Climate change deniers, doubters, and fence sitters: an honest question

(I’m going to try to phrase this as neutrally as possible, but if there’s an implicit assumption or question begged, please feel free to point it out.)

I didn’t want to further hijack Sqweel’s excellent but somewhat derailed thread (Conservatism, evolution, global warming, and the truth),[sup]*[/sup] so I’m starting here.

The derailment (slightly different from a hijack) was one that happens to just about every climate change thread that gets more than a few replies: is or isn’t it happening (or is or isn’t it going to happen). A whole spectrum of responses and back-and-forth cites generally focus around evidence and competing interpretations.

This is a question for those of you anywhere along the spectrum of disagreement with the notion that anthropogenic climate change is a legitimate concern (either now or within the next fifty years). If you’d like to define ‘legitimate concern’ because it makes a difference, have at it; I started to but thought that was adding an unnecessary constraint.

**What part of the theory don’t you agree with? **

Do you disagree with the chemical and thermodynamic properties of greenhouse gases? The greenhouse effect? The volume that has been put in the atmosphere? Feel free to gloss over some of the fundamentals if you take them for granted, but please slow down when you get to the part of the science where you start to disagree. Please don’t just jump right to the bit where you disagree, try and say what part of the building block that got there was misinterpreted or wrong.

I’m not talking about disagreement over particular measurements, whether or not this or that observation matches predictions, or the vastly complicated debate over the possible extent or timescale. That all takes for granted that the underlying theory is either valid or invalid. I’m talking about ***the particular point ***in which someone with a full lab, a bunch of graph paper, a couple slide rules and a lot of coffee would get up from her desk and say “Wow, look at that! We don’t need to look for evidence of change! We don’t need to reduce emissions – we forgot to carry the two! (Hey, where’s my penguin?).”

I’m hoping the thread doesn’t devolve into a question of which group of scientists endorsed this or that position. I hope it doesn’t focus on alternate theories about why the climate is or isn’t changing — I’ll stipulate that there are other natural cycles that affect the climate, but that shouldn’t stop the question of whether there are additive or subtractive effects. I’m not expecting to discuss the intricacies of a particular model. I’m hoping to understand where in the chain of first experiment to leaving the lab to go verify predictions you think things went astray.

[sup]* It would be nice if it got back on track because rather short shrift has been paid to a rather deep question of political philosophy (no offence meant to those that did address it, it’s just that the proportions seemed weighted against it). [/sup]

The part where the affects will be catastrophic such that we (as in the U.S.) have to throw trillions at the “problem”.

I’m quite confidant that we can adapt if things get a little warmer (or colder) or wetter (or drier).

OTOH, if Danny Glover is right all bets are off.

The part where I am not a climate scientist and not entitled to an opinion. Just like 90% of everyone else who has a passionate opinion that ironically cleaves to their partisan affiliation.

And to reiterate What the … !!!. I am dubious that there actually IS a concensus, and that even if there is, that we know how to solve it and that taking a big-ass risk to disrupt the economy for a poorly understood issue will make things better, rather than worse.

Come on, really? Non-scientists can’t have opinions on science? There’s an untenable world view if I ever saw one.

Then it’s a good thing no one said that, huh?

If Co2 can be compared to a fire, the solution suggested is to dump a truck load of $100 bills to smother it instead of .05 cents of water. I deny that the profiteers such as Al Gore are trying to solve any problem unrelated to their wallets.

No rational scientist is suggesting we need to implode our economy (like it isn’t already in serious trouble) to solve this “crisis”. The only crisis I’m worried about is a worldwide depression that will destroy research funds needed to make the changes in power production.

We have been, and will continue to develop technologies that are less dependent on a linear cycle of fossil fuels. It will consist of short term conservation, medium term use of new technologies such as algae based bio-diesel, and the long term technologies that always occur over time.

In short, we’re not buying what Al Gore is selling.

And no rational economist is suggesting that the proposed solutions will implode our economy…And yet, you hear this alarmist language all the time from people who opposed taking actions to reduce emissions.

And, while it is probably true that (almost) no rational scientist is suggesting we need to implode our economy, nearly all of the scientists and scientific organizations are suggesting we need to significantly reduce our emissions. In fact, the problems with the current plans on the table are, if anything, that they are too weak relative to what scientists think is necessary to avoid the possibility of “dangerous interference” with the Earth’s climate system.

