Sunday, August 13, 2006

So, What if the Browns are Wrong?

Greenland Ice Melt May Be Faster Than Thought

That headline is not from the New York Times or the Boston Globe or Rolling Stone or the Village Voice or any other bastion of liberal thought you might expect. Nor is it a press release from Al Gore or John Kerry, or even Ned Lamont.

It is, rather, from a newspaper whose editors frequently dismiss the fact that the earth is warming unnaturally quickly—which any human being who has lived more than forty or fifty years has observed first-hand—as a crackpot theorem being used as political propaganda by drug-addled softies led by Al Gore and various Hollywood starlets.

Indeed, this newspaper’s editors are so skeptical that global so-called warming is anything more than a politically-engineered scare-tactic designed to recapture Congress for the Democrats that they regularly host, on their op-ed page, scientists for the purposes of explaining why glaciers which suddenly decide to melt after five thousand years is an entirely normal event and not the harbinger of impending doom.

Nevertheless, the newspaper in question reported the facts of the Greenland ice-melting case without so much as a single snide reference to Al Gore or the environment whack-jobs whose desire to protect what remaining species we have would spell almost certain doom for an entire generation of California real estate developers who are living the good life thanks to their God-given abilities to cut the tops off of worthless, lizard-infested hills along Interstate 5 and put up thousands of homes for speculators whose trips to Vegas would be endangered if the environmentalists were allowed to have their way:

Greenland's ice sheet is melting more rapidly than expected, according to data obtained from two National Aeronautics and Space Administration satellites that measure the gravitational pull of the earth's rivers, mountains and glaciers.

The finding, reported today in the journal Science, adds to concern that global warming may cause faster sea-level rises than predicted, potentially increasing risks to coastal cities and areas.

According to the new satellite measurements, Greenland lost about 57 cubic miles of ice in 2005.

That figure is more than double some previous annual estimates, and the rate of melting appears to be increasing, said Jianli Chen, a researcher at the Center for Space Research at the University of Texas at Austin, and the lead author of the study.

Added to other recent observations, Greenland appears to be "losing ice significantly faster now than just a few years ago," said Jonathan Overpeck, director of the Institute for the Study of Planet Earth at the University of Arizona. While scientists have long predicted changes to the immense ice cap, "it is disquieting to see how fast they are taking place," said Dr. Overpeck, who wasn't involved in the Chen study.

“Disquieting” may not be the right word for what R.E.M. referred to as “the end of the world as we know it.”

Even after the usual qualifying statement that scientists disagree about the cause and effect of global warming, the article continued reporting the “disquieting” facts of the Greenland ice-melt:

Scientists say it is important to understand the ice loss because Greenland holds enough snow and ice to raise sea levels by 20 feet, were all of it to melt.

Current predictions are that sea levels will rise between a few inches and three feet in the next century. However, some researchers think those predictions may underestimate the effects of global warming and the speed of future sea-level increases.

"I think what is happening in Greenland right now is not predicted by any of the models," said Eric Rignot, a senior research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, who earlier this year reported estimates of Greenland ice loss similar to Dr. Chen's. "Sea-level rise of one meter over one thousand years is a lot different than one meter over a hundred years," Dr. Rignot said.

Sea levels have been rising slowly since the end of the last ice age, more than 10,000 years ago, as glaciers and snowpack have melted, and because warmer temperature causes ocean water to expand.

Currently, the average height of the oceans is increasing by about 1/10th of an inch a year.

The paper’s editors offered no commentary on this “disquieting” news. Not even so much as an anti-Gore dig.

Perhaps that has to do with the accumulating evidence of global warming’s accelerating impact on the real world, already reported in the same newspaper as recently as July 18 in “For Icy Greenland, Global Warming Has a Bright Side”:

Stefan Magnusson lives at the foot of a giant, melting glacier. Some think he's living on the brink of a cataclysm. He believes he's on the cusp of creation.

The 49-year-old reindeer rancher says a warming trend in Greenland over the past decade has caused the glacier on his farm to retreat 300 feet, revealing land that hasn't seen the light of day for hundreds of years, if not more. Where ice once gripped the earth, he says, his reindeer now graze on wild thyme amid the purple blooms of Niviarsiaq flowers

Lest you think this newspaper is presenting Mr. Magnusson’s cock-eyed optimism as the only prism with which to view the current warming trend, the newspaper reported a similar story, except from the point of view of the loser rather than the winner, in “Is Global Warming Killing the Polar Bears?” on December 14, 2005 (which I have quoted in a previous piece that drew much skeptical howling from the global-warming-is-a-statistical-aberration crowd):

It may be the latest evidence of global warming: Polar bears are drowning.

