More climate of fear…

July 20, 2011

Another few bars in the endlessly played dirge, The End is Nigh, from the NYTimes:

ENJOYING the heat wave?

The answer is probably no if you live in Abilene, Tex., where temperatures have been at or above 100 degrees for 40 days this summer. It’s been a little cooler in Savannah, Ga., where the mercury hit 90 or more for 56 days in a row.  How does this compare to business as usual, I wonder?  Those are hot places.

Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma are coping with their driest nine-month stretch since 1895I always wonder when I hear claims like this, was it hotter in 1895?  Is this the first year since 1895 that the ’95 record is surpassed?  Why was it so hot then, global warming?  How much hotter was it?

 Yes, it has been a very hot summer after one of the most extreme-weather springs on recordJust what does that last phrase mean?  Cold springs, hot summers, it’s all global warming!  Is she referring to the flooding?  

It’s time to face the fact that the weather isn’t what it used to beAlways a safe statement.

Every 10 years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recalculates what it calls climate “normals,” … climate of the last 10 years was about 1.5 degrees warmer than the climate of the 1970s, and the warmest since the first decade of the last century. Temperatures were, on average, 0.5 degrees warmer from 1981 to 2010 than they were from 1971 to 2000, and the average annual temperatures for all of the lower 48 states have gone up.   A barrage of stats in no particular order.  “All gone up,” how much?  0.5 degrees?  Not very much!  1.5 degrees warmer than the ’70s, but what about that “first decade of the last century.”  More clarity would be nice.  Seems like throwing a lot of stuff to see what sticks.

The numbers don’t take sides or point fingers. They acknowledge both powerful natural climate fluctuations as well as the steady drumbeat of warming caused by roughly seven billion people trying to live and prosper on a small planet, emitting heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the process.  Not much talk about natural fluctuation, but quite a drumbeat about AGW!  Where’s the link?

Even this seemingly modest shift in climate can mean a big change in weather.   This is having it both ways.  It’s modest, or it’s not.  Fact is, it is modest, but that doesn’t fit with the message.

Shifting weather patterns influence energy demand, affect crop productivity and lead to weather-related disasters. In the United States, in any given year, routine weather events like a hot day or a heavy downpour can cost the economy as much as $485 billion in crop losses, construction delays and travel disruptions, a recent study by the National Center for Atmospheric Research found.  Take out the word “shifting,” and you have a statement that is both true and unremarkable.  And weather is always shifting, i.e. changing. 

In other words, that extra 1.5 degrees might be more than we can afford. And while the new normals don’t point to a cause, climate science does. Drawing from methods used in epidemiology, a field of climate research called “detection and attribution” tests how human actions like burning fossil fuels affect climate and increase the odds of extreme weather events.   “Might be more than we can afford..,” and maybe they might not be.  Just throwing it out there…Maybe we should spend and plan more for how to deal with extreme weather events regardless of whether there will be more of them.  We do a pretty bad job of that now.  Please note the lack of discussion on just how these epidemiological methods work in the field of climate studies.

Heat-trapping pollution at least doubled the likelihood of the infamous European heat wave that killed more than 30,000 people during the summer of 2003, according to a study in the journal Nature in 2004.   Let’s assume that this claim is true, and that nobody else has published different results since 2004.  Certainly, this author will not tell us if they have or not.  Just what were the chances for the hottest summer in Europe since the 16th century?  Pretty small, I imagine, and double a small number is still a small number.  That’s the nature of a rare event.  As for the horrible death toll, that was largely due to the complete lack of preparedness for such events – alerting systems, cooling centers for senior citizens, public education on how to survive a heat wave – because such an event was unprecedented.  Government health agencies should have considered the possibility, but that’s not the fault of climate change.

And if we don’t ease our grip on the climate, summers like that one will likely happen every other year by 2040, the study warned.   People make warnings all the time.  The world was supposed to end in May 2011…

Using climate models, we can project what future Julys might look like.  Time to dust off my collection of crystal balls for sale…

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The Birds

March 14, 2010

The Birds, a Hitchcock film from 1963 with Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren – love that film!  But that’s not the subject of my post today.  It’s this report on The State of the Birds, 2010, issued by the Interior Department.  This is the press release headline at the link:

Secretary Salazar Releases New “State of the Birds” Report Showing Climate Change Threatens Hundreds of Species
Austin, TX–Climate change threatens to further imperil hundreds of species of migratory birds, already under stress from habitat loss, invasive species and other environmental threats, a new report released today by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar concludes.

