Monday, March 21, 2011

The climate change debate

If you've just scoffed at the title of this post, rolled your eyes and thought to yourself "what debate?" then you probably feel the same way that I felt a few years ago. I used to believe the theory of Anthropogenic Climate Change (ACC), but like many of the other issues I've posted to this blog, I am questioning this one too.

I will be the first to tell you that I have no scientific background, but I have come across enough alternative views on the subject over the past couple of years to make me pause for thought. I've also come to the realisation that I had never really questioned the science behind ACC theory — I just figured that the pollution emitted by man must be having some sort of negative effect on the Earth, and weather does seem to be getting worse these days, and we are told time and again the majority of scientists agree with ACC, and the conservative right, oil & gas corporations, and other nasty corporate interests are all against the idea of ACC, therefore the ACC theory must be correct.   But if you've read some of my previous posts you will know by now my opinion of the MSM, government and the left/right paradigm...

Some of the issues I have with AGW/ACC are the following:
  • It assumes that mathematical models are an accurate picture of the future
  • It is a theory based on data from a very small piece of our planet's climate history
  • I take issue with the argument that ACC must be true because "the majority of scientists" believe it
  • Simply questioning or showing any bit of skepticism towards any part of the larger ACC debate automatically makes one a "Climate Change Denier"
  • I also believe that there were some troubling discoveries within those University of East Anglia (UEA) emails which got leaked to the public, although you wouldn't know it by the MSM's coverage of the story... 
  • Not to mention the unsettling fact that the UEA’s Climatic Research Unit has actually dumped much of the raw data on which their theories are based, so one would have a very hard time gathering the data in an attempt to verify their conclusions.
I'll get into some of these issues and more below:

    Predicting the future

    The ACC theory relies a lot modeled and projected data.  Yes, we may be able to extrapolate an educated guess based on past data, but even science cannot predict the future.  Climate is an extremely complex and unpredictable beast.  Meteorologists can't predict next year's weather, let alone accurately predict tomorrow's weather, so how is it we can claim to know what will happen decades or centuries down the road, even if we look at data from the past?

    ACC science also takes data from very different sources and tries to make a larger coherent picture from those disparate sources.  For example, in one part of the world we may only have ice core samples, in another part we might only have tree ring data, in another sea-levels, etc.  Apparently there are also weather stations  that are situated in questionable places such as in a parking lot surrounded by asphalt or beside an air conditioner outtake vent.  Over time, some stations used to collect climate data have gone from being located in rural/suburban environments, only to see cities slowly built around them, so one would only expect these weather stations to show a recent increase in temperature.  This does not mean that the overall temperature of the Earth is increasing, just that the mean temperature of the weather station's immediate environment has increased.  In addition, asphalt holds a lot more heat than a field of grass and this is why major cities tend to have higher temperatures than outlying areas — it's called the urban heat island effect and it has nothing to do with CO2.

    "4 out 5 scientists agree..."

    Scientists are not superhuman and they are not immune to the biases, emotions and external influences to which the rest of us humans are subject. (Might I suggest reading the biography The Double Helix as an example?)  Scientists are not completely and utterly objective beings, as much as they might honestly try to be.  No single human can know the whole truth about anything; we can only see things from our own singular viewpoint which will be shaped by a vast number of variables, such as our familial, cultural and spiritual upbringing, as well as the myriad of peoples and viewpoints we've come across over our lifetimes.   Scientists are no different.  We humans are also prone to these pesky, almost autonomic, confirmation biases and we like to protect and defend our own personal viewpoints; scientists are no different.

    I can only imagine spending a lifetime coming up with a scientific theory that truly seems to make sense, earning accolades from one's peers, only to find someone else who comes along and provides evidence which challenges that viewpoint.  Scientists are not immune to bruised egos and it can take them some time to admit when they are wrong (just ask Galileo!)

    Another thing to consider is that most if not all scientific studies done on a large scale require funding and, just like politics.  Remember, most money comes from CLOGs and CLOGs are not interested in the greater good; they are not interested in the prosperity of humans outside of their corporation; they are interested in the bottom line.  The corporations who back scientific study are no different.

