Monthly Archives: August 2013

Connecting the dots of a vicious circle

It is amazing to see that we exactly get what we were hoping for all along, but yet scientists and the media always seem to find new causes for alarm. No observation seem to sooth the alarmist mind. Now they don’t have that much ammunition (low storm frequency, pause in global temperatures, colder winters, more snow,… despite the “unprecedented” amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere) they seem to go for more virtual treats. The media, gullible as ever, reports on it without questioning it and even takes it a step further. This post will look into an instructive example of such a synergy between science and media…

It was an item on the VRT (Flemish Radio and Television) news of August 15, 2013 called “Global Warming – Vicious Circle”. I did miss it when it appeared on television, I was still bickering on one of previous posts at that time. Later when it caught my attention, it was already removed from the VRT newssite, but the link to the video was still available on other news sites. For example Het Nieuwblad or De Standaard (video is in Dutch, but translation in English is below).

I found it was related to this press release and based on a Nature article from which this is the abstract. The article had a whopping 18 authors.

This is how the news was presented:

[News anchor]
Due to climate change there will be more and more intense heat waves, bigger droughts and severe storms and the consequences will also further accelerate climate change. According to research from which the results are in Nature today and in which the University of Antwerp also cooperated.

Wow. That’s quite a misrepresentation. Unless the scientists did an entire parallel investigation which they didn’t feel necessary to put in the abstract, this was NOT the object of the study at all. They studied the effects of storms and heath waves on the CO2 uptake of the ecosystem in a climate model. They didn’t study the effect of climate change on heat waves, droughts or severe storms. In fact, it was the other way around. It was their assumption that those events would increase. Everything else follows from that assumption.

[Journalist, about the images of someone working in dusty, dry soil, cueing into the back of two legs on a cracked soil]
We see these images more and more worldwide: drought due to global warming.

Vicious Circle: Back of legs of someone walking over a cracked soil

Vicious Circle: Back of legs of someone walking over a cracked soil

Sure, but we got also a lot more communication tools than ever before. When I was little we also got loads of images of drought in the Horn of Africa. Now there are much more images of course. Not necessarily because there is more drought, but because we get more media coverage than ever before.

[Journalist]
And that warming is caused in part by CO2 we emit. Up to now nature could save a part of these human emissions.

“Up to now”. Meaning not anymore???

[Scientist: Sara Vicca]
Previously, the ecosystems served as a buffer for CO2 emissions. Without this buffer, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere would much higher than it is now.

[Journalist, again the back of two legs over a barren soil]
An international team has now discovered that nature is losing the possibility to buffer, as a result of global warming.

Vicious Circle: Again someone walking over barren land

Vicious Circle: Again someone walking over barren land

“Discovered” is a strong term for what was investigated, from the Nature abstract (my bolding):

But evidence is mounting that climate extremes such as droughts or storms can lead to a decrease in regional ecosystem carbon stocks and therefore have the potential to negate an expected increase in terrestrial carbon uptake.

That is a lot of if’s and but’s. That is not even close to “discovering”. To me, discovering means finding something new, not mounting a bunch of possible outcomes on a stack.

[Scientist: Sara Vicca]
When it is too dry, plants will close the stomata (the leaves have small holes which absorbs CO2, but also loses water) and when it becomes too dry then that stomata will close and CO2 uptake decreases.

But, but…the last years climate scientists in the media have exhausted themselves in explaining us that a warmer world means a wetter world. The science was soooo incredibly clear. Higher temperatures means more evaporation, more evaporation means more clouds and more clouds means more precipitation. That also what we see in reality, you know, the real data. Didn’t those guys and gals received the memo? Or did the science suddenly changed and are they the first to report it?

[Journalist, with dramatic images of a forest fire threatening a house, cueing into an image of a storm]
Beside this there will also be more forest fires due to the drought and more storms due to climate change. And yet another loss of nature and buffer. Scientists fear that the damage is irreversible soon.

Vicious Circle: Forest Fire threatening a house

Vicious Circle: Forest Fire threatening a house

Vicious Circle: Storm

Vicious Circle: Storm

[Scientist: Sara Vicca]
This means that the ecosystem itself will increase the CO2 concentration in the air and that man really can not intervene anymore. So that the ecosystem itself stampedes out of control.

There is that pesky death spiral again. By growing older, I became more familiar with it. About any climate scare had it, the coming ice age, the ozone hole, acid rain, now global warming a.k.a. climate change or climate disruption has many of those death spirals. At their time they were taken seriously, but after the scare they were only ridiculed.

