Friday, March 30, 2007

Stifling Debate

The Channel 4 documentary, The Great Global Warming Swindle, has stirred up a measure of indignation from those who find it difficult to have scientific debate, no doubt because they are convinced they are absolutely right. Right wing commentator Walter Williams has written this measured piece that notes how the so called "heretics" have received death threats, have had funding reduced or limited and have therefore been denied access to the normal channels of scientific debate.

The reaction against the Channel 4 program has been swift and predictable. We are told that the program's scientists "have an axe to grind", "use out of date data" and "are not in the mainstream of opinion". Such statements are hypocritical, to say the least. They are the sort of invectives that are spouted when the speaker knows his/her own scientific foundations are built on sand.

To give an example, the awkward evidence that increased carbon dioxide concentrations lag higher levels of sunspot activity and therefore cannot be the cause of global warming, but rather a result of it, is "explained" by suggesting that the oceans initially absorb some carbon dioxide so the CO2 peak is delayed.

There may be some truth in this - I have not seen the full account of research into CO2 absorption by the oceans - but even so, this doesn't answer the question, it merely pours doubt on the original thesis. We still have the evidence that peaks in CO2 concentration are directly related to, and are always slightly later than, periods of high sunspot activity. There is, in other words, a strong correlation between the two that cannot be explained by coincidence. Therefore we should rightly invoke a "cause and effect" relationship and begin to test it for validity.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Gore and Congress

The New York Post is never likely to be sympathetic to Al Gore but this article treats him reasonably well even though their satire is in every paragraph. The religious aspect of global warming comes in to the description of his statements to Congress; he is the "goracle" of global warming!

However, his message stops short of advocacy for nuclear energy. Not surprising, given his constituency of support!

Some real Earth Science!

After entry after entry on the politically motivated science of climate change, it is a welcome relief to read a BBC article that covers a topic (close to my heart) without all the mumbo jumbo, scare tactics and politicization of an Al Gore presentation.

If only all science could be reported in the same way. But it isn't.

There is a link between this research and modern day climate change science, however. By demonstrating that processes we see today also existed 3.8 billion years ago, geologists are able to demonstrate the incredible staying power of the physical processes that underpin everything about this planet. In so many ways the biological imprint on this incredibly strong foundation is seen to be transitory. Humankind worries about "saving the planet" when what they really mean is "saving the biota on the planet".

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Caution

It's good to see a couple of scientists use the word "caution" at a climate conference. They also condemn the "hollywoodization" of the message and hit out at the AAAS' prognostications on severe weather.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Refuse Collection and Global Warming

It seems everything in life can now be given the global warming spin. Today the BBC carries two news stories about waste and refuse collection.

The first concerns a study that says that the UK is throwing away vast amounts of food that goes to landfills from where greenhouse gases are emitted.

The second reports that government research indicates that refuse collections every two weeks would not consitute a health hazard if the "food is wrapped properly".

I hate to see food wasted but I am not surprised that this has become an issue in society at large. Scraps used to be incorporated in meals. Now, with packaged dinners, there is no way in which scraps can be used. No stock pot, no pasties, no hot pots.

The twice weekly refuse collection idea is a bit more scary. People do not wrap their food when disposing of it! And rats have a way with opening up such tidbits anyway. Disposable diapers (nappies in the UK) are often jettisoned in garbage cans (dustbins in the UK) so you can imagine what a two week wait would do to to them. Having lived in hot climates where garbage collection was daily (Singapore) there must be a good reason for such a policy. Houston has weekly collection and thriving rat populations living around those huge skips will the ill-fitting lids. Even during a long hot summer in the UK like last year the trash containers did take on a fermentation that was rank.

To put it mildly.

By the way, my solution to all this is a waste disposal unit in the kitchen sink. Grind it up and send it off to the sanitation experts for re-cycling!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

BBC - Balanced Broadcasting Corporation?


I don't think so!

Airline Carbon Credits - redux

Just a day after my essay on carbon trading comes this piece from the BBC. Apparently British Airways isn't very good at selling trees! Why should they be, they are in the transport business, not forestry.

