Reminder: things have (not) gotten much worse since An Inconvenient Truth

After writing previous post I bumped into the blog post titled: Reminder: Things Have Gotten Much Worse Since An Inconvenient Truth. As the title suggest, the post explains that things got worse after the movie “An Inconvenient Truth” came out in 2006. It starts with a fiery hot chart followed by a bold introduction (my emphasis):

global average temperature 2015 NOAA

In 2006, Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth spread the idea of human-caused climate change far and wide in what is now considered a watershed moment for the science. But today, on the ten-year anniversary of the film’s release, we’ve made little progress toward addressing the grave planetary concerns Gore raised. In fact, by practically every metric, things have gotten much worse.

Much worse? By practically every metric? That is interesting. There are many things that have been invalidated after the movie came out, like for example the melting of Kilimanjaro snow (which had nothing to do with global warming anyway and reversed), a 20 foot sea level rise (which is way off anything projected and reality), low-lying Pacific atolls will drown (rather unlikely because these are atolls, not islands), polar bear dying, hurricanes getting stronger (on the contrary), droughts getting worse, shutting down the ocean conveyor and so on. So, by practically every metric, really?

The author first starts to explain that emissions have risen steadily, as has atmospheric CO2. Both statements are true, but correlation is not necessarily causation. She continues that this made the temperature to go up, culminating in the hottest years 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2016 in the making. The data sets being used are NOAA GlobalTEMP, NASA GISTEMP and UKMO HadCrut. All surface temperature data sets. According to me these are the least accurate ones. These are not measurements, but estimates and riddled with things like incomplete and uneven spatial coverage, convenience sampling and other measurement biases like Urban Heat Island, Time of Observation and so on. It were only these data sets that had these years as hottest year. Satellite data sets disagreed on this one, but were not mentioned.

I seen that before. The author of this article just relies on the most unreliable and heavily adjusted data sets, ignored other sources like the satellite datasets which, contrary to the surface data sets, are actually global.

Luckily, the author of the article also explained what those metrics were exactly. Some of them surprised me, like droughts and extreme storms. As far as I know droughts were not increasing on a global scale (red vertical line indicates May 2006: the time An Inconvenient Truth came out):

global droughts

Unless there was a remarkable change in the last years, droughts stayed roughly the same or if there is a trend it seems to be down.

Also, as far as I know, there is not much change in frequency or strength of storms, at least not globally.

global hurricane frequency

global accumulated cyclone energy

So how could the author then claim that these became much worse since 2006? Luckily there were some links to explain this worsening.

The link to the increasing extreme storms argument was about ONE storm: Hurricane Patricia. I have no problem believing that Patricia was a strong storm, but that storm alone doesn’t prove that storms got worse since 2006.

The link of the droughts went to a page about ONE drought period in ONE US state (California).

What about the other metrics? Heat waves went to a page describing ONE heat wave (May 2015) in ONE country (India).

The page of the sea level rise was puzzling. It was about global sea levels that are expected to rise over 90 cm in coming generations. I am not really sure how this proves that things have gotten much worse since 2006. It only says that in the future “over coming generations” sea level rise MIGHT get worse.

The link of “Rapid polar ice sheet melting went to a page titled Greenland’s Ice Sheets Are Getting Cooked By Warm Ocean Currents about ice sheets being carved away faster and more dramatically than was expected by warm currents pushing up from the tropics. To support this, there is a link to the NOAA project called Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG)” that will observe the changing temperature of the currents over a five year period, starting from April 2015. This will lead to more understanding of this phenomenon. Wonderful how Gizmodo already know that it is worse than expected, even before the data came in.

The link of wildfires went to a page about Megafires. In the linked article (with the catchy title “Climate Change Is Literally Setting The World On Fire”) was referred to one article in which was said that, according to weather data, wildfires could go stronger (not whether it actually went stronger, but it seems the author believed it was).

The article itself gave some examples like Australia (in fact a fire in Tasmania), Canada (Fort McMurray of course) and the United States. Not much information on the latter one though, only cost information, like the graph with the projected growth in the annual cost of wildfire suppression in the United States from the US Forest Service:

US projected growth cost wildfire suppression

It shows the trend of annual cost between roughly 2013 and 2025. Interesting choice, but as far as I know there is not necessarily a relation between the affected surface or number of wildfires. People get richer, more people live in fire prone areas and probably also devaluation, therefor costs will go up whatever the trend of wildfires.

