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A Global Warming Debate


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#1 Egann

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Posted 06 October 2014 - 12:27 PM

For those of you interested, I recently found this video. It's an hour and a half long, but it is much more in-depth than these discussions usually are on the internet.

 

 

For those of you not willing to spend an hour and a half watching this, here's the spark-notes:

 

 

The pro-warming case is almost entirely built on scientific models and projections. The only observed phenomena are 1) that CO2 levels are rising, 2) greenhouse effect at CO2 frequencies has increased, and 3) Earth has warmed something less than a degree over since we started taking measurements. As far as models go this is a pretty compelling, but
 

The con-warming case is largely built on anecdotal evidence and poking holes in the models, either in terms of their modeling assumptions or their accuracy.

 

 

I hope it's clear from just my spark-notes how flimsy both cases are, and this is one of the more organized and thought out debates on this which I've seen. The pro-case is built almost entirely on a post hoc fallacy. CO2 emissions are indeed higher than they ever have been, but the actual changes to Earth's climate track within the bounds we would expect natural variation to have, not proportionately to CO2 drastically changing the humidity of Earth's atmosphere. There's even a place where the con-warming presenter showed the projections from the 20 IPCC models of some years back and then compared them to the actual temperature. For a solid case you would expect the temperature to track within one or two standard deviations of the mean of all the models. The actual measurement is so low in comparison it isn't even within the spread. At best these models are incomplete, and that's assuming they are partially correct in the first place. Chaos theory says that if you're missing just one variable it is doubtful your model is anywhere near correct. Weather models are literally how the butterfly effect got its name.

 

The con-case is almost as bad, as it relies so heavily on anecdotal evidence. There's really not much I can say beyond "one P-38 buried under 200 feet of ice and one 5,000 year old tree stump 100 miles north of the tree line does not a compelling case make. It makes a suggestive one at best. There's also an unwillingness on both sides to address--or even mention--confounding variables. That 5,000 year old tree stump? I wonder if anyone has adjusted its location for the procession of the equinoxes. With a matter as complicated as climate that's absolutely inexcusable.

 

During the Q&A the con-warming speaker made a point I did think was worth bringing up; it's not likely for a model saying "Earth's warming is entirely natural" to get university grant funding. I am not in a position to comment on how accurate that observation is, but if the way academic grant applicants are selected has a structural bias, it is practically certain all the models would say a particular thing whether or not that is accurate--it is how their creators get funding--and that they would continue to espouse their models even when there is significant evidence against it because funding is on the line. This bias would then effect the community as a whole because there is not enough healthy dissent to foster proper scientific discussion. (That sounds like a fantastic S&H topic.)

 

 

On to my opinion.

 

There's pretty much no way to stop our carbon emissions, and it essentially doesn't matter what we do in the developed world, either.

 


A host of world leaders gathered last month to discuss the topic of global warming at the UN Climate Change Summit.

 

US President Barack Obama said it was an issue "that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other" - but Dr Peiser could not help but notice there were a few faces missing from the meeting.

 

A handful of countries - including China, India and Canada - did not attend the summit, something that did not surprise Dr Peiser.

 

He explained that for him, the summit reaffirmed that there is no international agreement about what to do regarding climate change.

 

He also suspects that the lack of attendance is due to some of the countries' growing need to continue using fossil fuels.

"That is a clear indication that reality is sinking in and the reality is that both China, India and other emerging nations have huge energy demands," he said.

 

"They have huge growing economies, growing populations - their energy is going to double within the next 20 years and they cannot afford to give up on conventional fossil fuels.

 

"That’s basically what they have told the world."

 

So essentially, India and China are not interested in any climate curbing discussion whether or not it is happening. This means that unless we invent--or redeploy--a power source which is economically more efficient than fossil fuels, carbon emissions will continue to rise. Incentives to use renewable energy in developed nations will have minimal impact because we're talking about whole economies ignoring whatever the IPCC says. Big economies.

 

Even if we were to invent such an energy source today, because of the way R&D works it would likely take 10-15 years to get to market. If the CO2-warming models are accurate, we are all screwed and there is essentially nothing anybody can do about it. Well, short of start World War IV, but that's likely to make climate matters worse, not better.

 

Now, after reviewing the information I have, I don't think the "pro-warming" argument does a sufficient job of separating the current warming from background noise. What it has is a solid word-model, an observation that we're making the CO2 level go up, and a weak temperature measurement. Everyone has had to admit we're on a twenty-year hiatus (their word) without knowing why, and those twenty years have seen about as many carbon emissions than the forty years before that which saw all the warming. The correlation in the actual universe is much weaker than the models suggest, and that's being generous. That, and the Kyoto Protocol and renewable energy has had very little actual influence on our carbon emissions.

 

So we have a shaky real-world correlation and can't do much about it, anyway. CO2 has taken such a central stage when it comes to environmental policy people have forgotten that there are other issues to discuss. At this point we need to turn our environmental policy to things we can actually have a positive influence on, such as plastics in the ocean or land overdevelopment.

 

Discuss.



#2 SteveT

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Posted 06 October 2014 - 01:52 PM

Haven't watched the video. Responding to a few of your points.

Here's where you lost me:

Quote
The con-case is almost as bad, as it relies so heavily on anecdotal evidence.


Anecdotal evidence is not "almost" as bad as a flawed model. It's worse. Always. You're essentially saying that counting up all the comments on a CNN story about a blizzard that say, "Well, so much for global warming hardy har har" is a better argument than a plot of CO2 levels over time. In this sentence, you have severely undermined everything that follows.

And then in the next paragraph, you casually throw out the possibility that the entire scientific community is too unethical to do science.

Quote
During the Q&A the con-warming speaker made a point I did think was worth bringing up; it's not likely for a model saying "Earth's warming is entirely natural" to get university grant funding. I am not in a position to comment on how accurate that observation is, but if the way academic grant applicants are selected has a structural bias, it is practically certain all the models would say a particular thing whether or not that is accurate--it is how their creators get funding--and that they would continue to espouse their models even when there is significant evidence against it because funding is on the line. This bias would then effect the community as a whole because there is not enough healthy dissent to foster proper scientific discussion. (That sounds like a fantastic S&H topic.)


