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The Global Warming Paradox: Can a man-made computer model's "output" be accepted as FACT?

The goal of computer models are simply to simulate the past physical experience to the greatest degree possible and then to use the same calculations to project a likely future experience.

Models usually fall into two basic categories: those which accept historical data as input and by a process of curve-filling or pattern recognition attempt to match some time-slice of reality and those which use equations purported to describe physical phenomena and attempt to match some time-slice of reality. The fact that the model’s output appears to match some time-slice of reality is often the primary factor in the acceptance of the model’s validity.

But, truth-be-told, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. We have cellular automata models which use very few computational rules and produce beautify pictures of what appears to be two-dimensional representations of leaves and shells. However, they do not tell us anything of the physical reality of leaves and shells. Such is a computer program that purports to match a line on a chart and extend its results into the future. 

Let us consider computer modeling where the sum of real life decisions determines the over all performance of the system: the stock market. To date, their are no successful computer models that have been able to predict the future of the stock market. Some models, for very short time periods, appear to match the reality observed in the marketplace. Often, long-term predictions based on longer cycles often appear to match the reality observed in the marketplace. Under both scenarios, unforeseen and by definition  unpredictable circumstances, known in the industry as black swan events, totally baffle all observers who then return to their models to see if, using hindsight, there were tell-tale signs of the black swan event.

The sum total of all weather phenomena greatly outweigh the factors found in the stock market in both number and scope. In many cases, we derive data from our limited observations, only to find that the data is valid for a limited set of circumstances.

If we were able to successfully model the global climate, we certainly would be able to extend the range of our weather forecasts which are currently limited by increasing mathematically-generated noise in the methodology.

So, pardon me why I exhibit a healthy degree of skepticism in accepting the output of computer models as fact. As they say, appearances can be deceiving. Something I witnessed first hand when UCLA’s Dr. Yale Mintz was running global weather models on UCLA’s IBM 7044/7094 Mod II Direct Coupled System in the Health Sciences Computing Facility. The coding for the work was in FORTRAN IV and was done by a number of people led by an astounding guy, Dr. Akio Arakawa. Work on these models preceded the work at Goddard and continues today. While the UCLA computers were considerably less powerful than today’s supercomputers and our understanding of physical phenomena and computational methodology has greatly improved, the results are still something less than globally reliable over long time spans.

A skepticism born of reviewing those credible scientists who predicted a mini-ice age, a planet dying of pollution and other severe consequences which were cited as reasons for implementing public policy – and which have not come true over the many years since the predictions were made.

Even worse that the acceptance of of the output of computer modeling as absolute, irrefutable fact is the use of this information to form the basis of public policy which seem self-serving when applied to those who want to enlarge government, increase taxes and limit the freedom of citizens. And especially in the use of specious science to reward special interests with grants, subsidies and non-competitive monopolistic advantages.

Topsy-Turvy Science …

Therefore, I am extremely skeptical when I read …

As reported by AFP …

Cleaning up skies choked with smog and soot would sharply curtail the capacity of plants to absorb carbon dioxide and blunt global warming, according to a study released on Wednesday.”

“Plant life -- especially tropical forests -- soak up a quarter of all the CO2 humans spew into the atmosphere, and thus plays a critical role in keeping climate change in check.”

“Through photosynthesis, vegetation transforms sunlight, CO2 and water into sugar nutrients.”

Makes CO2 sound more like a live-giving beneficial substance than a demonized life-limiting greenhouse gas. 

“Common sense would suggest that air pollution in the form of microscopic particles that obstruct the Sun's rays -- a phenomenon called ‘global dimming’ -- would hamper this process, but the new study shows the opposite is true.”

I find it ironic that they mention common-sense when discussing perceptions of counter-intuitive subjects. But then, of course, in the age of hyper-politicalized science, there is nothing common about common sense.

"Surprisingly, the effects of atmospheric pollution seem to have enhanced global plant productivity by as much as a quarter from 1960 to 1999," said Linda Mercado, a researcher at the Met Office Hadley Centre in Britain, and the study's lead author. ‘This resulted in a net ten percent increase in the amount of carbon stored by the land,’ she said in a statement.”

“Global dimming was especially strong from the 1950s up through the 1980s, corresponding to the period of enhanced plant growth, notes the study, published in the British journal Nature.”

“Research published last month found that dimming has since continued almost everywhere in the world except Europe. The explanation for this botanical paradox lies in the way particle pollution reflects light.”

“Even if plants receive less direct sunshine, the presence of clouds and pollution scatter the light that does filter through such that fewer leaves -- which is where photosynthesis occurs -- wind up in total shade.”

" ‘Although many people believe that well-watered plants grow best on a bright sunny day, the reverse is true. Plants often thrive in hazy conditions,’ said colleague and co-author Stephen Sitch.”

I would think that common sense would suggest that this depends on the botanical characteristics of the individual plant and that such a generalization about what people think really doesn’t substitute for a factual basis for their beliefs.

“This process of diffuse radiation is well known. But the new study is the first to use a global model to calculate its impact on the ability of plants to absorb CO2.”

“The findings underline a cruel dilemma: to the extent we succeed in reducing aerosol pollution in coming decades, we will need to slash global carbon dioxide emissions even more than we would have otherwise.”

Which of course, assumes facts not in evidence and the lack of further confirmatory research.

" ‘Aerosols offset approximately 50 percent of the greenhouse gas warming,’ Knut Alfsen, research director at the Centre for International Environmental Research in Oslo, Norway, said by phone.”

