Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

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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Climate change is real, we are causing it, and it is happening right now

June 14, 2011

A thundering open letter from the Australian scientific community has been published on “The Conversation”, as the start of a two-week series on climate science and “skeptics”:

The overwhelming scientific evidence tells us that human greenhouse gas emissions are resulting in climate changes that cannot be explained by natural causes.

Climate change is real, we are causing it, and it is happening right now.

Like it or not, humanity is facing a problem that is unparalleled in its scale and complexity. The magnitude of the problem was given a chilling focus in the most recent report of the International Energy Agency, which their chief economist characterised as the “worst news on emissions.”

Limiting global warming to 2°C is now beginning to look like a nearly insurmountable challenge.

Like all great challenges, climate change has brought out the best and the worst in people.

A vast number of scientists, engineers, and visionary businessmen are boldly designing a future that is based on low-impact energy pathways and living within safe planetary boundaries; a future in which substantial health gains can be achieved by eliminating fossil-fuel pollution; and a future in which we strive to hand over a liveable planet to posterity.

At the other extreme, understandable economic insecurity and fear of radical change have been exploited by ideologues and vested interests to whip up ill-informed, populist rage, and climate scientists have become the punching bag of shock jocks and tabloid scribes.

Aided by a pervasive media culture that often considers peer-reviewed scientific evidence to be in need of “balance” by internet bloggers, this has enabled so-called “sceptics” to find a captive audience while largely escaping scrutiny.

Australians have been exposed to a phony public debate which is not remotely reflected in the scientific literature and community of experts.

Beginning today, The Conversation will bring much-needed and long-overdue accountability to the climate “sceptics.”

For the next two weeks, our series of daily analyses will show how they can side-step the scientific literature and how they subvert normal peer review. They invariably ignore clear refutations of their arguments and continue to promote demonstrably false critiques.

We will show that “sceptics” often show little regard for truth and the critical procedures of the ethical conduct of science on which real skepticism is based.

The individuals who deny the balance of scientific evidence on climate change will impose a heavy future burden on Australians if their unsupported opinions are given undue credence.

And don’t miss this excellent article by Karl Braganza who describes in as few words as realistically possible how we know that we are warming up the earth:

fundamental understanding of the physics of radiation, combined with our understanding of climate change from the geological record, clearly demonstrates that increasing greenhouse gas concentrations will inevitably drive global warming. (…)

It’s now practically certain that increasing greenhouse gases have already warmed the climate system.

That continued rapid increases in greenhouse gases will cause rapid future warming is irrefutable.

Different approaches to the climate problem

May 16, 2011

The approach people take to climate change varies widely. They can be distinguished e.g. by the importance they place on climate change (or trust placed in the science), and by the conditions they put on potential solutions or response strategies. This gives rise to four different response strategies to the problem, along two axes:

Some archetypical responses for each quadrant are laid out in this cartoon:

(*): To which the German Coastguard in need of English language training replies: “What are you sinking about?” Cartoon adapted from Jip Lenstra.

There are of course loads of varieties possible here. Some contrarians may say: The water looks pretty nice. Some scientists (and so called “merchants of doubt”) are in fact saying: We’re thinking (and are not sure what’s happening. Let’s wait and see). Libertarians may say that life boats commissioned by the government are not to be trusted. And some greens may dream up a world of mermaids.

There are some interesting dynamics between the different archetypes: Most arguments happen in the horizontal direction (belief vs disbelief in an impending climate catastrophe; trust vs distrust of climate science; liking vs disliking certain lifeboats), whereas most liaisons occur in the vertical (between people who share the same (dis-)belief in climate change, but differ in the restrictions they place on response strategies).

Arguments on the science occur between the two upper panels: Is the boat sinking? Arguments on the response strategy often occur in the realm of the lower two panels: What restrictions (if any) do we place on the lifeboats? Are other agenda’s playing a role (besides wanting to save our souls)? Sometimes, the lower two panels actually partner up, like in those cases where they share a dislike for a certain lifeboat (CCS for example). Naturally, if you’re on a sinking boat most people will let go of any restrictions. Perhaps we can turn that around: The more restrictions people place on the lifeboat, the less severe they apparently think the problem is (in comparison with other issues).

