Another trail of twaddle

Sea ice again.

I was reading Gareth who had been reading Monbiot. And so I did too. After I’d waded through the goo and the dribble about Bush, the first item of substance was A new summary of the science published since last year’s Intergovernmental Panel report suggests that – almost a century ahead of schedule – the critical climate processes might have begun. Just a year ago the Intergovernmental Panel warned that the Arctic’s “late-summer sea ice is projected to disappear almost completely towards the end of the 21st century … in some models.” But, as the new report by the Public Interest Research Centre (Pirc) shows, climate scientists are now predicting the end of late-summer sea ice within three to seven years. The trajectory of current melting plummets through the graphs like a meteorite falling to earth.

This being journalism, Monbiot is obliged not to cite his source (I’ve said that before, haven’t I? Ah well), but the answer appears to be here. But its not a report; its not a summary of the science since IPCC, its a blog posting. And it is not true that The trajectory of current melting plummets through the graphs like a meteorite falling to earth – as we all know, there was marginally more ice this year than last – and if Monbiot, PIRC, or anyone from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, or indeed anyone else is stupid enough to believe that all the late-summer ice will be gone by 2013 (or within “within three to seven years”), I’ve got money that says otherwise: wanna bet?

Forgive me for being outraged by the Monbiot writing or the Grauniad printing junk; we don’t actually get it as a daily paper any more (I read very little of it, and only ever did the kakuro) but my wife gets it on saturday largely for the review section. Oh, and Daniel likes the comic.

So, Monbiot has misrepresented PIRC. Following the chain of twaddle, we find that PIRC has misrepresented its sources, too. The assertion that Scientists are now predicting an ice-free Arctic by the summer of 2013, a full 80 years ahead of IPCC predictions is sourced to that well-known scientific journal, IHT: Retreating Ice: A blue Arctic Ocean in summers by 2013?. To be fair, the IHT piece isn’t particularly bad, just badly abused by the PIRC. It contains some stuff shown to be wrong by subsequent events – Experts say that next summer is quite likely to see an even bigger ice retreat because this winter’s freeze is starting from such a huge ice deficit. – well it didn’t. The IHT didn’t know that at the time, of course, but Monbiot should know it by now. And whoever was the unnamed source of At least one researcher, of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, projects a blue Arctic Ocean in summers by 2013 is presumably now keeping their head down. The article even quotes some of the folks at the time who were quite well aware of what might happen: Natural variations could turn around and counteract the greenhouse-gas-forced change, perhaps stabilizing the ice for a bit.

[Update: Thanks to Baz, who points out that my jibes against Monbiot are unjust. If you read his original column, rather than the grauniad reprint, you do get something closer to a source: “Public Interest Research Centre, 25th November 2008. Climate Safety.”. Its still a bit vague, but a lot better. Following that, I get to, then to, then to, which I presume is the URL Monbiot meant to cite.

The language is slightly saner (Given the unprecedented changes seen in recent years, many Arctic scientists are now predicting an ice-free summer Arctic by somewhere between 2011 and 2015.15,16,17) but then veers off into stupidity again (Wieslaw Maslowski of the Naval Postgraduate College in California predicts an Arctic Ocean free of sea ice by the
summer of 2013, but notes that on the basis of data from 2007 and 2005, this prediction could already be seen as too conservative. Louis Fortier, scientific director of the Canadian research network ArcticNet, believes that the ocean could be ice-free in summertime as soon as 2010,19
while NASA climate scientist Jay Zwally suggests 2012.20
) Why is a report published in Nov 2008 not taking into account the 2008 ice extent. Could it be… inconvenient? Having had a quick browse, none of 15-20 look like reliable sources, so I suspect most of those “could”‘s have had their caveats stripped away.

So I’m obliged to retract my complains about his journalism: he has represented the PIRC report quite fairly. The PIRC report still looks like nonsense, though, and I would have hoped Monbiot would have been aware enough to know that.

