Tag Archives: climate change

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 IPCC AR5 Leak: why do the IPCC object?

There has been considerable excitement over the AR5 leak (for those not so involved in the climate change debate, this the latest major report from the IPCC). The leak was made by Alex Rawls, an expert reviewer on the IPCC, and he says:

I believe that the leaking of this draft is entirely legal, that the taxpayer funded report report is properly in the public domain under the Freedom of Information Act, and that making it available to the public is in any case protected by established legal and ethical standards […]

With regards to whether the leaking is a good or bad thing, in an ethical sense, Donna Laframboise covers the question extremely well, by quoting Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the IPCC, on his views and statements about transparency. This is just one of several quotes provided by Donna:

“So you can’t think of a more transparent process…than what we have in the IPCC. I would only put that forward as valid reasons to accept the science and the scientific assessments that are carried out.” – newspaper interview, June 2007

In light of the many quotes that emphasise transparency, the publication of an interim draft should not raise any problems, as it shows an element of the process in developing the final report. This seems to be the meaning of transparency; showing the stages and processes for how conclusions were developed in the IPCC reports. However, the IPCC is unhappy about the leak, and the Guardian reports:

The IPCC, which confirmed the draft is genuine, said in a statement: “The IPCC regrets this unauthorized posting which interferes with the process of assessment and review. We will continue not to comment on the contents of draft reports, as they are works in progress.”

As such, it seems that the idea of transparency is more rhetoric than reality. Indeed, one would have thought that, if the IPCC really did value transparency, they would be celebrating the interest that the leak has generated; there is considerable interest in their process. Furthermore, it is not entirely clear how leaking the report might interfere in the review process. Is it that the leaked report will make reviewers alter the nature of their reviews? Surely a review should be an objective assessment of the nature of the science being presented, and should therefore be ‘immune’ from any commentary that might be made on the basis of the leak.

There are some concerns regarding the leak. The first is that Alex Rawls also discussed that the leaked report includes admission of enhanced solar forcing. This part of the story has been taken up by several people, such as James Delingpole in the Telegraph. I will leave the analysis of the science to others, but the gist of the story is that sections of the report admit that solar forcing has a greater impact on the climate than previously accepted. However, there are indications that the conclusions being drawn do not reflect the actual substance of the report overall. For example, at the Reference Frame blog, the conclusion is that the only real change is that there are now references to the work of Svensmark et al., which offers a consideration of mechanisms for solar forcing. The post concludes:

The situation, as I see it, is that the IPCC writing process is still controlled purely by the staunch, stubborn alarmists. They may have just split into several camps that differ in the opinion whether it should be legal to pronounce the name of Henrik Svensmark, albeit with a negative sentence required immediately afterwords, or whether his name should remain a blasphemy.

The question of what the report really proposes will no doubt be clarified over time as the science focused blogs start to digest the detail of the report. In the meantime, I would urge caution, and not jumping to hasty pronouncements over the content of the report. Indeed, Anthony Watts is pointing at a ‘bombshell’ to be found in the following Figure 1.4 from the AR5 draft, and will follow up with an essay in the near future:

IPCC_Fig1-4_models_obs

For the moment, I will leave the figure undiscussed, but it will be interesting to see Anthony’s essay, once he has had the time to examine the details and context surrounding the figure. The reason why I give this example is that, if it is indeed a ‘bombshell’, it may indicate why the IPCC would not seek the transparency that it claims; the early drafts of the reports may include material that can serve to raise doubts about the science that is finally used in the final report.  In the end, the final report is selective in the material that is presented, and how the material is presented. This means that some material will be excluded, and also that the emphasis in the final report will also be determined by the review process.

Real transparency would see this process of selection, rejection, and choice of emphasis take place in the public domain. For example, the ‘bombshell’ figure above might have finally been excluded from the report (we have no way of knowing what would have happened without the leak, of course), and transparency would demand that there is an explanation for its exclusion, if it is indeed a bombshell (which I suspect it is). After all, this would be part of the overall science, and any treatment of the science is a matter of the public interest.

In particular, as Alec Rawls points out, the IPCC reports are used as a basis for policy decisions, and those policy decisions can have far reaching impacts. The real question surrounding the leak, therefore, is why the IPCC might object, and why it does not conduct the entire report drafting process in the clear light of day? There should, in other words, be no need for leaks, as a genuinely transparent process would make leaks irrelevant.

