Sunday, March 9, 2008

Global Warming News!

When I first came upon this article, it took me a little while to verify that it was in fact real. But apparently, it is.

This is from the Sunday Herald in Scotland:

EVERY CLOUD could have a silver lining in the fight against global warming and the brighter, the better.

Professor Stephen Salter, a renowned engineer working at Edinburgh University, has hatched a plan to produce white clouds over the ocean to halt the catastrophic water heating associated with global warming.

In the worst-case scenario, where global "tipping points" such as the melting of the Arctic ice cap are reached, he claimed launching a fleet of cloud-producing drone ships could save Earth.

Salter, who is famed for inventing the "duck", a device that generates power by bobbing on waves, said: "We've got an explosive with the detonator in it, and when one goes off, it could trigger other explosives. That's why we need to have a number of solutions. I don't mean that we should continue burning coal and then just fix the consequences, that would be terrible. Just as a revolver has many bullets, we need several ideas."

mmmm...a fleet of cloud-producing drone ships ...I think that says it all right there. And to think, they gave the Nobel Peace Prize to Al Gore!


Anonymous said...

One crazy idea isn't so important. They're a dime a dozen.

However, when the government spends millions of dollars trying to get one to work, that's where things get fun.

To be fair, the assumptions behind this one weren't totally out in left field.

Project Stormfury: an attempt to weaken Hurricanes 1962-1983

"Project Stormfury was an attempt to weaken tropical cyclones by flying aircraft into them and seeding with silver iodide. The project was run by the United States Government from 1962 to 1983.

The hypothesis was that the silver iodide would cause supercooled water in the storm to freeze, disrupting the inner structure of the hurricane. This led to the seeding of several Atlantic hurricanes. However, it was later shown that this hypothesis was incorrect. In reality, it was determined most hurricanes do not contain enough supercooled water for cloud seeding to be effective. Additionally, researchers found that unseeded hurricanes often undergo the same structural changes that were expected from seeded hurricanes. This finding called Stormfury's successes into question, as the changes reported now had a natural explanation."

C.H. said...

Yeah, I wouldn't say that all of these ideas come from the left. Some of them just come from crackpot scientists who think they are trying to do something good but are really just making things worse.

I don't know how you feel about global warming, or man-made GW warming for that matter, but I'm not really convinced...I just think that there's so much we don't know about the planet, and science, including the GW science, has frequently contradicted itself.

However, I am not opposed to some of the proposals to cut emmissions and reduce pollution, all the while it would help us get off of foreign oil. Therefore, while I'm not completely convinced by the whole global warming hysteria, I am fully supportive of some of the plans that John Mccain, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama have put forth to reduce emmissions and the so-called "greenhouse gases".

However, should they ever come up with a plan like the one I pointed out in this post, that will be a whole nother story LOL.

Anonymous said...


I think your doubts are awfully strong given your background and how passionately scientists feel on this. Here's a suggestion if you want to be really bold. Learn a bit more, and the most direct way to do this is to contact someone who does this for a living. Since you want to be a journalist, you have to be fearless in this respect anyway. Here's the website for the
Berkeley Earth and Planetary Sciences Department.

Graduate students and their research interests:

At least 3 Ph.D. students work on climate change.

Kate Hoag: Research Interest: Atmospheric Chemistry, Climate Change

Nicole Schlegel: Research Interest: Climate modeling, specifically involving glacier/ice sheet effects and processes.

Abigail Swann: Research Interest: Carbon cycle dynamics (specifically drought-carbon cycle interactions), tropical dynamics, climate variability, and the interaction between climate variability and society.

They also work for 3 different professors in the department, so each one of these works on climate change. They can be located at:

Faculty might be more difficult, although some people really take education seriously.

Just whip off a couple emails, tell them you have doubts and see where they can point you. It's totally risk free.

Could be fun.

Anonymous said...

Just some general comments:

I'm guessing that Swarzenegger is another politician you respect. He and McCain have both had to fight people in their own party on this--something they have been proud to do on a number of issues when they know they're right.

As to how much will happen, when will it happen and what should we do, those are open questions. However, we certainly have to be on the conservative side here--the stakes are high. What does that mean exactly? Obviously the world is sorting it out, and again there is pretty much full agreement that something needs to be done.

One thing that isn't emphasized enough is that when one seeks to protect an animal or some part of the environment in a very focused way, the benefits are very widespread. Preserve a redwood forest, and the downstream effects can be a lot more than one expects.