If the ethics of a study are in doubt, follow the money. And wait, it's the climate change denial being funded by the oil industry.

http://en.wikipedia....e_change_denial
 

Quote
Climate change denial has been associated with the fossil fuels lobby, the Koch brothers, industry advocates and free marketthink tanks, often in the United States.



So who's funding pro-climate change arguments? Why are 99% of all climate scientists so quick to toss their ethics aside? Surely, there are other weather related topics that they could be getting grant money for--after all, weather is one of the most chaotic systems we know about and has an extreme economic impact. Understanding weather is good for the global economy. And if all this is about keeping grant money available and all climate scientists are in some kind of collusion, then why come to a consensus? Wouldn't it more profitable to arrange a 50/50 split on the conclusion so that more studies are warranted? That way, you keep the debate going and the money flowing.

Instead, it's not scientists who are driving this debate. They've already come to an overwhelming consensus. It's politicians, lobbyists, and executives who don't want to deal with the sociological and economic implications.

And as to the argument about other countries being a bigger percentage of the problem, why does that imply we should stop looking for a solution? How great would it be if there was a cheaper, cleaner alternate energy source and sell the technology to China and India while there's still hope?


EDIT: Let me phrase all this a different way. Your post comes off as anti-science and anti-intellectual. So why in this instance do you not trust the science? Do you trust the scientific process in other contexts? If so, what makes this topic special that you don't think science has come to an accurate conclusion?


Edited by SteveT, 06 October 2014 - 02:10 PM.


#3 Hana-Nezumi

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Posted 06 October 2014 - 08:53 PM

On the topic of climate change, I say: better safe than sorry.

If the people who say that global warming is real are wrong, and we push to reduce C02 emissions, then the worst that would happen is that we reduced pollution when it wasn't really necessary... but that's still a good thing.

If the people who say that global warming isn't real are wrong, and we just let CO2 emissions continue at this rate... then we're seriously screwing over future generations.

#4 Selena

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Posted 07 October 2014 - 01:31 AM

So, is humanity causing global climate change? Or is it purely natural processes that are to blame? 
 
Answer: It doesn't matter. Or, more accurately, it shouldn't matter.
 
 
It should be self-evident that any toxins you pump into the world -- via air, water, and/or soil -- do not magically disappear. If you accidentally dump coal mining byproducts into a river, you get flammable, stomach-melting drinking water. If pump carbon and other toxins into the air, you breathe them back in. If you over-hunt or over-fish, then subsequent season will have slim pickings. If you contribute to the loss of a species, then the whole biosphere is altered in many ways. Effects may be small at first, but it should be fairly obvious that Earth is a closed system. You have to lay in the bed you make, so to speak.
 
None of this should be a controversial issue. And as far as science is concerned, it isn't. Arguments against climate change are anecdotal at best, and I highly doubt some sort of evil liberal scientist conclave is preventing dissenting papers from being published. Scientists naturally like figuring stuff out -- even if it means being wrong sometimes. Present them with solid, fascinating data and they turn into giddy school children.
 
 
 
Likewise, as far as energy use goes, the adoption of "green" technologies should be logically welcomed. Lower energy costs are good. Less stress on the power grid is good. More efficient use of resources is good. Less dependency on fossil fuels is good (given that they'll eventually run out). Fewer chemical/oil spills is good. Not spending $50 to fill your gas tank is good.
 
"It costs too much" is the chief objection to implementation. But that's a side effect of not putting in the necessary research and development -- the ball should have started rolling ages ago, not just in the last two decades. Had that occurred, we'd be seeing a more competitive marketplace today. But now we have to wait a little longer. But costs will come down. They will come down faster if we embrace -- rather than condemn or scoff at -- alternative energy sources.
 
Another side effect is the kickback coming from existing big business. Turns out, traditional power companies aren't the biggest fans of people using solar energy. In fact, in some places, lobbyists for these industries have successfully made it illegal for citizens to be "off-grid." And every time someone talks about not using coal, which has always been messy and troublesome, someone starts crying about all the jobs that will be lost in this old, noble American industry!!  Same with oil.
 
The industries -- and their bought politicians -- always start croaking about jobs (while hypocritically telling retail and fast food workers that it's completely acceptable for them to be replaced by a machine, as that's just the way things go!). 
 
 
 
 
This is a purely political controversy. Nobody in Congress gives one shit about the science, and most voters just parrot whatever their favored politicians say on TV (as prepared by their speech writers). Watching politicians talk about science on those environmental committees is painfully funny-sad.
 
 
The GOP's current angle is job creation. So they're always backing the big industries like BP, which always proudly declares in TV commercials that they're constantly creating new jobs. They're ignoring environmental consequences in the name of job creation -- because, as always, those regulations and "green things" are just going to get in the way of big business. Job creation, job creation, job creation. I've heard that phrase from anti-climate change people so often that it almost makes me twitch now. Job creation. You would think that would involve supporting a growing renewable industry too, but I can't recall an instance where I heard one of them actively support anything other than existing oil/chemical businesses. I think the reason for that is obvious.
 
Liberals, I think, are well-intentioned. Although the politicians aren't really all that better informed than the GOP ones ("I heard this from a person who told me they read this from a science magazine!"). But they've been suckered into the myopic "are humans causing this???" side of the Great Environment Debate, because the natural reaction to hearing people deny science is to let out a frustrated wail with the pitch of a dog whistle. And they always come across as hippie tree-huggers preaching about saving Mother Earth. As opposed to, say, "These alternative things are more efficient and sustainable in the long run -- switch to them and reap the rewards." 
 
 
 
 
I think it's silly to focus on the human aspect of climate change. Absolving humans of wrongdoing won't miraculously make the environment more livable -- you still have to fix it. 
 
Sadly, though, people only seem to care about environment things because they're afraid of what might happen. Not about all the small daily exposures and tragedies that they've learned to ignore because they don't immediately feel the ill effects. Human nature, I suppose.


As for, "there's no point because China et al won't comply to regulations anyway," it doesn't matter. Tons of benefits for us to clean up our own shores.

