Monthly Archives: April 2014

Trust and Certainty are not enough to convince

In the previous post I ended with the statement that it was not very comfortable on the “wrong” side of the debate, but nevertheless that this was the side I wanted to be on. That sounds a bit strange for someone green of heart. I am not masochistic either. How could this be?

In my believers years I perceived climate communication as something that was certain. The scientists seem to have their stuff in order. They had a real simple, easy to understand concept. And they looked sure, very sure. The science was clear. There was a consensus, you know, 97% of the scientists agree. The models agree with each other and allegedly show skill. The deniers just an uninformed, biased lot with an agenda. Connected with Big Oil and with Big Tobacco. I got to hear there are many pieces of evidence: raising sea levels, melting pole caps, increasing temperatures, extreme weather,… To summarize: we are heading to a disaster. There wasn’t much doubt about that.

Who would argue with that?

Although I had the impression that scientists in the media exaggerated matters, I believed the theory was basically true. Why would I doubt? It all looked plausible. Most people around me think the same. The media regurgitate the same things over and over. I am no scientist, so how would I know?

But when looking into the issue, things didn’t add up. I didn’t really understand, until I realized that climate is a complex and chaotic system. In such a system such high confidence levels can never be warranted. Settled science in a complex and chaotic system is suspect. Models of such a system are doomed to fail in such environments.

In a simple logical system this would definitely fly, but climate is not that kind of system. Therefor the many comparisons with straightforward forms of science, with the allusion that climate science is as certain/settled/…

There is only a couple decades of accurate global data. Before that, only sparse data that was never intended to be used that way. How can the science being certain when climate is about the long term data, that is not there yet? How to distinguish between a recovery of a cold period and anthropogenic global warming?

The assumed certainty clearly serves another purpose. My guess: political. It is about credibility. Even although I find myself in a minority view and although there is a strong resentment, even hostility, against this view, I find it increasingly difficult to stand behind this kind of “evidence”, How certain one may bring it.


That was then, this is now

Looking back at the time when I was a believer, the biggest change was the way of thinking. Back in those days my thinking was rigid. Black and white. It certainly had to do with the claimed urgency and the noble cause. This made me rather intolerant towards those who had a different idea. Those were people who “denied” the situation, who were in the grip of Big Oil (or generally Big Industry). This is what I knew from my previous history of environmental concerns and projected this onto the current global warming theory.

My thoughts were that politicians, the Government, had to fix the issue and was prepared on cutting back, was prepared to sacrifice considerably economically and in comfort. That was certainly the result of the “noble cause”-thinking. If the issue is so important and so urgent as propagated, then sacrificing something was not a problem, even a sense of duty, something we have to do.

But it was not really thinking, it was believing. I believed what the scientists in the media were saying. I believed the science was clear and settled. I didn’t look at it, I believed scientists did this for me. There was an alleged consensus and I was perfectly happy with that. More, I thought it was a good base for urgent policies.

It is hard to admit, but at that time I admired Al Gore. Although I was thinking that his film (The Inconvenient Truth) would certainly exaggerating things, I was of the opinion that his efforts on climate were nevertheless highly admirable. I thought the end justified the means. To be honest, he is thinking that also. He believes that it is appropriate to over-represent his case in order to let the people listen to his preconceived solution. And exaggerating he does!

The switch occurred when I realized that the stories I was told didn’t add up. It surprised me how small the base was for those claims. How emotionally based the message was.

Consensus doesn’t necessarily mean something is true. If the argument relies on a consensus it means it was not possible to unequivocally demonstrate the truth. I was surprised to find out that this “consensus” was an opinion, not a scientific fact. That was what I believed: that climate scientists, who examined the issue methodically, found clear-cut evidence that proved the urgency. But that seemed not be the case. The evidence is based on statistics, assumptions, scarce data, but above all on the result on climate models. The more I looked at the showed “evidence”, the more I noticed that especially the outcome of the climate models was taken as reality.

It was very strange to realize my thinking made a u-turn and to my big surprise I found myself in the opposite camp. To be honest, it is not a very comfortable position on the other side of the debate, yet it is the side I want to be on.