Another example: you (and actually I) are too young to remember when L.A. was TRULY smoggy. If you ever see some photos from the 50s and 60s, one sometimes couldn't see for a block and streetlights would go on in the middle of the day. Now it's still bad, but the improvement is dramatic. L.A. has been one of the big success stories of the environmental movement, but people are largely unaware. I've heard Mexico City is the same way.

Regarding crazy old scientists. Most of them are not really that weird, it's just that they're old, they've made their mark, and they can say anything that they feel like. Because they're famous in many cases, people will actually listen to them.

Anonymous said...

(CNN)-- Several prominent leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention said Monday that Baptists have a moral responsibility to combat climate change -- a major shift within a denomination that just last year cast doubt on human responsibility for global warming.

Forty-six influential members of the Southern Baptist Convention, including three of its last four presidents, criticized their denomination in a statement Monday for being "too timid" in confronting global warming.

"Our cautious response to these issues in the face of mounting evidence may be seen by the world as uncaring, reckless and ill-informed," the statement says. "We can do better."

The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, adopted a resolution last year urging Baptists to "proceed cautiously in the human-induced global warming debate in light of conflicting scientific research." The resolution said "many scientists reject the idea of catastrophic human-induced global warming."

On Monday, however, dozens of Southern Baptist leaders expressed a different view.

"There is general agreement among those engaged with this issue in the scientific community," their statement says. "A minority of sincere and respected scientists offer alternate causes for global climate change other than deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels."

The signatories pledged to do their part to fight global warming "without any further lingering over the basic reality of the problem or our responsibility to address it. Humans must be proactive and take responsibility for our contributions to climate change -- big and small."

Anonymous said...

Forgot to mention, the CNN story above was breaking news (several minutes old).

C.H. said...

I have done a lot of research on this fact, I've actually had a number of article published in the newspaper about my views on global warming. Believe me, I've taken hits from the extreme left out here in the Bay Area for that one, but at the end of the day, I was pretty well recieved for my analysis.

Here's the thing, as I've said, I see nothing wrong with the proposals put forth by Arnold Schwarzenegger and John fact, I'm all for with the idea of reducing emmissions, cleaning up the air, and getting off of foreign oil...who isn't? Therefore, my opposition to this alarmism is more reality-based than political. I don't believe that any harm can come from many of the proposals put forth by politicians to solve this problem (Unless of course, they suggest something like this post points out).

But think about warming skeptics have their credibility attacked on a regular basis, so when I make my point, I don't invoke those researchers, but instead the scientists who are so alarmed over the issue. The science that the global warming crowd is so eager to bring up has contradicted itself numerous time, leaving me to believe that these people might not know as much as they say they do.

Consider this...its a couple of articles about global warming and the connection to hurricanes. One predicts that hurricanes will increase, the other says higher temps will decrease them.

...and thats not all. If you search around on google for the effects of GW, you will get some sources who predict it will make winters colder and snowier, like the one we've had this year, and others will say it will makes them more mild, like last year.

Yes, most scientists seem to agree that this is happening, but it seems that a number of these studies are contradicting each other.

There's no doubt global temps have increased, but seriously, this issue has been turned into a tool to accomplish a political agenda.

I met with an old high school teacher of mine the other day and he put the GW issue into perspective. Basically, what he said was that the best evidence these alarmists have to show us is the equivalent of taking an ice cube out of the freezer, setting it on the table, watching it melt, and then saying temperatures are increasing.

By know means am I putting down people who research this for a living. Here's the problem though, we as human beings don't know as much as we think we do. There are numerous scientists who claim to be experts on the coeans, but it doesn't change the fact that we've explored less than 10% of the seafloor, does it? If you ever read the novel "Meg" by Steve Alten, it really puts this into perspective in a way most people never imagine.

Anonymous said...

I'm familiar with these sorts of arguments:

A lot of people disagree.

There are gaps in our knowledge.

It's like a religion.

Academic dissent is not tolerated.

They haven't been showing both sides.

They're indoctrinating children.

The issue has not been resolved.

Futher study is needed.

I was careful not to think of global warming when I was listing these. Instead I was thinking of the Creationists and the Holocaust/Genocide deniers.

This is a pattern of thinking I'm quite familiar with, and the red flags are easy to spot. I've dealt with the creationists for quite a while (and essentially given up--you can't change someone's religious beliefs) and more recently become interested in the Armenian Genocide.

