Category Archives: Climate

Recommended Reading

I’ve been out of action lately, but I thought I’d throw in a couple of links to give you something good to read.

Firstly, Ken at the Road to Surfdom has written the definitive guide to workchoices in two posts – part 1 and part 2.

Secondly I was astounded to hear that the ABC is going to show The Great Global Warming Swindle. It is being pushed as showing a diversity of opinion, whereas it is propaganda which has been shown to be wrong. This troubles me since being screened on the ABC could lend it credibility which it does not deserve. It essentially peddles a conspiracy theory – that the world’s climatologists are perpetrating an enormous hoax. Some are framing the protests against it as censorship – but this is not a matter simply of opposing political views – this is a program pushing false claims about science.Then again, the ABC did put the show “Psychic Detectives” in their science slot over summer, so perhaps being on the ABC doesn’t lend the credibility on matters of science that it once did and I shouldn’t be concerned. Another concern however is the allegation that the program is being screened due to pressure from the board.
Anyway, one of my favourite parts of the controversy over this show was that the filmmaker’s response to one scientist who dared to question the “facts” in the program was to write in an email “You’re a big daft cock”.

I wanted to write more about this but haven’t had a chance, I may still do so, but inthe meantime you can check out Tim Lambert’s comments at Deltoid and follow the links there as well. Also George Monbiot’s article in the SMH is excellent.

Around the Climate Blogs

An occasional trawl through my blogroll and beyond. Look out for similar posts on other topics soon.

At Deltoid Tim Lambert shows us some hilariously silly comments on global warming from John Laws. For example “it was much warmer in the Middle Ages for God’s sake and we didn’t have any motor cars then to my knowledge and we hadn’t even invented the wheel. ..”.
Nexus 6 has been away for a bit, but is back in action this week with a look at the worst climate science paper ever. I had thought that perhaps that title would have gone to the paper discussed here at Real Climate, which shows that the previously wildly erratic atmospheric carbon dioxide levels stabilised exactly when we started accurately measuring them … but Nexus might have a point. Lets just declare the journal Energy and Environment to be the winner, since they published both papers after what must be a rigorous peer review process.

At Open Mind, Tamino is looking into what’s really going on with glaciers (and I’m afraid the news insn’t good).

Meanwhile Eli Rabbett has been reminding everyone of the story of Al Gore’s mentor Roger Revelle and the disgraceful tale of how he was claimed by the GW denialists as one of their own

Finally there’s a new blog called Hot Topic, which looks at climate change from a New Zealand perpective.

Counterpunch on Global Warming

A commenter named RobW at Deltoid has pointed out that Alexander Cockburn has joined the ranks of global warming denialists with an article on the Counterpunch site. Now I haven’t been reading it much lately but I used to read Counterpunch quite a bit, and in fact still have a current subscription. I don’t agree with everything there, and have no problem with that, but this article strays beyond matters of opinion.

Cockburn starts with some comments about carbon trading and comparing it with those who payed the Catholic church to absolve their sins. I’ve seen a comparison like this before, I believe it was in New Internationalist in their issue on carbon offsets. In that case there was a valid point to be made, there are many issues surrounding carbon offset schemes that are of concern and valid criticisms to be made, but Cockburn applies this comparison to anyone concerned about their carbon footprint. He justifies this by claiming that there is no scientific basis to anthropological global warming. How does he reach this conclusion? Well, throw away that nice new IPCC report, it’s all rubbish because Alexander Cockburn knows a guy who spent 3 years as a meteorologist who said that humans don’t cause global warming. OK, he showed him a graph too. Unfortunately we don’t have the privilege of seeing this graph, but he does at least describe it to us (has he heard of the saying “a picture paints a thousand words”?).
The graph in question compared industrial output with atmospheric CO2 concentrations. We aren’t given a source for this graph, in particular where the measurements come from. Reliable C02 measurements started in the late 50s with Mauna Loa, so I’m immediately suspicious of measurements from the depression era. Cockburn does mention earlier measurements coming from ice cores, so my best guess is that he was looking at something like this. I would question how accurately you could resolve trends over such small time periods with this data. In fact, his description of how smoothly the C02 concentration rises makes me suspect that he is looking at something like this data which has been smoothed using a spline fit. Of course, without knowing his source this is speculation, but I don’t know of any data from pre-Manau Loa which gives the sort of accuracy that he seems to be describing. You can compare with this graph of industrial emissions and decide whether it is the devastating critique that he claims it is.
Especially in light of the fact that the human contribution to atmospheric CO2 concentration is supported by the mix of carbon isotopes in the atmosphere.

