Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My contrarian opinion on global warming

Energy equals heat equals life.

Humans are heating up the planet.  We're alive and moving and generating heat.  We are also burning and heating things because movement requires energy, which is heat.  And a whole lot of our burning and heating has chemical side effects, most of which seem to cause additional heat.  So it is no stretch to say that we are heating the planet more than we need to.

So what?

Without understanding the context of our situation it is impossible to judge if this heat is a good or bad thing.  All of the global warming alarmists clearly assume that heating the planet is bad.  Maybe they know something I don't about the planet's prevailing temperature patterns, and so they can tell that this heating will somehow cross a tippping point of desctuction.  But I don't think so.  I think they are just blindly assuming that global warming is bad.  I'm not saying that because I think they are fools or evil, I just haven't been able to find them explain in context why this is such a big deal.

Global warming has been happening without us, off and on, for billions of years.  The planet has never had a stable temperature.  There have been many ice ages and many hot periods in between.  I don't think that the dinosaurs were burning a lot of oil to heat the place up.  But it did heat up.  And then it cooled.  Over and over again many times before humans reached the technological sophistication to begin impacting the planet's temperature in any meaningful way.

Just because humans started heating things up doesn't mean that all of the other heating and cooling influences stopped at a magical equilibrium.

And just because there is an ideal temperature range for human life (or at least for the societies we have built so far) does not mean that the planet has any responsibility to convenience us by staying within that range.

Earth is not a closed system.  It is a tremendously complex system with both independent and dependent actors.  Most of the actors contribute energy.  Some of the actors deflect energy (and thus effect cooling.)

The independent actors contribute whatever energy (heat) that they contribute for their own reasons.  Each one has it's own cycles--peaks and troughs of energy output--that are not effected by what is going on here on Earth.

The sun contributes vast amounts of energy, and the amount of energy varies from day to day and decade to decade.

The moon contributes a tremendous amount of energy--enough energy to move every drop of water in the oceans several feet up and then several feet down, over and over every day.

Space debris, on balance, probably cools more than it heats.  But it clearly does both--it adds it's own energy and reflects some of the sun's energy away from Earth.

The core of the planet is molten rock.  That rock sometimes breaks through the surface and both heats (lava) and cools (dust clouds) the surface of the planet.

Animal activity (including humans and all of our burning, heating and chemical reagents) also acts mostly independent of the surface temperature of the planet.

These independent actors are the primary drivers of the overall temperature planet.  If the sun goes through a warm period, if the moon goes through a closer portion of it's irregular orbit, if we pass through a portion of the universe with less space dust, if the center of the Earth breaks out in a large number of small continually-running eruptions, or if we burn a significantly higher amount of fossil fuel...then the planet will go through a warmer period.  Since none of these independent actors coordinate their activities, the overall temperature fluctuates in seemingly random patterns.

The dependent actors are more difficult to understand.  These actors react to (are caused by) the global temperature.  There are a lot of theories about dependent actors, but not much broad agreement.

As the planet cools, ice forms.  Ice reflects the sun's energy, which seems to reinforce the cooling.  So ice is both an effect of cooling and a cause for more cooling.

As the planet cools and ice forms, plants die.  CO2 builds up in the atmosphere because there are fewer plants to photosynthesize it back into oxygen.  CO2 is a greenhouse gas, which tends to increase the temperature.

There are many other examples, but they quickly get hard to follow.  These dependent factors act in a consistent manner-even if we don't understand them all.  While the independent actors provide large changes over long periods of time the dependent actors seem to provide short-term cycles.

Geologists seem to be in a general concensus that the glaciers from the poles have reached the equator at least once.  And all glaciers appear to have melted at least once.  Obviously we don't have temperature records from those periods.  We can calculate what the minimum high temperature would be to melt all of the glaciers.  But we can't make an educated guess of how much hotter it got.  Similarly, we can compute the maximum low temperature to have the north and south pole glaciers meet, but we can't tell how much colder it got beyond that.