Scientists for the first time have documented multiple deaths of polar bears off Alaska, where they likely drowned after swimming long distances in the ocean amid the melting of the Arctic ice shelf. The bears spend most of their time hunting and raising their young on ice floes.

In a quarter-century of aerial surveys of the Alaskan coastline before 2004, researchers from the U.S. Minerals Management Service said they typically spotted a lone polar bear swimming in the ocean far from ice about once every two years. Polar-bear drownings were so rare that they have never been documented in the surveys.

But in September 2004, when the polar ice cap had retreated a record 160 miles north of the northern coast of Alaska, researchers counted 10 polar bears swimming as far as 60 miles offshore. Polar bears can swim long distances but have evolved to mainly swim between sheets of ice, scientists say.

The newspaper in question which has reported such disquieting facts regarding global warming is none other than the Wall Street Journal.

And whatever the Journal's editors think about the cause and effect of global warming, the central problem with the entire scientific debate over cause and effect is, in my view, as follows.

If the greens are wrong, and if global warming is no more than a temporary and self-correcting blip well within the bounds of statistical fluctuations, and if we spend zillions of dollars attempting to mitigate and reverse a normal self-correcting blip in the weather, well, we’ve spent a bunch of money unnecessarily and crimped the lifestyles of a lot of real estate developers and land speculators, to boot.

But if the browns are wrong, and if global warming is in fact the product of more than 600 million motor vehicles screwing up the works, and yet we do nothing about it now, then our grandchildren will be dealing with issues of unfathomable catastrophe—literally, the end of the world as we now know it.

So I sure hope the browns are right, although after reading my Wall Street Journal about shrinking ice caps and dying polar bears and retreating glaciers and happy Greenland farmers, I wouldn't bet on it myself.

It's a bet nobody, even the editors of the Wall Street Journal, can afford to lose.

Jeff Matthews
I Am Not Making This Up

© 2006 Jeff Matthews

The content contained in this blog represents the opinions of Mr. Matthews. Mr. Matthews also acts as an advisor and clients advised by Mr. Matthews may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Matthews' recommendations. This commentary in no way constitutes a solicitation of business or investment advice. It is intended solely for the entertainment of the reader, and the author.


ABunch said...

Well said.


ghdat said...

Ther has always been a disconnect between the front page and the editorial page of the WSJ. This is just the latest example. As recently as June the editorial page claimed to refute one of the main studies sopporting the idea of global warming.
See this link from Economist's view.
There'ill be palm trees in Alaska before the WSJ editorial page admit to global warming.

josbil said...

The issue is not whether or not warming is happening. The issue is the cause. Simply, because there it is known that there have been a successive series of ice ages over time, the browns as you call them believe that the current warming trend is just part of the long-term natural heating and warming cycle of the earth. Man did not create past cycles and man is not creating this cycle either.
J.S. Billeaud
BCM, Inc.

sandgrey said...

The main pages of the WSJ are generally no better than the average MSM tripe. Reporters are lazy and ill-informed. I'm dismayed that a guy of your intellect is falling unquestionably for what will likely be a passing shabby intellectual fad. I have a copy of "The Cooling" (a NYT BestSeller from the 1970's positing a Global Ice Age. Ooops. But, the have it right this time??) if you'd like to borrow it.

Lastly, you fail to differentiate between natural cyclical global warming and man-made GW. This lazy conflation of the two is rampant in the press. The best guesses I've seen is that the extent of the man-made contribution to any GW is 5-20%. If so, then the only rational response is to make sure mankind has the economic resources to deal with any ramificatios of natural temp fluctuations. This won't be accomplished with farcical "alternative energies".

I've read you over the years because I liked your courage to challenge the orthodoxy. I'm disappointed you kowtow to it here.


Dr. Fager said...

And if we take that attitude toward other putative problems, where will we be?

Remember the hole in the ozone layer above the South Pole? Don't hear much about that anymore. At one time the prevailing explanation was that it was caused by emissions from aerosol cans.

If A. Einstein came back from the dead and told me that was true, I wouldn't believe it.

Hells_Satans said...

Well, for the last 8 years the temperature has been flat to down, for 23 years before that it was up, the 25 years before that it was down, and in the last century we had the Little Ice Age. All told, the climate has warmed btw 0.6-1.0 degrees. 23-30 years is far too small a sample size to panic about.

