The Buzz on Gore-Bull Warming

July 16, 2007 | By | 18 Replies More

I was checking on the latest news about the Creationist Museum, and found myself browsing a conservative blog site, Townhall.com. The hot issue of the day is debunking the whole Al Gore Global Warming issue. Try this post, for a taste.

What truly bugged me is that, among the innumerate and sometimes marginally literate responses, there was a kernel of actually reasonable doubt. Those who follow the actual science (a minority on that site) know that there is no doubt about the present warming trend, nor about the unprecedented rise in fossil CO2 in the last century. However, there is no certain model for the causality leading to or spawning from these facts.

Doomsayers love the fantastic, sudden, apocalyptic models of global warming that Hollywood likes to portray. It’s quite dramatic, and cannot be ruled out. However, most models show that the big and civilization-altering changes that are likely to occur will take generations to notice. The present conservative movement is more interested in the next fiscal quarter than the next generation. Therefore, this is not a “real” problem.

The real problem with the Gore campaign is that it is covered as a binary issue. Either Global Warming is a big and serious and immediate problem that requires drastic solutions, or it an imaginary scare tactic. The truth is somewhere in between. Fossil atmospheric carbon dumping is (and will be) a tiny blip in history. Maybe three centuries total out of the almost hundred centuries (so far) of human civilization (or 46,000,000 centuries of geological record).

What scares me is the total ignorance expressed of what Global Warming really is. Everything I read talks about the average temperature rising. Most people hear this and assume that a degree of temperature rise means adding a degree to every reading we now have. In practice, it means adding energy to the weather system, which means wider spreads from highs to lows. Sharper warm and cool fronts. Bigger low and high pressure systems. Faster transitions from one to the next. Bigger winds. Bigger storms.  Heavier winters and harder summers.

Before a hundred centuries ago, weather was much more severe than it has been since (if you believe all the separate ice core studies). The average temperature didn’t change much at that time. What changed was the ocean currents. When the polar ice caps melt, these currents will likely be changed, and we’ll likely lose the weather-calming effects of some of the boundary currents.

But the main question raised by innumerate climate-change doubters is whether any of the warming can be attributed to human activity. After all, they argue, climates changed many times before we discovered fossil fuels. This is easily addressed by a simple analogy. People died long before there was random gunfire in crowded places. Why should we believe that this gunfire causes death?

They argue that CO2 variations existed before fossil fuels, and that a rise in CO2 preceded most ice ages. Well, historical variations were never as fast as in the last century, and a northern ice age may well be a symptom of global warming.

They argue that two thermometers in the same town give different readings, that two adjacent thermometers in a dollar store bin give different readings. So how can we possibly know the average global temperature? Well, send these people to a remedial statistics course. Then to a primer on how to calibrate instruments, and how to tell an instrument from a wall decoration. Then give them a crash course in modern meteorology. Yet I still doubt they will see the point.
They argue that, even if “we” cut back on emissions, the rest of the world will continue to make up for it. Analogy: They’re shooting each other over there, so shouldn’t we keep doing it over here to speed up the process?

They get to the bottom line: But it would affect my media-driven, market-pushed lifestyle! Duh. The bottom line is money. They claim that Gore, the VP who actively worked to cut Government size and inefficiency, is in it to make Government bigger. Unlike “W”, who presided over the biggest increase in Government size and intrusiveness since the New Deal (that latter country-saving measure was later ruled unconstitutional).

But the bottom line is that people don’t want to change. Especially if the change means taking personal responsibility for the quality of their own environment. Serves me right for trying to listen to the other side.

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Category: Current Events, Economy, Education, Energy, Environment, global warming, History, Media, Science

About the Author ()

A convoluted mind behind a curly face. A regular traveler, a science buff, and first generation American. Graying of hair, yet still verdant of mind. Lives in South St. Louis City. See his personal website for (too much) more.

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  1. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    There is actually a lot of solid science behind the doubt about the claims of the roles of human activity and the "carbon footprint" in global warming. Organic greenhouse gases are only a tiny part of the dynamics of global warming. Other factors include solar activity, average global humidity, and the earth's albedo, just to name a few. The most likely contribution of mankind to global warming is heat as a waste product.

    Probably the most innumerate nonsense is that by using hybrid or electric vehicles, that we can greatly reduce our "carbon footprint" and slow global warming. This is false for 2 reasons. First, the vast majority of electric power is generated by using fossil fuels, and second, most electric motors are less efficient than an internal combustion engine.

