My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

To believe, or not believe,

Editor’s note: I began this post quite some time ago, and I have just gotten around to finishing it now. It is one of a series of posts that I plan to do on environmental issues in the near future. Sorry, no pretty photos in this one.

To believe, or not believe….

Shouldn’t even be the question. What I am talking about here is the theory of Global Warming, or specifically, anthropogenic global warming (AGW), that is, the theory that man’s burning of fossil fuels leads to increased emission of CO2 into the atmosphere and is causing the Earth’s climate to warm at such a rate that it threatens our survival.

This is in response to a long essay that was included in the Autumn 2011 newsletter from the Pigeon River Country Association, of which I am a member, written by R. W. Kropf, who is the editor of the newsletter. Once the newsletter is posted online, I will add a link to it so that you may read if you wish. Basically, Mr. Kropf makes the case that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is occurring, and what we should do to try to reverse it.

I for one am not convinced, but does that matter? Not really, and I’ll get to why later on, as well as why pushing a theory that I believe will prove to be incorrect may well do more harm than good as far as goals that I believe that Mr. Kropf and I share.

First, a little about science and myself. I am not a scientist in the strict sense of the word, although I had planned on becoming one and that was my goal in my short foray in the academic world. My problem was that I was interested in all the “ologies”, from archeology to zoology and everything in between. One thing I learned is that scientists continually claim that they have moved past their personal biases and are basing their scientific opinions on pure science. Truth is, that has never been the case and probably never will be. Science has always been driven by religious, political, and economics as much as scientific facts, and I see no change in that to this day.

One only has to go back to the early debate over what is now called the Big Bang Theory of the origins of our universe. When Georges Lemaître first proposed what would become the Big Bang theory, Fred Hoyle and other scientists argued against it, and later admitted that much of their opposition to the theory was due to their belief that if science accepted that there was a beginning to the universe, it would lend credence to the religious notion of God having created the universe. That was in the 1940’s, and anti-religious bigotry played a part in shaping scientific views then.

But scientists were correct when they argued for a ban on DDT, weren’t they? Yes they were. And scientists were correct when they argued for a ban on CFC’s to save us from the “hole in the ozone” weren’t they? The jury is still out on that one.

Despite the Montreal Protocol as amended several times, the largest holes in the ozone over Antarctica have been during the winters of 2006 and 2010. There is still much research being done on the causes of the hole in the ozone, and several theories advanced as to what is causing it, but for the most part,  those theories aren’t gaining any traction. For one thing the scientists who pushed CFC’s as the cause don’t want to admit that they may have made a mistake that cost consumers across the planet trillions of dollars.

That’s one of the reason the original Montreal Protocol has been quietly amended several times, to include variations of halogenated hydrocarbons not banned in the original document, scientists keep adding to the list of banned chemical compounds, hoping that eventually they get it correct.

I am not saying that banning CFC’s was wrong, the point I am trying to make is that when science moves before they have all the facts, mistakes are made.

So now we come to global warming, which may go down in history as one of the biggest scientific mistakes of all time, and Mr. Kropf’s essay. He begins by noting several species, including opossum, which were largely a southern species at the time when the first European settlers arrived in North America, have been expanding their range northward. The northward migration of many animals, including opossum and the northern cardinal were well documented, long before the first coal-fired power plant began belching smoke into the atmosphere, before man harnessed electricity, and long before the first automobile ever sputtered into life.

There are a number of reasons some species have been expanding their range to the north, one is that the “Little Ice Age” was ending, another is the wholesale changes in habitat that Europeans wrought on the land by clearing the forests, plowing the land, and planting agricultural plants where vast tracts of forest once stood.

The Little Ice Age was a period of cooling that occurred after the Medieval Warm Period. NASA defines the Little Ice Age as a cold period between 1550 AD and 1850 AD and notes three particularly cold intervals: one beginning about 1650, another about 1770, and the last in 1850, each separated by intervals of slight warming. It should come as no surprise that some species of animals were pushed south during the Little Ice Age, and that when it ended, those species would begin to expand their range northward again.

