Home > Environment > Lords of Climate Change

Lords of Climate Change

July 19th, 2006

I see in this piece by Alan Wood that the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs inquiry into “The Economics of Climate Change” (which strongly questioned the science of climate change) is still getting a run in denialist circles.

I haven’t bothered posting on this before, because the main outcome of the inquiry was the establishment of the Stern Review which issued its first discussion paper back in April, stating (from the Executive Summary)

Climate change is a serious and urgent issue… There is now an overwhelming body of scientific evidence that human activity is increasing the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and causing warming.

There’s more like this, giving an excellent summary of the mainstream scientific position.

So the House of Lords exercise was something of an own goal for the denialists. But how did a supposedly serious inquiry come up with with such nonsense in the first place?

One possibility is a snow job, with the members of the committee (not scientists) being taken in by the superficially plausible claims of people like Ross McKitrick (I don’t imagine they bothered to check whether he was talking about degrees or radians). However, I think a setup is far more likely. Looking at the list of witnesses, it’s obvious that denialists and anti-Kyoto activists from all over the world rushed to appear before this rather obscure committee, while most serious scientists didn’t find out about it until after it had reported.

Then there’s the dubious logic of the report itself, where the Commitee, admitting it had no qualifications or remit to examine scientific issues, then split the difference between the thousands of scientists who’ve worked on global warming (but did not appear) and the handful of sceptics (nearly all of whom did). This kind of bogus neutrality managed to get past the members of the Committee, and the report was then trumpeted by denialists as a complete refutation of climate science.

Looking at the membership of the committee, the obvious candidate for a setup of this kind is Nigel Lawson, Thatcher’s Chancellor of the Exchequer. In 2004, he wrote to The Times with six other rightwing economists (most of them subsequently witnesses to the inquiry), attacking Kyoto. The arguments of the letter, including claims about “scientific uncertainties” were reproduced in the Lords report.

As a politician of longstanding, Lawson would be well aware of the adage “Never set up an inquiry unless you know what it’s going to find”. His only mistake was to succeed so well in getting the report he wanted that it necessitated a proper inquiry, the Stern Review, too well-run and well-publicised to be snowed by the denialists.

Categories: Environment Tags:
  1. Terje
    July 19th, 2006 at 19:05 | #1

    Leaving aside for the moment the views clearly held on the global warming issue, do you have no concerns at all about how the IPCC operates. Even if just to avoid handing fuel to the “denialists” it needs to do a better job.

    By the way has the word “denialist” become some type of social lever to exclude people from debate in the way that the word “nigger” or “redneck” have been used at varios times. It seems to up the ante on the term “skeptic” that was previously in use. There does seem to be some form of social marketing going on here.

  2. Terje
    July 19th, 2006 at 19:08 | #2

    I suppose that what I am really asking is whether any “denialists” refer to themselves as “denialists”.

  3. jquiggin
    July 19th, 2006 at 19:18 | #3

    “It seems to up the ante on the term “skepticâ€? that was previously in use.”

    It does, since it is essentially impossible for anyone who has followed the debate with any attention to remain a skeptic, that is, someone with an open mind, who nonetheless does not observe a strong balance of probabilities in favour of AGW.

    Nearly all of those who once held this position (eg Michael Shermer of Scientific American) have abandoned it as the evidence became overwhelming.

    Meanwhile, the denialists whose position is based on ideological or financial vested interests, have become more vociferous, even as evidence they once relied on (satellites, natural El Nino cycles and so on) has turned unambiguously against them.

  4. Stephen L
    July 19th, 2006 at 19:40 | #4

    I’m not sure it really was an own goal for the denialists. As far as they are concerned there are now two reports out there, both with impressive sounding titles. One backs them, the other backs the consensus. From their perspective this is as good an outcome as they are generally going to get.

    The fact that one is scientifically credible, and the other is by a bunch of people who probably never studied science, let alone climatology, only matters to those who are paying attention – and the denialists gave up on trying to convince them years ago.

  5. July 19th, 2006 at 19:46 | #5

    This is the part (in the Alan Wood piece) that makes me cranky:

    In telling the global warming story the IPCC, since 2001, has relied very, very heavily on what has become known as the “hockey stick”. It is based on a 1999 paper, the principal author of which was paleoclimatologist Michael Mann

    There may indeed be valid questions about the methodolgies used in MBH98 (aka the “hockey stick”) but even if MBH98 was proven to be fatally flawed this in no way disproves AGW because there is ample evidence elsewhere. I doubt even M&M would make such a claim.

    ProfQ, any chance you could share your thoughts on John Howard’s plan for Australia to become an “energy superpower”?

  6. Spiros
    July 19th, 2006 at 22:00 | #6

    Never mind Nigel Lawson. What does his daughter Nigella have to say on global warming? She is probably a more credible authority on the subject.

  7. July 19th, 2006 at 22:02 | #7

    I thought the Wood piece was about how Wegman et al had supported earlier refutations of the hockey stick theory that IPCC depend on. Its almost as if we read different articles John!

    From this perspective you might:

    (i) take issue with the claim that the IPCC rely mainly on hockey stick theory.
    (ii) argue there is other evidence that supports global warming.

    Wood is arguing that global warming theory is just that – a theory. The evidence supporting it is not all in so that terms like ‘denialists’ are inappropriate. Its a fair argument.

  8. Uncle Milton
    July 19th, 2006 at 22:34 | #8

    “global warming theory is just that – a theory.”
    Harry, that exact phraseology is used by creationists in summarising the theory of evolution. Of course, the point is that global warming, like evolution, isn’t just a theory. It is a theory supported by a huge amount of evidence.

    Indeed, the mass felling of trees to produce the paper on which this volume of evidence has been published may in itself have contributed to global warming.

    Jokes aside, what Wood has done is take the conclusions from a completely unauthoritative enquiry and presented it as evidence of a “global warming hoax” as it was put on the front page of today’s Oz, just because it suits his prejudices. John is quite right to call him on this.

