Dyson on climate

by Russ Roberts on August 29, 2007

in Environment

Freeman Dyson joins the ranks of those who are skeptical about the global warming "crisis" (HT to Arnold at EconLog):

There is
no doubt that parts of the world are getting warmer, but the warming is
not global. I am not saying that the warming does not cause problems.
Obviously it does. Obviously we should be trying to understand it
better. I am saying that the problems are grossly exaggerated. They
take away money and attention from other problems that are more urgent
and more important, such as poverty and infectious disease and public
education and public health, and the preservation of living creatures
on land and in the oceans, not to mention easy problems such as the
timely construction of adequate dikes around the city of New Orleans.


Another good part:

When I
listen to the public debates about climate change, I am impressed by
the enormous gaps in our knowledge, the sparseness of our observations
and the superficiality of our theories. Many of the basic processes of
planetary ecology are poorly understood. They must be better understood
before we can reach an accurate diagnosis of the present condition of
our planet. When we are trying to take care of a planet, just as when
we are taking care of a human patient, diseases must be diagnosed
before they can be cured. We need to observe and measure what is going
on in the biosphere, rather than relying on computer models.


And one more:

Naturalists
believe that nature knows best. For them the highest value is to
respect the natural order of things. Any gross human disruption of the
natural environment is evil. Excessive burning of fossil fuels is evil.
Changing nature’s desert, either the Sahara desert or the ocean desert,
into a managed ecosystem where giraffes or tunafish may flourish, is
likewise evil. Nature knows best, and anything we do to improve upon
Nature will only bring trouble.

 
The humanist ethic
begins with the belief that humans are an essential part of nature.
Through human minds the biosphere has acquired the capacity to steer
its own evolution, and now we are in charge. Humans have the right and
the duty to reconstruct nature so that humans and biosphere can both
survive and prosper. For humanists, the highest value is harmonious
coexistence between humans and nature. The greatest evils are poverty,
underdevelopment, unemployment, disease and hunger, all the conditions
that deprive people of opportunities and limit their freedoms. The
humanist ethic accepts an increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
as a small price to pay, if world-wide industrial development can
alleviate the miseries of the poorer half of humanity. The humanist
ethic accepts our responsibility to guide the evolution of the planet.

Except for maybe the last sentence, you could replace "humanist" with "economist" and capture the way a lot of economists think about the environment.

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Sam Grove August 30, 2007 at 12:04 am

Here come the faithful.

Russell Nelson August 30, 2007 at 12:19 am

Yay, Freeman!

My wife's mother taught his daughter (Becca) the oboe. When he came to pick her up after the lesson was over, he often couldn't figure out how to get out of the house — no doubt because his mind was off in the heavens thinking about larger issues than which door to use.

Gil August 30, 2007 at 1:53 am

There's a thought, a naturalist is in reality a environmental laissez-faire type!

muirgeo August 30, 2007 at 2:07 am

A graph of demandin red and price in blue. Can you imagine an economist predicting that this time for some reason as demand goes up price will not?

Every scientist and every economist who wants to believe this millennial old relationship will some how falter THIS time needs to step back and ask themselves why. Why do I not want to believe this data? Why do I NOT want to believe some as logical as putting a blanket on will NOT warm me up.

Tim August 30, 2007 at 3:03 am

The whole freeman dyson interview is worth listening to. Dyson also mentions the poorly understood role of soil in the CO2 equation. The interviews are on Youtube and can be seen here.

Python August 30, 2007 at 3:54 am

Nice chart Muirgeo. Seems like the blue lines precede the red lines on the way up and down (except for one instance about 320,000 years ago). Can you please remind me what the blue lines are again.

Jason August 30, 2007 at 5:08 am

That chart reminded me of a few important things:
- Correlation does not imply causation.
- The earth's climate changes with or without us around (although making sacrifices to the weather gods is an ancient tradition).
- I feel rather fortunate to being living during one of those relatively brief spikes in temperature rather than a mile under ice, but who am I to say what is the optimal global temperature?

shawn August 30, 2007 at 7:15 am

you could also, along with economist, replace 'humanist' with 'christian'.

Interesting that 'economist', 'humanist', and 'christian' are being set against 'naturalist'.

