Common Sense and Global Warming

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column asking some basic questions about global warming. Not surprisingly, I received a blizzard of responses. The responses were well reasoned, well written and informative. Two of the best came from readers who have commented on other columns — one from the left and one from the right. Per their requests, I will not identify them but I will draw generously from their letters and the materials they supplied. I also will not identify their comments and materials in terms of political persuasions because I think the responses rise above partisan bickering and provide useful information for all.

In fact, with all of that expensive expertise available to the left and the right, it strikes me strange that a reasoned response similar to those my readers have supplied has not appeared widely in print. For this I blame the mainstream media which appears to have taken sides in the debate and consistently delivers a message of doom and dire consequences without the slightest attempt at balance or intellectual curiosity.

So here is a synopsis of what the really smart people (my readers) are saying about global warming.

Temperature recordings for measuring global warming began sometime in the 1800’s. It was sporadic at best. Those recordings increased in frequency and geographical diversity when nations understood the importance of weather in the conduct of wars. Even then the recordings concentrated on land masses (mostly in the developed world) until the emergence of satellite technology in the 70’s. So detailed studies of the total Earth’s climate and changes are only available for the last 30 years. Prior to that we have to rely on the sporadic measurements, primarily on land masses, to develop primary information. Secondary information as to temperatures is available through a variety of scientific tools including tree rings, ice and earth core drillings, and other geological studies.

For the period of time since the advent of satellite technology, the Earth’s average annual temperatures have varied about plus or minus 0.4 degrees, with the exception of a brief period in the mid 90’s where strong El Nino activities raised the variation to between 0.8 and 1.0 degrees. Having noted that, there is a significant clustering of temperatures at the high end of that 0.4 degree variation over the last ten years. So, based on primary temperature data, it appears that average annual global temperatures for the last ten years are 0.4 degrees higher than the average annual global temperatures over the last thirty plus years.

Based on secondary data developed by National Climate Data Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration it similarly appears that over the past ten years the average annual global temperature has risen about 0.4 degrees above the average annual global temperature estimated over the past 200,000 years. The last time that average annual global temperatures were in this range was about 130 years ago.

From this it is easy to conclude that global warming over the last decade is occurring. Whether that is a sustainable or an increasing phenomenon is speculative. But herein lies the common sense response of my readers. If you know that global warming has been occurring over the last decade, why wouldn’t you undertake reasonable measures to try to alleviate that portion of the warming that is anthropogenic (that’s the scientific term for “man-caused”).

But therein lies the rub. The causes of global warming are many, some natural, some man made. Greenhouse gases appear to be a factor but both the amount that greenhouse gases contribute, and the percentage of greenhouse gases that are man-made contribute are in dispute. We do know that the burning of carbon based fuels contribute to greenhouse gases — that includes coal, gas, petroleum products and forest fires. Let’s be sensible, if breathing the fumes from a car’s engine, a gas furnace, a BBQ or burning logs in a closed room will kill you, none of them can be particularly good even in a dispersed atmosphere.

In the end, we should assume the problem exists and task our scientists to focus on the causes as well as the means and effects of various solutions — and for this we need to understand both the climatological effects and the economic effects. In the end, the policy questions related to global warming must be reserved to the people, not the scientists. But the corollary is also true, that the people must act knowledgeably on the basis of science and not in spite of it.

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  • Jonathan Kloor

    I would compare the theory of Global Warming to the Bible. An Athest does not have to believe in a higher power to live by the Ten Commandments, and follow the “Golden Rule”.

    While I do not believe that mankind is as responsible for Global Warming as the “scientific community” has reported, it does not mean that I do not get the underlining message.

    Maybe it was my three years spent in Eugene or perhaps the fact that my die-hard Republican father spent his 20’s playing chicken with Russian Whalers as a memeber of Greenpeace, but I take many steps in my own live to reduce my fossil fuel consumption and carbon emissions.

    Whether jogging/biking to the gym ( instead of driving) carpooling when traveling to the state capitol or political events ( Unfortunatly no matter how bad it gets I will never take public transportation in this state) or recycling the two dozen plasitc water bottles I consume in any given day ( instead of tossing them like so many of us do, because frankly the plastic bottle unlike an soda bottle has no monatary value to us)

    Wheather you are a skeptic of global warming like myself or a full fledged birkinstock wearing , “hemp” smoking Eugene granola, please do not lose sight of the real point… my generation and our postarity depends on it.

  • Steve Plunk

    The science surrounding global warming is generally junk. Understanding computer modeling and the pitfalls surrounding it is essential to knowing how and why the science is manipulated and molded into the political beast it has become.

    The complexity of our weather system means modeling is impossible with todays computers and our ability to measure the inputs. Garbage in garbage out is one of the first lessons anyone will learn in computer science. We cannot predict weather with computers models even a week out so why should we be trying to predict it 100 years out?

    Jonthon Kloor makes a good point about living reasonably and thinking about waste of resources. But when policy makers start to force those choices upon us and in the process destroy our economy it is wrong.

    I hear the term ‘consensus’ being thrown about. ‘Consensus’ is a political word and has no place in true science. It is this blending of science and politics that we should all be concerned about.

    • eagle eye

      What are your credentials in planetary, atmospheric, oceanic, climate science? What are your scientific credentials at all? Why should anyone believe in your judgment? The questions may be complex, they may be undecided, but when you simply dismiss climatology as “junk science”, you simply make yourself sound like a fool.

