April 12, 2006


Hot Air or Hot Air?

...I’ll be honest: I’ve been viewing the global warming push with much skepticism for a few years now. It has nothing to do with politics—it has to do with science.
...In 1998, the BBC covered a meeting of climatologists and astronomers speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Philadelphia in which the scientists explained that the cause of global warming was the sun and not necessarily the release of pollution.
...In 2003, the Harvard Gazette published a report about temperature change as far back as 1,000 years and how some interesting data were published in the April 2003 issue of the Journal of Energy and Environment. Tree-ring data, the study said, showed that temperatures were warmer from the years 950 to 1100 A.D. than they are now. From 800 to 1300 A.D., several sections of the planet were substantially higher in temperature than they are now.
...Reports like this one no doubt cause concern for those who have something to gain by advancing the global warming argument, especially in the way of scientific funding or political winnings. More over, of that group we can find yet another group proposing that the sole cause of global warming is pollution, requiring even more funding and more political appointments to help combat such an environmental scourge.
...The pollution push must be losing momentum, however, because we now have a new cause of global warming: Clean air.
...I thought that it was a joke when I was told about it, but lo and behold I found the BBC story detailing the evils of clean air, and how human beings have yet again helped to destroy Mother Earth. According to European scientists, too much clean air is allowing more solar energy through to reach the Earth’s surface. In turn, more water vapor is entering the atmosphere, further increasing the chances for a warmer climate.
...Add to that a decline of Soviet industry and clean air laws in western countries (yes, those of us in the west are to blame again), and you have a decrease in aerosols and tiny particulates in the atmosphere—aerosols and particulates which block solar radiation.
...So, let’s see if I’m following this new story correctly. Pollution is bad because it causes global warming; global warming is bad; humans create pollution; humans are bad. Clean air is bad because it causes global warming; global warming is bad; humans create clean air; humans are bad.
...Oh. The best part of this story is the final sentence of the first section: “But they say there is an urgent need for further research, particularly at sea.” Yes, there’s the funding that we knew would enter the picture somewhere.
...It’s looking more and more as if global warming has gone from a fight being waged by people who care about the Earth to a fight being waged by people who care about lining their wallets. For those scientists—and even us non-scientists—who question some of these outlandish claims by the funding-hungry climate theorists, it is said that they’ve been intimidated by their alarmist colleagues.
...Case in point: paleoclimatologist Michael Mann. Richard Lindzen of MIT recently wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal detailing the interesting case of Mann, who, along with co-authors, was asked to release the data behind his suggesting that the 1990s were the warmest decade on record with 1998 being the warmest year in the previous millennium. Representative Joe Barton of Texas asked Mann to elaborate on the data because the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that Mann’s work was some of the best on the subject. Mann refused to release the research data (which was paid for by tax dollars), but still had fellow scientists defend the data—if it even existed in the first place.
...Mann’s shadiness was met with support from the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, and the president of the National Academy of Sciences, all of whom said that Congressman Barton was simply trying to intimidate the author. Asking for data is intimidation?
...If it is intimidation, Professor Lindzen mentions that it should have also been deemed intimidation by Al Gore in 1992 when Gore “urged” Lindzen and his colleagues to adopt the alarmist mentality via Congressional hearings, not to mention Gore’s plea to then-Nightline host Ted Koppel to engage in a witch-hunt to discredit the scientists who wouldn’t join the alarmist bandwagon. Koppel refused Gore’s request.
...Lindzen offers other examples, also, but these are more than enough.
...I like science and I like data. Unfortunately, because of the combination of stories of intimidation and the instances where everything and anything is named as a cause of global warming—and each “cause” requires more funding for research—I’m thinking that the data are suggesting that global warming has turned into more a cash cow than a crisis.


Blogger CalvinPitt said...

Ugh, as a biology major, this kind of nonesense makes me disappointed in my fellow scientists.

See, I'm torn on global warming. I believe the Earth could indeed be warming up, but there's preatty sound geological evidence that the Earth goes through cycles of warming and cooling. If I remember correctly, the 1600s are sometimes referred to as "The Little Ice Age" because temperatures apparently feel significantly for a few decades, then climbed again.

I'd say the problem is we just haven't been doing detailed studies of climatological variables long enough. Deep-core ice samples can only tell so much.

It would be nice if we could remove self-interest from this, so we'd know the data we had was honest, assuming the techniques that gathered it were solid.

April 12, 2006  
Blogger amy said...

So I wonder what scientists 200-500 years from now will think about those who came before them and are studying this now as they continue to explore - support or debunk - global warming?

Maybe that's really the only way to know whether or not they were on to something.

April 13, 2006  
Blogger Dorid Lovely said...

Interestingt that Lindzen's article was printed as an OPINION PIECE...

