For years now global warming skeptics have been using satellite measurements to argue that global warming isn’t happening, For example (from 1998):

Surface-based temperature records are too few in number and too unevenly spaced to generate accurate global temperature maps. Only 30 percent of the world’s surface is land, so land-based temperature stations measure less than one-third of the Earth’s climate. Urban stations, which are influenced by city heat anomalies, are over-represented; deserts, mountains, and forests are under-represented.

The global temperature record produced from satellite data has none of the problems faced by surface-based thermometers. Orbiting satellites cover 99 percent of the Earth’s surface, not less than a third, and measure a layer of the troposphere that is above the effects of urban heat islands.

Satellite measurements are accurate to within 0.001 C. Because new satellites are launched into orbit by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) before old ones are retired, overlapping data sets are created, ensuring that the new satellites are calibrated correctly. …

According to Dr. Roy Spencer, meteorologist and team leader of the NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center, “The temperatures we measure from space are actually on a very slight downward trend since 1979 … the trend is about 0.05 C per decade cooling.”

Then other scientists analysed the satellite data and found that it showed warming similar to the surface record. Global warming skeptics didn’t miss a beat — obviously the scientists who got results the skeptics didn’t like were guilty of fraud:

atmospheric data from both satellites and weather balloons show only a trifling rise in temperature over the past couple of decades, while the surface temperature has been rising steadily. In 2000, a National Research Council study confirmed the data’s discrepancy with the model.

The proper scientific response would be to reexamine the models and adjust them to fit reality. But that hasn’t happened in climatology. Instead, there have been repeated attempts to manipulate the satellite data fit the models. Recently, a study published in the journal Nature tries to hammer the square peg of the satellite data into the round hole of the theory, using a method that satellite temperature experts John Christy and Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama at Huntsville had considered and rejected as incorrect in 1991.

So I’m wondering how the skeptics will spin the latest development. Spencer and Christy have revised their numbers and now they seem to agree with the surface record. William Connolley
has a nice plot of the new numbers.

Update: Connolley has posted some more graphs and links.

Comments

  1. #1 Meyrick Kirby
    July 9, 2005

    Glen,

    You’re wrong on 4 because Kyoto is PART of the solution. Further treaties will call for further reductions.

    You’re wrong on 5 because not all problems can have cost benefit analyses applied. There are certain industries where they don’t bother except for the roughest of guesses. Accounting is not an exact science. And this is a good example, since we can’t with any certainty work out an exact cost with a timeline of 100 years, especially where the economic knowledge is so poor (the scientific knowledge is good).

  2. #2 Meyrick Kirby
    July 9, 2005

    You’re also wrong on 5 simply because you don’t know that it does fail a cost-benefit analysis.

  3. #3 Ian Gould
    July 10, 2005

    The Economist, hardly a left-wing magazine has this to say about Kyoto:

    Thanks to the Kyoto treaty on climate change, which came into effect in February, most rich countries regulate emissions of carbon dioxide in some manner. Mandatory emissions trading is only one way to help countries and companies switch to using less, and cleaner, energy. But it has two particular huge merits. The first is that it is, or should be, efficient. Under “cap-and-trade” schemes, firms are allocated tradable allowances to emit so many tonnes of carbon a year. A big polluter that is overshooting its limit can buy surplus allowances from light polluters. Thus is virtue rewarded and pollution checked at an overall cost that is less than if each firm were required to meet an individual target. The second merit is that the system is market-based. Buyers and sellers receive and send clear price signals to inform business decisions.

    That’s the theory, at any rate, and history suggests that it is well founded. America has cut in half its sulphur emissions (the key component of acid rain, the global warming of its day) over the past ten years by imposing mandatory caps with tradable allocations. That approach was the inspiration for Europe’s carbon-trading system. In Britain, oil giant BP set up a trading scheme among its own companies in 1998 and in three years reduced emissions by one-fifth. Other voluntary trading experiments are producing positive results.

    I guess no-one told them that Kyoto was a Stalinist plot to rob the oppressed hard-working people of America for the benefit of the greedy bloated fat-cats of Africa and south Asia.

  4. #4 Meyrick Kirby
    July 11, 2005

    Ah, The Economist … the biggest bunch of commies I’ve ever seen! :o)

  5. #5 Glen Raphael
    July 11, 2005

    The Economist favors permit-trading as the lowest-cost method to achieve the goal. And I agree with them on that. If forcing CO2 emissions to drop below some arbitrary level by some arbitrary date is a worthy goal, the way to do it is by allowing trading of permits. It’s not that long ago that environmentalists were rabidly opposed to all trading regimes under a theory that they established a “right to pollute” and in some sense subsidized polluters. The Economist was on the correct side of that argument on the past, and they’re sticking to it now. They are taking a position on the means, not the goal.

    Which makes sense if there’s enough political consensus behind the goal that it’s not likely to change.

    I liked their last line: other voluntary trading experiments are producing positive results. That and the prior bit about BP suggests we don’t have to make trading mandatory or universal in order to see benefits from it.

    Interesting about the iron blooms. It’s too bad that they turned out to require excessive Si. Thank you for tracking down that reference. Naturally I don’t mind objections to the approach on that basis!

    Meyrick: The fact that it’s difficult or impossible to estimate the benefits or the costs is an argument against the new policy being proposed, not in favor of it.

