Adventures in Science! 0.5– A Letter from BobMalfoy to His Son [Guestpost by BobMalfoy]

“BobMalfoy” is the father of 4gfc’s ZMalfoy. Bob is an accomplished lawyer and author (a “science fiction author that likes to get it right!”), and a pretty awesome Dad! Recently, BobMalfoy wrote the following to his youngest son, after a phone conversation wherein the topic of Anthropomorphic Global Warming (AGW) was raised. The following is what he sent to his son– ZMalfoy has only edited a very little bit, to maintain the innocence of those not involved in all of this. The email is otherwise reproduced below. [N.B.: There is a possibility of follow ups to this, so comments will be forwarded, so that he may address them if necessary. Mr. Malfoy has floated the idea of tidying this up and getting professionally published– if that happens, this post will be replaced by a link at that time. And yes, as the title indicates, this is the warm-up for a series of articles to be written.]
Andes+mountains+Gemini+7-2000


While talking to you about the weather a few nights ago, I joked about global warming and heard real pain in your voice.  Since I don’t want to be the sort of parent for whom you have to apologize to your friends (“He’s really nice, K*****, and on his better days, almost rational.”)I thought I should give you a serious explanation of my thoughts on the subject. Please understand that I am not trying to prove a negative; that is, I am not trying to prove that there is no warming of the atmosphere.  My target, rather, is those who the science is settled and there can be no further debate or investigation.

Most people approach this as one question.  I consider it four more or less independent questions:  i) Why do we believe in global warming? ii) If global warming is real, is it man-made?  iii) If it is man-made, is it, on the whole, a Bad Thing? iv) If it is a Bad Thing, is it worse than the proposed cures?

1.  Why do we believe in Global Warming?
Let me first rule one answer out of bounds: “Science says.”  Any statement that begins with “Science says” is at best a gross over-simplification, at worst an outright lie.  Science is a method; it says nothing.  Scientists, and other human beings, say a great many things, some of them reasonable and or verifiable.

The reason we believe most things, and nearly all with which we do not have close personal experience, is because we accept on faith the statements of Authority Figures.  This is not a criticism.  It is a necessity.  I have never been to China, but I accept the authority of Rand McNally that the country exists and has approximately the boundaries shown on the maps.  I have never done the Michaelson-Morely experiment, but I am willing to accept as correct accounts that tell me that it was done and that the most likely interpretation of its results is that the aether does not exist.  William of Ockham agrees that the simplest way to deal with these statements is to accept them at face value unless and until reason is given to doubt them.

When it comes to global warming, the two primary Authority Figures (and a plethora of minor ones) present themselves to the public.  The first is a former politician turned filmmaker and science popularizer.  The second is an actual scientist.

The former is obviously Al Gore, producer of “An Inconvenient Truth.”  Despite his prominence in the Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) there are reasons to suspect that he does not really believe much of his own case.  Usually when an picture of Casa Gore is displayed, the criticism is that George W Bush’s residence is much “greener.”  If one is truly concerned about one’s carbon footprint, one might try for a habitation less grand than Xanadu.  The picture below raises a different but very good question.

 gore's new crib

Maybe his property is 21 feet about sea level.

Let’s examine some of the claims made in the movie. Christopher Viscount Monckton, former policy advisor to Margaret Thatcher, identified 35 errors.  In a lawsuit brought by an irate British parent, High Court Justice Michael Burton, though finding  the general contentions of the film supported , nonetheless found nine specifics which he considered partisan and alarmist  I will list them and comment on the responses made by Team Gore in the Washington Post Fact Checker. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fact-checker/2007/10/an_inconvenient_truth_team_gor_1.html

