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Friday, June 5, 2009

Arguing with Climate Change Deniers in Mt Lebanon PA

Over at Blog Lebo, a blog that covers pretty much everything about Mt Lebanon, my former home just outside of Pittsburgh, there has been an ongoing debate about whether or not it is right for the school district to include text books that offer an alternative argument to Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth and some of the environmental text books already being used by the students. Pardon the pun, but this is a textbook example of school board members injecting politics into the school curriculum. It one thing to object to a certain text being use, but according to a local paper, the board members (both whom happen to be Republicans) "said they did not object to the book, focusing their argument on whether an additional text reflecting the other side of the debate be added."

In the comments thread of that blog post, the Climate Change denier crowd is arguing that offering the students an alternative textbook would help teach them to not only learn that there are two sides of the debate but to learn critical thinking and analysis skill. One of the school board members quoted in the original story in the South Hills Almanac, James Frasch, makes the argument that by introducing an alternative text they would be "teaching our students that there is a debate about the existence of man-made global warming." Add Mr. Frasch to the climate change denier category. The post is followed by 19 comments, some which try to say that there was a scientific "consensus" that the earth was actually cooling rather than warming. This "consensus" around cooling has been proven to be a myth. Comment #20 (if it gets published) is also posted below and includes some very interesting links about the origin of the global warming discovery and the debate that occurred long before Al Gore presented "An Inconvenient Truth." If you haven't read this summary of the book "The Discovery of Global Warming" I encourage you to do so or at the very least take a look at the time line.

The following is my response to a former school board member, who stated that "The flat earth argument has been settled for centuries; the environment is an ongoing current debate that is relevant to all our lives. We need to give our students the respect and balanced curriculum materials to develop their own point of view and prepare them well for life."

Again, I don't see how you can call teaching the students on one hand, a theory that was proven decades ago and then on the other - the the wrong side of that theory, the side that already lost the debate, a "balanced" view. The only difference with this issue between when this debate was first settled and today is that now this has become a hot button political issue because some have chosen to put political ideology ahead of science, research, and history.

The following is a history lesson for anyone out there who thinks that Global Warming is something that was made up by Al Gore and the Democrats as a means to raise our taxes. Please bear with me.

This Global Warming "debate" you refer to already happened - during the first half of the 20th century. The greenhouse gas effect was discovered way back when James Monroe was President of the United States. The initial discovery was followed up by more quantitative research right before the turn of the century. The findings of these researchers led to the conclusion that an increase in CO2 led to an increase in global temperatures. The debate in that early period (late 19th early 20th century) between said researchers was not a matter of if increases in CO2 caused an increase in the earth's temperature, but by how much a certain increase in CO2 increased the earth's temperature. There was also a debate about how long it would take before all of the CO2 emitted by the coal plants and industrialization would have an meaningful impact on the earth's temperature. The "consensus" at that time agreed that worst case scenario it would probably take a few centuries before CO2 emitted by human activity would be substantial enough impact the earth's temperature. A few decades passed until a little known engineer, Guy Stewart Callendar, took notice that the CO2 levels are rising much faster than expected and having an impact on the earth's temperate. His findings were pretty much dismissed by all but a few who picked up where he left off and then, it was finally vindicated when Roger Revelle made a key discovery that the earth's oceans had a more limited ability to absorb the excess CO2 that was being produced by humans. Up until that point, it was thought that most of the CO2 generated by human would be absorbed by the oceans, and hence, would have little impact on the earth's temperature. The time line of global warming's discovery is here. A summarized or a full version of the story behind the discovery and the individuals who made can be found here.

The story does a great job of including some of the arguments against global warming. Some of these arguments happened over one hundred years ago. The debate was settled a while ago so as I said in my first post "there is no 'other side of the debate'" unless you feel the need to teach the students all of the junk science and false arguments against this already scientifically proven theory. With the state of education in this country, can the students really afford to spend time in the classroom learning about the "other side", the earth is flat side of the debate just because some people, James Frasch, Mark Hart, and others, cannot look beyond the politics of issue to come to grips and accept that the earth is warming and it is due because of the increasing CO2 emissions generated by human beings. It would help to at least start reading some of the links I have already posted. You may be skeptical about some of the scientific research I have linked to but how about disappearing glaciers? How about people dying?


James Fraasch said...

Chris I thought I would check out your blog, you know, since you mention me on it and all. Fact is, the way you and I think about how we ought to be getting our energy is not all that far off. Global Warming or not, things do need to change.

Understand this part of my argument if nothing else please. Back in the day scientists reached a consensus that the sun revolved around the earth. For many years this was the belief. It was heresy to state anything else to be the case. For years alternative viewpoints on the revolution of the earth around the sun was stifled. Scientists were silenced. Helio-centric believers were probably called names like "deniers" and "heretics". How many decades did this coerced silence set back science?

