Category Archives: Media

Editors and Policy on Climate Change: An Open Letter

There have been a couple of remarkable turnarounds in the mainstream media of late. For example, Bishop Hill has noticed the significant change of perspective of Geoffrey Lean at the Telegraph:

When even zealots like Lean are in retreat it’s fair to say that something significant has changed. One can only wonder whether this change of tune is a function of the Economist’s coverage of the issue or of what Lean’s contacts are whispering to him about the Fifth Assessment Report.

The important point is that Lean is accepting that climate sensitivity to carbon dioxide might not be as high as previously considered. The economist article is undoubtedly an influence, and again represents a major shift of position from alarmism. I think this is an interesting shift in the reporting of climate change. However, I am not sure that the New Zealand media are catching up yet, so I thought I would ‘pen’ and open letter to the media. I have no idea whether anyone from the media reads this blog, but I thought it was at least worth a try.

Open Letter

I start this letter with a simple point. The success of your newspaper is entirely dependent upon your credibility. I do not mean whether celebrity ‘x’ really had an affair with celebrity ‘y’, but on the substantive issues in the news. For the former, no doubt, the public are forgiving but, for the latter, they will be less so.

Many years ago, a group of scientists started making startling claims that humans were warming the planet due to emissions of carbon dioxide. They made predictions for temperature rises and, along with the rise in temperature, started predicting catastrophe. It was a hot news story. It was a story which could energise people into the ever so noble cause of ‘saving the planet’. With such a noble cause, it was inevitable that the cause would create passionate advocacy. Governments were caught up with the passion too, and commenced a flood of new and often expensive legislation to ‘save the planet’. Passions were raised, and you were part of that process.

We can now jump forwards to the present. The predictions of the scientists are not working out. The warming has stopped. There are also worrying evidence that the climategate scandal was revealing of a simple truth; the feet of the alarmist climate scientists are made of clay. Most recently, another hockey stick temperature chart was produced, and was hailed as a new ‘smoking gun’ for humans driving the climate into oblivion. It did not take long for the claims of the paper and the authors’ claims to the press to be dissected. It seems that they grossly manipulated the data, and the work could be characterised as grossly incompetent at best or fraudulent at worst. It is just the latest in a long line of scandals. You are not reporting on this, or the pause in temperature rise, or the implications of the pause for the climate models on which climate alarmism is founded.

I now return to the point with which I started this letter. Your reporting of climate alarmism has stoked passions, and has played a part in pressuring politicians to act to ‘save the planet’. If this alarm is a false alarm, what will this do to your credibility with your readers?

In particular, there have been a large number of credible scientists who have, for many years, either been questioning the idea of catastrophic global warming, or asking that the science of climate change acknowledge the many uncertainties in the science. As the predictions of catastrophic warming are failing to materialise, these sceptical scientists are starting to be vindicated. Up until now, you have ignored them, or in the worst case, called them ‘deniers’ of the science.

You can continue to promote the alarmism, as you have done up until now. If you do so, and the evidence of the real world continues to contradict the models of climate science alarmism, you are going to look very silly. You see, the trouble is this. It seems that some of the outlets that have previously promoted alarmism (e.g. the Economist) are starting to backtrack a little already. In doing so, they have started the process of protecting their credibility. Just as the tide of climate alarmism rapidly rose, it might just as quickly recede. To use a metaphor borrowed from a financier; you do not want to be the person who is wearing no swimsuit when the tide goes out.

You should start to now think about retaining your credibility. A first step, for those media outlets that do so, is to stop using terms such as ‘denier’. A second step is to acknowledge the uncertainties in climate science, with Professor Judith Currie as an exemplar of this position. You need to acknowledge that there is no consensus on the science. In particular, start reporting the IPCC as what it actually is, which is a fundamentally political institution. You do not have to take a sceptical stance, but simply started restoring balance to your reporting. In doing so, if the tide does indeed go back out, you will not be left exposed as wearing no swimsuit.

The New Hockey Stick

First of all, please accept my apologies for not posting for so long. I have been writing a paper based on some research, and have been working 7 day weeks on it for a long period. It is a challenging piece of work, with some results which undermine a body of theory. In order to get it published I have had to be more thorough, and go into depth that would not normally be required, and still it will be a fight to get it published. This is the nature of challenging the orthodoxy.

On the other hand, if you write something that is in line with the orthodoxy it is relatively easy to publish, even if the standard of the work is not very impressive. This brings me to the subject of this post, which is the Marcott et al (2013) paper, with the abstract as follows:

Surface temperature reconstructions of the past 1500 years suggest that recent warming is unprecedented in that time. Here we provide a broader perspective by reconstructing regional and global temperature anomalies for the past 11,300 years from 73 globally distributed records. Early Holocene (10,000 to 5000 years ago) warmth is followed by ~0.7°C cooling through the middle to late Holocene (<5000 years ago), culminating in the coolest temperatures of the Holocene during the Little Ice Age, about 200 years ago. This cooling is largely associated with ~2°C change in the North Atlantic. Current global temperatures of the past decade have not yet exceeded peak interglacial values but are warmer than during ~75% of the Holocene temperature history. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change model projections for 2100 exceed the full distribution of Holocene temperature under all plausible greenhouse gas emission scenarios.