#5 Egann

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Posted 08 October 2014 - 11:52 AM

EDIT: Let me phrase all this a different way. Your post comes off as anti-science and anti-intellectual. So why in this instance do you not trust the science? Do you trust the scientific process in other contexts? If so, what makes this topic special that you don't think science has come to an accurate conclusion?

 

I'm glad you asked. I intend to make an S&H thread to discuss this in detail, but here a bit to whet your appetite.

 

This Richard Smith's opinion on peer review.

 

 

 

In addition to being poor at detecting gross defects and almost useless for detecting fraud it is slow, expensive, profligate of academic time, highly subjective, something of a lottery, prone to bias, and easily abused.

 

Smith here worked as an editor for the BMJ peer reviewed magazine for thirteen years.

 

Also, here's where a big pharma company attempted to confirm a lot of academic studies on cancer to make better treatments.

 

 


Result: 47 of the 53 could not be replicated. He described his findings in a commentary piece published on Wednesday in the journal Nature.

 

"It was shocking," said Begley, now senior vice president of privately held biotechnology company TetraLogic, which develops cancer drugs. "These are the studies the pharmaceutical industry relies on to identify new targets for drug development. But if you're going to place a $1 million or $2 million or $5 million bet on an observation, you need to be sure it's true. As we tried to reproduce these papers we became convinced you can't take anything at face value."

 

Like I said, I intend to make a thread discussing this specifically. All the flaws in current scientific inquiry and how things got this way are cans of worms way too big to discuss as a tangent here.

 

 

 

Anecdotal evidence is not "almost" as bad as a flawed model. It's worse. Always. You're essentially saying that counting up all the comments on a CNN story about a blizzard that say, "Well, so much for global warming hardy har har" is a better argument than a plot of CO2 levels over time. In this sentence, you have severely undermined everything that follows.

 

Yes and no. The problem is you're confusing scientific inquiry with policy debate. If the con argument had to create a positive case I would agree, but that's not the case. In parliamentary policy debate you have one team making a positive case and the other is just trying to poke holes in it. This is balanced because the team making a positive case goes first and can define the topic (i.e. pick a defensible position.) Is this the process by which scientific hypotheses are tested? No.

 

Anecdotal evidence is perfectly admissible in debate, especially for the con case, but there is a limit to how compelling a case you can build with it.

 

Now that's not quite what was going on here, but this debate was closer to parliamentary debate than scientific testing. Judge accordingly.

 

 


On the topic of climate change, I say: better safe than sorry.

If the people who say that global warming is real are wrong, and we push to reduce C02 emissions, then the worst that would happen is that we reduced pollution when it wasn't really necessary... but that's still a good thing.

If the people who say that global warming isn't real are wrong, and we just let CO2 emissions continue at this rate... then we're seriously screwing over future generations.[/quote]
 
Normally I would agree...except that I don't think any policy can actually do that. I mean, let's take the Kyoto Protocol for example; the US voted to not participate on a 95-0 vote in the Senate--when was the last time we saw that?--China and India aren't involved, Canada dropped out, Italy and Australia aren't on track to meet their emissions budget, and most of the nations on track to actually meet their quotas either have to import energy or are too small to make any difference. And Kyoto was only about keeping emissions more or less the same.
 
So what we have is a treaty which is both too weak to actually cut carbon emissions and too strong to get major parts of the world on board or keep them on board.
 
The only thing which will actually cut our emissions is peak fossil fuels, which we have gotten really quite good at delaying.
 

 

"It costs too much" is the chief objection to implementation. But that's a side effect of not putting in the necessary research and development -- the ball should have started rolling ages ago, not just in the last two decades. Had that occurred, we'd be seeing a more competitive marketplace today. But now we have to wait a little longer. But costs will come down. They will come down faster if we embrace -- rather than condemn or scoff at -- alternative energy sources.
 
The problem with alternative energy is that it isn't a step forward. I appreciate technological development in them because more options is always a good thing. It's just they're an erratic trickle of energy when we really need a powerful stream. To take pressure off earth's biomes we need to have large space colonies. That is basically impossible to support with chemical energy. Alternative energy sources sidestep the issue, but the best solution is to go nuclear and start doing things like recycling nuclear wastes. Which we don't do at the moment because nuclear prices are not high enough.
EDIT: Quote tags, why do you hate me?

Edited by Egann, 08 October 2014 - 11:55 AM.


#6 Selena

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Posted 08 October 2014 - 01:01 PM

 

The problem with alternative energy is that it isn't a step forward. I appreciate technological development in them because more options is always a good thing. It's just they're an erratic trickle of energy when we really need a powerful stream. To take pressure off earth's biomes we need to have large space colonies. That is basically impossible to support with chemical energy. Alternative energy sources sidestep the issue, but the best solution is to go nuclear and start doing things like recycling nuclear wastes. Which we don't do at the moment because nuclear prices are not high enough.

 

Every time I see a discussion on solar energy, there's always some detractor who tries to tell everyone that solar is useless because it's not as powerful as a nuclear reactor. Which is nonsense. That's like saying a Honda Civic is useless because a Ferrari is obviously superior. The Ferrari is indeed the superior machine, but not everyone needs a Ferrari. 

 

 

Efficient use of energy means having options. Which you seem to appreciate, but you make alternatives out to be pointless in the same breath.

 

Communities and individuals have different needs -- and certain technologies are going to fill those needs more efficiently than others. More importantly, you can use multiple energy options at the same time to find the right blend of ideal energy output and cost efficiency. Big cities? They will obviously benefit from something as powerful and stable as nuclear energy. Although buildings could still incorporate solar in various ways to reduce their costs and reduce strain on the main power grid. City folk would also benefit from using electric vehicles, since daily commutes typically aren't that long. These things should make logical sense.

 

Small communities and individuals living away from major population centers? Different needs. Solar and wind can often meet the needs of these communities -- and by generating energy much closer to home, there's significantly less work involved than if you were to be made dependent on a reactor 200 miles away.

 

You know that bad winter we had last year? People in isolated areas literally died due to exposure because either 1) power lines went down for various storm-related reasons, or 2) they couldn't afford to pay the power company. If those individuals had solar panels on their small homes, then they could have generated enough power to use their heating systems and, y'know, avoid death.

