Saturday, July 11, 2009

Global Warming 101

I've been asked to provide a simple, easy-to-follow look at global warming. There's a lot of misunderstanding of the subject out there, so let's take a basic look at the Big Picture.

The concept of climate change was first developed in the early 1800s. The idea of greenhouse gases was developed in the 1800s, and the term was coined by the Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius, who figured out in the 1890's that the increasing amount of CO2 in the air would warm the environment (in fact, he thought it would prevent the next ice age).

The greenhouse effect, in nature, is actually a good thing: it's the main reason that the Earth is significantly warmer than the Moon's surface (which doesn't have an atmosphere). The way it works is simple: sunlight is absorbed by the Earth, and instead of simply reflecting back into space, it's trapped by gases in the atmosphere that act as insulation. These gases, both natural and manmade, absorb and reflect parts of the infrared radiation: water vapor, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane and ozone are the primary greenhouse gases, along with entirely man-made gases such as hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons.

Left to itself, Nature is a careful balancing act. Whether you feel that it was made that way by God, or whether you want to take a more scientific approach, that is an indisputable fact. The earth could not have lasted either the billions of years that the scientists tell us, or the 6,000 years that the creationists want to promote, if this engine was out of balance. Let's use the metaphor of two machines and carbon dioxide (and we'll call it CO2, if only because it saves me typing ten letters every time - yes, I'm that lazy).

One machine puts out CO2, the other (which we'll call the "scrubber") absorbs it and cleans it up. The CO2 scrubber can absorb gases at only a certain speed, and can be overwhelmed by the amount produced by the other machine (that's because, to drop the metaphor for a second, plants can absorb CO2, but only at a fairly specific rate).

The system is set up for the CO2 machine to produce its gasses at a certain rate, which the scrubber can handle. This leaves a "safe," trace amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, and everybody's happy. But if the machine starts producing too much, you get a larger amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, and the insulating quality I described above starts to happen faster.

Now, the first machine is made up of people and animals breathing, fires, all the natural processes that go into the production of CO2. Now, suddenly, we introduce a second CO2 machine into the equation, pumping out even more CO2 (we even have a make and model for this second machine - the Industrial Corporation's "Revolution"). The scrubber can't keep up, and you have more and more CO2 in the air.
On top of this, remember that the scrubber is made up of the combined actions of all the plants in the world. And then consider this thing we call "deforestation," where more and more of the world's trees are being destroyed without anything new being planted. That's like somebody walking into the room every so often and dialing the scrubber to a lower setting, without turning down either of our machines.

This is obviously a very simplistic metaphor, but it gives a very basic overview of why the natural system isn't working the way it should, and why the gradual increase in CO2 that's been noted should be a cause for alarm.

Unfortunately, while the industries who've tied themselves to fossil fuels have waged a campaign to spread lies about climate change and global warming, these same industries openly ignored their own scientists. Back in the early 90's, the Global Climate Coalition represented these industries.
“The role of greenhouse gases in climate change is not well understood,” the coalition said in a scientific “backgrounder” provided to lawmakers and journalists through the early 1990s, adding that “scientists differ” on the issue.

But a document filed in a federal lawsuit demonstrates that even as the coalition worked to sway opinion, its own scientific and technical experts were advising that the science backing the role of greenhouse gases in global warming could not be refuted.

“The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied,” the experts wrote in an internal report compiled for the coalition in 1995.

The coalition was financed by fees from large corporations and trade groups representing the oil, coal and auto industries, among others. In 1997, the year an international climate agreement that came to be known as the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated, its budget totaled $1.68 million, according to tax records obtained by environmental groups.
So we can ignore most of what the industries are telling us, since they're only worried about how much money they can make. (This is yet another reason why allowing the "Free Market" to operate unchecked may not be the best way to run a country, incidentally.) Meanwhile, in the real world, the news is only getting worse.
Arctic sea ice thinned dramatically between the winters of 2004 and 2008, with thick older ice shrinking by the equivalent of Alaska's land area, a study using data from a NASA satellite showed.

