Posts tagged ‘feedback’

Another Plea to Global Warming Alarmists on the Phrase "Climate Denier"

Stop calling me and other skeptics "climate deniers".  No one denies that there is a climate.  It is a stupid phrase.

I am willing, even at the risk of the obvious parallel that is being drawn to the Holocaust deniers, to accept the "denier" label, but it has to be attached to a proposition I actually deny, or that can even be denied.

As help in doing so, here are a few reminders (these would also apply to many mainstream skeptics -- I am not an outlier)

  • I don't deny that climate changes over time -- who could?  So I am not a climate change denier
  • I don't deny that the Earth has warmed over the last century (something like 0.7C).  So I am not a global warming denier
  • I don't deny that man's CO2 has some incremental effect on warming, and perhaps climate change (in fact, man effects climate with many more of his activities other than just CO2 -- land use, with cities on the one hand and irrigated agriculture on the other, has measurable effects on the climate).  So I am not a man-made climate change or man-made global warming denier.

What I deny is the catastrophe -- the proposition that man-made global warming** will cause catastrophic climate changes whose adverse affects will outweigh both the benefits of warming as well as the costs of mitigation.  I believe that warming forecasts have been substantially exaggerated (in part due to positive feedback assumptions) and that tales of current climate change trends are greatly exaggerated and based more on noting individual outlier events and not through real data on trends (see hurricanes, for example).

Though it loses some of this nuance, I would probably accept "man-made climate catastrophe denier" as a title.

** Postscript -- as a reminder, there is absolutely no science that CO2 can change the climate except through the intermediate step of warming.   If you believe it is possible for CO2 to change the climate without there being warming (in the air, in the oceans, somewhere), then you have no right to call anyone else anti-science and you should go review your subject before you continue to embarrass yourself and your allies.

Want to Make Your Reputation in Academia? Here is an Important Class of Problem For Which We Have No Solution Approach

Here is the problem:  There exists a highly dynamic, multi- multi- variable system.  One input is changed.  How much, and in what ways, did that change affect the system?

Here are two examples:

  • The government makes a trillion dollars in deficit spending to try to boost the economy.  Did it do so?  By how much? (This Reason article got me thinking about it)
  • Man's actions increase the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.  We are fairly confident that this has some warming effect, but how how much?  There are big policy differences between the response to a lot and a little.

The difficulty, of course, is that there is no way to do a controlled study, and while one's studied variable is changing, so are thousands, even millions of others.  These two examples have a number of things in common:

  • We know feedbacks play a large role in the answer, but the system is so hard to pin down that we are not even sure of the sign, much less the magnitude, of the feedback.  Do positive feedbacks such as ice melting and cloud formation multiply CO2 warming many times, or is warming offset by negative feedback from things like cloud formation?  Similarly in the economy, does deficit spending get multiplied many times as the money gets respent over and over, or is it offset by declines in other categories of spending like business investment?
  • In both examples, we have recent cases where the system has not behaved as expected (at least by some).  The economy remained at best flat after the recent stimulus.  We have not seen global temperatures increase for 15-20 years despite a lot of CO2 prodcution.  Are these evidence that the hypothesized relationship between cause and effect does not exist (or is small), or simply evidence that other effects independently drove the system in the opposite direction such that, for example, the economy would have been even worse without the stimulus or the world would have cooled without CO2 additions.
  • In both examples, we use computer models not only to predict the future, but to explain the past.  When the government said that the stimulus had worked, they did so based on a computer model whose core assumptions were that stimulus works.  In both fields, we get this sort of circular proof, with the output of computer models that assume a causal relationship being used to prove the causal relationship

So, for those of you who may think that we are at the end of math (or science), here is a class of problem that is clearly, just from these two examples, enormously important.  And we cannot solve it -- we can't even come close, despite the hubris of Paul Krugman or Michael Mann who may argue differently.    We are explaining fire with Phlogiston.

I have no idea where the solution lies.  Perhaps all we can hope for is a Goedel to tell us the problem is impossible to solve so stop trying.  Perhaps the seeds of a solution exist but they are buried in another discipline (God knows the climate science field often lacks even the most basic connection to math and statistics knowledge).

Maybe I am missing something, but who is even working on this?  By "working on it" I do not mean trying to build incrementally "better" economics or climate models.  Plenty of folks doing that.  But who is working on new approaches to tease out relationships in complex multi-variable systems?

Global Warming Updates

I have not been blogging climate much because none of the debates ever change.  So here are some quick updates

  • 67% to 90% of all warming in climate forecasts still from assumptions of strong positive feedback in the climate system, rather than from CO2 warming per se (ie models still assuming about 1 degree in CO2 warming is multiplied 3-10 times by positive feedbacks)
  • Studies are still mixed about the direction of feedbacks, with as many showing negative as positive feedback.  No study that I have seen supports positive feedbacks as large as those used in many climate models
  • As a result, climate models are systematically exaggerating warming (from Roy Spenser, click to enlarge).  Note that the conformance through 1998 is nothing to get excited about -- most models were rewritten after that date and likely had plugs and adjustments to force the historical match.

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  • To defend the forecasts, modellers are increasingly blaming natural effects like solar cycles on the miss, natural effects that the same modellers insisted were inherently trivial contributions when skeptics used them to explain part of the temperature rise from 1978-1998.
  • By the way, 1978-1998 is still the only period since 1940 when temperatures actually rose, such that increasingly all catastrophic forecasts rely on extrapolations from this one 20-year period. Seriously, look for yourself.
  • Alarmists are still blaming every two or three sigma weather pattern on CO2 on global warming (polar vortex, sigh).
  • Even when weather is moderate, media hyping of weather events has everyone convinced weather is more extreme, when it is not. (effect explained in context of Summer of the Shark)
  • My temperature forecast from 2007 still is doing well.   Back in '07 I regressed temperature history to a linear trend plus a sine wave.

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Congratulations to Nature Magazine for Catching up to Bloggers

The journal Nature has finally caught up to the fact that ocean cycles may influence global surface temperature trends.  Climate alarmists refused to acknowledge this when temperatures were rising and the cycles were in their warm phase, but now are grasping at these cycles for an explanation of the 15+ year hiatus in warming as a way to avoid abandoning high climate sensitivity assumptions  (ie the sensitivity of global temperatures to CO2 concentrations, which IMO are exaggerated by implausible assumptions of positive feedback).

Here is the chart from Nature:

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I cannot find my first use of this chart, but here is a version I was using over 5 years ago.  I know I was using it long before that

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It will be interesting to see if they find a way to blame cycles for cooling in the last 10-15 years but not for the warming in the 80's and 90's.

Next step -- alarmists have the same epiphany about the sun, and blame non-warming on a low solar cycle without simultaneously giving previous high solar cycles any credit for warming.  For Nature's benefit, here is another chart they might use (from the same 2008 blog post).  The number 50 below is selected arbitrarily, but does a good job of highlighting solar activity in the second half of the 20th century vs. the first half.

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Climate Model Fail

Dr. Roy Spencer has compared the output of 73 climate models to actual recent temperature measurements.  He has focused on temperatures in the mid-troposphere in the tropics -- this is not the same as global surface temperatures but is of course related.  The reason for this focus is 1) we have some good space-based data sources for temperatures in this region that don't suffer the same biases and limitations as surface thermometers and 2) This is the zone that catastrophic anthropogenic global warming theory says should be seeing the most warming, due to positive feedback effects of water vapor.  The lines are the model results for temperatures, the dots are the actuals.

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As Spencer writes in an earlier post:

I continue to suspect that the main source of disagreement is that the models’ positive feedbacks are too strong…and possibly of even the wrong sign.

The lack of a tropical upper tropospheric hotspot in the observations is the main reason for the disconnect in the above plots, and as I have been pointing out this is probably rooted in differences in water vapor feedback. The models exhibit strongly positive water vapor feedback, which ends up causing a strong upper tropospheric warming response (the “hot spot”), while the observation’s lack of a hot spot would be consistent with little water vapor feedback.

