Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

Not seeing the wood for the trees

with 11 comments

This is a transcript of an email I sent to Paul Clark, the owner of the website – from which graphs have appeared in presentations by numerous people who dispute the reality of anthropogenic climate disruption.


Dear Paul,

RE: Your Comparison of HADCRUT3 and HADCRUT4 datasets

I have found my way to your website via a comment by Dan Olner on Peter Sinclair’s Climate Denial Crock of the Week.

I note that on your Home Page you say:

I have no particular axe to grind in the “Global Warming Debate” one way or the other. Indeed, as a life-long Green I think a shift to an efficient and sustainable way of life is a Good Thing whether or not CO2 is a significant problem in and of itself.

Whilst I am not questioning your sincerity in making this statement, I am afraid I am bound to ask you two things:
1. What do you think the data tells us? and
2. Is it really appropriate to encourage non-experts to play around with it?

With regard to (1), my attention was drawn to your comparison of HADCRUT3 and HADCRUT4 and, yes, my first reaction was, “Why are they so different?” If I were David Rose, Christopher Monckton, or even Richard Lindzen, I would no doubt be very suspicious of the fact that HADCRUT4 anomalies are generally higher than those calculated for HADCRUT3. Therefore, I ask you, what purpose does it serve to present this comparison without a legitimate explanation as to why the two data sets are different? If you are in need of one, try this by Dana Nuccitelli on the Skeptical Science website.

With regard to (2), I am concerned about the frequency with which your website is used by climate change “skeptics” (such as those mentioned above) and therefore feel that, however good your motives are, you are merely encouraging unqualified people to bolster their unwarranted confidence in their unreasonable conclusions.

Returning to the comparison of HADCRUT3 and 4, I note that you have inserted a trendline for both over the last 1980-2010 (in addition to trendlines for the complete data sets). Have you considered inserting trendlines for both for the periods 1850-1910 and for 1910-1980? In fact, I suspect you don’t really need to do this: Just looking at these graphs, it is clear that there are three distinct changes:
Comparison of HADCRUT3 and HADCRUT4
— 1850-1910 – a downward trend of about 0.06/decade;
— 1910-1980 – an upward trend of about 0.08/decade;
— 1980-2010 – an upward trend of about 0.18/decade.

This is, therefore, yet another confirmation that the MBH98 ‘Hockey Stick’ cannot legitimately be dismissed as an artefact of statistical manipulation of data. In other words, it is signal not noise.

You call your website WoodForTrees but, with the greatest of respect, I think you are facilitating the denial of plain facts by people who don’t want to accept the nature of reality (mainly because of an underlying libertarian agenda). On your Home Page you may well pose all the right questions but, sadly, the vast majority of people who use or refer to your website appear to be coming to invalid conclusions.

Whereas a variety of natural factors contribute to global cooling – the Sun, ocean currents, and volcanic eruptions; only anthropogenic CO2 can explain the accelerating warming trend of the last 100 years.

I suspect you feel you are doing the right thing in encouraging everyone to play around with the data and satisfy themselves that they know what is happening. However, all the evidence suggests that your website is encouraging the unconsciously incompetent to play around with things they don’t really understand and reinforce the prejudicial insistence that we do not have a problem.

Irrespective of whether you respond to this email (I hope that you will), I am going to publish it on my blog at midnight tonight (British Summer Time [UTC+1]).

Kind regards,

11 Responses

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  1. While much heat but very little light has been generated by the “debate” between AGW advocates and the “deniers”, who have now been accorded heretical status, I would appreciate an explanation of just exactly how the “Global Temperature” is arrived at. Are all measurements made at the same altitude, on exactly the same time, over a period of years? How many recording stations are there? And, surely, the 2nd law of thermodynamics telling us that heats always travels from the hotter body to the cooler, will not this increase in heat content not escape to outer space as it always has?

    For those who might still be sceptical, and it behoves us to be sceptical of any and every claim, whether made by scientists or politicians, I recommend the book the “The Manic Sun” by Nigel Calder. I would like to make clear that scepticism is not synonymous with rejection.

    I am not in position where I could accept or refute the arguments.However,I would appreciate an explanation of just how CO2 raises global temperatures.To simply state that it is a “greenhouse” gas does not suffice.


