Category Archives: Climate Change

The challenge that can not be won

loaded dice

Christopher Keating, an ex-physics teacher, proposed a challenge to climate change skeptics. He promises to write a check of $30,000 for those who can point to scientific proof that “global man-made climate change” isn’t happening. He is also bragging about no skeptic been able to do that and is sure they can’t. He says that it should be dirt simple. Skeptics make all sort of statements, just let them prove their claims. But not all is what it seems.

Let’s first see how he proposes the challenge:

I have heard global warming skeptics make all sorts of statements about how the science doesn’t support claims of man-made climate change. I have found all of those statements to be empty and without any kind of supporting evidence. I have, in turn, stated that it is not possible for the skeptics to prove their claims. And, I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is.

I am announcing the start of the $30,000 Global Warming Skeptic Challenge. The rules are easy:

  1. I will award $30,000 of my own money to anyone that can prove, via the scientific method, that man-made global climate change is not occurring;
  2. There is no entry fee;
  3. You must be 18 years old or older to enter;
  4. Entries do not have to be original, they only need to be first;
  5. I am the final judge of all entries but will provide my comments on why any entry fails to prove the point.

That’s it! I know you are not going to get rich with $10,000. But, tell me, wouldn’t you like to have a spare $30,000? After all, the skeptics all claim it is a simple matter, and it doesn’t even have to be original. If it is so easy, just cut and paste the proof from somewhere. Provide the scientific evidence and prove your point and the $30,000 is yours!

This is no joke. If someone can provide a proof that I can’t refute, using scientific evidence, then I will write them a check.

But, I am sure I will never have to because it can’t be proven. The scientific evidence for global warming is overwhelming and no one can prove otherwise.

Any takers?

This is how he sees skeptics: they are deniers who make silly statements, rejecting science and calling anthropogenic climate change a hoax. He apparently likes the word “deniers”, he uses it plentiful. It is no surprise that his vision is a rather black and white. Reality is much more colorful. Climate is a complex matter and details can make quite a difference. He also seems to have some preconceived vision on skeptics and he clashes constantly with them. In reality they are seeing things differently. But that doesn’t prevent him from rubbing it in that they don’t react the same as those skeptics in his mind would do. Those pesky deniers who make all kind of statements without supporting evidence and telling him it is easy to prove.

Now skeptics get the “chance” to prove that “man-made global warming is not occurring”. Keating keeps on insisting that he is doing skeptics a favor and that it is incredibly simple. The longer it takes to take the price home, the stronger the science. Isn’t it? well, not so fast.

I don’t think his characterization of skeptics is honest. I don’t believe there are many skeptics that unconditionally believe man-made global warming is not occurring. There probably are some that think that black and white, but the skeptics that I know of all agree that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, that we increasingly emit it in the atmosphere and that it will have some influence on temperature. They don’t necessarily agree that this would be catastrophic or that it creates the pressing need to act against it. It is more a discussion about levels. How much of the atmospheric CO2 is there because of man-made emissions and what is the effect of that? Beside the “dragon slayers” I don’t know skeptics who don’t believe our emission will at least have some warming effect.

Obviously, the bet is stacked, it is impossible to prove. He is right, his money is safe.

It is a negative and a negative can not be proven. Nobody can ever proof for example there are no black swans. Even if some guy who want to do it has been in every country of the world, there still might be a place where he hasn’t been and were there are black swans. Maybe even plentiful. As an ex-physics teacher he should know that. It is however possible to falsify the statement “All swans are white” by seeing a black swan. A single one is enough.

Keating is not only the judge, but also the jury and the accuser. He does say that the deniers “don’t have to prove him wrong” or “prove anything at all”, which I doubt. In reality they will have to convince him. It is very difficult to convince someone who already has made up his mind, whatever the side they are on.

Even if it was possible to prove a negative, in the case of climate it would be extremely difficult to do so. The climate system is incredibly complex and to us it seems a chaotic system. This means there will be probability involved. This probability might even rely on opinion rather than on fact. That will be very difficult to assess.

The actual challenge is stated really broad and ambiguously. When one need to follow the scientific method, one need a clear question to begin with. “Climate change” doesn’t say much. Climate changes all the time. If one takes change in a chaotic system as a proof, then there is no limit on what one can prove. It should be defined what he means specifically by “climate change” and more specifically by “man-made global climate change”. What does it consist of? How is it measured? Which dataset to use? How much is the natural variation exactly?

Luckily he made “clarifications” and put them in a separate post, which I think is not a good idea. The clarifications should be on the page that contains the challenge or there should be at least a link to the clarification page. I had a hard time finding the page and I think others do too. On the clarifications page there are exactly zero comments although it is there for more than a month. While other pages have hundreds of comments. The challenge pages are also spread out over several pages. I have seen two versions of the challenge plus the clarification. Maybe there are even more? He makes it really difficult for those who want to take the challenge or he is somehow struggling with the concept of a blog.

These are the clarifications:

Option #1:

The basic tenets of AGW are these two IPCC conclusions:

It is extremely likely (95-100%) that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.

Climate sensitivity is likely in the range 1.5°C to 4.5°C and extremely unlikely (95-100%) less than 1°C.

So if someone was able to scientifically disprove these two extremely likely / unlikely statements, then that should suffice. That said, the climate debate has shifted a bit over the past decades I’ve following it into at least “skeptics” grudgingly accepting (1) that the planet is actually warming and (2) the physics behind sensitivity excluding feedbacks being 1.1°C.

