Simple Sam and the Natural Climate Cycles

Posted on June 13, 2010


Simple Sam, well, either his crackpot has finally Humpty Dumptied off the wall, or he’s developing a sense of humour, but yesterday, get this, he referred to me as part of the “west coast liberal elite”(!)

I thought being “elite” paid better, Sam, said I.

(Yet I admit, just between you and me, that retailing The Simple One’s line has been knee-slapping, side-holding and belly-heaving everybody I know.  I won’t need to come up with a joke of my own for a fortnight and a day.)

That was a howler, Sam.  What else you got?

“What you call climate change,” says Sam, “is nothing but a natural cycle.  There were ice ages.  Before that it was hot.  Now it’s just hot again.  Climate change is a lot of noise about natural changes that we can’t do anything about, and which we had nothing to do with in the first place.”

Ah, Sam, the “Turn Turn Turn” defence.  I didn’t know you were fond of Pete Seeger.

“Pete Seeger?”

Let’s put a little classic Pete on the virtual stereo, Sam.

To everything (turn, turn, turn)

There is a season (turn, turn, turn)

“Brown rice music,” says Sam.

I can see in you, Sam, one of those inexplicable prejudices against living historical figures who play the banjo.  Perhaps you prefer the Byrds version(?)…  No, I see not.  –And you know Pete’s lyrics are from Ecclesiastes 3, right?

“We were talking,” says Sam (I swear, his teeth didn’t even part when he said it), “about natural cycles.”

Like I said, Sam, the “Turn Turn Turn” defence.

Natural cycles.  Let’s name a few.

Day/night.  Caused by the rotation of the Earth.

High tide/low tide.  Caused by the Moon’s gravity.

Winter/summer.  Caused by the tilt of the Earth and the direction of the tilt relative to the sun.

The ice ages.  Caused by predictable perturbations in the Earth’s orbit interacting with the carbon climate cycle.

Unprecedented rise in the Earth’s temperature, beginning with the nineteenth century and accelerating since near the end of the twentieth century[i].   Continuous decadal decline of Arctic Sea ice in both extent and volume.  Greenland melting like a marshmallow over a campfire.  Sea level rise accelerating.  Ever earlier robins, ever earlier springs.  Upper levels of the ocean gettting ever warmer.  Etc, etc.  All caused by? …

If this is a cycle, Sam, what caused the cycle?

That’s a basic problem with the “Turn Turn Turn” defence, Sam.   It’s an explanation that doesn’t explain anything.

For instance, where is the heat coming from that is warming the oceans?  Energy is neither created nor destroyed, right?  If the heat is not being introduced into the climate by the greenhouse effect, then where is it coming from, Sam?

“The sun.”

Old Sol has been cooler than usual, lately.  Explain how a cool sun creates a hot Earth.

Sam?  Well, Sam has gone silent, meaning that he is ready for the moral of the story.  Right?

LESSON:  All natural cycles have a cause.  Unless you also name a cause for a “natural cycle”, (and maybe even introduce a little evidence), you’ve explained nothing.

That’s what climate scientists do, Sam.  They name causes, and they introduce evidence.  And the current theory best supported by that evidence is the one that says that the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation have brought about a large rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which in turn, through the greenhouse effect, is rapidly raising the world’s temperature and bringing about climactic changes worldwide.

The climate scientists arrive at their basic conclusions  not by using climate models, that’s a red herring.  Climate models are used to refine and add detail to predictions.  No, climate scientists have come to their basic conclusions using uncontroversial, well-established science–physics and so on–the roots of which have been worked with, tested and refined since the nineteenth century and before.

The greenhouse effect–as any physicist and/or astronomer can tell you–is what keeps Venus hotter than Mercury although Venus is twice as far away from the sun, and it is what keeps Earth from being minus 18 degrees C–since that is how hot the sun would keep us without the greenhouse effect helping it along.

The “Turn Turn Turn” defence fails because it offers no causes at all, Sam.

(Sam has decided to leave us for a while, presumably to lick his wounds and rethink his life.)

[i] According to temperature reconstructions put together by the NASA, NOAA and the Hadley Centre/CRU in the U.K.)