The Fallibility of Numbers



Those of you convinced that global warming is a grave danger should try to forgive skeptical farmer types like me. We deal with potential destructive weather change every day of the growing season. Feeling helpless in the face of an uncaring human society is part of our daily lives.

When Budd Shepherd said that global warming has become “a belief and an ideology… it stimulates the god center of peoples’ brains,” he expressed my opinion dead on. I think what is happening today is that science is assuming the mantle of religion, and climate change is only one example.

I looked up the links some of you kindly suggested, as I have looked at numbers about climate change before. My problem is that my brain is not capable of comprehending those numbers and I don’t think yours is either. When I am told that there are an estimated total of 210 gigatons of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere I have to wonder, especially since science has not yet determined the total size of our “space.” My first question is who is doing the estimating? A gigaton is a BILLION tons. I can’t wrap my brain around one gigaton let alone a flock of them. Even a tiny miscalculation could mean a huge difference. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is reckoned at around 391 ppm at the moment, as I read the numbers. Between 2000 and 2009 that amount increased by 2 ppm. That is an infinitesimally small amount in terms of parts per million over nine years.  Am I to be shunned and criticized if I wonder whether such a slight change is significant or if there could be a very teensy weensy error in the calculations and in fact the ppm might have decreased by 2 or remained the same? The scientific community is demanding of me a blind faith in its numbers when there is reason to be skeptical.

But there are better examples of how science is changing into theology. I have been trying to wade through the literature about the discovery of what scientists call a “Higgs boson.” Actually, they don’t think they discovered it yet, after all the hullabaloo. The language of the Higginites is ludicrously obfuscating. A Higgs boson, by definition, is a sub-atomic particle. It has no size. Right away red flags go up in my brain, like when theology tried to convince me that there are three divine persons in one god. In trying to describe this strange boson to poor ignorant farm boys like me, the Higginites resort to amazingly imaginative metaphors. One writer on Google likens a boson to a pure white snowflake in a blizzard of pure white snowflakes, falling on an unlimited blanketing landscape of pure white snowflakes. Another describes the Higgs “field” where bosons roam as “dark energy” in an “invisible mist.” Another tries to make bosons intelligible by alluding to windblown dust sifting off a wall— but the wall isn’t really there. This is the kind of horse manure language that poets and theologians are fond of. I’m actually fond of it myself. But I surely can’t accept deductions drawn from it as fact, especially when the thing with no size hasn’t even been found yet. I think maybe bosons are angels. I wonder how many of them can dance on the head of a pin. The scientists involved don’t like it, but the Higgs boson is being called the god particle. Perfect. Science is trying to identify and define infinite intelligence. It is trying to reinvent God.

When science starts resorting to unfathomable numbers about CO2 or anything else, it is time for skepticism. I am not going to pretend to believe scientific dogma just because not believing it makes me a sinner. That’s religion.


Gary Burnett, I don’t agree with you that 20 years from now we’ll think that today’s scientists are “totally screwed up”! Not at all. We will surely come to greater understandings and clarify any number of theories but I think you’re giving the scientific community far too little credit.

As for the validity of global warming, I like to imagine it in a court of law. The preponderance of evidence indicates beyond a reasonable doubt that human activity is raising the average global temperature at an alarming rate and we will likely have to live with some significant consequences of that.

On the other hand, what if the majority of scientists are wrong and global warming isn’t a concern? Fossil fuels are going to run out anyway and, until they do, many byproducts of their combustion negatively affect our health and the health of the entire ecosystem we inhabit. It still makes sense to wean ourselves off of them.

One thing for sure about science is that in 20 years they’ll be saying something totally different and how those scientists 20 years before were totally screwed up.Gene is just 20 years ahead of his time(LOL)

“Religion doesn’t tolerate skepticism” doesn’t sound much like the open minded approach you advocate. The intolerant are everywhere including science and the tolerant can also be found in surprising places like religion. Science tends to limit itself to the measurable and finite and religion deals best with the infinite and immeasurable. My experiences in calculus have given me glimpses of how the infinite confounds intuition and measurability in very profound ways. I choose to retain openness to the infinite and find aspects of religion to be helpful.

“Your” data? You conduct radiometric dating experiments?

No one in science can prove with 100% certainty that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old. I suspect we agree on that. However, since hundreds of scientists working independently and making independent radiometric dating measurements have calculated an approximate age of 4.5 to 4.6 billion years, it’s sensible to conclude that it’s very probable that the Earth is about that old. Probability is very important in science. I haven’t seen or read data from highly reputable sources that strongly supports “your” data. Incidentally, I also cannot prove a number of other well-established scientific facts to you. For example, I probably could not prove to your satisfaction that electrons exist. All I could do is refer you to reputable sources that would probably make you conclude with near certainty that electrons do, in fact, exist.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s say you’re right, and I’m wrong. Though improbable, let’s suppose scientists identify a huge flaw in all of the radiometric dating techniques that have independently led different scientists to conclude the Earth is 4.5 to 4.6 billion years old. The obvious fact is that such a scenario would be irrelevant to your argument that atmospheric changes in CO2 have been insignificant. A 0.51 percent increase in CO2 over 0.000000024% of the Earth’s history is still significant.

I might also point out that your perceived disagreement within the scientific community regarding the precise volume of the atmosphere is also irrelevant. Assuming the volume of the atmosphere is not changing significantly over time (a reasonable premise), volume makes no difference when measurements are made in parts per million.