Option #2:

Deniers love claiming that previous cycles in the climate prove that the current warming cycle is nothing more than a naturally occurring warming cycle (of course, you have to concede that it is warming in order to make this claim). The problem is that they never provide any proof, or even evidence, that there is any connection between the current warming cycle and naturally occurring cycles.

Proof that today’s warming cycle is a naturally occurring event would satisfy the challenge.

That is something completely different than the original claim!

I found it quite ironic that he chooses exactly these two statements in the first option. I had to chuckle when I came across them. I recognized both of them from the AR5 Summary for the Policymakers. The 1.5-4.5 °C was in fact backpedaling from the values in AR4 (2-4.5 °C). Not really an argument at such, but knowing that climate sensitivity is a measure of the effects of CO2 on temperatures, it was a big surprise that the IPCC increased their confidence that humans were the dominant cause of the warming, in stead of decreasing it. So basically, if this is really one of the basic tenets of AGW, then the IPCC ignored this basic tenet when they came up with their confidence trick. It showed that other considerations than scientific were in place. Not totally unexpected knowing the IPCC is a political organization.

By the way, the 95-100%-figure is not the result of a calculation, but is the opinion/expert judgment of a group of scientists (who probably were chosen for their adherence to the theory in the first place).

Is it really the task of the skeptics to prove that man-made global climate change doesn’t exists? Shouldn’t skeptics trying to demonstrate that this high confidence was not really justified? To me it seems a very bad choice of clarifying statements. The second statement in option 1 weakens the case of that very high confidence in the first statement. Especially in the view of the (political) process in which they were decided.

On the other hand: couldn’t the challenge be reversed? In his superiority feelings over the skeptics, Keating seems to assume that the consensus science he adheres to, has it all figured out and the evidence is gathered by the use of the scientific method. Is this really true? If I want to use his own tactics I could as well state that the warmers often claim that “the science is clear”, “there is overwhelming evidence”, “there is a scientific consensus”,… yet these statements seem empty and not supported by the observations. So let them prove their case. Via the scientific method! That would be fun. At least for the skeptics, that is.


The way to sustainable price increases

Previous post was about the Oxfam happening against increasing food and energy prices at the G7 meeting. In this post I will focus more on the reasons why they claim food and energy is getting more expensive for the poor.

This is how Lies Craeynest (Oxfam EU policy analyst on climate and food security) explained it (translated from Dutch):

Craeynest links that pollution with rising food prices and notes that Europe is one of the largest food importers. Climate change indeed let many crops fail. Therefor threatens to increase the cost of food and energy supplies, in such a way the poorest in Europe would have hardly any access to food or heating. “Break that addiction to fossil fuels and choose a solution that is sustainable and good for food security worldwide,” said Craeynest.

That “pollution” was not mentioned in the text before this quote, but in the video on the same page they meant: pollution from fossil fuel use. She claims that “gigantic” droughts, storms and extreme weather events (caused by our emissions) let harvests fail. So “Harvests are going down while the demand is going up” and “poor people having to choose between eating or heating”.

Let’s go back to reality. The statements of crop failure were done in the present time. As far as I know storms and droughts are decreasing, not increasing. This is logical because in a warming world where the poles warm quicker than the equator, the temperature difference will be smaller and there will be less storms. So where does she gets that data of the contrary?

Can we see a loss in harvests because of these extreme events already? According to FAO the production of foods is actually increasing. According to their latest report of May 2014 most foods are at a record or near record production. Her claim of crops failure seems not substantiated. Or does she expect the effects of climate change only in the future?

In the FAO report there are some real reasons why food prices are on the rise, such as geopolitical developments like wars (she also acknowledges this further in the interview) and the mandatory mix of ethanol in fuel (which she doesn’t mention).

But what about Haiyan or the drought in North America? These are weather events. I think she conflates climate, climate change and weather. Droughts, storms and extreme weather existed long before we were around, they are here now and without a doubt will continue to exist in the future. Whatever the climate does, we need to be prepared for them.

On the other hand, aren’t fossil fuels the reason why agriculture became MORE productive in the first place? There is a reason why our economies are “addicted” to fossil fuels. They have a high energy potential needed to support for example large scale food production. Converting to “sustainable” energy sources probably would decrease food production, unless other high density energy sources are being used (which are not available yet).

But if storms, droughts and extreme events are not the driving force behind the current price increase, then what is it? It is not Russian gas that is increasing our energy prices, it is also not the fossil fuels, not even coal. At least in this region, it are wind and solar that are very expensive energy forms in need for huge subsidies. These are adding to the energy bill in that way that poor people can’t afford energy anymore (here it is called energy poverty). For example, in Flanders we pay more than 1 billion euro per year (and increasing) on subsidies alone for inland wind/solar/biomass. For a population of about 4.5 – 5 million people. This excluding offshore wind that was directly done via our government (so this will increase taxes).

As mentioned above, there are also crops that are grown for being converted into (bio) fuels in order to make our cars drive. Making food cost higher. Clear example was the 2011-2012 price increase of maize and soybeans. Farmers switched to maize and soybeens from other crops they were growing, combined with the increasing use of corn for ethanol and a slight drop in production drove up food prices worldwide. Ethanol production for use in cars took 27% of the maize produced. The shortage is not in production, but in how it is used.