      You give yourself away when you confuse prediction of “weather” with prediction of “climate”. They are two entirely different things. This is an elementary point, it’s one of the first things taught in Geoscience 101. It might be perfectly possible to predict climate 100 years out and not be able to predict tomorrow’s weather.

      • Anonymous

        Whoa there Eagle. Are only the credentialed allowed to post opinions? Are any of the opinions here coming from climate scientists or any other of the disciplines you rattled off? Are simple disagreements grounds for insults? Somebody needs to get a grip and try to understand civil debate.

        Pointing out that politics has entered the realm of science and that the science is far from foolproof does not require an advanced degree but rather common sense. Do you know that the modeling for climate change did not include precipitation as an input even though it cools the atmosphere? You see rather than get into the tiny details of what is wrong I chose to speak my opinion based upon the bigger issues of social policy. What did you contribute other than attacking me?

        I’m not looking for a flame war and if you read my other posts you will see I am polite and civil. I expect the same in return. Post something with substance, something well thought, something mature, and then real ideas will be exchanged the way they should be.

        • eagle eye

          Anonymous Steve, if you’re going to dismiss the work of thousands of professional scientists as “junk”, you’re asking for it. Especially when you confuse something as elementary as the distinction between weather and climate. It may not be polite to say so, but sometimes foolish is just foolish.

          The notion that climate modelers have somehow overlooked the role of water in climate is simply ridiculous.

          • Steven Plunk

            I’m sure why it labeled my post as anonymous. Perhaps in my haste I did something wrong.

            Back to the issue. There are many scientists who disagree with the severity, the causes and the solutions to any climate change. Bob Clark pointed out George Taylor at OSU for example. The New York Times (hardly a conservative paper) had a story today about the over hyping of climate change. Like I said using a political word like ‘consensus’ cheapens the scientific method, there is no consensus in science only theories and proven theories. This politicalization of the science is why I dare call it junk.

            I also must point out that many of these same scientists mix climate and weather as well. Talk of increasing hurricane strength, longer droughts, more intense storms, this is all a blending of climate and weather. The two are essentially the same for political discussion.

            NASA climate scientist Roy W. Spencer pointed out the omission of precipitation in computer modeling. So just as you rely on a scientist or many scientists for information so do I. I don’t just make it up.

            So rather than foolish you can see I have been rational and reasonable in my opinions. It would still be nice to hear your explanation concerning credentials and the right to speak.

          • eagle eye

            Supposed politicization of science (by Al Gore? by scientists) is not an excuse to dismiss billions of dollars of work by thousands of scientists as “junk”. Neither is the existence of a controversy. By the way, I’m just as scathing about people who dismiss scientists supported by Exxon, for the same reasons.

            You’re still confused about weather and climate. If I predict that there is going to be heavy rain next Monday morning, that is a weather prediction, and I’m likely to be wrong. If I predict that global warming is going to cause, on average, heavier rain, that’s a statement about climate. I may or may not have a good chance of being right. Ditto if I claim that the climate has already affected tropical storm patterns. (As it happens, I think the jury is still out on that.)

            What Roy Spencer actually said was that it is his opinion that precipitation has not been sufficiently understood and incorporated into climate models. Unfortunately, I’m not able to clip in the direct quote. He said that if they were sufficiently incorporated — again, in his opinion — global warming estimates would be “scaled back” — not eliminated. He may be right. Everyone who actually does this stuff admits, without hesitation, that there is a large range of uncertainty in the predictions.

            Specner certainly doesn’t go around dismissing his fellow climate scientists as purveyors of junk, as far as I know. If he does, he’ll end up being closed out of the discussion.

          • eagle eye

            I was finally able to clip out this quote from a newspaper article by Spencer. Not exactly a condemnation of climate science, if you ask me. By the way, he is, of course, one of those awful government scientists.

            “Despite current inadequacies, climate models are still our best tools for forecasting global warming. Those tools just aren’t sharp enough yet.”

            Roy W. Spencer is principal research scientist at the Global Hydrology and Climate Center of the National Space Science and Technology Center in Huntsville, Ala. He is also U.S. team leader for the AMSR-E instrument flying on NASA’s Terra satellite.

  • Bob Clark

    I share OSU climatologist George Taylor’s view global warming is largely a natural cyclical phenomen. But I also share Taylor’s view our society should continue to value clean air and mitigate emissions (to paraphrase). What gets me irritated is Governor Ted Kulongoski’s proposals to fight global warming in Oregon. The least cost way to clean air is not in Oregon or even the western U.S. The least cost way is to assist developing countries like China, India and others to clean their coal and other factory plant emissions. These coal plants are said to lack basic emission controls, and the unclean emissions(including carbon black) are picked up by the jetstream and pumped into the Northwest. Northwest and U.S industry probably could work with U.S officials and Chinese officials to develop an emission credits program to help clean Northwest air much more effectively than Kulongoski’s high cost state plan.

    Maybe the “Global Warming” rage amongst our democratic leaders is really a ruse to increase local, state and national government powers over citizenry.

    • Steven Plunk

      Bob,

      Hayek believed governments actually created “crisis” in order to consolidate power. Both leftists and elected officials want more power in our government so this type of “crisis” is being fully exploited.

      Your post is on target. Unless the developing world takes steps to reduce pollution our efforts will mean little. In the mean time crippling our own economy will lead to slower technological advances in reducing our own pollution. We’ll call it ‘lose, lose’ rather than ‘win, win’.

      Having governors like Ted K. work on global issues is a terrible waste of time and resources. He needs to get working on state business and leave this alone.

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