THIS JUST IN — GLOBAL WARMING IS REAL!

Sorry, I just had to put the title of this post in all caps. The reality of global warming is obvious to many of us, but its deniers occupy the highest reaches of political life and continue to block efforts to deal with it appropriately. Despite all the evidence, these deniers have long claimed that there’s just too much uncertainty to reach any definitive conclusion. And so all we get is reckless stonewalling.



But now, according to The New York Times, we have this:

A scientific study commissioned by the Bush administration concluded yesterday that the lower atmosphere was indeed growing warmer and that there was “clear evidence of human influences on the climate system.”



The finding eliminates a significant area of uncertainty in the debate over global warming, one that the administration has long cited as a rationale for proceeding cautiously on what it says would be costly limits on emissions of heat-trapping gases…



The report’s authors all agreed that their review of the data showed that the atmosphere was, in fact, warming in ways that generally meshed with computer simulations. The study said that the only factor that could explain the measured warming of Earth’s average temperature over the last 50 years was the buildup heat-trapping gases, which are mainly emitted by burning coal and oil.



It should come as no surprise that the White House is resisting the findings of its own study. Its “truth” is not our truth. Its reality is fantasy. And the facts don’t mean a thing.



More government-sponsored studies will be conducted, but delaying and denying will only lead us ever more swiftly to our ruin. This study tells it like it us, like we know it to be, but things won’t change until the all-too-real problem of global warming is taken seriously by those who have the power to do something about it.



Until then, we will continue to be our planet’s worst enemies… and hence our own.

23 Comments

  1. There is also a distinct possibility that we are currently in an extinction event ala the KT event that wiped out the dinosaurs. An extinction event of our own making.

    I believe part of the problem is one of scale. People just can’t imagine things in terms of hundreds of years much less thousands and millions of years.

    Most think of the dinosaur extinction as an asteroid hits the earth and like a massive nuclear explosion races around the planet killing just about everything. The fact is it took several million years to wipe out 60% of the species.

    Same thing with global warming. You say that the global mean temp is going to rise 4 degrees in 200 years and most people are going to respond, so what. We won’t be here anyway.

    Reminds me of James Watt’s famous statement that why should he worry about preserving the environment when the rapture was imminent.

    Sorry for the long comment. I probably should have just blogged this. :)

  2. The James Watt “quote” has been debunked. Ah, hell, never let the facts get in the way of a talking point, right?

  3. So what if the atmosphere is getting a tad warmer and we have something to do with it?

    You’re not going to be able to convince me (or very many other people for that matter) that (1) the net consequences of this are negative and (2) even if they were, that such consequences are going to take place in a time frame we care about, (3) that even if #1 and #2 were true, that such changes are irreversible, or (4) even if #1, #2, and #3 were all true, that the solution is to adopt the extreme measures you chicken littles all scream for.

  4. I’m sure that Mother Nature will have a couple of category 5 comments to make about the report. I believe she has scheduled a press conference for August.

  5. I didn’t know Watt had denied the quote. I stand corrected.

    I also stand by the rest of my comment. bawk bawk.

  6. Those silly dinosaurs and their SUVs. If they had just built hydrogen cars, they’d still be around…

    Seriously, though, brown air is bad. I’ve had first hand experience with it as a child in San Bernardino, CA. Lungs hurt every summer and I had bronchitis every winter. But I just don’t buy into Global Warming, Global Dimming or any other such theories because there just plain isn’t enough data. There’s so many things that can attribute to climate change and so much more that we have yet to understand, that in my opinion, it’s folly to place the blame on any one thing.

    In the meantime, clean air is better for you to breath. Let’s continue to sell that and stop all the hopping up and down and pointing at hard to imagine catastrophic events. Keep it simple, down to earth, and easy for the general populace to relate to. Otherwise, it’ll continue to be viewed as fringe science and continue to not be paid any attention.

  7. Is anyone here aware of what the actual increase over the past 100 years in the average temperature is? Not 4%, not 2%, not even 1%, but 0.6%.

    That is the problem I have with ‘global warming’. I concede that mankind is contributing pollutants in the air, and the likelihood that they are indeed having some effect. However, none of the effects measured to date are outside the standard historical fluctuations to even a significant fraction of a standard deviation.

    As for the majority of climatologists backing global warming theories, that really doesn’t impress me as much as some other people. As someone who’s initial background was in science (particle physics), I can say from experience that once something becomes ‘general accepted knowledge’, it is a rare and brave scientist who will stand up and risk his career and funding, no matter how right he thinks he may be, on contradictory theories.