  1. Burton found that Gore’s assertion of a rapid rise in sea-levels in the near future caused by the melting of icecaps in Antarctica was unsupported.  If the Greenland ice were all to melt, it would take millennia. Team Gore admits that the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] predicts a 59 centimeter rise by 2100 but defends Gore’s six meter estimate by saying that would be the rise if all the ice in Greenland and the West  Antarctic Ice Sheet were to melt. One scientist and apparently only one (Jim Hansen of NASA) says “several” meters by 2100.  Nobody is quoted defending the six meter statement.
  2. Gore claimed that the disappearance of year-round snow from the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa was expressly attributable to global warming. The court was not convinced. According to Burton, the scientific “consensus” is that the reasons for the snow recession on Kilimanjaro cannot be established. Even those who generally support Gore acknowledge that he got this one wrong.  (http://www.skepticalscience.com/al-gore-inconvenient-truth-errors-intermediate.htm)  The cause is deforestation, not global warming.  Team Gore”s defense is that they rely on one Dr. Lonnie Thompson and “It is not just Kilimanjaro.  Instead of producing evidence on point, they change the subject.
  3. Gore cited a scientific study showing that polar bears had drowned by “swimming long distances–up to 60 miles–to find the ice.” Evidence backing up this claim was not produced to the British court. The judge wrote that the only scientific study shown to him indicated “that four polar bears have recently been found drowned because of a storm.” Team Gore cites a study by the US Geological Survey and  the Canadian Wildlife Service to show a 22 percent drop in polar bear population around Hudson Bay. These four bears were found drowned in 2004.  Let me suggest to you as a Sherlock Holmes fan that this is a dog that hasn’t barked.  The plight of polar bears strikes a strong emotional chord.   I have been able to find no further evidence of polar bear drowning and I am sure that any that were discovered would be well publicized.  The studies I have found say polar bears are under numerous environmental strains, including hunting, but there appears to be no consensus that the overall population is decreasing nor what the main cause would be if it were decreasing.    There is more on this in part 3 of this essay.
  4. Gore attributed the Hurricane Katrina devastation to global warming. The judge found that there was “insufficient evidence to show that.” Team Gore denies that the film ever  made that claim, only that “There have been warnings that hurricanes would get stronger.” There have indeed been warnings, but there are also good reasons to doubt that it is actually happening (See http://www.wunderground.com/education/webster.asp and http://www.aoml.noaa.gov/hrd/Landsea/landseanaturepublished.pdf.)
  5. The Gore movie depicted the drying up of Lake Chad as a prime example of the effects of global warming. Expert testimony in front of the British court suggested that “far more likely causes” were “population increase, over-grazing, and regional climate variability.” Team Gore says that it was just an example of what models say will happen. Well, maybe.  Just about everyone I have read seems to believe with the judge that Gore made the actual claim.
  6. Gore suggested an “exact fit” between the rise in carbon dioxide levels and the rise in temperatures over a period of 650,000 years. According to the judge, scientists generally agree that there is “a connection,” between the two phenomena, but claims of an “exact fit” cannot be established. Team Gore says this is all very complicated and must be explained elsewhere.  I followed their cite to http://www.realclimate.org/.  This brings you to the current part of the site, not to the older part which presumably would substantiate Gore’s claim.  Without a more specific link, there is no way for me to evaluate their response.
  7. An “Inconvenient Truth” claimed that citizens of some low-lying inhabited Pacific atolls “have all had to evacuate to New Zealand” because of the inundation of their islands caused by global warming. The judge said that he found no evidence of “any such evacuation having yet happened.” Team Gore admits that “the wording of the film here is”unfortunate,” however the potential effects on human  displacement… is a matter of critical importance…” So important, apparently, as to excuse gross exaggerations and outright lies.
  8. The movie suggested that global warming could shut down “the Ocean Conveyer,” a process by which the Gulf Stream is carried over the North Atlantic to Western Europe. The judge cited a study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the co-winner of the Nobel Peace prize, which concluded that it was “very unlikely” that the Ocean Conveyer would be shut down completely, although it might slow down. Team Gore cites an IPCC study predicting a 30 percent slowdown by 2100, which seems to concede the point that it would not stop, but adds  “multiple scientists (unnamed) have claimed we cannot exclude the possibility…”
  9. Gore argued that coral reefs all over the world were bleaching because of global warming and other factors. The judge cited the IPCC view that it was difficult to separate the impact of stresses on coral reefs caused by climate change “from other stresses such as over-fishing and pollution.” Team Gore again defends while admitting the truth of the criticism.  “Corals are also under stress from other factors like water pollution (agricultural runoff), overfishing, and ocean acidification…”

