Friday, December 4, 2009


Can You Stand It? More Climategate

Joe Romm hosts a conference call featuring Michael Mann (of hockey stick fame), Gavin Schmidt (RealClimate), and Princeton's Michael Oppenheimer. I am not allowing myself to listen to the audio, since I have backed-up work from my last-minute trip to DC to appear on a panel discussing renewables. (I will post the YouTube of that when it's available. Joe Romm would not approve one bit.)

Anyway the transcript is not yet available (though the full audio is, at the link) so Romm just posted some of the highlights. Who knows if they started out with apologies, but from the quotes these guys are as confident as Dick Cheney discussing no WMD in Iraq.

Yet besides the "no regrets" attitude, what most interested me was this quote Romm highlighted from Oppenheimer:
“From my point of view, the most important issue is whether anything has been added to or subtracted from the scientific picture of global warming. The answer is simple. Nothing has changed. It remains true that the temperature has warmed over 1.2 degrees last centeury [sic]. It remains true, that the sea level has risen by about 2 inches over the last centuer [sic], and that’s enough to erode 60 feet around average beech [sic?]. It remains true that glaciers are warming. And it remains true that the ocean is more acidic than it used to be because of the build up of carbon dioxide.”
This is simply fascinating; it perfectly illustrates the mentality I was criticizing in my recent MasterResource post.

Suppose for the sake of argument that every last word of Richard Lindzen's recent WSJ op ed were perfectly true. Even in that scenario, every word in Oppenheimer's quote above could be equally true.

In other words, the "scientific picture of global warming" that Oppenheimer describes is perfectly consistent with the non-alarmist, governments-don't-need-to-do-anything-yet-with-CO2 view of Lindzen. And yet Romm--and possibly Oppenheimer himself--is clearly quoting this to show that the case for aggressive government action is just as "solid" as it was two months ago.

Oppenheimer's summary of what we know--and Romm's endorsement of it--is classic bait-and-switch. They are making it sound as if the only way you can question the urgent need for strong agreement at Copenhagen, is if you doubt that the globe has warmed or that CO2 has increased.


One thing you should know about "climate science" is that most of its practitioners are not formally trained "climate scientists". There is really no such degree program. Most of the publishing "scientists" in this field have degrees in mathematics, meteorology, geology, or physics, and to a lesser extent in chemistry or biology (even economics), and are largely self-taught "climate scientists" working in certain very specialized areas. This is what makes this issue such a free for all in the literature, and even more challenging to synthesize into summary reports, and sort out who really knows what the heck they are doing.

I'll give you a first-hand for instance. I recently had lengthy discussion with Gavin Schmidt on the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). This is a very warm period around 55 ma where a bunch of biogenic methane was liberated into the ocean possibly from methane hydrates, and this event was coincident with a rapid warming (5-9 C) and an increase of the carbonate compensation depths in the ocean and a big benthic extinction. Gavin has published at least one peer-reviewed paper on the subject, where he models various emmissions scenarios which might explain the very sharp warming. What struck me as odd however, is discovering how little he actually had researched the very substantial background literature on the early Paleogene, and his astonishing lack of knowledge of the latest research on sequence stratigraphy and the early evolution of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS) and its effect on sea level. Although he intimated that a very large land extinction took place with this warming, he apparently did not realize that nothing much on land actually did go extinct, despite the large rapid warming. What this meant is that his research was very shallow with many holes in his basic grasp of his subject matter. Even so, he was quick to point out to his Real Climate readers what an "intriguing" analog this is to the modern climate system, hinting that such a 5-9 C warming (like 55 million years ago) might await us in the present scenario of CO2 emissions. This kind of stuff is just hogwash and trash science. Many readers might fail to realize that Gavin's dissertation was in mathematics, and he has absolutely no formal training in geology or oceanography, yet he felt qualified to wax eloquent on what the PETM might portend for the present.

Unfortunately, this same type of thing is present all over the field of "climate science". I have a geologist friend (PhD in geology) who spends most of his time in caves putting together terrestrial paleoclimate proxies, and waxes eloquent on ocean overturning circulation and the development of ENSO. He largely invents this stuff as he goes along. I say all this to remind everyone how immature many of these areas of the science actually are, despite the fact that they are being sold so hard to the public. Caveat emptor!
I submit that the primary engine for the GW alarmist mentality is their undying devotion to the "progressive" economic vision, the Mary Poppins Theory of Government.

This theory is the complete antithesis of the Libertarian-Austrian view of allowing free exchange of goods, services and property. The Mary Poppins adherent believes that only he has the wisdom necessary to direct mankind and that government has the magical powers of a super-nanny with which to easily and efficiently accomplish this herding of mankind.

