The global heat engine: climate change as humanities crucible

Pete of the blog Citizens Challenge has written an essay on extreme weather events, climate change and the general publics lack of understanding. I asked Pete to write a post for WtD as I wanted a North American perspective from someone living with the extremes of heat, drought and wildfires.

I believe bloggers such as Pete – and so many others – are the authentic voice of  the climate change debate. Working outside the traditional media and academia there exists a wonderful chorus of voices reflecting on global warming, what it means for the future of our species and for the individual.

Indeed, I prefer the voices of my fellow bloggers to the official chatter emanating from the media, well-intentioned think tanks, activists etc.- there is a clarity, honesty and forthrightness often missing from the words of the former.

These writings are comparable to the voluminous letters and journals written by “ordinary individuals” during the US Civil War, the Russian Revolution or Eastern Europe during the Second World War. They offer a unique, and personal view of how our society is responding to the challenge of a changed climate.

In time historians will shift through the billions of words we have written to gain insight: think how the specialist on Medieval history will examine the Domesday Book, or the historian of the Second World War will read the diaries of Victor Klemperer.

I  do not claim my words will be read by future generations: but I do know that some time ago the National Library of Australia asked for my permission to digitally archive this blog – a privilege I granted.

I was deeply moved by this request: I am librarian by training and profession. I know the value preserving knowledge for historians and future generations. 

Forget the stereotype of librarians – understand the intent of my profession is to be civilisation’s archivists. We categorise and preserve, thinking of the long centuries ahead and how knowledge can survive the passage of time.

We are conservationists of another kind: of words and ideas, of knowledge and songs.

I have held the clay tablets of ancient Sumer in my hand, marveling at the cuneiform scripts of those ancient scribes: I have turned the pages of illuminated manuscripts; I have read from the pages of the first printed books. I have read the letters of long dead soldiers and grieving mothers; I have seen the words of scholars scribbled in the margins of a 16th century edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

So, if by some remote chance a historian or student comes across my words, know this – I’m sorry.

Sorry because some of us acted with a sense of urgency appropriate to the challenge. Others, perhaps myself included, acted too late. Sorry because some preferred to reject the certain knowledge that our species has altered the planet’s atmosphere. I apologise that some accepted this fact, and yet continued with business as usual practices. I apologise that some spoke rashly, while others said nothing; I’m sorry that despite all the words written, spoken and broadcast, we talked ourselves into catastrophe.  

Climate change is humanities crucible: the response is telling.

Pete’s article follows.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I’ve read many excellent articles on climate change with much interest; particularly “Locals’ views differ on warming theory,” where the opinions were truly saddening.

Quotes such as: “It’s climate change, but I’m not sure it’s man-made” – “It may not be something we’re causing” – “may be part of a cycle that may have come along regardless” – reveal a sad lack of basic understanding regarding our planet’s physical situation. We as a society must become clear that the physical dynamics at work in this global warming thing are indeed well understood by those who study climate.

Please consider our planet for a moment, orbiting around our sun through a freezing cold solar system. Earth was blessed with being just the right size and distance from the sun’s heating influence for evolution to make the difference between becoming a blue planet of life or dead like Mars and Venus. Today’s atmosphere and its climate are the product of many billions of years worth of day by day geology, later joined by the processes of life.

Our atmosphere has evolved to a state of 78% Nitrogen, 21% Oxygen, with a fraction of 1% Argon and 0.1% water vapor. According to old text books, squeezed into there was 0.03% CO2 and other greenhouse gases. However, our fossil fuel burning will push that concentration past 0.04% in the next couple years. This is worrisome because it’s like putting on an extra sweater when you don’t need it and it’s alarming because people still refuse to come to grips with that reality and its implications.

Look at astronaut’s pictures of our planet’s horizon. Our atmosphere is that narrow glowing ribbon, proportionally it’s thinner than the skin on an onion.

But size is a deceiving indicator of importance, considering that together with that tiny percentage of greenhouse gases, this sliver thin layer of troposphere along with the oceans, have become a heat engine circulating air, moisture, heat and energy around our globe. This is where our weather comes from; the end result of interconnected global circulation patterns; a mighty global heat engine at work.

One of many reasons we can trust the consensus understanding of climatologists regarding these greenhouse gases is because the Army and Air Force spent years doing intense atmospheric studies to understand it. And why did it matter to them? Because without a flawless understanding of the energy physics of the various gases in our atmosphere, heat seeking missiles would have been impossible.

