Thoughts on economics and liberty

Get used to it: The climate always changes

The climate is always changing

The Earth can either become warmer or cooler. That is what it has done for hundreds of millions of years. Sometimes an ice age, sometimes an interglacial.

Figure: Annual Mean Temperatures in UK Since 1659, the longest thermometer series of temperature (here). (Click the above figure to make it larger).What do you notice in this figure? That the temperature constantly changes from year to year? If so, you're right!

Surface impacts

1. Ice: The amount of ice on Earth goes up, goes down

2. Sea levels: The sea levels go up, and they go down

3. Temperature: The temperature of the Earth's surface goes up and it goes down.

The current change in climate is not particularly special or unique, as even a cursory examination of the facts of the case clearly demonstrates. It is definitely not a matter of concern. Instead, we are LUCKY that the average temperature is slightly warmer, and there is more CO2 in the air. That is how we have been able to produce more food and sustain a much higher human population than ever before in history.

If we don't understand statistics we are destined to stew in our own sweat!

The 'common' man (including the common policy maker) is generally deeply ignorant about basic statistical facts:

a) Correlation doesn't imply causation. Two totally unrelated random variables can be perfectly correlated, quite accidentally, for some time. Always look for a clear theory to underpin a causal analysis.

b) Causality can only be confirmed through a theory. So the theory should be explicit, and the theory should be testable/ empirically verifiable. In general, even ONE fact that doesn't fit a theory's predictions will nullify the entire theory.

c) Causality in real life is usually very 'deep', meaning complex, inter-related, and multivariate. Conditional probabilities and feedback loops contaminate the analysis. That is why most 'real life' theories remain untestable or simply fail upon being put to the test.

d) Understand that even the best 'real life' theories tend to have a 'delta' or white noise variable that represents our ignorance as well as the innate randomness of phenomena.

e) Be very careful when you are presented with a graph! Watch out for its axes, and ensure you understand what is being shown. When looking at a graph that purports to talk about a long term trend, do look at long term charts. The overall picture can only be seen by looking back at long-term trends.

f) Be very wary of computer models particularly those that purport to predict the future. They are TOTALLY dangerous in the hands of the uninitiated, like the models that underpinned the USSR economy: recipes for disaster! To model the trends likely to be seen in the future, rely on an explanation that demonstrates a deep understanding of multivariate and complex factors at work, and not on computer models. That way you'll understand what is in the modeler's mind, and will soon realise where the modeler is wrong.

What has been happening on the climate change front?

Two UNRELATED facts have been the cause of much grief:

a) YES, the average temperature of the 20th century was definitely higher than the average temperature of the 19th century.

b) YES, the level of CO2 in the air was almost certainly higher (on average) in the 20th century than in the 19th century.

BUT (a) that doesn't mean that the rise in temperature in the 20th century was CAUSED by the rise in CO2. Correlation DOES NOT IMPLY causation. To understand why this correlation is UNRELATED is not a trivial matter, however. It requires significant understanding of the theory of the Earth's temperature, including how CO2 behaves.

AND (b) this correlation disappears the moment the 'graph' is extended beyond the past 150 years. The temperature on earth has only a very indirect relationship with CO2.

Therefore this is a spurious correlation.

A SIMPLIFIED THEORY OF GLOBAL TEMPERATURE

The equation for the Earth's surface temperature goes something like this (this is HIGHLY simplified):

Earth Temperature = f(HO, HR, S, G, W, ….) + Delta

where

HO = Heat output of the sun. This is HIGHLY VARIABLE, since the sun is a pulsing star. The sun, for reasons not yet understood, also seems to have cycles of activity – most likely related to the changing gravitational (and many other) impacts of stars in the Milky Way and even other galaxies;

HR = Heat received by the Earth from the sun = f(cloudiness, reflection from light surfaces like ice, and absorption by dark surfaces like green leaves, particulate matter in the air such as dust and soot, D). D is the distance of Earth from the sun which is a function of (orbital changes of the Earth, wobble of the Earth);

S = Ancient stored heat from 4.5 billion years ago, inside the Earth's bowel (heat that is emitted through volcanic and tectonic activity). Volcanoes supply this 'inner heat' in a fairly random and unpredictable manner;

G = Greenhouse effect (or atmospheric gas effect) = f (lograthmic function of CO2, appropriate other functions of other greenhouse gases, level of consumption and sequestration of greenhouse gases by plankton, bacteria, and other microbes which in turn is a highly 'responsive' to feedback loops since these tiny single-celled creatures multiply instantly and hence "eat" more CO2 the more of it is produced); and

W = Heat cycled through water = (deep sea currents, clouds and their formation, including significant self-adjusting cooling effect through evaporation from the sea)

Note that each variable has a varying marginal effect: the equation is therefore strongly non-linear, its form and shape not known or understood, as a whole. Note also the self-adjusting or feedback effects that nullify many changes.

I hazard that the COMBINED explanatory power of these variables (the marginal effects of which are not yet fully understood) is around 30 per cent – at best, with at least 70% of the causes of the Earth's temperature not yet known. In other words, if you were to plug in all relevant variables into the above "equation" you COULD NOT MIMIC the precise climate of the Earth over the past 4.5 billion years. Therefore, the possibility of mankind predicting the future climate is close to ZERO. When we will be able to replicate the entire past history of the earth's climate, we can then consider predicting the future.

