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Global Warming! Everybody Panic!

February 9, 2007

Considering that everyone and their dog seem to be talking about GLOBAL WARMING these days (we can’t get Sam to shut up about it), I figured I’d weigh in with my thoughts.

First, GLOBAL WARMING really needs to hire a marketing consultant.  I mean, come on, whose brilliant idea is it to bring up the topic during the coldest part of the year?  Wouldn’t, say, August make more sense?

Second, and perhaps this is the skeptic in me talking, but I find it exceptionally arrogant – hubristic, really – to state that mankind is definitely responsible for GLOBAL WARMING when we can’t even accurately predict what the weather is going to do two days out.  The factors that determine the state of the earth’s climate are many and complex.  Until we can understand and accurately model them, let’s cut it with the holier-than-thou crap.

Third, I find it equally arrogant to state that mankind is definitely not responsible for GLOBAL WARMING. 

Here’s my take – we don’t know.  We can use computer models to make predictions, but until these can take into account every single factor that might impact the climate – from CO2 emmissions to deforestation to solar radiation and the earth’s proximity to the sun – it is dangerous for us, as a race, to accept them as absolute fact.

That is not to say that we should dismiss the threat of GLOBAL WARMING.  Quite the opposite.  We should accept it, and proceed under the assumption that our actions are impacting the climate.  We should invest in clean, renewable energy sources.  We should work to conserve our wildnerness.  We should endeavor to leave as little an imprint on the planet as we can. 

If not for fear of GLOBAL WARMING, then for good old conservationism.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. February 9, 2007 7:04 pm

    Read “The State Of Fear” by Michael Chrichton (sp?) and you may think differently about global warming. He says that it is a lot of hype and that the average temperatures have more or less remained constant over teh last 100 years. Yes the sea levels in places has risen, but that is not taking into account that it actually fell in the preceeding period. I actually looked up a lot of what he refrenced in the book – very interesting. Besides, who can believe a thing that Al Gore (or most politicians for that matter) say. All I have to say is be careful what you believe until you do a little digging, you can spin data to say whatever you want it to say concerning Global Warming

  2. February 9, 2007 7:40 pm

    I’ve read “State of Fear” – and found its most compelling component to be the epilogue, comparing today’s fervor around global warming to the eugenics movement of the early 20th century. He makes a strong case, and with the eugenics example shows how easily even an empirical practice as science can be influenced by group think.

    Is global warming occurring or is it not? And if so, is it due to man’s actions, or to something beyond our control? These questions are bigger, I think, than our understanding of the earth’s climate and all than can influence it. How can we state with any degree of certainty what the temperature will be one hundred years from now when we can’t remotely predict the severity of hurricane activity from one year to the next?

    I’m all for being better safe than sorry, and proceeding under the premise that we are having a negative impact on the planet. What can it harm if we as a species try a little harder to be good environmental stewards?

    It’s the certainty, and the smugness of it, that I take exception with.

  3. February 10, 2007 2:00 am

    I could not agree with you more. How much money has been spent to determine if we “may be” or are “more than likely” responsible? Shoot, you and I could have figured that out over a 6-pack of beer. If they would not spend thier time to try and prove how smart they are and how wrong the other guy is, but rather spend money on what we all know are issues – clean, efficient, safe power alternatives, we may get something accomplished.

  4. February 16, 2007 11:39 am

    i am going to preach to the choir here. i agree completely with all your comments, and furthermore, i think if one were to do a statistical analysis (remember standard deviations in AP Statistics Matt?)i am virtually positive one will find that the so called rising of temperatures by percentage of degrees is in fact well within the realm of one standard deviation. In other words, the probability of it happening naturally….randomly, if you will, simply as a function of natural fluctuation, is very high.

    I agree that we need to have a better grasps of the variables at play before we pour billions of dollars into fixing a “problem” which we don’t understand fully, or addressing a “symptom” which, in fact, may be only a diminutive part of the bigger picture.

  5. Tim permalink
    February 25, 2007 1:41 pm

    And I think you’re both a pair of nutjobs who might as well argue that the earth is flat as argue that global warming isn’t occurring.