  9. Steve
    July 19th, 2006 at 23:20 | #9

    Hi Harry, you might like a read of the wikipedia entry on the word ‘theory’
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory

    Here are the few key lines, though its worth reading the whole entry:

    In scientific usage, a theory does not mean an unsubstantiated guess or hunch, as it often does in other contexts. A theory is a logically self-consistent model or framework for describing the behavior of a related set of natural or social phenomena. It originates from and/or is supported by experimental evidence (see scientific method). In this sense, a theory is a systematic and formalized expression of all previous observations that is predictive, logical and testable. In principle, scientific theories are always tentative, and subject to corrections or inclusion in a yet wider theory.

    e.g. theory of gravity
    special theory of relativity
    theory of evolution

    Apologies if I seem finnicky and all tangled up in semantics, I’ve just been reading a John Gribbin book on science history and it is fresh in my mind.

  10. July 20th, 2006 at 01:14 | #10

    Uncle Milton and Steve, I am not rejecting the idea that global warming is occurring – you are ‘sending up’ an imaginery HC. This discussion very weird – did any of you read this long piece cited in Wood by Wegman et al. Was it just rubbish pseudo-science? It seemed OK to me.

    Maybe I am missing some history but I feel like I wandered on stage onto the wrong set. John Quiggin’s blog? Am I dreaming I am awake or just dreaming? It is worrying.

    Go back to sleep Harry and don’t blog after 1-00am.

  11. Con
    July 20th, 2006 at 01:15 | #11

    Not surprised that Alan Wood, News Corp, Wall Street Journal and Centre of Independent Studies are the last bastians on climate change. However their far superior intellectual peers like Tyler Cowen and Greg Mankiw have certainly turned the corner.

  12. jquiggin
    July 20th, 2006 at 06:20 | #12

    Harry, I already posted on the Wegman study, pointing out that the same question had been studied by an NRC panel which broadly supported Mann.

    The only new thing in Wegman et al was a social network analysis, which I showed to be tautological nonsense, proving things like “Mann has written a paper with all of his co-authors”.

    Since I’d already dealt with Wegman, I thought I should address the House of Lords as well.

  13. July 20th, 2006 at 08:11 | #13

    It does, since it is essentially impossible for anyone who has followed the debate with any attention to remain a skeptic, that is, someone with an open mind, who nonetheless does not observe a strong balance of probabilities in favour of AGW.

    I don’t deny that the AGW theory has some things going for it, however I am not ready to plug my ears up and cease listening to counter points. By attempting to socially isolate certain people from the debate it seems to me that you want to silence debate. It seems that you remained open minded just long enough to become closed minded.

  14. jquiggin
    July 20th, 2006 at 08:30 | #14

    Terje, there is a political debate over AGW and creationism, and obviously, I’m taking part in this debate by pointing out the fraudulent nature of denialist rhetoric.

    The scientific debate on these issues is over. If the evidence isn’t enough to convince you, either you haven’t been paying attention or you are letting your policy preferences drive your factual beliefs.

  15. Uncle Milton
    July 20th, 2006 at 09:06 | #15

    Harry,

    the point is that in his column Wood positioned the House of Lords report and the Wegman piece as providing solid evidence that throws genuine doubt on the existence of global warming, when they do nothing of the kind.

    It would be like an economics columnist citing, as definitive, a study supposedly showing the benefits of high tariffs on imports, while not mentioning the thousands of studies showing the benefits of free trade.

  16. July 20th, 2006 at 09:31 | #16

    John,

    If CO2 is a problem then I think the solution is a trading scheme like Kyoto or a carbon tax (lately I am leaning towards the latter). I don’t think anybody has a God given right to fowl the air. I don’t think regulating CO2 will cause economic collapse. I think that alternative energy solutions at least in electricity generation will soon be near competative with coal. I think battery technology is making great strides and hybrids are the future. I think Howard is full of hot air in suggesting that picking winners and giving them government money is better than changing incentives across the board. I think that carbon taxes would have little serious economic impact if they replaced other transaction taxes (eg cut income tax or GST). I think that the body politic is getting behind the AGW theory and most of what you advocate will come to pass.

    I accept that the earth has warmed over the last century. I accept that CO2 has risen over the last century. I think that AGW is the best theory. However I don’t think AGW is the only theory. I don’t think we can extrapolate accurately. I think Mann stuffed up. I think the IPCC has been sloppy. I think our understanding of climate is probably at about the point of maturity that medicine was in the 1800s. I think that the fact that CO2 rises lag temperature rises by 700 years in the Vostok ice cores and other climatic records suggest we should proceed carefully.

    Maybe I haven’t been paying attention, although I think I have done better than most of the public. Perhaps my position is based on ignorance (bounded knowledge and all that). However in terms of a lable for me I think this all makes me a skeptic not a denialist. And I have a hard time seeing it as being otherwise for those that look at the facts and arrive at a similar position. I am also something of a cynic when I see people leaping on the bandwagon without much thought as to where it is going (although on this issue I would not put you in that class).

    I don’t know of anybody in this debate that self references as a denialist. So it seems to be just name calling. Of course you can call people names if you want. However it seems petty.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  17. jquiggin
    July 20th, 2006 at 09:50 | #17

    “It would be like an economics columnist citing, as definitive, a study supposedly showing the benefits of high tariffs on imports, while not mentioning the thousands of studies showing the benefits of free trade. ”

    To get the analogy right in msot cases, it would be a study by a thinktank representing protected industries and undertaken by cranks/hacks with no training in economics

  18. July 20th, 2006 at 10:06 | #18

    John,

    Just a thought. If the science debate is over does that mean that the IPCC has finished it’s job and can now be closed down? If not then why not?

    Regards,
    Terje.

  19. July 20th, 2006 at 10:41 | #19

    Terje, the IPCC should be closed down for the same reasons that biologists should be sacked. Both have no credible opponents.

    More seriously, there is much more to the climate than knowing that greenhouse gases are a significant driver of it on human relevent timescales.

  20. July 20th, 2006 at 10:48 | #20

    From this perspective you might:

    (i) take issue with the claim that the IPCC rely mainly on hockey stick theory.
    (ii) argue there is other evidence that supports global warming.

    Harry, perhaps the most important points are that (a) the hockey stick isn’t particularly important for global warming theory (it was first published in 1998 when the theory and observations were already very advanced) and (b) a number of other studies have come to the same conclusions as the hockey stick papers.

  21. July 20th, 2006 at 10:49 | #21

    I think that the body politic is getting behind the AGW theory and most of what you advocate will come to pass.

