Global warming at the ice company

Walt came in my office today and proposed a 2-PhD outing. These are occasional jaunts we take when some vital research activity come up that requires two PhDs to drive somewhere, such as going to Lowes to buy Scrubbing Bubbles*, going to FedEx to mail a package, or, in this case, going to the ice company to buy dry ice for shipping. Naturally, the alternative being staying in my office and working, I put on my coat.

I really have to take a picture of the ice company sometime. It must have been in the same building since people used iceboxes rather than refrigerators. The windows are cracked, the paint is almost absent, and there’s a little canvas awning sheltering the front entrance that is more holes than canvas. It’s adorable. Anyway, you go into this tiny little cluttered office and tell them you want 5 pounds of dry ice, and the secretary/receptionist/bookkeeper comes out from behind her desk, grabs a pair of gloves, and squeezes past you out the front door. She goes in the plant through another outside entrance and eventually emerges with some dry ice, which she weighs back in the office.

Today, while this was going on, there were a couple of other guys there, and we were chatting. It came up that we worked at the university, and he started talking about global warming, for some reason. First he wanted us to agree that, as professors, we wouldn’t give better than a D to a student who measured climate change without a baseline. We were both a bit confused by that, but it came out that he’s saying that we don’t know what climate was like in the past, so how do we know this isn’t just a natural cyclical change.

Usually I’d blow this sort of thing off, nod, smile, and go back to the office, but the IPCC’s new summary report just came out, and I’d been reading it since the day before. So I pointed out that we do have good evidence that it’s now warmer than at any time in the last 1300 years. And that you can make computer models of what temps should be with just natural effects such as changes in solar intensity and volcanic activity, and then other models that use those effects plus human contributions, and the natural ones don’t fit the observed data. The ones with human-produced CO2 do fit the data, and the data show a lot more warming than you’d expect from natural causes.

And so on. He asked for my email address, and he’s going to send me a link to some site that says Mars has global warming too, so it can’t be our fault.** We eventually left, and now I’m back here stewing.

See, the IPCC summary is clear. It’s getting warmer, and human-produced CO2 (and other gases) are a large part of the reason. And I’m reading lots of responses and discussion online from relatively well-informed people. But some nutcase web site, or Fox News, seems to the voting public to be just as authoritative, even though there are essentially no studies in the scientific literature that disagree with the basic conclusions any more.  Worse, the oil companies are paying people to put out dissenting views, just like the  tobacco companies used to sponsor “research institutes” to deny that cigarettes cause cancer.
When will the voting public be convinced? When it’s too late to do anything about it. It’s already too late to prevent some major problems, although we can mitigate them significantly if we reduce emissions now.

I’m depressed.

*Walt’s the Radiation Safety Officer on campus.  Turns out that Scrubbing Bubbles is the cleaning product of choice for removing radioactive contamination from stuff.

**Mars is warming, at least at the poles; like the Earth, changes in its orbital tilt affect how much sun gets to it, and it’s apparently coming out of an ice age.  It’s totally unrelated to climate change here, as our orbital tilt isn’t related to the orbital tilt of Mars.

5 Responses to “Global warming at the ice company”

  1. Travis says:

    Ok, so he’s willing to accept global warming is happening on Mars, where there’s even less of his precious baseline data, but not here on Earth because there’s not enough information? What makes him think we have more information about the climate history of Mars than we do about the Earth?

    Was he also saying that the Earth can’t be warmer than it was 1300 years ago because the Bible said God only made the Earth 1000 years ago?

  2. Allen says:

    Yeah, I thought about the baseline issue for Mars. But no, he didn’t give me the impression of being a young-Earther. Actually, he seemed like an intelligent guy, and one who’s at least motivated enough to read up on the topic a bit. That’s the really depressing part — because it means that there is such a plethora of misinformation out there that it’s still possible for a guy like that to hang on to global-warming denial.

    Now just think of the people who don’t even exert the effort to read about it at all, but just listen to Fox news. Sadly, that’s a lot of people, and a lot of them vote.

  3. kicking_k says:


    That’s not an intelligent response, but it’s the only one I can come up with.

    Global warming is _happening_. We haven’t had a winter this year, really. Mum’s roses went on blooming all through and the local birds think it’s spring.

  4. Allen says:

    Yeah, we’ve only started winter in the past week or so here. Of course, one instance of a warm winter in one or two regions doesn’t tell you anything; there’s a lot of “noise” in the weather. However, the overall temp trend is unmistakable. Eleven of the last twelve years have been in the top 12 warmest years ever recorded worldwide.

  5. Christian Barr says:

    Scrubbing bubbles huh… Works great on my bath tub.

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