As I mentioned before, skepticism is a critical element of the scientific process. Science couldn’t progress without it. We always need to keep our minds open to the possibility that we might be wrong. But when the evidence for a particular conclusion is overwhelming, denialism is generally regressive. As Carl Sagan said, “It’s important to keep an open mind, but not so open your brain falls out.”

I read all the responses, Ryan and am thankful for them. Prove to me that the earth is 4,600,000,000 years old. My data says it is only 4,100,000,000 years old, a very significant 500 billion less than you say it is. Gene

Considering the earth is 4,600,000,000 years old, a two ppm increase in CO2 in just 10 years is a very significant increase, Gene. That’s a 0.51 percent increase over a period of time that equates to 0.000000017 percent of the Earth’s existence.

We know CO2 levels have been increasing in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution. We know CO2 is a greenhouse gas. We know the planet is getting warmer. We have EVIDENCE that has independently led millions of scientists to conclude the same thing: The Earth is heating up because of human activities. Thousands of atmospheric measurements are made by scientists around the world, and the independently-collected data converge very well. If any particular scientist published inaccurate data, the scientific community would be quick to pounce. That’s the advantage of peer review; scientists are quick to point out errors in others’ data collection or experiments.

Your argument about the higgs-boson particle is equally vacuous. Considering our experiences on a day-to-day basis, common sense certainly doesn’t dictate that the Earth is spherical and rotates around a celestial body. (…Or do you doubt that, too?) Also consider the nature of light. Scientists have recognized the wave-particle duality of light for more than a century. Though I’ve never felt a particle of light (i.e., photon) strike my skin, I know that it happens all the time because I have studied the evidence.

My point is that we cannot always trust our intuitions. That’s why we collect evidence and then base our conclusions upon them. Skepticism is wonderful. Skepticism is important. We need to scrutinize claims that may seem incredible to us. My biggest concern is how you equate scientific consensus based upon evidence with religion; they couldn’t be more different. Religion doesn’t tolerate skepticism, but science embraces it.

I hope you read this, Gene. …I enjoy your books. Sincerely,

Gene: Thanks for being willing to be a contrarian. i am not smart enough to figure out what the truth is on global warming but i remember that science told us DDT and Thalidomide were perfectly safe. is it any better at predicting climate change.
got this from a friend recently and thought you might appreciate the perspektiv! 🙂
Icebergs Disappearing??

The Washington Post

The Arctic Ocean is warming up, icebergs are growing scarcer and in some places the seals are finding the water too hot, according to a report to the Commerce Department yesterday from Consulafft, at Bergen, Norway

Reports from fishermen, seal hunters, and explorers all point to a radical change in climate conditions and hitherto unheard-of temperatures in the Arctic zone. Exploration expeditions report that scarcely any ice has been met as far north as 81 degrees 29 minutes.

Soundings to a depth of 3,100 meters showed the gulf stream still very warm. Great masses of ice have been replaced by moraines of earth and stones, the report continued, while at many points well known glaciers have entirely disappeared.

Very few seals and no white fish are found in the eastern Arctic, while vast shoals of herring and smelts which have never before ventured so far north, are being encountered in the old seal fishing grounds. Within a few years it is predicted that due to the ice melt the sea will rise and make most coastal cities uninhabitable.

* * * * * * * * *
I apologize, I neglected to mention that this report was from November 2, 1922, as reported by the AP and published in The Washington Post – 90 years ago.
Damn that pesky global warming…………………..

For What its worth.

Eric in Kansas: Exactly. Gene

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. James 2:17.

So what does it add up to, whether we are causing climate change or not? Whether we are altering the chemistry of the atmosphere and oceans in some way, perceptible or not? I believe we are, and my belief doesn’t make any damn difference. I am a more or less normal middle class adult male living in a medium sized city in the middle of America. I make some effort at living up to my ideals – I ride my bike to my job, I don’t spend more money than I have, and I don’t much like airplanes, so I stay off of them, mostly. If everyone in the USA burned the same amount of fuel as me, I’d guess that the CO2 content of the atmosphere might increase imperceptibly slower than it is presently. If everyone in the whole first, second and third world burned that same amount of fuel, we would doubtless burn it all in a decade or so. These are unscientific and unsupported calculations, which makes them no less true. The point is this: We here are arguing about atmospheric CO2, but no matter what any of us believes, our behavior is about the same. We are going to burn it ALL. Faster or slower. And we may feel more or less sanguine or entitled while we do it. I don’t know what Gene is up to with the contrarianism, but I’ll agree about one thing: this arguing about climate change is about faith, an exercise in social networking, a team sport. Where we find the people who sound like us, and will reinforce our values. No one anywhere is doing anything on a meaningful scale to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Nor will they. That is WE. Because it would be too hard. Our evolutionary make-up will not support it. So argue. Find your fellows. And watch out.

I’ve looked at the climate projections for my area under global warming…no big affect. Most of my crops are originally from areas warmer than me and will handle it. The overall affect of GW will be less than the normal variation I have to deal with anyway.

Now volcanic winter and year without summer, now those scare me.

But its hard to take the science fetishists seriously when they start sqawking about ‘consensus’, as if that ever meant anything. Trust us we’re scientists (while hiding the numbers) isn’t much different than the church who wouldn’t let the common folk have the Bible in their own language.

Not to mention they don’t take seriously past warming episodes (warmer than today) or the affect of sun spots and cosmic rays on the climate.

Ya, its just about the money, and power.

