Monday, January 12, 2009

Climate change: some observable facts

From a blog with a very cool template (try moving some of the sidebar widgets around), Safeism, comes the following thought.
It’s a source of considerable frustration to me that so many otherwise clear thinking, charming and erudite chaps, like DK, seem to have it as an article of faith that climate change is all a big con. I have not a hope of understanding the science behind it but I think I can understand the flows of the arguments and for me it seems clear that there is a big problem, likely man made, and it is beholden on individuals to do what they can to put it right. Even if not it is far more aesthetically pleasing to me to try and leave a small footprint in what I do, to eat nice food, to not waste more than I have to and to share nicely with others.

Thanks for the compliments, James, and now onto the allegations of faith. First, and almost incidentally, I think that most people would agree that wasting energy or deliberately fouling up the environment, when we can afford not to do so, is A Bad Thing.

Second, I don't deny the theory of the Greenhouse Effect, as it seems to make sense; besides, we can do observable and replicatable experiments that demonstrate that certain gases do, indeed, act (to put it simplistically) like a greenhouse. Indeed, life on this planet relies on this effect, or else the dark side of the planet would be unbearably cold, and the light side unbearably hot.

However, I do not accept the catastrophic warming scenario and, despite what people claim, this view is shared by many scientists and climatologists. We have rehearsed the problems with positive feedback in an inherently stable environment on this blog many times, and we have also discussed the rather important matter of climate sensitivity with regards to CO2. These are not minor issues: they are absolute fundamentals in the discussion of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change scenarios.

I am a sceptic, and as a sceptic I like to depend on observable facts, so here are some:
  • There are severe problems with attempting to measure the world-wide temperature, even today. Although satellites have given us a rather better picture, they have only been recording since 1979 and improvements in technology may find some of the earlier temperature readings in error.

  • NASA/GISS, headed by James Hansen, seems to prefer to rely on the land temperature record. The first problem with this is that the majority of the planet is covered by water, not land.

    The second problem is that there are considerable issues with the siting of the land measurement stations that NASA/GISS has absolutely failed to acknowledge as a problem.

    One problem that they have failed to acknowledge, for instance, is that, whilst the Wells, Nevada, measuring station was closed in 2004, GISS still claimed to be recieving data up to at least 2006. Apart from anything else, if they are going to lie about such a big thing, how much do you trust them on anything else?

  • Since we are discussing a supposed temperature rise of slightly less than 1°C over the last century, fractions of degrees matter a great deal.

  • Past temperatures (and certainly from about 1896 backwards) can only be measured by observing proxies, such as Mann et al's infamous bristle-cone pine tree rings. This has provided a problem, since, in recent years, these proxies have shown considerable divergence from known conditions. That is to say that bristle-cone pine rings, for example, do not proceed in accordance with the temperatures that we know to have occurred (from electronic measurement) within the last twenty years.

  • If the scientists believed that their papers were, nonetheless, written in good faith, then surely they would release the data. This is, in fact, customary when publishing scientific papers, so that other interested parties can see when the results can be replicated. There has been a distinct reticence amongst climatologists to do this (here is one example). This would suggest that they themselves are unsure that the results can be replicated, or that they are not being entirely honest.

  • Computer models over the last twenty years have been proven to be, almost without exception, completely inaccurate at predicting long-term temperatures and weather conditions.

  • This is entirely unsurprising since we are, with all of our technical prowess, unable to settle on an agreed figure for worldwide temperatures; trying to find a similar figure for a century ago is near-impossible.

  • All predictive computer models have the same problem: if you put rubbish in, you get rubbish out. Since we are unable to obtain reliable data, rubbish is going in, so...

Even if you accept the catastrophic scenario, then you have to look at the bast way to deal with it and, at this point, one starts to cross from climate science to economics. Should we take radical action now—by reducing carbon emissions, etc.—and make everyone in the world considerably poorer than they are now (and keeping those in absolute poverty in absolute poverty), or should we carry on as we are (or, better, open up trade far more, allowing for a freer exchange of technologies)?