The warming from manmade CO2 without positive feedbacks would be about 1.3C per doubling of CO2 concentrations, a fraction of the 3-10C predicted by these climate models.  If the climate, like most other long-term stable natural systems, is dominated by negative feedbacks, the sensitivity would be likely less than 1C.  Either way, the resulting predicted warming from manmade CO2 over the rest of this century would likely be less than 1 degree C.

More on declining estimates of climate sensitivity based on actual temperature observations rather than computer models here.

Update on Climate Temperature Sensitivity (Good News, the Numbers are Falling)

I have not had the time to write much about climate of late, but after several years of arguing over emails (an activity with which I quickly grew bored), the field is heating up again, as it were.

As I have said many times, the key missing science in the whole climate debate centers around climate sensitivity, or the expected temperature increase from a doubling of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere  (as reference, CO2 in the industrial age has increased from about 270 ppm to close to 400 ppm, or about half a doubling).

In my many speeches and this video (soon to be updated, if I can just find the time to finish it), I have argued that climate computer models have exaggerated climate sensitivity.  This Wikipedia page is a pretty good rehash of the alarmist position on climate sensitivity.  According to this standard alarmist position, here is the distribution of studies which represent the potential values for sensitivity - note that virtually none are below 2°C.

Frequency_distribution_of_climate_sensitivity,_based_on_model_simulations_(NASA)

The problem is that these are all made with computer models.  They are not based on observational data.  Yes, all these models nominally backcast history reasonably correctly (look at that chart above and think about that statement for a minute, see if you can spot the problem).  But many an investor has been bankrupted by models that correctly backcast history.  The guys putting together tranches of mortgages for securities all had models.   What has been missing is any validation of these numbers with actual, you know, observations of nature.

Way back 6 or 7 years ago I began taking these numbers and projecting them backwards.  In other words, if climate sensitivity is really, say, at 4°C, then what should that imply about historical temperature increases since the pre-industrial age?  Let's do a back of the envelope with the 4°C example.  We are at just about half of a doubling of CO2 concentrations, but since sensitivity is a logarithmic curve, this implies we should have seen about 57% of the temperature increase that we would expect from a full doubling of CO2.  Applied to the 4°C sensitivity figure, this means that if sensitivity really is 4°C, we should have seen a 2.3°C global temperature increase over the last 150 years or so.  Which we certainly have not -- instead we have seen 0.8°C from all causes, only one of which is CO2.

So these high sensitivity models are over-predicting history.  Even a 2°C sensitivity over-predicts the amount of warming we have seen historically.  So how do they make the numbers fit?  The models are tuned and tweaked with a number of assumptions.  Time delays are one -- the oceans act as a huge flywheel on world temperatures and tend to add large lags to getting to the ultimate sensitivity figure.  But even this was not enough for high sensitivity models to back-cast accurately.  To make their models accurately predict history, their authors have had to ignore every other source of warming (which is why they have been so vociferous in downplaying the sun and ocean cycles, at least until they needed these to explain the lack of warming over the last decade).  Further, they have added man-made cooling factors, particularly from sulfate aerosols, that offset some of the man-made warming with man-made cooling.

Which brings us back to the problem I hinted at with the chart above and its distribution of sensitivities.  Did you spot the problem?  All these models claim to accurately back-cast history, but how can a model with a 2°C sensitivity and an 11°C sensitivity both accurately model the last 100 years?  One way they do it is by using a plug variable, and many models use aerosol cooling as the plug.  Why?   Well, unlike natural cooling factors, it is anthropogenic, so they can still claim catastrophe once we clean up the aerosols.  Also, for years the values of aerosol cooling were really uncertain, so ironically the lack of good science on them allowed scientists to assume a wide range of values.  Below is from a selection of climate models, and shows that the higher the climate sensitivity in the model, the higher the negative forcing (cooling) effect assumed from aerosols.  This has to be, or the models would not back-cast.aerosols2

The reasons that these models had such high sensitivities is that they assumed the climate was dominated by net positive feedback, meaning there were processes in the climate system that would take small amounts of initial warming from CO2 and multiply them many times.  The generally accepted value for sensitivity without these feedbacks is 1.2°C or 1.3°C (via work by Michael Mann over a decade ago).  So all the rest of the warming, in fact the entire catastrophe that is predicted, comes not from CO2 but from this positive feedback that multiplies this modest 1.2°C many times.

I have argued, as have many other skeptics, that this assumption of net positive feedback is not based on good science, and in fact most long-term stable natural systems are dominated by negative feedback (note that you can certainly identify individual processes, like ice albedo, that are certainly a positive feedback, but we are talking about the net effect of all such processes combined).  Based on a skepticism about strong positive feedback, and the magnitude of past warming in relation to CO2 increases, I have always argued that the climate sensitivity is perhaps 1.2°C and maybe less, but that we should not expect more than a degree of warming from CO2 in the next century, hardly catastrophic.

One of the interesting things you might notice from the Wikipedia page is that they do not reference any sensitivity study more recent than 2007 (except for a literature review in 2008).  One reason might be that over the last 5 years there have been a series of studies that have begun to lower the expected value of the sensitivity number.   What many of these studies have in common is that they are based on actual observational data over the last 100 years, rather than computer models  (by the way, for those of you who like to fool with Wikipedia, don't bother on climate pages -- the editors of these pages will reverse any change attempting to bring balance to their articles in a matter of minutes).  These studies include a wide range of natural effects, such as ocean cycles, left out of the earlier models.  And, as real numbers have been put on aerosol concentrations and their effects, much lower values have been assigned to aerosol cooling, thus reducing the amount of warming that could be coming from CO2.

Recent studies based on observational approaches are coming up with much lower numbers.   ECS, or equilibrium climate sensitivity numbers (what we would expect in temperature increases if we waited hundreds or thousands of years for all time delays to be overcome) has been coming in between 1.6°C and 2.0°C.  Values for TCS, or transient climate sensitivity, or what we might expect to see in our lifetimes, has been coming in around 1.3°C per doubling of CO2 concentrations.

Matt Ridley has the layman's explanation

Yesterday saw the publication of a paper in a prestigious journal,Nature Geoscience, from a high-profile international team led by Oxford scientists. The contributors include 14 lead authors of the forthcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scientific report; two are lead authors of the crucial chapter 10: professors Myles Allen and Gabriele Hegerl.

So this study is about as authoritative as you can get. It uses the most robust method, of analysing the Earth’s heat budget over the past hundred years or so, to estimate a “transient climate response” — the amount of warming that, with rising emissions, the world is likely to experience by the time carbon dioxide levels have doubled since pre-industrial times.

The most likely estimate is 1.3C. Even if we reach doubled carbon dioxide in just 50 years, we can expect the world to be about two-thirds of a degree warmer than it is now, maybe a bit more if other greenhouse gases increase too….

Judith Currey discusses these new findings

Discussion of Otto, one of the recent studies

Nic Lewis discusses several of these results

This is still tough work, likely with a lot of necessary improvement, because it is really hard to dis-aggregate multiple drivers in such a complex system.  There may, for example, be causative variables we don't even know about so by definition were not included in the study.  However, it is nice to see that folks are out there trying to solve the problem with real observations of Nature, and not via computer auto-eroticism.

Postscript:  Alarmists have certainly not quit the field.  The current emerging hypothesis to defend high sensitivities is to say that the heat is going directly into the deep oceans.  At some level this is sensible -- the vast majority of the heat carrying capacity (80-90%) of the Earth's surface is in the oceans, not in the atmosphere, and so they are the best place to measure warming.  Skeptics have said this for years.  But in the top 700 meters or so of the ocean, as measured by ARGO floats, ocean heating over the last 10 years (since these more advanced measuring devices were launched) has been only about 15% of what we might predict with high sensitivity models.  So when alarmists say today that the heat is going into the oceans, they say the deep oceans -- ie that the heat from global warming is not going into the air or the first 700 meters of ocean but directly into ocean layers beneath that.  Again, this is marginally possible by some funky dynamics, but just like the aerosol defense that has fallen apart of late, this defense of high sensitivity forecasts is completely unproven.  But the science is settled, of course.

