Monday, July 27, 2015

Skeptics and Deniers are Dangerously Wrong (The Science Is In)

"Global Warming" by Fernando Agudelo
There is a deceptive, disingenuous video circulating the cyber world called "What They Haven't Told You About Climate Change" produced by Prager University, a nonprofit organization that claims to offer "knowledge and clarity on life's biggest topics at no cost" through "awesome five minute videos" from a "conservative perspective." Even their name is deceptive. "We are not an accredited academic institution," reads the disclaimer on their website, "and we don't want to be." The so-called “University” was created by nationally syndicated conservative talk radio show host Dennis Prager. Their recently-released climate change video features Patrick Moore, who left Greenpeace years ago to become a paid spokesman for corporate polluters and is now a consultant for the nuclear and fossil fuel energy industry. (During a recent interview with  a French television station, Moore was asked about the safety of the herbicide glyphosate. He told the interviewer that one "could drink a whole quart of it" without any harm. When Moore was challenged to drink a glass of the weedkiller, he refused and ended the interview.)  In the Prager climate change video -- in a excruciatingly monotone voice and tedious manner -- he seems to be reading from scripted cue-cards that just might as well have been provided by the Koch brothers.

He does bring up an interesting analogy: Climate change deniers are, indeed, similar to those who deny the Holocaust – they all ignore overwhelming evidence and fabricate their own crazy “truths.” They are no different from those who claim cigarettes aren’t really bad for you. In fact, many of the people now paid by the fossil fuel industry to spread climate-change denial were once paid by tobacco companies to discredit and refute the overwhelming scientific evidence about the toxic dangers of smoking.  

There exists a well-funded, highly-complex, fairly coordinated "denial machine" made up of pseudo scientists, fossil fuels corporations, conservative think tanks, politicians and various front groups fighting against what they perceive as a threat to a western social order built by industrial capitalism powered by fossil fuels. They specialize in manufacturing conspiracies, hoaxes, skepticism, uncertainty and doubt. They attack good, sound science. They lie.

Prager University and Patrick Moore are part of that propaganda machine. 

Moore says our climate has changed before. He is correct. He is incorrect in claiming we don’t understand why those changes occurred. We do.

Thanks to what we collectively call “science,” here is what we know: Carbon Dioxide (C02) and methane were involved in all of Earth’s past changes in climate. When they were reduced, global climate became colder. When they were increased, global climate became warmer. When C02 levels jumped rapidly, the global warming that resulted was highly disruptive and sometimes caused mass extinctions. Humans today are emitting prodigious quantities of C02 at a rate faster than even the most destructive climate changes in earth's past.

Most living organisms have time to adapt and change along with gradual changes in climate; most living organism do not have time to adapt and change to abrupt changes – changes like we are seeing today.

Life flourished in the Eocene, the Cretaceous and other times of high C02 in the atmosphere because greenhouse gasses were in balance with carbon in the oceans and the weathering of rocks. Life, ocean chemistry, and atmospheric gasses had millions of years to adjust to those levels. But there have been several times in Earth’s past when temperatures jumped abruptly, in much the same way as they are doing today. Those times were caused by large and rapid greenhouse gas emissions, just like humans are causing today. Those abrupt global warming events were almost always highly destructive for life, causing mass extinctions. The symptoms from those events (big, rapid jumps in global temperatures, rising sea levels, and ocean acidification) are all happening today with human-caused climate change.

So yes, Moore is absolutely right: Our climate changed before, even before humans came along, but scientists know why. In all cases we see the same association between C02 levels and global temperatures. Past examples of rapid carbon emissions (just like today) were highly destructive to life on Earth.

Moore also says there is no correlation between atmospheric C02 levels and changes in Earth’s temperatures. He is wrong. They fit like pieces of a puzzle; a puzzle that an overwhelming majority of the world’s top scientists are collectively putting together.   

Thanks to science, here are a few other things we know about past changes in Earth’s climate that Moore failed to mention: Sudden releases of freshwater from glacial lakes can rapidly modifying the surface circulation in the North Atlantic and the climate of adjacent regions. Massive volcanoes can have similar affects. The oscillation between glacial and warm conditions can also result from periodic and predictable changes in the Earth's orbit around the sun. These changes influence the seasonal distribution of solar radiation and can potentially cause abrupt changes in El NiƱo, monsoons and the global atmospheric circulation. Scientists also hypothesize that abrupt changes in climate can result from “crossing thresholds,” such as when fresh water from melting ice rapidly flushes into the North Atlantic, shutting down ocean thermohaline circulation that influences climate with regional and global consequences.