It is elementary textbook market economics that market economies don’t solve problems very efficiently that the market doesn’t know about because the costs are externalized. It is rather strange that people of a political persuasion that claims to believe in market economies doesn’t accept rather fundamental economic principles involving them.

The cap-and-trade system was not controversial politically when it was implemented (under George H. Bush) to reduce the pollutants associated with acid rain…and, in fact, the Bush Administration wanted to basically replace the whole part of the Clean Air Act that applies to electricity generation with a cap-and-trade “Clear Skies” proposal. (Their initiative was generally opposed by environmentalists, but not so much because of the implementation of cap-and-trade but rather because the George W. Bush Administration had significantly raised the caps above the original EPA “straw man” proposal that was meant to achieve approximately the same results as the Clean Air Act. There was also some concern about geographic distribution of the pollutant sources…but for CO2 it is only the total global emissions that matter, making this a non-issue.)

You couldn’t even make it past the the thread title. The use of the word denier is itself inflammatory and a blatant attempt to poison the well.

There is no theory, there is only a hypothesis. A theory has to make predictions that can only be true if the theory is true, and that are stated in such a way as to be open to falsificaton, and those falsifications have been attempted and failed on numerous occasions. As you can readily see from doing a search of past threads, AGW is not actually falsifiable, or at best it can be falsified only by waiting for another 50+ years. It has undergone no attempts at falsification so far. To the extent that that it makes predictions those have been largely proved wrong. No increase in cyclones, 11 years of stable temperatures etc. The only way to overcome those discrepancies is by saying that the hypothesis also predicted no change. IOW a theory that predicts everything, and hence predicts nothing.

And that in a nutshell is the part of the “theory” that I don’t agree with: the total inability of the hypothesis to ever meet basic Popperian standards of science.

I think this is what you are failing to grasp. Skeptics don’t think the hypothesis is invalid per se, as might be the case with say an Intelligent Design or Hollow Earth hypothesis. It isn;t inherently silly or lacking in rational basis. The flaw is with the inability of the hypothesis to be falsified. As it stands, even if the Earth gets cooler for the next 20 years the hypothesis still won’t be invalidated despite nobody predicting such a thing even 5 years ago. Nobody is actually prepared to make a testable prediction that will prove the hypothesis to be false beyond waiting for 50 years or more. As such it fails to meet the most basic Popperian standard of science.

What you will get instead is lots of people collecting evidence that is supposed to *support *the hypothesis, and the claiming after the fact that it would have falsified the theory, but never claiming so before they already have the result they wanted.

There are also issues with the supposed evidence for the theory in many regards, such as the reliance on proxies for past temperature that we know don;t reliably replicate current temperatures.

But my single biggest problem is that i can not find anyone who has made an actual falsification prediction based on this hypothesis. As such it fails to even be scientific according to the Popperian standard, which is the most widely used, rigorous and foolproof standard of science that we have.

This was mentioned before, now what name could one give to the ones that ignore previously presented evidence?

And looking at the history of how we got to the current consensus, even more predictions, experiments and evidence was found.

I’m not opposing taking action, I’m opposing the idiotic reduction of Co2 as a solution because under no circumstances is this EVER going to happen on a global basis. “but we did our share” is just a stupid reason to pour money down a rat hole.

Sorry, no. A real scientist would promote technology to cool the planet and it would be based on the most cost effective method. Reducing Co2 as a solution is a pipe dream that will be expensive and pointless.

Again, straw man answer. I specifically referred to research money. That is not a private sector solution. If we pull money out of the economy and use it for wind turbines and other limited use/high cost energy systems then it’s a double hit because it will start a cycle of lost tax revenue.

The kyoto treaty was never considered by George Bush and the cap and trade was aimed at dirty coal power plants. We have the technology and the clean coal supplies to continue using coal for the foreseeable future. The best use of technology would be to use the co2 stripped from these plants and feed it to algae to promote a Co2 cycle instead of a straight release from burning gasoline.

Which solution is this?

Switching to nuclear energy? Updating our power system? Hybrid/electric cars?

You might want to read about what changes are actually suggested, and the financial trade-offs thereof.

