2010-08-19 08:21:03Basic rebuttal 69: "Humans are too insignificant to affect climate." REVISED
John Russell

jr@johnrussell...
82.70.63.102

Revised version. 20th Aug 10

* * *

When we experience weather events like hurricanes and floods, it’s very easy for us to feel insignificant and powerless in the face of such massive natural forces. How can humans influence this?  Well, yes, we can.  Of course we can’t influence a single weather event, but we can and do have a long term influence on the climate that causes it.

Since the industrial revolution, with ever-increasing supplies of fossil fuels, the activities of a dramatically expanding world population have made significant alterations to the make-up of our atmosphere.

In some cases human-caused change is direct and unambiguous. The harmful effect of the human release of CFCs on the ozone layer is well documented and not disputed. Down on the ground, draining of marshland and deforestation can produce a significant decrease in water vapour in the atmosphere downwind; while the introduction of irrigation for agriculture has the opposite effect. Over time, both of these human activities can alter patterns of rainfall, turning deserts into green areas and green areas into deserts.

In other cases the human causes of climate change are more complex. Emissions from cement production, pollution and the release of particulates to form smog in the atmosphere, all affect climate. 

Without doubt the most significant of all the human causes of changing climate is the dramatic increase in CO2. After remaining relatively steady for the last 650,000 years or more, in just the last two hundred years the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has suddenly shot up from 280, to more than 380 parts per million. And it’s still rising. This dramatic 30% increase has all taken place at the same time as humans have been burning fossil fuels at a greater and greater rate.

Of course there are also natural sources of the CO2 in the atmosphere, such as vegetation, but fortunately there are differences that scientists can measure between the CO2 derived from fossil fuels and the CO2 derived from plants. The changing concentrations of the two types demonstrate that the additional CO2 can only be the result of human activity.

Of course, as CO2 is the most common of greenhouse gasses, the additional concentration is what causes most of the rise in temperature. This is resulting in a change in weather patterns and ocean currents; the melting of global ice formations; and an increase in extreme weather events.

So, yes; though we might be pretty helpless when it comes to controlling the weather, humans are certainly capable of changing the world’s climate.   

* * *

Best wishes,

JR

2010-08-19 08:24:45Apologies for the variation in type size.
John Russell

jr@johnrussell...
82.70.63.102

I write my comments off-line then cut and paste them here. Sorry, they sometimes end up like the post above. Not sure how to prevent it. Any chance of a preview button, John? 

Best wishes,

JR 

2010-08-19 09:13:16Tip on editing
doug_bostrom

dbostrom@clearwire...
184.77.83.151

JR, if you use the link to the online editor for a specific rebuttal in the "Rebuttals List" to the left you can then select the entire post from there once you're finished editing and paste it into thread here. Everything automagically comes across, including graphics, formatting etc.

If you already knew that and are using an offline editor for another reason, my apologies!

2010-08-19 12:01:28
Andy S

skucea@telus...
66.183.162.8

John 

There is a lot of good artwork at Global Warming Art that is free to use with acknowledgement. 

For example:  http://www.globalwarmingart.com/wiki/File:Carbon_Dioxide_400kyr_Rev_png

this graph might suit your purposes and there are plenty of others to pick from.

2010-08-19 13:23:23Request for Re-wording
MattJ
Matthew Johnson
mej1960@yahoo...
207.62.246.30

The wording of "Undoubtedly... and still rising" is rather intimidating to the reader. I suggest you reword it to read something like this:

"Without doubt, the most alarming human cause of climate change is the rising CO2 level.  For after remaining largely steady for the last 150,000 years,  the level of CO2 in the atmosphere has suddenly shot up (280 to 387ppm) -- and is still rising. This dramatic 30% spurt all took place in just the last 200 years as humans have been burning fossil fuels in ever increasing quantities."

Also, the mention of the difference between human released and natural carbon feels like it is dangling there. So I suggest rewroding something like:

"Of course, there are natural sources of CO2 in the atmosphere. But  because coal and oil have been shielded from the atmospheric Carbon14 for millions of years, we can tell the difference between natural carbon (a mix of carbon12 and carbon14) and carbon from either coal or oil (pure carbon12). From this, we know that it is coal and oil that has caused this huge increase, not any natural source."

Now the relevance of the distinction between 'natural' and 'man-made' carbon is obvious. Before, it was not. That is why I called it 'dangling'.