In the end she got it the other way around! It is not the fossil fuel use that is driving the higher costs for food and energy in the last years. Until now it is the cost of “sustainable” energy that did the trick…


It takes me by surprise every time I hear about “climate scientists are in the disadvantage compared to the skeptics”. It seems so out of touch with reality in which alarmists have almost a free podium in the mainstream media and employ tactics that wouldn’t be out of place in politics. With the same surprise I read the opinion piece of Simon Donner in the Vancouver Sun titled Scientists certain human activity causes climate change with the subtitle Pick and choose: Dealing with contrarians using dirty tactics is like a game of whack-a-mole.

At the heart of his statement is:

The majority of scientists follow the scientific method – a systematic approach to building knowledge. Starting in the 1820s, scientists began accumulating evidence, through the slow process of hypothesis testing and data collection, that adding carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases to the atmosphere would warm the planet.

Now, after almost two centuries of research, scientists are as certain that human activity causes climate change as doctors are that cigarette smoking causes cancer.

On the other hand, many opponents of the scientific consensus on climate, like Tom Harris, author of the recent column Climate rhetoric undermines rational decision-making, and executive director of the International Climate Science Coalition, don’t need to play by the rules of science.

The whack-a-mole comparison was that rebutting one claim by “climate contrarians” gives rise to another, like a game of whack-a-mole. An ever repeating job and he got tired of it.

I heard these things before. More, it is something I myself believed before. In my believer years I thought that there was a invisible, powerful underground movement that employed dirty tactics against honest working scientists, making it difficult for them to make a dent with the public. Imagine my surprise when I found out that the debate was stifled by activists and political scientists who get almost exclusive attention in the mainstream media. By claiming consensus. By ad hominem attacks on skeptics. By making them look ridiculous/incompetant/unqualified. By not wanting to debate them on the science.

This opinion piece was specifically directed to Tom Harris. According to Donner, he made some ridiculous claims in an opinion piece “State of the Union climate rhetoric undermines rational decision making”, which are then demolished. No link to the article was provided, so I couldn’t check what Harris actually wrote. But Tom Harris himself had commented on the opinion piece of Donner and his arguments were well-thought and made sense. So this made me eager to find out who that Tom Harris was and why Donner had such a low regards of him.

Although I heard his name before, I could not recollect reading something from his hand. I became curious about what he really wrote in his article. I didn’t have to search long to find an article with the same title published beginning of February.

It confirmed my opinion on Harris. The article was about the use of rhetoric in the debate. Some terms in the debate can be misleading, for example “Carbon pollution” and “Greenhouse effect”. I heartfully agree with that. I also think that there are a lot of ambigue and misleading terms used in the climate debate, which make a genuine debate much more difficult. In the article Harris explained that “carbon” (a black, solid stuff) is not an accurate term when the real thing you want to describe is “carbon dioxide” (a transparent gas).

The reaction of Donner on this article was a bit weak. It focused on a couple sentences, ripping them out of context and then demolishing the “claim”.

The first rebuttal was the claim that Harris “suggests that carbon dioxide could not be a pollutant, because it is an invisible gas essential to plants”. That’s not even close to what Harris said. He did indeed say that carbon dioxide is an invisible gas essential to plants and he also said that it is a greenhouse gas and therefor has a (modest) influence on temperature. But he never said that is not a pollutant solely because it is essential to plants. Debunking an out-of-context claim is pretty easy.

Secondly, Harris claim that “Past ice ages demonstrate that climate change is normal” was countered by te statement that “the recent climate change is driven by human activity, and it is occurring at a rate not experienced in the history of human civilization”. While Harris was reacting on the Obama’s statement that “Climate change is a fact”. Of course it is. It has always been a fact and will always be a fact. The big question is how much our influence is within this change. In a situation were we only started with high quality measurements on the natural part a few decades ago, this could be more of a challenge than what Donner admits.

The last one was “global warming has been virtually non-existent during the past 17 years”. Donner claims that “the planet has not stopped warming” and that “during the past decade, more of that heat has gone into the deep ocean, due to natural cycles, so the atmosphere has not steadily broken global surface temperature records”. Well, that can be true, but this is still a hypothesis and not really supported by the observations, because there are not much observations of the deep ocean in the first place. And yes, there are some climate models that try to fill in the missing data. But model outputs are not observations, these are hypotheses that still have to be falsified. Nature is way more complex than the black/white vision of Donner.

Sigh. Dealing with these alarmist stories told with absolute certainty is as well like a game of whack-a-mole. 😉

But the conclusion was the most telling:

I agree. I’m tired of this game of whack-a-mole. We need to stop publishing the deliberately deceptive claims of contrarians like Harris, and get on with addressing the challenge of climate change.

Basically, we know everything we need to know, let’s shut down those who disagree with us and do the things we think we have to do. That is not a really a scientific way of thinking, but more an activist approach.

So not everybody plays by the same rules. That’s perfectly clear here, but now it is also clear which side doesn’t want to play by the rules and desperately want to stifle debate in order to do their own thing.

Pascal’s wager revisited

It is always interesting to find out how different people have different understanding of things. Recently I found a link to a video made by school teacher Greg Craven: A guy with a marker aims to make the global warming debate obsolete. The site that provided the link brought it as “an example of engaging and effective science communication“.

Well, that sounds promising!

According to the author it is possible to choose how best to act on the issue of Global Warming (he uses both Global Warming and Climate Change) without knowing something about the science of it. That is interesting. When I started looking at the global warming issue about five years ago, I also was searching for a way to find if the arguments about global warming were true or not. I found that in some cases this is possible (when certain logical fallacies were used), but in most cases it is necessary to know at least something about the science. I am a bit skeptical hearing him say no knowledge of the science is needed.

