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WMO 2013 climate summary: laws of physics not negotiable, extremes to be expected on a warming planet Gareth Renowden Mar 25

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The World Meteorological Organisation’s (WMO) state of the climate report for 2013 was released on Sunday (pdf), and provides a very useful overview of last year’s weather and climate events. It confirms that 2013 was the 6th warmest year in the long term record (tied with 2007), that 13 of the 14 warmest years in that record have occurred this century1, and that the litany of extreme weather events that struck the planet is in line with what would be expected on a warming planet.

WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said:

There is no standstill in global warming. The warming of our oceans has accelerated, and at lower depths. More than 90 percent of the excess energy trapped by greenhouse gases is stored in the oceans. Levels of these greenhouse gases are at record levels, meaning that our atmosphere and oceans will continue to warm for centuries to come. The laws of physics are non-negotiable.

On extremes, Jarraud was equally direct:

…many of the extreme events of 2013 were consistent with what we would expect as a result of human-induced climate change. We saw heavier precipitation, more intense heat, and more damage from storm surges and coastal flooding as a result of sea level rise – as Typhoon Haiyan so tragically demonstrated in the Philippines.

Here’s the full list of the WMO’s key climate events of 2013:

  • Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), one of the strongest storms to ever make landfall, devastated parts of the central Philippines.
  • Surface air temperatures over land in the Southern Hemisphere were very warm, with widespread heat waves; Australia saw record warmth for the year, and Argentina its second warmest year and New Zealand its third warmest.
  • Frigid polar air plummeted into parts of Europe and the southeast United States.
  • Angola, Botswana and Namibia were gripped by severe drought.
  • Heavy monsoon rains led to severe floods on the India-Nepal border.
  • Heavy rains and floods impacted northeast China and the eastern Russian Federation.
  • Heavy rains and floods affected Sudan and Somalia.
  • Major drought affected southern China.
  • Northeastern Brazil experienced its worst drought in the past 50 years.
  • The widest tornado ever observed struck El Reno, Oklahoma in the United States.
  • Extreme precipitation led to severe floods in Europe’s Alpine region and in Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, and Switzerland.
  • Israel, Jordan, and Syria were struck by unprecedented snowfall.
  • Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere reached record highs.
  • The global oceans reached new record high sea levels.
  • The Antarctic sea ice extent reached a record daily maximum.

The WMO has published a very nifty interactive map of the year’s notable events here (requires Flash). Clicking on individual events brings up a pop-up with details of what happened. Well worth exploring.

Meanwhile, the prospects for 2014 and 2015 are becoming more “interesting” with each passing week. The chances of the tropical Pacific slipping into El Niño mode are increasing according the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia and NOAA in the US. El Niño years are generally associated with a spike in global temperature and increased extreme weather events.

See also: The Conversation, The Guardian, Climate Progress.

  1. The 15 warmest years have all happened since 1998.

While they sleepwalk in Warsaw: icebergs calve, emissions climb, “pause” disappears Gareth Renowden Nov 20

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PIG B31

Warsaw has seen a deluge of important climate-related information released — so much that it’s been difficult to keep up — but still not enough to steel negotiators to reach an equitable arrangement that gives us all a chance at a reasonable future climate. And at the same time, the planet has been sending signals that it’s not happy. The Pine Island glacier has finally calved the giant iceberg that first started to shown signs of cracking away from the ice stream a couple of years ago. Iceberg B-31 has been described as being the size of Singapore (about 700 km2), but isn’t likely to move far from Pine Island Bay in the near future. NASA Earth Observatory coverage here and here; see also Telegraph (UK) and Antarctic Sun.

The Global Carbon Project announced earlier this week that greenhouse gas emissions are projected to reach the highest level in human history this year — 36 billion tonnes. There are some encouraging signs that the rate of growth may be slowing, but nowhere near enough to enable the planet to avoid hitting a two degree rise in the first half of this century. There’s an excellent visualisation of national emissions at the Global Carbon Atlas (and at the Guardian). See also The Age, Think Progress.

All that carbon has to go somewhere, and the global oceans are doing us a big favour by absorbing a lot of it. Unfortunately, there’s a big downside: the oceans are becoming more acidic, and at a rate faster than at any time in the last 55 million years. The prospects for marine ecosystems look bleak if we can’t kick the fossil fuel habit, according to a Summary For Policymakers [pdf] released by the Intergovernmental Oceangraphic Commission last week.

