[Coral-List] pseudo science - you have a delete button

Dennis Hubbard dennis.hubbard at oberlin.edu
Thu Nov 1 11:46:21 EDT 2012

Thinking that this thread was done, I sent the following to Bill offline in
response to his challenge to convince him of anthropogenic climate change.
It is lengthy, and thus my original motivation for an off-line response.
You may feel it's a cop-out.... or just pragmatism. Either way, enjoy....
or delete!


Not much time, but here's my encapsulated version.

Let's start with what we know:

1) the sun has a HUGE effect; in fact, it's largely what has driven major
climate cycles
2) CO2 and a host of other things are "greenhouse gasses", etc. and they do
cause temperature increases - how much we can ague about later
3) CO2 levels have risen by a measurable amount; there is  a significant
amount of "old" carbon in this so it's related to burning fossil fuels
4) The rate of SL rise was largely slowing through much of the 19th
century, save those pesky "little ice ages", and later the flat spot in the
1960's (largely due to reflectivity of particulates related to increased
coal consumption)
5) SL rise has accelerated by ca 0.009 mm/yr2 since 1860 and has increased
(conservatively) two-fold in that time
6) During past SL rises, sometimes CO2 goes up first and sometimes
temperature leads the way; these are inter-related inasmuch as CO2 drives
up temperature but higher temps also increase CO2; nature is fickle that way

I'm sure I've missed a few, but that's enough to start with.

So, for now, let's set aside the issue of whether solar forcing or CO2 is
the main driver or not. If we combine the points above that we can
hopefully agree on, then we go to the following:

Projections have been shown to have errors, but most upgrades have produced
worst projections and not better ones
Recent performance seems to be ahead of most models
A recent synthesis of all available Holocene core data demonstrates that
over half of the world's coral reefs built at rates below the PRESENT rate
of SL rise - so there is already a problem that was not there a century ago
and is worsening. And... those reefs didn't have to deal with *Homo stupidus
*, so this is probably an optimistic characterization.
New York just went underwater. Perhaps this is within the statistical
limits of error (I just don't know that yet); higher sea levels will
exacerbate these two examples and countless more.

So...... if we can agree that these are bad things for humans, the economy
and all the other stuff that usually gets a priority in the discussion,

The accelerating SL rise is a problem regardless of the cause (the pattern
tells me that the recent blip can't be explained only by solar forcing,
but). Anthropogenic contributions are at least a measurable PART of this
pattern. These are the only ones we can do anything about unless someone
comes up with a way to control solar output or we want to tinker with
geo-engineering. Therefore, lowering our CO2 emissions is in our best
interest both socially and economically.

To me, this is the proverbial gorilla in the room that gets lost in the
quibbling about things that we are not going to convince one another about.
To me, the data show that the anthropogenic signal is a measurable and
significant part of the pattern we are seeing today. Compared to the
energetics of the 125,000-year cycle, this is a pimple, but on a human
timescale (which we are talking about), CO2 is playing a disproportionate
role in the short run (centuries to millennia) and some pretty well
informed folks argue that the CO2 part of the signal has overwhelmed the
solar component for the time being. I'm not going there for now, but IF
they are right, we are really screwed. If they aren't, then we're still
back to the realities that derive from my six points above and the reality
that carbon emissions are the only part we can control.

I don't have time or the space in this email to convince you that
anthropogenic CO2 is the dominant signal at present, but hopefully we can
agree that however important resolving this might be in the long run
scientifically, we are experiencing events that we don't like - and
anthropogenically created CO2 plays SOME role in that pattern whether or
not the sun is still the dominant player in all of this. If we agree on my
underlying point, then we need to move forward to get folks focused on
this. If not, then we'll just have to face the fact that one of us has to
be wrong.

So, we're down to Pascal's wager - originally designed to address the
existence of God, but equally applicable here. We have a binary question:
IS anthropogenic CO2 playing a measurable and negative role in climate
regulation? Answers: Yes - No  The validity of our answers are likewise
binary, we are either right or wrong.

If you argue no and are correct, then climate may self-regulate butt all
the crap we put into the air will significantly deteriorate the air and
water and there will be disproportionate increases in suffering and
economic costs regardless of any possible climate ties. If you are wrong,
we will probably reach a tipping point where no amount of money will allow
us to reverse whatever comes from our denials. This is the equivalent or
Pascal's "eternal damnation" option.

In contrast, if I argue yes and am right, then we can perhaps do something
to reverse this trend. Arguing from an economic perspective, the discount
rate would support the idea that it's cheaper to not break it using today's
dollars than it is to fix it using tomorrow's. If I am wrong, I am
perfectly happy to say, "gee, it wasn't us after all, but we have cleaner
air, water and a better environment. Don't I feel stupid". This was
Pascal's "excess of morality".

So, whether I've convinced you of anything or not, I hope that you will at
least agree that I am not blindly taking what the conspiracy is selling. I
am a pragmatist. WHile I believe that we have a significant role in all of
this, I am less worried about quantifying it or arguing over how it stacks
up against everyone else's favorite climate driver. I feel that doing
science is a privilege, so I will continue to take advantage of that luxury
by looking at all the data and changing my perspectives as the data get
better. However, that privilege comes with a responsibility to not "fiddle
while the planet burns".

Dennis Hubbard
Dept of Geology-Oberlin College Oberlin OH 44074
(440) 775-8346

* "When you get on the wrong train.... every stop is the wrong stop"*
 Benjamin Stein: "*Ludes, A Ballad of the Drug and the Dream*"

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