Climate Change - Yes or No

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Re: Climate Change - Yes or No

Postby zzsstt » Mon Aug 02, 2010 3:34 pm

davidh wrote:Granted there are always probabilities involved in science, but you appear to be confusing probability with uncertainty.

Cheers, David


Probability is an interesting concept, as it is very subjective. I am absolutely certain that I not been shown evidence that proves that climate change is man-made. I am equally certain that if such evidence existed it would have been publicised to end the debate once and for all. Therefore I am certain, and it is probable, that no such evidence exists.

Thus the question becomes "is it probable that climate change is man-made". The answer to that question, phrased that way, is actually an outright "NO", simply because the climate has been changing for longer than man has been on the planet. However perhaps the question should be rephrased as "does man have any inluence at all on the climate". In this situation then it is indeed probable that man has some influence; everything that we do, indeed everything that happens, has some influence on everything else. I can change the microclimate in my garden by altering the hard landscaping and the plants, or in a far more radical way by (for example) using fans or sprinklers to prevent frost. We know for certain that the same things happen on a larger scale, cities develop their own microclimates that differ from the surrounding land. Of course, when I stop tending to my garden then nature takes over and puts it back the way she wants it!

However the real, underlying question is more complex, and harder to phrase. As we know that the climate has been changing since before man was here, the question becomes to what extent, and in what way, is man responsible for the current climate changes and what if anything can he do about them?

It is at this point that the subjectivity of the word "probable" becomes apparent. What is "probable" to one person may be "certain" to another, and yet another may disregard it completely. Sometimes it simply comes down to the depth of understanding, at other times it is an almost religious zeal.

My background is in science and computing, after which I spent time in advertising/marketing. I know from experience what is required for "scientific proof", and I also fully understand that in a subject so big and complex as climate change, such proof would be very hard to achieve for either side of the argument. Unfortunately I also fully understand that computers do exactly what they have been told to do, and that therefore any computer simulation is only as unbiased as the person who designed it, and that there is a lot of money to be made which is in itself a strong motivator. So we come back to probabilities.

Is it probable that man is the major cause of climate change? Frankly I think it's improbable, but I'm uncertain (!)

Is it probable that someone, scientist or not, will find evidence to support their beliefs rather than finding evidence to disprove them? Obviously this is true.

Is it probable that somebody determined to prove something that they believe strongly will resort to a less than rigorous scientific approach to do so? Certainly.

Is it probable that those making a living from climate change will seek to promote it? Certainly.

Is it probable that both sides, in the face of a lack of clear-cut proof, resort to dodgy science and ad hominem attacks? Certainly.

The list goes on, obviously. I do not know for certain whether man is a major contributor to climate change, but I do know that most of what is proposed under the guise of stopping/reducing/reversing it has little to do with climate and far more to do with money and power.
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Re: Climate Change - Yes or No

Postby davidh » Mon Aug 02, 2010 4:01 pm

zzsstt wrote:
Probability is an interesting concept, as it is very subjective. I am absolutely certain that I not been shown evidence that proves that climate change is man-made. I am equally certain that if such evidence existed it would have been publicised to end the debate once and for all. Therefore I am certain, and it is probable, that no such evidence exists.



Thank you for your reply.

The evidence has been published in numerous rigorously reviewed journals from various scientific disciplines. Many scientist try hard on a daily basis to publicise the meaning of their research (because many people are not trained in reading rigorously written science articles), but unfortunately news editors seem more interested in maintaining uncertainty rather than listening to the large majority of scientists (e.g., not talking about people like Gore or Monckton here, who are not scientists). A quick survey of TV air time given to items about climate change shows that the majority of it goes to time given to climate change opposition non-scientists, rather than to scientists, so it comes as no surprise that people do not understand the science, and do not get a chance to hear the evidence. If TV air-time were balanced by the amount of science that is support of or in opposition to human caused climate change, than 97% of the air-time would be in support of climate change, and 3% in opposition, yet the opposite is the case. Moreover, it is simply the case that people wish to remain in opposition to believing in climate change because it suits their cultural and social view of life, rather than because they actually understand. For this reason, even when the evidence is presented, personal cognitive filters prevent people from hearing it - they just switch off. And, let's face it, if there is any possibility that human caused climate change is real, than for most people taking responsibility for changing their lifestyle to help mitigate the impacts of climate change is an overwhelming task to consider. Many people are not brave enough to take that step, and would rather just numb their mind.

Cheers, David
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Re: Climate Change - Yes or No

Postby zzsstt » Mon Aug 02, 2010 6:01 pm

davidh wrote:The evidence has been published in numerous rigorously reviewed journals from various scientific disciplines.


