Monthly Archives: March 2014

Setting the bar as low as it can go

lowbar

Last week I read an article on why Global Warming is happening according to Knack (a Belgian magazine): 10 recent weather phenomena ‘that indicate global warming’. It is a list of 10 weather phenomena observed in 2013 that indicates Global Warming is real.

Apparently this list of extreme weather events was compiled by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). They stated that extreme weather is one of the consequences of global warming and that weather is becoming more extreme. Of course also the mandatory “No single weather event is proof of global warming”-statement. I heard that before. It is misleading: on the one hand it is acknowledged that none of those events can be considered proof of global warming, but on the other hand it IS used as such.

These seems to be the 10 most important indications that global warming is among us:

  1. In 2013 Australia had the warmest year, New Zealand experienced its third warmest year and Argentina’s second warmest year since the start of the measurements.
  2. The UK and Ireland had the wettest winter
  3. Typhoon Haiyan
  4. One of the warmest winters in the history of several countries in Western and Central Europe, in Austria and Germany accompanied by heavy rainfall. The average temperature in December over Russia was the highest ever recorded.
  5. The historic cold snap in the United States.
  6. The north and southeast of Brazil experienced the worst drought in half a century and a large part of Chile experienced extreme drought in February
  7. Paraguay and Bolivia saw then exceptionally heavy rainfall in February.
  8. The EF-5 tornado that took 18 people living in El Reno was 4.2 kilometers, the widest ever measured
  9. Large parts of Japan by the side of the Pacific in February were plagued by exceptionally heavy snowfall.
  10. Even in different areas in the Middle East there was winter as had not been seen for several years.

So here you have it: global warming causes warm winters as well as cold winters, droughts as well as heavy rainfall and storms.

But that is not all: these are all LOCAL events. This is weather. Not climate. What is wrong with the global stuff? In the past we heard a lot that “Global” Warming existed. That a even a small temperature difference in “global” temperatures seemed insignificant, but was a big deal. Now when global averages don’t seem to cooperate with that hypothesis, we get to hear that not global temperatures indicate global warming, but local anecdotal events instead…

That is as low as the bar can go. If the variability of local weather events is being used to prove global warming, then there is no limit in the amount of proof one could accumulate!

Looking behind the consensus

When it comes to the consensus all is not what it seems. In the last four posts I explored the consensus position and the polls that were used to provide proof of its existence. In every one of them the conclusion seemed to be that this consensus position was rather uncontroversial.

It goes like this: humans increased the level of CO2 in the atmosphere. CO2 being a greenhouse causes warming. The thermometer record shows the earth has warmed in the last century and a half and at least some of this warming is very likely a consequence of the CO2.

Nothing controversial here. It didn’t lay bare the difference between skeptics and alarmists.

The message from the opinion polls was only in favor for anthropogenic global warming because of clever framing of the questions and misinterpretation of the results. It is not because scientists agree that there is a warming that it is automatically dangerous or catastrophically.

But there is more to it. Looking behind that consensus we could ask ourselves the big question: why do we need to rely on the opinion of scientists in the first place? Why even do the effort to poll scientists when there is clear evidence?

The real inconvenient truth is that there is no direct evidence that unequivocally proves the extent of human influence on climate. There aren’t instruments that shows us how much of the warming is due to humans and how much is due to natural variation. There is not much historical data, so there is hardly a base line. The high quality measurements we have now started when the human influence was already assumed to be in process. More, climate is changing all the time. Our climate was different in the Little Ice Age, the Medivial Warm Period, the Roman Warm Period, the previous Ice Age,… How could changes introduced by humans be distinguished from the changes that would have occurred without humans?

When looking at the evidence we don’t know whether that influence is negligible or significant. Therefor, in the absence of hard evidence, that opinion is deemed so important.

Cooking a consensus: the symmetrical asymmetry

symmetry according to Cook

Looking at the consensus statements was a really interesting experience. It all started with viewing a video in which the consensus was preached and that got me interested what exactly those scientists agreed upon.

It led me first to the Oreskes survey that concluded on a rather uncontroversial statement and, unsurprisingly, came with a 100% consensus. Then came the Doran & Zimmerman survey that also took two rather uncontroversial statements and took an absurd low sample to come to their 97% consensus. Last post was about the Anderegg survey in which a database of scientists was created, those were divided according to their stance towards climate matters and concluded that those who were “unconvinced” by the “evidence” published less. How surprising 😉

This post will be about the latest and biggest review so far of scientific opinion on climate change: “Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature” from Cook et al in 2013. I have seen this survey before and wrote some posts about it. But this time I will focus on what they claim the consensus is all about.

