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A simple experiment for climate change skeptics- slightly geeky

Digby linked to a post about climate change skeptics on the Republican side of the fence.  It seems that many right wing politicians were onboard with the idea that human activity was contributing to climate change but now, er, they’re not:

In his first week of campaigning for president, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said that climate change was a theory that “still has not been proven” and was driven in part by a “substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data” to secure research grants. In his book Fed Up! he dismissed climate science as a “contrived phony mess that is falling apart.”

Mitt Romney, who as governor tasked the Massachusetts Environmental Protection Division with creating a policy to fight climate change, has now walked back his pronouncements that human activity causes global warming.

Newt Gingrich, who in 2009 recorded an ad with then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling on Congress to take action on climate change, recently called that ad “the dumbest single thing I’ve done in recent years.” Jon Huntsman, the one Republican presidential candidate who stands by views that climate change is real and caused by humans, is reaping support from about 1 percent of GOP primary voters.

Despite the rhetoric on the campaign trail, a quiet but significant number of prominent Republican politicians and strategists accept the science of climate change and fear that rejecting it could not only tar the party as “antiscience” but also drive away the independent voters who are key to winning general elections. “There’s a pretty good-sized chunk of the Republican caucus that believes that global warming is happening, and it’s caused at least in part by mankind,” said Mike McKenna, a strategist with close ties to the GOP’s leadership. “You can tell these guys are uncomfortable when you start to talk about science.”

As recently as the last presidential election, the debate in Republican circles was far different. John McCain’s 2008 campaign ads promised that as president, he would tackle climate change. Not only that, but McCain was a lead sponsor of the first major Senate cap-and-trade bill in 2003. In a 2008 interview with ABC’s Charles Gibson, Sarah Palin asserted that climate change was affecting Alaska, and in the vice presidential debate she said she would support a cap on carbon emissions. In January 2008, then-Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who was head of the National Governors Association, recorded a radio ad with Democrat Janet Napolitano, then Arizona governor, urging Congress to act. “Come on, Congress: Let’s get moving.… Cap greenhouse-gas pollution now,” Pawlenty urged.

Note that I said “contributing”.  The earth goes through periodic phases of heating and cooling which have nothing to do with human activity and any study of climate has to take this periodicity into account.  The last thing we want is a lot of breathlessly hysterical crunchy granola types shrieking about how evil humans are when the evidence shows that it’s just nature doing its thing again.  Come to think of it, don’t hysterical crunchy granola types shrieking about the end of the world caused by evil human activity sound a bit like flaky apocalyptic nutcase “christians” shrieking about how the liberated wimmin and The Gays are going to make this “system of things” so bad that Jesus will have to come back and smite us all?  Something to think about in your free time.

Anyway, the geeky side of me eschews (another word I’ve been dying to use), eschews both the deniers and the Gore disciples.  I want to know, excluding all other possible explanations for the melting of the ice caps, is it possible that the gradual heating up of the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuel has the capacity to significantly impact the climate of the planet?  I am not a climate specialist but there are some things I would have to take into consideration: the change in temperature over time of ocean water, the change in concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere over time, the volume of ice formation in the arctic regions, the heat capacity of water, the change in amount of fuel consumed over time, etc. Then we have to ask if our sample size is big enough.  Have we collected enough data points over a sufficiently long period of time?  Since we weren’t around over the past couple thousand years of human civilization, what other means do we have to measure the temperature of the planet over that period of time?  Collect this data, make your correlations and see if it makes any sense.  Apparently, the verdict is in and human activity is having a significant impact on climate.

OK, but some people still don’t understand how significant and serious this is.  In fact, I’m not actually sure how serious it is yet either.  As a chemist, it would be like looking at a melting point.  How far along are we in the melting point stage?  Is the sample starting to sweat?  Is it starting to glisten and look more crystalline?  Are we starting to see real liquification?  Is it too late to turn off the heating apparatus to let things cool down?

Maybe this video will give a better idea of what might be happening.  It’s about how to take a melting point in organic chemistry lab.  Now, why should you care about this?  No reason in particular.  A melting point is a physical property of the compound being measured.  Everything melts at one particular temperature.  Here’s how we take a melting point: we tap a small amount of sample compound into a capillary tube.  We insert the tube into an apparatus that will gradually and linearly increase the temperature of compound in the tube.  We record when the compound starts and finishes melting.  You would think that melting would be as gradual and smooth as the increase in temperature.  But you would be wrong.  This video shows you what happens to just about every compound.

Ok, isn’t that cool?  Er, hot? Nothing happens for awhile.  It looks very gradual at first and then, VOOM!, everything turns liquid almost at once.  Note that when the compound first starts to sweat, the instruction is to back off on heating it so fast.  That is, you can reduce the rate of temperature increase but the sucker is still going to melt.  It’s just easier to get an accurate measurement.

