Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades

Cue the derision for Ron Johnson has challenged orthodoxy. In a head posted last night, the Journal Sentinel claims that, in a meeting with the editorial board, Johnson supposedly claimed that "sunspots are to blame for global warming."

It's not clear that's quite what he said. He is quoted as stating that he does not believe that there is anthropogenic global warming and that "[i]t's far more likely that it's just sunspot activity or just something in the geologic eons of time ...."

But he threw the sunspots out there and, rather predictably, some local bloggers have started to chortle.

But here's the thing. That solar activity, as measured by sunspot activity, may have an impact on climate is not a new claim and not at all crazy. The claim is that sun activity is positively correlated with temperature increases. Some argue that this undercuts claims for AGW. Others say it does not, noting that sun spot activity cycles over the short term while temperature increases have been long term. (Although still others claim that the sun has had an unusually active century.) As seems so common in this field, they argue that the "solar advocates" (for lack of a better word)have been sloppy with data. Still others seem to say that solar activity is a confounding factor or may ameliorate the impact of AGW. Some (even the IPCC) think solar activity plays a role, but argue that it cannot explain more recent warming trends.

The fact that scientists differ does not, of course, mean that each side has a point. Sorting through all of this would take time and expertise and I will guarantee you that no local blogger has done the work necessary to definitively pronounce on this.

I take Johnson to be making a more general point. Questions around AGW are complex and multi-faceted. Data is limited. There is reason to doubt that we can be as certain about AGW as an existential crisis as some would claim. There is reason to doubt that we can control climate through policy choices.

Ironically, the Journal Sentinel, in providing Russ Feingold's take, catches him committing a cardinal sin according to the environmentalist canon. His take? ""Do you notice the heat lately, my friend?"

Please, Russ, WEATHER is not CLIMATE !!!!


John Foust said...

Standard Contradictory Disclaimer™: The fact that scientists differ does not, of course, mean that each side has a point. Sorting through all of this would take time and expertise and I will guarantee you that no local blogger has done the work necessary to definitively pronounce on this.

Except for RoJo and Esenberg, where merely mentioning a possible co-factor in climate change shows that you are wise enough to be making policy decisions about it. Those silly scientists, what are they thinking? Are they even investigating this properly, and if they do, aren't they likely to be injecting their own personal opinions into the limited data? I don't know, I'm just asking the question!

If only this healthy skepticism and acceptance of the limits of human knowledge and endeavor could be applied to expectations about public works projects like sewers.

Rick Esenberg said...

Foust hates nuance.

There are, even if you don't want to admit it, scientists all over the place on this. While the complete dismissal of AGW seems to be a decidedly minority point of view, the ideas that global warming is not an existential crisis and that there is relatively little we can do to change are not.

John Foust said...

I loves me some Nuance. I can eat 'em all day long. Ding-Dongs I can't swallow, though.

So what did RoJo mean by "it is far more likely that it is just sunspot activity"? He's making a distinct claim, not a general point - on what basis? He intended to dismiss global warming, not define its causes. I wonder what scientific literature he's read, and whether he's read it more times than he's read the Constitution.

Science loves nuance, too, almost as much as lawyers. You can make a career out of it either way. You might be able to wheedle past a judge or two, but eventually the facts and certainty will catch up with you.

Anonymous said...

Dude, you're a lawyer. Why do you have any standing to contradict the overwhelming scientific consensus on
anthropogenic climate change? Its nonexistence is a fairy tale the American Right likes to tell itself, in part because it's (yes) inconvenient and in part because it keeps the cash rolling in from emitting industries.

Rick Esenberg said...

I actually don't agree with Ron that the notion of AGW is "crazy." As I have said here before, the theory behind the idea that green house gases could raise climate temperature is sound, but whether they actually are doing so and by how much is another matter. There is certainly evidence of rising temperatures and, although there are other potential explanations for that, I think that it is reasonable to conclude that there is some amount of AGW going on.

But ... to go from there to full blown Gore panic is quite another matter. The stuff I read never seems to really support the idea that global warming is an existential threat such that we need to turn the world upside down.

The one thing that doesn't help you sort this out is asking who has a financial interests. There are oxes to be gored on both sides of this question.

jimspice said...

"Some (even the IPCC) think solar activity plays a role..."

No. Every climate scientist is aware of the suns influence. It's one of the major variables in any decent model (along with earth orbit, atmospheric particulate matter (e.g. volcanic ash) and greenhouse gases).

I highly recommend this global warming primer from NASA. A quick 5 minute read.

Anonymous said...

I agree that RoJo is crazy. At some point the dude is actually going to have to say something. The latest commercial well illustrates the campaign he is running. He offers Warren Harding-quality nostrums and nothing else. This is likely the rare instance where the incumbent challenges the challenger to as many debates as possible. At that point the RoJo party will be over fairly quickly. He's a maroon.

John Hyland said...

After nearly a year of investigation, It became very clear that sunspots are the main cause of any climate change. I have the grafs to show it in my book published in 2008. One sectionwas devouted to the problem or lack of a problem.
"UNMASKING 100 LIBERAL MYTHS...."! Get it on Amazon!
John Hyland

xoff said...

Pat MacDonald would be horrified to see his song title used in this way.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Russ was noting the irony of the GWINH ("Global Warming Is Not Happening") camp's last ridiculous argument....

sean s. said...


If global warming even MIGHT be an existential crisis, does that not mean that we should at least consider taking remedial action even if it's not all attributed to human activity?