Overview of the Global Warming Debate

I know I have been dormant on this site of late (the perils of having a day job), but I have been thinking about and working for a while on a way to clearly portray the basic outlines of the global warming debate. I hope you will check it out in this article posted today at Forbes. Here is the opening:

Likely you have heard the sound bite that “97% of climate scientists” accept the global warming “consensus”.  Which is what gives global warming advocates the confidence to call climate skeptics “deniers,” hoping to evoke a parallel with “Holocaust Deniers,” a case where most of us would agree that a small group are denying a well-accepted reality.  So why do these “deniers” stand athwart of the 97%?  Is it just politics?  Oil money? Perversity? Ignorance?

We are going to cover a lot of ground, but let me start with a hint.

In the early 1980′s I saw Ayn Rand speak at Northeastern University.  In the Q&A period afterwards, a woman asked Ms. Rand, “Why don’t you believe in housewives?”  And Ms. Rand responded, “I did not know housewives were a matter of belief.”  In this snarky way, Ms. Rand was telling the questioner that she had not been given a valid proposition to which she could agree or disagree.  What the questioner likely should have asked was, “Do you believe that being a housewife is a morally valid pursuit for a woman.”  That would have been an interesting question (and one that Rand wrote about a number of times).

In a similar way, we need to ask ourselves what actual proposition do the 97% of climate scientists agree with.  And, we need to understand what it is, exactly,  that the deniers are denying.   (I personally have fun echoing Ms. Rand’s answer every time someone calls me a climate denier — is the climate really a matter of belief?)

It turns out that the propositions that are “settled” and the propositions to which some like me are skeptical are NOT the same propositions.  Understanding that mismatch will help explain a lot of the climate debate.

  • pauld

    Zachriel:

    Here is a reasonably easy to understand summary of the current research regarding water vapor feedbacks from Roger Pielke, Sr. blog:
    http://pielkeclimatesci.wordpress.com/2011/04/25/water-vapor-feedback-still-uncertain-by-marcel-crok/

    The bottom line conclusion that the empirical evidence has not demonstrated that relative humidity will remain constant as temperatures increased resulting in more atmospheric water vapor.

  • Zachriel

    Warren Meyer: Imagine spending all day climbing to the top of a tall plateau. Walking around on the plateau, with every step, it is correct to say that you are at the highest point you have been all day, but it is also correct to say you are no longer climbing.

    The question, then, is how did the Earth’s climate reach the high plateau. The evidence strongly indicates humans are a significant factor, and that the overall trend of warming will continue.

    pauld: Here is a reasonably easy to understand summary of the current research regarding water vapor feedbacks from Roger Pielke, Sr. blog

    The NVAP measures of water vapor are still inconclusive due to a number of factors, in particular, lack of sufficient data. That leaves the large number of studies that show climate sensitivity.

  • pauld

    Zachriel: I think I will sign off for now. I don’t really get any sense from your posts that you are really interested in understanding climate science.

  • NuclearCannoli

    @Zachriel
    “Sure it’s a distortion, but the market is not accounting for the true costs involved in carbon use. In this case, a carbon market internalizes the external cost of carbon.”

    Actually it doesn’t. Even with variable pricing and what not the ‘price’ isn’t a real price, it’s what some bureacrat or committee of bureacrats guess what the price ‘should’ be, which is basically exactly how they came up with ‘prices’ in the old USSR, and exactly why they ended up with massive shortages and surpluses. If you want to truly internalize carbon costs you need a property based system which allows individuals and groups who can show actual damages to claim them in courts from transgressors. Otherwise they will be paying too much here and too little there geographically, or this company gets favorable treatment over that one, etc. It’s a managed market, as doomed to failure as any other managed market.

    Plus, as with paper money, there is zero cost to increasing the amount of ‘credits’ to be handed out and politics controls the supply which also isn’t tied to any real scarce commodity. Therefore the supply will always be too high and there will always be too much pollution, and eventually the markets will tank because credits will be so cheap there may as well be no break on carbon at all. A property based system would force the judicial branch to assess damages and determine technical units which tie the action of emitting carbon directly to actual or potential damages to other people’s property, a scarce resource, and that puts the ultimate break on supply because the more the damage, the higher the price.

