The Weather Makers

Tim Flannery has a new book The Weather Makers on climate change. You can read an extract here.

Naturally this has prompted the usual pieces on how global warming totally isn’t happening. First we have William Kininmonth, who
writes:

The science linking human activities to climate change is simplistic and his arguments are assisted by the fact we are in a period of apparent warming. … The focus on carbon dioxide as a driver of climate change overlooks the importance of water vapour as a greenhouse gas and the hydrological cycle’s role in regulating the temperatures of our climate system.
Water vapour is a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and the formation and dissipation of clouds has a bigger impact on the climate.

This is more than a little misleading since it implies that the “simplistic” science ignores the role of water vapour even though it does not.

Second, Bob Carter who claims that one of the symptoms of the “disease” of Hansensim is:

endless repetition of inaccuracies, or facts out of context;

And repeats, yet again, a wildly inaccurate claim:

The Earth’s comfortable (for us) average temperature of about 15C is maintained that way by the atmosphere. The presence of small amounts of water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide – the “greenhouse gases” which absorb Earth’s outgoing heat radiation and re-emit some of it downwards – causes warming. Most of the total warming of 33 degrees is caused by water vapour (more than 30 degrees), carbon dioxide contributing only about 1.2 degrees worth. And of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, just 3 per cent comes from human sources, which equates to a warming effect of about four-hundredths of a degree.

His calculation is out by a factor of twenty. Carbon dioxide contributes about 3 degrees towards the natural greenhouse effect. And over 25% of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere comes from human sources. 25% of 3 degrees is 3/4 of a degree Celsius, not four-hundredths as Carter claims. But he keeps repeating this false claim.

Next up is Andrew Bolt, who in this column claimed to have found many serious errors in Flannery’s work, and here complained that Flannery had not corrected the alleged errors. Not surprisingly, Bolt’s bias and ignorance of science has led him astray and Flannery sets him straight in this column.

The “errors” that Bolt supposedly discovers in my work, extracted in The Age, are in fact howlers on his part. Indeed, so egregious are some that it’s hard to believe that Bolt has not set out to mislead his readers. Let’s look at five of the biggest whoppers.

You should read Flannery’s article to find out what the five whoppers are, but fortunately for me there are plenty more misleading statements in Bolt’s column for me to chew on. Bolt writes:

Says Philip Stott, London University professor emeritus of bio-geography: “During the Medieval Warm Period, the world was warmer even than today.” It was nice.

OK, Stott says that, but he has no qualifications as a climate scientist. So what was the basis for his claim? It turns out that it was the infamous Soon and Baliunas paper,
which was so badly flawed that six editors resigned from the journal that drafted it because they felt that it should not have been drafted.

Bolt also claims:

Flannery says: By late 2004, my interest had turned to anxiety. The world’s leading science journals were full of reports that glaciers were melting 10 times faster than previously thought . . .

Fact: More booga-booga to scare you into believing. But as glacier researcher Roger Braithwaite noted in Progress in Physical Geography, some glaciers are growing and “there is no obvious common or global trend of increasing glacier melt in recent years”.

However, Braithwaite’s paper, makes it clear that he is only talking about glacier melt up to 1995. Looking at more up to date information (as Flannery did), shows a dramatic increase in melting.

I’ve saved the worst for last: Christopher Pearson who spends most of his column in a dishonest attempt to paint Flannery as some kind of weird mystic because he uses the Gaia hypothesis to help focus on “the complex system that makes life possible”. But the funniest part of Pearson’s column is this:

Flannery doesn’t feel any personal need to defend himself in the public arena. Nor does he feel, as a museum director, that the prestige of the scientific institution he heads obliges him to do so.

Unfortunately for Pearson, his column came out the same day as Flannery’s demolition of Bolt‘s criticism. Oops.

Comments

  1. #1 Mark Frank
    October 9, 2005

    Tim – as I understand it even the 3 degrees contribution of CO2 is misleadingly simple. According to:

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=142

    If you somehow removed CO2 from GHGs then the temperature would indeed drop about 3 degrees, but, if you removed every other GHG leaving the CO2 then the CO2 would maintain a temperature of about 8 or 9 degrees. i.e. there are overlap effects.

