Tuesday, June 05, 2007

What If?

The world famous physicist Freeman Dyson discusses Global Warming with a twist, at Classical Values.

He starts out in the first video (on the left) talking about vegetation. He says you can't do good science without good data. He notes that the data on vegetation is sparse (as in almost totally non-existant). The money went into computer models instead of data gathering. It figures. Computers are sexy. Electronic wind vanes and anemometers are not. He also notes that the carbon in vegetation dwarfs the carbon in the atmosphere.

In the second video he says the real problem is not CO2 induced global warming, but CO2 induced stratosphere cooling which may lead to bigger ozone holes.

He ends with the fact that the lowest cost way to control CO2 in the atmosphere is not by controlling energy production and use, but by planting or cutting down plants. He suggests more irrigation. For that we are going to need cheap fresh water.

The problem for political environmentalism is that Dyson takes a broad view of the issue when a narrow, dogmatic view is necessary to advance the current policy agenda. Starting from the premises the discussion rapidly escapes the confines of the standard Global Warming narrative. That is to say it escapes from its political prison. That raises an interesting question about the prescriptive policy changes being promoted. Are they actually based on the correct model? And if they are predicated on the wrong model would they have the same effect as swallowing the wrong medicine would have for a patient? If environmentalism were about science first and politics afterward the question would be easy to answer. Alas, today we live in a world of post-normal science.

The weather is a complex and nonlinear system, and the solutions advanced to solve "Global Warming" don't seem to take that fully into account. We will inevitably learn more about the environment as time goes on, and some of the facts will probably be at variance with the Global Warming narrative. Ideally we should adjust but I'm afraid that politics will create policy rigidities which will stifle movement when a rapid decision cycle is necessary when attempting to deal with any complex system.


Blogger John Lynch said...

I saw "Inconvenient Truth." It was really good at presenting an argument that CO2 was a problem, and totally empty of solutions. Simply telling everyone to use less electricity won't solve the problem.

There simply is no way to reduce total emissions while remaining a technological civilization in the near term. It will take a technological revolution, NOT a change in behavior, to solve the problem. "Inconvenient Truth," heaped scorn on technology, yet that's how we got everything that we've accomplished.

I'm all for less pollution, and I'm really enthusiastic about not buying oil from people who hate us. But the focus should be on real solutions, not correct beliefs.

If the real solution is better forest management, no one will accept it. It's too easy.

6/05/2007 06:42:00 PM  
Blogger Red River said...

I used to think human-caused C02 respiration was important.

But then I found out that C02 only contributes to 2% of the heat retention of the planet.

I found out that Half the the heat radiated into space by the Earth comes from inside the Earth. From INSIDE the Earth!!!

Volcanoes put out 10x the greenhouse gasses of humans in a normal year.

As for C02 sequestration - the soil is far more important than any other process - both ocean and forest combined.

We all know about the root system. Most plants have 40-60% of their mass underground.

But something most don't know is that the Soil Column of Life is 10x-100x that of the root systems in terms of biomass. But first you need plants, then the whole soil economy can get going.


But there is more.

In my area of Texas, a PHD put out some snake traps and caught a bunch of land-based crayfish a mile from the nearest water instead. He looked them up in the Taxonomy and it was not found. A new species. No one has mapped their burrows or looked into their lifecycle.

They pumped out the burrow of one of these crayfish and found hundreds of white cave-dewlling fish and other things. All probably new species. But what's sexy about this? These bugs still sit on a shelf waiting for analysis.

Point is we just don't know much about even the familiar stuff under our feet.

The C02 debate is framed as a Zeno's Paradox for our time by Gore.

He will put your nose on the supposed contradiction, but once you take a sniff, you realize that what you thought was green is really brown.

6/05/2007 08:20:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

He will put your nose on the supposed contradiction, but once you take a sniff, you realize that what you thought was green is really brown.

That is really, really cruel. But probably true.

6/05/2007 08:23:00 PM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

Red River, Volcanoes are poisson distrubuted over time. If they were dominant, the record would show lots of variability. If you look at the Mona Loa records, you can see that the trend is spectacularly regular, clearly seasonal, and trending upward. A better estimate for volcanic output would be less than one percent of human output. Remember, there are really a lot of humans.

6/05/2007 09:19:00 PM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

Here's a USGS link on relative output of humans vs. volcanic.

