Climate change: What's in a word?
What's in a word? Critical thinking can be derailed or enhanced by words, their use and meanings. This isn't a psychological treatise to challenge what you believe, but it asks you on what your beliefs are based. Is there a bias?
First and foremost, words, written or spoken, are symbols with meanings. Sometimes that meaning is skillfully or nefariously crafted. In our 21st-century, complex, interdependent world, there are plenty of examples. Let's explore a few popular physical phenomena.
Ozone hole — you mean it's not zero? Nope, no hole — not even close. Actually, the lowest ozone levels over Antarctica are still about 90 Dobson units, the established measurement of stratospheric ozone. Global average ozone levels are around 300 Dobson units, so there's about a 70% reduction over Antarctica. What's more interesting is the positive anomalies beyond the dimple (a more accurate characterization?). Positive anomalies (ozone storms?) surge to over 600 Dobson units, which is more than a 100% increase in a larger area than the dimple. A surplus?
The entire ozone life cycle in both hemispheres is fascinating and is a great research endeavor. Unfortunately, the doom of ozone "holes" evidently garners more research money. Research has a bias — not assessing the entire physical phenomenon.
Greenhouse gas — like an outhouse? Nope, the atmosphere isn't anything like a greenhouse. It's much more complicated — "quantum electrodynamics" complicated. You don't need Dr. Richard Feynman (Nobel Prize in Physics, 1965) to explain that this is about following the photons — every one of them. The real challenge is handling the variable water vapor — the most powerful of atmospheric radiation absorption constituent. Furthermore, the atmosphere isn't a blanket and absorbs Earth's radiation only in specific wavelengths. Popular perceptions have a bias — ever been in a desert at night?
Climate change — its real, right? Nope, climate isn't a physical phenomenon. Let that sink in for a moment. It's derived from summaries of daily weather occurrences, which are by nature anomalous. What's normal over a 4-billion-year timeline on Earth? In order to affect climate change, you can only change the weather. Where to begin? First, the sun is most important, spots and all. Then you have to account for the earth — not round, wobbles on its axis, orbits in an ellipse, retrogrades in that orbit, and suffers from plate tectonics. Milankovitch was on to something.
Next, got oceans? Yep, very complicated circulations more powerful than the wind and less researched.
Finally, Earth's atmospheric chemical composition — well mixed or not? By now, you should be grasping the "climate" challenge, and I didn't even mention carbon dioxide — all 0.04% of it. It's much more beneficial as plant food than an evil doomsday tag line.
The atmosphere is a continuum — an amalgam of radiative transfer, atmospheric chemistry, atmospheric dynamics, and thermodynamics. No small challenge. This is why climate computer models fail. They contain too many approximations full of too many assumptions and don't represent reality. Climate change has a bias — it's daily weather over centuries and millennia.
"Bias" is a four-letter word. It's good to simplify complicated things to more easily understand them, but when we sacrifice accuracy and precision, we're dealing with polluted propaganda, not words of wisdom. The items described above are complex, interdependent, physical phenomena, but their labels are deceiving.
Have you been deceived?
Sun in sky image via Pxhere.