Scarcity Drives Technological Progress

Somewhere around here I’ve got a fascinating little monograph on the ancient obsidian trade in Europe and Asia. As you’re presumably aware, obsidian is naturally occurring volcanic glass. One of the interesting things about obsidian is that by analyzing its chemical composition you can identify where the obsidian was originally found or mined.

When stone was the primary material used for tool-making, obsidian was in high demand because of its ability to take and hold a sharp edge. In the Neolithic of Europe and Asia it was traded over an enormous area and the monograph I mentioned discusses the extent and timing of that trade, determined by performing a chemical analysis of the remnants of obsidian tools found in various archaeological digs around the world.

As it turns out there was a critical obsidian shortage in Europe and Asia something around 8,000 year ago. That shortage drove people to experiment with substitutes for obsidian. They tried copper, then bronze. Later (and as copper became scarcer) iron and even later steel were used for the purposes once served by obsidian. Nowadays, you’re much more likely to hear somebody complaining “Where the heck is that hammer?”, invariably a steel hammer, than about the obsidian shortage.

Without that obsidian shortage in antiquity the world as we know it would not exist. I can tell very similar stories about agriculture, paper, or dozens of other materials and tools.

That’s what I thought of when I read this op-ed on world resources at the Wall Street Journal:

How many times have you heard that we humans are “using up” the world’s resources, “running out” of oil, “reaching the limits” of the atmosphere’s capacity to cope with pollution or “approaching the carrying capacity” of the land’s ability to support a greater population? The assumption behind all such statements is that there is a fixed amount of stuff—metals, oil, clean air, land—and that we risk exhausting it through our consumption.

“We are using 50% more resources than the Earth can sustainably produce, and unless we change course, that number will grow fast—by 2030, even two planets will not be enough,” says Jim Leape, director general of the World Wide Fund for Nature International (formerly the World Wildlife Fund).

But here’s a peculiar feature of human history: We burst through such limits again and again. After all, as a Saudi oil minister once said, the Stone Age didn’t end for lack of stone. Ecologists call this “niche construction”—that people (and indeed some other animals) can create new opportunities for themselves by making their habitats more productive in some way. Agriculture is the classic example of niche construction: We stopped relying on nature’s bounty and substituted an artificial and much larger bounty.

We have not run out of everything and I believe that the likelihood that we will do is vanishingly small. Is is possible that we will? Sure. It’s also possible that when the sun goes down tomorrow night it will never return or that when you step out of bed in the morning you’ll fall through the floor, the molecules of your body slipping through the floor’s molecules. For some reason the same people who are worried about running about of everything don’t seem to be as worried about those other two eventualities. They still go to bed at night and get up again in the morning after, presumably, a good night’s sleep.

70 comments… add one
  • Modulo Myself

    Ridley’s point is just dumb-shit Babbitry. The Romans did not innovate their way out of their empire, nor did the Incans or the Caliphates. Societies who overfarmed did not innovate their way out of their overfarming–they had serious problems and often perished. There are examples of Babylonian societies where the inequality was so bad that everyone but a few ended up as slaves, because of their debts. The only answer was to abolish the system and start over. I wonder if that’s the innovation that the WSJ wants! And moreover, terrible events have driven progress as much as scarcity and innovation have. Look at the Plague–it wiped out a third of Europe but created a vibrant middle class in its wake.

  • There’s no conflict between what Ridley wrote and what you wrote, MM. He’s not talking about all of the other phenomena you are; he’s only talking about resource scarcity.

    That’s not to say that what you’re talking about isn’t real.

  • Guarneri

    “When stone was the primary material used for tool-making, obsidian was in high demand because of its ability to take and hold a sharp edge.”

    “Today on tech talk….” Because of its conchoidal fracture characteristic, a result of its absence of dislocation-filled crystal structure, and, rather, its glass structure, breaking along pressure wave patterns.

    I didn’t know that copper or other relatively weak metals had been tried as substitutes, a hopeless endeavor. As you may know, with some physical chemistry background, only steel, with our good friend the martensite transformation, could fill the bill. But enough of that.

    I’ve got to get back to building my underground water world in anticipation of AGW flooding of the coasts, due to happen any second now they tell me, or have been telling me for decades. And as a public service announcement, try Valium, Modulo.