    So the CO2 contribution to the greenhouse effect is somewhere between 3-9 degrees I guess.

  2. #2 Tim Lambert
    October 9, 2005

    If you are thinking about what increasing the CO2 might do, then the 3 degrees figure is the one you are interested in. Of course 25% of 3 is still way too simple but it roughly agrees with the amount of warming we have seen since we started increasing the CO2 content.

  3. #3 Joel Shore
    October 9, 2005

    Tim:

    Like you said, the 25% of 3 deg is too simple and that rough agreement with observation that you point out is likely due in part to compensating errors. I.e., on the one hand, the fact that warming goes roughly logarithmically with CO2 concentration means you have overestimated. On the other hand, since you haven’t included feedback effects (such as the increase in water vapor and changes in the albedo from melting ice at high latitudes), you have underestimated.

    And, then there are issues in the observed warming so far. On the one hand, it may not all be due to CO2, but on the other hand, sulfate aerosols may have masked some of the warming so far plus the inertia of the climate system means we haven’t seen all the warming that is really in the pipeline for a CO2 concentration of ~375 ppm.

    Anyway, your main point that Bob Carter is completely full of sh** in what he says still stands.

    By the way, I think I understand where Carter is getting his 3% figure. What I think it comes from is looking at the total carbon cycle. When you look at that, you find that fossil fuels contribute 5.4 Gigatons of carbon per year to the atmosphere. The land contributes 100 and the oceans 90. So, you get that the fossil fuels are contributing only 3% of the INPUT into the atmosphere each year. Of course, what this ignores is the fact that before we came along, things were in equilibrium so that the land and oceans were also uptaking about the same amount that they were contributing to the atmosphere. So, it doesn’t make sense to look at their gross inputs rather than their net inputs.

    And then, of course, the jump from this percentage to calculating a percentage of warming makes no sense! In fact, really if you follow Bob Carter’s logic but deal in net inputs then you would get that man is contributing 200% of the net CO2 input into the atmosphere each year (since about 1/2 of what we are putting in is re-uptaked by the oceans and land). So, then we would have to conclude that we have contributed 6 deg to the total warming! This conclusion is, of course, nonsense…but it at least has one fewer errors than Bob Carter’s calculation!

    It is sort of interesting to see how a fact that is originally true gets massaged and distorted and used completely incorrectly!

  4. #4 David Ball
    October 10, 2005

    The sad part of all this, Tim, is that Carter, Kininmonth and Bolt all play to a constituency that laps up every worth they write as if it were the gospels and no amount of facts will do anything to change their minds. They arrive with their pre-conceived notions firmly in place and despite all evidence, some of it staring them right in the face, continue to believe that nothing is happening. I don’t know which is worse, the statement that makes about the state of science education world-wide or just how gullible human beings can really be.

  5. #5 z
    October 11, 2005

    “I don’t know which is worse, the statement that makes about the state of science education world-wide or just how gullible human beings can really be.”
    This is why the AGW debate in particular has made me very pessimistic as to the survival of the human race, at least as an advanced technological cultural entity. The ability to play with more and more dangerous toys has not brought with it the ability to rationally assess the risks involved (note to Intelligent Design theorists; could you please ask the Designer to do something about this grave Design Flaw?) Ironically, the ability of human intelligence to overcome any and all problems which human intelligence creates for us is generally put forth by those who exhibit the great failing of what passes for intelligence in humans; the inability to keep a desired outcome from influencing a rational view of a situation, and the ability to rationalize almost any degree of silliness if it gives one “hope”.

  6. #6 John Cross
    October 11, 2005

    On the other hand you had this piece by Kurt Cuffey over the weekend. I think it presents an excellent overview of the history and current state of the science of climate change without getting too technical and still providing references.

