A Skeptics Primer for "An Inconvenient Truth"

Update:  Please enjoy this post; however, I have published a (free) more comprehensive guide to the skeptics arguments concerning man-made global warming.  You can find the HTML version here and a free pdf download here.

A few days ago, my wife announced to me that she wanted me to take her to
"An Inconvenient Truth", the recent movie vehicle for communicating
Al Gore's views on climate change.  I told my wife that I found the
climate issue incredibly interesting -- I have always had a passion for
inter-disciplinary science and climate requires integration of bits not just
from climate science but from economics, statistics, biology, and more.  I
told her I would love to see a true documentary on climate change, but I was as
interested in seeing a "science" film from the group that put this movie
together as I presume she was in seeing a "even-handed" movie on
abortion produced by the Catholic Church.

Never-the-less, she has insisted, so I put together a skeptic's primer for
her, which I will also share with you.  Note that I am not actively involved in climate research myself, so the following is my admittedly incomplete understanding of all the issues.  It is meant to raise issues that you may not find discussed in most global warming accounts.

Overview:  The earth has warmed by 2/3 of a degree to as much as a degree (all temperatures in Celsius)
over the last 100 years, of which man may be responsible for no more than half
through CO2 emissions.  The poles, which are important to all the global
deluge scare scenarios, have warmed less than the average.  Man's CO2
emissions will warm the earth another degree or so over the next 100
years.  There is a possibility the warming will be greater than this, but
scary-large warming numbers that are typical of most climate reports today
depend on positive feedback loops in the climate that are theoretical and whose
effect has not yet been observed.  The effects of warming will be a mix of
positive and negative outcomes, recognizing that the former never seem to get
discussed in various media scare stories.  If the effects of warming are a
net negative on mankind, it is not clear that this negative outweighs the costs
in terms of lost economic growth (and the poverty, disease, and misery that
comes with lower growth) of avoiding the warming.  In other words, I
suspect a warmer but richer world may be better than a cooler but poorer world.

The Hockey Stick:  The Hockey Stick graph as become the emblem,
the sort of coat-of-arms, for the climate change intelligentsia.  Until
recently, the climate consensus for the last 1000 years, taken from reams of
historical records (things like the history of X river freezing in winter or Y
region having droughts) was this:

1000yearold

This chart is from the 1990 IPCC climate report, and in it you can see
features that both historians and scientists have discussed for years -- the
warm period during the Middle Ages and the "little ice age" of the
late 17th century.  Of course, this chart is barely better than a guess,
as are most all historical climate surveys.  For example, 3/4 of the earth
is water (where few consistent observations were taken) and only a small percentage of the rest was "civilized" to
the extent of having any historical records.  In addition to historical
records, scientists try to use things like ice cores and tree rings to get a
sense of long-term global climate patterns.

This long-held consensus changed with Mann, et. al., a study that created a new climate
picture for the last millennia that has immediately caught the fancy of nearly
every advocate of climate Armageddon.

1000yearold

For obvious reasons, this graph is called "the hockey stick" and
it is beloved by the global warming crowd because it hammers home the following
message:  Climate has been incredibly steady over the past 900 years with a flat to declining temperature trend until
man came along and caused a dramatic shift.  Based on this analysis, Mann
famously declared that the 1990's were the warmest decade in a millennia and
that 1998 was the hottest year in the last 1000 years.  (For real hubris, check
out this recent USAToday
graphic
, which purports to know the world's temperature within .001 degree
for every year going back two thousand years)

In fact, what Mann's chart shows for the last 100 years is about what I said in my overview - that
the world has warmed a degree and that man maybe has contributed up to half of
this.  Notice that tacked onto the end of the previous consensus view, the
last 100 years seem like it might just be the start of another natural cyclical
climate variation.    Not necesarily a reason for panic.  Ah,
but Mann's chart!  That's a chart that anyone eager to have the government
intervene massively in the economy is bound to love. It says that we are currently entering an unprecedented anomoly, and that the chief suspect for creating this change must be human civilization.

So is Mann right?  Well, a couple of things to note.  First, its
instructive to observe how eagerly the climate community threw out its old
consensus based on years of research in favor of Mann's study.  It's
unusual for a healthy
scientific community
to throw out their old consensus on the basis of one
study, especially when no one had replicated its findings independently.
Which no one has ever been able to do, since Mann has refused to share his
models or methodology details.  In fact, it took a US Congressional subpoena
to get any of his underlying models into the public domain.  This behavior
by a scientist would normally engender ENORMOUS skepticism in the community --
normally, I mean, except for in climate science, where mountaintop revelation without 3rd party repeatability
is OK as long as it supports a dire man-made climate catastrophe model.
In short, climate change advocates wanted the study to be true, because it was such a
powerful image to show the public.

Despite Mann's reticence to allow anyone to check his work, skeptics still
began to emerge.    Take that big temperature bulge in the Middle
Ages shown in the previous concensus view.  This bulge was annoying to climate
interventionists, because it showed that large variations in temperature on a
global scale can be natural and not necessarily the fault of modern man.
But Mann made this whole medieval bulge go away.  How?  Well, one of
the early revelations about Mann's work is that all the data before 1450 or so
comes from studying the tree rings of one single tree.  Yes, that's one tree
(1).  Using the evidence of this one tree, Mann flattened the temperature
over the 500 year period from 1000-1500 and made the Medieval warm period just go poof.  Wow!

The bigger criticism of Mann has come from statisticians.  Two Canadian
statisticians began questioning Mann's methodology, arguing that his
statistical approach was incorrect.  They demonstrated that Mann's
statistical approach was biased towards creating hockey sticks, and they showed
how the Mann model could be applied to random noise and produce a hockey
stick.   The climate change establishment did not take this criticism
well, and tried their hardest to rip these two guys up.  In fact, you might have believed that the two had been molesting little boys or declaring the world is flat rather than just questioning another scientist's statistical methodology. 

