Emissions Targets Sound Nice, and are a Way to “do Something,” but they Arbitarily (and Minimally) Address Climate Change
The market imbalance between cleaner (less polluting, and less atmospheric altering), and less clean agricultural and energy practices, has greatly skewed us toward habituation of and reliance upon increasingly counterproductive practices.
This is the basic challenge of production (or market) externalities – increasing as our population, technology, energy use, and potential for impact upon our world, increases.
These externalities don’t come with a price tag, or often even a marker alerting us to their existence (or full existence). So economists, by trying to put a tangible present day cost on intangible, long term value as well as often heavily commingled, hidden, or immeasurable (not to mention imprecise), harms, try to come up with figures or “values” for this cost; but trying to do so is often more misleading than not.
Such absolute cost value assessments also make the erroneous presumption that dollar value is absolute over time. But this can’t be the case. If it were, as total societal dollar value doubled and quadrupled and quadrupled again over time, people’s overall utility and happiness would rise accordingly. Which it does not do, and seemingly can not, do. So dollars are a way of comparing apples to apples, and putting something concrete on our exchange of perceived value. (*And they work a lot better than clamshells.)
Trying to assess the long term commingled harm to the basic quality of our world, opportunity, and health – all things which may not break down quite so much in value over time, as the present day absolute worth of a “dollar” – are like oranges, to the proverbial apples.
So in trying to compare the gain of mitigating pollution, in comparison to the “costs” (which if those costs simply represent a substitution of goods and production choices aren’t even real costs in the long run), sometimes we’re comparing apples to oranges. Even more so when it comes to the more complex, longer term, higher risk range, and unpredictability and completely uncharted territory aspect, of climate change.
That said, the basic problem of production (or market) externalities is real. And to avoid so much unnecessary counter productive long term harm, we have to find a way to sensibly and fairly address those externalities. (Typically done in the form of environmental and health regulations or policies.)
Climate change is a tricky issue. It is so inextricably global, so encompassing, so risk range oriented (a concept, on an issue which also simultaneously presents an almost assured certainty of some relevant impact as well regardless, which a lot of people struggle with). And there is so much ingrained resistance to the idea that mankind could be so fundamentally altering our very world against our own interests, and rampant economic presumption and alarmism over basic energy changes or change possibilities.
At the same time, as positive bonuses, climate change redress, or at least mitigation, would also invariably lower a lot of attendant pollution (and secondary to that, improve overall health, not to mention avoid the worst if indirect health consequences – particularly to the world’s poor – from dramatic climate change over time), as well as improve long term energy security and independence – on national, local, and personal levels.
Also at the same time, there are already many alternatives to our more traditional if more (long term) detrimental agricultural and energy practices, many of which are becoming increasingly cost effective, even without consideration of the fact that almost all of the tremendous, if immeasurable, “real” cost of more harmful practices is not presently – or even remotely, for that matter – integrated into their pricing structure. (And thus, into our decision making – and hence the huge inherent, if perhaps not so obvious, inefficiency.)
So simply capturing at least part of that real long term cost in some sort of market oriented way, along with promotion (but not imposition) of beneficial practices, would likely be enough to cause an even playing field between harmful and non harmful or less harmful practices. And as a result, sufficiently reward personal, business and even power and agricultural company transitions, to radically transform increasingly outdated, but habitually (and presumptively) clung to practices; and not only shortly stabilize total long term atmospheric greenhouse gases, but likely lead to a relevant reduction over a few more decades and thus mitigate what is right now a rather profound risk range of major to radical, if unpredictable, long term climate shifting.
The best way to do this is through some sort of user fee or tax upon long term atmospheric altering practices, most easily achievable through some sort of carbon “tax.” (A simple revenue neutral plan, which would give plenty of motive, business planning certainty and structure, and assistance with transition, is very briefly laid out here.)
On the other hand, the complexities, minor inefficiences, and seeming lack of political appeal of carbon taxation aside, setting emissions targets is a bad idea relative to a carbon tax, for three reasons:
It creates a bit more direct government control. It creates an arbitrary target with little broader market based flexibility to belp achieve the same or potentially far more successful ends, and with lower short term cost substitutions. And it fails to directly capitalize on consumer and business choice and financial motivation as additional means to evolve successful and growth oriented amelioration strategy responses and, ultimately, problem solving or ameliorating patterns, habits and practices.