    Really?! The only politician that matters in this country clearly does not accept the AGW theory. Howard wants to massively expand Australia’s fossil fuel exports, invest more in oil exploration, and steadfastly refuses to raise the mandatory renewable energy target.

    The AGW debate in this country is entirely academic until someone convinces Howard that genuine policy changes are required, not just spin and rhetoric.

  22. Bill O’Slatter
    July 20th, 2006 at 11:01 | #22

    What Howard believes is irrelevant ; he is shortly to pass from the scene . He is political constipation but relief is not far away. When his increasing ga-ganess (early onset dementia) becomes obvious to even his most rusted on supporters action will be swift.

  23. July 20th, 2006 at 11:01 | #23

    Realclimate has an article on Wegman here:

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/07/the-missing-piece-at-the-wegman-hearing/#more-328

    In particular, the graphs showing the effect of including some of M&M’s points are shown.

  24. July 20th, 2006 at 12:01 | #24

    What Howard believes is irrelevant ; he is shortly to pass from the scene . He is political constipation but relief is not far away. When his increasing ga-ganess (early onset dementia) becomes obvious to even his most rusted on supporters action will be swift.

    Bill, which planet are you on? While the economy keeps ticking along (and that seems assured while the commodites boom continues) Howard will stay on. I reckon he’s got at least two more elections in him, which takes us out to 2013.

  25. July 20th, 2006 at 12:29 | #25

    Really?! The only politician that matters in this country clearly does not accept the AGW theory. Howard wants to massively expand Australia’s fossil fuel exports, invest more in oil exploration, and steadfastly refuses to raise the mandatory renewable energy target.

    It is a question of timeframes. I am talking about the coming decade not the next election.

    I just spent the moring read through all the Tim Lambert archives relating to the debate about McKitrick, radians versus degrees etc and I was impressed with the precision with which Tim Lambert writes. I’ll have to sacrifice some of my Quiggin reading and do some more Lambert reading.

  26. Stephen L
    July 20th, 2006 at 14:14 | #26

    As I understand it, there is a criminal offence of trading while you know you are insolvent, or should reasonably know you are insolvent.

    If it was a criminal offence to argue a scientific case while knowing that it was fraudulent, or being reasonably expected to know it was fraudulent I think we would find this debate really would be over.

    (Not that I’m suggesting this)

  27. July 20th, 2006 at 15:04 | #27

    Steohen L – “If it was a criminal offence to argue a scientific case while knowing that it was fraudulent”

    Next you would be making it a criminal offense for a polititian to lie and that would be the end of democracy as we know it.

  28. July 20th, 2006 at 15:06 | #28

    It is a question of timeframes. I am talking about the coming decade not the next election.

    So am I. Howard will be PM for another decade.

  29. Amy McArthur
    July 21st, 2006 at 09:56 | #29

    John W Zillman. President, Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering and former Australian and World Meteorology chief, says that based on the reliability of the IPCC model of climate warming, he personally believes there is only about a 66% probability that ANY of it is human induced.

    He also has stated that: “the IPCC Lead Authors were very careful to say only that they were confident that there is at least a 66% chance that the past century has been the warmest of the past millennium.�

    Are there any statisticians here? Would anyone like to draw conclusions based on a 66% probability? Is this what Quiggen refers to as scientific consensus? Wow, what a hunch these climate zealots have about humans influence global warming.

  30. July 21st, 2006 at 16:04 | #30

    John W Zillman. President, Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering and former Australian and World Meteorology chief, says that based on the reliability of the IPCC model of climate warming, he personally believes there is only about a 66% probability that ANY of it is human induced.

    Amy, you’ve misunderstood Zillman. He didn’t say that there was a 66% prob. that ANY of the warming was due to human activity. He was paraphrasing the IPCC which states that there is a 66% prob. that MOST of the recent warming is due to human activity.

    It would pay next time, to actually read what the IPCC writes before writing patronising posts like yours.

  31. July 21st, 2006 at 16:12 | #31

    which states that there is a 66% prob. that MOST of the recent warming is due to human activity.

    If that is what they said then I would take it to mean that they believe there is a 66% chance that more than 50% of warming is human caused.

    Which is the same as saying that there is a 34% chance that less than 50% of warming is human caused.

    It sounds like the IPCC are still somewhat skeptical. Which would be a good thing, because it doesn’t pay to be too dogmatic about these sort of things.

  32. jquiggin
    July 21st, 2006 at 16:27 | #32

    The relevant term is “likely”, which is interpreted by the IPCC as meaning “a probability of 66 to 90 per cent”.

    Moreover, all of these observations relate to the 2001 Third Assessment Report. There has been a lot of new evidence since then, and these probabilities are mostly being revised to “very likely”, interpreted as a probability of 90-99 per cent, in the Fourth Report, which is currently in draft form.

  33. Amy McArthur
    July 22nd, 2006 at 01:43 | #33

    “I now believe, as does the IPCC, that there is no more than a one in three chance that the observed global warming over the past century is entirely natural in origin.” –John W Zillman

    This statement and the ones in my earlier response were made in the past 20 months, not five years ago. While Dr Zillman obviously still believes in AGW, in his own words it is still hardly conclusive science at this point.

    I look forward to the release of the Fourth Report.

  34. jquiggin
    July 22nd, 2006 at 08:11 | #34

    To restate “no more than” is not the same as “about”. But, the Fourth Report will settle most of this.

  35. Stephen L
    July 22nd, 2006 at 13:11 | #35

    John Zillman wrote an article for Issues Magazine (which I edit) two years ago on the expected effects of global warming on agriculture. This article was written for a high school audience, rather than a scientific publication, so position is perhaps clearer, rather than being couched in scientific terms which are confusing to the general public.

    I think the denialists would not find much support from what he wrote there, and I would be very surprised if his opinion has softened in the following two years.

  36. Seeker
    July 23rd, 2006 at 01:33 | #36

    I don’t think anybody has a God given right to fowl the air.

    Yes, I know, all them damn wild chickens flying all over the place. :-)

    I think battery technology is making great strides…

    It is, and I think storage technology is the major stumbling block to the widespread take up of renewable electricity generation.

    Howard will be PM for another decade.

    Not a hope in Hades.