Update: I see that the Climate Conversation Group has picked up on the leak, but nothing so far in the New Zealand press (for the media I checked).

Update 2: The full IPCC statement on the leak can be found here. I think it simply reinforces the points I am making here.

Environmentalism, Nature and Religion

I thought I might discuss religion and environmentalism, and in particular the quasi-religious nature of some environmentalism. It is not a new idea that the environmental movement can be compared with a religious movement, and I have read such comparisons discussed elsewhere (sorry, I have forgotten the sources, and will therefore not necessarily give credit where due for some of the discussion).

So how might environmentalism be similar to religious belief. The first and most obvious point is that environmentalism puts ‘nature’ as something separate from humans and something that is in need of protection.  This is a belief that is implicit in most environmental discourse; that humans and nature stand in opposition to one another. This is, of course, plain silly. Humans are as much a part of nature as any other living thing. We are, in every respect, natural. Everything we do is natural.

For example, the complex behaviours of great apes are an interaction between the evolutionary inheritance of the species, alongside individual differences between individual apes, and the environment. Humans are no different, and just as ape behaviour is natural, so is human behaviour natural. Our cities and other technologies are just an expression of human nature. As an obvious example, a beaver not only alters the environment for itself, but also for other species. The scale and scope of impact upon the natural environment makes human impacts no less and no more natural. In summary, we are a part of nature, and therefore cannot be opposed to nature. Just as animals impact upon their surrounding environment, so do humans.

One of the most interesting aspects of the environmental movement is the assumption that nature, or what is natural, is a good thing (from here on, I must use the view of nature as separate, as this is the implicit or explicit belief of many in the environmental movement). Only the other day, I heard some people discussing an eco-cleaning product as being ‘good’ and ‘safe’ because it used extracts from plants. Ergo, it used ingredients that were ‘good’. However, as anyone who has picked wild mushrooms will know, not all of nature’s ingredients are ‘good’, and some are downright poisonous, dangerous and harmful. Nevertheless, natural things are ‘good’. In another example, there has been considerable upset about oil exploration in New Zealand, with fears of oil spills given as a cause for concern. However, the neat discourse of the environmental movement is problematic, as can be seen in the quote below:

Recent global estimates of crude-oil seepage
rates suggest that about 47% of crude oil currently
entering the marine environment is from natural seeps, whereas 53% results from leaks and spills during the extraction, transportation, refining, storage, and utilization of petroleum. The amount of natural crude-oil seepage is currently estimated to be 600,000 metric tons per year, with a range of uncertainty of 200,000 to 2,000,000 metric tons per year. Thus, natural oil seeps may be the single most important source of oil that enters the ocean, exceeding each of the various sources of crude oil that enters the ocean through its exploitation by humankind. (Kvenvolden & Cooper, 2003)

Were you even aware that a large proportion of oil in the marine environment is from natural seepage, including in New Zealand waters (e.g. see Czochanska, Sheppard, Weston, Woolhouse, & Cook, 1986)? Probably not, because it is ‘natural’ and therefore it cannot be bad.The interesting point here is that, whilst humans have been putting oil in the marine environment for about a century, nature has been responsible for the same activity for millions of years. As such, nature has ‘form’ as a polluter of the environment. However, we do not see protesters railing against nature for pollution. This is odd, as the net effect on the environment is the same, whether the origin is from humans or nature. Oil is oil and if humans are polluting, so is nature. In other words, we are not looking at this in a balanced way. The marine environment has been subject to significant oil pollution over millions of years, but it has not caused an environmental catastrophe. Life has gone on, and humans have managed to evolve and have lived in a world of oil polluted marine environments.

When we look at oil seepage, and the hysteria that surrounds oil spills, we have moved away from science, and moved into a belief system that delineates identical substances according to their source in determining whether they are pollution. Human oil in marine environment; pollution. Oil seepage; it’s natural, so that’s ok. The latter explanation is why you have never heard about oil seepage. And, ‘No’, I am not in favour of oil spills. I use this example to contrast the hysteria about oil exploration off the coast of New Zealand with the steady pollution by seepage. The latter is already taking place, and the former is nothing more than a possibility.

Moving to another issue, when I was looking for material for this post I also stumbled across this article from the National Geographic magazine, titled ‘Nature Fighting Back Against Gulf Oil Spill’:

“Everybody’s worried,” he said Wednesday at the Port Sulphur harbor, which was filled to capacity with fishers rendered idle by the spill. “Nobody knows what will happen.”

