Posts Tagged Wishart

Shang a de Lange Gareth Renowden May 03

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Much exercised by the question of ocean warming, New Zealand’s most litigious temperature savant posts excerpts from an article on the subject, and thanks Waikato University’s Willem de Lange for introducing him to this “really clear treatment of ocean warming and ocean-atmosphere interaction”. Two things are interesting about Treadgold’s post, and neither has anything to do with the contents of that article1.

The piece, by oceanographer Robert E. Stevenson (deceased), was published in the summer 2000 edition of 21st Century Science & Technology magazine. This is interesting in and of itself, because 21st Century Science & Technology is is an organ of the Lyndon LaRouche movement, centred on an oddball and extremely fringe US politician. We last encountered LaRouche when exploring the footnotes in Ian Wishart’s remarkable climate book Air Con. Amongst many strange things, LaRouche believes that the President of the US and Prince Philip are conspiring to reduce the population of the world from 7 billion to 2 billion, and that financier George Soros is their henchman2. 21st Century Science & Technology espouses what might be charitably described as non-mainstream views on many science-related subjects, from the “swindle of special relativity” to global warming as “hoax“.

Which leads me to the second interesting thing: does Waikato University’s Willem de Lange, one of the tiny coterie of climate sceptics still active in New Zealand academic circles, listed by his university as an expert on “tsunami and storm surge prediction and mitigation; wave-induced sediment transport; dispersal studies; climate change; oceanography”, really regard Stevenson’s article as a credible reference? Would he be prepared to defend this 12 year old article’s interpretation of the physics of ocean warming against his peers? Or was he perhaps just digging around for a little chum to throw to the less well-educated hordes who congregate around Treadgold’s pulpit desperate for anything to support an oddball contention, that ocean warming somehow has nothing to do with the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? You be the judge…

You might think that de Lange, Treadgold and Lyndon LaRouche make for strange bedfellows, but when you have nothing better to turn to, I suppose — as Steven Stills so memorably sang — you have to love the one you’re with. Rather a pity for all their credibility, what little might be left of it.

[Bay City Rollers for the title, Steven Stills (& CSJT) for the close.]

  1. Life’s too short, basically, to debunk an article of dubious provenance now 12 years old.
  2. No, really. Check the link.

The catechism of climate crank cliché Gareth Renowden Jan 29

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“A cliché,” according to the late Brian O’Nolan, “is a phrase that has become fossilised, its component words deprived of their intrinsic light and meaning by incessant usage. Thus it appears that clichés reflect somewhat the frequency of the same situations in life. If this be so, a sociological commentary could be compiled from these items of mortified language.”

O’Nolan is perhaps better known as Flann O’Brien, the author of such staggering works of comic genius as The Third Policeman and At Swim-Two-Birds, but for many years he contributed a column to the Irish Times under the pen name Myles na Gopaleen. One of the highlights of that column was the occasional appearance of extracts from Myles na Gopaleen’s Catechism of Cliché.

I was reminded of that catechism when I stumbled upon the “core principles” of the International Climate Science Coalition, a list of the doctrines the ICSC expects its members and supporters to believe and promote. Like Myles’ least favourite constructions, they are certainly fossilised and deprived of any intrinsic meaning but have the added attraction of being for the most part untrue.

A catechism, as the more literate (or Catholic) reader will know, is:

…a summary or exposition of doctrine, traditionally used in Christian religious teaching from New Testament times to the present. Catechisms are doctrinal manuals often in the form of questions followed by answers to be memorized, a format that has been used in non-religious or secular contexts as well. [Wikipedia]

Amongst the doctrinal manuals available for today’s climate sceptic there are the popular scriptures by Plimer and Wishart, the undergraduate philippics of Carter and Allegro, and the industrial grade biblical length blockbuster produced by Fred Singer and his Not the IPCC project. So much to choose from, such a lot to read. How is the would-be denier to thread their way through such a maze of doctrinal complexity, uncertainty and contradiction? Let us help them by preparing a climate crank catechism in the style of Myles…

What is it that global climate is always doing?


In what ways are current changes like a Tom Jones song?

They are not unusual.

What is the current warming (if any) of the planetary climate?


What is it that climate science is doing?

Rapidly evolving.

And in what direction is that evolution proceeding?

Away from CO2 as a cause of climate change.

With what word shall we always prefix our mentions of climate change?




Climate models are always?


Climate models are in want of what?

Scientific integrity.

What future condition is climate modelling the only evidence for?

Catastrophic climate change.

[Narrator] Excellent! You are learning fast…

What are scientists who agree with us?


And how many of them are there?


What collectively do they prove the absence of?


What is it that carbon dioxide is essential for?

Life on earth.

Action to reduce carbon emissions is what?


