The Island of Doubt

Dear John…

Last week, I wrote to John Tomlinson, “a local conservative columnist” for The Flint (Michigan) Journal to ask him for the sources he used for a recent column on the scientific evidence against global warming. He indulged me, and “thousands” of others” who expressed interest by supply those sources in a mass email. In return, I have a few thoughts that I have put in the form of an open letter.

Dear John,

Thank you for taking the time to share the sources you used in your Flint Journal essay of 19 January 2009, “It’s time to pray for global warming,” which attracted considerable attention this past week in the blogosphere. I hope you have yet more time to study my analysis of those sources, as I believe there is good cause for you to reconsider your position on the subject. In many cases, your source material directly contradicts your thesis.

For example, in your essay you wrote that

…the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center released conclusive satellite photos showing that Arctic ice is back to 1979 levels.

Yet if you follow the link provided in your email, you will find a comprehensive academic website that supports the anthropogenic global warming theory. Indeed, the Arctic Climate Research Center Polar Research Group at the University of Illinois* contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports. If you look at this graph of current conditions from the The National Snow and Ice Data Center, you will see that sea ice extent is currently significantly below the 1979-2000 average. This past summer, sea ice extent almost beat last year’s record mininum and sea ice volume did set a new record low.

The other sources you provide in your email are similarly unhelpful to your argument. I will deal with each in turn.

we are about to enter a new ice age.

This story, from Pravda, no less, contains no recent science. It discusses Milankovitch cycles, which are the most likely causes of the last million years worth of ice ages, but does not reflect today’s understanding of how much longer the current interglacial will last. As I wrote recently, our best guess is several tens of thousands of years, not taking into account climate change, which may actuall forestall the next ice indefinitely.

Diminisihing Antarctic ice cover

If you have been paying attention to the popular media recently, you may have heard or read that new analysis of satellite data shows the West Antarctic, and not just the Antarctic Peninsula, has been warming at a rate of about 0.2&deg per decade, which is in line with the rest of the planet. The findings are reported in last week’s Nature and you can read about it without a subscription here. The UIUC data in no way contradicts this perspective. As New York Times reporter Andy Revkin wrote last week:

“We now see warming is taking place on all seven of the earth’s continents in accord with what models predict as a response to greenhouse gases,” said Eric J. Steig, a professor of earth and space sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle, who is the lead author of a paper to be published Thursday in the journal Nature.

650 alleged climatologists who allegedly oppose the IPCC consensus.

This is a link to a list of supposed experts assembled by Marc Morano, a staffer for Sen. James Inhofe, hardly a scientific source. Since it was released, it has been thoroughly discredited. Many have pointed out that the list has more than a few names of people with no expertise in climatology, and of those that are qualified to pass judgment, many actually support AGW. There is even a blog devoted to examining each of the alleged 650 experts. Reviewing it would be instructive.

• “a great general information source for reliable global warming facts: http://www.isthereglobalwarming.com/

Following that link takes us to a page filled with errors of fact, such as “Global temperatures were 2 degrees centigrade warmer more than a few times including the Medieval and Roman Periods.” The author, Geoff Pohanka, conflates US and global temperature records and misrepresents the science of sunspot cycles, among other things. Indeed, the notion that solar cycles are too blame has been debunked so often it is hard to pick the best reference to draw to your attention. Here is one by Gavin Schmidt, who works for NASA.

You also kindly sent me a copy of an earlier essay, “The B.S. In Global Warming,” in which you make several more scientific errors. First, you write that “cattle produce considerably more greenhouse gas than humans.” While livestock flatluence is an important contributor to global warming, the truth is cattle produce more methane, but not more greenhouses gases overall. In any case, methane is just as much a product of human activities as is the burning of fossiel fuels.

Next comes:

Listening to environmentalists, you would certainly say carbon dioxide (CO2) [is the major cause of greenhouse warming]. But you’d be wrong. By far, the largest cause is water vapor – humidity. It accounts for at least 70% of the entire problem. Nobody disputes this; if you don’t believe me, look it up.

There is some truth in this, insofar as water vapor is a greenhouse gas, but if you do “look it up” you will discover it is important to understand the difference between a forcing and a feedback. Carbon dioxide and methane are forcings —;;;; they cause the planet to warm. Water vapour is a feedback. The amount of water in the air is a consequence of temperature, and it in turns results in more warming. There’s nothing we can do about feedbacks, but we can control anthropogenic forcings.

You bring up sunspots: “What’s the next most powerful factor? Two recent studies, Israeli and Danish (confirming numerous others), clearly show it’s the sun.” See the discussion and reference above.

