Attacks on scientists

I read this article in Physics Today about how scientists are under attack in Europe. Anarchist groups in Europe blame capitalism for all of our problems and scientists are to blame for much of capitalism. Physics Today quotes from an article in Nature written by Leigh Phillips and says, “terrorists argue “that technology, and indeed civilization, is responsible for the world’s ills, and that scientists are the handmaidens of capitalism”.

This is quite ironic when you think about how capitalist groups are also attacking scientists. Climate scientist everywhere are under attack from a very well funded and organized campaign. Some of the groups behind much of this campaign are Koch Industries, Scaife Foundation. The Heartland Institute, a front organization for the fossil fuel industry, also provides funds for this campaign.

So, anarchists on one end of the spectrum blame scientists for capitalism. Extreme capitalists on the other end of the spectrum are blaming scientists for working against their interests. Maybe someone should explain to both of these groups that scientists merely try to figure out how nature works. What people do with that knowledge is a different story and not really our responsibility. Explosives have been used to do terrible things, but they have also been used to do wonderful things. In fact, explosives have been used for good much more than for bad, but there will still be people who think that scientists are somehow at fault for their work that led to the discovery of those explosives.

All of this relates to the climate wars. Scientists are merely trying to figure out what is happening in nature. Nature is not sentient and is not affected by what we know or don’t know. What happens will happen whether we understand it, or not. When people try to shut up climate scientists and attack their work all they are doing is increasing ignorance. The climate will continue to change, even without any climate scientists to study it. But, if we all stop, then when the changes to the climate happen there won’t be anyone to understand why those changes are occurring.

Larry Bell

One of my favorite climate change deniers is Larry Bell. Bell is an architecture professor that fancies himself an expert on climate change. Actually, he is a master of spinning and false argument. His articles in Forbes magazine and found on Forbes.com are highly deceitful. They are full of inaccuracies and outright lies. But, he is very effective at convincing people to believe in his message, no matter how much in error it is.

This is where people need to step back, take a deep breath and do a little homework into what Bell says. When you make a little effort what happens is his arguments fall apart very quickly. The simple fact is there is never any science to back up Bell’s claims. When he claims there is, a quick check shows that it is just not the case. Take a look at this review of Bell by the climatologists (real scientists, unlike Bell) at RealClimate.org

One of Bell’s patrons in Senator James Inofe (R-OK) who is perhaps the biggest climate change denier in the Senate. Not coincidentally, he is the biggest recipient of donations from the fossil fuel industry, including Saudi Arabia (indirectly). Really, do you think the Saudis have our best interests at heart? These are the guys that funded Al Qaeda and danced in the streets on 9/11. Inofe receives money from them, mostly via The Heartland Institute and other institutes, and Bell toes the line drawn by Inofe. What does that tell you about Bell and his message?

But, people keep reading him, believing in his message, and normally respectable magazines like Forbes continue to pay him to write articles. There is the problem. No matter how false the statement, people continue to believe it. In short, they believe what they want to believe. Bell is selling what they want to buy so they welcome him with open arms.

I have had discussions with climate change deniers and they without fail pull out some tired old statement that has been proven false. But, when I tell them it is false and show them why it is false, they don’t want to believe me. I can show the scientific evidence proving the denier claims are false, but it doesn’t matter. I like to ask them, ‘What will make you believe climate change is real?”. Usually, they will prevaricate without giving a straight answer, but I have had some tell me, straight out, “Nothing.” At least they are being honest. If you are reading Larry Bell and you believe what he says, then you are probably in that camp. If that is the case, why are you even reading Bell’s columns, or anyone else’s, for that matter? You have already decided you are smarter than the 97% of climate change scientists that state manmade climate change is real.

So, I have to ask you, if you are a climate change denier, what will make you change your mind and believe in manmade climate change?

Thoughts on Climate Armageddon

I am an advocate of manmade global climate change, and have been for a long time now. I was first convinced of the scientific validity of this in the mid-1980s. Every day since then has reaffirmed my scientific belief.

At the same time, I have stood fast against alarmist predictions. I have a hard time seeing the validity in them and feel they work against the effort to convince the public and politicians that we need to take action now.

