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Earth Government Science Politics

Scientists Explain Why Chairman of House Committee On Science Is Wrong 476

Lasrick writes "Michael Oppenheimer and Kevin Trenberth take apart Rep. Lamar Smith's (R-Tex.) Washington Post op/ed on climate science saying: 'Contrary to Smith's assertions, there is conclusive evidence that climate change worsened the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy. Sea levels in New York City harbors have risen by more than a foot since the beginning of the 20th century. Had the storm surge not been riding on higher seas, there would have been less flooding and less damage. Warmer air also allows storms such as Sandy to hold more moisture and dump more rainfall, exacerbating flooding.'"
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Scientists Explain Why Chairman of House Committee On Science Is Wrong

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  • Re:email leak (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 09, 2013 @05:39PM (#43955365)

    Six official investigations have cleared scientists of accusations of wrongdoing.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @06:03PM (#43955607) Journal

    I'm not an expert on the matter; but my understanding is that there are all sorts of tools for drawing inferences about historical climate. The resolution tends to get coarser, and the precision isn't as good as having a network of contemporary monitoring stations; but it isn't a total shot in the dark.

    Ice cores [], if you can find suitably deep drill sites and observe good handling practices, can be very helpful. I don't think we have any that go back more than ~800,000 years; but that's certainly something.

    For older stuff, plant and animal fossils can help you map out what climate zone a given area was subject to when the fossils were laid down. The geologic record should also provide some information on how active volcanic activity has been as a greenhouse gas source at various points in time.

    For relatively recent; but pre-contemporary-monitoring, you can draw inferences from records of crop yields/successes/failures(a matter that has been of considerable interest, often complete with tax records from the relevant authority, for most of human civilization) and, once fossil fuel use kicks up, economic historians can provide decent estimates of burn volumes for much of modern human history.

  • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @06:04PM (#43955621)

    It seems that the past 5 decades or so of accurate satellite and temp data is way to small of a sample.

    Actually, we have a few centuries of fairly accurate data on temperatures. Granted, not in high-resolution grids, but in many places, there are temperature records going back to the 18th century.

    It would be like looking at my speedometer while on the freeway on ramp and extrapolating that 45 minutes down the road I will be going 25,000 MPH not accounting for the fact that I will stop accelerating and maybe even break in that time It would be like looking at my speedometer while on the freeway on ramp and extrapolating that 45 minutes down the road I will be going 25,000 MPH not accounting for the fact that I will stop accelerating and maybe even break in that time

    You do realize that the XKCD comic on extrapolation was a joke and not an illustration of how scientists work, don't you?

    How can we know with precision about Earths climate 300 years ago, much less 3,000 or 3,000,000 years ago

    Perhaps not with the precision that we have for contemporary data, but there is a large number of proxy indicators. Visit your library and borrow a textbook on paleoclimatology. It's fascinating stuff.

  • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @06:29PM (#43955821)

    I have no idea who that is.

    Neither do most of - anymore. At one time Dennis Miller [] was a very liberal comic who turned very conservative after 9/11. He started off on Saturday Night Live and ended up on Fox News. What a waste.

  • Re:email leak (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 09, 2013 @07:32PM (#43956265)

    Could you be more specific? TFA looks fine to me, especially how it starts:

    The two of us have spent, in total, more than seven decades studying Earth's climate, and we have joined hundreds of top climate scientists to summarize the state of knowledge for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the World Climate Research Program and other science-based bodies. We believe that our views are representative of the 97 percent of climate scientists who agree that global warming is caused by humans. Legions of studies support the view that, left unabated, this warming will produce dangerous effects. (This commentary, like so much of our work, was a collaborative process, with input from leading climate scientists Julia Cole, Robert W. Corell, Jennifer Francis, Michael E. Mann, Jonathan Overpeck, Alan Robock, Richard C.J. Somerville and Ben Santer.)

    Please tell me: where, exactly, are you hallucinating this lack of care and honesty?

  • by rjnagle ( 122374 ) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @08:54PM (#43956831) Homepage

    the short answer is that sometimes CO2 trails temperature increase, sometimes it doesn't.

