Join 3,562 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Global Warming?
April 8, 2003 1:07 AM   Subscribe

Has global warming been seriously undermined by new research? I read this interesting article about global warming on the telegraph. I generally believe that global warming is caused by man, though this article has given me food for thought. What do you think?
posted by tljenson (44 comments total)

 
It's the Diet-Rite of food for thought. Eat some protein.
posted by y2karl at 1:16 AM on April 8, 2003


"Global warming" is a distraction. Climate change is the real issue, and I believe it's undeniable (although, obviously, we need as much research into this issue as possible to understand the complex system). Sure, temperatures have varied greatly, and the knowledge that the middle ages were warmer than now is old news. Palm trees used to grow in Britain!

The fact is, carbon dioxide is increasing and is now dramatically higher than historical background levels. The most basic equations of energy absorption show that this will have an effect on the global energy balance. Sure, it's a complex system, and the increased presence of sulphur compounds also in the atmosphere may have a cooling effect, but on the whole, we can't just continue to alter the chemistry of the planet while crying "Well...nothing seems to have happened yet so the greenies are all crazy doomsayers". One thing the earth's climate has shown to be is chaotic with two alternating stable states, warm age and ice age. Making dramatic changes to the balance of chemicals in the atmosphere may have the potential to push it over the edge.
posted by Jimbob at 1:26 AM on April 8, 2003


Agreed, JimBob. Another issue I see in that camp is the mistaken idea that the Earth naturally maintains an environmental balance amongst it's residence, along the lines of the sulfur argument. Some proponents of the anti-global warming camp hold that we will maintain this balance, intentionally or not, or that the Earth will do so for us. Of course, this is not true. Sure, the Middle Ages were warmer. But there also was no such thing as industry as we know it today. technological evolution is decidedly linear, and nowadays we are producing far more pollutants for anything but regulation and environmental conservatism to correct.
posted by lazaruslong at 2:08 AM on April 8, 2003


I would hate for these studies to distract people's attention away from being energy efficient.

y2karl - what are you going on about?
posted by Frasermoo at 2:12 AM on April 8, 2003


Soil erosion will be a serious threat way before global warming will - that article offers nothing in the way of comfort. I'm sure Bush will cite such a thing in his next environmental speech, though.
posted by Resonance at 2:12 AM on April 8, 2003


I've often wondered if climate change were a factor in the fate of Greenland's Vikings.
posted by plep at 2:24 AM on April 8, 2003


Energy efficiency is kind of a prerequisite for survival for all systems, AFAIK
Inefficient systems are unsustainable, wherever they exist.

Frasermoo - what are you on about?
posted by asok at 2:47 AM on April 8, 2003


Isn't this sort of thing common knowledge? I read an idiot's-guide-to-history-style book a couple of years ago which said that in the year 1000 AD England had a climate similar to central France. Historians have been writing for a long time about the impact climate change has on communities. There are islands off the coast of northern Scotland with abandoned settlements whose residents left due to dramatic drops in temperature. I don't understand. What difference does this make?
posted by Summer at 3:27 AM on April 8, 2003


I've often wondered if warm climates lead to primitive cultures; the "Dark Ages" corresponds to this warming; people don't migrate to Florida for its intellectual attributes; the Mideast and Africa are, for the most part, in a dark ages.

Obviously, I'm a hedgehog rather than a fox.
posted by ParisParamus at 4:12 AM on April 8, 2003


I don't understand. What difference does this make?

The difference of whether or not we our ruining our planet in a significant way; and whether we are causing global warming or are just observers. Personally, I would hate SUVs even if they helped the envirnoment.
posted by ParisParamus at 4:14 AM on April 8, 2003


OK I'll rephrase. What's new?
posted by Summer at 4:28 AM on April 8, 2003


Paris, in fact there is evidence that (at least on a continental scale), warm temperatures lead to more advanced cultures - or at least tropical temperatures did. Peoples living in cold areas had to expend so much energy gathering the minimal food available (either as stunted, hardy plants or sparsely populated animals) they had little time for anything else. People's living in tropical climates lived in higher productivity ecosystems - more plant food, including nutritious plants, more animals, and therefore had more time time and energy for "recreational" activities. The advantages provided by tropical climate were of course eventually replaced by efficient agricultural practices.
posted by Jimbob at 5:39 AM on April 8, 2003


ParisParamus, I think the advanced state of a civilization depends more on how much effort you need to expend for survival. The center of civilization has tended to track those areas where life was fairly easy. Africa and the Middle East both at one time were more civilized than they are now, they were conquered and destroyed but desertification ensured that there was no chance that they would rise to power again.

In North America in general people work to produce items or ideas, not to produce crops for survival. If we were in a harsher environment (where harsher can be colder, more arid, less arrable and so on) we would have to use more people and more resources for sustenance. We still wouldn't be as bad off as other areas, we already have the manufacturing ability to make tools that help us greatly as well as the technology to make good decisions.

