Category Archives: Global Warming

Global Warming: the definition that fits everything

After the early winter with heavy snow in the North-East of the US, the debate again raises whether this is a result of global warming. On the one side there is the belief that this early winter weather in the North-East of the US is linked to global warming and on the other side there is the remark that one can not have it both. And every position in between.

“But”, would you say, “Couldn’t it be perfectly possible that global warming causes warming as well as snow?”. In a way, that is entirely possible. Sure, if global warming is real this could mean local temperatures go up, maybe even also droughts. Not hard to understand. When because of a polar vortex, cold air blows across a warmer water surface this will produce snow, maybe even lots of it. That is a known phenomenon.

It is of course a bit more complicated than that. The big question is: what is our definition of “global warming”? And do we all use the same definition?

Surprise, surprise, we don’t.

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Hooray, government policies may have slowed down global warming!

After a week in the South of France I am back at home and it is time to catch up on the news. One of the news stories that drew my attention was the UK Energy Minister, Baroness Sandip Verma, claiming that policies might play a role in curbing rising temperatures. See also the transcript of the debates in the House of Lords of October 27, 2014. The answer came after Viscount Ridley questioned when warming would start again:

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has confirmed, in the same words, that there has been a “hiatus” in global warming for at least the past 15 years? Will she give us the opinion of her scientific advisers as to when that hiatus is likely to end?

In fact not a bad question, we hear all the time that the science behind global warming is clear. Wouldn’t that be a nice test to see how clear it really is?

But the answer was not exactly what I was expecting:

My Lords, my noble friend raises a couple of issues that we would dispute in a longer debate. What we do recognise is that a change in weather patterns is happening across the globe and that climate change is occurring; it may have slowed down but that is a good thing, and it could well be that some of the measures we are taking today have helped that to occur. If we are to respond seriously to climate change and changing weather patterns, we need to be able to put in place things that mitigate and adapt to those different patterns.

It reminded me about myself some 6 years ago. My switch from believer towards skeptic started with the question whether climate policies made a change in the form of a colder autumn. I know, I know, I was very naive at that time. But it was the beginning of a search that cumulated in this blog. The question made me think and in the end reconsider what I thought was obvious.

It clearly didn’t have the same effect on the Minister. The statement that the global warming hiatus might be related to some of the decarbonization measures is of course utter nonsense. There is one tiny little problem with his statement: until now CO2 was claimed to be CAUSING global warming and despite all the measures that have been taken, global emissions are still INCREASING.

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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?

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.

Is Anthropogenic Global Warming by definition Catastrophic?

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It have been said many, many times before. There supposedly is a scientific consensus that increasing anthropogenic CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are responsible for most of the warming we experienced. It has been said in many variants and is said to justify (immediate) action on climate change.

In the two last posts I wondered what exactly there is a consensus about? My take is that it might be something different than what is communicated.

A couple weeks ago I looked at the Crossing the 2014 Climate Divide: Scientists, Skeptics & the Media video. The first three posts of March were about the first part starring Suzanne Goldenberg (The Guardian). In it also Naomi Oreskes was present. She talked about her experiences with the skeptics and how she entered the climate debate. It was mostly about the extremists, you have them on both sides, not really interesting for me. But it was also about how she came to believe and documented the “consensus”. That was more interesting. Her work is widely cited by many alarmists as a confirmation of the existence of the scientific consensus on global warming.

This is how it was presented: BEYOND THE IVORY TOWER – The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change. What she did was downloading the abstracts of 928 peer reviewed articles which she found when entering the key words “global climate change” for the period of 1993 until 2003 in the ISI database (Institute for Scientific Information).

The question she had was how many papers disagreed with the position of the US National Academy of Science and the IPCC:

Human activities … are modifying the concentration of atmospheric constituents … that absorb or scatter radiant energy. … [M]ost of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations

The conclusion was none: 75% of the articles accepted the “consensus” and 25% were taking no position. This is a subjective thing. Some others have tried this and came to other conclusions. But I have no access to the ISI database, so I will not go there. I will try to look at the method and the definition to see how far I get.

The first statement is something everybody can agree with, at least I have not seen someone disagreeing with that. The Keeling curve learns that the CO2 concentration is rising, at least since 1958 when measurements began. Nothing controversial here. But at such it doesn’t proves much.

Greenhouse gases absorb or scatter radiant energy. Also nothing controversial here.

The last statement seems detailed at first glance, but is a bit more ambiguous:

  • Most of the warming: most is rather ambiguous. It is at least from somewhat above 50% until a bit less than 100%. Let alone how to quantify “most” in an abstract. Okay, let’s assume that this is possible and it is reliable enough to measure the abstracts.
  • Likely: according to the IPCC this means larger than 66%. Okay, there is at least 66% chance that “most” of the observed warming over the last 50 years is due to increase of greenhouse gas concentrations. That means there is 34% or less chance that “most” of the observed warming over the last 50 years is NOT due to the increase of greenhouse gas concentrations.