Even if we cease all human technology, we will hit that maximum or minimum temperature again--because human technological influence was not one of the causes of either of those temperature extremes.  The planet will do that again, probably both the high and low temperature extremes, whether we are here or not.

Minimizing the human heat output might help postpone our destruction, if the planet is going to continue in the current heating trend.  If we have peaked and are headed towards the next cooling then we should crank up our heat output.

Do you know whether the planet is in a heating or cooling phase?  Taht seems critically important.

To the best that I can determine from the research I have seen, there is a big cycle (that operates over a period of tens of millions of years) and a small cycle (that operates over a period of a hundred thousand years.)

The Earth's long-term peak temperature seemed to occur about 50 million years ago (the Eocene optimum).  Since then we have been in a long-term cooling phase.  Over the long-term cycle it looks like we are still in a cooling phase.  Because of the short-term changes of the small cycle, we will not be able to tell we turned that corner for a million years after it happens.  I'm not sorried too much about the million-year trends (because they take so long.)  But it is instructive to know that we are on the bottom portion of the long-term temperature cycle.  Stated another way: the Earth has been a whole lot hotter than this, but not much cooler than this (if the theories behind the long-term temperature measurements are correct.)

Over the short term we seem to be approaching the mini-peak.  Ignoring the effects of man-made global warming, maybe we have one or two degrees of temperature increase left.  That might could take another thousand years to occur, at maximum.  But the short-term temperature cycle clearly indicates that we are due to shed about 8 degrees within the next 5 to 10 thousand years.  This will be the first peak and drop in the mini-cycle since the industrial revolution, so human activity will impact that.  But over the next 10 thousand years the other (non-human made) temperature inputs will be acting to cool the planet by around 8 degrees.

My read of the short-term cycles is that human-made global warming will get offset by the independent actors cooling the planet for the next 10 thousand years.  Maybe we haven't peaked yet, but cooling trends will help us out soon.

After the 10 thousand year 8 degree temperature drop we will see erratic small temperature changes for the next 80 thousand years or so.  And then there will be another fast mini-peak where the planet heats up 8 degrees in a very short period.  That's what the planet has been doing for at least the last 400 thousand years.

What this data says to me is that worrying about global warming in the very short term is stupid.  We're about to get a cooling-off that will help us through the next thousand years.  It very well might be the case that before the year 3000 people will be actively looking for ways to heat the planet back up a few degrees.  Around a hundred thousand years from now there is another fast 8-degree warm-up.  Depending upon what man-made global warming has done to the planet leading up to that time, that sudden 8-degree warm-up looks like a species killer.

Based upon all of that, I think that we should do several things:
1. We should decide on a target global temperature range.  I think we probably have a decade to debate and discuss this.

2. We should do more studies of both man-made and naturally occurring temperature inputs, and develop a much more detailed model of how this planet works.  That model might tell us of another species killer that is closer in.  I think that we need to have a reasonable model in place within the next 50 to 100 years.

3. We should develop strategies for offsetting the coming 8-degree cooling, at least enough to remain in our target range.  We have generations before we have to put that in place, though.  We need to be ready to act on this within the next 500 years.  Depending upon what we figure out about man-made global warming and our agreed-upon target temperature range, this might be moot.  The 8-degree drop might just be welcomed.

4. We should develop strategies to offset both man-made heating and then the coming (80,000 years from now) 8-degree sudden warm-up.  We can't really predict our deadlines on this until we have the better models in place.

It would be truly helpful if we could figure out the primary cause(s) of the hundred thousand year 8-degree peak.  That information would be really useful in our strategy for offsetting the next 8-degree peak.

On a barely-related note, if I were looking for life on another planet I would first look for moons.  I would not bother looking on any planet without a moon.  Whatever life-forms might develop in whatever soup concoctions (with or without H2O); that life will not develop without the constant stirring action of a moon.

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