Archive for the ‘Computer Models’ Category
The video below contains a very compelling 22-minute summary of an impressive array of work, widely reported in the World’s newspapers this week. The research team, based in the Geography Department at the University of Hawaii, was led by Associate Professor Camilo Mora.
Sadly, it has already been dismissed by people with a track-record denying, downplaying or dismissing the nature, scale and urgency of the problem of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD). People such as Bjorn Lomborg, for example.
A brief summary of the key points of the research:
1. For any geographic location the time of ‘climate departure’ is the time beyond which even the coldest monthly average temperature will be warmer than anything observed in the last 150 years. The same method was used to determine the time beyond which a range of other factors (such as precipitation and evaporation) would no longer fall below the range of local values observed in the last 150 years.
2. The monthly average data for all these calculations, data were obtained from 39 global climate models (GCMs – the accuracy of which I discuss below) constructed by 21 climate modelling centres in 12 different countries around the World. Common to all of these models is the same suite of CO2 emissions projections scenarios, two of which the research team used to define the range of possible temperature rises: RCP8.5 – representing a business as usual (BAU) scenario where humanity makes no attempt to reduce CO2 emissions; and RCP4.5 – representing a scenario where globally co-ordinated and concerted efforts are made to reduce CO2 emissions. With regard to atmospheric CO2 concentrations, it should be noted that:
– RCP8.5 is projected to result in a continuing increase to 900 ppm CO2 by the end of the Century; and
– RCP4.5 is projected to result in a peak value of 500 ppm being reached by mid-Century.
3. The results suggest that on average, climate departure (for temperature) is reached 2047 under the RCP8.5 scenario, or 2069 under the RCP4.5 scenario. This therefore implies that aggressive attempts to reduce carbon emissions could delay the onset of climate departure by several decades. Furthermore, the results suggest that climate departure will come to lower latitudes (equatorial and tropical areas) first. Under RCP8.5 this is as early as 2020 in some places. Under RCP4.5, climate departure is projected to be experienced almost everywhere by the end of the Century.
4. The team has produced an interactive map, published online here by the Washington Post newspaper, which can be used to see when climate departure is predicted under both scenarios for any location on the Earth’s surface.
5. The team suggests that the historical focus on absolute changes in temperature (i.e. predicted and observed to be greatest in polar regions) have given humans a false sense of security about the likely personal impacts. This study inverts that pattern and shatters the illusion that humans will not be directly impacted by changes in temperature. This is because, where the natural climate variability is smallest, less absolute change is required for it to be significant and most of the species present have less resilience to that change.
6. The research highlights the changes that have already occurred. Indeed, the most striking finding of the research is that the pH of seawater across the entire planet – i.e. without any exceptions – is already lower than it has been at any time in the last 150 years.
7. The research highlights the fact that those areas that are likely to reach climate departure soonest are also areas with the highest average population density and the lowest capacity to adapt. Under RCP4.5, it is expected that 1 billion people will be living in area experiencing unprecedented climatic conditions by 2050. Whereas, under the RCP8.5 this is expected to be 5 billion people (i.e. half the currently-projected global population).
8. The research indicates that the Earth’s most significant biological assets (essential ecosystem services and biodiversity) are at risk. This is the consequence of three facets of the above: (a) equatorial and tropical regions will be the first to experience climate departure; (b) they contain the greatest proportion of the Earth’s biological assets; and (c) are the least resilient to any change and the least able to adapt.
Conclusions (some readers may find some sentences upsetting)
1. If we stick to BAU, we will guarantee that (a) the long-term consequences will be increasingly unpleasant; (b) mitigation will become impossible; and (c) adaptation will be required sooner and faster and therefore be more costly. Alternatively, if we decide to try and mitigate ACD (by aggressively reducing CO2 emissions), we may be able to limit the unpleasantness and the scale and total cost of adaptation required (by humans and non-humans alike).
2. If we do nothing, the extinction of a significant proportion of species on Earth would appear to be unavoidable in the long-term (and, if that happens, the survival of humanity would have to be seriously in jeopardy). Alternatively, if we take action, the extinction of some species looks highly probable but, critically, this will buy most species several decades to adapt. This means that the costs of adaptation can be spread over those extra decades.
3. Given all of the above, how can it make any sense to continue to argue about what we should do?
Comments about the accuracy of Global Climate Models (GCMs)
One very easy way to dismiss all this is to point out that, in the course of the last decade, global average temperatures have slipped from well above 75th to just above 5th percentile of GCM predictions. Despite this, however, the exponential nature of the observed temperature increase over the last 150 years is very obvious in the above video.
Furthermore, the only way anyone can justify reaching the conclusion that this increase will not continue is by asserting that CO2 is not the main driver. A recent article on the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media website, entitled ‘Examining the Recent Slow-Down in Global Warming‘, has an excellent set of graphs that explain how and why we can be certain that CO2 is the main driver.
In addition, as per the comments I have posted on the above article, none of the GCMs include the global dimming effects of industrial pollution. Given that this is the case, I really do not understand why so many climate scientists keep saying we do not understand the reason for the current hiatus. In his book, ‘Storms of my Grandchildren’, James Hansen repeatedly complains about the fact that, 20 years ago, NASA refused to invest in satellite monitoring of this pollution. Thus we have been unable to model its effects because we have no data to put into the GCMs.
I am grateful to Schalke Cloete, of One in a Billion blog fame, for alerting me to this public debate, which was held on Monday at the privately-financed Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina (the US State that has passed a Law that makes accelerating sea level rise illegal).
The debate appears to have been arranged at the behest of one of the two protagonists, Alex Epstein (founder of the Center for Industrial Progress) – whose challenge Bill McKibben (350.org) clearly accepted.
The video below runs to nearly 100 minutes in length so, I suspect, only very few will watch it. Anyone who does will find it very rewarding but, for the majority that probably will not watch it, I have summarised its content below.
To start with both speakers are given 10 minutes to put their case, they are then given opportunity to respond to the points made by the other; to cross-examine each other; and to put forward closing arguments.
