By popular demand …

An open thread on climate science – entirely pointless.

… an open thread on climate science: is AGW real? Enjoy, folks!

The thread – opened after protests at my hardline moderation here – is entirely pointless. I have no intention of reading it, and will provide only night-watchman moderation to remove obscenities and personal abuse, if I can be bothered.

Nobody here, bloggers or commenters, has any professional standing or expertise to offer on the subject. Your chances of learning anything from this thread or any similar one are negligible. The theory that an uniformed person can have their Doubts on a scientific matter answered by earnest conversation with other uninformed persons and ideologues, and not merely be comforted in ignorance, is best answered by Pieter Brueghel the Elder. You think I´m nasty?


The Blind Leading the Blind, 1568

The ambition of the RBC is to be a good place for thinking about public policy in the face of the fact of climate change, including the uncertainties about its magnitude.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

33 thoughts on “By popular demand …”

  1. One of the interesting things about global warming is the passion America's youth have brought to the streets. Not since the 60s have our college-aged been so engaged in an issue. We've seen some intense sit-down strikes on various campuses, massive student lead marches on DC, and even the threats of violence should American drop the global warming ball yet again. Clearly America's youth is keenly engaged and at the fore. And why not? Their future is so obviously at stake…

    Okay I lied.

    The most interesting thing about America's youth is their near total political absence. Timothy Leary may be dead but the idea of "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out" is having a new "Second Life." Interesting, what we have here is not a failure to communicate, but a failure not to communicate. Where are all the kids? Online. What are they doing? Not much, and a whole lot of it. A wag would label them "The Virtual Generation."

    All this really came home to me the other day when I thought about buying something called a "first person shooter." The name of the game was Left 4 Dead 2. I researched it and was shocked to find an incredibly rich, well-tended, and overly-loved wikipedia entry on this game. Clearly this game had an import beyond my imagination. Deep in the massive footnoted article I came across news of a boycott:

    "The weekend following the game's announcement at the 2009 E3 Convention, some Left 4 Dead players called for a boycott of Left 4 Dead 2 and formed the Steam community group called "L4D2 Boycott (NO-L4D2)" which grew to over 10,000 members by the end of that weekend, and reached more than 37,000 about a month later. In addition to a lack of further Left 4 Dead content, they were concerned with the characters, visuals, and music shown in the E3 demonstration video, feeling these were inappropriate to the first game's aesthetics, and that the release of the sequel so soon after the first game would fracture the community."

    And it goes on and on and on.

    Our youth do have passions and do form social networks to redress evils. They just count for absolutely nothing in a reality-based world with a real atmosphere and real ocean. All of which is to suggest: The reason America's Republican Party is the world's last successful global warming denying party, and can actually win elections with that posture (!). is because America's kids are basically silent on an issue that should concern them most. They are a big damn worthless nil, too busy typing with their thumbs to even drive a car with the attention span it deserves. Never mind global warming. They could move the needle on this if they cared. They could change things if it mattered to them…

    Which is also to suggest now is a great time for the Rich (and their purchased CongressCritters) to cut our youth's future Social Security benefits. They aren't paying attention. Now is the time to axe their benefits and make them work years longer before retirement. You won't hear a tweet out of them. And so I expect Obama and the Republicans to get that done posthaste….

  2. "Nobody here, bloggers or commenters, has any professional standing or expertise to offer on the subject."

    Can we expand this list to include economic policy, specifically in regards to Keynesian stimulus and supply-side? I'm talking of course about the tendency to confuse I *want to believe* with I *know*.

  3. Kids these days! Think they're such hot stuff strutting around on their hind legs. Why, most of them can barely climb a tree!

  4. Speaking of the plague of ignorance …

    A bit over a decade ago, my wife and I stood in front of this painting in the Museo di Capidomonte in Naples.

    A young American man strode up to the painting. Clearly fortified by having stayed awake for a few moments of art history class during his semester abroad, he declared, "They have misattributed this painting. Brueghel would never have been so didactic. This is clearly …a Bosch."