  7. #7 Dano
    October 11, 2005

    We can contrast John’s comment with David’s and assert that until folk understand that they are part of the environment and conducting ourselves in this manner is fouling our nest, not much will get done. When the people lead, the leaders will follow.

    D

  8. #8 JohnMcCall
    October 11, 2005

    Re: the link in post 6 — what biased, opinionated, and unscientific drivel! A waste of read — direct evidence of same for post 6.

    You’ll have to earn your way back from that post, Mr. Cross. One needs to shower after reading that — except one is already drenched from the crocodile tears shed by the non sequitur image of “the tear-streaked faces of refugees from New Orleans.” Great climate science, that!

  9. #9 Tim Lambert
    October 11, 2005

    John McCall, you are not helping yourself with your comment. If you think the article John Cross linked was unscientific you should present evidence supporting your belief.

    And what about the articles this post is about? Are you OK with them?

  10. #10 Dano
    October 12, 2005

    what biased, opinionated, and unscientific drivel

    Whoo-oho! This is the best The PosseTM can do!

    The times are certainly interesting.

    D

  11. #11 John Cross
    October 12, 2005

    Mr. McCall: What part do you disagree with – that the refugees were crying, that the refugees were from New Orleans or that they were made into refugees by a rise in sea level?

    Dr. Cuffey does not claim that Katrina is caused by global warming and in fact says “Hurricane Katrina was not caused by global warming, but the New Orleans disaster violently illustrates the dangers at the conjunction of storm, sea and low land. “

    He perhaps takes certain liberties with the English language but after all it is an opinion piece, not a peer reviewed scientific publication. But he does supply references for his main points.

    I will note that I have read some of his peer-reviewed work dealing with the antarctic CO2 measurements and have found it interesting and (from my layman’s point of view) valid.

    To echo Tim’s comment, are there specific parts of the science you disagree with?

    John

  12. #12 z
    October 12, 2005

    “When the people lead, the leaders will follow.”
    I keep thinking of the civilization of Easter Island, Rapa Nui. What was that guy who chopped down the last tree on the island, to his knowledge the last tree existing in the universe, thinking? The Gods will save us? If I don’t do this I’ll lose my job? Stupid environmentalists and their chicken little pronouncements?
    What was everybody else thinking at the time?

  13. #13 Dano
    October 12, 2005

    What was that guy who chopped down the last tree on the island, to his knowledge the last tree existing in the universe, thinking?

    Equally as likely as your ‘chicken little’ phrasie-phrase, a person could have been thinking: ‘human ingenuity will find a replacement’ and everybody else could have been thinking: ‘market signals didn’t tell us this could be a problem’.

    At any rate, this argumentation (if I understand it correctly) fails to consider that their leaders commanded them to chop down the last tree, despite pleas otherwise.

    Best,

    D

  14. #14 JohnMcCall
    October 12, 2005

    re: 9

    With respect Dr. Lambert, to comply with your request throws time and effort down what it already deficit time and effort on post 6 and link. John Cross has done better in the past, and I will await such posts again — forgetting the rip-off associated with said post 6. If you wish, delete mine and call it a day.

  15. #15 Steve Bloom
    October 14, 2005

    Water vapor, nailed:

    New paper:

    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/rapidpdf/1115602v1.pdf

    The Radiative Signature of Upper Tropospheric Moistening

    Brian J. Soden, Darren L. Jackson, V. Ramaswamy, M. D. Schwarzkopf, Xianglei Huang

    Climate models predict that the concentration of water vapor in the upper troposphere could double by the end of the century as a result of increases in greenhouse gases. Such moistening plays a key role in amplifying the rate at
    which the climate warms in response to anthropogenic activities but has been difficult to detect because of deficiencies in conventional observing systems. We use satellite measurements to highlight a distinct radiative signature of upper tropospheric moistening over the period 1982 to 2004. The observed moistening is accurately captured by climate model simulations and lends further credence to model projections of future global warming.

