Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category
‘The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches From The Front Line’ by Dr Michael Mann, Professor of Meteorology at Pennsylvania State University, was recently published in paperback. I decided to purchase a copy. Here is my review of the book, as published on amazon.com.
In the opening chapters of this book, Michael Mann repeatedly makes it clear that, as a physicist, his interest in palaeoclimatology was entirely natural. That is to say, he did not approach the evidence for climate change with any prejudicial notion of what he wanted to find, least of all to prove that ongoing climate change is predominantly human-caused.
Those who are suspicious of Michael Mann’s motives will no doubt respond:
“Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he!
However, all readers of this book will, sooner or later, have to decide where they stand on the question of the validity of ‘Occam’s Razor’. This is the logical supposition that, among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected. With regard to climate science, I have to say, it works for me: Either this book is an unashamed piece of propaganda and, from the very start, is deeply disingenuous; or it is the honest account of a very humble physicist who, completely unwittingly, became the focus of the biggest industry-funded misinformation campaign of modern times.
Having read both this book and Andrew Montford’s ‘Hockey Stick Illusion’, I should like to propose that, even if you have not done so, you have the following choice: Do you put your trust in an authoritative argument from a genuine expert (Mann) or do you want to believe the conspiracy theory put forward by a non-expert (Montford)?
Put it another way, are you going to believe that climate scientists are over-stating a problem in order to perpetuate the funding of their research; or are you willing to accept that business leaders are down-playing a problem in order to perpetuate the viability of their business?
If you are undecided, the following facts may help you:
(1) There is no significant precedent for research scientists over-stating environmental problems – nor any evidence (that has not been examined and found to be groundless) that climate scientists are doing this or have done this at any time in the last twenty years.
(2) There is a very significant precedent for business leaders (in the tobacco industry) down-playing environmental problems – and a great deal of evidence that this is exactly what fossil fuel executives have been doing for at least the last 20 to 50 years.
In the opening chapters of this book I was particularly impressed by the following argument (attributed to Stephen Schneider): We do not buy home insurance because we think our house may burn down. We buy it because that very unlikely event will be catastrophic… Applied to the issue of anthropogenic climate disruption, humanity’s continuing failure to take out insurance against an increasing probable catastrophic outcome does indeed seem “crazy”… Unless of course, you prefer to believe the ideologically prejudiced opinions of other genuine non-experts like Senator James Inhoffe, who would have us all believe that anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is a false alarm.
If, after reading this book, you still think ACD is a false alarm, I suggest you cancel your fire insurance – you’re wasting your money – it’s never going to happen.
Latest email from Greenpeace
Amazing news! Four minutes after I heard Colin’s appeal hearing had started, news came that he had been granted bail. I didn’t even have time to make myself a cup of tea.
The support team in St Petersburg are paying the bail money as soon as possible. Hopefully he’ll be out before the weekend.
Thanks to the 100,000-plus people who petitioned for Colin’s release, and sent messages of support to him and his wife Christine. She wanted to send this message in reply to you all:
“Thank you thank you thank you. As I am reading your beautiful words of love and support for Colin, [our daughter] Madeleine and myself I have tears running profusely. My heart is filled with your love. Colin will be so humbled by your messages of support when I see him and hug him he will feel and know your love and support. Love to you all and thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
If you would like to leave a message for Colin, or any of the Arctic 30, you can do so via this website.
Despite today’s good news, this is not over yet. The Arctic 30 still stand accused of a crime they did not commit.
Twenty-eight activists took peaceful action on behalf of us all, and two journalists shone a spotlight on destructive Arctic oil drilling. The charge of hooliganism is both an insult and an outrage. Nobody will truly be celebrating until they’re home and the charges have been dropped.