Bill McKibben went first and started by stating that fossil fuels were good for us but that the advantages of their continued use are now outweighed by the disadvantages and, therefore, wherever we can, we should stop using them. He then provided fact-based evidence for twelve risks we face if we do not do this:
1. Ocean acidification which will kill corals and endanger a wide variety of shellfish.
2. Melting Ice caps and permafrost (sea level rise and methane release).
3. Increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events of all kinds.
4. Reduced crop for crops of all kinds and consequential increases in food prices.
5. Mass extinction of species (that cannot migrate or whose habitats are degraded).
6. Inundation of coastal cities (with all the collateral damage and disruption that will cause).
7. Increased frequency and severity of forest fires.
8. Increasing numbers of deaths resulting from atmospheric pollution and heat waves.
9. Economic growth and development will be hindered by increased expenditure on mitigation.
10. Socio-political instability and insecurity arising from all of the above (see the Pentagon’s QDR).
11. Libertarian desires will be endangered by the increasing need for autocratic responses.
12. Democracy itself is endangered by policy inaction being promoted by the fossil fuel lobby.
In response to all of this, Alex Epstein insisted that the risks were unproven. This being North Carolina (where accelerating sea level rise has been outlawed), he insisted that there is no evidence that things will get that bad. He then proceeded to point out that climate-related deaths (whatever they are) have gone down over time, whilst CO2 levels have gone up. Despite the fact that he did not himself offer any evidence, he dismissed all of McKibben’s well-referenced arguments as mere speculation. He then trotted out numerous climate denial classics including the mutually contradictory arguments that (a) global warming has stopped and (b) technology will enable us to solve the problem. Alex repeatedly referred to fossil fuels as affordable abundant energy; and repeatedly referred to it as real energy (implying that somehow renewable energy is not real?)
Bill McKibben responded to all of this by pointing out that correlation is not proof of causation; and provided yet more evidence to back up his original assertions. He questioned why anyone would champion increased fuel use rather than promoting the reduction of demand through improved energy efficiency. He questioned why Epstein was so defeatist about the prospects for renewable energy; and pointed out that many of the problems he cited had in fact already been solved. Renewable energy is real energy and, since the alternatives to fossil fuel exist, its use should therefore be maximised as fast as possible.
Epstein responded by asserting that all environmentalists are anti-progress because they are anti –hydroelectric projects and anti-nuclear. He therefore challenged McKibben to endorse the legitimacy of both as potential solutions. He then trotted out yet more climate change denial classics such as (i) CO2 is a trace gas (citing the rise from 0.03% volume to 0.04% volume as insignificant – even though that would actually represent a 33% increase); and (ii) climate model predictions have proven to be unreliable (when in fact they have proven to be overly optimistic). Despite the fact that Epstein – Philosophy and Computer Science major – is clearly no expert in the natural sciences, he even tried and failed to refute the fact that ocean acidification is not happening (by claiming they are becoming less alkaline and more neutral).
Epstein was then invited to rebut McKibben’s arguments. In so doing he repeated his mantra about the folly of giving up on the most affordable and abundant energy source we have, which would prevent progress; and unnecessarily condemn millions to a life of misery. He asserted that fossil fuels had made modern agriculture possible and solved the problem of world hunger that people worried about 40 years ago. Furthermore, given the growth in human population since then, he suggested that we now need fossil fuels in order to prevent widespread malnutrition and starvation.
In rebutting Epstein’s arguments, McKibben started by repeating that fossil fuels had made many good things possible in the past but that the risks of their continued use now outweigh the disadvantages. Climate change has already resulted in more food being eaten than grown in 6 of the last 11 years; and that unabated increase in fossil fuel use will only make it increasingly hard to grow crops. McKibben also questioned the wisdom of trying to refute the opinions of the World’s leading ecologists by asserting that our oceans are not actually turning into acids.
In their closing speeches, Epstein and McKibben recapped their main arguments: Epstein questioned the validity of all the evidence McKibben had presented (but presented none himself); and questioned the integrity of McKibben – accusing him of misrepresenting the situation (for what motive?). In complete contrast, McKibben did not use such language and, being careful not to attack Epstein personally, repeated his main point that the fossil fuel industry is the only one that does not pay to dispose of its waste. He then concluded by suggesting that fossil fuel companies need to decide to become energy companies instead; and embrace the use of all the alternatives that we have.
James Delingpole is almost as difficult to engage in debate as Lord Monckton; but not quite – at least I have had several exchanges of emails with Monckton. His Lordship may be equally as fond of facile sarcasm but at least he keeps up a pretence of being capable of debate. Delingpole is just sarcastic; and will not engage in debate with anyone who understands the science – let alone an actual climate scientist. But after being intellectually raped by Sir Paul Nurse, who can blame him? Still, I do wish he would shut up… This is a transcript of my latest attempt to get his attention (still visible here on his personal blog). However, he seems to be too busy over on his Telegraph blog debating the significance of more important political questions of our times such as: Has George Osborn has ever eaten a Cornish Pasty?…
I know you will cite the Met Office as being part of some anti-libertarian plot to install worldwide Socialist governance but, will you please do us all a favour and suspend your belief in conspiracy theories just long enough to take on board some new information:
“A project running almost 10,000 climate simulations on volunteers’ home computers has found that a global warming of 3 degrees Celsius by 2050 is ‘equally plausible’ as a rise of 1.4 degrees. The study addresses some of the uncertainties that previous forecasts, using simpler models or only a few dozen simulations, may have over-looked. Importantly, the forecast range is derived from using a complex Met Office model that accurately reproduces observed temperature changes over the last 50 years. The results suggest that the world is very likely to cross the ’2 degrees barrier’ at some point this century if emissions continue unabated. It also suggests that those planning for the impacts of climate change need to consider the possibility of warming of up to 3 degrees (above the 1961-1990 average) by 2050, even on a mid-range emission scenario. This is a faster rate of warming than most other models predict.”
Citizen science looks at future warming uncertainty.
N.B. The ability of these computer models to recreate historical trends over the last 50 years is not evidence of fudge factors having been applied: It is evidence of model validation, which – along with calibration and sensitivity analysis – is an integral part of establishing the accuracy of such modelling techniques. You can – or should – trust me on this because, unlike you, this is what I have been doing for the last 20 years or so (i.e. using probabilistic computer modelling in environmental risk assessments).