We can observe localized melting points of water.  But what is that like on a global scale?  The temperature of the globe is not uniform everywhere.  But what if it were uniformly elevated everywhere gradually over time?  At what temperature do we pass the point of no return even if we back off on heating it so fast?  Something to think about.  If I were an observer from space watching this happen, I might be fascinated.  As a person trapped here on the sample for the rest of my life, I’m considerably less fascinated.

And then you have to wonder, the politicians who are flip-flopping on this issue, why are they doing it?  If global warming is real and there is a point of no return that we have not firmly established yet, who benefits from pretending that burning fossil fuel isn’t really harming anyone?

Just askin’.

29 Responses

  1. Why are Joe and Jane Sixpack resistant to the idea of human caused global warming?

    Because they know that any “solution” will vacuum money out of their wallets.

    Next time you are idling in a traffic jam contributing to our demise, think what could have been if we had something other than an “on the take” Congress.


    • A. Because they can’t see it happening and B. One party is determined to extract as much wealth out of them as possible when it comes to fossil fuels. That’s why we don’t have a decent mass transit infrastructure in this country or bandwidth that is lightening fast and cheap. It keeps everyone on the road gobbling up gas. If people stopped using so much gas, the oil industry would see their profits fall.
      So, make it hard for the average citizen to do anything without a car and then nothing you say about climate change is going to make a difference. They’re in denial because they can’t do anything without a car.
      Pretty clever, eh?
      Naomi Klein has been writing about stuff like this for years. You can write her off as a hysterical type but actually, she just sounds prophetic now. Climate change, oil industry, shock doctrine, denial, austerity, it’s all related.
      Our biggest strength may lead to our inevitable downfall as a nation. We have been able to take whatever we want in terms of fossil fuels. Let’s just put aside the political ideology for a second. If we wanted to, we could just threaten to nuke any country in the world and take what we want. We have the military capacity. So, we (and by we, I mean the oil industry) have been able to invade countries who have stuff we want and we hoard it until the price goes up. And then people have to pay through the nose to get it because their civilization depends on it. It’s sort of like giving someone “sponge” and withholding the antidote. (do we have any Well World fans out there? Nathan Brazil? Ok, nevermind)
      This is independent of the criminality of the finance industry that has been doing essentially the same thing with our savings and retirement money. I mean, why *DO* we pay an excise tax to remove our funds from a 401K when we need them for hardship emergencies? Why do we pay a penalty to dip into our own money when we need it? Is it because the bankers have rigged the system so that they have hoarded your money away for their own use? You pay to get your own money back. That discourages you from even asking for it and allows them to gamble it with impunity. That money that we might have used to pay off our mortgages and be debt free, they’re sitting on it and we’re in debt. How did we ever get talked into thinking this was a good thing?

      • How did we ever get talked into thinking this was a good thing?

        Because the road to hell is paved with the likes of a Nancy Pelosi and a Barack Obama?

        The troika of tepidness, O’Bama, Reid and Pelosi, could have forced legislation to extend eligibility for CHIPs and Medicare for the un/under employed, passed mortgage relief, and declared a tax holiday on folks dipping into their 401K’s to stay afloat. But that would have been biting the Wall Street hand that got/keeps them in office.

        If you wonder how we got here look no further than Maureen Dowd, Chris Matthews, the entire OP-ED staff at the WaPo or any of the other wanna Pulitzer Prize winning be’s that pass them selves off as journalists today.

        OWS is wrong in that they should be disrupting the ones really responsible for this sorry state of affairs, the print and broadcast media. The culprits are not just Fox Spews.

        • No, the biggest culprits are ourselves because we fail to think these things through to their logical conclusions.

  2. This subject deserves a longer better reply than I can give in the 10 minutes remaining before I have to clock in and start working.

    If I had the patience to listen to Limbaugh, I would try calling into his show and pretending I was a fan. I would then ask Limbaugh about “contrarian investing” advice to benefit from the public’s belief in global warming. It wouldn’t be to get his advice. It would be to plant a brainworm in his mind and his audience’s mind. After all, if global warming is a liberal myth, then the ice formations are not melting and will not melt; and the sea level is not rising and will not rise. If that is true, buying all the oceanside beachfront seacoast land one can possibly afford or borrow to buy would be planting the seeds for future family fortunes for oneself or one’s descendants.

    Global warming deniers should all be encouraged to do all the contrarian investing in seaside low elevation land that they can possibly be hyped into thinking they can afford. If they prove to have been right after all, I will be a good sport as they laugh last at me. If they prove to be wrong, and all their collective billions of dollars are tied up in seaside properties which go “underwater” . . . har de har har . . then they will have been served well and truly right as they get just exactly what they deserve.

    • For example, if Sarah Pei-lin really thinks global warming is a myth, she should put all her money into seacoast property in and around the beautiful seacoast resort town of Shishmaref, Alaska.

