Home > Boneheaded stupidity, Environment > Global warming takes a globe

Global warming takes a globe

February 9th, 2011

As part of the publicity effort for the AARES conference, I was interviewed, along with some of our invited speakers, by the ABC Country Hour. I talked mainly about global warming and (along with Quentin Grafton and Alan Randall) water policy in the Murray Darling Basin, two of the main topics discussed at the conference (I also wrote an opinion piece, which was published here).

Given the audience, we were anticipating the arrival of hotly worded text messages denouncing the IPCC etc. However, the first one in was much more pleasantly amusing “We never had global warming when the world was flat. I blame Christopher Columbus”[1]

fn1. To forestall any pedantic objections to this bon mot I am of course aware that the sphericity of the earth was known from ancient times, and that Columbus’ contribution to the debate was to sail westward on the basis of a massive underestimate of the circumference. I imagine the writer of the text knew this too. The suggestion, popular in anti-science circles, that “scientists all thought the earth was flat” (many examples here) is an illustration of the extent to which anti-scientists are immune to any kind of factual evidence.

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Environment Tags:
  1. wilful
    February 9th, 2011 at 16:02 | #1

    Well I don’t think it’s terribly fair to presume that Country hour listeners are going to be a hotbed of denialism.

    Sure, farmers trend older and more conservative, but there are plenty of them out there very concerned about climate change.

  2. Sam
    February 9th, 2011 at 16:43 | #2

    I highly recommend a trip to the flat earth society wiki. The challenge is to come up with a flat earth metaphysics that explains all of our observations using the fewest silly logical jumps. The fact that people on the site actually BELIEVE their hypothesis only adds to the excitement.

  3. Nick R
    February 9th, 2011 at 17:57 | #3

    Sam I also read this. Actually I heard a stat somewhere that there is greater agreement amongst scientists about fundamental aspects of AGW (98%) than there is amongst humans generally about the shape of the earth (flat vs sphere presumably). I have been dying to point this out to the next conservative who says ‘the science isn’t settled’ :)

  4. Nick R
    February 9th, 2011 at 18:17 | #4

    BTW I don’t think the comparison was intended to be a particularly serious one.

  5. Alice
    February 9th, 2011 at 18:49 | #5

    well I guess the point of this thread is to compare flat earthers to climate change denialists.
    A reasonable comparison. Not an unfair thing to say human advance has always had its share of obstructionists but to be fair to the obstructionists…this time I think they will win because the problem is short term survival V long term survival of our species and I think short term survival will prevail.

  6. Alice
    February 9th, 2011 at 18:50 | #6

    @Alice
    sadly it will come down to that….

  7. Freelander
    February 9th, 2011 at 19:48 | #7

    When we decided to socially construct a round earth, sure, we no longer had to fear falling off the edge, but what have we let ourselves in for? Now if we reject all this troublesome evidence and inconvenient opinions of mere scientists, maybe we can socially construct our reality without AGW. We may all perish from weather related events, but we will sleep much easier knowing that we were not to blame.

    I wonder when the looney right adopted the idea of socially constructing their knowledge? In a community where all knowledge is socially constructed burning heretics must be essential.

  8. February 9th, 2011 at 19:51 | #8

    I like the joke.

    Farmers seem to me to be the inevitable optimists. Those on the edges of cultivateable land want to believe that bad droughts are a misadventure and that their future will be better. Those in the Mallee don’t want to switch to running a motel in Mildura.

    They are also, of course, knowledgeable about climate. It is an important ingredient in their production planning.

    Their optimism and their sound knowledge mean they are a group well worth talking to and (of course) listening to.

  9. fred
    February 9th, 2011 at 20:30 | #9

    Lets shed a bit of light onto the topic of farmers and climate change.

    Some time ago [2009] Possum reported on a massive ABS survey by the ABS on 150,000 farmers and climate change.

    Here’s a link.
    http://blogs.crikey.com.au/pollytics/2009/08/18/agriculture-and-climate-change/

    Here is a rough copy of some of what Possum had to say.

    “These surveys were undertaken by the ABS during 2006/7 and ran from a total sample of around 150,000 …

    …. the responses of farm managers to three questions.

