RealClimate logo


Why we bother

Filed under: — group @ 12 March 2010

A letter from a reader (reproduced with permission):

Dear RealClimate team:

I have a background in biology and studied at post-grad level in the area of philosophy of science. For the last few years, I have been working on a book about the logic of argument used in debates between creationists and evolutionists.

About a year ago I decided it was time to properly educate myself about climate science. Being perhaps a little too influenced by Harry M Collins’ “The Golem” (and probably too much modern French philosophy!), I was definitely predisposed to see group-think, political and cultural bias in the work of climatologists.

On the whole, though, I tried hard to follow the principles of genuine skepticism, as I understood them.

Obviously, there are plenty of ill-considered opinions to be found either side of any issue, but only the most ignorant person could fail to see the terrible intellectual gulf between the quality of so-called skeptic sites and those defending the science behind the AGW thesis.

What convinced me, though, is that the arguments made by a few sites like yours are explicit and testable. In particular, it is useful that RealClimate sticks to the science as much as possible. It has been a lot of hard work to get here, but I am now at a point where I understand the fundamentals of climate science well enough to articulate them to others.

For my part, I am grateful to you guys. I hope it gives you some small amount of satisfaction to know that your work can convert readers who really were skeptics in the beginning. I use the word ‘skeptic’ carefully – the one thing most commonly absent from the so-called ‘skeptics’ is authentic skepticism.

By the way, my book is an attempt to categorise the various logical errors people fall into when they search for arguments to support a conclusion to which they have arrived at a priori. It will now have a few chapters on global warming.

All the best,

549 Responses to “Why we bother”

  1. 151

    137 ccpo,

    You seem to be convinced that energy will be in short supply based on the things people were saying a few years ago. That might have been appropriate when we were assuming that cars had to run on gasoline or diesel fuel. I started out with this thought in mind and worked to make cars that would keep life going as we know it and still use a lot less fuel. The hybrid car looked like a good start. Then it began to look like a car could be a lot more efficient, so I started thinking about a plug-in commuter car. Then I began to evaluate the electric system that would be involved, and became convinced that coal supplies would be very adequate.

    Then the plug-in folks started up and I thought this was complete nonsense. These were pitched as if there was no need for fuel of any kind. And often they still are. Some of the electric car folks have a little more understanding, but still insist that electricity can be thought of as a fuel without considering the real fuel needed to make it. This ingnores the Second Law of Thermodynamics, but no matter, it makes electric cars 2 to 3 times better than they are.

    I thought the electric car, without attending efforts to make them really efficient aerodynamically, would soon run us out of coal. Then I looked more at the coal supply and found that we would easily last a thousand years at today’s rate of usage. (Look at the USGS study for the Gillete Field of the Powder River Basin. That field alone would do for the thousand years with just a little more scraping of dirt as time went on.)

    This means nothing good for global warming. Hybrid cars can be quite good, but for CO2 emissions, it is a step backward to convert these to electricity that would be made from coal. In fact, it became clear that GM in particular was planning to simply electrify their full line of energy guzzlers of a couple years ago. That is still a present danger, and once that happens, there will be no getting off coal under our democratic system.

    The best answer seems to be to make the cars very efficient and run them from natural gas, oil, or electricity from coal, in that order of preference and in that sequence if necessary.

    But the kind of efficiency I am talking about requires some real change in the way we think about cars. I think the basic car requirements for fast, safe, comfortable transportation can be met, but if there is a cheap alternative using almost the same cars we are used to, there will be no incentive for change.

    What I have done can be described as a feasibility study of new vehicle concepts that would take advantage of airship aerodynamics in the design of such concepts. See http://www.miastrada.com for a general idea of this work. More is to come along similar lines.

    Not to mention that we generally like things the way they are, beside that I hope we do not have to slow things down much, because this is not something that usually happens in a pleasant way. Instead, there is more likely to be a real storm, as you would call it.

  2. 152

    I am a retired academic with no climate science experience but self-taught by reading all the good review texts since about 1990. The books are clear enough for any reasonable person to agree with the basic overall conclusions that we are wrecking the planet in many ways and carbon dioxide is the most potent. Time is running out and tipping points are the killers. I have read the sceptics and they cannot make a single argument that stands up to scutiny.

    Realclimate is the most powerful source that people like me can refer to for clarification. Thank you. We are going to win this argument. We have to persuade enough people with influence how urgent and serious climate change is.

  3. 153
    Paul Harris says:

    The road that I follow. A great entry. You come,as I did,from a non-scientific background. You read here and you learn here and you pick up some good reference material here. Eventually,you have a better grasp of the science than you had ever had,and a most sure and certain knowledge that the so called ‘sceptics’ are charlatans- to put it mildly.

    A British ‘denier’,in a recent letter to the Guardian newspaper,eschewed the title ‘sceptic’ on the grounds that one could only be ‘sceptical’ about something that might exist. As AGW did not exist, then QED he had to be a ‘denier’. His words but…

  4. 154
    Uncle pete says:

    @ 32
    That’s mindboggling.
    Does the computational fluid mechanist also believe God created the world in 6 days? Jees, and I always have held people with that kind of intellect and knowhow in high esteem, and looked up to them. As a lowly technician I am totally disenchanted and disappointed , as in , if people in posession of that kind of brainpower don’t get it, then wht about our politicians?