GW legislation is the Nirvana of the Mary Poppins adherent because no individual would ever be allowed to do anything without government permission (basically, the permission of the Mary Poppins adherent) and then only after a long study of the potential "carbon footprint" caused by the activity. We might all be living in caves, but we wouldn't be allowed to light fires without permission.

Anything that might interfere with this vision must be smashed. I’ve assumed that this was the motivation behind GW for 20 years. I think my view of things has been vindicated by Climate-gate.
Bob Roddis,

You are probably correct that certain alarmist views of climate change are being put forth (even by some scientists) to affect a political agenda (I agree with your opinion). We need to be careful however that we understand that the basic physics behind the relationship between CO2 and global warming are sound. The most fundamental physics governing the radiation balance of the Earth is based on the Stefan-Boltzmann Law and Wiens Law.

We also need to understand that Human activity has dramatically increased greenhouse gas levels beyond anything the Earth has experienced in the last 1 million years. All scientists agree that in isolation, simply the doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere from pre-industrial levels will warm the climate about 1 C . This is where things start to get tricky. Nothing stays constant in the climate system. Some processes enhance the greenhouse warming, and others counteract it. These are called feedbacks. Additionally, Humans alter the climate system in many other important ways besides our addition of CO2. We also put up aerosols and change the way we use the land surface. When we burn coal and hydrocarbons, the combustion of these introduces sulfates into the atmosphere which cool it, but also black carbon which may be deposited on the ice sheets and promote melting. All these human perturbations are stirred into the system and teleconnect with the natural physical processes driving the oceanic and atmospheric circulations in a very dynamical, non-linear fashion. It is clear then that it is not a scientifically robust view to hold that humans don't significantly alter the climate system. We certainly do, but the prediction of how all this will change the general circulation of the atmosphere and oceans, effecting the statistics of the weather where you live, is a daunting challenge. So far, even the best numerical models have demonstrated no predictive skill in this type of forecast, despite claims to the contrary.

I think free market advocates and economists need to be careful however,in realizing that climate is indeed changed in important ways by human activity, but in ways that extend beyond simply the effect from added CO2.
The free market view risks being left out of the discussion when some strident members claim that human-caused climate change is a hoax. The real answer is much more complicated and its challenges must be met with much more sophisticated thinking. I applaud Bob Murphy for taking this approach as he attempts to apply sound economic science to the challenges of the physical science.
I agree with the approach of Prof. Murphy. As Prof. Murphy has shown elsewhere, the costs of reducing C02 emissions are catastrophic. Further, we almost never find the alarmists willing to admit the costs of their proposals.

Thus, one would think that if the temperature-rising properties of C02 are, in fact, much lower than advertised, this would be cause for universal rejoicing. Instead, we find the major TV networks failing to even mention Climate-gate.

I submit that this response is inevitable because adherents of the Mary Poppins Theory of Government cannot/will not let go of their vision, facts or no facts.

For what it's worth, I think that this same mentality informs the vision of those who are literally desperate for "health care reform" and those who refuse to abandon the Keynesian vision of government economic management. Without facts or logic on their side, they have no alternative but to spit venom.

Or maybe I'm just a bitter old man upset that we aren't really going to have Caribbean style year-round temperatures on beautiful Lake St. Clair near Detroit.

I agree with Oppenheimer that none of the science has changed, and that the world continues to change/dethaw simply as a result of temps being ratcheted up 1.5F.

"the "scientific picture of global warming" that Oppenheimer describes is perfectly consistent with the non-alarmist, governments-don't-need-to-do-anything-yet-with-CO2 view of Lindzen."

I disagree; there are real gaps between Lindzen and others. Many lines of evidence, including paleo evidence, point to long-term sensitivity of >3 C; further Lindzen ignores ocean acidification.

I agree that climate change concerns alone do not justify particular policies - so much of this genie simply cannot be put back in the bottle - but your continued unwillingness to ever explore common ground is extremely puzzling:

I mean, don`t libertarians want to undo any of the nonsense in the status quo?
K Sralla:

Your points on climate science and policy are very well stated; mind if I quote you?
"I disagree; there are real gaps between Lindzen and others. Many lines of evidence, including paleo evidence, point to long-term sensitivity of >3 C; further Lindzen ignores ocean acidification."

