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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...


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.  

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

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Comment Preferences

  •  Climate is not nearly so self-regulating (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Naniboujou, A Siegel

    as the economy. How's that working out, anyway?

    If you kids don't behave, I'm turning this universe around RIGHT NOW! - g_d

    by Clem Yeobright on Sun Jan 04, 2009 at 03:58:17 PM PST

  •  Why not give him this one? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    forgore, TheCid

    First, the expression "climate change" itself is a redundancy, and contains a lie. Climate has always changed, and always will.

    I happen to agree that it is bad framing.  (I may be wrong on this, but I think global warming deniers were actually the ones who coined the phrase climate change because it sounded less alarming than global warming.)

    I think we should be calling it something like unnatural climate change or climate chaos.

    God, I miss Paul Wellstone.

    by Naniboujou on Sun Jan 04, 2009 at 04:08:55 PM PST

    •  BTW, good diary! eom (0+ / 0-)

      God, I miss Paul Wellstone.

      by Naniboujou on Sun Jan 04, 2009 at 04:09:28 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I'm OK with the broader focus (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      From a human standpoint, there's the old saw "Climate is what you expect. Weather is what you get." Global climate change may change what you should expect. That affects everything from insurance rates to defining critical habitat for endangered species to planning infrastructure to provide drinking water.

      Research on global climate change encompasses changes in the hydrological cycle, changes in land-atmosphere and ocean-atmosphere feedbacks, changes in typical atmospheric circulation patterns, changes in ocean circulation, fundamentals of such basics as how much solar energy various types of cloud reflect, and how different parts global ecosystems and global economic systems react and adapt (among other things). It gets beyond the (somewhat boring) question of whether a global average of weather station data and/or tropospheric temperature soundings is increasing and how fast. More interesting, and certainly more important, are all the other things that happen when increasing greenhouse gases trap more heat in the lower atmosphere.

      Saying that work trying to understand the multi-decadal dynamics of the global climate system, including human effects, is just studying "global warming" misses a lot of what's important. It reminds me of hearing Dana Rorhabacher say dismissively at a hearing "How much more money do we have to spend to prove global warming?" The framing of the question presumes that the reason for the research is the stupid political controversy, rather than genuinely trying to figure out how the climate system works before it shakes us like water off off a wet dog.

    •  It's anthropogenically driven climate change (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      A Siegel, forgore

      that is the problem.  THAT has never happened before.

      Behind every great man, there's a woman saying "Stand up straight"

      by captainlaser on Sun Jan 04, 2009 at 05:20:02 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Normally Call these People (0+ / 0-)

    Crackpots. My brother greatly dislikes it when he gets deep into, for instance, DDT, or Climate Change conversations and I simply bring up that he's a crackpot fighting quantitative observations.

  •  water vapor is a very effective greenhouse gas (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ORDem, flymice

    The HuffPost author talking about the ocean-atmosphere system being "self-regulating" neglects to mention the positive feedback with water vapor itself. Without the negative cloud feedback, water vapor might well have given us a runaway greenhouse effect, boiling off the oceans millions of years ago.

    There does seem to be an interesting cloud feedback that keeps open ocean waters from going much above 29 C. On the other hand, during geologic periods when average temperatures were much warmer than the Holocene there's been much stronger heat transport from the equatorial regions towards the poles. How much of that was atmospheric (e.g., severe storms) versus oceanic (enhanced poleward currents) isn't a settled question or represented well in established global climate models. If severe storms were a major contribution to enhanced poleward heat transport, we could be in for a bumpy ride.

    •  self regulating (0+ / 0-)

      Is carbon dioxide self regulating in some way?  Over hundreds of years if not tens of years?  

      I ~somewhat knew that water vapor is- but certainly could not articulate it on your level.  

      •  CO2 regulation (0+ / 0-)

        Roughly half of the carbon dioxide emitted by burning fossil fuels doesn't stay in the atmosphere. Some of that is more CO2 getting dissolved in ocean water, but another piece is an enhanced terrestrial CO2 sink (about which we don't know nearly enough). So there's a degree of short-term CO2 regulation or negative feedback. It's just not able to keep up with the rate we're burning fossil fuels and clearing forest.