I'd recommend reading The Day the Universe Changed by James Burke. It talks about a couple of the turning points that enabled more advanced civilizations. I think he does tend to decide on a cause for an outcome and craft his research to reflect that, but it's still a good book with some sound ideas.
posted by substrate at 5:49 AM on April 8, 2003


Then there's this theory:- civilisation prospers across large geographical bands in similar latitudes, where climate variation is relatively unimportant, roughly similar crops and animals can be farmed, there are likely to be other civilisations to provide a stimulant (civilisations in contact can exchange ideas, civilisations without contact with the outside world may tend to atrophy) etc. Eurasia, with its large landmass and predominantly east-west orientation, is ideal for this. Africa, apart from having a much small landmass, is primarity oriented north-south - and it's difficult for different cultures to move between latitudes as each culture has to learn how to cultivate different crops to adapt to their new environment. Same for the Americas - large enough landmass, but the north-south orientation limits it. Other geographical factors are important too :- Europe, with its uneven coastline, plains and mountain ranges, etc., was more suited to supporting a variety of nation-states, which sometimes war with each other but at other times stimulate each other; China, has a similar climate, with its relatively even coastline has more often been unified and centralised, which can be a good thing, but also introduces a single point of failure...

Just a theory, this, though I think Jared Diamond proposes something like this in 'Gun, Germs and Steel'...
posted by plep at 6:06 AM on April 8, 2003


I really am pleased, as a Geology student, to see so many people pointing out that climate change is the real issue here.

As far as the mid-east and Africa being in a dark ages because of their warm climates, wouldn't these locales have been ever warmer than Europe in the middle ages? And yet arab cultures were centers of learning during this time while Europe was a "cultural backwaters" as I've heard it referred to before.
posted by JumpW at 6:25 AM on April 8, 2003


Inefficient systems are unsustainable, wherever they exist

Sorry, dude, that's tripe. Selection for genomic fitness is an incredibly inefficient system that's been running a long, long time. The Sun probably doesn't burn too clean, either.

"Efficiency" is obviously a relative thing, but I'd actually argue that it's the most efficient throughput systems that are unsustainable: they burn themselves out too quickly. (Think of a high-virulence, high-lethality agent burning its way through a host population.)
posted by adamgreenfield at 6:38 AM on April 8, 2003


As far as the mid-east and Africa being in a dark ages because of their warm climates, wouldn't these locales have been ever warmer than Europe in the middle ages? And yet arab cultures were centers of learning during this time while Europe was a "cultural backwaters" as I've heard it referred to before.
Not to mention the Maya, all of Mesopotamia, Indian, Indonesian, Hellenistic Alexandria etc. I'd venture to say that it's cold weather large scale civilizations that are the historical minority.
posted by talos at 6:39 AM on April 8, 2003


Having just finished Jared Diamond's _Guns, Germs, and Steel_, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
posted by Cerebus at 7:06 AM on April 8, 2003


"Global warming" is a distraction. Climate change is the real issue,

has it struck anybody else how much greens talking about the environment resembles hawks talking about the war?
posted by hob at 7:58 AM on April 8, 2003


Hob - Here's a bit a reading for you, so you can brush up on this issue (links further on down on my lengthy comment).

On "The difference of whether or not we our ruining our planet in a significant way; and whether we are causing global warming or are just observers" (As ParisParamus put it)

Well it's quite well established that we are NOT merely observers. For example, humans have (at a global level) deforested whole geographical regions (think of the "Cedars of Lebannon") and cut down a substantial percentage of the World's rainforests, as well as driving (and hunting) countless species to extinction.

More to the point of this discussion, it is also clearly established that all the forest cutting and coal and oil burning by the human race over the past several thousand years has substantially altered the global Carbon Cycle, pushing atmospheric CO2 levels to highs not seen for at least hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of years.

The Earth's climate system has it's own cycles too - hence the "Midieval Optimum" period (when England was a great place for vineyards).

UK Telegraph science correspondent Robert Matthews' extended quote from Dr. Philip Stott is rather blackly funny, for Stott seems unaware of the potential for human caused Global Warming to trigger non-linear global climate changes. Both the Midieval Optimum and the "Little Ice Age" (which Stott notes for it's devastating effect on Northern Europe) are believed to have been triggered by shifts in ocean circulation.

["Dr Philip Stott, the professor emeritus of bio-geography at the University of London, told The Telegraph: "What has been forgotten in all the discussion about global warming is a proper sense of history."....According to Prof Stott, the evidence also undermines doom-laden predictions about the effect of higher global temperatures. "During the Medieval Warm Period, the world was warmer even than today, and history shows that it was a wonderful period of plenty for everyone."....In contrast, said Prof Stott, severe famines and economic collapse followed the onset of the Little Ice Age around 1300. He said: "When the temperature started to drop, harvests failed and England's vine industry died. It makes one wonder why there is so much fear of warmth.""]

Regardless of whether the Earth's climate is now as warm as the Midieval Optimum or not, this issue is a bit of a red herring. There is currently growing concern among climate researchers - because Global warming is causing an historically unprecedented melting of glaciers around the World - that the freshening of waters in the North Atlantic will cause the sort of slowdown in ocean circulation which led to the "Little Ice Age".


As Bob Gogosian, Director of Wood's Hole, says - a slowdown or shutdown is not even a question of "if" anymore, but a question of "when"

And so Harvard scientists Epstein and McCarthy note ( in this Boston Globe op-ed: "Why is it so frigid when the globe is warming?

As an Arctic frost chills two-thirds the nation and kills hundreds in Bangladesh, some answers may come from changes in the Arctic itself.

