Wednesday, June 14, 2006


"Does anyone get the feeling that many in the scientific community have become a tad alarmed by the Algork alarmists and are starting to walk it back a bit?"

Climate Change Science
"Scientists have an independent obligation to respect and present the truth as they see it"
-Al Gore

Does anyone else see a problem in that statement? It's fine up until the last four words: as they see it. Truth isn't subject to our version of things, it's true or it is not true. By adding "as they see it" to the end, Gore changes a good statement into a useless one. Stating truth "as I see it" reduces truth to opinion, and opinion in the case of what Al Gore is talking about ends up as advocacy.

Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth (now being advertised sans Gore's name to see if people will be more interested) is a film version of his book on global warming climate change. But is the science in the movie solid and trustworthy? Is the information valid? After all, this movie is meant to educate people, to use science to show that there is a crisis - one so dire that Vice President Gore warns the world will end in 10 years without change now.

What do scientists say? First from Salon.Com's article Did Al Get the Science Right?:
Dr. Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeler for NASA, was pleased the film didn't say: "You're all going to die, woo-hoo."

"Such an amount of relatively hard science could have been extremely dull, and I've been to a lot of presentations on similar stuff that were very dull," says Schmidt. "Where there was solid science, he presented it solidly without going into nuts and bolts, and where there were issues that are still a matter of some debate, he was careful not to go down definitively on one side or the other."
Yet some scientists who are enthusiastic about the film had their own critiques of how the science is presented. One of the biggest challenges in the film is visually portraying the likely consequences of global warming in the future. For instance, invasive species, both plants and insects, are a growing scourge, which will likely be exacerbated by global warming. Yet, the film, while not saying anything technically wrong about invasive species, could leave the erroneous impression that the dandelion in your backyard was planted there by climate change, simply by omitting other contributing factors. "Anybody having to fight kudzu in their garden knows it has nothing to do with global warming. It has to do with the fact that we introduced the species from Europe," says Steig. At the same time, he says, invasive species are opportunistic, thriving in many different environments, so they're likely to thrive under climate change. "The ecological niche for certain species are changing quite rapidly," says Schmidt. "You have situations where only a small amount of climate change can make a big difference."

The deadly aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is featured prominently in the film, and may lead viewers to conclude global warming is to blame for the disaster. But the truth is not that simple. As global temperatures rise, hurricane scientists predict that we'll see stronger storms as rising sea temperatures feed their fury. Yet it's hotly debated among hurricane specialists whether the intensity of tropical cyclones seen around the world over the past few years already show the impacts of global warming. Sketchy data from past decades makes nailing down that proof difficult, amplifying the debate. "There is a difference between saying 'we are confident that they will increase' and 'we are confident that they have increased due to this effect,'" explains Steig.

And from a story by Canada Free Press Scientists Respond to Gores Warnings of Global Catastrophe:

Professor Bob Carter of the Marine Geophysical Laboratory at James Cook University, in Australia gives what, for many Canadians, is a surprising assessment: "Gore's circumstantial arguments are so weak that they are pathetic. It is simply incredible that they, and his film, are commanding public attention."

But surely Carter is merely part of what most people regard as a tiny cadre of "climate change skeptics" who disagree with the "vast majority of scientists" Gore cites?

No; Carter is one of hundreds of highly qualified non-governmental, non-industry, non-lobby group climate experts who contest the hypothesis that human emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) are causing significant global climate change. "Climate experts" is the operative term here. Why? Because what Gore's "majority of scientists" think is immaterial when only a very small fraction of them actually work in the climate field.

Even among that fraction, many focus their studies on the impacts of climate change; biologists, for example, who study everything from insects to polar bears to poison ivy. "While many are highly skilled researchers, they generally do not have special knowledge about the causes of global climate change," explains former University of Winnipeg climatology professor Dr. Tim Ball. "They usually can tell us only about the effects of changes in the local environment where they conduct their studies."

