Tag Archives: climate science debate

James Hansen causes a stir….

James Hansen, as reported in the UK’s Independent newspaper has suggested that the sceptic position on global warming is gaining ground and I really love this quote from the story:

In a briefing at the Royal Society , Dr Hansen, pictured, was frank about the success with public opinion of what he termed “the climate contrarians”, in effectively lessening public concern about global warming. He said: “They have been winning the argument for several years, even though the science has become clearer.

“There’s been a very strong campaign by those who want to continue fossil fuel ‘business as usual’, and the scientific story has not been powerful enough to offset that push.”

Part of the problem, he said, was that the climate sceptic lobby employed communications professionals, whereas “scientists are just barely competent at communicating with the public and don’t have the wherewithal to do it.”

The result was, he said, that in recent years “a gap has opened between what is understood about global warming by the relevant scientific community, and what’s known by the people who need to know – and that’s the public. However there’s nothing that has happened to reduce our scientific conclusion that we are pushing the system into very dangerous territory, in fact that conclusion has become stronger over that same time period.”

Why do I love this quote? It is because it flies so blatantly in the face of reality. For example, a particular bugbear of this blog is the New Zealand Herald, which offers particularly biased coverage of the debate. A quick site search of the Herald produced the following:

1. An editorial titled ‘Gillard Shows Courage on Climate Bill’, in which, you guessed it, coverage of Hansen’s comments is included. In addition to this we have commentary such as:

Either way, the country’s first step towards a cleaner economy sends a clear message to the world’s developing nations. Finally, one of the most notable climate change loafers has acted. The excuses for inaction are dwindling. The tax also delivers a strong verdict on the perils of global warming to the public. In so doing, it heightens the prospect of informed debate.

2. A more balanced article on the carbon dioxide tax in Australia

3. An article on…..yep, Jim Hansen’s comments on the climate change debate.

4. An article on Gillard’s wider political position which includes discussion of her position and debate on the carbon dioxide tax.

5. A couple of other articles also briefly touch on climate change, but are not addressing the subject….

I could go on, but the point is that Hansen’s comments only serve to refute Hansen’s comments. He claims that the debate is being lost due to lack of communication of the non-sceptic side of the debate, but Hansen’s comments are themselves widely reported, alongside some highly dubious ‘evidence’ he presents for the anthropogenic global warming thesis. Where are all these communications professionals on the sceptic side of the debate?

They are nowhere to be seen in most of the mainstream media.The Herald just serves to make the point with extensive coverage of Hansen’s views and comments, alongside endorsement of Gillard’s position on the carbon dioxide tax. These communication professionals should be looking for new jobs, as they do not seem to be having any impact.

The real point of interest here is the miracle of growing scepticism in the face of the ‘warming’ bias of the vast majority of the mainstream media. This bias is in turn supported by a huge ‘industry’ of NGOs with communications professionals, all of whom are seeking to promote the global warming scare. Two sociologists promoted the myth of the power of the sceptic camp with the following diagram:

However, in a rather brilliant response, Jo Nova presents the following:

It is really rather comical that the non-sceptic side bleats about communication professionals on the sceptic side when most of the mainstream media is supportive of their cause. For example, the lack of coverage of the scientific fraud of NIWA over the New Zealand temperature record in the press is a disgrace (see previous post here). If you would like to evaluate which of the above diagrams is closer to the truth, the New Zealand mainstream media tells the story; Jo Nova’s diagram paints the accurate picture.

As I have said, the real story is that, despite so much positive coverage in the media for the non-sceptic side of the debate, the sceptic debate is winning. Perhaps that just reflects the growing strength of the arguments of the sceptic side of the debate? Now, there is a novel explanation of why the sceptic argument is winning, and one which does not seem to occur to the non-sceptics.

Note: This is the second version of the post, due to initial technical problem. Among many problems, all links disappeared in the first version, so I hope all of this is reproduced accurately as per the original post.

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Australia’s Carbon Dioxide Tax

I came across a rather unusual article on the Austrian Economics Website, the Ludwig von Mises Institute, which defangs an argument that was presented as a support for carbon dioxide taxation. In the article, the author shows a picture which was described as the ‘best sign’ at a pro-carbon dioxide rally, and I have copied a picture of the sign below:

It seems to be a formula which shows that Australians will be better off if they adopt the carbon dioxide tax. However, the article goes on to show the following:

This is a classic example of a mathematical analysis that proves too much. Notice, in the graph in the sign, that the two products are labeled “C” (for clean products) and “P” (for polluting products). Although they are labeled in this way, the fact that the horizontal axis represents the consumption of polluting products plays absolutely no part in the analysis. There is nothing in the graph representing the pollution that these products cause, and so the label is merely a name. The letter “P” is nothing more than an algebraic symbol, one that could just as easily stand for pies, pastries, printers, pizzas, polka lessons, picture frames, pole dancing, ponies, popcorn, pool tables, poppy-seed muffins, pornography, postcards, potatoes, potpourri, poultry, pumpkins, puppies, pudding, or any other good or service (including goods and services that don’t start with the letter “P”).

