Wednesday, December 12, 2007

12-12-07: New Study Questions Human Role in Global Warming

I found an article on a new study performed concerning global warming. But, instead of the same ol' story, it says we probably aren't as involved in the change as we think.

There’s a lot of confusion out there regarding global warming. It’s becoming more of a personal choice than anything, not unlike religion. But what is it that people are choosing to believe in? Ah, that’s part of the confusion.

The common misconception is that a lot of people seem to assume that global warming has to be caused by humans, and that if you don’t believe that humans are the main cause, you don’t think the planet is getting warmer. That’s just ridiculous. There are plenty of climatologists out there who believe the planet is getting warmer, but are skeptical about mankind’s role in it. People like Al Gore have done a fantastic job at scaring the shit out of people with clever line graphs and presentations. A lot is inferred, and emotions are heavily involved (“You wouldn’t want to drown a polar bear with your bear hands, would you? Well, that’s what you’re pretty much doing when you turn your car on.” [Exaggeration, of course]).

Then you have the people who go on and try to give the “unbiased” approach, like a guy did in a video I saw a few months ago. What he did was he made a grid with four scenarios: 1) It is our fault and we do something, 2) It is our fault and we do nothing, 3) It isn’t our fault and we do something, and 4) It isn’t our fault and we do nothing. Ideally, it would be great if it weren’t our fault and we did nothing but cope with it, but this guy had “unbeatable logic” on his side. He simply assumed (the first mistake) that all the money we’d spend on cutting down CO2 emissions would be less than the net cost of doing nothing. No data to back that up. Just his logic. He claimed no one had come up with an argument to beat that, though a few of the comments are pretty well stated. I bet the guy wins a Nobel Peace Prize for his brilliant display of flawed Game Theory.

Anyway, the basic truth is that there’s a ton of money going towards research of mankind’s role in global warming, and it seems like the news outlets are biased. I don’t hear too much about this sort of thing in the news (skepticism, that is). I don’t think it’s necessarily a deliberate bias, but more of a simple overload of information. There’s so much new stuff out there saying we are responsible that it simply outweighs the alternative. Plus, the news does like scaring people, but saying “We can’t do anything about it,” would just be too much. After all, if there are possible ways to fix it, that would fit in quite nicely into a new segment on the 10:00 News in Spartanburg

This reminds me of a discussion in a course I took in my last term in college. It was a business class, which consisted of mostly senior engineering students. A guy with years of industry experience came in to talk to us one day about pretty much anything we wanted to know regarding the workplace environment. It was great, and the guy was very engaging. We just sat in a circle and talked. One of the topics the guy brought up was global warming (just out of curiosity on his part), and what we thought about it. You’d be surprised what senior engineering students said.

The biggest surprise was how little personal research had been done by some of the students who had already formed opinions. The few of us who had all pretty much said the same thing: there’s evidence to prove that humans aren’t a significant factor. People spoke about how they’re scared that coastal homes will be flooded out. Others said “I haven’t done much research, but it has to be humans if it’s happened so recently.” Mind you, I went to a very good engineering school, and most of these students were quite bright. When I spoke, I mentioned a book I had read, a video I had seen, and other research I had done, and concluded (using references) that changing patterns in solar winds (sun spots) are much more likely to be a cause for warming than human CO2 production (which is also a small contribution compared to natural components like the oceans and volcanoes). The guy leading the discussion also posed the question: “Did you know they used to grow grapes in Greenland?” On a side note, one of the students in the class made a remark one day that our service academies were a drain on our economy. Wow. She also spoke at our graduation… I guess she has to be right, then. Kidding, of course.

Let me just say that I am very happy that the United States did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Even some of those who advocate reduced CO2 emissions admit that the restrictions proposed by the Protocol aren’t nearly enough to do anything significant, especially since China and India are pumping more and more CO2 out each day.

I’m a big fan of alternative fuels, by the way, since it could be cheaper (and just way more neat) if we could rely more on renewable energy. But, that doesn’t mean I support the deliberate reduction of CO2 because of global warming. I just think electric cars are neat. I had one when I was a kid and just loved it.


big show said...

I applaud your rejection of sensationalism, and you frame the debate nicely. I always see it as a three step process of agreement: is climate change occurring? are humans a significant factor? what, if anything, should we do differently? You and I seem to agree on the first question, which is a refreshing change.

My own research has led me to the opposite conclusion, that humans are most likely a non-trivial contributing factor in climate change. Without wanting to make a lengthy exchange out of it, I'd like to respectfully challenge one assumption you make that is always particularly bothersome to me when this topic comes up.

You say that human CO2 production is a small contribution compared to natural components like the oceans and volcanoes. This is entirely correct, the estimates I've read range between 90 and 95% of global CO2 being produced from natural sources. But the global climate is an immensely complex system, and a 5-10% increase, though intuitively a "small" number, might very well be non-trivially large in its effect on the system, especially over the course of the last 100+ years of industrial revolution. That is to say, CO2 is an input to a system, and our understanding of the system's sensitivity to that input is incomplete (hence the endless parade of studies). The vast majority of evidence I've seen on the subject has led me to believe strongly that it is significant. One set of studies I find particularly compelling on the point are the antarctic ice cores, which provide an accurate record of atmospheric CO2 content over a very long period of time (much much longer than we have recorded weather data for).

But I'm about to betray my intention not to turn this into a drawn out debate if I'm not careful. The climate is an immensely complex system that is incompletely understood. We have some pretty good models for certain aspects of it, but there are so many inputs that it's almost certainly incorrect to say "such and such is the reason for climate change." No one study or a dozen studies are going to definitely prove anything, but the mounting evidence has led me to a different conclusion than you.

Pat said...

Thank you very much for the comment, big show. It is refreshing to hear from people who agree with most of my views.

Your challenge, from what I'm understanding, is CO2's role in the warming of the climate. You're correct in saying that it's a tough matter to really prove, as our climate is very complex.

From what I've read and seen, which I am not calling unbiased, it would appear that CO2 might be a by-product of warming as opposed to a leading factor. As oceans warm, they produce more CO2. What many scientists are wondering, who obviously doubt that CO2 is a leading factor, is what sparks the warming cycles. One climatologist from Britain claims to have predicted weather patterns quite well for years, at an accuracy higher than most of his peers. His method was heavily reliant on sun spots.

I'm not saying sun spots are the cause simply because this guy can predict the weather more accurately. I'm just saying that it has lead others to look at sun spot data from years ago, and has lead some to believe they are better indicators than CO2. CO2 levels increased after sun spots, which would lead one to believe sun spots are a more significant cause.

I'd love to read your sources, though. I'm not really 100% convinced, but I'm leaning heavily towards the sun spot theories.

Thanks for reading the blog!