Sure, I know refering to C12 and C14 sounds technical, but mentioning them does not actually get too technical, but adds the benefit of being concrete. It is always easier to grasp and remember things that are concrete (rather than the vague and/or abstract). Surely it is not too technical to say that we can tell the difference between pure C12 and a mix of C12 and C14. They don't have to know that it is done by measuring radiation and taking into account the half-life (which really would be too technical).

2010-08-19 14:06:26carbon isotopes
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.17.49
I don't know whether this is dumbing down too much but when I talk about carbon isotopes to a broad audience, I just talk about the "types of carbon". Eg - we're measuring more of the type of carbon that comes from fossil fuels. That says it plainly enough, gives you the general gist of the science in an accurate fashion (I think) without swamping the reader. Just a suggestion if you do want to include isotopes in the rebuttal.
2010-08-19 14:35:09Researching School Science Curricula
MattJ
Matthew Johnson
mej1960@yahoo...
64.134.223.43

I am not sure I can rely on my memory, so I suggest researching grade school/middle school science curricula to see if they have been exposed to the word 'isotope' at that level. I don't remember seeing it in school until high school chemistry.

There is definitely an advantage to sticking to scientific terminology they have been at least exposed to (if not studied) in school.

 "Types of carbon" still sounds too vague to me, and I am afraid that the vagueness will inspire doubt rather than trust. After all: if they remember from grade school chemistry that atoms of elements are all chemically alike, they will immediately question your statement that it is possible to tell the difference between "types of carbon". Only if they know about isotopes will they understand it is nuclear properties we look at to differentiate, so that there is no contradiction with what they learned in grade school chemistry.

2010-08-19 15:21:23carbon isotopes
watchingthedeniers

watchthedeniers@optusnet.com...
203.41.179.162
@ Johns comments - I agree. Not dumbed down, but for the sake of brevity and clarity better to keep it "simple".
2010-08-19 15:49:20Footnote?
doug_bostrom

dbostrom@clearwire...
184.77.83.151
There's a reasonable case for choosing either "isotope" or "types of carbon." What about "types of carbon" w/a footnote?
2010-08-19 16:09:11Suggestions
gpwayne
Graham Wayne
graham@gpwayne...
217.44.86.17

Hi John,

I wonder if this line "Can humans really influence this?  Yes, in the long term, we can" - might be better along these lines: "Can humans really influence weather? We cannot influence single events, but we can and do have a long term influence, which we refer to as climate."

I'll also just mention a different argument I use on this issue: nuclear winter. The wiki entry is quite illuminating, especially the way Nasa's climate GCM models have been used to demonstrate the catastrophic results of even a small nuclear war. What I like about this is that it would take a mere 15 minutes to seriously fuck up the entire world for years to come (I do love a bit of drama, me...).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_winter

Just thought I'd mention that.

2010-08-19 16:29:19
watchingthedeniers

watchthedeniers@optusnet.com...
203.41.179.162

@ gpwayne

I've used the nuclear war/winter analogy as well. So, humans can't destroy the planet huh... well. [kaboom]

It's a good argument I feel.

2010-08-19 18:57:48Isotopes etc
John Russell

jr@johnrussell...
82.70.63.102

I don't really understand this talk of isotopes and dumbing down. I worked quite a bit on this sentence, trying different ways of expresssing it, and I thought I'd trodden the line quite well when I wrote...

"...but fortunately there are differences between fossil-fuel and plant-derived CO2. These differences can be detected by scientists, thus enabling measurement of the relative concentrations and demonstrating that the additional CO2 can only be the result of human activity."

Is that not OK? 

If we talk about carbon, the ignorant think of a block of black stuff -- they don'r even realise there is a link between that and the gas called 'see-oh-too'. I sometimes think that clever people don't realise just how dumb others can be (and vice versa). It's a psychological fact that people tend to assume other people are rather like themselves (which accounts for a lot of what goes on on the internet!). It's the reason why these plain English versions are so vital.

I'll make a few tweaks and put this up on the rebuttals list.

Best wishes,

JR 

2010-08-19 20:40:05Revised version posted to rebuttal list.
John Russell

jr@johnrussell...
82.70.63.102

I've posted a new version to the rebuttal list.

I've done my best to incorporate many of the suggestions, carefully treading a line where comments disagreed. I do think the end result is better for both points of view. 

The nuclear winter bit I added on as a box at the end. It was the only place it fits without destroying the flow and leading us up a cul-de-sac  that I felt would leave it open for some secptics to use as an opportiunity to laugh the whole lot off as proposterous -- "Well, so as long as we don't have a nucler war, what' we worrying about!" 

