Friday, December 25, 2009

"Global Warming"

Damn, there's a lot of confusion, contradicting statements, idiocy, corruption, and lolwut around this topic. Now, I've done an Environmental Engineering course. Hence as an expert who is expertly placed, you can trust me to wade through this muck and give you the right answer.


Let's start from the top. The Greenhouse Effect. No, you won't need Wikipedia for this one. It's simple.

Most things in this world are opaque. Which means they don't allow light to pass through them. The wavelengths of visible light they don't absorb gives them their color.

Gases are mostly transparent due to their low density. This is different from colourless, which means that most gases do not absorb visible light. But when you have a huge amount of air, such as an atmosphere, "transparent" becomes irrelevant.

Different gases in the atmosphere absorb different wavelengths of light. What happens when they absorb it? They re-emit it in a different direction, and often with a different wavelength. Water Vapour, CO2, Methane, Ozone are the major players in this. They absorb visible light and infrared light, and re-emit it as infrared. This is called the Greenhouse effect.

This is a good thing. Without the greenhouse effect, we could not survive. Temperatures on our planet would be extreme, with the average temperature being sub-zero. The major contributor to our survival is water vapour, which keeps a large amount of thermal radiation around Earth.

Disaster strikes when someone decides to pump a bazillion litres of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. What does this do? It's complicated. Complicated enough that we don't know for sure the dynamics of everything it does. It's not as simple as rocking a cradle. The global climate is a chaotic system. Even tiny changes in the initial conditions magnify exponentially and change the result completely. This is why BBC doesn't show more than a week's forecast in weather.

We never just say "OK, T°C increase in global temperature in X years" "Polar ice caps will melt in Y years". That's what uninformed news outlets say. They try to dumb the results and predictions down for the general public, and in the process make them incomplete, inaccurate, or wrong.

This is also why scientists' predictions concerning climate change seem to be "wrong" most of the time. This leads the naive public to assume that we're talking out of our collective arses, and that Climate Change is bogus. And when we try to explain what we meant, people go "NYA NYA NYA, YOU'RE WRONG, NOW STOP MAKING EXCUSES AND SHUT UP". And that's what we do. Because we know we're right. That's the thing about science. It doesn't matter what you think, the truth will stay the truth.

Here's the truth. We don't know exactly what's happening (yes dears, present tense) thanks to our shortsightedness. But we're all bloody damn sure about one thing. Whatever's happening isn't good for us. That's why it's called "Anthropogenic Climate Change" (man-made and not-good-for-man).


Now that I'm done being all dramatic and apocalyptic, I notice I forgot to mention all that stuff about Albedo, Positive feedback loops, Quasi-static equilibrium, cyclic climate change, frog in boiling water, etc. Oh well. Maybe if everyone paid attention in college, I wouldn't have to start from the top and get bogged down in the basics before getting to the interesting stuff.

24 comments:

pigritor said...

It's original Finnish video, but there is a large english part

http://dotsub.com/view/4c13587a-ea76-4c4a-bbf7-eba2a48a58a6

PS: where is raw data anyway? :)

bheekling said...

@pigritor: I counter your random reference with this random reference:

http://mediagallery.usatoday.com/Editorial-Cartoons/G373,S81137

Kevin Bowling said...

I don't normally comment on politics on the internet but this came up on my Gentoo feed so I'll bite. I think the reality is complex.

On one hand, you have big energy companies that want to maintain their current stronghold. On the other hand, you have nations, governments, regulatory bodies, and agencies that stand to gain money and power. You have politicos all across the board attempting to further their interests by polarizing the issue.

There are basically two camps based on beliefs or *faith*. Most people I talk to either *BELIEVE* in global warming or *BELIEVE* that global warming is fake. Any time you *BELIEVE* in something, you are prone to irrational thought. Science is marked upon empirical evidence and is supple to change when new supporting evidence becomes available. Believing in a cause significantly limits the viability of the scientific method.

