One of the most common concerns for many people these days is climate change.
It's a charged, politicized, and potentially terrifying topic, and it reminds me of the Cold War and the fear of nuclear war. It's this generations great fear.
Whether your believe in it or not, this is one of those topics that without some education, your opinion really doesn't matter. Sorry, that might hurt your feelings, but it's true. We don't listen to 4 year old's when they talk about arithmetic for the same reason. If you can't add and subtract, no one should take your word for it when you try and sum.
Backing away from that, if you're critically minded, the very first step in determining how accurate predictions are is starting with a few questions:
- What are the data points we're using as inputs?
- What are the timelines involved?
- How good is the record keeping?
- Are there inherent biases in the models?
- Do the models verify?
We've briefly discussed climate change before.
By briefly, I mean in one of our longest, most elaborate and sourced articles to date: The Great Reset.
If you can read it and offer valid, sourced, scientific criticism, this article isn't really for you (though we'd love to hear your thoughts). This article is to tear down some of the sensationalism being heaped upon the masses using some science.
It's going to get thick and deep, but if you can track this one, you'll be head and shoulders above the crowd when it comes to understanding realistic weather or climate emergencies.
Figures Lie and Liars Figure
"It's the hottest September since 1968."
Whoa, that sounds bad. Must be global warming, right?
Well, let's take a look at this statement. What's it really saying?
It's saying that the temperature isn't unprecedented. It's saying something similar to this warm period happened some 50 years ago. It's not at all out of the norm for temperatures to flare up every 50 years or so. It's also pretty normal to see temperatures slowly increase over time.
As we discuss in depth in "The Great Reset", we have to keep our eyes on several very important points of data in order to paint a picture of climate change. Before we get to that though, let's start with a few points of well established scientific data that require understanding in order to have an intelligent discussion:
- Climate change is real. If you don't believe this, you're flat wrong. Sorry. Climates change. The Middle East used to be a fertile agricultural wonderland. The central US used to be ocean bottom. There's no credible scientific evidence to suggest that climates stay the same. We know, for as close to fact as is possible, that we have gradual inclines to thermal maximum, and then sharp declines into ice ages. These cycles play out over periods of about 100,000 years, and are verified by a variety of sources; (Delta Carbon, Ice core samples, sedimentary layers, fossil records, etc).
- Climate does not tend to change on a dime. The earth's natural cycles play out over VERY long timelines. We're fortunate in that humans now live in the thermal "Goldilocks zone" known as the Holocene Interglacial Period. We came from a period of rapid climate changes called the Younger Dryas and based on what we know of macroscale climate cycles (discussed soon), we should be gradually warming for tens of thousands of years.
- Climates CAN and DO change rapidly - and they're always caused by some major event. Those events included meteor strikes, Volcanic Super-Eruptions (Ultraplinian type eruptions, such as Toba sent the world into a decade long 'winter'. In 1817, Tambora erupted and caused 'the year without a summer', which led to widespread crop failures, dramatic cold in Western Europe, and snow in July in North America. There's evidence to suggest the KT boundary hosted a mass extinction that ended the Dinosaurs, paved the way for mammals, and is still thought to be caused by a meteor strike).
What is Climate?
So one of my pet peeves is when guys like Neil DeGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye leverage their fame as a replacement for scientific literacy.
Tyson used an analogy saying that weather is like a dog and climate is like a handler. The dog may wander a little, but he's at his owner's (climate's) whim.
The truth is that's total garbage. Climate, as we understand it, is 30 year periods of averaged meteorological conditions, making Tyson totally and utterly incorrect. Weather *creates* climate data, and weather is driven and bounded by heating and cooling from within and external impacts which we'll discuss below.
All meteorology is driven by the theory of large scale differential heating, which means that incoming solar radiation causes temperature differences on a local, regional, continental and global scale; we refer to these as:
- Microscale - how local vegetation influences trapped moisture and how albedo affects how much surface heating and cooling is generated.
- Mesoscale - The interface between water and earth, and terrain features such as hills, lakes, mountains, rivers, and their vegetation.
- Synoptic - How pressure is driven by heating and cooling, and the affect of prevailing winds on pressure systems.
- Macroscale - How these phenomenon interact to produce large scale phenomenon, such as El Niño years and hurricanes.
This is important, and we'll circle back around to it like a ripe wagon full of pilgrims to raid, but first a very important concept need to be introduced:
We have only about 140 years of 'accurate' data regarding meteorological events, and averaging is dangerous. For reference, humans have been around for about 200,000 years. This means guys like Tyson and Nye are confidently spreading their opinions based on about 0.06% of the climate during Homo Sapiens life history.
