Lack of Environment

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Lindzengate – one year on

with 3 comments

Today is the first anniversary of my trip to London to hear a certain Professor Richard S. Lindzen give a talk to an invited audience of climate change “sceptics” in a Committee Room inside the Palace of Westminster.

Having sat through a highly misleading presentation I was one of those who put up my hand to ask a question.  However, having been invited to speak by the chair of the meeting, I attempted to address some of the misrepresentation of fact that I had just witnessed.  I was then interrupted by Professor Lindzen and, having self-identified myself as a non-believer, was not allowed to ask a question.

This sequence of events has been the subject of much pedantic debate, on this blog and elsewhere, so the video (of the Q & A session following Lindzen’s talk) is embedded to provide proof of my version of events.  To just see me not ask a question view from about 5:26 onwards.

Once the Question and Answer session was completed, I approached Professor Lindzen who, obviously confident he could rebut anything I said, kindly invited me to email my questions to him.  This I did and, the rest, as they say, is history.

Although I would advise against following links without first reading to the end of this post, for those of you that are unfamiliar with this particular history, it may be summarised as follows:

1. I sent Professor Lindzen 3 emails and never received any substantive answers to my questions.  All I ever got was a perfunctory response in which Lindzen (1) feigned indignation at my suggestion that he had once helped the tobacco industry defend itself against the claim that smoking causes lung cancer; and (2) warned me not to publish my email.  I ignored him.

2. In failing to answer any of my original questions, Lindzen has, in particular, failed to explain why he uses the same tactics he claims others use to mislead people (i.e. graphs whose axes have been stretched or compressed in order to make two correlating data sets appear not to correlate – as appended below).

3. Having failed to get Lindzen to answer my original questions, I submitted a formal complaint to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) because his behaviour was likely to bring climate scientists and/or MIT into disrepute.  Without addressing the above very specific piece of hypocrisy from Lindzen, MIT refused to take any action.

4. I therefore complained to the American Geophysical Union (AGU), who astonishingly, admitted they had no code of conduct against which they could judge and/or censure Lindzen for what he had done.

5. Consequently, Professor Lindzen has continued to travel around the World giving talks and writing letters to Newspapers – repeating the same message:  A message that reveals that he is either being wilfully deceptive of is so blinded by ideology that he cannot see how wrong he almost certainly is about climate sensitivity.

If any or all of this comes as a surprise to any readers, I would recommend that, before you dive into the links above, you start by reading this brief summary of exactly what it was I was unhappy about.   You can then follow links from there (or here) depending on your level of curiosity.

Other than that, from the above-referenced brief summary, I have here extracted the image of the graph from Lindzen’s presentation (whose absence from the PDF version on the Internet has never been satisfactorily explained), with my caption explaining why it destroys any veil of objectivity that Lindzen might otherwise be able to hide behind.

Misrepresentation of data?

Steeply inclined Keeling curve versus apparently non-correlating temperature – if you stretched the temperature axis enough it would appear to correlate quite well. Therefore slide neither proves not disproves anything.

There is, however, one final thing to note about this graph; something that has only become clear to me in the last few months: It has clearly been generated using the Wood for Trees website, which was set up by a non-climate scientist who admits that his website has repeatedly been used by climate sceptics to manipulate data to support invalid conclusions. So much so, in fact, that the home page now includes a warning against people doing this. Therefore:

What does it say about Lindzen that he would use a graph like this – obtained from such a website – in his presentation?


Further reading:

Lies, damned lies and Lindzengate

with 14 comments

Ever since Professor Richard Lindzen gave up on the idea of following the evidence wherever it may take him (I am not sure when this happened but it seems safe to assume that it has at some point in the last 50 years or so), it was almost inevitable that he would, sooner or later, be caught out peddling unscientific nonsense to credulous people (i.e. telling so-called “sceptics” what they want to hear).

As if this had not happened before, it certainly happened when I attended his talk at the Palace of Westminster on 22 February 2012: Having discovered that he had given a similar talk as a Keynote Address to the Heartland Institute’s International Climate Change Conference in May 2010, I went prepared with 3 questions. However, I was so amazed by the level of selective data omission and/or misrepresentation that I blew my chance to ask a question by trying to redress even his most basic failure to acknowledge the relevance of palaeoclimatic data that underlies current concern regarding anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD).

