Monday, May 11, 2009

The So-Called Global Warming "Debate"

The so-called "Global Warming Debate" is in fact a misinformation campaign designed to confuse the public and defocus our resolve to do something about climate change. That isn't to say that there isn't any debate about global warming and what we should do about it, but the primary thrust of the theory - namely that global temperatures are rising due mostly to human activities - is scarcely debated among serious scientists. Those who believe we should do nothing (including those who have a vested interest in us doing nothing) have undergone a concerted effort to make it appear that there is much more controversy over the science than there actually is.

The theory behind human-caused, or Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is really pretty straightforward. It is based on the following undisputed facts:

1) CO2 is a greenhouse gas
2) CO2 is accumulating in the atmosphere
3) most of the recent rise of CO2 in the atmosphere is from human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels
4) global temperatures are rising.

Most "skeptics" will argue that this series of facts do not directly "prove" that humans are causing the current warming and they are absolutely correct. The above four facts are not "proof" of anything. But they lay out a very obvious path to concern - could human activities be causing global warming and, if so, what should we do about it?

So the theory of AGW is a rational theory based on sound scientific principles and observations of the global climate, not some "hoax" or "swindle". As with all theories, the scientific study of AGW tries to better understand the above facts and also tries to disprove the theory through exploring alternate explanations (such as solar radiation) and focusing on observations that cannot be explained by the theory (such as satellite data that fail to show expected warming in the lower atmosphere). For the most part, newer research has increased the understanding of these four basic facts and has shown a greater correlation between them and the AGW theory. And the study of alternate explanations have been disproved and unexplained observations have been explained. This admittedly does not "prove" the theory, but it strengthens it to the point that is is "very likely" to be true, which is all the scientific consensus has claimed.

This lack of certainty is easily exploited by those who favor inaction, especially given a population in the U.S. that is woefully ignorant and easily confused about science in general. As recently as March 2003, political consultants for conservatives were encouraging their clients to exploit the uncertainties in global warming science and focus on how "unsettled" the science is. One such consultant, Frank Luntz, wrote a memo specifically outlining how to deal with the topic in the 2003-2004 election season.

Starting on page 137 (page 7 of the scanned copy of the Luntz Memo), Luntz states:
1. The scientific debate remains open. Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate and defer to scientists and other experts in the field. (emphasis in the original)

and on page 138 (8 of the scanned document)
The scientific debate is closing [against us] but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science. Americans believe that all the strange weather that was associated with El Nino had something to do with global warming, and there is little you can do to convince them otherwise. However, only a handful of people believes [sic] the science of global warming is a closed question. Most Americans want more information so they can make an informed decision. It is our job to provide that information.(emphasis in the original)

And more recently, it has been reported that while vigorously promoting the uncertainties of global warming throughout the 1990's, the Global Climate Coalition's own scientists were saying that “The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied".

By now, only the most ardent skeptic clings to the idea that AGW is some sort of hoax or swindle, but that doesn't stop conservatives from continuing to promote the idea that it is all some sort of liberal conspiracy. My firm belief is that more rational minds will prevail.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Part 8 (and FINAL part) of Debunking the Silliness of Global Warming Skeptics


"More About Elephants"

Here, Mr. Transtronics refers to a quote about elephants and parameters, and then he states in parenthesis "The source of the above quote?? Variants of the statement have been attributed to C.F. Gauss, Niels Bohr, Lord Kelvin, Enrico Fermi." A simple Google search of "+parameters +elephant +wag +tail" reveals an interesting parody of the history of scientific controversies in physics known as "Ise's Conjecture" (attributed to Dr. W. Ise of MIT, a very "wise" doctor indeed :). And the thrust of this parody is not that too many parameters make something impossible to model, but rather it is a parody of how physicists tend to over-analyze and both over and under attribute one another's work. It is a parody of the politics of science and the lesson is quite simply that science needs to be approached pragmatically and un-emotionally. It should be noted that, although this parody has fun poking at the silliness of some researchers and their scramble to make a name for themselves, it does not attempt to undermine the importance of physics or the value of conducting physics research, only that such research should pass the "smell test" of being sensible and properly peer reviewed. In my investigations into AGW skepticism, my conclusion is that it is the skeptics that fail the Physics of Elephants test, not those who are conducting AGW research.

"Are the Global Warmers intellectually honest?"

This section is more drivel, but shows again that the author really knows nothing about the IPCC or its processes. He asks "Where is the bending-over-backwards in the IPCC report listing the assumptions made and error band analysis?" He is apparently unaware of the guidelines for Lead Authors of IPCC reports regarding "uncertainties" wherein it states things like:

"Determine the areas in your chapter where a range of views may need to be described, and those where L[ead]A[uthor]s may need to form a collective view on uncertainty or confidence. Agree on a carefully moderated (chaired) and balanced process for doing this."

