Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Climate of confusion

It's been asked multiple times now - what about that article, by Jim Manzi, on "global warming," in the conservative National Review (June 25)? It advocates that human-caused "global warming" is real, significant, and needs to be managed, that we've moved beyond uncertainty.

Unfortunately, the article is fundamentally misguided, as it takes "global warming" as popularly conceived for granted - which is wrong. Manzi starts with the science, incorrectly explained, assumes that carbon dioxide (CO2) is the atmosphere's major infrared (IR)-active gas (it isn't), and repeats the widespread confusion between computer model predictions of climate and actual climate behavior. He's apparently into techno-wonkery, thinking that better computer models and data collection will make the remaining climate uncertainty go away. Again wrong: the computer models are fatally flawed and don't reflect anything like the complete theory of climate. Manzi forgets the old computer science motto: garbage in, garbage out (GIGO). When you have butchered the full theory of radiation and atmosphere into a computer model, better computers and more data can't save you. Better computers just commit the same mistakes faster and more reliably.

Manzi takes at face value the IPCC's executive summary picture: a +3 oC for a doubling of CO2 concentration, which is at least two to three times too big, as the ice core measurements imply, and ignores the scientific meat of the IPCC's reports. In fact, in the future, a sign of seriousness with these masterpieces of deception, double-counting, and manipulation will be ignoring the IPCC executive summaries and paying attention only to the "scientific annexes," which contradict or throw into serious doubt much of what it is in the summaries. Nothing shows more clearly the way in which climate science and scientists have been wittingly or unwittingly turned into ventriloquist's dummies by this issue.

The specific and crucial pieces of climate dynamics poorly understood or missing are clouds and plants, and to a lesser extent convection and oceans, as explained earlier on this blog. The core of the misguided theoretical scare is driven by the fact that the temperature-enhancing factors are easier to estimate: they include the opacity of CO2 and the evaporation and opacity of H2O. This easier-to-estimate physics is the origin of the wrong, panic-provoking estimates of +1.5-3 oC. But there are other major factors not well-understood but which can be crudely estimated to be of roughly the same size: convective heat transport (small), geophysical absorption by oceans (moderate), clouds (major), and plants (major). All of these are mitigating, but serious open questions remain about these, especially clouds and plants.*

Incredibly, Manzi also dismisses the Sun-climate coupling as an important factor in multidecadal and multicentennial temperature variations, in spite of the overwhelming evidence supporting such a connection. He doesn't seem to realize that the modern 150-year northern hemisphere temperature record indicates that surface temperatures have not consistently gone up everywhere or that the composite indexes based on them are highly questionable: they assume you can spatially average temperature, which is not legitimate; and they hide the fact that the most reliably measured temperatures (in Euope, North America, and Japan) have shown no net increase. (The net increase comes from the less accurate and more spotty records in other parts of the world.) At least he doesn't drag out the fraudulent and discredited "hockey stick." In fact, most of the apparent increase in the last 150 years happened before 1950 and the start of major anthropogenic CO2 emissions. The relation of both pre-1950 and post-1950 temperature variability to the variable solar magnetic cycle is beyond any doubt. As we'll learn later, the Sun-climate coupling is established going back thousands of years, through their mutual connection with cosmic rays.

Manzi's piece is better on the economics and politics of the "global warming" hysteria, but overall, this is much-ado. He comes to a completely wrong conclusion, that the "problem" needs to be "managed," and that conservatives are being "left behind" on the issue, because it's moved "beyond doubt and skepticism." In fact, his timing could not be worse. Skepticism and opposition to the hysteria have now passed beyond critical mass. The staggering costs and potential economic damage of Kyoto-like CO2 emission reductions are clear. Doubts, both economic and scientific, are spreading everywhere and becoming increasingly public. He should pay attention to what's already happened in Europe, were strong doubts have emerged in the last few years about both the science and the drastic measures contemplated. Never mind the fact that Europe will never meet its Kyoto quotas. Manzi takes the Kyoto Accord for granted, when in fact it's already dead.

What's really happening now is the danger predicted earlier, that the "global warming" cause would float free of the science, and the politico-journalistic-activist side would insist that "something must be done," regardless of science or cost.

Conservatives, as Manzi writes, have emphasized uncertainty too much. They have correctly pointed out the large holes in the case and the need to fill them with real scientific knowledge and not dogmatic, blind jumping-to-conclusions. But there are other things we can be certain about that the IPCC has gotten wrong: the largest relative changes in an opacity-dominated climate would be in the polar regions, not the tropics; the 150-year northern hemisphere record of rising temperatures is questionable; the "hockey stick" made for and used by the IPCC is junk; climate models that fail to properly include the effect of clouds and plants (which is to say, all computer climate models) are missing major effects, perhaps even the main show; solar variability is not negligible - it's one of the main components of climate variability identified so far; IR-active gases like CO2 and CH4 are secondary details (at most) in explaining the Ice Ages - orbital and ocean current changes are the main ones; and so on.

