Friday, January 14, 2011

Global warming and the blizzard of '11

Kids in Georgia got almost a week of sledding early in the year.

As Georgia digs itself out of a record-breaking winter storm that followed its first white Christmas in more than a century, people are starting to ask, “What happened to global warming?”  After a series of mild winters, Georgia is experiencing its second harsh winter in a row.  In the winter of 2009-2010, Atlanta received more than its average annual snowfall in one storm on February 12.  Ironically, this was my son’s birthday and his party at Chuck E. Cheese was almost snowed out!  There were several other snowstorms in addition to that one. 

The trend seems to be one of bigger snowstorms in Georgia that occur earlier in the season than in the past.  The trend seems to be one of harsher winters in many countries around the world, not just the United States. Records for cold weather are being set across the United States and around the world this winter.

As global warmists are fond of pointing out when cold weather strikes, local weather conditions do not necessarily disprove a global trend.  Unfortunately, many of these same people are quick to point to local heat waves, droughts, and hurricanes as proof of global warming in other parts of the year. 

As countries around the world experience record cold weather, as well as record hot weather, the term “global warming” has slipped out of favor.  Instead, it has been replaced with the generic term “global climate change.”  It is difficult to argue against global climate change because the global climate is definitely changing.  It always has been and always will be.

When considering the possibility of global warming, we should ask ourselves a series of questions.  First, is global warming actually occurring?  If so, is it a natural phenomenon or is it caused by man?  Whether is caused by man or not, is it a bad thing?  Finally, if it is bad and if it is caused by man, is it possible to reverse it?  If so, is it worth the cost?

Al Gore (Steve Jurvetson)
As far back as 2005, global warmists such as Al Gore claimed that there was a consensus that global warming was occurring, was caused by man, and would be catastrophic if not stopped.  More recently, this claim has been shattered, first as more and more scientists began to dissent from the prevailing viewpoint on global warming, then as hacked emails from prominent climate scientists revealed a pattern of deception.  Global warming believers had faked much of the data that proved warming was occurring, covered up data that did not match their conclusions, and tried to discredit scientists who were skeptical of their claims.

The warmist claim that recent years are the hottest on record was shattered several years ago when it was learned that NASA’s algorithms for graphing temperatures suffered from a Y2K bug.  Previously, 1998 was believed to be the warmest year on record for the US.  With the new data, 1934 became the warmest year.  As of 2007, five of the warmest ten years on record for the US were prior to World War II. 

Further, more doubt was cast on the data itself by the website, which is conducting a survey of automated weather stations in the US.  Many were revealed to be improperly placed in a manner that could make their readings seem warmer than actual.  For example, some stations are located adjacent to asphalt parking lots or near the exhaust of air conditioning units.  If these types of errors are found in the United States, it is likely that they are also present in other countries, especially in the third world.

NASA image of solar flare striking Earth
If it cannot be conclusively determined that the earth is warming, it also cannot be said that it is beyond a doubt that warming is anthropogenic, or caused by man.  Another likely explanation is that global warming is caused by solar activity.  The sun is on an eleven year cycle that peaked in 2000 and reached a second peak in 2002.  Solar max is known to cause short-term climate change in the form of higher temperatures, increased clouds, and El Nino-like storms.  We are currently experiencing a very deep solar minimum, the deepest in over a century.  Solar activity has been at very low levels since 2008, which coincides with the onset of the harsh winters.  Historical data on cosmic rays shows an almost perfect correlation with temperature over a period of three thousand years.

On the other hand, the relationship of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with temperature is less certain.  Far from carbon leading historical changes in temperature, carbon dioxide levels actually follow changes in temperature.  According to historical data, carbon dioxide levels lag behind changes in temperature by about 1200 years.  On the other hand, scientists do seem to agree that carbon dioxide can act to amplify temperature changes that are caused by other variables. 

Further, increased volcanic activity may be contributing to the cold weather.  Volcanic activity has been known to affect weather since 1816 when an eruption on the Indonesian island of Tambora, coupled with a solar minimum, caused record cold weather in the Northern Hemisphere.  The year became known as “eighteen hundred and froze to death” and the “year without a summer.”  Failing crops led to food shortages in many parts of the world.  The dismal weather sparked emigration from New England to the American West and inspired Mary Shelley to write “Frankenstein.”

Recent years have seen an upsurge in volcanic activity in some areas as well.  Undersea eruptions were revealed to be the likely cause of melting glaciers.  Last year, an Icelandic eruption shut down air travel across the Atlantic and Europe, stranding thousands.  In recent years, volcanic activity in Iceland has increased 30-fold.  As demonstrated by Tambora, it would not take a worldwide increase in volcanic activity to affect weather patterns around the globe.

