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Climate change: A guide for the perplexed -A must read

New Scientist has just published a comprehensive guide debunking 26 most common climate myths and misconceptions with lots of links to primary research and major reports for those who want to follow through to the original sources. Many of these myths and misconceptions have been exploited by industry funded skeptics to cloud the scientific consensus on the subject. Unfortunately we can expect most of these skeptics to continue to ignore these arguments, and continue to spread their misinformation.

The 26 myths debunked by this guide are as follows:

  1. Human CO2 emissions are too tiny to matter
  2. We can’t do anything about climate change
  3. The ‘hockey stick’ graph has been proven wrong
  4. Chaotic systems are not predictable
  5. We can’t trust computer models of climate
  6. They predicted global cooling in the 1970s
  7. It’s been far warmer in the past, what’s the big deal?
  8. It’s too cold where I live – warming will be great
  9. Global warming is down to the Sun, not humans
  10. It’s all down to cosmic rays
  11. CO2 isn’t the most important greenhouse gas
  12. The lower atmosphere is cooling, not warming
  13. Antarctica is getting cooler, not warmer, disproving global warming
  14. The oceans are cooling
  15. The cooling after 1940 shows CO2 does not cause warming
  16. It was warmer during the Medieval period, with vineyards in England
  17. We are simply recovering from the Little Ice Age
  18. Warming will cause an ice age in Europe
  19. Ice cores show CO2 increases lag behind temperature rises, disproving the link to global warming
  20. Ice cores show CO2 rising as temperatures fell
  21. Mars and Pluto are warming too
  22. Many leading scientists question climate change
  23. It’s all a conspiracy
  24. Hurricane Katrina was caused by global warming
  25. Higher CO2 levels will boost plant growth and food production
  26. Polar bear numbers are increasing

2 Responses to Climate change: A guide for the perplexed -A must read

  1. Well, I read the numerous references.. and then actually read the many and varied comments which follow, and, sorry, but I don’t feel profoundly different than I did going in. One of the comments, that was abundantly more sensible than the article itself said something along the lines that using poor science to create hysteria is hardly helpful, and while there are excellent reasons to conserve and reduce our reliance on greenhouse gas – the solid science doesn’t warrant the panic.

    The problem is that, at best, global warming is a theory that appears to have some reasonable fundamental science behind it, but, at best, it acknowledges that CO2 is a relatively small part of the over-all greenhouse gas (primarily water vapor) and that our contribution to CO2 is about 4%..

    So – assuming that the models (which is the best we have) are correct, and that a temperature variation of perhaps 2 degrees is the result – we have a 4% share of a small fraction of greenhouse gas emitted into the atmosphere resulting in a relatively small variation in temperature.

    So – Canada – being a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a contributor to the theoretic global warming problem – is being told to fundamentaly alter our economy, while our already significantly stronger global competitors (U.S., China) do nothing.

    And – at the end of it all – there are serious arguments that global warming would fundamentally improve Canada’s over-all place in the world economically.

    Now – I will give you credit – you have given people an opportunity that many don’t – to find actual science to explain what global warming is all about.. and to understand, as best we can, the arguments for and against – as opposed to doing what many do, which is simply say, “everyone agrees, global warming is real, trust us” without actually explaining it. You have no idea during this election year how often I got into arguments with Liberal or NDP supporters over this when I simply asked, “what is your understanding of how global warming works and what greenhouses gasses are” – and the response I got was either a blank stare or a clearly incorrect articulation of the stance that they so pationately support.

    My own thoughts. Well, firstly, to paraphrase Cormack McCarthy in an interview he gave – mankind will die off, like the dinosaurs, sooner or later, by super volcano, meteor strike, influenza or something – so why get too excited about a rise of ocean levels and a 2 degree temperature change?

    Secondly – we have to find a better way to motivate the public to be more conscious of reducing waste, generally, and giving an over-emphasis on global warming is simply buying into the UN need to co-opt the issue for a wholly unrelated agenda – redistributing wealth to the 3rd world.

