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Climate Forecasts To Be Trimmed?

The UK Telegraph reports that the forthcoming report of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will report there is greater certainty about the connection between anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and global temperature, while offering a slightly reduced estimate of human impact on global climate.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says there can be little doubt that humans are responsible for warming the planet, but the organisation has reduced its overall estimate of this effect by 25 per cent.

In a final draft of its fourth assessment report, to be published in February, the panel reports that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has accelerated in the past five years. It also predicts that temperatures will rise by up to 4.5 C during the next 100 years, bringing more frequent heat waves and storms.

The panel, however, has lowered predictions of how much sea levels will rise in comparison with its last report in 2001.

Climate change sceptics are expected to seize on the revised figures as evidence that action to combat global warming is less urgent.

Scientists insist that the lower estimates for sea levels and the human impact on global warming are simply a refinement due to better data on how climate works rather than a reduction in the risk posed by global warming.

UPDATE: Tim Lambert explains why he thinks the Independent is mistaken.

Tim Lambert (mail) (www):
The Telegraph report is obviously wrong. The IPCC report just summarizes the scientific literature. There has not been any paper published that would justify reducing the estimate.
12.11.2006 10:16am
John Burgess (mail) (www):
I'd only suggest leaving a way open for the IPCC folks to back out of their overstatements gracefully. Having to eat over-generous portions of crow on the way out makes it harder to acknowledge mistakes.
12.11.2006 10:28am
FantasiaWHT:

Scientists insist that the lower estimates for sea levels and the human impact on global warming are simply a refinement due to better data on how climate works rather than a reduction in the risk posed by global warming.


This is my whole problem behind the entirety of global warming. How do we know that the supposedly drastic increase in global average temperature isn't simply the result of refinement due to better data on how climate works?

Just as a gross example to show what I mean, if in 1 year, scientists found the average temperature to be Y, with a margin of error of 2 degrees, and 50 years later scientists found the average temperature to be Y+2 with a margin of error of 1 degree, that doesn't prove the temperature went up, it actually could have gone down.

This goes for all scientific measurements. Can you claim that the value of pi has changed because we are able to calculate it more precisely now than the first mathematicians to discover it were able to?

Now I don't discount global warming or the anthropogenic acceleration of it entirely because of this, but it has always concerned me.
12.11.2006 10:28am
Russ (mail):
This can't be! Mankind is obviously the greatest threat to the Earth ever. We are all evil, especially when we propogate capitalism!
12.11.2006 12:04pm
cirby (mail):
I'm just sorta curious as to how this works.

Every time they "refine their models," the predicted temps go down. If the models just needed a little tweaking, the predictions should go UP from time to time...

A continual series of downward readjustments usually means you made a lot of assumptions in one (bad) direction, and are now trying to pretend you weren't attempting to warp the results from day one.

As of right now, the circa 2100 AD temperature increase, in the worst case, will be about 1/3 of the early worst case scenario... yet they stick with the same "horrible" claimate results that they were claiming with the old, extreme case.
12.11.2006 12:55pm
DougJ:
Frankly, this does not sound like sound science to me. Where's the reproducible experiments, or at least some more convincing data? There can be little doubt: global warming is the biggest boondoggle every perpetrated by the scientfic community agains the American people.
12.11.2006 1:08pm
DM Andy (mail):
DougJ, Can you suggest a reproducible experiment to say how much if at all humanity is increasing the world's temperature?

The science is clear that greenhouse gases could increase the temperature (look at Venus for an example) but also clear that the Earth periodically cools or warms and did so before humans were even around.

So there's two parts to the problem, firstly as FantasiaWHT said, is the world actually warming (it seems to be, but the dataset is still small). Secondly is that something that is caused by greenhouse gas emissions (the jury's still out on this). If it's something that's natural, then we'll just have to live with it, if it's something we as a species is causing, then we also have the power to fix it.
12.11.2006 2:41pm
Bos Taurus (mail):
Al Gore announced this morning bombing and straffing runs need to be initiated against red state cattle populations immediately. Source, winds of change.
12.11.2006 2:47pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
These comments don't make any sense whatsoever.

First there is clearly no cabal of climate scientists who get to control the release of information so they can 'slowly' back out of their global warming position.

Secondly the claim from the global warming skeptics has always been that social pressure or the need for grants puts such pressure on these scientists (generally a fairly iconoclastic bunch) that they won't drop the party line about global warming. If the pressures on scientists supposedly are so great they endorse global warming despite strong evidence to the contrary why didn't it force them to stick with the higher numbers?. I mean the IPCC knew, even commenting on it in the report, that these reduced numbers would give skeptics ammunition.

In fact this report is strong evidence that global warming research is working like any other science. Instead of being motivated by some compelling need to generate scare stories or to tow the party line the global warming researchers are changing their conclusions based on the most recent data and results. Good science is continually making refinements and corrections to it's theories and predictions.

The climate community has never been very confident about the rate of global warming, the consensus has always just been on the fact that humans were causing global warming. It's much easier to see that the positive forcing from carbon dioxide emissions is going to outweigh any reasonable values for the negative forcings from the blocking of sunlight from aerosols, ocean absorption of heat/CO2 and so forth than it is to figure out precise values for all these forcings. In fact if I didn't hear about them revising these values then I would start getting skeptical.

