Sunday, March 05, 2017

A climate change counterpoint

In the interests of maintaining the moral high ground with respect to relying on evidence, experiment and reason as the best guides to Truth I feel honor bound to point out an answer to a question on Quora posted recently by Richard Muller:

What are some widely cited studies in the news that are false?
That 97% of all climate scientists accept that climate change is real, large, and a threat to the future of humanity. That 97% basically concur with the vast majority of claims made by Vice President Al Gore in his Nobel Peace Prize winning film, An Inconvenient Truth. 
The question asked in typical surveys is neither of those. It is this: “Do you believe that humans are affecting climate?” My answer would be yes. Humans are responsible for about a 1 degree C rise in the average temperature in the last 100 years. So I would be included as one of the 97% who believe. 
Yet the observed changes that are scientifically established, in my vast survey of the science, are confined to temperature rise and the resulting small (4-inch) rise in sea level. (The huge “sea level rise” seen in Florida is actually subsidence of the land mass, and is not related to global warming.) There is no significant change in the rate of storms, or of violent storms, including hurricanes and volcanoes. The temperature variability is not increasing. There is no scientifically significant increase in floods or droughts. Even the widely reported warming of Alaska (“the canary in the mine”) doesn’t match the pattern of carbon dioxide increase; and it may have an explanation in terms of changes in the northern Pacific and Atlantic currents. Moreover, the standard climate models have done a very poor job of predicting the temperature rise in Antarctica, so we must be cautious about the danger of confirmation bias.
But under no circumstances should you interpret this as being synonymous with, "The climate alarmists are wrong and there's nothing to worry about."  To put this answer in the proper context, go to Muller's Berkeley Earth project page and read the summary of findings.  There you will find the following:
...the average temperature of the Earth’s land has risen by 1.5 °C over the past 250 years. The good match between the new temperature record and historical carbon dioxide records suggests that the most straightforward explanation for this warming is human greenhouse gas emissions.
A previous Berkeley Earth study, released in October 2011, found that the land-surface temperature had risen by about 0.9 °C over the past 50 years (which was consistent with previous analyses) and directly addressed scientific concerns raised by skeptics, including the urban heat island effect, poor station quality, and the risk of data selection bias.
In other words, the rate of increase is itself increasing.  Dramatically.  This is one of the many things that make this process so insidious.  There are huge time lags (by human standards) and multiple integrals involved.  If we wait for it to become apparent that climate change is causing serious problems it will be much too late to prevent catastrophe.

Also worth noting:
...the Berkeley Earth team was able to conclude that over 250 years, the contribution of solar activity to global warming is negligible. 
Some of the scientists on the Berkeley Earth team admit surprise that the new analysis has shown such clear agreement between global land-temperature rise and human-caused greenhouse gases. “I was not expecting this,” says Richard Muller, “but as a scientist, I feel it is my duty to let the evidence change my mind.”


Tony said...

Again, waste of time, but hey, I couldn't resist…

To recap:
Anybody who claims there were/is sea level rise of several feets?
That person is full of shit.

Anybody who claims that there were significant change in the rate of storms, or of violent storms, including hurricanes?
Again, BS spread by another person full of shit (Gee, I love the American idiom, it is so liberating!)

Claims of a significant increase in floods or droughts?
Another BS fearmongering claim by a person full of shit.

With that clarified, we can agree:
That is synonymous with "Anbody participating in spreading such BS is flat out wrong".

The point Muller makes about models is interesting, in a "Three-Card Monte" misleading kind of way. Actually, it is doubly misleading.

First of all, the "measured" warming in the Antarctic depends on temperature data showing warming in the Antarctic Peninsula being spread out to the entire continent – while that unruly Antarctic continent itself shows not one bit inclination of warming.

But steering the discussion in that direction itself wrong, because the main sleigh of hand of Muller is that he neglects to mention that the warming predicted by the models is much higher than the actually measured warming – again this unruly reality, ruing a good scare.

Or not. Every group seems to have an mystical boogeyman they must fight, the right have their "millions of Mexican rapists and murders will destroy us" horror-fantasy, while the left shudder at the thought of rising seas, expanding deserts, storms and tornados occurring every second day (on a rotating basis), and wildlife that is migrating not fast enough – oh well.

Meanwhile Donny Tinyhands has ruined lives in the USA and abroad, and is going to ruin many more (in what is basically a continuation of Obama's policies to ruin the lives of many people in the USA and abroad, a Peace Nobel Prize winner who expanded 2 wars to 7, plus engaging countless undeclared military operations, and drone-murdering innocent people by the thousands). I am glad that I have recently stumbled across Jimmy Dore on YouTube, who among others is pointing out what the real problems are in US politics – he seems to be one of the very few people in the USA who is neither deluded nor unhinged, as so many in the USA seem to be. He has his faults (climate change is one – though, it is far from his main topic), but I found it refreshing to find a sole voice by someone who seems to have his eyes on the price, and I can only recommend highly listening to what he has to say.

Again, climate change is a distraction, a waste of time, there are more pressing issues at hand – focus.

Don Geddis said...

Muller is an interesting scientifically-literate (physicist!) writer on Quora. For climate change, he's hard to categorize with stereotypes. Both skeptical of the politically-correct "humans are killing the planet!" hype, yet also rejecting the "it's all a hoax" claims of the other side. Something oddly in the middle, looking at data and evidence. Which is to be admired.

That said, I hated his answer to a Quora question of "Before a photon makes contact with matter, does it exist?". And I wrote my own comment critiquing his answer (which he didn't respond to).

Since you, Ron, also know quite a bit about QM, I wonder if Muller's Quora answer to the photon question gives you any insight into his reasoning process (which might carry over to climate change as well).

Ron said...

> Anybody who claims there were/is sea level rise of several feets? That person is full of shit.

That's a straw man. No one says that sea level has already risen several feet. They obviously have not (yet).

What some people claim is that sea levels *could* rise by several feet. And that is clearly true -- they could. The only question is what are the odds, how long will it take, and what, if anything, can be done about it. (BTW, sea level rise is far from the only potentially catastrophic effect of climate change, so you are right that we shouldn't be fixated on that.)

> climate change is a distraction, a waste of time

No, it's not. Temperatures are rising, and they are rising because of our CO2 emissions. That they have not *yet* risen enough to produce catastrophic effects does not change this. The fact that some of the predictive models have been wrong does not change this fact. If temperatures continue to rise (and there is no reason to believe that they won't) then they will produce catastrophic effects sooner or later (assuming ocean acidification doesn't destroy civilization first). The only question, as I said before, is when.

> there are more pressing issues at hand

Like what?

Ron said...


It's really hard to give a short answer here. I see both sides of the argument. I think Muller's answer is a defensible attempt to distill a very complex issue down to a few short paragraphs that are accessible to a layman. In any case, neither his answer nor your critique change my opinion of his overall credibility (or yours FWIW).

Don Geddis said...

@Ron: Yeah, ok, fair enough. I think what really got me in Muller's answer, was not that he was attempting a simple story for lay people. It was basically a kind of hypocrisy, where he explicitly says "Unfortunately, that will mislead the non-expert, and generate false “paradoxes”" -- which I agree with -- only to also "explain" photons as: "it does not exist until it is detected ... Ironically, as soon as it is detected, it no longer exists. It vanishes at the moment it appears!"

Muller's "intuitive" explanation will do as much to "mislead the non-expert", and "generate false paradoxes", as pretty much any QM "explanation" that I've ever heard. If that really was his goal, his answer is as much a part of the problem as anybody else's.

But you're right, that this is both a complex topic, and also fairly unimportant.