In my readings, before much of the hoopla around this issue began, it was thought that we might be on the brink of another Ice Age. It's also possible that there are cycles based on subtleties in the Earth's orbit or in accordance with solar radiation cycles. So, there may be other things in play but people are fixating on one possible cause/effect.

With that out of the way, the topic defiantly brings up the extent of human wastefulness. We all need to do our part to minimize resource usage and live conservatively. This has tangible and immediate benefits as a lot of CO2 production accompanies other harmful byproducts. Then we can investigate the matter scientifically and without all the political dogma.

Xificurk said...

We don't know exactly what's happening...Whatever's happening isn't good for us.

If we/you don't know what _exactly_ is happening, what is happening (at least) roughly? Why is it definitely bad? On what data is based this huge conclusion?
For the sake of discussion I say - 'Whatever's happening is good for us.' For every catastrophic scenario I can surely think of another positive one.
Until we know for sure what _exactly_ is going on, it's nonsense to say that the changes going on right now are a) BAD, b) man-made; until then this issues will remain matter of faith and will to believe the ideas of alarmists or skeptics.

Maciej Piechotka said...

"That's the thing about science. It doesn't matter what you think, the truth will stay the truth."

While I agree with second statement as it I would add that it have more in common with philosophy then science. Why science works also is question of philosophy.

Also please note that science does not always 'work'. For example please try apply Newton dynamics to objects moving at 0.9c (of course - for a century science self corrected itself). Please don't get me wrong - I do believe that science is best method we know but it does not implies that we can assume it does (and scientist actually does not - every theory or hypothesis is tried to be falsified).

"Whatever's happening isn't good for us. That's why it's called "Anthropogenic Climate Change" (man-made and not-good-for-man)."

1. If we don't know what is happening how we know it is not good for us? More likely then not it is going to benefit some people while harm other. The separate case is how, whom and to what extend.

2. Last time I checked the meaning of Anthropogenic was just man-made without not-good-for-man part.

PS. Why I'm not allowed to use neither blockquote nor q tags?

bheekling said...

@Xificurk: It's definitely bad because it's fucking with the equilibrium on our planet. The same equilibrium that we need to survive. Our collective economies depend on the continued status quo of the processes on Earth.

How do I know this change is bad for us? Assume we know nothing at all about the change. Let's look at the set of all changes that are possible. Then let's look at which ones are good for us, and which ones aren't.

Keep in mind that the optimum (for us) range of everything on Earth is very very narrow. This is why life is so rare in the universe. Also keep in mind that previous changes in the Earth's equilibria have led to mass extinctions.

You will invariable come to the conclusion that unless we know exactly what the changes will be, assuming the worst will happen is the correct approach.

Of course, short-term optimization (aka greed) is a nice blindfold to such logic.

bheekling said...

@Maciej:
While I agree with second statement as it I would add that it have more in common with philosophy then science. Why science works also is question of philosophy.

The second statement also applies to the first statement. Science only cares about the truth; which is why truth never stands in the way of theories; rather theories are always mathematical and logical explanations for the truth.

Also please note that science does not always 'work'. For example please try apply Newton dynamics to objects moving at 0.9c (of course - for a century science self corrected itself). Please don't get me wrong - I do believe that science is best method we know but it does not implies that we can assume it does (and scientist actually does not - every theory or hypothesis is tried to be falsified).

I'm not sure I understand what you mean in this paragraph. Do you mean that theories are approximations, and exceptions to theories are always found causing them to be refined further. So we shouldn't believe in predictions of climate change?

Maybe I should write another post specifically answering this question.

1. If we don't know what is happening how we know it is not good for us? More likely then not it is going to benefit some people while harm other. The separate case is how, whom and to what extend.

Please see my previous reply to Xificurk. The changes are quite large (we know this much), and will not be localised (we know this too); the question of the changes benefiting some people while harming others only comes in small changes (like building a dam on a river that flows through two countries).

2. Last time I checked the meaning of Anthropogenic was just man-made without not-good-for-man part.

The not-good-for-man part was directed at climate change, not anthropogenic.

PS. Why I'm not allowed to use neither blockquote nor q tags?

