Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Holes in the Data

In a way the climate change debate is like taking your car to the repair shop without any knowledge of how automobiles work. Without being a mechanic it's hard to challenge whatever it is the mechanic tells you needs fixing. Actually, to make it more precise the mechanic would then call you a flat-earth, faked moon landing ignoramus if you dared challenge his assessment.

The press has been feasting on global warming doom lately, heralding stories about irreversible damage and warming beyond the expectation of all the supercomputers. Sounds like the perfect prescription for another rescue bill, this time on a planetary scale. BTW, such stories are nothing new--we apparently passed the point of know return several years ago--but maybe they think such approaches are more effective now with a friend in charge. Regardless of what some old flat-earth astronaut might think!

Meanwhile, this story got very little attention when it was released back in Decemeber, coming from the recently unmuzzled researchers at NOAA (try Googling for 'global warming hole' versus 'global warming irreversible' for a fun contrast):
"The continent as a whole is warming, mostly as a result of the energy sources we are using," William J. Brennan, acting administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said at a briefing on the nation's climate since 1951.

However, there is a "warming hole" where no change occurred in the center of the country, roughly between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachians, according to Martin Hoerling of NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory.
Two things jump out besides the added emphasis. One, Brennan said "mostly as a result" (of humans) in reference to the warming. Mostly doesn't mean all. Fact is they simply do not know the actualy contributory percentage of humans, which is a huge problem when deciding policy.

For instance, if one takes the end of the Little Ice Age as a starting point for the warming then our rise through 1998 has been fairly moderate. Using the Midieval Warm Period there's not much overall warming at all. Some like to use the begining of the industrial age in the late 1800s, which produces a sharper rise (although the no-warming period between 1940-1980 is not well-inderstood). More radical types use 1980 as the beginning point with the resulting sharp blade of a hockey stick, which looks the most grim and man-made. But there is no general consensus other than 1) it's getting warmer, and 2) CO2 has also risen.

For what it's worth, during their VP debate the candidates were asked whether they believed global warming was man-made or otherwise. Palin was lampooned for saying essentially the same thing as the NOAA guy--man has some impact but it's not known how much. Biden arrogantly jumped in and said of course it's all man-made, going so far as later mocking her reply in post-debate interviews:

A nice example of what's wrong with the entire debate. Biden could no more explain what is causing these 'warming holes' than a man in the moon but he knows whatever's causing them must be Palin's fault (or any other Republican du jour). It's what "good" policicians do. It's why they have no business in this debate. Same goes for Inhofe.

Here's a graph of temperature from a station that's apparently part of the warming hole, called Memphis:

Only a vague long-term trend but nothing to be alarmed about.

Before serious political and social mitigation is enacted they really need to be able to answer more questions with specificity, like what caused a large swath of the the biggest GHG-producing country in the world to be left out in the cold? After all, voters there might logically assume they are being asked to pay to fix a problem that is not directly affecting them.

More likely they'll one of those "pay me now, or pay me later" mechanic answers.

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