Let's try not to follow that example. If you are so confident in your beliefs then please let all the data be heard, let all the scientists do their experiments without fear of retribution and let the facts play out. I am not asking to deny our students access to any kind of information, instead I am asking for more to be added. You, on the other hand, would prefer to limit the sources that our students have and shield them from hearing about climate change "deniers" even if they are respected scientists.

Climate change happens. This is one thing we all know. Heck, they didn't name Greenland "GREEN"land because it was covered with snow. Vikings used to farm that land. What is the natural state of Greenland? Is it the way the Vikings found it? Good for farming? Warmer climate? Or is it the way we have known it for the past few centuries- an ice capped place with lots of snow.

You should readily admit that the planet has warmed in the past with absolutely no man-made CO2 (except for our exhaling). To suggest that now man has become so powerful as to adjust the earth's natural heating and cooling cycles I think deserves a lot of debate and thought. I am still convinced today that there is not enough evidence to suggest that global warming is wholly due to man's industriousness.

All you have to do is Google NASA's own studies on the effect the sun has on climate (dating as far back as 2003) and you will find a wealth of information- including the fact that NASA scientists have concluded that the majority of the warming in the 20th century was due to the sun. You will even find an article titled "The Sun's Chilly Impact on Earth" which concludes that low sun activity caused the Little Ice Age. Here's a headline from NASA just last week

"A study from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland looking at climate data over the past century has concluded that solar variation has made a significant impact on the Earth's climate. The report concludes that evidence for climate changes based on solar radiation can be traced back as far as the Industrial Revolution."

I know the information doesn't fit the global-warming alarmist profile, but as you ask me to read some of the sources you bring up, I would ask that you read some of the ones that I do as well- especially when they are from NASA. Further Googling of NASA will reveal that ice formation is increasing in Antartica at a faster rate than it is melting in the Arctic. Again, I know it doesn't fit the alarmist model, but it is a fact.

These data points don't mesh with the alarmist model of more CO2=higher temps. There is more going on here than the CO2 levels. My fear is that if we focus all our attention on curbing CO2 emissions we will miss the bigger picture of planning for a never-ending cycle of natural climate change. We should all have T-shirts that read "Climate Change Happens".

Keep up the good work on your blog. You have some great information here and I can tell you are very passionate about this. I will do my part in reading what I can get my hands on (including your blog). I hope you will be open to listening to information that might contradict what you so strongly believe.

Best wishes.


Schultz said...


Don't take it personal. I really admire what you have been doing with regards to the high school renovation. I've been on your side in the past and this just happens to be one of those times we were are on opposite sides of a heated issue (no pun intended). Actually, I do look at all the information that is presented from me. I checked out your NASA report from 2001,
"The Sun's Chilly Impact..."

A new NASA computer climate model reinforces the long-standing theory that low solar activity could have changed the atmospheric circulation in the Northern Hemisphere from the 1400s to the 1700s and triggered a "Little Ice Age" in several regions including North America and Europe. Changes in the sun's energy was one of the biggest factors influencing climate change during this period, but have since been superceded by greenhouse gases due to the industrial revolution.

And then it concludes with the following:

"The period of low solar activity in the middle ages led to atmospheric changes that seem to have brought on the Little Ice Age. However, we need to keep in mind that variations in solar output have had far less impact on the Earth's recent climate than human actions," Shindell said. "The biggest catalyst for climate change today are greenhouse gases," he added.

I read the article about the more recent report from NASA. Interesting, but it really doesn't conclude that the Sun is responsible for all of the warming, just some of the variation in warming and cooling. It actually supports this graph that shows very stable CO2 levels for about 900 years, which resulted in a cyclical trend of warming and cooling (probably due to the sun), then CO2 levels take off, as have temperatures.

So, yes, I agree that there are things that happen on their own that have impacted changes in the earth's climate. We are on the same page. I never stated that climate change is 100% from human activity, but where we diverge is the size of the impact of CO2 generated by humans on the global temperatures. Maybe I've been too quick to dismiss all of the contrarians, (most of what people send me are age old arguments about the 1970's Time magazine articles) but I still think that the evidence in favor of my position is overwhelming.

Schultz said...

Here is the graph on CO2 and Temperatures

Schultz said...

So James, two things.

First, that page you sent me, the one with the title "NASA Study Acknowledges Solar Cycle, Not Man, Responsible for Past Warming", is bogus. That headline was made up by a contributor to a news blog, not by a real journalist or someone at NASA. I checked out the "report" that it linked to. The report from NASA was actually from 2008, and in there you will see that the NASA climatologists pretty much stated what I just wrote above - that the Sun has had some impact on temperature change, but only a small amount. Here is the key paragraph:

For the last 20 to 30 years, we believe greenhouse gases have been the dominant influence on recent climate change," said Robert Cahalan, climatologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

As I said earlier, I do take the time to read alternative view points. The problem with them, and the primary cause for my reaction to your position on the text books on blog lebo, is that these reports end up being either biased or worse, bogus, like the this one you referenced in your comment. biased. So, I do go through and read all the reports. I think try to dig deeper (like I just did) instead of just reading the headlines and taking them as the gospel.