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« Open Source Nanoscience | Main | Vertical Farming in NYC? »

April 25, 2008


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I am a big supporter of believing the consensus opinion of our scientific community. These people are experts who have devoted their entire lives to the study of these issues. We should respect and heed their opinions and warnings. (This is the main reason why I am skeptical about mechanical approaches to nanotech.)

In terms of climate change, clearly the consensus among the relevant disciplines is very strongly in favor of significant changes over the next century, mostly due to human-caused increases in CO2 levels. I don't think anyone who follows these issues with even a hint of objectivity can deny this. Everyone I know who disputes this conclusion does so for ideological reasons. They don't want it to be true, so they refuse to believe it. I would very much prefer that it not be true, but I do believe it.

However I have the impression that you, Mike, are getting ahead of the consensus on this issue in terms of the immediacy of the danger and the likelihood of near term consequences. Most of what I have read anticipates significant changes only on a multi-decadal time scale. I am worried that most efforts to drum up fear about consequences today and tomorrow are politically motivated attempts to counter the human tendency to ignore long term problems.

The truth is that in any case we can do very little to alter what the carbon levels are going to be in 2020 and essentially nothing about what they will be in 2010. If we really do have problems on these time scales, we need to deal with them in other ways that by reducing carbon emissions. And if the problems are as urgent as your exclamation points indicate, then we really ought to be getting started dealing with these things now, via mechanisms like forestry management, ecological interventions, improved flood control and drought mitigation measures, and so on. This is where our efforts should be going.

Anyone who predicts a short-term disaster and then says that what we should do is get going on reducing CO2 is making a political statement. If we really do face short-term problems, reducing CO2 isn't going to do a damn thing about them. If people were really serious about this catastrophism they would place at least equal emphasis on conventional mitigations. Since they don't, as you haven't done here, I find it hard to take seriously.

Mike Treder, CRN

Hal, you're right, of course, that we can do very little now about CO2 levels in 2010 or even 2020. And it's also true that by consensus the most dire consequences of rising temperatures likely will not be felt for at least another few decades.

But there is also broad consensus within the informed scientific community that unless we act NOW, with radical enough measures to keep CO2 from peaking above 450 ppm and then make it decline to around 350 ppm, we will experience catastrophic consequences in the latter half of this century, if not sooner.

From what I can tell, there seems to be wide agreement that the next several years are critical, and that unless big changes are made during that period, we may move beyond a tipping point and be unable to prevent the worst outcomes.

Some readers of this blog might think that molecular manufacturing will come along just in time to save us from ourselves. Or that advanced AI could solve the problem for us. But I think it would be utterly foolish to blithely assume that those emerging techs will arrive on a set schedule, or that when they do, they will offer some easy solution that will be simple and obvious to implement.

Maybe that will happen. But putting the fate of our civilization and billions of lives on the line on a "maybe" bet seems unacceptable to me. We've got to act now, with the tools and knowledge we currently have, while at the same time working toward even better remedies that might be found in the future.


I'm looking at the CO2 tracking with the temperatures, but even here in your chart it pretty clearly shows that the CO2 levels lag the temperatures. If you were to run some vertical lines up from the dates it would be even more apparent. Or better yet, simply overlay the two graphs.

I've read a lot about the feedback loop running away from CO2's impact on temps, but the more I see the less I believe it anymore.

If it isn't the CO2, then what is the culprit? What happens if we become so totally invested in the idea (and the research funding of) CO2 being the source of global temperatures (up or down?) When can we talk about the actual data rather than the ideological dogmatic belief that CO2 is the cause of all the temperature shifts on our planet??

Consensus or not...it just isn't the truth.

Tom Craver

Hawkeye -

It's pretty certain that the variations shown were driven by changes in Earth's slowly changing orbit. However there are still at least two possibilities regarding the CO2's influence:

One is that the CO2 had nothing to do with the warming - it was just a consequence of higher temps, following higher temps by several hundred years. That's essentially the position you're assuming.

The other is that the warming effect of earth's orbital changes would be small, except that the release of CO2 creates a positive feedback effect that amplifies the warming, releasing more CO2, causing more warming, etc. This would be in accord with global warming theory.


Well, no. I was saying that I had agreed with the feedback theory of global warming. However, the data I see in the historical charts doesn't show a leading trend relationship with CO2 v Temps, but instead a trailing trend. Also, if the feedback theory is true, then the global temps should have increased in the last 10 years since (as EVERYONE keeps touting) the CO2 levels aren't just rising, but the rate of those increases is rising too. Instead of increased temps, we have decreased global temps and ocean temps.

If it is feeding back into the system to increase temps AND it is the most significant driver, then shouldn't those temps obviously be increasing?

