Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Global warming is real, a sceptic comes around

Here’s a good piece at The Times Online by Bryan Appleyard, explaining how he changed from climate sceptic/denier to accepter of the scientific evidence for global warming: Global warming is real.

If we don’t look after it, who will?

There are so many good reasons not to believe in global warming: summers lately have been cool and wet; since 1998 global temperatures have actually fallen; dissident scientists say it’s not happening; green believers are irritating — they wear Tibetan hats that only look good on Tibetans, and are so often wrong that they’re probably wrong about the Big One; large parts of the punditocracy say it’s all nonsense, usually that it’s a left-wing plot against capitalism; the rainforest is growing back faster than it’s being cut down and polar bears are, apparently, doing quite well. Global warming? Yeah, right!

But here’s the best reason of all not to believe, to sit back and relax. Global warming is just the latest apocalyptic story. There is always someone, somewhere predicting the end of the world.

He may be a man with a sandwich board in Oxford Street or an American Christianist who expects the Book of Revelation to happen tomorrow. But he’s equally likely to be a scientist warning about asteroid impacts, super-eruptions, molecule-sized robots turning everything into grey goo or, not so long ago, the descent of Earth into a new ice age. Taking all these possibilities into account, Sir Martin Rees, the great cosmologist, says humans only have a 50/50 chance of making it into the next century. Yeah, right!

No wonder opinion polls show a majority of the population are sceptical about global warming. Just scanning the papers, the internet or watching TV is enough to convince anyone it’s just the usual apocalyptic hype. And, if they want to dig deeper into their own disbelief, there are shelfloads of books to give them a hand. There’s Nigel Lawson, ex-chancellor of the exchequer, with An Appeal to Reason. There’s Scared to Death by Christopher Booker and Richard North. There’s Cool It by Bjorn Lomborg. There was even a very serious documentary on Channel 4 called The Great Global Warming Swindle with some serious-looking science guys pouring cold water on the warming atmosphere.

Just a couple of weeks reading and watching and you can be out there, crushing dinner-party eco-warriors with devastating arguments based on cold, hard facts. You will be a stern, hard-headed denialist, your iron jaw set firmly against the tree-hugging, soft-headed warmists in their irritating hats.

That was me, once. I thought global warming was all bog-standard, apocalyptic nonsense when it first emerged in the 1980s. People, I knew, like nothing better than an End-of-the-World story to give their lives meaning. I also knew that science is dynamic. Big ideas rise and fall. Once the Earth was the centre of the universe. Then it wasn’t. Once Isaac Newton had completed physics. Then he hadn’t. Once there was going to be a new ice age. Then there wasn’t.

Armed with such historic reversals, I poured scorn on under-educated warmists. Scientists with access to the microphone, I pointed out, had got so much so wrong so often. This was yet another case of clever people, who should have known better, running around screaming, “End of the World! End of the World!” and of less-clever people finding reasons to tell everybody else why they were bad. And then I made a terrible mistake. I started questioning my instinct, which was to disbelieve every scare story on principle.

I exposed myself to any journalist’s worst nightmare —
very thoughtful, intelligent people.

I talked to some brilliant scientists and thinkers, some mainstream Greens, some truly tough-minded scientists. There was James Lovelock, the man whose Gaia hypothesis sees the world as a single, gigantic organism. There was Jesse Ausubel, director of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller University in New York. There was Chris Rapley, director of the Science Museum and former head of the British Antarctic Survey. There was Myles Allen, head of the Climate Dynamics Group at Oxford. There was Sir David King, once chief scientific adviser to the British government. There were many others.

There is, I saw, a fine line between the hard-head and the bone-head. The denialist hard-head swaggers his way through life hearing only what he wants to hear, that warmism is either a hoax, a gross error or just another End-of-the-World scare story. But if you suspend your prejudices and your vanity for a moment, everything changes. You find out that the following statements are true beyond argument.

The climate is warming. It is almost certain this is caused by emissions of greenhouse gases caused by human activity. Nobody has come up with an alternative explanation that stands up. If the present warming trend continues, nasty things will probably start happening to humans within the next century, possibly the next decade. Something must be done. If nothing is done, then the benign climatic conditions that have sustained human civilisation for 10,000 years are in danger of collapse to be replaced by… well, write your own disaster movie.