The part where there is absolutely anything that an average (or in fact even an eco-friendly vegetarian, recycling, non car owning neo-hippy like myself) citizen can do to make any significant difference in the eventual outcome.

At this point in my life, I have decided to just sit back and enjoy the ride, and not worry about things like buying organic or taking a train instead of flying.

I cant change anything, I might as well live in comfort while I can…

As I have seen even in this board one can see clearly who can be a doubter or a fence sitter; in fact, I’m a doubter regarding many of the proposed solutions; but with the science that is telling us that there is a problem, I have less doubt. I would think the discussions would be more interesting when dealing on what to do about the issue.

Magiver, your last reply shows that we can indeed reduce CO2 even with an item like coal, so it is reducing CO2 a pipe dream or not?

I would think that new technologies will be the key (Many of them brought by some people called scientists, go figure), but it is clear that having no government intervention towards that goal and at the same time telling the government not to set guidelines or limits to CO2 emissions would be irresponsible.

I was really trying to cover the spectrum of rejection — if there’s a better term for that then “denier,” suggest it. If it’s apt and a mod would be kind enough to change it, that would be great.
I’m also still trying to get past Sqweel’s thread. If it really comes down to hyperbole, Al Gore, and gut instincts about who you trust, then it’s not about the science at all — it’s just a random alignment of political party and support/opposition thereof. (That goes for either political persuasion.)

But that’s been done a lot. So has the question of whether or not measurements are verifying or undercutting a particular model. I’m not asking about that.
I’m hoping that someone on the spectrum of (whatever you want to call it) through fence sitting can take a step back from politicking and talk about the fundamentals of the science.

To put it as briefly as possible:
[li]Greenhouse gases are translucent to ultraviolet radiation. [/li][li]Greenhouse gases are opaque to infrared radiation. [/li][li]The greenhouse effect means that greenhouse gases trap energy in the atmosphere. [/li][li]Climate, including global average temperatures and large-scale weather interactions, are affected by the amount of energy in the system. [/li][li]Over the past two hundred years, we have measurably changed the chemical composition of the atmosphere. [/li][li]China, India, and the rest of the developing world’s populations are six to seven times that of the developed world (figure very general, feel free to correct)[/li][li]Over the next fifty years, China, India, et al will likely pursue a carbon-dependant development path. [/li][li]Over the next fifty years, the scale of greenhouse gas emissions of greenhouse gases will be at least an order of magnitude greater than today’s.[/li][/ul]

The added energy retained in the atmosphere by the additional greenhouse gases will go where?
This simplified chain breaks down where?

Looking at the actions of many blogessors that oppose the science itself I think the term “climate truthers” would be appropriate.

It does not matter if evidence is piled up, like the 9/11 truthers they will ignore the past evidence and never change their tune. What is sad is that even the few scientists that are skeptics told them several times that the science is good and mankind is involved, they just conclude that the resulting effects from AGW are exaggerated (so far), but this is even ignored by the truthers.

(At the 2:00 minute mark, Dr Michaels is very candid telling how one can be either an skeptic or a denier by using arguments that were clearly debunked before (like using the year 1998 to say that we are cooling down)

Now I have seen many in this board that do not ignore the science, they can indeed be called skeptics and fence sitters.

So, basically, your definition of a “real scientist” is one who agrees with you even though this excludes pretty much every major scientific body on the planet. Okay, whatever. That is just a tautology.

Why is promoting technology that reduces CO2 not part of the solution? If by “promote technology to cool the planet”, you mean geo-engineering solutions, there are some scientists looking into this but there are such basic problems with the idea that most scientists feel it is more of a backstop than a substitute for reducing CO2 emissions.

It seems strange to me that you presumably consider yourself to be pro-market and yet all your solutions seem to involve imposing certain technologies from on-high rather than simply correcting market externalities and letting the market decide on what the best solution is.

No, what we can readily see is that you continue to believe this despite what others here have explained to you and despite the fact that respected scientific organizations, who one might expect would know a thing or two about science, disagree with you. It is true that AGW can’t be falsified by a simple laboratory experiment, but by those standards neither can theories like evolution (at least on a macro scale), cosmology, etc. There are in fact many ways in which the underlying pieces of AGW can and are being tested (of which GIGOBuster has provided one example here and we have provided others in the past).

