Skepticism, Religion Archive

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Response to Harold Faulkner's Global Warming Denialism

Global Warming IconReviewing through the comments of the blog to clean out spam, I came across a comment that I'd accidentally left held up in moderation, a comment to the entry, Response to Global Warming Denialist E-mail - Volcanoes and Global Cooling. When I Googled certain phrases from the comment, I got back hundreds of returns from Google. The commenter, Harold Faulkner, is plastering blog comment threads and Internet discussion forums with this article of his.

I also realized that I'd read Faulkner's comment before. He'd e-mailed it to me right about the same time he left the comment on this blog. In good faith, I sent him a reply addressing portions of what he'd written, but I never heard back. Of course, at the time, I didn't realize that he was simply spamming hundreds of people with this article. Now that I've come across all this again, I decided that I'd adapt and expand that original response into a blog entry all its own. Since there are probably many variations of this article (I'm not going to click on each Google return to compare them), I'm going to focus just on the one he e-mailed to me.

Faulkner began his article with the following question:

People in the USA, are being told by the U.S. government and media that global warming is man-made. If that is true, how can the government and media explain the high temperatures the earth has experienced in past years when there were far fewer people?

He followed that up with the following graph to support his case:

Bogus Global Temperature History
Click on image to view full size


The first red flag for that graph should be that there's no scale given for the y-axis. Further, the relative heights of the different peaks and valleys don't match with what I've seen from reputable sources. Practically every graph I've seen of reconstructed historical temperatures looks about like this:

2000 Year Temperature Comparison
Click on image to view full size
"2000 Year Temperature Comparison". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons


Here's another graph, but going back much further in time:

All palaeotemps by Glen Fergus
Click on image to view full size
"All palaeotemps" by Glen Fergus - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons


Since both of those graphs were made a few years ago, here's a more recent graph that goes right up to almost the present day, though with a shorter overall timeframe than either of the two other graphs:

Annual Global Temperature (Combined Land & Ocean)
Click on image to view full size
Source: USA Today - Record! 2014 was Earth's warmest year


Note that in all those graphs, unlike in the graph Faulkner provided, the warming continues right up to the present day. In fact, 2014 is the warmest year on record.

Of course, there are many factors affecting the Earth's climate, and as the climate was varying long before humans were around, human activities aren't the only cause. It should go without saying that climatologists are already well aware of those causes and include them in their studies. I mean, you'd have to have a very, very low opinion of climatologists to think that they ignored those natural causes or were so ignorant that they didn't even think to study them.

If you look at the second of the reputable graphs above, the main thing you notice about modern day global warming is how rapid it is. It's unprecedented as far back as the temperatures have been reconstructed. No natural variations have created a temperature change as rapid as the one we're experiencing right now.

Faulkner also tried to downplay the effect of CO2 and instead say that climate change is natural variation due to other factors. Here Faulkner basically describes the Milankovitch Cycles, but seems to be saying these are the primary driver of current climate change.

The above points out that the universe is too huge and the earth is too small for the earth's population to have any effect on the earth's temperature. The earth's temperature is a function of the sun's temperature and the effects from the many massive planets in the universe, i.e., "The gravity of the Moon and (to a lesser extent) of the Sun makes the Earth's axis swivel around like a tilted spinning top. Other planets of the Solar System especially Jupiter, Mars and Venus, influence the Earth's tilt and the shape of its orbit, in a more-or-less cyclic fashion, with significant effects on the intensity of sunshine falling on different regions of the Earth during the various seasons."

As I said above, you'd have to have a very low opinion of climate scientists to assume that they don't understand actual climate science. The issue is that current CO2 levels are dwarfing effects such as the Milankovitch cycles, causing the current warming.

To further his attempt to downplay the effects of CO2, in one of his 'fun facts', he pointed out what a small fraction of the atmosphere CO2 constitutes.

At 380 parts per million CO2 is a minor constituent of earth's atmosphere--less than 4/100ths of 1% of all gases present. Compared to former geologic times, earth's current atmosphere is CO2- impoverished.

Well, that is true, but it doesn't change the fact that CO2 is a greenhouse gas that does significantly affect global temperatures. This isn't controversial among scientists. It's why Venus is so hot. The greenhouse effect is also why Earth isn't a giant snowball, so it's a good thing. But just like poisons, it's the 'dose', so to speak, that's important. The past 10,000 years have had a relatively stable climate, and civilization has sprung up and flourished in that time. But this stability is important. If climate and weather patterns change, current 'bread bowls' may end up as dust bowls. And with rising sea levels, some current ocean front property may quickly become a whole lot less valuable. If this change was occurring over thousands of years, it wouldn't be much of a problem. People would slowly adapt. The fact that it's occurring over 100 years or so is what makes it such a big problem. The adaptation will have to be very rapid, which in turns means it will be costly, and there will likely be a good bit of suffering involved.