Recently, a US Congressional Committee asked a group of independent statisticians led by
Dr. Edward Wegman, Chair of the National Science Foundation's Statistical
Sciences Committee, to evaluate the Mann methodology.  Wegman
et. al. savaged the Mann methodology
as well as the peer review process
within the climate community:

It is important to note the isolation of the paleoclimate community; even
though they rely heavily on statistical methods they do not seem to be
interacting with the statistical community. Additionally, we judge that the
sharing of research materials, data and results was haphazardly and grudgingly
done. In this case we judge that there was too much reliance on peer review,
which was not necessarily independent. Moreover, the work has been sufficiently
politicized that this community can hardly reassess their public positions
without losing credibility. Overall, our committee believes that Dr. Mann's
assessments that the decade of the 1990s was the hottest decade of the
millennium and that 1998 was the hottest year of the millennium cannot be
supported by his analysis.

Further, Wegman concurred on almost every point with the Canadians, coming to the conclusion that the hockey stick was deepfly flawed.  In most other scientific communities, the Mann analysis would have been sent
to the dustbin along with cold fusion and Archbishop James Ussher's dating of
the earth to October 23, 4004 BC.
The problem is that the Mann chart has become too politically important.  Prominent men
like Al Gore have waved it around for years and put it in his books.  No
one in the core of the climate community can back away from the hockey stick
now without the rest of the world asking, rightly, what else is wrong with your
analyses?  If I seem too hard on the climate science community, then
consider this
quote
from National Center for Atmospheric Research (NOAA) climate researcher and global warming action promoter,
Steven Schneider:

We have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements,
and make little mention of any doubts we have. Each of us has to decide what
the right balance is between being effective and being honest.

Now you know why, for all its flaws, you will continue to see the hockey
stick in the press.  Because it is not about the facts, but about "scary scenarios" and "dramatic statements".

Has Man Been Causing the Warming?

Yes, some of it.  But its a little more complicated than the global
warming community lets on.   First, note the last 100 years of the
hockey stick.  The big upwards spike begins in 1900, long before any large
man-made concentrations of CO2 were put into the atmosphere.  In fact,
even those most fanatical about assigning maximum blame for climate change to
man don't blame man-made effects for most of the first half of the 20th century
temperature spike. 

Which begs the question, what caused the 1900-1940 spike of about 1/2 a
degree?  Answer:  Nobody really knows.  Which begs the follow-on
question:  If we don't know what caused the 1900-1940 run-up, how do we
know that this same force is not responsible for some of the run-up since
1950?  Answer:  We don't.  As I will explain below, climate
scientists trying to validate their models have reasons for wanting the
post-1950 temperature rise to be all man-made.  But just because they
assume it to be due to man-made rises in atmospheric CO2 concentrations does
not make it so -- correlation does not equal causation.

Well, what else could be causing this increase?  It could at least partially be
natural
cyclical variations in climate that we don't really understand.
Or it could be something more obvious, like, say, the sun was brighter.  I
can imagine your reaction -- no way it could be just a brighter sun,
Coyote.  I mean, that's the first thing the climate scientists would check
if earth temperatures were rising, right?

Irradiance

This chart compiled from data by Judith Lean of the Naval Research Library
and charted from her data at NOAA by Junkscience.com
shows that interestingly, the sun's output does appear to be higher today than they have been in many, perhaps hundreds of years.  Would such increased activity be
expected to result in higher earth temperatures?  I don't know, but if you
think it odd that scientists talk about global warming without mentioning how
hot the sun is, well, welcome to the world of climate science.   Its kind of like scrambling to find out why your room is too hot without first checking to see where the thermostat on the furnace is set.  More
on the sun's variance
and climate change here
.

Future Warming:  The key question, of course, is about future warming - i.e.,
based on man's economic growth and projected output of CO2, how much can the
world be expected to warm, say over the next 50-100 years.  I don't know
what the movie "An Inconvenient Truth" will claim until I see it, but
most recent studies have shown warming from 2-8 degrees (consistent with what is depicted by the
USAToday graphic linked above).

There are lots of issues with these forecasts that occasionally might even get
mentioned in the popular press.  Some issues are unavoidable, like the
inherent complexity and unpredictability of climate.  Some issues probably
could be avoided, like the egregiously bad economic forecasting that drives CO2
output forecasts in many of these models.  I won't delve into these issues
much, except to say that we are dealing with massively complex systems.
If an economist came up with a computer model that he claimed could predict the
market value of every house in the world in the year 2106 within $10,000, would
you believe him?  No, you would say he was nuts -- there is way to
much uncertainty.  Climate, of course, is not the same as housing
prices.  It is in fact, much, much more complex and more difficult to
predict. 

All these forecasts are created by a pretty insular and incestuous climate
science community that seems to compete to see who can come up with the most
dire forecast.  Certainly there are financial incentives to be as aggressive
as possible in forecasting climate change, since funding dollars tend to get
channeled to the most pessimistic.   The global warming community spends
a lot of time with ad hominem attacks on skeptics, usually accusing them of
being in the pay of oil and power companies, but they all know that their own
funding in turn would dry up rapidly if they were to show any bit of skepticism
in their own work.

Leaving aside all the other modeling problems and focus on one fact:
Most climate scientists would agree that if you focus narrowly just on the
effects of CO2 on warming, that even under the most extravagant assumptions of
CO2 production, the world will not warm more than a degree or two in total,
some of which we have already seen.  The reason is that the effect of CO2
concentration on global temperature is logarithmic.  This means that
increasing concentrations of CO2 have diminishing returns on temperature.
For example, if the first doubling of CO2 concentration raises temperatures by
a degree, then the next doubling may only raise it by a tenths of a
degree.  This is because CO2 only absorbs sunlight and energy in certain
frequency bands and this ability to absorb energy gets saturated, much like a
pot of water can only dissolve so much salt before it is saturated.