Tokyo, as a geologist who has spent his professional life researching our planet in deep time, please let me (as one small voice) caution all political sides that the climate sensitivity (atmospheric temperature+ sea level sensitivity) is not nearly so well constrained (from paleoclimatology or geology) as is commonly portrayed by some activist scientists (RealClimate folks). If you would like to review many, many peer-reviewed technical papers that demonstrate my assertion across geological time scales, I can send you a long reference list. The Earth system *in a practical sense* may not even be characterized by a single sensitivity number per doubling of CO2. Let me explain. If you could actually perform an experiment (on the real climate system) where you doubled CO2 many times, and simultaneously perturbed many of the other natural and human forcings just a little differently in each run, the climate sensitivity will be surprisingly different each time you run the experiment. This is the expected response of a non-linear system. My guess (just a hunch) is that the actual P90 range of possibilities (for a 2X CO2 scenario) is quite a bit larger on the low side (compared to last IPCC range), and somewhat higher on the high side (just my guess), which tells us we don't really have much of a handle on this at all. That there is a very large cone of uncertainty on climate sensitivity is not nearly as controversial as you might think among earth scientists. The standard 3 C is the ensemble mean of many different model realizations, with each model having a large spread in individual realizations depending on how aerosols are perturbed, and how clouds change. Most of these numerical climate models are constructed similarly and the modelers use many of the same assumptions and scenarios however. Still, there are large model to model differences in sensitivities for given greenhouse forcing though, owing to many factors, clouds being one major issue.

The fact is however, that most climate model experiments do not even include all of the first-order forcings in the system that have been identified in the peer-reviewed literature. When most emissions scenarios are run on a coupled climate model (AOGCM), the modeler usually concentrates on tweeking aerosols (an imput parameter with considerable historical uncertainty) to get a history match of past observations, then he forwards the model into the future. In the real climate system (land, ocean, atmosphere, cryosphere), such human forcings are stirred into a system that is still responding to forcing changes from hundreds or even thousands of years ago (the oceans have a very long memory time of past conditions). Even if we had all the human forcings well constrained (we don't) and a perfect model (we don’t have this either by a longshot), it might still be somewhat difficult to accurately predict the evolution of the system because of the lack of ability to initialize the model with the precise state of the ocean circulation.

What we know with a high level of confidence is that humans are perturbing the climate system in important ways, and many things we are doing like adding greenhouses gases are generally forcing it toward a warmer state on average. Beyond that, there is large uncertainty. This is the true state of the science. You are correct however that biogeochemical changes such as ocean acidification are probably the most certain response to the added CO2.
K Sralla, while I certainly don`t have your depth of knowledge or expression, what you say basically accords with my own more primitive understanding.

"Even if we had all the human forcings well constrained (we don't) and a perfect model (we don’t have this either by a longshot), it might still be somewhat difficult to accurately predict the evolution of the system because of the lack of ability to initialize the model with the precise state of the ocean circulation."

I think here and elsewhere you essentially making the point that the fact that we cannot with any confidence or precision predict the results of our ongoing forcings - which results will play out decades/centuries or longer down the road from now - should not give us any comfort.

We are essentially driving blind as we push the system in various ways, though we have reason to expect warming, changes in rainfall as a result on higher evaporation and other ecosystem changes. Is the "conservative" thing to do to wait a few decades before acting, while we continue to press the accelerator?
I would like to comment on K Sralla's Dec. 5 statement that he appreciates Bob Murphy's attempt at applying "sound economic science to the challenges of physical science."

Murphy may have done that at some point as I don't regularly read this site but he certainly did not do that in his most recent MasterResource blog post. IN that post he concluded: "Those of us who are not experts on climate models now have proof that the official line that “the science is settled” was a bluff. Of course it’s still possible that the IPCC projections may turn out to be accurate when all is said and done, but the confidence we should right now place in their modeling is much lower than what their biggest enthusiasts have been assuring us for years." This was based on a email from one scientist who complained that they could not explain the lack of warming.

This has nothing to do with sound economics. Even Murphy's one line about taking into account the cost of public policy to deal with global warming is of no economic consequence. Value is subjective and the cost of action (no matter how much) will always be less than the cost of inaction as far as the global warming scientists are concerned.

The economic analysis must begin by following the money. Scientists have learned that trying to prove that current global warming is unusual and caused by human activity gets them bigger government grants and improves their own economic well-being. Thus they aren't pursuing a quest for truth, they, like all humans are pursuing a bigger paycheck. And because the source of this paycheck is forced taxation as oppossed to voluntary transaction, their research is biased toward continuing the flow from forced taxation. This is not the basis for sound scientific judgement and suggests that climate science so funded is corrupt and of no use.

Mr. Murphy should stay focused on sound economics which I think will tell us that government-funded science is generally corrupt and of little practical use.
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