To recapitulate: John Cook and fellow bloggers of Skeptical Science searched in March 2012 the ISI Web of Science for papers published from 1991 until 2011 using topic searches for global warming or global climate change. They restricted to articles with an abstract of 1,000 words or less. The search was updated in May 2012. From each article the title and abstract were shown to the volunteers who classified it according to category and endorsement level.

These are the results as I found them yesterday in their searchable database:

  Endorsement level Number
1 Explicitly endorses and quantifies AGW as 50+%
(paper explicitly states that humans are causing most of global warming)
65
2 Explicitly endorses but not quantify or minimize
(paper explicitly states humans are causing global warming or refers to anthropogenic global warming/climate change as a given fact)
934
3 Implicitly endorses AGW without minimizing it
(paper implies humans are causing global warming. E.g., research assumes greenhouse gases cause warming without explicitly stating humans are the cause)
2,934
4 No position
(paper doesn’t address or mention issue of what’s causing global warming)
8,269
5 Implicitly minimizes/reject AGW
(paper implies humans have had a minimal impact on global warming without saying so explicitly. E.g., proposing a natural mechanism is the main cause of global warming)
53
6 Explicitly minimizes/rejects AGW but does not quantify
(paper explicitly minimizes or rejects that humans are causing global warming)
15
7 Explicitly minimizes/rejects AGW as less than 50%
(paper explicitly states that humans are causing less than half of global warming)
10
  Total 12,280

At first glance this seems a nice symmetrical distribution. Level 1 is the strongest position, level 2 a bit less and level 3 even less. Followed by those who show no opinion. Finished by level 5 which implies minimizing/reject AGW, followed by level 6 which explicitly minimize/reject AGW and finally the clear rejecting it. Therefor it seems logical to exclude level 4 (because they have no opinion), add level 1 to 3 together and compare that with level 5 to 7. This results in 97.1% abstracts that agree (or 98%in the current list from the database).

It seems really beautiful: if you only want to consider quantifications, you could compare level 1 and 7. If you only want explicit endorsements, you can compare 1 and 2 vs. 6 and 7. If you only want implicit endorsements you could compare 3 and 5.

That is the theory…

The problem surfaces when one tries to figure out what those levels stand for. One can’t hide the fact that the distribution of the levels is not exactly symmetrical as it appears to be at first glance. The levels don’t necessarily follow each other. More, some levels overlap each other and not in a symmetrical way.

Level 1

According to the definition it is: “Explicitly endorses and quantifies AGW as 50+%”. This means from 50% until 100%. No doubts whatsoever here.

Level 2 and 3

Are a bit more tricky. These are the guidelines for rating abstracts in level 2:

2. Explicit Endorsement of AGW without quantification
2.1. Mention of anthropogenic global warming or anthropogenic climate change as a given fact.
2.2. Mention of increased CO2 leading to higher temperatures without including anthropogenic or reference to human influence/activity relegates to implicit endorsement.

That seems surreal. Just mentioning global warming as a given fact or stating that increased CO2 concentration lead to higher temperatures will put the abstract in level 2!

Now the guidelines for level 3:

3. Implicit Endorsement of AGW
3.1 Mitigation papers that examine GHG emission reduction or carbon sequestration, linking it to climate change
3.2 Climate modeling papers that talks about emission scenarios and subsequent warming or other climate impacts from increased CO2 in the abstract implicitly endorse that GHGs cause warming
3.3 Paleoclimate papers that link CO2 to climate change
3.4 Papers about climate policy (specifically mitigation of GHG emissions) unless they restrict their focus to non-GHG issues like CFC emissions in which case neutral
3.5 Modeling of increased CO2 effect on regional temperature – not explicitly saying global warming but implying warming from CO2
3.6 Endorsement of IPCC findings is usually an implicit endorsement. (updated this so it is more than just reference to IPCC but actual endorsement of IPCC)

This means simply acknowledging that human activity will cause some warming is enough to put it in level 3!

So it seems that level 2 and 3 will cover all abstracts which accept human activity as the cause for any amount of global warming. From negligible to important.

Level 4

Is a league on its own. Of those abstracts no opinion could be found in the abstracts or title.