    2002 paper:

    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/reprint/296/5568/727.pdf

    Global Cooling After the Eruption of Mount Pinatubo: A Test of Climate Feedback by Water Vapor

    Brian J. Soden, Richard T. Wetherald, Georgiy L. Stenchikov, Alan Robock

    The sensitivity of Earth’s climate to an external radiative forcing depends critically on the response of water vapor. We use the global cooling and drying of the atmosphere that was observed after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo to test model predictions of the climate feedback from water vapor. Here, we first highlight the success of the model in reproducing the observed drying after the volcanic eruption. Then, by comparing model simulations with and without water vapor feedback, we demonstrate the importance of the atmospheric drying in amplifying the temperature change and show that, without the strong positive feedback from water vapor, the model is unable to reproduce the observed cooling. These results provide quantitative evidence of the reliability of water vapor feedback in current climate models, which is crucial to their use for global warming projections.

  16. #16 Dano
    October 14, 2005

    Aw, Steve, you know that the r2s are bad on those papers, and the Bps are unusable, and anyway they don’t make their datasets available for amateurs to view, so it’s biased and just not good science and your partisanship…what? How do I know all this? Well, I don’t have time to actually come up with evidence to address specific parts of the science, so you just have to take my word for it.

    Or something.

    How’s that, John Mc? Am I getting the doctrine down? Not bad, if I say so myself.

    Best,

    D

  17. #17 Steve Bloom
    October 14, 2005

    Pretty good, Dano, but you forgot to add that the satellite data all became unreliable the moment the UAH team was forced to back-pedal.

    On a serious note, is it just me or has it been one hell of a last few months for important new climate science papers? Is it that people scheduled their research relative to the AR4 inclusion deadline at the end of this year?

  18. #18 Dano
    October 14, 2005

    Is it that people scheduled their research relative to the AR4 inclusion deadline at the end of this year?

    That’s a good guess, sir. Powerful impetus to put other stuff on hold in order to complete that paper.

    Best,

    D

  19. #19 JohnMcCall
    October 16, 2005

    re: 16 “Am I getting the doctrine down??”

    Mr. Dano —

    Of course you have it down! You’re an accomplished practiser and proponent of such a technique as discounting an entire paper* for a single error or absurd comment (like Prof. Cuffey had in his article). You embrace this technique seamlessly in more 1 out of 2 of your rebuttal posts — you know, the NO SCIENCE rebuttals you stream at nearly anything you disagree with? Too thick to quickly recognise it when it comes flying back at ya, eh? — typical!

    *Michael Seward, William Connolley, others and even our distinguished host use this technique often as well; in fact, it would not be too much of a stretch to say that this blog was built on the practice?

  20. #20 Dano
    October 17, 2005

    I’m having trouble understanding your comment, JMc: can you be 1) more coherent and 2) include specifics?

    I know denialists typically don’t like to practice 2) as it forces a narrowing of language, but try to indulge me.

    Best,

    D

  21. #21 JohnMcCall
    October 22, 2005

    My apologies.

    Correction: You embrace this technique seamlessly in more LIKE 1 out of 2 of your rebuttal posts — you know, the NO SCIENCE rebuttals you stream at nearly anything you disagree with?

    Correction: Connolley

    Definition: “thick” — as in a “life science lightweight” – a person untrained or incapable of the Physics, Thermodynamics, Chemistry and Mathematics necessary to engage technically in Climatology1 (or many technical subjects). Clinically, one might have a tendency to fall back on generalized speculative terms/labels/phrases like “denialist,” “posse,” and “decarbonized a lot less then” (which means carbon enriched, btw), instead of actual science. Call it “depretzeling,” or instead of using “pretzeling” in a sentence, one should mash up a pretzel and eat it.

    Coherent and specific enough?

    References:
    1 http://www.bun.kyoto-u.ac.jp/~suchii/gen.GR4.html

    Questions:
    Does the above ‘Kyoto’ reference, have as much to do about climatology as Professor Cuffey’s text, ‘it is time for remaining skeptics to look at the tear-streaked faces of refugees from New Orleans’?

    Given my post (vs. an anonymous article — omitting Professor Cuffey’s authorship), would you be tempted to take this or the anonymous post seriously?

