Rain

Jose G. Perez jg_perez at SPAMbellsouth.net
Sun Nov 19 21:30:42 MST 2000



>>Jose claims to have studied global warming with more objectivity and in
greater depth than anybody else here. No offense, Jose, but Les Schaffer
has a doctorate in astrophysics and is a scientist by profession. I would
tend to take his word much more seriously than I would yours.<<

If  I've given comrades that impression, let me disabuse them. I'm not
really "into" climate science, I'm much more of an astronomy, cosmology
and --insofar as practical applications go-- electronics geek. But the
circumstances of my work forced me some time ago to get into it, and what I
found is (okay, I know, you told me so ...) that much of what we're told by
the bourgeois press is so oversimplified and so extremely hyped that even a
lot of the "consensus" among scientists is, well, let's
just say overstated, and especially the catastrophism of some of the
predictions associated with that consensus in the popular mind.

But I like to think that I've absorbed enough about the scientific method
and how to apply and enrich it with insights derived from a Marxist world
view that simply being a nay-sayer to Louis's (and Lou's) oversimplified
explanations of what we actually KNOW becomes awfully tempting, and I'll
confess to being a sinner from way back.

I do not agree with Louis when he compares skepticism on global climate
change with those denying the mountain of scientific evidence
linking the Human Inmunodeficiency Virus (HIV) to AIDS. When he says this
kind of thing, I'm not sure if Louis is even familiar with the terms of the
scientific debate. It is true, as he suggests, that only crackpots and
fringe elements deny a) that there is climate change or b) that there is
some degree of human impact on that change. What is largely uncertain, in my
reading of the more accessible technical literature on the subject, is how
significant the degree of that human influence might be. The implicit but
unstated political conclusion is that how significant any redressing of that
overall or global impact might be is also uncertain.

There is also a tremendous amount of speculative material, part of it based
on models which are known to be inaccurate for these purposes, and part of
it with even less scientific foundation, forecasting all sorts of dire
effects. At this stage, that's all pretty much baloney, no one has a model
that would allow predictions with any degree of confidence on what the
actual impact on regional climate patterns is likely to be if the global
warming that is predicted takes place. Anyone worried about, for example,
the southeastern US becoming much more arid can take comfort from an
alternative model which says down here we'll al be living in tropical
jungles. And vice-versa.

In the meantime, climate oscillations and changes continue to surprise even
the most respected scientists in the field. The recent el niño, which
"disrupted" weather patterns over much of the world, caught climatologists
by surprise. No one knows whether this pacific oscillation is in any way
related to global warming, and if so, how; or if they do, they are not
telling. That tells us a lot about the current state of the science.

There is a tremendous tendency, especially in the popular American press, to
posit the existence of a "normal" climate. The more time goes on and the
more research is done, the clearer it becomes that this is an unwarranted
assumption. The earth is in a constant state of climatological flux, there
is no "normal" or "average" temperature, precipitation, etc., that a given
locality "should" experience, all of this, as far as we can tell, is in a
state of constant change and evolution.

My main difference with those who defend the global warming hypotheses as a
scientific fact based on the current state of science is simply that I do
not believe the climate works in a largely orderly, linear fashion, which is
the implicit assumption that undergirds the theory and the models. In
addition, a lot of the most significant activity in the climate takes place
on a scale beyond the resolution of current models and beyond the power of
current computers. While sufficient computational power will probably soon
be accessible, a much more serious drawback is that how phenomena like a
convection cell, for example, should be modeled is still something that
requires a great deal more research. We are still along way away from the
kinds of computer climate models that could hope to offer the degree of
reliability that I suspect people like Louis believe the current models
have. There is also a great deal of evidence that the climate system is what
mathematicians call "chaotic," that is, that small inputs can have very
large effects and large inputs small effects. One big reason for this are
the feedbacks, both positive and negative, set into motion by those inputs,
many of which revolve around the water cycle and are not well understood. We
can perceive that they are at work, but we do not know how.

Even things that seem "simple," like figuring out with a high degree of
precision the earth's mean temperature, are in fact fraught with
difficulties. One I've mentioned in the past is the urban heat island
effect, which as NASA scientists have now partly documented, and appears to
be an order of magnitude GREATER than the temperature change in the global
warming scenarios. Another is simply that most of the earth's surface is
covered with oceans and that there is no reliable, detailed record of ocean
surface temperatures, a lot of the readings are pretty hit and miss. The
scientists involved in computing average surface temperature figures are,
I'm sure, reputable people. They're aware of these factors and they say
they've tried to compensate, but they could still be wrong. A third is "the"
huge problem with the global warming hypotheses right now and that is that
the satellite data of the temperature in the lower layers of the atmosphere
has failed to behave as predicted and does not match what is believed to be
going on at the surface. The lower layers of the atmosphere should be
warming lock-step with the surface, and they are not, and no one has a good
explanation as to why not. Maybe the ground data is wrong, maybe the
satellite data is wrong, maybe the climate system does not work even
approximately as the models we have depict it. Maybe all those things are
true.

