The history of climate science, for a denier in my comments.

Someone apparently objects to my comment moderation policy, and seems to have that delightful conservative reflex of trying to make people they disagree with angry. I’m posting this not to put a target on the commenter, but because he serves as a useful reminder that there are still a lot of people out there who don’t know this stuff. I would say that it is partly their own fault, but not entirely. We know for a fact that the fossil fuel industry has known about this for decades, and that they responded by pouring millions of dollars into a decades-long propaganda campaign. The amount of misinformation on this issue has been staggering. In my opinion those responsible are guilty of crimes against humanity. That said, I don’t think everyday deniers are entirely blameless.

At this point, I feel that ignorance on such a big issue – and it’s big even if you’re in denial about the science – is at least partly a choice. All of this information is publicly available. Almost all of it I learned after I graduated college. Getting a bachelor’s degree in biology definitely gave me the tools to better evaluate the science for myself, but any scientist knows that that’s nowhere close to expertise in any branch of science. I’m more trained than a “layman”, but I don’t think that’s saying much.

Even without that training, the world is full of people who have explained this stuff in a myriad of different ways. For whatever reason, those explanations haven’t gotten through to this particular commenter, so I figured I’d put in my oar.

“Bigots, doomers, and trolls will have their comments edited or deleted. ”
Guess I should do my best to be considered one of those. BTW I consider YOU a ‘doomer’. It isn’t that I do not ‘believe’ in ‘climate change’. Rather I recognize no reason why it should not – unpredictably, but likely conforming to past patterns of experience in large part. It is fun to hear you refer to disbelief in anthropogenic global warming / climate change as a matter for a ‘conspiracy theory’ – although when government levies a tax it is no secret what their theft is about. Nor is it especially credible that man should be responsible for change decades hence. Such a projection is still the speculation it ever was. Not even the I.P.C.C. calls its computer emulation of the function of crystal balls factual – though if one is silly enough it can be called credible. There is no data – nor can there be. Things which have not happened remain unmeasurable..

I tend to allow a little leeway for discussion, disagreement, and so on. My problem comes when we enter the realm of advocacy, or when we start going in circles. The “doomers” in question are those who think our extinction due to climate change is inevitable and near, and therefor we shouldn’t bother doing anything about it. It’s the flip side of those who say the problem isn’t happening, so we shouldn’t do anything about it.

As to your claim that it’s “not especially credible”, I’m afraid the only two reasons why you’d say that are dishonesty or ignorance. I’ll assume – for now – that it’s ignorance, and we’ll see where that goes. To begin with, you seem to think that the field of climate science is a relatively new one.

It’s not.

We’ve known how CO2 interacts with heat in our atmosphere since 1856. When I say “known”, I mean that Eunice Foote was able to measure it then. Her work has since been confirmed countless times by countless people, and versions of it are still used as science fair projects to this day.

The first prediction that CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels would raise this planet’s temperature was in 1896, by Swedish chemist and physicist Svante Arrhenius. This wasn’t just a guess. He and many others had found evidence of past ice ages, and were studying what could cause such a thing to happen, when another scientist approached him with his evidence that carbon dioxide from burning coal was actually accumulating in the atmosphere. The prediction was made not based on random guesswork, but based on the measurable physical properties of carbon dioxide, and the measurable rate of increase in the atmosphere.

That was 126 years ago, also known as 12.6 decades.

When Arrhenius made the prediction, he calculated it would take around 3,000 years for the climate to warm enough for palm trees to grow in Sweden, and he was pretty happy about the idea. That was based on fossil fuel consumption in the 1890s, you understand. The rate of consumption has gone up a bit since then.

Already you can see that this isn’t a prediction NOW about something happening in the future, so much as a prediction from the past that we’ve checked over and over and over for over a century, and that has turned out to be accurate, no matter how many times we run the numbers.

This is what science is. It’s a method for taking information we know, and using it to make predictions, which are then tested.

The field of climate science continued after Arrhenius’ work, of course. The term “climate change” goes back to the 1930s, if memory serves, but it was in the late 1950s when things really kicked off. That’s when Charles Keeling started making some noise about what his CO2 measurements at Mauna Loa observatory were showing. This graph is known as “Keeling Curve“:

1958 is also when the first televised warning about climate change appeared on Bell Telephone Science Hour:

I want to emphasize, again, that all of this was literal decades before that warming was measurable. This is not something scientists came up with after the fact to explain warming that was being seen, it’s something scientists successfully predicted decades before it happened. In the case of Arrhenius, he predicted it and then died of old age decades before it happened. It was also – in case I need to tell you this – decades before computer models or the IPCC existed.

The creation of the IPCC was the moment when governments realized that they should at least look like they were doing something about this problem. That’s what the “I” of that acronym is – “Intergovernmental”.

That came almost a century after the first prediction of global warming caused by human activities, and it came because the evidence had already been overwhelming for years

This is no different from Eratosthenes measuring the circumference of the earth in 276 B.C.E., literally thousands of years before we were able to actually circumnavigate it whenever we wanted, or even go into space and take a look from the outside. It’s no different from our ability to predict that a dramatic increase in the number of new smokers THIS year, will lead to a measurable increase in cases of lung cancer a few decades down the line.

Every aspect of your life involves technology that came from predictions made decades or centuries before those predictions were realized. This is not the divine revelation of prophecy, it’s just a basic understanding of the material realities of our world.

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  1. Allison says

    Okay, from my layperson’s perspective, some no-brainers:

    1. The ocean temperatures have been rising; AFAIK, they’ve actually been rising a little faster than predicted. Since they don’t depend upon transient phenomena like weather patterns, they’re the most straightforward indicators.

    2. Ocean level rise has also been predicted and documented, as has the melting of glaciers. One thing I haven’t gotten a clear answer on: at such time as all the glaciers and ice caps melt, how high will the ocean levels get? I’m seeing claims of a few feet up to on the order of 10 meters or more. (As long as it’s under 20 m, my apartment is safe. But even 1 m will drown the rail line (Hudson Line) that gets people into NYC; it was under water when Hurrican Sandy came through.)

    3. It is known that storms, especially hurricanes, are driven by the heat energy from the oceans. So higher ocean temperatures means more big storms and worse ones. Well, here in the USA, at least, we’ve seen that.

    4. The effect of global warming on weather is less obvious, because weather is already affected by so many things in a non-linear manner. You can get colder winters in a few place because the warming shifts atmospheric and ocean currents, which the denialists use as “proof” that climate change isn’t happening. But the weather in the US West and Southwest has gotten a lot drier, as evidenced by the more frequent and severer fires. I’m also told that places like the Middle East are having unusually severe droughts, which is driving wars in places like Syria. And I notice that we rarely get the sort of regular snows that we used to, here in the USA Northeast. (“où sont les neiges d’antan?”)

    I’ll leave the rest to the experts.

  2. says

    Dude’s not even coherent, let alone plausible. And his deflection toward taxes immediately mark him as a childish twit who just doesn’t want to pay for anything or suffer any inconvenience for any common good.

  3. K says

    Anyone who’s spent time in one location can see the change in climate. It’s just so obvious that weather patterns from a decade ago are no longer the weather patterns currently existing–for example, last frost is occurring earlier in the year and first frost later. If you live near the ocean, you know that floods are happening more often and islands are losing ground to the rising ocean levels.

  4. moarscienceplz says

    Yep, but if his house gets flooded, I bet he will be first in line for government assistance, and probably complain that it’s not enough.

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