What are all forms of renewable energy?

Heavily subsidised.

Yes. And?

Very expensive.

Yes. And?

Lead to increased CO2 emissions.

And finally: whodunnit?

It’s the sun what done it!

All comments to this post should take the form of an entry to the catechism.

Four years on… Gareth Renowden Apr 24

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Today marks the fourth anniversary of the first post at Hot Topic — four years since the blog’s birth, and as my mum would say, hasn’t time flown? This birthday post is number 1,080, and it will be read by many, many more people than those first brief paragraphs announcing the book and blog. I’m not one for tootling my own trumpet (at least, not loudly), so I won’t be making great claims about how far we’ve come and how much we’ve achieved, but I will take this opportunity to muse a little on what I’ve learned. A lot, but not perhaps enough… ;-)

I spent many years working in magazine publishing, and one of the key metrics for any magazine is the size and character of its readership. I approach blogging in much the same way that I used to approach running a magazine: I’m aiming to build readership, trying to inform and entertain, and at the same time do some good. The major difference is that magazines should make money. Hot Topic doesn’t1 — it’s a labour of love. With that in mind, here’s a look at how Hot Topic‘s readership has developed:


This data comes from my Statcounter account. In April 2007, the first full week produced the princely total of 343 unique visitors. These days, a bad week comes in well over 3,000. Ken Perrott at Open Parachute maintains a NZ blog ranking: Hot Topic was #13 in March (if you add in the figures for people who read HT at Sciblogs, we’d jump a place or two).

The graph shows how Hot Topic‘s readership has built over time, and some of the key events. The first big spike was my little run-in with The Listener in April 2008. The editor of that magazine took exception to some robust (but fair) criticism, and threatened legal action. I caved in at the first opportunity, and allowed the NZ blogosphere to reflect on the issue. You could say Hot Topic won a moral victory, and although the offending article is no longer available here, it’s pretty easy to find

A little over a year later, my review of Ian Wishart’s climate change opus Air Con triggered a robust exchange of views that ran back and forth over several weeks. Wishart’s frothing at the mouth responses to my dissection of his understanding of the science of climate were nothing if not entertaining.

The Treadgold/CSC attack on NIWA’s compilation of the NZ temperature record in November 2009 provided the impetus for the next spike in readership. I thought it was important to get a reply on the record as soon as possible, and that has proved to be the most popular post on the site. A few months later, potty peer Christopher Monckton’s threatened legal action against John Abraham prompted me to invite comments in Abraham’s support. We received over 1,000, and that post is the second most popular to date.

Other milestones: Bryan Walker joined HT as my co-blogger back in November 2008, and has built a considerable body of work. His book reviews have become an important feature of the site — I like to claim that we offer the most comprehensive collection of climate book reviews on the web — but his views on all aspects of the climate debate command respect for their quiet moral authority. Thanks Bryan.

In September 2009, Hot Topic joined the new Sciblogs network for its launch: flattered to be invited, I remain in awe of the material produced by my fellow “Sciblings”. The NZ science community owes them a great deal for their unpaid work.

Over the last few months I’ve had fun working on The Climate Show with Glenn Williams and John Cook. It’s great to be able to chat to like-minded and knowledgeable people, and provide what I hope is proving to be an interesting and valuable perspective on climate issues.

Back to the graph: it goes up. Readership has been increasing steadily (except for the last few weeks — if I were to apply sceptical statisticsâ„¢ I might claim that the last three weeks have wiped out all the readership gains of the last year!) — but I do expect the unique visitors metric to plateau at some point. Hot Topic is a New Zealand-focussed blog, and I suspect that by now most New Zealanders interested in climate issues and active on the web will have found us. That’s confirmed by information from another stats service I use (Woopra): over the first few months of this year, 49% of visits have come from New Zealand, 15% from the USA, 10% from Australia, 7% from the UK and 5% from Canada. Unless there’s a large reservoir of potential NZ readers we haven’t reached, it looks very much like future growth can only come from overseas visitors. HT has become a part (if only a small part) of the international climate blogosphere, and readership here will therefore tend to reflect activity on that wider stage. When we cover material of global interest (Don Easterbrook, say, or the fate of the Arctic sea ice), visitor numbers will rise.

The trick (not Mike’s Nature trick 8-) ) will be to maintain good coverage of NZ issues — science, policy and politics — and at same the time cover stories with a wider appeal. In one sense, that’s easy. Climate is a truly global issue, and the fascinating new science that’s being done is of global interest — as indeed are political and policy developments wherever they happen. That’s what I’ll be aiming for over the coming year, but do please let Bryan and I know if you think we’re getting the balance wrong.