Regular Hot Topic readers will know that I’ve never been much persuaded by talk of a “pause” in global warming’s progress. If global warming stopped in the 1990s, why has the last ten years been the warmest in the long term record, and why has the ice kept on melting? To put the final nail in the pause’s coffin, Kevin Cowtan from the University of York and Robert Way from the University of Ottawa (both stalwarts at Skeptical Science), looked at global temperature records and found ways of compensating for the temperature data missing from the Arctic and Africa. Here’s Cowtan, explaining what they did.

Net result: existing temperature data series underestimate recent warming by half. If that’s all straightforward enough, take a moment to consider what will happen to warming when the factors that have been acting to restrict warming swing to the opposite phase. We’ll be heading into the unknown, and at high speed. See Real Climate, Dana Nucitelli at the Guardian, and Science Daily.

And finally: this is the time of year when the World Meteorological Association releases its preliminary look at the weather and climate events of the current year. It’s not a pretty sight. 2013 is tracking along to be the 7th warmest year in the long term record. WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud noted: “the coldest years now are warmer than the hottest years before 1998.” Another reason to kiss the pause meme goodbye. See Climate Central, Guardian.

A new world record(?) Gareth Renowden Dec 23

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2013forecast

Last week the UK Meteorological Office issued its annual forecast for the global average temperature for the year ahead. They’re expecting a warm year, but very few people seemed to notice just how hot. Here’s what the press release had to say:

2013 is expected to be between 0.43 °C and 0.71 °C warmer than the long-term (1961-1990) global average of 14.0 °C, with a best estimate of around 0.57 °C, according to the Met Office annual global temperature forecast.

Taking into account the range of uncertainty in the forecast and observations, it is very likely that 2013 will be one of the warmest ten years in the record which goes back to 1850, and it is likely to be warmer than 2012.

Most press coverage ran with the “one of the warmest years” line, a simple elaboration of the press release, but few noticed that the Met Office were actually predicting a new global temperature record — perhaps because the Met Office wasn’t exactly trumpeting the fact from the rooftops. Admirable caution, you might say.

The Met Office “best estimate” for 2013 is that global average temperature will be 0.57ºC above the long term average (1961-1990), and that’s a comfortable 0.03ºC above the previous record years of 2005 and 2010. Take a look at the graph above. I’ve plotted global temperatures from 1993 to 2012 (data here), and added a line showing the linear trend over that period. The Met Office’s projection is just above an extension of the trend line. The grey “whiskers” on 2012 and 2013 show the full range covered by the projections. 2012 came in 0.03ºC below the December 2011 forecast.

2012 will end up as the ninth warmest year in the long term record, mainly because the year started out with a strong La Niña (which has a cooling effect on global temperature, with a six to nine month lag), and the El Niño (warming effect) which seemed to be on the way in mid year has all but fizzled out. Nevertheless, 2013 will start without a La Nina, and unless a strong one develops early in the year, the Met Office are clearly expecting that the long term warming trend will exert itself.

It’s a bold forecast — but one that’s in line with the warming of the last 20 years. Carbon dioxide continues to accumulate in the atmosphere, and energy continues to pile up in the climate system. New high temperature records are inevitable and unavoidable until the climate gets back into energy balance, and that isn’t going to happen any time soon1. We ain’t seen nothing yet, and that’s not good news.

[ELO]

  1. 30 years is the usual period estimated to allow the upper layers of the ocean to “catch up” with warming

Doha notes: Random thoughts from the Middle East cindy Nov 29

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Shelob

Shelob/Maman lurks over Doha delegates.

Every time I walk into a press conference it seems there’s more ‘cheery’ news. Yesterday it was UNEP releasing a science report on melting permafrost. Scary stuff. So scary that The Age in Melbourne gave it most of the front page and even some on the back page. (Meanwhile the NZ media was all about Hobbits).

According to the report, if the permafrost keeps melting like it has been, the gases it releases will make up 39% of emissions in 2100 (a combination of release of trapped methane and C02 from decomposing matter).

Then today it was the World Meteorological Organisation’s State of the Climate provisional report. 2012 was no exception to the trend of rising temperatures. “Global warming isn’t a future threat: it’s happening now,” intoned the official, pointing to this year’s Arctic melt as evidence.