Level 5 and 6

An abstract will only be categorized in those two levels if it rejects or minimizes anthropogenic global warming. Let’s look at the definitions: “minimize” means agreeing with anthropogenic global warming, but not seeing it as the dominant influence. Logically this means from 1 until 49%. Reject is rather simple, it means 0%. Just by looking at the definition the anthropogenic component will fall in the 0 – 49% range.

Level 7

According to the definition it is: “Explicitly minimizes/rejects AGW as less than 50%”. Rejecting AGW means zero percent. Minimising means above zero and below 50 percent. No doubts whatsoever here. But this means that in this category there are as well those who reject AGW as those who agree that humans cause some warming.

In practice this means that the levels are top heavy, they are biased towards level 2 and 3. The clear consensus of 97% is dependent on this construct. This doesn’t necessarily proves bad faith, but the methodology is likely skewing the results towards the top.

What did they assessed exactly? Cook et al tried to quantify the degree to which abstracts agree with the level of human influence on climate. But the methodology is fundamentally flawed because of the overlapping levels which benefits the warming part of the equation. Therefor only level 1, 5, 6 and 7 make sense. Level 4 shows no opinion and 2 – 3 can be in the complete range, so basically meaningless in determining which side is dominant. Ironically this means that if we try to validate the claim that humans are the primary cause of climate change, then there are only 65 abstracts that really support a strong position on anthropogenic global warming (0.5%). Of levels 2 and 3 we can not be sure, due to the ambiguous nature of their guidelines for those two levels.

The only thing that can be proven from all this is that 97% (from paper) or 98% (from the database) of the scientists agree that anthropogenic CO2 gives at least some warming and that is not really controversial.

But that is not how it is brought in the mainstream media. The most famous reaction was the tweet from president Obama (or rather the organization that manages his twitter account):

twitter 20130516 ninety-seven-percent

This statement is problamatic:

  • That “97% of the scientists think global warming is man made” is the big question: only 65 out of 12.280 (0.53%) stated unequivocally that global warming was more than 50% to be blamed on humans. The vast majority stated that at least some of the warming was to blame on us. The methodology was as such that it could be less than 50% as well as more than 50%. So this conclusion wasn’t really supported by this paper.
  • The statement “climate change is real” is ambiguous. Skeptics and alarmist could agree with this statement, but they would have each a different definition of what they mean by “climate change is real”…
  • And finally, do the scientists agree that it is dangerous? Well, to be very short, this question was not even asked in the survey!

The contrast between what was found in the paper and what was brought forward in the media couldn’t be much bigger.

The agreement of the “convinced”

Last two post were about the consensus and how it was “quantified” by Oreskes in 2004 and Doran/Zimmerman in 2009. This post is about another attempt: Expert credibility in climate change from William R. L. Anderegg, James W. Prall, Jacob Harold, and Stephen H. Schneider.

This is the statement that was being assessed:

We defined CE researchers as those who signed statements broadly agreeing with or directly endorsing the primary tenets of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report that it is “very likely” that anthropogenic greenhouse gases have been responsible for “most” of the “unequivocal” warming of the Earth’s average global temperature in the second half of the 20th century.

How they accessed this is a lot less clear. According to their Materials and Methods they compiled a database of 1,372 climate researchers and classified them either as convinced by the evidence (CE) for anthropogenic climate change or unconvinced by the evidence (UE). Apparently according to where they publish or if they found their name as contributors in for example open letters or protest letters. In that way they came to 903 convinced and 472 unconvinced. 3 scientists were classified in both groups.

After this classification the credentials of these researchers was tallied by counting the number of climate relevant publications that are authored or coauthored by the researcher via name and key word “climate” (expertise) and the number of citations for each of the researchers four highest-cited papers (prominence) via Google Scholar. They came to this result:

The UE group comprises only 2% of the top 50 climate researchers as ranked by expertise (number of climate publications), 3% of researchers of the top 100, and 2.5% of the top 200, excluding researchers present in both groups (Materials and Methods). This result closely agrees with expert surveys, indicating that ≈97% of self-identified actively publishing climate scientists agree with the tenets of ACC [Anthropogenic Climate Change].

It is not really clear if Anderegg et al read the publications and accessed if they were according to conclusions of the IPCC fourth report. Probably they just assumed that when someone is/was an author of the IPCC report that they adhere the position of the IPCC. And when signing a dissident letter they assumed the author didn’t adhere the IPCC report and was classified in the not-convinced group.

This aside, what the survey basically says is that the alarmist scientists publish more than their skeptics counterparts. But that is no secret and it has to do with other things than with the validity of their assessment.