At some point however, my desire to provide a comprehensive service runs foul of the need to make a living. Blogging doesn’t pay the bills. Would that it did — at least, enough to justify the time I spend hacking at this keyboard. But then where else would an ageing journalist be? After all, climate change and how we deal with it (or not) is the big story of the coming century. I hope you’ll stick with us for the ride.

  1. We cover our hosting and associated costs with income from affiliate arrangements with the book sellers in the sidebar — mostly Fishpond and the Book Depository — but that’s about all.

Clutching at straws Bryan Walker Nov 16

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I’d like to return briefly to the fate of Kiribati as sea levels rise, following up my recent post on the conference of the Climate Vulnerable Forum held there last week.  The post made its way through Sciblogs to the  NZ Herald website where a number of people offered comments. The vigour of denial is as evident as always. The sea isn’t rising, or if it is it’s rising slowly enough for coral islands to adjust. The islanders aren’t looking after their environment — they’re blasting their coral reefs and leaving themselves open to the ravages of the sea. They should use their tourist income to do some reclamation to make up for erosion. Salt contamination is due to over-extraction of fresh water by a rising population. The islanders are playing this up in order to get money.

At greater length than the comments in the Herald, Richard Treadgold and Ian Wishart have devoted uncomplimentary posts about the article on their respective websites. Treadgold is fully satisfied that the sea level rise is very moderate, within the range that a coral island can be expected to cope with. He chides me for not being guided by the data he has found, and concludes that if there are problems on Kiribati they are not caused by sea level rise. He’s happy to lend them a hand if they need it, but not because of emotional blackmail or out of a guilty conscience.

Wishart is brutal. He quotes from a Kiribati foreign investment brochure which includes some environmentally foolish suggestions, and concludes:

’Stupid idiots are now seeing ocean rollers eroding their beaches, and trying to milk the climate change lark for all its worth to pay for their utter buffoonery.’

Climate change effects are always intertwined with other aspects of a society’s life. No doubt there are improvements that could be made to Kiribati’s handling of its environment, just as there are in New Zealand. But the attempt to explain away the impacts of climate change by pointing to such defects is clutching at straws. Sea level rise is an overwhelming and unavoidable consequence of global warming.  The science is not difficult to comprehend. Thermal expansion of the existing ocean must follow warmer temperatures. And when land-based ice melts or disintegrates it must end up in the ocean. There’s nothing uncertain about that. It is already under way. The only uncertainty is how much ice will be so transferred and how quickly.

Some commenters refer to the Webb and Kench study which, using historical aerial photos and high-resolution satellite images, reported most of 27 low-lying islands studied in the Pacific are holding their own and even growing.  Coral debris washed ashore is the reason. However Paul Kench points out that this doesn’t mean that they will necessarily continue able to provide human habitation. Nor is it apparent what the more rapidly rising future sea levels expected by many scientists might mean.

The people of Kiribati and other islands consider that they are already seeing the early effects and know it can only get worse. They live there. They experience what is happening on the ground. They are apprehensive. To throw piddling accusations at them or suggest that they have no reason for concern is heartless. Even worse is to claim that they are dishonestly inflating their concern in the hope of getting money from us. It’s true they will need assistance, but it’s in order to help them make what adaptation is possible to the encroaching threats. As Cancun draws nearer the goal set at Copenhagen to provide $100 billion annually from 2020 to assist poorer developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change is coming under the spotlight. ’Challenging but feasible’ was the conclusion of the recently finalised Report of the Secretary-General’s High-level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing which will be presented at Cancun. The executive summary on pages 5-8 indicates the wide variety of sources from which the money will need to come.

Heaven knows whether it will eventuate. But what is at stake is more than just the money. The big question is whether we can tackle the threats of climate change as a global community, recognising the obligation of the better off to help those who might otherwise be overwhelmed by its impacts. If we fail to do that for the kinds of reasons offered by some of the commenters I’ve referred to we may well be hastening the day in which we will all be overwhelmed.

Crime of the century Gareth Renowden Nov 02

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Dealing with global warming is difficult, but it shouldn’t be impossible. What we need to do is well understood. Yet a campaign to prevent and delay emissions reductions, which began in the 1980s almost as soon as science began warning there might be a problem, has been so successful that two decades later it seems that substantive action, the sorts of cuts required to leave us with a planet we can recognise, are impossible to put in place.