Using information from NASA's Ice, Cloud and Land Satellite (ICESat), scientists from the US space agency and the University of Washington in Seattle estimated both the thickness and volume of the Arctic Ocean's ice cover.

ICESat allows scientists to measure changes in the thickness and volume of Arctic ice, whereas previously scientists relied only on measurements of area to determine how much of the Arctic Ocean is covered in ice.

Scientists found that Arctic sea ice thinned some seven inches (17.8 centimeters) a year, or 2.2 feet (67 centimeters) over four winters, according to the study by NASA and the University of Washington, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans.
The big picture, by the way, is called "climate change" - the term "global warming" only refers to one specific aspect of climate change. An important, and even potentially disastrous aspect, but one that can still be corrected.

26 comments:

Diogenes said...

I won't even try to debate the scientific points of climate change, aside from saying what NC says makes sense to me. But what gets me is the political side of it all.

I just don't get why hardcore conservatives (conservatives? conserve? get it?) fight against the greening of America. The US consumes far too much oil, which has to have a profound ecological impact on us, but look at who financially benefits from our oil consumption! We are pumping hundreds of billions of dollars into the hands of people who, conservatives love to point out, want to hurt us or kill us! Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela! We're virtually putting our most vital national security interests into the hands of the people we simulatenously view as our enemies (or, at least, certainly not our friends).

Try reading Joe Scarborough's new book "The :ast Best Hope". It makes some sense... but only if you approach it with an open mind.

Eman said...

"The greenhouse effect, in nature, is actually a good thing: it's the main reason that the Earth is significantly warmer than the Moon's surface (which doesn't have an atmosphere)."

The mean daytime temp. on the moon is 107*C during the Bill... Come on!!!!

It's -153*C at night...
That's lie number one...

"You're heading out into Conspiracy Theory territory if you believe that a giant international cabal of scientists is counterfeiting their evidence for some nefarious purpose."

No Bill we're not. The UN is not the weather god...OK? I don't believe ANYTHING the UN says. Nothing they have said in the last 30+ years has been correct Bill. NOTHING!!! The UN said Saddam had WMD too you know, but on that point they were right, but you don't believe them so if you didn't believe them then and you do believe them now, what's changed? The weather?

The mean temp of the United States has gone down .7 degrees in the last 9 years Bill. So we are cooling, so now it's not global warming, it's climate change, which the earth does from time to time by no fault of humans. It just does. Look at history and fact Bill.

"
But even that 2 degrees will cause significant melting in the polar regions, and even a few inches of increase in the world's oceans will be a bad thing."

^^^because^^^??? Why? The ocean should have risen alreadt somewhat. It hasn't. Why?

"Over the last 150 years, carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations have risen from 280 to nearly 380 parts per million (ppm). You know, since the start of the industrial revolution. Why would that be?"

It would be industry and people breathing Bill. We do that. But plants would benefit from this because they breath CO2 Bill. And they’d make more O2 for us Bill. Also the ocean absorbs CO2 and if there is more water Bill, it will absorb it.


"Incidentally, before anybody brings up "well, there are questions about the accuracy of carbon-14 dating! -- you know, I've tried to look into that, and the only place I've found those questions are in Christian (primarily creationist) websites. If you want to make that argument, you'll have to include a link to something from the scientific community, because it looks to me like they're pretty clear on the subject."


This is a half truth. Yes, we Christians dispute the carbon 14 dating system because it’s inaccurate and often contradicts itself. But there are many others who think it’s a pile of Diogenes…oops…

Man, I can’t do this. I won’t waste my time telling this Air Force vet over and over how wrong he is. It’s just a farce. The whole blogs a farce. I’m atta here>>

Diogenes said...

Promise?

Eman said...

Save your breath Diogenes, you'll need it to blow up your date.

Diogenes said...

Yeah, I knew it was too good to be true. Carry on, NC.

Nameless Cynic said...

No. He loves the sound of his own voice too much. (Of course, he's typing here, so maybe that joke makes less sense than I think it does...)

He's still being a twat, by the way, so I have no compunction to be polite. However, I'll make you a deal: if he starts posting without being insulting, do the same back. He's allowed to be wrong; he is, in fact, allowed to be a complete idiot. But if he agrees to act like a grownup, I think we can be big about that. Sound reasonable?