    Firstly, whether farmers believe that climate has changed

    secondly whether that change has affected their particular farm holdings, …

    thirdly, whether that climate change has forced farmers to change their management practices.”

    Here are the results:

    Q1 yes 65.6%

    Q2 yes 62.4%

    Q3 yes 49.5%

    Also note this:

    “To quote the ABS:
    “To put this another way, land managers who did not own the business were 1.26 times more likely than owner/operators to perceive that climate affecting the holding had changed.”

    Are you surprised?
    Does this survey appear to contradict the common perception of the attitude of farmers to climate change?

    Check the article out. Its interesting.

  10. Gordicans
    February 9th, 2011 at 20:57 | #10

    I was speaking earlier in the week with an old uni mate of mine who owns a large wheat farm in WA. He thought that farmers often can be in a state of denial about anthropogenic climate change simply because they have so much invested in their properties, and climate change is likely to greatly reduce their assets. Head in the sand approach I know, but an understandable human reaction. Of course acknowledgment and understanding of climate change would put them in a better position to protect their capital.

  11. Charlie
    February 9th, 2011 at 22:48 | #11

    JQ at AARES, at Online Opinion, 8 Feb 2011: “Economists have enough expertise with time series to distinguish a genuine upward trend from a random fluctuation”.
    Well, that is a surprise, as there is no evidence for this claim. The truth is that neither of the UAH and RSS satellite records show ANY rising trend in global mean temperature since they began their records around 1979. All the other records (HadleyCRUT, Gistemp, etc.) have been “homogenised” from GCHN to show whatever is needed to keep the gravy train running, but even they show minimal upward trend since 1979.
    If anybody wants the actual trends from all data sets since beginning 1979, put up your email address and I will supply.

  12. hc
    February 9th, 2011 at 23:22 | #12

    Oh Charlie give it a break.

  13. Alan
    February 10th, 2011 at 03:54 | #13

    Well I talked to a guy in the pub and he said the average flatness of the earth cannot be measured and all you have to do is look outside and you can see the earth is flat. Now if I can just find someone with an aristocratic title…

  14. Chris Warren
    February 10th, 2011 at 08:05 | #14

    @Charlie

    Is there ‘no evidence’ for the claim that:

    Economists have enough expertise with time series to distinguish a genuine upward trend from a random fluctuation.

    Actually this has nothing to do with economists. Social scientists generally can distinguish between real trends and random fluctuations.

    Anyway, if there is some new superior view on global mean temperature based on available data, by all means lets see it:

    Send to: [email protected]

  15. Freelander
    February 10th, 2011 at 08:27 | #15

    @Alan

    You’re going for aristocratic socially constructed knowledge. If you can’t find an aristocrat, just find another guy in the pub and you can have proletarian socially constructed knowledge. More appropriate in a country that many would like to turn into a republic.

  16. Charlie
    February 10th, 2011 at 08:39 | #16

    Chris: thanks, on its way very soon.

    hc: OK, but only if you explain why AARES chose as its new President one who thinks less CO2 and H2O will be good for crops and livestock?

  17. Freelander
    February 10th, 2011 at 08:55 | #17

    The extra H2O in Qld did farmers there, their crops and livestock, a fat lot of use.

  18. February 10th, 2011 at 08:58 | #18

    @ Gord. You said: “I was speaking earlier in the week with an old uni mate of mine who owns a large wheat farm in WA. He thought that farmers often can be in a state of denial about anthropogenic climate change simply because they have so much invested in their properties, and climate change is likely to greatly reduce their assets.

    Which is true of many industries – oil, gas, electricity, auto manufacturing. The sunk capital and investment over decades is in the trillions. To think that this needs to be changed, or abandoned would terrify many.

