ResearchBlogging.orgThe appearance of an editorial in the far-right-leaning Washington Times challenging the reality of anthropogenic climate change is not particularly interesting. What is worth looking at is the width of the gap between the research cited by the editorialist and what the research is actually all about.


The editorial, which ran under the headline “Nero was hotter than Al Gore,” argues that a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds the Earth was warmer in Roman times than it is today. Even if true, this would mean little, unless the ancient anomalously warm period was exceptionally long. But it certainly would constitute a convincing counterargument to the notion that the recent decade has been the warmest in human history.

The alarmists must imagine that 50 years before the birth of Christ, men like Julius Caesar spent their summers strolling the streets of Rome wearing sweaters to guard against catching a chill – instead of abandoning the sweltering capital in favor of temperate seaside villas. A study published in the March 8 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science casts further doubt on the warmist premise by concluding that the sun beat down more harshly on the Caesars than it did on anyone else in the past 2,000 years.

The piece concludes by making reference to other, unspecified studies that “confirm the existence of Roman and Medieval warming periods, where no source of “greenhouse gases” existed aside from the horses and cows of the time.”

And therefore:

…we encourage our senators to stab their daggers into the heart of cap-and-trade and all other legislation being promoted in the name of climate-change fiction.

The PNAS paper in question, “Two millennia of North Atlantic seasonality and implications for Norse colonies,” doesn’t support that argument. It is essentially a look at what temperatures in the North Atlantic, as recorded by the ratio of oxygen isotopes in sea shells in a bay in northwest Iceland (not Rome, or anywhere else for that matter), were between the 4th century B.C. and the 17th century A.D. The research results have much to say about the reliability of historical documents from the period, and should prove most useful from anthropological point of view. They say lots of about natural variability in one corner of the world. For example:

The high-resolution seasonal temperature record derived from the mollusk 18O values, in contrast, shows a clear increase in temperatures after A.D. 1400, which may demonstrate that there was a more localized climate influence on Iceland. (Emphasis mine.)

I asked the asked the paper’s lead author, Bill Patterson of the University of Saskatchewan, what he thought of the editorial. His initial response wasted few keystrokes:

Clearly the editor does not understand climate science!
Cheers,
Bill

His second response was a bit more detailed:

Natural climate change and Global Warming are two completely different beasts, though they may enhance or counter one another at times. We really have no way of knowing the influence of each on or most recent climate variability.

Patterson has run across this problem before. In an editorial of his own written a couple of years back, he discussed the myriad gaps in knowledge and the challenge posed by the resulting levels of uncertainty about climate change. He also has this to say about the suggestion that the science supports the Washington Times‘ laissez-faire position on rising temperatures:

Until we gain a better understanding of the carbon cycling, climate change and global warming, should we moderate our production of greenhouse gases? Absolutely! A complete understanding of the carbon cycle will not happen soon and this is no excuse to run roughshod over the atmosphere.

One does not expect every journalist to track down every lead author of every paper tha informs anything the journalist writes. But it would help to actually read a paper before citing it, and it further helps to understand the basic science at hand before challenging the position of almost every single expert in that field. There are dozens of examples of similar errors — bloggers confusing U.S. temperature records with global records, the canard about the Medieval Warming Period of Northern Europe being representative of the planet as a whole, and so on. They call it GLOBAL warming for a reason.

Patterson, W., Dietrich, K., Holmden, C., & Andrews, J. (2010). Two millennia of North Atlantic seasonality and implications for Norse colonies Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107 (12), 5306-5310 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0902522107

Comments

  1. #1 Ecocampaigner
    May 25, 2010

    “Natural climate change and Global Warming are two completely different beasts, though they may enhance or counter one another at times. We really have no way of knowing the influence of each on or most recent climate variability.”

    Yet the taxpayer is supposed to swallow the Big Tax On Everything to prevent a problem that we have no way of knowing actually exists? More precautionary principle fallacy.

    By the way, didn’t you get the memo? Climate Change is on its way out as an environmental cause, too many people know its a fraud. The new big scare is going to be “conservation of species”. Don’t worry it involves just as much wealth redistribution and socialism.

  2. #2 Gopi
    May 25, 2010

    Ecocampaigner: Will the anti-science conspiracy theorists deny it and misrepresent the research about it, the way they twist AGW now?

