Friday, September 30, 2005

A Geologist's Point of View!

It's always difficult, as a geologist myself, to explain to people the significance of geologic time versus human time. Professor Philip Stott, in his Envirospin weblog states:

"I find it extremely interesting to note how many geologists take a rather cool and balanced view of the 'global warming' hysteria. I wonder if it's that long sense of Earth history....?"

Couldn't have said it better myself, but it's always especially good to get recognition from a geographer!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Selective Journalism

My last post praised Richard Black of the BBC. Today I am not so sure about his objectivity. This article carries a pretty damning headline:

Arctic Ice "Disappearing Fast"

But read on and it all depends on how you measure the amount of ice. According to one scientist (the one who would bet his mortgage on his opinion that this is global warming induced) the surface area of Arctic Ice has dimished. But another scientist is not so sure. She suggests that the same volume of ice may well be present but that its distribution is being modified by currents and winds. A very different explanation and one that is obviously far less newsworthy. (But she also is prepared to bet her mortgage that the effect is anthropogenic - got to keep the research funds flowing!)

There is a simple test to point to which concept may be more correct. If there is less ice in the Arctic, where has it gone? One of the main fears about global warming is that it could induce massive sea level rise, inundating much coastal habitation. If 20% of the Arctic ice has gone since 1978, wouldn't that contribute to a rising sea level?

In order to obsfuscate the debate, the scientists then move on to talk about "tipping points", theoretical future events when all our messing around with the planet will suddenly cause catastrophes. The examples given sound feasible but could also be termed scaremongering as there is little evidence that the planet will tip as a result of anthropogenic change. How can I be so sure? Well, I would suggest that there have been far more tumultuous natural events in the recent past (Sumatra's Lake Toba volcanic explosion, for example) that did not materially effect the planet's biodiversity. And the ice ages obviously consituted far greater climate change than the sort of change talked about by the moribund Kyoto Protocol.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The BBC does understand science!

Well, one guy does, anyway. This appeared on the main news page this morning. Yes, it really did!

The good news is that Richard Black thinks like a scientist, not a journalist, then writes a lucid, fair and accurate-as-can-be-ascertained article. As others will not doubt point out, Black also lambasts the liberal press (the Independent) for suggesting that Hurricane Rita is a direct result of global warming.

What is most interesting about the data provided in the article (now there's a novel thought, a journalist providing data to back up his writing!) is that hurricanes appear to wax and wane over a time period of around 30 years and that this cyclicity has nothing to do with the hockey stick or other attempts to demonstrate anthropogenic climate change. So where does this possibly take us? One thought is that such a cyclicity may be bound in with phenomena like El NiƱo and sun-spot activity. There's a good topic for research, someone!

Friday, September 23, 2005

Hurricane Rita Approaches

A day has passed and things are getting somewhat more constrained. Good news for Galveston, bad news for the Beaumont Port Arthur area around Sabine Pass. In an e-mail to a client I observed something the media seemed to have failed to notice - the steering effect that usually turns a Gulf storm track in a clockwise direction. This is often due to the presence of a NE-SW front bearing down on Texas from the northwest. Well, there is one there and it seems to have tweaked the path of Rita just enough to avoid the "unthinkable".

The evacuation of coastal areas has worked well but media frenzy appears to have whipped up panic among many who live in relatively safe areas of west and north Houston. Apparently the media have been showing day old shots of jammed freeways that have long-since cleared.

I used the word "unthinkable" above and of course this is part of the long term problem with coping with natural disasters. Better to ignore the worst case scenario and then blame it as an "act of god". Worse still is the way religious zealots cash in on peoples' misery by taunting them with almost joyful glee that such wrath has been wrought on the American People. And these include writers in quality newspapers like the Guardian and Independent here in the UK.

One other small item - my photo is missing because our website server is down for the duration. May that be the only thing that is down in the days ahead.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Hurricane Rita

We are watching Hurricane Rita approach the Gulf Coast with a lot of interest. We have friends, many friends, in the Houston area and also own an apartment in the Museum District (for sale, 4 stories off the ground, concrete structure, interested?) and our website, focalplane.com, is served from Houston. It has already shut down, no doubt mothballed or waterproofed or whatever you do to computers in the path of a Category 5, now 4, maybe 3 hurricane.

Rita appears to be the perfect storm. Looking at NOAA images, the spinning wheel of mass destruction is inexorably heading toward the Houston-Galveston metropolis. What does this have to do with global warming? Quite honestly, not very much. The last calamitous hurricane to hit the area was in 1900 when between 10,000 and 16,000 people perished in Galveston. These storms have been happening for a long, long time. For some reason, as we have become technologically more proficient we have started to believe that we can control such events. In fact, we have largely exacerbated the situation by removing natural shoreline defences, developing areas that were natural defences, ignoring the power of Nature and starting to believe that our technology has the answers.

