Monthly Archives: June 2013

Flashback in La Douce France

flashback

More than a week ago I was on vacation in the South of France. The weather was rather cold and rainy, not really how I experienced it before in this time of the year. Other places in France seemed to have other weather than where I stayed. The East had a heath wave, The South-West had floods. To me it was just weather. It changes all the time. Some weather events don’t make a trend.

I was there with a friend who believes the alarmist statements. For her the case was really clear. We, humans, messed up the planet and now we get erratic weather patterns as a result. Normally I keep away of such topics with my alarmist friends. In the past I sparely reacted on this. I remember one time where the question was raised if there were more storms than before. I then pointed out that the data said otherwise, the number of storms diminished over the last decades. My friends were genuinely surprised to hear what the data really said. They were told it went UP.

This time the topic was raised that this weather was so unusual that humans clearly had a hand in this. I said that weather is chaotic and that it naturally slowly changes over several decades. This time again she seemed really surprised to hear this.

“But don’t you believe in global warming then?” she asked a bit hesitant. She knows I am green at heart and obviously didn’t see this coming. I said that there was an increase in temperatures since measurements started, but it was probably only in the order of tenths of a degree, not degrees. It also could be part of a natural cycle. She was really surprised to hear that. She thought it was in the order of ten degrees…

I suggested that those weather patterns change naturally over many decades in cycles and we could now be over the peak and maybe even going slowly downwards. In this case this cold and rainy weather isn’t necessarily due to human influences, but following a cycle. She said that nobody told her that before. Then she posed the million euro question: “Why do we think this weather is worse than before?”. Which she answered straight away: “Is it because we now have more information available to us about these events?”. I agreed with that. I also think this is one of the reasons why we view this weather as unusually bad.

When I was a kid we had a radio, a television and my parents had a subscription to one newspaper. In that time we were considered very well informed because of this. On that television there were only two channels we could view. There were some other channels, but they gave a rather snowy view which made viewing really difficult. From those two there was one Dutch and one French channel, so basically we only viewed one of them. If there was a storm or other extreme event, it had to be a really big one, otherwise we would not have noticed it. Today my television has 40+ crisp channels, on workdays I have the possibility to read two different newspapers and the internet is a huge information source. Nowadays when there is a storm or an other unusual weather pattern, however small, there is an avalanche of data from different sources.

Here I was in a remote village in the South of France and although we had no internet access whatsoever, no newspaper, no television and no radio, we learned that there was different weather in different places in France. In my youth, we probably wouldn’t even have noticed these events. We are hugely more informed than just a couple decades before. It is easy to confuse that increase in quantity of reporting with an increase in severity.

It is not because we heard less about extreme events in the past that they didn’t exist back then. It is not because there is more reporting on events that there are more of it now. Just as there weren’t less planets before because ancient astronomers only found few planets and the Hubble telescope loads more. Those planets were already there, the Hubble telescope only made them visible.

This took me back in time. I came a long way. Just four years ago I had exactly the same preconceptions as she has. It is so easy to forget where I once came from. It also made some things clear. I realized more than ever that most of the people, even if interested in the topic, only get very one-sided information. They are not being told about climate cycles, about insecurity about the data, the halt in temperature increase and so on. I am not surprised most people buy into the scare. Repeat something long enough and we tend to believe it.

Can we really be well informed about our climate if we only hear about one (alarmist) side of it?

The incredibly morphing theory

morph

When reading the first statement from the dossier of the Flemish greens I had the impression that the author avoided to name of the phenomenon he described. When reading the next two statements I had the exact same impression. They were made by investigators of the Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung (PIK) who cited two studies about atmospheric changes. They describe the impact of the Arctic Oscillation on our weather, but carefully avoided its name. In stead they make the “suggestion” that global warming (by warming the Arctic region) changes these “waves” and therefor was (partly) the cause wintry weather we got.

The first statement is from Jaiser et al. The second from Petoukhov et al. I could trace this last one back to: Weather extremes provoked by trapping of giant waves in the atmosphere by Petoukhov et al.

They seem to explain the cold weather by blocking events in the higher atmosphere partly caused by the warming of the Arctic. I could agree with the blocking event causing our rather cold weather. As far as I can know it was seen as the common cause for the heat wave in Russia 2010, the Pakistan flood in 2010 and the heat wave in the United States in 2011. I think it is a known meteorologic process.

What about the human attribution?

[…] the suggested physical process increases the probability of weather extremes, but additional factors certainly play a role as well, including natural variability. […]

To be fair, they say it increases the probability of extremes and that natural variability plays a role. In the paper they calculated the wave motions and tested when they grind to a halt of amplify. Okay, but this part catched my attention (my bold):

[…] Also, the 32-year period studied in the project provides a good indication of the mechanism involved, yet is too short for definite conclusions. […]

A 32 year period (the research was sent for review in June 2012) means the start of their investigations was around 1980. Just at the beginning of a warm cycle and excluding all the data of the previous cool cycle… Indeed, this is a bit short to draw conclusions from.