[Journalist]
And then we better get used to a more extreme climate and this kind of images of the Belgian coast.

Vicious Circle: Thundercloud over the beach

Vicious Circle: Thundercloud over the beach

vicieuzecirkel12_small

Vicious Circle: Storm at the coast

That is a rather weak ending compared to the graphic images of the rest of this item. They could at least show some real extreme events in stead of a rainy cloud at the coast and happily strolling people. I have no idea why they do it like this, but I have seen this before (reporting of global warming mostly somewhere else).

In conclusion they said that climate change will increase the number of droughts/storms/forest fires and the ecosystem that takes up an amount of CO2 will be less able to do so and even contributes to the CO2 output (forest fires means more CO2 in the air and less carbon sequestered in the ecosystem). If I would hear this as an unprepared layman, I would certainly connect the dots and think this is yet more evidence building up that we humans are causing all these events.

The question to ask of course: are droughts, storms and forest fires actually increasing? We hear the media breathlessly reporting that they are increasing without a doubt and we are the ones responsible for it. With every storm we hear the media using it as an example of extreme weather and we hear these types of events are on the increase because of global warming. The same with droughts. They are connected to global warming/climate change due to greenhouse gases and we should do something about it. We hear a lot about forest fires, also in connection with these “increasing droughts”. They are being reported as more frequent and over a larger area than ever.

According to the special report of the IPCC “Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation” (2012), there is not much confidence that droughts and storms are increasing. In their press release they don’t even mention droughts or storms!

That is exactly what the real world data seem to say. The global tropical cyclone frequency seems to go slowly downwards. The Accumulated Cyclone Energy decreased tremendously in the last seven years. There seems to be a small decrease in frequency over time and a large decrease in intensity. We are at the bottom part of the observed trend.

From Tropical Cyclone Activity Dr. Ryan N. Maue


Global ACE

Global Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE)

What about the forest fires in North America that are on the increase? Contrary to the common perception North America’s forest fires seem to decrease in frequency as well as in area. When one looks at the data this seems to be a perception problem rather than a forest fire problem. Most probably because of more people living in the areas prone to forest fires and more media attention.

The same with drought. We hear from the media that these forest fires are increasing because the drought is increasing, but when we look at the data there is not much of a trend. If there is one it is slightly becoming wetter. Also here, more a perception problem than an increase in drought problem.

Via the GHCN viewer (negative values mean dryer conditions, positive values wetter conditions)


Palmer Hydrological Drought Index (PHDI)

Palmer Hydrological Drought Index (PHDI)

But how do we known then that these events will increase if it is not from the observed data? Not everybody checks the data. The journalists of the VRT news obviously didn’t and assumed that what most scientists and activists said must (still) be true. Not much people do their homework and the same things are perpetuated in the media. Which makes other people get the impression this is ever increasing mounting of evidence. Another reason could be the models, something that is not understood well by the layman. The output of climate models is not “evidence” as we assume it is. Models offer “what if” scenarios on the assumption put in by the scientists. The results are various “scenario’s” of things that could happen (if the assumptions made were correct).

This story illustrates the issues with not checking facts. Scientists ran a climate model, took some scary scenarios, brought it to the media that didn’t even questioning it and dressed it up a bit with emotional charged images. I found this example from the VRT news rather extreme, but that is how it works.

What is the result? The public has again a doses of global-warming-is-caused-by-us-and-getting-worse meme, although this is not suggested by the observational data. That is how the momentum is (still) being build. And that’s the REAL vicious circle…

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Fair balance or censorship?

fair-balance

It doesn’t seize to amaze me when I hear people state that there is a false balance in media coverage in which a couple percent of skeptics get most of media coverage. This is a typical way in which it is being told:.

There is a false balance of media coverage where two or three percent of skeptics get close to 50 percent of the media coverage because the media feels that they have to show a balance where they are showing both sides of the issue. But in the process they are giving that two or three percent 50 percent of the coverage and actually creating a false balance and false perception that there is a big divide among climate experts about the cause of global warming.

