Recently, I read an article in the local rag The Village Pump. It’s an endearing, low-tech periodical for a proportionately large conservative readership. Being a socialist, it was really no surprise that an article caught my attention, although my responding to it was a surprise. I think the difference between my responding, and not responding, came down to the lack of a question mark. If the article’s title had been “Global Warming – an enigma?”, instead of “Global Warming – an enigma” it would have been doubtful I would have been impulsed to retaliate.
Postulate a question; I’m happy. Insinuate a fact; I’m on the case… Aside from that, I suspected the facts presented were flawed, cherry-picked, and ambiguous.
So I submitted a retort, however due to the slow pace of publication it will not be out there until the April edition. I would have liked to have printed Ron Watts’ original article, but I haven’t received permission yet. I hope the killer quotes project the gist.
Anyway, here’s a copy of my response. Please don’t be too critical; it was an instinctive response, and I was tied to a word limit. Hope you enjoy.
I write this as a response to Ron Watts’ article ‘Global Warming – an enigma,’ published in February’s issue of The Village Pump. I found some of the issues raised deserved rebalance. Bearing this in mind, I will only concentrate on the issues discussed in that article, even though it will no doubt be an impoverished injustice to the wider climate change debate.
It is worth clarifying the terms though. Climate change, to use a crude definition, means the average weather conditions in a certain place over a certain time period. That certain place could be Norfolk, Britain, Europe; or, in its broadest term, Earth. Likewise, the certain period of time could be 1 week, 1 year, 30 years, or a millennium. The weather, as it’s commonly understood, includes rainfall, wind speed, hours of sunlight, and temperature. This is where global warming differs from climate change. Global warming only measures the average temperature at the Earth’s surface; it does not include rainfall, ocean temperature, sunlight hours, temperature at high altitudes, etc. This may be why global warming is confused as an enigma in the article.
Ron Watts was correct when he said, in the article, “… [Scientists have] a long way to go before [they] fully understand all the factors influencing our climate.” Though, this is rather diminishing what scientists do know about our climate. Since the late 1950’s scientists have rigorously collected millions of pieces of data ranging from the all-encompassing (sea-levels, global temperature, rain/snowfall changes, etc.) to the relatively less well-known (polar ice composition, local crop yields, water supplies, weather-related deaths, coastal erosion, loss of animal habitats, forest compositions, etc.) These examples are a meagre snippet of the scope of measurements that are actually taken every day the world over, but I hope they can help to begin the elucidation of the complexity of climate science.
In the article a great amount of emphasis is placed on ‘record’ temperatures. Despite the ambiguity of the data’s source; they only highlight individual data points, which on their own are but arbitrary facts. Individually they highlight nothing about climate change. The CO2 concentrations, which are referred to as “… fairly low at 0.37%.”, which are only low if you compare them to CO2 concentrations of Venus, or the very distant past of Earth. It’s worth pointing out that carbon dioxide is the fourth most abundant gas in Earth’s atmosphere, ahead of hydrogen by over 600 times, and the current concentrations are the highest they have been in 15 million years.
The enigmas, referred to in the article, appear only to be misunderstanding due to lack of information. The article puts forward the following as an enigma “… even though global temperatures are not increasing the polar ice caps are melting… “ This quote proposes a perceived disparity between the melting of the polar ice caps and relatively steady global temperatures. This is where looking at climate is far more useful than just looking at global surface temperatures. Climate scientists have understood for a while now that the oceans act as a massively important buffer for the Earth’s atmosphere. Apart from the surface ocean absorbing heat, as seen by thermal expansion manifested as sea level rise, the ocean also absorbs vast quantities of CO2, manifested by ocean acidification. What we observe in the atmosphere is negated to a vast degree by the oceans. So by knowing that warming ocean temperatures are directly melting the polar ice we can discount this particular enigma.
The next enigma that is put forward as “… the temperatures at the poles are rising at a faster rate than temperatures elsewhere… “ This enigma can be explained by thermodynamic equilibrium. Simply put; the cold wants to get warm, and the warm wants to get cold, until they find a balance. The poles are like an ice-cube in a glass of warm water. The temperature at the ice-cube’s surface will rapidly increase until there is no ice left, whereas the warm water will see a much slower and reduced change in temperature compared to the ice cube.
I hope I have struck a balance, and perhaps removed some ambiguity. As much as I think it’s good to be sceptical of science; I think it’s also important to be sceptical of science sceptics. The wider picture requires us to acknowledge that if people and governments decide to ‘play dice’ or ‘bide time’, despite the considerable scientific consensus supporting climate change, the ramifications to the Earth and humankind will be disastrous; and possibly irreparable. The human race should be cautious, and act now; rather than stand still and facilitate extinction. I suggest this is the reasonable option, especially when you compare it to the alternative… Waiting in blind hope that a shift in Earth’s orbit will bring the next ice age?
 Ron Watts, “Global Warming – an enigma,” The Village Pump (February, 2013), p.42.