Climate and Environment
With more and more disasters, extreme weather events, and temperature records being broken on what seems like a daily basis, public opinion on climate change is at last starting to swing toward accepting the science.
And with denier own goals like the disastrous Heartland billboard campaign, deniers are increasingly being looked at askance. The most vociferous climate deniers are still clogging the bandwidth, though, and becoming increasingly shrill in their attempts to shut out the truth (the scienctists got it right.)
In response to some of the more ugly manifestations of climate denial, some publishing climate scientists who are experts in their fields got together to make this advocacy video, thereby proving that climate scientists really are a rather stuffy and fuddy-duddy lot.
(Well, it’s the exception that proves the rule. Isn’t it?)
With a year of unprecedented natural disasters, a slew of temperature records broken in the US in March, drought in East Anglia, floods in the Philippines, and the weather apparently getting weirder by the minute, public opinion on climate change seems finally to be swinging in favour of the science, particularly in the US.
It’s about time, too, if you’ve been following the faux debate. The basic science has been settled for a long time:
- carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas because of its ability to absorb some wavelengths of infra-red radiation
- human activity is pumping huge quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, mainly as a result of burning fossil fuels
- the chemical fingerprint (the isotope) of the added CO2 confirms that it originates from fossil fuel
- the global mean temperature record shows an unprecedented rise over the last few decades, which is in lockstep with the increased CO2.
(If you want to learn the basics and understand why denier arguments are usually scientifically wrong, you can’t do better than http://www.skepticalscience.com , which covers the science, new research, and new denier arguments, and is perhaps the best overview of climate science available on the web.)
The details are still being thrashed out. Better resolution in models and clever approaches to data analysis mean that it is becoming possible to attribute abnormal weather patterns to global warming. ‘Missing’ heat in the earth’s energy budget (excess heat energy which wasn’t showing up in the surface temperature records – Trenberth’s Travesty, for anyone who followed all the ClimateGate nonsense) can now be measured, in the ocean as expected, thanks to the deployment of the Argo float system. Better model resolution means that regional predictions are becoming more accurate, which means that adaptation strategies with some chance of success can be planned.
We have enough to worry about dealing with the sleeping giant we’ve woken. We shouldn’t have to deal with the ridiculous and ethically bankrupt actions of professional science deniers and oil-funded “think-tanks” trying to prevent emissions controls and energy policy changes, so that their fossil fuel clients can continue to drill unhindered.
Let me unequivocal about my opinion of these people: I think they are the scum of the earth, and given the slew of climate-related fatalities we’ve already had, it’s long past time to call them out on their lack of ethics. If we are lucky enough to have history books a couple of hundred years from now, they’ll be on the same pages as Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. (And they’ll also be listed as bankrupts; I predict that the class action suits over climate change will make the tobacco settlements look like pocket change. Bring it on.) The fifty-six thousand people who died in the 2010 Russian heatwave are just the start. There is no way of knowing how many of these people might have survived if mitigation actions had started in time and not been hindered by the paid deniers. But there is no doubt; these guys have blood on their hands, and treating them as honest skeptics involved in a genuine debate is no longer defensible.
They’ve tried to cast doubt on the science, and when the scientific method has proved them wrong, they’ve resorted to vicious smearing of climate scientists. They’ve lobbied, they’ve produced fake alternatives to the IPCC, they’ve spread propaganda about a supposed hoax (the climate scam, apparently, involves such unlikely bedfellows as BHP Billiton, GreenPeace, Munich Re and the US Department of Defense, all of whom are conspiring to institute a world government run by climate scientists…). They’ve used Freedom of Information requests, lawsuits and official enquiries to harass and threaten some of the best scientists on the planet, many of whom routinely receive hate mail and death threats.
They know very well that they don’t need to refute the science on any level which is meaningful to the numerate or scientifically literate. All they have to do is spread enough manure to make the mass of people (who can’t follow the literature for themselves) believe that there is a debate, when there isn’t one.
And all of this for money, in the short term, while the earth’s climate, our habitat, is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, changing and putting our fragile civilisation at risk. Do they have another planet that the rest of us don’t know about?