Those busy body MPs - don't they have something better to do?

"Cool the Hype"

So says this reasoned article in the New York Times. This is good reporting in that it attempts to tell more than one side of the story and does so without becoming pedantic. Scientists are named and sources can be sought and checked.

Al Gore doesn't come out of it all that well. There is a general admittance that he has selected evidence (for example the time scale of evidence goes back only 400 years which would mean excluding a lot of geologically meaningful data). But perhaps worse is the criticism that he is too alarmist in his assertions that there is an impending crisis.

Huricane Katrina figures large in Al Gore's documentary with the prediction that such storms will be more frequent and more powerful. Using Gore's own short term statistics (such as saying that 2005 was the hottest year) we can judge his predictions and say they have failed. 2006 was a quiet hurricane year although he says it should not have been.

(Of course, from a geologist's point of view such annual statistics mean very little little so we would discount 2006 hurricane intensity anyway.)

The major problem with Gore's thesis remains this: the evidence that says it is entirely man-made is far from conclusive and there is good evidence that cycles of global warming are unrelated to man-made CO2 sources - sunspot activity studies are rarely mentioned yet they point to a strong correlation that CO2 increases in step with but after periods of sunspot activity.

So it is possible to predict that any attempts by man to modify climate change could lead to catastrophes that Gore has not imagined. That is not to say that we should do nothing but whatever we do decide to do must be the result of well-balanced research based on models that work. That there is so much funding still pouring in to climate research is indicative that the working models are still a long way off.

Al Gore, the Archbishop of Climate Change?

Last night I watched the Guardian's interview with Al Gore, referred to here. I have to admit it was tough going.

What struck me about Al Gore's answers to several questions was that he prefaced a statement with the words "I believe that. . ."

Now what is wrong with that?

Well, he could just as easily have said "I have looked at the scientific evidence and I am drawn to the conclusion that. . ."

There is is difference here in the way the information is presented.

Many commentators have likened global warming to a religion, a belief system that goes beyond reasoned thinking that ultimately cannot conceive that there might be a different answer to fundamental questions.

If this is the case, then Gore could qualify to be the Archbishop of Climate Change!

Monday, March 12, 2007

On Carbon Credits

Part of the Al Gore utility bill furore focuses on his excuse that he invests in "carbon credits" (though the investment turns out to be in a company of which he is an owner/officer). Many people wonder what exactly a carbon credit might be. Cynical heretical deniers have suggested that a carbon credit is not unlike the old Catholic indulgence whereby a sinner pays off God with a bribe to clear a list of sins and thereby start off with a clean sheet until the next time an indulgence is required.

So what is a carbon credit? Here are some examples.

Tom and Jane go on vacation. The airplane they fly in will burn fossil fuels and create an exhaust of carbon dioxide which will (so it is said) do untold damage to the Earth's temperature. Tom and Jane feel guilty about this but find out that they can easily assuage their feelings by investing in the planting of a tree in a wilderness area. This tree will absorb their carbon dioxide and so save the planet.

Smoggy Air Foundry (SAF) Inc. has a large factory which desperately needs upgrading to give off less pollution. But the upgrade would likely render the foundry unprofitable, forcing closure and the loss of jobs. Rather than allowing for a tax incentive to make the upgrade economically feasible, the government initiative suggests that SAF inc. would do better to continue to run the foundry as it is. However, an ongoing penalty for running an inefficient factory would be to buy a carbon credit for each tonne of carbon dioxide, etc. lost to the atmosphere. The carbon credit would be traded from a company that has invested in efficiency via a carbon credit exchange.

Carbon credits could also become a feature of national economies - Country A (say Euroland) might pay Country B (say Africania) to allow it to be more profligate with its CO2 emissions. Note that this concept makes the most of the difference between the developed world and the undeveloped world. The unfortunate side effect is that the undeveloped world would get cash subsidies but no means to use that cash to become industrialized.

So, three examples on personal, institutional and national levels. They've thought of everything!

But let's look a little closer.

