Thursday, May 28, 2009

Carbon Conservativism

Conservatives and Libertarians are losing credibility by arguing that man made sources are not responsible for global warming. While I appreciate that the left has seized on the issue in order to seize our income and control of the economy, arguing against the underlying science is a long term losing proposition. Further, having done nothing about the issue when they controlled the Congress and the Presidency, the Republicans have paved the way for Henry Waxman's hair-brained, reward-your-buddies scheme that will actually do little to nothing to solve the problem. For scathing critiques of Waxman-Hartley also see the Reason article and Economist article.

First, I want to examine a little of the science. It is established fact that greenhouse gases, CO2, water vapor, ozone and methane, exist and cause the surface temperature of the earth to be about 57 deg F warmer than if they were not present. Hooray, it would be mighty cold without them. I worked the equations to determine this difference in a college level physics class well before the current debate. Further, the concentration of CO2 is increasing steadily and is now about 37% higher than a century ago, so it is not too far a stretch to believe that this will cause a warming of the earth's atmosphere. How much? Perhaps one degree Celsius. However, we continue to increase the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

The historical record of the last million years has been dominated by ice ages, with relatively brief warming periods that occur on a 100,000 year cycle. We are currently in such a warming period, called the holocene that started about 10,000 years ago. During the warming period, the rise in carbon dioxide levels generally lagged the rise in temperature by 800 to 1100 years. While this proves that historically, CO2 did not cause the initial increase in temperatures, it is hypothesized that the rising carbon dioxide levels, released from warmer oceans, due to lower CO2 solubility created a positive feedback effect that caused temperatures to rise quickly.

Today, we appear to be in a historically anomalous time. The interglacial period has lasted almost as long as any for the last million years, so it is an open question as to whether the increased carbon dioxide will be overwhelmed by the natural forces that seem to be cooling the earth over the longer haul. More importantly, the surface temperatures of the earth have been very stable during the holocene; this very predictability has contributed to economic development. The argument on the left is that because we are dependent on temperature stability for our current economic structures, it would be disastrous to allow anthropegenic (man-made) global warming to upset the balance.

However, the balance is likely to be upset anyway, and it seems that the Waxman's proposal is to wreck the economy to in order to save it. However, because the main source of global warming is the burning of fossil fuels, which is associated with air pollution, it would still seem prudent to reduce carbon emissions in a way that does the least damage to the wealth of the planet, for the very reason that this wealth will be needed to adapt to climate changes that have probably become unstoppable for the time being. Because I believe in the power of deregulation and free markets to effect change, the proposal that makes the most sense is to phase in a carbon tax and offset the revenue with an equal phased reduction of the income tax. This has the advantage of not choosing favorites with respect to which alternative sources of non-carbonated energy should be used and minimizing the impact to the economy. Because it doesn't raise revenues nor reward favored groups, Democrats will never go for it. Republicans, you suck too, for not putting this in place when you had the chance. Now, we are all going to suffer.

I will post more on this topic at a later date.

I am calling out 'Dawg to comment. Other posters are welcome as well.

I leave you with a quote from Reason: "Man-made climate change may be a huge problem, but cap-and-trade proponents need to stop pretending that the solution will cost virtually nothing while producing more jobs than it destroys."


  1. I will consider anthropogenic global warming a valid theory when they come up with a model that can accurately predict, within reason, past temperature variations.

    Between that lack, and the tendency of "climate change" defenders to try to silence, deny and devalue-- rather than debate-- I am highly dubious, to put it kindly.

    If one is worried about credibility, I'd point out that the number of GW believers in the general public has dropped.

  2. Oh, and stuff like this:
    makes me wonder if the ice core stuff might be a red herring.
    More than 90,000 accurate chemical analyses of CO2 in air since 1812 are summarised. The historic chemical data reveal that changes in CO2 track changes in temperature, and therefore climate in contrast to the simple, monotonically increasing CO2 trend depicted in the post-1990 literature on climate-change.

    Since 1812, the CO2 concentration in northern hemispheric air has fluctuated exhibiting three high level maxima around 1825, 1857 and 1942 the latter showing more than 400 ppm. Between 1857 and 1958, the Pettenkofer process was the standard analytical method for determining atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, and usually achieved an accuracy better than 3%. These determinations were made by several scientists of Nobel Prize level distinction.