Besides, it's easy enough to point out the flaws in his arguments anyway. For example, to take his points in order:

The mean daytime temp. on the moon is 107*C during the Bill... Come on!!!! It's -153*C at night...

Yup. And now you average those temperatures, and... See, that's what insulation actually does. Remember the McDLT? "It keeps the hot side hot and..."

I don't believe ANYTHING the UN says.

Yeah, we know. They're a tool of evil, branded with the sign of the Beast, and... OK, what do you think about the scientists at every reputable university (you know, the ones not started by Pat Robertson and the like...)? Oh, right, they're part of the "liberal conspiracy"...

OK, what about the US government agencies...? Oh, yeah, Obama's in charge, and they're therefore agents of Eeevillll...

So, really, there's no scientific agency that you'll listen to? (And no, nobody credible considers the Creation Museum a "scientific agency.") Please, tell me who you consider credible on this. Meanwhile, I'll keep using the research of scientists, rather than just assuming that everybody is wrong but me and Jesus.

he mean temp of the United States has gone down .7 degrees in the last 9 years Bill. So we are cooling, so now it's not global warming, it's climate change, which the earth does from time to time by no fault of humans. It just does. Look at history and fact Bill.

Yeah, let's do that. History and fact. (By the way, why do you repeat "Bill" every 15 words or so? It seems odd.)

Now, why do you feel that the temperature will react immediately, as soon as you flick a switch? Have you ever boiled 2 cups of water? Do you notice that it takes longer to boil a gallon? It also takes longer for a larger amount to cool off. This is called "climate time lag."

Now, imagine how much longer it will take the oceans covering 75% of the earth's surface to react?

Yes, there are fluctuations in a decade. Now take the data going back a century and chart that. (You can do that here, if you want.) You'll note a gradual increase in mean temperature

(Now, if your really want to get into the deep science with this one, we can learn that "The climate is not heading towards equilibrium. Rather, the radiative imbalance is increasing with the climate steadily receiving more energy than it is radiating back out into space. And this is where the true significance of climate time lag lies. Even if the radiative imbalance were to level off at its current rate of around 0.85W/m2, it would take several decades for the climate to return to radiative equilibrium. Based on this climate lag, Hansen 2005 calculates there is still 0.6°C warming still "in the pipeline")

continued

Nameless Cynic said...

Part II

Why? The ocean should have risen alreadt somewhat. It hasn't. Why?

Uh, well, actually, yes it has.

"Those basics show an accelerating sea level rise. Anny Cazenave, who chaired the session, noted that the average change over the years from 1950 to 2000 was about 1.8mm per year. Over the last 16 years, however, she said the average was 3mm a year."

And the projections into the future are even worse: without even looking hard, I can give you the basic summary from the National Science Foundation or a joint study between Florida State, the University of Illinois and Princeton, depending on who you'd prefer.

It would be industry and people breathing Bill. We do that. But plants would benefit from this because they breath CO2 Bill. And they’d make more O2 for us Bill. Also the ocean absorbs CO2 and if there is more water Bill, it will absorb it.

There. See what I was saying about the "Bill's"? You sound kind of silly there.

And speaking of sounding kind of silly, did you actually think about that before you wrote it?

"It would be industry and people breathing" - did we talk about other pollutants? (And I didn't even mention overpopulation. That "go forth and multiply" thing really isn't working out well for us.)

"plants would benefit" - Did I mention that there's less plants? And even if there weren't, they were set up to absorb the amount of CO2 put out by nature; they can't spontaneously become more efficient at absorbing CO2 and producing oxygen.

"Also the ocean absorbs CO2 and if there is more water Bill, it will absorb it." - yup, flooding the earth would definitely take care of the pollution problem. Very biblical of you, Eric. But who's making the ark this time?

Yes, we Christians dispute the carbon 14 dating system because it’s inaccurate and often contradicts itself.

Not quite. "You Christians" dispute it because the results contradict the data in the Bible, Bishop Ussher, and your whole timeline for the creation of the earth.

