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Climate of complacency #2: de Freitas lies to TV3 Gareth Renowden Jan 14

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Imagine my shock when I discovered today that Chris de Freitas — the Auckland University academic who hit the news a couple of years ago when it was found that he was teaching climate denial to first year students, but who has a 20 year history of advocating for inaction on climate change — had made headlines by telling lies to a TV news operation. The headline: Kiwi scientist: Climate change not to blame for heatwaves. For a while it was top story on the TV3 News web site. Here’s how the story opens:

A New Zealand scientist has denied popular claims the recent Australian heatwave and other extreme weather events around the world are linked to global warming.

Here’s where de Freitas plays fast and loose with the facts:

The Australian government’s Climate Commission released a report last week stating: “climate change has contributed to making the current extreme heat conditions and bushfires worse”.

But associate professor of climate and environment science Chris de Freitas, from the University of Auckland, says this is not the case.

“There is no evidence to suggest that,” he says. “It’s really [just] hype.”

There’s the lie. De Freitas states without qualification that there’s “no evidence”. And yet the Australian Climate Commission’s report on the subject, prepared by three scientists with a great deal more experience and scientific mana than junior geographer de Freitas, states:

Climate change has contributed to making the current extreme heat conditions and bushfires worse.

The report provides a long list of peer-reviewed scientific studies to support its conclusions. But de Freitas keeps on digging a hole for himself:

Dr Freitas says the earth actually hasn’t warmed for at least a decade, and scientists do not know enough about climate change to tell if carbon dioxide emissions could cause large or damaging changes.

“There’s no evidence to suggest that what we’re doing is creating dangerous change.”

Tell it to the firefighters, Chris. Tell it to the people of Dunalley. Tell it to the Australian people suffering as climate change comes home to roost.

There are several questions that have to be asked about this “news” item. Why did TV3 go to de Freitas for a story in the first place? Was de Freitas touting his contrarian lies to the media, or were his friends at the NZ Climate “Science” Coalition, where he rejoices in the role of “science adviser”, pushing his views to news operations running short-staffed during the summer break?

Auckland University, which allows de Freitas to teach rubbish to its students under the guise of academic freedom, has to ask itself if it can really stand behind an employee who so egregiously lies in public. Academic freedom should be cherished, but allowing de Freitas’s nonsense to go unchallenged devalues the very notion, and diminishes the university’s hard won reputation as a centre of academic excellence.

Climate: The Counter Consensus Gareth Renowden Apr 29

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ClimateThis review of Bob Carter’s latest book, by Dr James Renwick, Principal Scientist at NIWA’s Climate Variability & Change group, was first published in the March newsletter of the Geoscience Society of New Zealand. My thanks to Jim for permission to republish it here.

This book is a curious read, full of misinformation, straw-man arguments, and poorly-documented assertions. To become immersed in it, we must enter the through-the-looking-glass world of the ’independent’ scientist, where those such as myself are the ones ’…who have dissembled, told half-truths, cherry-picked their data, fantastically exaggerated, and suppressed the circulation of better science’ (Prefatory Essay, p. 19). Meanwhile, the ideas put forward by Prof. Carter are portrayed as representing a balanced appraisal of the issues. From where I sit, that’s the opposite of reality.

The basic premise of the book is that observed climate changes are a result of natural variability, with at most a very gentle nudge from human activity. Carter asserts that future global cooling is at least as likely as warming. And those whose work suggests that human-induced climate change is real and is a significant threat have either become politicised (p. 231), or have been pressured into submission (p. 181). To support his case, Carter lists many references, relying heavily on his own publications plus those of Soon, Loehle, McLean, McKitrick et al., and with extensive reference to the blogosphere — wattsupwiththat.com, co2science.org, climateaudit.org, etc.

Much of the criticism is directed at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body that every few years provides a synthesis of what’s published in the scientific literature on climate change. The IPCC report writing is done by volunteer teams of scientists, and every effort is made to be inclusive, broad-ranging, and authoritative. But in Carter’s book, the IPCC is portrayed as a slick PR machine designed to push a political line, resistance to which is professional suicide. Carter claims that major news organisations, science academies, the Archbishop of Canterbury and even Prince Charles (!) are involved in the relentless drive to squash opposition (p 162). Many authors are quoted out of context, in part to portray the idea that there’s a growing number of brave souls who are starting to see the light 1.

Climate science is seen as ’consensus science’ and so by definition is not science at all. The IPCC is again painted as the major villain. Actually, there’s an overwhelming weight of evidence in the literature that supports the reality of human-induced climate change. This could be described as a consensus, which could then be criticised for being a consensus, if scientific agreement is seen as a bad thing. Galileo is held up as proof that consensus is meaningless — one man turned the consensus of his time on its head. Since Galileo’s time, a general consensus has developed that he was right, because a mountain of observational evidence and theory has built up to back his findings. That adds weight to Galileo’s ideas, rather than detracting from them. There are the occasional Galileos (e.g. Milankovitch, Arrhenius), but most scientific advance is incremental, carried out by large teams who communicate widely, guided by the observational evidence to hand.

