Willful Blindness

Paul Krugman writes in the NY Times:

And as I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldn’t help thinking that I was watching a form of treason — treason against the planet.

To fully appreciate the irresponsibility and immorality of climate-change denial, you need to know about the grim turn taken by the latest climate research….

Well, sometimes even the most authoritative analyses get things wrong. And if dissenting opinion-makers and politicians based their dissent on hard work and hard thinking — if they had carefully studied the issue, consulted with experts and concluded that the overwhelming scientific consensus was misguided — they could at least claim to be acting responsibly.

But if you watched the debate on Friday, you didn’t see people who’ve thought hard about a crucial issue, and are trying to do the right thing. What you saw, instead, were people who show no sign of being interested in the truth. They don’t like the political and policy implications of climate change, so they’ve decided not to believe in it — and they’ll grab any argument, no matter how disreputable, that feeds their denial….

Still, is it fair to call climate denial a form of treason? Isn’t it politics as usual?

Yes, it is — and that’s why it’s unforgivable.

Do you remember the days when Bush administration officials claimed that terrorism posed an “existential threat” to America, a threat in whose face normal rules no longer applied? That was hyperbole — but the existential threat from climate change is all too real.

Yet the deniers are choosing, willfully, to ignore that threat, placing future generations of Americans in grave danger, simply because it’s in their political interest to pretend that there’s nothing to worry about. If that’s not betrayal, I don’t know what is.

So is it fair to call it willful blindness when Krugman ignores principled arguments against catastrophic anthropogenic global warming theory in favor of painting all skeptics as unthinking robots driven by political goals? Yes it is.

I am not entirely sure how Krugman manages to get into the head of all 212 “no” voters, as well as all the rest of us skeptics he tars with the same brush, to know so much about our motivations.  He gives one example of excessive rhetoric on the floor of Congress by a skeptic — and certainly we would never catch a global warming alarmist using excessive rhetoric, would we?

Mr. Krugman, that paragon of thinking all of us stupid brutes should look up to, buys in to a warming forecast as high as 9 degrees (Celsius I think, but the scientist Mr. Krugman cannot be bothered to actually specify units).  In other words, he believes there will be about 1 degree per decade warming, where we saw exactly zero over the last decade.  Even in the panicky warming times of the eighties and nineties we never saw more than about 0.2C per decade.  Mr. Krugman by implication believes the the Earth’s climate is driven by strong positive feedback (a must to accept such a high forecast) — quite an odd assumption to make about a long-term stable stystem without any good study showing such feedback and many showing the opposite.

But, more interestingly, Mr. Krugman also used to be a very good, Nobel-prize winning economist before he entered his current career as political hack.  (By the way, this makes for extreme irony – Mr. Krugman is accusing others of ignoring science in favor of political motivations.  But he is enormously guilty of doing the same in his own scientific field).   It is odd that Mr. Krugman would write

But in addition to rejecting climate science, the opponents of the climate bill made a point of misrepresenting the results of studies of the bill’s economic impact, which all suggest that the cost will be relatively low.

Taking this statement at face value, a good economist would know that if the costs of a cap-and-trade system are low, then the benefits will be low as well.  Cap-and-trade systems or more direct carbon taxes only work if they are economically painful for energy consumers.  It is this pain that changes behaviors and reduces emissions.  A pain-free emissions reduction plan is also a useless one.  And in fact, the same studies that show the bill would have little economic impact also show it will have little emissions impact.  And thus it is particularly amazing Krugman can play the “traitor” card on 212 people who voted against a bill nearly everyone on the planet (including the ones who voted for the bill) know will not be effective.

I remember the good old days when Democrats thought it was bad when Republicans called folks who did not agree with them on Iraq “traitors.”  After agreeing with Democrats at the time, I am disapointed that they have adopted the same tactic now that they are in power.

Take A Deep Breath…

A lot of skeptics’ websites are riled up about the EPA’s leadership decision not to forward comments by EPA staffer Alan Carlin on the Endangerment issue and global warming because these comments were not consistent with where the EPA wanted to go on this issue.   I reprinted the key EPA email here, which I thought sounded a bit creepy, and some of the findings by the CEI which raised this issue.

However, I think skeptics are getting a bit carried away.  Let’s try to avoid the exaggeration and hype of which we often accuse global warming alarmists.  This decision does not reflect well on the EPA, but let’s make sure we understand what it was and was not:

  • This was not a “study” in the sense we would normally use the word.  These were comments submitted by an individual to a regulatory decision and/or a draft report.  The  authors claimed to only have 4 or 5 days to create these comments.  To this extent, they are not dissimilar to the types of comments many of us submitted to the recently released climate change synthesis report (comments, by the way, which still have not been released though the final report is out — this in my mind is a bigger scandal than how Mr. Carlin’s comments were handled).  Given this time frame, the comments are quite impressive, but nonetheless not a “study.”
  • This was not an officially sanctioned study that was somehow suppressed.  In other words, I have not seen anywhere that Mr. Carlin was assigned by the agency to produce a report on anthropogenic global warming.  This does not however imply that what Mr. Carlin was doing was unauthorized.  This is a very normal activity — staffers from various departments and background submitting comments on reports and proposed regulations.  He was presumably responding to an internal call for comments by such and such date.
  • I have had a number of folks write me saying that everyone is misunderstanding the key email — that it should be taken on its face — and read to mean that Mr. Carlin commented on issues outside of the scope of the study or based document he was commenting on.  An example might be submitting comments saying man is not causing global warming to a study discussing whether warming causes hurricanes.   However, his comments certainly seem relevant to Endangerment question — the background, action, and proposed finding the comments were aimed at is on the EPA website here.  Note in particular the comments in Carlin’s paper were totally relevant and on point to the content of the technical support document linked on that page.
  • The fourth email cited by the CEI, saying that Mr. Carlin should cease spending any more time on global warming, is impossible to analyze without more context.  There are both sinister and perfectly harmless interpretations of such an email.  For example, I could easily imagine an employee assigned to area Y who had a hobbyist interest in area X and loved to comment on area X being asked by his supervisor to go back and do his job in area Y.  I have had situations like that in the departments I have run.

