What should a responsible Skeptic say to an astute audience? When recently invited by the “Technology, Engineering, and Science Plus” group in my community to give a talk and answer questions, I knew I would have an attentive room of tech-savvy professionals. However, they might not be fully tuned in to the details of the Global Warming controversy. Furthermore, they were likely to have opinions closer to the supposed “mainsteam science” orientation than mine.
In this posting, I’ve summarized the main points I think are most likely to align people who are both intelligent and reasonable to the Skeptic side. My Powerpoint (with talking points for each chart in the Notes section under each slide) is available [click here] for you to use and adapt as you wish.
A. Basic Climate Science – Water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), and other “greenhouse” gases cause the Earth Surface to be warmer than it would be if the Atmosphere was just nitrogen.
- Light energy from the Sun warms the Earth System, which consists of our Atmosphere and the Surface. Based on satellite measurements, the Sun provides 1366 Watts per square meter (W/m^2) at the Top of the Atmosphere. After accounting for the Earth’s spherical shape and albedo (reflectiveness), the absorbed energy averages out to about 240 W/m^2 for each square meter.
- To maintain a relatively constant mean temperature, Output Energy must equal Input Energy, so the Earth System must emit about 240 W/m^2 out to Space, which it does.
- We call the Input Energy “light” because we can see (much of) it. We call the Output Energy “heat” because we can feel it. However, whether it is “short wave” energy from the very hot Sun, or “long wave” from the more moderate Earth System, we know that energy is fungible. 240 W/m^2 of one type is equal, power-wise, to 240 W/m^2 of the other. A Watt is a Watt, no matter what :^)
- But, there is an “issue” – if we consider the Earth System as a “black body”, according to the laws of physics, for the Earth System to emit 240 W/m^2, it would have to be at a temperature of only 255 Kelvin, where Kelvins are degrees Celsius above absolute zero. (The Earth System is not exactly a black body, but it is close enough for our purposes here.)
- You may remember that anything above absolute zero emits radiant energy and that 0.0 Kelvin corresponds to -273ºC or -460ºF. The “issue” is that the Earth Surface has a mean temperature closer to 288 Kelvin, corresponding to about +15ºC or +59ºF. In other words, the Surface is about 33ºC or 58ºF warmer than the “black body” formula would indicate. How to explain this added warmth?
- The generally accepted explanation is the Atmospheric “greenhouse effect”. This is true science, but the name is somewhat misleading because a glass greenhouse works mostly by restricting convection while the Atmospheric effect works mostly by restricting radiation. I use “scare quotes” around “greenhouse” to acknowledge this semantic issue.
- The Atmosphere passes most of the “short wave” energy from the Sun and absorbs most of the “long wave” energy from the Surface. The absorbed energy warms the Atmosphere and is re-emitted in all directions at a variety of “long wave” wavelengths. A portion of radiation from the Atmosphere passes out the Top of the Atmosphere to Space. A portion is emitted in the downward direction and is absorbed by the Surface. This absorbed radiant energy accounts for most of the extra 33ºC or 58ºF.
- A variety of gases in the Atmosphere, primarily water vapor (H2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2), absorb and re-emit “long wave” radiation. These are called “greenhouse gases”.
B. Divergent Views – There is a valid, science-based argument between people I refer to as Warmists, Lukewarmers, and Skeptics. I distinguish their reasoned views from the far out, unscientific rantings of people I refer to as Alarmists and their equal and opposite reaction opponents, who I call Disbelievers.
- VP Al Gore was not the first Alarmist, but his public lectures and his Nobel and Oscar-winning movie, An “Inconvenient” Truth, probably did more than anything else to bring Global Warming Alarmism to the fore in the consciousness of the major media and the general population.
- The scene depicted above was the highlight of his presentation.
- Gore displays the Ice Core record of the past 600,000 years for CO2 (red) and Temperature (blue). He points out the undoubted correlation between the two parameters. When one goes up so does the other. When one goes down, the other does as well. He points out that the then current CO2 level is considerably higher than that of the past 600,000 years, and he projects the future levels of CO2 assuming it continues to rise at current rates. So far, this is all true.
- Dramatically ascending high above the stage on his motorized platform, he implies that mean temperatures will rise in proportion to the CO2. (My graphic is annotated in dashed blue to show the implied warming.) If that happens, he warns, more and more of the polar ice will melt, causing the seas to rise and flooding coastal areas. The ground under the polar ice will be exposed, further reducing the albedo of the Surface and causing further warming. We will reach a tipping point with runaway Global Warming.
