Tuesday, August 05, 2008

An argument about science that mentions not one scientific fact

The article below by John P. Holdren appeared under the heading "Convincing the climate-change skeptics". His method of convincing people seems to be to attack them. Stalin would understand. Tom Nelson has some interesting links on comrade Holdren

The few climate-change "skeptics" with any sort of scientific credentials continue to receive attention in the media out of all proportion to their numbers, their qualifications, or the merit of their arguments. And this muddying of the waters of public discourse is being magnified by the parroting of these arguments by a larger population of amateur skeptics with no scientific credentials at all.

Long-time observers of public debates about environmental threats know that skeptics about such matters tend to move, over time, through three stages. First, they tell you you're wrong and they can prove it. (In this case, "Climate isn't changing in unusual ways or, if it is, human activities are not the cause.")

Then they tell you you're right but it doesn't matter. ("OK, it's changing and humans are playing a role, but it won't do much harm.") Finally, they tell you it matters but it's too late to do anything about it. ("Yes, climate disruption is going to do some real damage, but it's too late, too difficult, or too costly to avoid that, so we'll just have to hunker down and suffer.")

All three positions are represented among the climate-change skeptics who infest talk shows, Internet blogs, letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, and cocktail-party conversations. The few with credentials in climate-change science have nearly all shifted in the past few years from the first category to the second, however, and jumps from the second to the third are becoming more frequent.

All three factions are wrong, but the first is the worst. Their arguments, such as they are, suffer from two huge deficiencies. First, they have not come up with any plausible alternative culprit for the disruption of global climate that is being observed, for example, a culprit other than the greenhouse-gas buildups in the atmosphere that have been measured and tied beyond doubt to human activities. (The argument that variations in the sun's output might be responsible fails a number of elementary scientific tests.)

Second, having not succeeded in finding an alternative, they haven't even tried to do what would be logically necessary if they had one, which is to explain how it can be that everything modern science tells us about the interactions of greenhouse gases with energy flow in the atmosphere is wrong.

Members of the public who are tempted to be swayed by the denier fringe should ask themselves how it is possible, if human-caused climate change is just a hoax, that:

The leaderships of the national academies of sciences of the United States, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Russia, China, and India, among others, are on record saying that global climate change is real, caused mainly by humans, and reason for early, concerted action. This is also the overwhelming majority view among the faculty members of the earth sciences departments at every first-rank university in the world.

All three of holders of the one Nobel prize in science that has been awarded for studies of the atmosphere (the 1995 chemistry prize to Paul Crutzen, Sherwood Rowland, and Mario Molina, for figuring out what was happening to stratospheric ozone) are leaders in the climate-change scientific mainstream.

US polls indicate that most of the amateur skeptics are Republicans. These Republican skeptics should wonder how presidential candidate John McCain could have been taken in. He has castigated the Bush administration for wasting eight years in inaction on climate change, and the policies he says he would implement as president include early and deep cuts in US greenhouse-gas emissions. (Senator Barack Obama's position is similar.)

The extent of unfounded skepticism about the disruption of global climate by human-produced greenhouse gases is not just regrettable, it is dangerous. It has delayed - and continues to delay - the development of the political consensus that will be needed if society is to embrace remedies commensurate with the challenge. The science of climate change is telling us that we need to get going. Those who still think this is all a mistake or a hoax need to think again.


False prophet tries a new prophecy

Nothing much came of the acid rain scare (It turned out that Norwegian trees were actually fertilized by British industrial fallout rather than being killed by it!) but he is still trying to draw attention to himself

The scientist who coined the term acid rain says the world is close to a tipping point and Australia must show leadership in dealing with the problem. American scientist Professor Gene Likens, who in the early 1960s was among the first to link the increasing acidity in rain with the burning of fossil fuels, said Australia had to act now.

"Does the climate change problem exist? Yes," Professor Likens said. "The scientific consensus is so strong and so universal - there are just a handful of doubters on this. "Yet (those doubters) get such high media attention and a lot of support."

