Thursday, March 6, 2008

Global warming skeptics live among us

[x-posted on The 2 Dollar Bill]

I was invited to talk at a group lunch in a small town between here and there today. We'll call it Anytown, Any State. The food was fried. Haven't had a better pork tenderloin sandwich ever. Ever.

At the crossroads of two major Any State US Highways... people gather once a month to protect their rights as former employees of a large corporation. And they meet for fellowship. Did I mention the fried food?

As the invited speaker, I did my somewhat normal 'It's Spring! Here's what you should know about the twisting funnels of death in Any State"... adapted for the region which I was visiting.

Toward the end of my time, I open the floor to questions. Inevitably, the older crowds want to discuss global warming or climate change. And they have one informational source to cite. Only one. And they wish to smear only one former Veep. Only one.

Care to guess?

As they ask their questions... I pass on what I feel is credible science. When I don't know, I say "I don't know, but I can point you in the right direction or find out". When my answers conflict with what they've heard on the radio, though... trouble is afoot. Brows furrow. Stares harden.

So today, I went out on a limb a bit more than normal. Without asking where they got their "information"... I said in closing, it's very important to me that I understand where I get my science information. You have to consider the source.

Nature magazine. National Geographic. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

I asked if these were organizations or publications we could all trust? The group seemed to agree.

So I stepped out from the safety of the trunk....

But AM radio with Rush Limbaugh is not science. His message is laced with agenda and misinformation that is easily contradicted with science journals. And if you hear that scientists are divided on whether or not the globe is warming... you should find another source of information. The globe is warming. Now the questions are: "Why, exactly, is that happening... and what can be done to reduce the effects of climate change so that we may continue our way of life as we prefer it"?

As expected, the main interrogator, the Limbaugh-font-of-knowledge publicly pish-poshed me... yet, an entire side of the room lit up with applause.

To say I was shocked wouldn't cut it.

The experience reminded me that it's time again to brush up on my global warming apologetics.

I wasn't on my game today... certainly unprepared for a full-on Dr. Limbaugh, PhD, Director of Climate Change studies in North America thesis.

One argument that seems to be getting plenty of airtime lately is the "it's the sun's fault" idea. So I'll start there.


The idea is that sunspots, or the variable brightness of our nearest star, could be affecting the incoming solar radiation on our planet and the rest of the system.

Yet, climate models already incorporate the variability of solar output on Earth's climate.

From National Geographic:

The sun's energy output varies slightly as sunspots wax and wane on the star's surface.

But sunspot-driven changes to the sun's power are simply too small to account for the climatic changes observed in historical data from the 17th century to the present, research suggests.

The difference in brightness between the high point of a sunspot cycle and its low point is less than 0.1 percent of the sun's total output.

"If you run that back in time to the 17th century using sunspot records, you'll find that this amplitude variance is negligible for climate," Foukal said.

The researchers obtained accurate daily sunspot measurements dating as far back as 1874 from institutions such as the Mount Wilson Observatory near Pasadena, California, and the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England.

Other scientists are quoted in the article saying we don't know what else might be coming from the sun to create such an effect, but it's possible. True. We probably don't know all there is to know about the sun.


So it must be the sun. Except we discounted that (for the most part) above.

From the Grist Mill (accepting a left-bend in rhetoric here since I think it's cited science w/o propaganda):

As for the alleged extraterrestrial warming, there is extremely little evidence of a global climate change on Mars. The only piece I'm aware of is a series of photographs of a single icy region in the southern hemisphere that shows melting over a six year period (about three Martian years).

Here on earth we have direct measurements from all over the globe, widespread glacial retreat, reduction of sea ice, and satellite measurements of the lower troposphere up to the stratosphere. To compare this mountain of data to a few photographs of a single region on another planet strains credulity. And in fact, the relevant scientists believe the observation described above is the result of a regional change caused by Mars' own orbital cycles, like what happened during the earth's glacial cycles.

See Global Warming on Mars? from RealClimate for much more detail about this issue.

Turning to the outer reaches of the solar system: in the icy cold and lonely Kuiper Belt was observed a difference in Pluto's atmospheric thickness, inferred from two occultation observations 14 years apart. But a cursory glance at Pluto's orbit and atmosphere reveals how ridiculous it is to draw any conclusions about climate, much less climate change, from observations spanning less than even a single season, let alone enough years to even establish the climate's normal state.


Oh really? And the rest of us missed that somehow?

How about this nugget for thought...

Skeptics gathered in New York this weekend for a global warming denial conference. They paid their speakers to speak... unlike other science conferences where being asked to speak IS the honor. From Source Watch:

The Heartland Institute, according to the Institute's web site, is a nonprofit organization "to discover and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems". [1] It campaigns on what it calls "junk science", "common-sense environmentalism" (i.e. anti-Kyoto, pro-GM), the privatization of public services, smokers' rights (anti-tobacco tax, denial of problems from passive smoking), the introduction of school vouchers, and the deregulation of health care insurance. It also provides an online resource for finding right-wing think tank policy documents called PolicyBot.

And these are the people who gathered in New York, as described by an article in Harpers Weekly in 1995:

The skeptics assert flatly that their science is untainted by funding. Nevertheless, in this persistent and well-funded campaign of denial they have become interchangeable ornaments on the hood of a high-powered engine of disinformation. Their dissenting opinions are amplified beyond all proportion through the media while the concerns of the dominant majority of the world's scientific establishment are marginalized.

To which I always say... it's not about Al Gore. It's about the planet and our way of life. Gore may be a messenger... on or off message at times. But he's still just a messenger. There are many others to listen to if you don't like Gore's "dash D" behind his name.

Well... it's not a great apologetic list... but it's a start and it has the brain juices going again. Stand by for more soon.