Category Archives: Environment

Global Warming XV: The Coming Ice Age

A recent Politico report tells us that Trump’s Deputy National Security adviser, K. T. McFarland, put a copy of two Time magazine cover pages in his reading list. One cover, which showed a lone penguin on a mound of snow and ice, had the title: How To Survive the Coming Ice Age: 51 Things You Can Do to Make a Difference. It’s from April 9, 1977. The other cover, which showed a lone polar bear on a small floe, had the title: Be Worried: Be Very Worried: Climate Change isn’t some vague future problem—it’s already damaging the planet at an alarming pace. Here’s how it affects you, your kids and their kids as well. Headlines for some of the issues’ stories, shown on the cover are: Earth at the Tipping Point, How It Threatens Your Health, How China & India Can Help Save the World—Or Destroy It, and The Climate Crusaders. It’s from April 3, 2006. The point of this juxtaposition is to demonstrate that since scientists once worried us about a coming Ice Age and now they alarm us with talk of roasting, they really haven’t a clue.

In fact, the Coming Ice Age cover is a fake. Here’s Time’s own explanation. The con artist had changed the headline, three digits in the year, and a couple of the top story teasers from a 2006 Time cover. According to Politico, an unnamed White House colleague defended McFarland on the grounds that the cover was “fake, but accurate.” (?!?!?) In fact, the cover is not only fake, but it is inaccurate. The opposite of the truth.

Here’s the fake cover and the one the con artist modified, from the Time explanation.

My essay deals with the idea that in the 1970s climate scientists thought that we were heading for an Ice Age. You can read more about K. T. McFarland in Wikipedia. Word is that she will be appointed our ambassador to Singapore, and inside the beltway types are wondering if it’s a dream come true for her, or exile.

Were scientists worrying about the Earth falling into an Ice Age in the 1970s? No.

I should say this. The Earth’s history shows that it has Ice Ages and Interglacial Periods. Here’s some useful data:

This data is from a 2008 paper in Nature and shows the Antarctic temperature and CO2 concentration from the remarkable ice core data, going back 800,000 years. Close to the present is to the left, and the distant past is to the right on this graph. The temperature shows the temperature difference between a modern average and the past temperature in degrees C. The temperature difference between an ice age and an interglacial period in Antarctica, as it is elsewhere, is about 4 or 8 C (7 to 15 F). The point to take from these data is that glacial periods and warmer periods alternate. As we are presently in an interglacial period that began 14,000 or 12,000 years ago, most people would predict that we are likely to have another ice age in the future. That prediction supposes that the same natural factors that produced the climate alternation in the past continue to produce the same effects in the future.

Scientists have known since the late 1800s about the greenhouse effect, and the main greenhouse gases. These gases are H2O (water vapor) and CO2. Indeed, but for these atmospheric gases absorbing upward moving long wavelength infrared radiation from the Earth’s surface, the average surface temperature would be around -5 C, about 20 F! Everything would be frozen. The most intense Ice Age ever. This natural greenhouse effect is the reason that the average surface temperature is 12 or 15 C, in the upper 50s F.

Greenhouse gases are not the only things that influence the flow of energy through the atmosphere. Aerosols are another important factor, and they are complicated. These are tiny particles or even molecules suspended in the atmosphere. Are they black carbon, soot? Then they absorb energy where they are, high in the atmosphere, and stop it from reaching the ground. Are the nitrates and sulfates? Then they reflect energy and neither warm the atmosphere nor the ground. But they may seed the formation of clouds, which also reflect incoming energy, and stop upward moving energy sending it back down. As I said, it’s complicated, and you can read about it here. That’s where I get this interesting graph:

In this graph, time moves from left to right, beginning in 1850. The blue shows stuff, mostly sulfates, blown into the atmosphere by major volcanoes. The red shows the Earth’s surface temperature anomaly, the difference between the temperature around the 1980s and the graphed date. You can see the gradual rise of about 1 C due to global warming, but after the big volcanoes you can see that the temperature drops below the trend for a couple of years. It takes that long for the sulfates blown into the stratosphere to settle out of the atmosphere. Not shown here is the immense Mt. Tambora volcanic eruption of 1815, which produced the Year Without a Summer, as it is known in Europe. I’m wandering from my point because this is so interesting.

That point is that the effects of aerosols are complicated, and in the 1970s some climate researchers pondered the effects of global aerosol pollution from burning coal. Burning coal puts a lot of bad stuff in the atmosphere. In addition to soot, it puts sulfur compounds up there, which lead to acid rain. It puts mercury into the air, which ends up in fishy predators. It puts uranium and other long-lived isotopes into the air, from where it settles on the ground and into the water. More too. So, some researchers wondered if humans were putting enough coal and oil junk into the air to cause general cooling. No one was predicting an imminent ice age. These researchers knew and understood the greenhouse effect, and they and other scientists generally believed that humans were warming the climate by adding significant amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere.

