Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Global Warming and Dr Lindzen, the debate continues…

with 2 comments

nixon_kennedy.jpg
The debate continues…

For those following this exchange, here we continue the point by point debate between Amber and Jack regarding Dr Lindzen’s global warming skepticism article in Newsweek. Amber reformatted the conversation this way, so as to distinguish her original text from her new text:

———————————

> > > Amber: Blah blah blah.
> > Jack: Is not.
> Amber: Is so.

———————————-

Amber chose not to respond to a few points because she covered them in other responses, or they we’re too brief to require a reply, or they were getting way off topic. I chose to delete these in the interest of brevity rather than include them for the sake of completeness. I made one or two minor spelling corrections, though I believe I left the author’s original American spelling when it differs from Canadian spelling.

In Amber’s word: “All right, here we go…”

————————————————————————————-

> > Jack:

Doug, I’m no scientist, but I can I answer your scientist friend?

First let me say, that just because someone disagrees with someone’s position doesn’t mean they should come under personal attack. I can’t count the times I have been personally attacked in an attempt to invalidate my argument. It has always been an indicator that there is no real substance to the attackers position.

> Amber:

No personal attack was intended, and as far as I know, none was delivered. I criticized Dr. Lindzen’s statements, not his personality. The reason that most climate scientists are frustrated with him is because he keeps making statements that contradict the best available evidence. I do have to wonder what his motivations are in doing so, but that’s not the issue at hand.

————————————————————————————-

> > > Amber:

Two points jump out immediately:

(1) The PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE. No, we can’t predict everything about future climate. But that’s all the more reason not to mess with it! It is arrogant in the extreme to think that we could predict all the consequences of terraforming our planet – especially since many changes will likely be irreversible.

> > Jack:

First of all, this is a contradictory statement. Amber admits we cannot predict, but then says that changes are likely irreversible. Amber needs to work a little on the logic of her statement.

> Amber:

No, it’s not contradictory; why do you say that? We can’t predict _everything_, but we can predict _some_ things with near certainty, such as the extinction of terrestrial species whose climate envelopes will be pushed off the top of a mountain or into the Arctic Ocean. Extinction is an irreversible consequence. Another example is the loss of low-lying islands: when an island is gone, it’s gone.

Even for the predictions about which we are less certain, we need to exercise caution. A glance back over our environmental history reveals countless careless actions that turned out to be irreversible: for example, the collapse of the North Atlantic cod fishery, and the death of the Aral Sea. Our track record isn’t so good. We could do with a little more precaution.

————————————————————————————-

> > > Amber:

“(2) EQUITY. Yes, it’s true that some people in some locations will benefit from global warming: mostly rich people in northern latitudes. There is almost universal agreement (and dismay) that poor people in tropical latitudes (all ~5 billion of them) stand to be significantly harmed by global warming. Even if wheat will grow better in Canada, and
heating bills will be lower in Scandinavia, that’s not fair when people are starving in Niger.”

> > Jack:

People have been starving in Africa since the dawn of time. A lot of it has nothing to do with weather so much as it does the lack of technology and development. People have lived and survived and even done well in the desert, which has a lot to do with many other reasons than just weather/climate (culture, adaptability, and a host of other factors.)
Also, “fair” is not a scientific or objective concept, but an emotional or political one. But this is ALL assuming that this actually takes place.

> Amber:

Two brief responses:

(1) Yes, of course there are other reasons why people are hungry and poor. But that doesn’t mean we should make conditions even more difficult for those who are struggling the most. (And even though some people can live in the desert, they’ve had thousands of years instead of tens of years to adapt to doing so.)

(2) Scientists are not amoral, nor should they be. Yes, the data themselves should be assessed on their own merits. But after that work is done, I think scientists should not only be able to, but should feel _obligated_ to, discuss the societal implications of their findings.

————————————————————————————-

> > > Amber:

* Weather is not climate. It’s completely fallacious to say “We can’t predict the weather next week, so how can we predict the climate 40 years from now?” That’s like saying “I can’t predict what they’re going to serve for lunch at the cafeteria on Friday, so how can I possibly predict that I’m going to get fat by next year if I overeat every single day?” The
difference is short-term, chaotic dynamics, versus long-term trends caused by very well-understood causal relationships.”