Conservatives after all were the ones who got a similar message across: societies aren't simple, linear systems that can be taken apart and reassembled like a car or a radio. They're nonlinear and chaotic, with complex histories, facts puncturing what Hayek called the fantasy of prediction and control needed for centralized social planning. The climate is a very similar issue. Conservatives were also among the first to identify and oppose the reactionary fantasies of the "limits to growth" crowd, an earlier stage of the environmentalist movement. This is what the post-modern left is about: not progress, but regress; not abundance, but imposed scarcity. Trying to grab control of energy production and distribution is just their latest gambit. Conservatives also made the corruption of official bodies like the UN's Iraq-Oil-for-Food program an issue. Similar things need to be done in the climate area. The UN's IPCC should be disbanded - it just keeps committing the same crime over and over. Its M.O. ("consensus" or "official" science - that is, propaganda and intimidation) is intellectual poison. After disbandment, the affair needs thorough investigation, just like Oil-for-Food.

Manzi is wrong to think conservatives need to jump on this bandwagon or make "realistic bargains" - they're not getting ahead of an issue when there's nothing to get ahead of. What needs to happen is that the cult needs to be stopped dead in its tracks. Conservatives helped to do this in the early 90s to political correctness - and ridicule and satire are par for the course now, as they were then. PC continues to grip academia, but conservatives and others who opposed it helped to rescue those trapped in academia who otherwise had no escape. The "global warming" hysteria will continue to grip large parts of the environmentalist movement and influence the left wing of the Democratic party. There's no reason for it to grip anyone else. Just stopping the cult's attempt to take over policy and science is enough. With that intellectual space opened up, the normal scientific corrective of hypothesis, experiment, and critical evaluation (short-circuited for almost two decades) can again go to work, and the ventriloquist's dummies can get up and walk away from this miserable fiasco.

POSTSCRIPT: Manzi's article is available from at the Web site of Senator John Kyl (R-Arizona) here (PDF). National Review itself maintains a blog on the "global warming" hysteria, devoted more, it seems, to the political fanaticism associated with the cause than the science.
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* The estimate here arrived at +0.3-0.4 oC, the major anti-enhancing effect being due to increased cloud cover, but the picture used was simple-minded. At least it does include clouds, which is more than can said for the computer models that Manzi scares himself with. Loosening the assumptions on Kavanna's Climate Cartoon supports a temperature increase as large as +0.8 oC. This doesn't each reach the canonical +1.0-1.5 oC that many climate scientists think of as a reasonable-to-extreme upper bound, not to speak of the IPCC's ridiculous +3 oC. And remember this estimate did not include the critical mitigating mechanisms reducing the CO2 level, that is, plant and ocean absorption.

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1 Comments:

At 7:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your detailed and thoughtful comments about my article.

I think we have less disagreement that you indicated. Here are a few examples:

1. You say that Manzi “assumes that carbon dioxide (CO2) is the atmosphere's major infrared (IR)-active gas”. I didn’t say that and don’t believe it. CO2 is a greenhouse gas. At no point did I make any assertion about the relative concentration or impact of CO2 vs. any other atmospheric gas.

2. You say that “Manzi takes at face value the IPCC's executive summary picture: a +3 oC for a doubling of CO2 concentration…”. In fact, I devoted several paragraphs to disputing that this is proven, specifically arguing in detail that global climate models have never demonstrated that they can adequately explain feedbacks, and say that “Feedback could easily dampen the net impact so it ends up being less than or equal to 1C”

3. You say, speaking of me, that “He comes to a completely wrong conclusion, that the "problem" needs to be "managed,"”. Actually, I said that AGW is a “risk”, not a problem, and that the impact of human emissions on temperature “could plausibly range from negligible to severe”. In other words, the scientific case is unproven, but it is prudent to consider how to insure ourselves against the risk. The balance of the article is then focused on how to think about this insurance problem in the face of massive uncertainty both in policy and political terms.

4. You say that I “dismiss” the theory of solar radiation as the key historical climate forcing. Actually, I dismissed that such a theory has been proven. I won’t get into a scientific debate in this forum, but I will note that you say (correctly, in my view) that:

“Conservatives after all were the ones who got a similar message across: societies aren't simple, linear systems that can be taken apart and reassembled like a car or a radio. They're nonlinear and chaotic, with complex histories, facts puncturing what Hayek called the fantasy of prediction and control needed for centralized social planning. The climate is a very similar issue. Conservatives were also among the first to identify and oppose the reactionary fantasies of the "limits to growth" crowd, an earlier stage of the environmentalist movement.”

This strikes me as a correct and eloquent description of a climate system that is so complex vs. our limited scientific tools, that nobody can reliably predict long-term climate. But if this is true, the only responsible answer to the question of what will be the impacts of human activity on climate over the next 100 – 200 years is “I don’t know”. The problem is that “I don’t know” doesn’t equal “No reason to worry”.

Best,
Jim Manzi

 

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