  5. Of course basic physics works on this planet. No brainer. Nothing to debate for over 100 years.

    I suggest using The Google to find Naomi Oreskes' work on the history of climate obfuscation. She has several talks on The Intertubes on this subject – she is a very engaging speaker and I highly recommend taking time to watch her discuss this topic. She was recently on a speaking tour in Australia and there are some .mpegs out there as well.

  6. koreyel, oh come now – my point was simple! Aging generations are always prone to see the past through rose-colored glasses and bemoan the youth. The historical examples of this go back thousands of years.

    That said, of course there can be problems with generations of people, and broad trends can be outlined. My critique was blunt, but only in that I assumed in good faith that you might grant me a concession towards this tendency. The "you kids" element of your post was hard to deny. 🙂

  7. If you want people ranting about Alarmist Commie ClimateGate Gore-Effect Hockey Teams, go to "Watts Up With That"

    If you heard some kind of contrarian claim about global warming (CO2 isn't increasing, or it's coming from the oceans, or the sun is the cause of global warming, or whatever) and you want to know whether it's true, go to http://www.skepticalscience.com

    If you want to learn something about the actual physical basis of the greenhouse effect and have the time to both read and think, go to scienceofdoom.com

    If you want to know what's happening in the peer-reviewed literature, go to agwobserver.wordpress.com

  8. @koreyel In my generation's defense, we learned our lessons from your failures. Those sit-downs on campus really ended the Vietnam War, huh? Maybe to escape global warming we'll take our cue from you guys and move to Canada, where it's colder.

    In your generation's defense… what? Why aren't you all on the streets? Because you're actually in positions of power now and have something to lose?

    2010 elections, Votes by Age

    Age 18-29: 55% Dem, 42% Rep

    30-44: 46% D, 50% R

    45-64: 45% D, 53% R

    65+: 38% D, 59% R

  9. Woohoo! I've been itching to write a pointless critique of this blog and blogs like it. The end of a dead thread on global warming provides me with a perfect chance to unburden myself, without any risk that anyone will read it. Here we go:

    There are a lot of smug liberals and scientists out there in "the Reality-based Community" who are given to mocking climate-change denialists for their indifference to reality. I think those liberals took the wrong lesson from Suskind's conversation with that anonymous Bush aide:

    The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." … "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

    And a blog is born! The problem is, in retrospect, it looks like the Bush aide (Rove?) was correct. The reality-based liberals got rolled again and again. It turns out that here in America, people are entitled to their own facts. It says so right in the Constitution – or maybe the Declaration of Independence. I don’t remember.

    Climate change is a perfect example. While climate scientists are judiciously studying discernible reality, the denialists are out there creating reality by stealing e-mails and spinning them to prove for absolute certain that scientists have engaged in trickery to make the data conform to their liberal preferences.

    Again from Suskind’s article:

    And for those who don't get it? That was explained to me in late 2002 by Mark McKinnon, a longtime senior media adviser to Bush, who now runs his own consulting firm and helps the president. He started by challenging me. ''You think he's an idiot, don't you?'' I said, no, I didn't. ''No, you do, all of you do, up and down the West Coast, the East Coast, a few blocks in southern Manhattan called Wall Street. Let me clue you in. We don't care. You see, you're outnumbered 2 to 1 by folks in the big, wide middle of America, busy working people who don't read The New York Times or Washington Post or The L.A. Times. And you know what they like? They like the way he walks and the way he points, the way he exudes confidence. They have faith in him. And when you attack him for his malaprops, his jumbled syntax, it's good for us. Because you know what those folks don't like? They don't like you!'' In this instance, the final ''you,'' of course, meant the entire reality-based community.

    People who go around calling themselves “reality-based” need to be a bit more humble, if you ask me.

    I'm done. You can go back to what you were doing.

  10. Gotta give him credit: He may be close minded, but he's openly close minded, he's not pretending. There's a certain integrity about that.

