Does this debate matter?
I often hear well-meaning people say it doesn’t matter if man-made global warming is absolutely proved because pollution is bad and we should be using non-polluting resources.
People’s time, effort and money are limited. Spending trillions to stop emitting CO2 means that this money cannot be spent on other things. Right now, millions of children die and suffer from preventable disease and conditions. By spending time and money limiting CO2, you must in your head decide that global warming is a more important cause than preventable suffering happening all over the world right now. An extra tax on gas in Canada intended to fund climate change could just as easily eliminate wait times in hospitals here or eliminate malaria in Africa. Reducing emissions may be a good thing, but it must be balanced with what else might be a good thing. We must be sure of the problem and its consequences since there are many pressing problems that deserve our resources. Those who have faced real suffering and lacked the resources to save themselves can understand how important it is that money be spent on things that matter- not things that might matter. We must prioritize. Stopping dumping PCBs is not only pretty essential but the cost to benefit is very high. Similar arguments can be made about the costs everyone bore to remove sulfur from emissions helping to reduce high acid rain. The cost of significantly reducing CO2 is very high and based on the information I’m going to present, provides little benefit to our environment. Simply put, it is low on the priority list.
Why People Believe in Anthropogenic (Man-Made) Global Warming (AGW)
Earth’s climate has always been changing. So why do some think that global warming before industrialization was natural, and global warming after industrialization is man-made? The claim is that the temperature is increasing faster now than it increased naturally in the past. This statement is taken as fact by most people but let us look at this claim more closely.
Temperature data comes from several sources over different time periods. Satellites have recorded atmosphere temperatures for the last 30 years. Land-based air temperatures have been recorded for about a hundred years in some locations. Before 1900, scientists use proxies for temperature such as tree ring data or ice cores which go back thousands of years.
This temperature graph comes from tree ring data and is from the 1990 IPCC report showing the rate of increase of current temperatures. You will note the Medieval Warm Period where temperatures were much higher than current temperatures. Not the best graph to scare people into thinking that they were responsible for a destruction of the planet since it isn’t even warmer than it used to be before industrialization. How do you fix this? Just take out the data you don’t like. Here is 2007 IPCC graph:
Gone is the medieval warm period, and the little ice age from their earlier graphs. Also notice that the black line, where the big increase happens, is direct measurement while the lines before the black line is tree ring data. That’s like using two watches. You never know if you’ve maintained consistency across the entire data set.
Actually, there is a worse problem. Tree ring widths were measured against current known temperatures. Based on previous growth rings, the temperature is extrapolated backwards. This is called scaling and it’s why the same trees create the different data sets shown in the graph above. The problem is that tree growth is determined by many things, not just increased temperature. Anyone who has been in a forest after a burn will realize that even though the trees are the same age, they grow at different rates even though they experience the same temperature. Moisture, soil conductivity, nutrient availability and a million other factors are at play. As proof of the inaccuracy of tree ring as a temperature proxy, the same trees that matched the temperature from the 60s and 70s when the studies were done, do not match current temperatures. Why trust the proxies going backwards if they aren’t accurate going forward? This discrepancy is called divergence. All tree ring surveys from even the 80s are showing temperatures lower than the actual temperatures measured. This could mean that the temperature measured since the rings were scaled are somehow biased high or that tree rings are not accurate in the past. It also explains the difference between the proxy data and the big increase for the recorded data. Attempts to hide this divergence was part of the recent scandal at the CRU. This graph from the IPCC hides that divergence along with the Medieval Warm Period it showed earlier. If tree rings don’t measure temperature accurately, what about temperatures recorded at ground stations, do they show temperature increasing at an unnatural rate?
Summary of tree ring data
1 tree rings measure growth not exclusively temperature
2 temperatures can be matched to growth rings but they quickly become obsolete as future temperatures diverge from predicted results.
3 to overcome these problems, IPCC graphs often merge temperature proxies with current measured data which is like comparing apples and oranges. Increases can often be traced to the change in data set as seen in the IPCC chart above.
