Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I'm A Skeptic

I’m a Skeptic (the uppercase is explained below) and I’ve pretty much always been one. I’ve been pondering creating this blog for a long time. This is just what the blogosphere needs, another blog about climate change.

Over the past year I’ve read the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Fourth Assessment (released in November 2007) in its entirety. Yes, it took me that long. I read the Third Assessment a year ago and I plan to go back and read the first two assessments just capture the history, though I’ll more likely just skim them.

Of course I’ve visited the blogs and web sites for both sides of the debate (some are better than others), but what really strikes me is how the preponderance of ACCTA (Anthropogenic Climate Change Theory Advocate) sites and blogs rely primarily on ad hominem, argument from authority, threats, and strawmen in order to advance their agenda. Rarely do they argue with actual points of evidence. (Model results are not necessarily evidence, but we’ll leave that for a future post.) On those rare occasions when they do use evidence, ACCTA’s are just as guilty of cherry-picking data as some of their Skeptic opponents.

While I frequently use sarcasm (aka Ad Hominem) when arguing politics and emotional social issues (hey, I’m human too), I make an effort to avoid it in scientific discussion. And so, on this blog I will strive to avoid such fallacious method and stick to evidence and logic. I will also ruthlessly point out the above common reasoning errors when my opponents or supporters use them here.

To that end, I’ll start with some conventions I’ll use from now on.

Some conventions for future argument:

Temperature. All temperatures will be discussed in °C (degrees Celsius). 0°C is the freezing point of water and 100°C is the boiling point at sea level.

HH (Hot House). A period of warm conditions on Earth where the mean temperature is about 22°C and there is no ice anywhere. This is the normal state of Earth's climate, if by normal we mean predominant as in 96% of Earth's history.

IH (Ice House). A period of cooling and glaciation lasting 30 - 50 million years. This is an aberration from the normal hot planet. In an IH, mean temperature falls from 22°C to 12-14°C. Ice caps form and glaciation can cover significant portions of the planet. Current global mean temperature is about
14°C. There have been three IH periods in the last 542 million years (Phanerozoic Eon). There has been ice a total of about 4% of Earth history. We are in an IH now.

IA (Ice Age). That period during an IH when glaciation predominates. Ice covers significant portions of Earth's surface. IA's last 40,000 - 200,000 years.

IG (Interglacial). Those warming periods between IA's during an IH where glaciation and ice caps recede, but do not vanish. We are currently in an 8,000 - 12,000-year IG known as the Holocene Interglacial. IG's typically last 10,000 - 30,000 years.

This graph shows the three "Ice Houses" of the past 542 million years1.
Note that Ice Houses are of shorter duration than Hot Houses.

Climate. Climate is weather, averaged over time—usually a minimum of 30 years. Regional climate means the average weather trends in an area. Global climate, an average of regional climate trends, describes the Earth’s climate as a whole.2 (For this definition I used a source that endorses the ACCTA position, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), but hopefully we are all in agreement. It isn’t really a controversial point.)

Global climate change. Recognizable shifts in the global climate. (Personally, I think using the words “climate” and “change” together is redundant. Climate is all about change. Climate has never been stable.)

ACC (Anthropogenic Climate Change). The paradigm that the earth is warming at an unprecedented and abnormal rate causing ice to melt, oceans to rise, climate to change. This is attributed to the activities of man since the industrial revolution, principally the release of CO2 into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels. This has also been called AGW, or Anthropogenic Global Warming in some circles. Recent convention is to call it ACC.

ACCTA (Anthropogenic Climate Change Theory Advocates). This refers to the interlocking cartel of taxpayer-funded professors, leftish-intellectuals, corporate news media pundits, government policy makers, environmental activists, UN agency operatives and a community of climate scientists who have agreed to a consensus that ACC is real, is irrefutably proven, is drastic, is immensely dangerous and requires massive government-forced intercession into the industrialized capitalistic sector to control.3

Skeptics. Those who are not convinced in ACC or, even if they are, believe that massive intercession is neither necessary to control ACC, nor desirable. Some Skeptics may work for oil companies. They are a subset of the total. The majority simply do not believe that ACCTA’s have proven their case. Skeptics say, prove it with objective hard evidence.

Talking about climate change as if it is an exclusive artifact of human activity is disingenuous and dishonest. That is where the real argument begins between Skeptics and ACCTA’s -- anthropogenic climate change (meaning caused by human activity). Whether and how much humans affect global climate through CO2 emissions are the issues that are still not resolved.

As I stated in my opening, I’m a Skeptic. I don’t work for an oil company -- no matter how much ACCTA’s may wish to think so. I’m an Engineer by education (United States Military Academy) and an ORSA (Operations Research and Systems Analyst) by post-graduate training. I can do the science and math from primary sources. I don’t let others synthesize my opinion for me.

ORSA’s do computer modeling. ORSA’s are by training, Skeptics. We don’t trust computer modelers because we know the craft. It’s what we do. We tend to want raw data and the code so we can run the model ourselves and this is a bone of contention between Skeptics and ACCTA’s. That particular conflict will be a topic for another post.

Climate Fact Summary with Emphasis on the Holocene IG:

A. The earth is warming and has been for about 150 years. However, the scale of what we are talking about is broad, our measurements are recent (in geological time), all the variables are not known, nor do we know with certainty how to weight the variables we do know. Because we don't know all the variables or their proper weight, we cannot say with certainty if we we are at the beginning, middle or end of the upswing.
B. The current warming is part of a natural cycle, a rebound. (This is the main point of argument and we’ll come back to it in a future post.)
C. Prior to the current warming, it was colder for 400 years. This period is known as the Little Ice Age (LIA).
D. Prior to LIA, it was warmer than it is today. This period is known as the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) and it lasted about 400 years.
E. The 20th Century warming slope is approaching, but has not yet reached, the level of MWP.
F. The current warmth should be expected to last for about 400 years.
G. During warming periods, agriculture moves further north. (During MWP, Viking settlers farmed wheat and flax in Greenland. Today, this is impossible because the climate is still too cold).
I. When the current warming period is over, we should expect the temperature to go back down as part of the normal fluctuation (unless we are leaving the IH).
J. These 400-year cycles have been going on throughout the Holocene IG. Assuming only a 15,000-year IG, we can expect 8 - 18 additional 400-year cycles (warming/cooling) based upon past history.
K. Before the Holocene IG, earth was in a deep freeze that lasted about 100,000 years. This is often called The Ice Age (IA), but more accurately it is merely the most recent IA.
L. The current IH has lasted about 30 million years. Within this IH there have been roughly 20 cycles of IA and IG.

This then is our starting point. I will be adding links to sources later which will include: research papers, data, graphs, web sites, and blogs where this issue is presented. It is my intention to group web site and blog links based upon scientific value and whether the site uses ad hominem, strawmen, threats, argument from authority, and personal attack to advance their position. I will be equally unkind to both sides.


1. This is a rough graph intended only to illustrate the IH's of the past 542 million years from Earth in Time.
2. The National Center for Atmospheric Research
3. Borrowed from Earth in Time with modifications. John Donohue uses the term TEA (The Established Authority) instead of Anthropogenic Climate Change Theory Advocate.

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