    Energy is wasted as heat. when the electric car is recharged, either from the power mains or from an internal combustion engine in the car. When the fossil fuel (either coal or oil ) is burned to generate the electricity, great amounts of waste heat are produced.

    There is an answer that everyone chooses to ignore. Most trees produce oil. Some more that others. There is a tree in Brazil that produces an oil that can be substituted for diesel fuel in engines. It is called the diesel tree in the popular press. Using plants to produce fuels fights global warming in several ways. First, plants remove organic gasses from the atmosphere. Second, that absorb sunlight for energy, and reduce the amount that is reflected back from the ground as heat. Third, by aspiration, plants actually cool the ground, and further reduce waste heat. Fourth, they release oxygen into the atmosphere, which helps to build up the ozone layer and reflect some of the higher energy parts of the sunlight back into space.

    Something that shows the egotism of mankind is the idea that humans can improve on nature, and control the environment. We are, in fact, a product of that natural environment. We have about 100 years of quantitive data that indicates a warming trend. We also have over 1000 years of qualitative data that may be intrepreted to imply a warming trend (core samples from glaciers and trees, historic accounts of pre-drought conditions in places that are now desert, and archaeological evidence. ) None of this shows actual cause and effect, but indicates a climatic change that has been occurring for centuries.

    A politician preaches gloom and doom, by selectively quoting sources in a book, makes people afraid but produces no practical answers. What we need is a full understanding of the problem in order to adress it in the best possible way. What we currently have is a biased, extremist view that offers unworkable answers.

    • nat says:

      thank you 4 ur comment Niklaus!
      wondering is it true that “most trees produce oil”?…
      do you have any links that you could kindly send me? (pls “other than” links abt the the brazilian tree ~ i hv a lot on that tree already)
      … I would like 2 further my research on trees & plants (rooted life) that produce oil ~ I am in need of any written studies that i can find 4 protection purposes of our land
      ~ thank you most sincerely in advance ~

  2. grumpypilgrim says:

    Niklaus writes: "The most likely contribution of mankind to global warming is heat as a waste product."

    Is there scientific evidence to support that statement? Heat (infrared energy) can easily radiate into space, and space is an infinite heat sink; thus, waste heat would not seem to be a likely source of global warming. More likely would be atmospheric changes that slow the heat transfer process from earth to space: changes such as increased cloud cover (such as from aircraft exhaust), increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (from motor vehicle exhaust), changes in ocean current speeds (from salinity changes), etc.

  3. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    There is actually a lot of science behind the effect of heat on localized weather phenomena. The has mostly been concerning thermal inversion over cities, where large paved areas and excess heat from air-conditioning, manufacturing and various other activities increases the temperature by as much as 4 degrees fahrenheit above the outlying areas.

    This heat is transferred more by convection than by radiation, and when you consider the amount of energy required to raise the temperature over a major city, for example Atlanta (132 square miles), by even 1 degree, that is a lot of energy being added to climate system, in a fairly concentrated location.

    There has long been evidence that discounts the importance of organic greenhouse gases in climate change. It would be best to describe them as a contributing factor. This is because carbon based gaseous emmisions are a tiny part of the system.

    The general public, and the media fail to understand the greenhouse effect. This might be because they really do not understand what a greenhous does. A greenhouse doen't work by reflecting energy back into the greenhouse, but by trapping moisture in the form of water vapor inside the enclosure. Water vapor increase the thermal mass of the air and moderates the temperature more evenly between the daytime and night time.

    During the day, energy is added to the system by sunlight. The sunlight is converted to heat by dielectric action, and that heat evaporates moisture that is trapped in the system. Evaporation stores heat in the water vapor and the structure prevents the warmer air from exchanged with the cooler air by convection. At night, as the greenhouse cools, the air cools enough for some of the vapor condenses, releasing it's heat energy back into the air. There are two major effects in play i a greenhouse, the dielectric conversion of light into heat, and the storage of heat in the Browninan motion of a thermal mass. Most of the heat is stored by a phase change from solid to liquid and from liquid to gas. Changing from a gas to a liquid phase or a liquid to a solid phase releases heat energy.

    Organic gases provide the energy conversion function quite well, but do not store the energy. CO2 is not found as a liquid or solid in nature on earth. The atmosphere of Mars, has been found to be very high in CO2, the atmosphere is too dry to moderate the temperature varations from day to night.

