Sunday, September 30, 2007

Separating climate fact from fiction

This week is especially challenging for citizens trying to separate fact from fantasy in the climate debate. From the excited rhetoric of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's high-level event in New York, the pontifications of Ted Turner at the Clinton Global Initiative or politicians pandering for the green vote at President Bush's leaders summit, the public is in dire need of self-defense strategies.

The most reliable tool is simple skepticism. "I don't believe you; prove it" is an appropriate response to Al Gore and his climate campaigners. But such a charge is politically incorrect when applied to climate change so most people need something more passive, a climate change propaganda detector. Here's what will cause alarm bells to ring on a properly tuned detector:

* Activists claiming natural events are unnatural, or normal events abnormal. This guarantees that claims we are seeing more extreme events are always right. The "warmest/wettest/driest/snowiest/windiest" actually means the most extreme in the official record, which for most of the world is less than 50 years. Such a short time interval guarantees records will be set all the time.

* Speculation and exaggeration presented as unbiased fact. It's revealing to compare U.N. and other political pronouncements about climate with the scientific research that supposedly backs them. Conditional words - "could," "may" or "possibly" - that appear in the science papers vanish when the issue becomes political. Ban Ki-moon's assertions in May are classic: "The recent report of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emphasizes that the science on climate change is very clear, that the warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and that this is happening because of human activities." IPCC scientists concluded no such thing, but the secretary-general's exaggerations draw more attention to his cause.

* Exploitation of basic fears, a common practice well-documented by Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore. Humans are naturally fearful of the environment because they know it can kill them. Animism, the earliest form of religion, revolved around worshipping and placating nature, even at the expense of human well-being. Much of today's environmentalism takes the same tack.

* Taking advantage of public ignorance about science. Mislabeling carbon dioxide as pollution is standard practice for many campaigners and politicians - Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, has proposed a "Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act" riddled with this deception, and Mr. Gore often refers to CO2 as pollution. "Climate change is real," "The science is settled" and other meaningless but loaded assertions are used to manipulate public opinion by political operatives.

* Continuously shifting goalposts. Initially, global warming fears dominated public consciousness. Then, starting in 1998, the world began to cool while atmospheric CO2 continued to rise in complete contradiction to the theory. So the mantra became "climate change" and any variation could then be attributed to human activities. To avoid addressing the fact that climate change is a natural occurrence on all planets a new goal post shift is occurring; now the phraseology is "dealing with climate chaos."

* Continuously "upping the ante" if concerns do not seem sufficient, making statements everyone eventually understands to be ridiculous. John Ritch, director general of the World Nuclear Association, provided a perfect example in June: "Greenhouse gas emissions, if continued at the present massive scale, will yield consequences that are - quite literally - apocalyptic. ... If these predictions hold true, the combined effect would be the death of not just millions but of billions of people- and the destruction of much of civilization on all continents."

Climate alarmism may defeat itself by simply overplaying its hand. This week's conferences could speed that process, helping end what is becoming the most expensive science swindle in history. Let's hope so.


Questioning 20th Century Warmth

In 2006, an article appeared in Science magazine reconstructing the temperature of the Northern Hemisphere back to 800 AD based on 14 smoothed and normalized temperature proxies (e.g., tree ring records). Osborn and Briffa proclaimed at the time that "the 20th century is the most anomalous interval in the entire analysis period, with highly significant occurrences of positive anomalies and positive extremes in the proxy records." Obviously, concluding that the Northern Hemisphere has entered a period of unprecedented warmth is sure to make the news, and indeed, Osborn and Briffa's work was carried in papers throughout the world and was loudly trumpeted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) that publishes the journal Science.

A recent issue of Science contains an article not likely to receive any press coverage at all. Gerd Buerger of Berlin's Institut fuer Meteorologie decided to revisit the work of Osborn and Briffa, and his results raise serious questions about the claim that the 20th century has been unusually warm. Buerger argues that Osborn and Briffa did not apply the appropriate statistical tests that link the proxy records to observational data, and as such, Osborn and Briffa did not properly quantify the statistical uncertainties in their analyses. Buerger repeated all analyses with the appropriate adjustments and concluded "As a result, the `highly significant' occurrences of positive anomalies during the 20th century disappear." Further, he reports that "The 95th percentile is exceeded mostly in the early 20th century, but also about the year 1000." Needless to say, Gerd Buerger is not going to win any awards from the champions of global warming - nothing is more sacred than 20th century warming!