Oh, and (see comments) the unnamed is Maslowski, who isn’t keeping his head down, but has retreated to vagueness Our findings imply that sea ice might be melting faster than predicted by both climate models and estimated from satellite observations. This implies that the Arctic not only might, but is likely to be ice-free during the summer in the near future.


Whats going to kill us all?

[2017: obviously incomplete, but interesting (to me) as an archive of my thinking. Unmodified from the draft below this line.]

I wasn’t very convinced by Joe Romms list. So what, global-warming-wise, is likely to kill us all?

Firstly, I can’t see direct temperature rise doing it. Even an increase by 5 oC won’t make most places uninhabitable or close to it. The 2003 heat wave, that people trot out, merely demonstrates that getting warmer than you are used to is bad. Its not hard to adapt to this; the evidence is obvious, since many countries are already more than 5 oC warmer than 2003 Europe. And it might save people dying of cold in winter.

Other direct climatic changes, most obviously changes in precipitation, could be serious. Mega-droughts, perhaps, (whatever a mega-drought might be) could have fairly serious impacts on crop production. We could survive – we all eat too much anyway – but it would be destabalising. Suppose you gave the average overweight stereotypical US denizen the choice of using half the energy or eating half the food: which might they choose? Well obviously they’d choose someone else to make the sacrifice. PD has some nice comments about water use.

Sea level.


When will they learn?

Is it a Pearl Harbor if it has to happen twice? says Nature, discussing a list of stuff that Joe Romm thinks might lead to the second-world-war scale of effort against climate change.

#1 is Arctic goes ice free before 2020. I have bets out on this. It would be a big, visible global shock. One of his bettee’s is me, so it will come as no surprise to you all that I think this is unlikely. Would I get wildly excited if it did become ice free? The odds on the bet are 1-1, so neither side is sticking its neck out and saying this definitely will/won’t happen.

#2 is Rapid warming over next decade, as recent Nature and Science article suggests is quite possible – well, it will rather depend on what you mean by “rapid” I suppose. 0.4 oC/decade might wake people up. A bit. OTOH the models say it won’t happen.

#3 is Continued (unexpected) surge in methane – maybe. Methane will have to surge an awful lot to get back onto an exponential growth path, though – its been near-flat this past decade.

#4 is A megadrought hitting the SW comparable to what has hit southern Australia. Maybe. I don’t know much about drought. Large scale crop failures would get noticed, true.

#5 The one that wound me up: More superstorms, like Katrina. [[Hurricane Katrina]] wasn’t a superstorm. It was a cat-5 at one point, but only cat-3 at landfall. Nothing exceptional, except its track. All nature can manage on this is a weaselly Leaving aside the question of whether it was a superstorm – clearly disagreement would be too controversial. Good grief, if you can’t get this right, what hope is there?

#6: A heatwave as bad as Europe’s 2003 one. Well, it got hot for a bit, then stopped. Another one won’t be any more exciting.

#7 Something unpredicted but clearly linked to climate, like the bark beetle devastation. Something terrible but unknown… ah yes.

#8 Accelerated mass loss in Greenland and/or Antarctica, perhaps with another huge ice shelf breaking off, but in any case coupled with another measurable rise in the rate of sea level rise. Not at all sure thats right. The satellite record shows faster rate than the tide gauges, but not by a lot, and I’m not sure whether its believed to be real.

#9 The Fifth Assessment Report (2012-2013) really spelling out what we face with no punches pulled. – won’t happen.

Would any of those lead to a WWII-style all-societies-resources concentrated on GW? Probably not, and anyway what you need to combat GW is mostly society using less resources, which we don’t seem to be very good at. Make love for virginity, Make war for peace, and so on.