Frankly I'm at a loss how so many commenters who obviously don't know very much about climate science (not that I'm an expert) are convinced that global warming isn't real. A priori the idea that CO2 emissions can cause global warming isn't absurd. So even if you were convinced that all the climate scientists were faking their results at best you should conclude that you don't know if global warming is going to happen. If you instead doubt the global warming conclusions because you are skeptical of simulations or other tools they use then at most this should lower your confidence in global warming but not change which one you would bet on (fair odds) if you were forced.

---

Also Dougj deserves a special response. Where are the reproducible experiments? They are the massive number of comparisons they do between model predictions and independent data. Reproducibly the models give accurate predictions for climate data they haven't fed them.

It is the several independent methods for determining the historical climate record that reproducibly give strong correlations between CO2 concentration and global temperature. It is all the meteorological experiments we have done for the past 100 years that tells us about the local behavior of the climate, i.e., the statistical relationship between humidity, particulate matter, temperature and precipitation is such and such.

Finally have you even read the scientific papers? Have you looked at the ACTUAL data?. I bet that you haven't and are dismissing the conclusions of an entire research community without even knowing what they say.

Frankly I'm pretty disappointed in the VC readers in this matter. I think you all appreciate how absurd it is for people to criticize SCOTUS decisions as obviously biased, activist and absurd without even knowing what the precedents and issues really were (e.g., just hearing a quick summary that doesn't even mention the opposing arguments). But when it comes to climate change your happy to charge in and decide that it's obviously BS without even really understanding how the conclusion was reached (saying they used computer models to predict things is about as useful as saying SCOTUS decided the case by hearing some lawyers argue).
12.11.2006 3:21pm
FantasiaWHT:

Also Dougj deserves a special response. Where are the reproducible experiments? They are the massive number of comparisons they do between model predictions and independent data. Reproducibly the models give accurate predictions for climate data they haven't fed them.


Yes, the amazingly accurate model predictions of weather and climate *nods encouragingly* Let me know when the weathermen can tell me what the weather is going to be like in 2 days and then get back to me, k?
12.11.2006 3:27pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Also on a more interesting and theoretical point I want to observe that the notion reproducibility in science is far more complex than generally understand.

Often people think of reproducibility as meaning that the 'same' experiment can be conducted again and you will get the 'same' results. Of course the problem here is deciding what 'same' means.

For instance consider the hypothesis that the earth's mantle is cooling. Obviously the experiments that would demonstrate this aren't reproducible in the simple sense above. If you measure the mantle temperature a year after I measure it and the theory is true then you will get a lower value. Yet surely if every time we do the experiment we get a lower temperature than last time surely this counts as valid scientific evidence for the theory.

Ultimately by taking a few more examples like this it becomes clear that reproducible just means that you get the result that the theory would predict. In other words the reproducible result of an experiment is just it's agreement with theory, even if that theory says you never get the same numerical value again.

This broader notion of reproducibility is what allows thinks like paleontology to fall under our definition of good science. We can't go manufacture a new T. rex but we can make hypothesises that predict what we will see in new fossils, e.g., if we think that T rex was a predator we might predict new fossils will have certain sorts of bone fractures.

Similarly we can have plenty of reproducible experiments in climate science. If one has a model that claims to accurately predict climate you can feed it in data that you didn't use to create the model, say data from the early 19th century and show that the model accurately predicts what really happened. In this fashion you can reproducibly show that the model is accurate by trying this with different data sets (say ice core data for earlier times).
12.11.2006 3:34pm
Steve:
It's amusing to watch commentors simply ignore Tim Lambert's rather key point as they hasten to remind us that Al Gore is evil, or whatever. Yeah, you guys are the open-minded, "skeptical" ones.
12.11.2006 3:57pm
Kevin P. (mail):
I am a chemical engineer and ran statistically designed experiments in semiconductor factories, many of which included temperature as a factor, as a response and sometimes as both. Predicting temperature was very hard to do even in a closed system like a semiconductor tool. The statistical models could be made to tell me whatever I wanted to believe, but the ability to reproduce the results on a new set of wafers kept everyone honest.

It amazes me that some scientists claim that they can predict the climate of the earth over decades and centuries to the precision of less than a degree Celsius. This is when we can't predict local weather within a week, and couldn't predict Hurricane Katrina's turn towards the mainland until three days before it happened. The skepticism I have is rooted in my actual experience of what is possible and what is not.
12.11.2006 4:16pm
Mark Buehner (mail):
First there is clearly no cabal of climate scientists who get to control the release of information so they can 'slowly' back out of their global warming position.

True enough. But there is a group of activists who make a living raising money for global warming, there is a media enchanted with the idea without a shred of credulity in their collective minds and the mistaken impression that there is no difference of thought amongst climate scientists, and there is a subset of scientists who's funding depends entirely on global warming existing (which certainly doesnt make them liars, but certainly does give them an incentive- or why are scientists who take funding from Big Oil routinely dismissed out of hand?)