In other words, and most importantly, it will likely also accomplish far less than a carbon tax, and do so with more potential imposition, real cost, and inefficiencies.
The only things it does do is avoid the seeming lack of political “appeal” for a carbon tax, and set some sort of concrete “target” – albeit, as opposed to doing nothing, a helpful target, one that is also fairly arbitrary, and likely highly insufficient. (And one that’s unduly pessimistic, as we can easily achieve far more by at least correcting some of the present day imbalances and putting the market to work to not only far more efficiently use what we have, but develop more and better ways to do so as well.)
Essentially, we know we need to “do something” (although many “skeptics” argue even with that, though when we don’t blame this human changed cause on humans, many become more accomodating to the idea of some redress).
And overall poor public assessment of and understanding on the issue – the same that has caused us to drag our feet on an amplifying problem for a few decades now – combined with, however, general support for doing “something” regardless of climate change’s supposed “cause,” lead to government decreed mitigation strategies that won’t do much to sufficiently ameloriate the situation, but nevertheless may cause a disproportionate amount of apparent short term cost and burden relative to what’s actually required.
In other words, less overall effect, and more “cost,” at least to the extent the cost is real.
But since some of the cost is being directly dictated rather than market driven, more of it, at least in the short term, likely is real. (With a revenue neutral carbon tax the idea of a cost becomes more illusionary – even if many incorrectly see such spending transitions as the gospel of real harm – since it’s merely a transference of resources and jobs and (human) energy into more benefical practices, and with all of the growth created therein, as real as the alarmist worry over growth “losses” from switching over to better practices.)
This seeming cost burden will of course be lessened by the reality that clean energy sources and better agricultural practices already available, in effect, already make transition over to longer term set targets far more trivial than they seem. And do so without even accomodating for the enormous long term hidden costs and harms of polluting sources and practices that already greatly imbalance our markets and production choices.
For instance, simply switching over a large portion of energy production to solar, all of which adds to GDP and creates jobs and income as much as any other investment and spending, and is no less real, will help make up much if not more of the set targets.
And it would do so in less time than even alloted for such targets to be met. And over such time, or even significantly less time, the transition costs will whittle down to next to nothing, as solar energy, for instance, is already fairly, if not perfectly, inexpensive at this point.
In other words, to simplify, we act as if we have a huge imponderable problem – E.g: “We need energy, too bad the only way to get it is from this black stuff (or gas) from the ground, and there wasn’t this incredible ball of energy up in the sky (for instance) – and if there is, too bad there isn’t a way to harness it.”
Yet that’s not the case. There is a huge ball of energy in the sky, as well as multiple other opportunities, already being ingeniously developed. And that’s without the mother of all performance and innovation – real, rather than abstractly perceived, need. (Need which a carbon tax both creates, and rewards.)
And again there is a way to harness that ball of energy in the sky, for instance – solar power. And, it’s economically feasible, and will over time not only continue to drop in relative price, but whatever costs there are versus different decision possibilities will will simply be integrated into our overall GDP, and facilitate the efficient allocation that is the market based pricing decision structure in the first. (Building codes, for instance, are a pain in the neck, no doubt. But within reason, are necessary. And any power utilizing dwelling roof without solar is simply a poor use of resources. So an appropriately priced building “fee” that’s waived for solar inclusion – motivation is far better than imposition – will make it even nonsensical short term not to take advantage of any such surface just sitting there, pointing to the sky, when installing roofs.)
So it’s not like it’s that big of a deal to simply decrease total net emissions, let alone over many years. Yet we’re addressing this as if it is.
Put simply, the targets are just a way of formalizing a sentiment to “emit less,” which simply moving toward better practices accomplishes on its own. And they make smaller reductions over a long time period, based upon an arbitrary and very static model or expectation of what our markets, and us, are capable of, appear as a somewhat more meaningful goal than they really are.
And they do also nevertheless still set arbitrary constraints to achieve otherwise positive ends that, with proper motivation, and the same or lower cost, and even less restriction on choice opportunity, could be exceeded up to several times over by simultaneously using the market, rather than simply dictating to the market what to do. Which, mild and very “reasonable” long term targets though such new emissions targets may be, is exactly what they do. And it’s exactly what a carbon tax – unappealing as it is to recalcitrant, business anarchy, “there are no such things as ‘hidden’ production cost” organizations such as the Heritage Foundation – does not do.
