Monday, February 02, 2009

Global Warming and Corporate Feudalism

I would like to use a statement from a comment made by a member of the stuido audience to an earlier post to make a point against what passes for "capitalism" in America - the practice of engaging in practices that threaten the lives, health, and property of others for profit and of engaging in deceptive campaigns to protect those activities.

It is not a culture that values the property rights of others or that values truth, because such a culture would not allow these practices.

I suggested that the issue of global warming illustrated these practices. Specifically, I mentioned that if we doubled the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, it would take an act of God or some form of magic to prevent that CO2 from absorbing additional energy. This is given what we know about the absorption spectrum of CO2 and the emission spectrum of the Earth.

In response to this, Katecickle wrote:

Except we haven't doubled the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere--again, we only contribute about 3.5% of the CO2 put into the atmosphere annually.

This simply repeats pure propaganda that no person with a respect for logic or truth would allow to go unchallenged.

It does not matter what percent humans contribute to annual CO2 output. What matters is the amount that humans contribute to the increase in concentration

Take a tub of water, and set it up so that water is pouring into the tub at 100 gallons per minute. However, the water is in equilibrium so that the tub also loses 100 gallons per minute through holes in the side.

Now, you open a second faucet into the tub. This faucet puts 3.5 gallons per minute into the tub. The tub is now getting 103.5 gallons per minute, but still only losing 100 gallons per minute.

So, the tub is filling up.

Somebody protests that the tub is filling up and suggests that we should turn off the second faucet.

Yet, the owner of the faucet argues, "It is absurd to say that my faucet is responsible for the tub filling up. After all, I am contributing only 3.5% of the volume of water entering the tub."

It not a difficult matter to understand that the contribution to the total inflow of water is not what matters. What matters is the degree to which the new faucet contributes to the change of volume over time. In this case, the second faucet is 100% responsible for the change in volume over time. The faucet puts 3.5 gallons per minute into the tub, and the volume in the tub is increasing at 3.5 gallons per minute.

This is an extremely simple argument to understand and to explain.

I need only a few minor adjustments to make this more like the case of global warming.

For millions of years, the atmosphere held between 200 parts per million and 280 parts per million of CO2. Lower values are associated with ice ages, while higher values are associated with warmer times.

Each year, billions of tonnes of carbon circulate through the system. Animals breathe CO2, plants take it up, falling leaves decay, then gets absorbed by plant growth the following spring. Oceans absorb CO2 in winter months and lose CO2 to the atmosphere in the spring as well.

This system has been substantially in equilibrium for tens of millions of years.

Along comes humans, who open up a carbon faucet that puts 7 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. Half of this "leaks out" by being absorbed into the oceans and into new plant growth.

So, humans are increasing the level of CO2 in the atmospheric tub by 3.5 units per year. We have already increased the volume from 280 ppmv to 385 ppmv and the level keeps rising.

It could reach 1000 ppmv or even higher.

This is not a difficult point to understand. And I have no doubt that many of the people who "market" this particular deception are capable of understanding this argument.

The problem is, they do not care.

The values that these so-called "capitalists" are not respect exhibit are not the values of respect for the rights individuals to life, health, and property and of truth that would mark a practice as being virtuous in capitalist terms. The values they exhibit are those of willingly destroying the lives, health, and property of others and of engaging in whatever campaigns of deception may be useful in defending those practices, as long as it is profitable to do so.


BlackSun said...

Alonzo, I have found that even mentioning something tangentially related to human-caused climate change brings out the trolls like no other subject. "Scam!" "Hoax!" Religious fundies have absolutely nothing on the climate-change deniers. Unlike fundies, when pushed to the wall, the climate change deniers cuss you out instead of offering to pray for you. They epitomize the very worst characteristics of human ignorance.

This deliberate apathy and obfuscation may yet turn out to be humanity's fatal flaw. After writing about this subject for 7 years and getting nothing but grief and contempt, I wonder why I bother. Judging from the response, I don't think the human race is smart enough or noble enough to solve this problem in time. I hope I'm wrong.

Sheldon said...

Nicely argued. But I'm still not buying the public relations move to rebrand capitalism/capitalists to so-called corporate fuedalists.

Si-ence said...

I love how you've argued your point, and I totally agree, though you could increase the impact of your argument by pointing out that as the amount of water in the tub is increasing it is opening another faucet by it's weight - representing natural additions as the temperature rises methane under trapped ice or gases released from a heating sea floor.

After all, the real danger is in the runaway exponential growth of what the 'natural' world will add as we add our apparently insignificant linear amount. Essentially, cutting down isn't enough - it needs to stop. The inertia behind the problem is so great that if we don't slam the breaks on right now, we may just have misjudged the stopping distance.

I wonder sometimes if it's that they don't want to believe it - or if they really don't care.

Katesickle said...

I don't have time for a full reply, but I would like to say that you are right about the math--If co2 enters and leaves the atmosphere at the same rate, and we throw that equilibrium off, eventually that would lead to double the amount of co2 in the atmosphere. That was a math/logic failure on my part.

I'll make a reply to the concept of man-made global warming itself within the next few days. In the meantime, I guess I should go do something extra trollish, since admitting I was wrong has undoubtedly tarnished my reputation *picks up her giant club and d20*

Katesickle said...

Alright, let's examine some of the arguments concerning man-made global warming.

