Do reasonable global warming arguments exist?
August 9, 2007 2:44 PM   Subscribe

Do reasonable arguments for or against global warming actually exist for regular people like me to read? Or must I be stuck with the annoying rhetoric of both sides?

Critics of global warming claim it is faux-science, yet I never see them give evidence of this claim.

Proponents of global warming say "look at the science" and the evidence pretty much speaks for itself.

My question: Where is the science? What is a good resource to look at this data. Most of the mainstream news and conservative news just spouts snippits and rhetoric. Where can I find some good information on the "science" behind the current global warming warnings. I've watched "An Inconvenient Truth" but I shudder when I hear Al Gore strongly suggest we'll either be underwater or dead in ten years (now down to 8 years).

Also, for that matter, is there a resource that attempts to rebut the science reasonably? Preferably without that maliciousness and sarcasm of Fox News or Rush Limbaugh?
posted by donmak to Science & Nature (38 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
See this previous thread.
posted by vacapinta at 2:58 PM on August 9, 2007


I find Wikipedia is surprisingly good for this kind of thing. Partly for the articles themselves (although of course all the usual caveats about Wikipedia content apply), but more so for the references which are cited by good articles. You might start with the global warming and global warming controversy articles; many of the cited references are to primary scientific literature.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:16 PM on August 9, 2007


OP says: I shudder when I hear Al Gore strongly suggest we'll either be underwater or dead in ten years (now down to 8 years).

Are you trolling or are you going to tell us where you got the dis-info you cited above? Or did you just make it up, in which case your question is not serious.
posted by JackFlash at 3:23 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Seconding the Wiki articles.

I can't believe there are people that still don't believe in Global Warming. I'm pretty sure most (all) studies discrediting it are sponsored by Exxon Mobil.
posted by chunking express at 3:34 PM on August 9, 2007


I have no idea if the claims in it have been debunked or otherwise attacked, but there's a fairly substantial list of further reading and a number of scientific claims in Michael Crichton's State of Fear (which is a really terrible novel but might be worth skimming for the footnotes). He seems to attempt to make a scientific case against global warming, or at least against the more shrill proponents of it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:38 PM on August 9, 2007


chunking express: It's not so much that people don't believe in global warming, it's more that they doubt the strength of the evidence that suggests that man is causing it.

This is not as open-and-shut as either side would like for it to be, and pretending like it is makes one more of a zealot than a scientist.
posted by toomuchpete at 3:40 PM on August 9, 2007


I think you are going to have a hard time finding "reasonable" rebuttals, because the overwhelming majority of mainstream scientists accept that global warming (caused by humans) is definitely occurring. Here's a link. The fact that there are a few outliers out there who disagree does not mean that those folks are accepted members of the mainstream scientific community.

Here is a global warming 101 put out by the Union of Concerned Scientists (full disclosure: I work for UCS).

Here at UCS we talk a lot about the fact that in the interests of fair coverage, and to get viewers, the mainstream media creates a false dichotomy, where there is a debate over whether global warming exists or not. The science is clear, the scientists are clear that global warming is definitely happening. The fact that some news program can find someone to argue the other side (crackpot or not) does not mean that there is an actual debate going on in the scientific community.

I also always suggest that people check out Grist.org's "How to talk to a climate skeptic" for resources (facts and hard research) associated with comment arguments around the global warming issue.
posted by paddingtonb at 3:49 PM on August 9, 2007 [8 favorites]


toomuchpete: Chunking Express is right. Exxon Mobil has sponsored most of the research that debunks global warming, and even paid scientists to publicly express doubt about the issue. Here's the research (primary doc's from Exxon included!) And a summary if you don't feel like downloading a big PDF. (These are also UCS docs. UCS broke the Exxon Mobil story).

The science really is pretty clear.
posted by paddingtonb at 3:54 PM on August 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


I recommend RealClimate. All the authors are climate scientists. In their post "Welcome to RealClimate", they write:

"Climate science is one of those fields where anyone, regardless of their lack of expertise or understanding, feels qualified to comment on new papers and ongoing controversies. This can be frustrating for scientists like ourselves who see agenda-driven 'commentary' on the Internet and in the opinion columns of newspapers crowding out careful analysis... RealClimate is a commentary site on climate science by working climate scientists for the interested public and journalists. We aim to provide a quick response to developing stories and provide the context sometimes missing in mainstream commentary."