    Usually when CO2 trails climate, it's because of orbital forcing, but interestingly, sometimes that temperature increase will increase ocean acidification and amply carbon feedbacks.

    Hey, the carbon/feedback cycle is complex, no doubt about it. But carbon is a forcing -- no doubt about it, and right now GHG are responsible for the lion's share of the present and future temperature increase.

    Here's deeper discussion of this issue: []

    Here's a video that responds to the CO2 trails climate meme []

  • Re:Science or Not (Score:5, Informative)

    by Xyrus ( 755017 ) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @09:01PM (#43956901) Journal

    Both sides can make their claims. But unless someone can do a proper experiment with a control planet, and make that experiment repeatable while you're at it, its all speculation. Not proper science.

    You can't be that dense. By your reasoning, just about every aspect of science is "speculation".

    Almost all non-trivial physics models are simulations. This includes everything from CFD's to weather and climate models. These simulations are built upon physical equations the describe the phenomena. These models are run against KNOWN CONDITIONS to see if the are accurately modelling the phenomena.

    In the case of climate models, the models are initialized with pre-industrial conditions (with various small tweaks to the initial conditions to create what is known as an ensemble). Then the models are run forward to present day to see how well they modeled the KNOWN conditions that happened over that time period. And, not surprisingly, the climate models do a pretty good job. Keep in mind, these models are not STATISTICAL models. These are PHYSICAL models, i.e. modelling the actual physical dynamics of the earth's climate.

    And even then, the models are just tools. The research used to the develop the models are based upon real world observations (historical as well as current). And this research has been ongoing since Fourier first proposed greenhouse gas theory back in 1824.

    Speculation is someone saying "The moon is made of cheese!". Science is someone showing objectively that it isn't. Idiocy is looking at the science and disregarding it as nonsense since it goes against your belief that the moon is made of cheese.

  • by 10101001 10101001 ( 732688 ) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @09:20PM (#43957035) Journal

    If I may impose, could you explain how it is known that CO2 drives warming, and not vice versa?

    It's both. More CO2 drives warming. More warming causes CO2 to bubble out of the ocean, permafrost to thaw and organic matter to rot and release CO2, etc. And thinks to the practice of carbon dating, we can say reasonably well that a large part of the current CO2 increase is from long-buried carbon sources--aka fossil fuels.

    Regarding the assertion that the temperature rise in the last century has been exceptional: should I presume that it is rate of rise that is being discussed, not the level? Because there were far warmer periods in the past; for example the late Jurassic, when Dinosaurs roamed Canada in tropical conditions. Do we have any reliable basis for CO2 measurements during this period?

    Yes, it's the rate that's troubling. Because in the past it took thousands of years to see the sort of warming the gradually resulted in tropical conditions in Canada's latitude. But with the rapid rate we're seeing now, the honest fear is that even if we were to simply stop fossil fuel CO2 emissions completely, we'd still continue to see the unprecedented rapid temperature rise because of the previously mentioned warming->CO2 release.

    It is also interesting to me that there have been warmer periods in the past during which, at least to my understanding, CO2 was lower than it is presently. Presumably there is a lot more involved than CO2 level. That suggests to me that at this time the situation needs further study more than it needs extreme and precipitous action. I would be receptive to having any faults in this reasoning pointed out.

    Except that your point is sort of superfluous. Even if what you state is true--which I'm not certain of--, the fact is that we know pretty confidently that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and higher CO2 concentrations means a greater temperature. We also know, pretty confidently, that greater temperatures have the above mentioned forcing cycle. That there have been possible exceptions to this cycle isn't comforting unless we have a good reason to believe the mentioned cycle won't repeat itself. That is, even if someone could come up with a good explanation for past higher temp/lower CO2 periods, it doesn't resolve the current higher temp/higher CO2 period. A better place to look would be lower or flat temper/high CO2 periods and consider why or how we could take that track. To that end, I haven't remotely heard anything to suggest we could be or are on that track.

