Monthly Archives: May 2010

My Interview on Climate with Esquire Middle East

I received an email-based interview request on climate a while back from Esquire Middle East.  I have decided to include my whole response below.  The questions they ask are nearly as informative as anything I say, as they betray that the editors of the publication have pretty much bought into not only global warming alarmism, but all the memes alarmists use to discredit skeptics.  Its pretty clear all they know about the skeptic’s position is what they hear from alarmists about skeptics.  Anyway, I responded to this from a hotel room in Kentucky and didn’t give it my best but I think it may be interesting to you.  The questions are in bold, my answers in normal font.

Do you believe that global warming and climate change are a grave problem to the world at the moment ?

IF NO

What gives you reason to believe that global warming and climate change are not really happening?

I don’t deny they are happening, and neither do any other science-based skeptics.  Alarmists like to tell the public that skeptics are taking these positions, in order to discredit them.  The climate is always changing without any help from man — a good example is the drying up of North Africa over the last centuries.  The period from 1600-1800 was among the coldest in the last 5000 years, so it is natural we would see warming in recovery from this.

Is there any scientific evidence to support that global warming and climate change is not really that harmful

I wrote a 90-minute presentation on this so it is hard to be brief.  But here are a couple of thoughts1.  I don’t deny greenhouse gas theory, that man’s CO2 can cause some incremental warming.  The greenhouse gas theory has to be real, or the world would be much colder right now.  No, what I deny is the catastrophe, that temperatures a hundred years hence will be five or ten degrees Celsius higher due to man’s co2

Interestingly, I think most everyone on the scientific end of the debate agrees that the direct warming from man’s Co2 acting alone will be relatively modest – on the order of a degree Celsius by the year 2100 according to the IPCC.  Yeah, I know this seems oddly low — you never hear of global warming numbers as low as 1 degree — but it is actually a second theory, independent of greenhouse gas theory, that drives most of the warming.  This second theory is that the climate is dominated by strong positive feedbacks that  multiply the warming from CO2 many fold, and increase a modest 1 degree C of warming from man’s CO2 to catastrophic levels of 5 or even 10 degrees.

The example I use is to think of climate as a car.  Co2 from man provides only a nudge to the car.  The catastrophe comes from a second theory that the car (representing the climate) is perched precariously on the top of a hill with its brakes off, and a nudge from CO2 will start it rolling downhill until it crashes at the bottom.

When people say the science is settled, they generally mean greenhouse gas theory.  But that means only the nudge is settled.  What is far from settled is the second theory of strong net positive feedback in the climate, ie the theory the climate is perched on top of a hill.  It is unusual for long-term stable but chaotic systems to be dominated by such strong positive feedbacks.  In fact, only the most severe contortions allow scientists to claim their high-sensitivity models of catastrophic warming are consistent with the relatively modest warming of the past century.

2.  The amount of unusual climate change we are seeing is GROSSLY exaggerated.  We seem to be suffering under a massive case of observer bias in assessing any current effects of climate change.  Extreme events, which have always existed, are used by both sides of the debate as supposed proof of long term global trends.  But there is little useful we can learn about trends at the tails of the distribution, and it turns out that the means of key weather events in the US, from droughts to wet weather to tornadoes to hurricanes, show no meaningful trends.

We have this incredible hubris that by watching a chaotic system for about 20 years, we fully understand it. But climate has 30-year cycles, 200 year cycles, 1000-year cycles, etc.  We don’t even know what is normal, so how can we say we are seeing things that are abnormal.  We have seen a lot of melting sea ice in the Arctic, but we think we may have seen as much in the 1930’s, but we didn’t have satellites to watch the ice.  And Antarctic Sea ice has been higher than normal while Arctic has been below normal.

Hurricanes are another great example.  Al Gore swore that Hurricane Katrina was man-made, but it turns out there is actually a declining worldwide trend in hurricane and cyclone activity and energy, so much so that we hit the lowest level in 2009 since we started measuring by satellite 30 years ago.

Or take sea level rise.  Sea levels are rising today and glaciers are shrinking.  Sea levels are rising because they were rising in 1950 and in 1920 and in 1880 and in 1850.  Sea levels have been steadily rising 1-3mm a year since about 1820 and the end of the little ice age.  Ditto glacier retreat, which began around 1800 and has continued steadily to today, though the pace of retreat has slowed of late.

