Something that may apply as well to climate as to stumbling financial markets…from Michael M. Grynbaum ‘s “Forecasters race to call the bottom to the market“, IHT, Oct 27, 2008:
[…] Even in normal times, forecasters have a strong incentive to make extreme predictions, which is why those “Dow 1,000!” reports persist. “It’s eye-popping. It’s relevant. It seems exciting,” Lamont said. Such predictions attract publicity, name recognition and a bigger client base in a business where investors pay thousands, if not millions, for stock advice and investment guidance.
And even if a forecast is off-base, there are few repercussions because they are almost always quickly forgotten […]
Even the guys forecasting in 1999 that the Dow would soon reach 36,000, are still well employed.
I have a feeling, there is something deep inside human nature that makes wild claims, especially wildly gloomy claims, simply too good news and marketing material.
Pity on us then if signs of worldwide cooling accumulate…the smart climatologist will simply extrapolate into upcoming billions of ice-encases deaths.
(inspired by “How to Be Right About the Climate: Always!“)
An atmospheric physicist, a metereologist and a famous climatologist are interviewed for a position as climatologist. The atmospheric physicist is asked: “What do you predict for the climate next year?” and proceeds to answer:
“I am not sure, but give me a supercomputer and I will set up the calculations for a rough forecast“.
It’s now the metereologist’s turn, and the answer is:
“I am not sure, but provide me with the seasonal charts and the observations from previous years, I will set up the calculations in order for a rough forecast“.
The famous climatologist is finally asked “What do you predict for the climate next year?“. To that, the answer is:
“Whatever you want me to predict…“.
Vincenzo Ferrara, the scientist advising the Italian Environment Minister up to April 2008 on Climate Changes, explains how to become a famous Climatologist in a 1982 article (on the ”Rivista di Meteorologia Aeronautica”, Vol XLII n. 1, Jan-Mar 1982).
The following is an abridged translation:
If you are a climatologist and you want to survive as a climatologist, perhaps even increasing your reputation, all you have to do is provide the exact diagnosis and prognosis that people expect.
To the question “Is the climate changing?“, by all means, never, ever reply “No, everything’s normal“, or “It’s just fakery pumped up by newspapers and on television“: because people would unanimously conclude that you understand nothing about metereology, and nothing about climate.
It would be the end of your career.
The only sensible answer is: “Of course it is changing! It’s a well-known fact, scientifically confirmed and one that none cannot argue against“. You can then launch yourself in forecasting for the next hundred years a climate identical to the current one, amplifying the latest phenomena to extreme consequences.
If it is cold you’ll therefore predict “ice ages“, if it’s warm a “torrid period“, and if there are signs of strong variability “short-term climatic extremes” and more-or-less the same climate in the long term.
You may be wondering, how can a serious climatologist provide impossible, mutually-excluding forecasts without looking silly? Fear not: science will provide all the support needed.
Because climatology has already thought of everything and will supply the right solution in every circumstance, even in the most hopeless cases.
So if it is cold, here’s what you will have to say: “The climate is changing and we are approaching an Ice Age.
This fact has already been scientifically assessed because since 1940, the average temperature of the northern hemisphere has diminished by approximately 0,4°C, probably because of a decrease in atmospheric transparency due to air pollution.
The cooling of the air causes an increase in the extension of glaciers and of snow fields, furthering lowering temperatures with their highly reflecting (high albedo) surfaces. Glaciers therefore increase even more, in a positive feedback that will bring us to a new Ice Age in a hundred years or even less“.
What if it is warm? Then the discourse becomes: “The climate is changing and we are approaching a Torrid Age.
This fact has already been scientifically assessed because since 1850 the carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere has progressively increased and just in the last twenty years has gone from 315 to 334 parts for million. That means that in 2020 the accumulation of carbon dioxide will have more than doubled, taking into account the continuously increasing energy demands and consumption of fossil fuels.
The increase of carbon dioxide reduces the Earth’s long-wave emissions to space (greenhouse effect) so within half a century the average air temperature will increase by approximately 2 or 3°C; the polar ice will dissolve and a sizeable sea level increase will submerge several coastal cities“.
A climatology joke is in order…
Among the general boredom of reading about the latest awfully hollow “demonstration” that humans are at fault by way of exclusion (and in the process, finding the fingerprint of human-induced rise in temperature in places such as Antarctica where temperature has not risen…unless it’s the Peninsula they are referring to), here some animations of how arctic sea ice has appeared between 1979 and 2008, around October 28, according to Cryosphere Today (note: some years are missing, and for other years I had to take the nearest available image)
You may have to click on the images above to be able to properly see the animated GIFs.
One could be forgiven to think the following:
- there isn’t much of a polar ice cover “shrinking trend”, but rather a lot of expansions and contractions, plus a freakish small configuration in 2007
- the 2008 cover is very simiar to 2000’s, apart from an ice-free area East of Novaya Zemlja
- one can almost sea the warm water flowing in through the Bering Strait, sometimes reaching East as far as Banks Island (1987, 1998)
- the “losses” in sea ice in the Baltic and northwestern Siberia may or may not relate to a change in data processing between 2003 and 2005
Note how different the last 3 years look, as they include the snow cover exactly when, say, the ice in the White Sea suddenly goes.
