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Sunday, March 18, 2007


Rich Melmon

Here is a fundamental inconvenient truth: We don’t know how the universe works. Science offers unassailable predictability in no area. It offers only a certain kind of “truth”, an empirical “here is what we think we know now” kind of truth. All technology, from the cars we drive to the medicines we use, come directly from this kind of “truth”. It is all we have. Messy as it is, it works. All we can say about science in the end is that it works. Our modern lives are proof.

Non-scientists assail these certain kinds of “truths” all the time, often to great effect. This is not particularly hard to do. Any intellectually glib person, with no scientific training, can pick at any piece of scientific work with a little research and a little work. The rhetorical mind, largely unattached to anything but rhetorical skill, is particularly good at this sort of thing.

Americans, who overwhelmingly believe biblical “truths” more than scientific “truths”, are quite susceptible to the arguments out of such a mind. They will use their cars, take their Lipitor, and play their video games, with no questions asked. They are happy to live the good life on the backs of science, while feeling perfectly free to turn on it at any moment, manipulated by the rhetorical force of some party or other who has an axe to grind.

There is no global warming “debate” among real scientists. That the computers won’t give a precise “answer” is completely beside the point. Only a rhetorical mind would make such a demand. The computer gives precise answers to nothing in science. Global warming is no different. A new car, or a new drug, doesn’t come out of a computer. All manner of judgments are made about the science behind the car, or the drug, but the thing itself must be built (or formulated), to see if it will really work. If it doesn’t, the science is changed, and we try again. So, after all the judgments are in, it’s the doing of the thing, and the subsequent measuring of that thing, that tells of if we’re right or wrong…not the answer we get out of the computer. Sometimes it works right off. Sometimes it doesn’t. We don’t blame the computers. We don’t stop trying. We don’t wait for the rhetorical crowd, or the biblical crowd’s approval before moving forward. We just shrug, know that’s the way it is, and get on as best we can. So people who eat too much fat can have their Lipitor.

The people of the Earth are doing the doing of global warming right now. As they live their lives. And the global warming scientists are measuring that doing. And they’re trying to use their computers just like other scientists use them to design a car or formulate a drug. How do we make this Earth of ours work under these new conditions? Because Earth is a big old something that in the end has to work. Or we all f_____ die!! And these guys take this issue not as a rhetorical one, but as a serious life and death issue. They struggle with it. And make their best judgments. As if their lives depended on it. Or, more realistically, as if their grandchildren’s lives depended on it. Because they do.

I have a simple question:

Who do you trust to do this hard work, and make these hard judgments?
Here’s your choices:

The glib rhetoricians among us.
Bush and his ilk.
The bible scholars.

Or these guys who really care, and who know something about what their doing.


Rich, which camp do you put Gore in?

The reason for a lot of the resistance to the message is fears over the hidden agenda of the proponents. Me, I would let the scientists do science and de-politicize this issue.

Eric Chua YS

Hi, nice article on Global warming. I'm responding to it now :)

I am Eric Chua, a Singaporean currently residing in Australia, I am also an author on this issue and you can find my articles on my website. www.outerheavens.blogspot.com

I have a proposal on solving Global Warming that is pending for publishing if it gets enough votes, you can read the proposal at the link below and please do vote if you like it.


It's about using the Secret of the Law of Attraction to gather people
to help solve the Global Warming Issue. However, this proposal can
only be published if it gets enough votes.

Please do help spread the word around. Thanks!

Eric Chua

E. Grigsby Snarf

It has become conventional wisdom that all "real scientists" have reached agreement on the causes and effects of global warming. However, a recent British documentary--http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4520665474899458831--is filled with interviews with scientists from prestigious institutions (I counted three different MIT professors) that question the fundamental premise that increases in carbon dioxide emissions is the source of global warming. This strikes me as more than a quibble on the precision of the computer models, but instead a challenge to the understanding of the basic physics at work.

According to the documentary, the UN's IPCC has continued to list dissenting scientists as authors and contributers to their global warming reports which has undoubtedly perpetuated the perception that all "real scientists" have reached agreement on the topic. One form of evidence that we may have reached the "top" of global warming hype, is that there appears to be more frequent occurrences of the dissenters speaking out.


I am not a scientist, but I do know that real scientists subject their work to a rigorous peer review, where findings and conclusions are challenged. If the findings and theories presented stand up to the challenges, one can then consider them more or less valid. Since I am not a scientist, I am employing a simple smell test. The result of the smell test: It stinks something awful...
The smell is caused by statements like these: "There is no global warming “debate” among real scientists."