Polar orbiters and the testing of sci-fi

[Anathem review]

I’m reading Anathem because Paul told me to. And because I’m enjoying it. And because its good and thick and will sustain lots of time. Read Paul’s review if you’re interested in an overview; I’m not going to do that, if only because I haven’t finished it (I’m about half way through, if you care). Some of the following gives away some details of the plot that Paul is careful not to give away, so don’t read on if you’re intending to read it.
Continue reading “Polar orbiters and the testing of sci-fi”

Divorced – for having an affair in Second Life

And other miscellania. That one is from the Indy: “she had once awoken from an afternoon nap to discover him sitting at his computer watching his online character – whom he had named Dave Barmy – having sex with an on-screen call girl.” Weird or what. Somewhat more spicily (not to say utterly made up) is this from the DailyMash. Which also confirms that running is stupid and that we’re all buying the change bulshytt. But I promised to be less cynical, so I’ll point to you what Sarah pointed me to.

On another plane, Halliburton seeks patent on patent trolling amused. While we’re on amusements, there is a version of life, and less cerebrally bloons 3.

On the work front, as usual I can’t tell you anything interesting, other than it was the Fun Run today (well done us, we won). The Torygraph will tell you something, though. The shakeout may do us long-term good. On which subject, Life Without Wires by Eric Broockman is worth a read.

And lastly, seen in Heffers:

Nierenberg, concluded: Oreskes is wrong

Really, why are you reading this? Read something of substance instead.

Last time I said I ought to read Oresekes again carefully. I have.Summary: nothing has changed. She is still wrong. Note: in all the following, I abbreviate the authors of Chicken Itza as “Oreskes”. Well, she is the lead author and the only famous one, so gets to take the rap.

Oreskes central thesis is: Nierenberg was the lead author of the first major report on climate science issued by the National Academy of Sciences that challenged the emerging consensus view on global warming. It did so not by focusing on the specifics of that view, but on the interpretation of its meaning and significance for society in general. Whereas the tobacco industry deconstructed expert scientific claims by challenging the causal links, Nierenberg’s deconstruction took the form of questioning whether those causal links mattered.

This is largely wrong, or overblown, but has grown up around a possible kernel of truth: that the Nierenberg report did attempt (rather like the IPCC WG II and III) to consider more than just the scientific aspects of GW – how much the world might warm by – to include economic and environmental aspects – will we notice and do we care? I think that this is an entirely appropriate thing to do, if you are interested in a policy response.

Oreskes then goes on to try to demonstrate that previously, scientists had engaged in policy-advocacy: In an interview with Time magazine in 1956, for example, Revelle stressed that sea level rise from melting ice could one day cause “salt water to flow in the streets of New York and London.” I’m unsure what this is supposed to demonstrate. I would take it to mean that a sober re-examination of the issues raised in some rather over hyped press interviews was in order, but I suspect thats not what Oreskes means.

She pulls in the JASON report: The JASON scientists concluded that atmospheric CO2 could be expected to double by the year 2035, leading to mean global temperature increases of 2-3o C. Of particular concern was the effect of polar amplification: the JASONs forecasted a polar warming of as much as 10-12o C. The cause for concern became clear when one noted “the fragility of the world’s crop producing capacity, particularly in those marginal areas where small alterations in temperature and precipitation can bring about major changes in total productivity.” Sounds good (not sure exactly where it comes from), but JASON also says The potential changes to the world posed by altering the composition of the atmosphere appear substantial enough to justify a comprehensive research effort designed to reduce the many uncertainties discussed here (as I noted before without proposing any action). Oreskes is also wrong to put 2-3 oC at 2035: JASON is vaguer: p11 says “by the middle of the 21st century”.

Orekses tries to sum up the pre-Nierenberg world as “A consensus view had emerged: global warming would happen and its impact would not be negligible.” and “Climate scientists had been suggesting that the government had to do something about greenhouse gases,” This is simply inconsistent with the JASON report saying: The uncertainties are great enough to suggest that now is not the proper moment to undertake far-reaching actions designed to mitigate potential effects of increasing CO2.