I'm not going to point out the problems with all of Faulkner's stats, but I'll tackle the first one from his list of Fun Facts about CO2:

Of the 186 billion tons of carbon from CO2 that enter earth's atmosphere each year from all sources, only 6 billion tons are from human activity. Approximately 90 billion tons come from biologic activity in earth's oceans and another 90 billion tons from such sources as volcanoes and decaying land plants.

I'm actually not going to fact check his numbers*, but instead point out how this is a very misleading way of looking at the issue. There are short term and long term carbon cycles. In the short term, biological activity does release a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere (both marine and land based). But in that same timeframe, other biological activity (plants & algae), is absorbing that CO2 for photosynthesis. For the most part, that cycle is pretty balanced, with emissions matching absorption. In other words, if there were no other inputs to the cycle, atmospheric CO2 levels would stay at equilibrium. There's also a long term cycle. Some biological and geological factors absorb CO2 and trap it, such as fossil fuels. Other geological factors emit small amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, like volcanoes. The natural inputs to this long term cycle are also more or less in equilibrium. But what's happened recently, is that humans started digging up all these fossil fuels and burning them. We've thrown off the equilibrium. All this carbon that had been sequestered and was destined to only be released to the atmosphere slowly at some point in the distant future is now being put into the atmosphere over the course of decades. The normal sinks that would absorb this CO2 and sequester it just can't keep up. So, even though human CO2 emissions from fossil fuels make up only a small percentage of total CO2 emissions each year, it's a cumulative process. Each year, more and more carbon builds up in the atmosphere, leading to more global warming.

To use an overly simplistic way of looking at it - just assume for the sake of argument that natural CO2 emissions are balanced by natural CO2 sinks, but that any man-made emissions just build-up in the atmosphere. Using Faulkner's numbers*, if human activity accounts for 6 billion tons annually, in 30 years that excess would match the yearly carbon cycle. So, using these overly simplistic assumptions, that would represent a doubling of atmospheric CO2 in 30 years, or a tripling in 60 years. Luckily, the real world isn't that simplistic, and natural carbon sinks can absorb more than just the natural carbon emissions, but this shows how this imbalance is a cumulative effect that builds over the years. In reality, current CO2 levels around about 43% higher than pre-industrial levels (Wikipedia).

I'll give another example, using myself as an analogy. Like many people at the start of the year, I started a diet. I didn't changed my eating patterns much, just a few hundred calories per day. That calorie deficit is pretty small on a daily basis, and only slightly less than the calories I burn in a day, but it builds up over time. In two weeks, I'd lost a few pounds, and over the course of a few months, the effect was a sizeable percentage of my body weight. That's how it is with anthropogenic CO2. It's a shift in the balance of the carbon cycle that builds up over decades.

Anyway, this is just one more example of a climate change denialist spreading misinformation, but since he tried it on my site, I felt a bit of an obligation to reply.

---

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

*Actually, if you go and check out the blog entry where Faulkner originally left his comment, Response to Global Warming Denialist E-mail - Volcanoes and Global Cooling, you'll see that his numbers are off. He's claiming 6 billion tons of CO2 from human activity, while the USGS estimated it at closer to 35 billion metric tons in 2010 (38 billion short tons). He was off by over a factor of 6.

For the sake of people who might google phrases from Faulkner's article, or for anyone who's interested in reading it, I've put his full article below the fold.

Continue reading "Response to Harold Faulkner's Global Warming Denialism" »

Monday, April 13, 2015

Another Look at Ben Carson's Views on Evolution

Ben CarsonI know it wasn't that long ago that I said I was done writing about Ben Carson (see Ben Carson Wrap Up), but I got into another discussion the other day where he came up, and the person I was talking with was pretty sure that Carson really did accept evolution. So, for due diligence, I took another look to see if I could find Carson's views on evolution in a source more recent than the Adventist Review interview from a few years ago that I'd been assuming was his current position. I found an interview from September of 2014 where he talked about evolution again, and it looks like his views haven't changed. You can listen to just the evolution portion by going to Right Wing Watch. The full interview is available on the Faith & Liberty podcast.

I did my best to transcribe his response below (though I did take the liberty of not writing all his 'um's, 'uh's, or stutters).