  8. (1) the net consequences of this are negative
    Indeed they are. Such temperature changes can lead to mass extenctions and near-extinctions of sea creatures which, you know, provide a lot of food and income for many countries. There are also studies linking the increase of asthma and allergy patients to increased toxins in the air thanks to pollution. Our supply of freshwater is dwindling partially because of pollution but mostly because we overuse it, and while desalinization is certainly doable, it won’t be free. Basically, pollution makes life more expensive for millions of people and will continue to do so for as long as we ignore it.

    (2) even if they were, that such consequences are going to take place in a time frame we care about
    It’s happening now and will only cause more problems in the future.

    (3) that even if #1 and #2 were true, that such changes are irreversible
    For the most part, the earth would be able to sort of naturally clean things up if we’d just stop polluting long enough to let the climate catch up. Unfortunately, the longer we stick with oil and coal as primary sources of energy, that really can’t happen.

    (4) even if #1, #2, and #3 were all true, that the solution is to adopt the extreme measures you chicken littles all scream for.
    You mean like stricter emissions standards on cars and tax breaks for energy efficient buildings? Recycling programs and grants to research alternative fuels? I would say that those are pretty forward thinking and not at all extreme. For one thing, even without the effects of Global Warming and Climate Change, we have to find something to replace oil. There’s only so much of it left and America has direct access to very little of it. For security and economic reasons alone, we should be pushing towards newer sources of energy. And why not make sure they’re clean and renewable in the process?

  9. I think Noone Really brings up a great point. No matter what you believe about global warming, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t believe that pollution is affecting our health right now. If we don’t want to think about public health, think about how much this is costing our economy in health care costs and sick leave.

    This is how people who want to push for more environmentally conscious practices should consider framing the discussion. Forget about the long term that people don’t seem to care about or science that some people find debatable. Focus on the problem we have here and now.

    Focus on the ozone and small particulate matter in our air that cause respiratory problems in thousands of people every year. Focus on the mercury in our lakes that have us eating toxic fish. These, just as much as global warming, are reasons to reduce our fossil fuel consumption and they are reasons that will carry more weight with the average person because they are problems that are affecting us here and now.

  10. I always wonder how we can be so brash about claiming to be the worlds leader, when we can’t even clean up our own backyard.
    Simply look at any skyline at 6pm during the summer, the smog and pollution are easy to see. How about we start there, just cleaning up the air we breath right here and right now. Its a step everyone can contribute to, and everyone can quickly benefit from. Most folks love to go on vacation and see clear blue skies, why not have that right at home, daily?

  11. Ah, the “correlation implies causation” logical fallacy rears its ugly head once again in the scientific community.

    Didn’t we just pound down this whack-a-mole last fall when that climatologist looked at the last 30 years of hurricane activity and drew a clear parallel to his pet area of human activity? The problem was, of course, if you looked back further than 30 years his models fell apart rather abruptly.

    It’s deja vu all over again. I’ll accept that if you only look at the last 50 years, human-based production of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide tracks pretty well with temperature measurements. The problem is that a similar increase can be observed for the time period of 100 to 60 years ago, when humans were producing relatively few greenhouse gases. Somehow, I seriously doubt their models can explain that one.

  12. Such temperature changes can lead to mass extenctions and near-extinctions of sea creatures which, you know, provide a lot of food and income for many countries.

    So the great global thaw of 10,000 years ago should be considered the cause of all the extinction we’re seeing now, yes? After all, 10,000 years is a very short span of time from a paleontological perspective. The tempature rise was drastic, and melted huge continent sized glaciars all over the northern hemisphere.

  13. Much of this is nonsense.

    1) Please distinguish between two things:

    a) Pollution

    b) CO2

    Reducing one does not affect the other.

    2) As Icepick pointed out, there was no mass extinction at the start of the Holocene, when changes were very much faster and larger than today. The idea that we’re in the middle of the “6th wave of extinctions”, as some have claimed, fails because … where are the bodies? There is no increase in extinctions in the record, only in people’s fantasies.

    3) Warmth is generally better for humans than cold, which is why many more people die in winter than in summer.

    4) For thirty years after World War II, greenhouse gases skyrocketed … but temperatures dropped. Why is that? Modellers wave their hands and say “it’s the aerosols”, but if so, the Northern Hemisphere should have cooled more than the Southern, and that didn’t happen either.

    5) The globe has been warming since the “Little Ice Age” of the early 1700s … without any cities going underwater, or the loss of any islands, or any of the terrible things predicted from the forecast temperature rise.

    6) If you believe the computer climate models can predict the climate in 100 years, when the same computer models can’t predict next month’s weather, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell to you at a very good price …

    w.

  14. Once again ignorance and a lack of logic rears its ugly head. Forecasting general overall climatological trends is not the same thing as predicting specific weather events. Comparing the two is utterly meaningless.