First, if you had any doubts, we are in an unusually deep cold spell, with snow and records falling across the South. Driving conditions are hazardous (and sometimes tragic) as pedestrians and the homeless face bitter winds and icy ''orthopedic weather.'' Ice dams are blocking Latvian ports, winds and storms are battering Europe, Portugal is freezing, Vietnam has lost one-third its rice crop, and the cold has caused close to 2,000 deaths in usually temperate South Asia.

As several scientists have warned, global warming will be full of surprises. Warming over the past half-century has already brought more erratic and extreme weather. Some climatologists are increasingly concerned about the stability of the climate system itself and the potential for abrupt shifts - to warmer or even much colder states. Can we make sense of the present cold snap?

Part of the explanation comes from changes to our north.

Warming causes ice to melt, forming cold fresh water. And increased input of cold fresh water to the ocean can affect weather patterns as well as global ocean circulation. "


Abrupt Climate Change has been implicated the collapse of a number of civilizations. (see Science, Jan 26 2001, What Drives Societal Collapse?).
posted by troutfishing at 8:07 AM on April 8, 2003


ParisParamus I would also hate SUV's even if they where good for the environment to :-)
posted by tljenson at 11:04 AM on April 8, 2003


- because Global warming is causing an historically unprecedented melting of glaciers around the World - that the freshening of waters in the North Atlantic will cause the sort of slowdown in ocean circulation which led to the "Little Ice Age".

Saw a show on the salinity of the war creating currents in the North Pole. Salt does not freeze so under the glaciers of the North Pole it streams out down. This salinity solution is heavier than water so it wants to settle to the bottom of the ocean floor. The cool part of the show was watching this saline solution cascading down the sea walls with a water falls effect so you had a saline falls in the ocean. But this also pushes the sea water to create currents too from the North Pole. Then with the jetstreams created by the currents there seems to be a lot of factors in weather all together.


Trout can't dog you...your FPP on, 2002 the Warmest Year Recorded...your too level headed. Had a feeling this may be a long winter just from taking note to the weather patterns of late; yet should have just asked how the winter was going to be now looking at your comment above about the melting ice.

Making dramatic changes to the balance of chemicals in the atmosphere may have the potential to push it over the edge.

Forgot how nature will balance itself. Yet, never a big environmentalist, but always aware of what human touch could ruin in nature. Jimbob makes a good point about: humans adding to the environment...the potential to push.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:58 AM on April 8, 2003


thomcatspike - thanks. You know I think I saw the same show (or a very similar one) on the net: an animation of that "thermohaline circulation" (saline falls, and the overall pattern). It was really cool, oozing like honey and in all sort of complex patterns.
posted by troutfishing at 12:14 PM on April 8, 2003


troutfishing....though we differ on some issues, I agree with you 200% about global warming. Thanks for the informative comment. And tljenson, thanks for the FPP.
posted by pjgulliver at 12:33 PM on April 8, 2003


pjgulliver - thanks. Well - it's really a much bigger issue than Iraq (unless we get so distracted that we forget about the problem completely, which is exactly what's happened). If Abrupt Climate Change happens in a severe way, many of us Americans and Brits (and French, Germans, Swedes, Finns, Russians....and on and on) might be thinking nostalgically about the "Iraq issue" days, when at least we were warm and had food to eat (Iraq may become a little more pleasant to live in, ironically).

Speaking of which, did you notice the little ads up the thread in the ad-bar? - "Global Cooling is Murder
Thousands freeze in Asia and U.S. - Is Hate of Oil Clouding the Debate?"

posted by troutfishing at 1:09 PM on April 8, 2003


I've often wondered if warm climates lead to primitive cultures

[ resists comment about the climate in Israel, and instead points to the history of Mesopotamia and the Rift Valley of Africa. ]
posted by riviera at 1:12 PM on April 8, 2003


This Film gives a downright scary view of the people behind the 'no global warming' camp. It starts to sound like we're asking neo-nazis to run the holocaust museum...
posted by kaibutsu at 1:32 PM on April 8, 2003


Global warming, climate change, and global cooling distract from the real problem: Smog.

I want clean air. I don't care about some unproven, unlikely, scientific hypothesis. In fact, sometimes the supporters of this environmental doomsdaying get on my nerves so much I forget about the real problem. Which is that the city stinks like hell during the day.

Seriously, greenpeace et al. You want people to listen to you again? Present them with the obvious: Emissions from cars and factories are making a smog problem. Stop making up BS doomsday stories. You just make people laugh at you. And then the minute they get ahold of some evidence that you're wrong they're like a dog with a bone.

Is that too much to ask for? Practical, local, real, visible, environmental improvements rather than basing an entire culture of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle on a chicken little scenario that hasn't yet even gotten close to playing itself out?

But no, go ahead greenpeace, keep wailing on about how there's going to be no gas for cars (hint: By your estimates we wouldn't be driving now), that there'll be an ice age (nope), that well burn up (haha), and now that the weather will change (NO SHIT SHERLOCK -- that'll happen until you can figure out a way to stop the earth rotating the sun) and distract everybody from getting some real work done. That's the spirit! Be an impediment to science! Woot!

Big oil ignores you all (environmentalists) because they know your outlandish claims are something most locals either laugh at or groan at when they're forced into doing another environmentalistic ritual that still leaves their city a dense hellhole. Big oil (and others) will continue to ignore you until you actually make people like me listen to you.