There is fair amount of argument over just how saturated the CO2 layers are
in terms of energy absorption, but most scientists will agree that at some
point, in isolation, additional CO2 added to the atmosphere by man stops having
any significant effect on global temperature.

So how do we get these dire forecasts of 6, 7, 8 degrees of warming?
Well, I was careful to say the effect of CO2 in isolation maxes
out.  To get to higher levels of warming, scientists posit "positive
feedback loops" that augment the warming effect.  Positive feedback generally means that once a process gets going in a direction, there is some force that will accelerate the process
faster or farther in the same direction.  Negative feedback means that
once a process is moving there is some force that tends to try to slow the process back down.
Positive feedback is a boulder balanced on the top of a mountain, where one
push will cause it to roll down the mountain faster and faster; Negative
feedback is a boulder in a valley, where despite lots of effort, the rock will
keep coming to rest back where it started.

In global warming models, water vapor plays a key role as both a positive and a negative feedback loop to climate change.  Water vapor
is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2.  It comes into play because CO2 driven warming will
put more water vapor in the atmosphere, because greater heat will vaporize more
water.  If this extra vapor shows up as more humid clear air, then this in
turn will cause more warming as the extra water vapor absorbs more energy and
accelerates warming.  However, if this extra water vapor shows up as
clouds, the cloud cover will tend to reflect energy back into space and retard
temperature growth. 

Which will happen?  Well, nobody knows.  And this is just one
example of the many, many feedback loops that scientists are able to posit but
not prove. And climate scientists are coming up
with numerous other positive feedback looks.  As one skeptic put it:

Regardless, climate models are made
interesting by the inclusion of "positive feedbacks" (multiplier
effects) so that a small temperature increment expected from increasing
atmospheric carbon dioxide invokes large increases in water vapor, which seem
to produce exponential rather than logarithmic temperature response in the
models. It appears to have become something of a game to see who can add in the
most creative feedback mechanisms to produce the scariest warming scenarios
from their models but there remains no evidence the planet includes any such
effects or behaves in a similar manner.

So, is it reasonable to assume these feedback loops?  First, none have
really been proven empirically, which does not of course necessarily make them
wrong.  More damning is the fact that models using mostly positive feedback
loops do a terrible job of modeling the last 100 years.  It is a perfectly
reasonable back check on any model to see if it predicts history.   Most of the aggressive climate models (ie the ones that tend to get quoted in the press) turn out to predict a warming for the
last 50 years far above what we have actually observed, which of course might make one
suspicious of their ability to predict the future.  A while back, I said
that climate scientists had a strong incentive to "claim" as much of
the 20th century warming as possible and attribute it to man.  This is
why:  The need to validate models that predict a lot of manmade warming
over the last 50 years that hasn't shown up.  Scientists will tell you
that they have fixed these problems, but we skeptics are fairly certain they have done it by adding artificial
fudge factors of dubious scientific merit  (I will confess to my embarassment that I have done exactly this when I have created industry models for a consulting client).

But one can also answer these questions about positive feedback loops from a
broader perspective.  Positive feedback loops are not unknown in nature
but are much rarer than negative feedback loops.  The reason is that
positive feedback loops lead to runaway processes that we seldom see in
nature.  Atomic fission is one of these thankfully rare process, and one can see that it is
probably lucky our universe is not populated with many such positive feedback
processes.  In our daily lives, we generally deal with negative
feedback:  inertia, wind resistance, friction are all negative feedback
processes.  If one knew nothing else, and had to guess if a natural
process was governed by negative or positive feedback, Occam's razor would say
bet on negative.  So, what about climate?  The evidence is equivocal,
but to be fair there is an example in our near universe of a runaway global
warming event - on Venus - though it occurred for reasons very different than
we are discussing with man-made climate change.

Negatives (and Positives) of Warming: While I have some trouble with
the science employed by global warming activists up to this point, it is on the
topic of the effects of global warming that the science really gets
flaky.  Now, certain effects are fairly likely.  For example,
hurricane activity will likely increase with warmer ocean temperatures.
Warmer ocean temperatures will also cause sea levels to rise, even without ice
melting, due to thermal expansion of the water.  And ice will melt, though
there is a really broad range of forecasts.

One reason that the ice
melting forecasts are hard
is because while me may talk about the world
warming a degree, the world does not warm evenly.  Most climate models
show the most warming on dry winter nights  (Siberian winters, for
example, get a disproportionate share of the warming).  An extra summer
degree in Arizona would suck; an
extra winter degree in Siberia would probably be
welcomed, and would likely extend growing seasons.

And it is here that you get the greatest silence from warming
fanatics.  Because
it should be self-evident that warming can be good and bad
.  Warming
can raise ocean levels and lead to droughts.  It can also extend growing
seasons and increase rain.  It all depends on where you are and what
forecast you are using.  The only common denominator is that most official
warming reports, such as those from the UN, spend an inordinate amount of time
discussing the negatives and very little time, if any, mentioning positive
offsets.  One of the reasons for this is that there is a culture in which
every environmental activist has been steeped in for years -- that man always
ruins nature.  That everything man does is bad.  Growth is bad.
Technology is bad.  To be fair, its not that many environmental scientists
are hiding the positive offsets, it's that they have been programmed for years to be
unable to recognize or acknowledge them.

Shouldn't We Fix it, Just to Be Safe:  If you get beyond the
hard core of near religious believers in the massive warming scenarios, the
average global warming supporter would answer this post by saying:
"Yes there is a lot of uncertainty, but you said it yourself: 
Though the doomsday warming scenarios via positive feedback in the climate
can't be proven, they are so bad that we need to cut back on CO2 production
just to be safe."