A human being, on average, will live 27,375 days. If I took your temperature on the morning and again the next afternoon of a sunny day when you had the flu, I might predict you're going to continue warming indefinitely. After all, I have about 1/27,375th of the data. But the truth is, you *should* be warming under the circumstances. It's not enough data to safely model a trend that will follow you for the other 27,374 days of your life.
Climate is used as a 'catch all' term for long periods of weather, but really, it's just smoothing over the hour observations going on around the world to get an idea of what's probably happening.
So what does that have to do with our current trends and the science behind global warming/climate change?
Averaging, Climate, and Scalar Trends
We've all heard someone on the news say something like "it's the hottest day on record in ______."
It sounds serious, doesn't it? It isn't.
For one, as we've mentioned, our records are extremely brief in the scheme of things, and perhaps more importantly, we *should* be warming. In 1790, there was a cooling period often referred to as the Maunder Minimum which we know to be a period of decreased solar activity. It's often blamed for the cooling at the beginning of our understanding of climate, but there's more to the story.
So let's discuss why the solar minimum probably isn't to blame, how this has created some bad information, and support our assertion that;
a. The maunder minimum didn't cause cooling, it coincided with it, and;
b. We should be warming given what we know about climate, meteorologic, and the things that influence terrestrial heating and cooling.
So what is going on?
The answer is a lot. To better understand it, let's stop thinking of climate as some fixed point, and open our understanding to include scale.
Microscale - The microscale as it relates to terrestrial heat is the first thing to be forgotten; chemothermal heating from the earth's internal clockwork. This was the original energy source for early Archaea. That means single-celled ocean dwelling stuff that came along way before us. Things like Geothermal and chemothermal effects are our 'smallest' unit of account when discussing heating and cooling.
Mesoscale - The next driver of differential heating is the way the earth itself handles incoming radiation. It's easy to forget, but the differences in terrain mean certain spots on the earth heat and cool faster. Those processes give rise to moisture transport in the vertical; that means water vapor rises when heated, coalesces and becomes clouds. Those clouds then do a couple things:
- They break short wave energy into long wave radiation.
- They insulate the lower levels of earths atmosphere
- They turn away incoming radiation - or allow it as they dissipate - via the "iris effect". It's important to note that this hypothesis is contentious, and doesn't create a dramatic feedback loop - it just exists on a small scale.
Synoptic - Don't think of solar flares or solar activity as a 'driver' of weather or climate. Solar flares (coronal mass ejections) don't change the amount of solar radiation (which warms the earth) so much as they expel plasma (superheated gasses that can't hold on to electrons).
It's important to note that these charged particles are NOT the source of heat from the sun. Solar radiation, which consistently arrives here in about 8 minutes is. These charged particles more or less just interact with our magnetosphere, and are to thank for the beautiful Auroras.
So the Maunder Minimum can be studied as a correlation, but it may be a component of larger issues - there's increasing evidence that volcanic eruptions are correlated with thermal minimums, and in 1725, there's evidence that a poorly documented volcano south and southwest of Hekla in Norway may have erupted. It might simply be a coincidence that the cooling during this period coincided with a solar minimum.
Macroscale - If you're not in atmospheric or space weather, you've probably never heard of Milankovitch Cycles. Well, let's revisit our 80,000 year cycles that we discussed earlier. Milankovitch (while in prison, that rattler) theorized that because the earth doesn't revolve around the sun in a circle (eccentricity), and because it has a 24.5 degree axial tilt (obliquity), that it wobbles towards and away from the sun (precession) which means light doesn't consistently hit the earth in the same way over very long periods of time. Milankovitch theorized that this caused ice ages about every 100,000 years - which is empirically true.
By the way, that link does what ALL climate propagandists do: Uses an image of the last 120 years of climate data to say "humans have changed the climate!" They go on to illustrate a - hilariously, and you'll see why in the next section - 0.6 degree celsius high bias.
Miraculously, they decided to only include data from a 100 year period from 1900 to 2000... We've already established this was the Tambora eruption affecting the global temperature.
Also, don't talk about Milankovitch Cycles and climate period of 100 years in the same article. That's a fundamental misunderstanding of scale and scope, and flagrant ignorance of the high bias introduced with modern weather records keeping. Sampling 1/1000th of the period and making declarative statements is fraudulent.
That said, we probably have changed the climate.
At least a little.
The Danger of Averages
We've established that there's just an absolute buttload of stuff going on with regards to how the earth heats and cools. With this information, do you think that an averaged global or regional temperature is indicative of an major trends?