Skeptics get 50% of the climate coverage? Really? Media that are compelled to show balance? On what planet those guys live? The realm of skeptics is mostly (specific sites/blogs on) the internet because there they can tell their story uncensored. If skeptics get that much media coverage as we are told, then we would at least hear things like:

  • The pause in global temperatures since 10-15+ years.
    In stead we learn that temperatures are ever rising.
  • The Antarctic ice cover is the largest since the start of the measurements.
    In stead we only learn that the Arctic is melting like crazy. Not a word about the Antarctic, unless there is a calving glacier (giving the illusion that it is melting there too)
  • Polar bears quadrupled to quintupled over the last 50-60 years.
    In stead we learn that polar bears are on the brink of extinction because of the melting ice
  • Positive effects of global warming.
    In stead we learn that increasing temperatures only have negative effects
  • Problems with climate models
    In stead we learn that scientists make definite statements about the results or at best admit that climate models could have problems in the past, but now are fine, yes sir
  • There are LESS storms than ever before.
    In stead we learn that number and/or strength of storms increase with global warming
  • Problems with the temperature measurements or datasets that are morphing in something unrecognizable.
    In stead we learn that scientists make definite statements based on those measurements
  • Backup fossil fuel power is needed because of the intermittent character of wind and solar energy.
    In stead we learn that solar and wind power could perfectly replace fossil fuel power if we want to
  • There are LESS forest fires than before.
    In stead we learn that forest fires are increasing because of global warming
  • Food production is increasing year by year.
    In stead we learn that global warming has a bad effect on food production
  • and many, many more.

These are the things that I wanted to learn from the mainstream media, but instead I had to look for them on the internet. When I found these thing out myself, I felt betrayed that the media doesn’t report on them and instead bring one sided stories or were the writers obviously didn’t check the data.

Another thing I found out by checking the messages in the media was that the scientists use a lot of weasel phrases. For example: the first time I checked a media story there was the statement that “the number of detected thunderstorms in the previous decades did increase comparing the 1980s to the last decade”. At such not a false statement, but when you don’t know there was a change in instrumentation in the beginning 1980s (which was able to capture more thunderstorms than ever before) this would add a different color to it. You have to be very familiar with the data to spot the weasel wording. What they say is not a lie, but it is not the truth either. There is truth in there, but for the layman it will be impossible to dissect it out of the statements. They will be put on the wrong leg reading it. This is no different with the “consensus” statement.

In a way, I can understand what they are saying (when giving a minority view the public perception could be that both have the same strength). But is this how science works?

Sure, when a minority view get as much coverage as a the majority view, it would give a perception that it is bigger than it is. But my experience is if something is told about skeptics, they are portrayed as villains that are wrong anyway, but keep on bickering on the scientists. That’s a completely different picture. This gives the perception that there are no legitimate skeptic scientists or skeptical arguments. That is as false as the first alarmist quote in the beginning of this post. This also gives a emotional response of the laymen if they encounter skeptical arguments, therefor ignoring them without even listen to the merits of their message (been there, done that).

I for one was really surprised to find out that there are scientists that don’t follow the party line. Even more surprise to hear they don’t really question the physical science, but the degree of effects of CO2, the level of certainty in statements, the abilities of the models,… They are basically saying: “Hey, not so fast” in stead of the assumed hindrance of the science. Suddenly it seemed to be a completely different story, but because of my emotional response I was not able to listen to the message previously.

In a chaotic system with scarce data and a lot of uncertainty, who is the expert? In a situation where climate scientists seem to take a political standpoint or act like advocates, who to belief? We hear time after time that the science is solid, but we don’t hear about the complexity and uncertainty, the lack of data, the over representation of models and that science is not ruled by consensus in the first place. In this case, who has to decide what is fair balance, what are the criteria and how to enforce it? And probably here comes the consensus theory of Cook et al and previous attempts into play. How is that 97% being counted? In Cook’s case it was 97% of scientists that had a opinion on global warming as assumed by Cook and his coworkers by reading the title and abstract, providing there was an abstract and it was 1,000 words or less. Why the media doesn’t bring some background and just criticalness write what they have been told?

Why all this effort to convince the people of the “consensus” among scientists?

As scientists become more overwhelmingly convinced that climate change is man-made, why do politicians and the public give credence to global warming skeptics?

A review of scientific literature published this week has found that 97 percent of peer-reviewed papers taking a position on global warming say humans are causing it. Yet, a large proportion of the US public still seems unconvinced.

That is the point. To me this is just a transparent way of seeking a carte blanche to censor the skeptic arguments. First stating a problem that doesn’t exist and then bring the solution by censoring the opposing voices. They want to convince the public (and among them politicians who depend on the voters) that there are no legitimate skeptic arguments. That is not a scientific way of seeing things. Although such statements can be made by (climate) scientists, the message is obviously not scientific, but political in nature. It could well be a smart way of eliminating opposing views.

Let’s look at it from the other side: if one tries to hide behind the consensus, stifle criticism and avoid debate, how sure is one that this science is really correct? Why not just prove it? That shouldn’t be a big deal if the science is soooo clear and the evidence soooo overwhelming.