"Be aware of a tendency for a group to converge on an expressed view and become overconfident in it"

"Be aware that the way in which a statement is framed will have an effect on how it is interpreted. (A 10% chance of dying is interpreted more negatively than a 90% chance of surviving.) Use a neutral language, avoid value laden statements, consider redundant statements to ensure balance (e.g. chances of dying and of surviving), and express different but comparable risks in a consistent way."

Does this sound like intellectual dishonesty? Or what about chapter TS.6.1 of the Technical Summary that spells out specific uncertainties:

"The full range of processes leading to modification of cloud properties by aerosols is not well understood"

"The causes of, and radiative forcing due to stratospheric water vapor changes are not well quantified."

"The geographical distribution and time evolution of the radiative forcing due to changes in aerosols during the 20th century are not well characterized"

"The causes of recent changes in the growth rate of atmospheric CH4 are not well understood"

"The roles of different factors increasing tropospheric ozone concentrations since pre-industrial times are not well characterized."

"Land surface properties and land-atmosphere interactions that lead to radiative forcing are not well quantified."

"Knowledge of the contribution of past solar changes to radiative forcing on the time scale of centuries is not based upon direct measurements and is hence strongly dependent upon physical understanding."

These appear to be very honest assessments of what is not currently well understood or quantified.

Compare that to the "honest" assessments of Global Warming that were dramatized in the mock-umentary "The Great Global Warming Swindle" wherein the last 120 years of "World Temp" were presented on a dramatically altered graph that was supposedly based on the NASA GISS temperature data but was in fact based on a 1988 CRUTEM3 data and "stretched" to fit the skeptics assertion that "dramatic cooling" in the post industrial 40's and 50's undermines the AGW theory (an example of a corrected graph with the NASA data overlaid on the Swindle graph shows the cooling was not so dramatic). Tell me, who's swindling who?

Or how about the German skeptic school teacher, Ernst Beck, who's graph on temperature history is radically distorted in several ways (it's taken from 1990 data, has a modified and incorrect temperature scale and is deceptively extended to the year 2000).

This is to say nothing about the intellectual dishonesty that is rampant in Mr. Transtronics web page that I have already identified here (failing to include proper interpretations of the raw satellite data, referring to outdated and discredited scientific studies, criticizing over reliance on correllations while relying heavily on very weak correlations between solar radiance and climate change, falsely suggesting that climatologists do not understand the scientific method, etc.). I think it is dramatically clear which side of the debate is practicing intellectual dishonesty.

"More Links"

Here Mr. Transtronics provides a few "more links" with no real explanation as to what these links are supposed to prove. But to analyze each would require another complete debunking, so for now I am going to skip these sections and move on.

"Beware of Regressions - Polynomial and Otherwise: they can fool you"

This section, like so much of this diatribe, is barely coherent. But he does clearly make the point that "the idea that once [a computer model] predicts the past it will also predict the future is just wrong". However, this directly contradicts his statement "there has to be a hypothesis that can predict the past (only then can we start guessing about the future) including the temperatures in the upper atmosphere. Any model that can't fit past data has to be called wrong." (emphasis in the original) that he said in the "to infer a connection" section at the top of the page. He seems to be saying that models that can't predict the past are wrong and models that can predict the past are wrong. I think he's confused about what models are and how they work as part of well-accepted scientific practices.

"Emistivity and the so called "greenhouse effect"

Here Mr. Transtronics provides lots of (presumably accurate) information about "emissivity", which appears to be tightly related to temperature recording and could be a very interesting branch of global warming study. However, he does very little to tie this into a critique of AGW theory (is the current temperature record completely wrong because of a failure to account for emissivity?), so all this information seems totally unrelated.

He does, however, outline 3 more "confounding issues" he has "come across":

1) "Negative feed back by the water vapor heat-pump", which turns out to be the very same uncertainty about cloud formation that I've mentioned before and that is outlined in the uncertainty summary above (i.e. this is perfectly valid criticism and one that is already well documented by the IPCC)

2) "The interplay of irrigation" which amounts to a replay of the "they're ignoring water vapor" argument that I addressed in the "Why is Water Vapor Swept Under the Rug" section of Part 4 of my critique (in short, water vapor is a well documented and well understood "confounding variable", but it is a feedback of AGW, not a cause)

3) "The interplay of the black body radiation and absorption of CO2 and H2O, spectral emission/absorption, and kinetic transfer" which might actually be a brilliant insight (but I doubt it), but Mr. Transtronics does not elaborate on what this actually means. My guess is that he really does not understand this statement at all and he just copy-and-pasted it from some other skeptic's site in order to add more scientific-sounding drivel to this massively ignorant and deceptive web page.

