"A Man's a Man for all that!" - Rabbie Burns

"Religion? No thanks. I prefer not to outsource my brainwashing." - Bunc
Trying to get your average Joe creationist to understand the phrase scientific theory is as hard as getting a fish to enjoy mountaineering. Its an unimagined world for them - it requires a complete reversal of their normal modes of thinking and being. The fact that humans could explain the complexities of this world without a creating God is a world view they cannot grasp. It's like asking a tuna if it appreciates the view from the top of Mount Everest. Bunc

Nov 27, 2009

The Global Warming Wait and See gamble

In a previous post I reflected on the Cumbria Floods and went on to talk a little about Global warming and to look a little at some of the issues around the possible interactions between a human influenced global warming trend and the Solar Cycle. As I pointed out in that post there are those who argue that the Solar Cycle is a much more significant driver of climate than any man made contribution from Global warming gases.

I had pointed out that that I had been reading that the solar cycle is aparently currently approaching a minimum but I didnt in that article give any reference to the data on that. Partly for my own reference and in case anyone else is interested I have a found what looks like a reliable reference site for the Solar Cycle . The graphs presented there show the predictions for the coming phase of the Solar 24 Cycle.

Interestingly they are predicting that the next Solar maximum will be sometime in 2013 but also that it will be "below average in intensity". Now if my understanding is correct then this provides an interesting scenario. If the effects of human activity on climate have been suppressed recently due to the Solar minimum then we should see a warming trend kick in clearly as the Solar maximum is reached. if the Solar cycle is the key factor in any warming trend then warming is also likely but we should not expect this to be very significant if the expected Solar maximum is indeed "below average intensity".

In other words in both scenarios some warming greater than recently seen should be expected. The stronger the warming signal between now and say 2014/15 ( allowing that some delay in solar maxima effects may occur) then the stronger the signal that human influenced Global Warming is at play.

So of course we do nothing in the meantime and just wait and see then eh?

If only it were that simple. If we delay taking action to change our dependancy on fossil fuels for five years this means that either a) we may not then have the time to stop any warming trend that had become fully established and/or b) the time to take effective action has by then become so reduced that taking action would have a massive impact on our economies because they had less time to adjust.

If it turns out that we take action now and the human influence on climate change proves to be less than we currently think then what are the consequences? Well the earlier we make changes the less radically people will feel those changes because they will occur over a longer period of time. Jobs in "old" technology industries will have time to be adapted to "new" technologies in renewables. We will have extra time to make changes to our infrastructure eg possibly moving to electric forms of transport and the infrastucture to support this. We will also have massively reduced our dependancy on fossil fuels many of which come from those parts of the world which are highly volatile or even unfriendly.

Of course other data continues to come in and waiting to see the influence of the solar cycle is not the only game in town. There is for example regular monitoring of Arctic Sea Ice ( also here) and Antarctic Sea Ice. ( Select Monthly>Antarctic >concentration trends for the best illustration of trends.)

The Sea Ice information is interesting because it shows a very marked downward trend in Arctic Ice ( most Arctic ice is Sea ice) and a relatively flat to slightly positive trend in Antarctic Ice cover. ( It is worth recalling that changes in Sea Ice have no impact on sea level - changes in ice cover over Greenland and faster Glacier loss to the sea will impact sea level. Check out this study of glacial changes for example. )

There will be costs but also benefits if we act firmly and act soon. If we do nothing and wait then the potential downside is enormous. It's a gamble either way of course but in strategic decision making terms this is really a no-brainer. Hopefully the US and China are beginning to recognise this.


Looney said...

Bunc, I am curious what you think about the Climategate news. Being the perpetual cynic, I also have to wonder about someone recalibrating sensors on certain satellites ...

Certainly I am for much more careful use of fossil fuels. California'greenhouse gas production is itemized here. What I don't see is any way to make a meaningful impact on the use without directly impacting consumers (i.e. voters). So far, the theory seems to be that we can change fossil fuel use patterns in ways that effect corporations only, but leave the consumer alone. Do you think this will work? Do you think the politicians in Copenhagen would have the political will to cut greenhouse gas emissions if the only way to do this is to freeze the voters?

Bunc said...

I have been reading up fairly extensively on it and also checking some of the work by folk who are re-looking at the data and the methods use to prepare the data.

At the moment it looks like a mixed bag of issues but undoubtedly some of it seems unacceptable practice. I think it will be some weeks if not some months before a reasonably conclusive verdict can be reached on the overall impact.

In general I think that eventually the result will be beneficial - it will need to result in much of the raw data being released and where there have been any hidden assumptions in the way data has been handled these will emerge and be subject to scrutiny. That is good science.

My concern is that there are good precautionary principles ( and other factors that I have often referred to) for taking action and that this affair will cloud this issue for a time.

I think most of us have seen evidence of climate change and warming in our own lifetimes - ( well if you are as old as I am anyway). I have never been someone who sees all climate variation as man made as you know but I think the evdience and the theorised mechanisms for AGW are clear enough that we need to act on a precautionary basis.

I dont think there is anyway to do this that will have no impact on consumers - the better question is how do we take action that is suficient but that has minimal and ideally beneficial impacts on voters.

I think timescale issues also apply.

It isnt difficult to see that there may be actions that we could take which would have shorter term impacts that voters find difficult but which produce economies and life styles in the longer term that our grandchildren wil thank us for. The conundrum is how to get the voters to travel to the first place so that we can get to the second.

Spamless Bunc said...

Sorry guys I am turnin comment moderation on briefly - I have had a chinese spammer drive by on my last post and I cant seem to delete his spam comment for some reason. I want to deter further spamming so ill moderate for a while. I'll turn back to unmoderated asap. Please dont hesitate to comment meantime - ill publish all except spam.

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