.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}
Visit Freedom's Zone Donate To Project Valour

Monday, May 07, 2007

CO2 Hysteria And Our Political Culture

The ascientific cultural meme is no longer amusing; and it certainly is not confined to the CO2 global warming hypothesis.

Shrinkwrapped calls this multi-faceted trend an assault on reason, and asserts that reason is the foundation of our culture. I believe he is correct:
Human thinking is not naturally rational. Rationality is a fragile, painstakingly constructed edifice that allows us to understand the world and manipulate bits of reality in ways that pre-technological, even the most civilized of pre-technological, beings could not begin to approximate. Yet to presume that what we have is immutable and invulnerable to the ravages of irrationality is dangerous.
Math, which attempts to inculcate an approach based on precise rules and measurements to arrive at logical, consistent, and rigorously understood truths, is one of the foundational intellectual exercises of our civilization.
In much the same fashion, attacking Science, the methodology of which is our greatest single intellectual and rational development, upon which all else that allows us to survive and thrive depends, is dangerous and promotes the kinds of illogical beliefs that Ed Morrisey documents so well.
Certainly Shrinkwrapped is correct about science being, at its core, scientific method. Is scientific method even taught in our science curriculum any more? I doubt that it is in many school systems. To claim that one is defending science while perverting scientific method is equivalent to claiming that a murderer was protecting his victim by killing him or her. A commenter, KSpiker, remarks on feminist epistemology:
Postmodernists and "Critical Theory" types often condemn reason and the Enlightenment in stark terms. Reason, they assert, was merely a device invented for white men to dominate and exploit women and the darker races. One famous quote was from a Feminst professor who called Newton's 'Principia Mathematica' a "rape manual." Reason, in their view was too 'linear' and 'phallocentric.'
Yes, this is chauvinist and racist, but it is also a recurrent theme in some university departments. I posted this comment:
SW, I think the result of the CO2-induced global warming hysteria has done more damage to the popular conception of science than anything else in the last 50 years. It's not so much that the theory now appears to be largely mistaken; that is completely understandable and no indictment of science given the state of our knowledge at the time it first became a public policy issue. We knew then that the historical record showed a strong correlation with CO2, which is indeed a greenhouse gas although a relatively weak one. Many a scientific theory has been proposed and gained relatively wide acceptance upon such evidence.

What is terrifying is that in the face of totally contrary evidence the theory is now gaining a cult-like passionate adherence, and that the popular dialogue has shifted from the idea of evidence being the foundation of the theory to the idea that some mythical "consensus" among scientists is what makes a scientific theory true. Scientific history is replete with examples of a scientific consensus in one decade being utterly overturned in the next decade or two by new evidence. To retain a culture which can use science to determine the factual framework upon which a rational public policy debate can occur, science must retain its ability to absorb new evidence and revise itself. An entire generation of younger people will grow up with this conception - that science is a matter of consensus rather than evidence - firmly fixed in their in their psyches. Furthermore, students are often being taught in science class that because this theory requires sacrifice and cooperation it is a "good" scientific theory.

We may laugh about the claim that fire has never yet melted steel, but the disconcerting reality that this "fact" could be so widely asserted and discussed in public and in the newspapers without an attempt to ascertain whether it is in fact true shows how far our public discourse has diverted from being one based on truth to one based on adherence.
If you need a brush up on scientific method, I recommend Wolfs' exposition, or this Wikipedia entry. From the Wikipedia entry:
The scientific method involves the following basic facets:

* Observation. A constant feature of scientific inquiry.

* Description. Information must be reliable, i.e., replicable (repeatable) as well as valid (relevant to the inquiry).

* Prediction. Information must be valid for observations past, present, and future of given phenomena, i.e., purported "one shot" phenomena do not give rise to the capability to predict, nor to the ability to repeat an experiment.

* Control. Actively and fairly sampling the range of possible occurrences, whenever possible and proper, as opposed to the passive acceptance of opportunistic data, is the best way to control or counterbalance the risk of empirical bias.