I typed in the word ‘Marcott’ into Google News search, and the first headline that greeted me said ‘We’re Screwed: 11,000 Years’ Worth of Climate Data Prove It’. I don’t think it is possible to be more ‘alarmist’ than this. The article is found in the Atlantic, and the article lifts the following diagram from the Marcott et al paper:

marcott-A-1000.jpg

The article goes on to say that:

Back in 1999 Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann released the climate change movement’s most potent symbol: The “hockey stick,” a line graph of global temperature over the last 1,500 years that shows an unmistakable, massive uptick in the twentieth century when humans began to dump large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It’s among the most compelling bits of proof out there that human beings are behind global warming, and as such has become a target on Mann’s back for climate denialists looking to draw a bead on scientists. [emphasis added]

The article goes on to propose that the Marcott et al paper vindicates Michael Mann’s long discredited hockey stick chart. The hockey stick chart of Mann has always been a key plank of the alarmist argument, as it is the ‘evidence’ that the warming that took place in the 20th century was unprecedented; it was the ‘smoking gun’. In particular, it removed two key elements from the temperature record, which were the medieval warm period, and the little ice age which followed in the wake of the medieval warm period. In a post in Climate etc., Rud Istvan explains it thus:

The MWP has progressively ‘disappeared’ over the course of  the IPCC reports. FAR and SAR showed it to have been much warmer than the present—and nothing to do with CO2. By TAR the MWP was gone, leading to the hockey stick controversy and climategate.

While the MWP did not completely disappear in this new paper, it turned into a <0.1°C blip colder than 1961- 1990. This is quite curious. The MWP was not a blip for the entire northern hemisphere, as illustrated by this figure adapted from a 2010 paper by Ljungvist.

The diagram referenced is given below:

Ljungqvist 2010

As is evident in the Atlantic article, the media bandwagon has started rolling on the findings of Marcott et al, but the problems are already starting to appear. The data used for the paper was made available (which is certainly a positive), but this has allowed others to look closely at the findings. For example, at Suyts blog, Hank ‘discovered that only nine of the 73 proxies contained data that extended to 1950. Of those nine, only two contained data that extended to 2000′ [and] Starting at 1,500 before present (BP), I graphed the nine proxy datasets. And here’s what I got:’

clip_image004

The hockey stick is not apparent, and this is why:

This new 73 proxy study has alarmists convinced that this is an independent verification and vindication of Mann’s hockey stick. It isn’t. The hockey stick blade at the end of the reconstruction is resulting from an adjustment of the proxy data to agree with Mann’s treemometer study. That, or it is an outright splice of Mann’s data directly.

Inevitably, Steve McIntyre, who played a key role in discrediting the Mann hockey stick, has weighed in. In what Bishop Hill calls an ‘astonishing’ post, McIntrye observes that:

Marcott, Shakun, Clark and Mix did not use the published dates for ocean cores, instead substituting their own dates. The validity of Marcott-Shakun re-dating will be discussed below, but first, to show that the re-dating “matters” (TM-climate science), here is a graph showing reconstructions using alkenones (31 of 73 proxies) in Marcott style, comparing the results with published dates (red) to results with Marcott-Shakun dates (black). As you see, there is a persistent decline in the alkenone reconstruction in the 20th century using published dates, but a 20th century increase using Marcott-Shakun dates. (It is taking all my will power not to make an obvious comment at this point.)

The graph comparing the two is given below:

alkenone-comparison

There is plenty more to the critical analysis of the work, for example the absence of the hockey stick in Marcott’s thesis, or the lack of resolution of the proxy data. As a headline from Wattsupwiththat put it, ‘Tick, tick, tick – how long will the new Marcott et al hockey stick survive?‘ My purpose is not to review the many gaping holes appearing in the Marcott et al paper but to consider why this paper has appeared now. The first point to note is that the data was released with the paper. This is important, as it is an admission that hiding data is no longer acceptable practice. However, this presents a problem for alarmists who present questionable work; they are damned if they do not release the data and damned if they do.

As the data comes under increasing scrutiny, it is becoming very apparent that this paper is extremely problematic, and that the conclusions trumpeted by alarmist media sit upon extremely shonky foundations. The authors, unless very naïve, must have been aware that there paper would not hold up to close scrutiny. However, in having a paper accepted in the peer reviewed literature, they have managed to potentially reinstate the hockey stick – and this might now appear in the next IPCC report. In publishing this work, the authors may have sacrificed their credibility to some degree, but in doing so, they have gained membership of the faction in climate science that dominates the literature (see here for why this matters).

The publication of this paper has been important for the alarmist position as the science of climate change, and the alarmist position, is bumping up against the harsh wall of reality. In particular, the models that are so important in the alarmist case are having trouble with the recent stall in warming; they cannot explain it. There is a very good summary of the problems created by the stall in a report issued by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, written by David Whitehouse. This is from the executive summary, but I recommend reading the whole report (about an hour to read):

The standstill observation was first made in 2006; the global annual average temperature had not increased for the previous five years, even though many climate scientists, and the media, were talking about an ever-warming planet powered by strong anthropogenic global warming. The initial debate was couched in cautious scientific terms but, because it ran counter to popular opinion, many dismissed it and questioned the motives of those pointing out these observational facts. But to the amazement of many, and the obvious annoyance of some, as the years passed all the major global temperature datasets showed no warming throughout the first decade of the 21st century and beyond. As this report shows, as the statistical significance of the standstill increased, the debate about its potential importance grew among many branches of science, even though many prominent scientists and institutions, and almost all of the media, were steadfastly looking the other way.