Temperature Data from Weather Stations is Adjusted
Strange as it may seem, temperature data from ground stations are not simply averaged and graphed as the IPCC graphs seem to indicate. What their graphs fail to tell you is that the temperature data has been altered. Sounds conspiratorial but it isn’t. The temperatures are adjusted to discount things like Urban Heat Island (UHI) Effects, and so-called “station quality adjustments.”
If you average all the weather station data in the US, since 1940, the increase is 0.3 degrees. After the adjustments to the data, the average become a 0.6 degree increase. It is the latter number that the IPCC uses in its literature. But if most of this temperature increase is a mathematical adjustment, then it seems pretty important to understand just exactly what those adjustments are!
Explanation of how Data is Adjusted is from the National Climate Data Research Center & NOAA: link
Below is a graph taken from NOAA that shows the adjusted increases made to the temperature data over time:
Yellow Line : Station Location Quality Adjustment: add .2 degrees
This chart shows how much has been added to or subtracted from the land-based raw temperature data since 1900. One of the major adjustments is .2 degrees for station quality adjustments. As NOAA explains “During this time, many sites were relocated from city locations to airports and from roof tops to grassy areas.” Unfortunately, this amount was added without any systematic survey of the actual weather station sites to discover just how many of the sites were improved and how. While NOAA and the IPCC seem little concerned to do this necessary survey, others have gone to each site to examine whether any external heat bias is affecting the station. What they found was not that stations are recording cooler temperatures, but hotter temperatures as human infrastructure is influencing the temperature readings by venting air conditioners, new paved roads beside the recorders that reflect heat, and other effects. You can see their work here.
What they found is that 68 percent of the stations they visited had artificial heat sources less than 10 meters away from the recorders! After looking at data of an actual survey that shows recorders are being influenced by artificial heat sources, its hard to take seriously a hypothetical adjustment based on an amount derived from theory at best and arbitrary speculation at worst. A photo collection dozens of compromised stations can be found here.
Purple Line: Urban Heat Island Effect: subtract .05 degrees
Buildings and pavement absorb heat during the day and radiate that heat at night. Ground cover changes runoff which alters cooling after a rain. This is pretty obvious to anyone who has been in a city on a warm day! Its called the Urban Heat Island Effect. It would be silly if we thought CO2 was warming the earth when it was really just the fact that urban environments have expanded rapidly adding more reflected heat wouldn’t it? And so to hold the effects of urbanization constant, NOAA subtracts the UHI from the temperature data. Their adjustment factor comes from Thomas Karl from his paper Urbanization: Its Detection and Effect in the United States Climate Record,1988 NOAA Journal of Climate. I’m not sure how many have read this paper. To me it seems pretty important since casual observations of the weather demonstrate to me that its several degrees warmer in the city the the country but if only .05 degrees are subtracted then climate data may be very misleading! In section 3 of his paper explaining his procedures, Karl explains that
“The parameter chosen to represent urbanization is the population of the city or metropolitan area where the station is located. This is not the most desirable physical quantity for representing urbanization around the climate station, but it is one of the few documented statistics that is readily available for the past century.”
A pattern seems to be developing here. Rather than measure exactly how urbanization effects the stations which is no doubt difficult, a proxy is used- population. But population doesn’t reflect heat- buildings and pavement do! If you are a statistician, you can attempt to follow Karl’s regression method for arriving at his final number. It is important to understand the difference between statistical methodology that by his own admission “is not the most desirable quantity” and actually looking at how urban encroachment is affecting the 1200 individual stations.
Here is an example from my neck of the woods:
This is the raw data from NOAA. You can clearly see temperature increasing from 1970 to 2000. Over these years, the city tripled in area, surrounding the data recorder with urban areas. How much of this heat is from UHI? Anyone from Calgary can tell you that its often 3 or 4 degrees warmer in town than outside town.
When you forget the computer models and the regression analysis for a minute and just look at these two pictures, and then look at the temperature data knowing that the data was recorded in the city, you will wonder how this data could possibly be considered legitimate by subtracting .05 degrees! If you want to look at the NOAA data near your own town follow this link.