Matt Ridley's 10 Questions For Climate Alarmists

As I have read Mr. Ridley over the years, I have found him to have staked out a position on anthropogenic climate change very similar to mine  (we are both called "lukewarmers" because we accept that man's addition of greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere warms the world incrementally but do not accept catastrophic positive-feedback driven catastrophic warming forecasts).

I generally find room to nitpick even those whom I largely agree with, but from my perspective, this piece by Ridley is dead on.   (thanks to a reader for the link)

Best and the Brightest May Finally Be Open To Considering Lower Climate Sensitivity Numbers

For years, readers of this site know that I have argued that:

  • CO2 is indeed a greenhouse gas, and since man is increasing its atmospheric concentration, there is likely some anthropogenic contribution to warming
  • Most forecasts, including those of the IPCC, grossly exaggerate temperature sensitivity to CO2 by assuming absurd levels of net positive feedback in the climate system
  • Past temperature changes are not consistent with high climate sensitivities

Recently, there have been a whole spate of studies based on actual observations rather than computer models that have been arriving at climate sensitivity numbers far below the IPCC number.   While the IPCC settled on 3C per doubling of CO2, it strongly implied that all the risk was to the upside, and many other prominent folks who typically get fawning attention in the media have proposed much higher numbers.

In fact, recent studies are coming in closer to 1.5C - 2C.  I actually still think these numbers will turn out to be high.  For several years now my money has been on a number from 0.8 to 1 C, sensitivity numbers that imply a small amount of negative feedback rather than positive feedback, a safer choice in my mind since most long-term stable natural systems are dominated by negative feedback.

Anyway, in an article that was as surprising as it is welcome, NY Times climate writer Andy Revkin has quite an article recently, finally acknowledging in the paper of record that maybe those skeptics who have argued for alower sensitivity number kind of sort of have a point.

Worse than we thought” has been one of the most durable phrases lately among those pushing for urgent action to stem the buildup of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

But on one critically important metric — how hot the planet will get from a doubling of the pre-industrial concentration of greenhouse gases, a k a “climate sensitivity” — someclimate researchers with substantial publication records are shifting toward the lower end of the warming spectrum.

By the way, this is the only metric that matters.  All the other BS about "climate change" and "dirty weather" are meaningless without warming.  CO2 cannot change the climate  or raise sea levels or any of that other stuff by any mechanism we understand or that has even been postulated, except via warming.  Anyway, to continue:

There’s still plenty of global warming and centuries of coastal retreats in the pipeline, so this is hardly a “benign” situation, as some have cast it.

But while plenty of other climate scientists hold firm to the idea that the full range of possible outcomes, including a disruptively dangerous warming of more than 4.5 degrees C. (8 degrees F.), remain in play, it’s getting harder to see why the high-end projections are given much weight.

This is also not a “single-study syndrome” situation, where one outlier research paper is used to cast doubt on a bigger body of work — as Skeptical Science asserted over the weekend. That post focused on the as-yet-unpublished paper finding lower sensitivity that was inadvisedly promoted recently by the Research Council of Norway.

In fact, there is an accumulating body of reviewed, published researchshaving away the high end of the range of possible warming estimates from doubled carbon dioxide levels. Chief among climate scientists critical of the high-sensitivity holdouts is James Annan, an experienced climate modeler based in Japan who contributed to the 2007 science report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. By 2006, he was already diverging from his colleagues a bit.

The whole thing is good.  Of course, for Revkin, this is no excuse to slow down all the actions supposedly demanded by global warming, such as substantially raising the price and scarcity of hydrocarbons.  Which to me simply demonstrates that people who have been against hydrocarbons have always been against them as an almost aesthetic choice, and climate change and global warming were mere excuses to push the agenda.  After all, as there certainly are tradeoffs to limiting economic growth and energy use and raising the price of energy, how can a reduction in postulated harms from fossil fuels NOT change the balance point one chooses in managing their use?

PS-  I thought this was a great post mortem on Hurricane Sandy and the whole notion that this one data point proves the global warming trend:

In this case several factors not directly related to climate change converged to generate the event. On Sandy’s way north, it ran into a vast high-pressure system over Canada, which prevented it from continuing in that direction, as hurricanes normally do, and forced it to turn west. Then, because it traveled about 300 miles over open water before making landfall, it piled up an unusually large storm surge. An infrequent jet-stream reversal helped maintain and fuel the storm. As if all that weren’t bad enough, a full moon was occurring, so the moon, the earth, and the sun were in a straight line, increasing the moon’s and sun’s gravitational effects on the tides, thus lifting the high tide even higher. Add to this that the wind and water, though not quite at hurricane levels, struck an area rarely hit by storms of this magnitude so the structures were more vulnerable and a disaster occurred.

The last one is a key for me -- you have cities on the Atlantic Ocean that seemed to build and act as if they were immune from ocean storms.  From my perspective growing up on the gulf coast, where one practically expects any structure one builds on the coast to be swept away every thirty years or so, this is a big contributing factor no one really talks about.

She goes on to say that rising sea levels may have made the storm worse, but I demonstrated that it couldn't have added more than a few percentage points to the surge.

Trusting Experts and Their Models

Russ Roberts over at Cafe Hayek quotes from a Cathy O’Neill review of Nate Silvers recent book:

Silver chooses to focus on individuals working in a tight competition and their motives and individual biases, which he understands and explains well. For him, modeling is a man versus wild type thing, working with your wits in a finite universe to win the chess game.

He spends very little time on the question of how people act inside larger systems, where a given modeler might be more interested in keeping their job or getting a big bonus than in making their model as accurate as possible.

In other words, Silver crafts an argument which ignores politics. This is Silver’s blind spot: in the real world politics often trump accuracy, and accurate mathematical models don’t matter as much as he hopes they would....

My conclusion: Nate Silver is a man who deeply believes in experts, even when the evidence is not good that they have aligned incentives with the public.

Distrust the experts

Call me “asinine,” but I have less faith in the experts than Nate Silver: I don’t want to trust the very people who got us into this mess, while benefitting from it, to also be in charge of cleaning it up. And, being part of the Occupy movement, I obviously think that this is the time for mass movements.

Like Ms. O'Neill, I distrust "authorities" as well, and have a real problem with debates that quickly fall into dueling appeals to authority.  She is focusing here on overt politics, but subtler pressure and signalling are important as well.  For example, since "believing" in climate alarmism in many circles is equated with a sort of positive morality (and being skeptical of such findings equated with being a bad person) there is an underlying peer pressure that is different from overt politics but just as damaging to scientific rigor.  Here is an example from the comments at Judith Curry's blog discussing research on climate sensitivity (which is the temperature response predicted if atmospheric levels of CO2 double).

While many estimates have been made, the consensus value often used is ~3°C. Like the porridge in “The Three Bears”, this value is just right – not so great as to lack credibility, and not so small as to seem benign.

Huybers (2010) showed that the treatment of clouds was the “principal source of uncertainty in models”. Indeed, his Table I shows that whereas the response of the climate system to clouds by various models varied from 0.04 to 0.37 (a wide spread), the variation of net feedback from clouds varied only from 0.49 to 0.73 (a much narrower relative range). He then examined several possible sources of compensation between climate sensitivity and radiative forcing. He concluded:

“Model conditioning need not be restricted to calibration of parameters against observations, but could also include more nebulous adjustment of parameters, for example, to fit expectations, maintain accepted conventions, or increase accord with other model results. These more nebulous adjustments are referred to as ‘tuning’.”  He suggested that one example of possible tuning is that “reported values of climate sensitivity are anchored near the 3±1.5°C range initially suggested by the ad hoc study group on carbon dioxide and climate (1979) and that these were not changed because of a lack of compelling reason to do so”.

Huybers (2010) went on to say:

“More recently reported values of climate sensitivity have not deviated substantially. The implication is that the reported values of climate sensitivity are, in a sense, tuned to maintain accepted convention.”

