Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Floods in New England: weather, climate, and change

It's a commonplace quip in New England that if you don't like the weather, just wait five minutes. In other words, our weather is very changeable. Very.

Another quip is that there are two seasons in New England, winter and the Fourth of July. In other words, winter's long and cold, and summer fleeting. Very.

Right now most of New England is in the midst of torrential rains and swollen rivers, record-setting within the last seventy years or so but not unprecedented. First we had a spring drought, and the initial rain was welcomed, but now it's "Rain, Rain, Go Away" in earnest.

Schools are closed, basements are flooded, roads are damaged, and it's still raining. My house is on a hill, and everything's still dry inside, but I hear bitter complaints all around.

A friend sent these photos from an apartment complex in New Hampshire, one of those old converted mills that are ordinarily so picturesque.

Those windows you're looking at with the water close to rushing into them are on the first floor, and the apartments they're attached to have been evacuated.

When this sort of weather happens, people--being people--search for explanations. Global warming is often blamed for all the perturbations we've experienced lately, and for all I (or anyone) knows it may indeed be so.

But I think we often forget how constant change in weather has been. That New England saying refers only to short term day-by-day and hour-to-hour fluctuations. We cling to the illusion--and it's just that, an illusion--that weather in general is stable over time, when in fact the opposite is actually true.

Our lifetimes are short enough that we don't perceive these fluctuations in climate ("weather" becomes "climate" when we speak of the long term), but scientists know they exist and theorize as to their cause. There have been many; the glaciation of the ice ages are among the most well-known and dramatic. But we don't have to go back that far in time to get an idea of the scope of climactic change; more recently there was the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age.

Here's a small glimpse of some of the features of these climactic events, to give an idea of the relative speed with which the climate changed in those days, even before the massive burning of fossil fuel:

[The Medieval Warm Period lasted] from about 1000 to 1300 AD. As with the Little Ice Age, its timing and effects varied from region to region, and many experts doubt that the Medieval Warm Period was a truly global phenomenon. In East Asia, for example, temperatures were cooler.

Europe, though, enjoyed an undeniably balmy climate during the early medieval period. Agriculture flourished farther north and at higher elevations on mountains than is possible even in today's warmish climate, and harvests generally were good.

Farmers raised wine grapes in England 300 miles north of present limits, and in what now are icebound parts of Greenland, Norse settlers grazed sheep and dairy cattle. In his book Climate History and Modern Man, H.H. Lamb noted that the great burst of cathedral-building and population expansion in medieval Europe coincided with the peak of the Medieval Warm Period.

By about 1400, the climate had cooled to temperatures comparable to today. Over the next century or two, the world would cool still further, bringing on the Little Ice Age.

...Some mark its inception as early as the 1200s, others view the Little Ice Age "proper" as beginning around 1450 or even later.

Disagreements arise because the phenomenon was not simply a giant cold snap. The cooling trend began at different times in different parts of the world and often was interrupted by periods of relative warmth.

All agree, however, that it lasted for centuries, and that the world began emerging from its grip between 1850 and 1900....

That's recent; very recent indeed. Long before that, descendents of those who'd settled in Greenland in a warmer era had all died, and Iceland's population was decimated. And, as an ex-New Yorker, I find this word picture of the Little Ice Age in that city something to marvel at:

In the fledgling United States, New York harbor froze over in winter, allowing people to walk from Manhattan to Staten Island.

As a child, such things fascinated me, in particular the ebb and flow of the ice ages themselves. I spent hours poring over a series of maps in the World Book Encyclopedia purporting to show the extent of different glaciations, as well as the changing shapes of the continents.

The idea that the coastline that seemed so immutable to me was only this way for a long moment in time, that all was flux, that over unimaginable aeons the very shape of the ground beneath us had altered immeasurably, that seas had appeared where mountains had been, and vice versa--all of this filled me with a sense I can only describe as wonder. That the world was far stranger than I could ever imagine, and in ways I could never understand, seemed just about right.

[NOTE: Speaking of change, here, for your viewing pleasure, are some animated drawings of the movements of the continents over time.]


At 12:23 PM, May 16, 2006, Blogger stumbley said...

My standard answer to the "global warming" proponents—a Time magazine article from 1974:

"As they review the bizarre and unpredictable weather pattern of the past several years, a growing
number of scientists are beginning to suspect that many seemingly contradictory meteorological
fluctuations are actually part of a global climatic upheaval. However widely the weather varies from
place to place and time to time, when meteorologists take an average of temperatures around the globe
they find that the atmosphere has been growing gradually cooler for the past three decades. The trend
shows no indication of reversing. Climatological Cassandras are becoming increasingly apprehensive,
for the weather aberrations they are studying may be the harbinger of another ice age."

Yep. The weather's going to be worse tomorrow—if it doesn't get better or stay the same....

At 12:50 PM, May 16, 2006, Blogger Daniel in Brookline said...

I'm fascinated by long-term climate changes -- fascinated, perhaps, the way birds are fascinated by a cobra about to strike.

I've read that, during the warming period of the early Middle Ages, England had port cities that are completely landlocked now. And, apropos of your New York comments, Neo, there's this:

In the American Revolutionary War, Colonel Alexander Hamilton brought cannon captured by Ethan Allen at Ticonderoga down to assist General Washington in Haarlem Heights. He brought them across the ice on the frozen Hudson River.

Unfortunately, I could find no better source for that story than a work of fiction...

Daniel in Brookline

At 1:12 PM, May 16, 2006, Anonymous Terry A. Hoover said...

History Geek Alert

The cannon brought by Knox to Boston actually were hauled along the Hudson for a while. Read "Private Yankee Doodle" by, I think Joseph Plum Martin. A facinating account of a private soldier in the Revolution written in his lod age. At one point during the siege of Boston Washington actually considered an winter attach across the frozen harbor.