Per Kurowski August 30, 2007 at 8:19 am

Re: “The humanist ethic accepts an increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as a small price to pay, if world-wide industrial development can alleviate the miseries of the poorer half of humanity.”

That is one of the questions… is the current increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere alleviating the miseries of the poorer half of humanity?

Gil August 30, 2007 at 9:10 am

I think most people would agree with this statement:

"Well, if seventy degree days in the middle of winter are the price of car pollution, you'll forgive me if I keep my old Pontiac"

muirgeo August 30, 2007 at 10:31 am

Python, Jason,

So did you ask yourself that question? What was your answer. The replies you posted above only show you haven't studied the subject in any detail enough to understand why they are old and worn non-arguements . So why will the correlation fail this time?

Paul D August 30, 2007 at 10:40 am

"A graph of demandin red and price in blue. Can you imagine an economist predicting that this time for some reason as demand goes up price will not? "

Am I missing something? The explanation of the graph says, "Changes in temperature precede changes in CO2, with a lag of around 800 years." So the graph does not illustrate that increases in CO2 cause increases in temperature.

RN August 30, 2007 at 10:55 am

Disgusting. Abhorrent.

This isn't about "gee, did how much are we doing and how much is 'natural', or "we're a part of nature", or "gee, we just don't understand all the systems involved", or any of that crap.

This is about selfish prigs such as yourselves having no morality, because the future of life on this planet is at stake. But you don't give a damn.

Amid all the "confusion" you people try to promulgate, one thing is known quite definitely: If we don't stop global warming trends, they will reach a point where they feedback on themselves and we have no ability to affect the situation.

Then come the floods, the droughts, the hurricanes, the 70 degrees in December you people so crave.

But eventually a runaway global warming feedback mechanism will destroy all life on earth. This isn't conjecture.

That's why we need to deal with this now. Because at some point we'll have no ability to deal with it. Rather, I should rightly say, future generations won't.

Now I understand you don't give a damn because you'll all be dead by then. So just admit as much.

But you don't. That's why you're an immoral bunch of hypocrites.

Just say you don't give a crap about future generations and be done with it. At least that would be intellectually honest.

Paul D August 30, 2007 at 11:13 am

"Amid all the "confusion" you people try to promulgate, one thing is known quite definitely: If we don't stop global warming trends, they will reach a point where they feedback on themselves and we have no ability to affect the situation."

The original post indicates that Freemon Dyson one the preeminent phycists of our time disagrees with this alarmism. Why do you dismiss his thoughts and question his motives?

steep August 30, 2007 at 12:20 pm

That Dyson article is called:
"HERETICAL THOUGHTS ABOUT SCIENCE AND SOCIETY".
I think that shows he understands Climate Change Phenomena very well.

John Dewey August 30, 2007 at 1:01 pm

RN: "one thing is known quite definitely: If we don't stop global warming trends, they will reach a point where they feedback on themselves and we have no ability to affect the situation."

How do we know that "quite definitely"? Has it ever happened before? How does anyone know that the feedback effect of the small amount of CO2 being added will increase temperatures? It's very possible the additional water vapor being projected will take the form of cloud cover, and reflect more of the sun's rays back into space.

Lee Kelly August 30, 2007 at 1:45 pm

I find RN's post quite fascinating.

There is no more sure way to immunise a theory from criticism and tests, than to identify its rejection as sinful.

To be so committed to a theory, that those who deny it are not only wrong, but selfish, immoral and hypocritcal, is dangerous. The implication is for true-believers, any doubt, self-criticism, or open-mindedness, might undermine their very moral integrity.

To criticise or refute such a theory, is not simply to say that it is false, but to attack the very integrity of true-believers. Such an attitude is one for developing a most intolerant, irrational, and dangerous religion.

Chris O'Leary August 30, 2007 at 2:06 pm

The CO2/Temperature relationship diagram (which shows CO2 levels following, rather than driving, temperature changes) isn't the only one that raises as many questions as it answers.

I recently put together an analysis of the temperature hockeystick diagram that points out some systematic, and deceptive, attempts to present the data in a way that makes — rather than undermines — Al Gore's case.

http://www.chrisoleary.com/documents/AnInconvenientTruth_Analysis.doc

Sam Grove August 30, 2007 at 2:07 pm

From the linked page:

Changes in temperature precede changes in CO2, with a lag of around 800 years.
—–

I gave warning in the first comment.

