Thursday, October 11, 2007

CAN WE TRUST SCIENCE TO PREDICT CLIMATE CHANGE?

As I sit here writing this it’s mid Oct and another hurricane season is almost over, this will make two years in a row that in April I began reading about more frequent and more devastating hurricanes caused primarily by global warming. The same scientists who helped Al Gore put together his documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” were again wrong as the last two seasons have been extremely mild and have not come remotely close to their predictions.

I also had some fun with a known Al Gore believer the other day when I said that when science can explain to me what happened to the predicted cooling of the 70’s then perhaps I’ll trust them to predict the global warming that’s supposedly occurring and will increase in strength dramatically over the next 50 years. I can tell you that he’s a Goreian (yes it’s starting to sound like a religion to me) and he reacted exactly as I’d hoped, he denied the idea as a made up hoax by non-believers, I asked him about the Time magazine cover story and again he fell easily into my trap stating that he didn’t remember any Time magazine cover story and if there had been one I was probably misstating it’s information to justify my ignorance of the currently irrefutable and overwhelming evidence of the coming catastrophe if we don’t act now and with vigour…he then went off on a it’s all Bush’s fault rant while I googled the Time Magazine article to continue my side of the debate (I don’t consider people who don’t use facts debaters) with facts in hand.

Here’s what I found (Italics mine to show the difference between my writing and that of Time Magazine):

Science
Another Ice Age?
Monday, Jun. 24, 1974
In Africa, drought continues for the sixth consecutive year, adding terribly to the toll of famine victims. During 1972 record rains in parts of the U.S., Pakistan and Japan caused some of the worst flooding in centuries. In Canada's wheat belt, a particularly chilly and rainy spring has delayed planting and may well bring a disappointingly small harvest.

Rainy Britain, on the other hand, has suffered from uncharacteristic dry spells the past few springs. A series of unusually cold winters has gripped the American Far West, while New England and northern Europe have recently experienced the mildest winters within anyone's recollection.

As they review the bizarre and unpredictable weather pattern of the past several years, a growing number of scientists are beginning to suspect that many seemingly contradictory meteorological fluctuations are actually part of a global climatic upheaval. However widely the weather varies from place to place and time to time, when meteorologists take an average of temperatures around the globe they find that the atmosphere has been growing gradually cooler for the past three decades. The trend shows no indication of reversing.

Climatological Cassandras are becoming increasingly apprehensive,
for the weather aberrations they are studying may be the harbinger of another ice age.
Telltale signs are everywhere —from the unexpected persistence and thickness of pack ice in the waters around Iceland to the southward migration of a warmth-loving creature like the armadillo from the Midwest.

Since the 1940s the mean global temperature has dropped about 2.7° F. Although that figure is at best an estimate, it is supported by other convincing data. When Climatologist George J. Kukla of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory and his wife Helena analyzed satellite weather data for the Northern Hemisphere, they found that the area of the ice and snow cover had suddenly increased by 12% in 1971 and the increase has persisted ever since. Areas of Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic, for example, were once totally free of any snow in summer; now they are covered
year round.

Scientists have found other indications of global cooling. For one thing there has been a noticeable expansion of the great belt of dry, high-altitude polar winds —the so-called circumpolar vortex—that sweep from west to east around the top and bottom of the world. Indeed it is the widening of this cap of cold air that is the immediate cause of Africa's drought. By blocking moisture-bearing equatorial winds and preventing them from bringing rainfall to the parched sub-Sahara region, as well as other droughtridden
areas stretching all the way from Central America to the Middle East and India, the polar winds have in effect caused the Sahara and other deserts to reach farther to the south.

Paradoxically, the same vortex has created quite different weather quirks in the U.S. and other temperate zones. As the winds swirl around the globe, their southerly portions undulate like the bottom of a skirt. Cold air is pulled down across the Western U.S. and warm air is swept up to the Northeast. The collision of air masses of widely differing temperatures and humidity can create violent storms—the Midwest's recent
rash of disastrous tornadoes, for example. Sunspot Cycle. The changing weather is apparently connected with differences in the amount of energy that the earth's surface receives from the sun. Changes in the earth's tilt and distance from the sun could, for instance, significantly increase or decrease the amount of solar radiation falling on either hemisphere—thereby altering the earth's climate. Some observers have tried to connect the eleven-year sunspot cycle with climate patterns, but have so far been unable to provide a satisfactory explanation of how the cycle might be involved.