But more importantly, as most leading climate scientists aptly point out, current expressed emission reduction targets are also completely inadequate for making the kind of impact to our long term atmospheric greenhouse gas levels that sensible and non political, objective, assessment of the issue requires. Namely, stabilizing current levels and then bringing them down to something still far higher than at the start of the industrial period, but substantially below current levels.
In short, use the markets when we can. Setting long term and arbitrary emissions targets that our best scientists on the issue tell us are wholly insufficient to significantly transform the issue, doesn’t do that.
Our short term attachment to “cost,” what’s been part of the huge economic presumption impediment to sensible redress for nearly thirty years now, can also work in our favor rather than against us: by assisting both markets and consumers in their efforts, and rewarding behavior that’s more consistent with movement toward less externally damaging or counterproductive practices and patterns, while simultaneously allowing individual (business and consumer) choice, rather than arbitrary dictate to pave the way.
Moreover, the difference in real hard costs between harmful and non harmful energy and agricultural practices is now relatively moderate. And in some instances it’s slight, if even that. And, if only some of the intangible and often hidden but very real long term negative impacts of our current more broadly counterproductive energy and agricultural practices were somehow integrated into their actual pricing, our markets would shift over, based on the simple motivation of demand and reward.
Right now the balance cuts the other way – as none of the real costs of long term counterproductive practices are integrated. (And thus by comparison none of the “benefits” of cleaner, non or lesser atmospheric altering practices are integrated into their price either.) And so, resistant to change for the noble (and often refuted), idea of broader improvement alone, we think of it as a larger roadblock than it is.
A carbon tax removes that roadblock. And it rewards choice, allows for business planning, and allows us to see how much we can do. Or more precisely, allows us to do what we are capable of.
Doing what we are capable of, consistent with growth and jobs, is paramount on this issue. This is because there are no arbitrary threshold targets we “have to reach” (and scientists who suggest otherwise are speculating).
And by the basic nature of the problem – or challenge – the more we ameliorate, the less the overall long term impact and lower the worse downside risks and their amounts, and the better for us, all.
A carbon tax helps us achieve this without much government dictate, no extra government spending, and with business planning and the reward of choice. And will likely even reduce the need (and clamor for) future draconian measures if and when climate change starts to get out of hand after ice melt rates,”glacial” at first, really start to accelerate, and methane, a gas we’re underestimating, starts to self sustain and more.
In short, it’s the lowest imposition, with the highest return, for a problem which causes many to worry about imposition; and one for which we need, the highest return.
There is multiple misrepresentation and error in mainstream media climate change “refutation” pieces, regarding what climate change actually is, and why it presents a great challenge.
Additionally, “misinformed” climate change pieces are even more prevalent on the Internet and in social media – where most people get much of their information – than in mainstream media sources, and so the claims that comprise climate change “skepticism” remain well more than relevant news, since they have profound influence relative to the facts.
This, in turn, is greatly affecting general public perception on and understanding of the so called (anthropogenic) climate change issue, where a rather incredible gap now exists between what most practicing climate scientists know, and the general public perceives.
The answer to the dilemma is not to say (as some have ill advisedly, and almost anti democratcially- if as with most ideas, with “good intentions”), the media or any sources should simply stop publishing “anti-climate change” pieces and claims. Intelligent conversation – the disparate opinions required for democracy, basic liberty, and good science – require that all views and claims be available.
The answer, for better information and journalism – which better response to the problem (and one similarly needed years ago) requires (just as it required years ago), is to publish and cover misinformed claims, in the context of the relevant facts; which requires showing both the relevant facts and why they are relevant.
This, however, is not being done.
As a result, the striking pattern underlying the misinformation skewing our discussion and perception on the “climate change” issue, is simply not being given the objective, non politically biased coverage, it warrants and requires.
Take for instance pieces by ultracrepidarian Christopher Booker, whom the U.K’s Telegraph continues to publish (with the claims then republished all over the globe), and whose work serves as a striking and influential example.
Several months ago, courtesy of the Telegraph, Booker, among many others, published a few pieces claiming that international temperature data was a fraud – yes, fraud: not “wrong,” but “fraud”-purposefully perpetrated by NOAA and NASA, and with scientific community complicity.