Unpleasant though it may be for those on the shore, that smell could be a sign of Mother Nature doing her own dirty work: It’s the pungent scent of evaporating surface oil, which rises into the atmosphere and gets broken down by sunlight.

[and]

Yet experts caution that nature’s contributions to the recovery effort might be hampered by long-term environmental abuse.

“The resilience of nature is a key issue,” said Sylvia Earle, a marine biologist and National Geographic explorer-in-residence.

The most astute reader may have noticed something in the discourse above, but I am guessing many will not notice. When describing nature, it is described as an agentive entity, as ‘Mother Nature’, as contributing to the clean-up, as being resilient (in the face of adversity in this case). Nature is doing things and it is a force and it has will. It is, in effect, anthropomorphised. It is not difficult to find other examples of such discourse, with the most obvious example being the Gaia thesis. The thesis has, quite rightly been critiqued as teleological and been compared to religious belief (see this Wikipedia pagefor a summary of differing perspectives). The key point and point of interest is that humans have a profound proclivity for personification of nature. For example, many of our metaphors see nature personified (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980; Lakoff & Turner, 1989), and so-called animistic religions likewise see nature as personified (Harvey, 2005). These animistic and anthropomorphic perspectives are widely seen as the origin of religious thought, and are seen as an evolutionary adaptation (or at least a spandrel).

Stephen Mithen (1996) argues that modern human evolution included the blending of the conceptual domains of social intelligence and natural intelligence, and this provided modern humans with an evolutionary advantage, for example in our ability to predict animal behaviour when hunting. However, the corollary of this was that we also saw the natural world in terms of human relationships – as animistic and anthropomorphic. Stewart Guthrie (1993)  proposes the theory that religious thought is founded in human proclivity for anthropomorphism and animism, also suggesting that it was an evolutionary advantage. He argues that we evolved to over-detect agency, and the view is summarised neatly in an example; it is better to mistake a rock for a bear than a bear for a rock. The proclivity to over-detect agency in the world around us then naturally leads to the belief in agentic entities such as deities.

As further explanation, Pascal Boyer (2001) suggests as an example that, when a crop fails, people seek out an explanation and default to an agentive explanation. These explanations are what he describes as minimally counterintuitive, by which he means the agents are in almost every respect congruent with our intuitive understanding of the world, but also counterintuitive in some respect. Thus the agent that destroyed the crops is in most respects human (e.g. he is angry at lack of devotion), but is invisible and thus can be classified as a religious agent.

As we review some of the origins of religious thought (and much more could be said on this subject), we can see how the views of ‘nature’ as agentive and as inherently good are belief systems that have parallels with religious thought. Nature is portrayed as a personified force with agency; it does things in the world. It is both a material and non-material entity. If we examine the National Geographic article, it conforms to our scientific understanding of the world in all respects, excepting that there is an immaterial force called nature acting in the world through material entities. This mirrors the work of Justin Barrett, who has examined how deities are actually perceived as acting in the world in contrast to how religious doctrine says they should be perceived (e.g. see Barrett, 1999; Barrett & Keil, 1996).

Of course, those who give agentive descriptions of nature in National Geographic might argue that it is just metaphor. However, there are some fine lines between metaphor and belief and acting as if the metaphor were real. For example, inflation is described as an adversary (we ‘fight’ inflation), but the metaphor does not stop policy makers from seeking to fight it. Similarly, whatever the original intention, the Gaia thesis has evolved into a quasi-religious belief system, at least for some people. It is not a theory or metaphor, but an actuality.

Finally, there is a problem in the idea of nature; it does not exist. If humans are natural, and everything we do is natural, and we are surrounded by nature and the natural world, then nature is everything. The very concept of nature is predicated on a belief that humans are not nature, and that nature is something external to us. However, if we are a part of nature, then nature disappears in a puff of abstract smoke. How can anything be everything? It renders a concept as meaningless. The only justification that can be given for human delineation from nature is religious belief and the rejection of the idea that, as with all living things,  we are just another product of evolution. As such, the very concept of nature can only be founded in, and be supported by, religious belief.

So what does this all mean? Firstly, when environmentalism is founded in quasi-religious beliefs and a quasi-religious view of nature, we can see why AGW is such a highly charged debate. It also means that, in some cases, there really is no possibility of real debate and this may be why we see the term ‘denier’ bandied about. None of this is to say that all of the supporters of the AGW thesis hold quasi-religous beliefs, but rather that there are some individuals who will brook no argument.

