Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

Andrew Dessler’s testimony on what we know about climate change

January 19, 2014

In his recent testimony, Andrew Dessler reviewed what he thinks “are the most important conclusions the climate scientific community has reached in over two centuries of work”. I think that’s a very good choice to focus on, as the basics of what we know is most important, “at least as to the thrust and direction of policy” (Herman Daly). This focus served as a good antidote to the other witness, Judith Curry, who emphasizes (and often exaggerates) uncertainty to the point of conflating it with ignorance.

Dessler mentioned the following “important points that we know with high confidence”:

1.  The climate is warming.

Let’s take this opportunity to show the updated figure by Cowtan and Way, extending their infilling method to the entire instrumental period (pause? which pause?):

Cowtan and Way - Global Avg Temp 1850 - 2012

2. Most of the recent warming is extremely likely due to emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by human activities.

This conclusion is based on several lines of evidence:

- Anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gases

- Physics of greenhouse effect

- Observed warming roughly matches what is expected

- Important role of CO2 in paleoclimate

- No alternative explanation for recent warming

- Fingerprints of enhanced greenhouse effect (e.g. stratospheric warming cooling, which was predicted before it was observed)

Dessler:

Thus, we have a standard model of climate science that is capable of explaining just about everything. Naturally, there are some things that aren’t necessarily explained by the model, just as there’re a few heavy smokers who don’t get lung cancer. But none of these are fundamental challenges to the standard model.

He goes on to explain that the so-called “hiatius” is not a fundamental challenge to our understanding of climate, though it is “an opportunity to refine and improve our understanding of [the interaction of ocean circulation, short-term climate variability, and long-term global warming].”

What about alternative theories? Any theory that wants to compete with the standard model has to explain all of the observations that the standard model can. Is there any model that can even come close to doing that?

No.

And making successful predictions would help convince scientists that the alternative theory should be taken seriously. How many successful predictions have alternative theories made?

Zero.

3. Future warming could be large 

On this point I always emphasize that the amount of future warming depends both on a combination of factors:

- the climate forcing (i.e. our emissions and other changes to the earth’ radiation budget)

- the climate sensitivity (the climate system’s response to those forcings)

- the climate response time (how fast will the system equilibrates).

Internal (unforced) variability also plays a role, but this usually averages out over long enough timescales.

4. The impacts of this are profound.

In the climate debate, we can argue about what we know or what we don’t know. Arguing about what we don’t know can give the impression that we don’t know much, even though some impacts are virtually certain.

The virtually certain impacts include:

• increasing temperatures

• more frequent extreme heat events

• changes in the distribution of rainfall

• rising seas

• the oceans becoming more acidic

Time is not our friend in this problem.

Nor is uncertainty.

The scientific community has been working on understanding the climate system for nearly 200 years. In that time, a robust understanding of it has emerged. We know the climate is warming. We know that humans are now in the driver’s seat of the climate system. We know that, over the next century, if nothing is done to rein in emissions, temperatures will likely increase enough to profoundly change the planet. I wish this weren’t true, but it is what the science tells us.

Peter Sinclair posted a video of Andrew Dessler’s testimony. Eli Rabett posted Dessler’s testimony in full.

A key distinction in the two senate hearings was that Andrew Dessler focused on what we know, whereas Judith Curry focused on what we don’t know (though “AndThenTheresPhysics” made a good point that Curry goes far beyond that, by e.g. proclaiming confidence in certain benign outcomes (e.g. regarding sensitivity) while claiming ignorance in areas where we have a half-decent, if incomplete, understanding, e.g. regarding the hiatus). I have argued before that emphasizing (let alone exaggerating) uncertainties is not the road to increase people’s understanding of the issue, where what we do know is much more important to convey (if your goal is to increase the public understanding of scientific knowledge). Alongside that I argue that much more attention is needed to explain the nature of science, which is needed to e.g. place scientific uncertainties in a proper context.

CartoonUncertainty

Herman Daly said it as follows, in a quote I’ve used regularly over the past few years:

If you jump out of an airplane you need a crude parachute more than an accurate altimeter.