Having been invited to submit my questions via email, I somewhat cheekily decided to submit a very long list of questions arising from both what Professor Lindzen said and what he chose not to say. However, whether it be because I made some moderately-contentious assertions or merely because I had the temerity to question his motives, Professor Lindzen has decided to refuse to answer my questions. Furthermore, his superiors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have now decided to hide behind the veil of academic tenure – and/or academic freedom – in order to avoid asking Lindzen to explain himself.

This is therefore a very sad day for those interested in upholding the importance of intellectual integrity and honesty in the pursuance of scientific knowledge; and for anyone who believes in the importance of achieving the widest-possible dissemination of that knowledge to – and its proper understanding in – the minds of the general population.

Even if they are not important to MIT, I should have thought such things were important to the American Geophysical Union (AGU). But apparently not. Apparently, it is perfectly OK for a prominent atmospheric physicist to accuse just about every other climate scientist on the planet of being involved in a conspiracy to foist environmental “alarmism” on a credulous world; to be guilty of scientific malpractice, deceit or stupidity; and to do so in a manner that appears deeply hypocritical, obfuscates a great deal of relevant information, and dupes numerous audiences into thinking they are right and the majority are wrong. Truly, this could only happen in a post-modern world where moral relativism and the marketplace of ideas have come to dominate all aspects of society.

Therefore, as a consequence of an ideologically-driven need to deny the reality of all environmental problems (that require modification of human activity in general and business practice in particular), I believe Professor Richard Lindzen is the archetypal example of what happens when political dogma gets in the way of scientific inquiry; and truth appears to be the main casualty.

Unfortunately, the Earth may yet be the ultimate casualty because no matter how many times you repeat a lie – even one as big as “there is no cause for alarm over global warming” – it does not become any more likely to be true.

Since he won’t tell me, I really don’t know or understand why Lindzen says the things he does; or why he chooses not to say the things he omits; or why he uses graphs that are clearly very misleading (even when it has been pointed out to him that doing so either shows him to be incompetent or deceitful), but I am sure of this: It is extremely likely that he is peddling a message that is dangerously misleading and that, allowing for non-linearity in climate science in general and ongoing positive feedback mechanisms in particular, climate sensitivity is somewhere between 2 and 6 times greater than he continues to claim he believes it to be.

Therefore we are left with the stark fact (now attested to by organisations like the International Energy Agency and economists such as William Nordhaus) that:
If we had started to get off fossil fuels in 2005, it would have required 3% reduction per year in order to restore energy imbalance by 2100AD. If we start next year, it will require 6% p.a. If we wait 10 years it will require 15% p.a. [i.e. Point #7 in my summary of James Hansen’s recent TED talk]

Lindzen’s litany of laissez-faire libertarianism

with 6 comments

Professor Richard Lindzen has been a prisoner of libertarian ideology for a very long time. He left his scientific objectivity behind a very long time ago; and has been telling anyone who would listen (and unfortunately a great number have listened) that global warming is “a false alarm” for at least 20 years:
Lindzen, R.S. (1992), ‘Global Warming: The Origin and Nature of the Alleged Scientific Consensus’, CATO Institute [online].

Just over a year ago, Fred Moolten put together a very well researched summary of Lindzen-think, which is well worth reviewing in the light of more recent events: Richard Lindzen vs the aerosol forcing .

Finally, and most recently, I am extremely grateful to Lionel A Smith for sharing with me the benefit of his many years of research into the hypocrisy, obfuscation and misdirection that have characterised everything Lindzen has ever said about global warming…

Lindzen undermines the IPCC at every chance when, as a scientist still thinking like a scientist, he should know that his words are false. Here’s further evidence (as if you need it) that Lindzen can be slippery is clear to many:

If Richard Lindzen shows up at your door, slam it

Is Richard S. Lindzen deliberately lying, or just deluded?

