Warming or Cooling? You Be the Judge

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“The people
who have a quasi-religious belief in man-made global-warming are
entitled to their religious beliefs, but they are not entitled
to make the rest of us worship in their church.”

~
Grover
Norquist

In 1991, the
volcanic eruption at Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines put more
carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere than did the whole human
race during the most recent century of the industrial era. Notwithstanding
all the heat and fury released in the neighborhood of the volcano,
the event had a
cooling effect on the world as a whole
.

Oblivious
to this bit of natural history, the
University of Minnesota is considering the award of an honorary
doctorate in climatology to Albert Gore
for sounding an alarm
that human industrial activity is causing a global warming disaster.
It was a surprise to me that the administration of this prestigious
institution of higher learning considers Mr. Gore a climatologist.
Their gullibility regarding Mr. Gore's predictive powers should
raise the general level of skepticism. I wonder how this news was
received by established professionals and academics in the field.

However, it
is neither news nor scandal that the earth's climate is changing,
and you don't have to be a climatologist to recognize it happens.
As the refrain from the old drinking song goes: “We’re gonna have
weather, whether or not.” The same sentiment applies to the global
climate whether or not there are any humans alive to toast to or
to burn any materials in its atmosphere.

The activities
of industrious humans take place on only a small fraction of the
Earth’s surface. Local in execution and in sensible effect, only
in the fullness of time do the effects of human activity reach the
vast fluid volumes of the oceans and atmosphere, and then only after
much time has passed and the effects diluted to infinitesimal proportions.
It takes generations of skilled and patient climatologists to track
the consequences of such acts into global
climate effects
. Even then there is no assurance of a reliable
determination.

So far in history,
people and their institutions have had a negligible physical effect
on the planet as a whole, strip-mining and clear-cutting to the
contrary notwithstanding. Compared to the volcanic activity from
within and the solar activity from without, mans’ surface shenanigans
have had but a puny influence on global climate if any at all. Volcanic
and solar activities dominate the natural outcome we call global
climate. All we mere humans can do about this result is to prepare
for and adapt to the consequences as best we can understand them.

It so happens
that the politically popular effort to banish human-generated emissions
of CO2 as a climate control measure is not one of the prudent measures
man can take to harmonize with his environment. To forcibly curtail
the emission of CO2 by humans is an attack on people, not climate
change. After all, CO2 is a product of respiration and, at this
stage of history, the number of people able to continue respiring
in the manner to which they have become accustomed will decline
as the energy derived from the burning of carbon-based fuels is
arbitrarily limited.

Legislation
aimed at curtailing carbon emissions by humans has been rationalized
as a proper government application of the so-called precautionary
principle. However, inasmuch as it would definitely impoverish humanity
without a chance of accomplishing an iota of global environment
protection, it seems an odd way for government to do its duty
to "establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide
for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure
the blessings of liberty…"

Carbon abatement
legislation is ill-informed and futile, as the following narrative
will show. It is a pathetic gesture analogous to the medieval ritual
of self-flagellation supposed by the victims to purge the consequences
of sin denounced by the church fathers. The modern environmental
church fathers and their misanthropic band of alarmists prescribe
anti-greenhouse medicine that, by their own calculation, can attenuate
global warming by no more than a couple of degrees. But the attempt
to roll back of carbon emissions that is involved will stymie the
world's economic growth and dissipate
most of its existing wealth in the attempt
.

Even this small
degree global temperature control assumes the doubtful hypothesis
that human activity is the cause. But Mr. Gore and other like-minded
environmentalists must make that assumption because otherwise they
have no political campaign. Global temperature control is only a
pretense for global human control.

Mr. Gore proposes
to take the world to war. He has declared a world war on humans
to protect the environment from spoliation by industry. He proposes
to control human activity in an environment that is beyond human
control. Since he is only an amateur climatologist, he may not fully
realize his limitations. But he is a lifelong politician in the
national arena. His real profession is people control. And that
is as professional as it gets when it comes to controlling masses
of people using the social apparatus of coercion.

How does a
man get the idea he can affect the global climate? It is true that
paving Manhattan preceded historically higher local noon-time temperatures
in the City? Although this so-called heat island effect is real
enough, it cannot be extrapolated world-wide to explain the heating
of the whole Earth. For example, the local event cannot account
for any melting of Greenland’s glaciers up the coast, let alone
produce a perceptibly significant change in the world’s climate
as a whole. Not even the nuclear explosions in the Pacific military
theater during and after WWII made any world climate history.

Mr. Gore and
his acolytes dismiss scientific accountability with the claim that
human greenhouse gas emission is a moral issue that justifies political
action come what may. The church in Rome made such a moral issue
out of Giordano Bruno's teaching of Copernicus’s idea that the Earth
moved around the Sun instead of the other way around. Ultimately,
the church took political action to settle the argument: Bruno
was silenced on the stake in 1600
. His intellectual descendent
Galileo subsequently faced a similar fate on substantially the same
issue. He recanted to save his skin, but was heard muttering under
his breath afterward “E
pur si muove,”
which is Italian for "And yet it
moves." Science gave Copernicus, Galileo and Bruno the
last word on the subject and the church allowed the moral issue
to die quietly. Pope Clement VIII and Pope Urban VIII are remembered
only for their attempt to suppress of the truth about the solar
system. Mr. Gore and his church face a similar fate on the global
warming issue.