Obviously in Global Warming you don't have the 100% agreement among biologists and historians that you have regarding evolution and the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide. There is greater complexity.

Anyone can of course trot out a number of historians--mostly Turkish, as well as handful of Americans--who will argue essentially the points that I listed above for the Armenian Genocide. However, the rest of the community that studies genocide will tell you that they are full of shit.

You say you've written several articles in newspaper(s) about this, and obviously you've posted on your blog. So especially for the newspaper articles, given the fact that you are right in the midst of some of the smartest people who study this for a living, have you contacted or spoken with any of these people? Again, it's trivial. If you were writing a story about how all the Holocaust survivors are dying off, wouldn't you interview a few?

There are many reasons to communicate with the people actually doing the stuff. Almost invariably, science writers will distort what is said. This is usually due to the fact that they're not scientists--it's nobody's "fault". Also, the views presented may be those from such a minority that it's ridiculous. Finally, there are a lot of failed experiments that nobody wants to talk about--and the sort of "well everybody knows that" attitude that can keep ideas from the general public.

Some things that scientists can do for you: they can tell you what problems are considered truly important--where things will be in 5 years. Are the minority viewpoints significant? Maybe the person making them is wrong 100% of the time and everyone groans when they see him quoted in the press. Maybe his ego is the only reason anyone knows who he is. Or maybe he/she is a brilliant person who's view sometimes prevails in the end. You cant know. They will--these are all fairly small communities.

People in the field can tell you if everyone knows a particular idea is crap. This may or may not be published, especially in popular sources.

I'll guess you've never read the primary literature. I don't think you can really make any claims without that, but the next best thing is to get it directly from a researcher.

p.s. Regarding the ocean floor analogy. I can't even try to guess the fraction of the Universe we know--I imagine it has lots of zeros. In comparison the oceans (and the rest of the earth) are extraordinarily well studied. However, there are quite a few things we can predict well.

I would be skeptical of the person who rejects the majority view and insists we will be hit with a comet in 10 years. But there's a chance he's right...

p.p.s. I was trying to imagine who those extreme left people were--Earth Firsters? For some reason it made me think also of those people who claimed the SF Zoo's tiger's life was more important than that of the kid and brothers. Then I remembered that a lot of those wackos were not necessarily liberal.

Anonymous said...

Here's an admittedly extreme example of where mainstream scientific opinion is right, yet it might seem (to some) that there is reasonable dissent.

There are some people who argue that HIV does not cause AIDS. Two of the most vocal are Peter Deusberg, an old distinguished virologist at Berkeley and Kerry Mullis, the Nobel Laureate credited with inventing PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction). So two big names. Of course 99.99% of scientists disagree, but how is the layman to know that two smart guys are wrong?

I don't know too much about Deusberg--I have heard that he is anti-gay. He argues that AIDS is caused by the "gay lifestyle" and he invokes drug use as being one of the major causes. You don't need to be told that that's nonsense and what some of the logical flaws are.

Kerry Mullis is interesting to put it mildly. He is known for his heavy drug use, says that getting the Nobel Prize has helped him get laid, and claims that he can tell peoples' sign just by looking at their auras. Perhaps he's not so credible as most people might think when they first hear he's an advocate of the theory.

So what's the average person to think? Maybe the minority opinion is true--they're not M.D.s or scientists and they really have no ability to understand the work of thousands and thousands of researchers. In a situation like this, they have to go with what the medical establishment says.

However, if you ask the right person, they can shoot the anti HIV people down in a second.

Here's one example. I'm sure you have heard of the protease inhibitors. These drugs are the first ones that when added to cocktails provided effective treatments. They were developed by specific design of molecules at the atomic level--protease bound to inhibitor were visualized using biophysical techniques.

The drugs were designed to specifically block the protease, which is an enzyme necessary for one specific step in the viral life cycle. They did, proving the HIV leads to AID hypothesis.

For some reason Deusberg, Mullis and others persist. It's hard to give up one's ideas. I don't think they've injected themselves with virus to prove their point though.

And of course, if you check the list of arguments I listed at the beginning of the last post, they're there.

Again, this is an all or nothing hypothesis, unlike global warming, which may have more shades of gray.

A counter example where a minority opinion was right:

The nature of the prion diseases (Mad cow, etc.) was first discovered by Stanley Pruisner at UCSF. These diseases were initially thought to be caused by viruses, however no matter what he did, Pruisner could find no evidence of this. However, his data were consistent with the fact that they were caused by proteins. Nobody believed this. Impossible.

