May 1, 2009

Truth in Fiction

Dip into 'State of Fear' for global warming answers

In an Edge item in Saturday's Tribune Viewpoints page, the headline asked, "What to believe?" The quandary, it seemed, stemmed from record-breaking temperatures on the West Coast versus news from an Australian paper that the ice in Antarctica is increasing rather than decreasing as recent American news sources have been saying.

May I suggest to all a terrific, page-turning novel called "State of Fear" by Michael Crichton? Although this is an engaging fiction piece, it is full of non-fiction, data from the likes of NASA, The Goddard Space Institute, Columbia University, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tenn., among others.

It contains two appendices and a 20-page bibliography and is a balanced account presented with all the skills the late Mr. Crichton possessed. It might interest you to know that the news that Antarctica's ice is increasing, on the whole, was already present in this 2004-copyrighted tome. Perhaps you might add to your question with another, "Why aren't we hearing about this in American newspapers?"

If, says one of Crichton's characters, the elements of our atmosphere were measured in terms of a football field, nitrogen would take us from the goal to the 78 yard line. Oxygen would take us from there to the 99-yard line. Most of the yard remaining consists of argon. Argon takes us to within 3 inches of the goal. Only one inch of the remaining three is made up of carbon dioxide. One inch in 100 yards.

In the last 50 years, we're told, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased. But in this analogy, it has increased only 3/8 inch, "less than the thickness of a pencil," meaning that it is "a miniscule change in our total atmosphere."

Articles worldwide would lead one to believe that all scientists "believe in" global warming, yet the lead climatologist at MIT says that we are only going through a natural cycle. Other scientists in agreement include those at Harvard, Columbia, Duke, Virginia, Colorado, University of California-Berkeley and other top universities.

In addition, much of what we're hearing is based on records that have been kept for less than 200 years. Early on, the data depended on "people going out to a little box and writing down the temperature twice a day."

If they were ill or distracted or too busy, they may not have been diligent about it. The best kept records were in this country, of course, and in the last century, much more accurate.

But this is about "global warming," and other countries were not nearly as consistent or accurate about weather data, even as late as the 1930s or '40s. In other words, we're talking about less than 200 years of not-so-precisedata.

Those not-so-precise data show that in the last 120 years, there has been an increase in general of a third of a degree Celsius — with the warmest year in the last century being 1934. The temperature has, on average, been going up the last 30 years, but it went downthe previous 30 years.

Current temperatures are roughly the same as those in the 1930s when we, supposedly, were not emitting the kinds of greenhouse gases we're emitting now. There seems to be more correlation between the "urban heat effect" and temperature rising than there does between carbon dioxide levels and temperature rising.

For instance, New York City with all its asphalt and concrete, has increased 5 degrees Fahrenheit in 178 years while Albany, less than 140 miles away has declined one-half degree in the same time period.

The two cities' carbon dioxide levels were identical, but Albany got colder. West Point, between the two geographically, was unchanged.

Weather, of course, is local, but the data are about climate, versus weather, over an extended period of time, albeit a drop in the bucket compared to the eons of history purported by the fossil record. New York's population growth is much more likely to account for the difference (a growth of from 120,000 in 1815 to more than 8 million today).

There are few, if any, double-blind studies going on in the field of climate study; whereas in medicine, double-blind studies are the norm. Hundreds of studies have shown that without double-blind studies, "expectations determine outcome." And politics has crept in to further erode non-bias in global warming studies.

There is more, so much more, to support the notion brought up by my late, terrifically smart friend, Don Jacobson, in a letter to the editor last year that much of this "group think" about global warming is akin to a phenomenon shown in the short story, "The Emperor's New Clothes."
In any case, those willing to look at data from scientists on both sides of this issue, leaving personal bias and preconceived notions aside, will find the question "what to believe" easier to answer. A good start is the fast-paced piece of fiction/non-fiction called "State of Fear."

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