Sunday, March 30, 2008

Gore's Law In Action

Readers of my last post, on the subject of Gore's Law, may have been of the mistaken impression that Gore's law only apples to blog comments boxes. Kiwi blogger David Farrar aptly demonstrates that this is not the case, flying into action in the first half of the first sentence of an actual blog post:

Like a medieval religious zealot, Al Gore claims that those who still doubt that global warming is caused by man are the equivalent of those who think the moon landing was faked.
A medieval religious zealot? I was unaware that the moon landing was actually an issue in the Middle Ages. Oh well...

DPF continues:
Scientific debate is in fact the exact opposite of lunatic conspiracy theories.
True enough, but are climate change 'sceptics' really engaged in a scientific debate? Hardly. While there are uncertainties, there is next to no disagreement amongst climatologists about the fact that current climate change is human induced and a real concern. There is no real debate. What we have instead is climate 'sceptics' grasping at any evidence whatsoever that appears to support their theories though while diligently ignoring everything else. And this is something they have in common with conspiracy theorists.

Indeed, DPF himself, while grudgingly acknowledging that there is "fairly wide consensus that greenhouse gas emissions contribute to warming" attempts to counter this concession by emphasising uncertainties using a quote from an article in the Australian. The quote's from an interview with Jennifer Marohasy in which Ms Marohasy claims that new satellite data and recent temperature trends provide us reason to doubt the danger presented by climate change.

Marohasy is not a climatologist, of course, and her employer has a rather comfortable relationship with oil companies, but none of this would matter if her claims were actually right. The trouble is, they're not. She's not credible, her claims are wrong and one has to wonder why, out of all the good information on climate change on the internet, DPF had to choose her as a source. In doing so he certainly did nothing to counter Al Gore's supposition about climate 'sceptics' and conspiracy theorists.

[Update: Edited second to last paragraph for clarity]

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Gore's Law

In 1990 Internet Lawyer and writer Mike Godwin gave the world Godwin's law, stating that:

As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.
The rise and rise of Internet Climate 'sceptic' nonsense means it's time for an update.

Gore's Law
As an online climate change debate grows longer, the probability that denier arguments will descend into attacks on Al Gore approaches one.
Have a look. This Hot-Topic thread begins to Gore after about 21 comments. While this Poneke thread is Gored badly almost from the start. There's plenty of Goring going on in this thread too. And some organisations, such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute have grabbed both horns, so to speak, and Gore right from the outset.

Here's a hint. Al Gore could be short, evil and fond of child sacrifice. He could emit more CO2 snoring at night than Christopher Monckton does all year. And his movie could be even more inaccurate than the Great Global Warming Swindle. But this wouldn't change a thing. What matters is not Al Gore's character but science. And, in the case of climate change, it's awfully compelling.

[Update: And, not willing to wait until the comments box, David Farrar Gores hard right at the outset in his latest piece of climate blather.]

Monday, March 24, 2008

Cool New Blog

Really, there's not much need for any fanfare when I add a new link to my link list. I'm hardly going to be directing tonnes of traffic in their direction. Still, I just wanted to say that The Hand Mirror is cool.

The Parable of the Little Boy Who Watched Adults Avoiding the Wolf Once too Often

Poneke makes use of a poorer than average review by John Lancaster to sneer at media and government overreactions to the Y2K Bug scare.

She’s almost right: the scent of possible catastrophe sent much of the media into a feeding frenzy. Their tales and fins thrashed the water as they competed for chunks of impending doom. And this didn’t do much to add to clarity on the actual issues.

I even recall reading somewhere (possibly in Nexus in which case it serves me right) an alarming passage on how Y2K might cause the silicon chips in milk cartons to malfunction! Even as a much more credulous younger man, I still wondered about that a bit. I mean, what role does a silicon chip in a milk carton actually play? And, if it suddenly ends up in a muddle over dates, how disastrous can that actually be? Still, that didn’t stop me from racing home at 11:59pm on New Year's eve and eagerly watching the fridge (from a vantage point behind the couch) hoping to learn just what the problem was.

But Poneke is also wrong in chastising the world’s governments for taking action. And this, I think, is symptomatic of an all too common problem. When a threat arises, be it bird flu, or SARS or Y2K, and when we take action to prevent it from leading to catastrophe, the fact that a catastrophe doesn’t occur doesn’t mean that we were wrong to take action. Showing that a catastrophe didn’t occur isn't the same as showing that it wouldn’t had we not acted. And it seems particularly arrogant to criticise those people who may have stopped it from occurring because, hah hah, it didn’t occur. Even when action was, ultimately, not necessary this doesn’t mean that – in a world of risk and uncertainty – we were wrong to follow the precautionary principle either.

Special Muriel Newman Bonus Bonus

A couple weeks ago Muriel Newman's breathless report back from the very exciting climate change denial conference she attended in New York made its way in a slightly edited form into the Dompost (Welington's local paper). It's futile, but I couldn't resist - so I wrote a letter to the Dom. I don't think they've published it, but I don't read the Dom enough to know for sure.

