View 751 Saturday, December 01, 2012
There is a new round of fusillades from the Believers castigating the Deniers in the Man Made Global Warming imbroglio. The voice of reason can be heard in the discussions, but only faintly as the intellectuals who live on Global Warming Study Grants panic over the latest climate data.
So far as I can tell, there has been no rise in annual global temperature since about 1990, and other data are ambiguous. Since we are dealing with an enormous statistical aggregate – imagine if you will how you might go about getting a single number accurate to 1/10 degree of the average temperature in your attic for the past year, or for the next year, then contemplate doing the same for your neighborhood, and so on – we can’t conclude that Earth’s temperature is or is not rising, even if 2012 turns out to be the hottest year since we began measuring; which is to say that this comments more on our measurements than the earth’s temperature.
Figures released by the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation indicate that 2012 is set to be perhaps the ninth hottest globally since records began – but that planetary warming, which effectively stalled around 1998, has yet to resume at the levels seen in the 1980s and early 1990s.
The 2012 figure for the year so far stands at 14.45°C. If that were the figure for the full year, it would be cooler than 1998 (14.51°C) and most of the years since then (full listing from the Met Office here).
Do we really need to comment on just how meaningful differences of a few hundredths of a degree in a measure of this complexity are likely to be? Moreover, it now appears that Roman and Viking times were warmer than the Believers supposed:
A new study measuring temperatures over the past two millennia has concluded that in fact the temperatures seen in the last decade are far from being the hottest in history.
A large team of scientists making a comprehensive study of data from tree rings say that in fact global temperatures have been on a falling trend for the past 2,000 years and they have often been noticeably higher than they are today – despite the absence of any significant amounts of human-released carbon dioxide in the atmosphere back then.
As I have repeatedly said, we don’t really know much about temperatures to a fraction of a degree, but we are fairly safe in concluding that in Viking times it was warmer over the Earth – and certainly in the Northern Hemisphere – than it is now. In those times Greenland was in fact green (or a lot of it was) with dairy farms. There were vines in Vinland AKA Nova Scotia. There were grape harvests in Scotland and in much of England. There were peak harvests and longer growing seasons from France to China. None of this is particularly controversial: the records exist. Of course we don’t have a way to convert those facts to temperatures at a 1/10 degree accuracy, but it is a fair inference that the summers are warmer and last longer in places where grapes grow than in places where viniculture is impossible because it’s too cold too early.
Similarly we can safely conclude that it was colder in Holland, England, New England, and Europe and Asia in general in the 1700 – 1850 period. We have records. We even have some ocean temperatures taken by sailors with old mercury thermometers, probably not accurate to 1 degree much less 1/10 degree, but at least they are numbers. It was cold enough to carry cannon across the Hudson in December 1776 as we all learned in grade school from American history; those cannon saved Washington in Haarlem Heights. We know that there were markets held on the ice in the Thames well into the 19th Century. And we have all read about Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates and ice skating on brackish canals.
But we knew all that when I was in grade school. Benjamin Franklin theorized that volcanic ash could cause lower temperatures which might explain why glaciers had covered much of Europe at one time, and why the Little Ice Age was happening. In his time no one doubted that the world had been warmer in Viking times. Much warmer. And I was taught in high school that the Ice Age might come back; that we are in an “interglacial” period.
California is about to further bankrupt itself in a vain attempt to halt man made global warming. I say vain attempt, because what California does will have no affect on global warming no matter whether the Believers or the Deniers are right. California just doesn’t produce enough CO2 to have that much effect. If you want to stop CO2, use the Strategic Air Force to bomb China and India into the Stone Age. Be careful to use neutron weapons detonated at optimum burst height. If you’re a real earth saver fanatic, save some of the weapons to use on the United States. Short of returning to the Stone Age (Bronze won’t do, still too much mining and burning of trees), we will need wealth and lots of it to deal with global warming; bankrupting industrial economies is not likely to help.
Whatever is happening with climate, if we don’t like the trends and want to change them, we are going to need a lot of money.
I don’t like rising CO2 levels either. Or perhaps I do. What I don’t like is open ended experiments with no immediate way to reverse them. I’d feel a lot better about the CO2 levels if we were working hard on ways to bring the CO2 level down at need. Temperature is easier to control – as Franklin observed, there are ways to lower the Earth’s temperature by changing the albedo. Believers can begin by going out and painting their roof white. We can also use lighter colored streets – next sunny day go out and put your hand on the black asphalt, then on the lighter colored concrete of the sidewalk. You may be surprised. It’s a lot more than any 0.1 degree temperature difference.
Of course I don’t know that rising CO2 levels do more harm than good. That seems to be a matter of both scientific and ideological debate. What I do know is that one ought to be wary of irreversible changes. Sometimes they can be all good – I think of no compelling argument for abandoning polio vaccination – but I prefer to have a way to go back if we’ve taken a wrong road.