Oreskes again: The JASON report had emphasized the serious negative consequences of global warming, at one point even using the word “disaster.” [where?] Yet it also contained this sentence: “The warming of the climate will not necessarily lead to improved living conditions everywhere.” Improved conditions? Everywhere? Who was responsible for the suggestion that global warming would be mostly good? The evidence suggests that it was Bill Nierenberg. Clearly, the suggestion the GW might improve conditions for anyone outrages Oreskes. But what about the evidence that this Nierenberg was responsible for this sentence? There follows pages and pages of stuff, but not a shred of evidence that N was responsible. Failed again.

Continuing: Thus, it is a striking feature of the CO2 assessment committee that its members included two economists. Oreskes says this as though it were a bad thing. But its hard to see how you can make a meaningful cost-benefit analysis of GW without some economists. At the first full discussion of the issues facing the committee, both Schelling and Nordhaus introduced the idea that climate change was not necessarily bad, that most likely it would have both negative and positive effects.”Nordhaus wanted to evaluate costs and benefits, suggesting that although he “suspected that the impacts of increasing carbon dioxide would be negative,” they might not be, and it would be hard to prove either way, given the complexity of social and economic systems. I know there are people who will refuse to see GW in terms of costs and benefits. To them, GW is Bad, obviously, and Must Be Stopped, regardless of cost. But its not quite clear how they are going to persuade the rest of us of their view. Certainly, they have not succeeded so far. And it was the economists’ view that the final report would place front and center. [57] If true, this would be a fair charge. I think the economists view should be taken into account, but not dominant. So, we scurry off to footnote 57, eager for the evidence. it is: On June 15, 1981 the National Research Council formally charged the new committee with the task of reviewing and updating the conclusions of the Charney report, “in light of subsequent research and independent studies of similar scope,” under the provisions provided by the Energy Security Act. Pardon? Shurely shome mishtake. Another failure.

Oreskes then spends pages and pages and pages and… you get the idea, going over the Smagorinsky report. I don’t know why, all S has to say is nothing has changed since Charney, but since he says it in the N report I can’t quite see why this is supposed to be a problem for N. Or is it worse than this? Oreskes says: Thus, to the list of major reports affirming the importance and significance of CO2 and climate… one could now add Smagorinsky. Is it possible she simply hasn’t realised that there is a Smagorinsky chapter in the N report? I can’t see any other way to make sense of her words.

The Reagan administration had come to power in 1980 on a platform of unleashing the power of private enterprise… Meanwhile, at the Energy Department the man who had run its climate programs since the 1970s, and had nurtured Dave Keeling’s CO2 measurements program, had been removed. His replacement, Fred Koomanoff, had informed Keeling that his funding would be discontinued as the Reagan administration took steps to trim the Department’s climate research programs. The problem got worse when Democrats in Congress held hearings on the climate research program. Koomanoff was a key witness, and he emphasized model uncertainty — the very point that Lindzen and Idso had been pushing. What I would take from that is that Reagan knew perfectly well what he was going to do about the CO2 problem: nothing. Having the NAS say “do something” would have been inconvenient, bu still wouldn’t have got anything done. But since the Charney report had said “do nothing” (except study) only a few years earlier, it was entirely reasonable to expect any new report to say much the same. Whether it required anyone to be leant on to say this, I really dont know. Oreskes certainly doesn’t provide any convincing evidence.

