Nachman: some criticisms of climate change are overblown
(Note: some of Paul Nachman’s comments set off a storm of criticism, and the discussion continues as of December 10.)
Paul Nachman, who is a physicist, points to certain incorrect arguments used by climate change skeptics. I reply that notwithstanding his disagreements with skeptics on some points, it would appear that his practical position is the same as theirs.
Paul Nachman writes:
In the entry, “How could such a tiny increase in temperature cause the end of the world?”, Rick U. writes:
The other issue to remember in this whole global warming climate change debate is that CO2 is a trace element comprising only about 0.038 percent of the total atmosphere. The argument that adding 100 parts per million of CO2 to the atmosphere since 1880 due to human activity will warm the climate obviously denies or ignores the economies of scale involved in the entire atmospheric system—not to mention the Sun’s role in the system which is not considered or is modeled as a constant by the IPCC “scientists.”
This is a ridiculous “argument.” (The “economies of scale” notion is particularly inane, all by itself.) As I’ve written to you before:
Take a look at the spectrum of atmospheric transmission here. The wavelength regions with high opacity (i.e. low transmittance) that matter are those in the wavelength range where there’s significant radiation by the ground. The ground is at, let’s say, about 20 degrees Celsius, which is about 300 degrees Kelvin (absolute temperature), so its strongest radiation will be at wavelengths between 5 and 15 microns. Over that range, water vapor and CO2 are the main contributors to the opacity.
Regarding the reality or unreality of man-caused climate change (and there should be no snickering about calling it that, rather than “global warming,” as I explained just above), I’m an agnostic. And it would probably take me years, even as a veteran physicist, to get up to speed. Here’s what I wrote a few days ago to another friend:
And, despite the fact that nitrogen and oxygen, together, make up about 99% of the atmosphere by volume (or, equivalently, by number of molecules), they’re unimportant to the opacity over that wavelength range where the ground primarily radiates.
(This “radiation blocking” treatment of the problem is a simple first approximation to the actual physics of how the earth’s equilibrium temperature is determined by the balance between solar influx and the earth’s radiation back into space. But it’s good enough for our purposes here.)
So the “common sense” notion that CO2 is unimportant because “it’s only 0.04% of the atmosphere” is just wrong.
One wonders if the other arguments against climate change (it shouldn’t be called “global warming”—northern Europe would get a lot colder if the Gulf Stream shuts down because the freshwater from melting glaciers in Greenland changes the salinity of the North Atlantic) are equally glib. I don’t know.
This longish article from The Weekly Standard gives a good overview.
Note that the author explicitly says that the scandal doesn’t foreclose the possibility that the claims of man-dominated climate change are correct:
As tempting as it is to indulge in Schadenfreude over the richly deserved travails of a gang that has heaped endless calumny on dissenting scientists (NASA’s James Hansen, for instance, compared MIT’s Richard Lindzen to a tobacco-industry scientist, and Al Gore and countless -others liken skeptics to “Holocaust deniers”), the meaning of the CRU documents should not be misconstrued. The emails do not in and of themselves reveal that catastrophic climate change scenarios are a hoax or without any foundation. What they reveal is something problematic for the scientific community as a whole, namely, the tendency of scientists to cross the line from being disinterested investigators after the truth to advocates for a preconceived conclusion about the issues at hand.
That’s a good expression of my view of the whole thing (i.e. the mixture of uncertain scientific results with genuinely scandalous behavior), and I recommend the same stance to you. Because there are clear cases on the record of humans having wrecked their local environments (at times when there were frontiers to escape to), and it isn’t sensible—it isn’t conservative!—to simply blow off the idea that it could happen globally. (Easter Island was forested when the Polynesians arrived, but when the Europeans “discovered” it, it was largely denuded of trees; also, the Fertile Crescent was ruined for agriculture thousands of years ago by the salt precipitated from irrigation water, and it remains ruined.)
Thanks for this. I understand your point that even though CO2 makes up a tiny percentage of the atmosphere, a change in CO2 level could nevertheless have a large greenhouse effect, and that some arguments used against warming have been overblown and wrong.
- end of initial entry -
As for your own view of the global warming / climate change theory, you say that you’re agnostic. Based on that statement, I make certain inferences and assumptions about other views of yours. Let me lay them out and you can tell me if I’m right or not.
Since you are agnostic on the theory, I assume that your practical policy position is the same as that of the skeptics: namely, since we don’t know that warming/change is true, it would be madness to create new government powers over industry and probably send the Western industrial world into depression in order to try to stop the warming.