More importantly, the delineation of humans and nature has no foundation and yet allows for the idea of nature as ‘good’ and humans as ‘bad’. The idea of nature is an ingrained habit that is supported by our evolved cognition. We need to stop imagining that there is this immaterial force ‘out there’ in the world. There is no ‘good’ force out there that we might contrast with the ‘bad’ force of humans. Instead, there is an environment in which humans live, and our aim should not be devote ourselves to a non-existent abstraction, but rather to the good of our fellow humans. This does involve ensuring the environment in which we live is conducive to human well-being, but abandoning the concept of nature allows us to be pragmatic and removes us from the emotion that clouds so much debate.

Note 1: I have referenced Harvey as providing examples of animism, and do not endorse his views in any way.

Note 2: I would like to have said a lot more here, but I was again struggling with time to devote to this. Again, I must apologise for a slightly clunky presentation. I just wish I had more time to devote to the blog, and hope that I do not strain your tolerance.

Update at 14:30:

I just found this on Wattsupwiththat:

A new book on the history of New Zealand has inadvertently stirred the climate change debate by revealing a near zero sea level increase over the past century.

The book, The Great Divide, includes a 100 year old map of Cloudy Bay lagoons in New Zealand, drafted back in 1912 to show the location of 20 kilometres of canals dug with wooden spades by ancient Maori.

Interesting stuff!

Barrett, J. L. (1999). Theological correctness: Cognitive constraint and the study of religion. Method &# 38; Theory in the Study of Religion, 11, 325–339.

Barrett, J. L., & Keil, F. C. (1996). Conceptualizing a nonnatural entity: Anthropomorphism in God concepts. Cognitive Psychology, 31, 219–247.

Boyer, P. (2001). Religion Explained. Basic Books New York.

Czochanska, Z., Sheppard, C. M., Weston, R. J., Woolhouse, A. D., & Cook, R. A. (1986). Organic geochemistry of sediments in New Zealand. Part I. A biomarker study of the petroleum seepage at the geothermal region of Waiotapu. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 50(4), 507–515. doi:10.1016/0016-7037(86)90100-6

Guthrie, S. (1993). Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion. New York: Oxford University Press.

Harvey, G. (2005). Animism: Respecting the Living World. New York: Columbia University Press.

Kvenvolden, K. A., & Cooper, C. K. (2003). Natural seepage of crude oil into the marine environment. Geo-Marine Letters, 23(3), 140–146. doi:10.1007/s00367-003-0135-0

Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Lakoff, G., & Turner, M. (1989). More than cool reason: A field guide to poetic metaphor. University of Chicago Press Chicago.

Mithen, S. (1996). The prehistory of the mind: The cognitive origins of art, religion, and science. London: Thames and Hudson.

Nature Fighting Back Against Gulf Oil Spill. (n.d.).National Geographic. Retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/05/100507-science-environment-gulf-mexico-oil-spill-cleanup-bacteria/

New Zealand Herald – BEST coverage

I have just taken a look at the Herald’s coverage of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study. This is how it starts:

A prominent physicist and global warming sceptic spent two years trying to find out if mainstream climate scientists were wrong. In the end, he determined they were right: temperatures really are rising rapidly.

The article then goes on to point out the source of the funding as follows:

The study of the world’s surface temperatures by Richard Muller was partially bankrolled by a foundation connected to global warming deniers. He pursued long-held sceptic theories in analysing the data. He was spurred to action because of “Climategate”, the British scandal involving hacked emails of scientists.

Note that there is the use of ‘deniers’ in this section. Not sceptics, but deniers. Also, take a look at the article, and note the tone – the way that the funding is portrayed. As will be discussed later, an odd portrayal:

One-quarter of the US$600,000 ($738,000) to do the research came from the Charles Koch Foundation, whose founder is a major funder of sceptic groups and the Tea Party movement. The Koch brothers, Charles and David, run a company involved in oil and other industries, producing sizeable greenhouse gas emissions.

However, also note that, the source of the funding being from sceptical sources is used to suggest that this gives the report greater credibility.However, certainly amongst the community of sceptical bloggers, the BEST study was never seen as anything but (all hoped at least) a genuine attempt to examine the temperature data with ‘fresh eyes’.

