Sunday, December 21, 2008

A cheap way to get a post that warms the heart

It seems that Lou Dobbs made the same asinine statement as Neil Cavuto, asking "What's that global warming deal?" because of some early-season winter-type weather. Media Matters for America spotlighted his idiocy, leading to, as it always does, a lot of comments about global warming featuring the denialists and the ignorant coming out to run through the same tired talking points and discredited claims that get trotted out every time the subject comes up.

Against my better judgment, I got sucked in again. So to make it worth my while and because it can include some perhaps handy responses for others to use, I'm going to post here my side of the exchanges. (As part of that, I'm going to include here some links to background information which I didn't include in the original comments.) I'll note, as I always do when doing something like this, this is not completely fair to the other party because you don't see their full side, only the parts to which I respond. But frankly, in this case I really don't care first because the arguments I quote really are all they had to offer and second because I'm just tired of the bullshit and baloney and see no reason to offer it more space than necessary to reply.

If you want to see the entire set of exchanges, all comments from all people, go to the MMFA site. The link for the item is here and the link to the comments is here.

Okay. It started with one denialist trying out the "it's all natural cycles" nonsense. To which I said this:
I refuse to get into another long-winded exchange with a GWD, but I will go this one round.

Of course there are natural cycles of warming and cooling. That is old stuff, long established and well known. Coming on like this is some dramatic insight that groups like the IPCC and other researchers have failed to take into account is simply silly. The issue, bluntly, is not the presence of natural cycles but our addition to those cycles.

There is no model of solar activity that can account for more than about half the warming seen over the past several decades. That is, even theoretically the sun can account for, at most, half of the global warming we've experienced since the 1940s, likely less, possibly a great deal less. That is simply an undisputed fact.

Which means that saying the warming we've seen is "not caused by human intervention" is flat-out wrong - and the sun's affect, again at most, is on how fast that warming is occurring and will occur, not on if.

And do we really have to go through the "we used to talk about an ice age" business again? There never was a scientific consensus about global cooling. In the '70s there were some who said an ice age could come "if current trends continue" while many others insisted - accurately - that this was just a temporary dip in an overall warming trend. Now, however, there is a consensus about global warming by any rational understanding of the word "consensus" rather than the denialist one which would require every single scientist in every single scientific discipline to agree. (It took over 15 years for most physicists to accept relativity; indeed some never did. So I guess there was no "consensus" on that, either.)

Human-caused global warming is a fact. Period.
His "reply" repeated the assertion about "so many variables" leading to "warming and cooling trends through-out history" and claimed that "termites can account for over 40% of the methane and bovines another 10%."
Don't compare the theories of relativity with global warming---it won't fly

The comparison that I made flies perfectly: The denialists insist that there is "no consensus" about global warming because not every single scientist agrees. The fact is that some physicists went to their deathbeds convinced relativity was wrong. So by the denialists' argument, there was never a "consensus" about relativity so we should doubt its reality.

(I'll note in passing that the lists of dissenting voices the denialists produce invariably include physicians, engineers, and so on, in addition to any actual climatologists they can dig up, which is why I referred to a requirement of "every single scientist in every single scientific discipline.")

As for termites, the claim they account for 40% of the methane appears to be from a single source 26 years ago.* The current accepted figure is no more than 5%. Other main sources are rice cultivation, domestic grazing animals, landfills, coal mining, and oil and gas extraction. All of which - including those bovines which for some odd reason you regard as unconnected to human activity - are human-caused sources.

(Parenthetically, this can serve an example one of those possible feed-back loops climatologists worry about: Termites do not like the cold. So human-caused warming allows termites to expand their natural range which allows them to multiply which leads to more termite-produced methane which leads to more warming which leads to an expanded range which and so on.)

And again, please skip both the "oh, my, it's so complex" business as if the factors to which you are referring (whatever they are, you specify none) have not been taken into account. As for the "cycles" business, already raised, already refuted in the very post to which you were supposedly replying.

As a final note because again I'm determined to avoid getting into another long argument refuting yet again the long-refuted blather of the denialists, I would have been more impressed with your scholarship if you had bothered to find out how to spell Charlie Rangel's name correctly.
In further non-response, he said (all are direct quotes):

- i did indeed juxtapose too ledders inn chux nam
- there can be no conclusion on any issue if consensus is the barometer
- We can go back and forth on the termite issue
- bovines, although ranched intensely, do exist enmass outside of human development
- Your feed-back loop argument is self-defeating

He then cited as examples of the solar system "and its effect on climate" the Earth's tilt, "pockets of debris which cause the yearly Plaesedies(?) showers" which "deflect solar rays," and changes in the Sun before "speculating" about other "stuff" leaving debris that "alters temperatures."
This is my last on this because I think my basic point that all we're seeing is retreads of long-refuted arguments is well enough established.

