Science can be more than a bit of religion. Mind you, I am not talking mathematics. Math is often pure and perfect. Science is dirty.
There is a story by Richard Dawkins, the high priest of science, where he describes a classroom setting and a professor and a student that are having a debate over the proof of a concept. When the student showed that his idea was true, the professor graciously said, "Good job, I'm glad to see science happening." Then the classroom breaks into applause at how the scientific method happened.
This nice little anecdotal story belongs in the fiction section of the bookstore. In reality, I see most of science of having as much bias (ignoring math) as any other field or endeavor. The issue is the the "problem of the mind and biases."
The problem with the mind is that it is so powerful in its ability to define reality that most people cannot escape this. It is the same for both Christians and non-Christians. We see what we think that we should see. I am not blaming the scientist, but I am saying that the scientists are no more and no less susceptible than anybody else. Once we expect to see something, we do see it.
So, with that lengthy preamble, let us dive into Global Warming.
Take the advent of global warming as driven by our carbon dioxide footprint. If you listen to public radio, the impacts of global warming is said so often that it must be one of the most often theme that is said.
Drought in Australia? Human carbon dioxide emissions.
Hurricane Ike? Carbon dioxide from humans.
The Netherlands? Soon to be impacted from carbon dioxide when the sea rises.
With the massive impact of the global warming, you would think that the information on this would be widespread and greatly debated. Yet, I have had many conversations about this with people. On both sides of the debate is an amazing lack of knowledge at the lay level.
Even worse, I often find the liberals that believe in global warming, and want the US bought into the Kyoto accord, but have yet little idea of a fundamental tenet:
a. What will this cost?
b. What will be the benefit?
c. What is the payoff?
Instead, there is banal whining about "well our children will have to pay for it." My question is, "What will they have to pay?"
There are the conservatives that don't believe the idea of global warming, but my conservative friends haven't even the most passing knowledge of the data behind those facts. They just say "well I don't feel hotter." They really have abdicated their responsibility to understand the facts.
So, let's talk about global warming at a high level. Conservative or liberal, we should have some idea of the concepts of global warming, and what that means for us.
There are three main ideas, and each much be looked at separately.
Carbon dioxide (or CO2 in chemistry terms) as the source of global warming
So here is the logic. Man has been introducing industry. This industry releases Carbon Dioxide or CO2. This CO2 increases something called greenhouse gases. These greenhouse gas will trap more heat in the earth's atmosphere. The earth will heat up. However, the heating up just doesn't mean that the earth gets a little hotter. Instead, this increase in heat unleashes cooler weather and hotter weather. It unleashes hurricanes and tornadoes. The impact of the warming is much higher than the movement in temperature.
The first rule of science is to try to watch out for correlation vs causation.
I often am very, very happy that I only have one wife and an exceptionally strong marriage. However, I look at myself and many, many times I think to myself "anybody could live with my wife. She is cheery, full of laughter, and very helpful. What person would ever get divorce living with her?" In other words, I can't take credit for a good marriage. Just because I'm in a good marriage, doesn't mean that I am the reason that the marriage is good.
Climate warming is a bit like this. It is very true that C02 is coming up in concentrations. However, most people don't understand that we measure C02 in parts per MILLION. In other words, CO2 is almost non-existent. If you read any reports on climate change that blames CO2, you will see scary graphs. Almost all of these are shown in highly deceptive fashions designed to create an emotive result.
Let's talk a bit about CO2. Perhaps you have fallen asleep or heard that people will fall asleep in high concentrations of CO2. This is at the 1% level. If the CO2 levels get to 7-10%, then most people will get dizzy. Let's look at a chart that shows the concentration of CO2 at Mauna, HI since 1959. The bottom of the chart is 0% CO2, and the top of the chart is 1%, where we would start to feel drowsy, but nowhere near toxic levels that would immediately kill you.
CO2 is a colorless and odorless gas. For all practical purposes, it very inert. You should be very familiar with it. Every time that you buy a soda pop, the bubbles in the water is carbon dioxide. If CO2 was a highly toxic substance, you certainly would not be drinking it!
Now, let's go back to the chart above.
As can see from the chart, the levels of carbon dioxide have increased and incredible 7 one thousandths of 1% over forty years. In other words, the increases in the percentage of carbon dioxide is unmeasurable with all but the most sophisticated equipment.