  11. Hiya, Brett,

    Back to the basic physics. A thermometer at the surface of the Earth responds to three sources of heat energy: (1) residual kinetic energy from the Earth's formation and subsequent impacts, (2) gravitational energy from the collapse of massive stars (which reappears as energy released by fission of heavy elements in the Earth's core), and (3) solar energy. (Almost) every source of heat is one of these. My question: how can the equilibrium temperature of a body in orbit of radius r around a star with total energy output x depend on anything but the radiant flux, the temperature of the heat sink (3 K) and the radius of the orbit?

    At the extreme, imagine that we observe a distant star and overnight some super engineers build a Dyson sphere around a star. At equilibrium, from the pov of a remote observer, the Dyson sphere must radiate as much energy as the star. So we see the star wink out, then slowly brighten as the sphere warms. The material of the sphere may determine the wavelength we observe but cannot influence the total radiant flux, seems to me. I asked two of my Math professors about this, and one suggested that I ask a physicist. The other said I was right.

    The most disturbing feature of the climate change discussion is the accuracy with which one can predict someone's political affiliation from their assessment of a matter of empirical fact: is the AGW hypothesis correct? If astronomers told us that asteroid X was likely to hit Earth in 20 years, almost everyone would accept a role for government action.

  12. "My question: how can the equilibrium temperature of a body in orbit of radius r around a star with total energy output x depend on anything but the radiant flux, the temperature of the heat sink (3 K) and the radius of the orbit?"

    Your analysis is only correct for bodies which are,

    1. Black, white, or some shade of gray.

    2. Have sharply defined surfaces.

    On point 1, it is entirely possible for an object to have one absorbence/emittance at one wavelength, and an entirely different absorbence/emittance at a different wavelength. We call this "color". Objects with color can be good at absorbing radiation at the peak incoming wavelength, and bad at emitting it at the peak thermal emission for their temperature, leading them to be hotter than a black body. Or the reverse, leading them to be colder than a black body.

    On point 2, the Earth does not have a sharply defined surface, it has an atmosphere, which is largely opaque to thermal radiation at Earth's temperature, and largely transparent to thermal radiation at the Sun's temperature. This means that incoming light easily enters the atmosphere, is absorbed, re-radiated at a longer wavelength, and has to diffuse out by repeated absorption/emission events through the atmosphere to escape into space again.

    That's what they call the 'greenhouse effect', and it is very real. Without it the Earth would be a frozen snowball.

    That is, as it happens, where the "basic" physics ends.

    The more complicated physics, too complicated to currently solve directly from first principles, involve questions such as,

    1. How does cloud coverage change with time of day and altitude?

    2. How do plants respond to CO2 by changing the color of the Earth?

    3. How does humidity vary with CO2?

    These questions are critical to determining actual climate physics, and we can't at present solve them by appeal to "basic physics". We have to approximate them with empirically derived formulas. Which are plugged into the models in the place of the physics we don't understand well enough to actually model.

    This approach raises questions of it's own:

    Are the temperature records accurate? The models aren't based on the simple readings, after all; They're based on corrected readings, meant to compensate for things like urban heat effects on weather stations near growing cities.

    Were the corrections done right? Is there enough information to have done them right?

    When the formulas were derived, was everything actually taken into account? Or was some other variable, unaccounted for, actually driving the temperature variations being attributed to CO2?

    Are the formulas being applied outside their range of validity? Can you really say, "Double CO2, and this will double, too?" or is the effect going to increase more, or less? Just because you chose a linear approximation of a curve doesn't mean the curve IS a line, after all.

    The above are the sorts of things that are REALLY in question concerning global warming, or, to cover our bases, (Just in case it starts getting colder, we ARE overdue for an ice age, after all.) "climate change". These are the reasons you can't attack anybody who as doubts as being ignorant of "basic physics".