Mostly, I'm concerned that the global warming theories aren't scientifically falsifiable and that too much research focus on CO2 might make us miss the bigger system picture/research. More real data and less dependence upon theoretical models (that isn't the same as less theoretical models btw.)


Hawkeye, do you actually think you understand CO2 and its impact on climate better than researchers who have devoted their entire professional lives to the question? How can you believe such an absurd concept? Do you know more physics than a string theorist? Do you know more about the details of the French Revolution than someone who has written hundreds of papers on the topic? Would you expect to be more knowledgeable about calcium receptors in white blood cells than a researcher who has been experimenting in this area for decades? I am confident that the answers to these questions are in the negative. Why, in this one area of climatology, do you believe that an average person who reads a few web pages knows more than the experts?

What do you think about my theory that skeptics are biased by ideological and political leanings? Are you someone who wholeheartedly endorses the idea of international cooperation to solve problems, who believes that government regulation generally is a positive force in society, and who finds it reasonable that mankind could improve its situation by backing off from the energy-intensive technologies of the 20th century? Or do you have an ideology which makes you reluctant to embrace these concepts?

You should always be suspicious when your ideological biases align with your beliefs; if what you *want* to be true is what you *think* is true. Especially when this worldview forces you to believe absurdities such as that your rudimentary knowledge of climatology outweighs the work of thousands of brilliant and dedicated scientists plugging away at these problems for years. If this is the situation in which you find yourself, I'd suggest that a rational and objective analysis would produce very different conclusions about where the truth is likely to be found.

Tom Craver

Hal - Now, see, yours is a common attitude I find objectionable.

ANYONE should be allowed to question AGW, and the only response should be "here's the data/answers that defend the consensus position". Never should we say "Who are YOU to question God's - oops, sorry - Scientists' Word?!"

The consensus opinion of relevant experts should be taken seriously by policy makers and acted upon.

But we should NEVER stop anyone from questioning the science, certainly not in the name of avoiding confusing the ignorant. The latter, if they do not wish to take the time to educate themselves, should simply be told "It's the scientific consensus - don't take our word for it, look into it deeper if you would disagree - but you should *certainly* not take the word of AGW opponents on faith either!"

And ESPECIALLY we should never try to shut down a professional scientist's questioning. Every scientist, evaluating the evidence regarding AGW, must be allowed to come to his or her own conclusions - or the claim of "scientific consensus" becomes a fraud. They should not be threatened with loss of funding, or blocked from tenure, and certainly not (as some have suggested) arrested for the "crime" of questioning AGW.

The scienific forum of ideas must be kept open, even as we move to act on the best information we have. In Science, "The Debate is Over" is never true.


Well, Tom, my suggestion was along the lines of "teach a man to fish" vs "give a man a fish". Telling him why he is wrong about a specific issue may fix that one issue (but in my experience probably won't). Telling him that his whole methodological approach is unlikely to lead to accurate beliefs can in theory fix a whole range of issues.

But if you prefer, on the specific issue of why the CO2 curve lags rather than leads the temperature curve, here is a sample of the many explanations available online:


As for why we haven't seen global temperature increases in the last ten years despite rising CO2 levels (a common denier claim, which tells me that Hawkeye is getting his ideas from denier propaganda and is not in fact thinking for himself): (A) we have, if you consider temperatures averaged over a few years[1]; (B) ten years is too short a time to establish a trend; (C) CO2 levels are up only about 5 percent over the last ten years, not enough to produce an unambiguous signal.

[1] http://climateprogress.org/2008/03/18/hadley-center-to-delayers-deniers-pielke-global-warming-not-cooling/ - and note what happens in the comments when people start "thinking for themselves", i.e. regurgitating the views they find politically congenial.


I leave for a few days and come back to this?!? Are you kidding me? I asked a question and even going back to review it I don't see anything confrontational about it.

Simply put, what I see (even what you are showing me NOW) doesn't match the conclusions stated; that CO2 increases result directly in significant increases in temperature.

What is the ideological bent in the question? C'mon, grow up Hal. Is it theoretically possible that there might be a different set of drivers for global temperatures than just CO2? I guess that could be ideological. Maybe I worship the sun god and so the idea that sun spot cycles might contribute... Or some water god because I might want to consider that water vapor might be a contributor... And what causes those variables to shift?? I'm not even making a statement...unless you are stating that the data for global temperatures oceanic (surface and at depth), atmospheric and land based readings have ALL increased consistent with the IPCC (and others) forecasts for the period from 1995 to 2005+?? That does not match what I have read from the web sites I see. Ok, so I guess I've made a statement. Ideological? I started with the graph on this page, so what is the ideological bent for CRN, Hal? I think I got my ocean temps from the NOA page, but I certainly wasn't trying to write a dissertation on it. I was just curious. Something about new bouys that operated at depth and came to the surface (while taking readings along the way) every month...