However, this was a tiny field--I'm sure if there were hundreds or thousands working on it and everyone was getting the same results he would have gotten more support. He kept at it, in spite of a lot of disbelief and eventually he proved himself right. He got the Nobel Prize a few years ago for this, and his (still unusual) ideas are well accepted.

It was a tiny field, he was a maverick but well respected. However the discussion was never us against them. It was more: this is too strange to be true--prove it. Everybody knew that nobody understood things and nobody had a good answer. He had a strange idea which just happened to be right.

C.H. said...

I liked how you mentioned the Armenian Genocide and the creationists. Obviously, the people who deny the Holocaust, as well as the Armenian Genocide, are small in number. Although, a rise in anti-semitism around the world has led a number of people to embrace the notion of Holocaust denial. Remember that "Holocaust conference" in which David Duke flew over to Iran to throw his support behind Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's viewspoints?

However, as I've pointed out, I don't base my views on global warming from the research of any prominent global warming critics, but instead on the inconclusive science that has repeatedly contradicted itself, as I mentioned earlier. The way I see it, we think we understand how the planet works, but it seems there is a lot more we don't know.

This is a little off topic, but you did mention my ocean floor analogy. Isn't it interesting that the world has sent hundreds of people into space, including some who had managed to land on the moon, and yet there has been only one manned expidition to the bottom of the Marianna Trench...the deepest darkest region on the planet. In fact, the capsule that was used for the mission simply touched the bottom and came back up again.

It's amazing how many mysteries our own planet can hold, isn't it?

C.H. said...

I don't know if you've seen this, but its a New York Times article about AL Gore that came out last year and claims he is exaggerating the central points of his documentary.

Even those who are supposed to be in "consensus" seem to have disagreements, just like the Hurricane theories.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely. Holocaust scholars, genocide scholars, scientists of all sorts continuously disagree--that's how the system works. That's what makes it so ridiculous when people like the Holocaust deniers come by and claim that nobody is discussing it anymore. It's like saying to Geologists--why aren't people discussing whether the earth is flat anymore??

People in the field can cut through the crap and tell you what the relevant discussions are.

The problem with studying the ocean is of course the extraordinary pressure. In space it's a vacuum, but everything is so far away.

My first cousin's husband died suddenly about a year ago. I actually think of him more as an uncle because he was much, much, much older. There's a weird generational gap because my dad was the youngest of 10. Anyway, he did not die unusually young.

There's a reason I'm bringing this up. He was the world's expert on the acrylics they use in the windows of the submersible vessels that go down thousands of feet. He literally wrote the book on it--you can buy it Amazon for $195:

"Handbook on Acrylics for Submersibles, Hyperbaric Chambers, and Aquaria" summarizes the theories, test data, and work experience accumulated over the years in the design, fabrication and operation of acrylic plastic viewports in submersibles, hyperbaric chambers, and aquaria. This fully illustrated, 1,080 page handbook solves current practical engineering problems in the design of the pressure resistant acrylic plastic viewports in the entire pressure range from full vacuum to 20,000 psi (138 Mpa)."

Mariana trench = 108.6 MPa

When he died he was cremated and they buried his ashes in the model for one of the submersibles, the Nemo.

Anonymous said...


Just to follow up on the NY Times article.

First, I haven't seen the Gore movie.

The problem with anything like this is that if a scientist him/herself is not speaking, a lot of errors tend to be introduced as I allude to above. Much of the NY Times article reflects scientist's concern about exactly this phenomenon.

The best solution is when very articulate scientists are explaining things--Stephen Jay Gould and especially Carl Sagan come to mind. I don't know of anybody like this offhand in the global warming business--actually I'm sure Sagan would have been a wonderful voice if he were still around.

I know of a specific bad example of a few years back--actually a NY Times science reporter Gina Kolata. She used to write articles that were so horrible it was amazing (there were far more problems than you can blame the editor for). We actually had a big section of a wall devoted to her clippings. One of my favorites: "DNA is made up of strands of amino acids". She has improved over the years.

Even well-trained science reporters make so many mistakes--it's a HUGE problem. So do non-scientists like Gore. So for the article you cite from the Times: how many times are the errors multiplied (Gore interprets 1st scientist, 2nd scientist interprets Gore, reporter interviews scientist) before the editor finally gets his turn to screw things up? How hard is the writer trying to create an "interesting" story so that minor dissent is hyped?