How could the French ever survive in the South of France?

Until 2010 Belgian climatologists worried about our climate that would change into dry and arid in summer and warm and wet in winter. Additionally this rain in winter would become more extreme (meaning more precipitation per event). They worried that agriculture would become more difficult and tourism would get a blow. Who want to be in the winter resorts in the Hautes Fagnes when it is wet and there no snow anymore?

In the United Kingdom almost the same predictions were made: their wonderful rainy climate would turn into an dry climate like in the Provence. Their beautiful English gardens would turn into arid borders.

Belgium situated just across the Channel, we have a rather similar climate. So those similarities would make sense.

Although I previously believed that our country would become drier in summer and wetter in winter, I have never found this a disastrous prospect. This week I was in the South of France, near the Pyrenees. I visit this region since quite some time. The people of that region actually live in a climate in which summers are dry and arid and in winter it is cold an wet. Things are a bit more extreme here. I encountered my biggest storms here, in summer it can be grueling hot and in winter snow is not an exception. How on earth could the French ever manage to live down in the South?

But looking at tourism it seems that this is not really much of an issue. Tourists seem to keep coming and are an important income for the region. Agriculture is indeed more difficult than in our part of the globe (irrigation is important there), but crops are plentiful and of high quality. The season starts a bit earlier and some of our early fruits and vegetables coming from the South of France and Spain (which is even more arid during summer). Retirees are flocking to the South, not to the North. The South of France and Spain are record holders when it comes to people who retire abroad. Towns like Benidorm are called the retirement homes of Europe. Can we call those retirees climate fugitives? Why don’t they flock to say Oslo or Reykavik?

Should we, Belgians, worry about such a climate if this is what we would expect to get? Apparently it is not the baddest thing to have. It would definitely give quite some challenges, but also some opportunities. It would be possible to grow some other crops than we are used to. We could learn from the French (and the Spanish). We need to stay out of the sun at noon in summer, not because we are lazy, but because it would be insane to do. We need to collect more water in winter to use in summer. All quite simple and straight forward things. It would not be such a difficulty to adapt to something like this.

The point is that people live in a variety of climates, from the poles to the equator. From extreme cold places at the pole to scorching heat in the deserts. They all manage somehow to adapt to it, even in extremes. The worries of the climatologists and activists is that global warming is coming so fast it would be difficult to adapt to it. They seem to look at people/civilizations/nature as something extremely fragile that will be knocked out of balance rather easily. Sure, if climate changes and for example farmers keep growing the same crops, then that wouldn’t bode well.

Reality is a bit different tough. We adapt to new situations. Even without a drastically changed climate, there are trends in what they grow. Also in tourism things change. Tourism of a couple decades ago was quite different than tourism today. They changed without much problems to the changing needs of the people. Thanks goodness. Even in a climate with drier/arid summer and wetter/warmer winter they would find new opportunities. We can take more than what climatologists and activists assume we are capable of.

That was that, but this is now. I said they worried about this until 2010. We had a cold winter back then and climatologists began to claim that this was because of global warming. We would get more of this in the future…

When last year the United Kingdom got storms and floods, guess what: it was also because of global warming and that would just be an appetizer. They would get this more in the future too.

I am sure if we get more hail or more thunder storms (or just pick any other disastrous weather that happens to be there), climatologists would rise and say “this is no doubt something we would see more in our future because of global warming”. They accumulated quite some doom thinking stuff over the last decade and probably will continue to do so in the future.

Of “deniers” and how not to convince them

The first thing that attracted my attention in the McGill article in which the Lovejoy paper was presented, was the puzzled polar bear on a small ice floe in a vast ocean. I have seen that photo many times before, but not in this setting.

I find it strange to see it here. First because it is an well known photoshopped image, used extensively by many global warming activists. Second, it has no bearing with anything in the article or in the paper (no mention of polar bears, nor of the Arctic, nor of the pole, nor even of melting ice). It is however a strong emotional image, which raises the question: who is the targeted audience here?

But yet it is there for whatever reason. A possible hint to the reason is following statement:

“This study will be a blow to any remaining climate-change deniers,” Lovejoy says.

