Monthly Archives: May 2014

You just got to have faith

knmi' 14 climate scenarios

After reading some newspaper articles I got interested in Climate scenarios ’14 for The Netherlands, the new report of KNMI with four mathematical model scenarios for the future climate in the Netherlands. Subtitle is “Guide for professionals in climate adaptation”.

The optimistic look that I got from the media was making place for a more negative one. It is just an accumulation of all things negative. According to the scenarios hardly anything positive will come out of warming or just with a but as a counterweight.

The pause (KNMI calls it euphemistic the “slowed temperature increase”) was touched only briefly. They state that the failure of the models to predict the current standstill doesn’t mean the models are not fit to calculate the future climate. True, but it doesn’t mean it will fit future climate either. This just means the models, right or wrong, can’t be validated by reality until 30 years from now. So how do we know that this long term direction is correct after all if we can’t even check it? How do we know the assumptions it builds on are correct if the models diverge from reality since 20 years already?

If I read it correctly, the KNMI modelers assume this pause is just natural variation that mask our influence. That could well be, but the fact that there is a pause in surface temperatures while having U N P R E C E D E N T E D (and ever increasing) amounts of carbondioxide in the atmosphere, means that there is something not right with this global warming theory. If anthropogenic carbondioxide really is the main cause of the increase of global average temperature and we have unprecedented amounts of it in the atmosphere, then having a pause of a decade and a half doesn’t make much sense. To me it means that there are one or more elements in the system that have an influence at least as strong as the awesome power of carbondioxide and these elements are not really known, so not accounted for in the climate models.

Yet, we blindly base policies on these models. Models that can’t be validated in the near future. Models of a complex and an intrinsic chaotic system. Models that diverge from reality for already more than 20 years now. What are we thinking?

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Going to Bordeaux just by staying at home

In today’s newspaper (Het Nieuwsblad) I found a small article on the last page about extreme weather and global warming. At first it made me roll my eyes…yet another climate report…sigh. But when reading the article I was very surprised it even reported on possible advantages of global warming (assuming those predicted changes are actually true of course).

The origin seemed to be the The KNMI’14-climate scenarios and Climate Scenarios, four scenarios based on recent results of climate research and the newest report of the IPCC.

I found other newspapers that reported on it, for example More extreme weather: winter in the Netherlands will be like winter in Bordeaux (in Dutch). That title caught my attention, it let me think about a post I wrote a month ago after a week in the South of France: How could the French ever survive in the South of France?. In which I explained that I wasn’t really impressed by the “worrying” thought of us, Belgians, having the climate of the South of France.

The same weather as in Bordeaux, that is something that wouldn’t impress much people in this region. If I compare this with the global warming reporting until now, this is rather soft. Am I getting weak or is something changing in global-warming reporting?

The climate theme in the Mother of all Elections

stembiljet

Tomorrow it is an election day in Belgium. It is called the “Mother of All Elections”. Not really my words, but they are heard all over in the media. There are two reason for this. First, the election is not only for the European level, but also for the regional level (in my case the Flemish Parliament) and the National level (the Chamber of Representatives). This means that the chances are that people choose for the same party over all these levels. Therefor a party that wins/lose the elections will likely do so for the three levels. Second, the next election will be in 2019. The party that wins/loses the elections will do so for the next five years. These two things combined means that these elections are extremely important for the politicians.

It showed. In general the battle over the favor of the people was pretty fierce, not only between opponents, but also between allies. There were lots of strong statements, name calling and misrepresentations of the other parties. Hopefully no bridges were blown, they still have to cooperate with each other after the elections.

An interesting development was the campaign of the Flemish green party. In the second half of last year I noticed that there were no green themes in their program. In stead they focused, like all other parties, on social themes like the pensions, economy, unemployment, education, health care and so on. In their media campaign the closest they get to the environment is that they “want affordable energy” (without saying that the focus on “renewable” energy made energy expensive in the first place). When looking a bit deeper on their website there were some mentions of climate. I found for example the term “climate pollution”, whatever that may be (probably yet another poetic name for CO2 emissions). Two mentions of “climate change”, but just in passing, not even as a theme. Not even a mention of global warming.

Strange, before it was brought as the most important theme that challenges our society. Some people complained that global warming/climate change was not a subject in the elections. But on the other hand it is not a surprise knowing that the current interest of the Flemish people is not in climate change. In The Photo of Flanders (a poll from the beginning of the year on the priorities of the people of Flanders) climate change was near the bottom of the list. No wonder that the politicians were not eager to make it as a part of their campaign. Focusing on a topic in which the Flemish people are not interested would be political suicide. That would explain why Green party didn’t use climate as an important theme, but instead focused on the themes that were of interest of the Flemish people, well, our pensions, economy, unemployment and so on.