Further, since you’re agnostic on the theory, you don’t believe that it is settled science. Therefore I assume that your view as to the motives of the warmists is the same as the skeptics’ view as to the motives of the warmists: namely, you regard the warmists’ claim that it’s settled science as an out and out falsity intended to stop debate.
Further, I assume that you regard the warmists’ position that dissent on climate change should stop because climate change is “settled” as anti-science in the highest degree.
Further, since the practical aim of the warmists is to shut down the economy of the Western world, or at least gain crippling power over it, I assume that you believe that they are using the false claim of settled science in order to achieve that objective.
Thus your agnostic position puts you on the same page as the convinced climate change opponents on all the practical and political issues, leaving only the question of whether manmade climate change is true or not. And here, based on everything I’ve said so far, I have a final question for you: what do you think is the likelihood that a scientific theory advanced by a group of scientists who are claiming as an absolute truth that the theory is proved when it’s not proved, who use strong arm tactics to silence questioning of the theory, and who are using that theory to acquire oppressive power over the economy of the world, is a true theory? In all the history of science, can you think of any true scientific theory that was advanced in such a dishonest, self-interested, and tyrannical manner?
” … a group of scientists who are claiming as an absolute truth that the theory is proved when it’s not proved, who use strong arm tactics to silence questioning of the theory, and who are using that theory to acquire oppressive power over the economy of the world”
I say we round ‘em all up and put ‘em to work in the Trofim Lysenko Memorial Research Institute, and make them run cultural Marxist experiments on each other. I’d happily subsidize that with my tax money. It’d be addition by subtraction.
Paul Nachman replies:
Here are your points, postulates, and questions, followed by my answers:
1. Nachman is an agnostic about global warming / climate change theory.
Answer: I’d say, first, that “theory” is too grandiose a term for it. Instead, it’s a lot of well-understood pieces of physics (and some chemistry and even some biology) that lead to competing/interacting effects in the complicated, heterogeneous environment of the earth and in its relationship with the sun, so that the only hope of making predictions is via intensive computer modeling. And it’s the results of this complicated modeling that are in contention—that are either “settled” or not. Although it now seems that some of the input data on temperatures are riven by flim-flam—that’s a problem, or scandal, at a more primitive level than the system models.
Also, the sun, on its own, has mysterious, not-yet-explained behavioral details that may well play into this, but, again, nobody thinks that new-to-humanity physical phenomena are involved—it’s simply another case of getting all the details identified and included correctly.
Derb wrote something useful on this point:
While the political and financial stakes in the climate-change controversy are huge—power, jobs, money, economic transformation—the scientific stakes are small.
So I’m agnostic in the sense that I couldn’t possibly confirm or deny the claims (a) by just thinking about it all myself, or (b) without spending years at it as a member of a dedicated team. I find it plausible that anthropogenic climate change or ACC is happening, but, given the preceding, I certainly don’t know that it’s happening.
Climate change is not an overarching theory like Newton’s mechanics or Faraday-Maxwell electromagnetism. It’s an interpretation of some data—data fuzzy and uncertain enough to be capable of other interpretations. The intellectual stakes here are small.
One thing that adds to the plausibility for me—besides understanding the basic radiation-balance effect that goes with the rising CO2 concentration—is the claim we read about the rapid disappearance of glaciers in our current era. From all accounts, this is definitely the case in Glacier National Park, and we also read about water, in torrents, spilling into the Atlantic off Greenland’s glaciers. But could these effects simply be parts of natural cycles? Again, I just don’t know enough.
There are also seemingly head-to-head contradictory claims about whether sea ice is secularly [over the long period of time] expanding or shrinking, about whether polar bears are stressed by shrinking habitat or whether they’re actually more abundant than ever (and, for all I know, maybe both could be true!), etc. On these, I know so little that I simply throw up my hands.
2. Nachman, as an agnostic, presumably takes the same policy position as the skeptics: namely, since we don’t know that warming/change is true, it would be madness to send the Western industrial world into depression to try to stop it.
Answer: If we’re sure an economic depression would result, then I think it’s probably madness to make drastic societal changes without being way more sure about the science than we are.
But are we sure about the depression scenario? Recall that there have been instances of large, forced technological changes before, and the predicted dooms haven’t materialized. I’m thinking here, vaguely, of controls imposed on auto emissions, leading to scarifying predictions by the industry, but the predicted doom didn’t arrive. The effort to end widespread use of chlorofluorocarbons in order to protect the ozone layer (a real problem and a real solution, as far as I know) probably met the same kind of resistance.