This would be a perfectly reasonable approach if cutting back on CO2
production was nearly cost-free.  But it is not.  The burning of
hydrocarbons that create CO2 is an entrenched part of our lives and our economies.
Forty years ago we might have had an easier time of it, as we were on a path to dramatically cut back on CO2 production
via what is still the only viable technology to massively replace fossil fuel
consumption -- nuclear power.  Ironically, it was environmentalists that
shut down this effort, and power industries around the world replaced capacity
that would have gone nuclear mostly with coal, the worst fossil fuel in terms
of CO2 production (per btu of power, Nuclear and hydrogen produce no CO2,
natural gas produces some, gasoline produces more, and coal produces the most).

Just halting CO2 production at current levels (not even rolling it back)
would knock several points off of world economic growth.  Every point of
economic growth you knock off guarantees you that you will get more poverty,
more disease, more early death.  If you could, politically, even
make such a freeze stick, you would lock China and India,
nearly 2 billion people, into continued poverty just when they were about to
escape it.  You would in the process make the world less secure, because
growing wealth is always the best way to maintain peace.  Right now, China can become wealthier from peaceful internal growth than it can from trying to loot
its neighbors.  But in a zero sum world created by a CO2 freeze, countries
like China would have much more incentive to create trouble outside its borders.  This
tradeoff is often referred to as a cooler but poorer world vs. a richer but
warmer world.  Its not at all clear which is better.
 

One final  statement:  I have lost trust in the scientific
community on this.  There are just too many statements floating around like
this one
that make it clear that getting people converted to the global
warming cause is more important than getting the science right.  Mann's
refusal to share his data so that his results can be validated (or invalidated,
as seems more likely now), the refusal
to consider any dissenting views
in its "scientific" conferences,
the sloppy
science
uncovered, the willingness to absurdly blame
every natural event on global warming
  -- all these create the
impression that global warming is a religion with doctrines that can't be
questioned, rather than what it actually is -- a really, really chaotic and complex area
of science we have only just begun to understand.

For other reading, probably the first place to look is the Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjorn
Lomborg
. Lomborg in this book has probably the best counter-case to the
enviro-disaster stories filling the media. He has become an object of absolute
hatred among the anti-growth anti globalization fanatics who have latched onto climate
change as the key to advancing their anti-technology and anti-capitalist
political agenda. The attacks on him have become nearly as edifying about what
drives the environmental movement as his book itself. The Economist has
a nice article about his book and about the wild-eyed furious reaction of
environmental activists to it. The Economist also editorializes
here
, and you can follow all the criticism and response here on Lomborg's site.

The site junkscience.com is
invaluable, in fact with a better compendium of data on climate than most
climate sites.  A good
place to start is this article
.

Other sources: This paper is
a good roundup of all the issues I have addressed. Cato has a lot of other
material here
as does the Heartland
Institute
and at The
Commons.
  A great post from Silflay Hraka that is much more eloquent
(and concise) than I am is linked here.

Update:  I have published a (free) more comprehensive guide to the skeptics
arguments concerning man-made global warming.  You can find the HTML version here and a free pdf download here.

  • gc

    Well that wouldn't make much of a movie.

  • Teri Pittman

    The most troubling thing about all this is the behavior of the scientific community. The heart of the scientific method is skepticism and verifying your results. What we see are attempts to force scientists to agree with the "accepted" theory. Those who disagree are denied funding and become outcasts in the community. Reminds me of the scientist who insisted that stomach ulcers were caused by a virus. Look how long it took for him to be proven correct. How convenient for the global warming boosters that there is no easy way to disprove their theory.

  • Ric

    Teri, it's actually a bacterium (Heliobacter pylorii) that causes ulceration, but you're right about the prevailing attitude.

    As a scientist myself, I find the best approach to helping people see the inherent flaws of Global Warming (now trendily called "Climate Change") is to start them on something palatable, like Chrichton's "State Of Fear", before pointing them to Lomborg's book (which is excellent, but hefty at 540 very dense pages).

  • dearieme

    By far the best sort of scientific test - controlled experiments - is necessarily unavailable. The second best sort - comparison with the historical record - is failed by the models. There is therefore essentially NO GOOD EVIDENCE of substantial man-made global warming. None. Nil. Nul.

  • http://betanaught.com Michael Ewens

    Here is a link to the Canadian statisticians that you cite.

    http://www.uoguelph.ca/~rmckitri/research/trc.html

  • Craig L

    Excellent post. This should be linked widely and added to your "Past Favorites" list.

  • http://www.paganvigil.com/C1692672053/E20060721192613/index.html Pagan Vigil

    Priming the skeptics

    A Phoenix businessman provides a great overview of the global warming arguments

    Warren Meyer at Coyote Blog provides A Skeptic's Primer for "An Inconvenient Truth" and it is a great one. Here is what I think is the core argument.

  • http://hamstermotor.motime.com Tom the Pooklekufr

    Don't forget that as a Greenhouse Gas, water vapor has many times more of a climatological effect. CO2 is almost negligible compared to water.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_gas
    http://lwf.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/gases.html#wv

  • markm

    Speaking of historical records, neither your graph with the peak in the 1200's nor the hockey stick graph seem adequate to explain how Eric the Red could farm in Greenland around 1000 AD, on land that is deep in year-round snow now. However, the humped graph does come closer to corresponding with the known record of the Greenland settlements - IIRC, the Norse were doing reasonably well up to about 1300 and died out (or evacuated by ship, or went to live with the Inuit) somewhere from 1400-1600.

  • arakyd

    One of the things I love about the internet is that it allows me to more easily get first hand information, whether it be actual Iraqi's opinions about the war, actual small business owner's opinions about the impact of regulation and other small business issues, actual scientists talking about their field in layman's terms, or whatever. Unfortunately, for every bit of that kind of information there is probably a kilobyte of regurgtated material from the mainstream media or think tanks or PR firms, and another kilobyte or two of plain 'ol off the cuff opinionating (and of course about a megabyte of porn and spam).