I have tried to show that when you actually look at the stations, where they are and what actually influences them, the adjustments made to temperature data are woefully inadequate. Whether it’s urban encroachment or even the kind of paint the stations are repainted with (Anthony Watts showed that older whitewashed recording stations were up to 5 degrees cooler than some modern paints.) It is often defended that only rural stations are used, but the rural designation is about population not actual influences on the data recorders. As was shown by the Surfaceproject survey, most rural recorders have been compromised by some form of heat influence not accounted for in the averages.
Summary of land-based temperature data:
1 Most of the average temperature increase is from adjustments to recorded data.
2 Data is adjusted by amounts determined by theory- not by looking at the actual sites themselves.
3 Data stations under-report increased temperatures from urban effects as determined by a site by site survey of recording stations.
Ice Core Data
This is a graph from the 4th IPCC report that apparently shows how CO2 increases then temp goes up. This is not true. CO2 goes up after temperature goes up.
One of the most compelling pieces of evidence from the last decade involves largely a colossal mistake. It is assumed still by many that the ice core data shows that when CO2 increased, the temperature increased. In fact, it is the opposite. The graph above has a time scale that is so large that it appears CO2 and temp increase at the same time. If you increased the time scale, you would see that CO2 lags temperature by about 800 years, which is too small to notice on the graph. When the earth warmed, CO2 increased. The reason is because when the earth warms, the oceans slowly warm as well. Large warming trends will eventualy warm the entire ocean releasing it’s dissolved CO2. Conversely, when the oceans cool, they absorb CO2. Is the misleading information on the IPCC graph a mistake on their part? Or is it not a mistake, but they don’t mind confusing people about CO2 increasing after it gets warmer? Frankly, it is beyond my own reason to understand why this myth is propagated, I can only observe from fact that it is a myth.
AGW supporters concede that while we don’t know what causes the warming trend at the start of each warm cycle, the release of CO2 from the oceans, “makes the temperature even warmer.” The folks at realclimate explain it here. I find it insulting to reason that a suitable explanation is that all these historical temperature trends are caused by some unknown factor but current warming is caused by CO2. As a further explanation, realclimate suggests that ” the warmings take about 5000 years to be complete. The lag is only 800 years. All that the lag shows is that CO2 did not cause the first 800 years of warming.” This argument is equivalent to claiming you can fly, just not right now. Even if this were true, wouldn’t that only mean that if CO2 was causing global warming, we have 5000 years to “fix it!?” I promised myself I would try not to be shrill, so lets look at whether the data supports this hypothesis.
As this graph shows, CO2 maximum is reached almost one thousand years after the temperature peak. Yet temperatures start to drop even as CO2 levels remain high! If increasing CO2 levels actually drove temperatures even higher as AGW supporters suggest, it’s hard to see how temperatures could drop. If what AGW supporters say is true, that CO2 eventually effects temperature, this ice core data shows that it doesn’t happen in at least 24,000 years if ever! Clearly, after a certain threshold amount, extra CO2 adds no extra heating. To me, this relationship stops man-made global warming in its tracks. The basic CO2 theory doesn’t hold true for any warming cycle in the historical record. To understand why extra CO2 doesn’t create extra warming lets look at the graph below.
From the graph, you can see that water vapor, the largest of the greenhouse gases (several orders of magnitude more than CO2 which makes up only 0.03%), absorbs the most solar radiation (the shaded portions.) CO2 absorbs and radiates only specific frequencies. A large portion of it’s frequency range is also absorbed by water vapor. In the ice core chart, the CO2 remained high but didn’t seem to add heat. From this graph, you can plainly see why. CO2 lacks the properties necessary to absorb and radiate much solar energy. It is a poor greenhouse gas compared to water vapor. From the graph, you can see its kind of like comparing a pane of glass and a black tarp.
Summary of Ice Core Data:
Climate history shows that CO2 increases after temperature increases.
Claims that increased CO2 makes temperatures even higher are not supported in the climate record.