Give with one hand, take with the other

yes-min

I have to admit it, I love British humor. Back in the 1980s there was a series called “Yes, Minister” and its sequel “Yes, Prime Minister”. It was about a new minister and its crew. The punchline was that the head of administration (Sir Humprey) always outweaseled the minister, but in the end gave the impression the minister was always right. Hence the title.

A couple days ago I had the strong impression that I was caught in one of the episodes…

It all started with an article in Het Nieuswblad [a Belgian newspaper] titled: “Energy invoice decreases with 430 euro”. This is the most important part of it:

Thanks to the ongoing price war in the energy market, an average family that consumes electricity and gas, now pays about 430 per year less. This has been calculated by Minister Johan Vande Lanotte (SP.A) [the Flemish Socialist Party], writes Het Laatste Nieuws [another Belgian newspaper] on Monday.

The minister started an offensive against the ‘excessive’ energy prices in December 2011. This first led to a price freeze, later the oil price became disconnected from the gas and electricity prices. “Now you pay in Flanders about 4 percent less for electricity and 9 percent less for gas,” said Vande Lanotte.

€430 per year less. Hallelujah! Someone give that man a medal! However, like all Sir Humprey-like statements, the truth is a little bit different than portrayed.

When looking for more information, I found the same article with EXACTLY the same wording appeared in all (online versions of) other newspapers, including the reference to Het Laatste Nieuws. For some strange reason I couldn’t find it electronically on the pages of Het Laatste Nieuws. It was only to be found in the opinion section and also there it was a copy/paste of the same wording as in the other papers, including the reference to itself… Mentioned as source was Belga (a Belgian news agency). So it appeared that Belga made the story about the article in Het Laatste Nieuws and other newspapers just copy/pasted it.

Luckily I had the paper version of that day. The article was on the top left of the frontpage and had about the same wording. There was a reference to the second page for more information and … again the same introduction, plus some more info about the number of those switching providers and future plans. So Het Laatste Nieuws copied it from the frontage to the second page, Belga seem to copy/pasted it from their frontpage and other newspapers also just copy/pasted the story. Hey, they sure like repetition!!

The first thing that hit my BS meter was the amount of €430 profit PER year. The paper version mentioned it was counted from April 2012, so this was the first full year. In that sense “per year” is a bit misleading. It would better stated “the last year” or something. “Per year” has the meaning of something is repeating while this was the first time (and probably also the last).

But €430 in somewhat more than one year, that’s still a lot! When I take my energy invoices of electricity and gas, that €430 gain would be more than one third of it. That’s much more than the 4% or even 9% decrease they talk about. Even if one takes an “average” family (in Belgium that seems to be 3,500 kWh electricity and about 23,000 kWh gas) I get a decrease of about €165 in the best scenario, not €430 as told.

This brought me to the next question: how high would the invoice be of someone with €430 profit from a 4% decrease in the electricity part and 9% in the gas part? If I take the same proportion as the invoice of the “average” family (about 30% of the bill for electricity and 70% for gas), it would be about €5,800. Wait a moment, is that guy a student with Al Gore? Or is this maybe the bill of the Minister himself? That is not even close to an average family energy bill (which would be around €2,300/year).

So it depends on the definition of “average” family. According to the wording of the article, it is probably not the average, but the difference due to the price war. Does this means a family that changed provider and came from a provider with the highest tariff and went to the one with the lowest? Or the average that one could save according to price differences? Or the average that was really saved by the consumers over that year?

According to the paper one can still decrease one’s bill by 15% by changing provider! Obviously not if one is already with the cheapest provider. It seems he took another definition here of a family, because this time according to the minister this 15% means only a decrease of €155 to the bill (while 4-9% was €430). I sure am curious about his calculations and all the assumptions he made…

De Standaard made the interesting remark that probably the (lower) market price of august is taken for the calculation, but in real life the provider will also take the (more expensive) winter price into the yearly invoice. So the 430 euro could well be just hot air, totally dependent on the assumptions of the summer price and probably a change to a cheaper provider as a basis.

To be honest: I surely applaud decreasing prices of gas and electricity. I don’t have a problem with bringing good news. We have to give credit where credit is due. But the reporting seems rather distorted.

When looking a bit deeper, this is what the Minister “forgot” to tell us. Sure the price fell beginning 2013, partly due to more competition. Convenient. But when we look back in the past we see the prices suddenly skyrocketed in 2011 and are now coming back to a similar level as before that time.