Your beloved marketplace of ideas is a dangerous fallacy; of which your success in getting your ill-informed unscientific opinions plastered all over the media and infecting people’s minds is profound evidence. And for what purpose? You may think you are acting in the public interest but, unfortunately, like everything else in Watermelons 2.0, this is an inversion of reality: As Peter Jacques (University of Florida) has pointed out, it is precisely because environmental scepticism is not in the public interest, the tobacco industry invented the sound science versus junk science debate (now being used to great effect by the fossil fuel and energy industry) to confuse people and prevent sensible regulation of their product.
Further to my somewhat over-long email to Professor Richard Lindzen on 23 February (on which yesterday’s post was based), and as a result of the subsequent exchange of emails between us, I extracted the key 17 questions buried in the original email; and turned them into 17 assertions that can either be accepted or disputed. This was sent to Professor Lindzen on 25 February 2012.
While waiting for Professor Lindzen to clarify his position, all readers are invited to see how many they are willing to concede may very well reflect reality:
1. The IPCC is too optimistic.
2. Holocene climatic stability is now endangered.
3. The ‘marketplace of ideas’ is a fallacy.
4. The notion of a scientific conspiracy is an illusion.
5. Some of your (Lindzen’s) graphs were potentially misleading.
6. Given (2), post-Industrial temperature rise is significant.
7. Given the inertia in the system, more warming is ‘in the pipeline’.
8. Sceptics are always ‘going down the up escalator’.
9. Therefore ‘global warming’ did not stop in 1998 (or at any other time).
10. Neither the Sun nor volcanoes are now the dominant climate forcing.
11. As CO2 is the only thing to have changed significantly, this is a ‘fair test’.
12. ACD is inevitable because the Earth’s energy balance must be restored.
13. Soon we will have to re-name the Glacier National Park in Montana.
14. It would be sensible to move to a low/zero carbon economy ASAP.
15. Environmental concern is based on palaeoclimatology not models.
16. Climate “sceptics” are not like Galileo.
17. Environmentalism is not the enemy of humanity.
How highly did you score?
There is one crucially-important factor (not stated as a question in the orginal email) – and that is Climate Sensitivity. If Professor lindzen is wrong, I think we’re all screwed… Unfortunately, just about every other legitimate climate scientist – apart from Judith Curry, Pat Michaels and Roy Spencer – thinks Professor Lindzen is indeed wrong.
So the big question is, what are we all going to do about it?
***UPDATE: Please make sure you read this too (and/or instead)!***
Last week, I was fortunate enough to get a ticket to a meeting in the Palace of Westminster at which MIT Professor Richard Lindzen was the guest speaker. Unfortunately, as a result of frustration with what I saw as Lindzen’s failure to explain the relevance of palaeoclimatology to our understanding of the way in which the Earth regulates its temperature, I blew my chance to ask a question. However, Prof. Lindzen kindly invited me to email them to him instead. I know it was a bit cheeky of me but, rather than email him the 3 questions I had prepared, I decided to email him questions arising from what he actually said instead. What follows is a copy of my rather long (whose fault is that?) email (I sent to him the next day) – only very slightly amended as a consequence of a subsequent exchange of emails (in which he did not answer any of my questions)…
***UPDATE: Because this is such a long post you may wish to skip ahead and come back later (may be). If so, go to this simple 17 sentence summary first or instead!***
Dear Professor Lindzen,
RE: My questions arising from listening to your talk entitled ‘Global Warming: How to Approach the Science (Climate models and the evidence)’, at the Palace of Westminster on Wednesday 22 February 2012
Given Viscount Monckton’s curtailment of our discussion, I am grateful to you for offering to answer my questions via email. I trust you have (had) a safe journey back to the USA.
In order that you may appreciate where I am coming from on this subject, please note that I am 47 years old and have over 25 years of professional work experience as a mine geologist and hydrogeologist; mostly having worked in environmental consultancy but also for the Environment Agency (the equivalent of your EPA). However, in addition to a BSc in Geology and an MSc in Hydrogeology, I now have an MA in Environmental Politics. (For more background on me, please see the ‘About’ page of my blog). In addition to my academic qualifications, I am a Fellow of the Geological Society of London (GSL) and a Chartered Geologist and, although I do not speak for the GSL (which can and does speak for itself – as does the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)), I am copying this email to GSL Vice-President Professor Colin Summerhayes (who also asked you the question about the Palaeocene Eocene Thermal Maximum [PETM] at the meeting).
As you might imagine, I had come to the meeting with 3 questions prepared in the hope that I might get to ask at least one. Unfortunately, I never got as far as my first question (and was not allowed a second attempt)… However, given that the moment has now passed, I have decided that it would make more sense to pose my questions to you as they arise from the notes I made while you were talking. This email is therefore rather long but, even if it takes you a while (given all your other commitments), I hope you will be willing and able to respond in due course (e.g. please feel free to insert your responses in a distinctive font colour and return my email).
I hope you will not be offended but, I must confess to being somewhat surprised that your talk was not significantly different from the version on the Internet (i.e. as delivered 21 months ago at the ICCC4 in May 2010). In addition, although perfectly polite, I was disappointed by your seemingly repeated insinuation that the IPCC is a politically alarmist institution and/or that just about anyone that disagrees with you (e.g. Martin Rees and Ralph Cicerone) is part of some kind of global conspiracy to foist environmental alarmism on a credulous world; presumably for reasons of personal (scientific) or political expediency. You will gather from all this that I do not buy-in to the assertion that Climategate was anything other than a mendacious attempt to discredit climate science and scientists, which was all the more obvious after its repetition last year.
