Sunday, March 22, 2015

#4 Nature in Balance? - Dissecting Dr Lindzen's intrinsic obtuseness

{final edit Sunday evening}

This is the fourth part of my review of an interview by Alex Epstein with Professor Richard Lindzen on his "Power Hour" program.  I've taken the time and trouble to transcribe much of it in order to focus on Lindzen's bizarre version of reality and to juxtapose it against history and the known science.  

In this installment we consider Alex and Lindzen's confusion regarding what environmentalists mean when they discuss the "Balance of Nature".

{ link to part one (the "real" questions)part two (the conspiracy), part three (the government driving AGW) }


Power Hour: Questioning Climate Science with Dr. Richard Lindzen 
Alex Epstein | October 22, 2012 | Episode 31
Richard Lindzen joins Alex Epstein to talk about perspectives on climate change:
  • Questions about climate
  • “Balance” in nature
  • The goals of environmentalists
1:45  Alex:  Whenever I read one of his papers I get almost emotional just by the level of clarity and diligence and utter lack of any kind of appeal to authority. 
3:05  Lindzen: What bothers me about this issue is the intrinsic obtuseness of the questions. ...
26:30  Lindzen:  ... I think with eugenics it was.  You know, eugenics is the environmentalism of the first third of the twentieth century.
37:05  Alex: I guess there's this negative disposition in environmentalism towards man changing any part of nature as such. 
~ ~ ~
Please stop.  We can always find extremists who believe extreme thoughts, so let's forget the strawman.   

Believe it or not, "environmentalists" live in this real world.    We appreciate that the act of living requires us to take from the "natural" world around us.  We love our modern comforts as much as anyone, although we do have lower expectations for what it takes to satisfy our respective comfort levels.  

What makes us so threatening?  Is it that we have a visceral/spiritual connection to the open lands and oceans and clouds flying through our skies?  Is it our attitude of minimalism over gluttony?  Is it that we believe people need to live with less material expectations? 

And what is it that makes "Environmentalism" so incomprehensible to Republican/libertarian types?  

What's wrong with appreciating the Earth around us, the natural world, it's wonders and critters, accepting them as real entities that deserve our respect and striving to understand and nurture?

What's wrong with appreciating that every economic transaction, besides it's benefits, includes costs and destruction, thus contains a moral dimension - and that those equations need to be recognized as we conduct our lives and business? 
Alex: And then the idea that he could be impacting the climate in any degree is considered morally wrong.
~ ~ ~
The "morally wrong" has to do with degrading the physical planet our children (and other creatures) are depending on!

What Alex doesn't appreciate is that humanity and our society has grown up within, and adapted to, a biosphere that's a direct result of the weather patterns produced within a specific and most advantageous climate regime (equilibrium plateau) that Earth had settled into quite recently in it's billions of years long history.

What Alex won't face is that we are supercharging that climate system (think, global heat and moisture distribution engine) back into a hothouse Earth, with serious weather pattern alterations inevitable.  These alterations will seriously disrupt the operation of our complex modern society.  As we are already getting a foretaste of.

37:35 Lindzen:  I think you've got an important point there. 
There are people who look at it as just a pragmatic issue, is it big enough to worry about, there are others who unscientifically have the view: oh my god, I didn't know man could have any impact, this is terrible.  That's a meaningless question from the point of policy{ironically here Lindzen drifts off with a meaningless musing on the butterfly's wing beat.}
~ ~ ~
Fair enough, it is a meaningless question, so can we focus on what does have meaning?  Human impacts are inevitable and not necessarily terrible.

But, that doesn't change the fact that many thoughtless human impacts have had terrible consequences, as scientific studies are showing us with increasing frequency.

It's wrong to hide from that.
39:00  Alex: With this idea that it's intrinsically wrong to modify nature, 
~ ~ ~
This is known as a red herring.

Everyone paying attention knows that we are way past questions of modifying nature - there is no more pristine nature left anywhere on this planet.  