  5. 155
    Alan of Oz says:

    My training is in computer science, I became interested in climate science sometime during the early 80’s but I thought it was pretty much an academic question with little real world significance until almost 20yrs later. At that point you had me with the hockey stick and the 1997 IPCC reports, realclimate is the icing on the cake.

    Dear old dad is a retired engineer, this site open his eyes several years ago.

  6. 156
    Alan of Oz says:

    RE #132: I would like to add another. “Polar amplification”.

  7. 157
    VeryTallGuy says:

    I’d wholeheartedly echo the sentiments of the letter writer.

    I first became engaged in the issue when the letters page in the magazine of my professional association (The Institute of Chemical Engineers in the UK) started to be inundated with very dubious arguments. This site, together with the IPCC report gives the understanding to rebut this antiscientific nonsense and is invaluable.

    I became a bit of an addict of the climate change pages of the Guardian as well, but have given up on that in despair at the tsunami of total blind denial which follows every article.

    But all this has motivated me to learn all sorts of things I never knew of and armed me with understanding and motivation to try and make a small difference.

    I’m talking in a local school next week and hope to do more of the same in future.

    Keep it up, it’s well worth it.

  8. 158
    Norman says:

    While trying to figure the influence of “Greenhouse gasses” on Climate I pulled up some climate data on 3 cities across the U.S.

    Las Vegas, Tulsa and Knoxville

    Las Vegas: 36.17 N Latitude
    Tulsa: 36.15 N
    Knoxville: 35.98 N

    These cities are close in Latitude so will receive the same amount of solar flux. I wanted to see what effect water vapor had on temperature.

    Yearly Relative Humidity (A.M. and P.M.)
    Las Vegas: 39% and 21%
    Tulsa: 81% and 58%
    Knoxville: 86% and 59%

    July Temp: (High/Low/Average) F
    Las Vegas: 104.1/78.2/91.15
    Tulsa: 93.8/73.1/83.45
    Knoxville: 86.9/68.5/77.7

    July Sunshine Hours:
    Las Vegas: 88%
    Tulsa: 74%
    Knoxville: 64%

    Albedo:
    Desert sand: 0.4 (Las Vegas)
    Green grass: 0.25 (maybe Tulsa)
    Decidious trees: (0.15 to 0.18)

    Las Vegas has much less water vapor in its air than Knoxville, Water vapor is noted as the most significant greenhouse gas (numbers given from 70% and up). Las Vegas also reflects much more of the energy that hits the ground relative to Knoxville. Yet Knoxville has an average temperature much below Las Vegas. The other significant data was hours of sunshine. Las Vegas is exposed to a considerable more sunshine than Knoxville (all due to clouds as they are close in Latitude). Tulsa also has a warmer average temperature and is exposed to more sunshine (humidity levels are similar between Knoxville and Tulsa).

    I can only conclude (and perhaps incorrectly) that the “greenhouse effect” is a fairly small effect when compared to the effect of clouds. The higher water vapor in Knoxville cannot come close to countering the cooling effect of the cloud cover.

    I know clouds are a big debate in what causes Global warming. One study links solar activity to cloud formation. Lower solar activity, more clouds via increase in cosmic rays that promote the development of clouds.

    I was wondering if you could have another cycle that would take place even if the sun has a constant activity level. Since clouds seem to be far more important to global temp than any greenhouse effect. The idea I am thinking is a warming/cooling cycle based on evaporation. In a cool earth, less water evaporates from the oceans and there is less moisture in the air for cloud formation. Because of this, more solar energy will be absorbed by the oceans and they will slowly warm (high heat capacity). As they warm the air above warms and you get the global warming cycle. More moisture evaporates and you start getting more clouds. The increase in the clouds will start the cooling cycle as less radiation hits the oceans and earth (just like Knoxville vs Las Vegas). Because of the momentum of the system and large heat capacity of the oceans, these warming and cooling cycles take decades and can explain the warmth in the 1930’s (also a warm Greenland), then the cooling period following this one with the cold 1970’s and early 1980’s. Now we are in a warming cycle again and it seems to have reached a peak and the cloud cover will increase leading to a cooling cycle.

    Long post, if anyone reads it let me know if it seems logical. Thanks!

  9. 159
    Deech56 says:

    For a clear illustration of “Why they bother,” imagine the stolen CRU e-mails hitting the streets without RealClimate.org. This was the site everyone turned to. With UEA getting that deer-in-the-headlights look, Gavin and crew were here, combating the falsehoods and defending the science and the scientists.

    We’ve seen the denial industry’s best shot; perhaps they over-reached.

  10. 160
    Deech56 says:

    Oh, and I’ve been a reader since this site’s inception. Great job, everyone.

  11. 161

    James C. Wilson #139: in my view the most important issue to tackle is energy alternatives because much of the denialist cacophony arises from the perception that doing something serious about climate change necessarily implies a descent to pre-industrial civilisation. This may not be the job for RC because it is after all run by climate scientists, but someone should do it.

    Here’s something interesting for a start: an alternative for making hydrogen much cheaper, with more detail of Dan Nocera’s ideas here.

    How about a RealEnergy blog pulling in experts who can talk about options from authority?

  12. 162
    The Ville says:

    First of all, I find this blog very useful when combined with other sources of information that are probably nearer to my level of knowledge. David Archers videos were an excellent intro to the science (I still have to finish watching them though!).

