Sunday, May 02, 2010
(Desperately) Looking for Arctic warming
First American Ann Bancroft and Norwegian Liv Arnesen trekked off across the Arctic in the dead of the 2007 winter, “to raise awareness about global warming,” by showcasing the wide expanses of open water they were certain they would encounter. Instead, icy blasts drove temperatures inside their tent to -58 F, while outside the nighttime air plunged to -103 F.
Open water is rare at those temperatures, the intrepid explorers discovered. Facing frostbite, amputated toes and even death, the two were airlifted out 18 miles into their 530-mile expedition.
Next winter it was British swimmer and ecologist Lewis Gordon Pugh, who planned to breast-stroke across open Arctic seas. Same story. Then fellow Brit Pen Hadow gave it a go, but it was another no-go.
This year Aussie Tom Smitheringale set off to demonstrate “the effect that global warming is having on the polar ice caps.” He was rescued and flown out, after coming “very close to the grave,” he confessed.
Hopefully, all these rescue helicopters were solar-powered. Even hardened climate disaster deniers wouldn’t want these brave (if misguided) adventurers to be relegated to choppers fueled by hated hydrocarbons. They may be guilty of believing their own alarmist press releases – and the likes of Al Gore, James Hansen, the IPCC and Michael Mann, father of broken hockey sticks and Mann-made global warming. But missing digits or ideological impurity is a high price to pay.
Nonetheless, it’s easy to envision them dreaming of stoking up the boiler from the wreck of the “Alice May” over yonder on Lake Lebarge and chattering in their sleep: “Since I left Plumtree down in Tennessee, it’s the first time I’ve been warm.”
The explorers tried to put the best spin on their failures. “One of the things we see with global warming is unpredictability,” Bancroft-Arnesen expedition coordinator Anne Atwood said helpfully. “But please know global warming is real, and with it can come extreme unpredictable changes in temperature,” added Arnesen.
“Global warming can mean colder. It can mean wetter. It can mean drier. That’s what we’re talking about,” Greenpeace activist Stephen Guilbeault chimed in.
Who was it that defined insanity as hitting your thumb repeatedly with a hammer, expecting it won’t hurt the next time? And who’s paying for all these rescue operations? Mostly the same taxpayers who are also paying for the junk science that insists the entire ice cap will melt away by 2014.
Actually, the Arctic ice has been rebounding since its latest low ebb around September 2007. And despite steadily rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels – from 0.0285% or 285 ppm in 1870 to 0.0388% or 388 ppm today – average global temperatures have been stable or declining since 1995.
Even UK Climate Research Unit chief Phil Jones and other Climategate emailers acknowledge that now. “We can’t account for the lack of warming, and it’s a travesty that we can’t,” Kevin Trenberth moaned in one of the infamous Climategate emails.
Instead of sleds and snowshoes, the explorers should have rented Doc Brown’s “Back to the Future” time machine. They would have found plenty of the global warming and open waters they so desperately seek.
Vikings built homes, grew crops and raised cattle in Greenland in 950-1300, before they were frozen out by the Little Ice Age and encroaching pack ice and ice sheets.
Many warm periods followed, marked by open seas and minimal southward extent of Arctic sea ice, as noted in ships’ logs and discussed in scientific papers by Torgny Vinje and other experts. The warm periods of 1690-1710, 1750-1780 and 1918-1940, for instance, were often preceded and followed by colder temperatures, severe ice conditions and maximum southward ice packs, as during 1630-1660 and 1790-1830.
“Not only in the summer, but in the winter the ocean [in the Bering Sea region] was free of ice, sometimes with a wide strip of water up to at least 200 miles away from the shore,” Swedish explorer Oscar Nordkvist reported in 1822.
“We were astonished by the total absence of ice in Barrow Strait,” Francis McClintock, captain of the “Fox,” wrote in 1860. “I was here at this time in 1854 – still frozen up – and doubts were entertained as to the possibility of escape.”
In 1903, during the first year of his three-year crossing of the Northwest Passage, Roald Amundsen noted that his party “had made headway with ease,” because ice conditions had been “unusually favorable.”