Reading through this notice of key findings, I see that it is the same as many others I read in press releases and article abstracts.  Climate change is happening, and it’s having bad effects on our environment.  This seems to be a good example of climate bandwagon-ism. Everything is, and must be shown to be related to the threat posed by climate change.  Beat the drum loudly! Consider the key findings (emphasis mine):

  • Oceanic birds are among the most vulnerable species because they don’t raise many young each year… and they nest on islands that may be flooded as sea levels rise. All 67 oceanic bird species…are among the most vulnerable birds on Earth to climate change.

Okay, but what if climate predictions are wrong?  Fact is, these birds are threatened by a lot of things now!

  • Hawaiian birds … already face multiple threats and are increasingly challenged by mosquito-borne diseases and invasive species as climate change alters their native habitats.

The assumption is that global climate change has altered their habitat and will continue to do so, presumably at ever increasing rates.  I wonder how much worse the threats will be than they are already?

  • Birds in coastal, arctic/alpine, and grassland habitats…show intermediate levels of vulnerability; most birds in aridlands, wetlands, and forests show relatively low vulnerability to climate change.

Just for the record, this accounts for most species, not that those minority bird populations aren’t important!

  • For bird species that are already of conservation concern… the added vulnerability to climate change may hasten declines or prevent recovery.

Like the poor people of the world, the species that are in trouble now are the most likely to suffer most when anything changes and makes life a bit more difficult.

  • The report identified common bird species … that are likely to become species of conservation concern as a result of climate change.

Aren’t these species in habitats that are least likely to be affected?  So, from among these “safer” species, the report picks out the ones that have the  greatest likelihood of showing some stress, when that climate change kicks in as we all know it will…must!  Just wondering, how much of a risk is “of concern..?”  Have to read the report.

After the listing of Key Findings, there is this:

    “All of the effective bird conservation efforts already taking place to protect rare species, conserve habitats, and remove threats need to be continued,” said David Mehlman of The Nature Conservancy. “Additionally, they need to be greatly expanded to meet the threat climate change poses to bird populations.”

Bravo for that!  Yes, I am all for maintaining and expanding our efforts to conserve bird populations, bird habitat, and species diversity.  What does climate change have to do with it?  Why bring it in other than to try and build concern…hysteria?

Okay, they are bureaucrats, and they write reports.  So, let’s see what they’ve given us:

Many bird populations are threatened now by human settlement patterns.  Birds that have insecure populations now will be less secure if climate change occurs as predicted.  We may see birds that are common now show some stress if climate changes occur as predicted.  If climate change occurs as predicted, our present efforts to stabilize bird populations may not be as effective as hoped.

That’s it.  May, might, if…Now this report will start turning up in arguments that use it to prove that AGW is a clear and present danger to human and biosphere health!  We are already such a destructive force in the biosphere that computer models of climate change are the last thing birds should be worrying about.  They should be more concerned about how they will look in the planned remake of Hitchcock’s gem!


The inevitable backlash

March 4, 2010

Creationists don’t understand science, but they are not stupid.  According to the NYTimes [link below], they are now latching on to the controversy over global warming to promote their faith-based agenda.  The AGW folks brought it on themselves.

I have often said that one of the worst effects of the polticization of the science by the AGW backers is that they setting us all up for a massive backlash against science.  Perhaps it has begun here.  Once you get evolution and religion mixed into it, there’s no way out.

The IPCC fans have helped bring this on by turning a scientific debate into a battle between “science” and deniers, flat-earthers, and so-called conspiracy theorists.  This view is tacitly accepted by the NYTimes as well, as evidenced by the article yesterday about the rear guard protective action the IPCC/AGW folks are trying to ginn up.  (Such know-nothing attitudes are part of the screaming, but not the substantive debate.)

