Sunday, June 16, 2013

Is It High Tide on Main Street? Here’s One Man’s View on Global Warming

“Doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs.”  That’s what my mother would have called them.  It was her way of describing important people.  You know, the educated folks who present themselves well and become leaders of their community.  It describes most of the people I meet these days.  Not so many doctors but a lot of professionals and CEO’s. 

One such CEO stands out.  He is John Englander, the guy whom Jacque Cousteau picked to be his successor as CEO of the Cousteau Society.  I met him in my office a few years ago (I don’t remember who introduced us).  “I am writing a book,” he told me.  “I’ll send you a copy.”  And, he did.  I have an autographed first edition published in 2012.

I read a lot but nearly everything I read (and watch or listen to) is on my iPad.  So, John’s book, High Tide on Main Street:  Rising Sea Level and the Coming Coastal Crisis, sat on my shelf along with a dozen others – unread.

Then came Hurricane Sandy, which was soon followed by an email from John.  “Did you read my book?” he asked.  “I predicted this.”  And, so he did.  He discusses the impact of rising sea levels globally and uses chapter 12 to describe the impact on several cities.  As for New York, he asserts that the “broad arm of Long Island, the rivers around Manhattan that continue up the Hudson River Valley can, under certain circumstances, act as a funnel, amplifying storm surge effects for Manhattan.”  He cites a study done by the Army Corps of Engineers that identifies the conditions under which a “storm surge of nearly 30 feet at the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel” could flood subways and tunnels.  He points out that, in August 2011, Hurricane Irene was an inch short of doing so. 

And, that was a year before Sandy. 

But, I am getting ahead of myself.  What High Tide does best is describe the effects of CO2 emissions on global temperatures and how slight changes can have a catastrophic impact.  A one degree difference in temperature can make determine whether snow melt will cause a rise in sea levels in any year.  He describes the methods by which scientists have identified the 612-foot range of sea levels over the past billion years and focuses our attention on how sea levels have been affected by glaciers. 

It’s a vicious cycle.  Rising temperatures cause glacial snowmelt, which in turn release more CO2, which causes temperatures to rise which…  Well, you get the idea. 

The net of all this discussion is that “we are increasing carbon dioxide levels roughly 20,000 times faster than at any time in the last 540 Million years.  Temperatures … are now rising about 55 times faster than they did during the most recent cycle of glacial melting”. 
Figures lie and liars figure.  Princeton Professor William Happer, writingin the Wall Street Journal, discussed the lack of temperature rise over thelast 10 years and cites the same United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as Englander.  The difference is that Happer uses the absence of complete data in the study to debunk global climate change while Englander writes a whole chapter about scientific methods and includes data from several other studies to describe the impact of rising CO2 levels on glacial melting. 

Rather than ignore what doesn’t fit his point of view, Englander brings all of it into the discussion including the economic and national security impact.  Whether you support the view that mankind is causing global climate change or not, you cannot ignore its impact. 

New York can be protected according to Englander and last week’s announcement of a $20B plan by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg fits the bill.  But, New York sits on a granite foundation while such cities as Miami and Venice, Italy cannot be saved.  In place of granite bedrock, they sit on limestone, which acts like a sponge absorbing more water as sea levels rise. 

High Tide also offers solutions and describes the economic impact of doing nothing.  While Englander makes a hard sell, he doesn’t soft-peddle the challenges of the appropriate responses.  Solutions ranging from “retreat” to “defense” are explored while explaining that different geographies require different solutions. 

He also discusses the feasibility of technological advances that offer alternatives to burning fossil fuel. What I like most about High Tide is that it boils a lot of scientific information down to language that a non-scientist can understand.  In addition, the book doesn’t shy from any of the related topics including the politics of deploying solutions. 

Still there is one question that Englander doesn’t answer.



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  2. John W. Stevens, Jr. • I know John Englander and although we have not met that many times, I have great admiration for him. His resume is quite impressive.

    However, a couple of years ago I did a proposal on which some of the worlds leading Climatologists and Atmospheric Physicists worked. One day at lunch, I expressed my skepticism about anthropomorphic global warming and asked what they believed based on their understanding of the latest and best data available.

