More floods, fires and heat waves if we don’t act nów

The same old story. When reading the newspaper Het Nieuwsblad on September 1, I bumped into an article with the headline (translated from Dutch): “More floods, forest fires and heatwaves” and with an even bigger font type: “if we don’t act nów”. With emphasis on “now”. I lost count how many times I heard that before, yet it apparently can get recycled time and time again. Now a full page was devoted on it.

There was no source, but it seemed to be based on an article in the Guardian published two days before, combined with a statement about the July data from the NASA dataset. The article was build on the statements of Gavin Schmidt (NASA GISS) who seems to go well beyond what the data tells us.

The print version of Het Nieuwsblad was even more over the top than the Guardian article. This is how the case is built:

  1. Schmidt is presented as the “indisputable climate expert of NASA”
  2. More floods, fires and heat waves if we don’t act now
  3. The earth is warming at an alarming rate
  4. Never seen in thousand years
  5. We don’t only have to step it up one notch, but 10 notches, to keep temperature increase below 2 °C
  6. We came close to the 1.5 degree this year
  7. The problem is immediate: if we keep emitting like we do now during the next 5 months [sic] we can not reach the 1.5 degrees goal
  8. Rapid and significant measures are needed
  9. Optimists think wrongly that there are fluctuation and lows will cancel out highs, but this is not the case
  10. Temperature increases faster in the last 30 years than in the last 1000 years. Reconstruction at NASA show that global temperatures over the last 5000 years increased gradually, but only in the last century the temperature increase was already 0.7 degrees (10 times faster)
  11. In the last decades even faster
  12. Schmidt is not a doom monger, but a realist. Proof: since October last year every month broke a record, the highest temperature was 54 [°C], the most aggressive forest fires in California and the first anthrax case in Siberia due to the melting permafrost
  13. 2014 was a record, as was 2015 and 99% sure also 2016
  14. The measurements started in 1800 [sic]
  15. On the short term: further decrease of Arctic ice, increase of heat waves, floods and forest fires
  16. Island states will be the first victims of sea level rise
  17. Sea level could rise by 10 meter
  18. Mass destruction of animal species will increase.

I am not surprised. This is how climate change is portrayed in the media. What is wrong with this picture? In my believer’s years I probably would have agreed with it without much criticism. Luckily I learned to speak climatese in the last few years.

  1. The “indisputable climate expert of NASA”
    “Climate expert” can mean about anything nowadays. Climate science is a multidisciplinary science. What is not said in the article is that Schmidt is a mathematician who maintains the global temperature record at NASA. So if he is an expert, it is of an incredibly small part of the climate system.
  2. More floods, fires and heat waves if we don’t act now
    As far as I know Schmidt didn’t study floods, fires and heat waves. I didn’t know either there were more floods, fires and heat waves than before, at least globally. But even if there were, he wouldn’t be able to distinguish a human induced event from a natural induced event, let alone a mixed event. It is one thing to maintain (one of the) global datasets and see that the estimated global average temperature is increasing. It is another to pinpoint this increase on human emissions and yet another to claim floods, fires and heatwaves are effected by our emissions. The climate system is a very complex, coupled and chaotic system and singling out one parameter and calling that the control know is just speculation.
  3. The earth is warming at an alarming rate
    Sure, according to his own (in my opinion, unreliable) dataset. He should clarify his definition of “alarming” and explain why his own dataset is becoming more and more an outlier compared to the other datasets which give more or less a stagnation of temperatures.
  4. Never seen in thousand years
    That is stretching it quite a bit. As far as I know there were not many measurements before 1850. These “measurements” of thousand years were done via proxies (things like tree rings and sediments) that by some degree are influenced by temperature. As far as I know we can not compare temperature measurement with proxies. These are two different things. The thermometers in his dataset are measuring temperatures and these are homogenized over the globe to come to an estimation of the “global average”. Proxies don’t measure actual temperatures. Tree rings for example respond to not only temperature, but also water, nutrients, light, diseases, infestations, competition, weather extremes and a whole array of other influences. And then we didn’t even mention the poor sample size (especially when going further into the past) and even poorer spatial coverage. Just adding the current temperature measurements to the proxies dataset (as seen in the Guardian article) is therefor not exactly honest:

    nasa proxy based temperature reconstruction

    When our current temperature would be “measured” by proxies, then we probably wouldn’t see a 3 decades blip or even a 1.5 century blip.