In the end, also here nowhere is said that those scientists agree that this warming is dangerous or necessitates action. The public and the politicians don’t only want to know that our world is warming, but if this warming is bad or not. There is obvious a consensus that there is a warming and that this could be partly because of human influences. But there is no consensus about the consequences of this warming. Even if there would be such a consensus, it is certainly not found in this survey and also not in the Oreskes as in the Doran & Zimmerman survey.

The consensus of the 2.45%

97percent agree

The previous post was about the consensus according to Naomi Oreskes. It was clear that the consensus statement was surprisingly uncontroversial, a statement even skeptics would certainly agree with. Another survey that is mentioned often is Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change from Peter Doran and Maggie Kendall Zimmerman in 2009.

Basically, an invitation to participate in a survey consisting of two questions on global temperatures and some questions about their field of expertise. The invitation was sent to 10,257 Earth scientists and they received 3,146 completed surveys. From these completed surveys Doran and Zimmerman separated 79 scientists that listed climate science as their area of expertise and who also published more than 50% of their peer reviewed papers on the subject of climate change. The answers of those 79 scientists on the two questions influenced the result: ≈97% agreed with those statements and therefor were part of the consensus.

Okaaaay, the result is based only on a sample of 79 scientists out of already a sample of 3,146?

Let’s first start with the questions:

  1. When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen or remained relatively constant?
    76 out of 79 scientists answered “Risen” on this question, meaning 96.2%, which seems little to me.
  2. Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?
    75 out of 77 scientists answered “Yes” to this question, meaning 97.4%. Which is also surprisingly little considering the broad and vague terms it was stated in.
    Only 77 of the sample of 79 because the second question was not asked to some surveyed. If they answered “remained” relatively constant” they didn’t get the second question. Which means two scientists selected that option in the first question and were not counted in the second, lifting the result by a couple percent in the process… This is the source of the 97%.

If I would have taken the survey I would have answered definitely “Risen” on the first question and a cautious “Yes” on the second one. Cautious because I believe human influence is only one of the many influences and a yes is closer than a no. It all depend on what one means with “significant”. It is a downright miracle that only 97% gave these answers on both questions! My take is that some (skeptic) scientists suspected a biased survey and answered differently on those questions.

Question 1. It depends on what one means with “pre-1800s” (just before 1800, middle of Little Ice Age, Medieval Warm Period,…). My take would be just before 1800. Since then temperatures went up. But even this doesn’t mean that much. Yes, temperatures starting to rise in the 1850s, no doubt about that, but this has probably more to do with the coming out the a cold period (called “The Little Ice Age” for a reason). The answers on this first question doesn’t say anything about the supposed (human) cause of the warming.

Question 2. That’s really vague. First it states “human activity” and not “anthropogenic CO2 emissions”. Maybe there are other influences that Doran & Zimmerman mean? Like urbanization, agriculture, deforestation,… So even if some scientist doesn’t believe in the magical powers of CO2 he/she could have answered “Yes” on that second question. Second, what is the meaning of “significant contributing factor”. That is highly subjective and the answer on this question will always be an opinion, not a fact. It is not possible to give a nice yes/no answer in a field that has no black/white answers.

Now why the narrow selecting of 77 and 79 scientists out of the 3.146 Earth scientists? Doran & Zimmerman explained it like this:

It seems that the debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely nonexistent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes

Okay, I can agree that the scientists who actively publish on climate science would know more than a thing or two about climate science. But that is not necessarily impressive in a chaotic system from which we don’t have much data yet. What about the other 97.5% that were tossed out? The results were lower in that group. With a very low score of the economic geologists (only 47% said “Yes” to the second question) and the meteorologists (only 64% said “Yes” to the second question).

Concluding: what exactly is that consensus in this publication about? The existence of an increase in global temperatures (which is rather uncontroversial) and a very vague “human activity” as a “significant contributing part” in global mean temperatures.

It seems to me this kind of consensus is basically meaningless.

But look closer to what wasn’t said: that this temperature increase is dangerous (therefor needing immediate action) or CO2 did it (so we must take steps to curb it). But that is what we are being suggested that it means.

Is Anthropogenic Global Warming by definition Catastrophic?

cagw

It have been said many, many times before. There supposedly is a scientific consensus that increasing anthropogenic CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are responsible for most of the warming we experienced. It has been said in many variants and is said to justify (immediate) action on climate change.

In the two last posts I wondered what exactly there is a consensus about? My take is that it might be something different than what is communicated.

