Monday, August 3, 2015

More Proof Some People Shouldn't Be Writing Articles On Global Warming

In a number of previous posts I've noted that some journalists, while they may be fair to middling at politics or general affairs, need to steer clear of writing on global warming, the greenhouse effect or climate change in general.  This lot includes George Will of the WaPo group, Debra Saunders of the SF Chronicle and Holman Jenkins of the Wall Street Journal. None of this lot, as well as others listed from time to time, appears to know a thing on the key scientific issues to do with global warming.

Now add to that another member of the WSJ propagandists' stable, John Steele Gordon ('The Unsettling Anti -Science Certitude on Global Warming').  His main complaint-  though he also has questions that he puts forward- which I will get to - seems to be that climate scientists have adopted a position of "certainty" and claim the science is 100 percent "settled".

In his words:

"To say we have it all wrapped up is itself a form of denial. The essence of scientific inquiry is that there is always more to learn."

First, no serious climate scientist claims we "have it all wrapped up".  Science, which too many believe is based on "proof", is actually much more subtle in its evidentiary approaches - so we leave "proof" to the rarefied areas of advanced math. In empirical science we instead apply quality assurance (QA) criteria to the evidence available for particular hypotheses. Thus, it is more practical to consider criteria of adequacy, and whether data meet these criteria. For example, a leading global warming hypothesis is that warming has never occurred when the CO2 concentration is below 200 parts per million (ppm). Similarly, cooling has never occurred when it exceeds 200 ppm. Both of these have been found to hold as noted by Gale Christianson ('Greenhouse')

In this way, the relative merit of a scientific finding can be adduced based on standards similar to those employed in industrial quality control. If certain minimal criteria or standards are not met, then the finding is regarded with skepticism or rejected outright. So far none of the minimal criteria or standards for the primary hypotheses have been found unmet in the case of global warming.

Indeed, as recent CO2 concentrations have been found to be increasing at a rate of 2 ppm/ yr, Earth temperatures have never been hotter, e.g.

Gordon's statement concerning scientific inquiry, i.e. "always seeking to learn more", is true, of course, but that doesn't mean all directed inquiry remains open ended in respect of never arriving at probabilities or relatively high QA conclusions. As noted earlier, if high QA evidence is at hand then consistency means high QA conclusions are forthcoming. This is the  case with global warming but that doesn't mean we have it "all wrapped up".

I've already noted, for example (March 27, 2012), the peculiar anomalies associated with albedo (degree of surface reflectivity).. I noted Earth’s albedo increased from 2000 to 2004 but that this had NOT led to a reversal in global warming as expected. In other words, the data mismatch indicated a "loose string" in the theory - BUT not a deal breaker. Indeed, I cited a paper: 'Can Earth’s Albedo and Surface Temperature Increase Together’ (Eos Transactions , Vol. 87, No. 4, p. 37 ) wherein the authors cited (to then) the most up to date cloud data from the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP). The data – from a range of meteorological satellites covering the entire Earth- disclosed the most likely reason for the anomaly was primarily in the redistribution of the clouds. This led the authors to write (ibid.):

"whereas low clouds have decreased during the most recent years, high clouds have increased to a larger extent leading to both an increase in cloud amount AND an increased trapping of infrared radiation.”

Still we regard it as an area of open inquiry, but no deal breaker in the sense of blowing up a global warming consensus that: 1) The Earth is getting hotter, 2) This is due to increasing CO2 in the atmosphere, and 3) If it continues then we may reach the runaway greenhouse effect (see Venus for an example at work)

Afterward,  Gordon then digresses  for several paragraphs, examining Newtonian gravitation and how it had to retreat with the discovery of Mercury's advancing perihelion. He claims that with the Einstein general relativity equations "the planet turned out to be exactly where Einstein said it would be"  - but this is misleading.

The equation was not one of the planet's pre-determined position, as from celestial mechanics, but rather of computing:

e = [24 (p)3 a2]/ T2 c2 [1 - e2]

e is the advance (or rotation) of the perihelion in seconds of arc, T is the period of revolution in seconds, c the velocity of light and e the eccentricity of the orbit. Einstein, on page 164 of the paper  ‘On the Influence of Gravitation on the Propagation of Light’,, asserts that for Mercury e= 43 seconds per century. Readers interested in this calculation and related ones can go to:

Alas, what Gordon didn't say is that despite the Newtonian failure to predict the advance of Mercury's perihelion, we still use Newtonian gravitational theory in standard celestial mechanics, i.e to obtain planetary positions or to compute the trajectory needed for a spacecraft to reach Pluto, for example.