    So – personally – I have much more concern over clean drinking water, and would get behind a water strategy much quicker than I will get behind any grand, damaging scheme to make a grain of sand dent in the potential global warming.

  2. @ roblaw

    at best, it acknowledges that CO2 is a relatively small part of the over-all greenhouse gas (primarily water vapor) and that our contribution to CO2 is about 4%..

    Yes, you are correct when you state that CO2 on its own is a relatively minor GHG (however much the literature states that it’s effect is somewhere between 9% to 30%, not the 4% you claimed), especially when compared to the effects of water vapour. Unfortunately, water vapour is influenced by CO2 concentrations. As we emit CO2, the atmosphere begins to warm. As the atmosphere warms it’s capacity to hold water vapour increases, and our abundant oceans are a plentiful supply of vapour. This causes further warming above and beyond what would be expected by the CO2 alone. In fact water vapour is contributing 36% to 66% to the overall effect for vapour alone and 66% to 85% when you include clouds.

    So – assuming that the models (which is the best we have) are correct, and that a temperature variation of perhaps 2 degrees is the result

    The models predict much more than a two degree rise in temperatures. The IPCC estimated that climate sensitivity was likely 3 degrees, but omitted some important factors (usually referred to as the Charney sensitivity). Newer models which do incorporate factors including several slow feedbacks (usually referred to as the earth system sensitivity) predict the climate sensitivity to be roughly 6 degrees. These new models aren’t yet part of the ‘consensus’ as there is still plenty of debate within the scientific literature on the specifics, but the general conclusion that the earth system sensitivity is greater than the Chanrey sensitivity is sound.

    As for what to do with China and India (personally I am far more worried about India than China), that is a tough issue. Neither of those countries is likely to accept a per-capita quota that is less than what we enjoy in the western world. This essentially would reward the west for our decades of high per-capita emissions (which created the problem), and punish developing countries.

    Of course having China and India continue with business as usual isn’t a good option either. So what can we do?

    Perhaps the best option, is to forget the idea of carbon quotas (which is what the Kyoto protocol advocated) and focus on a price for carbon. As the 230 economists who signed an open letter to all Canadian political parties will attest to, taxing carbon emissions is the most effective way to set a price on carbon. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of this plan is that the money collected from such a tax wouldn’t cross international boarders, so implementing it should be relatively easy when compared to the alternatives.

    Of course non of this means that Canada, and other developed countries shouldn’t take a leading role in implementing GHG reduction policies. If we don’t take the lead, who will?

    mankind will die off, like the dinosaurs, sooner or later, by super volcano, meteor strike, influenza or something – so why get too excited about a rise of ocean levels and a 2 degree [3-6 degree] temperature change?

    The short answer, is because the costs of inaction far outweigh the costs of action. There is an abundance of literature on the predicted effects of climate change, and non of it is pretty. The current economic crisis will seam like a cake walk if even a tiny fraction of what is predicted actually comes to pass. By using that logic one can argue for inaction on virtually any subject. Why worry about violent crime when in all likelihood the human race will become extinct at some point in the future? I think you can see why such logic falls apart pretty easily.

    Secondly – we have to find a better way to motivate the public to be more conscious of reducing waste, generally, and giving an over-emphasis on global warming is simply buying into the UN need to co-opt the issue for a wholly unrelated agenda – redistributing wealth to the 3rd world.

    Yes we do need to focus on other environmental problems, but truth be told they all pale in comparison to the possible harmful effects of climate change. As for the whole UN wealth distribution scheme, spare me. I have heard it all before. It is worth mentioning that since the problem has been mainly caused by the west (our historic emissions are still far grater than China’s or India’s) and the costs are being felt mainly in the third world, any wealth transfer would simply be a way to internalize the externalities of emitting carbon. But As I mentioned above combating climate change can be done without having money cross international boarders.

    So – personally – I have much more concern over clean drinking water

    If you care about clean drinking, I would strongly advise you to care about climate change as the recent droughts in Georgia show (which while cannot be attributed to climate change, are expected to increase in frequency and severity due to climate change).

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