Translated into simple terms, the implication is that climate modelers have been heavily influenced by the early (1979) estimate that doubling of CO2 from pre-industrial levels would raise global temperatures 3±1.5°C. Modelers have chosen to compensate their widely varying estimates of climate sensitivity by adopting cloud feedback values countering the effect of climate sensitivity, thus keeping the final estimate of temperature rise due to doubling within limits preset in their minds.

There is a LOT of bad behavior out there by models.  I know that to be true because I used to be a modeler myself.  What laymen do not understand is that it is way too easy to tune and tweak and plug models to get a preconceived answer -- and the more complex the model, the easier this is to do in a non-transparent way.  Here is one example, related again to climate sensitivity

When I looked at historic temperature and CO2 levels, it was impossible for me to see how they could be in any way consistent with the high climate sensitivities that were coming out of the IPCC models.  Even if all past warming were attributed to CO2  (a heroic assertion in and of itself) the temperature increases we have seen in the past imply a climate sensitivity closer to 1 rather than 3 or 5 or even 10  (I show this analysis in more depth in this video).

My skepticism was increased when several skeptics pointed out a problem that should have been obvious.  The ten or twelve IPCC climate models all had very different climate sensitivities — how, if they have different climate sensitivities, do they all nearly exactly model past temperatures?  If each embodies a correct model of the climate, and each has a different climate sensitivity, only one (at most) should replicate observed data.  But they all do.  It is like someone saying she has ten clocks all showing a different time but asserting that all are correct (or worse, as the IPCC does, claiming that the average must be the right time).

The answer to this paradox came in a 2007 study by climate modeler Jeffrey Kiehl.  To understand his findings, we need to understand a bit of background on aerosols.  Aerosols are man-made pollutants, mainly combustion products, that are thought to have the effect of cooling the Earth’s climate.

What Kiehl demonstrated was that these aerosols are likely the answer to my old question about how models with high sensitivities are able to accurately model historic temperatures.  When simulating history, scientists add aerosols to their high-sensitivity models in sufficient quantities to cool them to match historic temperatures.  Then, since such aerosols are much easier to eliminate as combustion products than is CO2, they assume these aerosols go away in the future, allowing their models to produce enormous amounts of future warming.

Specifically, when he looked at the climate models used by the IPCC, Kiehl found they all used very different assumptions for aerosol cooling and, most significantly, he found that each of these varying assumptions were exactly what was required to combine with that model’s unique sensitivity assumptions to reproduce historical temperatures.  In my terminology, aerosol cooling was the plug variable.

By the way, this aerosol issue is central to recent work that is pointing to a much lower climate sensitivity to CO2 than has been reported in past IPCC reports.

The Real Issue in Climate

I know I hammer this home constantly, but it is often worth a reminder.  The issue in the scientific debate over catastrophic man-made global warming theory is not whether CO2 is a greenhouse gas, or even the approximate magnitude of warming from CO2 directly, but around feedbacks.   Patrick Moore, Greenpeace founder, said it very well:

What most people don't realize, partly because the media never explains it, is that there is no dispute over whether CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and all else being equal would result in a warming of the climate. The fundamental dispute is about water in the atmosphere, either in the form of water vapour (a gas) or clouds (water in liquid form). It is generally accepted that a warmer climate will result in more water evaporating from the land and sea and therefore resulting in a higher level of water in the atmosphere, partly because the warmer the air is the more water it can hold. All of the models used by the IPCC assume that this increase in water vapour will result in a positive feedback in the order of 3-4 times the increase in temperature that would be caused by the increase in CO2 alone.

Many scientists do not agree with this, or do not agree that we know enough about the impact of increased water to predict the outcome. Some scientists believe increased water will have a negative feedback instead, due to increased cloud cover. It all depends on how much, and a t what altitudes, latitudes and times of day that water is in the form of a gas (vapour) or a liquid (clouds). So if  a certain increase in CO2 would theoretically cause a 1.0C increase in temperature, then if water caused a 3-4 times positive feedback the temperature would actually increase by 3-4C. This is why the warming predicted by the models is so large. Whereas if there was a negative feedback of 0.5 times then the temperature would only rise 0.5C.

My slightly lengthier discussions of this same issue are here and here.

A Vivid Reminder of How The Climate Debate is Broken

My Forbes column is up this week.  I really did not want to write about climate, but when Forbes conctributor Steve Zwick wrote this, I had to respond

We know who the active denialists are – not the people who buy the lies, mind you, but the people who create the lies.  Let’s start keeping track of them now, and when the famines come, let’s make them pay.  Let’s let their houses burn.  Let’s swap their safe land for submerged islands.  Let’s force them to bear the cost of rising food prices.

They broke the climate.  Why should the rest of us have to pay for it?

The bizarre threats and ad hominem attacks have to stop.  Real debate is necessary based on an assumption that our opponents may be wrong, but are still people of good will.  And we need to debate what really freaking matters:

Instead of screwing around in the media trying to assign blame for the recent US heat wave to CO2 and threatening to burn down the houses of those who disagree with us, we should be arguing about what matters.  And the main scientific issue that really matters is understanding climate feedback.  I won't repeat all of the previous posts (see here and here), but this is worth repeating:

Direct warming from the greenhouse gas effect of CO2 does not create a catastrophe, and at most, according to the IPCC, might warm the Earth another degree over the next century.  The catastrophe comes from the assumption that there are large net positive feedbacks in the climate system that multiply a small initial warming from CO2 many times.  It is this assumption that positive feedbacks dominate over negative feedbacks that creates the catastrophe.  It is telling that when prominent supporters of the catastrophic theory argue the science is settled, they always want to talk about the greenhouse gas effect (which most of us skeptics accept), NOT the positive feedback assumption.  The assumption of net positive climate feedback is not at all settled -- in fact there is as much evidence the feedback is net negative as net positive -- which may be why catastrophic theory supporters seldom if ever mention this aspect of the science in the media.

I said I would offer a counter-proposal to Mr. Zwick's that skeptics bear the costs of climate change.  I am ready to step up to the cost of any future man-made climate change if Mr. Zwick is ready to write a check for the lost economic activity and increased poverty caused by his proposals.  We are at an exciting point in history where a billion people, or more, in Asia and Africa and Latin America are at the cusp of emerging from millenia of poverty.  To do so, they need to burn every fossil fuel they can get their hands on, not be forced to use rich people's toys like wind and solar.  I am happy to trade my home for an imaginary one that Zwick thinks will be under water.  Not only is this a great way to upgrade to some oceanfront property, but I am fully confident the crazy Al Gore sea level rise predictions are a chimera, since sea levels have been rising at a fairly constant rate since the end of the little ice age..  In return, perhaps Mr. Zwick can trade his job for one in Asia that disappears when he closes the tap on fossil fuels?

I encourage you to read it all, including an appearance by the summer of the shark.

The Facebook Conundrum

Here is my business problem:

On the positive side for Facebook, it is the only platform we have tried, from static web pages to blogs to Google to whatever, where we really get a good real-time interaction going with our campground customers.  Its an easy platform for them to ask questions, provide feedback, and upload useful content about the campground (from pictures to reviews to videos).  Many of my older employees are flummoxed by even the simplest computer tasks (I have had folks it has taken days of effort to teach how to get into their corporate Gmail account) but it is relatively easy to learn how to add an update or answer a query on a Facebook page  (and by "page" I mean the corporate or business pages like this one here:  http://www.facebook.com/RockCreekCanyon, not one's individual page).

But here is the problem:  The Facebook staff changes FB's layout and user interface faster than a sugar-overloaded ADD 7-year-old gets tired of a new toy.  I swear they have no reason for some of the changes other than "we're kind of bored with the user interface staying the same more than 3 months and some junior guy coded this timeline thing so let's make him feel good and put it up".

The shifting user interface is a training nightmare for my non-computer savvy managers.  What used to be tabs across the top are now text links on the left.  The Page admin panel changes almost every time I log on.  And don't even get me started on the simply stupid dueling column format of the new pages, or the fact that useless information like number of people who liked the site in a given month take up enormous amounts of the timeline's real estate now.  Just look at the page I linked above.  For the first 2-3 scrolls, the right hand column is different data than the left column, but then suddenly it becomes an alternating home for data that at the top only showed up on the left.    I am told that I can now pin a status update to the top, which will be nice, but at the cost of losing the custom landing page we used to have.