Lindzen Illusions

for those wondering why Tobacco keeps cropping up in discussions of Lindzen

What more evidence do MIT or the AGU need in order to decide that – in addition to personally and mentally abdicating responsibility of anthropogenic climate disruption – Lindzen has long since departed from the convention of upholding truth and objectivity in following the evidence to reach a scientifically-defensible conclusion?

On the contrary, Lindzen has clearly spent most of his working life fighting on the side of those – whether it be tobacco companies or fossil fuel producers – who wish to prioritise short-term business profits over long-term environmental sustainability; and the habitability of planet Earth.

I therefore think that people like Lindzen and Singer should be put on trial for crimes against biodiversity (i.e. not just humanity).

For those of you who think I over-state my case and/or am too much of an “alrarmist”, maybe the more moderate language of the Geoloical Society’s November 2010 statement on climate change will cut more ice…

What are the grounds for concern?
The last century has seen a rapidly growing global population and much more intensive use of resources, leading to greatly increased emissions of gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, from the burning of fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal), and from agriculture, cement production and deforestation. Evidence from the geological record is consistent with the physics that shows that adding large amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere warms the world and may lead to: higher sea levels and flooding of low-lying coasts; greatly changed patterns of rainfall; increased acidity of the oceans; and decreased oxygen levels in seawater.

There is now widespread concern that the Earth’s climate will warm further, not only because of the lingering effects of the added carbon already in the system, but also because of further additions as human population continues to grow. Life on Earth has survived large climate changes in the past, but extinctions and major redistribution of species have been associated with many of them. When the human population was small and nomadic, a rise in sea level of a few metres would have had very little effect on Homo sapiens. With the current and growing global population, much of which is concentrated in coastal cities, such a rise in sea level would have a drastic effect on our complex society, especially if the climate were to change as suddenly as it has at times in the past. Equally, it seems likely that as warming continues some areas may experience less precipitation leading to drought. With both rising seas and increasing drought, pressure for human migration could result on a large scale.

Lindzengate – an update report

with 65 comments

Members of my immediate family have contacted me asking me to explain exactly what I was asking Professor Lindzen and whether I have had any response. This is what I told them:

No news is bad news.
Although some will no doubt say that my first 1800-word email was out-of-order; and never going to receive a response from a busy man, I did get a response – warning me not to publish my email!   A warning I have ignored because it was mere bluster and intimidation.

However, I have since apologised for any contentious accusations I may have made, but I have still had no substantive response to any of my questions, even those in my third email to Lindzen; which I believe demand responses to which the whole World is entitled.

In between these two emails, was my second very brief email containing 17 simple statements (i.e. effectively rhetorical questions).  However, Lindzen has not responded – and cannot respond – to this because to do so he would have to reveal to the World that he is in a prison of denial from which death will probably be his only escape.  For the avoidance of doubt, this is not a death threat by me against him – it is merely a statement of my belief that even if he is now reprimanded for repeated poor practice – he will never recant from what I believe to be his ideologically-driven need to deny (human responsibility for) the reality of all our environmental problems. A blogosphere friend of mine, Owlbrudder, has now demonstrated what I mean by all of this by replying to my 17 statements – affirming the validity of each and every one of them.

Lindzen’s entire thesis depends on one thing.
To make things as clear as possible for you, Lindzen’s entire conspiracy theory stands or falls on his belief that he is right and everyone else is wrong.  He has repeatedly asserted that climate sensitivity is very low (i.e. 1 Celsius eventual temperature rise for a doubling of atmospheric CO2); whereas the genuine consensus view is that climate sensitivity is somewhere in excess of 2.5 Celsius.  Many climate scientists believe climate sensitivity could be as high as 4 Celsius and also that it is non-linear (i.e. as it warms up, less marginal CO2 change is required to achieve same temperature change => runaway greenhouse effect => Venus no.2 in 500 years).

At very least, if Lindzen is wrong about current climate sensitivity – and runaway greenhouse effect is avoided – when the Earth’s temperature eventually stabilises (i.e. decades after we stop increasing atmosheric CO2) it will be two-and-a-half times hotter than Lindzen thinks.