If the pressures on scientists supposedly are so great they endorse global warming despite strong evidence to the contrary why didn't it force them to stick with the higher numbers?.

Perhaps because at some point, their numbers simply begin to look fantastic and untenable, which is no better for their careers and reputations.

In fact this report is strong evidence that global warming research is working like any other science.

Agreed. Scientists are less the problem, and in fact the number of AGW skeptics amongst climate scientists seems to be rising (its hard to tell because the people who are supposed to find out these things consistantly maintain there are zero, and zero times any other number...). The activists and their media allies would have us believe the research is just a formality at this point. Rearranging deckchairs, if you will.

The climate community has never been very confident about the rate of global warming, the consensus has always just been on the fact that humans were causing global warming.

Indeed, which is why the field is so bulloxed. They assumed their conclusions before bothering to carefully investigate whether the earth is warming at an unprecidented or even unusual rate by geologically historical standards. Which left a lot of scientists with egg on their face in the position of trying to explain away the mideival warming period, instead of studying it without a preconceived agenda. Im look at you Professor Mann.


Frankly I'm at a loss how so many commenters who obviously don't know very much about climate science (not that I'm an expert) are convinced that global warming isn't real.

Frankly, im always astonished at how global warming alarmists can intentionally pretend there is no daylight between denying that the globe is warming, and denying that it is warming catastrophically and directly due to human influence.
12.11.2006 4:21pm
DougJ:

But there is a group of activists who make a living raising money for global warming, there is a media enchanted with the idea without a shred of credulity in their collective minds and the mistaken impression that there is no difference of thought amongst climate scientists, and there is a subset of scientists who's funding depends entirely on global warming existing (which certainly doesnt make them liars, but certainly does give them an incentive- or why are scientists who take funding from Big Oil routinely dismissed out of hand?)



Very true. And I don't understand how the liberals here can fail to understand that science is based on reproducible experiments. If there can be none such with global warming, than global warming is, by definition, not a scientific theory. Neither is evolution for that matter. But that's another matter.
12.11.2006 4:47pm
John (mail):
I am prepared to believe the world is, in some sense, getting warmer. Certainly this winter in Connecticut would seem to bear this out somewhat!

But I would like to know why the world was warmer 5,000 years ago (I use this figure because some scientists in the Andes reported that under a retreating glacier there were 5,000 year old plants). Once scientists can tell me how the earth got warmer then, and why whatever caused that warming isn't doing it again, then we will have at least a start on the argument that we are causing it.
12.11.2006 4:51pm
Nate F (mail):

Very true. And I don't understand how the liberals here can fail to understand that science is based on reproducible experiments. If there can be none such with global warming, than global warming is, by definition, not a scientific theory. Neither is evolution for that matter. But that's another matter.


Are you joking? That's analagous to using the "melody, harmony, rhythm" definition for music to the exclusion of hip hop, free jazz, etc.

As several commenters have attempted to point out, "experimentation" does not necessarily mean making weather in a lab. If we build a model based on what we know, and run simulations that can accurately predict known data points that were not included in the model, that is a legitimate experiment. That has been done extensively in climate science. And evolutionary science for that matter.
12.11.2006 5:34pm
AB:
The newspaper story stated:

Climate change sceptics are expected to seize on the revised figures as evidence that action to combat global warming is less urgent.


At least that part turned out to be correct, as numerous posters here have demonstrated, even though the substance of the story turns out to be an incorrect reading of the new IPCC report!

It's amazing to me how people are willing to believe that practically every scientist is biased and/or on the payroll of the fantasized multi-billion dollar environmentalist lobby. As if the big money supports action to reduce emissions. The fact that the overwhelming resources of interests who want to preserve the status quo have bought so few scientists is the amazing and heartening thing.
12.11.2006 6:26pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
When the fourth IPCC report comes out next year look for a change in the climate sensitivity prediction interval. The climate sensitivity is the increase in global mean temperature for a doubling of co2 concentration. IPCC has reported the same interval, 1.5 C -- 4.5 C, three times since 1990. The reason we have an interval is model uncertainty. The climate modelers don't know which model (if any) is correct so they run a suite of models (each with it's own uncertainty span) and report an interval of predictions. If you don't see this interval shrink it means we have made little or no progress towards understanding the link between increased co2 and temperature increase. One of the biggest contributors to the uncertainty is the physics of water-vapor feedback. Without this feedback to amplify the co2 effect the temperature increase falls to about 1 C with almost no uncertainty. This amount of warming is too small to be significant. Getting the feedback right means understanding cloud physics because an increase in water-vapor concentration changes the earth's cloud cover and the average albedo. The GCM modelers can't do detailed cloud physics because the zoning is too coarse (about 250 km), so they "parameterize" the effect. This is one of the things that leads to different models. They can't shrink the zoning enough because that would increase the run time on the model too much.

Another thing to look at is a graphic called "Global Mean Radiative Forcing and Uncertainties." This is a key graphic because it tells you how well the modelers understand what drives climate change. The current graphic has 12 sources each with a label that tells you the degree of understanding of the physics of the source. In IPCC 2001 Figure 6.6, eight sources have "very low understanding," one has "low," two have "medium," and one has "high." The "high" understanding source is greenhouse gases, but it has the largest uncertainty. Look for less "very low understanding" sources as a sign of progress. If this graphic has not changed then little progress has been made.