According to GlobalWarmingClearinghouse, my headlines are a “good example of hyperbolic reporting!“.
Shall I take that as a compliment, a criticism, or both?
Well, I confess…some time ago I did publish a post on Tits, and yes, it proved for obvious reasons particularly popular, even if some new readers may have been disillusioned upon discovering the aforementioned Tits were just a type of birds.
If the Gods of Olympus subscribed to the New York Review of Books, they would surely be laughing hard after reading the unwitting ironies peppering Bill McKibben’s “Green Fantasia” review of Thomas L Friedman’s “Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution – and How It Can Renew America”.
One wonders if Mr. McKibben will find a way to display less hubris, and more wisdom next time around.
I will focus here on what I see as the two most glaring examples: first of all, about Katrina, the 2005 hurricane that devastated New Orleans and, in the words of Mr McKibben, “woke Friedman from his nap”.
At that point, Mr McKibben (who should have known better) implicity concedes Mr Friedman’s point: making a direct connection between Katrina, and human-induced Climate Change.
[Friedman:] “Have we introduced so much CO2 into nature’s operating system that we no longer know where nature stops and we start in shaping today’s weather”. [McKibben:] Well, indeed we have.
But no serious scientist will confirm that Katrina was caused by (anthropogenic) Climate Change. Within the IPCC itself, the question of “attribution” (how to identify the “signature” of Climate Change in the weather of today, rather than the climate in 15 or 20 years’ time) is still open, and no doubt we will hear more about it in the months leading to the December 2009 Copenhagen Conference.
After all, Katrina was a relatively average Category-3 hurricane when it struck the New Orleans area. And even if 2005 saw a record hurricane season, neither that nor the “duds” of 2006 and 2007 can be used as evidence for or against Climate Change.
In truth, Mr McKibben should have forcefully corrected Mr Friedman on Katrina, as it is extremely unwise to try to solve Climate Change, that he defines as the “most severe of our challenges”, starting from incorrect premises. In fact, by propagating the idea that New Orleans was destroyed by Climate Change, Mr McKibben and Mr Friedman help the real culprits “off the hook”, including the extreme lack of organization in the rescue efforts, of which FEMA’s now-legendary incompetence will forever be indicated as the most damning example.
Another point where Mr McKibben will surely regret his words, concerns “the largest story of the year, and indeed the dominant new trendline of our time”. Dire financial straits for the majority of the world’s economies, perhaps? No: “the sharply rising cost of oil”.
Evidently, Mr McKibben submitted the article long before Lehman Brothers went bust alongside the country of Iceland, before it became normal to hear of hundreds of billions of dollars being handled out to avoid a Depression-Mark II; and before the “cost of oil” sharply stumbled back to below $60 a barrel. No fault there.
The real irony is that Mr McKibben comments that Mr Friedman’s book is “out of date even before it’s published”: that is, exactly what McKibben’s article is. Images of motes and beams spring to mind…also, is it true that “we’re [possibly] starting to run out [of oil]”? Well, yes, it is possible. But as the precipituous fall in oil prices has shown, that was not the reason for barrels to be traded at more than $140 just a few weeks ago.
A final consideration on Mr McKibben’s polemic against Mr Friedman’s “optimism”, “the great imperative of the conventional wisdom”: the alternative to which is alas left unexplored.
Is Bill McKibben advocating “pessimism” by any chance? And what kind of pessimism, one asks? Obviously (or not?) McKibben is not the type to elicit apathy and desperation by advocating a frame of mind where everything we do is useless, because too little, and too late. Therefore: if “Global Warming, above all, should give one pause” (emphasis in the original), what is the next action (if there is any) after that pause has finished?
And by the way…the reason for Mr Friedman’s optimism can be found with a simple search in The New York Times archives, in the May 11, 2008 “Mother’s Day” column:
“But every time life knocked [my mother] down, she got up, dusted herself off and kept on marching forward, motivated by the saying that pessimists are usually right, optimists are usually wrong, but most great changes were made by optimists”
And so to you Bill McKibben…what would you rather be? “Usually right”, or able to “[make] great changes”?
The BBC is forecasting a sunny, cloudy, rainy, snowy day for Oct 29 in London, UK. Guess that’ll make it very difficult for such a forecast to be wrong.
But how often has it snowed in October in relatively mild England? From the Hollinsclough website:
1762, 1783, 1784, 1785, 1825, 1829, 1836, 1838, 1880, 1885, 1888.
Those values are confirmed at Netweather.tv.
Another website indicates snow in London on Oct 29 in 1922, and other episodes in England in 1925, 1926, 1934 (as snow showers), 1950, 1964, 1974, 1992, 2000.
Taking all the above as “true”, the average wait is 12.5 years (stdev: 13.1). A snowfall in two days’ time would therefore be not exceptional, really.
Also, there is no much sign of a warming either. The ongoing average has been between 10.8 and 15.75 years since 1825.
OCT 29 UPDATE: It actually did snow in London, but not where I live so I will proceed to shrug it off as a non-event 😎 . No, really: the BBC and the Evening Standard reported it as the first London snow in October since 1934: I suspect the actual date depends on the definition of “London”.