    The ultimate conclusion is that if you want to curb carbon emissions the best thing to do would be property based system. If that’s not practical then the simplest rule would be best and that’s simply a universal carbon tax at a set rate for an entire country and leave it at that. Once you try to turn it into a ‘market based’ game you get just that, a game. A political one that turns to cronyism and ineffciency.

  • Zachriel

    NuclearCannoli: If you want to truly internalize carbon costs you need a property based system which allows individuals and groups who can show actual damages to claim them in courts from transgressors.

    There’s no way to do that effectively. The damages are too widespread and lag far behind the activity causing the damage.

    NuclearCannoli: If that’s not practical then the simplest rule would be best and that’s simply a universal carbon tax at a set rate for an entire country and leave it at that.

    A carbon tax *is* a market-based solution. People try to avoid taxes, so if you tax carbon, then people will come up with solutions to avoid the tax.

  • netdr

    What the alarmists fail to mention is that warming so far has been beneficial since records were started in the little Ice age.

    The rate of warming has even turned NEGATIVE recently so warming over the long run will be even less than it has been so far.

  • Ted Rado

    The most disturbing thing to me is the reliance on computer models which are full of fudge factors. From personal experience, only rigorous models based on first principles can be used with confidence. I can tell you of empirical process models that caused huge financial losses. A rigorous model would have avoided the problem. Making multitrillion dollar decisions based on such models is very risky, to say the least.

    A point that I have made repeatedly is that there is no viable alternative to fossil fuels. The AGW proponents who want to tax CO2 out of existence have a moral resonsibility to come up with an alternative energy plan. In the absence of such a plan, the AGW debate becomes an argument as to how many angels can stand on the head of a pin, as there is no way to implement a massive CO2 reduction program.

    I also don’t understand the enthusiasm for a carbon trading scheme. The Ohio River, Lake Erie, the sky over the steel mills, were all cleaned up quickly without some Mickey Mouse trading scheme dreamed up by some MBA’s. All that such a scheme does is create a new way to skim the system.

  • netdr

    It makes no sense to make hugely expensive decisions based on what will [supposedly] happen in 100 years based on models which have malfunctioned in only 11.

    The inability of climate scientists to predict climate even 11 years in their future proves that their level of understanding is very low !Why spend tens of trillions based on it ?

    AR4 predictions .3 ° C warming between 2001 and today.

    http://tiny.cc/zwa7x

    Actual COOLING between 2001 and today.

    20001
    http://www.woodfortrees.org/plot/hadcrut3vgl/from:2001/plot/hadcrut3vgl/from:2001/trend
    http://tiny.cc/plt8q

    Least squares trend line; slope = -0.00610265 per year

  • Why does a gas not absorb radiation from a cooler emitter? Spectrometers only show it absorbing when the emitter is warmed to a temperature greater than the gas. https://www.cfa.harvard.edu/~jbattat/a35/cont_abs_em.html

    The warmer gas does not absorb and then re-emit. Re-emission in all directions would not fill in the absorption lines observed by the spectrometer because it would not compare in intensity with direct radiation from the source. The radiation from the emitter forms standing waves which run along the same paths as the incident rays, and can thus interfere with them before any absorption takes place.

    This has to be the case. Consider a ray of backradiation penetrating a small distance into the ocean. If it were to get converted to thermal energy by absorption, the energy will not be re-emitted straight away via radiation from a few cm/inches under the surface of the ocean. Instead, the warmer water will rise to the surface by convection and at least some of it will evaporate and only some be radiated. There would have been a “completed (macro) transaction” in which that.radiation (from lots of molecules in a cooler atmosphere) warmed (a layer of) water below the surface of the ocean. This clearly would violate the 2nd Law.

    So there is a difference between this and a standing wave. If there is conversion to thermal energy then there has to have been a violation of the Second Law.

    All backradiation is only standing waves which do not transfer thermal energy to the surface.

    There will be more on this in my peer-reviewed paper being published this week.

  • Josée

    Yes, maybe it’s the sun, maybe it’s a natural cycle, maybe it’s … But besides all those ”maybes” where are the science backing up all the claims made on this website? ”Maybe” is not scientifically valid. I would like to believe human is not responsible for the warming but you are not giving me any scientific evidence that it isn’t so. I am starting to believe that the propaganda is here.