I like to think that systems can be built to conserve the energy we're using. I'm not too certain about the debate about global warming/climate change. Below is an excerpt from icecap.us, an organization that has a more nuanced perspective. I notice that geologists are the most sceptical in the scientific community about climate change, which makes sense. They are working with a long view--4.5 billion years--of the Earth's history, as opposed to the meteorological view--60 years at best.

If any of these claims are false, I'd love to hear someone disprove them. I'd hate to have the wrong information.

Greenhouse gases and their effects are well-known. Here are some of things we know:

• The most effective greenhouse gas is water vapor, comprising approximately 95 percent of the total greenhouse effect.

• Carbon dioxide concentration has been continually rising for nearly 100 years. It continues to rise, but carbon dioxide concentrations at present are near the lowest in geologic history.

• Temperature change correlation with carbon dioxide levels is not statistically significant.

• There are no data that definitively relate carbon dioxide levels to temperature changes.

• The greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide logarithmically declines with increasing concentration. At present levels, any additional carbon dioxide can have very little effect.

We also know a lot about Earth temperature changes:

• Global temperature changes naturally all of the time, in both directions and at many scales of intensity.

• The warmest year in the U.S. in the last century was 1934, not 1998. The U.S. has the best and most extensive temperature records in the world.

• Global temperature peaked in 1998 on the current 60-80 year cycle, and has been episodically declining ever since. This cooling absolutely falsifies claims that human carbon dioxide emissions are a controlling factor in Earth temperature.

• Voluminous historic records demonstrate the Medieval Climate Optimum (MCO) was real and that the “hockey stick” graphic that attempted to deny that fact was at best bad science. The MCO was considerably warmer than the end of the 20th century.

• During the last 100 years, temperature has both risen and fallen, including the present cooling. All the changes in temperature of the last 100 years are in normal historic ranges, both in absolute value and, most importantly, rate of change.

Contrary to many public statements:

• Effects of temperature change are absolutely independent of the cause of the temperature change.

• Global hurricane, cyclonic and major storm activity is near 30-year lows. Any increase in cost of damages by storms is a product of increasing population density in vulnerable areas such as along the shores and property value inflation, not due to any increase in frequency or severity of storms.

• Polar bears have survived and thrived over periods of extreme cold and extreme warmth over hundreds of thousands of years - extremes far in excess of modern temperature changes.

• The 2009 minimum Arctic ice extent was significantly larger than the previous two years. The 2009 Antarctic maximum ice extent was significantly above the 30-year average. There are only 30 years of records.

• Rate and magnitude of sea level changes observed during the last 100 years are within normal historical ranges. Current sea level rise is tiny and, at most, justifies a prediction of perhaps ten centimeters rise in this century.

The present climate debate is a classic conflict between data and computer programs. The computer programs are the source of concern over climate change and global warming, not the data. Data are measurements. Computer programs are artificial constructs.

Public announcements use a great deal of hyperbole and inflammatory language. For instance, the word “ever” is misused by media and in public pronouncements alike. It does not mean “in the last 20 years,” or “the last 70 years.” “Ever” means the last 4.5 billion years.

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Comment by Jason Spicer on December 27, 2009 at 3:34pm
Ken, this list is quite bogus. First of all, insisting on comparisons across the entire 4.5B year history of the Earth is ridiculous. 4.5B years ago, the Earth was molten. 3.5B years ago the atmosphere had no oxygen. Comparing current conditions to those times is meaningless at best, intentionally misleading (lying) at worst. More recently, comparing current conditions to ice ages is also bogus, because our entire civilization was built under the current conditions and heavily depends on those current conditions. We're not due for another ice age for thousands of years, so we've got a lot of time to figure out how to deal with that. The current warming is rapid and poses a present danger that is causing problems right now.

To address some of the specific points above:

- Water vapor enters and leaves the atmosphere quickly, whereas CO2 does not. Even if water vapor accounts for 95% of the greenhouse effect, a significant change in the remaining 5% of greenhouse gases can push the atmosphere out of equilibrium, leading to rapid warming. Remember that we need a fair amount of greenhouse effect to keep from freezing.