Looking at the Co2 and Temp correlation graphs published by the UNEP and Nature magazine, going back half a million years, the planet has warmed from -9 to +3 degrees four times, each roughly 100,000 years apart. And at 340,000 and 125,000 years, the peaks in CO2 and temperature were even higher than they are now.

Questions - Why isn't this a natural phenomena?

Is the theory that the first three were natural and the fourth is man-made? Or that all four are manmade?

If it's the last one, what caused the CO2 to peak previously?

In every previous geologic era, from Cambrian to Cenozoic, the CO2 levels ranged from 1000ppm to 4000ppm in the Devonian Era. This goes back further than 420k years, however.

According to Nature mag, the Arctic used to be 74 degrees - Now, the spoils of the Arctic Coring Expedition (ACEX), extend our knowledge from about half a million years to 80 million years ago....Some initial findings from the cruise were released two years ago (see 'North Pole once enjoyed Mediterranean climate'). Now the researchers report several analyses of the sediment core in Nature [magazine].

The results are unexpected. Not only did the Arctic heat up to an extent that is inexplicable by current climate models, say the researchers, it also seems that the North Pole began to cool at about the same time as the Antarctic...'

GW hysterics suffer from small sample size bias.

dunnomuch said...

I'm all for taking care of where we live, and honestly I don't know whether global warming is something we've done or part of a long-term cycle (I'm no scientist), but the argument sounds a little like Pascal's wager:
1)Don't know if God exists
2)If He doesn't and I don't believe, fine.
3)If He doesn't and I do, I'm not out that much.
4)If He does and I believe, great.
5)If He does and I don't, I'm screwed.
6)Therefore, I'll believe.

It's cute and somewhat rational, but could probably be applied to a lot of things, including the justification for invading Iraq (Saddam may have WMDs, better to know for sure).

Smokefoot said...

I am trying to figure out how bad it is likely to be. If global warming accelerates we will have to abandon many of our important cities, deserts will spread (the American mid-west may become very dry) and many species will become extinct. Canada and Siberia may become the new breadbaskets of the world. This is all very bad, but does it reach the level of "unfathomable catastrophe"?

Alex Khenkin said...

We simply don't know it is us humans or just part of a natural cycle, but denying the warming's existence at this point is a bit ridiculous. There are well-documented studies that show the underlying TREND (permafrost, deep ocean temps) is up. I assume most people here are at least mildly interested in the markets and should easily recognize the difference between the short-term volatility (tomorrow's weather) and long-term trend (permafrost warming, with integration period of years), so please the unseasonably cold week in the Northeast right now does not count. Then there's intermediate volatility - solar cycles, etc. - that's measured in decades. Also, we simply don't have enough data from enough locations going back enough years: maybe the Arctic was warmer in 1940, but Russia had the coldest winter on record in 1940, if memory serves.
Small Investor Chronicles

Smokefoot said...

What is different between now and previous warmings is the speed of the change. The CO2 level has increased by more than 50% in the last 50 years. We know that CO2 is a greenhouse gas from basic physics, and we know that the amount of CO2 that we produce by burning is larger than the amount that has been addd to the atmosphere - the rest has been absorbed, presumably by the oceans. I don't see how it can be argued that the CO2 increase is not due to human activity. It can be argued that some currently unknown process will moderate the warming, but that strikes me as wishful thinking.

BDG123 said...

I am so tired of people who say it was warmer twenty five years ago or the earth goes through its own cycles and who are we to believe we may affect it. They are science dolts. It's infuriating that people are so stupid that they won't acknowledge the self destructive nature of mankind. This is a species which has been estimated to kill one billion of its own kind since its arrival. And, who ran horrific medical tests on its own kind. And who dumped every known form of cancer causing, human killing chemical into drinking waters until we mandated it stop. What causes economic catastrophes? Man's greed and the imbalances it creates. And on and on and on. Man is, by design, the most imperfect species and paradoxically the biggest danger to our very existence. Man is perfectly self destructive left to his own devices.

There is no debate. Got it? NO DEBATE. That is, unless you are a greedy politician on the dole or a greedy business leader only concerned about self profit or a brainwashed dimwit who believes one of the prior two. The reality is scientists universally believe we are experiencing global warming. They don't know to what extent man is impacting the change or how far it will go but there is only one question worth asking. Why risk it? Forget about all of the other ridiculous arguments. Why risk it? Green technologies spur innovation, create jobs and make for a better world, period. They also provide an insurance policy which attempts to stop our self destructive nature. Do you have an insurance policy on your car just in case you drive off of a cliff? What is the difference? Are your children not worth it?