  3. #3 Ecocampaigner
    May 25, 2010

    @Gopi

    Don’t worry, the new movement “Conservation of Species” will campaign for the same things. Carbon credits were a great thing to sell to raise money for the environment, and to limit consumption, because they are essentially imaginary non-products. Tax laws force companies to buy them, and politically connected people get rich selling them.

    The new “Conservation of Species” movement will sell “Conservation Credits”. So instead of paying someone to not cut down a tree because it helps fix global warming, we’ll now pay them to not cut down the tree to give species a home.

    Best to get off global warming before it becomes a liability to be associated with the movement.

  4. #4 Erasmussimo
    May 25, 2010

    Ecocampaigner, you misrepresent Mr. Patterson’s quote. In the first place, the quote as written is nonsensical because of the phrase “the influence of each on or most recent climate variability” Note the nonsensical use of the conjunction “or”. Is it a typo of “our”? That seems unlikely. Should it be removed? Perhaps. Was something left out? That seems quite plausible. If so, then the text that was left out could completely change the meaning of the sentence.

    Moreover, your interpretation runs counter to Mr. Patterson’s other statement. Let’s put the two sentences together:

    “We really have no way of knowing the influence of each on or most recent climate variability. Until we gain a better understanding of the carbon cycling, climate change and global warming, should we moderate our production of greenhouse gases? Absolutely!”

    That sounds pretty crazy, doesn’t it? Your interpretation simply doesn’t make sense. What we really need is a clarification from Mr. Patterson. In the meantime, I suggest that you refrain from placing any significance on syntactically flawed statements.

  5. #5 Mystyk
    May 25, 2010

    Ecocampaigner,

    Did you have trouble parsing the very sentences you quote, or are you just being dense? The quote says that there is a natural variability separate from the anthropogenically-induced trend, which is uncontested in the literature, and that the dividing line between the two on observations of the most recent years is a medium-width grey fuzzy line instead of an infinitesimally thin black clear one, which is also uncontested in the literature. Those two points have no impact on the fact (and at this point it is unambiguously a fact) that there is a significant anthropogenically-induced trend.

    For the Nth time (where N is quickly becoming a ridiculously large number), let’s lay out some of the basics:
    »» The temperature record has unambiguously shown a sharp increase in the last 130 years.
    »» Analysis of numerous proxies indicates that the scale of the increase in unprecedented during any time where something approaching “human civilization” has even existed.
    »» Further analysis of numerous proxies indicates that the rate of the increase is unprecedented during any period we have been able to analyze, period.
    »» Direct records of CO2 have unambiguously shown a sharp increase in the last 130 years, which has further correlated well with the trend of previously noted increases in temperature.
    »» The (slightly misnamed) “greenhouse” effect lays out an empirically verified method by which even a small concentration of greenhouse gases such as CO2 can dramatically influence heat retention.
    »» Isotope analysis has unambiguously confirmed that the increase in CO2 over the last 130 years is nearly entirely anthropogenic.
    »» Satellite analysis of incoming versus outgoing radiation shows an increasing imbalance, exclusively in the direction of said radiation being retained as heat.
    »» Further analysis from satellites and other methods has also shown that the imbalance is strongest in the portions of the spectrum that is known to be retained due to increases in CO2 concentration. This moves the hypothesis of an anthropogenic CO2 rise being linked to rising temperatures from a strong correlation into the solid causation territory.
    »» Q.E.D.

    You can spout the “fraud” lie all you want — the facts will not just magically change to your favor. By the way, just as something to chew on, the other major climate transitions which we know about are also associated with mass-extinction events. If a change over ten thousand years can stress the environment enough to cause that, what do you think the chances are that the same change in a few hundred years magically will not?

    This is why you fail.

  6. #6 Enough
    May 25, 2010

    It’s time to stop saying things like ‘they don’t understand the science’ and start taking this kind of editors to court. They are deliberately telling untruths. And endangering our future.

  7. #7 Ecocampaigner
    May 25, 2010

    @Erasmussimo

    Yes, I was making the assumption that “or” was supposed to be “our”, which was the only way the sentence made grammatical sense. The author states there is uncertainty, and that we should act, while I think that uncertainty is too significant to act. We agree on the uncertainty.