Lots of interesting points of view but I’ll bet my Hundred that in 20 years the Climate Change/Global Warming thing will have faded out and there will be another something or the other thats an immediated threat that needs our attention and $$$ or course to solve.
The Gov’t and powers that be need to have a threat so they can wage a constant Orwellian
War on (fill in the blank) whatever to keep the masses from concentrating on what they are doing on the sly.Actually Orwell underestimated the cleverness of Gov’t as in his book the Gov’ts only Warred against each other but now we declare War on poverty,obesity,drugs,
climate change and a whole host of other ‘wars’ being waged at once.I guess the ultimate will be when they assign each individual their very own war to fight.I hope I get ‘poverty’ as I’ve had years of experience fighting that one(LOL)

… and then there are the imaginary numbers of Calculus. Go figure.

True, the raw numbers just frizzle the brain. Try this: a barrel of oil, when such a thing existed, held about 42 gallons. That’s a standard 44 gallon drum with 7 inches cut off the top. If one day’s worth of our current oil consumption was poured into drums this size, and the drums lined up side by side, they would stretch 1.3 times around the Earth.

One day. And that’s not counting coal and gas. Combined, we’re exploding the energy equivalent of 3.7 Hiroshima atom bombs in the atmosphere every second.

I’m on the land too. What is significant from this perspective is that most of the extra heat were generating is going into the oceans. The oceans drive weather. Weather is becoming progressively more extreme, as though it has more energy behind it … wait, it does. You dont need to study figures to see that increasingly aggressive swings in weather are causing ever-greater havoc around the world. Extreme weather is especially unfriendly to farmers.

There’s a handy hypothesis as to why this is happening, backed up by tens of thousands of research studies. Farmers, my own family included, like to wear cynicism about this hypothesis as a badge of honour. Meanwhile the reality of increasingly extreme weather in a warming worlld is now clobbering them on an almost annual basis. They seem to think it will go away, and seasons will return to some ‘normal’ range of variability. It’s not going to happen.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by our own data. We humans are exquisitely adapted to measure our lives and surroundings in minute detail, because we are so small. Because we are so clever for our size, we construct elaborate stories and sciences to occupy ourselves and explain the puzzling universe we exist within. Since our lives are so brief and the extent of creation so unknowably huge, our perceptions of time and space cannot help but be distorted and fragmentary.

Even so, our fuzzy little graphs of atmospheric greenhouse gases, planetary temperatures, human population, natural resource depletion and weather anomalies clearly exhibit a precipitous verticality within the past two centuries. Recently we have started to notice undeniable and unwelcome changes in the everyday environment, most likely a reflection of the geophysical dynamics expressed in those graphs. Whether or not we can do anything in the short term to mitigate, explain or assign blame for those changes, we had better pay attention to the fact that they are actually happening.

Lots of talk here. I believe the scientists are right, btw. I strongly disagree with the attitude the movement takes, a ‘new’ generation of crusaders singing apocalyptic songs and swinging swords. Some of what they’re saying probably makes sense, but I gloss over when I see a certain amount of acronyms in any given space (my wife has a ph in analytic chem, I’ve seen a few)… if it’s worth saying, you can do so plainly.

Eg: Climate seems to be changing fast, based on stuff from lotta expert people, I think you’re an old hick Gene, numbers are here, we should work this out in fear and trembling, follow the new way, it’s the only way, the one true path.

Good people to talk to for a lot of info on a specific topic, but what about perspeck? Gal!

“Science as a capital letter entity is far too young to carry the authority it purports, and when it gets back to being a process rather than a dogma, I reckon the more contrary of us will consider it a bit more.” That’s probably what I’m trying to get at, his in a level-headed sense, and here I’ll pause to raise my glass to Dave for his writing!

Gene’s contrary for a reason! We got everybody rushing to the front of the culture boat geeked on increasingly accepted ideas like progress that we all hear and talk about, peddling fast, gettin excited watching the news on your excercise bike, we don’t really get to a new safe haven any faster; we’re simply arms out on the bow flying like Leo. Perspek is the seagull that’s crapping on the bow of titanic. Meanwhile, Gene’s below deck deck raising the ramparts people! I’ll prost to the ramparts. Us concerned parties are already jumping ship… or taking it over from the inside. Anybody ever read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn? =D

The point is still larger than we think – Wendell Berry said something great about this and I cannot find it – something about an ever-widening circle of mystery. What we ‘know’ is just shadows on the interior of Socrates cave. People waste so much time looking into the future, we can’t predict the weather three days away much less three years. (but, but, we can!! with massive government funding we can achieve 33% accuracy!) So settle in for the mystery, the known is just the edge of the unknown. Or tip of the iceberg, ya?

Hilarious! Now, get to work……….

What do the Higgs bosen, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and the schrodinger equation have in common? None of them have anything to do with how much I’m gonna get for veggies at the farmer’s market!

Take it from an ex-chemist, science is constantly changing. I do believe we should use less fossil fuel, the stuff is too darned expensive to waste! From my point of view, repurposing old materials for new uses (the contrarian way) is being green. That said, next time someone calls you cheap just tell them you are helping the planet.

Again I will remind you, the difference between an ice age and an interglacial is merely 100 parts per million of carbon dioxide. That 100 ppm represents 18 to 25 degrees of climate shift over 10,000 years or so and the fluctuations for the last 4 million years have been from about 180 ppm during the ice age, to 280 ppm during the interglacial. At 394 ppm we are already well over 100 ppm above the normal interglacial CO2 concentration.