Both sides could  claim victory from Justice Burton’s opinion.  After all, he did say that he found the general contentions of the film support.  Gore’s detractors took comfort from the nine errors.  I would say those nine errors documented a film that played fast and loose with the truth.  When a scientific society supports Gore’s thesis, he cites the society.  When one isolated scientist supports part of it, that one scientist is enough.  When nobody can be found to defend the film’s statement, we are told that the film never really said that or “we cannot exclude the possibility.”

If you have lasted this far, I imagine you are a trifle indignant.  Perhaps you accuse me of shooting fish in a barrel.  You were brought up too well to believe the word of a politician, much less that of Al Gore.  Demonstrating that “An Inconvenient Truth” is a sloppy piece of political propaganda says nothing about the underlying truth of the situation.  This is a matter for scientists.

The scientist who more than any other has been at the forefront of global warming controversies in Michael J. Mann.  “Mann (born 1965) is an American climatologist and geophysicist,[1] currently director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, who has contributed to the scientific understanding of climate change over the last two thousand years. He has pioneered techniques to find patterns in past climate change…” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_E._Mann#Defamation_lawsuit

Mann’s most iconic contribution to the debate has been the hockey stick graph.  For those who want “hard data” and are less likely to weep at the imagined fate of polar bears, this is tremendously powerful.  A quick look, and the immediate reaction is “Holy crap! Look at that red line. We’re about to turn into Venus!”

hockey stick graph

One could look at this and wonder what happened to the Medieval Warm Period or the Little Ice Age.  My focus is more modest than to judge its absolute accuracy.  My question is whether is has been put together in good faith.

This has been challenged most severely by the hacking of the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit by person or persons unknown.  Examination of the e-mails released disclosed several that were quite troubling. In one, Michael Mann discussed how to destroy a http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2009/11/20/climate-cuttings-33.html  journal that had published papers skeptical of climate change.  Phil Jones, the CRU Director, wrote to University of Hull to try to stop sceptic Sonia Boehmer Christiansen using her Hull affiliation.  He described “the death of sceptic, John Daly, as ‘cheering news.’”  Wigley discusses with Jones how to withhold data request under Freedom of Information law. “Kevin Trenberth says they can’t account for the lack of recent warming and that it is a travesty that they can’t.” “Phil Jones says he has use Mann’s “Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series”…to hide the decline”. Real Climate says “hiding” was an unfortunate turn of phrase.”

That was an understatement.  “Hide the decline” has become a rallying cry for skeptics as potent as “Remember the Alamo” for Sam Houston’s Texans.  Admittedly, it may have been misunderstood. It refers to tree ring growth, not directly to temperature.  “Tree-ring growth has been found to match well with temperature. Hence, tree-rings are used to plot temperature going back hundreds of years. However, tree-rings in some high-latitude locations diverge from modern instrumental temperature records after 1960. This is known as the “divergence problem“. Consequently, tree-ring data in these high-latitude locations are not considered reliable after 1960 and should not be used to represent temperature in recent decades.” https://www.skepticalscience.com/Mikes-Nature-trick-hide-the-decline.htm The problem is that the conclusion at the end of this quote undermines the statement at its beginning.  If it has been shown to be unreliable in recent decades, then it may have always been unreliable.  But tree ring data is crucial in establishing temperatures before the mid-1800s.  Since we don’t know why they don’t correlate now, we cannot be sure when or if they correlated in the past.

Mann does not respond well to criticism.  He has accused Australian journalist Andrew Bolt of being a “threat to the planet,” and of being paid by Rupert Murdoch to lie to the general public.  In February, Bolt threatened to sue, demanding that Mann rescind his allegations and publicly apologize.  Since Mann was not able to identify a single lie and since Bolt is in fact not paid by Murdoch, Mann backed down. (National Review, March 24, 2014)  Other suits brought by Mann, against Mark Steyn and National Review, are still in litigation as of this writing.

