Thursday, 3 December 2009

Junk Science part 2

PRESCRIPT: I thought I would start this by saying that thinking can be hard for lots of people, if you're not good a thinking then it may be that simple statements of "fact" work better for you.

Let me make one for you
C02 is a greenhouse gas, humans have and are altering the balance of this and this is having an effect on our climate.
So there you go, now you don't need to be distracted by all the junk science that the folks who wish to say it isn't verifiable will throw in your direction.

If thinking confuses you then you're probably also going to buy some charlatan's trick down at the flea market for $100 cos he says it'll make you $1000 ... or you'll send away $10 to one of those ads you see in magazines in building site toilets. If you're either of the above then I caution you that reading further here will probably confuse you ... but I have put in some pretty pictures to make looking at this page easier for you ;-)

Science is about exploring what we know and using this information to extrapolate. This means to essentially make predictions.

bridge 2 helsinkiExample ... an engineer makes a bridge and based on his calculations determines it will support the weight of X Tonnes.

This sort of science is familiar to us all. As it happens I cross this bridge on my way to work every weekday and it seems to be supporting the train without much stress.

Most of use either use the results of or participate in science almost all the time, even if we don't understand it. The fact that you're reading this page is an indication of the usefulness and effectiveness of quite a few branches of science.

The problem is that while everyone uses science few have any experience in evaluating it. To make things worse building bridges is something we've been doing for thousands of years, but understanding our climate is something we've only just started to do since the 70's.

You've only got to watch TV shows exposing magic or exposing how 'tricksters' work to know that people can fall for tricks easily enough.

Tricks don't make science wrong, or contradict it, they are just tricks.

A central component of science is being able to construct arguments which can then be examined and tested for validity. This essentially is what a trickster does not want

  • examination and scrutiny
  • questions
  • and testing
So just making an argument is not a proof.

There is a model for that concept (not needing proof) and that is called RELIGION, but religion is not science. While religion has a place in developing the spiritual side of humans its is not really appropriate in building a bridge or in a discussion which is about technology (and its results). Go look at the history of denial surrounding pollution, for instance when mining companies want to cover up the effects of their pollution on the population.

Right now, the science of climate change is really a hot topic and being subject to intense discussion. This is only a good thing, because this needs to be a science and not a religion. The problem with much of the discussion is that some people have different beliefs and have different agendas, and many direct discussions in areas to push their personal beliefs.

In this blog entry I'd like to examine one piece of crap which is currently circulating Australia, so I thought I'd make it public here for your examination of it in whole.

After all, just like the skeptics say .. if its not full of shit it will stand scrutiny right?

As its large I thought rather than bore you with a full examination I would just get you thinking critically about some of the central assertions at the beginning of it and you can demolish the rest as the sort of babble used to confuse idiots.

(NOTE: I just came across this well put together site on skeptical science and a nice summary of the climategate issue). If being a Skeptic means questioning in a reasonable way, then I encourage you to read that above link, it will answer many questions. If however to you Skeptic means "deny everything not comfortable" don't bother reading anything, you already know everything)

Firstly the proported aim of the sus presentation is to suggest that an Emissions Trading Scheme is not a good idea. As it happens I agree, I think that an ETS is not the best solution to the problem.

But they actually argue that its not necessary because there is no basis to the science of global warming, there fore there is no global warming or if there might be then its not caused by us.

Now this is an entirely different assertion, and has implications.

Slide 3 states their position in brief:
  • We agree climate change occurs
  • We agree CO2 is a greenhouse gas
  • We want you to know that no one has any evidence that CO2 will over heat the Earth &
  • An Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) will never ever prevent climate change.

Well, these guys make their first strange assertion. They agree that C02 is a green house gas, yet they seem to be confused about that because they then contradict that with the next statement that there is no evidence that C02 will over heat the earth.

Its either cunningly worded (sign of a trickster) or its stupidly worded (sign of something worse).

Of course C02 will not overheat the earth ... the sun will. However it is the concentration of C02 that plays a central role in this, by absorbing radiation from the sun and just like in a microwave oven being warmed up. That is what a Greenhouse gas means ...

(but then Leon Ashby who supports that junk "truth" is a grazier so perhaps he's missed out that part of his schooling while shearing the sheep ... dunno? Maybe he's just put his name to it and not read it like the IPCC panelists he mentions in his slide show. Its interesting to see how CO2 absorbs heat in the atmosphere, this is not up for dispute by the way, only how much is the question).

Neat that they avoid that point ... unless they think its a gas to be used in greenhouses for growing better plants.

Either way they neglect the important point of concentration. Such a simple thing but they speak in absolutes.

