General Ramblings: Global Warming, Rubes and Other Stuff

A little industry has arisen whose primary purpose is to throw gray dust into the facts surrounding global warming. I say “gray dust” purposively. It does not fool the thousands of scientists who are actually in the field, but it is enough to fool those with neither the time nor the ability to do any serious research.

Everyday, I read about these gnats; everyday I look at some of their stuff. In fact, I have a Google alert on climate change, a.k.a. global warming. The station survey is one of these gnats.

As I said in response to Co Rev’s piece, some adventurous souls are trying to diligently locate all the U.S. ground surface stations, especially those located near heat sinks.

Having lived in rural America–and Canada–, I know that if you tell one of the locals an anecdote about a temperature station being located on a tarmac or near an oven, he will delight in displaying his superior knowledge over all those high brow scientists. “Damn fools,” he will croak. “They couldn’t tell the difference between a tail and a teat.” He will be pleased with himself, of course.

He will also want to rant a bit about the government funding all those silly research projects. “Damn, who wants to know about bear genes, unless they plan on dating a bear.” Of course, politicians love those kind of quips. They play well. If a study does not put food on the table, it must be idiotic.

Unfortunately, those quips serve the purposes of the big boys–coal and oil and others–who have some serious money on the line. If I have learned anything from reading as ecletically as I have it is this: All things are connected. Study the ant you may understand how swarms function in nature…and maybe in economics. No politician would ever fund a study that examined the size of finch beaks over a period of time. Yet that study of the beaks of the Galapogos finch gave us profound insight into how populations evolve as resources change. All things are connected. Unless you truly understand the nature of the study and its purpose, hold your fire.

When I read the station survey, I noticed that it did not include the oceans, the polar regions, the other continents. It was just a map of the contiguous U.S. Hell, most Americans think all those other places totally irrelevant anyway. But they are busy in Utah and elsewhere hunting down the stations. And, of course, the myriad weather balloons are totally discounted; anything out in the ocean they can’t swim to. I didn’t have to think much. No wonder when I Googled “surface station survey” I came up with very few hits. (Be sure to enclose the phrase in quotation marks.)
I do have a simple question for these fellows to chaw on: Are we measuring the polar regions accurately? Scientists do claim that the poles, especially the Arctic, have warmed much faster than the temperate latitudes. (That they have makes sense even to me: After all, global heat will dispersed. Heat will move north and south, heating those areas more rapidly.)

There has also been some movement of the deserts north. Flora and fauna are on the move. How about doing some studies of these? Put these energetic folk to work.

And what about the Arctic ice melt? Must be volcanoes acting up…or maybe aliens have planted giant heaters. I would love to see the people who hunt for flawed stations move to the Arctic and do some serious looking for flawed stations there.

When these issues are raised, deniers have a number of fall back positions: It’s the sun; it’s the Milanovitch cycles (they really should look at that one more closely); it’s water vapor, its hidden volcanic activity; the weather is colder today or this year. (“Damn we had a bad winter…and they talk about global warming! Stupid, scientists. They would milk a bull. And the government pays these guys to do this stuff. Damn rip off, I say!”)

They’re penultimate fallback position is the geological record. They talk about the Pleistocene, the Little Warming, or the Cretaceous as if they were old buddies. That really loses most everyone, except those scientists that actually do the studies. Some actually try to hold their own with scientists. I have watched them overplay their hand time and time again in RealClimate.

Their ultimate defense is the small handful of scientists that try to hold the line against global warming, Pielke Sr. for example. He is reputable. But are the exchanges between him and his numerous colleagues on the other side ever reported? Nope. Have they read those exchanges. Hmmmmm that might be asking for too much, eh? They’ve picked their racehorse and will stay with him through thick and thin.

Which brings me to the real problem: Knowledge. Most of us, including me, have limited in-depth knowledge with which to seriously add to the discussion. Yup, I am a rube, too–a local yokel. I do read a mite more–but there is so much to absorb that I know I would never pass a introductory college exam in any of the pertinent fields. I cannot remember that much.

I try to follow what the Chinese are up to; try to understand monolines and subprimes; I keep watching the WTO; I look under the covers to understand the connection among lobbyists, the government, and the military.

I try to follow the peak oil debate, the water shortage debate, the gasification of coal debate. I try to understand glacier melt (Himalayan,for example) and resulting flooding then desertification.

I try understand fish farming and its effects on wild fish. I read studies on the nitty gritty of pollution or the depletion of biodiversity, studies on how how warming will affect habitat (is it doing so already?)…there is simply no end to it. What about the principles of exponential growth in terms of energy? In terms of population? In terms of available resources? What about the economic principles about which we talk so much? How much in-depth knowledge of everything must I have in order to claim to know anything more than the tiniest sliver of how the world functions?

Remembering everything I read I cannot do. I go too fast. What I try to do is to read and evaluate critically–gather into my brain some working principles, some things that strike me as profoundly logical or true.I forget the details. If the study makes sense, especially in terms of others I have read, something in me is reinforced, made stronger.

What I want is an informed opinion, even if I can not remember all the details that went into forming that opinion.

If I really have to, I will go back and fill in those details. But I am not going to do that for the local rube or farm boy. I am certainly not going to do it for anyone who is not willing to do a modicum of research.

At times I have to rely on my innate intelligence, as limited as that may be. For example, that the polar regions should warm faster than the temperate zones strikes me as eminently reasonable. They are doing just that .I have read no serious studies contradicting that central fact.

That ice everywhere would be the first to go strikes me again as eminently reasonable. Yes, there may be places where ice or snow may be accumulating–but the global direction seems clear: Ice is disappearing.

Yes, I would expect the Himalayas to melt. And yes they are melting. That we are overfishing the oceans strikes me as a sane comment–especially when I see the size of those oceanic factories and when I know the hunger the growing billions of us have.

Yes, we are not paying attention to the pollution we leave in our wakes. That I have seen with my own eyes as well as having read about it in serious studies. We seem to be crazy housekeepers, running madly around after the fact, trying to clean up messes we made ten years ago instead of thinking ahead and planning.

Yes, there is no really effective market place without transparency and some kind of regulations. Transparency and regulations are Siamese twins: One comes with the other. I watched the subprime fiasco, the Enron joke. Yup, the principle is correct. Let’s grant the principle and argue the details.

Yes, the principle of evolution is not debatable. I have read enough on that score. (Yup, I do think the creationists are idiots in their denial. I am not going to be silent for fear of offending their god or religion. If they kept their silliness to themselves, I would have no problem. But that is not their purpose. The fact that our President and many other politicians share their belief is a sad commentary on the state of science, to say nothing about the level of our political discourse.)

Yes, I do think Malthus was correct; the principle is correct; the timing is the issue.

Yes, China does have a game plan for industrialization. Yes, the SWF’s do play a role; so does the currency peg; so does the suppression of labor reform. All of it makes sense in terms of China’s timetable.

And so it goes. I try not to be a rube and think local. I try not to be parachoial or to allow my wishes or my friends or my religion or my political affiliations to color my conclusions. In the end, I hope I am on the right track.

When pressed, I will acknowledge that I know little, that like all of us, I struggle with the candle I have and the limited time I have to hold it. In the final analysis, the difference between me and the other rubes is marginal indeed.