  37. July 23rd, 2006 at 11:37 | #37

    Howard will be PM for another decade.
    Not a hope in Hades

    I’d love to share your optimism Seeker, but Howard has more staying power than the energizer bunny, has more political nous than anyone in Parliament, and presides over a strong economy courtesy of the resources boom. Howard will be 67 on Wednesday. Ronald Reagan assumed office a few weeks before his 70th birthday and was President for 8 years. I see absolutely no reason why Howard won’t stay on for another 10 years.

  38. Roy Sites
    July 28th, 2006 at 08:11 | #38

    I would like to see some of this overwhelming evidence of global warming.
    The only evidence I have seen that is strong is the computer models, and these models are full of errors and unknowns.

    Telling me that tree frogs are dying some place and the only thing anyone can think of is global warming does not constitute evidence.

    Telling me that glaciers are melting and this is of course due to global warming also does not constitute evidence. Glaciers have advanced and retreated for centuries.

    Show me how the CO2 concentration can rise after the temperature and still be the cause of the temperature change.

    Show me how the computer models depict the MWP or the LIA over the last 1000 years.

    Show me any predictions that the models have made that can be verified with experimental data.

  39. jquiggin
    July 28th, 2006 at 08:54 | #39

    “I would like to see some of this overwhelming evidence of global warming.”

    Fortunately, the International Panel on Climate Change has collected a summary, very readable and only a thousand pages or so. But if that’s not enough for you, you could read the thousand or so papers surveyed by Naomi Oreskes, many of which give good reading lists of earlier literature. So your desire for evidence is easily satisfied.

    If when you’ve read the IPCC report, there are further points you’d like addressed I’ll be happy to suggest more readings for you.

  40. Chris O’Neill
    July 29th, 2006 at 02:52 | #40

    “, and I think storage technology is the major stumbling block to the widespread take up of renewable electricity generation.”

    Isn’t there a large market for electricity during the times that renewables actually generate power? e.g. isn’t there a large market for electricity during the day when solar sources generate power? Shouldn’t renewables start on the markets where they have the greatest advantage/least disadvantage first?

  41. Roy Sites
    July 31st, 2006 at 23:47 | #41

    I should have given a little more detail:
    1] Average global temperatures have increased approx. 1/2 degree centigrade in the last 100 years. I think almost everyone can agree with this.
    2] CO2 concentrations have increased by 50% over the last 100 years and some of this increase is the result of humans. I think almost everyone can agree with this.
    3] Since the world is recovering from the LIA ending in the mid 1800′s, one would expect some global warming, and most of the measured warming has occured before 1940 and before most of the CO2 increase.
    4] Climate models predicting large 4-9 degree centigrade warming are filled with inaccuracies and assumptions that are unknown. These models do not replicate the MWP or the LIA nor current conditions. Without this type of checks and balances these models should not be used to set policy based upon predictions that can not be verified.

  42. jquiggin
    August 1st, 2006 at 07:12 | #42

    Roy, it appears you agree with IPCC, since the preferred models don’t predict 4-9 degrees C. The central range in the 2001 TAR was 1.2 to 3.5 degrees (by 2100). I think this has been increased a bit in the forthcoming report. And the models used to generate this do a good job in fitting the data, particularly the decline from 1940 to 1970 on which you appear to be placing a good deal of stress.

    In any case, it looks as if you need to read the IPCC report.

  43. August 1st, 2006 at 15:05 | #43

    Roy:
    1. the temperature increase average is 0.6 degrees and is more at the poles.

    2. CO2 concentrations have increased by 50% over the last 100 years and MOST of this increase is the result of humans.

    3. Wrong – most of the warming has occured recently

    4. No they are not. The models that predict climate senstitivity are checked and rechecked. The models are not supposed to replicate the LIA or the MWP – that is not what they are for. Policies are set on risk not certainty. There is nothing certain about climate change. Warming is quite certain as this science does not depend on proxies or climate models. The risk of the extent of climate change is modelled in experiments and also assessed from past climate change records. Thousands of experts worked together in 2001 to produce a document that gave polititians the potential risk of dangerous climate change. Models are not used to set policy – assessment of risk is.

  44. Terje
    August 1st, 2006 at 19:02 | #44

    Given how many people live in earthquake zones our tolerance for risk seems at times to be quite high.

  45. August 1st, 2006 at 19:34 | #45

    Terje – and everyone seems to be tolerant of the risk of climate change as well as nothing is being done. However that tolerance usually diminishes in the aftermath of an event. We have not had clearly defined climate change event that puts that risk in the public mind.

  46. Roy Sites
    August 1st, 2006 at 22:29 | #46

    And here we are at full circle.

    That the computer models cannot replicate past climates including the LIA indicates that the tweaking required to make them appear to function at current conditions are not completely valid; this being the case any predictions of the future must be looked upon as probably incorrect as well.

    There is no causal relationship between CO2 concentration and global temperature that can be definitively shown either in the past or currently. That being the case, the global temperature changes being recorded are mopst likely of natural causes just like the thousands of other global changes that have ocurred over the last millions of years.

    Why does it take some new unknown positive feedback now for global temperature increase when this was not required in the past. I suppose so that now we humans, especially we white, male, American humans can be shown to be destroying the world. It is unfortunate that science cannot be left to scientists and politicians cannot be shut up.

  47. August 1st, 2006 at 22:52 | #47

    Roy – ‘hat the computer models cannot replicate past climates including the LIA indicates that the tweaking required to make them appear to function at current conditions are not completely valid; this being the case any predictions of the future must be looked upon as probably incorrect as well.”

    No computer model should be used to do this – where did you get this information from?

    “There is no causal relationship between CO2 concentration and global temperature that can be definitively shown either in the past or currently. That being the case, the global temperature changes being recorded are mopst likely of natural causes just like the thousands of other global changes that have ocurred over the last millions of years.”

    This is not even close. There is a strong causal relationship between rising CO2 and temperature rise. Correlation does not imply causation however when there is a strong forcing like the current imbalance in the Earths energy budget due to a measured rise in CO2 and other greenhouse gases then this does imply causation. The natural changes thousands of years ago did not have humans emitting gigatons of CO2. As an analogy – Are you suggesting that a valid defense for a murder is to say that there were 20 murders in this area in the last year and I did not do any of those so I am not responsible for this one?

    “Why does it take some new unknown positive feedback now for global temperature increase when this was not required in the past. I suppose so that now we humans, especially we white, male, American humans can be shown to be destroying the world. It is unfortunate that science cannot be left to scientists and politicians cannot be shut up.”