You will note that there is some wiggle room in these statements. It is “almost certain” that humans are responsible; nasty things will “probably” happen. That is because all science can ever be is the best guess of the best minds. Also, the climate is a complex system, meaning it can behave in ways that are opaque beyond our most sophisticated calculations. But, as I have often been told, those statements are as true as any scientific statements can be, and nobody — I repeat, nobody — has been able to refute this. In short, to deny any of these statements is to put yourself beyond the bounds of rational discourse.

Beginning from the beginning. In 1750 there were 800m people in the world. Then came the Industrial Revolution. This required almost pure carbon, coal, oil and gas to be taken from the ground where it had lain for millions of years, burnt and tossed into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Now there are almost 7 billion of us and we toss 27 billion tons of carbon dioxide — 7.3 billion tons of pure carbon — into the atmosphere every year.
Since the Industrial Revolution, the total amount tossed is half a trillion tons of pure carbon. It is impossible to say this didn’t happen and bone-headed madness to think it will have no effect. We are more or less certain that the effect has been a one-degree-centigrade rise in global temperature.

What do the deniers say about this? “The world’s temperature rose about half a degree centigrade during the last quarter of the 20th century,” writes Nigel Lawson, “but even the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research… has now conceded that recorded temperature figures for the first seven years of the 21st century reveal there has been a standstill.”

Actually, er, bollocks. In the staff cafe at University College London, Chris Rapley draws me a graph showing temperature fluctuations over the past million years. He draws an even rising-and-falling line. Then he corrects himself and the even line becomes a jagged landscape of peaks and troughs. But the trend line remains clear. So yes, if you start in 1998 — a very hot year thanks to an intense El Niño event in the South Pacific — and draw a line to a cool year, 2007, you get a falling line. Nevertheless, the average temperature for this decade is higher than the previous one. The trend is intact. Anyway, back to basics. Half a trillion tons of carbon came as a shock to planet Earth. Antarctic ice cores reveal that for about 1m years, atmospheric carbon fluctuated between ice-age levels of 180 parts per million (ppm) and warm levels of 280ppm. We don’t know why this narrow fluctuation was so stable. It just was.

Carbon levels are now at 387ppm and rising rapidly. The best we can hope for, if radical low-emission targets are accepted by world governments NOW, is to stabilise the figure at 450ppm. That will mean a further one-degree temperature rise. This could be nasty — more hurricanes, rising sea levels, spreading deserts, loss of arable land — but maybe manageably so.

At this point, deniers often talk about the medieval warm period. From about 800AD to 1300AD, temperatures rose by, at one point, more than they are rising now. Fair enough, except this wasn’t a global phenomenon, it was purely European. The Earth as a whole cooled.

Having lost that one, the next denialist move is the Sunspot Gambit, much in evidence in that Channel 4 documentary. Mention that show to Rapley and he loses his amiable manner. “I was scandalised. I shall never, ever, forgive Channel 4 and if I ever find a way of preventing them having public funds then I shall exercise it.”

The idea behind the Sunspot Gambit is that global temperature trends are dependent on solar activity. Well, it’s true, they are, a bit. But the idea that large-scale trends are caused by “solar forcing” is wrong. The good thing about being a Spottist is you can be right for 11 years at a time. That’s the length of the sunspot cycle, so you can construct a theory based on one cycle and be sure that it will not be knocked down by the next for 11 years.

Back to reality. Myles Allen at Oxford has a vivid way of simplifying the scale of the task involved in preventing carbon levels rising above 450ppm. The modern world has been built on half a trillion tons of carbon. At present rates of increase we will burn the next half trillion tons in 40 years. The best guess is that that will result in a one-degree rise. There are, perhaps, four to five trillion tons of burnable carbon still in the Earth. But the maximum we can burn is half a trillion tons. In Copenhagen, therefore, the talks should be about allocating that half trillion as if it were a gigantic carbon cake. To make this work and ensure we don’t burn more than that, Allen goes for a radical option. “It will only work,” he says, “in the context of a plan to get emissions down to zero by the end of the century. So I think we need what none of the politicians seems prepared to acknowledge. A rationing system for putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is only a temporary measure; eventually the whole practice has to be banned.”