I just hope that you do not now dismiss me and the vast majority of the World’s climate scientists as environmental “alarmists” because, if you do, the Merchants of Doubt have won and we are all stuffed….


UPDATE (0915 hrs GMT 9 March 2012): I believe all the comments (to-date) are worth reading, but make sure you do not miss the video of the Q&A session of the Meeting (as posted here by its organisers) and my response…

Prof. Lindzen – try this instead!

with 33 comments

Misrepresentation of data?

Steeply inclined Keeling curve versus apparently non-correlating temperature – if you stretched the temperature axis enough it would appear to correlate quite well. Therefore slide neither proves not disproves anything.

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)!***

Written by Martin Lack

29 February 2012 at 00:02

An open letter to Richard Lindzen

with 166 comments

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:

Misrepresentation of data?

Steeply inclined Keeling curve versus apparently non-correlating temperature - if you stretched the temperature axis enough it would appear to correlate quite well. Therefore this slide neither proves not disproves anything.

Is Richard Lindzen the devil’s advocate?

with 31 comments

As I said yesterday, this is a sort of addendum to my review of James Hansen’s Storms of my Grandchildren, arising out of Hansen’s characterisation of Lindzen as behaving like a lawyer – putting forward only information and argument favourable to his “client” (page 12); and as someone that does not seek truth because “a lawyer [merely] seeks a win for his client” (page 56).

A brief Google search reveals that Lindzen has repeatedly threatened with litigation anyone who asserts that he denies that smoking causes lung cancer but, here again, he is just being disingenuous, playing with words, and trying to re-write history. The plain facts of this matter are that he was for many years periodically paid large sums of money by Phillip Morris to defend their product against claims that smoking was detrimental to the health of those that smoke and/or others present when they do so.

In so doing, he was a member of the same ideologically-driven bunch of scientists with neo-Conservative tendencies that decided, by 1992 at the very latest, that environmentalism was and is the enemy. These are the people that Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway identify as “Merchants of Doubt”; some of whom I have called “the four horsemen of the anti-apocalypse (i.e. Jastrow, Nierenberg, Seitz, and Singer). Although 3 out of 4 of these horsemen may now be dead, many more have saddled-up and taken their place… Therefore, it was not for nothing that the German Environment Minister at the 1992 Rio Summit went on the record as saying, “I am afraid that conservatives in the United States are picking ‘ecologism’ as their new enemy” (Luke (2000) – reference details [and link] appended below).

Not only was it a tobacco company executive who, in order to maintain sales and profits, once infamously decided “doubt is our product”, it was a tobacco industry lobby group (The Advancement for Sound Science Coalition [TASSC]) that also brought into common parlance the terms “sound science” and “junk science” in an attempt to deny the seriously detrimental health effects of long-term cigarette smoking (see Ong and Glantz (2001) – reference details [and link] appended below). So it is that these mischievous right-wing ideologues have repeatedly sided with special interests groups (i.e. business leaders – be that in the pesticide, tobacco, or energy industries) in a series of campaigns that have – make no mistake – been against the public interest.

One final point I believe worthy of note is this: Richard Lindzen has a long association with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which is also famous for having been the home of the team of researchers whom The Club of Rome, from 1972 onwards, got to do the work for their Limits to Growth reports. In this respect, it should be noted that the former was a group of very wealthy people who were concerned about the profligate and reckless consumption-obsessed society they saw around them 40 years ago (and which is still with us today). Therefore, MIT should be commended for the complete absence of political interference in the research and publications of those that work within it. This stands in stark contrast to the record of shocking – and utterly hypocritical – political interference in the work of NASA during the tenure of George W Bush (see yesterday’s post). One must hope that this has now stopped.

Unfortunately, political interference in science may have stopped but, with people like Richard Lindzen still around, supposedly-scientific interference in politics certainly has not yet been stopped. Furthermore, Hansen has demonstrated just how damaging this ideologically-driven and politically-prejudiced interference has been, and how far back it can be traced: He cites the case of John Mercer who, in the late 1970s, warned that burning fossil fuels may lead to the disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet. Forget “may lead to…” – it is now happening (e.g. see this Climate Denial Crock of the Week item about the Pine Island Glacier)!… But people like Mercer and Hansen are rare, thus Hansen laments the general scientific reticence to speak plainly, forcibly and repeatedly; and to refuse to accept political interference, posturing and prevarication. On the contrary, Hansen asserts that scientists have generally been more concerned about being accused of “crying wolf” than of being guilty of “fiddling while Rome burns” (page 87-8).