We are told that no “real” scientist disputes global warming.  This is thelargest lie of all.  Freeman Dyson is probably the most prominent skeptic.  (http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/04/05/freeman-dyson-speaks-out-about-climate-science-and-fudge/)  In  “the late 1970s, he got involved with early research on climate change at the Institute for Energy Analysis in Oak Ridge, Tenn. That research, which involved scientists from many disciplines, was based on experimentation. The scientists studied such questions as how atmospheric carbon dioxide interacts with plant life and the role of clouds in warming. But that approach lost out to the computer-modeling approach favored by climate scientists. And that approach was flawed from the beginning, Dyson said.“I just think they don’t understand the climate,” he said of climatologists. “Their computer models are full of fudge factors.”

Likewise, it is hard to say that Richard McNider and John Christy, from the University of Alabama at Huntsville, who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore, are not real scientists. (http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303945704579391611041331266)

As confusing as all this may be, one message comes through loud and clear.  Many of the scientific authorities most responsible for promulgating a belief in global warming act like academic thugs seeking to silence and destroy the reputations of any who disagreed with them and to keep hidden relevant data even if that means disobeying the law.

Both political and scientific authority figures have behaved badly.  Their pronouncements cannot be taken on faith.

Nonetheless, for the remainder of this essay, we are going to concede for the sake of argument that global warming is real.

2.  If Global Warming is real, is it man-made?

Once global warming is accepted as fact, one might think this would follow automatically.  Everyone agrees that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas.  Everyone likewise agrees that megatons of carbon dioxide have been pumped into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution.  On first glance, you might think that this is the outline of a three step proof of anthropogenic global warming.

It isn’t, because the difference between a reasonable hypothesis and a scientific theory is precision.  It must be able to account for all of the data.  In the physical sciences, at least, it must be able to make accurate predictions.  This was recognized as far back as 2009 when the CRU e-mails were hacked.  “Kevin Trenberth says they can’t account for the lack of recent warming and that it is a travesty that they can’t.”  Every year since then, the split between measured temperatures and those predicted by the theory has become more acute.

warming predictions
A headline in the March 4, 2014 Washington Post  reads, somewhat forlornly, “A pause in global warming does not debunk human role in climate change.”  Benjamin Santer, research scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California is quoted as saying that  temporary cooling from increased volcanic activity or other emissions does not undermine climate models that aim to predict the rate of warming.  No convenient volcanic eruptions or other emissions were pointed to as the culprit.  What Dr. Santer is saying reduces to postulating a fudge factor which, when discovered and plugged into the equations, will make everything come out right.  This is certainly possible, but until the fudge factor is discovered and quantified, the current theory of global warming seems embarrassingly incomplete, as if Einstein attempted to wow the world with E=m(something)(something).

Why does this incompleteness matter?  It matters because, as we shall see in part 4 of this essay, the proposed solutions to global warming are either likely to be completely ineffective and/or tremendously expensive and burdensome.  This burden will inevitably fall most heavily on  poor nations and the poorer citizens of richer nations.  Before that burden is placed on them, we must make sure that the pain is for a worthwhile end

 

3.  Is Global Warming a Bad Thing?

We are currently in an ice age, a relatively warm part of an ice called an interglacial phase, but an ice age nonetheless.  Most of the time, Earth is ice free.  Since this is the more normal state of the planet and one that does not coincide with mass extinctions, why the concern?

Part of it seems to be an almost paralyzing conservatism, a belief that our current state is optimal and any departure from it must be unpleasant at best and disastrous at worst.  To be sure, any change is likely to involve winners and losers.  Warming alarmists not only concentrate on the negative, but seem incapable of conceiving of any positive effects of change.

