On Sat, Jun 15, 2013 at 6:01 PM, meekerdb <meeke...@verizon.net> wrote:

>  On 6/15/2013 3:24 PM, Jason Resch wrote:
>
> Coincidentally I came across this wikipage of Freeman Dyson quotes today:
>
>
>    - My first heresy says that all the fuss about global warming is
>    grossly exaggerated. Here I am opposing the holy brotherhood of climate
>    model experts and the crowd of deluded citizens who believe the numbers
>    predicted by the computer models. Of course, they say, I have no degree in
>    meteorology and I am therefore not qualified to speak. But I have studied
>    the climate models and I know what they can do. The models solve the
>    equations of fluid dynamics, and they do a very good job of describing the
>    fluid motions of the atmosphere and the oceans. They do a very poor job of
>    describing the clouds, the dust, the chemistry and the biology of fields
>    and farms and forests. They do not begin to describe the real world that we
>    live in. *The real world is muddy and messy and full of things that we
>    do not yet understand.* It is much easier for a scientist to sit in an
>    air-conditioned building and run computer models, than to put on winter
>    clothes and measure what is really happening outside in the swamps and the
>    clouds. That is why the climate model experts end up believing their own
>    models.
>       - "Heretical Thoughts about Science and Society", in *Edge* (8
>       August 2007)<http://www.edge.org/documents/archive/edge219.html#dysonf>
>
>
> He's right that the world is messy.  But climate scientists are out
> measuring everything they can think of.
>

He makes the point that climat scientists are missing or ignoring important
aspects of biology and topsoil, among other things.  From the article:


I will discuss the global warming problem in detail because it is
interesting, even though its importance is exaggerated. One of the main
causes of warming is the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
resulting from our burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal and natural
gas. To understand the movement of carbon through the atmosphere and
biosphere, we need to measure a lot of numbers. I do not want to confuse
you with a lot of numbers, so I will ask you to remember just one number.
The number that I ask you to remember is one hundredth of an inch per year.
Now I will explain what this number means. Consider the half of the land
area of the earth that is not desert or ice-cap or city or road or
parking-lot. This is the half of the land that is covered with soil and
supports vegetation of one kind or another. Every year, it absorbs and
converts into biomass a certain fraction of the carbon dioxide that we emit
into the atmosphere. Biomass means living creatures, plants and microbes
and animals, and the organic materials that are left behind when the
creatures die and decay. We don’t know how big a fraction of our emissions
is absorbed by the land, since we have not measured the increase or
decrease of the biomass. The number that I ask you to remember is the
increase in thickness, averaged over one half of the land area of the
planet, of the biomass that would result if all the carbon that we are
emitting by burning fossil fuels were absorbed. The average increase in
thickness is one hundredth of an inch per year.

The point of this calculation is the very favorable rate of exchange
between carbon in the atmosphere and carbon in the soil. To stop the carbon
in the atmosphere from increasing, we only need to grow the biomass in the
soil by a hundredth of an inch per year. Good topsoil contains about ten
percent biomass, [Schlesinger, 1977], so a hundredth of an inch of biomass
growth means about a tenth of an inch of topsoil. Changes in farming
practices such as no-till farming, avoiding the use of the plow, cause
biomass to grow at least as fast as this. If we plant crops without plowing
the soil, more of the biomass goes into roots which stay in the soil, and
less returns to the atmosphere. If we use genetic engineering to put more
biomass into roots, we can probably achieve much more rapid growth of
topsoil. I conclude from this calculation that the problem of carbon
dioxide in the atmosphere is a problem of land management, not a problem of
meteorology. No computer model of atmosphere and ocean can hope to predict
the way we shall manage our land.