So in order:

- Revealingly, you tried to ridicule my reference to your spelling of Charlie Rangel's name as "Rangle" instead of just chalking it up to a typo. Which says to me it wasn't a typo, you actually didn't know how to spell his name. If we can't trust you with the small things - like knowing or finding out how to spell the name of a well-known person - how can we trust you with the big things?

- Of course you can reach an agreement in science by consensus because, contrary to common opinion, consensus means general or widespread agreement, not necessarily universal agreement, within a group. There is a consensus among climatologists about global warming: It is quite real and as one researcher put it just the other day, the data shows "a clear human fingerprint." He went on to say "We really can't claim anymore that it's natural variations that are driving these very large changes that we are seeing in our in the climate system."

- Bovines do exist outside human development, but their numbers are in the tens of millions** while those that are domesticated - some of which couldn't survive without human attention, some of which would never have existed without human intervention - number something over 1.5 billion. You're correct that bovines are thought to account for about 10% of methane production - but since the vast majority of those animals are domesticated ones being used by and for humans, that would make human activity responsible for the vast majority of that 10%.

- Self-defeating? Don't be silly. It was an example of how our actions could result in generating a cycle that would worsen global warming over time even without any further human impact.

- To be more precise, the Earth's tilt is actually just under 23.5 degrees. Yes, that tilt does vary between 22.5 and 24 degrees - over a 40,000 year cycle. Yes, it's relevant to a discussion of natural changes in climate over time - but it's utterly irrelevant to a discussion of the impact of global warming over the next century or so, a period of time equal to one-quarter of one percent of that tilt cycle.

- I assume you mean the Perseids, but yes, they along with the Leonids, the Lyrids, the Geminids, and the other major and minor meteor showers over the course of the year involve the Earth passing though clouds of debris - specifically, debris from old comets. There is a (disputed) contention that during such showers, surface temperature drops. But we need not be concerned with that here, nor with your mention of low solar activity or your "speculation" about other debris, because even if we give full credence to the argument, they would tend to cause cooling, not heating, so the only conclusion that could be drawn is that human effect on the climate is even greater than was thought and is being tamped down by other factors.

- Finally and centrally, your last contention (about changes in the planet's crust) relates back to your earlier one that the Earth "is capable of reversing diabolical trends and has done so for millenia." Again, true enough except that millennia vastly understates the time frames involved. Yes, the Earth's climate has and surely could again make adjustments, come to a new equilibrium, take whatever we throw at it and survive - over near-geologic time scales. When we look back at the history of natural climate change, say from the beginning to the end of an ice age, we're talking changes and adjustments taking tens of thousands of years.

Suppose that adjustment, that new equilibrium between release and absorption of greenhouse gases, took just a thousand years. Do you think human society could survive a thousand years of climate disruption? A thousand years of inundated former coastlines? A thousand years of baked or salt-soaked former cropland? A thousand years of flood followed by drought followed by flood? A thousand years of resource wars and hundreds of millions of desperate ecological refugees?

The question is not can the Earth adapt, it can. The question is not can the climate find a new equilibrium, it can. The question is not will the planet survive, it will. The question is if we will. And if so, at what cost.
Which was, he came back, an "epic monologue" that "sounds a lot like a sandwich-board doomsday prophecy." And again, as denialists are wont to do, he switched arguments without acknowledging his previous ones had been shot down. There was no later mention of "global cooling" mythology, no further discussion of termites or bovines, no more references to the Earth's tilt, no more arguing about what constitutes consensus or the effect of "debris." Instead, he raised entirely new arguments after I'd said I wouldn't respond further.

One was to suddenly collapse the time frame involved, saying he hasn't seen "the massive destruction or even the impending massive destruction caused by global warming." (This was despite having earlier said in trying to deflate global warming with references to natural cycles that he hadn't specified any time frames, i.e., they were unimportant to the argument. And if the "massive destruction" is "impending" or not depends strictly on your definition of the word. I will likely not live to see the really serious effects setting in. But my nephews will.)

Another was to say the hurricane peak of 2005 hasn't been surpassed "which goes against logic if global warming persists." (No, it doesn't, no more than it goes against logic to say the world is warming because the all-time temperature record set in 1998 hasn't been beaten repeatedly.)

And a third was to wave the banner of "bumper-crops of vegetables across landscapes previously dominated by early frost and late springs," calling that "an evolving planet's gift to a overgrown population." (More than four years ago, research indicated that predicted global warming over the next century could slash production of rice, the world's more important single crop, by half. And the IPCC reports took the lengthened growing season in temperate zones into account, concluding that production would increase at first, but that would be temporary, as "climbing temperatures and water shortages will ultimately lead to sharp reductions.")