    But, of course, that doesn't mean that you can dismiss the whole matter on the basis of Jr. High physics…

  13. Clouds have bedeviled scientists' efforts to figure out how much warming might result from adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Science is publishing today a new study by Texas A&M atmospheric scientist Andrew Dessler that finds that clouds contribute to future warming. As Science's press summary describes Dessler's results:

    […]

    This study contradicts the findings of University of Alabama in Huntsville climate researchers Roy Spencer and William Braswell published earlier this year in the Journal of Geophysical Research. Intirguingly Spencer and Brasswell used the same data as Dessler: Spencer stands by their results and responds:

    […]

    Let's hope that further research will some day soon resolve this crticial modeling issue.

    Clouds and Climate Confusion

  14. Alex, I'll start shredding it apart from the bottom up:

    Your statistics are wonderfully cherry-picked. Yes the kids helped get Barack elected. But also yes: Their apathy in 2012 helped Congress load up with the most anti-global warming, anti-science freshman ever. So maybe I should have chided the Virtual Generation about voter apathy instead of protesting? That doesn't seem like much of a defense on your part, does it?

    If you don't believe the sit-downs, the marches, the shouting, and the brick throwing moved the needle on Vietnam…

    Then you also probably don't believe all the loud Teabag hooliganism payed recent dividends either.

    Or that DADT might actually pass because of the likes of Dan Choi and various players putting actually hot skin on the line.

    In short: I can't believe you question the value of anger and passion to cause political and social change…

    The gays won't shut up… and we see change.

    The republicans won't shut up about privatizing social security.

    Guess who is ultimately going to win these battles?

    All of these ideas came more sharply into focus for me when I streamed a recent Netflix movie: The Cove. If you get a chance watch it. It is as much about the beginnings of the environmental movement as it is about dolphins being slaughtered au courant in Japan. And it is old 60s radicals that are still moving that needle. They made the film. They star in it. Old boys… forcing Japan to look deeply at itself. Although it is interesting: Japan conservatives think the film should be banned. Much as American conservatives think global warming is a scam. But here is the thing: In the movie there is a moment when the old 60s radicals wonder who will carry their flame forward. There is no one. That worries them greatly. Why have no youth joined them in battle?

    Lastly, it is not my world to save. A long time ago (I was a soph in HS) I came up with a rather profound question for a wee lad. I asked myself: Do you care what happens to humanity and the planet after you die? I know a strange question indeed! But I was so struck by it I started asking people left and right to answer it. I noted that republicans generally answered no and democrats generally answered yes. Of course back then I cared and answered yes. Hope was a thing with more than feathers…

    I answer no today.

    "Time erodes human hope" is the real meaning of your cherry-picked statistics. That's why people age into conservatism and selfishness. And conversely, it is youthful idealism that leads the world into a new world. Don't blame me for the utter lack of idealism and enthusiasm in today's youth. But mind you, I am damn glad I grew up in a world that didn't have pocket phones, virtual zombies, texting, or facebook pages. As I am certain, I would have lost myself in their endless seductions too…

    Meanwhile the planet heats up apace.

    And texting won't stop it.

    Their is a train wreck in your future. Not mine.

  15. Malcolm & Brett,

    This is the best site I know for the science of global warming.

    http://scienceofdoom.com/

    Especially this set of posts (first one):

    http://scienceofdoom.com/2009/11/28/co2-an-insign

    CharlesWT,

    There are few within climate science who take Spencer & Braswell (or Richard Lindzen) seriously (at least a scientists). Recently, there has been some to-ing and fro-ing between Spencer and Andy Dessler of Texas A&M.

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/201

    The site it well moderated, and questions are welcome.

  16. (Koeyel): "I asked myself: Do you care what happens to humanity and the planet after you die? I know a strange question indeed! But I was so struck by it I started asking people left and right to answer it. I noted that republicans generally answered no and democrats generally answered yes."

    This explains why urban liberals make up the bulk of the US armed forces, huh?

    One word rebuttal: children.