The book begins with an overview of the geological context, covering orbital forcing, Milankovitch cycles, abrupt events, and the Holocene. The existence of large natural variations in the past is used to argue that present-day variability is nothing unusual, and that there’s no evidence that human activity is having a significant effect today. The crucial point left out is that the major influence changing the climate today is the increased atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, a result of human activity. That is true regardless of climate history and the existence of other natural forcings. The tight coupling between carbon dioxide and global temperature is undisputed and is documented through the ice ages and beyond. The basic radiation physics has not changed.

Because we need that geological ’long view’, the instrumental record is seen as woefully inadequate (Chapter 2). Moreover, because it is standard meteorological practice to define climate ’normals’ as 30-year averages, we are told there is only one new climate observation every 30 years, hence the complete instrumental record is only 5 points long!

Chapter 3 covers climate sensitivity and greenhouse gases. Here, CO2 is portrayed as a benign gas with a limited role in the radiation balance. The bulk of the literature on this subject is ignored, in favour of work by Ernst Beck2 and Chris deFreitas. Climate sensitivity is portrayed as low, and uncertainty very high. I wish this were so, but the vast majority of research over recent decades (ignored here) says the opposite. Chapter 4 discusses the oceans. Again we are told that there’s no cause for concern, that sea level rise is all natural (and certainly not accelerating), and anyway, according to Carter the oceans are now cooling (p. 121). Ocean acidification (described as a deliberately ’emotional’ expression) is portrayed as a non-issue. Again, the reality of the situation, and the vast majority of the literature on this topic, is not discussed.

Climate models are roundly rubbished in Chapter 5, being described later as ’playstation games.’ Supporting evidence comes from Soon, McKitrick, Essex et al., again ignoring 99.9% of the scientific literature, and the long list of climate modelling achievements. There are many inconsistencies throughout this book, such as the statement on page 121 that models incorrectly project increasing ocean heat content, while observations show no warming for the last five years. After dismissing 150 years of instrumental observations in Chapter 2, we are given one sixth of one data point to imply (erroneously) that models are wrong.

Chapter 6 claims to show that evidence of (human-induced) climate change is either fraudulent, or exaggerated, or actually the result of natural variability. Amongst many other things, Carter claims that the Great Barrier Reef and its waters are in the same state they were in the 1700s — supported by reference to one of his own papers. That claim ignores well-documented declining water quality from runoff, loss of coastal wetlands, overfishing, invasive species, acidification…

If the author had a genuine case to make [...] he would be the toast of the science community everywhere [...] a modern-day Galileo.

Chapter 7 suggests that most of the climate science community has been corrupted by the vast sums of money on offer (certainly not my experience), or intimidated by science academies and others. We’re told that even the US National Academy of Sciences has been ’infiltrated by environmental activist scientists’ (p 167). Chapter 8 implies that ’independent scientists’ such as the author are deliberately shut out of public meetings on climate change. If the author had a genuine case to make, and could demonstrate that the threat of human-induced climate change is not real, he would certainly get entry to public forums. In fact, he would be the toast of the science community everywhere, having overturned thousands of person-years of research effort —- a modern-day Galileo.

Chapter 9 discusses the IPCC at some length. The strength of the IPCC reports is the breadth of research that is surveyed, literally tens of thousands of papers are referenced and woven into the biggest of big pictures on climate change. Carter’s contention that a small politically-motivated clique runs things is just not the case. As Carter notes, peer-review is not perfect, but I, and most in the science community, recognise that it’s a very good start. Yes, mistakes are made, but no document is error-free, and the number of identified errors is remarkably small for the 3000 pages of text and figures in the IPCC 4th Assessment Report. Similarly, a small number of scientists have expressed dissatisfaction with the IPCC process. Yet, the more notable thing to my mind is the huge number who have not expressed any disquiet and who are genuinely keen to contribute.

Chapters 10 and 11 discuss two things: that we should prepare for global cooling; and that adapting to regional natural variability and extremes (what Carter calls ’Plan B’) makes more sense than worrying about climate change (Carter’s ’Plan A’). The first point is risible, given that the globe continues to warm3, glaciers continue to melt4 and sea levels continue to rise5. The second point fits closely with strategies already adopted by many central and local government agencies in New Zealand and around the world: Plan B is already under way. At the same time, we need more emphasis on Plan A (climate change mitigation), if we are to avoid really major changes in climate.

The final chapter covers ’Climategate’. The book makes the illegal release of e-mails and other material from the University of East Anglia sound like the death knell for climate science. Again, that is just not so. All the official inquiries into the matter have since vindicated Phil Jones and the Climatic Research Unit, find no tampering with data, and no conspiracy to suppress anything or trick anyone. A huge amount of time and public money has been wasted looking in to crimes that were never committed.

In summary, I cannot recommend this book. Carter’s criticisms of the IPCC and the climate science community are just not true. The book’s scientific arguments are based upon a very selective reading of the literature and do not stand up to scrutiny.

