Feb 042012
 

The question is not “Is the climate changing?” or “is it getting warmer?”. These are fairly uncontroversial questions and less important than these:

  1. What if ….not CO2 but other human factors are much more significant to our climate?
  2. What if ….the small  but many effects of hundreds of our activities (associated with changes in landscapes, de-forestation, pollution of land and water)  are stronger drivers of global climate than CO2?
  3. What if ….natural mechanisms dwarf mankind’s ability to change the climate?

Many of us “CO2 blamers”  are currently blaming CO2  for heating up the planet – but what if ….we get it wrong and it’s something else?

What if  we discover the true source of climate change too late or never because we did not look any further – because we ran out of resources looking for it? We could have used our resources to limit the impact of humans in general (pollution, toxic waste.. ) or even think seriously about changing the economic system –  instead we messed up to suffer the consequences of putting all eggs in one basket.

Surely, our scientists would not make such a mistake. Surely,  these smart and well-educated people would say clearly if they didn’t know the real cause for climate change or if there are possibly other causes man-made or not. Surely, we can trust the scientific method. The scientific method cannot be misguided by opinions, since all that matters using this method is hard reproducible data and theories suggesting causation.  And of course, data and theory can be both verified and falsified.

Thousands of scientists cannot possibly conspire into bending the scientific method in the same direction – so why should we not trust the scientific method here? Why believe the “CO2 defenders” who (we are told) are the minority?

I believe, the problem lies in the following  assumptions when it comes to the CO2 issue. Many of which are often falsely believed to be clearly true:

Assumption 1:  It would be very difficult to manipulate most scientists to favour a specific outcome. (not true)

Assumption 2:  The greenhouse effect can be  measured and reproduced both in the laboratory and the real atmosphere. (not true)

Assumption 3:  There is enough detailed understanding of all important processes that drive climate. (not true)

Assumption 4:  If scientist agree with a theory, then it must be true – or at least it can’t be that wrong. (not true)

 

Carbon Trading and its role with CO2 caused climate change
Carbon Trade and its counter productive role in tackling CO2 caused climate change. There is no need for a centrally organised conspiracy. Global warming has become a multi-trillion dollar business that simply likes to maintain itself. Cartoon: NaturalNews.com

Assumption 1:  It would be very difficult to manipulate most scientists to favour a specific outcome.

In a capitalist/corporatist economic system almost all scientists will consciously or subconsciously focus their intention, time, energy and interpretation of data towards an outcome that is beneficial for them. The scarier the outcome the more attention by the press, the easier they can publish their research in high-profile journals, the more recognition, equipment and funding they can secure. The more scientist agree with a scary result the stronger it is regarded as true and the more money will flow from governments and corporations.

A bias towards a result like “mankind is dangerously overheating the planet” is rather expected and should not surprise anyone. This message of fear is of course also what sells many times more newspapers than a no problem message. I can highly recommend the book “Bad Science” by Ben Goldacre which deals with various psychological aspects like publication bias in particular within pharmaceutical research.

In a complex multidisciplinary issue like climate change it will not even be necessary to manipulate most researchers as it would be very difficult to accurately determine the opinion of thousands of researchers anyway. Publication and other bias is only an example of the temptation to bend research results – so there is always an incentive towards fear mongering amongst scientists – not unlike journalists and politicians. In other words, there will always be a good supply of “important research” that scares many people.

Assumption 2:  The greenhouse effect can be  measured and reproduced both in the laboratory and the real atmosphere.

In climate science the “greenhouse effect” means that

  1. CO2 absorbs and emits some long wave radiation back to Earth’s surface thereby increasing our planet’s surface and indirectly also its atmospheric temperature
  2. this small temperature increase means the air can now hold more water vapour in the long term. Water vapor itself is a much stronger and more abundant greenhouse gas than CO2 and can now cause additional warming. The warming ocean releases also more CO2, further amplifying the warming albeit on a much slower time scale (hundreds of years).

There are also very good efforts to  measure the back radiation from CO2 to the surface as well as accurate absorption data of atmospheric CO2 from satellites in space.

What I miss here, however, is a laboratory experiment showing the heat trapping effect (not just absorption) of CO2 with some quantitative data.

