Do You Believe In Manmade Global Warming?

The most predictable aspect of manmade global warming is the heated rhetoric that ensues every time the temperature deviates from supposed "norms." With each heat wave the believers shout from the rooftops, "It's too HOT! The Arctic Ice Cap is melting; it's Man's fault!" And with each cold snap and refreeze the dissenters seize the chance to yell hogwash. In this tit for tat struggle, the believers have been more effective in advancing their front, to the point where manmade global warming is a foregone conclusion according to conventional wisdom:

"The recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded there is a greater than 90 percent chance that greenhouse gases released by human activities like burning oil in cars and coal in power plants are causing most of the observed global warming." (See endnote 1)

The world is on board, from the boardroom to the kitchen table, green is in. This 90 percent chance has been transformed into absolute certainty. But while the believers now dominate - witness the EPA ruling that CO2 has been deemed a pollutant - it's our elected officials in Washington who have yet to decide what course we should take as a Nation. Our leaders, largely comprised of minds trained in the legal profession, must weigh the evidence and decide for themselves whether a 90% chance is sufficient, or whether those odds are a bit like the prosecution telling a jury it intends to prove the defendant is guilty "beyond almost all shadow of doubt." The prosecution in this case is the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC) along with Al Gore and his minions, and the jury is our President, the Congress, and the Senate. Will they judge the IPCC's findings and Al Gore's pleadings sufficient to justify the far-reaching policies being prescribed - to convict?

To judge the IPCC's science, one must learn about climate science and climate modeling. At this prospect many would throw up their hands and say, "That's too complex; trust the experts (i.e. Climatologists) who know what they're talking about." To quote a late President, however, "Trust, but verify." Why should this be any different? The issue of manmade global warming is far too consequential for leaders to relinquish their common sense.

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Fortunately, while the task of developing a working knowledge of climate modeling might seem daunting, there is an excellent book, "A Climate Modeling Primer, 3rd Edition," that offers a comprehensive and accessible overview of climate modeling to assist any interested politician - or layperson - in developing a clear grasp of the subject.

"…[Politicians] need to understand the credibility of the different model types and how to apply (and when not to apply) the output from these models. It is for these people this book is intended." (See endnote 2)

The book's authors, Kendal McGuffie and Ann Henderson-Sellers, are unabashed believers in manmade global warming:

"When we think of climate change it used to be in the time frame of glacial periods. Recently, however, most of us have become aware of the shorter term impact upon the climate of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases." (See endnote 3)

But despite their persuasion, the authors are commendably forthright in describing the inherent limitations and foibles of climate modeling:

"The climate system is a physical/chemical/biological system possessing infinite degrees of freedom. Any attempt to model such a highly complex system is fraught with dangers. It is (unfortunately) necessary to represent a distinct part, or more usually many distinct parts, of the complete system by imprecise or semi-empirical mathematical expressions. Worse still is the need to neglect completely many parts of the complete and highly complex system." (See endnote 4)
"All climate models need observed values for part of their input, and all require observational data [observed values] with which to compare their results [output]." (See endnote 5)

In other words, climate models use incomplete data to mathematically sculpt predictions of how an infinitely complex system will behave, then only by witnessing that behavior can those predictions be verified. It's not a matter of performing an experiment and declaring a certain result is inevitable. It's a matter of performing an experiment and saying a certain result may occur if and when it actually does.

For the sake of simplicity, let's create an analogy to encapsulate climate modeling from a layman's perspective: Suppose you had to forecast the statistics and results for the next ten seasons of Major League Baseball. You might start by gathering historical data on all the players and teams; you would define equations to extrapolate from past performance the odds of certain future performances; you would define assumptions to account for and weight every intangible variable you can think of that might bear on results - player injuries and aging; the influence of coaching; fan participation; the size and shape of stadiums; the prevailing wind strength and direction for each stadium; player retirement habits; rookie sensations and burnouts; improvements in equipment, and etc. Once satisfied you'd accounted for every possible influence in your model, you'd crunch the numbers on your MAC or PC, and as real team results became available you'd start verifying the accuracy of your model's predictions. Any variations between those predictions and real team results would become the basis for altering your model - augmenting its assumptions and variables to make the model align with the results you'd observed. After a few iterations of re-tooling your model to improve its alignment, you might feel some confidence in its predictive capability, perhaps even sufficient to place a few bets.