The 1918-1940 warming also resulted in Atlantic cod increasing in population and expanding their range some 800 miles, to the Upernavik area of Greenland, fisheries biologist Ken Drinkwater has reported.
Global warming and climate change are certainly real. They’ve been real throughout Earth’s history, from the Roman and Medieval Warm Periods, Little Ice Age and Dust Bowl – to countless other cycles of warming and cooling, flood and drought, storm and calm, open Arctic seas and impassable ice.
Humans clearly influence weather and climate – at least on a local scale – through heat and emissions from cities and cars, our clearing of forests and grasslands, our diversion of rivers.
But that is not the issue. Nor is it enough to say – as EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson often does – that “the climate is changing and mankind is responsible in part for that change.” The assertion is simplistic and misleading. It skews the debate, stigmatizes fossil fuel use, and preordains public policy responses that are excessive, costly and unjust. The fundamental issue is this:
Are humans causing imminent, unprecedented, global climate change disasters? And can we prevent those alleged disasters, by dramatically increasing the price of carbon, drastically curtailing hydrocarbon use, slashing living standards, and imposing government control over industries and people’s lives?
On that, the evidence simply is not there – a reality underscored by the glaring fact that the headline-grabbing disasters and nearly one-third of all the citations in the IPCC’s massive 2007 climate report were not peer-reviewed studies. They were newspaper articles, student papers, and even press releases from climate activists and lobbyists.
That leaves us with crisis scenarios conjured up by computer models that reflect CO2-centric assumptions, presume clouds exert only warming influences, and rely on temperature data that come from urban heat islands or have been manipulated by the modelers. In short, the climate models are little better than Farmville or Sim Earth.
They help scientists visualize how climate systems work. But they’re useless for predicting the future. They create virtual realities and virtual crises, and then “solve” them with virtual solutions. We need reality-based science and public policy.
No wonder most Americans now blame climate change on natural forces, not human activity – and 75% are unwilling to spend more than $100 per year in higher energy bills to “stabilize” Earth’s turbulent and unpredictable climate (Rasmussen polls). These citizens display a refreshing dose of commonsense.
California's Man-Made Drought
Would France rip out its storied vineyards? Would Juan Valdez scorch Colombia's coffee crop? Sri Lanka its black pepper harvest? China its tea? With global markets won by nations specializing in doing what they do best, and with regional reputations important enough to drive some nations to protectionism, it's almost unthinkable.
But then there's California.
On a springtime drive through the Central Valley, it's hard not to notice how federal and state governments are hell-bent on destroying the state's top export — almonds — and everything else in the nation's most productive farmland.
Instead of pink blossoms and green shoots along Highway 5 in April, vast spans from Bakersfield to Fresno sit bone-dry. Brown grass, dead orchards and lifeless grapevine skeletons stretch for miles for lack of water. For every fallow field, there's a sign that farmers have placed alongside the highway: "No Water = No Food," "No Water = No Jobs," "Congress Created Dust Bowl."
Locals say it's been like this for two years now, as Congress and bureaucrats cite "drought," "global warming" and "endangered species" to deny water to this $37 billion breadbasket through arbitrary "environmental" quotas.
It started with a 2008 federal court order that stopped water flowing from northern tributaries on a supposed need to protect a small fish — the delta smelt — that was getting ground up in the turbines of pump stations that divert the water south. The court knew it was bad law, but Congress refused to exempt the fish from the Endangered Species Act and the diversion didn't help the fish.
After that, the water cutoff was blamed on "drought," though northern reservoirs are currently full. Now the cry is "save the salmon," a reference to water needs of the state's northern fisheries.
Whatever the excuse, 75% of the fresh water that has historically irrigated California is now being washed to the open sea. For farmers in the southwest part of the valley, last year's cutoff amounted to 90%.
"It's pretty hard to keep crops alive at 10%," says Jim Jasper, who runs a 62-year-old almond farm in Newman that employs 170. "That's one irrigation, and trees take 10 to 12 over the growing season from March to October." Almond trees cost $8,000 per acre and take six years to start producing, so farmers reserved their 10% allocation for mature trees first.