Your next reference to CO2 is most disappointing of all:

In fourth place, at 365 ppm (compared to 30,000 ppm for water vapor), is CO2. This tiny factor (responsible for less than 1% of the total problem)…

The simple truth is CO2 is the main greenhouse gas when it comes to changing the net heat balance of the earth. Again, it is critical to know your forcings from your feedbacks.

For information on this and just about every other important factor involved in climate change, the Worldwatch Institute has recently published a great little glossary, complete with colorful diagrams that you might find useful. It’s freely available here.

The penultimate paragraph of your previous essay is also troubling:

The global warming argument, is actually three arguments: 1) Is the earth getting warmer? 2) What’s causing it? 3) What to do? According to Richard Lindzen, Ph.D., the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at MIT, considered by many America’s top climatologist, none of these has yet to be answered.

In reality, the first two questions have been adequately answered by the thousands of working climatologists who have been studying such questions for decades. What to do is policy question. And there are few disinterested obversers who would call Richard Lindzen “America’s top climatologist” as his mispresentation of climate science is legendary. He is closely associated with the fossil fuel industry and is hardly a credible source.

In summary, it is always good to see that even those with whom I disagree recognize the contribution that science can make to establishing public policy. Too often science is dismissed as conspiracy or self-interested pandering. But it takes time to understand something as complicated as climate change, time I fear you have not yet devoted to the subject.

Sincerely,
your friend,
James Hrynyshyn

* Sadly, it turns out that I failed to notice that there is no such thing as the Arctic Climate Research Center. It was a fabrication of Michael Asher at Daily Tech. You can read similar corrections here and here from reputable journalists. George F. Will, who made the same mistake, has yet to issue any corrections.

Comments

  1. #1 Little Johnnie
    January 26, 2009

    James I want to thank you for teaching me intolerance and sarcasm. Those are big words and I never could have learned myself those words if it wasn’t for your efforts over the past couple years. Thank you for what you do.

  2. #2 Onkel Bob
    January 26, 2009

    Interesting that you calmly and cooly disassembled the prevailing argument and the only replies were ad hominem.
    What is most confusing is the blind adherence to the cause. What do they gain from inhibiting and retarding the development of alternate energy sources and conservation efforts? Fascinating how so many are against things that benefit them directly, and for things that are gravely detrimental.

  3. #3 Luna_the_cat
    January 26, 2009

    Onkel Bob: I suspect that much of Hrynshyn’s troll infestation is actually one person with a lot of sock puppets. That said, what particular part of their hate-filled ranting do you think indicates enough intelligence to even be aware of long-term interests, much less capable of assessing them rationally?

  4. #4 Dave X
    January 26, 2009

    If Hazz is talking about the Junk Science contest at here, it is only $500,000, has a turgid Hypothesis 2, and a set of mealy-mouthed rules to be interpreted by untrustworthy judges.

    And it ended on 31 Dec 2008.

  5. #5 Mike C
    January 26, 2009

    This is all great, but the temp has gone down since 1998. It is excused by global warming fans, of course. Aside from that, I became a doubter when I stopped motion on the Al Gore documentary and realized that his graph was not telling us what his voice was telling us. Using a straight edge, you could easily see that temperature rise came BEFORE CO2 rise over the last 650,000 years. He was telling the audience the graph was the other way around–or at least heavily implying such. So, his credibility with me (you might say he was lying) went way down.

    Which brings up another point, a person’s bias can blind them to some in plain site to others. AGW fans may point to doubters as proof, but I’d say the other way around.

    Lastly, call me when the temps go up.

    P.S. When the climate Gestapo tell you, “Oh wait, you can’t go visit your parents this month. You already used your allocation of travel energy last month. You must stay home now,” which WILL come in the not too distant future, then you will wonder why we are doing all this ‘change’ for nothing. And, that is where it is all heading. The entire basis for this is that AGW supporters, before such came into being, were frustrated that they could not make people act they way they thought they should be acting. So, they came up with something, AGW, to give them the power to force people to live the way AGW people think they should.

    My only wonder is how many years of temperature going down will it take before people wake up. I’d say at least 5 years to get some portion thinking and then another 5 years before major questioning of authority will take place. For some, it might take a 30 year down trend to occur before they begin questioning their assumptions.

  6. #6 Meh Meh
    January 26, 2009

    I’m sure John Tomlinson was just thrilled to get fan mail from James Hrynyshyn. “Hi. I’m James Hrynyshyn. Now listen to me. Cuz I’m James Hrynyshyn. The unemployed biologist. James Hrynyshyn.” Meh

  7. #7 Trent1492
    January 26, 2009

    Hi. I’m James Hrynyshyn. Now listen to me. Cuz I’m James Hrynyshyn. The unemployed biologist. James Hrynyshyn.

    It must be so much fun making up arguments and positions that no takes. Of course you got that little problem of looking like a fool to everyone else.

