Change and Warming (Part 1)

This is where I finally offer a few words on global warming.

 

As I’ve discussed many environmental matters from many different angles here on my little blog, there’s always been a looming giant of an issue waiting in the background. The spectre of something capable of over-running all other aspects of the environment has gone unmentioned until now. Global warming has to be addressed if you’re going to speak of environmental issues at all these days, it seems, so here’s my best estimation of the omnipresent apocalypse.

Most voices I hear addressing the issue speak with confidence, with passion and with certainty. And this in itself seems odd to me as they’re dealing with infinitely uncertain parameters, variables and interactions. Such is the study of nature. And where does the passion come from if folks really are just concerned about getting the science right? I’ve paid a lot of attention to the evolving theory over the last decade or so, reading from an array of sources and listening to more learned men speak on the subject. And the only thing I can now say with certainty is that no-one has to fear global warming. The rest remains open to debate.

To prompt mitigative legislation, science should have to rise to some high level of certainty. Otherwise it constantly comes into conflict with the long-standing imperatives of Classical Liberalism. I won’t write another essay on that subject just now, though I’d love to. I’d like to make the case here that reasonable certainty on anthropogenic global warming isn’t even close to being attained and that the consequences of “doing nothing” are anything but dire. The biosphere is just so much more infinitely complex than popular media figures care to let on, or try to encompass. The earth is certainly not worried.

Three central questions need to be dealt with before any of us buy into the pop culture narrative on this matter. To enumerate:

  • Is the planet warming?
  • Is man causing the warming? And,
  • Will warming be a net negative or net positive for man and beast?

Can you answer each of these with certainty? Have climatologists?

 

The simple question, “Is the planet warming?” seems safest in terms of certainty. But immediately we must realize that there’s missing data here that would be needed to even attempt an answer: the timescale. “Is the planet warming from last year to this year?” Well, no; but it’s probably too short a time frame to bother with. “Has the planet warmed over the last five years?” Well, no but still too short to distinguish anything of significance. “Has the planet warmed over the last decade?” The satellite sensors and surface monitoring again say no. What about the last half century? Here we see rapid warming but also see that temperature gains are being eroded by ongoing cooling since around 2000. And don’t be fooled by cursory glances at the graphs that are drawn to accentuate the extreme nature of the situation. The angles of the curves are extreme but the start and end points are precisely chosen for effect, the axes are compressed and the difference between 1 degree and 2 degrees variance is often spread across the whole y axis.

On both sides of the debate, proponents use extreme weather to demonstrate planetary cooling or warming. We’re all familiar with this if we’ve so much as watched the Weather Channel. Reporters will be on the scene of a blistering heat wave that has killed a thousand head of cattle and nearly as many babes-in-arms and kittens

(Isn’t it sick that the politicians won’t act now to stop this!). But check out the weather elsewhere on the planet whenever you see reporting on one of these “unprecedented” heat waves. Most likely, there’s mild and desirable weather widespread on other continents or even the same one concurrently. How often does the media begin a newscast with coverage of the finest weather ever seen for apple production in the northeast, stable flows for the upper Mississippi watershed or remarkable absence of hurricanes again this year for Florida? None of those would contribute to an agenda of fear.

The high-quality data logger sensors we employ today to harvest measurements from remote locations across the globe are tools of modernity. The satellite sensing technologies we rely on have only been in use since the late 1970’s. Temperature estimates become increasingly sketchy, losing confidence by the decade before this time. How much confidence can we place in climate models that begin with estimated data but serve to warn us of fluctuations in our climate measured in tenths or hundredths of a degree?

All this is to say that even on the first and most simple question (Is the earth warming?) there’s actually much remaining uncertainty. I’m not done with the topic yet, now that I’ve finally started to address it and two big questions remain for next time: “Is man causing the planet to warm?” and “Will global warming hurt us?” And I’m not going to try to offer anyone an answer. I’d just like to demonstrate that if anyone gives you an answer confidently, you’re probably being misled.

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