Thursday, June 18, 2009

Radical Environmentalism – The Words Change, the Game Remains the Same (Part 4)

Only a couple of years ago, nearly any “science” magazine which you might read, along with most news magazines, made reference to the (mythical) crisis of global warming. Elections of public officials have pivoted on the subject, and millions of dollars of our tax money have been spent to understand the topic.

But read almost any article or watch the news today and you will notice that the words have changed. Where the phrase “global warming” was used a short time ago, you can now replace it with the new phrase “climate change”. It actually escaped my notice for a while, until I wrote an article about National Geographic and its slant toward radical environmentalism. While I was looking for the “global warming” phrase, I actually had a hard time finding it. “Climate change” was the common reference, and since making note of the new phrase, I now tend to see it everywhere.

The substitution is almost laughable. When I was in high school, the accepted fear was that the earth may be entering another Ice Age period, and global cooling was being put forth as a very real and dangerous threat. Twenty years ago, the concept of greenhouse gases trapping heat in the atmosphere became popular (and made a convenient scapegoat out of heavy industry and manufacturing by those who wished to see its end) and global warming was suddenly seen as the problem. Check the science articles today, though, and the idea of potential global cooling (again) is becoming more popular. Since scientists can’t make up their mind what is happening, it’s easier just to change the problem statement to include “climate change”, and to also assume that any change from the current climate must be bad.

To help prove the point that modern science does not possess a reliable climate model, only one month after I posted my article about National Geographic, they posted their own article with the title, “Sun Oddly Quiet -- Hints at Next "Little Ice Age"? (thanks to Darren Duvall for pointing me to this). The text of the article makes the observation that sunspot activity is at a low point, with some scientists pointing to very chilly temperatures as a possibility. Lower temperatures such as this were seen back in the years 1300 – 1850, when Iceland spent some time completely locked in by ice. Scientists are clearly swinging wildly back and forth in their predictions of the future – precisely because they do not understand all of the climatic elements that make up long-term weather patterns.

In one place, the article attempts to negate the conclusion that sunspot activity is relevant to global temperature. It quotes a solar terrestrial physicist by the name of Mike Lockwood, who tries to downplay the sun’s effects in comparison to man’s footprint on climate change. He says, “I think you have to bear in mind that the CO2 is a good 50 to 60 percent higher than normal, whereas the decline in solar output is a few hundredths of one percent down. I think that helps keep it in perspective.” This is an exceptionally misleading statement. Lockwood initially attempts to compare the effect of man’s carbon dioxide output as if it were comparable – percent to percent – to that of solar output. He is attempting to imply that the greenhouse global warming effect of carbon dioxide far exceeds the negative effect of reduced sunspot activity. But the author of the article later added a correction by Lockwood, pointing out that while a 50% increase in carbon dioxide output has had a small effect on global temperature, a 50% change in solar output would kill all life on earth. Clearly, the two cannot be compared, though the only scientist in the article attempted to do just that in his initial statements.

To make a good prediction about something such as weather or global temperatures, you need a good model – typically an extrapolation of past temperatures combined with some assumptions and calculations. Then, you test the usefulness of the model by using it to predict future events – then stand back and see if you are right about what is going to happen. And even then, it’s only a prediction based on the limited data that you have and the assumption that your model has not missed any critical long-term variables – see the previous Black Swan article. Again – predict, model, test. Any science teacher will tell you this.

There are so many elements that contribute to the weather and temperature of our planet – solar activity, heat load on the Southern Hemisphere versus the Northern Hemisphere, the Maunder Minimum, El Niño, and the latent heat content of the ocean. It’s a model of such complexity that it is very likely that we will never grasp it completely, even given hundreds of years of research grants and tax dollars. Modern science (and modern news media) abhor the possibility that they might not understand something, and so they cast aside good scientific method in favor of spouting things that bring them self-glorification…and research dollars.

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