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October 20, 2009

Global Warming's Agenda

No Finite Resources; Just Finite Thinking

There isn't a lot to laugh about in the news these days, but an item that did bring a smile tinged with a gleam of hope that the world might be coming to its senses was an opinion piece by Lawrence Solomon in The Register, October 3, 2009, with a sub-head reading THE GLOBAL WARMING SCARE IS ALL OVER BUT THE SHOUTING. It begins:

The great global warming scare is over--it is well past its peak, very much a spent force, sputtering in fits and starts to a whimpering end. You may not know this yet. Or rather, you may know it but don’t want to acknowledge it until every one else does, and that won’t happen until the press, much of which also knows it, formally acknowledges it.

Recovering their Senses
Polls confirm that the public in the US, in Britain--the most systematically propagandized, whose government has been in the forefront of promoting the crusade--and in Australia are tired of the whole business, no longer believe the cries of "Wolf!" that they've been hearing for years, and rank fears of the alleged consequences of human-induced climate change anywhere to flat bottom of concerns that they worry about. Accuracy In Media reports a general cooling of receptivity across the media front toward the things they've been vigorously and uncritically repeating, while prestigious scientific journals that up to now have apparently suspended their critical faculties to endorse the chorus of political correctness seem to be testing the waters toward having second thoughts. Sometimes things have a ring of too-good-to-be-true about them that triggers suspicious reflexes. But then again, when they've just about reached rock bottom, the only way left to go is up. So what kinds of goings-on might have finally managed to initiate growing skepticism on a widespread basis?

The Disasters that Weren't
Well, for a start the list of everything and its opposite that have been blamed on global warming swelled to truly hilarious proportions, while the dire predictions in similar vein haven't happened and aren't happening. Sea levels have been rising at a modest rate of around eight inches per century for millennia, and despite messages to the contrary, are doing nothing abnormal now. Antarctic ice is growing in extent and thickness, not melting away--in fact the melt rates are at record lows since satellite measurements began. Ice in the Arctic has not only recovered from the thinning experienced during the summer (comparable to that observed during the 1930s), but is now 20% greater in extent than the average for this time of fall. The last link also provides an entertaining account of how an expedition that set out to confirm preconceived notions that the Arctic ice was thinning found it to be just the opposite, and members blithely unprepared for blizzard winds of 40 knots and temperatures of 40 degrees below zero ran out of food, suffered from frost-bite, and had to be airlifted to safety. Anthony Watts's excellent web site has more on what he describes as "a badly executed public-relations stunt" intended to be passed off as science. Polar bear populations are thriving and have managed to get through far warmer periods in the past without becoming extinct. Hurricane activity is at the lowest level since satellite monitoring and observation began in 1979--and in any case, the attempt to link hurricanes to global warming makes no sense, since the warming that the models predict occurs mainly at higher latitudes, reducing the temperature differential with the tropics, which is what drives storm intensities. Coral off Australia's Great Barrier Reef has shown rapid recovery from bleaching events that many ascribed to global warming, while heavy rains and flooding in the American East Coast and Midwest, routinely blamed on the same cause, turn out to have coincided with spells of record cold. On the other hand, the same cause is blamed for devastating drought and heavy rains in different parts of Africa at the same time. It seems that Nature hasn't been adequately briefed on what she's supposed to do.

Computer Games Versus Reality
And then, the inexorable warming which the world has been told would be caused by increasing levels of carbon dioxide brought about (allegedly) by human activities stopped about eleven years ago, and since then has gone into reverse--see for example the UK's Telegraph, the BBC, and Anthony Watts again. It was never much of a theory anyway. Whereas the upswing in carbon dioxide that we're told is to blame didn't get under way until around 1950 with postwar industrialization of the Third World, global temperatures showed a cooling trend from 1878 to around 1910, a reversal to warming that lasted to the early 1940s, a downturn into cooling again through to the mid 1970s (provoking wild predictions about global catastrophe from a new ice age, which most people today have forgotten or never knew about), and then warming again to 1998. So all that's left in a century's worth of records of any significant correlation between rising temperature and CO2 is the twenty-something years prior to 1998--which is nevertheless staunchly proclaimed as "proving" the theory.