 

Alternative energy isn't meant to be a huge "step forward" versus things like nuclear. There's no logic in thinking that it's some kind of power output competition. Alternative energies are primarily supplemental -- ideal for small communities, individuals living off-grid, and urban buildings that want to offset their costs. That should not make it less desirable. The power source is unlimited, and it produces no waste. Any way you can implement solar -- whether it's paneling on your house or solar phone chargers -- should be a good thing. Less strain on the grid. Less shit in the air.

 

Options good. We can invest in solar now. Building goddamn space colonies is going to take a while.

 

 

 

As an aside, I will certainly never understand why conservatives -- the party of liberty and independence -- would be opposed to alternative energy. By generating your own power, you are less dependent on a big company for your power, and you don't have to pay sometimes outrageous fees every month. Isn't that a good thing?



#7 SteveT

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Posted 08 October 2014 - 01:06 PM

I'll look at the study stuff later because that's more substantive and requires analysis.  
 

Yes and no. The problem is you're confusing scientific inquiry with policy debate. If the con argument had to create a positive case I would agree, but that's not the case. In parliamentary policy debate you have one team making a positive case and the other is just trying to poke holes in it. This is balanced because the team making a positive case goes first and can define the topic (i.e. pick a defensible position.) Is this the process by which scientific hypotheses are tested? No.
 
Anecdotal evidence is perfectly admissible in debate, especially for the con case, but there is a limit to how compelling a case you can build with it.
 
Now that's not quite what was going on here, but this debate was closer to parliamentary debate than scientific testing. Judge accordingly.

 
Here is the heart of it.  When it comes to climate change, I see three major topics:
 
1) What is happening?  Can we characterize and predict climate change?  What are the impacts of whatever climate change seems to be going on?
 
2) How much influence does human activity have on climate change?  Is Earth becoming less habitable because of our activities?
 
3) Given the answers to questions 2 and 3, what actions should governments take?
 
Topics (1) and (2) are 100% scientific inquiry.  "It's cold today where I live" is not a valid argument for the con side, and does not add to the debate.  Even bad data and faulty analysis is more helpful to the debate than anecdotes because it can be discussed and criticized, and through that discussion, methods are improved.  That's peer reviewed science in process.  Anecdotes, on the other hand, distract from the debate looking at individual data points in isolation and extrapolating from a sample set of one.  They try to equate personal experience with careful gathered, statistically relevant, data.  
 
 
Now, with (3), I'll completely agree that a parliamentary debate is appropriate.  The scientific community describes a problem.  Politicians argue about the solution.  But the problem is that politicians don't want to deal with (3), so they try to undermine the science on (1) and (2) using debating methods only appropriate to (3).


EDIT: On second thought, no. Anecdotal evidence is terrible regardless of context. I don't want politicians making decisions based on what some dude on the street told them happened to his cousin one time. Just because they absolutely do it that way doesn't make it a good idea.


Edited by SteveT, 08 October 2014 - 01:58 PM.


#8 SteveT

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Posted 10 October 2014 - 10:12 AM

So let's talk about the article about finding a flaw in using mice as a model for humans, and consequently a LOT of research having been invalidated.

 

To say that it undermines the scientific process is to misunderstand the scientific process.  The scientific method is, over time, self-correcting.  That's what you just saw.  Yes, it sucks that research has been shown to be based on flawed assumptions.  Yes, it does suck that some studies have to restart.  But it does NOT suck that we found the source of error and are capable of removing it.  

 

I'm not accusing you of this fallacy, but I see it often from anti-science internet comments (often in the frame of religion vs atheism debates).  People say that "Science is wrong because it changes its answers."  But what those people ignore is that science is a process that incrementally reveals more correct answers.  Yes, it's wrong all the time, but it's still more likely to be correct than a guy making stuff up, and it's usually more correct than that same guy.  Some guy made up that a bowling ball falls faster than a feather because it weighs more.  Then Galileo dropped a few things off a tower to prove that wrong.  Then Newton codified the Theory of Gravity and kicked off modern mechanics.  Then Einstein corrected Newton and we're more correct.  And we're in the next phase of that right now.  

 

The point is: science eventually gets it right.  Scrutiny speeds that process along.  

 

The other paper, which talks about medical studies being impossible to reproduce and only true under very specific conditions, is more concerning.  It certainly does show failures of medical research.  Does climate science share those failures?  What is the scope of these failures?  These are important questions.


Edited by SteveT, 10 October 2014 - 03:55 PM.


#9 Egann

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Posted 11 October 2014 - 04:06 PM

 

 

The problem with alternative energy is that it isn't a step forward. I appreciate technological development in them because more options is always a good thing. It's just they're an erratic trickle of energy when we really need a powerful stream. To take pressure off earth's biomes we need to have large space colonies. That is basically impossible to support with chemical energy. Alternative energy sources sidestep the issue, but the best solution is to go nuclear and start doing things like recycling nuclear wastes. Which we don't do at the moment because nuclear prices are not high enough.

 

Every time I see a discussion on solar energy, there's always some detractor who tries to tell everyone that solar is useless because it's not as powerful as a nuclear reactor. Which is nonsense. That's like saying a Honda Civic is useless because a Ferrari is obviously superior. The Ferrari is indeed the superior machine, but not everyone needs a Ferrari. 

 

 

Efficient use of energy means having options. Which you seem to appreciate, but you make alternatives out to be pointless in the same breath.

 

Communities and individuals have different needs -- and certain technologies are going to fill those needs more efficiently than others. More importantly, you can use multiple energy options at the same time to find the right blend of ideal energy output and cost efficiency. Big cities? They will obviously benefit from something as powerful and stable as nuclear energy. Although buildings could still incorporate solar in various ways to reduce their costs and reduce strain on the main power grid. City folk would also benefit from using electric vehicles, since daily commutes typically aren't that long. These things should make logical sense.

 

Small communities and individuals living away from major population centers? Different needs. Solar and wind can often meet the needs of these communities -- and by generating energy much closer to home, there's significantly less work involved than if you were to be made dependent on a reactor 200 miles away.

