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« Collins Whups Dawkins in TIME Debate! | Main | Doubts about Global Warming, Continued »



Doubts about Global Warming at the Times?

Is there dissension at the New York Times on the issue of global warming?

Over the past decade, Times reporter Andrew C. Revkin has become the single most influential journalist covering global warming. He has traveled to the Arctic to witness first-hand the dramatic effects of global warming there. He broke the story of the Bush administration’s attempts to censor the alarming projections of NASA’s climatologist James Hansen. Revkin has also informed us that almost all knowledgable scientists accept that human activities—burning fossil fuels and forests—are driving a recent worldwide surge in temperature by increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

What are we to make, then, of “In Ancient Fossils, Seeds of a New Debate on Warming,” which appeared in last Tuesday’s Science Times? In the article another veteran science reporter, William J. Broad, notes that scientists who study climate fluctuations through deep time think factors unrelated to human industry might be causing recent global warming. The “doubters say the planet is clearly warming today, as it has repeatedly done, but insist that no one knows exactly why. Other possible causes, they say, include changes in sea currents, Sun cycles and cosmic rays that bombard the planet.” Broad suggests that believers in human-induced global-warming "are trying to ignore or dismiss" these skeptics.

This article represent a heretical departure from the canonical view of Revkin, one that may give aid and comfort to those who dismiss global warming as a “hoax” (as the Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe put it) perpetrated by Al Gore and other tree-huggers. What’s going on? Is Broad really a global-warming doubter? Are he and Times editors having doubts about Revkin and trying to undermine him? Or is the Times just trying to sell newspapers by generating a little controversy? What does Revkin think about Broad's article?

I’d love to see Revkin and Broad hash out their disagreements, if any, perhaps in an online discussion. (Disclosure: Revkin is a friend and neighbor; I met Broad last spring when I invited him to speak at Stevens.) This ain’t string theory, science with absolutely no practical consequence; global warming is arguably the most important issue of our time, and readers deserve to know what these influential media pundits really think about it.

Comments

Andrei Kirilyuk

Such discussion would certainly be of interest, but actually it already goes on, for some time, though usually in a “distributed” form and between various participants. We can therefore be reasonably certain in its finally uncertain result: human or non-human (warming), difficult to be sure now, especially at a “scientific” level of objectivity, because the “system” in question is too complicated. That does not mean that one should not try to address the problem, but maybe there is a deeper and more practically relevant challenge in all those eco-issues to be emphasized in the first place. What should actually be decided is whether today's planetary civilisation is able to change to a qualitatively new, ecologically superior (truly “sustainable”) way of development (and how exactly) or we are practically doomed instead to remain in the current “parasitic”, basically destructive mode of our interaction with natural resources of the planet, EVEN IF the situation is less dangerous because our current consumption level is NOT YET the main cause of global warming (but if it grows, it inevitably WILL become so, in a rather close future). The key challenge may finally be concentrated on HUMAN, rather then “natural”, physical factors, so that the current “ecological crisis” (again irrespective of its real physical scale) can be viewed rather as an opportunity to initiate another kind of civilisation development and thus also solve various other, serious enough problems of emerging stagnation of the current, industrial development kind. It may then appear “suddenly” that typical end-of-science problems we discuss here and those global ecological problems have the same root and can be solved all together, at a superior level of living and thinking... Further details can be found at http://arXiv.org/abs/physics/0509234 .

nigel cook

Well, there is factual evidence from measurements on Hawaii that the background CO2 level has been rising year on year since measurements began.

As long as the other pollutants are not cancelling out the greenhouse effect by reflecting back into space more solar radiation, then global warming should be a fact just based on that evidence.

Of course, if the CO2 is accompanied by dust and other particulates which reflect back much more sunlight than before, then despite the CO2 effect, the net effect could be cooling.

However, the evidence from average temperatures globally is that there is a statistically significant upturn (albeit not the neat exponential curve that some lying propagandarists produce, but a far more erratic squiggle).