He really said “deniers”. As a researcher he shows his bias here.

The part “any remaining” is a bit funny here (I guess he is hinting to the 97% consensus). Also the presumption that this paper would be a blow to skeptics (that is how he called them in the paper itself). As if this paper is going to persuade skeptics. Skeptics that always criticized the use of proxy data as well as historical weather data for “accurate” climate purposes. Now, just as in the Hockey Stick, he combines them both. That would consider as a blow that would knock die-hard skeptics out of their socks? That’s wishful thinking.

According to Lovejoy this is why it would be a blow to those “deniers”:

“Their two most convincing arguments – that the warming is natural in origin, and that the computer models are wrong” are either directly contradicted by this analysis, or simply do not apply to it.”

For the first argument that “the warming is natural in origin”, there are many questions arise from his research. How accurate was the global average temperature before the late 1970s when the data gathered was to measure local weather, not climate? With all issues attached like sample size, UHI, only min/max/median, little coverage on oceans,… How does he explain the fact that weather stations recorded their highest temperatures in the 1940s (when CO2 was still a fraction of what it is now? How does he know that there are no longer cycles that influence temperature like 400 years, 5000 years,… How unusual is 0.9 °C over more than a century? And the pause is telling us that something else than CO2 is working here. Something as strong as CO2. Although the CO2 concentration is the highest everrrr, there is no further global average temperature increase for a decade and a half.

In the end, do skeptics argue that the warming is natural in origin? I have the impression they argue that we are not in the possibility yet to know whether the warming is from natuaral or anthropogenic factors. Let alone how much of it is anthropogenic. We have to rely on the “opinion” of scientists who claim that they are more certain now, yet can’t provide hard evidence.

For the second argument, yep, the simple statistical model he uses is confirming the results of the climate models. But that doesn’t necessarily means they are both right. Especially when they are based on the same assumptions. More, the fact that a hypothesis is being confirmed in a (statistical) model, doesn’t necessarily mean that the same mechanism is also working in the real world.

It makes me wonder two things. Just as before with the “consensus”, I wonder what he is thinking “deniers” are denying exactly? He could be in for a surprise. Also, the use of the polarizing language and the emotional imaging being used, make me wonder how balanced this investigation actually was and what it was intended for exactly?

Comparing temperature measurements and proxy data … as in apples and oranges


The paper Scaling fluctuation analysis and statistical hypothesis testing of anthropogenic warming of Shaun Lovejoy was brought as a statistical analysis that rules out natural-warming hypothesis with more than 99% certainty. That seems impressive at first, but after reading it is more hyperbole than substance. It seems riddled with quite some logical fallacies. Previous posts were about cherry picking the time frame and about assuming the conclusion.

This post will be about two datasets that seem comparable, but are not.

Lovejoy looked at two periods: before and after 1850. Before that time he concludes that natural variation is at work, after that the influence of man. But the big question: are those two comparable? I would have no problem with acknowledging that the influence of man in the 16th century would be much less than the influence now, but it would be as easy to understand that the quality of the data will not be in the same league.

This is how he explained the proxy data:

To assess the natural variability before much human interference, the new study uses “multi-proxy climate reconstructions” developed by scientists in recent years to estimate historical temperatures, as well as fluctuation-analysis techniques from nonlinear geophysics. The climate reconstructions take into account a variety of gauges found in nature, such as tree rings, ice cores, and lake sediments. And the fluctuation-analysis techniques make it possible to understand the temperature variations over wide ranges of time scales.

He seem to assume that proxy data is temperature data! As far as I know it is not. Tree ring measurements for example are the result of a mix of temperature, precipitation, diseases, nutrients, competition, pests, weather events and who know what more. Sure, temperature is a part of the equation, but there are many others. Comparing this with thermometer measurements is comparing apples with oranges. It is the same as grafting the instrumental dataset onto proxy data. It looks nice and impressive, but it is meaningless.