Arguing whether the altimeter might be off by a few inches is interesting from a scientific/technological perspective, but for the people in the plane it’s mostly a distraction.

Long term persistence and internal climate variability

April 30, 2013

After a long hiatus, Climate Dialogue has just opened a second discussion. This time it’s about the presence of long term persistence in timeseries of global average temperature, and its implications (if any) for internal variability of the climate system and for trend significance. This discussion is strongly related to the question of whether global warming could just be a random walk, a question vigorously debated on this blog (incl my classic  april fool’s day post three years ago).

Invited expert participants in the discussion include Rasmus Benestad (of RealClimate fame), Demetris Koutsoyiannis and Armin Bunde. The introduction text here slightly differs from that posted on ClimateDialogue.org

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Documentairy “Thin Ice” now available on the web

April 22, 2013

The documentairy “Thin Ice“, with spectacular images and interviews with a few dozen of well-known and lesser well-known climate scientists, is available for viewing tonight on their website (which features lots of other interesting content btw). At the same time, various public screenings are being organized all over the world (unfortunately not in the Netherlands, mea culpa). The free viewing via their website is probably temporary, though I don’t know for how long (my guess is a few days). The premiere has of course been timed to coincide with Earth Day.

Climate Science Survey – the questions

October 8, 2012

In the spring of 2012, a large scale climate science survey was held amongst 6500 scientists studying various aspects of global warming. The survey was spearheaded by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), where I was responsible for the execution and analysis during the first half of 2012.

The objective of this study is to gain insight into how climate scientists perceive the public debate on the physical scientific aspects of climate change. More info about the survey was posted on the PBL website at the time, which has recently been updated to include a link to the survey questionnaire. Please note that the survey is no longer active.

Some confusion has arisen over the status of this survey. I responded at WUWT in an attempt to clarify:

We undertook a survey in March/April of this year (which, as Hans Labohm mentioned in a comment on WUWT, had been previewed by a variety of people with different viewpoints). Some respondents, e.g. Timothy Ball, asked to see the questions again. After internal consultation, we decided to publish the survey questions on the institute’s website, so that they are viewable to all. We contacted the survey respondents to inform them of the questions being available to view. I informed Dr Ball of this as well, to follow-up on my earlier email to him.

Our email to all respondents, informing them of the fact that the survey questions are available on the web, was apparently misunderstood to mean that we were again soliciting responses to a survey; this is however not the case. Roger Pielke Sr had already put a notice about the survey on his blog, which he has since updated after an email clarifying that this is an inactive survey, to which he had previously responded.

Below we (Bart Verheggen and Bart Strengers) reply to some of the more substantive questions regarding the survey questions raised on WUWT. However, we will not discuss results or the survey sample at this point in time. We will do so when our manuscript has been accepted.

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Climate survey discussion

January 3, 2012

On the previous post a discussion about climate surveys erupted. Please continue here. I’ll chime in when I habe more time.

I’m curious to hear what you find good or not so good about a particular survey and why. If you have contributed to the discussion on the previous thread, perhaps you want to condense your main arguments in one comment so that we can start a more structured discussion. If succesful, I’ll follow up with a post including the various contributions. Call it crowdsourced blogging if you wish.

A noteworthy survey that has not been discussed much is the one by Brown, Pielke Sr and Annan that I wrote about before:

A recent survey of scientists having authored a recent journal article on climate change found that the majority concurred with the IPCC position. A sizeable minority was of the opinion that the IPCC reports overstate the importance of and/or certainty regarding CO2 compared to other forcings (both natural and anthropogenic!). Only very few respondents were of the “skeptical” opinion that warming is predominantly natural. Nobody denied that the globe is warming. A large minority found the IPCC too cautious, understating the human influence on climate and/or the seriousness of the problem. Note that the authors do not claim that their survey is representative; less then 10% of the 1800 scientists contacted replied. Moreover, the positions that respondents had to choose between were sometimes a little ambiguous.

Others that have been discussed a lot include those by Bray and von Storch and the recent one by Doran and Kendal-Zimmerman.

What are the pros and cons of reducing CO2 vs other warming agents?