I believe it was the winters of 1780 and 1781 that were referred to as "The Hard Winters", when things got really cold.

And remember Washington nearly didn't make it accros the Delaware because of the ice in the river and another part of the expidition further down stream didn't make it at due to the ice.

At 1:13 PM, May 16, 2006, Anonymous Terry A. Hoover said...

That shold be "old" age. And winter "attack".

What a dope.

At 1:51 PM, May 16, 2006, Blogger stumbley said...


Yes, and the "Time" article contained "evidence" too...30-some years ago, and the meterologists got it wrong then, as well. Unless you are a climatologist, a meterologist, or one who works in a scientific field involving weather, I'm inclined to dismiss your "argument."

I happen to work with folks who are investigating such subjects, and the incontrovertible FACTS surrounding the global climate are...NOBODY KNOWS. There's just not enough consistent, verifiable information from enough of the world for a long enough period of time to adequately predict what the weather is doing NOW, let alone in the future.

Do we need to be careful with the environment? Yes. Do we need to husband our natural resources wisely? Yes.
Do we need to run screaming to the UN and pass the Kyoto Protocol? No.

At 2:49 PM, May 16, 2006, Blogger MrsWhatsit said...

From "In Memoriam A. H. H." by Tennyson:

There rolls the deep where grew the tree.
O earth, what changes hast thou seen!
There where the long street roars, hath been
The stillness of the central sea.

The hills are shadows, and they flow
From form to form, and nothing stands;
They melt like mist, the solid lands,
Like clouds they shape themselves and go.

At 2:58 PM, May 16, 2006, Anonymous aardvark the dammer said...

Global warming will continue until 2022, when the sun's abnormally high level of activity begins to cool off. At that time, things will get cooler--fast!

At 3:01 PM, May 16, 2006, Blogger stumbley said...

"selfish the spanner" (Spanky, is that you?) said:

"hmmm bet you is declined to dismiss it....saves on thinking time...nothing i can do...you keep head in sand... or read this"

Yep, "science" based on models from the LATE 50's on. That's a whopping 50 years (at best) of measurement, extrapolated by computer models, that the scientists writing the paper THEMSELVES admit: "Thus, due to the considerable disagreements between tropospheric data sets, it is not clear whether the troposphere has warmed more than or less than the surface."

Again, all this proves is that NOBODY KNOWS FOR SURE what is going on. Give me about 300 years of observation and ACTUAL measurement instead of models, and I might get worried.

At 3:06 PM, May 16, 2006, Anonymous strcpy said...

One of the bigger problems I have with global warming is that it *has* to be true. That is, if temperatures get hotter then it's proof, if temps stay the same it's further proof, and when we get falling temperatures it just to be expected and actually reinforcing the models. Same thing with any climate change such as tornados, hurricanes, and other violent weather.

Sorry, but there is a problem when every single thing that can happen proves what you want - there has to be an out. Generally when your predictions fail at every turn most would consider that to be "wrong", however in this case it's also further proof that they are, in fact, correct (and of course, the predictions never change either - at least if they did one could argue that the theories are adapting to new data). Unfortunatly climatology isn't the only science to be invaded with the "can not be wrong" syndrome either.

I also used to work at Oak Ridge National Labs in the high performance computing group. Some of the weather modelling people used our clusters and they offices were mostly in the same building I was in. The "consensus" isn't as strong as the pro-global warming people act like, though that is something you can either believe me or not as it is personal experience (hey, maybe dissinters are even *further* proof it has to be correct!).

At 3:06 PM, May 16, 2006, Anonymous trollotron said...

try reading it

Key Findings
Fingerprint Pattern Studies
Fingerprint studies use rigorous statistical methods to compare spatial and temporal patterns of climate
change in computer models and observations.
1. Both human and natural factors have affected Earth’s climate. Computer models are the only tools we
have for estimating the likely climate response patterns (“fingerprints”) associated with different forcing
To date, most formal fingerprint studies have focused on a relatively small number of climate forcings. Our
best scientific understanding is that:
• Increases in well-mixed greenhouse gases (which are primarily due to fossil fuel burning) result in largescale
warming of the Earth’s surface and troposphere, and cooling of the stratosphere.
• Human-induced changes in the atmospheric burdens of sulfate aerosol particles cause regional cooling
of the surface and troposphere.
• Depletion of stratospheric ozone cools the lower stratosphere and upper troposphere.
• Large volcanic eruptions cool the surface and troposphere (for 3 to 5 years) and warm the stratosphere
(for 1 to 2 years).
• Increases in solar irradiance warm globally throughout the atmospheric column (from the surface to
the stratosphere).
2. Results from many different fingerprint studies provide consistent evidence of a human influence on the
three-dimensional structure of atmospheric temperature over the second half of the 20th century.
Robust results are:
• Detection of greenhouse-gas and sulfate aerosol signals in observed surface temperature records.
• Detection of an ozone depletion signal in stratospheric temperatures.
• Detection of the combined effects of greenhouse gases, sulfate aerosols, and ozone in the vertical
structure of atmospheric temperature changes (from the surface to the stratosphere).
3. Natural factors have influenced surface and atmospheric temperatures, but cannot fully explain their
changes over the past 50 years.
• The multi-decadal climatic effects of volcanic eruptions and solar irradiance changes are identifiable in
some fingerprint studies, but results are sensitive to analysis details.


read it

not spanky

At 3:14 PM, May 16, 2006, Blogger stumbley said...


I read it. This stands out:

"Computer models are the only tools we have for estimating the likely climate response patterns (“fingerprints”) associated with different forcing mechanisms."

Computer models are also what's used to forecast the weather. How accurate was your forecast today? How accurate was the 5-day? The 10-day?

The sky is indeed falling. "The Day After Tomorrow" is truth. We're all destined to die.

At 3:19 PM, May 16, 2006, Anonymous Nikolaides said...