    Regarding Jim Bullis comments @93 about electricity cost.
    From what I can make out from US prices, they are significantly different depending on the state you live in. The highest electricity prices per unit in the US are probably about the same price as ‘green’ electricity tariffs in the UK. eg. I pay about 11 pence per killowatt hour.
    That translates to about 17 cents per kWh. Given that coal dominates in the US, one wonders why some states have such high prices without much in the way of renewables??

    Does it cost me more??
    No. I have cut some 60% off my electricity usage over 4 years, which means my bills are less than they were when I had cheaper kW hours.

    The biggest costs in electricity generation are going to be in upgrading the grid infrastructure. But then, this would probably be required in any case, eventually.
    In the past, people had to pay the price of building the current infrastructure systems. At some point it was inevitable that we would have to spend money to upgrade them. Someone at some point in time has to pay.

  13. 163
    Gilles says:

    “Gilles: “May be, but it is also very likely (being scientifically conservative) that there will be a catastrophic impact if we STOP burning fossil fuels”
    You keep saying this, but you have nothing to support it, not even a biased and partisan study, let along an objective neutral one.”
    No evidence ?
    Well, there is a very simple fact : since the beginning of the XXth century, fossil fuels have increased by many times, and temperature has increased by 0.7 °C which is not negligible with respect to the expected warming in the next decades.

    So very simple scientific experiments : ask people what have been the major changes in their life since 100 years ago. Then count the numbers of answers that are related to the variation of temperature, and those related to the consumption of fossil fuels. And tell me where is the evidence that the all-day life has been more profoundly impacted by the change in temperature than by the change of fossil fuels (and would be most impacted by a reverse change of cooling, or by the disappearance of fossil fuels).
    On the opposite, there is absolutely no evidence that a modern (western type) society could be powered without 2 or 3 tC/cap/yr. This doesn’t exist anywhere, and has never existed at any time.

  14. 164
    Gilles says:

    “Response: You protest too much. Stratospheric cooling was predicted as a function of increasing CO2 in the 1960s and not confirmed until the 1980s when the measurements got good enough.”
    OK, but it doesn’t prove that CO2 is the main driver of average ground temperature (I don’t claim that it is not the case, I claim that the evidence for that is still disputable).

    [Response: People can and will dispute anything – that is not determinative of anything. The questioner asked for a single verified prediction, I gave it. The question was not on what the evidence for anthropogenic effects on climate. Had it been, I would have directed the questioner to the FAQ on the subject and the underlying IPCC Chapter 9. – gavin]

    “This notion that ‘not everything is well-established’ implies that nothing is well-established is a logical nonsense. – gavin”
    Again, that’s not what I said. I said that the dire predictions of catastrophes are based on uncertainties, not on proven facts.

    [Response: The future is uncertain and no prediction can be a ‘proven fact’ – you are attempting to set a ridiculous logical standard. The issue is only one of risk – are continued emissions risky enough (given all the uncertainties) to warrant action to reduce them? This does not require that catastrophe be a proven fact – and indeed if one waited for that, it would be a little late, don’t you think? – gavin]

  15. 165
    Mark Ryan says:

    I am the author of the letter posted above. It is easy these days for scientifically literate people to feel under siege, so I felt it appropriate to send a message of appreciation to the RC team. Like many contributors to this thread, I began reading around this topic as a fence-sitter. Being one of the anonymous beneficiaries of so many hours of effort, I was happy to help when Gavin asked if it was OK to post my letter.

    The response to this thread must be heartening, not just to the RC team, but to the scores of silent but regular readers. I wonder how many first-time contributors there are to this thread (I’m one)?

    Looking at some of the comments, there is one point I would like to add:

    The trouble with skeptics these days, is they will believe in anything.

    (maybe that should be the title of a book!)

    The fundamental question driving my writing projects of late is “how does a genuine sceptic discern between arguments if he/she is not an expert?” At its heart, the approach is not all that complicated: ask “what unspoken premise must be true, for this argument to work?”

    For example, consider the single most dominant mode of argument of the sceptical camp: that individual errors invalidate the argument for AGW.

    It is self-evident that any given paper or theory about climate change may have errors. It is also self-evident that individuals within the field may behave unethically. To suggest that fault could be found somewhere amidst the thousands of papers and practitioners in this field is so obvious as to be trivial.

    So… after countless hours of hunting, what is almost statistically necessary comes to pass and one or more errors is found. The whole of AGW is therefore cast into doubt. But what premise must also be true, to reach such a conclusion?

    1. “An error anywhere in a field of enquiry invalidates the entire field.”

    2. “All evidence for a thesis is a corner stone of all the rest, therefore one instance of contradictory evidence rules out all other evidence.”

    3. “If one person in a group of thousands is found to have a certain characteristic, then all of the group must have it.”

    4. “All evidence put forward for the theory in question is arbitrary, so if one piece of evidence is shown to be false, it shows that all the others are false (ie: there is a conspiracy).”

    What genuine sceptic thinks this way? None of these arguments make sense, but you need at least one of them to entertain the idea that the work of so-called sceptics dismantles the scientific foundations of AGW.

    This is key for me. It means that McIntyre could be right about Mann’s hockey stick, Christy could be right about satellites, and so on – it doesn’t matter, because the realisation of AGW is actually a summation of multiple lines of evidence.