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    May 25, 2010

    “Alarmist”? …. “Imagine”? … “Warmist”? … “Warmist premise”? …

    Witches! Witches!

    The words people use … oh, never mind. I just want a tee-shirt that says “warmist” on it.

    Oh, by the way James, it hit 90 in Minneapolis yesterday. That’s unusual. Global warming is real again!!!

  9. #9 dhogaza
    May 25, 2010

    Ecocampaigner: Will the anti-science conspiracy theorists deny it and misrepresent the research about it, the way they twist AGW now?

    They have been for years. Lomberg did so in his first anti-science book in which he “debunked” work by scientists like EO Wilson on modern, human-driven loss of biodiversity.

  10. #10 Ecocampaigner
    May 25, 2010

    @Mystik

    »» The temperature record has unambiguously shown a sharp increase in the last 130 years.

    – If by sharp you mean 1 degree. Not that I think the record is very accurate anyway, too many “adjustments” over the years.

    »» Analysis of numerous proxies indicates that the scale of the increase in unprecedented during any time where something approaching “human civilization” has even existed.

    – Unfortunately even Phil Jones now admits that the Medieval Warming Period, and possibly the Roman Warming Period were near-global warm spells, warmer than today.

    »» Further analysis of numerous proxies indicates that the rate of the increase is unprecedented during any period we have been able to analyze, period.

    – Google “Michalovich Cycles” and in 5 minutes you’ll see how this statement is false. Temperatures have shot up and down by a significant degree over the life of the earth.

    »» Direct records of CO2 have unambiguously shown a sharp increase in the last 130 years, which has further correlated well with the trend of previously noted increases in temperature.

    – Correlation is not causation. The fact that the C02 increases happen AFTER temperature increases over the history of the earth suggests the causation is reversed.

    »» The (slightly misnamed) “greenhouse” effect lays out an empirically verified method by which even a small concentration of greenhouse gases such as CO2 can dramatically influence heat retention.

    – I agree its misnamed, no glass around the earth. Actually if you do some research you’ll find its the water vapor feedback systems that are required, and assumed in the formulas, unproven in reality, that cause the warming, not the C02 directly.

    »» Isotope analysis has unambiguously confirmed that the increase in CO2 over the last 130 years is nearly entirely anthropogenic.

    – I agree, but think its irrelevant.

    »» Satellite analysis of incoming versus outgoing radiation shows an increasing imbalance, exclusively in the direction of said radiation being retained as heat.

    – The problem is the Heat is missing. What your model/formula predict simply has proven false. Read the Science Magazine Apr 15, 2010 issue to see how Kevin Trenberth and John Fasullo of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) ponder where that heat may have gone.

    »» Further analysis from satellites and other methods has also shown that the imbalance is strongest in the portions of the spectrum that is known to be retained due to increases in CO2 concentration. This moves the hypothesis of an anthropogenic CO2 rise being linked to rising temperatures from a strong correlation into the solid causation territory.

    – See Above.

    »» Q.E.D.

    You can spout the “fraud” lie all you want — the facts will not just magically change to your favor. By the way, just as something to chew on, the other major climate transitions which we know about are also associated with mass-extinction events. If a change over ten thousand years can stress the environment enough to cause that, what do you think the chances are that the same change in a few hundred years magically will not?

    This is why you fail.

    – Public Opinion has magically changed in my favor. But that’s a nice transition to the “Mass-Extinction” event, just like in my very first post on this forum I predicted the shift from Climate Change to “Conservation of Species” as the next global environmental scare/fraud.

  11. #11 Erasmussimo
    May 25, 2010

    Ecocampaigner, you write:

    I was making the assumption that “or” was supposed to be “our”, which was the only way the sentence made grammatical sense.

    OK, let’s look at the sentence as you interpret it:

    “We really have no way of knowing the influence of each on our most recent climate variability.”

    I agree that this is a grammatically correct sentence, but I find it implausible, because a scientist would likely have used “the” instead of “our”. Perhaps the difference here is our relative familiarities with informal scientific communications. In any case, we’re making a mountain out of a molehill. Until we get a clarification from Mr. Patterson, your point is plausible but unsubstantiatable.