The latter options would allow everyone to become considerably richer and so far more able to mitigate should, as is postulated, disaster strike; some (ignorant fuckers) would say that this is a no-brainer, saying that it is equivalent to Pascal's wager. The trouble is that the point of Pascal's wager was that believing in god had no significant cost, whilst it could reap possible benefits.

And in this case, the costs of throttling back development are horrendous. It isn't that you might merely be forced to turn your stereo off, rather than on standby. It means that millions of poor people cannot, for instance, gain access to cheap electricity and this has a cost: people die. People are dying now, for lack of access to water purifying plants, or refrigeration, or any number of other things that absolutely require power. In short, the cost of this particular wager is the unnecessary deaths of millions people.

So, to summarise:
  1. We aren't able to reliably measure (to the necessary fractions of °C) world temperatures today, let alone 100, 1,000 or 10,000 years ago.

  2. Thus, we are putting rubbish into computer models and getting rubbish out. This has been proven to be the case, by the fact that climate conditions have not followed the models.

  3. Mitigating against a possible disaster is not Pascal's wager: it has huge costs (mainly in millions of human lives).

  4. These are observable facts, not opinions or "articles of faith". Nor are they predictive computer models.



Anonymous said...

Adding info from a recent thread here to information readily available elsewhere seems to make a very good case the the whole thing being a con.

Namely that the world, as far as we can tell, has cooled overall has cooled since '95, less than 10% of the greenhouse effect is due to CO2 and that CO2 is only an effective greenhouse gas at very low temperatures.

In way it does seem to be becoming a matter of faith not science and the sackcloth and ashes brigade love it.

From what I can see even if there is such a thing as ACH we might well be grateful for it come the next major volcanic eruption or other trigger for our next overdue ice age. Who knows...

Anonymous said...

One big problem with the climate change thing is that people seem to think it's all about science.

It's not about science - it's about statistics (extrapolating data, the quality of the existing data, size of data populations, etc, etc).

And you know what they say about statistics...

(If it was just the science, then there wouldn't be much dispute: as far as the basic mechanics of the greenhouse effect are concerned, it's not really disputed even by g.w.sceptics)

JD said...

Au contraire! It is the proponents of MMGW that rely on faith, and faith only to promote their case. The junk 'science' they come out with does not bear scrutiny. I have been collecting articles on this subject in my blog for some time now. It has been an eye-opener.

DavidNcl said...

What I find stunning is that in about half a days research you can find a pretty comprehensive refutation of AGW and the socio-political process masquerading as science that surrounds it. It's almost trivial.

But that was never the point. The whole thing was about constructing a narrative (or hegemonic discourse, to use enemy jargon) a convincing story, legend or myth that feels like it justifies returning to a pre-enlightenment society - quite literally putting the lights out.

A breakthrough in understanding this was reading the material on this web site: Environmentalism is Fascism

If you can spare the (long) time it will repay a root around.

This is a good starting point: How Green Is Your Nazi

Anonymous said...

A really spendid summary in such a short space. If anyone still has doubts that AGW is nonsense, this piece is a good, sober starting point. There is much more to learn about the science, the politics, and the economics.

I suspect that those of us who get most angry with the warmists are the ones who took it all at face value, until we went and checked for ourselves.

Furry Conservative said...

Yes, it is a narrative. Given that overpopulation and AGW are two sides of the same coin to most environmentalists, millions of people dying isn't going to be a big problem to them.

Anonymous said...

Climate change IS all a big con. End of.

Tomrat said...

Being inclined to believe in conspiracy I have an even shorter narrative:

1. CO2 is a biproduct of metabolism.

2. Metabolism is the process that indicates, and defines, life.



It is simple economics; you control the source of all things and you control all things.

Tomrat said...


And I am so taking up Bartitsu...

Anonymous said...

Ultimately, climate change or AGW is merely a new religion.

Like all elementary religions it is dressed up in unquestioning belief, jumps with excitement when its leaders speak (and doesn't question any of what is said) and uses a psuedo-science to justify its position. Even opponents of this faith are considered deniers and heretics and not to be debated with, as it sullies the pure thoughts of the faithful.

But above all it is the approved badge of the new "caring" classes. You cannot be any more perfect, or more acceptable to others, than showing you care about the planet's future. It is so selfless, so 'spiritual' and so humbling.