  5. We have to step it up “10 notches”
    Our measurements of some elements of the climate system only reach 1.5 century and the more reliably ones only since a couple decades. Any cycle longer than a couple decades or 1.5 century would not even be detected. It is one thing to say that the temperatures are rising since 1.5 century, it is another to claim that human emissions are the (most important) cause. That is just speculation. So it is not clear whether we can make the temperature go down, even by “stepping it up 10 notches”.
  6. We came close to the 1.5 degree this year
    He, nor the journalist, gave any background what was the cause of this increase in the last year (a strong El Niño, as far as I know a natural process). Giving the suggestion that this temperature increase was because of global warming (= human emissions) and suggesting that we can just extrapolate this unusual situation into the future with alarming consequences.
  7. There is an acute problem if we keep emitting like we do now during the next 5 months
    I am not really sure whether Schmidt said that. Other sources say 5 years. I think it is an invention of or a misquote by the journalist.
  8. Rapid and significant measures are needed
    Now he is talking as a politician. It is one thing to say the temperature increases in his own dataset (which is correct), it is yet another that this is because of human emissions (which is an opinion) and yet another that we can influence global temperatures by controlling our emissions (which is pure speculation).
  9. Optimists think wrongly that there are fluctuations
    It is true that there are no big fluctuations in his own dataset, but it is also true that these are the result of a bunch of adjustments over the last 1.5 decade and these adjustments make it more of an outlier compared to the other datasets. When I started to look deeper into the global warming topic, it was claimed that the global temperature was rather correct because all the datasets (surface or satellite) had the same trend. With the current adjustments, the NASA dataset (based on the NOAA data) became an outlier.
  10. Temperature increases faster in the last 30 years than in the last 1000 years
    There is no way to know that in the last 30 years the increase was larger than over a thousand years. It can only be claimed if global temperatures were measured in the same way during these thousand years. As I said before, this is comparing apples with oranges.
  11. In the last decades even faster
    Also according to his own (outlier) dataset. Satellite datasets, which should be much more accurate, show no increase in the last 18 or so years.
  12. Schmidt is not a doom monger, but a realist
    This claim is laughable. That is probably the opinion of the journalist. That reminds me of previous post in which Wadhams claimed he was not an alarmist because he made a wrong prediction (which was not the issue, he is an alarmist because he made unfounded claims and truth caught in on him). In this article we get a bunch of local events that seem to prove that Schmidt is not alarmist, but a realist. If we take all local aberrations that suites our case and pile them up, it would definitely paint a dire picture, but not a very honest one. Schmidt is an alarmist because he made claims that reach far beyond where the data could take him. Schmidt is in my eyes not a realist. I would call him a realist if he took into account reality, all of it, not just one side, ignoring the other completely.
  13. 2014 was a record, as was 2015 and 99% sure also 2016
    These are all records … according to his own dataset, but this is not the only one. Also here, even if it is true, a stronger increase in temperatures over the last 3 years is not proof that humans are the cause. Correlation is not necessarily causation. He can only know that we did it if he can distinguish between natural and anthropogenic causes.
  14. The measurements started in 1800
    I am pretty sure that Schmidt didn’t say something like that. The startdate of the NASA dataset is 1880. My guess is that this claim is also an invention of or a misquote by the journalist.
  15. Further decrease of Arctic ice, increase of heat waves, floods and forest fires
    I would agree that Arctic ice decreased since the measurements started, but I am not sure that things like droughts or forest fires increased globally. There would not be surprised that there would be places with local droughts/fires, maybe even more than before. But whether they are increasing because of higher temperatures, that is another question.
  16. Island states will be the first victims of sea level rise
    Let someone tell him that those island states are atolls, not islands. Atolls have different properties than islands. Some of them even grew.
  17. Sea level could rise by 10 meter
    Indeed, could rise over 10 meters. There are several estimations and these are all over the place. This is just speculation or maybe even fear mongering, just as the last point.
  18. Mass destruction of animal species will increase
    It always surprised when I hear such claims. We don’t even know approximately how many animal species there are and all studies are done locally. Yet we apparently know that animal species are decreasing globally? And that they keep doing that in the future because of our emissions? Also here, it is one thing to claim that temperatures increase in the NASA dataset, it is another that this increase is mostly due to our emissions and yet another that animal species will die out because of this increase caused by these emissions. That last part is speculation.

Was what Schmidt said true? Well, yes, but it was one-sided and this will lead to readers coming to a certain conclusion. What was true is that the temperatures in the NASA dataset go up and are ever increasing. There is no doubt about that. And if temperatures keep going up like that, then the 1.5 degree or even 2 degree will be exceeded. No doubt about that either. Also, if we can compare our current temperature record with proxy data, then this last 1.5 century are definitely different. The rest of the claims were just speculation, but brought as if these were actually facts.