Yes, it could be more accurate. So could my watch. I still get to work on time.

And the "contradictions" you're talking about have a fascinating history.

See, because carbon-14 has a half life of 5,730 ± 40 years (that's "plus or minus," if the symbol doesn't come through right), it isn't particularly effective on any material younger than that.

And C-14 dating does not date anything to 3 billion years (as one of the many arguments against it like to state). With a half life of around 5700 years, it is physically impossible for C-14 dating to do this.

(Somewhat tedious explanation with “back-of-the-envelope” math to show that: let's take 6,000 years for the half life of C-14 to make the math easier. Every 6,000 years the amount of C-14 in the sample would decrease by half. So for a 3 billion year old sample, the amount would have been halved 500,000 times. Let us also assume they found the minimum amount of C-14 in the sample possible: one atom. How much C-14 would have had to have been in the original sample? 1 atom of C-14 = (# atoms C-14 in the original) times (1/2) to the 500,000th power. Solving for the number of atoms of C-14 in the original, you get 2 times 10 to the 500,000th power, or 2 * 10^500000. The total number of atoms in the universe is estimated at most about 1 * 10^81 atoms. That is why C-14 dating can not be used to date something that old.)

(You know, I've got to set up a t-shirt shop. College students are starving for one that reads "if it weren't for Carbon-14, I wouldn't date at all.")

Eman said...

My bottom line Bill is there is no consensus on global warming. Hundreds of scientists on both sides say they are right. You know as well as I do the ones who say it’s occurring have openly displayed their intent not openly debate it. They keep opposing viewpoints out of their hearings on Capital Hill and refuse to have their idea debated, which is what science is all about. They treat opposing viewpoints like they treat creationism: You question the theory and you are thrown out the door as a kook, even when there is no real evidence of evolution. Just because someone says “I see it differently” does not make them wrong, especially if the ones saying it are just as scholarly. In your liberal world, it does make them wrong. Over and over I have said you will not acknowledge opposition, and you don’t.

So, just for the sake of argument, let’s say the planet is warming. Is it worth destroying every economy in the world spending money trying to change the weather, never knowing if the ideas to change it would succeed? Or would it be better to spend the money intelligently adjusting to what the world is doing… Kind-a like evolution???

There, nice enough for you?

Eman said...

By the way....Your "Yes it has" link goes nowhere. How ironic is that?

Nameless Cynic said...

OK, so I mentioned in my last post why the 3,200 "scientists" aren't impressing me that much. If you ask a climatologist, I'm afraid there is consensus. And the climatologists aren't afraid to debate it: you'll find all the pushback on the other side - they aren't willing to be exposed as the frauds they are.

And why, by the way, do you think that the world's economies would be destroyed if we reduced the use of fossil fuels and other polluting entities? First of all, there will be just as many jobs bringing the new tech on line - more, in fact, because they don't have a big infrastructure already in place.

Further, are you saying that American ingenuity isn't up to the challenge of inventing (if necessary) and installing this new tech? Why don't you have faith in the American spirit? In their ability to overcome adversity?

Why do you hate America?

Oh, and by the way, you're right. I probably failed to code the link right. (Or maybe it got too hot and failed.) But the oceans have been rising. It's been measured.

Eman said...

"all the pushback on the other side"

So Al Gore has been willing to debate? Thats CRAP BILL!!!

"Further, are you saying that American ingenuity isn't up to the challenge of inventing (if necessary) and installing this new tech? Why don't you have faith in the American spirit? In their ability to overcome adversity?"

No, I'm saying it will destroy the economy Bill. We don't have the money.

"Why do you hate America?"

Just shut up Bill. That insult will get you no where. I won't stand for it. I love America and am trying to save it from your ilk who wish to take us back to the 8th century. Insult me like that again and this "nice" play is over.

Understand?

I am Christian Bill, a devout one, but I won't roll over for you or anyone else who gets personal with my patriotism.

Do it again and the gloves come off.

Diogenes said...

O Napoleon, we hardly knew ye. What a putz!

Sorry if that was rude, NC, but it had to be said.

