Global Warming (or the lack thereof)

My wife is one of the smartest people I know.  Yet she is a firm believer in AGW.  As my 10 year daugther would say, “Really smart woman say what???!!”  I firmly believe it’s because she doesn’t have the time to pay attention.  She works very hard in senior management at a Fortune 50 southern based company and most of what she reads is mainstream media…notably bereft of even-handed coverage of the debate.

Recently she and I got into a discussion (argument) about the extent of the melting of sea ice.  She quoted to me an article in USAToday about a scientist who claimed the earth doesn’t lie and talked about how all the ice on the planet was melting with the exception of Antartica.  He went on to catalog all the melting going on in the arctic and never again mentioned the antarctic.  He never bothered to cite any specific scientific data or sources.  I printed out an article from Meteorology News (http://www.meteorologynews.com/2009/01/05/global-sea-ice-on-the-rebound/) which contends that not only is sea ice in the arctic recovering, but the Antarctic ice coverage has been growing for the past 30 years.  She pulled up data from NASA which showed the Arctic ice melting.  I showed  her some of the satellite charting from the University of Illinois Cryosphere Today website (http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/) which again illustrated that even while Arctic ice has been melting, it is now recovering and for the past 30 years Antarctic ice has been expanding.  Considering that the Antarctic holds 90% of the worlds ice, I told her I wasn’t too concerned about the goings on in the Arctic.

I felt it counter productive to get into a discussion of the credibility of NASA data given the Climate Gate hoorah as she is only peripherally aware of those events (see above – she’s busy).  So I switched gears.  OK, I said, you have valid data.  I have contradictory valid data.  Does it seem to you as if the science is “settled”?  Her response was intelligent as I would expect from my lovely wife.  If you’re wrong, she said, we’re f—–.  If I’m wrong, no big deal.

Ahhh, finally the point of this post.  The real answers to those two statements are the key.  Her statement that we’re in big trouble if I’m wrong is only true if you assume the most dire consequences from warming, e.g. 20 foot sea level rise, huge increases in hurricanes, droughts in rain forests, loss of most arable land, etc.  However, no credible scientist will contend the worst case scenarios are even remotely likely.  Even the badly flawed modeling warmers use, assign the worst case scenarios a very low probability.  However, if we react irrationally, e.g. cap and trade, regulating C02 as a pollutant, we run a very real risk of shipping hundreds of thousands of jobs to countries without such regulation, spiking energy prices in this country in the midst of a recession, and engendering some pretty catastrophic economic effects on the U.S. population.  Some analysts predict a cost in the trillions which we can hardly afford.

Conversely, if I’m wrong, we’re not screwed climatically (is that a word?).  I mean lets say some of the warming affects occur.  The most likely scenario we’re told is the oceans rise 18″ from a combination of melting ice and expanding water (water expands as it heats).  The warmers warn this will happen by 2100.  That gives us 90 years to adapt and figure out ways to mitigate the problem.  Nathan Myhrvold (ex Microsoft Chief Technology Officer) heads a firm called Intellectual Ventures.  They are essentially an invention and intellectual property company and there is an fascinating discussion of the company and some of their efforts and research in Levitt and Dubner’s SuperFreakonomics.  Essentially, they have devised a viable geoengineering method of cooling the planet, endorsed by some leading environmentalists, at an estimated cost of about $250 million per year globally. This is actually less than Al Gore is spending on his “We” ad campaign to promote the dangers of AGW and orders of magnitude less than the economic impacts of some of the irrational proposals such as Cap and Trade and regulating C02 as a pollutant.

Until the science is indeed “settled”, I’m willing to bet on the ingenuity of the American people.