To model the Earth's climate, Climatologists must extrapolate from past observations, even when available data can be admittedly sparse; they must construct assumptions for mechanisms about which they may have limited knowledge; they must factor in variables that are often no more than the output of some other model with its own set of assumptions; they must assign values to variables based on intuition, informed intuition but intuition nonetheless; they must selectively ignore some information altogether when its correlation to the overall system is not apparent; and they must be prepared to accommodate entirely new mechanisms when discovered and proven to have impact, or to redefine old mechanisms when new and better data becomes available.

In our MLB analogy, imagine running and fine-tuning the model for three years and only then learning the teams had been trading players right along; or seven years into the process discovering the league had expanded, adding five teams in year two. How might these events impact the model's accuracy? And in turn, how might that influence our degree of confidence going forward, or in hindsight for that matter? Might ninety percent start to look optimistic?

Now consider that since its inception in the early 1960s, Climatology and climate modeling have grown to embrace observed data and theories from the fields of Atmospheric Physics, Oceanography, Ecology, Geography, Glaciology, and Astronomy, while also accommodating the influence of economic and sociological theories. With the integration of each new field of knowledge, Climatologists have had to expand and adjust their models to compensate, adding variables and mechanisms and performing whatever manipulations were necessary to bring their models into balance with real-world observations. This process is ongoing with no end in sight, and just as with the hypothetical MLB model, when new data emerges or new mechanisms are discovered, the predictive capability of the climate models can be compromised.

Currently, there are several teams throughout the world doing nothing other than running and fine-tuning a variety of the most comprehensive climate models created to date. These models are often referred to as Global Climate Models (GCMs). And according to the IPCC, while the predictions of these GCMs do not always coincide, their bundled results point toward Man's culpability. A "consensus of scientists" finds that Man's industrial activity is likely adding enough CO2 to the atmosphere to force global warming. But while this is the story that gets the most play, there are many other scientists who are skeptical about the predictions of climate modeling. They regard the field as insufficiently grounded in empirical facts to warrant much confidence. Amongst this group, some proffer alternative climate theories that appear well supported and viable. Because their work runs counter to conventional wisdom, however, they're often labeled "heretics" and their work is discounted and neglected by the mainstream media. Fortunately, the Internet provides access to an oasis of insights. One website in particular,, posts pro and con arguments side-by-side in a remarkably even-handed fashion. This site also provides extensive links to additional resources, thus inviting readers to make their own inquiries, sift through the science and theories, and draw their own conclusions.

When all is duly considered, it's difficult to avoid thinking that no "Science" today can define exactly which mechanism dominates the Earth's climate balance, let alone prove how that mechanism functions. Climate models posit, but facts are lacking, thus the faith placed in models seems more an act of belief than of science. Models cannot predict with the sort of certainty needed to justify rollbacks in carbon emissions, especially not when those rollbacks could incite economic dislocations far exceeding any benefits that might be found in mass deployment of immature "green" technologies. In today's tenuous economy, such dislocations could well be the "catalyst" for a global catastrophe that would make global warming - manmade or otherwise - seem tame. Indeed, the current economic upheaval, in part due to gyrating oil prices, might well be a foretaste.

No thoughtful person can fail to be awed by the complexity and ingeniousness of climate models. And no such person can doubt the good intentions of most people who believe in manmade global warming. But just as the most beautiful and ingenious sculpture is not Life, the best intentions are not facts: The case is not proven. Even Al Gore, in his October 12, 2007 Nobel Peace Prize press conference, said the following: "Global warming is the most dangerous challenge we've ever faced, but it is also the greatest opportunity that we have ever had to make changes that we should be making for other reasons anyway." Changes we should be making for other reasons anyway. This has been his refrain in speech after speech, and it begs the question: If global warming is the impending Biblical disaster he claims, why should any further rationale be needed to support his prescription? Could he be hedging his bets?