December 15, 2011

That is the question I’ve been pondering earlier this year and which’ pontifications you can now read on Planet3.

The difference is mainly in the timescale: CO2 lasts a lot longer in the atmosphere than most of the other warming agents (e.g. black carbon, ozone, methane). This means that the temperature will decrease faster when the emission of shortlived compounds is decreased, as compared to that of a longlived compound such as CO2.

The other side of the coin is that for long term warming, the cumulative emissions of CO2 are dominant, even if in the short term changes in its emission are relatively ineffectual. Other important aspects in this discussion are health effects from air pollution (e.g. soot and ozone) and political practicability (gridlock in global climate negotiations).

So the question is: Are you more concerned about the short term or the long term effects of climate change? Which is a similar question that is often implicitly present in climate debates: Weighing the right of this generation to economic wellbeing (through cheap fossil energy) with the right of future generations to a pleasant planet to live on (through us not using too much cheap fossil energy). Strangely enough, that central and deeply ethical question is usually embodied in the discount rate (as used in economics when comparing investments with the expected rate of return).

My conclusion:

It’s clear that for long term climate stabilization, cumulative CO2 reductions are paramount, and that for the short term, reducing other forcings can offer faster results and offer other benefits as well. So the answer to the question “what should we focus on” is “all of the above”. I would applaud more attention to the non-CO2 forcings in the International policy arena. However, let’s not forget that there’s a hefty price and/or climate tag to pay in the end for delaying CO2 emission reductions.

You can read the whole thing over at P3.

 
Planet3 is a community new(s) blog, aptly described by main driving force Michael Tobis (in an interview with Andy Revkin) as
opinionated yet skeptical, informed yet passionate
 
Conflict of interest statement: I live on the planet in question.
(via Elmar Veerman)

To publish BS or not, that’s the question

November 11, 2011

Richard Tol levied a strong accusation at Judith Curry for highlighting two seriously flawed papers (via twitter):

Its wrong, but with @JudithCurry lending her authority it becomes disinformation

Judith defended herself in a post where she tries to shift the blame to the mainstream scientists:

 Here is a quiz for you.  How many of these disinformation tactics [a list containing a mix of logical fallacies and avoidance tactics] are used by:

  • JC (moi)
  • Public spokespersons for the IPCC
  • Joe Romm
  • Marc Morano

If that’s not a dog-whistle I don’t know what is. 

Keith has a nice rundown of the discussion, and the ensuing thread over there contains many good comments. He’s got a knack for hosting interesting discussions.

Richard has since laid out his argument as to what’s wrong with the papers in a guest post over at CE.  Basically they’re methodologically flawed:

Using “detrended” fluctuation analysis to study “trends” was a dead giveaway that something is not quite right with these papers.

Tol goes on to write: 

7. There is a substantial body of climate research that is credible — even if it reaches opposite conclusions — but there are also papers (left, right, and center) that are just flawed.
8. If flawed papers reach a certain prominence, they should be debunked. Prominent but flawed research does damage as it misinforms people about climate change. Publicly criticizing such research hardens the existing polarization.
9. If flawed papers linger in obscurity, they should be ignored. The papers are wrong but do no damage. Lifting a flawed paper out of obscurity only to debunk it, is no good to anybody.

Curry takes especially issue with the last statement:

Yours isn’t a statement about science, but about playing politics with science, and reinforces the gatekeeping mentality in climate science that was embarassingly revealed by the CRU emails. (…)

Of course scientists don’t want the public to be misinformed about the science! So If I’m concerned about public understanding of science, I’m automatically “playing politics with science”? Then I sure hope every scientist is.

Judith rightly says that “Of course there are flawed papers that get published.” But why shining the spotlight on them? What’s gained by doing so?

It’s true that these discussions don’t occur about science without policy relevance. Research on the mating behavior of fruit flies won’t result in argument whether a flawed paper should be promoted in the public sphere or not.

The differences are that 1) such research is not present in the public sphere, because the public isn’t interested, and 2) even though flawed papers exist in any field, the more its conclusions clash with ideologies, the more attempts will be made to reach opposite conclusions and thus the more deeply flawed/biased papers will be published. It’s not a coincidence that there’s no fruitflies-version of EIKE or Heartland. 

