Sunday, August 21, 2011

Science or ... what?

I can believe the country is turning more conservative. Conservatives, with their maximize the GDP no matter what kind of philosophy, simply don't seem to care if one of their gurus has a scandal. George Bush runs the economy off a cliff, and Republicans blame Democrats. Rush Limbaugh becomes a drug addict, and after slamming drug addicts on his radio show, Limbaugh claimed the victim card for himself. The Bush administration invaded Iraq with multiple justifications, none of which (Iraq's role in 9/11, weapons of mass destruction, bringing democracy to the Middle East) turned out to be true. The Bush administration both tortured prisoners and initiated spying on US citizens. And yet Republicans are perfect content to blame Democrats for any negative press.

Liberals, on the other hand, often take their sides' scandals to heart. Glenn Greenwald has made a cottage industry of holding Obama to at least the same standard Bush had been held to, which is to say that Greenwald has repeatedly complained about Obama continuing Bush administration policies in domestic spying and holding detainees at Guantanamo, and increasing prosecutions of government whistle blowers. And of course the economy has not recovered under President Obama, and indeed Obama seems to have caved to the minority party repeatedly, often before the debate even brings. And many Democrats were bitterly disappointed when Bill Clinton lived up to his worse impulses during his administration. I think liberals take it to heart when their few national figures make mistakes and/or disappoint them. But more than that, liberals think that they want to help at least ease the pain of poverty, and do what they can to help persons of color to have a level playing field (apparently we can't talk about past racism, which could cover up to yesterday). Yet they are baffled and ultimately hurt that most of the people they are trying to help view them with such scorn (from Reagan Democrats to the that part of the Tea Party that is rural poor). Conservatives, on the other hand, are relentless in their exercise of cognitive dissonance. They are relentless in their alternative views of reality and history - that the only racism that still exists is discrimination against white males, that tax cuts and elimination of all regulations have in the past and will now fix the economy, and that climate change is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on Americans.

Which brings us Jack Kelly's column today. Let's be clear, Kelly is dropping to the level of Rick Perry, and saying essentially that NASA, NOAA, the (US) National Academy of Science and essentially the vast majority of the world's scientific community are perpetrating the "the most harmful hoax in history". Kelly is accusing science of lying to us, although Kelly gives us no motive for science to do this. But make no mistake, Kelly is telling us to trust Rick Perry over Phd's when it comes to climate issues.

And make no mistake, Kelly tells us this as he repeats lies (or at best half-truths). "Global temperatures peaked in 1998". There is a basis for this claim, but Kelly clearly did not give us anything close to the whole story and it's worth knowing scientists have a different view. "Polar ice caps are larger". Again, there is a fraction of truth in this, but that hardly tells anything close to the whole truth. The National Snow and Ice Data Center says that since 1979, the largest size of the Arctic sea ice pack has shrunk 10 percent each decade. So if it started at a level of (MADE UP NUMBER) 100, then three decades later (at 2007) it is now at 70. According to the NSIDC, it has recovered in 2008 to 77, and then increased some unstated amount in 2009. However, it is also thinner than ever before, a worrying development. "The rise in sea levels -- which has been going on since the end of the last ice age -- is slowing." I gather some people are saying something like this, but something different is being observed.

I won't try to track down too much of other Kelly statements, except to note that he doesn't explain why (or more importantly provide citations for his statement) "Industrial wind turbines -- a favorite of Mr. Obama's -- cause real environmental harm." and I might question how much oil company tax breaks and direct subsidies increase the costs to taxpayers of each oil industry jobs (versus his charge about European "green" jobs). But the most interesting or amusing thing Kelly does is to suggest that the science of Climate Change should be determined by opinion polls. I suspect cancer would not be positively viewed in an opinion poll, yet I don't think wishing it away would actually cause it to cease to exist.

Now, I think that while Jack Kelly is simply and without question lying to us, there is discussion that could take place about climate change. To start with, Kelly spends considerable effort to tell us that there have been other warm periods in history, as well as other periods where there was more CO2 in the air (apparently not necessarily the same periods). Now, as far as I know no climate scientists deny that those statements are true. I think the difference for current climate change is that it is occurring more rapidly than otherwise in history, sped up by our burning dinosaurs (or plankton) at an increasing rate (something that was not done in history).

Still, do we know what the severity of climate change will be? Will there be widespread drought, or if there is will there also be new regions of arable land that could compensate for the drought? What will the effect of rising seas be, perhaps on places like Venice, Italy? Are we looking at extinctions of large numbers of species (fauna, flora?). These are reasonable points of discussion, although in regard to fossil fuels I have to point out that a) they are not infinite and b) as they get more scarce, they will cost more. So the notion of carbon taxes to encourage less driving does not bother me in the least. The fact that encouraging a conversion from fossil fuels to more efficient consumption of solar, wind (solar-type) and tidal power electricity facilitates the possibility of a more or even an entirely sustainable world economy, well, it seems where we have to get to there anyway at some point. When would you suggest?


Bitter Clinger said...

