Ocean acidification and then what?


The School of Chemical Sciences at the University of Auckland hosted a lecture by Assoc-Prof. Mary A. Sewell, of the School of Biological Sciences, on “Ocean Acidification: Integrating chemistry and marine biology and what it means for you.
Our friend Roger Dewhurst, engineering geologist and founding member of the NZ Climate Science Coalition, went along and paid close attention. Then he sent Mary Sewell the following entertaining and informative letter, which he kindly shares with us to provoke conversation.

Past is key to future; CO2 ruined nothing before; there’s no evidence of ruin to come; alarming climate predictions are inconsistent and unconvincing.
Roger Dewhurst writes:

Thanks for an interesting seminar.

Demonstrating that the appendages of a larval echinoderm tend to be stunted when the little beastie is grown in soda water is one thing. To extrapolate that to an absence of oysters, mussels and scallops on the dinner table next year is, in my view, stretching things a little too far. I was reminded of Al Gore’s polar bear on an iceberg!

When I was at Victoria University in the 1960s science was divorced from politics, and zoology, botany and geology were separate subjects. Now zoology and botany are lumped together as biology, and geology has been lumped in with geography as earth science and includes — would you believe it — a strand called ‘feminist geography’. I suppose that feminist mathematics is next in the pipeline. Sic transit gloria [“thus fades the glory of the world” – RT].

I suspect, on the basis of opinions from two universities, that no science student will get a decent degree now without paying obeisance to anthropogenic global warming and its apostles, ‘Piltdown’ Mann and his gang who, I presume, you know as ‘The Team’. This is not science as I know it but the ‘science’ of Lysenko.

Atmospheric CO2 now sub-optimal for plants

In science it is necessary to see all research within a broad framework that cannot be disputed. AGW simply does not fit within that framework, whatever individual research from sometimes myopic perspectives may suggest.

The inorganic carbon, largely in the form of, inter alia, carbon dioxide and graphite, of Archaeozoic and Proterozoic times has progressively been converted into limestone, coal, oil, peat and gas. The evidence for this is there in the rocks beneath our feet. Despite ups and downs which cannot be fully documented the tenor of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has fallen now to a tenor sub-optimal for most plant life, particularly the dicotyledonous plants which evolved largely in Jurassic times when the tenor of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can reasonably be presumed to have been higher. The world did not self destruct when the carbon dioxide tenor was much higher than it now is. The shells of molluscs were not dissolved by acid seas for they are still there in the rocks. The most fragile of fossils, the foraminifera, which would have been the first to be dissolved in acid seas, are still there to be found in all but the oldest rocks.

You showed a graph of the tenor of atmospheric carbon dioxide against time at Hawaii. You drew a trend line through it. That wiggly line showed something else: it showed that carbon dioxide tenor follows temperature on an annual basis. Carbon dioxide is the dependant variable — not temperature. That is the short term observation. The long term observation comes from the ice cores where carbon dioxide again follows temperature.

Multiple evidence of very long-term cooling

The climate shroudwavers’ icon is of course ‘Piltdown’ Mann’s hockey stick. Despite the demonstration of its fraudulence some continue to believe that it has been re-established. It cannot be. Even without addressing the shoddy statistics that supported it, the historical record of farming in Iceland Greenland, the growing of grapes in northern England by the Romans, the eye witness accounts of the Little Ice Age, retreating snow lines exposing neolithic bronze age mine sites in Europe and the exploration of the Pacific by the early Polynesians show the hockey stick can be discarded as evidence.

The bones of the crocodile, the hippopotamus and other tropical fauna in Pleistocene deposits beneath London show that previous interglacials have been warmer than the one we are currently experiencing. What we see is a general cooling trend from the end of the Pliocene to the present day on which is superimposed a wave pattern of steadily increasing amplitude. The interglacials are progressively cooling slightly but the glacials are cooling much more. The next glaciation will be colder than the last one.

Climate models far from infallible

A numerical model is, at its simplest, an algorithm. It is right or it is wrong. It must contain a mathematical description of every factor influencing that which is to be modelled. The climate models do not do that. The totality of factors influencing the climate is unknown. Being unknown they cannot be included in the algorithm. Many factors though known are not amenable to mathematical description. Unknown or partially known factors are ‘parameterized’ which is a polite way of saying that they have been fudged. The parameters are found by iteration to make the data best fit the short term temperature record but they are of no predictive value any more than a curve fitting the currants in a pudding will describe the next pudding. Of course we see now that none of the models have predicted the cooling of the last decade. Indeed the proof of the pudding is in the eating thereof.

Ah, but what if …?

The climate shroudwavers’ crutch of last resort is the Precautionary Principle. If you cannot quantify the probability, the cost or the timeframe you throw some taxpayers’ money at it! The rational way to deal with risk is to multiply the probability of the various outcomes by their costs and select the multiple of best value. Spending money to avert climate change involves also the time value of money, basically the discount rate. The higher the discount rate and the longer the time before the ‘benefit’ comes to pass the less the present-day value of that benefit. The relevant equation will be clearly set out in any decent text on engineering or management economics. What is a reasonable discount rate? I suggest that it is midway between what the bank will pay a lender and what it will charge a borrower. After all the taxpayer is asked, indeed compelled, to contribute to the supposed benefit, the averting of climate change. The taxpayer is thus required to pay now for a very questionable ‘benefit’ at some indeterminate time in the future. Lord Stern did the sums and, even overestimating the benefit, was forced to lower the discount rate to near zero to make the figures look half reasonable. Would you lend money to the government at a next to zero interest rate for an indeterminate time?

Historical warming brought only good

The benefit of averting a little warming is highly questionable. Canada and Russia would certainly benefit from warming. The mediaeval warming, which ‘Piltdown’ Mann and his gang so strenuously deny, permitted the exploration of the Pacific Ocean even as far as South America by the early Polynesians. They could explore in their canoes in the mild, wet and stable climate that prevailed. They ceased their explorations on the commencement of the Little Ice Age. The benefits of averting a little warming are dubious at best. When do these dubious ‘benefits’ come to pass? In fifty years, a hundred years or even longer? The probability of any benefit is unknown, the magnitude of any benefit is unknown, the time that benefit will arise is unknown and the discount rate is unknown.

In those circumstances it is daft for the taxpayer to let the government fritter away his money on the Precautionary Principle.

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6 Thoughts on “Ocean acidification and then what?

  1. Andy on 08/10/2011 at 5:03 pm said:

    Did Roger get a reply to his letter?

  2. Roger Dewhurst on 08/10/2011 at 6:36 pm said:

    I have to admit, with that one, I was flying a kite!

  3. Alexander K on 14/10/2011 at 3:56 pm said:

    Roger, your letter is brilliant, but I would suspect a coherent reply may be beyond the intellectual and literary powers of the recipient. After a couple of close reads, I am still going back over it and chuckling to myself, particularly about the concept of feminist mathematics..

    • Andy on 14/10/2011 at 4:32 pm said:

      Feminist Mathematics?
      A Square Root is henceforth to be known as a “Round Cuddle”

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