Alas, certainty…!

April 24, 2013

From the SINTEF report on the debate over the human impact on climate change:

Conclusions

To illustrate the way that scientific, political and ethical concerns are mixed in the debate on Anthropogenic Global Warming, this report used the by now famous quote from Gro Harlem Brundtland, that “doubt has been eliminated“,and that “it is irresponsible, reckless and deeply immoral to question the seriousness of the situation” as a point of departure. The goal of the report was to enter this debate and battlefield of arguments and take stock of the debate about anthropogenic (man-made) global warming. Based on the present review of this debate there are several conclusions to be drawn. The first and simplest one is that considered as an empirical statement, the assertion that doubt has been eliminated on AGW is plainly false. Although as documented the level of agreement in the scientific literature that AGW is occurring is quite extensive,the magnitude of dissent,questioning and contrarian perspectives and positions in both scientific discourse and public opinion on the question of AGW evidently contradicts such a proclamation.


Hard to be a prophet.

April 7, 2013

 Prophet Wannabee

I was looking into just who this Justin Gillis character is, the one on the left, who is sometimes referred to as “the most apocalyptic reporter” writing on climate change, and I was struck by the resemblance to this famous portrait of Ludwig Wittgenstein.  Not that I would compare the two…just pointing it out.  Maybe Justin is modeling himself on Ludwig, the tormented intellectual…

He had an article in the NYTimes the other day about a glacier in the Andes, and it was a perfect example of the junk-journalism that passes for substantive reporting in the Science Times on this topic.

The title, In Sign of Warming, 1,600 Years of Ice in Andes Melted in 25 Years, was misleading and alarmist.  It continues with the statement that the find is

…the latest indication that the recent spike in global temperatures has thrown the natural world out of balance.

No mention of what evidence there is for a ‘recent spike’ in temperature.  Perhaps he’s thinking of the recent article by Marcott et al that has made a splash and been pretty much discredited.  There was no evidence to support the idea that warming, let alone global warming brought on by burning of fossil fuels, brought on this condition.  Is it remarkable for ice that took nearly two thousand years to form to melt quickly from a glacier?  Also, the notion that the world is “in balance,” is an idea fraught with difficulties:  does that mean the world never changes? changes only a little?  changes slowly, but a lot?  Must not change? for every good change there is a bad change?

Meredith A. Kelly, a glacial geomorphologist at Dartmouth College who trained under Dr. Thompson but was not involved in the new paper, said his interpretation of the plant remains was reasonable.

Her own research on Quelccaya suggests that the margins of the glacier have melted quite rapidly at times in the past. But the melting now under way appears to be at least as fast, if not faster, than anything in the geological record since the end of the last ice age, she said.

That’s from the article.  So, fast melting has happened, and this one is pretty fast, but the cause?  No mention.  And why did it get so warm after the last ice age?

Most of the article is about the study of frozen plant remains that have been uncovered, and what they tell us about past climate and the growth and shrinkage of the ice mass – little to do with anthropogenic global warming.

There is a tid-bit about evidence that bad weather  may have contributed to poor harvests before the French Revolution, and been a contributing factor to the upheaval.  No mention of what sort of bad weather, but it was probably bad winters:  what does that have to do with warming?  He concludes with a mention that the melting of glaciers spells bad times ahead for Andean cities that depend on glacial melt for drinking water.

In the short run, the melting is producing an increase of water supplies and feeding population growth in major cities of the Andes, the experts said. But as the glaciers continue shrinking, trouble almost certainly looms.

Trouble looms!  Always…and how soon?  No mention.  How big are the glaciers?  And of course, there’s that headline.  Doom is around the corner and inevitable.


Nice Chart of Climate Change

December 7, 2012

gt

This is a plot of the global mean temperature anomaly over the last 14 years.  That is the metric that is usually bandied about in reports and the news when people say the Earth is warming.  As you can see, over the last 14 years or so, the trend has been pretty much flat. 

Nobody disputes the trend:  the people who believe that the planet is heating up say it is a temporary halt in the inevitable rise of temperature;  people who are unconvinced by the IPCC and all the models say it is not what is predicted by the first group, so why should their claims about the ‘mechanisms’ of climate change be deemed credible?  I mean, if you  make a prediction, and you’re wrong… that’s not a good thing for your hypothesis.

Nothing here is definitive, but it does make one wonder about the confidence some people have in their computer models.  It is also worth considering why this chart, and again, it is not disputed by anyone, isn’t talked about more widely.  Unless you are convinced that you already know what’s going on, this would be a significant piece of evidence.


A note on climate change from Bouvard and Pecuchet

November 30, 2012
by Guy Davenport

by Guy Davenport

From Flaubert’s story of the two clerks:

 …[they] bought M. Depping’s work on The Marvels and Beauties of Nature in France…But soon there will be no more to discover.  …burning mountains are becoming extinct, natural glaciers are getting warmer

Written over a period of twenty years, but published only after his death in 1880.  He claimed to have read over 1500 books in preparation for writing it.