The problem for the alarmist position is that, as David Whitehouse points out, even some of the most prominent alarmists such as Hansen are now having to accept the reality of the stall, albeit they are using various dubious methods to deflect attention away from it. When crying that the world is heading for catastrophe, it is more than a little problematic when the world does not conform to the narrative. As such, it becomes ever more important to shift focus away from the harsh reality of the evidence that contradicts the narrative, and refocus attention on something that might support the narrative.

Perhaps I am wrong, but it is possible that Marcott et al have made ‘a pact with the devil’ (just a metaphor!). In return for creating the right narrative, they join a privileged elite of alarmist climate scientists, but do so at the cost of selling their scientific souls as the price. They have provided a paper which may be highly questionable, appears not to stand up to scrutiny, but have provided the material that is needed by both the media and IPCC to continue an alarmist narrative – in the face of evidence that is increasingly problematic for the alarmist case. In career terms, Marcott et al may have won from this. Their future work will undoubtedly be looked upon kindly by the gatekeepers of climate science.

However, only Marcott et al know their own motives, and I can only speculate on them here. On the one hand, there is a possibility (and one I would like to believe, even if I do not) that they think their paper is ‘sound’ but, in light of the problems in the paper, and the way it has been presented this would be hard to believe. On the other hand there is the possibility they made the trade-off. I can only wish that the former is true, because the latter is just depressing.

Note: The new batch of climategate emails are starting to cause a new stir. I am very pleased that the use of the emails has (so far) been cautious, and attention has been given to preventing non-climate science related emails being kept out of the public domain. We will undoubtedly find some interesting new insights as the tedious task of going through the emails progresses.

Marcott, S. A., J. D. Shakun, et al. (2013). “A Reconstruction of Regional and Global Temperature for the Past 11,300 Years.” Science 339(6124): 1198-1201

The Halt in Warming

For those that read widely on the subject of climate change, you will no doubt be aware that there has been a long halt in warming temperatures and even James Hansen has accepted this as fact. One interesting thing about the story is the way that the story has been treated. For example, David Rose wrote about the halt in the UK’s Daily Mail back in October of last year, only to create a storm of indignation:

Last week The Mail on Sunday provoked an international storm by publishing a new official world temperature graph showing there has been no global warming since 1997.

The figures came from a database called Hadcrut 4 and were issued by the Met Office and the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at East Anglia University.

We received hundreds of responses from readers, who were overwhelmingly critical of those climate change experts who believe that global warming is inevitable.

But the Met Office, whose lead was then followed by climate change campaigners, accused The Mail on Sunday of cherry-picking data in order to mislead readers. It even claimed it had not released a ‘report’, as we had stated, although it put out the figures from which we drew our graph ten days ago.

The Met Office response referred to can be found here. In response to the hail of criticism, David Rose responded with a question at the head of an article; ‘so who are the “deniers” now?’ and it is a very apt question. He writes about the criticism of his article before saying (emphasis added):

But then last week, the rest of the media caught up with our report. On Tuesday, news finally broke of a revised Met Office ‘decadal forecast’, which not only acknowledges the pause, but predicts it will continue at least until 2017. It says world temperatures are likely to stay around 0.43 degrees above the long-term average – as by then they will have done for 20 years.

This is hugely significant. It amounts to an admission that earlier forecasts – which have dictated years of Government policy and will cost tens of billions of pounds – were wrong. They did not, the Met Office now accepts, take sufficient account of  ‘natural variability’ – the effects of phenomena such as ocean temperature cycles – which at least for now are counteracting greenhouse gas warming.

Surely the Met Office would trumpet this important news, as it has done when publishing warnings of imminent temperature rises. But there was no fanfare. Instead, it issued the revised forecast on the ‘research’ section of its website – on Christmas Eve. It only came to light when it was noticed by an eagle-eyed climate blogger, and then by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the think-tank headed by Lord Lawson.

Then, rather than reporting the news objectively, Britain’s Green Establishment went into denial. Neither The Guardian nor The Independent bothered to report it in their paper editions, although The Independent did later run  an editorial saying that the new forecast was merely a trivial ‘tweak’. Instead, they luridly reported on the heatwave and raging bushfires in Australia.

For those of you who do not read widely on the subject, this halt in warming might come as something of a surprise. For example, I did a search of the New Zealand Herald, and there was lots of reporting of alarm, but no article that seemed to cover the halt. I say ‘seemed’, as I only looked at the headline and summaries for most of the articles. However, I did look at some in more depth, such as this editorial, from which I will provide a quote:

In a review of climate study this week, we reported that New Zealand might fare quite well under the predicted 4C increase in average global temperatures. Here the expected rise is 3C.

Victoria University’s Dr Jim Renwick, a lead author of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel’s next report, said the North Island’s climate would be closer to Queensland’s and the South Island would have the North Island’s conditions. It does not sound so bad.

Melting polar ice caps would raise sea levels a metre, and droughts would be more frequent in eastern regions of New Zealand.

It remains wiser to contribute what we can to international efforts that might reduce or at least slow the rate of warming.

The next IPCC report will examine engineering responses to climate change, such as extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sending sun-reflecting particles into the stratosphere.

It is something to ponder as we bask in another hot, sunny weekend. And spare a thought for Australia where temperatures are predicted to set records this weekend.