And woe be to he who actually develops for the platform, because he may soon find out that it all became wasted effort at the next over-caffeinated random user interface change.  I just did a tiny, minor bit of coding (less than a few hours) that takes my page administrators' status updates and posts them as a news feed on our web site  (ie here for the FB page above).  I could do more interesting things but I have absolutely no confidence that, for example, the FB page RSS feed I used will still be supported tomorrow.

Warning: Crimes Against Humanity May Be Found Here

According not to some random weird dude found on a campus in California, but to the head of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, I am guilty of crimes against humanity for questioning whether the world's climate system is really dominated by strong positive feedback

One of the world’s most widely respected climatologists, James Hansen, director of NASA-GISS, which focuses on the study of earth’s climate for the space agency, testified to Congress in 2008 that the CEOs of fossil fuel companies (who, according to various professional reporting have been promoting this and other misleading messages about global warming in conjunction with ideological groups trying to prevent government regulation) “knew what they were doing” and, as stated in his written testimony to Congress in 2008, were guilty of “high crimes against humanity and nature.”

Hansen tells ABC News — in a phone call from the U.K. where he’s been traveling — that he used that highly charged phrase, crime against humanity, “not only for dramatic effect, but also because it is accurate, given the enormous scale of the consequences to humanity” if manmade global warming is not somehow stopped and reversed.

“It wasn’t only aimed at the fossil fuel CEOs,” Hansen added on the phone. “This also applies to politicians who pretend the global warming is not manmade.”....

“Crimes Against Humanity” is a category of culpability that found currency in the last century as a label for such atrocities as genocide, including the Nazi Holocaust.

This is a grave accusation, laden with great emotion, but it has not been made lightly — rather with extensive study and forethought.

You have been warned.

Climate Bait and Switch

Cross posted from Climate Skeptic

This quote from Michael Mann [of Hockey Stick fame] is a great example of two common rhetorical tactics of climate alarmists:

And so I think we have to get away from this idea that in matters of science, it's, you know, that we should treat discussions of climate change as if there are two equal sides, like we often do in the political discourse. In matters of science, there is an equal merit to those who are denying the reality of climate change who area few marginal individuals largely affiliated with special interests versus the, you know, thousands of scientists around the world. U.S. National Academy of Sciences founded by Abraham Lincoln back in the 19th century, all the national academies of all of the major industrial nations around the world have all gone on record as stating clearly that humans are warming the planet and changing the climate through our continued burning of fossil fuels.

Here are the two tactics at play here:

  1. He is attempting to marginalize skeptics so that debating their criticisms is not necessary.  He argues that skeptics are not people of goodwill; or that they say what they say because they are paid by nefarious interests to do so; or that they are vastly outnumbered by real scientists ("real" being defined as those who agree with Dr. Mann).  This is an oddly self-defeating argument, though the media never calls folks like Mann on it.  If skeptics' arguments are indeed so threadbare, then one would imagine that throwing as much sunlight on them as possible would reveal their bankruptcy to everyone, but instead most alarmists are begging the media, as in this quote, to bury and hide skeptics' arguments.  I LOVE to debate people when I know I am right, and have pre-debate trepidation only when I know my position to be weak.
  2. There is an enormous bait and switch going on in the last sentence.  Note the proposition is stated as "humans are warming the planet and changing the climate through our continued burning of fossil fuels."  I, and many other skeptics, don't doubt the first part and would quibble with the second only because so much poor science occurs in attributing specific instances of climate change to human action.  What most skeptics disagree with is an entirely different proposition, that humans are warming the planet to catastrophic levels that justify immensely expensive and coercive government actions to correct.  Skeptics generally accept a degree or so of warming from each doubling of CO2 concentrations but reject the separate theory that the climate is dominated by positive feedback effects that multiple this warming 3x or more.   Mann would never be caught dead in public trying to debate this second theory of positive feedback, despite the fact that most of the warming in IPCC forecasts is from this second theory, because it is FAR from settled.  Again, the media is either uninterested or intellectually unable to call him on this.
I explained the latter points in much more detail at Forbes.com

Raise the Payroll Tax

Yesterday, Congress agreed to extend the payroll tax reductions for another period of time.  I have been thinking about this for a while, and I am slowly coming to the conclusion these taxes should be raised.  I am still thinking this through so I welcome feedback.

I don't think I have to convince regular readers of this site that I am against government-run and mandated-for-all retirement funds (income via Social Security, medical via Medicare).  But if we are going to have such programs, and maintain the pretense that they are insurance programs and not welfare/transfer programs, then the "premiums" we are forced to pay should reflect true costs.

I don't think Medicare premiums are covering anywhere near the actuarial-expected costs of one's future medical care.  And while Social Security rates may be set correctly if trust funds were truly held securely, the fact of the matter is that past Social Security premiums that were paid to support future benefits have all been spent by a corrupt Congress.  Rates are going to have to be raised to replace this theft.

I don't like raising taxes.  I wish these two programs would go away or else be restructured drastically.  If they exist, though, there is nothing more dangerous than an incorrect price.  Prices help consumers make price-value tradeoffs -- the Keanu Reeves lifetime DVD collection may be a deal at $6.99 but not at $99.99.  So charging the wrong prices for these programs not only royally screws up the government's finances, but it also misleads Americans about the value of these programs in comparison to what they pay for them.

I Don't Think This is Settled

For those who have read my climate work or seen the video, the key question in climate science revolves around the feedback effects in the climate system to Co2 warming.

Skeptics, like alarmists, generally agree that a doubling of Co2 concentrations might warm the Earth about a degree Celsius, absent any other effects.  But we can imagine all sorts of feedback effects, the most important of which are in water vapor and cloud formation.  Warming that forms more clouds might have negative feedback, as clouds offset some of the warming.  Warming that increases humidity could lead to more warming, as water vapor is a strong greenhouse gas.

The difference, then, between minor warming and catastrophe is in the feedbacks, and most importantly in clouds and water vapor.  All the research the government is funding on whether warming will cause sterility in tree frogs is tangential to this key question.

And this question is far from decided.  I won't get into all the arguments here, but to the extent there is any consensus, it is that man' CO2 is probably causing some warming.  Whether this is a catastrophe or a nuisance depends on feedbacks which are not well understood.

This week there has been a lot of interesting back and forth over a paper by Roy Spencer several months ago arguing that cloud feedback was negative and would serve to limit the total amount of man-made warming.  Just how central this issue is can be seen in the fuss this paper has caused, including editors forced to resign for even daring to publish such heresy, and the speed with which a counter-paper flew through peer review.

I won't get into the depths of this, except to show two charts.  The first is from Dessler in the alarmist camp, the second is the same chart but using a different data series.  I won't explain the axes,  just trust the relationship between these two variables is key to diagnosing the size and direction of feedback.

So we get opposite results (the slope of the regression) simply by using temperature and radiative flux data from to different agencies.  And note how thin the fit is in both -- basically drawing a line through a cloud.  Neither of these likely has an R-squared higher than about .05.

So there you have it, the most important question in climate - really, the only important question associated with anthropogenic global warming.  Settled science, indeed.

Pretty Brazen, Even for a Politician

I have often described this statist feedback loop:

  • Create government program
  • Government programs messes up certain aspects of the market
  • Blame such messes on "failure of markets" or capitalism or even the rich, rather than the government program
  • Create new government program to fix problem created by last program
  • Repeat

Obama's new political strategy seems to be even more brazen

  • Democrats pass new program over Republican objections
  • New program has unseemly subsidies for rich people
  • Blame subsidies on Republicans, to the point of using subsidies as example of bankruptcy of Republican party

Specifically, tax breaks for corporate jets:

The chief economic culprit of President Obama’s Wednesday press conference was undoubtedly “corporate jets.” He mentioned them on at least six occasions, each time offering their owners as an example of a group that should be paying more in taxes.

“I think it’s only fair to ask an oil company or a corporate jet owner that has done so well,” the president stated at one point, “to give up that tax break that no other business enjoys.”