  • Modulo Myself

    There’s no conflict between what Ridley wrote and what you wrote, MM. He’s not talking about all of the other phenomena you are; he’s only talking about resource scarcity.

    No, he’s just babbling about something called ‘innovation’, and how this world-historical force will fix the problem of CO2 in the atmosphere, if only the dumb scientists would not make fun of economists.

    Let’s be clear, the audience for this piece is not anyone who will ever look at a problem concerning climate change and try to fix it. It’s a fifty-something businessman who enjoyed sneering at environmentalists and their whacko claims, and who now is beginning to sense that he was the mark. But voila, here’s another way to sneer at environmentalists. They just don’t know how the world really works! After all, anything is better than admitting that you were wrong and have no answers, right?

  • Zachriel

    Dave Schuler: We have not run out of everything and I believe that the likelihood that we will do is vanishingly small.

    Societies often run out of stuff, otherwise, there’d be no famines. Also, pointing out that a society is running out of stuff is better than running out of stuff unknowingly. It allows for either solving the supply problem, or finding alternate solutions.

  • there’d be no famines

    Famines are political and social phenomena, not physical ones.

  • Modulo Myself

    Societies often run out of stuff, otherwise, there’d be no famines.

    Famines go hand-in-hand with political mismanagement and conflict. More or less, Ridley’s piece is the kind of thing that historians will point to, if climate change becomes as bad as the scientists say it will, as an example of political mismanagement.

  • Zachriel:

    Please give an example of a society that ran out of everything.

  • Modulo Myself

    Please give an example of a society that ran out of everything.

    Industrial society is unique, in that there has to be a finite supply of what it transforms and destroys to create energy. Even a society dependent on slaves mining gold has more stability in its resources than one dependent on oil and coal. New slaves are born; gold circulates instead of being consumed.

  • michael reynolds

    Persistent drought is blamed for destroying the Mayan civilization – they ran out of water. Ditto various bronze age civilizations where shifting weather patterns were contributing factors to collapse. If you’re agricultural and you run out of water, you’ve run out of everything. A river changes course – you die. No rain for a few years – you die.

  • PD Shaw

    I agree w/ Dave, though some of the shortages from ancient times were likely also from trade disruption, which can be political. The Fall of the Roman Empire was an example of one of the most severe losses in people’s standard of living in history because complex trade networks became unusable, and people suddenly had to fall back on lesser goods.

  • PD Shaw

    @ Guarneri, copper axes were pretty big for a few hundred years. Copper was easy to find on the ground, but the metallurgy skills to develop it took a while to spread from place to place. When the metallurgy skills spread, it didn’t take long to figure out that adding tin (about 10%) was even better. But copper axes did seem to be an improvement over using stone tools in building ships.

  • Guarneri

    PD

    That’s interesting. Alloying of copper with tin is obviously a strengthener, (and I didn’t know copper had such a long run) but let’s remember its wood they were chopping. But from a pure metallurgy POV, copper has no chance.

    And now back to our regularly scheduled programming, where faux scientists perpetually inform us of impending doom because cavemen couldn’t figure things out or something. Me, I’m back to building that house on stilts in Naples……………..really scared.

  • michael reynolds

    Who you gonna trust, every climate scientist on earth, or a former engineer who now advises sandwich makers on how to screw their employees and has been wrong on. . . let me quickly do the math here . . . Okay, 100% of everything he’s ever predicted?

  • Persistent drought is blamed for destroying the Mayan civilization – they ran out of water.

    A thousand years ago the number of Maya on the Mayan Peninsula was between 7 and 8 million. Today the number of Maya on the Mayan Peninsula is between 7 and 8 million.

    IMO if anything destroyed the Mayan civilization it was that they ran out of patches of arable land large enough to support agriculture and large agglomerations of population. It didn’t destroy the Maya; they changed the way they were living. They practiced horticulture and had much smaller settlements.

    We don’t live the way the Romans or Elizabethan English did, either.

  • The Elizabethan English heated their homes with wood. We heat ours with electricity (however generated), coal, oil, or natural gas. People in more benign climates don’t heat them at all. This is not generally viewed as a great tragedy or the end of civilization.