I thought you read Climatism by Steve Goreham and put all that Climate Change nonsense behind you. I guess religious fanatics just can’t learn. Goreham’s arguments aren’t mine, but they are good ones. I have my own concerns about your Climate Change religion, the first is the belief that you can coax meaningful conclusions from the interpretation of tree rings, bristle cones, or animal entrails. It is almost like reading bible codes or interpreting Revelations. The ostracization of the heretics that challenge the crusaders for Global Warming and ad hominem attacks by the orthodoxy to discredit them in light of the Climategate e-mails (which you continue to deny), further convince me that Climate Change is suspect. But my biggest doubt has to do with the premise that global warming will be bad. Aren’t you the guys of Hope and Change? Svante Arrhenius, over a hundred years ago, proposed increasing CO2 levels to produce global warming to feed the teeming millions in the coming century. He abandoned the idea after calculating it was impractical. The IPCC predicts increased CO2 levels will produce extreme weather, tornadoes, hurricanes, and typhoons. Weather is a power cycle. CO2 is a “buffering” agent. It reduces the rate at which heat moves (called heat flux) through the atmosphere. If global warming is caused by the reduction of the heat flux in the atmosphere, that reduction of the heat flux HAS to mean milder weather. If the present warming trend (if there is one) is cause by Natural causes (increased output of the sun or the nuclear reactions in the Earth’s core) then the IPCC predictions may be correct because we will be seeing warming by an increased heat flux. In this case, irrespective and regardless of what you believe, natural is bad and man made is good. PBS had a special, which looked at the temperature variation during the week after 9/11 when planes weren’t flying. PBS Nova showed that the temperature variation increased significantly when there was no buffering layer of jet contrails. Large temperature variations cause large storms, small temperature variations cause mild weather. (The convoluted logic used to try to integrate this into the conventional thoughts of Global Warming is a joy to read, as to Hansen’s 25 meter ocean rise flooding the East and West coasts, what a good start.) Think of the millions of acres in North America and Russia that will be able to be used to grow corn and soybeans where only oats and wheat can be grown now. Millions of acres of permafrost where nothing grows but moss and lichen that will grow oats and wheat. The opening of inexpensive transportation routes across the arctic pole to ship oil and grain from the Ural Mountains of Russia and Siberia, a time of mild warm weather and universal prosperity. What’s not to love? Given that the only polar bears, dinosaurs, and coral reefs I have ever seen were on TV, that won’t change and I will survive. As Arrhenius predicted, during a time of global warming a billion people will be displaced, but they will be replaced by prosperity for two billion of the world’s poor and destitute. That is change I can believe in.

EdHeath said...

Hmm, well BC, you really pretty much prove my point, in several different ways. You actually accuse me of being a religious fanatic because I trust scientists. Scientists are the people whose work and ideas are peer reviewed, and whose work and ideas are discredited if their peers don't agree when they investigate the methodology of the work and ideas. This as compared to actual religious fanatics, who have no objective standards (and only limited subjective standards) to answer to. And it is Republicans who invoke religious doctrine and morality when opposing gay marriage and abortion, and bring an almost religious fervor in their opposition to allow the Bush tax cuts only for the rich to sunset (a sunset provision written into the law that created them). As it happens, Republican legislators and candidates for President seem to have rejected neoclassical economics in favor of some form of Reagan inspired economic religion, where tax cuts and deregulation magically solve all problems (included those caused by a lack of revenue and out of control financial industry behavior that plunged the country into it's worst recession since the great depression (also caused by out of control financial industry behavior)). In fact, your handle “Bitter Clinger” is a reminder of Obama’s suggestion that the because of the lies Republicans have told for three decades now, blaming the countries problems on the government’s attempts to make up for slavery and racism stretching hundreds on years (on this continent) , such that the rural poor are convinced that Democrats want to take away their guns and religion (which of course the Democrats don’t, but y’all have your religious dogma). And yet you accuse me of being a religious fanatic.

Now I am not any kind of scientist, but I have to say that the fact you don’t use your name when you repeat climate change deniers convinces me you are no scientist either. The difference between us is that I try to repeat the ideas of peer reviewed scientists. I googled “CO2 is a “buffering” agent.” and found no hits, except for one from a climate change denier’s website, filled with the gibberish science that ran through your comment. Again, I am not a scientist at all, and don’t know how CO2 works. However, what I read on Wikipedia suggests that CO2 doesn’t just reduce the rate that heat through the atmosphere, it also absorbs heat, particularly the heat that is supposed to be reflected back into space. And the increased level of CO2 in the atmosphere, the highest in two million years, according to two million year old tree rings … oh wait, I mean ice core samples. But feel free to repeat your drivel about tree rings. Then you flip from seemingly denying climate change yourself to talking about how wonderful it will be for a billion (more like two or more) people to be displaced by climate change. Of course with displacement and climate change will be drought and famine, and probably war, which will result in tens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousands of deaths. I am impressed that you can be so cavalier about that level of death, but then Republicans have shown time and time again that they only care about the wealthy in America.

It looks like we, or at least our children, will get to the effect of increasing CO2 in the atmosphere by 38%. Perhaps things will happen as you say, that areas currently too cold to farm (or too cold to farm corn and soybeans) with now be available, and we won’t miss the millions or acres that are currently being farmed. But ours is no controlled experiments, carbon is being pumped into the atmosphere willy nilly, no one’s hand on the throttle (or brake) of the CO2 pollution. Of course, either the religion of science or the religion of … religion will probably provide whatever answer we need. Even if the answer turns out to be that millions or billions must die on our overheated planet. At least you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you were able to be sarcastic and smug about mass murder.