Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Predictions of climate change

There are a couple of controversial items that have made it into the mainstream press recently that seem to have stirred a little controversy, and which are worth at least a mention. (And please note that the original post has been updated).

The first was the Opinion piece in the WSJ back in January in which 16 scientists wrote that there was no need to panic over Global Warming. They note, in their letter
Alarmism over climate is of great benefit to many, providing government funding for academic research and a reason for government bureaucracies to grow. Alarmism also offers an excuse for governments to raise taxes, taxpayer-funded subsidies for businesses that understand how to work the political system, and a lure for big donations to charitable foundations promising to save the planet. Lysenko and his team lived very well, and they fiercely defended their dogma and the privileges it brought them.

Speaking for many scientists and engineers who have looked carefully and independently at the science of climate, we have a message to any candidate for public office: There is no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to "decarbonize" the world's economy. Even if one accepts the inflated climate forecasts of the IPCC, aggressive greenhouse-gas control policies are not justified economically.

Their letter received a response from a group that included some of the more prominent (and funded) of the climate change advocates, which avoided the discussion of funding, but rather spoke to the eminence of those who are forecasting gloom.
Do you consult your dentist about your heart condition? In science, as in any area, reputations are based on knowledge and expertise in a field and on published, peer-reviewed work. If you need surgery, you want a highly experienced expert in the field who has done a large number of the proposed operations.

You published "No Need to Panic About Global Warming" (op-ed, Jan. 27) on climate change by the climate-science equivalent of dentists practicing cardiology. While accomplished in their own fields, most of these authors have no expertise in climate science. The few authors who have such expertise are known to have extreme views that are out of step with nearly every other climate expert. This happens in nearly every field of science. For example, there is a retrovirus expert who does not accept that HIV causes AIDS. And it is instructive to recall that a few scientists continued to state that smoking did not cause cancer, long after that was settled science.
(You will note the little unsubtle ad hominem at the end.)

The original authors have now replied. I will quote the reply under the fold, but the first part of their response points out that, for major surgery, it is often best to get a second opinion, and to look at the record of the proposed scientists. They then put up a graph of the accuracy of the IPCC predictions for temperature rise, which I thought worth repeating.

IPCC projections for temperature rise, against reality. (WSJ)

There is a response to the more recent letter on RealClimate which complains that the WSJ plot does not include error bars, and that, when those are included, that recent temperature plots fall within the range of the predicted models. I have appended that plot to the end of this post.

Te response begins thus:
We agree with Mr. Trenberth et al. that expertise is important in medical care, as it is in any matter of importance to humans or our environment. . . . . . . . . .In this respect, an important gauge of scientific expertise is the ability to make successful predictions. When predictions fail, we say the theory is "falsified" and we should look for the reasons for the failure.
They point out that the heat that was to have raised the temperature has now been suggested as having gone, instead, into the oceans, but point out that there is no evidence to sustain that theory.

They note that the Earth has been warming since the Little Ice Age (for which there is much evidence) and prior to the LIA there was the Medieval Warming Period, and before it the Holocene Climate Optimum, neither of which can have been caused by greenhouse gases but which instead point to a natural cycling of temperature, which current science has not disproved as a cause of the current warming period. And they also express concern about the statement that "decarbonization would drive decades of economic growth."

Of course a wind farm, or solar farm employs significantly less workers than a coal mine (though arguably more than an oil or gas well - though not if one includes the refineries - since when it gets to power station levels both should surely balance out). I rather suspect that this is not the end of the discussion, and that the debate is starting to get a little more public exposure than it has been able to achieve in the past.

In passing I should note the small furor about the release of some of the documents from the Heartland Institute, mastered by one Peter Gleick, who was a MacArthur Fellow, has confessed to dishonestly obtaining and then releasing them. Not apparently that this is stopping the climate change advocates from pointing out the money that the Heartland Foundation has (though virtually none report on the relatively roughly hundredfold larger size of the sums of money being put into work that advocates climate change - but with money comes power and access, and the Heartland group has much less). I guess just because you're a recognized genius doesn't mean that you can't do stupid things.

However, the other thing that is worth a comment is that there seems to be a growing recognition that biofuels may not be the savior of the atmosphere that they have been purported to be. Apparently the Friends of the Earth have issued a report which indicates that switching to biofuels won't have much effect on cleaning up the air, in fact the switch may make things worse. At the same time the switch may cost drivers in Europe something on the order of $24 billion a year. And in the process of looking into the topic there is another new report (unfortunately behind a paywall) which suggests that much of this was known before the regulations were put in. Bishop Hill has a post on the report, which suggests that some un-named, but central and powerful individual, was able to manipulate the EU into making the moves that have led to the adoption of the 10% biofuel requirement, without adequate consideration of the evidence. Apparently none of the non-supportive data was made available. I wonder why that sounds familiar?

And in passing, and closure, I wrote, in the past about Dr. Hansen's predictions of global warming that were one of the seminal events that got the climate change movement the financial success that it has since achieved. It is interesting to take the graph he used, and add some of the data from the plot above. It would appear that more than one computer model has been falsified. Because Dr. Hansen's models seem to use a different zero, I have slightly adjusted the values from the curve above to extend the data on actual temperatures relative to those predicted. You can see that they are starting to fall below the values that Dr. Hansen predicted would only be achieved if there was a radical reduction in carbon dioxide and the greenhouse gases - which hasn't happened, and so would perhaps indicate that the effects of said gases are less than he was predicting.

Projected temperature rise anticipated by Dr Hansen (Dire Predictions)

The plot which RealClimate have used as a rebuttal is this one.

Real Climate plot showing the error bars that they state exist for the models.

It is an interesting point though since all the model error bars are conflated makes it difficult to see how much validity there is to the argument.

Incidentally Profesor Lindzen gave an excellent talk (pdf) at the Houses of Parliament in the UK the other day. It got favorable coverage in the Independent.

UPDATE: There have been a couple of posts over at Watts Up With That? (WUWT) that provide better versions of the plots than the one I gave above. The first points to a presentation by Dr. Evans, which contains this plot:

Temperatures as measured by satellite against Dr. Hansen's predictions in 1988.

The other compares the IPCC predictions with actual temperature data, and quotes a post by Clive Best, that contains this plot:

IPCC predictions of long-term temperature change.

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