January 14, 2006

Methane from plants

Every single global climate model you ever heard of is completely useless and inaccurate. From Al-Reuters:

German scientists have discovered a new source of methane, a greenhouse gas that is second only to carbon dioxide in its impact on climate change.

The culprits are plants.

They produce about 10 to 30 percent of the annual methane found in the atmosphere, according to researchers at the Max-Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, Germany.

And there's this little gem:

"Keppler and colleagues' finding helps to account for observations from space of incredibly large plumes of methane above tropical forests," [New Zealand climatologist David Lowe] said in a commentary on the research.

So that's where it was coming from!

For those of you keeping score at home, there is now zero theoretical backing for the Kyoto protocols or any other effort to sacrifice human economic and technological progress at the altar of global warming.

(Though we must admit the possibility that the trees have started producing methane to protest the policies of George Bush.)

Posted by Sterling at 05:01 PM GMT
Comments
#1

That is one fucking huge leap you make without any justification at all. Would you care to fill in the gargantuan gulf between article and conclusion, Professor Dr Robert Sterling, climatologist extraordinaire?

Keep it short though.

Posted by: murray on January 14, 2006 07:20 PM
#2

Wait, this one's easy- obviously, since Reuters printed it, this article must be pushing some anti-American agenda. So we're safe to stick our heads in the sand and ignore it, right?

Posted by: mike on January 14, 2006 09:49 PM
#3

"there is now zero theoretical backing for the Kyoto protocols" ?!**!! WHAT?!! There is plenty of theoretical backing for Kyoto. Even if trees do emit methane it doesn't suddenly mean global warming isn't happening or that greenhouse gases aren't contributing to climate change.
For a discussion of what the climate scientists are saying, see:
http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=236
(a cop out I know but it's late here and well summarised there.)

Posted by: Rhian on January 15, 2006 02:27 AM
#4

Ummm, Murray, do you know how a statistical model works?

This is not a change in the data input into the model, this is a change in a core assumption of a model. If you invalidate a core assumption of a model, like, fr'instance, about where methane comes from, then you invalidate the model.

See, in addition to being a major greenhouse gas - 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide - methane is part of the carbon cycle (methane = CH4). Previously it was believed that methane was only produced when plant cells had no access to oxygen (O2) and thus could not bond carbon to oxygen (CO2). What this new finding means is that the whole idea of how plants metabolize carbon is flawed, thus the whole understanding of the carbon cycle is flawed, thus theories that rest entirely upon the carbon cycle (global warming) must be completely revamped in light of new developments. It's as if someone discovered that 2 + 2 actually equals 4.3.

Of course, I would argue that global warming has always been more of an article of faith than of science.

Someone should have picked this up forty years ago. This sort of thing just goes to show that climate science is not ready for prime time and certainly should not be relied upon for policy decisions, especially massive, life-changing policy decisions.

Posted by: Sterling on January 15, 2006 02:35 AM
#5

It has been known for quite some time than man is responsible only for a small percentage--perhaps less than 5%--of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet. This new information may mean that man is responsible for even less than we thought before. And it's quite conceivable that global warming (if it is indeed caused by a build-up of greenhouse gasses) will happen no matter what mankind does or doesn't do. That said, many scientists argue that even if the odds of manmade greenhouse gasses pushing the earth over the limit is only one in a thousand, say, it may be worth trying to restrain our greenhouse gas emissions anyway, since it would be major human catastrophe if the one in a thousand scenario happened. Another way of looking at this new information is that, whether or not US or Chinese emissions are the deciding factor in global warming, it is now even more imperative to monitor the situation and, if humanly possible, do something about it. Just because global warming is not man's fault doesn't mean we won't suffer the consequences.

Posted by: Foreign Observer on January 15, 2006 03:11 AM
#6

We know the Earth goes into ice ages periodically, and we know that it's possible it could be entering one now - the timing is about right. If that happens, we do what we can to manage it. There are theoretical alternatives to warm the Earth if we need to - but in order to accomplish that we'll need to improve GDP and technological process, not retard it.

Posted by: Sterling on January 15, 2006 04:53 AM
#7

Wow -- I knew you messaniac wingnuts were fucking nuts, but did you just suggest we try to accelerate global warming?

Jesus. But maybe there's a silver lining -- since trees are farm more deadly to the environment to SUV's, let's destroy the Hummers and plant forests. That should retard the next ice age, right?