Why was this? The reason was the OVERsubsidizing of solar panels. The then energy minister (also SP.A) gave huge amount of subsidies to companies and individuals who installed solar panels. The netmanager paniked by the sheer amount of them, they had the obligation to buy those green power certificates at a high price. So the netmanager invoiced that cost to the providers and the providers did the same to the users. People were not happy to pay the costs of the solar panels production (owners of solar panels first received subsidies to buy/install them and afterwards got compensated with green certificates for the production of electricity). Those who didn’t own solar panels had to pay double: for their own electricity and for the certificates given to solar panel owners (who got their electricity dirt cheap). All that for a energy source that is in proportion so small that it is always rounded to zero.

If there was a sane policy on solar panels, that sudden jump in 2011 should not have happen in the first place. It was daylight robbery of Government funds. Some companies even offered to install solar panels for free and people would have the benefit of a lower electricity bill. The only thing they wanted were the green certificates. That’s how lucrative it was. And not only solar power subsidies. Wind power receives huge subsidies. Offshore wind now gains 2/3 of its profit from subsidies and the duration of these subsidies went from 10 years (as imposed by Europe) to a whopping 20 years (this means about €700 million non necessary extra per year for 10 years).

In the meanwhile oversubsidizing (partly) stopped and that made the sellers and installers furious. Those green jobs were dependent on the oversubsidizing and many had to file bankruptcy.

The decoupling of the gas price with oil price is of course a good thing. It made no sense in the first place. Good that we don’t need to pay for a virtual cost anymore. But look at it from the other side: we overpaid our gas many, many, many years.

To summarize: the hand that so generously (seems to) give, also generously took. And also generously overstates its case. Sir Humprey would be proud!

A breathtaking gibe

breathtaking

A breathtaking quote from former Governor Schwarzenegger at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas on Tuesday:

Schwarzenegger got off some good gibes to win the crowd over.

Speaking of greenhouse gas deniers: “Strap some conservative-thinking people to a tailpipe for an hour and then they will agree it’s a pollutant!”

I know this is used just as a catch phrase, but it is very misleading nevertheless. Let me explain why.

Some initial thoughts

When inhaling car exhaust gases, CO2 is the least of our worries. There are other components in exhaust gases that have much more negative effects. Most importantly is what is NOT there: oxygen. It is used for the combustion, so there will be not much to none in the exhaust gases while we need at minimum 18%. That wouldn’t be a pleasant ride.

Another dangerous component in exhaust gases is CO (Carbon Monoxide). It is a lethal substance even in a low concentration. CO has the ability to bind more than 240 times better to hemoglobin than oxygen. Hemoglobin is the substance in our red blood cells that carry the oxygen absorbed via the lungs around the body to the cells that need it. This means that even with a small concentration of the gas, relatively large amount of CO will bind with hemoglobin and come into the bloodstream. In the end, the person will suffer from an oxygen deprivation (too many CO has taken the place of oxygen). This process in not easily reversed. A treatment for CO-intoxication is inhaling a high concentration of oxygen under high pressure, to slowly reverse the strong bond of CO with the hemoglobin. People who die from inhaling car exhaust gases are called to die from CO-intoxication intoxication for a reason. They don’t call it a CO2-intoxication although they inhaled a much higher concentration of CO2 than CO.

More specific

CO2 and exhaust gases are used as synonyms. The assumption is made that the effects of the tailpipe are due to CO2. This is not true at all. If there was more oxygen and less CO in the exhaust gases, than the effects would be from the CO2, but in reality most of the negative effects would from other things than CO2.

CO2 is called a pollutant that effects us humans in a bad way. Sure, in exhaust gases it is about 14% and by displacing oxygen it will make this lethal if sustained. But in reality the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is only 0,04% (coming from 0.03%). That’s a HUUUUUGE difference from where it becomes harmful.

Pollutant is a relative term. CO2 is essential for life and in the current concentration harmless to our health. Even if we double or triple it, it doesn’t come anywhere near harmful levels. In fact we thank a lot on CO2. No plants → no humans. More CO2 → more biomass (farmers know this and use it to their advantage).

I don’t know if it were Schwarzenegger’s words or from the reporter, but what are “greenhouse gas deniers”? That doesn’t make much sense. For the record: I don’t think this does mean those people deny that there are greenhouse gases. It probably means that those people don’t believe in the (catastrophic) effects of the (human portion of the) increase in CO2 in the atmosphere.

Concluding

Strapping someone to a tailpipe to let him experience something first hand is a powerful emotional image, but it misses the purpose completely. The experience wouldn’t learn that “conservative-thinking” person anything about the alleged charge that CO2 is a pollutant.