    Following Callendar (1938), modern climatologists have generally ignored the historic determinations of CO2, despite the techniques being standard text book procedures in several different disciplines. Chemical methods were discredited as unreliable, choosing only few which fit the assumption of a climate CO2 connection.
    When folks disregard existing measurements in preference for reconstructed ones, I start to worry. (of course, I worry rather easily....)

  3. Foxfier,
    Thanks for commenting, unlike the left, I welcome debate. I reviewed your link, and my problem is that the actual data shows no consistency over time. It is unreasonable to believe that CO2 concentrations vary wildly year on year. The ice core samples have the advantage of consistency. Further, there is no doubt that atmospheric CO2 has been increasing steadily for 50 years and that the increase is sharp when considered against geologic time scales.

    If I get enough comments, I will post an extended rebuttal. Further, the key issue is how to respond to the perceived threat. We can maintain our values and craft a response consistent with free market principles.

  4. Hehe, if I didn't think you'd be willing to be reasonable, I probably wouldn't waste my breath. ;^p We're still going to disagree, of course, but at least we can do it like we're adults or something. *grin*

    Difference in location might account for in measurement differences-- we know that CO2 levels vary from valley to valley; why are we willing to assume that they won't vary in another location?

    That folks act like there weren't any measurements taken, rather than refuting them if they're refutable, trigger my "cover your wallet" response.

    Kinda like how we jumped across the "is it happening?" "Did we cause it?" "Is it bad?" and "Can we stop it?" questions and went straight for "do this or the earth dies."

    I just find it really, really hard to believe that if there were good, solid arguments to be made, nobody would've made them by now.

  5. First of all, glad to have you back!

    Ms. Fier has more eloquently rebutted the anthropogenic global warming than I. Thank you.

    I would disagree conservatives and Libertarians are losing credibility. It seems the AGW conspiracy theorists at large have decreased while the skepticism in the scientific community is on the rise.

    “Just one-out-of-three voters (34%) now believe global warming is caused by human activity, the lowest finding yet in Rasmussen Reports national surveying.”

    “At a press conference on May 19, Arthur Robinson, Ph.D., announced the release of the names of 32,000 scientists who have signed a strongly worded petition dissenting from the alarmist assertions of Al Gore and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).” “In Ph.D. scientist signers alone, the project already includes 15-times more scientists than are seriously involved in the United Nations IPCC project. The very large number of petition signers demonstrates that, if there is a consensus among American scientists, it is in opposition to the human-caused global warming hypothesis rather than in favor of it,” states Robinson. Signers include more than 9,000 Ph.Ds.”

    So, Bdaddy, if the key issue is how to respond to the “perceived threat”, why all the reliance on science creating the perception rather than refutation of the science itself?

    Researchers and scientists clearly have an agenda to have the results meet the expectations. THE SUREST ROAD TO ACADEMIC FUNDING IS TO TIE YOUR PEAT RESEARCH PROJECT IN WITH CLIMATE CHANGE!!!!!!

    Do models constitute scientific proof? The IPCC has never been able to choose a particular climate model that is best, instead it aggregates a dozen more or less and averages the results. Systematic errors don’t average out. The skeptic’s models are never introduced or funded.

    But rather than engage in meaningful rational dialogue, skeptics are ridiculed, killing any meaningful dissent.

  6. 'Dawg,
    Thanks for your long awaited reply. So here's a question, if the earth were getting colder but at a demonstrably slower rate than would otherwise be expected by natural forces, would we call it AGW? My answer is yes, because it would be an indicator of an anthropogenic effect on the environment. I am not sure if the man is delaying the end of the holocene or what the outcome of increasing the CO2 concentration will be. It still seems possible to me that we will enter another ice age.

    Scientific proof is far too high a standard in this case. The skeptic side can not offer proof that AGW is not real. So we are left with a preponderous of the evidence type argument. In such cases, we should proceed cautiously and engage in respectful debate. I agree that the AGW side has not done so. However, their failure does not mean they are wrong.

    I rely on my knowledge of proven theory in this case. CO2 is a known green house gas. It's concentration is rising. It follows that some warming effect will result. How much requires warming detailed observation.

    Will run away global warming result? Again I say no, because the earth's radiative energy emission to space is proportional to the fourth power of absolute temperature. See the Wiki article. This provides a strong moderating effect on global climate. A 2 degree celsius rise in the earth's average temp of 288 deg C would result in a 2.8% increase in radiated energy.

