Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Lesser minds react to Bob Laughlin's climatic blasphemy

Two months ago, the explainer of the fractional quantum Hall effect, Bob Laughlin of Stanford University, wrote an essay called What the Earth Knows where he used the knowledge about the persistent and large changes of the Earth during its history to argue that The Earth Will Heal Itself.

The Earth doesn't care whether you drive a Prius and if you do care about the Earth's everyday life, be sure that the interest is not mutual.

Andrew Revkin has collected some reactions from various scholars and "scholars" who are interested in the topic or, more precisely, whose income directly depends on the topic:
Scientists React to a Nobelist’s Climate Thoughts
A niemand called Matthew Huber of Purdue University - whom I have never heard of - argues that by having enumerated many types of perturbations that have influenced the Earth's climate in the past, Laughlin shows that he is a know-nothing who believes in voodoo. An interesting logical deduction, indeed.

Huber's attack against Laughlin begins with his opinion that Laughlin's Nobel is pretty clearly not in the Earth Sciences - which indirectly indicates that Huber believes that the Earth is not composed of condensed matter whose physics is Laughlin's cup of tea.

Quite on the contrary, Mr or Ms Matthew Huber (let me politely take the likely possibility that such people are transvestites into account). By having enumerated many more effects that actually do matter for the Earth's climate than you will ever know, Laughlin has demonstrated that he probably knows much more about the system than Mr or Ms Huber. Clearly, Laughlin believes that there exist various phenomena whose impact on the climate can be scientifically studied. If Laughlin were believing that such a research were impossible, he couldn't have enumerated the phenomena. Got it?




But the key point is not whether all these phenomena may be fully or partially understood (and indeed, Laughlin's essay actually depends on the partial understanding of these phenomena - or at least their existence) - but rather the fact that these phenomena have occurred, are occurring, and will occur whether you like it or not, and whether you wish them to go away or not. Science is not about the wishful thinking of loosely organized believers who would prefer an Earth whose climate is not changing - that would be so neat, wouldn't it?

Science is about finding the truth about the climate and other things - and the truth is that the climate has always been changing - for dozens of reasons that came and come in thousands of variations - whether a zealot likes it or not. You can't insure yourself or your planet against the validity of the laws of physics: the laws will always hold. In particular, the climate is always changing. And the changes have been larger than anything that CO2 can produce after centuries of burning of fossil fuels can achieve.

Carl Wunsch of MIT, infamous for being the double-faced Judas in The Great Global Warming Swindle by Martin Durkin, also attacks Laughlin for his being a physicist. Well, indeed, this is the primary heresy of Laughlin, Dyson, and others: their desire to study the world by the tools of physics, including rational reasoning. Wunsch would prefer a zealous irrational action. Wunsch's irrational criticism couldn't be more similar to the Catholic criticisms of Galileo Galilei.

The hatred against physics and physicists is pretty universal among the alarmists - see the comments under Revkin's article. It's no surprise: physics or any good science is a threat for any fanatical religious cult. You know, physicists may be wrong when they make their first statement about a new question. But if you believe that they're likely to remain wrong because their attitude is flawed, then you simply don't believe in science. You're a religious bigot. Whoever points this thing out is not arrogant; instead, he should be criticized as the author of a useless, self-evident tautology. As a method, physics is the template for all of natural science. It contains all scientifically legitimate modes of research - and only experience with particular systems has to be added to do the things right.

Wunsch admits that the past climate has seen changes that are larger than whatever we can achieve - but he argues that it doesn't follow that there's no reason to "do anything about the change". Logically deducing statements from one another is an example of "physicists' arrogance". ;-)

How the conclusion could possibly not follow is not explained by Wunsch: the absence of the reader's logical reasoning is taken for granted. Clearly, if the existing living forms have lived in regional temperatures that differed from the current ones by plus minus 10 °C if not more, then even those highly overestimated 2-4 °C of change simply cannot be a problem. The possibility (or the right?) to use the human brain to make simple conclusions of this kind is vigorously denied by Mr Wunsch.

At the end, Wunsch implicitly says that he believes that we are falling from the Empire State Building and we are just passing the 30th floor. It may be nice if his MIT colleagues called the ambulance for him before he passes the 10th floor. It's because the free fall is indeed OK - it's the f**king collision that kills you. ;-) Also, he accuses Bob Laughlin of other politically incorrect things. He must support nuclear weapons proliferation, Wunsch argues, because their explosion releases a tiny energy relatively to the Sun's thermonuclear energy.

This is a striking proof of the inability of Mr Wunsch to rationally think. In his nuclear weapon "analogy", he is comparing apples and oranges because he's considering the amounts of energy released at completely different places (of different volume) and during completely different time scales. However, Laughlin was clearly comparing apples with apples: he was comparing the temperature swings at the very same place during the same time intervals that are relevant for the evolution of species.

Harvard's Daniel Schrag has looked relatively moderate to me whenever I saw him at Harvard which has taken place a few times. But don't get me wrong, as a top person at a Climate Fearmongering Department of Harvard University, he's squarely paid for the promotion of climate fear and lies and he is considered the natural #1 contact for hypercommunist problem-makers of Naomi Oreskes' type. This nasty woman has used Schrag as one of her 5 natural contacts weapons to create personal problems for me at Harvard when she learned that I didn't share her breathtaking delusions about the climate.