I haven't even touched on how we're all supposed to be baked to a crisp right now from freon and other CFCs. Yet amazingly the ozone hole is fixing itself! Holy hell! Wrong AGAIN! How many times do doomsdayers have to be wrong before they give up? I guess it takes a long time, since people are still using Nostradamus's predictions...

And, kaibutsu, if you think I'm scary, you should meet me in real life. >:-D
posted by shepd at 2:27 PM on April 8, 2003


shepd - "Big oil ignores you all (environmentalists) because they know your outlandish claims..."

Errr.....Ummm....I think you mean the claims of the US National Academy of Science.

It's quite obvious to me at this point that you don't read this sort material which I link to (I've posted this stuff in response to your claims how many times? At least a half dozen, I think.), because you just keep repeating the same old uniformed tirades about Global Warming, but I still feel that I have to do this to rebut your denials so they won't confuse others. I feel silly, in fact, for not just automating my computer so it just spews out a bunch of preset links with a single keystroke. That would be easier than looking up the same old stuff again. and again. and again. But here it is:

OK, I guess I need to post this for the skeptics. I take the US National Academy of Science as a benchmark which defines the current scientific mainstream and so (link #s 1, 2 and 4 are from the NAS or the National Research Council, a branch of the NAS commissioned by Congree to author reports to inform national policy):



Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions (2001) by the NAS Commission on Geosciences, Environment and Resources

Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises - Committee on Abrupt Climate Change, National Research Council (2002)

Wood's Hole Oceanagraphics Institute on Abrupt Climate Change (Woods Hole is generally considered to be the world's preeminent Oceanagraphic research institute)

BBC: Bush Comissioned National Academy of Science report says"A panel from the National Academy of Sciences said a leading cause is emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels...Greenhouse gases are accumulating in the earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing temperatures to rise...

"Temperatures are, in fact, rising," the panel warned. "Greenhouse gases are accumulating in the earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise," the report said. "



posted by troutfishing at 3:01 PM on April 8, 2003


Shepd - But I do agree with you on this - smog does suck. Be glad you don't live in Bejiing.
posted by troutfishing at 3:04 PM on April 8, 2003


Frasermoo, it was late. I take it back. This discussion has been interesting. Boy, shepd certainly fits the sixteen year old with time on his hands profile.
posted by y2karl at 3:23 PM on April 8, 2003


Yes, troutfishing, but the article this story links to supports my theory. That it's all a doomsday scenario.

But hey, if its climate change, I said, I agree with you. The weather will change. But I think if it didn't, we'd be fucked.

Just my 2 cents.
posted by shepd at 4:04 PM on April 8, 2003


Way to go, y2karl. That's the spirit! If they disagree with you, they aren't important! In fact, they can't possibly be of voting age, otherwise how could we all still be alive?

Sorry, but hey, you sorta knew that was coming, right?
posted by shepd at 4:06 PM on April 8, 2003


I haven't even touched on how we're all supposed to be baked to a crisp right now from freon and other CFCs. Yet amazingly the ozone hole is fixing itself! Holy hell! Wrong AGAIN! How many times do doomsdayers have to be wrong before they give up?

shepd, you might want to go back and reread that CNN article. The 'ozone hole' isn't 'fixing itself' -- it's stabilizing at (what one hopes will be) a maximum extent during peak months, in response to stabilizing levels of atmospheric halocarbons. That stabilization in pollutant levels was brought about by the Montreal Protocol. Without action, the levels would have continued to increase steadily; with industry compliance under the protocol, ozone concentrations may return to pre-1960 levels by around 2100.

The chemistry behind ozone depletion by CFCs is well established. It's not some bizarre doomsday scenario. But I guess it's a matter of location -- it might mean more to you if high UV levels were something you had to think about every time you went outside. Be thankful for that smog, and the fact you don't live at (say) Lat. 45 S.
posted by Sonny Jim at 4:23 PM on April 8, 2003


"Yes, troutfishing, but the article this story links to supports my theory. That it's all a doomsday scenario."

Shepd - I guess you didn't read it because 1) It's not an article but a several hundred page report by a group some of the world's top experts in the field (and related fields) about Sudden Climate Change, and 2) as the authors note, is it NOT a "Doomsday Scenario".

Here's the Executive Summary

[ From the Preface to the Executive Summary ]

"Large, abrupt climate changes have repeatedly affected much or all of the earth, locally reaching as much as 10°C change in 10 years. Available evidence suggests that abrupt climate changes are not only possible but likely in the future, potentially with large impacts on ecosystems and societies.
This report is an attempt to describe what is known about abrupt climate changes and their impacts, based on paleoclimate proxies, historical observations, and modeling. The report does not focus on large, abrupt causes—nuclear wars or giant meteorite impacts—but rather on the surprising new findings that abrupt climate change can occur when gradual causes push the earth system across a threshold. Just as the slowly increasing pressure of a finger eventually flips a switch and turns on a light, the slow effects of drifting continents or wobbling orbits or changing atmospheric composition may “switch” the climate to a new state. And, just as a moving hand is more likely than a stationary one to encounter and flip a switch, faster earth-system changes—whether natural or human-caused—are likely to increase the probability of encountering a threshold that triggers a still faster climate shift.
We do not yet understand abrupt climate changes well enough to predict them. The models used to project future climate changes and their impacts are not especially good at simulating the size, speed, and extent of the past changes, casting uncertainties on assessments of potential future changes. Thus, it is likely that climate surprises await us.
When orbital wiggles and rising greenhouse gases warmed the earth from the last ice age, proxy records show that smooth changes were interspersed with abrupt coolings and warmings, wettings and dryings. By analogy, the expected future warming may come smoothly, but may come with jumps, short-lived or local coolings, floods or droughts, and other unexpected changes. Societies and ecosystems have an easier time dealing with slower or better-anticipated changes, so the abruptness and unpredictability of the possible changes may be disquieting.
This report considers patterns, magnitudes, mechanisms, and impacts of abrupt climate changes, possible implications for the future, and critical knowledge gaps. The potentially large impacts and prediction difficulties focus special attention on increasing the adaptability and resiliency of societies and ecosystems. The committee notes that there is no need to be fatalistic; human and natural systems have survived many abrupt changes in the past, and will continue to do so. Nonetheless, future dislocations can be minimized by taking steps to face the potential for abrupt climate change.The committee believes that increased knowledge is the best way to improve the effectiveness of response, and thus that research on abrupt climate change can help reduce vulnerabilities and increase adaptive capabilities......

