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A political cartoonist's take on the 'Gore Effect'
2008 sees a sea change in the face of the global warming debate.

When I began writing about global warming climate change, public outcry was tremendous.  Amid a sea of media stories about the sins of our wasteful lifestyle, no one wanted to hear about contradictory research, conflicting data, or skeptical scientists.

Now, over two years later, a funny thing has happened. The roles have shifted. My stories are the staid and ordinary ones.  It's the fellows predicting flood, famine, and disaster who are generating all the controversy.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry. What happened? 

2008 was the year predicted to be the "hottest in a century".  Instead it became the coldest of the decade. It was the year the North Pole would "melt entirely, allowing you to swim to it".  Instead, nuclear-powered icebreakers became trapped in unseasonably thick ice. It was a year of record-breaking cold and snow, everywhere from Baghdad to the beaches of Malibu. It was the year the "Gore Effect" entered the public vocabulary, as whenever global warming protestors got together to march, they were met with blizzards and ice storms. Let's hope schadenfroh isn't a sin.

Polls are clear.  Despite the media's increasingly shrill tone and ever-more unrealistic predictions, the public has lost all faith in global warming. After all, how many times can you say that this time the science is now finally proven, without being laughed at?

In some respects, that's good.  It means less chance of implementing incredibly damaging policies, policies that will have disastrous impacts on standards of living, especially among the poor.

In other ways, it's bad. The overselling of inconclusive conjectures as "proven science" is leading some to distrust science itself. Given that, I think the year should conclude with a reminder of just what the scientific debate -- minus its alarmist media trappings-- is really all about.

As a moderately well known skeptic, I sometimes surprise people when I say I believe in global warming. If we define the term as, "man is having some impact on global temperatures", then the evidence is fairly clear. That statement in itself, though, means nothing. Are we impacting it enough to matter? Can CO2 cause catastrophic climate change?

That debate revolves around a single number, one so important we have a special name for it.

Climate Sensitivity
How much will the earth warm if we double the amount of atmospheric CO2, or its equivalent in other greenhouse gases? That value is called climate sensitivity. If all else remains equal, it’s fairly easy to calculate: about half a degree C, a figure accepted by most proponents and skeptics of AGW alike. It's also a value far too small for concern. With that sensitivity, the planet would warm by maybe a quarter of a degree by the year 2100. Yawn.

But there's a wrinkle in that simple calculation. As greenhouse gases rise, other things change as well. Some are positive feedbacks, which lead to more warming. Some are negative feedbacks, which counteract the warming. Scientists in the modeling community tend to believe positive effects predominate; they bandy about sensitivity values from 2C all the way up to 6C or more. Observational earth scientists (primarily geologists, meteorologists, and some atmospheric physicists) tend to believe negative effects dominate, and that the actual value may be even smaller than 0.5C.

The problem is that no real evidence exists for strong positive feedbacks. Worse, they seem contradicted by the paleoclimatic history of the planet, which has never experienced runaway warming even when CO2 levels were ten or more times higher than they are today. Over geologic time, CO2 correlates very poorly with temperature, leading one to conclude that it's a very weak greenhouse gas.

There is other evidence against a high sensitivity. But the real point is this. Whichever side is right, the media (and a few researchers) have forgotten one of the basic rules of science. Until a theory can predict the unexpected, it should always be viewed critically. The ancient Greeks knew the stars moved, and they had a thousand theories to predict why it would keep happening.  Until we can explain past climate shifts and successfully predict future trends, global models are educational toys. Not indisputable evidence.

Some pundits are calling 2008 the year global warming was disproven. I prefer to call it the year science triumphed over alarmism.

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One bright thing in the future
By ang sang on 12/30/2008 3:53:29 PM , Rating: -1
In the future when half of all species are extincted and people are dying right and left, apologists like you will be lined up and shot for your crimes against the environment.

More snow doesn't disprove global warming. If you knew anything, you'd realize global warming means MORE extreme weather events.

RE: One bright thing in the future
By cochy on 12/30/2008 4:32:41 PM , Rating: 2
Well since 99% of all species that ever lived on planet Earth have since become extinct, it's quite certain that in the "future" a lot more than "half" of all current species will be extinct as well.

Species going extinct is the way of the world. Just hope we can avoid this fate.

RE: One bright thing in the future
By Ringold on 12/30/2008 4:58:45 PM , Rating: 2
and people are dying right and left

IPCC data doesn't suggest that would happen in a worst case scenario. The most pessimistic economic analysis done doesn't suggest that, again in the worst case scenario, that would happen. You have no basis to make the above claim beyond what some unfounded claims by extremists. If you do, then provide a link to a credible source, either a scientist from a relevant field or an economist from a respected institution, either academic or private. A claim made by a Greenpeace "scientist" funded by Friends of the Earth or whatnot does not count.

At worst, if the 'third world' remains undeveloped, they'll be adversely affected. Strangely, asides from better government, what they need most to advance to a point to reduce their vulnerability is cheap, reliable electricity. Simply because some species of frog goes extinct does not automatically mean massive human cost.

I doubt you'll do any research or place and faith in the more moderate, mainstream analysis though. You hold a view so extreme that I'd be pleasantly surprised if you're that flexible. A change from your position, where people should be killed for harming unintelligent inferior species, to a moderate one would be like the Pope suddenly becoming an atheist.

RE: One bright thing in the future
By ang sang on 12/31/08, Rating: -1
By Screwballl on 12/30/2008 5:06:57 PM , Rating: 2
Let me correct this for you from reality:

In the future when 3 or 4 more species are extinct and people are wondering how "man made global warming" was a lie right and left, apologists like you will be lined up and praised for your prevention of crimes against the environment and economy caused by damaging laws. More snow doesn't disprove global warming. If you knew anything, you'd realize the earth goes through normal heating and cooling trends and science has already found facts that man has almost nothing to do with it, yet lack of hard evidence to contradict it.

All fixed for the PS3 user wannabe without any scientific education.

RE: One bright thing in the future
By FITCamaro on 12/31/2008 4:08:49 PM , Rating: 1
No because I'll be dead in 2,000,000,000 AD when the sun is burning this planet to a crisp.

RE: One bright thing in the future
By Zshazz on 1/6/2009 12:00:28 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah, and the opposite will be true if the opposite is discovered.

"Whelp, we destroyed our economy and there's no technology anymore, and billions have died, and climate's still changing."

-- "Oh, well ... erm... it'll just take some time. Climate Change has an offset of about 20 years... it'll get better after that, though. I swear!"

"You're full of ****, you know?" *stabs with a rusty fork*

-- "Oh GOD... no ... tetnus... shot... because... it causes... CO2 emissions in transport.... *dies*"

"Well, we didn't have anyone in line that got shot waiting for our system." -- Nintendo of America Vice President Perrin Kaplan

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