Posts Tagged ‘Heartland Institute’

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?”



Arctic sea ice was higher in 1989 cherrypicking by Harrison Schmitt and Heartland Institute

February 8, 2011

How could someone possibly claim that

Arctic sea ice has returned to 1989 levels of coverage

Easy. The proof is in the data, of course:

See: The red line is clearly higher than the blue one in april. 

Is this a joke? I wish. This was said by ex-astronaut and New Mexico’s energy secretary Harrison Schmitt. The Heartland Institute had carefully picked april of 1989 and 2009 as the basis for comparison.

As regular readers here know, I’m very open to different opinions and to reconciliation efforts. But this has of course nothing to do with true skepticism. Look at those two lines! This is definitely not the kind of “skepticism” that we should be taking more seriously. I hope everybody (including Judith Curry) can at least agree to that. I’m all for bridge building, but let’s at least make sure that reality remains somewhat in view while standing on the bridge.

See also Scott Mandia, Chris Mooney, Charlie Petit, Lou Grinzo, Richard LittlemoreTim Lambert (suitable title: “Now THAT’s cherrypicking”), Peter Sinclair and Peter Gleick at the HuffPo.

Graph via Tim Lambert and Peter Gleick. Pictur here.

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

May 21, 2010

An excellent presentation was given by atmospheric scientist Scott Denning at the Heartland Institute gathering (ICCC 2010), amidst much ‘skeptical’ talk, which is the expected staple over there (h/t Michael Tobis). Both to Denning’s and Heartland’s credit, he was invited to speak there and his talk was apparently well received. How the audience will resolve their inevitable cognitive dissonance remains to be seen.

He makes a number of important points, which are especially apt for a ‘skeptical’ audience:

– The expectation of global warming to result from greenhouse gases is based on common sense and basic physics:

[It is] based on the idea that when we add energy to the surface, it will warm up

Be skeptical of the claim that this extra energy will somehow magically be negated.

Climate sensitivity is around 3 degree for a doubling of CO2 concentrations. This is based on e.g. observations from the Last Glacial Maximum, when the climate forcing was 4.1 W/m2 from greenhouse gases and 3.4 W/m2 from the difference in surface albedo (snow and ice are brighter, and thus more reflective, than water and land surfaces), and the temperature difference with the interglacial that followed was about 6 degrees C.

“No climate models required … just based on observations

(modern calculations agree … coincidence?)”

About a quarter of today’s emissions will stay in the air [semi-] permanently! So when we reduce or stop the burning of fossil fuel, things will not go back to normal for a very long time.

– Historically, 3 degrees C warming is a big deal (e.g. for sea level rise).

– And on how (not) to frame the mitigation challenge:

Then making the obvious point that society didn’t go broke building that very system. To the contrary…

The worst media myth of all: Without the subsidy of cheap fossil energy, civilization will crumble!

Be skeptical… be very skeptical!

He’s not afraid of sarcasm:

You’d think those un-American naysayers had never heard of capitalism …

of the magic of markets …

of the creative genius of a free people!

… or to call a spade a spade:

Alarmist politicians and pundits say:

“(…) If we stop burning coal we’ll freeze in the dark!”


He very effectively changed the frame of the debate:

– The science is about common sense and basic physics

– Who is being ‘alarmist’?

– Being so ‘alarmist’ about the consequences of mitigation efforts is antithetical to having faith in the ‘magic of markets’, entrepeneurship and the power of innovation.

Come to think of it, it is quite surprising that his talk was well received, as there were quite a few digs towards the common way of thinking of undoubtedly many members of the audience. I guess it was delivered with style, respect and humor, and towards the end, he provides his audience with both a mirror and a carrot. There are communications lessons to be learned here. Also, Heartland was clearly happy to have a mainstream scientist present at their party. After all, they crave being taken seriously. The real question however is, did it sink in?