I am a big fan of the ‘Great Continental Railway Journeys’ TV series presented by former Conservative MP, Michael Portillo. Therefore, having missed a couple of programmes, I have been catching-up on BBC iPlayer. Apart from 20th Century history, a common thread runing through all the programmes is art. In the most recent programme (Prague to Munich) Portillo explains how Expressionism was invented by the so-called Der Blaue Reiter group in Munich. However, it was via the previous programme (i.e. where Portillo travelled from Copenhagen to Oslo) that I learned that the full title of the Edvard Munch’s most famous painting is: The Scream of Nature.
As Wikipedia helpfully informs readers, Munch recorded the inspiration for the painting in his diary entry for 22 January 1892:
One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream.
Dear Greenpeace member,
I’ve never written to you before, but I really hope you can help me today.
My dear husband Colin Russell is one of the Arctic Sunrise crew members arrested at gunpoint for protesting Arctic oil drilling. Just this week his bail application was denied in a Russian court – even though every other crew member had their bail applications approved and all but one other have been released.
This could mean at least three more months alone in a prison cell during the icy winter in St Petersburg. This is difficult for me to take in. Col stays positive and strong in difficult circumstances. But with this latest news, I just know he’s being tested beyond his limits.
Col was so happy when we spoke on the phone over two months ago. I remember how upbeat he was, just so happy to be back on a ship he’s grown to love during 14 years of working as a radio operator for Greenpeace. We made plans to visit friends and family in Melbourne, maybe spend a week together on the coast over Christmas. But now, who knows when I’ll see him next?
I’ve hardly been able to speak to Col much since he went to prison. We had a short phone call, but that was over a month ago. Now it’s been 67 days of worry and anxiety for me and our 24-year-old daughter Maddie. All of this because Colin and 29 others were brave enough to tell oil companies like Shell and Gazprom to stop drilling in the Arctic.
The Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop spoke to Russian authorities about Col several weeks ago. But there’s more that she and our government can do to rescue these heroes and bring them home. Tony Abbott, Australia’s prime minister, must call President Putin to ensure Colin is also granted bail.
It would really mean the world to Maddie and I to have your name on this petition. Please click here to join us.
I can’t write down in words how frustrating it is not being able to speak to him right now. I just want to tell him that Maddie and I – together with millions of Greenpeace supporters in every corner of the world – are thinking of him today.
That old saying, that alone we are only one voice and together we are powerful, has a whole new meaning for me now.
Thank you for helping us out. It means so much to us having you on our side.
Chrissie Russell, on behalf of Greenpeace.
P.S. It’s been over two months since the Russian coast guard illegally boarded the Arctic Sunrise ship and arrested my husband and 29 others at gunpoint — all for peacefully protesting against the terrible threat of an Arctic oil spill. Please make sure your name is on this petition today. Thank you.
As Kumi Naidoo, International Executive Director of Greenpeace International has said, this is an historic event. The actions of the Russian government two months ago – and the continuing failure of the UNFCCC to agree action to mitigate climate change – do not give confidence that humanity will avert an environmental catastophe. However, it is good that it has at least been agreed that peaceful protestors abducted at gunpoint in International waters cannot be jailed for piracy and/or hooliganism. Here is the email I received yesterday:
Today is a historic day – a day when the fundamental rights of the Arctic 30 have been upheld by an international court of law.
As you may recall, there was a hearing on November 6 at the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea. The Netherlands brought the case seeking the release of the Arctic Sunrise and its crew.
Today, just moments ago, the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea ordered the Russian Federation in a binding ruling to release the Arctic Sunrise and the 28 activists and two freelance journalists who were on board upon payment of a EUR 3.6 million bond.
The Arctic 30 were detained only because they stood up and courageously took peaceful action against Arctic oil drilling and to halt the devastating impacts of climate change.
I have just come from the UN climate talks in Warsaw where governments again have failed to take action against climate change. The Arctic 30 took action and it is time that governments acted with them. It is time for the Arctic 30 to come home to their loved ones. It is time for the Arctic to be protected.
Russia is now under an obligation to comply with the order: the Russian Constitution itself states that international law forms an integral part of the Russian legal system and Russian courts are under an obligation to implement this order. Greenpeace therefore expects Russia to respect International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea, as it has done in the past.
