Friday, 15 July 2011
Whit Gibbons: Anthropogenic Climate Disruption

From The Salisbury Post:

Like it or not, planet is warming

July 14, 2011 1

By Whit Gibbons

 

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2010 State of the Climate report released last week, “The year 2010 was among the two warmest years globally since the . . . late 19th century.”

The statement has qualifications and caveats, but the point, according to the American Meteorological Society, is that “Earth’s atmospheric and oceanic temperatures are rising unabated” and “the world continues to warm.”

Despite the report from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, some people will reject the idea that global climate change is a problem.

First, some will reject the body of data because the information comes from a “government agency,” automatically making the data suspect.

Second, the information is collected by scientists, and some people are inherently distrustful of the scientific community, suspecting conspiracies or data manipulation or both, especially when the scientific findings are unpopular. (This is not a new phenomenon. The Vatican refused to accept Galileo’s assertion that the earth revolves around the sun because it seemed to contradict the Bible.)

Negative opinions about the NOAA report will also come from those who dispute that today’s global warming is caused primarily by atmospheric increases in greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide from industrial and other commercial sources.

In other words, temperatures are rising around the world but humans are not responsible. The earth was warmer eons ago than it is now, so why fret? (Is it worth noting that humans did not live during those times?)

Others accept the fact that temperatures are rising and that human activity is the root cause, but they stubbornly oppose any proposal to ameliorate the situation.

One global warming denier is Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who has declared that “the threat of catastrophic global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

I can certainly think of a hoax or two that would challenge concerns about global warming for “the greatest.” Nonetheless, Inhofe has proposed legislation that would limit the EPA’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gases.

I am certainly not a proponent of all government regulation, state or federal. But supporting the EPA’s authority to curtail pollution that is profiting a few and doing serious harm to the rest of us seems like a no-brainer. When a U.S. senator outright opposes that authority, I wonder what his motives are.

In case you do not recall the documented changes that are a consequence of global warming, here is a sampling: in the Arctic the winter season has been shortened, melting the icy habitat that is essential for survival of polar bears.

Individual polar bears have been reported to have lost weight and be producing fewer cubs.

According to the American Meteorological Society, commenting on the NOAA report, “The Arctic warmed about twice as fast as the rest of the world, reducing sea ice extent to its third lowest level on record.”

Many species of plants unquestionably bloom earlier each year, and many animals indisputably breed earlier in the season now than they did a few years ago.

Whether you think these facts are worth worrying about is opinion; whether you trust the federal government to look out for our best interest and try to alleviate the problems is a political position. The changes themselves, however, are real regardless of how you feel about government reports or scientists.

Global warming, aka climate change, is an emotional issue involving politics, commercial interests, environmental positions and personal egos to such a point that no clear consensus will be reached and no uncontested resolution will be forthcoming in the near future.

I appreciated the comments of Mike Huckabee when he was considering running for the Republican presidential nomination.

He said, “We have to be good stewards of the earth.”

And although he said he was not convinced that climate change was driven by human activities, he contended that we should put controls on the emission of greenhouses gases anyway.

Some issues we just cannot afford to be wrong about. Most scientists believe that global climate change is one of them.

Whit Gibbons is an ecologist and environmental educator with the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory.

Posted on 07/15/2011 11:31 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Comments
15 Jul 2011
Lugo

Like it or not, planet is warming?

Nah.



Op/Ed

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Why Hasn’t The Earth Warmed In Nearly 15 Years?

Jul. 15 2011 - 2:35 pm | 0 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

There is no statistically significant warming trend since November of 1996 in monthly surface temperature records compiled at the University of East Anglia. Do we now understand why there’s been no change in fourteen and a half years?

If you read the news stories surrounding a recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Boston University’s Robert Kaufmann and three colleagues, you’d say yes, indeed. It’s China’s fault. By dramatically increasing their combustion of coal, they have increased the concentration of fine particles in the atmosphere called sulphate aerosols, which reflect away solar radiation, countering the warming that should be occurring from increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Further, if this is true, then (as is usual in climate-world), “it’s worse than we thought.â€�  After all, China will eventually reduce their sulfate emissions as their population becomes affluent enough to demand something better than miasmic air. Indeed, they are already beginning to clean things up, and when they finally do, all the cooling particles will be gone and the earth will warm substantially.

Reality may be a bit simpler, or much more complicated.  But the reason this is all so important is that if there is no good explanation for the lack of warming, then an increasingly viable alternative is that we have overestimated the gross sensitivity of temperature to carbon dioxide in our computer models.

One problem is that we really don’t know how much cooling is exerted by sulfates, or whether they are just a convenient explanation for the failure of the forecasts of dramatic warming.  The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which grants itself climate authority, states that our “Level of Scientific Understandingâ€� of the effects range between “lowâ€� and “very low,â€� with a possible cooling between zero (none)  and a whopping 3.5 degrees (C) when the climate comes to equilibrium (which it will never do).  That’s a plenty large range from which to pick out a number to cancel about as much warming as you’d like.

Kaufmann’s team looked into how sulfate uncertainty impacted its results and decided that it was relatively minor.  However, we can’t find any independent test showing that the geographic “fingerprintâ€� of a dramatic recent increase in sulfate cooling is actually being observed. More on this in a minute.

The other problem — and climate flatliners hate me for pointing this out — is that the beginning of the period of “no warming� includes the warmest year in the instrumental record, caused by the great El Nino of 1997-1998. In a modestly warming world, starting off at or near an anomalously high point pretty much assures little or no warming for years afterward.

Kaufmann’s team (and others) have duly noted that El Nino cycles are one factor partially responsible for the lack of recent warming.  There’s little doubt of this.  Further, if you back out solar changes and volcanism, as they did, you can convince yourself that there is still an underlying “residualâ€� warming trend, but it is masked by all these variables.  This has been done repeatedly in the scientific literature, which, until now, did not include increasing the sulfate effect on recent temperatures.

Where is the test of the hypothesis that sulfates are indeed responsible for the lack of warming?   In this paper, it’s simply “modeled-inâ€� as it fits the data well. That’s correlation, not causation.

There is very little exchange of air between the northern and southern hemispheres, and basic climate science shows that most sulfates from China will rain out before they get across the thermal equator. In fact, there is a great deal of literature out there published by luminaries like the Department of Energy’s Ben Santer and NASA’s James Hansen claiming relative cooling of the northern hemisphere from sulfates, compared to the southern.

So, if it is indeed sulfates cooling the warming, given that there is no net change in global temperature, then the northern hemisphere should be cooling since 1998 (the first year in Kaufmann’s paper) while the southern warms.  Here are the sad facts:

The opposite is occurring. Why this test was not performed eludes me. Perhaps that is because it provides yet another piece of evidence supporting the hypothesis that we have simply overstated the sensitivity of surface temperature to changes in carbon dioxide.

Patrick J. Michaels is Senior Research Fellow for Research and Economic Development at George Mason University and author and editor of “Climate Coup: Global Warming’s Invasion of our Government and our Lives.