The final section on this page is a set of meaningless quotes that I won't even bother to read, nonetheless critique.

In Summary

After a thorough review of this page, I can confidently say that it is 90% meaningless drivel, 9% regurgitated and debunked arguments from other AGW skeptics and 1% genuine concern and confusion. But for me, it is 100% proof that AGW is valid and Mr. Transtronics doesn't know what he's talking about.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Part 7 of Debunking the Silliness of Global Warming Skeptics

Continuing my critique of starting where I left off...

"What is the difference between science and beliefs?"

Once again, Mr. Transtronics tries to establish that somehow global climate is so complex and unpredictable that it is "unknowable". This is hogwash. And he further tries to establish that since it is unknowable, any attempt to claim any knowledge of it is a "belief", not science. More hogwash. The section finishes up with a repeat of the raw satellite data he provided at the top of his page, which I discussed in the "Satellite data" section of Part 2 of this critique (in summary, there is the type of warming in the atmosphere that was predicted by the AGW theory, but it does not show in the raw data due to the way the satellites collect and record the raw data).

"Problems with ground station measurements"

This section moves into another area that is a favorite of the AGW skeptics - the "Urban Heat Island" (UHI) effect. Basically, this is the idea that the physical temperature record that shows significant warming over the past few decades is flawed because many of the land-based recording stations are located in urban settings near heat sources (the pictures he references show one next to an incinerator and another next to a chimney) and it is these heat sources that are causing the temperature record to go up, not global warming. There are several issues with this idea, the foremost of which is that the UHI effect is well understood and is accounted for in the analysis of the surface temperature record. The second problem is that even when accounted for, the UHI effect is very minimal (accounting for about 0.1 degree Celsius of warming). There have also been studies of rural vs. urban warming trends and windy vs. calm day warming trends, all of which indicate that the temperature record is affected very little by UHI's and what affect there is has been accounted for.

"Are the data and/or computer models tainted due to subconscious intentions?"

Here we again return to the idea of AGW being "unknowable" due to its complexity, but also Mr. Transtronics introduces the idea of bias into the discussion. He is insinuating that the scientists working on global warming computer models are subconsciously skewing the models in favor of the "right result". This is nonsense on numerous levels, but let's start with the most obvious one. What exactly is the "right result"? The models are supposed to be an accurate representation of the environment they are modeling - namely, global climate. "Skewing" the models to fit the observations of climate change is exactly what scientists ought to be doing! That is how you create and refine a model in the first place (as opposed to ignoring or skewing the facts to match the model, which is exactly what the skeptics have been doing to promote the idea that global warming is "natural" and/or based entirely on solar radiation).

The bottom line is that modern AGW computer models are based on scientific principles that model well-known Geophysical Fluid Dynamics that determine the basis on which energy flows through liquid and gas environments. The GFD models are built up into a General Circulation Model which describes how earth's atmosphere circulates energy based on its fluid principles. The GCMs are then built up into Atmosphere-Ocean GCM (AOGCM) that models interactions between the ocean and the atmosphere. It is fair to state that these models are not perfect and can be improved. But evolving these models to be a more accurate reflection of the real-world environment they model is one of the primary goals of studying climate change, so once again Mr. Transtronics has proven he has no understanding of science whatsoever.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Part 6 of Debunking the Silliness of Global Warming Skeptics

Returning to my critique of and starting where I left off...

"Cosmic Rays"

This section includes a muddled reference to Svensmark and his belief that "the planet is experiencing a natural period of low cloud cover due to fewer cosmic rays entering the atmosphere" (which has what to do with AGW?) and that Svensmark doesn't know any more than the "warmers" because of "confounding variables". More drivel. He then includes a link to a paper on "Gamma Rays and Climate" which is a dead link. I searched for some other reference to this paper and found numerous ones to the same dead link and another dead link on the Great Global Warming Swindle site. But the GGWS link seemed to include the author's name ("Perry, Charles") and a quick search on his papers revealed a 2007 study by Charles A. Perry entitled "Evidence for a physical linkage between galactic cosmic rays and regional climate time series" (see this link for a free version) which is conveniently discussed on It is clear that Mr. Transtronics included this reference simply because it appears to have something to do with how "cosmic rays" cause climate change (a theory that is very popular with AGW skeptics, but which has been totally discredited in the scientific community). But this particular paper by C.A. Perry actually talks about links between "cosmic rays" and precipitation in certain regional climates around the world, not climate change. And it has one of the weakest and most questionable dependencies on "correlations" I've ever seen (Perry himself says the correlations were "unexpected" and their "validity questioned"). So the reference to this article is meaningless on several levels.