How could this be even close to accurate or conclusive? First, as said above, both data sets can’t be compared because they are different. The instrumental data set is direct temperature data (yet homogenized, adjusted in order to extract climate data information out of weather data). The proxy data is temperature data mixed with other data, it is not pure temperature data. That is comparing two heavily processed datasets, each with their own uncertainties. Secondly, the proxy data is even more sparse than the weather data.

Whatever conclusion is made from this comparison, it shouldn’t be very convincing.

Assuming only humans are responsible for the warming in the 20th century, no natural warming can be found

Reading the Lovejoy paper further, one part of the methodology struck me:

For the industrial era, Lovejoy’s analysis uses carbon-dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels as a proxy for all man-made climate influences – a simplification justified by the tight relationship between global economic activity and the emission of greenhouse gases and particulate pollution, he says. “This allows the new approach to implicitly include the cooling effects of particulate pollution that are still poorly quantified in computer models,” he adds.



Let me repeat that:

For the industrial era, Lovejoy’s analysis uses carbon-dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels as a proxy for all man-made climate influences

So not only does he uses a cold period as the base period to compare with, he also equals CO2 radiative forcing for anthropogenic effects and therefor, surprise, surprise, miraculously finds that man is changing the climate (because there is more CO2 in the atmosphere).

If this is what he really did, then it is no wonder that his conclusion is that humans change the climate. In my humble opinion he is wrong. His confidence levels shouldn’t be 99%, not even 99,9%. It should have been 100%. That would be the correct answer from his assumptions. He could have spared himself from doing all those calculations, he didn’t need all that mumbo yumbo to come to that conclusion. It is not really a conclusion, but just a rehash of the assumption he started with.

Cherry picking, with a confidence level greater than 99%

We get to hear that there is a consensus. That 97% of the (climate) scientists believe humans cause global warming or something of the like. But this article Is global warming just a giant natural fluctuation? took it a step further. The claim is that the natural-warming hypothesis may be ruled out with confidence levels greater than 99% and, why stop there, most likely greater than 99.9%.

The article is about the recently published paper Scaling fluctuation analysis and statistical hypothesis testing of anthropogenic warming of Shaun Lovejoy (McGill University) in Climate Dynamics.

An analysis of temperature data since 1500 all but rules out the possibility that global warming in the industrial era is just a natural fluctuation in the earth’s climate, according to a new study by McGill University physics professor Shaun Lovejoy.

Interesting. He didn’t want to rely on climate models and took a statistical approach with historical data:

The study, published online April 6 in the journal Climate Dynamics, represents a new approach to the question of whether global warming in the industrial era has been caused largely by man-made emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Rather than using complex computer models to estimate the effects of greenhouse-gas emissions, Lovejoy examines historical data to assess the competing hypothesis: that warming over the past century is due to natural long-term variations in temperature.

This is the part where the rabbit came out of the hat:

“We’ve had a fluctuation in average temperature that’s just huge since 1880 – on the order of about 0.9 degrees Celsius,” Lovejoy says. “This study shows that the odds of that being caused by natural fluctuations are less than one in a hundred and are likely to be less than one in a thousand.

Let’s summarize what we have until now: going back until 1500 (with proxy data), he finds a huge fluctuation of the average temperature since 1880 (with temperature data from the instrumental record). Man is industrializing since that time, so man is responsible for this increase in temperature.

For those who didn’t noticed it yet, I repeat:

Going back until 1500, he finds a huge fluctuation of the average temperature since 1880.

He couldn’t cherry pick his start dates more than that! A period called “The Medieval Warm Period” came to an end at the beginning of the 1400s and a cold period called “The Little Ice Age” started. This cold period ended around 1850.

Notice anything?

The period that represents the natural influences stretches over a cold period and the recovery from this cold period is used as the period that represents human influences. No wonder they find human influence on climate with a confidence level of 99.9%.

The uncertainty monster is out again

When I was reading the abstract of this new paper “Scientists unmask the climate uncertainty monster“, I was very glad I was sitting down. Even reading the summery was enough to let my head spin. If you sit down, here it is:

Increasing uncertainty in the climate system compels a greater urgency for climate change mitigation, according to new research. Scientists have shown that as uncertainty in the temperature increase expected with a doubling of carbon dioxide from pre-industrial levels rises, so do the economic damages of increased climate change. Greater uncertainty also increases the likelihood of exceeding ‘safe’ temperature limits and the probability of failing to reach mitigation targets. The authors highlight this with the case of future sea level, as larger uncertainty in sea level rise requires greater precautionary action to manage flood risk.