    These people unanimously expressed the same skepticism that I have. They indicated that first, there is no consistent data over the past ten years to demonstrate global warming or global climate change. They all agreed that there was some data that supports the global warming hypothesis but not enough to prove or even strongly support it. They went on to say that there was "NO" evidence of anthropocentric climate change. All of them are keeping an open mind and all admit that global climate change is possible. All of them went on to agree that the most likely culprit, if there is climate change, is solar energy output and changes to ocean currents that may be cyclical, as is solar energy output. Finally, they indicated that the majority of the "evidence" for global warming or climate change are based on mathematical models of the atmosphere, all of which have proven highly unreliable predicting anything very much beyond about three days into the future.

    John is correct to say that free CO2 in the atmosphere has risen. However, several recent studies of climate history based on deep core samples of ice in both the Arctic and Antarctic indicate that every time global temperatures have risen, based on the data available, the rise in CO2 has FOLLOWED, not preceded the temperature increases and increases in sea level.

    My mind is open to actual scientific evidence. However, the supporters of Global Warming have repeatedly harmed their credibility by getting caught rigging data, withholding data that opposed their theories, and their extreme politicization of the issue for purposes clearly having nothing to do with climate or its affects on humanity.

  3. @John. I am not a climatologist or even a scientist. That's why I titled the blog post "... One Man's View..." That said, Englander also makes your point in his book. But, goes on to say that most of the CO2 is released into the atmosphere by ice melt. There is lots of disagreement on the cause of the glaciers melting. John makes a pretty compelling argument in his book that the pace of change is unprecedented.

    Moreover, he says that there is a bi-directional relationship between the two. In other words, it can be demonstrated that CO2 rise has preceded temperature rise and also the reverse. He contends that "in our era" it is CO2 that is leading. He uses data from the Mauna Loa laboratory to show a steady rise in CO2 levels with temperatures exhibiting a sawtooth pattern over the same period.

    A logician might conclude that he is confusing correlation with cause and effect. But, his book is aimed laymen and he presents a lot of information in less than 200 pages. If you would like to engage him directly, let me know and I will connect you via email.

  4. To John Calia -- Thank you for this unexpected coverage of my book.
    To John Stevens above -- I remember our meeting well some five years ago. While this is not the forum to debate the analysis of climate change dynamics, I would ask that you read the book before judging my thesis or rationale. Generally I avoid looking at short term data sets like. In fact, my view has little to do with mathematical models as you assume. It is rooted in the relationship between SL, temperature, and CO2 going back hundreds of thousands of years.
    As for the CO2 and temperature precedence, you are partially correct. At times each has led the other. While seemingly counterintuitive, I explain that in the book. Since you have kind words for me, I would ask that you not judge me based on anyone else's errors. I invite you to read my explanations as John Calia has. Many serious skeptics (a healthy thing in science btw) have found my case to be persuasive. Look forward to your take once you have heard my case.
    Best wishes.
    John Englander

  5. @John Englander. I have cut and pasted John Stevens comments (too many Johns here!) from a discussion group on LinkedIn. Here is what John Stevens posted before you wrote your reply above:

    John W. Stevens, Jr. • As I said, I have an open mind. I have reached no conclusion one way or the other. Also, as I said, I have great respect for John Englander. When we met, John was engaged in a program to place a set of sensors on private and commercial seagoing vessels all over the world for the purpose of collecting real data on atmospheric and oceanographic conditions such as air and ocean temperature, salinity, and dissolved CO2. The program was non-profit in nature and relied upon donations from owners of oceangoing vessels in the form of purchasing and installing the sensor systems.

    You have to admire him for not solely taking the word of others and actually acting to improve the data that scientists can then analyze.

  6. John E -- I judge you not, nor can I or would I. As you pointed out, I have not read your book. My comments were directed at John C's blog in which he summarized and interpreted your book, as well as to the broader discussion regarding Global Warming or Global Climate Change, whichever you prefer.