Next he brings up the old claim that because there’s so much more water in the atmosphere, then it must be more important to global warming than CO2. This has been dealt with here.

Next is the claim that because there was more CO2 in the Eocene period when there weren’t cars then that is some sort of problem for the AGW theory. This relies on such an obvious fallacy that I barely feel the need to address it. So his claim is that since CO2 has been at higher levels in the distant geological past, then the increase must be natural now, despite the fact that we’ve been digging up fossil fuels out of the ground and burning them at a furious rate for the past 100 years or so. To imply that this is some sort of embarrassing secret swept under the carpet by climate scientists is ridiculous.
He then throws in some unsubstantiated claims about the medieval warm period, once again implying that it requires subterfuge on the part of “greenhousers” to deal with, you can get the real story from Coby Beck.

He brings up the lag between temperature and CO2 in ancient glacial cycles as if it is a recent development, however it has long been understood. It was recently dealt with on Real Climate, but note the link back to a post from 2004 on the same topic. The claim that the current climate trend is due to Milankovitch cycles seems to be based purely on the idea that a CO2 increase must be due to some naturally caused warming. I know of no credible claims that the Milankovitch cycles should be currently causing warming, unless he thinks that we are warming after the little ice age – but this can’t be attributed to the cycles either.
Finally there is a bizarre mention of the heat from the Earth’s core. It reminds me of the fellow (whose name escapes me) who used to post on various blogs (such as Deltoid) about how the dominant influence on climate was the heat from the core. I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to work out where that theory goes wrong. Anyway, I’m not suggesting that Cockburn subscribes to this theory, but I have no idea why he brought it up. It seems to be part of some sort of appeal to incredulity thrown in for good measure.
So overall, some guy with dubious qualifications in climate science (“a lifelong mistrust of climate modeling”) claims that the vast majority of working climate scientists are wrong, and Cockburn uses it as a basis to insult all those who are concerned about climate change as gullible fools.

Update: Real Climate have written about this as well now.

Update II: Cockburn vs Monbiot.

More on Global Warming in The Australian (via The Times)

In an earlier post a commenter mentioned an opinion piece (though it appears under News rather than Comment on the website) in The Times by Nigel Calder, which has also been printed in The Australian.
I started giving a point by point response in comments but it was getting so long I decided to start a new post. Read the article first, it is here.

For a start comparing a 90% certainty figure in a summary of the work of hundreds of scientists, published in peer reviewed literature to a figure given by a single scientist is a completely useless analogy.
Secondly, the idea of a new Galileo or Einstein storming through is also rubbish. Galileo largely established the scientific method, so it is hard to make sense of the concept of “scientific consensus” before he came along. Eintein’s theories were groundbreaking conceptually, but the key point is that they did not invalidate what had come before – for example Newtonian physics is still valid in all of the applications of Newton, and everyone up to around the time of Einstein. Eintstein’s theories still reduce to Newton’s in the classical limit. I’m certainly not belittling the work of Einstein, it was certainly groundbreaking and took physics to exciting new places – it’s just that it didn’t mean that everyone before Einstein was wrong. Certainly there were competing contemporaneous theories that didn’t work out, but he didn’t demolish a consensus in the sense that the climate sceptics are hoping for.