  1. For example the Introduction (p 30) cites Perlwitz et al. (2009), noting that they say ’Doubts on the science of human-induced climate change have been cast by recent cooling.’ We are not told that the Perlwitz paper also states ’The implication is that the pace of North American warming is likely to resume in coming years, and that climate is unlikely embarking upon a prolonged cooling.’
  2. Check http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/05/beck-to-the-future/ for a summary of the dubious nature of Beck’s ’research’.
  3. http://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/news/20110112/
  4. http://www.wgms.ch/mbb/sum09.html
  5. http://www.cmar.csiro.au/sealevel/

McLean’s folly and the climate clueless Gareth Renowden Mar 13

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In an astonishing press release issued last week, the New Zealand Climate “Science” Coalition predicts that 2011 will be the “coolest year globally since 1956 or even earlier”. The C”S”C bases its prediction on the work of Australian “computer consultant and occasional travel photographer” John McLean. Hot Topic readers will remember McLean as the lead author of a rapidly rebutted 2009 paper (written with Chris de Freitas and Bob Carter) which claimed that El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events were a driver of global temperature increases. I covered the full story at the time: see Mother Nature’s Sons and subsequent posts.

One unoriginal finding of the McLean paper was that global temperatures were affected by ENSO events — warming after El Niños and cooling after La Niñas. Last year NZ C”S”C member Bryan Leyland used this to “predict” a coming cooling, which was lapped up by the usual suspects. In January this year, Leyland predicted cooling would continue until at least June. Now McLean has taken this a step further by predicting that temperatures will plunge to that of a cool year 50 years ago. There’s no justification for this prediction in the press release, beyond McLean pretending that his 2009 paper showed that CO2 was a minor player in global temperature change.

Unfortunately for the credibility of all involved, McLean’s prediction is utter unphysical nonsense. Here’s why…

I wanted to find out how McLean’s prediction looked in the context of the long term temperature record, so I downloaded the NASA GISS series data (available here), and plotted it on a graph:

Maclean1956

I’ve shown the 1956 temperature (-0.17ºC referenced to the 1951-80 average) as a blue line. The red cross on the end is where the 2011 temperature would plot if McLean’s prediction were to come true. I also looked through the data series for the biggest single year cooling event. That was a fall of 0.29ºC from 1963 to 1964, helped along by the explosive eruption of Mt Agung in Bali. The higher red cross labelled “1963 cooling” is where 2011 would plot with the same temperature fall. By way of contrast, the largest recent cooling not benefitting from volcanic help was 1998 – 1999, and “only” 0.24ºC.

McLean wants us to believe that global temperatures will fall by 0.8ºC in a single year. There is no precedent for such a large drop in the last 130 years — the variation between years is much smaller, not often exceeding 0.2ºC. The reason for that is easy enough to understand: there’s a lot of thermal “inertia” in the climate system, provided by the oceans that cover 70% of the planet’s surface. The only way global temperatures could fall by 0.8ºC in a single year would be for the amount of solar energy reaching the earth’s surface to be hugely reduced — and the only natural mechanism that could do that would be a volcanic eruption (or series of eruptions) of truly vast size. It won’t happen because of a single La Niña event, however strong and long one might be.

Here’s my prediction. Barring the volcanic equivalent of a nuclear winter, 2011 will probably turn out to be slightly cooler overall than 2010, because of the current La Niña (which may or may not fade away later this year). Given a really steep fall like the one from 1963 to 64, we might have the coolest year since… 2000. That’s what 50 years of heat accumulating the system means. And the underlying warming trend will continue.

You might think that the “scientists” and “experts” at the NZ Climate “Science” Coalition would have noticed that McLean’s temperature forecast is rubbish. After all, they have noted scientists like Bob Carter and Chris de Freitas as members and advisers. Unfortunately Chris and Bob appear to have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to criticising their erstwhile co-author. Meanwhile, the Climate “Science” Coalition, and everyone involved in promoting this sorry little weather forecast are shown, yet again, to be the Climate Cluelessâ„¢.

[PS: I haven't got round to formulating a bet with Bryan Leyland on "warming" v "cooling" (yet), but if he's willing to bet that McLean's right, I'll very happily take the other side.]

[Robert Palmer]

Fools gold: cranks can’t count Gareth Renowden Feb 09

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I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. 14 months on from the start of the Treadgold/Climate “Science” Coalition/ACT campaign to cast doubt on the long term New Zealand temperature record, after parliamentary questions, much mud slinging at Jim Salinger and NIWA, legal action, and the expensive and time-wasting reconstruction of a temperature series that’s pretty much identical to the original, diligent digging by Open Parachute/Sciblogs blogger Ken Perrott has revealed a stunning level of statistical incompetence in the “paper” that started it all. Written and published by Richard Treadgold of the Climate Conversation Group, that “paper” contained a graph purporting to show a long term NZ temperature series constructed without adjustments for station moves.

A day or two ago, Treadgold posted a link to the underlying data at his blog, and Perrott — who has been requesting this information for most of the last year — was quick to download it and take a peek “under the hood” of Treadgold’s graph. And what he found was truly remarkable. Treadgold makes no allowances for missing data, makes no attempt to create a valid composite series, simply averages the numbers and plots them on a graph. There are a lot of gaps in the data — especially in the early years — so the “NZ” temperature is in some years just Dunedin, or Dunedin plus Wellington, or Wellington plus Auckland, and so on. Treadgold’s incredible statistical naivete allows him to not just compare apples to oranges, but to feijoas and konini berries as well. The result, of course, is a dog’s breakfast. To make matters worse, he then computed a trend on the data, and announced:

Straight away you can see there’s no slope–either up or down. The temperatures are remarkably constant way back to the 1850s. Of course, the temperature still varies from year to year, but the trend stays level–statistically insignificant at 0.06°C per century since 1850.

