Saturday, December 5, 2009

Popular Mechanics is wrong!

Hmm! Incited, I must admit, by a comment the Advocate made on his web-site, in which, via Andrew Sullivan, he approves of the “dispassionate” review of Climategate given in the last edition of Popular Mechanics – I am going to try and explain why that article is, in fact, almost totally wrong. (And incidentally did you know that Dr Kelemen, who wrote it, shares a department at Columbia University with Dr James Hansen - he who is one of the strongest advocates of AGW on the planet. Sigh!)

The article states, in its summary
A good-faith effort has been made to determine average global temperature using the instrumental record, with increasing accuracy and precision as the data become more comprehensive. For sure, the average temperature of the atmosphere has been rising for most of the last 50 years. This is consistent with the greenhouse theory, though one cannot rule out with complete certainty that other factors—variation due to sunspot activity, or the last gasp of a long warming trend caused by variation in the Earth's orbit—might also be contributing to temperature change.
OK, let’s start there and progress, because the e-mails and sections of code that are being revealed show that the “good-faith” bit is already somewhat of a stretch. But before I get there let me explain a couple of things that may not be that well known. To begin with there are not that many places that actually monitor the temperature of the globe, or are used as the sources of record. The two that have been most consistently used are that run by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) and that of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (CRU) affiliated with the British Met Office, though there is a third at the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) which is part of NOAA. (This last tends to run very close to the GISS values). The British Met Office, in trying to ameliorate the mess that has suddenly been dumped in their lap has tried to explain how these records are made.

However, at the moment, having (I suspect) taken a look at the reality of mess that was the code that was being used at CRU the Met Office has decided to clean its slate and start over, which is a commentary in itself.
The Met Office plans to re-examine 160 years of temperature data after admitting that public confidence in the science on man-made global warming has been shattered by leaked e-mails.

The new analysis of the data will take three years, meaning that the Met Office will not be able to state with absolute confidence the extent of the warming trend until the end of 2012.

Unfortunately this does not address the underlying issue – and which Peter Kelemen fails to grasp. It is this. There has been a clear pattern of global warming and cooling in about 1,000 to 1,500 year cycles for some millennia. From about 1350 to about 1850 the globe was in a period called a Little Ice Age. There are literally hundreds of scientific documents that record this. The ones that I am more often prone to quote are collected in Jean Grove’s Book The Little Ice Age. The world started coming out of this colder time about 160 years ago, so the Met Office survey is going to show that the globe has, yes indeed, been warming over that time frame.

But the question that gets neglected in that reaffirmation is based on the reason for the warming. Because if indeed the world is naturally going through this cycle, then the Anthropogenic part of AGW becomes questionable. Carbon dioxide levels were not changing as this part of the cycle started – they are not thought to have been a significant factor until around 1980, by which time the globe had been warming for over a hundred years. (And in the 1960’s – which is where Peter would have us consider that greenhouse effects started to have an impact - the world was apparently (according to the now questionable record) in the midst of a cooling period that lasted from about 1940 to about 1970).

Further, before the Little Ice Age there is considerable evidence that the globe was warmer, on average, than it is now. And in that period life did not come to an end. There was no great invasion of the sea over vast areas of land. Yes, there were droughts in places such as Southern California but there was no great eruption of methane from the melting tundra, as has been prophesied as an example by many of those now writing about the terrors that Global Warming will bring. The period was known as the Medieval Warming Period, and even Dr. Mann, in a paper published last week, has finally admitted to its existence.

The implication in the statement in Popular Mechanics is that it is the greenhouse effect that is driving climate change, and that the natural effects are merely assisting in encouraging the change. In reality it is the other way around. As lots of scientists have pointed out, over most of the history of the Earth it is only after the temperature has risen that carbon dioxide levels rise, not, as many AGW proponents would have it, the other way around.

The recent halt in the rapid rate of global warming that we saw until 1998 points out the errors in accepting the arguments of advocates of AGW such as Dr Hansen, whose predictions had the average temperature increase due to the greenhouse effect already over 1.1 degrees C, when in fact it is around 0.5 degrees C, below the level that Dr Hansen had predicted it would reach only if carbon dioxide levels were dramatically reduced in 2000, which they were not.

I suspect that we will see many similar articles by apologists for the AGW crowd of the ilk of the Popular Mechanics article in the coming weeks. We can only hope that those reporting on the issue become a little more dispassionate in their reporting. Unfortunately based on the record to date I would not place any money on it happening – but regrettably, with the money being committed to the climate change business, the world is not likely to have that luxury.