Well, given that Rome is well-and-truly burning, or the ship is well-and-truly sinking (or whatever other metaphor you prefer to invoke), one is left hoping that real, objective, climate scientists – as opposed to those like Lindzen that are prisoners of neo-Conservative, anti-environmental prejudice – will find their voice and win the attention of the public and politicians alike. This is because I think Hansen is right to conclude that we are all in breach of Article 2 of the UNFCCC, because “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” is already underway and, as yet, we are doing nothing effective to stop it.


Luke, T (2000), ‘A rough road out of Rio: The right-wing reaction in the United States against Global Environmentalism’, in Low, N. et al. (eds.) Consuming cities: The urban environment in the global economy after the Rio declaration, New York: Routledge (pp.54-69). [Available for free download here]

Ong, E. & Glantz, S. (2001), ‘Constructing “Sound Science” and “Good Epidemiology”: Tobacco, Lawyers, and Public Relations Firms’, American Journal of Public Health, Volume 91(11), pp.1749-1757. [Available for free download here]

AGU continues complicit support for Merchants of Doubt

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Scientists Asked to Boycott Major Conference After AGU Votes to Retain ExxonMobil Ties

This is not surprising given the AGU’s failure to discipline Richard Lindzen for academic misconduct, hypocrisy, and the denegration of fellow AGU members, but, as reported via DeSmogBlog recently:

Scientists are being asked to boycott the next major meeting of the world’s biggest earth sciences organisation after it voted to retain relationships with ExxonMobil.

The American Geophysical Union last week rejected calls from members to break ties with ExxonMobil over the oil giant’s history of funding and supporting climate science misinformation.

AGU members have been voicing their dismay at the decision, which ignored the concerns of more than 200 scientists, many of them AGU members, calling for the relationship to end.

AGU’s board said it would accept sponsorship from ExxonMobil for a breakfast event at its Fall Meeting in December – an event the oil company had previously sponsored.

But Professor Charles Greene, of Cornell University, told DeSmog: “This is far from over. There can be little doubt that this will lead to the biggest shake up in AGU’s history. There is a lot more at stake here than $35,000 for a graduate student breakfast.”

Greene has called on scientists to boycott the December meeting held by AGU – an influential organisation with about 60,000 members in 139 countries.

In a statement Greene said: “At what level does the behavior of a corporate sponsor become sufficiently reprehensible for AGU to refuse its support? I guess that a corporation like ExxonMobil, which has deceived the general public for decades while placing human society at great risk, has not achieved that level.

“The only conclusion to be drawn is that AGU will accept money from just about any corporate entity, no matter how unethical its behavior. I certainly will not attend an ExxonMobil-sponsored Fall Meeting, and I hope that every AGU member who feels the same way about this lapse in judgement will consider sending a similar message.”

ExxonMobil is facing investigations from several attorneys general, led by New York, over allegations the company misled shareholders and the public about the risk of climate change caused by fossil fuel burning.

The probes were sparked by investigations from Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times, which highlighted internal Exxon documents showing in the 1970s the company’s own scientists were aware of the clear risks of burning fossil fuels.

Over the years Exxon is known to have spent tens of millions of dollars funding dozens of organisations that have worked to mislead the public about the science linking greenhouse gas emissions to global warming.

Check out DeSmog’s research into ExxonMobil’s Funding of Climate Science Denial.

In the run up to AGU’s decision, more than 100 AGU members signed an open letter alongside other scientists asking for their organisation to end the relationship with Exxon.

Some members also issued a detailed dossier to the board claiming the organisation’s relationship with ExxonMobil violated its own organizational support policy, agreed in April 2015.

That policy states that AGU “will not accept funding from organizational partners that promote and/or disseminate misinformation of science, or that fund organizations that publicly promote misinformation of science.”

