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Global Climate Change: Forget the climate models, where’s the real evidence? February 5, 2009

Posted by Eban in Climate science.

I don’t believe that Tony walked away from class feeling satisfied about the answer to his question about what other evidence there is about global warming. Everyone seemed hell-bent on relating it back to the paper we read and climate models. But I don’t think its what he wanted. So, Tony, again, this one is for you; as well as anyone else who is interested.

I’m sure most of us have heard of permafrost. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, the term generally refers to frozen soil that stays frozen year round (permanently). I know this term “permafrost” is a human constructed term and idea given to this frozen ground, but still, one would expect it to stay frozen. Its been frozen for as long as we, as humans, have been keeping track (a long time). Well, its melting. Environmental scientists, have noticed the melting of permafrost globally for a number of years now, and the rate at which it is melting has been increasing. The cause has been an increase in global temperature.

This house is sinking into the earth as the permafrost beneath it melts.

This house is sinking into the earth as the permafrost beneath it melts.

This increase in global temperature has also caused the ocean levels to rise higher than they have in a very long time. Historically, when the ocean levels have reached the point that they were a few years back, it marked the beginning of an ice age and they would recede again. Now, they just continue to rise, which has cause a lot of problems for coastal communities around the world.

Speaking of problems, the rising intensity of the weather is also a strong indicator of global climate change. We’ve been seeing some of the most intense weather patterns experienced by man in the past few years, and it is anticipated only to get worse.

Another melting case. Globally, ice sheets are melting and breaking apart. Antarctica has been losing upwards of 30 miles of it’s ice sheet annually, which causes the ocean levels to rise, which I talked about earlier. A portion of a Canadian ice shelf the size of Manhattan recently broke away. Thats huge, and it doesn’t happen from marching penguins or polar bear farts…its because of warming global temperatures weakening the ice sheets.

Scientists studying the massive "ice island" that broke away from an ice sheet near Canada.

Scientists studying the massive "ice island" that broke away from an ice sheet near Canada.

All of these things are caused by global climate change. There is your evidence. I know its not good enough for everyone, but I’m thinking those were the types of things you were looking for Tony; and there are a whole lot more. Don’t be discouraged by the paper we read, the models are only for projections about the future. We know what’s happening now, and we know if it continues we’re boned…



1. Greg - February 5, 2009

Thank you for these posts.

We know what’s happening now, and we know if it continues we’re boned…

I’m a little curious about this quote, especially as it relates to your previous post. In your last post you seemed to be rather dismissive of environmentalists, since you defined them as “activists and extremists” even though you expressed sympathy with their goals.

Yet I strongly doubt that you both maintain that we’re boned if this continues and also maintain that we shouldn’t adopt a policy agenda that tries to prevent our collective boning. So — correct me if I’m wrong — it seems like you’d essentially approve of someone trying to advance policy to combat climate change. (Indeed, unless you’re indifferent to our possible boning it seems like you’d support such policy whether or not climate change is in fact anthropogenic.) What should we call such a person, if not an “environmentalist”?

2. Eban - February 5, 2009

Well, Greg, it seems you continue to miss the point of my last post. Perhaps, if you haven’t, you should read the rest of the comments on my last post, as it may help you better understand my intentions (as I state them explicitly). Also, I never, ever, never, ever, never, said that we shouldn’t adopt an environmentalist policy agenda…ever. I actually really wish more people would jump on the band-wagon and shift this movement into high gear. It is this environmental scientists strong opinion that environmental issues should rank quite high on the list of priorities, and the more people we have interested and willing to make a difference, whether they are scientists are not, the better off we will be. Not everyone has the privilege of being a scientist or a scholar, but everyone has the right to care about the environment and to be part of a movement to save it.

So, yes, I would, and do, approve of the advancement of the movement to combat climate change. Be very careful, though, with throwing the term “policy” around. Environmentalists do not advance policies…hell, neither do environmental scientists. That, sir, we leave up to the politicians, and let me tell you, its a dirty business. The scientists only act as guides.

As for whether or not I would support policies to combat global climate change if it were not anthropogenic…that’s more of a personal preference, and honestly, I wouldn’t support such a policy. I don’t advocate playing god, and I’m strongly against many similar acts. For example, many ecosystems are getting assigned dollar values to determine their fates now. How much is this ecosystem worth? Enough to save it from destruction? Who are we to decide? And who are we to stop natural processes from occurring just to save our own hides? We’re just animals. However, there is enough evidence, for me, that the current situation is a natural process accelerated by human activity. So I’m all for it. And I’m good with environmentalists, just not with them being called scientists.

So here’s what I’m thinking…when I say environmentalist, assume I’m describing someone who is NOT a scientist. However, when I’m talking about environmental scientists do not assume that they are not an environmentalist. Dr. Brister made a good point in that environmentalists are not always scientists, as scientists can be environmentalists. So when I’m complaining about environmentalists methods assume I’m talking about the activist ones. Sound good? I think so.

3. Greg - February 5, 2009

It seems I do continue to miss the point. Sorry I’m so thick. I think my understanding of what the word “environmentalist” means is different from your understanding. I’m not entirely sure what my definition of “environmentalist” is supposed to be, but I think I took it to include politicians who adopted an environmental agenda. Clearly you disagree with that part of my hazy implicit definition.

I certainly agree with you that being an “environmentalist”, on either of our definitions, doesn’t automatically make someone a scientist. That’s about as ridiculous as calling my mother an epidemiologist because she taught me to wash my hands.

Fair enough on being opposed to action to prevent hypothetical non-anthropogenic climate change. That’s an entirely tenable position, though it’s not the one I would take.

4. atperrone - February 6, 2009

It’s good to see that people are taking action to satisfy me should I leave class unsatisfied; after all, this class was put on the schedule purely for my amusement. So, those of you whom my stark and ego-inflated sarcasm has not yet alienated, get to work! I need more evidence of this so called “global warming”.

Humor aside though, I’m concerned by exactly that quote which Greg brought up (Aside: Greg, any way you could share your formatting wizardry with the rest of us? I would love to leverage the power of italics and giant semi-transparent quotation marks).

“If it continutes…” Hmm… yes, if the body of current evidence keeps up… Perhaps we can build some manner of model to see if these shenanigans will continue into our future! But lo! that is exactly our problem, without a model, how can we know how long these trends will last?

For the record, I support putting effort into fixing the climate, and I believe we can make a difference, I’m just a little disillusioned by the plurality and vagueness of the research output. I still see no reason to accept the plurality of models. Perhaps we can reconvene on that subject this Tuesday. It was, in fact, supposed to be the topic of our second hour of class today, but it seems we are prone to tangents. Hell, even I’ve been known to speak up in class from time to time *snicker*.

5. trevor - November 23, 2009

My God this is interesting yet so boring. You people get a life before “global warming” kills us all. It is clear that the climate is changing but thats just mother nature’s way of saying “you humans piss me off!”

6. MiMi - December 11, 2009

It looks like an old uninhabited house that naturally fell down. Living in the south, I’ve seen those before plenty of times. That picture is not proof.

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