As we keep saying, it is still not over for the Arctic 30. So this is also not over for you or me. We must continue to stand firm until all charges against the Arctic 30 are officially dropped. Thirty people stood up for 7 billion people. We must stand with them.
International Executive Director
Or should that have been: ‘Ground-breaking data leads to riotous conclusion’…?
One of the incidental benefits of being a Fellow of the Geological Society and a Chartered Geologist is that I get the society’s monthly Geoscientist magazine. This month’s edition includes an article written by Alan Watson – a Chartered Civil Engineer and a member of the Institute of Civil Engineers – who has published an eBook entitled ‘Gravity and Mind – Human Response to Tectonic Stress‘.
Astonishingly, Watson’s book and his article question the scope and reliability of the notion ‘free will’. Leaving aside the question of crowd psychology (i.e. the fact that individuals behave differently when in a group), Watson’s analysis of data suggests that civil disturbance can be linked to tectonic disturbance. That is to say, riots are more frequent in the days immediately preceding earthquakes.
With the permission of the editor of Geoscientist, I publish extracts of the article below with graphical representation of the results of Watson’s analysis, upon which his startling conclusions are based. However, many of the images in the original article are Copyright of the British Geological Society (BGS). Therefore, if you have the time or inclination, please view the whole thing on the Geological Society website.
Here is how Watson begins this article:
Reports of ‘unusual animal behaviour’ before earthquakes became common during and after the 1960s – snakes coming unseasonally out of hibernation, dogs deserting their kennels, birds sensing impending quakes and, most recently, insects not resting. But, as anyone who has lived with animals will know, animals ‘behave strangely’ all the time; which means evidence of this kind suffers from a huge and possibly unresolvable ‘false positive’ problem. The trouble is, nobody bothers to record animals’ ‘normal’ behaviour. And even if you do watch them all the time, the quality of their behaviour is extremely tricky to quantify.
Humans, though are different. We have the media. I believe that comparing news reports with seismicity data provides compelling evidence that we humans may be responding to the effects of seismicity shortly before earthquakes.
I think it is worth repeating, here, that Watson is no liberal-minded social worker seeking to excuse irresponsible or criminal behaviour. He is a well-respected geotechnical engineer with a professional reputation to look after. Therefore as you will see, especially if you read the whole article, he has been meticulous in consideration of all the reasons why correlation might not imply causation. As he says:
My intention in this article is to summarise the facts about the relative timing of earthquakes and riot, and let you make your own mind up.
We all know the adage about correlation not necessarily meaning causation; but the first step must be to determine whether there is at least a correlation there. I believe the statistics show there is.
As such, Watson investigated two hypotheses regarding earthquakes of magnitude greater than 2.5 on the Richter Scale (i.e. ’2.5ML’), namely:
- That there is a significantly higher incidence of riot and disorder shortly before earthquakes of 2.5ML or greater, compared with the same period afterwards.
- That there is a significantly lower incidence of riots and disorder after more than 140 days has passed since the last most recent earthquake of 2.5ML or greater, compared with the incidence that would be expected by chance.
One of the many potentially complicating factors that Watson acknowledges is the reality that, as happened in the UK in August 2011, one riot can often be the trigger for so-called “copy-cat” riots by those you might call opportunists. Hence Watson says:
A substantial number of cases of riot appear in clusters with a common initial cause. My dual studies have therefore included both a full appraisal of these cases, including ‘tails’ of clusters as well as excluding them. One would imagine that copy-cat rioting in these tails of riot clusters would be influenced to a lesser extent by seismicity than might be the case for the initial onset of violence. The dual study therefore removes the uncertainties resulting from such potentially contaminating ‘sociological’ effects.
As stated in my introduction, many of the Figures in the original article are Copyright of the BGS. However, with my thanks to the editor of the Geoscientist magazine, I am able to reproduce here the graph demonstrating the correlation of the ‘without tails’ data.
