Wyrd - OE: that which has become; fate-shaping; destiny-unfolding

Monday, 12 November 2012

Ten tall-tales from the skeptics – the come-backs to topple them

Photo Credit: WireWizard
First published on EarthTimes as "Ten tall-tales from the climate change skeptics

The devil has all of the best songs, so they say. And the climate-change denial camp have certainly banged out their tunes to good effect, over the last few years. It's not hard to see why the clamor of the climate skeptics has won more and more of those thronging in the stalls. But if you're caught out by one of those seductive refrains from the naysayers, what you need is counter-melody to cut them short. So what are the top-ten comebacks to the tall-tales often peddled by the denialist community?

1 Warming isn't really happening, it's all down to the 'urban heat-island effect'
The consensus that the planet is warming didn't just drop off of a graph of dodgily-placed thermometers. Yes, cities and towns are warmer than the countryside, and yes, urban areas have swallowed rural ones over the last century. But climate scientists try to correct for these when working out the globe's average temperature.

And the indicators that temperatures are rising come from a myriad of sources, not just land-based temperature records. Satellites, tree-rings, snow and ice-cores, stalactites and corals – all of these are used to piece together the global temperature record. And they confirm that the recent warming is unprecedented.

2 Global warming stopped years ago; it's yesterday's story..
This is a story which can always be shown to be true – as long as you do some careful cherry-picking of the wildly wiggling graph of global temperatures. The planet's climate, even from year to year, isn't a sedate old tabby by the fire – it's a skittish kitten careering up and down, always on the go. Some years will be colder than others, even as temperatures are rising over the long term.

That's down to shifting oceanic and atmospheric circulations patterns, which can cycle temperatures up-and-down over a number of years. When scientists talk about 'global warming', what they mean is a change in the average atmospheric temperature, across the whole globe – and for enough broad time-frame (10 to 15 years) to even out those wiggles. On that very specific measure, the inexorable rise in global temperatures is just as apparent recently, as it has been in the 1990's, the 1980's and before.

3 Even if the planet is warming, the climate has always changed – why worry?
Geologically, planet earth's climate is always on the go, thanks to plate tectonics, volcanic eruptions, and a wobbly orbit around the sun. But the changes being seen now are not comparable to those seen in the past – they are faster than any previous temperature changes we see in the geological record. And speed kills. The rate of change being seen now may well be too fast for much life on the planet to adapt to, and survive.

4 Carbon dioxide is a boon to the green world, we really need more of it!
CO2 can indeed be seen as a plant food which could boost agricultural yields – and enclosed trials have shown that raising CO2 can help some plants to grow more. But in practices those rises are limited by other factors. Plants need many other nutrients than CO2 to grow. Also, the climatic effects of a warming world are likely to knock-back most plants far more severely than any limited benefit from extra CO2. And don't forget about the seas. CO2 is more of a poison than a food for coral reefs, as it is driving the acidification of the oceans, which is wasting them. Acidification is also threatening oceanic food-chains in unpredictable ways.

5 There's 50 times more water vapor than CO2, and no-one worries about that.
Given that the atmosphere contains 2 to 3% water vapor, and H2O is a greenhouse gas, just like CO2, it comes as no real surprise that water accounts for up to 72% of the greenhouse effect. So why the big deal about CO2? Because, unlike water vapor, CO2 is increasing rapidly in the atmosphere, thanks to our fossil-fuel burning ways. More CO2 means rising temperatures. CO2 is also very persistent – once in the atmosphere, it carries on warming it for thousands of years, unlike extra water vapor, which is cycled out of the airs within days.

6 If the world is warming, why is there more sea-ice around the Antarctic?
Global warming isn't acting everywhere, in the same way, at the same time. Some parts of the world are cooling, or showing higher rainfall. That is why 'climate change' makes more sense as a label than 'global warming'. It is true that much of the interior of the Antarctic has seen such cooling recently. But that doesn't mean the world as a whole isn't warming. And the increase in sea-ice around the most-southerly continent has been linked to greater falls of snow. More snow acts to insulate the sea-ice, helping it to last through the summer.

But with the waters warming, even around the Antarctic, that increased snow could eventually become rain – and the sea-ice would then lose its insulating cover. And looking up to the north pole, a very different picture is seen. Sea-ice volumes there are continuing to plummet, in this, the fastest warming part of the globe.

7 'Climate-gate' proved that climate scientists are part of a global conspiracy
One thing 'Climate-gate' proved for certain is that those opposed to taking action on climate, will go to extreme lengths to further their agenda – including hacking computers and stealing e-mails. The scientists involved, however, have had the basic climate science and methods vindicated numerous times, since those communications were leaked. Did they act in a self-protective and far-from open manner? Almost certainly. But that in no way undermines the picture of a globe threatened by man-made warming.

8 How can the puny efforts of man compare to mighty furnace of the Sun in affecting climate?
Whilst the sun is responsible for the vast majority of energy arriving at the surface, and does go through a regular cycle of rising and falling energy levels, changes in incoming energy are minute. Solar cycles show fluctuations over a period of 10-11 years, which are apparent in the yearly global temperature record. But average those temperature series out, and naturally enough the solar cycles drop away – leaving behind the rising tide of global warming. Longer-term changes in the sun may have had subtle influences on the climate, but given that the last 30 years have seen falling levels of solar activity, but rising temperatures, the flickering of the sun seems unlikely to be part of the global warming story.

9 Even if global warming is happening, we're clever enough to engineer our way out of the problem.
If you're stuck in a self-made hole, the first thing you should do is stop digging – not to dig deeper in a risky attempt to tunnel your way out. The problem of global warming was kicked off by mankind conducting a gigantic experiment in geoengineering – releasing vast amounts of CO2 from fossil fuels. Now that we've realized that our experiment is starting to go hay-wire, the last we should be doing is a blind stab at counter-geoengineering. Attempts to slow down warming that way could backfire badly, especially if all our geoengineering efforts have to be stopped suddenly, because of unforeseen consequences for the delicate global ecosystem. Long-suppressed temperature changes could then wreak real havoc in short shrift.

10 Well it wont affect me..
This is the most scary of all denialists tales. It shows that what they are really interested in is preventing the golden goose of the global economy from being upset. A goose that is laying plenty enough shiny golden eggs for them personally, to distract them from worry about the effects on others. And climate chaos from global warming could leave some in the more developed parts of the world less affected, initially. Projections show that the developing world is more prone to effects from severe weather, drought-induced famine and rising sea-levels.

But the back-wash from the breaking wave of global insecurity, induced by climate change, is sure to hit all countries eventually. And with the worst predicted for the future, do we really want to pass that particular Pandora's box on, for our children and grand-children to open?

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