  19. JamesH
    February 10th, 2011 at 09:41 | #19
  20. Donald Oats
    February 10th, 2011 at 10:15 | #20

    At some point you have to make a decision: is a trend in a statistical sense able to be modelled by a particular physical/mathematical/computational model based on physics, or is it merely a statistical amusement?
    Once a clase of physics-based (eg fluxes, conservation laws, chemical reactions) model is accepted, statistics may assist greatly in narrowing down the parameter values, etc, and the model(s) assist in reducing the level of variation in the observed data that is treated as noise not signal. A subtle model may explain and/or predict some of the wibbly-wobblies that without a physics model are junked as noise. If a physics model, or indeed an entire class of physics-based models, doesn’t agree with the data, then no amount of statistical fudgery is going to change that fact, unless of course a person is willing to accept enormous error bars on their parameter values.

    A trend has been detected statistically, when global temperature is the variable under consideration. A trend has been detected statistically, when ice volume (polar artic and antarctic sea) is considered, and so many other large scale variables also have statistically detected trends. Statisticians may fight for a while yet about whether these trends follow some linear time series model or other, or whether they are nonlinear inherently (er, yes for most variables), and what to do about it. But the trends are there. Whether a physical model can isolate those trends is the next more difficult step, and one that has been underway for many years now. Global variables and large-scale regional variables can be predicted (based on historical data) up to a point where the system limitations themselves become manifest (and this has nothing to do with scientific competency), or where other data-based constraints apply – eg not accurate enough, not enough data, etc. Even a simple physical model gives pause for thought though.

    Farmers with large property holdings, and who have a family history on those holdings, are well placed to discuss climate changes at their regional level. Of course change isn’t necessarily human driven (local or global) but with the information we now have at hand many farmers are willing to give it more thought than indicated by talk-back.

    I am visiting a farming family in the NE Vic region today: Farmer ‘Bob’ as I’ll call him, has used el Nino/la Nina and Indian Ocean oscillation/observations to determine his likely growing conditions. That is without any help from the Bob Carter and Ian Plimer types, who tour the farming communities and scare them about the Greenie/Communist/Nazi/Jap/Asian menace that’s behind the AGW thing. Carter and Plimer have nothing to offer the agricultural sector, however much help they might be for the mining sector (in Plimer’s case) or the (neo-)conservative groups (in both cases).

  21. Charlie
    February 10th, 2011 at 10:32 | #21

    JamesH: what is the actual trend in that graph? for UAH it is 0.0012 oC per month, so it will take 1000 months to reach 1.0 oC, (R2 0.3432), slightly less for RSS (i.e. for an average anomaly of 1.2 oC over say 20 years, 2090 to 2110).

  22. JamesH
    February 10th, 2011 at 11:14 | #22

    I make it about 1.45 oC/century, linear trend (I can’t think why you would want to regress to monthly level). As CO2 levels are still rising and there is thermal lag and inertia from the oceans, there is every reason to think that this trend will increase above linear regression.

    For example, over its entire history since 1850, HaDCRUT has a linear trend of only 0.47 oC/Century or thereabouts, because the trend from 1860 to 1920 or so is flat; the discrepancy between HaDCRUT and UAH trends is because warming is accelerating.

  23. jquiggin
    February 10th, 2011 at 12:08 | #23

    Charlie, you were claiming above that there was NO trend, and accusing most of the world’s scientists of fraud. Now you’re quibbling about numbers of months! How about admitting you were wrong, and retracting your silly and offensive claims?

    Or do you prefer to continue to provide evidence that anti-science rightwingers are obstinate liars as well as fools?

  24. Charlie
    February 10th, 2011 at 12:34 | #24

    JQ: The UAH trend yielding a rise of 1.2 oC by 2100 is well below the IPCC claims, and not so much above the 1900-2000 rise as to justify claims of catastrophe. Moreover most of the Northern Hemisphere’s folk would welcome it, if not those in Norwich and Edinburgh, while in Brisbane you would not notice it.

  25. fred
    February 10th, 2011 at 12:42 | #25

    Did you folk hear that whoooooooshing sound?

    That was the goalposts shifting.

  26. Chris Warren
    February 10th, 2011 at 12:55 | #26

    My quick response to Charlie’s paper – It is consistent with all previous statistical disputes.