Finally look at the doubling scenarios in the new report. Currently the noise is greater than the signal. This means the span between the lowest and highest prediction is bigger than the span of the marker scenario. Do we really want to set world energy policy with this level of uncertainty? When the report comes out, look for yourself at the key elements that determine progress and ignore the blizzard of confusing scenarios that obscure insight as what's actually going on.
12.11.2006 6:30pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
Logicnazi: I'm perfectly willing to accept global warming as a given. What I'm not about to concede is the cause. I'm also not confident about estimations of the rate.

My reading (including the data) is that the Earth has gone through some pretty dramatic temperature changes, some of them relatively quickly. Some of the changes are probably unlikely to occur again through the same causes (say, for instance, the results of an oxidizing atmosphere). But other causes are largely still unidentified, with the betting going toward changes in solar output.

I'm not about to get stampeded into radical restructuring of the global economy because someone thinks the cause for the current warming is anthropogenic. Anthropogenesis is certainly arguable, even provable to a very limited degree. But turning the global economy upside down doesn't strike me as a useful way to address that particular issue.

Equally plausible would be to create more stuff in the air to block solar radiation--i.e., 'nuclear winter' lite.
12.11.2006 6:35pm
Mark Buehner (mail):
If we build a model based on what we know, and run simulations that can accurately predict known data points that were not included in the model, that is a legitimate experiment. That has been done extensively in climate science

That has not been done. They can model to produce a given set of results they designed the model to produce (the real shock is how long it took to even do that), but they dont have anything like the ability to pick an arbitrary historical period and 'predict' the climate based a given starting point.

For instance no model in existance can plug in data from a random date and predict our current climate with any kind of accuracy. We dont even have the starting data available accurate enough to do this for more than the last few decades. That has not been done, and may simply not be possible. All of our good climate data is from the last half century and we all know pretty intuitively what has happened, its too short a time frame. You try plugging in incomplete data sets from 500 years ago and you get totally irrational results... unless the model was specifically built to replicate what happened since 500 years ago. But in that case its useless for 10,000 years ago.

So no, not only are our models not able to make postdictions, it isnt even possible to do so in theory unless our technology can somehow divine a heck of a lot more data from the past somehow. The beauty of AGW was that none of us were going to be alive to know who was right, that is until the activists decided that they needed to stir up some sense of impending doom by claiming the world was in for a disaster inside the next century. I would argue there is a real sense in the climatology field right now of a lot of scientists going, 'Whoa... what the hell have we been telling these people?'
12.11.2006 6:58pm
Houston Lawyer:
What did the Neanderthals do to end the last ice age?
12.11.2006 7:08pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):

Secondly the claim from the global warming skeptics has always been that social pressure or the need for grants puts such pressure on these scientists (generally a fairly iconoclastic bunch) that they won't drop the party line about global warming. If the pressures on scientists supposedly are so great they endorse global warming despite strong evidence to the contrary why didn't it force them to stick with the higher numbers?. I mean the IPCC knew, even commenting on it in the report, that these reduced numbers would give skeptics ammunition.

In fact this report is strong evidence that global warming research is working like any other science. Instead of being motivated by some compelling need to generate scare stories or to tow the party line the global warming researchers are changing their conclusions based on the most recent data and results. Good science is continually making refinements and corrections to it's theories and predictions.


LN, the mistaken assumption here is that these are opposing positions. I'm old enough, however, to recall several scientific positions that were entrenched enough to strongly influence funding, then to change over time.

The problem with AGW is that the political inputs into the science have become sufficiently large to dominate the existing process, making it even harder for the people currently on the "out" side.
12.11.2006 7:24pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
Oh, and just for your interest...

Finally have you even read the scientific papers? Have you looked at the ACTUAL data?. I bet that you haven't and are dismissing the conclusions of an entire research community without even knowing what they say.


To the extent possible for a non-specialist, yes. One of the problems, though, has been that a good bit of the data isn't being made available to people who would like to try to replicate the results.
12.11.2006 7:26pm
ray_g:
"Frankly I'm at a loss how so many commenters...are convinced that global warming isn't real."

I'm tired of this straw man. The primary debate over any proposed climate policy was never whether or not there was a global warming trend, it was about "global warming is happening at a potentially catastrophic rate, it is the fault of humans, and we are all going to die if the government (or U.N.) doesn't' do something!!!!!", which was the claim made at the beginning by those who supported the Kyoto protocols, regulating greenhouse gasses, and the like. So, I'll concede to you a global warming trend, but I'm still convinced that we don't know enough about how or why it is happening to intelligently formulate policy, and will oppose policies that have a high probability of severely harming the economy.
12.11.2006 7:38pm
DougJ:
What's ironic is that the very people (Al and the Gorettes) who deride the lack of science in Intelligent Design embrace the very same arguments when it comes to something they want to be true -- namely, global warming.