What does appear to have happened is that Mr. Carlin responded to a call for comments, submitted comments per the date and process required, and then had the organization refuse to forward those comments because they did not fit the storyline the EPA wanted to put together.  This content-based rejection of his submission does appear to violate normal EPA rules and practices and, if not, certainly violates the standards we would want such supposedly science-based regulatory bodies to follow.  But let’s not upgrade this category 2 hurricane to category 5 — this was not, as I understand it, an agency suppressing an official agency-initiated study.

I may be a cynical libertarian on this, but this strikes me more as a government issue than a global warming issue.  Government bureaucracies love consensus, even when they have to impose it.  I don’t think there is a single agency in Washington that has not done something similar — ie suppressed internal concerns and dissent when the word came down from on high what the answer was supposed to be on a certain question they were supposed to be “studying.”**  This sucks, but its what we get when we build this big blundering bureaucracy to rule us.

Anyway, Anthony Watt is doing a great job staying on top of this issue.  His latest post is here, and includes an updated version of Carlin’s comments.   Whatever the background, Carlin’s document is well worth a read.  I have mirrored the document here.

**Postscript: Here is something I have observed about certain people in both corporate and government beauracracies.  I appologize, but I don’t really have the words for this and I don’t know the language of psychology.   There is a certain type of person who comes to believe, really believe, their boss’s position on an issue.  We often chalk this up from the outside to brown-nosing or an “Eddie Haskell” effect where people fake their beliefs, but I don’t think this is always true.  I think there is some sort of human mental defense mechanism that people have a tendency to actually adopt (not just fake) the beliefs of those in power over them.  Certainly some folks resist this, and there are some issues too big or fundamental for this to work, but for many folks their mind will reshape itself to the beaucracracy around it.  It is why sometimes organizations cannot be fixed, and can only be blown up.

Update: The reasons skeptics react strongly to stuff like this is that there are just so many examples:

Over the coming days a curiously revealing event will be taking place in Copenhagen. Top of the agenda at a meeting of the Polar Bear Specialist Group (set up under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature/Species Survival Commission) will be the need to produce a suitably scary report on how polar bears are being threatened with extinction by man-made global warming….

Dr Mitchell Taylor has been researching the status and management of polar bears in Canada and around the Arctic Circle for 30 years, as both an academic and a government employee. More than once since 2006 he has made headlines by insisting that polar bear numbers, far from decreasing, are much higher than they were 30 years ago. Of the 19 different bear populations, almost all are increasing or at optimum levels, only two have for local reasons modestly declined.

Dr Taylor agrees that the Arctic has been warming over the last 30 years. But he ascribes this not to rising levels of CO2 – as is dictated by the computer models of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and believed by his PBSG colleagues – but to currents bringing warm water into the Arctic from the Pacific and the effect of winds blowing in from the Bering Sea….

Dr Taylor had obtained funding to attend this week’s meeting of the PBSG, but this was voted down by its members because of his views on global warming. The chairman, Dr Andy Derocher, a former university pupil of Dr Taylor’s, frankly explained in an email (which I was not sent by Dr Taylor) that his rejection had nothing to do with his undoubted expertise on polar bears: “it was the position you’ve taken on global warming that brought opposition”.

Dr Taylor was told that his views running “counter to human-induced climate change are extremely unhelpful”. His signing of the Manhattan Declaration – a statement by 500 scientists that the causes of climate change are not CO2 but natural, such as changes in the radiation of the sun and ocean currents – was “inconsistent with the position taken by the PBSG”.

Creepy, But Unsurprising

I am late on this, so you probably have seen it, but the EPA was apparently working hard to make sure that the settled science remained settled, but shutting up anyone who dissented from its conclusions.


From Odd Citizen.  More at Watts Up With That.

Though less subtle than I would have expected, this should come as no surprise to readers of my series on the recent government climate report.  All even-handed discussion or inclusion of data that might muddy the core message have been purged from a document that is far more like an advocacy group press release than a scientific document.

Update: More here.

Update #2: I understand those who are skeptical of this, and feel this may have been some kind of entirely justified rebuff.  I have folks all the time sending me emails begging me to post their articles as guest authors on this blog and I say no to them all, and there is no scandal to that.  Thomas Fuller, and environmental writer for the San Francisco Examiner, was skeptical at first as well.  His story here.

Land vs. Space

Apropos of my last post, Bob Tisdale is beginning a series analyzing the differences between the warmest surface-based temperature set (GISTEMP) and a leading satellite measurement series (UAH).  As I mentioned, these two sets have been diverging for years.  I estimated the divergence at around 0.1C per decade  (this is a big number, as it is about equal to the measured warming rate in the second half of the 20th century and about half the IPCC predicted warming for the next century).   Tisdale does the math a little more precisely, and gets the divergence at only 0.035C per decade.   This is lower than I would have expected and seems to be driven a lot by the GISS’s under-estimation of the 1998 spike vs. UAH.  I got the higher number with a different approach, by putting the two anamolies on the same basis using 1979-1985 averages and then comparing recent values.

