Projections for the future: really conservative or just unreliable?

Before The Flood - Jason Box

In the documentary “Before the flood” there was this scene in which Leonardo DiCaprio was in a conversation with Jason Box on a glacier in Greenland. This came after a scene of Leonardo DiCaprio in his earlier days when he still was thinking that global warming could be solved with small individual actions, like changing light bulbs. Then an ominous sounding voice-over:

But it is pretty clear that we are way beyond that point right now. Things are taken a massive turn for the worse.

Cue in a calving glacier, followed by Jason Box saying:

“We keep finding things that aren’t in the climate models. They are used to project the future. So that tells me that the projections for the future are really conservative.”

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Calimero on the hockey stick controversy

When I was about ten years old, there was an animated cartoon series on television, called “Calimero”. Calimero is a cartoon character, a black chick in a family of yellow chickens. It is a charming, innocent hatchling, still wearing half of its egg shell on its head. In each episode it is getting into situations where it genuinely trying to help, but because of its inexperience and its inability to recognize unwanted situations, it is never coming to a happy end. At the end of each episode it is repeating its mantra: “This is not fair, they are big and I am small”. Calimero is the prototype of an innocent, good-meaning victim in a mean world.

Watching the documentary “Before The Flood”, there was a scene that reminded me of Calimero. It was the scene in which Michael Mann explained his struggles with regard to the hockey stick controversy in an interview taken by DiCaprio. Here is that part of the interview:

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A “massive” disinformation campaign, sure, but by whom?

Before the flood: 97% agree

In the documentary “Before the Flood” there were several scenes that stood out like a sore thumb. One of them was a scene in which Michael Mann claimed:

There is about as much as robust a consensus human caused climate change than there is for any matter in science, be it the theory of gravity. 97% of climate scientists agree that the globe is warming. Our climate is changing and it is due to fossil fuel burning and other human activities. Unfortunately we are fighting this massive disinformation campaign to confuse the public.

The comparison between human caused climate change as a robust consensuses like gravity was quite puzzling. So I searched the internet for what he could mean by this claim. I ended up with the recent article “We can’t afford to wait”, in which he and Kim Kasting explain their gravity example and what it means for climate science. This is how they explain it, apparently as a reaction to a column of a Jonah Goldberg on settled science (my emphasis on the most important parts to understand the reasoning):

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Before The Flood: yet more alarmism

Before The Flood

The building where I work has a sophisticated fire alarm system. It is incredibly sensitive and on a regular basis the alarm went off, without having a fire. In the beginning everybody fled the building as quick as possible and then later got to hear that it was just a false alarm. A lot of things could trigger it. Some dust, high humidity in a room,… After a while people didn’t react to it anymore. When an alarm sounded again, someone went to the control box and muted the alarm. As far as I can see, the control is now disabled for quite a while.

I had to think about this when I watched the alarmentory “Before The Flood” from Leonardo DiCaprio. The movie is 1 hours 35 minutes long and as expected it is one-sided, superficial and rather predictable. It is a rehash of the usual style of images that the media is bombarding us with for several decades. Smoking chimney, cars, storms, wildfires, floods, droughts, melting ice, mass migration, coral reefs, the news flashes in the background describing the extremes,… All attributed to our emissions.

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The wonderful world of crustaceans according to the Alice-in-Wonderland method

It was quite busy in the last month. Still is, but I am in the final stretch of the project that kept me busy and will pick up blogging again. I will start where I left previous month. At that time I was working on another post about the Lewandowsky/Cook/Lloyd “Alice-in-Winderland” paper. Remember, they wrote a paper in which they portrayed the arguments of skeptics as being incoherent. By giving generalized statements (especially in table 1) and putting them side by side, they demonstrated that these statements were incoherent.

My view is that the statements in the paper were not incoherent. They were framed as incoherent because those statements were generalized in such a way that they became incoherent. For example the statements “Future climate cannot be predicted” and “We are heading into an ice age” are incoherent at first sight. It cannot simultaneously be true that people believe that future climate can not be predicted and that we are heading to an ice age.

But taking a look at the examples that the authors themselves provided to prove their case, another story emerges. The actual statement made by skeptics were that mathematical models could not predict the climate in 100 years time and there are indications from previous cycles that a cooling period could be ahead. Which are two statements that are not incoherent. They could both be true. It is perfectly possible that one believes that mathematical models cannot predict the climate in 100 years time and that a cooling period could happen in the next decades on basis of other parameters.

Basically, it was the generalization of these skeptic statements that created the incoherence, not the actual statements (which were not incoherent at all).

The generalization is not exactly wrong per se (both are ways of predicting what could happen in the future), but nevertheless it is inappropriate in this comparison because both statements are used in a very specific way and that nuance got lost in the generalization.

Then I found a example of what it will like when we apply this very technique to the messages that we hear in the media and see how easy it is to create incoherent statements from perfectly coherent statements.

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Believing one impossible thing before breakfast: skeptics claim that global warming is “unstoppable”

Just a light, entertaining post on some puzzling “contradictions” in the Alice-in-Wonderland paper. In the two previous posts, the focus was on table 1 in which contradicting arguments were set side by side. I wrote that these were generic, without nuance and without much context, therefor those arguments could even be not contradictory, depending on the context they are used in.

However, there were four examples in table 1 that were really puzzling. From three of them, I couldn’t see how they are contradictory in the way they are stated. I think I know what they probably meant, but the way these examples are put is prone to misinterpretation. I will also add a fourth. It are two contradictory claims, there no doubt about that, but is a rather funny to see how it is stated (for the same reason as the three others).

This is the first example with “contradictory” claims:

It’s not bad vs. There’s no such thing as an ideal climate

Which, as stated, can be both true and there is no contradiction. Even if there is no such thing as an ideal climate, it can be good, it can be bad or it can even be the same. One doesn’t exclude the other. Probably they meant something very specific, but failed to mention the context and therefor put two seemingly non-contradictory arguments side by side.

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The framing of the “contradictions” in Wonderland

alice-in-wonderland framing

In previous post I wrote about how skeptics were treated in a different way than the consensus scientists when it comes to how they have been cited. This post will build on that and I will demonstrate the mechanisms how skeptics were painted as having contradictory, incoherent beliefs. Not necessarily because that is true in reality, but because it was framed that way by the researchers who looked in a biased way to the skeptic position.

Let’s pick up with previous story in which there was the example of the statement “Future climate cannot be predicted”, which makes the suggestion that skeptics believe that any future climate at any time-scale can not be predicted.

However, the actual claim in the cited (newspaper) article was: “mathematical models can’t predict what the average global temperature will be in 100 years”. That is a completely different ball game and this generic “future climate can not be predicted” is not representative for the actual statement. In this case we saw that, when looking at their own example, there were two scientists who made observations, connected this with known cycles and made an extrapolation for the close future.

Using the generic “future climate can not be predicted” claim would indeed be contradictory with the prediction of a coming ice age, but in the example (that the authors provided themselves) there was no contradiction at all. The claim was about the predictive power of the mathematical model over 100 years, not about what could happen over the next decades on the basis of observations and known cycles.

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