First, listen to this youtube NASA video soundtrack and watch it show the cycle of seasonal changes and movement of CO(2) in the earth's atmosphere and where in the world it is concentrated:
My article titled Answer to “How Well Can You Reason?”, answered a challenge presented in another of my articles (by the name in quotes) that involved a logical loop. This made every condition depend on every other condition for its satisfaction. There was only a single, logically unambiguous answer that could possibly be correct. In contrast with my expectations, only three of many article readers took the challenge to solve this problem. There was one correct answer. Although the right answer might have been deduced using correct logic, the answerer insisted that the answer was not unambiguous, which if true would have required a different choice for the answer that stated there was insufficient evidence to draw a definitive conclusion. So ironically, even the right answer was in fact a wrong answer by the answerer’s own criterion.
Those conservatives who most relish leaving highly critical but logically inane comments under my articles refrained from participating at all. Several have stated that the motivations in writing the article were repugnant to them and they therefore refused to participate. However, the utterly logic-free but intense passion with which they attempt to refute any arguments I present in other articles transparently fails to legitimize this lame excuse.
Yet these same hard right conservatives pretend to argue intelligently about climate change, some without the slightest clue regarding what the high school science concept of the greenhouse effect even is. The overwhelming evidence for AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming or human-caused global warming) involves physical feedback loops and solid if simple, basic scientific knowledge. The logic required to understand the relationships in these feedback loops very clearly exceeds either the intellectual know-how or willingness that heated and passionate deniers have been able to muster in either of the two challenges my articles have presented to them. (See also my article Challenge to Strange New Conservatives).
However, their lack of any demonstrable skill in logical endeavors or willingness to exercise them obviously fails to serve any useful purpose in deterring their insistence on denial. Some even invoke wild theories regarding AGW of massive collusion within the entire scientific community as part of an alleged Marxist conspiracy to implement socialism in the United States and around the world. This is, of course, not a product of any reasoning process based on the slightest scientific understanding, but simply blind parroting of nutty right-wing news sources.
AGW deniers virtually never deal in any remotely valid way with scientific data revealing these relationships. Instead, they merely attack each piece of data as if it existed in isolation from all the other data, obviously parroting some source that provided them with the “argument” in the first place, as anyone can attest who ever notices the ideas such sources of “infotainment” peddle. The implied assumption is that if you take one thing out of context and make it appear wrong, you’ve demonstrated that the whole argument is invalid. Such thinking is, of course, invalid on its face. It’s truly sad to see how many remain oblivious to this.
The Core Principles Underlying AGW
First, the bottom line understanding we all must have for even the slightest chance of any kind of informed discussion of this subject to exist is fairly simple. If some equilibrium temperature did not physically guarantee that the energy coming into the earth is balanced by what leaves it, temperature would increase indefinitely and fry us all. Fortunately, higher temperatures increase the rate at which energy leaves the earth until equilibrium is reached. However, there is nothing to guarantee that this equilibrium temperature will be hospitable to 21st-century civilization and its vital infrastructure. The essential understanding is that there is an equilibrium point in the long-term average temperature of the earth at which all the energy coming in will also go back out into space.
This temperature is affected by only two fundamental factors:
1. How fast energy is coming into the earth.
2. How fast energy can leave the earth at any given temperature.
This second factor is determined by both the reflectivity (albedo) of the earth and in the case of lower wavelengths (infrared or IR), how much of it does the atmosphere absorb on the way back out and radiate back to earth. Solar energy comes in at a wide range of wavelengths. The visible wavelengths can enter and leave very easily. However, when visible sunlight strikes the surface, whether ocean or land, it heats it. Heat is infrared (IR) and is of lower wavelengths than visible light. Just as the glass in your car windows let sunlight in to warm your upholstery, dash, etc. and prevent the resulting heat (lower wavelength IR) from getting back out, greenhouse gases do that for the earth. The equilibrium temperature for your car on a hot day, as I’m sure we have all witnessed, can be quite unbearable. This is precisely how greenhouses work to keep plants growing that would otherwise perish in winter weather, hence the name “greenhouse” gases. Greenhouses, however, easily regulate the temperature with thermostat-operated ventilation systems.
In other words, factor number 2 above depends on how much resistance the atmosphere offers to energy leaving the earth; how much does it require the temperature to rise in order for the same amount coming in to get back out. The heat from the sun varies. So does the composition of the atmosphere, both in terms of clouds and chemical constituents, including gases and also aerosols, which are particulate matter that is tiny but solid. There are other sources of energy, such as the energy from the interior of the earth we label geothermal and which is responsible for volcanoes, fumaroles, etc. and tidal energy, which ultimately comes from the slowly decreasing kinetic energy of the moon’s orbit. However, these forms of energy are very stable over the long run, and so are not responsible for climate change if we ignore temporary effects of volcanic eruptions.
