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An Easy Read // A Question for my Readers

By: Dr. Ricky Rood, 9:46 PM GMT on July 10, 2007

An Easy Read // A Question for my Readers

It's been about 6 months that I have been writing this blog. I've enjoyed it, and I have enjoyed the comments. I have tried to write something that is a little bit different than you might see in other blogs. If there is one thing that I want to achieve in this blog, it is not just to argue. To me the split between "believers and skeptics" is old news and in does not feel productive to me. I think it is time to move out of our separate communities, and to start thinking about some of the things we should do and how to do them.

We've talked about the science, and we've talked about the link to issues like population. I have tried to extract some things which seem "true" to me, whether you are a skeptic or a believer. For instance, striving for efficiency and rewarding efficiency makes sense for virtually any rational scenario we might imagine. And if we are going to control the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere in the next few generations, we are going to have to figure out how to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and to sequester the CO2. It is sensible to plan for a warmer world with the sea encroaching onto the interests of people, rich and poor.

Climate change is linked to energy policy and population, and therefore, to national security. Virtually every aspect of society has an interest in and perspectives on climate change. I've written about the billboards that have appeared near Detroit, and I increasingly see the slogan, "What Would Jesus Drive?" This past weekend there were global concerts for climate change. Al Gore has won an Oscar. The IPCC has (and is) releasing definitive reports. It seems like we are at a transition point. Or a bubble.

On reason I wanted to write a blog at WU is that a cross section of society comes to WU for weather information. (Of course, only a small percent make it to the blogs, and then they are drawn to the allure and controversy of the MasterBlog!) Still, it is not a group of readers who have necessarily placed themselves into one camp or another. It is a group of people who can contribute valuable ideas to the way forward, to help separate the important from the unimportant. I have this idea of developing something like an open source or Wiki climate community--doing some science maybe, developing a WU "what should we do" community.

Here we sit. At WU we are thinking of going from a Climate Change Blog to a whole climate page. What you would like to see on such a page? What sort of information, analysis, opinion, or community participation would bring you there?

Figure 1: A figure from my class. The scientific investigation of climate change is communicated through many channels. People take in these communications, and some accept the science, some reject it, and some let it tumble and roll. This impacts many external communities, and it also impacts future scientific investigation. Ultimately, there are consequences that impact the foundation of society and civilization. What pieces need to be added to this figure?


From fredwx: "What is the relative contribution of CO2 to the greenhouse effect given it constitutes less than 0.04% of the atmosphere? How do we know this?"

Is the question here how can something so small have such a large effect?

I think there are two things to remember. 1) The additional "heat" of global warming is, itself, a small effect. (That is why it is so easy to argue about.) The "natural" water and CO2 keep the Earth at say approximately 290 degrees Kelvin (absolute). So we are talking about say 2-3 degrees on top of this ... so, that is a 1% change in temperature. I don't know of anyone who argues that the "natural water and CO2" are not responsible for maintaining the Earth at its habitable temperature. So if you think about adding substantially to the natural CO2, then an incremental warming of 1% does not defy expectations. Does this make sense?

2) We have many examples of where something small has a big effect. One of the best analogies to greenhouse warming is the idea of a blanket. One could argue, how does say a 2 pound blanket have a chance of keeping a 200 pound man warm. It is because the physical mechanism that is important is not first and foremost dependent upon mass. In fact, you could find an even lighter insulator ("the space blanket") that would hold the body's heat more effectively. But ... there are many instances of small amounts of stuff have very big effects ... DDT and bird's eggs, sewage in drinking water, etc.

As for how do we know ? ... We make excruciating calculations that are compared with both observations and theory. We compare piece by piece and see if we can calculate the energy balance. This is a fundamental practice in physics, and it is a matter of belief whether or not one accepts the robustness of knowledge generated and validated in this way.

I am trying to understand the foundation for your comment argument ... I hear it often.

ZRR: Thanks for the comments. I don't intent to shut down debate. I think that productive debate is part of moving on. Part of this is recognizing the substance of the points of view in the debate. One of the important things will then be to determine which points of the debate are consequential for action, and which are not.

There is a certain type of argument, and I am not a student of rhetoric, which diminishes arguments because they, what, question the intent, call each other names, hijack the flow of the discussion with emotional stabs ...

Since I believe that those who are not "devoted" to global warming have a substantive stake in the future, I want this to be a place that is of interest to the "undevoted."

NRAamy ... agree on ethics. I bring in ethics lectures early in my class. It usually comes in the realm of "winners and losers."


Many of you ... I think it is true in virtually all undertakings that the zealots become their own worse enemy. One of my goals is to look beyond that. This bubble will burst, then the real work begins. That's just part of the process ... the it's fashionable, your own worse enemy stage.


Here's a list.

From my entry I am going to start a list.

Things that we should do no matter what.

Energy efficiency
Carbon Sequestration

I will add from the discussion ....

Coastal Restoration and Management

Others .... ????


I also ask two questions.

What are the weaknesses in "the science" of greenhouse gas warming? I mean the basic science of warming by greenhouse gases?


If you do not accept the attribution of warming in the past century to mankind and fossil fuel burning, then does that mean that we should do nothing about the warming?

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.