"Are the Climate Papers Properly Peer Reviewed?"

Here, among other things, Mr. Transtronics introduces us to the web site run by mathematician Steve McIntyre of NASA's Goddard Institute. McIntyre, along with economist Ross McKitrick were at the center of a controversy over a graphic that appeared in the 2001 IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR), generally referred to as the "Hockey Stick" graph because of the sharp rise in temperatures it depicted (see reproduction of the graph here). The graph caught the attention of the AGW skeptic crowd because it seemed to be departure from previous graphical representations of the temperature record that showed more pronounced warming and cooling over the past 1000 years or so (namely the Medieval Warming Period, or MWP, and the Little Ice Age, or LIA). The MWP and LIA were cornerstones of the skeptic's view of climate change as these were often used to illustrate how climate is cyclical and therefore the current warming trends could be dismissed as just part of an overall, natural cycle of warming and cooling.

So it was that McIntyre and McKitrick (M&M) came to investigate the origins of the graph both in terms of the data it used and the statistical methods it employed to create it's "smoothed" trend line. The controversy probably never would have gotten off the ground if it hadn't been for some mistakes made by one of the authors of the graph, Michael Mann, the first being that when he originally posted the data archive for the graph back in 1998 he had not archived the entire data set. So when M&M tried to reconstruct the graph from the data he archived, they failed. Very quickly, the skeptics began to jump on this as proof that the graph was a "fraud" and that the entire AGW theory was a hoax. The correct data was eventually provided, but over the course of the controversy, any semblance of a reasonable scientific discourse was lost and it instead turned into mud-slinging and name-calling on both sides.

The second mistake that Mann made was that he stopped cooperating with M&M, which lead to further accusations of trying to hide a conspiracy to commit fraud. And the final mistake that Mann made was to employ a specific statistical method for the "smoothed" trend line that, although perfectly legitimate from a mathematical perspective, did seem to be selected specifically because it exaggerated the "hockey stick" shape of the graph.

All this came to a head when Senator Inhofe, then Charmian of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, called the threat of catastrophic Global Warming the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people" and subsequently the Congress called for two separate investigations into the Hockey Stick graph in order to get at the "truth". The silliness about all this is that the graph itself was just one of many graphs that depicted the then-current temperatures as the highest in at least several hundred if not several thousand years. The entire graph could have been thrown out and the conclusions of the 2001 TAR (and the later and much more convincing 2007 AR4) would not have changed a bit.

Nonetheless, the non-partisan National Research Council published its findings in 2006 and for the most part confirmed the primary conclusions of the graph that there is a "high level of confidence" that the "global mean surface temperature was higher during the last few decades of the 20th century than during any comparable period during the preceding four centuries". The confidence in temperature records prior to the last 400 years is smaller, but that "many, but not all, individual locations were higher during the past 25 years than during any period of comparable length since A.D. 900". The second report, called the Wegman Report, was more critical of both the conclusions and the methodologies of the graph and the corresponding 1998 study by Mann et. al. But in the end, the most telling point is made by the folks at RealClimate wherein they indicate that even if all the criticisms of the graphs statistical methods were corrected in the way the skeptics say it should have been done, the resulting graph still looks remarkably like a hockey stick.

Since the whole hockey stick controversy, McIntyre has continued to challenge and question all sorts of data gathering and analysis methods used by climatologists. Nothing has risen to the point of controversy as the hockey stick graph, but that doesn't keep from continuing to try. The good part is that the whole hockey stick controversy, although painful, has helped to make the climatologists much more methodical in their data gathering and analysis. So as hard as these skeptics have tried to undermine the theory of AGW, in the end they have only helped to strengthen it.

More to come...

Friday, May 1, 2009

Part 5 of Debunking the Silliness of Global Warming Skeptics

Just a quick break from my critique of to talk about the tactics of the Global Warming Skeptics.

Richard Lindzen is a well-known global warming skeptic who as far back as 1992 was arguing there was no "consensus" on global warming (Correction: the referenced article was written in 2002, not 1992 as stated). However, he is a climatologist and even contributed to the IPCC assessment in 2001, so he's very well versed on the science, unlike the "scientists" in Inhofe's list of deniers who were mostly not climatologists. He therefore commands credibility beyond the typical skeptic (unlike Mr. Transtronics).