  17. Brett,

    Thanks. I guessed that the answer would involve a definition of "thermometer" (as Einstein asked: "What isa clock?" we ask "What is a thermometer?"). The wavelength of the light matters.

    (Wemberley): "Nobody here, bloggers or commenters, has any professional standing or expertise to offer on the subject."

    This recognition is a welcome step up from:…

    (Wemberley, Dec.-11): "» The target of limiting global warming to 2°C limit was reaffirmed, and every country should act urgently towards it. This was already in the final Copenhagen ¨accord¨, but there wan´t a consensus, as in Cancún. Bolivia wanted 1.5°C, like the small-island nations; so we can say that a 2°C ceiling at most is strictly unanimous within the international community of states. GOP denialists really have no friends left in power abroad.

    » To meet this, greenhouse gas emissions must peak fairly soon. (I think this recognition of the bleeding obvious is in fact new.)"

  18. It has been clear from the beginning of my existence that all things happen because of my will. Why you folks even debate this is beyond me, but I guess free will leads to these sorts of things, carry on.

  19. Sometime around 1984, Isaac Asimov made some points regarding the thermodynamics of the earth related to civilization and especially the energy (heat) budget of the US vs. the rest of the world. Now it is clear that the energy that the earth must relate is ultimately defined by the factors mentioned above. But there is a small distortion, a small amount of energy has been captured over eons and buried in the earth as fossil fuel. The energy that the earth must radiate is now increased by our burning of those fossil fuels resulting in a dramatic increase in the heat the earth must radiate. Of course, to radiate heat, the temperature must go up.

    Until about 1900, our usage was small enough that it had little effect on the energy budget of the earth, since then, it has increased tremendously. Asimov wasn't concerned with a discussion of changes in the insulating by the atmosphere, just that we were now making use of sufficient energy to cause the temperature to rise – simple thermodynamics. He suggested that the rise at that time was not out of hand, but at that time the US used something like 1/2 of all energy for 250 million people (about 5% of the earth's population), and thus if we wanted to keep to the thermodynamics of 1984, the earth couldn't support more than twice as many people at an equal level advancement (energy use). Thus we faced a problem as the rest of the world attempted to release more of the stored energy and if we didn't address this problem, we faced the consequences of a warmer planet.

    It would seem that the effect of pollution has exacerbated the effects of our increased release of energy as heat and we are facing a much more daunting problem than the one Asimov recognized. I've not redone his calculations, but I am inclined to believe his conclusions, thus temperature must rise with increased energy use. That is something people do – and we pollute and I am inclined to believe chemists when they describe the process by which carbon holds heat in.

    This (above) is a poor precis of a much more nuanced and intelligent argument that Asimov made. It seems to me that this argument removes the question of whether or not the earth is getting warmer – it has to be, we humans are burning more fossil fuel. The argument regarding the effects of pollution may be more difficult, I don't think so, but…

  20. "It seems to me that this argument removes the question of whether or not the earth is getting warmer – it has to be, we humans are burning more fossil fuel."

    In this regard, nuclear energy isn't a viable substitute for fossil fuels since it ends up as heat also.

  21. "The energy that the earth must radiate is now increased by our burning of those fossil fuels resulting in a dramatic increase in the heat the earth must radiate. Of course, to radiate heat, the temperature must go up. "

    It's a "dramatic increase" on the scale of energy individual humans deal in. On the scale of the planet, it's a rounding error. There's simply not enough energy tied up in fossil fuels to significantly effect the temperature of the Earth in this way, unless we go out of our way to burn them all in a very short time frame.

    Nuclear energy has the potential to cause problems in this regard, if we increased our energy usage by several orders of magnitude. Solar, too, because solar inherently involves increasing the amount of solar energy the earth absorbs, and isn't all that efficient. Unless maybe you floated the solar panels in unproductive areas of ocean; The ocean is practically black, you could put a solar panel there, and not increase the amount of solar heat the Earth absorbed.

