Heat Waves and AGW

July 26, 2010 1 Comment

See Kristen’s recent post about the east coast heat wave for a primer on the following discussion.

For many years, every heat wave, every record high, every strong hurricane, nearly every bad thing that happened in the world, no matter how tenuously linked to the weather, was blamed on anthropogenic global warming (AGW). I take it as a sign that strong advocates of AGW theory have learned a lesson when not many people are linking the recent heat waves in the eastern U.S. to AGW and clamoring for innumerable new taxes, laws, and regulations to strictly limit and reduce energy use by humans. In fact, one of the more refreshing articles came from newscientist.com – mentioning that one heat wave or one warm year does not prove AGW is fact. It is only a small piece of evidence that goes into the climate puzzle.

This is a timely and lonely article in what I would hope is the start of bringing more people together on scientific and political climate issues. For about 10 to 15 years starting around the early 1990s, AGW theorists and media advocates used annual increases in global temperatures to brow beat everyone into accepting the climate model/AGW predictions as gospel. Dissenters, even people with legitimate scientific questions, were treated horribly – publicly humiliated. It is no wonder then that after 1998, when the global temperature actually went down slightly and remained fairly level, that the humiliated people wanted to turn the tables. With the recent flubs in the IPCC report and the climategate emails, revenge was getting easy.

So now comes a warm year similar to 1998, and no doubt there will be some increased discussion about climate. Thankfully, so far, it hasn’t been as heated or condescending as back in the 1990s and early 2000s. The newscientist article is a step in the right direction – however, judging by the comment section of the article, we still have a long way to go. Many of the commenters still seem to want heated rhetoric (to “rip” AGW skeptics) instead of level-headed factual presentation.

If you are more worried about AGW because of the recent heat waves, remember that scientific progress into solutions continues. I am not talking about geo-engineering solutions like putting aeresols into the atmosphere to shade the sun and other potentially dangerous ideas, but about the rapid development and deployment of cleaner energy solutions, and about the prospect of removing carbon dioxide from the air. Even if human carbon emissions are only a part of recent warming (as I believe), then removing the excess could prove some benefit.  I was heartened to see an article recently that mentioned the prospect of removing carbon dioxide from the air (relatively difficult because it is a very stable molecule). One group of researchers has even developed a design (just on paper at this point) for a machine that would use solar energy to take carbon dioxide out of the air. They have made a bold claim that with widespread deployment of their machine they could remove excess carbon dioxide from the air in as little as 10 years. That is a pretty bold claim! Details in the article are scant. Still, breaking down carbon dioxide is a known process that only requires an efficient method to get it done – using a clean energy source. The STEP process mentioned in the article might be the start of something good.

Have a good Monday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.

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