  • steve

    1) Easter Island.

    2) I like the deforestation theory for the Maya. Not just a matter of creating arable land, but also because they burned so much for fuel.

    3) Since we wont run out of everything does not mean we wont run out of some things. Innovation may find ways to alleviate scarcity, but that is a long run argument, and we know where we all are in the long run.

    Steve

  • mike shupp

    Matt Ridley’s sung this song oft before. Somebody ought to be collecting royalties. “pessimists see a limit …. optimists see economic growth leading to technological change….” Oh how sweet that refrain!

    But in this world of men, rather than music, it’s the AGW pessimists who contemplate large scale technological programs to hold back climate change. The optimists, who are surely on the side of all that’s right and true — on Ridley’s side anyhow — go about chanting “Drill, Baby, Drill” and arguing that climate change won’t happen because …. because it just won’t, that’s why, and if it does happen, it’s almost certain to be for good!

    I mean, you have listened to American AGW denialists, haven’t you? Or looked at some of their websites?

    About the virtues of technological progress, I’m sure you’re correct. I spent much of my life as an aerospace engineer, and I’d hate to think it was all for nought. Of course I worked on things like the space shuttle, and we all can see how wonderfully we’ve been advancing in astronautics. Why, 45 years ago, humans had barely reached the Moon, and today we’re ,,,,, well, we’re making progress, steady progress, great progress, everybody here loves and admires that progress. Right?

    But the happy assumption that economists all know we can rely on innovation to get us out of our difficulties strikes me as a strange one. There’s Larry Summers, for instance — a liberal economist worried about long term stagnation for want of worthy investment projects. There’s Tyler Cowen, a conservative who wrote a book a few years back about The Great Stagnation Cowen’s a bit more optimistic about our prospects for technological progress these days; he’s not happier when he speculates on what future societies will look like. And there’s Robert Gordon, who wrote a paper back in 2012 on “Is U.S. Economic Growth Over? Faltering Innovation Confronts the Six Headwinds” which has received reasonable attention from academic economists. What I’m not seeing is a batch of economists jumping up and down and being Matt Ridley’s chorus.

    Odd about that. OTOH, modern economists actually don’t spend a whole lot of time actually studying innovation, from what I can see. They’ll measure parts of it, growth rates in various sectors as determined by proximity to natural resources and government contributions, for example, but actually trying to figure out how Ford shifted from making Model T’s to Fairlanes and Edsels and Mustangs isn’t their purview, just the market for those things. There was a time when this sort of thing was of interest to them, but that was 50 years ago, and they’ve moved on. They aren’t interested any more. I don’t think that makes them very good prophets. I don’t think it makes them authorities on innovation.

  • Since we wont run out of everything does not mean we wont run out of some things.

    That’s really the point. We’ve recently had an excellent illustration of substitution and it took place with hardly a ripple.

    There are actually people who talk about “peak everything”. That’s a complete hypothetical. There really is no such prospect.

    It’s possible we could run out of oil but that looks less likely today rather than more likely. Ten years ago a very excellent blog devoted to the idea of “peak oil” was started. It closed a year or so ago because, really, its authors could no longer support the hypothesis.

    There’s little prospect of running out of natural gas for the foreseeable future and even less prospect of running out of oil. We elect not to use coal at the level we once did for environmental reasons.

    Another example is the rare earth elements. The U. S. used to be the largest producer of rare earth elements; now China is. That’s not because we ran out but because we elected to reduce our production of them for environmental reasons. The very idea of running out of rare earth elements in the foreseeable future is absurd as anyone who knows anything about the earth’s chemistry would verify.

    The global warming discussion is really off-topic since the topic is scarcity but I’ve allowed it. The discussion of global warming is not about scarcity. It’s about mismanagement.

  • steve

    Mismanagement is a good term. We didnt run out of water in the 60s and 70s, but we were certainly low on clean water. If you like to eat what you catch (Fresh caught trout, cast iron skillet over campfire, bacon grease and some spring onions) you knew that for a long time you didnt dare eat what came out of a lot of our waters. We had plenty of air, but a lot of it was dangerous.

    Steve

  • Zachriel

    Steve Schuler: Famines are political and social phenomena, not physical ones.