He argued Australia needed to provide leadership now rather than waiting for other countries such as China, Russia and the US to move first. "You are sticking your head in the sand if you think you should just wait for the US and Russia to do their bit," he said. "There has to be leadership so I applaud Australia for its attempts to provide leadership."

Professor Likens will be speaking today to policymakers and politicians at the Australian Rivers Institute, based at Griffith University's Nathan campus, on the problems being faced around the globe with drought and climate change. Expected at the invitation-only talk were Queensland Minister for Climate Change Andrew McNamara, National Water Commissioner Chloe Munro and water commissioners from Queensland and NSW.

Professor Likens said climate change was causing a change in rainfall patterns and while Australia appeared to have plenty of rain, water was not falling "where people are living and extracting it through irrigation". He said he had researched the effects of acid rain in 1963 but it took almost 30 years for politicians to act.

"I think we are approaching - from a scientific point of view - a tipping point on climate change and we are going to have to take action sooner rather than later," Professor Likens said.

The Australian Government has so far pledged to cut national emissions by 60 per cent compared with 2000 levels by 2050. The Government has also set a target of a national greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme by 2010, although ministers have hinted that timeframe could slip. "We certainly can't wait until 2050 to cut emissions," Professor Likens warned.



A reader writes:

"Likens did not coin the phrase Acid Rain. That 'honour' belongs to Angus Smith, Phd, a Scot working in Manchester, UK from the 1850's. Wickedpedia says he used the term in 1872 but a book I have (by another author of the time who often refers to Smith) seems to suggest it was more like 1855 (from memory. I would need to look it up to be sure.) Joe Romm would be unlikely to know since he seems unable to read anyone else's writings and understand the meaning."

Clearing the Smog of Beijing with "Coal by Wire"

As the TV turns nightly to Beijing, we can expect chilling pictures and doomsday comments about the "Asian Pollution" and the "Beijing Smog". This will induce media and political scaremongers to use these images to sell dud products like the "Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme".

It is not carbon dioxide from burning coal that pollutes the skies of Asia and Africa. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a naturally occurring, clean, invisible, beneficial gas. CO2 is an essential part of the natural world but a very minor trace constituent of our atmosphere....

Moreover, the claim that man's emissions will cause dangerous global warming is strongly and increasingly disputed by scientists and is not supported by historical evidence. It also defies common sense to believe that such a minor natural gas can cause all the climate disasters that are blamed on it. We are about to hang an innocent hero.

Asia's visible pollution is largely caused by the crude and inefficient open air combustion of low quality fuels. It is caused by millions of open-air cooking fires in India, China, North Korea and Africa using scavenged fuels like cow dung, cardboard, wood, and low quality coal and coke; by thousands of backyard brickworks and small dirty furnaces along the Yangtze River and in other places; by forest clearing fires in Indonesia and bush and grass fires elsewhere; and by millions of small obsolete and dirty wood, charcoal and coal stoves, heaters, boilers and furnaces all over Asia and Africa. Similar pollution is obvious in places in South America. "Open fires" was the cause of similar smogs in England as recently as the 1950's.

Open-air combustion of poor quality carbon fuels produces not only the harmless clean so-called "greenhouse" gases of water vapour and carbon dioxide, but also real pollutants such as soot, smoke, ash, dust, unburnt fuel and chemicals containing sulphur, chlorine, nitrogen, fluorine, and metals. In confined unventilated places, open fires can also produce the very poisonous gas, carbon monoxide - this is the one that will quickly kill the canary. China also emits more sulphur dioxide than anywhere else in the world. This chokes their people, causes acid rain and damages buildings.

The elements contained in smoke pollution all came from rich ancient soils in the first place, and are needed in soils today in trace quantities to maintain the health of plants and animals. In dilute quantities, they are not a problem in the atmosphere, and rain recycles them to enrich the soil. But when concentrated in city air, they can be visible, annoying, corrosive or even toxic.