The “politicisation of climate science” is a completely unsubstantiated claim, which I don’t buy at all. My best guess is that he finds the political consequences of climate science research unpalatable, hence the research must be contrived to achieve these political goals … just a guess, since there isn’t much else to go on. The quality of his examples of unreported science certainly don’t help his claims.
Before we get to those, he claims that all sorts of cold weather records aren’t reported. This is a strawman argument, since media reports of hot weather records are not the basis for AGW theory. Neither an isolated instance of an unusually cold day, nor an unusually hot one proves anything.
As for Antarctica cooling, this is hardly a secret that climate scientists are overlooking. Global warming does not mean that the whole globe has to warm uniformly, rather the average is getting warmer, local regions in isolation are as useless as looking at particular events in isolation. In fact Calder engages in a bit of cherry picking in this section. If AGW depended on cherry picking certain hotter regions (which would be a fatally flawed approach) then he would have a point – but it doesn’t. For more on Antarctica there is a post at RealClimate. Also Tamino has written about it .
To illustrate how such cherry picking fails to tell the full story, I visited the NASA GISS site where you can make your own maps based on their global temperature records. Here is a map of the 1980-2006 anomaly in relation to the 1951-80 mean temperatures.

(dark grey areas correspond to missing data)

The cooling of antarctica is visible, but it is clear that the overall global trend is clearly warming. Just so it’s clear that I’m not engaged in cherry picking, here is the period 1998-2006 (much beloved by sceptics because of the El Nino boosted high temps of ’98), in terms of the previous 30 year mean:

The cooling over certain parts of Antarctica is larger, but the warming over the Arctic and Greenland is quite a bit larger (in area and magnitude).

After doing all this I remembered where I saw something similar – Coby Beck addressed the same point.

Next Calder claims that the satellite data doesn’t show warming since ’98 – this is an oft recycled claim that was dealt with long ago – once again Tamino is a good source for the details.

The historical claims about the sun are dodgy too. He implicitly claims that the Medieval Warm Period was a global phenomenon – this has been much discussed as well , and the evidence suggests that it was not, meaning that it does not support the “sun is causing global warming” argument. Note Calder’s use of language in the following passages

What does the Intergovernmental Panel do with such emphatic evidence for an alternation of warm and cold periods, linked to solar activity …

… Disdain for the sun goes with a failure by the self-appointed greenhouse experts to keep up with inconvenient discoveries about how the solar variations control the climate.

For a start his claim of “emphatic” evidence is rather exaggerated. Secondly he claims that these scientists ignore the sun due to their “disdain” – this is a straw man argument. Climate Scientists do not have a disdain for the sun, solar forcings play a key role in climate models behind AGW, but their effects are outweighed by the greenhouse gas forcings. Calder himself points out that in the AR4 the role of solar forcings is smaller than in the TAR – but of course this isn’t due to scientific evidence, it is because of the collective disdain for the sun of all those involved. No doubt his historical anecdotes are much more reliable than their calculations based on measurement and observation.
Another point which has been made so many times that I feel I can repeat it without citing one of the many sources is that if solar is playing a larger role than expected then the greenhouse gases are having a smaller effect – so why?

Finally there is the work of Svensmark. I note that while Calder isn’t persuaded by the reams of evidence for greenhouse gas driven warming, he is quick to jump on board with a theory backed up by one published experiment, but I note that Eli Rabett has doubts that the set up in the lab replicated atmospheric conditions. This is all a bit besides the point anyway since there appears to be no trend in the intensity cosmic rays which corresponds to the warming trend. Perhaps there is more to be said about the role of cosmic rays, but the grandiose claims about cosmic rays taking the place of greenhouse gases appear to originate in a press release rather than the scientific literature. More on the theory in this Seed news story, showing that many others have doubts for legitimate scientific reasons. Note also that the story broke late last year and the paper was published this month – so did the climate scientists of the world decide not the hold the presses on the AR4 because of “political correctness”? Or is it just not the world shattering discovery that Calder claims it to be? I have neglected to mention another import source on this theory, which is mentioned a few times towards the end of the Times story – The Chilling Stars: A New Theory of Climate Change by Henrik Svensmark and Nigel Calder.
This article has also been commented on briefly at Real Climate
UPDATE Nexus 6 looks at a new paper which casts further doubt on the cosmic ray theory.