It couldn't be that the no-nukers who had so much success shutting down this country's atomic energy program in the late 20th century bear any responsibility for the human-created aspects of global warming, now could it? No, certainly not, because they weren't neo-cons and therefore can't be at fault for anything environmental. Only neo-cons drive SUVs or use air conditioning or oil. How could I forget? How silly of me!

At 3:36 PM, May 16, 2006, Blogger stumbley said...

"spam" ad nauseum said:

"all that nuclear shit is a bit toxic idiot"

I'm sure France (who produces 65% of its power by using nuclear plants) is quaking in its boots.

The eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Phillipines produced more pollution than humans have in THEIR ENTIRE HISTORY.

I think that maybe your problem is summed up in your sig:


At 3:39 PM, May 16, 2006, Anonymous spamtastic said...

when volcanoes spew plutonium then we can really worry...

At 3:46 PM, May 16, 2006, Anonymous Nikolaides said...

I don't believe you'll find that I am one of the commenters who ever denied that global warming might have a humanly caused aspect, spametcetera. Your reasoning on that point doesn't quite add up. It doesn't quite add up on the nuclear-power-is-toxic point either, since you were previously arguing that global warming is pretty doggoned toxic itself.

Funny how quickly a certain kind of lefty becomes profane, illogical, and incoherent when faced with disagreement.

At 3:49 PM, May 16, 2006, Anonymous spamathon said...

hey and if france is so amazing how come they aint figure out what to do with the waste....thats the toxic shit that gets left over

Reprocessing spent nuclear fuel

France reprocesses its own spent nuclear fuel. Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Japan also send, or have sent in the past, spent nuclear fuel to France for reprocessing. High-level reprocessed waste is vitrified (solidified) and stored at La Hague for several decades, where it awaits final geologic disposal.


makes you think.....even you must think about this one...its toxic...VERY TOXIC for a long time

At 3:56 PM, May 16, 2006, Blogger Jason H. Bowden said...

Makes you think? Evidently not.

If global warming is real, nuclear power must be a piece of any solution. The problem with the green movement is that they are infested with primitivists, anarchists, and eco-Marxists who oppose any remedy that may involve technology or profit.

If wind power became viable, the Green movement would fight it because it is affecting bird populations. If there was a breakthrough in superconductivity and massive solar panels were constructed in the deserts of California, the Greens would protest because some endangered species of squirrel might be threatened.

We can't have things all ways.

At 4:00 PM, May 16, 2006, Blogger stumbley said...

Sorry, I lied. Old figures. France produces 78% of its electricity with nukes.

It's toxic unless vitrified, like France does. Most nuclear waste (the VAST bulk, in fact) is medical nuclear waste from radiation treatments. Shall we tell cancer patients they have to die to mollify your fears?

Again, to return to the original idea of the post: weather is changeable. Nobody has a good handle on it. Maybe humans have a significant impact, maybe they don't. One thing's for sure...we need to be certain about what we're doing before running off half-cocked and enacting legislation that hamstrings the world's economies. Do we need to be careful with the environment? Yes. Do we need to be CRAZY GREEN? No.

At 4:09 PM, May 16, 2006, Anonymous spametc said...

oh well its vitrified...dont have to worrry.....buld houses out of it.....you believe whatever crap you wanna believe so you can sustain your high consumption selfish life.

At 4:17 PM, May 16, 2006, Blogger stumbley said...

spam meister said:

"so you can sustain your high consumption selfish life."

I'm sure you walk to your field, till the soil, gather the manure from your livestock and put it in the fire (being sure of course that you scrub the smoke from the chimney), and wash your hands with the grey water (or that from your rainwater cistern), and then sit down to eat free-range chicken with your family, who's dressed in homespun.

The mere fact that you own a computer, have access to the Internet, and are using electricity PROVES that your lifestyle is as high-consumption and selfish as mine. Unless, of course, you walk to your field...

At 4:17 PM, May 16, 2006, Blogger Daniel in Brookline said...

Pretty amazing... ever since the topic of this thread got hijacked (commenter #5 -- beware the anagrammatical evils of Elvis), something interesting has happened. We've seen commenters with logical arguments, who attempt to present those arguments in an articulate fashion, while being careful not to insult people who disagree with them. We've also seen profane and abusive commenters, who go out of their way to insult any and all who disagree with them, while presenting little (if any) logical arguments, and those rife with misspellings and poor grammar.

The amazing part is that the commenters divide neatly along partisan lines. All the polite reasoned arguments go one way, and all the mouth-frothing name-callers go the other way.

I do try to remind myself, frequently, that the left side of the American political spectrum is not by definition crazy, nor stupid, nor uninformed, nor rude and profane. But you know, sometimes it's easier to convince myself of this than at other times.

Would somebody like to step up to the plate and argue the liberal / Green perspective here, just to demonstrate that it can be done politely and effectively? Anyone?

Daniel in Brookline

At 4:19 PM, May 16, 2006, Blogger Jason H. Bowden said...

"your high consumption selfish life."

So you are a primitivist. The Marxist contempt for capitalism is obvious too. Why are you even using a computer?

You're a hypocrite who hates yourself, but attacking us sadly will not provide the self-esteem you desperately desire. At least you're getting some *attention*, providing temporary respite from your capitalist alienation.

My heart bleeeeds for you! LOL!

At 4:52 PM, May 16, 2006, Blogger Elmondohummus said...

The whole problem with the Global Warming debate is not the science. It's the tone of too many of those involved in the debate. I don't disagree that there's still debate, and that computer models are far, far from ideal, and I don't disagree that there's doubt, but the consensus among sober, responsible scientists is that there is a definite and measureable human impact on the environment, specifically on atmospheric content that's causing a warming effect. Whether that impact will indeed lead to the doom and gloom scenarios or not is being investigated, but the point is this: There is some general agreement among the climatologists and other scientists regarding this issue. The points brought up -- the computer modeling, the impact of carbon dioxide absorbtion by large water masses (read: Oceans), the procession of some glaciers and the recession of others -- are edge issues that define the scope of what they're predicting. They don't disagree with the overall premise.