A whole political campaign has been constructed on the back of this statistical idiocy. Variations of Treadgold’s claim have been used in questions in Parliament. Valuable scientists’ time and tax payer money has been wasted pursuing his folly. The Climate “Science” Coalition are still desperately trying to keep the issue alive, hoping that if they can create enough smoke everyone will assume there’s a fire somewhere. Unfortunately for Barry Brill and his colleagues, Treadgold’s statistical incompetence undercuts their whole campaign. Do they really think the NZ public and politicians will take the word of a bunch that sling mud and smear scientists, when they are incapable of doing their own simple sums?

Congratulations to Ken for unmasking this fraud. I eagerly await the fulsome apology Treadgold owes to Jim Salinger, NIWA and the public of New Zealand. Perhaps the NZ C”S”C might offer to repay some of the tax payer funds wasted on this affair. But I won’t be holding my breath…

Meanwhile, I think it’s worth repeating the conclusion to my first post on this affair:

None of these cranks should be accorded any respect in future. By their words shall we know them, and their words show them to be ignorant, bullying fools. De Freitas [science advisor to the CSC] should withdraw and apologise, or resign from his post at Auckland University, and if Treadgold, Dunleavy, McShane, Leyland,or any other member of the NZ CSC want to partake in public debate on the subject of climate science, they should expect derision to be heaped on them and their views.

[Update 10/2: Prompted by Manfred's comment below, I checked back over the original 7SS data and Treadgold's spreadsheet -- as well as with one or two people who might be expected to know ;-) -- and it appears that taking a simple average of the annual anomalies in years where some stations reported no data was NIWA's practise for the original 7 station series. It's not ideal, particularly in the very early years when there are large gaps in the data, but it's how it was done. Treadgold was therefore following established practise, in that one respect. I therefore apologise to Richard for echoing that specific allegation without first checking the data. However, this does not get him off the hook for the rest of his "analysis", nor prompt me to change my overall conclusions. I accused him of "statistical idiocy" and that charge stands -- not least because he derives his anomalies by taking unadjusted or raw station data and relating it to a 1971-2000 baseline derived from different stations at different locations using different measurement equipment, and then pretends that he's made the warming disappear. Tell that to the glaciers...]

[Stone Roses]

de Freitas: politics cloud his understanding of climate science Gareth Renowden Jan 06

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The southern summer silly season is here, and newspapers are desperate for copy. That’s about the only good reason I can think of for the nation’s biggest-selling newspaper, Auckland’s NZ Herald, giving Chris “unreliable witnessde Freitas yet more space to re-run some tired old climate sceptic arguments under the headline Emotion clouding underlying science of global warming. Doubt is his product, and he tries very hard to sound reasonable as he spins his tale. It’s a pity then that the Auckland University associate professor not only misrepresents the evidence, but gets it so badly wrong that he’s an embarrassment to his department.

CdF sets out his stall by complaining that the media seldom take the time to explain the science of climate. The “scientific basics”, he says, “are not contentious”, and he proceeds to explain that adding greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide to the atmosphere will cause some warming. He continues:

Debate focuses on climate feedbacks that may or may not suppress, perpetuate or amplify an initial change caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases.

The first misdirection: there is no great debate in this area. There are two sceptic scientists who are desperately trying to argue that there is great uncertainty in this area (Roy Spencer and Richard Lindzen have been trying to find negative feedbacks for years), but their publications are not persuasive to their peers.

A doubling of carbon dioxide, by itself, adds only about one degree Celsius to greenhouse warming.

Nearly. CdF is lowballing the number. The “no feedbacks” warming from a doubling of CO2 above preindustrial levels is usually taken to be about 1.2ºC.

Computer climate models project more warming because the modellers build in feedbacks from water vapour and clouds that amplify the initial change. These are the so called positive feedbacks. For example, higher temperature would mean more evaporation globally, which in turn means more heat-trapping water vapour is put into the atmosphere leading to even higher temperatures.

Modellers don’t “build in” positive feedbacks, they emerge from the physics the models are based on. Warming the atmosphere means it will hold more water vapour, which will act to increase warming (as well as add fuel to weather systems and contribute to greater rainfall intensities). The size of this feedback is governed by the Clausius-Clapeyron relation, and is not novel science. This feedback is already observed in action: the atmosphere today contains 4% more water vapour than in 1970.

On the other hand, negative feedbacks might prevail. For example, more water vapour in the atmosphere could lead to greater cloud cover. Clouds reflect the heat from the Sun and cool the Earth, offsetting the initial rise in global temperature.

Another bit of misdirection. Clouds can act to both warm and cool — sometimes both at the same time. The balance between warming and cooling for the atmosphere at large is not clear, but most evidence points to an overall warming effect.

The role of negative feedback processes are played down by global warming alarmists, whereas sceptics point to the four-billion-year-old global climate record that shows runaway global cooling or warming has never occurred because negative feedbacks regulate the global climate system.

