Saturday, October 27, 2007

Climate is too complex for accurate predictions

From "New Scientist" -- usually a reliably "Green" source

Climate change models, no matter how powerful, can never give a precise prediction of how greenhouse gases will warm the Earth, according to a new study. The result will provide ammunition to those who argue not enough is known about global warming to warrant taking action.

The analysis focuses on the temperature increase that would occur if levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubled from pre-Industrial Revolution levels. The current best guess for this number - which is a useful way to gauge how sensitive the climate is to rising carbon levels - is that it lies between 2.0 C and 4.5 C. And there is a small chance that the temperature rise could be up to 8C or higher.

To the frustration of policy makers, it is an estimate that has not become much more precise over the last 20 years. During that period, scientists have established that the world is warming and human activity is very likely to blame, but are no closer to putting a figure on exactly much temperatures are likely to rise.

It now appears that the estimates will never get much better. The reason lies with feedbacks in the climate system. For example, as the temperature increases, less snow will be present at the poles. Less snow means less sunlight reflected back into space, which means more warming. These positive feedbacks accelerate global warming and also introduce uncertainty into estimates of climate sensitivity, say Gerard Roe and Marcia Baker of the University of Washington in Seattle. What is more, they found that better computer models or observational data will not do much to reduce that uncertainty. A better estimate of sensitivity is the holy grail of climate research, but it is time to "call off the quest", according to a commentary published alongside the paper.

That is likely to fuel attacks by critics in the oil industry and elsewhere who argue against investing in measures like clean energy until more is known about climate change. Others say that we need to act even if climate sensitivity lies at the low end of the scale, since coastal areas would still be threatened by rising seas, for example.

Ultimately, the papers also illustrate the limits to which models, even those produced by powerful supercomputers, can help politicians make decisions. "This finding reinforces not only that climate policies will necessarily be made in the face of deep, irreducible uncertainties," says Roger Pielke, a climate policy expert at the University of Colorado at Boulder, US. "But also the uncomfortable reality - for climate modellers - that finite research dollars invested in ever more sophisticated climate models offer very little marginal benefit to decision makers."


Comment on droughts by a meteorologist

The most recent rain year in Southern California that ran from July 1, 2006 through June 30, 2007 was the driest on record (about 125 years) for many areas. At John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, less than 2 inches of rain has fallen since January 1, 2007. The other exceptionally dry areas this year were around western Lake Superior and in the southeastern US from Tennessee and North Carolina, across north Georgia into Alabama and Mississippi. This is a map of the current drought situation across the country. Recent rains have greatly alleviated the dry conditions from the Upper Peninsula into the northern Plains.

Of course, the global warming alarmists would have us believe there have never been droughts like this before. They seem to forget that in October 2003, the California fires claimed more lives and burned more acres than this year. According to this article by the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), the Drought during the Dust Bowl years covered up to 70% of the United States. During the 1950s, the Great Plains and the southwestern US withstood a 5-year drought, and in three of these years, drought conditions stretched coast to coast. In the last half of the 16th century, there was a drought " that appears to have been more severe in some areas of central North America than anything we have experienced in the 20th century, including the 1930s drought." A particularly severe drought between 1500 and 1600 in the southwestern US apparently lasted nearly 100 years. The same article goes on to say:
When records of drought for the last two millennia are examined, the major 20th century droughts appear to be relatively mild in comparison with other droughts that occurred within this time frame.

All of the above statements would seem to apply to the 21st century too. There have been far worse droughts in the past that could not have been the result of increasing CO2.

I have written before about the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). These are changes in sea-surface temperatures that last for several decades and have huge impacts on the climate. The University of Arizona Desert Laboratory has published a paper on how the phases of the PDO and AMO work together to create tendencies for drought. The result of the study is that over half (52%) of the drought frequency in the United States can be attributed to the AMO and PDO with another 22% POSSIBLY attributed to warming temperatures or some other UNKNOWN (emphasis mine) climate trend.

More here

Cal Thomas on Warming

The Church of Global Warming (CGW) is a cult. A cult has a number of definitions, among them this one from "A religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader."