    There is also much confusion concerning infrared light and heat on the part of the press and the general public. Heat is the energy stored in the form of Brownian motion in matter. Infrared is a relatively low energy range of light in the electromatic radiation spectrum. Through the dielectric effect, most objects radiate small amounts of infrared light.

    There are only two external energy inputs into our ecosystem, sunlight and tidal strains. Tidal strains appear to be the original source of geothermal energy, and sunlight is the major source of all other energy.

    It's the uneven and often concentrated injection of heat energy that alters the weather. Fossil fuels store energy chemically, as do all living things. On the other hand a large part of the co2 in the atmosphere appears to be CO2 release from limestone rocks by natural erosion forces. Other organic gases such as carbon monoxide or methane, are more chemically active and eventually convert to CO2.

  4. Dan Klarmann says:

    Grumpy and Niklaus are comparing magnitudes to rates. Apples to seedlings.

    The modern human dump of heat (calories, BTU's, kilowatt-hours, etc) mainly from burning fossil fuels is small compared to solar influx. Also, it mostly is converting energy formerly stored from solar influx back into heat much faster than it was absorbed originally. Where do you think fossil fuels come from?

    The greenhouse effect is the insulation blanket that prevents infrared from radiating efficiently, affecting the rate at which the Earth cools. The recent increase in the CO<sub>2</sub> blanket is likely to affect the rate of heat radiated from the surface for a long time; on the order of decades to centuries, depending on the model used. Small increments of heat will add up over time.

    The current worldwide energy production/consumption of fossil fuels, nuclear, gasoline, etc is about 13 Terawatts (1.3 x 10<sup>13</sup> watts or 13 million megawatts). This number does not include solar, hydroelectric, biomass and other sources that essentially use incident solar energy and don't affect the heat balance (another 2 to 3 Tw).

    The sun delivers 84 Terawatts to the surface (what gets through the clouds and doesn't reflect off).

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    I visited the site you linked and I had the same reaction as you did, Dan. There is a "glass ceiling" preventing many of these people from thinking through global warming with the same skepticism that they use in many other aspects of their lives. You're right, that their thought process is "binary." What if Gore is 65% correct (that only a third of Florida will be under water (instead of 2/3) by the end of this century)?

    I also think you're correct about the source of the problem. Many people just can't bear to give up their SUV's and their otherwise energy-extravagant life-styles. "Me take a bus to work? NEVER" I've seen it on the faces of many executives who live along an efficient light rail line in St. Louis. They wouldn't be caught dead standing and waiting for a train or (gasp!) sitting next to a person whose skin color is different than theirs. I've seen the sneering and horror-filled grimace when I've asked whether they take the "Metrolink" to work.

    Of course, energy use is about far more than transportation, but many conservatives wouldn't dream about giving any of those things up either. It's the same mentality that Ronald Reagan displayed when he had Jimmie Carter's solar panels ripped off the roof of the White House. "No one tells me what to do! No one tells me to stop using so much fossil fuel!"

    Every conservative knows what he wants. All he needs to do is to unleash that little lawyer in his head to come up with doubts and refurbished burdens of proof. It'll buy some time, at least for awhile.

  6. Ben says:

    Niklaus Phirsig: It pains me to see how blatantly deluded you are about the greenhouse effect, geothermal energy, climate dynamics, and the scientific method in general.

    Carbon dioxide gas traps long-wave radiation (heat) leaving Earth’s surface, thus raising temperatures. Without the warming caused by natural levels of CO2 and water vapor in our atmosphere, the average surface temperature of our planet would be well below freezing.

    Atmospheric CO2 levels have varied greatly over Earth’s history, but human activity is significantly altering the global carbon cycle, and not in a good way. Carbon dioxide is rising because of the burning of fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas) and because we alter the land through increased farming and the destruction of tropical forests and plants that take up CO2 during photosynthesis.