It should also come as no surprise that when there are the widespread changes in habitat as there have been that the species living in those areas that went from dense old growth forests to open farm land would change.

To leave both the end of the Little Ice Age and the changes in habitat out of the equation as to why species are moving north is simply bad science, something that has plagued those supporting the AGW theory from day one.

Remember those first computer models used to “prove” global warming was taking place? They were the laughing-stock of the overall scientific community. The scientists who wrote those models went back to their offices, not to write the best computer models to model the climate, but to produce models that would be acceptable to the rest of the scientific world and still “prove” global warming was taking place. Having a predetermined outcome is simply bad science.

Remember when it was announced that the Arctic ice cap was going to melt and the rise in sea levels because of it was going to flood most of the major coastal cities around the world? More bad science, because if the Arctic ice cap melts, sea levels will actually drop due to the fact that ice displaces a larger volume than does liquid water.

The story has changed now, the new story is that when the glaciers melt, sea levels will rise, and cause the flooding. That’s still somewhat bad science, for they are estimating the total amount of water that is held in the glaciers, and adding that to the current sea levels. Not all the water that melts from the glaciers is going to end up in the oceans. A good deal of it will be held in the plant life that takes root as the glaciers retreat. Some of the water will be held in lakes that form in the depressions left behind from the glaciers. Some of that water will filter down through the earth to underground aquifers. In the end, very little of the water from melting glaciers will end up in the oceans.

Relying on bad science to try to prove a theory leaves those trying to prove the theory grasping at straws. For example, headlines across the world trumpeted that long time skeptic of the global warming theory, Richard Muller, had compleated a study showing global warming was indeed taking place. The supporters of the AGW theory are trying to use this as proof of the theory, when all the study shows is that average temperatures around the world have increased since the 1950’s. The study does not address the causes of the warming, it only helps to verify that warming has been taking place for some reason.

The warming seen since the 1950’s is just as easy to attribute to the increase in solar activity that has coincided with the warming. There is far more correlation between solar activity and temperatures than there is between greenhouse gases and temperature.

Supporters of the AGW theory are also pointing to Muller’s study as validating the data used in the infamous Climategate scandal. It may validate the data, but it doesn’t validate manipulating the data to arrive at a predetermined outcome, which is what Climategate is really all about. That’s really bad science.

All the bad science used to try to convince the public that the AGW theory is correct makes it easy to poke holes in the theory. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the debate over the AGW theory and lose sight of what’s really important, and that is doing the right thing for the environment.

Who cares about the amount of CO2 coming out of the smokestack of a coal-fired power plant when that same smokestack is spewing tons of arsenic, mercury, and other toxic substances into our atmosphere?

Let’s face it, nothing that comes out of the smokestack of a power plant, whether coal-fired, or natural gas-fired, is good for us to breathe, or good for the environment. Nothing that comes out of the exhaust of an internal combustion engine is good for us to breathe, or good for the environment. Mining coal isn’t environmentally friendly, neither is drilling for oil or natural gas.

That’s why I said that Mr. Kropf and I share the same goals, we both want clean air to breathe, clear, free-flowing rivers, clean water to drink, our forests protected, and so many other things, yet we get caught up in the debate over AGW.

The biggest problem that I have had with the global warming theory is that to many of the public, it is another example of radical environmentalists sounding like Chicken Little claiming the sky is falling. Recent public opinion polls show that the majority of the public doesn’t believe that man is responsible for the warming that has taken place, if they believe that there has been any warming at all.

So while we could be taking steps that would actually benefit our environment, based on proven science, we waste time, effort, and resources debating whether or not climate change is the result of man’s burning of fossil fuels. Unfortunately, I believe that the leaders of “Big Environment” have many agendas other than doing what’s best for the environment, something I will explain in future posts.

What I would like to see happen is that the debate over climate change be sent back to the scientists to debate for the time being, and the rest of us focus on what we can all agree on, and here’s a few points I think that almost every one can agree on.