But back to my original point: What distresses me is the tone of many of those engaging in the debate. It's too shrill. There's too much disdain. What's seriously bothersome is the hyper-agressive misanthropy of those who believe in Global Warming less as a scientific theory (and I mean theory, in the scientifically defined sense, not in the common usage meant to imply "hypothesis" or "guessing") and more as a religious cudgel with which to bash all those demons responsible for sins against the environment, real or imagined. Those folks are doing far more damage than good to the very real problem by making it seem the home of the excitable and hateful, the poseur-radical and the partisan hack. Somehow, in all the yelling, the real science gets lost, as evidenced by the plethora of those patting themselves on the back for their efficient cars, yet not doing anything for their home's insulation, windows, or out-of-date heating & airconditioning. As evidenced by those who campaign against SUVs, yet ignore the fact that, at least for the US manufacturers, those same engines go into vans and pickup trucks that often also only get driven by one person with no cargo. As evidenced by the fact that electric cars are touted as clean while ignoring where the electricity is generated (that last is a complex issue of itself; at least at power plants, the emissions released are concentrated at a single source, not effused throughout a region, so it'll be easier to contain and clean. But the point is, many don't think that far, and don't consider the real environmental cost of the electricity generation, not to mention the materials used, etc.).

There is a pollution problem. And the science does indicate a warming trend because of it. I say this not because Greenpeace or activists choose to beat me over the head with it, but because sober, careful scientists at places like the NOAA, as well as at many universities say it. Yet, even I, with a science degree, have a hard time separating the facts from the blame and the science from the rhetoric because the shrill and the excitable choose to dominate the conversation with accusations and hatred. As has happened here! Neocon's are not the only car drivers. Right-wingers are not the only petroleum consumers. Americans are not the only emitters. Yes, we are disproportionate, but we're far from being the only ones.

What's my point? We need to pay attention to the constructive voices. The responsible ones. The others who choose to attack in place of reason, who choose to hate rather than constructively work, who choose to bash with glee those on the opposite side of their political beliefs, should be marginalized. They are NOT helping. They are NOT contributing. They are NOT being constructive. Beyond that, they're actually being destructive by forcing people to concentrate on margin issues and nit picks, and make judgements based on personality and not hard fact and rational analysis.

It's one thing to be accidentally correct. It's another to use that as a license to insult and feel superior about it.

What's needed is rationality and agreement. Not mud-throwing and contempt. Not cartoonish monster creation or ridiculous political categorization. Because it's one thing to be told the conclusions made by those researching the topic. It's a whole other thing to be bashed by others who, in their desire to score points and throw insults, don't stop blaming long enough to think about how to go about solving the issues, in a real, rational, concrete way, who'd rather revel in the slinging of insults and the feelings of superiority than deal with the real problems with emissions, economic impacts, and infrastructure. They'd rather pass those off as selfishness, profiteering, ego, or conspiracies. It may stroke the ego, but it does nothing for the issue.

At 4:56 PM, May 16, 2006, Blogger stumbley said...



At 5:06 PM, May 16, 2006, Blogger maryatexitzero said...

oh well its vitrified...dont have to worrry.....buld houses out of it.....you believe whatever crap you wanna believe so you can sustain your high consumption selfish life

..and that's the point of your whole argument, isn't it. It's basically the same point the puritanical Left has been making for years;

repent! repent! evil decadent Americans; wrap yourselves in sackcloth and ashes and beg, beg us for forgiveness.

.and don't forget to leave all of your ill-gotten capitalist gains in our collection box..

You wonder why nobody listens to you or votes for you?

Global warming may be a reality and pollution may have contributed to the problem, but there isn't a single study that can tell us how to definitely reverse or even slow the effects.

It also may not be a coincidence that Mars and Jupiter are also showing effects of global warming. Those evil right wing SUV drivers do get around?

There is no real solution being offered. We should seek alternative energy sources because it's the right thing to do all around, but as far as global warming is concerned, we need to learn how to adapt to the inevitable and unavoidable change.

It's odd that so many environmentalists are unable to adapt to change. Adaptation is what nature is all about.

At 5:06 PM, May 16, 2006, Blogger stumbley said...


"Would somebody like to step up to the plate and argue the liberal / Green perspective here, just to demonstrate that it can be done politely and effectively? Anyone?"

Apparently not.

At 5:08 PM, May 16, 2006, Blogger MrsWhatsit said...

Bravo, elmondohummus. You are describing a problem that reaches well beyond the global warming debate, and you are echoing some of the concerns Neo herself expressed in her post a day or two ago on political battle fatigue.

It's too bad that some of the shrillest of the commenters here can't seem either to hear themselves or to see how effectively they are proving your point.

At 5:19 PM, May 16, 2006, Blogger Elmondohummus said...


Thanks for the "Amen"! You're very welcome. That said, please understand that what follows I say with respect, and not to disdainfully attack as some others unnamed choose to. I'm raising a point in order to advance debate. But, I did feel the need to address your statement:

"Computer models are also what's used to forecast the weather. How accurate was your forecast today? How accurate was the 5-day? The 10-day?"

In all due respect, that misses the point. Weather and climate are different issues. "Climate" is the general, ultra long term environmental condition. "Weather" is the variation within parameters set by the climate. When you're talking "climate", that doesn't mean "it'll be 70 degrees in Florida tomorrow", it means "In the southern US, around the 24 to 31 degrees latitude, the climate is generally warm, averaging between 60 and 90 degrees F, averaging between 40 and 60+ inches of rain annually" etc. etc. Weather and climate are related -- one is the result of the influence of another -- but they're not the same thing. The computer models used to generate weather forecasts -- which by the way, aren't the only things used to generate such forecasts -- are far, far different from the ones used in climate research.