Therefore, although I am not questioning whether you believe what you say to be true (as that would be to question your integrity and/or intellectual honesty); I am bound to ask – where is the actual evidence for this? Furthermore, I am also bound to say that, on the contrary, there is very clear historical documentary evidence for an extensive, business-led, campaign to downplay, deny or dismiss a whole sequence of environmental problems over recent decades (e.g. see Merchants of Doubt). It is because of this that, despite what I consider to be my sound grasp of the physical basis for concern over anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), my Lack of Environment blog tends to focus on the politics underlying its denial – and the denial of all other environmental problems (e.g. your previous advocacy work for and on behalf of the tobacco industry). However, I digress… As promised, here are my thoughts regarding your presentation:
In addition to the foregoing, I would make one further observation regarding your criticism of the IPCC: As you must know from first-hand experience, by virtue of the way the IPCC was set-up by UN-member governments, all of its reports are subject to line-by-line and word-by-word scrutiny; such that everything it has ever published has tended to be optimistic, under-stated and/or couched in vague and convoluted caveats. Furthermore, I should hope that you would also acknowledge that its AR4 documents (2007) are also now out-of-date?
In essence, your optimism appears to be founded upon your conviction that climate sensitivity is low. However, the fact remains that the last time the Earth experienced 450ppm of atmospheric CO2 (a level that we now seem certain to exceed) was 35 million years ago when global average temperatures were 4 Celsius warmer than prior to the Industrial Revolution; at which time Antarctica was ice-free. Furthermore, all existing life on Earth is adapted to the way things are now. Therefore, it is utterly irrelevant that it may have been significantly warmer in the more distant past. Do I really have to remind you that modern humans (cities, cultivation and civilisation) would not be here if it were not for the fact that both climate and sea levels have been remarkably stable for at least 7,000 years?
You expressed surprise at the fact that academics choose to be alarmed; whereas the public are sceptical. This seems a remarkable piece of reality inversion to me; and makes me wonder who you would consult if you were concerned that you might have a serious life-threatening medical condition? Surely the public’s scepticism and/or cynicism owes more to belief in ‘the marketplace of ideas’ and the modern preference for believing in conspiracy theories that absolve us of responsibility – and/or blame somebody else – for bad things that happen?
I was somewhat surprised at your criticism of the 255 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) signatories to a letter in Nature and the Guardian newspaper in May 2010 (i.e. that many were not actively involved in climate science) because you are the only climate scientist amongst sixteen signatories to a letter that appeared recently in the WSJ (which also refused to publish one signed by 255 relevant academics). Surely, then, it is hypocritical of you to criticise the NAS letter?
One of the many graphs you displayed showed at least a 0.6 Celsius rise since 1860 (although Richard Muller’s BEST study would suggest (as have many others before) that the increase is more than this). However, despite the relative climate and sea level stability over the last 7,000 years, you dismissed this as not “statistically significant”. Can you tell me at what point you would consider a rise to be statistically significant; and why? Are you not worried at all by the fact that, due to the massive inertia in the climate system, more warming is already “in the pipeline”?
You also criticised the dubious practice of manipulating the axes of graphs to misrepresent data and/or convey misleading ideas. However, at least one of your graphs did exactly that (i.e. steeply inclined Keeling Curve superimposed on cherry-picked slightly-declining, temperature gradient) [see important Footnote]. I would therefore agree with you, as the use of such tactics is clearly capable of suggesting that there is no correlation between two variables that are very well correlated indeed. Furthermore, I would be interested to know what your reaction is to the ‘Still Going Down the Up Escalator’ article on the SkepticalScience Website? Will you at least admit that Global Warming did not stop in 1998?
You mentioned in your talk that the Sun was 20% dimmer 2000 Ma BP and that the Earth was much colder back then (i.e. ‘Snowball Earth’). However, it has been much warmer in the past as well. This would appear to demonstrate that the Sun is not a dominant cause of current warming. Furthermore, the USGS have recently confirmed that volcanoes are not either. Despite your misgivings about use of the word “incontrovertible”, would you accept these assertions as at least highly likely to be true?
Although not the strongest greenhouse gas (GHG), CO2 is the most abundant, long-lived, GHG there is (i.e. water vapour is much more abundant but comes and goes; whereas methane is 23 times more powerful as a GHG but is much less abundant). Furthermore, CO2 is the only thing capable of explaining the warming we have seen over the last 150 years, because CO2 is the only thing that has changed significantly (i.e. increased by 40%) in that time. Surely this is what is known in science as a “fair test”? Nothing else has changed significantly (not the Sun, not cosmic rays, not water vapour, not volcanic eruptions). Given all of the above, can you please explain to me why you continue to assert that the science behind concern over the enhanced greenhouse effect is uncertain?
Towards the end of your talk, you mocked the alarmism of the 1920s. However, it was about that time that the first photographic records were made of glaciers in the Himalayas and elsewhere. Recent similar expeditions have proved that very significant loss of glacier ice-mass (i.e. depth and length) has occurred in 90 years and, in the case of South Georgia (i.e. the UK territory in the South Atlantic!) it is known that most of the retreat has occurred in the last 30 years. Furthermore, as an example closer to your home, it is currently estimated that in Montana, Glacier National Park has already lost over 75% of the 150 glaciers first observed (by Europeans) in the 1880s and, even at current rates of melting, they are all expected to have disappeared by 2030. At what stage do you think the National Park should be re-named? Would it not be a good idea for humanity to collectively agree to try and stop this happening elsewhere by moving rapidly to a low/zero carbon economy?
Finally, for the record, the 3 questions I had prepared (to which I would still also be delighted to receive answers), are as follows:
Concern over anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is based on the study of palaeoclimatology, not on computer modelling. However, models have helped to predict the atmospheric response to greenhouse gas emissions; and any uncertainties in model predictions have been due to uncertainties in emissions projections. Therefore, when reviewed retrospectively (choosing the most appropriate emissions scenario that reflects what actually happened to emissions), the models are demonstrably very accurate (if they include all climate forcings). Given all of this, why is it that you maintain that we have no reason to be concerned?
What is your answer to Utah-based Professor of Geological Sciences, Barry Bickmore, who recently suggested that today’s so-called climate “sceptics” are not like Galileo because, rather than fighting against one, they are fighting for an obscurantist and anti-intellectual Establishment, in an attempt to perpetuate the burning of fossil fuels for as long as possible?
Given the findings documented in Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway’s book, Merchants of Doubt, can you please tell me why, having fought for so long on behalf of the tobacco industry to prevent legislation to minimise the harmful effects of smoking, you have apparently focused instead on helping the fossil fuel lobby deny that anthropogenic climate disruption is happening?