Anyhow, here's the first draft of the letter (I shortened it a bit to meet the Dom's word limit).

In her oped ‘Climate Change: we didn’t do it’ Muriel Newman breathlessly informs us that “[l]ast week 500 people, including 200 leading climate scientists and economists, gathered in New York to address the question of whether manmade global warming is really threatening the existence of our planet”. Reading over the misconceptions and factual errors in the rest of her column it’s hard to escape the feeling that there must have been an awful lot of economists at the conference.

Newman, for example, writes that, “[s]ince 1934 has emerged as the warmest year in recent times, manmade greenhouse gas emissions cannot possibly be to blame.” Globally, 1934 was not – by a long shot – the warmest year in recent times. It was probably the warmest year in the United States, but there’s a reason why the word ‘global’ is included in global warming – because the phenomenon has to do with temperatures for the globe as a whole. And globally temperatures have risen significantly since the 1930s. It’s true that there was a period of cooling over the middle part of last century but the reason for this is – aerosol pollution – is well known and the trend does not disprove the theory that the current episode of climate change is human driven.

Newman also claims that some of the temperature rises reported on by the IPCC are the result of the urban encroachment on previously rural temperature stations. How then does Ms Newman explain the rise in temperatures recorded by satellites? God only knows our cities are sprawling, but not that far.

Just to be clear, that isn't an attack on economists in the first paragraph. I'm just pondering how so many experts could know so darn little about the Earth's climate.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Special Muriel Neuman Sea Level Bonus

In her online opinion piece on climate change Muriel Newman states with some confidence that:

Predictions of dramatic sea level rises were categorically discredited. The sea has been rising by a constant 18cm a century (1.8mm a year) and is thought to be driven by the melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The fact that this started an estimated 18,000 years ago and is expected to continue for another7000 years shows that humans are not to blame!
Compare this with someone who has the unfair advantage of actually knowing what they are talking about:
But around 18,000 years ago earth began to deglaciate, bringing us to the present interglacial. As a result, sea level rose about 120 m over a span of about 10,000 years, albeit irregularly...The situation began to stabilize around 8,000 years ago, with a much slower rate of change, and about 2,000 years ago even greater stability became the order of the day. Sea level is believed to have been remarkably constant from the 1st century until the 19th; studies from a number of geographically diverse regions provide convincing evidence that the rate of change was no greater than 0.2 mm/yr. This situation remained in effect until the middle of the 19th century, when sea level began to rise; since then it’s risen at an average rate of around 1.5 mm/yr, although the rate has been variable.

Bank Run!!!!!

Not a high street bank this time, but essentially the same thing. Right now, the Fed and big players such as JP Morgan are doing their best to stop the US financial system from going off the edge. They're struggling. If they fail, as best as I can tell, we're looking at a mess of a scale not seen since the 1920s. I don't own shares, I don't own a house, I'm still worried.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

I'm not supposed to be blogging but...

...Muriel Newman is quacking and it's hard to resist.

A conservative friend of the family recently sent me an email that was more or less a cut and paste of this post from Ms Newman's website.

I replied as follows:

That's an interesting email. It's also rather misleading. I'm not a climatologist and when I can spot elementary errors it leaves me inclined to think that the person who wrote it probably isn't qualified to comment on climate science.

Here's a couple of problems with the email.

1. They write: "Scientists have shown that in the earth’s geological past, concentrations of carbon dioxide have been up to 20 times higher than they are at present and temperatures have been considerably warmer."

Personally, I doubt the 20 times higher figure but it's possible, the Earth has a long history. Humans have only been around for a very short part of it; human civilisation for even less. And that's the point: it's true that temperatures have been considerably warmer in the distant past. So warm, in fact, that Crocodile like creatures lived close to the arctic circle. Which is good news for crocodile like creatures but rather disastrous for us humans - do you really think that we could endure this level of climate change (rendering most of the world's temperate zones uninhabitable) without huge suffering. The other point that the author is trying to make, of course, is that because the historical climate variations have been greater than those observed at present, then current variation may not be natural. This is incorrect. We know, thanks to basic atmospheric physics that - everything else being equal - more CO2 in the atmosphere will lead to higher temperatures. We know CO2 levels are rising (thanks to undisputed measurements). We know thanks to Carbon Isotope measures that human activity is causing this rise. We also know that temperature is rising. And, no known combination of known climate forcings which excludes the input of CO2 can explain this observed rise. In other words: the Earth has warmed naturally in the past; it is warming now - this is not natural.

2. They then write: "The two most recent warming periods occurred during Roman Times from 200BC to 600 AD and Medieval Times from 900AD to 1300AD, when Greenland was green and grapes grew in England. The Little Ice Age followed." This is simply not true. In some climate reconstructions the medieval warm period is close to being as warm in present (in most it's not even close); however, in no reconstruction is it warmer than present. Grapes, I might add, still grow in England. And Greenland was never green. Leif Erikson (or Eric the red - I get the two mixed up) named it Greenland to attract other settlers to the continent - one of history's oldest real estate swindles.