Recently, Lindzen posted a "guest post" on Watts Up With That that discussed how satellite data shows a significant amount of radiation being emitted by the atmosphere, especially in the long wave spectrum. This indicates amounts of energy escaping the atmosphere that tends to undermine one of the key assumptions in the AGW theory - that there is a large positive feedback of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and therefore a great degree of sensitivity to increasing levels of CO2. Since Lindzen is a published climate scientist, these types of postings carry a ton of credibility and get echoed throughout the skeptic's blogosphere (see here, here and here as examples). But wattsupwiththat is not a peer-reviewed publication and none of what Lindzen posted was ever vetted by the scientific community (as is often the case with these blog-based skeptical arguments).

And it turns out that Lindzen was using outdated information - surprise, surprise. Lindzen was using a 2002 study by Wielicki, Wong that was later updated in 2006 by the same authors with corrections to these very graphs (see page 5, figure 5 of the report here). Turns out the understanding of the LW radiation emissions from the atmosphere has been updated and actually matches much more closely to the climate models. In typical skeptic fashion, Lindzen does not objectively challenge the updated study (that requires making a scientific argument), he instead says it is "implausible" that the corrections would "bring the data closer to the models". What he's missing is that the data itself did not change - rather the understanding of how the data is generated was updated and methods to interpret the data were improved based on that understanding. This was also the case with the "where's the atmospheric warming" argument (that first graph on Mr. Transtronics web site) that later studies indicated was there all along (and consistent with climate models), but was misinterpreted to be missing based on incorrect analysis of the raw satellite data.

It's one thing to be a skeptic, it's another to be a cynic. The reason why there is such a strong consensus among the scientific community around the theory of AGW is that the theory stands on very firm scientific principles, despite all the legitimate uncertainty that exists when studying something as complex as global climate. It is much more sensible to question things that challenge a theory based on sound scientific principles than it is to question the sound scientific principles themselves, but true science is objective and takes an appropriately objective look at both. I believe strongly that the theory of AGW is sound and has been studied objectively and with true science. I do not believe the same can be said for the skeptics.

Part 4 of Debunking the Silliness of Global Warming Skeptics

Critique of continued...

The above referenced site seems to be a perfect example of advocacy over science - the author is guilty of every sin he accuses the opposition (using outdated and sloppy research, failing to understand science and the scientific method, confusing theory with fact and giving huge amounts of credence to research that agrees with his position and completely ignoring research that disagrees with it, etc.). I've found this pattern many times in looking at the skeptical arguments - their accusations of bias tend to apply more to their own positions and arguments than to those they accuse.

Picking up from where I left off...

"Confounding Variables"

I'm not going to debunk each of the entries in this section because there is no corroborating information to explain why these are reasons to doubt the AGW theory. But I will point out the following:

1) the reason "irrigation" is not mentioned in the science of AGW is that it has NOTHING TO DO WITH GLOBAL WARMING! The AGW theory does incorporate land use, which includes a variety of topics (most notable is deforestation), but irrigation barely makes the list. Mr. Transtronics makes some weak references here to water vapor (which is related to global warming), but there's no real science referenced, so there is nothing to indicate what irrigation (or any of these other variables) should be relevant to the scientific study of climate change.

2) the reference to "space weather" is the same reference I debunked previously - the outdated and discredited Friis-Christiansen-Lassen report of 1991.

3) "changes in volcanic eruptions" is part of AGW theory - in fact, it is the most cited variable in forecasting warming trends. Every climatologist recognizes that increased volcanic eruptions will increase the aerosols that block sunlight and decrease global temperatures, so if there were suddenly a series of volcanic eruptions, the global temperatures would go down, but only temporarily (3 to 5 years). This is a well known and accounted for variable, although it is obviously hard to predict.

4) most of the rest of these "confounding variables" (ozone, CO2 absorption, methane emissions, etc.) are well known and accounted for in the body of science around AGW. But these variables alone don't explain or affect the main drivers of AGW - namely increased CO2 and increasing temperatures. These are all examples of the complexity of climate science, not its "unknowablility".

"What would Richard Feynman say about Global warming?"

This section is more drivel, but it does prove one thing - the author has a glaring misunderstanding of science and climatology as evidenced by his attempt to draw parallels between "changing weather" and "climate change". This is so ignorant it is laughable. By way of example, the difference between predicting the weather and predicting climate change is the same as the difference between predicting the roll of the dice and predicting the casino's house odds. Of course it is difficult to predict the weather because you're trying to determine how the precise behavior of a chaotic system will affect a specific area or location, just like trying to predict the precise outcome of a chaotic roll of the dice. The most you can come up with is degrees of probability. But predicting climate is predicting aggregate behavior over broad areas and longer time frames and it is actually quite straightforward - it is a series of averages of averages, like predicting the house odds at a casino. On any given night, the casino might lose - but over time, its return is fairly easy to predict "scientifically". Granted, climatology is far more complex than the mathematical odds in a casino, so it cannot be predicted with the precision of casino gaming, but the analogy still holds. And Mr. Transtronics is an idiot.