I don't know how old the Earth is, because the Bible says in the beginning God created heaven and the Earth. It doesn't say how long a time went by before he started creation. So no one has that knowledge based on the Bible. What I do know is that I believe that God is all powerful. He can do anything. So if he can create a man who is fully mature, he could also create an Earth that was mature. So, you know, carbon dating, all these things, you know, really don't mean anything to a god who has the ability to create anything at any point in time. And the problem with man is that they believe that they're so smart that if they can't explain how God did something, then it didn't happen. Which of course means that they're God. You don't need a god if you consider yourself capable of explaining everything.

After this, the interviewer momentarily interrupted, "Those are good points. What about being a surgeon? Any of that lead you to some of those conclusions, too?" To which Carson replied as below.

Well, certainly being a neurosurgeon and dealing with the complexity of the human brain - billions and billions of neurons, hundreds of billions of interconnections. And they all have to be connected the right way. And somebody says that came from a slime pit full of promiscuous biochemicals? I don't think so. And, you know, even if you look at something like natural selection, which I totally believe in, by the way. But, with natural selection it says that, you know, things that are useful tend to be passed on. Things that are not useful don't get passed on. And this is how, you know, the whole genetic display occurs. But, how, on the basis of that, do you ever develop a kidney? Or how do you develop an eyeball, which has multiple parts, none of which have any function without the others. So did a rod cell just appear one day, and just decide, let me sit around for a few million years until a cone cell develops? And then, a retinal network can develop? And then, you know, posterior and an anterior chamber and a lens and a cornea and short ciliary nerves? Gimme a break. You know, according to their scheme - boom! It had to just occur overnight. Had to be there.

So, I instead say, if you have an intelligent creator, what he does is give his creatures the ability to adapt to the environment so he doesn't have to start over every 50 years, so he can [unintelligible] all over again. And that's why you see the changes that occur within species, with environment and with time that makes perfectly good sense for a created universe and a created Earth.

So, he does say that he accepts 'natural selection', but qualifies it as 'within species'. He also says that carbon dating can't be trusted, implies that there really was a historical Adam, implies the human brain couldn't be the product of billions of years of evolution starting with single celled organisms, and flat out denies that kidneys or eyes could have evolved. In that last sentence, he even said 'a created Earth', and in the opening paragraph he implied that it could have been created 'mature' (shades of Last Thursdayism). His position seems to be fairly straight-forward old earth creationism. Perhaps Carson does say different things in different venues, but that would be a problem in and of itself. If he was willing to make such contradictory statements to different audiences, he wouldn't have much credibility.

Assuming what Carson's saying here is what he actually thinks, then it's back to what I've said before about his extreme arrogance - pontificating about a subject about which he's so extremely ignorant. Just read that part about the eye. He seems to think that if an eye evolved, it must have appeared fully formed, and he seems to think this is what evolutionary biologists actually believe. Has he ever even read a biology book? He's an extremely talented surgeon, so he had to take biology classes, but how can he make such ignorant statements if he actually paid attention in class? It's not like this is a new topic. Darwin himself addressed eye evolution in the Origin of Species (Chapter 6). And with just a bit of googling, you can find explanations of how the vertebrate eye evolved in a stepwise fashion (e.g. Wikipedia). Here's one of my favorite diagrams on eye evolution (which I've shown before), showing actual existing eyes in molluscs that are far from the complex human eye, lacking many of the features Carson said must have been present for the eye to function properly, but which obviously provide benefit to those molluscs.

Evolution of Complex Eyes

I don't want to dwell on this last point because it's not part of the main theme of evolution this post is about, but that whole section on people coming up with secular explanations and thinking they're now gods is completely ridiculous. I wonder how many evolutionary biologists or atheists Carson has talked with, and where he gets this absurd characterization.

I know you don't need to understand evolutionary biology perfectly to be a politician. But given Carson's background as a surgeon, it's unsettling that he is so ignorant when it comes to the foundational concept of biology (particularly concepts that he should have learned in high school biology). Further, as I've said before, the worst part is that he's so sure of himself in an area where he's so ignorant. Nobody knows everything, politicians included (or maybe especially). But what good politicians must be able to do is recognize the limits of their knowledge so that they can ask for input and advice from appropriate experts. I wouldn't trust a politician who didn't know their own limits.

Image Source for Ben Carson: Christian Post, Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Image Source for Eye Evolution: Random Internet source, but probably originally from Douglas J. Futuyma's Evolutionary Biology

Monday, April 6, 2015

Jesus Saves! Jelly Beans

While doing some shopping over the weekend, I came across these jelly beans at Hobby Lobby:

Jesus Saves! Jelly Beans

They're just so over the top absurd that I couldn't resist buying them for my daughter for Easter. (Just so you know, she's old enough to think these are funny and not take them seriously.)