The dossier included numerous examples of Exxon funding organisations, including the American Enterprise Institute, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the National Black Chamber of Commerce, that have underplayed and disparaged the science linking fossil fuel burning to dangerous climate change.

Scientists are also pressing the AGU leadership group to release more details of how the board came to its decision, including their deliberations over the dossier.

In announcing the decision, AGU president Margaret Leinen wrote that “it is not possible for us to determine unequivocally whether ExxonMobil is participating in misinformation about science currently, either directly or indirectly.”

She said it had been decided AGU’s acceptance of ExxonMobil sponsorship did “not constitute a threat to AGU’s reputation.”

ExxonMobil also funds meetings of ALEC – a lobby group with strong corporate ties that creates template bills for legislators that block attempts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and slow the development of renewable energy.

Stephen Moore, a member of ALEC’s advisory council alongside ExxonMobil government affairs manager Cynthia Bergman, told an ALEC meeting last year: “The biggest scam of the last 100 years is global warming!”

Professor Nathan Phillips, of Boston University, said: “What was called for was an exercise of judgment. Instead, the AGU avoided taking a principled stand by claiming it is not possible for it to make a judgement. The leadership seems prepared to accept some loss of membership, but what it may not be prepared for is the redoubled commitment of members who won’t relent in shining an even brighter light on the inconsistency of the AGU’s mission of a sustainable planetary future with its endorsement of ExxonMobil’s past and current activities.”

ExxonMobil’s company position on climate change says: “The risk of climate change is clear and the risk warrants action. Increasing carbon emissions in the atmosphere are having a warming effect. There is a broad scientific and policy consensus that action must be taken to further quantify and assess the risks.”

The AGU is holding two conference calls this week where members can ask questions of AGU President-elect Eric Davidson, CEO Christine McEntee and Leinen.

Image courtesy of Natural History Museum

Polite suggestion for Bjorn Lomborg and Tony Abbott

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Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced that Australian taxpayers are now going to finance attempts to disprove the need to decarbonise our global power generation systems as fast as possible (see yesterday’s article on the Guardian website).  However, Lomborg’s position is very confused (and confusing):

Lomborg: “Natural science has undeniably shown us that global warming is manmade and real. But just as undeniable is the economic science which makes it clear that a narrow focus on reducing carbon emissions could leave future generations with major costs, without major cuts to temperatures.”

Reality: Natural science has undeniably shown us that global warming is real and predominantly manmade. Just as undeniable is the economic assessment that any further delay in reducing carbon emissions will make it harder and more expensive to mitigate and/or adapt to increases in global temperatures.

My suggestion to both Lomborg and Abbott is that they should take time out to read the assessment of the formerly-skeptical Yale Professor of Economics, William D. Nordhaus:
Why the Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong’ by William D. Nordhaus (2012).

Writing in response to an article in the Wall Street Journal signed by sixteen fossil fuel-funded ‘Merchants of doubt’ (including Richard Lindzen), Nordhaus began thus:

I have identified six key issues that are raised in the article, and I provide commentary about their substance and accuracy.  They are:
— Is the planet in fact warming?
— Are human influences an important contributor to warming?
— Is carbon dioxide a pollutant?
— Are we seeing a regime of fear for skeptical climate scientists?
— Are the views of mainstream climate scientists driven primarily by the desire for financial gain?
— Is it true that more carbon dioxide and additional warming will be beneficial?

As I will indicate below, on each of these questions, the sixteen scientists provide incorrect or misleading answers. At a time when we need to clarify public confusions about the science and economics of climate change, they have muddied the waters. I will describe their mistakes and explain the findings of current climate science and economics…

Therefore, if anyone is inclined to think Bjorn Lomborg’s position on climate science has any credibility, I would suggest that they need to read (or if necessary re-read) what Nordhaus wrote over three years ago.

Why Table 12.4 of IPCC AR5 should not be trusted

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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.

AR5 Table 12-4

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).

AR5 Table SPM-1

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-7):

  • 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-7, 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.

Written by Martin Lack

3 November 2013 at 00:02


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