Also, remember that CO2, methane and temperature are coupled, and in systems sciences, coupled means that whatever happens to one happens to them all. While everyone is focused on CO2 (and we do need to pay attention to that) remember that CO2 is merely ONE of the many greenhouse gases that are being dumped into the atmosphere at an astonishing rate – CO2, methane, nitrous oxide and most importantly water vapor. Heat increases evaporation and water vapor holds much more heat than any other gas. It is also important as a factor in phase change or change of state – how much energy is required to move water from an ice to a liquid to a gas and back again.

One of the factors in what is happening now is that these normal climate changes take place over thousands of years, but we humans have created a circumstance where the atmospheric changes have happened in 30 years, not 10,000. A great part of the problem is the rate of change itself. And these consequences are happening faster than you can imagine. One way or another, this form of our civilization will end in our lifetime, yours and mine. The extinction is happening now. NOW! Not in some distant future.

Arctic methane – why the sea ice matters

OK now it’s stuck in my head…”Oh give me Higgs Field, where the Higgs Boson roam and… ”
I honestly don’t know why anyone would try to argue with Gene. His insight ,and more importantly his contrariness, is what we have all been reading for. Is the climate different now than it has been? Yeah probably. Has it always been in flux? Yeah definitely. The one thing that is always changing has always, always, always been the climate. If you are going to be outside, you need to adapt accordingly.

And for that matter, “Science” is useful, but it long ago “jumped the shark” when it purported to have the answers to control or solve problems (some solutions even came before the problem) rather than to help with adaptation. When it ceased being a tool and began to create it’s own dogma, when it began to be an entity rather than a process, just as Gene has said, it began to lose its usefulness.

Climate change – I dunno… I keep a weather log all day every day, writing down and storing actual observations from being out in it. I have done so for many years, but my records only span this lifetime, and that’s far too short and far too objective to compare to the millions of years that the climate has been “changing”.

Science as a capital letter entity is far too young to carry the authority it purports, and when it gets back to being a process rather than a dogma, I reckon the more contrary of us will consider it a bit more. Come to think of it, being contrary, that is going against the dogma and testing it for yourself is probably being more scientific than just repeating the TV news or regurgitating some figures heard in the gossip shop called the internet. Sometimes a little knowledge can be dangerous. The hubris of believing there is any complete understanding of how the Earth works, or that consensus is necessary is probably more dangerous.

‘I’m just a poor, ignorant farm boy’ and ‘it’s too hard for me to understand’

Seriously Gene- that’s all ya got for a comeback to climate change?!

I can receive tired and cranky old man advice from any number of my neighbors. No need to waste time on this site anymore!


I like what you have to say Beth. I trained as a scientist many moons ago but now I am researching participatory development. If there is one thing the switch has done is to make me realise there is no such thing as unbiased scientific knowledge, finding out where our biases lie is as important as the research itself. I wholeheartedly agree Beth that we should look at our lifestyles too and try as much as we are able to live lightly on the land, for the sake of our children. Even if the earth can recover from whatever we throw at it in terms of excess CO2 and pollution, we should not expect it to do that ad infinitum. We need to live more responsibly

With all due respect Gene, you seem to have a problem trusting anything involving either very large numbers (like gigatons) or very small numbers (like parts per million). That’s why we need good scientists to tell us what these numbers really mean. In the world of sub-atomic particles it hard to come up with meaningful analogies, but that doesn’t mean that quantum physicists are simply lying to us. They are trying their best to understand our world, and they debate, and they experiment, and maybe someday we will have a better understanding of what the sub-atomic world is like.

Climate science isn’t perfect, but there is a consensus. The only real challenge to it comes from folks with a clear substantial financial conflict of interest. If you can’t understand the math, can’t you rely on experts who do? Which side do you think is more reliable?

You seem to imply that anything referred to in parts per million is essentially meaningless and unmeasurable. Here’s an real world example for you. The air you and I breathe is about 21% oxygen. This is equal to 210,000 ppm. Water contains far less dissolved oxygen (DO), on the order of 0.0001%, or 10 ppm. The fish in your pond will thrive if the DO is above 7 ppm. They will be stressed if DO falls to 5 ppm. They will die quickly if DO drops below 3 ppm. Just because something is hard to picture in your mind doesn’t mean that you should automatically be skeptical.

CO2 is currently at 395.55 PPM and has increased an average of 2.1 PPM during the last decade. In the Year 2000 atmospheric CO2 was around 370 PPM. I would be curious to know where the data claiming only a 2PPM rise in the last decade came from. The internet can be helpful and dangerous. It allows people who claim to be “skeptics” or “experts” to publish pages with data that is carefully cherry picked and spun to provide the illusion that the body of evidence accepted by science is wrong.

When looking at information on climate change I would urge anyone to stick to the recognized experts. The Mauna Loa observatory (Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ), the IPCC, the US storm prediction center, Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, NASA, etc. The skeptic will claim that all the researchers are just conjuring up a crisis to keep the money flowing and that alternate “theories” are not allowed.

The truth is that if a researcher could provide documentation explaining another way the atmosphere works it would be a earth shattering revelation and would immortalize that person in the annals of science. The simple fact is that we know how the atmosphere works and rising CO2 will change the world that we live in to something that we have not seen in human history. And I do not mean recorded history but rather the 300,000 year history of Homo sapiens.

