In Which I Continue my Global Warming Skepticism

In Which I Continue my Global Warming Skepticism

A while back I posted some thoughts on the disheartening tendency of many well-meaning folks to embrace global warming as the explanation for many recent natural disasters.

What drove me to blog about this were my golfing buddies who automatically assumed that Hurricane Sandy was directly attributable to climate change “caused” by global warming.

The post sparked a great conversation that continues to draw attention from readers. Given the heated nature (pun intended) of the topic, I was impressed with the cordial responses from both sides.

In the ensuing weeks, not only did my post continue to attract interest, the broader conversation continues. Not surprisingly, the advocates are out in spades.

In the 1/14/2013 edition of the Austin American Statesman a reader opined:

It comes at us from all angles. Just this week we have lots of Austin American-Statesman news: 1.) 2012 hottest year on record — a whopping 3.2°F above normal; 2.) Highways near Galveston under threat of high water sooner than expected; 3.) LCRA cuts off rice farmers with Lake Travis at only 41 percent. As the blind man feels around the elephant — all these stories feel like elephant.

That elephant is climate change. We may believe i’s too big to talk about. But we’ll have to spend $60 billion to help New York and New Jersey recover and prepare for the next storm. What about that next storm in Galveston/Houston or New Orleans?

Is the cost of moving off carbon fuels too high? The cost of not moving to renewable energy is both persistent and much, much higher: Drought, heat, rising oceans, crop failures, tropical diseases, hurricanes and more…

Probably killer asteroids, alien invasions, and Ice 9 doom as well. (Remember Vonnegut?)

And in the 1/15/2013 edition of the paper we read this:

More than individual catastrophes, the trend of high temperatures and reduced precipitation is changing the world our parents gave us and may ruin the world our children will inherit…Climate change is a challenge that we can win by reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and investing in renewables

What is so striking to me is the assumption that what we’re seeing in terms of weather and temperature is unique. And what is so galling is the presumption that petroleum geologists, and by extension anyone who works in the upstream Oil & Gas business, can’t be trusted to honestly look at the facts. I begin to feel like Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men who screams at Tom Cruise, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”

I’ve started wondering why we are so willing to take leave of our capability to think and instead choose to gleefully force 2+2 to equal 13.

And then it hit me.

We, as a species, need stereotypes. We gotta have ’em.

Life is too much work if every occurrence, every action, every behavior is rationally examined for cause and effect. Once you start intellectually turning over rocks to see what’s underneath, then all sorts of possibilities suggest themselves to you and life just gets way too complicated! Better to have an easy tribal meme like global warming that the tribal cognoscenti can unite behind than it is to have the really inconvenient truth manifest itself—that our climate is a product of the forces that rule the earth, and that our earth has been moving, warping, colliding, fracturing, heating and cooling ever since it was born out of stars. And the number of variables that are necessary to model it are astoundingly, impossibly large.

From Russia, With Love

Last time I mentioned the Vostok ice core that Russian scientists recovered while drilling in Antartica. It’s very revealing and I’m reproducing it here in a couple of different forms:

Unless you believe Russian scientists are totally incompetent you have to conclude from the data that:

  1. For the past 400,000 years there have been rapid and cyclic rises and falls in the Earth’s temperature, CO2, and methane concentrations. For example, if you look at the data (and not just the graph), there was a 12% increase in global CO2 over 840 years about 269,000 years ago and a 23% increase in CO2 between 14,000 and 18,000 years ago.
  2. The periodicity of these cycles is about 80,000-100,000 years.
  3. The earth’s temperature started the newest cyclic climb about 15,000 years ago – well before the Age of the Automobile.
  4. There’s a strong inverse correlation between atmospheric dust and temperature.

Geology Down Under

This last point is especially intriguing to me.

I just got back from a trip to Australia. While there, I four wheeled through the Yeagarup sand dunes in the Cape D’Entrecasteaux National Park. (On sanctioned trails, of course.)

These spectacular dunes are composed of fine white sand and measure at least 13Km by 3Km in areal extent.

Here’s the best part: they were formed about 12,000 years ago at a time of maximum cooling. The cooling of the earth withdrew ocean waters into the Arctic ice cap, causing sea levels to fall. Ultimately the Australian shelf withdrew about 10 km seaward from its current margin, exposing the sea bed to warm, drying conditions that eventually blew sand onshore and made these dunes.

So even though the dunes’ formation was caused by the exact opposite of global warming, their creation, and the subsequent recapture of the continental shelf by modern oceans, shows that the earth has, in the very recent past, had rapid temperature fluctuations that are in no way related to human industrial activity. Nor were the massive increases in global temperatures that began about 290 million years ago that presaged the great Permian extinction.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts. What do you see when you look at this data? Does it make you question the status quo? Or, do you think I’m just an old curmudgeon that needs to get in line? Either way, leave your thoughts below.

What Global Warming Advocates Can Learn from Geologists

What Global Warming Advocates Can Learn from Geologists

While playing golf this past weekend (pretty good day on the links – front nine 3 over, back nine 6 over) with the usual crew, the subject of Superstorm Sandy came up in the context of global warming.

My friends are, shall we say, VERY progressive and, to paraphrase the ol’ Bill Clinton campaign mantra, they basically turned the conversation into a rant with the theme “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.”

Being the naive scientist that I am, I said something along the lines of, “Wait a minute guys, what evidence do you have that Sandy was a direct result of global warming?” (Setting aside the entire discussion about global warming as proven or not.)

The answers were revealing, “Normal hurricanes are maybe 300 miles wide, the size of this storm was beyond all norms. What do YOU think the explanation is?” To which I replied that, not being a climatologist, I couldn’t offer an opinion, since I didn’t have the training or the facts to have an informed opinion. Their response, “95% of the world’s leading scientists have concluded that global warming is man-made!!!” And my reaction was, “So what? Tell me how that proves ANYTHING about what made Sandy so large.”

After a lot of muttering and snarking, I threw up my hands and said, “Guys, read some geology to get a sense of scale.”

It was all really instructive, especially their willingness to make a cause and effect argument without a shred of evidence, and to be smugly passionate about it, to boot.

But, it made me see how hugely different my sense of scale and time is from theirs. For them, 100 years of observation provides all the data that’s needed to understand the geophysical and geochemical drivers of our planet’s behavior.

I think of Collins, Markello, et al.’s “Carbonate Analogs Through Time (CATT) Hypothesis.” The masterful compilation of sea level, temperature, magnetic polarity and other global variations over 540 million years makes me profoundly grateful for the sense of time and change geology has given me.

For example, there are highly episodic sea level fluctuations in the last 10 million years, increasingly frequent changes in magnetic polarity and a trend towards increasing CO2 that started… wait for it… in the Jurassic 190 million years ago. Then, there are the episodic (but increasing) levels of heavy oxygen (O 18), which started about 50 million years ago, but really started accelerating about 2 million years ago.

So, I see a dynamic world with hundreds of millions of years of data that clearly show that tens, or even hundreds of millions of years ago, the earth’s climate, sea level and even CO2 content reached levels we are currently attributing to man-made causes. As a result, it’s pretty hard for me to look at Hurricane Sandy and instantly think of it as human-caused.

What do you think? Should global warming advocates take a broader view of our current climate? Please, leave a comment below.