If this is a symptom of global warming we are all in it together.

Oddly, there is no mention of the halt in warming. At least one thing is to their credit; although they tenuously link climate change to the recent heat wave in Australia in the quote, at least they suggest in the introduction that ‘Heat waves in Australia and NZ may not be a symptom of climate change’. This is at least a little better than the reporting elsewhere, including in one of their other articles, which clearly linked recent heatwaves to global warming, and also included this:

And Australia won’t be the only country to suffer from rising temperatures.

A recent study done by Britain’s Met Office showed that 2013 is on course to be the hottest ever globally.

This is odd, as the UK’s Met Office is actually predicting several years of a pause in warming. In fact, when all is said and done, the reporting of the halt in warming is distinctly odd. Very odd. Or rather the absence of headlines is odd. As David Rose suggests, it should be trumpeted. It should be headline news.

The Significance of the the News

The real significance of the news is in what it confirms about the state of the science, and in particular about climate models. For example, GWPF have helpfully translated a Spiegel article, and it includes these comments (emphasis added):

Scientists previously thought 14 years without further warming could be brought into line with their forecasts – but not “15 years or more,” as NASA scientists stated four years ago in the journal “Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society”. In an email to colleagues a renowned scientist wrote on 7 May 2009, at a time when the warming standstill had already lasted for eleven years: “the ‘no upward trend’ has to continue for a total of 15 years before we get worried.”

[and they ask scientists for their views]

However, climate models do not represent stratospheric water vapour “very well”, admits Marotzke. The forecasts remain vague.

[and]

Thus there are plenty of plausible explanations for why global warming has temporarily slowed down. However, the number of guesses also shows how inexact the climate is understood. Could La Niña, for example, continue to have a cooling effect? “The jury is still out on this”, NASA explains.

The article includes several theoretical explanations for the halt, but none of them are given as firm explanations but are instead competing unconfirmed theories lacking in evidential support.

Does this look like the science is settled? It looks far from settled, and only serves to highlight that the climate models used by researchers are, at best, incomplete. Now at this point, you would expect that this would be a cause for celebratory headlines. After all, the story so far is that ‘we are all doomed’, and this narrative is derived from the very same models that are demonstrably inadequate. So what is the reaction of the alarmists to this? The Huffington Post calls the Met Office’s revisions a ‘distraction’ and simply asserts:

Our focus must at all time be on debating and researching new technologies and efforts to tackle climate change – repeated debates about whether climate change is happening or not are extremely unhelpful and distracting at this critical point in time. The argument should be long gone now!

I really like the exclamation mark at the end! The distraction that is being referred to is whether the science is settled. I picked the Huffington Post as an exemplar, as it is arguing that:

[…] climate sceptics are constantly looking for gaps in how climate science is being reported in order to exploit them and fundamentally question whether climate change is actually happening.

It is not gaps in the reporting that are interesting to skeptics, but the gaps in the science. In this case, the failure of the models used to predict catastrophic global warming to predict the climate. They are not working. There are gaps in the science, and these reflect in the models. If the models are wrong, then the output of the models cannot and should not be trusted, at least not at present.

There is nothing to say that the models cannot be improved, but when there are competing and debated explanations for the current halt in warming there are some tough questions that need to be addressed. What is very apparent in the Spiegel article is that there are some very fundamental questions about climate science and this will reflect in the models as they stand. However for the future, assuming that any of the theories are correct, which one goes into revisions of the models? Each of the explanatory theories is different, and the use of each will therefore create a very different model. Each theory is contested or lacks evidential support. Or perhaps the models should use more than one of the explanatory theories but how will they be used together?

And this is exactly why this news should be headlines. Climate scientists cannot even agree on the explanation for the halt in warming. We have been told that the science is settled, that there is consensus on the science, that the debate is settled…and on and on….but it is not settled, and there is no consensus.

Instead, there is uncertainty, unknowns and debate over theory. Furthermore, when being told all these tales of certainty, we were being lied to. Faced with the failure of their models, they have been forced to admit the critical gaps in the science. Yes, they will update their models, perhaps using one, or a combination of the theories (hopefully with some evidence in place by then). The models might even improve. But will this change the tune that is sung? I very much doubt it. Instead, the media will continue to pour out the lie that the ‘science is settled’. This will be promoted by the very same scientists who have been falsely claiming that the science has been settled up to this point in time.

For all of the scientists who have claimed that the science is settled, there is a very basic question; why should be believe you in the future, when it is apparent that you have lied? In other words, the scientists who have claimed consensus, that the science is settled, and even described skeptics as ‘deniers’, have a problem with credibility. ‘Trust us, we’re scientists’ has been the underlying refrain but they have lied to us, and they have been caught lying. There never has been the certainty that they have promoted and there never has been a consensus, not even amongst those who have supported the catastrophic warming theory. It was all lies. After all, if they cannot explain and agree on the recent absence of warming, where is the consensus and certainty?

Jo Nova and the ABC

Jo Nova has just posted for the second time on her interview with ABC. For those unfamiliar with Jo Nova, she is the most well known Australian skeptic, and her website attracts considerable attention. As a result, the Australian ABC chose her, and her husband, to represent the skeptical side of the climate change debate. Having seen other skeptics abused in the editing process, Jo asked for an independent cameraman to film the interview as insurance against bad editing. I forget her exact words, but it was something along the lines of ‘protecting our reputations’. Jo has now published the full copy of the interview, and contrasts it with the way that their views were presented by ABC. Jo gives an account of what was used from 2 hours of interview for herself below:

Jo:                Carbon dioxide.