Political Oracles

November 4, 2012

Cuomo:

Lo, the oracles of science have spoken!  Andrew Cuomo (D) and Michael Bloomberg (I? R? D?) have announced that climate change is responsible for the destruction in metro NYC…er, will be responsible for similar destruction in the future if we don’t act…er, no, contributed to this destruction…etc.

Some have dubbed this sort of media treatment “Tabloid Climatology.”  Most are not interested in what scientists such as Klaus Jacobs and Radley Horton, both associated with GISS and Columbia University have said: that it is difficult to make any credible case that this hurricane/storm was the effect of human contributions to CO2 in the atmosphere over the last hundred years.

As for these politicos who have suddenly got religion, where have they been during the last twenty or thirty years while some of these same scientists, and many engineers and geographers, have been pressing the point that NYC and the region are vulnerable now and not because of climate change, but because of our inaction, bad policy, poor development decisions, and aversion to spending money on capital assets that voters don’t clamor for? Bloomberg in particular, has done nothing, and now he makes a great show of endorsing the right candidate for president for the wrong reason.  I wonder how he feels about Obama’s tax program??  As Pielke observes on his blog:

Yet, Mayor Bloomberg is also an elected leader. What is he going to do about the fact that his city was less prepared than it should have been for a disaster that was expected and one of a sort will certainly recur, climate change or not?

It is a sad reflection of the state of the media and its treatment of science that this excellent piece by Roger Pielke, Jr. could never see the light of day in the “newspaper of record,” the New York Times, but must appear in that Rupert Murdock organ, the WSJ. Here’s the intro:

Hurricane Sandy left in its path some impressive statistics. Its central pressure was the lowest ever recorded for a storm north of North Carolina, breaking a record set by the devastating “Long Island Express” hurricane of 1938. Along the East Coast, Sandy led to more than 50 deaths, left millions without power and caused an estimated $20 billion or more in damage.

But to call Sandy a harbinger of a “new normal,” in which unprecedented weather events cause unprecedented destruction, would be wrong. This historic storm should remind us that planet Earth is a dangerous place, where extreme events are commonplace and disasters are to be expected. In the proper context, Sandy is less an example of how bad things can get than a reminder that they could be much worse.


The End is Near, again…

May 11, 2012
 
Just had to parse this one…
 
Game Over for the Climate 
By JAMES HANSEN
New York Times, May 9, 2012

GLOBAL warming isn’t a prediction. It is happening.  That is why I was so troubled to read a recent interview with President Obama in Rolling Stone in which he said that Canada would exploit the oil in its vast tar sands reserves “regardless of what we do.”[Most scientists agree that the Earth has gotten warmer in the last 150 years, but there is disagreement over just how much, and why.  The IPCC says it is highly confident that ‘most’ of the observed warming is due to mankind’s use of fossil fuels.  If the observed warming is 1 or 1.5 degrees, F, that’s 0.5 or 0.75 degrees due to mankind, so what about that other half?  It’s not much, anyway.]

If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.  [The game will go on, with us or without us…]

Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk. [Saying that the tar sands contain more CO2 than we have produced throughout history sounds shocking, but could be said about any of the major fuel reserves, coal, oil, natural gas, that are left.  It amounts to saying that if we burn up everything on earth for fuel, we will have discharged more CO2 than in all of human history.  Similarly, there are more people alive today than the sum of all who have lived before.  It’s a sound-bite.  Hansen goes on to assume that this will happen quickly, and that the effects will be just as he predicts, although such a thing has never happened before.  He assumes the Doomsday scenario of polar ice meltdown, and ignores the possibility that if his predictions appeared at all correct, that people would stop using fossil fuels.  Right now they have little reason to, if they listen to just him.]

That is the long-term outlook. But near-term, things will be bad enough. Over the next several decades, the Western United States and the semi-arid region from North Dakota to Texas will develop semi-permanent drought, with rain, when it does come, occurring in extreme events with heavy flooding. Economic losses would be incalculable. More and more of the Midwest would be a dust bowl. California’s Central Valley could no longer be irrigated. Food prices would rise to unprecedented levels.  [Hansen has been making predictions for decades.  The only one that is indubitable is that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere did rise.  Will he keep score on these?]

If this sounds apocalyptic, it is. This is why we need to reduce emissions dramatically. President Obama has the power not only to deny tar sands oil additional access to Gulf Coast refining, which Canada desires in part for export markets, but also to encourage economic incentives to leave tar sands and other dirty fuels in the ground. [Glad he recognizes that he is being apocalyptic.  If we ‘reduce emissions dramatically,’ just what will be accomplished?  How much is ‘dramatic?’  Has he asked the Indians, the Chinese, and the rest of the developing world?  Most reduction scenarios that are at all technically, politically, and demographically plausible will have minimal impact, if his models are correct. ]

The global warming signal is now louder than the noise of random weather, [according to him, who made the prediction…] as I predicted would happen by now in the journal Science in 1981. Extremely hot summers have increased noticeably. We can say with high confidence that the recent heat waves in Texas and Russia, and the one in Europe in 2003, which killed tens of thousands, were not natural events — they were caused by human-induced climate change. [Whoa!  That’s a claim.  I wonder who he includes in that we can say?  I would like to see the scientists who will sign onto that statement!]