Pray tell, moonbats, how exactly is the evidence -- scientific evidence, not Tubby Gore's efforts to bilk Americans out of 10 bucks for a movie ticket and their vote -- for global warming any more conclusive than that for intelligent design? I'm waiting....
12.11.2006 7:51pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
I don't think it's useful to make comparisons between global warming skeptics and evolution skeptics. You can frame it either way. The proponents of global warming have a lot of science on their side. We know greenhouse gases warm the planet, that's why the planet is livable. If not for the greenhouse effect, the average temperature would be 33 C lower. That's a lot. That's a permanent ice age. We know you can get runaway warming, look at Venus. Stick with the science as proposed by the IPCC, which the proponents rely on-- it's their holy grail. Even within that science there is cause for skepticism. What the proponents are really relying on is the "cautionary principle." They think even there is only a small probability that planet will warm by 4.5 C with a doubling of co2 concentration, that's enough to take action because the consequences are so disasterous.
12.11.2006 8:09pm
FantasiaWHT:
The idea that climate scientists will ever actually find, much less be able to calculate, all the variables that effect climate is laughable. They are constantly finding and applyin g new variables. The result of adding these new variables arguably makes a more accurate measurement, but when a more accurate measurement gives you a higher number, that's hardly conclusive that the actual data you are measuring has changed.
12.11.2006 8:59pm
EricP:

AB: It's amazing to me how people are willing to believe that practically every scientist is biased and/or on the payroll of the fantasized multi-billion dollar environmentalist lobby.


I always laugh when I read about "every" or "almost all" scientists agree about global warming. The average chemist, nuclear physicist, astronomer, etc. probably have no more personal knowledge on which to judge the claims than anyone here. At the end of the day we rely primarily on the research conducted by climatologists.

The problem is that climatologists have self-selected a career to study global warming. If you had to guess, how many of those people do you think entered that field because they were skeptical or even open-minded on the question? So we are in a situation where those doing most of the research are true-believers who arrange their work with the basic assumption that global warming is true, is caused by humans and that the results will be bad enough to justify their having dedicated their life's work to it. It doesn't require bad faith at all, I believe that these climatologists are acting in what they view as everyone's best interest and that they are really disturbed that we don't all see it their way. I wouldn't look to a Catholic priest for an unbiased opinion on whether Jesus was the son of God, and I don't expect an unbiased opinion on global warming from a climatologist. For both, it is a matter of faith on which they have built their lives.

None of this proves or disproves global warming warnings (or Jesus' status). However when the research has an unavoidable built-in bias, you need to be aware of it when creating policy (global or national) based on it.

Then there are costs, which tend to be ignored or down-played. If you take your car into the garage for a tire change and the mechanic tells you that some part you have never heard of is breaking down and driving your car could be dangerous - but for an extra $5 you would be safe, you'll probably bow to his expertise and tell him to go ahead without too much thought. If however, he tells you that it will cost $5,000 now and $2,000 per year for the rest of your life, you would get a second or third opinion. You might also decide that ignoring it is worth the risk. If we assume that climatologists, despite their biases, are correct, the costs involved in making meaningful change - in terms of economic wealth and the lives and health of people in poorer countries - will be unimaginable. With costs so high, the proof needs to be overwhelming. Frankly to date, it doesn't even come close with or without considering biases.
12.11.2006 9:07pm
Aleks:
Re; We know you can get runaway warming, look at Venus.

Venus is closer to the Sun than the Earth is, it has a very different atmospheric chemistry (and physics too for that matter; Venus' atmosphere is much denser than ours); Venus rotates far more slowly than any other planet (its day is actually longer than its year!), it has no appreciable magnetic field, and it has no moon let alone one like the Earth's which is a significant fraction of its own size. About the only thing Earth and Venus have in common is that they are abouut the same size, otherwise they are very different planets and I don't think you can model the climate of one on the other.
12.11.2006 9:35pm
DougJ:

If we assume that climatologists, despite their biases, are correct, the costs involved in making meaningful change - in terms of economic wealth and the lives and health of people in poorer countries - will be unimaginable.



True, especially when there is no reason to believe that the costs of the effects of global warming would be all that high. The fear mongers focus on the coastlines that will be flooded and neglect the cooler areas that will become inhabitable along with the inland areas that will become coastline (and hence more valuable) as the water level rises. There is every reason to believe the global warming scenario of an ocean level eleveated by 20-25 feet (which is dubious in any case) could actually

help. Whereas anti-greenhouse "remedies" like Kyoto would almost certainly hinder the economy.

From an economic perspective, it's a slam dunk: it makes absolutely no sense to try to "stop" global warming. It's not clear that it's really happening, not clear that we could do anything about it if it was, and the financial impact may be beneficial anyway if it does happen.

the economy worldwide.
12.11.2006 9:44pm
DougJ:
Not sure what happened to that last post. It should have read:


If we assume that climatologists, despite their biases, are correct, the costs involved in making meaningful change - in terms of economic wealth and the lives and health of people in poorer countries - will be unimaginable.




True, especially when there is no reason to believe that the costs of the effects of global warming would be all that high. The fear mongers focus on the coastlines that will be flooded and neglect the cooler areas that will become inhabitable along with the inland areas that will become coastline (and hence more valuable) as the water level rises. There is every reason to believe the global warming scenario of an ocean level eleveated by 20-25 feet (which is dubious in any case) could actually help. Whereas anti-greenhouse "remedies" like Kyoto would almost certainly hinder the economy worldwide.