No, I didn't miss your statement that you work with some researchers, so I apologize if this seems overly basic or didactic; keep in mind that I'm also addressing other readers who may not be making that distinction. And don't think this is a diametric disagreement. You do have a cooler head than many others, and many of your criticisms are valid -- for example, your statement that there's "not enough consistent, verifiable information from enough of the world for a long enough period of time" is a criticism made by many of the researchers themselves. I know it's a nit-pick, but I still felt the need to address your statement above. I just wanted to talk about it in a logical and sensible way, so please take this in the spirit of honest debate. The point needed to be addressed, and I'd rather I make it in a logical, sensible, respectful fashion than leave it to someone who'd simply view it as another opportunity to pat themselves on the back for how much non-constructive contempt they could generate.

At 5:42 PM, May 16, 2006, Blogger stumbley said...


No disagreement at all. And yes, "climate" is very different from "weather". My point (poorly made, perhaps) was that we just don't have enough information yet to make sweeping changes in policy based on incomplete data. As I've repeatedly said—as any reasonable person would say—do we need to be careful about our environment? Absolutely. Do we need to explore energy sources that don't pollute? Certainly.

But to react emotionally, as some (and I emphasize some, not all) in the green movement do, is counter to everyone's best interests. It's especially dangerous to make poor policy decisions that create more problems than they solve, as those who tried to "solve" the wolf "problem" in Yellowstone at the beginning of the 20th century did.

Beware the law of unintended consequences.

At 5:52 PM, May 16, 2006, Blogger stumbley said...

Oh, and by the way, some in the environmental movement have modified their views based on reality, as witness this statement from Patrick Moore, of Greenpeace:

"Thirty years on, my views have changed, and the rest of the environmental movement needs to update its views, too, because nuclear energy may just be the energy source that can save our planet from another possible disaster: catastrophic climate change."

-Washington Post, April 16, 2006

At 5:52 PM, May 16, 2006, Blogger Elmondohummus said...

(*sigh*)... and I also just remembered that Neo's original topic was about wonder at the mutability of this world, how our perspectives give us the false impression of continuity. And it was only partially about Global Warming; she mentioned it as a passing thought, not as the subject of the post. Sorry, Neo. Not much respect gets shown when folks ignore what you write to make their own points. My sincere apologies for participating in that thread diversion.

On the global scale, humans are very much newcomers -- what was that concept? If this Earth's existence were a clock, humans and the environment as we know it, would have only occupied a few minutes before midnight? Change is indeed the only constant, but it boggles the mind to consider the magnitude of those changes. The fact that the coasts as we know it weren't always the way we know it is one of the things that consistently blows my mind. It's truly fascinating to compare maps today with paleogeographic maps of the past. Did anyone know that Canada (the landmass, not the geopolitical entity) was, back in and before the Cambrian period, east instead of north relative to what's now our United States? It's also really interesting to compare those same maps and note that places that used to be far under the surface of the Cambrian and Ordovician seas. I look, and I go "I was there back in (fill in the blank)". If you've walked ground in Montanna or parts of Colorado, you've literally been on an ocean's floor. I myself have truly walked on what was a seabed, and I didn't have to get wet to do so!

The change that this world has undergone is of a scale that's hard to imagine. The Sahara used to be fertile. The Himalayans used to be flat, and in fact, underwater (interesting fact: Mount Everest is growing -- upwards -- at the rate of 3 to 5 millimeters per year). Much of what is now North America used to exist at around the equator, before plate tectonics pushed it northward. The Atlantic ocean used to be a thin strip of water.

I understand what Neo means by "wonder".

At 6:47 PM, May 16, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Iceages are a lot more destructive to human life than any warm ages. Ice ages tend to stop food production, reduce habitable land, and require more energy to heat homes.

At 7:06 PM, May 16, 2006, Anonymous Mikey Mann said...

Global Warming is good for you. An ice age could easily kill 90% of earth's population. Global warming might force some coastal dwellers to move sometime in the next 200 or 300 years.

And mondo--pollution doesn't cause global warming. Variation in solar radiation is the primary cause, but greenhouse gases are not the same as pollution. Lack of specificity totally erases any "scientific" content otherwise contained in your posting.

At 8:14 PM, May 16, 2006, Blogger Elmondohummus said...

Due respect, Mikey, that statement is a mite oversimplified. For starters, the scientists are uncertain as to the magnitude of the effect of solar radiation:

"But, from the short record we have so far, the trend in solar irradiance is estimated at ~0.09 W/m2 compared to 0.4 W/m2 from well-mixed greenhouse gases. ... a great deal of uncertainty in estimates of solar irradiance beyond what can be measured by satellites, and still the contribution of direct solar irradiance forcing is small compared to the greenhouse gas component."

Source: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/globalwarming.html#Q10

Yet, the scientists honestly admit to the uncertainty in that point:

"However, our understanding of the indirect effects of changes in solar output and feedbacks in the climate system is minimal."

(Same source as above)

What's my point? It's this: You may in fact be right. Solar radiation may in fact end up being the biggest cause. No scientist denies that there's an effect. But it's uncertain at this time how big it is compared to the effect of the greenhouse gases. And besides, arguing the primary cause misses the point. Whether or not radiation or atmospheric components are the primary cause -- water, BTW, is the primary greenhouse gas, and that exists in the atmosphere regardless of human activity -- the component that humans are contributing is increasing. That's the point. It's that the dynamic balance is being affected by the part that humans are contributing. No one's saying that humans are the only cause. The thing is, what we contribute we can control. That's the point.