This is just nonsense. Positive feedbacks do not have to cause runaway warming (or cooling), but it would be true to say that the balance between natural positive and negative feedbacks over geological time has kept the planet reasonably equitable for hundreds of millions of years (although we got close to trouble several times in the distant past). However, how the climate system behaves under natural (ie non-anthropogenic) forcings and feedbacks isn’t much help to us going forward, because the planet has never had a species come along and increase atmospheric CO2 by 40% in 150 years before. Worse, CO2 acts like a temperature control knob. Over the last 4 million years a change of 100 ppm has been enough to make the difference between cold glacial conditions and warm interglacials, which really ought to suggest to de Freitas that the system is quite sensitive to small changes. To make matters worse, however hard Lindzen and Spencer try, we can’t seem to find a negative feedback (or magic wand) which will save our bacon. And when we add all the forcings and feedbacks together, and consider many lines of evidence, we find that the climate system will warm by around 3ºC for a doubling of CO2 (if we’re lucky).

Most people are surprised to hear that no one has uncovered any empirical real-world evidence that humans are causing dangerous global warming. Finding this evidence is crucial, since scientific issues are resolved by observations that support a theory or hypothesis. They are not resolved by ballot.

This is a straightforward lie. There’s plenty of empirical evidence that warming is happening, and that it’s our fault. Here’s a nifty graphic from Skeptical Science that provides an overview of all the lines of evidence that confirm warming is happening:

Warming_Indicators_480.jpg

Perhaps the weasel word here is “dangerous”. Perhaps CdF agrees that all this evidence exists, but fervently believes that continued warming won’t be dangerous. Perhaps he thinks it would be wise to wait until the “dangers” were undeniable even by him. Perhaps he should stop playing chicken with the future of the planet. But then we return to the sweet voice of unreason…

None of this is to say we should simply walk away from considerations of a global warming threat, but prudent consideration of the scientific facts is essential.

Quite so, Chris, quite so. The problem is that the facts are not as you portray them.

No science should have to rely on one group or authority saying, “Just trust us,” particularly when tens of millions of dollars of public policy decisions are on the line.

And finally we get to the point. Unfortunately, Chris has it precisely arse about face. What he means is…

No policy should be delayed because one small group or PR campaign says “don’t trust the science,” particularly when hundreds of millions of lives are on the line.

The ’inconsistencies’ of Chris de Freitas Gareth Renowden Sep 07

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Auckland University associate professor Chris de Freitas (yes, that one) is a favourite of the NZ Herald opinion editor, regularly popping up in the paper to argue a sceptic line on climate change or, as has happened a couple of times recently, to talk about responses to earthquake disasters. Quite why the paper would go to CdF for the latter when there are many other better-qualified academics who could address the issue remains to be seen, but his article in response to the Canterbury quake in yesterday’s Herald was interesting. Compare and contrast CdF, 6/9/2010:

The focus on earthquake-disaster planning and crisis management is on risk reduction, readiness, response and recovery. In this context, government and local authorities have the responsibility to minimise social vulnerability and have a duty to promote community resilience through enlightened planning.

… with CdF, 1/5/09:

No one knows for sure what the future holds, but there are some good clues as to what’s going on. It hinges on growing evidence that natural influences on climate are in fact stronger than any man-made greenhouse effect. It may be premature to discard our anxiety over the threat of possible human-caused global warming, but this anxiety should not be based on ignorance of what science can tell us.

So for earthquake hazards, de Freitas is happy to argue for risk minimisation despite imperfect knowledge of the size of the risk (his piece looks into failed attempts to predict quakes), but when it comes to climate issues his argument is we shouldn’t do much because we don’t know enough!

Another example of the remarkable intellectual flexibility we have come to expect from the scientific advisor to NZ’s Climate “Science” Coalition. Or perhaps it’s simple hypocrisy. You decide…

Greasy Heart(land) Gareth Renowden May 21

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And so the party’s over, the tables in the ballroom at the Magnificent Mile Marriot Hotel in Chicago have been tidied up and the carpet vacuumed. The Monckton fan club have drifted away from their vigil in the shade of the trees on the sidewalk outside the lobby, and the speakers assembled from around the world have gone home — except for the ones still waiting in line outside Hot Doug’s for the duck fat fries and andouille special (Fridays & Saturdays only, well worth waiting for, I can assure you).

Luckily for us, however, Heartland are promising to make all the talks available on video, so we won’t have to miss any of the highlights. At the moment they only have the keynotes available, but there are quite a few Powerpoints available for download. I’ve been poking around in some of those…

Bob Carter left the “it’s ENSO wot dunnit” duties to McLean et al co-author Chris de Freitas, and gave a talk on Ancient sea-level & climate change: how do we reconstruct it? Looks pretty interesting and non-controversial, until you get to the last few slides where Carter lets rip:

HCCC4Bob_Carter.017.jpg

Following Nils-Axel “no sea level rise since 1970″ Mörner, and with Fred Singer in the room, I suppose it was inevitable that Bob would downplay the real risks, and give Singer’s Not The IPCC report equivalent billing to real science. Note the green dot for Hansen’s speculation, no doubt there so Bob could get a few laughs at his expense. Meanwhile, out in the real world, Bob Bindschadler’s been in NZ, and told TV NZthe best evidence we have and the best insight into the behaviour of the ice sheet lead us to expect that by the end of the century we are going to see sea levels at least one metre higher than today“. (Pity TV NZ couldn’t spell Bob’s name properly…)

Chris de Freitas devoted his talk to The influence of the Southern Oscillation on mean global temperature, as one might expect from the corresponding author of a controversial recent paper on the subject. Strangely, Chris seems to have ignored the heavyweight rebuttal his paper attracted, and continued to make assertions that are — how shall I put this — tenuous in the extreme. Here’s the text of his last three slides, with annotations:

Summary
Change in atmospheric circulation (ENSO) is a dominant influence on MGT (with 7-month lag).
Mechanism that accounts for this is change in Hadley and Walker circulation
A: During La Niña conditions, zonal circulation of the Walker Circulation is enhanced, whereas the meridional circulation of the Hadley cell weakens; 
B: During El Niño conditions, Hadley, circulation increases, which leads to an increase in heat transfer from tropical to higher latitudes.