    There are actual climate scientists who actually publish peer-reviewed papers on climate and contribute to the real science that is behind this whole kerfuffle. They have their own blogs with good discussions about these issues in layman's terms, and actual references to actual peer-reviewed papers for those who want to dig deeper. Isn't that what makes the internet great? Why then, do we have so many bloggers and writers that merely cite the mainstream media (I can read them butcher science issues on my own, thanks) and think tanks like Cato and it's offshoots? I don't care about Cato's opinion any more than I care about Al Gore's.

    If you're really interesting in the science, I'd recommend http://www.realclimate.org/ as a good starting point. You will find lots of discussion about climate modeling, proxy data, etc., including a lot of things that were brought up in this post. You want to know about water vapor as a greenhouse gas? Naturally there is a lot of stuff about the hockey stick: the criticisms, the responses, the multiple corraborations from different groups, the agreement between proxy data and climate models, etc.

    Of course, you can dismiss RealClimate and the scientists that contribute to it as being just as biased as a political think tank, but I guess I'd pick the scientists every time.

  • dearieme

    Repeating that your favoured scientists say this or that is beside the point. What matters is how good their evidence is. I repeat: it adds up to essentially zero. It's almost bound to: the atmosphere/landmass/oceans are such a complicated system, with so much of its physics/chemistry/biology not understood, that it is beyond our competence to model it accurately enough for our present purposes. But if the models don't "predict" backwards successfully, then there is no reason to believe their predictions forward. "I have lost trust in the scientific community on this" says our blogger. I'm not bloody surprised.

  • http://noumignon.livejournal.com/ Noumenon

    "if you think it odd that scientists talk about global warming without mentioning how hot the sun is, well, welcome to the world of climate science."

    I frankly don't believe that scientists do this. It sounds like the idiot cartoon version of scientists creationists imagine, who can look at a live frog inside a 2.9 million year old coal seam and not doubt their dating method.

    Real scientists are not only vulnerable to common sense, they're passionate about their subject and have long arguments about stuff like this that no one else can stand to care about. Sometimes you can sit in on one that goes on in Usenet. And they publish papers with titles like "The effect of increasing solar activity on the Sun's total and open magnetic flux during multiple cycles: Implications for solar forcing of climate" (from a random footnote on the Wikipedia global warming page). I don't think you lost trust in the scientific community, I think you never really respected it in the first place. Of course they've thought about the Sun. They're not idiots.

  • dearieme

    Noumenon, I looked into this a few years ago; I assure you that "coyote" is right. The models all treated heat input from the sun as a constant. Worse, one of the modellers dismissed a suggestion from a German research group that the variation in input ought to be included in the model by saying that there was no point because the effect would be so small. That answer was either dishonest or stupid. ALL the models generate their predictions by including amplifiers - what "coyote" calls 'positive feed back loops' - which turn the trivial temperature rise that CO2 would cause into the large predicted temperature rises that you read about. (They do this by having the trivial CO2-related rise cause an increase in water vapour in the atmosphere.) Of course, if the crucial part of your model is an amplifier, you cannot consistently dismiss some proposed influence on the grounds that it would need an amplifier before it could be important. Beggars belief, doesn't it?

  • Don Lloyd

    At the end :

    "A great post from Silflay Hraka that is much more eloquent (and concise) than I am is linked here."

    No link is present.

    Regards, Don

  • http://futuregeek.net futuregeek

    There's a lot wrong with your post Coyote. It seems to me that you got all your information from biased sources like Junkscience.com, the heartland institute, the Cato institute, etc.

    I'll go point by point:

    The methodology behind the hockey stick is not a big secret. Climate scientists have compared multiple datasets - ice samples, treerings, boreholes, historical documents, marine sediments, etc. I'll quote from the executive summary of the National Academy of Sciences "Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2000 Years": (found at http://newton.nap.edu/execsumm_pdf/11676)

    "It can be said with a high level of confidence that 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....less confidence can be placed in large-scale surface temperature reconstructions for the period from AD 900 to 1600. Presently available proxy evidence indicates that temperatures at many, but not all, individual locations were higher during the past 25 years than during any period of comparable length since AD 900....Very little confidence can be assigned to statements concerning the hemispheric mean or global mean surface temperature prior to about AD 900...."

    snip

    "The basic conclusion of Mann et al. (1998, 1999) was that the late 20th century warmth in the Northern Hemisphere was unprecedented during at least the last 1,000 years. This conclusion has subsequently been supported by an array of evidence that includes both additional large-scale surface temperature reconstructions and pronounced changes in a variety of local proxy indicators, such as melting on icecaps and the retreat of glaciers around the world, which in many cases appear to be unprecedented during at least the last 2000 years. Not all individual proxy records indicate that the recent warmth is unprecedented, although a larger fraction of geographically diverse sites experienced exceptional warmth during the late 20th century than during any other extended period from AD 900 onward."

    Next you say that increased solar activity is not being taken into account by climate scientists. From a 2003 Science Daily article "NASA Study Finds Increasing Solar Trend That Can Change Climate":

    "Although the inferred increase of solar irradiance in 24 years, about 0.1 percent, is not enough to cause notable climate change, the trend would be important if maintained for a century or more. Satellite observations of total solar irradiance have obtained a long enough record (over 24 years) to begin looking for this effect."

