Vatican hosting conference on Evolution

Ok, I’m not officially here, but I couldn’t let this one pass! I had gained the impression that Pope Benedict was more conservative than his predecessor (who stated evolution was “more than just a theory”), but this throws that idea out the window.

I would have no problem with the Vatican hosting a conference that was genuinely “A critical appraisal” of Darwinism, looking at it from both perspectives and discussing the science behind it and how it relates to Christianity. But that is not how they are approaching the issue. From the Vatican News Service:

Saverio Forastiero:

“…biological evolution – which is assumed and discussed as a fact beyond all reasonable doubt…”

Fr. Tanzella-Nitti:

“…from the perspective of Christian theology, biological evolution and creation are by no means mutually exclusive.”

Now the idea that evolution and creation are not mutually exclusive is a valid opinion to hold. But when such views are being stated by people organising the conference, who should be approaching the issue from an unbiased perspective and allowing both sides of the story to be debated, it shows the tone of the conference.

The topic of the conference:

Fr. Leclerc explained that the congress will be divided into nine sessions, focusing on “the essential facts upon which the theory of evolution rests, facts associated with palaeontology and molecular biology; … the scientific study of the mechanisms of evolution, … and what science has to say about the origin of human beings”. Attention will also be given to “the great anthropological questions concerning evolution, … and the rational implications of the theory for the epistemological and metaphysical fields and for the philosophy of nature”. Finally, he said, “there will be two theological sessions to study evolution from the point of view of Christian faith, on the basis of a correct exegesis of the biblical texts that mention the creation, and of the reception of the theory of evolution by the Church”.

In other words, they will be considering evolution to be an established fact, learning all about those “essential facts” underpinning it, then finally looking at how this can be fitted into Christianity through “correctly” understanding the scriptures.

There is only one way that discussion is designed to go…

Evolution is not an established fact – there are many dissenters, including atheists who disagree on purely scientific grounds. But just like global warming, if you speak up you will generally be ignored by the media (or ridiculed if you are lucky to be noticed), and could lose your job. Furthermore in the opinion of many Christians it IS mutually exclusive with Christianity – Evolution requires death before the Fall (undermining the Cross). It also requires God to use millions of years of death and suffering to create a world he then pronounces to be “very good”, and requires passages clearly written as literal (even in the Ten Commandments) to be interpreted as figurative to squeeze the theory into the text somehow.

By accepting evolution as undeniable fact before the conference even starts, discussion is stifled, and the results are predetermined – just like in a Green Party discussion on climate change…

Muslims cause global warming

Yes, you read it right. We’re all going to drown from sea level rise because of those dratted Muslims having so many kids.

Sir Jonathan Porritt, the British government’s “Green adviser”, has stated in The Times that “having more than two children is irresponsible”, and:

“… the government must improve family planning, even if it means shifting money from curing illness to increasing contraception and abortion.”

But hang on a minute, who is having all those extra children in Britain? The Times has the answer to that too:

“The Muslim population in Britain has grown by more than 500,000 to 2.4 million in just four years, according to official research collated for The Times.
The population multiplied 10 times faster than the rest of society, the research by the Office for National Statistics reveals. In the same period the number of Christians in the country fell by more than 2 million.
Experts said that the increase was attributable to immigration, a higher birthrate and conversions to Islam during the period of 2004-2008, when the data was gathered.”

In fact, the Daily Mail reports that Western women in the EU have 1.4 children on average, while Muslim women have 3.5! The Muslim birth rate in Britain is “roughly three times higher than the non-Muslim one” according to the Sunday Express.

But does anyone expect to see the environmentalists start taking on the Muslims? Fat chance. The same people will go on about lowering birth rates in one sentence and embracing multiculturalism in the next. In so doing they help Islam take over the West, by depressing still further the birth rate of the Westerners (who will listen to them but already have less than 2 children on average), and ignoring the Muslim population boom.

Porritt himself is dragging the birth rate up – he has 2 children, and the average in Britain is 1.87 – so the hypocrite is actually part of the problem he’s so upset about.

Anyway, if the birth rate is already below 2, what is the problem? Has he just invented it? Surely not… Most people believe the British birth rate actually needs to increase to sustain the economy, as it is already too low.

No, the Muslims won’t listen to Porritt’s hypocritical nonsense, and why should they? I vote we outbreed them instead. And that will take some doing considering many are polygamists. Where’s that wife of mine…

Hat tips: Contra Celsum and The Bible and Society

Reflective plants and global warming – 2

My last post talked about some research into reflective plants that in my opinion will do nothing to combat global warming (even assuming humans are causing the earth to warm). But I actually think this research is a good thing.

Sure, it won’t cool the planet. But it is a great way of getting EU funding. Global warming is the current fad in science. If you want funding, you make sure your proposal mentions global warming somewhere. At the end of the day this will just be plant science and genetic engineering research that the scientists want to do. It is bound to further knowledge of genetic engineering techniques, or photosynthesis, or achieve something else useful. But they can pitch the research towards global warming this year to get funding, and in a few years time the same facilities can be used to combat cancer, or global cooling, or whatever.