Watson summarises the results of his analysis by making the following six statements:
- There is a significantly higher incidence of rioting and disorder in the 14 day periods prior to earthquakes compared with the 14 day periods after earthquakes.
- The ratio of riot frequency before to after earthquakes falls off from a peak of 3.2 (with tails and 2.5 without) within 14 days to a lower ratio of 2.5 (with tails and 1.67 without) within 7 days of the shocks.
- There are substantially fewer instances of rioting and disorder when more than 140 days have passed since the last most recent earthquake of at least 2.5ML.
- These findings will provide support to other earth science studies about interactions between the biosphere and the lithosphere. There have been reports of unusual behaviour exhibited by birds, snakes and insects, among other species, prior to earthquakes. This project widens the scope of influence between the lithosphere and biosphere and asks the question: are humans influenced by the behaviour of the lithosphere in ways not yet understood?
- The statistics of riot and earthquake incidence serve to re-affirm seismology research known as ‘the new geophysics’ that tectonic stress may vary on a regional scale prior to earthquakes.
- The occurrence of riots, in certain circumstances, may provide one further factor to consider, when assessing the risk of an impending earthquake.
In his personal communications with me, the editor of the Geoscientist magazine expressed his own surprise at the conclusions of Watson’s analysis, to which I responded as follows:
On the fundamentals of the statistics and/or the plausibility of the hypothesis, I think it much more credible than many other commonly-held beliefs about the nature of reality (and I am not talking about religion).
For the avoidance of any doubt, one of the ‘many other commonly-held beliefs about the nature of reality’, to which I was alluding here, is the startlingly-persistent, unduly-optimistic, counter-factual, and/or ideologically-prejudiced belief that humans are not primarily responsible for the unprecedented warmth and accelerating change through which we are now living.
As the pre-eminent film director, James Cameron, says in this trailer (below) for a new television series, ‘Years of Living Dangerously‘, to be screened next year:
“If 99 doctors say you sick and need an operation, would you seek another opinion?”
At the end of September, Working Group 1 (WG1) of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published the first part of its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). This report, entitled ‘Climate Change 2013: Physical Science Basis’, now has its own website, from where the Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) and Full Report (chapter-by –chapter) can be downloaded (as PDF files).
Observers of contrarian cyberspace will have noticed that a certain Table in the full report (Table 12.4) has been widely touted as proof that climate change is no longer the problem “alarmists” think it is. Even high profile professional people (who ought to know better) have demeaned themselves by publishing guest posts on unscientific websites: e.g. ‘Understanding the IPCC AR5 Climate Assessment’ by Professor Richard Lindzen on WattsUpWithThat.
The problem with such a mis-reading of the speculative data in Table 12.4 (summarising ‘Components in the Earth system… susceptible to abrupt or irreversible change’ on page 12-78) is that it completely contradicts the historical data in Table SPM.1 (summarising ‘Observed Changes in the Climate System’ on page SPM-23).
Whereas Table 12.4 suggests climate scientists consider it improbable that a variety of catastrophic tipping points will be passed in this Century, Table SPM.1 indicates that they have generally high confidence that we are already witnessing increased frequencies of various unusual weather events.
Thus, trying to use Table 12.4 to suggest that anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is not the massive problem the IPCC has confirmed it is (with 95% confidence), is one of the most shameful pieces of cherry-picking I think I have ever seen. As with his mis-use of graphs in his presentations to the already-sceptical, this suggests that Lindzen knows what he is doing and is deliberately trying to mislead and or misdirect people.
As I would not just want anyone to take my word for it, I have reproduced within this post both tables and the text that accompanies them in their respective reports. However, rather than start with Lindzen’s shameless cherry-picking of Table 12.4 and attempted inversion of the IPCC’s position, which would only confuse people (as I suspect is his intention), perhaps I should have started with the facts as presented in the SPM. If so, I can only apologise and now attempt to redress the situation.
As is the way with everything else, the SPM has been reduced to a series of Headline Statements (PDF available here). However, such sound bytes are very useful and, in the current context, the most relevant are as follows:
- Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent (high confidence).
