Cloudless Daytime Skies are Blue. Really.

Editor's Note: Myles Kitagawa's personal blog can be found at mylesk.livejournal.com

According to a recent Pew Charitable Trust survey, 59% of people do not believe that 97% of scientists agree that anthropogenic climate change is real. Their perception is that the ratio of scientists who confirm climate change to those who deny it is in the range of 50-50.

At a recent conference convened by the Alberta Ecotrust, speaker Dr. Justina Ray explained this grotesque outcome in her session on The Science Policy Gap. Media stories, Dr. Ray said, depend on conflict, and near-consensus situations contain very little of it. Consequently, if a reporter is going to write a conflict-based story about the science of climate change, he or she must escalate the validity of the 3% of deniers so that a story with an air of controversy might be produced. It follows that a public who relies on this distortion would conclude that the climate change is controversial when this is actually not the case.

Among the people who populate my life, there are a few correspondents who believe that climate change is a hoax - that it is a religion-like tenet held by people who have “drunk the ad hominem kool-aid” handed out by charismatic leaders like Al Gore and David Suzuki. Ad Hominem Kool-Aid is the beverage preferred by people who choose their beliefs based on who says what rather than a careful examination of what they are saying.

In contrast to these members of homo ad hominus, there are the Children of the Enlightenment who are described in the Ted Nordhaus/Michael Shellenberger essay, The Death of Environmentalism this way:

They tend to see language in general as representative rather than constitutive of reality. This is typical of liberals who are, at their core, children of the enlightenment who believe that they arrived at their identity and politics through a rational and considered process. They expect others in politics should do the same and are constantly surprised and disappointed when they don't.

I see language as representative, not constitutive of reality.

So much so, I will say it again: I see language as representative, not constitutive of reality.

Words are tools that should be used to precisely distinguish true propositions about reality from false ones. Words should not be used as brainwashing devices in the manner of, “Tell a lie. Make it big. Repeat it often.” to shape the perception of a populace.

And even where unscrupulous parties engage in this tactic, we should be able to easily counteract it because perception is not reality. Perception only influences what we do about reality.

I expect others to do the same, and am constantly surprised and disappointed when they don't.

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I am currently surprised and disappointed that one of my ad hominus correspondents and I can't agree that a cloudless daytime sky is blue. I ask, but she won't concede the point.

My guess is that she senses, as Ken White Eagle has in the past observed, if you grant me one point, you might eventually find yourself having to grant me another.

How do I relate "having a blue sky" to "climate change is not a hoax"? This way:

Q: Is the sky blue?
A: Yes.
Q: Why is the sky blue?

image

A: Because oxygen and nitrogen molecules in the atmosphere restrain and redirect electromagnetic radiation in the 490 nanometer wavelength (visible blue light).

Q: Do carbon dioxide molecules in the atmosphere restrain and redirect electromagnetic radiation in the 800 and 2400 cm -1 wavelengths (heat)?

image

A: Yes.

Q: Is human activity increasing the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?

image

A: Yes.

Conclusion: Human activity is changing the climate.

Is there anything unsound about that?

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The sky is blue because of Rayleigh scattering due to airborne particles (technically high density regions of air molecules-- along with actual particulate matter such as aerosols-- cause fluctuations in refractive index, thus acting as a temporary quasiparticle). Scattering is a process that is not unique to 490 nm light, but rather follows a wavelength^4 relationship, so the blue region of the EM spectrum is scattered much more than the other regions. The process does not change or alter the wavelength of light; it is an example of an elastic scattering process (no energy change).

On the other hand, the features present in the IR absorption spectrum of CO2 are due to vibrational transitions, where the incident IR photon is absorbed (not scattered-- leading to a change in energy for the process). This causes a heating effect as the vibrationally-excited CO2 molecule collides with other molecules (oxygen, nitrogen, etc), leading to a net temperature increase.

While it may make sense to describe both processes as "restraining and redirecting EM radiation" I don't really think any climate science expert is going to use that terminology (if you do have literature precedent, I apologize- I'm not a climate scientist, just a PhD student in chemistry).

Words used as scientific terminology always have an enormity of nuance in interpreting them, even among experts. Be careful when you say you want to use words as "tools that should be used to precisely distinguish true propositions"!

Not trying to stir up a fight. I just think there are better climate change arguments out there.

I'm not too surprised when people hear the unscientific hype of Al Gore. Then when East Anglia was exposed the credibility of many of their peers was brought down by association.

I think we'd be all better served with more building scientists (so we can build low-cost energy-efficient buildings), and fewer climate scientists trying to tell us how fast we're all going to hell...

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