I have some problem wiht a lot of this. I understand some of the misconceptions about "clean" vs "dirty" air. Now that we've damaged the ozone layer, the Earth's NATURAL defences against solar radiation are depleted. Now if we clean the air more, we will take out the particulate matter that is now screening us from the radiation (polutants)

Yes, the Earth goes through warming and cooling cycles,and we're IN a warming cycle. But the warming trends are greater than predicted, and we DO know that the ozone layer has been damaged, that's something thats fairly easy to see.

I think it's dangerous to NOT worry about the damage we've done to the atmosphere and the long term effects our actions have. I think it's also irresponsible. I also don't think, from the readings I've done, and from information given to me by my daughter (a biologist) and son in law (a paleontologist) that global warming is some academic hoax to collect grant money. I DO think we don't know enough yet about climate to seperate what effects on the climate are related to natural cycles and which are related to man's carelessness with the environment.

April 15, 2006  
Blogger J.P. said...

Calvin, you’ve best summed it up with “It would be nice if we could remove self-interest from this, so we’d know the data we had was honest, assuming the techniques that gathered it were solid.” Will any of us—in any given field—be able to disassociate ourselves from what it is that we’re hoping to see? From journalism to political science to environmental science, we’re most likely going to see a hint of bias enter the picture because most of us have viewpoints with respect to whatever it is that we’re seeing occur. Is there a such thing as absolute objectivity?

Amy, it’s a cliché, but time will tell.

Dorid, I wasn’t trying to hide the fact that Lindzen’s piece was published on the Wall Street Journal’s opinion site. If I had been, I wouldn’t have offered a link to it. With that said, does that in some way invalidate what he said? If so, why? Many times interesting and important stories are brought about through opinion pieces. I’m thinking of a previous post which I wrote about a Pennsylvania politician who promised one million dollars to a small town so that they could build a new municipal building and fire station. The news section of the particular paper told about the politician’s promise to the town; it was a columnist who discovered that the million dollars didn’t really exist and was more than likely nothing more than an election year gimmick to garner a few more votes. Should this particular column have been ignored? I’d argue no.

In this case Lindzen told about instances from Michael Mann’s refusal to divulge scientific data to intimidation through Congressional hearings to the dismissal of a European scientist who, while an acting research director, questioned the scientific basis of aspects of global warming. While Lindzen’s underlying theme—intimidation by fellow scientists—was, indeed, an opinion, his referenced occurrences happened. He established his argument that dissenters are intimidated—and in one case fired—and proceeded to offer examples of evidence to support that argument.

With regard to the clean air vs. dirty air debate, it seems as if we’re being told that no matter what we do, we’re wrong. For most of the 20th Century we polluted the air and we were told to clean the air or suffer the consequences. Now that we’ve taken steps to clean the air, we’re being told that we’ve made it too clean (while being simultaneously called ‘bad’ for not having signed the Kyoto Protocol).

Keeping this in mind, we’d have to ask ourselves, “What do we do now?! Do we pollute the air more to increase the particulates, or do we continue down the path of clean air?” My point is that we’re being told that both are dangerous, and both require more funding to study further. Hence, similar to Lindzen in his argument, I’ve asserted that the widespread belief is that everything that humans do is bad for the planet and that the only way to fully understand how to rectify the problem is to increase funding for more research. That is how I’ve reached my opinion that many in the scientific community have begun to view the global warming issue as a money-grab.

This brings me to my third point, which is that I’m not suggesting that Earth isn’t warming. I’ll openly admit that I find it easier to suggest that we’re going through another warming cycle because we have the studies that were highlighted in the Harvard Gazette. As Calvin had mentioned, deep-core ice samples can say only so much. Should that mean that what they don’t tell us automatically becomes the fault of human beings? Ultimately each of us will have a different opinion on that.

Two things that I’m not suggesting here: 1) That pollution isn’t bad, and 2) that the majority of scientists are corrupt. I support clean air and regulations on pollution and I’d also be the first to say that science has helped us understand things that wouldn’t have otherwise been understood. What I am suggesting: Increasing global temperatures offer a new field of science which is dependent upon theories; theories ultimately need money to understand more; the possibility exists that many scientists see the issue of global warming as an easier way to obtain funding than another issue might because fear is a stronger motivational tool than is curiosity. It’s unfortunate to say, but no occupation is entirely free of people who might take advantage of a situation that has been presented to them.

After all is said and done, we might have a completely different view of climate changes in another twenty years or so. When then-Senator Gaylord Nelson started Earth Day, in addition to the concerns of basic environmental degradation there was a huge concern over global cooling. Some feared that the planet would be covered in ice and we’d freeze to death due to a cooling trend that started in 1945. It lasted until the mid-1970s, and by the 1980s the global warming push was adopted. Even though documentation of the cooling scare exists to this day (Newsweek, Science Magazine, Science Digest, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times each published stories in the 1970s on the fear; in 1978, Leonard Nimoy hosted an episode of his documentary series In Search of… dedicated to the topic), we have many people who simply say that there never was a concern over it.

Will global warming become the next global cooling if we discover a new problem?

April 16, 2006  

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