"Correlation does not show cause and effect - Limitations on what is knowable"

This section is at least a little more coherent. He is right that a correlation does not prove anything and if the AGW theory were based solely on correlations, it would be drivel too. Correlations are hints at a cause and effect, not proof. And when researching the true cause and effect, correlations can help weed out good and bad hypothesis. For example, a correlation between pirates and global temperatures is meaningless unless there is something about a pirate that might affect global temperatures, in which case you'd want to study that something to see if it was indeed causing global temperatures to rise. Such is the case with CO2, so point taken. However, his point about "what we can know is quite limited" is more drivel. The carbon cycle is understood quite well and what we don't know we can research and learn more. And the point about CO2 levels lagging temperature and not leading is also well known and explained.

"Why is Water Vapor Swept Under the Rug?"

Next, Mr. Transtronics takes us through water vapor and how it is "swept under the rug" (which is really ironic, because this is one of the only sections where he points to an external scientific reference and it is the portion of the 2001 IPCC reports where the role of water vapor is discussed! Who's sweeping what under what rug?). Nonetheless, he is correct that water vapor is the most dominant greenhouse gas and that it has significant affect on global temperatures. What he's missing is the difference between a forcing variable and a feedback (which is discussed in the RealClimate entry above on temperature-CO2 lags in the ice core records). The thermal properties of water vapor are very different than CO2 - water has a thermodynamic equilibrium with temperature such that increases in vapor without a corresponding increase in temperature just cause increased precipitation to bring the level of water vapor back in equilibrium with temperature. Therefore, water vapor is a positive feedback to global warming, not a cause (as temperatures rise, so does the ability of the atmosphere to hold water vapor, which in turn increases temperature). In fact, on its own, the physical properties of CO2 are such that a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere (independent of other forcings and feedbacks) would create about 1 degree Celsius of warming, but with water vapor feedback and other feedbacks (like the loss of albedo effect due to decreased surface ice), the warming effect of CO2 is doubled or even tripled (there has been much scientific debate about this, but the prevailing consensus is still that the combined forcing-feedback affect of CO2 is more like 3-4 degrees Celsius). So water vapor is not "swept under the rug" at all - it's just that its physical properties make it a feedback, not a forcing variable .


Here's another perfect example as to how Mr. Transtronics is so clueless. He has hit on the single greatest uncertainty in all the existing climate models and rather than explore it in depth, it is one of the shortest sections in his whole diatribe. The uncertainty over clouds can affect the projections of global warming as much as 2 degrees (which is huge), but he barely mentions it.

more to come later...

Part 3 of Debunking the silliness of Global Warming Skeptics

Continuing my critique of, picking up with the section titled:

"To infer a connection between man emissions of CO2 and warming is not an easy jump for the scientifically minded".

Here the author attempts to outline 6 things that must be done to "infer a connection" between human activities and global warming...

1) "prove the CO2 increases are caused by humans". This is actually relatively straightforward and has been part of the science rarely challenged by any serious scientific study. Basically, we can measure how much CO2 is in the atmosphere and, based on its radioactive signatures, what the source is. A good explanation of this is at RealClimate and another at the US Global Change Reseach Office. So the science says the CO2 levels are increasing and the vast majority of that increase is caused by human activities. And the idea that CO2 comes mostly from volcanoes is just wrong. It is not supported by any empirical data and shows that the author of this article has spent no time studying the science. For a good summary of volcanic contributions to the carbon cycle, see this 2005 British Geological Survey study wherein it states "The contribution to the present day atmospheric CO2 loading from volcanic emissions is, however, relatively insignificant, and it has been estimated that subaerial volcanism releases around 300 Mt/yr CO2, equivalent to just 1% of the anthropogenic emissions" (emphasis mine).

2) "show the elevation of CO2 to be 'historically real'". Again, this is part of the science rarely challenged by serious scientific study and further proof the author of this page doesn't know what he's talking about. Here's a graph of CO2 over the last 400,000 years - it has historically fluctuated between 180 and 300 ppm and is now currently at 380 ppm and rising rapidly. I would assume that 400,000 years is "historically real".