Jo:                There’s some small immeasurable amount.

Jo:                The data says –

Joanne:      (Laughs)

Jo:                The planet is not going to be destroyed.

Jo summarises how they presented their argument thus:

David and I made it absolutely clear that we held our positions because of the evidence (between us we mentioned the word “evidence” nearly 100 times). But this wouldn’t have fitted with the theme later in the show where Smith and Nasht get psychologists to explain that it’s really all about “ideology”, and skeptics are skeptics because they’re old white males. (Like Jo right?) An honest doco would have taken care to at least let David and I explain our position. David showed four pieces of evidence that showed the models are wrong, yet the editors completely removed any reference to three of the four key pieces of evidence. This is despite the graphs being filmed twice, and referred to repeatedly by both David and myself in preps and in the filming. Indeed, I mentioned “28 million radiosondes” five times (a reference to the missing hot spot).  Later, David pointed out that ignoring the poor siting of thermometers is one way the modelers conceal the failure of their models. The editors jumbled these two aspects together with tricky snipping to suggest that the photos of thermometers were one of our “two” key points of evidence for the failure of the models.

That number is important: we clearly presented four pieces of evidence (1. models overestimated air temperatures from 1990, 2. models overestimated ocean warming since when we started measuring it properly in 2003, 3. models predict a pattern of atmospheric warming — responsible for most of the warming in the models — that is entirely missing from copious weather balloon measurements, and 4. models predict outgoing radiation increases with surface rising surface temperature when satellite measurements show the opposite). But they moved David’s words around (by cutting and pasting) to make it appear he said he presented two pieces (which he never said), and to make it appear as if the dodgy land thermometers were one of those two pieces of evidence. Net result: they actively concealed from the audience, by trickery, the evidence that mattered and that we presented four independent sets of data in support of our position.

In looking at the transcript and video, it is very apparent that they were, in no way, presented fairly in the ABC documentary. Indeed, an emphasis on the evidence by Jo and her husband David was the main theme of their argument. In response, the interviewer instead continually pointed to authority (e.g. the IPCC) instead of actually engaging with the argument based upon the evidence, or turned the subject to smears regarding funding. There were a few exceptions, but these simply highlighted the interviewer’s poor knowledge of the science in question.

Overall it is a very shabby incident. For those who are new to the climate change debate, I would strongly recommend taking a look at the video of the interview. It delves into some technicalities which are difficult if you are unfamiliar with the climate change debate, so parts of the interview may be hard going. However, if you can take the time to watch it, note how the debate plays out; the presentation of observational evidence that contradicts the climate models, the refusal of the interviewer to engage with that evidence (mostly), and the switches to appeals to authority and ad hominem attacks. In the final edit for the documentary, the arguments put forward by Jo and David are distorted, and the result is, by any reasonable standard, an extremely biased presentation. If you have any doubts, the transcript of the broadcast can be found as a link at the bottom of the page here, annotated by David.

I highlight this as it is a good illustration of the problems with the portrayal of the skeptical case. There are no startling revelations in the interview, but a presentation of the skeptical case based upon evidence. To those familiar with the debate, there is nothing new, but for those unfamiliar with the debate, it gives an opportunity to see how a media outlet may be in thrall to alarmist arguments, and seek to hide/distort the skeptic view. It is important for this reason alone; for those unfamiliar with the debate, it shows that much of the media cannot be trusted on this issue.

The ‘Panto Villain’ Narrative and Climate Change

A little while ago, there was coverage and publicity of Lucy Lawless and members of Greenpeace taking ‘direct action’:

Lucy Lawless and seven other Greenpeace activists today pleaded guilty over the occupation of an oil drilling ship in February in protest of planned oil drilling operations in the Arctic.

The New Zealand actor’s arrest and the subsequent court action received publicity from far afield, and was covered by global media giants including the BBC, ABC, Reuters, the Daily Mail and the Washington Post.

The huge media scrum outside Auckland District Court this morning also attested to the success of the protest.

It is just one example. It does not take much to find huge numbers of articles on ‘direct action’ by environmentalists. Many of these ‘direct actions’ involve breaking the law, and preventing people going about their perfectly lawful business. This is often wrapped up with the justification that the protestors are ‘saving the planet’. Reporting on such ‘direct action’ is often fawning.

I am not keen at all on ‘direct action’ that breaks the law. At least, not in countries in which there is freedom of speech and assembly, and where marches and other legal forms of protest are allowed. In such places, there are mechanisms for people to make their point, and to raise interest in their cause, and there is no need to break the law. Where these mechanisms are curtailed, this is a completely different story.

This brings me on to the latest news of Christopher Monckton, who has caused upset by having the temerity to push a button and talk at the Doha COP18 conference; the latest round of talks on establishing an international climate change agreement. This is his description of the incident:

I have been a bad boy. At the U.N. climate conference in Doha, I addressed a plenary session of national negotiating delegates though only accredited as an observer.

One just couldn’t resist. There they all were, earnestly outbidding each other to demand that the West should keep them in pampered luxury for the rest of their indolent lives, and all on the pretext of preventing global warming that has now become embarrassingly notorious for its long absence.