  1. HO:

    You are spouting obvious nonsense. For example, when you say:

    "The implication in the statement in Popular Mechanics is that it is the greenhouse effect that is driving climate change, and that the natural effects are merely assisting in encouraging the change. In reality it is the other way around. As lots of scientists have pointed out, over most of the history of the Earth it is only after the temperature has risen that carbon dioxide levels rise, not, as many AGW proponents would have it, the other way around"

    The amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere anthropologically is pretty well understood, and the annual increase in the atmostpheric concentration is less than the amount we emit. In other words the natural world is absorbing some of our emissions, not emitting CO2 because of a naturally warming world as you suggest.

  2. I suggest you look up the mass of the atmosphere, grab the Keeling data and your BP spreadsheet and do the basic carbon budget. You'll see that what you are suggesting here cannot possibly be true.

  3. Stuart:
    If you were to look at the graphs which are used in "The Inconvenient Truth" which shows the rise of carbon dioxide and temperature over geologic time you will find that the temperature rose first, not second. This is well documented.

    In regard, however, to the point I was making. The carbon dioxide excess between that emitted and that in the atmosphere is partially absorbed into the oceans. That relationship is governed by the ocean temperature, and by the layering of the ocean. Some of the studies more recently have shown that the interaction between the different layers of the ocean is not quite as it had been earlier modeled. Thus as temperature rises, the amount the immediate surface of the water can carry changes and thus so does the relative capacity of that layer. Because surface temperature varies with a variety of other factors (a simple example is the El Nino/La Nina changes in the Pacific) this is more regionalized than global but it is nevertheless a factor in controlling how much is absorbed, or released, which is, as I said, a function of temperature. Increasing temperatures also control the relative volumes of gases generated from land that is returning from permafrost into growth/decay etc.

    Nevertheless what I wrote was a little badly worded relative to the point that I was trying to get across, which was that with the planet already warming (since about 1850) that amount and its effects must be discounted before one can evaluate possible effects from AGW.

    Statements that no natural event could cause the increases we have seen are now being revised since carbon dioxide levels continue to rise and global temperatures do not. Thus now we are seeing folk such as Dr Mann suggest that solar effects and changes in ocean behavior is having more impact than he had thought. Interestingly when that was brought up in earlier discussions it was derided by the same folks that now advocate it, as the evidence shows that their models were in error.

  4. I agree that prior to the anthropogenic era, CO2 was a feedback, not a forcing. But you appeared to be trying to suggest that is still the situation now, and that's inaccurate.

    I don't think anyone disputes that there are natural fluctuations in temperature superimposed on the anthropogenic signal, and the little warming pause of the last few years is not statistically meaningful - just represents the noise turning down for a while, but not strong enough to actually cause the temperature to fall.

  5. I keep seeing people repeat "CO2 only starts rising after a warming cycle starts".  I am amazed that otherwise-informed people, especially those with engineering degrees, do not recognize that excitation injected into a feedback path will affect a system just as much as exciting the "main" input... or they would not hesitate to note this as an issue in any other context but deny it in this one.  There's a problem with human cognition and one of the ways it manifests is as cognitive dissonance.  Loyalties to tribal/ideological groups outweigh rationality for most people.

    This is a weakness.  Fatal?  I fear it might be so.  We may be wired to support the shibboleths of our group even if it kills us.

    Ice-core data shows that we have moved the atmosphere's chemical state way beyond anything it's achieved in the last several glacial cycles.  We have moved the chemistry far faster than just about anything else can do it; about the only thing that could equal what we're doing is an undersea landslide liberating gigatonnes of methane hydrates all at once.  Normally, in this part of the Milankovic cycle the atmospheric CO2 would be well under 300 ppm and falling.  Instead, it is nearly 400 ppm and rocketing upward.  Anyone who claims that the measurable effects of this and other GHGs on temperature, oceanic acidity and other things will miraculously be counteracted by other things needs to point to the SCIENCE showing how that will occur.  As I've said elsewhere, I don't believe in miracles.

  6. Well it looks as though it is going to be time for a little tech talk on how carbon dioxide interacts with the oceans - I'll try and get it up on Saturday.

    What I did find interesting in going through the EPA announcement on Monday was that, nowhere in it was there any mention of the Little Ice Age, and the MWP got relatively short shrift.

    Interesting that Climategate allowed them to discount the Hadley data, which is the only one of the three records that they state shows the relatively stable temperature after 1998.

  7. A little perspective

    I.e., even if the CRU over-adjusted temps were correct, there's nothing at all unprecidented about the current temps.

    Please see the lead article here for a rather interesting temperature trend in a location they claim to be melting.

    While watching this, keep in mind that CRU and others are adjusting temperatures up.