Human Caused Climate Change – Conclusions

Climate ChangeToday I take an actual position. I’ve waited all week and tried to examine the various issues of human driven climate change from a critical thinking perspective. I think the evidence goes both ways to some extent but, by and large, the model that resonates with me is the idea of a bathtub filling with water.

Non-human, “natural causes”, pour huge amounts of CO2 into the environment but in response non-human forces pull it out of the system. These “sources” and “sinks” largely balance one another although catastrophic events in history, super volcanos and meteor strikes, have sent them disastrously out of equilibrium for tens of thousands of years or longer. Naturally it is impossible to always say why there was an imbalance but it seems fairly obvious to me that a preponderance of CO2 in the atmosphere bodes ill for life on the planet.

So, we have a bathtub filling with CO2 from the spigot at a rate of X and emptying from the drain at a rate of Y. Human activity is both increasing X and decreasing Y albeit by a small percent of the total. Still, a 1% change at both ends is going to eventually result in the tub overflowing.

It is always going to be impossible to say for certain that the small human effect on CO2 is solely, partially, or not at all responsible for the corresponding rise in CO2 content in the atmosphere and there will be always be reasonable arguments that other forces are in play. It is also impossible to prove that CO2 amounts in greater quantities is solely or partially responsible for climate change.

That being the case I really don’t understand the argument that we shouldn’t make an attempt to stop our flow of CO2 into the atmosphere. I’m not suggesting that we immediately turn off the coal-fired powerplants or stop using the oil infrastructure that is currently in place. But, it seems wise to hedge the bets a little. If we can cut down on the various things we do that release CO2 into the atmosphere and it’s not catastrophically expensive, why not do it?

One important thing I’ve noticed is that we are, in fact, doing it. People are making purchases with a cleaner environment in mind. Large companies, huge companies, like Wal-Mart change their truck fleets to be green and this has a large impact on the problem. This is capitalism and free thought. In China, where much of the CO2 is produced, they are making huge strides in increased green technology.

Europe leads the world in development in solar and wind energy. The United States wind farms are massive and growing better everyday. I see little windmills all over St. Louis now. This is capitalism in action. There are companies out there trying new things because they realize that whomever comes up with clean and cheap energy solutions will make a ton of money! What is amazing is that these things are happening with relatively minor government interference. We still continue to give subsidies to the oil industry and tax breaks to people who purchase large vehicles for work. Yet, companies and individuals are lining up to purchase green technology. President Obama has initiated a green initiative which is, I suppose, fine as a counter to the oil initiatives but I’d just like to see government get completely out of the tax break business, oil, green, whatever.

The idea here is that government agencies are trying to steer technology towards an end or towards the company that pays for their campaigns. If we just let capitalism do its job then we’ll get a green world. Meanwhile, I see my friends, be they Libertarian, Democrat, Republican, non-voter, buying vegetables they think are healthy and light bulbs that last longer. Make a better product and you will succeed. And, it’s hard for me to imagine anyone who has worked with the filth that is oil, arguing that green energies are not objectively better. Currently more expensive, yes, but worse? In time, as technology continues to improve and buying habits continue to change, this problem will be solved.

Who knows, someone may come up with a way to scrub CO2 from the atmosphere.

Anyway, that’s my final take on it. We have largely recognized the problem and solutions are being attempted. It’s a complex issue, there are a number of solutions available, the practical ones are being used, the impractical investigated, technology explored. Why all the hate?

Tell me what you think in the comments and share away!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Arguments against Human Driven Climate Change

Global Warming SkepticismI’ve spent a few days talking about Greenhouse Gases, water movement through the oceans, tornados and other topics along with the idea that increased production of CO2 through human driven sources might be responsible for these changes in our climate. I want to spend today talking why they may not be responsible.

First we have to get a few of the ridiculous arguments against human driven climate change out-of-the-way:

There is one faction that claims temperatures on earth are not rising. In the early days of Global Warming, as it was called back then, there were a number of people who doubted the data about rising temperature. At this point all but the most hardcore deniers admit that the statistic show that temperatures are rising.