    Famines are often a conjunction of population growth and environmental changes. Populations tend to grow to meet the food supply. If there is a disruption in the food supply, then it results in food shortages. Political instability may aggravate the problem, but is not the original cause.

    The early Medieval Period was all about shortages. The vast majority of the western world barely eked out a living, and there were few surpluses and little trade to cushion bad years.

    As long as resource utilization continues to push against its limits, then society will remain fragile.

    Steve: Since we wont run out of everything does not mean we wont run out of some things. Innovation may find ways to alleviate scarcity, but that is a long run argument, and we know where we all are in the long run.

    As it is shortages that are posited to lead to innovation, so of course there are shortages.

  • Zachriel

    Steve Schuler, who’s that?!
    And regular “steve”, we were trying to agree with you.

    Just ignore the attributions.

  • Guarneri

    You guys need to learn how to take yes for an answer. I’m agreeing with you. One of these million years you will be right and the seas will rise and overtake the coasts. That’s why I’m way out ahead of the curve and building that house on stilts. You think I’m going to wait around until Flipper comes swimming through the front door? Not me, man.

  • TastyBits

    @Drew

    In a million years, the Earth will have gone through a few ice age cycles, and unless the climate scientists can work out a method to stop the axis from wobbling, physics is going to win.

  • Guarneri

    Tasty

    I know. But how much you want to bet if Oklahoma has a tornado next week it will be declared proof positive of AGW. “Science,” you know.

    I’m still flummoxed, given the obvious – “scientific fact” – that AGW is to kill us all by next Thursday, unless we increase taxes, that both steve and Michael haven’t sworn off their carbon footprints, donning calfskin suits, abandoning their cars and living a subsistence life on their garden grown vegetables.

  • Zachriel

    TastyBits: In a million years, the Earth will have gone through a few ice age cycles, and unless the climate scientists can work out a method to stop the axis from wobbling, physics is going to win.

    Anthropogenic climate change is working at a much faster rate.

    Guarneri: I’m still flummoxed, given the obvious – “scientific fact” – that AGW is to kill us all by next Thursday, unless we increase taxes, that both steve and Michael haven’t sworn off their carbon footprints, donning calfskin suits, abandoning their cars and living a subsistence life on their garden grown vegetables.

    That won’t solve the problem. Continued technological development is essential.

  • TastyBits

    @Zachriel

    AWG is a human creation, and therefore, it is based upon a human timescale. Physics was not created by humans, and therefore, the timescales are substantially larger. Humans are vain creatures, and when faced with a universe that has no need for them, they create a need.

    The wheels fell off the AWG bus in the summer of 2010. At that time, it became apparent that the models were failing badly. If you look at the high profile climate scientists, you will notice they have very little to say after that year.

    The summer of 2014 will be when the public caught up. I expect in a year or two to hear all my arguments being explained to me.

  • Zachriel

    TastyBits: Physics was not created by humans, and therefore, the timescales are substantially larger.

    Well, independent of human timescales. Volcanoes, continental drift having effects on different timescales.

    TastyBits: If you look at the high profile climate scientists, you will notice they have very little to say after that year.

    The science supporting anthropogenic climate change continues apace.

  • Zachriel

    Markets are adept at solving shortages, but not in every case, and not in every circumstance.

    In the early twentieth century, milk supplies would fluctuate sharply. This was because of the delay between the market signal, and the time it took to bring a cow into milk production. When prices were low, farmers would slaughter cows. The next year shortages would lead to an expansion of supply. Because of the industrial scale of production, there would be a see-sawing effect. In interim, there would be significant shortages.

    But children have to eat every day to be healthy. The solution was price supports, which guaranteed a sufficient supply.

  • Zachriel

    Other problems are not directly amenable to market solutions, including pollution, depletion of the commons, and climate change. That’s because there is no direct connection between market signal and the cost, i.e. externalities.

  • Other problems are not directly amenable to market solutions

    The operative word in that passage is “directly” since there are ways to make the connection. So, for example, a Pigouvian tax on carbon would reflect the true cost of oil, coal, natural gas including negative externalities.

