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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 61 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Things That Make You Go "Hmmm..."

Graph by Dr. J. Storrs Hall, Foresight Institute

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey
Written content only

I've stayed (mostly) clear of the climate debate on this blog, mainly because opinion on the issue is so politically polarized.  People are yelling at each other, but nobody's listening.  And what's worse, people are utterly unwilling to critically examine the conclusions they spew. 

The release of emails from the CRU and the refusal of other researchers to allow public access to the research and methods underlying their work seems to have revealed a science bureaucracy and a compliant press intent on solely political motives, ignoring the voices of the 31,000 scientists who disagree.  Also, the revelation that the IPCC's findings on global warming came not from the scientific method, but an undergraduate's research paper.  This whole mishmash has, in my mind, called into question the entire basis for the conclusion of Anthropogenically-caused Global Warming (AGW), and its adherents who seem far more intent on destroying the economies of western nations. 

I've looked at data from both sides, but this chart, based on NOAA ice core data showing the temperature history going back some 425,000 years, is too compelling to ignore. 

As you can see, the current warming is NOT unprecedented, and in fact warm periods are cyclical events throughout Earth's history.  The warm peaks seem to alternate in intensity, with peaks 1, 3, and 5 a bit cooler than peaks 2 and 4.  This chart also shows that the readings of late are trending downwards. 

However, the really compelling thing about this chart is that Earth's climate history doesn't have warm periods; it has warm spikes.  Temperatures do climb, but then fall precipitously immediately after, even with brief zigs upward.  On the other hand, the cold periods in the climate history are much longer, about 10 times longer on average .  Russian climatologists are convinced that the planet is headed for the next ice age; other climatologists have opined that a cooler planet is its normal state. 

There is a subtle trick to displaying data in a graph.  A person can choose a short time frame for a chart, thus presenting the data as a way of driving a certain conclusion.  If you restrict your chart to data over the last, say, 10,000 years, you would think poor Earth is about to be immolated.  But as you see here, if you expand the time scale to 425,000 years (and the more data points over the longest time, the clearer the trend) you see climate variations as normal and cyclical. 

The implications for the human race in a cold period are serious.  Growing seasons will be severely restricted, leading to widespread hunger and perhaps starvation.  A colder climate could result in a less healthier humanity, since things like the various forms of influenza seem to thrive  when the weather turns cold.  The energy required to heat buildings throughout the world will go up significantly.  Analysts have pointed out that even in this current warmer climate, energy demand will outstrip all available sources by the end of this century.  What happens when thermostats across the world are turned up?  This will not be a short-term problem, since these cooler periods seem to last around 100,000 years each. 

I don't expect to change minds with this little exercise.  It's hard, after all, to move things around after they've been cast in concrete.  But for me, the picture is becoming clearer.

And it's a chilling picture. 

(Ice core data from Alley, R.B. 2000.  "The Younger-Dryas Cold Interval as Viewed from Central Greenland."  Quaternary Science Reviews 19:213-226.)
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