Monday, January 8, 2007

Hot Air from the NY Times

From the NY Times,

Exhaustive computer simulations carried out at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., suggest that the Arctic Ocean will be mostly open water in the summer of 2040 — several decades earlier than expected. Scientists attribute the loss of summer ice largely to the buildup of carbon dioxide and other man-made greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

For those of you not aware, computer simulations such as the aforementioned use dozens, if not hundreds of variables which are determined by extensive (and expensive) research. The problem is that nature is a tough beast to predict with a computer, since the intertwining relationship between these parameters is complex. Furthermore, there are always factors not included in the models, for various and obvious reasons: They may be unknown at the time the model is created, there could be uncertainty in the value of the quantity which may render its effect meaningless, it may be difficult to incorporate the effect into the computer program, the resolution of the numerical simulation may be too small to capture effects that affect long-term predictions, etc.

At the end of the day, with enough parameters, a programmer can introduce enough garbage to pollute the solution. To rely on such models is dangerous, especially if you are using them to adjust factors which affect the global economic structure.

It would be refreshing if instead of the same, old, tired, knee jerk reaction to hyperbolic predictions of impending warming disaster, editorial boards would take a basic course in logic and reasoning. Okay, NY Times editors are probably not scientists, but let's pretend they could call one on the phone and get some advice on how to question the results offered by the global climate modelers. Here are just a few questions they could have asked for us:
  • Have global climate models been able to predict the past with accuracy? For example, Data show that between 1930 and 1970 global temperature decreased while CO2 increased. Do the climate modelers accurately predict this phenomenon? If not, why?
  • Given that we are warming since the "little ice age" would the models predict the melting of the arctic?
  • Does the predicted ocean rise rate predicted by the model match measured data for the last century and for the proxy data for the last 6000 years?
Given that the NY Times writes an editorial based on scientific work, I will pretend for a second that I can use a slight bit of scientific scrutiny. I want references to the models they refer to, or a name, or anything. I am not bound to accept that for which I cannot verify myself.

In the second paragraph,
Experts at NASA’s Goddard Institute predict that 2006 will be the fifth-warmest year since modern record-keeping began, continuing a decades-long global warming trend caused, again, by the buildup of man-made carbon dioxide.

They could have simply said, James Hansen, who is a recipient of a disgusting amount of funding to research exactly what he predicts. Why do they shield his identity?

The Interior Department proposes adding polar bears to the list of threatened species because of the accelerating loss of the Arctic ice that is the bears’ habitat. The department does not take a position on why the ice is melting, but studies supporting the proposed listing identify greenhouse gases as the main culprit, adding that if left unchecked these gases will create ice-free Arctic summers in three decades.

It's not clear if NY Times is claiming that the bears' numbers are decreasing. If so, who is claiming this? Further, what is the evidence that the bears would fail to adjust to a slowly shifting climate? I would contend that bears are highly adaptable given their wide range, and that the bears, while perhaps not living on the ice shelves, would live on the shores near the water and would have the same access to prey.

And there is the......

But we knew that.

However, the NY Times predicts calamitously here a story about how scientists were predicting ominous cooling trends.

In another article, the NY times here emphasizes the idea that a cooling trend was on its way, even though the scientists were uncertain about what was actually happening with the climate.

One can only assume that the Senate’s new Democratic leadership is paying attention. California’s Barbara Boxer is the new chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, replacing James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who regards global warming as an elaborate hoax drummed up by environmentalists and scientists in search of money. Ms. Boxer has already scheduled hearings, and there will be no shortage of legislative remedies to consider. All share one objective, which is to attach a cost to carbon dioxide through a cap on emissions.

I'd like to see a shred of proof that Inhofe has claimed that global warming is a elaborate hoax. He has publicly admitted and has written about (easily available online) that the earth has warmed, but that the idea that the primary source of warming is anthropogenic remains to be proven.