    There is not some unknown feedback. More CO2 and other greenhouse gases traps more long wave radiation and the Earth heats up in response. It is nothing to do with white male americans it is every human that uses electricity or drives a car. If you feel especially victimised then that really is a personal issue with you that you need to deal with. If you want to leave science to scientists then you should listen to them. They are telling you that AGW is a real phenomon and that there is a risk that it will cause some climate change.

  48. Roy Sites
    August 2nd, 2006 at 02:42 | #48

    One last time.

    All data indicates that the temperature increases before the CO2 level increases. Therefore no causal relationship.

  49. August 2nd, 2006 at 08:28 | #49

    Roy – “All data indicates that the temperature increases before the CO2 level increases. Therefore no causal relationship.”

    All PREVIOUS data plus the relationship is pretty close – it it very hard to tell exactly from ice cores. Climate change in the past does not let us off the hook now. Look at the Eocene Thermal Maximum to see what greenhouse gases can do.

  50. Terje
    August 2nd, 2006 at 09:14 | #50

    Ender,

    The point Roy makes about CO2 rises lagging temperature is in fact what the ice core data shows. Hopefully you are not being a denialist about this.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  51. August 2nd, 2006 at 13:47 | #51

    Terje – “The point Roy makes about CO2 rises lagging temperature is in fact what the ice core data shows. Hopefully you are not being a denialist about this.”

    You really have taken the denialist/skeptic thing to heart :-) .

    No I do not deny it only making the point that these are records of PAST climate change not present. Also there is an element of error as the time difference is in the hundreds of years whereas the timescale of the ice cores is in hundreds of thousands of years. It would seem that the Malankovitch cycles start warming the Earth and then this precipitates a rise in greenhouse gases causing more warming.

    Again this is not applicable today as we are near the end of an interglacial period where you would not be expecting, from the ice cores, strong warming. The warming at the moment is almost certainly from anthropogenic causes as we are swamping the natural cycles with our gigatons of greenhouse gases.

  52. StephenL
    August 2nd, 2006 at 13:50 | #52

    Ok Roy, you win. You (with the help of a few websites) have spotted the facts that every climatologist in the world has missed, along with tens of thousands of scientists in related fields. What I can’t understand is why you are mucking around here. Why have you not send your results to Nature, Science and every other prestigious scientific journal on the planet – fame and fortune awaits?

    The fact is that everything you have said is either wrong, or basically irrelevant. Climate models have not been designed to try to predict the LIA or MW. Expecting them to do so is like creating a computer program to run a wordprocessing system and then saying it is junk because it won’t run a spreadsheet (ok slightly stretched, but not much). They do an excellent job at what they were designed to do, and have been repeatedly tested and refined to do it better.

    Regarding the paleodata on CO2 and warming, there is no reason to expect or require CO2 increases to come first. The point is that there is a feedback system – an external warming (eg changes in the Earth’s orbit) leads to higher levels of CO2, which leads to more warming and so on until one of a number of factors intervenes to halt or reverse the process. This has been the case for millions of years. Of course the warming will come first – its what we would expect.

    However, what we have done is reverse the starting point – releasing the CO2 first. No reason to expect that we won’t see a similar cycle though. About 30 million years ago there was a somewhat similar situation – vast amounts of warming gasses (in that case methane rather than carbon doixide) were released, leading to drastic warming. We don’t know what triggered that release, but the climatic effects were dramatic. If the same thing happens this time hundreds of millions of people will die.

  53. Terje
    August 2nd, 2006 at 17:27 | #53

    Your supreme confidence in theories about what transpired 30 million years ago is telling. What has happened to modesty?

  54. jquiggin
    August 3rd, 2006 at 15:25 | #54

    Terje, given that you’re willing to dispute the work of thousands of scientists on this topic, it’s you who lacks modesty here.

    Science has been remarkably successfully in explaining events over timescales ranging from femtoseconds to billions of years, so 30 million years is not that striking.

    Or is your comment an indication that you think we should be “open-minded about the claim that the earth is really 6000 years old?

  55. Terje
    August 3rd, 2006 at 17:38 | #55

    John,

    Actually science is still under going constant revision on lots of thing that relate to large time scales. That’s the great thing about science, it is modest by definition.

    And nice try with the 6000 year bit. An argument by extreme example. I don’t think that the AGW theory is anywhere near as sound as the old earth theory. Although I accept that AGW is a legitament theory it still has gaps. Roy raised the issue of one of those gaps above.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  56. jquiggin
    August 3rd, 2006 at 19:19 | #56

    “Actually science is still under going constant revision on lots of thing that relate to large time scales”

    Examples? The estimated age of the earth has been around 4 billion years for as long as I can remember, and we’re talking two orders of magnitude less than that. Your claim that science has no definite knowledge of events 30 million years ago is on a par with creationism.

    Honestly, Terje, you’re not a fool so why not accept that amateurs like you and Roy, arguing on the basis of political wishful thinking, are unlikely to have a better understanding of these issues than thousands of scientists who work on it full-time.

  57. Roy Sites
    August 3rd, 2006 at 22:44 | #57

    There are a large number of climate research scientists who understand that computer models do not represent reality, theories do not represent truth until these models and/or thoeries can predict something that can be determined experimentally. Unfortunately, for you, these computer models and thoeries predict various changes along with the 1.5 to 4.5 degree warming and most of those predictions have been shown to be incorrect when compared to experimentally measured data. This puts these models and thoeries in doubt.

    Also, unfortunately, when people like you begin to lose your argument you turn to personal attacks; calling people fools who look at real data and see results differently is not conducive to civil discourse.

    Scientific consensus does not make a thoery correct either. At the end of the nineteenth century there was almost complete concensus among physicists regarding the “aether”. I’m sure you realize that mosts physcicists today find the “aether” quite amuzing. So much for concensus, let’s discuss facts.

    Computer models that try to forecast the stock market use the ability to forecast past events as beginning validation of the ability to forecast future events. This same premise is necessary with climate models, being able to replicate past events without special feedback mechanisms that are not proven would help validate the models predictions of future climates.

    One last question: when co2 concentrations were as much as 40 times what they are now, how come the earth wasn’t hotter than it was?

  58. Terje
    August 4th, 2006 at 08:14 | #58

    Roy,

    JQ did not attack me by calling me a fool. He stated that I was not a fool. It may qualify as flattery but it does not qualify as a personal attack.