So the question remains, do you believe in manmade global warming? If you "believe," you must ask yourself honestly if you have not been co-opted by a political argument. After all, since when does belief have anything to do with hard science? Belief is the province of religion, and while some would gleefully elevate science to that level, none would set belief as its cornerstone. Yet here we are, accepting appeals to belief that CO2 is a pollutant, even though mankind's contribution amounts to much less than 5% of what in total is much less than 5% of the Earth's atmosphere, and notwithstanding the simple fact that CO2 is a fundamental building block without which life on this planet would cease to exist. Could global warming be happening? Absolutely. Science proves it has happened before, so why not again? But can Science prove mankind's "carbon footprint" is the critical catalyst now tipping the balance? Or can Science prove the corollary that by cutting emissions we can reverse the process? If we are to be honest, objective, and realistic in accessing the state of knowledge in 2009, the answer - and the jury's answer as well - must be unequivocally "No."

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We must slow the precipitous rush to embrace climate modeling as proof-enough that mankind is causing global warming. But that doesn't mean we should ignore climate modeling. Its urgent suggestiveness mandates the formation of an unbiased mechanism to monitor the degree of certainty in Climatology. Leading universities and think tanks should be invited to independently study policy-frameworks for controlling CO2 if its role should become categorically proven. And the United States must promote its own energy independence - by improving the efficiency with which we use resources; by recycling energy that is otherwise wasted (exhaust heat, for instance); by advancing safe nuclear technologies; by developing smart renewables that use less energy to make than they yield when they're used; and by tapping our fossil reserves using strict safeguards to protect the environment. These steps are essential, not to cut our "carbon footprint," but to staunch the bloodletting of wealth to those nations whose intentions toward us are hostile - to ensure our National Security. Indeed, this might well be the most pressing of those "other reasons" Al Gore refers to.

1) "The turning point on global warming," the Boston Globe, Feb. 13, 2007.
2) "A Climate Modeling Primer, Third Edition," Copyright 2005, by Kendal McGuffie and Ann Henderson-Sellers. Preface.
3) "A Climate Modeling Primer, Third Edition," Copyright 2005, by Kendal McGuffie and Ann Henderson-Sellers. Page 1.
4) "A Climate Modeling Primer, Third Edition," Copyright 2005, by Kendal McGuffie and Ann Henderson-Sellers. Page 72.
5) "A Climate Modeling Primer, Third Edition," Copyright 2005, by Kendal McGuffie and Ann Henderson-Sellers. Page 76.

About the author:
I hold a Masters Degree in Technical Communication from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and have studied climate science and modeling for many years. I have written extensively about computer systems and networks and published analysis pieces covering a wide range of issues. I have no affiliation with either the authors of "A Climate Modeling Primer," or the web site, and I have no vested interests in the oil industry - no remotely recent employment, no payments of any kind, no stock.

PS. I recently attended an "Honor's Colloquium" about manmade global warming, hosted by a local university. In advance of the main speaker's presentation, I handed out flyers pointing attendees to my website. One woman took my flyer, read the excerpts intended to peak curiosity, and thrust it back in my face.

"Why are you doing this?" she seethed venomously, as if I were single handedly trying to destroy Mother Earth. Then she turned up her nose and stomped away.

I guess it was a rhetorical question, but I do have an answer:

"I've always considered myself to be an environmentalist, but today's movement is extreme to the point of "Jihad." So I'm just trying to open some eyes in hopes we can avoid doing something that is unlikely to make any real difference to the planet but which will most certainly cost us dearly."

PPS. QED: From Reuters, March 6, 2009: "Never waste a good crisis," said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to a hearing at the European Parliament. "And when it comes to the economic crisis, don't waste it when it can have a very positive impact on climate change and energy security."

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