I watched Miles O’Brien’s CNN documentary on global warming this past weekend. Miles and I met at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena a few years ago. I’ve always enjoyed his space oriented science reporting. I was more than a little disappointed in this particular documentary¹.
I knew where it was going as soon as I heard:
But now the scientific debate is largely over. There is overwhelming consensus that the threat is real, that humans are at least part of the cause, and that something must be done.
Maybe I missed the memo. I don’t think the debate is over, and I know I’m not alone in thinking that.
This all goes back to my view that the concept of global warming is being treated as both a scientific and political concept. I don’t mind hearing about the science, but most of the time it is a partisan political story, but portrayed as a scientific one.
Ask yourself, have you ever heard anything positive about global warming? In a true scientific discussion all the effects would be presented, not just the bad ones.
In any weather change scenario there will be winners and losers – but we only hear about the losers. You never hear about how much you’ll save in heating bills or how farmers in the Northern Plains and Siberia will get a longer growing season.
Is that a big deal? I’m not sure. But I’m sure growing season changes, or less need for heating oil in the industrialized world has to have more impact than what happens on Tuvalu – an island of a bit more than 10,000 people, that Miles spent lots of time on.
Among the operational, or forecasting, meteorologists I know, or whose opinions I read in online chat rooms, most are skeptical about the whole concept. Meteorologists involved in research or theoretical meteorology are more likely to be enamored with the concept.
Recently, one of the skeptics wrote on medialine.com:
Here are just a few things I deal with or have dealt with in forecasting: We still cannot find and correct the cool bias in summer and warm bias in winter of the Great Lakes within forecast models. I have computer models showing me highs today and this weekend in the mid to upper 40’s with a wind off 33 degree lake water. We know the lake temp. It is factored into the models, even our local meso models, and still it cannot forecast an accurate temp. The Great Lakes, I believe, have been here as long as modern Meteorology.
He’s right. Temperatures are very tough to forecast, even when we have a total understanding of the initializing conditions. We’re not aways right, even when we don’t need to make assumptions, as we do for most global warming scenarios.
The whole concept of global warming throws many variables into the mix. It’s not just the greenhouse gases, but also the offshoots of any warming, like cloudiness or increased water vapor in the atmosphere. Many of the individual variables are working against each other. Many are not properly or totally accounted for.
I’ve told this story here before. While sitting on an airplane, waiting to take off from the Tampa Airport, I looked at the sky. It was overcast.
When I looked closer, I realized the clouds were airplane contrails that had become diffuse with the weak upper air winds over Florida. These ‘clouds’ were unpredicted. They certainly changed the heat budget below them.
How did the computer models we use for forecasting handle them? I asked a friend, someone familiar with numeric weather prediction. His simple answer was, they’re not taken into account at all.
I am not doubting that greenhouse gases can make a difference, or that the greenhouse concept is, by itself wrong. Get into a parked car on a warm sunny day. That’s greenhouse warming at its finest!
All I’m saying is, there are lots of people speaking with total clarity about a subject on which, in my opinion, the jury is still out. And, they’re doing it using forecasting techniques that only see part of the picture.
¹ – CNN provides online transcripts for many of their shows, including this documentary.