Posted by: 99 on January 15, 2006 06:27 AM
#8

A 'core assumption' of the model has not been invalidated: the total concentration of methane in the atmosphere hasn't changed.. what has changed, if this data is true, is our understanding of its sources and sinks. As for ice ages, we have emitted enough greenhouse gases already to avert one of them happening,- no more proactive actions necessary. (There is a time lag between emissions and global climate response so we still have more warming in the pipeline due to emissions already produced.)
The paper also found that methane emissions from plants increases with temperature so infact it's another positive climate feedback (more methane-warmer Earth-more methane..), rather than disputing the theory.
If you do the maths and increase, for instance, 10% more methane-emitting plants on the planet, the total carbon dioxide absorbed, in gigatonnes of Carbon per year, is still greater than the total equivalent emissions from methane (accounting for the fact that methane is 23% time more efficient than CO2 for the greenhouse effect). So, really, this might have shifted the understanding of the system, but the new findings don't make such a significant difference to the big picture.
As for climate change being a question faith or science, I'm not even going to go there. Papers like this only go to support the scientific method. No-one ever said the earth system was completely understood, just that it was understood enough to know that climate change is real and could potentially wreck human experience on this planet if we don't start taking some action very soon.

Posted by: Rhian on January 15, 2006 11:44 AM
#9

I agree this is part of the scientific method. In this case it has invalidated prior core assumptions of climate modeling.

Methane is not 23 percent more efficient than CO2 as a green house gas, it is 23 TIMES more efficient.

Posted by: Sterling on January 15, 2006 03:28 PM
#10

When it comes to global warming, the opinions of a trained scientist who has spent the better part of the past two or three years living on the polar cap and studying climate change (Rhian) seem worth listening to. The opinions of an overeducated blowhard with a laptop in his parents basement in Jersey regurgitating a news report do not.

Posted by: bafc23 on January 15, 2006 06:58 PM
#11

Let's be fair: Sterling is in his own basement. And in Virginia, though I don't know that this helps his cause.

Posted by: 99 on January 15, 2006 07:13 PM
#12

Oh, this is Felix's sister? I would have been more deferential if I'd realized.

But it still comes down to an issue of stats modeling, and I've been doing that for a pretty long time myself (though with nothing to do with climate science). A model is built on a set of assumptions and if one of those assumptions is shown to be very far off base, the model is for shit. That's the way it works. Game over, build a new model and better luck next time.

Global warming is mostly a PR campaign.

Posted by: Sterling on January 15, 2006 08:27 PM
#13

Yeah, it's much more sexy to still be playing D&D and online games in your own basement than your parents.

Posted by: michelle on January 16, 2006 04:03 AM
#14

Also, I don't consider myself to be overeducated. I speak only one language fluently, with some limited capability in Spanish. I don't have much background in a lot of areas that I wish I did - my primary and secondary education took place in an underperforming public school district whose most famous alumnus is Melissa Drexler. (That last bit pretty much says it all.)

I consider my grasp of stats to be adequate, not outstanding. I taught SPSS to college freshman when I was a teaching assistant my senior year, so by then I had a very strong grasp of it. On the other hand I've never really been forced to master SAS - most of the predictive models I've worked with are built in Excel from data culled by specialists using SAS. For several years Krucoff was one of the specialists I relied on. My sister is highly trained in statistical modeling, moreso even than Krucoff. Both read Memefirst and could contradict me here if I was off-base in what I've written about data modeling. Neither has, though I invite them to do so if I'm wrong.

And this is my cellar. As you can see, there is nothing of any interest going on down there, aside from my sluggishness in disposing of empty bottles of detergent and clothes dryer lint screen pickings.

Posted by: Sterling on January 16, 2006 05:49 AM
#15

I should also mention that the previous inhabitants of my apartment were VCU pharmacology grad students, and that for the first few months I lived here my clothes came out of the dryer with an odor that was both medicinal and also marijuana-like. So it would seem that the cellar was put to far more interesting uses prior to my arrival than currently.

Posted by: Sterling on January 16, 2006 06:08 AM
#16

It seems to me that some people have their conclusion (Climate science sucks! No need for climate policies!) set in stone long before they have understood anything about the earth system. So it is very unlikely that more information or education will change their predetermined ideas, but eh, gotta do what you gotta do.

The attribution of some (10 to 30% according to abovementioned article) of the methane coming from plants instead of having partly an unknown source or assumed to come from human activities is not a core assumption of climate models based on which it should be thrown away. Core assumptions (or better, facts) are that the bulk of the CHANGE in greenhouse gases and aerosols is attributable to human activities, and that those greenhouse gases and aerosols are very intimitely linked to the state of the climate: For example, temperature and CO2 have been in a happy marriage forever, going up and down together.

Most of the actual greenhouse effect is natural, and we better be happy it's there, otherwise liquid water and thus life as we know it would not exist on earth. It is the INCREASE in this greenhouse effect on timescales that are unprecendented that is a worry. And if you're not worried, it's probably more due to your political opinions and your love for SUV's than to your in-depth knowledge of the issues at stake.