* Falsifiability, or the elimination of plausible alternatives. This is a gradual process that requires repeated experiments by multiple researchers who must be able to replicate results in order to corroborate them. This requirement, one of the most frequently contended, leads to the following: All hypotheses and theories are in principle subject to disproof. Thus, there is a point at which there might be a consensus about a particular hypothesis or theory, yet it must in principle remain tentative. As a body of knowledge grows and a particular hypothesis or theory repeatedly brings predictable results, confidence in the hypothesis or theory increases. (See also Lakatos.)

* Causal explanation. Many scientists and theorists on scientific method[attribution needed] argue that concepts of causality are not obligatory to science, but are in fact well-defined only under particular, admittedly widespread conditions. Under these conditions the following requirements are generally regarded as important to scientific understanding:

* Identification of causes. Identification of the causes of a particular phenomenon to the best achievable extent.
* Covariation of events. The hypothesized causes must correlate with observed effects.
* Time-order relationship. The hypothesized causes must precede the observed effects in time.
The current debate over CO2-forced catastrophic global warming violates each one of these principles. Shouldn't that be a red flag to us? Lubos Motl explains the root evidential problem which should have caused a reevaluation of IPCC claims and did not (a fact which proves that the IPCC is no longer concerned with science):
...the most popular - and the most straightforward - explanation of the direction of the causal relationship is the fact that in all cases, the CO2 concentration only changed its trend roughly 800 years after temperature had done the same thing. There have been many papers that showed this fact and incidentally, no one seems to disagree with it.

Every sane person knows that this detailed insight implies that the greenhouse effect couldn't have been among the most important effects. Not only the ice core data fails to provide us with evidence supporting the greenhouse theory of the climate; it provides us with strong evidence against it.
Everyone who has basic understanding of feedback theory knows that what they talk about is a textbook example of a positive-feedback system, and if the climate were such a system, the mutually supportive interactions would lead to exponentially escalating temperatures in one of the possible directions. That's clearly not observed in the data and the positive-feedback hypothesis is thus falsified.
CO2 is only a very small component of the total atmospheric greenhouse effect. Its effect is currently estimated at about 3%. By far the most important greenhouse atmospheric component is water vapor - it is currently estimated at around 70% of the effect with another 20% being due to clouds. What the general public does not know is that during glaciations, the atmosphere becomes arid, and after warming, water vapor becomes a larger component of the atmosphere. We know this from multiple types of studies, including analyses of stalagmites in caves and pollen/vegetation sampling.

So following the end of a glaciation, both water vapor and CO2 increase. If there were not opposing forces which come into play, one would expect runaway heating just from the water vapor increase. How can anyone construct a system that accounts for what we now know assuming no opposing forces? And how can anyone believe in such a construction? And do the current models accurately predict climate backward? They do not.

Our climate is an interrelated system, and one cannot extrapolate the effects of doubling one component of that system simply. We will have to do a great deal more basic scientific research before learning how to model the climate. The basic proposition which public policy proscriptions on CO2 now rest is the idea that it might be true and if it were, it would be very dangerous, therefore we should act as if it were true. But this is not science - one could as easily argue that since we know solar radiation is increasing over at least the last century, and since we know that the earth's temperature is very dependent on the amount of solar radiation it receives, we should start building solar umbrellas now. This is not a logical thought process.

With regard to the increase in solar radiation, the assumption is made that since the earth's climate has been variable in all observed time frames (and highly variable during the last 1000 years), that any solar flux will return to a lower state naturally. The argument is that anthropogenic-induced higher CO2 concentrations are dangerous because they are "unnatural". However, other components of anthropogenic climate change are largely ignored in public debate. Why? These effects include aerosols, land use changes, and other GHGs.

For more support for Lubos' rather strongly stated comment about the falsification of the positive feedback system, see the introduction to the IPCC's 2001 The Scientific Basis, which contains this fascinating passage:
If the amount of carbon dioxide were doubled instantaneously, with everything else remaining the same, the outgoing infrared radiation would be reduced by about 4 Wm-2. In other words, the radiative forcing corresponding to a doubling of the CO2 concentration would be 4 Wm-2. To counteract this imbalance, the temperature of the surface-troposphere system would have to increase by 1.2°C (with an accuracy of ±10%), in the absence of other changes. In reality, due to feedbacks, the response of the climate system is much more complex. It is believed that the overall effect of the feedbacks amplifies the temperature increase to 1.5 to 4.5°C. A significant part of this uncertainty range arises from our limited knowledge of clouds and their interactions with radiation. To appreciate the magnitude of this temperature increase, it should be compared with the global mean temperature difference of perhaps 5 or 6°C from the middle of the last Ice Age to the present interglacial.