“Without this particle pollution, he said, average global surface temperatures would have increased by 1.0 to 1.1 Celsius (1.8 to 2.0 Fahrenheit) since the start of industrialisation, rather than 0.7 C (1.25 F).”

More supposition based on modeling. From a paper on “Aerosols: Volcanoes, Dust, Clouds and Climate”

“This persistent ignorance about aerosols — their direct and indirect effects, and even their concentrations — was the largest single obstacle to attempts to predict future climate, especially for a given region. Funding agencies accordingly pushed vigorous and costly efforts to measure aerosol effects, and significant results accumulated in the early 21st century. Yet different computer models still gave substantially different results, and if some issues were settled, new puzzles appeared in theoretical papers or field studies to provoke new controversies.” <Source>

Are you willing to gamble your future and the social, political, economic and military future of your nation based on modern fortunetellers who use silicon chips instead of crystal balls?

“The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has predicted that average global temperatures will rise before 2100 by 1.1 to 6.4 C (2.0 F to 11.5 F), depending on efforts to curb the gases that drive global warming.”

Any increase above 2.0 C, the panel said, would unleash a maelstrom of human misery, including drought, famine, disease and forced migration.”

Common sense would have you questioning whether or not a slight rise in global temperatures would actually be beneficial for colder climes like those in Alaska, Canada, Russia and elsewhere. And if the historical migration of people away from scare resources towards plentiful resources would actually open new opportunities for those that made the move. Since we are speaking of a gradual increase in global temperatures, the movement towards new vistas may part of the historical movements of people around the world. There is nothing new, surprising or extraordinary about these movements. Some scientists have suggested the decay and movement of certain civilizations were based more on the failure of governments to manage available resources than to suspect global warming.

Common sense would also demand that you ask if there is an optimum global temperature which benefits the maximum number of the Earth’s inhabitants. Since historic records, including climate proxies (ice cores, tree rings, etc.), have indicated that the Earth has been much colder as well as much warmer and that carbon dioxide levels have been much greater as well as lower – including times predating modern industrialization, why should we worry excessively about nature’s pre-ordained course.  Other than, of course, to further adapt our shelters to nature’s vagaries and to insure that we have adequate supplies of water, food and energy.

One must question the motives of any government which eschews the use of relatively clean, reliable, reproducible nuclear energy to drive desalination plants and provide power to its citizens on the basis of politicians and their special interests. To tell me that large parts of the world will become more desert-like, is to make me consider Southern California and Israel. Both desert areas with thriving populations. There will always be desert areas and barren wastelands. There will always be nomadic people eaking out an existence as they track towards more abundant natural resources. Such is the way of nature and the way of the world.

Only politicians, in their infinite hubris thinks man can, with their infinitesimal ability to influence nature on a global scale, can legislate solutions to change global climate. Somewhat like England’s wise King Canute who wanted to demonstrate for his sycophants the relative power of man and nature and commanded the tide to stop. Well the tide did not stop – and neither will nature.

Speculation, supposition – call the output of the computer model what you will …

“To stay below that threshold, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere must be kept below 450 parts per million (ppm). The current level is about 385 ppm.”

Amazing how the above paragraph manages to convey the impression that we are speaking of incontrovertible fact – when we are discussing the output of a climate model.

“A major scientific review released last week at the United Nations showed that warming is itself limiting the capacity of plants to take up CO2, and that an increase in two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) would transform forests from a sink into a net source of CO2.”

I call bullshit! Let us look at the situation as it appears to be. First, the rise in carbon dioxide lags (follows) the rise in temperature by 600 –1000 years; hardly a causal factor. Second, the rise in the lagging carbon dioxide can be more easily explained, not by global warming, but by the outgassing of carbon dioxide dissolved in the oceans. Much like the CO2 given off  to the atmosphere by a warming bottle of soda. And third, I am willing to consider the gross effects of the solar output, the Earth’s planetary path (nearer or farther from the Sun), the Earth’s precession,  inclination and rotational dynamics, oceanic dynamics and the effects of the largest greenhouse gas of all, water vapor (clouds) before I will cede political power to a corrupt government who continues to pander to political special interests.

“When plants die, the carbon they store is released into the air.”

An accurate observer might also note that the plant’s decay and thus continue a cycle of soil enrichment that provides yet another cycle of life to emerge from the rot and decay.

Bottom line …

I believe in global climate change and the use of computers to help us understand the physical universe. I am a great supporter of pure and applied science research for the benefit of all mankind.

I also believe that science, especially science which requires massive resources, has been hyper-politicalized by politicians who are now demanding a personal and political payback from their investment in scientific endeavors. 

And it’s just that I cannot bring myself to allow any government to act egregiously in enlarging their power, confiscating private wealth for public purposes and limiting a citizen’s freedom based on a politician’s use of speculative science. As one who has programmed computer models and is familiar with the use of assumptions and computational shortcuts to make life easier for the modeler, I cannot seem to overcome my distaste for the way politicians are manipulating science.

My suggestion is that we continue to fund scientific research and postpone political agendas, many arising from people who do not wish America well, until we receive more conclusive findings. Considering that CO2 lags temperature rise by 600-1000 years, we not only have a great deal of time to research the answer – we may also find advanced technologies in sheltering, food and water management as well as technological answers to help us better cope with nature in the coming years.

As for the politicians who are counting on the fact that they do not have to produce tangible results that their egregious actions are effective, or even measurable against the background noise of natural climate variability, I say: SCREW YOU! Vote these duplicitous bastards out of office before they destroy our Nation and turn it into a third-world banana republic.

-- steve

Reference links:

Air pollution helps plants blunt climate change: study

“Nullius in verba.”-- take nobody's word for it!

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