The alarm raised by researchers is a result of current ice and weathers conditions that mirror what projections indicated would happen in the decades to come. You need to do a lot of reading to understand the matter but most official climate models were models that used “best case scenarios” or minimized the impact of feedback loops. The fear is that the climate models which mimic current conditions also indicate very severe changes in the next few decades and it may take much lower levels of CO2 to trip severe feedback loops than was previously thought (hence the impetus behind things like Now feedback loops are tricky things however we have paleoclimate data that shows significant changes in local climates in a matter of a decade or 2.

The amount of knowledge about our current and past climate has exploded in the last 2 decades. It is not unlike the explosion of knowledge about evolution and the history of life of earth. The wealth of data easily overwhelms people which actually facilitates individuals who intentionally or unintentionally want to sow confusion and doubt. The threat is real and we may well be running out of time to prevent changes that may make the work of civilization difficult if not impossible.

Well I’m not the Linguist that some of you that replied are, but Mr Lodgston sure got some
people stirred up.

I know Al Gore , and He was one at least of the persons touting “Global Warming”
and I know for a fact that some of what he espoused in fact was lies.
Also the film that he claimed to put together showing the Icebergs melting and falling off the end of the Glacier, he stole from a woman who made the film on computer with
the intenion of using it to make a since fiction movie.

Well it created a lot of “Science Fiction” thats for sure and to give that man a prize for world
class Scientific study was obsured.

I am a Christian and believe in One God and Christ is Well Doccumented and for me the
Holly Ghost or Spirit is not so hard for me to believe so the Trinnity is part of my Christian

However the weather paterns I personally have watched change for 65 years since I was about 5 years of age. Nothing has been drastic enough for me to worry about in the weather
nearly as much as “Genitic Manipulation of Plants and Animals.

Also I pay little or no attention to the groups around the country who dont eat MEAT
nor do I pay any attention to those of you who want to Worship Cows or any other animal
or Statue, But I get a little upset when People want to Take My Guns away, and those same people would allow my 13 year old daughter to have an Abortion.

Now I dont expect this to get printed on these replies but Thats My Story ans I’m Stickin to it.

I’m old enough to remember predictions of a forthcoming new ice age in the 1970’s before we had the emission controls on our vehicles we had now. Also dire predictions about continental sized starvation episodes also known as massive famine. Yes,some of these starvation episodes indeed came true. But a lot of times the starvation episodes were (and still are) assisted by terrorists. Just watch Aljazeera TV for a few days and you’ll see what I mean.

That isn’t to say we should not be unconcerned about such events or even the dire predictions about climate change.It sis important to do what we can to help the situation. Specifically compassion and caring for each other and the planet through the warmth of human hearts; now that is a good kind of Global Warming.

However I think it no coincidence that even such astute folks as Joel Salatin, Alan Savory and Mr. Yeoman, who developed the Keyline plow proffer good data to support more well- managed rotational grazing and conversion of more cropland to grazed pasture as a key instrument or tool to deal with global warming via Carbon sequestration. Colin Seis in Australia is going a step further and having good success with pasture cropping; that is: growing cool season grain on top of warm season pasture on a several year rotation basis. Basically approximately every five years a warm season pasture is planted to a cool season grain such as oats, barley or wheat. The growing grain is even grazed a time or two to promote tillering and delay development of a seed head until favorable conditions for good grain yield exist. Such procedures not only sequester huge amounts of Carbon in plants and soil to combat global warming but promote healthy soil conditions and conserve fertility for future generations unlike most contemporary agriculture. Whether or not one believes the data alleging global warming, such practices are good and right simply because they are good and right.

Vegans will claim that such practices as rotational grazing and pasture cropping wherein production and consumption of animal products are only encouraged will thereby create even more suffering inflicted on the planet’s grazing animals by humans. However the best alternative I’ve seen them advocate is more growing of grains and beans to feed humans directly and I have to think : did they ever hear of the dust bowl? Furthermore, such agriculture of grains and legumes for human consumption as currently practiced (pasture cropping excepted) only exacerbates emissions of greenhouse gases instead of sequestering them.

In response, I can only cite a personal example. Indeed I do try to walk the walk by performing rotational grazing and pasture cropping on my one acre homestead. I care very deeply about the birds and animals in my care even though I eventually slaughter them as humanely as possible and ensure they are consumed with respect. This morning when I went out to do animal care- taking chores my favorite goat somehow entangled her leg in a small wagon I use to feed hay. She was laying on her side and although I did the very best I could to save her, just as I managed to free her hoof; she died in my arms. I tried to do artificial respiration, but to no avail. I’ll go out to bury her after I finish writing this. During her life she provided milk, kids, and manure with bedding and a great way of using the hay I cut with scythe and mower. In addition I didn’t have to mow as much becasue of the rotational grazing she provided. I did and will continue to enjoy the produce fertilized with the manure and bedding used to absorb the manure and urine, while knowing she contributed to sequestering Carbon. I know I’m doing all I can feasibly do to sequester Carbon and limit my emissions of greenhouse gases. Yes, I do consume the animal products produced by rotational grazing and pasture cropping, but I seriously doubt a hard core vegan would show more compassion and caring for animals as exemplified by what occurred this morning. (Can you tell I’m grieving?) Walking the walk and not just talking the talk can be emotionally painful

In case you’re thinking I was careless. which I wasn’t, I’ve removed the hay feeding wagon from the pasture so this won’t happen again.. Animals seem to succeed at getting themselves into dangerous or fatal situations; that is why there are shepherds and goatherds, but life is a risk for humans and goats.The fact that in any case I would have slaughtered this goat when she became old and arthritic doesn’t mean I don’t care for her or her kind. I’m willing to bet the doe was playing king of the mountain on the hay wagon with the other goats when the accident happened, that is just what goats do.