This is how it is presented: if we can’t be sure if global warming is true and we want to know what action to take, we can make a table in which we put the outcome of different possible scenario’s. On the left the question: “is Global warming true or false”? On top the question: “do we take significant action now”? From that outcome of these questions he claims it is possible to decide what is the best option to take right now.

Climate Change wager

Climate Change wager.

This is nothing new, I saw similar reasonings before. It looks very similar to Pascal’s wager. This says that “it is safer to believe in God, even if there is no proof that one exists”. Pascal’s starting point was also that it was not necessary to know something about the existence of God to know what do in our life. This is how Pascal saw it:

Pascal's wager

Pascal’s wager.

Pascal also wrote down the different outcomes of possible scenarios. These are the outcomes

    If we believe and:

  • God doesn’t exist: we lost some time worshiping and weren’t able to do things we probably would like to do → finite sadness (until we die).
  • God does exist: we go to heaven and are rewarded for our efforts with eternal bliss → infinite happiness (forever and ever).
    If we don’t believe and:

  • God doesn’t exist: we didn’t loose some time worshiping and did everything we liked without restriction → finite happiness (until we die).
  • God does exist: we go to hell and are punished with eternal misery → infinite sadness (forever and ever).

So if God exists, the reward and the penalty are huge (because they are forever). If God doesn’t exists, the reward and the penalty would be minor (because we have short lives). Therefor his conclusion was that it is better to believe in God because the outcome is better when we believe than when we don’t believe.

So far so good, but as I learned in school this wager is based on an array of logical fallacies and he cherry picked a bunch of assumptions that lead directly to this conclusion, therefor invalidating it. For example, in the wager Pascal assumed the God to be the God we know in this part of the world and that this is the “right” God. He also assumed that there is an afterlife and that believing in God is enough for eternal bliss and failing to believe will give eternal misery. Also that this God cares or is fair. That one can get away with calculated worship. Etcetera, etcetera. There are many others. A lot of books have been written about this wager.

As far as I know, the Craven’s wager has basically the same problems as Pascal’s wager.

It gives about the same outcomes as the Pascal wager. He adds that we can’t choose which row we want to be in, but we can choose in what column. He likens it with a lottery ticket. For example if we buy lottery ticket A then it will cost us a lot of money in both cases (we will ruin our economy whether global warming is true or not). But when buying lottery ticket B it is possible to have a rather nice reward if global warming is false, but a really nasty one if it is true.

Therefor he says that it is better to choose ticket A: we will loose money, guaranteed. But when we buy lottery ticket B, the outcome is much more uncertain: it is or extremely good (if climate change doesn’t exists) or extremely bad (if it does). So, if we want to avoid the extremely bad, we need to choose ticket A. In which we will have to pay a lot of money whether climate change is true or not, but if it is true we would survive it.

The author makes the suggestion for everyone to remake this for other outcomes (also the less extreme ones), but adds that whatever scenario you will choose, it will always come to the inescapable conclusion that ticket A will be better than ticket B…

But is this really true?

In analogy with the Pascal wager, this “inescapable” result is completely dependent on the smiley face in the bottom left quadrant; combined with the over-the-top dramatic scenario in the bottom right. If both scenario’s are taken as constants, the only sensible choice will indeed be ticket A. The over-the-top scenario of ticket B will overshadow the grim outlook of both scenario’s in ticket A. But I could imagine other scenario’s in which this is not necessarily the case and then ticket B might be much more interesting.

Let’s go through all quadrants and see what the range of possible scenario’s will be.

The only quadrant that we really can be sure of is the one on the top right. This means: we didn’t spend any money to prevent global warming, but it was not needed. Whatever scenario you choose, there will alway be a happy face in that quadrant.

The values in the three other quadrants will depend on the assumptions made and will be somewhere between the best case scenario and the worst case scenario.

In the top left quadrant he assumed: we spend money where it was not needed and we came into a (global) recession. That is the worst case scenario. The best case would be for example: we spend money, but we could afford it and spending it didn’t hurt us much.
All other options would be between those two.

In the bottom left quadrant he assumed that Climate Change existed, we took action and we came to the solution. That is in fact the best case scenario, not the worst as he assumes. Worst case would be: Climate Change exists, we did spend money on it trying to prevent it, but it didn’t work out (we spend it on the wrong solution, it wasn’t preventable anymore or whatever). In that case we would be with much less money and still facing the horrors of Climate Change. Like the victims of Haiyan who were unprepared for it.
All other options will be between those two.

In the bottom right quadrant he assumed that Climate Change existed, no action was taken and all the horrors of the world come at once and catapults us into oblivion. That is the worst case scenario. The best case scenario is that Climate Change exists, we took no action to prevent it and it was possible to adapt to it with not much effort.
All other options will be between those two.

Now we start all over and go for the two extremes (the real extremes, not the assumed ones):

  • When we take the worst case scenarios in all cases, we will likely choose ticket A. So far so good. That was also the conclusion of the author
  • But when we take the best case scenarios in all cases, we will likely choose ticket B.

In the end this exercise will learn us exactly nothing, except that the scenarios will depend on how one defines the assumptions for the different scenarios.

Just as the Pascal’s wager this wager it starts from a number of assumptions. For example that climate change is preventable by us, that we would be safe when we do something now, that the outcome of not acting is dramatic, that it is not possible to adapt and many, many more. Therefor the conclusion was skewed to ticket A.

This was a system assumed for those who have no knowledge of the science, but those are now presented with a one-sided presentation of the facts. But either way, my opinion is that when one starts from the premise that it is not necessary to know if global warming is true/false or if it is happening/not happening, then this table is useless to find out what the best option really is. Making this just a modern version of Pascal’s Wager, numerous assumptions and fallacies included.