You're supposed to shut up on your own blog, by somebody who's tossed you off their own blog. He, for some reason, thinks you want to take us back to the 8th century, when he's the one doubting virtually every aspect of modern science. If anything the Little e is trying to bring the 8th century into the 21st!

And then, the "threat" (can you hear the "duh duh DUHHHHHHH in the background!) "Do it again and the gloves come off." What're ya gonna do, scratch his eyes out, little e?

We have trillions of bucks to wage an unnecessary war of choice in Iraq, but we don't have any money to save the planet for our kids and grandkids? Hell, don't worry about any deficits -- future generations will never need to pay them off if they're dead!

Eman said...

Behold Diogenes-the REAL short bus window licker.
They make special parking places for handicaped Diogenes, but you can't use them, they're for the physically handicapped. Your brain, sitting on the edge of a razor blade, would look like a bebee pellet rolling down a four lane highway.

Does your riding lawn mower have a GPS unit so you can get back to the shed?

If I were your mom, I’d have kept the stork!

You two are so gay, you both crap rainbow colored gerbils. You guys make Richard Simmons look like a lumberjack.

And if these insults upset you Dio-dink, too bad. If you get that upset over a little thing like this, you better not look down next time you pee.

Diogenes said...

Wow, that was devastating.

Eman said...

Obviously he came to a war of words unarmed. Proving once again how simple the liberal mind is.

Nameless Cynic said...

My god, Eric. You know, there's a few things you shouldn't be proud of. Aside of your complete lack of a sense of humor (dude, consider what I said - you didn't think that "why do you hate America" might have been over the top a bit? Oh, right, the right wing used that so often that you started to believe it as an insult - gotcha), you pay no attention even to the blatant hypocrisy in your own statements.

Let us consider the following:

"I am a Christian"

Now, contrast that against your entire last response. Would Jesus be proud of you for that?

Whatever did happen to "forgiveness," or even "turn the other cheek"?

Don't take this wrong, eDaddy, because I'm not trying to be rude. But you are a small-minded, egotistical, bigoted man, without the love of Christ Jesus in you.

You have all the ability to insult of a twelve-year-old on the playground, but without the attachment to reality.

I'm sorry if it bothered you that Diogenes complimented me on something. I've never met Dio, but we agree on a lot of things. I'm assuming Dio is male, but that could be entirely wrong.

And I don't care. I'm not gay, but I don't consider it an insult: people find love where they can. I married my wife 21 years ago, and still love her. The fact that you consider it an insult is more a testament to your small-mindedness than to anything else. (I could make a "repressing" comment here, but I won't.)

Oh, incidentally:

So Al Gore has been willing to debate? Thats CRAP BILL!!!

Gee, I don't know. Al Gore is the founder and chair of Alliance for Climate Protection, the co-founder and chair of Generation Investment Management, the co-founder and chair of Current TV, a member of the Board of Directors of Apple Inc., and a senior advisor to Google. He is also a partner in the venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, heading that firm's climate change solutions group. In addition, he's on the faculty of Middle Tennessee State University as a visiting professor, and was a visiting professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Fisk University, and the UCLA. He also has a very busy schedule of speeches around the country. He wrote a book in 2007 (The Assault on Reason), and I understand that he's working on another one.

But where in that schedule would you like him to fit a debate with you? I'm sure he'll be willing to find the time.

Diogenes said...

e-boy, I wasn't interested in having a "war of words". You decided to start making mindless and uncalled for threats, and you then decided to veer further downward into a series of "Yo Momma" jokes. That's just infantile, so I won't engage on that. As for engaging on the few issue-oriented comments you've made, Bill has done more than an adequate job. Bill has sliced and diced anything you've thrown against the wall, e-boy. Bill has done quite well. Bill even (sort of) avoided making the reference to the possibility of the e-boy having repressed homosexual anxieties as evidenced by your attempts to insult people by calling them gay. Bill has even tolerated all the incessant references to "Bill" :-)

Game. Set. Match. The best idea you could have, at this point, would be take your game back to the outer court (a.k.a. your blog)
and practice, baby, practice. And don't re-engage until you can return serve.

