will definitely be a shift in the balance of eco-systems. Some animals and plants will suffer while others thrive. If we are concerned about accelerated extinctions of vulnerable species, then that is an issue, along with many other issues, such as the evidence of solar storms which continue to affect global temperatures. It seems to be difficult for the alarmists and the alarmed to prioritise the issues. We must consider our priorities before we attempt to prevent the effects of giant solar storms and relatively tiny carbon emissions. We could be making a very expensive mistake, especially when we look at where the money is going.

  4. I essentially agree Richard. It is true that species of different types expand and contract (in number and location) in response to changing conditions. Our eco-system is an "eternal flux". There will always be one zone of the ecological world expanding while another contracts...just like with the deserts and forests which expand and contract over time (with or without man's input).

    As for proper environmental investment, here's an extract from my "Smart growth" post:

    Economic environmentalism:

    Effective environmentalism must be economically based. This means we should ask ourselves how much we want to spend (directly and/or indirectly), and then from there prioritise to ensure that we get the maximum environmental profit for our cost.

    If we do not insist on this approach then the environmental label becomes open to abuse - we end up with people wildly throwing the term 'sustainability' around as justification for virtually any kind of uneconomic or socially controlling venture. When this happens (and it certainly does) we can see that environmentalism becomes more of an excuse than a respectable purpose.

    There is nothing wrong with caring for the environment, of course, but environmentalism minus the cost-benefit analysis leads to waste and at the expense of both the environment and society. Again, evironmentalism must be prioritised to maximise the environmental benefits to costs.

  5. Most are not aware of much older climate patterns. Before mid 1300s, Greenland and all the northern hemisphere was 6 degrees warmer than it is right now. Prior to about 900 AD, it was 6 degrees cooler. So we can afford 6 degrees more without concern. Fact! The warmth allowed Vikings to settle in Greenland and call it Greenland because it was then green at that time.

    Ocean levels were higher around 1st century AD. Current shores are several miles from old harbors in the Roman empire. Sea and Ocean levels have sometimes changed dramatically in ancient history. Things have not always been the same and will never stay the same. Change is natural and we adapt thanks to our brains and abilities. But previous changes were not due to man and the current ones alleged may not be, either.

    In Dec. 2012, the equator of the galaxy, our Sun and our Earth will all be aligned and then our sun and us will move up into the upper half sphere of the galaxy. Most people are unaware that as our sun and us go through space, we encounter different amounts of plasma, charged to various degrees. It is this plasma and its electrical charge that causes the sun to burn and shine. Sun cycles vary. So does our weather as a result. Science keeps the conveniently from us so that they may suggest we are to blame and should give over all our money due to our guilt. That’s funny, I thought the corporations made all the money off the pollution of their factories. So why do they blame us. I am sure you all can figure that one out ;-)

  6. "Ocean levels were higher around 1st century AD. Current shores are several miles from old harbors in the Roman empire."

    Such roman harbours that i have visited have been left high and dry by sediment filling the harbour rather than any change in sea levels. Sea levels have "stayed fairly constant from a few hundred years AD to a few hundred years ago."

  7. Lets start with the most obvious error.

    You assert :

    "the marginal increase in warming coming from an increase in CO2 will be amplified by positive-feedback;"

    which correctly interprets the IPCC, but then go on to say:

    "If it were true that the earth responds to marginal increases in temperature with a positive-feedback loop "

    ...but there is no such positive feedback loop in the analysis of the IPCC.... or the scientists. Such a loop would require additional CO2 to be released as a result of warming. Which would be a very nasty feedback indeed. This is not the case.

    Such a thing may occur to a degree, in the warming at the end start of the interglacials, which takes 6-8 thousand years. Then the cause is solar based on orbital changes, and the CO2 is a feedback as it is released from the ocean... and it IS the sort of feedback described but it has a hard limit in the supply of CO2 available FROM the Ocean. So it does not "run away".

    The warming in the IPCC analysis for our current situation is caused by carbon dioxide WE have released, and the partial pressures involved mean that the ocean is absorbing CO2 even as we get warmer. It's climate. Never just one thing happening.

    OK? So the first thing argued there isn't what it looks like. Nor is it bollocks.

    Just to point out - we have re-releasd CO2 equivalent to all the Carbon sequestered by natural processes in the past 3 million years.... in 150 years. Going back further does little good as the Isthmus joining North and South America did not exist then, and the ocean circulations were very different. At that time the temperature was at least 4 degrees warmer and the sea level some 30 meters higher.

    We are putting the CO2 back 50 times faster than any natural process we know of.


  8. Durn... wanted to edit that, but the preview and the login took it to publish directly.

    CO2 is both a forcing AND a feedback. In the first 800 or so years of warming at the start of the interglacial, the Sun is the dominant forcing. About 800 or so years into it enough CO2 is added to push the temperature higher as well, both forcings being effective, and the warming releases more CO2. Which would be nasty if there were enough CO2


  9. I'm gonna borrow someone else's words here.

    the idea of man-made climate change is based on three postulates:

    1. the Earth's temperature is determined by radiative equilibrium with the solar radiation field,

    2. certain infrared-active (or greenhouse) gases, especially CO2, impede the emission of radiation from the Earth's surface to space (which affects the radiative balance),

    3. man-made activities (mainly fossil-fuel burning) have significantly increased the atmospheric abundance of the greenhouse gas CO2 over pre-industrial values (and thereby shifted the radiative balance).