That is a question you should direct at blogger.com :)

Xificurk said...

@bheekling:
I guess you meant climatic equilibrium on our planet, well here is the thing - it's dynamic equilibrium, it's changing and it always was. Every kid knows there were some ice ages, and Greenland really didn't get its name because of melting ice caps ;-)
Global climate is influenced by so many factors and it's quite irrational to say that man-made CO2 is "fucking with the equilibrium" - why this factor, the others are fine? Or "natural" (guess man kind is then unnatural)? Or maybe it's because the other factors don't open doors to such a good business like mandatory usage of "green" energy and it's not so easy for politicians to make publicity on them. Finally, nobody really knows how big contribution to climate changes this man made CO2 is.
When you come up with the mass extinctions, I've got to say - thank god for them. Without them we probably wouldn't be here, mammals would have never become dominate species etc etc. It's not like extinction equals BAD.
Optimum for us is narrow in the context of the universe, you're right. But it's not so narrow in the context of possible Earth's climate - take a look where are people living right now - the range of average temperatures is couple of tens °C, so I'm pretty sure we can survive global change in the range of few tenth or units °C over the century.
But thank you for admitting that "it's bad for us" is a lie, we can agree on that the change may be bad for us, but it also may be great for us - the ratio of bad and good scenarios is probably for a longer debate. The opened question is - how big is the contribution of man kind to climate changes (e.g. CO2)? This question can be recasted in: can we do anything at all to influence climate changes that are going on? I think the correct approach is to be cautious and RATIONAL. It would be unwise to waste huge amounts of resources to this "save the planet" action just to realize that the climate will change anyway and we are missing the needed resources to adapt.

bheekling said...

@Xificurk

I guess you meant climatic equilibrium on our planet, well here is the thing - it's dynamic equilibrium, it's changing and it always was.

That's called a Quasi-static equilibrium. Slowly-changing, but on a small time-scale (like a century), can be assumed to be constant. Our problem is that we're changing it faster than it has ever been.

Global climate is influenced by so many factors and it's quite irrational to say that man-made CO2 is "fucking with the equilibrium" - why this factor, the others are fine?

Nice. I see you're a victim of media-outlet oversimplification too. See ozone layer, deforestation, algal blooms, glacier melts due to black soot, etc.

Or "natural" (guess man kind is then unnatural)?

Yes, or actions are unnatural because they're not sustainable => they can never reach equilibrium; only an end. Unlike everything else on Earth.

Or maybe it's because the other factors don't open doors to such a good business like mandatory usage of "green" energy and it's not so easy for politicians to make publicity on them.

So that's why the Copenhagen talks succeeded wildly? Oh wait...

Your conspiracy theories make no sense. See bottom of this post for why.

Finally, nobody really knows how big contribution to climate changes this man made CO2 is.

Ever wonder why the countries a Copenhagen didn't debate the facts of Climate Change? Just the specifics of what they had to do in response? No, I guess not.

When you come up with the mass extinctions, I've got to say - thank god for them. Without them we probably wouldn't be here, mammals would have never become dominate species etc etc. It's not like extinction equals BAD.

How considerate of you! I'm sure the next dominant species of our planet will be most grateful for your support!

Optimum for us is narrow in the context of the universe, you're right. But it's not so narrow in the context of possible Earth's climate - take a look where are people living right now - the range of average temperatures is couple of tens °C, so I'm pretty sure we can survive global change in the range of few tenth or units °C over the century.

You're over-simplifying. A few degrees is the difference between lots of fresh-water to sustain 10bn people, and water-wars replacing oil-wars.

The opened question is - how big is the contribution of man kind to climate changes (e.g. CO2)? This question can be recasted in: can we do anything at all to influence climate changes that are going on?

Have you even been listening? There is no doubt and no debate that we're causing this, and what we must do.

I think the correct approach is to be cautious and RATIONAL. It would be unwise to waste huge amounts of resources to this "save the planet" action just to realize that the climate will change anyway and we are missing the needed resources to adapt.