Here are the differences in trendline by area of the world (he covers the whole world by grouping ocean areas with nearby continents).  GISS trend minus UAH trend, degrees C per decade:

Arctic:  0.134

North America:  -0.026

South America: -0.013

Europe:  0.05

Africa:  0.104

Asia:  0.077

Australia:  -0.02

Antarctica:  0.139

So, the three highest differences, each about an order of magnitude higher than differences in other areas, are in 1.  Antarctica;  2. Arctic; and 3. Africa.  What do these three have in common?

Well, what the have most in common is the fact that these are also the three areas of the world with the poorest surface temperature coverage.  Here is the GISS coverage showing color only in areas where they have a thermometer record within a 250km box:


The worst coverage is obviously in the Arctic, Antarctica and then Africa.  Coincidence?

Those who want to argue that the surface temperature record should be used in preference to that of satellites need to explain why the three areas in which the two diverge the most are the three areas with the worst surface temperature data coverage.  This seems to argue that flaws in the surface temperature record drive the differences between surface and satellite, and not the other way around.

Apologies to Tisdale if this is where he was going in his next post in the series.

GCCI #12: Ignoring the Data That Doesn’t Fit the Narrative

Page 39 of the GCCI  Report discusses retreating Arctic sea ice.  It includes this chart:


The first thing I would observe is that the decline seems exaggerated through some scaling and smoothing gains.    The raw data, from the Cyrosphere Today site   (note different units, a square mile = about 2.6 sq. km).


But the most interesting part is what is not mentioned, even once, in this section of the report:  The Earth has two poles.  And it turns out that the south pole has actually been gaining sea ice, such that the total combined sea ice extent of the entire globe is fairly stable (click for larger version).


Now, there are folks who are willing to posit a model that allows for global warming and this kind of divergence between the poles.  But the report does not even go there.  It demonstrates an inferiority complex I see in many places of the report, refusing to even hint that reality is messy in fear that it might cloud their story.

Someone Really Needs to Drive A Stake In This

Isn’t there someone credible in the climate field that can really try to sort out the increasing divergence of satellite vs. surface temperature records?  I know there are critical studies to be done on the effect of global warming on acne, but I would think actually having an idea of how much the world is currently warming might be an important fact in the science of global warming.

The problem is that surface temperature records are showing a lot more warming than satellite records.  This is a screen cap. from Global Warming at a Glance on JunkScience.com.  The numbers in red are anomalies, and represent deviations from a arbitrary period whose average is set to zero  (this period is different for the different metrics).  Because the absolute values of the anamolies are not directly comparable, look at the rankings instead:


Here is the connundrum — the two surface records (GISTEMP and Hadley CRUT3) showed May of 2009 as the fifth hottest in over a century of readings.  The two satellite records showed it as only the 16th hottest in 31 years of satellite records.  It is hard to call something settled science when even a basic question like “was last month hotter or colder than average” can’t be answered with authority.

Skeptics have their answer, which have been shown on this site multiple times.  Much of the surface temperature record is subject to site location biases, urban warming effects, and huge gaps in coverage.  Moreover, instrumentation changes over time have introduced biases and the GISS and Hadley Center have both added “correction” factors of dubious quality that they refuse to release the detailed methodology or source code behind.

There are a lot of good reasons to support modern satellite measurement.  In fact, satellite measurement has taken over many major climate monitoring functions, such as measurement of arctic ice extent and solar irradiance.  Temperature measurement is the one exception.  One is left with a suspicion that the only barrier to acceptance of the satellite records is that alarmists don’t like the answer they are giving.

If satellite records have some fundamental problem that exceeds those documented in the surface temperature record, then it is time to come forward with the analysis or else suck it up and accept them as a superior measurement source.

Postscript: It is possible to compare the absolute values of the anamolies if the averages are adjusted to the same zero for the same period.  When I did so, to compare UAH and Hadley CRUT3, I found the Hadley anamoly had to be reduced by about 0.1C to get them on the same basis.  This implies Hadley is reading about 0.2C more warming over the last 20-25 years, or about 0.1C/decade.

Update #2 On GCCI Electrical Grid Disruption Chart

Update: Evan Mills, apparently one author of the analysis, responds and I respond back.

Steve McIntyre picks up my critique on the electrical grid disruption chart (here and here) and takes it further.  Apparently, this report (which I guess I should be calling the Climate Change Synthesis Report or CCSP) set rules for itself that all the work in the report had to be from peer-reviewed literature.  McIntyre makes a grab at the footnotes for this section of the report for any peer-reviewed basis, but comes up only with air.   He also references a hurricane chart in the report apparently compiled by the same person who compiled the grid outage report.  Roger Pielke rips up this hurricane report, and I have it on my list to address in a future post as well.

GCCI #11: Changing Wet and Dry Weather

From the GCCI report on page 24:

Increased extremes of summer dryness and winter wetness are projected for much of the globe, meaning a generally greater risk of droughts and floods. This has already been observed, and is projected to continue. In a warmer world, precipitation tends to be concentrated into heavier events, with longer dry periods in between.