Even better the believers don't actually sacrifice anything themselves, like giving up a villa in Corsica or driving a smaller car... it is enough to be aware of carbon footprints and disapprove of others for their ill-considered and even ignorant heavy footprints. A working class family going to Spain on holiday? Why, yes, it should be prevented. Poor people in Africa wanting technology? Well, we must prevent them losing their innocence and happiness.

This unquestioning faith, the public agonising over these heartfelt beliefs, puts the believer in with the in-crowd of the great and good – such as pop stars and TV 'personalities' – where every thought and word elevates the speaker to higher levels.

It also allows the faithful to spout the greatest wisdom of our age: "something must be done"

Anonymous said...

You want observable? Try this:

1- Visit a few (like most) Himalayan glaciers
2- Have a look at the size
3- Compare your observations with your own previous observations (me) or those of other reliable observers (you).
4- Notice they are getting a lot smaller, quite rapidly.
5- A couple of choices here:
Option 1: Conclude that what you've observed is a mirage caused by lefties spiking your Daquiri, or perhaps some scheming pinkos have been up there before you trying to score a few cheap points and put the Daily Mail out of business or even worse, destroy capitalism
Option 2: More rationally, conclude that some heavy shit is going down
6- If you ended up at Option 2, choose from the attractive range of theories what you think is the best explanation is, preferably avoiding your own pre-concieved irrational prejudices honed from too many years of voting tory/reading the mail.

If you ended up at a variation of Option 1 - don't worry; why let the observable facts get in the way of business as usual.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Not denying the obvious,

Here's another exercise for you:

1) Do some research on ice cap thicknesses and Arctic sea ice extent over the last twenty years.

2) Do some research on the thicknesses and ice extent of glaciers in New Zealand (just for instance. I can find the paper for you, if you like) and Greenland.

3) Observe that the weight and thickness of the ice is at near record levels.

4) Observe the records (measured by satellite) of the major glaciers since 1979. Note that the observed fluctuations of the last few years are well within historical trends.

5) Realise that your visiting one glacier at a couple of disrete points does not carry the same weight as decades of constant observation.

6) Realise that you know nothing, sit down and be quiet.



Anonymous said...

"visiting one glacier at a couple of disrete points"

Tut tut. I really would have expected better from you than simply deliberately misunderstanding/misquoting. As intimated, it is certainly not one glacier or a couple of discrete points, but it is indeed a couple of decades.

In the spirit of your "observable facts", I was commenting on what I know from personal experience, so I can't pass comment on the Arctic or NZ since I haven't been to either.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Not denying the obvious,

OK, fair enough.

To be more serious about this, what we are generally seeing is a contraction of glacier area, but a build up of ice weight. That is to say, although there is shrinkage of area, more ice is building at the top, as it were.

There do also seem to be areas of localised warming. Around the eastern spur of the Antarctic, for instance, there seems to be a warmer area (which is affecting areas such as the Larson B ice-shelf, for instance) but colder areas in the centre. Antartic ice weight and thickness is actually at record levels since we have been able to measure.

Similarly, the extent (that is, the area) of Arctic ice has been at near-record levels (since we have been measuring properly, i.e. the last couple of centuries) for the last two years. Until last year, we did indeed see a greater contraction during the summer melt-back, but last year and this, the summer melt-back has actually been of a lesser extent than observed over the same timescale.

I'll admit, I haven't looked at reports for the Himalayas, but I should get around to doing so.

However, the simple fact is that the fluctuations that we have seen over the last couple of decades (for those areas for which I have data) is well within observable trends.

The simple fact is that our climate has always changed, and it's not unlikely that our activities may affect it to a small extent.

The point that I am trying to make, however, is that we simply do not know how much because the data simply isn't good enough. In truth, we actually don't have reliable data even now: we certainly don't have reliable data for a century ago.

Trying to pretend that we can detect a trend, and that the trend means that we are heading for a catastrophe so big that it is worth sacrificing millions of lives, is just (callous) folly.


Anonymous said...


I was being serious.