The loss of the polar ice caps is not an effect, it becomes a cause. Without the ice to reflect much of the sun's heat, the exposed earth absorbs more of the sun's energy, thus increasing the temperature of the earth. Scientists are worried about a one degree celsius increase in the temperature of the earth having devastating consequences.

Why are we even arguing? Are these the same dumbasses who were out bludgeoning the oceans of whales and the wilds of gorillas just because it served their interests? Stephen Hawking who just so happens to be smarter than anyone reading this blog just hypothesized why we may never have contacted advanced life elsewhere in the galaxy. At this point in our development, the biggest risk we face is f#cking it all up and doing ourselves in.

How appropriate is this argument in the global warming debate? The debate is over. We need leadership who will drive the world community into action.

BDG123 said...

Btw, for those who are talking about the temperature forty years ago, the scientists are taking sames over hundreds of thousands of years. They know what the temperature was forty years ago. It is either on record or in a core sample.

muckdog said...

I think Global Warming is more of a political thing. It's happened bunches of times before, followed by cooling, and this cycle will go on and on. The politicians have turned it into an election year issue, because it is divisive and can rally a party's base.

But as a practical matter, I think we should stop burning fossil fuels because it's just plain dirty. Who wants dirty air and water? In addition, the places where we have to get most of our fossil fuels are inhabited by hostile natives. Whatever we can do to have clean energy independence, I'm all for it.

Alex Khenkin said...

"I am so tired of people who say it was warmer twenty five years ago or the earth goes through its own cycles and who are we to believe we may affect it. They are science dolts."
"There is no debate. Got it? NO DEBATE."
No, bgd123, I don't get it. Neither did Copernicus when told "the Sun is rotating around the Earth. We all can see it with our own eyes. There's no debate. Got it? NO DEBATE. Incase you don't get it, we'll burn you alive."
Neither did the doctor who believed stomach ulcers are caused by bugs. I mean, the scientific consensus was against him, wasn't it? The MAJORITY of doctors believed he was nuts. Until he was proven right, of course.
There is no "Truth" in science. There are theories to be tested and disproved. Cause-effect links are notoriously difficult, and often impossible, to establish. Science thrives on skepticism, not on "NO DEBATE". The day scientific questions are decided by majority consensus is the day science dies.
Small Investor Chronicles

Opened Eyes said...

Global warming is a test: believers are gullible statist cretins who want to tell others how to live.

rkb said...

Whether you want to believe the scientific arguments or not, it's the 'what if' that you should care about. Regardless of global warming and the human impact upon it, is the world not a better place if we stop destroying rainforests and stop buning fossil fuels? Even if it has zero impact (ha) I'd rather have more trees and less pollution. You shouldn't need a dire situtation to make you want to improve where and how you live, but if that's what it comes to we should all hope it's not too little, too late.

Jeff Matthews said...

BDG123 has a problem expressing views without resorting to Yahoo Message Board-type language.

Please, no cursing--whether you're brown or green.

Alex Khenkin said...

Jeff, does "gullible statist cretins" qualify as "cursing" or is it a quantifiable scientific assessment of the opponent's level of intelligence? Is being a "gullible statist" better than "gullible cretin", or simply "cretin"? Just wondering.

john lichtenstein said...

Jeff the eliminationist rhetoric on the issue is pretty common. Human caused global warming is the "right answer" because it has the potential to launch a multibillion dollar carbon trading industry. Talk to a few geologists, physicists, meteorologists, or applied math guys on the QT and you will see how thin support is for the AGW hypothesis. But nobody wants to say that in public. It's like naked short sales.

In fact, with the energy scams that I cover, the promoters shout out both the AGW and NSS line.

bradmeikle said...

Its happening wihout the question, and is a serious problem, among many created by world's dependence on oil.
On the topic of oil, oil politics and the current risks at hand the 3 books by Robert Baer are MUST reads. He was one of the top CIA agents in the middle east for over 20 years and his knowledge and insight is staggering. Helps explain why Oil has controlled election $ since Carter, and also why the avg mpg per car is the same today as 1981. "See No Evil" is the best one to start with.

PM said...

Putting the whole issue of cause aside, one must also consider the issue of limited resources.

If human action is the cause of global warming, then we could spend a bunch of money doing something about it.

Or we could spend a bunch of money doing something about other major issues like HIV/AIDS, malaria, chronic hunger and malnutrition, lack of access to clean water. The fact is that the same amount of money spent on any of these issues would have a greater positive impact on more people than the potential positive impact on all people potentially affected by global warming scenarios.

