Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Working Man's Philosophy of Climate Change

Sadly, and hockey stick graphs notwithstanding, past and present human influence on the earth’s climate, despite what you have been told has not been proved to be anything more than marginal, if even that. CO2 is not a pollutant; it is, in fact, and always has been (just as you were taught), essential to life in all its forms. CO2 levels in the earth's atmosphere have been considerably higher in the past than they are now, and will continue to vary over time, with or without our help, into the infinite and indefinite future. CO2 is a minor contributor among the naturally occurring greenhouse gases, far-and-away over-shadowed by ordinary water vapor. Sequestering carbon in the hope that in so doing, the earth's climate can be “returned to normal” is a fool's errand and is wasteful of both labor and capital. The au courant notion that worldwide climate stability is amenable to, or governable by human tinkering and tooling is a nefarious and hubristic political fiction, perhaps even an example of the persistence of magical thinking in the modern mind. Just when exactly, was the earth's climate ever "perfect", or in a steady state?

As the Greek philosopher Protagoras posited that "man is the measure of all things", so perhaps it is inevitable that people living today would assume that the condition of the climate in the time in which they live is ideal or perfect in some way. The earth and its climate, however, know nothing of our conceits. A walk under the stars on a dark night, or a trip to the new International Tsunami Museum in Thailand might be a helpful reminder of the actual scale of the natural world and our relative place in it. A proper scientific double-blind test to determine the true influence of human life on the earth's climate can never be performed, and therefore any and all estimates of our impact on the global climate can never be anything more than speculation.

What you are left with then are cherry-picked statistical correlations and earnest but evolving (and at any given time, spurious) computer models to make the case for AGW, "climate change" or whatever you care to call the phenomenon (assuming, of course, that there is such a phenomenon). As correlation does not prove causality, the underlying philosophical assumptions leave us no choice but to conclude that it is no more, nor any less, than our own received, but unexamined ontological opinions on the nature of man and of man's place in the natural world that leads us to nod mindlessly along with the breathlessly delivered reports of the elitist and anti-democratic hacks at NASA, the UN, the EU and the universities on the purported looming climate apocalypse. Ipso facto then, it is our lazy and non-committal approach to the central philosophical questions of life, and not science, that ends up determining or enabling everything regarding current climate change doctrine and economic policies....whether we care to admit it or not.

And comments are most welcome.


airbird said...

Abject disregard for anything other than the prevailing spiteful (shortsighted) world view.

Once again we are subjected to the obtuse caterwauling of yet another self proclaimed- self anointed guardian of our future. If only some of the points Emerson Twain makes depicting the outcome of the climate change discussion rang true and could really be left to their own devices, wouldn’t that be just swell? Life could once again be so simple that ignoring any growing climate despondency would afford us the time and energy to concentrate on the things that really matter, like stonewalling any political dialogue set about to effect anything on the horizon. Methinks Emerson has once more been engulfed in the lava flow instead of accurately noticing the Volcano erupting around him. To characterize climate change only in an atmospheric context fails miserably to understand the far reaching precepts that concern the entire ecosystem.
I for one, enjoy the abundance found in the oceans and have observed with wide eyes the onslaught of Emerson’s harmless Co2 equation on all the various marine life. Deep-ocean sequestration of Co2 doesn’t appear to be an answer because of serious deadly ramifications. Scaling back this severe Co2 fiend seems quite practical to me as ever expanding levels will have profound consequences that we are just beginning to understand.

During the last 200 years, the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide increased from about 275 parts per million to about 380 parts per million. Unchecked, it could surpass 550 parts per million by mid-century.

“As the concentration of carbon dioxide increases, ocean water will become more acidic; which is bad news for marine life,” Cao said. “Fortunately, the effects of climate change will not further increase this acidity.”

There are a number of effects and feedback mechanisms built into the ocean-climate system, Jain said. “Warmer water, for example, directly reduces the ocean pH due to temperature effect on the reaction rate in the carbonate system. At the same time, warmer water also absorbs less carbon dioxide, which makes the ocean less acidic. These two climate effects balance each other, which results in negligible net climate effect on ocean pH.”

