Several serious people have asked me where I stand on “anthropogenic global warming”, or stated more bluntly, ‘How should we combat global warming?’. Since the public debate about global warming has now been blown past the bounds of reason, that leading question is very similar to ‘Are you still beating your wife?’. I hope the answer below will shed some light for those not yet locked down on this issue. As a point of qualification, I approach this question as a systems scientist and a practicing professional engineer trained in physics, mathematics, and complex dynamic systems. While being neither a climatologist nor an atmospheric scientist, I am the type of professional whose skills come into play in developing the data gathering systems, designing and running the simulation models, interpreting results, and structuring the response decision framework for dealing with such complex systems as the macro-climate of the earth. I also have six grandchildren who will have no choice but to live in the future that we fashion for them.
Restatement of Problem. I think of the issue in terms of the following sequence of nested questions –
1. Is the current macro-climate of the earth historically unusual?
2. Should the current dynamics of earth’s macro-climate be a cause for alarm about the future of humankind?
3. Assuming that the answers to #1 and #2 are both positive, to what extent are the dynamics of earth’s macro-climate the result of human activity?
4. Assuming that the answers to #1, 2, and 3 are all indicative, do we yet know what to do to guarantee that the dire predictions or something worse will not be the result of our planned intervention?
5. Assuming that the answers to #1, 2, 3,and 4 are all supportive, is there anything that we humans are now prepared to do collectively to change the forecasted catastrophe for humankind?
Since this is the summary of my current beliefs and not a technical paper, I will attempt short answers to the above questions.
1. Is the current macro-climate of the earth historically unusual? First, we should be clear that there is no scientific consensus on ‘global warming’ contrary to what Al Gore and the mainstream media trumpet. Michael Mann’s now famous hockey stick of global temperatures is wrong as shown in several peer reviewed papers (e.g. McKitrick and McIntyre 2003). The claimed consensus can be shown to be a statistical “group think” due to the sources, nature, and implementation of academic funding programs (Wegman 2006). The published opinions and arguments of respected mainstream scientists (e.g. R.S. Lindzen, MIT’s Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science, 2006) who counter the popular fare on global warming are suppressed. Scientific evidence abounds that earth’s current climate along with its attendant dynamics (including the two major ice packs) are neither unusual nor extreme when considered within the context of several historical frames – last hundred years, last millennium, last twenty thousand years, and even paleo episodically.
Accepting this answer does not mean that the question is closed. I think that research should continue to address the state and dynamics of earth’s climate. Earth’s climate has undergone many dramatic and relatively sudden changes in the past, all without human intervention, and will undoubtedly do so in the future. Now that we are here in large numbers, it pays to keep studying the situation because things will change.
2. Should the current dynamics of earth’s macro-climate be a cause for alarm about the future of humankind? No, simply because we don’t know yet the real dynamics of the world’s macro climate. Our weather models are myopic and may remain so for technical reasons having to do with the nature of chaotic systems and the limits of computability. Our world climate models are also primitive and give very different answers over the range of normative assumptions and inputs – they are not, and probably will never be, what control theorists call ‘robust’ because that may be the nature of Nature. Right now these faulty models are exercised with faulty inputs of parameters such as future CO2 levels. The protagonists of global warming continue to make assumptions that human development and technology will be frozen over the planning horizon (say, the next hundred years). The exact opposite is true. Driven by the confluence of nanotechnology, genomics, and machine intelligence, we are entering a period of human history that is epochal (Kurzweil 2005). The fruits of this accelerating advancement within the next twenty years will undoubtedly resolve many of the current issues about earth’s macro-climate.
3. Assuming that the answers to #1 and #2 are both positive, to what extent are the dynamics of earth’s macro-climate the result of human activity? Since there is strong evidence of big climatological changes in both the recent and distant pasts along with the absence of good climate models, it is hard to pin today’s climate dynamics on human activity. Nevertheless, political activists see a definite ‘yes’ answer to this question as a necessary underpinning for their larger political, social, and economic agendas and therefore trumpet accordingly. To date their tactics have been successful with a population that is to a large extent illiterate (can’t understand points made through the printed word) and almost totally innumerate (don’t possess the tools for critical thinking). This assessment is supported by the politically proscribed longitudinal survey of adult literacy by the Department of Education now in its third edition (National Assessment of Adult Literacy, 2003). It is within the context of these results that our country’s popular reaction to global warming alarums and other important social issues of the day should be understood.
4. Assuming that the answers to #1, 2, and 3 are all indicative, do we yet know what to do to guarantee that the dire predictions or something worse will not be the result of our planned intervention? From a scientific perspective we have absolutely no idea how to drive the earth’s future climate into any specified state. As mentioned above, the current blatherings about limiting human CO2 being a solution are based on the exercise of faulty models exercised under faulty assumptions. There is even a reasonable argument that the current levels atmospheric CO2 are saving us from an insipient ice age that is long overdue. In sum, the so-called answers to global warming are all over the place, carefully winnowed, and made bite-sized for large scale consumption by folks with much broader agendas than saving us from noxious climate changes. The Kyoto accord, which has no chance of world-wide adoption, is just the poster child of the global warming advocates. The technical reader will understand that it is not clear yet that the macro-climate system is observable let alone controllable. Attempting large scale changes at this stage of knowledge may be equivalent to putting a chimpanzee into the cockpit of a 747 at 30,000 feet.
5. Assuming that the answers to #1, 2, 3,and 4 are all supportive, is there anything that we humans are now prepared to do collectively to change the forecasted catastrophe for humankind? The obvious answer to this is a resounding no. The so-called Kyoto compliant nations led by the EU have made no progress in cutting their ‘greenhouse emissions’ and have instead increased them. Champion polluters China and India are exempt from Kyoto and the other under-developed nations (led by Russia) will exercise the same option the moment they come to believe that their beneficent future lies in wealth generation and not waiting for its redistribution from the developed countries. Kyoto compliance is guaranteed to make and keep nations poor, and populous poor nations have a dismal record of treating the environment with anything short of self-serving disregard and/or contempt.
The Bottom Line
I believe we should continue and even accelerate the study of atmospheric sciences since it is possible that we will discover that indeed we can purposefully impact macro-climate. It is highly probable that before this century ends, the world’s major source of energy will be something other than fossil fuels. It is also likely that we will have gone beyond the maximum global population point (about 10-12 billion) that is now projected to be achieved sometime in mid-century (UN publication ST/ESA/SER.A/242, 2005).
It is clear to many of us that along any potential course of human (or trans-human) development we would like to control our environment and make more of the earth more hospitable. This dictates that we continue discovering what makes everything in this universe tick. Right now the proposed precipitous programs to attempt a macro-climate change should continue to be challenged through unfettered research and reasoned debate.