So let us look at it as an emotional message constructed to win over the crowd, but that has nothing to do with reality whatsoever.

Climate begins at the 1950s

no-heatwaves-before

When someone would ask “Are heatwaves increasing?”, what would you answer? Probably something like “That’s common knowledge, we all know that!”. Sure, but why? “We hear it everywhere”.

I heard it many times before and had no doubt it was true. At first glance it seems straight forward and logical. When temperatures go up (global warming, you know), the frequency of extreme temperatures go up. It has been told that the frequency of heatwaves is unprecedented and even ramping up in the last years.

I hear around me that we now live in a more extreme world. In stead of just believing this story line, I wanted to see for myself. I came to realize that this data exist. We call extremes in temperatures “heatwaves” and “coldwaves”. Okay, heatwaves increase, but the problem started when I asked myself: “How much?”. The answer was not exactly what I expected it to be…

First things first: looking for the dataset. The Belgian dataset seemed to be very hard to find and was really confusing. I found bits and pieces of it and nothing seem to match. I found that their definition of “heatwave” changed over time. That could well be the reason for these bits and pieces. The Belgian temperature dataset was not freely available either, so reconstructing it would not be possible. This wasn’t going to be easy.

But our neighbors in the North kept their records as well and, more important, they share their data with the world. It was very easy to find the list of heatwaves in De Bilt from 1900. It is not exactly what I searching for, but the situation from the Netherlands should be relatively similar. De Bilt is only a couple 100 km from Brussels. With the same definition, there will be probably somewhat more heatwaves recorded in Brussels (it is more to the South), but considering that in the average in the GISS dataset are made with stations until 1,200 km from each other, this should not be a problem.

This is what the Dutch call a heatwave (it is the current Belgian definition also):

A heatwave is a succession of minimum five summer days (maximum temperature of 25.0 °C or higher) from which minimum three tropical days (maximum temperature of 30.0 °C or higher).

I thought the heatwave data would represent extremes well. It is the threshold above which temperatures are recorded, so only the extremes are visible. The more data comes above this threshold, the more extreme the temperatures.

So I fired up Calc and loaded the KNMI data in a spreadsheet. Then I plotted it as a graph. The result was surprising. I expected, well, a steadily increase. Maybe not as steep as people suppose it is, but yet increasing. But that is not really what I saw.

Heatwaves De Bilt 1900 until 2013

Heatwaves De Bilt 1900 until 2013

It looks more like a cyclical event in which temperatures didn’t get above the threshold before 1911 and also between 1951 and 1975 (smack in the middle of the period of the rise and fall of the ice age scare).

Also, our well feared heatwaves in the 1990s and 2000s seem to be very bleak against the 1940s. I knew that the 1930s-1940s were warmer globally, but I didn’t expect to see it that clearly in the data closer to home.

The heatwave data consists of summer days (maximum temperature ≥ 25.0) and tropical days (≥ 30.0 °C or higher). The ratio between the two are about the same. One would expect with “global warming” that the tropical days increase against the summer days. It isn’t.

But, but, why do those people say that there are more heatwaves than before? Do they use other data? No, just look at just a very small selection of quotes about more heatwaves than before.

One from Belgium (translated from Dutch):

[…] Between 1981 and 2010, 10 percent of the world’s surface had to deal with extreme heat waves. That is 50 to 100 times more than the 0.1 to 0.2 percent during the period from 1951 to 1980. […]

One from The Netherlands (translated from Dutch):

[…] There were more heat waves in the last thirty years than in the fifties, sixties and seventies of the last century. […]

Not only in our little country, but also from the States:

[…] A new study examining six decades of global temperature data concludes that a sharp increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers can only be the result of human-caused global warming. […]

See a pattern emerging? They all talk about the last 60 years, the period from the 1950s, etcetera. They seem to forget there was life before 1950. If you take this period, where does that takes us in the graph? Let’s look at what they compare with:

Heatwaves De Bilt 1951 until 2013

Heatwaves De Bilt 1951 until 2013

This makes some things clear. The different time frame gives the (false) impression that:

  • this warming is unprecedented (it isn’t, there was a period with similar or even more heatwaves in the past, but when one only looks from the 1950s this could not be seen)
  • the intensity increased in the late 1990s till the half of 2000s (it did, but this happened before).
  • there were no heatwaves at the beginning of this period and then from the 1970s heatwaves start popping up (that’s true, but there was a period with a similar, even hotter temperatures, before the 1950s)
  • heatwaves are ever increasing since the 1970s (if you don’t look at the period before 1950 it is, otherwise it isn’t)
  • in 2006 the intensity increased from 1 to 2, the speed is increasing! (it was increasing, certainly when one saw this in 2006-2007, but there were identical or even bigger increases in the past).