As we’ll see clearly below, these claims are similar to, if – in level of recklessness and error – not even well beyond, the creation of climategate a few years back.”Climategate” itself was a largely made up scandal, created by (illegally) pilfering stacks of private emails, in order to try find something that out of context sounded bad.
Nevertheless, it was a (faux, but widely believed and influential)”scandal” that dominated international climate headlines for two years, and greatly undermined public confidence in climate scientists and understanding of climate change as a result.
Yet on the other hand, the far more real “climate gate-gate” – the scandal of stealing private emails to wildly cherry pick out of context phrases to create an erroneous perception that nevertheless helped to reinforce “skeptic” belief and greatly undermine public confidence in simple general, basic, climate science, and climate scientists – was barely covered.
And in almost the same way, these newest “NASA data tampering” claims now making the rounds worldwide – including in multiple media sources and thousands of secondary Internet sources – offer Booker and other skeptics another rationale to dismiss anything conflicting with their belief:
Namely, the belief that man is not changing earth’s climate: intense, now multi-million year level of atmospheric alteration compressed into an astonishingly short geological time frame, the geophysical record, the risk ranges presented, or the intense, and increasing, record of geophysical signs of beginning change notwithstanding.
Though climate is “sensitive” – in fact this idea is implicitly one of the main skeptic arguments as to why we’re not changing it; because climate changes so easily, it therefore “isn’t us who are changing it now” – this belief is accomplished in large part through the idea that climate is otherwise extremely insensitive.
Specifically, it is sensitive and changes easily; except to man’s influence. In response to man’s influence, instead, it “self regulates,” as if for our specific benefit. And it does so even though it’s not an organism with something to “self regulate,” but a ball of rock hurtling through space that reflects the geophysical forces acting upon it.
Yet when some highly influential AGW denouncers skeptics recently managed to get a paper published in a Chinese science journal (in a piece the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for space studies called “complete trash“), they elected to simply make up and assume the direct opposite of the mainstay – and otherwise irrelevant – “climate changes” skeptic argument.
And thus, they decided to decide that climate barely changes, is very stable, and is insensitive to even major external forcings upon it. So long as, again, those forcings are human caused, that is.
It’s apparently extremely sensitive, however, to anything “natural” that can be asserted, in order to ignore the far more geologically profound – yet man caused – sudden yet multi-million year increase in earth’s long term atmospheric insulation layer.
But that wasn’t all. In addition to ignoring almost all known climate modeling understanding, and neglecting to explain why what was known was “wrong” and they were discarding it, and once again following the same pattern of using any argument possible in order to reinforce an already arrived at conclusion, the authors of the Chinese science journal paper also simply made up the idea that any climate change effect is near instantaneous, which is a preposterous assumption. (It’s the atmospheric alteration equivalent of asserting that because it’s a clear day and the sun is at 40 degrees in the sky, the temperature, wherever we are on the globe, and whenever, will be the exact same, and not a reflection of the long term acccumulation of factors that affect and drive climate.)
All of this, and more, was done in a paper absolutely “riddled with fundamental errors.” And one that, by this same pattern of machinations, naturally, arrived at the pre-determined belief or desire driven conclusion that “skeptic” authors Willie Soon, Christopher Monckton, David Legates, and William Briggs clearly needed to reach.
Booker’s claims also serve as example of the same pattern; that is, of not only practicing outright advocacy to reach a desired conclusion, but advocacy that manufactures claims flatly contradicted by the facts. Even doing so when those claims are wild accusations, which Booker is seemingly fond of. And the Telegraph, and thousands of other if sometimes lesser sources, are willing to repeat as if it’s news or information.
Not, again, the news of what Booker is actually doing – which is more important and yet essentially not covered. But, instead, the claims themselves: with key omissions, mistake, error, fraud, misrepresentation, and zealotry, all un-assessed, and largely ignored.
As for Booker’s claim of NOAA fraud he called the “biggest science scandal ever” – leading to over 30,000 comments on one piece alone – here’s the shocking reality of what was left out: The “data tampering” of which this biggest scandal consisted was routine raw data recalibration from lesser maintained and older weather stations. And not only is there no controversy in science over conducting such recalibrations, it’s considered poor science not to when warranted.
Were some of the temperature recalibrations possibly in errror? Though there doesn’t seem to be much strong evidence suggesting this – and recalibration arbitration is also imperfect – they might have been. But if so, addressing them is part of what science is: the ongoing process of learning, adjusting, correcting mistakes.