    Regards,
    Terje.

    p.s. More comments latter.

  59. August 4th, 2006 at 08:32 | #59

    Roy – “There are a large number of climate research scientists who understand that computer models do not represent reality,”

    All climate reasearch scientists understand the limitations of computer models however that is not the only way that scientists understand and estimate climate sensitivity. This post on real climate discusses these limitations:

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/08/climate-feedbacks/

    However the last study concluded this:

    “A+H combine three independently determined constraints using Bayes Theorem and come up with a new distribution that is the most likely given the different pieces of information. Specifically they take constraints from the 20th Century (1 to 10ºC), the constraints from responses to volcanic eruptions (1.5 to 6ºC) and the LGM data (-0.6 to 6.1ºC – a widened range to account for extra paleo-climatic uncertainties) to come to a formal Bayesian conclusion that is much tighter than each of the individual estimates. They find that the mean value is close to 3ºC, and with 95% limits at 1.7ºC and 4.9ºC, and a high probability that sensitivity is less than 4.5ºC. Unsurprisingly, it is the LGM data that makes very large sensitivities extremely unlikely. The paper is very clearly written and well worth reading for more of the details.”

    The whole post from RC can be read here:
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/03/climate-sensitivity-plus-a-change/

    It is simplistic to think that climate scientists type “what is the climate sensitivity” into a computer model and the computer just spits out “3.5°”. There is a great deal of uncertainty here however climate scientists use AGMs as tools along with historical and present data to estimate this figure.

  60. August 4th, 2006 at 08:33 | #60

    Roy – “One last question: when co2 concentrations were as much as 40 times what they are now, how come the earth wasn’t hotter than it was?”

    When was this and how hot was it? Also how do you know how hot or cold it was then?

  61. jquiggin
    August 4th, 2006 at 08:50 | #61

    “Computer models that try to forecast the stock market use the ability to forecast past events as beginning validation of the ability to forecast future events.”

    Now you’re on my professional territory, Roy. Outside the realm of amateur hucksters, the models you describe don’t exist, for the very good reason that they can’t. Economic theory predicts very clearly that you can’t forecast future stock movements on the basis of past movements, and there is a ton of evidence to support this.

    This is not true in relation to climate change. The warming of the last decade was correctly forecast by GW models.

  62. Terje
    August 4th, 2006 at 09:26 | #62

    You can make forcasts about future stock market moves just as you can make forcasts about the weather. Maybe your point is that such stock market forcasts are without basis and are no better than random luck. A view that I would frequently agree with.

    Given this inability to make such forecasts perhaps you could explain to me some time what the central bank is doing when it seeks to slow a growing “market bubble” and such things. Does it use forecasts to make such decisions? Or does it just get bored occasionally and just do stuff for kicks? Something to think about.

    My stock prediction based on past data: on Monday morning BHP shares will open at a price similar to what they closed at yesterday (give or take a few percent).

  63. August 4th, 2006 at 11:32 | #63

    I really think that thinking of GCMs (sorry for the prev typo) as similar to stock market prediction programs is basically wrong. A GCMs primary use is not really prediction of future climate. GCMs are used to conduct experiments to investigate possible consequences of changes and to try to understand certain aspects of the climate in a controlled environment.

    They are much more akin to flow design programs used in aircraft and feed hopper/seperator design. Expecially in aircraft they are used to refine the design of an aircraft wing to eliminate expensive mistakes. However no-one would expect an aircraft designed in a computer would be OK without full scale testing and wind tunnel testing. This does not diminish the usefulness of the computer wing/body models as all modern aircraft are designed with such models.

    In exactly the same way, because we do not have a spare planet to conduct experiments on, scientists have to use computer models to investigate the Earths climate. They do not represent the exact state of the atmosphere as we do not understand the atmosphere enough at the moment to do this and computer are not fast enough. However in the same way as CFD models are good enough to design aircraft GCMs are good enough to investigate some aspect of climate and make tentative predictions about what might happen. They can definately can give risk probabilites that are often confused by the popular media as predictions.

  64. Terje
    August 4th, 2006 at 16:55 | #64

    John,

    Typing this with two thumbs on pda so sorry if it seems a bit rough.

    The scientific view about the age of the Earth has an interesting history. A hundred years ago it was thought to be more like a few hundred million years old compared to todays figure which is something like 4.5 billion and now generally uncontested. However it is not as if they got it right first time and the earlier concensus view was clearly wrong.Today the age of the universe is reasonably settled but still open to some debate. The processes by which the dinosaurs became extinct is frequently the subject of new theories and nobody tries to hang the proponents (no political imperitive I assume). The formation process associated with the moon is the subject of periodic new speculation. Perhaps in a decade or so the AGW theory will be a bit more settled but I think that it is way to early to close the book. This field of study is still relatively young.

    You are right that I am one amateur and lots of scientists with a better pedigree have looked at this issue. However most of them are specialist in one aspect of the problem and when most of them form opinions at the macro level (ie what does all this point to) I have less faith in their rigor. Even in economics agreement on microeconomic concepts has not meant we get it all right at the macro level. In engineering we have a motto called “keep it simple” which pertains to the fact that people who are brilliant with problems that are specific and can be worked on at an individual level often fail when then undertake large scale initiatives that are highly complex and original. Even when the undertaking is not original (building a highway) expensive mistakes sometimes occur. Brilliant people working together on complex tasks are on occasion capable of monumental stuff ups and even more so when they are formulating advice for other people to follow (ie when they don’t own the pain of failure). Modelling the earths climate accurately is probably an order of magnitude harder than putting a man on the moon and without the same level of final validation.

    Having said that I accept that AGW is the dominant theory to explain global warming. However there is simple no need to silence the asking of questions in relation to this theory. Even more so if the problem demands a collective responce. On the scientific front we should be open to new insights and possibilities as the science progresses and not too surprised if there are some upsets along the way. I don’t accept that such a position is automatically akin to the position adopted by creationists or young earth proponent who don’t just reject the mainstream view but also seek to discard the underlying facts, science and work that goes into the theory of evolution or earth science. In those debate the non mainstream proponent even attempt to throw out bodies of evidence (eg fossils) by almost wimsical retorts.