    A graph of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere from the year 1000 to the present shows that CO2 has risen steadily since the 1800s due to human activities of fossil fuel burning and land use changes, and the upward trend is accelerating. The measurements are from two sources: air trapped inside ice cores, and direct measurements of the atmosphere (taken from the Hawaiian peak Mauna Loa) since the late 1950s.

    http://www.whoi.edu/oceanus/viewImage.do?id=34628

    As carbon dioxide builds up in the atmosphere, a large fraction has dissolved into the ocean, increasing the total amount of dissolved inorganic carbon and shifting seawater chemistry toward more acidic conditions. Since the end of the last century, the amount dissolved CO2 gas ([CO2 (aq)], shown as the red line) has increased because of both the rise in inorganic carbon levels and acidification. Simultaneously there is a decrease in the water’s pH (shown as the blue line), indicating rising acidity, and a decrease in the carbonate ion ([CO3 2- ], shown as the green line), the substance that many marine animals use to build their shells.

    http://www.whoi.edu/oceanus/viewImage.do?id=34308

    As a result, CO2 levels are increasing faster than at almost any other time in planetary history. Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations are already 30 percent higher than just a couple of centuries ago. Most climate models project that they will reach 2 to 3.5 times pre-industrial levels by the end of this century unless dramatic steps are taken to reduce CO2 emissions.

    This higher CO2 will bring warmer temperatures. Climate models predict that global temperatures will increase by 3.5°F to 8°F (1.9o C to 4.4o C) by the year 2100—and even more in the Arctic and Alaska. Beyond the temperature rise, a warmer climate is expected to shift rainfall and drought patterns, which will have even greater consequences for people, wildlife, and ecosystems.

    The sea sink

    Not all of the excess CO2 we humans emit stays in the atmosphere. The ocean, and to some extent the land, act as large “carbon sinks” that significantly slow the accumulation of atmospheric CO2 and the resulting climate change.

    To date, about one-third of all human-generated carbon emissions have dissolved into the ocean. How fast the ocean can remove CO2 from the air depends on both atmospheric CO2 levels and ocean circulation and mixing—in the same way that the sugar dissolving in iced tea depends on how much you put in and how fast you stir. More CO2 in the air leads to more in the ocean; faster circulation increases the volume of water exposed to higher CO2 levels in the air and thus increases uptake by the ocean.

    The increasing amount of carbon in the ocean will cause another problem for marine life: ocean acidification. The 3-percent increase in dissolved carbon in surface water may seem small, but it is enough to significantly alter the chemistry of seawater and threaten whole groups of marine life.
    http://www.whoi.edu/oceanus/viewArticle.do?id=177

    The planet's internal heat was originally generated during its accretion, due to gravitational binding energy, and since then additional heat has continued to be generated by the radioactive decay of elements such as uranium, thorium, and potassium. The heat flow from the interior to the surface is only 1/20,000 as great as the energy received from the Sun.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geothermal_%28geolog

  7. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    I keep this a bit short this time. The major source of additional heat is solar, not the burning of fossil fuels. The problem is that a great deal of deforestation and paving allowing the sunlight to be converted to heat on the ground. add to this the heat displaced by heat pumps and you can see the difference. The technological P.O.V. has long been to treat nature as the enemy, to sledgehammer it into oblivion, and to build what techno-crats consider an improvement on nature. We need to re-learn how to work with nature.

    I saw a news piece on TV last weekend that described how, in an African country, is was discovered that allowing trees to grow in the fields somehow helped the crops survive drought.

    Mankind must learn to build in concert with nature and not against nature.

  8. Ben says:

    "A new scientific study shows that for the last 20 years, the Sun's output has declined, yet temperatures on Earth have risen. It also shows that modern temperatures are not determined by the Sun's effect on cosmic rays, as has been claimed."

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/low/uk/6290228.stm

    "This paper re-enforces the fact that the warming in the last 20 to 40 years can't have been caused by solar activity"

  9. grumpypilgrim says:

    Dan's comment about magnitudes and rates hits the nail on the head. True, as Niklaus observes, localized heating can (and does) occur around cities, just as other localized microclimates can occur around mountains, seashores, lakes, river valleys, etc., but global warming is more about rates than magnitudes. Even without a change in the heat generated at the earth's surface (e.g., magnitude), a more insulative atmosphere will increase global temperatures, just as adding a heavy winter coat will increase a person's body temperature: the person feels hotter not because his metabolism is producing more heat, but because more heat is retained, thus raising the temperature. The same thing happens when a car's radiator stops working: the engine overheats (increases in temperature) not because there is more heat from combustion, but because the heat that is generated is not removed fast enough.

    It might be helpful to remember the difference between heat and temperature. Heat is energy flow, whereas temperature is the result of heat accumulating in one place. The vacuum of space near our Sun provides a good example of the difference: the temperature near our Sun is tens of thousands of degrees, but there are very few molecules in the vacuum of space, so there is very little heat. Thus, if you could put an astronaut there, the astronaut could easily survive with just a space suit, because even though the temperature is theoretically lethal, the heat transfer rate is so tiny that the astronaut would not get hot.

