14 January 2010

Some background on my position on climate change

Now that the Climategate (I hate that term) scandal has broken, the Copenhagen cabal has wrapped up, and the hubbub is over, I wanted to explain to those of you where I'm coming from on this issue.

I was still in college when the first stories of "global warming" started coming out. Being a Geography major, the stories caught my attention because it essentially dealt with my field of study. However, the more and more I read about it, the more skeptical I became; not only did I question the science that its proponents were basing their findings on, the data that they claimed supported their findings was thoroughly suspect.

My questions of the science began with the fact that the Earth's climate has always been in flux and continued through claims that increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are causing the earth's temperature to rise. While I won't argue with the fact that atmospheric CO2 levels can have an impact on the climate, the assertions coming from global warming’s proponents would have you believe that this is the primary driver. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The fact is that there are not only a multitude of factors which impact the climate, but the primary driver of the temperature on this planet is the amount of energy the planet receives from the sun. Unfortunately, everything that I’ve read about climate change, the assumption is that the amount of energy the Earth receives from the sun is constant, which is flawed. The amount of energy the sun emits fluctuates over time. Furthermore, the percentage of the sun’s energy that the Earth receives also fluctuates over time. Interstellar interference (inner planets, comets, asteroids, or dust) has an impact. Another factor is the Earth’s own magnetic field which protects the planet from much of the energy the sun emits.

Now, something that is not very well known is this: the Earth is in the stages of a geomagnetic reversal. In short, the planet’s polarity is going to change which will cause compasses to point south, rather than north. One of the features of a geomagnetic reversal is that the magnetic field around the planet declines before it outright disappears. Geophysicists estimate that the planet’s magnetic field is about a third as strong as it is during its “peak” and that it has declined between 10% to 15% over the last 150 years. Obviously, a weaker magnetic field means that the Earth is receiving more energy from the sun and would therefore increase the temperatures on the planet.

And that’s just where I have questions about the science. The validity of the data being used in these models is questionable at best. Let's begin with the now infamous "hockey stick" graph. For those who are not intimately familiar with the graph, it depicts the temperature variances in the Northern Hemisphere from the 1961-1990 30-year average. The graph's data begins in the year 1000 AD and runs to 1999. For the majority of the graph, the line trends downward at a gentle slope. Then, in approximately 1910, it starts a very conspicuous increase.

Here's the problem. The mercury thermometer was not invented until 1714. Furthermore, thermometers were considered highly scientific instrumentation and use of them would not become widespread throughout Western society until the middle of the 1800’s. Their use in Africa, South America, Australia, and a majority of Asia did not come about until much later. The bottom line here is that we cannot have more than 300 years worth of temperature records and the reality is that we actually have much less.

At this point, a reasonable person would more than likely ask "Where did 700 years' (or more) worth of temperature data come from?" Well, the answer is that they made it up. The fact is that Mann has been quite open about using extrapolated historical temperature data developed by the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia that draws on various sources including tree rings, coral, ice cores and "historical sources".

Now, I have yet to read a definite work on how tree rings data directly correlate to air temperature -- I would stipulate that they correlate to sunlight and precipitation data much better than temperature. As for ice cores, there are far too many assumptions that need to be made (the accuracy of radiocarbon dating, the variances in precipitation data, the erosion factor, and location of the sample points) in order for those to render valid temperature data. I won't even begin to get what may or may not constitute "historical sources". Regardless, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), which advises the UN and other governmental bodies on climate issues, used the results of Mann's work as the basis for their policy guidance documentation.

Unfortunately, using extrapolated data that could be inherently flawed might be the least of the problems here. The CRU's data set also made use of "adjusted" temperature data that interpolated data points in areas with "insufficient" coverage. This would not be so serious of an issue were it not for the fact that the CRU has been extremely reluctant towards making their data sets available for public review. Therefore, when independent researchers have attempted to duplicate the results of Mann's work, they have had to use nothing but published raw data. Not surprisingly, these have not returned the same results. In fact, their results showed that any temperature increases were slight, at most, and no where near the catastrophic levels predicted.

However, what really sets my sensabilities on edge is that any results which counter the claims made in Mann's work have been met with harsh criticism by Phil Jones (director of the CRU at the University of East Anglia), Gavin Schmidt (a researcher at NASA), and others connected to them. From what I gather, it seems that the only way in which you can generate the results that Mann predicted is to use the CRU's data set which they will not share.

Everything changed when a 62 MB archive file containing a collection of emails and data sets from the CRU was posted to the Internet.

The first thing that the files did was expose the CRU's data set to its first mass public review. The differences between the CRU's adjusted data and the raw data from which it was drawn were startling. The CRU clearly "cherry-picked" data points that it felt supported its argument while omitting blocks of data were incongruent its claims by classifying them as "outliers".

But the truly damning content was found in the body of the email messages. Not only did they reveal that the adjusted data had been manipulated in order to eliminate discordant data, but they disclosed a centralized and concerted effort led by Jones and Schmidt on behalf of the climate alarmists (the term de jour for those trumpeting the "global warming" message) to control the tenor and content of all discussion regarding climate change. Scientific journals, conferences, and even the mass media were all targeted to make sure that only the pro-alarmist message was broadcast.

Going back to our reasonable person, the question then becomes "Why would scientists, people who, ostensibly, claim to be in search of the truth, do such things?" Unfortunately, the best answer I can give you is money.

Back in the day, I used to spend an inordinate amount of time drinking at a brew pub a couple of blocks away from MIT. About 8 years ago, a guy came in and I struck up a conversation with him. The subject of climate change came up and he mentioned he had done some research into climate change and that his results showed basically that the alarmists were the ones producing most of the hot air, not human activity. However, there was one problem. No "credible scientific journal" wanted to publish his work. Furthermore, he couldn’t get additional funding to continue his work, partly because he couldn’t get published, but partly because he was espousing something that ran contrary to the dominant paradigm. His cynical take on it was that there was too much money being invested in "global warming" and that anyone who rocked the boat would disrupt that flow. Back then I was na├»ve enough to think things like that didn’t happen in science. Today, I don’t doubt for a minute that they do.

Now, I'm sure that what I'm about to say will probably make me sound like an utter cynic (at best) or a total conspiracy theorist nut (at worst), but think about it this way: imagine if a cure for cancer were discovered next month. What would happen to all of the thousands of people in just the United States whose careers are focused on cancer research? For the most part, these are all well-educated people who earn above the median household income. Most of them would be out of work. Sad as it is to say, the cancer research industry has more of a vested interest in not curing cancer than it does in curing cancer.

1 comment:

Mark said...

What, you're sick of the seemingly mandatory application of "-gate" to everything? I can't imagine why the completely irrelevant use of a suffix derived from the name of a hotel in DC would be problematic for you...

As for AGW the bigger issue for me at the time was that, when it first hit the scene, it was being pushed by the same crowd that only a decade or so earlier had been going on about "global cooling". Before that it was pesticides killing all the animals[1] and overpopulation[2] at roughly the same time[3]. I'm sure there was a looming global catastrophe before that, but even I'm not old enough to remember it.

The issue now is one of credibility. Consider the recent story about the Met Office in Britain. Their methodology for calculating the "warmest winter in living memory" is suspect, to say the least.

I could go on, as could you, but there are only so many hours in the day...

[1] Check out the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson if you're not old enough to get that reference.
[2] Paul Ehrlich's book The Population Bomb, espousing the standard Malthusian scenario.
[3] Carson in 1968, Ehrlich in 1970.