The graph suggested by Andy I like, but for some reason (perhaps because it was a '.png'?) it wouldn't go into the rebuttal without coming up with an error. Can someone post it into this thread so that I can transfer it -- for some reason that seems to work. 

Best wishes,

JR

2010-08-19 22:18:58
Michael Searcy

scentofpine@yahoo...
72.91.223.97

A couple of graph options

 

 

Also, I have always felt this image says a lot about global human impact.  In one composite image from space, you can easily pick out the areas of highest population density and industrialization.


2010-08-20 04:05:09Don
doug_bostrom

dbostrom@clearwire...
184.77.83.151

This is a -basic- rebuttal, feature creep can be included in the next step up. Nuclear winter is a hypothetical, CFCs and the ozone layer is an experiment already conducted, with results, quite adequate for analogizing w/the present case.

John, I think your original sentence alluding to isotopes is better than the latest revision:

The revision

"Of course there are also natural sources of the CO2 in the atmosphere – such as vegetation – but fortunately there are differences in the radiation emitted by the CO2 derived from fossil fuels and the CO2 derived from plants."

introduces the notion of NMR discrimination of carbon atoms but is necessarily so incomplete as to leave in doubt even what type of radiation we're speaking of.

The original

"...but fortunately there are differences between fossil-fuel and plant-derived CO2. These differences can be detected by scientists, thus enabling measurement of the relative concentrations and demonstrating that the additional CO2 can only be the result of human activity."

is correct and does not introduce ambiguity that cannot reasonably be handled at this level. Leave the isotope details for the intermediate or advanced levels.

In any case the basic thrust of the rebuttal is clear and will help the average reader who is not already cemented in skepticism. I give it a thumbs up, the isotope thing is not a deal-breaker.

2010-08-20 05:53:18Who do I listen to, JC?
John Russell

jr@johnrussell...
84.92.176.215

I tend to agree with Doug. And, as brevity is my middle name, would prefer to go back to my original (perhaps with a slight change because I can see a marginally better way to express it).

So who should I listen to, JC? After 40 years of pleasing clients who have comissioned me to write stuff, I'm not used to taking matters into my own hands and ignoring comments from people! But I'm also aware that it's very easy to end up with a camel when 'writing by committee'. 

Thanks for the graphs Michael -- I think I'll go with the middle one.

Best wishes,

JR  

 

  

2010-08-20 09:28:09
watchingthedeniers

watchthedeniers@optusnet.com...
203.41.179.162
Agree, bervity is best and second graph illustrates the point the most strongly.
2010-08-20 19:49:10Good to go
gpwayne
Graham Wayne
graham@gpwayne...
217.44.86.17

John - I'm with Doug too on the isotope issue - I think you nailed it first time around. On the nuclear winter issue, that may also be one argument too many, and I don't feel the post lacks any weight, so I'm giving it the green thumb. BTW - this is argument No. 70, not 69.

(Still think the first line could clarify the difference between weather and climate though, as per previous comment...)

2010-08-20 20:09:11Twitter title suggestion
gpwayne
Graham Wayne
graham@gpwayne...
217.44.86.17
Humans too insignificant to cause climate change? Denialists make shock call for humility!
2010-08-20 20:41:0869
John Russell

jr@johnrussell...
84.92.176.215
Graham -- this is 69 in the rebuttals list. Note that these numbers don't necessarily tally with the rebuttals on the site (just to add confusion!).
2010-08-20 21:05:23Call for thumbs!
John Russell

jr@johnrussell...
84.92.176.215

I have tweaked and tweaked this rebuttal and I think this is as good as it gets (see 69 in the rebuttals list).

I've included the graph and changed the text to reflect the figures it shows.

Please, unless you can see a problem we've all overlooked, can I have some thumbs?  

Best wishes,

JR

2010-08-21 05:50:30Bump
doug_bostrom

dbostrom@clearwire...
184.77.83.151
Begging for release!
2010-08-21 07:06:18Vegetation
rockytom

rockytom@comcast...
71.228.108.140

John, Instead of using vegetation as a source of CO2, use volcanoes.  Vegetation is mainly a sink for CO2,  Plants use CO2 in photosynthesis to make O2.  Am I wrong?

Tom

 

2010-08-21 07:54:47Vegetation
John Russell

jr@johnrussell...
84.92.176.215

Hi Tom.

Tom; I'm not a scientist, so I depend on what others have written. In the intermediate rebuttal it says...

