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Do you believe in human-induced climate change?

by Starvid Wed Nov 19th, 2008 at 01:34:06 PM EST

I certainly used too, but the more I learn about it the more I worry the theory might be completely wrong.

Most people believe in the theory, but science is certainly not a democratic thing - even if an idea is supported by the majority it might be completely wrong. Or right.

But having been engaged with the Peak Oil issue since the fall of 2004 I have experienced how a viewpoint which was seen as completely - and I mean completely - crackpot has turned into the mainstream, in spite of being violently opposed by the vast majority of those in the know as late as just a few years ago.

When I personally see large question marks on this supposedly gold-plated climate theory, I worry. Should I think for myself or trust the scientific, political, industrial and religious authorities who know so much more than I do about these issues? For a long time I did the latter.

But I see more and more problems with the theory, and I do feel a bit assured that I'm not just a single crackpot when scientific authorities have recently been allowed to question the theory in the media, and when really smart people I trust question the theory, and when I myself look at the data and just can't make the pieces fit together.

I'm not going to debate the problems I have with the theory right now and here - we'll save that for later - but instead I ask you to take part in this poll.

(which will hopefully work)

Do you believe in human-induced climate change, and do you think it will be catastrophic if we do not act politically to reduce emissions?
. I believe climate change is mainly caused by human greenhouse-gas emissions, and that it will be catastrophic. 57%
. I believe climate change is mainly caused by human greenhouse-gas emissions, but not that it will be catastrophic. 4%
. I believe climate change is mainly caused by natural causes, and that it will be catastrophic. 9%
. I believe climate change is mainly caused by natural causes, but not that it will be catastrophic. 14%
. I believe something else, and I will explain what in the comments. ;) 14%

Votes: 21
Results | Other Polls
'Runs away and hides'

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Wed Nov 19th, 2008 at 01:35:42 PM EST
The debate has been framed as either man-made or natural causes, but this strikes me as 1, an unscientific approach and 2, a bit beside the point.  

First, we do not live separate from our environment, we have a symbiotic relationship with it.  So trying to untangle that to evade blame or responsibility seems a little daft.  If I breathe, I am effecting the environment.  If a meteor hits the earth, it is effecting the environment.  Your need to eat to survive impacts the environment.  Beaver dams impact the environment.  I think the more logical debate should be between how much of our environmental impact is necessary and how much is gratuitous.  Unlike trees and beavers and meteors, humans have quite a bit of free will and the ability to comprehend the long term impact of their actions.  And with our unique powers come unique responsibilities.  

Moreover, regardless how much of climate change is attributed to causes besides human behavior, I don't see how that absolves us of our need to use and impact our environment in a sustainable manner.  Pollution and deforestation have very measurable negative impacts on life on earth aside from their relation to global climate change.  And surely access to clean air and drinkable water are basic human rights, even if you don't think polar bears have basic rights.  

I believe climate change is an observable reality, and that it can be catastrophic for at least some species, species who don't have a say in what we do, and I feel a personal obligation to prevent animal and plant species from unnecessary suffering and permanent extinction when possible.

Whether it is for precautionary or reactionary reasons, maintaining a healthy planet is important.  I might die as a result of being hit by a bus, but I should still probably stop smoking.  You know.  Just in case.

Come, my friends, 'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

by poemless on Wed Nov 19th, 2008 at 02:20:50 PM EST
I hate to see biodiversity collapse addressed from the point of view of animal suffering, not because it is an illegitimate concern but because there is much more at stake which would concern everyone if they understood. The collapse of fisheries worldwide is certainly not some point of belief about which mandarins can spin theoretical arguments. It is a fact, and it will cost us dearly.

Not to mention the well worn but nonetheless true argument that given the huge percentage of medicines, not to mention other useful compounds, that come from botanical sources, it is simple insanity to burn down the rainforest without even cataloging its contents. It is burning a library unread.

Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other. -- Dr Johnson

by melvin (melvingladys at or near yahoo.com) on Sat Nov 22nd, 2008 at 01:54:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... the current emissions of CO2 are benign in order to justify permitting CO2 emitters to engage in the experiment and just hope for the best?

No, I do not.

It is clear and evident social insanity to frame the question as something that "the science must prove beyond reasonable doubt" before those engaged in the experiment have their social entitlement to play with the CO2 levels in the atmosphere revoked.

The only sane way to proceed is to demand that those who wish to emit at a rate that increases atmospheric concentration of CO2 and other GHG need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt to be safe. Because the risk if they are wrong about it being safe so far exceeds the benefit if they are correct about it being safe that if they are wrong, emissions reduction is not a cost-benefit trade-off, but a priority decision.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Nov 19th, 2008 at 02:40:50 PM EST
Give that man a ten.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Nov 19th, 2008 at 02:51:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
there is plenty of evidence, too. Between CO2 histories from mountains in Hawaii and ice-cores in Antarctica, we have a fairly strong indication of a human-induced rise in carbon dioxide - as I'm sure you are aware. The effect of various artificial, volatile chemicals on atmospheric ozone seems to be demonstrated. Reduced albedo due to reduced ice caps is certainly working in a complementary fashion with 'greenhouse gases'.

Acidification of the oceans indicates that some of the buffering actions that might mitigate climate change have been 'neutralized'. poemless mentions deforestation, which is well-documented. Besides the loss of the forests' carbon-sink, there is the use of the land after logging, such as planting sugar cane for ethanol production for use as fuel. It may be a minor example in terms of portion, but even the fallow clear-cut is giving up CO2 and methane via decomposition.

So, yes, I believe in human-induced global warming, however much non-human influence there may be. And here's one to add to the list - NOx - which is a more potent 'greenhouse gas' than CO2. Modern (last century or so) internal combustion and turbine motors generate vast quantities. This component of the issue has not been studied to the same extent as CO2, because the tests are much less developed. For one thing the molecules are much more reactive than carbon dioxide, so how do you distinguish NO that has become a nitrate from a geologically-generated nitrate? Meantime, the original NO was airborne for awhile, but what did it contribute to the 'greenhouse effect' while it was still NO? Another problem is that much less NOx is generated in a turbine than CO2, so it is harder to detect, but yet it has more effect as a 'greenhouse gas'. Point being that we have a potentially strong influence that was introduced to the equation rather recently and about which we lack study.

Beyond that, I will throw in my eccentric POV - it is a mistake to rely on machines and fuels to the extent that we do, if for no other reason than that humans must connect with their own lives via muscle-power, face-to-face communications with their fellows, skill development, contact with wood and dirt and plants and animals. It is gratifying, aesthetically pleasing, less expensive, and, ultimately I hope, communitarian.

paul spencer

by paul spencer (spencerinthegorge AT yahoo DOT com) on Wed Nov 19th, 2008 at 04:17:49 PM EST
I guess you mean N2O, not NOx...
Nitrous oxide - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Nitrous oxide reacts with ozone in the stratosphere. Nitrous oxide is the main naturally occurring regulator of stratospheric ozone. Nitrous oxide is a major greenhouse gas. Considered over a 100 year period, it has 298 times more impact per unit weight than carbon dioxide. Thus, despite its low concentration, nitrous oxide is the fourth largest contributor to these greenhouse gases. It ranks behind carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor, the latter of which comprises greater than 95% of all greenhouse gases. Control of nitrous oxide is part of efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

NOx is nasty stuff, contributes to smog and acid rain, but not a greenhouse gas.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Wed Nov 19th, 2008 at 05:09:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the various compounds of Nitrogen and Oxygen. Plus, I'm not sure what your point is, in that your entry says that N2O is a greenhouse gas, and you say that it is not.

paul spencer
by paul spencer (spencerinthegorge AT yahoo DOT com) on Wed Nov 19th, 2008 at 07:00:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I did not say that N2O is not a greenhouse gas. That's presuming that I use your definition, which is a form of begging the question.