Cults wish to control others. Global warming fundamentalists wish to do the same through the power of government. CGW members would reject cult status - which all cult members do - and Gore has never been accused of displaying charisma. But the CGW confers charismatic status on him because he tells them what they want to hear: Salvation is available through the reduction of one's carbon footprint. Gore regularly violates his own doctrines by flying on big polluting jets, leaving tracks the size of Bigfoot.

Cultists never allow contrary evidence to challenge their beliefs. Last week, a British judge found nine scientific errors in Gore's film "An Inconvenient Truth" and ordered British schools to mention them and to teach the other side of global warming.

Like the Pulitzer Prize, which mostly goes to liberals or to economic conservatives who are OK with abortion and same-sex marriage, the Nobel Peace Prize has become a victim of political correctness and a tool for message-sending. In this case (as when the award went to President Carter), the Nobel committee wanted to send a message to President Bush. What will they do when he leaves office? Give it to Bill Clinton?

People who genuinely labor for peace (read a partial list in the Oct. 13 Wall Street Journal lead editorial) are often ignored by the Nobel committee. Despite evidence from NASA and other scientific sources, which rebut Gore's claims of pending climate disaster, CGW members have the kind of blind faith displayed at a Benny Hinn healing service. The leader of the CGW even has a faux "trinity." Instead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Gore has an Oscar, an Emmy and a Nobel Peace Prize.

Having said that (and far more could be said and is being said), conservatives miss an opportunity when they only ridicule Gore and dismiss his ideas. They should be asking themselves whether it might be possible to find common ground with Gore on at least one of his doctrinal issues that would serve nearly everyone's interests. This is where part two begins.

Republicans and Democrats repeatedly tell us we rely too much on foreign oil, especially oil from a current trouble spot, the Middle East, and from a potential trouble spot, Venezuela. Might it be possible for the CGW crowd and the Church of Free Enterprise (CFE) to come together for the common purpose of reducing our reliance on foreign oil? CGW fundamentalists would get what they want - a reduced carbon footprint and supposedly lower global temperatures (go ahead and let them believe it) - while CFE parishioners would rejoice that Saudi Arabia's hold on us (not to mention its use of our money to underwrite terrorism) could be broken.

If we would launch an energy independence program with the intensity of a Marshall Plan for Europe, or a man-on-the-moon project, to liberate ourselves from the petroleum despots by developing synthetic fuels and finding new energy sources closer to home - especially nuclear power - we could strike a blow against the Islamofascists more damaging than bombs and bullets. This will require leadership at the highest level, and it will require a conservative of sufficient stature not to be labeled a compromiser or a fool. Anyone out there who meets the test? And would Al Gore bring his legions with him to the table?


In praise of Carbon

Children are having nightmares about their carbon footprint. What a pretty pass modern man has brought himself to!

Frightening children with scary stories about hell fire is the way our ancestors drilled society into conformity. It might have been hoped that the age of science would bring all that to an end, but now we have entered the post-scientific age, in which a new class of high priest returns to the traditional methods of enforcement. In order to establish the essential fear-provoking scenario they have nominated in the role of original sin one particular element, one atom out of the whole gamut. It is a choice that is bizarre to the rational mind, yet one that conforms to the long established principles of the founding of authoritative religions. Why is it bizarre? If you are of a mind to seek out magic and miracles look no further than the sixth member of the periodic table of elements.

The primal seed

Shortly after the discontinuity that launched the universe (if, indeed, that is the way it happened) the elementary particles came together to form the first atoms - hydrogen, helium, lithium, beryllium, boron - and then something quite unique, an element of such startling properties that the ultimate outcome was the profound and mysterious development to which we designate the abstraction of "life". Furthermore that development reached such a state of advancement that it could understand the nature of that which gave it being and then the perversity to vilify it as the root of all evil.

