Friday, February 02, 2007

Global Warming Research

Ok, so global warming has been all over the news with the recent conference and global warming report that came out today. I've been conducting an extensive amount of (very frustrating) research on my own. Let me start by stating that while I'm skeptical of a pending ecological disaster caused by humans (and anyone conducting research should approach claims of significant change with skepticism), I'm not going in on some kind of witch-hunt or trying to find research that supports a pre-defined view.

In fact, at this point it's quite the opposite: I'm working under the assumption that, with so many people jumping on the bandwagon, I've got to be missing something. And that's where I started...

So, let's start with a set of facts which I have researched and are supported by actual measured data from multiple sources. It doesn't make it right, but I believe this data is probably accurate. Here we go:

  1. The earth has been getting warmer for the last 200 years or so. I've seen the data, it's simple measurement of temperature, and it's going up. Yes, we can measure temperature more accurately today than we could is 1863, but I don't have any reason to believe that the earlier temperatures would be wildly off. There are also sets of data that measure things indirectly effected by temperature change, and these support a warming climate as well. So is the earth getting hotter in recent years? Yes, it is.

  2. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) levels have increased over the same period (approximately the start of the industrial revolution. Based on various measurements, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere 200 years ago was approximately 288 ppm (parts per million). Today it is approximately 388 ppm. That's an increase of about 35% (100/288).

  3. The burning of fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Yes, this is true. As you might expect, since "fossil fuels" means "fuels that came from living things" and living things are made up primarily of carbon, then the formation of carbon dioxide is not hard to understand.

  4. The level of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere plays a role in the surface temperation. I've actually not been able to find the actual controlled environment experimental data that proves this, but I'm going to go out on a bit of a limb and accept that it plays a role anyway because of the very definition of what constitutes a greenhouse gas. "Greenhouse gasses" are made up of the following: Water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and a group of gasses present in trace amounts. Other gasses like Nitrogen and Oxygen are not greenhouse gasses (I won't go into the explaination here, but it's easy enough to find if you are interested).

Alrighty then. From what I can tell, I'm supposed to jump to the conclusion that:
  • Humans burn fossil fuels which release CO2 into the atmosphere.
  • CO2 levels are rising
  • CO2 is a greenhouse gas
  • Higher concentrations of greenhouse gas will raise temperature
  • The earth's temperature is rising
  • Therefore, human burning of fossil fuels is causing the earth's temperature to rise.
So all that is true and fine, until you get to the last step. I think they've removed the "logic" portion of the SAT test since I took it (maybe this is why), but if this were on the test, you would answer that "the conclusion could not be reached based on the statements above."

If you aren't sure, let me walk you through the same logical steps using an obviously ludicrous basis:
  • Humans use ovens to cook
  • There are an increasing number ovens in use as human populations increase
  • Ovens produce heat
  • Heat increases temperature
  • The earth's temerature is rising
  • Therefore, human use of ovens is causing global temperatures to rise.
Obviously faulty logic. The problem is, that's all I can find. I can find a whole bunch of people that walk me through all the bulletpoints, give me graphs and charts, and data, and anectodes, but then nothing to actual bridge the gap between all that, and proof that the human behavior is actually linked to the warming planet. If you've got the connection, please tell me, because none of the sources I've find have done it yet.

But okay - I pressed on in the hope that maybe by just 'accepting' this premise, I'd end up with the evidence I needed as I dug deeper. The problem is, there really wasn't much to dig into. Like I said, you can find plenty of data on global temperatures, and plenty of data on CO2 levels, etc, etc, but nothing the solidly connects the two.

In fact, an observation I made which shocked me is based on looking at the charts that were supposed to be used to *support* this theory of human-induced global warming. Let me show you what I found:

Below is a chart that I'm sure you've seen in some form before. It shows the level of CO2 in the atmosphere for the last 1000 years or so.