Another thing worth mentioning before you commit to an answer is this: in collection of meteorological data, there is a marked high bias.
When a temperature is 9.4 degrees celsius, it gets recorded as such and entered into the record. If it's 9.5, it gets rounded to 10 degrees. I did this for years of my life and no one else seemed to care, but where do you think the numbers the IPCC is using in its models come from? What effect do you think that this 0.6 degree high bias will do?
Never mind the heat island effect and the fact that most of our weather stations are on asphalt, such as runways, the simple act of giving a high bias to the model projections is enough to cast doubt on any models which use this data.
So, when someone tries to say the climate is doing this or that because of a trend that's less than 30 years, we should instantly be skeptical. Heating and cooling occur. They're normal. Nothing in the last 200 years has been too far outside the norm with the exception of atmospheric CO2, which was exacerbated by industrialization... And CO2, while tremendously important, it is only a portion of the overall picture.
Minimums and Ice Ages
Solar cycles follow a loose 11-14 year trend. Most of the academic literature agrees that 11 years is the 'average', and during those periods, the sun's activity gradually increases over about 7 years and arrives at a solar maxima. This is followed by a rapid decline to a solar minima.
These periods are often blamed for thermal anomaly. In fact, the reason we're writing this is because a reader brought to our attention that a Youtube channel (seriously, YouTube is worse than Wikipedia) was explaining to his followers that we're now entering a solar minimum and a small ice age is certain to occur.
However, there's really no major connection between sun activity (throwing charged particles) and solar radiation - the stuff that heats our cozy planet. It's more or less a function of how heavily bombarded our magnetosphere is going to be by plasma.
So if you don't read anything else, read this:
Solar activity affects satellites, communications, and aural phenomenon at the poles. It's not going to cause major differences in the planet's temperature (unless some new science that completely undermines everything I've ever learned has popped up without me noticing - that's always possible with science).
Well, we've been having these rises and falls for hundreds of years - they've been observable back at least to the 1700's, so where are all the ice ages between then and now?
The truth is, solar maxima and minima aren't closely tied to terrestrial temperatures. There may be some correlation, but don't start moving the equator just yet. Chances are the current minimum will have more to do with charged particle events and loop prominences than it does temperatures all the way over here, 98,000,000 miles from the sun.
This is a lot, guys, I know that.
My head hurts just writing it and I remember trying to learn this stuff myself. It was a hell of a lot to process.
The goal isn't to make sure you fully understand every little aspect of what's been discussed, it's to give you a waypoint you can revisit the next time someone declares the next climate disaster is impending.
The short version of all of this is:
Climate disasters DO happen: They're our Type II emergencies. Big disasters happen, too. Our Ultraplinian eruptions, meteor strikes, and 100,000 year climate reversals are all Type III emergencies and are worth considering.
...But these things aren't just going to pop up and affect us for a solar minimum. The fear mongering about runaway Global Warming just isn't grounded in good science. Is there reason to think humans are causing warming? Yes, some. We should consider the possibility. But we should also be wary of using a 140 year snapshot of weather to predict how complex systems will play out over long timelines.
We should consider any "call to arms" regarding climate with a healthy dose of reason, an emphasis on timelines and scope of changes, and compare it to past extremes. We just don't know as much as we think we do.
Thanks for getting this far, if you did. Seriously, I'd shake your hand if I could.
Sources (poorly formatted)
Kenyon University, Astrobiology. Unknown date. Origins of LifeL Chemosynthesis. Recovered from web: http://biology.kenyon.edu/slonc/bio3/origin04.pdf
Oregon State University. Unknown Date. Eruption History. Recovered from web: http://volcano.oregonstate.edu/vwdocs/volc_images/europe_west_asia/eruption_history.html
Howell, Elizabeth (2015). How Long Have Humans Been on Earth?. Universe Today. Recovered from web: https://www.universetoday.com/38125/how-long-have-humans-been-on-earth/
Lisiecki, L. E. (2010). A Benthic delta 13 C-based proxy for Atmospheric pco2 over the last 1. Myr. Geophysical Research Letters, 37(L21708).
Mauritian, T. and Stevens, B. Nature Geoscience 8, 346–351 (2015); published online 20 April 2015; corrected aer print 25 February 2016.
Perry, Wynne, (2012). Volcanoes May Have Sparked Little Ice Age. Scientific American. Recovered from web: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/volcanoes-may-have-sparked/
OSS Solutions, 2019. Milankovitch Cycles. Recovered from web: http://ossfoundation.us/projects/environment/global-warming/milankovitch-cycles
U.S. EPA (2018). Heat Island Effect. Recovered from web: https://www.epa.gov/heat-islands