"Executive Summary

Recent scientific evidence shows that major and widespread climate changes have occurred with startling speed. For example, roughly half the north Atlantic warming since the last ice age was achieved in only a decade, and it was accompanied by significant climatic changes across most of the globe. Similar events, including local warmings as large as 16°C, occurred repeatedly during the slide into and climb out of the last ice age. Human civilizations arose after those extreme, global ice-age climate jumps. Severe droughts and other regional climate events during the current warm period have shown similar tendencies of abrupt onset and great persistence, often with adverse effects on societies.
Abrupt climate changes were especially common when the climate system was being forced to change most rapidly. Thus, greenhouse warming and other human alterations of the earth system may increase the possibility of large, abrupt, and unwelcome regional or global climatic events. The abrupt changes of the past are not fully explained yet, and climate models typically underestimate the size, speed, and extent of those changes. Hence, future abrupt changes cannot be predicted with confidence, and climate surprises are to be expected.
The new paradigm of an abruptly changing climatic system has been well established by research over the last decade, but this new thinking is little known and scarcely appreciated in the wider community of natural and social scientists and policy-makers. At present, there is no plan for improving our understanding of the issue, no research priorities have been identified, and no policy-making body is addressing the many concerns raised by the potential for abrupt climate change. Given these gaps, the US Global Change Research Program asked the National Research Council to establish the Committee on Abrupt Climate Change and charged the group to describe the current state of knowledge in the field and recommend ways to fill in the knowledge gaps.
It is important not to be fatalistic about the threats posed by abrupt climate change. Societies have faced both gradual and abrupt climate changes for millennia and have learned to adapt through various mechanisms, such as moving indoors, developing irrigation for crops, and migrating away from inhospitable regions. Nevertheless, because climate change will likely continue in the coming decades, denying the likelihood or downplaying the relevance of past abrupt events could be costly. Societies can take steps to face the potential for abrupt climate change. The committee believes that increased knowledge is the best way to improve the effectiveness of response, and thus that research into the causes, patterns, and likelihood of abrupt climate change can help reduce vulnerabilities and increase our adaptive capabilities. The committee's research recommendations fall into two broad categories: (1) implementation of targeted research to expand instrumental and paleoclimatic observations and (2) implementation of modeling and associated analysis of abrupt climate change and its potential ecological, economic, and social impacts. What follows is a summary of recommended research activities; more detail is presented in the chapters, particularly in Chapter 6"
posted by troutfishing at 4:41 PM on April 8, 2003


Errr.....Ummm....I think you mean the claims of the US National Academy of Science.

yes, in fact, he does mean the national academy of science. and the president's council on physical fitness. or whatever. nobody gives a rats ass about what these people think because americans are born with a massive builtin distrust of anybody with a fancy title or a foundation or anything else, so whatever the left-handed thinktank on the progillary of floobles has to say is totally irrelevant, except as a sort of boundary marker: do a certain number of reputable scientists endorse this viewpoint? yes? ok, then -- your viewpoint is in play, no eye gouging, toe up to the scrimmage line, on the whistle...

posting massive unreadable broadsides filled with long quotations just makes you look like a joiner chump.
posted by hob at 4:48 PM on April 8, 2003


hob, troutfishing is anything but; I regard him as MeFi's subject-matter expert on matters of climatology, and I've got a pretty sensitive bullshit detector. Back off on the ad hominems, please.
posted by adamgreenfield at 8:33 PM on April 8, 2003


adamgreenfield - thanks for the compliment ...by the way - could you be the Psy-Ops resident expert? I know you used to be in that line of work, which requires a good bullshit detector. (Ever read any Ed Bernays? - you probably have. I've thought of him a lot lately.)

hob - I posted that because I keep challenging shepd to read about Global Warming, Climate Change, etc. and he keeps refusing. I often post links to material on the subject, which he then refuses to read.

Let me ask you this: if there is indeed a "fact of the matter" about Global Warming, where would you suggest looking for authorities on the subject?. I am not an authority, though I think I know a little about it - but I'm really just relaying information....

It's really strange to me that you call the US National Academy of Science "the left-handed thinktank on the progillary of floobles".

Let me put it this way. Your computer. Where do you think it came from - random, natural processes? Of course not. People invented it - scientists.