Curry:

Most people don’t come to climate etc. to reinforce their prejudices (there are far too many echo chambers where this is much more satisfyingly accomplished). They come here to learn something by considering the various arguments.

The general tone of comments at CE makes me strongly doubt this last statement.

Tol:

@Anteros
I would agree with you [no harm done by highlighting flawed studies] if climate blogs were exclusively read by well-intentioned, well-informed, and intelligent people.

Richard further shows his mastery in the tweet-universe with one-liners such as

I argue for self-censorship. It is what separates adults from children.

Over at CaS, Roger Pielke Jr makes the point that wrong or bad articles can be a useful teaching tool. And indeed they can. But as Stoat rightly says,

within a managed class structure with someone guiding the discussion, it is fine to discuss flawed texts, for the reason given: it encourages critical thinking. That wasn’t what Curry was doing.

Tol:

Curry took two papers that almost nobody had read, and put them in the limelight.
The papers say 2+2=5.
There are a lot of people who would like to believe that. It is not true.
So now there is yet another dogfight about whether the answer is 3, 4, or 5. We can do without that.
There are plenty of real issues to argue over.

Jonathan Gilligan, consistently thoughtful, writes:

Pielke has said that he views blogs as more like the kind of discussions people conduct over beers at the neighborhood bar, and from that perspective Richard’s criticism makes no more sense than telling the crowd at the pub to leave sports commentary to the experts. 

Tol makes some valid points here, but Pielke is more persuasive. People will read these blogs or not as they choose, and when a blog repeatedly calls attention to crap, its credibility and its audience will adjust to reflect this. Climate Etc. is not The Wall Street Journal, so the greater danger in Curry’s gushing over crap is to Curry’s reputation, not to the public understanding of science.

I have also compared blogs to bar-discussions (quoting Bob Grumbine), but that comparison is about the presence (or lack) of quality control. As Tol rightly says, 

With academics blogging and tweeting, and journalists, and prime ministers, and institutes, departments, agencies and companies, I don’t think there is a one-rule-fits-all.

At CE, thousands of people are listening. Judith’s opinion and her writings make their way to the general public and politicians via mainstream media and Senate hearings as well. By the scale of those who are engaged in the conversation, that is orders of magnitude different from a discussion in a bar. That also means that the risk is twofold: Both to Curry’s reputation (her problem) and to the public understanding of science (everyone’s problem, even though Curry tries to belittle that).

Whereas Tol argued based on methodological flaws, Fred Moolten explains why the papers’ conclusions are unsupportable on physical grounds and I made a similar argument:

Conservation of energy precludes the climate to wonder off too far in any direction without being “forced” to by changing boundary conditions. Unless of course the energy is merely being redistributed within the system. Which it isn’t, since all other compartments of the climate system are gaining energy.

The paper’s conclusion that the observed warming is “predominantly a natural 100-year fluctuation” is at odds with conservation of energy.

All very reminiscent of the random walk saga and the Harry Potter theory of climate.

Spencer and Braswell fundamentally flawed, journal editor resigns

September 2, 2011

Wolfgang Wagner, editor-in-chief of the journal Remote Sensing, resigns over the publication of a fundamentally flawed paper:

[peer review is] supposed to be able to identify fundamental methodological errors or false claims. (…) the paper by Spencer and Braswell that was recently published in Remote Sensing is most likely problematic in both aspects and should therefore not have been published.

Peter Gleick has a good rundown of the story.

Wagner points out that minority views are and should be welcomed in the scientific literature. But he adds that that does not mean that long refuted arguments should be able to keep being published:

The problem is that comparable studies published by other authors have already been refuted in open discussions and to some extend also in the literature, a fact which was ignored by Spencer and Braswell in their paper and, unfortunately, not picked up by the reviewers. In other words, the problem I see with the paper by Spencer and Braswell is not that it declared a minority view (which was later unfortunately much exaggerated by the public media) but that it essentially ignored the scientific arguments of its opponents. This latter point was missed in the review process, explaining why I perceive this paper to be fundamentally flawed and therefore wrongly accepted by the journal.

