Sunday, July 02, 2006

Blowhard skeptics and global warming

Check out this choice example of substanceless skepticism on the global warming issue. Money quote:

"Gore's quote also relies on the shock value of the "70 million tons" of carbon dioxide emissions produced by humanity every day. That way of phrasing it sounds much more threatening than what it really represents: about 0.00000083% of the atmosphere. Just by breathing, humans produce about 6 million tons of CO2 each day. The natural transfer of CO2 back and forth between the Earth's surface and the atmosphere is estimated to be closer to 7,000 million tons every day."

What does that mean? Absolutely nothing. The writer enjoys playing a braindead game, pitting incomparable numbers against each other and pretending that the difference in magnitude is somehow consequential.

He resorts to games like these when he can't win on substantive grounds. The level of atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased dramatically in the last few decades: in fact, it has increased almost 20% since 1959. Consider that: carbon dioxide is an integral contributor to life an earth, a fundamental part of our enormous ecosystem, and in a geologically short time it has increased by twenty percent. We're talking about billions upon billions of tons. Isn't that a big deal? In fact, shouldn't it have some shock value?

Say that you are a climate scientist in 1980. As a climate scientist, you know in a theoretical sense that carbon dioxide will trap heat and increase the temperature. You don't know, however, whether this will be offset by some negative feedback (the only likely negative feedback is cloud formation that reduces incoming sunlight). You thus resolve to wait for 25 years and see what happens.

You return in the present day. Whoa - temperatures have increased really rapidly! What's a rational analysis? That no negative feedback mechanism substantial enough to offset the warming appears to exist yet, and that the problem is becoming serious enough that we need to do something about it? (it is!)

Or, do you assert that both 1) There is some negative feedback mechanism that has been holding down man-made warming and 2) At the same time, we just happened to have an extremely unusual, rapid spate of natural cyclical warming?

Come on.

Yes, the writer of this article is a climate scientist where I am not. I still don't feel any qualms about calling him an idiot.

And why might he be so stupid? Perhaps he's become addicted to the sublime thrill and financial comfort of being a global warming skeptic. After all, to recall this hopelessly overquoted pearl of wisdom from Upton Sinclair:

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

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