Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ten Answers for Marty Nemko

In the Mensa Bulletin of March, p.28, Marty Nemko asked ten questions of “climate change alarmists” . Below I answer each in turn, since it appears the piece was only intended facetiously and no real answers were expected (at least to be published, according to the Bulletin editors!)

1. Does sufficient evidence exist that global warming will increase enough in the next century to justify the enormous financial and human costs?
Sufficient evidence does exist that global warming will increase enough in the coming century to wreak havoc on many scales, from massive crop failures associated with drought, to the spread of exotic diseases (e.g. dengue fever, Rift Fever, cholera, malaria etc.) scarcely seen in temperate climates.

Prognostications from the Global Climate Modeling (GCM) project disclose a projected increase in Arctic surface temperature over the next century.of five degrees Celsius. This is a critical threshold, especially as the Arctic is our “icebox” – if it “defrosts” the whole planet is in for it. In addition, as the late Carl Sagan has pointed out (see his essay, 'Ambush - the Warming of the World', p. 98, in Billions and Billions, Random House, 1997) the threshold for unstoppable warming change is 6 Celsius.

It is also a mistake to assume there must inevitably be massive costs and sacrifice to rectify global warming. I suggest getting hold of The Wall Street Journal, April 8, the Op-Ed page for the article ‘Climate Change Opportunity’ by Fred Krupp. Krupp notes that “Solving global warming will be an added cost – but a bargain compared to the economic costs of unchecked climate change. And fixing this problem will create an historic economic opportunity”

Krupp even goes so far as to say that whoever solves the problem to find suitable sources of clean energy will make a “megafortune”. Indeed, Europe has already shown the way to green profits in many respects. The trick is to get on board sooner than later, because the longer the delay the greater the inevitable costs for transfer in the end. .

2. If global warming is substantially man-made, why have CO2 concentrations increased in the last decade, yet the average global temperature hasn’t?
In terms of CO2 accumulation and its relation to temperature, there is inevitably a time lag between CO2 buildup and measurable temperature increases. Thus, a buildup of 30-40 ppm of C)2 in a decade would not translate immediately into a temperature signal that can be measured.

Despite that, a report entitled: ‘Warm Oceans Raise Land Temperatures’, appearing in Eos Transactions, Vol. 87., No. 19, 19 May 2006, noted:

It is recognized that land temperatures in recent years have consistently been above normal with indications that 2005 was the warmest year for globally averaged temperatures within the instrumental record.”
3. In assessing certain whether global warming is occurring why does Al Gore cherry-pick certain regions, for example focusing more on the Arctic than the Antarctic?

Al Gore focuses more on the Arctic than Antarctic because it is there that the most pronounced early effects of global warming will be manifested due to the vastly smaller ice sheet mass. Antarctica will also break up and melt (indeed, a 160 square mile segment has just been observed breaking up), but it will take a lot longer (though a section of the ice shelf equal to the area of Connecticut did break off several years ago!)

Thus, melting of the Arctic ice sheet will be the first contributor to global sea level increase. In addition, the positive feedback effects arising from changing surface albedo (reflectance of solar radiation) will first be manifest from the Arctic.

The basis has already been described by Sagan and others: Melting of ice caps (already occurring) results in diminished albedo (reflection of solar radiation back into space), a darker Earth surface - with more IR absorbed. As more Arctic ice melts, the positive feedback proceeds faster. The overall (mean) ocean temperature continues to rise, melting ever more of the ice sheet leading to even more absorption of solar incoming radiation, higher ambient temperatures and so on.

4. Why does the media imply that the IPCC report reflects the consensus of thousands of scientists, when – as reported by CNN – there are dissenting scientists, like Richard Lindzen of MIT?
5. If there’s consensus, why on Dec. 20, 2007, did the U.s. Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Policy issue a report that 400 scientists now believe the evidence doesn’t support that “consensus?
Nemko interprets “consensus” in these questions to mean 100% agreement, but this isn’t the case at all. We have always known a certain minority hard core of scientists (the contrarians – who probably want more attention than being lumped in with others) have existed. People like S. Fred Singer of the University of Virginia and Richard Lindzen of MIT. There will always be such skeptics, and they occur in every field.

What we mean by a consensus is that the majority of the papers published in the past 10-15 years (which number nearly 1500) have supported the thesis of “climate change” and-or global warming. This also means that a majority of climate scientists support that position.

According to Daniel Schrag, professor of geochemistry and director of the Laboratory for Geochemical Oceanography at Harvard (‘Some Don’t Like it Hot’, Harvard Gazette, 3-22-01) the IPCC is by nature a conservative organization. The breadth that gives its findings weight – 3,000 scientists, reviewers, and government officials were involved in drafting the reports – means that consensus had to be reached across broad points of view, including those from countries whose economies are based on oil production.

As Schrag has noted (ibid.)

"This is inevitably a conservative view. This isn't something coming from Greenpeace."

The point of Schrag’s remark is there is indeed a consensus – which the Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary defines as: “A majority of opinion”. Not the totality of opinion!

As for the “Senate Report going largely unnoticed in the media” – well, I would guess that is because the Senate is largely comprised of people who lack any credentials in climate science – and hence are not informed or educated enough to offer a professional scientific opinion – only a political one!