3. They then write: "Current temperature trends show a warm period between 1920 and 1940, followed by a cooling phase. There was a sudden warming surge from 1976 to 1978 and another in 1998. Since then the weather has been cooler." The cooling phase was caused by aerosol pollution - as countries tightened up on this (through clean air acts and the like) temperatures began to warm again. The 'surge' up to 1998 was caused by abnormally high temperatures in that year - a result of El Nino. All of this is common knowledge. That no one at the conference bothered to mention it makes me wonder about the credibility of the experts present.

4. They then write: "The year 1934 has emerged as the warmest of the 20th century." This, if I recall correctly, is also false. 1934 was the warmest year on record *in the United States*. It's called global warming for a reason - and the United States is not the globe.

5. I could go on, but dinner awaits. I will note on thing though - the IPPC does not run its own research. It assesses all the peer-reviewed research currently available. Its conclusions reflect the state of the science - not one conference run by an organisation that gets a bundle of money from Exxon Mobil and which has its own ideological bone to pick.

Anyhow, it was an interesting email, so thanks for that. Speaking of a warm climate, lovely weather today no?


They then posted my reply on Ms Newman's website. And she replied (and I received the reply via email from the family friend).

Here's my reply:
Thanks for your reply. I take it that the message is actually from Muriel Newman and that she has replied on a forum where you pasted the contents of myf first email?

Also I need to apologise in advance for two things:
1. My reply will be brief.
2. This is going to be my last reply on this subject matter.

As I'm sure you can appreciate, I have quite a lot on my plate at present and I could do with relaxing at least some of this weekend (1 day is already liekly lost to work), and while debating climate change can be enjoyable, it isn't relaxing.

Ms Newman is right: medieval Norse settlers in the sourthen coastal regions of Greenland did indeed graze cattle and grow crops. Grazing and agriculture - and the Norse settlers - were put paid by the Little Ice Age, where temperatures were significantly cooler than during either the Medieval Warm Period or the present day. Does this mean that the Medieval Warm Period was warmer than today? No. First Greenland is only 1 country (and remember we're talking about *global warming* here). Second, my understanding is that the current climate in southern Greenland is once again warm enough to support such agriculture. The reason it is not is because, thanks to the wonders of globalisation, it's far more efficient for Greenlanders to import such food (a good example of comparative advantage Ricardo style.)

The Hockey Stick
Mann et al's 'Hockey Stick' climate reconstruction has most certainly not been "well and truly discredited". It has been challenged, but these challenges themselves are of questionable merit. If you are interested you can read about the errors in McIntyre & McKitrick's putative refutation of the hockey stick here:

Let us, for argument's a sake, assume that the Mann et al's reconstruction was wrong, however. Would that disprove the theory that current climate change stems from predominantly human sources? In a word: no. For a start Mann is not the only person working on historical climate records. If you go to the following link you can look at the various credible climate reconstructions of the last 2000 years super imposed on the same graph:

Some of these are Mann's work but the majority are not. You will notice, of course, that in none of the reconstructions does the Medieval Warm Period come close to being as warm as current temperatures. Even if Mann's hockey stick graph was to be discredited this would do nothing to change this fact.

It is also worth noting that, even if all these reconstructions were wrong, this still wouldn't prove that current warming was not human generated. As I said in my last email, we know from basic physics that, everything else being equal, if CO2 levels in the atmosphere rise, temperatures will follow. We know that CO2 levels are rising. We know from Carbon Isotope measures that we are the source of this CO2. And we know that temperatures are also rising. This alone is reason for considerable concern.

The Relationship Between CO2 and Temperature in the Paleoclimate Record
Ms Newman is broadly correct when she says that CO2 lags behind temperature through much of the paleoclimate record. She misses the point here though. Prior to technology providing humans with the means to alter the Earth's climate, changes in the Earths climate were probably - in the first instance - primarily driven by orbital variations or fluctuations in solar activity. These initial temperature variations are likely to have then triggered a feedback process through which CO2 was released into the atmosphere (possibly from warming oceans). This then exacerbated the initial warming trends leading to the large variations in temperature visible in the paleoclimate record. This is is interesting but does nothing to disprove the theory of AGW. Recent observed solar fluctuations do not correspond to global temperature trends (the graph Ms Newman shows is long refuted and only tracks the US temperature record, anyhow). And, as I noted above, we have definitive proof of the fact that the rise in CO2 in the atmosphere is caused by human activity (i.e. it's not part of some feedback loop).

The Impact of Human CO2 Emissions verses Natural Quantities of CO2 in the Atmosphere
I have not had time to check the numbers that Ms Newman quotes from Robinson et al and it would not surprise me if they are wrong. Nevertheless, the basic point stands. Compared to quantities of CO2 to be found naturally in the atmosphere and biosphere, human emission levels are not large. But the important point is that naturally, over a period of broadly stable temperatures, naturally occurring CO2 is in balance. Sources of emission are countered by sources of absorption. The criticical thing here is that we humans are disrupting this balance. That is all that is required to trigger climate change.

I hope that this is of some help to you.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Blogging will resume...

...shortly I hope. In the meantime try: Middle East peace - it sounds so simple when you put it this way.