Imagine we wanted to look at customer visitation at a local restaurant that just closed after 60 years in business.  If we watched for only a few hours, we might miss the huge variability of the crowds from early morning through each mealtime rush.  Watch only for a day, and we might miss the seasonal variation, as vacationers pack the restaurant in March.  Watch for just a year, and we might have missed the long, slow decline in visitation that eventually led to the restaurant closing.  In climate, we are trying to decide if there is a long term decline at the restaurant after watching for the equivalent of only a few hours.

The reporting on whether manmade climate change is already happening is just awful.  We see something happen that we can’t remember happening in the last 20 years and declare it to be “abnormal” and therefore “manmade.”  Its absurd, and amazing to me that we skeptics are called anti-scientific when the science being practiced is so awful.  The problem is that for academics, who are always scrambling for funds, climate change has become the best source of money.  So you can’t just say you are studying acne, you have to say you are studying the effect of manmade climate change on acne.  Essentially, we have told the academic world that they can get much more money for their work if they claim to see climate change.  So is it any surprise they find it under every rock?

Are most scientists wrong?

I find judging science by counting scientists to be unproductive, so I have no idea.  I will say that a lot of folks who sign petitions in support of the alarmist position have not really looked carefully at the science, they are merely showing support because they have been told skeptics are a bunch of religious fundamentalist anti-science types, so they want to express their support for science.  It is ironic, as we found in the Climategate emails, that in fact they are supporting bad science, a small core group of scientists who have resisted normal scientific process of sharing data and replication

For some reason, we love to scare ourselves.  Or, more likely, many people, particularly younger folks, like to feel that there is some way they can save the world, to deal with their own feelings of insignificance.  And one can’t save the world unless it is in crisis.  Every generation has these crises, and they are almost always overblown.  Look at Paul Ehrlich — he has been wrong about 20 times.  He said a billion people would die of starvation by 1980.  He is just about never right, but people still lap up every thing he says.  Because folks like him give people a sense of mission.  And when you demonstrate to them that there is no crisis, they are not relieved (as one would expect someone to be when they find a crisis does not exist) — they are angry that you took their mission away from them.

What do you think is causing temperature changes on a scale never seen before?

Wow, you really are brainwashed.  You have an assumption that we are seeing temperature changes on a scale never seen before, and so skeptics must start from this.  But in fact the runup in temperatures from 1978-1998 that is the main “proof” of global warming is similar in scale and slope and duration to at least two other temperature increases between 1850 and 1950 which most definitely were not of anthropogenic origins.  See here:   http://www.climate-skeptic.com/2010/03/oh-maybe-ocean-occilations-are-important.html.  There are many issues with which reasonable people can disagree, but your contention about temperature increases being unprecedented is simply wrong and accepted as wrong by about everyone.

What did you think to the results of Copenhagen?

*shrug*  Copenhagen had little to do with climate and was much about lesser developed nations trying to extract money from wealthier nations.  Climate was just a pretext — do you really think Robert Mugabe or Hugo Chavez care about climate change?

Why do governments seem so concerned with the issue?

The fear of man-made catastrophic climate change gives government officials their best leverage since the repudiation of communism to substantially increase the power of themselves and their government.

If fossil fuels will run out anyway, surely we should move to find alternatives. Why not now?

You are welcome to.  Entrepreneurs around the world have been trying to do so for decades.  Wealth beyond measure is there for the person or company who is able to do it.  What are you going to do to speed it up if such a huge incentive already exists?  The government sometimes feels like it can just have its way and wish things into being.  It never works.If the technology is not ready, no amount of government prodding or mandating will make it ready.  All we will get is more wasted spending and more dead-end technology investments and more public funds poured into the hands of the politically connected.  Why hurry if we are not ready?  There are still fossil fuels for decades.  Why increase the costs to every consumer to hurry this transition to no purpose?

There are perhaps a billion people in the world, particularly in Asia, on the verge of emerging from poverty.  They are only able to do so by burning every fossil fuel they can get their hands on.  The alternatives that exist today are rich people’s toys, expensive sources of power that we can afford because they ease our guilt somehow.  The poor don’t have this luxury.

Even if it is not guaranteed that manmade emissions are to blame, wouldn’t it be wise to act anyway? It’s a hell of a gamble to our children’s future.