Here is another heretical thought. Instead of calculating world-wide
averages of biomass growth, we may prefer to look at the problem locally.
Consider a possible future, with China continuing to develop an industrial
economy based largely on the burning of coal, and the United States
deciding to absorb the resulting carbon dioxide by increasing the biomass
in our topsoil. The quantity of biomass that can be accumulated in living
plants and trees is limited, but there is no limit to the quantity that can
be stored in topsoil. To grow topsoil on a massive scale may or may not be
practical, depending on the economics of farming and forestry. It is at
least a possibility to be seriously considered, that China could become
rich by burning coal, while the United States could become environmentally
virtuous by accumulating topsoil, with transport of carbon from mine in
China to soil in America provided free of charge by the atmosphere, and the
inventory of carbon in the atmosphere remaining constant. We should take
such possibilities into account when we listen to predictions about climate
change and fossil fuels. If biotechnology takes over the planet in the next
fifty years, as computer technology has taken it over in the last fifty
years, the rules of the climate game will be radically changed.

When I listen to the public debates about climate change, I am impressed by
the enormous gaps in our knowledge, the sparseness of our observations and
the superficiality of our theories. Many of the basic processes of
planetary ecology are poorly understood. They must be better understood
before we can reach an accurate diagnosis of the present condition of our
planet. When we are trying to take care of a planet, just as when we are
taking care of a human patient, diseases must be diagnosed before they can
be cured. We need to observe and measure what is going on in the biosphere,
rather than relying on computer models.

Everyone agrees that the increasing abundance of carbon dioxide in the
atmosphere has two important consequences, first a change in the physics of
radiation transport in the atmosphere, and second a change in the biology
of plants on the ground and in the ocean. Opinions differ on the relative
importance of the physical and biological effects, and on whether the
effects, either separately or together, are beneficial or harmful. The
physical effects are seen in changes of rainfall, cloudiness, wind-strength
and temperature, which are customarily lumped together in the misleading
phrase “global warming”. In humid air, the effect of carbon dioxide on
radiation transport is unimportant because the transport of thermal
radiation is already blocked by the much larger greenhouse effect of water
vapor. The effect of carbon dioxide is important where the air is dry, and
air is usually dry only where it is cold. Hot desert air may feel dry but
often contains a lot of water vapor. The warming effect of carbon dioxide
is strongest where air is cold and dry, mainly in the arctic rather than in
the tropics, mainly in mountainous regions rather than in lowlands, mainly
in winter rather than in summer, and mainly at night rather than in
daytime. The warming is real, but it is mostly making cold places warmer
rather than making hot places hotter. To represent this local warming by a
global average is misleading.

The fundamental reason why carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is critically
important to biology is that there is so little of it. A field of corn
growing in full sunlight in the middle of the day uses up all the carbon
dioxide within a meter of the ground in about five minutes. If the air were
not constantly stirred by convection currents and winds, the corn would
stop growing. About a tenth of all the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is
converted into biomass every summer and given back to the atmosphere every
fall. That is why the effects of fossil-fuel burning cannot be separated
from the effects of plant growth and decay. There are five reservoirs of
carbon that are biologically accessible on a short time-scale, not counting
the carbonate rocks and the deep ocean which are only accessible on a
time-scale of thousands of years. The five accessible reservoirs are the
atmosphere, the land plants, the topsoil in which land plants grow, the
surface layer of the ocean in which ocean plants grow, and our proved
reserves of fossil fuels. The atmosphere is the smallest reservoir and the
fossil fuels are the largest, but all five reservoirs are of comparable
size. They all interact strongly with one another. To understand any of
them, it is necessary to understand all of them.

As an example of the way different reservoirs of carbon dioxide may
interact with each other, consider the atmosphere and the topsoil.
Greenhouse experiments show that many plants growing in an atmosphere
enriched with carbon dioxide react by increasing their root-to-shoot ratio.
This means that the plants put more of their growth into roots and less
into stems and leaves. A change in this direction is to be expected,
because the plants have to maintain a balance between the leaves collecting
carbon from the air and the roots collecting mineral nutrients from the
soil. The enriched atmosphere tilts the balance so that the plants need
less leaf-area and more root-area. Now consider what happens to the roots
and shoots when the growing season is over, when the leaves fall and the
plants die. The new-grown biomass decays and is eaten by fungi or microbes.
Some of it returns to the atmosphere and some of it is converted into
topsoil. On the average, more of the above-ground growth will return to the
atmosphere and more of the below-ground growth will become topsoil. So the
plants with increased root-to-shoot ratio will cause an increased transfer
of carbon from the atmosphere into topsoil. If the increase in atmospheric
carbon dioxide due to fossil-fuel burning has caused an increase in the
average root-to-shoot ratio of plants over large areas, then the possible
effect on the top-soil reservoir will not be small. At present we have no
way to measure or even to guess the size of this effect. The aggregate
biomass of the topsoil of the planet is not a measurable quantity. But the
fact that the topsoil is unmeasurable does not mean that it is unimportant.