Look, I'm not too qualified to speak to the details and minutiae of climate study. What I was trying to get across was the point that there's scientific consensus, but that scientists themselves argue that more study is needed. And that excess politicalization of the issue is detrimental, and the radicalization of believers is absolutely unconstructive. The relative effect of any single issue or the result that comes of such climate change is something that the researchers will have to speak to. I'm merely trying to sound the warning that facts and logic must be adhered to, not emotion.

I accept your critique, Mikey, but I wasn't aiming to provide any specificity. I was bringing up points to illustrate that there's real science behind what the researchers claim, independent of the hysteria generated by those looking to rhetorically club the oil industry, "neocons", "Big Business", Americans in general... etc. In short, I was appealing to reason as opposed to frenzy, not trying to provide the complete argument.

At 9:41 PM, May 16, 2006, Anonymous rickl said...

There have been some good comments here.

I like to put it like this: The one thing we can be certain of is that the climate is constantly in flux, and it will NOT be the same in the future as it is today. This is indisputable, and is backed up by hundreds of millions of years of geological evidence.

That leaves us with only two possibilities:

1. The climate will get warmer.

2. The climate will get cooler.

If it gets cooler, it could lead to a new ice age, which would be an unimaginable catastrophe for human civilization. Therefore, global warming is the best option we have and is much more desirable.

At 9:44 PM, May 16, 2006, Blogger Sally said...

The problem with "global warming" as a political as opposed to scientific issue, is that there are multiple layers of uncertainty:

1) Is there really a long-term tendency toward global increase in average termperature, or are the variations within the limits of short-term random fluctuations?

2) If there is such a long-term tendency, is it man-made or a natural phenomenon?

3) If it is man-made, are the consequences likely to be more harmful than beneficial?

4) If the consequences are likely to be, on net, harmful, is the harm likely to be greater or less than the harm or costs involved in particular mitigation policies?

The point is that at every step in that ladder the uncertainties grow. Any feasible mitigation strategy would take a long time to become effective, and the full effect of the warming, under any modelling scenario, won't be felt for centuries -- a time scale that multiplies the uncertainties significantly.

Consider, for example, what a simple extrapolation of population and transportation trends two centuries ago might have looked like -- "Unless all traffic in major cities is curtailed immediately, by the year 2000 New York will be neck deep in horse manure."

At 12:26 AM, May 17, 2006, Blogger J. Peden said...

elmondohummus:"The whole problem with the Global Warming debate is not the science. It's the tone of too many of those involved in the debate."

No, one problem with the Warming debate is in fact the science, and there is no consensus that humans are doing anything at all to promote warming. The "consensus" meme is political only and is false.

The ipcc process of analyzing climate change puts virtually no effort into assessing any positive effects of global warming, and even admits it:

Ippc,"12.8.1.... However, it must be said that potential gains [benefits] have not been well documented, in part because of lack of stakeholder concern in such cases and consequent lack of special funding."

This is indeed a fatal flaw in the ipcc process: climate change is not really being analyzed, or at least not practically/rationally/scientifically analyzed, if only considered in relation to hypothesized dangers of warming, which are in turn selected for by individual bias and funding.

These hypothesized dangers themselves are only subjectively evaluated through the ippc process, by asking the scientists involved in each study how probable they think the hypothesized detrimental effects are. Apparently the ipcc does not officially ask any other scientists to consider these probabilities. The individual studies largely seem to not be peer reviewed.

Global warming itself has instead been literally demonized, which is not usually considered to be a part of the scientific method. Again, money has bought a bias toward hypothesizing only toward Warming disaster. You cannot get funding from the ippc unless you agree beforehand as to the conclusion it wants. This would tend to attract scientists with an agenda, as well as less scrupulous scientists.The p.c. nature of the ippc mission also generates waves of scientists world-wide who look for disaster while working in non-ippc entities such as Universities. All of this combines to dry up funding for other scientific study of any kind. Much Warming money is spent on p.r. measures, not on science.

The Kyoto protocols, mainly designed to decrease the use of fossil fuel, exempt a very large proportion of the World's population - China, sub-saharan Africa, Brasil, Indonesia, Malasya, and many others, instead giving them fee rein to use fossil fuel. These countries ratify the Treaty and agree to the Protocols, which they are nevertheless exempt from. This arguably contradicts the whole thrust of the ipcc science as interpreted, and the measures the Protocol imposes, therefore magnifying the non-scientific nature of the whole enterprise. Why don't the Protocol solutions fit the ippc "scientific" conclusions?

The ipcc does not suggest any alternatives to fossil fuel use, not even nuclear, and does not seriously analyze the economic and social cost of the Kyoto Protocol measures, which can fairly easily be seen as potentially creating disasters themselves. This is not scientific in that alternatives and costs do not receive an accounting, nor an equal effort of investigation.

For example, "adaptation" in the face of global warming - that is, merely adjusting to warming without worrying about actively lowering CO2 emissions dramatically, is simply dismissed out-of-hand by the ipcc as inadequate, apparently because it has demonized all warming and has essentially presupposed necessary disaster as its result.

There is no meaningful consensus on the validity of ipcc science involving the computer models' ability to attribute warming to human causes. One evaluation presented by Science magazine, as reported by the warming-friendly reporter who covers global warming for Science, found only that whatever group of scientists it was the analyst asked would only say, on balance, that,1] they had "some" confidence in the models' ability to prove a human contribution. This, from my experience, equates functionally only to the statement that they can't prove in principle that anthropogenic contributions don't contribute to warming - nothing more: it is a statement only that it is conceiveable that human activity contributes to warming, in the same way it is conceiveable that anything else does.

The only other finding resembling a consensus found in this study was, 2] that, even if measures were taken to reduce the human contribution of CO2, there would be no effect seen for "at least 100 years" - which means to me that they don't know even if this effect will occur.