Anyway, provisionally, yes, that would be madness.
But my other, larger response is that I’ve long regarded humanity as a large, slow-motion train wreck. We’re currently in overshoot mode, with far more people alive than can be sustainably supported at living standards that Westerners would find acceptable. Over the long term, our numbers must come down to what can survive on current solar energy (to be distinguished from tens of millions of years of solar energy stored in fossil fuels), and many resources will have to be used in recycle mode.
So we shouldn’t continue with the growth uber alles model, and people should stop pooh-poohing Malthus and Ehrlich. Unfortunately, the basic physical constraints that are at the heart of Malthusian ideas seem beyond the conception of most modern people—the same kind of people who can say that, since CO2 is only 0.04% of the atmosphere, it’s obviously nothing to worry about.
The much-missed John Attarian was, I think, the person who wrote most cogently on how conservatives, in particular, have missed the bus on all this. But many liberals, even many environmentalists, are in denial about limits, too.
(Our energy-supply limits would be lifted if we can make nuclear fusion go—other than in nuclear weapons!—since the fuel would be deuterium, abundant in the water of the oceans. But even the use of fusion would have constraints; see here. Nuclear fission does have a lot going for it and will probably have a second life, but the necessary supplies of uranium and thorium are also, like fossil fuels, quite finite.)
3. Nachman’s view as to the motives of the warmists is presumably the same as the skeptics’ view of the motives of the warmists; namely, Nachman regards the warmists’ claim that it’s settled science as an out and out falsity intended to stop debate.
Answer: Seems to me that the warmists’ motives could be either:
(a) True belief—they’ve convinced themselves/been convinced that the effects are real and time is short—and they realize, reasonably, that if things are to be turned around, we can’t debate forever. So, since they’re sure that the peril is upon us, it’s, indeed, time to stop debate. Further, it’s time to move, even if many—or even most—people remain to be convinced.
b) Boodling—riding the gravy train of fashionable funding.
4. Nachman presumably regards the warmists’ position that dissent on climate change should stop because climate change is “settled” as anti-science in the highest degree.
Answer: I guess so. I can’t imagine carrying on like that—keeping the data and programs hidden, failing to point out where you think there might be shortcomings in your own work, and—amazingly—using made-up “data.”
5. Since the practical aim of the warmists is to shut down the economy of the Western world, or at least gain crippling power over it, Nachman presumably believes that warmists are using the false claim of “settled science” in order to achieve that objective.
Answer: No, I just don’t know this. I think a lot of them could be true believers, as I described in my answer 3a.
However, all the coming-to-the-surface revelations (on the larger scene) about Alinsky’s legions and Alinskyite tactics are enough to show me that there are certainly some in important positions who have motives as you describe.
6. What does Nachman think is the likelihood that a scientific theory advanced by a group of scientists who are claiming as an absolute truth that the theory is proved when it’s not proved, who use strong arm tactics to silence questioning of the theory, and who are using that theory to acquire oppressive power over the economy of the world, is a true theory?
Answer: Hmmm … I’m back and forth on this one. I can’t possibly put a “percentage likelihood” on the truth of the Anthropogenic Climate Change theory. But I think it’s reasonable to say that the revelations make ACC’s truth less likely because it hasn’t been adequately challenged. The skeptics didn’t get the funding they merited, because some of the appropriators—or more likely, the political people to whom the agencies’ appropriators reported—were driven by an (Alinskyite) agenda outside science.
7. Can Nachman think of any example in history of a true scientific theory that was advanced in such a dishonest, self-interested, and tyrannical manner?
Answer: No, I think this is new.
You last answer, “No, I think this is new,” implies that it is a true theory—that this is the first time that a theory advanced so dishonestly was true. I don’t think that’s what you meant, though.
Mr. Nachman replies:
I see what you mean about my response #7. You’re right. Since I’m an agnostic on this, I don’t assume that the ACC picture is correct. And you were asking specifically about that case.
Instead, in responding to #7, I meant that, no matter whether the ACC picture is correct or wrong, I don’t think there’s previously been a case of such large-scale, high-stakes misbehavior by scientists.
But you’re still not answering my question No. 7. However, I understand why you didn’t want to answer it. You’re trying to keep the discussion strictly within the bounds of science, but my question was not a science question, it was a human-nature, political, commonsense question.