“Skeptics” will suggest it’s the sun causing all this warming. But they ignore the fact that our sun has been closely observed for a long time and the range of it’s fluctuations is miniscule compared to the warming we are witnessing.

“Skeptics” claim there hasn’t been any warming in the past decade or so. But the surface data they point to ignores the warming that continues being recorded in our oceans. In fact the data they point to doesn’t include most of the Arctic Circle where the greatest warming is being observed. They also ignore the melting throughout our world’s frozen realms, known as the cryosphere, as sure a global thermometer as we can hope for.

Back to that global heat engine. We know greenhouse gases are for real; also that society is injecting them by the gigatons; thus they WILL increase our atmosphere’s insulation – it’s unavoidable physics; it will warm our planet, that warming will continue melting our cryosphere, it will increase evaporation along with our atmosphere’s holding capacity for water vapor, the most powerful greenhouse gas of all. It will increase the energy within our weather system.

Look at it another way – how can you warm a heat engine and not increase its activity? In the case of our planet that would be increasing extremes in atmospheric conditions resulting in increasing storms, heat waves, droughts, extreme wind events, extreme down pour events, even cold waves.

For example, given the melting at the North Pole, large areas of sun reflecting ice cap are being replaced by heat absorbing ocean water. This water is warming, some turning into vapor, then the heat drives convection columns high into the troposphere. In turn, creating circulation patterns that haven’t existed in eons. These go on to impact the polar circulation cell, which then impacts the flow of the Jet Stream.

One of the cascading consequences is reflected in the Jet Stream’s more erratic behavior of late. Getting more serpentine it reaches further south, grabbing warm air masses and shoving them up into Arctic regions. This in turn forces cold Arctic air masses to be displaced and forced southward. When these Arctic Fronts flow into the Atlantic Ocean’s moisture saturated sky, well what do you expect? Severe winter storm events. Next time something like that happen, check out the temperatures in the Arctic Circle, you’ll see what I mean.

It’s simply global heat exchange in action. There is nothing surprising about it. This is exactly the sort of behavior climatologists have been warning us about. Of course, self-styled “skeptics” will never share that part of the story with you since all they focus on is winning their political battles.

Unfortunately, our planet doesn’t care who’s winning the political argument. All it does is react to what we are doing to it. And while our planet and life will surely do fine given eons to adjust – we and our society along with our gods will not fare so well.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Peter Miesler writes from near Durango. For links to authoritative sources explaining the details described in this essay please visit Citizenschallenge.blogspot.com

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16 thoughts on “The global heat engine: climate change as humanities crucible

  1. tallbloke says:

    “Skeptics” will suggest it’s the sun causing all this warming. But they ignore the fact that our sun has been closely observed for a long time and the range of it’s fluctuations is miniscule compared to the warming we are witnessing.

    Let’s put a couple of figures to this claim.

    Variation in TSI over the solar cycle is around 0.1% longer term, between 0.1% and 0.25%
    Variation in Earth’s surface temperature over the C20th is around 0.3%

    33%-75% is not “miniscule.” Especially considering papers in the literature such as Prof. Nir Shaviv’s “Using the oceans as a calorimeter” which demonstrates a terrestrial amplification of solar variation. http://sciencebits.com/calorimeter

    Variation in Extreme solar UV can be as much as 25%, with largely unknown effects on upper atmosphere chemistry. Something the IPCC admits there is a “low level of scientific understanding” of.

  2. catweazle666 says:

    Watch, you post:

    Indeed, I prefer the voices of my fellow bloggers to the official chatter emanating from the media, well-intentioned think tanks, activists etc.- there is a clarity, honesty and forthrightness often missing from the words of the former.

    Does that include the likes of Anthony Watts, Jo Nova, Bob Tiosdale and Tallbloke?

    As I’m sure you’re aware, all three, especially Watts, are highly regarded by the World at large, especially compared to the best known Warmist sites such as Realclimate and Skepticalscience.

    See here: http://2012.bloggi.es/

    Have you any explanation for this (which doesn’t invoke some conspiracy theory involving Big Oil and the Koch Brothers)?

    • catweazle666 says:

      That should be Bob Tisdale….

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      Highly regarded? Oh my lord! Hilarious!

      • catweazle666 says:

        Oh dear, do you bother thinking before you post?

        And you have the damn gall to describe me as a denier.