Should we spend a trillion dollars on space lasers in case of an alien invasion of Earth? Why not, its a hell of a gamble to our children’s future.  We can’t go pre-emptively fix every low-probability problem just because someone claims it might be a catastrophe.  Why fix a hypothetical environmental problem when there are 10 other real ones impacting people today that we are ignoring.

The statement you are making only makes sense if the transition if free or low cost.  But substantially eliminating fossil fuel use is tremendously expensive.  In fact, it is more expensive at this point with current technology than anything the world has ever done.  Folks who claim the costs are low are either ignorant or lying.  Every major economy will see trillions of dollars of lost output.  But forget the rich nations.  Remember the billion people emerging from poverty.  Strong world action will essentially consign these people to stay in poverty.  Do you want your kids 1 degree cooler at the cost of putting a billion people into poverty?  It is not the simple question you make it out to be.

Don’t we have a duty to protect or planet for future generations?(i.e. save it from deforestation, pollution etc)

Sure, but as I stated above, we have all kinds of duties to future generations, and not all of them have to do with the environment.  But I would argue that the current obsession with small changes to trace levels of CO2 in the atmosphere has in fact gutted the environmental movement.  Nothing else is getting done.  Take deforestation.  My personal interest is in protecting wilderness, and my charity of choice is land trusts that preserve the Amazon.  But do you know the #1 cause of deforestation in the Amazon over the last decade?  It was the Brazilian ethanol program, which is supposed to be fighting CO2, but now has been shown to do little or nothing for CO2 and it is incentivizing farmers to clear the Amazon to plant more switchgrass and other ethanol crops.  Ditto in the US, where ethanol programs are raising food prices and adding to deforestationI would argue that CO2 is not even in the top 10 worst environmental problems in the world.  Take clean water in Africa, which I do consider a top 10 problem.  The only way Africans are going to get clean water is from using cheap energy to pump and treat water, cheap energy whose only really realistic source is from fossil fuels.

My prediction– 10-20 years from now, environmentalists are going to look back on the current global warming hysteria as the worst thing ever to happened to the environmental movement.
Further comments

Again, this is very off the cuff.  I really delve into the science here:  http://www.climate-skeptic.com/2010/01/catastrophe-denied-the-science-of-the-skeptics-position.html

SOME CONCLUDING THOUGHTS
OK, so every one of these questions are probing – they are hitting at perceived weaknesses in the skeptic’s position.  Fine, it is good when the media is critical.  But compare the questions above to the total softballs lobbed at alarmists.

IF YES

How bad is climate change at the moment?
What did you think to the results of Copenhagen?
Is it increasing at an uncontrollable rate? Or is there still a chance to reduce climate change and alter its predicted course of events?
Do you have any comments on the recent e-mail leak scandal that was publicized?
What do you think about the rising levels of climate change skepticism?
How could and/or will climate change or similarly global warming affect the Middle East region in particular the Arabian peninsula?
What about other vulnerable countries?
What can the average citizen do more or less to help reduce climate change and its impact?
What do you predict will happen to major cities in the world if the problem of global warming is not addressed immediately?
How will an increase in global warming change the earth’s natural weather activities i.e. how will people and animals be affected, ecosystems, the weather….
How can we move forward on this issue?
Are you confident we can find a solution?
What are the chances of a new technology saving us? (for example, carbon capture)
Is carbon trading effectively passing the buck? Does it actually help

Only one is arguably critical — the one about the CRU emails — and look at the softball way in which it is asked.  The journalists here make no secret of which side they are one.

Global Warming / Early Spring

I wish.  This is Rock Creek Lake, California, on May 20, 2010.  In a normal year our campground there would have been open a month ago.

Postscript:  Save the “weather is not climate” lectures in the comments.  I understand.

New Alarmist Research

Via the USA Today:

Worried your mate might be headed for greener pastures? A biology study suggests you could cry “wolf”, or rather “lion”, to keep them home on the range, at least as long as you are an antelope.

A study in the forthcoming July edition of The American Naturalist journal by Jakob Bro-Jørgensen of the United Kingdom’s Liverpool University and Wiline Pangle of Michigan State University, finds false lion warnings are used to deter straying mates among topi antelope in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. The study calls this a first documented case of such sexual deception by false alarms.

“Here, we report that false alarm snorts are used by male topi antelopes (Damaliscus lunatus) to tactically deceive receptive females who intend to leave a male’s territory into believing that they are headed toward a predator,” says the study. “Consequentially, the departure of the female is delayed, providing the male with additional mating opportunities.”