  1. Earlier, we saw Team Gore reduced to saying that hurricanes might get stronger.  What they did not provide was evidence that such strengthening was occurring.  Researchers at the University of Manchester argue that trying to tie storms to climate change is a “distraction.” )http://www.manchester.ac.uk/aboutus/news/display/?id=11794)

In terms of numbers of storms, a recent NOAA report finds the following:

Existing records of past Atlantic tropical storm numbers (1878 to present) in fact do show a pronounced upward trend…However, the density of reporting ship traffic over the Atlantic was relatively sparse during the early decades of this record, such that if storms from the modern era (post 1965) had hypothetically occurred during those earlier decades, a substantial number would likely not have been directly observed by the ship-based “observing network of opportunity.” We find that, after adjusting for such an estimated number of missing storms, there is a small nominally positive upward trend in tropical storm occurrence from 1878-2006. But statistical tests reveal that this trend is so small, relative to the variability in the series, that it is not significantly distinguishable from zero (Figure 2). Thus the historical tropical storm count record does not provide compelling evidence for a greenhouse warming induced long-term increase.  (http://www.gfdl.noaa.gov/historical-atlantic-hurricane-and-tropical-storm-records)

For the faithful, we have new studies of simulations assuring us that things will get worse (http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/07/05/1301293110.abstract?sid=9fb226fc-6f82-4b7a-8c91-6ce889da1b1a) but that is a hope for the future.  As yet, despite predictions of the last twenty years, we have no increase in numbers and no intensification of the storms that do occur.  And remember that so far, computer simulations have been consistently wrong.

  1. We are heading into tornado season, and if the past few years are any guide, each time one strikes there will be dire prognostications of increasing severity.  Statistics show, however, the severe tornadoes (F3 and above) have decreased by thirty per cent between 1954 and 2012. (http://www.aei-ideas.org/2013/11/an-inconvenient-fact-the-frequency-of-violent-tornadoes-like-the-ones-in-the-midwest-has-been-declining-not-increasing/)

Polar Bears.  One of the problems for eco-alarmists has been the fact that the Earth has been appreciably warmer in historical times.  The Vikings settled the tip of Greenland about the year 1000, which settlements lasted until about 1250 when increasing cold forced what appears to have been an orderly withdrawal.  Why weren’t polar bears and other flora and fauna at risk during those warmer years?  One plausible answer has been that this current warming period is happening too quickly for plants and animals to adjust by either changing their activities or extending their range.  In the case of polar bears, we have a story here about four drowned bears, there about a bear which apparently starved to death, ostensibly because lack of sea ice. (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/aug/06/starved-polar-bear-record-sea-ice-melt)

Against this however, we have data that the overall polar bear population has stayed steady and may even have increased by 5000.  (http://polarbearscience.com/2014/02/18/graphing-polar-bear-population-estimates-over-time/) One reason may be that polar bears can adjust their foraging strategies to deal with a lack of sea ice. (http://www.amnh.org/explore/news-blogs/research-posts/polar-bear-diet-changes-as-sea-ice-melts) And a 2006 survey which appeared to show a threatened bear population has now been invalidated. (http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/03/25/ooops-much-touted-2006-polar-bear-survey-used-by-esa-to-list-them-as-threatened-now-invalidated/)

Ocean acidification.

“Acidification,” in this instance, refers to the ocean which is alkaline, becoming slightly less alkaline.  That change in alkalinity may be deleterious to some sea corals.  It is clearly not deleterious to sea corals per se since “corals became common in the oceans during the Ordovician Era – nearly 500 million years ago – when atmospheric CO2 levels were about 10X greater than they are today.” http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/01/31/ocean-acidification-and-corals/

It seems that pH is changing in various parts of the ocean on a regular basis with little effect on the local sea life.  Some of these changes may well be beneficial “In a recent experiment in the Mediterranean, reported in Nature Climate Change, corals and mollusks were transplanted to lower pH sites, where they proved “able to calcify and grow at even faster than normal rates when exposed to the high [carbon-dioxide] levels projected for the next 300 years. (http://joannenova.com.au/2012/01/scripps-blockbuster-ocean-acidification-happens-all-the-time-naturally/)

 

4.  If Global Warming is a Bad Thing, is it worse than the alternatives?

Various strategies have been proposed to ameliorate the effects of global warming.  Not all are completely ineffective or economically devastating in their side effects.  Some, such as “greening” the inner city or painting roofs of warehouses white, are arguably desirable in and of themselves.