Yet a big part of what climate change “skepticism” or far more accurately, disavowal, consists of, is taking the ongoing process of science itself as a basis for arguing that what is known isn’t known either, or is incorrect or worse, or that risk isn’t real if exact outcome can’t be predicted in advance (and if it could it would no longer be “risk,” and the concept would cease to exist). Which arguments, when generalized as on climate chamge, and with the exact same semantics earnestly employed on this subject, could also be used to rhetorically invalidate any and all pieces of knowledge in existence, and make all knowledge – except the knowledge one wants to use to support what one wants to believe – useless or dimissable.
Moreover, Booker and many other hard core climate change disavowers also didn’t suggest the recalibrations were in error, nor add to the possible body of science by suggesting why and offer corrections or improvements therein.
That wouldn’t be consistent with climate change skepticism – namely, finding ways, under the belief of self reinforcing “logic,” to perpetuate the belief of skepticism, and undermine climate scientists and climate science wherever possible. So instead we have, voila, NOAA and NASA “fraud.” “Data tampering.”
And of course, the “Telegraph” – itself driven by ideology and poor climate change “awareness” – published the original claims, giving it some sort of journalistic credibility, along with countless other sources both major and minor giving further credence and global exposure to the claims. (This is not to say that looking at issues such as data recalibration, or even climate change advocacy groupthink or presumption, and of course the various uncertainties in terms of what we know, aren’t valid. But this not what climate change skepticism – a very, very, different, if extremely prevalent, and pronounced, phenomenon – is.)
Most importantly, despite the enormous global influence of the alleged data tampering scandal, most of this story, and the most relevant part of it, hasn’t even been touched by mainstream media, who continue to miss one of the biggest psychosocio cultural as well as climate change stories of the 21st century.
The most relevant part, is that the claims of fraud are not only in error – if not themselves, fraudulent – but in error on every fundamental level, and fit the same broader pattern of self reinforcing belief that constitutes the psychosocio cultural phenomenon of climate change “skepticism” – and one that should be far more accurately called “disavowal.” Because it is not skepticism, but rather its opposite – embrace of almost any idea, claim or assertion that supports the desired or pre determined belief that mankind is not relevantly changing our future climate.
(Note: psychosocio doesn’t mean “pyscho.” It refers to psychology and the psychological and sociological processes culturally at play with respect to this pure geophysical issue of climate change, which nevertheless has not only a lot of passionate feeling surrounding it, but indirect political ramificatinos, as well as a huge amount of economic connection and massive presumption.)
Temperature data recalibration is normal. And it’s considered bad science not to do it. The “scandal of the century” actually, if rather fantastically, refers to precisely this routine recalibration; and which, if done mistakenly or in error, is not being pointed out for correction or improvement as such, and as part of the process of science.
And, even if that were the case, it’s not a fraud, but a suggestion or illustration of mistake in science, which, after observation, is nearly as fundamental a part of science as there is: Yet climate change “skepticism” has literally managed to turn one of the most basic ongoing parts of science itself into a “scandal” – even, in Booker’s eyes, the “biggest science scandal ever.” (Just as climate skepticism managed to turn part of private human communications and routine data problems or imperfections, into the other “biggest science scandal” ever.)
But something else extremely key was also not only left out, but as a result the issue was falsely represented in an even more basic way:
The whole claim rests on the dual assertions that NOAA, NASA and other major parties fraudulently “changed” or knew of fraudulent change to basic temperature readings, using the process of recalibration as the excuse, and pretending that the basic process of recalibration – part of good science – doesn’t even exist. And that, moreover, these changes were only done in an upward direction.
But they weren’t done only in an upward direction. They were done in both directions. But some ideological blogger – Paul Homewood (covered in relation to Booker’s pieces part way down) – cherry picked and cherry picked until he could find seeming evidence to support his theory that climate change isn’t real. And Booker – who directly and extensively relied on this work for both of his major pieces on the issue, that were then in turned picked up by thousands of other sources – turned him into a climate change skeptic star.
And, the ensuing claims of scandal, in addition to falsely conflating basic and normal recalibration or even (if so), basic and normal recalibration error, with “fraud” -let alone “biggest science scandal ever” – falsely informed the world that temperatures were only adjusted upward. This is also patently false; yet also basic to the entire claim as well.