    By now you might be asking: "But how could you believe that so many scientists could be wrong?" Well, first of all, the "vast majority of scientists" who supposedly "agree" with the ACC theories have not actually gathered and tested the data for themselves, they are basing their opinions on the journals and papers of their peers. Even those directly involved in gathering and studying various data — ice cores, weather patterns, melting glaciers, tree-ring data — were simply responsible for their piece of the puzzle; it is only a small group who are involved in putting these pieces together into the larger ACC framework and its predictive models.  And when some of the scientists in that group are caught talking about "hiding" data and preventing peers with contrary theories from being published in peer-reviewed journals I feel less likely to believe their conclusions.

    Personally, after having watched An Inconvenient Truth, I must say that the arguments sounded quite convincing to me, and they were coming from a well spoken left-wing politician, but I realise now that this did not mean the arguments were valid or accurate. The fact is, some of the more persuasive data presented in Gore's presentation (the famous hockey stick graph and the dual graph showing the Earth's average temperature versus the Earth's CO2 levels) has since been argued to be faulty and/or misrepresented. (I found this article on the hockey stick graph from the New Scientist to be very interesting - even though it is actually supposed to debunk the claim that the hockey stick graph is unreliable, it also states: "It is true that there are big uncertainties about the accuracy of all past temperature reconstructions, and that these uncertainties have sometimes been ignored or glossed over by those who have presented the hockey stick as evidence for global warming," and that "further back in the past, though, it certainly has been hotter - and the world has been a very different place." (...Wait. What?  Do yourself the favour of reading that again.)

    Then, of course, there were the "Climategate" emails, and while I have read the explanations given by the IPCC suggesting how these emails were "misinterpreted", I must admit that their explanations don't sound very convincing.  Then in Jan 2010 it was reported that a scientist who included assertions that Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035 — in a Nobel Prize-winning UN report no less — later admitted that this information was fabricated and was included "purely to put political pressure on world leaders".  And keep in mind this was a Nobel Prize-winning report, and I bet you would have thought, as I had, that in order to win such a prestigious award the report must have been thoroughly checked by other scientists... (Just like how other scientists must be thoroughly evaluating the overall ACC theory, right?...)

    One also shouldn't ignore that the scientific community has a history of blackballing scientists who dare bring up a view outside of the status quo, even in the present day. (For examples of this you might consider watching the documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed by Ben Stein; regardless of where you sit on the evolution/intelligent design debate, the film gives examples of scientists/professors, who didn't even necessarily believe in intelligent design, but dared to postulate on it in published papers, and suddenly found themselves blacklisted as a result.)  And let's also not forget the lessons of the Asch conformity experiment which showed that, when outnumbered, people will tend to agree with the group even if their senses are telling them that the group is wrong.  We tend to think they are emotionally removed, and completely objective beings, but scientists are human beings just like the rest of us.

    Is the world warming?

    I don't know because I haven't seen all the data for myself, nor can I comment on the algorithms used to produce the various climate graphs out there.  However, I do believe that the answer to that question really relies on how far you want to go back.

    If we look at the last hundred years, or even thousand years, the temperature could very well have increased incrementally, but if we look back over hundreds of thousands, or even millions of years, we might actually see that this century happens to be a small upward trend that is part of a much larger downward trend, or even in a steadily fluctuating trend.  The problem is that we humans have only been on this planet for about 200,000 years and yet the Earth itself is estimated at 4.55 billion (4,550,000,000) years — at least, this is the current archaeological consensus (and, yes, I totally see the irony of citing the "consensus" on the issue, but I'm no archaeologist and have not seen very credible refutations of this, so I'll have to take it for granted...for now....). So if we were to take the preceding figures for granted (and I assume ACC proponents would, since they tend to hold scientific consensus in such high regard), we humans have only been on the Earth for just over 0.004% of its history; we also only have relatively reliable climate data going back to the mid-1800s (let's say for the last 200 yrs to be safe) — so when it comes to arguably reliable climate data we are down to just 0.000004% of the Earth's history (if my math is correct, which is most certainly might not be, but the point is: It is a very small percentage!)  Not only that, but the mid-1800s also also happens to be when the Earth was starting to come out of the coldest period it had experienced in a millennia, known as the Little Ice Age.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, it would seem to me that announcing almost certain catastrophic, climate-related disasters, based on but a sliver of the Earth's overall climate history doesn't seem to be very wise or logical.  Predicting the future based on data from the past, data which is not completely verifiable, also makes me uneasy. 