However, the obvious missing part is the fact that nowhere is stated that this increase is dangerous or leads to catastrophic changes in our climate, therefor needing immediate action. The only thing this statements tell us is that scientists are certain that there is an increased concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere (which is true), that this absorbs or scatters radiant energy (which is also true) and this could mean that part of this increase is caused by our emissions.

That is really uncontroversial. All the skeptics that I know of agree with that. They acknowledge that there is more CO2 in the atmosphere because of our emissions, that it is a greenhouse gas and it will give more warming, everything else being equal. There are some differences though. Like how sure are we about the warming considering the scarce climate data we accumulated from the past? How sure are we about the projections of the temperatures into the future? How sure are we about a warmer world worse than a cooler world? Etcetera. Nothing in this position point out that this warming is bad, but that is how it is marketed.

The measured consensus is about something uncontroversial and has absolutely nothing to do with the extent of the assumed danger associated with this warming, nor with the necessity of action to prevent this increase in warming.

The debate is over and all that

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Since some years I have grown a thicker skin when it comes to reading climate communications. That is certainly needed at this side of the debate. I thought I had seen it all. That was until I saw this video: Crossing the 2014 Climate Divide: Scientists, Skeptics & the Media, starring Suzanne Goldenberg (U.S. Environment Correspondent, The Guardian) and Dr. Naomi Oreskes, (Professor of History of Science, Harvard University). One mispresentations after the other and I only just listened to the first part were Goldenberg explains about her stance on skeptics.

Basically it went like this: the debate is over, science is settled. Now we have to go on and work out solutions in stead of devoting time to the skeptics that are already far behind the issue.

How on earth does she know all those things for sure? I have read some articles she wrote and, beside some quotes of experts, they didn’t really deal with the science. Yet she shows no shred of doubt when saying that the science is settled and action is needed. It looks like an unconditional trust in (climate) science, at least in the alarmist part of it. The interesting part of it is that her trust in the debate being settled is rooted into something else than science.

But we have been there many times before. It shows my age, but I lived in a time where stomach ulcers were still caused by stress, population on earth was too large already and we would have problem feeding ourselves before the end of the 20th century, in our generation we would freeze to death by an imminent ice age, we would develop skin cancers because of exposure by UV rays coming through the ozone hole, in Northern Europe there wouldn’t be much forests left at the end of the 1990s and Finnish lakes would be without fish, and so on and so on. Although in retrospect they were wrong, sometimes spectacularly wrong, yet science was considered trustworthy also back then. We seemed to have learned nothing from our history.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to say that science is useless of invalid. Knowledge is an continuous process, we learn more about earth, nature, ourself when we go along. But it is a bit ridiculous to declare absolute knowledge about complex research areas like the climate when we have only limited data.

Is that unconditional trust in the media warranted? Maybe, maybe not. From my personal experience I really doubt it. Just a few non-scientific things that show me it is probably not:

  • When looking at what gets into the mainstream media, it is sometimes much different than what the scientific paper says. Sometimes even the contrary!
  • Scientists in the media seem to talk more like politicians. Other motives than science could be involved here.
  • The climategate emails learned that high profile climate scientists expressed their doubts towards each other, but to the press they said they were absolutely sure about the science.
  • The unequivocal proof that Global Warming is caused by our CO2 emissions is not showed yet. And, given the complexity of the research area, that proof will not easy to give.
  • That elusive 95% certainty that is repeated often, is only the opinion of a subset of the climate scientists, it is not a calculated value.
  • Predictions of how global warming is affecting our lives is ever changing and the theory has to be adjusted every time something unexpected happens. This shows me that there are still large gaps in the science.
  • Reliable data of for example global temperature, ice area,… is only being gathered since a couple decades ago (sometimes even a decade ago like ocean temperature). That is just a tiny blip on climate scale. The data gathered before that time is sparse and is “convenience sampling” data. Not much trust can be given to results coming out of that.
  • The alarm isn’t caused by the empirical data, but by the climate models that suggest doom and gloom in the far future.
  • It is not surprising that scientists thought we might be responsible for the warming of the 1980s-1990s. If CO2, being a greenhouse gas, causes warming, more of it should surely cause more warming. But it is surprising to hear scientists say in the media that they are sure that additional anthropogenic CO2 will cause disasters, even though there is little empirical data that supports this.

None of this prove that the absolute truths of the climate scientists in the media are not trustworthy, but it shows me that other motives than scientific could be at stake here.

When hearing Goldenberg talk about the divide it is clear the “settled science” and “the consensus” is really important. Not for the science, it doesn’t advance via consensus. But for the public it is: that settled science makes it easier for those who want to silence their opponents and facilitate climate policies.

Whack-a-larmism

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.