In essence, it’s a two part claim – both are required for the claim to have any merit – and both parts are patently false. And while the former – recalibrations aren’t routine, but fraud – can be an attributed to zealous interpretation – e.g, “your recalibration or recalibration errors (if any) must have been fraudulently done because they don’t support our views but do support the idea of warming!” What can the latter be attributed to?
(Also, while not really relevant, but interesting, had no recalibrations been done at all, total surface air warming would be essentially the same.)
Intentional, or far more likely not, Booker essentially engages in a multiple fraud – the fraud of representing recalibrations as some sort of huge scandal, with no evidence of any deliberate attempt to purposefully manipulate overall global temperatures; the fraud of representing that temperatures were only adjusted upward, when as part of the recalibration process they were adjusted in both directions; and even the implicit fraud of representing that temperature data only suggests a warming trend due to this recalibration.
And he blatantly and rather aggresively “projects” that fraud directly onto others – in this case climate scientists.
So now this month, also courtesy of the Telegraph, and in a clever but also contrived piece of, yes, projection, Booker ironically claims those concerned about climate change (not himself ), “project.” Namely, in that they project their own denial of the true “climate change facts” onto those – such as Booker – who disavow that man is relevantly changing our climate.
In other words, those concerned about climate change – whom Booker seems to like calling warmists, and conflate with prediction of imminent global catastrophe and not just increasing negative climate impacts and relevant risks of potentially major impacts – project out that others, like Booker are “deniers,” when it is they themselves who “deny.”
Not deny the fact that most skeptics largely believe what they say. (Which many climate change advocates unfortunately have a hard time believing or understanding the extensive influence of on popular discussion and assessment.) But “deny” skeptic reality “fact” that mankind’s actions aren’t relevantly impacting our long term climate or presenting a signifcant risk range of so doing.
These projectors include over 97% of the climate scientists who actually and professionally study climate change.
Though of course hard core “skeptics” have a way of rationalizing this away also, saying this fairly broad climate scientist consensus doesn’t exist by substituting in something else for it: Somewhat like a magician does with his hands; “here, see how these aren’t apples,” before, while you’re not looking, switching the bag of apples to a bag of oranges, but with climate scientist consensus. (And which is what famous and also influential climate change skeptic Ross McKittrick all but literally does here.)
What’s remarkable about this is that in labeling non climate change skeptics as “projectors,” Booker is engaging in about as classic a bit of projection as one can: He is projecting his “denialism” (or confusion over, or “disavowal” of climate change), outward onto climate scientists and those concerned about the issue.
But not only that: He is then, irony of ironies, calling it “projection” in others. And then supports his assertion by not only engaging in exactly the same pattern of cherry picking that the article he now attacks originally pointed out as the key pattern of climate change “skeptics” (or “denialism”), but by following a meandering course of prose that has almost nothing to do with climate change.
For instance, much of his article on how climate change isn’t real focuses on sporadic polar bear increases, while omitting the facts that polar bears were being hunted to extinction, and a resulting 1973 treaty signed by the five countries with land in polar bear territory essentially banned their hunting.
And to the extent it does have to do with climate change, his piece on how climate change isn’t real, remarkably misconstrues the issue: Such as, ignoring the fact that arctic ice is only one small component and extremely variable and climate change is a long term phenomenon and only imprecisely predictable, and cherry picking out large increases in arctic ice following an unmentioned 2012 record low that also demolished a record low set only 5 years earlier by almost another twenty percent, and that 2015 just set a record for lowest winter arctic ice extent ever and this summer is again tracking to be one of the lowest on record, to argue that the artic isn’t changing, and thus climate change isn’t real. (Which it would be even if arctic sea ice was the same – as the issue is total global heat energy changes, so what’s relevant is the total picture, including the fact that different regions are changing differently, or even slightly cooling.)
But it does fit a pattern, of, for lack of a better term, “denying it.” Or not getting it. Or not wanting to get it – easily reinforced by the wide spread prevalance of this pattern, and the near avalanche of cherry picked “information” and basic issue misconstruction it creates.
As well as the attendant lack of major illumination – instead mistakenly taking it for granted that this is all “obvious” to everybody – by many climate change advocacy leaders, and our mainstream media. And in the process, not just doing an injustice to decent basic coverage of the broader issues and phenomenon of climate change and our response to it, but missing one of the bigger, and more important, stories of our times.
