Last night, I got involved in a long comment thread on Google+ about global warming. It pretty much summed up why I hate talking about this stuff. I don’t mind people going around spouting their nonsense, but don’t claim just because you read an article on some denier website that you have it all figured out. I spent a decade of my life doing little other than working on this stuff; I have the credentials and I know the science. But let me yield one point: most people who accept global warming are pretty ignorant too. But there is a big difference.
We all depend upon experts. I don’t know that the water I drink is safe. I just assume that the experts at the water works know what their doing and I’m not being poisoned with lead. This is the way that we must live our lives. So being ignorant of global warming but just accepting that climate scientists know what they’re doing is reasonable. Being ignorant of global warming but denying it because Marco Rubio and his oil industry fueled party tells you to is not (Not! Not! Not!) reasonable.
I specifically bring up Marco Rubio because in the thread last night there was a lot of talk about him, although I never heard his name uttered. Suddenly, the global warming deniers are repeating his new argument: the climate is always changing! The implication is that there’s no way we can know if humans are causing climate change because the climate would be changing if we weren’t here. Sigh.
Let me give you a good example of the problem with this way of looking at things. Over the long term, the stock market has an upward trend. The companies traded publicly are worth more on the whole every year. And yet, the stock market is random as anything. It goes up! It goes down! It is so unpredictable that the nightly news tells you how much it went up or down every day, even though in the long run, it doesn’t matter because it is going up!
The climate works exactly the same way. And there have been hundreds, maybe even thousands, of brilliant mathematicians over the centuries who have figured out ways to extract trends from very noisy data. So what this new line of attack is all about is disparaging science. These people might as well be Ken Ham: throw up their hands and say, “We just can’t know!” Unless the temperature is 80° this year and then 81° next year and then 82° the year after, there is nothing we can say. The climate is always changing. Who knows? Maybe it is as Tina Fey parodied Sarah Palin, “It’s just God hugging us closer.”
What most bugs me about all of this is the complete disregard of the Milankovitch cycles, which explain how differences in the tilt of the earth, its precession, and the eccentricity of its orbit explain the ice age cycle. One of the best articles I ever read in graduate school was about this one-dimensional model of the earth using Milankovitch theory. It found four distinct glacial states of the earth. The point was that the earth moved quickly from one state to another. The states are: no major glaciers (the state about 10,000 years ago—the Holocene), glaciers covering Greenland (where we are supposed to be now but won’t be for long), glaciers covering Canada, and glaciers covering the United States (the state about 100,000 years ago—the Tarantian).
All of this is due to radiative forcing. But it’s existence does not mean that thermal forcing from greenhouse gases is not also happening on top of that. By the Marco Rubio theory, Milankovitch must have been wrong. Ice ages just happen. “Tide comes in, tide goes out, you can’t explain it!” The underlying theory here is that the climate changes all the time for no reason whatsoever. Denial of global warming is like cancer denial. “There was a man who lived to be a hundred and he smoked every day of his life!” That may well be true, but the fact remains that pushing red hot nicotine into your lungs for a long period of time hurts your body. And pushing large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere hurts the human race, and most likely very much more.