Obenski column: Color me bit of a climate skeptic

I’m a skeptic on global warming.

I first heard of it from a movie newsreel 60 years ago. Remember those? I have lived through three or so previous predictions of global warming catastrophe and at least one of global cooling — some quite hysterical some hopeful.

ADVERTISING


That makes me hard to convince. We are told 97% of scientists are convinced, but does a volcanologist really know more than we do? Do they mean 97% of climatologists? That would be more convincing. Experts are not always right. Two hundred years ago the experts were the clergy. They based their opinions on scripture and were wrong most of the time. Disagreeing was heresy and you could be excommunicated or tortured. The thing about scientific experts is that they hedge their bets “according to the best evidence today.” Real science is evidence based, constantly updated, not ideologically driven.

In this century there is overwhelming evidence that global average temperatures are rising at an unprecedented rate. True, we have better measurements now than in the past, but also we have better ways to make analysis of past data. It could be just part of the random cycles of such a large system. The Earth has been a lot hotter and a lot cooler at various times in the distant past. The rate of change is the frightening part.

True experts readily admit that there is a lot they don’t know. At least once a year someone brings forth an example of unseasonable cooling, like snowballs in Georgia. On the other hand, warmed systems tend to be more active, that is more chaotic. If that is what they mean by global warming, it’s hard to be naive. As one increases education beyond junior high it becomes apparent that the more you learn the less you are sure.

Scientists have changed the mantra to climate-change. Perhaps a more descriptive moniker would be climate chaos, because that’s the real threat. As any system, from a teapot to a planet, heats up it becomes more active and more chaotic. Hot lava flows downhill at 50 miles per hour. As it cools it becomes slower until it’s rock. Climate chaos explains freezing temperature where they never happened before, as well as record high temperatures. That combined explains why it was colder in Phoenix, Arizona, than Anchorage, Alaska, one day last winter.

Even if the claims are true, did human activity cause it? There is certainly a correlation between carbonaceous gas emissions and the retention of solar insolation (greenhouse effect). Just in case they are right, what reasonable steps can humans take to reduce the risk of a catastrophe of one kind without causing another kind?

There is a low-cost way to significantly reduce carbon emissions. Tax carbon at the source — mine, well, ship or imported product — where it’s easy to measure. A carbon tax would be progressive because richer people consume geometrically more. Making carbon-based energy more expensive will encourage hiring people to conserve it. The tax could start small, but increase every year to give time to adjust. Other taxes should be reduced concurrently.

Stop burning coal. It’s almost pure carbon with some noxious or radioactive elements like uranium mixed in. The exhaust is CO2 plus filth. Converting coal plants to natural gas is relatively easy. Natural gas is CH4, the exhaust is about one-third CO2, two-thirds water. Renewables are important, but just are not enough in the places where they are needed and some of that technology is not quite economically competitive. We need to work on it but we can’t count on it or fusion.

Get over nuclear phobia. Hundreds of pressurized water reactors have run thousands of reactor years without any injury to the public. The two incidents that did significant harm were more primitive designs.

ADVERTISING


I retain a little bit of skepticism, but do you ignore the gas leak because gas is cheap, today?

Ken Obesnki is a forensic engineer, now safety and freedom advocate in South Kona. He writes a biweekly column for West Hawaii Today. Send feedback to obenski@gmail.com