Searching for Climate Change

As every Republican knows, all the hoopla about climate change is just so much bullroar. These so-called scientists, besides conspiring to trick the world, can’t even agree on their own lies.

Well, OK, there are a few Republicans who actually understand what global warming is about, and what science does. Unfortunately, the single most accurate indication that you do not understand global warming, and by extension science in general, is whether you are a Republican in Congress. The official position that every Republican must adhere to is that there is no such thing as global warming, and none of them dare to say otherwise. Apparently, many Republicans actually believe that the whole subject is some sort of worldwide liberal conspiracy. It remains unexplained how and why many hundreds of highly respected climate scientists from all parts of the planet secretly colluded over the past forty years to deceive the whole world about the matter.

Fortunately, there are a few people who understand, and who understand the urgency for steps to address the coming changes. The leadership of Chicago, for example. An extensive program is under way there to alter the city environment for the expected warmer climate before it arrives in full force. Some of the things the city is doing are to repave many streets with water-porous paving to build groundwater, to increase protective tree canopy by planting tree species from warmer climates, to encourage rooftop green spaces, and much more.

What I want to do here, though, is explain a little about how scientists study global climate and suggest why it is such an extremely complex topic.

Imagine that you have lived in the same place all your life, and that you have recorded the high and low temperatures every day during that entire time, and are finally going to make a big graph from your data. First you look at a single day, the coldest overnight temp to the warmest afternoon temp. Nothing to see there. But when you plot every single reading on a gigantic chart, patterns emerge. Just looking at the chart as a whole, you can see that temperatures rise and fall every year, colder in winter, hotter in summer. No surprise there. Then you notice that the yearly swings go up and down a little bit every eleven years or so. That’s the eleven-year sun cycle, which sends us a bit more radiation on that cycle. Then you take three steps back, and you notice that the entire chart moves slightly upward from your first measurements on the left to the last ones on the right. Wow! Global warming!

Not quite. What you have is only a single measurement, temperature, at a single place, your back yard, for a very limited time, less than a century. Now let’s go global, the way scientists do.

Every 100 miles over the entire globe you will take temperature and a number of other measurements on a continuous basis. There will be 20 layers of measurement, into the atmosphere and the ocean. There will be many thousands of data collection points.

You will also measure wind conditions, moisture, and ocean current. You will study slow changes such as changes in ocean temperature as air temperature changes. You will study the effect of snow cover, and try to find out whether increased moisture means more clouds, and what that will change. There is melting permafrost, and changing biology, ocean thermal patterns, which are both horizontal and vertical, glacier melt, the molecular makeup of the atmosphere. There are measurements from the distant past, such as ice cores. On and on. Each element that is studied is incorporated into the model. There are complex formulae that try to explain and predict changes from the millions upon millions of data points collected. Obviously, you’re not going to do this on your calculator; it will take a supercomputer.

Our daily weather forecast on TV uses a similar, but much more limited, model to generate the colorful graphics we see. The goal here is to tell us what the weather this week will be. For global climate models these vast data and their formulae attempt to statistically predict the future. They don’t predict specific events, such as the recent swarms of tornadoes. They just say it is likely there will be more and worse tornadoes. There are several such global models, and sometimes they have disagreed. When that happens, the scientists examine their formulas and the assumptions that underlie them in order to improve them, and gather more data. Even with different formulas, the different models should predict the same thing. Over time, all of the models have gotten better, and in more agreement.

How do we know these models accurately predict the future? By plugging in the best numbers we have for a past period, looking at the prediction, and comparing it to what actually happened. Replaying history. Obviously, no model is much good if its predictions for the past don’t match what really happened. But they do, and each time more data is added and adjustments are made in the many underlying formulae, the predictions become more accurate.

Every single one of these global models indicates rising global temperatures for the future. Not steadily rising temperatures, but temperatures rising at an ever-increasing rate. All the graphs rise slowly as they move from the past on the left to the future on the right. As the right edge of the graph is approached, the line of measurement rockets skyward, particularly as we reach the present, and move into the predicted future. The predictions have tended to become more extreme as time has passed and the models have improved. It seems to always be worse than we had thought.

Not all of the consequences of climate change are known, but very few of them suggest an improvement in the conditions for human life anywhere, especially for a geometrically increasing population moving in the direction of ten billion people.

Anyone who thinks global warming isn’t happening must explain why every single model of global climate, each of them evaluating billions of data points, each managed by a team of eminent scientists, shows the same thing.

I would very much appreciate thoughtful comments on this or any other piece. However, I will reject any comment that is not signed. JP


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