- The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia (high confidence). Over the period 1901–2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.19 [0.17 to 0.21] m.
I should also wish to draw your attention, noting that a gigatonne (GT) is roughly equivalent to a cubic kilometre of ice, to the following sound bytes from section B.3 of the SPM regarding the Cryosphere (page SPM- 5):
- The average rate of ice loss from glaciers around the world, excluding glaciers on the periphery of the ice sheets, was very likely 226 [91 to 361] GT/yr over the period 1971−2009, and very likely 275 [140 to 410] GT/yr over the period 1993−2009.
- The average rate of ice loss from the Greenland ice sheet has very likely substantially increased from 34 [–6 to 74] GT/yr over the period 1992–2001 to 215 [157 to 274] GT/yr over the period 2002–2011.
- The average rate of ice loss from the Antarctic ice sheet has likely increased from 30 [–37 to 97] GT/yr over the period 1992–2001 to 147 [72 to 221] GT/yr over the period 2002-2011. There is very high confidence that these losses are mainly from the northern Antarctic Peninsula and the Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica.
As noted on page SPM-5, 100 GT/yr of ice loss is equivalent to about 0.3 mm/yr of global mean sea level rise (SLR). It is perhaps also worth noting, here, that SLR is currently 3.0 mm/yr (and accelerating all the time).
If your head is already spinning with all this data, just try to focus on one fact: The SPM contains two numbers for decadal average melting rates in Greenland, namely 34 GT/yr in 1990s and 215 GT/yr in 2000s. As we shall see, these numbers not only bring into question the cherry-picking of Table 12.4; this six-fold increase in ice loss in just 10 years suggests that the conclusions stated in Table 12.4 are incompatible with what is already happening.
As every teenager knows, you cannot confidently draw a straight line through anything less than three points on a graph. However, we are not dealing with a linear relationship here and, if we were, the above numbers (i.e. 34 and 215) would imply Greenland had been gaining ice prior to the 1990s (which it wasn’t). This therefore gives us even more confidence that the annual rate of ice mass loss in Greenland has accelerated.
Indeed, perhaps the person who compiled Table 12.4 should have consulted Wikipedia:
- 1961 to 2003: +25 to –60 GT/yr => 1982, –18 GT/yr
- 1993 to 2003: –50 to –100 GT/yr => 1998, –75 GT/yr
- 4/2002 to 11/2005: mean 215 GT/yr => 2004, –215 GT/yr
- 3/2002 to 9/2012: total ~2900 GT => 2007, –276 GT/yr
- 2008 to 2012: mean 376 GT/yr => 2010, –367 GT/yr
Table 12.4 expresses high confidence that the disintegration of Greenland ice sheet is exceptionally unlikely in this Century. This may be because the total volume of ice (i.e. If 2,850,000 km3) is so large. However, at what point does the accelerating ice loss become catastrophic (especially if it is already irreversible in any timescale relevant to human civilisation)?
It must be accepted that the accelerating ice mass loss will eventually reach a maximum rate (due to the finite amount of solar radiation (etc) and then decline as surface area declines. However, it would seem unwise to assume we have reached that point already. That being the case, the disintegration of the Greenland ice sheet is already happening. In my opinion, this is a catastrophe – we just haven’t had to deal with the consequences yet.
Either way, how can the IPCC ignore the fact that the melting of the Greenland lcesheet is already accelerating? As it is almost certainly already beyond our capacity to stop it, this makes the relevant entry in Table 12.4 seem counter-factual.
Given what Joe Romm has called the ‘planned obsolescence’ of the AR5 – as a result of systematically ignoring the effects of positive feedback mechanisms that are already observable – I suspect that the same is true for all the other entries in Table 12.4.
Given all of the above, it is even more ludicrous to try – as Lindzen and others have done – to use Table 12.4 to falsify the basic position of the IPCC, which is that ACD is already happening and already accelerating; and the longer we wait the harder it will get to stop it.