Now, mind you, you should not wallow in CO2 as it can create carbonic acid inside of your body. According to Wikipedia, any above one half of one percentage (which is equivalent to half way up the graph) is going to have bad health effects. However, as you can see, the amount of CO2 in the air is basically flat. Now, in recent years, I have read some papers that say "well humans may not do well in environments higher than 400 ppm. However, as far as I'm concerned, the concern that 400 ppm would hurt in anyway is simply laughable.
The best data we have is from people that have extensive times on nuclear submarines. A number of years ago, our sailors were exposed commonly to concentrations of CO2 of 3000-4000 (on averge) ppm without any clear deleterious effects according to research published by the US Navy.
Considering our long term use of CO2 and the lack of any good data showing that it harmful, we should not be worrying about slightly higher levels in our atmosphere.
If you believe in an old earth, as I do, then you can start looking at this question along even longer timelines. Having slightly higher levels of CO2 is a minor nit if you consider that higher levels of CO2 have been the norm over the span of the earth's time line.
Once you start to examine the earth's atmosphere in terms of many millions of years, the story even becomes a lot more clear. This site has some nice graphics of the overall temperature of the earth.
If you look to the right, there is a chart that shows both the CO2 levels and the temperature of the earth. (This chart comes up a bit small, but you can click on it to see a bigger picture. However, let me also describe this to you.)
The chart shows the average temperature of the earth over the last 600 million years. The Co2 levels are in black. The temperature is in blue. Now take a look at 450M years ago. The CO2 levels are very, very high. Yet the temperature plunges down to 12C. This caused what is known as the Ordovician–Silurian Extinction. So now we have an extremely cold earth. So cold that it caused massive change. Yet, the CO2 levels were much, much higher than today's environment. It should strike you as strange. There have been clear times where CO2 has been much, much higher than today, yet the temperature was much, much colder.
Some say that there was a massive bit of gamma radiation coming from a star 6,000 light years away that impacted our earth and this created a special condition that dropped the temperature. They think that it may have stripped away all the ozone, and this somehow triggered a massive ice age. Regardless if this is true or not, the issue is clear. The earth has seen much greater swings in temperature, and some how it has been able to survive them.
In reality, the earth is about as cold as it has ever been. Now, we may not be at the absolute bottom, but we are very, very close to the absolute bottom. The earth is running a little over 12C as an average temperature. This is vastly different that the majority of the past, where the earth have been running at 22C as an average.
We can get a bit more of a picture around this if we look at a much smaller time period. One of the neatest things that we been able to use to determine "short term" time periods are the polar ice caps. Humans had gone to the poles, and we drill down into the ice. The ice is like layers of a cake, with the lower levels being deposited many thousands of years ago. Just like looking at tree rings, we can determine the amount of snow fall, and even the atmosphere conditions that were present. This data can be use to figure out the amount of amount of ice that was deposited. If you look at the chart above, you can see a clear cycle in the ice that is deposited.
There are very clear cycles in how much ice accumulates over the last half of million years. What we are seeing now looks just like the same pattern as we have always seen.
We are actually living in an ice age. This is called Quaternary glaciation in most people's book. The earth simply has been abnormally cold for many millions of years. The problem with ice ages is that we really don't understand what creates them or gets rid of them. There is evidence that we've had ice ages when CO2 has been high, and ice ages when it has been very low.
Inside of these rather large cycles, we have a smaller "ice age" cycle. For example, just 11,000 years ago, we had our ice cycle. We can take core samples from the ice caps to discover the rate of ice accumulation. The chart above is a chart from Wikipedia. You can see that roughly every 100,000 to 150,000 years, ice either builds up or doesn't build up. The movement from build to non-build is very quickly.
With or without a massive influx from humans, it is clearer that we have seen a massive change in how much ice has been building up over the last 11,000 years.
Really, if the earth is warming because of a greenhouse effect, it is not carbon dioxide driving this. There is really one greenhouse gas that we need to worry about.
That is water vapor.
Here is a nice little chart from this web site.
One of the best things about the industry that I am in is the tools that we use to find "root cause." Let's us say that you have a customer that wants a hard drive that fails less. So, you have customers start to ship you the hard drives back and asks you why they failed.
