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Not cool anymore

I really can’t comment on the news that it will take 1,000 years to recover from today’s carbon dioxide pollution better than Mr. Taranto of the Wall Street Journal.

I do want to make three additional comments before you read below.  If it takes 1,000 years to recover from an overload of carbon dioxide that has already poisoned our atmosphere then:

  1. why would we risk ruining our current economy for a solution that is likely to not ever happen?
  2. if it takes 1,000 years to get healthy doesn’t it stand to reason that it takes 1,000 years (or at least a couple of hundred) to get sick?
  3. is this just another example of inference based on mathematical computer models that have little to do with reality?

Although America in 2000 passed up an opportunity to elect the man
who invented global warming, eight years later we handed a decisive
presidential victory to an avowed global warmist. And while the message
of Barack Obama’s candidacy on this subject was a bit muddled–he was
for “change,” while global warmists say they want to stop “climate”
change–there is a widespread belief that the voters handed President
Obama a mandate to “do something” about global warming.

A poll released last week by the Pew Research Center, however, calls this into question. In the New York Times’s “Dot Earth” blog, Andrew Revkin described the findings:

According to the survey of 1,503 adults, global warming, on its own, ranks last out of 20 surveyed issues. . . .

Although the more general issue of protecting the
environment ranked higher than climate (named by 41 percent of the poll
subjects) that figure was 15 percentage points lower than in the same
poll a year ago.

Revkin also links to a Rasmussen survey that finds Americans increasingly skeptical about the science behind global warmism:

Forty-four percent (44%) of U.S. voters now say long-term
planetary trends are the cause of global warming, compared to 41% who
blame it on human activity. . . .

In July 2006, 46% of voters said global warming is caused
primarily by human activities, while 35% said it is due to long-term
planetary trends.

Why have global warmists lost ground with the public? One obvious
reason is the recession. “The economy” and “jobs” top the Pew list of
top priorities, and both have increased sharply over the past couple of
years. People who are afraid of something real–losing their jobs or
the value of their assets–have little energy left for esoteric and
hypothetical terrors.

Another reason is that it is really cold out. Past Pew surveys were
also taken in January, so that the figures can be construed as
seasonally adjusted, but this has been an especially harsh winter,
which seems to provide experiential evidence against the claims of
global warmism.

Of course, this feeling is illusory: Weather is different from
climate, and it is possible to have cold winters even amid a long-term
trend toward hotter weather–just as, for example, the stock market has
down days during a bull market.

Global warmists, however, have squandered their credibility in
making this point, because they never fail to seize on a hurricane or a
sweltering summer day as “evidence” to make their case. In fact, so
cynical is the public about the claims of global warmists that the
clichd response to a pleasant winter day is, “If this is global warming, bring it on.”

An additional problem is that whereas global warmists are emotionally
consistent–in a constant state of alarm, accompanied by contempt, even
hatred, for those who dare ask questions–their claims are filled with
logical inconsistencies. A reader spotted a hilarious example in this Los Angeles Times article:

Even if by some miracle of environmental activism global
carbon dioxide levels reverted to pre-industrial levels, it still would
take 1,000 years or longer for the climate changes already triggered to
be reversed, scientists said Monday.

The gas that is already there and the heat that has been
absorbed by the ocean will exert their effects for centuries, according
to the analysis, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National
Academy of Science.

Over the long haul, the warming will melt the polar icecaps
more than previously had been estimated, raising ocean levels
substantially, the report said.

And changes in rainfall patterns will bring droughts
comparable to those that caused the 1930s Dust Bowl to the American
Southwest, southern Europe, northern Africa and western Australia.

“People have imagined that if we stopped emitting carbon
dioxide, the climate would go back to normal in 100 years, 200 years,”
lead author Susan Solomon, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration, said in a telephone news conference.
“That’s not true.” . . .

Solomon said in a statement that absorption of carbon
dioxide by the oceans and release of heat from the oceans – the one
process acting to cool the Earth and the other to warm it–will “work
against each other to keep temperatures almost constant for more than
1,000 years.”

Is it absolutely crucial to the planet’s future that we curtail
greenhouse gases this instant, or would it not make any difference
anyway? If the latter, what sense does it make to be alarmed? And that
last quote by Solomon is a classic head-scratcher. We’re supposed to worry that temperatures will be “almost constant for more than 1,000 years”? That’s what they mean by global warming?

Weather forecast for the year 3009: Plus a change, plus c’est la mme chose.

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7 Responses to “Not cool anymore”

  1. I agree with your points 1 and 3, but disagree with #2. In a few hours an oil spill can do years, even decades, of damage to an environment. I imagine the same for global warming–we could in a few years dump enough CO2 to keep the earth’s filters occupied for centuries.

    The 1,000 year argument, assuming it’s true (which I do not–see your point #3, above), to me means we should not make any drastic or damaging changes to the way we do business, but put our “anti-warming” money into sequestration technologies. So what if it takes decades to build something that will really work safely and cheaply? At the moment there is no indication we need to move quickly.

  2. Tim –

    Humans can do an immense amount of damage very quickly and there is no arguing that point. However, most of those disasters are localized into fairly small area and the pollutants overload the area (e.g. oil spill in a bay). Also, the recovery period is actually quite quick in comparison as life refuses to be fought down.

    In this case, the study is saying that an increase in CO2 of about 315ppm to 375ppm is causing such monumental damage that it is unrecoverable for centuries. That logic simply doesn’t make sense since we are not overloading the system with carbon dioxide it is still only .0004 of the atmosphere or to use Michael Crichton’s analogy 1.44 inches of a 300 foot football field. That much change in the placement of the football would still mean that the Steelers won yesterday.

  3. Good point. No doubt changes that small happen naturally from time to time, probably more often than once every thousand years (I’m thinking of volcanoes for instance). If such an increase could cause irreversible 1,000-year damage, then we would probably be another Venus already.

  4. […] a quick followup to my earlier posting on the 1,000 year irreversibility status of global warming.  The folks over at RealClimate […]

  5. […] a quick followup to my earlier posting on the 1,000 year irreversibility status of global warming.  The folks over at RealClimate […]

  6. I didn’t read the original report, but the Wallstreet Journal guy seems to be cherry-picking his quotes.

    In chemistry there are cases where small differences can have a big impact. For instance, we did a titration recently in chemistry class. This involves adding one solution to another until the substance being added to is completely reacted. To be able to tell when this reaction is complete, we added a third substance that is slightly less reactive. This third substance causes a color change when it reacts with the substance being added. After adding somewhere in the range of 40 mL a mere drop or two would cause the combined solutions to change color. What happened is one of the solutions substances was used up, and the third substance was now reacting with the solution being added. So I’ve witnessed directly where small changes can have a big impact visually. We did this twice and found that we could determine this change within – or +1 part per 1000. Small changes in things can have an impact.

  7. Tommy – great analogy but I am not sure that we know of a tipping point as you refer to. In most cases tipping points are tied to saturation points (as you described). There is no scientific evidence that such a complicated thing as our environmental system has such a tipping point or if it has one, where that point is. There is only conjecture and hypothesis – which is what I point out in my About page.

    Hypothesis is important part of scientific discovery but it plays little to no role in political management nor economic manipulation which are more sociological in nature than scientific.