1. The earth's natural climate cycles do not fully explain the current heating trend.
Now I don't think Alonzo, or anyone else here, has actually made this claim--but in order to accept man's role in global warming, you must also accept this premise. I challenge anyone here to provide an argument for why today's temperature cannot be explained by natural warming/cooling cycles.

2. High CO2 levels result in high temperatures, and history proves this.
False. During the Miocene Climactic Optimum co2 levels were at 180-290 ppm, with temperatures several degrees higher than today (one wonders why it and other warm periods are called 'climate optimums' if global warming is such a horrible thing). Or consider the Industrial Revolution: between 1900-1940the temperature began rising. Between 1940-1980 the temperature drops again--after we began pumping CO2 into the air.

The fact is that while co2 levels and temperatures do often correlate, the correlation is opposite of what is often claimed. Co2 levels do not result in high temperatures--rather the high temperatures are followed by high levels of co2. This brings up another important claim:

3. We know the earth's mean temperature
There is no consensus about how the earth's temperature should be calculated. There is no consensus about the altitude at which measurements should be taken, or how often. One foot off the ground? 50 ft above the ground? Above the canopy? Below? Should we measure from several points and average them? The method you use will have a major bearing on your results, as temperatures taken in one location can vary greatly depending on these factors (making it very easy to skew results in one direction or another).

4. The majority of scientists agree that man is causing the climate change, and the ones that disagree are a fringe group.
Another false claim. There are over 650 scientists worldwide who openly doubt such claims, including atmospheric scientists, climatologists, and geophysicists (

Now this is by no means an exhaustive list of problems with the idea of man-made global warming, nor does it prove or disprove anything. However I think that these points (especially the first one) are a good place to start evaluating the arguments surrounding man-made global warming.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

If 65,000 scientists tell you P, and 650 tell you not-P, it is not wise to bet the future of the human race on not-P.

Whatever appeals to authority people might draw upon, I studied the science.

One of the lies propagated by the companies that profit from harming the future of the human race is that the science is all about correlation. They propagate the myth that scientists have noticed a long-term relationship between temperature and CO2, hypotheized a connection between them, and then infer that this relationship will continue into the future.

That is false.

The science has nothing to do with correlation (though it does predict that some correlation will be found).

If a photon of a particular wavelength his a CO2 atom, it is absorbed by that atom, increasing the atom's energy. This is guaranteed laws of nature type stuff, easily demonstrated in any laboratory. You can see it in CO2's absorption spectrum - the black lines that you see when light is shined through a container of CO2.

The more CO2 you have, the more of this energy gets absorbed.

There is no saturation point. As you increase the amounts of CO2, these bands get darker and wider. The only point at which you can say that no more energy will be absorbed is at 100% CO2 at maximum pressure.

This absorbed energy will eventually be released in the form of a photon having the same energy level. That photon is released in a random direction. This means that 50% of the energy absorbed is released back towards the earth. Of the 50% that goes up, they must continue to climb through the atmosphere and risk being absorbed by another CO2 atom.

The more CO2 we have in the atmosphere, the harder it is for this energy to escape out into space.

Given the emission spectrum of the earth (the energy levels of photons leaving the earth and going into space), a doubling of CO2 from 275 ppmv to 550 ppmv in the atmosphere means that 4 watts of additional energy will be held in the atmosphere, which corresponds to an increase in atmospheric temperatures of 2.5 degrees C.

A trippling or quadrupling of CO2 atoms in the atmosphere will mean even more energy absorption - guaranteed - unless you believe in God and you believe God is going to alter the laws of physics.

FROM HERE you then figure in positive and negative feedback mechanisms. Among these are methane release from thawing tundra, increased water vapor in the atmosphere, lower albedo in the polar regions (from melting ice), increased cloud formation, and the like.

Here, there is room for debate.

But, the base increase of 2.5 degrees C is as solid as the claim that the earth goes around the sun.

You might find 650 scientists who say that this is not true, but then you can find 650 scientists who claim they have evidence that humans walked with dinosaurs.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

I want to add to my previous comment that this tactic of presenting climate science as based on a correlation between temperature and CO2 concentrations is exactly that . . . a tactic.

It is part of a campaign of doubt bought and paid for by companies that profit from activities that threaten the well-being of future generations.

They cannot raise doubt about the actual science. They misrepresent it as being based on a correlation because it is possible to raise doubts about what can be inferred from such a correlation.

And with this doubt firmly planted - with these lies widely and scientifically marketed to a lay population - they can continue to profit from activities harmful to future generations without the body politic raising a hand to stop them.

Eneasz said...

There are over 650 scientists worldwide who openly doubt such claims, including atmospheric scientists, climatologists, and geophysicists

Sweet mother of moses! I didn't realize there were still people who believed a single word that came out of Inhofe's mouth!

This list is nothing more than a rehash of his 400-scientists list. And it is just as fradulent. He includes many people who have no expertise in the field, including quite a few economists and TV weathermen. Even worse - he lies. He has people on that list who explicitly endorse the fact of human-caused global warming. They've said so repeatedly, and some have asked to be taken off his list, and yet their names remain on it.
(see here for more detail and references)

With such a record of dishonesty, why are you using this liar as a source?

As for the other 3 items - you are allowing yourself to be deluded. I don't expect you to change your mind, because such a major revision of thought takes time. But ruminate on it for a few months.