        There's also a credible explanation for the end of "snowball Earth" episodes that involves carbon dioxide regulation at very long time scales. The problem is that ice sheets reflect a lot more solar energy than oceans, so once an ice age gets extensive enough the oceans can more-or-less freeze over from the cooling effect of that positive feedback.

        Frozen oceans drastically reduce rainfall on any remaining bare land and three main mechanisms for reducing atmospheric CO2 concentrations are nearly shut down (photosynthesis, rock weathering/soil formation, and exchange between deep ocean water and surface waters). Nonetheless, the heat engine in the Earth's interior continues to run. Carbon-rich rocks from previous times continue to get melted as they subduct into the lower crust and mantle. Erupting volcanoes emit carbon dioxide which builds up over time, until finally there's so much CO2 in the atmosphere that the ice melts and the Earth switches back from 'mostly ice' to 'mostly ocean'.

        So yes, over very long time scales you can think of photosynthesis and volcanic activity acting in opposite directions to regulate CO2. Those combine with large buffering pools (carbon in soils and dissolved CO2 in the ocean) and an extremely large reservoir (carbon-rich sedimentary rocks). Most of the large amount of CO2 in the atmosphere when the Earth formed is now tied up in sedimentary rock.

    •  Interesting comment (0+ / 0-)

      There does seem to be an interesting cloud feedback that keeps open ocean waters from going much above 29 C.

      I think they're called hurricanes. (/partial snark)

      Behind every great man, there's a woman saying "Stand up straight"

      by captainlaser on Sun Jan 04, 2009 at 05:21:38 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Tropical clouds vs. hurricanes (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        That's another area of uncertainty. When do the cloud caps over warm water become severe storms and when do they use the energy some other way? Hurricanes need high heat flux from warm water, but they also need vorticity to get them spinning and strong outflow to maintain a sufficient thermal gradient. Other sources of atmospheric turbulence can break up the outflow and keep the storm from intensifying. Those warm waters are necessary conditions for hurricanes, but not sufficient by themselves.

        It'll be interesting when computer power gets to where we can run global models that also resolve hurricane dynamics well. With enough extra heat in the atmosphere and surface ocean does it get like the peak of the 2005 Atlantic season, with hurricanes marching across the tropical Atlantic ocean one after another? For how much the year?

  •  Harold Ambler is "Gulp" a friend of mine. I had (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ORDem, forgore

    no idea he spent his spare time spewing bullshit on Huffington post.

    I am going to tear him a new one next time we get together.

    Total bullshit!!!

    "The great way is not difficult. Simply let go of all likes and dislikes." Buddha

    by independentvoice on Sun Jan 04, 2009 at 05:13:23 PM PST

  •  I can tell you this about Harold: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ORDem, Dinclusin

    He is a nobody trying to become a somebody.

    He is a guitarist struggling to pay the bills for his young daughter.

    He is alcoholic with ten years of sobriety.

    He left the north east because he and his wife have been affected by the deer tick.

    So he is, in my opinion, casually attempting to get some attention with the climate change issue.

    He is therefore the worst kind of social climber.

    I may be wrong. But probably not.

    "The great way is not difficult. Simply let go of all likes and dislikes." Buddha

    by independentvoice on Sun Jan 04, 2009 at 05:19:00 PM PST

  •  How did this get on HuffPo to begin with? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel, Dinclusin, Econaut

    Does anyone know?  They don't seem to have otherwise been in the habit of posting this sort of garbage.

    flymice, as far as I can see (and I've seen a lot of these things), there is nothing original in Ambler's piece.  The climate denialosphere is mainly endless iterations of cutting and pasting the same old crap, amd refuting it is both tiresome and tiring.

    Fortunately there are a number of sites devoted to compiling the refutations in an accessible way.  This one, e.g., should serve to cover most of the specifics Ambler cites.

    Re "climate change," it's a better term than "global warming" since the latter fails to encompass things like droughts.  Note also that it's been IP"CC" since the early '90s (and use of the term actually goes much farther back), so there's nothing new here.

    Also, "global warming" has gotten crticism for being rather too innocuous-sounding.  John Holdren has been promoting "climate disruption" for a while, which IMHO is an even better term than "climate change" since it indicates the direction of the change and that it won't be benign.  

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