No one was allowed to give the alternative – and scientifically correct – viewpoint. The U.N.’s wall of silence was rigidly in place.

The microphone was just in front of me. All I had to do was press the button. I pressed it. The Chair recognized Myanmar (Burmese for Burma). I was on.

This is a video of the incident on Youtube:

As anyone who follows the debate on climate change knows, Christopher is firmly in the skeptic camp. Those who are skeptical are, just like the environmentalists, driven by concerns but the concerns are sometimes different. In the case of the environmentalists, the concern is often about saving ‘the planet’, albeit that they will also discuss the impacts of the climate on humans. It is often the case that the ’cause’ is abstract, and simply founded in a belief that humans are disease on the face of the planet. Or about the ‘good’ of ‘nature’.

In the case of skeptics, the concern is always human centred. I hope that I can speak for all, and am not being arrogant, when I say that everything I have read indicates that the skeptic position is driven by concerns that the policies of governments on climate change are economically damaging. It is a concern that is about human consequences. For example, when good agricultural land is turned over to provide material for bio-fuels, it is not being used for the growth of food. This means that the available supply of food in the world is diminished. With less supply of foods, it is basic economics to say that this will see increases in prices. Whilst this is not a problem for the richer people in the world, for those living on the margins, it is catastrophic. It can mean the difference between life and death.

And that is the point. In this one example, it is possible to see that the conversion of agriculture to foods is going to lead to the death of those living on the margins or, in many cases, malnutrition and disease. Other policies are less dramatic in their consequences. For example, the increase in the price of energy, even in rich world countries, resulting from mad schemes like wind energy, will see poorer people struggling to meet their bills, unable to keep their children and themselves warm in winter. For others, the increase in energy costs might see the loss of their livelihood, as their employer relocates in search of cheaper energy, where there is no policy to promote uneconomic energy. The consequences of policy to mitigate climate change have consequences; from death to destitution, to energy poverty to disease.

The environmentalists cloak their arguments in ‘righteousness’ and decry the skeptical camp as wicked. What they do not and will not accept is that there is a strong moral dimension in the skeptic camp. It simply does not fit their neat narrative, and their narrative dominates much of the discussion in the media. How noble to ‘save the planet’ echoes around the media. For those who seek to portray skeptics as wicked, this is a wake up call; we are driven by concern for the real consequences of the policies that you are promoting. Consequences that do harm to people.

Whilst the media and environmental movement cloaks direct action in the clothes of morality, they are unable to give credit to Christopher Monckton for doing the same. The point is this; the whole environmentalist movement seeks to turn their views into a simple black and white morality play. They want you to believe that they are the players with the white hats on, and we, the skeptics, are the people wearing the black hats. However, our aim is to prevent and reverse climate change policies. We do so, not out of wickedness, but out of concern for the real harm that ‘green’ anti-climate change policies do. The views of the green movement are best summed up by an article in the Guardian, in which Christopher Monckton is described as a ‘climate panto villain’.

And that is the story, the narrative, that is pushed forwards. We, the guys in the white hats, face down the ‘panto villains’. The problem with the narrative is that is simply a lie. In order to be a villain, you must act out of malice, with bad intent. It is quite the opposite of motives of the skeptical camp, who act out of concern and compassion. We do so in the absence of government grants, of government funded conferences to sunny climes, of prestige in the press. Indeed, vilification is often the reward of skepticism, along with damage to careers, and being treated as ‘panto villains’.

In light of this, environmentalists may wish to ask where the real nobility lies.

But they will not. They are blind to the possibility.

The Weather is Getting Worse?

Oh, dear. Philip Duncan at the New Zealand Herald has written a story that uses the idea that storms are getting worse due to climate change. He is described as a ‘weather analyst’. I have no idea what a ‘weather analyst’ might be, but it is hard to imagine that it has anything to do with science. For example, he says the following:

But the problem with diagnosing climate change as the reason for the increase in worldwide severe weather is that you need decades to really review it, and by then it may be too late to reverse. Talk about stuck between a rock and hard place.

Fact: the world is heating up. Fact: insurance companies are paying far more than before for weather-related disasters. Fact: organisations such as Niwa and NOAA have been warning us for over a decade that climate change will lead to more floods in summer and more snow storms in winter.

Let’s deal with his ‘facts’. First of all, although the world has warmed, the reason for the warming is the issue i.e. is it due to human activity? The other problem is that he uses the expression that’ the world is heating up’, despite there being a pause in the warming. This from Judith Currie:

This concept of a recent pause in the warming seems to be fairly widely accepted by many mainstream consensus scientists (e.g. the recent Greenwire article),with explanations ranging from aerosols, to solar, to oceans. The duration and magnitude of a pause that is significant in the context of the AGW debate is debatable, but I have made some suggestions.  Note that the short time scales considered here preclude determination of a statistically significant trend at the 95% confidence level, although lack of statistical signficance does not negate the existence of a pause as defined here.

The facts about insurance companies paying out more is absolutely true. However, the reason is straightforward. There is more building/population increases in places which are at risk of extreme weather events; for example the massive coastal developments in places like Florida, or the building of housing on flood plains in the UK (see here for serious analysis). This is from Dr. Roger Pielke Jr., who specialises in climate change and natural disasters.

There is seemingly a bottomless well of nonsense on disasters and climate change. I have long ago accepted that such nonsense is, like the presence of arguments rejecting the basic science of climate change, a situation to be lived with rather than changed. Even so, I can still poke some fun.