But anyway, there is reason for this misunderstanding, I see, because there sometimes is a broader and sometimes a narrower use of the symbol.

Nitrogen oxide - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

NOx is a generic term for mono-nitrogen oxides (NO and NO2). These oxides are produced during combustion, especially combustion at high temperatures.

Nitrogen Oxides: Health and Environmental Impacts of NOx | Six Common Pollutants | Air & Radiation | US EPA
NOx causes a wide variety of health and environmental impacts because of various compounds and derivatives in the family of nitrogen oxides, including nitrogen dioxide, nitric acid, nitrous oxide, nitrates, and nitric oxide.

At any rate, nitrous oxide (N2O) is not produced in vast quantities as an emission of internal combustion engines, that is NO and NO2, which are not greenhouse gases. Older catalysts meant to reduce those do produce some N2O. The main sources are industrial processes and agriculture.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Thu Nov 20th, 2008 at 03:59:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Environmental Protection Agency, "One member of the NOx, nitrous oxide or N2O, is a greenhouse gas." This is the basis of my definition of NOx, which comes from my years as a Safety and Health Officer and sometime Environmental Affairs Officer for two different companies in WA and OR. Maybe it's an old-school definition, and the world has moved on, but that's all that I have.

As to derivation of N2O, the Wikipedia also says "The livestock sector (primarily cows, chickens, and pigs) produces 65% of human-related nitrous oxide. [1] Industrial sources make up only about 20% of all anthropogenic sources, and include the production of nylon and nitric acid, and the burning of fossil fuel in internal combustion engines." So - I defer to your point as to its sources, but please note that they include internal combustion engines.

Beyond that, I suggest that NO2 and atmospheric Nitric Acid are also GHG, which have not been adequately studied - not to mention SO2 and atmospheric Sulfuric Acid. And this might be worthwhile, given the increase in coal-fired electrical generation facilities. Again, maybe my science is too old, but I remember that the greenhouse effect was originally conceptualized on the basis of study of Venus' atmosphere.

paul spencer

by paul spencer (spencerinthegorge AT yahoo DOT com) on Thu Nov 20th, 2008 at 12:58:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
most atmospheric climate scientists tally Green House Gasses (GHG) instead, not just CO2. The focus on CO2 when framing the debate on climate change has been one of my long-standing irks - it's simplistic and fallacious to single it out.

Although kcurie will probably growl at me for re-opening this.

by Nomad on Wed Nov 19th, 2008 at 06:37:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I've bashed asiegel on the same thing earlier this year - but I am ardent on the use of correct language here. I don't believe things in science. Ideas are inferred, interpreted, recognized, detailed, described, hypothesized, theorized, proven.

No believing.

Having said that, I've remaining issues with the climate change "camps". The crucial question being: to what extent do increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases contribute to global warming, that is, what is the 2xCO2 (the doubling of atmospheric CO2) sensitivity of the planet? I don't think there has been an adequately shown answer to that, although  a range of estimates have been published.

But should this answer truly matter in determining policy to reduce and moderate the current excessiveness of carbon output? I refer to the posts of Bruce and poemless above.

by Nomad on Wed Nov 19th, 2008 at 06:52:49 PM EST
I think there is a problem with your premise that various scientific hypotheses suddenly swing from violently opposed to mainstream.

Your example of peak oil is a good one, because the peak oil theory has been around for a long, long time--as I'm sure you are very much aware. The people who claim or claimed that it was invalid had a vested interest in having people think that way so that they could maintain a profitable industry, whether carmaking, oil drilling, plastics manufacture, fertilizing, etc.

Another example that you didn't mention, but that frequently comes up, is that continental drift was disbelieved by geologists for decades but then proven to be true, thus they all changed their mind. Which is not what happened, what happened was that nobody could explain it until they got decent magnetometer readings of the ocean floor.