3) "need a "theory" that can predict the past". I already answered this one in my last post - the AGW models do accurately predict past and present trends)

4) this item is basically incoherent. It states "Fourth, as this is an open system where we can't build several earths and vary only one constant, any conclusion at best is still just a theory - an educated guess - it is not scientific fact. Science is more than looking scientific; just because things are measured to several decimal points means naught when there is no control or false logic." Huh??? AGW is a theory, not a "fact". As with any theory, it is designed to explain observations (which are representations of the "facts"), not to be a fact itself. This shows again that the author of this page is exceedingly naive and does not understand science or the scientific method at all. And by the way, the earth's climate is not an "open system" (the energy inputs and outputs are relatively easy to identify and measure), it is just that it is a large and complex system with a high degree of variability. This makes accurate predictions difficult, but not impossible.

5) the fifth point is a fairly incoherent collection of ideas, but the primary idea seems to be that current warming is all caused by the sun (which has been disproved over and over, but don't let me get ahead of myself). His first idea is "to look at the past temperatures honestly, one would have to show no past periods of higher temperature". This is actually not true - "one" would only need to show that there have not been higher temperatures in the civilized human experience - which is exactly what proxy data shows. The real concern over AGW is not whether the earth has ever been this hot (it was, after all, once a ball of molten lava) but whether human civilization has ever had to deal with this rapid and this high an increase in temperatures. The answer is no, we have not - here's an average temperature reconstruction for the last 1000 years and here is the last 2000 years and the last 10,000 years. Current temperatures are higher than at any time during human civilization, which is as far back as "one" needs to go.

Still in section 5, his next idea is "we only have accurate records of solar output from the recent past and we are ignorant of the magnitude of long term historic variations that are possible." Huh? We have instrumental temperature records (not "solar output") for the last 120-150 years that show unmistakable warming and we are not "ignorant" of the "historic variation" at all as indicated by the temperature reconstructions I reference above.

He goes on to state that "glaciers world wide have been shrinking for the last 300 years", which they haven't, and that "things other than CO2 change our climate", which is true and has never been disputed by the AGW theory (other factors including solar radiation, geothermal venting, aerosols, etc. are all included in the AGW theory, they just don't account for the observed warming).

Next he references "Space Weather" which in turn references the 1991 Friis-Christensen-Lassen "correlation" between solar activity and global temperature. This is not only an old study from 1991, but it has been thoroughly refuted - see this 2003 study by Laut et. al. wherein they showed that Christensen et. al. used two different statistical methods to "smooth" the data - one for the data from 1860-1950 and then a completely different method for the data from 1950 to 1991. In 1999, Lassen revisited the data with a consistent "smoothing" algorithm and concluded "that since around 1990 the type of Solar forcing that is described by the solar cycle length model no longer dominates the long-term variation of the Northern hemisphere land air temperature" (see fugure 3, page 15 here). Not to mention that the entire scope of the 1991 study was northern hemisphere temperatures, not global temperatures. So this site is quoting narrow, out-of-date, refuted evidence while saying that the proponents of AGW don't know what they're talking about. This is classic cherry-picking and very very common among global warming skeptics. He then goes on to reference this article as "proof" that the Sun is causing all the current warming when this is an article about hydrometeorological processes (i.e. rainfall) not global temperatures.

Then, still in section 5, there is the wonderful graph of "Northern Hemispheric Land Temperature and Solar Cycle" which does not link to its source (a big red flag when you're looking for real science and not just political clap-trap) except that the graphic itself does say it's source is "S. Baliunas and W. Soon / Astrophysical Journal" (two well-known Global Warming skeptics). A quick search of the Astrophysical Journal website finds only one paper by Sallie Baliunas and Willie Soon that references solar radiation and temperature (there are many others on different topics), but it was published in 1996 (therefore also way outdated) and doesn't have a graph anything like the one on the Transtronics page. And the reason Baliunas and Soon are "well known" skeptics is because they published a paper in 2003 that was used by Inhofe and the Republicans to help defeat ratification of the Kyoto protocols and was later shown to be scientifically flawed. This is an excellent example of the skeptics using the precise tactics that they claim AGW proponents use - using shoddy science as the means to political ends. The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote about this when the story broke. They outline all the issues with the Baliunas/Soon articles (was not properly reviewed before publication, was specifically reviewed by someone friendly to its conclusions, was at least partially financed by special interests for political reasons, etc. etc.). None of this stops the skeptics from continuing to quote the outdated, debunked findings from this and many other older, flawed studies.

6) lastly, the author makes another barely coherent statement that "one really has to subtract the effects of variations of solar output, and changes in land use (irrigation) from any temperature trends. There is no way to do this with any meaningful accuracy." Again, solar variations are well accounted for in AGW theory and "land use" is really more about deforestation (something that is easily measured with a great degree of "meaningful accuracy"), not "irrigation". If this were a legal case against AGW, the judge would be throwing it out, possibly with a contempt charge :)

I'm not even half way through the web page - there is much more to come...

