Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Wells of wisdom.

How does one deal with an illogical argument? I am talking about the common error of extrapolation, where one set of facts apparently disproves another but when logic is applied, both sets of facts are shown to be true and independent.

I came across just such an argument last week, and because it challenged one of my pet concerns, I was forced to take another look at my premises. The argument was about climate change, and my friend Ross attempted to convince me that Climate Change was a myth, perpetrated by interest groups. He showed me evidence, based on ancient rainfall records around the Nile as measured in the depth of a well, going back thousands or years.

Those records suggest weather events occur in a twenty-one year cycle. He then claimed that current weather extremes were no more than expressions of that cycle. Ergo, climate change was not the cause. I read the evidence and it was compelling, except for one thing. There was a logical disconnect. The twenty-one year cycle had nothing to do with Climate Change. Climate change will alter long established cycles, some dramatically, particularly if sea currents change in direction and/or intensity. But has cause-effect been established between Climate Change and recent weather extremes experienced in North America, Pakistan and Eastern Australia, for example?

Last year’s Brisbane floods were not quite a record, New York’s storm surge was not quite a record, and in Pakistan records were not kept so to claim a simple cause-effect is ‘dangerous’. However, I did hear that Mississippi flooding reached one in five hundred year levels four times in the last twenty years. The chance those floods were a natural deviation are millions to one against.

It seems likely Ross’s twenty-one year cycle has been lifted in its entirety to a new level of intensity by higher energy levels retained within the global climate system. The twenty-one year cycle can be superimposed over the general climate change trend so they are both true.

Then Serendipity intervened with bad news and good news. The bad news came with the ABC show Catalyst that examined a hundred years of Australian weather records and showed the continent has heated by an average one degree, driving tropical and sub-tropical fish species south and caused extremes of temperature that was illustrated by birds falling from the sky. Then yesterday on RN Radio, as I drove along the shore, reinforced by rock walls against sea surge, that a simple experiment on Heron Island into ocean acidity proved beyond doubt that by the end of this century, that is, when babies born now are only a little older than I am now, no sea creatures that evolved to be calcium dependant will have survived. Such creatures include corals and those with shells. So what was the good news?

For the first time since European settlement of the Australian continent, energy use has fallen. Australians have the highest uptake of solar technology in the world. We are still the highest per capita polluters, but there is a glimmer of hope.


  1. I just watched a segment of CBS Sunday Morning in which 5 people, two of whom were previously skeptics all said that (a) climate change is a reality, (b) mankind is contributing to it, and (c) something can be done about it. Here's a link to the story:

    1. I took the link; thanks Bruce. Nobody can afford to simply say they are sceptical without checking the facts and of course once the facts are checked, scepticism is untenable.
      It is not hard to imagine where the scepticism is coming from, with coal miners desperate to keep mining. It reminds me of car industry predictions of the demise of the internal combustion engine when lead was legislated out of gasoline. They dimply did not want to pay for redesign and retooling. Now, gasoline engines last almost twice as long.
      Climate change was a subject of conversation last night at a function I attended and one person there said "I don't believe it because I haven't seen it." I guess that is the problem. It is happening too slowly to be noticed on a day to day basis, but given a hundred years of change and we will be in deep doo doo.
      Of course, if changes were coming at a rate we could notice day to day, it would be 'game over man!'

  2. We soldier on, some more than most.

    1. Thanks Ninot. Yes, some more than most, but the stakes are so high we must not become disheartened. There is a lot of corporate money behind the Climate Change Denial movement, but we do have science on our side if we can only get the message out.
      Not believing in climate change is like saying 'I don't believe in Gravity!'

  3. I was reading an article just a few days ago about one of the stations in Antarctica. The author mentioned that there is a stream of warm water flowing up from deeper in the ocean that is warmer than had been recorded in years past, that is raising the temperature of both the water and the air. He then went on to say that it proved the urgency for limiting carbon dioxide emissions. Since warm water rises to the surface, the warm stream must be the result of geothermal heating rather than pollution. It is unrealistic to claim reducing our carbon footprint will prevent the melting of the polar ice cap if it is the result of geothermal activity. It is such misleading claims that has prompted many of the questions and doubts about Global warming.

    1. Hello Donald and thanks for stopping to join in.
      I agree the claim that warmer rising flow is more likely to be from geothermal heating than global warming from increased CO2 and that dodgy claims undermine the science in general.
      Also, as you suggest, the Polar Ice Cap might even have been melting anyway, but if CO2 is a Greenhouse Gas (and that seems to be established) and we double its concentration in the atmosphere, apart from any localised changes there will be a general warming and that is the part we can do something about. So anything we can do to minimise damage to our human habitat, we must.
      But again, global warming aside, acidification of ocean water is real, proven and is the direct result of increased atmospheric carbon. Loss of aquatic calcium dependent species will perhaps cause more harm than any climate change on land, as catastrophic as that will be.


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