Later in the report they make the same claims for the US only.  I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but I don’t know what data they are using.  This is from the National Climate Data Center, run by the same folks who wrote this report:



Maybe my Mark I eyeball is off, but it sure doesn’t look like any trend here, or that there we are currently at any particularly unprecedented levels today.  Of course, the main evidence they have of increasing extreme rainfall is in this chart — but of course this is “simulated” history, rather than actual, you know, observations.

GCCI #10: Extreme Example of Forcing Observation to Fit the Theory

In the last post, I discussed forcing observations to fit the theory.  Generally, this takes the form either of ignoring observations or adding “adjustment” factors to the data.  But here is an even more extreme example from page 25:


A quick glance at this chart, and what do we see?  A line historically rising surprisingly in parallel with global temperature history, and then increasing in the future.

But let’s look at that chart legend carefully.  The green “historic” data is actually nothing of the sort – it is simulation!  The authors have created their own history.  This entire chart is the output of some computer model programmed to deliver the result that temperature drives heavy precipitation, and so it does.

GCCI #9: Forcing Observation to Fit the Theory

Let me digress a bit.  Just over 500 years ago, Aristotelian physics and mechanical models still dominated science.  The odd part about this was not that people were still using his theories nearly 2000 years after his death — after all, won’t people still know Isaac Newton’s contributions a thousand years hence?  The strange part was that people had been observing natural effects for centuries that were entirely inconsistent with Aristotle’s mechanics, but no one really questioned the underlying theory.

But folks found it really hard to question Aristotle.  The world had gone all-in on Aristotle.  Even the Church had adopted Aristotle’s description of the universe as the one true and correct model.  So folks assumed the observations were wrong, or spent their time shoe-horning the observations into Aristotle’s theories, or just ignored the offending observations altogether.  The Enlightenment is a complex phenomenon, but for me the key first step was the willingness of people to start questioning traditional authorities (Aristotle and the church) in the light of new observations.

I am reminded of this story a bit when I read about “fingerprint” analyses for anthropogenic warming.  These analyses propose to identify certain events in current climate (or weather) that are somehow distinctive features of anthropogenic rather than natural warming.  From the GCCI:

The earliest fingerprint work focused on changes in surface and atmospheric temperature. Scientists then applied fingerprint methods to a whole range of climate variables, identifying human-caused climate signals in the heat content of the oceans, the height of the tropopause (the boundary between the troposphere and stratosphere, which has shifted upward by hundreds of feet in recent decades), the geographical patterns of precipitation, drought, surface pressure, and the runoff from major river basins.

Studies published after the appearance of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report in 2007 have also found human fingerprints in the increased levels of atmospheric moisture (both close to the surface and over the full extent of the atmosphere), in the decline of Arctic sea ice extent, and in the patterns of changes in Arctic and Antarctic surface temperatures.

This is absolute caca.  Given the complexity of the climate system, it is outright hubris to say that things like the “geographical patterns of precipitation” can be linked to half-degree changes  in world average temperatures.  But it is a lie to say that it can be linked specifically to human-caused warming, vs. warming from other causes, as implied in this statement.   A better name for fingerprint analysis would be Rorschach analysis, because they tend to result in alarmist scientists reading their expectation to find anthropogenic causes into every single weather event.

But there is one fingerprint prediction that was among the first to be made and is still probably the most robust of this genre:  that warming from greenhouse gasses will be greatest in the upper troposphere above the tropics.  This is demonstrated by this graph on page 21 of the GCCI


This has always been a stumbling block, because satellites, the best measures we have on the troposphere, and weather balloons have never seen this heat bubble over the tropics.  Here is the UAH data for the mid-troposphere temperature — one can see absolutely no warming in a zone where the warming should, by the models, be high:


Angell in 2005 and Sterin in 2001 similarly found from Radiosonde records about 0.2C of warming since the early 1960s, below the global surface average warming when models say it should be well above.

But fortunately, the GCCI solves this conundrum:

For over a decade, one aspect of the climate change story seemed to show a significant difference between models and observations.

In the tropics, all models predicted that with a rise in greenhouse gases, the troposphere would be expected to warm more rapidly than the surface. Observations from weather balloons, satellites, and surface thermometers seemed to show the opposite behavior (more rapid warming of the surface than the troposphere). This issue was a stumbling block in our understanding of the causes of climate change. It is now largely resolved.   Research showed that there were large uncertainties in the satellite and weather balloon data. When uncertainties in models and observations are properly accounted for, newer observational data sets (with better treatment of known problems) are in agreement with climate model results.

What does this mean?  It means that if we throw in some correction factors that make observations match the theory, then the observations will match the theory.  This statement is a pure out and out wishful thinking.  The charts above predict a 2+ degree F warming in the troposphere from 1958-1999, or nearly 0.3C per decade.  No study has measured anything close to this  – Satellites show 0.0C per decade and radiosondes about 0.05C per decade.    The correction factors to make reality match the theory would have to be 10 times the measured anomaly.  Even if this were the case, the implied signal to noise ratio would be so low as to render the analysis meaningless.

Frankly, the statement by these folks that weather balloon data and satellites have large uncertainties is hilarious.  While this is probably true, these uncertainties and inherent biases are DWARFED by the biases, issues, uncertainties and outright errors in the surface temperature record.  Of course, the report uses this surface temperature record absolutely uncritically, ignoring a myriad of problems such as these and these.  Why the difference?  Because observations from the flawed surface temperature record better fit their theories and models.  Sometimes I think these guys should have put a picture of Ptolemy on their cover.