What is ocean thermohaline circulation?  It is something we have come to understand though science. Driven by the sun's heat absorbed by tropical oceans and impacted by variations in salt content in the water, thermohaline circulation is a powerful force on the world's climate system. It’s conveyer belts of currents, moving water of various temperatures around the planet that influence regional and global climate. 

As heat from the tropics is carried by the Gulf Stream into the North Atlantic where it is vented into the atmosphere, a deep convection of ocean waters is caused by surface cooling, with the flow of water then sinking to depths and then upwelling back to the surface at lower latitudes – making some parts of our planet colder or warmer than other parts. Some places are cold enough to freeze water into glaciers and icecaps. (Glaciers store about 69% of the world's freshwater. If all land ice melted our seas would rise about 230 feet. During the last ice age -- when glaciers covered more land area than today -- the sea level was about 400 feet lower than it is today. At that time, glaciers covered almost one-third of the land. During the last warm spell, 125,000 years ago, seas were about 18 feet higher than they are today. About three million years ago the seas could have been up to 165 feet higher.)  Frozen water releases salt, and thus when it melts it is salt-free. This factor and the heavier density of salty water is particularly important in polar regions where the convergence of fresh and saline waters influences ocean currents. In other words, when the frozen waters melt, not only do sea levels rise, but the world’s “conveyer belts” of currents change, slow down, perhaps stop and thus regional and global climates also change.   

Ocean thermohaline circulation is dynamic and has been known to dramatically shift, as it appears to have done just after the last Ice Age and perhaps during episodes of abrupt climate change. Shifts in the thermophile circulation’s  "conveyor belts" of ocean currents can cause major changes in climate over relatively short-time scales (10-20 years) which in turn can have enormous impacts.

Because massive human-induced releases of C02 and other greenhouse gasses are warming our planet and melting glaciers and polar ice caps, understanding the thermohaline circulation has become a major focus for scientists who conduct climate research. Here is what they have thus far discovered and accurately predicted: Thermohaline circulation is slowing down in as a result of greenhouse warming. The slowdown is occurring because the rapid melting of glaciers and icecaps is flushing freshwater into the North Atlantic making it less dense and less able to sink to depth.

In other words: The engine that runs the system is breaking down. We are breaking it. We can fix it, but some would rather deny the problem so as to protect greed and profit. They would rather kill the proverbial goose that lays the golden eggs, so they perpetuate and disseminate deceptive lies, half-truths and misconceptions to an ignorant public that has little understanding of science. Most of them, like Patrick Moore, get paid to do so.

Moore says warming trends have leveled off. He is wrong.

Records show that the Earth has been warming at a steady rate and there is no sign of it slowing any time soon. Last year (2014) was the hottest year on record. The global temperature was 1.24°F above the long-term average, besting the previous record holders by 0.07°F.  Thirteen of the 15 hottest years on record have all occurred since 2000. This is the 38th consecutive year with global temperatures above average. And that’s just surface temperature. Oceans give a much more alarming indication of the warming that is happening. More than 90% of global warming heat is absorbed by our oceans, while less than 3% goes into increasing the surface air temperature. Last year was the highest ocean temperatures on record, coming in at 1.09°F degrees above average. Oceans continue to warm, changing the currents that change temperatures that change regional and global climate.

Since global warming influences ocean currents that influence regional climates, this results in severe and record-breaking fluctuations in weather in various places – from unusually warm to unusually cold, at times, with more frequent extremes such as tornadoes, hurricanes and blizzards. This is why, on an unusually cold and snowy February day in Washington DC, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma was able to throw a snowball on the Senate floor in an ignorant attempt to “prove” that human activity isn’t causing climate change. It’s also why Washington DC now experiences record-breaking heat most every summer, and why springtime in our nation’s capital is now, on average, seven degrees above the historical norm.

How do we know all this? Scientific data gathered through scientific research in accordance with rigorous standards of the scientific method and compiled by scientists into scientific reports that are scientifically peer-reviewed by other scientists who scrupulously and methodically try to find flaws in the works of their fellow scientists. Scientific theories, hypotheses and results are constantly challenged and tested over and over again until something is either disproved or, as is the case with human-caused climate change, an overwhelming consensus is reached. It would be impossible, yes impossible!, to bring together all the world's leading scientists to agree to a secretive plot. Climate change is not a hoax. The science is real.       

Moore says there is no consensus among scientists about human-caused climate change, that “the science is not in.”  He is wrong.   
  