If you think the boat can’t sink (upper left), then it doesn’t make sense to invest in a life-boat (lower left). Unless you like the lifeboat for another reason, e.g. for energy independence or to avoid peak oil. That would be a typical lower left panel response: You want a specific boat, but you don’t care much about climate change. Burning coal is perfectly fine according to this mindset. If OTOH you think the boat is sinking (upper right), then it makes sense to get a life boat (lower right).

The reverse is also happening (much to the detriment of the discussion): Some people have such a strong dislike for the lifeboat (lower left), that they therefore deny that the boat is sinking (upper left). Others like green lifeboats so much (lower right), that they shout out loud that the boat is sinking (upper right) without actually understanding how or why or when. They are prone to exaggerating the problem.

These styles of argument (from bottom to top) basically argue the science as a proxy for what the disagreement is really about: Liking or disliking certain boats.

Gotta love analogies…

Commentary on US Committee hearing on climate change

March 31, 2011

There’s yet another congressional hearing on climate change today in the US, featuring

Dr. J. Scott Armstrong, Professor, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Richard Muller, Professor, University of California, Berkley and Faculty Senior Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory

Dr. John Christy, Director, Earth System Science Center, University of Alabama in Huntsville

Mr. Peter Glaser, Partner, Troutman Sanders, LLP.

Dr. David Montgomery, Economist

Dr. Kerry A. Emanuel, Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Real time commentary will be provided by several mainstream climate scientists to put the expected spin in context (see e.g. this commentary on Christy’s previous testimony a few weeks ago):

Live commentary by Trenberth, Dessler and Yohe (more info on this here)

Live blogging by Gavin Schmidt, Jay Gulledge and Eli Kintisch

Since it’s been getting quite popular lately for politicians to debate and try to legislate scientific understanding (am I the only one who finds this weird? No, no), SkS set up a special page with climate myths from politicians to try and keep them accountable for spewing nonsense:

Climate Myths from Politicians

 

Biodiversity, extinction and climate change

February 19, 2011

The previous thread turned into a discussion on how climate change might affect biodiversity. It started with Jeff Id’s taunt:

A warmer world will produce more food, biodiversity and a nice place for people and critters to live. Polar bears might be mad, but life is hard.

Aftersome back and forth’s, with e.g. Dave H noting the apparent disconnect between a strong focus on uncertainty and such a strong statement about positive effects, ecologist Jeff Harvey chimed in:

high temperatures are not a pre-requisite for high biodiversity

He points out that an important factor for maintaining high genetic and species richness is

stability – that is, that conditions in a region are not altered frequently by some important extrinsic challenge, such as rapid local climatic changes. (…)

the current rate of warming threatens to seriously undermine the functioning of biomes and ecosystems through uneven effects on species within tightly interacting food webs. (…)

Our species has simplified the planet biologically through the combined effects of paving, ploughing, damming, dredging. logging. slashing and burning, mining, dousing in synthetic pesticides, biologically homogenizing (e.g. through invasive species), altering the chemical composition of the air and water, and through various other forms of pollution. We know that genetic diversity is being lost at rates unseen in 65 million years, and against this background we are challenging an already impoverished fauna and flora to respond to climate changes that are unprecedented in perhaps tens of thousands of years.

Jeff Id replies:

I think like so many tied up in the eco-sciences you have blended too many causes and effects together to attribute the micro-warming to anything damaging to the ecosystem. (…)

my point is that over the next hundred years of warm weather, it would certainly result in higher planetary biomass all other effects unconsidered. Higher biomass eventually results in higher diversity. Warm in general is good for the planet, if you do it slowly enough and not too much of it.

How fast and how much, we could argue all day.

