Thursday, March 22, 2007

Waiting to Inhale: Swindled by a Cheesy British Documentary

I watched a few minutes of The Great Global Warming Swindle, a new British documentary that has some skeptical naysayers hooting with triumphalism. Then I felt compelled to do some fact-checking and discovered that Campaign Against Climate Change did a complete transcript and there are rebuttals by smarter people than I (Frank O. Dwyer, British investigative columnist George Monbiot, blogger Coby Beck), so I don't have to watch even one more minute of those naysaying pieces of shit (really, how seriously should we take a documentary that claims volcanoes emit more CO2 each year than all human activity, which doesn't know the difference between regional and global climate and claims the MWP was warmer than today?).

The claim of the documentary is that sunspot activity is the real culprit behind Global Warming (the existence of which they don't dispute anymore) and that man's activity on Earth has nearly nothing to do with it.

I noticed one glaring flaw in that logic, however.

Much is made of the fact that there was a Post-WWII industrial boom which released more man-made CO2 than ever before, yet we actually saw a cooling trend over the next 40 or so years. If CO2 were responsible for warming, wouldn't that have been the time to directly observe it? Since there was cooling (or at least no warming), then obviously, goes the logic, the theory of man-made Global Warming is destroyed.

However, the sunspot theory is also undermined by that cooling period, since there has apparently been an unusually high level of solar activity, a spike not seen in over 8000 years. If sunspots were the main contributor to global temperature, having many more times the impact of human activity, why didn't the temperature increase during those four decades?

There must have been some other factor at play besides just CO2 and/or sunspots. One theory (and I really don't know of any others) is Global Dimming. Whenever volcanoes emit their massive quantities of CO2, the planet cools. They release particulate matter that blocks the sunlight which cools the planet. Similarly, polluting industries. Oh, and nuclear bombs.

Two of those things are man-made, and two of those things started (heavily for aerosols, which obviously started with the Industrial Revolution in the 1700s, which could very well account for why the global temperature began to increase before 1940) in the 1940s. Above-ground nuclear testing and industrial aerosols were curbed a great deal in the 60s and 70s, leaving those natural volcanoes, including Mt. St. Helens, which apparently didn't cool the planet as much as artificial aerosols and nuclear bombs, especially considering that volcanoes also emit CO2 (and methane, another greenhouse gas).

If that is the case, then it seems man can have a significant effect on the atmosphere and the temperature, which undercuts the theory that man is a pipsqueak being pushed around by the sun. (Take that, Sun, we can block you out).

Of course, that's just cooling. (Woot! We can cool the planet by causing acid rain and nuclear winter! Problem solved.) That still doesn't prove CO2 warms the planet, because first the planet heats (because of sunspots) and then the CO2 rises (except that apparently isn't a perfect correlation; as this graph via TPMCafe shows, sometimes CO2 rises before temp, sometimes it happens simultaneously, and sometimes they seem to be operating independently of each other, though they do clearly follow each other ... hmm, must be those "other factors" again). If CO2 follows temperature, then CO2 can't be the cause of warming. Under any circumstances. Right?

Except we've always (except for once, and that global effect hasn't been shown either, and even regionally, Europe had already been in its Little Ice Age for, what, 100 years) had spikes of solar activity, but we haven't always had such seriously increasing temperatures, not for several million years. Yes, in the natural world unimposed upon by massive human activity or other major factors, solar activity can cause warming which raises CO2; then during the decreased solar activity, the CO2 is cycled out, getting processed through the oceans and biosphere which are Carbon Sinks (things that soak up and store more carbon than they emit).

But what if that natural CO2 is heavily augmented with man-made CO2, which doesn't relent even during decreased solar activity, or, hell, even during a single year, decade, or even century? We're still in a peak of solar activity (which scientists think will probably abate soon, though having little effect on Global Warming) and we're releasing gigatonnes of Carbon all year round. How much Carbon can the oceans and biosphere absorb before they stop absorbing it? And once they stop absorbing it -- a la the natural cycle that for many millennia has regulated the temperature of Earth despite sunspots and volcanoes, putting more CO2 into the atmosphere than is normally handled by the earth on a normal regular basis -- the excess CO2 will go into the atmosphere.

If the natural CO2 cycle can be likened to the inhalations and exhalations of the planet, then constantly pumping massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, particularly during an inhalation, can be likened to breathing under a blanket. What, you've never tried that? The increased CO2 makes it hot, sticky and stale. And then if methane is released ... that's a planet I don't want to live on. Earth may have to hold its breath for a while.

I don't doubt that solar activity increases the Earth's temperature. I also don't doubt that the unprecedented and unrelenting activities of humans which don't allow the planet to catch its breath have an effect on our climate, thus on all our lives. It seems that the main problem I have with what I've read of this documentary (besides the glaring errors and omissions of fact by discredited "scientists" ) is that it focuses only on the one factor, sunspots. Global Warming attributes many complexities to global temperature, but The Great Global Warming Swindle ignores all that.

In fact, I bet this statement from the documentary is nearly completely correct (those damn "other factors"): "It was the Sun it seemed, not Carbon Dioxide or anything else that was driving changes in the climate," but only if it's read like this: "It was the Sun it seemed, not Carbon Dioxide or anything else that was driving changes in the climate."

A new figure has been added to the equation.

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