It is more interesting what wasn’t said in the article. Some things that I missed:

  • The temperature of the earth is not measured, but estimated
  • These estimates rely on measurements taken from surface temperatures, which suffer from convenience sampling, uneven spatial coverage, urban heat island effects, time of observation bias, the more one goes back in time the sparser the historical data gets, and probably many more biases.
  • Those things make that it is particularly malleable and seems to be more a moving target than a factual number. This dataset morphed into something different over the last 1.5 decade. To me it shows that these results can not be relied upon
  • The NASA estimation is not the only one, there are several others and the NASA dataset is diverting more and more from the other datasets
  • Proxy data is not the same as thermometer readings

This is important because the article seem to assume that the temperature of the earth is accurately known as measured by NASA. Scientists as well as the media fail to make that clear and this partly keeps feeding the alarm. It is gobsmacked that the NASA dataset is presented by the media and scientists alike as accurate data that we can rely upon…

There was however one thing that I absolutely agreed with in the article. Schmidt claimed that “people who think that we can get this under control, are wrong”. I would certainly agree that there is no control knob that allows humans to regulate the climate. But that is probably not what he meant. 😉


6 thoughts on “More floods, fires and heat waves if we don’t act nów

  1. poitsplace

    (1) Nobody can claim to be an “expert” of that type in climate matters.
    (2) Mostly unknown, and most of the “floods” they mean are, weather at one place being more like the largely harmless rains in areas closer to the equator, a bit more thunderstorm activity…you know, absolutely normal weather.
    (3) Not an alarming rate, it is literally warming at a rate so low that inaction is clearly the best option…with highest modeled CO2 we have warming at rates close to the “what if we magically stopped all CO2 emissions 15 years ago” rates. That ain’t alarming! Also…(continued at #4)
    (4) Proxies use 200 year smoothing. The modern temperature record would look extremely COLD (for the holocene) and uneventful with 200 year smoothing.
    (5) See number 3!
    (6) Using weather when he means climate. Using the same 200 year smoothing you wouldn’t even notice the El Nino driven temperature spike.
    (7) See number 3!
    (8) See number 3!
    (9) Baseless conjecture.
    (10) See number 4!
    (11) See number 3 and 4!
    (12) He is observably fear mongering. See number 3 and 4!
    (13) See number 3!
    (14) ??
    (15) Baseless speculation, fear mongering.
    (16) Unsupported by data in any way, rates remain unchanged for the last 100 years
    (17) Unsupported fear mongering. Would require over 10X observed rates, which have remained unchanged.
    (18) Fear mongering and demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of how and why species go extinct.

    I know I ramble a lot on here about different topics…but I’d like to touch on that #18 again. I’ve probably mentioned it before. But most people, even biologists, seem to completely misunderstand why species are limited to specific biomes. The problem isn’t that they can’t survive…with few exceptions (interestingly enough, based almost exclusively on the region being too…cold) species can survive quite well outside their normal ranges.

    The reason they have ranges is not because they die if they cross some average temperature threshold. The reason they have ranges is that they cannot out compete better adapted animals. A white fox with thicker fur would obviously be much better at hunting and surviving in the snow than a red one. Yet both could survive in both colder and warmer climates. They just can’t thrive with the better adapted species in place.

    So the complete failure of every biologist and alarmist claiming “climate is changing too quickly” is to realize that what they are TRULY saying is “species won’t migrate fast enough”… which of course means they won’t even have competition. And not only do they not have those other species to compete with, the region they’re in generally will have MORE plant growth, ie FOOD for the ecosystem. Plants will grow for a longer portion of the year. CO2 fertilization will greatly increase growth rates of many plants. And CO2 induced drought resistance means even when there is less rain, it won’t matter as much.


    1. Paul AUBRIN

      Point 4. Comparing data with not the same sample rate, is not “not exactly honest” it is determinedly misleading. Take any curve, in any domain, with a monthly sampling rate, apply a 60 months smoothing compare the peak values and the rise and decay rate. Graphting a record with a high sampling rate at the end of a low sampling one is a fraud.


    2. trustyetverify Post author

      @poitsplace Thanks for your take on the list. Concerning your ideas on point 18: it also puzzles me that people consider nature as something really fragile, easily thrown out of balance by the slightest disturbance.


  2. Kevin Marshall (Manicbeancounter)

    The article touches on a lot of issues, and you try to cover them all. I would like to augment your comments on one aspect – the increase in bush fires.
    In South Eastern Australia – which is very prone to bush fires – there were claims in another Guardian article that they increasing from climate change, specifically from more severe drought. Upon investigation I found a quote from Munich Re, the world’s leading re-insurer. They basically take on the huge very infrequent risks, such as earthquakes or massive hurricanes or massive bush fires. They have an interest in understanding the issues properly. They say

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

    Also, with regard to management of forests, specifically putting out small fires.

    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.

    That is, more extreme forest fires are occurring as an unintended consequence of trying to manage the forests.


    1. trustyetverify Post author

      Reading the newspaper article, I was surprised that there were so many misleading statements brought together without any background information. Therefor the long list and my minimal commentary. Thanks for digging into one of the points of the list.



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