The cutoff didn't kill just trees, however. It also devastated the area's economy. Unemployment in some valley towns has shot up to 45%. Mortgage defaults are on the rise, and food lines are lengthening.
Melting sea ice would cause sea levels to rise by 'hair's breadth'
Melting icebergs are causing sea levels to rise, scientists have discovered, but only by a hair's breadth every year. Researchers at the University of Leeds calculate that around 1.5 million Titanic-sized icebergs each year are melting into the sea every year in the Arctic and Antarctic. This is causing sea level to rise by just 49 micrometers per year - around a hair's breadth.
At that rate it would take 200 years for the oceans to rise by 1cm as a result of melting sea ice. If all the floating ice in the world melted it would cause sea levels to rise by just 4cm. In comparison if all the ice on land melted it would cause a rise of 70m. Sea levels will also rise as the oceans get warmer because of thermal expansion.
But Professor Andrew Shepherd, one of the authors of the study published in Geophysical Research Letters, said the tiny rise caused by melting ice was still significant.
He said it will be important to factor in the small changes caused by melting sea ice in judging sea level rise in the future, especially if global warming accelerates. Melting ice caps also accelerate climate change as seawater absorbs more sunlight, therefore it will warm quicker than when the sea is covered in ice.
"Over recent decades there have been dramatic reductions in the quantity of Earth's floating ice, including collapses of Antarctic ice shelves and the retreat of Arctic sea ice," he said.
"These changes have had major impacts on regional climate and, because oceans are expected to warm considerably over the course of the 21st century, the melting of floating ice should be considered in future assessments of sea level rise."
POLITICAL SCIENTISTS AND SCIENTIFIC POLITICIANS
There have been many examples of 'scientific consensus'. A useful illustration is the former fear of Global Cooling that gained momentum in the 1960s. The first paragraph of a New York Times article, from 30th January 1961, entitled SCIENTISTS AGREE WORLD IS COLDER; But Climate Experts Meeting Here Fail to Agree on Reasons for Change, read: "After a week of discussions on the causes of climate change, an assembly of specialists from several continents seems to have reached unanimous agreement on only one point: it is getting colder."
We can claim a consensus of sorts, whether it is regarding global warming or cooling, by simply pointing to an article such as this. But this idea is terribly skewed for several reasons. By appointing a group of scientists to find evidence of something, the patron of this group will always receive reward; just as a different patron who demands his own scientists disprove this conclusion will similarly receive reward. Thus the danger of climate change science is that there is only one patron.
This is not how science works; instead, theories should be disproved in order to be proved - only by having free and balanced discussion will we enjoy progress. The failure of such groups as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is that they are heavily politicised.
There are a growing number of cries that the IPCC has negated the traditional scientific method. The climatologist Roger Pielke, despite believing in anthropogenic climate change, has criticised the IPCC for its ill-gotten conclusions and has accused the scientific body of subjectively choosing data to support a selective view of climate change science.
Pielke points out the systematic conflict of interest that is present in the IPCC assessment process: "The same individuals who are doing primary research in the role of humans on the climate system are then permitted to lead the assessment... Assessment Committees should not be an opportunity for members to highlight their own research."
Furthermore, the House of Lords Economics Committee has recently stated that, "We have some concerns about the objectivity of the IPCC process, with some of its emissions scenarios and summary documentation apparently influenced by political considerations."
The IPCC has not just become a body of political scientists, but scientific politicians as well. These people’s professions have become adulterated with the idealism of environmental morality.
The 2008 International Conference on Climate Change in New York brought to light the "absolute horror stories" about how some scientific journals and political bodies have engaged in the suppression of climate-sceptic scientists trying to publish their work in peer-reviewed journals. This conference included many afflicted current and former IPCC scientists from all over the globe.
The IPCC is not the only culprit, but indeed, virtually all of the governmental and intergovernmental scientific bodies. Dr. Ferenc Miskolczi, an atmospheric physicist at NASA, resigned because of the agency’s lack of scientific freedom.