The only party that made climate and 100% renewable energy a theme (very sparely) are the socialists. They were in election fever and although their program leans very close to the green party’s program, they seem to see them as competitors, not allies. So I was surprised to hear them state a couple weeks back in the media that a vote for the green party is a vote against the socialist party. A bit later it baffled me those two were used as two opponents in an election program. I don’t think there are two parties that are closer together. Probably they wanted to snatch some green votes. The hostility didn’t last very long. After seeing only good figures for the green party the socialists started courting the green party again to form a front against the evil right party. They will be fine after all.

In general the important theme was the economy. All the mayor parties did a calculation on how they would tackle the economic crisis. We got a lot of scenario’s, but no chance to check them properly before the elections. The check will be finished only long AFTER the elections and a new government is in place…hopefully the winning party made a correct calculation…

Now it is waiting until tomorrow. But in a fierce campaign where all parties called each others names and make strong statements, hopefully they didn’t regret some things they said. Whatever the result of this election will be, it will be interesting to watch the coalitions being formed, to say the least.

UPDATE

In the meanwhile the results of the election are in and are interesting. The expectation that people voted for roughly the same parties on these three levels came true. There was a mayor victory for N-VA (center right), that at the flip of a switch became the biggest party in Flanders, even in the country. Some speak about the “yellow wave”. The mayor victim was Vlaams Belang (extreme right) that lost about 2/3 of their seats. The traditional parties christian/socialist/liberal (that were until now in power) had only minor losses. The only other party that didn’t loose were the flemish greens. They did well and got some extra seats, but not enough to make them interesting for the other parties to make a coalition with.

The victory of N-VA was big, very big, but probably ultimately not big enough. The traditional parties are still strong and when they would make a coalition together, they still would have a majority, placing N-VA in the opposition. That makes the formation of a new government rather complicated. Adding to that, the south of the country (Wallonia) voted completely different. The socialist party stayed the largest there. Another difficulty is that only few parties want to make a coalition with N-VA, especially not the socialist party. The game is played tactically now. N-VA has the initiative now, but traditional parties still could rely on their own coalition that would make N-VA redundant and would put the victor into the opposition. Putting them into a rather strong position although they lost. Interesting times ahead.

But chances are that although one party won the elections big time, the change that many were hoping for will not materialize at all…

The consensus explained: “we just stopped arguing”

we stopped arguing

Writing a blog can be satisfying. But the downside is that there is less time to follow other blogs. I spent much less time on them since the creation of this blog. But sometimes I find something that I would never find before. One example is Eight Pseudoscientific Climate Claims Debunked by Real Scientists by Joshua Holland. Never heard of the Bill Moyers site, not likely to go back.

The author uses statements of scientists to give it more power. Those “real” scientists seem to be Kevin Trenberth, Ben Santer, Andrew Dessler, John Abraham and Katharine Hayhoe. Not really the most balanced ones in the debate, to say the least.

The pseudoscientific climate claim that interested me most was the claim “4. Yes, There Is a Scientific Consensus”. That was what I was looking for in the first place.

It starts rather predictable:

The most important thing to understand about the scientific consensus that human activities are causing the earth to warm is that it isn’t a result of peer pressure or someone policing scientists’ opinions. It results from the scientific method.

Having read a big part of the climategate emails and with the latest revelations of Lennart Bengtsson this is something I would take with some grains of salt. I also guess that I have a different definition of what is “the scientific method” than the author…

Then John Abrahams is quoted:

“Scientists are very interested in theories that other factors may be causing climate change,” says John Abraham. “The contrarians put forward ideas and the consensus scientists investigate them honestly and find that they don’t withstand scientific scrutiny. This happens all the time. That’s how science works. In fact, showing that these guys are wrong makes the science better.”

Now I get all soft and fussy. In the world of the unicorns those nice scientists reach out and take the ideas of the contrarians to investigate them in order to find the Truth. I can have it wrong, but in the real world I see a lot of name calling and ridiculing the skeptic arguments. Calling skeptics “deniers” or “contrarians” will probably not help. 😉

A scientific consensus emerges when the weight of evidence for a proposition becomes so great that serious researchers stop arguing about it among themselves. They then move on to study and debate other questions. There’s quite a bit of scientific debate about lots of different aspects of climate change, but the question of whether humans are causing the planet to warm isn’t one of them.