From an economic perspective, it's a slam dunk: it makes absolutely no sense to try to "stop" global warming. It's not clear that it's really happening, not clear that we could do anything about it if it was, and the financial impact may be beneficial anyway if it does happen.
12.11.2006 9:48pm
byomtov (mail):
It amazes me that some scientists claim that they can predict the climate of the earth over decades and centuries to the precision of less than a degree Celsius. This is when we can't predict local weather within a week,

It amazes me that actuaries claim they can predict mortality over decades when they can't even tell me when I'm going to die.
12.11.2006 10:00pm
Toby:
First there is clearly no cabal of climate scientists who get to control the release of information so they can 'slowly' back out of their global warming position.

Does anyone here rember how long sequencing the human genome was going to take before someone who was not on the Watson gravy train stepped up to the plate with an improved procedure?

Is anyone watching the current discussions on Alzheimers, and how a single model had crowded out all other research?

This kind of stuff goes on all the time, and it does not take a presumptionof evil to drive it. I am a scientist, someone who is only able to do his job of immese painstaking tedium, becuase I think it is more itnersting than anyone else does Think not? Try describing your work to the uninformed Fiurthermore, I am solving a critical problem and lives may be at stake. I am pursuing what to me seems the best solution to the problem.

Anything that competes with my line of research is wasted money that wil not [save lives].

Some of the best scientists (most obsessive) with the best motives (which any other aproach deletes) are prone to quashing debate.
12.11.2006 11:02pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

It amazes me that actuaries claim they can predict mortality over decades when they can't even tell me when I'm going to die.
Actuaries are making predictions of future mortality based on past history—and therefore, on past medical care. Lots of people survive and recover from cancers that were considered utterly hopeless a few decades ago. I'm guessing that mortality rates for my generation are going to be substantially better than my father's generation because of:

1. Less smoking.

2. Early catches of prostate cancer from the PSA test.

3. Improved internal imaging means earlier and less invasive methods for identifying significant internal health problems.

4. Early diagnosis (and therefore, earlier treatment) of diabetes from the HgA1c blood test.
12.11.2006 11:18pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Aleks:

"Venus is closer to the Sun than the Earth is, it has a very different atmospheric chemistry … Venus rotates far more slowly than any other planet (its day is actually longer than its year!), it has no appreciable magnetic field, and it has no moon let alone one like the Earth's which is a significant fraction of its own size."


While Venus is closer to the sun, it has an albedo (average reflectivity) of 0.65 while the earth has an albedo of 0.3. Therefore Venus actually gets less incident radiation because more of the stronger incoming radiation is reflected back into space. This means the equivalent temperature you calculate from energy balance for the two planets is not that far apart. However surface of the earth is only 33 C hotter than it's equivalent temperature, while the surface of Venus is hundreds of degrees hotter. This is because the atmosphere of Venus is over 96% carbon dioxide compared to 0.03% (not a misprint) for the earth. The surface of Venus is much hotter then the earth because the super abundance of co2 in it's atmosphere. This is the greenhouse effect with a vengeance.

The energy balance method is only an approximation, so if you want to know if the earth is going to get 1 C hotter or 5 C hotter you need a detailed model that incorporates all the forcings, feedback, and ineractions. Nevertheless Venus provides a good example that co2 can increase a planet's temperature.
12.12.2006 12:17am
A. Zarkov (mail):
Looking at the Telegraph article it looks like IPCC has not changed the climate sensitivity interval. Note they say: "It also predicts that temperatures will rise by up to 4.5 C during the next 100 years…" That looks like the upper end of the old interval if "the next 100 years" corresponds to a doubling of the co2 concentration. The Telegraph also says: "The authors also state that the climate is almost certain to warm by at least 1.5 C during the next 100 years." This looks like the lower end of the old interval. It looks like no progress has been made since 2001 in understanding the link between co2 and global temperature rise. I'll bet what's different is the calculation of climate-change effects like sea level rise. Note that the article does not tell you that 1.5 C is really no big deal.
12.12.2006 12:29am
Mark Buehner (mail):
Nevertheless Venus provides a good example that co2 can increase a planet's temperature.

This Venus example is a good example of how badly understood global warming is by most people. Venus's atmosphere is 97% carbon dioxide. The atmosphere of Earth contains .038% carbon dioxide. I suppose you could also say that water is a deadly poison considering less than 10' feet of it can kill every human on the planet.

Forget global warming, you might as well make the argument that carbon dioxide emmisions can asphyxiate all animal life on the planet because thats what would happen on Venus. The comparison is ridiculous, we could pump out nothing but C02 for the next hundred thousand years and still have a fraction of what Venus does.

The issue isnt whether CO2 _can_ cause a greenhouse effect, the issue is whether increasing its proportion from .038% of the atmosphere to .040% is going to send the rest of the atmosphere spinning wildly out of control.

