What's all this talk about "Global Warming?"

Ok, I get it in principle. My real question is what’s the debate?

I’ve seen firsthand disappearing glaciers, so I can easily buy into the assertion that things are heating up. Is the debate about the mechanism and our ability to affect it one way or the other?

Moving from GQ to GD.

General Questions Moderator

There are debates about:

  • the accuracy of the computer models used to predict future warming.

  • how accurately it is even possible to preduct future warming, given the limited temporal and spatial resolution (and noisiness) of existing historical data.

  • the accuracy of recently collected temperature data, particularly with regard to urban heat island effects.

-the magnitude of manmade (anthropogenic) global warming, when compared against the effects of other factors like volcanic emissions and solar activity.

  • cause and effect. I’ve seen one example in which atmospheric CO2 levels trailed the temperature curve - that is, the temperature went up, and THEN the CO2 level went up, suggesting that temperature is driving CO2 rather than the other way around.

-The significance of currently observed phenomena. Example: the disappearing glaciers atop Kilimanjaro. Global warming, or decrease in humidity (with related decrease in summit precip and increase in sublimation) due to local deforestation?

-the secretiveness of many climate researchers with regard to their methods and data. This is counter to the open-source nature of what science is supposed to be.

In my book, the debate has always been one of money; profits.

If the potential solutions to man-mad global warming that people have come up with didn’t threaten the profits of oil companies and the like, they wouldn’t give two turds about the ice-flows in Antarctica.

In fact, if someone came out tomorrow and said, “Man-made global warming is real and the only logical fix is to pump more coal into the atmosphere,” the topic of the next Almagamated Coal Inc’s board meeting would be, “Global Warming; The Scourge of the Universe.”

Which is hilarious, what do deniers believe is the motive for scientists to agree on GW?

Potentially there are lots of motives. There would be no papers or conferences or Nobel prizes if scientists had looked at the climate data and interpreted it as not showing a trend. There would be no motive for social change if a trend was found, but could not be pinned on man-made activity. Once the AGW bandwagon was rolling the motive is get tenure and get published by not rocking the boat too much. I’m not saying any of these are true, but lack of motive is not a convincing argument.

While I like science, and support the changes that need to be made for AGW to be mitigated, there is something cult-like about the debate that troubles me. I think that many of the non-scientists are concerned about AGW because it supports their pre-conceived notions of less cars, industrialization, consumerism, etc.

Here’s what it comes down to.

I call BS on this line of reasoning. Are you seriously suggesting that the THOUSANDS of scientists on the Intergovernmental panel on climate change got together to say “Hey, lets’ fudge the data and grab ourselves a Nobel Prize!” This is beyond ludicrous.

You further suggest that every scientist on record that climate change is real is only “sticking with the crowd” and going for tenure. You, my friend, do not have the faintest glimmering of how science works, and how many scientists would LOVE to find contrary evidence to ANY theory that would help them rise above the crowd.

You also imply that scientists all have preconceived notions about less cars, industrialization, consumerism, etc. Where do you get your stereotypes about scientists? The muppet show?

They don’t have to fudge data, they just have to change how they interpret it. 16th century scientists knew the movements of the planets in the sky precisely, but they interpreted this data to support complex models of an earth-centric universe. Science moves in lurches. There is a breakthrough, resistance to it, acceptance of it, then refinement. We thought that geology was shaped by large events, then realized that it was a gradual process, then realized that it was a combination of gradual events and sudden ones like meteor strikes and large-scale volcanism.

I think we will see a similar trend here: Man is too small to affect global climate, man is affecting global climate, man and natural trends are colliding to create climate change.

If you get over the anti-science/denier hump, there is a major debate about what do/where to sink (heh) money: mitigation (i.e., invest in GHG emission reduction) or adaptation (i.e., invest in infrastructure to manage changes).

There are also many sub-debates (i.e., if the developed world says screw it to mitigation and invests more in adaptation, should/how much should they support the developing world’s adaptation efforts).

Yup. We’re going through the resistance stage right now.