OK, I see what your misunderstanding is. Using sustainable energy does not lead to wastage of huge amounts of resources or money. Exactly the opposite.

Look forward not 4 years in the future (which every single politician today does), but 40 years.

Oil has always been a PITA, we've known that since the 70s. If we kept aside 1/100th the amount of money we spend buying oil from the Middle East, we'd have a way to harvest solar energy with high efficiency, using readily available materials like Si and Al, plus in a compact manner in a decade. Maybe less.

I'm less optimistic about Fusion energy.

It's exactly what the webcomic I linked to above says. Saving ourselves is EASY. And in the process, we secure our future too! We as a species have nothing to lose.

If despite our efforts, climate change continues to escalate (for whatever reason), none of our efforts will go waste.

Anonymous said...

As an engineer you should know that the insulating effect on a particular wavelength is logarithmic; thus the effect of a "bajillion" tons may be infintesimally greater than a few trillions.

Xificurk said...

Our problem is that we're changing it faster than it has ever been.
I see you're a victim of mass media's green hype... This is false, e.g. between the last ice age and holocene the warming was at least order of magnitude worse in both - range of temperatures and shortness of time. Oh, I would almost forgot - there was no mass extinction in that period of time ;)

Yes, or actions are unnatural because they're not sustainable
You can really make me laugh - sustainable - such a nice mass media buzz word from such a critic of mass media oversimplification etc. :D Now seriously, it's quite interesting definition of naturalness - how long must be a process "sustainable" to be called natural?

A few degrees is the difference between lots of fresh-water to sustain 10bn people, and water-wars replacing oil-wars.
You're over-simplifying :D Higher temperature is not equal to less water/drier climate. The history on contrary shows that the spread of deserts was consequence of the drop of temperature and global warming transformed e.g. parts of Sahara to savanna.

There is no doubt - this is funny statement - and no debate - and this is sad and partially true statement.

Using sustainable energy does not lead to wastage of huge amounts of resources or money. Exactly the opposite.
I guess you are talking about solar panels/wind turbines/... that are made out of purely natural ecological materials for zero input energy by clean and ecological processes, doesn't require any maintenance, have infinitely long lifetime and make power even though there is a cloud on the sky and wind doesn't blow :D Yeah, I would like those too.

Look forward not 4 years in the future (which every single politician today does), but 40 years.
That's what I'm trying to do... as you say, politicians need enough publicity just for few years (maybe a decade), which means this "save the planet" media wave is for them great no matter of its real rational basis. They don't have to care if they through out of the window precious resources for solar panels in the regions, where it's painfully clear that solar energy is not The Answer. They don't have to care about the amount of spent liters of fuel for producing one liter of biofuel, or if the biofuel messes with the engines and shortens their lifetime. They are not the ones that will be hungry, because of more expensive food, caused by that every farmer, that can count on fingers, will switch from food production to subsidized biofuel. As long as they have enough publicity for their green goals, they're fine. Yeah, I know I'm oversimplifying, but as ecologically thinking guy, it really hurts my ears, what kind of nonsenses are nowadays called "green" and how big influence has this green lobby in some decision making processes (I admit, I have an overview only in European Union). I could go one with concrete examples of this green hysteria, but I guess it kind of exceeds the frame of the original article (if you're interested we can continue via email).

If despite our efforts, climate change continues to escalate (for whatever reason), none of our efforts will go waste.
Sorry, but this sentence makes no sense to me.

bheekling said...

This is false, e.g. between the last ice age and holocene the warming was at least order of magnitude worse in both - range of temperatures and shortness of time. Oh, I would almost forgot - there was no mass extinction in that period of time ;)

Wrong. We nearly died out due to the climate changes 70,000 years ago. But of course, we have technology on our side now, so only the poor nations will suffer.

You can really make me laugh - sustainable - such a nice mass media buzz word from such a critic of mass media oversimplification etc. :D

Honey, you're the one oversimplifying it in your head. I am very well aware of the meaning of that word. I thought you would get the gist of what I meant by "sustainable", but I see you like to take cheap shots and make it an ego match.