    AGW is not a theory in the sense that it posits any fundamental insight into the workings of the physical world -it is better thought of as a constellation of insights made by many, many independent parties.

    Why would Ian Plimer even consider “destroying every argument for global warming” in one book? Why would a person even think that “every argument” for global warming COULD be wrong, other than that it was all part of some coordinated conspiracy?

    Forgive my scepticism…

    How about this radical idea instead:

    “If a large number of independent investigators, of different backgrounds, working in different languages, with various political and social views, use various methods to reveal the same characteristics of the physical world, either:

    a) the physical world actually has the characteristics described;
    or
    b) all of the independent investigators are fabricating their conclusions – in a coordinated way – in the service of an unknown shared goal.”

    Unless scepticism has now become a doctrine of “choose the more fantastic explanation”, I’m staying with option a).

  16. 166

    Those interested in the difference between skepticism and denialism may wish to have a look

  17. 167
    Jean B. says:

    #87 Hugh Laue, #76 Steve P
    “the problem IS the rate of climate change.”

    Phil Jones himself said that this warming rate already happened two times over 120 years !
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8511670.stm

    Temperature data for the period 1860-1880 are more uncertain, because of sparser coverage, than for later periods in the 20th Century. The 1860-1880 period is also only 21 years in length. As for the two periods 1910-40 and 1975-1998 the warming rates are not statistically significantly different (see numbers below).

    “As for the two periods 1910-40 and 1975-1998 the warming rates are not statistically significantly different ”
    How do you understand this sentence ?!
    WARMING RATES are NOT statistically different.

  18. 168
    dhogaza says:

    Alan of Oz …

    My training is in computer science, I became interested in climate science sometime during the early 80’s but I thought it was pretty much an academic question with little real world significance until almost 20yrs later

    Similar here, though I “woke up” somewhat earlier, in the mid-1990s, perhaps because I was doing a lot of field work with bird studies and that world was starting to notice changes in distribution, etc, and there was speculation if global warming was already contributing.

    RC is, of course, great. Goes without saying, even if there are close to two hundred posts saying it :)

  19. 169
    RichardC says:

    112 Jim, the net cost of electricity would remain the same. Remember, this is feebates we’re talking about. Every dollar added to the price is rebated back to consumers. The average consumer would have no net change in expense for electricity, except that the conservation it would encourage would actually drop the cost of electricity! All this can’t drop the USA into the third world. Perhaps not insane, but surely baseless hyperbole.

  20. 170
    Steve P says:

    Gilles #163,
    What is your point? Can you summarize it in one or two brief, cogent sentences? If not, I would highly recommend that you take a course in technical writing and learn how. Quantity of emotional screed does not trump quality of argument. Thanks,
    Steve P

  21. 171
    Gilles says:

    Gavin : The question was not on what the evidence for anthropogenic effects on climate.

    I think it was. Again cooling of the stratosphere , (if I undestood correctly) is just the proof that we understand approximately correctly the heating and the cooling of the stratosphere, which is only a small part of the whole problem, and it isn’t enough to establish the magnitude of the anthropogenic contribution to the global warming, which is the real issue. And I don’t know any confirmed prediction that would establish that it is above 50 %, not speaking of 95 %.

    “The future is uncertain and no prediction can be a ‘proven fact’ – you are attempting to set a ridiculous logical standard. The issue is only one of risk – are continued emissions risky enough (given all the uncertainties) to warrant action to reduce them?”
    I think the answer is by no mean obvious and should be balanced with the possible negative consequences of actions we could take. Much obviously , IF we could spare fossil fuels without loss of standard of living, this should be encouraged, only by the fact that there are in finite amount. This would be true even if the CO2 had no warming effect, and it doesn’t really need to be discussed. But if it is not possible, then we really have to determine the level of consumption of fossil fuels above which the drawbacks become greater that the advantages – and this is by no mean an easy task ,since both the exact consequences of warming AND of fossil depletion are unknown. So you can’t base any realistic strategy on uncertainty – on both sides, because the two directions have dangers that are simply not really known. Simply believing that “warming is dangerous and carbon is bad ” is an oversimplification that is at odds with reality – hence the repeated failures to apply it.

  22. 172
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Gilles, If you don’t take stratospheric cooling as evidence of CO2 as the driver of warming, fine, propose another mechanism that accounts for both. It would also be nice if your mechanism were known to be operant–as we know with greenhouse warming. You are simply being silly, refusing to accept the most parsimonious explanation because you refuse to understand the evidence. That is hardly scientific. You are coming dangerously close to crossing into troll territory.

  23. 173
    Gilles says:

    “Gilles #163,
    What is your point? Can you summarize it in one or two brief, cogent sentences?”
    Sorry, I thought I was clear. One sentence only : the variation of temperature since 1900 has much less influenced the life of people (actually , I would say : almost not) than the use of fossil fuels, so the sensitivity to the availability of fossil fuels is very likely to be much larger than to the average temperature. Is it clear?