Thus, by the exact same mathematical argument, the graph implicitly purports to show that a government can make people better off by taxing any good and then compensating the consumers of that good. Though the government taxes the polluting products in the graph, the sign maker could just as easily have switched the labels on the axes so that the government taxes the clean products, and the result, according to the same analysis, would still be a consumer who is better off.

The interesting point about the chart presented is that it appears to offer a mathmatical proof that carbon dioxide taxation will leave people better off. However, the same chart could ‘prove’ that taxation of anything under a similar scheme would somehow, as if by magic, make people better off. It is, of course, totally silly. The problem is that it is the sort of pseudo-scientific argument that, on the surface appears to be impressive, and this is exactly the argument presented by the author of the von Mises article.

When we think of this impressive appearing chart, we can only imagine that those who are supporting the taxation of carbon dioxide will find that this kind of presentation can only serve to bolster their beliefs, and present a ‘proof’ that they must be right. It is one of the great dangers in the overall debate about climate change; apparently scientific proof is not always what it seems. In this case, a mathmatical model presents a silly and impossible argument, but nevertheless this will serve as a buttress to an argument.

I recommend reading the article in full, as I can only touch on quite how silly the argument presented in the chart actually is.

Professor Keith Hunter – an Open Letter

I wrote a post a while ago, in which I asked Brian Rudman of the New Zealand Herald to apologise for the rude way that he spoke about the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition (NZCSC). No surprise, but no comment and no reply was forthcoming, even though his rudeness about NZCSC was unjustified.

The subject that started this was the NIWA official temperature record. NZCSC were simply trying to find out how adjustments were made to thermometer readings to create the official New Zealand temperature record. Facing stonewalling by NIWA, NZCSC finally took NIWA to court, at which point NIWA backed down, denying the official temperature record was official (see here for full story). The reason was that, in basic terms, it was beyond any scientific defence. The current situation is that NIWA have revised the record, and are once again denying access to the details of the adjustment.

The key point in the whole story is that NZCSC were vindicated. The New Zealand official temperature record had no foundation in science. I therefore found it interesting to find another article dated August 16, 2010 in the New Zealand Herald, as follows:

Court action against New Zealand’s state-owned weather and atmospheric research body is “stupid” and just creating confusion, University of Otago pro-vice chancellor of sciences Keith Hunter says.

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) is being taken to court in a challenge over the accuracy of its data used to calculate global warming.

[and]

But Prof Hunter told Radio New Zealand the courts could not determine whether or not the adjusted records had been adjusted properly.

“It can only be done by people who have an established scientific reputation in meteorology. So if the coalition has got those people they should do the analysis. If they haven’t they should find someone else who has got that.

“There is nothing sinister about making adjustments. Measurements are often adjusted because of procedural differences between stations or changes in instruments with time.

“The coalition are just creating confusion. Throwing mud and if they throw enough mud some will stick and organisations like Niwa get dragged down in it,” Prof Hunter said.

As with any newspaper report, we can not know whether the remarks were taken out of context, and I am sure that Professor Hunter would not want to have his views misrepresented. In particular, he is a high profile New Zealand scientist, in a position of responsibility in a research based university. As such, I thought it might be an idea to see if Professor Hunter is still standing by these views. In particular, he discussed NZCSC as ‘throwing mud’, which would suggest that they had motivations that were not related to a concern about the scientific accuracy of the NIWA temperature records.

Bearing in mind, the court action saw their actions as being vindicated, and a temperature record with no sound foundation withdrawn, I have sent Professor Hunter the following email.

Dear Professor Hunter,

I have found a news story from the New Zealand Herald in which you discuss the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition’s  court action to question NIWA’s temperature record as ‘stupid’ and suggest that they are ‘throwing mud’ at NIWA. NIWA later retracted the official status of the temperature record, and have since reconstructed the temperature record. As you may or may not be aware, the original temperature record failed to meet what any scientist would call a reasonable standard of science.