These organisations save this stuff up for the climate talks, but sometimes one has to wonder why. I heard a UN official telling a newbie to the process that none of this would have any effect on the delegates at the talks. “They’re in a bubble – they’re totally immune to this stuff,” he said. And he’s right.

Some of these officials have been coming to the climate talks for more than 20 years and they don’t see anything beyond their negotiating tables. What might have an impact would be if they get home and their kids, having seen the permafrost or WMO stories, start giving them hell about it. I hope they do.

Back to the US of A

An alternative reality was being presented by the US. On Monday I sat through head of the US delegation, Jonathan Pershing’s first press briefing, where he tried to persuade the attendant media that the US had been making “enormous” efforts to tackle climate change. A lot of people here were hoping to see some sort of announcement or some indication that the Obama administration was changing, but Pershing gave us no such thing.

Instead, we were subjected to a list of actions the US was taking, breathlessly described by Pershing as if they were some kind of unprecedented, heroic act. “We’ve acted with enormous urgency and singular purpose,” he told us. Then he went on to list the impacts of climate change that the US had suffered in the last year: the droughts, Hurricane Sandy, etc. And he told us that the US was on its way to meeting its Copenhagen pledge and that it was down to everybody else to step up. The US’s Copenhagen pathetic pledge is 4% cuts by 2020 on 1990 levels.

And the fossils

Meanwhile, our beloved country has been receiving award after award. But not any old award, it’s the “fossil of the day”, awarded by the Climate Action Network, to governments who say or do the most outrageous and anti-climate things at the talks. We seem to be racking ‘em up as our delegates continue to make ridiculous statements in the meetings. On Monday we got two – quite a feat. The first (equal with the US, Russia, Japan and Canada) for “running away from a legally binding, multilateral rules based regime.”

We also gained a second place:

“Unlike its neighbour to the west, New Zealand decided not to put its target into the second commitment period, citing spurious grounds when the reality is that it is just a massive display of irresponsibility.  Its island partners in the Pacific should think again before ever trusting NZ again.”

There was no third place.

And after a brief respite, we got another one today.

“…again, because not only did Wellington deliberately decide not to put its target into the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, but today proposed that access to the CDM should be open to all and should not depend on whether a country is signing up to a second commitment period. To make it clear, New Zealand pointed out that otherwise the Adaptation Fund will not have enough money to keep functioning. Come on Kiwis, forget about the hobbits and think about your neighbors! You have to be serious… if you want to feast on carbon markets you have to work up your targets first!”

Even the European Commission wasn’t amused with us. At the EU press conference today, when asked whether he agreed with the developing country view that those who don’t sign up to Kyoto’s second commitment period should be denied access to the CDM and its “flexible mechanisms” spokesperson Artur Runge-Metger answered:

“What we are asking ourselves is: if you don’t want a budget or a target why the heck should you have credits from somewhere else and how would you account for them?”

Couldn’t agree more.

Tomorrow: we hear what the NZ youth delegation here have been doing.

Prat watch #5: Ignorance is bliss Gareth Renowden Mar 29

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What happens when you deny things? Well, if you deny the reality of global warming, and if you are to be in any way self-consistent, then you have to deny every bit of evidence that it might be happening. Here’s a classic example, drawn from New Zealand’s very own little corner of the climate crank echo chamber, Richard Treadgold’s “Climate Conversation Group” blog. Treadgold concludes a recent post thus:

Once more: let’s stop accepting this palpable nonsense that climate change is responsible for anything.

Climate change means global warming. Global warming has not happened for about 15 years, unless you take a micrometer to the thermometer. And if you have to do that just to detect warming, then it’s hardly dangerous, is it?

Oh — if it didn’t happen, then it didn’t cause anything! No droughts, no wildfires, no floods, no storms. No ice melt.

Look at the bit I’ve emphasised. No warming for 15 years? Tell that to the planet, Richard. Here’s what the World Meteorological Organisation says about the first decade of the 21st century:

…climate change accelerated in 2001-2010, which was the warmest decade ever recorded in all continents of the globe.

No warming for 15 years? After we’ve had the warmest decade ever recorded in all continents of the globe?

The decade 2001-2010 was the warmest since records began in 1850, with global land and sea surface temperatures estimated at 0.46°C above the long-term average (1961-1990) of 14.0°C. Nine of these years were among the ten warmest on record. The warmest year on record was 2010, closely followed by 2005, with a mean temperature estimated at 0.53°C above the long-term average. It was the warmest decade ever recorded for global land surface, sea surface and for every continent.

