28 March 2010
Global warming - what's the fuss all about?
I have to admit to becoming more skeptical about global warming since I began studying at The Open University on an Environmental Studies and Science Course. I doubt that becoming less convinced about much of the stuff written about global warming was the expected result from being fed more information on climate change.
However, by nature and training, I am a scientist (I did Biological Science as a Degree in the 1980s) and scientists are skeptics, therefore the more someone tells me that a particular idea is correct, and the louder they shout it, the more I want to find a quiet space and think about it myself - basically, I hate always being told to take things on trust and like to do my own thinking and understand things myself, and then if they are too complex and cannot be explained in basic, simple english or maths then I reckon it's got to be a load of hoolley.
So there's the background to why I have started looking in some more detail at global warming & climate change. I am going to stick with global warming as that means we can focus on temperature whereas climate and weather is so much more complex. Perhaps we can look at weather at a later stage.
My journey began in the most obvious starting point - the information published by the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), which slightly spookily was an idea of and set up by Ronald Reagan when he was President of America. Here's a short paper in the Frequently Asked Section of their website on how temperatures are changing: http://www.ipcc.unibe.ch/publications/wg1-ar4/faq/wg1_faq-3.1.html. Now, the key data, that comes from the pretty graph at the bottom is that, depending on which time period you use, and also whether you start a period in a dip going to a peak in temperature, you can get a wide range for the rate of growth in global temperatures. Their published range shows warming of 0.5oC – 1.8oC every 100 years.
Now I have to admit I didn't like their graph as I think you cannot take artificial time periods and force those onto the graph and felt a bit as though it was all being neatly calculated to fit a preconceived viewpoint. Just like when you did maths at high school, you need to look at the graph and visually work a best fit line for the data, so I printed the sheet out (I am sure someone clever can do this on a computer but I am not that skilled with them but I can use a ruler and pencil!). Now the graph is pretty small so accuracy is not going to be great but based on 150 and 100 years of data, global warming seems to be growing at about 0.45oC – 0.75oC every 100 years.
Now there are bits of the graph that can show much faster growth, however these are over really short time periods and appear to be picking rates, or periods, when you're going from a low temperature to a high temperature that may be the result of normal cycles in sun temperatures etc, so I think you should look over longer periods that can remove some of the noise of other factors.
That's my view and everyone will have different thoughts on that, but this does highlight one of the contentions against "climate science" in that it is some ways "climate art" and becomes a matter of representation and debate rather than fact and science.
I was still not satisfied, in fact I wanted to look more closely at the data, so I started the hunt for some data to plug into an Excel spreadsheet and see what the answers would be, which will explain in a blog in the next week or so.