Chris O'Leary August 30, 2007 at 2:28 pm

First, here's the link to the An Inconvenient Truth Analysis. Stupid Typepad.

Second, the Dyson interview is extremely interesting. For all of his intellectual power, he is still extremely humble about what we are capable of knowing about global warming at the present.

Python August 30, 2007 at 4:23 pm

Muirgeo,

I look at charts like this all day and all night as part of my job. No one needs to tell me what to look for. You are the one who linked to that chart.

I'll ask you another question because you didn't answer the first one: do you believe that the chart you linked to proves that temperatures rise as CO2 rises?

I am not saying that I think higher CO2 doesn't lead to higher temperatures. I am saying your exhibited data doesn't show it. Those are different things, and maybe if you thought about it, you'd figure that out.

muirgeo August 30, 2007 at 4:28 pm

So no one is really interested in explaining why they think a 400,000 year(actually 650,000) correlation will suddenly break down.

Look at the graph I referenced and imagine how much you'd have to extend the upwards y-axis to accommodate the current CO2 levels of about 380 ppm.

Now look at when current CO2 levels started rising around 1800 and compare to when temperature started rising around 1910.

So in fact for the current experiment temperature rise DOES follow CO2 rise.

The typical explanation for the warming /CO2 lag is that solar and orbital variations heat the Earth first and then the ocean which like warmed soda fizzes out its CO2 which then feeds back positively warming the climate more. The feedback quite likely causing more warming then the initial solar or orbital warming.

So now again why do people choose to make such an un-intuitive prediction of the CO2 climate correlation?..ESPECIALLY when the current trend/ experiment is confirming that a rise in CO2 occurred before the current warming.

It is a basic law of spectral physics that increases in CO2 should warm the Earth by a calculable amount.

Yet some chose to ignore the facts of the past, of the present and of the very nature of the physical qualities of the CO2 molecule.

That takes a huge heaping of cognitive dissonance to hold such a position and that's the ONLY reason I can think of that some one might assume that the "correlation" will break down. Especially in the absence of anyone giving a reasoned explanation as to why they think this correlation will suddenly break down.

Lee Kelly August 30, 2007 at 5:09 pm

For any given set of facts, there are an infinite number of theories, which are both logically valid and consistent with that set of facts, yet mutually contradictory.

In other words, there are an infinite number of ways to explain any set of facts, each of which will be consistent with the evidence, and therefore be a plausable explanation.

The problem is that only one of those theories is true, and is always conceited to be so sure that you have identified the one true theory from that infinite set.

This is perhaps doubly so for such a young science as climatology, which is still in its infancy.

Sam Grove August 30, 2007 at 5:16 pm

The current generation of young scientists are products of a school system steeped in the doctrine of evil mankind (particularly western civ. and anglos) and his destruction of the earth. Any evidence subject to interpretation (most evidence) will be interpreted against mankind.

Paul August 30, 2007 at 5:23 pm

I think that the current warming of the earth is caused by an increase in the number of rabbits in Australia and I have graphs to prove it.

Python August 30, 2007 at 5:37 pm

Muirgeo,

If you think that your latest post is an explanation of anything relevant to this thread then I have some carbon sinks that I'd like to sell you.

Chris O'Leary August 30, 2007 at 5:48 pm

"Now look at when current CO2 levels started rising around 1800 and compare to when temperature started rising around 1910."

There are a couple of problems with this statement and the diagrams that support it.

First, by your own admission CO2 levels start rising around 1800. However, the Industrial Revolution didn't start until 1900. That suggests that the increase was driven by factors that are not entirely man-made.

Second, the two charts employ basic techniques of graphical deception that I point out in my paper. The Law Dome smoothed trend sets the baseline at 250 PPM rather than at zero, which accentuates the magnitude of any changes. The GTR trend sets the cutoff date at 1840, which ignores any prior fluctuations or high points (such as the Medieval Warm Period).