So if you ask me, they’re also mad. Bonkers. Living in an alternate reality. Going onto some of the denier blogs like WUWT today is completely surreal, and I try to stay off them, because it is hard to credit that there are still people trying to pretend that climate change isn’t happening.
And some of them have been caught. We blogged about the DenialGate affair here: climate scientist Peter Gleick admitted to having followed up on an apparent whistle-blowing email and deceived the Heartland Institute into releasing internal documents to him, which he then published. It showed them up as what they are: liars for hire. DeSmogBlog covered the episode in detail, including the sheer, belly-laugh-inducing hypocrisy of Heartland’s sanctimonious attitude given the malevolent glee with which they savaged the scientists involved in ClimateGate.
One of the outcomes was that corporations who had been funding Heartland rightly started distancing themselves and pulling funding. Forecast the Facts, an advocacy organisation, set up a petition to General Motors which garnered 20 000 signatures and resulted in GM pulling their Heartland funding as well.
You would think Heartland would have enough political savvy to realise that their game is up, but no. They’ve started a website called FakeGate (dot) org which is attempting to keep up some momentum about the whole affair, while attacking Gleick quite viciously. (So far I haven’t seen a single comment on any of the pages, so this doesn’t seem like a very successful project). The latest entry was a sanctimonious rant about the Forecast the Facts petition. You can read the response from Forecast the Facts here. (I immediately signed the petition in support, although it’s already been successful.)
The FakeGate rant is hilarious: Bast (the president of Heartland) huffs and puffs self-righteously about how dreadfully Gleick has behaved (again), accuses Forecast the Facts of being a front group and having fudged their petition signatures, and then tries to deny Heartland’s denial of climate change while suggesting that they are a serious scientific think-tank which has single-handedly refuted the IPCC. (If only there was a way to make money out of people who think they’ve refuted the IPCC. Maybe I should start a competition, in the tradition of James Randi, and charge an entry fee.)
This is a real gem:
“Heartland has made important contributions to the scientific debate over the causes and consequences of climate change. We have worked with Anthony Watts to expose gross errors in the surface-based temperature data the government relies on to “prove” that global warming is occurring. Watts’ work convinced the government to change the way it tracks temperature data.”
Yeah, right. Watts, funded and promoted by Heartland, has certainly spewed a vast amount of nonsense about the temperature record, and for a while he actually convinced a lot of people (including himself) that the Urban Heat Island effect had contaminated the temperature record. In fact his supposedly pristine rural stations, which were supposed to show that the average temperature wasn’t rising and was contaminated by urban island data, introduced a slight warming bias to the data.
Watts, regarded as some sort of demi-god by the denier community, has no scientific qualifications, and no research or publishing record. He managed to get himself onto the author list of precisely one paper (Fall et al 2011) as a result of his Surface Stations project. Unfortunately it didn’t produce the results he wanted. That, Mr Watts, is one of the perils of doing science, as opposed to spouting propaganda.
As a result of all the hype about the temperature record, another big study, partially funded by the Koch brothers, and led by skeptic physicist Dr Richard Muller, known as the Berkely Earth Surface Temperature study, was run last year. Watts dramatically claimed that he would accept the results even if they proved him wrong. They proved him wrong and confirmed what climate scientists had been saying from Mann’s 1998 paper on: The world is warming. Get over it and start doing something about it.
Watts, being a denier, nevertheless refused to accept the results, promises notwithstanding, and still continues to flog this particular dead horse. And his worshippers continue to genuflect in the comments section of his blog, while the rest of us gawp in astonishment on our increasingly rare visits. How can people be this stupid and stubborn in public? Don’t they get embarrassed?
The paper produced an outcry in the denial-o-sphere because Muller had (wisely) recanted his skeptical position. It produced barely a ripple in the climate science arena, because there isn’t much value in redoing work which has already been confirmed several times.
And this is what Heartland are pushing as their “contribution to the scientific debate”. They’ve certainly produced enough hot air to cause global warming pretty much unassisted, but very little else.
Their reaction to the DenialGate leak has been telling: a pompous, blustering barrage of threats, accusations and cease and desist letters, but as far as anyone can make out, not a single actual lawsuit. I would not be the first person to suspect they have absolutely no desire to have more of their internal affairs made public in the legal discovery process, as would happen if they actually sued someone for defamation. With all their bluster and arrogance, they are basically hoist with their own dishonest petard.