I don't entirely disagree; the examples you give make sense to a point, but I'm quite sure that someone more data obsessed than me could come back with some equally impressive sounding facts that say something quite different about other bits of ice elsewhere. I don't pretend to understand the detailed climatological arguments because I'm simply not qualified to do so. I do however understand what the shrinking glaciers and changing Himalayan climate will mean for the billion odd people who rely on the waters that come from this vast range - what it has already meant for the many people I know who rely on a stable, predictable climate for their liveliehood and physical wellbeing.

While you can pick over the data on ice etc, for me the more convincing arguments come from the measurement of gas proportions from ice cores, tree rings etc to show what historical climates were like at different proportions of CO2, methane etc. The periods when these gases were in high proportion don't look awfully clement to me. The other thing that convinces me is far more of a gut response than rational argument. The so-called "hockey stick" graph of thousand year temperatures. I mean, it does sort of go north a bit sharpish around 1900, then get even more excitable in the 1950's. I'm yet to hear a convincing explanation than doesn't involve human activity.

I think much of the public argument that goes on comes down to whether you accept that human activity is capable of influencing the global climate to a significant degree; you don't, I've come to the conclusion that I do. The argument simply seems to go "the world is too big for us to make any real difference", in spite of a wide amount of evidence to the contrary in other areas; the price and scarcity of fish, hardwood, rainforest etc etc. The same emotive response seems to be applied to human population growth; limitless human breeding seems to be little problem for many apparently intelligent people, and of course, the Catholics. We really do make a difference, so why should climate change be any different?

The standard of debate doesn't help. Many of those who refuse to accept the argument scarcely get beyond newspaper headlines before declaring it as some commie plot as an article of faith - my Mother would fit this particular bill, although it is probably equally true of the climte change believers. The naysayers are helped to reinforce their prejudices by the evident delight of some in the business world who have turned global warming into a particularly greasy little earner or marketing scam. My own pet hate is the carbon offsetting mob, on whom I daily wish any number of terminal and hopefully painful events.

I'm reminded of a theary put forward a few years ago to explain the total, rapid and rather mysterious collapse of the Maya civilisation over a few short decades. My memory of the story is a little sketchy, but in short the proponent suggested that the success and rapid expansion of the Mayan civilisation and population was their downfall. The argument goes that the food reuirements of the empire's rapidly growing populace pushed the water table so hard that salt entered the freshwater sinks that supplied the farmers, destroying their ability to grow the food needed. Famine set in and one of the world's more interesting civilisations went the way of the Dodo. The Mayans doubtless considered resources limitless and their own impact negligible; a gut instinct for something they couldn't prove till facts overtook them.

The facts on global warming are just not sufficient for us to come up with cast iron conclusions either way, so we each have to draw our own conclusions based on our gut instincts. If you're right DK, it's comforting to know that the political wanker class are too useless to do much (from your perspective) damage beyond the cosmetic. But I'm with James Lovelock on this; it's too late to decide whether to piss or get off the pot. I think we're all toast.


Devil's Kitchen said...

Not denying the obvious,

"While you can pick over the data on ice etc, for me the more convincing arguments come from the measurement of gas proportions from ice cores, tree rings etc to show what historical climates were like at different proportions of CO2, methane etc. The periods when these gases were in high proportion don't look awfully clement to me. The other thing that convinces me is far more of a gut response than rational argument. The so-called "hockey stick" graph of thousand year temperatures. I mean, it does sort of go north a bit sharpish around 1900, then get even more excitable in the 1950's. I'm yet to hear a convincing explanation than doesn't involve human activity."

And therein lies the problem: tree rings, for instance (and as I said in the post), are not a good proxy. Why?

Because we know that they do not track temperature (or CO2) in the way that they were thought to do.

How do we know that? Because we have taken tree rings, and measured them against what we know the temperature to have been.

Further, tree ring data was very heavily used in the hockey-stick graph data; this is just one of the reasons that the hockey-stick graph has been debunked.

But the main reason why the hockey-stick was debunked (some years ago: here's a summary) was that it was found that the entry of any random data into the model generated a hockey-stick. In other words, it's been debunked then kicked into the long grass and then beaten flat with a really big stick.

"I think much of the public argument that goes on comes down to whether you accept that human activity is capable of influencing the global climate to a significant degree; you don't, I've come to the conclusion that I do."