No warming for 15 years? Not to put too fine a point on it: balderdash, piffle, stuff and nonsense.

And because there has been warming, it can be linked to extreme events1. The IPCC has just released its full SREX report, full title Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (PDF – 44MB), which finds, amongst other things, that not only is there a clear signal of warming’s effect on extremes such as heatwaves, but that large parts of the world — especially coastal megacities such as Mumbai or countries like Bangladesh and Vietnam — are vulnerable to increasing extremes and sea level rise over the course of the coming century. [AP/NZ Herald, AFP.]

The certainty of Treadgold’s denial is only possible because he creates a carefully cultivated cocoon of ignorance around himself and around the true believers who worship at his blog. The world where the rest of us live is a much more uncomfortable place. We have to work with whatever reality throws at us. Retreating into a fantasy world where warming hasn’t happened for 15 years is a luxury only the deluded can afford.

[Jellyfish]

  1. I’ll have post examining recent work on the attribution of extreme weather events soon.

Shapes of things (2012 and all that) Gareth Renowden Dec 29

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‘Tis the silly season, time for journalists with little real news to report to reflect on the year past and make predictions for the year to come. I don’t normally play that game because there are too many interesting things to write about on the climate beat, but this year I’m going to make an exception. Glenn “Climate Show” Williams persuaded me to have a chat with him on his summer Radio Live show — and yes, we did cover the last year, and the prospects for 2012. The audio’s available to stream for the next week from the Radio Live site (select Dec 28th, then the 1-15pm segment — my bit starts after about 5 minutes). You may regard this post as an expanded version of my comments there (and a bit of recap on the last Climate Show of the year).

So: 2011 was the year of extremes, beyond any shadow of doubt. Wherever you looked around the world, there were record-breaking floods, heatwaves and hugely damaging extreme weather events. The USA alone had 14 separate extreme weather events with billion dollar plus damage bills (NOAA puts it at 12 with 2 more to finalise, the World Meteorological Organisation plumps for 14). The year broke no records for global average temperature — 2011 will probably end up as the 10th or 11th warmest year in the long term record — but it will be the warmest ever La Niña year. Here’s a WMO graph to illustrate the point:

2011LaNina

The prospects for 2012 depend in large part on what happens to the El Niño Southern Oscillation this year. Will the current La Niña hang around for another year, decay to neutral conditions, or swing round to an El Niño? The odds, according to NOAA’s Klaus Wolters (on Dec 7th) are interesting:

Based on current atmosphere-ocean conditions, I believe the odds for this La Niña event to continue right through early spring (March-April 2012) are higher than 50%. Beyond that, it is worth noting that of the ten two-year La Niña events between 1900 and 2009, four ended up as a three-year event, so I would put the odds for this to occur in 2012-13 at 40% right now. Interestingly, the other six all switched to El Niño, leaving no ENSO-neutral case. Will be interesting to see how 2012 evolves.

It will indeed. A return to El Niño conditions in the first half of 2012 would boost global average temperatures, and that, coupled with the currently active phase of the 11 year solar cycle, might be enough to push 2012 above 2010 and 2005 for a new record. But more importantly, a return to El Niño would also change the patterns of weather around the world, and with them change the places that experience record extremes. Exactly how this will play out is impossible to predict, because the timing of a move out of La Niña conditions is difficult to forecast, and because the nature of El Niño’s impacts on weather patterns around there planet depend on the season (see Wikipedia, NOAA and NIWA for more).

So what do am I looking out for in 2012?

  • More extreme weather events, with a pattern shift if ENSO changes phase.
  • Possible new global temperature record, if El Niño arrives early enough in the year.
  • Continued Arctic sea ice melt (in both volume and area), with a possibility1 of a new record minimum in September.
  • Lots of fine words at the Rio +20 conference in June, but little concrete action. Ditto for COP 18 in Qatar in December.
  • At least one nasty surprise emerging from current research. I hope it isn’t East Siberian seabed methane, but we’ll know more when the papers describing the 2011 Arctic research season are published.

And a very happy new year for all Hot Topic readers…

[Update 31/12: Jeff Masters' end of year review counts "32 weather disasters costing at least $1 billion worldwide. Five nations experienced their most expensive weather-related natural disasters on record during 2011--Thailand, Australia, Colombia, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia." The year of extremes, indeed...]