GCCI #8: A Sense of Scale

In this post I want to address a minor point on chartsmanship.  Everyone plays this game with scaling and other factors to try to make his or her point more effective, so I don’t want to make too big of a deal about it.   But at some point the effort becomes so absurd it simply begs to be highlighted.

Page 13 of the GCCI report has this chart I have already seen circulating around the alarmist side of the web:


There are two problems here.

One, the compression of the X axis puts the lower and upper scenario lines right on top of each other.  This really causes the higher scenario  (which, at 900ppm, really represents a number higher than we are likely to see even in a do-nothing case) to visually dominate.

The other issue is that the Y-axis covers a very, very small range, such that small changes are magnified visually.  The scale runs from 0% of the atmosphere up to 0.09% of the atmosphere.  If one were to run the scale to cover a more reasonable range, he would get this  (with orange being the high emissions case and blue being the lower case):


Even this caps out at just 1% of the atmosphere.  If we were to look at the total composition of the atmosphere, we would get this:


GCCI #7: A Ridiculously Narrow Time Window – The Sun

In a number of portions of the report, graphs appear trying to show climate variations in absurdly narrow time windows.  This helps the authors  either a) blame long-term climate trends on recent manmade actions or b) convert natural variation on decadal cycles into a constant one-way trend.  In a previous post I showed an example, with glaciers, of the former.  In this post I want to discuss the latter.

Remember that the report leaps out of the starting gate by making the amazingly unequivocal statement:

1. Global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced. Global temperature has increased over the past 50 years. This observed increase is due primarily to human induced emissions of heat-trapping gases.

To make this statement, they must dispose of other possible causes, with variations in the sun being the most obvious.  Here is the chart they use on page 20:


Wow, this one is even shorter than the glacier chart.  I suppose they can argue that it is necessarily so, as they only have satellite data since 1978.  But there are other sources of data prior to 1978 they could have used**.

I will show the longer view of solar activity in a minute, but let’s take a minute to think about the report’s logic.  The chart tries to say that the lack of a trend in the rate of solar energy reaching Earth is not consistent with rising temperatures.  They are saying – See everyone, flat solar output, rising temperatures.  There can’t be a relationship.

Really?  Did any of these guys take basic thermodynamics?  Let’s consider a simple example from everyone’s home — a pot on a stove.  The stove is on low, and the water has reached an equilibrium temperature, well below boiling.  Now we turn the stove up — what happens?


In this chart, the red is the stove setting, and we see it go from low to high.  Prior to the change in stove setting, the water temperature in the pot, shown in blue, was stable.  After the change in burner setting, the water temperature begins to increase over time.

If we were to truncate this chart, so we only saw the far right side, as the climate report has done with the sun chart, we would see this:


Doesn’t this look just a little like the solar chart in the report?  The fact is that the chart from the report is entirely consistent both with a model where the sun is causing most of the warming and one where it is not.  The key is whether the level of the sun’s output from 1987 to present is a new, higher plateau that is driving temperature increases over time (like the higher burner setting) or whether the sun’s output recently is consistent with, and no higher than, its level over the last 100 years.  What we want to look for, in seeking the impact of the sun, is a step-change in output near when temperature increases of the last 50 years began.

Does such a step-change exist?  Yes.  One way to look at the sun’s output is to use sunspots as a proxy for output – the more spots in a given 11 year cycle, the greater the sun’s activity and likely output.  Here is what we see for this metric:


And here is the chart for total solar irradiance (sent to me, ironically, by someone trying to disprove the influence of the sun).


Clearly the sun’s activity and output experienced an upwards step-change around 1950.  The average monthly sunspots in the second half of the century were, for example, 50% higher than in the first half of the century.

The real question, of course, is whether these changes result in large or small rates of temperature increase.  And that is still open for debate, with issues like cloud formation thrown in for complexity.  But it is totally disingenuous, and counts on readers to be scientifically illiterate, to propose that the chart in the report “proves” that the sun is not driving temperature changes.

**By this logic, they should only have temperature data since 1978 for the same reason, though by one of those ironies I am starting to find frequent in this report, all the charts, including this one, use flawed surface temperature records rather than satellite data.  Why didn’t they use satellite data for the temperature as well as the solar output for this chart?  Probably because the satellite data does not include upward biases and thus shows less warming.  Having four or five major temperature indices to choose from, the team writing this paper chose the one that gives the highest modern warming number.

GCCI #6: A Ridiculously Narrow Time Window – Glaciers

In a number of portions of the report, graphs appear trying to show climate variations in absurdly narrow time windows.  This helps the authors of this scientific report advocacy press release either a) blame long-term climate trends on recent manmade actions or b) convert natural variation on decadal cycles into a constant one-way trend.  In this post we will look at an example of the former, while in the next post we will look at the latter.

Here is the melting glacier chart from right up front on page 18, in the section on sea level rise (ironic, since if you really read the IPCC report closely, sea level rise comes mainly from thermal expansion of the oceans – glacier melting is offset in most models by increased snow in Antarctica**).


Wow, this looks scary.  Of course, it is clever chartsmanship, making it look like they have melted down to zero by choice of scale.   How large is this compared to the total area of glaciers?  We don’t know from the chart — percentages would have been more helpful.

Anyway, I could criticize these minor chartsmanship games throughout the paper, but on glaciers I want to focus on the selected time frame.  What, one might ask, were glaciers doing before 1960?  Well, if we accept the logic of the caption that losses are driven by temperature, then I guess it must have been flat.  But why didn’t they show that?  Wouldn’t that be a powerful chart, showing flat glacier size with this falloff to the right?