For that matter another simple fact you don't hear very often is that water vapor is by far the most prominent greenhouse gas, accounting for some 95% of the greenhouse effect on the atmosphere. But its that 4% created by C02 (of which we are only talking about a modest increase over what is already there) that is supposed to flood the continents, melts the icecaps, create killer hurricanes, devastating droughts, and god knows what else.

People should be questioning AGW, not because its impossible, but because in order for it to be meaningful to anyone of the human race outside climate scientists a whole lot of things that we dont understand very well have to be true.
12.12.2006 1:10am
A. Zarkov (mail):
Mark Buehner:

"For that matter another simple fact you don't hear very often is that water vapor is by far the most prominent greenhouse gas, accounting for some 95% of the greenhouse effect on the atmosphere. But its that 4% created by C02 …"

While water vapor is responsible for most of the greenhouse effect, it's not generally listed as a greenhouse gas because it acts to amplify the co2 absorption, not as a basic forcing. An increase in co2 causes a little warming, which in turn causes an increase in water vapor. That increase in water vapor then causes much more warming. Moreover the residence time of water vapor is about 10 years while co2 continuously builds up. Without the amplification a doubling of co2 would only cause about 1 C increase in global temperature. That's the simplified model. The real world has effects that might destroy the amplification such as an increase in thin cloud cover. That's the weakness of the global warming predictions, not the fact that water vapor is the major absorber. The climate modelers know all about this and have answered their critics on this issue. See calculating the greenhouse effect, which directly addresses the misleading calculation that 95% water vapor contribution.

Venus provides an illustration of the affect of co2 on a planetary scale, and a possible illustration of a "runaway water vapor greenhouse." Many planetary scientists think that the earth and Venus started out in the same state, but as the co2 built up from volcano eruptions, the water vapor feedback caused the oceans to evaporate into the atmosphere and then ultimately decompose in the upper atmosphere. Thus eventually Venus ended up with an almost pure co2 atmosphere. See Lessons from Venus.
12.12.2006 3:23am
A. Zarkov (mail):
12.12.2006 5:07am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
What they don't tell you is that water vapor is the most important greenhouse gas and that the models used for prediction do not handle cloud cover very well.

We don't know if clouds are net reflectors or net absorbers of solar energy. Which is a pretty big hole in the models. Not to mention that the models are not very fine grained. Which means that compared to the real climate the energy balances between different regions are not well modeled.
12.12.2006 9:35am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Let me also add that there is global warming on Mars.

Has that been taken into account?
12.12.2006 9:36am
Mark Buehner (mail):
A. Zarkov:

As if the complexity of the earth atmosphere and climate isnt enough, you now want to throw Venus into the mix as a comparison? How Venus and Earth evolved is interesting but provides little light on whether AGW is a current threat. Venus is much closer to the sun, has a weaker magnetic field, no plate techtonics, no moon, and no life. You are pointing to another incredibly complex system and expecting to be able to make point by point comparisons to the Earth, that just doesnt seem likely to work. Even the article you site clearly states " Is there a risk that anthropogenic global warming could kick the Earth into a runaway greenhouse state? Almost certainly not." So maybe Venus is ok as some nebulous example that a run away greenhouse effect can leave you looking like Venus, but that is pure trivia as far as a conversation on what danger we may face. About as useful as a study on Mars to warn what deforestation could lead us to look like.

As far as the water vapor/feedback issue, there is yet another very complex element of the system that may or may not be well understood. Modelers think they have a good grasp on water vapor feedback, but that remains to be seen. The point is water vapor so dwarfs C02 in the greenhouse picture, any mistake or unknown mechanism in our understanding of it is pretty much guaranteed to throw all our other projections to date out the window. Climate scientists are monkeying with feedback mechanism constantly, if there is something about water vapor missing or unknown, and there almost certainly must be, their mileage is going to vary dramatically.

Its rather like an alien scientist studying an automobile and trying to establish the gasoline mileage by focusing on the gas pedal, while judiciously noting that the engine, fuel system etc are indeed fundamentally tied to the accelerator. Well, yeh, but in fact you probably want to gain a full understanding of those systems first, because they are obviously more fundamental, and a misunderstanding of them is going to render your pedal studies worthless.
12.12.2006 9:42am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Looking at a map, I am comforted to see that the bulk of the US territory to be flooded voted blue.
12.12.2006 12:29pm
DougJ:

Looking at a map, I am comforted to see that the bulk of the US territory to be flooded voted blue.



Amen, brother. Let those moonbats learn to swim.
12.12.2006 1:23pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Mark Buehner:

No one says that Venus proves global warming is a threat to earth. It's merely an example that shows the basic physics on a planetary scale in action. Moreover it doesn't matter that Venus is closer to the sun because the Venus albedo is more than twice that of earth, so it's actually getting less radiative forcing from the sun. The differences like magnetic might have some slight consequences, but would be minor compared to the co2. According to the article Venus started off with the same amount of carbon in it's crust, but unlike the earth a lot of it didn't go into limestone because the oceans evaporated. They also point out that no matter how much co2 we put into the atmosphere, there's not enough solar radiation to produce a runway water vapor effect.