At 28 mins and 30 seconds into this video of the talk, it can be clearly seen that Lindzen presented a slide with the steeply inclined Keeling ‘curve’ overlain with static or slightly-declining recent temperature data. This slide does not appear in the published PDF of this presentation. Why is this?
For the avoidance of any doubt about this, here is a screenshot of the “missing” slide as it appears in the video:
Continuing my review of Paul and Anne Ehrlich’s Betrayal of Science and Reason (1996), we come to Chapter 8 – regarding (what they called) the “brownlash’s” fables about the Atmosphere and Climate. Given that the Ehrlichs acknowledge that climate change is the biggest problem we face – and the one which contrarians deny most vociferously – I am not sure why it is not tackled first (or last) in their book: This may be because the Ehrlichs are biologists – and more comfortable talking about food, population and biodiversity but, whatever the reason, I am sticking to their order of presentation. Therefore, the last of these posts about the fables promoted by the brownlash will be tomorrow – regarding toxic chemicals.
As for today, although the Ehrlichs tackle all kinds of atmospheric pollution, I think the brownlash has since been comprehensively defeated on all fronts accept that relating to CO2 emissions. Therefore, I will only review here the fables that the Ehrlichs identified as being put forward by climate change deniers that – as you will see – have not changed much in 15 years; and neither have those promulgating them! Indeed, all of arguments identified below (and their rebuttals) can be found on sites like Skeptical Science; and/or summarised in Robert Henson’s Rough Guide to Climate Change. Nevertheless, as ever, the Ehrlich’s comments are very incisive; and remain just as relevant today as they were in 1996. So, using the abbreviation ACC for (anthropogenic climate change), here is the Ehrlich’s top ten:
01. ACC is not a problem: The Ehrlichs’ simplistic response to this was to say two things – You have to roll dice many times to establish beyond reasonable doubt that they are loaded; and if climate change is not a problem to “sceptics” then, presumably, neither would they be concerned if they found a lump in a breast or a testicle (depending on gender obviously).
02. The greenhouse effect is just a theory: A long-time favourite argument of Richard Lindzen’s. To which many have responded, so is gravity! However, the Ehrlichs point out that without greenhouse gases (GHGs) in our atmosphere, the Earth’s surface would be at minus 18 Celsius and, although water vapour and methane may be more potent GHGs – water vapour is ephemeral and methane is (thankfully) even more of a trace gas than CO2.
03. Problematic ACC is only predicted by models: Ever since James Hansen went on the record as saying that evidence for ACC had emerged from the “noise” of natural climate variation in 1988, this assertion has been attacked. However, all such counter-claims have proven to be misleading, deceitful, and/or based on flawed analysis of cherry-picked data. Most recently, of course, former sceptic Dr Richard A Muller has conceded that multi-decadal warming is happening. Unfortunately, the response of deniers has been one of two things: To add Muller to the list of people duped by the ACC “scam” or to try and claim that a supposed absence of warming over the last decade is relevant.
04. Scientists used to fear an approaching Ice Age: This is such a tired old argument; I can barely be bothered to respond to it. However, as does everybody else, the Ehrlichs point out that between 1945 and 1975, the cooling effect of atmospheric pollution generated by developed countries was greater than the warming effect of ACC. Today pollution from less developed countries may be doing the same thing but this is not good news because one day soon, just as it did before, ACC is likely to dominate once more.
05. The doubling of a trace gas such as CO2 cannot possibly be responsible for ACC: This is just a straightforward refusal to accept a physical reality that is theoretically well-understood; demonstrable in a laboratory; and now, arguably, observable in nature.
06. Humans can’t possibly affect our atmosphere and/or climate: The Ehrlichs’ response to this was to ask how many micrograms of bacteria does it take to kill a 100kg man? So then, just like Nazi propaganda, no matter how many times this lie is repeated, it will not magically become true. It is an unpleasant reality that we all need to accept: The burning of fossil fuels by humanity is endangering the climate and sea level stability of the last 7,000 years that made modern civilisation possible.
07. 20th Century warming is just recovery from Little Ice Age (LIA): This is, in essence, the same argument as that made by people who continue to attack the MBH98 Hockey Stick graph, as if by doing so, they could invalidate 150 years of scientific understanding of the likely effects of doubling atmospheric CO2 concentration. See this recent post on Climate Denial Crock of the Week: Perfect Timing! New “Hockey Stick” Video/Mike Mann in WSJ.
08. Change will be slow – we can adapt: Having been defeated by the science, this is the fall-back position adopted by economically-oriented “sceptics” – both in 1996 and still today! As those with a tendency to support their arguments by quoting from the Bible (“Moi?“) might say, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). However, such an unscientific position ignores the existence of positive feedback mechanisms and tipping points; it also ignores the fact that climate change is already impeding our ability to grow enough crops to feed ourselves or the animals we eat. This problem can only get worse not better. Also, of course, it ignores the fact that trees can’t migrate!
09. ACC is not worth the cost of fixing: Even in 1996, William Nordhaus was trying to tell the world that this is so. Not surprisingly, therefore, he denounced The Stern Review in 2006. However, I have yet to see anyone rebut Stern’s response to this criticism – which was to point out that putting off expenditure on climate change mitigation will be the greatest economic mistake in human history. If so, why are we still making it?
10. Some parts of the world are getting colder: Up until this year, “sceptics” have continued to cite this argument every time some part of the world is hit by some unusually-cold weather. Hopefully, in the face of the spiralling costs of insurance claims arising from increasingly frequent extreme weather phenomena of all kind all around the world (all being caused – as predicted by models – by warming oceans), they will now shut up and focus instead on solving our problem.
May be now people will accept that climate change is an existential threat to all life on Earth? I hope so, because, as James Hansen points out, we have at most 4 years of business as usual before it will be too late.