You would be forgiven for thinking that the people who coordinate and run that campaign are morally and ethically bankrupt (I’m being polite), but are they also criminally liable for the damage their actions will undoubtedly cause? Donald Brown, Associate Professor of Environmental Ethics, Science, and Law at Penn State University, discusses the issue in a recent article: A New Kind of Crime Against Humanity?: The Fossil Fuel Industry’s Disinformation Campaign On Climate Change. Brown points out that the issue is much more than just a matter of science, it has moral and ethical dimensions:

As long as there is any chance that climate change could create this type of destruction, even assuming, for the sake of argument, that these harms are not yet fully proven, disinformation about the state of climate change science is extraordinarily morally reprehensible if it leads to non-action in reducing climate change’s threat when action is indispensable to preventing harm. In fact how to deal with uncertainty in climate change science is an ethical issue, not only a scientific matter, because in the case of climate change:

  • If you wait until all the uncertainties are resolved it is likely to be too late to prevent catastrophic climate change.
  • The longer one waits to take action, the more difficult it is to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of climate change at safe levels.
  • Those most vulnerable to climate change include some of the poorest people in the world and they have not consented to be put at risk in the face of uncertainty.

Brown cites a New York Times article which concludes that:

…the oil, coal and utility industries have collectively spent $500 million just since the beginning of 2009 to lobby against legislation to address climate change and to defeat candidates who support actions to reduce the threat of climate change.

The extent to which this is a carefully coordinated campaign was underlined by a recent Think Progress report on a meeting of “titans of industry — from health insurance companies, oil executives, Wall Street investors, and real estate tycoons — working together with conservative journalists and Republican operatives” held in Aspen last June, organised by the Koch brothers. Climate denial and its relevance to the US elections (underway as I write) was on the agenda (pdf):

Energy and Climate: What drives the regulatory assault on energy? What are the economic and political consequences of this? How discredited is the climate change argument? What effect does this have on the electorate, especially in key states. [my emphasis]

From the outside looking in, could I be forgiven for thinking that the Koch brothers and their friends have remade US conservatism in their own image, and made it serve their interests above all others? The self-interest of billionaires has shaped the catechism of the new right, put the tea in the parties, and it’s hard to see how any Republican leader can now advocate strong action on emissions — for purely domestic political reasons.

But this is not just a US domestic issue, as Brown explains.

It would be one thing for an American corporation to act irresponsibly in a way that leads to harm to Americans, but because of climate change’s global scope, American corporations have been involved in behaviour that likely will harm tens of millions of people around the world. Clearly this is a new type of crime against humanity.

I find it hard to disagree. At some point, when the damages from climate change are severe and undeniable, there will be a backlash against those who deliberately made matters worse. It might be purely a legal affair, with lawyers fattening themselves on cases seeking billions of dollars of damages, but it might equally be a more visceral matter, with US standing in the world suffering as countries bearing the brunt of climate change react against the people, companies and political system that sealed their fate. Global change has global repercussions, and the US will not be insulated from that.

Brown goes on to consider the role of skeptics:

Skepticism in science is not bad, but skeptics must play by the rules of science including publishing their conclusions in peer-reviewed scientific journals and not make claims that are not substantiated by the peer-reviewed literature. The need for responsible skepticism is particularly urgent if misinformation from skeptics could lead to great harm.

The idea of “responsible scepticism” is something I’ve considered before but have never attempted to define, but it’s clear from Brown’s view on how it should be conducted that it would be greatly different to the approach adopted by the Moncktons Plimers, Wisharts, Carters and Easterbrooks of this world.

Brown’s conclusion is straightforward enough:

…this disinformation campaign being funded by some American corporations is arguably some kind of new crime against humanity.

No doubt some will argue the billionaire’s corner, but it’s clear that the Koch and Scaife-funded attack on the science of climate is not “responsible scepticism”, it’s naked self-interest masquerading as policy. I have little doubt that the world will one day curse their names.

Note: Brown cites Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway’s Merchants of Doubt as one source for his piece. Oreskes is giving lectures in Australia later this month. Details at Deltoid.


Like being savaged by a dead sheep (again) Gareth Renowden Oct 03

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Denis Healey‘s memorable description of an attack by the mild mannered Geoffrey Howe seems an apt title: it appears that I’ve earned the attention of Anthony Watts and the denizens of his Watts Up With That? (aka µWatts) blog. Apparently he takes my µWatts coinage personally — though I reserve it for the blog, not the man.

Watts post is hilarious. He fulimates about the 10:10 film, links to Wishart to establish my credibility (might as well ask the Pope to give Richard Dawkins a reference), pontificates at length on the fact that he gets more hits than Hot Topic, — a bit like boasting that the USA (pop 307 million) has more ships in its navy than New Zealand (pop 4 million) — and rather digs a hole for himself over Delingpole’s call for a Nuremburg trial for warmists. Apparently Delingpole’s “discovery” that the Bilderberg group had talked about “global cooling” was “important”. Unfortunately Watts seems to have missed a very early comment under his own post, warning him that the web site Delingpole uses as evidence is a hoax.