Dr. Troy Camplin August 30, 2007 at 5:56 pm

The atmosphere is a complex system on top of a set of complex systems. There are a few things we know about complex systems (and this is what Dyson is alluding to): 1) they are made up of a high number of components, many of which are themselves complex; 2) they have emergent properties unpredictable from its component parts; 3) they are self-organizing; 4) they are affected by butterfly effects. The atmosphere is part of what we could call a Gaiasphere — made up of the atmosphere, biosphere, geosphere, and hydrosphere. All of these interact with each other in complex ways (while receiving energy from both inside the earth and from the sun). While we know that there is a rise in CO2 levels, and that CO2 does cause warming in certain parts of the globe, as Dyson points out, there are several things we don't know: 1) will the warmer temperatures result in plankton blooms that would result in the absorption of CO2 to make their CaCO2 shells, which sink to the ocean floor when the plankton dies to form future limestone (thus removing CO2 from the atmosphere)? 2) will the increased rainfall models are now predicting, and the increased warmth result in increased plant growth and the subsequent takeup of CO2? 3) how much of the CO2 will be sequestered in other biological processes, particularly those that bury CO2? 4) will global warming result in a disruption of the warm-water conveyor belt in the Atlantic and, thus, result in an ice age — which would really reverse global warming? And these are in addition to many of the questions Dyson raised. The problem with modeling a complex system is that you don't know if you have all of the variables — and even if you could know you had all of the variables, if any of them are off by even a billionth (or even by much less), we get butterfly effects, making the models unable to predict anything over the long run. The models we use do not come close to taking into consideration all of the variables of climate — so we could be (and almost certainly are) missing some vital variables for any sort of predictive model. We need to stop pretending like we know things we inherently cannot know — it benefits no one. Any sort of linear and/or simplified model is not going to give you any sort of even remotely accurate information on nonlinear, complex systems. This is Dyson's point. It's about time someone of his stature finally made it.

Mesa Econoguy August 30, 2007 at 7:58 pm

Argue all you want about CO2 and temperature.

Too bad much of the temperature data relied upon by these “scientists” isn’t real:

http://www.coyoteblog.com/coyote_blog/2007/08/um-whatever.html#comments

Dick King August 30, 2007 at 8:10 pm

muirgeo, I would like you to state an opinion on the following resolution:

"Resolved, that the US and other countries already in posession of a robust collection of nuclear power plants and weapons [so there's no proliferation risk] build sufficient nuclear power plants to displace as many of their fossil fuel power plants as possible."

Al Gore [who burns more electricity in a month than I do in a year, but that's another story] has opposed nuclear power and has not dropped that opposition.

If he thought global warming were as serious as he claims he felt, he would get his own electricity consumption under control, and more importantly he would be a statesman and support more atmosphere-sparing nukes. However, he doesn't seem to want to do that. Perhaps global warming is simply too handy a stick with which to beat political opponents?

-dk

muirgeo August 30, 2007 at 10:54 pm

Here's another way to look at the illogic of people pondering the complexities of climate change.

How many people would argue that increasing solar output by 2% might not cause the climate to warm. Because doubling effective CO2 concentration is identical to increasing solar output by 2% with regards to incident infrared radiation falling on the surface of the Earth.

Another example. Assume we place 4 one watt "Christmas light" bulbs over every square meter of the Earths surface and ran them 24/7. How many people would argue that this would be unlikely to warm the planet. My guess is that if some very basic ideological assumptions were at risk…I'd find many skeptics even with such obvious implications.

Ideologies often run strong but they never change the laws of nature.

marysienka August 30, 2007 at 11:38 pm

Ideologies cannot tell you the truth. Climatology is indeed a very young science, and it is presumptuous to think we have it all figured out after studying for one or two hundred years processes that have been revolving for thousands and thousands of years. We simply do not know enough.
Thanks, Dr Camplin!

Sam Grove August 30, 2007 at 11:59 pm

Because doubling effective CO2 concentration is identical to increasing solar output by 2% with regards to incident infrared radiation falling on the surface of the Earth.

And exactly how has that been determined to be the case…in the field?

If the solar output increases by 2% or CO2 is doubled, how is plant growth affected?

What about clouds?

Increased solar output is not the same as doubling CO2, they will affect different areas. Increased CO2 affects upper atmosphere and drier air.

If the oceans warm, will there be more cloud cover?

I could go on for quite a while asking questions such as these and those answers would provoke more questions.

Can anyone answer them?

Jason August 31, 2007 at 3:45 am

muirgeo,
Let's pretend everyone agreed that CO2 is our main concern. What now? According to this graph from this site, man-made CO2 is 3.2% vs. 96.8% from natural sources. If US cut down CO2 emissions to zero, looks like that'd cut total CO2 down 0.7%. What should we pay for a .7% reduction in CO2? Would that be a good trade-off? Things looks pretty hopeless looking at this graph.