Humans just take their dates to an Al Gore rally.

Assuming the Conclusion

Bishop Hill Blog writes, concerning the truncation of recently divergent data by Keith Briffa and others:

The point at issue is Mike’s Nature Trick and the question of whether it amounts to scientific fraud. Der Spiegel describe the trick as follows:

But what appeared at first glance to be fraud ["hide the decline"] was actually merely a face-saving fudge: Tree-ring data indicates no global warming since the mid-20th century, and therefore contradicts the temperature measurements. The clearly erroneous tree data was thus corrected by the so-called “trick” with the temperature graphs.

Many of Roger’s readers take issue with the description of the divergent data as “erroneous” and I tend to agree with them here. The data has been processed in the same way in the twentieth century as in earlier periods, so it is not erroneous, but anomalous. The reason for the divergence is unknown and the divergence therefore needs to be disclosed and discussed since it potentially undermines all tree-ring based temperature reconstructions.

Here is an example of data you might reasonably throw out as erroneous:   Drop a ball a thousand times from a building and measure its acceleration.  We know its going to be something like 9.8 m/sec/sec.  If four or five times we measure it as 5 m/sec/sec, we will likely treat those measurements as erroneous, since we have hundreds of years of historical measurements to confirm the acceleration near the Earth’s surface due to gravity.

Here is another example:   You have ten identical compasses.  Nine of them say north is in the direction of the tree in your backyard.  The tenth say it is behind you.  We might reasonably throw out the tenth observation as erroneous.

Here is a different kind of example.  From 1936 to 2000, the winner of the last Washington Redskins home game accurately predicted the winner of that year’s presidential election.  Then, in 2004 the relationship between Redskin’s performance and the presidential election did not hold.   So, should we throw out the data point as anomalous, or should we use this data point to force ourselves to reconsider whether the relationship was ever really a valid causality?

The Mann/Briffa/etc. tree ring analyses assume the following:  That tree ring growth varies linearly with average temperatures; that the temperature-growth relationship is far stronger and more dominant than relations between soil conditions, rain, sunlight, or any other environmental factor and tree growth; and that this relationship remains fairly constant over the life of a tree.

The question is, do we believe these assumptions in the same way that we believe that the acceleration of gravity is 9.8 m/sec/sec?  By throwing out the data after a certain date, which by the way was gathered from the exact same trees by the exact same methodology as the earlier data, Briffa and others are in effect saying that their assumptions about the relationship between tree ring growth and temperature are unassailable, despite the fact that these analyses have only really been done for a few years.

Reasonable people instead will tend to conclude that it is instead very possible that the divergence problem the author’s sought to hide is in fact evidence that tree rings make poor thermometers – than one or all of the assumptions about tree rings and their relationship with temperature are flawed.

Elevator Speech

In business communications training, we were taught to think about the “elevator version” of the point we were trying to make.  If we were on an elevator alone with the CEO and had 30-seconds to make our pitch, what would we say.

Richard Lindzen, in his presentation at the Heartland Conference, has the best short (100-ish word) summary of the core of many skeptics’ concerns with catastrophic AGW theory that I have seen for a while:

Here are two statements that are completely agreed on by the IPCC. It is crucial to be aware of these facts and of their implications.

  1. A doubling of CO2, by itself, contributes only about 1C to greenhouse warming. All models project more warming, because, within models, there are positive feedbacks from water vapor and clouds, and these feedbacks are considered by the IPCC to be uncertain.
  2. If one assumes all warming over the past century is due to anthropogenic greenhouse forcing, then the derived sensitivity of the climate to a doubling of CO2is less than 1C. The higher sensitivity of existing models is made consistent with observed warming by invoking unknown additional negative forcings from aerosols and solar variability as arbitrary adjustments.

These concerns form the core of my most recent video.

Absurd Logic, But Al Gore Won An Oscar For It

It just is amazing to me that anyone can, with a straight face, advance this logic chain:

Again, here’s the situation: Mississippi homeowners sued 34 energy companies and utilities operating in the Gulf Coast for damage sustained to their property during Hurricane Katrina. The homeowners alleged that the defendants had emitted greenhouse gases, which increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which contributed to global warming, which accelerated the melting of glaciers, which raised the global sea level, which increased the frequency and severity of hurricanes, which caused the destructive force of Hurricane Katrina.

