Thursday, July 7, 2011

Slaying the Sky Dragon Slayers

The climate change debate is really fascinating because of the opinions expressed and some of the really off the wall "proofs" that harmful warming does or does not exist.

This chart is pretty simple. It is just the linear regressions of the University of Alabama - Huntsville lower troposphere temperature data for the northern and southern extents (latitude 60 poleward), the tropics and the global temperatures in anomalies. The north pole is warming big time, the south pole not at all, the tropics and globally if they keep the current pace since 1979 will result in 1.5 degrees warming. Some warming due to CO2 increase does exist, only it is not performing as advertised. How much is due to CO2 is not easy to say. Because of the physics of trace greenhouse gases, it is hard to argue that nothing is due to CO2, but that doesn't stop people.

The religious extremes people go to press their respective cases is laughable. With current data it should be obvious that there is some climate change due to man, just not a solid number of how much or how much due to just CO2.

Back in the day, when the theory was proposed, the data was not all that great. In the early 1980's, the potential of catastrophic warming was real enough. The available data indicated something was changing and that is could possibly be very bad. It has only been the past decade or so enough data has been available to revise estimates. The data is still far from perfect, but the quality has improved enough to at least look at the potential differently than a decade ago.

That is the frustrating part. Scientists, that should be naturally curious, are not. They just doggedly preach the same gospel rarely looking impartially at the overall data. If it were my theory, I would be looking for real answers not excuses.

The debate has some virtue. It is forces more followers to become thinkers. Independent thought is moving many of the masses to the center where they should be. Not only with healthy skepticism of Climate Change, but alternate energies, nuclear power and realistic politics. A new wave of centrist questioners of the political norm. A very good thing.

Real change takes time. So it may be decades from now when centrist becomes a true political force, but that appears to be future reality. People that vote knowledgeably not emotionally. The day when voters demand information instead of motivational speeches. Fun times.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Is it Statistically Signficant?

That is the biggest question that has to be answered in most nuclear, climate and economic debates. In some cases, radiation for example, any risk, no matter how small, is considered significant. In reality, there is always a non zero risk. It is irrational to believe otherwise. This short post, Statistically Significant, by James Annan is related to detection and attribution of climate change. You can correctly say that events like the spring tornadoes in the US or flooding in Pakistan, Brazil, Australia etc. are impacted by anthropogenic climate change. You cannot say to what degree they were impacted or even if they were more or less damaging due to man's impact on climate. To a lesser extent, there is the same issue with man made nuclear radiation.

Radiation can cause long term cancer risk. But cancer caused by radiation, natural or man made, is a small portion of the overall cause of cancer. The largest cause of increased risk of cancer is advances in medical technology and overall improvements in living conditions. If the average life span had not increased, fifth and sixth decade cancers would not be significant. What is significant is that changes in our lifestyles have given us the luxury of worrying about different causes of death.

Climate change is due to the same reason. If humans were not able to live longer and be more productive, there would be no concern about climate change. It is the fact that man kind has adapted to and has adapted the planet to his use so well that there is any concern. If were not for the advances made by man, there would not be the luxury of worrying about the damage that may be caused by those advances.

Fukushima is now the largest nuclear health experiment in human history. In the decades to come there will more and better data collected that will lead to better understanding of the risk of nuclear power. The experiment will show the the risk is much less than many expect and somewhat higher than some have predicted. That is just the way it is. Most of the anti-nuclear advocates have over estimated risk based on emotional and political feelings. Emotions, politics and "feelings" have no place in statistics.

Can risk be reduced? Of course, but reducing one risk just adds to the significance of another. At least we have the luxury of worrying.