Quality research requires long-term projects. But it is very hard to obtain funding for long-term projects these days, most funding being given in 3-year cycles. It is also hard to obtain funding for research for the sake of furthering human knowledge, funders want to see something useful after 3 years – which is fair enough as they are paying for it. But research purely for the sake of finding out the unknown is also vital, because it may be useful in the future in ways we cannot imagine today.

So you have to follow the fads and ensure that however society’s goals change you can satisfy those goals to get funding, while keeping your long-term, more widely useful but not currently fashionable work going at the same time.

So don’t panic too much thinking money will be wasted on something pointless, it all pushes the boundaries of scientific knowledge that bit further, using the money of whoever wants to fund research this year. And the more global warming money that can be put into research rather than thrown away on carbon trading and other rubbish the better.

So I wish them luck and hope they find out something useful to further our knowledge of plant science.

Reflective plants and global warming – 1

Reflective plants and global warming – 1

Scientists come up with all sorts of original ideas to secure some funding and secure their jobs for the next few years! Check out this one from the BBC:

Farmers could help curb rising global temperatures by selecting crop varieties that reflect solar energy back into space, researchers say. …

Some crop varieties are naturally more reflective than others. A field of more reflective leaves will send more solar energy back into space than a field of a more absorbent variety.

Yes, you could feasibly reflect a little bit more heat back by doing this. But how much? Over 70% of the earths surface is ocean, which absorbs most of the light that hits it. Only around 30% of the land area is feasibly able to be farmed, and only a tiny fraction of that would be practical to actually plant in more reflective crops (encouraged by subsidies of course). Maybe you could plant 0.2% of the earth in reflective crops as a generous estimate?

“But another possibility for the future would be to produce a [leaf] surface that differs in reflectivity at different wavelengths, so it could selectively absorb wavelengths involved in photosynthesis.”

Newsflash: Leaves already do that. That is why they look green – they absorb the red light (which they use for photosynthesis), and reflect the green, which they don’t use. It is also why plants stay cool on a hot day while most surfaces get hot – they aren’t absorbing radiation they don’t need. But good on whoever thought up this idea, they’re bound to get someone to fund it, it sounds plausible.

So the plan is to plant a tiny fraction of the earth in plants that reflect a tiny fraction more light back into space (remembering plants are already extremely efficient at this so you can make only minor improvements). Supported by massive subsidies. And all while hoping that the market doesn’t act by planting more “bad” plants in unregulated countries to meet consumer demand.

Judge it for yourself.

Reflective plants and global warming – 2

Jeanette Fitzsimons – Cars & trucks stopping climate change!

Well, I am pretty sure she didn’t mean to say that in her transport policy speech but what she said was:

Our transport system is systematically biased in favour of cars and trucks, and against trains, buses, ferries, bikes, and people on foot. It is biased against climate change.

Which is great. Our transport system is already working against climate change by encouraging cars and trucks. Hurrah, skip the rest of her speech, we obviously don’t need more regulations if we’re doing such a great job already…

Global cooling?

Amongst all the predictions of global warming, here is a scientist (Professor Don J. Easterbrook) “putting his reputation on the line” on a prediction that:

“temperatures will cool between 2065 and 2100 and that global temperatures at the end of the century will be less than 1 degree cooler than now. This is in contrast to other theories saying that temperatures will warm by as much as 10 degrees by 2100.”

Professor Easterbrook is a geologist, and seems to base this prediction on current and historical trends. I have no idea whether he is correct or not, he could be completely wrong. The article shows a number of other people who also believe the earth has stopped warming.

I post this not to say global warming is wrong, I make no assumptions about that, but to point out that there is disagreement and a need for a Royal Commission of Enquiry into Global Warming, to base our policy on science and economics rather than popular theory.

Hat tip: No Minister

Keeping politicians away from climate change

Gareth Renowden has an interesting, if biased, assessment of ACT’s view of climate change. ACT is presenting a rather mixed message, with a carbon tax in their official policy but the ACT MPs individually appear to disbelieve climate change, so it is hard to know where they stand.

Gareth certainly has some interesting stuff to say:

“Time for Hide and the ACT party to front up. Do they accept the IPCC report in full? If they do not, why not? I assume that if ACT is adopting the latter position that they have conducted a proper review of the evidence. If they have, I’d like to see it. And if they haven’t then they should shut up. Climate change is too serious an issue to leave to the political whims of parliamentary windbags. From any party.”

Now I highly doubt ACT have conducted a “proper review of the evidence”. For that matter, I highly doubt the Greens have – as they seem to disregard the opinions of plenty of scientists on this issue as “deniers”. Nor has The Family Party – we have neither the expertise nor the resources to do so. And although neither Labour or National will have conducted such a review, they may each have conducted research into which position would gain them most votes.

I fully agree that “Climate change is too serious an issue to leave to the political whims of parliamentary windbags. From any party.” This is a massive issue – if it is true it is the biggest issue affecting the world today. If it is false it is the biggest misconception (scam?) affecting the world today. We can’t trust parliament to make the correct judgement on such a massive issue.