6. If the climate change debate is over, why will 100 scientists argue against the “consensus” at the International Climate Science Coalition conference on March 2-4, 2008?
The “International Climate Science Coalition” does not represent the views or conclusions of mainstream climate science – but rather a tiny subset of contrarians- many of whom are supported by the oil, coal and gas lobbies. Indeed, the “Coalition” itself is a think tank proxy for the fossil fuel lobbies. Thus, it is nether mysterious or astounding that global warming deniers will continue to be heard – in whatever forum they can garner- even if their own!.

7. Why should we spend many billions and greatly restrict freedoms when experts believe that even if global temperatures rise, efforts to slow it will fail?
8. Why should we spend a fortune on a likely failed attempt to stop what may be a nonexistent or relatively minor problem when many more devastating threats will liely befall us?
First, you are assuming that leaving global warming unchecked will be a minor cost. In fact, all the evidence points to it being a major one. One UK study last year estimated the cost of doing nothing at more than $2 trillion over the next 25 years. On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal piece I referenced earlier showed that money can be made on solving the global warming problem rather than avoiding it. As for “restricting freedoms”, I simply don’t buy that driving a 3 or 4 ton, gas-guzzling Hummer, amounts to a guaranteed “freedom”, especially when most of the profits will end up in Saudi pockets.

And we know what 19 Saudis are famous for! With “freedom” comes responsibility, and the latter includes the responsibilities to be astute caretakers of the Earth for the yet unborn, as well as caretakers of our own national security by limiting the use of oil produced by unstable or terror-breeding nations.

Third, it is certainly very probable that efforts to stop global warming will fail. However, this misses the larger picture that if we can at least slow global warming we may still be able to escape its worst manifestation: the runaway greenhouse effect. The late Carl Sagan was interviewed by Ted Turner nearly 20 years ago on CNN and asked about thresholds for catastrophic climate change. Sagan mentioned an increase of six degrees Celsius – from where the planet was then. THIS is what we must effort to avoid. Recall here it was Sagan whose Ph.D. explained the reason for the exceptionally high temperatures on Venus – hot enough to melt lead- as arising from a “runaway greenhouse effect”.

In his Turner interview (still have it on tape) Sagan noted the same could happen on Earth if we don’t pay attention.

And he added there is no more “devastating effect” than a runaway greenhouse and all the harm it would incept.

9. Throughout history, humans have solved such panics- through advances in science and technology- without requiring society to move backward. Why is this situation different?
Again, you are assuming society will “move backward”. But as the earlier cited WSJ piece noted, it will more plausibly mark a major ADVANCE. Not only in terms of preserving some quality of life for future generations, but also in terms of economics. In this regard, the true Luddites are those who demand the status quo, keeping oil as the number one fuel, and dismissing conservation, while the converse may hold our collective salvation.

True, humans have solved problems before with technology, and some intriguing proposals have come forward: such as using mirrors to reflect solar radiation back into space. But almost all these solutions create as many problems as they purport to solve. For example, the mirrors in space solution may detrimentally effect crop growth or alter the planet’s water cycle in unforeseen ways by changing the insolation. Do we really wish to add these to the ravages of “global climate disruption” the term of James McCarthy - Professor of Biological Oceanography at Harvard?

10. Why did the Copenhagen Consensus, a group of 36 experts including four Nobel Prize winners, conclude that, amog 17 challenges facing the world, efforts to stop global warming should receive the lowest priority?
The Copenhagen Consensus – organized by longtime skeptic Bjorn Lomberg, and composed entirely of economists- would naturally have rated global warming lowest in its priorities for challenges facing the world. They are not climate scientists, after all! They’ll be vastly more concerned with economic blowback!

Look, what have these illustrious economists wrought with their misplaced priorities? These bozos don’t even factor in the natural resource bounty of the planet!

These glaring and inexcusable omissions as ecosystem global monetary values, were assayed for one particular year in the study Putting a Price Tag on Nature's Bounty, Science, Vol. 276, p. 1029):

Ecosystem Area (10^6 HA), Global Value (trillions)

Open Ocean ------ 33,200 ---- 8.4

Coastal ----------- 3, 102 -----12.6

Tropical Forest ------1, 900 ----- 3.8

Other Forests ------- 2,955 -----0.9

Grasslands ------------3,898 -----0.9

Wetlands --------- 330 -------4.9

Lakes and Rivers ------ 200 ------ 1.7

Cropland -----------1,400 --------0.1

Total Worth $33.3 Trillion

According to lead author of the study, Robert Costanza, who directs the Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Maryland. Until economists incorporate such "externalities" in terms of assessing costs, they are fooling themselves that they have any real science. And if they don't incorporate these "externalities" then what they are "tweaking" in their alleged models isn't even real. (Rather, some idealization that is fabricated in some ivory tower and disconnected from blood and sweat economics)

If one isn't aware of the total costs of production, one can't possibly set a genuine price on goods, and that alone demolishes the pet concept of "law of supply & demand" (which is certainly unlike any Newtonian law of physics!) so many economists exalt. This exclusion of natural capital, because it is claimed to be 'unquantifiable' - means that that economics cannot possibly be objective - since it's omitting the basis of many of the resources consumed or polluted for the use of so-called production capacity.

But the basis for excluding natural capital is the same one that ranks global warming as 17th among priorities to solve. If the economics brigade (which brought us to this current credit crisis) can’t even get natural capital properly placed, why trust them to prioritize global warming properly? I don’t!