The comments don’t disappoint either. Cameron “Whaleoil” Slater chips in to assure Watts that I’ve called him worse (and gets moderated in the process!). Slater’s memory appears a little fallible — he was the one calling me names, as I recall, and the Watts commenters posting here in the last day certainly don’t think I’m moderating harshly. Then there’s a touching little exchange between Watts and Treadgold, in which Treadgold manages to mistake a plastic airline eating utensil for a rapier.

Finally: a word to the wise. Don’t mess with the international truffle grower cabal. It has contacts everywhere. I can reach Jim Hansen via one connection, Pat Michaels via another, and Prince Charles through a third — and they all like truffles. I’ll leave Denis Healey to the Bilderbergers (he was a founding member).

Wishart only wishes… Gareth Renowden May 13

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…that Seek NZ would immortalise him with a Shockwave game…

Ah, I see you have the Wishart that goes ’ping’ Gareth Renowden May 03

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In Ian Wishart’s lexicon, to “ping” someone seems to mean catching them out in a mistake or false claim. It’s a word he’s fond of using in his regular attacks on Hot Topic, most recently over my post on sea ice volume, and a comment thereunder by William “Stoat” Connolley. My post was “bad science” and I’m a “science illiterate” it seems. Unfortunately, all Ian does is demonstrate that his own science literacy is somewhat limited. His ping, like sonar, comes bouncing right back at him…

My post Feel floes (gone by 2016) was mainly concerned with looking at the issue of whether the Arctic sea ice was “recovering” from the record minimum of 2007. Wishart says it is “recovering strongly for the third year in a row”, but the volume data shows that to be nonsense. Wishart’s main bone of contention, however, seems to be about the impact of sea ice reduction on northern hemisphere climate. Here’s his first misdirection:

Gareth, incidentally, tries to argue in reply that volume is relevant because of the heat exchange to the atmosphere involved in re-freezing water.

My reply made no mention of volume versus area — I was just pointing out that albedo effects (though important) are not the only climate impact to be expected from a reduction in sea ice. The last three years have averaged around 2 million square kilometres below the average minimum over 79-00. That huge area of ice has to refreeze in autumn, and in so doing releases heat to the atmosphere. It seems Ian doesn’t have the foggiest how much is involved.

But here’s some news that evidently they missed over at HT: when ice grows in volume, it’s because sea water is converting to solid ice, with the same heat exchange taking place in regards to the first six inches of ice, the next six inches of ice, and all the ice thereafter. And sea ice grows because it is freakishly cold, and what little heat is liberated in the process is not strong enough to compensate for the cold.

Read that last sentence again: “what little heat is liberated in the process is not strong enough to compensate for the cold.” Time for today’s lesson. The heat required to warm 1 kg of water by 1ºC is a little over 4,000 Joules. The heat required to melt 1kg of ice is 333,550 Joules (aka the enthalpy of fusion) — about 80 times as much. The same applies in reverse — that is, when 1 kg of water turns to ice, it releases 333 kilojoules of energy. Now consider how much extra heat (compared with the long term average) is being liberated by the formation of 2 million km2 of new ice, which over winter will become about 1.5 metres thick. It’s a very big number indeed — my back of the envelope calculation (corrections and precisions welcome — William?) suggests it’s of the order of 11.5 x 1011 GJ (gigajoules). A big number. Let’s halve it, to allow for ice acting as an insulator. Still more than big enough to show up in the figures for Arctic climate. And it does.

Wishart dislikes Skeptical Science almost as much as Hot Topic (he describes John Cook as my alter ego, which is much more flattering to me than John). There’s a recent post there about a new paper describing the feedback loop between summer sea ice reductions and autumn and winter warming (also at Science News). But there’s an earlier paper to refer to, that I’ve written about before: The emergence of surface-based Arctic amplification by Serreze et al (The Cryosphere, 3, 11—19, 2009 – PDF) who examined Arctic climate data up to 2007 and found them to be “consistent with the emergence of surface-based Arctic amplification associated with declining sea ice extent”. There’s a good discussion of what this is and what it might mean for climate and weather in Mark Serreze’s chapter in last year’s WWF Arctic report, discussed at Hot Topic here. In any event, it’s not news. You might have expected someone as au fait with the literature as Wishart to have been keeping up. Or perhaps not…

Still, I did learn something interesting from his post. He’s finished his “Climategate” revision of Air Con, and apparently this “new edition also contains extensive new information on why ocean acidification is not being caused by CO2“. Oh really? That’ll be news to the oceanographers of the world. An excellent excuse for another look at his “work”, perhaps… ;-)

[The hospital sketch (bonus audio edit)]

Hook, line and stinker Gareth Renowden Apr 14

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homer.jpgRichard Treadgold has been attempting a sceptical deconstruction of Professor Keith Hunter’s new statement on Science, Climate Change and Integrity for the Royal Society of New Zealand. It’s not a pretty sight.