RN,
"But eventually a runaway global warming feedback mechanism will destroy all life on earth. This isn't conjecture." It isn't conjecture, it's completely off base. Life began when CO2 was almost all of the atmosphere. Life on earth survived the oceans boiling away after massive comet/meteor strikes. Life survived periods where the globe was completely covered in ice to the equator. I wouldn't want to be around for either scenario, yet life survived, but now a doubling of CO2 is going to destroy all life?

Lee Kelly August 31, 2007 at 5:03 am

"My guess is that if some very basic ideological assumptions were at risk…I'd find many skeptics even with such obvious implications." – muiurgeo

First, the classical liberal tradition, which has today morphed into libertarianism, is not an ideology. It is more like an anti-ideology, in that it eschews almost all that which characterises ideologues. Therefore, the theory of global warming, even if true, does not put at risk any ideological assumptions.

Secondly, neither does the theory of global warming, even if true, put at risk any other kind of libertarian assumptions, since nowhere do libertarians claim that externalities do not occur. They claim that we should be very sceptical and critical of any suggestion to increase the power of government.

To the libertarian, what is at risk whenever people move to increase the role of the state is liberty, freedom of speech and thought, freedom of our body and property, prosperity of the market, mutual respect between individuals, democratic government, and the rule of law as opposed to men.

The potential price we could pay, if we leap to foolhardy into the many proposed "solutions" to global warming, may be great indeed. And given government's track record on solving such problems, we may very well not get anything in return.

There have been people predicting an apocolypse every generation since as long as they could be recorded, often the brightest and most respected. And the history of science is littered with the remains of supposedly "established" or "proven" theories, which had their day and of which many very smart people were convinced.

It was less than 100 years ago that enthusiasm for Marxism was touted with the "authority" of science to back it, and indeed many great and capable men wholeheartedly signed up to be part of the revolution. The historical consequences are written in blood of millions who suffered, and still continue to suffer today under these misguided "scientific" notions.

Russel oncesaid that we are too clever, but also too wicked. Popper said that we are too stupid, but also very good. I agree with Popper. Too many of us, even scientists, are too easily seduced by moral rhetoric, into fighting for what we "know" is right, often with tragic consequences.

It is always a moral duty to be sceptical, to recognise the pervasive fallibility in us all, our instruments, and theories. It is always a moral duty to be critical, not just of others, and especially our "betters," but also ourselves.

To concoct straw men, regarding the so-called ideological assumptions of global warming, is either careless or dishonest.

Lee Kelly August 31, 2007 at 5:06 am

correction:

"To concoct straw men, regarding the so-called ideological assumptions of libertarianism, is either careless or dishonest."

Paul August 31, 2007 at 6:44 am

I am not a scientist so it is difficult for me to fully evaluate the scientific controversies regarding global warming. People such as Al Gore suggest that I should therefore rely on the consensus of climate scientists.
I, however, am much more comfortable with an alternative. I say, first, find a scientist of international repute who is outside the field of climate science and can evaluate the claims as an independent outsider, and who has the knowledge and intellectual skills to carefully evaluate the claims. Then, present him with the science that backs the alarmist claims. If you can convince him that the alarmist claims have merit, then I will accept his opinion. The scientist of international repute that I nominate for the task is Dyson, but I am open to other suggestions.
I think that the alarmist have a serious problem when a scientist such as Dyson whose integrity and credentials as a scientist are beyond disupte is not convinced by their models. Although he is not a climate scientist he has the intellectual skills to evaluate the claims as an independent outsider. If the evidence is so compelling I don't see any reason why it should be difficult to convince Dyson.
And it does not bother me one bit that Dyson is physicist rather than a climate scientist. If the evidence is so overwhelming, the alarmists should be able to able to explain it to one of the most repected physicist of our day in a way that is convincing to him.

lowcountryjoe August 31, 2007 at 8:54 am

It is generally regarded that Earth maintained a very hot climate since its beginning (the Hadean Eon) some 4.6 billion years ago.

Therefore, if the data on temperature are modeled in a linear fashion, there will be a cooling mega-trend shown.