This seems not to be much different than many things in climate communication: there is a core of truth in it, but it lacks balance. Although it is an excellent opportunity for those who want to dig into it (I learned a thing or two about climate/weather by figuring things out after being surprised by some claims), for the public this is misleading. If one only look at the data from the 1950s on, there is a reason for alarm. But that scare has more to do with a lack of perspective.

Some like it hot

heatwave-as-seen-by

Two posts ago I ended with the rhetorical question: “How long would it take before someone uses this thunderstorm to connect it with extreme weather/global warming/climate disruption?”. In the mainstream media that I normally follow there was none that seemed to try this. Not a peep. I was surprised. Just a couple years ago the media brought two full pages after two storms (see previous post).

Now we had a cold winter, followed by a cold spring, then a heatwave, after this half a dozen thunderstorms (from which two large ones) and finally the hottest day of the century with temperatures over 35 °C. One would expect cries that this is evidence of global warming, climate change or at least climate disruption. Where I usually look I found nothing. Rien du tout. Nada. Zip. Noppes.

At first I found this hard to explain. Well, time to throw in some wild theory: fear sells, but one can not sell fear of something that people are enjoying.

This is how I think it works. After a warm, dry and sunny spring, the summer of 2011 was extremely wet and dark (low number of sunshine days). People didn’t liked it much. They were fed up by that kind of summers. Then came two big thunderstorms and climatologists jostled each other to declare this the new normal. If this doesn’t get the message across: people didn’t like that summer, they didn’t like the thunderstorms and feared for the future if this was the climate that we will get.

Fast forward to today. This year we endured a cold winter and a cold spring. People were longing for the sun, for “better” weather. When it started to warm people were relieved, they enjoyed this weather. Even when there was a “heatwave”. The word that initially had a bad taste, now seemed to be a good thing. Fear tactics would not work here. If you would ask, many people would sign for such summers.

People were relieved when the storm came and began cooling down a bit after the warm weather. Plus, these storms were mostly when people were not really outside. The first one (small) one was at night, when not many were aware of it. The second (large) one was on a Saturday morning when people tend to sleep a bit longer. The storm was intense, but done in a jiffy and the rest of the day it was somewhat cooler, but really nice weather. The third (also large) thunderstorm was Sunday late in the evening. Also here, people enjoyed the cooling effect of it. Scare tactics wouldn’t work here.

I can imagine that when those hot days continues, people eventually get fed of it and then stories linking those to global warming could seep in again.

Then I looked a bit closer and in the end I found after all some stories mentioning global warming/greenhouse gases and this warmer weather. But it was not what I expected. Some things got my attention (links go to sites in Dutch).

I didn’t find any mention of global warming on the hottest days in the heatwave. I did find a lot of prevention methods for the sun: drink a lot, don’t stay in the sun for a long time, take care of the elderly and the young,… That’s fair. Although the sun is nice, it can kill the weak, we saw that in the heatwave of 2003 in France.

There seemed to be a disconnect between reporting of meteorologists and climatologists.

I don’t know if this was a coincidence, but the reporting in the press of The Netherlands was realistic, even skeptic and in the Belgium press more alarmist. The only one direct attribution of global warming with the heatwave that I could find was deliciously vague (see previous link): “Our last heatwave was three year ago. And because of global warming we will have more of them in the next years, say the climatologists”.

Another story of global warming report it elsewhere (in Alaska, Greenland, Siberia), not here at home.

And the public. Well, most of them seemed to enjoy it. Heck, a radio station even threw a “heatwave”-party! Who knows, maybe people were dreaming of the day when global warming would give us a Mediterranean style climate, that we were told just a couple years ago.

How not to compare thunderstorm days

onweer_blauw

This is part of my story – you might see the category: My Story first if you haven’t already (begin at the bottom of the page and work yourself up).

Since my beliefs in Global Warming had crumbled I got the desire to be able to check out some things myself and not to rely on the opinion of others. But what could I do as an interested layman to achieve this goal? The first thing I intended to do was to take a closer look at the messages that appeared in the media, but not to take them on face value as I did before. My impression until then was that the mainstream media tells a very one sided story climate-wise and it could be interesting to discover the neglected data…

This is about the first story I checked. It made an impression back then. We write August 23, 2011. A big thunderstorm crossed Belgium. I experienced it when I was at work. It was surreal: at about 10 AM it gradually got darker and darker, until it was pitch black. It seemed like it was night time. Then came the wind, rain and thunder. Afterwards we learned that it was so dark because the thundercloud was about 16 kilometer high and not much sunlight could come through. A couple days before (August 18) we also had a heavy local thunderstorm which killed 5 music lovers at Pukkelpop festival when a tent collapsed and 140 others needed medical attention.