Last Updated March 4, 2016
CLIMATE change is not air temperatures. Air temperature is one part of the pattern of increased total earth energy that constitutes climate change or “global warming.”
Air temperature is also a very variable part of the total global warming phenomenon. Other key earth systems that are directly affected by climate change – such as oceans, our near polar regions’ enormous ice sheets, and vast expanses of permafrost areas both at the bottom of the sea and atop the land – play a large role in how much air temperatures ultimately increase, and climate changes, and right now are more important than air temperature changes, though dwarfed in coverage and attention by the latter.
What mattters is the total heat accumulation of the earth – oceans, ice sheets, land surface, and permafrost areas, and our oceans can absorb an enormous amount of energy. As can ice sheets, as they slowly warm and start to turn some of their substance into water
So shorter term geologic changes in the general average rate of ambient global air temperature rise is not a “pause” in climate change or global warming, or anything of the sort. (Unless the otherwise misleading term “global warming” only and specifically refers to ambient air temperatures, and ignores the larger, far more complete, and far more important picture.)
It’s a change in ambient global surface air temperature rates; which were volatile (and unpredictable, particularly over shorter periods of time) both before anthropogenic climatec change, and even more so as a result of it.
But even the idea that more general ambient air temperatures have “paused” is itself largely fiction, as the temperature trend into the 21st century and right up to this very month continues, and is now increasing in rate again. As it had as well into the 90s, and as part of what climate change is – high and at least somewhat imperfectly predictable variability: Not this imagined phenomenon of low short term variability, and nice symetrical linear progression that superficial or incorrect analyses, soundbite news coverages, and most so called “skepticism,” implicitly frames it as.
That is, changes in the rate of temperature increase alone are as apt to be occurring as we march forward in time as not, and based upon what climate change is: Namely, a highly variable unpredictable and almost definitively non linear alteration of the climate, as total earth atmospheric net energy accumulates as a result of a geologically significant increase in long lived atmospheric thermal radiation (earth’s “insulation layer”) that’s now occurred in an incredibly short geologic period – an increase now that in the case of carbon dioxide alone has reached atmospheric concentrations that the earth hasn’t seen in millions of years. And not only is carbon dioxide not only not the only gas of concern, another may wind up being as, if not in some ways, more important in terms of the risk of potentially rapid and large shifts or lurches in climate that continue to grow.
Additionally, recent studies further suggest that the short term decrease in the rate of temperature increase alone – changes which, again, based upon what climate change is, are as apt to be occurring as we march forward in time as not – didn’t exist.
Yet adding to the confusion (and a story worthy of attention), even quasi “skeptic” sites – such as the one by this frequent U.S. congressional climate change testifier, scurried to denounce the aforereferenced study. And did so while, naturally, once again completely missing the big picture. (Notice, for example, notice, among other things, the long extensive cherry picking of an unnamed “international journalist” in order to reinforce pre existing, and fundamentally incorrect, framing of the issue.)
But the hiatus re-analysis – the fact that the slight short term average air temperature increase rate either slightly temporarily slowed or didn’t – wasn’t that relevant to the bigger issues we’re presented with.
(Update: Note that while all this misguided fuss about a “pause” was going on, 2014 set a record for the warmest air temperatures globally ever recorded. Only it didn’t last long, because 2015 shattered the mark, setting a new world record, air temperature wise, for the warmest year ever, and shattering the 2014 mark. Then for good measure, January 2016 didn’t just set the record for the hottest global January ever recorded, it also set the record for the highest deviation above the norm, or anomaly, for any month of the year, any year, ever recorded in mankind’s history. Quite the “pause.” And now, from the first set of data in – tropospheric satellite data, February 2016 has not just, one month later, beaten the previous record set in January for the hottest anomaly above the “norm” once again, for any month ever recorded, it smashed it.
On the other hand, the above referenced study suggesting no substantive decrease in the overall rate of increase of globall air temperatures in the first 15 years of this century, does add clarifying information. And it helps refine our body of knowledge regarding the process of climate and, in particular, temperature modeling.
Temperature modeling itself is something, of course, which following the same pattern of both misunderstanding on the basic climate change issue, and widespread “advocacy” against the idea of anthropogenic climate change, is in turn then itself often misunderstood, and even widely misconstrued to fit a pre determined conclusionm and erroneously used to try to refute climate change.
