Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Science and Global Warming

In the eternal quasi debate about Climate Change the deniers keep coming back to a central tenet of their belief. Climate Scientists are somehow corrupt. They believe that all the Climate Scientists that have reached the conclusion that the current warming trend in global average surface temperature are involved in some sort of global conspiracy.

What the point of the conspiracy is I have never quite understood. Unless you just want to believe that Climate Scientists just like to lie for the sake of lying.

Then two recent stories about science caught my attention. In the first, a group of scientists in Europe were measuring the speed of neutrinos. And they discovered, to universal surprise, that the neutrinos actually traveled faster than the speed of light. That is, for the science community, shocking and amazing news. The absolute inability for any particle to exceed the speed of light has been one of the bedrock realities of science every since Einstein postulated his theories of Relativity and Special Relativity. The response in the scientific community was surprise and excitement. The work of these scientists will now be examined very closely by scientists around the world. Some will be trying to explain away the findings with some calculational or instrument error. Others will be trying to duplicate the findings, running experiments that duplicate the original experiment and designing different experiments to test the speed of neutrinos.

The second story came today in the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to an Israeli scientist who proved the existence of quasicrystals which are crystalline materials where the pattern of atoms in the crystal doesn't repeat. When this Israeli scientist first published his work it challenged fundamentally what chemists had taken as a given for a very long time. So other Chemists began testing the discovery, trying to duplicate the results or trying to refute them as flawed in some way.

This is what scientists do.

Hypothesis, Experiment, Analysis, Synthesis.

The first scientist that I know of that theorized that human activity was causing the globe to get hotter faster was an American scientist back in the late 50's. I suspect that at that time his theories were not widely accepted. But scientists did what scientists do, they measured and analyzed and tested and observed and they came up with theories that described what they were observing and then they tried to figure out other ways to test their theories. Scientists would look for other theories that would better explain the data. By the early 90's, the scientists were convinced. Every published climate scientist agreed that human activity, most importantly the production of CO2, was taking an existing warming trend and accelerating it. Human activity became acknowledged as the principal driver in the warming that was occurring in global average surface temperatures.

There is no conspiracy here. When somebody stole thousands of emails from climate researchers in England they then published extracts and snippets of different emails that they claimed somehow proved that there was a vast global conspiracy among climatologists to lie to us all and to suppress dissenting views.

So there have been at least 5 investigations into these allegations of fraud. The University of East Anglia (where the scientists worked) investigated, the British government investigated a couple of state Attorney's General investigated. Every investigation came to the same basic conclusion.

There was no fraud, no academic malfeasance, no conspiracy to lie.

Its almost been funny to watch the deniers spin theory after theory. At first denying that the globe was actually warming, then claiming that volcanoes put far more CO2 into the atmosphere, or claiming that data more than about 50 years old was unreliable because those old thermometers weren't as accurate as ours are today, or something called Isotopic Drift invalidated the results of ice core surveys or that tree ring studies were just not meaningful for some reason or that where the thermometers were placed was flawed so that their readings were not sufficiently isolated from local conditions like urban heating.

And every theory gets dis proven.

The scientists who may have discovered neutrinos moving faster than the speed of light, and the scientist who discovered quasicrystals were doing what scientists to. Observing, Hypothesizing, Experimenting, and then refining the hypothesis. And then doing it again.

That's what climate scientists have been doing on the issue of global warming since at least the late 50's.

There is no fraud, there is no conspiracy, there is no big lie. At least not from the Climate Scientists.

BELIEVE what you want about Global Warming. Believe that its caused by aliens or solar cycles or volcano's or bad thermometers if you want. But when your BELIEFS are in direct contradiction of the conclusions of virtually every climate scientist, then perhaps you need to understand why you so desperately want to believe something that isn't true. Belief is in your heart. Belief is not what scientists do.

Observe, Theorize, Test and repeat. That's what scientists do. Don't believe them if you choose not to, but don't bother pretending that your BELIEFS are based on science. Just ask the real scientists.


Bill said...

Thanks Walt! I always felt that the climate/pollutant issue was more of an ethical one. Humans, more than anything else, require air, water, and food to survive. Period. Plastic things, iPads, cars, and oil aren't necessary to survival - just air, water, and food. The ethical question for me was why we would jeopardize the integrity of the elements of our survival for things of convenience and profit.

Uncle Walt said...

Thanks Bill,

I think you know the answer to the question.

The people who have an investment in the burning of fossil fuels have lots of money to pay pet "scientists" and the tea party in order to protect their profits.

A deeply conservative friend of mine once stated that Corporations are Amoral. And that is true. Corporations exist for the single goal of making a profit for their share holders and for no other reason. They have no concept of morality as humans would think of it because the drivers for human morality do not apply to Corporations.

And much of Corporate America wants to deny climate change purely as a method of protecting their profits, nothing else.

Bill said...

I tend to disagree with your friend and often wondered about the Machievellian ideas of amorality. Corporations are nothing more than people and equipment assembled to create and sell product. People don't have the convenience of excusing immoral or unethical behavior under the guise of "it doesn't apply to us."

Too often, employees behave horribly under the delusion of shareholder value and the amorality of corporations. Was Enron amoral? Hell no! Is Monsanto amoral? No. Were Madoff and Stanford amoral? Ask my friends who are out looking for work again in their 70s.

Corporations, too must be compelled to act within the bounds of human decency. Anything else is inexcusable!

Uncle Walt said...


Emotionally I agree with you, but realistically we both know it isn't true.

Corporations are shielded from most of the methods that society uses to keep people from behaving badly.

And I disagree with your definition of a corporation.

To me a corporation is a state regulated contract that allows people to invest in a venture that they hope will produce a profit. The investors can profit from their investment but are shielded from losses exceeding their investment. So they can win big if the corporation does well but can only lose their investment if everything goes bad. Business owners who are not protected by such a corporate structure are personally responsible for the losses suffered by their business.

And (for profit) corporations only charter is to maximize shareholder value. Corporate Officers have a fiduciary and legal obligation to do just that.

You get get people together in many different structures to make something someelse wants to buy, but the primacy of profit as a goal and the shielding of investors from losses are the reasons corporations exist.

Do I think we SHOULD hold corporations criminally accountable for their actions, yes I do. But we seldom do. Wall Street crashed our economy in 2008 in the naked rush to make a bigger and bigger profit, without regard to the effects on others. So the big investment and commercial banks started selling these mortgage based securities to retirement funds touting their income potential and supposed stability. They even had the backing of the ratings agencies who wouldn't risk loosing one of those big banks as a customer by actually telling the public that the securities were actually junk.

The banks knew they were junk. But that didn't stop them from selling them anyway.

The naked pursuit of profit is the nature of a corporation, its their reason for existence.