I could have just called this post “Climate science in a nutshell – Part 3” but that would have been to display a singular lack of imagination (no pun intended); and may not have grabbed your attention. So, yes, I am continuing my review of Storms of my Grandchildren. Hansen says in the Introduction to the book, his intention was to summarise events since his sixtieth birthday in 2001 and, the further you get into the book, the more obvious it becomes that he has spent much of his time since then telling anybody that would listen (and many would not) that the IPCC were seriously underestimating the risks posed by climate change. This has now become a well-established fact that will hopefully be addressed in the forthcoming Assessment Report 5. However, when Hansen started saying this in 2003, it was almost revolutionary…
First of all a brief journey back in time: In Chapter 4, Henson goes on a brief detour to explain why it is that we still don’t have the data to accurately quantify exactly how much pollution in the atmosphere is slowing down the warming that would otherwise be taking place; and why this is now so regrettable. The answers being that special interest groups interfered with decision making 20 years ago to prevent investment in the necessary satellite construction and deployment; and if we understood this “global dimming” effect better we would also have a better idea of how bad things could get (if and when developing countries clean-up their act).
James Hutton is one of the most famous figures in the history of geology who first devised the Principle of Uniformitarianism (which Chrales Lyell later popularised by saying “the the present is the key to the past”). This contends that, for example, by watching the way water can cut a channel through moist sand on a beach when the tide goes out, we can understand how the Grand Canyon was formed; and that the only difference (in this instance) is the time taken to achieve the end result. Hansen’s insight has been to invert this Principle and to realise that the past is the key to the present; in that we can deduce what will now happen by understanding what happened in the past; and why (Chapter 5).
Perhaps the most noticeable thing about the time-series data from the ice core record (reproduced here for convenience) is what Hansen calls the “saw-toothed climate response”: Whereas ice age conditions have generally taken tens of thousands of years to develop; the Earth has typically emerged from them at least ten times faster. This Hansen attributes to the fact that ice melts much faster than it can accumulate (which is dependent on it snowing first). Furthermore, although the pattern of the last 1 million years has been for the Earth to go in and out of ice ages, it has been much warmer in the more distant past. For example, Antarctica first became glaciated when the temperature was 4 Celsius warmer than pre-Industrial times; 35 million years ago when atmospheric CO2 was at 450ppm and falling. This is why Hansen went on record a few years ago saying that humanity needed to avoid allowing such conditions to re-establish themselves because the melting of ice sheets would then be inevitable.
However, what has irritated Hansen for much of the last 10 years is the fact that the IPCC predictions of sea level change in 2001 and 2007 have ignored the melting of ice caps. Furthermore, Hansen is convinced that this is the reason why climate change effects (melting glaciers, permafrost, sea ice, and ice caps in Greenland and West Antarctica) are now accelerating faster than the IPCC predicted: Basically, the IPCC did not allow for amplifying feedback mechanisms. Quite why, I still don’t understand (hopefully I will by the time I finish the book), but I suspect it was because they were relying on climate modelling too much; and not looking out the window enough.
The next factor in the equation (to determine how bad things could get and how quickly they could get there) is the inertia in the climate system: Despite the fact that the Earth can warm-up much quicker than it cools-down (and ice core data do show that air temperatures can change dramatically within just a few years), the oceans take decades to change their overall temperature because of their volume. Although the recent warming (and acidification) of the oceans cannot now be seriously questioned, those that would deny that we have a problem and/or are the cause of the problem will no doubt continue to do so (just as they continue to dispute the veracity of land-based temperature increases). However, what should be remembered is this: Despite all of their limitations, computer modelling did predict the warming of the oceans and the consequential increase in the frequency and intensity of tropical storms, droughts, wildfires, floods, blizzards, etc. Therefore, whilst it may be impossible to prove that any individual extreme weather event is a direct consequence of climate change, in aggregate, it is surely as plain as the nose on your face that this is exactly what we were told would happen. The big question is, what’s next?
Please come back tomorrow to find out!
James Hansen is widely regarded as one of the most important people in the now at least 30-year-old campaign to get concern over anthropogenic global warming (AGW) taken seriously. I must admit that I sometimes wonder what it must feel like to have spent most of your working life championing a cause and to have so little to show for it. However, I do not think that it is self-pity that may keep him awake at night.
In the Preface to his book, Storms of my Grandchildren, Hansen vividly describes some key events from his early years and early career. For example:
1. In December 1963, he witnessed an unusual lunar eclipse (i.e. when the moon passes through the Earth’s shadow). This particular eclipse was unusual because the moon became invisible (instead of appearing red due to some light from the Sun being bent as it passes tangentially through the Earth’s atmosphere). This prompted Hansen to work out how much volcanic dust (from a very large eruption 9 months earlier) must have still been in the atmosphere in order to prevent the moon appearing red. So began, presumably, a fascination with atmospheric physics (as opposed to any other branch of the subject).
2. In 1978, after more than 10 years of studying Venus (including getting NASA to send the Pioneer probe to the planet to investigate it), Hansen decided the really important stuff was going on much closer to home: Therefore, even before the Pioneer probe had reached its target, Hansen resigned from the Mission and, instead, began to focus on what we are doing to our own atmosphere. However, what started out as a new research project has, of course, since consumed the rest of his illustrious career.
By 1988, Hansen was certain enough of his understanding to testify before a Senate Committee and before a Congressional Inquiry (in 1989). Unfortunately, rather than convincing politicians that action was required, Hansen’s testimony proved to be the catalyst for a campaign to discredit him, his work, and anyone (like Ben Santer) who agreed with him. Central to this campaign, of course, were the Cold War physicists Robert Jastrow, William Nierenberg, Frederick Seitz, and S. Fred Singer (now with no Communist enemy to fight), using as their primary vehicle of choice the George C Marshall Institute. More than 20 years later, only one of these what-you-might-call “four horsemen of the anti-apocalypse” is left alive (i.e. Singer) but, my God, have they caused one hell of a lot of trouble and, arguably, their legacy may yet get much worse.
In the first Chapter of his book, Hansen recounts one other event that is worthy of note: This was his first ever head-to-head encounter with Richard Lindzen, at the second meeting of Vice-President Cheney’s Climate Change Task Force in 2001. On page 12, Hansen describes Lindzen’s approach as that of a lawyer putting forward only information and “arguments that favor their client” (a strategy Hansen regrettably only later recalled that Lindzen had previously used to great effect in defending the Tobacco industry); whereas Hansen accepts that his style of presentation was more scientific (including assessment of all data and discussion of probability). Sure enough, Hansen was told afterwards that, as he had suspected, members of the Committee were left confused and unable to make firm decisions because two experts appeared to have equally valid but completely contradictory views on the same subject. As Hansen says, a draw in any such “debate” is a loss precisely because “policy inaction is the aim of those that dispute global warming”.
