May 26, 2007

Eco Rant....

 

Over in lab 5, (a refurbished Batman villain hide-out) one of the Brickmuppet's crack team of science babes explains to a rapt audience that while people of good faith certainly believe that Global Warming is a transcendental threat,  for crying out loud, calling skeptics of Al Gore's  fear mongering "denialists" is downright Orwellian. It associates them with truly evil people....the holocaust deniers. It does not reflect well upon those who use the term.
 
There is a difference between denying  the noticeable warming of the planet (which is pretty bloody obvious to anyone with a brain and eyes)and wondering the extent to which people influence this change (which they almost certainly do)...and there is a further difference between either of these things and trying to do a cost benefit analysis of the merits of various mitigation ideas.

Now to be sure, we are entering a warming period...and have warmed rather dramatically since the early 20th century.
How dramatically?....Lookee...
 
That's Niagara Falls...That's people walking across Niagara Falls in 1911...the last year it froze, note that in the early years of the Republic it froze solid several times.

We do have a huge amount of warming and CO2 levels are noticeably higher than they seem to have been in preindustrial times. Now the science of measuring these is less precise than some would like to admit, but we are, nevertheless, talking about a 20 to 37% increase in CO2 depending on the study...which is likely outside even a considerable margin of error.

CO2 is a greenhouse gas...it is not a very efficient one compared to water vapor and methane, but it does work and much of the CO2 being added to the atmosphere is being released from deposits that were sequestered in...say...the carboniferous period when swamps turned to coal.

So why am I not working to draft Gore?

Because I don't think this is the end of the world.

Climate has varied dramatically over the last 8000 years alone. The polar bears survived...as evidence... polar bears.

Despite some disruptions...like the submergence of several coral atolls in the Pacific (which may have precipitated the migration of the Maori to New Zealand.) ....the shifting of arable bands and whatnot.
Civilization tended to do better during warm periods....

This is not to say I'm as unconcerned as this guy... good grief.

Jerry Pournelle's comments on the first Greenland barley crop in 600 years are instructive.

Russell Seitz called yesterday to tell me that Greenlanders brought in the first barley harvest in over 600 years. That's global warming.

Viking settlements in Greenland endured if not exactly thrived between approximately 1000 AD and 1300 AD. From 1330 to 1410 they dwindled and died. While there are more detailed accounts and explanations, the simple fact is that before 1325 it was warm enough to support the colonies, and after 1330 it got cold and they died.

Note that the west coast of Greenland is not part of the Gulf Stream climate system. It is not closely coupled with Northern Europe, which also enjoyed a Medieval Warming from somewhere before 800 AD until 1330 when the Little Ice Age began. Kyoto addicts have dismissed that warming period as weather, not climate, a local phenomenon and not an indication that the globe was warmer in historical times.

The "hockey stick" theory is that global temperatures have been flat until recently and how are headed higher and higher in a dramatic manner. The long period of flat temperatures is inferred from ice cores, lake sediments, tree rings, and other such data. The algorithms for converting these data into temperatures is the critical item, and there is considerable controversy over its validity. The hockey stick theorists long resisted publication of their algorithm.

In computer science, Garbage In -- Garbage Out is an axiom; but of course if I can manipulate the algorithms in a secret fashion, I can get any output from any input.

The bottom line of all this seems clear enough: there is global warming. As Arrhenius told us about the turn of the Century, increased levels of CO2 can contribute to that warming, and there is no reason to suppose that is not true. The warming trend began before CO2 levels rose enough to cause it; the warming trend began early in the 19th Century as the Little Ice Age ended.

How much CO2 contributes to the present warming trend is unknown. It did not contribute to the Medieval Warming. There is considerable evidence that during the Medieval Warm period the Earth's temperature was higher than it is at present.

We survived the Medieval Warm, as we survived the Little Ice Age. Civilizations thrived during the Medieval Warming Period.

It would be useful to know just what is happening, and whether we can do anything about it. One thing we could do is paint all our roofs white. For some reason there is no national panic about dark colored roofs.


Note that while he might be called a "denialist "Dr. Pournelle is not denying global warming and he agrees that it is important to study it.

Also, the white roof idea is not as silly or flippant as it might sound....I think it is quite a good one...urbanization has drastically changed the albedo of the planet...a study of mitigating that might be useful....

If, as some believe, we are in a natural period of warming, due to solar activity or other causes, and if (as seems very likely) the CO2 levels are much higher due to pulling out long lost carbon, then we could see a really fast disruptive warming.

However, these in my mind are not as worrisome as some other threats...and given the fact that people, polar bears and kitty cats weathered the changes just between Roman times and now (Roman Warm Period/ Dark ages Cold Period/ Medieval Warm Period/ Little Ice Age...scary current spike)
 the concern over climate change seems overblown

What, you may ask, are these far more pressing issues?
 