As expected, the next day I found articles in newspapers that made the connection of these storms with Global Warming. One such story was in the newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws of August 24, 2011. The title over two full pages was: “87,000 lightings and more rain than previous storm” and subtitle (over almost one page) “Warming of the earth increases storms” (translated from Dutch):

Coincidence? Yes and no
Two very severe thunderstorms in less than a week time: could this still be a coincidence? “Yes and no” according to Luc Debontridder. It is a coincidence that these thunderstorms are so severe. But it is certain that there are more thunderstorms than in the past. We reexamined the numbers and noticed that the number of detected thunderstorms in the previous decades did increase: from on average 88 days per year in the 1980s to 94 days now. Be careful: literary every thunder-activity on Belgian area is in this number. A thunderstorm that makes havoc in for example Vlaams-Brabant, but didn’t effect Limburg, will be counted as 1 thunderstorm day. But the increase of 88 to 94 thunderstorm days is irrefutable and according to Debontridder blamed on global warming.
The prominent Belgian climate expert Jean-Pascal van Ypersele confirms this. “When the climate warms by greenhouse gases and the temperature rises, there will be more evaporation from the oceans and seas, that is the way it is. Therefor clouds will be filled with more water vapor and those clouds will turn quicker into thurderstorm clouds. I see those weather extremes increase in the next 30 to 40 years anyway, says van Ypersele.

At first glance this seemed rather balanced: according to both of them, the severity of both thunderstorms was a coincidence, but not the frequency. There doesn’t seem to be strange looking statements. But yet some things caught my attention.

[…] We reexamined the numbers […]
What do they mean by this exactly? Did they simply looked at the numbers again when the last two thunderstorms came over? Or did they reexamined/adjusted/normalized/reconstructed the historical/current data? Whatever, after this “reexamining” they noticed an increase of 6 thunderstorm days per year in comparison with the 1980s.
[…] literary every thunder-activity on Belgian area is in this number […]
It seems the author left a back-door open. It tells us that these numbers alone will not say much. A local storm will have exactly the same weight as a heavy storm over the entire country. There are 6 storm days more per year on average. This could well be small local storms. With such a way of counting this doesn’t necessarily mean a significant change.
[…] from on average 88 days per year in the 1980s to 94 days now […]
The way this is stated reminded me of a statement I read some time ago. Can’t find the reference a the moment, but here is the gist: the mean temperature of the previous decade was compared with the mean temperature of the current decade and the conclusion was that the current average was higher. But when one looked at the current trend it went down. The fact the mean was higher was because the beginning of the period was much warmer and this pulled the mean upwards. So with this in mind this statement caught my attention. It also made me wonder if there was a specific reason why they skipped the 1990s altogether and took the 1980s to compare with?

I went searching what was known about thunderstorms in Belgium. I didn’t find much (what didn’t come as a surprise at all), but found that the climate experts of the KNMI(Royal Meteorologic Institute of the Netherlands) were not so sure about this connection (translated from Dutch):

[…] To what extend climate change effects thunderstorms and lightning is difficult to determine. The data series with observations of the number of thunderstorm days are of variable quality and don’t say anything about the frequency of lightning. […]

That is an interesting statement. “Variable quality”. Probably it means no consistent measurements over time? This made me wonder if this was the same for our country? After some searching, it seems KMI (Royal Metereologic Institute of Belgium) used manual systems (which only partly detected lighting activity) and those were replaced in August 1992 by SAFIR (Système d’Alerte Foudre par Interférométrie Radioélectrique) which can detect lightnings with a high resolution. SAFIR was later extended to BELLS (BElgian Lightning Location System) with an even higher resolution.

For those who don’t yet get it: 1992 is just after their base period of the 1980s. Let me rephrase that: KMI replaced in 1992 a low resolution system with a high resolution system. So in the 1980s they used a system that didn’t detect all thunderstorms. In the 2000s they used a automatic system that detects much more thunderstorms, if not all. How did they manage to compare those two correctly? Maybe they had to adjust the previous measurement data to be able to compare those two? Is that what they meant by “reexamining” the numbers?

It is true that if you count the observed number of thunderstorm days you will find more in this decade compared to the 1980s, there is no doubt about that. But they “forgot” to mention that there are better detection methods now than back then in the 1980s.