The main solutions, however, involve “reducing our carbon footprint.”   This is to be done by replacing carbon-based energy sources with cleaner alternatives.  Solar power, wind, and geo-thermal are the alternatives mentioned most prominently.  Each can make a contribution.  All taken together, however, they cannot come close to replacing oil and natural gas.  Furthermore, they are not economically competitive.  They cost more, and because energy is so basic, they make everything else cost more.

The United States is fortunate in having the example of several countries which gone further down this road than we have.  Spain has been a leader in promoting renewable energy sources, wind power in particular.  In the last three years, the economic costs have become unsupportable.  “Years of disastrous policies, coupled with the economic crisis, have recast renewable energy in Spain. Once touted as the embodiment of progress, wealth and sustainability, the industry is now seen as an unwanted and costly extravagance.”  (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/09/business/energy-environment/renewable-energy-in-spain-is-taking-a-beating.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0)

After the Fukushima reactor accident in March, 2011, Germany tried move away from nuclear energy without attempting to supplement with local carbon based sources.  Germany is finding this a crushing burden on its small and medium sized businesses.  (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-01-27/german-green-energy-push-bites-mittelstand-hand-that-feeds-gdp.html)

This is especially because it is unnecessary.  Research has come up with new designs for nuclear reactors which are impervious to melt down and would consume their own waste products.  (http://www.nature.com/news/nuclear-energy-radical-reactors-1.11957)  Small, modular reactors could be mass produced and shipped to site.  Not only would they be cheaper, the fact that there are more of them would help ruggedize the power grid.

However inaccurate the current global warming models, however unnecessary the panicked reactions which insist that there is no time for further debate, it is nonetheless reasonable to assume that we cannot continue pumping massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere indefinitely.  Nuclear energy is the only large scale alternative.  Some environmentalists have come around to this point of view, but most of the large environmental organizations, like Greenpeace, still resist the conclusion.

 

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About zmalfoy

Z. Malfoy is a practicing Catholic-with-an-"interesting"-past. She earned her Bachelor's Degree in Music Education (Spec. Voice) from Loyola University New Orleans, and has since taken a few business courses to expand her knowledge base. In her free time, she studies belly-dance, alchemy, theology, and various skills related to self-sufficiency. She also enjoys reading science fiction, refreshing her French, and watching anime. She recently started with learning Krav Maga and Russian.
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19 Responses to Adventures in Science! 0.5– A Letter from BobMalfoy to His Son [Guestpost by BobMalfoy]

  1. Nice job, Bob! Also, this… The hockey stick plot would be worrisome if it weren’t a lie.
    http://iowahawk.typepad.com/iowahawk/2009/12/fables-of-the-reconstruction.html

  2. “Mann does not respond well to criticism.” *snork!* That’s really all you need to know about this particular blow-hard.

  3. barnslayer says:

    Facts are hateful and racist and they abuse women.

  4. Most people approach this as one question.  I consider it four more or less independent questions: 
    i) Why do we believe in global warming?
    ii) If global warming is real, is it man-made? 
    iii) If it is man-made, is it, on the whole, a Bad Thing?
    iv) If it is a Bad Thing, is it worse than the proposed cures?

    An excellent and logical approach to AGW hysteria.

    • zmalfoy says:

      Yup– even without futzing about with some of the really crappy science involved, Dad goes to the heart of the logical arguments that need to be made, even if the science is valid. I haven’t seen this approach much, which is why I asked him if I could post this. .

  5. zmalfoy says:

    A vid for your interest:

  6. ZurichMike says:

    Finally got around to reading this after my long business travels. Well done, Bob! Hey, ZMalfoy — does your dad blog, too? I think he should send this to some paper as a longer guest editorial. Please tell him to continue writing — he has a nice way about presenting information.

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