    25 October 2012 at 10:10

    • Why do you ask me such questions, Duncan? If you genuinely don’t know the answer, all you have to do is type the question into a search engine. For decades now, the time of observations (TOBS) has been 0900 hrs (local time). As with all other potential systematic errors, corrections have to be made to earlier data known to have been collected at a different time of day. This sort of thing is what keeps deniers like Anthony Watts busy. Then of course there are disparities between ocean, land and air temperature. This sort of thing keeps idiots like David Rose busy.

      If the Sun was warming the atmosphere it would be warming from the top down; but it isn’t. If the Earth was warming the atmosphere (by virtue of reflected long-wave radiation being trapped by GHGs such as CO2) it would be warming from the ground up; and it is. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is only imperiled by those that deny that anthropogenic global warming is happening.

      Martin Lack

      25 October 2012 at 11:10

  2. [my initial reply by e-mail]

    Please remember that WFT started out as, and still is, a ‘hobby project’ and I’ve been surprised how popular it has become. I am also very concerned about flagrant misuse of trend lines, and I wrote this specific warning about it:

    People have often pointed miscreants at that, and although the site is probably more quoted by ‘skeptics’ (how I hate these labels) it is also used as counter ammunition by ‘warmists’ (doubly so).

    I deliberately don’t put my personal ideas on the site because the whole point is its objectivity; the personal note you quote is about as far as I go, and it was written over 4 years ago… I guess you could probably describe me as a “green hopeful lukewarmer” but again I’d rather have a discussion in depth than assume a label. I find the polarisation of the debate extremely irksome, and I basically take no part in it any more.

    I’m afraid I do take issue though with the idea that “non-experts” are not to be trusted with the data. Granted, they may misuse it, but then they can be challenged using the same data used properly, as you have here and I have in my ‘notes’ post above, and directly in some instances.

    You are obviously rightly interested in the psychology of this, as am I; do you not think that for the type of people you are talking about, any suggestion that they are only qualified to receive /ex cathedra/ summaries from people they already suspect of bias would be counter-productive?

    Kind regards


    woodfortrees (Paul Clark)

    25 October 2012 at 11:00

    • Many thanks for this response, Paul.

      I think your warning about trendlines is excellent. It is just a shame Richard Lindzen ignored it in his presentation in London on 22 February. Indeed, he went much further; and also stretched the primary and secondary y-axes of his graph in order to make it appear that two data sets do not correlate when in fact they do. Finally, when I called him out on this point, he quietly removed the graph from the PDF of the presentation (and to my knowledge) has never apologised for this specific error. This makes me think that he is ether incompetent of willfully trying to deceive people.

      I am not an expert, Paul. I could make good use of your website. However, with regard to climate science, it is very clear that a very large proportion of the general public do not believe what they are being told. This does not happen to other types of scientists (with the possible exception of geneticists). Why is this?

      Personally-speaking, I think the problem is twofold: (1) the end of the age of deference and (2) widespread cynicism. Together, these have led to the popularity of conspiracy theory explanations for everything. Have you read David Aaronovitch’s Voodoo Histories: How Conspiracy Theory Has Shaped The Modern World..? If you have not, you should do so… I have written quite a bit about it on this blog: e.g. Conspiracy Theory – history for losers (8 September 2011)

      Therefore, my concern is that having been fooled once by the tobacco industry, a great many people are being fooled a second time by the fossil fuel industry – both have waged a very deliberate misinformation campaign to delay effective regulation of their business interests. As well as possibly being criminal, its success has less to do with psychology; and more to do with the sheer suggestibility – if not stupidity – of all us non-experts.

      Martin Lack

      25 October 2012 at 11:27

  3. Dear Mr.Lack, I thank you for your reply – yes I have made the enquiries you suggested and have the information now stored in that receptacle called the brain. Yet, pursuing the same track, last year I read in either the journal of the Geological Society or the Geographical Society in London that, whilst sea-ice in Arctic is diminishing that in the Antarctic is now on the increase, with certain glacier tongues growing abnormally fast. Is there an explanation of this phenomenon available anywhere? And I do think that whilst AGW is a fact that not only CO2 is responsible. The variables are still far too many and the inter-actions between them far too complex for any computer-model projection to be convincing. Does this put me also outside the pale amongst the “deniers”? Oh the horror, the horror.


    29 October 2012 at 13:16

    • Dear Duncan, I am afraid you are beginning to confuse me. Looking back at all the comments you have made on this blog, it appears you accept the dangers of the currently-accepted wisdom of pursuing economic growth as the solution to all or problems. However, you seem to be almost schizophrenic with regard to the scientific basis for seeing climate change as a limits to growth phenomenon. Therefore, I am not going to waste too much of my time responding to your questions.