A point of critique could be that he glossed over the mitigation challenge a bit easily, apparently trusting that “the magic of markets” will take care of new energy technologies being invented and implemented. Such a frame may encourage a ‘wait and see’ approach, which I deem risky. I guess a bit of skepticism is at its place whether it will happen so effortless. A lot may depend on how long we keep postponing meaningful emission reductions.

Those who most strongly oppose government intervention would be wise to call for strong early action to avoid really stringent measures becoming necessary later on.

The NIPCC report: don’t be fooled

June 13, 2009

(Nederlandse samenvatting hier)              (For a sneak preview, see the bottom line below)

The new ammunition put forward by “skeptics” seems to be the Heartland InstitutesNIPCC report 2009 (“Climate change reconsidered”). It is made to resemble, at least in format and in name, the IPCC report. According to Dutch “skeptic” (and contributor to the report) Hans Labohm it completely shatters the AGW (anthropogenic global warming) theory (e.g. here, in Dutch). That’s a very bold assertion, which should be backed up by very strong evidence for it to be taken seriously. Let’s take a look at the executive summary…

Second opinion
The preface starts as follows: “Before facing major surgery, wouldn’t you want a second opinion?”
Now that’s funny. I recently described the IPCC process using the same analogy: If you get a second opinion on your health condition, and it confirms what your specialist said in the first place, your trust in the diagnosis probably increases. Now imagine that you collect the interpretations of medical professionals all over the world, and by and large they their conclusions converge to the same broad picture. This happens to be how the IPCC comes to its conclusions.
Their opening statement is actually a strong argument for going with the consensus position on a complex topic. Yet they use it to argue in the opposite direction; very peculiar.

It continues: “When a nation faces an important decision that risks its economic future, or perhaps the fate of the ecology, it should do the same.” (i.e. getting a second opinion)
Huh? Risking our economic future? If they’re talking about the costs of emission reduction, they are seriously exaggerating. Who is being alarmist here? There will be winners and losers, yes, but that’s something entirely different. Everybody has a choice to join the winners or the losers. Different from the horse races, it’s easy this time to predict who (in the long run) will be the winners and who will be the losers. Take your pick.

The usual stuff
The previous NIPCC report has already been commented on by RealClimate, and it doesn’t seem like there’s much news under the sun this time. The same old and tired arguments feature in the current report. The RealClimate article has many links that debunk the various talking points, and I’m not going to repeat all of them here. A presentation from the lead author, Fred Singer, has been briefly discussed at RealClimate as well. It’s a good example of yet another groundhog day. For those who have followed the staged ‘climate debate’, the list of authors is revealing: Many of the usual suspects, with a history so to speak.

There are the usual, to be expected arguments, like that it’s all the sun’s fault. And logical fallacies, like ‘the climate changed before without human activity being involved, so therefore it must be natural now as well’. Try that line of argument in a court of law against a pyromaniac, by saying that forest fires have always happened naturally. It won’t fly, and it reveals that this report is not about science. The good thing is, with such erroneous lines of reasoning, no specialized knowledge is needed to see that.

Degrees of uncertainty
What I didn’t expect, however, was to see otherwise interesting research be put in a context as if it somehow “falsifies the AGW theory”. In many cases, it hardly has any relevance to the attribution of current climate change, or to future projections.

Ironically, their main argument against climate modeling is its associated uncertainty (mistaking it for knowing nothing, and ignoring that uncertainty goes both ways). That doesn’t stop them from putting forward hypothetical feedbacks that have no evidence whatsoever of operating on a globally significant scale. By the way, climate modeling is mocked in the report as merely being “the opinions of scientists transformed by mathematics and obscured by complex writing”. Doesn’t sound like they know what a climate model really is.

