Sunday, December 30, 2007

Is it Hot in Here, or What?

Arnold Kling wonders about global warming, asking for a more convincing argument connecting atmospheric carbon dioxide and temperature. I don't know enough about the particulars, but the question seems reasonable enough... If anyone has any answers, I'd love to hear them.

Along the same lines, my dad brings up an interesting point while arguing that global warming is good for Pittsburgh (his hometown). Ignoring the obvious flaws in the argument (the fact that there will be massive worldwide flooding if the icecaps melt, for example), do you think some people have incentives to allow global warming to continue, at least for a period of time? How will these incentives affect any legislative changes we attempt to institute in the future?


Zachary Piso said...

Here's the first link that came up on google (which is not necessarily credible, but is a better explanation than what comes off the top of my head from the Environmental Science classes up at Allegheny)...

"Most of the light energy from the sun is emitted in wavelengths shorter than 4,000 nanometers (.000004 meters). The heat energy released from the earth, however, is released in wavelengths longer than 4,000 nanometers. Carbon dioxide doesn't absorb the energy from the sun, but it does absorb some of the heat energy released from the earth. When a molecule of carbon dioxide absorbs heat energy, it goes into an excited unstable state. It can become stable again by releasing the energy it absorbed. Some of the released energy will go back to the earth and some will go out into space."

It's basic greenhouse gas science. Arnold Kling made an interesting comment where he stated he doesn't understand how matter and energy are equivalent, but the atomic bomb showed him that "Einstein was onto something". While the planet is a little further from home, Venus is a good example of how greenhouse gases cause a warming effect. However, induction from one data point seems a little useless compared to deduction from understood chemistry. Maybe not to you Arnold Klings out there.

Zachary Piso said...

That post was getting too long, this concerns the economic part of your post.

The problem with hoping for a slight increase in temperature is that a beneficial change (say, a couple degrees Fahrenheit) would cause too many positive feedback effects. Essentially, you cannot "allow global warming to continue, at least for a period of time". Global temperatures have risen 1.1 F. Some scientists believe a total increase of 2.5 F would cause heating to become its own cause, while all reputable scientists believe a total of 4 F would start that domino effect. An example of positive feedback effects would be melting ice caps decreasing the global albedo (reflecting unit), which causes more absorption, leading to more melting.
(Also, it bares noting that the term is now "Global Climate Change", due to the fact that winters are projected to be harsher, while summers longer, warmer, and drier. I'm assuming your Dad is references agricultural advantages, many of which would be outweighed by more unpredictable weather).

Lastly, the incentives allowing global warming to continue are the causes, not the effects. Migrant Virginians (such as yourself) looking to grow tobacco in Pennsylvania aren't lobbying PA legislators to promote the necessary couple degree increase in temperature. This is an interest group driven democracy, and the pressure to allow global warming to continue is from petroleum companies, or other companies that rely on emitting greenhouse gases. Comparatively, I'd expect any desire to increase global temperature would have little to no affect on legislature.

Compared with the totality of knowledge which is continually utilized in the evolution of a dynamic civilization, the difference between the knowledge that the wisest and that which the most ignorant individual can deliberately employ is comparatively insignificant. ~Fredrich Hayek in The Constitution of Liberty