The BEST project was generally well received in principle, but linking  Richard Muller with so-called ‘deniers’ and using a headline saying ‘Sceptic forced to admit globe is really warming’, would suggest that he was on the ‘hard’ sceptic side of the debate. Note how Muller is apparently ‘forced to admit‘, when good scientists do not need to be forced to admit. A good scientist commences with a view that the empirical data will, in the end, be the determinant of their view on the study. By using the word ‘forced’ they are implying that Muller went into the study as a  denier, rather than as a good scientists, and the evidence overwhelmed his desire to ‘deny’. The whole tone of the article is denigrating Muller’s integrity (albeit in a subtle way), and also trying to lend additional authority to the BEST study; the subtext is that if a ‘swivel eyed denier’ can no longer deny, it must be true.

The problem is that BEST is not in the hands so-called deniers, and Muller is hardly as portrayed. One of the contributing authors for the paper, Judith Currie, has been critical of the way BEST portrayed data, in that they do not place enough emphasis on the apparent stopping of temperature rises. This is reported here in the UK’s Mail, with Currie’s commentary on the mail story, and a summary of a later discussion with Muller. The point is that these are hardly a group of ‘swivel eyed deniers’. Furthermore, the BEST project’s sponsors are not a they seem. From the Best website, the funders are:

  • The Lee and Juliet Folger Fund ($20,000)
  • William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation ($100,000)
  • Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research (created by Bill Gates) ($100,000)
  • Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation ($150,000)
  • The Ann & Gordon Getty Foundation ($50,000)

And also,  underneath; ‘This work was supported in part by the Director, Office of Science, of the U.S. Department of Energy under Contract No. DE-AC02-05CH11231 ($188,587)’

You will note the selective choice of donors in the Herald article (see above). There is a well known  fallacy in deductive logic, known as argumentum ad verecundiam, or argument from authority, or using the status of the utterer as an argument (more subtle than I portray it here…) . We now have an argument in which the authority is being bolstered by portraying the authors of the study as sceptics forced to recant against their wills. Again, it is worth noting that Currie, one of the authors of the BEST papers is no sceptic, except in as far as she has concerns that the science of climate change needs to be critically evaluated.

There is also a subtext in the whole article that this is proof for climate alarmism, as in the following quotes:

Chris Field, a Carnegie Institution scientist, said Muller’s study “may help the world’s citizens focus less on whether climate change is real and more on smart options for addressing it”.

Some of the most noted scientific sceptics are no longer saying the world isn’t warming. Instead, they question how much of it is man-made, view it as less a threat and argue it’s too expensive to do something about, according to Otto.

This would be to characterise all on the sceptical side of the debate as questioning that temperatures have risen over the last 100 years. As I pointed out in a previous post, citing an essay of Don Aitken, that there are a range of views and positions on the sceptical side. The key linkage over the spectrum of views is that the influence of anthropogenic factors on the climate is questioned, with some sceptics fully accepting the temperature records that are widely cited. As such, the BEST study takes the debate no further forward in these cases. Also, there is the small detail of whether there is a ‘pause’ in the warming. Note the way that the article frames the issue (see first quote) as the world is warming. However, this does not appear to be the case. I again turn to Currie’s Climate etc. blog, where she discusses the issue:

Actually, four different questions seem to be floating around in terms of the BEST media coverage:

  1. Has the earth been warming? Addressing this question in a sensible way requires that a specific period be specified, presumably in the context of the increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations.
  2. Is global warming over?  Addressing this question requires a prediction of future temperatures, and we can’t really answer that with the data.
  3. Has global warming stopped?  Addressing this questions requires clarifying whether it is only the actual global temperature under discussion, or whether it is the attribution to humans that has stopped (i.e. beyond the expected range of natural variability)?
  4. Has there been a pause in the global warming?  Addressing this question requires a clarification of of the specific period of interest, and whether the “pause” indicates zero temperature change, or a rate of warming that is less than the expected temperature change.

What does the BEST land temperature data have to say about global warming?  Not much, since the BEST data only covers the land (~30% of the global area).  The BEST land data should not be used to infer anything quantitative about GLOBAL warming.

Currie later suggests that:

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.

In other words, if the BEST study is accepted, it does not confirm global warming, does not confirm the causes of global warming (if it took place), and most importantly, the general view amongst scientists is that there is no global warming taking place now! However, is any of this to be seen in the New Zealand Herald Article? Not a sight of it.

