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Human climate disruption [Jun. 18th, 2006|09:27 pm]
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Update post coming soon, but first:

I read this annoying editorial in the newspaper this morning about global warming (which I'm going to refer to as "human climate disruption" instead, because calling it "global warming" misleads the discussion). Actually, I only read about half of it, because as I said, it was annoying.

I was pondering a counter-letter to the editor, but then I realized that it was unlikely to do any good if I didn't address the issues in contention. If you're going to try and change somebody's mind with new information, you have to figure out what information would actually matter, or all you're going to do is add heat to the disagreement.

And so, a quiz:

So, whaddaya think about anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change?

A) It's totally happening
B) A lot of people say it's true, but I'm not convinced
C) I hear arguments for and against, and I'm not sure what to think
D) I think it's some kind of hoax
E) Other

If you answered anything other than A, I'd like to try and change your mind, so leave a comment explaning why (generally speaking) you don't find the idea persuasive.

I was thinking that I'd write a short explanation of the physics involved, because it's actually pretty straightforward. But I want to know whether that's actually where the disagreement arises...

[User Picture]From: madbodger
2006-06-19 05:10 am (UTC)
I'd take issue with your assertion that the physics is actually pretty straightforward.
There are several interlocking mechanisms, with some obscure positive and negative
feedback loops, and I quite expect that some important facets of the problem are
not understood at all at this point.
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[User Picture]From: arcticturtle
2006-06-19 02:27 pm (UTC)
Physics: CO2 absorbs in the infrared. That's simple.

Planetary science: The planet sheds a lot of heat through the particular portion of the infrared band where CO2 absorbs. Block that, and things will change. A lot. Also fairly simple.

Geology/oceanography/atmospheric science: A lot of carbon that used to be underground is no longer underground. If all of it were now in the atmosphere, we'd already be completely baked. Here's where it does, indeed, get complicated. For various reasons, not all the carbon is in the atmosphere now. How long can we continue to get away with this? Have we even gotten away with it for this long, or is it already biting us? These are where the debates and research take place.

So I agree with Beemer: the physics is simple, even if the geology isn't.

But I think this is well beyond the point where we should be seriously addressing the problem. The quesetion is not whether we're playing Russian roulette. The question is how many bullets are in the gun, and how likely the chamber currently under the hammer is to contain a round. "We don't know for sure how many bullets there are, so let's keep playing" - the standard conservative line - is hair-pullingly insane.
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[User Picture]From: madbodger
2006-06-19 02:42 pm (UTC)
I don't agree that it's that simple at all. You seem to be assuming that releasing trapped carbon and the resulting carbon dioxide and its infrared absorbtion are the whole problem. And this is where I disagree.

Yes, CO2 absorbs some infrared wavelengths. Others, it doesn't. Remember that it does this in both directions (IR coming to earth and IR coming from earth). Now add in carbon monoxide, methane, oxygen (and ozone), water vapor, and many other gases, along with their effects. And the changing albedo of earth, which of course also varies with wavelength. And those are just some of the first order effects. Simple? Hardly.

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