But it is also generally regarded that the historical temperature data points do not align in a linear fashion and that the data points reveal likely fluctuations and cyclical swings — much of it while human activities did not exist.

So, in order for ME to become a fellow believer/alarmist, someone is going to have to explain the warming micro trend within the larger cooling mega trend. And, they'll have to explain the cause(s) of the previous cyclical micro trends of the past.

When those two items are sufficiently explained I will want to know why naturalists seem to be self-loathing of their own species; some even wish to see human beings become extinct so as to preserve the Earth's 'more natural state' only to turn around and say we owe it to future generations to reduce our carbon footprint even if this means we take a hit in our standards of living.

muirgeo August 31, 2007 at 9:10 am

CO2 vs Temperature

You all certainly have the right to believe what you want. If you like Dysons message embrace it. If confounding the evidence by claiming, "oh the climate is so complex there is no way to model or understand it" is your answer to why you think my graphs correlation will fail after 400,000 years that's certainly your right.

Here is what James Hansen wrote in a paper in 1981;

"The global warming projected for the
next century is of almost unprecedented
magnitude. On the basis of our model
calculations, we estimate it to be
2.5°C ……."

Climate Impact of Increasing Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide
J. Hansen et al
Science 28 August 1981 213: 957-966

That's an average warming of 0.25 C /decade.

Here we see that roughly over that time frame the warming has ben 0.21 C/decade (corrected satellite data) to 0.29C.

What was Dyson's prediction of climate change back in 1981?

Anyway no one really wanted to explain the reason why they felt the correlation between CO2 and temperature would fail. That was good of you because it was sort of a trick question. We don't have to speculate about what will happen to the trends. The data is already in. The correlation between CO2 and temperature continues. They are indeed causally related because CO2 is a greenhouse gas plain and simply. It's really only very complex if you don't like the implications and you have a need to explain them away. Yes Dyson is your man. Not because he is capable of changing the photometric properties of the CO2 molecule but more because he helps you to convince yourself that just maybe it IS possible to do so. Again that's called cognitive dissonance.

lowcountryjoe August 31, 2007 at 9:16 am

Another example. Assume we place 4 one watt "Christmas light" bulbs over every square meter of the Earths surface and ran them 24/7. How many people would argue that this would be unlikely to warm the planet. My guess is that if some very basic ideological assumptions were at risk…I'd find many skeptics even with such obvious implications.

Do we know that the total net effect would, in fact be a warming one.

I have no doubt that the power developed in each bulb and the heat generated through electrical generating, transmission, and distribution would exist. However, would the aftermath of the flowing water, wind currents, nuclear cook-offs, coal burning, gas burning, and all the like resources it takes to actually generate electricity, leave the Earth cooler or warmer after the lights-across-the-globe experiment ended (or ceased to continue because all the named resources had been expended)?

Have any answers? Or, would you just prefer to duck this question, too?

SaulOhio August 31, 2007 at 9:31 am

Lee Kelley says "There is no more sure way to immunise a theory from criticism and tests, than to identify its rejection as sinful."
Fortunately, its not as sure as all that. There are plenty of people out there questioning and criticising the science.

Paul D August 31, 2007 at 9:33 am

I am not sure why you are so hung up on your graph. It shows that increases in CO2 lag increases in temperature. So the "causation" shown on your graph is that increases in temperature cause an increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. This is liikely caused by the release of carbon dioxide from the oceans as they oceans warm.
In more modern times, there has been a dramatic increase in CO2 in the atmosphere that is likely related to human causes. During the time of rapidly increasing CO2, the average temperature of the earth has increased very slightly from the 1800 to the 1940's, has decreased very slightly from the 1940's to the 1970's and has incrased very slightly from the 1970's to the present.
If one looks only at the observational data, one is hard pressed to come to any alarming conclusions from this. The alarming conclusions come when the data is fed into untested computer models that purport to make predictions about a very complex system we know little about.
The reason your charts do not impress anyone here is that they do not show what you claim.

Troy Camplin, Ph.D. August 31, 2007 at 10:13 am

Ah, yes, statistics. I just sepnt all day yesterday warning my students about the nature of statistics. (please note that we use statistics to explain the overall behavior of a complex system, when we cannot know for certain what is happening in any sort of absolute way.)

