Archive for December, 2010

Climate Science, To The Edge Of Irrelevance

2010/12/29 5 comments

After days of extremely-silly reports trying to argue that a warming world means a colder world or part of it, as if a winter or two meant anything in the context of climate (usually defined as a 30-year average), a ray of hope for the serious parts of climate science has shone at DotEarth. After all, whenever a rabid warmist claims success after having fished around for any instance of weather extreme anywhere in the world, it’s hard to tell the ensuing climate looting from any claim about Nostradamus.

The whole brouhaha about the cold weather of December 2010 actually highlights three issues that are pushing climate science towards irrelevance:

  • If somebody like Judah Cohen publishes a NYT Op-Ed focused on explaining how to “reconcile” the “snow and record cold” with “a World Meteorological Organization report showing that 2010 will probably be among the three warmest years on record“, then what exactly are climate projections for?

As every newspaper reader outside of North Korea should know by now, a warmer world is expected to be a world perhaps with more snow, perhaps with less snow, perhaps with both; perhaps with more floods, perhaps with more droughts, perhaps with both; perhaps with more cold, perhaps with more heat, perhaps with both…That covers more or less every possibility, apart from “no change at all”, hence it is similar to expecting at the roulette table any number between 0 and 14 and between 16 and 36, having seen “15” come out several times in a row. There is no need of peer-review or statistical analysis to do that. There is not even any need to model the roulette wheel and its pockets. And as any trip to the Casino can show, there is no reward at all in betting upon such an extremely-wide-ranging set of “projections”.

  • In a new blog, Revkin mentions “Jay Fein, program director in N.S.F.’s climate dynamics program” as saying “weather impacts peoples’ lives and the global economy on a daily basis

Why then should anybody care about 30-year averages? What is the meaning of spending considerable resources to mitigate or even adapt to some hard-to-tell thing that might or might happen in 2050AD when the impact of atmospheric patterns is felt “on a daily basis“? Imagine asking anybody in 1900 to put aside money for good use in 1940…

  • And even if one willingly forgets the two objections above…as mentioned here already a few weeks ago, and independently reaffirmed at Real Science, the very concept of a “global anomaly” by which we can measure a “warming planet” might be meaningless, as an unevenly-warming world might see everybody having to face a life of cold

Imagine if a cold place where the average temperature is -20C warms by 4C, and a temperate place where the average temperature is 10C cools by 2C. Obviously the resulting “average anomaly” is +2C and people can run around screaming about “global warming”. Apparently logical…and yet: the result is that people will have a choice between living at -16C or leaving at 8C, i.e. between where it’s still as cold as ever, and where it’s not warm enough any longer.

In such a situation, as in trying to build an effective policy from an extremely-wide range of expected scenarios, and as in trying to convince the people of today to suffer for something that we don’t know and might or might not happen far in the future, politicians actively applying what contemporary climate science tells them will find themselves victims of unintended consequences at best, and of complete misleading at worst. The most likely outcome? Nobody in their right mind will ever listen to a climate scientist again…

A Christmas Present From The New York Times

2010/12/23 5 comments

Not that they really wanted to be so generous, mind you…but in the printed (IHT) version of this long article about the Keelings and CO2 concentration measurements, somebody at the NYT decided to include this graph:

And so millions around the world will be able to see that temperatures have gone up and down in the past 400,000 years, with a characteristic shape (sharp increase with an even more marked peak, slow decline, then sharp increase again) that is currently being replicated (and the top temperatures of the past haven’t been reached yet). The usual reply is that in the past it’s been changes in the Earth’s orbit what drove the temperature changes: and yet, even if CO2 is the “culprit” this time there is evidently something in the Earth’s climate that:

  • Keeps temperatures from going unimaginably high
  • Counteracts the warming, whatever the CO2 concentrations
  • Mantains temperatures on average as much colder than at present

In the medium and long run, humanity should be preparing for a cooler world. Preparation means of course adaptation, the one thing nobody wants to do.