I tried condensing Harvey’s points thus:

– Biodiversity depends more strongly on the rate of change of climate than on the actual climatic state (i.e. whether “warm” or “cold”).

– That is consistent both with evidence from the past and with theoretical considerations

– Biodiversity is already being stressed (by multiple anthopogenic stressors, of which climate change is one), and this stress is likely to increase as (the rate of) climate change will increase. (i.e. future projected biodiversity loss is much stronger than current biodiversity loss)

Of course, it’s a bit more cpmplicated than that, as Harvey aludes to in his reply. Later on he notes that

The IUCN (…) does not classify a species as being ‘formally’ extinct until it has not been recorded in the wild for at least 50 years.

And on the current rate of extionction:

We KNOW that between 10 and 40% of well-known species (vascular plants and vertebrates) are threatened with extinction.

This is an area that don’t know much about, so I don’t have much to add. It’s a very important aspect though, especially when taking into account that projected future (rates of) warming are much stronger than what we’ve seen so far. Not to mention that once a species is lost, it’s lost practically forever. I would think that the rate of species loss can be much greater than the maximum rate of new species development (or creation if you wish ;-).  

References on biodiversity, extinction and climate change:

Extinction risks from climate change

Coral decline threatens fish biodiversity

Papers on ecosystem response to past climate change

Kate at Climatesight on extinction and climate

Association between global temperature and biodiversity, origination and extinction in the fossile record

Recommended reading by Jeff Harvey

Past, present and future temperatures

February 2, 2011

Check out these two graphs of past, present and future climate change:

They both provide a compelling visual picture of potential future warming in the context of past temperatures.

I wanted to use one of these graphs for a climate presentation recently, and there are pro’s and cons to each. Most importantly (to me):

– The bottom figure includes the “constant composition” scenario (C3 in yellow), which I find a useless distraction. It has no realistic value, as it implies an abrupt and arbitrary CO2 emission reduction, but continued aerosol emissions. (Aerosol particles have a short atmospheric residence time, so emissions have to be sustained in order to keep the concentration constant. OTOH, CO2 has a very long lifetime and with roughly 70% lower emissions its concentration would remain constant). It shows the amount of unrealized warming, but it most definitely is not an (even remotely) plausible scenario, and thus should not be presented as such.

– As for the proxy temperatures going back to the Middle Ages (or even further), I prefer the (mini) spaghetti graph of the lower figure over the top figure, which features only the Mann et al (2008) reconstruction.

Steve Easterbrook reminded me of my dilemma with his post comparing the top figure with one on which the bottom figure is based. He notes a few other differences:

– Different scenario’s are used in each (e.g. the top fig includes the “fossil intensive” A1FI (sort of business as usual) scenario, whereas the bottom fig doesn’t. A2 is worst case shown in the bottom graph, whereas it’s the middle of the road in the top graph.)

– Different temperature baseline (pre-industrial versus 1995-2004 period)

The top figure is from the Copenhagen Diagnosis; the bottom figure from Chapman and Davis (2010).

I chose to show the top graph, mainly because of the bothersome inclusion of the C3 “scenario” in the other one.

2010 blog round-up

January 3, 2011

I started writing this blog in mid 2008, and it was off to a quiet start. In the last months of 2009 and the start of 2010, my blog traffic gradually increased due to me chiming in on popular blog discussions on topics such as the CRU email affair or criticizing some contested ‘skeptic’ or ‘lukewarmer’.

A big change in my readership occurred in March 2010, after I wrote a post comparing different datasets of global average temperature. I was looking for a good looking graph of the major surface temperature reconstructions for use in a presentation, and after I couldn’t find one to my liking decided to prepare my own.