  8. #8 Daryl McCullough
    January 26, 2009

    Mike C,

    Here’s a graph showing global average temperatures for the last 100 years or so: http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs/Fig.A2.lrg.gif

    You really think that you see a downward trend starting in 1998?

    As for the evidence that warming precedes CO2 rise, that’s well-understood. The oceans are a vast storehouse for CO2. If the water warms significantly, its capacity to hold CO2 diminishes. So warming in one area of the ocean causes CO2 increases, which causes further warming. It’s a feedback effect.

    In the past, the trigger was increased temperatures due to small changes in the Earth’s orbit. These changes happen fairly predictably; it’s called the Milankovitch cycles.

    The interaction between warming and CO2 is discussed here: http://www.skepticalscience.com/co2-lags-temperature.htm

  9. #9 Twinny Fitty Cent
    January 26, 2009

    “In the past, the trigger was increased temperatures due to small changes in the Earth’s orbit.” But, of course, that was the past – forget all those eons of reality. So things are different now and only man’s oil-use counts. A man’s puny ppm impact is now the sole controlling variable. And the sun’s activity – well it’s irrelevant completely which is why it was rightfully excluded from the hysterical I mean “theoretical” computer models. And 10 years of cooling along with a little inconvenient record cold is completely predicted because it’s due to record warming. And it all adds up to a perfect storm I mean makes perfect sense. Because it’s so convenient to push for govt research funding and moral imposition. Ah, now I get it. I’ll just keep patiently waiting on any warming to actually start happening. 2050 2050 2050 2050 2050 (although I now see where some of the stupid whackjob liberal eco greeny weeny overzealous AGW religious followers are already starting to quote 2100 as the new tipping point. Armageddon always seems to be just out of reach. So sad.)

  10. #10 Daryl McCullough
    January 26, 2009

    Twinny Fitty Cent said: But, of course, that was the past – forget all those eons of reality. So things are different now and only man’s oil-use counts.

    Nobody said that. You are very confused.

  11. #11 el jefe MS
    January 26, 2009

    Daryl, don’t bother arguing with the trolls. They are too stupid to read graphs and want to cherry pick their data. All they will do will raise your blood pressure. Just laugh at them. All they can do is resort to personal attacks, since they can’t argue about the data. Not one of them has any actual understanding of climate science (or science in general). They probably think Limbaugh and Hannity are reliable sources of information.

  12. #12 Callan Bentley
    January 26, 2009

    I’m really shocked at the mean spirit that prevails in a lot of the comments on this blog. As far as I can tell, the blog author presents well-written material that represents the cutting edge of scientific consensus. He is frequently witty. Doing this has apparently earned him some major wrath from people who choose insult over discussion (or education). James, it’s a shame your blog gets such litter thrown at it. I think you do great work, and I hope you continue to do it (and do it well) in spite of these dispiriting daily attacks from some seriously cruel and mean-spirited people.

  13. #13 The Kettle
    January 26, 2009

    James invented mean-spiritedness. Check your facts and the historical record. Maybe you caught him on a good day, or his Mom made him act polite for a day.

  14. #14 Wojciech Setlak
    January 26, 2009

    I agree with Luna’s assessment of the situation concerning the troll infestation problem. Their replies do seem very similarly worded, and certainly use the same set of rather helpless ad hominems in lieu of discussion.
    Keep up the good work James. Thanks for your patience.

  15. #15 mezzobuff
    January 26, 2009

    Thanks for the great blog! I learn something every time I lurk on through. Too bad about the sock-puppet/troll infestation, but whaddaya gonna do?
    Cheers!

  16. #16 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    January 26, 2009

    James, I for one appreciate the methodical nature with which you approach the problems of the deniers.

    And I appreciate your sarcasm. It’s appropriate.

  17. #17 Skwawkers the AGW Mascot Parrot
    January 26, 2009

    skwawk swkawk. I wish James Hrynyshyn would write me a letter. skwawk. Because he’s James Hrynsyshyn. swkawk. He parrots stuff from the internet and then insults people. skwawk swkawk. James Hrynyshyn. skwawk. And I’m a global warming parrot too. skwawk swkawk.

