Monday, August 16, 2010

How It Is, Not How You Want It To Be

I'd like to try to spend an entire day entertaining the, idea? can I go as far as conviction? that the planet isn't actually warming and/or planet warming isn't something to be alarmed about because it's not related to anthropogenic greenhouse gases.  What if it all really is a hoax, really just incorrect?

(I'm working this week at Climate Science Camp, so expect a slue of Climate themed posts)

It is profound to contemplate this.  Because that would be...better.  We could focus our attention on other things, happily optimistically solvable things.

We'd still have to deal with peak oil (what are we gonna do when we run out?) and dependence on foreign oil and air pollution, which have some of the same solutions.  But maybe we could afford take our time about it.

It's nice to contemplate, but I am pretty darn sure of my climate science, and the moral imperative of "well, the possibility of climate change is very plausible, the physics of climate change is pretty indisputable" is pretty serious.  So for me it is only a happy thought experiment.

I have learned a great deal in my past six month stint as a research scientist on a project where the results we expected were just not what we got, and perhaps because I'm just a newcomer to the field of radio astronomy everything was just so hard to interpret.

You stare at graphs, at plots of independent variable vs dependent variable, and you try to understand what it means.  You know what you want it to mean because that would mean it's easy or that's what your hypothesis says or that is what would make some frikkin' sense.

But you cannot, cannot, cannot allow what you want it to mean to influence what you can honestly defend with carefully considered application of verifiable knowledge.   And even when you do your best you can't always explain everything, so you do your best to lay out plausible reasons for discrepancies while making very clear that you are only laying out the possibilities that you can rationally acknowledge in all of their limitations.

What happened for us is that we did not find evidence of quantum fine-structure electron energy transitions in ionized hydrogen, even though darn-it we should have, we got our resolution five times greater than necessary to see them, and we didn't for four different radio sources.  We came up with explanation after explanation:  dust which allows the conditions for the transitions isn't as dense as we thought, the hydrogen ions themselves are more dense than we thought, electric fields (which make electrons superimpose between levels) create a superposition which destroys the effect...yet we can get bounds on all of these things based on evidence and theory, and those bound still don't explain it.  Sure, maybe the evidence or theory that gave us those bounds is wrong, but finding that isn't within the scope of what we're doing, so we just communicate the theories we proposed and why they don't explain it and leave it at that.

Even though we want to see the lines.  But they don't really matter that much to us, and they don't matter at all (that we know of...) to the fate of planet Earth.

I'm sure some climate scientists interpret the graphs as C02 driven global warming because they want it to say that:  career and funding depend on it, they like being alarmists (though I really can't understand why someone would like admitting a very unhappy possibility and having to convince happy people to be unhappy about it to), whatever.  Certainly nobody likes being wrong, especially not so publicly and especially not after crying out in alarm.

Just like many climate skeptics don't accept climate change because, you know, that would just suck if it were true, and/or they've spent a good amount of work trying to say that it's not true and they don't want to be wrong either. 

I am very glad I am in the position, somewhat, of not having to be just told things.  The skeptics are lying to you because they want to spread doubt because they have stakes in the status quo and don't want to give up burning fossil fuels.  (you know what, I don't much want to give up burning fossil fuels, all externalities removed).  The global warming fraternity is little more than a religion, lying to you because of the established political interest and money in climate science and fear mongering for the sake of controlling others.

It's all noise.  The facts are the charts.  CO2, and temperature, some physics of molecules, some physics of the sun, some physics of weather.  And how you interpret it.  And buddy, you can interpret a chart all kinds of ways, yet one way is right in the sense that there is only one physical reality (or is there?) and it is certainly very nuanced and multi-faceted--and all the others are wrong.

So I could, be wrong.  Climate change may not be man-made.  It may not be catastrophic.  The world for my children may not be a whole lot hotter than it is today, and my god, the world may really have a lot about it that is totally, happily, awesomely fine.

Nothing the skeptics have said have convinced me, however, that their interpretation is more correct than the interpretation the majority of scientists have come to, the interpretation that I have come to, is wrong.  All the things they give me saying that the man-made warming interpretation is incorrect can be satisfactorily refuted.

But in the interest of full disclosure I'm a phyiscal scientist trained and trying to get a green job in renewable energy, I was raised a liberal-leaning (but very much center-reverting, at times) environmentalist, and I'm agnostic.  (Because some kid this week asked when deciding how much to trust our statements.)  So before you diss my opinion based on those data points, howabout you disclose yours.

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