You ask "do a certain number of reputable scientists endorse this viewpoint?" - well, as far as I am aware, the US National Academy of Science is currently the most highly esteemed scientific authority on the planet. It is not a "think tank". It is a body of scientists - from everywhere along the political spectrum - who are chosen, as a recognition of their outstanding accomplishments in their respective fields, to be members of the "Academy".

So, the publications I linked to were written by the most highly esteemed scientists - nominated by their peers as oustanding in their respective fields - as benchmarks about what is currently known about the subjects in question.

The free online reports (which I posted links to earlier in the thread discussion - they are very long too, books really) were authored under the auspices of the National Research Council, which was set up to advise the US Congress on scientific matters.

Most members of Congress don't bother to read these reports. Oh well......

But those long chunks of text I posted represent, really, the mainstream, authoritative scientific consensus on the matter I was discussing and trying to get shepd to acknowledge as real (Sudden Climate Change).

Remember, there really is some fact of the matter. Science is not about ideology. Scientific experiments are reproducible or not. Yes, sometimes there is debate among scientists when the results of an experiment or study are called into question. But if the new understanding which that experiment sets out to prove (or demonstrate) is correct, other scientists will reproduce that experiment and validate the results and the truth will out.
posted by troutfishing at 9:30 PM on April 8, 2003


troutfishing, with sentences like these:

Thus, greenhouse warming and other human alterations of the earth system may increase the possibility of large, abrupt, and unwelcome regional or global climatic events. The abrupt changes of the past are not fully explained yet, and climate models typically underestimate the size, speed, and extent of those changes. Hence, future abrupt changes cannot be predicted with confidence, and climate surprises are to be expected.

Both sides win! What a dichotomy. So, we have a choice. Humans could have done it, or, well, we don't really know, because it happened in the past too before we could have done it. Which is it? Don't bother reading this to find out, it screams to me.

That's what I'm talking about, right there, troutfishing. When an executive summary, no less, has to start contradicting itself, I get worried. It's like they want to be on both sides at the same time (if it's political) or they really don't have good data and are trolling for funding (if it's scientific). And using measures that contradict themselves to counter human development is troublesome to me, at best.

It is important not to be fatalistic about the threats posed by abrupt climate change.

I'm glad they're saying that, though, because they (not these guys, but the ecologist community as a whole) lost many a supporter (as well as myself) by predicting doom that didn't even come in the slightest. I'm not frozen, I'm not baked, and I've got plenty of gas for my car. That's why I question everything. I've been lied to by so many organizations in the past that were peddling "scientific opinion" that I have to, lest I look silly in the future.
posted by shepd at 11:41 PM on April 8, 2003


shepd - there really aren't any contradictions in that statement which you quote -

"Thus, greenhouse warming and other human alterations of the earth system may increase the possibility of large, abrupt, and unwelcome regional or global climatic events [ This is true because the Earth's climate system, it has been very recently discovered, is "nonlinear" and inherently unstable: it has the ability to shift rapidly between at least three possible states which are not dissimilar to settings on a thermostat. So: "Large, abrupt climate changes have repeatedly affected much or all of the earth, locally reaching as much as 10°C change in 10 years." ]. The abrupt changes of the past are not fully explained yet [ true ], and climate models typically underestimate the size, speed, and extent of those changes [ Because the underlying mechanisms which cause these rapid climate shifts are not completely understood, they cannot be incorporated into computer models as equations which accurately reproduce the behaviors observed in the Earth's past. But the rapid, massive climate shifts which have been observed in the Earth's recent past are quite real, and this is why these scientists are concerned. ]. Hence, future abrupt changes cannot be predicted with confidence [ I hope I have made it clear why this is so, and why the National Academy of Science members who wrote this are not contradicting themselves. ] , and climate surprises are to be expected [ "Surprises" are to be expected because the Earth's climate system has been shown to be unstable, and to be fairly precariously balanced between different climate "regimes" (as the climate researchers call them.)] "

You might want to read James Gleicks' "Chaos - Making a New Science" (Viking Press, 1987). It does an amazing job of explaining the scientific concepts underlying this discussion - "Nonlinear", "Chaotic" phenomenon.

Here are a few illustrations of nonlinear systems which are delicately balanced between states.

Think of a coin balanced on it's edge. Or, think of what happens if you never change the motor oil in your car's engine. I had a brother-in-law who never had his car's oil changed. At 50,000 miles, the motor locked up. The oil degraded over time, and then passed a critical, delicate threshold in it's ability to lubricate the moving metal engine parts. As soon as there was metal-to-metal contact, there was of course an incredible buildup of heat and the parts fused together. Junkyard time. This example illustrates a nonlinear system with two distinct states (motor running, motor locked up) with a delicate threshold in between those two states which is defined by the ability of the motor oil to maintain it's film strength and prevent metal-to-metal contact.

Then there is the example of our beating hearts. Beating = life, not beating = death. Simple.

Or, returning to cars, think of a car with a bad tie-rod end which makes the steering loose. Imagine that it's a 1972 Plymouth Satellite with a big 318 CID eight cylinder motor. The car will probably do over 120 mph on a flat stretch of road, but if I try to go that fast, my front end may start to vibrate at about 95 mph (from the slop in the steering) and - if I keep accelerating - the vibrations, regular at first, become more intense and their frequency goes up until suddenly "BANG": my tires can't contain all that vibrational energy any more, and one or both of them blows apart (or all four, if I happen to be James Dean) and then my car flips end over end down the highway and I die.