That's fair enough, but it is important to quantify how much. Now, to take the currently accepted data, an increase in CO2 from 380ppm to 480ppm over the last century has caused an increase of roughly 1 degree C.

So, if we were to increase the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by another 100ppm, the maximum rise that we should see would be another 1 degree C.

However, CO2 heat absorption doesn't work like that: it's a logarithmic absorption spectrum, not an exponential one (actually, it's a curve, not a straight line).

Obviously, there are a number of factors that affect the possible temperature rise, but all of the IPCC's forecasts rely on positive feedback loops, which we don't (in general) see in stable climates.

Anyway, the point is that the whole thing is over-egged. Trust me, we ain't toast...


Anonymous said...

On the subject of glaciers. When I first went climbing in the Alps 30 years ago the glaciers were evidently longer than they are now. However, this does not prove the theory of AGW caused by CO2 emissions is correct. What it proves is that glaciers grow and shrink. It does not tell us why. To blame glacier shrinkage on man becomes non sensical when, if you look further back in time to paintings and drawings of the same glaciers in the 19th century you will see that they were significantly bigger and longer then. This confirms the fact that glaciers have been shrinking from the the end of the Little Ice Age and thus the majority of observed and recorded ice loss could have nothing to do with industrial CO2 emissions. It is also interesting to note that as ice recedes there have been numerous finds of ancient human settlemts and artifacts going back hundreds or thousands of years. This therefore gives the lie to the belief that somehow glaciers have always been a certain "correct" size and that we are causing them to shrink. The fact is that they have receded and advanced over the millenia without any help from us. The human conceit involved here is immense and the sooner we realise our insignificance on the climate the better. To put the subject of glaciers into perspective , a mere 15000 years ago the desk where I type this in Newcastle would have been covered by a one kilometre thick ice sheet and I certainly didn't cause that to melt.

Anonymous said...

CO2 levels in the atmosphere were up to 20 TIMES higher, hundreds of million years ago, than currently.

Temperatures were fairly obviously not 20 times higher and equally obviously the negative feedback mechanisms were stronger than the positive ones.

We simply do not have the ability to even measure current temperatures accurately nevermind model future behaviour but we do know that runaway greenhouse effects are pretty hard to trigger ... or this discussion would not be taking place.

Anonymous said...

Posted at safeism. lets see if it gets through


The fundamental problem here is contained in the second sentence of your article. Why cant you follow the details of climate science? You cant be too dim if you're able to write coherently and maintain your own blog. Get off your arse and start looking before you comment. I will grant you, that in the finer detail, climate science can be as convoluted as quantum physics. But the broader strokes are available to everyone. This assumption that "we must accept the experts point of view" is the biggest problem in the world today because any special interest group trots out an "expert" and everyone just accepts what they say. This leaves you at the mercy of anyone who can shout louder. This attitude is responsible for

1. Hitlers attrocities against the jews (based on eugenics which was also very popular in the UK and the US circa 1920)

2. Every church pogrom, in fact every act of religious violence - everything from the massacre of the Cathars (around 15% of the european population at the time) by the Vatican in the 14th century to honour killings today. All rely on a "higher power" as authority for their action, rather than a logical/scientific rationale. You can add islamic terrorism to this list.

3. Every government and "popular" screw up. Rachel Carson was (in large part) responsible for the movement banning DDT and as a result killed at least 30 million people. Makes Stalin look like a reasonable dinner guest. You want proof that this was a bad idea (apart from the fact that much of the "science" in Silent Spring is easily debunked) then why have the WHO just lifted the ban and recommended it's use to control Malaria.

4. The fact that more people died in the year after september 11 due to avoiding air travel than were killed in the actual attack (increase in traffic mortality vs reduction in air traffic). They died because they accepted the poplar line that 9/11 proved that air travel was unsafe. You're more likely to choke to death on your food than die from a terrorist on your plane. This has been true in every year since air travel was invented INCLUDING 2001.