So far so good. I might quibble with “a dominant influence”, because his discussion ignores any other potential influences, and McLean et al was criticised for using statistical techniques that overstated the the correlation. But then he says this:

Trends towards high frequencies of B show up as ’global warming’.

Pardon? Is de Freitas really asserting that more El Niños mean more global warming? We’ll have to wait for the video to hear what he actually said, but if he’s true to his slide then he’s wandering a long way off the beaten track. Two big problems with this claim: we have evidence that the ENSO cycle has been operating for a very long time, and there were El Nino events during the cold spells (Little Ice Age) as well as during warmer periods. The second is that when you make a thorough effort to account for all the effects of natural variability in the climate system (see Swanson et al, Long-term natural variability and 20th century climate change, PNAS 2009) you find a strong underlying upward trend. If de Freitas were right, then removing all natural variability would remove all or most of the trend. It doesn’t.

He continues:

Mechanism involves more than simply moving heat around within the global climate system.

Changes in ENSO affect convection, and thus atmospheric moisture content and cloud cover, which may in turn affect net solar heating as well as the transfer of heat from Earth to space.

This is channelling Roy Spencer, as an earlier slide acknowledged. We”l have to wait for the video to see what he means, and how Spencer’s postulated negative (cooling) feedback fits into the more El Niño, more warming framework.

If there was a sustained and significant influence on MGT caused by some other forcing, we would expect to see the temperature line in Figure 7 rising relative to the SOI line. The absence of this divergence implies that increases in atmospheric CO2 have had at most only a small impact on MGT.

This is just risible. de Freitas makes no attempt to quantify this — we’re expected to rely on the Mk 1 eyeball. Perhaps this might be because the temperature data shows a rising trend, and actually showing that would weaken his case? By way of contrast, here’s what Swanson et al found:

Swanson09fig3.gif

The dotted line is the “cleaned” global mean temperature, and as Swanson et al point out, it warms steadily through the century. Back to CdF:

Natural climate forcing of global circulation is major contributor to MGT tendency, a relationship that is not included in current global climate models.

The punch line, and not much of one. As as has been pointed out many times in discussion of the original McLean et al paper, the finding that ENSO has an influence on global temperature is trivial — it’s been well understood for decades. But ENSO events, whatever their frequency, can’t explain the heat accumulating in the system. We may see that demonstrated this year, when the relatively weak El Niño that’s been around for the last six months could drive the global temperature above the levels seen during the strong El Niño of 1998. de Freitas is also wrong about climate models. The better ones certainly do show ENSO cycles — not perfectly, but they’re there. Knocking climate models is a core feature of the crank catechism, and when on a pilgrimage to crank central I suppose you have to observe the ritual responses.

I’ve also has a look at Bryan Leyland’s presentation on renewable energy, A $720 billion boondoggle? Bryan’s answer is straightforward enough (yes, of course), but his talk is chiefly notable for his optimistic take on fossil fuel availability:

HCC4Bryan_Leyland6.006.jpg

The words “cloud cuckoo land” spring to mind. Bryan believes that global warming is “a problem that doesn’t exist”, and so he is therefore free to burn as much carbon as he wants. Not what I’d call strategically sound advice…

Finally, one presentation at the Heartland conference I can heartily recommend was made by Scott Denning, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Colorado. Scott was one of only two non-sceptic climate scientists to accept an invitation to talk, and his Debunking common myths about global warming is a very straightforward explanation of why we have a problem. He was applauded for his bravery, as you can see over at In It For The Gold. It’s also worth having a look at Richard Lindzen’s extraordinary speech in which he accuses climate scientists of “overt cheating”. I’d give Monckon’s conference closer a miss though. Having sat through more than one of his speeches in the interests of research, I can confirm that’s he’s running low on jokes. You’ve used ‘em all before, Chris.

[Jefferson Airplane]

Carterist science meets its Cartergate Gareth Renowden Mar 22

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homer.jpgThe peer-reviewed rebuttal to last year’s infamous McLean, de Freitas and Carter paper which claimed that the El Niño Southern Oscillation could explain most recent warming (see Mother Nature’s Sons and Big Guns Brought To Bear), has been accepted for publication by the Journal of Geophysical Research (Comment on ’Influence of the Southern Oscillation on tropospheric temperature’ Foster et al, 2010). Co-author James Annan has the details (and full text of the rebuttal), but what is perhaps most remarkable is that despite being given the opportunity to reply to Foster et al’s comment — normal practice in these circumstances — McLean et al’s offering has failed to pass review and will not be published by JGR. Tim Lambert at Deltoid has more feedback, and draws attention to the comments by Prof Ove Hoegh-Guldberg at Climate Shifts who demands:

The five things we want to know are:

  1. Will McLean et al. retract the paper (and will Bob Carter admit fault or even discuss the errors publicly)?
  2. Will the denial0sphere and the MSM give this story (a climate change scandal!) the same coverage it has recently showered on various IPCC hiccups?
  3. Will there be an investigation as Bob Carter himself and so many other skeptics have insisted on over and over again, usually in response to bogus and unsubstantiated allegations.
  4. Will Bob now reverse his policy positions and urge (vocally) politicians that may have been swayed by his bogus science to do the same? After all Bob, shouldn’t the science drive the policy?
  5. Will The Australian cover this pending scandal! A scientist behaving badly!