  • Zachriel

    Dave Schuler: The operative word in that passage is “directly” since there are ways to make the connection. So, for example, a Pigouvian tax on carbon would reflect the true cost of oil, coal, natural gas including negative externalities.

    Sure. While markets tend to be myopic, society doesn’t have to be.

  • steve

    Just want you to know I may be commenting a bit less as it is difficult to peddle the generator to power the computer while wearing a calfskin suit.

    Steve

  • Well, you could use this and make your comments using Dragon Naturally Speaking. I don’t even know where you’re get a calfskin suit.

  • TastyBits

    @Zachriel

    The wheels fell off the AWG bus in the summer of 2010. Since then, the people pushing AWG are not the climate scientists. At best, they will give wishy-washy, half-hearted, highly caveated endorsements. The people pushing the hardest are the people with the least scientific knowledge.

    The mathematical models are built from corrupt datasets, and the original datasets were intentionally destroyed. Since Galileo, this is not how science is done. There is no way to independently recreate the data and verify it. This is properly called witchcraft or voodoo.

    The mathematical models created from this garbage is producing garbage. The temperature is not rising with the rising CO2 as predicted, and it has become well beyond the acceptable error range. Something is very wrong.

    Pre-Galileo, epicycles were used to account for discrepancies within the Ptolemaic mathematical model of the universe. I expect there to be numerous epicycles to explain why AWG diverges from reality.

    Apparently, we are in a lull while the mathematical models take some time off. I guess they will catch up in a few decades.

  • Zachriel

    TastyBits: Since then, the people pushing AWG are not the climate scientists.

    Um, no. Climate scientists continue to work and publish, answering many of the outstanding questions, including climate sensitivity.

    TastyBits: The mathematical models are built from corrupt datasets, and the original datasets were intentionally destroyed.

    Um, no. For many years, the data had to be aggregated, and some of the data was proprietary, so it wasn’t readily available. However, that is no longer the case.

  • TastyBits

    @Zachriel

    The problem with epicycles is that at some point the exceptions become greater than the theory, and it collapses.

    The original data was overwritten with no record of the changes. This is not science. Science demands repeatability and verifiability. We could let this go as sloppy recordkeeping, but the head record keeper intentionally destroyed the originals. This is not science.

    Climate changes every day. Climate changes every year. Climate changes because it is a complex system, but if you want to understand how it works, start to understand how the oceans work. I assure you there are many more current phenomenon to be discovered.

    The oceans are mind bogglingly vast, and as usual, humans tend to discount anything the human mind cannot fathom.

  • Zachriel

    TastyBits: The problem with epicycles is that at some point the exceptions become greater than the theory, and it collapses.

    Not sure what you mean by epicycles, but climate is a complex system, and there are many interacting parts. On the other hand, the overall energy of the system has only a few inputs and outputs. So while we have high confidence the system is warming, it’s difficult to know exactly how that heat will propagate through the system.

    TastyBits: The original data was overwritten with no record of the changes.

    That is simply not correct. The original historical data is still held by hundreds of individual institutions around the world.

  • TastyBits

    @Zachriel

    The Ptolemaic universe is a geocentric model based upon Greek geometry, but the observations do not fit the model. Epicycles are one method to deal with the exceptions, but there were others. The geocentric universe became a problem when Galileo pointed his telescope at the sky, and then, Galileo became the problem.

    Galileo threatened the well established scientific community and their epicycles. If you understand the story of Galileo, you will understand the importance of the scientific method, and the actual story is not the comic book version everybody knows.

    The original dataset and the changes that the mathematical model was built upon are no longer available, and therefore, the model cannot be replicated or verified.

    They could start over and do it correctly, but my guess is that the big money has moved on. I have not heard anything from Al Gore lately.

  • Zachriel

    TastyBits: The Ptolemaic universe is a geocentric model based upon Greek geometry, but the observations do not fit the model.

    We’re aware of Ptolemaic epicycles, but that wasn’t a causative model, just a correlative one. Climate models are causative in nature, and scientific research is used to determine the relationship between the components of the system.

    In any case, you ignored our comments. Climate is a complex system, and there are many interacting parts. On the other hand, the overall energy of the system has only a few inputs and outputs. So while we have high confidence the system is warming, it’s difficult to know exactly how that heat will propagate through the system.