    So when a right-wing repeater living in Virginia looks out her window on an April morning only to see inches of snow in her driveway and says: "Where is your 'Global Warming' now, huh?  A lot of icebergs must be melting today!", AGW proponents will rightfully point-out to such a person that you can't dispute a theory of incremental global warming just because you have one crazy winter or an especially mild summer — AGW proponents will be the first to tell you that a small downward trend in temperature doesn't cancel out the larger overall upward trend.  So on the same token, I hope that those who believe AGW understand that the exact same thing can be said about the theory that a recent upswing in temperature must mean that the planet is forever going to get warmer if we humans don't do something about it.
    There are also questions surrounding other possible causes for GW, such as solar activity.  Did you know that the ice caps on Mars have also been receding?  This is not information to take lightly given that we know humans are not affecting the climate on Mars.

    So is the world even warming?  It could be.  IMO, the bigger question is: If it is warming, is this truly a part of a larger trend? And even if it is part of a larger trend, are humans the cause?  I'm not convinced that ice cores, tree rings nor climate data from 0.000004% of Earth's history can ever tell us that.

    Denier, denier; pants on fire

    The label "Climate Change Denier" is also troublesome. As pointed out in what I consider to be a very thought provoking interview of Warren Meyer of by Stefan Molyneux of Freedomain Radio, to call someone a "denier" is to call them someone who ignores an irrefutable truth; therefore to give someone the label "climate change denier" is to relegate their belief to being unworthy of even being part of the debate, right from the get-go.  Warren makes the point that "denier" is such a strong word which evokes Holocaust denial.  If you think about it, the word "denier" is rarely applied to any other group of people, no matter how contrary their views might be — for example, you don't hear Americans calling Cubans "Capitalism Deniers" or religious leaders calling atheists "God deniers", or Christians calling Jews "Christ Deniers" and people who don't believe the official version of the JFK assassination aren't branded "Lee Harvey Oswald Deniers", so why such strong words regarding Climate Change?  This type of language hardly helps the image we are given that ACC proponents are a bunch of level-headed, emotionally removed and logic/fact based individuals.  And as Stefan points out in the interview, when it comes to ACC theory "skepticism is treated as unscientific, when the scientific method is actually predicated on the rigorous application of skepticism."

    As Meyer also states in the video "I don't mind being labelled a 'denier' as long as you are clear on what it is that I am denying."  Meyer says that he doesn't deny that climate change is occurring, he doesn't even dismiss that man-made CO2 emissions are playing a part, but he does debate to what degree man-made CO2 emissions actually play a part in this change (which I found to be yet another interesting angle on the debate!) and yet he is still labelled a "denier" by some.

    And I haven't even touched upon alternate theories for why the Earth might be warming, or why the water levels might be rising, etc... Some argue that the increases in temperature have much more to do with solar activity.  Others say that the reason why water levels are rising in certain parts of the Earth, but not others, as well as the increase in earthquakes and tsunamis is due to a phenomena known as post-glacial rebound.

    So what if the ACC theory is wrong?  Reducing emissions is a good thing, right?

    In my many discussions via the web on the ACC debate one invariably comes across a comment such as: "So what if we're wrong?  At least in working towards reducing CO2 emissions we will have reduced our emission of pollutants overall, reduced our dependence on fossil fuels — thereby reducing environmental catastrophes that go along with the oil and gas industry — and we will have increased investment in alternative energies, reduced environmental damage, (etc...)"

    I wholeheartedly agree that we need to get away from fossil fuels; I don't think that drilling into the earth and draining it of a substance that took millions of years to create is a good thing.  I think the recurring spills into the world's waters are devastating.  I also believe that the pollutants we spew into our air and which leach into the ground are detrimental, to say the very least.  And let's not forget the terrible toll that such things as drilling and mining take on our environment, let alone the toll it takes on the people employed to extract this stuff from the earth.  Then there are all of the wars fought over these substances, not to mention the West's history of meddling in the affairs of countries who have a large cache of them. However, what also worries me is the world focusing the bulk of it's energies towards CO2 specifically.