In the scientific field of climate studies – which is informed by many different disciplines – the consensus is demonstrated by the number of scientists who have stopped arguing about what is causing climate change – and that’s nearly all of them.  A survey of 928 peer-reviewed abstracts on the subject of global climate change shows that not a single paper rejected the consensus position that global warming is man caused. A follow-up study of more than 12,000 peer-reviewed abstracts on the subjects of global warming and global climate change found that, of the papers taking a position on the cause of global warming, more than 97% agreed that humans are causing it.  The scientists who authored the research papers were also contacted and asked to rate their own reports, and again more than 97% who took a position on the cause said humans are causing global warming.

Several studies have confirmed that “The debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely nonexistent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes.”  In other words: More than 97% of scientists working in the disciplines that contribute to studies of our climate conclude that current climate change is being caused by human activities. There are no national or major scientific institutions anywhere in the world that dispute the theory of human-caused climate change. Not one!

Why do so many Americans believe a handful of paid corporate lackeys and right-wing politicians who manufacture
conspiracies, hoaxes, skepticism, uncertainty and doubt instead of an overwhelming majority of the world's top scientists -- and the actual, growing evidence throughout our rapidly changing world that scientists have been predicting for years?  

It’s time to ignore dangerously ignorant corporate mouth-pieces like Patrick Moore -- people paid to fuel climate-change denial so as to protect greed and profit while diminishing the health of the planet that sustains us. It’s time to listen to the overwhelming majority of knowledgeable, informed scientists throughout the world who have reached near-unanimous consensus in regards to human-caused climate change. The science is in. It’s time we collectively move past denial towards acceptance and action.  

For more on climate change, please check out: "Our Wild World Unraveling: Thoughts on Climate Change from a Hunter, Fisherman and Backpacker," and
"A Bipartisan Call for Climate Action."

20 comments:

  1. Great beautiful piece. I agree 99%. The whole glyphosate thing though is way off. He was there to talk about golden rice which has nothing to do with roundup, and the interviewer through a question he wasn't expecting.

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    1. Thanks. And thanks for the information. I will look more into it.

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    2. I watched the interview and do not see how I am off. Moore said that glyphosate was safe to drink. He was challenged to prove his point. He refused. When the interviewer persisted, he walked out and called the interviewer a "jerk." My statement seem accurate. Am I missing something?

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    3. Yes, Moore was not there to talk about glyphosate. The interviewer pressed the issue and Moore gave in. He should've ignored the comments about the herbicide and stuck to talking about Golden Rice.

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    4. Whatever he was there for, my comments in my essay seem to be accurate. I still don't see where I am off? He certainly shouldn't have said it was safe to drink . . . but then again, he gets paid a lot of money to lie and say stupid stuff, such as he does in this climate change video.

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  2. You say, "Last year (2014) was the hottest year on record. The global temperature was 1.24°F above the long-term average ...."
    What is the long term average? That is, what is "long term"?? Why restrict ourselves to the relatively short "record" when we have data going back much further? Is the graph on this page : http://s405.blogspot.com/2006/03/globaloney.html accurate or just more evil, corporate mis-information?

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  3. I don't trust reports from scientists that are on the government payroll. Why wouldn't they write reports that are in line with Obama's global warming theme? I'm with the theory that climate is always in change. Yes, we as humans might have a very small, lets say, insignificant amount of change. But not enough to effect the total earth climate.

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    1. Scientists don't "write reports" to please an administration, skip. They do research which is internationally peer-reviewed. (Checked by scientists in other countries who'd like nothing better than to prove them wrong). Also, they've been making the same findings since long before President Obama was in the White House, through GOP administrations too, which proves your hypothesis is worthless.

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    2. Let's say you are a scientist who needs to publish. So you propose a study and send it to a funding source. Let's say another scientist also wants to do a study and he too send his proposal to the same funding source. The first proposal says: "This study is vital because man's very existence depends on what I might find out about man caused earth warming." The second proposal says: "The Earth's temperature has been going up and down since the beginning of time. Don't worry, my study will explore some aspects of this cycle." Which study gets the funding?

      Not that I know about all the studies published, but I have not seen many long term studies on the actual heat put out by the sun, long term. I have also noticed that more thermometers these days are over cement than under shade trees. More forests are cut and there are more and larger cities than ever.

      As a pilot I have a unique view of the earth and I have been struck by how much large cities look like metastatic cancer spreading in healthy tissue. I wonder if we are worrying about the right problems. Maybe, if we are really interested in saving the planet, we should kill our children.

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  4. I feel it may help people who doubt Man is causing climate change, if there was specific information on what fossil fuel companies were paying a spokesman?

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  5. people who disagree with the majority of the Scientists around the world about climate change have no hard evidence or proof to Provide an Intelligent answer. Other than I don't believe it.

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  6. S.O.P Save Our Planet there is very little time left.