While there
is no scientific question that the Earth's climate is changing,
it is still highly questionable whether it is warming up or cooling
down at the present time and what is driving the changes. Determining
the magnitude of change of the planetary climate as a whole at any
instant of geological time is a project fraught with uncertainty.
Global temperature distributions East to West and North to South
are in constant flux. Relevant effects from whatever cause cannot
be reliably measured let alone controlled. If an understanding of
the phenomenon overall is so uncertain, how then should one regard
the suggestion that human life plays a significant role in the matter?
Which fly put what speck in the pepper shaker? It is probable that
whatever global climate change may be attributable to human life
is comparatively too small to be determined with any confidence.

Even if one
believes the temperatures relevant to the state of the global climate
are being reliably measured, the temperatures being reported by
the authorities show less change during our lifetime than the inherent
measurement error of the best
available thermometric instruments
. Never mind tree rings, ice
cores, fossil worms, tea leaves and the like. This observation raises
the question as to how to take the temperature of the planet in
the first place. Archimedes’ answer to a similar question of global
import comes to mind. This ancient Greek mathematician said he could
move the Earth IF he had a place to stand and a lever
long enough. I have a pretty good idea where Mr. Gore stands and
where he has stuck his thermometer to ascertain what he wants to
learn about the Earth's political climate. But I have no idea where
to put the global thermometer for the physicist to read bona fide
global temperatures. The climatologists are still searching.

Maybe the
Earth is currently in the process of warming up. It has happened
before, which we know only in retrospect. Maybe human life is culpable
for such warming. This has never happened before and remains to
be proven. One thing is for sure: popular consensus has nothing
to do with the matter. Neither does the hot air of political debate
of which there is plenty. Contrary to popular opinion, there is
no such thing as a scientific consensus on this issue or any other.
Scientists don’t vote on scientific matters because knowledge is
not a matter of consensus. A consensus forms as a result of observational
agreement
, not the reverse. If nature was a person, he wouldn’t
give a hoot what the public thinks of a matter of natural history.
It is as Jonathan Swift scoffed: “Some people have no better idea
of determining right and wrong than by counting noses.”

The science
of climatology is like all the other sciences except more so –
uncertain. The obligatory seed of doubt in scientific conclusions
is a permanent bar to the legitimacy of political exploitation of
them. On that account, science will never be able to justify the
coercion of some by others, academic honorees not excepted. The
hubris of public policy and the legislation that follows from it
is alien to science and hazardous to human health.

This much is
known with some confidence about global climate formation: one volcanic
eruption put more CO2 into the atmosphere than a century's worth
of industrial fuel burning. And the result of this event was global
cooling, not warming. Hundreds of active undersea volcanic vents
untouched by human hands heat the oceans and drive off megatons
of previously solvated CO2
and H2O into the atmosphere
. This has been going for ages and
we still don't know if it is causing warming or cooling of the earth.

What about
the so-called greenhouse effect? According to the University of
Minnesota's favorite climatologist and Hollywood's
favorite documentarian
, carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere
by hydrocarbon-fuel-burning humans since the onset of the industrial
revolution traps sufficient additional sunshine to doom the Earth’s
climate to perpetual warming. Such warming is supposed to have dire
consequences for the future of civilization as Mr. Gore knows it.
Watch
his computer make Florida and New York disappear under rising seas.

But physics
paints a different picture. According to established physics, the
most important greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is not
CO2 but H2O
(water). Moreover, the burning of typical hydrocarbon
fuels in air produces a
greater volume of water vapor than carbon dioxide
. Even so,
most of the gases in the Earth's atmosphere that came from combustion
resulted from naturally
occurring forest fires, not human activity
. As the forests re-grow,
they take back some of the carbon out of the atmosphere. However,
the predominant source of greenhouse gas emissions is not
combustion but volcanic activity
. The fate of this carbon is
hard to know.

In any event,
the importance of both the greenhouse effect on global climate and
the human contribution to it are widely misrepresented in the popular
media. One misrepresentation is that carbon dioxide is the most
significant radiation absorber in the atmosphere. Actually, the
most important gas from this standpoint is water vapor. Another
misrepresentation is that the greenhouse effect is preeminent in
global climate formation. Actually, the most important role of the
most important greenhouse gas in climate formation is not even a
greenhouse effect. Water is not merely a strong solar radiation
absorber. It also condenses in the atmosphere to form clouds, which
scatter solar radiation back to space before it has a chance to
be converted to heat in the atmosphere by gaseous radiation interchange.
Such scattering overwhelms the relatively weak greenhouse effect
of all the atmospheric gases combined. So even if the emissions
resulting from human activity were a significant fraction of the
whole greenhouse inventory (which they are not), the water associated
with the dreaded carbon “footprint” will probably cause more global
cooling than heating.

It should also
be noted that the heat absorbed in the atmosphere by radiation interchange
with the sun fails to reach the surface of the Earth directly. And
by the time it is brought there by convection from the atmosphere,
part of it is re-radiated back to space before it can do any more
heating of the Earth’s surface.

Admittedly,
modeling
the Earth's global climate
gets complicated very quickly. The
reader should ask how I can presume to contest the mighty conclusions
of the esteemed technical authorities at NASA
and UNIPCC
based on some elementary physics and naked eye observations.
Surely the government's
fancy computerized climate models
programmed and run on super-computers
by an army of bureaucrats with PhD's account for all the above considerations
and more with unimpeachable authority.

Maybe
so. But the questions remain. What if the inadvertent effect of
human life on global climate is negligible? What, then, are the
chances that concerted human effort can control the weather? Who
is willing to live in poverty to give the government a chance to
try?

Free men must
judge for themselves. And they better judge and speak out on their
conclusions very soon if they expect to retain any degree of freedom.
If in doubt, say no.

March
1, 2007

Al
Lowi [send him mail] has
been a professional engineer in private practice in Rancho Palos
Verdes, California, for the past 40 years.

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