I let all of that pass because I'd said I was done with the discussion, but I did add this postscript:
Just as a clarification: I thought it would have been clear from the context, but perhaps it wasn't. When I said "The question is if we will [survive]," I was referring, as I specifically had in the preceding paragraph, to human society, not the human species. (Yes, I know not all human societies are the same but the point stands as a generalized assertion. Leave the nit-picking to the real wackos.)

By the way, the last ice age peaked about 20,000 years ago and is generally held to have ended about 10,000 years ago. Since there is evidence of housing structures of bones and/or wood covered with animal hides some 44,000 years ago, [your] description of people of the last ice age as "simple creatures unable to build structures to ward off the weather" seems, let's call it, overdrawn.
I also noted that the end of the quote from the scientist who referred to "a clear human fingerprint" was garbled, but that's how it was in the original BBC article.

Enough with him. But someone else on the same thread said he could identify with Dobbs' nonsense because he was digging out from under 18 inches of snow and the temperature was something like 25 degrees below normal. (I'm assuming that was Fahrenheit.) So I answered:
I think I speak for some others here when I say I hope you're being sarcastic, I hope you're not agreeing that one unseasonably cold spell undermines the case for global warming.

If by chance you're serious, be aware that worldwide, 2008 will go down as the 10th warmest year on record since record-collection began in 1850.

Be aware, too, that the 11 warmest years on record have occurred over last 13 years.

Be aware that the warming trend over past 50 years is double that over the past 100 years - that is, not only is the world warming, the rate of warming is increasing.

And be aware, finally, that one of the baseline predictions of global warming is more extreme weather patterns. Hotter hots, colder colds, fewer but more severe storms.

So in fact it could be argued that your experience of early heavy snow with temperatures 25 below normal is a confirmation of global warming, not a refutation of it.

But in fact it's not: Global warming is about the trends, the patterns, and one event in isolation neither confirms nor denies it. Be aware of that, too.
Finally, there was one other, the truly wild-eyed denialist of the bunch, who even sneered at the very concept of "facts," saying "You can use all kinds of facts to prove all kinds of things that are only half true." This one called global warming "another WMD, a lie," and "not about pollution." (I will give props for the "another WMD" line.)

Which got this from me (with some overlap with other comments):
The tide is turning quickly

Just like with evolution, where "scientists are turning against" this "collapsing" theory. How are things on that front?

They use scientific terms like: likely, most likely and maybe and potentially. The IPCC link says they are only 90% sure.

"Only" 90%? The term there is "highly likely" and that's the highest level of probability any reputable researcher would put on any prediction not verified by controlled laboratory study. It is as confident as science gets. In fact, in the social sciences, which are not as subject to rigid controls as the "hard" sciences, even in laboratory conditions the goal is 95% probability, not 100%. Your own words undermine your entire argument. (And by the way, how did "90% sure" become "not even half right?")

this coming winter

And yet again we have the Dobbs/Cavuto argument that a cold winter refutes global warming. A baseline prediction of global warming is more extreme weather. Harder, colder winters do not refute global warming, indeed they are entirely consistent with it. (And again I have to add the observation that no one event either confirms or denies global warming; one cold winter no more refutes it than one hot summer confirms it. However, the fact that the 11 warmest years on record worldwide have occurred in the last 13 years certainly does, in the cautious words of a good scientist, "tend to confirm" the idea.)

I do not miss the smoggy 50’s, 60’s and 70’s

Maybe you will. The kind of particulate air pollution to which you refer is a cooling forcing; in fact it's what lead to the temporary cooling period around then which generated the notion among a handful of scientists that "if trends continue" we could see a new ice age - and why, when we started cleaning up the environment, that short-term cooling trend vanished.

socialist agendas

I knew that had to be in there somewhere. The ill-informed denialists like you seem to always imagine the boogeyman of a hidden "socialist agenda" is behind everything you don't like.

Remember I said this: Climate goes in cycles.

Really? Wow, we never knew that before. I bet not a single climatologist has taken that into account in considering global warming. Jeez, this changes everything!
I hope some folks can find something useful in all that.

Footnote: In gathering links for this post, I came across this from this past July, which I missed at the time:
Explorer Dennis Schmitt found an island nearly two years ago near Greenland.

Such a discovery would usually elicit curiosity, even wonder perhaps, but it evoked mixed feelings for the explorer.

Y'see, no one had known it was an island. It was thought to be a peninsula of Greenland. But the ice has melted enough to show it to be a separate island.

*I haven't included a link here because the only references I found to the 1982 paper were in footnotes to later papers. But the study, by P. R. Zimmerman, et al., was called "Termites: a potentially large source of atmospheric methane, carbon dioxide and molecular hydrogen" and appeared in Science 218, 563-565.

**I found no figure for the number of wild bovines; the figure of tens of millions is my own very liberal estimate based on finding estimates for the numbers of the most common sorts of wild bovines.

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