Heavy metal poisoning
This is terrifying. Heavy metals like mercury, cause nervous system disorders, insanity and death. They are introduced into the environment mainly  by disposal of electronics, batteries and the burning of coal. In theory this should be mitigated by curbing CO2 emissions  given that a big percentage of the mercury release into the oceans is via coal. But the focus on CO2 is as  much about socialist leveling schemes as the environment. Kyoto...which Bill Clinton , not Bush2 rejected BTW...gives heavily polluting 3rd world countries a pass to catch up to the US Europe and Japan. all the while chugging away...since the only thing Kyoto worries about is CO2 their far worse records on other pollutants get a pass.While the FDA link is scary enough....look what mercury poisoning did to Minamata Japan. This stuff concentrates through the food chain (like any pollutant) and is very hard to get out. This is insidious but is lost in the Global Warming buzz. Mitigating strategies in the short term are things like the Presidents Clear Skies Initiative
which was much maligned but facilitates reductions of up to 70% in non CO2 emissions. The singular focus on CO2 has caused this to go virtually ignored when not outright opposed. It also reduces pressure for more of this sort of thing not just here but abroad where it is really needed. Massive increases in the size and number of batteries for hybrid and electric cars and an increase in the use of mercury vapor containing bulbs...as individually benign as they may be...contribute to this problem....but they (in theory) reduceCO2 so they are loved by the Greens.... focus on the wrong thing is actively counterproductive.

Plastics in the Ocean
In the North Pacific, plastics now outweigh plankton. Besides the slow leeching of toxins into the sea, plastics....which often "behave" like jellyfish or other plankton...are ingested by whales, sea turtles and other already stressed organisms which then choke, starve, or are poisoned. There isn't ANY correlation between this and CO2 reduction....so it is not getting near the attention it deserves. Mitigation might involve simply adding cornstarch to most plastics, bounties for plastics recovered....(if theres more of it than plankton, a few hears of trawling for it might be profitable...especially if sold to recyclers)....and a ban on some types of plastic products. It would be dealing with a far more alien threat than CO2 and warmth....but....no...

Acid Rain
I have little respect for the Greens....but here is where my respect resides, because this is one of the few things they were well and truly right about....and thanks to them much has been done to mitigate this...more than anything in fact, but emissions (especially from those 3rd world nations that get a pass from Kyoto) are still wiping out whole swaths of continents and destroying areas never touched by it before. In the US, the advent of ultra low sulfur diesel and the aforementioned Clear Skies initiative promise vast improvements, but the lack of credit we get does nothing to encourage the nations with far worse records than us on this...and the attention sucked up by global warming makes this issue seem...well so damned '70s...

Deforestation
Actually getting some attention because of the blinkered notion that forests are efficient carbon sinks, deforestation is a tremendous eco-nightmare in the nations that get Kyoto passes. The US is doing better than anyone in this regard, and now has far more trees than we had 150 years ago...though, cropland alone, not to mention development make it unlikely we will approach the tree #s of 1800. Tree farms, hunting preserves and nature preserves are good ways of mitigating this, but the first two are anathema to the anti-capitalist Greens.  The developing world needs anything that will add rather than detract from their economies....the first two do. Tree farms if used  with old growth hedgerows can be fairly good for biodiversity, and the success of bringing game species back from extinction has been demonstrated in the US with the alligator....and rather too well with the white tailed deer. In African countries where poaching is controlled good results have been obtained with elephants...deforestation contributes to a myriad of other issues , desertification, ground water depletion, erosion/runoff related pollution amongst them....but in the eyes of many the front line of the fight for the environment is harassing a family in an SUV and not the shaving of other nations forests...

Deep Sea Ecosystem depletion
Deep sea species take decades to mature, so any sustainable fishery is unlikely, yet this is the area getting massively exploited right now... this is getting reported, but the claims of total oceanic biosphere collapse sound so far fetched that they are, due to the 'boy who cried wolf' effect, put by many on the right in the global warming file...and on the left taken as a call to action on global warming...which is tangentially if at all related to fish at that depth. And so this problem is all but ignored....particularly when the Sea Shepherd assholes become the face of that issue. The bitch of it is, total ecological collapse of the oceans may not be much of an exaggeration....we simply don't know much about that band of life and what we do know supports rather than detracts from this awful scenario,


I haven't even talked at length about water issues, ozone depletion, killer asteroids, emerging diseases, robot uprisings, or nuclear or biological terrorism....

While a good (nay pretty airtight )argument CAN be made that conducting the rather retarded experiment of defecating in our atmosphere and releasing CO2 sequestered since the Devonian period is stupid and we need to stop it....the monomaniacal focus on CO2 does not seem prudent or productive to me.

I  just think that the concerns I listed above are a greater worry, for humanity and biodiversity in general.

As for solutions to GW and the more pressing problems, well, the BMCTOSB's are on the job, looking at nuclear power, biofuels, geothermal and  niche elements like solar, and debunking some silly ones.  Rest assured though, if anyone is the least bit serious about this....nuclear is on the menu.

 The science babes, will,of course be giving periodic reports here.


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