    At the time we met, I personally was very excited and pleased to try to work out a business arrangement. The reason for my enthusiasm was that I had finally met someone who instead of pontificating and conflating, was actually doing something very laudable -- creating the means to collect the data needed to reach valid conclusions and with which theories might be proven or disproved. I was sorely disappointed to find a lack of interest on the parts of my superiors.

    While I may at this time, not having read your book, remain skeptical of Global Warming, I am not closed-minded. However, I do believe that there is a fundamental lack of knowledge and understanding in our nation of science and the scientific method.

    An excellent example of this is the debate of evolution versus intelligent design. I happen to believe that the two theories at a gross level are not mutually exclusive. I tend to believe that the theory of evolution is correct. Even if evolution is proven, it does not mean that intelligent design is disproved in whole. In one theory, the origins of life on earth are being debated while in the other the origin of the universe is up for debate. However it remains a theory and may never be proven; may not be provable unless we discover a means to travel in time. Too few understand the distinction between theory and proven fact.

    I will try to find the opportunity to read your book, John E. Please be assured however that I am in no way your detractor. With great respect, John Stevens

  7. John W. Stevens, Jr. • I just now came across a very interesting article. The article, poses a mystery that has been observed:

    "Mystery on Venus: 'Super-Hurricane' Force Winds Get Stronger
    Scientists are baffled by the planet's sudden change in weather"

    It seems that since about 2006, scientists have observed a rapid increase in atmospheric wind speeds and greater and more rapid variability in those wind speeds on Venus.

    While the article does not posit a cause, and I do not know enough to offer an answer, I would ask the question -- are the changes in atmospheric wind speeds on Venus possibly a result of increased solar energy absorption?

    I find it interesting that changes in global weather patterns on our "Sister" planet are occurring during almost the same time period that earthly global warming advocates have observed what they find is evidence of Global Warming. Also, if I understand some of the arguments that have been offered, Global Warming is expected to result in greater volatility in earth's atmosphere, more and more severe storms, high winds, and so forth.

  8. John, my friend, you're caught in your own confirmation bias. There is nothing in the article (and, perhaps, the study) that suggests any relationship between what's happening on Venus and what's happening on Earth. You are careful to express your opinion in the form of a question because you are smart enough to know that the correlation at which you hint has no bearing on the question of global warming on this planet. Yet, you are attempting to plant a seed. Sorry. I don't buy it.

  9. John W. Stevens, Jr. • John C -- You are absolutely correct. No such connection was discussed in the article. However, I believe the question I raised is a valid one. What could cause global hurricane force winds on Venus to accelerate, first observed around 2006? That would seem to me to be caused by some influx of additional energy into the planetary atmosphere. Where could such energy originate? Perhaps from Vulcanism, perhaps from solar radiation, or perhaps from some other source I am not smart enough to think of. However, you have to admit that an increase in solar energy could be a source of additional energy (and heat) into the Venusian atmosphere.

    I am cautious in what I suggested, not because there is no correlation. Rather, I am cautious because the question I raised does not even rise to the level of a theory. It is nothing more than a question raised by a non-expert. In truth, I did not go looking for that article. I literally popped up on my screen as I was browsing the Huffington Post. But as soon as I read the article, the POSSIBLE connection jumped into my head with two feet.

    In fact, if the Venusian situation is linked in any way to additional solar radiation or absorption of of solar radiation, it could have a massive impact upon our understanding of the earths atmospheric physics and the models we use to represent it. In fact, what if Venusian CO2 or other greenhouse gas concentrations have increased (I have no idea if anyone has looked)? That may possibly validate the Global Warming model. This is perfect example, used by NASA itself, of why examining the conditions on other planets is pertinent to our understanding of what happens on earth.

  10. Jim Bryant • Global warming is a much better than the other option of global cooling. If we were going into an Ice Age the world's population would suffer, as it did during the last major ice age, whose maximum was about 18,000 BCE. The scientific record shows that the cultures escaping the ice either disappeared or wiped out the cultures to the south. The save the whales movement could be our savior for the small fraction of the remaining population would turn to marine mammals as major part of our diet just like we did in 18,000 BCE. .