    Note that we are only at the beginning stages, and there is not conclusive evidence of any significant solar effect. If the observed changes had been consistent over a century, they could have contributed a small amount to global warming. Quoted from here:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/03/030321075236.htm

    Also note that the scientist performing the research in the study has said:
    "Solar forcing would provide only about one-fourth as much warming [as GHG], if the solar trend persists over the same period," Willson said. "Solar forcing could be significant, but not dominant."
    from http://www.columbia.edu/cu/record/23/05/14.html

    Another science daily article:
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/04/990412075538.htm

    Quote:
    "According to Shindell, the new study also confirms that changing levels of energy from the sun are not a major cause of global warming.... The GISS model agrees that the solar increases do not have the ability to cause large global temperature increases, leading Shindell to conclude that greenhouse gasses are indeed playing the dominant role."

    So I think that discredits your idea that climate scientists aren't studying the effects of the sun on earth's climate. If you're still not convinced, back to the NAS report:

    "The rising temperatures observed since 1978 are particularly noteworthy because the rate of increase is so high and because, during the same period, the energy reaching the Earth from the Sun had been measured precisely enough to conclude that Earth's warming was not due to changes in the Sun."

    My next question for you. You say:

    "Certainly there are financial incentives to be as aggressive as possible in forecasting climate change, since funding dollars tend to get channeled to the most pessimistic."

    Prove that statement.

    "The global warming community spends a lot of time with ad hominem attacks on skeptics, usually accusing them of being in the pay of oil and power companies..."

    It's interesting that most of the skeptics have indeed been paid lots of cash by oil companies. Does that color their findings? Believe what you want. I want you to prove this statement:

    "but they all know that their own funding in turn would dry up rapidly if they were to show any bit of skepticism in their own work."

    O rly? Prove it.

    Now for the nuclear power thing. You say:

    "Ironically, it was environmentalists that shut down this effort[for nuclear power], and power industries around the world replaced capacity that would have gone nuclear mostly with coal, the worst fossil fuel in terms of CO2 production (per btu of power, Nuclear and hydrogen produce no CO2, natural gas produces some, gasoline produces more, and coal produces the most)."

    I wish environmentalists had the power to shut down an entire power industry. If we did, we would have stopped coal a long time ago, as it is much worse than nuke power in terms of emissions and mining.

    The truth is, nuclear power isn't economically viable. You can't scale nuclear power production. If power demand increases, you can't pump in more fuel, like you can with coal, and building a new reactor costs millions of dollars. It's a huge investment, not something you want to get into lightly. The government has pumped billions of dollars to the nuclear industry, and still, no new plants have been built since the 70s. With a coal or gas plant, you can build according to demand, instead of building and hoping the demand comes to you.

    As for your claim that global warming can be both good and bad... well, it might be good in countries that see favorable changes - longer growing seasons, better rainfall, etc. But for poor countries that can't adapt quickly to drought, flooding, etc it will be catastrophic. Look at Sudan right now - a direct result of regional climate change.

    The problems of those poor countries will become the problems of richer nations, as they deal with political instability in the affected nations and problems with immigrants and refugees.

    It will be good for some species that thrive in a wide variety of environments: jellyfish, certain kinds of insects, birds like crows and starlings, fish like the Snakehead which are damn near impossible to kill... but it will accelerate the extinction that we are currently facing on this planet - the largest extinction since the dinosaurs. Lost biodiversity will be no picnic.

    Well, this is a huge comment, so I'll stop here. Look into what the National Academy has published, also check out realclimate.org. Do a little reading about ecology and systems analysis. Broaden your sources for info. Steve Milloy, who hosts junkscience.com, is indeed paid by ExxonMobil, and he has been paid by the Tobacco Industry to say the cigs aren't bad for you. He is at best a questionable source for info. (http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Steven_J._Milloy)

  • http://futuregeek.net futuregeek

    You'll have to take the end parentheses off of some of the links I provided.

  • malcontent

    That's it, you have convinced me. All those "scientists" are wrong. You have proved it!. There is no longer any reason to listen to "scientists" when there are republitards like you around. Those scientists probably went to liberal elite schools like harvard or yale or even berkely and stanford. They hate america, don't listen to them. Don't listen to any science at all. Scientists are fools, some of them are probably homosexuals too!.

    Listen to cato institute and Rush limbaugh, they are the only ones who really know what is going on. Oh and fox news, them too they don't hate america and they are fair and balanced.

  • http://smilerz91.blogspot.com Chris

    Thanks for taking the time to write this summary Coyote - very well written.

    @futuregeek - That's empirically false, nuclear power is certainly economically viable. Exelon, for instance, has sold off all (well, most) of its coal plants and kept the nukes. No new nukes have been built because the government hasn't licensed any new fascilities. The power companies have been trying for decades to get permits to build new ones. That isn't to say with 100% certainty that they would be successfull business ventures, but the fact that companies are trying to build new plants belies your assertion that they are economically unfeasible.

    PS People like malcontent amuse the hell out of me.

  • malcontent

    I am glad I amuse you chris. Maybe one day I can get a job on talk radio and make a lot of money telling people to ingore science and scientists. That's the republitard way after all. I mean there is nothing more amusing then a bunch of idiots who know nothing, can't even solve the simplest algebra problem, have no idea clue about physics or meteorology telling the rest of the world to ignore scientists because they overlooked the fact that the sun is hot!.

    What a hoot those republitards are.

    But you know what I agree with you about nukes. I would like to see more nukes built except th at I don't want one penny of taxpayers money spent on them. I figure exxon has enough money to build a couple.

    Anyway there is no need to listen to me, I hate america and I love terrorists. You can tell because I voted for a democrat once and I think science trumps the bible.

  • http://noumignon.livejournal.com/ Noumenon

    If we really are in the first stages of measuring solar irradiance like futuregeek says, then what dearieme says about them using a constant to represent it makes sense. They wouldn't have been able to factor in any measured variation. But then what needs to be explained is why coyote's irradiation data from the NASA chart isn't good enough for them.