 

You know that bad winter we had last year? People in isolated areas literally died due to exposure because either 1) power lines went down for various storm-related reasons, or 2) they couldn't afford to pay the power company. If those individuals had solar panels on their small homes, then they could have generated enough power to use their heating systems and, y'know, avoid death.

 

Alternative energy isn't meant to be a huge "step forward" versus things like nuclear. There's no logic in thinking that it's some kind of power output competition. Alternative energies are primarily supplemental -- ideal for small communities, individuals living off-grid, and urban buildings that want to offset their costs. That should not make it less desirable. The power source is unlimited, and it produces no waste. Any way you can implement solar -- whether it's paneling on your house or solar phone chargers -- should be a good thing. Less strain on the grid. Less shit in the air.

 

Options good. We can invest in solar now. Building goddamn space colonies is going to take a while.

 

 

 

As an aside, I will certainly never understand why conservatives -- the party of liberty and independence -- would be opposed to alternative energy. By generating your own power, you are less dependent on a big company for your power, and you don't have to pay sometimes outrageous fees every month. Isn't that a good thing?

 

 

Solar is nowhere near as ready a technology as you think, and even if it were it wouldn't take the universe by storm.

 

Realistically "investing in something now" means buying some over the next ten to fifteen years. Take smartphones; between PDA's and such there wasn't really a "first smartphone" and even the iPhone was way back in 2007. Now it's been seven years and I still haven't bought one.

 

For any technology or product to take off it needs to have a clear advantage over status quo technology. You need to give people a reward to move. Solar energy does have such an advantage; it's great if you don't have access to a power grid because you can have power. Solar energy has been fantastic for developing nations. But if you're plugged to the grid? It's really not all that good. It's inconsistent and doesn't provide a lot of energy, so handling it is more a hassle than a good old fashioned coal plant.

 

Now that does look like it might change in the future. Printed solar cells look to be cheap enough to be thrown on roadways and roofing tiles, and if the price of graphene ever comes down, then graphene supercapacitors will inherit the earth. That said, this stuff is still in development. Even once they're finished developing this stuff--which will be years--it will still take five to ten years to take over the market. Even if the technologies needed got patented today they would be three or four years from a consumer end product. No matter what solution you're talking we're talking decades before proper implementation.

 

Here is the heart of it.  When it comes to climate change, I see three major topics:

 
1) What is happening?  Can we characterize and predict climate change?  What are the impacts of whatever climate change seems to be going on?
 
2) How much influence does human activity have on climate change?  Is Earth becoming less habitable because of our activities?
 
3) Given the answers to questions 2 and 3, what actions should governments take?
 
Topics (1) and (2) are 100% scientific inquiry.  "It's cold today where I live" is not a valid argument for the con side, and does not add to the debate.  Even bad data and faulty analysis is more helpful to the debate than anecdotes because it can be discussed and criticized, and through that discussion, methods are improved.  That's peer reviewed science in process.  Anecdotes, on the other hand, distract from the debate looking at individual data points in isolation and extrapolating from a sample set of one.  They try to equate personal experience with careful gathered, statistically relevant, data.  
 
 
Now, with (3), I'll completely agree that a parliamentary debate is appropriate.  The scientific community describes a problem.  Politicians argue about the solution.  But the problem is that politicians don't want to deal with (3), so they try to undermine the science on (1) and (2) using debating methods only appropriate to (3).


EDIT: On second thought, no. Anecdotal evidence is terrible regardless of context. I don't want politicians making decisions based on what some dude on the street told them happened to his cousin one time. Just because they absolutely do it that way doesn't make it a good idea.

 

You oversimplify. One anecdote is an anecdote. Fifteen or twenty is possibly a pattern, especially if they come with ancillary observations. A few thousand collected randomly is called a statistical study. You have to distinguish between a bad form of evidence and a weak one.

 

That said, I (mostly) like your 3 steps. It emphasizes modeling a bit too much and assumes that making a policy reaction is possible to begin with, but I can tolerate that.

 

1: Can we characterize and predict climate change? Not very well. The problem is that climate is a very hard thing to model; there are a lot of variables, and many of them have complex non-linear relationships. For example, reflectivity depends on how much humidity will precipitate into clouds, but cloud formation depends on high altitude dust and possibly even cosmic rays to form or else there's nothing for the water vapor to condense onto.

 

Here's a good way to organize our ignorance:

 

global%20warming%20ar5%20model%20b.jpg?v

This is the five most used climate change models projections from some years back with their margins of error shown. Superimposed is the real average temperature in black. As you can see, not many of the models fared well. Two of the five completely overshot the real temperature. Assuming these margins of errors are standard bell curves, the margin of error shows three standard deviations above and below their means. What you would really like to see is several models predict the real temperature within one or at most two standard deviations of that model's mean and for the mean across all of them to loosely correlate to the real temperature. Instead, all of them are too high. Only one actually got the real temperature in its second standard deviation (only just) and that one has a significantly larger margin of error than the others. This is really not a great prediction.

 

Now granted, a prediction from the late 80's is probably not the most generous comparison, but it is really quite difficult to find graphics showing the prediction's margin of error and to meaningfully compare that prediction to reality it has to be some years old.

 

2. Is Earth becoming less habitable from our activities? This one is actually really contentious. I see a lot of claims both ways, but actual numbers are scarce. Especially when global warming advocates are quick to blame Katrina on global warming when the actual scientists with the models say that even if extreme weather will increase, the number of hurricanes specifically should go down.

 

The one thing I can find a number on is CO2 in the atmosphere making plants more viable in arid biomes.

 

Using gas exchange theory, we predict that the 14% increase in atmospheric CO2 (1982–2010) led to a 5 to 10% increase in green foliage cover in warm, arid environments. Satellite observations, analyzed to remove the effect of variations in precipitation, show that cover across these environments has increased by 11%. Our results confirm that the anticipated CO2 fertilization effect is occurring alongside ongoing anthropogenic perturbations to the carbon cycle and that the fertilization effect is now a significant land surface process.

 

SOURCE.