      Antarctica – If you have data that says the terrestrial ice volume is actually growing on a year-on-year basis I would like to see it. Most observers are concerned about the rate at which ice shelves (attached to terrestrial ice) are disintegrating. Nevertheless, Antarctica is not warming up as fast as the Arctic because it is surrounded by the Great Southern Ocean and because of the hole in the ozone layer.

      Primacy of CO2 as cause of current warming (N.B. To say you accept AGW is a fact but doubt CO2 is the main cause is an oxymoron) – As I am sure I have said to you before… The Sun, ocean currents, volcanoes, and other forms of atmospheric pollution all contribute to global cooling. However, only CO2 can explain the multi-decadal trend in global warming.

      Computer models – To dismiss computer modelling in the way you do suggests to me that you know very little about them. This fallacious argument is currently #6 in popularity amongst fake skeptics and/or those who listen to them (rather than to the scientists):

      Martin Lack

      29 October 2012 at 15:19

  4. Yes Paul Clark, how dare you collect authoritative data that allows even the unlearned peasants to determine for themselves whether a Global Warming Catastrophe is looming!!!


    31 August 2013 at 22:47

    • Far from being analogous to Tyndall’s campaign to get the Bible printed in English so that everyone could read it, Clark’s website is mainly being misused by people to mangle the data to make it appear that the catastrophe is not looming. Richard Lindzen being a case in point. Rather than posting rhetorical and vacuous comments here, why don’t you falsify my argument that Lindzen is either negligent, incompetent, or deceitful?

      Martin Lack

      1 September 2013 at 12:56

      • Dr. Richard Lindzen is a respected climate scientist that even the Connolley/Mann Hockey Team at Wikipedia could not manage to “disappear” like Ball and Leroux.

        Using the WoodForTrees data, it is easy to see that there is no positive feedback apparent from the addition of CO2. Indeed, there appears to be negative feedback, and therefore no catastrophe looming:


        5 September 2013 at 22:03

        • Richard Lindzen may be a meteorologist but he is not well-respected. He shredded his scientific credibility a long time ago as a result of being willing to appear as an expert witness for tobacco companies trying to dispute the reality of inconvenient science. Sadly, he learnt nothing from doing this and has repeated his mistake with the fossil fuel industry.

          For someone who is gambling the future habitability on low climate sensitivity (when every time the issue is revisited the consensus view is that Lindzen is wrong), you seem remarkably confident in your own wishful thinking. This seems even more ill-judged when you consider that the International Monetary Fund, the International Energy Agency and the US Department of Defense all agree that anthropogenic climate disruption is happening; and that it is significant, bad, and worth preventing. Are they all in on the conspiracy to perpetuate scientific research funding; and/or justify higher taxes and authoritarian government? Quite frankly, it is more likely that the Moon Landings were faked (e.g. that flag was blowing in a breeze after all, right?).

          If there is no positive feedback mechanism (and/or massive inertia in the climate system), why have the glaciers, ice caps, ice shelves and sea ice all continued to melt? If there is no positive feedback mechanism, why is the Keeling Curve a curve (rather than a straight line)? Positive feedback mechanisms are everywhere in Nature (very few things are linear); because Nature is biological – and we are part of it.

          Here are 10 positive feedback mechanisms, which Guy McPherson has identified, that all need to be “disappeared” before your ambivalence towards the veracity of climate science becomes anywhere near being anything other than ideological blindness:
          – Methane hydrates are bubbling out the Arctic Ocean.
          – Warm Atlantic water is defrosting the Arctic Ocean.
          – Siberian methane vents are increasing in size.
          – Amazonian drought/fires released more CO2 than USA in 2010.
          – Peat decomposition in boreal forests is accelerating.
          – Methane is now being released from seabed in the Antarctic.
          – Wildfires are increasing in frequency and scale.
          – Increased CO2 is accelerating glacier disintegration.
          – Exposure to sunlight is accelerating the thawing of the permafrost.
          – Arctic drilling is being fast-tracked by Western governments.

          For links to data sources, see What on Earth are we doing (19 February 2013).

          Martin Lack

          6 September 2013 at 09:59

  5. […] my response to my most recent reality-challenged follower, called ‘freedomfan’, who has suggested that Richard Lindzen’s beliefs are a good reason to think humanity is not sleepwalking into an environmental catastrophe.[…]

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