"Additional confirmation that rising CO2 levels are due to human activity comes from examining the ratio of carbon isotopes (eg ? carbon atoms with differing numbers of neutrons) found in the atmosphere. Carbon 12 has 6 neutrons, carbon 13 has 7 neutrons. Plants have a lower C13/C12 ratio than in the atmosphere. If rising atmospheric CO2 comes fossil fuels, the C13/C12 should be falling. Indeed this is what is occurring (Ghosh 2003). The C13/C12 ratio correlates with the trend in global emissions. "

From this I deduced -- rightly or wrongly -- that it was the falling levels of the C12/C13 ratio from plants that ends up in the air that tells us that fossil fuel-derived CO2 in the atmosphere was increasing. No mention is made of volcanoes so I dont know whether I can say that volcano-derived CO2 can be differentiated from fossil fuel-derived CO2. Perhaps one of the scientists can advise?

Best wishes,

JR 

2010-08-21 08:36:07Volcanos & CO2
MattJ
Matthew Johnson
mej1960@yahoo...
64.105.35.191

John-

 

First of all, despite the misinformation still polluting the airewaves and blogosphere, volcanos do not emit that much CO2 in the first place. But what they do emit comes from deep underground, so like coal and oil, has been shielded from the cosmic radiation that makes the unstable isotopes. So it should be expected to have very low amounts of C13 and C14. Perhaps not as low as coal and oil, if it releases it from surface rocks too, which have been absorbing from the air, but that is a minority contribution: the majority will be very low in C13 and C14.

 

Finally, take seriously your own words: if you really believe your target audience is that 'dumb', then why are you using fancy language like "relative concentration"? And why are you speaking in terms of so many vague abstractions? Do you really disagree that the concrete is easier to remember and understand? I didn't make up this principle, you know. Richard Feynman pointed it out in several places. Nor did he invent it.

2010-08-21 11:46:40
Andy S

skucea@telus...
66.183.162.8

This is very good, I think. 

One grammar quibble, I would add the highlighted "is" into this sentence:  the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen from 280 to more than 387 parts per million... and is still rising.


And, should you want to use the graphic I pointed to earlier you can embed this link

 

 

 

 

2010-08-22 05:39:59Thumbs up
rockytom

rockytom@comcast...
71.228.108.140

John, I think we're talking about apples and oranges about CO2.  I think you've solved the problem I had with semantics.

Good job!

Tom

 

2010-08-22 08:47:02Revised version
John Russell

jr@johnrussell...
84.92.176.215

Matt

I don't understand what you're specifically getting at with your comment; "...why are you speaking in terms of so many vague abstractions? Do you really disagree that the concrete is easier to remember and understand? I didn't make up this principle, you know. Richard Feynman pointed it out in several places. Nor did he invent it." 

Please elaborate.

* * *

I've realised from a couple of the comments that some of you might not be reading the revised version in the rebuttal list, but instead seem to be reading my first post at the top, which was not the latest version.

Just to make sure I've now posted the revised version at the top of this thread. It's a straight cut and paste from the rebuttal list so it should be the same. 

I've tried my best to take on board as much as I can of the conflicting views and steer a course that I hope is the best compromise but clearest explanation. Thanks for the comments.

Anyone who thinks it's OK can they give it a thumb. On the other hand if there's a problem let me know specifically what you think is wrong and I'll try to address it.

Best wishes,

JR  

 

2010-08-22 17:24:37More thumbs required
gpwayne
Graham Wayne
graham@gpwayne...
217.44.86.17

Bump...

(what's with the emboldened 'this' JR?)

2010-08-24 06:10:35
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
91.33.120.144

"Without doubt the most significant of all the human causes of changing climate is the dramatic increase in CO2. After remaining relatively steady for the last 650,000 years or more, in just the last two hundred years the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has suddenly shot up from 280, to more than 380 parts per million. And it’s still rising. This dramatic 30% increase has all taken place at the same time as humans have been burning fossil fuels at a greater and greater rate."

- The current concentration of atmospheric CO2 is about 390 ppm; the increase from 280 ppm is 39%.

 

- I would insert the term "isotope ratio" as follows: 

"Of course there are also natural sources of the CO2 in the atmosphere, such as vegetation, but fortunately there are differences in the isotope ratios that scientists can measure between the CO2 derived from fossil fuels and the CO2 derived from plants. The changing concentrations of the two main isotopes, Carbon-12 and Carbon-14, demonstrate that the additional CO2 can only be the result of human activity."

My opinion is that if someone hasn't heard of Carbon-14 dating, you're not going to get anywhere with him on any scientific explanation anyway.