It can be heavy reading sometimes, but it sounds like it might be up your alley.
posted by sculpin at 4:02 PM on August 9, 2007


Also, for that matter, is there a resource that attempts to rebut the science reasonably? Preferably without that maliciousness and sarcasm of Fox News or Rush Limbaugh?

No, because you don't just rebut a scientific consensus. If you think that all of the science in this case is wrong, you do you own science: you develop your own theory and prove that it fits the available data better than the dominant theory (or you somehow prove that the available data is faulty). You have to prove that your theory has better predictive power than the dominant theory. Otherwise, you are just using rhetoric to attack scientific conclusions, which is useless as a method to understand the world.
posted by ssg at 4:06 PM on August 9, 2007 [6 favorites]


Pick up the latest issue of Scientific American - is has a great article "The Physical Science Behind Climate Change", which explains the current status quo of the scientific community regarding global warming.
posted by skwm at 4:21 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


[a few comments removed, the OP specifically said they DON'T want the annoying rhetoric of both sides. unless you can provide links or explain why said links don't exist, please comment in metatalk or elsewhere.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:23 PM on August 9, 2007


Valid science rebuts itself, that's the whole point of science. If you're trying to avoid the shuddering, maybe you should try religion instead.
posted by maniabug at 4:40 PM on August 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


One thing I *do* remember from An Inconvenient Truth is that thanks to the help of the media the Global Warming "debate" is a "maybe-maybe" issue; scientific research and publication overwhelmingly favors the global warming position while it's largely a wash in the media.

If your question really is "do reasonably arguments for global warming exist?" then yes. Any scientific publication you read about global warming will provide you with a reasonable argument for the existence of global warming and its clear correlation to the rise of carbon in the atmosphere caused by humans. If you're looking for the other side, not so much. There are no doubt some scientific-y books or articles arguing the other side, but you have to ask yourself why the scientists are doing this, and who is funding their research.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:01 PM on August 9, 2007


As others have mentioned I think where you *may* find reasonable argument is with the question of how much man contributes to global warming, not whether it exists or not. The planet has gone through periods of warming and cooling in its life, and it will again regardless of our input. The question is how much can we do to buy ourselves time during this warming period.
posted by mattholomew at 6:13 PM on August 9, 2007


If you really want to get into the science, you could always read the IPCC's fourth assessment report (see the right hand column of their web page. This is the report of the international group of scientists that advise the UN. It will be heavy going, but it will be the best overview of the science out there. The "summary for policymakers" may be easier to read.
posted by pombe at 6:13 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


If you're looking for a reasonable debate among people who care about these issues, you might try stepping away from arguments over whether the earth's temperature is rising or who is causing it and look at the debate over the political consensus about what we should be doing about it. Some people who are commonly categorized as "global warming skeptics" are actually people who believe that anthropogenic global warming exists; they just don't think national or international governing bodies should be taking action (or taking the action they are currently proposing) to stop it. There is legitimate debate among both policy types and scientists over whether, for example, the Kyoto treaty is the best solution to the carbon emissions problem. Any solution that has been proposed to the global warming crisis, you'll be able to find people who believe in global warming but are opposed to it (and most of them don't work for Exxon). You should investigate why those people believe what they do.
posted by decathecting at 6:14 PM on August 9, 2007


This week's newsweek has a cover story on global warming, but its conclusion is that those who argue it's not happening are well-funded attack dogs. So, take that for what it's worth.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 7:59 PM on August 9, 2007


I'm sorry, but you’re not going to find it. But I'd like to give you a few terms from which to work; to help you understand why this is so controversial and so complex; and why, really, the answer you’re looking for is hard to find. Part of the problem with giving you a great answer is that this issue is complex beyond any body's wildest imaginations. Climate change is something we don't fully understand in the past, let alone understand when we are the frog in the boiling water, so to speak.