    Returning to the issue of global warming, the problem is not so much that humans are generating more heat (because, as Ben points out, the heat we produce is small compared to the heat from our Sun), the problem is that atmospheric changes are slowing the rate at which heat is being radiated away from our planet into space. Think of the difference in winter between a clear night and a cloudy night: a cloudy night will be much warmer, because of the blanketing effect of the clouds; i.e., when heat is retained, temperatures rise.

    The real danger is what Dan points out: these changes occur over decades and centuries, and there could also be hysteresis in the system, such that effects could accumulate and cause overshoot — creating widespread destruction even after we stop whatever we are doing. In fact, we already see hysteresis in our weather: the average maximum and minimum daily temperatures do not coincide with the summer and winter solstices, but occur approximately one month after those dates arrive. Such a time lag might also occur with global warming. The trouble is we don't know how long the lag might be.

  10. Erich Vieth says:

    Weather versus climate. People often confuse these. Lisa Moore explains the differences at Climate 411:

    People often confuse climate and weather. They wonder how scientists can reliably predict climate 50 years from now when they can't predict the weather a few weeks from now. The answer is that climate and weather are different, and it's easier to predict climate than weather.

    http://environmentaldefenseblogs.org/climate411/2

  11. Grumpy,

    "the temperature near our Sun is tens of thousands of degrees, but there are very few molecules in the vacuum of space, so there is very little heat."

    I don't get this, could you explain this in more detail? If you don't have heat how can you have high temperatures??

  12. Dan Klarmann says:

    Each particle of a plasma has a kinetic energy (temperature) of thousands of degrees, but the total energy in a given volume (heat) is small because there are relatively few atoms (as in the plasma in a fluorescent tube). An ice cube contains more heat than an equivalent volume of plasma at the ambient pressure near the sun.

    There is also the consideration of radiated energy versus conducted heat when calculating temperature.

  13. Dan,

    "Each particle of a plasma has a kinetic energy (temperature) of thousands of degrees, but the total energy in a given volume (heat) is small because there are relatively few atoms (as in the plasma in a fluorescent tube)."

    You and grumpy are not really talking about the temperature that you could measure with a thermometer, but more about the energy level of each particle, right? Because if I read this:

    "the temperature near our Sun is tens of thousands of degrees"

    I understand that this is what a thermometer would show if you held it next to the sun.

  14. Dan Klarmann says:

    Proj: The air temperature in an oven at 450° f doesn't burn your hand because the air doesn't hold much heat. The temperature is high, but there is little heat in the air.

    At plasma temperatures, a physical thermometer would just be vapor. We measure those using the principle of black body radiation.

    Temperature is the average kinetic energy of each particle measured as a group. Heat is the total accumulated kinetic energy of the mass of particles.

  15. "Proj: The air temperature in an oven at 450° f doesn’t burn your hand because the air doesn’t hold much heat. The temperature is high, but there is little heat in the air."

    Ummm, ok…? If I had a thermometer in the oven measuring the temperature in the air and it showed 450 °F and I had another thermometer sticking in something else and also showing 450 °F then both would still not display the same heat?

    "At plasma temperatures, a physical thermometer would just be vapor."

    Why would it just be vapor? Would it get destroyed by heat or by temperature in this case?

  16. Ben says:

    Not to barge in, but I used to work as a fry cook at a restaurant… the 350 degree oil is hotter than anything on planet earth, this is fact. Much hotter (to feel) than the air in a 400 degree oven. As Dan explains, the liquid has many more molecules than the air, so your skin actually cooks when a drop of oil hits it.

  17. Dan Klarmann says:

    Temperature is the average particle kinetic energy, heat is the sum total particle kinetic energy.

    Depending on the temperature and pressure, "particles" may be chemical molecules or atoms (normal matter), bare nuclei (plasma), free quarks and mesons (degenerate matter or super-plasmids), or Bose Einstein Condensate (nearly absolute-zero).

    I've been burned by molten silver droplets (merely red hot), and have stood unharmed a few feet away from molten steel (bright yellow-hot). I know how to safely hold dry ice, and have worked with liquid nitrogen.

    Meanwhile, this years weather may gain some global warming believers, with the uncharacteristic floods and cyclones and so forth. Yeah, I said believers.

    We are playing Russian Roulette with the environment. The controversy is really about how many chambers are loaded and how fast we are taking turns, not whether we are playing.

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