Ecology and Political Strategy, was Re: Forwarded from Hans Ehrbar

Jose G. Perez jg_perez at SPAMbellsouth.net
Sun Jun 18 02:30:10 MDT 2000


I wrote:

>Or does Louis dispute that most of the greenhouse effect is due to
water
>vapor?

Louis replied:

Of course I dispute it in the way you pose it. For one thing, you
don't
mention that water vapor, like carbon emissions, is largely man-made.
Jet
engines are one of the main culprits.

*  *  *

Louis,

    This is not a serious way to approach scientific questions.

    NEITHER water vapor NOR carbon emissions are largely man-made.
They overwhelmingly come from natural causes. The argument that is
made is that the ADDITIONAL carbon dioxide generated by human
activities, although only a tiny percentage of the total, cannot be
fully absorbed by existing carbon "sinks" (such as vegetation),
thereby increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. The
evidence on this is fairly strong, since through ice core samples it
has been possible to determine that there has been an increase in CO2
concentration in the air that tracks closely with the increasing use
of fossil fuels over the past 100-150 years. A second factor in this,
or course, is deforestation and urban sprawl

    As far as I know, no climatologists claim that the amount of water
vapor in the atmosphere is being directly influenced to a significant
measure by human activity. This, Louis, appears to be your own
discovery.

    The greenhouse effect itself is a naturally occurring phenomenon
of the earth's atmosphere, which raises the average surface
temperature of the planet from about 0 degrees Farenheit to about 60
degrees Farenheit, thus, among other things, making life as we know it
possible.

    I did not in the email you are referring to or elsewhere "pose"
the fact that the greenhouse effect is due mainly to water vapor in
any particular way. It is just a fact.

    And I noted that based on the plain, declarative sentences of
Rachel's Weekly that the main greenhouse gas was carbon dioxide, one
could only conclude that the people involved with that publication
have no clue as to what they were writing about. It is, of course, my
contention that it is all-too-typical of much of the environmental
movement that people with little scientific knowlege and even less
understanding are viewed as authoritative sources, have their articles
posted to internet lists, etc.

    You say in your post that you've been following climate change
discussions in the left press for a decade. Yet all that reading did
not cause you to think twice before posting here the Rachel's Weekly
article with the scientific howler I mentioned.

    Which brings me to my point: the scientific arguments on global
warming need to be dealt with as such, and cannot be simply dismissed
with the ad-hominem argument that bad people are the ones putting
certain arguments forward. Nor is the appeal to (bourgeois)
authorities especially convincing.

    You argue that the scientific discussions in my posts have
paralelled those of oil company paid stooges. That is simply not so.
The following discussion is from a web-posted brochure prepared by
researchers at Carnegie-Mellon university. They, like the majority of
experts, do believe that the anthropogenic release of CO2 is causing a
rise in global temperatures, but unlike you, Mark, the Rachel's Weekly
author and others, they're actually acquainted with the scientific
issues involved and therefore recognize that the "the science of
climate change" is "uncertain and controversial." There are any number
of web publications that go over the same basic ideas. If for some
reason you find this one unconvincing, let me know and I'll post a
couple more.

* * *

What is the "greenhouse effect" and how does it keep temperatures on
most of the earth moderate?

The greenhouse effect is what keeps the earth a good deal warmer than
our neighbor planet, Mars.  Unlike Mars, the earth has a thick
atmosphere that can trap and redistribute energy from the sun.
Perhaps the easiest way to understand how the trapping works is by
thinking about what happens when you park your car in the sun with its
windows closed.  The inside of the car gets warm because light energy
can easily pass through the glass of the car windows and enter the
car.  Some of the light energy bounces off the lighter colored
surfaces of the car's interior and is reflected back out  through the
windows, but much of it is absorbed by the darker seats and other
things inside the car.  If that was all that was going on, the inside
of the car would just keep getting hotter and hotter.  However, as the
seats and other things in the interior warm up, they give off heat in
the form of infrared energy.  Unlike light, this infrared heat energy
cannot pass easily through the glass of the car's windows, so only a
little of it gets back outside.  However, as the temperature rises,
more energy gets through the window glass. Finally, a balance point is
reached at which the amount of sunlight energy that is being absorbed
is just balanced by the amount of heat energy that escapes in the form
of infrared.  At this point, the inside of the car reaches a stable
temperature.1

The same kind of balancing goes on with the earth. You can think of
the earth's atmosphere as playing roughly the same role as the glass
in the car window.  Sunlight can easily pass through the atmosphere.
About a third of the sunlight is immediately reflected back out into
space by light colored surfaces such as clouds, sand, snow, and ice.
Most of the rest is absorbed by darker surfaces.  If this were the
whole story, the earth's surface would keep heating up and soon we
would all fry.  To reach a balance, the energy that is absorbed must
somehow get back out into space as infrared heat energy.

Water vapor, ozone, carbon dioxide, and several other natural and
man-made gases in the atmosphere, all absorb infrared energy, so
infrared energy has trouble getting out to space.  Just as with the
car (or a glass-covered greenhouse), the earth's system reaches a
temperature level at which the amount of light coming in is just
balanced by the amount of infrared heat energy that is escaping. This
process is what is commonly known as the "greenhouse effect." It is a
natural process that has gone on ever since the earth first had an
atmosphere.