 

It's possible it will also mean longer growing seasons, but I can't find numbers to back that up. Likewise, other negative claims, such as melting ice caps and ocean levels rising are not necessarily bad things. They're just changes. It's possible CO2 changing the ocean's pH could have a negative effect on oceanic biomes, but I can't find numbers on that, either. At least not numbers correlating pH specifically to depressed biodiversity as opposed to something else like overfishing.

 

Even if the models are correct on extreme weather, it may be worth the change for the increased greenery and longer growing seasons.



#10 SteveT

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Posted 11 October 2014 - 08:27 PM

Can I get a source on that chart?  I'd be curious to read the whole article.

 

Increased growing seasons are nice in some respects, but they do come at a cost.  For one, we already have a water problem in the southwestern U.S.  A LOT of our agriculture is being done in an arid climate, which means a lot of irrigation, and there's only so much usable water for the farming industry.  We have to either move the farming industry north in response to increasing temperatures or be susceptible to desertification and food shortages.

 

The other downside is insects and various invasive species.  For example, I live in an area where winter prevents the spread of things like kudzu and there aren't very many species of venomous spiders.  I'd don't really want that to change.

 

Then there's rising sea levels, which I wouldn't be so quick to discount because humans are attracted to coastal areas.



#11 Selena

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Posted 11 October 2014 - 10:37 PM

 

Solar is nowhere near as ready a technology as you think, and even if it were it wouldn't take the universe by storm.

 

Realistically "investing in something now" means buying some over the next ten to fifteen years. Take smartphones; between PDA's and such there wasn't really a "first smartphone" and even the iPhone was way back in 2007. Now it's been seven years and I still haven't bought one.

 

For any technology or product to take off it needs to have a clear advantage over status quo technology. You need to give people a reward to move. Solar energy does have such an advantage; it's great if you don't have access to a power grid because you can have power. Solar energy has been fantastic for developing nations. But if you're plugged to the grid? It's really not all that good. It's inconsistent and doesn't provide a lot of energy, so handling it is more a hassle than a good old fashioned coal plant.

 

Now that does look like it might change in the future. Printed solar cells look to be cheap enough to be thrown on roadways and roofing tiles, and if the price of graphene ever comes down, then graphene supercapacitors will inherit the earth. That said, this stuff is still in development. Even once they're finished developing this stuff--which will be years--it will still take five to ten years to take over the market. Even if the technologies needed got patented today they would be three or four years from a consumer end product. No matter what solution you're talking we're talking decades before proper implementation.

 

 

 

10-20 years to implement solar technology is a helluva lot less time than it'll take to build your space colonies. 

 

You've more or less described every new technology that's ever come out.

 

"This technology isn't great right now, and it'll take too much time and effort to implement," is the war cry of anyone who failed to buy stock in Apple, Microsoft, Netflix, Amazon, and Google when those companies were new. People thought television would never last, that the internet was too slow to do anything worthwhile, that flimsy airplanes would never make as much money as good ol' fashioned trains, and that cellphones were cumbersome and ineffective due to bad reception. People paid more attention to existing technologies that were proven and stable at the time. 

 

Most of those "proven" technologies are now obsolete, and the businesses that once profited from them no longer exist. Or if they still exist, they are a shadow of their former selves. And those who failed to invest in the new stuff are kicking themselves for it.

 

 

 

Coal, oil, and natural gas are limited resources. We will run out. They are also messy, cause collateral damage to the environment if something goes wrong, and sometimes there are fatalities involved with their production and/or transportation. Their only real value is that they are immediately available. But given that they are finite resources, they are effectively a "dead end." Not worth pursuing in the long run -- only useful until we create better longterm options. I see no logical sense in putting more money and effort into industries that have expiration dates. 

 

Solar has no expiration date. It has no waste. It has no danger. Once the technology is there, it can be implemented around the world -- in a variety of ways -- to create permanent energy solutions. Once developed properly, it will be a vital part of global energy. It has tremendous and obvious potential that should not be wasted just because it's not immediately appealing. 

 

I don't care about now, I care about the future. All energy plans are going to take decades to fully implement. I'd rather focus on new technologies rather than propping up existing ones. The future of energy is not in oil, coal, or gas. It's in nuclear, solar, wind, and hydroelectric.

 

 

 

I don't really understand some of your logic concerning energy plans. You seem appreciative of research efforts, but at the same time you seem like there's absolutely no point in it, so it's like you don't want to bother. Like that bit about how nothing we do is going to matter because China and India don't give any shits. 



#12 Delphi

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Posted 12 October 2014 - 01:28 PM

Based on what my dad has seen in the power industry, wind isn't the best way to go. At least not without a lot more research into more efficient and tougher generators. On paper it looks great. However in practice it's a pain the ass that doesn't have a good return on lower for what you put into it.

From what I understand because they're difficult to maintain at any given time about half of the wind farm will be down at any given time. From what I've seen near St. George and in the columbia gorge this appears accurate.

About a quarter of the farm will be down due to a burned out generator and be waiting for a replacement, which if you've ever seen that done is some scary looking shit. Another quarter are windmills that have a burned out generator currently being repaired. For the amount of area that they cover and how often they go down, they're not the best choice right now.

However if we invest a lot of our research and resources into a more robust generator technology, I could see it being a viable power source.

When it gets down to it what we really need is a more efficient way of heating homes. Any time you change energy from one form to another you lose quite a bit. You already lose a lot of potential energy turning kinetic or heat energy into electric. To then go back to heat you lose even more. Electricity for heat just isn't efficient. Gas isn't a viable long term solution either if we're trying to get away from fossil fuels.

But one thing I've heard of from my husband's friend who's in construction and going to school for civil engineering could work very well.

Geothermal heat pumps take advantage of the heat already stored in the ground to keep a house warm. Combined with under floor heating things get really nice and comfortable. In hotter months it actually works as a heat sink to cool the house, elimating the need for running AC constantly. It's considered to be one of the greenest ways to heat a home. And if it means I don't have to pay a gas bill for heating and I can cut down on the electric bill in the summer sign me up.

Seriously, though, it's worth taking a look at.