  24. 174
    Mark C says:

    Just thought this was apropos on the subject of “why we bother”. I’m not so sure we can have much impact anymore, it seems like the anti-scientific climate (pun intended) in the U.S. is just beyond staggering. The South Dakota legislature just declared that climate is influenced by “astrology”, among a host of other horribly unfounded claims. I’m surprised they beat my home state of Texas to the punch.

    http://legis.state.sd.us/sessions/2010/Bill.aspx?File=HCR1009P.htm

  25. 175
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Norman @158,
    Congratulations, you just rediscovered microclimate. There is a whole helluva lot more to climate than lattitude. Lost Wages, NV is in the rain shadow of the Sierras. That means there’s less water to precipitate or evaporate than either of your other two candidates. Tulsa and Knoxville have much more variable weather since water vapor from the gulf moves unimpeded over both. What this should tell you is that cherrypicking a few cities based on your own perception of things is not a way to do science.

    If you were really interested in the effect of greenhouse gasses, you’d do much better to look at the difference between daytime and nighttime temps. We already know the sun is the dominant source of energy during the day.

    In short, you need much more background knowledge before you even think about starting to analyze data.

  26. 176

    Gilles, here are some more:

    Nights are getting warmer faster than days are getting warmer which is also consistent with increased GHGs.

    Downwelling LW radiation is increasing which is consistent with increased GHGs.

    Outgoing LW radiation leaving the top of the atmosphere is decreasing which is consistent with increased GHGs.

    See:

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/Senator-Inhofe-attempt-to-distract-from-scientific-realities-of-global-warming.html

    John Cook at Skeptical Science offers a nice summary at the link above.

  27. 177
    Kevin says:

    A link in this old piece no longer works: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/02/moberg-et-al-highly-variable-northern-hemisphere-temperatures/

    The link that doesn’t work is: http://davidappell.com/archives/00000609.htm

    Search for: “a picture is available from”

    I hope that someone can update the link to a currently available version.

    And yes this is exactly why you guys should keep on bothering, here I am reading up on stuff you wrote 5 years ago.

    Thanks
    Kevin

  28. 178
    Gilles says:

    “Gilles, here are some more:
    Nights are getting warmer faster than days are getting warmer which is also consistent with increased GHGs.
    Downwelling LW radiation is increasing which is consistent with increased GHGs.
    Outgoing LW radiation leaving the top of the atmosphere is decreasing which is consistent with increased GHGs.”
    i agree, but I never contested that CO2 is a GHG and blocks the transmission of LW IR radiation ….I’m just speaking of how sure is the fact that this will be catastrophic for mankind, which depends on much more parameters than the mere IR absorption cross section of CO2.

  29. 179
    Hank Roberts says:

    > rate of change

    The biologists have been trying to explain this as well. It amazes most anyone competent in biology that people still don’t understand how fast this is happening, and how far along the wrong path we’ve gone already. Much of the richness of the world has been burned up, eaten, trashed, or eroded.

    What’s left may be saved, if intelligent design in politics is possible.

    Greed doesn’t solve problems like this.

    Here, for example (click the link for the original, which has links to the cited sources)

    First published online February 26, 2010
    Journal of Experimental Biology 213, 853 (2010)
    Published by The Company of Biologists 2010
    doi: 10.1242/jeb.042713

    Survival in a changing world

    http://jeb.biologists.org/cgi/content/full/213/6/853

    —-excerpt follows——

    It is indisputable that current climate change is unprecedented in its magnitude, in its rate of change and in its geographic pattern (MacDonald, 2010Go) (p. 855). Assessing the ensuing stresses on animal diversity and populations requires knowledge of the complex interactions between climate change and its major consequences, including associated changes in plant coverage, further anthropogenic factors, both local and regional and the physiological characteristics of the species concerned. Temperate species, both marine and terrestrial, have been observed to move to more temperate environments provided that suitable habitats are available (Helmuth et al., 2010Go) (p. 995). There are key physiological mechanisms that are involved in setting thermal tolerances in organisms; for example, the heat shock response. The data currently available suggest that the ability to acclimatize to changing thermal conditions is greatest among species exposed to moderately variable environments (Tomanek, 2010Go) (p. 971). Species with the widest thermal tolerances may live closest to their upper thermal limits and may therefore have a limited ability to acclimatize to still higher temperatures. Species that, in recent evolutionary time, have experienced only extremely narrow thermal shifts [e.g. Antarctic notothenioid fishes (Coppes Petricorena and Somero, 2007Go)] may have lost temperature-adaptive traits altogether and may therefore be extremely vulnerable. Anthropogenic CO2 is seen as one of the main culprits in climate change but it is also involved in seawater acidification. Both increased water temperature and acidification directly affect coral reefs (Mydlarz et al., 2010Go) (p. 934), as well as coral reef fishes (Wilson et al., 2010Go) (p. 894). Combined with climate-change-induced storms, which often damage coral skeletons, these changes may have devastating long-term impacts on fish stocks. Climate changes also affect vector-borne pathogens that have significant morbidities and mortalities among humans and animals. Changes in climate influence arthropod disease vectors, their life cycles and the ways in which pathogens interact with vectors and hosts (Tabachnik, 2010Go; Sehgal, 2010Go) (p. 946; p. 955).

    Climate change is thus seen as a major threat to biodiversity worldwide. Endangerment is currently defined using ecological traits (population size, habitat loss, etc.). It will be necessary in the future to also address species-specific physiological criteria such as stress tolerance, phenotypic plasticity and evolutionary potential to define climate change vulnerability of species (Bernardo et al., 2007Go).