I read today an article on scientificamerican.com that I think perfectly illustrates the point. This article was adapted from the book, “The Fate of the Species: Why the Human Race May Cause Its Own Extinction and How We Can Stop It,” by Fred Guterl. Fred Guterl is not some light weight. He is the executive editor of Scientific American and has been doing science reporting for over 25 years. However, despite his credentials, Mr. Guterl is wrong in this article and I will show you why I say so. I have not read the entire book, so I will not comment on it.

The article focuses on nine ‘tipping points,’ as defined by climate scientist Tim Lenton at the University of East Anglia. Dr. Lenton identifies tipping points as a combination of factors that could lead to a sudden change in dynamic factors. In the case of the climate, these tipping points, he claims, could result in a change in the climate occurring in a matter of a few years or even a period of a few months. I do not dispute that each of the tipping points is a cause of concern. What I dispute is the idea that these might result in a catastrophic change in the climate over a short period of time.

Let me briefly summarize these tipping points:

1. Failure of the Indian Ocean monsoons. This is caused by the combination of pollution in the air that causes the monsoons to weaken and global warming which causes the monsoons to get stronger. The result is a kind of balancing act that could rapidly change the monsoons.

2. Failure of West Africa monsoons. The same as the Indian Ocean monsoons, except applied to the monsoons of West Africa.

3. Loss of Arctic sea ice. He postulates that as the summer ice sheet continues to get smaller and thinner it could eventually result in a year-round ice-free Arctic Ocean. This would result in continuous warming and a change in the ocean currents.

4. Collapse of the Greenland ice sheet. The ice sheet could collapse much more quickly that predicted (by a factor of 3 times faster), resulting is dramatic sea level rises worldwide.

5. Altering of the North Atlantic ocean currents. The change in fresh water in the North Atlantic Ocean due to the melting of the Arctic ice sheets and the Greenland glaciers will cause the dynamics of the North Atlantic currents to alter, greatly affecting the climate of Europe.

6. Collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet. See the collapse of the Greenland ice sheet above, only much bigger.

7. Collapse of Amazon rain forests. Droughts get longer and more severe in the Amazon, leading to a change in the climate.

8. Collapse of Canadian boreal forests. Same thing, but with the Canadian forests.

9. Altering of the El Nino – La Nina Southern Oscillation. The Southern Oscillation drives much of the world’s weather. Global warming will result in changes to this oscillation and cause changes to the world climate.

So, there are the nine tipping points he mentioned. Like I said before, I don’t have any particular problem with this list, it is the time frame that I have the biggest concern with. To begin with, he defined a tipping point as something that occurred over a few years or even a few months. Some of these things, he states, will take hundreds of years to occur. That hardly fits the definition of a ‘tipping point’ that was put forth. Specifically, he estimates the melting of the ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica will take about 300 years. In both cases, this is dramatically less than the more than 1000 years that is predicted for both. Still, 300 years is quite a bit of time. In comparison, the United States is only 236 years old this year.

Looking at numbers 1 and 2, the two about the monsoons. We are already seeing changes in the monsoons and this is an issue of great alarm. Well over 1 billion people depend on these monsoons for their livelihood and their food supplies. However, while we are certainly concerned with the idea of these monsoons changing, the scientific evidence does not support the idea that they may change dramatically, or even cease, anytime in the next few years. Could it happen? Possibly. And, we need to be concerned and work to prevent it. But, it is not something we need to worry about happening within the next few years.

Number 3 deals with the loss of the Arctic ice sheet. This is, once again, something of great concern. As the ice sheet melts the dark ocean will absorb much more sunlight than the bright ice that reflected much of it. However, the North Pole is in darkness six months of the year and the entire Arctic Ocean experiences lengthy, and cold, winters. It is not believable that the Arctic Ocean will be ice free throughout the winter in the foreseeable future.

I already mentioned numbers 4 and 6, concerning the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Even if he is right, 300 years does not qualify as a tipping point. But, the change in the North Atlantic Ocean currents certainly does. This is one that he may be right about. In fact, one of the seldom discussed problems with the melting of the Arctic ice sheet is the fact that old ice is composed of fresh water. Ice slowly squeezes the salt out and so becomes more and more fresh as it ages. As this old ice is melting in the Arctic Ocean it is creating a large bubble of fresher water sitting on top of the ocean. There is concern that this bubble might be forced into the North Atlantic and we really aren’t sure what would happen if it does. Adding billions of tons of fresh water from the melting of the Greenland ice sheet will only make matters worse. And, what is all of that extra fresh water going to do to the currents around Antarctica?