We cannot depoliticize climate change. But we can seperate the science from the sociatial/political. Both are legitmate. We must rely on the sciecne, as imperfect as it is, to guide us on the reality, causes and possible environmental consequences of human produced greenhouse gas emissions.

Our other choice is to rely on politicians and citizens- including your original observations regarding Mt kilimanjaro and the taxi driver, the first of which we might call pretend science (your single observation has no meaning by itself- pick a day and place and it might be colder there this year than last year- is this relevent data or noise?.On what day in 3002 ws the book cover picture taken?) Climate is weather patterns over 30 or so years, lots of varibility withion that time fram, but long term patterns emerge- over time.

Your second observation is an observation of a sociological phenomomom- people hear about something frequently (climate change, planatary allignments,Friday the 13th, etc.) and begin to connect them to coincident events and ascribe causation. While the shoeshine boy giving stock advice in 29 may have been a meaningful metaphor- showing that everybody who could possibly buy stocks had done so, the taxi driver represents people knowing about global warminmg. that knowledge is completely disconnected from the scientific facts of global warming. If he were the last man to buy a hybrid taxi, he might represent the attitudinal and behavior change necessary to slow the increase, or even begin the decline in ghg emissions. A comparison to 29 might then be relevent.

While not all climate scientists agree on the extent of human causation, or the potential impact of increased CO2 emissions, they, as a community, are speaking quite clearly. If and when serious peer reviewed evidence comes out that casts doubt or demolishes the current theory of climate change, we will all hear about it loud and clear, and not in an unknown British documentary. But right now the scientific evidence is very very strong and only getting stronger, that climate change is happening and we are the major cause.

We don'ty need to accept that as the definitive last word, but considering the potential consequences, it seems to me that OUR role as citizens, as a society with this knowledge, is to make decisions and take actions (including potentially no action) that reflect our values and our judgment of how best to address the issue for the best outcome. This is, and must be, a political process, simply because that is the only process we have that can deal with it.

In this context I can respect (though I don't agree with) the early Bush policy of doing nothing or little because the science is not suffiecently clear. This gave them plausable deniability, and it has been an effective strategy for many people. if thw science is not clear we have no responsivbility to act. This is also the position Yelnik took in his post- the disinterested outside observer- weighing the arguments on both sides- it is convienenet and requires no action.

The administation's current policy of admiting that the sciecne is real (even The white house science people can no longer plausably deney it. Yelnik are you listening?))and then blowing smoke about what is and can be done about it, is not worthy of respect. But it is probably much closer to the attitude and actions of the American adult population (myself included). Most people intellectually believe climate change is real, but have no ideas or opinions about what should be done about it, either as national policy or in thier own lives. This is what I see a the meaning of Gore's phrase "an inconvienent truth". Morally it is a very uncomfortable position to be in. That discomfort accounts for the recent split on the right- with many politicians (and the Wall Street Journal editorial page) more adamently denying the reality and evangelicals accepting it and saying we must act.

This is indeed very hard. None of us (nor the Chinese or Indians) want to give up what we have or hope to have and go back to some more "primitive" existance, or to pay more for cleaner versions of the same thing we now get at the China price. Our society, almost all societies are about "more" and today that means more fossil fuel based energy. This is a big hump and getting over it- changing our beleifes, more so than change our technologies is gonna take much work and time.

I think discussions like this one are part of that process. We will not be able to figure this out, and make reasonable decisions, as a society, until we have thought and talked about it a whole lot. We simply must get our fears, our frustraions, and our denials, as well as our doses of cold reality, and our hopes and ideas out in the open. this is, in fact how we change our minds.


Sibley, good comment. I fervently wish the science were separate from politics, but given the human condition, that is difficult. Worse, Global Warming is being asserted with anecdotal evidence as shallow as the Snows of Kilimanjaro - one of Gore's core supporting points. My reading of the literature says (a) the world is warming (b) people can have global impact but (c) the case for the cause being carbon dioxide has not been made. Until that case is made, spending billions on carbon taxes or cap-and-trade is a huge waste of resource. Better to invest elsewhere for alternative fuels and a green economy; and if we cannot prevent Global Warming, better to invest to ameliorate the impact - such as with higher dikes in New Orleans. The problem now is that the science has been buried by the politics, which is building its own head of steam to impose burdens on carbon.


I agree, let's clean up our rivers and lakes and keep them clean. Let's maintain the quality of our air and reduce the emission of pollutants into the air. Let's dispose of our garbage in the most environmentally friendly way. Let's get rid of unnecessary packaging to reduce the amount of garbage we produce.
Why do we need this artificial construct of global warming? Insert a conspiracy theory of your choice here.