This should give you vertigo. You are peering into a carbon-free abyss. If we stopped burning carbon now, you and I, as Rapley points out, would starve to death in a week. Burnt carbon is our money, our lifestyle, our sense of who we are. The revolution is just too big to contemplate.

Enter Bjorn Lomborg. Lomborg is not a denier, but he is a denialist hero, because he gave them their one really strong argument for doing nothing or next to nothing. Global warming is happening, he says, and it’s a problem, but it’s not a BIG problem and certainly not so big that we have to ditch our way of life. The reason this is a strong argument is that it doesn’t make the mistake of denying the science — futile, as Lomborg knows and as I hope you do by now — it just says that the outcome may not be that bad. Scientists can’t say he’s wrong because the future of a complex system — climate combined with human civilisation — is inherently unpredictable.

It’s all a question of probability and risk. Rapley once put it to me this way. You are putting your daughter on a plane. The pilot tells you there is a 1-in-100 chance it will crash. You, if you have any sense, take your daughter off the plane. Why? Because the potential loss is so great that 1 in 100 is unacceptable. So it is with global warming — except the down side probability is a good deal higher than 1 in 100.

The economist and academic Lord Stern, appointed by the government in 2005 to investigate the economics of climate change, tried to put exact figures on this. His 2006 report has become the standard document justifying action on global warming, which Stern calls the greatest market failure in history. Personally, I think the Stern report may turn out to have been a disaster. This is because Stern is an economist and economists obfuscate matters. He recommended allocating 1% of the world economy to fighting climate change and to prevent what he said would be a 20% drop in the world economy due to warming.

Stern’s figures were based on a financial assessment of the impact of global warming on future generations. The trouble with this is that it’s a very difficult and controversial calculation and one which economists love to argue and get upset about. Many queued up to trash Stern’s assumptions. This provided the denialists with a glut of ammunition and further confused the poor punters.

Put it like this. Here are these scientists telling you probably your children and almost certainly your grandchildren are going to lead screwed-up lives thanks to our carbon emissions, and here are these economists arguing about the monetary value of their screwed-upness. Case closed.

Far stronger than all this are simple, empirical observations. Rapley points out that sea temperatures are rising exactly as predicted by the climate models. Climate change, more than over-fishing, has been found to be behind the fall in North Sea fish stocks. Arctic ice is melting faster than expected. And here’s one fact that should give the most hardened bone-head pause: Arctic shipping lanes are to be re-opened. Summer sea ice in 2007 was 40% down on the average, and shipping companies are planning much faster routes between Europe and Asia using the Arctic Ocean. These guys are not exactly tree-huggers. And yet many denialists still insist on saying there’s no problem with the Arctic melt.

One big general denialist argument is about climate models. These are fabulously complicated computer programmes that attempt to model the Earth’s atmosphere. The number-crunching is so vast that Myles Allen has contracted it out to you and me. He began Climateprediction.net, which uses downtime on people’s home computers to run climate simulations. Try it. You should. The idea is to cut the uncertainties in the models. And there are, no question, huge uncertainties. All complex systems are uncertain. But, for two closely related reasons, the denialists are wrong to claim this as an argument in their favour. First, empirical evidence either shows the models are right or, especially in the case of Arctic ice, that they are understating the problem. Lovelock, in particular, says this understatement has given us a model-based false sense of security. The disaster is coming much sooner than we thought.

Secondly, the very inadequacy of the models is a reason for even greater caution. The big picture the models show is simple — carbon is rising and temperatures are rising. This is known as a linear system. It’s like a multiplication table: 2 x 2 = 4, 2 x 3 = 6 and so on. So add half a trillion tons of carbon to the atmosphere and the temperature rises by one degree. Technically, the output bears a fixed relation to the input.

But we know the atmosphere is subject to non-linearity. You may get the same result over and over again until, one day, you don’t. Suddenly 2 x 2 = 5. Then the output-input relationship varies wildly. This can happen in any complex system. Imagine a pile of sand. You keep dropping extra grains on top. You might drop a million grains and nothing happens. Then you drop a million and one and it collapses. If you push any such system hard enough, it will slip into non-linearity. At which point steal tents, canned food and assault weapons.

In other words, pushing another half trillion tons of carbon into the atmosphere should raise temperatures by a degree or so, but it might raise them by much more. Or it could start climate flickering in which climate changes repeatedly from one state to another every few years. It’s happened in the past. Either way, you can kiss your way of life goodbye.