Part of my job is understanding climate change on both large and small time scales. I struggle with global warming. There IS lots of science out there. But the good science - the science you're looking for - is buried in data in scientific papers that require training in geosciences to understand. And it's a bit here, a bit there, all adding up to a very large picture.

I'm a geologist, so this is a geologist’s perspective, not a climatologist’s.

Let's get to the nuts and bolts: Basically we're worried that human induced climate change will cause sea level rise and changes in climate patterns. We're worried about the glaciers melting and causing this sea level rise.

Looking at the big picture for a moment, let's talk about a few variables in sea level rise or fall, a term called eustacy).

* Tectonic activity, global. Sea-floor spreading causes sea level rise on the order of hundreds of millions of years. There are 6 recognizable sea level rise due to tectonics from the preCambrian until now, and these are called Sloss sequences. Such a sea level rise is the kind that causes seas in continental interiors, like the Western Interior Cretaceous Seaway.

*Tectonic activity, local/regional. Orogenies (Mountain building) affects sea level rise, because if a portion of the earth’s crust goes up in 1 spot, it must go down in another. With this subsidence, sea levels change occurs in these areas.

*Milokovitch cycles. These are variations in the earth's tilt and orbit that cause changes to climate on 100 thousand year, 41 thousand year, and 23 thousand year cycles, respectively. They cause small-scale sea level change. These cycles cause glaciers to wax and wane. These cycles cause that “heart beat” kind of rhythm you see in temperature graphs.

*Position of the earth's continents and their affect on glaciation and ice sheet formation. When there is a continent at one of the earth's poles and the continents are more spread out (like now) the earth is more apt to be glaciated with continental ice sheets. The last time the earth was glaciated to the extent it is now was in the late Paleozoic. Glaciation takes up water, causing falls, etc. The dual affects of ablation (melting) and accumulation (sometimes all at once!) in ice sheets and glaciers affect sea level rise and climate.

Glaciation also affects albedo (reflection of light), climate, salinity and temperature of the earth's oceans, the "oceanic conveyor belt" of how ocean water circulates, which in turn affects climate and biological activity...especially carbon loving creatures...which leads to...

*The carbon cycle. Which is complex beyond understanding, but it's (basically) how much carbon is stored in the earth and released into the atmosphere. Carbon then affects warming and cooling. This is the biological component. And very poorly understand, though there are many attempts. (For example, to show that our contribution of carbon is affecting the atmosphere, you have to know how much there was in the first place. Uh....) Did the rise of plants have an affect on global climate? You bet. Do oceanic plankton affect climate? Bet your booties! Does our interaction with carbon affect temperature in an adverse manner? We assume so. Adversely?

There's a lesson in all of this: sea level rise - even rapid sea level rise - takes time. Those animations of the sea rising and wiping out coastal cities - sure, it can happen. And actually, the earth's surface is accustomed to being underwater. Sea level rise and fall is
very natural. Take Florida. Florida is a carbonate platform. You know where carbonate platforms are created? Underwater. But it's not going to happen overnight, and that's what I hate about those scenarios. Extreme sea level rise takes geological time, not human time. We'll know it's happening, sure, but we won't be drowned in the process (with 1 exception I'll get to later).

OK. As humans, we can't affect most of the above. And the last time there was a “relatively” huge warming and sea level rise was the Paleocenen/Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), 55 million years ago, of which we still don't understand the cause. So it happens. The time before: the Cretaceous. What anthropological global warming proposes is that we have induced enough carbon into the atmosphere to prematurely melt glaciers and cause sea level rise. (Why prematurely? Milankovitch cycles cause glaciers to melt and then rebuild again. And sea level rise is, in turn, one of our pieces of evidence of global warming. This is easily observed in the geologic record.) We base this hypothesis on physical evidence from: observation of current events, the geologic record, and human experience (in a nutshell).

Human experience includes tales of colder winters, where humans used to grow what crops, nomadic patterns etc. Observation includes items like glaciers in Glacier Nat'l Park melting or ice shelves calving ice. The geological record includes ice cores, biological evidence (not things like mammoths, but organisms like diatoms and calcareous plantkon). We also rely on evidence of temperatures in the past. We can't directly measure temperature in the past, so we use proxies. These proxies are usually delta Oxygen 18 and delta Carbon 13.