There's no sense debating these things with me, I've got nothing more than a
reading acquaintance with these matters. Comrades interested in learning
more would do better to look up some of the research being done, much of it
is on the web. Take, for example, a statement like this one by Louis and try
to verify whether any of the things he claims are, in fact, true.

>>Meanwhile, the vast majority of scientists agree that global warming is
caused by man-made greenhouse emissions and that unless checked can cause
catastrophes across the world, from the spread of diseases like malaria and
dengue fever northward to more severe occurrences of flooding.<<

That's Louis. Here's what NASA reports about the opinions of real scientists
about the global warming hypotheses:

*   *   *

Newspaper headlines trumpet record-breaking temperatures, dwindling sea ice,
and retreating glaciers around the world. Concentrations of atmospheric
carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases responsible for scalding
temperatures on Venus and at least 33 degrees C of normal warming here on
Earth, are on the rise. Our planet seems destined for a hot future!

But is it really? Or are we simply experiencing a natural variation in
Earth's climate cycles that will return to "normal" in time?

Correlations between rising CO2 levels and global surface temperatures
suggest that our planet is on a one-way warming trend triggered by human
activity. Indeed, studies by paleoclimatologists reveal that natural
variability caused by changes in the Sun and volcanic eruptions can largely
explain deviations in global temperature from 1000 AD until 1850 AD, near
the beginning of the Industrial Era. After that, the best models require a
human-induced greenhouse effect.

In spite of what may seem persuasive evidence, many scientists are
nonetheless skeptical.

They argue that natural variations in climate are considerable and not well
understood. The Earth has gone through warming periods before without human
influence, they note. And not all of the evidence supports global warming.
Air temperatures in the lower atmosphere have not increased appreciably,
according to satellite data, and the sea ice around Antarctica has actually
been growing for the last 20 years.

It may surprise many people that science -- the de facto source of
dependable knowledge about the natural world -- cannot deliver an
unqualified, unanimous answer about something as important as climate
change.

Why is the question so thorny? The reason, say experts, is that Earth's
climate is complex and chaotic. It's so unwieldy that researchers simply
can't conduct experiments to check their ideas in the usual way of science.
They often rely, instead, on computer models. But such models are only as
good as their inputs and programming, and today's computer models are known
to be imperfect.

[The full article is at:

http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2000/ast20oct_1.htm?list68077

[I urge people to not just read the article, but also to follow the links to
the underlying studies and data.]
*   *   *

Thus far, NASA.

Notice, in particular, this one contradiction:

Louis: "the vast majority of scientists agree"

NASA: "many scientists are nonetheless skeptical."

These scientists cited by NASA are not oil company whores. The ones cited in
the NASA article include some of the people doing the most important
research in the climate change field. Even if it were true that "the vast
majority of scientists agree," which it is not, the opinion of "the vast
majority of scientists" in general may have more sociological than
climatological interest. It is the opinion of people like Dr. John Christy
in Huntsville that really COUNTS, and, to be brutally frank, the opinion of
several thousand OTHER scientists who are not specialized in this field, who
are not doing the research, who are not designing the instruments, who are
not in the trenches with the data and therefore do not know all the
strengths and weaknesses of the numbers, is not nearly as important, does
not deserve to be given as much weight, as the opinion of this one scientist
who actually knows whereof he speaks.

José


----- Original Message -----
From: "Louis Proyect" <lnp3 at panix.com>
To: <marxism at lists.panix.com>
Sent: Friday, November 17, 2000 10:02 AM
Subject: Re: Rain


Jose:
>For every 100% certifiable bourgeois-imperialist scientist you can name
that
>disbelieves the whole "rap" about global warming, I can name you a dozen
>1000% bourgeois-imperialist scientists who vote for the global warming
>hypotheses and everything that comes with it with both arms and legs.

This is silly. The overwhelming majority of global warming skeptics operate
out of think-tanks funded by the sector of big capital that is most
vulnerable to controls on greenhouse emissions. But they only constitute a
fringe of scientific opinion, probably the same number that still denies
HIV causes AIDS or used to argue that there is no link between tobacco and
cancer.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of scientists agree that global warming is
caused by man-made greenhouse emissions and that unless checked can cause
catastrophes across the world, from the spread of diseases like malaria and
dengue fever northward to more severe occurrences of flooding. Our
difference with these scientists is not on the science but on the politics.
They tend to assume that the solutions must be worked out within the
context of the capitalist system, while we advocate socialist solutions.

Now it is true that these scientists work for bourgeois institutions by and
large, either research universities like Columbia, MIT or Harvard or for
the US government. But in terms of credibility, we have to place much more
confidence in the work of people at places like Columbia's Lamont-Doherty
Earth Science Laboratory than a think-tank funded exclusively by coal
companies, etc. Furthermore, the problem with putting each camp on an equal
footing is that it would imply a kind of unwarranted suspicion of
scientific research that would inhibit Marxists from ever using scientific
testimony to back political analysis. It would in effect paralyze us.

Jose claims to have studied global warming with more objectivity and in
greater depth than anybody else here. No offense, Jose, but Les Schaffer
has a doctorate in astrophysics and is a scientist by profession. I would
tend to take his word much more seriously than I would yours.


Louis Proyect
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