Changes in the Amazon rain forest are already being observed. As the forest is chopped back, it no longer has the critical mass to affect the climate the way it use to. Already, we see that droughts are more frequent, more severe and last longer in the Amazon region. These droughts are causing trees to die, which will only make the situation more severe. There is no speculation on this. It is already happening. But, will it suddenly collapse in a matter of years? There isn’t anything to make me believe this is true. The Amazon is an area under great stress that we need to be actively working to save. But, I do not believe it will suddenly collapse in a matter of a few years.

All of this also applies to the Canadian boreal forests.

Number nine may or may not be valid. We are really learning a lot about the Southern Oscillation, but there is much we don’t understand. Could it suddenly change or disappear? Really, I don’t think we know enough at this time to say. But, neither does Dr. Lenton.

So, is there anything I see in this list that I am concerned with? Yes, every thing he listed is something I am concerned with. Do I believe these things will suddenly ‘tip over’? No, I really don’t think the time frame is that fast.

And, as I have stated before, none of this helps us. The public does not believe in a “climate Armageddon.” Claims like this tend to turn them off and make them think all scientists are alarmists. At the same time, I don’t ever want to be mistaken for someone that says we shouldn’t be concerned about these issues. We should. And, we need to start working on them right away. I just don’t believe that yelling ‘wolf’ is the best way to get people motivated.

Sooner or later, they won’t listen to you anymore.

Australia’s climate history displays the Hockey Stick

The scientific paper, “Evidence of unusual late 20th century warming from an Australasian temperature reconstruction spanning the last millennium,” published in the journal of the American Meteorological Society, reports the results of reconstructing the Australian climate for the last 1000 years. They used tree rings, cores from corals and ice cores to build the proxy record. This record was then used to help validate climate models. This reconstruction shows the same hockey stick pattern that has been routinely identified in the northern hemisphere. The researchers found the warmest pre-industrial revolution period occurred in A.D. 1238 – 1267, right in the period known as the Medieval Warm Period (MWP). The coldest period occurred between A.D. 1830-1859, at the end of the Little Ice Age. There was no period that matched or exceeded the period since 1950.
This study was interesting for more than the climate pattern. What they found was that they only way they could get models to reproduce this data was to include natural forcings, such as solar and volcanic activity. But, they also found natural forcings could not reproduce the observed warming period since 1950. They only way they could reproduce the data was to include manmade emissions of greenhouse gases.
The climate change deniers will spin this up some how, they always do and the gullible people will fall for their lies and false arguments. But, the data keeps piling up. Within the scientific community there is virtually no debate that manmade climate change is real. Over 97% of climate scientists and over 80% of all scientists in all fields agree that manmade greenhouse gas emissions are changing the climate.Within the scientific community the focus is now more on understanding the dynamics of climate change and trying to figure out what we can do about it. But, before we can really do anything we must overcome the skepticism the general public has and to soundly refute the climate change deniers. 
Research like this Australian paper will help. It is one more big piece of the puzzle.

More information on spring blooming

One of the things that has been noted about climate change is the fact that most plants are blooming in the spring much earlier than they use to. Sometimes, this early blooming is weeks earlier than records indicate it should be. But, about a quarter of plants don’t follow this pattern. In fact, there are some plants that are blooming later than they use to. This really hasn’t been a problem and has been viewed as an example of evolution at work – those species that adapt most readily are the ones most likely to survive.

Now, more information has been revealed about the late-blooming plants. It has been noted that the late bloomers are actually dependent on the fall temperatures. They need a cold fall and winter to set their time tables. When the fall and winter are too mild their clocks are off.

One of the interesting things about this research that isn’t mentioned is that this is one more example of how more knowledge always confirms global warming. At first, these 25% of plants that were not blooming early seemed to be an exception to the changing climate observations. But, more investigation showed that they were actually responding to climate change, they were just doing it in a different way.

Apparently, you can fool a lot of people that climate change is not real, but no amount of false arguments are going to fool the plants. They know climate change is real.