Whilst I agree with the majority of your post, there are a couple of things that I would question.

I have read a great number of reports in peer reviewed publications. Very few do not rely on computer simulations, adjusted data and a large number of assumptions. Many in fact are very limited in their claims, for example it can be demonstrated that there is a high probability that man has had an impact on the atmospheric levels of CO2, but it takes a mass of assumptions and computer modelling based on those assumptions to "prove" that this has caused 0.5C warming.

The second point is that in the media that I see, climate change gets far more support than the "deniers". Yes Monckton gets a bit of coverage in the sensationalist media (mostly the US comedy/talkshows) but most of the journalists in the printed press (again, excepting the small number of extreme/sensationalist writers) seem to write from a very pro climate change stance.

I do, however, completely agree with you that making any worthwhile change is likely to be a very hard thing for people to face. It would require a complete rethink of our society, probably with a return to a small population. That single point is enough to scare most people!
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Re: Climate Change - Yes or No

Postby davidh » Tue Aug 03, 2010 9:50 am

Thanks for your reply.

zzsstt wrote:I have read a great number of reports in peer reviewed publications. Very few do not rely on computer simulations, adjusted data and a large number of assumptions. Many in fact are very limited in their claims, for example it can be demonstrated that there is a high probability that man has had an impact on the atmospheric levels of CO2, but it takes a mass of assumptions and computer modelling based on those assumptions to "prove" that this has caused 0.5C warming.


Where the models differ is on the micro-level, for local weather effects, and I think most people would agree that it is very difficult to predict small scale local weather accurately. At a macro, large scale global level, the models all converge.

zzsstt wrote:The second point is that in the media that I see, climate change gets far more support than the "deniers". Yes Monckton gets a bit of coverage in the sensationalist media (mostly the US comedy/talkshows) but most of the journalists in the printed press (again, excepting the small number of extreme/sensationalist writers) seem to write from a very pro climate change stance.


Most people in Australia would think that the ABC would be the most biased in favour of climate change support, however even ABC coverage has been shown to have the opposite bias in favour of climate change opposition commentators such as Monckton.

zzsstt wrote:I do, however, completely agree with you that making any worthwhile change is likely to be a very hard thing for people to face. It would require a complete rethink of our society, probably with a return to a small population. That single point is enough to scare most people!


For sure, humans as a species have been very good at modelling bad behaviours that degrade the planet in multiple ways. We are steadilly damaging our ecosystem in more ways than most people could contemplate, and it is scary.

I try to remain optimistic, but I hope I'm not being unrealistic. As a means of measuring how realistic I am, I contemplate whether or not I've done everything I can to reduce my impact on the planet, and leave it a better place than I found it. Taking a systems approach to this is very difficult, and I can understand why people do not think about things like the entire supply chain effects for any particular product we buy. Instead of being made from plants and materials gathered directly from our surrounding environment, our products are produced hundreds to thousands of km away. In many ways, we suffer from "environmental generational amnesia". Because we do not know what the planet used to be like, we do not get how bad it is, and even if we know, we cannot see what is happening. The changes are incremental, and are not easy for humans to perceive with our senses. It's the same with climate change - we don't perceive it as "change". We are used to great ranges of temperature, and humans adapt to different climates quite quickly. We are great at molding our protective cocoons to make our lives feel comfortable, which removes us even further from reality.

Best regards, David
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Re: Climate Change - Yes or No

Postby zzsstt » Tue Aug 03, 2010 11:44 am

davidh wrote:Where the models differ is on the micro-level, for local weather effects, and I think most people would agree that it is very difficult to predict small scale local weather accurately. At a macro, large scale global level, the models all converge.


Yes, they do converge. They have to converge becuase they are all built using the same data and the same assumptions! This is exactly the point I am trying to make about computer simulations. Let me try to explain what I mean. I have a young son, and a friend of mine has one of the same age. If I buy them both a model aeroplane and send them away, what happens? They both have the same kit, which in our computer modelling analogy is the "data" and the "assumptions", but in the form of parts and instructions. They both start to build, entirely independent of one another. At any stage of the process, either one might be ahead, and (because my son never follows the instructions exactly) they may go about the build in a different order. At the end of the process, what have we got? Two model aeroplanes, at a micro level they may be slightly different because the kids paint the bits different colours or whatever, but at a macro level they are almost identical!