  • http://futuregeek.net futuregeek

    "Exelon, for instance, has sold off all (well, most) of its coal plants and kept the nukes. "

    Could this be because they see the writing on the wall and know that nuke power is going to get massive support as global warming increases?

  • http://futuregeek.net futuregeek

    Solar increases shown: Note that there is no context shown for the increase in solar radiation in the chart provided. Look at it. All it says is that solar output increased by 1.5 WM2 since 1611 - and the increase has leveled off since 1940. That graph is worthless without some background.

    Anyway, the accepted climate models take natural factors into effect - and the chart in Coyote's post actually fits quite well with the models. The NAS report I cited in my comment has three charts showing the links between natural causes, man made causes, and climate change. "After 1950, temperature change cannot be explained by natural causes alone.... The model that includes man made and natural causes is the best fit."

  • dearieme

    "According to Shindell, the new study also confirms that changing levels of energy from the sun are not a major cause of global warming...." This is circular reasoning. It says, in effect, 'if my model is right then substantial global warming will occur, caused by man-made CO2. Moreover, if my model is right, then solar variation is unimportant. Therefore solar variation is unimportant.' I have no idea whether solar variation is important, but I do recognise that that argument does not constitute scientific evidence, and wouldn't whether advanced by Shindell or by God Almighty. Gosh, if I found that sort of "reasoning" persuasive, I'd be the sort of chump who believed it was a good idea to invade Iraq.

  • http://futuregeek.net futuregeek

    Reread that article. He's not saying that his model agrees with itself. He's saying that his model, with new, more accurate data, agrees with earlier models.

  • Lisa

    From speaking to a number of scientists about global warming (and a short time studying the data myself), the most striking aspect of global warming is its sheer unpredictability. The global system is so large and so complex that it is not possible to take every factor into account. Look at just one factor: Increased water vapor.

    Will increased water vapor trap heat? Or will it form more clouds, increasing the reflectivity of the earth and decreasing the heat the Earth absorbs from the sun? The first is a positive feedback loop, the second negative. It is almost certain that both effects would coexist, but which would be stronger, and how much stronger, and how would more clouds interact with melting ice caps decreasing the earth's reflectivity? Or are the weather patterns such that the clouds would form mainly over the ice caps and they wouldn't melt that much after all?

    Uncertainty. There is no way to make a perfect accounting for all of the possible factors. There is no concrete proof that global warming would lead to a runaway, positive-feedback greenhouse effect. But such proof would not be available unless such an effect were already underway, likely irreversibly so.

    That is why scientists almost all advocate a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. They see it as gambling with the future of the earth. Why tamper with a carefully balanced system that we don't understand, and as such would never know how to fix?

    Many people see it from the opposite point of view. Why spend a lot, in terms of money, time, and inconvenience, when there's a chance nothing will happen?

    But claiming that a lack of definitive proof for global warming is definitive proof against shows a misunderstanding of where the disaster would come from. The disaster would not come from the direct effects of CO2 on the atmosphere. It could come, however, from feedback loops that we can neither accurately predict nor control.

  • http://www.afn.org/~ambient/blog/ Bob

    If we assume that all heat on the earth comes from the sun (it doesn't, but this is a small envelope I'm scribbling on here), and we are wondering if 0.1% change in solar output would make a significant difference, shouldn't we calculate that 0.1% of 285 Kelvins is almost a third of a degree, a substantial portion of the observed temperature increase? How can it make sense to claim that the increase in solar output is not significant? Are we suddenly going to assume that the positive feedback mechanism linking increased temperatures with increased water vapor becomes a negative feedback mechanism if the sun is doing the heating instead of CO2 ?

  • JohnDewey

    "Why tamper with a carefully balanced system that we don't understand, and as such would never know how to fix?"

    What evidence do we have of a carefully balanced system? I think we have evidence of just the opposite. The earth has experienced severe long term swings in temperature and in CO2 levels long before humans ever arrived here. The earth also experienced the major shocks of huge meteorites and climate-wrecking volcanic eruptions. I don't think "carefully balanced system" is an accurate description at all.

  • http://futuregeek.net futuregeek

    Bob - the increase in solar energy is regarded as not significant since 1950 - if you look at the graph provided in this post, you see that the intensity stopped increasing around 1940. The NAS report I cited in my comment says that it's likely that the solar increase influenced the rise in temperatures during the first part of the century but not the last half.

  • arakyd

    The obvious answer to why we can be fairly sure the sun is not causing the recent warming has already been stated: the irradiance trend is flat (or very slightly decreasing) over the last fifty years, which is when the temperature has climbed out of the error band for what we know historically. The long answer is also out there (http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/category/climate-science/sun-earth-connections/ for starters) for anyone who cares to look. The implication that climatologists ignore it is flat out wrong.

    I also have to say I do not understand losing trust in the scientific community over this. Mann's results *have* been checked and corraborated several times over. They are *not* based on a single tree. As for Steven Schneider's statement, the full quote comes across a little differently:

    "...like most people we'd like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public's imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This 'double ethical bind' we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both."

    In his book he says it even better: "There is no simple formula for resolving the dilemma of balancing effectiveness against full disclosure, for one scientist's clear simplification could well be another's irresponsible oversimplification. Each tries to find the best path across this treacherous ethical ground." (More here: http://blog.sciam.com/index.php?title=half_baked_smears_against_climatologists&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1).

    And then of course, there is the current US administration's wonderful record of supporting science (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Cooney): yet more reason to get information directly from the scientists and peer-reviewed journals instead of from think tanks and press releases. I worry a lot more about spin from those sources than I worry about exaggeration from the actual scientists (although of course they are by no means perfect either).

    In short, there is real science behind this, and this post as well as many of the comments seem to be based on too-shallow investigation. I hate to see fellow libertarians take the easy way out on this one.