Here in the UK the temperature this summer reached a record higher than any since records begun, forcing many (myself included) to use portable air conditioning in bedrooms to get to sleep at night!

This is not usual for the UK. It is partly statistical fluke, but there is some underlying upturn in temperature responsible as well.

However, I think the whole global warming science industry is a con regards future predictions, because we're on the threshold of an oil crisis, which will take out the major source of pollution in a few years (oil). This imminent end of oil simply isn't allowed for in global warming models!

It's not the old claim that we're running out of oil, it's the fact that 50% of oil comes from the Middle East where they are already having to use increasingly expensive technology to extract oil, driving the price up, because the easily accessible resources have been depleted. There's plenty of toxic (mineral polluted) oil sludge in the USA that could power the earth, but it's simply uneconomical to refine that. In practical terms, oil prices are going to shoot up over the next few years, and people won't be able to afford to keep on polluting as much as at present. This will provide a natural limit to the global warming phenomenon.

What people should be worrying about is not wasting money on modelling global warming and taking "political action" now, but working out how to stop a global economic crisis when the oil cost goes exponential by 2015 or sooner.

nigel cook

Hi Dr Andrei Kirilyuk, http://arXiv.org/abs/physics/0509234 is a nice paper of yours!

I like the fact you cite John Horgan's publications in references 24 and 25!

Maybe he'll comment about your paper, if he is not put off by the fact that (1) you use a lot of the mathematics of quantum mechanics and chaos to treat the problems of achieving a stable future.

I like Fig. 3 in your paper - a post-industrial society will be top-heavy with too much management and not enough labour, should an economic crisis occur.

Sam Taylor

John-

Does it really make a difference that human activity is influencing global climate on the margins rather than as the prime mover? Isn't this basically true?

I am a strong believer that the earth's climate will be different than it would have been as a result of human activity and that this difference is globally likely to be warmer rather than cooler. I also believe that reasoned change should be instituted to mitigate this effect.

Yet the reality seems to be that what's done is done. Reasoned change could mitigate the climate differences beginning 50 years from now and prevent a self reinforcing future disaster and should be an obvious conservative policy decision.

However, there has been little or no discussion concerning the already imbedded likely changes that will wreck havoc with the lives of many of our fellow humans.

Does it really make a difference whether future climate change is 54% human induced or 46% human induced? Does anyone believe we are smart enough to tell the difference? Will it make a difference to those whose lives and livelhoods are destroyed? Will they not still blame the nation state into which you and I were lucky enought to be born...with some justification?

In many ways, the scientific questions are trivial. The simple models that we can all understand should be sufficient and probably represent as much accuracy as is obtainable.

I think we need to change the focus of this discussion and that the institution of science has reached the limits of helpfulness.

Sam

csrster

Sam,
Your right in principle, but my feeling is that the argument is between those who think climate change is 90% anthropogenic and those who think it is 10% anthropogenic (forgetting the few real loonies who think it isn't happening at all).

That makes a big difference in how you view the balance between prevention and mitigation. My own view is that we ought to take mitigation more seriously because significant climate change now seems almost inevitable, and also because the kind of measures we can take to mitigate its effect (e.g. irrigation measures) will be of significant benefit even if the climate change eventually proves not to be as severe as feared.

csrster

Oops. Your -> you're.

Sam Taylor

Csrster-

I basically find myself in full agreement with your comment.

Oddly, what prompted my remarks was the "Dawkins" problem. Focusing on arguments for the existence or non-existence of any god ignors the current cultural problem of growing toxicity of many if not most of the Abrahamic religious institutions.

Similarly, focusing on the precise extent to which climate change may be human induced rather than also influenced by other non-human related issues seems that it may run a similar risk of bogging down in arcane science that no one can believe.

I am not a scientist, just an interested human. My concern is that the simple, very powerful arguments that strongly support your position tend to get lost.

Sam

The comments to this entry are closed.



   
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