Instead, we have invented bogey-men, cut and paste evil donors, all used to indirectly and oddly bolster the authority of the BEST research, when  the actual quality of the scientists and their work should have been sufficient. We have cut and paste alarmism, and no discussion of debates such as the pause in the warming, or any nuance in the story at all, except to briefly mention that Muller does not see the study as a confirmation of the IPCC.

Again, shabby, shabby journalism on climate change from the Herald……

Note: I am personally giving it time for the BEST study to be digested before having a view either way. It is also notable that the papers from the study have yet to be peer-reviewed, though I would guess that the findings might quickly find a home in some of the journals that seem to strongly back the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis. As a matter of interest, the pre-publication of the papers has caused a bit of a storm, with some arguing that this corrupts the peer review process. However, the purpose of the post is not to go into the details of BEST research and publication, but rather how the NZ Herald have portrayed the study.

Brian Rudman – Will he apologise? An Open Letter

I will start this post with a quote from Brian Rudman, a columnist on the New Zealand Herald. It dates back a while, to August 2010, and this is what he had to say:

The flat-earthers from the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition are off to the High Court to try to persuade a judge to invalidate the country’s official temperature record compiled and collected by the Government-owned National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.

As devout deniers of man-made global warming, the coalition claims the only way Niwa can claim a warming trend of 1C over the past century is by cooking the books. [emphasis added]

The same article goes on to offer scathing, sarcastic, and rather unpleasant commentary on the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition.This is another example of his discourse from the same article:

The image of the flat-earthers in court making fools of themselves, trying to prove that if you travel to the horizon you’ll fall off into oblivion, is rather appealing. But court proceedings are ruinously expensive, and while the mystery money-bags funding the coalition – Act Party supporters are mentioned – may be able to afford it, taxpayers cannot.

The trouble with this commentary, aside from the ugly tone of the commentary (which is of itself inappropriate for a serious newspaper) is that, when confronted with the court case, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) backed down, and abruptly decided that their temperature was not an official temperature record after all. The New Zealand Climate Conversation Group tells the story succinctly and I will quote it at some length (note, there is a link in the text that takes you to NIWA’s statement of defence in case you doubt the back down):

For the last ten years, visitors to NIWA’s official website have been greeted by a graph of the “seven-station series” (7SS), under the bold heading “New Zealand Temperature Record”. The graph covers the period from 1853 to the present, and is adorned by a prominent trend-line sloping sharply upwards. Accompanying text informs the world that “New Zealand has experienced a warming trend of approximately 0.9°C over the past 100 years.”

The 7SS has been updated and used in every monthly issue of NIWA’s “Climate Digest” since January 1993. Its 0.9°C (sometimes 1.0°C) of warming has appeared in the Australia/NZ Chapter of the IPCC’s 2001 and 2007 Assessment Reports. It has been offered as sworn evidence in countless tribunals and judicial enquiries, and provides the historical base for all of NIWA’s reports to both Central and Local Governments on climate science issues and future projections.

NIWA has a printed promotional brochure describing its climate activities, which commences with the iconic 7SS graph. No piece of climate lore is more familiar to the public, and it is better known than NIWA’s logo.

But now, para 7(a) of NIWA’s Statement of Defence states that “there is no ‘official’ or formal New Zealand Temperature Record”.

In para 8(b) it says the NZTR is not a public record for the purposes of the Public Records Act, using the exemption of “special collections” defined (in para 4(b)) as non-public records used for “research purposes”.

In para 4, NIWA denies it has any obligation to use the best available data or best scientific techniques, while conceding that it has statutory duties to pursue excellence and to perform its functions efficiently and effectively.

It turns out that the 7SS had seen temperature adjustments, which were identified by the so called ‘flat earthers’ and ‘fools’ and the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition (NZCSC), and NZCSC fought a long and protracted battle to find out exactly why the adjustments were made. The nature of the battle to discover the nature of the adjustments is a particular concern, as it seems reasonable that any adjustments to the temperature record should have been fully documented and justified.

However, the reason for the obstruction of NZCSC from finding the source and justification of the temperature record becomes apparent when the source and nature of the adjustments were revealed. This from Quadrant Online:

Referring to the NIWA web page, one finds that this major warming trend is the product of a single study involving only 7 temperature stations – out of the 238 stations which currently report to NIWA. In response to a request under the Official information Act, NIWA has disclosed that this study was undertaken as part of a student’s thesis some 30 years ago.

NIWA has no record of how the NSS came to be in their computers. The only reasonable inference is that the student himself, one Jim Salinger, must have added it when he became NIWA’s Principal Scientist many years later.