At word is Prof. Lewendowsky, a psychology professor of the University of Bristol, explaining why even more urgent action is needed.

My first reaction: wasn’t there that unequivocal evidence? Wasn’t there an ever increasing confidence in the science? Apparently according to Lewendowsky there wasn’t an advancing in science and we get to hear that there is … increasing … uncertainty!?!?! Oreskes, Doran, Anderegg, Cook and the IPCC made great effort in stating that there was a consensus because of this science that got clearer and clearer. And now there is Lewendowsky who states that there is even less certainty (but no worry, the conclusion is the same anyhow).

At first glance those statements didn’t make much sense. As far as I know, in reality the likelihood of exceeding safe temperature limits is not affected with how certain we are about it. Neither are the economic damages. It is not because we know something with much less certainty that something will be worse. Uncertainty are the unknown unknowns. The situation is what it is. Sure, it could well be that something will turn out to be much worse than we thought. But as far as we know it could turn out much better than thought. Or it could even turn out no problem at all. We just don’t know.

Such statements are not something new. Lewendowsky made them already in the past. For example in The Inescapable Implication of Uncertainty and Uncertainty is not your Friend. Those pages make somewhat more clear.

temperature rise probability distribution for a doubling of carbondioxide - Roe and Baker 2007 in science

Temperature rise probability distribution for a doubling of carbondioxide – Roe and Baker 2007 in Science

The issue is the long tail of the graph. The tail is long because it can’t be excluded that there are serious feedbacks in the climate system. The end of the tail goes to a difference of 6 degrees and more. Although it is only a small certainty, the possibility exists and this long tail could be catastrophic. I had seen this kind of reasoning before: it is a climate version of Pascals Wager. This makes it clear: as seen in the Pascal’s wager, when wanting to avoid this potential catastrophe, there is an increased sense of urgency.

Now back to reality. What was the evolution of this sensitivity over time? The graph that was discussed by Lewendowsky in 2012 was Roe and Baker (2007). But in the meanwhile the range changed: it increased, but it was towards the LOWER side.

Temperature rise probability distribution for a doubling of carbondioxide - Chris Hope (University of Cambridge)

Temperature rise probability distribution for a doubling of carbondioxide – Chris Hope (University of Cambridge)

Also, the standstill in temperatures tells us that carbon dioxide has less influence than was thought and/or there were other influences that were as strong as carbon dioxide. This points also to a lower sensitivity.

The problem with this is that the uncertainty is cutting both ways: sure, we could take into account the entirety of the probability distribution and prepare with more urgency for that 5% that is starting to get less likely. But there is also uncertainty about the solution. As seen in the Pascal’s wager, the assumption is that our action today will work and will have the desired outcome. Together with the possible catastrophic outcome acting would be a no-brainer. We assume that stabilizing or cutting CO2 emission will bring everything back to “how it was”. But in reality, will it work at all? The results of mitigation could as well be much worse than imagined. That is also part of the uncertainty.

100% renewable: the impossible done in 16 years, miracles will take a bit longer

Here the possible is already done, the impossible is in progress, for miracles expect a 48 hours delay

Here the possible is already done, the impossible is in progress, for miracles expect a 48 hours delay

Between Belgium and The Netherlands there is an historic rivalry. One want to be better than the other. Apparently it is no different in their 100%-renewables goal.

Here the attempt of the Belgians: last year the Federal Planning Bureau of Belgium published a study on the influence of the complete conversion to renewables on job creation. In it they foresee the conversion towards 100% renewable power in 2050. It would create 21,000 to 65,000 full time jobs in 2030 and it would cost us only 20% more.

