Global warming takes a globe

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.

37 thoughts on “Global warming takes a globe

  1. 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.

  2. “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.

  3. @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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. @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.

  7. @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

  8. 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.

  9. @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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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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