For the record:

  • Creationism and Intelligent Design do not meet any criteria for consideration as scientific hypotheses.  They are notions rooted in religious faith. 
  • Evolution by mutation and natural selection is a well-founded scientific hypothesis that has been so well supported over generations that it is dignified with the designation of “Theory.”  (Theory does not mean guess, or hypothesis!  More at this post.)
  • Antropogenic global warming (AGW) is a plausible scientific hypothesis that has, I think, a very weak supporting body of evidence.
  • The sceptical view on AGW is not a theory or competing hypothesis:  It is simply a recognition that one should not be convinced by the AGW case.  The null hypothesis, that our climate system is very complex and shows many historical examples of rather wide variation remains in force.  In addition I would say that humans probably do have a noticeable impact on regional climate, but not necessarily or principally as a result of CO2 discharges.  This is a long-standing view of many climatologists and geographers.
The fact that creationists don’t accept the AGW view does not mean that those who don’t accept the AGW view are creationists.  The fact that many good critics of the IPCC are libertarians or politically conservative does not mean that one is a conservative or right winger for criticizing the IPCC.  Let’s keep politics and science separate, despite the ramblings of those deconstructionist philosophes.

Critics of evolution are gaining ground by linking the issue to climate change, arguing that dissenting views on both should be taught in public schools.


Average Global Temperature?

February 8, 2009

average

In the debate over global warming (anthropogenic global warming – AGW – being the type people think is caused by burning fossil fuels) there is often discussion about the global temperature, or the mean global temperature, or the average global temperature.  We all know what that means, right?  If you don’t know what an average is, go here, where I cribbed this nifty graphic.

Anyway, the argument is that the average temperature of the globe is rising, and that the cause is our use of carbon-based energy, which releases CO2, a green house gas, into the atmosphere. For a long time now, I’ve been mulling over this idea of average global temperature.  I put a query to Watts Up With That, thinking I might get some critical info on it [my comment at (06:24:57) ] but the response only partly satisfied me.

Simply put, if you have a large flat area with sensors evenly spaced, it is obvious how to derive an average value.  But what if the area is very large, sensors are not at all evenly spaced, vast areas (oceans) have no surface sensors, sensors are at different elevations, placed in totally different surroundings, and may not even be completely consistent as to instrumentation and method, how do you derive a single number that represents the global average temperature? And, is this a meaningful number? (A good example of a meaningless average is the one you get by finding the mean of all the telephone numbers in your town.  It’s correct, but what is it..?)

Well, I am not alone in asking this fundamental, I think, question.  Better mathematical minds than mine have examined it, and I came across this fascinating paper, Does a Global Temperature Exist? The extended introduction is quite accessible to non-mathematicians, and does an excellent job of explaining the crux of the issue.  I quote the rather brief conclusion to the paper in full below, with my emphasis:

There is no global temperature. The reasons lie in the properties of the equation of state governing local thermodynamic equilibrium, and the implications cannot be avoided by substituting statistics for physics.

Since temperature is an intensive variable, the total temperature is meaningless in terms of the system being measured, and hence any one simple average has no necessary meaning.  Neither does temperature have a constant proportional relationship with energy or other extensive thermodynamic properties.

Averages of the Earth’s temperature field are thus devoid of a physical context which would indicate how they are to be interpreted, or what meaning can be attached to changes in their levels, up or down. Statistics cannot stand in as a replacement for the missing physics because data alone are context-free. Assuming a context only leads to paradoxes such as simultaneous warming and cooling in the same system based on arbitrary choice in some free parameter.  Considering even a restrictive class of admissible coordinate transformations yields families of averaging rules that likewise generate opposite trends in the same data, and by implication indicating contradictory rankings of years in terms of warmth.

The physics provides no guidance as to which interpretation of the data is warranted. Since arbitrary indexes are being used to measure a physically non-existent quantity, it is not surprising that different formulae yield different results with no apparent way to select among them.

The purpose of this paper was to explain the fundamental meaninglessness of so-called global temperature data. The problem can be (and has been) happily ignored in the name of the empirical study of climate. But nature is not obliged to respect our statistical conventions and conceptual shortcuts. Debates over the levels and trends in so-called global temperatures will continue interminably, as will disputes over the significance of these things for the human experience of climate, until some physical basis is established for the meaningful measurement of climate variables, if indeed that is even possible.

It may happen that one particular average will one day prove to stand out with some special physical significance. However, that is not so today. The burden rests with those who calculate these statistics to prove their logic and value in terms of the governing dynamical equations, let alone the wider, less technical, contexts in which they are commonly encountered.