The first thing I would ask is: where are these ground stations? If they are primarily in cities, then you are going to see a warming trend because cities are warmer than rural areas. I live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and any time you look at a temperature map, the Dallas-Fort Worth area is 5-10 degrees F higher than the rural areas around it. Once a rural area gets to a certain size, you can and will see an increase in temperature.

Next, you need to read Dyson's essay carefully. He doesn't say that CO2 doesn't have an effect, he just says that it is not truly global in its effects — that CO2 causes warming only in colder, drier places, which would give the impression of "global" warming when it is in fact local warming. This in no way eliminates the arguments against CO2 as causing warming problems in the arctic and mountains. It could in fact strengthen arguments for trying to reduce CO2 emisions.

The models also predicted that global warming would result in a drier atmosphere and, thus, in more droughts. The models now predict that it will result in a wetter atmosphere and, thus, more rain. Those are completely contradictory outcomes of climate models. One could argue that the models have gotten better. Are you really telling me that the models were as good as they could get in 1981? Even if they did predict the temperature change over the next 2 decades, I sitll don't know if that model is accurate. Did it use the CO2 levels at the time as the continuous baseline? Did it predict future CO2 levels and include those? How accurate were those predictions? It is possible, in a complex system, to have spurious inputs that result in an "accurate" prediction. For example — and these are going to be theoretical scenarios, btw — if the model predicted these temperatures, but was incorrect in the amount of CO2 that went into the atmosphere between 1981 and 2001, then the model is wrong, even if the temperature prediction is "right." Further, if there was an increase in solar energy output during that same time that was not factored in, then we would also see an increase in temperature during that same period. Again, the model would be wrong, though the temperature prediction would be right. Also, there is a 16% difference between 0.21 C and 0.25 C — is that temperature difference statistically significant for the model? 0.04 doesn't look like much, but if it is statistically significant, then the model is also wrong. I also noticed that the model began when the temperature was at a low point relative to temperatures in the years preceeding it. Was 1981 taken as the baseline? If this temperature was anomolous (too low, in this case), and the model used it, then the model is also wrong. Now, I don't know the answer to any of these questions regarding this model. But if I'm to judge the model scientifically, I have to know these things. I want to make sure too that there is actual causation, not mere correlation.

You will also note that neither Dyson nor I have ever said CO2 doesn't result in warming. Dyson points out that it doesn't warm the way most people think. I have pointed out that we don't know how far into the future CO2 will ahve this warming effect before multiple other factors kick in and affect the CO2 levels, the overall warming, the localized warming, etc.The last several glacial expansions were preceeded by increased CO2 levels — which suggests that the earth is self-regulating to ensure the temperature remains comfortable enough to life to thrive. That is the nature of the Gaiasphere.

John Dewey August 31, 2007 at 10:19 am

"It shows that increases in CO2 lag increases in temperature. So the "causation" shown on your graph is that increases in temperature cause an increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. This is liikely caused by the release of carbon dioxide from the oceans as they oceans warm. …The reason your charts do not impress anyone here is that they do not show what you claim. "

I think the publishers of this graph are trying to show evidence of a feedback loop. Here's the note from near the bottom of the page:

These results fit well with the standard explanation for the Ice Ages, which is that an initial temperature trigger (for example, changes in the earth's orbit), result in release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere (for example, release of CO2 from the ocean as it warms). As the greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere builds up, it results in more warming and further release of greenhouse gases (i.e. a feedback cycle).

Of course, they do not explain why the feedback doesn't continue, i.e. what causes the temperature and CO2 levels to drop back down. Presumably that would be changes in the earth's orbit or changes in solar activity.

Paul D August 31, 2007 at 10:45 am

"I think the publishers of this graph are trying to show evidence of a feedback loop."

Well, I don't think any disputes that theoretically there should be a positive feedback loop from the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The question is how strong the feedback is. (i.e. what is the net warming effect of atmospheric CO2)
There probably is such a positive feedback, but the graph doesn't demonstrate that there is any feedback at all, let alone a significant positive feedback. The warming could be caused by something independent from CO2 and the increase in CO2 is being driven by the increase in temperature.

Isaac Crawford August 31, 2007 at 11:13 am

Muirgo, Co2 is a greenhouse gas, but the effect of adding more of it into the atmosphere is not linear, it is of decreasing power.