So I’ll give you my answer to the question. In the world of human beings and human actions, a theory advanced through such lies and orchestrated intimidation and for the purpose of gaining such tyrannical power over society has ZERO chance of being true. When something quacks, flies, and swims like a politicized, false theory, then the likelihood is 100 percent that it is a politicized, false theory.
Paul Nachman replies (sent 12/8, posted 12/9):
Well, I actually thought I was answering the question by saying that this is the worst scientific misbehavior I’m aware of, whether done for well-meaning or tyrannical reasons, whether the results in contention are ultimately found to be correct or not.
Recall what that Weekly Standard author I previously quoted wrote:
The emails do not in and of themselves reveal that catastrophic climate change scenarios are a hoax or without any foundation. What they reveal is something problematic for the scientific community as a whole, namely, the tendency of scientists to cross the line from being disinterested investigators after the truth to advocates for a preconceived conclusion about the issues at hand.
I think that’s a good statement. In other words, the claimed ACC could be correct, but the behavior of some of the scientists involved has surely been atrocious.
Roger G. writes:
Over the 4.5 billion years of its existence, the earth (as you of course know) has undergone massive, massive, massive climatic and geological changes; I see no reason to conclude that these are not still going on, and there’s nothing we can do to affect them for good or ill. The forces at work dwarf anything we can generate. Mr. Nachtman correctly (in my opinion, and I realize that I’m nowhere near his match in these matters) points out that a civilization can poison its own local environment and put itself out of existence, but that’s as far as it goes.
Rick U. writes:
Thanks for the great discussion here. My only point from the beginning was that the scale of the man made CO2 relative to the entire system and especially the sun was infinitesimal. That is not to say that we shouldn’t be circumspect regarding our emissions into the air, but that has to be balanced with technological capability and the larger needs of the world civilization. Surely, a centrally planned bureaucracy at the UN is not the answer, and that would be true even if “climate change” were imminent, which it is, because the term itself is redundant.
Paul Nachman writes:
The late 12/8 response from Roger G. and the early 12/9 response from Rick U. both exasperate me. I won’t recapitulate anything I’ve written previously. I’ll just point out that if their common point of view—the teensiness of man’s doings compared to natural processes (hence their inconsequentiality)—is correct, then it’s time to shut down research/modeling into the effects of burning fossil fuels on the global environment. That’s the inescapable conclusion of what they both say.
Rick U. writes:
In response to Paul Nachman:
I don’t agree with your conclusion, but I hope we can agree that the system is incredibly complex and our understanding of the system may ultimately prove fruitless. If anything, more research and modeling is needed before any policy decisions are made because this a relatively new science discipline which requires more time to study. The current trend among policy makers seems to run counter to the foregoing, but we should be humble about whatever the models produce in the short term and rather than silence the critics of ACC we should embrace the scientific method. The behavior of the “scientists” who destroyed data, ignored criticisms of their models, and refused to comply with FOIA requests is shameful, but, more importantly, contrary to that method and the reality of man’s influence on the climate system.
Roger G. writes:
I’ve read more of the Nachman comments, and (for what my opinion is worth) I disagree with much of what he says. Particularly as to the ozone layer, as I understand what is going on, raw sunlight blasts the hell out of the upper atmosphere, and converts the oxygen we breathe (O2) into ozone (O3). Specifically, it is radiation at a particular frequency on the spectrum that effects the conversion, with every three O2 molecules becoming two O3 molecules. And of course the atmosphere is in constant motion. Ozone is unstable, and won’t maintain its O3 configuration away from the raw sunlight. So as ozone moves away from the upper reaches of the atmosphere, it reconverts to O2. And O2 in the shifting atmosphere that attains the upper reaches is converted to ozone. So to stop this cycle and kill the ozone layer, you have to put out the sun. It’s my understanding that the volcano in Washington State put much much much more ozone killing chemicals into the atmosphere than all the fluorocarbons we could ever generate. So outlawing the fluorocarbons was nonsense.
Roger G. continues:
Paul Nachman wrote:
“(I)f their common point of view—the teensiness of man’s doings compared to natural processes (hence their inconsequentiality)—is correct, then it’s time to shut down research/modeling into the effects of burning fossil fuels on the global environment. That’s the inescapable conclusion of what they both say.”
Exactly. At least public funds should not be spent on these efforts (or on practically everything else that the feds do, in violation of Article I, section 8 and the 10th Amendment).