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  7. Great article, to me you either believe Moore or David Suzuki, I would always follow David a person I am proud to call Canadian. Great web site also I will continue to follow up...thanks

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  8. I would prefer it if global warming were in fact a hoax, but two things convince me that it isn't: (1) the vast majority of scientists studying climate say it isn't; and (2) most developed-world governments, who would much rather not have to deal with the problem, are convinced enough to spend enormous amounts of money on it.

    However, Anonymous's "globaloney" link -- if you remove the silly showboating -- makes logical points (based on unattributed graphs). Is there a full refutation of that page anywhere?

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  9. Sorry. The fuller anti- argument is not at the "globaloney" page but at this page to which it links:
    http://www.oism.org/pproject/s33p36.htm

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  10. Mr Agudelo may be right but his disrespectful, insulting name calling, manner obscures his point, for this conservative.

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    1. I agree Bob, the self-righteousness really stops me listening. More like a religion than science.

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  11. I'm confused. Who was responsible for the abrupt changes in global temperatures in the past if humans were not there to blame? Isn't it possible that the warming caused the spike in CO2 and not the other way around? And what about the sun's role? It would appear to me - a skeptic, not a denier - that the "science" is very assumption based and has some serious blind spots.

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    1. Life flourished in the Eocene,the Cretaceous and other times of high CO2 in the atmosphere because the greenhouse gasses were in balance with the carbon in the oceans and the weathering of rocks. Life, ocean chemistry, and atmospheric gasses had millions of years to adjust to those levels.

      But there have been several times in Earth’s past when Earth's temperature jumped abruptly, in much the same way as they are doing today. Those times were caused by large and rapid greenhouse gas emissions, just like humans are causing today.

      Those abrupt global warming events were almost always highly destructive for life, causing mass extinctions such as at the end of the Permian, Triassic, or even mid-Cambrian periods. The symptoms from those events (a big, rapid jump in global temperatures, rising sea levels, and ocean acidification) are all happening today with human-caused climate change.

      So yes, the climate has changed before humans, and in most cases scientists know why. In all cases we see the same association between CO2 levels and global temperatures. And past examples of rapid carbon emissions (just like today) were generally highly destructive to life on Earth.

      THE SUN'S ROLE: Over the last 35 years the sun has shown a slight cooling trend. However global temperatures have been increasing. Since the sun and climate are going in opposite directions scientists conclude the sun cannot be the cause of recent global warming. The only way to blame the sun for the current rise in temperatures is by cherry picking the data. This is done by showing only past periods when sun and climate move together and ignoring the last few decades when the two are moving in opposite directions. 

      I hope this helps answer your questions.

      Thanks,

      Dave Stalling

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  12. Nils Lindstrom: Good questions, and questions scientists around the world have thoroughly examined. Here, in general, is what the scientific consensus concludes (not based on "assumptions," but based on pear-reviewed scientific research):

    PAST CHANGES: Earth's temperature depends on the balance between energy entering and leaving the planet’s system. When incoming energy from the sun is absorbed by the Earth system, Earth warms. When the sun’s energy is reflected back into space, Earth avoids warming. When absorbed energy is released back into space, Earth cools. Many factors, both natural and human, can cause changes in Earth’s energy balance, including: Variations in the sun's energy reaching Earth
    Changes in the reflectivity of Earth’s atmosphere and surface, and Changes in the greenhouse effect, which affects the amount of heat retained by Earth’s atmosphere.

    These factors have caused Earth’s climate to change many times.

    Scientists have pieced together a record of Earth’s climate, dating back hundreds of thousands of years (and, in some cases, millions or hundreds of millions of years), by analyzing a number of indirect measures of climate such as ice cores, tree rings, glacier lengths, pollen remains, and ocean sediments, and by studying changes in Earth’s orbit around the sun. This record shows that the climate system varies naturally over a wide range of time scales. In general, climate changes prior to the Industrial Revolution in the 1700s can be explained by natural causes, such as changes in solar energy, volcanic eruptions, and natural changes in greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations.

    Recent climate changes, however, cannot be explained by natural causes alone. Research indicates that natural causes do not explain most observed warming, especially warming since the mid-20th century. Rather, it is extremely likely that human activities have been the dominant cause of that warming. Greenhouse gasses – mainly CO2, but also methane – were involved in most of the climate changes in Earth’s past. When they were reduced, the global climate became colder. When they were increased, the global climate became warmer. When CO2 levels jumped rapidly, the global warming that resulted was highly disruptive and sometimes caused mass extinctions. Humans today are emitting prodigious quantities of CO2, at a rate faster than even the most destructive climate changes in earth's past.

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