The so-called water vapour feedback, caused by an increase in atmospheric water vapour due to a temperature increase, is the most important feedback responsible for the amplification of the temperature increase. Concern has been expressed about the strength of this feedback, in particular in relation to the role of upper tropospheric humidity. Since the SAR, thinking about this feedback has become increasingly sophisticated thanks both to modelling and to observational studies. Feedbacks are discussed and assessed in Chapter 7. In particular, the present state of knowledge of the water vapour feedback is examined in Section 7.2.1.
Here's a part of the discussion on water vapor:
Water vapour feedback continues to be the most consistently important feedback accounting for the large warming predicted by general circulation models in response to a doubling of CO2. Water vapour feedback acting alone approximately doubles the warming from what it would be for fixed water vapour (Cess et al., 1990; Hall and Manabe, 1999; Schneider et al., 1999; Held and Soden, 2000). Furthermore, water vapour feedback acts to amplify other feedbacks in models, such as cloud feedback and ice albedo feedback. If cloud feedback is strongly positive, the water vapour feedback can lead to 3.5 times as much warming as would be the case if water vapour concentration were held fixed (Hall and Manabe, 1999).

As noted by Held and Soden (2000), the relative sensitivity of OLR to water vapour changes at various locations depends on how one perturbs the water vapour profile; the appropriate choice depends entirely on the nature of the water vapour perturbation anticipated in a changing climate. The sensitivity is also affected by cloud radiative effects, which tend to mask the influence of sub-cloud water vapour on OLR. Incorporating cloud radiative effects and a fixed relative humidity perturbation (argued to be most appropriate to diagnosing GCM water vapour feedback), Held and Soden suggest that OLR is almost uniformly sensitive to water vapour perturbations throughout the tropics. Roughly 55% of the total is due to the free troposphere in the “tropics” (30°N to 30°S) with 35% from the extra-tropics. Allowing for polar amplification of warming increases the proportion of water vapour feedback attributable to the extra-tropics. Of the tropical contribution, about two thirds, or 35% of the global total, is due to the upper half of the troposphere, from 100 to 500 mb. The boundary layer itself accounts for only 10% of the water vapour feedback globally. Simulations incorporating cloud radiative effects in a doubled CO2 experiment (Schneider et al., 1999) and a clear-sky analysis based on 15 years of global data (Allan et al., 1999) yield maximum sensitivity to water vapour fluctuations in the 400 to 700 mb layer (see also Le Treut et al., 1994). In a simulation analysed by Schneider et al. (1999) extra-tropical water vapour feedback affected warming 50% more than did tropical feedback.

Most of the free troposphere is highly undersaturated with respect to water, so that local water-holding capacity is not the limiting factor determining atmospheric water vapour.
Note the "water vapor acting alone" - in other words, what they are saying is that when it gets warmer, water vapor in the atmosphere increases, which causes it to get warmer. The logical fallacy should be glaring.

Wikipedia quotes Michael Mann, the famous author of the famous, now-debunked hockey stick graph:
"It is extremely misleading, however, when scientists cite the role of water vapor as a greenhouse gas," because it can not be controlled by humans.
The logical fallacy of that also should be apparent.

Great post! Thank You
I have begun to wonder if there isn't a correlation between the lack of factual underpinning between this particular public policy debate and others. Cultural transitions usually show up in more than one way.

It now seems clear that the corn-ethanol push is going to hurt our economy in a regressive way.

A seemingly unrelated issue is how everyone from the Fed, Wall Street, multiple financial organizations and state and local governments missed what was happening and is happening in the housing industry?

Just a few years ago, the lending process changed to become FICO dependent. This happened without meaningful debate but is only now beginning to be questioned. The theory always was logically ridiculous; granting credit on the basis of FICO without verifying income and assets in light of the loan amount is ridiculous; anyone can read in the press multiple accounts of individuals being granted loans for more than 10 times their income, and without a month's worth of PITI reserves in the bank.

But no one questioned it. Even now, most of the public debate centers on "subprime", when that is not really the problem.
Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?