I’ve never advocated a free market solution. I’ve advocated the use of free market resources in the most cost effective way.

Scrubbing Co2 off of a coal plant to feed algae for bio-diesel does a number of things. It utilizes the coal reserves we have. It generates a fuel source that partially recovers Co2 put in the atmosphere. It utilizes automotive technology that is fairly close to hybrid efficiency while providing all of the functionality of a normal car.

The end result is the profit from coal is a revenue source, and the profit of bio-fuel is a a revenue source. The money circulated in both processes remain in the country in the form of wages instead of going to unfriendly countries. The cars are cheaper to produce than hybrids with far fewer parts so more people will be able to afford them and also save money maintaining them.

Going back to the free market resources and government programs it isn’t a cut and dried process. My state legislators passed laws that required power companies to reduce the consumption of electricity as well as develop alternatives to coal. :smack: Classic example of good intentions at the end of a pen with no thought to unintended consequences. What my power company did was to underwrite the cost of CFL bulbs through local stores. This was a far better idea than the Cleveland power company which bought and delivered 2 CFL bulbs to every customer. Both costs were passed on to the consumer but the folks up in Cleveland got stuck with a delivery charge so they paid a small fortune for those bulbs.

As part of this program my utility company is building a massive solar cell power plant. :smack: this is fricking Ohio, not Arizona. This is a guaranteed gold plated pile of uselessness at my expense. You want to do something useful, underwrite rebates for geothermal systems which are tremendous savers of energy both in the winter and summer. In my area we are drowning with huge aquifers so we could use a 2 well system to recirculate water.

It would be helpful if government programs were focused on the most economical changes to make instead of chasing after windmills. You want to research something, research a $5 100 watt LED light bulb that fully duplicates the function of an incandescent bulb. We have a local university in my area that just came up with Lithium Air Batteries. Here is a battery that uses available oxygen in the atmosphere. Now that’s what I’m talkin bout.

Okay, let’s get into it.

[quote=“Rhythmdvl, post:14, topic:525197”]

I’m hoping that someone on the spectrum of (whatever you want to call it) through fence sitting can take a step back from politicking and talk about the fundamentals of the science.

To put it as briefly as possible:
[li]Greenhouse gases are translucent to ultraviolet radiation. [/li][li]Greenhouse gases are opaque to infrared radiation. [/li][li]The greenhouse effect means that greenhouse gases trap energy in the atmosphere.[/ul][/li][/quote]

No one disputes the above. NO ONE. I find this is somewhat typical of those on the pro-global warming side: They quote the most-established science as being the sum total of the theory of global warming, and then challenge people to refute it. But the debate doesn’t exist here, so this is a straw man.

And this is a very broad statement that gets to the crux of the real scientific question: HOW does it react? If CO2 forcing pushes the temperature up, how does the earth respond? Some global warming advocates believe this is settled science, that we know what the world will do to an accuracy so great that we can predict temperatures a century from now to within a couple of degrees. There is legitimate dispute over this.

No question. However, you do realize that the change we’re talking about is rather small? We’re talking about an increase in CO2 of about 80 parts per million over the past 100 years. This is within the range of normal CO2 variance in the interglacial period.

[ul][li]China, India, and the rest of the developing world’s populations are six to seven times that of the developed world (figure very general, feel free to correct)[/ul][/li][/quote]

China and India are also extremely energy inefficient, and as they become wealthier, we can expect their energy efficiency to increase. That means the rate of energy consumption will not be a linear relationship to economic growth times population. No doubt their output of CO2 will increase somewhat - especially in the short term.

[ul][li]Over the next fifty years, China, India, et al will likely pursue a carbon-dependant development path.[/ul][/li][/quote]

“Likely” is a fairly broad guess. I agree that it’s likely. I just don’t know how likely. If ‘peak oil’ happens, they’ll shift rapidly to nuclear and other technologies. If the cost of wind and solar keeps declining, they may move away from fossil fuels because they aren’t economical. If an economic collapse happens in China and/or Japan or both, Asia’s economic output and energy consumption will actually decline. Perhaps substantially. There are a whole lot of unknowns here.