Furthermore, the "benefit" of reducing human sources of CO2, as far as it has been described anywhere to my knowledge, would at best only be a very minimal reduction of this human-produced CO2, not a benefit involving the alleged consequence of CO2 effect itself.

An article published in Science alleging a consensus, possibly the above consensus, was repudiated by another study using the exact same method. The author of the first article admitted that the second was correct. Science would not print even a letter to the editor from the author of the second.

You have to understand the extreme politicing going on in many venues which skews the findings of investigators, or at least the interpretation of what they have really found. Even ippc summaries, mainly intended for press release and politicing, do not include significant disclaimers from dissenting ippc scientists as judged from initial drafts.

I happened upon a CSPAN presentation involving Johm McCain grilling a top ipcc scientist, who finally admitted that he could not say that humans were in any way contributing to warming.

According to a study I read [the whole thing] investigating oceanic warming, the warming-friendly scientists agreed that ocean-warming was occurring, but that the ipcc modelers had forgotten to include the concept of the oceans as a heat sink into their models predicting the rapidity of atmospheric warming. Lo and behold, the oceans must be warmed up too, if atmospheric warming is to occur. What else is not included in the models and the general thinking of the ipcc which negates their value as scientific?

This really only scratches the surface, while being enough to seriously question global warming alarmists and what they suggest should be done. The main problem politically is that the public and even scientists or thinkers who are not aware of the ipcc methods reasonably assume that the ipcc is proceding as it should be expected to. I'm convinced that it isn't, and that the whole effort does not resemble a scientific endeavor to any significant extent.

At 12:50 AM, May 17, 2006, Blogger J. Peden said...


At 1:12 AM, May 17, 2006, Anonymous strcpy said...

What I find interesting is that Elmondohummus gets that we don't know how much things like solar radiation effect things, even understands that it may even be the primary cause, but that somehow does not cast any doubt whatsoever on the current Global Warming theories and we need to make sweeping changes based on what are most likely faulty models (and as sweeping as some are it may even hurt us - but no matter, Global Warming is REAL!). Again - Global Warming is the answer regardless of what occurs.

Global Warming is not bad science any more than current AI research in human learning is bad science - just the latter branch realises that it understands such a small part of the answer that any real predictions made on it should be taken with a *really* large grain of salt. For some reason many of the climatoligists say "We don't really know but here is exactly how it works" - which of course makes no sense. That attitude is, however, Very Bad Science.

The sad thing is that Elmondohummus touched on something that *could* get legislation: "There is a pollution problem." Ahh, here is something that could probably get passed just to simple things like air quality, asthma, allergies, and many other things. In fact we do get legislation passed about that.

But unfortunatly he/she then goes back to the "We don't really know for sure, you may be right, but here is the absolute way it is and you are wrong" (and, considering that all his/her actions thereafter reflect the "I know, you wrong" I rather suspect that is what he/she really believes).

The vast majority of papers in climatology wouldn't make it in a harder science. Once more the more you control you world (this time, the model), the more likely you are to have leftist beliefes and ignore anything that doesn't meet with your pre-concieved notions.

At 7:52 AM, May 17, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Global warming can mean cooler, it can mean drier, it can mean wetter, it can mean hurricanes, it can mean blizzards, it can even mean clear sunny days. All we know for a fact is that the weather is going to change, and the change is going to destroy the world, and it's all Bush's fault for refusing to ratify Kyoto."

- anonymous Montreal "climate change" protester, spouting off to the CBC cameras. Chicken Little indeed.

At 8:26 AM, May 17, 2006, Blogger troutsky said...

The main thing is not to have any information affect the Sacred Business Climate. This is the climate none of you cares to mention because the koolaid has already worked its magic and the mess you leave means nothing as long as you get yours. Follow the money.

At 9:51 AM, May 17, 2006, Blogger Elmondohummus said...

J. Peden

Thanks for the post. You bring up some good points about the IPCC and how it's funding choices tend to lend more to an echo chamber effect than anything else, not to mention the distressing fact that only the possible consequences have been hypothesized, not the benefits. Remember: Way back in the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras, average global temperatures are estimated to have been 6 to 12 degrees Centigrade hotter than today, yet life exploded during those times. It's entirely logical to bring up the fact that climate change does not necessarily indicate a totality of negative effects and a complete dearth of positive ones. What'll happen is, in fact, unknown, and it bothers me that too many people take the science and run in the wrong direction with it.

And Kyoto? Cripes... what a horrid little treaty. Anyone remember the petition urging the government to reject Kyoto was signed by, what, 17000 scientists and engineers? That -- The Kyoto treaty -- is my primary example of the politicalization of science. It's mean effect was next to zilch. It's a feel-good treaty, nothing more. Stumbley made a great point: "It's especially dangerous to make poor policy decisions that create more problems than they solve, as those who tried to "solve" the wolf "problem" in Yellowstone at the beginning of the 20th century did.". Too many are rushing to judgement because the current science seems to validate their personal political biases. When that happens, bad policy may result. It's a very good point to keep in mind.

As far as the computer models? Here's where I break a bit with J. Peden: I remember reading an interview with a researcher once where he said something to the effect like "Don't peg me at 99% certain, but put me at 90% certain". While there's doubt as to the accuracy of the modeling -- and keep in mind that such modeling is only one tool used in the study of this issue -- it's possible to overstate the uncertainty. The press attempts to nail scientists down to certainties that scientists cannot state, and when they give reasonable caveats, some people misinterpret that to mean a complete lack of confidence. That's not the case; they're allowing for doubt, but they believe their models point in the right direction. I'll try to find that quote again and get you the link, but my point is that, even with the flaws, they believe the model is more accurate than not. Is that 100% confidence? No, of course not. Nothing can be. But it's a mistake to think that this means there's 0% confidence. It's somewhere in between, and that's what the researchers are hammering out.