- CO2 concentrations have risen about 40% in 150 years. That is a huge percentage change from what our civilization is used to. The percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere when the dinosaurs roamed is irrelevant to our current needs.

- Temperature change does significantly correlate with CO2 concentration, backed by lots of data, in a nonlogarithmically declining way. I don't know where these claims come from, but they are at odds with the data.

- US-specific temperatures are not the same as global temperatures. 1998 was the warmest year on record worldwide. Of course, different locales may be above or below the trend.

- Global temperatures have been somewhat flat since 1998, but have not declined significantly. The Aughts have been the warmest decade since modern record-keeping began, and would have been warmer if not for a La Nina and other temporary phenomena.

- The Medieval warming period may well have been a regional event, local to Europe or the Northern Hemisphere. Regardless of whether the Medieval warming period was global, the salient point of the hockey stick is the sharp rise at the end. Every credible temperature reconstruction with or without the errors ascribed to Mann's original hockey stick graph show this trend clearly.

- There is a natural variability to climate, but the global temperature trend over the last 100 years is indisputably upward.

- If we don't like the effects of temperature change, and can identify and control certain causes of temperature change, why wouldn't we act to keep the thermostat in the comfort zone?

- Global storm activity is also variable, but the simple fact is that more energy in the atmosphere will tend to produce more and stronger storms. What mechanism would prevent that? In any case, the current calm is likely related to the La Nina and other temporary circumstances, and is on the heels of several years of frequent and quite violent storms. Population and property values contribute to the costs of storms, as do deforestation in coastal areas, but these don't account for the increased severity of storm surge or wind strength.

- Previous climate changes have been much more gradual, giving wildlife more time to adapt.

- The Arctic ice sheet is significantly thinner across the board, being composed of more fresh ice and less compacted old ice. A thinner ice sheet is more easily melted in a warm year.

- Sea-level rise has not been dramatic yet, but even a ten-centimeter rise, coupled with stronger storms and bigger storm surges, would render low-lying areas uninhabitable. Places like the Maldives and Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated areas on the planet.

If you look, there is plenty of information to debunk most of the above or to put it in proper context. Here's a good list to start with.

Climate models are built on top of climate data, with well-understood physics principles. Computer models may be artificial constructs, but they usefully predict all kinds of things. This is a silly argument which seems to deny the common usefulness of mathematics in understanding our world. A ballistic trajectory modeled with calculus will reliably deliver an ICBM to its target. In any case, the data themselves show an alarming rise in temperatures, from retreating glaciers to disintegrating ice shelves to earlier springs and later autumns worldwide.

It is important to be at least as skeptical of global warming skeptical claims as of global warming claims. Probably more so, given the agenda of those who support global warming skepticism, as Ian points out.
Comment by Ken Westervelt on December 27, 2009 at 2:27pm
Ian, thanks for the input. Like I said, I'd hate to have the wrong facts.
Comment by Ian on December 27, 2009 at 1:35pm
Beware the bearer of made up facts!

Exxon and other big money polluters pay for icecap.us website, so be careful of accepting any of their "facts" without thorough verification. I'm a bio-engineer and there are three irrefutable facts that show that most of the items you listed are, at best, misleading or, at worst, outright lies.

1. The amount of energy hitting the earth from the sun every 24 hours has not varied greatly in the last few thousand years.

2. If you place a 4:1 gas mix of Nitrogen and Oxygen over a radiating surface and add Carbon Dioxide, the rate of thermal transmission decreases in proportion to the amount of CO2 added.

3. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by about 40% in the last 120 years, entirely due to the human burning of fossil fuels and wood.

Therefore, the amount of heat energy retained within the earth's atmosphere must have risen as a result of human activities in the last century or so.

That is a fact based on the solid logic and measurements of physics: the science that deals with all those nice, clear and precise things like energy transfer, gravity, conductivity and so on.

The bigger questions might be:

So what? Is it a risk?

I don't know, but the prognosis doesn't look good.
Comment by Ken Westervelt on December 27, 2009 at 1:07pm



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