What troubles me is that the global warming "debate" (if you can expect a bunch of frothing-at-the-mouth talk show radio hosts to be capable of debate) is between the non-believers (see comment above about the role of belief in science) and the CONSENSUS of the atmospheric science community. The important thing here is that the consensus is what you can get all of them to agree on; it's not even the median or mean of the models or observations but just the lowest common denominator of what everybody agrees about. That means that there are plenty of perfectly reputable models and scientists who think that things are a LOT worse than the IPCC reports say. MUCH, MUCH worse, in fact.

I'm sure you've seen this picture, for example.

During the 2008 melt season, Arctic sea ice declined by 10.58 million square kilometers (4.08 million square miles). This was slightly more than the previous record for loss over an entire melt season, set in 2007, which was 10.51 million square kilometers (4.06 million square miles).


Just a couple of days ago there was a report that the tipping point concentration of CO2 was more like 350 ppm, not the 450 ppm that has been proposed as an almost unbelievably unachiveable "withough immense economic disruption" level.
http://climateprogress.org/2008/11/09/stabilize-at-350-ppm-or-risk-ice-free-planet-warn-nasa-yale-sh effield-versailles-boston-et-al/

I look forward to hearing about the problems you have with the atmospheric models, and assume that you will have vetted them at http://www.realclimate.org before exposing them here--just to avoid the first level of foolish argumentation...  :-)

by asdf on Wed Nov 19th, 2008 at 09:54:11 PM EST
I stopped arguing about the details of it.  Did it happen this way or that is now irrelevant.  What is relevant is how that event changed the world.

The paradigm works.  With global warming  I embrace my 3M6B theory which says the profit potential for wealth extraction from formerly oppressed people is the real reason for all the hype, sudden and elite  sponsored hype, behind this current CO2 carbon trading scam.

It was never about fixing the enviornment it is about control of people.

by Lasthorseman on Thu Nov 20th, 2008 at 06:56:11 AM EST
Creationism or Evolution -

I've never found interest in arguing the details of it. Did it happen this way or that is irrelevant. What is relevant is whether or not one or the other believes in God which is the bottom line in that debate.

911 official version or not -

It's difficult to argue about the details because some details are obscured, others are missing. It is relevant how that event changed the world. Is it irrelevant how it happened? Would it have an impact (for the better/for the worse) if we knew? I think it would.

Climate change - did it happen this way or that?

It has changed the world. Would it have an impact if we knew why and how it happens/ed, whose responsible - just we or nature and us? Can we avert or delay the consequences? If we knew, it would have an impact. Even if we don't know the whole truth of the matter, we're responsible for what we know and should act accordingly.

by Lily (put - lilyalmond - here <a> yahaah.france) on Thu Nov 20th, 2008 at 10:22:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There is another option missing in the poll: I don't have an opinion.
Actually another one: We don't have a way to know for sure.

For me, the most interesting point is if the theoretical scientific framework. I don't know nothing about climate change. But I know about other computational simulation frameworks: namely conservation genetics, population genetics and spread of malaria drug resistance.

I owe the European Tribune a long post explaining my views, but for now I would say: trust this theoretical "science" at your own peril. Of course, more empirical evidence (of the type "there was always ice on place X but not anymore", falls in a different category, and is probably more trustworthy.

by t-------------- on Thu Nov 20th, 2008 at 07:24:35 AM EST
more empirical evidence (of the type "there was always ice on place X but not anymore", falls in a different category, and is probably more trustworthy.

That's pretty much what I've been pushing here the past years: data, data, data.

Hope to see your post soon...

by Nomad on Thu Nov 20th, 2008 at 09:26:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Like Nomad I don't like the term 'believe'.

I also don't like the binary will/will not be catastrophic. There's too much uncertainty in the science to be that hardline and in any case what qualifies as 'catastrophic'?

