Friday, June 08, 2007
First, the Coming Ice Age theory was hardly the work of a "few popularizers." I actually took the picture used on Stephen Schneider's Genesis Strategy cover at a AAAS meeting: it shows him and Margaret Meade. She was then President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Stephen got her endorsement for the book (and her picture for the inside book cover picture) to show the consensus on the coming disasters. There were AAAS sessions. Gus Spaeth, then Chairman of a White House Council, gave a speech which included dangers of reglaciation of the US (he was concerned that the glaciers would spread stored nuclear waste). You will not remember those days, but I do. We were doomed, and Ice and Overpopulation were part of the National Malaise that was bringing in The Era of Limits.
Second, what those graphs show is the difficulty of trying to establish trends in cyclical data. Look at them. Look hard. Depending on the starting and end points you can make any trend you like. The eleven year cycle is long known. The warming trend from about 1800 to present is also long known. Since a great deal of the warming that has so many alarmed now took place during the 1800-1875 period before CO2 levels rose much, it is difficult to attribute that warming to human activity. It may have done, but it's not easily proven.
Warming releases CO2 from the sea: I am sure you know this. Just put a carbonated drink out at room temperature. Whether warming causes CO2 or CO2 comes about as a result of warming isn't all that clear. In any event, CO2 is a rather lousy greenhouse gas. There are far more efficient ways to warm the earth.
My point, which I repeatedly make, is that until we know what the hell is going on, it is absurd to spend the money we could be spending to find out what is happening on "remedies" when we don't understand the problem. We spend what money we do get for research on computer models instead of better data. We ought to be taking more deep sea probes, launching satellites whose purpose is to get accurate temperature data at all levels of the atmosphere (it varies a lot) as well as ground and sea surface; get temperatures both in and outside of cities, upwind and down; measuring total glacier gains and losses (some glaciers are gaining); and so forth. We ought to know more about clouds. I don't claim to be the world's expert on what we ought to be doing to find out what is happening. I do claim to be enough of an old Operations Research guy to know that if you don't know what's happening, you're better off spending money to find out what's going on than you are in trying to fix something you don't understand.
Simple Bayesian analysis: if there are two possible trends, and dealing with each is expensive, and what you must do is pretty well determined by which trend is going to happen, you are better off spending money to reduce the uncertainty and pay the penalty for starting later on the right track than you are to start investing in remedies that may be for the wrong coming disaster. I could show you mathematically, but I am sure you can see the point.
I repeat (and I wish someone would address the point, but they never do): we don't have good predictions of the climate. We can't even predict the El Nino events that affect North American weather quite directly and dramatically. We do not have the data to decide what to do about Global Warming, and we propose to spend the money on more computer models and expensive remedies instead of finding out. This is not an optimum policy.
Reducing CO2 from energy plants is a fine idea. If they had built nuclear power plants in the US (as France and Japan have done) that would have had the side effect of reducing US CO2 emissions. If we had invested in access to space with the view to building Space Solar Power Satellites, that would have the effect of reducing CO2 emissions, and put us in a far better position with regards to energy. I have been in favor of those measures since the 1960's. I wrote "America's Looming Energy Crisis" in 1973 for heaven's sake. I don't like being dependent on burning petroleum for energy any more than you do.