As for generating electricy, methane recapture looks interesting to me. It can be recaptured from abandoned coal mines, landfills, and cattle farms. Some cattle farms already use this method to drive small machines. A ski retreat in Vermont is using it to power ski liftz. It has the added benefit of keeping more methane out of the atmosphere.
While it still does produce carbon dioxide as a by product, it is in far less quantities than hydrocarbon fuels.


Probably one of the most exciting things, if it turns out to be actuly feasible, is the beta reactor being developed by Lockheed-Martin's Skunk Works. It would be a compact fusion reactor run by tritium and deuterium with no possibility of meltdown (it just turns itself off) with the by product being helium, something that we actually sorely need for cooling super conducting magnets.

But check out the CNN article. I hope it's not too good to be true because this could be used to power neighborhoods without having to transmit power so far and with so much loss over miles of line.


http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-934454

All in all, whether you believe global warming is real or not I really can't argue against being a good steward to the Earth. It's the only home we have. And the thing is if climate change goes out of control, the Earth will survive. It's already come back from asteroid bombardment and the Toba Catastrophe. Life will always flourish one way or another as Earth's biosphere is a resilliant thing. We just won't be there to see it. We'll be another footnote in the fossil records.

So no we won't destroy the Earth. Just the current biosphere which includes us.

#13 Oberon Storm

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Posted 13 October 2014 - 02:02 PM

Even once they're finished developing this stuff--which will be years--it will still take five to ten years to take over the market. Even if the technologies needed got patented today they would be three or four years from a consumer end product. No matter what solution you're talking we're talking decades before proper implementation.

 

Better five to ten years from today rather than five to ten years from twenty years from now.



#14 Egann

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Posted 15 October 2014 - 11:34 AM

Can I get a source on that chart?  I'd be curious to read the whole article.

 

Increased growing seasons are nice in some respects, but they do come at a cost.  For one, we already have a water problem in the southwestern U.S.  A LOT of our agriculture is being done in an arid climate, which means a lot of irrigation, and there's only so much usable water for the farming industry.  We have to either move the farming industry north in response to increasing temperatures or be susceptible to desertification and food shortages.

 

The other downside is insects and various invasive species.  For example, I live in an area where winter prevents the spread of things like kudzu and there aren't very many species of venomous spiders.  I'd don't really want that to change.

 

Then there's rising sea levels, which I wouldn't be so quick to discount because humans are attracted to coastal areas.

 

The link is from a Fox News article on the IPCC panel. Not the best source, I know, but infographics showing the margin of errors are really rare. If you don't mind going through pages of text I can give you a scholarly cited article which is notably better than the the infographic. I opted for the infographic because you can digest the infographic at a glance and the information is (largely) the same.

 

I would actually throw out everything you said because there's not a single number to back any of it up. Without numbers it's really hard to distinguish between a real claim and empty gesticulating. You can use word models to do anything.

 

Example: The greenery increasing that I mentioned in my prior post is specifically because of higher CO2. When there's very little rain, plants don't typically die of dehydration. They die from carbon starvation because they close their stomata to preserve water. Higher CO2 levels means leaf stomata don't need to be opened as widely and less water transpires for the plant to acquire the same amount of CO2.

 

Now this means two things:

1) droughts should be less damaging to plants even if they are numerically stronger, and

2) less water as a whole is transpiring.

 

#2 in particular is interesting. CO2 is only a worrisome greenhouse gas as a gateway to higher humidity. While 90% of the world's precipitation comes from bodies of water, transpiration accounts for 10%. That 10% is negatively tied to the CO2 levels much more closely than the 90% is positively tied to it.

 

All this is just to say that if I don't see a few numbers and a citation, I don't trust it.

 

As to rising ocean levels and invasive species, personally I don't really care. Fundamentally rising oceans are neither good nor bad for the environment. Worst case scenario, 643 million people are displaced or 5.7 billion people need to find new energy sources. Do we change 8% of the world population's lifestyle or the energy prices for the 80% with access to electricity? Especially considering these changes will take decades and everyone will have time to adapt.

 

Invasive species are as old as time, though, and while you *could* argue that tropical biomes could expand, the difference between biomes is more like 10-30 degrees C. Warming is expected to average 0.3 C per decade. If you assume the smallest difference between biomes (10C) and a warming of 0.3 C per decade you wind up with an average of warmer biomes growing 0.33% per decade. And we're talking linear change here, not compound interest. I would worry about over-forestation and land over-development a long time before tropical plants and deserts taking over the planet.

 

 

Coal, oil, and natural gas are limited resources. We will run out. They are also messy, cause collateral damage to the environment if something goes wrong, and sometimes there are fatalities involved with their production and/or transportation. Their only real value is that they are immediately available. But given that they are finite resources, they are effectively a "dead end." Not worth pursuing in the long run -- only useful until we create better longterm options. I see no logical sense in putting more money and effort into industries that have expiration dates. 

 

Solar has no expiration date. It has no waste. It has no danger. Once the technology is there, it can be implemented around the world -- in a variety of ways -- to create permanent energy solutions. Once developed properly, it will be a vital part of global energy. It has tremendous and obvious potential that should not be wasted just because it's not immediately appealing. 

 

I don't care about now, I care about the future. All energy plans are going to take decades to fully implement. I'd rather focus on new technologies rather than propping up existing ones. The future of energy is not in oil, coal, or gas. It's in nuclear, solar, wind, and hydroelectric.

 

 

 

I don't really understand some of your logic concerning energy plans. You seem appreciative of research efforts, but at the same time you seem like there's absolutely no point in it, so it's like you don't want to bother. Like that bit about how nothing we do is going to matter because China and India don't give any shits. 

 

 

All that's true, but in the face of economic observations like price per watt it's likely that we're really going to have very little choice on what energy source we use. That will be dictated for us. Even governmental policy can only sway the choice between two already close options. That's one of the reasons tax incentives on electric vehicles and cash for clunkers didn't really do much.

 

Thing is, we all know we're going to have to develop nuclear power eventually. We're going to need massive desalination plants soon, and we're already knocking on the limits of chemical energy. Likely whatever is next won't be a practical mass market alternative as long as there's coal or oil to dig up, regardless of what specific energy source you pick; oil companies have basically given up the green energy spiel and have doubled down on oil for the foreseeable future. Why? Because changing infrastructure costs money.