    The only reason this is even still a debate in this country is because we have a president who refuses to believe in global warming. His cabinet believes in it. CEOs of major corporations (who, to be honest, have the most to lose in the short term if the government starts putting in legislation to curb the effects we’re having on warming) acknowledge it. The leader of every other industrialized country in the world acknowledges it. We just happen to have a leader who believes God told him to invade Iraq, that Saddam was hiding WMDs, that likes to define world politics in terms like “the Axis of Evil,” that built his family fortune in the energy business, that refuses to acknowledge global warming.

    Not saying that global temperature changes aren’t cyclical — there’s plenty to say there are. But just about every reputable scientist who studies the effects of carbon monoxide build up, deforestation, etc., etc., says that those activities will eventually bring about a rise in global temperatures, and lately we’ve seen a rise in global temperatures that is well OUTSIDE the standard statistical deviation (I’ll see your AP stats, and raise you advanced stats and post-graduate level advanced stats).

    We don’t want to admit it’s happening because it’s inconvenient and it means we have to change our behavior. Any behavioral scientist will tell you that when faced with facts that, if we accepted them, would cause us to change behavior, most people will simply refuse to believe the facts. Thought it was far too educated and enlightened a crowd here to fall into that.


  6. February 27, 2007 4:11 pm

    Tim – I’m actually rather agnostic on the matter…

    “Is global warming occurring or is it not? And if so, is it due to man’s actions, or to something beyond our control? These questions are bigger, I think, than our understanding of the earth’s climate and all than can influence it. How can we state with any degree of certainty what the temperature will be one hundred years from now when we can’t remotely predict the severity of hurricane activity from one year to the next?”

    Here’s my issue. The Earth is an open system. We cannot possibly control for all the potential variables (land reflectivity, ocean salinity, irrigation, ad infinitum). Therefore, how can we possibly conduct experiments and achieve reproducible results?

    If the scientific method and scientific rigor cannot be applied, how can we state with certainty what is or is not happening?

    What we have is a collection of statistics of an open system based upon observation. In those statistics, we may find correlation, but correlation does not equal cause and effect (even my lowly AP Stat class taught me that).

    So, in the end, we may observe a rise in global temperatures well outside standard statistical deviation, but because we cannot isolate and control the variables of an open system, we cannot establish cause and effect.

    I’m not saying that global warming isn’t occuring (and, as I stated in my post, I take as much issue with those who are certain it is not as with those who are certain it is). I’m not even saying that mankind is not responsible for the observed rise in global temperatures. I’m saying we cannot know for certain one way or another.

  7. Tim permalink
    February 27, 2007 10:55 pm

    Ah, but it’s a cheating analogy to compare global warming to hurricanes.

    Global warming is a long term trend. Long slow curves. Hurricanes are sharp spikes to the system. Long term trend curves are relatively easy to predict, with small standard deviations, so it’s easy to detect when the curve is changing. Hurricanes are isolated extreme events. Outliers. Outliers are notoriously difficult to predict very far in advance, and subject to massive deviation.

    To extend the example:

    I can predict that most baseball players in their 30s will generally see a decline each year in the number of home runs they hit. There’s over a hundred years of data, about as many years as The National Weather Service has been keeping records, and it’s pretty predictable. It’s a long trend, and it wobbles up and down a bit, but the curve doesn’t ever really vary that much. Like the global temperature.

    But I cannot predict with any real accuracy whether a given player will hit a home run in a given game. That’s a crapshoot. An isolated event. Like a hurricane.

    When the home run/aging trend shows a big variation, there’s usually an external force. For Barry Bonds and the sluggers of the 1990s, who defied the aging trend, most would say steroids are the external force. For global temperatures, which are now varying well beyond their standard deviation, it’s probably a host of issues — fossil fuel burnoffs, deforestation, hell, even cow methane related to the rise in global cattle farming plays a role.

    Someone introduced stats into this. A good study of stats would tell you that when a curve or trend starts moving rapidly and consistently out of it’s standard variation, an additional variable has entered the equation. It’s not just random luck. One fluke year, maybe. Multiple ones in a row? Not impossible, but only a teeny, tiny, extremely unlikely possibility.

    And that’s what we’re seeing now.