We have known since the 1800s that carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere. The right amount keeps the climate conducive to human life. But add too much, as we are doing now, and temperatures will inevitably rise too high.[They will rise, but how much they will rise is the million dollar question.  His predictions depend on feedback loops that are speculative.] This is not the result of natural variability, as some argue. The earth is currently in the part of its long-term orbit cycle where temperatures would normally be cooling. But they are rising — and it’s because we are forcing them higher with fossil fuel emissions.

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen from 280 parts per million to 393 p.p.m. over the last 150 years. The tar sands contain enough carbon — 240 gigatons — to add 120 p.p.m. Tar shale, a close cousin of tar sands found mainly in the United States, contains at least an additional 300 gigatons of carbon. If we turn to these dirtiest of fuels, instead of finding ways to phase out our addiction to fossil fuels, there is no hope of keeping carbon concentrations below 500 p.p.m. — a level that would, as earth’s history shows, leave our children a climate system that is out of their control. [Hmm…is the goal to have a climate system that we control?  Then adding CO2 is the way to go!  We cause it, we control it!  I agree, however, that reducing the use of ‘dirty’ fuels is a good idea for a lot of reasons.]

We need to start reducing emissions significantly, not create new ways to increase them. We should impose a gradually rising carbon fee, collected from fossil fuel companies, then distribute 100 percent of the collections to all Americans on a per-capita basis every month. The government would not get a penny. This market-based approach would stimulate innovation, jobs and economic growth, avoid enlarging government or having it pick winners or losers. Most Americans, except the heaviest energy users, would get more back than they paid in increased prices. Not only that, the reduction in oil use resulting from the carbon price would be nearly six times as great as the oil supply from the proposed pipeline from Canada, rendering the pipeline superfluous, according to economic models driven by a slowly rising carbon price.  [Here here!  By all means, let’s tax carbon and make the cost more closely approximate the real cost, including all the externalities.  I’d love to see it!  We could do all sorts of great things with the money, including fund research on major alternative energy technologies.  At the very least, the result would be a serious drive towards efficiency and conservation.]

But instead of placing a rising fee on carbon emissions to make fossil fuels pay their true costs, leveling the energy playing field, the world’s governments are forcing the public to subsidize fossil fuels with hundreds of billions of dollars per year. This encourages a frantic stampede to extract every fossil fuel through mountaintop removal, longwall mining, hydraulic fracturing, tar sands and tar shale extraction, and deep ocean and Arctic drilling. [Well, here I more or less agree.]

President Obama speaks of a “planet in peril,” but he does not provide the leadership needed to change the world’s course. Our leaders must speak candidly to the public — which yearns for open, honest discussion — explaining that our continued technological leadership and economic well-being demand a reasoned change of our energy course. History has shown that the American public can rise to the challenge, but leadership is essential.[Agree here too, but not with him!]

The science of the situation is clear — it’s time for the politics to follow.  [If it is so clear, then why is consensus presented in terms of statistics based on computer projections that are subject to great uncertainty?  The amount of science that is clear, e.g. that CO2 causes some warming, does not occupy the core of what the policy debate is about, which is basically an assessment of risk.]   This is a plan that can unify conservatives and liberals, environmentalists and business. [Dream on, prophet.]  Every major national science academy in the world has reported that global warming is real, caused mostly by humans, and requires urgent action. [This is flatly untrue and dishonest.  There have been many statements that global warming is real, that humans contribute to it, and that if current predictions are correct, the effects could be serious.  That’s a very different statement.]  The cost of acting goes far higher the longer we wait — we can’t wait any longer to avoid the worst and be judged immoral by coming generations.


Not-Quite-Lost Fish

August 18, 2011

I’ve always liked fishmarkets, so I was a cinch for this book when I saw it at our hotel on Shelter Island.  The illustrations are beautiful color reproductions of prints from Comte De Lacépède’s natural history of fish, and it includes a brief snippet of his writing.  The shapes of fish are fascinating to me, and measuring the discrepancy between what we suspect is the reality and the artistically arranged images on the page is part of the charm of it.

The title, however, refers to the usual grim, apocalyptic, man-is-sinful and an industrialist schtick that has become spiritual dogma among the ‘educated’.  I would not comment on it except that the text itself indicates that of the nearly 200 fishes shown in the book, about twenty are listed as endangered, threatened, or seriously threatened.  Not even extinct!  And that’s only 10% of this small sample of fish that were known in the 1830s.  Not a very strong piece of evidence for environmental catastrophe, Al Gore’s flypage quotation notwithstanding.  Being on the bandwagon sells books.

Another favorite natural history compendium here.


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