Put another way, in the 1970s scientists believed that if natural factors alone operated as they had in the past, the Earth would enter an ice age at some unspecified but distant time, say 20,000 or 30,000 years from now. They understood the greenhouse effect, and they could see that humans were upsetting the natural factors by adding CO2 to the atmosphere in massive amounts. They could see that we were doing other things to upset the natural factors. They studied all these. During the decades since, computing power for data analysis and theoretical models has increased immensely. The Space Age began, and data from satellites became available. The relevant laws of nature, the properties of greenhouse and other gases, aerosols, radiation, and other factors, however, did not change. Our new power and knowledge has solidified and confirmed what has been clearly known for many decades: humans are causing the Earth to warm by burning fossil fuels.

K. T. McFarland, who has studied foreign affairs, worked in politics and as a staff member in national security areas, and broadcast in national security affairs for Fox News, apparently knows little or nothing about climate science. I’ve never met her, I confess. I don’t know, and I haven’t read, if she believed that the fake Time cover was a real one. Apparently, it has been circulating in the right-wing world for some years. The idea is consistent with what she’s have heard on Fox News, that the climate change alarmists are mistaken, foolish, and corrupt. Her colleague who defended her with the “fake, but correct” claim doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. I’d say that “fake, but correct” will enter our language along with Kelly Ann Conway’s famous “alternative facts.”

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Bret Stephens’s NY Times Op-Ed on Climate Change: Wrong, Wrong, Wrong


This April 28 Bret Stephens op-ed debut is way off the mark every inch of the way.

First, what Old Jew Of Galicia? Milocz wrote that epigraph and hundreds or thousands have cited it as if it’s ancient and real wisdom that transcends the folly of whomever you want to lambaste. But what Old Jew of central or western Europe would use precise figures like 55% as opposed to 60% to describe degrees of being sure that one is right? And right about what? Everything? It seems to me that’s the only possibility of the quote, given no other information than the “quote” itself. It seems to be about totalitarian regimes that rewrite truth and history to their liking and allow no dissent. But that’s a whole different world! Climate scientists are not claiming they’re 100% right about everything, only 97% right about something very important that they’ve looked at from dozens or hundreds of different angles and almost always come up with the same conclusion, which is that warming will with high likelihood accelerate and all of humanity with high likelihood will be in a peck of trouble therefrom.

Then he writes, “In the final stretch of last year’s presidential race, Hillary Clinton and her team thought they were, if not 100 percent right, then very close.” Polls and betting sites showed a consistent 70-85% likelihood of Clinton winning, with her likelihood increasing right at the end most likely due to Trump’s bizarre behavior and words in the last debate, together with some of the Comey stuff. I tracked these numbers myself for several months from multiple sources. Who is Stephens to claim that Clinton and company thought they were all but 100%? He cites no source. It’s mere supposition.

Citations of made-up quotes, and suppositions? We are to trust and believe this writer over hundreds or thousands of scientists and their experiments and analyses and peer reviews?

Scientists are 100% right about Bernoulli’s Law, and thank goodness, because if they were not 100% right then some planes would go down inexplicably. Humanity is 100% right that four colors suffice to color a planar map so that no two countries with a shared boundary that’s more than a single point will have the same color. Anything not proved or demonstrated correct through a combination of rigorous analysis and consistent results from thousands of experiments can be no more than an informed opinion. Stephens does not apply information to buttress his opinion. Therefore his opinion is all but worthless. He does not cite even one example of “much else that that passes as accepted fact [but] is really a matter of probabilities.” He does not cite even one example of “history … littered with the human wreckage of scientific errors married to political power.” He seems not to understand that conviction is only “beyond a reasonable doubt” not “with absolute certainty.” He’s not worth listening to or reading.

And the New York Times has broken a contract with its readers by giving an imprimatur of believability and merit to him by publishing this op-ed.



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Global Warming IX – The Climate Has Always Changed …


Global warming deniers tell us that “the climate has always changed, and it always will.” The deniers assert this truth as grounds for complacency and inaction. They imply that the climate scientists who are warning us about the dangers and causes of global warming don’t know this fact and that the researchers are alarmists. Often, the deniers follow their truth with a falsehood: that the scientists are uncertain as to the cause of the present warming. Once the scientists have figured out the causes, then we can deal with problems we know are real they say.

As part of your suggestion that we devote part of our blog to fact-checking and idea checking of matters of current interest about which we have useful perspectives, I’m posting this ninth in my series on global warming. I’ll put this issue of historical climate change, warming and cooling in perspective. I’ll show how changes in the world’s climate during the period of settled agricultural, civilized existence compare to changes in the geologic past. My conclusion, and yours and of our readers to this, ought to be one of alarm. Indeed, when deniers accuse someone as an “alarmist” the accusation carries the connotation that the alarmist is unnecessarily fearful and likely exaggerating the danger. In the case of warming of the Earth caused by human’s burning of fossil fuels, alarm is appropriate.

