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Thursday, May 10th 2007

The Global Warming Battle Goes Where It Needs To

We’re seeing more and more the focus of the skeptics on Global Warming turn to questioning the predicted consequences of rising temperatures.

In some ways this can be seen as a little bit of desperation. Of course the correlation won’t be precise but I think you can generally draw a trend of the Global Warming debate that goes like this:

  • First, Debate over whether the earth is even warming (lost by the Global Warming “deniers”)
  • Second, Debate over what humankind is contributing to the warming (being lost by the Global Warming “deniers”)
  • Third, Debate over the consequences of Global Warming (just starting up in earnest)

But I think there is something different about this debate. Predicting the consequences of Global Warming may seem like common sense:

“Look Stupid – The Ice Caps Melt, The Sea Rises, and Millions Die In Flooding…No Duh”

But it really is, when you look at the GCMs, the most difficult aspect of the entire science. People can’t agree on just how much or how quickly the earth will heat up and they can’t agree on how it is going to affect the weather. And unlike the first two points which the debate focused on early on, I don’t think there’s real good evidence that science will come to a consensus on the issue of Global Warming consequences any time soon.

First and foremost, the future predictions of consequences require models and assumptions magnitudes of orders more complex than merely correlating say, CO2 levels with rising temperatures.

Second, the data and real world events needed to refine the models are years and years and years away.

Coming to a consensus that the earth was heating up, or that CO2 (and thus humans) were tied to such a rise in temperatures, could occur very rapidly. The data was there or were attainable with short waiting. But, consequences are a different beats.

For example, while true that we’re watching the ice melt, predicting how that will affect coastal populations is actually pretty difficult.

  • How fast will temperatures rise
  • How high will the oceans rise?
  • How quickly will the oceans rise (a really important question)?

There’s no example to draw from. Until it starts happening and you get a large enough sample size to draw conclusions from, the models will continue to have wildly varying predictions. They’re all using incredibly disparate assumptions (which are best, but probably highly inaccurate, guesses by the model designers).

Things get even worse when you start predicting how the rising temperature will affect the weather and then start drawing that out to how the weather will affect the food supply and where droughts will occur and if hurricanes will increase and become more vicious, etc. I mean, just roll some dice why don’t you?

So if the predictions of dire consequences is the weakest part of the message coming from the cabal promoting a “State of Fear” over Global Warming, then that is where the debate should be. And indeed, it is becoming the focus of the anti-”Global Warming freakout” subset.

Look, the earth will and is changing. But that is nothing new. Humans have had the largest impact on the earth of any species to ever grace it. The question is merely how catastrophic Global Warming will be. Because plenty of Chicken Littles would have you believe that it risks humanity’s very existence.

From the German magazine Der Spiegel (Europe’s largest weekly),

The truth is probably somewhere between these two extremes. Climate change will undoubtedly have losers — but it will also have winners. There will be a reshuffling of climate zones on earth. And there is something else that we can already say with certainty: The end of the world isn’t coming any time soon.

Largely unnoticed by the public, climate researchers are currently embroiled in their own struggle over who owns the truth. While some have always seen themselves as environmental activists aiming to shake humanity out of its complacency, others argue for a calmer and more rational approach to the unavoidable.

One member of the levelheaded camp is Hans von Storch, 57, a prominent climate researcher who is director of the Institute for Coastal Research at the GKSS Research Center in Geesthacht in northern Germany. “We have to take away people’s fear of climate change,” Storch told DER SPIEGEL in a recent interview. “Unfortunately many scientists see themselves too much as priests whose job it is to preach moralistic sermons to people.”

[M]ore detailed simulations have allowed climate researchers to paint a considerably less dire picture than in the past — gone is the talk of giant storms, the melting of the Antarctic ice shield and flooding of major cities.

Improved regionalized models also show that climate change can bring not only drawbacks, but also significant benefits, especially in northern regions of the world where it has been too cold and uncomfortable for human activity to flourish in the past. However it is still a taboo to express this idea in public.

From Reid A Byson,

Bryson is a believer in climate change, in that he’s as quick as anyone to acknowledge that Earth’s climate has done nothing but change throughout the planet’s existence. In fact, he took that knowledge a big step further, earlier than probably anyone else. Almost 40 years ago, Bryson stood before the American Association for the Advancement of Science and presented a paper saying human activity could alter climate.

“I was laughed off the platform for saying that,” he told Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News.

In the 1960s, Bryson’s idea was widely considered a radical proposition. But nowadays things have turned almost in the opposite direction: Hardly a day passes without some authority figure claiming that whatever the climate happens to be doing, human activity must be part of the explanation. And once again, Bryson is challenging the conventional wisdom.

[Byson] begs questions about the widely publicized mathematical models researchers run through supercomputers to generate climate scenarios 50 or 100 years in the future. Bryson says the data fed into the computers overemphasizes carbon dioxide and accounts poorly for the effects of clouds—water vapor. Asked to evaluate the models’ long-range predictive ability, he answers with another question: “Do you believe a five-day forecast?”

The point is we’re not at the end of the world. Even if the more accepted current models play out, which is what Der Speigel’s article focuses on, the earth and humankind will easily continue to exist and thrive. And by my contention it isn’t even clear those models accurately reflect what is going to happen, further casting doubt even on how much adapting human kind will have to undertake with a warmer earth.

When The World Doesn’t End What Sort Of Responsibility Will Mr. Gore Take? Because His Scare Tactics Definitely Aren’t Benign

Both of the articles were found from Drudge, who has taken it upon himself to singlehandedly balance the coverage of global warming. That of course can do nothing but help his reputation. *wink*