Professor Hunter should be ashamed of this shoddy piece of research. The lowliest undergraduate would do better than he.

The senior scientists who’ve made misleading public statements about global warming include Peter Gluckman, David Wratt, James Renwick, Brett Mullan, Andrew Reisinger and Jim Salinger. Their cheeks are smooth and their mouths are smiling but their breath stinks.

Meanwhile, “tenacious” Ian Wishart issued a press release entitled Errors in Royal Society of NZ climate change paper:

The Royal Society of New Zealand has again nailed its sorry little tail to the mast of a sinking global warming ship, with a statement designed to convince news media, politicians and the public that the science behind climate change is sound.

That’s the “sorry little tail” of the nation’s leading scientific society, but Wishart’s not finished. He sums up:

If this is the best evidence the Royal Society of New Zealand can muster in support of climate change, God help the Key administration and his beleaguered science advisor Peter Gluckman, because the people advising National and Gluckman on climate are NIWA and the Royal Society.

New NZ CSC chairman Barry Brill weighed in with his own devastating critique. Prepare to be savaged by a dead sheep:

The paper is unusual in that Professor Hunter lays out the scientific arguments for all to see. But what is even more unusual is the rather obvious fact that the arguments are transparently wrong — to the point of being a serious embarrassment for both your author and your Society.

Treadgold piles it on:

That Hunter presents his statement under the imprimature(sic) of the Royal Society does not imbue it with authority but debases the Society. A mud pie made by the King is still just a mud pie.

Together they give Professor Hunter nowhere to hide. His egregious statement has no leg to stand on and he can only withdraw it and apologise.

There’s blood on the floor — but it’s Treadgold, Wishart and Brill’s blood clogging up the drains, because in their rush to dismantle Professor Hunter’s statement, they not only get their facts wrong, but they have demonstrated the very point Hunter was making:

Debate, and scepticism are healthy and to be encouraged, as is transparency of information. However, vicious personal attacks on the integrity of experienced scientists, and indeed their critics, serve only to detract from the real issues and are out of place in a rational society.

Let’s see if I can avoid making vicious personal attacks on Treadgold, Wishart and Brill (TWB) as I point out the errors they make…

TWB concentrate their efforts on Professor Hunter’s list of multiple lines of evidence supporting the case that change is occurring, and that action would be prudent. Wishart objects to this section:

’The amount of extra carbon accumulated in the ocean and the atmosphere matches the known quantity emitted by the combustion of fossil fuels.’

Professor Hunter has set a little trap here, and Wishart falls for it:

Except, he appears to have forgotten that there’s a discrepancy between what’s been emitted and how much remains in the atmosphere, known as ’the missing carbon sink’. In other words, the Royal Society is wrong. The emissions don’t match.

Brill attempts something similar:

Rebuttal: Oceanic carbon has never been measured, and cannot be estimated. The biosphere also takes up CO2 from fossil fuels (eg forests). There is a well recognised ’missing carbon sink’, estimated to be as high as three trillion tonnes per annum.

Treadgold can only manage incredulity, but devotes a whole post to it.

TWB are wrong, and Hunter’s precise point is correct: the measured increase in carbon storage in the ocean and atmosphere is equivalent to the amount of fossil fuels burned since the beginning of the industrial era. Hunter does not mention other anthropogenic sources of carbon — primarily from chopping down forests — but they are roughly in balance with terrestrial carbon sinks (which have been called “missing sinks” because the exact details have proved hard to pin down). The “discrepancy”, as Wishart calls it, is irrelevant to the central message: that the increase in atmospheric carbon is our fault. In fact the “missing sink” and oceans have been doing us a big favour by storing away a very big chunk of our emissions…

Why Brill thinks we can’t measure or estimate ocean carbon content or uptake is a mystery. We’re certainly never going to be able to count all the carbon atoms one by one, but we do understand a very great deal about ocean chemistry — and Keith Hunter is an expert in that field.

TWB also take exception to Hunter’s comments on ocean heat content:

It is also clear that the oceans absorb about 85% of the excess heat resulting from this radiative forcing by greenhouse gases (as well as about 40% of the carbon dioxide). Detailed measurements of the changes in oceanic heat content, and the temperature rise that accompanies this, agree quantitatively with the predicted radiative forcing.

Wishart thinks the oceans aren’t warming much:

Which would be fine, except that the oceans are not warming up much at all, which the Argo project, discussed in Air Con, found, and which has also been detected in another study last year.

Hilariously, the study he quotes (Towards closure of regional heat budgets in the North Atlantic using Argo floats and surface flux datasets, Wells et al, Ocean Sci., 5, 59—72, 2009 [PDF]) says nothing about global ocean heat content, but is concerned with detailed modelling of the heat budget of the North Atlantic.