The comment that struck me as one of the most relevant was that he was treated as a "rock star" at a huge scientific meeting. This gives a sense as to the overall acceptance of his ideas. Well maybe--it's hard to tell.

I figured I would briefly look up the guy who sounded like the most credible skeptic--Richard Lindzen at MIT. Apparently he enjoys controversy--not necessarily a problem. People complain that he's in the pocket of the oil industry--he's received big consulting fees. I would actually tend to downplay that criticism--a lot of people get fees and there's no other reason to question his ethics.

However, this is what bugs me. Newsweek did an article on him (which I can't seem to find for free). Apparently he thinks the connection between smoking and lung cancer is weak:

"He'll even expound on how weakly lung cancer is linked to cigarette smoking. He speaks in full, impeccably logical paragraphs, and he punctuates his measured cadences with thoughtful drags on a cigarette.[24]"

Now here is a strong causal relationship that is so absolutely clear--no sane doctor thinks otherwise. As you must know, the cigarette companies continued to deny it for years; of course they fully admit that they had a deliberate campaign to lie about it.

Does this make me doubt his credibility? Absolutely.

Is he approaching global warming in the same way? Given the fact that he disagrees with the overwhelming majority of the scientific community on this one as well, I have to say that I suspect he might be.

Oh, my dad died of lung cancer, but I would be just as strong in my opinions regardless.

C.H. said...

The other thing is, you keep talking about scientists, but this issue has been used to promote a political agenda. I've seen "An Inconvenient Truth", and Gore routinely attacks the Bush Administration and complains about the 2000 election. This of course, comes from a man who claims GW is "not a political issue, but a moral one".

Obviously, Gore is a polarizing figures...but it seems a number of people have embraced this whole global warming thing as political. Just think of how many liberals talk about how we need to stop it, and how many conservatives deny it.

Just the same, I embrace smart enviromental conservation, as it says on my blog title. The late Steve Irwin is also one of my idols, and I strive to be like him in my desire to make the world a better place than I found it. However, the conclusion I have reached with this issue is not political, but based on reality...and the reality is, there are a lot of ambiguities, politics, and misunderstanding in this whole controversy. Trust me, I'm open to hearing both sides, but at the time being, this is where I stand.

Anonymous said...


The fact that there is politics involved is exactly why you need to strip it down to the science and go from there. This is a scientific question initially; policy and unfortunately politics will follow.

That there is a Democratic/Republican divide is an obvious give away that something is wrong. One interesting test is whether this is a largely American phenomenon--since this is a worldwide political problem, what is the situation in other countries? Are there politics drawn along similar lines?

But back to stripping away the politics--eliminate all politicians including Al Gore obviously, and any others including scientists you think might be tainted.

What are the rest of them thinking? They have undoubtedly considered some of the same concerns that you have--very recent warming vs. warming over thousands of years for example.

What do 1000 of the best minds with Ph.Ds in climatology, atmospheric physics, geology, etc. have to say about it? Does it bother them? A lot? Do they still think the fundamental idea of global warming is sound?

Is it reasonable to assume that you can even come close to understanding the problem at the level of a Ph.D. scientist? Do you think they have discussed potential problems over lunch, on the phone, by email, and meetings, over beer (one of the best places)? Hundreds and thousands of times.

I don't mean to suggest that people should just throw up their hands and trust the "experts" on everything. If you want to get to the truth, the best way is to directly communicate with someone who can support or refute your concerns at every step.

Science is extremely difficult to reduce to a level that non professionals can appreciate it (want to design a nuclear reactor?). It's close to impossible for non-scientists to figure out how to reconcile potentially conflicting data (it's hard enough for scientists sometimes). By the times science reaches the general public (especially in the hard sciences) it's been seriously "dumbed down".

I think we both agree--politics and science don't mix.

Nor do science and religion, or politics and religion, of course.

Andy said...

"I think we both agree--politics and science don't mix."

No disagreement there. Just goes both ways, meaning both sides exploit it for their own benefit.

Anonymous said...

If you can think of any examples where scientists have voluntary let politicians control their views, I'd love to hear them.

A few current examples where they are strongly objecting to political interference: evolution, stem cells, vaccines/mercury and abstinence education. I could think of many more examples given a couple minutes.

In situations like those above with a strong or overwhelming scientific consensus, the chance that politics shapes how scientists think is zero. The politicians who are exploiting the situation are those who are disregarding the scientific consensus.