Their FakeGate site has, unbelievably, a page with contact details of bloggers or site owners who have posted their documents or referred to them, which they call the Fakegate Gang, and they ask their supporters to write to them as follows:
Please contact them – by commenting on the posts, emailing the bloggers or webmasters, even picking up the phone or writing a letter – to insist that they (1) remove those documents from their sites; (2) remove from their sites all posts that refer or relate in any manner to those documents; (3) remove from their Web sites any and all quotations from those documents; (4) publish retractions on their Web sites of prior postings; and (5) remove all such documents from their servers.
I think this is really funny. I thought about writing to them to ask if I could be on the list, as it would be good advertising for Gamadoelas. But they don’t seem to be getting any traffic.
When dealing with climate deniers, Lord Acton’s quote is apposite:
“There are two things which cannot be attacked in front: ignorance and narrow-mindedness. They can only be shaken by the simple development of the contrary qualities. They will not bear discussion.”
There is no longer a case for genuine scientific skepticism about climate science; the defining characteristic of a true skeptic is that they will change their minds if the evidence demands it. It’s time we stopped giving deniers the time of day, much less allowing them to impact policy on something as vital as climate change.
You can sign the Eradicating Ecocide letter from women to world leaders here.
Demented bunnyhuggers again, you may be thinking.
On a planet which is rapidly heading toward climate catastrophe, we continue to pour toxic emissions into the atmosphere, poison the ground, ignore the best science on the greenhouse effect (that’s when we’re not actually spewing the nonsense generated by a well-orchestrated denial campaign), and generally carry on as if there’s no tomorrow, a state of affairs (no tomorrow) which is becoming increasingly likely.
In South Africa, we have the world’s largest single point emitter of greenhouse gases (the Sasol plant at Secunda), we live in a country which is predicted to experience approximately double the temperature rise the rest of the world will experience, we are already running into electricity and water quality and supply problems, and what are we doing about it? Braai-ing. And if Shell has their way, fracking too. If you’ve got a bit of clean groundwater left in a fragile eco-system, just poison it now, then you won’t have to worry about it in the future.
This is insanity. Obtaining World Bank loans to build more coal plants was insanity. Not investing heavily in renewables is insanity. Not standing our ground and demanding that the big industrial nations curb greenhouse emissions is insanity. Not thoroughly investigating fast breeder reactor technology is insanity. Providing cheap power to huge industrial customers while poor South Africans cannot afford the ever-rising cost domestic tariffs is insanity. Even considering risking fracking the Karoo (and releasing methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases around) is insanity. Buying the twaddle spouted by climate deniers while the science and the weather are telling us something very different is insanity. Pretending that this will create jobs is insanity. What it does is outsources those jobs to big companies, and often other countries, lines the pockets of fatcat politicians, and destroys the quality of life for communities unlucky enough to live near big polluters.
Do you know how to spell insanity? There are a few alternative spellings. G-r-e-e-d. A-p-a-t-h-y. D-e-n-i-a-l. How do you spell it?
The furore took a new twist when Dr Peter Gleick, a world-renowned climate scientist and director of the Pacific Institute, owned up to having been the whistleblower. Apart from his having taken responsibility for his actions, his admission also performs the valuable function of validating the source of the documents and ensuring that the truth about Heartland sees the light.
He is a director of the Pacific Institute, whose board has published a short statement distancing itself from his actions, and he has just requested a short leave of absence while the matter is under investigation.
The text of an open letter to the Pacific Institute follows. You can write to them at info(a)pacinst.org .
I am writing to express my support for Peter Gleick and my hope that he will not lose his position over the Heartland furore.
I think anyone who values the scientific method as a means of seeking truth and knowledge is able to see the problem with his conduct, particularly in a climate of vicious denial. Climate scientists need to be like Caesar’s wife: impeccable, otherwise any misconduct will be turned into a media hoopla by the denialists, and used to cast aspersions on all climate scientists.
Nevertheless, this is a lot to demand, especially from scientists who are continually threatened with harassment in the form of nuisance litigation, smeared in public, and frequently subjected to threats of violence and even death; scientists who have been forced by circumstances to become activists in order to prevent their research results from being lost in a deluge of misinformation.
