Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Climate Change Battle Ground

While by no means an expert, I spend a great deal of time studying how mankind is impacting climate and pragmatic action that can be taken to mitigate and/or adapt to climate change. Climate change has become a battle ground in the media and the blogosphere. The subject is difficult to understand and the rabid debate does little to improve understanding. Since I have insomnia tonight, I will type myself to sleep making a few points that I feel should be made.

1. CO2 is a trace gas in our atmosphere and many claim that a trace gas cannot impact climate. The fact is all of the so called greenhouse gases are trace gases, including water vapor which averages in the neighborhood of 3%(Correction: ~0.4% for the whole atmosphere, but water vapor is limited mainly to the lower atmosphere) and CO2 which is in the range of 0.04 percent. Four hundreds of a percent is small compared to 3% but the greenhouse impact of CO2 is larger than that of H2O. So before man started changing the CO2 concentration, water vapor contributed about 60% of warming and CO2 about 10% despite the differences in trace gas concentration.

2. How much a doubling of CO2 will warm the atmosphere is unknown. It will warm the atmosphere and reasonable estimates range from 1 degree C to 6 degrees C. Depending on your scientific source, 1.3 C to 4 C is a general range that seems to fit the imperfect temperature and model estimates.

3. Temperature records, temperature reconstructions and general climate models are imperfect. That does not mean useless. Independent work on all three show general agreement indicating they are useful though have some measure of uncertainty.

4. Current measurement of the sun's energy output indicates that solar variation has limited impact on climate (about 0.1 degree C). Scientific understanding of the sun's variation and that variation's impact on climate is far from complete. Solar scientists are often learning new things about the sun's complex behavior. There is no definitive proof that the sun drives climate more strongly than any other element that effects climate.

5. Natural internal variation of climate change exists and the total impact of natural internal variation on climate is unknown.

6. This one is currently a major battlefield. CO2 induce warming should be most noticeable in dry climates especially the north and south poles. So the impact of CO2 on climate should be evident in both the Arctic and Antarctic. Currently warming in the Antarctic is virtually immeasurable. This does not prove anything other than how difficult it is to measure climate change. It is very important to climate scientists that have differing estimates on the impact of a doubling of CO2 on climate that Antarctic warming be measurable.

Unfortunately, it is so important that some scientists are behaving very badly. There is name calling, misrepresentation of comments, abuse of statistical methodology and petty arguments that border on idiocy. That is not a mis-statement or understatement. It is a sad fact! Climate science has devolved into a political popularity contest. It is becoming impossible for a lay person to determine who to believe. There has to be a major overhaul of the climate science review process if any reasoned political measures are to be undertaken to mitigate climate change.

Before you start thinking I am a whack job, think about the poster child for climate science change, Dr. Eric Steig. First, the good doctor quoted Dr. Roger Pielki Jr. response to New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin, totally out of context. After cherry picking two sentences out of a two paragraph quote, Steig declared in a rant on the climate science blog realclimate that Pielki was "Wrong, Wrong, Wrong" when in fact he was not. Secondly, the good doctor Steig published a paper that made the cover of the prestigious Nature Magazine that was so full of math errors a normal scientist would die of embarrassment. Thirdly, after a group of [amateur] statisticians published a rebuttal to his paper showing appropriate math procedures that should have been used in his paper, he determined that statistical insignificance indicated by the rebuttal paper proved his original results were significant. What is extremely frightening is that a clique of climate scientists doggedly defend Steig's actions and dis-proven results. The clique is so intent on proving warming exists where none is measurable they have compromised their reputations.

There are knowledgeable climate scientists worthy of being heard that are overshadowed in the media by more vocal "advocates". There will be disagreements between scientists on the complex scientific challenge of climate change, but rational, ethical debate is much preferred to the nonsensical elitist name calling that dominates climate science currently.

Update: It should be obvious that I was hacked off when I wrote this. The reason deserves an explanation:

As an author, inadequate as I may be, I take copyright issues very seriously. I am not and I have not yet met anyone perfect. Should I make a mistake, I will readily admit it and make whatever corrections needed to straighten out any mess I may have made. Members of the clique I referred to have abused copyright laws through ignorance or intent, but tend to try to justify their mistakes rather than own up to them. Dr. Steig is mentioned specifically because I have written about his antics in the past and will continue to do so until he finds a clue, even though I do not know of any occasion he violated copyrights. Needless to say, I am not impressed with his statistical abilities nor his grasp of ethics and fair play.

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