We don’t know that. The U.S.'s CO2 emissions are actually declining. The economy is shrinking, and energy efficiency is increasing. It’s entirely possible that energy efficiency and/or the switch to non-CO2 energy sources could increase at a rate faster than GDP growth, meaning that even in a growing economy the rate of CO2 emissions could decline. Note that China and India are undertaking large programs to build nuclear plants. Also note that China’s economic growth is bound to slow down, and probably quite dramatically, as they finish picking the low-hanging economic fruit.

This is the big question, isn’t it? Assume everyone agrees with the basic chemistry of global warming. The big question is what will it do to the earth in the long run?

There are huge unknowns here. Let’s look at them:

CO2 lifespan
We have only the vaguest idea of how long CO2 stays in the atmosphere. It’s complex, because a molecule of CO2 can go through several cycles of moving out of the atmosphere and back before it is permanently sequestered. The ‘short term’ cycle seems to be on the order of a few years. The long term cycle seems to be on the order of 50-200 years.

The difference in atmospheric accumulation over time between a 50 year lifespan and a 200 year lifespan is huge. If new CO2 is completely sequestered within 50 years, then the stuff we’re putting up today will be gone in 2060, and the accumulation by 2100 will be less than half of what it will be if the lifespan is 200 years.

What makes this more complicated is that there are feedback effects - the lifespan of CO2 in an atmosphere of 450 ppm CO2 may be dramatically different than the lifespan of CO2 in an atmosphere of 330ppm. This makes it hard to measure.

Long-Term Feedback
This is a difficult question. How does the earth respond to increases in CO2? We still don’t really know. And yet, this is really the critical question.

The basic chemistry of global warming calls for an increase from CO2 forcing of only a degree or two - not enough to worry about. To get to the scary increases of 4-8 degrees, you have to assume positive feedbacks from CO2 forcing - the one that’s most cited as being the big issue is water vapor. A warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapor. Water vapor is a potent greenhouse gas. So, the theory goes that CO2 forces temp up by a degree, which increases water vapor, which forces temperatures up even more, in a vicious positive feedback cycle.

However, there are many other feedbacks, which we only vaguely understand. A big one is cloud cover. Higher water vapor in the atmosphere will possibly mean more high clouds. This in turn will increase the Earth’s albedo and keep a lot of solar energy out of the lower atmosphere. This effect is potentially large enough to cause the temperature to swing by 2-4 degrees - maybe enough to completely countact the water vapor feedback.

Unfortunately for us, our cloud modeling is terrible. So terrible that the IPCC won’t even venture to issue one of its “Somewhat likely/somewhat unlikely” WAGs to it. The science just isn’t there yet.

Another possibility is that increased atmospheric water vapor will result in more snowfall at the poles, increasing the size of the ice caps over time and again increasing the Earth’s albedo. That was a common theory a few years ago - I don’t know what the latest research shows.

Another possible feedback mechanism is dust. If higher energy translates into more winds, particulate counts could go up in the atmosphere, cooling it.

Then there’s the various biological pumps that affect CO2 levels. A potential positive feedback is that the oceans can absorb less CO2 as they warm up, causing the lifespan to increase. Recent research indicates this effect is smaller than once thought. Negative feedbacks include the increase in plant growth when CO2 increases. This can be quite dramatic. It’s entirely possible that the result of our increased CO2 emissions will be increasingly rapid regrowth of rainforests and new pine forest.

Another feedback is algae. A large algae bloom can absorb as much carbon as the US emits in a year. We don’t have a good handle on how increased CO2 will affect algae blooms, because blooms themselves are affected by many changing variable - ocean acidification, temperature, etc.

Another feedback is ocean currents. We still don’t understand these very well. Ocean currents act as heat transfer mechanisms, moderating temperatures around the world. We’re still trying to figure out exactly what affect a warmer atmosphere will have on ocean currents.

Then there are the feedback mechanisms we don’t understand, or perhaps don’t even know exist. But the earth’s climate gets upended all the time - major volcanoes can change the temperature faster in one year than we’ll manage in several decades. CO2 levels fluctuate. Massive forest fires and other disasters can wipe out huge CO2 sinks and simultaneously release large amounts of CO2. And yet, measured on the order of decades, the temperature seems remarkably stable.


Among climatologists, there definitely is. There are indeed some dissenting anthropogenic-climate-change skeptics with relevant degrees, but they are analogous to intelligent-design theorists (if not to Young-Earth Creationist “scientists”) among biologists.