2010 eruption of Icelandic volcano (Max Haase)
Additionally, yet another reason for warmer global temperatures may be that the world is still recovering from the Little Ice Age.  From 1250 to 1850, glaciers advanced and cold, wet weather led to diseases and crop failures.  As recently as 1862, during the Battle of Fredericksburg, the aurora borealis (Northern Lights) appeared in the skies of Virginia.

The link between warming and man is also tenuous.  For one thing, global warming has been reported beyond Earth’s globe.  The planets Mars, Neptune, Jupiter and Pluto have all been reported to have increasing global temperatures.  If global warming is a problem throughout the solar system, it would point toward a cause that is beyond Earth as well.  After all, there is little or no human industry on other planets.

The problems with global warming theory affect other areas of policy as well.  In 2008, polar bears were added to the endangered species list as a “threatened” species after a long campaign by global warming activists who were concerned that rising temperatures and melting seas could threaten the bear’s survival.  The listing led to a suit by the State of Alaska and countersuits by environmental groups.  The problem is that the polar bear population is actually increasing, something that is rare for a truly endangered species.  In some areas of the arctic, the number of bears is becoming so great that they constitute a safety issue for local villagers.

Are people a danger to polar bears or is it the other way around?
Contrary to what some warmists have claimed, current weather is not the warmest in history.  Climate during the early Pliocene Epoch (5.3 to 3 million years ago) and the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) (950-1100 AD) was much warmer than today.  Both periods occurred long before modern industry and manmade greenhouse gases.  In fact, the MWP coincides with the Medieval Maximum, a period of increased solar activity.

The MWP was warm enough to allow Vikings to colonize parts of Greenland and Newfoundland.  These colonies lasted until after the onset of the Little Ice Age.  Evidence of a warmer climate during the MWP is found around the world.

We can also examine the MWP to help determine whether global warming is actually a bad thing.  For example, agriculture flourished during the MWP when the “the climate was warm and dry, with high tree lines, glacier retreat, and reduced lake catchment erosion” compared to the numerous crop failures and famines of the Little Ice Age and 1816.  Further, the cold weather of these periods also caused the spread of disease, such as the Bubonic Plague (the Black Death), which killed a third of Europe.  Even today, cold weather is a bigger killer than hot weather.

Granted, a warmer climate would not be a boon to all areas of the earth.  Areas that are already warm might become too arid.  Sea levels would rise if glaciers melt, but even alarmists only predict rises of a few feet.  It is likely that much more land would be gained from the retreat of the ice, than would be lost.  Few global warmists were worried enough about the rising seas to oppose the rehabilitation of New Orleans, a city already below sea level.

The final question is whether global warming can be stopped by man and at what cost.  Environmentalist and global warming believer Bjorn Lomborg, author of the Skeptical Environmentalist, argues that proposed solutions for global warming will cost billions of dollars and only change projected warming by fractions of a degree. Lomborg argues that the money would be better spent on reducing third world poverty and fighting disease.  Humans are masters of adaptation and future generations, with the benefit of advanced technology, would be better able to deal with global warming.

The problem is compounded by the fact that developing nations do not want to be handicapped in their quest for a better standard of living by artificial limits on carbon production.  Large carbon producers such as China and Russia show little interest in cutting production of carbon.  If the United States were to enact cap-and-trade or some other type of carbon limits, we would effectively hamstring our economy. 

The best argument against global warming theory is the way the warmists have attempted to stifle the debate.  It has been years since Al Gore said, “There's no longer any debate in the scientific community about this,” yet the debate is stronger than ever.  Scientists who are skeptical of global warming theory are painted as members of “a massive and well-organized campaign of disinformation lavishly funded by polluters” and oil companies, allegedly destroying the world to preserve their profits.  As we have already seen, climate scientists dedicated to the theory of global warming have conspired to suppress data that contradicts their beliefs and fought to prevent papers skeptical of global warming from being published.  Global warming skeptics have been compared to Holocaust deniers and criminals.  A recent promotional video seemed to advocate summarily killing skeptics. 

Predictions of global warming are often based on sophisticated computer models.  To accurately model the earth’s climate and weather, they must take a large number of variables into account.  If these variables are omitted or applied incorrectly, the results will be useless.  To put it simply, it is a case of “garbage in – garbage out.”  In the past, the results of this modeling has been less than stellar, though models are improving.  The failure of climate science to predict the recent and current harsh winters underscores the difficulty of modeling climate.

If the science of global warming were truly as solid as its proponents would have you believe, there would be no need for these kinds of heavy-handed tactics.  If the global warming believers truly want to advance the cause of science, they should tone down their rhetoric and allow an open debate on the subject.  They might also want to find a better explanation for the harsh winter weather.

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Polar bear photo credit: Alan D. Wilson

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