Miskolczi said he wanted to publish and discuss his new research that showed "runaway greenhouse theories contradict energy balance equations," but he claims that NASA refused to allow him. He recently said that, "Unfortunately, my working relationship with my NASA supervisors eroded to a level that I am not able to tolerate. My idea of the freedom of science cannot coexist with the recent NASA practice of handling new climate change related scientific results."
A consensus in one branch of science does not mean a consensus across all branches. For example, a recent survey of 51,000 scientists in Canada from the Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists found that 68% of them disagreed with the statement that “the debate on the scientific causes of recent climate change is settled.” The survey also stated that only 26% of scientists attributed global warming to "human activity such as burning fossil fuels."
And so most importantly, science is not a numbers game; rather it is the manifestation of debate and the imperative to allow dissent. There are too many examples in the history of scientific thought of a single scientist working against a 'consensus' only to have his theories ultimately being accepted.
While there is no clear indication either way that this might be the case with climate change science, it becomes only too apparent that there is a desperate need for such free debate, given the drastic choices that Governments are prepared to make. Whether such decisions involve the complete overhaul of our energy sources, or the (ethically questionable) prevention of industrialisation in developing countries, the need to end scientific censorship is vitally important.
The problem with climate science is not actually the science itself, as so often stated by sceptics, but it is the politics and ethics. The University of York Freedom Society's 'Climate Week' will not try to cover the complicated and vast subject of the science itself; instead it will highlight the dangers of academic suppression and weigh the ethical questions involved when dealing with such proscription.
Australian farmers not sold on climate change
AUSTRALIAN farmers are sceptical about climate change and many do not believe it will affect agriculture during their lifetimes, a report says.
But the CSIRO research is calling on rural producers to increase their knowledge of the implications of global warming so they can make their farms more resistant to changing climatic conditions.
The report, A Participatory Approach to Developing Climate Change Adaption Options for NSW Farming Systems, identifies ways farmers can protect their livelihoods, such as by planting crops that can withstand hotter and drier weather, identifying ways to manage fertiliser, and maximising water use through efficient harvesting.
The report confirmed there was significant scepticism and misunderstanding among farmers on climate change and the impact it would have on agriculture. Farmers must also prepare for a future carbon emissions trading scheme.
CSIRO research team leader Steven Crimp said the need for improved climate change knowledge was paramount. "There is a lot of information about climate change and climate projections but there isn't a lot of information on how to make changes within farm management," he said. "Many farmers don't believe that climate change will affect them in their lifetime but we are already starting to see the effects of climate change and variation on the land." [There has always been climate change and variation on the land and farmers know it. Knowing what the weather is likely to do is central to their livelihoods. They are great climate watchers and many keep diaries of weather events]
A spokeswoman for NSW Climate Change minister Frank Sartor said the government was working with farmers to assess regional areas for climate change vulnerability. "The impacts of climate change pose a considerable risk to farmers," she said. "Probable effects include hotter, drier conditions, which will put crops under greater heat and water stress."
Agricultural business workshops for young farmers have been established by the food and agribusiness specialist bank Rabobank to deal with emerging challenges for Australian producers. They cover leadership strategies, business planning and economic management.
Greenies still believe in Malthusian Hells. So is living longer in an overcrowded world better than the alternative?
"How dare you do this research? The earth is already being raped by too many people, there is so much garbage, so much pollution."
Ten years ago, an anti-aging researcher described this hostile reaction to her work in the pages of The New York Times. Not much has changed since then. The first objection one hears when one advocates radical life extension is that it will produce a Malthusian Hell of overpopulation and resource depletion. Objectors clearly believe it would be immoral to make it possible for lots of people to live to be, say, 150 years old. But is that so? Two newish papers from two controversial philosophers take on that reasoning, and tear it apart—with the help of their pocket calculators.