Things I took for granted: climate science has it all figured out


One of the most important reasons why I was a believer, was the deep belief in the accomplishments of the science. It goes like this: science had achieved a lot until now. Man walked on the moon, found cures for numerous diseases, got a 275 ton airplane flying, shrunk a computer from the size of a full room to a small pocketbook, made direct communication through a world wide web possible,… You get the drift.

If science can do that, why wouldn’t scientists be able to measure the temperature of the earth to two decimals? Why wouldn’t they without a doubt know that anthropogenic carbon dioxide is the culprit of all thing going bad? Why wouldn’t they know what the temperature of the earth will be in 100 years from now? Why wouldn’t they be certain about the effects about humans on climate even in the far future? How couldn’t they have deciphered the climate system by now?

My assumption was that if exact sciences, medical science and engineering came such a long way, there would be no reason to believe climate science wasn’t also. In a way that was really assuring. That’s what scientists do and are good at. I could have faith that it was clear and taken into account, at least the most important parts of it.

My faith started to collapse when I realized that the average temperature is not really “measured”, but is calculated in a statistical process, starting from … scarce data provided via … convenient sampling …how could this ever been even remotely correct? When I realized that historical data before the official measurements depend on incredibly scarce proxy data. When I realized that computer models can’t possibly model a chaotic system. When I started to realize that there are thousands, maybe millions of parameters that interact with each other, carbon dioxide is only one of them and the case against it is not that strong. When I realized that climate science was contaminated with politics.

Let’s give again the example of the statement that “if 97 doctors say you are sick and 3 doctors say you aren’t, what would you believe”? Well, we are comparing here with a science that has already some centuries of experience and compare it with a science that has just began gathering data to find out what the essential components of the system are. So let me rephrase that a bit differently so we are talking about the same thing.

Suppose you go to a doctor that measures some data and puts it in a computer program. This computer program can only simulate the human body partly and it is not really sure how much, nor if the missing parts are crucial or not. Yet the programmers are cocksure about the merits of the program. After 97 doctor visits that conclude you are sick and 3 that concluding you are not, now what do you believe? Would you even believe the outcome of programs that can’t even simulate the basics of the bodily functions?

Sure, what science and engineering accomplished is enormous. But climate science, because they study a chaotic system, is obviously not that kind of science. Contrary what the media and the IPCC is telling us, there is an inherent uncertainty when studying nature and climate. Thinking that climate science is correct because exact sciences, medical science or engineering come a long way, is not really correct.

The polar Vortex doesn’t disprove global warming. Sure, but that is no big deal actually.

There was lots of talking about the polar vortex this week. Even in this tiny country, which wasn’t affected by the freezing temperatures (yet), the media was full of the polar vortex that made the freezing temperatures in Northern America possible. The media was assuring us that this cold snap was the result of global warming (but a lot carefully avoided calling it global warming and diplomatically called it climate change).

This is basically how the media said it works: it is the result of the rapid melting of Arctic sea ice because of climate change. This decreases the albedo of the Arctic region and as a result it heats up faster than other parts of the Earth. The temperature difference between the Arctic and the southern regions determines the strength of the jet stream. If the jet stream is strong, it isolates the cold Arctic from the warmer mid latitudes. But because of this melt the jet stream becomes weaker and more wavy, allowing cold air (usually confined to the poles) to reach further into the mid latitudes. Et voilà, global warming/climate change caused the severe cold snap. John Holdren, the science advisor of President Obama, even went that far to state that because of this process those deep freeze cold snaps will occur more frequent in the future.

But in general, I can agree with the statement that current cold wave doesn’t disprove global warming. Yet, while it is a nice explanation of the assumed mechanism, it doesn’t prove global warming either. It only proves that media and scientists are creative in finding new ways to fit new events into the theory. AFTER the facts, that is. That’s not difficult, that is what humans are good at, finding connections between seemingly unconnected things.

But deep freeze winters due to the weakening of the jet stream is nothing new. In the 1970s it was used to explain the coming of a new ice age. Younger people may think the weather we see now is unprecedented, but it is not that extreme, nor unprecedented when looking at it over a larger time frame. Remove the hype and there is not much of a story left. Holdren, as a crusader of the coming new Ice Age in the 1970s, should at least recognize that.

How much of this is due to anthropogenic causes? The theory seem to rely on polar amplification. That is a real process, but it doesn’t prove anything about the anthropogenic nature of the warming. Any warming would have that effect, whether it is natural, anthropogenic or both. By the way, the outbreak of cold is also part of the negative phase of the Northern Atlantic Oscillation, which is a natural pattern.

To me it seems yet another patch on a wound of a heavily bruised theory that continue to limp further. I didn’t hear anything about having a higher frequency of very cold winters as a result of global warming/climate change until recently. On the contrary. I heard a lot about more heatwaves, higher temperatures at night, more droughts, more storms, less to no snow,… sure, but very cold winters? No. When it started to snow massively in 2010, suddenly snow became a result of global warming or at least not impossible in a warming world. It seems the same with the cold winters due to the melting ice. Just adding to the possible explanations and covering an additional hole without elimination other ones.

I would be more impressed if scientists came with new falsifiable hypotheses/predictions (based on the global warming theory) about these snowy winters. Now we only hear after the facts that this is not impossible in a warming world or doesn’t disprove global warming. Which is not a big deal actually.

Trapped in Antarctic ice because of weather or climate change?