Wishart moves on to reference Skeptical Science (an “appalling” site, apparently) on ocean heat content, and chooses to quote the final paragraph, but not the complete final paragraph. I wonder why?

Independent analysis seem to indicate that over last half dozen years, the ocean has shown less warming than the long term trend… but nevertheless, a statistically significant warming trend. [my emboldening of the bit Wishart leaves out]

So the oceans continue to warm… Wishart is careful not to state that there’s actual cooling going on (though he’d love you to leave you with that impression) but Brill, however, goes the whole hog.

Rebuttal: Oceanic heat content has decreased steadily since the ARGO programme commenced measuring it in 2004 — despite sharply rising GHG emissions.

More than slightly out of date, Barry. Try reading Wishart’s reference. Can’t you sceptics agree on anything? Meanwhile, all Treadgold can do is recycle Brill’s comments on it being “physically impossible” for the greenhouse effect to heat the ocean. As ocean heat content has been steadily increasing, it would seem that physics is not on Brill’s side. Here’s a graph TWB would probably prefer you didn’t see:


Not only is ocean heat content increasing, it accounts for the vast majority of the energy accumulating in the system, as Prof Hunter says. (Graph comes from Murphy et al, 2009, via Skeptical Science’s excellent post on measuring the earth’s energy imbalance).

Next, TWB get shirty with Hunter’s assertions about sea level rise. Wishart refers to one of his own posts as a reference that allows him to declare:

If he’s trying to suggest sea level increase is unusual or rapidly increasing, then in a word, ’rubbish’.

What Hunter is saying is none of those things, but that observed sea level rise is consistent with the observed increase in ocean heat content. In any event, Wishart’s “rubbish” link is to a “CO2 Science” (sceptic site noted for its creative reinterpretation of what papers actually say) report on a paper by Wöppelmann et al. When you read the abstract, you see it refers to a refinement of the sea level data for the last century, which the authors state is in line with earlier work. CO2 Science adds a gratuitous “Hence, it would appear that 20th-century sea level rise has not been in any way unusual, even over the most recent decade of supposedly unprecedented warmth.” Pure invention, in other words. They just made that up, and Wishart swallowed it whole. Par for the course, I suppose, for the deep throat of climate denial.

Brill’s offering repeats his earlier mistake on ocean heat content, but does include this:

Rebuttal: Sea levels have risen by about 18mm/decade for the past 100 years, having extremely poor correlation with either GHG concentrations or fossil fuel use.

Sea level shows an extremely good correlation with ocean heat content and with global temperature, as a recent paper explains. Both of those things are intimately tied into to atmospheric carbon levels and as recent increases are due to human action, you’d have to say that Brill is 100% wrong.

In one respect, and one respect only, does Brill have a point — and it’s a small one. Hunter’s original statement referred to “outgoing solar radiation reflected off the Earth’s surface”. This was an error, missed in proof-reading (or prof-reading), and has since been corrected to “outgoing infra-red radiation”, which renders Brill’s comments on albedo irrelevant (Wishart didn’t notice the obvious mistake!). Brill goes on to say that the “The ’simple physics’ of 1.5W/m2 is flat wrong.” Which only proves that he’s flat wrong. It’s straightforward if not particularly simple physics, but the basic principles involved have been understood since Fourier and Tyndall first investigated the subject 150 years ago. Perhaps Barry has trouble keeping up with the latest work…

So what are we left with? Three attempted rebuttals of Keith Hunter’s statement on climate change, each of which makes fundamental errors — misleading or misrepresenting the facts — in service of a scurrilous attack on a respected academic and the nation’s top scientific body. Here’s Brill closing his “open letter”:

It will be with a sense of anticipation that we put our fact-based arguments over the very existence of dangerous human-caused global warming to the gatekeepers of our public science academies and at last expect their reasoned response.

What facts are those Barry? The ones you’ve made up, or the ones other people have made up for you? You’re going to have do a lot better than that if you want the world to take you seriously.

There is an important lesson here for the scientific community in New Zealand. The aggressive ignorance on display in the TWB papers is no longer something you can afford to treat with lofty disdain. These people are playing dirty — happy to publicly impugn your work and reputations, based only on their imperfect and ideologically blinkered interpretation of reality, and happy to see their views echoed in Parliament by Rodney Hide and ACT. What’s at stake is not science itself — that great endeavour is quite safe from the intellectually and morally bankrupt attacks of the sort launched by Brill and his pals — but the public perception of science and its value to society. At a time when we will need all our reason to steer a path through a rocky and uncertain future, scientists cannot afford to sit on their hands. Time to hit back, to show the community at large that the age of reason is not dead.