> > Jack:

Weather is the symptom of climate. It is what makes a climate. If what Ms. Kerr says is true, then lets dismiss every argument given by GW advocates that blame hurricanes, tornadoes, cold snaps, torrential rains, floods, etc., etc. on global warming.

> Amber:

You seem to be misunderstanding. Climate is long-term average weather. It’s much easier to predict long-term averages than to predict daily fluctuations. (As my advisor suggested this morning, it helps to think of the stock market, with “weather” as individual stocks on individual days, and “climate” as the overall market trend.)

This is perfectly consistent with the idea that climate change will lead to more extreme weather events. If the stock market is going down (bad trend overall), you’d expect to see more bankruptcies (bad individual events), right? Likewise, if the average temperature increases by 5 degrees, you’d expect a greater (possibly much greater) number of days per
year on which the the temperature exceeds 100 degrees.

The arguments about increased tornadoes and cyclones, and about more extreme precipitation events, are more complex and garner less agreement; I don’t have time or space to discuss them adequately, but the IPCC report would have the latest research.

————————————————————————————-

> > > Amber:

* What does it even mean to say “a temperature where everything is just right?” How would one even define such a temperature? The point is, ecosystems are adapted to the current temperature, because it has been mostly stable for 10,000 years. Current rates of change are alarming in light of the historical record.

> > Jack:

There have been no fluctuations for the last 10,000? Ms. Kerr may want to look into this a little further. Is what Ms. Kerr is alluding to is the “hockey stick” graph which has all but been discredited by both GW advocates and “deniers?”

> Amber:

Yes, there have been fluctuations. I said “mostly stable.” The 0.7 degree C warming that we’ve seen so far is still within the realm of natural variability (just _barely_; only the Medieval Warm period was equally warm.) But all indications are that average surface temperature will continue to increase until it is well outside the range of anything we’ve seen for many millennia.

It is not true that the hockey stick graph has been discredited. On the contrary, its basic findings have been upheld, most recently by the National Academy of Sciences:

Brumfiel, G. (2006). “Academy affirms hockey-stick graph.” Nature 441(7097): 1032-1033. Online at
http://www.nature.com/news/2006/060626/full/4411032a.html.

The article says, “The NAS committee more-or-less endorses the work behind the graph… The analysis was complex because the proxies were geographically dispersed and contained uncertainties that are often difficult to gauge… But the mistakes had a relatively minor impact on the overall finding.”

————————————————————————————-

> > > Amber:

* “inherently untrustworthy climate models… similar to those that cannot accurately forecast the weather a week from now”: This is absurd and Prof. Lindzen, as a meteorologist, knows it. It’s a straight-faced lie.

– First of all, no model is perfect. Models are useful tools but we should, and do, recognize their limitations. To call them “inherently untrustworthy” is just putting a negative, suspicious spin on it.

> > Jack:

Kind of like your statement…

“This article is written by Dick Lindzen, who has for decades been a prominent climate skeptic. Most climate scientists are simply fed up with replying to his arguments by now. ”

…was not at all intended to bias your reader or put a negative spin on
Mr. Lindzen. :)

> Amber:

I wrote the above as a personal note to Doug. Of course I wouldn’t have included such comments in a formal refutation of Dr. Lindzen’s arguments. However, I did have a reason for saying it explicitly: I wanted to explain why climate scientists everywhere aren’t panicked and/or outraged at Dr. Lindzen’s newly-published remarks. They’ve heard it all before. They have refuted it repeatedly. Most of them feel that there’s nothing more to say, since the evidence seems to be falling on deaf ears.

————————————————————————————-

> > Jack:

But… in response to what you said, science is constantly and consistently having to discard models as faulty. THAT is part of the scientific process! May I be nosey and ask what kind of scientist you are, Amber?

> Amber:

I’m a plant ecologist, studying responses of tropical agricultural ecosystems to climate change. I know more about plants and about ecosystems than I do about atmospheric physics or paleoclimatology, but I have training in all the natural sciences, and make a point of keeping up-to-date with major findings in climate science.