Also, my ozone remarks are (I think) worth posting. If they contain any errors, then Mr. Nachman can correct them (I’m not being facetious; I have admitted that his knowledge exceeds mine).
Andrew E. writes:
Paul Nachman in his latest comment writes:
“I’ll just point out that if their common point of view—the teensiness of man’s doings compared to natural processes (hence their inconsequentiality)—is correct, then it’s time to shut down research/modeling into the effects of burning fossil fuels on the global environment. That’s the inescapable conclusion of what they both say.”
Does Mr. Nachman have thoughts on what the appropriate amount of funding allocated for climate change research should be and where it should come from? Isn’t it reasonable that both Roger G. and Rick U.’s comments could lead one to conclude that climate research shouldn’t be completely ended but merely scaled back, perhaps significantly, with the now excess resources released to be applied elsewhere to more scientifically promising endeavors? Also, what is the likelihood of climate scientists being able to construct an accurate model of the Earth’s climate (something of a chaotic system, is it not?) so as to be able to produce meaningful results (ie. perturb the climate model, then perturb Earth’s climate and see if they respond the same way)?
Steve W. writes:
I don’t pretend to have the scientific knowledge and ability of Mr. Nachman, but I am troubled by this statement of his:
“But my other, larger response is that I’ve long regarded humanity as a large, slow-motion train wreck. We’re currently in overshoot mode, with far more people alive than can be sustainably supported at living standards that Westerners would find acceptable. Over the long term, our numbers must come down to what can survive on current solar energy (to be distinguished from tens of millions of years of solar energy stored in fossil fuels), and many resources will have to be used in recycle mode.”
This statement is pure speculation, not science. There is no empirical evidence for the notion that humanity is in “overshoot mode” (what does this even mean? and how is it measured?), or that global living standards are being constrained by natural resource scarcity rather than political and cultural incompetence. This is the same Malthusian doomsday perspective that was popular in the 1970s—and subsequently proved false. Indeed, it is demonstrable that living standards are improving, on average, in both developed and developing countries. Sure, in theory, there is a finite amount of space and resources available on earth to support human life. But there is no evidence that shows we are at or near, let alone past, the “tipping point” point (to use the term that Malcolm Gladwell popularized).
However, this doomsday perspective, this fear that we are about to reach an irreversible “tipping point” is, in my opinion, a large part of what is driving the popular hysteria over anthropogenic global warming. This would account for what I see as Mr. Nachman’s apparent receptiveness to the theory—with its potentially profound implications, if true—despite his alleged “agnosticism” on the underlying science. Moreover, I think that Mr. Nachman, like many smart people with whom I’ve discussed this issue, is conflating a purely theoretical recognition that AGW is a plausible hypothesis with the alleged empirical evidence that it is actually occurring in nature. In fact, the alleged temperature data on which the entire global warming industry depends are deeply, fatally unreliable. This has been demonstrated again and again. If not for the psychological and/or ideological need to believe in AGW, which Mr. Nachman apparently shares, the data would have been rejected, along with the theory and its public policy offshoots, years ago.
Richard P. writes:
Malthusianism is just another name for misanthropy. Over the years I have known dozens of people who were convinced that humanity was on the verge of some self-inflicted doomsday. Almost every one of them would display one trait whenever they talked about this belief in detail—utter contempt for most other people. Sometimes they would be truly vile, almost gleeful at the thought of a coming apocalypse that would wipe out millions or billions.
Paul Nachman gives himself away a bit here too. Notice that he didn’t limit himself to just a belief we were in “overshoot mode.” Oh no. He says this:
… I’ve long regarded humanity as a large, slow-motion train wreck.”
Humanity is the problem to be solved. This is what I’ve heard from the doomsday lovers I’ve known. Of course they don’t mean themselves. They would inevitably make some little comment that they probably wouldn’t survive the coming culling, perhaps to make some show of empathy. But they never seemed to mean it. They felt most people were just wasting resources and contributing nothing, and it was their fault that a cataclysm was coming. The term “useless eaters” often popped in my head while listening to them.
One of the great prophets of the doomsday crowd is James Howard Kunstler. There is no better example of the mindset I’m describing than a blog entry he posted last month. He starts with references to our “moron culture”—basically meaning the vast American middle class—and later compares them to yeast. Yeast that will have to starve.
Read the comments section too. They are almost giddy over this coming collapse. The people of the “moron culture,” the “yeast people,” will finally die off.
Lawrence, these sentiments are widespread. They don’t often bubble to the surface, but they are there.