  1. Drilling for oil or natural gas does harm to the environment
  2. There is no such thing as “clean coal”, nor any way to extract coal from the ground that doesn’t do some of the most severe damage to the environment of all the things man does.
  3. We need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, not only to preserve the environment, but because they are finite resources that will not last forever.
  4. We need to take actions to reduce our reliance of fossil fuels that are not only as environmentally friendly as possible, but also taking into account the effects those actions will have on the common man, and especially the poor.
  5. We need to set political agendas aside, and take some common sense actions that do actually preserve our environment.
  6. We need to develop a new idea, “environmental efficiency”, and by that, I mean taking into account the entire environmental impact a process has, and whether it is a good trade off when compared to what that process is intended to replace.

So that’s it for this one, I hope to follow it up shortly, along with getting back to some photos, good or otherwise. Thanks for stopping by!

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23 responses

  1. Would you consider making another post where you cite the sources for all the facts you mention here? (Ice melt leading to a decrease in sea level, correlation of 20th century warming with increased solar activity, recent opinion polls showing most don’t “believe” in climate change, etc.)

    December 27, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    • I’m sorry, the poll in question was being referred to on All Things Considered on NPR, and I didn’t catch the source. All I remember from it was the reporter and the scientists lamenting on how stupid the American people were for not believing. And yes, I listen to NPR daily while at work, as I want to be informed, even if I have to fend off their attempts to brain wash me. As to the rest, it’s mostly basic science, such as water is the most dense at around 39 degree F, then begins to expand as temperatures drop. You’re a very intelligent person, I would assume that you’ve heard of the Maunder Minimum, and have seen charts that show the correlation between solar activity and temperatures on Earth.

      December 28, 2012 at 3:15 pm

  2. Interesting post. Mind if we push back a little?
    You state that “Science has always been driven by religious, political, and economics as much as scientific facts…” It’s the last part of that statement we take heart in. In the end, it has been the consistent history of science that facts prevail. These facts – scientific reason – have been the strongest counter force in human history to religion, superstition, and misguided public policy. Of Course, as new understandings emerge, there will inevitably be a certain amount of theory and counter theory. This doesn’t mean science is “wrong;” it is simply part of a process – one that, again, has provided a very useful counter to the pure superstition that exists in the absence of scientific inquiry.

    And while it is true, as you state, that “when science moves before they have all the facts, mistakes are made,” there’s an important balancing perspective to that statement. If humankind waits before every scrap of fact is in – and waits further until every single person agrees to accept new facts – we would quite literally never get anywhere. For example, we don’t need to have the ultimate cure for all cancers before we attempt to mitigate against the effects of some cancers. Virtually all of science works this way, and yes, there are always holdouts that want to bludgeon science with the refrain “not all the facts are in yet.” We suspect The Church would still be insisting the Earth is at the center of the solar system if they could get away with it.

    We’re not sure which polls you’re referring to (and we agree with the previous poster that your article would be stronger if your provided sources for your information/opinions), but here’s a link to a fairly thorough poll indicating that the majority of Americans DO believe there is global warming and who further believe that it is at least partially caused by humans.
    http://environment.yale.edu/climate/publications/Climate-Beliefs-September-2012/
    Sincerely, Jack and Barbra

    December 27, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    • Wow! Much to my surprise, we can’t even trust the pollsters! I hope that you read my next post and my replies to the other commenters here.

      December 28, 2012 at 3:09 pm

      • Good grief.

        December 28, 2012 at 3:53 pm

  3. Archimedes principle tells us that melting ice floating in a body of water will not alter the water level at all. Yes, ice expands when it freezes making it less dense than liquid water, but the slight extra volume will protrude from the surface – the “tip of the iceberg” so to speak.

    December 27, 2012 at 5:21 pm

    • But what about the ice on land, which has no affect on water levels until it melts?

      December 27, 2012 at 7:55 pm

      • When the water from ice on land slips into the ocean (in liquid or in solid form), it will raise the sea level. If enough of it does, it will raise it measurably.