    First of all, there has not been a steady temperature increase since the little ice age. Secondly the logic of your statement is still lacking since none of the effects that reasonable people are worried about would necessarily occur until a certain level of temperatures is reached. I would suggest that some people study up on the tug of war between particulate pollution and greenhouse gas pollution.

    And the really hilarious thing is that the people who try to draw upon ancient history to say “It’s happened before so we’ll be OK.” never bother to think that while the planet may have survived there is absolutely no evidence that our civilization could survive the potential consequences of continued warming.

    Brian is completely wrong because you need to keep up on what’s going on in a rapidly changing body of knowledge. In fact further studies have tended to support the opinion that hurricane intensity is being increased by global warming. In an interesting twist on the comment about what models can and can’t predict, William Gray, who is respected for his ability to discern patterns for the coming year’s number of hurricanes and tropical storms does not support the idea of global warming influencing storm formation or intensity. But Gray’s paper on the subject has been shredded by other climatologists. One climatologist commented that Gray was great on pattern recognition but awful on the statistical analysis that is more commonly used to look at long term trends.

  15. Brian is completely wrong because you need to keep up on what’s going on in a rapidly changing body of knowledge.

    Sorry, but we have some 126 years of actual temperature measurements which aren’t going away no matter how rapidly our “body of knowledge” changes.

    Let me put it this way:
    I’ve just fired up my grill on my deck and am grilling some sausages for breakfast. My neighbor, let’s call him Thomas Karl (no relation to the Thomas Karl in the NYT article), suddenly comes running over.
    THOMAS: Your grill is heating the entire neighborhood, maybe even the whole world! You need to turn it off before we all perish!
    BRIAN: Are you sure?
    THOMAS: Yes! My computer model has been tracking temeratures this morning, and they began rising as soon as you fired up your grill!
    BRIAN: Huh? The temperature rose yesterday morning as well, and I didn’t have my grill on then. How do you explain that?
    THOMAS: Brian, I’m an expert climatologist! You have to trust me!
    BRIAN: Sorry, but I’m not eating raw sausage until you can explain how it warmed up yesterday morning without me turning on my grill.

  16. For those of you who are interested:
    Here is the link to realclimate.org where they rebut some of Doctor Gray’s assertions about hurricanes and climate change.
    Link

    And here is an interesting link that shows gulf of Mexico surface sea temperature (SST) differences from 2005 and 2006. (The site owner is a little over the top but the pictures appear to be accurate.)
    Link

    The site where the SST pictures originated is linked below.
    Be careful when exploring their archive. They like to fiddle with the color/temperature scale. The results can be deceptive.
    Link

  17. Yeah, Gray’s link between THC and hurricanes is tenuous at best, and laughable at worst. Of course, much the same can be said of those linkng THC and deep ocean warming. There are true believers on both sides of the global warming debate, no doubt about that. Unfortunately for both sides, the data supports a – dare I say it? – moderate stance between the two. The earth is indeed warming, and the rate has been constant for as far back as we can reliably measure, completely ignoring human activity of all kinds.

  18. Once again ignorance and a lack of logic rears its ugly head. Forecasting general overall climatological trends is not the same thing as predicting specific weather events. Comparing the two is utterly meaningless.

    Funny that you will call people ignorant for failing to recognize the difference in terms, and then later in your post you talk about hurricane intensity as evidence, which has not yet happened on a long-term (climatological) scale.

    It’s particularly sad because I’m someone who believes global warming is happening, from any number of a grab-bag of contributing factors one of which is human activity, but when people try to tie it to events like Katrina/hurricanes in the last 2-3 years or the sharp increase in lightning strikes in 2004/05, etc, they make everyone who supports the idea look like fools. Especially because there is never going to be statistical proof of global warming (you can’t design a true experiment to prove it, due to the fact that we don’t have multiple earths), anything that further hurts the credibility of those who want to talk about it is a hindrance to the entire debate. And let’s not even get started on the exponentially growing error regions inherent in the numerical approximations used for forecasting. Every time I read that the ice caps will be gone in 100+ years, I simply shake my head…

    That doesn’t take away from the fact that CO2 is a known greenhouse gas, and that industrial activity is hastening its re-entry from stored forms into our atmosphere. I’m just saying that we need reasoned discussion, not unprovable speculation and attempts to inspire fear in the population.

  19. In many ways I’m as angry at the environmentalist movement as I am at the people who know what they’re doing but just don’t care. When the anti-nuclear energy wing essentially shut down all new plant construction in that industry in the 70s, the direct result of their actions was the expansion of the coal industry to fill almost all new demand for electricity. I can’t think of any other single change that has had a greater adverse effect on greenhouse emissions – certainly not the rise of the SUV.