As just one of his many examples, Dr. Pielke gives the following:

  • Climatewire reports uncritically a claim coming from Swiss Re that “the financial toll of global weather disasters amounts to between 1 and 12 percent of U.S. gross domestic product annually.” This totals $160 billion to almost $2 trillion.

Reality Check: The actual number for global losses as a percent of US GDP is closer to 0.1%, with the maximum about 1.2% in 2005. The total cost of all hurricanes since 1900 in normalized dollars is about $1.4 trillion. The media (in general) rarely question numbers given to them from the reinsurance industry and on disasters and climate change have a strange aversion to the peer reviewed scientific literature. Innumeracy.

In another post, Dr. Pielke summarises the widespread reporting of connections with climate change and disasters saying the following:

The information above documents a pattern of misrepresentation of the science of disasters and climate change in the Stern Review report, the reports of the IPCC, an the US CCSP. The pattern of misrepresentation has three common characteristics:

1. Reliance on non-peer reviewed, unsupportable studies rather than the relevant peer reviewed literature.

2. Reliance on and featuring non-peer reviewed work conducted by the authors of the assessment reports.

3. Repeated reliance on a small number of secondary of tertiary sources, repeatedly cited such that intellectual provenance is lost.

The evidence presented here, and in great detail via the links, is unambiguous and unequivocal in support of my claims. Though if you would like to refute them with evidence, please do so in the comments. Until the climate science community cleans up its act on this subject it will continue to give legitimate opportunities for opponents to action to criticize the climate science community.

Interestingly, deaths from extreme weather events are actually at a low point, global tropical cyclone activity has reduced, and there is a host of other evidence that questions whether there are more natural disasters than before (see here for links to many other sources, and my previous discussion of an IPCC report on climate change and disasters). In summary, whilst it is correct that insurers are paying out more, there is no evidence that this is a result of climate change creating more extreme weather. I end the point with a long quote from Professor Judith Currie:

Judith Curry, chair of Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.
The substantial interest in attributing extreme weather events to global warming seems rooted in the perceived need for some sort of a disaster to drive public opinion and the political process in the direction of taking action on climate change. However, attempts to attribute individual extreme weather events, or collections of extreme weather events, may be fundamentally ill-posed in the context of the complex climate system, which is characterized by spatiotemporal chaos. There are substantial difficulties and problems associated with attributing changes in the average climate to natural variability versus anthropogenic forcing, which I have argued are oversimplified by the IPCC assessments. Attribution of extreme weather events is further complicated by their dependence on weather regimes and internal multi-decadal oscillations that are simulated poorly by climate models.

I have been completely unconvinced by any of the arguments that I have seen that attributes a single extreme weather event, a cluster of extreme weather events, or statistics of extreme weather events to anthropogenic forcing. Improved analysis of the attribution of extreme weather events requires a substantially improved and longer database of the events. Interpretation of these events in connection with natural climate regimes such as El Nino is needed to increase our understanding of the role of natural climate variability in determining their frequency and intensity. Improved methods of evaluating climate model simulations of distributions of extreme event intensity and frequency in the context of natural variability is needed before any confidence can be placed in inferences about the impact of anthropogenic influences on extreme weather events.

As for the claim in the Herald article that ” organisations such as Niwa and NOAA have been warning us for over a decade that climate change will lead to more floods in summer and more snow storms in winter.” This fact is indeed correct (e.g. see here). Ok, but has there been any evidence that might support this taking place in New Zealand? I do not mean anecdotes, I mean rigorous scientific analysis. None is given in the article. As has been discussed, there is no evidence on a global scale. Another problem with the article is that Philip Duncan starts with an anecdote, as follows:

During the snow storm last August many people commented “so much for global warming”. The thing is, a warmer planet means bigger snow storms. Winter temperatures will still fall below freezing but a couple of degrees more warmth in the air can lead to more moisture and that makes bigger snow storms.

This paragraph is followed by the discussion of the ‘facts’ quoted earlier, implying that the snow is the result of climate change, but then he later suggests New Zealand might benefit from climate change

Dr Renwick also said something else: New Zealand may actually benefit from climate change. But how will we cope with the world wanting to move here in 100 years? And what about the millions who will suffer as a result of more droughts, floods and extreme weather?

Another concern is Philip Duncan’s poor attempts to suggest that he is something of a neutral observer.

Personally, I don’t subscribe to the scaremongering from the climate-change supporters, or deniers.

But the amount of severe weather around this planet in the past 10 years has been staggering.

The article describes exactly the kind of scaremongering that he purports to not to subscribe to. In his conclusion, he says the following:

The reason why the world is warming is something I still am not sure of, but I do know something is changing. And if we don’t get on top of it in the short term, our grandchildren may have to deal with something mankind hasn’t faced in thousands of years: a heatwave followed by an ice age. While Western nations will adapt to climate change, the poor nations of this world will not. And we are talking about hundreds of millions of people who may suffer.

This is, from any reasonable point of view, scaremongering. In places, he tries to dress up the piece with expressions of doubt and balance, but the entire impetus of the article is towards ‘we are doomed’, with the further implication that we can do something about the problem. Despite at times trying to appear to take a balanced view, his use of the word ‘denier’ in the article reveals that there is nothing balanced in his view.