Here is a reconstruction of the Global Mean Temperature throughout the Phanerozoic Era; that is for the past 550 million years, about 1/8th of Earth’s history. Click the chart to view a larger version.

Professor Christopher R. Scotese shared this remarkable data with me.

The horizontal axis is millions of years, with the distant past to the left. The vertical axis is in Celsius and runs from 10 C (50 F) to 28 C (~82 F). For context, from this data, 2016 was 14.5 C (59 F). The acronyms are: PETM Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (55.8 Ma, million years ago), EECO Early Eocene Climatic Optimum (54-46 Ma), MECO Mid-Eocene Climatic Optimum (42 Ma), EOT Eocene-Oligocene Transition (40-33 Ma), MMCO Mid-Miocene Climatic Optimum (15-13 Ma), LGM Last Glacial Maximum (21,000 years ago), PAW Post-Anthropogenic Warming (+5000 – 10,000 years in future). This last is a prediction, of course.
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Global Warming VII – Carbon Dioxide History


Continuing my series of posts (see Global Warming I, Global Warming II, Global Warming III, and Global Warming IV, Global Warming V, Global Warming VI) about Global Warming I have graphs of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. I think that these are significant for several reasons and in several contexts.

First, these data support my contention that no citizen should vote for any Republican for any office from school crossing guard and dog catcher and higher. That party must be delivered an unmistakable message from voters that it cannot invent its own reality, and it must stop damaging the world.

Second, these data show powerful evidence, through correlation, if nothing else, that human activity has led to a major and still unending increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. As the knowledge that tells us that water vapor and carbon dioxide and some other gases are major factors determining Earth’s climate and temperature goes back more than 100 years and is not in question even by global warming deniers, those deniers have the serious problem of demonstrating why the major increase in atmospheric CO2 has not caused the observed surface temperature increase of recent decades.

Third, these data show that, as many of those who deny the importance of global warming assert, the climate has always changed and will continue to do so. But those who deny the importance of global warming with this true claim, many politicians among them, neglect to mention that the change in CO2 concentrations that we are experiencing is unprecedented in the past million years, at least, and that it extends far beyond the range of any earlier fluctuations.

Fourth, those who assert that humanity should and can merely adapt to these changes, an adaptation that they claim will not be difficult, neglect to mention that the entire span of human civilized existence, about 10,000 years, has also been a span of stable CO2 and stable climate. Thus, we have no certain ideas as to what will happen to the climate in the future nor any way to predict whether civilization will be able to maintain itself. Although this will not make much difference to me, now that I am an old guy, I am an alarmist because I believe alarm is justified.

Fifth, I apologize to coming generations for the mess my generation and a few earlier ones are leaving for them. We have much to be proud of, but global warming is a horrid blot upon our reputations. Continue reading

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Global Warming IV

In earlier posts, Climate Change I, Climate Change II, and Climate Change III, (and later ones, Climate Change V and VI that I’ve already posted) I’ve discussed aspects of the science of Climate Change as I see it, and as I presented it to my Physics 125 students at the University of Tampa.

In the previous essay, Climate Change III, I told how the author of Physics 125 textbook, Dr. Richard Muller, a UC Berkeley physicist, created the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project. He proclaimed that he would review the temperature record raw data to check for himself whether the climate professionals had properly done their work. He let it be known that he was skeptical, and, therefore, he drew funding from various climate denier groups. In the end, however, Dr. Muller’s analysis reproduced that of decades of work by many climate researchers. He admitted as much in a New York Times op-ed essay.

In this essay, I will describe another interesting aspect of the climate scientists’ work measuring the Earth’s temperature. This illustrates the thoroughness with which they are studying this matter and the methods followed by researchers to resolve discrepancies in the data and differences of opinion between scientists. In this matter, I’m writing as an informed amateur, as I am not a climate scientist. I’m also not an historian of science. I’m just going to tell you about some of what I know, but further details are readily available on many climate
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The VW scandal, the effectivness of regulation, and the science of engines


The small nonprofit organization, ICCT, that used a “simple road test” to uncover the VW defeat device has an annual budget of $12m; see this outstanding Guardian article.  “’We really didn’t expect to find anything,’ German said of his research that found Volkswagen had installed sophisticated software designed to cheat strict emission tests across the world. His simple test – checking the car’s emissions on real roads rather than in lab test conditions…”

The EPA’s 2015 budget is $7.89b. The EPA’s highway emissions lab is self-proclaimed “state of the art”. “Staff at NVFEL are highly trained professionals with backgrounds in automotive technology, engineering, mechanics, statistics, natural resources, and economics.”

With 658x the budget of ICCT, the EPA failed to execute, even once, a simple cross-check test outside of the lab and on the road. Really, someone at EPA needs to be fired and the EPA lab needs some severe shaking up. This is rich fodder for those who say our government is bloated and mostly useless.


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