    IMO, accepting that rises in CO2 is causing warming of the Earth when this may not be the case is dangerous for a couple of reasons: A) It could cause a whole whack of money and resources to be put towards a relatively minor or possibly non-existent problem instead of being put towards serious, long-term and ongoing issues affecting humanity, such as the toxic effects of pollution, our ever-growing waste management issues, lack of clean drinking water, child poverty, third-world hunger, animal and plant extinction, etc... B.) The main "solution" being pushed by CLOGs right now is the Cap and Trade scheme; capping emissions/imposing penalties on those who emit CO2 could cause developing nations to be unable to pull themselves out of third-world status.  It seems kind of hypocritical for us in the West to say: "Yeah, well, we were wrong to rape and pillage the environment around the world for centuries in the name of industry and human progress, but now that we've reaped the rewards we realise just how wrong this was, so, sorry guys, but you won't be able to reap those same rewards.  Sucks to be you..."

    I think when asking ourselves "what is the harm in believing in anthropogenic global warming?" the questions we should also be asking ourselves are: What solutions are being offered by CLOGs around the world? Who is to gain from these solutions?  And how might it negatively affect the world if we're actually wrong about ACC and/or it's cause?

    So if ACC is wrong, then why is there such a push towards the ACC theory?  

    This is another great question to which I do not know the answer.

    There are certainly those who think this is part of the larger New World Order (NWO) plot — that there is a global plot, run by a small elite group of bankers and wealthy families, with plans to bankrupt the world and/or reduce the world's population — and that the ACC theory is the perfect way to get the world's citizens to voluntarily have less children (since larger families = a larger carbon footprint), but to also be able to subject them to carbon taxes and fines without much fuss  because it is all being done for "the greater good".

    Certainly I hope this is not some sort of premeditated plot to pull some fast one on the world's population by playing their fears about planetary catastrophe, although I wouldn't put it past CLOGs to use fear to swindle us in to accepting things we wouldn't otherwise accept.  On the other hand, my main problem with accepting the NWO theory is: If you were making up ACC in order to swindle the planet, how could you possibly insure that the climate would get hotter/more severe as time went on?  ...Well, some would say that the PTB know of the effect of the sunspot activity on the planet and that it was predicted that this activity would be slowly increasing, thereby insuring an increase in temperature.  There are also those who theorise that HAARP and/or chemtrails are being used to artificially warm-up our atmosphere and/or to affect the weather.  I don't have enough knowledge of physics, astro-physics or chemistry to either validate or dismiss any of these theories.

    However, I wonder if it's a less nefarious and complex situation; I wonder if proponents of ACC, like Gore for example, honestly believed in the ACC theory and the data supporting it. We have to remember that someone like Gore is not a scientist himself and so he has to rely upon and emphatically trust the information given to him by the scientists he works with.  But what if down the road — after convincing so many people of his theories, accumulating investors, and helping to bring about environmental legislation around the world — it was discovered that the scientists made errors, or had some faulty data or data which they misinterpreted, or that some scientists purposefully skewed data to appease the theories of Gore et al?  When so much money is resting on these theories, do you just keep going along and hope for the best, consoling oneself with the "So what if we're wrong? At least we've reduced our emission of pollutants, reduced our dependence on fossil fuels..." mantra?

    And how hard would it be really, to keep us guessing?  As an example, I saw this Huffington Post article about how melting see ice is causing "tens of thousands" of walruses to be "forced ashore".  I mean, I'm no Alaskan walrus expert, but how do I know that there wasn't some explosion in their population this year?  How do I know that this isn't a regular migration ritual?  How do I know that there wasn't some other event which caused them to migrate to waters they don't normally migrate to? How do I know if this is even occurring at all if, as the article states, the area has been declared a no-fly zone so as not to "spook" the walruses? (I have to admit, it reminded me of what BP did to reporters trying to get shots of the Gulf spill...)  Then the article ends with the statement: "According to National Geographic, this is the first time this many walruses have taken to the beach in this particular area, though similar incidents have occurred in other parts of Alaska and Russia in years past."  You can take this two ways:  Either they are saying "well, this has happened before, this is just the first time that it happened in this part of Alaska" or they are saying "in just the past few years we've seen this occur in other parts of Alaska and Russia!"  The article leaves out crucial information such as just what they are talking about when they say "years past" — are they saying in recent years or do we have records of it happening decades/centuries ago?  Is this a recent change, or is this part of a cycle?  How far back do records of walrus behaviour in the area go?  What do the native peoples of those lands have to say about it?  Do the elders of their communities have any similar stories from the past?