In fact CO2 was never a convincing candidate for the role of villain--see previous postings on how much of a minor player it is as a temperature driver, and why an increase would be good news more than bad. As for the worth of predictions drawn from computer climate modeling at the present state of the art, a couple of sobering evaluations are given here and here. Regardless of all this, the modelers adamantly insist that they are able to predict confidently what the climate will be doing in individual regions down to 25 kilometers square 50 years from now, or even to the end of the century. This, despite the fact that the models not only failed to predict the cessation of warming in 1998, but consistently exaggerated the rate of warming that occurred during the 22 years before, strongly suggesting that the real cause(s) of the trends that did coincide for a while had little or nothing to do with the assumptions that the models were based on. We're told that the cooling since 1998 was due to unexpected "natural causes" that overwhelmed the effect that should have been observed. But when the cycle changes from cooling to warming, natural causes suddenly have nothing to do with it, and 30 years from now (i.e. outside the range of any potential threats to funding or credibility), the underlying signature of human-initiated warming will reassert itself. How can they possibly know? From the same models whose failure the argument is being invoked to defend. Now, 30 years seems to be about the time we'd expect for the cooling part of the cycle that appears to have begun to reverse back into a warming phase again. What's the betting that when it happens, it will be stridently seized upon as proof that the prophecy was right all along? (Assuming anybody still cares by then.)

Incidentally, now that the temperature decline from 1998 is generally acknowledged and can't be dismissed, the story from a few years back is being resurrected that 1998 was the warmest in the last 100 years, and 5 of the hottest years on record occured after 1980. In fact the warmest year was 1934, with 3 of the warmest years occurring before 1940, and 1921 coming in 3rd, not 2006 as had been claimed--all of which is said to be due to a "mathematical error".

A Tree-Ring Circus
But for models to be taken seriously, they need to be backed by observational data showing that the real world is indeed behaving according to their predictions. So what do you do when the real world fails to oblige? Well, the only way is to cook the numbers to fit the theory.

A couple of earlier pieces that I posted in January, 2005 and August, 2007 talked about the notorious "Hockey Stick" graph that was engineered to turn the net temperature rise of 0.6oC that took place through the 20th century (already negated by the decline since 1998) into a major crisis in which temperatures soared off the charts after being stable for 900 years. The "Medieval Warm Period" of around 1100 AD was kept off the radar, and the "Little Ice Age," centered on the 1600s disappeared. Despite having been discredited, this is still widely used as a graphic to scare those who uncritically accept whatever is served up on their TV screen, and as an article of faith for true believers who are impervious to inconvenient data anyway. But its general rejection in more demanding circles evidently proved sufficient grounds for an attempt to revive it in a disguised form . . . with apparently similar results.

Two of the data sets used in compiling the information to generate the original curve, that do have a hockey-stick shape, have continued to reappear and be cited as evidence that the trend is real nonetheless. They rely on tree-ring measurements as a proxy for temperature, which is complex subject to begin with, since tree rings are affected by such other factors as humidity, rainfall, nutrient uptake, diseases, and pests, and teasing out the part of the record that can be reliably ascribed to temperature is a tricky business. But beyond that, it turns out that when critical researchers finally obtained the original data after encountering strenuous efforts to withold them, it turned out that they were taken from a sample of just 12 trees seemingly selected from a set of 252 to yield the desired result. When data from the full set--which includes 34 from the same vicinity as the selected 12--are included, nothing remarkable stands out about the 20th century, and warmer temperatures are indicated for the Middle Ages. See here for an account by one of the researchers involved in checking the story. And a further discussion here

Graphs posted by Anthony Watts provide a stunning illustration of how the cherry-picked data transform an actual cooling trend over the last 10 years into the non-existent temperature runaway that the world has been fed. The piece also give an insight to the way these so-called scientific studies are rigged to yield the politically desired results.

The Dog Ate The Data
At least, after a hard fight, the skeptics above were able to get their hands on the original data. Attempts to procure the original data that constitutes the source for global temperature record most cited by the UN and the IPCC proved not so fortunate. These records are maintained by the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the UK's University of East Anglia, which for years has refused to release the raw weather station data and details of its processing methods for inspection, except to hand-picked academics. After fending off all comers with a variety of excuses, when pressured under Freedom of Information Act requests, the CRU claimed it had destroyed all the original data due to lack of storage space (!), and the world would just have to accept the adjusted version and take their word for it. See here for more of the story. A priceless reason for stonewalling, given to an Australian scientist was: "We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?" So much for falsifiability, reproducibility, and the self-correcting mechanism of science.

Floy Lilley at the Lew Rockwell Column describes more cases of misleading or falsified claims, including that of an EPA scientist who had his 100-page report criticising the Agency's information quality and procedures suppressed, his unit closed down, and was ordered to cease working on global warming issues.

