Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Media on Climate Change

The magisterial NY Times finally acknowledges some of the debate in the UK. They pull their punches, and it's fair to say (h/t Atrios) that with the limited number of issues in the IPCC Report they refer to, and the lack of reputable scientists they could quote who insist that substantial parts of the IPCC Report are not acceptable, it is difficult from the NY Times alone to see what the fuss is about.

The AP does better. "Four mistakes have been discovered in the second [of four] report, which attempts to explain how global warming might affect daily life around the world."

"A lot of stuff in there was just not very good," said Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and a lead author of the first report. "A chronic problem is that on the whole area of impacts, getting into the realm of social science, it is a softer science."

The second report at times relied on government reports or advocacy group reports instead of peer-reviewed research.

The problems found include:

* In the Asian chapter, five errors in a single entry on glaciers in the Himalayas say those glaciers would disappear by 2035 -- hundreds of years earlier than other information suggests -- with no research backing it up. An advocacy group was used as a source.

* A section about agriculture in northern Africa says global warming and normal climate variability could reduce crop yields. But it gets oversimplified in later summaries so that lower projected crop yields are blamed solely on climate change.

* The report says there are more weather disasters than before because of climate change and that they are costing more. But debate continues over whether increased disaster costs are because of global warming or other societal factors, such as increased development in hurricane-prone areas.

In Thursday's issue of the journal Nature, four climate change panel authors call for reform, including longtime skeptic John R. Christy of the University of Alabama, Huntsville, who suggests the outright dumping of the panel in favor of an effort modeled after Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia.


They don't quite get around to describing four problems. They could have added: speculation as to whether there will be fewer people with potable water, or more people, overall, skews in the opposite way to the published source that is cited; the second-last version, which reviewers worked on, cited possible problems with drought and crop production, including tea; the last version included changes that the famous peer reviewers had no say in, making everything seem worse and more certain. And we are surely still at the beginning of such discoveries. The second out of four reports (25% of the IPCC bible) may be more or less complete nonsense.

Still, a good start.

The Toronto papers, having not really covered any of the recent climate debates in their news pages, go straight to opinion pieces. Margaret Wente has indicated that the edifice of faith in global warming is crumbling. Today Gerald Butts of the now-infamous WWF gets to remind us that the only reason the alarmist scientists are spreading alarm is that they are alarmed themselves, and "even scientists who have criticized the IPCC agree that anthropogenic climate change is both a fact and an urgent threat to the planet." Well, I would guess that there are fewer such scientists every day.

Bizarrely, the Star goes from no coverage at all to Carol Goar saying that even if all the alarm turns out to be misguided, and everything the skeptics say is true, limiting CO2 emissions is still the right thing to do. Even if the analysis is totally wrong, the recommendation remains the same? I doubt it. It's possible that there is no real shortage of oil and gas, and no real downside to burning them (at least in comparison to the alternatives, including burning coal). Shifting the world from burning coal to burning oil and gas, including oil and gas from Alberta, would be a huge improvement.

Back to good old WUWT. Jerome Ravetz investigates how we got to where we are--how actual scientists got us here.

We can begin to see what went seriously wrong when we examine what the leading practitioners of this ‘evangelical science’ of global warming (thanks to Angela Wilkinson) took to be the plain and urgent truth in their case. This was not merely that there are signs of exceptional disturbance in the ecosphere due to human influence, nor even that the climate might well be changing more rapidly now than for a very long time. Rather, they propounded, as a proven fact, Anthropogenic Carbon-based Global Warming. There is little room for uncertainty in this thesis; it effectively needs hockey-stick behaviour in all indicators of global temperature, so that it is all due to industrialisation. Its iconic image is the steadily rising graph of CO2 concentrations over the past fifty years at the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii (with the implicit assumption that CO2 had always previously been at or below that starting level). Since CO2 has long been known to be a greenhouse gas, with scientific theories quantifying its effects, the scientific case for this dangerous trend could seem to be overwhelmingly simple, direct, and conclusive.


So far, so good. Over-simplification combined with moral zeal. But why did it become so doctrinaire, even fanatical?

In retrospect, we can ask why this particular, really rather extreme view of the prospect, became the official one. It seems that several causes conspired. First, the early opposition to any claim of climate change was only partly scientific; the tactics of the opposing special interests were such as to induce the proponents to adopt a simple, forcefully argued position.


Ah, so it's partly the fault of the mean old skeptics, hurting the feelings of the noble scientists. Ravetz is also slow to suggest that the key scientists began to make tons of dough off this theory from the beginning--thanks to Thatcher among others--and this gave them a huge incentive to continue the game.

But he seems pretty sure that they have gone seriously wrong.

In the course of the development of climate-change science, all sorts of loose ends were left unresolved and sometimes unattended. Even the most fundamental quantitative parameter of all, the forcing factor relating the increase in mean temperature to a doubling of CO2, lies somewhere between 1 and 3 degrees, and is thus uncertain to within a factor of 3. The precision (at about 2%) in the statements of the ‘safe limits’ of CO2 concentration, depending on calculations with this factor, is not easily justified. Also, the predictive power of the global temperature models has been shown to depend more on the ’story line’ than anything else, the end-of century increase in temperature ranging variously from a modest one degree to a catastrophic six. And the ‘hockey stick’ picture of the past, so crucial for the strict version of the climate change story, has run into increasingly severe problems. As an example, it relied totally on a small set of deeply uncertain tree-ring data for the Medieval period, to refute the historical evidence of a warming then; but it needed to discard that sort of data for recent decades, as they showed a sudden cooling from the 1960’s onwards! In the publication, the recent data from other sources were skilfully blended in so that the change was not obvious; that was the notorious ‘Nature trick’ of the CRU e-mails.

Even worse, for the warming case to have political effect, a mere global average rise in temperature was not compelling enough. So that people could appreciate the dangers, there needed to be predictions of future climate – or even weather – in the various regions of the world. Given the gross uncertainties in even the aggregated models, regional forecasts are really beyond the limits of science. And yet they have been provided, with various degrees of precision. Those announced by the IPCC have become the most explosive.


Back to the Second Part of the IPCC Report again--the worst of the four. But Ravetz makes it clear that all the fundamental beliefs are questionable: 20th century unusually warm? How sure can anyone be of that? Warming trend in the 20th century to match, co-relate with, increase in man-made CO2? Probably not. Any bad trend at all that clearly co-relates with man-made CO2? Probably not. Even if forcing is occurring at the most likely values, is it any kind of crisis? Probably not. If the Medieval Warming Period was just as warm as the 20th century, this would be a non-man-made warming, which no contemporary described as bad thing. And so on.

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