Denialism Invades the BBC, the British Antarctic Survey and the Scott Polar Research Institute

2010/12/16 5 comments

I have been insulted as a “denialist” if not “baby-eater” for far…warmer words than what has appeared last night on the BBC Science & Environment pages (as usual, one has to see things through the rather silly title of the piece).

Extract from “Polar bears can be saved by emissions cuts, study says”
by Neil Bowdler (BBC, 15 Dec 2010):

Dr Ted Maksym, of the British Antarctic Survey (Bas), said he agreed there was little evidence of “tipping points” in the Arctic.

“All the literature that has looked for a tipping point for sea ice has essentially found none. This has been drowned out a bit by the noise surrounding the 2007 minimum [for summer ice loss] and a possible ‘death spiral’ for Arctic sea ice.”

“The suggestion that if global temperature rise is kept below 1.25 degrees that polar bears will survive is encouraging; but given current trends this is not likely to be achieved. So we are by no means out of the woods.”

Professor Julian Dowdeswell of the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge, said such research was important, but that reality could turn out to be different – something the authors of the paper have recognised.

“To have a good physical understanding of the natural world, it’s important that we do run predictive models,” he said.

“But it’s equally important to remember that they are only models and not reality. Usually there is an envelope of possible futures, rather than one future.”

Science Should Better Do Without “Defenders of the Faith”

A comment I have posted at Scientific American’s “Cross-check” blog by John Horgan, in reply to the entry titled “The truth we’ll doubt: Does the “decline effect” mean that all science is “truthy“?“. Reposted here for future memory:

> Jonah Lehrer dismisses the notion that “The Truth Wears Off”
> implicitly undermines the status of the theory of
> evolution by natural selection and global warming,
> which are “two of the most robust and widely
> tested theories of modern science.”

I wish people were more confident in their science and less defensive on subjects that they consider “robust” and “widely tested”. To me, it is obvious that the “Truth that wore off” about evolution was Eugenics. It has all the characteristics indicated by Lehrer, including Galton’s “dramatic correlation” and a huge bandwagon that was eliminated only by the horrors of WWII.

Likewise for “global warming”: a misnomer as everybody now agrees, should be “climate change” at least, and it has evolved from simplistic claims of an increase in temperatures everywhere to a whole load of nuances and lots of studies still to be carried out at a regional (and even more, local!) level. The “Truth” that is wearing off “climate change” is the idea that it only takes a few years to properly understand the behavior in the free atmosphere of something that can be seen in the lab. Other “global warming Truths”/bandwagons that are slowly disappearing include the notions that (a) every environmental phenomenon is caused by increases in CO2 emissions, (b) we have all the technology we need to stop emitting CO2, (c) cap-and-trade is the solution to CO2 emissions, (d) it is ok to present data devoid of uncertainty for policy reasons, (e) reconstructions of past temperatures can be done without involving statisticians, etc etc.

Please do note that Evolution (in a modern form) has survived the demise of Eugenics, just like “climate change” will likely survive (in an updated form) all semi-idiotic studies forever linking it to the disappearance of mostly-cute animals.

Sometimes I feel like we have learned nothing of the useless debates of old, Newtonians vs Leibnitzians, light-is-a-particle vs light-is-a-wave, relativity vs quantum mechanics. Science shouldn’t be a place where people sacrifice themselves and their principles for pet theories, closing their minds rather than accepting the challenge: rather, Science should be an open battlefield where the truly powerful ideas don’t even need defending. But I suppose that might not chime right if the worry is the preservation of the status quo.

AGW Miracle #13 On The New York Times (Oh Gould Were Art Thou?)

What’s wrong with chinstrap penguins, fur seals, krill and leopard seals? Does anybody know?

