For my regular visitors, if you find that this blog hasn't been updating much lately, chances are pretty good I've been spending my writing energy on my companion blog. Feel free to pop over to Home is Where the Central Cardio-pulmonary Organ Is, and see what else has been going on.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

My pet peeve

This article discusses the use of "carbon" when "CO2" is actually meant - which totally drives me bonkers. I just can't understand why it's done so often. I mean really... one's a solid, one's a gas. Is ti really that difficult to tell them apart???

We are told we must ‘reduce carbon’ or ‘carbon emissions’. To do this, we need to engage in ‘carbon trading’ and ‘carbon capture and storage’ and even build up ‘carbon credits’ to offset our ‘carbon liabilities’.

What on Earth is all that about? ‘Carbon’ is a solid, naturally occurring, non-toxic element found in all living things. Carbon forms thousands of compounds, much more than any other element. Everything from medicines to trees to oil to our own bodies and those of all other creatures are made of carbon compounds.

Ignoring the oxygen atoms and calling CO2 merely 'carbon' makes about as much sense as ignoring the oxygen in water (H2O) and calling it 'hydrogen'. That might be an effective PR tool for anti-hydro power campaigners but most of the public would regard such a communications trick as ridiculous. The 'CO2 is carbon' mistake is no less farcical. Throwing a high graphite pencil up into the air could be considered as more a ‘carbon emission’ than is the CO2 from coal stations.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

A fascinating read

I am of the personal belief that we humans have an ingrained need to worship. Something. Anything. It seems to me that there is an innate desire to seek out something greater and more powerful than ourselves, and turn to it as a source of inspiration and solace - or justification for our atrocities.

Religion fills that need. In an increasingly secular society, that need doesn't go away. Instead, people who turn their backs on religion, seem to fill that need with something else, and turn *it* into their religion. Human intellect, science, money, philosophical concepts, material goods, current trends, etc. - all these things have been used to fill that need.

So it was with interest that I found this speech from Michael Crichton on Environmentalism as Religion, written in 2003. It's a very interesting read.


Monday, January 21, 2008

The mentality

One of the problems with debating AGW and catastrophic climate change with alarmists is that factual data are irrelevant. It's their mentality that is the true challenge. Here's one example.

“Human happiness, and certainly human fecundity, are not as important as a wild and healthy planet. I know social scientists who remind me that people are part of nature, but it isn’t true. Somewhere along the line – at about a billion years ago – we quit the contract and became a cancer. We have become a plague upon ourselves and upon the Earth. It is cosmically unlikely that the developed world will choose to end its orgy of fossil energy consumption, and the Third World its suicidal consumption of landscape. Until such time as Homo Sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along.”

David Graber, research biologist, U.S. National Park Service
First, the facts (or lack of them): 1 billion years ago, we didn't exist. Not only did we not exist, neither did life on land, nor even hard shelled sea life.

Second, the mentality: humans are not only worth less than other life on earth, we are apparently not part of nature at all. Worse, we are a cancer. A plague. One that would be better to kill off by some virus than to continue to exist on this planet.

This is the biggest problem when dealing with alarmists. Graber is a scientist, yet he not only can't get his facts straight, he chooses to ignore the facts in favour of his anti-humanist personal opinion. With this sort of mentality, it doesn't matter what the facts are, since the (usually emotional) conclusion has already been reached.


Bigger problems

Here's a look at some real problems that need to be - and can be - fixed.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Book Review: Heat Part three


Part One
Part Two

I have to quickly run through this, as I’m running out of time to return the book. :-P

Here, we move on to chapter two, The Denial Industry. This is where, in my opinion, Monbiot looses it completely! The chapter is basically all about some vast conspiracy theory, not only by Big Oil, but Big Tobacco, too. As far as the author seems to be concerned, Big Oil (namely Exxon) and Big Tobacco (namely Philip Morris) have been diligently and deliberately buying up scientists (and the US government) and doing everything they can to convince you and me that global warming and climate change aren’t real. No one escapes the author’s broad stroke. If anyone disagrees with AGW or climactic climate change, they are in the pockets of either Exxon or Philip Morris. He tries to back these claims up with numbers, but considering what seems to be his primary source, exxonsecrets.og, for those, they can hardly be acceptable at face value. It took me all of a few minutes browsing to recognize it for a conspiracy site it is. There are people and organizations listed as being in the pay of Exxon that haven’t got anything to do with the company at all, or only the vaguest connection. Considering it’s a Greenpeace site, with Greenpeace well known for being fast and loose with the truth, this is hardly surprising.

The author spends particular time attacking Steve Milloy of Milloy, by the way, holds a B.A. in Natural Sciences from the Johns Hopkins University, a Master of Health Sciences in Biostatistics from the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, a Juris Doctorate from the University of Baltimore, and a Master of Laws from the Georgetown University Law Center. He is also, according to Monbiot, firmly in the pocket of tobacco company, Philip Morris. Junkscience is, the author writes, funded by TASSC (The Advancement for Sound Science Coalition), which is funded by Philip Morris. He does quote Philip Morris’ statement that “We are not in a position to suggest that TASSC examine any issue; it’s an independent organization and will no doubt proceed as best they determine.” Cleary, Monbiot doesn’t believe that. It because really obvious that Monbiot views Milloy as some sort of nemesis, and is dismayed by the numbers of people who send him links to Milloy’s articles that don’t agree with Monbiot’s views. Clearly, no one should believe a word Milloy says, and the only reason he states for that is because of TASSC receiving funding from Philip Morris.

I don’t bother questioning the numbers Monbiot claims that (according to sources like exxonsecrets) are being paid to the “skeptics” and “deniers.” Let’s just go on the assumption that they are right (though there is serious doubt about that). If, as he asserts, that funding by oil companies and other industries to an organization means they control the views of people in those organizations, then we shouldn’t believe pretty much any environmental organizations at all. In the 10 years Exxon supposedly gave $2 million in funding to CEI, Greenpeace alone received $2 BILLION in funding from oil companies. That doesn’t count the funding they receive from other industries. The global warming industry (and it *is* an industry, now), has received about $50 billion in funding in total, while the “deniers” have been funded at about $19 million. See here, here and here.

Personally, I find it very convenient that someone can say all deniers and skeptics are paid by Big Oil, therefore you can’t believe anything they say, because if they weren’t paid by Big Oil, they wouldn’t be deniers of skeptics, while we are to assume that all the AGW promoters are completely honest and uninfluenced by the sources of *their* funding.

In chapter 3, A Ration of Freedom, Monbiot finally reveals his great solution. Assign everyone carbon rations. (Oh, how I wish I had more time to go into this!) Basically, Monbiot proposes that each and each and every human would be assigned a carbon ration, based on a mathematical calculation of how much CO2 humans should be allowed to emit and dividing that by the number of people, to achieve his goal of 90% CO2 reduction by 2030 (oh, and he also uses carbon and CO2 interchangeably, even though they are completely different things). He’s come up with .8 tonnes of carbon allowed per person. We would get 40% of that. The remaining 60% would go into each country’s “carbon budget” to be distributed as deemed necessary. He then writes

“…in creating a carbon rationing system, you are, in effect, creating a new currency. The entitlement to pollute will be accounted, saved, spent and exchanged much as money is today. As far as I can discover, no one has yet given it a name, except the rather dull “carbon unit.” So for want of a better term, I will call the new currency icecaps, in the hope that the name will remind people what the system if for: it enables us to cap our carbon emissions to keep the planet cool”

I can’t imagine a sillier concept. We *are* carbon. We live on a carbon based planet. Not only do I find it silly to ration the very stuff from which we are made (and using the solid element, carbon, interchangeably with the gas, CO2), but to implement such a concept would be disastrous. Just imagine the bureaucracy such a system would require! Then imagine what would be required to force everyone to follow it. And it would be forcing – Monbiot not only acknowledges that, but believes it to be the only right thing to so. He also, bizarrely, believes that imposing such a regulatory system would actually give us greater, not lesser, freedom. Clearly, he has little understanding of either economics or human nature. Assuming that rationing human CO2 emissions will actually affect global climate (which is questionable all on its own), to do so requires a single world body to have a level of dictatorial control over all other countries that goes against the most basic tenets of democracy and individual freedom. That Monbiot doesn’t seem to believe individual freedom is a good thing is also obvious.

He doesn’t take full credit for the concept. He attributes it to “a man called Aubrey Meyer. He is one of those extraordinary people whose lack of relevant qualifications appears to work in his favour: he is a concert viola player. Meyer was able to leap over the more constrained proposals of the professionals and produce an idea that was simple, based on science and fair.”

Good God. If anyone on the “skeptic” side of things made a statement like that, they’d be completely rejected. We, however, are supposed to go along with it because in this case, the point of view matches Monbiot’s own.

Monbiot then goes on to paint a glowing picture of all the wonderful things his “icecaps” will give us. We might all have to feel the pain, but his system will automatically create all sorts of opportunities, and all the worlds’ problems will be solved. The poor will no longer be poor, but the rich won’t necessarily be less rich. We’ve got pollution, poverty, hunger and world peace, all solved by Monbiot’s brilliant mind. Of course, this is a mind that things CO2 is a pollutant, and the only one he actually mentions.

He then discusses Bjorn Lomborg, whom he describes as a statistician. Keep in mind that Lomborg also believes in AGW, and the climate change is a danger we need to deal with. Where they differ is in the cost. Lomborg believes that it would be more cost effective to spend the trillions of dollars he estimates it would cost to fight global warming (Monbiot believes the cost would be much lower) in areas that we can actually make more of a difference. You can see Lomborg explain his views here. Monbiot then writes:

“I could seek to counter Lomborg’s case… by arguing that he and the economists upon whose figures he relies are wrong: that the economic costs of letting climate change happen greatly outweigh the economic costs of tackling it. But I will not do so for this reason: it is an amoral means of comparison.”

He then, surprise surprise, brings up Hurricane Katrina as an example.

“We can determine, for example, that the financial costs of Hurricane Katrina, which may have been exacerbated by climate change, (at least he says “may have” – though it’s already been shown that global warming can NOT be in any way associated with Hurricane Katrina) amount to some $75 billion, and we can use that number to help derive a price for carbon pollution. But does it capture the suffering of the people whose homes were destroyed? Does it capture the partial destruction, in New Orleans, of one of the quirkiests and most creative communities on earth? Does it, most importantly, capture the value of the lives of those who drowned?

In other words, is it possible to place an economic price on human life? Or on an ecosystem, or on the climate? Could such costs, when rolled out around the world, really be deemed to amount to $4,820 billion, give or take the odd dollar? If you believe the answer is yes, then I charge that you have spent too much time with your calculator and not enough with human beings.”

If you’ve visited the link I posted above and watched Lomborg speak, you can see that this is a complete misrepresentation of what Lomborg is all about. If anything, it is Lomborg who most clearly puts caring for humans above all else – fighting climate change is still on his list, just a lot lower.

I could go on, but I don’t have the time. Instead, I will jump to chapter 4, Our Leaky Homes.

In here, I find a lot to agree with Monbiot, even if I disagree with his basic premise. I completely agree that we need to improve the efficiency of our homes. His discussions of various innovations are interesting, and I look forward to learning more about them. I don’t have the time to discuss his paradoxes and other claims, however, so I’ll leave that for now.

This is where he looses me in this chapter. Monbiot begins to describe how he and his wife discovered that their own home, which they bought for environmental purposes (close to work an amenities, and where they can grow “zero-carbon vegetables” – I wonder what planet he got those from?) turned out to be an environmental disaster. The previous owner, a property developer, had bought it from the original owner as a ruin and completely renovated it. “He must have spent about ₤60,000 restoring it. Had he spent an extra ₤1,000, he would have cut my gas bills in half.” Monbiot goes on to describe the problems with their how, determining that it would cost them about ₤20,000 to fix, and they’d have to move out into a rental home while the work was being done.

So who’s fault is it that Monbiot’s house is so inefficient? Why the state, of course! It seems that renovations are not held to the same standards as new homes, therefore the developed wasn’t forced to make the home as efficient as possible, therefore Monbiot now has high gas bills. Having lived in an incredibly inefficient home myself, I can completely understand the pain of that, but never in my wildest dreams did it occur to me that it was the state’s responsibility to give me an energy efficient home!

At this point, I’m going to have to close off. To conclude, I have two major problems with this book. One is Monbiot’s desire for regulation, whether for his icecaps, the housing industry, or any other aspect that might in some way effect our CO2 output. Obviously, I disagree with his basic premise of CO2 driving climate change, but I’d be able to live with that if his proposals would still make a positive difference to the world. The other problem I have is with Monbiot himself. Perhaps it’s just his writing style, but the entire book is all “I, I, I, me, me, me, my, my, my.” That works in a column or blog, which are all about personal opinions in the first place, but this isn’t just a giant version of one of his columns. Here, he comes across as having an ego bigger than the globe he alone can save, with is brilliant intellect and moral superiority. Aside from making my eyes go buggy from rolling them so often, it instead has the effect of showing him to be far less intelligent than he seems to believe himself to be.

Hopefully, I’m wrong, but so far, I have no reason to believe otherwise.

Book review: Heat Part two

Obligatory disclaimer...

Part One

This is going to be the last review for a while. I have to return the book today, as it’s already overdue. That’s what I get for hanging on to it, thinking I’d finish the other books I was reading faster than I did! *L*

Here, I’ll be reviewing the introduction and first few chapters.

In the Introduction: The Failure of Good Intentions, Monbiot explains what prompted him to write this book. Specifically, it was an answer to a question posed to him at a lecture, “When you get your 80 per cent cut, what will this country look like?” He got someone by the name of Mayer Hillman to answer, and his reply was “A very poop third-world country.” A statement (and person) the author considers outrageous. The author continues with comparing a fictional book with real-world situations (something I’ve noticed he does a fair amount, even in his columns), and a brief overview of human history. He does acknowledge the benefits fossil fuels have provided us humans. I’ve noticed he can’t seem to say anything positive without turning it into an even greater negative.

“Our freedoms, our comforts, our prosperity are all the products of fossil carbon, whose combustion crease the gas carbon dioxide, which is primarily responsible for global warming. Ours are the most fortunate generations that have ever lived. Ours might also be the most fortunate generation that ever will. We inhabit the brief historical interlude between ecological constraint and ecological catastrophe.”

While I agree with the author that we are the most fortunate generations that ever lived – at least those of us also fortunate enough to live in first world nations – I disagree that CO2 is “primarily responsible” for global warming. I had been willing to believe that before I started doing my own research, but have since learned that the great the accumulation of CO2, the less it effects global temperatures. There are other factors that play a much bigger role, few of which we have any control over. I won’t go into those here, yet.

The author goes on to describe why he now feels we need a 90% cut, rather than 80%. He tells of being contacted by someone named Colin Forrest (I’ve tried to figure out who this person is, but the link on Monbiot’s site now leads to a sponsors page at, and other searches find a lot of people by that name). Forrest apparently convinced Monbiot that a 2C increase is a “point of no return,” where major ecosystems begin to collapse, and the only way to stop it is by reducing human greenhouse gas emissions by 90%. I find this curious, as the earth has certainly been warmer than now in the past, and a 2C increase per century is well within the norm (we’ve only had a .5C to .7C increase, depending on what source you look at). While I’ve heard the supposition that 2C is some sort of trigger point, I remain unconvinced. It hasn’t been in the past, why would it be now?

Further in his introduction, the other describes his own process in finding out how we can all reduce our CO2 by 90% while maintaining our current comfort levels. He’s just as quick to blast hypocritical environmentalists as anyone else, too. The author clearly has little faith in the ordinary person. He writes as much in his columns, such as here.

“Ridley believes that modern humans are destined to behave well if left to their own devices; I believe that they are likely to behave badly.”

His solution?

“… only regulations… can quell the destruction wrought by the god we serve, the god of our own appetites. Manmade global warming cannot be restrained unless we persuade the government to force us to change the way we live.”

I can’t understand how someone who has little faith in individuals can have any faith in government! Governments are, after all, made up of individuals. Unlike you and me, people in government have a level of power and authority we don’t – and big government leads to big abuses of that power. The idea that was must be forced by government to change our lifestyles goes against my core beliefs of freedom and democracy. What Monbiot is promoting is nothing more than a dressed up version of Communism, which we already know not only doesn’t work, but has led to devastating environmental consequences.

The author makes a few odd comments that had me scratching my head. Here’s an example.

“One of the discoveries I have made in writing this book is that my instincts are almost always wrong.” (that’s a refreshing admission) “Like many environmentalists I have succumbed, for example, to what could be described as the aesthetic fallacy: I have made the mistake of confusing what is aesthetically pleasing with what is environmentally sound.” (??? He can speak for himself, but for other environmentalists? ) “For instance, I have always assumed that candles are more environmentally friendly than electrical lighting, for no better reason than that I like them and that they produce less light.” (at least he’s honest, but I can’t understand how anyone can conclude that burning candles is in any way environmentally friendly – especially for someone who sees fossil fuels as the enemy, since paraffin wax is a petroleum product. That he assumes his own misconceptions can represent “many environmentalists” is bizarre to me.)

The author goes on to ask a very valid question when it comes to research – deciding who to trust. That is something we each need to decide. For himself, Monbiot writes “One rule I have devised for myself is to trust no one who has something to sell.”

By that very broad criteria, I shouldn’t believe a thing Monbiot says in this book! He is, after all, trying to sell me not only the book itself, but the ideas and concepts within it. He’s trying to sell me on his great global warming solution. I’m not sure what Monbiot’s personal definition of “something to sell” is, but the reality is everyone is trying to sell something, even if it’s just our points of view. This is especially true when it comes to AGW and catastrophic climate change.

The author then lists what sources he felt were trustworthy. Some of the names on the list, I am unfamiliar with. Some I agree with. Others, I completely disagree. Of these, Monbiot claims “The most eminent of these… is the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Scientists (IPCC)…” Of all the organizations that have something to sell, none has as great a stake as the IPCC! AGW and catastrophic climate change is their sole reason for existence. If global warming and climate change proves to be natural and cyclical, or that humans haven’t been as responsible for is as we’re lead to believe, the members of the IPCC panel stand to loose their jobs. As for trustworthiness, they are a UN organization, and the UN may very well be the most corrupt organization in the world today. While a few governments may be more corrupt, they are at least limited in influence. The UN’s damage is global.

Monbiot then concludes his introduction by stating, “I have one purpose in writing this book: to persuade you that climate change is wroth fighting. I hope I have been able to demonstrate that it is not… too late. I hope to prompt you not to lament our governments’ failure… but to force them to reverse their policies by joining what must become the world’s most powerful political movement.

Failing all that, I have one last hope: that I might make people so depressed about the state of the planet that they stay in bed all day, thereby reducing their consumption of fossil fuels.”


Considering I disagree with the author’s basic assumptions, it’s going to take an awful lot of convincing for him to persuade me otherwise. We shall see.

Judging from the first chapter, A Faustian Pact, I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Monbiot begins his book by describing the story of Dr. Faust, a man who sold his soul to the devil. After quoting and describing Marlowe’s play, The tragical History of Doctor Faustus,” Monbiot writes,

“If you did not know any better, you could mistake this story for a metaphor of climate change.

Faust is humankind, restless, curious, unsated. Mephistopheles, who appears in the original English text as ‘a fiery man’, is fossil fuel. Faust’s miraculous abilities are the activities fossil fuel permits. Twenty-four years is the period – about half the true span – in which they have enabled us to live in all voluptuousness. And the flames of hell – well, I think you’ve probably worked that out for yourself.

… The Tragical history of Dr. Faustus is not an allegory of climate change. But the intention of the poet does not affect the power of the metaphor. Our use of fossil fuels is a Faustian pact.”

This has got to be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever read in the AGW debate. I’ve got no problem with literary metaphors, if they actually make sense, but here more than anywhere, Monbiot displays the contempt he holds for humans. I find it a stretch, to say the least, to equate fossil fuels with the devil, and our use of them as some sort of satanic contract! Monbiot never strays far from the Faustian metaphor, either. Every chapter even begins with quotes from the play.

The author then writes, “To doubt, today, that manmade climate change is happening, you must abandon science and revert to some other means of understanding the world” alchemy perhaps, or magic.”

How presumptuous! He goes on to write the usual claims about Antarctic ice core data showing that CO2 levels are higher now than 650,000 years, concluding that the *only* way CO2 levels could have accumulated so quickly is due to humans burning fossil fuels, and that it has caused the average global temperature to increase by .6C. If you happen to disagree with his conclusions, he cuts that off at the quick and writes:

“If you reject this explanation for planetary warming, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Does the atmosphere contain carbon dioxide”
  2. Does atmospheric carbon dioxide raise the average global temperature
  3. Will this influence be enhanced by the addition of more carbon dioxide?
  4. Have human activities led to a net emission of carbon dioxide?

If you are able to answer ‘no’ to any one of them, you should put yourself forward for a Nobel Prize. You will have turned science on its head.”

Now there’s an interesting tactic. Break down a complex system into something that’s hyper-simplistic, then mock anyone who dares disagree. This is how I would answer his questions.

  1. Yes (duh!)
  2. First yes, then no – and only CO2 in the upper atmosphere, not ground level CO2
  3. Only up to a certain point.
  4. Yes, but for such a tiny amount, you could remove the percentage of CO2 humans produce completely, and the effect would be so small, we – and the Earth – wouldn’t even notice.

The author continues by throwing out more information, some of which has since proven to be wrong or not attributable to global warming. One of them being the shrinking of the Arctic Ice Cap. That has already been attributed to other factors, and in recent months, the Arctic Ice Cap has not only recovered what it lost in 2007, but is almost back at 2004 levels.

Throughout the chapter, Monbiot continues with a long list of disasters that will befall us with increased global temperatures. There is, of course, cause to debate whether these predictions will prove true. That increased temperatures of the past *hasn’t* lead to these disasters (look up the Medieval Warm Period, the Roman Optimum and other periods where increased temperatures lead to vast improvements for both humans and the rest of the world). I’ll skip over most of this to get to where Monbiot goes into the past to prove that increased warming will, indeed, be disastrous. He describes the Permian period of 251 million years ago, where the Earth went from “one of the most biologically diverse periods,” to where nearly everything stops dead. He describes all the things that disappeared, and how these coincided with a series of volcanic eruptions. “The volcanoes produced great quantities of two gases: sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide.”

The sulphur dioxide would have led to acid rain, but it quickly dismissed as a problem, as it wouldn’t have lasted long in the atmosphere. The CO2, on the other hand, is the ultimate cause of destruction, increasing temperatures by 6C and 8C (he doesn’t mention how quickly the temperatures are believed to have risen). He continues with another long list of destruction. (You might find this an interesting read. Funny how he doesn’t mention it.)

Here, we discover who Monbiot’s correspondent, Colin Forrest is. Vaguely. He is “… not a professional climate scientist but appears to have done his homework.” Uhm. Okay.

Then Monbiot makes this claim. A 90 per cent cut should make the sort of warming that took place at the end of the Permian impossible.”

Say what??? This sort of warming has happened much more recently, during the Younger Dryas. This is just after the last ice age, ending a mere 12,000 or so years ago. This period saw remarkable changes in temperature taking place in very short periods of time. The idea that, by tweaking how much CO2 we emit, we can actually prevent such an event is laughable. These extreme climate shifts happen with or without us, and there’s no sign that the current warming we have been experiencing in the past century can in any way duplicate these climactic events.

So far, there is nothing in this book that changes my views of the subject. Monbiot hasn’t “sold” me on his product, yet.

Oops... I'd better split this review again. Stay tuned for part three.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Book review: Heat. Part one

Obligatory disclaimer...

I wasn’t too happy with my last book review. I don’t like writing one long review for such an in depth book. There were so many things I never even touched on. By the time I’d finished the book and started writing the review, I’d forgotten about many things I’d wanted to comment on. Of course I remembered them after I wrote the review. :-P Not much good, since I had to return the book the next day. I also didn’t have a chance to reference the review as I prefer to.

I’m going to try it a bit differently, this time. I’ll try posting a series of reviews as I read the book. How many parts it works out to be, we shall see.

On to the review. This part will be a run over of the book itself, as well as any previews and introductions.

Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning
(Canadian edition)
George Monbiot

First, a look at the author's bio. Monbiot is described as “the world’s most influential radical free thinker.” He writes columns for The Guardian, which I’ve read on occasion. His website is listed by Yahoo as the most popular columnist’s website on Earth, outside the US. He wrote some other books and has won many prizes, including “the UN Global 500 award for outstanding environmental achievement, presented to him by Nelson Mandela.” He’s also “a visiting professor at the School of the Built Environment, Oxford Brookes University.”

So… he’s a “radical free thinker,” writes a column, wrote other books, has a popular website, won some awards, and is a visiting professor. There are no formal credentials listed. He isn’t a scientist of any kind. In fact, he’s got about as many credentials as Al Gore. Or me, for that matter.

Now, I don’t hold too much to formal credentials. As a home schooling parent, I know full well that education happens everywhere, not just in schools. One doesn’t need to have formal schooling to become an expert on something – a prime example of that is author Jean M. Auel who, in researching her books in the Earth’s Children series, has become a recognized expert of the time period. No, what I find funny about Monbiot’s lack of formal credentials is that the very person who “challenged” me to read the book had condescendingly dismissed me for my lack of credentials.

The next thing I look for is references. Here, I was rather impressed. Unlike most of the other pro-climate change catastrophe books I’ve read and reviewed, Monbiot actually has extensive references; forty six pages of them, with the forward and each chapter having its own section. There’s also a section on “Organizations Campaigning to Reduce the Impact of Climate Change” with names, postal addresses, phone numbers, websites and, where applicable, email addresses.

Next, it’s to the book’s front pages. It’s copyrighted to 2006, so it’s quite recent. That should mean that its information is up to day, excepting, of course, the significant amount of new information that has emerged in even so short a time.

I had actually not paid any attention to the cover photograph; a red river that I thought might’ve been lava or something. I happened to notice, however, the credit for the photo, described as “Nickel Tailings No. 34, Sudbury Ontario, 1996” and took a closer look. Curious, I’ve since done some searches on nickel tailings. You can see the photo here. The reason the image caught my attention is that I’d only recently read this article, which blasts the Prius as being less environmentally friendly than the Hummer, mostly because the nickel for its batteries are from Sudbury. It should be noted, however, that neither site tells the full story. You can read more about them here, here, here, here and here. That last one is particularly interesting. (Did I mention I prefer to reference my reviews? ;-) )

Now, we move on to the “Foreward to the Canadian Edition.” Within the first two paragraphs, the author already manages to blast the US, Australia and Canada, giving the UK a pass because, “In Europe, climate change campaigners are – as we should be – heartily ashamed of our nations’ contributions to the destruction of the biosphere.” He then proceeds to give the numbers for CO2 emissions for various countries.

At this point, it’s already tempting to dismiss Monbiot completely. He clearly equates CO2 emissions with “the destruction of the biosphere.” I can think of a lot of things far more destructive – like certain fishing practices that involve scraping the ocean floor, or the actual polluting substances emitted from our cars – not to mention such naturally occurring disasters, such as massive earthquakes and volcanoes. The fact that they’re natural doesn’t make them any less destructive. I’ve recently learned that the 2004 earthquake was so massive, it not only affected all the oceans of the world, but caused the planet itself to wobble and start to spin faster. Did you know are days have been shortened by 2.68 microseconds after that?

It’s the third paragraph of the foreward that Monbiot changes things, though. Here, he starts talking directly to the Canadian reader – a most annoying artifice at the best of times. Here, the author is… well, judge for yourself.

“You think of yourselves as a liberal and enlightended people, and my experience seems to confirm that. But you could scarcely do more to destroy the biosphere if you tried.

“I admit that yours is both a big country and a cold one. Crossing Canada requires a great deal more fossil fuel than crossing Britain. … Nice and well –intentioned as you are, you do as much to drown Bangladesh or starve the people of the Horn of Africa as the most obdurate throw-backs in the shrinking state of Bushistan. My calculations, explained in Chapter 1, suggest that the sustainable limit for carbon dioxide emissions per capita is 1.2 tonnes. That’s one sixteenth of what you currently produce.”

By the time I finished reading this, I was laughing out loud (and my family was looking at me funny). What a pretentious git! So our CO2 emissions are drowning people in Bangladesh and starving people in Africa? Of course, he just had to throw in some American and Bush bashing. Can’t write a book about climate change without that! And how presumptuous for him to be able to calculate what my CO2 emissions are in the first place – the down side of speaking to your readers in the first person.

He then proceeds to roast PM Harper and (now former) environment minister, Rona Ambrose. He claims “Harper declared himself an irresolute wimp” for claiming it would be too hard for Canada to meet a 6% emissions reductions, which Monbiot’s own calculations “suggest that Canada should cut her carbon emissions by 94% between now and 2030.” He then proceed to suggest that our government’s “made-in-Canada” approach is… wait for it… “looks as if the plan will in fact be made in the USA.” Surprise, surprise. It’s the ‘old, Harper/Conservatives are in the pockets of the evil Bush’ routine. That one was getting old even when this book was published. Ah, but

“I don’t blame you, the citizens of Canada, for this. Not all of you, at any rate.”

How generous of him.

He then moves on to talk about the warming of the Arctic (which, it turns out, isn’t all that unusual after all – see here for some photos of land based changes, and here for info about past changes in the Arctic ice cap.), and while acknowledging some things, admonishes that it’s not good enough.

He finishes the foreward with a few more condescending remarks and slings at Harper while stating that “This book has an overtly political purpose.” Rest assured, however, Monbiot will “equip you with the political tools you need… to turn one of the most polluting nations on Earth into a place which commands the rest of the world’s respect.”

To which I had this overwhelming urge to say “F* you!”

Seeing how much I’ve written so far, I’m going to skip the Introduction and include it in my next part of this review.

Obviously, I’m already having a problem with this book. The author seems to have an over-inflated ego and an exaggerated sense of his own intelligence, for starters. I would hope he can back his claims up with hard evidence. I already disagree with his basic premise, however. He describes Canada as “one of the most polluting nations.” While we certainly have our problems, the only “pollutant” he talks about is CO2, which isn’t a pollutant at all. Like the US and other First World nations, Canada has significantly improved our environment. We have greatly improved the safety and quality of our water, reduced air pollution, as well as cleaning up ground pollution while continuing to find ways to prevent pollution in the first place.

Yes, we have problems, but they pale in comparison to real pollution in other countries, particularly developing nations. None of this counts, however. Only CO2 emissions do, apparently.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Ice and snow

There are quite a few recent articles about glaciation recently. Here's just a sampling.

From the Globe and Mail, we have
Antarctic ice sheet shrinking at faster rate.

This article claims that the Antarctic ice sheet has been shrinking, while most other reports show that, other than on the peninsula (2% of the entire continent), temperatures on Antarctica have been either the same or dropping, and that there's been a net *increase* of ice mass.

From the Chicago Tribune, we have
This South Pole base uplifting.

This article describes the extra efforts made to extend the useful life of this new station so that it doesn't get buried in ice, like the first two stations.

Then there's this article, from the New York Times.
Study Says Glaciers Formed During a Very Warm Period

Here, findings show that glaciers formed 90 million years ago, during a period when alligators and tropical trees thrived in the Arctic.

And finally, from Daily Tech.
Glaciers in the Greenhouse: Polar Ice Might Have Little to do with Global Warming.

Here, they discuss data that provides evidence of glaciers *increasing* during the Cretaceous Thermal Maximum.

Some interesting reading.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Car vs. Transit

When we first moved to our new home 2 years ago, we got rid of our car. This city has a rather good transit system. Plus the expenses of having car payments and expenses, coupled with having to pay rent again, made it impractical to keep the car.

So for the last two years, we have relied completely on public transit. That, however, may be coming to an end. We are currently borrowing, and will probably buy, a car. It's on older car, and a step down from what we had before, but we can pay for it outright, while the money for bus passes will pretty much cover the cost of insurance. It needs work, but it gets us from A to B.

There's a lot of reasons to use transit. It's less expensive than having a car, it keeps the traffic down, less pollution, etc., etc. But as time went on, it became increasingly frustrating to depend on transit. Part of it surrounds things like grocery shopping. I've found myself *not* buying things we needed because they were too soft and likely to get damaged on the way home (such as most breads, fruits) or too heavy to carry together with everything else (like potatoes, flour, canned goods), and so on. It's hard to carry a week's worth of groceries on the bus, even with all 4 of us carrying bags.

There's also the frustration of things like buses being late, or not showing up at all (that happens a lot more than I ever thought it would), standing at bus stops in inclement weather, missing connections, having a trip take an hour or more, when by car it would take 15 minutes.

We're already familiar with the pro's and con's of owning a car. Now that we have access to one again, I've found the biggest pro is the freedom having a car gives us. Just as an example, we meet with a group of people weekly at a public park. It takes us about an hour to get there by train and bus. Once we've figured out the route to get there, it takes about half an hour by car - and that included getting lost. Granted, we haven't had to do it in rush hour, but for the times we go there, we'd be missing rush hour, anyways.

Other possibilities open up. There's an annual winter event that we've been to for two years in a row now. It's held in an out of the way place, and the nearest bus stop is on the highway. We would then walk what we've since calculated out to be approximately 3 miles. It's a potluck event, so we're carrying food and drinks, as well. We'd then have to leave early, because after a while, one of the buses that go past there stops running completely, while the other goes by only once an hour. We just can't afford to miss it. Since there's 4 of us, few people have large enough vehicles that we could get rides with them, and the cost of a cab is prohibitive, to say the least. With a car, we can park right near the event, and actually be able to stay for the whole thing, if we wanted to.

There's another aspect of public transit, though, that is making the decision to buy a car again a lot easier. Today is an example of that.

Today was library day, and our usual branch is downtown. We could've gone to any library, since we now have a car, but I had a book on hold downtown. Plus, we had another place to go to and, with parking being an issue (as it is in the downtown core of every city we've lived in), the girls and I took the train. At one point, we were standing near the doors, since there was no where that all 3 of us could sit together. A man got on at one of the stops and happened to sit in a seat facing us. The seat across from him was occupied, but the gentleman there soon got up and stood beside us. He must've caught on to something we missed, because he'd moved just in time. Moments after he left, the other guy suddenly leaned forward and puked on the floor. He then straightened up and wiped the vomit off the front of his shirt with his hand. Had the guy that moved still been sitting there, he would've been "decorated."

correction: as I was recounting this to my husband, Youngest informed me that I did, indeed, miss something. The reason the one guy moved was because the other had already vomited at his feet - so he was probably already "decorated."

Later on, after we'd finished in the library, the girls and I waited at the bus stop to go home. It's almost a waste to take the bus from there, as it's only about a mile/mile and a half, to our home, but we were loaded down with books and starting to feel pretty tired from the walking around we'd already been doing, so the bus it was.

While we were waiting, a group of youths gathered nearby. One of the women began yelling at one of the men who was walking away - she was swearing a blue streak and was soon heading towards the man, ready to beat him up (from what she was shouting, he'd apparently had sex with her sister, though she was a lot cruder in her terms). She'd gone after the guy and the group of them were standing around in the middle of the street before one of her companions dragged her back to the sidewalk. They continued to stand in a group not far from us, loudly swearing, with the one young woman continuing her threats to the young man, who was apparently part of the group, since he kept coming back.

These sorts of incidents are just two of many. We are frequently accosted by aggressive panhandlers (both on and off the buses), have witnessed inappropriate behavior of various levels, but have actually been lucky. We haven't been robbed or assaulted, as many others have been. Well, there was that one murder my husband missed witnessing by about a minute, but so far, that's still exceptional.

In the end, our move to or from public transit is less about being environmentally responsible, or saving money, etc., but more about safety and protecting our children and ourselves.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

An interesting chart of the Arctic sea ice.

Click on this image to see it full size. Then take a close look at the start and end points of the red line, 2007.

By the end of 2007, the Arctic ice cap had not only recovered, but exceeded it's coverage prior to summer melt.

Original source.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Looks like it's official

It seems like solar cycle 24 has finally started.



In a few years, we should start being able to see how this will effect us here on Earth.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Book Review: Conservative Environmentalism

Conservative Environmentalism: Reassessing the Means, Redefining the Ends

Authors: James R. Dunn and John E. Kinney

Although I’ve been focusing on anthropogenic global warming and climate change in my last reviews, this book is far more general. Published in 1996, AGW wasn’t the big panic it is today.

The entire book is actually available online to Questia members. You can find the entire contents list and the first few pages here.

First, the basics of the book, with a look at who the two authors are. James R. Dunn is (was?) a geologic consultant to Behre Dolbear, New York City and a former professor of geology/environmental geology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He’s also a former President of the American Institute of Professional Geologists. From their website, I see that he served as their VP in 1969, and president in 1980. I’ve tried searching for him online but, other than listings at Greenwood Publishing Group, I can’t even find if he’s still alive. :-/ At the time of publication, Dr. Dunn has over 140 publications to his credit.

John E. Kinney is listed as a Registered Professional Environmental Engineering Consultant, and a Diplomate, American Academy of Environmental Engineers. Water and natural resources around the world seem to be a specialty of his, and he’s been a consultant on those regards for the US government. Greenwood has a short blurb on him as well. He has over 200 publications to his credit, plus presentations, and has acted as a consultant to many others besides the US government. Like Dr. Dunn, I’m not finding much about him online, other than papers and books he has published.

The next step for me before reading the book was to check out the references. The book had only a “selected bibliography” in the back. They make a point of listing books from both sides of environmental philosophy, as they define it (more on that later). It took me a while of back flipping to realize why I didn’t find a more extensive list. Every chapter ends with its own list of references and footnotes, some several pages long. They were very thorough.

In the Preface, the authors are very clear on where they stand. They are environmentalists. They count themselves among the “environmentally concerned” that they dedicate the book to. “… the people who, to the best of their ability, strive to leave a better world for their children.” They then make a quick run-through on how, throughout our history, humans have caused a great deal of environmental damage over the millennia. They then go on to claim that, as humans and nations become freer, wealthier and more industrial, we have taken the initiative to repair our damage and improve on our environment to an extent never before achieved.

The authors break environmentalists into two camps. One is the left-leaning “liability culture,” while the other tends to be the more conservative “asset culture.” From the beginning, they state that they don’t have to room to delve too far into certain aspects, and leave it to their readers to inform themselves to make their own decisions. They also clearly describe their views as being “primarily anthropocentric.” That is, they “… view the world first in terms of human needs.” This position immediately sets them apart from many environmental leaders, who openly state that they view humans as a disease, and that human needs should be secondary to the needs of the planet. The authors, however, proceed to demonstrate in the book that meeting the needs of humans will also meet the needs of the planet, while proposals to restrict or devolve human activity will damage the environment. They describe their focus as two things. “…(1) the impact of humans on the natural environment, including forests, wildlife, water quality (as related to human bodily wastes) and quantity, and soil; and (2) the impact of nature and humans on human health.” They then state, “We relate all data to wealth and the wealth-creating process.”

They are also clear on their stand. “While we see the environmental benefit industry brings to our world, we are critical of some activities of industry. Similarly, while we find no fault with some ideals expressed by environmental leaders, we are critical of much of the current direction of environmentalism.” Their purpose has been to investigate the claims by many environmentalists that we in the First World, through our use of industry and resources, are damaging the earth, and that we should turn away from these practices to live in a more “sustainable” way, and demonstrate if these claims are true or not.

The layout of the book is very logical and precise – which seems totally in keeping with their particular backgrounds. ;-) The book is divided into 4 parts: The Natural and Human Environments, Wealth and Resources, Politics and the Environment, and finally, Toward a Better Environment. Each part begins with its conclusions listed. The following chapters then demonstrate how and why they reached those conclusions.

Now, on to reviewing the book itself.

The authors proceed to demonstrate how humans have long been responsible for the degradation of our environment. Such actions have primarily been the result of trying to survive - we've been trying to protect ourselves from the environment, not the environment from us. They point out the flaws in our tendency to romanticize simpler times and earlier cultures. One example is how many paint North America’s First Nations as being ecologically wise and living in harmony with nature, when in reality, they actively controlled and modified their environment, primarily through the use of fire. The prairies, it turns out, were created and maintained for about 5000 years with fire by those who wanted to encourage the large herds they depended on. Reforestation didn’t (unintentionally) begin to occur until Europeans arrived and completely disrupted the pattern. Many other examples are given, in the process reminding us that every habitat exists at the expense of another.

The authors also demonstrate how, especially in the last 70 (now 80) years, First World nations have been able to greatly improve our environment as our industry and technology increase - improvements to an extent we were not capable of previously. These claims are amply demonstrated with charts showing how we’ve been able to increase food production while decreasing land used for agriculture, and how reduction in air, water and land pollution were made only when our society became stable and wealthy enough that we could divert our attention away from the basics of survival, to cleaning, improving and restoring the natural world around us. They then compare our achievements with Second and Third World nations, and how poverty and illness has lead to increased environmental devastation. Simply put, people don’t care about the environment when their lives are focused on surviving from one day to the next. Perhaps most damning of all, they clearly demonstrate how First World environmentalists actively increase human misery and environmental damage by preventing Third World nations from using the very tools we used to improve our own lives and our local environments. They expose the fallacy behind trying to impose First World regulations and ideals on Second and Third World people. They argue that only through industrialization, wealth creation (particularly through free market systems) and individual freedoms (namely, democracy) can those in the Third World improve their lot to the point where they can also improve their environment. They also argue that, having already gone through the painful learning curve of industrialization that first lead to massive pollution before we improved our technology and became wealthy enough to clean it back up again, we can help Second and Third World nations reduce or avoid many aspects of that stage.

The authors are especially blunt when it comes to describing the damage caused by leaders in the environmental movement, and demonstrate how their real motives cannot possibly be the actual improvement of the environment, when they actively pursue actions that cause more, not less, damage. They provide evidence to show that some of these leaders are more interested in destroying western style democracy and the reduction, if not elimination, of the human population. They “credit” much of this damage to Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, the claims in which they demonstrate as having been completely false. Silent Spring claimed that pesticides were killing off bird populations at a time when these populations had been increasing dramatically – in some cases (robins), by over 1000%! They lay the blame to much earlier than Silent Spring, but single Carson’s book out as having galvanized people into taking actions that have since led to the misery and deaths of millions of people, virtually all in Third World nations, which they also demonstrate as being completely in keeping with the goals of certain environmentalist leaders.

They go on to demonstrate the flaws behind the notion of “sustainability” and show how First World nations have been able to multiply resources. They also remind us that the assumption behind “sustainable” behavior is that our current needs will stay the same. This is demonstrate-ably false. Many materials we use today, we didn’t even know about 100 years ago. Items we use today, we couldn’t have imagined only 50 years ago. Even since the time this book was published, our resource needs have changed, while improving on the efficiency of materials we’ve been using for many years. Technology and the materials it depends on, is changing at staggering speeds. As a speaker in a business seminar I went to some months ago said, 10 years from now we won’t be able to live without things that haven’t yet been invented today.

The last part of the book deals with a look to the future - what we can do to improve, and how. I noticed a significant difference between their assessment of the future, and those in books like AIT and The Idiot's Guide to Global Warming. The suggestions in these other books were short and tepid, to say the least - recycle, switch to CFL bulbs, take public transportation, etc., while leaving the reader with a decidedly negative, almost hopeless, frame of mind. The authors of Conservative Environmentalism view things much more optimistically, and their much meatier suggestions will actually make real, positive differences in peoples lives; our own and those in Third World nations, who would suffer the most under a world dominated by the "liability culture." In the process of improving our lives, they assert, we will also improve our environment.

In reading the book, I found myself catching some knee-jerk reactions towards many of their claims and statements. After all, I grew up being told that industry is causing massive environmental damage; that we are using up our resources at ever increasing rates, and that things are getting constantly worse, unless we put a stop to greedy, rich capitalists and giant corporations that take advantage of the poor and downtrodden. Even as the years passed and I began to see for myself that much of this is false, I still found myself internally jumping at some of their statements and conclusions. It’s hard to justify such reactions when 1) I’ve seen otherwise for myself and 2) all their claims are promptly backed up with proof.

In conclusion, I found this book to be an enlightening read, even with the older information. I’ve already seen from other sources that many of the trends they describe have continued. This is especially true in increases in forestation in both Canada and the US, and their subsequent increases in wildlife. While the authors are blunt in their negative assessments of today’s environmental leaders, they are clear in stating that most people are just trying to do the right thing, to the best of their knowledge and ability. This book would be, in my opinion, the most difficult for these people to read. The consequences of actions taken by various groups, has lead to incredible hardship, damage and loss of life. To find out one has played a part in supporting those actions, even in a nominal way, would be very difficult. I believe this book amply proves that this is exactly what has happened, and I know it continues to happen today.

Seven points

This is Al Gore's 7 point pledge that he wants us all to take.

The seven-point pledge announced by Al Gore to rally support against global warming:

I pledge

1. To demand that my country join an international treaty within the next two years that cuts global warming pollution by 90 percent in developed countries and by more than half worldwide in time for the next generation to inherit a healthy earth;

Wow. A lot of open ended stuff here.

What, exactly, is "global warming pollution?"
How, exactly, would cutting this "pollution" by 90% be accomplished, and at what cost?
What, precisely, would cutting this "pollution" actually accomplish towards creating a "healthy earth?"
For those who live in First World nations, our children are already inheriting a healthier earth (unless we screw it up for them by implementing some of the more drastic suggestions to battle global warming). For those who live in Second and Third World nations, these treaties are more likely to increase environmental damage than reduce them.
I could go on, but that's fodder for another post.

2. To take personal action to help solve the climate crises by reducing my own C02 pollution as much as I can and offsetting the rest to become ''carbon neutral'';

CO2 is not a pollutant. CO2 has a limited ability to effect climate. Cutting our personal CO2 "pollution" will have no effect at all on climate, because we are responsible for such a tiny fraction of the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, anyhow.

3. To fight for a moratorium on the construction of any new generating facility that burns coal without the capacity to safely trap and store the C02;

From what I understand, this technology does not yet exist. Therefore, this point is actually a pledge to fight *all* new generating facilities. Considering the costs of such action (and I don' t mean just in dollars and cents), I would much rather have new plants with scrubbers, as well as scrubbers being added to existing plants, that will remove or reduce the *real* pollutants they emit.

4. To work for a dramatic increase in the energy efficiency of my home, workplace, school, place of worship, and means of transportation;

Just what, exactly, would that be? How would we accomplish this? Who will pay for it? Who decides what these changes entails? What unexpected consequences might there be? I'm all for increasing energy efficiency, so long as it actually *is* an improvement. A prime example of unexpected consequences is the switch to CFL bulbs, which may be more energy efficient, but are much more expensive, have limited functionality, and have greater environmental risks associated with them. Oh, and I just recently learned that when they do burn out, they can become extremely hot and start smoking. I wonder what's in that smoke, considering what's in the bulbs themselves.

5. To fight for laws and policies that expand the use of renewable energy sources and reduce dependence on oil and coal;

These are things that should be part of a free market - supply and demand. If customers demand other energy sources, suppliers will meet those demands. I would be willing to accept reasonable regulatory controls (with limitations placed on them, as regulations seem to breed excessively in dark corners, when we're not noticing. *L*). I'm also all for reducing our dependence on fossil fuels - actually, I am all for reducing our dependence an a whole lot of things, but especially governments. I have serious reservations to instituting laws. What if these "renewable energy sources" turn out to be a cure worse than the disease? The more I learn about large scale solar and wind generation, the more I disagree with going that route. The environmental costs are incredibly high, while at the same time, they are unreliable and incapable of meeting our energy needs *now,* never mind in the future.

6. To plant new trees and to join with others in preserving and protecting forests; and,

I'm all for planting trees! Growing up on the prairies, planting trees went a long way to protect our homes from the winds, reducing soil loss, and as a side benefit, increasing local wildlife. Many of us took advantage of the free seedlings given out by the government and using them to plant shelter belts. One of my brothers alone has planted over 400 trees on his property through this program. I can't even guess at how many trees my parents have planted in the almost 50 years they've lived on our farm.

Keeping in mind, though, that encouraging one type of habitat will always be at the cost of another. The First Nations created and maintained the prairies through the use of fire for over 5000 years, preventing the growth of forests for a reason. By planting trees, we're encouraging one type of ecosystem at the cost of another.

Industrial nations have been steadily increasing their total forests quite dramatically, some for over 300 years! Where my alarm bells start to go off is with the words "preserving and protecting." What would that entail? Who decides which forests need to be preserved and protected? Why? How?

7. To buy from businesses and support leaders who share my commitment to solving the climate crises and building a sustainable, just and prosperous world for the 21st century.

I'm all for supporting good businesses and community leaders. However, since I think "solving the climate crisis" is a massive diversion of funds and resources away from real problems that need solving, to a problem we have little to no control over (and a problem that is largely exaggerated and falsified in the first place), other things will influence my decision to support a business. Any business or leader that has jumped on the climate crisis bandwagon will *not* be getting my support. Any business or leader that is trying to solve actual problems in regards to pollution controls (real pollution, not CO2), waste reduction, efficiency, etc. will have my full support. These are among the reasons I like our local grocery store. They have a public recycling bin for plastic bags (though most customers use it as a garbage bin), as well as recycling their own waste products, from cardboard and plastic, to composting vegetable wastes. They are also supporters of the local community, providing sponsorship and volunteers for numerous local events.

Aside from all this, following Gore's pledge will accomplish nothing when it comes to affecting global warming, one way or the other. While we have some influence and control over our regional environment, the globe will do what it does, regardless of our actions. We have no control over the sun, our magnetic field, the Earth's path around the sun, and cosmic events, many of which we were just learning about now. We have no control over our oceans, and little ability to effect them, though some proposals to fight global warming have the potential to dramatically damage them. We can control what we put into our atmosphere to a pretty good extent, but we can't control how the atmosphere behaves - again, we're still just learning how it works, and there's still huge gaps in our knowledge.

In the end, about the only thing Gore's pledge will do is deceive a few good people into believing they're actually making a difference, and provide more publicity and accolades for himself.


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Guest post

Thanks, Bill, for letting me post this here. :-)
note: the charts are from here.

The 60-Second Climate Skeptic

I was trying to think about what I wanted to do for first post in the new year versus my recent orgy of global warming writing. My original compilation has ballooned into 80+ pages, so there may be many people who rationally just have no desire to tackle that much material. So I decided for this post to try to select the one argument I would use if I had only 60 seconds to make the climate skeptic's case. But how do you boil down 80 pages to a few simple statements?

Anyway, here goes, in a logic chain of 8 steps.

  1. CO2 does indeed absorb reflected sunlight returning to space from earth, having a warming effect. However, this effect is a diminishing return -- each successive increment of CO2 concentrations will have a much smaller effect on temperatures than the previous increment. Eventually, CO2 becomes nearly saturated in its ability to absorb radiation. The effect is much like painting a red room with white paint. The first coat covers a lot of red but some still shows through. Each additional coat will make the room progressively whiter, but each successive coat will have a less noticeable effects than the previous coat, until the room is just white and can't get any whiter.

  1. In the 20th century, the UN IPCC claims Earth's surface temperatures have increased by about a 0.6 degree Celsius (though there are some good reasons to think that biases in the installation of temperature instruments have exaggerated this apparent increase). To be simple (and generous), let's assume all this 0.6C increase is due to man-made greenhouse gasses. Some may in fact have been due to natural effects, but some may also have been masked by man-made sulfate aerosols, so lets just call man-made warming to be 0.6C.

  1. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, it is thought that man has increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations from 0.028% of the atmosphere to 0.038% of the atmosphere. Since scientists often talk about the effect of a doubling of CO2, this historic rise in CO2 is 36% of a doubling.

  1. Using simple math, we see that if temperatures have risen 0.6C due to 36% of a doubling, we might expect them to rise by 1.67C for a full doubling to 0.056% of the atmosphere. But this assumes that the rise is linear -- and we already said (and no one denies) that it is in fact a diminishing return relationship. Using a truer form of the curve, a 0.6C historic rise for 36% of a doubling implies a full doubling would raise temperatures by about 1.2C, or about 0.6C more than we have seen to date (see chart below). This means that the magnitude of global warming in the next century might be about what we have seen (and apparently survived) since 1900.

  1. Obviously, there is some kind of disconnect here. The IPCC predicts temperature increases in the next century of 4-8 degrees C. Big difference. In fact, the IPCC predicts we will get a 0.5C rise in just 20 years, not 70-100. Whereas we derived a climate sensitivity of 1.2 from empirical data, they arrive at numbers between 3 and 4 or even higher for sensitivity. The chart below shows that to believe sensitivity is 3, we would have to have seen temperature rises due to man historically of 1.5C, which nobody believes.

So how do they get accelerating temperatures from what they admit to be a diminishing return relation between CO2 concentration and temperature? And for which there is no empirical evidence? Answer: Positive feedback.

  1. Almost every process you can think of in nature operates by negative feedback. Roll a ball, and eventually friction and wind resistance bring it to a stop. Negative feedback is a ball in the bottom of a bowl; positive feedback is a ball perched precariously at the time of a mountain. Positive feedback breeds instability, and processes that operate by positive feedback are dangerous, and usually end up in extreme states -- these processes tend to "run away" like the ball rolling down the hill. Nuclear fission, for example, is a positive feedback process. We should be happy there are not more positive feedback processes on our planet. Current man-made global warming theory, however, asserts that our climate is dominated by positive feedback. The IPCC posits that a small increase in temperature from CO2 is multiplied 2,3,4 times or more by positive feedbacks like humidity and ice albedo.

  1. There are three problems with these assumptions about positive feedback. One, there is no empirical evidence at all that positive feedbacks in climate dominate negative feedbacks. The 20th century temperature numbers we discussed above show no evidence of these feedbacks. Two, the long-term temperature record demonstrates that positive feedbacks can't dominate, because past increases in temperature and CO2 have not run away. And three, characterizations of stable natural processes as being dominated by positive feedback should offend the intuition and common sense of any scientist.

  1. An expected 21st century increase of 0.5 or even 1 degree C does not justify the massive imposed government interventions that will be costly both in dollars and lost freedoms. In particular, the developing world will be far better off hotter by a degree and richer than it would be cooler and poorer. This is particularly true since sources like an Inconvenient Truth wildly exaggerate the negative effects of global warming. There is no evidence tornadoes or hurricanes or disease or extinction are increasing as the world warms, and man-made warming advocates generally ignore any potential positive effects of warming. As to rising sea levels, the IPCC predicts only a foot and a half of sea level rise even with 4 or more degrees of warming. Sea level rise from a half to one degree of warming would be measured at most in inches.

OK, so that was more than 60 seconds. But it is a lot less than the whole discussion. There is a lot of complexity and if you refuse the irrational politics, I’ll be more than happy to explain all these issues and much more (yes, including tree rings and cosmic rays) are discussed in more depth.