  • http://www.doubleblind.ca/2006/07/25/coyote-on-global-warming/ Double Blind

    Coyote on Global Warming

    This is a really good article from the Coyote Blog on things to consider about global warming. He writes something that I would never have the patience to do myself.
    For many years now Ive been increasingly skeptical of all the doom an...

  • http://noumignon.livejournal.com/ Noumenon

    Here's a Business Week article saying Wall Street is worried that nuclear power is uneconomical, and would rather place its bets on ethanol, wind power, and solar.

    http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/jun2006/tc20060628_463853.htm?chan=globalbiz_asia_investing

  • Jody

    arakyd: why is it hotter from mid July to early August than in the third week of June? why is it colder from mid January to early February than in the third week of December?

  • http://porkopolis.blogspot.com Porkopolis

    More evidence of global warming...but probably not where radical environmentalist expected it: http://porkopolis.blogspot.com/2006/05/more-evidence-of-global-warmingbut.html

  • http://futuregeek.net futuregeek

    "arakyd: why is it hotter from mid July to early August than in the third week of June? why is it colder from mid January to early February than in the third week of December?"

    Alright I give up. Why?

  • Jody

    Alright I give up. Why? [is it hotter in July than June 21]

    Heat capacity.

    The really short (and Electrical Engineeringish, sorry I'm a PhD EE, and that's just how I think) version is capacitance induces a phase shift (lag) to a sinusoidal signal. Annually, average heat received from the sun is a sinusoidal signal (the exact amplitude/phase of that signal varies by location). Because of heat capacitance of the ground , the air, and water, the Earth has a pretty high heat capacitance which induces a pretty big phase shift.

    There's another notable effect of capacitance (both electrical and heat). This effect explains why it gets hotter (and colder) in the desert than the coast and more relevantly why the temperature of the earth will lag a step increase in the energy output of the sun. This effect is why "the irradiance trend is flat (or very slightly decreasing) over the last fifty years, which is when the temperature has climbed out of the error band for what we know historically."

    Though I will point out that it cooled in the 70s.

  • Black Sal

    I would like to point out a few things that lead to contention.

    a) There is a solar constant. Check it out on Wikipedia.

    b) There is also solar radiation

    c) There is also solar variation

    d) There is also variation of solar radiation from atmospheric 'stuff'

    So, it's kinda complex.

    The chart showing temperature through the ages is a combination of data. Check here for the various data in easy chart form: http://www.inkstain.net/fleck/snaps/mann.gif

    One of the reasons for doubt here is that it was thought that the Medieval Warm Period was global. It was mostly a regional or hemispheric effect, as we now know. The later 'Little Ice Age' was global in effect and some of the effect was due to volcanic action. There is a great deal of talk about the Thames freezing every year. It actually froze about every 25 years on average and didn't freeze at all in London after the supports on London Bridge were altered. The little ice age was cold in parts but not as glacial as you might have been led to believe. And some of you have been easily led.

    The moral of my story is, be skeptical. Whatever you hear, check it out. The devil is in the details.

    As for the present, the global average is the best way to put the whole thing together but doesn't tell it like it is. All the components tell the story. And they are telling us that the planet is warming, and that CO2 is the major part, and the only part that we have any say over.

    And please don't take fiction for science. You'll be believing in time travel next.

    Black Sal

  • Edward Romanoff

    Can you please post this on your Blog? From Edward Romanoff ..
    Re: Before, after and the next 9/11 …
    As a young man, growing up in Siberia setting fires on thawing permafrost was a favorite past-time. Then, little did I know, these flames were burning methane and I had stumbled on to a contribution to Global Warming, an indication of how the world could end.

    In the U.S., I joined the Preventech Foundation the developers of technologies preventing Global Warming.
    We submitted these technologies to the authorities, but received no response. Finally, the article in Fresno Bee by Seth Borenstein AP (09/07/06) might convince the Public, that there is no escape from Global Warming. So, we have submitted this technology again! As you may have guessed – no response! History repeats itself – for example, the technology of ‘motioncodes’ which would makes the 9/11 terrorists attack impossible, was submitted one year before 9/11, but again no response!

    Actually the scientists receive an automatic electronic form letter, saying “Thank you, we would contact you” – but they never did. Preventive technologies were submitted by different groups of scientists independently from different parts of the world. Ignoring modern technology is the reason why 9/11 did happened.

    It appears that the U.S. may not necessarily be destroyed by environmental disaster or by terrorists. Americans could destroy themselves! The mystery – why have Americans decided to self-destruct?

    This time we are appealing directly to all citizens. We are looking for a producer to make the multimedia phenomena ‘THE END OF THE LAST EMPIRE’ movie. It would demonstrate technology preventing the END.
    The ‘all-in-one’ – drama, horror, suspense and education tool for children, teaching that crime and terrorism will no longer be possible. To avoid the shock and sensationalism the movie will be released as ‘science fiction.’ Once the movie is released, this preventive technology would become every day commodity. Please request for Motion Science Memorandum – the listing of preventive motion devices and systems.

    Dr. Edward Romanoff
    Preventech Foundation
    motioncodes@yahoo.com

  • http://home.casema.nl/errenwijlens/co2/howmuch.htm Hans Erren

    "The reason is that the effect of CO2 concentration on global temperature is logarithmic. This means that increasing concentrations of CO2 have diminishing returns on temperature. For example, if the first doubling of CO2 concentration raises temperatures by a degree, then the next doubling may only raise it by a tenths of a degree. This is because CO2 only absorbs sunlight and energy in certain frequency bands and this ability to absorb energy gets saturated, much like a pot of water can only dissolve so much salt before it is saturated."

    That's wrong. A logarithmic relationship means than every doubling gives the same result.

  • greeny

    The thing that convinces me about there being negative feedback not positive feedback looks is that the earth is 4.5 billion years old and the seas have never boiled or totally frozen.

    Why is this, especially as the sun is 40% warmer than back then.