(note that "today" is on the left side of this chart, zero-thousand years ago)

Ok, so the author of the graph took the liberty of adding the comment "the industrial revolution has caused a dramatic rise in CO2". This is more faulty logic, since what the chart shows is that "CO2 levels have increased dramatically since the start of the industrial revolution" - that is true - but looking at this chart and proclaiming that the industrial revolution *caused* the warming is beyond what you can actually say from this data. It's not automatically ruled out either, but logic says you can't make that claim based on what is shown in this chart.

In any case, the underlying graph, if you ignore the author's added statement, I believe to be accurate, and it does show, as supported by the data sets that I found as well, that CO2 levels have gone from about 288 to 388 ppm, like I said above.

Once you've seen that, the next graph to look at is the temperature graph, which again is something I'm sure you've seen before:

And so, here we have a chart (in which time goes from left to right, opposite of the first chart), that shows temperatures are increasing over this post industrial revolution period. Sure enough. Up they go, and I've seen enough data to believe that this guy didn't just make stuff up for the graph. You can see that the overall swing in temperature is about 1-degree C during the life of the graph here.

So now, without further adieu, I ask you to jump to the conclusion that CO2 levels are the primary cause of this temperature increase!

But wait, there's a problem... If you lay the two charts on top of each other, get the date ranges to match up, and, of course, get them both going the same direction, here's what you get:
Ok, I know that chart is small, but the red/orange line represents temperature, and the blue line represents CO2 levels. So that matches up, just like the theory goes, right?

Wrong. Look closely and you'll see very clearly that the temperature moves before the CO2 levels move. First the temperature rises, and *then* the CO2 rises. First the temperature drops, and *then* the CO2 drops.

This is exactly the opposite of what this whole CO2/greenhouse gas theory says should happen. Remember that the hypothesis is that increasing CO2 levels cause the warming. But I (and now, you) have data in front of you - data that comes straight from the same people that want to you reach their conclusions - and it shows that, in a historical context, its the temperature that causes the CO2 level to change, and not the other way around.

If you're wondering why no one has noted this before, don't ask me. I'm asking the same question. Remember that I'm not regurgitating some anti-environment ultra-right-wing nonsense here. I'm telling you what I found in doing the actual research, and all the graphs I'm showing you have come from the wikipedia, not the National Review.

Ok, so before I move on to what I did next, let me share one more graph with you that I found in this research. If you do this yourself, you'll find that most of the articles that cite this stuff usually show you the charts from just the industrial revolution onward, which is really just poor science to do that, but the charts fit best with the theory there. If you get something bigger, it will probably be the chart I just showed you, which goes back 650 thousand years or so.

I kept looking for data that went back further--after all, the earth is 6.5 billion (with a B) years old.

Well, it's hard to find that data, but I did find this chart of CO2 levels going back millions, instead of thousands, of years.

Here again on this graph, present day is to the left, and 550-ish million years ago is on the right. Using the graph reading skills Kaitlyn has learned in kindergarten, you can see that on the left, we're practically at the lowest point on the whole chart! In fact, you can see the first mark going up the y-axis is "1000 ppm" for the CO2 level. From the data earlier, I noted that present CO2 levels were 388m - far less than even the first mark on that axis. The common ancestor to chimps and humans existed about 6 million years ago, so it's not like people were walking around when the CO2 levels were 2000 ppm. But still, it seems pretty obvious that over the course of this chart, that CO2 levels are seriously on the decline.

But anyway, I kept digging, as I was trying to find out what of the 100 ppm increase in CO2 levels could really be attributed to humans. In looking for that, I found out some general, and very interesting information about greenhouse gasses. First, here is the breakdown of what makes up the collection of things in the atmosphere called greenhouse gasses:
  • 95% - water vapor
  • 3.6% - carbon dioxide
  • 0.4% - methane
  • 1.0% - nitrous oxide
  • and trace gasses
Wow. So 95% of the greenhouse gas mix is water vapor. Seeing that, I had to jump in and do a little math:

(35% increase in CO2 over 200 years) * (3.6% of greenhouse gasses comprised of CO2)

equals a whopping 1.25%. Yes. All this hub-bub about the increasing CO2 levels and that only amounts to a 1.25% increase in greenhouse gas.

Adding fuel to the fire (or perhaps, insult to injury), I found research that suggests that if you add up all of the CO2 emissions ever released from the burning of fossil fuels, that would give you a maximum increase of 57 ppm. So, a little more math:

(57 ppm from humans) / (100 ppm increase in CO2 levels) * (1.25% greenhouse gas increase)

equals... (drum roll please)... 0.7%.

Yes. Humans burning fossil fuels have increased greenhouse gasses by 0.7% over the past 200 years, and THAT is causing the earth's eco-system to spiral out of control on it's way to roasting all of us through massive storms, great floods, and famine.

Are you kidding me? This entire theory is based on trying to link the earth's warming to an increase in CO2 of less than 1%? For pete's sake. It wouldn't surprise me if the instrumentation used to measure CO2 levels has a margin of error of at least that much!

So I don't know. If you want to say that the little change in greenhouse gasses is going to be the end of us all, then be my guest, but I'm going to think you are an idiot. In the absence of some additional proof, which I would be happy to look at, this whole thing seems like a wild goose-chase down the wrong path.

And the real problem I have with it is this: billions or even trillions of dollars could get tied up in programs, research, and retooling to lower CO2 emissions world-wide. And for what purpose? To take the 0.7% increase and make it, oh, 0.6%? 0.5%?

Meanwhile, let me remind eveyone, the earth really is warming! Will it stop? Maybe. Probably even. But when? Who knows. In the mean time, all of this money could be going into much more useful things like, say, trying to engineer grains that will grow in warmer, more arid climates. If the earth does heat up, we're going to still need food. And if it doesn't heat up that much more, then we'll have done research that might allow for crops to be grown in parts of the world where they can't now because it's too hot and dry, and that should make (almost) everyone happy.

And all that additional corn should even soak up a little CO2 while it's at it.

I did find some very interesting research that suggests that increasing temperatures are correlated with increased low-cloud cover. They have the data to support that, and, given that clouds are water vapor and water vapor is 95% of the greenhouse gas mix, then yes, it would seem that water vapor may have an effect on temperature. The research links this cloud cover with cosmic radiation levels from our sun and otherwise, and there are experiments that show that, in a controlled environment, exposing air to UV radiation will cause clouds to form.

Of course, humans don't cause any cosmic radiation, and so there are a bunch of people that have been ripping this guy a new one because his theory doesn't link humans to warming. (Oh the horror. As if we can't desire to get away from fossil fuels and have cleaner air, while at the same time not linking fossil fuels to the destruction of the planet. Anyway...)

Now I need to look into that more, but praise the lord that someone has set forth a hypothesis based on data, formulated, conducted, and has a repeatable EXPERIMENT, and is now publishing his observations and conclusions from that. The same scientific method you learned in junior high. Genius!

But anyway, my attempt to gain a better understanding of what this is all about has only opened up more questions about the theory at it's core. Temperature appears to effect CO2, and not the other way around. CO2 is just a small piece of the puzzle, and human induced CO2 is smaller than that. CO2 levels are among the lowest they ever have been on earth.

If you have more data (and I mean scientific data, not some screwball nonsense) that would suggest otherwise and would close the loop on this theory, I'm all ears.


Amy said...

You mean Al Gore isn't the genius we all thought he was? WOW!

"The" Bucia said...

Last night, your dad and I heard Al Gore was nominated for the Nobel Prize. Your dad got up on his SOAP BOX for a half hour ranting about Al Gore's theories on Global Warming.
Got up this morning and read your certainly are your father's son!!!!!!!

Jay said...

The wikipedia doesn't count as research and you didn't provide any references. However, I'll quote briefly from

"Through the cycle of ice ages, atmospheric CO2 closely tracks the surface temperature. As temperatures rise, biological activity produces more CO2, which increases the warming and stimulates more CO2 production. During the past 400,000 years, CO2 concentrations never exceeded 300 ppm (parts per million) until industrialization occurred. Current concentrations now exceed that historical maximum by about 80 ppm due to human contributions."

That's the explaination (I think) for why CO2 appears to lag temperature increase in the graphs you referred to. There is a feedback loop between temperature and CO2. Yes, I realize as a total percentage of greenhouse gases that's still a small amount. No, I haven't found the paper yet explaining why CO2 is more significant that water vapor.

That PDF, btw, has references for all of the claims it makes. I don't however have time to read them all tonight (haven't even gotten through the entire PDF yet).

Ah, armchair meteorology (or is it climatology?)

Anyway, regardless of whether CO2 is the significant contributing factor in climate change, I have this thought: Why would you mess with a system as complicated as the Earth w/o understanding what you're doing first? "Ooops, turns out we were wrong, CO2 is a problem." It only seems prudent to tread lightly on Mother Earth. Further, there are political reasons for consuming less oil, independent of what burning it may or may not do to the planet.

Amy - I'll let your lambasting of Al Gore go unchallenged. This time. :-)

Go Bears!


p.s. affect vs effect

Jay said...

What a fun debate. Recently sent my way:

Jay said...

One more for you, think is basically your post with prettier graphs:



Jeff said...

I'll point out that I did use the wikipedia charts because they were available and easy to snag. But I did look at data first and then used the charts which matched. I can post references, but that will take a bunch of time, but since the data Jay cited matches which the data I found, there's probably no need.

The only disagreement is that the quote you cited says humans added 80ppm of CO2, and the data I found suggested 57ppm (as I recall, that came from a data table in a US Dept. of Energy report, but I'd have to go digging through my history to be sure).

Either way, 57 ppm or 80 ppm is close enough, and doesn't get the fundamental problem of water vapor. The 'laymans' explanation I did read suggested that the warming models assumed constant levels of cloud cover at the current averages. I don't know if that's true, but it's certainly a stupid assumption to make, given that it's most of the equation.

And of course, I'm all for lowering CO2 levels by means of getting rid of coal and oil power plants. My problem is that all this leads to talk of 'global taxes' or tariffs on goods when the science may not really be there to support it.

I'd like to see more nuclear plants using pebble bed technology, which not only generates power cheaply and without CO2 and is cooled without direct contact with water, but operates at a temperature which can be used to desalinate water and separate water into hydrogen & oxygen, and could be used for hydrogen fuel cell cars. But, that's for another post. :)

PS - your dissection of my grammatical errors is affecting my judgment. ;)

Jeff said...

Yes, that train of thought is pretty much similar to at least that calculation part of my post, and he did pull data from the DOE as I did... although to be honest, I hate to be associated on any level with a website that uses a fake spiral binding down the left side!

jay said...

Another link for you, Water vapour: feedback or forcing?

I thought you might also find this list useful.

BTW, if you think the spiral binding is bad, you'll love what the server root gets you. :)

Prof. B. said...

Guess you people never took a course in physical chemistry. Our oceans control the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. It's called Henry's Law. Look it up! Greenhouse gas emissions are only important, if global warming, in fact, does exist. It doesn't and hasn't for the last 10,000 years! Gore is a fool! Looking at global temperature for only the last 200 years is like looking at the temperature of your city from 6AM to 10AM on any day in July. Vostok ice core data is clear. The global temperature wiggles up and down about a degree or so on about a 300 year cycle - a blink of time over a 10,000-year period. We just happen to be in an up wiggle. By the way, during this up wiggle, human life span has doubled. I'm surprised that Al Gore and his Hollywood friends haven't suggested that living longer is responsible for global warming.