    TastyBits: The original dataset and the changes that the mathematical model was built upon are no longer available, and therefore, the model cannot be replicated or verified.

    Not sure why you keep saying that, other than it being a trope. There are hundreds of data-centers around the world. The data is still there. Scientists and statisticians constantly review the raw data.

  • steve

    Zachriel is correct. If anyone wanted to actually pay for it, they could go collect the data. The problem was that most of the “missing data” was on paper. It was mountains of paper. It cost too much to store that much paper and some of it got lost or deteriorated. Science does not demand that you spend your entire budget maintaining old paper records. (People have very odd ideas about science.)

    Steve

  • Zachriel

    steve: The problem was that most of the “missing data” was on paper. It was mountains of paper.

    Different languages, different protocols, changing equipment, various bureaucratic rules, bad handwriting, missing records, inconsistent copyright concerning redistribution, monetary fees, etc. A lot of effort has been expended in the last several years, so that most of the data is now publicly available.
    http://berkeleyearth.org/about-data-set

  • Andy

    Well guys, it wasn’t just a paper problem. There was a concerted effort to deny “skeptics” the data as well as the methods used to adjust data from its raw form. That was an episode of scientists behaving badly, it happened quite a while ago now, and it seems the community (on both sides) learned some lessons from the experience.

    Regardless of those episodes, the evaluation of scientific claims requires the ability to repeat experiments or the processes used to arrive at scientific conclusions. If that repeatability is not possible because of “lost paperwork” or whatever, then the conclusions are weakened at the very least.

  • Zachriel

    Andy: Well guys, it wasn’t just a paper problem. There was a concerted effort to deny “skeptics” the data as well as the methods used to adjust data from its raw form.

    Only the aggregated data. The original data has always been there for researchers. However, it came across as petty.

    Andy: That was an episode of scientists behaving badly, it happened quite a while ago now, and it seems the community (on both sides) learned some lessons from the experience.

    Let’s hope so. One sign is that the data is now generally available.

  • TastyBits

    @Zachriel

    Climate is a complex system, and there are many interacting parts.

    True, but this is an epicycle. Originally, climate was simple. Increasing CO2 levels caused increasing temperatures. The industrial revolution allowed humans to increase CO2 levels, and there will be a corresponding temperature rise.

    There was a simple hockey stick graph, and a mathematical model could predict a temperature to a tenth of a degree. Then, it all fell apart, and now, climate is complex.

    Not sure why you keep saying that, other than it being a trope.

    The AWG theory is validated by a mathematical model based upon a dataset that has been destroyed. Without a record of the changes, there is no way to repeat the process or to verify it.

  • TastyBits

    @steve

    The scientific method required repeatability. This is to allow others to reproduce and validate the results. This is for objective proof. The body of one’s research is submitted for others to examine and to reproduce the results.

    In science, there is no 4 out of 5 scientists agree nonsense. If the results are not reproducible for one scientist, there is a problem, and it needs to be worked out.

    Again, the AWG mathematical models have fallen apart, and the debate shifts to paper storage.

  • Zachriel

    TastyBits: Originally, climate was simple.

    Climate was never simple. Try reading our comment again. Climate is a complex system, and there are many interacting parts. On the other hand, the overall energy of the system has only a few inputs and outputs. So while we have high confidence the system is warming, it’s difficult to know exactly how that heat will propagate through the system.

    TastyBits: The AWG theory is validated by a mathematical model based upon a dataset that has been destroyed.

    The data-set has not been destroyed, has always been available to researchers, and is now generally available to the public.

  • TastyBits

    @Zachriel

    The original dataset was normalized by overwriting the original data and no record was kept of these changes. There is no scientific way to recreate this dataset. It would need to be recreated through witchcraft and voodoo, but they do not count as science.

    AWG has claimed that increasing CO2 levels would increase global temperatures. When this began to fall apart, it was changed to climate change, and this is why you refuse to use the term global warming except in the most general terms.

    You have been forced to recognize that the CO2 causes temperature increases is a load of crap, and you and the AWG crowd are slowly backing away from the theory. You are beginning to lecture me on my points.

    If you recall, you accused me of making AWG seem like cartoon science. Apparently, I was right.