Regarding models, and the scientific process: We discard our models if we have reason to believe they are faulty. We don’t discard models that seem to be working decently well and providing useful information. Models can be useful without being perfect. And even as we use them, we look for ways to improve them.

————————————————————————————-

> > > Amber:

– Second of all, weather models are not climate models. They use some of the same principles, such as 3D grid cells and land/atmosphere interactions. But climate models use different equations and much different time scales; they are usually run on time-steps of one day. Obviously a weather model can’t be run on one-day time-steps! …I could go on, but you get the idea.

– Third of all, climate models have been validated by using them to predict historical climate events. That is to say, we’ve told them “Here’s the dust that erupted from Mt Pinatubo in 1991; predict what happens to the climate,” and the climate model says “OK” and spits out some numbers that do, in fact, match what really happened. That’s why we have confidence in their ability to predict the future.

> > Jack:

“The future is the judicature of the fool or the religious.” Staking a future on uncertain and questioned data is a risky proposal. Its kind of like President Bush’s war on terror
“it is a good likelihood, all computer models point to, and intelligence indicates that we should attack Iraq to prevent a future attack on the United States” Same mindset different data set. Also, Amber, true scientific validation involves much stricter criteria than you mention here. For example, Carbon 14 was given the same validity at one time and has since come under question.

> Amber:

But what do you mean? We cannot escape from having to make some kind of decision about the future. The status quo is still a decision. If we decide to keep emitting large quantities of greenhouse gases, we’d better darn well have some evidence that it is not going to do any harm. Unfortunately, our best available evidence indicates that the opposite is true.

The decision to attack Iraq was not based on computer models of any kind, so I don’t see why you bring that up.

To answer your specific point about carbon-14: I’m not sure what has “come under question;” I’m not aware of any credible arguments against the basic principle of carbon-14 dating. Despite some initial flaws in calibration, the validity of the method has been continuously upheld, and the results have proved spectacularly useful. (Its discoverer won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry.)

To answer your general question about validation: Yes, some scientific ideas or techniques have turned out to be inaccurate. Yes, we should always be prepared for that possibility. But we discovered those inaccuracies through EVIDENCE. We didn’t just discard ideas willy-nilly when they seemed to be doing a decent job at explaining the world, as our current climate models do.

————————————————————————————-

> > > Amber:

* It’s true that the CO2 absorption window will saturate (that is to say, each additional unit of CO2 will have less effect than the previous one), but it’s NOT true that climate models ignore this. They certainly do include it – even simple ones do! I know; I worked with a very simple climate model last summer that explicitly included the saturation effect. Maybe early models didn’t include it, but I think Lindzen is attacking a 20-yr old straw man here. Despite the (modest) saturation effect, we still have plenty to worry about with CO2. Also, nearly 50% of the anthropogenic greenhouse effect is due to non-CO2 greenhouse gases that absorb in windows that are NOT close to saturation.

> > Jack:

The whole current GW theory is based on the theory (not established fact) that CO2 HAS a negative effect. I understand the theory and where it came from, but it is still a theory. The Vostok core indicates that CO2 levels rose AFTER temperature increases, not before, indicating that CO2 increases were a result of temperature increases, not V.V.

> Amber:

The warming effect of CO2 is as well-established as anything could be. It has a sound basis in physics and chemistry, and has been verified empirically. No one seriously disputes this, because there is no evidence to the contrary.

The Vostok ice core data are fully consistent with our understanding of greenhouse gases and global warming. The Vostok data show ice ages and interglacials over a period of 400,000 years. On those time scales, the amount of radiation we receive from the sun fluctuates significantly. It is this change in solar forcing that causes the initial change in surface temperature.

When the solar forcing increases, and the surface temperature increases, this accelerates the Earth’s biogeochemical cycles, including decomposition. More carbon dioxide and methane are released. We don’t fully understand the mechanisms, but the general principle is clear.

These greenhouse gases, in turn, serve to increase the temperature still further, leading to a positive feedback effect. More warming, more GHGs, more warming, more GHGs. (The same thing happens in reveres when the Earth enters an ice age: the cooling happens faster than expected because of the positive feedback effect.)