For Rita, just like Katrina, is a natural disaster that knows nothing about humankind. Rita is not driven by a venegeful god, neither is it a visitation upon America by its enemies' wishful thinking. But it's still a storm and it can still do a lot of damage to life and property. It would be so easy to kneel and pray, wouldn't it? So much harder to face the music and admit that we have failed to appreciate the perennial strength of Nature.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Blair dumps Kyoto!

This is a transcript of british Prime Minister Tony Blair's comments at the Clinton Conference in New York (September 15):

"I think that - three points I would like to make here. The first is that I think, whether for reasons to do with concern over global warming or for reasons to do with concern over energy security and supplies, I think this issue is coming together in an important way. It's there now on the agenda and I'm pleased about that. I think it's very important. The second thing, though, is that I think - and I would say probably I'm changing my thinking about this in the past two or three years. I think if we are going to get action on this, we have got to start from the brutal honesty about the politics of how we deal with it. The truth is no country is going to cut its growth or consumption substantially in the light of a long-term environmental problem. What countries are prepared to do is to try to work together cooperatively to deal with this problem in a way that allows us to develop the science and technology in a beneficial way. Now, I don't think all of the answers lie in just - in developing the science and technology, but I do think there is no way we are going to tackle this problem unless we develop the science and technology capable of doing it. And that really brings me to the third point, which is I think the point that you were really raising, which is, well, how do you create the forces that drive people then to develop the science and technology? How do you create the markets and the research and the development of this technology so that we can shorten the timeline so that we're not waiting 25 or 30 years to develop fuel cell technology, so that, for example, in nuclear fusion, which is now a major issue as well we are developing the technology, so that you can bring those costs of wind power and solar power down? How do you do that? And I think that is the issue that the international community needs to address because we tried at Gleneagles to try and - some people have signed Kyoto, some people haven't signed Kyoto, right. That is a disagreement. It's there. It's not going to be resolved. But how do we move forward and ensure that post-Kyoto we do try to get agreement? I think that can only be done by the major players in this coming together and finding a way for pulling their resources, their information, their science and technology in order to find the ways of allowing us to grow sustainably? And the meeting that will take place on the 1st of November, which is effectively the G-8 of the India, China, Brazil, South Africa, and Mexico. That is going to allow us, I hope, not to negotiate international treaties, but to allow us to start beginning the necessary dialogue as to how we are going to shorten these timelines for developing the science and technology and how we are going to ensure that countries like China and India, as they grow - and they will grow. And they are not going to - they are not going to find it satisfactory for us in the developed world to turn around and say, look, we have had our growth. You have now got yours so we want you to do it sustainably even if we haven't. So they aren't going to demand, in my view, some process that allows us to share the technology and transfer so that we can benefit collectively for the work that needs to be done. And the real issue I think - because to be honest, I don't think people are going, at least in the short term, going to start negotiating another major treaty like Kyoto. The real issue is how do we put these incentives in the system so that the private sector, as well as the public sector says, this is the direction policy is going to go, so let's start getting behind this. So that is what - I think it's a key issue."

Well, if you can get through the Blair-speak delivery, it seems to me that Kyoto is dead and global warming is once again climate change. A major reversal from pre-Gleneagles G8 days. Progress. Global warming is good!

Monday, September 19, 2005

Anthropogenic Time Scales

As a geologist it seems to me that most humans can only imagine time if it fits into their concept of a time span. If I assume that the average life span is "three score years and ten", then it may be no surprise that most people consider 70 years to be a "long" time. Yet in geological timescale terms this is nothing.

It seems likely that most scientists studying global warming (a.k.a. climate change) fail to appreciate geological time scales, principally because they are only interested in researching man-made (anthropogenic) effects that may have influenced climate change to a greater or lesser extent. So much easier, therefore, to focus on the last 100 years or maybe the last 1,000 years and then blame any observed climate change on humans.

There is no doubt that humans have had an increasingly large degree of influence on this planet over the past few hundred years but there seems to be very little debate on its relative influence when compared to natural causes (which could be considered as an uneven "background noise").

For example, how does the climate change effect attributed to humans stack up against the climate change effects of volcanic eruptions, el ninos, sunspot activity, etc. etc.? Is anyone attempting to research this aspect of climate change, ideally to separate the causes and effects of natural and human-made modifications to the planet's ecosystem? Perhaps no-one is, simply because it may not be all that easy to do (i.e. it could be impossible!)

And if this is not possible to do, then all the estimates and hypotheses being made have very little scientific basis. Is the climate change community therefore working on refining a premise without establishing its basis? Perhaps some education on geological time scales would be a good start.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Prof. Stott on Katrina

Thursday, September 01, 2005

More Religion on Global Warming

This piece in today's BBC website. Let's all put on sackcloth and beat ourselves with broom handles. Nothing like an old fashioned scourge to make us feel better. More words on this I cannot find, no matter how hard I try.