As a last note, I am currently unaware of any scare mongering from the skeptic side of the argument, except to point out the potential for economic harm from policy to mitigate global warming. It is a very, very odd statement. The skeptical position is the opposite of scare mongering…..

Overall, another big ‘fail’ for the quality of discussion about climate change in the New Zealand Herald.

Economic Impacts of Climate Change Policy

I have a couple of posts sitting half completed, but felt compelled to write on a fascinating and insightful analysis that I picked up from Climate etc. It is an extract from a blog post called Our Finite World, and the relevant material can be found here and here. The author Gail Tverberg is an actuary and her primary area of interest is oil supply. In the first post, Gail looks at energy use and GDP for both emerging and developing economies. She notes that world-wide energy intensity in relation to GDP has been flat, and then asks how it is possible that several countries have been decreasing the energy intensity of their economies:

We are dealing with a large number of countries with very different energy intensities. The big issue would seem to be outsourcing of heavy manufacturing. This makes the energy intensity of the country losing the manufacturing look better. Outsourcing transfers manufacturing to a country with a much higher energy intensity, so even with the new manufacturing, its ratio can still look better (lower). It is hard to measure the overall impact of outsourcing, except by looking at world total energy intensities rather than individual country amounts.

In both of the posts, Gail fills the pages with charts, data and analysis, so I cannot do justice to her work in a summary. However, there are two points (of three) that I found to be of particular interest, and I quote these below:

1. The industrialization of Southeast Asia has allowed importers from around the world to reduce their energy intensity of GDP, but much of the savings has been offset by greater energy use (largely coal) in Southeast Asia. On a CO2 basis, we are likely  worse off, because of this transfer.

2. There is no evidence that the Kyoto Protocol reduced worldwide CO2 emissions. In fact, to the extent that it encouraged outsourcing of industrial production to the Far East and made goods from the Far East more competitive, it may have contributed to rising world CO2 emissions. It would appear that a different approach is needed that recognizes the fact that fuels are part of a world market. Fuel savings in one part of the world are not necessarily helpful for the world as a whole.

I have not read much else from the blog, but I would guess from the general discussions that Gail is on the ‘warmer’ side of the climate debate. However, she is capturing something that I (from a skeptic standpoint) have always been concerned about. In some respects, the negative economic impact of climate change mitigation upon the developed world has been discussed before. For example, this UK economics blog discusses the issue of the original Climategate emails in the context of economics, and cites an article from Christopher Booker (I have not found the original) as follows:

The real gain to Corus from stopping production at Redcar, however, is the saving it will make on its carbon allowances, allocated by the EU under its Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). By ceasing to emit a potential six million tonnes of CO2 a year, Corus will benefit from carbon allowances which could soon, according to European Commission projections, be worth up to £600 million over the three years before current allocations expire.

But this is only half the story. In India, Corus’s owner, Tata, plans to increase steel production from 53 million tonnes to 124 million over the same period. By replacing inefficient old plants with new ones which emit only “European levels” of CO2, Tata could claim a further £600 million under the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism, which is operated by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – the organisers of the Copenhagen conference. Under this scheme, organisations in developed countries such as Britain – ranging from electricity supply companies to the NHS – can buy the right to exceed their CO2 allocations from those in developing countries, such as India. The huge but hidden cost of these “carbon permits” will be passed on to all of us, notably through our electricity bills.

It is all fairly obvious really; if you enact these carbon dioxide emission schemes in a lopsided way, energy usage will shift to those countries that are low cost. In essence, these schemes are a driver of the hollowing out of developed country energy intensive manufacturing, and have no doubt been a contributor to the rapid growth of emerging economies. The great thing about Gails’ posts are that they present the case with such startling clarity.

The broad economic impacts of this shift in energy intensive manufacturing from developed economies are fairly obvious; negative impact upon balance of trade and less economic growth than would be the case if Kyoto had not been enacted.

This is all well and good to point out, but it is another element of the impact of this shift that worries me. Manufacturing jobs employ large numbers of workers who earn a good wage in comparison to service industries, for example in compared to shop workers. In particular, manufacturing tends to develop highly paid skilled workers, and this is a concern I would like to highlight. When policy such as Kyoto are enacted, they have real impact on both the economy but also the potential for ordinary people in a developed economy to have a better standard of living.

The trouble is that, for most people, their main source of news is a media that has accepted the climate alarmist story, and often reports on climate change in a way that is clearly biased towards alarm (I have written several posts on this subject). They entirely neglect the potential for negative consequences, even though those consequences will eventually impact upon their readers/viewers. There are a few lonely voices such as Christopher Booker who point out these real impacts but most people will never hear of such impacts (unless it is their job that is being lost).

Instead, what we have is promises of ‘green jobs’ and the media seem to go along with this. However, as every country is using the same promise, we come to a point where it becomes impossible for every country to generate enough of these ‘green jobs’ to offset the losses. More disturbingly, if those jobs (e.g. manufacture of wind turbines) are reliant on intensive energy use, they will in any case end up being outsourced to developing economies. As such, it is interesting to find that five out of the ten largest manufacturers Chinese and Indian, and that they together have a large market share. They are getting the benefits of these ‘green jobs’ but with none of the associated pain. And that pain is the loss of highly skilled, well paid manufacturing jobs in developed economies.

Note: For this post, I am not going into some of the complexities of the knock on impacts of loss of manufacturing,  or how the impacts of ‘green’ policy are calculated/considered, as I want to keep the post focused.