Gleick chose to make a public admission about his actions regarding the Heartland documents. This is the action of an ethical person who realised he had made a mistake, and who chose to accept responsibility and face the consequences. Given the content of the documents and the need to educate the public about the agenda of organisations like the Heartland Institute, it’s not hard to see why he did what he did. Who can claim that they would not have done the same if placed in the same position?
Some form of censure may be necessary and even desirable, to ensure that the climate community is not perceived as white-washing this (and I suspect Gleick would be the first to acknowledge this). But his actions should be weighed against a long and valuable career and a commitment to the truth. He should not face career ruin over what seems to have been primarily an error of judgement.
Some really interesting reads regarding ground water contamination, toxic air emissions and a possible new alternative to fracking for natural gas.
We’ve reported a bit about the BEST study, and Anthony Watt’s frantic fault-finding after having promised – months ago – to accept the results even if they proved him wrong. (They did. Resoundingly).
A brief summary of the last few weeks’ climate news might read:
- BEST proves skeptics wrong – in spite of being run by a skeptic
- Attribution studies provide link between extreme weather events and global warming
- Re-insurers run the numbers and say: we’re in trouble
With floods in Thailand which disrupted the hard disk supply line internationally, increasing seismic activity and tsunami risks across the globe, a dustbowl in Texas, and several attribution studies starting to make the statistical link between extreme weather and AGW, you’d think denial would be a dead duck. (It’s impossible to call it skepticism any more). With the (literal) deluge of evidence recently, it’s hard to believe that anyone would be willing to embarass themselves publicly to that extent.
But no, the deniers keep going, and Watts’ denialism knows no bounds. These days I tend to stay away from WUWT in the interests of keeping my blood pressure down, but today I followed a link from Climate Progress.
The first thinkg I noticed was something about a link between the Aurora Borealis and temperatures. The poor man. We’ve had clouds, the sun, ENSO, and, of course the moribund Urban Heat Island effect, none of which have had much impact on the major scientific findings, so now he has a new axe to grind. At least this one’s pretty. (Note: if you read denier blogs, you could be forgiven for thinking that climate science ignores natural variability completely. It doesn’t. It simply takes it into account, quantifies its effect and refines the understanding of how much warming is caused by anthropogenically-produced greenhouse gases. The answer remains: most of it.)
But the link from Climate Progress was a response to a different meme. Pennsylvania State University (where climate scientist Michael Mann works) has been embroiled in a paedophilia scandal, and the university’s president has resigned. Although this is nothing whatsoever to do with Mann, who has been exonerated from any wrongdoing in the Climategate faux-scandal in no fewer than seven independent enquiries, the climate denial blogs have made the connection.
As one commenter on Climate Progress said, the denier bloggers have “waddled so low into the scum that they are now armpit deep.” I couldn’t have put it better myself. This is just sleaze, and it says a great deal more about how desperate the deniers are getting than it does about Mann or any other climate scientist who is subjected to this poison.
All was not lost. One commentator, who apparently thought it was vomit-inducing, linked to Prof Scott Mandia’s page soliciting funds for the Climate Scientists Legal Defence Fund, which is designed to lodge an action against people who harass climate scientists with unreasonable requests for information under FOIA legislation and effectively slow down their work (this, incidentally, is the background to Climategate.)
Thanks, Peter-whoever-you-are. I donated.
Anthony Watts at WUWT is still attacking the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project and finding ways to avoid having to admit he was wrong about the Urban Heat Island effect.
The posts are coming thick and fast (is there a hint of desperation at WUWT perhaps?), and one of the more recent ones was a reprint of a letter by Dr Fred Singer to the Washington Post.
In the letter, Singer clutches at several straws (a third of the stations examined didn’t show warming, which tells us nothing about the overall trend), tells a few whoppers (the satellite record doesn’t show warming according to him), and finishes like this:
“The Berkeley results in no way confirm the scientifically discredited Hockeystick graph, which had been so eagerly adopted by climate alarmists. In fact, the Hockeystick authors have never published their temperature results after 1978. The reason for hiding them? It’s likely that their proxy data show no warming either.