    Postulate (1) is simply a restatement of conservation of energy: the Earth must reradiate all of the energy received from the Sun in equilibrium (otherwise it will warm or cool until radiative balance is attained). Conservation of energy is an extremely well-established scientific principle, and is extremely unlikely to be falsified. Apparent violations of conservation of energy are almost certainly fallacious, and caused by something else.

    Postulate (2) is a direct consequence of the well observed optical properties of molecular gases: heteronuclear molecular gases (those composed of at least two distinct atomic elements) absorb and emit infrared radiation due to changes in their vibrational quantum state. Again, this is an extremely well-established principle of molecular spectroscopy, and an observational fact for the simple molecules CO2, H2O and CH4.

    Postulate (3) is a statement of the fact that the increased content of atmospheric CO2 since pre-industrial times is about half the cumulative amount of CO2 put into the atmosphere by anthropogenic fossil fuel burning. This is an empirical fact.

    If you accept these three postulates, then the logical conclusion is that man-made activities are affecting the climate, and in a way that warms the planet.



    So what about the models? Well it seems there are two different sorts of models being discussed here, and the first is the one the physicists use. Usually it is a simple as possible construct that has nothing to do with computers or exact solutions, but which gets at some essential issue in the real world.

    Like black-body radiation from a sphere in a vacuum.

    Which predicts pretty closely the temperature of the planet if and only if there is an atmosphere containing greenhouse gases.

    The other is a more detailed effort to get more precise answers using a lot of heavy computer hardware. The "models" there are used to predict things with more precision than the simpler models and they work well enough within their limits.

    Both are "models... and in science and physics there is a well known saying about them - "all models are wrong, some are useful"

    Arrhenius thought it would take thousands of years for human emissions to alter the balance. He didn't count on there being an "industrial growth" of the scale we actually managed.

    So it is no great trick to show that a model is wrong. They are all limited and they all are constructed to tickle out parts of the larger picture.

  10. Blog software doesn't even remember who I am between posts! Arghhh!

  11. The IPCC is at the top, a political organization. It is however, impossible to organize scientists into a fraud of the sort being hypothesized here.

    "Impossible to organize scientists" being the operative part of that phrase. Better luck herding cats.

    I am going to work at this for a while because Andrew was visited Frogblog and he was polite while there and I construed a comment of his as an invitation. I will try not to be rude.

    Very little about climate science is simple.

    It is compounded because human's suck at thinking about things on widely disparate time scales ( Which may be why we are so willing to burden future generations with debt - talking economics rather than ecology ). I am not talking about anyone particular, we ALL have the problem.

    If you think this is a "made-up" problem with a political agenda, you might want to start with this.


  12. bjchip:

    So what exactly do you think the relationship is between [our] carbon emissions and temperature rise?

    Do you believe the climate sensitivity factor is moot? (which is the positive and/or negative feedback system I speak of - not including the long-range feedback of CO2 output from the oceans).

  13. tchadySensitivity in AGW means, as a rule, the amount of warming that can be expected from a doubling of the CO2.

    So it is logarithmic in nature and it is quite important in determining how FAST we can get into trouble.

    However, since we aren't stopping at all, not even slowing down much, the sensitivity could be less than we think and we'd still be in serious trouble. Except it isn't us, its our kids.

    Now the "negative feedback" notions that Lindzen and Spencer keep on about... those have no broad acceptance. Basically they are adhered to by Lindzen and Spencer.

    The problem I have with them is that if that were the case the climate of 3 million years ago would have been different... but that's just me. I tend not to believe that some magical intervention will save my butt when I make a mistake, which is basically what these theories are. The critiques are more technical.

    There is of course a lot more and much more technical treatments.

    One has to note that Spencer is a habitual contrarian, and he enjoys "stirring"... and most of his science is more useful than his blog. Lindzen - is not a useful person to discuss as my opinion of him is MUCH lower... not as low as Monckton but I want to stick to the technical and leave political and economic questions out for a while.

    So the sensitivity is probably in the range between 2.4 and 3.6 but could be as low as 2.1 or as high as 5.5.... based on a variety of ways of estimating that sensitivity.

    In the end we don't really know for certain, as we don't see a similar CO2 driven warming in the climate past. Might have been one, but beyond 3 million years back the planet was different enough for any comparison to be irrelevant, even if we could find proxies to measure the event.

    We've basically provided a step-function increase. Hit the planet with a hammer... so now we'll see if it "rings". Past performance is no guarantee of future results and all that.

    Best estimates to date seem to come from Hansen, who is among other things the source of the "350" target. Which is a useful amount of increase for us as it puts off the next ice-age. Problem is that we're at 390 and pushing hard to get to 450... and the climate is only just STARTING to respond to what we've done.

    Note about the CO2. At the end of the glacial period when the CO2 comes out of the ocean due to warming it is simply establishing an equilibrium with respect to temperature. Right now the oceans are warming but ABSORBING CO2 because we've put so much more in the atmosphere that the equilibrium concentration is higher than the amount already in the ocean. This is not a good thing. Even though it damps down the step function.