What about all the Obvious Signs of Global Warming?
Retreating glaciers/ Arctic ice
Glaciers and other ice stores have been retreating for the last 200 years since the last little ice age. Superimposed on this long trend is an even longer trend as we move away from the last major glaciation that ended the Pleistocene Era. This glaciation began 100,000 years and retreated from the northern hemisphere just 10,000 years ago. A large warming trend (I don’t know what global warming supporters think caused it!) caused ice to melt across the continents. This glacial retreat is the large climate trend that we find ourselves in. On top of this larger trend are smaller trends of ice advance and retreat the most recent being the 200-year retreat from the little ice age. To suggest that glacial retreat in either alpine or arctic areas is not part of the larger trends that began before the influence of man is to ignore the climate record. It does however make for plenty of images and data that can be easily used to dupe those unfamiliar with the larger trends.
In Antarctica, 98 percent of the land mass is actually gaining ice. The Antarctic Penninsula, 2 percent of its land mass, is losing ice. Guess which part of Antarctica Al Gore discussed in Inconvenient Truth? Huge oversight on the part of the film or blatant lie whose ends justify the means?
Rising Sea Levels/ Coastal Erosion
Sea levels have been rising marginally but consistently over the last 200 years. There is certainly no recent trend coinciding with recent increased CO2 apart from this long term trend. But what about reports of rapid sea level rise? As it turns out, continents rise and fall because of Plate Tectonics. Subduction zones are lowering with respect to sea level. It was the lowering of land that caused many people more interested in scary stats than science, to misreport these as rising sea levels. Coastal erosion while it may make good video is driven by coastal composition and wave power. Wave potential is most dramatic between 45 and 60 degrees latitudes on east facing trade wind routes. Any examples of the dangerous effects of AGW will be in these locations where glacial tills and soils predominate. The most spectacular coastal erosion in recent history was on the English coast, parts of which receded over 100m in the 19th century.
More Tornadoes/Hurricanes/ Severe Weather
AGW supporters often equate extreme weather with damages, since there are more things to get damaged than there were before, damages will of course go up. If we look instead at actual weather events of the last 100 years, there is no trend in increasing hurricanes or tornadoes or weather extremes. I have seen some data that shows there are more tornadoes, however, that is a reflection of better radar reporting of smaller tornadoes. The number of large damaging ones is not going up. Here are the numbers:
As you can see, extreme weather is not increasing. Luckily, I don’t have to try to explain how increasing CO2 could cause such extreme events, because they are not increasing.
What if I’m Wrong?
At the beginning, I argued that there were enough bad things that needed our time and money that, to be wrong about AGW would be a colossal missed opportunity to help people now. But could the same logic be applied to my argument- what if I’m wrong and all my evidence can be explained away and holes in the AGW argument are fixed and it really is happening and we do nothing about it? It’s a fair question that I’m willing to entertain. (I wish AGW supporters would also consider the implications of being wrong.)
Higher levels of CO2 correspond to increases in plant productivity contrary to its image as a pollutant. While many actual pollutants can be found in the same sources as CO2, do not confuse them, plants love CO2. The Cambrian Explosion which was the largest increase in plant species in Earth history, occurred at levels of CO2 that dwarf worst case scenarios of future CO2 levels. So it’s not the CO2 thats bad, it’s the warming that’s bad. But the limiting factors in food production are nutrients, water, and an absence of freezing temperatures. Areas that currently do not support agriculture such as the desert regions, are a result of equatorial convection currents that are independent of an increase in global temperature. That’s why all deserts are found at the same two latitude bands. The other areas that don’t support agriculture are too cold. The only evidence that any increase in temperature will be bad comes not from earth’s biological history, but computer models
I will dismiss all computer models that claim to tell us what the weather will be like 20 to 40 years from now. The climate system is so complicated and has so many variables, that if we had that kind of accuracy, we could use computers to predict what I’ll be wearing on Sept 21, 2032. Anyone who looks at a long range forecast knows without being told that a 14 day forecast is of little real value, and this forecast has a infinitely less complexity than the global climate system. Instead of the substitute reality of models, let’s look at how the weather has actually been changing. Rather than just looking at annual trends, lets look at daily highs and lows. What you will see from the last 40 years is that the daily highs are not getting higher. Instead, the lows are getting less low. Here’s the landmark study from Vincent et al, 2005.