Even if they describe their paper as a breakthrough and they seem to be very sure about human attribution, the conclusion doesn’t seem to be clearcut in favor of human attribution (my bold):

[…]If the observed increasing number of summer months with high-amplitude wave numbers m=6, 7, and 8 indeed is the result of ongoing global warming, then we have described a possible dynamical mechanism for how global warming might contribute to future extreme summer events.[…]

While the described processes seem plausible, they don’t seem to prove human attribution and again produced AFTER the facts. In a way, I don’t have a problem with the theory, nor with the adjusting. A theory can be adjusted when the observations don’t fit the theory anymore. But this is different. Over time, the original idea morphed into something completely different. And yes, also this time they found a nice explanation, but it is slowly changing the theory into something different in order to be able to adjust the theory. It also became something non-falsifiable. There is no condition, no weather event that could falsify the theory.

But there seems to be at least one other theory that predicted these new observations in advance. Since I got interested about climate, I learned that climate comes in cycles. It was not uncommon to read that a cooling period was ahead. This because of several cycles that would go negative together, but also a sun that went to sleep and volcanic activity as a possible amplifier. At that time it seemed a bit ridiculous to hear about, but after a while it made sense. In that light the current stagnation/cooling was no real surprise to me. This of course doesn’t mean it is necessarily true, but it gives an indication that it probably is well founded. I have more confidence in a theory that predicted the observations all along, than in a theory that has to be adjusted every time observations change.

Why are we so hooked to a theory that seems to be wrong every time the observation changes? And yet we seem to stay confident in it…

The science is clear…

clear

Reading the dossier that the Flemish Green party prepared as a proof that our government is wrong about its climate goals: “Climate disruption: long winter, bad spring – The link between climate disruption, long winters and more precipitation” was an educational experience. Already the title caught my attention. Longer winters, that is a new thing. Previous, shorter winters were predicted. Also wet winters (more rain, less snow) and dry summers. According to the dossier the prediction of more precipitation in winter still stands, but there are seemingly no changes in precipitation in other seasons (although a small increase in summer precipitation since the 1970s…).

There are three sections in the dossier: first there were the statements of scientists and a weatherman, second part is about precipitation and last part about climate politics in Belgium and more specifically Flanders. I will first look into the first statement.

It is from an article from De Morgen (Flemish newspaper) of March 26, 2013 in which Jean-Pascal Van Ypersele (vice president IPCC) explained that by changes in the jet stream there are more North-South winds than West-East winds. This means more extreme temperatures (if there is a North-South wind → colder, if there is a West-East wind → warmer). It seems plausible. In fact, the explained phenomenon sounds rather familiar to me.

First, it is a real phenomenon, but no mention of its name: the “Arctic Oscillation” (AO). Yes, OSCILLATION. As in possibly having phase shifts. Indeed, the AO index went in a negative trend a couple years ago (but also other oscillations went negative), so it would be no surprise that the temperatures went down.

This is how Wikipedia explains the cooling/warming influence of the Arctic Oscillation:

The degree to which Arctic air penetrates into middle latitudes is related to the AO index, which is defined by surface atmospheric pressure patterns. When the AO index is positive, surface pressure is low in the polar region. This helps the middle latitude jet stream to blow strongly and consistently from west to east, thus keeping cold Arctic air locked in the polar region. When the AO index is negative, there tends to be high pressure in the polar region, weaker zonal winds, and greater movement of frigid polar air into middle latitudes.

Second, it reminded me of the ice age scare of the 1970s, in which the same phenomenon (upper atmospheric wind patterns that favors North-South circulation i.s.o. West-East circulation) was brought in to explain a return to an ice age (this scare was probably a Northern Hemisphere thing, probably more about this in a later post).

The statement he starts early with is: “the science is rather clear on this”. When I hear such a statement, my BS meter is going into overdrive. I heard this many times before and afterwards it was wrong anyway. Sure, the science is clear, but what exactly is the science clear about? Is it about the phenomenon (which I think is real) or about human attribution (which I think will be hard to proof)? When it is the last thing, he could have a point there (he tries to connect the vertical winds to human emissions, via the melting icecap), but I think it is the first thing he means. Not all scientists are sure about the attribution. They consider it, ahem, a natural cycle.

A question I ask myself: when in the positive phase the signal is in the same direction as global warming, how to differentiate between the two?

In the end, we really can be comforted that, although in the past something completely different was predicted/projected (by the same people), global warming is still on track and the science is still clear as ever. 😉

Does climate results in weather?

backwards

After reading the article about our cold winter and cool spring I was interested in the dossier the Flemish green party prepared about this. It is called “Climate disruption: long winter, bad spring” and subtitle “The link between climate disruption, long winters and more precipitation”. There was a very short introduction of five sentences. One sentence in particular raised my eyebrows.

Let’s start with the first three (translated from Dutch):

Climate and weather are clearly two different things. The link between the two is yet equally clear. A change in climate has a change in weather patterns as a result.