    But, yes, in the long run, if our population keeps going up, and our energy consumption per individual, too, eventually this would become a problem. It's not anywhere near a problem today.

  22. Brett,

    Your correction of my statement was true – that energy use was not yet large enough to make a major problem in 1984, Asimov argued that it was at the point of becoming something more than a rounding error. I've not looked at changes in the net energy use since that time, I know that the US has gotten better on per capita energy usage and that we no longer use 1/2 of all energy. I also don't doubt that energy use has increased beyond the stage of "rounding error" as Asimov argued it must as the rest of the world attempted to emulate our life style.

    This is an empirical question – I will try to find the Asimov reference – he didn't do the math in the article, but did provide some estimates that were the basis of his conclusion.

    Hmm, Or do you know of some other calculations – I might have done the thermodynamics years ago, but my interests have diverged (I'm a psychophysiologist who most recently published in mathematical chemistry – unfortunately, primarily statistical explorations).

  23. Recently it occurred to me how similar the climate change denialists are, not to Holocaust demises but to the anti-fluoridationists and the folks still beating the drum for Alternatives to HIV as the agent for AIDS transmission. They appear to have won the war since the window for effective action is closing rapidly, if it has not already snapped shut. I only hope that they carefully and proudly regale their offspring with the fullest possible account of their heroic battle, so that no one among their descendants ever fails to know what their role was.

  24. Yes, I will proudly tell my son how I was a voice in favor of climate researchers being forced to "show their work", before getting to direct massive amounts of other people's wealth. That the code in their modeling software should be published, for all to see. I feel not the slightest shame over thinking the matter important enough that somebody should actually go and LOOK AT those weather stations, rather than just make statistical assumptions as to how their readings should be tweaked. I don't anticipate regretting my position that, if we want to reduce CO2 output, building more nuclear plants is the way to go, instead of windmill farms which require fossil fuel backups to achieve sufficient reliability.

    No, I don't see myself as doing anything I'll be ashamed of.

    Al Gore, I notice, is already having to apologize for the ethanol industry I mocked from the start.

  25. JMG,

    If you call opponents of economically disruptive climate therapy "denialists", can we call supporters of economically disruptive climate therapy "the climate faithful"? Just what do you claim the opponents of radical climate therapy "deny"? It's certainly not "climate change", since paleoclimate variability is a reason to doubt that an explanation for recent climate change requires human agency.

    (Wemberley): "The target of limiting global warming to 2°C limit was reaffirmed, and every country should act urgently towards it. This was already in the final Copenhagen ¨accord¨, but there wan´t a consensus, as in Cancún. Bolivia wanted 1.5°C, like the small-island nations; so we can say that a 2°C ceiling at most is strictly unanimous within the international community of states. GOP denialists really have no friends left in power abroad.

    To meet this, greenhouse gas emissions must peak fairly soon. (I think this recognition of the bleeding obvious is in fact new.)"

    Flogging this dead horse is just too much fun!

    …………………………………………………

    On Oct 14, 2009, at 10:17 AM, Kevin Trenberth wrote:

    Hi Tom

    How come you do not agree with a statement that says we are no where close to knowing where

    energy is going or whether clouds are changing to make the planet brighter. We are not

    close to balancing the energy budget. The fact that we can not account for what is

    happening in the climate system makes any consideration of geoengineering quite hopeless as

    we will never be able to tell if it is successful or not! It is a travesty!

    Kevin

    …………………………………………………

    If the experts say the above, then how can non-experts assert that any climate science is "obvious"? "Obvious" is psychological intimidation.

    Obviously, Jesus died for your sins.

    Obviously, there is no God but Allah and Muhammed is his prophet.

    Obviously.

  26. But it's "basic physics!". And Wimberley will delete any explanation of why it isn't from any comment thread he plans on reading. (Though I'll give him credit compared to some of the posters here: When he deletes a comment, he leaves behind a note saying he deleted it…)

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