The big package contained 17 individual smaller packets, and each of those smaller packets had the following jelly bean prayer on the back:

Jelly Bean Prayer

I think it's funny that they made the black jelly beans 'sin'. Apparently, not even God likes licorice flavored candy*.

I was a little disappointed to discover that the jelly beans inside weren't stamped with the words they're supposed to represent. If you dump these jelly beans out into a serving tray you'll just end up with plain old jelly beans, but think what a conversation starter it would be to have a bowl full of Jesus' blood and sin flavored candy. They do have Jesus themed rip-offs of Sweethearts, but I think one bag of Jesus candy is enough for me.


*Full disclosure: I actually do like black licorice. Sin never tasted so good.

Update 2015-04-07: Replaced images with slightly better ones that I took last night (original ones were here and here, where that second one I borrowed from Amazon).

Monday, February 16, 2015

A Critical Examination of Ben Carson, Part 5 - Global Warming

Ben CarsonThis is a continuation in my ongoing series to take a closer look at the views and positions of Ben Carson, mainly by looking at articles he's written. The index contains links to all of the entries in the series.

For this entry, I'm actually going to break from the original articles I'd found on RealBencarson.com, and look at his position on global warming. In an interview towards the end of last year, Carson made some troubling statements about global warming. The statements can be found in the Bloomberg article, Ben Carson Not Convinced on Global Warming:

"There's always going to be either cooling or warming going on," the potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate said in an interview this weekend in Des Moines, Iowa. "As far as I'm concerned, that's irrelevant. What is relevant is that we have an obligation and a responsibility to protect our environment."

Carson, a retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon, often talks about his medical background and science during his speeches. Pressed on the fact that the bulk of the scientific community believes the Earth is indeed warming, Carson pivoted. "You can ask it several different ways, but my answer is going to be the same," he said. "We may be warming. We may be cooling."

Let me get the obvious out of the way, first. Global warming is real and caused primarily by people. I wrote about this seven years ago in the entry, Global Warming - It's Real, And We're Causing It, and the evidence and scientific consensus have only grown stronger since then (the latest by Phil Plait, No, Adjusting Temperature Measurements Is Not a Scandal, is a good recent discussion). I have another entry from that same year, Political Litmus Test, where I explain why I would never vote for somebody who didn't accept global warming - "to reject anthropogenic global climate change altogether requires ... that someone lacks knowledge of the issue, is willing to ignore the consensus of experts, and is willing to ignore evidence in favor of their ideology." Add to that the actual danger associated with global warming and the necessity of politicians doing something about it.

I'm glad Carson thinks we have 'an obligation and a responsibility to protect our environment', but you can't do that properly if you ignore the largest threat to the environment in historical times*. Acknowledging that climate change is real means taking vastly different approaches to public policy. Of course, there are obvious examples like coastal habitats - don't conservation efforts in the Everglades seem futile if we do nothing to stop global warming and let them become ocean in a hundred years (see this interactive map on sea level rise - Global Warming Art - Sea Level Rise Explorer)? There's also the acidification of the oceans and effects on corals, not to mention major climatic shifts changing rainfall patterns on land, or the much publicized melting of the polar ice caps and the effects that's having on arctic creatures, etc. Given that global warming is such a huge driver of changes to the climate, it must be an integral part of any comprehensive environmental conservation plan.

Carson has made similar statements about global warming before. Here's a quote from an editorial he wrote early last year, Energy's role in the path to peace:

Whether we are experiencing global warming or a coming ice age, which was predicted in the 1970s, we as responsible human beings must be concerned about our surroundings and what we will pass on to future generations. However, to use climate change as an excuse not to develop our God-given resources makes little sense. Expanding our wealth of energy resources, as well as encouraging the development of new renewable energy sources, would provide an enormous economic lift with obvious benefits, but it also would bolster our role as a formidable player in the struggle for world leadership.

When he says that "to use climate change as an excuse not to develop our God-given resources makes little sense", I don't think I'm reading too much into that by interpreting it to mean that he thinks we should continue to use coal, oil, and other fossil fuels at current rates (because no one's using climate change as an excuse to not develop renewable energy sources). This is, quite simply, a horrible idea. Since global warming is real, using more fossil fuels is going to make the problem worse. It is exactly the reason why we should slow down on 'developing' those particular resources.