The attached article discusses some weird procedural hurdles, but my hope is that the court system will be better able to parse the absurdity of this logic than the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  If every scientist in the world was dedicated to the task for 50 years, there would still be no way to assess the impact of incremental CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere on the strength of Katrina, and in turn the effect of this altered strength on property damages.

Irony

The New Scientist (“new” in most magazine titles meaning “socialist”) has yet another whole issue aimed at slamming climate skeptics.  You might start to think they felt threatened or something.

I found the cover hugely ironic:

The implication I guess is that climate skeptics are somehow trying to silence real scientists.  This is enormously ironic.  With a couple of exceptions, including the unfortunate legal crusade by the Virginia AG against Michael Mann, it is climate alarmists rather than skeptics who have generally taken the position that the other side of the debate needs to be silenced.

By the way, as I said in the intro to my last video, I have chosen to embrace the title of denier – with one proviso.  Being a denier implies that one is denying some kind of proposition, so I am sure thoughtful people would agree that it is important to be clear on the proposition that is being denied.  For example, I always found the term “climate denier” to be hilarious.  You mean there are folks who deny there is a climate?

I don’t deny that climate changes – it changes all the time.  I don’t deny there is global warming – global temperatures are higher today than they were in 1900, just as they were higher in 1200 AD than they were in 900.  I don’t even deny that man is contributing somewhat to the warming, not just from CO2 but from effects like changes in land use.  What I deny is the catastrophe — that man’s actions are leading to catastrophic changes in the climate.  I believe many scientists have grossly over-estimated the sensitivity of temperatures to CO2 by grossly overestimating the net positive feedback in the climate system.  And I think much of the work assigning consequences to even small increases in global temperatures – from tornadoes to hurricanes to lizard extinction – is frankly crap.  While I think the first mistake (around sensitivity) is an honest error, some day scientists will look back on the horrendous “science” of the consequences of warming and be ashamed.

It strikes me that a real scientific magazine that was actually seeking truth would, if it wanted to dedicate a whole issue to the climate debate, actually create a print debate between skeptics and alarmists to educate its readers.  If the alarmist case is so obvious, and its readers so smugly superior in their intellect, surely this would be the most powerful possible way to debunk skeptics.  Instead, the New Scientist chose, in a phrase I saw the other day and loved, to take a flamethrower to a field of straw men.

For those who want to watch the straw men go up in smoke, The Reference Frame has an index to the articles in this issue.

Bad Idea

From Virginia:

No one can accuse Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli of shying from controversy. In his first four months in office, Cuccinelli  directed public universities to remove sexual orientation from their anti-discrimination policies, attacked the Environmental Protection Agency, and filed a lawsuit challenging federal health care reform. Now, it appears, he may be preparing a legal assault on an embattled proponent of global warming theory who used to teach at the University of Virginia, Michael Mann.

In papers sent to UVA April 23, Cuccinelli’s office commands the university to produce a sweeping swath of documents relating to Mann’s receipt of nearly half a million dollars in state grant-funded climate research conducted while Mann— now director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State— was at UVA between 1999 and 2005.

If Cuccinelli succeeds in finding a smoking gun like the purloined emails that led to the international scandal dubbed Climategate, Cuccinelli could seek the return of all the research money, legal fees, and trebled damages.

Yeah, I get it that this was public money, so one can claim this is an accountability exercise, but in practice this is pure intimidation and harassment of an academic whose work one disagrees with.  Errors in Mann’s work should be dealt with through criticism and replication, not through legal actions by grandstanding politicians.

I am the last one to defend the dumb ass academic projects that government money often goes towards funding, but once granted, scientists and academics need some room to pursue truth (even incorrectly) without being harassed by elected officials.  I would have no problem with the entire state grant program being evaluated for effectiveness, or some investigation into UVA’s financial or academic controls it exercises over its research.

For skeptics cheering this on, would you be OK with Eric Holder going after, say, Roy Spencer in the same way?  Do you really think that if the guys in Virginia establish the precedent, the Chicago-trained folks in the White House aren’t willing and able to go one better?

Update: This seems a more productive approach.  Why not go after the University for its data sharing practices on publicly funded studies, rather than try to go after a scientist one disagrees with on criminal charges.  If we tried every academic for not fully disclosing data potentially contradictory to their pet theory, we would empty out the universities.  We handle these issues by replication and challenge by other academics.  Therefore, the better approach is to focus on release of data required to do the replication and verification.