Therefore, do what we can to care for our fellow creatures, including humans and animals and care for this planet, whether or not global warming really is occurring. If at all possible plant some grass/ legume pasture. After doing all of these and similar activities as you can, let the scientists numbers take care of themselves. .

Gary, here’s why you should be upset… No, the climate has never been static. It bounces around quite a bit…but it generally stays within the limits of a more or less stable state. A lot of complex feedback mechanisms make the system quite resilient to perturbation and add much stability.

With a really strong disturbance you overwhelm the feedback networks and shift the whole system into a new and altered steady state, and there’s no getting it back. It is impossible to know exactly where that tipping point is, or what the new state will look like. This kind of overwhelming disruption is not a normal state of affairs for our planet. It has happened five times in over 4.5 billion years of earth history. Each time it’s resulted in a mass extinction, with earth losing up to 95% of its species in some of the events.

We are witnessing the beginning of the sixth such event, and it’s upsetting because this time we are the cause of it, we have a choice, and it’s not necessary. There aren’t any asteroid impacts or cataclysmic volcanic eruptions, just humanity.

People may or may not give much consideration to the moral or aesthetic implications of losing most of the species of life on the planet. But purely out of self interest, and for your children and grand children, it should catch your attention…as the odds of an advanced industrialized society holding itself together through an event like that aren’t great, especially with poor food security, limited fresh water, and a whole world of people that are armed to the teeth…

The nuclear war was no scientific fact but alarmist rumors, just like today’s preppers. Climate does not change over so few years, the current state is unprecedented, climate is usually constant over a few hundreds years. The last significant change was the little ice age during the Middle Ages, but even that was not a true climate change, just a temporary period of cooling and normal climate was soon restored. You have to go back many thousands of years for the last true ice age, after which humans were able to farm.

One of the reasons I have a hard time getting excited about a couple degrees of average
temperature change in 50 or 100 years is that I lived under the treat of Nuclear Annilation for 30 or so years where the temperature was going to thousands of degrees with less than 30 minutes notice.
A couple degrees average is pretty tame in comparsion especially when I routinely experience a 20 to 30 degree change every day I live.
And the question a Global Warming Believer has never answered for me is why should I be upset about climate change now since the climate of the Earth has always been in a state of change so I would think that Climate Change is the normal mode and if the climate started to remain static then we should start to worry.

Perspek, Gene, perspek… 😉 CO2 increased only by a few ppm in the last few years, too little to be perceptible by a farmer in his day to day life from year to year, but didn’t it increase 100 or 200 ppm since before the Industrial Revolution? We will experience most of the effects in the long term, not in the next few years. The USDA for instance advanced the figure of 20 to 40 extra days in the growing season by 2080, based on the hundreds of scientific studies they analyzed for their special climate change reports on agriculture and forestry.

As much as people always make this analogy of “belief” in science, there’s a whole difference between science and religion, one is based on facts and constantly revise its interpretation of them as knowledge evolves (if relevant), the other is based on old stories and stick to the literal words in them no matter how knowledge evolves, the very definition of obsolescence. Although I would hate to generalize for all religions or even all Christians. There is just no possible comparison. I may not be able to understand how the most advanced science works, but school gave me some basics, and there are other people out there who are good at putting this science in understandable words. Darn it, I just made a televangelist analogy! 😉

But you’re right to use the word “danger”, some of the climate change effects are a highly probable risk, but not a definitive certainty. The latest Ars Technica article about Antarctica seems to indicate that past a certain warmth, the ice will melt very fast. I may agree with that, even temperating the word “very”, but who knows,, it might also not have such a “very fast” incidence on Earth globally. The important thing is that we want scientists to warn us of these possible dangers, so we, not the scientists, can make the necessary decisions to reduce the risk for the planet and ultimately for us. Just as a farmer does every day with weather forecast, soil knowledge, pest behavior and plant physiology.

Still, most of these future climate change effects are not too difficult to predict, given the progression of the past curve for these events. What would be blind faith is hoping that a miracle would suddenly and magically reverse the trend before it costs us tens of times the national debt…

Scientific opinion vs. propaganda aside, all I know is that in my short 54 yrs of life, species are in MO that weren’t when I was a child, doesn’t snow as much, weather is wayyyyy off. Just my personal observations. To not believe that weather patterns have drastically changed globally is just sticking one’s head in the sand. You lost me on this write up Gene. But we can agree to disagree.

Thoughts; 1. People keep talking about CO2 levels being high when the climate was hot and low when it was cold. Correlation is not causation. Perhaps hot climate causes higher atmospheric CO2. No, I don’t know how. Neither do I believe that anyone has yet modeled the atomsphere in sufficient detail to accurately predict the result of any slight change in inputs. 2. Peak oil, which I do believe is real will do more to reduce CO2 output than anything that we can do volumtarily. 3. The earth has been a whole bunch hotter and a whole bunch colder in the past than it is now and it will probably happen again. If we’re doomed, we’re doomed. 4. Wasting anything, including fuel, is inexcusable, so I try not to. However, I am not fool enough to think that I am going to stop the Chinese guy who is burning dirty coal to smelt a little iron ore in a backyard foundry. Or any of the other 6.5 billion people who are trying to scratch their way to something approaching the lifestyle that we have lived for the last 50 years.