A couple weeks ago I looked at the Crossing the 2014 Climate Divide: Scientists, Skeptics & the Media video. The first three posts of March were about the first part starring Suzanne Goldenberg (The Guardian). In it also Naomi Oreskes was present. She talked about her experiences with the skeptics and how she entered the climate debate. It was mostly about the extremists, you have them on both sides, not really interesting for me. But it was also about how she came to believe and documented the “consensus”. That was more interesting. Her work is widely cited by many alarmists as a confirmation of the existence of the scientific consensus on global warming.

This is how it was presented: BEYOND THE IVORY TOWER – The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change. What she did was downloading the abstracts of 928 peer reviewed articles which she found when entering the key words “global climate change” for the period of 1993 until 2003 in the ISI database (Institute for Scientific Information).

The question she had was how many papers disagreed with the position of the US National Academy of Science and the IPCC:

Human activities … are modifying the concentration of atmospheric constituents … that absorb or scatter radiant energy. … [M]ost of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations

The conclusion was none: 75% of the articles accepted the “consensus” and 25% were taking no position. This is a subjective thing. Some others have tried this and came to other conclusions. But I have no access to the ISI database, so I will not go there. I will try to look at the method and the definition to see how far I get.

The first statement is something everybody can agree with, at least I have not seen someone disagreeing with that. The Keeling curve learns that the CO2 concentration is rising, at least since 1958 when measurements began. Nothing controversial here. But at such it doesn’t proves much.

Greenhouse gases absorb or scatter radiant energy. Also nothing controversial here.

The last statement seems detailed at first glance, but is a bit more ambiguous:

  • Most of the warming: most is rather ambiguous. It is at least from somewhat above 50% until a bit less than 100%. Let alone how to quantify “most” in an abstract. Okay, let’s assume that this is possible and it is reliable enough to measure the abstracts.
  • Likely: according to the IPCC this means larger than 66%. Okay, there is at least 66% chance that “most” of the observed warming over the last 50 years is due to increase of greenhouse gas concentrations. That means there is 34% or less chance that “most” of the observed warming over the last 50 years is NOT due to the increase of greenhouse gas concentrations.

However, the obvious missing part is the fact that nowhere is stated that this increase is dangerous or leads to catastrophic changes in our climate, therefor needing immediate action. The only thing this statements tell us is that scientists are certain that there is an increased concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere (which is true), that this absorbs or scatters radiant energy (which is also true) and this could mean that part of this increase is caused by our emissions.

That is really uncontroversial. All the skeptics that I know of agree with that. They acknowledge that there is more CO2 in the atmosphere because of our emissions, that it is a greenhouse gas and it will give more warming, everything else being equal. There are some differences though. Like how sure are we about the warming considering the scarce climate data we accumulated from the past? How sure are we about the projections of the temperatures into the future? How sure are we about a warmer world worse than a cooler world? Etcetera. Nothing in this position point out that this warming is bad, but that is how it is marketed.

The measured consensus is about something uncontroversial and has absolutely nothing to do with the extent of the assumed danger associated with this warming, nor with the necessity of action to prevent this increase in warming.

The problem is the solution is the problem

certaintycycle

I stumbled upon this editorial a couple days ago. It is called Scientist communicators and it is an editorial of Nature.com. It is about miscommunication of the climate change meme in the past.

It starts with following observation, I couldn’t say it much better than this:

Man-made climate change has been in the news for many years. Previously the message presented to the public was clear: climate change is global warming and that means the temperatures are going to rise unless we do something. This claim seemed to be supported by measurements of continuous increases of atmospheric CO2 – at a rate not seen before in the historical record – and associated temperature increases. Additionally, projections from climate models seemed to confirm that this was the new normal.

[…]

The media reporting of a ‘hiatus’ came as a surprise to the public. Prior to this, the message had been of continuous warming – to be suddenly told that this was not true led to confusion. Questions started to arise as to whether the previous message had been incorrect – was global warming not happening? […]

I agree, the message was really simple and very clear and the problem started to arise when suddenly a different message was being told.

That is also the reason why I started to get confused about five years ago. When the observations didn’t match that what had been told with an almost absolute certainty. It gave rise to many questions and my quest for answers began. Although I was conditioned by the media to look for those answers in the same spot, I quickly found out that there were no real answers been given there, only a regurgitation of the dogma.

To my surprise I found the answers that I was looking for in the place I didn’t expect it to be: in the skeptic camp.

