Wednesday, December 2, 2009

See scientist, see scientist squirm

MoveOn.org doctored this photograph*, which makes it the perfect illustration for this piece. It's hilarious, too, which didn't hurt. After we stop climate change, maybe we can stop time.

Climate is a murky subject. Do we really need True Believers roiling the water even more? What do they mean by climate anyway? Not weather; that can change for a year-- or two or three. Pick your time scale: it's some sort of average, a composite of what the weather usually is like.

The climate in any place will change over time. Somebody just over the hill might have a different climate than yours, and theirs might change in a different way.

All right, they're talking about global climate, especially temperatures. I knew that. Supposedly, the figures everyone is arguing about are based on 517 temperature-monitoring stations. There are a lot more weather stations, ships at sea and satellites to supplement that data. Still, in any given year, one place may be warmer and another cooler. How do you sum up all this information?

Climatologists have made some pretty sophisticated models using that data. They make predictions based on those models and then refine them when they miss the mark. Basically, with my limited knowledge, I trust them-- the models anyway.

Starting in the 70's, "global temperatures" started a slow, steady rise. Carbon dioxide was identified as the major culprit. I was convinced. I still am.

A funny thing happened on the way to the millenium

Why, then, did "global warming" stop at about the time we looked away to obsess about Y2K? And why did some scientists start talking about fudging their data like a butcher with his thumb on the scale?

Somebody hacked the Hadley Climatic Research Unit's emails and found that there had at least been talk of fiddling with the facts. Bad scientists. Expect funding cuts, ridicule and humiliation. Global warming skeptics are having a field day. (I balance True Believers like the Yes Men with TB's on the Net Right. Sorry, NASA and the NSF trump them both.)

What's going on here? Did these people have so much of their egos invested in their work that they wanted to make the data fit? Or, had Global Warming become a religion so the facts had to be changed to conform to the dogma?

Most of their peers seem to have coughed politely and looked the other way. Others, like Professor Peter Kelemen were openly dismayed. (Yeah, it's Popular Mechanics, but that's probably one of the audiences a Columbia University professor should be reaching) His article is actually a pretty good summary, from my point of view, if you've got the time to read it. I particularly agree with his conclusion:
We're in an unprecedented situation, with regard to the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere and the rate at which it is rising. Because this is unprecedented, we are not sure what is going to happen. But global warming is very likely, and reasonably probable outcomes could be fatal. Ignoring it would be like Russian roulette. Want to play? I do not.
Speaking of inconvenient truths

It's time to Gore Al a bit, because the earth stopped cooperating at just about the time he started popularizing the idea of global warming. Not that he's necessarily wrong, but he's too wide-eyed, gosh-darned certain for my taste. Besides, you'd almost think he was some sort of mainstream politician with all of this gobbledygook about carbon offsets. Yeah, Al. So can I pee in your reservoir if I build a treatment plant somewhere else?

Professor Keleman pointed me to the very good Der Spiegel story, Climatologists Baffled by Global Warming Time-Out. I'd recommend any article that quotes Mojib Latif, who is quickly becoming my favorite climatologist.

Maybe it's the sunspot cycle, says one scientist. The Pacific Decadal Oscillation is Latif's choice. (The PDO gives me a headache when I try to wade through some of the papers describing it, but that hasn't stopped me yet. It's like El Nino and La Nina, only different.) Their disagreements don't bother me a bit; in fact they're healthy. That's what science is supposed to be. Try a hypothesis; try another if that doesn't fit the data.

Whatever the cause of the current plateau, there seems to be a lot of agreement that it is indeed just a pause in the warming trend.

I've lost the link, but a scientist (Latif, I think) pointed out that there has already been substantial warming, and its effects are still working their way around a very complex planet. The oceans are warmer, mixing has changed somewhat; frankly we don't know how all of these systems interact and what changes are already irreversible.

As an example, I read one obscure paper that tried to quantify how much swarms of jellyfish contributed to mixing of warm and cold water. You see, warmer water generally means more jellyfish, but if they then cause more mixing....

* If you follow the link and watch the slide show, you will see that her poster actually reads "stop global warming". I checked-- don't know why, really. Maybe because she didn't seem that dumb.

5 comments:

Saipan Writer said...

I somehow lost your point in all this.

The evidence is overwhelming that there is climage change going on caused by human activity and it's making our planet less hospitable to our future life here.

And I wish our politicians were unwilling to play "Russian roulette" too--but they seem to love the limelight. It was extremely stupid of MoveOn.org to tamper with data. Especially when there is already enough data that makes it overwhelmingly clear to anyone willing to face facts that we are already in the danger zone.

So now we have more politicians trying to grab the spotlight and just exhibit their ignorance.

NPR this morning offered a good analysis--science scares them; especially when they can't figure out the scientific solutions to the problems.

Wish they'd listen to Jane Lubchenko.

Anonymous said...

I dunno... cooked "science" shouldn't scare. It should be rejected.

If it turns out that the "climate game" was rigged, even if we are in a "danger zone" we've just stepped back 10 to 15 years, because we must be accurate in claiming that we are in a "danger zone."

Skewing data only skewers the collector in the long run.

The Saipan Blogger said...

Kind of reminds me of Rather-gate in 2004. Just because someone faked one document doesn't mean President Bush didn't go AWOL.

KAP said...

I probably shouldn't have even included Move On, but I like to have a graphic. I spotted the picture awhile back and have been looking for an excuse to use it. They just changed a few words on a sign-- albeit in an unfortunate way.

Most of the people who rant about the Hadley emails haven't read any of them. Par for the course; that happens all of the time with books and films. I've only seen a few, so guilty here, too.

What I've actually seen is back-and-forth with their pals saying maybe, we could, we should. It's not clear they actually did mess with any data or try to stifle people they disagreed with. Some data might not have been forwarded. They're an important center but there are many others-- I don't see how they could rig the 'climate game'.

I'm angry at them because they even thought of acting that way, and because they provided an opportunity for opportunists to question the consensus in climate science. Gosh, and I trusted scientists.

I might have come up with something clearer and blessedly shorter with another rewrite or two. This is also too long, so how about another comment with the points I should have made?

KAP said...

A few points hidden in my ramblings:

Climate has to be defined pretty rigorously to mean anything useful, especially when you start talking about global climate.

Scientists found a very strong correlation between rising CO2 levels and increases in global temperatures in the last half of the 20th Century.

Temperatures stopped rising (they did not decrease to earlier levels) about ten years ago.

There are several theories about causes, but the jury of their peer groups is out on which might be correct.

There is a general consensus that the plateau is temporary and warming is likely to resume or even accelerate in the near future.

The folks at Hadley fouled their own nest.

I didn't want to make it longer, so I neglected to mention the irresponsible politicians who agree with that consensus, as I do, but are willing to pander to those who ignore the scientific proof. As Angelo notes, fiddling by a few geeks in tweeds can't negate evidence from hundreds of other sources.