Now in all honesty, it wasn’t my pretty graphs that drew thousands of visitors to check out that post, but rather the verbal antics of pseudonymous commenter “VS”. It was initially picked up by Bishop Hill (causing a massive traffic spike) from where it spread to WUWT, Josh’s cartoons and others. It garnered over 2000 comments, many of which consisted of cheering VS on in his attempt to show that the increase in global average temperature could be described by a random walk (from which he later seemed to backpedal), based on a near unit root in the timeseries. But besides the expected chorus of “see, it’s all a scam/random/don’t touch my SUV!”, which got on my nerves at times, it was an interesting discussion from which I learned a thing or two. Of course, from energy balance considerations it is quite clear that the global average temperature can’t randomly walk away in any one direction without being somehow “forced” to. But I do have this desire to understand where someone else is coming from, to search for a nucleus of truth amidst the rhetoric, and to see if common ground can be reached between reasonable people who disagree.

I did a recap of this discussion in various posts thereafter (though never a proper round-up regretfully): Here, here, and my favorite: a sarcastic analogy on April fools day, followed by part 2 (not half as funny).

My site stats clearly show this post is an outlier: 45,000 views, whereas all the others are below 3000. After the big spike was over, the number of pageviews stabilized on a level a few times higher than before (~3000/week after vs ~700/week before). I think a lot of this increased traffic is due to more lively discussions taking place in the comment threads. The number of pageviews in 2010 were almost 10 times that in 2009, and in 2008 it averaged less than 100/week.

Since my recent posts are published in whole on the front page, the number of pageviews of separate posts sais more about the popularity of the discussion ensuing in the comment thread than of the head post itself (most of my pageviews are to the frontpage). That said, after the global avg temp thread the top-3 most popular discussions were:

The risk of postponing corrective action to a gradually deteriorating situation (2713)

The NIPCC report: don’t be fooled (2712)

Scott Denning to ICCC Heartland ‘conference’ gathering: “Be skeptical… be very skeptical!”  (2378)

The NIPCC post (from 2009) is popular because it’s one of the only rebuttals of their 2009 “climate change reconsidered” document, and as such is easy to find by google. The others were mainly popular because of the ensuing debate I think, though I like the post featuring Scott Denning’s excellent Heartland presentation a lot.

I don’t think these were necessarily my best posts; I’ll try to make a list of those some time later this week. Suggestions welcome, as I’m curious to hear what my readers liked or disliked.

It is clear though, even from my own blog, that antagonism sells. Posts where I’m sharply critical of something or someone tend to be more popular than thoughtful essays. Others have similar experiences I believe. Which goes to show that for many, blogs are mostly about entertainment and polarization. The challenge is to get some thoughtful reflection, discussion and critical thinking in there too.

A happy, thoughtful and fun new year everyone!

Technology and solutions

November 9, 2010

To avoid other threads from being overriden by discussions on technology issues, here’s a semi-open thread for those topics.

A few references:

Mark Jacobson’s review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security, comparing electric, hydrogen (both from a variety of primary energy sources) and biofuel powered transport.

SkepticalScience moving into solutions. John Cook captures my own sentiment very well: “My views on various solution strategies are not as well formed as my views on the attribution of climate change.” Lots of learning to do. Their first post leans heavily on the idea of stabilization wedges by Pacala and Socolow.

There are tons of documents outlining strategies to achieve a low carbon economy. E.g. Roadmap 2050 from the European Climate Foundation, I discussed the Shell energy scenario’s previously, IPCC wgIII, . I’ll update this list when I have more time on my hands.

Joe Romm has a lot of useful things to say about sustainable technologies (as even noted Joe Romm critic Tom Fuller admits). To avoid getting stuck in the details or in overly adversarial posts, perhaps best to go to an overview post such as this or that first.

Previous posts of mine somewhat related to technology and/or solutions. Some other threads also evolved into interesting technology discussions, but I can’t locate them at the moment (which shows the use of keeping discussions on topic).

Topics on my to-write-about list regarding technologies are geoengineering (based on e.g. chapter 6 from my hand in this report, which starts with an overview of mitigation options before exploring some in more detail), the indirect land use effect of biomass (e.g. chapter 3.3. of the same report) and perhaps transport.


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