But the corporate jet tax break to which Obama was referring – called “accelerated depreciation,” and a popular Democratic foil of late – was created by his own stimulus package.

Which is not to say that the losers in the Republican party would not likely have supported the same plan had it been their idea.

By the way, this is nearly exactly what Obama has been doing with those so-called special subsidies for oil companies.  This subsidies are in fact the identical tax breaks that all manufacturers receive that allow them to accelerate expensing of capital investment.  This is a tax policy that has enjoyed bipartisan support and no one is suggesting should be eliminated in general -- just eliminated for industries that have bad PR.

Climate Feedback

Take all the psuedo-quasi-scientific stuff you read in the media about global warming.  Of all that mess, it turns out there is really only one scientific question that really matters on the topic of man-made global warming: Feedback.

While the climate models are complex, and the actual climate even, err, complexer, we can shortcut the reaction of global temperatures to CO2 to a single figure called climate sensitivity.  How many degrees of warming should the world expect for each doubling of CO2 concentrations  (the relationship is logarithmic, so that is why sensitivity is based on doublings, rather than absolute increases -- an increase of CO2 from 280 to 290 ppm should have a higher impact on temperatures than the increase from, say, 380 to 390 ppm).

The IPCC reached a climate sensitivity to CO2 of about 3C per doubling.  More popular (at least in the media) catastrophic forecasts range from 5C on up to about any number you can imagine, way past any range one might consider reasonable.

But here is the key fact -- Most folks, including the IPCC, believe the warming sensitivity from CO2 alone (before feedbacks) is around 1C or a bit higher (arch-alarmist Michael Mann did the research the IPCC relied on for this figure).  All the rest of the sensitivity between this 1C and 3C or 5C or whatever the forecast is comes from feedbacks (e.g. hotter weather melts ice, which causes less sunlight to be reflected, which warms the world more).  Feedbacks, by the way can be negative as well, acting to reduce the warming effect.  In fact, most feedbacks in our physical world are negative, but alarmist climate scientists tend to assume very high positive feedbacks.

What this means is that 70-80% or more of the warming in catastrophic warming forecasts comes from feedback, not CO2 acting alone.   If it turns out that feedbacks are not wildly positive, or even are negative, then the climate sensitivity is 1C or less, and we likely will see little warming over the next century due to man.

This means that the only really important question in the manmade global warming debate is the sign and magnitude of feedbacks.  And how much of this have you seen in the media?  About zero?  Nearly 100% of what you see in the media is not only so much bullshit (like whether global warming is causing the cold weather this year) but it is also irrelevant.  Entirely tangential to the core question.  Its all so much magician handwaving trying to hide what is going on, or in this case not going on, with the other hand.

To this end, Dr. Roy Spencer has a nice update.  Parts are a bit dense, but the first half explains this feedback question in layman's terms.  The second half shows some attempts to quantify feedback.  His message is basically that no one knows even the sign and much less the magnitude of feedback, but the empirical data we are starting to see (which has admitted flaws) points to negative rather than positive feedback, at least in the short term.  His analysis looks at the change in radiative heat transfer in and out of the earth as measured by satellites around transient peaks in ocean temperatures (oceans are the world's temperature flywheel -- most of the Earth's surface heat content is in the oceans).

Read it all, but this is an interesting note:

In fact, NO ONE HAS YET FOUND A WAY WITH OBSERVATIONAL DATA TO TEST CLIMATE MODEL SENSITIVITY. This means we have no idea which of the climate models projections are more likely to come true.

This dirty little secret of the climate modeling community is seldom mentioned outside the community. Don’t tell anyone I told you.

This is why climate researchers talk about probable ranges of climate sensitivity. Whatever that means!…there is no statistical probability involved with one-of-a-kind events like global warming!

There is HUGE uncertainty on this issue. And I will continue to contend that this uncertainty is a DIRECT RESULT of researchers not distinguishing between cause and effect when analyzing data.

If you find this topic interesting, I recommend my video and/or powerpoint presentation to you.

New Year's Resolution

In my column this week at Forbes, I discuss my New Year's Resolution, which has not changed over several decades, and how it helped me this year to solve some difficult philosophical issues regarding my business.

Almost exactly thirty years ago, I read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, probably the single most influential book I have read in my lifetime.  Before I read it, I was on a path to becoming a traditional Conservative in the mold of my parents, and in retrospect my thinking on a lot of issues was quite muddled.

I am no longer the exclusive Rand fanboy I was back in college, if for no other reason than I have since found many authors who come at the topic of capitalism and freedom from many different angles, but Rand was certainly my gateway drug to liberty.

Like many people, around the new year I set various goals for myself over the coming year.  Some I have achieved (e.g. getting myself out of corporate America and into my own business) and on some I have fallen short (e.g. learning to play the guitar).  But every year I have renewed just one resolution, which I took from Atlas Shrugged.  It is

I swear"“by my life and my love of it"“that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.

I then discuss this resolution in the context of approaches my business has had this year from lobbyists.  I discuss how lobbyists have approached me about an effort to make some tweaks to the health care law (it is particularly punitive to our labor model where we hire seniors part time and seasonally) as well as efforts to promote privatization of recreation (my business) and to help me obtain new contracts.    The article has much more discussion about details, but my resolution for a lobbying policy turned out as follows, in a rough parallel to the resolution above:

"We will use lobbyists to defend ourselves when the government is trying to gut us like a fish, but we will attempt to do so with generic amendments rather than through special exemptions for our company alone.  We will not use lobbyists to create new business opportunities, even when the legislation to do so is consistent with our principals."

By the way, I actually sent notes to several readers out there (you know who you are) asking them their opinions on some of the ethical issues I saw in these issues, and I appreciate the feedback from all of you.

Happy new year to all of you.

The Power to Say "Yes"

Bruce McQuain tells some stories of bureaucratic frustration in the Gulf, as local governors trying to protect their state from the spill fights against a myriad of mindless bureaucracies.

The governor said the problem is there's still no single person giving a "yes" or "no." While the Gulf Coast governors have developed plans with the Coast Guard's command center in the Gulf, things begin to shift when other agencies start weighing in, like the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "It's like this huge committee down there," Riley said, "and every decision that we try to implement, any one person on that committee has absolute veto power."

I would state the problem differently.  In the Federal bureaucracy, seemingly everyone has the power to say "no," and absolutely no one is willing to risk their career or even a minor bureaucratic sanction to over-rule when someone else in the room says "no."  I have seen it a hundred times in my business -- we will be close to doing something for the public, building a new shower building in a campground for example, and some government employee in the room will say that their sister's gynecologist's barber's housekeeper once overheard a conversation in a bar that some guy who may have visited a university once said he had heard a rumor that there might have been a Native American settlement somewhere within 100 miles of that spot 10,000 years ago -- and suddenly the work on the shower has to stop for 6 months while we all run around calling in archeologists and taking this concern seriously.

The problem  in a government discussion, particularly a multi-agency discussion, is that EVERYONE can say "no," and worse, since their incentives are loaded towards risk avoidance (they get punished for violating procedure, but never punished for missing an opportunity), they have a tendency to say "no" a lot, in fact to say "no" by default.  In the Gulf you have a thousand federal employees from 20 agencies whose entire incentive system, whose entire career, whose every lesson from every bureaucratic battle in a sort of long-term aversion therapy, prompts them to say "no" by reflex.

What is missing is someone who can say "yes," and make it stick against all the no's.  That does not have to be Obama -- but it probably does have to be someone very senior who knows (and who everyone else knows) is backed to the hilt by the President and has an incentive system where the only measure of success is more or less oil damage, and thus for whom aggrieved bureaucrats (even senior ones) and petty procedure are irrelevant.  It does not appear such a person has been appointed.

Postscript: By the way, I don't want folks to fall into the trap of thinking that these government folks are necessarily bad people.  I think that is a mistake both conservatives and liberals make -- conservatives vilify government employees, while liberals want to believe that government would work right if we just had the right people in it.   I work with a lot of very bright, very good people in government.  The problem is that their incentives and information are awful.  How would you behave if for 20 years your main feedback was to be criticized for violating minor procedures or trying new things?  How would you have any understanding of business if you grew up in the bizarro world of government budgeting and accounting?   This is the problem with government - not that it is full of bad stupid people, but it takes good smart people and incentivizes them do counter-productive things.