Now seriously, it's quite interesting definition of naturalness - how long must be a process "sustainable" to be called natural?

I thought I already defined that under "Quasi-static equilibrium". I see you are also not aware of the basic principles of the functioning of the Biosphere.

You're over-simplifying :D Higher temperature is not equal to less water/drier climate. The history on contrary shows that the spread of deserts was consequence of the drop of temperature and global warming transformed e.g. parts of Sahara to savanna.

Ugh. I didn't oversimplify. You didn't see far enough in the consequence list. Or you completely misunderstood what I meant.

I suppose this is what I get for using blogger. Idiotic thing has a 4096 character limit, and I had to make all my replies terse.

What are our primary sources of water? Glaciers, groundwater, rainfall. In India, cheaply accessible groundwater is already running out. Glaciers are melting at a very fast rate. They won't melt out completely, but their yield will reduce. We (India atleast) are facing a major water crisis in the next 10-15 years. Partly from our non-sustainable water usage patterns (we don't do rainwater harvesting yet), and partly from diminishing glaciers.

I guess you are talking about solar panels/wind turbines/... that are made out of purely natural ecological materials for zero input energy by clean and ecological processes, doesn't require any maintenance, have infinitely long lifetime and make power even though there is a cloud on the sky and wind doesn't blow :D Yeah, I would like those too.

Wow, you really like missing the point don't you? No, don't answer, it's a rhetorical question (just in case you missed the point again).

That's what I'm trying to do... as you say, politicians need enough publicity just for few years [...] but I guess it kind of exceeds the frame of the original article

Yes, you have strong feelings that the implementation will be taken advantage of by politicians, and go horribly wrong. But if not this, they'll find something else to take advantage of. They always do this. It's a completely separate matter.

(if you're interested we can continue via email).

Actually, I'm not interested in continuing at all.

Talking with you has not increased my knowledge on the subject one whit, given me no food for thought, and has not brought up a unique way of looking at the situation or anything. And since I don't care about "proving myself right" or other ego matches, I don't see a reason to continue with this discussion at all.

John M. Drescher said...

I pretty much agree with everything you said in the initial post up until the conclusion "Whatever's happening isn't good for us."

To me, we don't know that any more than we know our effect on the equation. There are a lot of predictions of bad things that can happen if the earth gets a little warmer but to me these predictions ignore the fact that in the past the earth was much hotter than it is today. They ignore the fact that it was also greener when it was hotter and make the false assumption that warmer is anti-green. There was significantly more CO2 in the atmosphere when the dinosaurs walked the earth than there is now and we know it was greener then than it is now.

Xificurk said...

Wrong. We nearly died out due to the climate changes 70,000 years ago.
I was talking about the time at the end of the pleisotcene and its conversion to holocene - more concretely Younger Dryas. Btw, it's approximately the time when the agriculture was born. So yes, there were more violent changes of climate in the past, no mass extinction and no huge damage to the man kind. And the warming continued in holocene...

I thought I already defined that under "Quasi-static equilibrium".
So the man made CO2 is by your definition natural after all - it's sustainable, meaning current changes are well within borders of quasi-static evolution (see previous paragraph).

Yes, you have strong feelings that the implementation will be taken advantage of by politicians, and go horribly wrong. ... It's a completely separate matter.
Not really, I unfortunately can see around me many actions that are called "green", but when you stop for a while just to think about it, maybe write down few numbers, you get to the painful conclusion, that not only many of these "green" actions are not really green, but they do more harm than good to the environment. But certain people get rich on this, and politicians have their green publicity. And you're right I'm afraid of this, because this irrationality is the real and current threat that can bring our economies to the knees and make damage to the environment in the process.

Obviously we both come from different parts of the world with different issues that need to be resolved, which hugely influences our opinions. I'm sorry if you feel this is a kind of ego match. I was thinking of this discussion as getting to the scientific truth, which by definition has to be looked at with critical eye. And I have started (and continued) it just because I have seen few urban myths connected to global climate changes, and also the post came through Gentoo planet :) So good luck in the future with issues in your corner of the word. I won't comment here any more.