  1. No I’m not betting, but greater than 50% chance, I’d say, because at some point volume reductions have to show up in extent/area numbers.

The Climate Show #23: Durban and the return of the electric car Gareth Renowden Dec 21

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Grab some holly, deck your halls, heat up some mince pies, and then settle down to the last Climate Show of 2011. We look at the outcome of the Durban conference, discuss heavy rain in New Zealand and record-breaking weather extremes in the USA, and ponder the implications of news of more methane erupting from the seabed off Siberia. Glenn interviews Chris Paine, director of EV documentary Revenge of the Electric Car, and we round off the show with some optimistic news on possible energy solutions.

Watch The Climate Show on our Youtube channel, subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, listen to us via Stitcher on your smartphone or listen direct/download from the link below the fold…

Follow The Climate Show at The Climate Show web site, and on Facebook and Twitter.

The Climate Show

News & commentary: [0:02:00]

Durban – the deal, and what it means

Mark Lynas at Hot Topic: http://hot-topic.co.nz/the-verdict-on-durban/

Gareth’s take: http://hot-topic.co.nz/a-mad-deal-in-durban/

Climate Action Tracker

Flooding in Nelson: Stuff.co.nz

Philippines: 400+ killed in flash floods yesterday: BBC

Record year for extremes in US: NOAA, Jeff Masters.

WMO on 2011: world’s 10th warmest year, warmest year with La Niña on record, second-lowest Arctic sea ice extent: release.

Methane in the Arctic: Independent.

[Background] http://hot-topic.co.nz/siberian-seabed-methane-first-numbers/ and the links therein.

Interview [0:34:30]

Chris Paine: Revenge of the Electric Car

Solutions [0:54:00]

Game Changing Technologies Promise Climate Change Optimism: Celsias NZ

U.S. Geothermal Resources Could Replace Coal 10 Times Over: Ecogeek

Solar Power Much Cheaper to Produce Than Most Analysts Realize, Study Finds: Science Daily

Solution Fail: Congress spared the 100-watt incandescent light bulb from a government-enforced phaseout in a win for Tea Party activists over manufacturers who said they are already switching to more energy-efficient products: Business Week

Thanks to our media partners: Idealog Sustain, SciblogsScoop and KiwiFM.

Theme music: A Drop In The Ocean by The Bads.

The counsel of failure: Greenhouse Policy Coalition on Durban Bryan Walker Dec 03

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’There is a danger that, in trying to encourage major emitters to sign up to a new agreement or to bridge the Kyoto legal gap, New Zealand might commit itself to something short of a global deal that binds us to making economic sacrifices which are not reflective of fair burden sharing.’ So wrote David Venables, executive director of the Greenhouse Policy Coalition, in the NZ Herald this week.

I described the Greenhouse Policy Coalition in a post last year, but I’ll briefly recap. Its members come from a range of New Zealand industry and sector groups covering the aluminium, steel, forestry (including pulp and paper), coal, dairy processing and gas sectors. They include Fonterra, NZ Steel, the Coal Association, Solid Energy, NZ Aluminium Smelters Ltd and others. They are not deniers of climate change and express the cautious opinion that ’there is sufficient scientific evidence to warrant the adoption of appropriate precautionary public policy measures’. However their emphasis is strongly on policy which protects what they regard as New Zealand’s international competitiveness.

This is very apparent in Venables’ Herald opinion piece, timed to coincide with the Durban conference. Hope of an early global agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions has gone.  The most we can expect to see is ’incremental, year-by-year, meeting-by-meeting progress, which years in the future may see all major emitters agreeing to make cuts’.

This worries Venables, not because of what it would mean in terms of dangerous climate change, but because we in New Zealand ’face pursuing climate change policies aimed at cutting emissions in the absence of a binding international target, and proper sharing of the burden between countries, after 2012’.

He points to what he calls the ’patchy’ nature of emissions trading around the world and the likelihood that the Kyoto Protocol will become obsolete after the Durban meeting which no-one expects to provide a break-through agreement.

Some sort of political deal whereby ministers promise to do things without a legally binding framework may be possible. At best Durban might produce an agreement from the major players to discuss a binding global agreement. Even this would be a major step forward.  Meanwhile when the Kyoto first commitment period ends next year developed countries will have no binding targets for cutting emissions and there will be a legal gap in the process which could last for years.