So let's acknowledge the world has a lot of problems and get serious about figuring out which ones we get the biggest bang for the buck doing something about.

George said...

The hubris displayed in some of these comments is scary. How many of you naysayers are climatologists, or have enough scientific background to understand the data and concepts involved in GW? Global climate is a metastable system with numerous feedback loops. The worst case scenario gets pretty ugly in such systems. You see trigger effects where everything is ok until a certain point is reached, then something happens that makes a lot of other things happen, and the system shifts very rapidly or even runs away uncontrolably. Examples include rapid ice melting that alters oceanic thermal transport, or release of large amounts of greenhouse gasses from permafrost melting or massive rainforest dieoff.

Here are some signs that you maybe need to brush up on your science:

-You do not know the difference between a clown who wrote a best selling book in the 70s and the worldwide community of climate scientists.

-You are not aware that the linkage between chlorofluorocarbons, among other things, and ozone destruction is well established, and an international ban on CFCs has been in place for years, resulting in a slow improvement in the ozone layer.

Science does indeed thrive on scepticism, but the sceptics need to understand the science. Scepticism that derives solely from economic self-interest, political ideology, or bull-headed ignorance is not helpful.

Hells_Satans said...

The 'truth' in science is not determined by majority, or even super-majority vote. It's determined, to the extent it can be, by the scientific method. Consensus is for political democracies and parliaments, or voting on an appetizer, not science.

Again, in previous Eras of world history, the CO2 count was 3x-12x higher than it is today. Were they all due to human intervention? Or just the relatively recent rise?

What stopped the CO2 spikes and caused it to plummet every other time?

Every 100k years or so, the global temp has spiked from 9 degrees below the mean to 3-3.5 degrees above it, occasionally in very, very short periods of time, geologically speaking. And every time it has fallen back down, as may be happening already for all we know.

Manhattan used to be covered by an ice sheet 4 miles thick. We are about 10k years into the current warming cycle, we're overdue for a cooling stage for some 2,000 years now. Some of you may find the books "Ice Age," and "Frozen Earth," the latter by Macdougall, an earth science professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography worth perusing.

In addition, any discussion without reference to Milankovitch cycles is fairly incomplete.

dsg8854 said...

Great commentary by Jeff, and a good follow-up by George.

It is breathtaking how individuals with little information and training are so dismissive of the concerns of mainstream climate scientists. I guess the possibility of global warming as a man-made phenomenon doesn't fit in with their political leanings.

The situation is analogous to the way one would handle a cancer diagnosis. One would go get the best medical advice at a top-notch university/teaching hospital, and then weigh the costs, benefits and uncertainties of different courses of action. The same people who have no respect for the consensus of climate scientists are likely to rely gratefully on the consensus of oncologists.

Are there any futures markets to allow one to speculate on global temperatures? As far as insurance is concerned, the insurance market *is* concerned. Note the comments by Lloyd's recently.

Alex Khenkin said...

I watched Al Gore's The Inconvenient Truth over the weekend. First off, it's a really good movie, well-made and engaging (where was THIS Gore in 2000?). Second, it confirmed my basic previous understanding of the facts:
· Anyone denying the fact of GW is either ignorant of the data or willingly ignoring them;
· People who say "GW is just a theory" have no understanding of what a scientific theory is, or a difference between observable facts and theories explaining them;
· This is a freight train with no brakes that has left the depot on a slope; we better start figuring out how to deal with the consequences, because even if we stopped emitting CO2 now (an impossibility) the changes are baked in the cake, and we better prepare for the range or consequences.
I had issues with some of his points, but it was a very solid presentation. Unfortunately, it appears that he's preaching to the choir, mostly. Hope I'm wrong about that.
Small Investor Chronicles

Pele said...

A very interesting series of posts. Lots of opinions.I have mine. The essay by Naomi Oreskes in the 12/04 edition of Sciecne is an example, for me, of the best evidence.
It is very short and worth the read. The scientific consensus is very very clear, but the scientific debate is not over. new research is comming out all the time. The unfortunate and inconvienent truth for all of us is that most of the new evidence points to faster warming and more positive feedbacks.

Fossil fuels have been the enablers of industrial society and the great wealth is has created, which we benefit from. massive climate changes have happened before and the earth has survived, so has humankind, and the probablity is very high that we, as a species will be able to adapt to what ever changes we cause. (many other species will not) It will just be a very different world for a few hundered or thousand years, most likely one less hospitable, but maybe, maybe, maybe not. Do we feel lucky?