Mark P. sent this e-mail:
Sorry, I don’t buy any of this and I really don’t care about Mr. Nachman’s status as a physicist. While his explanations sound plausible and even-handed, he basically betrays a stunning misunderstanding of the problem. So busy is Mr. Nachman trying to maintain the scientist’s position as “expert witness” on matters of Really Great Importance that he doesn’t see the significance of the problem before him.
Basically, the real reason why global warming “exists”; why there is this massive debate; why we are facing draconian legislation; why the world is on the verge of war; and why the country is being torn apart by this issue, is that some scientist said warming exists and told us that bad things are going to happen. This entire hysteria was and is generated because of the opinions of the scientific community. Nothing more and nothing less.
We believe these scientists not because we know they are right. Nobody understands what they are doing. Nobody can observe their predictions or duplicate their experiments (who is going to go to the Arctic to dig for ice cores, anyway?) or verify their conclusions. We rely entirely on the image of the scientist as an objective seeker of truth possessed of a rare and high intellect. That’s it. Our society’s polarized hysteria over the future of the earth lies in the hands of a logical fallacy: the appeal to authority. That authority has now shown itself to be a fraud.
Yet, Mr. Nachman is still talking about “skeptics” and “deniers” as if we are still dealing with the mere plausibility that warming is false or that we need more data. No. The very people that we trusted as objective seekers of truth are actually frauds. Data has been fabricated to produce the desired result. That is now all that matters. Defaulting to the belief that this abject fraud does not discredit the possibility that warming exists is seriously dishonest.
And I find Mr. Nachman’s examples like this particularly offensive:
Take a look at the spectrum of atmospheric transmission hereWhat does this have to do with anything? One of the singular pieces of time-series data, data that is now being used by politicians to ruin the US economy, is admitted to be fraudulent and Nachman’s answer is to respond to someone’s limited understanding of settled, kitchen-table chemistry? What kind of bait in switch is this? “Gee, Mr. Bernanke, you Federal Reserve macro-economists certainly ran the economy into the ground.” “True,” Bernanke responds, “but it really bothers me that you do not understand Ricardian Equivalence.”
To answer Mr. Nachman’s question, yes, all research in AGW should be immediately defunded. Scientists should be going to prison…or at least working in Virginia coal mines to rid themselves of the soft hands and idle minds.
Oh, by the way, CFCs were invented by DuPont. The whole CFC scare was largely manufactured by a giant corporation that wanted to sell a patented refrigerant in place of its older product.
LA wrote to Mark P.:
Mark, are you sure you want this intemperate comment to be posted as written? If it is, I will have to reply that you are unfairly and wrongheadedly using the same bullying methods as the other side, trying to stop any discussion of warming, trying to shut people up, saying the issue is closed, because the CRU fraud discredits the entire warming enterprise.
Paul Nachman’s passage you attack was not irrelevant at all; he was showing the mistake of thinking that because CO2 is such a tiny part of the atmosphere, therefore a variation in it could not affect the greenhouse effect. Also, as I remember, he began posting on the subject because I asked him what his opinion was on the issue; and his interest is in the science more than the politics.
I agree with your point that he seemed reluctant to admit that scientific claims advanced by intimidation and fraud for the purpose of gaining power appear, ipso facto, to be false. However, that doesn’t mean that the scientific issue of climate change goes away and can’t be discussed.
Mark P. replied:
First, Nachman’s point is not relevant. What he is basically saying is that C02 and water vapor form a stable, low-lying canopy near the surface of the Earth. This low-lying canopy happens to have “low-opacity”, meaning that it does not transmit heat very well. Logically, then, an increase in C02 results in a decrease in opacity, thus an increase in temperature. Pretty cut and dried…or is it?
Well, let’s ask ourselves. Why is there such a canopy of C02 and water vapor to begin with? Well, C02 and water are major food sources for plants. That food needs to be accessible because we do not have plants thousands of feet tall.
Now we’ve introduced our first feedback loop. If you introduce an excess food source to a population of organics, then doesn’t it stand to reason that such organics will multiply in number and size? If we pump more C02 into the canopy, then aren’t we multiplying the number and size of the plant life? And since plant life expels oxygen, isn’t this larger, more numerous plant life effectively scrubbing the excess C02 out of the air?
Now, for the sake of argument, let’s assume the preceding paragraph is wrong. More C02 does not alter the plant life. Ok…well…what else would we notice from sitting in our little canopy of ever-increasing C02? Would we notice trouble breathing, an effect similar to putting a plastic bag over our head?