Those look like damned good questions to me. New Zealand’s science community has been reluctant to publicly criticise Carter — he was once a respected and influential scientist who encouraged many talented students to forge their careers in the earth sciences — but surely this display of academic turpitude puts him beyond the pale. What it says about de Freitas is probably unprintable. I encourage readers to remember the extravagant claims being made for this paper by Carter and de Freitas, and the uncritical acceptance of those claims by a pliable media. High time the boot was on the other foot.

[This song's for Bob: h/t caerbannog in comments at Deltoid]

[Update 23/3: Skeptical Science explains the rebuttal here. Worth a read.]

Don’t let a thief steal into your heart Gareth Renowden Nov 23

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Quite a fuss about stolen emails over the weekend. Let’s review the story so far. Person or persons unknown hack into servers at the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia and steal lots of emails and other documents [BBC 1, 2, Times, Bob Ward at The Guardian]. This is a criminal offence in the UK, the USA, New Zealand and many other jurisdictions. The criminals then release edited highlights of these documents and emails by putting them up on a Russian web server, and let the news out via what Nature calls “a relatively obscure climate-sceptic blog” (The Air Vent which may have been Andrew Bolt’s blog in Australia). Within a matter of hours, the usual suspects are out in force, screaming data manipulation, conspiracy to exclude climate sceptics from publishing, and fraudulent behaviour. Criminals are portrayed as whistleblowers, quotes are pulled out of private emails and taken out of context, and the end of climate science is proclaimed.

I’ve been reluctant to weigh in on this issue, because commenting on stolen and possibly edited documents strikes me as unethical. In a courtroom, improperly obtained evidence is not allowed to influence proceedings, and I would prefer to apply the same standard here. That hasn’t stopped the likes of Wishart (peer review is broken, climate science is dead), propagandist in chief Marc Morano (continuously updated “Climategate” coverage at his Climate Depot), or even now well out of the closet denialist, the NZ blogger sometimes known as Poneke (warming stopped in 1998 (yet again)). However…

I’ve been asked to comment on the issue a few times today, so I’ve been doing a little research. First, the content of the emails. I’m not going to link to them (see above) — but they’re easy enough to find if you want to. What I’ve read (and I’ve read some, but nowhere near all), look to me like the normal sort of email traffic you might expect from a bunch of working scientists, in a field where critics have been throwing mud at them for years. Are they pissed off? Yes. Are they rude? Yes, sometimes — and enjoyably so, from my perspective. Are they careful? Most of the time. Is peer review broken? No. Is there evidence of some vast, over-arching conspiracy? If that’s the best they can muster, then I’d have to say they’re bloody useless conspirators.

Nor is it a complete record. It seems to be widely acknowledged that this is only part of the hackers haul, so what is there in the rest? Certainly, there will be personal emails — private stuff, family stuff, stuff that any reasonable person would admit should remain out of the public domain.

But are there emails that portray a different picture, a more anodyne, boring portrait of science in action? Who knows? The editorial decisions have been made by a bunch of crooks, and all the noise is being made by people with an overt agenda.

All of which leads me to the crux of the matter. Cui bono, or as Jerry Maguire might say, show me the money. Are we supposed to believe that in the run up to a major international conference on climate change, when there’s a big climate bill being considered by the US legislature, and when we know that for the last 20 years there has been a concerted campaign and PR effort to derail action on reducing carbon emissions, that a “whistleblower” has been so moved by the behaviour of the CRU that they have broken the law to uncover this compelling story? Frankly, that’s unbelievable. But then so is much of the denial campaign. Believability and credibility is much less important than noise and column inches.

This whole affair looks like nothing more than another beat-up by the cranks, denialists and ideologues, a crude and unpersuasive attempt to add PR pressure in the run up to Copenhagen and Waxman Markey. With that in mind, let me ask another pertinent question. Who did it? Do they have links with the US think tanks who seem to be running the denial campaign? Perhaps a real investigative journalist might do some digging…

For excellent coverage on the story so far, I recommend Greenfyre’s: Mike’s been documenting events as they happen. RealClimate provides context for the most egregious quote mines here and here (and Gavin Schmidt has been heroically dealing with a flood of comments — over 1,000 at the time of writing). For something you’ll never read at Climate Depot or Wishart’s crank central, try this exposé of ethical behaviour by climate scientists confronted by rubbish, and for a candid opinion on the quality of Chris de Freitas and Patrick Michaels PhD theses — you’ll have to search the texts… ;-)

[Richard Thompson]

The biased leading the blind Gareth Renowden Sep 25

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homer.jpgTwo of New Zealand’s most prominent climate cranks, “inexpert witness” Chris de Freitas and Bob “great communicator” Carter are no strangers to the art of misrepresenting facts in support of their peculiar political visions, but recent articles by the pair set new standards for economy with the truth. Here’s De Freitas, writing in Energy NZ:

…no one has yet found even a shred of objective scientific evidence that humans are causing damaging global climate change.