The alarmists are right about one thing, we’re all doomed to death. Running in circles and screaming in the meanwhile cuts into my gardening and banjo picking time, so will refrain, thank you.

A three-leafed clover is one, yet has three leaves. A family is one, yet is made up of multiple persons living in communion/relationship with each other. This is analogous to the Trinity.

Science deals (or should deal) with theories and facts that are empirically provable. Divine revelation is concerned with those things that are, by definition, beyond deduction using empirical means or even via philosophical reasoning. So, for example, the existence of God (the Unmoved Mover) can be demonstrated logically through philosophical reasoning. But the Trinity cannot be proved through reason; it is a truth that God had to reveal to us. Yet, the Christian Faith is supported by solid reasons and reasoning, even though it goes beyond those.

So we should not limit ourselves to only believing those things that we can completely comprehend through reason alone. Otherwise you would believe in almost nothing, so weak is our understanding.

Beth, Robert Heinlein’s “Stranger In a Strange Land” was an enormous influence on me. Gene

Science is an analytical assessment of the know facts, observations, and measurements. It’s testing hypothesis and predictions. It’s nothing to do with dogma and blind faith. Those scientists that play that game have fallen hard into a public relations netherworld. I know that a skeptical but thorough look into the work and thinking of some of the best climate researchers would show you a careful, skeptical, and analytical approach. What gets translated into the newspapers is garbletygook. Read the what the real thinkers and experts say and make up your own mind. Just as you do so effectively in the field of agriculture.

Gene, please continue to forge on! You are the voice of sanity in an increasingly agressive atmosphere of collective eco theories.

life of the hand - life of the mind February 27, 2013 at 10:05 am

You write, Gene, that “The scientific community is demanding of me a blind faith in its numbers when there is reason to be skeptical.”

Actually, “blind faith” is the last thing the scientific community wants of you. What they DO want of you is skepticism. Because skepticism is the life-blood of science; without skepticism there would be no science.

What the scientific community is “demanding” of you is an understanding of the scientific method. They want you to understand it like you understand your kids’ names. That’s because they know that the better you understand the scientific method the better you’ll understand science.

I suggest you Google “the scientific method.” Really get that skeptical thing down. Next maybe you can follow one or two of the links that show up here. Then, maybe, you can try a blog or two.

We must crawl, remember, before we run. We must till before we reap.

Thank you for writing this, Gene. As a biology major in college, one of the things I had to learn was the history of science and one of the themes that recurs with stubborn regularity and amazing frequency is the number of times scientists have had to “recant” a previously accepted theory. Scientists will tell you that this is one of the greatest strengths of science (as opposed to theology which they seem to misunderstand almost consciously and deliberately) and that we should embrace those who were daring iconoclasts who challenged conventional wisdom to promote theories of their own.

Until you actually try to BE an iconoclast and question the Received Wisdom of science.

They will lionize and laud heroes like Darwin over Lamarck and Bohr over Cavendish. They will point to the “radicals” like Einstein while his colleague Pauling is scoffed and scorned for his pronouncements about Vitamin C in megadoses.

You are correct that much of what passes for science is “secular religion” and a lot of “scientific fact” is more theology than verified experimental findings. But here’s the rub – scientists work very hard to make their work out to be different in kind from the work of theologians, yet they want to be able to make the same kinds of statements that theologians make. Theologians and philosophers are on a quest to discover the nature of reality and the universe and provide us with an “answer” to the mystery. Science is on the same quest. Is it any wonder, then, they end up sharing the same language and making the same sorts of statements?

Instead of worrying about global climate change, I think and try to do what I can locally. I try to buy food I don’t grow from locals (no trucking exhaust for long haul delivery). I try to combine and minimize trips in the truck (use less fossil fuel, less emissions). I use Beano.

Every little bit helps.

Gene, again I thank you for rubbing certain persons’ collective noses’ in it, so to speak.

And I thought I was a glutton for punishment………….

Science and religion both suffer from the common malady of their protagonists taking themselves too seriously. That is not to say that the object of their attention is undeserving. The fact that we are having this discussion via this medium is a testament to the work of science. That we care about the discussion and its implications for our lives and their meaning is witness to some “god center”. It is the messengers which usually end getting in the way of the message. The only thing as silly as being certain of all of science’s and religion’s details is willfully ignoring their helpfulness – in my opinion )
This blog never fails to entertain and enlighten. Keeping up with the comments on the last post probably cost me at least an hour of my life. It was a bargain.

I don’t know who Budd Shepherd is, but I think he got it pretty much right.

Oh, Gene, I do love these tangles about science, farming/gardening and religion! I am reminded of another contrarian writer, Robert Heinlein: “Theology is never any help; it is searching in a dark cellar at midnight for a black cat that isn’t there.” Sounds sort of like the Higgs boson… Sometimes the same can be said of science. There is so much information out there, much of it conflicting, that sorting it out could take a lifetime and then some. Not to mention the various agendas that influence “scientific findings.” And before some of you jump down my throat because I disparage science, let me repeat — as I have before — that I have the greatest respect for ethical scientists and honest research. However, I despise falsified data, data with a spin to highlight what the funder wants to see or research that starts from an point of bias, such as research on commercial pasteurized milk that is extrapolated to raw milk rather than studying each separately. I have seen and heard enough that I do believe the earth is going through a climate swing of some sort — the photographs of changes in various glaciers around the world seem to indicate a warming trend. I’m seeing migratory birds as much as two weeks earlier than usual (and I’ve been tracking them for years, so I know they’re earlier). I’m not going to argue over the details of parts per billion. I think what’s important for all of us is to try and live lightly on the land, to avoid fouling our own nests and to expect that change will be the norm; stability is an illusion. In the practical sense, that means I grow a variety of different foods and animals. Even if the hail knocks out the blackberries, I’ll probably get some plums, and if the deer eat the chard, I still have kale or lettuce. Keep writing, Gene — you make us all think, and that’s a good thing!