Related to this is the argument that antarctica is cooling. This little doozy came from a Michael Crichton novel in which he cited a real report but twisted it to suit the fictional novel. All indications are that antarctica is warming.

Another thing we must accept is that human activity can affect the global climate. The idea that humans cannot affect the climate is utter nonsense. Let me give you a simple example. Every time you take a step you are either increasing or decreasing the spin of the earth on its axis. It is a ridiculously tiny amount but it is real. This sort of statement makes me want to punch people. It’s akin to saying man can’t fly because he doesn’t have wings.

Ok, now let’s get onto some realistic objections. Here is the full Wiki article but I’ll try to sum it up.

There isn’t as much scientific consensus as the media portrays. This is true. There are some scientists who are more lukewarm on the topic than in absolute agreement. They tend to get lumped in the majority who agree human activity is a major driving force of climate change. This gives the percentage number of scientist an unrealistically high value.

The agency that is making up the rules, the IPCC, is biased towards climate change. This is a hard one to prove as the evidence indicates human increases in CO2 production has contributed to climate change. I would suggest there is probably some bias in the process even if not a large amount.

Another argument is that humans are not behind the increases in CO2 parts per million in the atmosphere. Records indicate that CO2 levels have been higher in the past and global temperatures have changed dramatically in the past. This is all absolutely true. There is a possibility that the rise in CO2 in the atmosphere is through natural causes as human contribution is only a small percentage of the whole, about 5% perhaps. It has been suggested that solar activity, not fully understood volcanic activity, and even some source that we do not understand or know about at all is behind the increase.

Ice core samples don’t seem to indicate an exact correlation between high CO2 levels and high temperatures. There is a strong correlation between the two but it is not absolute and there appears to have been times of high temperature when CO2 levels have not been correspondingly high although there is some doubt about this evidence as a whole because not enough core samples have been taken. More sampling, which is currently underway, should establish a more direct causal relationship although there is a chance the current correlation is merely coincidence and further evidence will disprove it.

There is an argument that the temperature taking devices are not sensitive enough and their results are inaccurate. This has largely been disproven but still makes the rounds.

The decrease in sulphate aerosols after they were banned in many nations is an important consideration. These aerosols have a cooling effect and their limitation since the 1970s would seem to necessarily remove that cooling effect and generate an apparent warming trend.

It is argued that the climate is not as sensitive to CO2 increases as suggested. This is perfectly reasonable although it’s possible the climate is more sensitive than models suggest. It’s a tough one to prove or disprove.

Some argue that CO2 is not at all that is responsible for the increased temperature but another source, perhaps radiation or cloud movement, is responsible. The Iris Hypothesis is one such supposition although unproven.

Another reasonable argument is that climate change models are just that models. They are not 100% accurate and there is plenty of room for errors.

One of the biggies is that scientists are financially motivated to produce models that support human driven climate change to finance their researches. There are certainly scientists with agendas and good peer review is always necessary. There are examples of scientists fudging numbers although this seems to be not at all widespread and numbers are largely peer-reviewed and accurate. The Hockey Stick graphs generated the most controversy recently but reviews seem to indicate nothing untoward was done to falsify charts.

The final argument we often see is that the cure for climate change is too expensive and the results of changed human behavior might have no effect in any case. There is a great deal of legitimacy to this argument although if we are going to look it from a purely financial perspective we should also look at the cost of climate change as well.

I’ve gone on a fair bit here and I’ll save my final observations for tomorrow. Hopefully those of you who believe in human driven climate change have a better idea of the arguments arrayed against the concept.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Teaser – Arguments Against Human Driven Climate Change

Tomorrow I’m going to take on some of the arguments that refute human driven climate change. I’ve talked about most of the theories involved in the change in global temperature over the last few days and it’s time to talk about the arguments against it. It’s a hot button topic to say the least but hopefully it will give those who believe that humans are the driving force behind the recent warming an opportunity to hear the rational opposition side.

I’ll probably give some time to the irrational side as well but not too much of that as I got annoyed with stupidity.

See you then,

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Climate Change Science – Tornadoes

TornadoThe events in Dallas as graphically displayed all over the news with dramatic videos made me think about the predictions of tornado activity in the climate change models. I really don’t know much about it but here’s to the internet and research!