    Without asking ourselves such questions, I worry that most people seeing this story will simply remember "melting sea ice causes walruses to crowd onto land and crush each other", i.e. "global warming caused walruses to die", especially if they don't read past the headline, which most people won't. (I suggest checking-out this article from the humour magazine Cracked titled 6 Subtle Ways The News Media Disguises Bullshit As Fact for more examples of how the MSM skews and misrepresents info in this manner.)

    Since it also seems that the world is going to start acting on ACC, then I truly hope that the majority of scientists are correct about their assertion.  It seems to me that there is almost as much risk in following through on solutions to CO2-created climate change than there is in doing nothing.  I worry that working on CO2 is too narrow a focus and it seems to me that is treats the product of industrialisation as the problem, while ignoring the bigger questions about industrialisation itself.  It ignores our exhaustive quest for profit and expansion in the name of "progress".  Why don't we ask ourselves if we should build that 1000th condominium complex, or if we need a factory pumping out electronics which will be made obsolete in 2 years, or if we need to make plastic toys that our kids are going to get bored of in a week (and maybe even get sick from), rather than asking ourselves how we can continue to do all of these things whilst reducing CO2?  IMO, unfettered industrialisation is the problem and it doesn't simply affect the climate.  And whether or not some sort of major catastrophe is coming in the near future, or centuries from now, if we continue down this same path we will eventually make this Earth uninhabitable for many species, including our own.

    My uneducated and subjective opinion, for what it's worth (which is not much!)

    So in the end, what do I believe?  Well, given I have not personally seen or analysed the original data for myself (and, let's face it, even if I could get my hands on them, I wouldn't know the first thing to do with them), you should take the following opinion with a gain of salt the size of a basketball:

    I admit that there are issues that trouble me about those who are involved in publicly questioning or refuting ACC theory: There is certainly the fact that the vast majority I have come across are not scientists themselves.  Then there's the fact that the anti-ACC viewpoint is lauded by many so-called right-wingers who really have not studied the issue, but simply make the point of disagreeing with any theory that "lefty environmentalists" endorse, especially if it leads to policies that place "socialist" restrictions on corporations.  Conversely — and I say this having been one myself — I feel that there are many self-described left-wingers who agree with ACC theory without question just because it makes sense and/or they can see no reason how a bunch of scientists could be wrong. Unfortunately when the majority of people play the left-wing/right-wing game there are certain bandwagons onto which either side will automatically jump, whether they have truly investigated the issue for themselves or not. 

    I do not deny that the weather seems to be getting more and more severe and unpredictable, but I also acknowledge that I have no way to know this and that I am basing my opinions on the 3+ decades that I have been on this Earth (and the majority of those years spent solely listening to and trusting the MSM) which are but grains of sand on a beach when compared to the history of our planet.   I have not been keeping track of mean temperatures over my lifetime, and let's face it, the CLOGs, including those who run our education system, have been repeating the ACC mantra for quite some time, and if you repeat something enough, people tend to believe it. And it does seem that one hears much more about different natural disasters around the world these days, but I also realise that the media might simply be reporting on disasters more than they used to, particularly in parts of the world where climate activity would have been hard to come by prior to our interconnected on-line world and the capabilities of radar and other satellite-based diagnostic tools.  One also cannot deny the effect of 24 hour news stations on public opinion — what has been termed by some as the "CNN Effect".  Images of desecrated forests, crumbling icebergs plunging into the water, "stranded" polar bears, oil covered sea birds, and the aforementioned beaches crowded with walruses, make the people demand action, and so the government is forced to provide us a solution.  It doesn't mean the representatives of government actually believes in the issue, it just means that they want you to believe that they believe in the same things that you do.  And as I discussed in my post about the effectiveness public demonstrations, I wouldn't put it passed the CLOGs to subvert a cause which is close to the hearts of its populace to their own ends.