It’s at this point that he reaches his major concern, highlighted at the beginning of this post, that New Zealand might be tempted to do more than its fair share. That would be a bad mistake because it would achieve nothing in term of reducing global emissions but would impose significant economic cost on the country.

So rein in your concern, those of you who want us to commit to more action. ’Our ETS already puts us ahead of the rest of the world in terms of incorporating a price of carbon into the economy.’

Venables may well, sadly, be right in his appraisal of where the international negotiations have reached and of how slow and incremental any future progress may prove. But the conclusion he draws for New Zealand is wrong. He appears oblivious to the magnitude of the threat posed by climate change. That threat doesn’t diminish because politicians are having difficulty facing up to it. Indeed it is increasing as we pump more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Report after report on the science, the latest from the World Meteorological Organization just a couple of days ago, makes it clear that inexorable change is under way.

How can we settle for competitive advantage as our major concern in the face of something so big as to threaten the survival of whole societies of human beings?  Venables invites us to ignore the larger perspective and focus on the proximate. That’s an inclination which fits very well with many of our instincts, but it doesn’t stand critical examination or moral scrutiny. Brian Fallow, the NZ Herald’s economics editor, put it well in a recent column:

At the most basic level the status quo is a gigantic exercise in free riding. There is a disconnect between where the benefits and costs of fossil fuel use fall.

Our emissions are diffused over the whole planet and accumulate in the atmosphere, a global commons.

The effect is the moral equivalent of a subsidy flowing from poor countries to rich ones and from future generations to the present.

Being on the bludger’s end of this arrangement we naturally don’t want it to end.

Venables’ competitive advantage plea is a plug for the status quo. It’s dressed up to appear reasonable by reference to the need for a fair sharing of burdens and to the economic danger of moving ahead of the pack. For good measure there’s the implication that we’re too small for our actions to have any effect on reducing global emissions anyway.

Of course arguments need to be had about sharing in the task of emissions reduction. Of course China will have to accept limits. So will the US, in some ways the most recalcitrant of the nations. If they don’t we will all, including them, suffer terrible consequences. But countries like New Zealand cannot treat this as some kind of excuse to carry on with business as usual themselves, any more than those who opposed the slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries could engage in it themselves on the grounds that they might as well share the profit while it continued.

Further action in New Zealand to reduce emissions is in any case not necessarily inimical to the economy, as Venables appears to take for granted with his talk of economic sacrifices. There are plenty of signs that it could be positive for the country to venture a little ahead of where some other countries are prepared to go, that it is an opportunity to be grasped and profited from.

New Zealand went ahead of the pack in the 19th century in the introduction of the eight hour working day and the sky didn’t fall in. We were also early leaders in old age pension provision in 1898, and in many of the features of the welfare state which followed in the 20th century, from which our own Prime Minister benefited in his youth. Why should we shun the forefront in such a fundamental challenge as building low carbon economies?

So many lies — and the liar who tells them Gareth Renowden Jul 04

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A headline caught my attention yesterday:
Shock News: Disgraced Climategate Scientist Made Top UN Weatherman. It popped up all over the crank web. Climate Realists seemed to get it first, then Morano’s Climate Depot, and soon it was at the gloriously titled “CO2 Insanity“, ICECAP.us and many, many more. Here’s the intro and first sentence:

In a shock move a discredited global warming scientist implicated in climate fraud is appointed to a top job at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Jim Salinger, one of the scientists suspected of criminal misconduct in the Climategate scandal has been elected to the prestigious role of President of the Commission for Agricultural Meteorology of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Climate skeptics are aghast at the news.