    I do accept that my scepticism may be misplaced. It may be that the concerns I have with the AGW theory are easily answered and that I have just failed to find such answers or encounter the right people who can communicate them to me. I am open minded to the possibility that I have got this wrong but I am not going to just roll over because a few people say rude things about me. I decide what I believe and if I change my view it will be because my concerns have been answered. So far I am not ready to embrace AGW as a revealed truth about the way the world actually is. I prefer to accept a shade of grey than to jump at shadows just because noisey people say boo.

    As to the politics of AGW. You would appear to believe that it is my libertarian leaning that prejudices my views on AGW. However the libertarian position is not so pure as the anachist position and accepts the lesser evil of enforced collective action to deal with external threats. I accept for instance the merits of organised immunisation even though it is a difficult issue in terms of liberty. I have already revealed my prefered means of reducing CO2 (cap and trade) if the body politic has made up its mind to proceed with such a reduction (which on current trends seems likely). However we already have high taxes on petrol and alternate energy technology has made great strides even before the greenhouse and peak oil panics, so I fully expect that there would be an eventual decline in our use of fossil fuels driven by economics anyway (just not this decade).

    My sceptism about AGW is not driven by some great fear of the mainstream solution on offer. If done correctly reductions in CO2 emissions will not cause recession or economic decline even though they may be suboptimal. My sceptism is driven by the nature of the topic. I would like better answers to some of the gaps.

    Yours Sincerely,
    Terje.

  65. August 4th, 2006 at 17:47 | #65

    The scientific view about the age of the Earth has an interesting history. A hundred years ago it was thought to be more like a few hundred million years old compared to todays figure which is something like 4.5 billion and now generally uncontested. However it is not as if they got it right first time and the earlier concensus view was clearly wrong.

    Terje, I was under the impression that Lord Kelvin’s calculation of the age of the earth, far from being a concensus was in fact hotly contested. In particular geologists and biologists (including Darwin) disagreed with it.

  66. August 4th, 2006 at 17:52 | #66

    There are a large number of climate research scientists who understand that computer models do not represent reality, theories do not represent truth until these models and/or thoeries can predict something that can be determined experimentally. Unfortunately, for you, these computer models and thoeries predict various changes along with the 1.5 to 4.5 degree warming and most of those predictions have been shown to be incorrect when compared to experimentally measured data. This puts these models and thoeries in doubt.

    About now would be an excellent time for you to provide some evidence for your claims.

    Climate models have in fact done a reasonable job of predicting the future. For example, them indicted that the troposphere was warming, when observations showed that it was cooling. It was only later that it was discovered that the observations were wrong.

    They have correctly estimated the effect of Mt Pinatubo.

    They have also predicted deep sea ocean warming, prior to its observation.

  67. Ken Miles
    August 4th, 2006 at 17:58 | #67

    One last question: when co2 concentrations were as much as 40 times what they are now, how come the earth wasn’t hotter than it was?

    When were CO2 levels 40 times todays levels?

    I think that you’ve got your peusdoscience muddled up.

  68. August 4th, 2006 at 18:16 | #68

    Terje – “Having said that I accept that AGW is the dominant theory to explain global warming. However there is simple no need to silence the asking of questions in relation to this theory.”

    No-one is!! All the climate scientists are asking is that the skeptics present the contrary opinions and or facts in peer reviewed journals. Except for a few notable exception such as Roger Peilke Snr and von Storch none of the prominant skeptics voice their skepticism in a scientific method and then becuause they cannot seem to publish in peer reviewed journals openly disparage the peer review process.

  69. Roy Sites
    August 8th, 2006 at 22:42 | #69

    This has been real and it has been fun but it has not been real fun. I see amatuers (myself included) discussing the points that scientists who have spent their lives studying cannot agree upon.

    The real discussion here is not science but politics. So let’s discuss politics, the Kyoto Accord will not reduce the CO2 levels in the atmosphere to any measureable amount. This almost everyone agrees upon.

    Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that all the supposed proof of GW ia true and we, as humans, must do something now or the world will come to an end. Then let’s discuss what mankind must really do to solve this problem. Let’s not mamby-pamby this thing with a simplistic Kyoto Accord and then say “oh, we were wrong we need to xyz instead”.

    Until someone, or some group, comes up with a real plan that will actually work, there is absolutely no reason to spend vast resources doing something that is known will not work.

  70. jquiggin
    August 8th, 2006 at 22:57 | #70

    “I see amatuers (myself included) discussing the points that scientists who have spent their lives studying cannot agree upon.’

    Wrong! The scientists agree, overwhelmingly. It’s only amatuers (sic) like yourself who claim otherwise, then go on to reveal that their disagreement is based on politically-driven wishful thinking.

  71. Roy Sites
    August 9th, 2006 at 00:14 | #71

    You see, I have said that let’s assume the worst.

    Now let’s talk politics!

    What would you do to save the earth, what will it cost in real dollars and human sacrifice?

    I don’t care if every scientist, and even you must agree there are some very respected scientists who disagree, agrees; consensus means nothing in science.

  72. August 9th, 2006 at 08:38 | #72

    Roy – the plan is actually very simple and may cost some of your lifestyle.

    Consume less and emit less!!!!!

    Can’t be simpler than that.

  73. Roy Sites
    August 9th, 2006 at 22:53 | #73

    Oh, real simple.

    How much less?

    If the Kyoto Accord will accomplish virtually nothing then the question of how much less is very important.

  74. Roy Sites
    August 10th, 2006 at 07:46 | #74

    That also means that if consume 1% less next year than I had planned to consume then we save the planet.

    Hmmmm. I don’t think so.

  75. August 10th, 2006 at 08:44 | #75

    Roy – “That also means that if consume 1% less next year than I had planned to consume then we save the planet.”

    No but if the largest polluting nations like the US, the EU and China instituted a massive energy saving scheme that reduced power consumption by 50% yes that would go a long way to saving the planet. Such schemes can even be profitable – it just takes political will and leadership. One of the above mentioned nations is taking some baby steps toward this goal the other 2 are not.

    If those same countries then replaced their IC cars with electric cars and plug in hybrids the storage they gain could foster a massive increase in renewable energy. The same region, the EU, is taking quite large steps toward renewable energy as are the other two to a lesser degree.

    It is fairly simple – the devil is in the details.