What you will find out that hard drives fail for a variety of things. So, we graph out all the ways a hard drive fails, and we have found that we always need to start to focus on fixing the issues that are the "top hitters."
We need to do the same with the greenhouse gases that we have. We need to figure out what is the contribution to the "problem" of greenhouse gases.
So, what is the #1 greenhouse gas? The answer is water vapor. As a major of fact, water vapor so dominates the results, everything else is inconsequential to the equation.
Right around 3.5% of the green house gas is from carbon dioxide. 95% of the effect of the green house gas is caused by good old water vapor. The problem become even more clear when we start to talk about man's contribution to CO2. This is estimated as anywhere from man is creating 30% of the problem for the increases in the amount of CO2 that is in the air down to around 3-4% of the CO2 that is in the air is due to man. There has always been CO2 in the atmosphere, and what is exceptionally clear is that we are at a very, very low level of CO2 in the air in this time.
As you might expect, one of the major issue that we have is no clear cause and effect of man's output of carbon dioxide and the concentration of the carbon dioxide that is in the air. The chart from the side is from this site.You can see that there are two lines. One of the lines show the concentration of CO2 in the air. The other line shows the impact of man's introduction of CO2 into the air after the industrial revolution.
This is one of the ironic charts that people hope to show the "horrible impact of man," and if you can just read the chart, you can see how it directly does not support the ideas.
The first curve is the impact of concentration of CO2 in the air. If you compare this chart to my earlier chart, you will see that they nicely line up with each other, with one exception. This chart cut the Y-Axis so that it starts at 280 ppm before the industrial age. This means that our atmosphere was approximately .03% (3 one hundredths of one percent) CO2. Now, after hundreds of years of carbon emission, the level has gone up to .04% (4 one hundredths of one percent).
By the way, you should be able to clearly see that before the industrial revolution, the CO2 in the air was going up. Why? What was causing it to go up, even though we had no massive influx of human activity to drive it.
Now, lets take a couple of key data points off of the chart, and you will have to work with me. Often when we see a chart like this, we simply don't understand that it drives an emotive reaction. We see two lines going up, and we say "oh, they must be related." A way of getting around this is to look at case examples of the data off the graph.
*The CO2 concentration was 300 ppm
*The man made Metric Tons was 1 million
*The CO2 concentration was 370 ppm
*The man made M Metric Tons was 6.5 million
The contribution from made went up 650%. The free CO2 went up 23%. Anybody can see that if the two numbers are correlated the leverage between them is tiny. In other words, man had to ramp his production like mad, and even then the impact on the CO2 levels look to be tiny.
What you will often here is "well CO2 is up 23%! But remember that it is water vapor that is driving force in the greenhouse effect. This means that CO2 may have gone from 4% of the green house gases to 5% of the green house gas in the atmosphere. Big deal. This is not the primary problem that we have.
We can go back to before the industrial revolution, and if man is 100% responsible for all of the increases in the CO2 levels increasing (but since the levels were rising before our industries arrived, this is highly doubtful), we would be able to "lower" the green house gas by 1%.
No matter how you cut the data, man can not simply impact our global enough to seriously impact global climate conditions to the extent of the concerns that are being voiced.
Now, let us add an even more jade eye to the subject. Let's say that we give in, and agree with all the dire projections that are being given out. Wikipedia has a nice chart of all the models that are out and the total increase in temperature that could happen. Here is the chart.
100 years from now, the earth is going to be somewhere between 2 to 4.5" degrees hotter than it is today. Shocking. How will we ever survive such a massive swing in our temperature.
I'm obviously being sarcastic. When compared with the span of the earth, an increase in temperature of this swing is no where outside the norms of what we might expect. Will it cause us to re-examine where we live? The answer is yes. Is it a global catastrophe? The answer is no. Even under these highly pessimistic models. The earth has been colder. The earth has been hotter. We were able to survive all of this.
Now, you might look at me and say, "well that guy does not believe in all this stuff. I bet he is driving a big SUV."
The answer is no. As far as I know, I am probably the most "green" person that I know. Only, I don't do it because I believe in global warming. I do it because of two things:
2. Peak Oil
Even if Global Warming and CO2 impacts are not meaningful, the same behavior that solves for the perceived problems of Green house gases, also solves truly difficult problems.
We are doing the right thing for all the wrong reasons.
As a final shot, here is a short video by Bob Carter. Well worth your time.