Having said that I voted for the 'anthropogenic/catastrophic' option because that's closest to what the physics predicts and the evidence supports.


-- #include witty_sig.h

by silburnl on Thu Nov 20th, 2008 at 07:26:30 AM EST
If you guys don't like the word believe, feel free to interpret it as something which feels more scientific but means about the same thing (like "consider when having looked at the data"). English is not my native tongue, but I do hope the general message was understood.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Thu Nov 20th, 2008 at 11:11:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
By now I've seen plenty of native English speakers propagate the "believe" meme in science - in (older) scientific articles the word also pops up here and there. My rancour against its improper usage has also been exacerbated by the stupid "intelligent design" debate - "do you believe in evolution?"

Man, I really will turn into a grumpy old man.

by Nomad on Thu Nov 20th, 2008 at 11:55:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, I do love the term believe. And I also like the term faith. Because it is of degrees of belief and faith that we are talking about.

In 99.9% of interesting things in life there are no absolute certainties. As such whatever we take for granted might be wrong to some degree.

The problem with faith and belief is their source and their degree. A typical example is the religious bigot: total and undiscussable faith in something there is no evidence for or against.

I have faith and belief in, say, evolution. A faith based on existing evidence and a rational process that can be democratically shared with all humans. A faith that can be REVISED in the presence of new evidence or a good, preferably testable, argument. But I don't have complete certainty about the topic.

One of the reasons that I've loved your post is because it exposes some of the typical bigotry in the left side: some issues (like this) are very hard to discuss with progressives: either you are with dogma or you are casted out.

by t-------------- on Thu Nov 20th, 2008 at 02:44:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"either you are with dogma or you are casted out"

Examples abound, for instance heliocentrism, gravitation, blood circulation, round earth...

In other words the "typical bigotry in the left side" is better known as the use of reason, or the refusal to espouse the anti-intellectualism of the right.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Fri Nov 21st, 2008 at 07:13:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Should I think for myself or trust the scientific, political, industrial and religious authorities who know so much more than I do about these issues?

Four groups lumped together - I hope you do not give them an equal weighting on this subject. Only one of them makes any serious attempt at being impartial.

by det on Thu Nov 20th, 2008 at 07:34:12 AM EST
Who tries to be impartial? Or is it that one claims impartiality for himself alone? ;)

Scientific facts tend to be absolute - until disproved.

by Lily (put - lilyalmond - here <a> yahaah.france) on Thu Nov 20th, 2008 at 10:27:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I hope you do not give them an equal weighting on this subject.
Of course not, who do you take me for? ;p

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Thu Nov 20th, 2008 at 11:28:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Most people believe in the theory, but science is certainly not a democratic thing - even if an idea is supported by the majority it might be completely wrong. Or right.

That is not the relevant metric however. The relevant metric IMHO is the percentage of people knowledgeable enough to actualy form their own opinion, and having decent knowledge of the relevant literature. Science is not a democratic endeavor exactly because of this. Only those that actually participate in it actually have a gnosiological vote.

On the other hand the majority of a research community is infrequently wrong - it might not be "right enough" (i.e. their theories might not be sufficient after a significant extension of a field's empirical base), but wrong? Whenever that happened (i.e. with Wegener, say) you know about it. But for every Tectonic Plate theory, there are a thousand N-Rays, Lysenkoisms and more interestingly and productively Steady State Cosmologies.

So let me ask back: do you "believe" in General Relativity? In Carbon dating? In the Indoeuropeans? In CFCs damaging the Ozone layer?

If one wants to go beyond belief however in this case, and nearer to the empirical data, one has only to check early (and much less sophisticated) climate forecast models against actual data. The results [1, 2, 3 (fig. 1.1. pg 6)] are certainly not unimpressive and make "disbelief" AFAICT a harder option.

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake

by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Thu Nov 20th, 2008 at 06:42:05 PM EST

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