This process of misconstruing future temperature modeling, or projections, is itself, again, part of a broader pattern of trying to reinforce a belief or “view” by any argument possible, rather than the dispassionate, objective assessment it professes itself to be. (Here’s a good example, very similar to what runs rampant on countless “scientific” sites, to some extent among almost half of United States politicians and legislators, and of which there are probably, literally, many millions of similar examples just on twitter alone – itself a great venue for soundbite rhetoric:
Yet this pattern of trying to advocate or perpetuate a desired view by any argument, despite a fair amount of counter productive disbelief about this fact among many who are more accurately aware of the real climate change problem, not only professes itsejf to be objective, but in order to continue belief in its conclusions, also generally believes itself to be objective; and in many skeptic circles, the group – and, presumably, unlike climate scientists – practicing “real science.” By conflating the phenomenon of climate change with air temperature alone, it’s also a pattern which is often inadvertently, if mistakenly, reinforced. (Albeit less so lately now that global temperature records are sudddenly being set at a fairly rapid pace.)
Related to this, and helping to drive some of the misunderstanding that leads to incorrect if believed analyses and rhetoric on the subject, there is essentially a false idea that climate change, even now in its earlier stages, is largely air temperature, and again not the far more important net accumulation of energy that’s slowly affecting earth’s basic energy systems – including of course the ones that drive and shape future climate. This is causing a lot of misunderstanding on what the issue really is, as well as misunderstanding of the fundamental – and, in terms of amount plus speed, geologically radical – long term atmospheric alteration driving it. And it’s leading many to wrongly assume climate change is a sort of quick response to increased greenhouse gases – i.e., they go up, and voila, climate is different.
That’s not what it is.
Increased long term greenhouses gases do immediately absorb and re radiate more thermal radiation emanating off of earth’s various surfaces. But most of that increase in energy retention then goes into slowly re shaping our net earth atmosphere’s energy balance; changing our oceans, and even large swaths of permafrost, hard land surface and subsurface temperatures, ice sheet temperatures, and even ice sheets themselves.
And this, along with the atmospheric change originally driving it, increases not just the amount of potential thermal radiation to be emitted from earth’s surfaces long into the future, but also rehapes the amount of energy even absorbed in the first place, as earth’s albedo – or reflectivity – slolwly changes. And, further amplifying an ongoing process of change until a new stases is reached, long stable stores of carbon also begin to change, and release in the form of additional greenhouse gases – and in a potentially very dramatic way, powerful signs of which we are already beginning to see.
This is a simplification, of course, as ice sheets take energy and translate it into melting ice sheets, and not atmospheric or even ocean warmth.
But these in turn don’t just affect a host of processes, but slowly break down the long term stability of the climate moderating caps, ice sheets, and average global sea ice formation averages and, along with other processes such as permafrost and glacial melt, decrease the amount of solar radiation simply reflected back into space. And which, down the road, will then instead be emitted as much longer wavelength thermal radiation which is then “trapped” by the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – increases and all – whereas reflected sunlight isn’t.
Ocean currents change, unpredictably; precipitation patterns change, unpredictably, as total net energy increases, the total potential for both more powerful and intense weather events increases, and both more and more water vapor is potentially evaporated from slowly increasing temperatures, with a warmer atmosphere then capable of retaining far more moisture, leading to unpredictable yet in many regions, likely almost complete shifts in not just volatility and precipitation event intensities, but precipitation patterns and weather patterns.
And so on.
It’s not just air temperatures, but a host of more complex factors, as earth’s system adjusts to the large ongoing increase in trapped atmospheric energy in an ongoing process that will only “relatively” stabilize decades to possibly even centuries after atmospheric levels of long term greenhouse gases have themselves relatively stabilized.
Thus, the goal should be to lower total long term ambient greenhous gas levels at this point, as the world’s leading glaciologists, and countless other experts, strongly suggest. Unfortunately, right now we’re still increasing long term ambient greenhouse gase levels. And, again, as permafrost regions melt and release carbon, and possiblly to likely sea floor methane eruptions start to slowly snowball, we may start to get a significant amount of amplifying help as the future unfolds; not help in reducing long term atmospheric greenhouse gas levels, but in further adding to them.