Lets say you weigh 80Kg ... that's 80,000 grams. Now if you drink 10 grams of alcohol (a standard drink) you'll probably feel pretty good. You have just added a concentration of 0.0125% of alcohol to your body ... now if you drank 200 grams (20 standard drinks) of alcohol you will probably not feel so good and yet you've still added way less than 1% to your body in fact you've added just ¼ of a %

Next they make another interesting point on slide 4 where they ask and answer:

Is C02 a pollutant? NO!
  • It is odourless, colourless and non toxic
  • We all drink it in soft drinks and beer
  • It is necessary for life (photosynthesis converts CO2 into O2 and carbon)
Ok ... start your car up in the house and leave it running for a while ... then tell me its not been polluted. While C02 is a naturally occurring compound it is important to remember that it is a waste product of our metabolism.

Actually there is a balance needed for everything, even good things (benficial things) will become a hazard if the balance is wrong. Stating that its non-toxic and necessary for life is complete bullshit, put a plastic bag over your head and see how you go. I am certain you will pass out before the atmosphere in the bag reaches anywhere near 100% C02.

Seriously, just how dumb do they think you (the reader) are.

Adding the bit in there about soft drinks and beer is amazing, do they think your lungs are in your stomach? Come on fellas.

Slide 5 demonstrates that C02 increase will be good for plants ... at least for their metabolism ... well so? We're talking about a different thing, concentrations and warming. If it got to the stage where C02 increase would effect plant growth or your respiration we may well have more pressing issues.

What has this got to do with the (already admitted) Greenhouse gas issues? Nothing, its a classic straw man argument.

The basic idea of a straw man argument is to "win" an argument by leading attention away from the argument and to another topic. I encourage you to take a moment to read this page, which explains this and how to spot it.

Slide 8 goes on to bamboozle you with cunning charts to show you what little amounts of C02 we (Australia) contribute to what is in the atmosphere of the world. They then produces a chart to show how little Australians are generating.

Well sure ... but that's hardly surprising ... compare our population to the rest of the world as they have compared our C02.

right ... you can hardly see it can you

Yet you can see our contribution to the amounts of C02 in the atmosphere.

Seems like the sort of junk stats stunt that people who play "the shells game" employ.

Funny, it was just a few years ago that the "Skeptics" were proving that "we couldn't be responsible" because volcanoes produced more of the C02 is in the atmosphere. Well, that argument went down like the Hindenburg didn't it.

Slide 9 gets to the punch line ...
What will it cost the taxpayer?
Nice wording there ... why is it the taxpayer, and not "humanity" ...

Hmm ... smells like business trying to drum up sentiment more than anything else. I don't recall any arguments about "what will it cost the taxpayer" being bitched about when we sent fellas off to die in horror in World War 1 or 2 ... instead there were propaganda campaigns to encourage every able bodied young man to "do the right thing"

Side 12 makes an interesting point about China increasing its C02 levels.

Firstly, consider that in 1987 the power consumption of China was in the order of 459 KwH/person, while in Australia it was 8,224 KwH/person. That's around 17 times more per person in Australia (yes, seventeen ... ponder that a moment) and we have 100 times less people.

Now to put something into perspective you couldn't even run your fridge on 459 KhHours per person.

(NOTE: a KwH is a Kilo watt hour ... Kilo being thousand. So if you run a 100 watt light bulb for one hour you've used 100 watt hours of power. So if you do that every night for 5 hours:
356 x 5 x 100 = 178000 or 175 KwHours, a fridge is about 350 watts)

So, since 1987 do you think we've require less energy per person? In fact it went up to 10,502 kWh (source) by the year 2002 (can't find latest data right now) so its likely to be at least that now.

Sticking with 1987 numbers, if we multiply the per person power needs by the population we get some truly scary numbers
Australia needs 164,480 G/Watt hours of energy
China needs 918,000 G/Watt hours of energy

So imagine what will happen when everyone in China has even the most basic of services (like electric lights, fridges and TV). If you think that China producing more than 5 times more C02 in the future will have no effect on the concentrations then gosh.

Now, ask anyone who has visited China and traveled around and you'll see that China is investing enormous amounts into alternative energy (meaning ones which don't just burn something). They are rapidly moving away from depending on burning things for energy because they can see that we can't keep doing this.

Ok, sure we could if we went back to live like our grandparents did ... but with our expanding population and needs we need to modernize.

In Australia our energy consumption relies on burning things, which of course produces C02

If you look at the graph to the left I've plotted the data of how we generate our energy.

The red portion is the energy generation which does not rely on burning something ... its about 1%

So after we cut through all the bullshit about our energy and how it will "effect the taxpayer" it looks like the VAST majority of energy (and therefore C02 generation) could be substituted by something else than burning coal.

So, its all down to how we do things not "to do or not to do"

So lets stop bickering about the bullshit of things and just start doing things better.

What could we do?

Well manage things better for one. If you read my blog post about water use you will see that persuing alternative methods for water usage in South East Queensland will actually reduce our power demands just to have water available in our towns and cities.

The red line represents power with the approach of ocean water desalination (currently being followed by the Queensland State Government) and the blue line represents the power requirements trend for alternative methods. The amazing part of this is that a factor in this graph is that population doubles over the period from 2001 to 2056. By the way, BAU means Business As Usual .. doesn't look good to me.