Shape shifter

Even as a pure chemical, carbon exhibits a multiple personality that is quite exceptional in its variety. The soft powder that is lamp black, the amorphous stick of charcoal with which Leonardo first sketched the outline of a mysterious woman, the hardest of sparkling crystals nestling between the soft breasts of other women who changed history, yet which has been crucial to high technology, the smooth flaky centre of the draughtsman's pencil that also lubricated the workings of his mechanical designs and the new nanostructures of unimaginable possibilities (fullerines, buckyballs, nanotubes etc.) are all chemically identical.

The promiscuous bonder

But the diversity of the pure element is as nothing compared with the infinite variety of its combination with others: for the structure of the carbon atom lends itself to a mechanism of unconstrained potential known as the covalent bond. The atom has four electrons in its incomplete outer shell and exhibits a remarkable tendency to share these with other atoms. It forms chains, both straight and branched, and rings that yield combinations of unlimited length and complexity. Compounds of the same chemical formula can have quite different structures and properties (isomers). Onto the basic carbon skeletons many other atoms can be attached by covalent bonding to create an infinite variety of compounds with an awesome range of properties.

Jekyll and Hyde

Apart from some curiosities there are two prominent oxides of carbon. One is the silent killer, while the other is the giver of life. Carbon monoxide is preferentially taken up by haemoglobin, so poisons the body and brain by depriving them of oxygen, and is the most common cause of human death by poisoning.

Carbon dioxide, in contrast is the sole source of the food chain. Every item of nutrition you consume started out as atmospheric carbon dioxide. Through the intermediary of the photoreceptor chlorophyll (a carbon compound rather like haemoglobin, but centred on magnesium rather than iron) plants trap light energy from the sun and use it to manufacture sugars from carbon dioxide and water. These sugars are then used to create the higher compounds that plants and animals need for structure and function, while also making energy available where and when it is needed.

The only experimentally proven effect of increased carbon dioxide in the air is an increase in the growth rate of plants and, in particular, crops. The gas also makes a modest contribution to making the planet habitable by the so-called greenhouse effect, though water vapour is by far the dominant factor in this life maintaining mechanism.

Much more here

Did Greenie bans on lead cut crime?

Post below lifted from Josh Trevino. See the original for links

Has environmental regulation led to lower crime? That's the thesis advanced by Jessica Wolpaw Reyes of Amherst College, and featured in today's NYT. (You can find Dr Reyes's original scholarly piece here.) The argument is that leaded gasoline systematically poisoned the minds (and hence the moral capacity) of America's youth: when regulatory action took the lead out of gasoline, average intelligence went up, and crime went down.

It's an interesting idea, bolstered mostly by the early-1990s drop in crime, which correlates with the early-1970s elimination of leaded gasoline -- but its flaws go far beyond its inherent unprovability. Just for one example, this spreadsheet (warning: Excel file) from the DOJ on federal and state incarceration from 1982 through 2003 shows major proportional jumps in the incarceration percentages in 1986-1987, and in 1994. Those outliers aside, the year-to-year proportional increases are much higher in the 1990s than in the 1980s. This in turn implies one of two things: that the stricter laws on imprisonment and release in the 1990s had something to do with the drop in crime; or that things in the 1980s (when a "fully-leaded" generation was coming of age) weren't so bad after all. The latter is not, as a comparative condition, true. It shouldn't be denied that life, and urban life in particular, did in fact improve in the 1990s. The point here is to show that an identified correlation may have nothing whatsoever to do with causation, that data sets can be interpreted in massively different ways -- and moreover, that there are many data sets that may be relevant here. It's a good guess that the ones directly related to crime (imprisonment, court records, familial integrity, et al.) are more relevant than the ones not (i.e., lead levels in gasoline).

Why is this important? Dr Reyes's work buttresses the case that economic regulation and restriction is a proven net good for society at large. Indeed, the abstract for her research declares that "the social value of the reductions in violent crime far exceeds the cost of the removal of lead from gasoline." It is only in taking refuge in unquantifiable "social value" and unprovable correlations that these assertions may be made: when dealing with quantification and demonstrable causality, we know that costs imposed by state intervention in market mechanisms are almost never offset by any purported gain. Hypothesizing on a connection between leaded gasoline and societal violence is an interesting academic exercise -- but as a guide for policy formulation, it is not merely worthless, but malign.


For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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