Suicidal Jane said...

Bill.

Bill.

Bill.

Bill.

I'm fairly confident, Nameless Cynic (Bill, Bill, BILL!) isn't homosexual. But if the rumor of rainbow colored gerbils is true, can I have a few for breeding purposes?

Diogenes said...

I'd offer you my herd, Jane Jane Jane Jane, but I'm afraid you might come down with lesbianism. That stuff IS highy infectious, you know.

And if you were hoping to score some of them from Bill Bill Bill Bill, forget it. He's at a playground right now, trying to tempt some kindergartners into the cult of rainbowgerbilism as we speak.

Suicidal Jane said...

Lesbianism is great. Less chance of getting an STD.

Diogenes said...

I gotta tell you, I've been thinking about your commment off and on all evening. I'm not sure that it does, indeed, lessen the odds of getting an STD, but I don't think we want or need to discuss this in sufficient detail as to allow us to reach a conclusion. The whole climate chnage issue is enough for me....

Although NC (I'm sorry:Bill, Bill, BILL!!!!!) might want to opine once he gets back from the playground.)

(Note to e-boy: the playground thing is what us grown-ups call "sarcasm". It's not true. It was meant in jest. So please don't feel a need to climb up on your widdle soapbox/pulpit and pontificate yet again.)

Anonymous said...

In June this year, New York temperatures never made it past 85° F; Chicago saw 12 days of 70° F and below, and Western Pennsylvania nights have dipped into the mid-50s. Temps in Calgary, Canada, have been below average since November, with Environment Canada Senior Climatologist David Phillips saying, "For seven months, it's really been a long bout of cold weather." Across the Great Lakes and Northeast in general, the "hot" months haven't been this cold in more than a decade, prompting some to label 2009 "The Year Without True Summer."

AccuWeather.com Chief Meteorologist and Expert Long Range Forecaster Joe Bastardi attributes the cold spell in part to "the combination of El NiƱo and worldwide volcanic activity over the past six to nine months." But going back even further, global temperatures have dropped by 0.74° F since the 2006 release of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth." How ... inconvenient.

There is still hope for you global warming alarmists, though, as Bastardi predicts a whopping five to 10 days of "more typical summer weather" in the Northeast and Great Lakes in late July and early August -- that is, before the eastern U.S. plunges into a colder- and snowier-than-normal winter.

Eman said...

Wow... Good point.
Wish I'd have made it.

Interestingly enough this weather was not in Al Gore's "Forecast" so I guess, in liberal speak, that means he didn't mean what he said, he meant the opposit or he was taken out of context, or maybe...just maybe, it fell flat.

Diogenes said...

Bill, I have a question for you, Bill, since you have a much better understanding, Bill, of climate change issues than I do, Bill.

Bill, should we really be studying the nightly weather reports on AccuWeather.com, Bill, in order to get meaningful data on climate change, Bill? That seems like awfully "small ball", Bill, when you're talking, Bill, about global change over time, Bill.

What say you, Bill?

(BTW, Bill, including all these stupid "Bills" is not as easy, Bill, as it looks.)

Diogenes said...

Talk about timely: Nate Silver has an interesting challenge that he's issued to climate change skeptics on his statistical political blog:

http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2009/07/challenge-to-climate-change-skeptics.html

Maybe A-J and e-boy and the ever-courageous "Anonymous" want to put their money where their mouth is?

Nameless Cynic said...

OK, let's run past this one again.

Climate change is not a light switch. You have to affect the temperature of the zillions of gallons of water, which takes quite a while. So, yes, there are fluctuations. Sadly, those fluctuations are giving us a net result of more heat, when taken in total. Or to put it a more sciency way,

The climate is not heading towards equilibrium. Rather, the radiative imbalance is increasing with the climate steadily receiving more energy than it is radiating back out into space. And this is where the true significance of climate time lag lies. Even if the radiative imbalance were to level off at its current rate of around 0.85W/m2, it would take several decades for the climate to return to radiative equilibrium. Based on this climate lag, Hansen 2005 calculates there is still 0.6°C warming still "in the pipeline"