This implies directly that there are only three mutually exclusive points of view possible, ignoring for the moment which is right or wrong:
1. Variation in incoming solar energy is solely (pun intended) responsible for climate change, which assumes the atmosphere is essentially stable over time with regard to how fast energy can leave the earth at any particular temperature. These variations in solar input to earth can come from the intensity of energy leaving the sun and cloud cover, which affects how much light is reflected back into space. Cloud cover is, in turn, affected by solar activity and its effect on cosmic rays, but this effect is now accurately measurable with satellite technology and relatively quite small with regard to what is actually occurring.
2. While the sun is essentially the only significant variable factor in how much energy enters the earth, the atmospheric constituents nevertheless change enough to significantly vary the rate at which energy can leave the earth at any particular temperature.
3. The temperature is not currently changing in the long run, so both of the previous positions are moot.
AGW deniers assume either 1 or 3 or both. Scientific experts in climate science show clear evidence that 2 is correct and concur in this conclusion with an overwhelming consensus (i.e., 97.4% among peer-reviewed scientific papers from climate specialists with the remainder reporting neutral results except for a small fraction of 1%). Some deniers argue naïvely but convincingly in terms of popular understanding that we cannot even predict the weather accurately for ten days, let alone predict climate change over multiple decades or a hundred years. This sounds very logical.
The difference and resulting invalidity of this argument becomes clear when we recognize that weather prediction involves different, very specific local patterns in thousands of places around the globe while climate change deals with change in the long term average temperature of the entire planet. We can use a car analogy once again to highlight the difference. The turbulence in the air at each little locality around a car traveling at 75 miles per hour is so chaotic and complex that it is impossible to simulate even with the most powerful supercomputers that currently exist. Yet we can state with certainty that the average movement and speed of the air around the car is in the direction toward the rear of the car and exactly 75 miles per hour with respect to the car.
Another vital consideration is absorption of carbon dioxide or CO(2) in ocean water. Coca-Cola is carbonated (carbon dioxide in solution). A warm Coke bottle in hot weather will spew Coke and CO(2) foam all over everything when the cap is removed to reduce pressure inside the bottle. This is because the amount of CO(2) that can remain dissolved in water is affected by both heat and pressure. The higher the heat, the less CO(2) can remain in solution. The higher the pressure, the more CO(2) can remain in solution. Removing the cap reduces the pressure allowing the effect of the heat to show up. However, since atmospheric pressure is relatively constant, the main loop affecting AGW is essentially the relationship of heat and the solubility of CO(2) in ocean water. The chief feedback loop in AGW exists between heat (IR), and atmospheric and oceanic CO(2).
In the past, the earth’s orbit has occasionally averaged less distance from the sun, raising the average global temperature and releasing CO(2) from solution in the ocean water that covers three fourths of the earth. In those times, temperature increase preceded the increase in atmospheric CO(2) , since it was the initial cause. However, the story doesn’t stop there. Increased CO(2) in the air trapped more heat in the lower atmosphere, increasing the surface temperature further to release even more CO(2) from ocean water.
Polar ice melted; ocean levels rose; land area shrank, exposing more ocean surface to the air for more efficient exchange of CO(2). This is the feedback loop anciently triggered by heat in which an increase in heat led all past increases in CO(2) as far back as we can go. At some threshold the loop becomes so strongly self-reinforcing that you get tropical vegetation at very high latitudes. This happened very slowly over very large periods of geological time, which AGW deniers are extremely fond of ignoring. They also ignore the previous absence of a vast and extremely vulnerable infrastructure, both soft and hard, on which billions of people depend for the basic necessities of life.
Worse, many AGW deniers have used these past changes in which temperature increase led increased atmospheric CO(2) to support their claim that the sun’s heat is the sole cause of global warming and increased CO(2) as opposed to human CO(2) production. First they ignore the reversal in the current case…that now CO(2) is leading temperature rise. With some small contribution from geothermal sources, virtually all the heat comes from the sun, of course, but that skirts the issue, which is how much solar heat coming in can get back out without raising temperature at the surface of the earth and its ocean water.
Atmospheric CO(2) content strongly affects that just like the windows of your car make the air hotter inside than out even though the sun is the source of heat for both. So this argument would be laughable in light of how this feedback loop works if it were not so serious in its political and, ultimately and not very distantly, extremely negative practical consequences.
