As citizens of a self-governing nation, we should, we must, challenge everything.
Every assertion, claim, proclamation and dictate should not escape close examination. No matter how certain, how dogmatic and how obvious it may be. No matter how complex, seemingly incomprehensible, settled and confusing it may be. A self-governing nation cannot afford to "take someone's word for it."
Which brings us to the subject of climate warming. (Yes, "warming." Climate "change" is not in dispute. The issue is whether we are causing the climate to warm.) Its dire predictions are based on computer models — mathematical representations that attempt to accurately describe every important factor that affects our climate, work out the interactions among them and unravel that Gordian knot of data into a realistic description of the future. The models are the key, deserving more examination than they've received.
The model must accurately describe the interactions among them, not an easy task. Climate is an analog system, in which everything is happening at once. Computer models aren't; they use discrete bits of digital data, limiting the models' ability to accurately describe the reality of the climate flux.
With each variable interacting with the others in unique ways, you've got to pick out the ones you think are more important, according to your theory and observations. But which variables and what is the power of each to impact the others? The effects may not be linear; a doubling of one variable may not cause the doubling of another variable. In any case, the feedback of one part of the system is constantly changing the other ingredients.
The danger of leaving something out of the equation or mistakenly emphasizing one variable over another can lead to legitimate doubts, if not rejection of the model. One such omission is the failure of some models to accurately measure the troposphere, the dynamic and lowest layer of the atmosphere, which contains about 80 percent of the atmosphere's mass and nearly all of its water vapors and aerosols, Richard McNider, distinguished professor of science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, explained. In an email, he told me, "Observations of the deep atmosphere by satellites and balloons show that since 1979 the troposphere has not warmed to a large degree despite the fact that this is where models show the CO2 warming signal is largest." (Carbon dioxide generated by human activity is hypothesized to be the major culprit in climate warming.)
To oversimplify: The models for climate warming typically overestimate the temperature increase in the troposphere. That's key because lower temperatures are unable to hold a lot of water vapor, a key ingredient in climate warming. With less water vapor in the troposphere, the predictions of catastrophic warming are overstated.
He noted: "Models also do not capture the asymmetry in day and night warming over the last century. The fact that maximum temperatures which are more connected to the deep atmosphere through higher boundary layer heights are warming at a much smaller rate than minimum temperatures is also consistent with the satellite and balloon data sets.
"Also," he continued, "without increased water vapor in the atmosphere, impacts such as more extreme precipitation events cannot occur. Models also have not captured the high latitude warming in the arctic.
"All of the impacts that have been asserted such as more droughts, greater extreme precipitation events, more hurricanes, more tornadoes, etc. that are supposedly happening now are suspect because the major signal of deep warming of the global atmosphere has not occurred to any large degree."
McNider's research has been challenged; critics say the models' overstatement of tropospheric warming is merely an insignificant detail. Or they discount the validity of the temperature observations.
The point here isn't whether he's right or wrong. It's that there are legitimate scientific debates yet to be had, with all views equally funded and regarded. That can't happen when the science is politicized, as is climate warming.
Climate warming may turn out to be a fact, as its apostles insist, but it has a long way to go before it can be declared to be fact. Respect for scientific inquiry still demands an open mind on the issue.
Dennis Byrne, a Chicago writer, blogs in the Barbershop on chicagonow.com.
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