        No wonder you and your ilk are losing the battle for hearts and minds, you aren’t on the right battlefield, you aren’t even on the same planet.

        http://2012.bloggi.es/ is a totally unbiased survey of world-wide blog popularity, it isn’t some viper’s nest of “deniers”.

        WUWT was voted ‘scientific blog of the year’ by a global, unbiased audience. That makes it highly regarded, no matter how much it boils your piss.

        If you really don’t believe how popular WUWT is, go check Alexa site ratings for all the climate science outfits, compare WUWT with your favourites skepticalscience, climateprogress, etc. – if you dare.

        Then come back and tell me which are highly regarded.

        And then – if you really are concerned at the perceived credibility gap between your lot and the sceptics, try to work out why Watts, JoNova and Tallbloke get so many more hits than the opposition.

        Hint – it’s not due to some sort of crackpot conspiracy theory no matter how comforting you find that notion.

        • A Bloggie Watts won a whole Bloggie.

          Michael Mann was nowhere in 2012. He was inducted as a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and was awarded the Hans Oeschger Medal of the European Geosciences Union. In 2013 he was elected a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society, and awarded the status of distinguished professor in Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

          And Willard won a Bloggie courtesy of the flying monkeys. Huzzah! Long live blogcience!

          I’m glad you guys don’t believe in consensus arguments.

          Crackpot conspiracy theorists it is.

        • catweazle666 says:

          And Willard won a Bloggie courtesy of the flying monkeys.

          There must be a lot of flying monkeys about.

          According to the industry standard Interne ranking company Alexa, WUWT is the most popular science blog on the Internet.

          And here’s me believing you Warmists placed great store in consensus…

        • A consensus of scientists certainly trumps the flying monkeys voting on the Bloggies.

          Watts isn’t a science site, not, al least according to Scientific American. It’s in the same category as 4chan. I thought that was harsh on 4chan. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/a-blog-around-the-clock/2013/01/28/commenting-threads-good-bad-or-not-at-all/

  3. Dan Pangburn says:

    Watch,
    Kudos for printing but you appear to have missed the point. The point was the 25.2% increase in CO2 which had no effect on the average global temperature trend.

    Shame on you for asserting that the average of the data reported by NOAA, GISS, Hadley, RSS and UAH is wrong.

  4. Dan Pangburn says:

    Paraphrasing Richard Feynman: Regardless of how many experts believe it or how many organizations concur, if it doesn’t agree with observation, it’s wrong.

    The IPCC and many others perceive that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide was the primary cause of global warming. Measurements demonstrate that they are wrong.

    The average global temperature trend has been flat since 2001. No amount of spin can rationalize that the temperature increase to 2001 was caused by CO2 increase but that 25.2% additional CO2 increase had no effect on average global temperature after 2001.

    Without human caused global warming there can be no human caused climate change.

    Average GLOBAL temperature anomalies are reported on the web by NOAA, GISS, Hadley, RSS and UAH. The first three all draw from the same data base of surface measurement data. The last two draw from the data base of satellite measurements. Each agency processes the data slightly differently from the others. Each believes that their way is most accurate. To avoid bias, I average all five. The averages are listed here.

    2001 0.3473
    2002 0.4278
    2003 0.4245
    2004 0.3641
    2005 0.4663
    2006 0.3930
    2007 0.4030
    2008 0.2598
    2009 0.4022
    2010 0.5298
    2011 0.3317

    A straight line (trend line) fit to this data has no slope. That means that, for over a decade, average global temperature has not changed. If the average so far in 2012 is included, the slope is down.

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      Lol, a decades data. And wrong. Have you published your stunning results in a peer reviewed journal? See my article on google galileo under best of.

    • catweazle666 says:

      You’re wasting your time introducing empirical instrumental data into THIS debate , Dan, facts have no place on a faith-based blog, you might as well introduce Darwin to a bunch of committed Creationists and try to convince them that the Earth wasn’t created in 4004 BC, that’s the type of belief system you’re dealing with.

      The zealots on here will still be chanting their mantra when the glaciers roll back over their houses. Doom, doom, we’re all doomed! And it’s all our fault for driving cars and controlling the temperature of our houses, I mean, how selfish is that?

      Get your arse back into that cave mate, luxury seafront villas, private jets and stretch limos are for the likes of Al Gore, “Hokey Schtick Mann” and the other 50,000 assorted advocates who went to Rio last month to Save The Planet,

      There’s none so blind….

  5. john byatt says:

    My comment at Manne should have been here, fine bit of writing

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