    Now let’s turn to meatier matters:

    You write, referring to the sharp increase in temperatures:

    If by sharp you mean 1 degree.

    Yes, that’s exactly what is meant. You are insinuating that a 1 degree increase is negligible. I remind you that a 5ºC increase in temperatures across the planet would present us with challenges that would cost many, many trillions of dollars to cope with. If 5ºC is so dangerous, 1ºC is non-neglible.

    Not that I think the record is very accurate anyway, too many “adjustments” over the years.

    Those “adjustments” are improvements. You are taking the position that scientific progress robs science of credibility. That’s nonsense. If you have a specific criticism of the temperature records as presented in IPCC AR4 WG1, make them by quoting chapter and page and stating your criticism. Don’t just present vague, mush-mouth statements that you don’t believe it. WHY don’t you believe it? Be specific!

    Unfortunately even Phil Jones now admits that the Medieval Warming Period, and possibly the Roman Warming Period were near-global warm spells, warmer than today.

    Not true. Please back up your claim with an actual quote from Mr. Jones.

    Google “Michalovich Cycles” and in 5 minutes you’ll see how this statement is false. Temperatures have shot up and down by a significant degree over the life of the earth.

    Not true. The historical record definitely shows large changes in temperature, but the statement you criticize addresses RATE OF CHANGE of temperature, not just temperature. It correctly states that there is no evidence of any period in which temperature increased as rapidly as it has in the last 150 years.

    Referring to the correlation between CO2 concentrations and temperature, you write:

    Correlation is not causation. The fact that the C02 increases happen AFTER temperature increases over the history of the earth suggests the causation is reversed.

    You are correct that correlation is not causation. The causal agent is the greenhouse effect, the physics of which are incontestable. The correlation serves merely to demonstrate that the physical theory is correct.

    As to the latter portion of your statement, you are confusing feedback effects with first cause. It is now widely accepted that increases in temperature generate increases in CO2 production; this is a vicious circle. The initial anthropogenic CO2 emissions are triggering a much larger set of conditions that will lead to even higher natural CO2 emissions. This general subject is called “climate sensitivity” and is thoroughly discussed in IPCC AR4 WG1.

    Moreover, your logic is flawed. The fact that A can cause B does not mean that B cannot cause A.

    I agree its misnamed, no glass around the earth. Actually if you do some research you’ll find its the water vapor feedback systems that are required, and assumed in the formulas, unproven in reality, that cause the warming, not the C02 directly.

    Not true. It *is* true that water vapor provides the largest contribution to the greenhouse effect, but that doesn’t mean that CO2 makes NO contribution; it means that the CO2 contribution to the greenhouse effect rides on top of the H2O contribution. Furthermore, your statement that the contribution of H2O to the greenhouse effect is unproven is not true. It has been measured for more than a century.

    The problem is the Heat is missing. What your model/formula predict simply has proven false. Read the Science Magazine Apr 15, 2010 issue to see how Kevin Trenberth and John Fasullo of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) ponder where that heat may have gone.

    It is universally acknowledged that the oceans provide the primary heat reservoir for the earth. The heat imbalance at the surface is being buffered by the thermal capacity of the oceans. There’s no mystery here: the heat is going into the ocean. There *are* questions about exactly how that heat is mixing at deeper levels of the ocean. Your statement that climate models fail to address ocean thermal capacity are false — please see IPCC AR4 WG1 for an explanation. Finally, the role of the ocean thermal capacity is only of short-term significance. Oceans act like a shock absorber or a chemical buffer: they slow down the response to any change, but they cannot stop it in the long run.

    - Public Opinion has magically changed in my favor.
    No, it hasn’t. Confidence in climate science has fallen, but the scientists still enjoy the confidence of the majority of citizens around the globe. I’m not sure what the latest USA numbers are, but public opinion in the USA does not determine scientific proof. A great many more Americans reject evolution than AGW — does that mean that evolution is wrong?