This was not an easy time. In all those years I learned from the media that those skeptics were deniers, had a hidden agenda, were in the minority and their arguments were certainly wrong. At that time I found it strange to notice that the skeptics were the ones searching, while the alarmists already made up their mind and just repeated the story line.

Now I ask myself how alarmists can overlook all the flaws and uncertainties? There are many. But for my own experience I know that it is a very difficult thing to change a believe. But it is possible, I have done it.

The explanation of the author of the computer models seem to be objective. I could live with his explanation, but when it comes to the results he doesn’t account for the chaotic nature of our environment and the intrinsic limits on the models. Therefor coming to a higher degree of certainty than warranted.

That being said, I think there is one fundamental flaw in his reasoning. His premises are:

  1. The climate models are only correct on the long term
  2. The standstill in temperatures is only temporary and the previous temperatures increase will resume later.

None of the two he can be sure about. These are both assumptions that could be true or false. We only know that for sure somewhere in the future. Almost a century from now for point 1. Decades or years for point 2.

The climate models could be right, but could be wrong also. There is no single way we can check this, unless we wait for a century. At that time most of us will already pushing daisies.

The standstill is temporary, I could agree with that. In a chaotic world with many cycles it is bound to change sooner or later. But we don’t know in what direction. It could very likely go up, but it also could go down. The Medieval Optimum came eventually to an end, as did the Little Ice Age. If our current climate is a recovery from the Little Ice Age, increasing temperatures would not be a surprise. My take is that it will go up again, but that doesn’t necessary means that it is catastrophic.

Another weak spots is the avoidance of the “WHY” question. Why were the scientists surprised to see the standstill after so many years? The public will definitely be curious about this and a solution could be found.

  • Did those climate communicators intentionally distorted the message? This could be for various understandable reasons like the catastrophic message being stronger than the truth, more grants for catastrophic messages, maybe even political advantages, “honor and fame” for saving the world or just going with the flow. In that case the message should be changed so it is more in line with reality or what we know.
  • Did those scientists not know, so assumed that it would stay gradually warming in the future, but were caught by surprise? In that case, they should go to the drawing board again and come back to the media when they know more.
  • Or a combination of the above.

My take is that the catastrophic messages from scientist in the media fall in the last category. I think scientists were genuinely surprised when some things turned out differently than what was assumed, but didn’t want to weaken the message. Even when I was a believer I assumed that the messages of the scientists in the media, although true, were exaggerated.

What is the solution of this mess according to the author?

Researchers should have reiterated that the science on long-term climate change is solid and widely agreed on – 97% of scientists working in the subject support the principle of anthropogenic climate change (W. R. L. Anderegg, J. W. Prall, J. Harold and S. H. Schneider, Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 107, 12107-12109; 2010). Then, the questions about why the timing of the hiatus had not been predicted should have been addressed.

Again the 97% story. Is that really true? Is the science really solid on the long term? My question is what exactly those scientists widely agreed on?

He explained that the scientist communicators should communicate the warming since the 1850s, greenhouse gases concentration went up, that oceans warmed, that amounts of snow and ice diminished and that sea levels has risen. Sure, but this is cherry picking what suits the case and ignoring that what doesn’t. In the long run this could raise questions by the public again (as they learn that the Arctic ice is almost 1.5 years within 2 standard deviations or that sea level rise is a very local thing). The confidence on science of the public could get beaten again when they realize these facts were hidden, just as the standstill in temperatures is now.

This is not the solution, this was what those scientist communicators brought into problems in the first place.

Consensus in, false balance out

alarmview

It is a mystery how someone can state with a straight face that there is a false balance on global warming reporting in the media.

False balanced being: the bias with which journalists present an issue as more balanced than the actual evidence supports. In Climatese this is explained like: 97% of the scientists believe that our CO2 emissions are the cause for global warming/climate change. Therefor it is not a good thing to spend equal representation on both, because this gives the impression that both are valid.

This was also the theme of Suzanne Goldenberg talk in “Crossing the 2014 Climate Divide: Scientists, Skeptics & the Media”. That’s how she explained it:

I think this is a problem when you come to the world of climate denial. Because these voices are very much at the fringe, right. And yet we are continuing to see these voices being inserted into coverage, as if they were part of the mainstream debate. And that really is not the case.

[…]

So I think, having the idea of false balance overstates the importance of what essentially are fringe groups that have thrust themselves in positions of prominence.