Current "environmentalist" struggles are all about protecting remaining pieces of biodiversity and futilely trying to raise awareness.
Alex: I think it's often accompanied by this alleged scientific view that nature exists in a delicate balance and so that anything we do to change that  
Lindzen(cuts in):  No such climate could have existed for four and half billion years.(cackling)  
~ ~ ~
What's the professor talking about? 
What 'such climate'? 

Today's climate certainly didn't exist back then, did it professor?  

Today's atmosphere and the climate that developed out of it, are relatively recent additions to Earth's surface.  
Evolution Of The Atmosphere: Composition, Structure And Energy
Professor, "State of climate" would be a more productive way to think about balances within Earth's climate system over time.  Understand the atmosphere has always been there, but in a state of punctuated equilibrium, responding to changes in composition and other influences.

Over Earth's history the system has achieved particular plateaus, where the system oscillated within specific parameters.

A long time ago our atmosphere supported simple life, but it was poisonous for life as we know it.  Then with time that balance of gases in the atmosphere changed and with oxygen's increasing dominance, a chain of events was set off that culminated in destroying nearly all existing life forms.  

Eventually this led to a radically different biosphere populated by a radically different set of creatures that could survive within the new dynamic oxygen saturated equilibrium and who were formed and reformed by the new climate regime with it's distinct ups and downs over the course of time.  
Lindzen: I mean the Earth has gone through changes, I mean, you know, one the things I like to work on is Earth ..?.., you know you go back a couple billion years and we know basically that the solar brightness had to be about 20 or 30% less than it is today.  Now by comparison, that doubling carbon dioxide probably modifies the radiative balance by about 4w/m2, 3.5 out of 200,  this was you know 70, 60, 70 out of two hundred. And yet the evidence is that the climate was not terribly different from today's.  
~ ~ ~
Lindzen's numbers are a blur and make no sense, the stuff of smoke and mirrors, as opposed to giving serious lessons.

"not terribly different from today's" world?

What can one say to a professor who doesn't see a big difference between the barren baby continents of 2 billion years ago and the cornucopia biosphere we ("industrialized man") inherited a couple hundred years ago?  

4.5 Billion Years of the Earth’s Temperature

Oxygen (O2) in the atmosphere was almost non-existent until ~2.5 billion years ago. The evolution of cyanobacteria, which produced oxygen as a bi-product of photosynthesis, meant that Olevels dramatically increased. This rapid change in atmospheric composition caused widespread extinctions of most of the previous anaerobic bacteria. This ‘new’ atmosphere made the Earth much colder as there were no longer bacteria emitting radiative forcing-methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It is thought that the average temperature at the equator was roughly the same as current Antarctic conditions!

Another important point our professor ignores is that those "natural" changes have always been very hard on existing communities, with recovery taking a long, long time and resulting in new and different worlds from the ones extinguished.

In Deep Time (the last 2 billion years) Ice Ages and Hot Spells
Lindzen: We have a pretty robust system.  On the other hand there is evidence it did have some remarkable episodes that were difference, at least in terms of our relative values. You know the Ice Age, at some level was not a profound perturbation.  But you know if you happened to be in a region that had two kilometers of ice on top of you, it was a big perturbation.
~ ~ ~
Here's another indication that professor Lindzen has intellectually checked out.  Sure from God's perspective it's no big deal, mammals, dinosaurs, prokaryotes, eukaryotes, ice ages, or hothouse Earth, whatever, it's all good.

Professor wake up!  Right now, and right here, we are concerned about humanity's immediate future not God's infinite perspective.

"at some level was not a profound perturbation." In other words the good professor is admitting that it doesn't take much of a shove to initiate radical climate changes.  Isn't that enough good cause to start adopting the precautionary principle?
40:50 Alex: Yea, I feel like I'd rather have an ice age than global warming controls. ...
~ ~ ~
And what kind of crazy talk is that?  This isn't a movie Alex!  