Gordon then proclaims:

"Climate science today is a veritable cornucopia of unanswered questions" - which is simply not true. There are some unanswered questions (I noted the albedo and cloud issue earlier) but they don't amount to a "cornucopia" by any means. Some of the questions he lists include:

1) Why did the warming trend between 1978 and 1998 cease though computer models predicted steady warming?

Ans. Standard temperatures had not as yet been normalized to a defined altitude, e.g. troposphere, and measured consistently from the same positions using satellites. For more on this go to:

2) How sensitive is the climate to increased carbon dioxide levels?

Based on ice cores and other analyses predictions have been validated that for every 2 ppm increase in CO2  concentration there is a corresponding 2 W/m2 increase in solar insolation. That is, the latter has been increasing now for at least ten years past the base insolation 1360 W/m2. This is the amount of effective radiation in watts delivered per square meter.

3) What feedback mechanisms are there that would increase or decrease that sensitivity?

The primary mechanism to increase sensitivity is a positive albedo feedback - driving us toward the runaway greenhouse. This was described by  Sagan in his essay, 'Ambush : The Warming of the World', in his book 'Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Beginning of the Millennium' :

"Melting of ice caps (already occurring) results in diminished albedo (reflection of solar radiation back into space), and a darker Earth surface - with more infrared radiation absorbed - reinforcing the tendency while enhancing the melting effect, leading to further darkening of the surface, reduced albedo and more melting."

This mode of positive feedback is what we're faced with in the melting of the Arctic.

A negative feedback to decrease sensitivity would be any accumulation of particulates in the atmosphere which would increase global dimming  -and thus mask the warming. The mechanism isn't difficult to understand: The particulate pollution reflects sunlight back into space, preventing it reaching the surface. But the pollution also changes the optical properties of clouds, most often in the lower atmosphere. Because the particles seed the formation of water droplets, polluted clouds contain a larger number of droplets than unpolluted clouds. Recent research shows that this makes them more reflective than they would otherwise be, again reflecting the Sun's rays back into space, via a spurious albedo effect, i.e. which reduces warming by reflecting more infrared radiation.

4) Why did episodes of high carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere earlier in Earth's history have temperature levels above and below the average?

In fact, CO2 levels when high never manifested "below average" temperatures, however fluctuations of CO2 levels (i.e. above and below the critical threshold of 200 ppm) would have, given when less than the threshold there'd be below average temperatures and when higher than the threshold there'd be above average temperatures.   This is further confirmed once the 200ppm was passed the last time and concentrations have risen since the Industrial Revolution in tandem with the enhanced radiocarbon C14 over C12  noted by John Eddy, e.g.

As Eddy noted: The sharp upward spike at the modern end of the curve, representing a marked drop in relative radiocarbon, is generally attributed to anthropogenic causes—the mark of increased population and the Industrial Age.

Thus, what we're seeing now with the C14:C12 ratio obviates any problems or issues with past variations, especially when the CO2 concentrations went above and below 200 ppm.

After his "cornucopia" of four questions, Gordon brings up the great email flap and avers "the communications showed that whatever the emailers were engaged in it was not the disinterested pursuit of science."

Well, not really. As I noted after the climategate fiasco exploded, e.g.:

"The warp and woof that the data  trends disclose enticed Myles Allen of Oxford University to publicly comment (Financial Times, July 29, 2010) that it was clear from the accumulated work of climate scientists that human-engendered greenhouse gases were the problem. In his words (ibid.):

"Climategate never really brought climate science into question at all."

So that Gordon's complaint is basically irrelevant.  Well, the major transgression of the emailers was "groupthink" in the words of the FT's Christopher Caldwell at the time. I translate that more accurately into circling the wagons against know nothing Huns.    No scientist I know of has any problems defending his or her work against the scrutiny of PEERS. However, vs. ignorant laymen with an agenda - decidedly political, it's a different matter. Defense then comes to the fore.  For one thing, what quality can be assured by ignorant scrutiny when it's driven by political or economic imperatives?

Even Gordon admits that's a major concern of his when he writes at the end:

"If anthropogenic climate change is a reality then that would be a huge problem only the government could deal with. It would be a heaven sent opportunity for the left to vastly increase government control over the economy"

So there we have it at last in a nutshell. Forget all the "anti-science" blather, bullshit and PR malarkey. Gordon in his heart of hearts knows the facts are there, knows climate change is real - as real as the glaciers now cracking and melting in the Arctic- and he's petrified it would mean economic action by the government. THAT is what has his panties in a twist, not the "cornucopia of questions" supposedly buzzing in his brain.

In like manner all the other objections by the Right and its think tanks fall under the same perverted purview. Mount pseudo-scientific, PR attacks against the global warming hypothesis to try to make enough dummies reject it and thereby prevent any meddling in the oil-based economy, even if we dig every last barrel up out of the ground - which will surely kill us and convert the Earth to another Venus.

See also:

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