Oreskes last (I thought, but Im wrong. There is more…) argument is that the synthesis chapter is an evil monster that has overshadowed the individual good chapters (except the economics one, obviously): In fact, the conclusions of the individual chapters were very different from one another, and with the exception of the two chapters written by the economists, very different from the synthesis. The chapters written by the natural scientists were consistent with what natural scientists had already said. Yes, but with the obvious problem that the chapters by the physical scientists, as ever, dont’t provide the cost-benefit analysis that the politicians need. Or anyone needs, to decide whether to do anything. Oreskes tries to get around this by pretending they predicted apocalypse: Revelle’s chapter on sea level rise, for example, noted that “[a] collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet would release about 2 million km3 of ice before the remaining half of the ice sheet began to float. The resulting worldwide rise in sea level would be between 5 and 6 m[eters].” This is true, but deeply misleading quoted out of context like this. Revelle didn’t know how likely this was to occur, or how fast it might occur. Which is fair enough, because we still don’t know. And Revelle knew that he didn’t know. So what else? The physical scientists allowed that many details were unclear — more research was needed — but they broadly agreed that the issue was potentially very serious, with major changes in the offing. Fundamentally the conclusion was the same as before: CO2 has increased due to human activities, CO2 will continue to increase unless changes are made, and these increases can be expected to have significant adverse impacts on weather, agriculture, and ecosystems. None of the physical scientists suggested that accumulating CO2 was not a problem, or that we should simply wait, see, and adapt when and if changes occurred. Is this true, or is Oreskes making it up? She provides no quotes for us to judge, simply asking us to accept her authority, which I don’t, so I’ll have to provide my own quotes. Lets try chapter 6, “Agriculture and a climate changed by more carbon dioxide”: p617, section 6.7 “conclusion” What will be the net effect..? …answering seems more foolhardy than courageous… The direct effects of more CO2 in the air are beneficial… The indirect effects of warmer and drier… are slightly harmful in the American grain belt… Thus in the end one sees that the effects on plants of the gradual changes in CO2… are modest, some positive and some negative. The wise forecast of yields, therefore, seems a continuation of the incremental increases… Truely, a stirring call to action! No? Ah, I see what you mean. OK, how about the Smagorinsky chapter? Oreskes goes out of her way to praise Smagorinsky, so it should be good: p282: In summary, the conclusions of our study appear to remain valid… CO2… change climate significantly… change will be large and rapid; it will be greater in global terms than any natural climate changes that civilized man has yet experienced, although, as Schelling observes in Chapter 9 of this report, far less than the climate changes mankind has voluntarily undertaken through migration. We have some general notions of how climate change will be distributed across the face of the earth… but these are as yet a very uncertain basis for decision making. So contrary to Oreskes, I think there is evidence that the physical scientists were indeed aware that their science wasn’t usable for policy making.

Then Oreskes has a go at the economics chapter, and immeadiately impresses by nearly getting the chapter number correct (only off by one! never mind, it was close). But I’ve done that one before and wasn’t impressed. Chapter 9 is next on the hit-list, it must be evil because it was written by Schelling, and Oreskes doesn’t mention p 480: There is no reason for believing that that development is to be welcome, and there are many reasons for the contrary perhaps because of the eminently sensible it is unlikely in the foreseeable future that national governments will embark on serious programs to reduce further their dependence on fossil fuels to protect the Earth’s climate against change. One reason is that governments are already saturated with reasons to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels….

Then we’re back to the Evil Synthesis theory: …Nierenberg’s synthesis exclusively followed the position advocated by the social scientists. It did not disagree with the scientific facts as laid out by Charney, the JASONs, and all the other physical scientists who had looked at
the question in his own report. Instead, it rejected the interpretation of those facts as a
This is just wrong. By their very nature, the physical scientists are going to tell you (at best) that climate will change by X oC. They can’t tell you “…and that will be a problem” because its outside their scope. Its no good wishing it were otherwise, and that the nice objective physical scientists, who just happen to vote the same way you do, will rescue you from the Evil Economists who drive fast cars and have all the fun.

At junctures where an important uncertainty was broached, the synthesis consistently took the most sanguine view… that the actual increase in mean global temperature for doubling CO2 was likely to be at the low end of earlier estimates closer to 1.5 than to 4.5. [nb: this is actually in the exec summary not the synthesis, but what the hell – this isn’t a peer reviewed academic paper, after all, is it? -W] This last conclusion particularly flew in the face of the prior scientific results; neither Charney nor Smagorinsky’s group had suggested that the actual mean temperature increase was likely to be at the low end of their estimates. For chapter 4 I agree: they explicitly state that the range hasn’t changed. But the cite is to chapters 4 and 5, and chapter 5 (p 307) does say something vaguely related, though its talking about estimates of probable CO2 induced rise to-date.