[…]

And yet this creates problems for journalists to a great degree. There is a false balance issue. I find, you know, if we take our traditional journalist way to cover things, that you have to take equal times on both voices. That creates a problem.

Mainly, a small, powerful, prominent group of people who make it difficult for journalists, because they have that incredible urge to give both sides equal time. Water comes into my eyes. Poor alarmists, they are so in the disadvantage in the media. 😉

Now back from the land of the unicorns to something called “reality”.

Some sort of balance on global warming reporting in the media? Huh? One needs to be seriously out of touch with reality to even consider believing that! If there is a balance, why don’t we hear more about the views of skeptic scientists, about the arctic ice for almost 1.5 year back in the 2 standard deviation, about the ever increasing antarctic ice, about the failed predictions, about the failed models, about the backpedaling on sensitivity and so on. Heck, there are people who aren’t even aware of something like the standstill in global temperatures. They think it is still ever warming. That is what the media is still telling us.

Back then when I was still a believer, I knew absolutely nothing about the views of skeptics scientists. Even when the skeptic vision was explained, it was done by the alarmists themselves, distorting it in a way they could claim that it is safe to ignore those skeptics with their wacky ideas. But when looking more deeper into the global warming issue, I came to realize that the skeptics were present on the Internet where they could talk freely. But you definitely had to search from them. The reporting of the alarmist views on the other hand is rolling unobstructed via the mainstream media. There are of course exceptions, but they are just that, exceptions. When following the mainstream media I still have the impression that there is not much improvement.

But why on earth declaring a balance that is not even there?!?!

It changes the public perception towards skeptics voices. It makes an emotional response to the public that consider the skeptic voices automatically as invalid without even looking at the issue.

Skeptical Science went into hyperbole mode and called it The epidemic of climate science false balance in the media:

Research has shown that people who are unaware of the expert consensus are less likely to accept the science and less likely to support taking action to address the problem, so media false balance can be linked directly to our inability to solve the climate problem.

For the public the consensus can be very important and without that consensus, there is no reason for excluding skeptic voices. No skeptic voices means only one united (alarmist) voice to the public.

That last part of the sentence is just a straw man. The “inability to solve the climate problem” has many other reasons than false balance. For example in our country where there are hardly any skeptic voices in the mainstream media and even an overwhelming majority of politicians who want to do “something”, there is hardly any action on climate change. There are many reasons why this is the case, but as far as I know, at least in our little country, false balance in the media is not one of them.

To me the big question beyond false balance is: What EXACTLY is there a consensus on? The answer could be very revealing.

The curious case of the deniers who don’t deny anything

When I hear alarmists using the name “denier” it is a red flag for me. I equate that to bullying. When hearing someone call other names, in my eyes that person loses credibility. At that moment there is no rational communication anymore.

Suzanne Goldenberg used the term “denier” often in her talk in Crossing the 2014 Climate Divide: Scientists, Skeptics & the Media”. Stopping debate in the process. This is how she brought the basic dilemma:

But there are other problems that even have to do with what you have to call these people. I had agonizing debates about them. Do we call these people climate change deniers? They deny the existence of climate change. But if you do that, these people come back and saying you accusing me of being a Holocaust denier. We weren’t talking about the Holocaust.

It’s true she didn’t exactly called them Holocaust denier. Many other did liken them with Holocaust deniers. Meaning someone who denies an objective and proven, gruesome fact, which can not exactly been said of global warming/climate change. It is an alarm rooted more in climate models than in the observations.

What do those deniers deny exactly? Apparently, according to her explanation they deny “the existence of climate change”. That was a coffee-on-keyboard moment! As far as I can see, if there is one group that acknowledge the fact that climate changes, then it is skeptics.

In the text there are also several mentions that the deniers deny “the science behind climate change”. Huh, is this really true?

Do skeptics deny humans putting CO2 in the atmosphere?
We put CO2 in the atmosphere, more than ever. I think nobody denies that. Alarmist as well as skeptics.

Do skeptics deny CO2 being a greenhouse gas?
CO2 is a greenhouse gas, no doubt about that.

Do skeptics deny the effect of CO2 as a greenhouse gas?
As a greenhouse gas it will warm the atmosphere. Everything else being equal, more of it should cause more warming. Not many will doubt that.
But of course, does everything stay equal in an ever changing, chaotic system?

Do skeptics deny the strength of the effect?
A lot skeptics and alarmist alike think it is around 1-1.2 °C per doubling from pre-industrial time.
That is of course without feedbacks and other interactions that will be there inevitably.

