Saturday, January 9, 2010

The CIA, Climate Change, and the Booker and Plimer books

Thanks to Bruce Everett I gather that just when there are concerns about how well we are handling the war on terror, the CIA is being diverted to look at the evidence for climate change. Now I don’t have any problem with folks making use of data that was acquired while the CIA was carrying out their main responsibility. If the pictures of Afghanistan, for example, looking for terror camps could also monitor where the ice fields are and this can be given to those working in the field then that is a good thing. Afghanistan has a problem with water shortages, and there could be good reason for the CIA to be aware of some of those issues.

However the claim by some of the participants that the program is basically “free” appears to be a bit of an overstatement. And there is more to it than the initial statements would imply.
The monitoring program has little or no impact on regular intelligence gathering, federal officials said, but instead releases secret information already collected or takes advantage of opportunities to record environmental data when classified sensors are otherwise idle or passing over wilderness.
Since it appears that there is more involvement by the CIA than just passing over some pictures.
Controversy has often dogged the use of federal intelligence gear for environmental monitoring. In October, days after the C.I.A. opened a small unit to assess the security implications of climate change, Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, said the agency should be fighting terrorists, “not spying on sea lions.”
So that there is the cost and opportunity cost for that group which I suspect does not come for nothing. And thus to the comment from Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-CA), the Chairman of the House Intelligence Subcommittee, who apparently said
“If you really want to understand where al-Qaida and other bad guys are going to move next, one of the things you have to understand is climate change. Famine and drought cause human migration and poverty. That creates pockets where terrorists can organize.”
I rather suspect that the problems that the terrorists are more able to exploit are those such as the power shortages in countries such as Pakistan, that I have written about before, where load shedding of up to 9 hours a day is already occurring, or the lack of electric power (and the benefits that it brings) in countries such as Yemen.

A report from 2006 notes that rural electricity reaches only 20% of the population.
The low access and the absence of reliable electricity supply have been recognized as severe constraints to economic growth in Yemen, and to the achievement of the Government of Yemen’s poverty alleviation objectives.
It ranks far down the list of nations, on a par with Haiti, and just ahead of Bangladesh and Sudan. Yet such is the focus of the current Administration on Climate Change – despite the growing evidence that the whole program needs a serious review to determine how honest it has been – that more critical concerns are getting subsumed below that effort. And if these involve the diversion of CIA time and effort then it goes beyond just being dumb.

I read a couple of books over the holidays, the first, which I highly recommend is Christopher Booker’s “The Real Global Warming Disaster.” For those who are less cynical of the AGW arguments there is a contrasting review at the Guardian, but that review highlights the way in which those whom I now refer to as the distorters argue when faced with a straightforward investigative report of the evolution of the climate change movement. The book is a very readable and documented assembly of fact leading up to the mess that the United Kingdom Government is rapidly getting itself into with its future plans for energy supply, as it tries to meet EC regulations and its own promises for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The Guardian criticism on the other hand (bearing in mind that Mr. Booker writes for one of their rivals – the Telegraph – in the UK) is the more typical generic global warming diatribe. It is headed with a picture from New Orleans after Katrina hit (a characteristic choice typical of the fear-mongering and “grab anything scary” mentality of the distorters, but given the lack of hurricanes striking the USA last year after AGW proponents had forecast greater damage and frequency of such hurricanes perhaps becoming a bit of an embarrassing one). It is however interesting to read the Guardian comment on the hockey stick graph from Professor Mann.
Predictably, he attacks the infamous "hockey stick" graph, a plot of global mean temperatures over the past 1,000 years produced by two scientists in 1998 which shows little change for the entire period until suddenly soaring in the 20th century.

It is now mostly accepted that the analysis that produced these data was wrong.
Somehow I don’t recall seeing that admission in any Guardian headline. And the Guardian article, rather than specific detailed criticism of the facts in the book (there aren’t any given) relies on “trust me” and “all those scientists couldn’t be wrong.”

Go read the book, I enjoyed it and it was informative.

On the other hand I also am plodding through “Heaven and Earth” by Ian Plimer, which has been acclaimed as providing the “missing science” to the global warming debate. And it does, but largely by bringing together the facts in the 2,311 articles and references that have information that relates to the global warming debate. The problem with trying to integrate such a voluminous amount of material is that it means that there are roughly four different references to a page and thus the information from any one of them can only be slightly discussed as it is integrated into the greater whole.

As a result the book reads much more like one of the dusty textbooks that I used to have to struggle through in an earlier part of my life. The facts are there, they are relatively well assembled, so that if I want to know more about the relative elevation of land after the passing of the great ice sheets from most of Europe the information is collated, there are a couple of contour maps, and there are the references. But while the subject of land subsidence, rather than sea-level rise is covered, and combined with a very brief history of the Thames (which explains in very brief passing why the Thames Barrier has to be raised more frequently with time), the subject is not described in much detail. There is so much that has to be covered, that the pace of the book ends up being too fast, and topics such as that, which could stand more discussion, are already left behind. Of course in covering such a broad field, had that type of coverage been given then the book would likely have been at least three times as thick. The provision of so many references does, however, provide a body of fact, which is as with Booker's book, met with significant criticism not all of which was as well based in the facts, which the book in general provides, either directly or through reference.

And the problem that this can get Professor Plimer into is that because it is such a great compendium of information, it is difficult for him to cover any specific area of the topic in enough detail to get much beyond the superficial comment. And this is a pity because the topics are sometimes covered so rapidly that it is hard to grasp all the meanings of the information, although the references are there so one can follow up on areas where there are questions.

It will probably end up on my reference shelf, not so much for what it says, but so that, when there is a question on a particular topic I can find the references that he uses and chase them up to get the more detailed information that I am looking for.


  1. Talking about books -- another one that is worth a look is "Unstoppable Global Warming - every 1,500 years", by Singer & Avery (2007, updated 2008).

    It is heavily footnoted to the "peer-reviewed" literature, but may explain those references better than Plimmer's book.

    The authors' point is that, superimposed on top of the huge natural climate variation of the Ice Ages, there has been a smaller natural variation with a period of very roughly 1,500 years. This natural variation correlates very well with changes in solar output -- and explains recent mild warming. In contrast, geological & historical climate changes do not correlate well with atmospheric CO2.

    Singer's & Avery's book seems poorly edited in places, and not totally fact checked on peripheral issues. (E.g., they mention that China & India have a population of 2 billion each, instead of combined). But the book certainly is food for thought about an area where (as we have all heard ad nauseam) 'the science is settled'.

  2. Hi Dave. I've been reading on Climate too, namely Marcel Leroux's book Global Warming: Myth or Reality: the erring ways of Climatology. The first handfull of chapters are bit boring, but when it comes to the dynamics of weather and climate it is quite fascinating. It really gives you the sense that most folk studying and publishing on the matter do not really grasp the fundamental mechanisms of circulation. Leroux gives incredible examples of publications that are plane wrong when it comes to understand circulation.

    Leroux also makes a strong case on the impossibility of modelling circulation with cellular automata. The cell uniformity assumption of such models can't possibly mimic the weather structures that perform the energy exchanges from the poles to the equator.

    This books also makes it quite clear the extent to which the MSM are performing a collective brainwash by attributing every single weather event to AGW.