Oreskes then quotes someone called Alvin Weinberg who disagreed with N, and wrote a text of no clear status (it looks to have been a letter to N) disputing the reports conclusions. Unsurprisingly, no-one has ever read his letter, presumably as he intended.

And thats about it. Conclusion: unchanged: Oreskes is wrong.

He’s mad!

Though I must point out that this is “mad” in the sense of “angry”, not “nut job”. I mean RP Jr, and he is annoyed with Oreskes, saying What is it about the climate change debate that causes previously excellent scholars to go absolutely insane and disregard all standards of research integrity? I don’t think Oreskes is insane, but I do think her standards have slipped. RP is kind enough to cite me.

Incidentally, why is it that social science types get to give their essays silly names? Real science folks papers have boring names like “On the electrodynamics of moving bodies”. Her previous one was something like Beyond the Ivory Stoat. This one is “From Chicken Little to Dr. Pangloss: William Nierenberg, Global Warming, and the Social Deconstruction of Scientific Knowledge”, and it doesn’t even make sense, unless she is implying that pre-Nierenberg folks were all Chicken Littles. Which seems unlikely, given her obvious prejudices.

However, RP then goes off and defends Crichton and State of Fear, who was a wazzock and pile of sh*t*, respectively. So like Wally in Dilbert, he has managed equal amounts of sanity and anti-sanity, and it all balances out to zero.

Paradox of flying to meetings to protect the environment

Nuture has a letter from David Gremillet who says: Scientists are becoming increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of their work… reduce our carbon footprint by attending fewer scientific conferences… Regular long-distance flying can easily triple an academic’s carbon footprint. During the past year, I have ‘spent’ about nine tonnes of carbon, two-thirds of this on plane trips. Yet I am a good consumer otherwise (see, and I don’t even own a car. Such figures are particularly hard for field ecologists to stomach, as we hope our long-term work will highlight the environmental consequences of climate change and may ultimately influence the public and policy-makers.

The last sentence is rather problematic: is it necessary for field ecologists to believe in global warming? Could someone skeptical of global warming still be a good field ecologist? Would it indeed be better if field ecologists didn’t worry about policy implications but just did good science? Some scientists (most obviously Hansen) make no bones about using their visibility for advocacy. Most are uncomfortable in that role.

One is left wondering whether the carbon footprints of ecologists outweigh the environmental benefits of their findings and of their lobbying. Lobbying? Hmm.

The outcome is a personal decision that may be dictated more by ambition than by environmental awareness. Yep, I think that is most likely. But not just ambition. Flying off around the world is fun (if you don’t overdo it) and one of the perks of the job.

Nevertheless, as a German environmental campaigner told me 15 years ago, “Industry would be all too pleased if we did not attend distant meetings because we refuse to board aeroplanes.” Nah, don’t believe it. That just excuse making.

The bottom line, I think, is that even those who are supposedly most aware of global warming and its effects aren’t about to stop flying around the planet if their careers “require” it. So why should the ignorant unwashed masses do any better?

[Update: funnily enough, this just came my way: I’m writing on behalf of the Toyota International Teacher Program to request a phone number where we can reach you? Toyota is sending U.S. teachers to the Galapagos Islands, Costa Rica and another soon to me announced location, in order to study environmental issues and observe new cultures so that they may implement their findings in the classroom. This program strives to improve environmental education in our schools. We are currently searching for environmental and education bloggers to accompany the teachers on these trips (all expenses paid) and blog about the experience. At least its cheaper (CO2-wise) than sending teachers up in space shuttles. And less dangerous.]