  6. #6 Meyrick Kirby
    July 11, 2005

    Meyrick: The fact that it’s difficult or impossible to estimate the benefits or the costs is an argument against the new policy being proposed, not in favor of it.

    If that were the case pharmaceutical companies would never develop new compounds, but they do. Nor would CERN be operating, but it does.

    Just because the costs of global warming from an economic point of view are hard to monetarise, doesn’t mean we should ignore them. It would be nice if the world operated like a university first-year accounting project, but I’m afraid it doesn’t.

    I might add that we have already discussed how to keep down costs of CO2 reduction, even though they can’t be estimated in advance.

    Your interpretation of the Economist piece is dubious too.

    They are taking a position on the means, not the goal.

    Why on earth would they be taking a position on the means if they didn’t think the goal was important?

    I liked their last line: other voluntary trading experiments are producing positive results. That and the prior bit about BP suggests we don’t have to make trading mandatory or universal in order to see benefits from it.

    Just because voluntary attempts at reducing CO2 emissions have been successful from the perspective of keeping costs down, doesn’t mean the overall reductions of these case are enough to keep inline with the sort of reductions needed. It really needs everyone to be doing their bit.

  7. #7 Ian Gould
    July 11, 2005

    Interesting about the iron blooms. It’s too bad that they turned out to require excessive Si.

    Glenn, there are other problems with the iron-augmentation processes even besides the limiting factor problem.

    For one, while their advocates were arguing that they’d produce bounteous new supplies of fin fish for human use they gave no consideration to the possibility that they could equally produce toxic red tides or anoxic zones. We simply don’t know enough about marien ecology to predict that reliably.

    They also fail to take into account that the rising CO2 levels have other effects on the biosphere besides global warming. The oceans are normally moederately alkaline. CO2 dissolvges in water to produce carbonic acid. The ocean’s pH has already shifted measurably as a result of CO2 build-up. This has direct majort effects on sea-life. In particular organisms like coral have more difficulty forming their calcium carbide shells and skeletons.

  8. #8 Glen Raphael
    July 12, 2005

    Meyrick:

    Do you recognize a difference between making a new voluntary option available to the world – what drug companies do – and forcing everyone in the world to behave in a certain way whether they want to or not – what Kyoto backers are attempting to do? I submit that those are different sorts of things with different standards of proof. You don’t need to satisfy a cost-benefit analysis to offer a new good for sale to the world, much less to attempt to invent one. But if you’re going to force everybody in the world to buy what you’re selling, then you do need darned good evidence that the thing you’re selling is worth the price.

    Regarding the Economist article, I suggest you reread what Ian posted. The Economist is in favor of tradable permits because they are better than the obvious alternative which is per-firm command-and-control quotas without any ability to trade. The Economist is in favor of markets generally; pollution trading markets are just one example of this.

    That article wasn’t really about Kyoto at all; it merely used Kyoto as a hook to introduce the main topic, which was pollution trading markets. Sure, it’s not denouncing Kyoto, but it’s not really defending it either.

    Ian: Now you’re just being silly. If seeding turned out to produce toxic red tides, then obviously we either would stop doing it or would figure out under what conditions it did that and be more selective as to when and where we did it. Seeding isn’t a “push the button and you’ve done it” sort of thing; it would have to be an ongoing project, especially if the fish were being harvested. Which means there’s plenty of time to fine-tune it.

    The advocate position is: this possibility is worth investigating, not this must be done, on a large scale, at taxpayer expense. As I said above, there’s a difference between offering options and enforcing mandates.

  9. #9 Meyrick Kirby
    July 12, 2005

    Glen, your previous post is confusing 2 different issues. Firstly there is the claim that full information is required to make decisions. The second is the distinction between something being voluntary or mandatory.

    You don’t need to satisfy a cost-benefit analysis to offer a new good for sale to the world, much less to attempt to invent one.

    My point was about big decisions having to be made in the face of imperfect information. The pharmaceuticals industry is a good example. It takes about 7 years and lots of money to develop a drug, and although a lot of effort is put into the decision making, there is still a lot of guess work given the time scales … most candidate drugs fail to become prescription drugs. You should try reading up on the decision-making processes of CEO’s.

    If you’re suggesting that it is okay for CEO’s but not politicians, then you’re talking rubbish. The decisions politicians have to make can be just as hazy, that’s part of what they are elected to do. They are not elected to hide in the corner of the room every time a difficult decision has to be made, hoping everything is just going to turn out all right.

    Do you recognize a difference between making a new voluntary option available to the world – what drug companies do – and forcing everyone in the world to behave in a certain way whether they want to or not

    Clearly you don’t fully understand what is meant by the concepts of “voluntary” and “mandatory”. They seem diametrically opposite, but often live together. For instance, BP’s decision was voluntary, but not for the managers at individual sites. Such carbon trading requires someone somewhere to make the system mandatory for a given group. So why should it be okay at the company or state level, but not the country or global level?

    That article wasn’t really about Kyoto at all; it merely used Kyoto as a hook to introduce the main topic, which was pollution trading markets. Sure, it’s not denouncing Kyoto, but it’s not really defending it either.

    Again, why talk about pollution trading markets if they don’t think pollution is a problem?

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