I had a surprising discussion with a work colleague a few days ago about climate change and global warming. I’m not sure how the topic came up, but it was clear we had different views. I enjoy this. I like to have my ideas and beliefs challenged. It’s a good way to verify that my thinking is correct and not misguided.
After this discussion we’ve had some email communications on the topic and I’ve decided to record them here and then to conclude the post with my own reflections on them. I wonder if there are any further viewpoints that other readers can contribute to either the scientific part near the top of this post or the philosophical part near the end. Both are very interesting to me.
Email #1 from my colleague
Interesting discussion today. I had no idea that you were so worried. I am pretty sure there is no reason to be worried, at least not on the global climate.
Below is a plot documenting of the pause in lower troposphere global warming I mentioned. This is from satellites, but all the temperature records show flattening. The climate models have not predicted this.
At the same time CO2 in the atmosphere has risen sharply since as you can see from the measurements from Mauna Loa.
IPCC’s hypothesis is that CO2 is the main driver of the global temp and over a period (12-15 years) is stronger than the natural cycles (ocean currents, the sun etc.).
The simple facts below show that this statement is dubious. They could claim that about 18 years of no warming is not enough but if the temps does not increase much in the next few years, they have to abandon the whole theory and all the scary stories about sea level rise and thermageddon.
We should worry and care about the environment, but not on non-existing problems.
Thanks for sending that information.
But then I see information like this – http://www.columbia.edu/~mhs119/Temperature/ – they say 0.4 to 0.6 degrees increase is what was predicted back in the 80’s and that a 2 degree increase would be disastrous.
What to believe? Will have to keep investigating.
Email #2 from my colleague
Thanks Peter, I appreciate your open attitude in your comment on continue investigating.
The article you link from Columbia states that “This graph makes clear that global warming is continuing — it did not stop in 1998.”.
I read through the rest of it and could not find anything supporting this claim, but I saw the temp curves from 1880 which showed the flattening the last 15 years or so.
To check this myself, I downloaded the dataset they used, the HadCrut4 (http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/data/temperature/).
The temp increased by around 0.5-0.6 C from 1910 to 1940 (when there was very modest increase in the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere) and by about the same amount from around 1980 to 1998 (when there was a large increase of C02 concentration).
And from 1997 to today the temp has been more-or less flat (slope 0.05 deg per decade).
C02 levels just passed 400 ppm. According to IPCC it is 95% certain that C02 is the strongest driver of the global temperature. The climate models predict about 0.2 to 0.3 deg increase per decade given the current C02.
Obviously these data show that other factors dominate over the C02. It is very likely that C02 has some effect of the climate, but these data show that it has been overestimated. If the current flattening continues for 5-10 more years, the theory must be adjusted and the thermageddon must be cancelled.
I just get so tired of all the spin and exaggerations all around us. James Hansen you mention is one of the key spinmeisters. 5 m sea level rise in this century is pure fiction.
My second reply
Thanks for the detailed reply! More to absorb.
My angle is just a concern about whether we are polluting too much and should we try and pollute less. Polluting a bit less can’t be a bad thing. Even if there is no evidence of dangers caused by pollution, it can’t be bad to reduce it.
I’ll keep trying to learn about these things and will discuss more with you as I learn more.
Email #3 from my colleague
I agree with you completely on pollution. Dirty rivers and soot in the air hurt people and nature, as evident from eg Chinese cities.
I also recall when the sewage went straight into the rivers and into the Oslo fjord where I was rowing in the seventies. We were literally rowing in toilet paper and it was stinking. All of this is now cleaned, the water in the fjord is clean and all is much better. I think it is worth spending money on such things.
In my view a reasonable definition of “pollution” is something that is harmful for people. If it is true that C02 is not dangerous for people (through its effect on the climate) then spending trillions to try to stop emitting it is actually a bad thing. It drives up costs of food and other important things which hurts the poorest people in the world. And the trillions could have been used for much better purposes, such as preventing real pollution or vaccination, etc.
So if you believe that science and logic should govern the decisions of our societies, the issue within the “climate problem” is really the following:
Is anthropogenic C02 the main driver of the climate? And will the changes be dangerous?
Based on the data I have seen and the studies I have done, the answer is most probably no. And if that is the case we should immediately start focusing on more important issues.
Finally, I would like to recommend some of the articles by Bjørn Lomborg, for instance this one.
Where to now with climate change?
I have just read the article by Bjørn Lomborg. It’s interesting and presents a view of trying to find the most cost effective things to do to improve the world.
When I was reading the beginning of the article, I found it hard to accept the general argument that the world is a much better place today than it was in the past. With the wars and terrorism, genetically modified foods, deforestation, large scale monocultures, factory farming of animals, rampant use of petroleum based plastics leading to waste that doesn’t degrade, artificial chemicals in nearly all our food, artificial chemicals in nearly all household products, it’s hard for me to accept that the world is on a positive path. However, I am willing to consider this argument. As with most things, there must be some truth in it as well.
There was one quote in Bjørn’s article that really struck me;
And, to cut CO₂ emissions, we should phase out the substantial fossil-fuel subsidies that riddle much of the developing world, leading to wasteful consumption
Subsidies seem to be a source of many problems. Examples are subsidies for things like rapeseed for biofuel, subsidies for beef and dairy farming (with nothing for fruit and vegetable farming). Big companies can lobby governments to introduce subsidies that make the economics of their business better. The result can often be something that is good for the big companies and not so good for the general population.
This post shows that it can be very hard to find the truth in all the arguments that are out there surrounding climate change. Yet, I believe that it’s easy to understand good and bad ways to live. Good ways to live include simplicity, living as nature intended, not using too much (see use10percentless), not being wasteful and avoiding pollution. I would hope that almost everyone would agree that these things are good directions for life, and it just so happens that they would result in lower CO2 emissions, whether that’s important or not.
What’s the most important thing we could do to improve the world?
Going back to the article by Bjørn Lomborg, we see that he explains how the United Nations is in the process of finding the most effective place to spend money to “to make the world a better place”. Well, I think there’s an overriding imperative for us to work on to make the world a better place. There’s one thing that, if we had more of it, all of the other problems would start to disappear. One thing that is very powerful, widely effective and free (free yes, but very hard to obtain).
That one thing is unconditional love (also see this). If we had more unconditional love for ourselves, everyone else, all living things, all of nature and the universe, then all of the things we need to do “to make the world a better place” would be obvious. Unfortunately, too often, this type of love is left behind in preference to a love of personal profit and gain.
With enough unconditional love, everything else will just fall into place.
What’s your view on climate change? Are CO2 emissions important or is this issue distracting us?