  12. #12 Erasmussimo
    May 25, 2010

    I just checked “Polling Report”, which presents summaries a numerous polls, and here’s the page that concerns us:

    http://www.pollingreport.com/enviro.htm

    If you look at 15% of the way down, you’ll find the results of a Gallup Poll that has been taken regularly since 1997. Here’s the question they ask:

    “Which of the following statements reflects your view of when the effects of global warming will begin to happen? They have already begun to happen. They will start happening within a few years. They will start happening within your lifetime. They will not happen within your lifetime, but they will affect future generations. OR, They will never happen.”

    What’s surprising is that there has been very little change in these numbers of the last 13 years. The most recent values are:

    Already Happening: 50%
    Within a Few Years: 3%
    Within Your Lifetime: 10%
    Future Generations: 16%
    Never: 19%

    About the only significant change here is the value for “Never”, which started at 9%. That pretty much represents your point of view, and you can take comfort in the fact that it has doubled over 13 years. However, most of that change has taken place in the last 12 months — reflecting the effects of the various brouhahas. The key observation is that you are way, way off the mark in claiming that the majority is on your side. Your side is definitely a small minority — about the same size as the Tea Party movement, the number of people who believe that George Bush did a good job while in office, and the number of people who would vote for Sarah Palin. It seems that there is a hard core of about 20% of the population that is immune to reality.

  13. #13 Mystyk
    May 25, 2010

    @ Erasmussimo:

    It seems that there is a hard core of about 20% of the population that is immune to reality.

    There is actually a good amount of literature about that exact thing. Roughly 30% of a sufficiently large population will be ideologically blinded. They simply cannot comprehend that they could be wrong.

    I had a debate with an AGW denier where she brought up a statement along the lines of “I simply have no time for those who believe in the fraud of global warming,” to which I replied that I have no time for those who “believe” in AGW either, just as I have no time for those who “believe” against it, and I’ve argued as much with both camps of “believers.” Facts are not a matter of opinion, and I grant conditional assent to the validity of AGW due to the extensive weight of the evidence, but I certainly don’t “believe” in it.

    Also, thanks for the backup in responding to Eco while I was at lunch. You responded almost as if you were mounting a defense of your own comment, suggesting that you at least agree with the statements I made.

    @ Ecocampaigner:

    Public Opinion has magically changed in my favor. But that’s a nice transition to the “Mass-Extinction” event, just like in my very first post on this forum I predicted the shift from Climate Change to “Conservation of Species” as the next global environmental scare/fraud.

    Erasmussimo’s takedown notwithstanding, public opinion means squat to whether something is true. Argumentum ad populum is a fallacy. The facts are still against your position even if literally 100% of the world’s population were for it, and when it was pointed out that your position was simply nonsense on stilts you went for the fallacy.

    As for your “conservation of species” trope, I suspect we are dealing with the birth of a new denialist meme. There are really four questions that cover this issue: 1) Is the Earth warming abnormally, 2) Is it caused by man, 3) Is it dangerous, and 4) What can we do about it? Scientifically, 1 & 2 have overwhelming support, and 3 has strong support (depending partially on the actual climate sensitivity). Your trope is simply the combination of 3 & 4 into a single item devoid of their connection to 1 & 2. In doing so, you don’t seem to realize (or deliberately ignore) that it is nothing new, and are now harping it as if it is somehow novel because it hasn’t been phrased that way before. Your non sequitor is meaningless because you still fail to do any damage to the robust framework underpinning AGW.

  14. #14 Francis Tucker Manns
    May 26, 2010

    Climategate was forecast…

    “What is the current scientific consensus on the conclusions reached by Drs. Mann, Bradley and Hughes? [Referring to the hockey stick propagated in UN IPCC 2001 by Michael Mann and debunked by McIntyre and McKitrick in 2003.]

    Ans: Based on the literature we have reviewed, there is no overarching consensus on MBH98/99. As analyzed in our social network, there is a tightly knit group of individuals who passionately believe in their thesis. However, our perception is that this group has a self-reinforcing feedback mechanism and, moreover, the work has been sufficiently politicized that they can hardly reassess their public positions without losing credibility.”

    AD HOC COMMITTEE REPORT ON THE ‘HOCKEY STICK’ GLOBAL CLIMATE RECONSTRUCTION, also known as The Wegman report was authored by Edward J. Wegman, George Mason University, David W. Scott, Rice University, and Yasmin H. Said, The Johns Hopkins University with the contributions of John T. Rigsby, III, Naval Surface Warfare Center, and Denise M. Reeves, MITRE Corporation.