The Dutch couldn’t stay behind: a couple weeks ago, Urgenda came with a plan to transform The Netherlands towards 100% renewable energy. This transformation would not take until 2050, but, wait for it, will already be done in 2030! More, it would be cheaper than continue with fossil fuels, would give a reliable and affordable energy system, creates 150,000 jobs in the process, gives energy security and is a motor of innovation. According to the report, there aren’t technical limitations: if the Dutch want it, they can do it.


But now back to reality…

There are some similarities between both plans. They both rely heavily on a radical change in our society. According to the plan they need to change their way of living, transport, eating, manufacturing and producing energy. The predominant choice of renewables are only wind and solar power, with initially some biomass as backup.

What? How on earth can a reliable and affordable energy system be build on intermittent energy sources? Those sources are dependent on the presence of wind and sun, not on consumption patterns. This means the need of a more controllable backup power that kicks in when there is not enough wind and sun. They seem to do that initially with biomass, but they assume that with the future smart grid and with future innovations in storing electricity there will be no need for backup plants anymore…

In the report they claim that it can be done in 20 year. Huh? It is only 16 year until 2030. When looking deeper this is because they start with calculations from 2011 on. That is in fact 19 years, but okay, close enough. So if Urgenda says that The Netherlands need starting to act “immediately” to make this happen, this means they should to be already several years into it. If the data of 2014 is the same as it was in 2011, then they have three (four) years less to reach their goal. If the data of 2014 is worse than the data of 2014, they are even more years behind schedule. Only when the data of 2014 is better than that of 2011, they could be on schedule. Otherwise they will have to catch in.

The numerous jobs are impressive, but I heard that green-job-fairytale before. They claim 150,000 jobs that “weren’t there”. Would that be 150,000 jobs “extra” in the Netherlands? How many other jobs would be lost by the plan? How many other jobs of those for one renewable job?

The “Groene Rekenkamer” (the Green Audit Office) found many other problems that would make it impossible for Urgenda to reach their goal: the plan requires making 1,000 houses energy neutral per work day, more electric cars need to be sold than are produced in the entire world,…

An additional catch: they claim that they can not wait for the Government to act. Sure, they are already suing the Dutch Government because the Government is acting too slow. So for it to happen they only need the immediate action of all citizens, companies as well as the Dutch Government.

Reality is apparently not their strongest side.

Pushing that one-sided consensus

It was as expected. The presentation of the IPCC WG2 climate report was a doom-and-gloom story, uncritically regurgitated by the mainstream media. They really loved it and we again got our share of images of smoke stacks, exhaust pipes, dry land, melting ice, floods, bewildered polar bears and the like.

I was glad to hear some critical comments in a discussion on the way this report was communicated in the media. But even those were based on the assumption that “we know it all and we just need a better way to promote the scare”…

Some impressions.

No journalist who asked what is really known. And if this knowledge warrants the proposed actions.

That is where the “consensus” comes handy. If one agrees on a consensus position, then nobody has to discuss about what scientists exactly agree on. Or if this theory out the many is really the only one that matters.

No journalist who asked what the real proof is. What is that extraordinary proof which we rely on as justification of “action”?

They seems to be mesmerized by the 2,000 pages of the report, without looking at the big picture.

No journalist who asked how these smart brains could model an intrinsic chaotic system and exactly how they know what will be happen to us, even almost a century ahead.

They just trust the scientists, even if none of their doom stories came true yet. But maybe, just maybe, they got it right this time.

No journalist who said “sorry guys, but weather is not climate”.

They just believe that the scientists who state that weather events are proof that global warming is real and happening. Telling us that in fact no event is proof of global warming, but, well, yes, it is. We hear that cold, warmth, drought, floods, melting ice, increasing ice, more storms, less storms,… are proof of global warming. Why don’t they even question the contradiction? Even stay far away from it.

No journalist who asked how it is possible that there is ONLY negative sides on the issue. Why keep on hammering on things that could, may, might, possibly go wrong?

Relying on fear to push a message.

Only one side is doing the talking, ignoring/excluding/ridiculing the other side. In the name of the “consensus”. That is why the consensus is so important. If there is a professed “consensus” between scientists and skeptics are denigrated, why would a journalist even have the intention wanting to acknowledge the other side?