December 28, 2013

Saturday Morning Saturday Morning Essay: Extinction, Reconsidered

Brought to you by Peet's French Roast coffee...

Naturally, as a supporter of the scientific method, I hasten to add that the Thursday edition of my Saturday Essay was about a global warming paper that apparently had no refereeing or peer review. The writing was definitely over the top; I've been reading a lot about global warming over the last couple of years, and I don't know of anyone else, no matter how dire a spin they choose to place on the available data and reasonable extrapolations thereof, who's talking about the oceans boiling and 120 degree C air temperatures in the year 2080.  I just thought that Mr. Light (the author) provided a rousing, angry, human-bashing finish right up there with some of the best dyspepsia of Kurt Vonnegut on a downer day.  Who can resist that?

Perhaps the paper in question was an example of the increasingly common "open access" method of publishing scientific articles.  Indeed, the research scientist from the Great Southwestern University is so familiar now with this particular end-run around academic quality control that he's written a hilarious parody, "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down & Publish My Own Papers."  A sample:

I'm gonna sit right down and publish my own papers,
And make believe they're peer reviewed
Referees they drive me nuts
They're ad hoc & anonymous
Nerds strokin’ their libidos
Shootin their little torpedoes...

No doubt peer review brings out the snark in a lot of competitive academics.  On the other hand, maybe it makes it a little tougher to scare the shit out of your readers with unfounded claims.

Anyway, I favor the "intellectual commons" approach to discourse championed so eloquently by John Stuart Mill in On Liberty.  An idea should stand or fall on its own merits, and must withstand the most withering criticism if it is objectively true.

I actually found the paper in question on a thread commenced by Guy McPherson on Facebook.  It was Christmas, a slow news day, and the Near Term Human Extinction loyalists were out in force. The conclusions of this "paper" on the "methane bomb" were apparently accepted at face value by almost anyone, except a couple of "Extinction Deniers" who tried valiantly to inject some scintilla of hope, only to be attacked mercilessly for their Pollyannish addiction to "hopium" (as in hopium of the masses, I guess).

Speaking of Russian political history, it always astounds me how those of the Left hand side of things always manage to arrange themselves into warring factions. The Russian revolutionaries all opposed the Czar, but their hatred for his cruel despotism eventually took a back seat to the internecine struggles among the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks and Trotskyites.  Recall that Trotsky was eventually assassinated more than 20 years after the Revolution by a Stalinist hit man who found him in Mexico City.  The global warming movement has become sort of like that, too. 

Personally, I am failing to see the upside of accepting the inevitable extinction of humanity 16 years from now.  Especially when the hard science really does not point in that direction.  I know the situation is bad; I know that humans have never resided on Earth when the atmospheric concentration of CO2 was at 400 parts per million.  I know what the "hockey stick" of recent temperature trends looks like.  It's scary what has happened to the ice masses of the Earth in so short a time frame. I'm not a global warming denier.

Still, to help things along, I posted a link on that thread to David Archer's analysis of recent methane papers, an analysis I discussed previously here at the Pond.  David Archer knows his stuff.  He describes in considerable detail how the methane beds and permafrost were formed in the Arctic Circle and along the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.  He uses Henry's Law to support his argument that methane clathrates could not have formed at any depth shallower than 250 meters of Arctic water. The deeper they are, you see, the better, since dissolution of methane bubbles in the water column as they make their way to the surface is an important buffer, along with the fact that methane hydrates at depth are more resistant to melting in the first place.

I like Henry's Law.  Henry's Law governs the solubility of gas in liquid under varying conditions.  When you open a beer bottle, or pop a champagne bottle (maybe Tuesday night?) and hear that "pfft" or "pop" - that's Henry talking to you.  That's the sound of the carbon dioxide escaping into the room, CO2 that has come out of solution.  If you leave the beer bottle on the counter, eventually the beer will go flat, meaning the partial pressure of the CO2 in the beer will equilibrate with the CO2 level in the room.  I was thinking: if you had done that little experiment in 1966 (perhaps the first time I would have done so), the beer would be flatter than it would be today.  Not enough to notice, but still. Three cheers for global warming!

Others on the Facebook thread picked up my act of supreme dissidence (Objective Intellectualism, always a crime under totalitarian regimes, requiring re-education), and it got back to Guy.  I was in trouble now:

Guy McPherson: "^ Infused with hopium, as is customary at Real Climate. They favor the "it'll all be okay" approach forwarded by the corporate media and the corporate governments of the world. As we approach the brick wall, they propose accelerating."

I don't think that's fair, and not just because I like David Archer.  I find him a humane and circumspect fellow who really knows his stuff.  Questioning whether we'll all be dead in 2030 is not the same, in my view, as saying "it will all be okay."  

I guess that's what I get for being a Trotskyite.  But I'm still thinking: if David Archer is wrong, take him on directly and disprove his analysis.  Sittin' right down and publishin' your own papers is one thing; taking pot shots with only ad hominem attacks may be a good deal worse.

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