When the average Joe can't question the elitists, like Hal, this country (and the world) is in a lot of trouble. When elitists, like Hal, fear being questioned, then how good could the science be? Who is paying for most of the research? It isn't any single elitist, like Hal. It is a lot of average Joe's and some financial elites (who might not have the same alignment as elitists, like Hal.)

Who has blinkers on? All I did was ask a question.

Am I in favor of sacrificing to avoid catastrophic global warming? Sure, if it is true. Am I in favor of seeing a whole lot of people starve or lose their jobs because we're shutting down (or limiting) energy production when I'm not positive that those root causes of CO2 are resulting in catastrophic global warming??? Not so much. I'm not from Missouri, but how about you show me... and have the temps actually go up first. Also, how far do they have to go up before it is truly catastrophic? I'm pretty sure if we start doing geoengineering and we're wrong in the other direction with catastrophic global cooling that glaciation is a worse intermediate global state for humanity than rising ocean levels...but that is for another post.


Well CO2 is the least probable cause in the climate issue,if anyone looks at the research you can easily see that it's water vapor that is the worst in greenhouse gases. As little as 1% increase in water vapor can cause a global temp increase of 4 degree's. But of course that would imply that modern civilization has nothing to do with global warming, and the media would never want that :).
Check here;
and here;


It is true, I am an elitist. Now I am not personally a member of the elite. But I believe that we should trust those who are experts and whom we hire (via our voluntary and involuntary contributions to research funding) to spend their lives studying specific issues and learning all there is to know about them.

Trusting experts on global warming is no different from trusting an expert lawyer to give you legal advice, or trusting an expert doctor to give you medical advice. You bring an arborist out to tell you if your trees need to be removed. You take your car to a mechanic to figure out why it's not running well. Sometimes these experts give you bad news, and it's tempting to ignore them. But in the end, it's foolish.

This is the situation we find ourselves in with climate change. The overwhelming consensus of people who have studied the issue professionally for many years is that the situation is bad, getting worse, and that human activity is a major cause. (Some people try to deny that this is in fact the consensus belief of climatologists, but I haven't seen that here, and it is getting harder and harder to maintain this false belief, so I will assume for now that readers agree that this is what the experts believe.)

If Hawkeye or anyone else wants to learn the physics of climate in enough detail to understand what drives climatologists to this conclusion, there are any number of resources available. You can start with websites like wikipedia, realclimate.org, and the others I linked above. You can get textbooks and other books on climate physics. There are online courses available from top institutions like MIT and Stanford that can give you a great education if you are interested. It's not something you are going to learn overnight, any more than you would expect to become an expert physician or lawyer or any other specialist overnight.

But the one thing you should not do is to go to skeptic web sites and get your head filled with their talking points, which have been selected and honed to mislead you. By coincidence or not, the points Hawkeye is raising, and now Yaman as well, are exactly those which are raised by skeptics.

Now, maybe these guys have a good faith interest and curiosity about learning the facts on this issue, and they just happen to have the misfortune to have run into sites that present information that contradicts the conclusions about experts in the field. It would be like looking for medical advice when you have cancer, and stumbling upon a site advocating a quack cure based on laetrile. Or like looking for legal advice on your taxes, and running across a site telling you that no one is obligated to pay taxes because of their novel interpretation of some obscure law. These kinds of sites can look very convincing to the layman, who is not equipped to distinguish good arguments from bad ones in a technical field.

The bottom line is, you can't let yourself get convinced by superficial arguments you run across on the web. You need to rely on the hard-won knowledge of experts who have devoted their lives to the study of the relevant data. Sometimes it can be hard to know what the expert consensus is, and some fields are in flux and there is no real consensus. Fortunately in the case of climate change, neither of these applies. There can be no doubt that the consensus opinion is stable, well established and widespread, nor is there any difficulty in learning what that opinion is. Given this reality, it is foolish to cling to the false and cleverly constructed arguments of skeptic web sites.

Mike Treder, CRN

Hal wrote that statements from climate change skeptic websites "have been selected and honed to mislead you," with which I agree. And I'll also add that almost all of those ostensibly independent sites are actually funded by and written by the oil industry and/or their lobbyists.

Yes, you should be skeptical -- especially of those who have a lot of money and power to protect.


I think you may even be including CRN in your grouping of websites that we shouldn't rely upon... since this is primarily a nano-website. One of the things that continues to make me skeptical is that the oceanic temperature data from the NOA shows trends in cooling. You aren't saying this institute is a global warming skeptical site are you? I'd think they're more reliable the wikipedia.

Also, if my MD or arborist were saying things that didn't make sense to me I ABSOLUTELY would ask questions AND probably would get a second opinion along with trying to learn as much independently as I could. Hiring an expert shouldn't mean removing you own jugement.

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