Friday, June 23, 2006

Warming and carbon dioxide, oh my.

A press report from Reuters goes into the global warming issue. What is fascinating is what is said, what is admitted, what is merely conjecture and what is not said. The report notes "The last few decades were the warmest on Earth in the past 400 years." Okay. So 500 years ago it was probably warmer.

Why was it probably warmer 500 years ago? Greenhouse gasses? Obviously not. Human activity did not cause the planet to be warmer in the past than today. It isn't as if the Industrial Revolution of 1500 years ago warmed things up and then after they implimented a Kyoto Protocol things cooled down until we screwed it up again. One spokesman for this newest report blaming humans said: "Natural climate variability is something that we'd like to know about." I would hope so. I would think that natural variability is something we'd have to understand before we can state categorically that the warming in the last couple of hundred years is outside that variability.

On the other hand some scientists are now warning that Europe may be headed for a mini Ice Age as well. A Russian scientist, Khabibullo Abudsamatov of the Pulkovo Astronomic Observatory in St. Petersburg says that global warming is mainly caused by increased solar activity and small changes in the planet's orbit. Greenhouse gases have almost nothing to do with the changes. The "good news," or "bad news" news, depending on how you look at it, is that he says the Sun is expected to see big declines in activity between 2035 and 2045 and that will lead to a mini Ice Age.

He says that solar activity has been jumping leading to the warming we have seen and is expected to peak in about seven years. At that point he predicts global temperatures will begin to decline. Terrence Joyce, chairman of the physical-oceanography department at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institutions says: "Abrupt climate change has been a part of our history." And that was before industrialization.

To understand whether we are experiencing something very unusual or par for the course requires us to know what happened in the past. We have a good idea of temperatures for only a relatively small period of time in human history. For the rest we rely upon proxies, or studies of other things which we then correlate to global temperatures. So we take a theory about X and then use that to create a theory about Y. Of course, the more theories you heap on top of each other the more problematic it becomes, especially if you are as unsure about theory X as you are about theory Y. One proxy used to determine global warming has been glacier fluctuations.

Now a recent report on that topic says that the "climate during the last several thousand years may have been even more variable than previously thought." This is from a report in Geology magazine. UPI reports that the new data "together with other clues of past climate, support an emerging idea that climate in the North Pacific region has cycled from warmer to colder intervals several times over the last 10,000 years."

There seems to be this idea that if one can only prove the planet got a bit warmer that the debate has ended. I suggest that is really just the beginning of the debate. The debate needs to cover the following items.

1. Has the planet warmed?
2. Is this warming within natural variations of the past?
3. Is this warming primarily caused by human activity?
4. Is this warming actually a net problem or a net benefit?
5. Is there anything that can be done about it that will actually make things better?
6. If there is what is it?

For instance, if the Russian scientist, who is not alone in arguing that solar activity is mainly responsible for warming trends, is correct and if solar activity decreases rapidly, as is projected, then we may see a sudden reversal in temperatures. That will create problems as well. If that is responsible for most warming then the small warming effect created by humans may be welcomed if we enter another cold spell.

All change requires adjustment. Nature is always in a state of flux, contrary to the visions of this stable eco system that some fantasize. Adjusting to a slight warming may be less problematic than trying to prevent it. The most radical proposal on the drawing board is the Kyoto Protocol and even supporters admit it will have an almost non-existent impact on global warming. Of course, if the Russian is correct, then by the end of the century global temperatures will be down due to reduced solar activity. No doubt the alarmists in 100 years time will say Kyoto was the reason.

Most life on the planet evolved during a period of time when global temperatures where much, much warmer than they are today, and even much, much warmer than the worst predictions would indicate for a future global temperature. It is not as if life will cease to exist as we know it, in spite of Hollywood disaster films to the contrary. The main food production regions of the world will have longer growing seasons for instance, increasing world food levels. Other regions will be warmer and might suffer more drought. But warmer climate means more evaporation, meaning more rain in other areas. Some areas will see improved growing due to better rain and some might have more flooding. Changes are constantly happening and have been for as long as we know, well before their were "human produced greenhouse gases" to worry about.

What concerns me is that people are demanding political solutions, as if politics ever solves much, before we have even answered the questions that need answering. Merely establishing a warming of less than 1 degree over the last 100 years is just the start of the debate. Those with a specific political agenda want to end the debate and immediately impose their agenda on the world. When people want to impose "solutions" before problems have been clearly defined one has to wonder if their motivation is so much the problem or really about their agenda.