The data shows that any warming trend (I’m assuming for the sake of argument that I’m wrong and the warming is AGW not natural) reveals warmer evenings and less cold nights. In other words, the weather is getting less extreme: global less-cold is mathematically the same as warming but the effects are quite different.
Global less-cold doesn’t seem as scary as global warming. Is this the reason to reorganize civilization?
If I am wrong and CO2 is causing global warming rather than natural warming, the evidence suggests little catastrophic changes at all.
Far from the evidence for man-made global warming being settled as the IPCC says, I find the evidence totally inadequate. To force upon us the kinds of changes being proposed, the evidence ought to be better than this. Better evidence may emerge and I will weigh it. A better understanding may emerge of all the points I raise, and I will consider it. If there seems to be such poor evidence as I suggest, why then do so many claim the answer to be settled? Most people rightly or wrongly, trust what they are told in matters that require time and effort to study. But what about experts?
I will leave it to others to explain how research grants tend to promote certain ideas and filter out others (see the recent CRU scandal.) I will leave it to others to show how the IPCC does not represent a consensus of scientists (as though a consensus in any way mattered.) I will leave it to others to show how the environmental movement in many ways became hijacked by anti-capitalists not accustomed to scientific arguments (not that that has bothered too many environmentalists who often operate tangentially to the scientific method.) It is beyond the scope if this page to explain the powerful forces that operate on those who wish to feel useful and valuable by ‘saving the planet.’ Imagining that you are saving the planet is certainly more fulfilling than many 9 to 5 jobs. While I don’t mean to belittle good intentions, I merely suggest that the global warming movement provides it’s adherents with many benefits to their sense of self. I offer this as just one easy explanation of why bright people could easily be not intellectually rigorous: to feel good, to get grant money, for virtuous notoriety etc. This criticism says nothing about the potential quality of evidence on either side of the argument, I mention it because I think most people only imagine bias on one side of the argument.
“He defends the status quo- must be a stooge of Big Oil! I defend AGW and have nothing to gain by it. Whose evidence do you think is better?”
There is ample, though different self interest on each side. I don’t view AGW as a conspiracy or cabal though nefarious actors have certainly abused other’s good intentions for their own gain. What bothers me as much as the claim of consensus (convince me with fact not consensus,) is that people who disagree and ask good questions are labeled pejoratively. Good questions are met most often with dismissal. You are a skeptic therefore you are part of the lunatic fringe and I no longer have to defend my ideas with facts-just insults. Science has only advanced because of questions. In my experience, people resort to personal attacks when they can not defend their own ideas.
Those who seek to use power and our money to act in our best interest ought to be subjected to the highest scrutiny. Yet this scrutiny is not only mostly absent, but what little emerges is regarded negatively. I would have thought that after the last decade where American and much of the world suspended it’s scrutiny, and let the US army invade Iraq on largely unexamined evidence, we would hold scrutiny sacred. If environmentalists think the ends justify the means, they had better reserve their judgment of America’s two wars comitted under the same ‘this is for you own good’ the ends justify the means.
Whether you look at the data from this last millennium, century, or even examine things from your own perspective comparing what has happened in your lifetime, I find it hard to accept the terms of the AGW supporters that we must act now. There is a reality that is being sold to us that doesn’t seem to match the one we live in. In our reality, the weather goes up and down no more catastrophic than any other time. Surrendering your own experience to one that we are told is more accurate than our own experience is precarious. I’ll admit that subtle changes are sometimes best understood by examining the data, but your own experience ought to tell you something of the claim that we must act without questions or there will be dire consequences. We have time to look at what else we could do with those trillions of dollars the AGW solutions necessitate. We have time to do things for the right reasons.