 

I really doubt our extraction technology will go much beyond fracking, and once that's on the verge of running out, oil companies will have to start spending money on changing their infrastructure. 10-20 years down the road you will likely see several oil and utility companies massively change their tune at about the same time, and what technologies are ready then will determine a lot of things, but I really don't see much happening before then.

 

 

Based on what my dad has seen in the power industry, wind isn't the best way to go. At least not without a lot more research into more efficient and tougher generators. On paper it looks great. However in practice it's a pain the ass that doesn't have a good return on lower for what you put into it.

From what I understand because they're difficult to maintain at any given time about half of the wind farm will be down at any given time. From what I've seen near St. George and in the columbia gorge this appears accurate.

About a quarter of the farm will be down due to a burned out generator and be waiting for a replacement, which if you've ever seen that done is some scary looking shit. Another quarter are windmills that have a burned out generator currently being repaired. For the amount of area that they cover and how often they go down, they're not the best choice right now.

However if we invest a lot of our research and resources into a more robust generator technology, I could see it being a viable power source.

When it gets down to it what we really need is a more efficient way of heating homes. Any time you change energy from one form to another you lose quite a bit. You already lose a lot of potential energy turning kinetic or heat energy into electric. To then go back to heat you lose even more. Electricity for heat just isn't efficient. Gas isn't a viable long term solution either if we're trying to get away from fossil fuels.

But one thing I've heard of from my husband's friend who's in construction and going to school for civil engineering could work very well.

Geothermal heat pumps take advantage of the heat already stored in the ground to keep a house warm. Combined with under floor heating things get really nice and comfortable. In hotter months it actually works as a heat sink to cool the house, elimating the need for running AC constantly. It's considered to be one of the greenest ways to heat a home. And if it means I don't have to pay a gas bill for heating and I can cut down on the electric bill in the summer sign me up.

Seriously, though, it's worth taking a look at.

As for generating electricy, methane recapture looks interesting to me. It can be recaptured from abandoned coal mines, landfills, and cattle farms. Some cattle farms already use this method to drive small machines. A ski retreat in Vermont is using it to power ski liftz. It has the added benefit of keeping more methane out of the atmosphere.
While it still does produce carbon dioxide as a by product, it is in far less quantities than hydrocarbon fuels.


Probably one of the most exciting things, if it turns out to be actuly feasible, is the beta reactor being developed by Lockheed-Martin's Skunk Works. It would be a compact fusion reactor run by tritium and deuterium with no possibility of meltdown (it just turns itself off) with the by product being helium, something that we actually sorely need for cooling super conducting magnets.

But check out the CNN article. I hope it's not too good to be true because this could be used to power neighborhoods without having to transmit power so far and with so much loss over miles of line.


http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-934454

All in all, whether you believe global warming is real or not I really can't argue against being a good steward to the Earth. It's the only home we have. And the thing is if climate change goes out of control, the Earth will survive. It's already come back from asteroid bombardment and the Toba Catastrophe. Life will always flourish one way or another as Earth's biosphere is a resilliant thing. We just won't be there to see it. We'll be another footnote in the fossil records.

So no we won't destroy the Earth. Just the current biosphere which includes us.

 

There are actually a lot of exotic energy sources on the horizon. One of the things I just found out about is graphene atmospheric electricity. Essentially if you stick a kite far enough into the air, you can get electricity off it because air that's not close to the ground is electrically charged. No moving parts, and while the voltage is incredible the current is so low its effectively harmless. This isn't really practical unless you have a material like graphene which is extremely light, strong, and electrically conductive.

 

Now here's the kicker: unlike solar and wind energy, air always has this innate charge in it. Weather can drastically increase it, but it will always produce some energy, rain or shine. It's an energy source you can safely build over a residential area without dedicating it as a wind farm. No word on if this would produce a significant amount of power, but it's an interesting thing to know.

 

As to fusion....I keep hoping that if I never get my hopes up for it, then it will happen sooner. On paper it's the ideal energy source, which of course means the practical problems for it are a mile long. Last I checked containment was a big problem, and heavy water is actually kinda hard to refine.



#15 SteveT

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Posted 15 October 2014 - 12:19 PM


Oh my goodness, did you read that article?  Even Fox News said that global warming is totally happening and humans are a contributing factor.  Sure, they're showing that the models over-estimated the temperature.  That's hardly the same as saying Global Warming is a conspiracy and humans are in the clear.
 
And then there's this: 
 

As to rising ocean levels and invasive species, personally I don't really care. Fundamentally rising oceans are neither good nor bad for the environment. Worst case scenario, 643 million people are displaced or 5.7 billion people need to find new energy sources. Do we change 8% of the world population's lifestyle or the energy prices for the 80% with access to electricity? Especially considering these changes will take decades and everyone will have time to adapt.

 
Maybe you don't care, but denying the problem doesn't make it go away.  It's a lot easier to say, "Well, that model wasn't perfect so I'll completely ignore the results" than it is to research alternative energy sources.  That doesn't make it a better solution.
 

*Speculation without numbers and studies to back it up*
 

 
 
 

 
 

I would actually throw out everything you said because there's not a single number to back any of it up. Without numbers it's really hard to distinguish between a real claim and empty gesticulating. You can use word models to do anything.

 
 
 

*Speculation without numbers and studies to back it up*
 

 
I hereby invoke my New Year's Resolution to stop getting mired in dead-end internet debates.

Edited by SteveT, 15 October 2014 - 12:31 PM.


#16 Delphi

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Posted 15 October 2014 - 01:19 PM

I don't see why we can't start attempting new energy sources now.


Here's a better source I found today for the details of the skunk works design: http://m.aviationwee...reactor-details

So why wait until we're at the crisis point?

Once cars were able to show what they could do, you didn't see people running back to their horse and buggy.

Maybe I'm just an idealist underneath it all but I don't see any merit in sitting around saying "oh well until oil and coal run out we can't do anything."

You have to be willing to take that leap. You might not see the results today but it may help later. It's kind of a selfish view to say "But it won't happen in my lifetime so why should I care?" If you don't have that drive to find something better, discover how something works, and so forth then what is science for?




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