Do we in fact have larger, more numerous plants or trouble breathing? And if not, why not?
Mr. Nachman laughs at the skeptic’s claim that C02 is not a problem because it is only a small percentage (4%) of the atmosphere. Yet, he introduces an implausible condition: that human interaction with that small percentage of the atmosphere is disproportionately important. Yet, we are not seeing any ancillary effects of adding C02 to this small piece of the atmosphere other than the desired warming of the climate enthusiasts.
Second, all of this AGW stuff is not science. It is a new religion, complete with its own priesthood. AGW was given birth as a political movement with some science grafted on top for decoration. Mr. Nachman really should not be making arguments like this.
Lawrence, post the whole thread, including your objections and my response and let’s see how it flies.
Ok. And I hereby repeat my point that you are being unfair and bullying. You are treating Climategate as a mandate to shut down all further discussion of whether AGW is true or not—just as the other side treated the AGW theory as a mandate to shut down all debate.
Bill Carpenter writes:
VFR readers (including Mr. Nachman) interested in the global warming controversy would benefit from John Ray’s extensive, long-running digest of political and scientific publications on the topic at antigreen.blogspot.com.
There is an important argument that atmospheric CO2 levels follow atmospheric temperature changes rather than lead them. The cooler ocean absorbs more CO2. Also, the argument that the human contribution is minuscule is not ridiculous. The proportion of human-generated CO2 is dwarfed by naturally generated CO2 and other greenhouse gases such as H2O. Those are subject to variations independent of human intervention. The role of the sun is huge. It is beyond dispute that the global temperature (to the extent there is such a thing) has not significantly increased since 1998, despite increasing CO2. A related point is that the bulk of the 0.8° C recorded increase in the last hundred years occurred before the postwar economic expansion.
The proposed political remedies to this manufactured crisis, taken as a whole, amount to a government seizure of the atmosphere. The air that used to be free and open to all is being seized by bureaucrats and treated as government property that they can tax you for using. “Cap and trade” equals “license to breathe.”
“Cap and trade” equals “license to breathe.”
Absolutely. A minute of thought reveals Cap and Trade to be the most far reaching grab for control of human activity ever conceived, as well as a recipe for unlimited corruption and the massive transfer of wealth. Under Cap and Trade, all economic activity would revolve around the awarding and exchange of carbon credits. In this uber Atlas Shrugged-ian nightmare, government functionaries decide who gets enough carbon credits to function and who doesn’t. Friends of the regime or those who pay large enough bribes would get lots of carbon credits, many more than they need to operate their businesses, which they could then sell to non friends of the regime who are not so favored and who must have the credits in order to keep their businesses going. Nonwhites, non-Westerners, and women would get lots of carbon credits, which whites, Westerners, and men would have to buy from them.
If my characterization of the essential logic of Cap and Trade is wrong, could someone point it out to me.
Paul Nachman writes:
Responses to some of the assertions, arguments, and questions that followed what I wrote.
1. Reply to Roger G. on ozone and chlorofluorocarbons
To be clear, this has to do with destruction of the ozone layer, not climate. I’d offered it as an example of a significant adjustment humans made in response to an environmental concern that’s worked out OK.
So this is really off-topic here. But, briefly, and just out of my head: The chemically-inert chloroflurocarbons that, starting in the 1960s (I’ll guess), were heavily used in spray cans distribute themselves—intact, because of their inertness—throughout the atmosphere by diffusion and convection. When molecules of these gases reached the high atmosphere, they’d be broken up by sunlight, freeing the chlorine atoms within them. And chlorine (Cl) is especially effective at catalyzing the destruction of ozone (O3)—one Cl atom will be involved in destroying perhaps 100 O3 molecules before the Cl atom is taken back “out of play” by some other chemical reaction.
This new destruction mechanism for O3 meant that the O3 concentration in the upper layer would be significantly reduced, which matters to us because O3 shields the earth’s surface from much of the sun’s ultraviolet emissions. People worried about sunburn, but I think the agricultural effects would have been far more serious.
As for what Roger G. wrote about “the volcano,” I don’t know. But Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina won the chemistry Nobel Prize for, in the early 1970s, having asked the basic question “What happens to those chlorofluorocarbons?” and for pointing to some of the worrisome possible consequences. Then a lot of research went into refining the early, crude predictions, and if vulcanism would have made that work irrelevant, someone probably would have pointed it out along the way. But I’ve never heard that before.