  76. Roy Sites
    August 10th, 2006 at 22:31 | #76

    Oh yes, the devil is in the details.

    There are no altenate fuels available would have any effect. Hydrogen fuel cells are the closest, however, it costs more in CO2 emission to produce the hydrogen than is saved in gasoline not used.

    Biodeisel will, along with hudrogen fuel cells, reduce our reliance on Middle Eastern oil but will not reduce CO2 emissions.

    There are more acres of forests in the US now than there were 200 years ago, so reforrestation probably won’t do that much.

    That leaves very few alternatives for such a drastic reduction as mentioned (50%). I suppose we could have a good war and reduce the world population by 50-60%, or maybe the politicians can come up with a scenario to just eliminate citizens, especially those who oppose them.

    I prefer to think, however, that mankind left to his own devices, unhibited by politicians, can and will come up with solutions that will both save the world and increase profits. The same way humans have been doing it for thousands of years. Mankind has done, and will continue to do, horrendous things to both themselves and the rest of the world (just look at the environment the Soviet Union left behind); but in the end has always found a way to improve conditions for everyone.

    Free market economies have always worked and will always work best.

  77. August 10th, 2006 at 22:50 | #77

    Roy Sites – “There are no altenate fuels available would have any effect.”

    What about electricity? As I said if you have electric transport then you have storage for renewables. It is called Vehicle to Grid or V2G.

    “That leaves very few alternatives for such a drastic reduction as mentioned (50%).”

    With very little effort and for not much money 40% or 50% savings on electricity use can be made just by mandating energy efficiency standards on airconditioners and refrigeration units. Buildings are another huge area where massive gains in efficiency and savings in power use can be made quite cheaply. Better yet the companies or individuals that do this save money on power.

    No need for a war unless of course you want one.

  78. Roy Sites
    August 11th, 2006 at 07:44 | #78

    Unless you are talking about nuclear power generation, as much or more CO2 is emitted creating the electricity than is saved by not burning the fossil fuels.

    Nuclear power plants, at least in the US, are not being built. Wind and solar power generators do exist but account for such a tiny fraction of the total power used that they cannot be considered.

    So, where is the 50% reduction of CO2 emissions going to come from?

  79. August 11th, 2006 at 08:25 | #79

    Roy Sites – If you don’t use the electricity or gas in the first place then you don’t emit CO2. Saving electicity with higher efficiency appliences that do the same job with half the power, or houses that are insulated and are able to be heated/cooled with half the energy reduces the amount of CO2 generated.

    Electric cars and plug in hybrids emit CO2 only at the generation plant. However even an electric car charged with electricity from a coal plant emits less than half the CO2 of an equivilent IC car. This is due to even thermal coal plants are far more efficient than a car’s IC engine. An electric drivetrain can be 85% efficient as opposed to the 15% you get at best from your IC car.

  80. Roy Sites
    August 14th, 2006 at 22:41 | #80

    Dream on.

  81. Terje (say tay-a)
    August 14th, 2006 at 23:18 | #81

    I’m really interested at a technical level to see if the Solar Tower proposed by Enviromission can be made into a bankable investment. On paper at least it looks very promising. I love the simplicity of the technology not to mention it’s boldness. I do think that with time and wits we will eventually find better alternatives to coal.

    In terms of efficiency gains I think that if governments wish to take action they would do well to look at incremental improvements in the efficiency of the coal fired power stations that they own and operate. Handing out fluro light bulbs (as they do at shopping centres in NSW) may reduce my lighting bill, but in winter it also increases my heating bill (which does very little to reduce CO2 emissions).

  82. August 15th, 2006 at 08:31 | #82

    Roy Sites – “Dream on.”

    The difference is that the people really behind the push for efficiency and electric cars dream big and dream with their eyes firmly open.

    Terje – “incremental improvements in the efficiency of the coal fired power stations that they own and operate”

    Thermal coal plants have had a long history of improvement and are stuck at about 36% with current materials. Steam can only be made so hot and at so much pressure. Any improvements now are very small.

  83. Terje (say tay-a)
    August 15th, 2006 at 08:51 | #83

    Ender,

    I read recently about technology for brown coal power stations that lowers efficiency but lowers CO2 output by more. Perhaps I was not specific enough in my suggestion.

    On a personal note. We insulated the ceiling a few weeks ago and I don’t know if we will use less power for heating, but the house is certaily more snug.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  84. August 15th, 2006 at 10:23 | #84

    Terje – “I read recently about technology for brown coal power stations that lowers efficiency but lowers CO2 output by more. Perhaps I was not specific enough in my suggestion.”

    Perhaps it was CO2 Sequestration. This does lower the efficiency as the CO2 scrubbers block the exaust for one and also require a lot of power to run the compressors and liquifiers reducing the overall efficiency. In a normal power station the CO2 is still quite dilute and cannot be completely scrubbed from the exaust so therefore applying this technology to brown coal plants will only lower the CO2 emissions not eliminate them.

    “On a personal note. We insulated the ceiling a few weeks ago and I don’t know if we will use less power for heating, but the house is certaily more snug.”

    Would not have a house without it. In Perth, where it does not really get too cold, we have had for the last 10 years only one 2400W oil radiator that heats the whole house which is double brick and has insulation. I also have all flouro lights.

  85. Terje
    August 16th, 2006 at 12:09 | #85

    Ender,

    Here is an article talking about the technology I was refering to. It involves drying the coal before burning it. I think the technology is limited to brown coal.

    http://www.theage.com.au/news/business/power-play-for-100m-grant/2006/07/30/1154198011142.html

    The program put forward by IP comes in a series of stages. The first is to fit coal-drying technology to two units of its eight-unit Hazelwood plant, the most greenhouse-polluting generator in Australia. That technology, IP’s LETDF submission claims, will cut emissions from its oldest two generation units by as much as 30 per cent, to about 1.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour of electricity generated.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  86. andrew
    December 17th, 2006 at 16:15 | #86

    Dear Mr Quiggin

    Regardless of the many theories surrounding global warming – it is intellectualy dishonest to compare those who raise questions with regard to this important issue with “creationists”
    Those who support the AGW hypothesis need to become more efficient and less emotive with their use of langauge.
    As for myself – I agree that GW is occurring – but I cannot agree with the rude, humourless and dismissive manner with which many of those that believe fervently in AGW correspond.
    You should know better.

Comments are closed.