- The villain of Gore’s story is the human race and our habit of burning ever-increasing quantities of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) that release unprecedented amounts of CO2. This scene, more than any other event, is most likely responsible for the birth of what has come to be known as Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming, CAGW. In other words, catastrophe due to human-caused Global Warming. It has become the mantra of the Alarmists and an excuse for governments to regulate all fossil fuels as well as land use that affects albedo. Since all industry and agriculture and civilized life itself depends upon fossil fuels and land use, the Alarmists give suitably oriented politicos an excuse to regulate and tax and restrict virtually everything. We outdoors types will need an indulgence from the government every time we pass wind. And, we can forget about lighting a campfire :^).
- But, as the annotations in my graphic above show, there is a fundamental “Inconvenient” truth about the ice core data. It has absolutely nothing to say about the current Global Warming controversy! Gore was misleading the media and the public when he implied that rising CO2 levels would cause corresponding increases in mean temperatures. In particular, as any scientist who took a close look at the ice core data would see, and as I show in the inset graph in the upper left corner, Temperature always rises eight-hundred or more years before CO2 increases. The same is true in the other direction. The Temperature falls eight-hundred or more years prior to CO2 decreases. What this shows, if anything, is that TEMPERATURE CAUSES CO2, or, that something else causes both to change, with CO2 lagging by hundreds of years. Gore got the direction of causation backwards.
- When the falsehood of this implied causation was pointed out, Gore’s apologists claimed that it was a minor matter and, after all, despite the 800-year lag, both Temperature and CO2 were up together and down together for about 5/6ths of the record. Besides, they said, we are currently burning historically unprecedented amounts of fossil fuel, and, we know that CO2 is a “greenhouse gas”, and so on and on. But, the truth is still that the ice core record is of a time when there were no humans to burn fossil fuels, so why did Gore bring it up since it has no relationship to our current situation? Raw, unfettered Alarmism has had its effect on the media, the political class, and we common citizens who have to pay the costs of the phony CAGW panic.
- In politics, as in physics, every reaction has an equal and opposite reaction. In the Case of CAGW, that opposite (and equally false) reaction is what I call Disbeliever AGW or DAGW. These are people who use pseudo-scientific arguments in their claim that humans have had absolutely no hand in the mean temperature rise of the past century, or that there has been no temperature rise, or that the basic science of the Atmospheric “greenhouse effect” is untrue, and so on. I do not like to be to critical of the DAGW crowd because, when it comes to general political decisions, they are more likely than not to agree with me than my opponents, but my academic integrity and ethical duty as a licensed professional engineer require me to state what I see as the error of their arguments. (As I have in my WUWT Visualizing series [1, 2, 3, 4, 5])
- Having dismissed what I regard as the unscientific Alarmists and Disbelievers, that leaves us with three groups that, for the most part, use rational science-base arguments for their diverse views. Of course, every member of each group has somewhat different views, and any attempt to divide them into three distinct types is bound to cross some lines. So, please consider my grouping as approximate.
- Carbon sensitivity, which is the estimate of how much mean temperatures will increase if CO2 doubles from historical or current levels, is one way to determine which of the the three groups a person belongs to. The Warmists tend to accept the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimate of 2.0ºC to 4.5ºC. The Skeptics tend to set carbon sensitivity much lower, perhaps 0.2ºC to 1ºC. The third group, which I call Lukewarmers, would suggest 1ºC to 3ºC.
- How much of the rise in CO2 is attributable to human use of fossil fuels is also estimated differently. Warmists would blame humans for nearly all of it, while Skeptics would say less than half. Similarly, the blame for the supposed 0.8ºC rise in mean temperatures since 1880 is mostly attributed to human activities, while Skeptics say that data bias “adjustments” by the official climate record keepers is responsible for about a third of the supposed warming, and that natural cycles, over which humans have no control, are responsible for about half of it, leaving only 0.1ºC (or maybe up to 0.2ºC) to human responsibility. Lukewarmers are somewhere in-between.
- Skeptics have well-justified suspicions that the official climate data keepers were “cooking the books” to lend whatever support they could to the highest estimates of carbon sensitivity. Around the year 2000, US Mean Temperature data was “adjusted” down by 0.1 to 0.2ºC for years prior to the 1970’s, and upwards by 0.2 to 0.3ºC for years after the 1970’s, increasing supposed warming by 0.3 to 0.5ºC.
- The surfacestations.org project published photos of official temperature measurement stations that were very near artificial sources of heat, with most being in the lowest two of the five quality levels established by the government. The poor quality stations were compared to nearby well-located stations. There were large temperature deltas that could only be accounted for if the the stations now poorly-located were originally well-located, but had been influenced by nearby development, such as paved parking lots, buildings, and air conditioning vents.