The "Asian Brown Cloud", is a haze of pollution about 3 km thick and sometimes covering an area as big as Australia. The brown haze obscures the sun in some polluted Asian cities and at times this cloud drifts right across the Pacific Ocean and is noticed as far away as the west coast of America. This pollution is already affecting local climate and community health. In Arctic areas, soot drifts onto snow making it darker in colour which allows it to absorb more heat from the sun. This process may be contributing to melting glaciers in China and the Himalayas.

The western world went through this pollution phase half a century ago, and although improvements can still be made, we have banished the notorious smoke pollution in places like London, Manchester and Pittsburgh....

The western world has largely beaten its city smogs, firstly with inventions such as the chimney and the stove, secondly with clean air legislation and anti-pollution technology and finally with the magic of electricity - the clean, silent, invisible "Coal by Wire". This clean energy can be generated reliably 24 hours a day, using high quality coal in non polluting power stations located far from densely populated areas. It is then transported silently and cleanly with zero pollution and minimal loss of energy to deliver lighting, heating, cooling, cooking and motive power into the most humble home in the poorest suburb. It is the magic of the modern world.

To fly over a modern non-polluting coal-fired power station at say 10,000 m is to put things into perspective - a puny cooling tower or two emitting wisps of water vapour (steam). They also emit carbon dioxide, but this is invisible and harmless (in fact generally beneficial). These wisps of steam are regularly displayed dishonestly on TV to illustrate the supposed pollution caused by coal power (or they dig up a picture of an old dirty polluting power station). There is almost no pollution, no noise, no smoke and no landscapes of forests of whirling blades and solar panels in a modern coal burning power station. In fact those wisps of steam are often the only visible evidence that massive energy conversion is taking place inside - coal into electricity.

Yet that facility and its linked coal mine can supply a whole city with heat, light and power for machines as diverse as the handyman's drill, the kitchen toaster or the locomotives that move train-loads of commuters in safety and comfort during rain, hail, snow or heatwave. "Coal by Wire" has already banished most of the terrible pollution that affected cities such as London, Manchester and Pittsburgh, and allowed the regrowth of American forests. City pollution now comes not from coal, but from cars sitting in traffic jams caused by poor road design, inefficient traffic controls and lack of sensible pricing for congested roads.

Today's irrational and hysterical focus on harmless carbon dioxide by governments and media is misdirected and counter-productive. It is diverting attention and resources from damaging pollution which is altering local climate and affecting many areas of the world. And it is delaying the spread of coal powered electricity to many areas now desperate for clean invisible power.....

If Asians had access to better fuel, it would allow cow dung to be used for soil improvement and would encourage forest regrowth in areas denuded by centuries of scavenging for fire wood.

Russian scientists are not conned by the Kyoto hysteria focussed on the harmless natural gas, carbon dioxide. In fact the Russian Academy of Science advised President Putin that the Kyoto Protocol had "no scientific foundation" (Putin joined Kyoto for other very sound political and economic reasons that had nothing to do with global warming).

Man's emissions of CO2 are a miniscule factor in determining Earth's temperature. But while we are wasting decades of time and buckets of money trying to catch and imprison this harmless Will o' the Wisp, an ominous brown smelly choking cloud of real pollution is growing in our northern skies.

Russian ecologist Dr Sergei Golubchikov has the last word: "Ecological treaties should seek to curb emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, heavy metals and other highly-toxic pollutants instead of targeting carbon dioxide, which is a non-toxic gas whose impact on global warming has not been proved."


Faked photo in big-time climate report

Last week on Friday August 1st you may recall that I commented on the release of the Draft report Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States. In that post I mentioned that "The draft document reads more like a news article in many places than it does a scientific document, and unlike a scientific document, it has a number of what I would call "emotionally based graphics" in it that have nothing to do with the science."

One of those graphics that tug at your heartstrings turns out to be a fabrication, pure and simple.