If there were no global warming, there would still be concerns over methods of extraction and ways to clean up the exhaust (such as scrubbers), but coal and oil are wonderfully convenient energy sources. And they're still fairly plentiful, with many decades of oil left, and probably at least a century of coal left (source - World Coal Association). Without global warming, we could budget research on renewable energy at a far lower rate, since we'd still have plenty of time before we'd have to transition.

But global warming is a reality, so we as a civilization must try to drastically slow down our use of fossil fuels and develop alternative renewable energy technologies. Well, I say 'must', but it really depends on what consequences you're willing to live with - more extreme weather events like hurricanes, droughts, and floods and the deaths they'll cause, rising sea levels and shrinking coastlines including the inundation of major cities and entire islands, disruptions to the food supply, more wildfires, disruptions to fresh water supplies, mass extinction, etc. (more info - Union of Concerned Scientists - Global Warming Impacts). It's not going to be the complete downfall of civilization or the extinction of every living thing on earth, but it's going to be a lot of suffering and expense that could be avoided with some increased funding right now. Personally, I see it as a no-brainer, but if you only care about yourself and don't give a damn about future generations, then I suppose you might want to just continue on with the status quo. I think Carson probably does care about future generations, but you can't address the effects of climate change if you don't first accept the reality of it.

I also can't let slide the statement he made about "a coming ice age, which was predicted in the 1970s". This is at best misleading, at worst a lie. A minority of scientists in the '70s were predicting an ice age, but the majority even then were predicting global warming (Skeptical Science - What were climate scientists predicting in the 1970s?). Only a tenth of the of papers published between 1965 and 1979 predicted cooling, while nearly two thirds predicted global warming, and the consensus has only grown stronger in the 35 years since then.

It's not like this is the issue that's finally pushed me over the edge in not supporting Carson. I wasn't too found of him based on everything else I'd read prior to this. But even if I didn't know all those other things and this was the first I'd heard about him, it would be enough to disqualify him as a viable presidential candidate. Our politicians must start addressing climate change much more aggressively if we want to avoid passing on all the associated suffering to future generations. And the first part of that action is acknowledging the reality of human caused climate change.

Related Entries:

Image Source: Christian Post, Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst


Continue to Part 6 - Equal Opportunity



*Note that global warming isn't the only current environmental threat. Habitat destruction is another huge one, and why it's frustrating to see some of the proposals to address global warming that worsen the habitat loss problem.

Updated 2015-02-18: Added links to related entries. Slightly reworded one sentence to read better (but not changing the meaning).

Friday, February 13, 2015

Tragic Murder of Three Muslim Students by an Atheist

Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Mohammad Abu-SalhaA few days ago, three Muslim students were shot and killed in a parking lot in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (Washington Post - Three Muslims killed in shooting near UNC; police, family argue over motive‚Äč). The victims were Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Mohammad, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. All three were Muslim. The gunman, Craig Stephen Hicks, was a 46 year old atheist.

The religious beliefs of all those involved have raised questions over whether or not the shootings were religiously motivated, or whether they were solely a case of someone losing their temper and overreacting over a parking space. While the police are still investigating this, it won't make any difference to the victims or their families. Hicks's actions were despicable.

Various atheist and secular groups have responded to this incident, universally condemning Hicks's actions. Hemant Mehta has an entry on his blog, The Friendly Atheist, Three Muslim Students Were Killed in a Tragic Attack Carried Out by an Atheist, listing excerpts of some of these responses. If you want to go directly to the source for the full responses, here are links to the statements at each organization's own site.

It's worth reading all of the statements, but here are two excerpts from the Secular Student Alliance statement that I think are particularly good.

Everyone at the Secular Student Alliance is appalled by the murders of Deah Bakurat, Yusor Mohammed, and Razan Mohammed Abu-Salha in Chapel Hill, North Carolina yesterday. We are further appalled by the trauma and terror caused by these murders and offer our condolences to the victims, their family, and the greater Chapel Hill community. The Secular Student Alliance encourages students to work with each other to understand one another and make the world a better place. These killings work in the exact opposite of that cause.
The Secular Student Alliance promotes pluralism and secularism. We work alongside people of faith, and work to spread the understanding that both people with and without faith have the capacity to do good. Nothing about the lack of a belief in a god supports the murder of innocent people, and we absolutely condemn what has happened. We hope that dialogues can happen, and bridges are built, not burned, in the wake of this.

These deaths were tragic and senseless, and there's no excuse for the horrendous actions committed by Craig Hicks. My heart goes out to the families and friends of Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha.

Image Source: USA Today

---

If you're interested, here's another article on the murders, USA Today - Chapel Hill 'rocked' by killings of 3 Muslim students.

Archives

Selling Out