Cloud physics is pretty much the major weakness in GCM models. But we understand the water vapor feedback pretty well, that's one of the few things that are well worked out. But some clouds cancel the positive feedback while others enhance it. The actual amount of warming for a doubling could be much worse than 5 C or it could be around 1 C assuming we don't have some big particulate loading like a major volcano eruption. If they get the cloud physics worked out I will go from a skeptic to a believer. But that doesn't seem likely as the past 30 years shows. All in all we basically agree.
12.12.2006 1:55pm
markm (mail):
Houston Lawyer: "What did the Neanderthals do to end the last ice age?"

They didn't. The last ice age ended right on schedule, according to a combination of cycles that had repeated many times before. Neanderthals were extinct long before the temperature peaked about 11,000 years ago. It started back down, as it has done many times before - and then the cycle broke about 8,000 years ago, with the temperature leveling off and then increasing a little. It's gone up and down several times since then, but by much less than the ice ages, and on a time scale of a few centuries rather than thousands of years.

To my understanding, scientists haven't even agreed on what caused the ice ages, nor why they ended. If they can't figure that out, I very much doubt that they can model the effects of industrial-age emissions accurately enough to even know if the temperature will go up or down. I get even more doubtful when I see some of the climate scientists publishing the hockey stick graph, with a straight line from 1000-1850 AD, when any historian knows temperatures across Europe varied widely down and up and down again.

So my challenge to the climate scientists is:

1) Create models that take into account the various hypothesized influences on the Ice Ages and roughly match the data, and get a general agreement on the broad outlines of what was going on then.

2) Get your data for the last thousand years into agreement, and find out whether global climate change is actually a valid concept, or all you have is various regions changing in different ways.

3) Either way, create models that roughly match the last thousand years, area by area. It doesn't have to be fine-scale enough to explain how Vikings could have farmed in Greenland when global temperatures were supposedly lower than now, but it does have to match European and Chinese historical records in general.

Do all that, and I think you're ready to start looking at the last 150 years. Until you can do that, I'll suspect that the error bars ought to be wider than the trend you claim to have detected. And that level of uncertainty means that we're a whole lot better off increasing worldwide wealth and hoping we'll be rich enough to cope with whatever climate changes actually occur than crippling the economy in order to reduce CO2 emissions, with an essentially unknown effect on an unknown future.


P.S. Coincidentally or not, that break in the ice age cycle 8,000 years ago roughly corresponds with the first widespread clearing of land for farming (that we know of). If anthropogenic global warming started then, be thankful for it, because if the ice age cycle had continued, Canada and parts of the USA would be under glaciers by now. I think it's also possible the causation runs the other way - that Homo Sapiens had been capable of primitive agriculture for about 50,000 years, but it took this period of unusually stable climate for the first farmers to survive. We're less vulnerable now, because we understand more about farming, have better seed-stock and other technology to reduce farmers' dependence on the weather, can provide a farmer facing a climate change the seeds and know-how developed in distant lands to handle the expected new climate, and at worst can move food around the world.
12.13.2006 7:02pm
Brian Schmidt (mail) (www):
A pseudo-trackback:

Volokh Correction #17

Outsourced to Tim Lambert via a lame, not-much-of-a-retraction by Jonathan Adler, regarding the claim that the IPCC is reducing its estimate of future global warming. Adler could try just admitting the report he referenced was completely wrong.
12.13.2006 9:05pm
Aleks:
Re; This is because the atmosphere of Venus is over 96% carbon dioxide compared to 0.03% (not a misprint) for the earth.

Yes, and I believe I also mentioned that Venus' atmospheric chemistry was radically different Earth's.

Re; Nevertheless Venus provides a good example that co2 can increase a planet's temperature.

I am not doubting that CO2 can increase atmospheric tempratures. My statement simply meant what it said: Venus is so different from the Earth (and I left out what may be the key difference: the lack of life) that it can not be used to model the Earth's climate.

Re; Moreover the residence time of water vapor is about 10 years while co2 continuously builds up.

Um, maybe on Venus or Mars not on Earth. CO2 is continually scavenged from the Earth's atmosphere by several processes, inclduing one that is visible from any window whose view inlcudes greenery.

Re; Moreover it doesn't matter that Venus is closer to the sun because the Venus albedo is more than twice that of earth

This may be true now, but has it always been true? I think that's very dubious. Especially in the early eons of the Solar System I suspect that the closer proximity to the sun (before the Venusian or terrestial atmospheres had their current compositions) was quite crucial, as perhaps too was the vastly longer Venusian day (assuming that is not a recent artifact, as seems probable). The Earth actually spent a considerable part of its history all but completely frozen over (microbial life survived by cryophiliac adaptation and in the neighborhood of thermal vents). Venus was probably too close to the sun for that fate; perhaps too close for liquid bodies of water to endure and hence for life to evolve.

Re: Coincidentally or not, that break in the ice age cycle 8,000 years ago roughly corresponds with the first widespread clearing of land for farming

Only a very small areas of the Earth were under cultivation 8000 years ago: just parts of the Middle East and China, and that's it. The major portion of the human-inhabited surface of the Earth was still populated by hunter-gatherers well into the Bronze Age. (Almost all of the New World; all of Australia and Indonesia; Japan and the Philippines; the Arctic; and Africa south of the Equator).
12.14.2006 1:27pm