The implication that a scientist who came up with a reproducible, reliable, and factual set of evidence that there was no such thing as global warming would not publish the results is so damned silly it cannot be the case that people actually believe it. They say they believe it, because it suits their political, and economic interests to say they believe it.

Science works by collecting evidence, making falsifiable predictions, and then testing those predictions. Then you do it over again, and then a bunch of other people do it over again. Even finding out you were incorrect is science. Good science, in fact.

I am sure that irrefutable evidence that global warming was caused by insufficient use of petroleum would not result in the scientist who found out this startling fact becoming unemployed.


What I can’t fathom is why so many people of modest means are willing to carry the water for mega-corporations on this. It seems they’re conditioned to believe whatever Fixed News or Sean Halfwitty or Rash Limpballs say as gospel truth. Actual scientific evidence carries no weight whatsoever with them, all they need is someone on the other side assuring them that there is no consensus and that the global warming science is fraudulent. I can see why the head of Exxon might be trying to debunk the science, but why are ordinary citizens so quick to join their side?

There are a few reasons. Some people who I know like this are primarily older types, who do not like the idea of change, and who are scientifically illiterate. They don’t understand what it means, and in order to avoid feeling stupid, they latch onto “I don’t understand, so it’s not happening!” We’ve seen “argument through ignorance” on this very board.

Some of them may suspect the truth of AGW, but do not want to change their lifestyle in any significant way. So they insulate themselves from the truth in order to continue doing what they’re doing. Basically sticking their fingers in their ears and saying “lalalallalalalla”

Others enjoy being contrarians, because it gives them a feeling of “not following the crowd - look at how radical I am” - plus these are usually scientifically illiterate as well.

A few see this as a “right/left” argument, and because they are conditioned to agree with everything their “team” says, they will deny AGW because they see this as their “teams” stance.

A very small number understand the science and implications, but are monetarily incentivised, either directly, or because they are one of the hundreds of thousands whose employment depends upon the continued burning of fossil fuels, and they fear loss of income.

The trouble is that the carbon cycle is an equilibrium process-- there’s a certain amount of carbon going into the atmosphere and a certain amount being taken out and if those two rates are the same the CO2 concentration remains stable. So, yes, even though the vast majority of carbon emissions are natural, the addition of human related carbon emissions is what has moved the cycle out of equilibrium and lead to increasing atmospheric concentration.

There is no other explanation-- yes in the geologic record things like volcanism have been the cause of sudden climate changes like this, but there haven’t been any events like that lately.

I think this is a very legitimate argument and the discussion the world should be having about climate change. Even if by some miracle we did manage to slow or reverse the current warming trend, large climate-changing natural events will happen in the future and I think it is a generally good idea for humanity to work on being more adaptable to the way we live.

:confused: What happened to denial, anger, bargaining and depression?!

We don’t have enough time for all of that!

He was talking about the progression of science, not the progression of the opposition.

The earth has been recovering from the little ice-age of several hundred years ago. Look at the etchings of skating on the canals in Holland, or look at the records of the Pilgrims to see how different the climate was back then. This is hardly a sudden change (at least in the layperson’s terms). The earth has natural cycles. The question is whether the warming is part of this natural trend, if AGW is exacerbating the natural trend, or if AGW is the sole or primary cause. The whats are pretty straightforward, the whys are harder.

Why are non-scientists carrying the flag of the oil companies in denying AGW? You might as well ask why the left is doing the same by preventing nuclear power.

The hysteria about island countries being inundated, or a massive rise in tropical storms, turns me off. What we seem to have is a gradual climate change that will cause gradual dislocations (of the economic as well as geographic nature). Look at it from a conservative’s viewpoint: we are asking the industrialized countries to cut back while emerging countries like China and India massively increase their CO2 production, so that we can save a few million people in low lying island countries. It’s not like people who live in mainland coastal areas won’t be able to gradually move to higher ground.

I’ll add one more: some hard-core libertarians I know oppose AGW because any solution will require government intervention. They’d rather ignore AGW than give any power to the government.