Hansen also laments the way that Lindzen and his fellow “sceptics” have, over the years, repeatedly “moved the goalposts”. Whenever, one of their arguments is falsified they never admit they are wrong; they just start another argument. Indeed, we can see that happening again at the moment: Having denied for at least 16 years that the world is warming, so called “sceptics” are once more seeking to re-write history and claim they never disputed this; seeking instead to move the “debate” onto attribution (i.e. how much of the change is anthropogenic).
However, in reality, we already have answers to all of their spurious arguments. Therefore, in the ongoing campaign to protect the status quo, they continue to obfuscate and confuse; and they continue to deny very clear facts regarding recent geological history (i.e. the last 35 million years) and its implication (i.e. that what we humans are now doing to the planet is significant and dangerous). For example: The average global temperature rise between the so-called Little Ice Age (sufficient for major rivers like the Hudson and Thames to freeze in the 1700s) and the mid-20th Century was less than half of one degree Celsius. Whereas, as the BEST team have very kindly now accepted, the average rise since 1960 is more than twice as much (i.e. 1 degree Celsius).
Furthermore, Hansen’s climate models, calibrated and validated as they have been (by being able to reproduce historic data and correctly predict the temporary effects of major volcanic eruptions such as that of Mt Pinatubo), indicate an overall Climate Sensitivity (i.e. the eventual temperature increase caused by a doubling of atmospheric CO2) as being between 2 and 4 Celsius (within 50 years). This means that unless humans stop burning fossil fuels very soon we are likely to cause a rise in global average temperatures resulting in conditions the Earth has not seen for 35 million years when, with CO2 at 450ppm and falling, Antarctica fist became glaciated); and from which state the Geological Society of London estimate it will take the Earth 100,000 years to recover. Therefore, if sea levels during Ice Ages were 50 to 100 metres lower than today (due to Ice being locked-up in vastly-increased ice caps), what is so crazy about assuming that sea level will rise if existing Ice Caps disappear as predicted (if not faster)?
This, then, is why I suspect James Hansen may have trouble sleeping at night. He has known all of this for at least 20 years and yet, it seems, many politicians, journalists and people are living in denial… If the truth hurts, it is not my fault; and I am not going to stop saying it.
It is a matter of public record that only 3 MPs (all Conservatives) voted against the third and final reading of the Climate Change Bill in October 2008 (Christopher Chope, Peter Lilley, and Andrew Tyrie) and that, on the verge of doing so, Peter Lilley also joked about the fact that it was, at the time, snowing in London (Hansard (i.e. House of Commons Debates) Volume 481 (Part 153) column 838). However, there are at least a dozen sceptical Conservative MPs (or MEPs)- and they are all staunchly anti-European as well.
This post is longer than is typical for me but it did not make sense to split this list in half and separate part of it from the conclusion. So, (in alphabetical order) the most prominent of them are as follows:
– Graham Brady disputes the legitimacy of the consensus view that climate change is happening and that we are causing it; and does not want the economy “destroyed” to fix a problem we may not have (as quoted by Andrew Grice in The Independent newspaper of 2 December 2009).
– Douglas Carswell agrees and, clearly heavily influenced by reading Ian Plimer’s book, Heaven and Earth, claims that “…it was a lot warmer in the middle ages” (as quoted in the Clacton Gazette of 23 October 2009).
– Christopher Chope, one of the 3 Tory rebels on the Climate Change Bill, cited a report by a firm of accountants that suggested the UK will be responsible for little more than 1% of global GHG emissions by 2050 (Hansard 481 (153) c.769). This is blame-shifting – one of Clive Hamilton’s maladaptive coping strategies for those in denial of AGW (see Requiem for a Species).
– Philip Davies has (in 2007) described AGW as a “bandwagon” that people have jumped on with “religious zeal”; said he was as concerned as anyone else about the world our grandchildren will inherit; but was opposed action that “disproportionately affects our economy and the quality of life of the people of this country” (Hansard 461 (106) c.1020-21). His position had changed very little by 2009 because he was still calling for “proper cost benefit analysis” (he is clearly not a fan of the Stern Review); and bemoaning the apparent fact that anyone who urges caution “is completely decried and treated like a Holocaust denier” (as quoted by Grice – see link above).
– David Davis, writing in The Independent newspaper on the same day as Grice, made it clear he believes those who say global warming stopped in 1998; and claimed the problem was not worth the economic cost or the environmental blight (of wind farms) inherent in the solutions then being pursued (Davis 2009).
– Daniel Hannan (MEP) has made it clear that he accepts our climate is changing “…although probably not to the degree claimed by some climate change professionals…”; and he resents the fact that his scepticism leads some to label him anti-environmental. Furthermore, in seeking to defend himself he also cites (non-scientist) Lawson’s Appeal to Reason as his excuse, as a layman unable “to reach a confident view”; for assuming that AGW is a problem not worth fixing (Hannan 2009).
– Roger Helmer (MEP) made a speech to the European Parliament on 4 February 2009, in which he quoted Christopher Booker as having said that “global warming alarmism is the greatest collective flight from reality in human history”; describing EU proposals as “…planning to spend unimaginable sums of money on mitigation measures which will simply not work [that will] deny us the funds we need to address real environmental problems” (Helmer 2009). Furthermore, Helmer has even accused the Church of England of having “abandoned religious faith entirely and taken up the new religion of climate change alarmism instead” (again as quoted by Grice in The Independent newspaper – see link above).
– The Rt Hon Peter Lilley MP (i.e. a former Cabinet Minister in the Thatcher government) is arguably the most forthright and most experienced of Tory sceptics (and the most senior of the 3 Climate Change Bill rebels). As such, he does not dispute the basic science of AGW; but does dispute what the climate modellers are telling us (Hansard 498 (153) c.1049). Indeed, earlier that same year, in a similar debate on 16 July 2009, Lilley had been even more strident in his opposition to the consensus (IPCC) view; and more emphatic in his acceptance of the misinformation campaign apparently funded by big business (Hansard 496 (113) c.480-81).
