Thursday, August 20, 2009

So, go on then, Professor... (or, "Torturing the data until it finally confesses")

More from Ian Plimer/Interviewed:

So go on then, Professor: What makes you sure that you’re right and all those scientists out there saying the opposite are wrong? ‘I’m a geologist. We geologists have always recognised that climate changes over time. Where we differ from a lot of people pushing AGW is in our understanding of scale. They’re only interested in the last 150 years. Our time frame is 4,567 million years. So what they’re doing is the equivalent of trying to extrapolate the plot of Casablanca from one tiny bit of the love scene. And you can’t. It doesn’t work.’

What Heaven And Earth sets out to do is restore a sense of scientific perspective to a debate which has been hijacked by ‘politicians, environmental activists and opportunists’. It points out, for example, that polar ice has been present on earth for less than 20 per cent of geological time; that extinctions of life are normal; that climate changes are cyclical and random; that the CO2 in the atmosphere — to which human activity contributes the tiniest fraction — is only 0.001 per cent of the total CO2 held in the oceans, surface rocks, air, soils and life; that CO2 is not a pollutant but a plant food; that the earth’s warmer periods — such as when the Romans grew grapes and citrus trees as far north as Hadrian’s Wall — were times of wealth and plenty.

All this is scientific fact — which is more than you can say for any of the computer models turning out doomsday scenarios about inexorably rising temperatures, sinking islands and collapsing ice shelves. Plimer doesn’t trust them because they seem to have little if any basis in observed reality.

‘I’m a natural scientist. I’m out there every day, buried up to my neck in sh**, collecting raw data. And that’s why I’m so sceptical of these models, which have nothing to do with science or empiricism but are about torturing the data till it finally confesses. None of them predicted this current period we’re in of global cooling. There is no problem with global warming. It stopped in 1998. The last two years of global cooling have erased nearly 30 years of temperature increase.’

This from the above caught me: "polar ice has been present on earth for less than 20 per cent of geological time;" Is there significance and meaning to that statistic? Clearly, Plimer is attempting to minimize (with geological perspective) the drama of the current glacial-polar-ice-melt phenomenon to which we are bearing witness.

Since I promised to share the fruits of my exploration with Metro Green readers, I must here say that, frankly, something comforted me about the notion that for 80% of the geologic time since our nascent planet heaved into existence, we didn't even have polar ice caps. So how big of a deal could the current "crisis" really be?

Not so fast there, Copernicus... Before you put your feet up on the Barca-lounger's foot rest and crank down the AC, how comforting is it really? Here's the beginning of a really interesting scientific piece on the history and geology of the polar ice caps. The article can be found at Polar Ice Caps - Polar Ice Caps And Geologic History:

Although the polar ice caps

have been in existence for millions of years, scientists disagree over exactly how long they have survived in their present form. It is generally agreed that the polar cap north of the Arctic Circle, which covers the Arctic Ocean, has undergone contraction and expansion through some 26 different glaciations in just the past few million years. Parts of the Arctic have been covered by the polar ice cap for at least the last five million years, with estimates ranging up to 15 million. The Antarctic ice cap is more controversial; although many scientists believe extensive ice has existed there for 15 million years, others suggest that volcanic activity on the western half of the continent it covers causes the ice to decay, and the current south polar ice cap is therefore no more than about three million years old.

At least five times since the formation of the earth, because of changes in global climate, the polar ice has expanded north and south toward the equator and has stayed there for at least a million years. The earliest of these known ice ages was some two billion years ago, during the Huronian epoch of the Precambrian era. The most recent ice age began about 1.7 million years in the Pleistocene epoch. It was characterized by a number of fluctuations in North polar ice, some of which expanded over much of modern North America and Europe, covered up to half of the existing continents, and measured as much as 1.8 mi (3 km) deep in some places. These glacial expansions locked up even more water, dropping sea levels

worldwide by more than 300 ft (100 m). Animal species that had adapted to cold weather, like the mammoth, thrived in the polar conditions of the Pleistocene glaciations, and their ranges stretched south into what is now the southern United States.

Not all that comforted yet? Me either. If, as is generally accepted, the earth is about 4.5 billion years old, that 20% (stipulating Plimer's claim) of geologic time that the polar ice caps have been existence still represents roughly a billion years. More time even than it's been since the Cubs won the world Series. And, if you recall, according to Ed Mazria author of the 2030 challenge, a +2 to +6 deg. Celsius rise in global temperatures would melt enough polar ice to inundate the major population centers on both the east and west coasts of the United States. New York City, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, etc., etc.

Unless Plimer is dead on about his statistical interpretation that the current and much-ballyhooed global warming trend ended in 1998, there's really not a great deal of comfort to be gleaned from the science.


  1. omg, then i dont want to move to Manhattan... hehe maybe i want to if i would live in Empire State Building :)

  2. i wouldn't mind the water rising this much. if you read the book 'Dark Life' by Kat Falls it's quite an interesting story.