This is why The Family Party, alone among all the political parties, is proposing to put this issue to a Royal Commission of Enquiry. We need to know:

  • Whether humans are causing global warming
  • If we are, what we should do about it

There is a lot of controversy around the accuracy of the IPCC reports on climate change. We do not know whether we can trust these reports or not, so need an independent review that takes into account both the IPCC line and the views of those disputing this position, and can tell us whether we should use the IPCC reports when designing policy.

Then, if humans are causing climate change, we need to know what we should be doing about it. Should we be reducing emissions to prevent it, or is this futile? Should we be adapting to it? Should we be doing a bit of both? What are the costs and benefits associated with each measure?

These are massive issues. Politicians do not have the expertise to sort this out. They must be worked out by scientists, economists and other experts.

If you want sensible policies on climate change, based on science rather than hype, only The Family Party is promising this.

Cyclone activity and climate change

There is an interesting discussion over on Frogblog about cyclone activity increasing due to climate change. Frog assumed it was increasing, but was wise to point out that:

“I’m always wary of linking specific weather events to climate change because while you can argue that climate change will and is leading to more storms, droughts and floods, you can’t realistically pin it to specific storms, droughts or floods as they occur.”

Unfortunately not all commenters have been so realistic about the situation. The fact as I can see at the moment is that cyclone activity does not appear to be increasing at all. Although there are heaps of media articles blaming cyclones on climate change, this does not appear to be supported by the research. It is important to actually read the peer-reviewed papers behind issues before jumping to conclusions based on media reports.

Here is some actual information from peer-reviewed papers:

Henderson-Sellers et al. (1998) Tropical Cyclones and Global Climate Change – a post-IPCC assessment. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 79(1): 19-38.

“There are no discernable trends in tropical cyclone number, intensity or location from historical data analysis”

Landsea et al. (1996) Downward trend in the frequency of intense Atlantic hurricanes during the past five decades. Geophysical Research Letters 23: 527-530.

“…a long-term (five decade) downward trend continues to be evident primarily in the frequency of intense hurricanes. In addition, the mean maximum intensity (i.e., averaged over all cyclones in a season) has decreased, while the maximum intensity attained by the strongest hurricane each year has not shown a significant change.”

Elsner, J., Kossin, J. P. & Jagger, T. H. (2008) Nature 445, 92–95

“The number of cyclones per year over the globe … there is no trend in these counts. Also, there is no trend in the median lifetime-maximum wind speed”

This paper does note a slight upward trend in the lifetime-maximum wind speed of the worst cyclones.

From these three papers we have two claiming no change in number of cyclones per year or cyclone strength (one finding a slight increase in the strength of the worst cyclones), and one paper claiming a decrease in number of cyclones and cyclone strength. Cyclone numbers and strength are NOT increasing.

Interestingly however, it is possible to hype up these figures if you want to sell a certain line. This Nature News article is based on the 2008 paper referred to above. It is hyped and on initial reading you get the impression that cyclone activity is increasing dramatically due to climate change. It is only when you read the actual peer-reviewed paper and look at the graphs that you can see the facts more clearly.

Number and maximum windspeed of tropical cyclones (Elsner et al., 2008)

Number and maximum windspeed of tropical cyclones (Elsner et al., 2008). (Red line = median, Green = 0.75 quantile, Blue = 1.5x the inter-quartile range)

Clearly, from the actual data, cyclone numbers and median intensity are not increasing. The worst hurricane appears to have been in around 1987 according to that graph. There is a slight increase in intensity of the worst hurricanes, but this is not supported by the other papers I refer to.

We cannot conclude that climate change is causing an increase in storm activity, whatever the media hype.

EDIT:

StephenR has drawn my attention to a paper that does appear to show a strong correlation between sea surface temperature and total energy dissipated by hurricanes:

Emanuel, K (2005) Nature 436:686-688

Power distributed annually (solid line) and sea surface temperature (dashed line) for Western North Pacific and North Atlantic tropical cyclones (Emanuel, 2005)

There appears to be a clear increase in total energy (and therefore total destructiveness) of hurricanes with rising sea temperature, and according to this paper sea surface temperature has risen by about 0.4 degrees C from 1950 to 2000. Due to the date of this paper it doesn’t show what has happened since 2000, when global temperatures have apparently been falling, so whether this trend has continued will have to be confirmed in a future paper. Some of the older data is probably questionable too, as it was recorded before the satellites used by Elsner et al. were available. However it does indicate that, should temperatures rise, we could most likely expect increased destruction from hurricanes. It does not show that humans are causing an increase in hurricane activity, as it doesn’t address the question of whether humans are causing the temperature increase, so don’t jump to conclusions. But it is one paper that does contradict the three I quoted earlier and actually supports the “global warming could cause terrible destruction” line that is popular.

Analysis of the IPCC

Jeff Id has a number of well-researched posts on the IPCC over at The Air Vent, if you want to see a critical analysis of the organisation.