(Note: if you happened to see this post went it first went up it had a different title, I originally called it “The Times gets it wrong on global warming” as a reference back to the old post but shortly afterwards decided that it was not entirely appropriate since the older one referred to an editorial in The Australian with some blatant misrepresentations of the AR4 SPM but this refers to an opinion piece by a contributor to The Times)

The Australian Gets It Wrong on Global Warming

The editorial in todays Australian misrepresents the recently released summary of the IPCC AR4.
This misrepresentation forms the basis of their claim that no drastic action is required in response to climate change, and to essentially endorse the Howard government’s position. In the editorial they point out that they accept the reality of climate change, yet it seems that they get their information on it from denialists.

In particular they say

The IPCC report suggests that sea levels will rise somewhere between 0.18m and 0.59m over the coming century – hardly the sort of thing that will see skyscrapers swamped, islands sink or even low-lying poor cities inundated. To the extent that dislocations will be caused, they can be dealt with, and it is far from clear that hobbling not just the Australian economy but those of China and India is the most appropriate response. To take the IPCC’s average sea level rise of 38.5cm (which, six years ago, it tipped at 48.5cm) as a starting point, this would mean, according to some of the world’s leading scientists, that Al Gore, who in his movie An Inconvenient Truth dramatically shows what the worlds coastlines would look like were sea levels to rise by 6.1m, is off by more than a factor of 15 times.

They even use a variant of the old “global warming ended in 1998” rubbish that has been doing the rounds in denialist circles for some time with the following comment:

The world may be getting warmer at the moment – though temperatures have been pretty stable since 1998 – but humans have thrived in hotter conditions than these and they have certainly survived colder periods

Note that they have toned it down a bit to fit in with their acceptance of global warming.

These arguments have already been dealt with by Nexus 6, who came across the same arguments elsewhere, but here’s the gist of it:

  1. The latest sea level predictions exclude the ice from Antarctica and Greenland. The previous report (TAR) did include these, so these numbers cannot be directly compared. If estimates for rise from increased ice flows are included then the numbers are similar – so they have not reduced the predicted sea level rise.
  2. Al Gore’s talked about what the sea level rise would be if either the ice on the West Antarctic peninsular or Greenland (or half of each) was to melt without giving a timeframe for this to occur. The AR4 summary predicts sea level rises by 2100 and excludes ice flows. These are completely different things and cannot be meaningfully compared. Al Gore was not wrong about rises in sea level.
  3. 1998 was an unusually hot year, those who claim that warming has stopped/stalled/slowed since then are cherry picking. This has been dealt with at length over at Deltoid. Just go there and look at the picture and see that global warming is still happening.

Also, they have a front page story which comes out in support of coal mining … coincidentally they also have a liftout (of the special advertising feature variety) with lots of stories about how we should all go to Queensland to work in the mining industry, and which, judging by the advertising, seems to be largely paid for by Rio Tinto.

Update: Nexus 6 has also written about this.

Update II: They’re at it again.

IPCC AR4 commentary

The summary of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change‘s Fourth Assessment Report has just been released. I’ll leave the commentary to some of the excellent climate change blogs:

RealClimate – The IPCC Fourth Assessment SPM
Open Mind – Summary for Voters (here’s my own shorter summary for voters – vote Green)

At DeSmogBlog they are all prepared for the attack of the think-tanks

Eli Rabbett is up for some bingo

For a local reaction head over to Road to Surfdom where the Australian Climate has no greater friend