    … and the Wegman report has been heavily and thoroughly criticized as flawed, misrepresentative and full of distortions and littered with plagiarized material. See: http://deepclimate.org/2009/12/22/wegman-and-rapp-on-tree-rings-a-divergence-problem-part-1/– jh

  15. #15 Erasmussimo
    May 26, 2010

    Mr. Manns, the point you make is no longer relevant to the AGW debate. The original hockey stick of 1999 was indeed found to have some minor flaws, which were corrected in a subsequent paper in 2004, IIRC. The modern version of the hockey stick graph enjoys broad acceptance, and there are no longer any substantial objections to it.

  16. #16 styopa
    May 26, 2010

    @ecocampaigner: Google “Michalovich Cycles” and in 5 minutes you’ll see how this statement is false. I did. I got this page, some papers on endocrinology and some bicycle shops. Perhaps you meant Milankovitch cycles. They have a mean period of around 100,000 years, so they are completely irrelevant to a discussion of a rise over a 130-year period. I didn’t feel like wasting time on any of your other points.

  17. #17 Steve Bloom
    May 26, 2010

    Erasmussimo, one of the difficulties with climate poll results is that they tend to respond to people’s sense of how warm (or not) the weather has been over the last year or two. That worm will turn soon enough, obviously.

    Compounding that problem, seasonal timing is also important. Otherwise-identical polls taken at the height of summer and the height of winter will show different results.

  18. #18 Erasmussimo
    May 26, 2010

    Good point, Mr. Bloom. I checked the Gallup Polls and all but one were taken in early March of different years. That would have eliminated seasonal effects. I don’t think that public opinion is a useful indicator of anything scientific, but I do believe that these polls suggest that public opinion on AGW has remained fairly stable for the last 13 years.

  19. #19 Francis Tucker Manns
    May 26, 2010

    The fact that the principle ‘climate’ scientists have no scientific integrity is precisely the point and further gobbledy gook changes nothing. The minute you begin to believe your own hypothesis you are a dead duck as a scientist. These guys are believers in their game, and they’ve gamed a concensus that no longer has science in its venue. It’s purely Orwellian.

  20. #20 Erasmussimo
    May 26, 2010

    Mr. Manns, you are making a great many assumptions for which you have no evidence. For example, you claim that “the principle ‘climate’ scientists have no scientific integrity”. I suggest that you “believe your own hypothesis” without ever having had any evidence in the first place.

    Furthermore, you claim that the scientific consensus “no longer has science in its venue”. If you truly believe that, it should be very simple for you to cite any statement in IPCC AR4 WG1 and explain why you think that it is incorrect.

    In the absence of such supporting evidence, your claims are devoid of significance.

  21. #21 Erasmussimo
    May 27, 2010

    It appears that Ecocampaigner has abandoned us for greener pastures. That’s a shame.

  22. #22 MartinM
    May 28, 2010

    There are still people who haven’t figured out that the Wegman report was a politically-motivated hatchet job?

    Oh, dear.

  23. #23 dhogaza
    May 28, 2010

    Question: So what did you do with your life?

    Answer: I blindly and irrationally fell for the latest fearmongering scam of the moment, and wrote a failblog based on a Star Trek reference. But at least all the hand wringing over nothing made me feel good.

    nice!

    FAIL

  24. #24 Erasmussimo
    May 28, 2010

    Are you guys just going to engage in drive-by rants or do you have a cogent point to make?

  25. #25 Mal Adapted
    May 29, 2010

    I’m rather glad to see the loud, proud denier crowd from Island of Doubt has found its way here. We wouldn’t want them to claim we suppress “debate”, would we ;^)?

  26. #26 Deep Climate
    May 31, 2010

    Maybe it’s just me, but William Patterson’s support for AGW sounds decidedly half-hearted.

    If I were you, I’d run the IPCC “headline” finding past him (i.e. “very likely” that more than half the warming since 1950 is human caused).

  27. #27 red pepper
    May 31, 2010

    There is actually a good amount of literature about that exact thing. Roughly 30% of a sufficiently large population will be ideologically blinded. They simply cannot comprehend that they could be wrong.