This is highly valuable knowledge, but doesn't make them climate change cause experts, only climate impact experts.
Gore tells us in the film, "Starting in 1970, there was a precipitous drop-off in the amount and extent and thickness of the Arctic ice cap." This is misleading, according to Ball: "The survey that Gore cites was a single transect across one part of the Arctic basin in the month of October during the 1960s when we were in the middle of the cooling period. The 1990 runs were done in the warmer month of September, using a wholly different technology."

Karlén explains that a paper published in 2003 by University of Alaska professor Igor Polyakov shows that, the region of the Arctic where rising temperature is supposedly endangering polar bears showed fluctuations since 1940 but no overall temperature rise. "For several published records it is a decrease for the last 50 years," says Karlén.

Global Warming is a hot button issue for a lot of people, a kind of shibboleth for the left like evolution has long been. If you question either one, you tend to be declared an idiot, a fundamentalist science-hating freak, and an ignoramus. But there is far from a consensus on the topic.

A petition, signed by over 17,000 confirmed scientists and experts, is avaiable on the Inernet that calls for caution, better scientific study, and to avoid costly and pointless measures like the Kyoto Protocol. The petition simply says:

We urge the United States government to reject the global warming agreement that was written in Kyoto, Japan in December, 1997, and any other similar proposals. The proposed limits on greenhouse gases would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind.

There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth.

Recently a team of climatologists, Environmental Scientists, and other scientists wrote a petition to the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper asking him to reexamine the Kyoto Accords and reject them due to their lack of impact and harmful effect on Canada.

There certainly are cranks on both sides of this issue. Some claim that Global Warming scares are totally ficticious and part of a conspiracy to cripple the US economy and change our economic system from capitalism to socialism. Certainly while there might be people who are in the movement who desire this, there's no evidence or reason to remotely believe in such an organized conspiracy. And on the other side, there are men like Dr Erik R. Pianka who called for 90% of humanity to be killed (except, presumably enlightened scientists):

One of Pianka's earliest points was a condemnation of anthropocentrism, or the idea that humankind occupies a privileged position in the Universe. He told a story about how a neighbor asked him what good the lizards are that he studies. He answered, “What good are you?”

Pianka hammered his point home by exclaiming, “We're no better than bacteria!”

Pianka then began laying out his concerns about how human overpopulation is ruining the Earth. He presented a doomsday scenario in which he claimed that the sharp increase in human population since the beginning of the industrial age is devastating the planet. He warned that quick steps must be taken to restore the planet before it's too late.

Professor Pianka said the Earth as we know it will not survive without drastic measures. Then, and without presenting any data to justify this number, he asserted that the only feasible solution to saving the Earth is to reduce the population to 10 percent of the present number.

Dr Pianka showed a variety of slides and data, then finished with this:

After praising the Ebola virus for its efficiency at killing, Pianka paused, leaned over the lectern, looked at us and carefully said, “We've got airborne 90 percent mortality in humans. Killing humans. Think about that.”

I think that the evidence that we're in some kind of global warming trend is reliable, although it's been slowing down since the 1950's. The problem comes when the presumption is that this warming has been caused by human beings, of which there is no evidence, and little reason to believe. Certainly if global industrialization and population growth are to blame, then the trend ought not to be slowing but speeding up.

Certainly Al Gore himself is not living up to his demands for others to reduce their travel, use of hydrocarbons, and C02 emissions, as this video demonstrates. And certainly it is true that most of the predictions made by Global Warming hysterics have not come true in their time frame.

In any case, Tim Blair wrote about this phenomenon in Consensus Not Evident and commenters responded:

I think he must have consulted noted documentary producer Art Bell , whose “The Day After Tommorrow” set the standard in this dubious genre.

By the way, I understand that it is tommorrow already there in OZ, has the world ended yet?
-by moptop

He makes an incorrect argument though, that most scientists cited as experts are not experts in the right obscure corner of climate study. The idea that there’s anybody to even constitute a science in the newspaper sense of science, is wrong. There’s a bunch of curious guys, is all, puttering around, and someday they may stumble upon something or they may not, but any positive fallout is likely to be something they discover in numerical analysis.

``Hey, we didn’t find out anything about climate, but here’s a great way to do variable-coefficient wave equations on a computer.’’