    Get it?

  22. #22 Dano
    October 23, 2005

    Ah, so you still can’t provide examples. That’s all I need to know.

    D

  23. #23 JohnMcCall
    October 23, 2005

    Uh, earth to Dano — come in, Dano?

    http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2005/07/barton3.php

    Thick and a short memory, eh Mr. Dano? In your own words in post 62 early AUG, responding to my post 60 (after a long line of no science posts, from you including 50,49,43,35,18,15):

    JohnMcCall:”in spite of its length, my compliments on 54; that’s a post more in line with your technical background.”

    Dano: “Other things suffer when I post like that.”

    Truth is, we all suffer when you don’t post like that! And perhaps I should adjust up my percentage (“no science’) assessment of your posts — it looks to be low. Guess I hit it on the head, eh — little no physics/thermodynamics, and associated mathematics in you pursuit of life-science education? It all makes sense, now …

  24. #24 JohnMcCall
    October 23, 2005

    On my more general point, of using one mistake to discount everything in a paper (or in a career of work):

    1) If one makes an obvious ‘degrees/radians’ mistake that isn’t discovered before drafting, is everything in the article thrown out when it does get discovered? Same question, after the error was corrected and the article revised?

    2) If an early multi-proxy study has material flaws (acknowledged or not), should everything the mann does thereafter be suspect or marginalized?

    3) Or if one is unable or incapable of understanding ‘an average temperature cannot be defined in an open system’ argument, or they are unaccepting of ‘the earth is an open system’, is everything else they say or draft discounted forever?

    Under such a merit policy not only would McKitrick, Mann, and Lambert have their views be marginalized forever,but so would those disadvantaged, those making mistakes in their youth, or even failing as an adult like Abraham Lincoln, Harlan Sanders, or William Jefferson Clinton ” never the chance to reach their potential in such a world.

    Dano and Professor Cuffey submit the arguments for AGW are done , many still disagree! And what’s more, the elitist position to continue sanctioning insufficient archiving (against that prescribed in grant agency policy) and access, one prevents general access necessary to replicate, refute or modify existing theory from outside “the community” of climate scientists. No problem, just looks like the next young Munich patent clerk cannot turn upside down, what was then 2, 20, and really 200+ year old theory (some of which is still taught today as Newtonian physics) — or the smaller steps achieved before then by Leibniz, Faraday and many others. But that’s what this is all about now really , you know, ‘pay no attention to the man (or the BCP and other data) behind the curtain’ , just adopt the religion and associated policy!

  25. #25 Dano
    October 23, 2005

    Dano and Professor Cuffey submit the arguments for AGW are done , many still disagree

    Correction: few in the science community disagree. Many in the denialist/contrascience/anti-science community agree.

    And if anyone has the time for such things, can they plz translate for me what JMc is saying in 23 plz?

    Thx,

    D

  26. #26 z
    October 26, 2005

    “If one makes an obvious ‘degrees/radians’ mistake that isn’t discovered before drafting, is everything in the article thrown out when it does get discovered? Same question, after the error was corrected and the article revised? ”

    Yes, if the correction changes the magnitude of their discovered “effect” from half the total variance to borderline insignificant. Also, it makes the reader question the accuracy of their self-promoting claim of the article being the product of four years of the toughest peer review ever, which in turn makes the reader wonder just how flaky are these guys, anyway.

  27. #27 z
    October 26, 2005

    “Or if one is unable or incapable of understanding ‘an average temperature cannot be defined in an open system’ argument, or they are unaccepting of ‘the earth is an open system’, is everything else they say or draft discounted forever?”

    Well, let’s just say that there are those who believe in average temperature and those who do not, and it will be difficult for the two camps to discuss the rate of change of the earth’s average temperature in a meaningful way.

  28. #28 Dano
    October 26, 2005

    Also, it makes the reader question the accuracy of their self-promoting claim of the article being the product of four years of the toughest peer review ever,

    Aw, give these guys a break. If they didn’t have this tactic, what would they have left?

    D

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