The author? One John O’Sullivan. HT readers with long memories will remember him being wrong about everything before. In this case, amongst the untruths and libels in those few words is one simple mistake that makes the entire crank echo chamber look stupid for providing O’Sullivan with a platform. Jim Salinger’s election to the presidency of the WMO Commission for Agricultural Meteorology (CAgM) took place in 2006 — as O’Sullivan’s own reference demonstrates! Salinger remains a member of the CAgM, but the president is now
Dr Byong-Lyol Lee of Korea (full WMO membership list here). O’Sullivan’s “scoop” is a mere five years out of date! But wait, there’s more…

O’Sullivan’s “news” item continues:

Salinger remains a suspected accomplice in the tight knit international clique of climatologists involved in the data corruption scandal at the University of East Anglia (UEA), England. Commenting on that ongoing criminal probe, Senior Investigating Officer (SIO), Detective Superintendent Julian Gregory said: ’This has been a complex investigation [...]“

Apart from the obvious libel of Salinger, O’Sullivan is clearly suggesting that the police are investigating some mythical “data corruption scandal”, when in fact they are attempting to find the people who hacked the Climatic Research Unit’s servers to steal emails. The rest of O’Sullivan’s tirade is a lightly rehashed version of his misrepresentation of the state of the NIWA versus NZ CSET case, with a few added libels of Salinger thrown in for good measure.

The whole piece is a distasteful and distorted piece of make-believe — but that seems good enough for the merry-go-round of “sceptic” web sites. Anyone who has carried O’Sullivan’s nonsense should now withdraw and apologise to Jim Salinger, a respected scientist who is about as far from O’Sullivan’s perverse caricature as it’s possible to be. But I won’t be holding my breath…

But what of O’Sullivan? Who is this man, who describes himself in his profile at Suite 101 as “the world’s most popular Internet writer on the greenhouse gas theory of climate change (Google)”? Over the last couple of months, I’ve taken the time to do a little digging…

Back in May, someone calling themselves John O’Sullivan joined the Science & Technology Media Professionals group at Linked-In (a workplace networking site) and started posting provocative discussion threads about climate-related subjects. One thread he started, Has Global Warming Propaganda Killed Science Journalism? ran to to several hundred comments1, and prompted me and one or two others (notably science writer Andrew Skolnick) to do a little research on O’Sullivan.

I started with his Suite 101 profile (which is very similar to his Linked-In resumé). Here are his claims, and what we found:

  • He coordinated and published the science book, Slaying the Sky Dragon: Death of the Greenhouse Gas Theory, a two-volume best seller he co-wrote with 22 leading climate researchers.

This is at least partly true2, and why he is of more than passing interest in climate matters.

  • O’Sullivan has published over 150 major articles worldwide.

This may be true for definitions of “major” that include blog posts at sceptic websites, but I haven’t bothered to count them all for reasons that will become obvious.

  • His ‘Satellite-gate’ revelations caused a $12 million dollar orbiting U.S. satellite to be hastily removed from service.

Doesn’t appear to be true. “Satellite-gate” is an O’Sullivan beat up of a known sensor malfunction on the NOAA-16 weather satellite. The satellite is still very much functional.

Now it starts to get really interesting…

  • In America his work features in the National Review, the nation’s most popular and influential magazine for Republican/conservative news and also Forbes Magazine.

“Sky Dragon” John O’Sullivan has never had any article, major or otherwise, published in National Review or Forbes. National Review does have a writer called John O’Sullivan — a prominent and respectable British conservative columnist who acts as their Editor-at-Large. Pressed to confirm his status as a writer for National Review, Sky Dragon O’Sullivan posted links to two articles3 written by the other John. Tasked with this apparent theft of another’s reputation, he resorted to bluster and attempts to change the subject4.

  • Other leading world publications that feature his work include China Daily, the Number One English portal in China and The India Times, the prime source of business news in India.

Tracking these references down was rather more tricky, but eventually O’Sullivan’s own LiveJournal blog provided the links I was looking for5. For O’Sullivan, “featuring” in China Daily means having someone post one of your articles in a discussion forum. The same is true for The India Times.

So much for O’Sullivan’s journalistic CV padding. Now we turn to his legal background, and that’s — if anything — even more “interesting”. The Suite 101 profile contains these paragraphs:

  • Science writer and legal advocate specializing in anti-corruption, John O’Sullivan LLB, BA (Hon), PGCE, was born in Berkshire, England, of immigrant Irish parents in 1961. As an accredited academic, John taught and lectured for over twenty years at schools and colleges in the east of England as well as litigating for over a decade in the New York State courts and U.S. Federal 2nd Circuit.
  • John, a member of the American Bar Association (ABA) is currently litigating in two major climate science lawsuits, one of which involves prominent climatologists, Dr Michael Mann versus Dr Tim Ball. O’Sullivan also acts as a legal consultant for prominent Canadian law firm, Pearlman Lindholm, Vancouver, Canada6.

