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WARMISTS AND DENIALISTS March 6, 2011

Posted by wmmbb in Duckspeak, Environment.
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So who is right and how might the argument -if it is an argument be settled. Fact and emotion seem confused.

Once it was believed that questions of fact could be settled by science, but that was before the motives of scientists were imputed independent of their findings. This method has worked well from the perspective of propaganda and public relations. What if the scientific consensus based on the research is correct?

The problem is that we select that evidence that suits our case. Dr Roy Spencer at the University of Alabama, Huntsville prefers satellite data because of it has greater accuracy. Then Andrew Bolt comes along and says look this data is slowing it is getting cooler, despite the El Nina effect. John Quiggin points out the net effect of increasing global atmospheric temperature did not begin in 1976 when these observation began. The cyclical patterns in the data over this time suggest that a down slope is likely to be followed by a rise. That would appear just by looking at the data, and I suppose there is nothing wrong with using thirteen month running average. Dr Spencer would argue that the variation observed is not due to human reading errors.

Emily Bazelon at Slate provides rebuttals to the case that the case for global warming is weak and we can continue to enjoy the benefits of a carbon-based life style. She provides a number of links, including recent research indicating the oceans have lost capacity to absorb CO2. If the case that could be cause for concern.

She quotes Yale geologist Jeffrey Park in reference to a paper by Wolfgang Knorr, which had been quoted by those rejecting global warming:

Knorr is NOT saying that global warming isn’t happening, or that CO2 levels are not increasing. Instead, he is evaluating a very specific hypothesis about the progression of Earth’s carbon cycle as atmospheric-CO2 levels and global temperature both increase. There are a number of reasons, based on physics, chemistry and biology, to expect an eventual decrease in Earth’s ability to absorb human CO2 emissions. Currently roughly half of what we emit gets absorbed by the oceans and the land biosphere and rock weathering. We don’t understand each of these processes well enough to predict the exact division between CO2-absorption processes, but it’s a good bet that the ocean is the principal sink for CO2. We also don’t know enough about the processes to predict exactly when the absorption of CO2 will slow down, so scientists are devising experiments to estimate the rate, past and present. This is the context of Knorr’s study.

Knorr takes estimates of human CO2 emissions since the mid-19th century and plots them on the same graph as concurrent estimates of atmospheric CO2. Knorr’s result still implies that CO2 levels will continue to increase, and that the greenhouse effect will continue to increase. What he doesn’t see is evidence for exhaustion of Earth’s ability to sequester a constant fraction of the CO2 we emit. If his conclusion is correct, then it offers some consolation that this particular climate process is not getting worse, but the consolation is small. Warming will continue.

And providing a summary of his own research, Jeffrey Park says:

“Researchers have used climate models that suggest the oceans have been absorbing less CO2, but this is the first study to quantify the change directly using observations,” Park said. “It strengthens the projection that the oceans will not absorb as much of our future CO2 emissions, and that the pace of future climate change will quicken.”

And as to the question: What do economists know about climate science? The Economist provided some clear explanation.

What drew my attention to this discussion relates to what criteria a lay person, with no or little pretense to scientific understanding or statistical knowledge apply to the conflicting claims. It occurred to me if there were a reliable data set that contradicted the scientific consensus that would be interesting. The satellite data is not doing that as far as I can see. Secondly, I would expect at some point scientists to say that do not fully understand some phenomena, given that they are looking at things unfold in real time and variation can be difficult to understand. And why does rock weathering absorb carbon dioxide?

To me, changes in the atmosphere, the ramifications through the climate system and the implications for life on this planet are impersonal. I suggest it is analogous to a tree that might fall on your house – and I recognize that analogies are inherently dangerous. Philosophically it is hard to believe that humans are not the proximate cause of most of what happens on the planet (Who would have thought that could be extended to phenomena likes waves and clouds)?. They do not provide the sunlight but they plant the trees and more often cut them down (and there is an extraordinary, mostly I believe little recorded or noticed, history in this part of world following the European invasion here of deforestation and reforestation combined with the introduction of diverse species of animals and other plants).

Curiously enough, it seems to some to be politically incorrect to think about and develop knowledge and understanding of the system we live in and depend upon for our survival. To find an alternative world is an inviting prospect, and given the number of options there might well be something out there, but even Mars or Venus would represent a challenge of distance. Since knowledge has troubling repercussions for our behavior, possibly it is best to ignore it and stick to personal attacks. We should not confuse willful ignorance and moral behavior, as if we do not have a responsibility to others, especially those who will live after we die. So I would posit this stuff about the global climate is not just a set of scientific questions about which we might judge the weight of evidence, but red line issue of fundamental morality for which we must be personally responsible.

ELSEWHERE:

Alexander Cockburn at Counter Punch sees some forces of bureaucratic interest and survival behind the adoption of global warming. He recounts a version of history that connects current political developments with climate:

There were huge ironies in Clinton’s confession to Senator Lugar and his colleagues. In the late 1970s, radicals in the United Nations were eagerly promoting the need for a ‘New World Information Order’ (NWIO) to counter the lock on world communications and hence propaganda by the advanced industrial countries, preeminently the United States.

Ronald Reagan, campaigning for the presidency in the late 1970s, issued almost daily denunciations of the prospective NWIO, making it sound like a particularly sinister arm of the international communist conspiracy. Battered by this assault, the UN abandoned the NWIO and instead went into the Global Warming business, investing heavily in the IPCC as a way of restoring UN heft worldwide. Information-wise, the world tuned into Ted Turner’s CNN, founded in 1980, which swiftly became precisely the US worldwide propaganda vehicle the Third World countries had been complaining about in the UN.

POSTSCRIPT:

Charlie and alter ego at John Quiggin’s turn out to have be sock puppets. It turns out the sock puppet is Tim Curtin.

Still the reference to the research paper by Wolfgang Knorr caught my interest. I suppose that masquerading different identities is part of the blogging world. I do not like personal attacks as the basis of argument. Nor do I approver attacks on science, a process that inevitably is going to involve mistakes, disagreements, and all that interesting and intriguing uncertainty about knowns and unknowns, because that is the way we can get reliable knowledge. We then have basis to act. Provisional knowledge is the basis by which we express our human nature – our capacities for cognition and compassion such as they are.

ELSEWHERE:

Tim Lambert reports the hypotheses proposed by Roy Spencer, which surely he is entitled to make, did not pass muster with peer review. I do not know, but am interested, in what Dr Spencer’s response has been. It gets tougher when your critics invoke Johnny von Neumann.

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