    However, a key issue is that most temp datasets are anomalies, not actual temperatures, and most authors do not consider this problem. NASA explains why they use anomalies as;

    Our analysis concerns only temperature anomalies, not absolute temperature. Temperature anomalies are computed relative to the base period 1951-1980. The reason to work with anomalies, rather than absolute temperature is that absolute temperature varies markedly in short distances, while monthly or annual temperature anomalies are representative of a much larger region. Indeed, we have shown (Hansen and Lebedeff, 1987) that temperature anomalies are strongly correlated out to distances of the order of 1000 km.

    Drawing simple graphs and inferences from anomalies (when the subject is absolute temp) is a bit like drawing inferences from acceleration when the subject is distance.

    In any case, all presentations I have seen demonstrate an overall increasing trend in anomaly. A small increase in anomaly, depending on how long it is sustained, can have a larger total effect on climate. Presumably the impact of a later anomaly (compared to a fixed baseline) piles-onto the next temperature increase. So a level trend in anomaly or even a declining trend in anomaly would still represent global warming wrt the baseline.

    If in a baseline year, temperature was increasing at a slow rate, so a anomaly was produced, then if this anomaly continues – this directly represents a warmed climate. If the anomaly falls then we still have a warmed climate. If the anomaly increases then temperature increases. Even if the anomaly is negative, climate could still be warming. Its just that the rate of warming has changed.

    So I see no residual issue here.

    Charlies linear regression of temp anomaly and CO2 (Mauna Loa) are arguable as both datasets are not linear, but nonetheless both represent increasing trends. This does not have to be a proportionate relationship between the two.

    Similarly with Charlie’s fig 5. There is a good fit between CO2 changes and changes in temperature. There is no point drawing conclusions from linear regression as the relationship does not have to be proportionate, and the data is not linear.

  27. February 10th, 2011 at 13:03 | #27

    “Moreover most of the Northern Hemisphere’s folk would welcome it, if not those in Norwich and Edinburgh, while in Brisbane you would not notice it.”

    Yeah, I’m sure that the population of Cairo, Mumbai or Mexico City are just hanging out for an extra degree average temperature (probably translating to 2-3 degrees higher peaks during heat waves). That’s even without the rising sea levels that would result.

    Perhaps Charlie thinks most of the population of the Northern Hemisphere lives more than 35 degrees from the pole. Or does he/she really mean white people.

  28. jquiggin
    February 10th, 2011 at 14:07 | #28

    @Charlie
    Ok, you’ve answered my question thanks.

    Commenters, please don’t feed this troll any more. He’s swallowed more garbage than is good for him.

  29. wilful
    February 10th, 2011 at 14:37 | #29

    Still think you’re wrong about farmers…

  30. jquiggin
    February 10th, 2011 at 14:56 | #30

    I didn’t mean to suggest that all, or even most, farmers reject mainstream science. But you only have to look at National Party politicians (all delusionist, AFAIK) to infer that such views are common, something I can confirm from direct experience in my own family.

    And the host of the Country Hour indicated that she tended to get flak when she raised the topic, which is where the post started.

  31. rog
    February 10th, 2011 at 16:43 | #31

    I think you will find many farmers are on side – but I doubt if they would be supportive of more costs without some way of offsetting those costs. The Nats just plug in to the uncertainty – most of their constituents live in towns and are not really farmers, more dependent on the primary production of others.

  32. February 10th, 2011 at 20:38 | #32

    @Gord. Is it a state of denial or is it just practicality? Which takes precedence – having enough money to be able to afford your bills and to have a place to live or taking care of what the Earth will be like 100 years from now.

    If you say taking care of the Earth then you are very lucky, because it means you have never had to worry where your next meal is coming from.

    The Sun isn’t going to last forever either, but I have other things on my mind right now.

  33. Alice
    February 11th, 2011 at 05:29 | #33

    @Freelander
    says “I wonder when the looney right adopted the idea of socially constructing their knowledge?”

    I wonder the same thing myself – its a sort “reality is what you make of it and as free individuals you are free to make things up and disseminate them as fake facts” No organisational printing presses need be mentioned here – we know who they are..

