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Warmer, still

June 10, 2019

I don’t much follow the legal wrangles stemming from global warming politics. Greg Laden writes that the Frontier Centre now apologizes for slurring Michael Mann a decade back, falsely accusing him of faking or altering data. No one should draw straight connections between the legal and scientific results, though in this instance, they are aligned. I’m linking to that mostly because I like how Laden lays out the events on the graph of global temperature increase. The nature of the discussion hasn’t much changed over the years. The graph makes it clear that it should, as decade after decade we get ever warmer. See if you can spot in that curve the various “pauses” that the denialists ever use to disprove the trend. We are almost always in one, since to their use, every new peak defines the beginning of the next “pause.”

Given any topic broadly discussed, there are bad explanations, bad arguments, silly projections, etc. on all sides. A popular belief about global warming is that it will make hurricanes worse or more frequent. Right after Harvey blew though my neighborhood — we were a fortnight without city power — I blogged on how there still is little evidence that global warming is changing hurricanes. Perhaps that evidence will emerge in coming decades. Right now, such claims are speculative.

Now, there is a badly conceived report that global warming will cause civilization to collapse mid-century. The responsible writers on global warming, including Michael Mann, are rightly debunking it. It will, alas, give fodder to those who will pretend that it represents climate science.

I have every expectation that in fifty years those in the developed world still will have plenty to eat in their air conditioned houses. What is at risk is the natural world. We are causing one of the great extinctions in the earth’s history. The fundamental cause is habitat loss. Global warming is one mechanism of that. It is not the only one. Bolsonaro’s eagerness to sell the Amazon rain forest as lumber and turn it into cow pasture may be the largest step backwards today. A friend of mine recently claimed the larger problem are kinds of pollution other than rising CO2. Despite the growth of ocean dead zones from fertilizer run-off, I doubt it.

But here is the thing. There is no battle between environmentalists who want to cut greenhouse gas emissions, those who want to preserve remaining natural areas, those who want to address the explosion of plastic trash, and those who want to regulate other kinds of pollution also. The political battle has on one side the industries that want the “freedom” to cause whatever harm they want in the pursuit of their own profit, together with their political defenders, think tanks, and other shills. Their popular tune is to pretend to stand for capitalism, despite the fact that they don’t seem much to understand the way it works. If they did, they would know that regulating externalities is not an attack on it. That battle has on the other side those who want those harms recognized, studied, monitored, and regulated. It comes as no surprise that Bolsonaro is targeting science research, also.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 10, 2019 9:07 am

    But you realize that we do not even have a reliable way to measure the global temp of the earth?

  2. rturpin permalink*
    June 10, 2019 10:52 am

    Well, you’re partially right. But not in any way that matters. 1) “Global temperature” is an odd sort of notion, temperature being an intrinsic property of matter, rather than an extrinsic one. Ask any of your students who has taken thermodynamics about that. 2) More, that graph is not even pretending to say anything about the earth as a whole, or even its oceans. It is just looking at temperature trends in the lower atmosphere. 3) And there, where it matters, you are wrong. Thermometers work. 4) And you’d be quite right to say, well, what does that matter, if you’re not even looking at the ocean. The oceans might be cooling even as the atmosphere warms, due to some odd interaction between the two for some decades and then reverses. And as everyone who has studied science knows, their mass is much greater and so their heat capacity also. Of course, climate scientists are looking at the oceans, also, and their interaction with the atmosphere. They study the PDO and ENSO. And yes, we can reliably measure sea temperature. Thermometers work there, too.

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