Delta oxygen 18 and delta carbon 13 are taken up in different amounts by the shells of sea creatures (among other things; in recent enough ice cores you can measure it directly). Depending on the water temperature water, which is affected by glaciation, there are different amounts of these elements due to their isotopic weight. For oxygen, you then compare it to a standard, the PDB, which is the quantity of oxygen 18 in the 1950's oceans. There's a slight problem - to be measured, you have to have perfect preservation of the organism in question (usually a plankton called foraminfera is used). That's a little tricky! So the further back in time the less reliable it is. And scientists have a tendency to “wiggle match” their temperature curves to form patterns….smoothing them out, getting rid of outliers, etc.

Using these elements, we have contrived a picture of what our climate is, what our climate should be, and how we're affecting it (in ice cores, for example, you can tell when all the big forests in Europe were cut down).

So. Is the climate changing? Yes. Did we cause it? Is it natural or no, and if not, is it accelerated? That’s the question. And that’s an answer that I have trouble with. Global climate change has so many variables involved. And frankly, I think we need a lot more data, and much more sophisticated modeling techniques, to really grasp it. We have to FULLY understand climate change from the past before we can understand this one.

Your answer: there isn’t one good source.

A second note for how to have catastrophic sea level rise: we shouldn't be worried about glaciers melting. What we should be worried are ice shelves off of Antarctica melting, although those won't affect sea level rise, really. But their melting would let the West Antarctica Ice Sheet (note differences between glaciers, ice shelves, and ice sheets) into the ocean. That would be catastrophic. But it would still take time.

Here's a paper. This might give you an idea.
posted by barchan at 8:02 PM on August 9, 2007 [21 favorites]


I'm sorry to have geologic diarrhea all over your excellent question. I tried to wait until posting died down a little. :)
posted by barchan at 8:03 PM on August 9, 2007


I second the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC. That is the product of both scientific collaboration and the approval of member governments.

A couple of other sources well worth examining:

Weart, S. R. (2003). The discovery of global warming. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press.

Gardiner, Stephen. “Ethics and Global Climate Change.” Ethics. Volume 114 (2004), p. 555–600.

McNeill, John. Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth Century. Penguin Press; London. 2000.

Oreskes, Naomi. “Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change.” Science 3 December 2004: Vol. 306. no. 5702, p. 1686.
posted by sindark at 9:03 PM on August 9, 2007


So. Is the climate changing? Yes. Did we cause it? Is it natural or no, and if not, is it accelerated? That’s the question. And that’s an answer that I have trouble with. Global climate change has so many variables involved. And frankly, I think we need a lot more data, and much more sophisticated modeling techniques, to really grasp it. We have to FULLY understand climate change from the past before we can understand this one.

That is a great explanation, but it also seems to be at odds with the view (expressed elsewhere in this thread) that there is only one right answer, supported by a scientific consensus of all serious, respectable, non-oil-company affiliated scientists, that is sufficiently certain to serve as a basis for dramatic changes in public policy.

Not to hijack the question, but is there a reason why a geologist might have a different view than a climatologist, or scientists in other fields?
posted by Slap Factory at 9:41 PM on August 9, 2007


Not to hijack the question, but is there a reason why a geologist might have a different view than a climatologist, or scientists in other fields?

That is the problem with barchan's discussion. He is talking about geological processes that occur over many thousands or millions of years. Obviously these have little or no impact on the rapid climatic changes we are observing in less than a century. Global warming primarily has to do with climatic processes which have much shorter timescales.

He says: But it's not going to happen overnight, and that's what I hate about those scenarios. Extreme sea level rise takes geological time, not human time. This is plain factually incorrect. Sea level changes due to geologic processes of course take geologic time. But the changes we are observing are not due to geologic processes. They are due to climatic processes and these can cause significant sea level changes in less than 100 years, not geologic time.