No to be outdone, in Aussie “journal of ideas” Quadrant Carter revives the oldest zombie fact of them all:

As the temperature trend for ten years now has been one of cooling, since the unusually warm El Nino year of 1998, this requires a precautionary response to cooling rather than warming.

De Freitas’ piece is — even to my jaundiced eyes — remarkable for how liberally he misleads his readers…

Fit the first:

In preparation, the Government has committed New Zealand to cut up to a third of current emissions by 2020.

The economic, social and moral implications are immense, since carbon taxes and tradable emissions alone cannot make such a massive reduction. Sweeping legislation restricting the use of oil, coal and natural gas would be required, along with far-reaching reforms in pastoral farming to cut methane release.

De Freitas is ignoring the fact that any 2020 target will be for net emissions, that is, emissions after taking into account the carbon stored away in New Zealand’s growing forests. The government is aiming to weaken the emissions trading scheme, but still apparently expects forestry to play a major role in helping NZ to meet the target. But de Freitas prefers to spin a scary fairy tale…

Second fit:

…no one has yet found even a shred of objective scientific evidence that humans are causing damaging global climate change.

Breathtaking in its ignorance. But he continues:

There are no published scientific papers that show irrefutable proof of human-caused global warming.

Oh really? Depends what you mean by irrefutable, I suppose. There’s a very large attribution literature, handily summarised in Chapter 9 (PDF) of the WG1 report in IPPC’s Fourth Report (AR4). It starts: Human-induced warming of the climate system is widespread, and references approximately 550 papers. Either de Freitas has read them all and prepared detailed rebuttals, or his refutation technique is to deny the evidence exists, or if it can’t be denied, to stick his fingers in his ears and say “la la la, can’t hear you”. Effective at playgroup level perhaps, but odd behaviour by an associate professor at the University of Auckland.

After a ritual swipe at the IPCC, he then makes the following astonishing assertion (fit the third):

It is a conveniently forgotten fact that most of the industrialised world went into hysterics during the 40 years of global cooling beginning in the late 1930s.

This is — not to put too fine a point on it — complete invention. There were a few magazine and newspaper articles about possible cooling, and at least one book, but no-one was having hysterics. Undaunted, de Freitas continues with his fictionalisation of climate history:

Fifty years ago it became clear that global carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere were increasing at a rate of about 1.8 ppmv per year. It was assumed that this was the prime contributor to an observed increase in global temperatures. On this basis, the carbon dioxide data were used in climate model projections for future global warming.

Assumed? What about the fact — understood for 150 years — that CO2 has an impact on radiation passing through the atmosphere? No assumptions required. There was sound theory supported by measurement, and to have left that out of the models would have been academic suicide.

de Freitas then trots through a few crank tropes, including the mandatory assertion of global cooling:

By 2006, despite the ongoing rise in global carbon dioxide emissions, data showed that mean global temperature rise had slowed, and currently shows signs of falling.

Now that’s he’s working up a bit of steam, he delivers this final fit:

Government decision-makers should have heard by now that the basis for the longstanding claim that carbon dioxide is a major driver of global climate is being questioned; along with it the hitherto assumed need for costly measures to restrict carbon dioxide emissions. If they have not heard, it is because of the din of global warming hysteria that relies on the logical fallacy of ‘argument from ignorance’ and predictions of computer models.

Risible. The only person arguing from ignorance is de Freitas. The “din of global warming hysteria” comes not from the real science that underpins our understanding of the problem, but from sceptics like de Freitas who have to make ever more shrill and ridiculous pronouncements to be heard.

On the other side of the Tasman, Bob Carter is the better writer, but equally ridiculous in his arguments:

…the real climatic risks faced by our societies, not least because it assumes that global warming is more dangerous, or more to be feared, than is global cooling. In reality, the converse is true.

That’s the version of reality that Bob and his crank mates occupy. It’s a strange planet, but not ours. They have odd models too…

Some computer models (General Circulation Models; deterministic) project that the global temperature in ten years time will be warmer than today’s. Other computer models (statistical; based upon projection of past climate patterns) project that global temperature will be cooler ten years hence. The reality is, therefore, that no scientist can tell you with confidence whether the temperature in 2020, let alone 2100, will be warmer or cooler than today’s.

Told you Bob’s planet was a strange place. On the one I inhabit there are plenty of people, scientists even, who would happily accept a wager that the next ten years will be warmer on average than the last ten. And I know of no credible “statistical models” that project cooling — but I do know of at least one that projects continued warming.

Bob then delivers a broadside against Australia’s planned emissions legislation, and finishes with this dramatic flourish:

If such a monstrously socially damaging and environmentally ineffectual measure as the government’s carbon dioxide taxation bill becomes law, it will stand for decades as an indictment of all the parliamentarians who voted for it.

In which event, be sure to remember their names, for nothing is more certain than that you are going to want to exercise retribution thereafter.

The names that will be remembered as the world burns will be those of the vocal minority who were willing to prostitute their academic reputations in service of delaying action. One wonders what “retribution” Carter and de Freitas will face. Opprobrium and ridicule will be the least of their worries when harsh reality intrudes on their ideology.