 

2010-08-25 06:21:33
TonyWildish

Tony@Wildish...
92.153.222.163

(this is my first comment on a rebuttal, please let me know if I'm being too pedantic or am otherwise off the ball)

I imagined reading this to my mother, she's 82. This is well written so I think she'd get the idea, but it helps to cut out a few unnecessary words (mostly 'dramatic', 'significant' and so on). I propose the following changes, which I think make it more readable, without changing the essence of the rebuttal.

 

the activities of a dramatically expanding world population have made significant alterations to the make-up of our atmosphere

-> the activities of an expanding world population have altered the make-up of our atmosphere.

The harmful effect of the human release of CFCs

-> The harmful effect of the release of CFCs

draining of marshland and deforestation can produce a significant decrease in water vapour in the atmosphere downwind; while the introduction of irrigation for agriculture has the opposite effect

-> draining of marshland and deforestation can decrease water vapour in the atmosphere downwind. Irrigation for agriculture can have the opposite effect

This dramatic 30% increase has all taken place at the same time as humans

-> This dramatic 30% increase has all taken place as humans

 ...hope this helps

2010-08-25 06:51:56Comment
Robert Way

robert_way19@hotmail...
142.162.177.145
Thumbs up just for the Obama reference

Line 2 (Well, yes, we can.)

haha. As long as other comments are fulfilled you have my approval.
2010-08-25 08:00:54Almost Ready for One More Green Thumb...
MattJ
Matthew Johnson
mej1960@yahoo...
64.105.34.176

But before I give it my thumbs up, I have a few observations/suggestions

 

1) Regarding "How can humans influence this?  Well, yes, we can."

 

The first sentence poses one question, the second answers a slightly different question. I find this anacolouthon rather jarring. But if you had asked "Can humans influence this?" answering ith "Well, yes, we can". the impact is less. So I suggest: "How can humans influence this? Subtllely, slowly, and most often, destructively.

 

2) I did think of one good example of such climate change, I think it is well enough known now to be worth including somewhere: human induced climate change in the Sahara, which was green before overgrazing ruined it.So where to put it? I suggest at the end of para. 3,which would now end "turning green areas into deserts (e.g. the Sahara)."

 

3) There is a much milder anacolouthon in, "Since the industrial revolution, with ever-increasing supplies of fossil fuels, the activities of a dramatically expanding world population have made significant alterations to the make-up of our atmosphere."

 Why the switch from talking aobut human ability to influene CLIMATE to "make up of our atmosophere"? Sure, the primary example of climate change we all have in mind is CO2 in the atmosphere, but why prematurely exclude ocean acidification? This too is anthropogenic, dangerous, and caused by excessive CO2 emissions.

Also, the reference to "activities of a dramatically expanding population" makes it SOUND like you might be speaking in favor of the belief of radicals like "Earth First!", who believe that the human population is a hostile parasite on the Earth, one that must be reduced. Just as Caesar's wife must be beyond reproach, we must avoid even the appearance of taking their side.

Finally, to eliminate the ambiguity of 'since' (is it causal or temporal) more immediately, I would word as:

"Ever since the Industrial Revolution started the ever-increasing use of fossil-fuels, the expansion of a fossil-fuel based world-economy has made significant changes to our climate already, by changing both the make-up of our atmosophere and of our oceans.

 

2010-08-25 08:21:36
Michael Searcy

scentofpine@yahoo...
72.91.223.97

 A couple of minor items and a definite thumbs up!  Nice work.


"Of course there are also natural sources of the CO2 in the atmosphere, such as vegetation, but fortunately there are differences that scientists can measure between the CO2 derived from fossil fuels and the CO2 derived from plants."

I would ditch the "such as vegetation" verbiage altogether. You might reword the ending along the lines of "between the CO2 derived from fossil fuels and the CO2 from natural processes."


"Of course, as CO2 is the most common of greenhouse gasses"

 I would ditch the "Of course" and just start the sentence with "As".

2010-08-25 09:04:01About Carbon Isotopes
MattJ
Matthew Johnson
mej1960@yahoo...
64.105.34.176

I know the current is now leaning away from mentioning the isotopes at all in this article. But just in case it swings back, I need to admit a small error in my proposal. Especially since I see it repeated in posts since then. It is the ratio of C12 to C13 that is measured to determine how much atmospheric carbon is man-made, not the ratio of C12/C14.

I thought of C14 because I am more familiar with the radiocarbon dating method -- as I am sure many are.

2010-08-26 20:35:25published
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
124.187.125.135
as always, great work from JR and everyone :-)