The addition of carbon dioxide into the oceans also affects the carbonate mineral system by decreasing the availability of carbonate ions. Calcium carbonate is used in forming shells. With less carbonate ions available, the growth of corals and shellfish could be significantly reduced.

“In our study, the increase in ocean acidity and decrease in carbonate ions occurred regardless of the degree of temperature change associated with global warming,” Jain said. “This indicates that future changes in ocean acidity caused by atmospheric carbon-dioxide concentrations are largely independent of climate change.”

That’s good news. The researchers’ findings, however, call into question a number of engineering schemes proposed as mitigation strategies for global warming, such as lofting reflective balloons into the stratosphere or erecting huge parasols in orbit. By blocking some of the sunlight, these devices would create a cooling effect to offset the warming caused by increasing levels of greenhouse gases.

“Even if we could engineer our way out of the climate problem, we will be stuck with the ocean acidification problem,” Caldeira said. “Coral reefs will go the way of the dodo unless we quickly cut carbon-dioxide emissions.”

Over the next few decades, we may make the oceans more acidic than they have been for tens of millions of years, Caldeira said. And that’s bad news.

In the new book Climate Change and Biodiversity, From the perspective of marine organisms, deep-ocean sequestration means concentrating an otherwise dilute toxin to well above lethal levels, and placing it in an environment where the organisms are less tolerant of environmental fluctuation in general and CO2 in particular. Localized devastation of biological communities at the injection sites is certain.

adjective STUPID, simple, slow, thick, dull, dim, dense, dumb (informal) sluggish, retarded, simple-minded, dozy Brit. (informal) witless, stolid, dopey (informal) moronic, brainless, uncomprehending, cretinous, unintelligent, half-witted, slow on the uptake (informal) braindead (informal) dumb-ass (informal) doltish, dead from the neck up (informal) boneheaded (slang) thickheaded, dull-witted, imperceptive, slow-witted, muttonheaded (slang) thick as mince

Emerson Twain said...

All righty then, airbird. Of course I'm somewhat obtuse, even "thick as mince" I hope, on my off-days. That obtuseness is a trait which I use in order to keep the daily drivel from penetrating too leaves me more maneuvering room in which to think, I think.

It's hard to know where to begin to respond to your onslaught, but first I must say you did not really respond to my position. Rather than address the ontological argument I have made, you have instead chosen to set up a straw man argument, which, in summary, centers around my neglect of the oceans as an eco-component of my own argument. Touche, then. I do not know anything of Cao but you quote him as follows: “As the concentration of carbon dioxide increases, ocean water will become more acidic; which is bad news for marine life,” Cao said.

The undistorted truth, Ms. or Mr. Cao, notwithstanding, is that the surface ocean water will become less alkaline, not more acidic, as a result of increased CO2 absorption. To the best of my knowledge there are no studies that demonstrate oceanic acidity occurring. A slight reduction in alkalinity, yes, but not acidity. By your choice of baselines in parsing your own argument you have demonstrated precisely which side of the apocalyptic doomsday politics you prefer.

Your arguments, I submit, are more than a tad bit "rich in phlogiston", so to speak, to the extent in which you imply some sort of crippling of the natural world occurs due to human behaviour. Unprecedented is a word you might use, but one I find difficult to apply to the natural world. It both presumes too much and allows for too little in the infinite cycle of equilibrium seeking systems.

If you are so concerned about the potential "localized devastation of some biological communities" as a supposed consequence of a supposed liquid CO2 injection into the deep oceans, then perhaps there is some hope that you can free yourself from the need for heroically engineered deus-ex-machina solutions and leave behind the insidious call to eco-fascism that has become all too common.

Next time, try to address the central point of my argument if you care to. said...

It's nice to see that the Onion has a new writer on staff and is trying out some new gags right here.