Tristable systems are less common (and so I can't think of a really good one now), but think of a three way light switch.

The Earth's climate system has been shown to be tristable and balanced fairly delicately between states. With a little perturbation, it can bounce from one state to another very quickly. This was not known or understand even fifteen years ago. So - it's stable only within certain narrow parameters. If those parameters change, the Earth's climate lurches into a new state (perhaps colder). As I said, there are three recognized settings on this "climate thermostat" - hot, medium, and cold. We are currently living with the "hot" climate setting. And we are also changing some of the basic parameters which are believed to be critical in determining those "thermostat settings": atmospheric CO2 levels, for one.

With or without human interference, the Earth's climate would go through these shifts anyway. But this does not mean that humans cannot provoke such a climate shift either. And a major climate shift would be a problem for human civilization. [ see the link I posted up the thread to "Abrupt Climate Change has been implicated the collapse of a number of civilizations." ]

Scientists who study "abrupt climate change" and the underlying mechanisms will not speculate about the "epiphenomenon" which accompany sudden climate shifts. But the "epiphenomenon" may equal "all hell breaks lose for a month or even a year". This is the subject of the highly dramatized book "The Coming Global Superstorm", by Whitley Streiber and Art Bell - definitely NOT science of any sort, but certainly informed speculation.



The possibility of sudden climate change is not a "Doomsday" scenario though - for human civilizations have come and gone throughout history and may continue to do so. Itis a previously unexpected threat which, although very unlikely to spell the end of humanity, could kill vast numbers of humans and even cause industrial civilization to collapse (in a worse-case scenario).

But I think of "Doomsday" as something bigger, an Earth-killing event, the Earth's Sun going Nova, the destruction of the known Universe......

"Doomsdays" - in the sense of the collapse of industrial civilization - are very possible. To deny that is to fall into an epistemological trap which has been named the "Und so Weiter" (or "USW" ) fallacy. It means in German, literally, "And so on" and is taken by philosophers to represent "And so on, and so on, and so on....." which they understand as the assumption of continuity and which, they note, is actually a fallacy.

This fallacy runs like this: "If something has never happened in the past (in my personal experience, in recorded history, or whatever) cannot happen". Or , if something ( the Earth's Climate, the Stock market, whatever) has gone a certain way in the past, it will continue to do so in the future.

The fallacy is easy enough to disprove - Two planes had never crashed into the World Trade Center prior to September 11, 2001. A nuclear device had never been built or tested prior to the "Manhattan Project". And so on.

So I think we'd be well advised to listen to the leading climatologists (and experts in relevant fields) who tell us that a climate shift is no longer a question of "if" but a question of "when" and "how severe" - it's barrelling towards us, and we'd be smart to take steps now to begin to prepare for possible changes. Or we could just choose to do nothing - and possibly get clobbered.

Personally, I'd rather not sit in the road waiting for a truck to run me over. Sometimes preventative steps are easy, and have unexpectedly beneficial side effects. Perhaps the asphalt is cold and hard, and when I get up and walk, the exercise is good and I find a nice bit of grass to sit on instead.

The United States now holds a "preventative" foreign policy which holds that we should take action before problems occur. I think this doctrine would be best applied to anticipating possible changes in the Earth's climate.
posted by troutfishing at 7:06 AM on April 9, 2003


Science is not about ideology. Scientific experiments are reproducible or not.

OK, but we're not having a scientific discussion here: we couldn't be, because I'm not a scientist (dunno about you or the rest of the board).

I will tell you this: your posting style, and that of the other greens posting in this thread, has rung all kinds of bullshit alarms.

When someone starts talking and won't shut up, and just keeps talking (or posting) in long chunks in response to anything anyone says, then they're trying to bullshit you.

When someone appeals to authority repeatedly and expresses amazement that you might not trust their authority, then they're trying to bullshit you.

When someone moves the target, whether it's "global warming/climate change" or "weapons of mass destruction/regime change," then they're trying to bullshit you.

When someone responds to someone else who disagrees with them as though they must clearly be ignorant of the facts, then they're trying to bullshit you.

I have no doubt that you're a smart guy, and that you're frustrated as hell at your seeming inability to get your point across; but the thing is, we're not arguing about whether or not climate change is going to occur, or whether or not it's humanity's fault: I agree with you, in fact.

I'm trying to make the point that in this thread, as in so many others, the Green faction is responding to perceived doubters like religious fanatics: pointing to the holy scriptures which support your cause, refusing to brook debate... as I said, my frustration is not that the Green case is bad or wrong but that it's not being made any better than the NRA's.
posted by hob at 8:22 AM on April 9, 2003


Okay, troutfishing, you argue that saying that things will stay as they were is a fallacy, I'm not all that familiar with that one, but no problem.

What I will argue is that ecologists have been wrong many times in the past couple of decades. Ecologists have pushed the "warning" button that society (as we know it) will soon come to and end too many times. Here's something that isn't a fallacy: The boy that cried wolf. And that's what ecologists come across as to me. Never once have their past debates been verified to my satisfaction (even the CFC one -- look at that ozone hole heal despite all these developing countries that aren't going to give two thoughts about the environment). And, in what I now consider an attempt to win favour of people like me, a change in opinion (a third time) occurrs to suggest the obvious (weather changing) is a prelude to the death of civilization. Past data don't support the idea. Today's data show a shaky correlation at best -- if my city is anything to show for it we've had a very moderate past decade, except for one major storm.