Unlike the interglacial events recorded in the Vostok core, our current anthropogenic warming _didn’t_ start out with a change in solar forcing. That’s why we didn’t see the temperature begin to rise before the GHGs. Instead, we artificially increased GHG concentrations through industrial activity (a phenomenon which, unlike decomposition, is not dependent on surface temperature!)

However, now that we’ve initiated the warming ourselves, we can expect to experience the same positive feedback between GHGs and warming that is recorded in the Vostok core. This is worrisome, and is not accounted for in most climate models. Now _there’s_ a source of uncertainty worth emphasizing! It means that our current warming predictions may be
significant underestimates. More research urgently needs to be done on the mechanisms of this feedback, to determine its probable magnitude in our current situation.

————————————————————————————-

> > > Amber:

* Regarding the slight cooling trend in the 1950’s – 1970’s: It’s true that we don’t fully understand this, but we know more than Lindzen lets on. It’s thought to be related to the surge in particulates during that time due to widespread industrialization (and, I think, also intensive agriculture). These particulates reflected incoming light. It wasn’t until the following decades that the greenhouse gas signal started to overwhelm the particulate signal. Yes, there’s still debate over the exact balance of causes, but it in no way invalidates the fundamental relationships described by climate models.

> > Jack:

The current debate has left pollution. I believe that pollution does have a negative effect. Stuff in the air is bad. But so much has been done to curb pollution we are producing far less in this nation for example, than we did 20 years ago. The debate has become about CO2 – labelling a natural and beneficial, nay NECESSARY element as an evil.

> Amber:

After talking with my advisor this morning, I’ll add that yes, there is general agreement that atmospheric particulates (mostly from coal burning, not agriculture) were the cause of the 1940s – 1970s cooling. And yes, these particulates have diminished over the past few decades (but even if they hadn’t, they still would have been overwhelmed by the GHG effect, because GHGs keep accumulating in the atmosphere whereas particulates
don’t.)

The “natural and beneficial” argument is meaningless. There are lots of things that are natural and beneficial that are also harmful in excess. Food can make you obese. Water can drown you. CO2 can overheat you.

————————————————————————————-

> > > Amber:

* Climate modellers tried to “expunge the Medieval Warm Period from the observational record”? I’ve never heard this before. For a long time, the Medieval Warm Period has been openly and widely discussed as an interesting climatic event that we need to better understand. Maybe one, or several, climate modellers ignored it because it was inconvenient, or ascribed it to observational error. Certainly not all climate modellers.
Again, this is just not true!

> > Jack:

Amber, given your limitations, I don’t understand how you can say this with certainty. This man may have more information than you are aware of, and for you to dismiss it is a demonstration of the faith in your belief, not data. Real scientists who strictly adherent to scientific method need to avoid making such absolute statements. :) The prudent thing to do would be to contact this gentleman and ask him where he got his data before dismissing it outright. This would prevent your own ability to reason from becoming suspect to your readers.

> Amber:

Dr. Lindzen did not provide any details or any citations to back up his claim. If he had, I certainly would have followed up on them before proceeding.

Even so, before writing my original reply, I did look up the Medieval Warm Period to see if I could find any evidence of its dismissal. I found plenty of articles in climatological journals describing its duration, extent, and possible causes. I found no evidence that it had been
suppressed. For example, here’s a recent article that discusses it with perfect openness:

Gosse, H., et al. (2006). “The origin of the European ‘Medieval Warm Period.'” Climate of the Past 2(2): 99-113.

Why did you assume that I just dismissed Dr. Lindzen on faith?

————————————————————————————-

> > > Amber:

To the extent that climate models aren’t perfect, that just underscores the need to be cautious, rather than reckless, about changing our climate!

> > Jack:

I agree, Amber, exactly why the proposals should in no way be radical or detrimental, based on sound science and verifiable results. There is always a balance to everything, and a asset/liability ratio to be weighed. We should be responsible go the way natural way that we have been (we have gone from wood burning, to coal burning, to oil-burning, to gas-burning in under 100 years! Each step has reduced our dependence on carbon based
fuels why won’t this trend continue naturally without a lot of irrational legislation, taxation, etc., etc.