Schrag at least tries to think about some scenarios for the future. However, he completely fails in doing so. He wants to believe a nonsensical calculation of a David Archer who argued that 20% of the excessive CO2 will stay in the atmosphere for tens of thousands of years. This is clearly nonsense. The ice-core data show that the CO2 concentration gets adjusted to the value dictated by the temperature in 800 years or so. That's a direct consequence of the tight correlation of CO2 and temperature in the graphs - with the lag of 800 years or so.

The deviation from the value predicted by the temperature is almost certainly decreasing exponentially and 800 years - the lag - is the estimate for the time scale when the deviation drops e-times. In 10,000 years, the deviation from the concentration dictated by temperature drops to e^{-12.5} which is about 3 parts per million, somewhat less than 20%. Mr or Ms David Archer and Daniel Schrag should learn basic maths.

But even if maths could be cranked in their cranky way and Greenland melted in 10,000 years - why should it be so interesting? Things will surely change in the future. Continental drift will move Greenland elsewhere in tens of millions of years. Why do they attach the negative emotional label to a potentially green land across the Greenland in 10,000 years? Green land all over in the Greenland would be both natural and cute. It's extremely unlikely that it will occur in tens of thousands of years. There is almost nothing else than ice in the bulk of Greenland. There are petatons of ice elsewhere in the Universe, too. Why should it be everywhere?

Burton Richter of Stanford University says that Laughlin is clearly right in the long run but he should be thinking in the shorter run, of order the human life expectancy. However, at such a short timeframe, the hypothetical changes induced by CO2 are correspondingly smaller, too. They're clearly no problem in the short run. They could only become a problem - of a type that measurably deviates from the well-known and established natural fluctuations that the Earth has known - if we were adding CO2 for many centuries or millennia which doesn't seem possible. In the short run, the costs-and-benefits analysis should determine our behavior, and it's damn obvious that every dollar invested to a fight against climate change is a dollar thrown into the lavatory.

David Keith of University of Calgary tells us how disappointed he was that Freeman Dyson didn't share the AGW religious cult with Keith. Of course, he can't make the reason of his disappointment so obvious. So instead, Keith complains that he was disappointed by Dyson's comment that no one knows that the temperature dependence on CO2 is just logarithmic. Keith claims that either the insight about the logarithmic dependence or the complaint that it is not a common knowledge is "shallow".

I wonder what can possibly be "shallow" about the logarithmic function or its apperance in an effective law of physics. It's just one insight among many but it's a damn important one when it comes to the actual projections of the climate change. If you don't know, the logarithmic function is the inverse function to the exponential function. This fact implies that even if the CO2 concentration were growing exponentially, the induced temperature increase will asymptotically grow linearly. I say asymptotically, to get rid of various additive shifts that modify the relationship for small concentrations such as the current one.

I do agree with Dyson that when it comes to the evaluation of the importance of the greenhouse effect in the real world, this insight is essential. It's surely not as deep as string theory (and this is my statement, not Dyson's statement haha) but it is true and it implies that even exponentially growing emissions are pretty much harmless.

Needless to say, Keith was disappointed by Will Happer's lack of the AGW cultist beliefs, too, and the reasons were closely related. Again, Keith can't say it this way, so he says that he was disappointed by Happer's lack of knowledge of some details of some current models focusing on the broadening of spectral lines. However, the point here is that a good physicist can determine certain conclusions without getting lost in uselessly contrived models.

And that's what both Happer and Dyson have done: the dependence is sublinear, so any further development is guaranteed to have an even smaller impact than the largely non-existent impact in the past. When a few more arguments of this type are carefully considered, we may see that there is nothing such as a "problem with climate change". That's the right answer to the homework problem that Happer and Dyson could have found because they're good physicists, but Keith couldn't have found it because he is either a bad physicist or he is incapable to separate science from his religious beliefs.

Much like Wunsch, Keith also compares climate change to a large nuclear war. He agrees it is tame in comparison. Well, that says a lot, too. A large nuclear war is probably more likely than 150 years of growing CO2 emissions - simply because there's a lot of tension in the world but the fossil fuels will begin to be viewed as a limited resource sometime later in this century. Even a nuclear war is not something that would terminate life on Earth, and it is therefore not something we should be avoiding at "any cost". We must carefully calculate the costs. I surely don't wish a "global" nuclear war but a local usage of this technology can't be "dogmatically" taken off the table.

In 1945, the benefits of a nuclear blast above Hiroshima and Nagasaki were (probably correctly) determined to exceed the costs. Such things simply can happen in various sufficiently extreme situations. The costs of a "fight against climate change" clearly exceed the conceivable benefits.

Finally, Martin Hoffert whom I don't know wrote some final words. I have no idea what he wanted to say - but he was clearly mixing the climate change with the new energy sources in ways that haven't convinced me about his mental health. To say the least, the text he wrote has nothing to do with Laughlin's arguments.

To summarize, it's kind of shocking that these cheap screams are what the climate "establishment" - despite being paid billions of dollars for nothing else than the production of the climatic fearmongering propaganda - offers as a reply to Laughlin's relatively detailed, extensive, and semi-quantitative essay. But you know, in the sects of the AGW type, excrements produced by the prophets have to be swallowed by the believers more enthusiastically than a tasty, fractionally Hall pizza from an infidel.

And that's the memo.

Hat tip: Willie Soon

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