You'd think that all this would be sufficient reason for second thoughts and some serious re-examination on the part of governments and other institutions genuinely concerned with discharging a duty of accurately informing the citizenry and representing their best interests. Instead, we have the cries of imminent and irreversible doom growing even shriller, and desperate moves that give every appearance of being aimed at rushing through legislation that will devastate economies and impoverish everyone before more of the world wakes up to what's really going on. So, what is going on?

The Malthusian Specter
Yes, there's lots of short-term opportunism in the form of cashing in on carbon credits, jumping on bandwagons to screw the competition, and suchlike. But beneath all that, the common ideological factor that overrides objectivity and commands belief rightly described as religious fervor, is, in two words, population control. Or at least, an attempt to impose it. For what all the scare stories and the calls for a quasi-religious crusade to accept the necessity of self-sacrifice and lower quality of life to save the planet provide a pretext for is an agenda to control the supply of energy and price it beyond the means of most people in all but rationed amounts. The availability and cheapness of energy is probably the single best measure of the wealth and living standards that a society has attained, and will be reflected in the size to which its population can grow. But not everyone agrees that letting populations grow to the level that advanced technology can support is a good thing. In particular, the empowered and advantaged, whose influence has a lot to say about how the world is run and how the public's perceptions are shaped, would prefer not to see their place in the sun at the top of the social pyramid being crowded by overproducing rabble spilling up from the levels below.

There's nothing especially new about this. No previous economy has ever been able to support more than a privileged minority at reasonable standards of comfort and affluence. In early days there were a few privileged families, later an entire class, and in more recent times a minority of privileged nations. When a privileged group becomes entrenched, two things tend to happen. First, a rationale is constructed, based on religion, contrived science, or some other belief system, to justify the existing social order and induce the masses to accept their inferior lot. Second, ideological reasons are found, along with hired hands or genuine disciples to promote them, as to why the progress that has brought things to this point has gone as far as it sensibly can and should stop right now.

Today we see it as plugging of the essentially Malthusian ideology that sees a planet with finite resources straining to support an exponentially growing population until either nature imposes limits through its traditional agencies of famine, disease, and war, or we impose artificial ones by rationing energy and curtailing growth, and the majority accept simpler lifestyles. Anything else will simply produce more people than we can we can reasonably support, and hasten the day when everything runs out.

This is a legitimate view to hold. But it's a social and political issue, and should be openly recognized and treated as such. Trumped up phony science will eventually be refuted, and the main casualty will be trust in any science--which is already happening.

Human Factors
My own view is that the fears are misplaced. Applying observed dynamics of animal populations to human societies is to deny the qualities that set humans apart. Unlike animals, who simply consume resources and react to their circumstances with fixed behavior patterns, humans create new resources and are capable of adapting their behavior to the new conditions that they bring about. In the circumstances of early agricultural communities, with no life insurance, retirement pensions, social security, or machines to do the work, children are an economic asset. And with high infant mortality and all manner of risks lying in wait between cradle and grave, having large families to ensure at least a couple of strong sons to run the farm and provide for one's old age makes good sense. But with urbanization and industrialization, children become expensive to house, feed, and educate, and family sizes plummet. In addition, traditional values give way to more liberal attitudes and lifestyles that don't presume early marriage and the raising of families to be the only respectable aim in life in the first place. The result is that as populations reach higher levels of security and well-being, they become self-limiting in numbers in ways that Thomas Malthus never dreamed of. In the meantime, while the old ways and customs continue to exist alongside rising longevity and falling mortality, of course populations are going to increase. So it was in Europe in the 18th to 19th centuries, in North America in the 19th–20th, and today it's happening across the Third World. It's a sign that beyond more immediate and local stresses--real enough though they may be--over the longer term things are getting better, not worse.

A resource is not a resource until the knowledge and the means exist to make use of it. Human civilization is a continuation at the level of applied intelligence of the evolutionary process that invented the photosynthesis industry, opening up the entire surface of the oceans as a biomass factory; the first space suit in the form of the amniotic egg, which enabled life to launch itself out of the oceans and colonize the alien environment of dry land; and the hemoglobin molecule to harness oxygen as a higher-power energy source. New technologies create new resources--and always on a scale that dwarfs everything that went before. Tomorrow's needs never have to be met by yesterday's methods. A universe of effectively limitless materials and energy, accessible through the unbounded human capacity for knowledge, lies waiting for a civilization with the nerve and determination to go out and claim it. What it needs is leadership with the vision to see the potential, the courage to stand against widespread but misguided passions and preconceptions, and the caliber of personality to motivate the world's peoples into making it happen. This, if anything, is the vital resource that's desperately lacking at the present time.

See here for previous global warming posts

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