6/05/2007 09:29:00 PM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

The weather is indeed notoriously dynamic and cannot be predicted well beyond ten days or so. It is a chaotic system, but it does seem to have consistencies. The average weather, as measured over decades is, or at least has been, much more reliable, consistent and predictable. We know for instance, the best day to plant each crop in each place in the US. We know the average temperature on June 17th, and that average doesn't change, or at least changes slowly.

The average weather, usually called "climate" is, of course, in the long run also a dynamic, chaotic system that is controlled by such things as prevailing winds, the Jet Stream, ocean currents, repeating patterns such as El Nino and occasional catastrophic events. These things have been very reliable in the time that we have been observing them, but there is no reason that they couldn't change, and it's possible they could change suddenly. That possibility exists even without human impacts, that's certainly true.

The way to look at it, however, is that we are benefitting from a temporary equilibrium in the climate of ten thousand years or so, which could last another ten thousand years, maybe more. It's been nice, but like a stone balanced on a pillar of sandstone, it is eventually going to fall. We should refrain from drilling holes in the sandstone. We should be very conservative, which in this case means assuming the worst about the hazard and our effect on it -- until we understand a lot more about the climate system.

6/05/2007 10:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "Great Global Warming Swindle" offers a fresh look at the terrible science behind Gore's brainwave:


It's a free download

6/05/2007 10:36:00 PM  
Blogger Sparks fly said...

jj Mollo:

Why don't you mention that the amount of CO2 from volcanoes and "OTHER" natural sources dwarfs the amount of CO2 from human activities?

And the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere reduces the percentage of affect supposedly caused by CO2 to a cipher. It is not really or has not actually ever been measured. These are all computed simulations based on the vague imaginings of soul hungry socialists.

The USGS is a government agency and can hardly be considered reliable on matters like this that are being driven by political, governmental, lust.

It looks like the human "herd" is restless and just wants to charge off somewhere.

The entire "science" of meterology has been poluted with this global warming scare.

It seems like America is producing the seeds of its own destruction. No one wants to be the one to say NO.

6/05/2007 11:38:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

The single most significant - and disturbing - aspect of the whole Global Warming flap is how all of the widely promoted solutions would require the creation of a "scientific" priesthood served by a vast army of bureaucrats backed up by the use of Deadly Force and the Police Power of the various States to impose a solution on everyone.

We would probably call the priesthood The Supreme Scientific and label the heads of the bureaucracy as the Central Planning Committee.

Freeman Dyson's solution does not fit that mold. So that alone will ensure it will never be brought forth as a seriously considered suggestion.

6/06/2007 05:42:00 AM  
Blogger LarryD said...

RWE, the "green" movement has a lot of "watermelons" i.e., green on the outside, red on the inside.

The Left wants an International Dictatorship, as long as it's a dictatorship of the Left.

By the way, the official figure for atmospheric CO2 is 380 parts per million, i.e. 0.038% of the atmosphere. It's a trace gas.

6/06/2007 08:47:00 AM  
Blogger Ari Tai said...

Let's see. It sounds like early americans (and the large animals at the time) were wiped on by a meteor or equivalent 13,000 years ago. And Yellowstone could take out half the continent tomorrow (600,000 year volcanic event overdue by some thousands of years).

Given that we're likely to be killed by an uncaring world sooner than later, the best policy is to advance ourselves just as rapidly as we can. And since we can't define the threat, only the random walk of the market can assure that we've advanced as far as we possibly can when catastrophe occurs. Where survival even then is not guaranteed (even if we let individual responsibility and markets move us far beyond anything central planning can do). Governments are reactionary, they only interfere and slow change down, hurting the least-of-us most, and ocassionally killing millions, all with the best of intentions.

A pity that these reactionary ideas that have killed so many still get a pass in the press and education system. Granted, it's the human condition. We seem to have marvelously complex weather models. You'd think that the same wizardry applied to, say, the effect of socialized old-age insurance would convincingly demonstrate that government interference in the market has made the poor poorer, and the average retirement age (after 70 years) 10 years beyond what it would have been without.

Well, I can dream.

6/06/2007 09:17:00 AM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

Sparks, It's true that H20 acts as a greenhouse gas. The two gases absorb different parts of the spectrum, but I don't agree with your estimate of the relative strength. But whatever it is, the higher that ratio is, the more you should worry. Water and CO2 have always been present in the atmosphere and have served as part of the equilibrium. Heat from the radioactive elements has always been there, but everything has been in equalibrium. Equalibrium is the key word here. Look it up.