That even scientist have to resort to metaphor to attempt a description of the indescribable in the natural world does not (necessarily) mean their language falls to the level of dogma or nonsense. It’s simply an admission that some things (or, more likely everything, if you look closely enough) is beyond our comprehension. While most dogma is ignorance, not all ignorance is dogma.

I don’t understand the microbial life of healthy soil. I can’t imagine how you get uncounted millions of the little buggers in a teaspoon of dirt. I have no idea what they are doing to and with and for each other. But I do believe that if I mess with the delicate system and society of soil life, by pouring on poisons for example, unpleasant consequences will follow both for them and for my food.

In the same way, I can’t tell you what a ppm or a gigaton of CO2 is. But the “greenhouse effect” of CO2 in the atmosphere is pretty basic and describable science. 392 ppm is infinitesimally larger than 390 ppm. But 450 or 650 ppm is a whole lot more than 250 ppm; and given what we do know (not what we believe) about how CO2 affects temperatures and climate, reasonable cautions suggests we wouldn’t want to go there. That CO2 in the atmosphere (whatever that is) increases as carbon sources are burned on the earth and that our species has been burning a lot a carbon over the last few hundred years and the conclusion that all this will have unpleasant consequences for our children, are not matters of faith or dogma. They are relatively simple statements of science and history and reasonable expectations for the future.

I am not a scientist, I’m a preacher. If you think finding words to describe the mysterious workings of the natural world, without sliding into dogma, is difficult, try finding words to describe the ineffable or the impossible without sounding downright silly at times. So cut the climate scientists a bit of slack. We’re all in this together and the best of them are doing the best they can.

Where do I even start…

First off, the Higgs boson is an element of a theory based on another theory. Quantum chromodynamics (QCD) (theory) is an outgrowth of quantum mechanics (theory). Theories are predictive tools and these two theories have their appropriate usages. While it’s true that QCD proponents take on an air of religiosity, it would be false to assume anyone that’s studied or worked in physics would agree that these tools are an end-all. Truth be said, even old theories regarding The Ether hold up pretty darn well as predictive tools.

Secondly, there is NO QUESTION by those performing the research that 1) global warming is occurring or 2) that humans are significantly contributing greenhouse gases. This leaves the conclusions that humans are causing global warming and the extent of the effects to essentially intelligent “guessing” through the use of models. Models are also tools that are valued on whether past weather is accurately predicted. If they do, then there is a highly likely probability that short term future predictions will also be accurate — much like the adage about the best way to predict tomorrow’s weather is what’s happening today. Unfortunately, ALL models are predicting that human contributions of greenhouse gases are significant variables (meaning any variation drives the conclusion). Nearly all of the models are predicting that global warming will not only continue but will likely accelerate/worsen.

As for an appropriate analogy, think of the climate being much like in a water park where a bucket slowly fills with water. Even when the bucket is mostly full, the bucket sits there quite calmly. But after a very small amount of more water being added to it, the bucket “catastrophically” dumps it’s entire load.

So, it’s great that you’re skeptical as all great scientists are… even (especially) when it comes to their own ideas. However, it’s plain dumb to ignore the elephant lumbering about in your living room.

Gene, I do get where you’re coming from. You are expressing exactly why climate change is such a formidable problem…the numbers are so big, or so tiny, the link of causes and effects are obscure, the scale is inhumanly vast, the responses are non-linear. Our human brains evolved to deal with tangible problems in our immediate environment. Faced with a crisis that individuals can’t get a hold of intuitively, our species is failing.

I’m a farmer too. I like things simple. The immediacy of the fields beneath my feet. I pump water from my well by hand, and I’d rather hitch up my team than start a tractor. But I make use of science all the time, and not out of blind faith. The numbers are real. Perhaps not visible to my naked eye, but I know that I could get the equipment, and repeat the methods and make the measurements. Before a theory like climate change gains widespread consensus in the scientific community many, many people have done the tests, repeated the measurements, and came at the issue from different angles and different fields of study.

I’ve never seen a clover plant draw nitrogen from the air, or felt the weight of that nitrogen in my hand. I’ve never watched a rye catch crop hold that nitrogen in the field to make it available for the spring planting, or seen some of it volatilize back to the air. But I know, and I can use that knowledge to make my farm better.

Theology doesn’t have repeatable experiments or reproducible results.

The rarefied world of quantum mechanics looks fuzzy and strange simply because that is the way it turns out our world is beneath it’s hard surfaces.

Climate change threatens to sweep our farms away in it’s path. We don’t need faith, we need informed, compassionate action.

As a geologist by trade and a small rancher by choice earth science professionals have seen these global warming/cooling cycles throughout the eons as evidenced by sediment deposition cycles, ice shield data and many other types of data. So what is new, the earth atmosphere is warming until the next cooling cycle. The problem with humans is we fail to acknowledge that we are mere travelers on this beautiful planet just like the dinosaurs were so long ago. Over the past 4 or 5 billion years the planet has been wiped and regenerated. If we do indeed wreak it, a billion years from now some other creature will abound. May be a bit wiser.

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