Well, as you may have guessed, the truncated time frame on the left side of this chart is not flat.  I can’t find evidence that Meier et al looted back further than 1960, but others have, including Oerlemans as published in Science in 2005.  (The far right hand side really should be truncated by 5-10 years, as they are missing a lot of datapoints in the last 5 years, making the results odd and unreliable).


OK, this is length rather than volume, but they should be closely related.  The conclusion is that glaciers have been receding since the early 19th century, LONG before any build-up of CO2, and coincident with a series of cold decades in the last 18th century  (think Valley Forge and Napoleon in Russia).

I hope you can see why it is unbelievably disingenuous to truncate the whole period from 1800-1960 and call this trend a) recent and b) due to man-made global warming.  If it is indeed due to man-made global warming since 1960, then there must have been some other natural effect shrinking glaciers since 1825 that fortuitously shut off at the precise moment anthropogenic warming took over.  Paging William of Occam, call your office please.

Similarly, sea levels have been rising steadily for hundreds, even thousands of years, and current sea level increases are not far off their average pace for the last 200 years.

** The climate models show warming of the waters around Antarctica, creating more precipitation over the climate.  This precipitation falls and remains as snow or ice, and is unlikely to melt even at very high numbers for global warming as Antarctica is so freaking cold to begin with.

Update on GCCI Post #4: Grid Outage Chart

Update: Evan Mills, apparently one author of the analysis, responds and I respond back.

Yesterday I called into question the interpretation of this chart from the GCCI report where the report used electrical grid outages as a proxy for severe weather frequency:


I hypothesized:

This chart screams one thing at me:  Basis change.  Somehow, the basis for the data is changing in the period.  Either reporting has been increased, or definitions have changed, or there is something about the grid that makes it more sensitive to weather, or whatever  (this is a problem in tornado charts, as improving detection technologies seem to create an upward incidence trend in smaller tornadoes where one probably does not exist).   But there is NO WAY the weather is changing this fast, and readers should treat this whole report as a pile of garbage if it is written by people who uncritically accept this chart.

I had contacted John Makins of the EIA who owns this data set yesterday, but I was too late to catch him in the office.  He was nice enough to call me today.

He said that there may be an underlying upward trend out there (particularly in thunderstorms) but that most of the increase in this chart is from improvements in data gathering.  In 1997, the EIA (and Makins himself) took over the compilation of this data, which had previously been haphazard, and made a big push to get all utilities to report as required.  They made a second change and push for reporting in 2001, and again in 2007/2008.  He told me that most of this slope is due to better reporting, and not necessarily any underlying trend.   In fact, he said there still is some under-reporting by smaller utilities he wants to improve so that the graph will likely go higher in the future.

Further, it is important to understand the nature of this data.  The vast majority of weather disturbances are not reported to the EIA.  If the disturbance or outage remains local with no impact on any of the national grids, then it does not need to be reported.  Because of this definitional issue, reported incidents can also change over time due to the nature of the national grid.  For example, as usage of the national grid changes or gets closer to capacity, local disturbances might cascade to national issues where they would not have done so 20 years ago.  Or vice versa – better grid management technologies might keep problems local that would have cascaded regionally or nationally before.  Either of these would drive trends in this data that have no relation to underlying weather patterns.

At the end of the day, this disturbance data is not a good proxy for severe weather.  And I am left wondering at this whole “peer-reviewed science” thing, where errors like this pass into publication of major reports — an error that an amateur like myself can identify with one phone call to the guy listed by this data set on the web site.  Forget peer review, this isn’t even good basic editorial control  (apparently no one who compiled the report called Makins, and he was surprised today at the number of calls he was suddenly getting).

Postscript: Makins was kind enough to suggest some other data bases that might show what he believes to be a real increase in thunderstorm disturbances of electrical distribution grids.  He suggested that a number of state PUC’s keep such data, including the California PUC under their reliability section.  I will check those out, though it is hard to infer global climate trends from one state.

GCCI #5: The Dog That Didn’t Bark

The GCCI is mainly focused on creating a variety of future apocalyptic narratives.  However, it was interesting none-the-less for what was missing:  No hockey stick, and no Co2/temperature 600,000 year ice core chart.  Have we finally buried these chestnuts, or were they thought unnecessary as the report really expends no effort defending the existence of warming.

GCCI #4: I Am Calling Bullsh*t on this Chart

Update#2: Evan Mills, apparently one author of the analysis, responds and I respond back.

UPDATE: I obtained more information from the EIA.  My hypothesis below is correct.   Update here.

For this next post, I skip kind of deep into the report because Kevin Drum was particularly taken with the power of this chart from page 58.


I know that skepticism is a lost art in journalism, so I will forgive Mr. Drum.  But in running a business, people put all kinds of BS analyses in front of me trying to get me to spend my money one way or another.  And so for those of us for whom data analysis actually has financial consequences, it is a useful skill to be able to recognize a steaming pile of BS when one sees it.  (Update: I regret the snarky comment about Kevin Drum — though I disagree with him a lot, he is one of the few folks on either side of the political aisle who is willing to express skepticism for studies and polls even when they support his position.  Mr. Drum has posted an update to his original post after I emailed him this information).

First, does anyone here really think that we have seen a 20-fold increase in electrical grid outages over the last 15 years but no one noticed?  Really?