As it is, the thesis is unobtainable, and the calculations that were made to create the adjustments are lost (the dog ate my homework?). The original thesis did not result in a peer reviewed article, so has not been subjected to the scrutiny of the academic journal system (such as it is). In short, a temperature record was given credence by NIWA, despite the fact that there was no justification that could be provided in support of the adjustments that were made. It is therefore no surprise that they were reluctant to explain the source and justification for the adjustments, as there was no justification that they could provide. This is not good science, it is just assertion.

So it is that I return to the start of this post, which is the use of terms like ‘flat earther’ by Brian Rudman when describing NZCSC. It seems that, at the very least, NZCSC have done science a great service. A temperature record entirely lacking in any justification, used as a basis for policy, and described as an ‘official temperature record’ by Brian Rudman himself, has been abandoned. It was abandoned because there was no scientific justification for the record. As such, I am posting this open letter to Brian Rudman:

Open Letter to Brian Rudman

Dear Brian,

As a columnist for the New Zealand Herald, one of New Zealand’s leading media and news outlets, you have influence on the views of your readers. If this was not the case, then why have columnists at all?

The point is that, with such a position, there is surely a responsibility, and that responsibility is to provide views that inform readers. I have copied above some of the statements you made about the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition (NZCSC) in an August 2010 opinion piece. When you describe an organisation as ‘flat earthers’ you are implying that they are in denial of science. However, the 7SS that was the subject of the NZCSC critique and court action has been found to have had no scientific merit by any reasonable standards. It can not be verified, can not be explained, can not be subject to replication, can not be used in any part of normal scientific enquiry.

Perhaps you were unaware of the problems underlying the 7SS at the time of your commentary? This may explain some of the rather insulting terms that you used. However, had you taken the trouble to visit the NZCSC website, read their publication on their concerns about the 7SS, you could have found that they had substantive reasons for their concerns, and these reasons were firmly rooted in legitimate concerns about the science behind the 7SS. Your failure to attend to this basic fact checking is a matter of concern. As I have said, you publish in an influential national media outlet. You are not, as I am, a humble blogger, but an influential national figure.

As such, in this open letter, I would ask that you provide an apology to the NZCSC. It seems that your characterisation of them as ‘flat earthers’ and ‘fools’ was entirely lacking in justification. I am sure that you are a reasonable person, and will see the merit in an apology, and that you will be more open minded about the work of NZCSC in the future.

For the record, I am not a part of NZCSC, or connected in any way, and I am not funded by any party or organisation for writing this blog. I am just a concerned private individual who blogs on a subject that interests me.

I look forward to your reply, and will be pleased to reproduce any reply in full on the blog, but would also hope that you will have the decency to publish your apology in your next column.

Kind Regards,

Mark, blogger at New Zealand Climate Change

A Leading Scientist?

As some light relief, this is a video that references a blog article from No Frakking Consensus:

To get the full picture, you may wish to take a look at the full blog post with an extract published below.

Since then, a picture that already seemed murky has become even more clouded. Kovats has had her PhD for less than one calendar year. Yet she has already filled numerous IPCC roles, is a senior lecturer at an institution of higher learning, is chairperson of her school’s Centre on Global Change and Health, and is a member of the steering committee of a health and climate change project funded by the United Nations.

We’re told the IPCC is comprised of top scientists. In the case of Kovats, it appears that it was actually her IPCC participation that convinced the wider community that she’s an expert. This is totally improper. It represents a complete inversion of how things are supposed to work.

So when are Kovats, the IPCC, and the British government all going to admit that she is far from being a world-class scientific expert?

It does all seem a little bit murky. Perhaps there will be clarification to come.

Earthquakes Caused By Climate Change?

There is a rather pathetic inevitability about this. It seems that, whatever the natural disaster might be, it must be down to climate change. I suspect that, if an asteroid was to crash into a city, one way or another, it would be blamed upon climate change.

Well, here it is. The recent earthquakes that have caused so much devastation are now being blamed upon climate change. The Calgary Herald offers a story under the title of ‘Could global warming be causing recent earthquakes?‘ and have the following to say:

Some scientists theorize that the sudden melting of glaciers due to man-made climate change is lightening the load on the Earth’s surface, allowing its mantle to rebound upwards and causing plates to become unstuck.