Now I start to recognize the controverse again … the science is clear … the evidence is unequivocal… I would have no real problem with that in an exact science, but in a field with sparse data, large uncertainties, that depend on many disciplines and that is politicized, I would find it rather unbelievable that researchers stop arguing about it. That humans are causing some warming is not really uncontroversial. The big question of course is “how much” and is it significant.

But then the ultimate argument:

There have been three studies, using different methodologies, that have shown that almost all working climate scientists – 97 percent – accept the consensus view.

The link goes, of all sites, to Skeptical Science. Nice of course that the three studies with different methodologies come to the same conclusion, but this doesn’t really prove anything. It is an opinion, a survey, not real evidence in the scientific sense of the word.

In the scientific field of climate studies – which is informed by many different disciplines – the consensus is demonstrated by the number of scientists who have stopped arguing about what is causing climate change – and that’s nearly all of them. A survey of 928 peer-reviewed abstracts on the subject ‘global climate change’ published between 1993 and 2003 shows that not a single paper rejected the consensus position that global warming is man caused (Oreskes 2004).

The statement: “stopped arguing about what is causing climate change” is an interesting one. Really? In the complex and chaotic system that is climate, there are a gazillion possible causes, some maybe not even known, other with no or hardly any data, other put forward as THE main cause (probably for political reason, not scientific ones). But yet, no doubt anymore about the cause of climate change?!?!

The three studies were those from Oreskes (2004), Doran (2009) and Cook (2013). They all agreed that humans had some influence on temperatures. But not much more than that. None of them was really specific in what they were looking for. Such a consensus is rather meaningless. No wonder they found so many to agree. None of the three asked anything about the catastrophic nature or the need to act, as it is often marketed.

Science doesn’t advance via consensus (consensus is not a valid scientific argument). The fact alone that one needs the opinion of scientists, even if it are climate scientists, means that the underlying evidence is not solid. If it were, we would rely on the evidence. A survey of scientists is not proof of anything. Nor pro, nor contra. That is an opinion of scientists. When you think about it, there is a reason why we have to rely on the opinion of scientists and that is science doesn’t provide the hard evidence.

If I have the choice to call something pseudoscientific, I would choose this specific claim. It is a extremely nice example of the headcount fallacy and appeal to authority.

Consensus is about level of agreement, not about the amount of evidence. People agree about many things with each other. Not necessarily for good reasons.

Peer pressure on Bengtsson: scientific or political?

peer pressure ahead

It was only two weeks ago when Lennart Bengtsson joined the Academic Advisory Council of the GWPF (Global Warming Policy Foundation), known for challenging the global warming consensus. Bengtsson is a Swedish meteorologist with a career in Meteorology and Environmental sciences. At the age of 79 he is now a Senior Research Fellow at the Environmental Systems Science Centre in the University of Reading. His resignation after just two weeks from the GWPF Advisory Board came as lightning at clear heaven. This is how his resignation letter goes:

I have been put under such an enormous group pressure in recent days from all over the world that has become virtually unbearable to me. If this is going to continue I will be unable to conduct my normal work and will even start to worry about my health and safety. I see therefore no other way out therefore than resigning from GWPF. I had not expecting such an enormous world-wide pressure put at me from a community that I have been close to all my active life. Colleagues are withdrawing their support, other colleagues are withdrawing from joint authorship etc.

I see no limit and end to what will happen. It is a situation that reminds me about the time of McCarthy. I would never have expecting anything similar in such an original peaceful community as meteorology. Apparently it has been transformed in recent years.

Under these situation I will be unable to contribute positively to the work of GWPF and consequently therefore I believe it is the best for me to reverse my decision to join its Board at the earliest possible time.

It shows the peer pressure he encountered. Some who commented on other blogs mocked the discribed peer pressure, by saying that Bengtsson joined a advisory board of a political foundation, that his peers weren’t amused and just communicated this unhappyness with him. What is the big deal? I agree that everybody has the right of his own opinion, so these peers should have the right to indicate that they are concerned. But such pressure is not a small feat easy to dismiss. Especially in a polarized field as Climate Science. Colleagues withdrawing from joint authorship is something not to take lightly for a publishing scientist (which he apparently still is). Would this be a young scientist, this probably would be “fin de carrière”.

More: the pressure that Bengtsson experienced was not because of scientific issues, but because he joined the GWPF Advisory board. There was a massive, swift reaction, not because of a scientific disagreement, but the objections were entirely of a political nature. That should come as no surprise in a politicized field.

This peer pressure was of a politicial nature and only in one direction: when scientists choose to cooperate with political organizations that agree with the consensus, no such fuss is made. But when cooperating with a board of an organization that challenges the consensus, suddenly the peer pressure kicks in.

With this resignation letter we see another glimpse of peer pressure, not the scientific one, but a political one. And only in ONE direction.