So the NY Times is either ignorant or lying. Since they claim to be responsible journalists, I would assume that they are not ignorant of Inhofe's views. Thus, they must be lying.

This is not accidental. Inhofe gives a voice to the people who challenge the GW scaremongers. For debate purposes, he is tactically placed in the position of having the extremist position. I would dare say the extremist is an ignorant person who does not know that the earth is indeed warming or who denies it in its entirety. Or, on the contrary, a person who has an extreme agenda to curtail industrial civilization --- the Malthusians of our time --- the types that link any variation in the weather to man-induced destruction of the planet.

The agenda of the NY Times is clear. By placing Inhofe at the extreme position and the envirowhackos at the other, the only logical conclusion is that the middle ground is a strong effort to curtail CO2 output rates. Who pays the price? Ultimately the rich (Europeans/Americans?) are supposed to pay for this, in an elaborate scheme of transferring money from hither to thither, supposedly which will encourage reduction in CO2 rates because we'll all go to solar. Okay!

The underlying logic is that if people and industries are made to pay for the privilege of pumping these gases into the atmosphere, they will inevitably be driven to developer cleaner fuels, cleaner cars and cleaner factories.

What the NY Times fools don't have a fundamental grasp of is the concept of an order of magnitude. They think that changing to "cleaner cars" is going to have a strong impact of the CO2 emitted? Wrong! They may reduce levels or ordinary pollutants such as NOx, SOx, etc., but CO2 generation is going to be roughly proportional to miles driven, with the proportionality constant most strongly a function of the weight of the vehicle. Period! There are no large gains to be made by doing research, since the thermodynamic efficiency of most engines cannot be increased significantly. Implementing "cleaner" cars will have only a second- or third-order effect on the CO2 generation (per mile driven). I will explain this later in a future article.

A first-order reduction in CO2 is only possible by reducing the number of miles driven, or the number of widgets made in a factory, etc.

First-order reductions in CO2 generation could have been suggested to the public in the editorial, but instead they focused on the misguided notion that a Congressional committee is led by Sen. Boxer is going to have a clue. If the NY Times was really interested in conveying information to the public, they could have suggested a few of the following ideas. Perhaps, lawmakers would hear them:
  • When torn in the decision of buying two similar cars, buy the more fuel efficient one.
  • If you can, use a motorcycles, mopeds, and the like for everyday commuting. They're more fun anyway!
  • Telecommute if you can.
  • Work a 4 day, 10 hour workweek if you can.
  • Convert your vehicle to use natural gas. Gasoline is fine, but natural gas is plenty here in the U.S.
  • When a battery-powered car appears on the market, buy one. The energy required to charge the batteries comes from clean sources: coal/ gas/ nuclear/ hydroelectric, or wind, we would have a large impact on the need for imported oil.
Why is the NY Times so inept.

The NY Times suggests, in their typical pompous manner, that Europe already has the answers --- because we are not sophisticated enough to understand --- nonsense:

This is the path most developed countries have chosen. Europe has imposed caps on industrial emissions, and European companies have begun investing in new technologies and cleaner factories in places like China, partly as a way to meet their own obligations to cut emissions and partly as a way to lead China to a greener future.

These hearings need to be conducted in a thoughtful manner. There has been enough noise, from the Inhofe right and from the doomsayers who see each hurricane as a sign the apocalypse is upon us. But it is also important that Ms. Boxer and her colleagues not lose sight of a fundamental reality: Saturating the atmosphere with greenhouse gases is loading the dice in a dangerous game.

All Europe is doing is paying for the right to pollute. In the final analysis, the rate of CO2 generation is only changed slightly. Of course the growth in CO2 generation by China and India (and indeed Africa in the future) will buck all trends started.

The concluding sentence is revealing. Since the 1880s, the amount of CO2 by volume has changed from 0.0003 to 0.00036. Saturation is hardly the term I would use, but this is a trivial matter compared to the entire tone of the piece which is fraught with an air of certitude, righteousness, pomposity and ignorance.

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