Friday, June 3, 2011

Playing Games With Global Warming. . . an essay

This is the final version of an essay who's working title was:
"Mann's "hockey stick graph" and McIntyre et al. examined."
Printed in the Four Corners Free Press June 2011 issue.

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{859 words}
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Perhaps the most enduring argument AGW “skeptics” use against the scientific consensus regarding manmade global warming is attacking something called the “Mann hockey stick graph.”

What’s a hockey stick got to do with understanding global warming? Well, it goes back to the 1980s and 90s. Following a flood of new atmospheric and Earth Observation data scientists began to search for ways of discovering past climate changes in order to put the new information into historical perspective.

Scientists realized there were many natural “proxies” that recorded climate conditions as they grew. Trees, glaciers, all kinds of geologic depositions. They reasoned that it should be possible to learn how to tease out climate information from such proxies.

Michael Mann and a team of fellow researchers focused on tree-ring proxy studies. In 1998 they released a graph reflecting the tree-ring data they had been working on for years. In 1999 their graph was extended back to cover a thousand years.

It didn’t actually look like a hockey stick, it was a bunch of waves with a radical uptick at the end.The “hockey stick” appears when one draws an average-line through the main body of past small and medium fluctuations before getting to the recent steep increase.

Basically, the graph underscored the profound influence our energy consuming society is having. Thus it became a target of scorn for all who wanted to deny responsibility in climate change.

Republicans, such as Senator Inhofe (R-Okla.), really got carried away proclaiming that the science was doctored in a broad scientific plot to unduly alarm the public about the seriousness of us injecting over a couple billion tons of greenhouse gases into our thin atmosphere month after month.

They claimed it was part of a conspiracy to hobble growth of our consumer/industrial/military/oil complex. Some even claimed: scientists wanted to promote a one world government. Sounds a bit silly, but so long as the Republican mass media machine focuses on such distractions, it leaves no time for considering the real issues facing all of us.

Into this PR effort stepped a Canadian mining engineer, investment promoter, statistician Stephen McIntyre, who went over the team’s work with a fine toothed comb. McIntyre did find some minor flaws in how Mann et al. processed their calculations.

One might think no problem, a further refinement, considering that McIntyre’s work altered the look of the graph by less than 1%. This was science after all; one of its cornerstones is finding and correcting mistakes. Although it should be noted, even this tiny correction is in dispute.

Yet the denier echo-chamber, and McIntyre himself, presented his tiny adjustment as somehow overturning the whole field of climatology ~ stuff that’s pure political propaganda far removed from real facts.

Such denialism ignores the fact that since 2000 dozens of independent teams worldwide have been studying many different proxies and without exception the basic “hockey stick shape” emerges from the data. That shape is telling us that our world is on a trajectory of warming not seen since deep geologic time. And we are the ones propelling the change.

A key part of the hockey stick myth is that it’s hiding a Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age. But, it doesn’t, they are reflected in the graph. More importantly, those events were regional and driven by a combination of factors scientists have come to understand: vulcanism; solar activity; ocean current oscillations among others.

We should be clear that these factors are playing a role in today’s situation. Volcanoes have been adding their cooling aerosols; our sun is at a historic minimum, and ocean oscillations continue to exert their regional influence.

What’s so different about today’s situation is that before industrialization, CO2 levels hovered around 280 ppm for over 400,000 years, giving our biosphere the stability to develop into this cornucopia we have learned to exploit so well.

But with industrialization atmospheric CO2 broke free from the historic trend and started going uphill, driven by our society’s increasing consumption of coal, oil, gasoline and other carbon based energy sources. Currently, our atmosphere has surpassed 390 ppm, a level unexperienced on Earth in over 10 million years.

Today all but the most committed quacks agree that CO2 is indeed a potent greenhouse gas and a significant regulator of our planet’s temperature. While there isn’t, and can never be, absolute agreement on the exact amount of warming, those arguments are over fine details!

We should find no comfort in that uncertainty, since Earth observations are showing our planet changing much faster than scientific forecasts predicted. Yes, this is cause for alarm.

While Republicans have turned this into a parlor game of who can best manipulate the political debate ~ the harsh real down to Earth consequences are already being felt across the planet and they promise only to get worse as Republican statesmen and business leaders with their media machine continue their contemptuous political game of manufacturing willful ignorance.

When are we the people going to demand of our business leaders, politicians, media and we ourselves to stop allowing faith-based pipe-dreams to trump down to Earth realities?
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If you see any value in this essay please do copy and share with others.


pendantry said...

Good article, thanks!

From the title I thought you were going to be talking about the game The Fate of The World :)

P.S. typo on "Republican’s" - this should be "Republicans" (plural, not possessive).

Peter said...

Thanks for the heads up on the typo, I'm appalled and embarrassed by the stuff that slips past me.
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I don't do computer games, but if I did The Fate of The World would be on my list.
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From their blurb:

"Based on the research of Prof. Myles Allen at Oxford University, Fate of the World simulates the real social and environmental impact of global climate change over the next 200 years. The science, the politics, the destruction — it’s all real, and it’s scary.

"Your mission: Solve the crisis. But, like life, it won’t be easy. You’ll have to work through natural disasters, foreign diplomacy, clandestine operations, technological breakthroughs, and somehow satisfy the food and energy needs of a growing world population. Will you help the planet or become an agent of destruction?"
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profmandia said...


Nicely stated. I just Tweeted and Face Booked this.

citizenschallenge said...

Thank you Professor Mandia,
I'll admit it feels nice knowing these essays make sense to some of the folks with the real brains.

Best wishes for all of your endeavors.


Antonia Z said...

Meanwhile McIntyre is being cited as a credible source against the IPCC in The National Post, a Canadian newspaper.

Peter said...
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Peter said...
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Peter said...

Oh lordie Antonia Z,
I gave you the benefit of the doubt - but your links go to pathetic opinion pieces. If your Rex can't even offer documentation for his wild charges, why in the world should anyone listen to him?

As for McIntyre, what the hell are you talking about? In ten paragraphs there were three self-supporting mentions.
#6... It was first reported on by Steven McIntyre on his blog
#8... Or, as McIntyre put it in plainer terms
#9... But thanks to Steve McIntyre and others of near-equal courage, standing firm against the rage and mockery of the alarmist warming establishment, at least some of the IPCC’s dubious and chillingly erroneous practices are revealed.
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Dude your links are rhetorical radio-gaga, not reality...
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For the record: making claims without offering supporting reasoning and evidence is simply being a parrot.

Next time why not post your own opinion and reasoning, supported by real science stuff?

Peter said...


deleted multiple posts