The reconstruction of past temperatures is a science unto itself, and the library contains many journals dedicated to the field. We could easily locate an article a week presenting a temperature reconstruction from some part of the planet that would call into question the notion that the 20th century was a period of unusual warmth. You may recall many essays we presented over the past five years examining the "hockey stick" depiction of planetary temperature (little change for 900 years, and suddenly 100 years ago, the temperature shot up) so merrily adopted by Gore and many others.

A large and important article appeared recently in Earth-Science Reviews regarding a long-term reconstruction of temperatures from Russia's Lake Baikal. In case you have forgotten your geography lessons, Lake Baikal is the world's deepest lake, it contains the world's largest volume of freshwater (20 percent of the global supply), and the lake has over 300 rivers flowing into it. Anson Mackay of University College London is the author of the article, and he notes that "the bottom sediments of the lake itself have never been directly been glaciated. Lake Baikal therefore, contains a potential uninterrupted paleoclimate archive consisting of over 7500 m of sedimentary deposits, extending back more than 20 million years." If that is not perfect enough, the Lake "is perhaps best well known for its high degree of biodiversity; over 2500 plant and animal species have been documented in Baikal, most of which are believed to be endemic." The Lake is a long way from the moderating effects of any ocean, and therefore, the Lake should experience large climatic fluctuations over long and short periods of time.

The trick to reconstructing temperatures here involves the shell remains of planktonic diatoms that have lived in the Lake for eons. During warm periods, some species of diatom phytoplankton flourish while during cold periods, some species flourish while most reduce production. Cores from the bottom of the Lake therefore contain a high-resolution temperature record for hundreds of thousands of years interpreted from biogenic silica left from the plankton.....

Of greater interest to us is what Lake Baikal can tell us about the most recent thousand years, and in particular, we are interested in the warming of the last 1000 years. Mackay notes that "between c. A.D. 850 and 1200, S. acus dominated the assemblage, most likely due to prevailing warmer and wetter climate that occurred in Siberia at this time." Well now, it certainly looks as if the Medieval Warm Period was noticed at the Lake. Next we learn that "Between c. A.D. 1200 and 1400, spring diatom crops growing under the ice decline in abundance, due in part to increased winter severity and snow cover on the lake, which is reflected in cooler early Siberian summers." The Little Ice Age then hit hard as Mackay finds "The diatom-inferred snow model suggests significantly increased snow cover on the lake between A.D. 1200 and 1775, which mirrors for the large part increases in snow cover in China during AD 1400-1900."

But here comes our favorite set of conclusions. Mackay writes "Diatom census data and reconstructions of snow accumulation suggest that changes in the influence of the Siberian High in the Lake Baikal region started as early as c. 1750 AD, with a shift from taxa that bloom during autumn overturn to assemblages that exhibit net growth in spring (after ice break-up). The data here mirror instrumental climate records from Fennoscandia for example, which also show over the last 250 years positive temperature trends and increasing early summer Siberian temperature reconstructions. Warming in the Lake Baikal region commenced before rapid increases in greenhouse gases, and at least initially, is therefore a response to other forcing factors such as insolation changes during this period of the most recent millennial cycle."

The Lake Baikal study shows that warming has occurred in the most recent century, but it is certainly nothing out of the ordinary and possibly to some degree explained by non-greenhouse forcing. The Osborn and Briffa proclamation that the 20th century was somehow out of the ordinary is certainly not confirmed by the incredible reconstruction from Lake Baikal.


Amid the rush to biofuel, a warning

Nobel laureate fears growing reliance on grain-based fuels threatens world food supplies

In the food-versus-fuel debate, there's little doubt where Norman Borlaug's heart lies. The father of the "Green Revolution," Borlaug's life has been dedicated to increasing the food supply in the developing world. His work with grains is credited with saving millions of lives, and in 1970, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. So Borlaug, now 93, watches with dismay as ever-greater amounts of the world's grain are turned into motor fuel for developed nations. "It isn't going to solve our energy problems, and it's going to disrupt our food system," Borlaug said Thursday. He stressed that he's not against biofuels, "up to a certain point." But using food as a fuel requires a careful balance, and Borlaug tilts his arms wildly to show how lopsided he thinks the balance has become.....

To increase food production, he advocated whole systems: developing dwarf varieties of wheat, using fertilizers on worn-out soils, battling plant disease and improving food-distribution systems. The results sent grain production soaring in the developing world. By some estimates, 1 billion lives have been saved. In recent decades, the race between the global supply and demand for food - a lively topic in the 1960s and 1970s - has mostly faded from public consciousness. Grain surpluses, not grain shortages, have produced most of the headlines. Global hunger and malnutrition still haunt parts of the globe, but less widely than before, and often because of war, not farming practices.