    My point is that given the known facts, a phased approach to the problem seems prudent. Denying its existence means we can't join the debate about what to do.

  7. Small problem: there isn't a lot of CO2 in the atmosphere, and it's not very strong.

    Water vapor is a *much* more effective insulator, for example.

    The skeptic side can not offer proof that AGW is not real.

    But those urging action, the believer side, cannot offer proof that it is real, let alone that it's a bad thing.

  8. Foxfier,
    Thanks, CO2 contributes on the order of 10%-25% of the greenhouse gas effect. I agree that water vapor is a much greater contributor than CO2. If we take the lower number of 10% contribution with a 37% increase in CO2 concentration, that translates into a 3.7% increase overall increase in greenhouse effect. This would translate further into a 1.2 deg Celsius rise in temperatures (based on a total effect of 32 deg C currently, see the wikipedia article) consistent with observation. The problem is that the CO2 concentration continues to rise and is perhaps accelerating, so the warming trend will increase, although moderated by the fourth power radiative effect. So is this a global catastrophe? Not necessarily, but certainly not something to let get out of control.

  9. Except that we haven't been seeing a warming trend-- and please stop referring to wiki; wiki is like asking someone in the street for advice on where to start. The information might be good, but it really has to be checked elsewhere first. (Most of the claims should have a citation-- maybe look at those sources?)

    From a quick search, I found this which states that less than 4% of the greenhouse effect is from CO2, "Based on concentrations (ppb) adjusted for heat retention characteristics".

    Also, here on the EPA seeing about declaring water vapor a pollutant.

    Another aside:
    In simple terms the bulk of Earth's greenhouse effect is due to water vapor by virtue of its abundance. Water accounts for about 90% of the Earth's greenhouse effect -- perhaps 70% is due to water vapor and about 20% due to clouds (mostly water droplets), some estimates put water as high as 95% of Earth's total tropospheric greenhouse effect (e.g., Freidenreich and Ramaswamy, “Solar Radiation Absorption by Carbon Dioxide, Overlap with Water, and a Parameterization for General Circulation Models,” Journal of Geophysical Research 98 (1993):7255-7264).

    Sorry so disjointed, it's getting late.

  10. Ms. Fier brings up a most often overlooked position regarding water vapor.

    But....I am going to leave some of the geeky, wonky science to you and deal with my gut and some common sense.

    1. The AGW crown claims consensus when there is none. The old adage, “methinks you protest too much” gets my common sense radar beeping. Have you seen the signators on the the Heidelberg Appeal? Reid Bryson, the 87-year-old considered to be the father of scientific climatology has declared AGW, "Don't make me throw up...It is not science. It is not true." It reminds me of the creation science crowd claiming consensus.
    2. Not only is funding for science afforded more if you tie your research to global warming, but AGW skeptics are intimidated.

    3. The coming Ice Age, the Ozone hole, and the Population Explosion were all brought to the forefront of our attention by alarmists claiming we would never make it this far. I can still hear Ted Danson crying, the sky is falling and we will never make it to the year 2000.

    Gotta take the boy to school. My point is AGW doesn’t pass the smell test.

  11. Here, this is much easier to read:

    About halfway down it charts CO2 levels vs global lower troposphere temps.

  12. 'Dawg and Foxfier,
    Thanks for your comments and good debate. It is healthy and I respect your opinions.

    I will leave with you one final thought, I still think there could be a coming ice age, it is certainly possible given the longest term trends. But economically disruptive warming seems more likely in the short term, so we should craft a reasonable policy that doesn't wreck the economy.

    I will be adding an environmental plank to the freedom coalition agenda soon.

  13. That doesn't address the *cooling* trend of the last ten years.....

  14. Ms. Fier,

    Thanks for all the great references. I was all over the water vapor insulation argument, but I wanted to be less wonkish. (not particularly a good position with Admiral Bdaddy Wonk!)

    I have seen the data from the skeptics and know the loudest voice does not always hold water and very often is corrupt.

    My argument was meant to be more oriented to why the skeptics should be heard, and what interests do the AGW advocates have?

    Having listened to both sides, I side with the skeptics, it seems the skeptic's science is with less agenda.

  15. *salutes the Dawg*

    Same conclusion, different routes-- generally, I take that as a *good* sign....

  16. Out of the blue thought:
    if we accept that CO2 makes things hotter, and it's always risen after things get warmer in the past, what stopped the warming before?