Even though the science community has no absolute certainyt about exact amounts of sources and sinks, and of exact effects at specific times and specific places, the big picture is quite clear. The fact that scientists speak in terms of uncertainty does not mean nothing is known. That's the language of science. In laymen terms the notion of risk is muchmore useful. What risks are you willing to take? The chance that there will be no serious negative consequences to human emissions is extremely small. Like bungy jumping without a bungy. I wish you well...

Posted by: Bart on January 16, 2006 10:20 AM
#17

Sterling, you are quite right, methane is 23 times more efficient, that was a typo. The numbers stand and were based on that:
Say there is a 10% increase in terrestrial plants, that equals an increase of 1.67Gtonnes of carbon per year (GtC/y) over thirty years tied up in plants. They would absorb 6.11Gt of CO2/year (6110 million) vs an emission of approx 15million tonnes methane, equivalent to 15 million x 23 = 345 million tonnes of CO2. So there's still a net absorption of CO2 by 5.7 Gt/year.
I'm sure you know a lot more than I do about statistical models, and Bart definitely does. I don't claim to write them, but have learnt the principles behind them and trust the methods of the people who work with them. Ultimately, it's about the people you choose to believe I guess. I have just chosen to listen to the people who I believe have the most disciplined approach to tackling this problem, and which I also believe to be less swayed by politics or money than the people arguing in favour of procrastination.

Posted by: Rhian on January 16, 2006 12:47 PM
#18

Time to buy property in Siberia.

Posted by: Jame on January 16, 2006 03:15 PM
#19

Bart wrote -
It seems to me that some people have their conclusion (Climate science sucks! No need for climate policies!) set in stone long before they have understood anything about the earth system.

Funny, I suspect the same thing of most people who back the environmental position.

Rhian: Do we know if greater atmospheric availability of CO2 results in reduced methane production by plants?

Other relevant factors are that forests are low-albedo and thus convert a large portion of solar energy into heat. When methane output is added to the albedo problem, what is the net greenhouse effect of forestation? Is it possible we have too much forest land? Are the trees out to get us?

Let me give an example: the 16th century Spanish-introduced smallpox outbreak killed tens of millions of indigenous North and South Americans, possibly more than 100 million. For example, the Incan Empire was obliterated by smallpox, with something approaching a 90% fatality rate. The Cahokia civilization of the Mississippi Valley, which had actual cities, may also have been destroyed by the smallpox epidemic and others that followed, such as measles and diptheria. The population of the current-day United States and Canada may have been about 20 million, and possibly much more. Mexico and South America may have contained 50 to 100 million more. And North American Amerindian populations suffered a second wave of smallpox outbreaks a century later, further thinning them out. Thus at the time of Columbus' discovery, a substantial portion of contemporary Western Hemisphere forest land was likely under cultivation, and would have been grassland, scrub forest or cropland in cycles.

Summary: Agricultural civilizations were destroyed by disease, their farmland reforested and survivors returned to primitive hunter-gathering.

So what I'm wondering is this: has the reforestation of North America and South America that began with the cataclysmic smallpox epidemic of the 1520s resulted in the climate change we've observed over the last few hundred years?

Posted by: Sterling on January 16, 2006 03:36 PM
#20

That's funny indeed. There may be some differences though:
Amongst people backing an environmental position you'll find in general more knowledge and understanding of the earth system.
And many of them started backing an environmental position after/during learning something about the earth system.

The answer to your last question is no, the changes in landuse following epidemics in the early 16th century did not cause the climate change we're observing in this century. I think the last hundred years are better characterized by de- than be re-forestation. And yes, the de-forestation did contribute to the observed changes in climate.

Posted by: bart on January 16, 2006 04:33 PM
#21

Dude, that cellar is scary. Do you also keep a 14.8 Cu. Ft. chest freezer filled with body parts of ex-girlfriends in there too?

Posted by: michelle on January 16, 2006 05:16 PM
#22

The answer to your last question is no, the changes in landuse following epidemics in the early 16th century did not cause the climate change we're observing in this century. I think the last hundred years are better characterized by de- than be re-forestation. And yes, the de-forestation did contribute to the observed changes in climate.

How much land use do you think would have been required for primitive agriculture to feed 100 million people? Back of the envelope, I estimate it would be at least the same amount of land we use today to feed the entire population of North and South America. That's due mostly to a four or five-fold increase in output per acre due to modern techniques, and a halving of the fallow ratio due to fertilization.

And let's be clear that people who lived around Delaware Bay back then didn't get their food by truck from Kansas. They grew it there. They cleared land locally by burning it and then removing the stumps, farmed it for a few years and then started with another plot. At any given time they might have four to six such plots, all either farmed or fallow, depending on the type of crop they were trying to grow. The fallow land might be permitted to grow back as far as some scrub forestation, that would be it. Mostly it would be grasses, which are much higher albedo than trees.