CO(2) increase is well known to cause temperature increase and vice versa, no matter which starts it. It is, after all, a feedback loop. Not only do AGW deniers seem to never notice that this time CO(2) increase is leading temperature rise, but also that it is occurring at roughly one hundred times the rate of any past, naturally occurring increase. With current ground and satellite technology together with computer technology that integrates information from multiple sources, we know that the upper atmosphere is cooling while the lower is getting hotter despite the recent plateau in average surface temperatures. We now use spectral analysis to detect even what specific gases are absorbing and radiating energy. We can now do this both from space and on the earth’s surface.
We must also remember that long term averages are what count, rather than a single anomalous temperature plateau covering no more than a decade that without AGW would have been just one more normal temperature dip. Concluding anything from such a short term perspective is rationally equivalent to making a huge stock buy in Smith’s Super-Wonderful Widgets because their stock price closed high today. Yet AGW deniers use this kind of “reasoning” with apparent impunity as far as their congregation of believers waiting eagerly to be comforted by such denial is concerned, along with their apparently incurable desire to believe things are still just like they always thought they were.
We also know how much CO(2) we’re producing globally and that only 40% of it is actually showing up in the atmosphere. There is only one place the rest could be going. The ocean is sequestering it for us as it dissolves into the water. Water becomes increasingly acidic as it absorbs CO(2). Our major reef systems are already paying dearly for that. Shell fishing in some locations is decreasing because acidic water inhibits the absorption of the minerals needed to build the shells, so fewer young are surviving their predators. As temperature continues to rise, CO(2) absorption is not only going to stop so that 100% rather than 40% goes straight into the air and stays there, but shortly afterwards all the CO(2) the ocean has sequestered has to come right back out and snowball what is already happening. (Please indulge the irony of the snowball metaphor in this highly caloric context.)
People who make their living from shell fishing generally tend to be politically conservative, but they are not arguing against AGW now. It’s odd how money talks when it comes to what we want to believe. In that regard, the fossil fuel industry has an enormously larger incentive to exert influence against belief in the reality of AGW than grant money provides any scientist to argue for it.
President Nixon switched the dollar from the gold to the black gold standard (e.i., U.S. dollars became “petrodollars” effectively based on crude oil by requiring everyone who buys crude to pay for it in dollars). This made it possible to increase debt and inflate the dollar. Inflated dollars under this condition amount to a tax levied on every entity in the entire world that buys crude. Further, the banking procedures required for crude purchases up the ante in several other ways to our so far virtually unending benefit at the expense of everyone else.
That's why no one, including both parties, ever paid much attention to running up the national deficit. We set it up so the whole world pays for it and we didn't have to care that much. Many countries are making significant progress in weaning themselves off petroleum. We suddenly have to care now and this is one very important reason why. Another is an unintended consequence of the recent congressional fiasco by Tea Party idols. This has scared the already angry overseas prey of this petroleum-based financial strategy, most notably China and Russia, to the point of talking about ending their need to use petrodollars at all. They are in a better position to do this than ever before.
Our little game, which every top level of government in the world knows about and naturally is not overly fond of, is only one of many that leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth. Now we're getting called on it owing to less effective and stable governance in the United States that is highly visible around the world in combination with dependence on fossil fuels that is slowly disappearing in our country and much faster in many others. However, the pace of this disappearing dependence is accelerating and likely to do so dramatically in the next few years, as it must if we are to survive in any currently viable economic form.
This puts tremendous financial pressure from oil and coal interests on everyone to discourage alternative energy sources, since in the near term it is a tremendously disruptive technology for them at a very deep and powerful level and at every level, especially for the U.S. and its petrodollars. So the really powerful financial incentives are not on scientists to lie about AGW, but quite the opposite. There are inconceivably more powerful incentives for the fossil fuel industry to finance any willing partners who can help them lie about it. Lest we be tempted to think these interests are morally above such behavior, it would behoove us to remember the conspicuously missing morality of the tobacco industry, a tiny financial insect compared to the fossil fuel industry.
Yet most AGW deniers are completely reversing this, ignoring the irrational imbalance in their assumptions regarding financial incentives. This also completely reverses again the practical results from our science and technology they use every day as strong evidence for the relative objectivity in scientists versus the infamous frequency with which objectivity is lacking in the realization of corporate interests. It all turns rational thinking wrong side out and bends what should be common sense over backwards.
To illustrate, one comment in an AGW-related discussion stated a central reason for his objection, saying, "Also, it’s always doom and gloom -- nothing good might offset whatever bad might happen -- another reason I find it much easier to be skeptical of climate alarmists than I otherwise would."
