Our local ACS section meeting tonight featured two speakers with opposite views on anthropogenic global warming (AGW).  One was a senior scientist from CIRES and the other was a retired physics prof from UCONN. 

The physicist did what physics profs like to do which is to say, reduce the problem to constituent elements. To make a long story short, the physicist tried to demonstrate that CO2 levels are the result of warming, not the cause.  He applied Henry’s law and did a lot of handwaving and criticism of climate science and modeling as well as some old fashioned back of the envelope calculations. It was a rather good demonstration of the climate deniers art.

The CIRES guy’s talk was really quite comprehensive and tied in observations from a wide variety of types of experiments to support the notion that CO2 has rapidly ramped up coincident with the industrial revolution- say the last 200 years or so. What was most persuasive to me were the isotopic data showing the deficit of C13 in the recent CO2 buildup. This data suggests that the accumulated atmospheric CO2 levels are measurably tipped towards biomass or fossil fuel origin rather than of inorganic origin.

As near as I can tell, much of the audience of chemists seemed to incline towards the climate denier. A vocal few were certainly skeptical of the data in the sense that the limits of the instrumentation had to be accounted for. But this was the normal skepticism one sees chemists display everywhere. I’ve done it myself.

Obviously, I’m not a climate scientist and would never be confused with one. I’ve been on the fence about AGW until tonight. I think I’m tipping slightly towards AGW now based on the isotopic findings. 

What I saw tonight was more like the parable of the three blind men and the elephant. The AGW denying physicist and more than a few in the audience understood at least part of the data and concepts. And from the area of expertise they held, felt they had a unique perspective on the problem. I gathered this from the nature of the questions asked.  

This is emblematic of the situation and in a similar vein to creationist “science”.  Creationism has all kinds of problems as a model of reality.  But what I often observe in its adherents is a limited knowledge of the theory they are trying to defeat.  In fact, I would offer that creationists comprise a kind of scholarly archtype. Creationists have the answer already and spend their time collecting data in support of it. This is characteristic of people who read devotionally rather than analytically.

I think learned people can fall into a kind of intellectual cul-de-sac from which many never escape. A lot of AGW deniers spend their time trying to debunk the IPCC data rather than performing experiments to achieve greater clarity.  AGW deniers are certainly well represented with conservative affiliation.

I was accosted by a coworker the other day who was so disgusted by my liberal ways and neutral attitude towards AGW that he couldn’t be bothered to expend the energy to fully dress me down for it. It just wasn’t worth the effort, apparently. Thanks friend. Where are all of these liberals the conservatives keep bitching about? I’m not seeing them.