When looking at the developments of the Antarctic vessel Academik Shokalskiy that stranded in the ice during its touristic/research mission, it reminded me of an expedition in the Arctic: the Mainstream Last First Expedition in 2013. For those who don’t remember or didn’t follow these expeditions some background.

The Mainstream Last First Expedition was trying to cross (a part of) the Northwest Passage in an (uninforced) row boat. They communicated to the world that their trip would prove global warming because it would be the first time this trip was done on human power alone. After about two months they realized there was much more ice they ever anticipated and it blocked their passage. This made them abort their trip about half way.

The Spirit of Mawson expedition was inspired by the expedition of the Antarctic explorer Douglas Mawson, one of Antarctica’s earliest pioneers. Lawson led the Australasian Antarctic Expedition between 1911 and 1914 in which scientific measurements were done. The idea was to redo his measurements and study the effect of climate change on the Antarctic. Everything went well until Christmas Eve, when the ship got stuck in ice. Not being an icebreaker it couldn’t get out and help from icebreakers was requested. The Australian icebreaker Aurora australis couldn’t get trough and the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long (Snow Dragon) even got stuck in the attempt. In the end the helicopter of the Xue Long rescued the passengers from the stranded vessel. Both vessels are still stuck in the ice at this moment.

Both expeditions didn’t expect to encounter much sea ice. The Mainstream Last First expedition rowed in a non-reinforced boat of fiberglass, very vulnerable for ruptures by the ice. Their assumption was that the passage was virtually ice free and they would have a clear way. If they were expecting significant amounts of ice they would not choose this type of boat to do their trip.
The Spirit of Mawson expedition, despite the Antarctic sea ice being at an all time high, didn’t expect much sea ice in that area in December. Therefor they didn’t do the trip in an icebreaker, but in a vessel with a reinforced hull. They also took with them tourists and journalists (BBC, The Guardian and the Radio New Zealand). They were quite sure there was not much danger.

Both expeditions also had an extensive media campaign and a scientific aspect (far more in the Mawson expedition than in the Mainstream Last First expedition).

The stranded vessel generated a lot of media attention. The expedition was criticized for doing tourism disguised as science, the inadequate vessel, for being naive in the dangers they put children and tourists in a a harsh environment, the poor communication with the Russian crew. Even other polar scientists seemed not amused (in French) with the touristic/scientific expedition that consumed other scientists resources and put rescuers at risk. But most saw the irony of scientists who studied climate change being themselves being trapped by the ice they clearly weren’t expecting. Although they should have know that sea ice extent in the Antarctic was at an all time high and the bay they were heading to was notorious for its increased sea ice because an ice berg crashed into a glacier tongue three years ago.

Being frustrated about the criticism, Turney explained his view in the Guardian

Let’s be clear. Us becoming locked in ice was not caused by climate change. Instead it seems to have been an aftershock of the arrival of iceberg B09B which triggered a massive reconfiguration of sea ice in the area.

He didn’t add that the calving of the Ross glacier (where iceberg B09B was originally from) IS attributed to global warming, so at least indirect the cause. And the storm (explained as being unexpected) was not unpredictable.

An article in the Guardian by John Turner explains a bit more:


In fact, the local weather patterns that brought about the rapid build up of ice that trapped the Academik Shokalskiy tell us very little about global warming. This is weather, not climate.

Regionally, climate change can vary markedly across the Earth so to detect human influences on the climate system climate scientists must consider the Earth as a whole.

What is clear is that the impact of climate change on ice at both poles is complex.

In the area where the Akademik Shokalskiy is trapped there has been an increase in sea ice extent for the year as a whole since the late 1970s, although not for the month of December (see attached graph). The amount of ice in the area can vary considerably from year to year making ship operations difficult. The December ice extent in 2011 and 2012 was much larger than the long-term mean, and the ice in 2013 has obviously been of comparable magnitude.


I agree there in this point of view this is an example of weather, not climate. But this area had an increase of ice since the late 1970s. That’s not simply weather anymore and they should be prepared for that. Especially when they knew the amount could vary considerably from year to year and make things difficult.

I have to admit that Turney himself didn’t talk about disappearing sea ice in the Antarctic. The only thing I found was:

However there is an increasing body of evidence, including by the AAE members, that have identified parts of the East Antarctic which are highly susceptible to melting and collapse from ocean warming.

This is deliciously vague, it could well be melting of the ice shelf and/or sea ice. But at least the BBC saw that differently:


One of the aims was to track how quickly the Antarctic’s sea ice was disappearing.


Ooops…this was being said by a broadcast station that should have FIRST HAND INFORMATION about the project! Was the reporter not informed about this part of the project? Did he (or the home base) wrote this on their own initiative? Or was this really a part of the project?

This brings me to a final reflection. What if there hadn’t been (much) ice when they got there? Does anybody think things like this would have been written: “This is weather, not climate”, “We must consider the Earth as a whole” or “The impact of climate change on ice at both poles is complex”? With journalists from at least two alarmist media, we would probably have a barrage of articles that claim that this voyage proved that global warming is alive and kicking in the Antarctic…

The two faces of consensus


When searching for information to be used in previous post I found an article in about risk, emotion and global warming. Reading it, I was catapulted back to my alarmist years. It gave an accurate insight in how I was thinking only five years or so ago. It started like this:

I am not going to lie to you; I am freaked out about climate change. At least politicians today can say something to the effect of “it’s something that the next generation must face down,” seemingly abdicating their own responsibility. But I am a part of that next generation. Climate change is something that I am going to have to deal with, and I’m not sure if my generation and I can.