Update: Here is a great example, from Kevin Drum, who is a smart guy but can't do anything but dither in a decision among multiple risks:

It's pretty hard to take the other side of this argument [ie defending the Coast Guard's decision to hold up the GUlf cleanup barges for minor rules violations]. But I wonder. We are, after all, talking about barges that are sucking up oil, and the last time I checked oil was pretty damn flammable. Everyone wants the cleanup operation to proceed with breakneck speed, but that's exactly when people get tired and sloppy. And I wonder what everyone would think of the Coast Guard's ridiculous rules if they waived them and then some boat went up in a huge fireball because a spark caught somewhere and no one had a fire extinguisher handy?

I will say again - I have been in many rooms of bureaucrats, both federal and private, and they all think this way.  These rooms are full of Kevin Drum's wondering out loud, "I don't know, what happens if..."  This is such a common phrase in these meetings I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard it.  Then everyone in the room defers to this hypothetical risk.   Bureaucrats are always more worried about sins of commission  (e.g. knowingly allowing a barge to go out without enough fire extinguishers in violation of guidelines) than the sin of omission (e.g. delay will allow the spill to get worse).  Even when the omission is 100% certainty and the danger from the act of commission is vaguely hypothetical.  It takes a leader to say "send the damn barges out now."

Why the Historical Warming Numbers Matter

First, let's settle something.  The world has warmed since 1850.  While there always is an error bar on nearly every statement about nature, I think there is little point in questioning this past warming.  There is ice core data that suggests that the little ice age, which ended some time in the very early 19th century, was perhaps the coldest period, or one of the two or three coldest periods, in the last 5000 years (ie in nearly the entire span of human civilization).  Temperatures are inevitably warming from this low point.(*1)

So, if the point is not to deny warming altogether, what is the point in discussions of Climategate of picking over and trying to audit historical temperature records like the Hadley CRUT3 or NASA's GISStemp?  Skeptics often argue that much of the warming is due to bogus manual adjustments in the temperature records and biases such as urban warming.  Alarmists argue that the metrics may understate warming because of masking by manmade anthropogenic cooling agents (e.g. sulfate aerosols).  Why bother?  Why does it matter if past warming is 0.6C or 0.8C or 0.3C?  There are at least two reasons.

1.  The slope of recent temperature increases is used as evidence for the anthropogenic theory.

We know greenhouse gasses like CO2 have a warming effect in the lab.  And we know that overall they warm planets because otherwise ours would be colder.  But how much does an incremental amount of CO2 (a relatively weak greenhouse gas) warm the Earth?  A lot or a little?  Is the sensitivity of the climate to CO2 high or low?

Every time I try to express this, it sounds so ridiculous that people think I must have it wrong.  But the main argument supporting a high climate sensitivity to CO2 is that scientists claim to have looked at past warming, particularly from 1950-2000, and they can't think of any natural cause that could behind it, which leaves CO2 by process of elimination.  Yeah, I know this seems crazy - one wants to ask if this is really a test for CO2 sensitivity or of scientists' understanding and imagination, but there you have it.

Now, they don't always say it this directly.  What they actually say is that they ran their climate models and their climate models could not produce the warming from 1950-2000 with natural forcings alone, but could reproduce this warming with forcings from CO2.  But since the climate models are not handed down from the gods, but programmed by the scientists themselves to represent their own understanding of the climate system, in effect this is just a different way of saying what I said in the previous paragraph.   The climate models perform the function of scientific money laundering, taking an imperfect knowledge on the front end and somehow converting that into settled science at the output.

Now, there are a lot of ways to criticize this approach.  The models tend to leave out multi-decadal ocean cycles and don't really understand cloud formation well.  Further, the period from 1957-2008, which supposedly can only be explained by non-natural forcings, has almost the exact same temperature profile and increase as the time from 1895-1946, which of necessity must be mostly "natural."  I go into this more here, among other places.

But you can see that the amount of warming matters to this argument.  The more the warming falls into a documented natural range of temperature variation, the harder it is to portray it as requiring man-made forcings to explain.  This is also the exact same reason alarmist scientists work so hard to eliminate the Medieval Warm Period and little ice age from the temperature record.  Again, the goal is to show that natural variation is in a very narrow range, and deviations from this narrow range must therefore be man-made. (*2)

This is the sort of unified field theory of everything we are seeing in the CRU emails.   We see scientists using every trick they can find to lower or smooth out temperatures numbers before 1950, and adjust numbers after 1950 upwards.  Every single trick and programming adjustment all tended to have this effect, whether it be in proxy studies or in the instrumental record.  And all the efforts to prevent scrutiny, ignore FOIA's, and throw out raw data have been to avoid third party replication of the statistical methods and adjustments they used to achieve these ends.

As an aside, I think it is incorrect to picture this as a SPECTRE-like cabal scheming to do evil.   These guys really, really believed they had the right answer, and these adjustments were made to tease out what they just knew the right answer to be.  This is why we are only going to see confused looks from any of these guys - they really, really believed they were doing God's work.  They are never going to understand what they did wrong.  Which doesn't make it any less bad science, but just emphasizes that we are never going to get data without spin until total sunlight is brought to this process

2.  It is already really hard to justify the huge sensitivities in alarmist forecasts based on past warming -- if past warming is lower, forecasts look even more absurd.

The best way to illustrate this is with a few charts from my most recent climate presentation and video.  We usually see warming forecasts by year.  But the real relationship is between warming and CO2 concentration (this relationship is called climate sensitivity).   One can graph forecasts at various levels:

Slide57

The blue line corresponds to the IPCC no-feedback formula that I think originally goes back to Michael Mann, and yields about 1-1.2C of warming for greenhouse gas warming from CO2 before feedback effects.  The middle two lines correspond to the IPCC mid and high forecasts, and the top line corresponds to more alarmist forecasts from folks like Joe Romm who predict as much as 8-10C of warming by 2100 (when we will be at 650-800ppm CO2 per the IPCC).  By the way, the IPCC does not publish the lines above the blue line, so I have taken the formula they give for the blue line and scaled it to meet their end points.  I think this is reasonable.

A couple of things - all climate models assume net positive feedback, what skeptics consider the key flaw in catastrophic global warming theory.  In fact, most of the catastrophe comes not from global warming theory, but by this second theory that the Earth's temperature system is dominated by very high positive feedback.  I illustrate this here.  The blue line is from CO2 greenhouse gas warming.  Everything above it is from the multiplier effects of assumed feedbacks.

Slide21

I won't go into the feedback issue much now - search my site for positive feedback or else watch my video for much more.  Suffice it to say that skeptics consider the feedback issue the key failure point in catastrophic forecasts.

Anyway, beyond arguing about feedbacks, there is another way to test these forecasts.   Relationships that hold for CO2 and warming in the future must hold in the past (same Earth).  So lets just project these lines backwards to the CO2 level in the late 19th century.

Slide61

Can you see the issue?  When projected back to pre-industrial CO2 levels, these future forecasts imply that we should have seen 2,3,4 or more degrees of warming over the last century, and even the flawed surface temperature records we are discussing with a number of upwards biases and questionable adjustments only shows about 0.6C.

Sure, there are some time delay issues, probably 10-15 years, as well as some potential anthropogenic cooling from aerosols, but none of this closes these tremendous gaps.  Even with an exaggerated temperature history, only the no feedback 1C per century case is really validated by history.  And, if one assumes the actual warming is less than 0.6C, and only a part of that is from anthropogenic CO2, then the actual warming forecast justified is one of negative feedback, showing less than 1C per century warming from manmade CO2 -- which is EXACTLY the case that most skeptics make.

Those who control the past control the future. Those who control the present control the past.- George Orwell

Footnotes:

(1) More than once I have contemplated how much the fact that the invention of the thermometer occurred at perhaps the coldest point in human memory (early 17th century)  has contributed to the perceptions of current warm weather being unusual.