Do skeptics deny temperatures now higher than 50 years ago or higher than those of in 1850?
As far as the limited data provides the temperature now is higher than that of the 1850s.
But hat doesn’t say much about the cause of the rise. The fact that there was a temperature rise since the 1850s doesn’t mean the only explanation is we did it. The fact that temperatures rise, doesn’t mean it will be catastrophic.

And so on. As far as I know, skeptics don’t deny the science, but question the interpretation.

Skeptics don’t agree that this change is mostly caused by human CO2 emissions and/or that it is catastrophic in nature. That is something entirely different from denying that it exists. What Goldenberg is talking about is the existence of “Catastrophic Anthropogenic” climate change and that is indeed not necessarily something skeptics believe in.

The debate is over and all that

debateisover

Since some years I have grown a thicker skin when it comes to reading climate communications. That is certainly needed at this side of the debate. I thought I had seen it all. That was until I saw this video: Crossing the 2014 Climate Divide: Scientists, Skeptics & the Media, starring Suzanne Goldenberg (U.S. Environment Correspondent, The Guardian) and Dr. Naomi Oreskes, (Professor of History of Science, Harvard University). One mispresentations after the other and I only just listened to the first part were Goldenberg explains about her stance on skeptics.

Basically it went like this: the debate is over, science is settled. Now we have to go on and work out solutions in stead of devoting time to the skeptics that are already far behind the issue.

How on earth does she know all those things for sure? I have read some articles she wrote and, beside some quotes of experts, they didn’t really deal with the science. Yet she shows no shred of doubt when saying that the science is settled and action is needed. It looks like an unconditional trust in (climate) science, at least in the alarmist part of it. The interesting part of it is that her trust in the debate being settled is rooted into something else than science.

But we have been there many times before. It shows my age, but I lived in a time where stomach ulcers were still caused by stress, population on earth was too large already and we would have problem feeding ourselves before the end of the 20th century, in our generation we would freeze to death by an imminent ice age, we would develop skin cancers because of exposure by UV rays coming through the ozone hole, in Northern Europe there wouldn’t be much forests left at the end of the 1990s and Finnish lakes would be without fish, and so on and so on. Although in retrospect they were wrong, sometimes spectacularly wrong, yet science was considered trustworthy also back then. We seemed to have learned nothing from our history.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to say that science is useless of invalid. Knowledge is an continuous process, we learn more about earth, nature, ourself when we go along. But it is a bit ridiculous to declare absolute knowledge about complex research areas like the climate when we have only limited data.

Is that unconditional trust in the media warranted? Maybe, maybe not. From my personal experience I really doubt it. Just a few non-scientific things that show me it is probably not:

  • When looking at what gets into the mainstream media, it is sometimes much different than what the scientific paper says. Sometimes even the contrary!
  • Scientists in the media seem to talk more like politicians. Other motives than science could be involved here.
  • The climategate emails learned that high profile climate scientists expressed their doubts towards each other, but to the press they said they were absolutely sure about the science.
  • The unequivocal proof that Global Warming is caused by our CO2 emissions is not showed yet. And, given the complexity of the research area, that proof will not easy to give.
  • That elusive 95% certainty that is repeated often, is only the opinion of a subset of the climate scientists, it is not a calculated value.
  • Predictions of how global warming is affecting our lives is ever changing and the theory has to be adjusted every time something unexpected happens. This shows me that there are still large gaps in the science.
  • Reliable data of for example global temperature, ice area,… is only being gathered since a couple decades ago (sometimes even a decade ago like ocean temperature). That is just a tiny blip on climate scale. The data gathered before that time is sparse and is “convenience sampling” data. Not much trust can be given to results coming out of that.
  • The alarm isn’t caused by the empirical data, but by the climate models that suggest doom and gloom in the far future.
  • It is not surprising that scientists thought we might be responsible for the warming of the 1980s-1990s. If CO2, being a greenhouse gas, causes warming, more of it should surely cause more warming. But it is surprising to hear scientists say in the media that they are sure that additional anthropogenic CO2 will cause disasters, even though there is little empirical data that supports this.

None of this prove that the absolute truths of the climate scientists in the media are not trustworthy, but it shows me that other motives than scientific could be at stake here.

When hearing Goldenberg talk about the divide it is clear the “settled science” and “the consensus” is really important. Not for the science, it doesn’t advance via consensus. But for the public it is: that settled science makes it easier for those who want to silence their opponents and facilitate climate policies.