Which is to say that I’d like to see more funding for studies on how to reduce the CO2 without making ph changes in the oceans. Given the amounts we spend on relatively useless computer models of climate, surely we can afford some attention to that? And please don’t tell me that we ought to plant more kudzu.
Tracy Walters calls my attention to this:
It seems to present the best approximations we have; but note the complexity of what is being measured. Now note that we are talking about a few tenths of a degree rise in a century; and we are not back where we were in Viking times.
Harvey Mansfield is always worth paying attention to. I strong recommend his weekend interview in today’s Wall Street Journal http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323751104578149292503121124.html
The title is The Crisis of American Self-Government, and he sees it as crisis indeed. As usual he says little that will strike you as new, but it is connected to other things you also knew, and shows just where we are going “if this goes on.” The picture is darker than many think.
While you are at it, go find “How Washington DC Schools Cheat Their Students Twice by Caleb Rossiter. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324352004578131361948093492.html It will tell you nothing you did not suspect, but be aware that this is in Washington DC. It is hardly hidden. Apparently it’s Good Enough for the Master of the Nation. Presumably everyone in the Capitol and the White House know all this, and either do not care, or do not know what they can do about it. And they control ever increasing parts of the national public school system. This is what Washington DC does. Coming soon to a school hear you? Be afraid.
I would suppose that Caleb Rossiter is the son of conservative political scientist Clinton Rossiter, who died in 1971, possibly from despair over the future of the republic.
And on the same page of today’s Wall Street Journal is a reprint of a Hoover Institution blog by Charles Hill:
The Coming World Disorder
The mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler prophesied that "We shall not get through this time without difficulty, for all the factors are prepared." Kepler was predicting the Thirty Years’ War of 1618-1648 that would launch the modern international state system in which America and the nations of the world still operate.
What ominous factors caused Kepler to shiver? Disturbances, upheavals and conflicts. Merchants moaned about untrustworthy bankers. Diplomats strutted even as they wavered. The masses sullenly made deals they needed to survive when the gathering storm broke. Varieties of religious fervor caused many to prepare to be slain rather than submit to rule by others.
The 1648 settlement at Westphalia, though setbacks were many and vicious, enabled procedures fostering what eventually would be called "the international community," a term that curled many a lip in the midst of twentieth-century world wars. Those wars were attempts to overthrow the established world order. Those wars failed, but in recent decades have become seemingly interminable, and have required the stewards of world order to confront what George Shultz labels "asymmetrical" warfare in which professional standards have been turned into self-imposed liabilities by enemies who reject civilized international conduct.
No international order has proved immortal. Kepler today might note that the world order shaped by the war he predicted might now fail to survive to celebrate its 375th anniversary. As President Obama ponders his Second Inaugural Address, what Keplerian factors are now "prepared" for war?
The causes of war as discerned ever since Thucydides’ time are three: wars of ideology, of fear, and of gain.
The ideology of Islamism has been on the rise for generations and now aims to expropriate the Arab Spring. The ambitions of the 1979 Iranian Revolution and Sunni fanaticism are transmogrifying into the kind of major religious war that the Treaty of Westphalia sought to forestall.
Thucydides traced the war that ruined ancient Greece to Sparta’s fear that Athens’ growing power was crossing the line where it would be impossible to contain. Israel faces that threat from Iran, as today’s international structures for the maintenance of international security have failed to halt Iran’s drive, propelled by religious ideology, to possess nuclear weapons. Israel, bereft of its traditional sense of American support, is making ready to act against Iran’s menace to its existence. President Obama’s priority must [be to] repair relations with Israel by visiting the Jewish state and convincing its leaders that the U.S. understands Israel’s uniquely dangerous position.
And there now grows a deepening appetite for gain. America, perceived as eager to shed the burdens of world order in order to be "fundamentally transformed" through European-style social commitments, talks of engagement even when Iran’s "diplomacy" is a form of protracted warfare. The enemies of world order translate the American election results into the lexicon of abdication, telling themselves that their time has come: there is a world to be gained.
Only America’s return to world leadership can halt this deterioration. "Sequestration" will relegate the U.S. to a second rate power and must be reversed to enable American strength and diplomacy to be employed in tandem. Without this the prediction of a Kepler for today must be grim.
Of course the disaster he sees is one in which the United States returns to a realistic policy and ceases going about the world seeking dragons to slay. That subject is worth a lot more time and energy than I have at the moment, but I am not at all sure that our recent attempts in Iraq and Afghanistan have had beneficial effects on the world worth the costs they have levied on this republic. The Cold War ate much of our freedom. I thought at the time that it was worth the costs. Whether our experiment in world order after the collapse of the USSR has proven to be worth the costs is another story.
In any event, we will not have the means to do any of that after we go over the financial cliff this January first. Which probably means that the neo-cons will manage to get the Republicans to do whatever it takes.
But it is worth discussing: do we really need an enormous standing army? The case for the Navy is more compelling, but do we really need to spend more on the military than the rest of the world together? Just how much defense do we need, and what are we defending from whom? I ask seriously.