    The closest I've heard about anything along those lines is considerations on combating global warming with things like mitigating global warming with dust clouds (either in the atmosphere or in space). The general problem with that is a matter of scale--that human CO2 emissions are so great, countering them with dust would be of similar scale great, and that introduces a lot of unknowns like (a) how much dust to use, (b) how to remove dust if we go too far, (c) all the atmospheric (if done in the atmosphere) risks of increased dust, (d) the cost/risks of doing the same in space (a dust cloud could slow asteroids and increase the risk of them hitting Earth), etc. In essence, anything of the scale that could fix the problem are probably also of the scale of the problem itself. So, we have the real risk of solving one problem just to produce another one. Hence, it'd seem a lot wiser to head off CO2 release as much as we can and only really consider alternatives as a last resort.

    But, seriously, we're so far from even seriously trying to deal with CO2 release. :(

  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Sunday June 09, 2013 @09:46PM (#43957213) Homepage Journal

    If I may impose, could you explain how it is known that CO2 drives warming, and not vice versa?

    We know that CO2 drives warming because physics. It fucking works. Now, warming may also drive CO2 to an extent, and the extensive warming we're causing may have a runaway effect, but that's not a happy story, that's a sad one.

  • by RedWizzard ( 192002 ) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @10:18PM (#43957401)

    Are you saying the oceans, which are all connected, are as much as a constant 4" different in level, say, between NYC and, oh, Denmark or Japan?

    Yes. See, for example, this Straight Dope [] which mentions that there is a 8" difference between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans at Panama.

  • by RedWizzard ( 192002 ) on Sunday June 09, 2013 @10:24PM (#43957437)

    Could you remind me again, won't this be the 15th year since global warming stopped?

    There IS a problem with global warming... it stopped in 1998 []

    No, [] no, [] no. []

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 09, 2013 @10:26PM (#43957465)

    The big concern is not data, the big problem is the models. The alarmist models have largely failed to model both the past and ongoing present situation, and are therefore useless in predicting the future.

    The current climate is beginning to diverge below the least catastrophic scenarios that the alarmists predicted. We don't really need more data for the purpose of predicting what will happen, as mentioned we seem to have a lot of it. What we need is more time to conclusively prove that the alarmist models are right or wrong. And unfortunately some people want to be given power and control prior to this confirmation.

  • Re:poppycops (Score:5, Informative)

    by riverat1 ( 1048260 ) on Monday June 10, 2013 @04:36AM (#43958951)

    Nor would people rush to conclude that a one-time one foot rise in sea level was a high price to pay with what humanity has achieved in the last one hundred years.

    What makes you think sea level won't continue to rise, that it's a one-time thing? The last time CO2 levels were as high as they are now sea level was over 60 feet higher than it is now.

  • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Monday June 10, 2013 @12:37PM (#43963199)

    The alarmist models have largely failed to model both the past and ongoing present situation, and are therefore useless in predicting the future.

    This is a big steaming pile of bullshit [].

  • Walls. Really? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Tenebrousedge ( 1226584 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (egdesuorbenet)> on Monday June 10, 2013 @01:33PM (#43963955)

    Minus an atmosphere, and assuming .3 albedo (based on satellite measurements), the Earth would be about -18 degrees C (255 K) []. The average surface temperature of the Earth is currently around 14.5 degrees C. The atmosphere traps enough heat energy to take the entire globe from deep freeze to balmy. Geothermal and tidal heating account for pretty negligible amounts [] of heating.

    So, two points: one, the amount of energy involved is rather large, and a small percentage change is going to have a huge effect. Secondly, heating the atmosphere changes its content. The atmosphere is more or less saturated with water vapor, and any increase in temperatures increases the amount of water that it can contain. We can't do anything about how much water is on the planet, for reasons that should be obvious. On the other hand, we're really great at making CO2. A naive calculation would indicate that you can increase temperatures almost arbitrarily by adding CO2, in fact.

    Oh hey look there's a textbook [] that has this same objection explained in detail. Apparently your objection was addressed in the 1950s. Whoops.

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