But Borlaug has never stopped working, even into his 90s. And now, suddenly, old issues like the world food supply are becoming hot topics once again in the public arena. This time, it's because of biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel. The rush to build corn-based ethanol plants is starting to transform agriculture. So much so that, if trends continue, Borlaug's native Corn Belt state of Iowa may soon need to import corn. "Pretty sad," Borlaug said, shaking his head. "In the next two to three years, if things continue to unfold as they are now, the price of meat is going to skyrocket." If that happens, "Then the shoe will be on the other foot," Borlaug said. "The general public has been saying, 'Oh, agriculture has been subsidized for this, that and the other.' "

Yet today's food-versus-fuel debate has a new element since 1970: growing concern about global climate change. Count Borlaug as a skeptic. "I do believe we are in a period where, no question, the temperatures are going up," he said. "But is this a part of another one of those (natural) cycles that have brought on glaciers and caused melting of glaciers?" He's not sure, and he doesn't think the science is, either. "How much would we have to cut back to take the increasing carbon dioxide and methane production to a level so that it's not a driving force?" he asked. "We don't even know how much."

So today a new debate is under way, as the world struggles with the proper balance between food production, fuel production, global hunger and global warming. What would Borlaug do? He'd like to turn back the clock to seek greater investment in alternative energy - fuel from plant waste, sunlight, water and wind. "What we should have done is to spend much more research on many different sources of energy, and we neglected that," he said. "If we have to start with grain, that's very different than starting with wood chips."



The prolongation of the Kyoto Protocol on the reduction of carbon emissions, which expires in 2012, will be ineffective, the head of the Russian hydrometeorology service said. Speaking at the United Nations headquarters in New York, which hosted a one-day summit on climate change Monday, Alexander Bedritsky said: "Samples prove that the Kyoto Protocol is imperfect, and its prolongation in its existing form for the coming periods of cooperation will be ineffective."

The Kyoto Protocol obliges the 35 industrial states that have ratified the document to cut emissions by 5% below 1990 levels by 2008-2012. The United States, a major polluter, has pulled out from the protocol, saying this could damage its economy. Developed and developing countries have been locked in a dispute over who should bear the main burden of carbon emission restrictions.

The head of the Russian federal service added that despite obligations assumed by a number of countries, carbon emissions, blamed for global warming, continue to increase in most industrially developed countries, as well as in countries with developing economies. "The reality of the situation in a number of developed countries does not correspond with the dynamics of assumed obligations on the stabilization and reduction of emissions," he said.

The one-day summit, held ahead of the annual climate treaty conference in the Indonesian island of Bali in December, was attended by representatives of 150 countries, including more than 70 heads of state.



Virginia's state climatologist, whose doubts about global warming and utility-industry funding made him a lightning rod on climate-change issues, quietly left his position over the summer. Patrick J. Michaels, who held the position since 1980, remains as a part-time research professor on leave at the University of Virginia, reported Joseph C. Zieman, chairman of the school's Department of Environmental Sciences, to the Daily Progress of Charlottesville. Mr. Michaels has been a leading skeptic of global-warming theories. Although he thinks global warming is real and influenced by humans, he contends it is caused primarily by natural forces.

The administration of Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, asked Mr. Michaels last year to refrain from using his title when conducting non-state business because of fears his views would be perceived as an official state position. The governor's office said Mr. Michaels, appointed by Gov. John N. Dalton, a Republican, was not a gubernatorial appointee, contending that the climatology office became UVa.'s domain in 2000.

Mr. Michaels, 57, called his resignation a sad result of the fact that his state climatologist funding had become politicized, compromising his academic freedom. "It's very simple," he said. "I don't think anybody was able to come to a satisfactory agreement about academic freedom."



The Lockwood paper was designed to rebut Durkin's "Great Global Warming Swindle" film. It is a rather confused paper -- acknowledging yet failing to account fully for the damping effect of the oceans, for instance -- but it is nonetheless valuable to climate atheists. The concession from a Greenie source that fluctuations in the output of the sun have driven climate change for all but the last 20 years (See the first sentence of the paper) really is invaluable. And the basic fact presented in the paper -- that solar output has in general been on the downturn in recent years -- is also amusing to see. Surely even a crazed Greenie mind must see that the sun's influence has not stopped and that reduced solar output will soon start COOLING the earth! Unprecedented July 2007 cold weather throughout the Southern hemisphere might even be the first sign that the cooling is happening. And the fact that warming plateaued in 1998 is also a good sign that we are moving into a cooling phase. As is so often the case, the Greenies have got the danger exactly backwards. See my post of 7.14.07 and a very detailed critique here for more on the Lockwood paper

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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