    Freelander – historically it may have been big Tobacco that really led the way in socially constructed misinformation

  34. February 11th, 2011 at 13:27 | #34

    There is some suspicion that Columbus even knew that he would find North America rather than a sea route to India and withheld that information in order to get funding for the trip. He is said to have visited Iceland a few years before he did set sail for North America. In Iceland, of course, North America had been well-known for almost 500 years and it wouldn’t have been hard for him to have learned of it on that visit.

  35. Donald Oats
    February 12th, 2011 at 17:07 | #35

    @Joe Earth

    Joe Earth makes a good point, concerning having other things on his mind right now; or perhaps the point is untintentional. Whatever: the decision as to whether to support policies – possibly at some personal cost – that are designed to reduce and then remove humanity’s contribution to climate change via greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 for the most part) is one big trade-off against personal impact, impact upon current population, and impact upon future population(s).

    How to make that trade-off is often simply a case of saying that cost to me, now and in the short term future, trumps all other concerns. For some people they are willing to accept some responsibility for the future generation, namely handing over an environment that is habitable to the extent it is affected by our current actions. This group further split into at least three groups, of which the three I can think of are:
    1) those that do not expect the policies they accept will be a burden to themselves in the now and near term future, but leave the question of what fellow citizens will pay for the policy as beyond their concern;
    2) those who do not expect a burden on themselves, but are willing to make concessions for those that are affected – not concessions to groups causing problems, necessarily;
    3) those who are going to take some real personal cost – ie affected now and in the short term future by the policies they accept/promote – as the price of extending responsibility to future generations;
    4) and a bunch of other finely balanced trade-offs defining other groups, probably.

    Then there are those who extend concern only to those who are directly related to the individual, ie parents and children, and perhaps to spouse [joking] at a pinch.

    The question to me is what moral responsibility is there to to current and future generations, related to me, or not, as the case may be? That moral responsibility will determine, in part, to what extent I should be concerned about whether we can even feed everyone now, and whether we can feed those to come?
    The related issue is whether such moral responsibility should extend to whether we have children, and if so, how many?
    I’m referring to personal moral responsibilities here and not necessarily to government responsibilities, moral or not. That is, as an individual, what are my personal responsibilities to others? Hmmm, I might go out and photograph the currently engorged creek at the base of the property; hopefully it is receding.

  36. pablo
    February 12th, 2011 at 19:11 | #36

    I suspect that farmers’ attitudes toward AGW reflect what I learned as a Landcare operative a decade ago in other aspects of promoting better environmental management. Our rule-of-thumb was that you concentrate your efforts on the 10 percent of ‘innovators’ who in turn might influence the 20 – 30 percent of ‘followers’. But you didn’t lose too much sleep over the majority 60 percent ‘dogs’ who would never change adverse practices. A higher percentage of followers and dogs probably recognise that climate change is threatening them but getting a change in land management is equivalent to behaviour change – not easy in an industry age profile of well over 50.
    Note my use of land management vis-a-vis farming was deliberate as it would be a very small percentage of farmers who acknowledge that they are, to use the modern jargon, land managers.

  37. MH
    February 13th, 2011 at 09:04 | #37

    We are not going to feed the world because we cannot and we are not feeding the worlds population of humans and animals and plants as we merrily spin around on the same planet around the sun. With our human centric view of life we ignore the competition for the same inputs of sun, soil and water that all living things require. The policy challenge whether it is food, energy or water seems to require and ability to look beyond the personal to the social and that means a lot of very hard choices and no you cannot have it all!

    Pablo, most farmers (and I am one) recognise all to well the issue of climate change, my friends we live with the climate and its effects day in day out! We are acutely aware of the issues but cannot be bothered to listen to the fairy tales prognosis of technological wizadry that is but life on the never never. What policy wand would you bring to the brutal reality that yet again another years crop is lost, damaged or the output is significantly reduced by the responses of animals and plants to the current vaguarities of temperature, water and wind? Agriculture is not a machine but an enterprise based on managing and harvesting the outputs of life, plant and animal and in case you have missed it, you get one chance a year and if its stuffed you have to hold out for another year and so it goes on. Better get used to scarcity and famines because that is the harvest of the future not the miasma of past glories of R&D and cheap oil. The issues will be resolved by violence and bellicose protectionism.

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