Hello from NC and frustrated
Posted: 12 February 2007 09:15 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Hi. I writing from North Carolina in the USA. I’ve been listening to POI for awhile now but after the Peter Singer episode I decided to join the forum. I’m getting really frustrated with how much the "truth" varies from source to source. For instance the recent report on global warming and that we are causing it and that we can stop it. I, being a layman, can go out and find conflicting information from resources with seemingly good credentutials that says that it would be happening anyway and that we are not the cause and cannot stop it. That threat of environmental catastrophy from warming or cooling is nothing new, etc….. Another one is Environmentalism. It seems to have become extremely politcised and I read an article that it has become much like a religion in that people are led to believe in things that have no basis in evidence from politicians. I guess that is more prevailent here in the US. I can’t afford nor understand scientific journals so what’s the average person that wants to do the right to do….I don’t know. I read something else that said that organic food was not really any better for us and in fact normally grown food has only trace amounts of toxins and that organic food still has toxins from accepted pesticides and so on blah blah blah. I’m just get so tired of it all. So maybe I can find some solace in the forum.
Ernie

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Posted: 12 February 2007 09:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Welcome Ernie. I certainly hear your frustration and confusion. There are so many problems here.

First and foremost is the complexity of the relevant science. Much of this is cutting-edge, and so for that very reason hasn’t been well understood yet by the general public.

Second is the simple fact that there are people with vested economic interests in obfuscating the results. Just as the fake-science “Tobacco Institute” spent years smearing mainstream science about tobacco’s link to lung cancer, some oil companies have funded questionable or bogus research on the link between carbon dioxide and climate change.

Third is the problem with journalists who are poorly educated in scientific issues, on short deadline, who do not help to clarify the relevant issues, instead giving knee-jerk “balanced time” to bogus science.

Fourth is the basic problem of scientific illiteracy among the general public. People learn science badly in school, don’t care to keep up with it in later life, and don’t hold their politicians, writers and journalists up to any sort of standards of scientific understanding. If anything, knowledge of science seems a public liability. Don’t get me started.

This is stuff that CFI attempts to clarify in its various publications, PoI, etc. Skeptical Inquirer is a perfect example. Or check out the better popular science publications, like Natural History magazine or Scientific American. But on cutting-edge topics you will get some fine differences of opinion. That’s part of the fun of them.

As for the specific things you mention about global warming, the environment and organic food, there is a lot to be said. There is no large-scale difference of opinion within scientific circles about the reality of global warming, or that it is caused by burning fossil fuels. And re. organics, the evidence that organic food is better for you is pretty close to nil. But that really isn’t the argument for growing food organically. It is rather that the powerful pesticides, hebicides and fertilizers used in conventional farming often have bad side effects on the general environment.

It should be noted, of course, that the downside to organic farming is that it is much less productive (calories per acre) than conventional farming. As a direct result it is relatively wasteful of land and will always be more expensive to produce than conventional. So organic agriculture is a tradeoff.

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Posted: 14 February 2007 04:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Thanks

Thanks Doug for responding.

I guess at times I know the things you mentioned and am not so frustrated. But then something comes along and send me into a tailspin. CFI and various publications will, I hope, keep me grounded.

Ernie

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Posted: 18 February 2007 08:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Ernie:

I too am new, from NC and frustrated with many of the same concerns.

Regarding global warming: We are long overdue for widespread use of clean energy. I think we must become better stewards of the resources available to us. If half of the R&D we’ve put into the use of fossil fuels were applied to Hydrogen power, wind power, ocean power, etc., I think we could have a much cleaner environment and reduce or eliminate our dependence on oil. Based on what I’ve read, it seems to me that continued use of oil at our current and predicted rates will be detrimental to our environment. Having said that, like you I am skeptical that we are hearing the whole story and some theories have become politicized beyond the merits of the actual science.  I have read about changes in the sun that seem to me would have something to do with our climate. This link, http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2006/21dec_cycle24.htm, describes a discovery showing an apparent link between Solar cycles and geomagnetic activity. While there may be global warming data somewhere that includes research of this type, I haven’t found one. Of course, I am assuming that the Sun may have something to do with our climate. Also, it is my understanding that the temperature of the sun has increased as much as 2 degrees of the last 200 years. Additionally, according to Geophysicists, the strength of Earth’s magnetic field has dropped 10% in the last 150 years. Could increased solar activity and temperature combined with a decrease in Earth’s magnetic field which protects us from the Solar wind, have an effect on our climate? Perhaps not, but I would like to find some models that take this information into account or indicate why it is not germane. If you or anyone reading this knows of a good place to get information on climate model source data and whether the above mentioned data are non sequiturs, please let me know. The information I have found could be wrong for the very reasons you mentioned in your introduction.

