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I got excited enough after reading Harold Amblers piece on The Huffington Post that I spent a couple o hours composing a reply.  A reply that is 3x longer than Huff Post will let me submit.  Rather than trying to chop parts- I will post the reply here.  

His criticizing the use of "climate change", and demanding an apology from Al Gore, gave me flashbacks from many arguments from with my rather conservative family.  My writing it increases the chances I will sleep well tonight.  His thesis begins with:

First, the expression "climate change" itself is a redundancy, and contains a lie. Climate has always changed, and always will. There has been no stable period of climate during the Holocene, our own climatic era, which began with the end of the last ice age 12,000 years ago. During the Holocene there have been numerous sub-periods with dramatically varied climate...
 
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Dear Harold Ambler: “Climate Change” is Real

I have concerns about how flippant you are in this article. Though I am not an expert in the climate sciences, I am a scientist. You may study climate more that I do, but from reading this article, I would be surprised if you are a scientist.

This piece reminds me of conversations I have with my sister who is a very intelligent, educated, articulate... creationist. When I state scientific facts related to the creation of the universe and evolution- her response is to either 1) state that scientists need to do a better job of communicating to the public- unless she fully understands a concept, she is not going to believe it; or 2) point out gaps in the scientific understanding as proof that the scientist is 100% wrong.

#1- Yes, all scientists need to communicate with the public better. But the lay person (this includes you) needs to understand that science is complicated; generally very complicated. And the skills that make us good scientists often compete with communicating to a non-scientific audience. And even if we are communicating well, complicated concepts need to be simplified- “climate change” is an example of this. Should it be called “historically aberrant heat and mass transfer fluctuations correlating with modified delta functions of atmospheric trace gasses and the role of the human primate population and technology”?

Every few years I publish a paper, or perform an experiment that causes interest from the scientific and/or popular press. When this happens I cringe at the string of simplifications I need to make for it to be understandable. The first few times I was contacted by the press I stuck to “scientific purity”- and the reporter, understandably, threw my comments in the trash. This is a disservice to both the public and the science- a thoughtful, but difficult compromise needs to be made. The inevitable result is simplification; a simplification that any well-informed member of the public can find faults in. It is imperfect. But it is my responsibility, I believe, to communicate in a way that is both broadly understandable and correct.

Thus, “climate change” is a simplification. But all of your given examples highlight the validity of it use, not its absurdity.

...such as the warm Holocene Optimum (7,000 B.C. to 3,000 B.C., during which humanity began to flourish, and advance technologically), the warm Roman Optimum (200 B.C. to 400 A.D., a time of abundant crops that promoted the empire), the cold Dark Ages (400 A.D. to 900 A.D., during which the Nile River froze, major cities were abandoned, the Roman Empire fell apart, and pestilence and famine were widespread), the Medieval Warm Period (900 A.D. to 1300 A.D., during which agriculture flourished, wealth increased, and dozens of lavish examples of Gothic architecture were created), the Little Ice Age (1300 to 1850)...
Your examples occur over a period of hundreds to thousands of years. Our current state of “global warming” is occurring over a period of decades to tens of decades. In a relative sense, this is literally climate change. Your shortest example, the Roman Optimum, contributed to both the rise and fall of the Roman Empire- this example appears most relevant to the United States. How we respond to this crisis, as the current equivalent of the Roman Empire, will shape our future as a great society.

Do you suggest that at the introduction of climate change, Gore should give a history of the Optimum period?  As an introductory semester long class in climate change, Yes. For a 45 minute slide show (or a 90 second press piece)- it is impossible. And the public and science would be damaged if he tried.

#2- you point out many gaps in the scientific understanding of climate change, the role of humans, and relative contribution of carbon dioxide v. other factors. It does not change these three simple facts: 1) the Earth is warming at a rate that is unprecedented- short of a huge asteroid or volcanic eruption; 2) humans, by burning fossil fuels, are releasing enormous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are increasing at a rapid rate; and 3) carbon dioxide, even at concentrations that appear trivial compared to nitrogen and oxygen, results in the Earth retaining heat.

Indeed, increased temperature leads to increased evaporation of the oceans, which leads to increased cloud cover (one cooling effect) and increased precipitation (a bigger cooling effect). Within certain bounds, in other words, the ocean-atmosphere system has a very effective self-regulating tendency.
Yes, this is very complicated. No, scientists do not understand everything. We never do and never will. But facts are facts.  And... I think much of what you use to refute an understanding actually is supported by the science: warming causes greater release of carbon dioxide which causes more warming...

Finally, as a scientist I will testify that I trust the scientific process and scientific culture. We have a tendency to be incredibly critical of each other- I have seen fist fights and personal disparagements over seemingly trivial differences in findings. No one would be allowed to make the sweeping conclusions Gore is making without public ridicule by the best, most informed members of this community. (BTW- “flat Earth” refers to ignoring facts for preferred beliefs)

Mr. Gore has gone so far to discourage debate on climate as to refer to those who question his simplistic view of the atmosphere as "flat-Earthers." This, too, is right on target, except for one tiny detail. It is exactly the opposite of the truth.
Your raise many very interesting points for conversation and discussion. I would be very interested to see a dialog between you and a scientist on these points- I would learn a lot. But when what you are saying is framed in the context that “Gore owes you an apology,” I just cannot take you seriously. Your form of drama is not honestly communicating to the public.

PS- you need citations for your many claims.  The internets make this easy.  Your one link does not work.  

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Originally posted to flymice on Sun Jan 04, 2009 at 03:52 PM PST.

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