One last word: In their scientific paper, submitted for peer review, the Berkeley scientists disclaim knowing the cause of the temperature increase reported by their project. However, their research paper comments: “The human component of global warming may be somewhat overestimated.” I commend them for their honesty and skepticism.”
The hockey stick, far from being discredited, has become a hockey league, with multiple different lines of evidence showing the same graph – tree rings (dendrochronology), sea sediments, ice cores, and of course the instrumental temperature record itself. I think it was Prof Scott Mandia who pointed out on Skeptical Science that the probability of all these time series being wrong in the same direction was vanishingly small. But Singer understands the value of propaganda.
The second paragraph, in which he commends the scientists for their “honesty”, was dealt with here: http://www.gamadoelas.net/blogs/malice-in-wonderlandhtml .
This was part of a paragraph which hypothesized about two possible scenarios, neither of which was examined in the paper, but Singer has, like the GWPF, presented it as a conclusion.
That’s a bit off-key, Dr Singer.
Meanwhile, a post on Climate Progress reports that a new study has found that there is an 80% probability that the July 2010 heatwave in Russia, which killed 56 000 people, would not have happened in the absence of global warming. NOAA’s original study found no link to global warming, but the authors of the new study took month and year averages and subjected them to a Monte Carlo analysis. They also observed (ironically, given the BEST results earlier in the week) that one of the problems with the NOAA analysis was that Urban Heat Island effect had been overstated.
Not a sausage on this one on the skeptic sites yet. Perhaps they’re trying to work out how to accuse Al Gore of having murdered 56 000 Russians to make global warming look worse than it is…
The climate wars have been interesting indeed in the last week or so, primarily because the raison d’etre of the King of Deniers (Anthony Watts of WUWT) has been comprehensively debunked – and by scientists who have self-defined as climate skeptics!
A little background: a couple of years ago, Watts created a huge furore on his blog and on surfacestations.org , a community temperature measuring site he was instrumental in founding, by claiming that the Urban Heat Island effect had distorted US land-based temperature trends upwards, that temperature station siting was usually poor, and that the evidence for global warming was thus in fact compromised. (And he frequently insinuated that climate scientists knew this and were deliberately concealing the truth).
Now Urban Heat Island is a known effect – cities are often warmer than the surrounding countryside, partly because of having more reflective surfaces and partly because there are many more heat sources – humans, vehicle exhausts, air conditioner vents etc.
But in itself, that doesn’t matter when computing trends. What matters is not whether the absolute temperature of city temperature stations is higher than that of rural stations, but whether there is a steeper warming trend in urban stations.
Watts identified a subset of rural stations which were, according to him, pristine, and insisted that the temperature record should take only these into account. He went so far as to write a report (for the Heartland Institute, one of the nastier oil thinktanks) on the quality of many urban stations, attacking the NOAA figures in particular and the global temperature in general as unreliable, and saying that the data smoothing techniques used by NOAA and various other scientific bodies introduced a further warming bias. The report is anecdotal and was not subjected to any kind of peer review; yet Watts insisted that it disproved global warming and that by ignoring it, climate scientists were misleading the public. (He was one of the noisier assailants during the Climategate saga).
Several people (including NOAA – the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) took up the challenge, did the arithmetic on the pristine stations, and concluded that urban stations did not affect the trend at all; in fact the pristine stations introduced a slight warming bias!
None of this was good enough for Watts. Having been attacked for not having the report peer-reviewed, he succeeded in finding a group of scientists who would co-publish with him. The result was Fall et al (Watts was not the lead author), which examined the UHI stations versus the pristine ones – and found no difference.
One would hope that Watts would have learned something from this episode (like trusting the data and only the data?), but apparently not. In about March of this year, he started promoting something called the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperatures Study (BEST), a UCB project which sets out to revisit the global temperature record, use better statistical techniques to analyse it, and in particular, re-examine the Urban Heat Island effect in some detail.
The project includes Prof Richard Muller and Judith Curry, both climate skeptics, as well as several other scientists, mostly physicists. It came under fire for having received funding from, amongst others, Koch Industries, one of the most polluting companies around and one which invests heavily in spreading climate disinformation and attacking regulatory legislation.