Also, considering the alleged threat to the world that justifies billions of research dollars, a high resolution absorption spectrum with absorption coefficients of CO2 is surprisingly hard to find. Moreover, the calculation or measurement that arrives at about 2w/m2 radiative forcing for CO2 would be interesting to see. Also according to theory the effect of any new CO2 added should be very small as it absorbs already almost as much as theoretically possible. Yet CO2 blamers say that they can still measure significant increases of radiation from CO2.This sounds like they admit there is some important understanding of important processes missing.

Please let me know if you find anything I am missing here.

An even bigger problem I have with 2.  above: the amplification through water vapour feedback and CO2.

I am not aware of any (serious) reproducible experiments showing that a greenhouse gas can warm earth and to what extend – neither in a laboratory nor in real life. With water vapour or without. All I can find is circumstantial evidence of some components of the effect.

Assumption 3:  There is enough detailed understanding of all important processes that drive climate.

A lot is known about the physical factors driving climate. We know that the sun is the fuel and temperature differences on the surface are the “engines” to drive climate. We know clouds at different heights have different effects, they can either cool or warm the surface this also depends on if it is day or night. Evaporating water can act as a thermostat by cooling e.g. a warming ocean surface.  Moreover, water vapor can condensate or freeze to release heat and form different types of clouds at different heights or snow or rain depending on things like mountain ranges, surface temperature, wind direction and strength etc.

Weather has been described as an almost chaotic system where a butterfly in Brazil could theoretically trigger a tornado in the US.

Hence, I would think, to understand climate on a level where 0.03ppm CO2 in the atmosphere matter  we need to know at least how the much stronger mechanisms work, like the water cycle and cloud formation/effects, changes in reflection properties on Earth’s surface or three-dimensional impacts of mountain ranges. Also the carbon cycle (creation and absorption of CO2) is highly complex and influenced even by small sea creatures in the oceans not just by us humans breathing and burning fuel or the photosynthesising plants or volcanoes.

In particular the lack of quantitative understanding of the water cycle (and its coupling to CO2, wind etc) makes me doubt that anyone can seriously predict climate changes. Even a simple earth model with a multicoloured smooth surface exposed to a sun simulator would likely go beyond what could be understood, reproduced and predictable.

To me the concept of creating an average temperature of earth (70% of the surface is water) seems fundamentally flawed. Equally troublesome I find the simplification that Earth absorbs and emits like a black or grey homogeneous body while most processes are driven by temperature differences on the surface.

There is a long list of known complication and probably even more unknown ones. In my opinion humans are a long way from understanding climate to make any meaningful predictions.

Assumption 4:  If scientist agree with a theory, then it must be true – or at least it can’t be that wrong

There is no climate theory like the theory of light or quantum mechanics. There are experts in dozens of different fields who accumulate and share knowledge all of which is essential to the common goal of understanding the whole thing: Climate.

In my opinion, as a physicist, the “climate science” (like other out-of-reach disciplines) can at the very best only be called a soft or semi science. This is because much of what it is about can neither be accurately verified (tested) nor falsified (proven wrong) with current knowledge and technology. This is mostly because parameters and much of the physics are neither known sufficiently nor could they be controlled (reproduced) sufficiently.

The scientific method is the foundation of a hard scientific discipline. Among other things it requires a practical opportunity of falsification and verification of the theory (hypothesis) in question.  Without this the theory can not be distinguished from a “believe”, such as the believe in a holy god. I cannot prove the existence of a god, nor can I prove he doesn’t exist. Hence believing in the existence of a god is a “believe” and not even a scientific theory and far away from a confirmed theory.

A confirmed theory that is also part of a paradigm of knowledge may be the highest level of understanding in Science. such a confirmed theory is perhaps the closest we can get to stating facts – but good scientist will point out that even these facts can change or disappear as it happened many times in history.

Note, that this does not mean believing something is a waste of time – it may well have real life effects – and these things may exist. However believes cannot claim the same level of reliability as a confirmed theory in science.

In climate science, much of possibly important physics is either totally unknown or only partly understood and had to be simplified considerably (clouds, water vapour feedback, effect of the sun on cloud formation etc..) to be plugged into computer models.