  18. #18 Francis
    January 27, 2009

    Keeping in mind that windmills are hazardous to birds, be wary of the unintended consequences of believing and contributing to the all-knowing environmental lobby groups.
    Climate and economy are being linked. Climate is a multiple loop, multiple input, complex system. The facts and the hypotheses do not support CO2 as a serious ‘pollutant’. In fact it is plant fertilizer and seriously important to all life on the planet. It is the red herring used by the left to unwind our economy. That makes the science relevant.
    Water vapour (0.4% overall by volume in air, but 1 – 4 % near the surface) is the most effective green house gas followed by methane (0.0001745%). The third ranking greenhouse gas is CO2 (0.0383%), and it does not correlate well with global warming or cooling either; in fact, CO2 in the atmosphere trails warming which is clear natural evidence for its well-studied inverse solubility in water: CO2 dissolves in cold water and bubbles out of warm water. The equilibrium in seawater is very high; making seawater a great ‘sink'; CO2 is 34 times more soluble in water than air is soluble in water.
    Correlation is not causation to be sure. The causation is being studied, however, and while the radiation from the sun varies only in the fourth decimal place, the magnetism is awesome.
    β€œUsing a box of air in a Copenhagen lab, physicists traced the growth of clusters of molecules of the kind that build cloud condensation nuclei. These are specks of sulphuric acid on which cloud droplets form. High-energy particles driven through the laboratory ceiling by exploded stars far away in the Galaxy – the cosmic rays – liberate electrons in the air, which help the molecular clusters to form much faster than climate scientists have modeled in the atmosphere. That may explain the link between cosmic rays, cloudiness and climate change.”
    As I understand it, the hypothesis of the Danish National Space Center goes as follows:
    Quiet sun β†’ reduced magnetic and thermal flux = reduced solar wind β†’ geomagnetic shield drops β†’ galactic cosmic ray flux β†’ more low-level clouds and more snow β†’ more albedo effect (more heat reflected) β†’ colder climate
    Active sun β†’ enhanced magnetic and thermal flux = solar wind β†’ geomagnetic shield response β†’ less low-level clouds β†’ less albedo (less heat reflected) β†’ warmer climate
    That is how the bulk of climate change might work, coupled with (modulated by) sunspot peak frequency there are cycles of global warming and cooling like waves in the ocean. When the waves are closely spaced, the planets warm; when the waves are spaced farther apart, the planets cool.
    The ultimate cause of the solar magnetic cycle may be cyclicity in the Sun-Jupiter centre of gravity. We await more on that.
    Although the post 60s warming period appears to be is over, it has allowed the principal green house gas, water vapour, to kick in with more humidity, clouds, rain and snow depending on where you live to provide the negative feedback that scientists use to explain the existence of complex life on Earth for 550 million years. Ancient sedimentary rocks and paleontological evidence indicate the planet has had abundant liquid water over the entire span. The planet heats and cools naturally and our gasses are the thermostat.
    Check the web site of the Danish National Space Center.
    http://www.space.dtu.dk/English/Research/Research_divisions/Sun_Climate/Experiments_SC/SKY.aspx

  19. #19 Ben
    January 27, 2009

    “What is most confusing is the blind adherence to the cause. What do they gain from inhibiting and retarding the development of alternate energy sources and conservation efforts?”

    It’s because they are afraid of the consequences of admitting that climate change may be real.

    Generally when presented with bad news and uncertain outcomes, people will react in one of two ways: A) denial and attacking the messenger, or B) fear. People who have especially strong fear reactions will invariably resort to option A most of the time because option B is too difficult to cope with. It’s just human psychology.

  20. #20 Doo Darr
    January 27, 2009

    @Ben
    Cite your research sources on this whacky premise – “Generally when presented with bad news and uncertain outcomes, people will react in one of two ways: A) denial and attacking the messenger, or B) fear.” You confuse news with self-serving propaganda. Most people aren’t that dumb. Check the polls. It’s a fact. Nice Try.

  21. #21 geoff pohanka
    January 29, 2009

    While it is true much of the scientific community does not connect sun spots with temperature I think they are badly mistaken. When someone shows me a 400 year long relationship, there must be a connection. If the past cycles are a predictor of the future, the earth will cool 4 degrees centigrade in the next 30 years (this cooling has already started).

    There is a very strong correlation between solar activity and temperature. Solar cycles average 10.7 years long, half are shorter than that, half are longer. Longer cycles lead to cooling and shorter cycles to warming. There is a several hundred year relationship between the two.

    Four of the five shortest cycles (which lead to warming) of th 24 numbered cycles since the 1600s were in the second half of the 20th century. The cycle we are now in, is second longest in history, and the longest since 1795 (which predated the Dalton Minimum, a very cold period).
    (and we have been cooling the past decade, maybe because of this cycle).

    Lots of good data on this website

    http://www.isthereglobalwarming.com

    and by the way, here is a list of 650 internationally known scientists who have come out against the global warming theory, who they are, their credentials, and why they believe this.

    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&fkt=593&fsdt=15500&q=senate+minority+report+650+scientists+against+global+warming&aq=f&oq=&aqi=

    the list is compiled by the US Senate

  22. #22 sohbet sitesi
    August 19, 2009

    Thnk you my adminn

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.