    If you want to get into thermodynamics, I will need to brush up on it, but you will not be tossing terms around willy-nilly. Inputs, outputs, and complex systems have nothing to do with AWG. It is a ruse to distract from a failing theory.

  • Zachriel

    TastyBits: The original dataset was normalized by overwriting the original data and no record was kept of these changes.

    There are over five thousand data stations around the world. All but a few agreed to release their data in 2011. Before then, the data had only been available to researchers.

    You’re probably thinking of when the CRU erased their copies of the original data, keeping only the homogenized data. But that doesn’t mean the original data wasn’t available to researchers.

    TastyBits: When this began to fall apart, it was changed to climate change, and this is why you refuse to use the term global warming except in the most general terms.

    Um, that’s because global warming is a term that refers to the general warming trend. Most of the current warming is occurring in the oceans.
    http://www.nodc.noaa.gov/OC5/3M_HEAT_CONTENT/heat_content2000m.png

  • TastyBits

    @Zachriel

    The original data was massaged, and this is what the mathematical models were built upon. When massaging data, the honest method requires a revision history. This was not being done by thousands of scribes using quills and paper. It was electronic.

    AWG discounted the oceans long ago. It is only now that the models are broke that they have suddenly discovered the oceans. Let me be the one to break the bad news. If the oceans are massive heatsinks, CO2 has nothing to do with global warming.

  • Zachriel

    TastyBits: The original data was massaged, and this is what the mathematical models were built upon.

    Most of the data wasn’t originally collected for climate science, but local weather forecasting. The original data had to be homogenized. That’s because there were changes in procedures, instrumentation, and placement, over the years, which caused discontinuities in the dadta.

    TastyBits: When massaging data, the honest method requires a revision history.

    No, it just has to be replicable. Independent researchers can use the original data, and apply their own statistical methods. This is all part of the science, and is subject to review like any science. A complete reanalysis of surface temperatures was recently completed by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project. Their method doesn’t use standard homogenization, by the way, but a Kriging process.
    http://berkeleyearth.org/summary-of-findings

    TastyBits: AWG discounted the oceans long ago.

    Not sure where you got that idea. For instance, see Levitus et al., Warming of the World Ocean, Science 2000.

    In any case, that’s one of the strengths of climate science; it encompasses data from so many sources, from oceanography to forestry to satellite imaging. When that many fields converge on the same answer, then it lends confidence in the conclusion.

    TastyBits: If the oceans are massive heatsinks, CO2 has nothing to do with global warming.

    Of course the oceans are massive heat sinks. Why does that mean CO2 has nothing to do with global warming?

    The physics of greenhouse warming are fairly straightforward. Infrared radiation is basically trapped near the surface, causing the geosphere (atmosphere, lithosphere, cryosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere) to warm. The greenhouse effect is not in reasonable dispute. The question is climate sensitivity, which is still subject to some uncertainty.

  • TastyBits

    @Zachriel

    You and the AGW crowd have been trying to change the debate from AGW since it has been falling apart. Climate science is not AGW theory. AGW theory includes humans, CO2 production, and unnatural temperature increases.

    Like phrenology, AGW theory fell apart. Climate science will continue to be researched, and discoveries will continue be made. As with all science, there will be honest mistakes, and theories will need to be revised.

    CO2 as a greenhouse gas is miniscule. CO2 is to plants what oxygen is to humans. CO2 levels have been substantially higher, and plant life has been substantially greater. This is how the planet was able to support the large dinosaurs.

    There will be no waterworld or any other nonsense. The earth will warm until the physics determine it is time to begin cooling, and humans can do nothing to influence that. I realize this makes humans feel insignificant, but this is reality.

    One last point. You cannot get a temperature more precise than your least precise instrument. It is a pain in the ass, but you round up/down to the least significant digit at each arithmetic step. Otherwise, you introduce error into your calculations.

  • Zachriel

    TastyBits: AGW theory includes humans, CO2 production, and unnatural temperature increases.

    Yes.

    TastyBits: CO2 as a greenhouse gas is miniscule.

    CO2 represents about 20% of the Earth’s greenhouse effect. That’s hardly minuscule. Schmidt et al., The attribution of the present-day total greenhouse effect, Journal of Geophysical Research 2010.