    Not saying we can isolate all the variables of an open system. That’s a fool’s errand, and completely unnecessary to show that global warming is occurring.

    Of course, you can always side with Cheney, go on Meet the Press, and declare that global warming isn’t all that bad because it means nicer weather for the people in the northern US and Canada. And you can be completely serious about it, just he was when he did that a month or two ago. Sure, I think he’s a sadistic, manipulative nutjob. But even the vice president at least acknowledges it’s happening.


  8. Tim permalink
    February 27, 2007 10:59 pm

    Oh, and on correlation not equaling cause and effect — absolutely correct.

    But earlier you were saying that global warming wasn’t necessarily happening. That statement has nothing to do with causes, effects, or correlation.

    So which is it? Are you saying that you don’t believe global warming is happening, or that it’s happening but we can’t with certainty determine exactly what actions are driving what percentage effects of the trend?

  9. February 28, 2007 4:59 pm

    What I’m saying is…

    1 – Global warming is a hypothesis posited to explain the recent observed warming trend in global temperatures. I think it a likely hypothesis.

    2 – We cannot determine with certainty what is driving the observed warning trend. Personally, I find water vapor the likeliest explanation. It accounts for the majority of greenhouse gas. It would explain why the upper atmosphere has not been warming at the rate we notice on the ground (water vapor doesn’t come from space). And it would be ironic, because the move to hydrogen as a fuel source would eliminate CO and CO2 emissions in favor of…you guessed it…water vapor.

    3 – I think global warming has become a political science, which is dangerous (see eugenics, Nazis).

  10. Tim permalink
    March 1, 2007 12:03 am

    Fair enough. With a major difference being that eugenics studies living organisms and global warming predominantly non-living ones.

    And that I think it should have become a legitimate political issue a decade ago. I’m not going to fall into the trap of equating any combination of science and politics with the Nazis — that’s too easy a cop out and has been used by both parties as a sophist way to avoid real issues for years. JFK made space travel a political issue, and last I checked that didn’t end up in genocide.

    And that while we can’t determine with “certainty” what’s driving the warming trend, multivariate regression analysis can do a pretty good job at determining THROUGH EMPIRICAL DATA what is correlated. CO and CO2 emissions come out high on the list. Understanding causality is not a stats mission, but there are other branches of science that cover that pretty well. Since there are plenty of physics models stating that a rise in CO2 levels beyond a certain tipping point would trigger a rise in global temperatures (and these models existed well before the warming trends became apparent, by the way), and since the current rise in temperatures correlates highly with the rise in CO2, it’s pretty simple to put the pieces together.

    Not that CO2 is the only factors. But it’s a pretty overwhelming body of evidence that suggests CO2 as a major contributor.

  11. March 1, 2007 7:18 am

    I would argue the space race was more an exercise in engineering than science.

    Global warming should have become a political issue long ago. I won’t argue with that.

    But I maintain that it has become a political science. That is, a science that has allowed political considerations to impact objectivity. A science where critics are shouted down like heretics (and by critics, I mean other scientists, who have looked at the findings and had the nerve to disagree with some aspect of the report).

    This sort of group think science has occurred many times in the past. Eugenics in the late 19th/early 20th century is but one example. I could also point to SETI, to the prospect of nuclear winter, to fears of global starvation in the 1970s, to those olden days when the Church went after astrologers for daring to suggest that the wasn’t at the center of the universe.

    It is the group think that I take issue with. Whether consciously or subconsciously, it flies directly in the face of scientific skepticism.

  12. Tim permalink
    March 1, 2007 11:11 pm

    We’ve had a president closely allied with the far religious right, who claims that God has talked to him and guided him on policy decisions like Iraq and stem cell research, who has for the last 7 years denied that global warming has occurred, in opposition to the opinions of every other industrial nation and most scientific communities and even his own cabinet.

    So, sure, we might be seeing a backlash.

    But saying that global warming has finally become a political issue is different from saying it’s become a political science. I’m not sure what that really means, to be honest. And it doesn’t negate that global warming is an issue.

    If we want to talk about scientific policy decisions being made for political reasons, though, by all means, let’s talk about stem cell research.

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