      Someone should goad her into doing just exactly that.

      • Great idea for the actual deniers.

        (S*h*e doesn’t think it’s a myth. She’s been talking about how to adapt to it in Alaska for years.)

    • You wouldn’t get past his screeners. In today’s information age (see Joe Cannon’s post about spying on your cell phone) they can find out who you made political contributions to and how you are registered. If you pass that test they’ll ask you questions designed to ferret out your true intentions. It’s no accident those with political views opposed to the host that make it on the air are too stupid to reason their way out of a wet paper bag. Look at the dim bulbs that are allowed on the Sunday morning scream fests to represent Liberal values. Yes I know that James Carvel is smart but when he gets going nobody can interpret that Cajun accent.

      • I don’t even have a cell phone. All I have is a landline. So I have defeated the cell phone spyers right there. But I get the point. I wonder if a creative liar on a landline could still lie his/her way onto the phone-in part of Limbaugh’s show.

        (By the way, I begin to think that Riverdaughter has set the moderator filter to watch for both parts of Governor Paylyn’s name. If I am right, then mentioning the name of Sarah June McClintock, one of the early-modern unravellers of corn genetics, should put this comment into moderation. Let’s find out . . . )

        • Now let’s see if a comment about famous populiberal journalist and syndicated columnist from Texas, Sarah McClendon, goes into moderation because her first name was Sarah.

          • Yup, I think that’s it. “Sarah” is enough to do it all by itself, even if the “Sarah” is somebody other than Sora Paylinn.

    • So how is global warming going to cause the ocean level to rise, again? Water is more dense than ice.

      • Because IF . . . and this is just IF, now . . . global warming gets warm enough to melt a substantial fraction of the ice perched atop Baffin Island, Ellsmere Island, Iceland, the Andes, the Pamir Icefields, Greenland, Antarctica, etc.; that melting ice will all raise the sea level when it runs into the sea because it is all perched above sea level now. Since a set amount of ice is one/seventh bigger than the same amount of ice melted down into water, that means that if the whole volume of ice atop Antarctica melts into water and flows into the sea, it will add a volume to the sea equivalent to 6/7ths of the volume of what
        it had been when it was still frozen. But it will all be a net addition because it is all perched aBOVE the sea right now.

        Also, water shrinks from 32 degrees to 39 degrees where it is at its densest. Then it begins to swell up again. Try this home demonstration. Stand a glass in a pot. Carefully fill the class to the brim with water. Then pur the water out of the glass into the pot. Then heat the water in the pot to just under boiling. Then carefully try to pur it all back into the glass. Will it all fit back into the glass?
        Raise the ocean tempreatur enough and the ocean itself will swell up just a little bit. If 10 million cubic miles of water swells up by 1%, how much “bigger” will it get? And how far up the coast will it creep as it swells?

        • Physics is no friend of the GOP.

        • Wow, that was impressive. And we didn’t even discuss displacement or anything.

          • If that comment was meant for me, then I humbly thank you. Coming from a scientist that is meaningful praise.

            If it was meant for someone else, then to quote Emily Litella . . . “oh . . . nevermind.”

          • No, that’s definitely a compliment.

          • Well! . . . thank you, then. But since I am a layman I have to ask:
            what is this “displacement” of which you speak?

          • RUR, I’ll field that one. If you want to know how big a scientist is, dunk him in a bathtub and measure how much water sloshes out.

  3. A subject this important deserves more than 10 comments. Where the hell is everybody?

  4. Here’s a couple of reality-based sites about global warming in whole or in part.
    Viridian Design http://www.viridiandesign.org/NotesIndex.htm
    Extreme Ice Survey http://www.extremeicesurvey.org/

  5. Here is an article called Recognizing Good Science When You See It by Ugo Bardi at The Oil Drum and reposted at Energy Bulletin where I found it.

    I hope we are at some point offered a post inviting us to comment with whatever threads of hope we think might exist, if there even seems any point in offering such a post at all. Surely some people could comment with some “what to do and why-how to do it” links . . .

  6. (Shame on me for running yet another “moderation trigger experiment” but I just can’t help myself. If the “moderation trigger is set to respond to both parts of Sahra Paylinn’s name, then it will respond to a correct spelling of Saaraa Paellyn’s last name when used
    in a totally other context. Am I right? Experiment to follow in a self-reply just below).

    • “Reddy” for the experimental moderation ping? Here it comes . . .

      Michael Palin may not have been the funniest of the Pythons, but his humor was certainly the driest.

  7. This is more scary than anything I’ve heard from Gore or his crowd!

    • Idn’t it jest? Has anyone bothered to take a melting point of earth? It would be so much easier to know where we are in the process.
      Remember, right wingers *hate* uncertainty. They don’t really feel the heat or see its effects yet. But how do they know whether a coupe of hot summers are just a fluke or whether the whole dang sample is about to liquefy.

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