Easy, man. I never said "we need to make sweeping changes". I only agreed with the climatologists that there's an impact, and said that we can control what we contribute. I never said or implied that humans need to take radical action, and in fact I'm against that. Stumbley's caveat as to unintended consequences is part of the reason; the sheer idiocy of advocating sweeping changes with complete indifference to the very real human, material, and monetary costs -- which would not be insignificant -- is another part. Doing what humans have been doing so far -- continuing to pass legislation and improve standards, researching cleaner technologies for cars, power generation, etc., moderate, sensible conservation -- is what we need to continue to do. Not put on a hairshirt, reject anything that smacks of big oil, and drive a damn Prius; getting 2 to 3 mpg more out of the most sold vehicles in America -- the quarter ton pickups and mid to large SUVs -- will have a far greater effect than all the Priuses and their 10 mpg advantage over the average car can ever have.

And for the love of God, strcpy, please don't lump me in with those environment-as-religion idiots by saying "We don't really know for sure, you may be right, but here is the absolute way it is and you are wrong" (and, considering that all his/her actions thereafter reflect the "I know, you wrong" I rather suspect that is what he/she really believes)." That's unfair, and it's a misreading of my posts besides. All I've tried to claim is that there's real research and science there; the fact that it can be interpreted, debated, and even found lacking in the light of different evidence should go without saying because it's science. I'm attributing allegience to the process, not stating a religious belief in the findings.

That protestor in Montreal is exactly what I mean by the idiots with "religious" beliefs about climate change. He doesn't even have the basic science down if he's confusing "weather" with "climate", and blaming it all on Bush for not ratifying Kyoto is just the height of ignorance. Putting the shortcomings of Kyoto aside, ignoring Russia's, China's, Brazil's, and India's emissions is simply irresponsible. That is what we need much less of. That is what I mean by someone not being constructive. That fellow would rather bash than be effective. The romance of the protest is more important than the substance of the issue. That's sad, and that's what angers me about some of those folks. They're completely counterproductive, and proud of it.

Certain others,
At the risk of feeding trolls: Please, please remember that insult is not argument. strcpy may have taken me to task, but I respect him (him? Is that right, S? I'm a "he", btw) because he built an argument. J. Peden disagreed and provided evidence for what he was saying, and I completely respect that as well, even though I have points of disagreement. Attacking and insulting is not an attempt to debate, it's a parade of self importance and condescension. Please, choose to engage with respect. You'll get a better dialogue that way.

At 12:16 PM, May 17, 2006, Blogger J. Peden said...

stumbley: that's funny. I live for half the year in a place that has no electricity, except for a generator I use only for tools. It's 10 miles to the next private property. I have no phone or internet service even possible unless I would go to satellite, etc..

I ended up there partly because I was a true environmentalist and still am but can't call myself one now due to the fact that environmentalism has morphed into an obsessive-compulsive paranoiac controllist hypocritical religion which wants to recreate its own Garden of Eden - last existing apparently around 1850 - but without the humans.

It's strange that these Environmentalists say they also believe in evolution, when in fact they don't seem to even know what it is. They are the true anti-scientists as much as the radical Christians. [Compared to the current non-classical Liberal Liberals, the not-so-radical Christians are vastly more rational and perceptive about human nature, basic existential questions, about rationality itself, and about human rights which include the right and necessity of the Good to defend itself against Evil. The latter in effect makes these particular Christians more in tune with evolution than the avowed "scientific" secular materialists who don't seem to know much about anything except trying to control everything, regardless of cost, as their basic form of self.]

elmondohummus: "That fellow would rather bash than be effective. The romance of the protest is more important than the substance of the issue."

That's a great summation. At shrinkwrapped "Speedy" just inadvertantly specifically admitted to being an angry, seditious Bush-hater who would destroy George Bush at all costs, thus admitting also to being a true "enemy within". Speedy is nearly mechanistically moved to exact this all-consuming revenge in response to the great unjustly caused emotional damage s/he received when Bill Clinton betrayed his/her trust and somehow managed to get himself impeached. Naturally s/he blames Republicans for Clinton's stupidity and lies. You can feel the venom generated by Speedy's denial and resultant self-loathing.

I was thinking back then that the most important thing about Clinton's behavior involved National Security concerns. In retrospect, what if Osama had managed to get wind of Clinton's addiction to poontang and thus was able to blow up the White House, or worse?


At 12:25 PM, May 17, 2006, Blogger neoneoconned said...

yeah yeah

At 10:22 PM, May 17, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Attacking and insulting is not an attempt to debate,

But it's great training for psychological attacks.

Certain others,
At the risk of feeding trolls:

Hehe, I like that. Certain others. Very diplomatic.

However, a lack of specificity also makes your argument not very clear. I don't think Neo wanted you to make yourself ineffectual in communicating your points when she suggested people not feed the trolls. I'm not complaining that it isn't clear to me, you understand, just that not everyone is tolerating of translucency.

Given that Neo is probably deleting certain comments, it also produces datum static as time goes on.

Regardless, I skipped like 95% of the comments here cause environmentalism never did interest me. Other than as one of those true believer fanatical cults that is.

At 2:07 AM, May 19, 2006, Blogger douglas said...

Neo: "As a child, such things fascinated me, in particular the ebb and flow of the ice ages themselves. I spent hours poring over a series of maps in the World Book Encyclopedia purporting to show the extent of different glaciations, as well as the changing shapes of the continents."

I guess I wasn't the only kid who spent many an evening browsing through the World Book for fun! And to think, the other kids thought I as weird...

At 11:08 AM, May 19, 2006, Blogger neo-neocon said...

doublas: who's to say we weren't both weird :-)?

At 2:09 AM, May 20, 2006, Blogger douglas said...

Perhaps in this arena, we're more the norm? Maybe that's why I feel quite comfortable here.

Thanks for creating such a pleasant blogging atmosphere, Neo.


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