First things first though. Why is it that the plural of tornado and volcanos can be correctly spelled with an “e” or without an “e”? If anyone knows the answer please help me out. I like it better without so no one yell at me for grammar errors … that means you mom.

Ok, back to the question at hand. What effect, if any, does a change in average temperatures on the planet have on tornado activity? It certainly seems like the tornados have been big and damaging in recent years but the spread of population has something to do with that. In that past tornados might hit in areas that were unpopulated but are now homes to large and small cities.

Tornados are rated by the Enhanced Fujita scale with EF5 being considered the highest. There is also the Fujita scale and the TORRO scale but it doesn’t really matter as we are simply trying to determine if tornados have gotten more severe and frequent as the temperature on earth has risen over the last century. Yes, by the way, the temperature has risen, I’ll get to that soon.

The United States is a good place to test for increased activity as we have four times as many tornados as all of Europe and far more than any other single country. This apparently has to do with being in the middle of a large continent that has both a very hot region (Mexico) and a very cold region (Canada). In the United States records for the last decade indicate about 1,200 tornadoes a year. Adequate records do not exist before 1976 making comparisons to different eras all but impossible. Still, the mechanisms of weather that trigger tornadoes are fairly well understood.

When cool and warm air meet the conditions are right for tornados which generally occur in the Spring and Fall when seasonal temperatures are in fluctuation. The mostly deadly tornado happened in 1925 but the largest outbreak in frequency, again in the extremely short record keeping history, occurred in three days of April 2011 when 353 tornados eclipsed the previous record of 148 in a similar period of time. A significant statistical outlier although the short time frame of record keeping makes for much guesswork. With such little time frame to work with the best guess seems to be that tornadoes might come in ten-year cycles and the 1980’s seem to have been a low cycle.

Tornados also tend to occur between 3:00 and 5:00 p.m. apparently connected to the fact that this time frame is also when peak atmospheric heating is in place. The recent Dallas area tornadoes occurred in the late morning.

Any guess as to the effect of global climate change on frequency and severity is, at this time, merely speculation. Warmer sea temperatures increase atmospheric moisture content which can increase severe weather, including tornadoes, particular in the cooler seasons. The change in sea temperature, which I covered yesterday, can also effect jet stream patterns which might in turn have some influence on tornado frequency and severity.

But, all the evidence at this point doesn’t seem to indicate a direct relation between increased tornado activity and the increased temperature the earth is currently experiencing. Nor does evidence rule out such influence.

So, if anyone tells you the increase in tornados is without a doubt caused by climate change or that climate change is absolutely not responsible for bigger and more frequent events … you tell them they need to go back and get more evidence!

What do you think?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Teaser – Tornadoes and Climate Change

I was wondering what to write about tomorrow and I’m now watching events unfold in the Dallas/Fortworth region of Texas. I am aware that climate change is related in some way to tornadoes but I don’t know much about the link to be honest about it. So, tomorrow I’ll examine how the two are tied together and we’ll learn together!

It should be interesting,

See you then,

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Thermohaline circulation

Thermohaline CirculationThermohaline Circulation is a fancy term but it is an important factor in the climate of the earth. The basic ideas is that the oceans of world circulate water in relatively stable patterns and this movement of water dramatically affects the weather.

These patterns can be disrupted by a number of factors and such events seem to be related to large weather change in previous time periods. Cold water from the polar regions moves into warmer areas causing cooling while hotter water from equatorial regions moves to the poles in a warming pattern.

This movement is created by wind on the surface and differences in salinity and temperature below the surface at depth. Tides also play a role in certain places of the world. There is a lot of technical type information about salinity, temperature, tides, and wind but I don’t want to get into that. I simply want to suggest that this global movement of water is a fact and it has a profound effect on our climate.

It sends warm water to the poles which has a tremendous effect on melting sea ice and it is a component in the oceanic sink which removes a large percentages of CO2 from the atmosphere. The amount this affects removal of CO2 is not fully understood at this stage. I spoke about Greenhouse Gases and the importance of the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere yesterday. The effect of water temperature on weather patterns is clear to anyone who has lived near a large body of water. Again, I don’t want to get all technical on that topic.