Extremism works against reason

I read an article today in Scientific American about how a couple of studies that say we have already passed the tipping point in climate change. These studies claim we will see a catastrophic collapse in the world environment resulting in massive changes after 2050. They say we can expect to see the world population climb to about 8 billion people by 2040 only to see it drop to about 4 billion by 2100. The interesting thing about these studies is that the various factors they track appear to be moving in synch with the model predictions.  They reach their conclusions via different paths, but they both reach the same basic conclusion: We are in for trouble.

Well, maybe.

One of the things non-scientists miss is that scientifically valid studies come with error bars. This is the same as the plus or minus claim you see on political polls. The number quoted is the mid-range, but it could be anywhere between the plus or minus amount. I can throw a dart at a dart board and say that it hit the bulls eye, plus or minus the radius of the dart board and that would cover anything that actually managed to hit the board. But, people tend to focus on the quoted number, not the range.

If we look at the scientific forecasts about what is going to happen we see there are the ones that say there will be little change all the way to the ones that say there is no hope. The truth is, the reality will probably be somewhere in between. It is true that the extremes have a chance of being right, but there are many other options and they all have a chance of being correct, too. 

I believe we are in for some profound changes in our lives in decades to come. I hesitate to accept the premise that there is going to be a catastrophe and that billions of people will die. There are many reasons, but let me point on just one. The author of one of the studies stated that “Whereas in 1972 humans were using 85 percent of the regenerative capacity of the biosphere to support economic activities such as growing food, producing goods and assimilating pollutants, the figure is now at 150 percent—and growing.” But, another study says carbon sinks have not reached capacity and instead keep growing in their capacity to absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.The two values are not identical, but they would be related. This causes a question in my mind about the validity of the conclusion of the doomsday scenario.

And, this is a real problem because I’m not the only one that thinks that way. The difference is that when I question the validity of this study I do not automatically reject other studies and dismiss global climate change in its entirety. Other people will do just that. They will point at this study, conclude that it is wrong and then reach the conclusion that all other climate change predictions are also wrong. This is a hard argument to deal with because there is some truth to it, namely, the extremist predictions are probably not correct. But, it is a false argument to say that just because you find fault with the one study, therefore all other studies are equally at fault.

That is where we are in many of the public debates. In that regard, extremist claims like this just do not make the work easier.

So, please, if you find fault with one study do not judge every other study by that standard. Just like the political polls, the truth is probably somewhere in between.

New information tends to refine models

One of the criticisms made by climate change deniers is that ‘scientists don’t know everything.’ The premise of this is that as we learn more then what we thought to be true becomes false. In this particular instance, deniers claim that as we learn more we will learn there is no such thing as climate change. This, of course, is a totally false argument and there is a bit of recent research that illustrates this.

A new report came out showing how human use of water is contributing to sea level rise. This, of course, makes sense. We are pumping huge amounts of water out of aquifers and other land-based sources of water for use in agriculture, industry and for home use. Much of this water finds its way into the oceans, via one path or another. Measurements have shown this has added .7 mm/year worth of sea level rise.

Of course, deniers at this point will be going, ‘Ah, ha! See! You were wrong about those climate change claims!’ Actually, no. We were right and this study shows that. The problem has been that our calculations and measurements always came up with a shortage of about .7 mm/year in the sea level rise. When we did the calculations of sea level rise due to melting ice and thermal expansion our results were about .7 mm/year short of what was actually measured. There had to be an extra source for sea level rise that was not being factored in. Now, that source has been accounted for and the numbers add up very nicely.

The point of this is that the more we learn, the more we confirm and refine what we already know. And, the reason for this is simple. Any hypotheses or theory we come up with in the future must take into what we already know. We will not come up with a new theory that throws out everything we have already discovered. It may add a whole new dimension to it or change the way we look at things, but it will always include the discoveries that have already been made. It has to because those discoveries are properties of the natural world and the natural world does what it does with or without our understanding.

As we learn more and more about climate change the new discoveries are not going to refute climate change discoveries. They are rooted rock-solid in massive amounts of scientific evidence that is not suddenly going to go away. What we learn will merely refine what we already know and help us understand what is going on.

Those are the kinds of discoveries we need, ones that help us understand what is going on better.