Finishing with acidification (reefs around Florida keys), mass die-off of Earth’s coral reefs. (Great Barrier Reef) and I didn’t even bother anymore to read the thing about the sixth mass extinction.

But there seems to be a good thing in all this:

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the spectre of climate change is now impossible to ignore for all but the die-hard science deniers.

I have to disagree with that. The article is high on hyperbole and low on facts. It fails to back up its central point and that impossible-to-ignore-specter-of-climate-change is created by the one-sidedness of the author herself, not by reality. If we look at both sides of the story, then the case doesn’t look terrifying anymore. One doesn’t have to be a “die-hard denier” to see that.

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6 thoughts on “Reminder: things have (not) gotten much worse since An Inconvenient Truth

  1. manicbeancounter

    As usual you make many excellent points. Could I augment the point on bush fires?
    Munich Re, the world’s leading re-insurer who specialize in large-scale catastrophe insurance say of bush fires in Australia.

    The majority of bushfires in southeast Australia are caused by human activity

    Bushfire is the only natural hazard in which humans have a direct influence on the hazard situation. The majority of bushfires near populated areas are the consequence of human activity. Lightning causes the smaller portion naturally. Sometimes, a carelessly discarded cigarette or a glass shard, which can focus the sun’s rays is all it takes to start a fire. Heat from motors or engines, or electric sparks from power lines and machines can ignite dry grass. Besides this accidental causes, a significant share of wildfires are started deliberately.

    Humans also change the natural fire frequency and intensity. They decrease the natural fire frequency due to deliberate fire suppression near populated areas. If there is no fuel-reduction burning in forests for the purposes of fire prevention, large quantities of combustible material can accumulate at ground level.

    Surface fires in these areas can become so intense due to the large amounts of fuel that they spread to the crowns of the trees and rapidly grow into a major fire. If humans had not intervened in the natural bushfire regime, more frequent low-intensity fires would have consumed the forest undergrowth and ensured that woodland grasses and scrubs do not proliferate excessively.

    It illustrates the importance of recognizing other causes of changing conditions, aside from an imperceptible rise in average temperatures.

    Reply
    1. trustyetverify Post author

      That is indeed a good remark. The author seems to be assume that forest fires are increasing (without giving any numbers to back this up) and that climate change (caused by our emissions) are a big or even the most important factor in this increase, therefor lowering/stopping emissions would be a no-brainer. But this indeed ignores that there are many factors involved, not only in (the unsubstantiated increase in) forest fires, but also in a temperature increase.

      Reply
  2. manicbeancounter

    Figure 1 makes a good point about policy – though not the one the authors intend.

    They say

    If everybody sticks to the carbon reductions pledges outlined in the Paris Agreement — and that’s a big ‘if’ — we’ll use up that budget by 2040.

    This means despite all the hype of the Paris Agreement global emissions will keep on going up regardless of whether mitigation pledges are enacted in full or not. It is very apt. There is no evidence of a really big potential problem and there is no evidence of a really big potential solution.

    Reply
  3. rogerthesurf

    Of course the catch is that in my country, the sea level rise is still stuck at 1.7mm per year which it has been since records began.

    (GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 31, L03307, doi:10.1029/2003GL019166, 2004)
    (RSNZ, 2010 )

    In spite of this people still seriously warn me that the (EPA) of the US Government seems to think that sea level has risen 10 inches since 1880.!! Mia Culpa!

    https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/climate-change-indicators-sea-level

    1880 to 2016 = 136 years. Times 1.7 mm per year is 231.2 mm. This is, strangely, 9.102 inches. Well, not quite 10 inches, but within a bull’s roar of being right.

    I live in the south pacific. Never heard of the islands disappearing that you mentioned and no refugees have turned up here yet.
    An individual from Kiribati once tried to become one but got sent home. Strangely enough the quota for imigration from Kiribati is generally not filled it seems.

    Its worth looking at the UN who has an interest in sea level rise one would think.
    Try here, well documented https://thedemiseofchristchurch.wordpress.com/2016/05/06/un-headquarters-and-usd1-2-billion-upgrade-and-rising/?iframe=true&theme_preview=true

    Cheers

    Roger
    http://www.rogerfromnewzealand.wordpress.com

    Reply

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