He says: A second note for how to have catastrophic sea level rise: we shouldn't be worried about glaciers melting. Again this is factually incorrect. The melting of the glaciers in Alaska alone would increase sea level by about a foot. Considering that 100 million people live within 3 feet of sea level, the change could be catastrophic. Add in the melting of the Greenland or Antarctic ice sheets and much of the U.S. eastern seaboard is underwater.
posted by JackFlash at 10:08 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


So. Is the climate changing? Yes. Did we cause it? Is it natural or no, and if not, is it accelerated? That’s the question. And that’s an answer that I have trouble with. Global climate change has so many variables involved. And frankly, I think we need a lot more data, and much more sophisticated modeling techniques, to really grasp it. We have to FULLY understand climate change from the past before we can understand this one.

I don't want to flog a dead horse here, but there statements are misleading. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (which seems to be a pretty good example of scientific consensus) clearly states that it is "very likely" that recent climate change is caused by humans. Of course, the question is not 100% settled, nor are many scientific questions.

The argument here that we need more data, modeling, study, etc. leads right into the argument that because we don't have perfect knowledge about how climate change works, we shouldn't change anything about our behavior yet. Scientists always want more data and many political figures have taken advantage of this to claim that we don't know enough to make changes. What we need to do is compare the risks of inaction with the risks of action, because we clearly cannot wait while climate change is happening relatively rapidly.
posted by ssg at 11:11 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Barkan is right on. But it's Milankovic, not Milokovitch cycles. Nice to have a geologist's opinion- what has been missing in the global warming hoo ha is the very long time perspective that informs the field.


Not to hijack the question, but is there a reason why a geologist might have a different view than a climatologist, or scientists in other fields?

Time perspective, definitely, SlapFactory.

I do geological research, and the senior geologist gives the exact same reasoning as Barkan.
posted by solongxenon at 12:47 AM on August 10, 2007


My standard recommendation is Spencer Weart's Discovery of Global Warming website. He reviews the history of the science in considerable detail.
posted by russilwvong at 12:50 AM on August 10, 2007


Here is a nice page on global warming at New Scientist.

Here is the NOAA page on global warming.

The geologists' posts, while interesting in themselves, are not addressing human-caused CO2-based global warming.

No theory is final, and of course research continues. The current theory is the best we have. Those who adamantly oppose it usually have a financial or political stake somewhere. A lot of pseudo-science and rhetoric get thrown around. Here is a page at Scientific American rebutting typical skeptic claims.

As bad as global warming looks now, it is only likely to get worse as more of the developing world comes on-line with hydrocarbon usage. Everyone, of course, wants a better lifestyle. There's no real solution other than alternative forms of power (people will not be plunged into a pre-industrial world no matter what the consequences). This was my thought is asking this previous askme question.
posted by DarkForest at 5:13 AM on August 10, 2007


Sorry, here is the Scientific American skeptic page.
posted by DarkForest at 5:16 AM on August 10, 2007


Whooo, discussion time! threadhijack whoopsie.

That is a great explanation, but it also seems to be at odds with the view (expressed elsewhere in this thread) that there is only one right answer...

You're right, there is only one right answer, etc. My point is many people are uncomfortable with whether or not we've arrived there because it's so complex. :)

Obviously these have little or no impact on the rapid climatic changes we are observing in less than a century. Global warming primarily has to do with climatic processes which have much shorter timescales.


No. Data based on 1 century of observation is frankly not enough to base anything on. That's not a pattern or climate, that's weather. Fortunately for us, we do have much more data than that...but we're just starting out.

Climatic processes ARE geologic processes, and they do have HUGE timescales. I guess I just have to point to the above. If it's human-induced climate change, it will still take time, and will still happen in a geologic way. But we forget that geologic caused climatic processes are ALSO occurring simultaneously.

The melting of the glaciers in Alaska alone would increase sea level by about a foot. Considering that 100 million people live within 3 feet of sea level, the change could be catastrophic. Add in the melting of the Greenland or Antarctic ice sheets and much of the U.S. eastern seaboard is underwater.

I'm sorry, these are factually incorrect because they're overdramatised soundbites. Glaciers don't have that much water. Ice shelves, really, don't have that much water..ice sheets...holy shit, they have a lot of water! Sea level rise is not that simple. And the last time the ice sheets melted much of the eastern seaboard was not underwater. We have a lot of geologic evidence of what happened in previous sea level rises, regardless of their cause. People imagine this huge flood coming up over the land, and that's...not...true.

SSG: I should have added a caveat that regardless, we need to change our behavior, definitely! :) And there was great a bit of flurried discussion on the Climate Change Report, it's not that simple as saying most scientists support it.

(softly) I think this issue is so complex, and we've just started really researching it, that it will be years before we fully understand what's going on. IMHO we are adding to the problem, and we are making it worse in all kinds of ways that we're not even thinking of yet. (I.E. the affect of cities on weather) But I think it's really arrogant to declare we're wholly responsible when compared with the idea that changing the earth's tilt changes climate on geologically small intervals.

AND that's why, ladies and gentlemen, good resources are hard to find!

Solongxenon: (chagrined) I always misspell Milankovic. (hangs head) It just doesn't stick.

Geologists always argue with climatologists because ...ahaha, we have a LOT MORE DATA! :)
posted by barchan at 5:45 AM on August 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


Instead of trying to understand the science yourself, which may be impossible because you are not a scientist, you need to develop some broader understanding about the scientific method, as well as an understanding of your personal risk and uncertainty preferences. You are probably not capable of evaluating the science, but you are capable of interpreting the signals from the "science community" that indicate that global warming is happening, as well as the level of risk we're facing. One of those signals might be the current level of consensus among mainstream scientists that global warming is happening and poses a significant risk.

If you decide that the consensus indicates a risk, then you need to think about your own risk tolerance. Is the risk so severe and so certain that you're willing to make big sacrifices to avoid it? Or is the risk less severe and more uncertain, so that you're not willing to make sacrifices? The answers to these questions will guide you in understanding what kinds of policy/legislative actions you think your government should be taking.
posted by footnote at 6:26 AM on August 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


Here's an article on shrinking arctic ice from today's NYTimes. That article points back to another article on warming of the arctic, here.

Quoting from the second article: Dr. Koerner, the Canadian glaciologist, pointed out on time scales of millenniums, the recent warming has even trumped a long cooling trend.

"The warming trend is even more significant," he said, "because it's not on a flat background but something that maybe should be getting colder."

posted by DarkForest at 7:08 AM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


[a few comments removed this is NOT the place, please take derails to metatalk or email or your own blog.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:37 AM on August 10, 2007


Wait a minute, jessamyn. I specifically said in my posting that I was not debating global warming. This is not the forum for that. I was simply pointing out a documented error in physical fact. Yet you delete the correction and leave stand the error. It is important in any discussion that mis-statements be corrected because, as I said, bad information drives out the good and bad information tends to get repeated. Correcting an error of fact is not a derail.
posted by JackFlash at 10:42 AM on August 10, 2007


JackFlash, I'm not disagreing with you. However, if this thread is turning into a fact by fact rebuttal session then it's becoming what the OP specifically said he doesn't want. MetaTalk is the right place for direct responses to other posters that don't address the original question.
posted by jessamyn at 10:58 AM on August 10, 2007


Jackflash, my e-mail is in my profile if you would like to discuss this further. :)
posted by barchan at 11:09 AM on August 10, 2007


Okay, Jessamyn, I see your point, and I specifically try to avoid debates over contentious issues on this forum but I feel an obligation to correct errors of fact. For example, mistaken "facts" like "Al Gore said he invented the internet," when left uncorrected and repeated, have real world consequences. But I see that it's time I abandon this thread.
posted by JackFlash at 11:22 AM on August 10, 2007


I was bolstering barchan's comments, Jessamyn, as well as pointing out just where the science was (which is what the OP purportedly wants)- by providing a link to the prinicple of isostasy.

Can you point out where I went wrong?
posted by solongxenon at 12:05 PM on August 10, 2007


Where can I find some good information on the "science" behind the current global warming warnings.

Are you looking for a good explanation of evidence supporting human-caused climate change, or are you looking for an explanation of the models predicting what will happen in the future? Those are two different but related questions.
posted by Tehanu at 1:56 PM on August 13, 2007


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