Global Warming as distracter

A week ago I heard the news that the Kiribati man who was seeking asylum in New Zealand because “rising seas and environmental risks caused by global warming” had lost his appeal. To recall: he came to New Zealand in 2007 and was ordered to leave the country. He then claimed he couldn’t safely return to his country because of global warming and the sea level rise. Asylum was refused on the grounds his claim fell short of the legal criteria, such as fear of persecution or threats to his life. He then appealed the decision. Now he fears deportation because he lost the appeal.

The verdict was of course not based on science or facts, but on juridical analysis. Juridically he didn’t fulfill the current definition of a refugee although his lawyer took great effort in trying to change the definition of “persecution”. They now consider taking the case to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

One question kept buggering me: how could such a case ever been started? If we look at the sea level rise in the Kiribati area, it is remarkably stable. A study found that some islands there even increased in size. Yet, now someone is pleading that his country is not able to care for its inhabitants anymore and will be engulfed by an assumed rise somewhere in the future. Without seeing an actual rise. Looking at the data and considering that these are not islands but atolls, should at least put some question marks with these claims.

It made me think about another situation. Last year at the Warsaw summit, the developing countries walked away from the negotiations because their expectations of being compensated for the historic emissions of the developed world were not fulfilled. Scientists, politicians and the media told for many decades that CO2 is the culprit of extreme weather and therefor there is a need to limit its emissions. The developing countries took that for granted and claimed compensation because of this wrongdoing of the developed countries.

None of these are based on an actual threat, but on assumptions, on mathematical models, but also on politics. The overstatements have their origin in keeping fear alive. The fear that many bad things could happen, so to influence other people/politicians in supporting their solution. Fear is of course a powerful political instrument, but playing with fear can have unintentional consequences.

After stating CO2 responsible for all things bad and even boldly stating that our past emissions amplifying and/or even causing storms such as Haiyan, it would come as no surprise that developing countries make an emotional appeal for compensation of this injustice. Even if there is no link found between our emissions and storms. Yet politicians keep on feeding this idea in an desperate move to influence decision making. What would happen in the next summit in Paris 2015 is rather predictable.

After stating CO2 responsible for (global) sea level rise, it would come as no big surprise that inhabitants of atolls declare there is no future for them and they need the money or a residence in the developed world. Even if sea level is stable in their area. It has nothing to do with the science or the facts. We made it very easy for them for them to come to such a conclusion.

Don’t take me wrong. Cebu and Kiribati have real issues that have to be met. Haiyan struck poor people that were not prepared. Helping them is a no brainer. Kiribati has an issue with overpopulation and more impact on the environmental than it can handle. But connecting them with global warming is distracting from the real issues and therefor is not going to help to solve them.

White House solar power: the symbolic nature far exceeds the actual power produced

Back in 2010 the White House took the pledge to install solar panels. It took four years, but then finally they managed to get them installed. The PR machine got in overdrive again:

Obama wants to use his personal example to spur families and businesses to do more to reduce reliance on foreign energy and cut emissions blamed for global warming.

Solar panels at the White House are a really important message that solar is here, we are doing it, we can do a lot more, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a video released by the White House.

That message is clear. It is nice of course that the President want to lead by example, but how much of a dent do those panels make in the energy use of White House? How big is the desire to act on the issue that is deemed so very important?

The panels are expected to generate 6.3 kilowatts of solar power whenever the sun shines, the White House said.

That is quite some weasel wording there. This means the panels produce 6.3 KW if (and only if) the sun is shining and everything is optimal. Just to be curious, how much is that? Washington DC is not really the most sunny location. According to solarreviews.com this gives an average production of 3.4 kWh per day for a 1 kW installation.

If I understand it correctly, for a 6.3 kW installation this should be 21.42 kWh per day or 7,818 kWh per year.

Paint me unimpressed, but that is rather low. Even according to European standards. In Belgium the average household electricity use is considered 3,500 kWh per year. So this installation could provide for the average use of 2 Belgian families. In the USA the average power consumption is much higher: in 2012 this was 10,837 kWh per year (almost 30 kWh per day). It seems the White House solar panels don’t even produce enough electricity to meet the average consumption of one American household! I haven’t yet been in the White House, but I think it is safe to assume the electricity consumption of the White House will be wwwweeeellll above that of an average household. That gives a different meaning to “we can do a lot more”. That is the understatement of the year.

Pity that the expected contribution of those panels to the total energy use is not disclosed. Wouldn’t it be a great to know how much of the consumption in the White House is actually supplied by those panels, that are so badly needed to avert global warming? Then this number could inspire families and businesses… 😉