    This special issue only scratches the surface of the immensely complex, uncontrolled experiment entitled ‘climate change’ that humans unknowingly and unwillingly have set in motion. The extent, complexity and inescapability with which this experiment now proceeds are mind boggling. It must be hoped that not only physiologists will realize that the effects of climate change are beyond comprehension and beyond control but that political leaders will also recognize the awe and concern with which
    s p e c i a l i s t s view these changes and move promptly to take deliberate action….

  30. 180
    Gilles says:

    Ray : “Gilles, If you don’t take stratospheric cooling as evidence of CO2 as the driver of warming, fine, propose another mechanism that accounts for both.”

    sorry Ray , I can’t understand your logics. What about “If you don’t take the position of Mars in your birthday’s sky as evidence of it as the driver of your personality, propose another mechanism that accounts for both”. If the fact that stratosphere is cooling doesn’t prove the magnitude of greenhouse effect of CO2 in the troposphere, it’s not my fault. Again I do not contest the fact that CO2 absorbs IR (and I agree that people contesting that simply don’t understand physics). I say that going from this physical fact to —-> “so it’s obvious we have to cut strongly our use of fossil fuels” implies a lot a supplementary hypothesis that are by no means proven. And that the “risk” must be carefully evaluated, since it also by no means proven that cutting fossil fuels would be harmless.

  31. 181
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Gilles, you are being obtuse. The evidence is SIMULTANEOUS warming of the troposphere AND cooling of that stratosphere. That is diagnostic of a greenhouse mechanism. Moreover, the fact is that BOTH were predicted well in advance of their observation based on the consensus theory. You are welcome to posit another explanation, but to my knowledge, no convincing alternative has been mooted.

  32. 182
    Norman says:

    175Ray Ladbury says:
    14 March 2010 at 10:36 AM

    Thank you for your response.

    “That means there’s less water to precipitate or evaporate than either of your other two candidates.” Now if you answer this one, then you get my point. Both Knoxville and Tulsa have more water vapor in the air above them. Water vapor is a very strong greenhouse gas (at least responisble for 70% of the greenhouse effect if not more). My understanding would be that Vegas could get much hotter at daytime (less water to evaporate which requires heat) but the nightime lows should favor the water vapor. I did include both daytime and nightime temps. In July, Las Vegas is still warmer on average than Knoxville or Tulsa at night!

    This is also Climate data (if you want I can link you to the source). Weather effects would be smoothed out in the long run and only climate long term effects would be significant.

    The most notible difference in all three citiies is amount of available sunshine. Las Vegas has the most sun and shows the highest temps. Tulsa has more sun than Knoxville and is warmer.

    I am continuing to investigate this with other cities. I try and get them on the same lattitude. I think I will discover that those cities with the most sun will tend to be warmer, overall (there will be certain environments that will change this, as well as elevation effects).

    I may prove my conclusion wrong with further study but that is how science works. Research and investigate.

    I am currently investigating the energy absorbance of water vapor and carbon dioxide using equations found in “STEAM its generation and use” 40th Editions by Babcock and Wilcox.

    The equations are a concern in the construction of Power plant boilers with a hydrocarbon fuel (water vapor and carbon dioxide are byproducts). The local concentration of carbon dioxide and water vapor within the boiler will be far higher than in normal atmosphere (all but 3% of the available oxygen remains unburned). Carbon dioxide and water vapor will absorb infrared from the fireball and they want to know what effect this has on the heat absorption of the waterwall tubes. They do admit is is very complex and they have to include a factor because with a mixed gas it effects the overall calculation.

  33. 183
    Kevin says:

    Apologies for this but I have found another missing link, in this case to a picture at wikipedia.

    The missing image is referred to in this piece:
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/10/how-not-to-attribute-climate-change/

    The url for the missing image is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Climate_Change_Attribution.png

    Kevin

  34. 184
    Mark Ryan says:

    Some further thoughts:

    I’d like to share two of the turning points for me, along the way to understanding which side of the AGW fence to fall on. Neither of these are about any specific argument or explanation, but are to do with realising two features of the overall nature of the debates.

    The first turning point is to do with the shape of positive, versus negative argument.

    I use the term ‘positive argument’to refer to a series of arguments that are rooted in, or aim at explaining, an otherwise unrealised set of properties of the world around us (clearly, the scientific project, as most participants on this site would see it, is an example of positive argument).

    As I see them, the 3 key features of positive argument are:

    1. Multiple lines of argument tend to group around, or point to, a shared underlying reality.

    2. The explanatory power of a positive argument must, and does, increase to account for new empirical data.

    3. Increasing the explanatory power of the overall argument may require revision or removal of certain individual lines of argument, if they are shown to be incomplete or inconsistent. Certain lines of argument (e.g. the validity of Yamal tree rings) are non-critical, while others (e.g. the absorption spectra of CO2) are core.

    By contrast, a “negative” argument does not look outwards in an effort to better explain the world. Its purpose is to attack another argument.

    The 3 key features of a ‘negative’ argument:

    1. There are multiple lines of argument, but they do not contribute to a single coherent explanation (actually, there is a core to the anti-AGW lines of argument, should one choose to accept it -that climatologists have somehow cooperated to fabricate AGW).

    2. Inconsistency of multiple lines of argument (Obviously, one cannot coherently argue that 8 years is enough time to show a reversal of warming, while on the other hand arguing that modern temperature records should only be viewed in a 40,000 year context).