Philosopher John Davis from the University of Tennessee takes a direct approach, arguing that pursuing life extension—even if it results in a Malthusian Hell—is the moral thing to do. In his article, “Life-Extension and the Malthusian Objection,” Davis accepts for purposes of argument that the moral goal is to maximize total human welfare over time. To illustrate how one might decide whether or not a society should permit research and deployment of life extension technologies, Davis assumes a population of two types of people: Lees and Seans. Lees who want to live a long time are 17 percent of the population and Seans who prefer shorter lives are 83 percent. Seans live an average of 100 years, while Lees using life extension treatments live an average of 600 years. Then you add up the life years of a population of 100 Lees and Seans, and find that 17 Lees would enjoy a total of 8,500 life years while 83 Seans enjoy only 8,300 life years. Treatment prohibition would result in the loss of 200 life-years, thus reducing the total human welfare possible. So Davis concludes that counting aggregate life-years rather than individual lives is the way to decide whether or not to go with life extension treatments.
Davis then considers what might happen in situations where people are forced to choose between life extension and reproduction, as opposed to a world where they can opt for both. Davis divides a hypothetical population of 100 people into three policy categories: Free Choice; Forced Choice/Treatment; Forced Choice/Reproduce. Free Choice allows everyone to choose life extension no matter how many children they have. Under a Forced Choice policy, people must choose between having children and receiving the treatments. Davis assumes a population of 100 will contain 31 Free Choicers, who take both the treatments and reproduce, 19 Forced Choicers who take the treatments and do not reproduce, and 50 Forced Choicers who refuse the treatments and choose to reproduce. The numbers reflect his own rough intuitions about how human preferences would play out. Adding up the life-years at stake:
Free Choicers 31 x 500 years = 15,500 life-years
Forced Choice/Treatment 19 x 500 years = 9,500 life-years
Forced Choice/Reproduce 50 x 100 = 5,000 life-years
In this scenario, the Free Choicers' preferences that would result in a Malthusian world trump the combined preferences of those who choose long lives over reproduction and short lives in favor of reproduction.
What drives Davis’ calculations is the concept of total utilitarianism which aims to maximize utility across a population based on adding all the separate utilities of each individual together. “So far as the total net good for humans is concerned, the most justified social policy is the one that satisfies preferences over the greatest number of life-years, all else being equal,” argues Davis. One implication of total utilitarianism is that “we should create as many people as possible in order to maximize the total amount of desirable experiences.” Total utilitarianism might result in Malthusian consequences because a large, relatively miserable population might well have a greater total amount of utility than a smaller, happier population.
Davis’ allocation of preferences among Free and Forced Choicers is based on his own guesswork, and tweaking the numbers could produce different outcomes. But no matter how you slice the numbers, it would be immoral to stop research on life extension technologies simply because of fears that they would result in a Malthusian Hell. As Davis notes, people who choose the treatments would obviously not consider living in an increasingly Malthusian world a fate worse than death, and “therefore they would probably not consider it a fate worse than non-existence for their children either.” And Malthusian Hells may be self-limiting. “Will there come a time when the Malthusian conditions reach a level of such crisis that people are better off not extending their lives?,” asks Davis. “Perhaps so; if they see it that way, they will stop choosing life-extension.”
Is there any way to break out of this dismal total utilitarian calculation? Bioethicist Russell Blackford argues yes.
In the second new paper, Russell Blackford from Monash University in Australia specifically addresses Princeton University bioethicist Peter Singer's claim that it is immoral to want to live longer, say by doubling one’s life expectancy to 150 years. Why does Singer think this? Singer begins by setting up a thought experiment in which researchers develop a pill that will double life expectancy to 150 years. He assumes that people have an average happiness level of 5 out of a possible 10 during the first 75 years. The life extension pill maintains its users at about the same level of health and mental acuity as a healthy 60-year-old for the next 75 years, reducing their happiness level to 4 for that period. This yields an average happiness level of 4.5 over the course of their 150 year life spans. Imagine Singer's pill as a kind of Fountain of Prolonged Middle Age.
Singer also assumes population control measures stabilizing population at replacement levels. As we shall see, the population stabilization assumption is a bit of a contradiction for Singer. Ultimately in the Singer scenario, the total number of people who would be born will be half of what they otherwise would have been during any specific time period without the age-retarding drug. So a long lived society might constitute 1 billion individuals and a normal life expectancy society would number 2 billion at any one time.