Man, too, may be somewhat responsible for the cooling trend. The University of Wisconsin's Reid A. Bryson and other climatologists suggest that dust and other particles released into the atmosphere as a result of farming and fuel burning may be blocking more and more sunlight from reaching and heating the surface of the earth.
Climatic Balance. Some scientists like Donald Oilman, chief of the National Weather Service's longrange-prediction group, think that the cooling trend may be only temporary. But all agree that vastly more information is needed about the major influences on the earth's climate. Indeed, it is to gain such knowledge that 38 ships and 13 aircraft, carrying scientists from almost 70 nations, are now assembling in the Atlantic and elsewhere for a massive 100-day study of the effects of the tropical seas and atmosphere on worldwide weather. The study itself is only part of an international scientific effort known acronymically as GARP (for Global Atmospheric Research Program).

Whatever the cause of the cooling trend, its effects could be extremely serious, if not catastrophic. Scientists figure that only a 1% decrease in the amount of sunlight hitting the earth's surface could tip the climatic balance, and cool the planet enough to send it sliding down the road to another ice age within only a few hundred years.
The earth's current climate is something of an anomaly; in the past 700,000 years, there have been at least seven major episodes of glaciers spreading over much of the planet. Temperatures have been as high as they are now only about 5% of the time.

But there is a peril more immediate than the prospect of another ice age. Even if temperature and rainfall patterns change only slightly in the near future in one or more of the three major grain-exporting countries—the U.S., Canada and Australia —global food stores would be sharply reduced. University of Toronto Climatologist Kenneth Hare, a former president of the Royal Meteorological Society, believes that the continuing drought and the recent failure of the Russian harvest gave the world a grim premonition of what might happen. Warns Hare: "I don't believe that the world's present population is sustainable if there are more than three years like 1972 in a row."

Now lets review what many in the scientific community were concerned about, so concerned in fact that Time made it a cover story. Rapid and measurable temperature change, erratic weather patterns, dramatic changes in the Artic, dramatic changes related to past weather such as snow where there previously wasn’t, we have indications that man may be directly or at least indirectly responsible, we have scores of scientists from around the world with impressive titles from impressive sounding institutions being quoted and we have grave predictions of what all this will mean for mankind. If anybody is wondering what GARP was about, you know the study involving ships aircraft and scientists from some 70 countries…well their stated objective in 1974 was to develop a weather model that would allow them to more accurately forecast the weather up to 14 days in advance…wow what lofty goals we set.

Now as I said above when today’s group of impressive scientists who are basically saying the exact same thing but in reverse can explain to me how their colleagues of 1974 were apparently so out to lunch and backwards in their thinking then perhaps I’ll begin to pay closer attention to today’s debate.

How did things go with my office mate, well after he read the article he accused me of creating it, until I took him to the Time Magazine’s website archives section and allowed him to find it himself, he then said that computers changed everything and science evolves to which I replied I agree so perhaps today’s brilliant minds should stop saying the science is no longer debatable and it is indeed fact. He then went off on another Bush rant during which I realized that the Goreian religion is truly taking hold and Bush is the Roman Emperor of his day.

37 years after those great minds set out to develop a weather model that would accurately predict the weather 14 days in advance, the Weather network is lucky to get it right 2 days in advance and rarely does yet you expect the world to bankrupt itself based on scientific weather models that are telling us what will happen in 20 to 50 years. If we’d gone down that road 37 years ago, doing whatever science asked of us to ensure the planet stayed warm enough where would we be today? What’s to say that if we do as today’s scientists ask that in 2044 we won’t be shaking our heads at saying those fools they’ve caused the planet to cool too much?

Science is great at explaining why things happened after the fact but rarely very good at predicting things…if they were we’d all be more worried about the current ice age and would now know what the weather is going to be next week.

I firmly believe that every scientist worth his salt is working as hard as possible to help mankind avoid or minimize any weather related disasters but as we all know this planet has and apparently always will evolve and change. Thankfully Al Gore wasn’t around for the last great occurrence of global warming or mankind wouldn’t exist today. Hopefully we can all take a breath and allow the scientists to continue to develop ideas, review and reassess old assumptions and come to different conclusions without fear, for if we only allow one train of thought we are surely doomed to failure.

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