Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Climate Science Emails Debate and the Real Debate

I believe the "leaking" of Climate Research Unit emails was a PR hatchet job meant to discredit the scientists and their research. So does this guy. Even if some climate scientists out of all those in the field committed fraud via biased data analysis and mismeasurement (and I am not implying that these specific individuals did), the majority have not. In any scientific field, 10-30% of the results will be garbage depending upon funding or the lack of funding, human or instrumental mismeasurement, errors based on erroneous assumptions, etc. In this modern era for the natural sciences, it is rare for the consensus to be wrong. When the rarity happens, and the consensus is wrong for twenty or thirty years due to a few who sway the majority, even then, eventually the facts prevail. And these instances are usually in a small or growing field such as molecular evolution (Carl Woese), quantum mechanics (Max Planck), or general relativity (Einstein). Climate science has been around longer than 20 or 30 years and there are geologists and meteorologists going out into the field and finding corroborating evidence that Mankind is changing the climate. When you cut down or burn down a forest to produce meadow lands, you are changing the local climate and environment. Do it on a big enough scale and the microclimatic changes become global. It is thought that the aborigines produced the Great Outback by burning down the interior forests. The loss of the forests meant that the monsoon would not come south into the Australian interior. It has not been proved yet, but it is likely that something similar may have happened to the grasslands that once existed in the Sahara. What if there were forests in Northern Africa and men burned them down to create grasslands? Alternatively, perhaps the Sahara was created naturally when the African monsoon changed direction.

The thing that people are forgetting here is that Life alters the environment - the Gaia Principle. Most carbon dioxide output is due to volcanoes, and most warming is due to solar irradiation, but left to itself, the plant life will consume that anaerobic gas and excrete oxygen, and Life itself will try to maintain a favorable environment for itself, or at least adapt, if the environment becomes unfavorable. If Man comes along and chops down all the trees and burns them, then carbon dioxide levels will rise and the Earth's poles get warmer. Less ice means more sunlight gets absorbed rather than reflected back into space and you get a positive feedback warming loop. If Mankind were not in the loop, how would things be different? We are a perturbation on the natural system that currently exists whether we wish to admit it or not, even if we are a small input. However, in nonlinear systems, small perturbations can have enormous unintended effects. That is what is being debated.

Disclosing one side's emails without disclosing the critics' emails is not democratic, fair, or balanced. It's a cheap trick to discredit the scientists by showing that they are human beings. Science being a human affair is messy and political just like all human affairs are. What makes Science different from most other human affairs is that facts trump opinion and belief. This is the only way knowledge and wisdom progress. If you don't believe me, then compare any physical science to economics. How many scientists are generally right most of the time? The answer will be quite a lot. Compare that to economics where the majority got blindsided by the Great Financial Crisis. Ninety-nine out of 100 economists didn't see the crisis coming despite warnings from 2005 and 2006. The economists who predicted the meltdown were derided or ridiculed by their peers only to be proven right, but there were very few of them.

Climate science is a physical science, it is not economics. There is a preponderance of facts backing up the case for manmade climate change. The evidence does not depend upon belief or opinion for its validity. It is a body of physical concrete facts. The debate is over what are we going to do as a collective group to dampen the effects 9 billion humans are or will have on the planet. It is just one part of a larger debate we should be having about Man's place in the natural world and what should we preserve and what should we destroy. After all, it is far easier to destroy than it is to create. What kind of world will our descendants inherit when all the wild tigers and their forests are gone, all the cod and salmon are fished from the oceans, all the arable lands turned to desert? it took 4.5 billion years to make a tiger, a panda, a shark, or a fish. It'll take us less than my generation to finish them all off. When they are extinct, is Humanity far behind?

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The climate change debate in Australia is very political - as our Prime Minister has staked his government's record on attempting to push through laws.

These climate change laws involve many political compromises - such as promoting brown coal power stations in the hope that carbon capture technology will work.

The party political debate continues with scientists being drafted to support each parties policies.
 
Scientists should be funded by independent third parties when possible for such studies due to the inherent conflicts of interest. The government can cut off a scientist's funding for political reasons even though there are likely guidelines and laws against political interference of scientific studies. Private entities such as corporations have it easier. They can just prevent the study from seeing the light of day if its conclusions go against their interests. Such meddling is bad, but unfortunately, scientists are people too, and they have families to feed and clothe. The problem is that with large amounts of money and even more at stake (the destruction of a commons such as a forest/ocean/air/fishery or peoples' lives), the information used to guide the such decisions needs to be accurate, objective, and unbiased, not to mention untainted in any way. All too often, it's the other way around.
 
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