    3. Exaggeration of the importance of any given successful argument. If my objective is simply to destroy an opponent’s credibility, without the need to replace the opposing position with a complete position of my own, I will constantly try to imply that every component of my opponent’s position is implicated in every other. This is as much a psychological consequence of my motivations, as it is a logical feature of my argument.

    Which leads to the second turning point: understanding what kind of theory AGW is.

    I’m interested here in what other contributors think of this idea, but in my view there is a persistent misunderstanding about the nature of the AGW position.

    Propelled by the impetus of negative argument, many people try to apply a Popperian notion of falsification to AGW, but this is just not comparing apples with apples.

    I suspect we can summarise the “theory” of anthropogenic global warming, something like this:


    * A multi-disciplinary body of qualified parties have conducted sound, referenced studies of the components comprising Earth’s atmosphere, the fluid properties of the atmosphere, the external and internal forcings and the applicable modelling methodologies.

    * These studies meet the reference standards of scholarship in their respective fields.

    * There is an extremely high probability that the findings of these studies, when viewed together, describe a single -albeit complex- physical phenomenon and process, that process being AGW.”

    How could we falsify this AGW theory? In one sense, AGW theory isn’t the classic “falsifiable” statement, being more of an argument to the best explanation -but the theory could certainly be shown to be inadequate, or practically false.

    We could create an alternative explanation, which accounts for all of the known findings, plus explains the observations AGW theory does not explain. To my knowledge, there is no such alternative (ie: an alternative positive argument).

    Otherwise, we would need to show that the data was suspect. Efforts such as Watts, McIntyre, Christy et al. have been attempts to dispute the quality of individual data -and there is no doubt that numerous individual studies could be falsifiable in principle (though these guys would have to lift their games). But even if one or more of these were proven correct, they cannot be a falsification of the AGW thesis until they either prove most of the data -from all the disciplines- is faulty, or that there is an alternative explanation with better explanatory power. The ‘negative’ argument here can possibly reduce the constellation of arguments comprising AGW theory, but to falsify -that is an all or nothing gambit.

    Note the only other general argument we could make to falsify the entire theory of AGW is that the whole community of scholars was not qualified. Or corrupt. Or secretly in the pay of an impending One World Government.

    The point I’m getting at here is that, while a decent degree of self-education is necessary to get to grips with this issue, you don’t actually need to understand the maths to grasp what the driving forces are.

    Arguments that attempt to deeply understand the world have a kind of logical shape. When I recognised that shape in the arguments from RC, Skeptical Science and others, I started using these sites as my ‘go to’ pages.

    To be completely clear, there are plenty of examples of negative argument from the pro-AGW side of this debate -and there have been numerous examples on this site also. The key point though, is that negative argument is incidental to the AGW position, while it is the dominant characteristic of the sceptical position: it does not offer a new, more powerful explanation of the world.

    By the way, I am not a scientist, nor a professional academic. I am a foreign exchange trader, who is writing a book about philosophy during the long hours waiting for the squiggly lines on my chart to move where I want them to. I only started reading about chaos theory because Mandelbrot’s early work was an attempt to model movements of commodity markets.

    And don’t get me started on how post-war French philosophy helps to explain financial markets….!

  35. 185
    François says:

    Gilles #173 “sensitivity to the availability of fossil fuels… to the average temperature…”.
    Looks like you are comparing the taste of apples to that of brocolli.

  36. 186
    Gilles says:

    Ray, YOU are obtuse. Again the game is not to prove that CO2 has infrared lines – we know it, and stratosphere cooling is just a consequence of that (and of course the increase of concentration). This doesn’t prove anything about the percentage of warming on the ground due to CO2 lines, because there is a lot of supplementary physics to master. And the “dangerous” features depend on this percentage – among other unknown parameters. The problem is that the political agenda depends on NUMBERS, and most of these numbers are very ill-known. Simple example : how can you commit to limit the warming below 2°C if the climate sensitivity is unknown?

  37. 187
    Gilles says:

    Gilles #173 “sensitivity to the availability of fossil fuels… to the average temperature…”.
    Looks like you are comparing the taste of apples to that of brocolli.”

    I don’t think so.

    “Reducing the amount of fossil fuels” assumes implicitly that there is some “indicator of happiness” X (being GDP or any other fancy estimate you like) such that its sensitivity to fossil fuel consumption is lower than to temperature. Because it is not enough to limit the energy intensity, you have to prevent people to use the spared fossil fuels, meaning in fact renouncing for ever to extract and burn them, leaving them willingly in the ground.

    That’s not an innocent decision. It really means that you’re stating that the marginal wealth (or variation of X) that the fossil fuel COULD have brought (i.e the marginal benefit of burning 1 more t C) is lower than the marginal cost of their consequences. And this can happen only above some value, because for very low amount of fossil fuels, the variation of temperature is negligible, so it’s obviously more interesting to burn them.

    And obviously as well, the value at which the marginal cost equilibrate the marginal benefit depends on the ratio of the sensitivity of X to the temperature AND to the fossil fuel consumption.

    So I need a demonstration of the value at which this condition is fulfilled, please….as far as I know, with past data, the sensitivity of any indicator of prosperity to fossil fuels is MUCH HIGHER than that to temperature, meaning that it is still much more interesting to burn fossil fuels than not. Of course this simple statement explains very well why fossil fuel consumption never decreased globally, and why nobody left any cheap fossil fuel under the ground…

  38. 188
    Uncle pete says:

    @mark Ryan @165
    That is a great summing up/explanation. If only newspapers did not choose option B so often …..:)
    Thanks again for your guest post as well as the follow up contri. Also , my thanks for the whole team at RC of course, for being the steadfast scientists in the maelstrom of disinformation and general crap that passes for climate comment in the newspapers.