- According to a figure in the 1990 IPCC report, 1100 to 1300 AD saw temperatures in the northern hemisphere that were higher than current levels. However, the IPCC 2001 report included the infamous so-called “hockey stick” chart that managed to make the Medieval Warm Period of about 1000 years ago disappear! (My Powerpoint set includes charts with evidence of each of the aforementioned issues.)
- These suspicions were not fully confirmed until 2009 when someone (probably an inside whistle-blower) released emails and computer code from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) in the UK, and, later that year, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request yielded a stash from the US NASA-GISS (Goddard Institute for Space Studies).
C. Climategate – UK Climatic Research Unit (CRU) emails and the US NASA GISS FOIA emails. What they tell us about the published Global Warming data.
- I refer to the CRU as the Climategate Research Unit or, more simply, the Fudge Factory because the words “fudge factor” appear in their computer code. Phil Jones, PhD, is the CRU Director. He confirmed suspicions about the infamous “Hockey Stick” graph when, in an email, he called it “Mike’s Nature trick” (because a version of that graph appeared in a paper by Dr. Michael Mann in the prestigious journal Nature ). He also wrote that the “trick” was designed to “hide the decline” in tree ring proxy data. The tree-ring expert associated with CRU, Keith Brifa, PhD, admits, in one of the emails that “the recent warmth was probably matched about 1,000 years ago”. (My Powerpoint set includes slides with direct quotes from the Climategate materials.)
- Moving on to the FOIA emails from GISS, it is interesting to note that their HQ, in New York City, happens to be in the same building as the famous restaurant where Jerry Seinfeld dined with George, Kramer, and Elaine. (It was never revealed what Kramer did for a living – perhaps he was the chief analyst at GISS :^)
- The most revealing email from GISS is reproduced above. It was from Makiko Sato, PhD to her Boss, GISS-Director James Hansen, PhD, detailing the seven different analyses and comparisons of US mean temperatures for 1934 and 1998. The later year was the hottest in the 1990’s, so it was, let us say “inconvenient” that 1934, according to data published by GISS in 1999, was over 0.5ºC warmer. If Global Warming was almost entirely due to recent human activities, and was accelerating, how could the 1930 have been warmer?
- Just as the Hockey Stick made the Medieval Warm Period disappear, GISS tried mightily to make 1934 cooler than 1998, but only succeeded in reducing the 0.5ºC lead into a dead heat. Notice that the 0.5ºC “adjustment” is more than half the supposed total warming since 1880.
- I would like to trust the work of taxpayer-supported science, but, it seems, we must rely on President Reagan’s advice regarding the old Soviet Union, “Trust, but verify!”
D. What We Can and Should Do – Energy policy (cap and trade scam vs carbon tax). Efficiency, conservation, “green“, and renewable sources.
- I am quite sure that Global Warming is REAL (i.e. the mean temperature of the Surface has increased by 0.5 to 0.6ºC since 1880) but, most of that increase is due to Natural Cycles over which we humans have no control.
- However, the warming is PARTLY Due to Rising CO2 Levels and human actions are PART of the Cause.
- There is not and never has been any real danger of catastrophe or even of serious net detriment to human life due to increased CO2 levels. Indeed, modest increases in these parameters are most likely a net benefit.
- However, we Skeptics have to be realistic in the current political climate. Like it or not (and I do not like it) the official climate “Team” (i.e., the “Hockey Team” :^) has convinced the political and media establishment, and much of the population that something has to be done. We cannot fight something with nothing, so we need something more than a passive policy of do nothing because nothing is necessary.
- Therefore, I favor reduction of the carbon footprint by efficiency, conservation, recycling, and so on, plus the introduction, if and when economically practical of so-called “Green” energy, including Nuclear, Water, Wind, Biomass and, particularly, “Clean” Coal.
- If nothing else, these will do minimum harm and, if successful, will reduce US dependence upon foreign oil. We have spent, and continue to sacrifice too much blood and treasure protecting our access, and that of our allies, to energy from unstable regions of the world.
- As for the Cap and Trade scam, it is a Politician’s Delight that rewards powerful Interests, wrecks the economy, and will NOT significantly reduce carbon emissions. It seems to me that some countries and US states that have adopted Cap and Trade have realized their folly and are backing away from it.
- You may be surprised that I favor some version of a straight Carbon Tax, collected at the mine, well, and port, with the proceeds returned on an equal basis to citizens and legal residents. Yes, James Hansen and (pardon the expression Ralph Nader) also favor it, but, so do conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, the Wall Street Journal, and others on the right. My support for this tax is based on what I wrote above, “We cannot fight something with nothing” and “We have spent, and continue to sacrifice too much blood and treasure protecting our access, and that of our allies, to energy from unstable regions of the world.”
I’m interested in your critique and comments. (My Powerpoint presentation is available [click here] for you to use and adapt as you wish..)