How to be a denier #2: the truth is what we want it to be

By Gareth Renowden 18/11/2010


What do you do when you don’t the like the facts of the matter? You ignore them, right? Or you attempt to downplay them, or perhaps pretend that the data are somehow tainted or not to be trusted. But if you’re a really devoted denier, you can do all these things at the same time. Something like this seems to be going on at smear merchant Richard Treadgold’s Climate Conversation blog, where he’s been working himself into a fine lather about Bryan’s recent posts on sea level rise in Kiribati.

Treadgold’s first riposte made use of the very accurate data from the Seaframe measuring site on Kiribati, relying on the most recent (September) report from the South Pacific Sea Level & Climate Monitoring Project. He said:

The latest report shows that whatever is causing the problems with sea water incursion into or onto the island, it’s certainly not rising sea levels. For at least the last nine years there has been no acceleration in sea level rise at the monitoring station on Kiribati.

And:

The September report says that the average sea-level trend at the station on Kiribati for the last 17 years has been a rise of 3.2 mm per year. That’s 32 mm per decade, and 320 mm per century. A little higher than normal, but hardly catastrophic. Considering coral atolls have kept pace with 140 metres of sea level rise since the last ice age, it’s hardly catastrophic.

The figures come from the September 2010 monthly data summary (pdf) from the sea level project, and are quoted accurately. (For a broader overview, with lots of good background information, the 2009 full year report (pdf) is recommended). I would note that there is a big difference between corals “keeping up with sea level rise” on an uninhabited island sticking 145 metres up out of the ocean, and the current situation. In his latest response to Bryan, however, the previously acknowledged rise magically disappears:

There has been no increase in sea level in Kiribati. However you slide by this fact, Bryan, as long as you fail to refute it you fail to persuade anyone that Kiribati has already experienced any ’adverse impacts of climate change’.

How malleable those facts become in the hands of Treadgold! First he acknowledges that the sea is rising — but not by much (though a little higher than “normal”, he’ll admit) — then it’s not rising at all. Meanwhile, out on the islands he admits to having never visited the inhabitants are noting the impacts of that small (5.8cm) rise — particularly in its impacts on extreme high water levels.

Which Treadgold are you going to believe? Neither, for preference. I’ll place my money on the people on the spot, and the Seaframe numbers. And you don’t need to be a genius to work out that with the rate of ice loss from the big ice sheets of Greenland and West Antarctica increasing, 30-40 years of unavoidable further warming in the pipeline, and the long term sea level rise that will come from thermal expansion of the deep ocean, the future for human habitation of low-lying islands around the world looks pretty grim. The only credible argument left is about how soon the people of Kiribati will lose their home.