Because of this natural greenhouse effect, on average, the earth is
about 59°F (33°C) warmer than it would be without its atmosphere.
About 57°F (32°C) of this extra warmth is due to water vapor, the rest
is due to ozone, carbon dioxide, and several other naturally occurring
"greenhouse gases."

What is global warming?

The phrase "Global warming" or "Greenhouse warming" refers to the fact
that as more carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases are added to the
atmosphere, the temperature of the earth will rise, assuming nothing
else changes.  For the past few hundred years, people have been
burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil in ever increasing
quantities.  While some of the carbon dioxide released is absorbed
into the ocean or taken up by plant life, in the short-term about half
of it remains in the atmosphere.  Industrial activities also have been
releasing several other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  The
best estimates today are that these gases should have already
increased the average temperature of the earth by about 2.3°F (1°C).
Since it appears that the average temperature of the earth has only
increased by between 1 and 2°F (.6 to 1°C), it is likely that some
other things have also changed.  In Part 1 of the main brochure, we
discussed one change - small particles that are created from sulfur
air pollution and that cool the earth by reflecting sunlight.  There
are others.  Some of these changes may be directly or indirectly
caused by the increase in carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases.
These changes are called "feedbacks." It is largely the uncertainties
about these feedbacks that makes the science of climate change so
uncertain and controversial.

*   *   *
The URL for that brochure is http://www.gcrio.org/gwcc/toc.html

Louis writes further:

>>Look, Jose. I've been following the left press on this for nearly 10
years.
Every single publication agrees that global warming is for real, from
"Dollars and Sense" (URPE) to "In These Times". You have people who
are 10
times more knowledgable on the science than you are agreeing with Mark
and
me. They also have the same general political analysis, while
differing on
the details of how to change the property relations that are causing
the
problem. You don't seem particularly bothered by the fact that you are
arguing the same thing as a bunch of the most cynical bunch of creeps
on
the face of the planet.<<

It may well be that people 10 times more knowlegeable that I am agree
with you and Mark. But if so, I've yet to read or hear about in the
scientific literature the kinds of catastrophic scenarios being
presented on this list as "fact," except when presented quite openly
and honestly as speculation.

As for the current state of the empirical evidence, I suggest the NY
Times article at the following URL:

http://www.nytimes.com/library/national/science/
022900sci-environ-climate.html

(You'll need to cut-and-paste the two halfs of the URL together).

The article, "Global Warming: The Contrarian View," I think presents a
fair account of where things stand now on the issue, and in
particular, the debate over the conflict between the land-based
observations and the satellite data. I know, this gets technical, but
it is only on that level that the issues can be intelligently
addressed.

I remain convinced that most people, including the majority of
scientists involved, are predisposed to agree with the global warming
hypothesis because "it makes sense" that temperatures should rise if
greenhouse gases increase. But as far as I can tell, the scientific
evidence remains contradictory.

José

----- Original Message -----
From: "Louis Proyect" <lnp3 at panix.com>
To: <marxism at lists.panix.com>
Sent: Monday, June 12, 2000 1:46 PM
Subject: Re: Ecology and Political Strategy, was Re: Forwarded from
Hans Ehrbar


José wrote:
>The conclusion Louis is pushing, it seems to me, is, How scandalous!
There
>goes José getting into bed with the paid hirelings of the oil
companies, and
>so on.

I honestly don't think you are aware that much of the global warming
skeptics are whores of the energy companies but nevertheless you are
repeating their arguments with almost no modification.

>What is really surprising is that such a basic bit of climatological
trivia
>could catch Louis off-guard. It should lead us to wonder why it is
that
>Louis, who is usually so hard headed, evinces a mind of mush when it
comes
>to environmental science.

If I found those kinds of arguments in the NY Times or at the
Lamont-Doherty Laboratory website at Columbia University, I'd take
them
more seriously. Mostly your arguments seem oddly detached from such
sources.

>Or does Louis dispute that most of the greenhouse effect is due to
water
>vapor?

Of course I dispute it in the way you pose it. For one thing, you
don't
mention that water vapor, like carbon emissions, is largely man-made.
Jet
engines are one of the main culprits.

Look, Jose. I've been following the left press on this for nearly 10
years.
Every single publication agrees that global warming is for real, from
"Dollars and Sense" (URPE) to "In These Times". You have people who
are 10
times more knowledgable on the science than you are agreeing with Mark
and
me. They also have the same general political analysis, while
differing on
the details of how to change the property relations that are causing
the
problem. You don't seem particularly bothered by the fact that you are
arguing the same thing as a bunch of the most cynical bunch of creeps
on
the face of the planet. They remind me of the character Danny Ackroyd
used
to play on the SNL, when it was funny. Can't remember his name, but he
used
to hawk endangered species for food on late-night tv commercials,
while
smoking a cigarette and wearing a loud plaid jacket.




Louis Proyect

The Marxism mailing-list: http://www.marxmail.org








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