I have actually been involved in this exact situation. I used to own an IT company and we were contracted to provide computer modelling of supermarket checkouts (sadly, to identify how few checkouts were needed to keep "walkouts" down to a manageable level). We were given the data, and the assumptions about how people acted. We were not told that the same job had been given to an employee of the company a while earlier. Of course, we generated a simulation that reached exactly the same conclusions as the in-house model had done! The only tiny differences were because we applied the assumptions in a slightly different order (akin to rounding errors). Computers add 1+ 1 very quickly, they do not think. The only thinking is done by the people who program then, and if those people use the same rules and data, the computers will do the 1 + 1 and get 2!!!

davidh wrote:Most people in Australia would think that the ABC would be the most biased in favour of climate change support, however even ABC coverage has been shown to have the opposite bias in favour of climate change opposition commentators such as Monckton.


Shown by whom? I'd guess a pro climate change group. I was considering this question last night, and I must admit that the "pro climate change" bias that was definitely evident in the press a while back does seem to have decayed. Most journalists in the serious papers are still pro climate change, pro ETS and so forth, but other than that I would say that rather than having become "anti", the majority of the media has largely forgotten about the subject. To a large extent it now only seems to crop up as a sideline to political or economic debate. I suspect that the failure of Copenhagen and the dropping of the ETS have removed the ability of the media to scare up sales, and so they no longer bother. Mind you, they have also been made to look foolish a few times by predicting "king tides to sink the east coast" and other such stories which have utterly failed to happen. The problem is that even if climate change is man made it is, as you say, a very gradual process. The press like to use headlines like "climate change will kill your babies", to grab attention. On the other hand the reality, that the distribution of weed types in a garden might alter slightly over the next 50 years, is frankly boring!



davidh wrote:For sure, humans as a species have been very good at modelling bad behaviours that degrade the planet in multiple ways. We are steadilly damaging our ecosystem in more ways than most people could contemplate, and it is scary.


I agree that we're not doing all that well, but don't let the "studies" depress you too much. I am a farmer (I retired and bought a farm!) and I constantly read reports about how much damage we are doing. It's by no means all true! Yes, some farming systems need to be changed, but they are changing. Keep in mind that many of the studies are written, as always, by people with an axe to grind.....

davidh wrote:In many ways, we suffer from "environmental generational amnesia". Because we do not know what the planet used to be like, we do not get how bad it is, and even if we know, we cannot see what is happening.


That works both ways, you know, and can be used as a lever by both sides! A few posts back was a comment about hazard reduction burns damaging the environment. The person who wrote it has not considered that such burns were a natural part of the environment long before man came along. Equally rivers ran dry, estuaries became salty etc. etc. We are often sold a story of how perfect the world was, but that is a fabrication. Climate has always changed. Deserts and rainforests have come and gone.

Almost everything we are told is biased by the person telling us. Even things we often take for granted in our attempts to "improve" are often false. I'll assume for a moment that you grow some of your own food (most people trying to reduce their impacts do so). Pick up any organic style growing book and it will tell you about annual crop rotation. This is a natural approach, they say, to minimise disease and soil degradation, and is what happens in nature. What? In nature, the species best suited to the conditions becomes dominant and such domination continues until, due to the aforementioned disease or resource depletion or whatever, the conditions no longer favour that species and another takes over. That process may take a couple of years, or hundreds or thousands of years. Annual crop rotations were invented by man, but now they are sold as "what happens in nature".

The same is true for much of what we are told. Yes, of course the world changes, but droughts and fires have always happened. Species have always come and gone, extinction due to failure to adapt to change are part of life. We are told that man has destroyed great forests, and whilst this may be true in some places, in others those forests did not exist before man came along. Many of the forests in Australia that are being locked up to "protect them", were in fact created by man and have been managed since their etablishment. Look at the journals of the first explorers and you will often see these areas noted as open prairie without a tree in sight!

Man has changed the environment in any number of ways, but change is not limited to mans affects. In fact, man changes the environment even whilst attempting to "save" it. Can somebody tell me why we are propagating the Wollemi pine and spreading it all over the place? Nature wanted it extinct!!

Some of our attempts to "improve" are even more misguided. We lock up sections of land on the basis that they are havens for wildlife. Unfortunately, what prospers in that environment - without man to manage it - is that which is best adapted. Sadly Australian flora and fauna does not compete well with imports like foxes, rabbits, willows, blackberries and an almost endless list of others, so these locked up areas become havens for pests.

Even the mere concept of attempting to preserve an arbitrary point in time as being "native" is absurd, when considered objectively. Any given square kilometer of land has, over history, been both the top of a mountain and the bottom of the sea. It has been arid and rainforest, prairie and woodland, barren and fertile. Yet here we are, picking an arbitrary point in time (lets say "when the Euopean settlers arrived") and attempting to preserve it!