I fear Alex and pals can't conceive that we are playing for keeps. 

You don't know what you have, till it's gone. 

Lindzen: Well, I don't know what you mean by that. 
Alex: I mean restriction in, mass restriction in energy production, I'd rather 
Lindzen (cutting in) : Oh, but that, you know, the  global cooling issue in the 70s led to same wish to control fossil fuels (giggling)  You know, that's a perfectly good example of the policy preceding the science.  Which ever direction the science led, led to the same policy.
~ ~ ~
What can I say - there are dozens of excellent reasons why we must reduce our fossil fuels consumption - or face horrendous consequences.  It's simple math and if all the science points towards the same message perhaps it's time to start paying attention.

And what's with the lack of curiosity to explore the background to their articles of faith? 

For instance the professor's 'global cooling' canard, Peter Sinclair does a nice job of exploring it:

In the 70s, They said there'd be an Ice Age  
(pay special attention to 4:00 and 6:15)

Or, for something from the peer reviewed scientific literature (oops Lindzen and pals want us to think that's a bad word too... don't they?  But, it isn't.  We need each other to keep ourselves honest!):
The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific consensus 
by Peterson, Connolley, and Fleck 
American Meteorological Society | September 2008
41:30  Alex: Right, and part of what I meant there is just the issue that part of the people who believe it's wrong to alter nature, they ignore how amazingly adaptable we are at adjusting things.
~ ~ ~
How can the Republican/libertarian crowd adapt to something they refuse to admit is happening???

Besides the issue is climate changes damaging the biosphere as we know it and as it has supported us for tens of thousands of years!  
Lindzen:  Yea, ever since we invented the umbrella, we, you know (giggle) 
Alex:  We can joke about it, but that's a really big deal... 
Lindzen:  I mean, look people, people don't like cold, by and large, and so you know, you find at least a few more people retire to the sunbelt than to Alaska.  And that's a form of adaptation where you choose the climate you prefer.
~ ~ ~
Talk about obtuse, the cartoon simplicity is appalling.  

The professor betrays a profound cluelessness regarding the harmful disruptions to biological systems being observed, disruptions which will undoubtedly get worse as the warming continues.
But than, our professor believes an umbrella and air conditioning can protect us from the cascading consequences of climate change driven biosphere disruptions.  
(Or to put it another way, nature being whacked way out of balance)
42:20 Lindzen:  I mean farmers, how should I put it, when I was a kid, north Florida, the Tallahassee region, that was a citrus area.  For many years its been too cold for citrus agriculture, but the area hasn't disappeared, it does other things, it grows other things and so on.  Farmers are forever developing different breeds, varieties of wheat for different climate conditions.
~ ~ ~
Lindzen forgets to point out he was a kid a very very long time ago.  He also neglects to point out that temperatures around Tallahassee have been increasing for decades.

There's an informative NOAA website where you can check out the situation - "Climate at a Glance" - my parameters for the following was: Average Temp; one month time scale; 1895 to 2015; Tallahassee, Florida; LOESS smoothed time series.  After a slight cooling trend during mid century the trend in Florida has been up and up:
          January trending up since 1975ish
          March trending up since 1970ish
          May trending up since 1975ish
          July trending up since 1960ish
          September trending up since 1975ish
          November trending up since 1965ish