The reality of non-linearity and complex systems is actually the most basic and irrefutable argument for cutting emissions. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan, put it to me, it doesn’t matter about the exact rights or wrongs of the science, it doesn’t matter whether you think warming is caused by human activity. What matters is the general principle that you do not disturb complex systems. Half a trillion tons is a disturbance and Nassim is a real Green.

In the end, it comes down to August 14, 1959. That was when the US satellite Explorer 6 sent back the first picture of Earth from space. The enormity of this moment, however, did not sink in. Many people still think the first picture came almost a decade later, in December 1968, when Apollo 8 sent back its beautiful “Earthrise” photograph. Either way, it was a moment when something we knew in our heads became thrillingly, terrifyingly real in our hearts.

The pictures showed a small planet lost in darkness. A thin film of life interacting with a narrow band of atmosphere produced the astonishing, swirling pattern of clouds, the dark seas and the darker continents. We have, in spite of our vanities and intergalactic dreams, nothing and nowhere else.
If we don’t look after it, who will?

Go to that dinner party, wear a Tibetan hat if you must, and look for the iron-jawed bone-head. There’s usually at least one, and it’s usually a man. Look him in the eye, smile and ask him one question: “Who on Earth do you think you are?” He’ll get it on the sixth attempt.

11 Opinion(s):

Anonymous said...

Another poor guy brainwashed by the Global Cooling Deniers... ;o)

Anonymous said...

Yes! Thanks for this posting - it has now convinced me to change from sceptic/denier/racist to believer/acceptor/liberal....NOT!

Islandshark said...

This is good. I've said it before - all science aside, it isn't logical to think our impact on the planet will not have long term effects.

It is very unfortunate that this issue was hijacked by politicians, because we know that whatever they get their paws on, turns to crap.

Like with everything else in life, it takes the efforts of few to educate many.

One of the reasons this site exists...

Anonymous said...

It is more than clear that Bryan Appleyard, or whatever that author’s name is, never was a “climate sceptic/denier”. The term ‘denier’ in itself is a stereotype intended to ridicule ppl into the same box as holocaust deniers, and is intended to ridicule and insult. Why would anyone call themselves ex-deniers?
His story starts off with emotional whaffle, in which he makes it clear that he was totally at the mercy of the msn’s hysteric spin in his scientific ignorance. Hardly a sign of a ‘denier’, perhaps that of someone ignorant and apathetic.

But alas, all of a sudden he becomes scientifically enlightened when he says:
“The climate is a complex system, meaning it can behave in ways that are opaque beyond our most sophisticated calculations. But, as I have often been told, those statements are as true as any scientific statements can be, and nobody — I repeat, nobody — has been able to refute this”.
There may be a lot of truth about what he says there with regard to the complexity of climate, and that there are more influences that we can possibly be aware of. Similarly, there are many factors that influence our bodies’ health that we can’t comprehend, but we can break down some factors and rule them out to be influential for certain symptoms. It has been proven and suppressed that temperature trends are not inconsistent with trends in the distant and recent past, and that the UN’s predictions about the influence of CO2 emissions have been exaggerated at least tenfold.

He also said: “That is because all science can ever be is the best guess of the best minds.”
Really??? I have never heard of any scientists refute, condemn or disagree with Newton, Faraday, Kirchoff, Lenz, Kepler, Boyle or Joule’s laws, unlike the 100’s of scientists who dissented from the IPCC and thousands more who condemn it for it’s selections, omissions and altering of information considered for it’s policy, and subjecting data to incorrect computer models.
Just remember, that is the same opposition-less UN that is, was and will be unable to address the atrocities in Rwanda, Dafour, Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Burma, N Korea, Syria, Iran, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Angola, Sierra Leone, Congo, Venezuela, Tibet, Georgia, Armenia… in fact, I can’t think of any of their achievements other than handing out food aid on behalf of their donors. And they are the ones heading the Copenhagen treaty!! That doesn’t warrant the bureaucratic costs to us taxpayers (2% of each signatory-country’s GDP), even before their democratic spending habits are reflected on the bill? And all this at the expense of addressing the real issues like de-forestation, over-fishing, habitat destruction etc

Anonymous said...

