Don Quixote Lives

I haven’t posted in years.  Lost Interest.  Nothing new to say.  Yesterday, I realized something that has been bothering me for years about the climate debate. Just about everybody on both sides of the debate spends most of their time tilting at windmills.

Most people argue about whether or not it is warmer as a proxy for their position.  It’s warmer, climate change is real and of course it is man caused.  Or on the other side, it’s not warmer, scientists must be wrong.   I can argue both sides with equal aplomb. The entire argument is a Don Quixote tilting at windmills event.  The argument “for” or “against” man caused climate change has always been about why climate is changing.  Climate changes all the time and has been for millions of years.  Some times it is warm others it is cold. Were it to suddenly stop changing, that would be news.  News that would not be confirmed for centuries. 

Both sides use anecdotal evidence.  It was warm today, or cold last month,  All are windmills worthy of Don Quixote.  Anecdotes are used to try to show a correlation.  Correlations don’t prove anything.  For years the stock market went up the year following an original National Football League team victory at the Superbowl.  It happened 20 years in a row.  Eventually the correlation failed.  Once again we are focusing on the wrong thing.  We need to know WHY the world is changing.  A few years ago some scientists fudged data, made things appear warmer because short term data was not cooperating.  A big mistake made because they were trying to pretend natural variation didn’t matter. Don Quixote would have been proud.

Climate is a very complicated subject with many variables, some of which we have yet to discover. It is warmer today than it was 50 years ago, or 200 years ago, but not 10,000 years ago.  20,000 years ago it was much colder and 130,000 years ago it was much warmer than it was just last week.  Some of this variation is man related, most of it is natural climate variation.  Man has been a player for perhaps 300 years, and the current warm spell  is 11,000 years old.  

Glaciers have been receding in Alaska for the entire 11,000 year warm spell.  How much is man caused? How much is natural? 15,000 years ago New York City was covered in ice.  The current ice age cycle is over 2 million years old.  The world’s climate changed dramatically when South America and Antarctica separated a bit over 20 million years ago. 75,000 years ago powerful super-volcano almost wiped out humanity.

There are powerful sources at work, natural sources.  Sources that are almost certainly more powerful than man.   People on one side argue global warming is a myth, people on the other blame man for everything. One ignores man, the other tries to ignore nature.

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tells us what we must do to avoid a 2 degree C change (since the industrial revolution) in climate.  It sounds like a guarantee.  Do this and everything will be OK.  Don’t and doom is certain.  Both statements are presumptuous.  It is a guarantee that cannot be made and the IPCC must know this, but they insist they can keep temperature within a narrow range regardless of natural climate variation..  The IPCC is trying to get us to believe in windmills.

The truth: Nothing is guaranteed. Lots of things impact climate, and some of them have extraordinarily long cycles, 100,000 year cycles. The large volcano that erupted 75,000 years ago must have been awful for anyone alive back then.  We were in the middle of a protracted cold period.  It was a mass extinction event, humans barely survived.  A little more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would have been welcome back then. 130,000 years ago sea level was higher than it is today.

Below is an estimate of temperatures in Antarctica prepared from the Vostok Ice Core.  Temperatures have been 5 degree C higher and they have been 15 degree C colder than today.  Temperature changes tend to be more extreme at the poles than at the equator, still that a lot of variation.  It is virtually impossible to guarantee that the world will stay within a degree C of where we are right now (the IPCC is counting the 1 degree C rise since the beginning of the industrial revolution in their 2 degree C goal).

That said, climate change does have a human component and it would be a good idea for all of us to try to do our part.  Why take unnecessary risks.

Climate change as a communist plot —  windmill.  Nuclear Power is evil, another windmill.  We can affordably make power without fossil fuels, windmill.  We can aspire to such things, but the current choices are not reliable without a huge investment in batteries that provide their own set of environmental problems.  We need new battery technology….or Nuclear Power …or fossil fuels in today’s world.   Coal is clean, windmill.  Coal can be made clean, might be another windmill, time will tell.  

Computer models are accurate, windmill.  They are getting better, but they have a long way to go. When a computer model can accurately explain natural climate variation, that is ice ages and warm periods, I will start trusting them.  The IPCC uses many models and then averages them together to make  predictions.  The models do not specifically agree.  The variation from model to model is more than 2 degrees c.  Definitely a windmill.

We share the same globe.  It is important that we work together to try to minimize the impacts.  Slowing climate change the IPCC way is expensive.  Rich countries can afford to do more so they are encouraged to do more. Many of the IPCC decisions made on climate change were made in 1992 at the first IPPC meeting.  World politics influenced those decisions and many of  those decisions were wrong.  Defending them has become yet another windmill. 

I think we do much of the math associated with the global warming blame game wrong.   We look at per capita use.  I think we need to do the calculations using units of land, not individuals.   This serves to link two important  issues together, climate change and population control.  That needs to be done.

No agreement could have been made in 1992 if land based calculations were made, China and India would never have come along.  Both looked to be small players in 1992, both are big players today. China and India really matter, They are currently ranked 1 and 3 in greenhouse production. USA is number 2. China is roughly the same size as the USA with almost 5 times the population.  China has been arguing to slow their per capita use rate increase at some time in the future. A land based calculation would give them much less room to maneuver. 

Back in 1992 the USA, Western Europe, Russia and Japan were the big players in the greenhouse gas production game. Today, China produces more than the USA, Western Europe and Japan combined.  

Switching to land based calculations, makes all locations that are densely populated look worse.  Germany looks bad, Canada looks really good.  India’s population control problem immediately comes into focus.  In 30 years India will have a population density 3 times that of China and an expanding middle class wanting electricity.   That is a problem, one that closing nuclear power plants in California does not solve, yet another windmill.  

But the windmills don’t stop there.  Carbon dioxide is cast as a pollutant.  That is correct only if it is impacting climate as some climate experts say.  One area of dispute is climate sensitivity.  Carbon dioxide is a weak greenhouse gas.  It must cause other things to happen for catastrophic results, primarily an increase in water vapor a strong greenhouse gas. A high sensitivity, really warm.  Less sensitivity, not so much. Sensitivity is one reason computer models disagree.

Most pollutants are just bad.  Smog has no good qualities, but carbon dioxide does.  It is necessary for life on earth.  More makes plants grow faster and more drought resistant.    I think carbon dioxide as evil is a windmill…you make the call.

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