There are many reasons why we should not run to decrease Co2, one of which was pointed out above, the vast majority of it is produced by nature. Your graph would be a corroborating piece of evidence that warming causes Co2 concentrations to rise, but it does not help you with your belief. The most popular data on which much of these theories is shrouded in secrecy. Hanson, the guy you quote earlier, refuses to make public his methods for generating the temperatures over time series. Now can anyone call this science when the basic data is being kept secret? he has already admitted one error, how many more are there?

Isaac

John Dewey August 31, 2007 at 11:27 am

Paul D.: "The warming could be caused by something independent from CO2 and the increase in CO2 is being driven by the increase in temperature. "

Paul, that's exactly the point the graph publishers were making. The feedback they are claiming to see is AFTER the first increase in CO2. I'm not qualified to judge whether they made their point. But to understand them fully one may need to read their discussion as well as view the graph.

Here's the relevant passage from the web page that references the graph:

"It is thought that these large temperature fluctuations are triggered by Milankovitch cycles – variations in the earth's orbit that change the amount of energy from the sun that reaches us. However, on their own, these cycles are not enough to explain the changes in temperature. The full explanation seems to be that the small change in temperature caused by the changing orbit are amplified by natural processes on earth. These cause CO2 to be released from the oceans and the biosphere, causing an increased greenhouse effect."

This "explanation" supposedly supports the feedback mechanism asserted by today's global warming climatologists.

What I don't get is why it takes 800 years for the CO2 to increase and for the amplification process to begin.

Sam Grove August 31, 2007 at 12:30 pm

It all boils down to who you choose to believe.

When one operates from an assumption, then one tends to choose to believe whatever supports the assumption.

When an individual loses skepticism, he becomes a believer and then chooses to disregard any information that might dislodge him from the believer status.

Becoming a believer places one in opposition to any who do not share the belief. Tis human nature.

Thus skeptics are not percieved as merely skeptics, but are now seen as nonbelievers or necessarily as opponenets, hence the labeling of AGWC skeptics as deniers of the faith.

In this light, we now see that muirgeo is a true believer whose mission here is to evangelize on behalf of his/er message of the faith, rather than to attempt to understand those who come here as libertarians, skeptical of the believer faith in political power, in the hands of the faithful, as the only salvation of humankind, as the only means to advance humankind.

We libertarians, OTH, have faith as individuals in our own rational faculties and our perception of the nature of humans, especially when in possession of power over their fellow humans.

We remain skeptical of claims that any overall good can come of the exercise of political power, for we percieve that political power caters to and empowers the worst aspects of human nature, and further, that good intentions are insufficient in themselves in producing desired results.

Thus we remain ever skeptical and ever resistant to placing our fates in the hands of politicians, bureaucrats, and most especially, do-gooders.

Paul D August 31, 2007 at 1:12 pm

"This "explanation" supposedly supports the feedback mechanism asserted by today's global warming climatologists."

The graphs are consistent with hypothesis that there is a positive CO2 feedback. To that degree, one can say that they are evidence to support the existence of a positve CO2 feedback. The graphs, however, are consistent with other explanations. By themselves they do not establish that there is a positive CO2 feedback.
I suspect that we agree on this so I won't belabor the point. I do object, however, when the graphs are used as proof of a positive CO2 feedback. The graphs prove no such thing.

Paul D August 31, 2007 at 1:25 pm

"It all boils down to who you choose to believe. "

I think that it would be more accurate to say that it all boils down to what the evidence shows. Now it is difficult for people who are not scientists to evaluate all of the evidence. So we may choose to rely upon expert opinion where we lack the expertise to form our own opinion.
Al Gore and his supporters are attempting to argue that the science is settled and the expert opinion points only in one direction. I am highly skeptical of this claim. The existence of a scientist of the stature of Dyson who is a skeptic is a strong idication that the so-called consensus is not as strong as Gore wants us to believe.
If the evidence is so airtight, why is Dyson so skeptical and why don't the alarmists just sit down with him and show him where he has gone astray. Dyson's skepticism regarding the climate models is exactly the type of skepticism that I have. Perhaps he is wrong. Perhaps my skepticism will prove to be wrong. But I think the alarmist have a long way to go to convince me that we should turn the world upside down to avoid a scenario that either may not happen at all or that may happen regardless of what we do.

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