CMasterson.com said...

To those of you who think that science is unbiased, let me ask why you are not familiar with this quote "Especially astonishing are the very short times needed for major warmings. A temperature increase of 5°C can occur in a few decades."

Additionally, doesn't the word "astonishing" indicate a clear predisposition?

Olbrannon said...

The gist of the recent talks I gathered was that there is likely going to be some problems due to rising water levels soon and displaced populations. They seemed fixated on who to blame and pay for it.

Rising water levels bring to mind to me all the petroleum and other waste in the newly submerged lands and the coastlines they will pollute.

Not so sure it is a bad thing though if we are reduced to 1% of human population as a survival rate perhaps those people will not pollute

CMasterson.com said...

Re: "rising water levels" That was SUPPOSED to have happened, but everyone forgot floating ice already displaces its own weight, so when it melts, levels don't change.

bheekling said...

To those of you who think that science is unbiased, let me ask why you are not familiar with this quote "Especially astonishing are the very short times needed for major warmings. A temperature increase of 5°C can occur in a few decades."

Additionally, doesn't the word "astonishing" indicate a clear predisposition?


LMAO. I was wondering when the crackpots would arrive.

Re: "rising water levels" That was SUPPOSED to have happened, but everyone forgot floating ice already displaces its own weight, so when it melts, levels don't change.

Someone forgot about this large landmass with lots of ice on it... I'm pretty sure it wasn't the media outlets this time.

bheekling said...

Not so sure it is a bad thing though if we are reduced to 1% of human population as a survival rate perhaps those people will not pollute

I honestly think that way sometimes too. It's just "natural selection" on a much grander scale. But then I remember that humans have very short memories, and that all the lessons will be forgotten in 2-3 generations.

Even worse, due to the scale of the disaster, religious crackpots will crop up blaming it on "our collective sins", and people will believe them. We're like that.

CMasterson.com said...

New to the internet? "Especially astonishing are the very short times needed for major warmings. A temperature increase of 5°C can occur in a few decades." - Greenland Ice Core Project - An ESF Research Programme -Final Report

bheekling said...

@CMasterson.com: You have officially started contradicting yourself (besides not making a point at all).

Please don't be offended if I don't reply to your comments in future, it just means I don't have the time to waste.

CMasterson.com said...

I'm just tickled to be upgraded from crackpot to contradictory. I guess my point is:
Science is biased.
- The core project report has been ignored (bias)
- you are ignoring it now (bias)
- the report writer was "Astonished" at finding global temps fluctuating rapidly by 5 degrees (suggests bias)

Up until yesterday there were FOUR results from a search on my quote.
All from one blog. I appreciate you helping to spread the facts.

Vincent Waitzkin said...

Climate model projections summarized in the latest IPCC report indicate that the global surface temperature is likely to rise a further 1.1 to 6.4 °C (2.0 to 11.5 °F) during the 21st century. The uncertainty in this estimate arises from the use of models with differing sensitivity to greenhouse gas concentrations and the use of differing estimates of future greenhouse gas emissions. Some other uncertainties include how warming and related changes will vary from region to region around the globe. Most studies focus on the period up to the year 2100. However, warming is expected to continue beyond 2100 even if emissions stop, because of the large heat capacity of the oceans and the long lifetime of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. I am a college sophomore with a dual major in Physics and Mathematics @ University of California, Santa Barbara. By the way, i came across these excellent physics flash cards. Its also a great initiative by the FunnelBrain team. Amazing!!

di said...

A lot of scientists do not think that Anthropogenic CC is happening. Why dont their views get so much aired in "beleivable" media aka which can be traced back to its writers? because life for a 'non beleiver' is difficult. you get called names that range from 'denailists' to 'moronic', and you are accused of disbeleiving in HIV AIDS. At the moment those who 'beleive' in ACC are those who stand to benefit from it, anbd those who dont are those who dont. Much like god. I choose not to beleive in god for logical reasons. Similarly ACC