Watts waxed lyrical about the project here and famously said “And, I’m prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong.” (5th paragraph below the graph). He also posted Fred Singer’s endorsement of the project (readers of Naomi Oreskes’ excellent book Merchants of Doubt may recall that Fred Singer is one of those scientist-for-hire who will peddle their expertise to the highest bidder and distort the science to reflect whatever the buyer wants it to reflect. He was perhaps most notoriously affiliated with TASSC, a Philip Morris-funded tobacco industry thinktank, but has involved himself with acid rain, the ozone hole, and global warming as well.)
Clearly, Watts, Singer, Koch Industries and other deniers with a vested interest in fending off action on climate change, all thought they were onto a good thing, with a paper supporting their views about to emerge from a prestigious and liberal university.
There was just one little problem: BEST didn’t play ball.
This week (20 October 2011) they released their preliminary findings (four papers which have been submitted to journals for peer review). The effect of urban heating on the global trends, they said, is nearly negligible.
Erstwhile skeptic Muller said:
“”My hope is that this will win over those people who are properly skeptical. Some people lump the properly sceptical in with the deniers and that makes it easy to dismiss them, because the deniers pay no attention to science. But there have been people out there who have raised legitimate issues.”
Which camp does Watts fall into, skeptic or denier? We know what he would claim to be; his attempts to position himself as a maverick scientist rather than a has-been TV weatherman have reached embarassing proportions. But he had, after all, promised in writing to accept the results of the BEST study with grace, even if they proved him wrong.
First he attacked them for releasing their study before it was peer-reviewed. For someone who has been attacking the peer-review system for years and published his own material without any review at all, this is rich.
Then he published a post about the things that he did agree with in their paper (not very much), presumably to deflect the completely justified accusations of hypocrisy that were being levelled at him from all over the web.
In addition, he reprinted a post from another conservative thinktank, the inaptly-named Global Warming Policy Foundation, which cherry-picked a juicy soundbite from the BEST paper, namely that the “human component of global warming may be somewhat overestimated”, reproduced it completely out of context and then went on the attack against the media for not running this as a headline.
The entire post is a pack of lies, as one commenter spotted (he was something of a voice in the wilderness). What the paper actually said was this:
“Since 1975, the AMO has shown a gradual but steady rise from -‐0.35 C to +0.2 C (see Figure 2), a change of 0.55 C. During this same time, the land-‐average temperature has increased about 0.8 C. Such changes may be independent responses to a common forcing (e.g. greenhouse gases); however, it is also possible that some of the land warming is a direct response to changes in the AMO region. If the long-‐term AMO changes have been driven by greenhouse gases then the AMO region may serve as a positive feedback that amplifies the effect of greenhouse gas forcing over land. On the other hand, some of the long-‐term change in the AMO could be driven by natural variability, e.g. fluctuations in thermohaline flow. In that case the human component of global warming may be somewhat overestimated.”
In other words, AMO (the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, which controls the Gulf Stream), might be responsible for some of the warming if it was an independent forcing, but might not be if it was a feedback response to an external forcing. This is a hypothetical statement, not a conclusion, and it refers to an aspect of the record which the BEST team did not study.
(In fact the AMO’s contribution to warming has been thoroughly analysed and shown to be both small and related to the oscillation but not to long term trends – there’s a good post on the subject here.)
Snipping the previous sentence (and thereby destroying the context), headlining the last sentence of the paragraph, and then claiming it as a conclusion from the paper, and one which should have been newsworthy, is thus egregious dishonesty and propaganda; it’s very hard for me to see how this could be an honest mistake. But that didn’t stop Watts or the GWPF.
So far from accepting the results of the paper, as he promised to do, Watts has carried on with the usual sorry trail of canards, misrepresentations and ad hominem attacks, while the climate blogosphere laughs their collective heads off at the comprehensive debunking of his pet theory. Watching the shenanigans, and Watts’ attempts to wriggle out of his predicament, gives us an unvarnished look at how denial-think operates. (Never let the facts interfere with a good story!).
It would be funny (in a grim sort of way), if it wasn’t so serious, and if there weren’t so many people out there who believe Watts and swallow this sort of twaddle hook, line and sinker.
But as things stand, the deniers are winning, simply by virtue of succeeding in spreading doubt where there shouldn’t be any, and thus delaying or even undoing government action on climate change. And whatever will we tell our children?