Basically the author(s) first said that climate and weather are different things (without explaining what the difference is), then go on that there is a link between those two. In a way that is true, but then the third sentence got me scratching my head. As far as I know, climate is the average of weather patterns over a longer time frame. Climate is averaged weather, but weather is not climate. When weather patterns change, then the average over a longer time frame (=climate) will obviously change too. They seem to have it backwards. Changing weather patterns result in a changing climate over time, not the other way around!

This could be an honest mistake or just an awkward way of putting it. But I have seen such statements several times before and mostly in a political context. I started to wonder why this could be and what would be the consequence of mixing up the relation between the two, politically speaking.

Back to the dossier. The next sentence:

In recent months we experienced unexpected weather, with a winter that lasted a long time and a spring that did not start.

Unexpected for who? Sure, from the standpoint of global warming theory, winters would get softer and springs earlier. For those who adhere that theory, this kind of weather is clearly unexpected. But that doesn’t mean that everybody was equally surprised by this weather.

That weather is the result of many factors, but a whole array of scientists point out that climate change, global warming, has something to do with it.

To be fair, they called it weather (a winter and a spring would not be much of a trend anyway). In this dossier this was the introduction to several quotes of scientists and a weatherman that supported the claim. More about this in a later post.

In general, I was surprised how many buzz words were used. Normally, such texts use only one (say “global warming”) and then stick with it until the end, but this time they seem to have used the whole lot. The title and subtitle mention “climate disruption” and already in the fifth sentence they used “climate change” and “global warming”. It took only eight sentences to use them all!

No more nice springs if we don’t vote green!

vote for nice spring

This weekend I was catching up reading. One of the pieces that I missed last week was a news paper article about the cold weather of this spring. It was about some statements made by Wouter Van Besien, chairman of the Flemish green party (Groen!). It had the catchy title (translated from Dutch):

Bad weather is the fault of the Flemish and Federal Government

That got my attention. Some excerpts:

Many bad springs will follow from the policies of these governments […]
According to Van Besien, there is an obvious link that this cold weather is caused by climate change […]
Even though there are much bigger polluters such as the U.S. and China, Kris Peeters and Elio Di Rupo to that effect are partly responsible for global warming.

I had to pinch myself a couple time in the arm. He couldn’t actually said that, did he? Then I found more sources that confirmed his statements and it was mentioned on the website of the green party. Yep, he actually said that! On their website there is also a document with, ahem, evidence that support his statements. Probably more on this in a later post. Now back to the statements in the article.

To be clear: I have nothing against the Flemish green party or its chairman. I am a green person at heart and have been consistently voting green until about three years ago. To be honest, Van Besien was the person that made me doubt to maybe start vote green again, but other members of his party made me decide not to give my vote to his party anymore. Although I respect him as a politician, these statements don’t make much sense.

The article states that Elio Di Rupo (current Belgian prime minister) and Kris Peeters (current minister-president of the Flemish government) are “partly” responsible for global warming. Even if that is true, he is overstating their influence greatly. Assume for the sake of the argument that this is true, how much would that be? For all those visitors outside Western Europe that find Belgium on a world map without the use of a magnifying glass: congratulations! Flanders is a part of Belgium and somewhat less than half of that. For the record: Belgium is about 30,530 km2 or a whopping 0.02% of total land area. Even if we had relatively more emission than other countries, the influence would be insignificant on a global scale. Ironically, I found a link to this little gem on the same page as the article (translated from Dutch):

Belgium had the largest CO2 reduction across the EU in 2012
CO2 emissions from combustion of fossil fuels in Belgium dropped last year by 11.8 percent.

To compare: the EU had a 2.1% reduction. If reduction of the CO2 emissions is important in combating global warming, then last year our leaders did just fine. To be honest, in global terms that reduction would be also insignificant.

What also caught my attention was that in the article and the document on their website the three terms “Global warming”, “Climate change” and “Climate disruption” are used interchangeably. That is always a good wild card. Combine them all and there is nothing that can’t be explained.

He tries to present good weather as just a political decision. Could one get more disconnected from reality? One year doesn’t make a trend. Weather is not climate. Just last year there was a lot of commotion about the warmer than normal March and in 2011 we had a warm spring, both breathlessly attributed to global warming. But this year we have a cool spring and suddenly this is also considered a consequence of global warming…

This is what he said just in August last year, talking about nuclear energy and the melting of the Greenland icecap (translated from Dutch):

… global warming is accelerating and soon we will have no more winters anymore.

Just nine months ago he was still convinced that global warming means, well, warming. How did he get so quickly from global warming causes warming to and global warming causes cooling too? There seems to be one thing that stays consistent: the projections what global warming/climate change/climate disruption exactly would do to us change almost as fast as the weather itself.

We were warned several times about global warming in the past. In our country we would get soft winters and summers with relentless heat waves. Now we finally got what we were hoping for (colder winters and cooler summers) and yet they are freaking out once again…

All joking aside, I know global warming should be seen globally, not only in our tiny country. But if we can believe the satellite data (and other data sets alike) there wasn’t warming in the last 10+ years (some even say 15+ years). But in the end, I understand why he is saying this now. Next year is an important election year and as the chairman of an opposition party he needs strong statements to get mentioned in the media. Got that.