The bottom line, James, is that if you want any control over your life then you have to ask questions. You have to take responsibility for your life. Watching the pundits play a verbal game of tennis is no way to get a handle on a problem. And this problem, if allowed to run it's course is going to cost trillions of pounds. Wouldn't that money be better spent curing aids, cancer, ending hunger or poverty, ending disease etc etc

If you want the truth you must seek it out. It is your responsibility, it's your life. The minute you rely on someone else to provide your truth, you grant them power over you. To some extent this is unavoidable, as no-one knows everything, but shouldn't you, at least, investigate those who provide your truth before handing them power. Rather than just accepting whoever the government appoints?

As regards global warming...
1. the Mann Hockey Stick is a fraud. Even the US senate hearings on it say so. Tree rings (which formed the basis for Mann) are a good proxy for CO2 levels not temperature. So, funnily enough, they show more activity when CO2 goes up. Regardless of temperature.

2. An Inconvenient Truth is a work of fiction and propaganda. This is not my opinion. It's from the UK High court.The key point that Al left out is that, on his big graph, CO2 FOLLOWS temperature by about 800 yrs. i.e. increased temperature raises CO2 levels, not the other way around. Both Al's graph and my refutation are based on the Vostok Ice cores.

3. Arctic ice is above average this year. Last years minimum was an anomaly caused by cyclical changes in ocean currents. The antarctic ice sheet has been growing the whole time.

4. Hansen/GISS global temperature numbers are likewise a work of fiction. HadCRUT is not much better. The satelite numbers are much more comprehensive and show much less warming. Proxies based on things that do not have a separate reaction to CO2 (like trees) show the medieval warm period, the roman warming and the holocene optimum (greek empire). All of these periods correspond to high points in human civilisation.

5. The IPCC report was contributed to by 4000 scientist right? Wrong. Less than 3000 people contributed to the latest IPCC report, not all of them were scientists (economists and secretaries were included to bulk up the numbers). Only 60 scientists (and I use the term ironically) explicitly agreed with chapter 9 which said that humans were causing any warming (kind of a key point). Compare this with the oregon petition which has over 31,000 (verified) signatures from scientists (9,000 PhDs) stating that AGW is false.

6. Simple acid test. Why do the IPCC's scientific reports (drafted by "scientists") disagree with the summary for policy makers (drafted by politically motivated beauracrats).

All of this information is readily google-able. I am not a climate scientist, just an interested observer. If I can accumulate all of this (in about 10 mins a day) why cant you. Stop just accepting what you're told. Ask some damn questions

I'm not asking you to take my word for it, find out for yourself. This is a different attitude than you will encounter from any alarmist ("The science is settled")

Bollocks. Think! Question!

Anonymous said...


"One problem that they have failed to acknowledge, for instance, is that, whilst the Wells, Nevada, measuring station was closed in 2004, GISS still claimed to be recieving data up to at least 2006."

I thought this claim was interesting so I checked it out.

First off, GISS didn't claim that. Clicking through to your link, the graphic is supplied by USHCN which is a different organisation (this tactic of trying to attribute every problem to GISS and thus Hansen can only be described as Hansen Derangement Syndrome).

Secondly, even USHCN didn't claim that. What that graphic purports to be is not a graph of historical observations from that station, but this:

You have chosen site 268988, WELLS, Nevada
Available temperature data includes FILNET and Urban Heat-Adjusted values.

So here is a clear statement that it includes other values than just direct observations.

What is FILNET? It is this:

Estimates for missing data are provided using a procedure similar to that used in SHAP. This adjustment uses the debiased data from the SHAP and fills in missing original data when needed (i.e. calculates estimated data) based on a “network” of the best correlated nearby stations. The FILNET program also completed the data adjustment process for stations that moved too often for SHAP to estimate the adjustments needed to debias the data.

Now you can try to make something of them filling in for missing data using statistical methods if you wish, however this is a far cry from 'lying', a far cry from 'unethical', and it is also a far cry from plucking a number out of your arse. It is simply filling in incomplete data, which is clearly flagged and understood to be such, so that it is simpler to process upstream.

Now of course claiming that USHCN misrepresented data that they did not, or that GISS made a claim that USHCN did (not) - that might be unethical, lying, plucking facts out of your fundament, etc - or it could just be a mistake.

(I will post this comment on the specific post about that station also)

NHS Fail Wail

I think that we can all agree that the UK's response to coronavirus has been somewhat lacking. In fact, many people asserted that our de...