Perhaps Elizabeth Royte, Fen Montaigne or Bill Fraser do, since it almost goes without saying that “warmer winter air and sea temperatures” around the Antarctic Peninsula are a Bad Thing because (by some quasi-magical mechanism) they negatively affect lovely Adélie penguins, leaving those other species to thrive amongst our indifference.

This is exactly what I described as “AGW miracle #13” on Oct 31:

As the world gets warmer, plenty of Bad Things proliferate whilst plenty of Good Things dwindle in number or occurrence (popular species disappear whilst unpopular ones like jellyfish expand, and so on and so forth)

Hard not to notice that (just in case readers might get their attention diverted from the rapidly-vanishing Adélies) Royte/Montaigne go as far as to suggest that the brown skuas, dependent on the Adélie colonies and therefore equally doomed, exert a “Mafia-like domination” with gruesome chick-killing feeding habits. In the meanwhile, saintly Adélies “almost cut in half by leopard seals stagger back to the colony to deliver their load of krill“.

Is that an aureola I can see radiating from the Adélies’ heads? “For Fraser, the warming has a moral dimension“, we are told. One suspects, warming has a moral dimension to Montaigne and Royte as well, and the scientific or documentary value of a book like “Fraser’s Penguins” dubious to say the least. We are basically back to the XIX century, antropocentrists, looking for moral examples that involve something as absolutely nonmoral as Nature. And Stephen Jay Gould has written wonderfully complete essays against that very idea, for nothing.

Climate Change Minister Resigns “Because Of The Extremities Of The Climate”

2010/12/13 2 comments

On the irony scale, what has just happened in Scotland is on the par with if not better (worse?) than the record cold in Cancún during COP16: because Scottish “beleaguered Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson” has resigned after an extraordinary bad series of moves making the recent “Arctic blast” hellish for thousands of people.

Wait a moment…”Transport” Minister? Not exactly. Hidden away in the BBC report, that’s where the irony strikes: Mr Stevenson‘s job was “Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and…” (YES YOU GUESSED IT RIGHT!) “…Climate Change“.

A sign that “weather” is more important than “climate”? That’s irony #1.

It goes further. You’d think the person officially in charge of an issue that is officially already bringing “more extreme weather patterns in Scotland” might have been preparing his country a little about an extreme weather pattern. Well, apparently, he hadn’t (irony #2). Neither had the person officially in charge of dealing with transportation and infrastructure issues in Scotland, including what to do in case of an early snow.

Actually, that’s the one and same person spectacularly failing in a wondrous triple-act. That’s irony #3.

And now for irony #4. In Climate Change circles, Mr Stevenson might be mostly remembered for “shepherding the Climate Change Act through the Scottish Parliament” containing “the most ambitious climate change legislation anywhere in the world“, plus a series of perfunctory speeches on the topic, a now-lost opportunity to attend the Cancún Climate Change Summit aka COP16 and a bizarre (and rebuked) attempt to talk to the USA on a par-level (so much for being world-leading).

Trouble is, even First Minister Alex Salmond, still making excuses after the news about the resignation came out, might have not fully recollected the responsibilities regarding Climate Change action he himself had bestowed upon Mr Stevenson (around 0m32s in the video):

At the end of the day, you know, no man can tether time nor tide, and certainly you can’t control the elements. I am very sad that a decent man, a competent minister has been forced to resignation because of the extremities of the climate

(the same concept is repeated in Mr Salmond’s reply to Mr Stevenson’s resignation letter)

I can sense a bit of schizophrenic Governmental behavior in there so let me dare ask: Dear First Minister: either the climate change minister HAS to resign because of his inability to deal with extremities of the climate _OR_ you should finally agree with yourself that no man, and no Government, can tether time, tide, or climate. And if “urgent action is needed to cut emissions which cause climate change“, even MORE urgent action is needed to deal with the climate (changed or otherwise) we experience in the here and now.

Two Words Summing Up The Cancún Agreement

2010/12/12 2 comments
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