“A computer is like an Old Testament god, with a lot of rules and no mercy”

Thursday, March 4

Global Warming: The Rebuttal

A good friend and I have been discussing GLOBAL WARMING on Facebook. His arguements are very well reasoned and thought-out. With his permission, I'm going to post our conversations here to offer an alternative viewpoint on the subject.

When I first was seeing your posts on this subject, I thought you were joking or being somehow sarcastic. But I now think I was wrong, so I thought it might help me understand the issue better if we discuss it. It's 3 am and I can't sleep anyway, so I'll just write out my thoughts on this.

If we look at this scientifically and not politically, what can we deduce? We can some things that happened in the past and compare them to what is happening now, combine that with our knowledge of physics to make a guess as to what might happen in the future.

To see into the past, we can look at the ice cores. They tell us that the temperature of the Earth fluctuates, and that the concentration of atmospheric gases fluctuates seemingly in correlation.

Calculating the fluctuating movements of the earth shows a relationship between that and temperature. Less sun hitting us changes things here.

But we are smart enough to realize that these changes are not linearly causal. There are compound effects that we poorly understand due to their immense complexity. Higher temperatures might lead to more water vapor, which might mean even more trapped heat (water vapor is itself a greenhouse gas), or maybe it means LESS trapped heat due to the formation of more clouds and thus an enhanced albedo effect. It might be one or both; we are not sure.

We know about the other greenhouse gasses, CO2 and Methane especially. It is simple physics that shows us that a planet with more of those gasses will have more heat because of them. And of course Venus shows us exactly how that works. All we have to do is look over there.

We also know that we are putting out enormous amounts of Carbon into the air. Any idiot knows it's coming out of his car, although much more is coming from our industrial efforts and large scale fossil fuel energy systems. From the ice cores, we can see that CO2 levels are rising dramatically since about the time of our industrial revolution. Since 1959 we've been monitoring the CO2 levels in Hawaii, and watching them rise and rise.

So we know without a doubt the we are doing something to the atmosphere (putting gasses in it.) And we know without a doubt that the Earth's temperature can change drastically. And we know without a doubt that gasses can affect temperature. And we know without a doubt that glaciers are receding, meaning more water instead of ice (simply compare old photos to modern.) But we are not sure exactly what will happen.

So we make our best scientific guesses and debate them. Most of the scientists on our planet think that all of this will add up to dramatically increased global temperature. It is often said, and I'm paraphrasing of course, 'once you really start to understand some of the science about how the Earth's interrelated systems work, you realize how drastically things can change through seemingly minor alterations.'

So even though we don't know how our alterations to the climate will affect things, us humans continue to pump CO2 and Methane into the air. And not just that; we don't know how much of what we do can change the environment. Our planes leave contrails adding to the albedo effect. Will this cool the Earth? Will it cancel out any temperature increase due to greenhouse emissions? We simply do not know.

And that is how science works! We don't claim to know; we look at the evidence and make our best scientific guess. Then modify that guess as more evidence comes in.

But unfortunately, the Earth does not care what temperature it is, whether it has an atmosphere that humans like, or how much of it's surface is water, ice or land. Physics will happen at it's own rate, not at a rate tailored to us, or our understanding of it. If the temperature of the Earth can change to that which makes it impossible for humans to survive (or just very difficult,) it seems wise for us to try to control that change in our favor.

Since we have no efficient method for removing large amounts of CO2 from the air (trees can be quite efficient at it, but we are chopping them down far faster than they are growing,) the prudent thing to do would be to stop adding CO2 to the air, until we understand better how this could change the climate. If most of the world's scientist then decide that it wouldn't hurt, then hey, let's pump out as much as we want (of course we should realize that fossil fuels are a limited resource and keep an eye out for a new energy source once they become scarce.)

But what if, as most scientist now believe, any causal relationship between greenhouse gasses and temperature is actually offset by a matter of years? This means that if the CO2 is to blame, stopping the release of CO2 NOW will not stop the temperature increase for a matter of years. It takes time for the added gas to have it's effect. If that is the case, then it is possible to reach the 'tipping point' before you realize it. Much like upon crossing the event horizon for a very large black hole. You don't know that you have passed the point of no return.

Is there such a tipping point? Looking at Venus seems to indicate that there is. And we can imagine many ways that there could be. Such as - higher temperatures lead to more water vapor, which leads to more heat retention, which leads to higher temperatures, causing a positive feedback loop. If such a tipping point is possible, and it is possible to reach it without noticing, then we should be careful about how we push and pull the environment, and only do so deliberately and in our favor.

So what do you think? Is there an action, or inaction, that is more prudent? And why?