> Amber:

Again, deciding to do nothing is still a decision. In fact, I would say that inaction is the radical decision. I think it’s a grave fallacy to equate “the status quo” with “natural” or “safe.” Is it not pretty radical to think that we can dig up all the fossil energy that has been
sequestered over the last few hundred million years, and burn it, without having any major consequences?

The decarbonization trend probably will continue, thank goodness. But it may not happen fast enough to prevent some of the negative consequences we would like to prevent. That’s why we need policy to play a role. The market isn’t always an ideal way to solve long-term complex social problems. That being said, there will be plenty of economically efficient
and even profitable ways to mitigate climate change – and I think those options should be pursued to their full extent.

————————————————————————————-

> > > Amber:

Even if we haven’t seen drastic effects yet, that doesn’t mean we needn’t worry about the future. The whole point of models is to predict disasters before they happen.

> > > Jack:

And yet we can’t. Pure and simple. Asteroids, climate change, aliens landing, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc., etc. are all unavoidable. The sun will do whatever it wants to, and if it decides to heat the earth to a crisp, there is nothing that man can do to stop it, no matter how many hybrids or energy credits he buys. See comment about IPCC below.

> Amber:

I’m certainly glad that we’re not still saying “Well, pure and simple, smallpox epidemics are unavoidable, and there’s nothing we can do to stop them.”

Even when we can’t stop a disaster, we can be better prepared for it. Surely you would agree that New Orleans could have been a lot better prepared for Hurricane Katrina.

————————————————————————————-

> > > Amber:

A final thought: Lindzen didn’t mention any of the effects on ecosystems; he focuses purely on human costs and benefits. For example, at the current rate of ocean warming, and barring extremely rapid evolution, all coral reefs in the world will be dead before 2100. Does Lindzen care about that?

> > Jack:

We can’t really make a judgement call on Lindzen’s character or make inferences about what his value system is. Amber, to do so is to fall prey to the mindset of the judgemental fundamentalist who pre-judges people based on their own projections. There are many things we could say about Lindzen, like: Maybe Lindzen refuses to mix his science with his
faith-based belief system, or, Lindzen has expressed his interest in seeing all of the cards on the table before jumping to a conclusion, or Lindzen is cautious, or…

Just like someone could say that believing our coral reefs will be dead by 2100 is wildly speculative and alarmist thought. :)

> Amber:

Again, I was writing this as a personal message to Doug, and if I had been writing it as a formal refutation, I would have chosen more neutral words. I still think, however, that a general discussion of the costs and benefits of climate change is incomplete if it does not consider the impacts on natural ecosystems.

A post-doc colleague of mine studies the effects of global warming on coral reefs. I’ve talked with her about the issue extensively. Although there are still uncertainties about corals’ ability to adapt, scientists can say with high confidence that (if current trends continue) by the end of the century most of them will be radically changed at best, destroyed at worst. Why do you say it is wildly speculative? Here is an example of a current reference:

Hughes, T., et al. (2003). “Climate change, human impacts, and the
resilience of coral reefs.” Science 301(5635): 929-933.

————————————————————————————-

> > Jack:

Also, Amber, you dropped a single clue which puts a little bit of doubt in my mind your objectivity in this matter as a scientist: “Thanks for forwarding me this infuriating article.” Amber, as an old scientist wannabe, to a young promising scientist, a tiny bit of unasked for advice. Never let emotion become a part of your scientific tool collection. It rarely establishes fact, and tends to taint all your available data.

> Amber:

I became a scientist because I care a great deal about the well-being of humankind and of all life on Earth. When our well-being is threatened by promulgation of anti-science, I feel upset and angry, as does anyone who experiences a threat to something dear to them. Scientists are human – and thank goodness for that! Human passion is what drives science.

Scientists have a responsibility to use that passion to motivate action, rather than to let it color the interpretation of results. That divide is quite clear to me. If you have any evidence that I am using emotion as a reasoning tool rather than as an underlying motivator, please let me know.