So, besides ignoring the realities of the past four, five decades, our professor refuses to recognize the difference between small scale shifts within a healthy biosphere - and global changes driving region wide disruptions of millennia old rhythms.
42:45  Alex: Plus we just have an amazing system of trade, whereby a crop failure doesn't mean that you starve anymore.
~ ~ ~
The hubris is astounding.  Never a thought given to the vulnerability of farming, global transportation and power supplies in a warming world... nor how that will impact future food distribution and populations.
43:05  Lindzen: Oh yea, that's absolutely true.  I mean, again, I mean forty years ago it would have been inconceivable that India would be a food exporter, but it is.
~ ~ ~
True enough, 
But it's just a soundbite he tosses out.  No hint of curiosity about what made India's agriculture boom possible, nor any interest in looking at the contemporary situation, or the costs associated with that agricultural boom.  Nor a word about it's future prospects:
Cancer Express Carries Sufferers of India’s Deadly Waters 
by Rakteem KatakeyArchana Chaudhary | October 28, 2013 
- - - 
"The Green Revolution of the 1960s and Its Impact on Small Farmers in India" 
Kathryn Sebby, University of Nebraska-Lincoln 2010 
- - - 
India’s Worsening Water Crisis 
114 million Indians will soon face desperate domestic, agricultural and industrial shortages borne of a water crisis. 
By Ram Mashru | April 19, 2014
"What is causing this? “Human activities”: primarily wasteful water use (mainly agricultural over-exploitation), a lack of sustainable water-management policies and insufficient public investment. These failings have each been exacerbated by rapid population growth, increasing population density and climate change."
43:20  Alex: So I want to go back to this idea of balance.  Philosophically it seems to be a really weird concept to apply to nature.  What would it mean for nature to be unbalanced?
43:30  Lindzen: Well, think about it for a moment in terms of your own body, is your body temperature a result of delicate balance?  
Alex: It seems balanced, I don't know how delicate it is.
Lindzen:  Why isn't it delicate
Alex:  I mean there are constant inputs and outputs all the time, and it's amazingly constant.
Lindzen:  There are feedbacks.  Essentially it's a self regulating system.  A self regulating system is one where it responds to a change by resisting the change.  And that's the norm for any stable long lasting system.  That it has the means for regulatng itself.  That's what referred to as negative feedbacks. 
~ ~ ~
There's nothing weird about "natural" balances and worrying about the consequence of disrupting those balances!  Give it some thought.

Taking our bodies as an example - sure it has an amazing ability to regulate internal systems and maintain the balance it needs to function.  But, if something interferes with those self-regulating mechanisms, we get sick.  If the "unbalance" be it oxygen/CO2, or glucose levels, or salt levels, or any number of other important parameters aren't corrected and returned to their dynamic equilibrium levels, the unbalance will break the organism and the body dies.
Now, consider the atmosphere/ocean CO2 balance,
"uptake of human-derived (anthropogenic) CO2 is primarily a physical response to rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Whenever the partial pressure of a gas is increased in the atmosphere over a body of water, the gas will diffuse into that water until the partial pressures across the air-water interface are equilibrated." 
- - -  
and the cascading consequences of shifting that balance:
Impacts of ocean acidification on marine fauna and ecosystem processes 
Fabry, Seibel, Feely, and Orr.
ICES Journal of Marine Science, 65: 414–432, 2008
Any existing state of nature is all about maintaining countless networks of dynamic balance.  In turn, there are cascading biological impacts throughout communities in accord with changing any specific functioning equilibrium.  
- - -
Here's what a system out of balance looks like:
Another link between CO2 and mass extinctions of species 
 by Andrew Glikson  |  Mar 22, 2013
- - -
Here's a fascinating example of a particularly important planetary balance becoming way unbalanced and then how a feedback mechanism steps in to correct the imbalance.  Though it plays out on a geologic time scale and won't save us from ourselves.

High Atmosheric CO2,
Hot planet,
Ocean temp and O2 saturation,
Oceanic Anoxic events,
CO2 absorption and sequestration,
Oil formation.

In this interesting documentary
the story is told from, 59:15 to 1:16:30, about
 how Earth handles extreme levels of atmospheric CO2 
and incidentally, how our oil was produced in the first place.  
It's a wonderful window into the majestic balances and cycles 
that made our world the most incredible real estate in the universe.
 (check out 1:07:00 re. the question of balance)

"Crude - The Incredible Journey Of Oil"
published April 7, 2013

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