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« Computers, animation and drugs | Main | Psychological Suspense »

June 04, 2003

Schizophrenic Science

Michael:

When you were leafing through a magazine, did you ever wonder if the editors ever read the whole publication? Or even the whole section? I recently had this experience in connection with the June issue of Scientific American. On page 20, in the News Scan section of the magazine, I saw a story on “Acting Locally: In Curbing Greenhouse Gas Emissions, States Go It Alone.” The main thrust of this story is accurately summarized in its concluding paragraph:

Still, the collective effort of the states is already beginning to compensate for the lack of reductions by the Bush Administration. “You may have some American states that are better prepared, from a policy standpoint, to reduce greenhouse gases than a number of nations that have ratified Kyoto,” [Barry] Raab [of the University of Michigan] comments. The earth’s atmosphere will take whatever help it can get.


The Problem, Right?

Okay, I thought, that’s interesting, and then kept flipping until I reached page 28—still in the News Scan section of the magazine. Now I’m confronted with a little squib entitled, “Rising Sun”:

Humans may be shouldering too much of the blame for global warming, according to a new look at data from six sun-gazing satellites. They suggest that Planet Earth has been drenched in a bath of solar radiation that has been intensifying over the past 24 years—an increase of about 0.05 percent each decade. If that trend began early last century, it could account for a significant component of the climatic warm-up that is typically attributed to human-made greenhouse gases, says Richard C. Willson of Columbia University’s Center for Climate Systems Research in Coronado, Calif…[Willson thinks] the evidence merits keeping a close eye on both the sun and humans to better guage their relative influences on global climate. “In 100 years I think we’ll find the sun is in control,” he says.


Or the Problem...?

Hey, I’m resolutely agnostic on the whole topic of global warming, but it sure would be easier on us average-citizen types if Scientific American, to say nothing of the rest of the scientific community, could make up its mind.

Cheers,

Friedrich

posted by Friedrich at June 4, 2003




Comments

Global warming is a problem. Reducing greenhouse-gas emmissions will help reduce that problem. That's true whether or not solar radiation helped cause the problem in the first place.

Posted by: Felix on June 4, 2003 04:19 PM



Felix:

You write:

Reducing greenhouse-gas emmissions will help reduce that problem.

Isn't the use of the word "greenhouse" in this context begging the question? If the observed warming is the result of the sun, then the gas emissions of the past 150 years, which have undoubtedly occurred, are not the cause of this trend. By extension, the theories that say the gas emissions are responsible--theories which, as we know, involve layer after layer of assumptions about cloud effects, aerosol effects, etc., etc.--thus would not be correct.) If this is the case, cutting the emissions would have little or no impact on global warming.

Don't get me wrong. I am NOT saying that Mr. Willson's speculations prove that gas emissions are not the cause of global warming. I am simply remarking that if he is correct, then the whole theoretical edifice of "greenhouse" gas emissions is probably wrong.

It would be nice to find out if Mr. Willson is talking sense or through his hat in a shorter time than 100 years.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on June 4, 2003 06:30 PM



I dunno, Friedrich: your excerpt only says that solar radiation "could account for a significant component of the climatic warm-up" -- not that it could account for all of it. Therefore, reducing greenhouse-gas emissions will still help.

Posted by: Felix on June 4, 2003 10:22 PM



You probably have a point, although I think my observation is true even if gas emissions simply account for less of the problem--that would still imply a major revision of the "greenhouse" gas theory.

In any event, none of this subtracts from the really cool picture of the sun in this posting.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on June 5, 2003 04:12 AM



Two points. First, some people believe that the benefits of global warming, within limits, are greater than its costs. It was warmer in part of the Middle Ages than it is now, and most of the differences were for the better.

Second, other people, notably Bjorn Lomborg, think that controlling global warming is not worth what it would cost. They think it would be better to, for example, spend the money to provide clean water for all the parts of the world that do not have it.

Posted by: Jim Miller on June 5, 2003 11:33 PM






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