In South America this process would have been far more extensive - according to some sources I've read, the Amazon Basin is more heavily forested now than it was in 1500.

This is what I'm talking about when I point out that people like yourself have no idea what you're talking about. You don't do the simple math to determine how much of the land MUST HAVE BEEN under cultivation to support the numbers of people who were living in the Western Hemisphere prior to 1520. This was not an unspoiled wilderness - it was dotted with small towns, farms and even cities.

Due to modern forest management and the control of wildfires, there is probably about the same amount of forest land in North America today as there was prior to 1520, and there is more forest land in South America today than prior to 1520.

Posted by: Sterling on January 16, 2006 11:04 PM
#23

I don't know whether the change in land use 500 years ago caused climate change. Locally, perhaps. But I'm pretty damn sure it did not cause the climate change we're observing over the past 100-200 years, which has clear causes in increased emissions of greenhouse gases, hand in hand with increasing industrialization. You have not put forward a single argument against that.

Posted by: Bart on January 17, 2006 08:06 AM
#24

I'm pretty damn sure it did not cause the climate change we're observing over the past 100-200 years...

I'm not. Major climate cycles on Earth can be tens of thousands of years long - a few hundred years is nothing. Hell, I've seen trees that are more than 500 years old.

Posted by: Sterling on January 17, 2006 08:37 AM
#25

I prefer to err on the side of caution on this issue.

Posted by: sac on January 17, 2006 04:38 PM
#26

But what is the cautious side? Is it more cautious to burden the continuation of human progress? We don't know the downside risks of continuing as we have been, or the upside potential of continuing as we have been. For all we know, another 100 years of strong economic and scientific growth will make it possible for us to solve the greenhouse effect, or make it irrelevant as internal combustion and fossil fuels fall into disuse. And for all we know, international climate controls dictated by the UN, international treaty or some other empowered NGO will result in fossil fuels being used for decades longer than otherwise.

Environmentalism makes great sense where it's concerned with common-sense and lower-cost issues like not littering and putting catalytic converters on cars. But reasonable people have reacted with hostility as it has come to represent a centralized planning structure for all human economic endeavor. Such an imposing collectivist apparatus might be NECESSARY if our species truly faced dire risks associated with climate change, but we don't know the risks associated with climate change. As this latest methane-related finding should make clear, we don't even really understand what impact our activity has on the atmosphere.

We do, however, have some grasp of the risks associated with large, authoritarian movements which claim to be acting for the common good.

Posted by: Sterling on January 18, 2006 12:16 AM
#27

For the benefit of our more slow-witted readers, can you spell this last flourish out in the Godwinian terms which will duly end this thread and lose you the argument? Or has this already happened? 99 - adjudicate, svp!

Posted by: Claude de Bigny on January 18, 2006 10:03 AM
#28

I'm just pointing out that the risks of doing nothing are unknown but the risks of acting in accordance with the wishes of a bunch of European collectivists are at least partly known.

Posted by: Sterling on January 18, 2006 01:47 PM
#29

oh my goodness, please tell me you're not going there... don't do it, Sterling, I was almost about to meet you half way in what I thought was an educated, and rational, discussion.

Posted by: Rhian on January 18, 2006 02:38 PM
#30

And another one (of Sterling's arguments) bites the dust!!!

Posted by: michelle on January 18, 2006 03:48 PM
#31

Does this means I can stop recycling?

Posted by: 99 on January 18, 2006 08:00 PM
#32

...What I thought was an educated, and rational, discussion.

You don't come here very often, do you?

Posted by: Sterling on January 18, 2006 10:19 PM
#33

I've found a very nice condo in the Yukon on the Internet. For only C$2,549.77 it's a steal. Apparently the back will face a golf course and the front will be lakeside property in 20 to 25 years.

Posted by: Jame on January 19, 2006 03:30 AM
#34

I do pop by occasionally by rarely speak. I should've learnt years ago to never debate with my brother or his pals...

Posted by: Rhian on January 19, 2006 10:53 PM
#35

I've never met your brother. My sister posted here once and people were obnoxious to her, so she hasn't posted any comments since. She's a math geek, graduate degree in a field of practical mathematics, who does marketing analytics for a fairly large U.S. department store chain. She's not a particularly confrontational person and doesn't see much point in what goes on here.

I am a particularly confrontational person. I have nothing but contempt for European cosmopolitanism, and it amuses me to offend it. I post here because so many of the commenters are obnoxious and need a good smacking around.

Today environmentalism is a vehicle for socialists and others opposed to the things I consider to be the agents of human progress and generosity. This methane finding delighted me, because it's a mark of fundamental failure of assumptions. It invalidates most if not all of the climate models that have been trotted out to justify all manner of absolutist intervention. Good riddance. They have to start from scratch now, and I wanted to point it out because it otherwise might have gone uncommented upon.

Posted by: Sterling on January 20, 2006 07:37 AM
#36

And just to be clear, Rhian, I would never intentionally be rude to you. I had you confused with Rion.nu when I posted the first response. Rion is incredibly and inspiringly talented, but has the politics of a 12-year-old Young Pioneer. I would not intentionally be rude to her, but I might wander a little over the line into dismissiveness.

(And now Rion will be alerted to this and probably have conflicted feelings of insulted versus flattered. So FWIW, after being shown her site the first time in 2001 by Stacey Herron, I loved her digicam photos so much that I went out and bought a Canon S200, which made me very happy.)

Posted by: Sterling on January 20, 2006 07:48 AM
#37

"European cosmopolitanism", eh? Sounds familiar, that one. The truth is, Sterling, you and all you Yankee jumped-up colonial social climbers are not only totally (and rightly) in awe of European cosmopolitanism, you owe everything you are to it.

I am not in a confrontational mood this morning so I won't expand. But if us Euros had been less cosmopolitan over the past few centuries, all of our failed second sons, convicts and ticket-of-leave men would've stayed in Europe. America today would've remained an environmentalists paradise, entirely free of the wealth-making vulgarity which now defaces it.

Finally, your assertion "They have to start from scratch now" about the methane thing - has been comprehensively demolished by the fragrant Rhian and her chums, and saying it ain't so won't change that, Sterling, unless you revert to your new role as this discussion blog's Censor.

Posted by: Claude de Bigny on January 20, 2006 08:15 AM
#38

Oh shit. Sterling has put global warning "on notice." Damn, it was fun while it lasted.

Posted by: sac on January 20, 2006 04:09 PM
#39

Looks like those pesky plants only have themselves to blame. Dirty methane-spewing Gaia-killers.

Posted by: Claude de Bigny on January 20, 2006 05:39 PM
#40

"They have to start from scratch now" about the methane thing - has been comprehensively demolished by the fragrant Rhian and her chums...

I must have missed that part. All I saw was Rhian acknowledging that she's not a bean counter.

How methane is produced and the cycle it goes through in the atmosphere was wildly off in assumptions used in climate modeling. That invalidates those models. They need to start over.

Posted by: Sterling on January 20, 2006 07:04 PM
#41

Global warming is traitorous. Same with hurricanes. Un-American.

Posted by: sac on January 20, 2006 08:16 PM
#42

You can't project long term climate change from a few bad hurricane seasons. Of course the climate is changing - everything changes. However, anyone who tells you he knows what the weather is going to like two weeks from today is probably full of crap - multiple the time factor a few hundred fold and the likelihood of crap-filledness increases proportionately.

Posted by: Sterling on January 20, 2006 09:48 PM
#43

Now is not the time to criticize the weather, our troops don't need to hear pansy meteorologists forecasting gloom and doom while we're at war. Look, I'm all for freedom of speech, but in a time of war we have to watch what we say, especially meteorologists. Forecasting weather is paramount to treason. Meteorologists should move to Russia if they don't like the weather.

Posted by: sac on January 20, 2006 10:29 PM
#44

Or maybe we should just shoot them in the street.

Posted by: Sterling on January 21, 2006 12:47 AM
#45

Sterling's certain that there is no link between human activity and global warming, and that "global warming" is probably just a random statistical tick that has been extrapolated into socialism's latest anti-liberty scare tactic.

And when Sterling has such a strong conviction, it usually means...we're all fucked, aren't we? I'm looking at condos in Greenland.

Posted by: Jame on January 22, 2006 09:44 AM
#46

Sterling's certain that there is no link between human activity and global warming, and that "global warming" is probably just a random statistical tick that has been extrapolated into socialism's latest anti-liberty scare tactic.

What's just occurred to me is that all of you think the burden of proof rests on me. To be clear: I am not claiming that Gaia has turned against us, that we'll run out of oil by 1988, that large portions of the human population will suffer under famine conditions by 2000 or that the Earth will be in an ice age by the mid-1990s, at the latest. I am the person saying "prove it," and I have been that person for a fairly long time, now.

Environmentalism wants us to place at risk the things we know - an upward trendline on the quality of human existence - to forestall something that may or may not occur. Environmentalists have no proof that global warming will occcur, they have statistical models that may or may not be accurate in their predictive output.

Your plumbing system, the food in your refrigerator, the refrigerator itself, and the motorized vehicle in your driveway are all real. You're all educated people and you know how much better your lives are for things like that. Global warming, on the other hand, is merely a risk assessment that exists in statistical forecasts, and I've just demonstrated that those forecasts are for shit.

I've also remarked that the recommended solutions to the "problem" are astonishingly similar to the recommended solutions to the problems of 19th century Europe. Those of you who haven't been paying attention to the last 100 years will be dismayed to learn that the "solutions" resulted in an even more problematic 20th century Europe.

Collectivism and authoritarianism are not the answers to our problems. They never were.

Posted by: Sterling on January 23, 2006 07:27 PM
#47

Sorry, Sterling but in comment 8 Rhian explained why this planty methane thing doesn't mean we have to go back to the drawing board. I wish you were right, but you're not. We are all going to die v v soon because of global warming which frankly is unstoppable man is but an insect crawling on the surface of the planet and nothing we do will make a difference, not even if we nuke all the methane-spewing plants with our smart civilian-sparing bombs.

All you have to contribute is a pic of your cellar and ominous Godwinesque comparisons to collectivism and authoritarianism. Well let me tell you, authoritarian regimes have been known to use precisely the kind of cellar you parade here for v unpleasant purposes and my granpappy laid down his life to keep you free.

Posted by: Claude de Bigny on January 23, 2006 07:40 PM
#48

The link between greenhouse gases and climate is crystal clear: Greenhouse gases trap outgoing longwave radiation from the earth, and thereby heat up the atmosphere. The concentration of those gases is increasing due to human activities. Would you want to contradict these facts, Sterling?
Now, let's make an analogy. Smoking is bad for your health (which, btw, has long been denied by the tobacco indusry, just as the oil industry still tries to denies a link between CO2 and climate). If more people smoke, more people will suffer the adverse health effects related to smoking. We can not however predict who exactly will die when and where. But that the average state of the health will decline is obvious. Likewise, we can not predict the weather two weeks from now. Nor can we predict the exact consequences of increased greenhouse gas emissions at a specific location and specific time in the future. But we can predict the gobal average state with a certain degree of certainty, and we can predict that those changes are happening thus fast that nature will go into some weird twists in trying to get in equilibrium again. The fact that 20% of the methane comes from plants does not change the fact that human activities are increasing its concentration. Most of the CO2 has natural sourses as well. That does not contradict the underlying principle of climate change. (GHG trap heat. GHG are increasing due to human activity.)

Regarding smoking, I think the burden of proof should be on the tobacco industry to proof that it's not bad for ones health (since there was strong evidence to the contrary). If you bring a new products to the market, you have to proof its safety. If you start emitting stuff into the atmosphere (or water or soil) to an extent that surpasses the natural state, I think you should proof that it does not have adverse effects. The fact that we have been emitting lots of CO2 for 100 years means that we (you?) are long overdue in proving this. And there is strong evidence that the climate is changing and will change even more due to human activities. Should we as a society perform a certain activity after it's been proven to be safe or until it's been proven unsafe?

The standard of living in Europe is comparabale to that in North America. But the amount for CO2 emitted per capita is much smaller. How hard would it be for North America to significantly lower its emissions? The oil industry has a habit of exaggerating that. Of course, some industries will be hurt while others will flourish. But who sais that the net effect is necessarily negative? (answer: the oil industry does. Surprise, surprise...). When as a result of declining fossil fuel reserves prices start to increase, the most flexible and adaptive economies will have an advantage. The industries that economies rely most on is not a static fact. Changes are inevitable, and one can chose to be pro-active in facing them or close your eyes, claim ignorance and continue with the status quo.

Posted by: Bart on January 24, 2006 08:38 AM
#49

The link between greenhouse gases and climate is crystal clear: Greenhouse gases trap outgoing longwave radiation from the earth, and thereby heat up the atmosphere. The concentration of those gases is increasing due to human activities. Would you want to contradict these facts, Sterling?

Yes, yes, that's fine as far as it goes. But you need to quantify the impact and show that you have a functioning predictive model before policy can be enacted to correct the supposed bad behavior. You don't have one of those, and so you haven't demonstrated that there is a problem.

Posted by: Sterling on January 24, 2006 03:12 PM
#50

With your reasoning there shouldn't be any restrictions on smoking either. Or is there a predictive model that can predict who will die when and where from smoking? I don't think so. Let's smoke up, guys! If nobody can tell me with certainty if, when and where I will suffer bad consequences from it, then hell, why would I bother to stop smoking? It would be bad for the economy if the tobacco industry collapses, so you better have a very accurate predictive model ready to make me quit smoking. If it doesn't rightly predict that I will cough tomorrow afternoon at 4:32 pm and that April 8th 2007 I will be admitted to the hospital with lung cancer, I'm not gonna give it any attention. Which of course means that until that date the model won't have been proven, so nothing about smoking needs to be done. And I'm sure you won't mind if I blow the smoke right in your face.

Posted by: Bart on January 24, 2006 03:42 PM
#51

With your reasoning there shouldn't be any restrictions on smoking either. Or is there a predictive model that can predict who will die when and where from smoking? I don't think so.

Today's word for the day is "epidemiology".

Yes, there are predictive models regarding smoker illness and mortality. Importantly, these models have a high degree of accuracy in describing the effects of smoking on a population.

Posted by: Sterling on January 24, 2006 04:15 PM
#52

Dire predictions from corporations never, ever come true. Those same coporations, when forced to comply with new regulations meant to protect humans, always seem to adapt quite nicely. Personally, I'm inlcined to believe scientists, who are human and have agendas themselves yes, than corporations who are out to increase profits, period.

Posted by: s on January 24, 2006 04:32 PM
#53

I suggest today's word of the day is "climatology".

Yes, there are predictive models regarding climate effects of anthropogenic emissions. They also have a high degree of accuracy in describing the AVERAGE effects of those emissions on climate (which, by definition, is an average). Neither smoking nor climate models can predict precise consequences on the specific level (what, where, when, to whom) that you seem to request from climate models, but not from smoking models. I can play advocate of the devil regarding smoking the same way that you do regarding climate. I can use all of the same arguments that you used. It's easy, and granted, it's fun playing the asshole. But you can't ask from a model to predict the unknowable. Reasonably so, you don't ask that from smoking models; why then do you ask it from climate models?

Posted by: bart on January 24, 2006 04:38 PM
#54

Ummm, the smoking mortality models can make a pretty accurate forecast about how many people will die next year from smoking-related illness, and even about how many will die from them in 2016. I would not, however, trust those models to make such a prediction about 2106.

Climate models are far less accurate than major mortality models.

As for the interests of business being driven by profit, no fucking way! You figured that out all by yourself?

To dip back into statistical modeling for a moment, when you take out a life insurance policy, you are basically making a bet with an insurance company that you will die before you turn a certain age (whole life) or within a certain period (term life). That's why the insurance company tries to gather information about you, so that it can make an educated guess about when you will actuallly die, and tailor the policy so you are either still alive when it ends or that pay in an amount of cash large enough to at least cover the death benefit. So a profit motive doesn't necessarily make a corporation inaccurate.

That said, I'm not sure why you raised corporations in the first place.

Posted by: Sterling on January 25, 2006 03:31 AM
#55

an upward trendline on the quality of human existence

Sterling, it seems your solution is to look for salvation in the very thing that would destroy us all. "Progress" is what will destroy us all.

Please, don't stop to consider the essential character of progress.

The next time you take a shit in a MacDonalds restroom, do not picture yourself subsumed within the belly of a mindless aparition.

Progress has no mind, it doesn't need one.

Do not question progress. Progress is quick, it's purpose is sublime and sure-footed. How can you question a reflex? How can you deride instinct?

Progress will sooth you when you are frightened, *entire industries* will save your soul. American culture will carry you to the heights of imagination, astride the wings of an eagle.

Posted by: kuato on January 25, 2006 03:49 AM
#56


Here's a press release from the authors of the methan article that started this discussion. Let's assume for sake of the argument that they know what they're talking about, at least to a larger extent than those boneheads from Fox and ABC news and their buddies in the oil industry and PNAC.

"Global warming - the blame is not with the plants
In a recent study (Nature, 12 January 2006), scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics, Utrecht University, Netherlands, and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development for Northern Ireland, UK, revealed that plants produce the greenhouse gas methane. First estimates indicated that this could account for a significant proportion of methane in the atmosphere. There has been extended media coverage of this work with unfortunately, in many instances, a misinterpretation of the findings. Furthermore, the discovery led to intense speculations on the potential relevance of the findings for reforestation programs in the framework of the Kyoto protocol. These issues need to be put in the right perspective.
The most frequent misinterpretation we find in the media is that emissions of methane from plants are responsible for global warming. As those emissions from plants are a natural source, they have existed long before man's influence started to impact upon the composition of the atmosphere. It is the anthropogenic emissions which are responsible for the well-documented increasing atmospheric concentrations of methane since pre-industrial times. Emissions from plants thus contribute to the natural greenhouse effect and not to the recent temperature increase known as "global warming". Even if land use practices have altered plant methane emissions, which we did not demonstrate, this would also count as an anthropogenic source, and the plants themselves cannot be deemed responsible.

Furthermore, our discovery led to intense speculation that methane emissions by plants could diminish or even outweigh the carbon storage effect of reforestation programs with important implications for the Kyoto protocol, where such programs are to be used in national carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction strategies. We first stress that our findings are preliminary with regard to the methane emission strength. Emissions most certainly depend on plant type and environmental conditions and more experiments are certainly necessary to quantify the process under natural conditions. As a first rough estimate of the order of magnitude we have taken the global average methane emissions as representative to provide a rough estimate of its potential effect on climate. These estimates (for details, see below) show that methane emissions by plants may slightly diminish the effect of reforestation programs. However, the climatic benefits gained through carbon sequestration by reforestation far exceed the relatively small negative effect, which may reduce the carbon uptake effect by up to 4 per cent. Thus, the potential for reduction of global warming by planting trees is most definitely positive. The fundamental problem still remaining is the global large-scale anthropogenic burning of fossil fuels. "
(from http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2006-01/m-gw-011806.php)

Climate models can predict the average global temperare in 2016 quite accurately. For 2106 it would obviously be less accurate, mainly because the future emissions are less and less well known the further you look into the future. But assuming a certain emission scenario, the global temperatures can be quite accurately predicted. Up to us to chose a suitable emission scenario that we want to live by.

The temperature trend in the past 100 to 150 years (basically the timespan that accurate temperature measurements are available) can be very well reproduced by climate models. See http://www.ipcc.ch/present/graphics/2001syr/large/05.18.jpg for this comparison between modelled and measured temperature. That gives me some confidence that the basic physics of the climate system is quite well grasped. And that on similar timespans the temperature can be quite well predicted based on an assumed trend in future emissions. That's the tricky part> we don't know those future emissions. And that's where current human influence comes in, e.g. Kyoto. Or not. That's up to the people to decide.

Posted by: bart on January 25, 2006 10:54 AM
#57

This is the part where Sterling makes an ad hominem attack on Sterling rather than respond to fact.

Posted by: 99 on January 25, 2006 01:12 PM
#58

I had not made any of the claims in the press release you cite. The only one I came close to also involved the low albedo of forests, in addition to methane production.

Since nearly everyone agrees that we won't be burning petroleum in 100 years, and since climate modeling has so many holes in it, Kyoto and other agreements are a long-term solution to an unproved problem, which is more than likely to be short-term.

As for this: Climate models can predict the average global temperare in 2016 quite accurately.

Please, don't insult my intelligence. Climate models are notorious for their inaccuracy versus observed data. Climatologists are constantly beating themselves up over their inability to construct accurate predictive models - see this.

I also invite you to re-read the epidemiology article I linked yesterday - it has a nice example of the difference between science and advocacy. You seem to have trouble differentiating the two.

Posted by: Sterling on January 25, 2006 03:34 PM
#59

Dude, you said initially that the findings in that Nature article were so devastating that "there is now zero theoretical backing for the Kyoto protocols or any other effort to sacrifice human economic and technological progress at the altar of global warming." Do you still stand by that?

Posted by: sac on January 25, 2006 04:44 PM
#60

sac, the claim I made was that the models were invalidated because they are based on a faulty understanding of the carbon cycle. Does the press release mention models or forecasts?

The point I raised about forests and their role in global warming is not dealt with here; it regarded albedo.

Posted by: Sterling on January 25, 2006 04:59 PM
#61

Come one, dude, you can't parse your way out of this one. The line I quoted from you states that neither the Kyoto Protocol nor ANY OTHER EFFORT to halt human progress is valid. The authors of the Nature article say this is not the case, although I guess it all depends on what your definition of "is" is.

It's OK to make a mistake. We'll still love to hate you.

Posted by: sac on January 25, 2006 05:32 PM
#62

Sterling, you quoted an article stating
"The culprits are plants.", presumably because you agree with that statement, which lead you to conclude that there's zero backing for Kyoto, while it is refuted by the authors of the original methane article.

You wrote: "Climate models are notorious for their inaccuracy versus observed data." Guess you haven't looked at this IPCC graph that I mentioned before: http://www.ipcc.ch/present/graphics/2001syr/large/05.18.jpg

The "anti" climate science lobby is economically and media coverage speaking way (i.e. in its advocacy) much more powerful than the "pro" climate science lobby. Simply because industries exist to make money, which is a very simple, though important notion to remember, that you so eloquently tried to shot down earlier.

I should have realised from your post nr 35 that you're not interested in a serious discussion, but rather in making bold statement with the purpose of pissing people off:
"I am a particularly confrontational person. I have nothing but contempt for European cosmopolitanism, and it amuses me to offend it. I post here because so many of the commenters are obnoxious and need a good smacking around."
I guess by "commenters" you meant yourself?

Posted by: bart on January 25, 2006 05:35 PM
#63

Are u guys scientists or somthing?

Posted by: Cheese on February 8, 2006 02:27 AM
#64

Fine then be that why buttheads!

Posted by: Cheese on February 8, 2006 02:29 AM