The amount of CO2 has recently been increasing. There is no doubt of that. If it only serves to raise the temperature a little, but also increases evaporation, then it will end up raising the temperature a lot, especially using the 2% number.


RWE and Larryd, I agree with your concern about the watermelon effect. I am not too enamored of the collectivist approach, but I do believe that the government must play a role. The first thing it needs to do is remove all the impediments to building nuclear power plants. Environmentalists who don't agree with this are phonies who don't even believe what they're saying.

The second thing the government needs to do is establish a conducive economic environement for alternative energy suppliers, including nuclear. The most important aspect of that stability is removing control of oil pricing from the hands of OPEC and Russia. The amazing amount of money we are sending the likes of Iran and Hugo Chavez is destablizing the world.

We should artificially force the price up with fossil fuel taxes. Rather than letting OPEC jerk us around, we should be collecting some of the profits and discouraging usage at the same time. I think that this tax should be controlled completely by the Federal Reserve Board. Their mission should be to protect nascent alternative energy industries, to reduce oil usage and protect the economy from inflation at the same time. They've done a very good job, IMO, with the interest rates. This would be a similar function and would allow coordination of the two functions. It's too important to leave up to Congress.

6/06/2007 09:51:00 AM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

Oops. Try looking up Equilibrium. It might be a little more efficient.

6/06/2007 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger Red River said...

Jmollo you are right and I am wrong. Its true that the USGS estimation for volcanic co2 emissions is listed at 1% of human.

But, the Gerlach numbers are sums of surveys.

I looked at some base papers, such as the ones on this page. Look at the Yellowstone studies.


And the studies are not authoritative at all. The methods and the analysis are admittedly just a first cut.

But even if the surveys are off by 100 which could be given the roughness of the data, we'd still nd up with a 1:1 for human & volcanos.

6/06/2007 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger Red River said...

And on the surface, there is something wrong with the ML data.


It looks too smooth for something that is in great flux.

Just a back of the envelope inspection suggests a problem:

Taking the Earth's atmospheric mass at 5.3 x 10(15) tons and c02 as 338 ppm, we get total mass of c02 as 2 x 10(14) tons.

If humans put out 27 billion tons, that is 2.7 x 10(10) tons.

Which is 1/7400 of the world's c02 each year.

Why does the graph show a trend of 1/300 change or 1-2 ppm per year when the human ( largest contribution ) is 1/7400 year over year?

6/06/2007 10:04:00 AM  
Blogger Red River said...

"That is really, really cruel. But probably true. "

Gore is not a nice person. He could end up killing tens of millions of people.

6/06/2007 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger Red River said...

Just as an apertif to this discussion, take a look at this website.

Very logical, very interesting, and also very wrong.


And look at this one:


"There is no way but my way." is the road to Hell.

Humans individually and as a group are very susceptible to Zeno-like Paradoxes which short-circuit the will to act and to think.

These can come about via the presentation of ideological conundrums or disastrous events.

Rational thought and long-term action are undertaken haltingly at first and only after many mistakes.

Survival means not just living in the short term, but also in the long-term.

The solution is not to follow the confused and ill-informed, but to take stock and think.

Even if we assume this is a problem, the canaries can only think in terms of the cage. Its the coal miners who must survive.


6/06/2007 10:20:00 AM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

Red, From the Wikipedia article on atmospheric CO2, I'm getting 23*10^15 grams of CO2 burned by humans annually, 3*10^18 grams in the atmosphere already. Do your numbers agree?

The ratio then becomes about 1/120. Am I wrong? I never could add a column of numbers without screwing up somewhere. The atmospheric change is about 1/300 annually. The difference is explained by the fact that the ocean and the land are able to absorb additional CO2 because of the increased partial pressure. At least, that's my theory.


The only reason that peak oil theory is wrong is that human ingenuity and market forces are consistently underestimated. Presumably, though, there is a limit somewhere and there is certainly a limit on how much CO2 we can pump into the atmosphere.

I'm not sure what you are saying about the survival manuals, but it seems to me that we will all survive together better than apart, and we will do that better if we start thinking more analytically and less passionately.


I really believe that Al Gore is doing what he thinks is best for the nation and the world. It's too easy to question people's motives and it's often incorrect.

6/07/2007 10:43:00 PM  

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