    In addition, CO2 warming increases evaporation, increasing the overall greenhouse effect due to atmospheric water vapor.

    TastyBits: You cannot get a temperature more precise than your least precise instrument.

    That is incorrect. The standard error decreases proportional to the square root of the number of measurements.

  • TastyBits

    @Zachriel

    CO2 is about 0.04% of the atmosphere. That is miniscule.

    You cannot get a more precise answer than the precision of your instruments. If your instrument is only precise to a degree, that is your least significant digit. This used to be taught in physics 101.

    Statistical manipulation cannot alter reality. This is the problem with AGW. Jumping up and down, holding one’s breath, burying one’s head in the sand will not alter reality.

  • Zachriel

    TastyBits: CO2 is about 0.04% of the atmosphere. That is miniscule.

    But not a minuscule part of the greenhouse effect.

    Monatomic and homonuclear diatomic molecules are virtually unaffected by infrared energy; consequently, nitrogen, oxygen and argon are not greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases, those that absorb and emit infrared radiation include water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone, each with its own thermal footprint. Carbon dioxide constitutes about 20% of the greenhouse effect.

    TastyBits: You cannot get a more precise answer than the precision of your instruments. If your instrument is only precise to a degree, that is your least significant digit.

    That is true only for a single measurement. If we have multiple, independent measurements, we calculate the mean and standard deviation. That’s assuming a normal distribution, and no systematic bias.
    http://m.teachastronomy.com/astropedia/article/Errors-and-Statistics

  • TastyBits

    @Zachriel

    Sorry for the delay. Lots going on.

    CO2 is miniscule. 20% of miniscule is miniscule. Hence, AGW is falling apart, and waterworld is never gonna happen.

    Precision is reality based, and it cannot be altered by statistics. When you base a theory on altered reality, reality has a way of smacking you in the head.

  • Zachriel

    TastyBits: CO2 is miniscule. 20% of miniscule is miniscule.

    Oh? Do you think the greenhouse effect is inconsequential?

    TastyBits: Precision is reality based, and it cannot be altered by statistics.

    We provided a citation. You ignored the argument they presented. Whether you want to admit it or not, multiple measurements can reduce the standard error. The statistics involved is just basic probability. We have overlapping normal curves, which when added, create a narrower peak than any single curve.

  • TastyBits

    @Zachriel

    If you mean reflected infrared radiation, yes, and if you mean that 100% of the infrared radiation is reflected, a laughing yes. AGW predicts temperature changes due to CO2 changes, and those are not occurring. Hence, the mad scramble to find the missing heat.

    Apparently, the 100% infrared radiation reflected from 0.04% of the atmosphere is causing the oceans to warm, but the infrared radiation from the sun has nothing to do with this.

    CO2 is a miniscule part of the atmosphere. The amount of CO2 that would need to be increased to affect the temperature would cause substantially greater problems than a small temperature increase.

    You cannot take thousands of data readings over the years from thermometers, and then, increase their precision through statistical manipulation. Well, you can do it until reality kicks you in the head. AGW meet reality.

    AGW is toast. You have fought the good fight, but even the AGW scientists have thrown in the towel. I have seen estimates of a 20 to 30 year cooling phase, and then, warming is really going to start skyrocketing.

    CO2 is a life sustaining gas, and there is no scientific basis for it as a pollutant. The basis is political, and reality cannot compete with politics.

  • Zachriel

    TastyBits: If you mean reflected infrared radiation, yes, and if you mean that 100% of the infrared radiation is reflected, a laughing yes.

    The question was do you think the greenhouse effect is inconsequential? What would the Earth be like without the greenhouse effect?

    TastyBits: You cannot take thousands of data readings over the years from thermometers, and then, increase their precision through statistical manipulation.

    We can’t discuss that as long as you are still confused on multiple measurements. The standard deviation provides a probability of the measurement is within certain bounds. It turns out that the more measurements we have the smaller the uncertainty tends to be. That’s assuming error follows a normal distribution, and that there is no systematic bias. This is important, because from that, we can then use statistical methods to determine the standard error of millions of temperature measurements over generations.

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