I admire anybody who attempts to reduce their impact on the planet. However it has been my experience that many of these are less than accurate in their appraisal of what is the best course of action. It is also unfortunate that what is required, in the final analysis, is in absolute opposition to the most basic instinct of any living thing, which is to increase in number and dominate the environment whilst is has the opportunity.

Of course if we step back from viewing ourselves as something special, and remember that we are in fact "just another species", then what we are doing is entirely natural - reproduce, dominate the environment until our own actions, or some other force, changes the environment so we are no longer able to flourish, at which point we are removed as the dominant species and replaced with one that is better adapted! [I do not mean by this that we should not try to survive, adapting to changes in the environment to maintain superiority is the basis of evolution!]
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Re: Climate Change - Yes or No

Postby davidh » Tue Aug 03, 2010 12:34 pm

Thanks again for your reply.

You appear to be suggesting that the data used for modeling of global warming only comes from one source. It comes from multiple independent sources that are set up to be free of vested interests. It takes into account multiple factors such as changes in the earth's elliptic orbit around the sun (which causes natural changes in heating & cooling of the atmosphere), dimming of the sun's energy penetration from reflective particles released into the jet-stream by industrial and volcanic activity, as-well-as past climate paleontology records of previous climate change events and their associated carbon dioxide changes. The models - and actual data - converge on the fact that temperatures are rising faster than previously recorded in the absence of any other causative factor other than human caused contributions to atmospheric gases that have global warming potential.

After accounting for the numerous factors contributing to both natural and human caused climate change, the balance of evidence continues to increase (even more so since the last 2007 IPCC report, which has since been shown to have underestimated the actual data) in favour of climate change being significantly exacerbated beyond what would naturally occur in the absence of human activities. Yes there is some error variance in all science, which is why science looks for converging evidence from multiple sources, rather than relying on only one source. Models using different mixes of data, and set up by entirely separate institutes working independently from each other, converge on support for climate change being exacerbated by humans.

Kind regards, David
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Re: Climate Change - Yes or No

Postby zzsstt » Tue Aug 03, 2010 2:47 pm

You make an interesting claim. All these different models use different data? So, for example, each of them use different historical temperatures? It would seem very strange for there to be more than a single average temperature! The same applies to all the other data, by the way.

Yes, the simulations are run by different insitutes, but the data sources are all the same. They HAVE to be the same, because otherwise they are incorrect!

Equally, if you analyse them, I am sure you will find that most of their assumptions are very similar. They will all use standardised estimates of feedback effects etc. They will all use estimates of historical data from the same sources. To suggest that each of these institutes works independently, with no contact or knowledge sharing, and that each has maintained their own set of records and done all their own research is absurd, and is not how science works. Science works by reaching a concensus, proving a concept, with further research regarding that concensus as a "given". This has always worked in the past, becuase it is an approached based on creating an hypothesis, testing the hypothesis by experimentation, and then modifying the hypothesis to meet the facts. The facts are constant and the hypothesis is adjusted until it works, after which it is taken as a given for future work.

When a scientist starts a project, runs an experiment or whatever, he/she will never start from nothing. The question becomes "where to start". I do not need to invent the wheel to design a car "from scratch". Neither do these scientists have to plot the orbit of the earth, they use existing data. They assume that (as a most basic example) they person who discovered that the age of a tree can be established from the number of rings was correct. Equally they use existing data about ice-cores. Every institue does not own its own satellite, they share the data. It may be true that several different institutes through recent history have recorded daily temperatures for example, but given that we are talking about GLOBAL data, surely all those recordings have been combined to produce a single average?

It is not reasonable to suggest that each institute has done all it's own basic research, as to make that suggestion would also be to suggest that only those institutes in existence 100 years ago could have 100 year old temperature data.

Data is shared. Assumptions based on other people's work are shared. Standards are arrived at, and those standards, assumptions and data are used by every institute involved in the process. Perhaps some do not use them all, and perhap some make some of their own asumptions - though I'm willing to bet that those do not stray too far from the currently accepted norm! If nothing else, the climate-gate email "scandal" proved categorically that all these guys are in communication and swapping ideas and data, which is entirely normal and for scientists. However the nature of this research, being largely based on simulations, is very different to what has happened in the past. Sharing and confirming an experimental result is part of science. The simulations now in use are based not only on shared factual data, but also on the shared results of previous simulations that were based on yet more assumptions and simulations. This does not mean they are incorrect, but they do have the potential to be incorrect and yet all agree.