The report goes on to describe many hypothetical feedbacks in the climate system. Of course, they are all negative: They counteract the initial warming, independent of the cause for the warming. Their combined effect, is the hope, should be evidence that the climate sensitivity is an order of magnitude (!) smaller than the commonly accepted range (between 1.5 and 4.5 degrees C for a doubling of CO2). Not just 50%, no, a factor of 10, I kid you not. My alarm bells go off. Let’s see what the implications of such low climate sensitivity would be. Any climate forcing (whether natural or human induced) would be so strongly damped as to hardly have any effect on global temperatures. But then how come the globe is warming, and has warmed and cooled in the past? A logical consequence of their theory (negligible climate sensitivity) is that it’s hardly possible for the earth’s climate to change. Indeed, there is no physics-based climate model that can satisfactorily model both the current and past climates with such low climate sensitivity.

Many of the proposed feedbacks involve the cooling effects of aerosols. They suggest that these cooling effects are larger than reported by the IPCC. That is contradicted by climate models providing a very decent match to the observed cooling following a major volcanic eruption (emitting sulfate aerosol in the stratosphere). Moreover, some have argued that a strong aerosol radiative forcing means that the climate sensitivity has to be large in order to still be able to explain the temperature trend of the last 100 years, so they seem to be shooting in their own foot.

They come up with all kinds of hypothetical feedback mechanisms involving more natural aerosol emissions in response to global warming: Dimethylsulfide from marine phytoplankton (although a very intriguing possibility, this has never been confirmed to be a significant feedback mechanism, and there is ample evidence to the contrary, which is omitted from the report), biological aerosols (idem), carbonyl sulfide (idem), nitrous oxide (idem), and iodocompounds (idem), about which they write the following:
“Iodocompounds—created by marine algae— function as cloud condensation nuclei, which help create new clouds that reflect more incoming solar radiation back to space and thereby cool the planet.”
Nou breekt mijn klomp (“Now my clogg breaks”), as I would say in Dutch. This route to atmospheric particle formation may be important at coastal sites with exposed seaweed, but its global importance is questionable to say the very least; at present it could best be considered an interesting thought experiment. Moreover, freshly nucleated particles have to grow by about a factor of 100,000 in mass before they start affecting climate, and a lot can happen to them before they reach the necessary size.

All very interesting research topics, but to claim that they are somehow evidence for negligible climate sensitivity is an extreme example of over-interpretation. In these active areas of research, where no firm conclusions have been reached yet on global significance, they selectively cite only those articles that they can somehow spin to support their desired conclusion. I feel that I’ve read enough of this report to know what it’s worth.

Bottom line
This report exhumes a very strong and unfounded faith in negative feedbacks from nature, which are hypothetical with sometimes sketchy, often contradictory, and sometimes no evidence of actually operating at a globally significant scale. This highlights an inconsistent view of uncertainty, and an unwillingness to weigh the evidence: “If it causes cooling, the uncertainty (or lack of evidence) doesn’t matter; if it causes warming, it’s too uncertain (and no evidence strong enough) to matter”.

How would you know?
Let’s apply some of my own recommendations for non-specialists on judging sources:
– The report clearly misses the forest for the trees.
– It gives a hidden argument for going with the consensus (“second opinion”), but somehow twists that around.
– It’s characterization of the IPCC process has the smell of a conspiracy to it and is full of strawmen arguments.
– To their credit (and my surprise), I couldn’t find any obvious confusion of timescales, such as confusing weather and climate.
– It contains some embarrassing mistakes in basic logic.
– The two way cause-effect relationship between temperature and CO2 is not properly recognized.
– Their strong claim of shaking the foundations of climate science is extremely unlikely; They don’t provide compelling evidence for such an extraordinary claim; They vastly overestimate the likelihood of cooling effects (feedbacks), and underestimate, deny or ignore warming effects.
– They grossly exaggerate the economic risks of emission reduction, and downplay the risk of unmitigated climate change.
– Some of the authors have historical credentials in a relevant discipline, more than a few have not. The list of signatories at the end is very thin on relevant expertise.
– The Heartland Institute is a conservative think-tank and not a reliable source of scientific information.

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