Image above taken directly from the CCSP report. There's been a discussion on Climate Audit about this photo, namely that it has the flood waters "photoshopped" in. When I showed it to my graphic artist at my office he said, "no problem, I can recreate that using any house photo and a Photoshop filter.

I had contemplated having him do just that, but it turns out proving this photo to be a digital fabrication is a lot easier. Simply go to IstockPhoto.com, where you can buy this photo online. But apparently, the lead authors of the report didn't see the caveat that comes with the photo: "Photo of house under several feet of graphically rendered flood water"

More here

Steve McIntyre notes that the same report also resurrects the discredited Mann "Hockeystick". Greenies need dishonesty to make up for the lack of facts supporting their assertions.


The Achenbach article reproduced here two days ago (last article) infuriated prominent Warmist Joseph Romm. His reponse is reproduced below. Romm says little more than the usual appeal to authority. Note that Romm cannot even spell Achenbach's name correctly in his headline. Following Romm there is another comment on the same article by Pielke Jr.

The Washington Post's Joel Achebach doesn't understand basic climate science

Repeat after me, Joel: "Global warming makes the weather more extreme." If even the Bush administration accepts that basic fact of climate science, shouldn't you? I used to like Achenbach's cutesy science pieces, but his knowledge of climate science is about one or two decades old, as evidenced by his major story in the Washington Post today, "Global Warming Did It! Well, Maybe Not." It is a typical ly uninformed journalistic "backlash" piece, whereby a reporter creates a straw man and then sets it on fire.

Achenbach is trying to seem reasonable by complaining that the next time we get a big hurricane, "some expert will tell us that this storm might be a harbinger of global warming." Uhh, I hate to break this to you Joel, but global warming doesn't need a "harbinger." It has been here for decades. In that sense, your article is not a harbinger of global warming denial, since deniers have been pushing back against the "global warming causes extreme weather" story for years, browbeating the media into downplaying the connection. You really should read your fellow journalist Ross Gelbspan's long discussion of this in his great 2004 book, Boiling Point. Achenbach writes:
Weather alarmism" gives ammunition to global-warming deniers. They're happy to fight on that turf, since they can say that a year with relatively few hurricanes (or a cold snap when you don't expect it) proves that global warming is a myth. As science writer John Tierney put it in the New York Times earlier this year, weather alarmism "leaves climate politics at the mercy of the weather."

You cannot be serious. The best you can do is quoting Tierney, a well-known climate doubter/denier/delayer? And deniers don't need to look for any ammunition - they just make up stuff. You could waste a lot of time trying to figure out what you should or shouldn't say based on a fear of how deniers might twist it or take it out of context.

This is simple stuff. As the climate changes because of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, the weather becomes more extreme. That's what climate change is. I understand why deniers don't want the rest of us talking about the connection between global warming and the surge in extreme weather events that has been documented statistically by scientists - including NOAA's National Climactic Data Center (NCDC). That would shut down most discussion of current climate impacts. But I don't understand why Achenbach falls for that spin.

Anyway, it is now officially absurd to take the view of the deniers, Achenbach, and Tierney. Back in June, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (aka the Bush Administration) issued Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate that acknowledged the basic climate science:
Changes in extreme weather and climate events have significant impacts and are among the most serious challenges to society in coping with a changing climate.

Many extremes and their associated impacts are now changing. For example, in recent decades most of North America has been experiencing more unusually hot days and nights, fewer unusually cold days and nights, and fewer frost days. Heavy downpours have become more frequent and intense. Droughts are becoming more severe in some regions, though there are no clear trends for North America as a whole. The power and frequency of Atlantic hurricanes have increased substantially in recent decades, though North American mainland land-falling hurricanes do not appear to have increased over the past century. Outside the tropics, storm tracks are shifting northward and the strongest storms are becoming even stronger.

