Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Cold Day In Hell

Well, not exactly. Ah, here in northern Georgia the southern summers can be brutal with all the heat and humidity. I work at a metal fabricating plant, in a powder coating shop. No air-conditioning because the oven temperature for curing the powder is well over four hundred degrees. But before that happens the filthy steel must be washed with detergent water heated to over a hundred degrees - that belches additional steam and humidity into our workplace.

This week we have been having a brief period of relief from what has been slightly above average July temps. Yesterday, according to the weather in Chattanooga - just north of where I live and my old home town - we set a record for the lowest high temperature for a July 18. It was 72, degrees, with overcast skies and drizzle to light rain all day. The previous record lowest high for that date was 77, way back in 1918. (That not only was before my time, but also before my parents' time!)

But what about global warming? Well, it seems every time there is a weather anomaly the denialists allude to it as disproof, while the champions assure us that instead it's further proof of their thesis. What can the average lay person hope to understand about this?

I think the big debate is whether the global warming (for which there has been enough data to satisfy this non-specialist fool) is a human-induced phenomenon, or whether it is just part of the ebb-and-flow of nature.
Several years ago arch skeptic and professional debunker James Randi had the audacity to question the anthropocentric climate change thesis. For that he was publicly flogged by his fellow skeptics and debunkers, until he tried to walk back his original skepticism. (I posted about that once and don't have the links at hand, but they are easily found with a Google search).

What Randi originally wrote didn't seem to me unreasonable, but what was interesting to me was yet another example of how non-religious orthodoxy attempts to stifle open-minded inquiry.

Now I'm not what they call a climate change denialist. I am, however, someone who is very mindful of Twain's observation that there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. I wonder how much about root causes we can know with certainty by examining statistics, trends, and anomalies. Are the climate scientists really "doing" science or merely making predictions and educated guesses?

I'm old enough that I remember well the global cooling scare of the seventies and eighties. When I was living in Chattanooga in the 1980s I endured some very cold winters then, including one where we experienced the lowest ever recorded temperature (minus 7 degrees, Fahrenheit) for that city. Global cooling seemed reasonable enough.

But now, thirty years later, after Chattanooga recorded it's highest ever temperature in July, 2012 (107 degrees F), it's enough for me to doubt anyone fully knows exactly what the heck (if indeed anything) is happening with the climate.

Just recently much was made about a decade-long "slowdown in global warming." For example, here is a link to a Guardian article, dated Feb. 26, 2014, explaining that the Global warming slowdown "does not invalidate climate change." While less than a month later a Skeptical Science article states Global warming not slowing - it's speeding up. This article points to surface warming and explains:

So contrary to what the denialists claim, there is no “slowdown” in global warming and certainly no “pause” or “cooling”, as the Earth continues to accumulate heat faster than ever. It’s true the rate of surface warming appears to have slowed slightly in the last 15 years. However, 2013 was still the 5th warmest year in the 164-year global temperature record, according to the University of York.

Okaaaaay. Lies, damned lies and statistics, I suppose.

Okay, I get that the various reports and surveys get massaged by those with agendas. Sure, it is in the interest of the Corporatists to downplay any role humans have in harming the environment and possibly bringing about widespread climate change. Costly regulations and such would surely eat into their profit margin.

And I don't deny that ecologists at times seem to be practicing something akin to religion in their relentless zeal to "save the environment." I'm closer to aligning myself with this group, certainly, than the former. But I'm not an extremist about the matter.

I know I'm thankful for this brief respite from the July heat. It saves on the ol' electrical bill and braces me to endure another month and a half (at least) of heat and humidity - unless the temps start falling to abnormal lows. In which case that would be either consistent with anthropocentric global warming or the ever-evolving climate of earth.

I don't know. I'm agnostic about the matter and fairly weary of the whole "debate."


  1. HI Doug, I am not an expert in climate science, but I trained as a hydrologist and applied my hydrology in the environmental management of rivers and water systems, and I have read a reasonable amount on climate science and talked with Aussie climate scientists. I feel pretty confident about the following.

    1. For two decades I worked with environmental scientists and for a while I managed a group of them. In my experience they are not generally given to speculation but to careful and sober analysis.

    2. The statistics of average temperatures each year are not a correct way to analyse climate, for they measure outcomes but don't identify causes and mechanisms. Climate science is not built on those statistics (primarily), but on computer models of known generally physical processes, There are imprecisions in the models, especially at the local level, because they are highly complex, but the models are broadly reliable.

    (If we were going to use simple graphs to determine weather trends, we would generally need far more than a decade, so statements about global warming slowing are premature even if those graphs were all we had. Look at it on a larger scale and the trend is clear. Here is my summary

    3. The models allow reasonable identification of causes and mechanisms. Therefore is is almost certain that warming is occurring, human use of fossil fuels is the major cause, it will be mega-disastrous if we dither much longer, but if we phase out use of fossil fuels we can do it at a cost of about 2% of GDP.

    4. Everyone needs to support all this.

    1. Hi unkleE. I did read your linked summary. First understand that I'm not a fan of dire predictions, scientific or otherwise. I remember when I was a kid how a couple of books - The Population Bomb and Famine 1975 - popularized the idea that mass starvation of almost unimaginable proportions was upon us. And, as I mentioned in my post, I remember the later hysteria that another Ice Age was upon us. (I won't even go into all the religious apocalyptical stuff that I used to find so engrossing).

      Now as I posted, I'm not a climate change denier and I do find it reasonable that humans impact things like the environment. But I'm open to the question of how much that is so. Nor do I have a problem with alternate energy sources. In fact, I find that wise endeavor.

      But a couple things about the modern global warming debate bother me:

      1) I can't say about your corner of the world, but here in the US almost every major weather event gets analyzed against the backdrop of AGW, sometimes as supposedly being an indicator and other times as likely just a freak weather event. This leads to popular (because most of us aren't scientists) snarkisms like "I just finished shoveling x many inches of global warming off my walkway" after a snowfall. Not helpful, but understandable. (Whatever the reason for this break in July's heat, I'm thankful for it and I'm not speculating what it may or may not mean as to the big picture.)

      2) And this is what really disturbs me, the almost vigilante tactics the consensus believers are taking to silence those who maybe only question the total accuracy of the consensus. When scientists and their followers behave like religious fundamentalists, it always troubles me.

      Time, I've noticed, has a way of altering even the most informed of predictions.

  2. Yes, I can imagine the lines may be drawn very sharply in some places. I agree that some advocates overstate the case and browbeat people. But I think that is sometimes because the sceptics misrepresent the facts and evidence.

    I too recall earlier dire predictions of the end of oil the food shortage and limits to growth. Those predictions weren't accurate, but they weren't nearly as well based scientifically as the global warming ones. It is all a matter of risk. The probability is high that the risks are great, and the solutions are not as costly as sometimes claimed and will be beneficial anyway (no matter how plentiful, fossil fuel is a finite resource whereas the sun is much less finite. I honestly think the main problem is fossil fuel companies and investors playing a similar game to the smoking lobby to protect their profits.