    The fact is, ACC theory rings a lot of bells in my skeptical brain; bells which I find hard to ignore.  Who knows, maybe I'll come across more information which will swing me back to the ACC side (if I do, you can be sure I'll make a new post about it!) And surely, if I'm lucky enough to live another half century or more, I might actually get to see for myself how these projected catastrophes pan out, because regardless of the ACC theory, I have my doubts that enough actions will be taken by the CLOGs of the world to prevent these projected catastrophes anyway.

    It's going to be an interesting ride, to say the least.

    Don't just take it from me...

    Please believe me when I say that I have been working on this post since July and then I came across this video posted to YouTube by James Corbett of the Corbett Report in November.  I must admit I was quite proud to find out that an MIT Professor of Meteorology and former IPCC report lead author echoed many of the statements I've made above.  Then my heart sank when I realised people might just assume I stole my opinions from this video.  You would be right to be skeptical, but I assure you this was pure happenstance.

    In the abovementioned video, Professor Richard S. Lindzen discusses what is actually confirmed by science when it comes to climate versus the conjecture made by climate models.  He states that there is no disputing that climate changes and that the greenhouse effect exists, and there is no disputing that humans have had some contribution to the climate, but he also states that scientists don't know to what level this human effect really has on climate.  He also states that the current models greatly exaggerate the effects of climate's sensitivity to human activity and that there is no evidence to suggest that we are facing a global warming catastrophe in the near future if such human activity was to continue.  He also talks about the interests vested in the global catastrophe scenario and how the environmental movement like to jump on such scary scenarios in order to push action on the issue.

    And I'm sure there are those who will argue "Yeah, but Lindzen is just one scientist..."  Fair enough, but as Gandhi once put so very eloquently: "Even if I am a minority of one, truth is still the truth".

    For those who want to further investigate some ACC theory counter arguments

    For anyone wishing to further investigate the problems with and counter-arguments to ACC theory I would suggest the following videos as a starting point (including some of the videos already mentioned above):

    • The BBC documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle - 1:15:56 (After you watch this, keep in mind that there have been many critiques of this documentary and so for the sake of balance you should also google "The Great Global Warming Swindle debunked" and go from there.)
    • The Freedomain Radio Interview with Warren Meyer mentioned above - 1:11:08
    • Warren Meyer's video What is Normal? A Critique of Catastrophic Man-Made Global Warming Theory - 54:34
    • This presentation by Australian professor and geologist Bob Carter.  - 36:25
    • This article written by Nigel Calder, a former editor of New Scientist, where he talks about the politicization of the ACC issue and how it stifled research that countered ACC theory.  He also speaks to how evidence counter to ACC theory doesn't get discussed in the public arena (such as how the Artic sea ice has diminished and yet Antarctic ice has actually increased, as well as the effects of the solar activity on climate.)
    • This article by magician, professional skeptic and proponent of critical thinking James Randi.  Much like Warren Meyer, he doesn't deny that scientific data indicates a recent increase in global temperature, but he does question the "certainties" proposed by ACC theory.  As a result of the response to that article he wrote this follow-up article titled "I'm not 'denying' anything" where he admits, like myself, that he is no expert, and posts some of the critiques of his previous article.
    • James Corbett of the Corbett Report also does a great analysis of the UEA email leak in his video titled Climategate: 1 year later - 12:47
    • And if you're curious to read the East Anglia emails, an individual took it upon themselves to catalogue them on the website And for those who like MSM sources on the issue, here are a couple of articles from the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. 

      1 comment:

      1. Hey she's back! Great does seem unfair that people such as yourself (and myself too) who are willing to accept the idea of climate change without declaring it fact are "deniers". There's a lot of evidence but not enough to declare anything a certainty. Unfortunately it's unsatisfying to look at everything and then say maybe....doesn't make for as good of a story.

        At the end of the day it's a little frustrating because proponents of climate change can't lose. If the world is getting warmer they can point at it and say "told you so". If it doesn't they can say "thank God we warned you in time!" It's an extremely safe bandwagon to jump on.

        Well regardless of the truth of it, I'm pro life continuing to exist on the planet, so as long as that is accomplished I figure we're doing all right.

        I do think that finding a reasonable energy alternative to fossil fuels will be a big step up from where we are now. It might not change any big picture events but perhaps it will make it easier to breathe on a summer afternoon. Could also stop a lot of violence and profiteering in oil-rich countries. However, don't mess with my toys :D