Second, let’s just look at some of the numbers.  Is there anyone here who thinks that if we are seeing 10-20 major outages from thunderstorms and tornadoes (the yellow bar) in the last few years, we really saw ZERO by the same definition in 1992?  And 1995?  And 1996?  Seriously?  This implies there has been something like a 20-fold increase in outages from thunderstorms and tornadoes since the early 1990’s.  But tornado activity, for example, has certainly not increased since the early 1990’s and has probably decreased (from the NOAA, a co-author of the report):


All the other bars have the same believability problem.  Take “temperature extremes.”  Anyone want to bet that is mostly cold rather than mostly hot extremes?  I don’t know if that is the case, but my bet is the authors would have said “hot” if the data had been driven by “hot.”  And if this is proof of global warming, then why is the damage from cold and ice increasing as fast as other severe weather causes?

This chart screams one thing at me:  Basis change.  Somehow, the basis for the data is changing in the period.  Either reporting has been increased, or definitions have changed, or there is something about the grid that makes it more sensitive to weather, or whatever  (this is a problem in tornado charts, as improving detection technologies seem to create an upward incidence trend in smaller tornadoes where one probably does not exist).   But there is NO WAY the weather is changing this fast, and readers should treat this whole report as a pile of garbage if it is written by people who uncritically accept this chart.

Postscript: By the way, if I want to be snarky, I should just accept this chart.  Why?  Because here is the US temperature anomaly over the same time period (using the UAH satellite data as graphed by Anthony Watt, degrees C):


From 1998 to today, when the electrical outage chart was shooting up, the US was actually cooling slightly!

This goes back to the reason why alarmists abandoned the “global warming” term in favor of climate change.   They can play this bait and switch, showing changes in climate (which always exist) and then blaming them on CO2.  But there is no mechanism ever proposed by anyone where CO2 can change the climate directly without going through the intermediate step of warming.  If climate is changing but we are not seeing warming, then the change can’t be due to CO2. But you will never see that fact in this helpful government propaganda piece.

GCCI Report #3: Warming and Feedback

One frequent topic on this blog is that the theory of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming actually rests on two separate, unrelated propositions.  One, that increasing CO2 in the atmosphere increases temperatures.  And two, that the Earth’s climate is dominated by positive feedbacks that multiply the warming from Co2 alone by 3x or more.  Proposition one is well-grounded, and according to the IPCC (which this report does not dispute) the warming from Co2 alone is about 1.2C per doubling of Co2 concentrations.  Proposition two is much, much iffier, which is all the more problematic since 2/3 or more of the hypothesized future warming typically comes from the feedback.

We have to do a little legwork, because this report bends over backwards to not include any actual science.  For example, as far as I can tell, it does not actually establish a range of likely climate sensitivity numbers, but we can back into them.

The report uses CO2 concentrations numbers for “do nothing” scenarios (no global warming legislation) of between 850 and 950 ppm in 2100.  These are labeled as the IPCC A2 and A1F1 scenarios.  For these scenarios, between 2000 and 2100 they show warming of 6F and 7F respectively.   Now, I need to do some conversions.  850 and 950 ppm represent about 1.25 and 1.5 doublings from 2000 levels.  The temperatures for these are 3.3C and 3.9C.  This means that the assumed sensitivity in these charts (as degrees Celsius per doubling) is around 2.6, though my guess is that there are time delays in the model and the actual number is closer to 3.  This is entirely consistent with the last IPCC report.

OK, that seems straight forward.  Except having used these IPCC numbers on pages 23-25, they quickly abandon them in favor of higher numbers.    Here for example, is a chart from page 29:


Note the map on the right, which is the end of century projection for the US.  The chart shows a range of warming of 7-11 degrees F for a time period centered on 2090  (they boxed that range on the thermometer, not me), but the chart on page 25 shows average warming in the max emissions case in 2090 to be about 7.5F against the same baseline (you have to be careful, they keep moving the baseline around on these charts).  It could be that my Mark I integrating eyeball is wrong, but that map sure looks like more than an average 7.5F increase.  It could be that the US is supposed to warm more than the world average, but the report never says so that I can find, and the US (even by the by the numbers in the report) has warmed less than the rest of the globe over the last 50 years.

The solution to this conundrum may be on page 24 when they say:

Based on scenarios that do not assume explicit climate policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, global average temperature is projected to rise by 2 to 11.5°F by the end of this century90 (relative to the 1980-1999 time period).

Oddly enough (well, oddly for a science document but absolutely predictably for an advocacy paper) the high end of this range, rather than the median, seems to be the number used through the rest of the report.  This 11.5F probably implies a climate sensitivity around 5 C/doubling.  Using the IPCC numaber of 1.2 for CO2 alone, means that this report is assuming that as much as 75% of the warming comes from positive feedback effects.

So, since most of the warming, and all of the catastrophe, comes from the assumption that the climate system is dominated by net positive feedback, one would assume the report would address itself to this issue.  Wrong.

I did a search for the word “feedback” in the document just to make sure I didn’t miss anything.  Here are all the references in the main document (outside of footnotes) to feedback used in this context:

  • P15:  “However, the surface warming caused by human-produced increases in other greenhouse gases leads to an increase in atmospheric water vapor, since a warmer climate increases evaporation and allows the atmosphere to hold more moisture. This creates an amplifying “feedback loop,” leading to more warming.”
  • P16:  “For example, it is known from long records of Earth’s climate history that under warmer conditions, carbon tends to be released, for instance, from thawing permafrost, initiating a feedback loop in which more carbon release leads to more warming which leads to further release, and so on.”
  • P17:  “For example, it is known from long records of Earth’s climate history that under warmer conditions, carbon tends to be released, for instance, from thawing permafrost, initiating a feedback loop in which more carbon release leads to more warming which leads to further release, and so on.