Moving forward I am going to assume two things. First, that global warming is happening and is human caused (as per the scientific consensus), and second, that most projections about the effects of climate change are grim. That is to say, whatever comes of climate change, it won’t be good. […]

I don’t want to throw stones at anyone. I realized that just about five years ago I was thinking exactly the same things. I can clearly feel his pain. Maybe freaking out would be a rather strong term, but at that time I found the changing climate (then mostly called “global warming”) worrying.

I also assumed that climate change was happening and that our future looked grim if nothing was done quick. This was rooted in my, at that time, unshakable belief in the scientists and the models they used. I also thought they exaggerated their findings, but that they were nevertheless correct.

At the base of it all was “the consensus”. I had other priorities and believing in a broad agreement between scientist was really reassuring. I didn’t had to check anything, didn’t need to think for myself. Just believe what was being told.

To be honest, I have no real problem with the consensus as a concept. It is an agreement of a group of scientists and therefor I can agree that in a field that was studied extensively such an agreement could exist. But I know that there is not something as a “scientific consensus”. As Einstein once said: “There only have to be one to prove me wrong”. The consensus is not part of the scientific method, nor does the consensus prove anything. To believe that the consensus is right, it is necessary to also believe that there is conclusive evidence. It is just a logical fallacy to claim that there is conclusive evidence because there is a consensus between “experts”. There is not much value in arguing about whether there is a consensus or that the consensus proves something.

I do have a problem with a consensus specific in climate science. This for several reasons.

Climate science is a rather young science and only since the last three decades detailed information was gathered. Climate is weather over a longer timespan. 30 years is only about half of a cycle. Before that there was only sparse data, not intended to use as a tool for measuring global temperatures and therefor the data is prone to interpretation. Just look at the ever changing Giss dataset.

More, how in the world can there exist a consensus in a science consisting of multidisciplinary fields studying a complex, chaotic system and sparse historical data available? The uncertainty should be high. Increasing uncertainty (for example about the role of CO2) is more likely to decrease agreement.

There is also another dimension: consensus can be used to stifle debate, close out opponents with another vision or with challenging viewpoints. It is an often heard message: “the debate is over”. If the consensus is about avoiding talking about the evidence it is also just a logical fallacy.

Last, but not least, what is the value of a consensus in a group of scientists that was selected by politicians with a special goal?

Apparently my view on the issue changed quite a lot during the last years and I found myself on the other side of the debate. That doesn’t put me in the most comfortable position, but I think this was the right way to do. Just taking things for granted undoubtedly did put me in a comfortable position, but this can’t compare with the insights gained when looking at both sides of the issue.

Selectively putting it in context

The last four posts were all about the Northwest Passage and basically about the attempts of two teams that tried to cross (a part of) the Passage. Both failed because of wind and early blocking ice. I found it fascinating how the Mainstream Last First team were spinning their message around, even after the aborted attempt. On their website there was a new post about the Arctic ice titled “How much ice is really out there this year?”, about their encounter with Eric Solomon (Vancouver Aquarium’s Director of Arctic Programs):

“It’s about putting it all in context, really.” He states, “For example, this year’s sea ice extent is still 1.41 million square kilometers below the 1981-2010 average, and is the 6th lowest sea ice extent in the satellite record. The ice that (you) guys encountered says more about where the ice was over the last 2 months than how much ice there has been over-all. There is, for example, a big hole in the ice near the North Pole right now. Meanwhile, the winds have been blowing a lot of ice down into the Archipelago and into the region where (you) guys have been rowing.”

How unlucky can one be. They were exactly were the ice was.;-) Indeed, the Western part of the passage saw more ice, so they encountered it on their trip, but for whatever reason it was not much seen in the pictures of their trip.

A big hole near the North Pole? I want to know more about. According to NSIDC there were “holes” in the Arctic, one imaginary and one real:

Earlier this summer, there was considerable interest in seeing liquid water in the North Pole Environmental Observatory (NPEO) web cam. As explained in our August 7 post, that region was simply a shallow melt pond of water atop the ice and not an actual opening in the ice. Nevertheless, our August 19 post described an extensive region of low ice concentration located fairly close to the pole.

Now, a large hole (roughly 150 square kilometers or 58 square miles) of near-zero ice concentration appears to have opened up at about 87 degrees North latitude. Small areas of open water are common within the ice pack, even at the North Pole, as the ice pack shifts in response to winds and currents, resulting in cracks (called leads) in the ice. The current opening seen in our satellite imagery is much larger. In 2006, a larger polynya appeared in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, but it was much farther south.

I heard about the false alarm in August (it was not a hole, not even a lake, it was not even near the actual North Pole). But in September there was indeed an area with low ice concentration near the Pole. These things are indeed called polynyas and, as mentioned, are not really uncommon in the Arctic region. There are whole ecosystems dependent on it and it even can mean ice growth (wind blows over the water and pushes it to the edges). They are not formed by global warming, but by wind displacement or water upwelling.

That’s real alarmist poetry here. Starting with the explanation that polynyas are common even in the Arctic. Then closing with the mention that the holes are larger and a larger polynya was spotted, but then more south… implying maybe, just maybe, we could have something to do with it.