————————————————————————————-

> > Jack:

I will offer a closing point. The IPCC indicated that it was too late. That nothing could be done about the current warming trend no matter WHAT is done. Since this is the definitive scientific report on GW, why does it matter WHAT we do? According to the IPCC the coral reefs will be dead before 2100 no matter what is done. We will be ravaged by hurricanes,
floods and droughts no matter what we do. The poor will die anyway no matter what we do.

> Amber:

Nothing could be further from the truth. Here are some of the section headings from the April 2007 WG II Summary for Policymakers:

* “Future vulnerability depends not only on climate change but also on development pathway.”

* “Many impacts can be avoided, reduced or delayed by mitigation.”

* “A portfolio of adaptation and mitigation measures can diminish the
risks associated with climate change.”

Convenient as it is to say “Oh well, there’s nothing we can do,” that’s not true. Not only is it untrue, it’s irresponsible and dangerous. Climate change is a hugely difficult problem, but it’s not an insoluble one. It’s in our hands. We just need to decide to act upon it.

And I believe we will. The question is, will we do so proactively, before these dire negative impacts eventuate? Or will it take a succession of catastrophes to galvanize us to action?

I truly hope not, because we would be turning the ship’s wheel after we’ve started to scrape the rocks. We can already see the rocks. Instead of saying “Our data are wrong, or they might be wrong, or I hope they’re wrong,” we need to be saying “All hands on deck!” If we are able to make climate change a non-event, that will be a great credit to the power of science and the cooperation of the human race.

————————————————————————————-

(The above image of the famous Nixon-Kennedy debate is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit, and it is an historically important image. And please note I chose it because it is “the” iconic image illustrating a debate, not for any other reason.)

Written by unitedcats

April 22, 2007 at 10:43 am

2 Responses

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  1. Wow, Doug! This is the longest post I have ever seen! Did I write all that? ha!

    I am still working my way through it, but pass along my sincere thanks to Amber for taking the time to write an old man back! She is truly a trooper!

    I think that my whole argument comes the form ot two nutshells:

    1. We need to consider all angles before we make rash and sweeping decisions. Climate science is in its infancy stages, and I tend to be a little wary of children making decisions. This week, for example, we discover that ethanol may be more destructive to the environment than regular gasoline, and yet billions have been poured into such by way of subsidy, regulation and taxes. (Billions, I might add that could feed, educate, cloth or what have you may underprivileged people in this nation).

    2. I like the following theoretically posed question:

    If it was determined that we were facing a catastrophe because of declining CO2 levels, would Al Gore and the current GW alarmist be advocating increased oil consumption, increased emmissions of CO2, increased “capitalism?”

    I think not–It would be the “evil capitalists” who would be the alarmists, and the Al Gores of the world who were the doubters. What makes me skeptical more than anything is the ideological split on the issue–I distrust either side, and will as long as the both continue their incoherent religiosity.

    Until such a time as we have to continue discussion (I’ll keep it MUCH briefer next time), would you mind if I call attention to the “feeling” part I have on the debate–I don’t like to call attention to my own blog by way of others’, but the following articles are more in line with my thought than anything:

    http://newssnipet.blogspot.com/2007/04/get-with-it-mr-bobbie.html

    http://newssnipet.blogspot.com/2007/04/quit-complaining-mr-bobbie-mr-bobbie.html

    http://newssnipet.blogspot.com/2007/04/i-can-sin-and-destroy-what-i-want.html

    P.S. Doug, if I have taken too much liberty posting the above links, please feel free to edit out.

    Your friend,

    -Jack

    Jack

    April 22, 2007 at 12:32 pm

  2. “We can’t really make a judgement call on Lindzen’s character or make inferences about what his value system is. Amber, to do so is to fall prey to the mindset of the judgemental fundamentalist who pre-judges people based on their own projections.”

    “I am accustomed to such disrespect from young people … I grew up with white kids like you looking down their noses at those who were different from them. You don’t know who you are talking to, from your blog, it seems that you have little self-respect, so I don’t expect you to treat others any better than you see yourself.”

    This is too good.

    Zo

    April 23, 2007 at 2:32 am


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