  39. 189
    Hank Roberts says:

    Norman, you might find this helpful; it sounds like you’re discovering what are called “climate zones” — part of this here:
    http://www.meted.ucar.edu/afwa/climo/intro/
    (free, though they ask you to register and have a minimum age limit)

  40. 190
    dhogaza says:

    I did include both daytime and nightime temps. In July, Las Vegas is still warmer on average than Knoxville or Tulsa at night!

    But it *cools more* than Knoxville or Tulsa during the night.

    July Temp: (High/Low/Average) F
    Las Vegas: 104.1/78.2/91.15 – difference 25.9
    Tulsa: 93.8/73.1/83.45 – difference 20.7
    Knoxville: 86.9/68.5/77.7 – difference 18.4

  41. 191
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    The problem is that the political agenda depends on NUMBERS

    Do you mind a loud horse laugh?

  42. 192
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Gilles, OK, so you buy that CO2 is a greenhouse gas in the stratosphere, but not in the troposphere? Dude, you are reaching! And climate sensitivity IS known. Many independent lines of evidence place it between 2 and 4.5 degrees per doubling–and all of them favor a value around 3 degrees per doubling.

  43. 193
    Andreas Bjurström says:

    100 Michael,
    I would rather say that 78 ccpo confuse environmental problems with scientific theories. People at this site tend to see climate change as a theory (either true or false). This binary approach is problematic since climate change is very broad and complex: Some claims are true whereas others are false and others are too uncertain to know much about. yes, I would agree that 78 ccpo takes an extreme position because of that, it is far too simplistic.

    Climate change as environmental problems. that is how I interpret Oakwood since he talks about science, sustainability and equality. It ir rather easy to make a case that world poverty is a more pressing problem than climate change. To take away such important “by definition” of AGW is silly.

  44. 194
    Steve P says:

    Gilles! Your antecedents are still so vague that one can interpret your sentences to mean many different things, and they are torture to read. At any rate, guessing one likely meaning of your sentence to be that fossil fuel convenience to date far offsets any inconvenience caused by global warming, I would say that you may be right, but so what? We are talking about the risks in the future. Do you have any idea what the average adult has to pay for food vs gasoline or heating fuel or electricity? Food is by far my biggest expense . It would take only a little bit of drought or too much rain in some of the worlds bread baskets to drive my biggest expense through the roof. That is what we are talking about.

  45. 195
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Norman@182,
    I’m not sure what you are trying to show. We already know that insolation is important. And if you want to look at the effect of greenhouse gasses, why are you looking at absolute temperatures and not diurnal variation? You are also ignoring altitude and a score of other factors.

    As nearly as I can tell, you are trying to reinvent the wheel. That might be fine as a project if you have the time, but I don’t think it will enlighten you as much as would perusal of, say, Ray Pierrehumbert’s climate text.

    I suspect that by limiting your analysis to only a few variables and a few sites, you will mainly succeed in confusing yourself. I would think your project would benefit from a thorough grounding in the fundamentals beforehand.

  46. 196
    Didactylos says:

    Gilles:

    You keep moving the goalposts instead of ever conceding a goal. Should we take this as a sign of bad faith and ignore you forthwith?

    Any of your copious questions could have been answered by the “Start here” resources, but in the long time you have been posting here, I have not seen you make any progress towards grasping the basics.

  47. 197
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Mark C. cites the South Dakota Legislature’s resolution declaring that astrology affects climate. Oh, Ouch! Now that is weapons-grade stupidity.

  48. 198
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Andreas says: “People at this site tend to see climate change as a theory (either true or false).”

    The fact that you keep saying this does not make it so. I can only speak for myself, but I fully realize that climate change and how we choose to respond (or not) to it constitutes an astoundingly complex societal question. I merely insist that as a basis for action, one must accept the scientific consensus. I also believe that a standard risk mitigation approach is the most likely to lead to effective action that avoids the worst consequnces of the resulting threats. I am 100% agnostic on particular policies.

    My impression is that there are many other posters here who share at least a subset of the same positions.

    As to the contributors, I believe their offerings speak for themselves. They do not advocate policy, but instead attempt to elucidate the science and defend it against ill-advised, unfounded and anti-scientific attacks.

  49. 199
    dhogaza says:

    Mark C. cites the South Dakota Legislature’s resolution declaring that astrology affects climate. Oh, Ouch! Now that is weapons-grade stupidity.

    They also claimed that medical infrared imaging affects climate.

    That’s even more … obscure :)

  50. 200
    flxible says:

    Gilles:
    “Because it is not enough to limit the energy intensity, you have to prevent people to use the spared fossil fuels, meaning in fact renouncing for ever to extract and burn them, leaving them willingly in the ground.”

    The problem is the burning more than the extraction, and the “quality of life” you continue to carry on about is not dependent on their combustion, but on their conversion to beneficial non-energy artifacts. Energy comes in many forms, primarily from the sun, focus on making better use of that with reduced CO2 emissions. Your position is very obviously regarding the politics of profit, not the science of climate change, which you appear to accept is happening but doesn’t matter as much as profit.