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Posted: 18 February 2007 10:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Re. the relation between the sun and global warming, see HERE , HERE , HERE and HERE .

One representative quote:

Regardless of any discussion about solar irradiance in past centuries, the sunspot record and neutron monitor data (which can be compared with radionuclide records) show that solar activity has not increased since the 1950s and is therefore unlikely to be able to explain the recent warming.

I would seriously doubt that any professional climatologist would be unaware of the role of solar radiation on climate; that, after all, is its driver. So I would be very surprised to hear that they hadn’t taken the sun into account.

Re. earth’s magnetic field, not entirely sure how that would be relevant, though I’m no climatologist. The magnetic field does keep deadly ionizing radiation from hitting the earth’s surface, however I am not sure that it actually helps cool the earth in any important way.

But again, I would be surprised if climatologists hadn’t taken this into account.

That said, clearly climate science in general deals only in rough estimates and generalities ... for that, witness the error bars in your weekly weather reports. But for all that, the stakes are high enough that really we will be forced to act one way or another with incomplete evidence. That’s far from ideal, but we don’t live in an ideal world ... and we have to face the fact that by doing nothing we are assuming that our best scientific evidence so far is incorrect. I for one would prefer not to bet that way, even if the probability the scientists are right is only 55% ...

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Posted: 18 February 2007 01:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Thanks for the links Doug. I will study these.

Here’s an example of what makes it difficult even for astute laypeople like Ernie and me:

One representative quote:

Regardless of any discussion about solar irradiance in past centuries, the sunspot record and neutron monitor data (which can be compared with radionuclide records) show that solar activity has not increased since the 1950s and is therefore unlikely to be able to explain the recent warming.

Compare that statement to the following quote from the NASA article I provided a link to:

Astronomers have been counting sunspots since the days of Galileo, watching solar activity rise and fall every 11 years. Curiously, four of the five biggest cycles on record have come in the past 50 years.

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Posted: 18 February 2007 02:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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[quote author=“Agregon”] Curiously, four of the five biggest cycles on record have come in the past 50 years.

Well, but as of yet this is statistically insignificant ... that is, it’s probably a random fluctuation. I’m sure part of the problem is that our “records” don’t go back very long.

Part of the error bars here, no doubt, but that’s unfortunately unavoidable.

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Posted: 18 February 2007 03:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Being a mere novice, I will concede that many respectable papers indicate this is statistically insignificant. Remember that I am not claiming that humanity’s activities are not a significant contributor to global warming. I believe they are. My concern is that the warming trend involves processes and correlations much bigger than what we have measured. I worry that political simplicity on these matters make people want to treat this as an either/or issue. The main thrust of my statements though is just to chime in with Ernie. How can laypeople or politicians tell what is and is not significant when respectable entities like NASA and RealClimate have obviously conflicting statements….not on statistical significance, but on the actual data.

I will study more. I will need a lot more convincing before I can dismiss measured increased activity in the Sun over the last 50 years as statistically insignificant. The sun is afterall 99.8% of the total mass of the entire solar system and the primary driver of our climate.

Here’s an interesting composite from NASA:

http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap060807.html

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Posted: 18 February 2007 03:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I certainly hear you; the evidence is very difficult for laypeople to interpret. But when you see statements like THESE , it makes it hard to say that politics is behind the claim that humans are the causally crucial part of the global warming puzzle. The American Association for the Advancement of Science is not a political organization, and yet one finds this statement:

When the models assessed whether the ocean warming could be caused by volcanic or solar activity, Barnett told reporters, the answer was stark: “Not a chance.”

For more complete and up-to-date info from the AAAS, check out THIS PAGE . Check THIS out in particular re. solar radiation.

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Posted: 18 February 2007 05:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Ernie:

Michael Crichton has the same problem:

http://www.crichton-official.com/speeches/speeches_quote05.html


More interesting reading I found in my adventures:
 
http://www.oism.org/pproject/s33p36.htm

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Posted: 19 February 2007 04:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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[quote author=“Agregon”]Michael Crichton has the same problem:

Well, he’s one source I wouldn’t take seriously. He’s a novelist, with a huge political axe to grind.

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Posted: 19 February 2007 05:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”]
Well, he’s one source I wouldn’t take seriously. He’s a novelist, with a huge political axe to grind.

I am ignorant but searching. What are Crichton’s political affectations?

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Posted: 19 February 2007 05:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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My understanding is that he is very right-wing ( He was asked to present his anti-global-warming views to the Bush White House ), although that in itself is not the problem. It’s rather that he misrepresents the relevant science. Check THIS out from CSI, and THIS out from realclimate.org.

I note from the above linked NYTimes article that “State of Fear helped [Crichton] win the American Association of Petroleum Geologists’ annual journalism award” in Feb. 2006. Nota Bene.

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