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Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Warming Planet

The Northeastern United States is currently gripped with unseasonably cold weather. I'm sure the Global Warming converts will have their circumlocutions ready. It's complicated. But we're still dead right. Sure.


mijopo said...

Maybe you could be like Drudge and posts a link for every report of cold weather. It's a warming trend, I don't think the claim was that it would never get cold again.

Erik said...

I get it, and thanks for the comment... but, care to make a bet? You're a mathematical guy... how soon before catastrophe? what're the numbers?

mijopo said...

Wait, you want me to make falsifiable claims? Well, I think a fair measure is the 5 year average of temperature, or temperature anomaly over 1961-1990. I'll claim that it will continue to increase year over year. What counts as catastrophe?

Erik said...

I guess Florida flooding (unless you're a Crimson Tide fan)...

Erik said...

Incidentally, where I'm from, Eastern Wasington, we haven't had decent snow for about a decade now. As a kid we'd be knee deep in snow, building snow forts, sledding, snow everywhere. Now the winter months are essentially without snow (though I think still cold).

This unscientic anecdote is intended as admission that the climate certainly is changing. I think the problem is drawing a bead on why, and to what extent.

I'm always amused when it's pointed out that some region is getting cooler; it's immediately dismissed by GW proponents as consistent with the GW theory (and in some cases even evidence for it, like the cooling of Greenland's interior with increases in snowfall and glacier size).

So, when it's warm, that's GW. And when its cold, that's GW too.

My insistence on asking GW proponents to give me some predictions on catastrophe is simply to get the fear-mongering rhetoric to match what our best science says will actually happen. When you pin people down with this question, you don't get much. You get 60% sure that in 50 years... How convenient, given that most of us will be dead by then or too old to care.

I'm waiting for someone to say, look, in 5 years, we're screwed. And then maintain correspondence with this chap so that I can give him a big ole' "told ya it wouldn't happen" in 2013. This is a little like the "end of the world" religious messages that die painful deaths when the predicted moment of doom comes and goes.

Of course, we could all be screwed! But for everyone's sake I hope that I'm right, not the GW crowd.

eneve said...

Global Warming is a bit of a misnomer... what people are actually referring to when they use that term is Climate Change.

As an example climate change means that in the future the Sahara could be a rainforest, and the Amazon could be a desert. Things will be different, not that everything is simply getting warmer in temperature.

Climate Change is not entirely man made, although it is now being exacerbated by man.

The unfortunate truth is that very minute fluctuations within the Earth and Sun alone could cause temperatures on Earth to be very uncomfortable even if man were not present.

However, we have to reverse the damage that we have already done, if we still can. We are in much more danger of ourselves than from the natural phenomena. We have to recognize the dangers and act on them because the alternative is unfathomable.

Think of the Earth like a living person. If your temperature goes up 2 degrees you start to not feel very chipper, but the next 2 degrees it goes up you go to the hospital. We don't want to send the Earth to the hospital.

eneve said...

I want to clarify that by the Anthropic principle temperatures on Earth would not be very uncomfortable if man were not present because a person must be present in order for the question of comfortableness to even arise in the first place.

Erik said...

We couldn't predict that entirely human caused Credit Crisis; I'm correspondingly less impressed that we can predict what the entire climate of the Earth will do. It's just "ironic science" as Scientific American writer Horgan once coined for science that is based on speculative inferences from ambiguous facts, but that masquerades as science in the more robust sense of the term.

To put things in perspective, read Gleick's Chaos. A great exposition of nonlinearity in nature. If we can't predict the behavior of the weather 7 days in advance, what gives us any confidence at all that the climate will do this, that, or the other in 5, 10, 20, or 50 years?

We don't know. Just admit it. And now is where the GW folks say "yes, but if you're wrong, we're all screwed." Sure, which is why I say (eminently rational always): what can we do now that is a win-win? Like, reduce imports of foreign oil by investing in clean energy alternatives. That's just Capitalism, and in American interests. I'm game. But enough with the causes; they’re transparent, and they make us all look silly.

mijopo said...

Sorry, I don't have particular catastrophes to predict but there are lots of things published on the web, start with 'effects of global warming' on Wikipedia. Which of these things do you think are unlikely or unimportant?

BTW, regarding Gleick, there's a huge difference between trying to predict the weather on day X and trying to predict general changes to the weather system. The point about weather, from what I remember from his book, is that it's very hard to make accurate predictions about a particular datapoint within the system, it doesn't follow from that that we can't have effective models of the system itself when we change the granularity level of the predictions.

Erik said...

Mike, I think we could equally make the case that the Earth is cooling. I posted on this today. In either case, I think the idea that we know what the Earth writ larg will do in the future is fraught with profound difficulties. Our powers of inference are not so great. An a more personal note, thanks for taking the time to engage these issues. I know that reasonable people disagree. I appreciate you reading my blog, and I hope that I can continue to engage people with these important issues.