To illustrate Singer’s calculus, Blackford does a little happiness math in his recent article “Moral Pluralism Versus the Total View: Why Singer is wrong about radical life extension.” The hedonic calculation for long lifers would be:
4.5 units of happiness x 150 years of life x 1 billion individuals = 675 billion happiness years.
The computation of pleasure for short lifers:
5 units of happiness x 75 years of life x 2 billion = 750 billion happiness years.
Singer acknowledges that individual long lifers would have better lives (4.5 hedonic units x 150 years = 675 total units) than individual short lifers (5 hedonic units x 75 year = 375 units). But the total sum of happiness over any specific period of time is higher in the society without the life extension treatment. So Singer concludes that the moral thing to do is to stop research on life prolonging drugs.
But imposing population control measures should be morally suspect to someone who advocates maximizing total utility over time. Why? As Blackford points out, Singer’s utility logic leads to the irresistible “conclusion that a sufficiently large population with people whose lives are barely worth living would be a better outcome than a much smaller population of people who are very happy.” This is what philosopher Derek Parfit called the “repugnant conclusion.” Parfit never believed that he had resolved the paradox at the heart of a total utilitarian calculus that leads to the repugnant conclusion. One consequence of this line of argument is that people should have as many children as possible in order to maximize the total amount of happiness just so long as they could eke out some minimal amount of pleasure. In fact, it would be immoral for people to restrict the number of children they bear because they would be reducing the overall amount of possible happiness in the world.
To counter the total utility logic, Blackford offers another thought experiment in which a benevolent, but not omnipotent deity has the choice between creating a world with 1 billion happy people (6 hedonic units on average out of 10 possible) versus another world with 6 billion fairly miserable inhabitants (1.5 hedonic units on average). Total average happiness on the second miserable planet would exceed that of the first by a ratio of 3 to 2 over time (9 billion units versus 6 billion units in any given year). Singer, if he followed the logic of his argument, would advise the deity to create the second world rather than the first. Blackford counters, “We expect a benevolent god to be concerned about how well lives go, rather than about the sheer number of them.” The upshot of this analysis, according to Blackford, is that “what we value…is that whatever actual lives come into existence should go well.”
Blackford’s benevolence scenario, like Singer’s original set-up, implies that the maximization of utility under Malthusian conditions will be avoided because population growth will be kept in check. However, Blackford, unlike Singer, is morally consistent, because advocating benevolence does not require maximizing total utility, but rather the goal is to attempt to maximize the utilities of individuals. As Blackford concludes, “Since I see no doubt that the lives in the pro-drug scenario would be better—something that Singer also thinks—then we should develop the drug.” Of course, if one accepts Blackford’s conclusions, the question of how will population be controlled comes to the fore. Will some “benevolent decision-maker” impose something like a replacement fertility requirement in order to make sure that the Methuselahs are not overcrowded thus enabling their lives to go well? Perhaps such “benevolent decision-makers” are unnecessary.
Turning from philosophy to the empirical, it is noteworthy that the societies with the longest life expectancies now are already experiencing below replacement fertility largely without the interference of “benevolent decision-makers.” In addition, human ingenuity can avoid producing a Malthusian Hell by expanding available resources to more comfortably support a larger, more prosperous, and happier human population.
At one point Davis acknowledges, “Of course, if the Malthusian consequences of total utilitarianism are a reason to reject total utilitarianism, then one can argue that Malthusian consequences are a reason to reject Free Choice.” Blackford implicitly accepts this analysis and rejects Free Choice. In any case, the conclusion from either analysis—Davis’ dismal total utility calculus and Blackford’s benevolence argument—is that pursuing radical life extension is the moral thing to do.
Malthusianism is zero-sum nonsense of course. What we most have to fear is something that is already happening in many parts of the world: Population decline. Why fear it? Because rising population tends to go with INCREASED standards of living, not the reverse. The ultimate resource is brains -- very smart brains in particular -- and the more people we have the more great brains we are likely to have -- JR
For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here
Posted by JR at 4:49 PM