New dimensions in earth science uncovered by NZ blogger Gareth Renowden Jan 30

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

Exciting new concepts in earth systems science are emerging from the fertile intellect of one of Hot Topic’s most diligent readers, Ian Wishart. Either that, or he’s demonstrated (again) that he doesn’t understand what he’s writing about. In this astonishing post, published yesterday, he considers something he calls the “feedback warming effect”, and attempts to use a new paper on carbon cycle feedbacks to support Monckton’s nonsense on climate sensitivity.

Just as Chicken Little pontificates about the minutiae of a Monckton allegation about warming amplification being overestimated by six of seven times, along comes a new study in Nature that compared real data with the computer models and found CO2’s feedback warming effect has been exaggerated in the models by five or six times.

Monckton’s TV lies are not mentioned — minutiae to Wishart, obviously — but he then points to this paper: Ensemble reconstruction constraints on the global carbon cycle sensitivity to climate, Frank et al, Nature, 2010; 463 (7280) as if it offers support for Monckton. It doesn’t, as I shall explain, but is Wishart wrong about Monckton, wrong about Frank et al, or both?

Monckton’s “paper”, Climate Sensitivity Reconsidered, is about what it says it is — the global temperature response to (by definition) a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere. Monckton tries, and fails, to show that this response is small — he claims under 1ºC at doubling. Wishart refers to climate sensitivity as “warming amplification”, which — to be charitable — is a terminological inexactitude.

Frank et al, on the other hand, is the latest effort to pin down how much extra CO2 will be released from the various parts of the carbon cycle as global temperature increases, and suggests that it could be smaller than had been expected [Science Daily]. This “extra” CO2 clearly is an amplification of warming caused by human emissions, and it’s good news that this may be smaller than expected. Wishart describes the study thus:

…[it] compared real data with the computer models and found CO2’s feedback warming effect has been exaggerated in the models by five or six times.

What did Frank et al actually do? Physics World describes their method:

… David Frank and colleagues at the Swiss Federal Research Institute in Birmensdorf, the University of Bern and the Gutenberg University in Mainz have performed the most comprehensive analysis of carbon dioxide and temperature data yet. The team studied the period 1050—1800 AD, when manmade emissions were small enough to be ignored. Carbon dioxide levels were determined from three Antarctic ice cores. Average temperatures in the northern hemisphere were derived from nine different “proxy reconstructions” of temperature — average temperatures derived mostly from tree rings and the isotopic content of ice cores.

No comparisons with models, but a lot of use of paleoclimate data — you know, the tree ring stuff you find in those “debunked” hockeystick blades — and ice cores (and in Wishart-world they can’t be trusted, because Wishart relies on the “work” of EG Beck). Frank and his co-workers use this data to try to work out how much extra CO2 is released when the planet warms — and find that instead of the 40 ppmv/ºC found in previous empirical studies, it was more likely to be in the range 2—21 ppmv/°C, with 8 ppmv/°C being the most likely. The BBC asked Frank what this means for model projections of temperature change this century:

He said that if the results his paper were widely accepted, the overall effect on climate projections would be neutral.
“It might lead to a downward mean revision of those (climate) models which already include the carbon cycle, but an upward revision in those which do not include the carbon cycle.
“That’ll probably even itself out to signify no real change in the temperature projections overall,” he said.

Wishart doesn’t seem to have much of a handle on carbon cycle feedbacks and what they mean for model projections, but he’s canny enough to spot that someone might quibble with his penetrating analysis, so he includes this caveat:

A note for the pedants: the Monckton claim and the Nature paper are approaching a similar problem (magnitude of feedback warming) from slightly different directions (Monckton’s comment relates to rise in temp caused by doubling of CO2, whilst the Nature paper examines the increase in CO2 caused by a rise in temperature), but the general thrust of the arguments is similar: extra carbon dioxide is not going to cause as much feedback as previously claimed.

Clear as mud, Ian. This pedant would point out that the problems being considered are not the same and the “general thrust of the arguments” is not at all similar. Monckton isn’t talking about “feedback warming”, he’s talking about warming caused by a fixed increase (by definition a doubling over pre-industrial conditions) in CO2. He wants us to believe that the temperature response to increasing CO2 is tiny. On the other hand, Frank et al’s conclusions are based on linking small changes in global temperature over the period from 1050 to 1800 to small increases and decreases in CO2 levels.

In other words, if Monckton is right, then Frank et al’s methodology can’t work. Far from supporting Monckton, Frank et al add yet more reasons why he has to be wrong. Meanwhile, Wishart is wrong on all counts. I wonder how such an expert climate commentator could have failed to notice? Perhaps he should get his stuff peer reviewed. Where’s Monckton when you need him…?

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