As I understand the situation, the cause of the court action was the refusal of NIWA to release information on the adjustments to the temperature record. The court action was a last resort, and one which finally revealed that NIWA had no firm scientific basis for the temperature record. Interestingly, they are again blocking access to the adjustments to the new temperature record they have developed.

In light of the fact that NZCSC have, through their efforts, revealed that the New Zealand temperature record was without scientific foundation, would you care to retract your comments to the New Zealand Herald, or clarify the comments in light of subsequent events. I am sure that, as one of New Zealand’s leading scientists, you would feel that NZCSC have done a service to science in revealing a widely cited body of scientific data to be without scientific merit. Perhaps you may wish to congratulate them on their contribution to the ongoing investigations in climate change?

For your reference, I have linked to the original story in the New Zealand Herald, and a summary of the NZCSC fight to clarify the science behind the New Zealand Temperature record.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10666415

http://www.quadrant.org.au/blogs/doomed-planet/2010/05/crisis-in-new-zealand-climatology

I have also published a copy of this email online, and it can be found at the following address: [address of this post in email]. I will, of course, publish any reply in full.

I very much look forward to your reply.

Kind Regards,

Mark, NZ Climate Change

It will be interesting to see if a scientist is willing to back those who revealed the lack of scientific foundation for the New Zealand temperature record.

A Balanced View

In broad terms, it would probably not be unreasonable to say that the debate over climate change can be described as fractious. In many cases, entrenched position meets entrenched position, and the result can become ugly. I have just read a very balanced view on the debate at Judith Curry’s excellent blog Climate Etc.., in which she seeks civilised debate on climate change. Don Aitken, a former President and Vice-chancellor of the University of Canberra, presents a very good essay on the state of the debate as it currently stands.

Of particular interest is that he accepts the uncertainties in the science, and recognises that the decline in interest in the global warming thesis is in part due to overblown claims, including problems in the IPCC (such as using advocacy groups as sources, instead of using peer-reviewed papers). He also presents a good characterisation of positions on the debate, including those positions that seem to derive from religious convictions, rather than positions that rely on science.

Having said this, as a skeptic, I found that I did not neatly fit his categories, which I will list below:

4 Agnostic dissenters The orthodox arguments rely heavily on models and conjectures. AGW is plausible and possible, but we need real evidence before we do anything. In particular, we need to be able to distinguish AGW from natural variability. A little warming may be good for humanity, as it seems to have been over the past thirty years.

5 Sceptical dissenters Many sceptics are well informed about one or other aspect of the central AGW proposition, and can show difficulties with it; they tend to argue that the failure of the orthodox to satisfy them in these domains means that the whole AGW proposition is void.

6 Opponents AGW theory is just a scam, a sign that the Marxists have taken over the green movement, an attempt by some to construct world government, a conspiracy, a sign of lazy journalists, the effort of bankrupt governments to stay in power, etc. There is nothing to it.

From my perspective, it is possible to take elements of all three positions, and still not be at the extreme of the spectrum. For example, I do think that journalists have been lazy, and that environment correspondents have seen their profile raised by the anthropogenic global warming issue. As such, they do have an interest in supporting the story. Also, there are people engaging in the debate who are anti-capitalist, and who seem to be a new reincarnation of Marxism.

Notwithstanding these kinds of quibbles, I think that the essay would be an excellent introduction to those who have just read the scare stories promulgated by advocacy groups and ‘lazy journalists’, but who have not yet heard the other side of the debate. In particular, the moderate tone lends credibility to the point that those who raise doubts about the global warming thesis are not ‘climate denier’ crazies, but people with valid points of view that deserve attention.

I also think that the essay is a signal of a change in the approach to the anthropogenic global warming controversy. It seems that there is a growing acceptance that there are real and compelling questions about the evidence given to support the global warming thesis. In other words, it is a signal that the tide is starting to turn.

Overall, a really excellent essay, and one that I would strongly recommend.

Note: Don Aitken offers an interesting discussion of terminology as per below:

As you see, I am using the phrase ‘anthropogenic global warming’ to denote our subject, but you can also think of it as ‘human-induced climate change’, ‘climate change disruption’, or ‘catastrophic anthropogenic global warming’. They all mean the same. I’m using AGW, the original term, because it focuses attention on the core of the issue, while the phrase ‘climate change’ is ambiguous, since climates have changed over time for reasons of natural variability, and will continue to do so.

I often struggle with the question of the best terminology, so it is interesting to see that I am not alone in this. I also note that he spells ‘sceptic’ rather than skeptic. I suspect that my spelling is U.S. English, and is resultant from working in international organisations with U.S. English as the preferred usage.