Part 2 of Debunking the Silliness of Global Warming Skeptics


"What do the global warming crowd believe?"

The primary thrust of the page is that the climate can't be studied scientifically because it is too complex and can't be subject to experiments and that computer models can't be a substitute for experimentation. This is a very naive perspective. Complex and chaotic systems are studied all the time with rigorous scientific methodologies that recognize the difficulties in experimentation and adjust for them by examining a system's determinism and sensitivity to both initial conditions and changing inputs. There is a very good discussion of this at the New England Complex Systems Institute that talks about the science of complex systems. And the idea that models aren't part of the scientific process is ignorant - science is all about using theories and models to explain observed behavior.

The way to validate the accuracy of a model of a complex system is to examine the degree to which it can predict past and present observations. In this regard, the models used for AGW have actually been extremely good even before they were enhanced through computerization. Starting with Jim Hansen's predictions back in 1988 (see page 7 of his 1988 publication) which map very well to actual temperatures (see this graphic, the "scenario B" line, which was between optimistic and pessimistic scenarios and maps quite well with observed surface and ocean temperatures). And the IPCC reports in 2001 included model-to-actual comparisons that looked at natural causes only, man-made (anthropogenic) causes only and combined causes. The combined models matched observed temperatures very accurately.

The Transtronics article also seems to imply that the scientists working on climatology don't know what the scientific method is or what is the difference between a fact and a theory which is just ludicrous given the pedigree of the scientists that have contributed to the current body of knowledge. It helps to know that the first advancement of the theory of AGW was not Al Gore or the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), but was back in 1896 by Svante Arrhenius and although it wasn't so much a model, his formulas proved to be remarkably accurate in predicting current warming trends (although he over estimated the greenhouse effect of CO2 and underestimated the amount that would be emitted). In fact, there is a very good discussion of the history of climate science that shows how the science and theory has advanced over time, using the basic tenants of the scientific method all along. In short, this article takes a remarkably naive approach to climate science and one that is not based on any facts that I can find.

I can't let pass the fact that the first part of this article is the graph derived directly from the data the NSSTC. It's not clear what is supposed to be proven with this graph, but the text around it states "it is my take that the the claim of significant man caused global warming can only be called speculation at this point in time (2007)". It is my guess that the author (I'll just assume it's a "he") is trying to show a lack of warming in the raw satellite data, a situation that has had significant attention from real climate scientists. Turns out the satellite temperature data is complex and much of the previous conclusions from the data were false due to errors in the interpretation. Those errors have been scientifically identified and corrected and guess what - the more accurate interpretations match the climate model predictions quite well. And regardless, the atmospheric temperature record is just one component - surface and ocean temperatures are also rising at approximately the rate predicted by the climate models.

More to come later...

Debunking the silliness of Global Warming Skeptics - Part 1

I have a very close family member who I respect very much but who could not have more different political views than I do, at least on certain issues. One of those issues is the subject of Global Warming and Climate Change. Or, more accurately, the theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW).

There is a large, well-coordinated effort to continue to assert that AGW is somehow a hoax or that it is based on "junk science". Every talk-radio and Fox News conservative "pundit" from Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly to Michael Savage, Glenn Beck and "independent" Lou Dobbs has put this idea forward in various forms of pseudo-logic. Just having this group of fact-challenged individuals put an idea forward is enough to have me believing the opposite of what they say, but because I respect the views of my family members, I had to find out more.

Needless to say, there is a ton of garbage out there on this subject from both the right and the left. But the overwhelming majority of the misinformation on this topic is coming from the skeptics. The number of sites and blogs that spread the misinformation outnumber the ones that cover the facts and science by a wide margin. This stems at least in part from the fact that doing the real science is hard work and the people who really understand the science and can actively debunk the misinformation are busy doing real work. That isn't to say there aren't many good sites that help bring forward the truth (my favorites are, A Few Things Ill Considered and, but even they can't keep up with all the distortions and misinformation that's out there, especially in the conservative blogoshpere.

One such site that was brought to my attention was an obscure entry on the commercial web site for an Industrial Control and Automation company called Transtronics that asks the question "Is man caused Global Warming a Scientific fact?". This site is loaded with arguments meant to undermine not just the AGW theory, but the very idea that we could even study something as complex and chaotic as global climate.

This site is so full of silliness and pseudo-science that it warrants a complete debunking. So I plan to do that just for the sake of family unity! :)