Perhaps if we continue business as usual we'll have no business (a common cry of business against modernization at any point in time "ohh, we can't afford to do that").

I recommend that you look into some alternative (to the Bush and Howard style thinking) and examine an emerging trend called Ecological Modernisation. This 'frame of reference' starts analysis from the concept that that we can do things better and therefore save money.

Doing things the way we are doing things hasn't really changed since the mid 1960's ... only we've been given more toys to distract us.

beads and blankets anyone?

Say ... I've got this game to play with you ... I've got three shells and I'll put this pea under one. If you can guess which shell its under I'll give you my blanket, but if you get it wrong, I get to keep yours ... sound fair?

PS: don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Leon is a dope, he seems to have done some good things and be on the right track with land management ... its just that he's got the bull at the wrong end on this one.


Noons said...

Agree with just about everything.
One small detail: a car inside the house kills you by emission of CO - carbon monoxide - not CO2 - carbon dioxide.

See: section on "Urban pollution" for a better description than I can make here.

Still: this guy is miles off in most of the other statements. I particularly like the one about tree growth being different at different concentrations: WTH has that got to do with what we produce per capita?

An ETS in its current form will not reduce anything other than the thickness of our wallets, for sure! But that doesn't mean we don't need some way of curbing CO2 - and other! - emissions.
And pronto!

obakesan said...


about the CO sure, I've got a degree in biochemistry :-) But I wasn't thinking about the car killing you just that it'd stink. The plastic bag over the head should be mostly C02 however ...

Charles Maclauchlan said...

What happens on the earth is of no discernible interest to the earth itself but is of vital importance to humankind. In this regard the brand new scientific theories associated with Geology are remarkably prescient. This is so important to us that it's hijacking has been a tragedy.

Although I studied each in college I am neither an engineer nor a scientist. I do have in my family however what might be a disproportionally large number of each including my son, a Geologist. I mention this just by way of explaining that I am at least familiar with the fact gathering, critical thinking, methods and peer review necessary to move scientific thought along.

I see the area jokingly referred to as climate change science as never having taken any of these methods seriously. It's not science at all, not yet, in fact it presently denigrates the term. Their defense seems to be that this is so serious that the world must just believe them. Any HINT of an alternative point of view must be crushed vocally, politically, in the press, in public opinion and at the present rate of escalation soon by violent means (if this hasn't already happened). Huh?? If that isn't Dogma then what is it?

Charts and statistical data are readily available from reputable thinkers that call many conclusions hasty or questionable and now we are discovering that the conclusions were indeed questionable...and hasty. The lack of interest by the press and the stammering made up explanations by the perpetrators serves only to further obfuscate a complex and important issue, and soon to be science, and also move public interest away from areas where focus should be gathering. What the "Climatologists" have been doing is nowhere near science. This is not a good thing.

What the algore followers propose with their protocols and carbon rationing schemes is nothing less that a new all controlling form of government, one with complete power to regulate EVERY facet of our lives. I even saw a recent article pointing out that one web browser used fewer carbon emissions than another. For goodness sake. This doesn't scare the stuffing out of you?

obakesan said...

yes Charles it does scare the stuffing out of me.

That's why I quit a well paying job back in 2002 to come back to Australia and do my research into sustainable water supplies.

You rightly point out that nothing will happen to the earth, just that really thin layer called the biosphere.

Life will continue, just probably not inluding us or anything re recognize as being pretty. The Cyanobacter have been around a while, I'm sure they'll be adaptable to almost anything.

If my writing seems to be biased towards disagreement with anthropogenic effects on climate change then perhaps thats an artifact of me writing only about what I'm sure of and having an open mind to theory.


obakesan said...

Charles, not sure if you caught it, but this blog entry

I agree with your sentiment about the lack of critical analysis, and openness of methodology to scrutiny hindering environmental science. It is as yet too close to the political.


Noons said...

And now of course we are nearing the peak of an "El Nino" event, which traditionally creates drought and high temperatures in SE Australia. Well known, nothing new.

No doubt every hot day from now on will be classed by the media as firm evidence of global warming...

Meanwhile, the real problems we have continue unabated and untouched:
1- lack of adequate water supplies,
2- housing built with no regard to our special climate - forcing the use of air conditioning and extra water
3- excessive car emissions due to ineffective or unusable public transport and a culture based on use of highly polluting road vehicles
4- almost no use of gas power stations as opposed to coal, while our gas reserves are being burned off in Moomba and other such places
5- major environment degradation and pollution by the coal mines, smelters and other such large operations

But what's important for our pollies is the imprecise and unreliable conclusions of some UK uni whose results cannot be verified by anyone else: heck, it generates extra consolidated revenue via the ETS scheme, it's gotta be "science" - and unquestionable!

Watch the proceedings from now on: it's gonna be fun!