Doubly, as a quick statistical analysis of the last 100 years of estimated gobal average temperature shows a general increasing trend, and armed with the knowledge that 100 years is a tiny sample of the earths history (and temperature cycles happen over long periods of time) it is a fairly safe bet that next year will be within 0.3C average temperature of this year, and it's probable that to fit the trend it may be slightly warmer. So if a simulation predicts that, and it happens, in reality it will be hardly surprising. But is it proof that the simulation is accurate?

The suggestion that temperatures are rising faster than ever recorded is also questionable. Looking at the IPCC graph, the period between 1910 and 1940 would appear to show as fast a rate of increase as between 1960 and today, although this is disguised by the use of statistics to use the large decrease in temperature in the late 1940's to reduce the gradients of the graphs of the last 50, 75 and 100 years, when compared to a graph of the last 25 years which avoids that dip.

In fact if you plot the rate of increases at the "worst" points for the last 100 years you will find that the steepest 10 year rise is from 1860 to 1870, closely followed by 1910 to 1920, and the steepest 20 year rise is a close run between 1920 to 1930, 1930 to 1940, and 1980 to 1990.

This information is from the IPCC graph, remember. Look at the graph, ignore the coloured lines that have been added to draw your attention to the message they want to sell, and look at the data. Realise that statistically analysis is always used to make a case, but that it can also be used to make the opposing case. Why is it important to show the gradient for the last 25 years, vs. the gradient for the last 50 year, vs. the gradient for the last 100 years? Because analysed that way, those gradients show an increase, which fits the story they are telling. Analysed a different way and the same data shows something else!
Last edited by zzsstt on Tue Aug 03, 2010 3:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Climate Change - Yes or No

Postby davidh » Tue Aug 03, 2010 2:55 pm

I think I said that they use different mixes of the available data. The results all converge, no matter how they view the data.

Cheers, David
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Re: Climate Change - Yes or No

Postby zzsstt » Tue Aug 03, 2010 4:09 pm

davidh wrote:I think I said that they use different mixes of the available data. The results all converge, no matter how they view the data.


OK, I'll play devils advocate!

Would it not be more surprising if a bunch of people, all using subsets of the same data, all using the same general assumptions and all trying desperately to prove the same thing, somehow managed to produce computer simulations that came up with radically different results? Not only that, but also then published those results when they not only disproved their own theories and previous statements, but also clashed with their beliefs, aims and the beliefs and aims of their peers? Would it not be more tempting to tweak the simulation a little, and thus (to be blunt) keep their reputations, their jobs and their incomes? After all, that would only be changing or adding a little assumption or two, and they KNOW that climate change is real even if "Simulation Mk I" suggests otherwise....

Basically, if you set out to write a computer simulation to prove that x is true, it is very likely that you will achieve your aim!

It would be nice to think that all scientists had the kind of moral standards required to be honest no matter what the cost, but I've worked with enough to know that this is not true. I have also worked with those who are so utterly convinced about something that they cannot admit or even contemplate it not being true, and I have watched them, sometimes without apparently realising it, bend the rules and the results to support their beliefs.

I am not for one moment saying that any of this is true about climate scientists, by the way, simply that it does happen. Climate science is big business, and nobody would want to be the first to change his mind!

Given that the vast majority of the "evidence" is from computer simulations, and simulations are so easy to tweak to fit your intentions, and there is such a vast amount of money, belief and reputation involved, I simply think there is room for doubt about the results. As I said earlier, that doesn't mean I believe we shouldn't attempt to improve the way we live, but just that we should view the concepts, evidence, and the proposed "solutions" in a considered and thorough manner, not be panicked into carbon trading schemes and a myriad of other dubious actions by those who see an opportunity for personal gain.
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Re: Climate Change - Yes or No

Postby greg c » Tue Aug 03, 2010 11:02 pm

I recently attended a talk given by Australia's most eminent climate scientist, Prof Pilmer from UNSW. His argument was that climate change has been studied for at least 50 years and in all that time no paper has ever been published in the peer reviewed literature that refutes the central tenet of climate change, that climate change is caused by man made CO2 warming the planet. If some scientist could sustain a counter theory it would be equivalent to proving E=MC3, therefore disproving Einstein's theories. The result would be a Nobel prize.

Despite the huge incentive to disprove climate change no one has been able to do it. Therefore the science is rock solid. Therefore there is no rational argument that can be sustained against climate change.

Skeptics take note. People used to think the earth was flat too.

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