That's why I can't believe them. If a physicist was saying these things, or another group of people who haven't been pushing my buttons for 20 years without good reason, I'd go for it. But the boy who cried wolf has credibility to rebuild, IMHO, before I believe any study, or anything they have to say on the issue.
posted by shepd at 8:42 AM on April 9, 2003


Hob - Some things are not reducible to short sound bites and snappy one liners. I like to post lots of text. That's what scroll bars are for (bypassing material you don't want to read).

You claim that "When someone starts talking and won't shut up, and just keeps talking (or posting) in long chunks in response to anything anyone says, then they're trying to bullshit you." - This is sometimes true, yes. But it is also true that a fair number of people read this weblog, and since I take the ability of humans to influence their environment on a Global scale quite seriously, I'll keep posting links and text which refer to the mainstream scientific consensus on the subject.

You may feel that the US National Academy of Science is some sort of "left-handed thinktank on the progillary of floobles" institution. I find your opinion on this to be really wierd. What scientific authorities, or scientific bodies do you look to as being authorities on this or on any given scientific question?

Or do you believe that there are no scientific authorities (even relatively authoritative ones)? And, if so, let me ask you this - On what basis will you send you ships to war? On signs, auguries read in sticks or entrails cast on the ground?

"the Green faction is responding to perceived doubters like religious fanatics: pointing to the holy scriptures" - Well, if my references to scientific research are a sign of fanaticism, well then I am a fanatic, for I seem to have a much stronger belief that science can tell us things about the external world, the world outside our own heads, than you do.

Are you a solipsist?

It seems to me that I've taken two approaches in this debate - I've referred to the highest authorities on the subject (which you take to be a sign of fanaticism) and I've also described the issues in my own words, as best as I understand them.

I'm not under the illusion that I will change the minds of skeptics. Humans - once dug into entrenched positions - generally do not change their opinions (and certainly they do not during heated argumnts). But I believe that, in discussions over questions of great importance, it is important to rebut what I see as baseless, uniformed, or spurious claims and assertions.


Shepd - You're confusing Ecology and ecologists (such as Paul Erlich, who made some of those dire predictions back in the late 60's which you refer to) with other scientific specializations.

Atmospheric chemists would tend to be the ones who studied the Ozone problem. Climatologists and oceanographers would be the ones who would study the ocean circulation and sudden climate change issues.

You say that "in what I now consider an attempt to win favour of people like me, a change in opinion (a third time) occurrs to suggest the obvious (weather changing) is a prelude to the death of civilization." First of all, there is a difference between weather and climate. I thought we were talking about climate change (sudden climate change, at that). Second, are you implying some sort of vast conspiracy among scientists?. Is there some "Green Cabal" somehow secretly orchestrating it all? [if so, then they are not very good at it, I'd say ]

If scientists, as a class, can get things so drastically wrong (as you seem to believe), how is it that they, nonetheless, do research which spins off so much technology - the technology that drives our industrial civilization? Or are they (in your opinion) only wrong, confused, and biased when they study the natural world?

If you go to the Wood's Hole Oceanographic Institute website section on abrupt climate change you can read about the observed slowdown in ocean circulation in the last two or three decades, the acceleration of this trend as the North Polar ice cap and the Greenland glaciers melt (together with an increase in rainfall) and this dumps fresh water into the North Atlantic, disrupting the salinity there (which drives this ocean circulation I refer to).

Wood's Hole is generally regarded as the leading oceanographic institute in the world, and is a private (not a government funded) institution. The current president and director, as well as his predecessor, have been very, very outspoken about the sudden (or abrupt) climate change issue. They are concerned.
posted by troutfishing at 12:27 PM on April 9, 2003


adamgreenfield - 'Sorry, dude, that's tripe. Selection for genomic fitness is an incredibly inefficient system that's been running a long, long time. The Sun probably doesn't burn too clean, either'

I was worried about that simplistic statement, but I didn't have time to elaborate. I am conflating all physical systems, both man-made and 'naturally occuring', which I am not confident is a good idea. Nontheless, I think that systems will find the most efficient method to acheive their purpose, within the parameters available. This is of course relative.
There are many systems which are not the most efficient way to acheive the ends, but which exist nontheless because they work effectively in the present environment. What might be called 'the path of least resistance'. When the environment changes they may fail, or survive depending on their ability to adjust. As beings capable of forethought, we can adjust our energy usage to accomodate changing parameters before they become life-threatening, based on informed opinion.
What I was trying to say was that concern about energy effficiency is natural. If the temperature is low, do you jog on the spot to keep warm, or wear an insulating layer to fend off the cold?
If everything was 100% effiecient, things would be a tad more explosive, I agree.
shepd, I am a physicist (at least I have a degree in Applied Physics), and I agree with troutfishing's position on this. All the available data points to the conclusion that we are running an un-controlled experiment on the limits of the human life support system of this planet.
Not that this will make any difference to you, given that you don't seem to want to read the data enough to make an informed comment.
posted by asok at 2:59 AM on April 11, 2003


« Older Cultural Entomology....  |  "My Wife Dated Idiots" says Mi... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments