Thursday, January 13, 2011

Global Warming - My Take

Having listened to the shrill debate over Global Warming (GW) I would like to offer my take on it all, from a non-partisan, engineering perspective, being as realistic as possible. I live pretty modestly by American standards, and it does offend me a bit to see suburbanites driving H2s. I can afford to drive an H2, but I have better uses for my money. I am all for conserving energy and oil because they are expensive, not because I believe in GW.

I notice that GW has morphed in to Climate Change (CC), which on its face is an admission that evidence for rising global temperatures is lacking. Bait and switch! Now any change at all is “evidence”, and of course the climate is always changing everywhere. This smacks of religious faith; a believer sees her god acting everywhere because she was told that her god “drives the universe”. The invisible and the non-existent look a lot alike. To the believers, CC now drives all weather everywhere, even cooling is change, and so no matter what happens the believers feel vindicated.

I often hear that “Weather is not climate” coming from the believers, but when I read their articles they often cite extreme weather to be the result of GW. Must there be extreme weather to do the damage claimed? Is it possible to have no extreme weather and still suffer the claimed ill effects of GW? This reminds me of pareidolia, looking for a cryptic sign from heaven, like a Jesus face on a tortilla. Must there be a hurricane or a drought to prove the existence of GW?

The claims strike me as “the end of the world” all over again. A look in to the history of end times prophesies shows them to be based on faith, not scientific fact. The media love to jerk everyone around, keeping them running scared, always buying more media to feed their morbid fantasies. Big scares mean big profits. At first we had the end of the world because of the return of Jesus, then it was an asteroid, then it was global cooling, then it was the population explosion, then it was Mayan doomsday, then it was a volcano, then it was Y2k, then it was aliens, then it was AIDS, then it was a comet, then it was nuclear war, then it was the last of the crude oil, then it was the flu, it is always something! Remember when a “low carb” diet was fashionable? It faded off the radar screen because it was bull. Diet fads come and go just like end times prophesies. This is business as usual for the fear mongering press. Warnings of doomsday have always been good press, it sells copy, and GW is a real cash cow to the newsman who will milk it to his dying day. GW will always be the disaster that is always just around the corner, but never materializes.

The 2005 hurricane season and Katrina seemed to be the final nail in the coffin, but the next season was hurricane free, which had the faithful backpedaling like mad. Just remember, the computer models have adjustable gains which can be tweaked to report whatever is needed to get the next federal study grant.
Notice the hypocrisy from rich believers. They tell us that we need to sacrifice and cut back and go without, but they do not practice what they preach. They zoom around in private jets, easily pay huge electric bills, and drive in SUV motorcades with 11 tractor-trailers following. This reminds me of televangelists like Jimmy Swaggart preaching about living a pious life, then getting busted for hiring a hooker. If they believe then they should lead by example. Imagine everybody in the world flying around the globe preaching to everyone else to stop using so much energy. Reminds me of Multi-Level Marketing.
Some middle class people preach a “green” life style. But look past the claims; they use just as many lights and computers, drive cars, have kids, eat food, heat and cool their homes as those who don’t claim to be “green”.  They proudly tell others how green they are for buying a few CF lights, recycling some plastics and buying a few products claiming to be “earth friendly”. They think putting a wine bottle in the recycle bin makes a big difference. That is irrational exuberance and is far more of a fashion statement than anything that could make a difference. In fact it is a form of auto eroticism – feeling good without making a baby. It is the current fashion to pay lip service but not really sacrifice anything; it is a way to relieve some of the guilt.
Another odd item is when a developed nation like the US tells someone like Brazil not to cut down their forests, because the world needs the trees to forestall GW. I love trees as much as anyone, but the USA did the same thing when she developed, so let us who live in a glass house not throw stones.
GW claims remind me of Irving Langmuir’s description of Pathological Science, which are;
  • The maximum effect that is observed is produced by a causative agent of barely detectable intensity, and the magnitude of the effect is substantially independent of the intensity of the cause.
  • The effect is of a magnitude that remains close to the limit of detectability, or many measurements are necessary because of the very low statistical significance of the results.
  • There are claims of great accuracy.
  • Fantastic theories contrary to experience are suggested.
  • Criticisms are met by ad hoc excuses.
  • The ratio of supporters to critics rises and then falls gradually to oblivion.
Pathological science, as defined by Langmuir, is a psychological process in which a scientist, originally conforming to the scientific method, unconsciously veers from that method, and begins a pathological process of wishful data interpretation.  Langmuir never intended the term to be rigorously defined; it was simply the title of his talk on some examples of "weird science". As with any attempt to define the scientific endeavor, examples and counterexamples can always be found.
I’m a mechanical engineer and understand energy and chemistry a bit more than the average bear. To listen to pundits and politicians talk about ceasing CO2 production is laughable! To do so would have us all living as we did before we learned how to produce and control fire. Even if GW is happening for sure, and everybody agrees on it and really sees it, what could we possibly do anyway? It would still be the same song, let others sacrifice in order to fix it! There are over 6 billion people on earth and more every day. If it is really happening it is far too late to do anything, anyway.  CO2 production has always been a byproduct of the rise of human civilization. If there is a problem then it is population.
Another item that bothers me is this: if, on average, the whole earth has warmed just one degree Fahrenheit in the last 100 years, then how can that cause any ice to melt in an area whose average temperature is well below freezing (32° F)? If one area must cool while another warms, then what are the benefits of the cooling? The stories always presume that even a little warming is harmful, so by the same thinking a little cooling must be equally helpful. But we never hear about the good effects, this makes me suspicious of a scam.
Oil, coal, wood, and natural gas are “free” energy. By this I mean that, for example, a person’s own hand need not turn a crank to generate electricity. Many live well and enjoy luxuries by using this free energy. Oil is made in to thousands of useful products. If GW is really happening, it is a price we must pay for the use of abundant free energy.

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