Back to the Mainstream Last First team:

“Here’s a good example: Last year we saw the lowest amount of sea ice in the Arctic on record-by far. Yet, I was in two different Arctic communities (Iqaluit and Pangnirtung) that were blocked by ice much of the summer. They could not get their food shipments in, they could not get out to hunt and fish. It was a real mess. Elders in Iqaluit were saying it had been at least 50 years since they last saw this happen. How does that happen during the lowest ice extent on record? Wind. The wind blew the ice into the fiords and bays. It was stuck there until the wind changed direction and literally overnight, the bays were cleared. As long as there’s any ice it all, it will blow around. In fact, we can expect to see more winds blowing from different directions than they used to as the climate changes.”

There are the stories from the locals again. The above story was to explain that also with not that much ice communities can be trapped by the ice. They hadn’t seen it in at least 50 years. But the locals told them a lot and it was not all consistent. If it suits the team they say that there is less ice than ever before or “have not seen this type ice conditions” or “ice, ice, ice”.

Mr. Solomon’s words echo what the elders told us and what we intuitively understood. The fact that this year’s summer ice will be 1.41 million square kilometers less than the 1981-2010 average is sobering. To put in in perspective the area of British Columbia and Alberta combined is 1.6 million square kilometers. Climate change is happening and is being evidenced even during a cold year like we just experienced.


They added a graph with the ice extent of September 6, 2013. True, the current extent is still below the average, but the rebound of this year was phenomenal, despite 2013 being touted as the year of the “ice free Arctic”. When one looks at the rebound, it is more than 1.7 million km2. To put that “in context”: that is the same as the area of, ahem, British Columbia and Alberta more ice than there was last year. With even 100,000 km2 to spare. That much ice is hard to avoid.

We couldn’t demonstrate it, but we keep on saying it anyway

We, Belgians, are not a seafaring nation. Our Northern neighbors, the Dutch, have a longer track record and are much better in it. Yet we had a polar explorer in our ranks. His name was Adrien de Gerlache and he lead the expedition of 1897-1899 to the Antarctic in his ship “Belgica”. On board also volunteer first mate Roald Amundsen (Norway) and physician Frederick Cook (USA). Amundsen became much more famous for his later expeditions than De Gerlache.

In a nutshell: De Gerlache and his crew left the port of Antwerp ill prepared, got stuck in the Antarctic ice (in the at that time not charted Bellingshausen sea), desperately trying to dig out the wooden vessel, surviving a harsh winter with limited food and only after 13 months they finally succeeded to find open water (probably more despite him than because of him). Although the mission failed miserably and was incredibly close to disaster, they were celebrated as heroes when they sailed back into the harbor of Antwerp two years later.

I couldn’t help thinking about this when I heard of the adventures of the Mainstream Last First team. They couldn’t complete their mission and had to abort their adventure because of blocking sea ice ahead. Now they are celebrated as if they had proven their case. Not only at their own website, but also for example at Global News. There was a video titled: “Modern day explorers traverse the Arctic for climate change”. In fact, this was not really the case. They didn’t traversed the Arctic at all. They wanted to row a part of the Northwest Passage, but they got stuck half way their mission. And yes, they tried to row for awareness for climate change, but had to stop just because climate change was absent this year (the Arctic didn’t melt as much in summer, leaving more pack ice intact and in other places freezing it earlier).

The title “Modern day explorers traverse the Arctic for climate change” is misleading to say the least. Someone who only reads the title will have a different understanding of the case than the one that actually saw the video to the end. Those who only read the title will think that this “modern day explorers” did succeed in traversing it and that the cause (climate change) is still alive and kicking. It takes to actually look at the video to know that the message of title is NOT true.

There all back home in Vancouver, after a failed attempt to become the first to navigate the Northwest Passage under human power alone. They already accomplished a lot, said Kevin in the middle, who just three years ago set the world record to fastest, unsponsored land track to the South Pole. Now he turns his attention to the other side of the planet.

[Kevin Vallely, Antarctic World Record Holder]
There is far less ice in the Northwest Passage now than there has be over decades past. And we thought that by traversing it in a single season on human power we really would make a really strong statement about the changes that are happening in the Arctic.


They repeat their message about the crossing being a strong statement. Now they weren’t able to traverse that part of the Northwest Passage (which according to their theme should be open for non ice-breaker ships because of the melting of the ice), how strong is that statement still?

They basically blamed it on the wind. While that is perfectly plausible (if the wind is drifting them out of course they will be delays and missing the opportunity of that window where the passage is open), they forget to tell us that the passage closed much earlier than last year. From another Arctic rower we got to hear that last year the Passage closed mid-October.


Pinned by ice or being blown of course meant delay after delay and by late August time and daylight was running out to the point where the decision had to be made. The crew had rowed almost 1,900 km where it should have been 1,500 km.

They did encounter ice and wind and had to divert it which added more kilometers. The wind blew ice into their direction. Ice that shouldn’t be there. Ice that should have melted because of climate change and result in an ice free passage suitable for crossing by a unstrengthened row boat. Can we also conclude that they were ill prepared (of very unlucky) and/or that their boat was no match against the ice? So much for the cocksure “only possible now due to the melting ice in the Arctic”-statement from when they started. They encountered already multi-year ice in Franklin Bay and pack ice in Darnley Bay. That was early in their trip.

[Denis Barnett, NW Passage Rower]
Essentially, the Arctic is as we say the Canary in the coal mine for the rest of the world. If all these changes has been magnified right up there, you know, then there must be something going on, you know?

The canary in a coal mine is a nice way to put it, but it seems a strange statement to make after the canary suddenly started to whistle even stronger than before.

If their theme was that the trip would be a really strong statement for Climate Change, then failing to do so must mean that it is not that strong statement after all. While it doesn’t stand anymore, they still make this statement as if they already traversed it and demonstrated their case.