He claims to have a law degree (LLB) and to have litigated in New York State courts and the US Federal 2nd Circuit. How do those claims stack up? Does O’Sullivan really have any kind of legal training or background? In posts at Linked-In, Sky Dragon O’Sullivan suggested that he had obtained his LLB at the University of Cork in Ireland. Research by Andrew Skolnick discovered that a John O’Sullivan does appear to have obtained a law degree from that august institution, but it’s not Sky Dragon O’Sullivan7.

What about his experience in the US courts? Following leads left by O’Sullivan at his LiveJournal blog and a couple of his earlier writing projects8, we were able to establish that O’Sullivan had been involved in bringing a sexual harassment case against a former employer of his wife. This suit appears to have been a failure. However one part of O’Sullivan’s legal background appears to have some substance — but not in the way he might wish us to assume. He has recently joined the American Bar Association as an associate — but is not, and should not be claiming to be, a full member. One has to be a lawyer licensed to practice in the US to become an ABA member, but anyone can join as an associate.

One thing is certainly true. Tim Ball — famous for having padded his own resumé — is being sued for libel by Michael Mann and Andrew Weaver, as Richard Littlemore explains here. Pearlman Lindholm are indeed acting for Ball, and they confirmed to Skolnick that Sky Dragon O’Sullivan is acting as some kind of consultant on the case9. They may not be aware, however, that O’Sullivan’s legal background is not as he presents it. It seems likely that Ball, having worked with O’Sullivan on the Sky Dragon project, takes him at face value, and is not aware of O’Sullivan’s apparent penchant for gilding the reputational lily.

Meanwhile, whatever the truth may be about O’Sullivan’s legal skills and training10, and however the Mann/Ball case turns out11, his reckless disregard for the facts in the stories he writes and distributes, his willingness to scatter libellous statements about the internet, and risible attempts to pass himself off as a respected and successful writer should make him a pariah — even on the wilder fringes of the climate “sceptic” web. Every site that has carried or promoted this travesty of “journalism” by this pretend journalist should issue retractions and apologies. Sadly, I don’t expect they’ll be forthcoming. Jim Salinger, an honourable and decent New Zealander deserves far better.

  1. It has since been removed by the Linked-In moderators, but I have an archive of most of the key posts.
  2. there isn’t much evidence that it’s been any kind of “best seller”, and any relationship between real science and its contents is entirely coincidental.
  3. Here’s one, here’s the other.
  4. Tactics familiar to anyone who has attempted to “debate” climate with the more obstinate “sceptics”
  5. This blog post is very revealing. In it, Sky Dragon O’Sullivan records the text of a job application he made for a post at WalesOnLine. The post is dated March 15th 2010, and O’Sullivan notes that he “arrived late to journalism, after 20 years of pursuing the mundane life of a classroom teacher and college lecturer”. Yet he claimed to have written a piece in National Review dated March 2007!
  6. O’Sullivan’s Linked-In profile gives his job as “legal consultant at Pearlman Lindholm”
  7. O’Sullivan’s Friends Reunited page suggests he has a BA from what used to be the West Surrey College of Art and Design. His Linked-In profile also claims that he has a post graduate certificate in education from the University of Sussex — required for starting a teaching career in the UK. Friends Reunited lists a number of schools at which he appears to have taught, but gives no details of legal training or employment.
  8. See here for an example.
  9. O’Sullivan suggested in comments at Linked-In that he had some kind of “conditional fee” arrangement — in other words that he would only receive a fee if Ball won his case.
  10. There’s more, much more, but this post is already long enough.
  11. Tim Ball is toast.

Remember a (World Meteorological) day Gareth Renowden Mar 23

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Today (March 23rd) is World Meteorological Day — the 61st since the founding of the World Meteorological Organisation in 1950 (press release). This year’s theme is “Climate For You”, and the WMO has published a couple of interesting documents to illustrate the idea. Climate For You [pdf] gives an overview of the climate system and the measurement frameworks the WMO runs, while Weather Extremes In A Changing Climate — Hindsight On Foresight [pdf] looks back over the extreme weather events of the last decade, and puts them in the context of the developing IPCC projections of changes in extremes from the first report in 1990 to 2007′s AR4. Both are worth reading for the comprehensive non-technical overview they provide.

Hat to Bob McDavitt at the MetService blog.

[David Gilmour, tribute to Rick Wright]

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