Yelnik, the literature I’m reading is the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Specifically the Summary for Policymakers of the Working Group 1 report, "The Physical Science Basis" published in February. The report is available at http://www.ipcc.ch/. (This summary provides agreed on conclusions, not the specific evidence on which they are based. It states that the evidence is in the full report, which I have not read.)

A. Why use this report? Why trust the IPCC?

1. It was prepared by more than 2,000 scientists from all over the world working together for years. The conclusions were reached by a consensus of all scientists involved. There isn't a minority or dissenting report.
2. After the scientists reached consensus, their assessment was subjected to extensive review, by hundreds of independent scientists as well as all the sponsoring governments. The report could not be released until all governments, including the United States, signed off.
3. This makes IPCC assessments conservative. It does not make them infallible. And it is not “end of discussion, absolute proof”. But if we don’t trust this group and this process to produce an informed and reasonable assessment of the scientific understanding, who can we trust?

B. What does the report say in regard to carbon dioxide and other anthropomorphic “greenhouse gasses” being the cause of current and predicted future climate change?

The report states:
1. “The understanding of anthropogenic warming and cooling influences on climate has improved since the TAR (Third Assessment Report, published in 2001), leading to very high confidence (90%-see note #1) that the global average net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming, with a radiative forcing of +1.6 [+0.6 to +2.4] W m–2. “(note #2)

2. “Carbon dioxide is the most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide in 2005 exceeds by far the natural range over the last 650,000 years (180 to 300 ppm) as determined from ice cores. The annual carbon dioxide concentration growth rate was larger during the last 10 years (1995–2005 average: 1.9 ppm per year), than it has been since the beginning of continuous direct atmospheric measurements (1960–2005 average: 1.4 ppm per year) although there is year-to-year variability in growth rates.”

3. “The primary source of the increased atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide since the pre-industrial period results from fossil fuel use, with land-use change providing another significant but smaller contribution.”

Note # 1. In this Summary for Policymakers the following levels of confidence have been used to express expert judgments on the correctness of the underlying science: very high confidence represents at least a 9 out of 10 chance of being correct; high confidence represents about an 8 out of 10 chance of being correct.

Note # 2. Radiative forcing is a measure of the influence that a factor has in altering the balance of incoming and outgoing energy in the Earth-atmosphere system and is an index of the importance of the factor as a potential climate change mechanism. Positive forcing tends to warm the surface while negative forcing tends to cool it. In this report, radiative forcing values are for 2005 relative to pre-industrial conditions defined at 1750 and are expressed in watts per square metre (W m–2).

Note #3: Much more informative then the text I quote here is the graph on page 4 of the report titled “Radiative Forcing Components” which breaks down the various anthropogenic contributors to warming as well as those that have cooling effects and the impact of natural causes (solar irradiance). It also provides an assessed level of scientific understanding for each component. The contributions from CO2, CH4 and N2O have the highest level of scientific understanding.

Note # 4: The last report from this group in 2001 gave a 66% likelihood that climate change was happening and the primary causes were human greenhouse gas emissions. So there is a trend. As more research is done and knowledge accumulated there is greater scientific confidence in this theory.

What am I missing? What literature are you reading and trusting that I am not? Is there a level of confidence from this group that would change your reading of the literature?


Sibley, the phrase "[c]arbon dioxide is the most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas" is true but misleading. This goes to the heart of matter of trust. The phrase "anthropogenic" means man-made, and excludes water vapor. Water vapor is 95% of all greenhouse gas. Carbon dioxide is 4%. Why does the IPCC exclude water vapor?

Their estimates of 'forcing' are based on models of growing complexity. There is a very simple model which matches the data better than any of the complex models - one based on sunspot activity and radiation from the Sun. Right now the ice caps on Mars are shrinking. Where is the anthropogenic cause on Mars? The simplest explanation for both the Earth and Mars is stronger radiation from the Sun.

I do not know that the Sun is the cause of Global Warming. But usually the simplest explanation is the better one (Occam's Razor).

I do know that if we pursue carbon caps, carbon taxes and carbon sequestration, the cost of energy will go up quite a bit. This benefits constituents who are pursuing alternative energy, as well as the Limits of Growth crowd. It does not benefit the poor or middle class, and certainly not the emerging middle class in India and China. And if it proves to be simply bad science, it will have no impact on Global Warming - a colossal waste of resources and slowing of economic growth. And if Global Warming continues, we will have failed a responsibility to prepare for it and handle the disruption (fresh water, coastal dikes and low-lying cities, etc.)

Bottom line: by ignoring water vapor, and the forcing of sun radiation, the IPCC *may* be a grand consensus around poor science. Let the science continue before we push for policy.


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