2. Reply to Andrew E. on funding and sources
No, I don’t know if $25 million/year or $1.5 billion/year would be called for. Since I think the main work is computer modeling, I doubt that gargantuan sums are needed. (However, there are satellite experiments that provide data, and if any of those need replacing, we’re talking much bigger budgets. Note that atmospheric physicist John Christy at the University of Alabama runs one of those satellite programs and hasn’t signed on to the rush to “do something” [i.e. Kyoto/Copenhagen/Mexico City], but I’ll guess he thinks the concern about CO2 shouldn’t be blown off.)
Andrew E.’s query on funding sources is an interesting one, because we automatically think “government.” But before World War II, science was primarily funded by private, benevolent organizations. I think less government funding of science might be a good thing, because a lot of research is pretty marginal stuff, of no urgency.
But I’m dubious that private funders would be up to supporting, say, a new satellite (~$100 million). And I think the questions about climate are of high enough stakes to warrant support consistent with doing the research now.
3. Reply to Steve W. on speculation and overshoot
The underlying idea is “sustainable carrying capacity,” which I probably don’t need to explain, so I won’t. “Overshoot” means that the population is higher than the sustainable carrying capacity, so it’s bound to come down. Sustainable carrying capacity is set by various resource limits, especially energy—ultimately, humanity will have to get by on the solar energy flow. (Exceptions: We get controllable nuclear fusion to work; or we can access heat from the deep earth. Both of these should last a really long time, unlike fossil fuels.)
It isn’t speculation that our reliance on stuff we dig out of the ground isn’t a sustainable practice. And it isn’t science, because “science” is too grandiose a term for such a simple observation.
But there is speculation here: The idea that humanity’s current numbers could be supported in decent style, as technology advances, on solar energy alone (or those two other speculative technologies I mentioned). The speculation, presumably implicit, is Steve W’s. I don’t think it’s a safe bet. I don’t think it’s conservative. I think human numbers will come down because they have to—nature bats last.
4. Replying to Richard P. on Malthusianism and misanthropy
I don’t think Malthus was a misanthrope, but I am. It’s partly innate, but it’s also supported by observation.
I’m also a Malthusian. In my view, Malthus has never been disproved, as is ceaselessly claimed. He was just early.
I expect plenty of other Malthusians aren’t misanthropes. They like humanity—and are concerned that most of humanity can’t see the handwriting on the wall.
After those responses, I have something else to present here. Coincidentally and fortuitously, I was sent a link yesterday to this written-for-laypeople look at “Climate change” by some physicist who works at UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley Lab.
It’s apparently a book chapter written in April 2008, and I think it’s excellent. It’s also long. To encourage others to read it, here’s a paragraph that exemplifies its tone:
Every now and then you’ll hear a news report about a big chunk of ice that breaks free from Antarctica. That will usually accompanied by a scientists stating that it could be evidence for global warming. Indeed it could be. Or maybe not. Increases in ice (and parts of Antarctica are growing glaciers) are not as dramatic, and don’t make the news. But given the poor understanding we have of the region, any change in conditions will often be accompanied by a statement that the change could be due to global warming. And it could be. Or maybe not.
It’s not evident from that quote, but this prof clearly thinks that man-caused climate effects are showing up and that there’s plenty of reason for concern looking forward. But he wrote a review, not propaganda. [LA replies: I didn’t get that at all from the quote. He repeatedly says that it might be, and it might not. How do you interpret that as “this prof clearly thinks that man-caused climate effects are showing”?]
I said that this was written for laypeople. (The course number “Physics 10” in the URL is consistent with that.) I want to acknowledge that, with respect to most of what’s in the chapter, I’m a layperson. For example, in the discussion pertinent to the article’s Figure 10.2, I don’t know how the measurement of the various oxygen isotopes are done nor how the measured results are used to get to a temperature (although I have hunches about both). My difference from other laypeople on this is that I’d be able to get to an in-depth understanding much more quickly.
Bill Carpenter, if he reads the article, will see that his second paragraph in the current thread is partly confirmed and partly refuted.
Richard P. writes:
Here’s another example of ecological misanthropy. The editor-at-large of Canada’s Financial Post wrote a column this week praising China’s “one child” policy and calling for its worldwide imposition.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 08, 2009 05:43 PM | Send
It’s no wonder that the environmental left isn’t terribly concerned with the human costs of their proposals considering that so many of them seem to hate, well, people.