It is well established through formal attribution studies that the global warming of the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced increases in heat-trapping gases. Such studies have only recently been used to determine the causes of some changes in extremes at the scale of a continent. Certain aspects of observed increases in temperature extremes have been linked to human influences. The increase in heavy precipitation events is associated with an increase in water vapor, and the latter has been attributed to human-induced warming. No formal attribution studies for changes in drought severity in North America have been attempted. There is evidence suggesting a human contribution to recent changes in hurricane activity as well as in storms outside the tropics, though a confident assessment will require further study.

In the future, with continued global warming, heat waves and heavy downpours are very likely to further increase in frequency and intensity. Substantial areas of North America are likely to have more frequent droughts of greater severity. Hurricane wind speeds, rainfall intensity, and storm surge levels are likely to increase. The strongest cold season storms are likely to become more frequent, with stronger winds and more extreme wave heights.

If the Post keeps publishing such uninformed pieces, how will the public ever become informed on this crucial issue?


Joel Achenbach on Weather Extremes

In today's Washington Post Joel Achenbach has a smart and nuanced piece on weather extremes and climate change. The attribution of weather events and trends to particular causes is difficult and contested.
Equivocation isn't a sign of cognitive weakness. Uncertainty is intrinsic to the scientific process, and sometimes you have to have the courage to stand up and say, "Maybe."

For Achenbach's efforts he gets called stupid and a tool of the "deniers". Such complaints are ironic given that Achenbach explains how foolish it is to put too much weight on extreme events in arguments about climate change:
the evidence for man-made climate change is solid enough that it doesn't need to be bolstered by iffy claims. Rigorous science is the best weapon for persuading the public that this is a real problem that requires bold action. "Weather alarmism" gives ammunition to global-warming deniers. They're happy to fight on that turf, since they can say that a year with relatively few hurricanes (or a cold snap when you don't expect it) proves that global warming is a myth. As science writer John Tierney put it in the New York Times earlier this year, weather alarmism "leaves climate politics at the mercy of the weather."

There's an ancillary issue here: Global warming threatens to suck all the oxygen out of any discussion of the environment. We wind up giving too little attention to habitat destruction, overfishing, invasive species tagging along with global trade and so on. You don't need a climate model to detect that big oil spill in the Mississippi. That "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico -- an oxygen-starved region the size of Massachusetts -- isn't caused by global warming, but by all that fertilizer spread on Midwest cornfields.

Some folks may actually get the notion that the planet will be safe if we all just start driving Priuses. But even if we cured ourselves of our addiction to fossil fuels and stabilized the planet's climate, we'd still have an environmental crisis on our hands. Our fundamental problem is that -- now it's my chance to sound hysterical -- humans are a species out of control. We've been hellbent on wrecking our environment pretty much since the day we figured out how to make fire. This caused that: It would be nice if climate and weather were that simple.

And the U.S. Climate Change Science Program recently issued a report with the following conclusions:
1. Over the long-term U.S. hurricane landfalls have been declining.

2. Nationwide there have been no long-term increases in drought.

3. Despite increases in some measures of precipitation , there have not been corresponding increases in peak streamflows (high flows above 90th percentile).

4. There have been no observed changes in the occurrence of tornadoes or thunderstorms.

5. There have been no long-term increases in strong East Coast winter storms (ECWS), called Nor'easters.

6. There are no long-term trends in either heat waves or cold spells, though there are trends within shorter time periods in the overall record.

In the climate debate, you would have to be pretty foolish to allow any argument to hinge on claims about the attribution of observed extreme events to the emissions of greenhouse gases. But as we've noted here on many occasions, for some the climate debate is a morality tale that cannot withstand nuance, even if that nuance is perfectly appropriate given the current state of understandings. But given the public relations value of extreme events in the climate debate, don't expect Achenbach's reasoned view to take hold among those calling for action. Like the Bush Administration and Iraqi WMDs, for some folks sometimes the intelligence that you wish existed trumps the facts on the ground.



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