These scientists point to the historical increase in volcanic and earthquake activity that occurred about 12,000 years ago when the glaciers that covered most of Canada in an ice sheet several kilometres thick suddenly melted.

It is notable that these so-called ‘scientists’ are not actually named in the article. I suspect that it would be a very brave scientist who might put their name behind the nonsense in the article. However, others are also managing to link the natural disaster in Japan with climate change. Stephen Stromberg of the Washington Post reports on some other examples:

Friday, the day an 8.9 earthquake struck off the northeast coast of Honshu, the president of the European Union’s Economic and Social Committee released this puzzling statement:

The earthquake and tsunami will clearly have a severe impact on the economic and social activities of the region. Some islands affected by climate change have been hit. Has not the time come to demonstrate on solidarity — not least solidarity in combating and adapting to climate change and global warming? Mother Nature has again given us a sign that that is what we need to do.

Ah, there we have it – ‘mother nature’ is speaking to us and giving us signs. If only Canterbury people had not used their log burners, then there would have been no problem. ‘Mother Nature’ would have been at peace with the world. Here is another example of quasi-religious discourse from Jim Garrison in the Huffington Post:

What makes matters even more ominous is the fact that what is happening in Japan can happen anywhere, particularly in geologically fragile areas like the California coast where four nuclear reactors operate. Moreover, the probability that another accident will happen is escalating. The Japanese disaster is not an isolated event. It is but the latest incident in the most serious and potentially devastating megatrend in the world right now — the escalating turbulence in our natural systems. In the past twenty five years, extreme weather events have quadrupled in frequency and escalated in intensity. Climate change is morphing into climate shock as month after month natural disasters pile up and wreak havoc on societies everywhere, overwhelming our most sophisticated technologies.

For the moment, we will ignore the suspect figures on disasters, but Garrison goes on to say that “Nature is reminding us that as powerful as we think we are, we are not the Prime Mover. She is. In the face of nature, human technology is but chaff in the wind.”

James Delingpole, in the Telegraph, likewise reports on another tenuous linkage between climate change and the earthquake at Grist, which it seems led to some embarrassment at the site:

The eco website Grist had a valiant stab too with a headline “Today’s Tsunami: this is what climate change looks like.” After getting a roasting from some of its more scientifically scrupulous readers it then modified its position with a couple of updates. (But still decided to have its cake and eat it – as you’ll see from the last line of update 1) (H/T Chris1966)

Update: The intent of this piece isn’t to attribute today’s tragedy to climate change. Apologies to those whom I misled with the headline. It was meant literally, as in: Tsunamis are inundations of shorelines and therefore have impacts that resemble storm surges, which are one of the most immediate threats of a warmer planet. In addition, climate change may cause tsunamis directly, so it’s possible we’ll someday see more images like this as a result.

Update 2: Changed the headline (it originally read “Today’s tsunami: This is what climate change looks like”) and updated the text to reflect the discussion of the science and the framing in the comments.

In my trawl around the Internet for linkages between earthquakes and climate change, I have found the following and must eat my earlier words about scientists putting their name behind linkages between climate change and earthquakes. This is from the Brookings Institution website:

Scientists and research organizations have warned that climate change can result in more earthquakes and tsunamis, in part due to global warming. In 2009, University College London Professor Bill McGuire addressed a conference of scientists researching the changing climate’s effects on geological hazards and noted that “climate change doesn’t just affect the atmosphere and the oceans but the earth’s crust as well…the whole earth is an interactive system.”

So, there you have it. It was climate change that did it for Japan and Christchurch, because Professor McGuire said so…..Here is a quote from the original article cited by Brookings:

The vulcanologists, seismologists, glaciologists, climatologists and landslide experts at the meeting have looked to the past to try to predict future changes, particularly to climate upheaval at the end of the last ice age, some 12,000 years ago.

“When the ice is lost, the earth’s crust bounces back up again and that triggers earthquakes, which trigger submarine landslides, which cause tsunamis,” said McGuire, who organized the three-day conference.

David Pyle of Oxford University said small changes in the mass of the earth’s surface seems to affect volcanic activity in general, not just in places where ice receded after a cold spell. Weather patterns also seem to affect volcanic activity – not just the other way round, he told the conference.

These are not isolated. If you want more, there is an article at Clean Technica, which is…well, just take a read, and maybe leave a comment when you are done.  I started with the post with the comment about the asteroid, and can only wonder how long it will be before we find that asteroid impacts are increasing due to climate change. I wait with high expectations….