That tree, for example. Tom and Jane sent off the $50 to buy the tree. They receive a certificate in return. They feel good about what they've done, but do they actually know there is a tree planted in their name? Worse, if there is one, who is looking after it, watering it, making sure it grows? Hmm.

SAF Inc. is continuing to pollute the skies and provide poor working conditions for its employees. The carbon credits don't come cheap and soon it is apparent that the much needed improvements will always be financially out of reach. Then a government policy change demands the closure of such factories with little compensation. The site is closed down and sold off for building land and the workers lose their jobs.

Euroland continues to operate its carbon-rich economy, turning out goods that it in turn sells in Africania. Goods the people in Africania cannot make themselves because they have sold the right to build factories, make electricity or generally improve their standard of living.

Now, I do recognize that these outcomes might seem a little extreme. But they are possible and in all probability they will happen in a real world of smoke and mirror politics.

There is another angle to this subject that should not be allowed to pass without mention. That is, the trading of carbon credits (on whichever scale) requires a huge bureaucracy. Moreover, entrepreneurs can see ways to get in on the action. And public relations officers also see ways to make a lot of mileage out of a little investment in the right green strategy (if you want an example of this, look no further than a company that likes to call itself "Beyond Petroleum"). Carbon trading is becoming an industry, a big business opportunity, an element of bloated government bureaucracy.

Yet in the end, the best it could ever be is the equivalent of a zero sum game. Doesn't sound like a winner to me!

A Very Good Question!

"Exactly what is the correct temperature for the Earth?"

Answers?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Other Side's Point of View

Some would suggest that there is no need to do this here. After all, there are plenty of sources for the dissemination of information and opinions about man-made global warming. Fair debate requires the presentation of evidence for the individual to be able to determine the "truth" about a situation. So here is a program from the other side with a documentary about and interview with Al Gore.

I do not endorse it, I only make it available.

Oh that others could do likewise and open their minds and websites to contrarian views.

The Great Global Warming Swindle

I don't watch TV. I know, that makes me a very wierd person, doesn't it! As a result I missed Channel 4's airing of the Great Global Warming Swindle last week. However, this article makes up for it.

At the same time, the opposition Conservative party is heading straight for those windmills in Don Quixote's mind. David Cameron has lost my vote. I have no idea who I would vote for in a UK election.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Death Threats if you criticize Al Gore?

Apparently this has happened - the Washington Times reports that the group who exposed Al Gore's utility bills to be 20 times the US average have received all manner of threats from (funda)mental(ist) (environ)mental(ist) supporters of Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

Of course, Al Gore's famous comeback was that he buys carbon credits to offset the utility usage at his mansion. Trouble is, he pays the credit offsets to his own company! That's just way too hypocritical!

Friday, March 02, 2007

A Culture of Opinions over Knowledge

This phrase came up in a recent on-line discussion, referring to what drives the media these days. If blogging is part of the media then this is certainly true. You want opinions? The Internet has them! What I think the writer of this phrase means (and of course what I think is an opinion!) is that many statements are made as opinion without the basis of knowledge to provide a solid foundation to the argument offered.

The key to this blog is simple: there are strong indications that the issues are not being debated openly even though the information is out there. Despite what Al Gore may think (see the previous post) there is little balance within the political science community and this is further exacerbated by the media. Links from this blog go some way to providing the balance. My own observations serve to assist but not demand the conclusions each reader may derive from the information out there.

Debate is healthy. Knowledge inspires healthy debate.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

On Balanced Reporting - Al Gore's View

This article from the Tennessean is interesting. Al Gore is so convinced that his premise on global warming is right that he is accusing the media of using "balance" to introduce contrarian views. I guess he is saying "the media should not be publishing points of view that differ from my own, because, damn it, I know I am right!"

So remember: Balance is Bias!

Martin Livermore in the Telegraph

This is a rare piece of writing. Recommended reading for its lucid approach to analyzing the science of global warming. Required reading for all the carbon traders of this world so busy jumping on the bandwagon they haven't time to consider that they may be barking up the wrong tree.

[later in the day: The comments attached to this article are astounding! Elitists beware, your number is up!]