It is thought that Ice Ages are counter intuitively related to warmer temperatures because the influx of fresh water from glacial melt stops the flow of warm water to the poles which causes fast drops in temperature.

The main idea though is that if there is an influx of fresh water from melting ice that this thermohaline circulation will be disrupted and have a dramatic effect on our climate.

Again, I’m not trying to argue for or against human influenced climate change … yet. I’m just talking about the dynamics involved and hopefully the next time you discuss this highly volatile topic you’ll be slightly better informed.

Tell me what you think!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Greenhouse Gases

Greenhouse GasThe topic of the day is trying to define what greenhouse gases (GHG) are and what they mean to the climate of the world. Whenever people start talking about climate change I often find they don’t have a lot of knowledge about the science behind their arguments, either pro or con. One of the main concepts behind the climate change science is the increase of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Now, let’s start with what a GHG is considered. Technically they are gases that can absorb and emit infrared radiation. These gases have an important role in regulating the temperature on earth in that they reflect heat in all directions. Some of this reflection is back towards the earth thus creating what is called a greenhouse effect. The more of these gases in the atmosphere the more reflection takes place.

Primary among these gases is water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. These actually make up a small fraction of the gases in the atmosphere but the others, Nitrogen and Oxygen predominantly, do not reflect infrared radiation and thus do not play a role in the greenhouse effect.

At question in the climate change issue is the amount of these gases in the atmosphere. The idea is that a higher amount creates more reflection which in turn keeps more heat in the planet.

The amount is controlled by something called “sources” and “sinks”. Sources produce greenhouse gases and sinks remove them.

There are numerous sources and sinks of these gases interacting in what is called the Carbon Cycle. The two major sinks are forests and the oceans. Both, through various chemical processes, absorb the vast majority of these gases. The decay of plants is the largest contributor or source of CO2 although there are other sources as well including cows, insects, volcanic activity, and human activity.

The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen by a fairly startling amount since 1958 from 320 parts per million to 391 ppm. At the time of the industrial revolution around 1750 to 1850 it was at 280 ppm. That calculates out to about a 40% increase in 200+ years since the industrial revolution or an increase of about 22% in the last 50 years.

The idea, again, is that more greenhouse gases reflect more radiation and the earth gets hotter.

The argument that this increase is caused my human activity is centered around the idea that the Carbon Cycle is a relatively closed system except for catastrophic events like super volcanos and meteor strikes. Barring these major events even a small increase in source activity without a corresponding increase in sink activity will eventually cause the system to become out of balance. Imagine filling your bathtub with water and the spigot puts in exactly as much as the drain lets out. Now, add 1% more to the spigot output and decrease the drain size by 1%. The eventual result is easy to predict, it’s just a matter of time.

That humans have increased the source output of greenhouse gases through their various activities is not in dispute nor is the idea that we have decreased the sink amount. But, both changes are quite small. The question then becomes does the earth have the ability through natural sinks to rebalance the system without changing human behavior? Or, perhaps the increase in CO2 is not related to the relatively small impact of humans at all but is caused by some other, as yet not fully understood, dynamic of the planet?

Anyway, that’s GHG for you. I hope this at least clarified some of the things you hear when talking about the volatile topic of climate change and gives you information to use in your arguments, pro or con.

See you tomorrow and if you want to clarify or correct anything please do so in the comments below!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Teaser – Greenhouse Gases

Greenhouse GasThe vitriol between the different sides on the issue of the climate change science seems to me to be extremely … high. Often I find both sides to be somewhat lacking in understanding of the explanations offered both pro and con. I thought I’d take a few days to look at some of the science involved and try to break it down a little. I’ll try to present evidence without judgement although probably, like my Nuclear Power series, I’ll end up coming to some conclusions by the end.

Tomorrow I’m going to try to explain the phenomenon of greenhouse gases, what they are, how they are produced, how they are used, what they mean to the climate of the world. See you then.

If you’re anything like me you can hardly wait!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist