The IPCC report is out, “An Inconvenient Truth” has been honored by the academy, a sea change is happening in the way that climate change news is being reported, and you can bet the Right Wing and the Ree-pubs are as we speak working up new Talking Points and Spins to deflate the urgency of the issue. It is an axiom that in reporting science, there are two (not one, not three or four, just two) sides to every issue, and one side is the plank nailed to the Democratic Party Platform, and the other side is the plank nailed to the Ree-pub Party Platform. This is a truth as stable and reliable as the fact that Home Depot will always sell 2″ X 4″ studs and plywood in 4′ X 8′ foot pieces. We are already seeing the dubious dichotomies forming up. For instance, yes, the Antarctic Ice Sheet is sloughing off the continent, but it is opening new and wonderful opportunities for both shrimp and scientists. Yes, global warming is real and is anthropogenic, but the Average American thinks, according to Polls, that it is only the third or fourth most important issue. And so on.

This is a repost of the first in a series of entries on Global Warming.

The global warming debate has been running continuously since the now very obscure publication of Moment in the Sun: 1968″ by Dr. Robert Rienow and Leorna Train Rienow. Most people think of the literary beginning of the environmental movement has having been “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson, and maybe so, but for me, it was Rienow. This is partly because “Moment…” was the first book I read on the topic, one of the first “adult” books I read at all, and on those early mornings before school I was able to watch Dr. Rienow on that crazy new fangled box … the black and white TV my parents had just acquired … on a thing called “Sunrise Semester” produced by SUNY-Albany. Rienow would lecture, and he and his wife and (I assume) the occasional student would put on skits lampooning industrialists and other polluters.

I remember one day, years after having last seen Sunrise Semester, having just acquired a car and a license (at a ripe old age of 18 or so) exploring the territory south of town, along the Hudson River. I encountered an old narrow road running down into the wooded valley from a minor highway, and took the turn thinking it would lead somewhere interesting. Soon enough there was another turn onto a narrow gravel way called “Holly Hock Hollow” … that name sounded familiar, but I could not place it. So I made that turn as well. A mile and a half or so later, the road leveled off to join the floodplain of a small creek, and I started to see little wooden signs in the forest, extolling in a few words here and there the virtues of nature, and imploring the reader to “leave no trace of your visit” and “respect the trees and animals” and such. Eventually I spied, along side the road where a stone wall opened to a gate, a sign: “Holly Hock Hollow Farm ~ Robert and Leorna Rienow.”

Holy Crap, I had found the very place where the professor and his wife lived. For me, it was like finding Gandolf’s hideaway, or a really good used bookstore, or, well, I don’t know what. Naturally, I did not have the guts to stop in and say hello, and although I drove by the place on my explorations several more times in coming years, I never bothered the couple. But my memory of that discovery will never fade (but details subject to random neural modifications, of course).

Anyway, at some point in time, I believe in the 1970s, many scientists realized that the greenhouse model was a powerful predictor, and started to believe that global warming was going to happen, even in the absence of enough clear empirical data. Keep in mind: Theories can be very powerful. A theory like the “Greenhouse Model” was very powerful, and had already been tested in a lot of contexts, including other planets. But the empirical data of change in the Earth’s climate was not fully developed at that time. From this early speculative period into the 1980s (maybe the late 1980s?) the data started to come in line as well, and an increasing number of scientists were forced to conclude that global warming was underway and likely to get worse.

But we had Reagan/Bush, Reagan/Bush, Bush, (Clinton/Gore, Clinton/Gore), Bush/Cheney, Bush/Cheney in the White House, and a congress that I think on average was more often Ree-pub than DemocratIC. And Big Oil has always been powerful. So moving from informed speculation to virtual certainty by the early or mid 1990s, then to the point of hard and fast conclusions that not even dyed in the wool right wing yahoos could not deny, was delayed. It probably could have happened by the late 1990s or so, but we had to wait another seventeen years. In other words … yes, had Al Gore been inaugurated rather than the Loser Bush, this would all have happened already.

Have I got this right? Remember, we were almost there. We were there at Kyoto but some bad decisions were made and we slid back a decade or so in terms of political reality. But I admit these dates are subject to revision after a closer look. I do recall writing an article for a monthly newspaper some time around 1988 (or maybe 1990?) that, in my view, summarized a number of lines of evidence and absolutely nailed down (for the readers of that fairly left wing publication) the fact that global warming was real and anthropogenic. I think a lot of us feel that we’ve been spinning wheels for many years, and that this planet, our civilization, the environment, have all been cheated out of a couple of decades of progress.

So what is this an introduction to? I plan to systematically go through a number of topics related to Global Warming (and more broadly climate change, to some extent) and provide up to date information and description. What are the components of “forcing,” what are the greenhouse gases, and why do some matter more than others? Why is sea level so important, and so incredibly interesting? What is the link between overall climate pattern and important events such as hurricanes and tornadoes, or whether we have a lot of snow or very little in a given winter? And so on.

Comments

  1. #1 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    January 14, 2009

    I look forward to reading this series.

    I think it is especially important to understand the implications of AGW, especially when we are in an extended cold spell in the North Country.

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    January 14, 2009

    Yea. And what is funny is that this is not much of a cold spell! The reason people think this is a global-warming-theory bashing cold spell is because it has been so warm that this seems unusual.

  3. #3 Dunc
    January 14, 2009

    this planet, our civilization, the environment, have all been cheated out of a couple of decades of progress.

    They’re not merely been cheated out of a couple of decades of progress – they’ve also been subjected to an additional couple of decades of rapid and exponential regress. We’ve been accelerating in the wrong direction.

  4. #4 Doug Alder
    January 14, 2009

    I’ve held for a long time that it’s a mistake to continue using the term global warming. While true, it is nonetheless confusing for the average person who gets all their information from the mass media when they see heavy winters etc. I’ve switched to using Global Climate Change which is more accurate and at the same time destroys one of the wrong wings arguments.

  5. #5 outeast
    January 14, 2009

    I’ve switched to using Global Climate Change…

    I favour ‘climate change’ over ‘global warming’ too (though I use ‘AGW’ as well), but I think the idea that it’s more constructively communicative is largely false. Those who are resistant to climate change theory on anti-elitist, ideological, or political grounds (ie those who are most likely to be put off by the term ‘global warming’) tend to see the use of the term as weaselly rebranding, spin, and doublespeak.

  6. #6 MBR
    January 14, 2009

    I was once like you. There was a time when I believed in AGW too. Now, well, not so much. After spending some time learning the Al Gore side, I looked into the merits of the “Dark Side” and found their arguments rather convincing. Check out http://www.worldclimatereport.com/ and http://wattsupwiththat.com/.

  7. #7 B Bouwhuis
    January 14, 2009

    In case it’s not well known, here’s the earliest paper I’ve found that describes global warming:

    S. Arrhenius, 1896. On the influence of carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature of the ground. Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science Series 5 41:237-276.

  8. #8 Dunc
    January 14, 2009

    I know I shouldn’t feed the troll, but I feel the need for a pre-emptive strike…

    I looked into the merits of the “Dark Side” and found their arguments rather convincing.

    Well, there are two possible explanations for that – either (a) their arguments are convincing (I’ve looked, they’re not), or (b) you’re too easily convinced.

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    January 14, 2009

    Is there such a thing as “I’m ahead of you troll”

  10. #10 Sam
    January 14, 2009

    I completely agree about being too easily convinced.

    I remember reading Darwin’s Black Box in high school and thinking that Behe had a point. I did not take the time to read refutations of his arguments, nor had I developed critical thinking skills. I revisited the topic 3 years later, in college, and could not believe what a sucker I had been.

    Some still can not think critically well-over 3 years out of high school…

  11. #11 counters
    January 14, 2009

    MBR, you waltzed over into the “skeptical” side of the blog-o-sphere wanting to be convinced that their arguments were correct. You lowered your skepticism and your ability to critically analyze their claims, and were taken in.

    I’ll give you a hint – next time you pontificate on this matter, I’d suggest replacing “Al Gore” with “IPCC.” You bare your motives in the open with your diction.

  12. #12 Barry
    January 14, 2009

    I’m afraid MER is just the start. Blogging about AGW really brings out the denialist cranks.

  13. #13 uncle noel
    January 14, 2009

    My sister and bro’-in-law have libertarian leanings that somehow justify being Warming deniers. Everything I can find to change their minds is met with the charge of some kind of “agenda”. It’s funny about being skeptical – you can end up falsely using it to justify credulity!

  14. #14 John Wall
    January 14, 2009

    Cold spell? We’re having possibly the warmest, driest January on record (the month isn’t over yet) here in California.

  15. #15 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    January 14, 2009

    I was once like you. There was a time when I believed in AGW too.

    I don’t know why this sounds like “I used to be a Darwinist until I went to a Kent Hovind presentation.”

  16. #16 techskeptic
    January 15, 2009

    I’m looking forward to this. I have a few friends who a denialists. I wrote a post that didnt go too much into the complexities of AGW, but instead focused on the few pieces of data that were relevant that keep me confident that agw is real and dangerous (although I am not on the “DiCaprio” side that it will wipe out the human race, ‘only’ a lot of suffering that is avoidable –still).

    I hope you touch on these points and correct me if I am wrong or being too simplistic.

  17. #17 yogi-one
    January 16, 2009

    I look forward to the posts.

    I’m a little disappointed that you have already framed it as a political concern. AGW/Climate change is happening and needs to be dealt with. The relevant question is not “which party do you belong to?” but “what are we gonna do about it?”

    I have some denialist friends and relatives I would like to send over here to SB to get straightened out on the science behind some of today’s economic and political hot button issues.

    But if it reads like Daily Kos or CrooksandLiars I don’t think that will work very well. Hopefully the comments won’t descend into yet another rightie/leftie head-basher thread to join the googleplex-gazillion of those that already use up untold terabytes on the internet.

    I await the next posts.

  18. #18 techskeptic
    January 18, 2009

    I agree with yogi…

    I wish you had kept the bush bashing to the end. I would very much have liked to use these posts as links for when I am in discussions with people. But if you start out with the bush bashing, then their brains turn off in the first few sentences.

    Could you please redo this post without it? By all means put the bush bashing at the end? In fact it would be a good post as part of the series as to exactly why the policies of the last 8 years have been such a disaster.

    Then delete this comment. :)

  19. #19 eddie
    January 18, 2009

    “Gee, I’d like to contribute to fixing the mess but y’all’re being mean about that nice mr bush so I won’t” or similar.

    I’d like to know which meds, indeed which planet, you have been on this last 8 years.

    It is my considered opinion that we cannot go forward on this and other issues without indictments of the perps and their apologists.

  20. #20 Trent
    January 19, 2009

    Bashing Bush is necessary. It is the one thing that adds credulity to Global Warming. It is essential to bash Bush.

  21. #21 Techskeptic
    January 19, 2009

    Its not about people being mean. Its about the fact that with that in there, it is written only for people who are already familiar with the issue. It is impossible to use this set of articles to get denialists to see a reasoned set of arguments.

    Not all denialists are stupid, many have only been exposed to one set of information. Leaving that in there in the beginning makes the brain shut down immediately.

    I’m all for it being in there, at the end, after the case has been made as to why its stupid to ignore scientists on this matter.

    It is my considered opinion that we cannot go forward on this and other issues without indictments of the perps and their apologists

    Maybe, but making the case first is critical. In its current form, what is otherwise a very good set of posts, is useless to use as a reference for discussion.

  22. #22 W T Frak
    January 20, 2009

    … the fact that global warming was real and anthropogenic.

    To fairly share blame, you must admit that the continual arrival of light from the sun also contributes the the problem, and if the light were reduced, the global warming also would be reduced.

    That is, global warming is not only anthropogenic, but also photogenic.

    Which is why so many pictures illustrate articles on it.

  23. #23 Apprentice
    February 4, 2009

    It’s sad to see the author thinks that people who don’t agree with him are “Ree-pubs”. From this assessment I guess there are a lot of “Ree-pubs” living in other countries. I can assure the author, with great certainty that it’s not just the “Ree-Pubs” who don’t buy into the AGW theory!!!

    Secondly the author states, “Average American thinks, according to Polls, that it is only the third or fourth most important issue.” Sorry it just rated 20th (Last) in a recent published PEW poll.

    On the other hand, I welcome discussion on the issue. At one time I leaned towards the AGW theory. In all honesty it was reading blogs that clued me into the fact that so many people question the theory. (You would never get that from just reading articles on the subject.) It was at this point that I decided to do some personal research. Can’t say I can prove anything, but I do find the fact that so much new information contradicts the “Consensus” that I have become a “Skeptic”………at least.

  24. #24 Yatzee
    February 4, 2009

    … or maybe you are just a paranoid wackaloon!

  25. #25 Mark in UT
    February 4, 2009

    I like the term “global climate change” because no matter what happens it can be blamed on human activity

  26. #26 Mark in UT
    February 5, 2009

    Could you be any more obvious that it is all about politics?

  27. #27 Daniel
    February 8, 2009

    Greetings all,

    I am going to post as if I’m speaking to myself of 10 yrs past- when I got on-line. Those first few yrs I soaked up soo much & felt the invincible power of the internet in assisting me to prove whatever point/fact I felt was true. And I absolutely LOVE a good conspiracy, however…

    “I begin to notice patterns Daniel. Patterns of blame, corruption and dis-information campaigns as material from different disciplines was crossed referenced. The histories of said individuals & their parents, corporations or maybe their parent company, monies and connections of the upper 3% throughout the centuries often offered up consistant favorable outcomes”.

    “Simply follow the money thereby deducing how one event was allowed to take place as a result of another some yrs or even decades earlier. Overall plan(s) which can take a generation or more to achieve”.

    “One tactic I noticed was the- I’m right, no, I am right debate. Not only does this polarize thus entrenching the beliefs of the believers but can totally distract from a deeper truth. The smoking gun. Look beyond the surface argument my son for there is usually truth in both views. Rather flesh out the naggings in thy gut. The bigger picture”.

    I may be wrong here and I’m in no way being disrespectful or otherwise condescending. Is there not yet another player at the global climate change table? Are other bodies within our solar system experiencing out-of-the-ordinary events? Maybe the solar system as a whole?

    For me and all the material/web sites I’ve thumbed through climate change is not JUST due to man’s activities. Our past actions & subsequent irresponsibility’s is merely aggravating the symptoms of an event which is cyclical. One that’s been recorded in times past by man and nature alike.

  28. #28 khan
    February 8, 2009

    I may be wrong here and I’m in no way being disrespectful or otherwise condescending.

    Thank you for exposing the facts that all those thousands of scientists have been ignoring for 20+ years.

  29. #29 Mark in UT
    February 9, 2009

    My God, what a load of BS! I need hip boots.

  30. #30 Stephanie Z
    February 9, 2009

    And yet, Mark, you keep coming back. Why? It’s obviously not to add anything to the conversation.

  31. #31 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2009

    Mark: My God, what a load of BS! I need hip boots.

    I know! These global warming denialists are driving me nuts too!!!

  32. #32 Richard Simons
    February 9, 2009

    The global warming debate has been running continuously since the now very obscure publication of Moment in the Sun: 1968

    I don’t know when debate started but there was certainly awareness of the likelihood of global warming before this. As an agricultural botany student in 1967 one class included the evidence of increasing atmospheric CO2, the basic physics of the greenhouse effect and the prediction that global temperatures would probably increase. The expectation was that global warming would become noticeable by the end of the century.

  33. #33 Trey
    February 10, 2009

    I’m hearing more and more discussion on blogs and reputable news sources stating the global warming theory is being publicly challenged by reputable sources. Be they bonafied scientist, experts, professors, meteorologists I can’t say, but the response is noteworthy.

    A few months ago I read some 650 scientist are now challenging the UN’s findings on man made global warming. This month I’m reading that “70 of the world’s elite scientists specializing in climate issues will confront the subject of global warming at the second annual International Conference on Climate Change in New York City March 8-10, 2009.” And more recently I understand there is a petition singed by some 34,000 scientist refuting man made global warming.

    Now I realize we could argue all day about this and I understand for every “expert” that claims man made global warming is bad science there’s a genuinely well meaning “expert” that will say otherwise. But before we start making draconian changes to our current technologies regarding fuel sources it seems it would behoove the United States to weigh their options carefully. It’s beginning to appear (If ever so slightly) that we’re getting ready to spend billions if not trillions of dollars on a mistaken hypothesis.

    In retrospect it’s too bad our environmental friends gave the “man made global warming” treatment to nuclear power in the 60’s by using superstition and scare tactics to intimidate people with bad information. I’m sure they thought they we’re justified in their views at the time but now we realize the extreme damage of their ignorance. If we had gone nuclear 40 years ago we could have averted spewing gigatons of tons of carbon into our atmosphere and averted the “tipping” point we find our climate in today. Not to mention we could have spent the last 40 years making nuclear power safer and more efficient and the United States less reliant on fossil fuels. This is just one example of how environmentalist can do incalculable damage to our nation and to our climate when they start screaming before they know what they’re talking about.

  34. #34 Greg Laden
    February 10, 2009

    Trey check your sources, and please cite them. A comment like yours without citation looks like nothing more than propaganda.

  35. #35 Randy Hurt
    March 4, 2009

    What is tonight’s low or tomorrow’s high temperature?

    The theory that man can affect global climate change is based on computer models predicting 8 degree (F) increase in the earth’s average temperature in the next 100 years. Show me.

    Let’s do a simple test of the models. They obviously take the sun’s radiance, and the earth’s radiance, reflectance, absorptivity, cloud cover, heat coefficient, enthalpy, dew point and atmospheric composition into account, and many of those variables are constant over a short time period, so how about using all that high powered science and math to tell me what the high temperature is going to be tomorrow? Easier yet, what about tonight’s low?

    Since the models can predict 8 degrees over 100 years, the accuracy for the low or high should be easy to predict within 8F/100yx365d/y or 0.0002 degrees F, but considering the limits of science, I think 0.1 degree F would be fair. The prediction could be made for the Nashville International Airport, where the human activity can be easily modeled and temperature recording instruments are in place.

    The guys who wrote the models should appreciate this challenge too, because if they can accurately predict the highs and lows, all the weather forecasting services in the world would buy their product.

  36. #36 earl
    March 27, 2009

    one in 500 humans have one blue eye and one brown eye.

  37. #37 Steve
    April 13, 2009

    Have a look at Debunking the Debunkers. Common sense says we should be erring on the side of caution. If human contribution to global warming is REAL then we need to act. If it is not, then what do we lose by cleaning up the environment and our living habits?

  38. #38 louparte
    April 25, 2009

    Congratulations on the great success of this blog when it was posted
    at Forecast Earth Mr. Laden.

    The response was so great to the first two parts,
    that Forecast Earth shut down their blog completely.
    And it remains closed to this day.

    So you were literally a show-stopper.
    Congratulations on that.

    Weather Channel must have decided you were
    too hard of an act to follow.

    The public was so overwhelmed with your
    brilliance that Forecast Earth may have decided
    there was nothing more that could be said about
    the subject.

    It was an awesome performance. All it lacked was a stadium full of fans
    waving their Bic’s above their heads, to an IPCC-thumping preacher reading
    each of your sentences to the tearful, adoring congregation.

    “Ree-pubs”, that’s brilliant! Not only are you a scientist, you’re a comedian too!
    That’s such a clever parody. Who could have thought of it?

    Uh oh, here comes another one – “Democrat IC”.

    Genius, that’s what it is. Sheer genius!

    Ha! They broke the mold when they made Greg Laden.
    Such erudition and wit in a single human being,
    who could’ve thought it possible?

    I wish you the best of success in whichever endeavor you choose,
    comedy, evangelism or science.

    And I hope your next featured blog will enjoy even more success than your
    tour de force performance at Forecast Earth.

    You really brought down the house on that one.
    In fact, you shut down the whole blog.

  39. #39 Greg Laden
    April 25, 2009

    I take that last sentence as a threat, and I’ve reported you to Op Center.

  40. #40 louparte
    April 25, 2009

    Quote: “You really brought down the house on that one.
    In fact, you shut down the whole blog.” (me)

    Quote:

    “I take that last sentence as a threat, and I’ve reported you to Op Center.” Greg Laden
    —-

    You take that sentence as a threat?
    I certainly never meant it that way.

    But OK. Tell the OP Center to arrest me and frogwalk me
    away in handcuffs. I’m guilty. I have committed the crime of satire.

    If you didn’t find it funny, I apologize. I just don’t have your incomparable
    way with witty phrases.

    “Ree-publican…Democrat IC” – in the first part of a science column?

    Sheer genius, that’s what it is! That’ll grab the reader’s
    attention right away!

    BTW, I used to read & enjoy the blogs at Forecast Earth.
    But after your blogs, they shut the whole blog site down.

    Being something of a history buff, I just wonder what happened?
    Your blog was the last one ever posted there.

    In show-biz, that means one of two things.
    You brought down the house, or else you were a total flop.

    Either way, I wish you only the best in your future endeavors.
    I hope you become the Billy Graham or the Henny Youngman of
    the Global Warming crusade. Whichever path you choose, you’ll be brilliant!

    Best Wishes,

    Louparte

  41. #41 Greg Laden
    April 25, 2009

    I have committed the crime of satire.

    I’m in for snark. We’ll probably be cell mates.

    I never heard of Forecast Earth.

  42. #42 louparte
    April 25, 2009

    Ah, you see, I’m your pal after all.
    No need to call in the OP Center commandos.

    Forecast Earth (You’ll see it at the top of the page.)
    http://climate.weather.com/?from=globalnav

    Maybe they used your two blogs without your permission.
    And then they shut down the blog site in fear of your wrath.

    Both parts 1 & 2 drew many comments. It’s a shame if you
    didn’t see them.

    If you sue them – your lawyers can email me. I’ll be a witness.
    They used parts 1 & 2 of the Epic Blog.
    Then they shut the whole blog section down.

  43. #43 Greg Laden
    April 25, 2009

    Oh, that’s the weather channel thing. Right. Scienceblogs has an agreement with them. That was use they had permission for because I checked a box when I put the blog post up.

    Too bad. They have deep pockets, I coulda sued them.

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  45. #45 Gunnar
    May 12, 2010

    All environmentalists and scepticals, too, should read this: http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/tabledata/GLB.Ts+dSST.txt

    It concludes with a global average temperature of +14,4°C in the years from 1950 to 1980.

    In my old encyclopedia of 1921 I read just the same figure!
    Has the average temp. risen so very much the last 30 years?

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