        December 27, 2012 at 8:33 pm

  4. Were scientists wrong to point out that cigarette smoking was bad for your health? You could have found plenty of people to say that they were a few years ago but not many now. The point that Jack and Barbra makes is a good one. Science does not mean or claim certainty. Good scientists try to look at evidence and change what they believe to be true in line with what they find out. Sometimes, of course, they have to state what they believe before they know that it is true so that they can devise tests to see if it is actually true. Sometimes science means taking a best guess.

    I look to see if people with a financial interest are telling lies. If they are, I take cover.

    December 27, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    • I agree, the level of scientific knowledge changes as science improves. But, I would rather base policy on rather proven science, and leave the guessing for later. There are many good reasons to wean ourselves from fossil fuels that have nothing to do with climate change, so why waste time debating a guess at this time, which was the point of this post.

      December 28, 2012 at 3:06 pm

      • I agree with you on the many good reasons.

        December 28, 2012 at 4:48 pm

  5. Personally, I don’t see how anyone could beilieve that we could pump tons of pollutants into the atmosphere for 100 years without doing serious damage. Also, I know that the chief industrial polluters have spent billions trying to convince people that global warming is a myth. And then there is lobbying-500 million spent by oil companies lobbying congress in 2010 alone.

    December 27, 2012 at 7:54 pm

  6. The way I see this whole argument is that scientists believe AGW is real, and politicians do not. Who are you going to believe about science, the scientists, or the politicians?

    December 27, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    • Since I have a hard time believing what politicians have to say about any subject, I’ll side with scientists every time. It is politicians after all, who are taking the billions from oil and chemical companies.

      December 28, 2012 at 7:35 am

      • Yes, some politicians are taking billions from the oil and chemical companies, then appropriating our tax dollars to fund research that adds to the “scientific evidence” that our climate is warming due to the CO2 levels in the atmosphere, so are you saying the oil and chemical companies are pushing the climate change theory?

        December 28, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    • I don’t believe either scientists or politicians, for there are about equal numbers on both sides of nearly every issue, particularly this one. The truth normally can be found somewhere in the middle.

      December 28, 2012 at 3:02 pm

      • I’m saying that oil and chemical companies, and a lot of politicians-especially republican politicians-care about money, and that’s all they care about. It’s quite obvious to most of us that they don’t give a damn about the environment or the people who live in it as long as they cand get their hands on more money. that’s why they push things like drilling for oil in national parks.

        December 29, 2012 at 9:15 am

      • Actually, the vast majority of scientists agree that anthropogenic climate change is real. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surveys_of_scientists%27_views_on_climate_change – yes, a wiki article, but very well-referenced with links to many publications and surveys.) It sounds like your mind is already made up, though, which is too bad. The evidence doesn’t agree with you.

        December 29, 2012 at 4:34 pm

      • Actually, “The vast majority” of scientists don’t agree, and I had a link that dispelled that, but seem to have deleted it by accident. My mind is not closed to the idea of climate change, let’s say that I remain unconvinced at this time. When I hear proponents of climate change say things like the variations in the sun’s output have no effect on the Earth’s climate, they lose credibility with me. When they say that there were only a handful of bison roaming the great plains when the first white explorers arrived, they lose credibility with me. If new studies produce concrete evidence that I’m wrong, I’ll admit it. But, the whole point of the post was that it doesn’t matter, burning fossil fuels is not good for the environment, so let’s find some common ground to work towards doing what needs to be done, and not waste time, energy, or resources debating something that doesn’t really matter anyway, but every one seems to want to force me to think like them, rather than to work together.

        December 29, 2012 at 4:52 pm

  7. What an excellent post and debate. Thank you. For my part, I believe that any animal that ‘fowls its own nest’ is in for trouble. Where do we intend to go, if it turns out to be true (Climate Change) and we get to the point of ‘no return’?

    December 28, 2012 at 3:39 pm

  8. It took some courage to post on this subject, which is controversial. Climate has changed for billions of years, and there are many causes for this. Once politics becomes involved, logic often goes out the window, and I hate politics so I’ll leave it at that!

    December 31, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    • I don’t know if I would call it courage, or lack of good sense, but I do agree with you 100% on the rest.

      December 31, 2012 at 1:15 pm

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