That’s it – the entire sum text of feedbacks.  All positive, no discussion of negative feedbacks, and no discussion of the evidence how we know positive feedbacks outweight negative feedbacks.  The first one of the three is particularly disengenuous, since most serious scientists will admit that we don’t even know the sign of the water vapor feedback loop, and there is good evidence the sign is actually negative (due to albedo effects from increased cloud formation).

GCCI Report #2: Climate Must Be Dead Stable Without Man

The other underlying assumption in the GCCI report is that without man, climate would be dead stable.  Year in and year out, decade after decade, every location would get the same rain it got the year before and the decade before, the same number of storms, the same number of tornadoes, the same start date for Spring, etc.

Now, the authors might object to that and say, “we don’t believe that.”  But in fact they must, since in the report, any US climate trend in the last 20 years (more rain, less rain, more storms, fewer storms, more snow, less snow, etc) is all blamed on man.   Why else discuss a given trend in climate in a report on man-made climate change except to create the impression that each and every trend in climate is due to man, and can therefore be extrapolated a hundred years in to the future?

I am going to take on many of these charts in this series, but here is an example from page 30:


So what?   Do you really think there is a single 50-year period in the history of North America where you wouldn’t see this kind of effect?  Where, sans man, the chart would be all white with no changes?  And even trying to pull regional conclusions out of this is almost impossible — for example, the brown in the Southeast is heavily driven by the 2008 endpoint with a big drought.  Shift the period by even a few years and the chart has the same mixture of blue and brown, but distributed differently.

Of course,this assumption of underlying stability is absurd.  History is full of short, medium, and long-term climate cycles.  An honest scientific discussion would look at the degree of variation over time, say hundreds or thousands of years, and then put recent variations in this context.  Are recent changes unprecedented, or not?  Well, we’ll never know from this report.

GCCI Report #1: Overall Tone

The first thing one needs to recognize about the GCCI report is that it is not a scientific document — it is a 170-page long press release from an advocacy group, with all the detailed, thorough science one might expect in a press release from the Center of Science and Public Interest writing about the threat to mankind from Twinkies.  By the admission of the Obama administration, this is a document that has been stripped of its scientific discussion and rewritten by a paid PR firm that specialized in environmental advocacy.

I have not read every word, but it is pretty clear that there is no new science here on the causes or magnitude of warming.  In fact, if I had to describe the process used to prepare the first part of the report, it was to take past IPCC reports, strip out any wording indicating uncertainty, and then portray future forecasts using the IPCC mean forecasts as the lowest possible warming and whatever model they could find that spit out the highest forecast as the “worst case scenario.”  Then, the rest of the report (about 90%) creates a variety of hypothesized disaster movie plots based on this worst case scenario.

You know that this is an advocacy document and not science right of the bat when they write this:

1. Global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced.
Global temperature has increased over the past 50 years. This observed increase is due primarily to humaninduced
emissions of heat-trapping gases.

Just look in wonder at the false religion-like certainty.  Name three other scientific findings about horribly complex natural processes that have been studied in depth for only 20 years or so that one would use the word “unequivocal” for.  OK, name even one.

If you can’t read the whole report, read the list of disasters on page 12.  If I had shown this to you blind, and told you it from from a Paul Ehrlich the-world-will-end-in-a-decade book from the 1970s, you would probably have believed me.

This entire report assumes global warming to exist, assumes it is man-made, and assumes its future levels are as large or larger than those projected in the last IPCC report.  The first four or five pages merely restate this finding with no new evidence.  The majority of the report then takes this assumption, cranks it through various models, and generates scary potential scenarios about the US and it would be like if temperatures really rose 11F over the next century.


For some months now, I have struggled with this site.

In the political and economics arena, there never seems to be any shortage of stuff to write about.  That is in large part because when I and others take a position, folks who disagree will respond, and interesting discussions rage back and forth between blogs.

For some years on this site, I have endeavored as a layman to help other laymen understand the key issues in the science.  When I first started, I had assumed my role would be pure journalism, simplifying complex arguments for a wider audience.  But I soon found that my background in modelling dynamic systems (both physical and social) allowed me to spot holes in the science on my own as well.

But of late I began to run down.  Unlike in the political / economic world, there is little cross-talk between blogs on different sides of issues.  I could flood the site with stupid media misinterpretations of the site, but it is not what I am trying to do here and besides Tom Nelson has that pretty well covered.

As in the political world, I try to read blogs on all sides of the debate, but in the climate world there was far less interaction.  There is only so long I can go on repeating the same arguments in different ways.  The problem is not that these arguments and holes in the science get quickly dispatched on other sites, it is that they get ignored.  Both sides are guilty of this, but alarmists in particular thrive on knocking down straw men and refusing to address head on the best skeptics’ arguments  (which is not to say that certain skeptic sites don’t have the same problem).

But the new Global Climate Change Impacts Report (pdf) released yesterday has re-energized me.  This document represents such an embarrassment that it simply begs to be critiqued in depth.  So over the coming weeks I will work through the report, in semi-random order, picking out particularly egregious omissions and inaccuracies.