Sigh, sigh, the debate isn't whether global warming is real or not, it's about whether the cause is Carbon Dioxide.

If the planet s heating up, it isn't because of carbon dioxide. That has been thoroughly debunked.

The only reason the greedy elitists have latched on to carbon dioxide is because they saw a convenient way to get everyone to pay more tax.

If you sit in front of a heater and your fat arse is getting hotter, where is the obvious place to look for the source of heat?

Yes, on your fat arse, you fawking sheep.


Anonymous said...

Global warming is a Marxist strategy, with and has been around since the 1960's.

"""Nevertheless, an effective political substitute for war would require “alternate enemies,” some of which might seem equally far fetched in the context of the current war system. It may be, for instance, that gross pollution of the environment can eventually replace the possibility of mass destruction by nuclear weapons as the principal apparent threat to the survival of the species. Poisoning of the air, and of the principal sources of food and water supply, is already well advanced, and at first glance would seem promising in this respect; it constitutes a threat that can be dealt with only through social organization and political power.""""

The quote above is from The Report From Iron Mountain, a book of which there is still controversy as to whether it is a work of fiction (a la 1984) or a real document from a secret government panel.

Also watch this video. If it doesn't blow your socks off, it is bound to at least air your feet under the socks.

Life is never simple, often it is even simpler that you would care to imagine. Pity about all the deception though.


Anonymous said...

Love the bit in the video above of "land for debt" swop. If you want to know where the US will end up...it is right there.

Global warming is the cherry on the Marxist cake.

Sheeple will eat anything dished up by the MSM.
Watch the video.

It is all about "CONTROL" and the creation of the proletariat.


Anonymous said...

My favourite quotation from the video is.....

"that some of these policy decisions (carbon tax) could cost quite a lot and have no benefit for the environment."

Anonymous said...

What causes a greenhouse effect?
The absence of convection.
The computer models used by the marxist scientists did not factor in convection. This was deliberate and proven by the climate-gate scandal.

Read the following e-book and you'll see how the Marxist scientists have been lying, basically they have been bargaining on the inbred stupidity of the sheeple, or rather that the dumbing down of populations have progressed far enough. The sheep prefer to listen to the MSM and do not like to question or think individually.


Read from page 16 onwards about convection, it's explanation and you'll understand that in order for a gas, such as carbon dioxide to act as a greenhouse gas (no convection) you have to bend the laws of thermodynamics.

To all the "warmists" (hahahaha) please read the e-book and perhaps you'll understand why a certain segment of the population refer to you as sheep, very easily indoctrinated sheep, very stupid sheep.


Anonymous said...

I trust that you by now have read the e-book and that a little light, called grade 8 physics, might have gone on inside your skull.

Warmists say that global warming is caused by carbon dioxide. They argue that the major natural heat source, the sun, has remained constant and that the heat increase is caused solely by gas absorbing heat.

1) So we have a constant heat source. (the sun)

The Marxist scientists are saying that CO2 traps heat in the atmosphere. This is total bull crap, because heat gets dissipated upwards via convection and cools down, when it reaches higher, colder altitudes.

It matters not to these scientists that if there are more gas (CO2) IT AIDS IN THE DISSIPATION of heat.

2) We still have a constant heat source.

Climate-gate proved that scientists manipulated scientific computer models and the proof all indicates that they ignored the properties of convection.

3) You still have a constant heat source.

The only way for the planet to cool down is via gas convection. Hot gas rises, cools and then sinks down again.

Their is no greenhouse effect. (A greenhouse has no convection) The more gas you have the more effective the cooling. Gas acts like a heatsink.

GAS ACTS LIKE A HEATSINK. It is dynamic, i.e. it moves up to colder areas, to the eventual temperature of 0 Kelvin in space.

This system will always remain in balance, because no matter how much gas you have, there will be equal amounts of hot gas rising and cool gas sinking.

Convection is the word that the Marxist scientists hate.

For the die heart warmists that are not part of the conspiracy, I can only say: "Baaaaah"



Anonymous said...

@6.04am Anon: Agreed, Marxist moffies will believe any global warming crap. Kids lower than grade 8 would understand the science: conduction, convection, radiation was in SA primary school science syllabi for years. I know, I taught it in the early 70s. Simple analogy: Ask yourself whenever you climb a mountain why its cooler on top than on plains below?