Anyway that’s typical, when you set out to investigate an unstudied field.

Science in the newspaper sense is a really smart guy telling you what’s true about something. You cite them to alarm housewives.
-by rhhardin

It makes a powerful theatrical point, but it leaves open the criticism that you’re stretching the truth.
Isn’t this what used to be known as “the big lie”?

-by paco

Does anyone get the feeling that many in the scientific community have become a tad alarmed by the Algork alarmists and are starting to walk it back a bit? Or maybe that sizeable group of global warming global cooling climate change dissenters is finally finding its voice. Either way, I’m seeing more and more reports like this one surface. Not that any of that will matter to the likes of Gorebot; he’s already written his Oscar acceptance speech.

In the Salon piece, Mieszkowski says that Gore used carbon offsets to mitigate the global warming impact of his travel for “An Inconvenient Truth,” that Gore pledged to make the documentary carbon-neutral. I went to the link provided and found this:

As a venture capitalist for Expansion Capital Partners, a firm that invests in clean technologies, Day’s all too aware that his purring engine makes an incremental contribution to global warming. Burning one gallon of gas emits 20 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and in one year, the family Subaru gives off about 6,400 pounds of the greenhouse gas.

But a decal on the back window of Day’s Subaru attests that he’s done something about it. He’s paid $39.95 to a Silicon Valley company called TerraPass to “offset” the CO2 emissions from his car. His money is going to help fund wind farms and reduce the methane leaking out of dairy farms and landfills. By paying to boost alternative energy and cut pollution, Day is neutralizing the greenhouse gases coming out of his own car. He can’t put the C02 genie back in the bottle. But he can help jump-start a new way to arrest global warming. Buying carbon offsets is a small gesture, Day says, “but it’s a lot better than standing still. It’s certainly better to do this than to do nothing.”

$39.95. Wow. True, it’s not “nothing”. Next to nothing, perhaps, but not nothing. Wouldn’t you love to see a list of Gore’s “offsets”.

This the only second piece I’ve read this morning, but it’s the second that made me want to stand up and cheer. The first is by Amir Taheri for Commentary Magazine: The Real Iraq.

I wish every person in the US and Australia would read both.
-by Kyda Sylvester

The Sky Is Falling!

My take on all this is that we have a responsibility to take care of our environment as good stewards of the world we live in and have been given to care for. In doing so we not only should do as little damage as possible, but properly use the resources we have for the common good. Global Warming scares are no more effective than Global Cooling scares were in the 1970's, and are actually more likely to have a "boy crying wolf" result than any real lasting benefit.

Certainly scientists have a responsibility to properly and wisely work their craft without activist bent or lust for easy money from government grants on trendy topics. At least some scientists admit that they have in the past exaggerated claims and minimized disagreements for effect, and not a few have fallen prey to the fallacy of assuming an outcome before doing their experimental work.

What we need are scientists who are aware that the climate goes through warming and cooling trends - that's been true since the world was created - such as the Medieval Warming Period. We need scientists more interested in studying the data and evidence then proving a point one way or another. We need scientists who want to find the truth... not the truth "as they understand it."

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Anonymous said...

A lot of my problem with this "debate" about global warming is that one side presents their side as the gospel, and it is absolute heresy to think anything else.

Man - bad. Snail darter - good.

I always wonder when they compare today to let's say, 100 years ago, or even 50 years ago. The technological advances available to us today so incredibly dwarf those available 50 years ago so as to make their data almost unreliable.

They compare things that are easily measurably and quantifiable today to things that could not be accurately measured then, and then make a declarative finding. Something just does not seem kosher about that.


Christopher R Taylor said...

I agree, we haven't been measuring global temperatures for more than 100 years, and only for the last 50 or so has this been done to any real degree of accuracy. That's simply not a big enough data pool to draw any long-term conclusions.

The attempts to measure temperature effects by C02 levels in ice and tree rings, or anecdotal evidence such as glaciation are helpful, but very limited in their real validity, because they are small snippets of information in a sea of causes and forces.