Under these circumstances of highly limited knowledge, ONLY FOOLS confidently "predict" the direction of climate change from the knowledge of one TINY tiny sub-variable (e.g. CO2)! Such great folly is typical of mankind, though, and does not surprise me at all (ref. the folly of 'economists' who predict the path of interest rates, and therefore 'manage' interest rates, distorting the world's economy badly).

NOTHING KNOWN TO MAN SO FAR IS SUFFICIENT TO RECONSTRUCT THE WORLD'S CLIMATE HISTORY. HENCE PREDICTING THE FUTURE OF THE CLIMATE IS AN OCCUPATION THAT ONLY FOOLS UNDERTAKE.

Even in the past three thousand years, there have been, arguably (there is virtually conclusive evidence on this), at least two major periods (Roman and Medieval warming) with temperatures FAR HIGHER than the warmest temperatures experienced in the 20th century. .

NO ONE HAS YET explained why temperatures were so high then – well before the industrial revolution. Remember – one fact, just one fact, that can't be explained generally flunks a theory. But this is just ONE of the hundreds of facts that the theory of anthropomorphic climate change can't explain.

And yet there are people (allegedly 'scientists', but for whom the word 'quack' would perhaps be far more appropriate!) who purport to predict the future of the world's temperature! Take a coin and toss it. That would give an equally good prediction (given mankind's current hopelessly poor state of understanding of climate change).

The effects of CO2

CO2 effects (as a greenhouse gas) are dramatically limited after a particular level (100 ppmv). In addition, the carbon cycle is based on highly responsive self-adjusting feedback mechanisms. Virtually all the carbon generated by burning coal is immediately absorbed by plants on earth and microbes in the oceans. The microbes then feed other forms of life in the oceans, which finally gets sequestered into the bottom of the ocean. Carbon is removed from the atmosphere at almost as fast a rate as it is produced. Read my detailed blog post on CO2 to better understand the way CO2 works. Remember CO2 is FOOD: it is sucked/swallowed out of the atmosphere virtually as soon as it is put into it.

CONCLUSION:

Yes, there is a slight global warming. Climate change is TRUE. It is a fact of life. And will always remain a fact of life.

Yes, CO2 has increased SLIGHTLY in the atmosphere in the 20th century than in the 19th century (please note that levels SIGNIFICANTLY higher than current CO2 levels were measured even in the 1820s, for CO2 is placed in the atmosphere primarily from natural causes: man's did not create CO2 in the first instance, and its level varies naturally).

BUT that doesn't mean increased CO2 is causing the currently experienced global warming. Proving that CO2 is the cause needs replicating the ENTIRE history of climate change first. Only then can it be conclusively proven that CO2 is the ONLY cause of change this time around.

HENCE "controlling" CO2 and expecting to 'regulate' the world's climate is a like trying to create gold inside a chemistry lab. Alchemy. Witchcraft. But luckily this fad too shall pass, albeit having drained a lot of our taxes in witch-hunts against CO2 "polluters" in the process! The truth always wins in the end. Satyameva Jayate.

Man survives. Will survive. We are a (relatively) sturdy species, resistant to the repeated harm caused us by fools.

SEA!

And yes, the sea levels TOO change! – if you didn't know that. Check out my blog post on sea levels. If you are scared about sea level change, please don't buy property near the beach. Or you may find the sea disappear for miles from the beach, or frozen over. Be prepared!

Addenda (things that I find in support or even against, my view expressed above, noting that I do not endorse any of the links below but am compiling them as part of data that may be relevant)

 

 

DUST as a factor in climate


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2 thoughts on “Get used to it: The climate always changes
  1. Candor_humane

    Sanjeev,
    You have hit the nail on the head. The real issue is not CO2,but other pollutants, I sometime even wonder if this Carbon-crap is just a distraction (deliberately?!?) to the real problem from all the other pollutants and wild-life/bio-diversity deterioration fueled by unsustainable consumption.
    Good Post!
    Siva

     
  2. Surya

    Excellent post. Both macro-economics and climate-science seem to be modern day versions of alchemy. I have pro-freedom views and people even accept it when I criticise prevalent economic thought. But to question the green movement? No. It has almost reached a religious fervour. Thankfully the recent leak of emails of some prominent climatologists – the climate gate scandal , did a lot of good in the west and made many people question the real aim of these people.
    As someone who was initially attracted to communism, and having read a lot of left leaning trash, I can say that the tone of this green movement is eerily similar. They have the same apocalyptic vision of the future if we don't hand our lives over to them. You are right in pointing out that climate is beyond human control. I remember reading a Scientific American paper that industrial emission might have actually delayed an onset of a global ice age. And even if humans stayed within caves and did not modify the climate a bit, what can we do to prevent natural calamities like earthquakes and Tsunamis?
    All the perceived problems of pollution is only due to an insufficient definition of property rights. And finally even if we concede that climate change would trigger a global catastrophe in future, ceding control over our lives to these quacks through millions of tiny regulations, would create  an immediate catastrophe and completely derail our path to prosperity.