    Demanding decreased energy consumption is also never going to work. People don’t want lower qualities of life. We want to live longer, better, and fuller lives, all of which are aided to some extent by modern technology which is of course powered by energy consumption. And we’re a long way away from covering 10% or more of our landmass with PV plants. Now build a couple hundred pebble bed reactors, keep building better and better hybrid-electric cars… there’s atmosphere-friendly change that people won’t balk at.

  20. Jim, thanks for posting. You say …

    Once again ignorance and a lack of logic rears its ugly head. Forecasting general overall climatological trends is not the same thing as predicting specific weather events. Comparing the two is utterly meaningless.

    Weather models look at the present situation, and then predict what the weather will be like in a half hour or so. They repeat this process until they get to tomorrow, or next week, or next month. The further out in time they go, the worse their forecasts are.

    Climate models, on the other hand, look at the present situation, and then predict what the weather will be like in a half hour or so. They repeat this process until they get to the year 2100. The further out in time they go, the worse their forecasts are.

    Perhaps you’d be kind enough to explain to us laypeople why one is so reliable, and the other isn’t, when neither one can predict next month.

    w.

  21. Willis,

    Good question, if I may try to answer for Jim…

    The best answer I can give is that that’s not really how climate models work. Climate models look at recent data and estimate general trends, then use that estimation to extrapolate future patterns. A lot of these models are purely statistical in nature (which is why their errors get huge after a few years, because that’s inherent to any time-series data). Some more sophisticated ones actually try to simulate the physics governing atmospheric changes over time, like what you’re talking about, and indeed the stiffness of these systems makes accuracy extremely difficult. On the other hand, weather forecasters often won’t use such mathematical models… instead, they’ll look through all the recorded data they have and find days similar to today in various aspects, then look at what happened most often in the days thereafter. It’s as much an exercise in trying to figure out which outcomes in the past best align with the present situation as it is an exercise in trying to predict the future.

    Which is ironic, because the process for forecasting weather is actually simpler and, if we were to try to do both on a day-to-day basis, presently more accurate that the techniques used tor climate modeling. But climate modeling has an inherent advantage in its accuracy – the so-called “law or large numbers.”

    Think about it this way. Say the average high temperature in some city in March for the last twenty years has been between 70 and 80 degrees, without any discernable trend. I can reasonably predict that the avg high temp in March of next year should be 75 degrees, and I shouldn’t be off by more than 5 or so degrees in either direction. Now let’s say I want the temperature on March 16 at 2:30pm. For all we know, that could be the hottest or the coldest day of the month. March 16 could be part of a two-day chill where it only gets up to 50 degrees, but that only affects the monthly average by a few fractions of a degree, and could be balanced out by that hot-spell two weeks earlier. Over the course of the month, the days my prediction was a little low and the days my prediction was a little high tend to cancel out, so my prediction for the entire month is actually better than my prediction on most given days. And over the course of the entire year, the number of months when I’m too high vs too low will mostly cancel out, so my yearly estimation benefits from that as well.

    Random aside – weather predictions aren’t really that bad. Look at the days when they’re predicting a 75% chance of rain the next day… odds are, it probably rained 7 or 8 out of 10 times. We just tend to remember the days it didn’t. ;-)

  22. Thanks, Brad. You say:

    Willis,

    Good question, if I may try to answer for Jim…

    The best answer I can give is that that’s not really how climate models work. Climate models look at recent data and estimate general trends, then use that estimation to extrapolate future patterns.

    Absolutely not true. Climate models work just like weather models. Please do some research and come back when you really know how they work. Your description does not make any sense, that they look at general trends and try to estimate future patterns.

    Also, you say that weather predictions are not that bad. I did not say they were … I said that their predictions get worse and worse as we go further and further into the future, and that by a month out they do no better than chance.

    w.

  23. I noted the more modern physics-based models.

    “Some more sophisticated ones actually try to simulate the physics governing atmospheric changes over time, like what you’re talking about, and indeed the stiffness of these systems makes accuracy extremely difficult.”

    My understanding was that, particularly in the past, climate models were based more on statistical methods. If these are no longer in use at all, then I apologize for the added confusion.

    Looking at general patterns definitely makes sense as far as climate. Weather is a specific set of conditions at a specific time. Even if the model is physics-based and trying to predict the weather along the way, it’s not concerned with individual observations but rather the overall trend of the data. If the forecasting method is accurate (a big “if” indeed), then random unpredictable errors should cancel over time. But as we’ve already agreed, methods aren’t yet accurate enough to predict terribly far into the future.

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