What Stoat reads this to mean is that

Yes, novel and interesting challenges to the established view should be published – perhaps even get given a slightly easier ride, if they are novel. But No: just saying the same old thing again isn’t any good.

Quite predictably, Roy “Conspiracy” Spencer is complaining about the IPCC gatekeepers trying to silence dissenting geniuses like him.

Update: Dan Satterfield observes that

They ["skeptical" papers such as Spencer's] are not published to further the science, but as a piece of meat to those who find the science very incompatible with their world view.

Dutch translation of this post on my NL klimaatblog.

Update 2: Robert Grumbine reminds us of how Spencer sees his own role:

“I view my job a little like a legislator, supported by the taxpayer, to protect the interests of the taxpayer and to minimize the role of government.”

In the comments, Bob Brand makes several astute observations on the course of events and on Wagner’s apology to Trenberth (and the role of cultural differences therein). Re the apology, I see Wagner’s resignation as an apology to the scientific community and don’t find personal apologies to Trenberth necessary, though BB provides some rationale for this.

William Connolley provides some insights:

people are using short-cuts to try to evaluate who is correct. This is inevitable; if we restricted discussion to those who understood the issues, there would be far less debate.

(…) the obvious explanation for Wagner’s explanation, the one he actually gave: personal morality. He doesn’t want to be associated with this paper, and has used the only means available to free himself.

I would sum up Wagner’s reasons for resigning as follows:

  • the lack of considering (previously published) contradictory evidence.
  • the (in Wagner’s words) problematic issues w.r.t. “fundamental methodological errors or false claims.”
  • Spencer’s exaggerations and over-interpretations of his results (which made Wagner feel that he had been taken for a ride).

Climate Change: Wealth redistribution or making the poor even poorer?

August 17, 2011

In a previous thread, Andrew Adams made an insightful comment about how climate change impacts and mitigation mix in with economic development in poor countries:

Energy poverty in the developing world is a problem, along with food shortages and loss of arable land due to soil erosion and other factors, lack of clean water supplies, the prevalance of diseases such as malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS, the debt burden etc. And, of course, climate change, which both raises entirely new threats and exacerbates some of the problems mentioned above.

(…)

It is naïve to suggest that they can just go full steam ahead now and worry about the problem later once they have better developed economies. It always bears repeating that humanity doesn’t get to dictate the timescales for taking action to avert dangerous climate change – the planet does.

But of course, what they are going to do is only part of the problem; if we really care about the fate of people in developing countries we also have to ask what we are going to do about it. Unless we take action to reduce our own emissions we can hardly expect them to follow suit and in any case any action they do take will be futile, and if they are going to develop along low emission lines they are going to need our assistance in both practical and material terms. And of course it is our past (and present) actions which have brought humanity to the position it is now in so even if not everyone accepts the moral/ethical responsibility of those who are well off to assist those who are less fortunate, there is still the responsibility to deal with the consequences of our own actions. I see a lot of skeptics expressing concern for the effects that climate mitigation policies will have on developing countries but they reject the notion that the developed world should do anything to help bear the costs itself.

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Scott Denning’s smashing presentation at Heartland climate conference ICCC6

August 13, 2011

Listen to Scott Denning’s sharp and to-the-point presentation, which he gave at Heartland’s climate conference, here. It’s worth the full 16 minutes of it. He rocks. Alternatively, read this little recap:

Denning attended the Heartland conference for the second year in a row and it seems like he’s outdone himself by giving an even better and sharper presentation than last years (which was excellent as well).

He emphasized some very important things:

- The big picture is what matters; details do not (at least in terms of policy relevance; for science nerds of course it’s different)

- Part of that big picture is that, whatever the sensitivity, a 400% increase in CO2 is going to make a big difference to the climate, because of the simple fact that adding heat warms things up.

- He offered a big challenge to the (strongly contrarian and libertarian) audience: Propose and advocate for effective solutions, otherwise others will. Policy will be enacted anyway. His challenge got particularly strong when he said “do you want Greenpeace to dictate the policy? (…) Are you cowards?”

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