– John Maples equates climate scientists with doctors in the 1850s by suggesting that the former are “scratching the surface of something that they do not really understand…”; and that what they actually say “does not justify any of the apocalyptic visions…” described by some demanding mitigating action be taken (Hansard 477 (106) c.103).
– The Rt Hon John Redwood MP was one of many who used Martin Durkin’s 2007 Great Global Warming Swindle documentary to justify his scepticism; along with mentioning melting ice on Mars and suggesting that warming may have some benefits (Redwood 2007). More recently, he has been happy to ridicule scientific projections and question the entire AGW hypothesis on the basis of isolated extremely cold weather events (Redwood 2010); all in a manner very reminiscent of Christopher Booker.
– Andrew Tyrie, the third of the Tory rebels, would appear to have opposed the passage of the Climate Change Bill in October 2008 on primarily economic grounds; dismissing concern over AGW as having “an air of unreality” about it and doubting whether most of its projected consequences will ever happen (Hansard 477 (106) c.98).
What do we learn from all of this? Well I think Lilley is the key to this puzzle: He was a successful stockbroker and businessman before entering Parliament; and apparently still maintains positions on the board of directors of several large companies (Lilley 2010). Therefore, irrespective of whether or not Lilley is a sceptic (he claims he is not), he is quite prepared to rely upon sceptical arguments such as those that say temperature reconstructions are flawed (if not faked); and that climate models are unreliable. Lilley clearly does not accept the findings of the Stern Review but where is he getting his misinformation (or who is feeding it to him)? It does not take much digging and textual analysis to spot the similarities between what he says and what, for example, the Institute of Economic Affairs says… The trouble with all of this is that, if anything, scientists have been erring or the side of caution and under-stating the consequences of our inaction.
In conclusion then, although I am as opposed to the UK being part of a Federal European super-state as are all of the above sceptics, I have not been seduced by money fetishism and/or growthmania (or if I ever was – I have come to my senses). Therefore, if climate realists are going to win the argument, we are going to have to win the economic argument. If so, I have a couple of questions:
1. What will happen to conventional cost-benefit analysis once account is taken of the cost of repairing all the damage caused by increasingly-frequent and increasingly-severe natural disasters?
2. Why is it that this Health and Security Perspectives of Climate Change – How to secure our future wellbeing conference in London last Monday, organised by the British Medical Association and supported by the World Health Organization – was not even mentioned on the news (apart from by the BBC’s Environment Correspondent Richard Black)?
The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) claims that it is “the UK’s original free-market think-tank…” but, is it the best, or the most sensible? This would appear to be debatable because, as Tim Worstall has kindly pointed out, the Adam Smith Institute (ASI) [which claims to be “the UK's leading libertarian think-tank...”] accepts that climate change “is happening, it’s a problem, it’s anthropogenic and we ought to do something about it”. Furthermore, this is the position adopted by the Policy Exchange [see Moselle and Moore (2011) p.6] and the Taxpayers’ Alliance [see Sinclair (2009) pp.3-5].
Needless to say, they all disagree with many of the methods of mitigation currently being pursued, but so do I. That is not the point. The point is that the IEA seems doggedly committed to promoting the view that anthropogenic climate change (AGW) is either a fantasy, a scam, or a problem that is not worth the economic cost of fixing. I mean, they are seriously behind the curve on this one…
The remainder of what I have to say here is based on my reading of the IEA’s 2008 publication, Climate Change Policy: Challenging the Activists, (still for sale on their website), compiled and contributed to by Colin Robinson.
– Ian Byatt’s contribution is simply a (Nordhausian) critique of the very low discount rate used in the Stern Review, which Byatt claims results in gross underestimation of the real costs of proposed actions to mitigate AGW (page 92-113).
– David Henderson appears to concede that the climate is changing (as it has done before); but that the magnitude of the problem has been overstated (i.e. conspiracy theory); and that no radical action is therefore required (page 72-5).
– Russell Lewis is clearly a fan of the argument that AGW is a false alarm; considers that current concern is as flawed as that in the 1970s over an approaching ice age (page 5-7); and believes that prominent theologians, politicians, and philosophical scientists have all been duped by what he cites author Michael Crichton has having termed “a kind of fundamentalist religion” (page 40).
– Julian Morris uses classic denialist arguments that CO2 is not a pollutant and that climate change is natural to dispute the reality of a legitimate scientific consensus view that AGW is actually happening; and to support the view that environmentalism is a new religion (page 132).
– Alan Peacock, however, uses religious-sounding rhetoric to reach the conclusion that AGW is an anti-libertarian conspiracy (pages 114 and 130 respectively).
– Colin Robinson agrees that “environmental alarmism” has some of the characteristics of a new religion in his Introduction, which he considers to be dangerous precisely because it challenges the status quo and the sensibility of business as usual. In his second contribution to the collection of essays, he also criticises modelling/forecasting as inherently unreliable; and says any predictions must be treated with scepticism in the light of previous false alarms (pages 42 and 66 respectively).
These guys are unquestionably all extremely well-respected economists and/or businessmen, but they seem to have allowed this to cloud their judgement: Because of their absence of any scientific expertise, rather than engage in rational debate over the highly-probable scientific reality of AGW or the equally-likely political necessity of taking mitigating action to avoid unprecedented environmental changes, they prefer to invoke the supposed irrationality of concern over AGW.
This would appear to lend weight to the argument of those that have suggested that it is Capitalist economics and/or consumerism that is/are the problem; what Daly calls “growthmania” and Hamilton “growth fetishism”. Whatever you want to call it, some economists (at the IEA at least) appear to have decided that they cannot afford the IPCC to be right; and are therefore willing to grasp hold of any evidence they can find (or that other conservative think tanks feed to them) that may confirm this view. In other words, this is cognitive dissonance leading to confirmation bias; being dressed-up as economic rationalism.
Moselle, B. & Moore, S. (2011), ‘Climate Change Policy – Time for Plan B’, Policy Exchange.
Sinclair, M. (2009), ‘Ending the Green Rip-off: Reforming climate change policy to reduce the burden on families’, Taxpayers’ Alliance.