So, in climate “science” or other “soft” sciences it should not even matter if there is a consensus of researchers supporting a theory or not.

Only in soft sciences the issue of a consensus amongst researchers is discussed. This is exactly because many theories in soft sciences cannot be falsified and barely verified. Therefore opinions – not facts rule. Opinions then can be traded, purchased, ignored or ridiculed – in other words – manipulated by whoever has the power (like in many real life “democracies”).

On the other hand, consensus is not even a serious topic in hard sciences (that use the strict scientific method; e.g. semiconductor physics). Hard sciences are about hard proof that A causes B.  Correlation is not enough. Reproducibility and controlled experiments rule in the hard sciences. This is why hard sciences are in practice much more reliable than a democratic / majority opinion based decision that could be manipulated or affected by self censorship.

This may also the reason why soft sciences are now calling for a more relaxed definition of the scientific theory. Most people are not aware that hard and soft sciences are different animals and mixed up in one word “science”.

Corporate media and the marketing industry love to (falsely) associate the authority of hard science with the increasing number of soft sciences. We all like to believe doctors in white coats on TV have the authority to tell us that swallowing a chemical is safe and good for you. Unfortunately medicine, like all life related disciplines, is a soft science at least as much as climate science.

What is interesting in the CO2 debate is that most people, even many of those trained in science, have not even looked for any evidence and are therefore CO2 blamers (not because they saw evidence). On the other hand, I suspect most of the CO2 defenders have at least look at the kind of evidence.

There are over 30 000 scientists in the USA alone who have probably been looking but cannot see any hard evidence that man-made CO2 can cause significant warming.

Until I discover evidence to make most of the above assumptions true I will likely remain a CO2 defender (and a defender of hard science trying to come up with a less misleading label for soft sciences; I think the word science should be replaced). I also urge readers to tell me of any evidence I may have missed.

Note: As should be obvious from my other posts, I am a strong opponent of corporatism, pollution and in particular the consumption of finite resources like oil and coal. However, I also believe it is far more dangerous tackling climate change by attacking the wrong culprit and thereby miss the chance to “save mankind” by addressing possibly far more important issues.

More important and urgent issues mankind is facing are:

  • conduct independent research into finding other possible causes for any kind of climate change or confirming the greenhouse effect in a laboratory
  • discussing, studying and preparing to move on from a high consumption based economic system that creates increasing inequality and debt to a sustainable one favouring a smaller difference between all human beings
  • removing the profit motif from news reporting and political positions (realistic compensation for politicians)
  • introducing a realistically low upper limit for all salaries. Salaries over e.g. 100 000€/year or stock options  are really only legal bribes to sell your soul in the name of your company – in particular in politics and news reporting business
  • fade out advertising and marketing as much as possible. This would be a key element to stop consumerism as well as oversupply of products, labour and wasted resources on the planet

In my opinion research should focus mostly on proofing the theoretical concept that greenhouse gases can warm Earth’s surface and to what extent. Ideally this should be done with a reproducible experiment in a laboratory with reasonable control of parameters.

There is also an extra twist related to the financial and environmental motifs by various lobby groups. This is certainly an interesting but also complex issue which I like to discuss in a separate post in the future.

OK. My short answer about the motifs is:
Oil corporations are sponsoring a tiny fraction of climate research compared to government bodies like the USA. Climate research has become a huge business employing a huge number of scientists world wide. Carbon trading is a huge business for global brokers like Goldman Sachs.
Carbon will be the biggest commodity market on earth, moving trillions of dollars, yearly, between banks thereby further delaying the inevitable collapse of a debt/fiat money based economic system. Poor nations in e.g. Africa may not be able to burn coal and oil to create cost-effective energy but instead will leave their share to the wealthier nations – those that can afford to pay for the “license”. The US so far does not even need a license. Poor nations may need to buy solar panels and wind generators from China, Europe and the US instead of using and benefiting from their own resources.
A handy summary of the most critical issues (lack of scientific evidence and the imbalance of funding and motifs) can be found here.

I am deeply impressed by the Canadian government that recently agreed to a public hearing of CO2 critical scientists. This should be normal but has not occurred  in many other nations in Europe or abroad – to my knowledge.

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