At present we do not know whether the topsoil of the United States is
increasing or decreasing. Over the rest of the world, because of
large-scale deforestation and erosion, the topsoil reservoir is probably
decreasing. We do not know whether intelligent land-management could
increase the growth of the topsoil reservoir by four billion tons of carbon
per year, the amount needed to stop the increase of carbon dioxide in the
atmosphere. All that we can say for sure is that this is a theoretical
possibility and ought to be seriously explored.






> And because things are messier than the models doesn't mean they are
> exaggerating the effects; they can just as well be underestimating the
> effects.
>
>
Should we accept policy changes when there are such large gaps in our
knowledge?  I would say a similar thing occurred in the 1970s when the US
government accepted Ancel Key's unproven and controversial hypothesis (that
fat and cholesterol caused heart disease) and made it into a policy
recommendation.  Telling people to eat diets low in fat and high in
carbohydrates.  Today the evidence suggests heart disease is caused by
inflammation (not diets high in fat and cholesterol) and the result of
people following government recommendations has been an increase in the
incidence of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.




>
>
>    -
>
>
>    - I believe global warming is grossly exaggerated as a problem. *It's
>    a real problem, but it's nothing like as serious as people are led to
>    believe.* The idea that global warming is the most important problem
>    facing the world is total nonsense and is doing a lot of harm. It distracts
>    people's attention from much more serious problems.
>       - Interview in *Salon* (29 September 
> 2007)<http://www.salon.com/books/feature/2007/09/29/freeman_dyson/>
>
>
> Since we don't have precise predictions (and such predictions would
> require predicting what people are going to do) we don't know whether it
> merely serious or catastrophic.
>

Over what time frames are the effects projected to be serious or
catastrophic?

I ask because if it is well beyond 30 years, it is likely that technology
will provide solutions that enable us to adaptively increase or decrease
levels of different gases in the atmosphere on demand, and current attempts
to address the problem by merely reducing emissions by a few percent aren't
going to change anything.  To me that idea seems like like the most naive
and unimaginative of technical solutions to the problem.  The problem isn't
the level of green house gases, its an unfavorable climate.  We should
consider that there are other (possibly far superior) solutions to the
problem of an unfavorable climate.

Here are two proposals that would cost pennies on the dollar compared to
reducing greenhouse gas emissions:

http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/2008/sep/04/cloud-seeding-ships-could-combat-climate-change

http://edition.cnn.com/2009/TECH/science/11/05/eco.geoengineering/


Jason



>
>
>    -
>
>
>    - All the books that I have seen about the science and the economics
>    of global warming, including the two books under review, miss the main
>    point. The main point is religious rather than scientific. There is a
>    worldwide secular religion which we may call environmentalism, holding that
>    we are stewards of the earth, that despoiling the planet with waste
>    products of our luxurious living is a sin, and that the path of
>    righteousness is to live as frugally as possible. ... Environmentalism has
>    replaced socialism as the leading secular religion.
>       - *The New York Review of Books* (12 June 2008)
>
>
> That's nonsense.  Environmentalism is not a religion, it's based on
> evidence of despoiling large parts of the Eartha and on a scientific
> understanding of the relation of human well being to that of the
> environment.  It is no more a religion than consumerism - which is the more
> widely practiced philosophy of life - "Who dies  with the most toys wins" -
> in the OECD nations and one that is promoted by trillions of dollars in
> advertising.
>
> Brent
>
>
>
>    -
>
> What do others think about his comments?  Are his critiques valid?
>
> Jason
>
>
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