Ah, so there is a Freudian slip showing here, isn’t there? Where is the reason in this? First, there is a lot of good that can, should, is already starting to, and, we must hope, very likely will offset what bad could happen. (See my article Take Heart! (New Energy & Climate.) The same comment had made an accusation that accepting AGW is virtually a religious conviction. So what is not religious about arguing that global warming, whether human caused or not, must be wrong because it's bad news…"gloom and doom" as he prejudicially phrased it? That kind of talk is not reason, but rhetoric. Where is there anything logical, unprejudiced by emotion, in that kind of thinking? And this barely touches on the very many blatantly irrational, emotionally prejudiced, and quasi-religious convictions in AGW denial.
All of these deniers so far have mentioned only one source: the political sources they choose to listen to for whatever "reason". They accuse those who accept the threat of AGW of irrational religious adherence to dogma while they vehemently and dogmatically maintain that AGW is a massive, incredibly well orchestrated scientific hoax. Every intelligent person knows that politicians are the least reliable sources of any kind of information no matter what party they belong to, so they choose them for their information on global warming. How rational and non-religious is that? One of the things I notice about religious people, and I'm extremely familiar with them as a preacher's son, is that they pick someone to believe in and then blindly follow. Some will even drink lethal Koolaid if that someone tells them they should. Right now, the U.S. is full of people drinking the not-so-long-term lethal Koolaid of AGW denial.
Imagine that you had a 50% chance of dying relatively soon of a fatal disease, but that $10,000 would buy you medical attention that would guarantee a complete cure. You don’t know for sure that the $10,000 would not simply be wasted, since there is also a 50% chance that you’re perfectly healthy. This is exactly equivalent to a $10,000 lump sum premium that buys you protection against a 50% chance of a very premature demise. Who in their right mind would not pay that premium even with those extremely generous odds compared to the scientifically assessed 95% likelihood that AGW is real? If we didn’t have the money, we’d do everything in our power to get it even with 50/50 odds.
By contrast, only 2% of total GDP around the world, although an enormous amount of money considered in isolation, would be more than enough to skirt around any potential disaster if only we act before we hit an irreversible trigger point for one of the many feedback loops affected by AGW, such as the Gulf Stream, for example. Discover Magazine published an article by Timothy Archibald (June 2009, p 38) in which he interviewed four climate change experts. One of these experts, Ken Caldera, posed an interesting question. He states that economists have estimated that achieving an economy that emits no carbon dioxide might cost as much as 2% of our annual wealth-generating capacity worldwide. However, he projects a situation in which we have already achieved this, then pops this fascinating question, hypothetically inverting the time sequence:
“You can make 2% more money each year, but in return for being 2% richer we’re going to have to melt the ice caps and acidify the oceans and shift weather patterns. Now, would you trade all that environmental risk in order to be two percent richer?
Caldera reports that even climate skeptics answer that if we already had such a carbon-neutral energy system, they would just go with it and forego the 2% gain in annual wealth. But the reality projected by most climate change scientists and the economists’ estimates are the precise logical equivalent of Caldera’s hypothetical deal. The only difference is the time sequence, which has absolutely no logical impact on the smart choice in considering it. What is rational about ignoring the highly likely reality of AGW considering the relatively low price we need to pay to avoid it as opposed to the tremendous human cost if we collectively bet against it? How can betting against AGW make any sense at all even if the odds for it were even instead of 95%?
There is still another consideration relevant to the burning of fossil fuel that is logically independent of appreciating the very real threat of AGW, although of course the latter is the most urgent consideration. It is quite simply immoral to burn up all the fossil fuel. We talk about another hundred year supply from this or that fossil fuel reserve. A hundred years is just one long human lifetime, for crying out loud. It’s nothing! I have an uncle who is approaching 102 years of age!
How long has it been since Shakespeare, for example? What if they had used up all our fossil fuel? In the many thousands of years of human history, what guarantee did we have that the industrial revolution wouldn’t have already occurred in Shakespeare’s time? What would we think of the people of that time if they had wantonly burned up our entire supply of fossil chemicals and just left us to deal with it? Petroleum is a source of invaluable chemical stocks used for a huge variety of purposes, including things like plastics, tires, lubricants, synthetic fibers, fertilizers, etc. Renewable energy is by its very definition the only energy that can last indefinitely and not immorally dump the planet into chemical poverty even if AGW were not a problem. So these arguments against the development of renewable energy, from a clear and unarguable logical perspective, are either deaf, dumb, and blind or immoral…and most likely suicidal.
Copyright October 2013 © Robert P. Wendell
Redistribution freely permitted contingent upon the unmodified inclusion of this copyright notice.