(2) For those who are on the ball, perhaps you can spot an amazing disconnect here.  Scientists claim that the natural variation of temperatures is in a very narrow band, that they never move even 0.2C per decade by natural means.  But they also say that the Earth's temperature system is dominated by positive feedback, meaning that very very small changes in forcings are magnified many fold in to large temperature changes.  I won't go in to it in depth from a systems perspective, but trust me that "high stability in a narrow range" and "dominated by high positive feedback" are not very compatible descriptions of a system.

Climate Updates

Believe it or not, I am not going to update on the CRU emails.  The insights into the science process are illuminating, and confirm much that we have suspected, but faults in transparency do not automatically win the game -- they lead to [hopefully] future transparency which then allows for better criticism and/or replication of the work.

My frustration today is a recent article in Scientific American [with the lofty academic title "Seven Answers to Climate Contrarian Nonsense"] which purports to shoot down the seven key skeptics arguments.  Many others have shown how the author does not do a very good job of shooting down these seven, but that is not my main frustration.  The problem is that, like many of the global warming myth buster articles like this, the author completely fails to address the best, core arguments of skeptics, preferring to snipe around at easier prey at the margins.

In this post, I discuss his article and suggest 7 better propositions alarmists should, but never do, address.

You can see discussion of all of these in my recent lecture, on video here.

Don't have 90 minutes?  Richard Lindzen of MIT has a great summary in the WSJ that mirrors a lot of what I delve into in my video.

Here are my seven alternative skeptics' claims I would like to see addressed:

Claim A: Nearly every scientist, skeptic and alarmist alike, agree that the first order warming from CO2 is small.  Catastrophic forecasts that demand immediate government action are based on a second theory that the climate temperature system is dominated by positive feedback.  There is little understanding of these feedbacks, at least in their net effect, and no basis for assuming feedbacks in a long-term stable system are strongly net positive.   As a note, the claim is that the net feedbacks are not positive, so demonstration of single one-off positive feedbacks, like ice albedo, are not sufficient to disprove this claim.  In particular, the role of the water cycle and cloud formation are very much in dispute.

Claim B: At no point have climate scientists ever reconciled the claims of the dendroclimatologists like Michael Mann that world temperatures were incredibly stable for thousands of years before man burned fossil fuels with the claim that the climate system is driven by very high net positive feedbacks.   There is nothing in the feedback assumptions that applies uniquely to CO2 forcing, so these feedbacks, if they exist today, should have existed in the past and almost certainly have made temperatures highly variable, if not unstable.

Claim C: On its face, the climate model assumptions (including high positive feedbacks) of substantial warming from small changes in CO2 are inconsistent with relatively modest past warming.  Scientists use what is essentially an arbitrary plug variable to handle this, assuming anthropogenic aerosols have historically masked what would be higher past warming levels.  The arbitrariness of the plug is obvious given that most models include a cooling effect of aerosols in direct proportion to their warming effect from CO2, two phenomenon that should not be linked in nature, but are linked if modelers are trying to force their climate models to balance.  Further, since aerosols are short lived and only cover about 10% of the globe's surface in any volume, nearly heroic levels of cooling effects must be assumed, since it takes 10C of cooling from the 10% area of effect to get 1C cooling in the global averages.

Claim D: The key issue is the effect of CO2 vs. other effects in the complex climate system.  We know CO2 causes some warming in a lab, but how much on the real earth?  The main evidence climate scientists have is that their climate models are unable to replicate the warming from 1975-1998 without the use of man-made CO2 -- in other words, they claim their models are unable to replicate the warming with natural factors alone.  But these models are not anywhere near good enough to be relied on for this conclusion, particularly since they admittedly leave out any number of natural factors, such as ocean cycles and longer term cycles like the one that drove the little ice age, and admit to not understanding many others, such as cloud formation.

Claim E: There are multiple alternate explanations for the 1975-1998 warming other than manmade CO2.  All likely contributed (along with CO2) but it there is no evidence to give most of the blame to Co2.  Other factors include ocean cycles (this corresponded to a PDO warm phase), the sun (this corresponded to the most intense period of the sun in the last 100 years), mankind's land use changes (driving both urban heating effects as well as rural changes with alterations in land use), and a continuing recovery from the Little Ice Age, perhaps the coldest period in the last 5000 years.

Claim F: Climate scientists claim that the .4-.5C warming from 1975-1998 cannot have been caused natural variations.  This has never been reconciled with the fact that the 0.6C warming from 1910 to 1940 was almost certainly due mostly to natural forces.  Also, the claim that natural forcings could not have caused a 0.2C per decade warming in the 80's and 90's cannot be reconciled with the the current claimed natural "masking" of anthropogenic warming  that must be on the order of 0.2C per decade.

Claim G: Climate scientists are embarrassing themselves in the use of the word "climate change."  First, the only mechanism ever expressed for CO2 to change climate is via warming.  If there is no warming, then CO2 can't be causing climate change by any mechanism anyone has ever suggested.   So saying that "climate change is accelerating" (just Google it) when warming has stopped is disingenuous, and a false marketing effort to try to keep the alarm ringing.  Second, the attempts by scientists who should know better to identify weather events at the tails of the normal distribution and claim that these are evidence of a shift in the mean of the distribution is ridiculous.  There are no long term US trends in droughts or wet weather, nor in global cyclonic activity, nor in US tornadoes.  But every drought, hurricane, flood, or tornado is cited as evidence of accelerating climate change (see my ppt slide deck for the data).  This is absurd.

Update on Joe Romm Oil Bet

I realize I did not comment on the Joe Romm oil price bet per se.  Here are two reasons I don't like the bet:

1.  Romm is making a catastrophic forecast (ie oil >$200) but wins his bet at $41, what one might consider a fairly normal current oil price.  This is very equivalent to Romm forecasting a 15F increase in world temperatures in the next century (which he has) but making a bet that he would win if temperatures go up by only 0.1F.  Clearly, a 0.1F increase over the next century would be considered by all a thorough repudiation of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming forecasts.  So why should he win the bet at this level?

2.  The bet, particularly in the next few years, has more to do with the current government's actions than Exxon's or Saudi Arabia's.  To bet that oil prices will stay low in nominal dollars, one must bet that Obama's deficits won't destroy the value of the dollar, that the Fed's expansionist monetary policy won't lead to inflation, that Congress won't pass some kind of legislative restrictions making oil production more expensive, and that the world won't sign a treaty to restrict carbon.  In short, Congress will have more effect in the near term on oil prices than flow rates in Saudi fields, and I am certainly not going to make a bet in favor of Congressional or Presidential restraint.

Postscript: Here is what you have to believe to accept Romm's 15F global warming forecast.   Here is how I opened that post.  It is interesting how similar the forecasting issues are:

For several years, there was an absolute spate of lawsuits charging sudden acceleration of a motor vehicle "” you probably saw such a story:  Some person claims they hardly touched the accelerator and the car leaped ahead at enormous speed and crashed into the house or the dog or telephone pole or whatever.  Many folks have been skeptical that cars were really subject to such positive feedback effects where small taps on the accelerator led to enormous speeds, particularly when almost all the plaintiffs in these cases turned out to be over 70 years old.  It seemed that a rational society might consider other causes than unexplained positive feedback, but there was too much money on the line to do so.

Many of you know that I consider questions around positive feedback in the climate system to be the key issue in global warming, the one that separates a nuisance from a catastrophe.  Is the Earth's climate similar to most other complex, long-term stable natural systems in that it is dominated by negative feedback effects that tend to damp perturbations?  Or is the Earth's climate an exception to most other physical processes, is it in fact dominated by positive feedback effects that, like the sudden acceleration in grandma's car, apparently rockets the car forward into the house with only the lightest tap of the accelerator?

So Why Does Joe Romm Even Bother With Cap and Trade?

Joe Romm of Climate Progress is a leading climate alarmist, telling the world that burning fossil fuels will increase CO2 concentrations by 0.04% of the atmosphere over the next century and thus destroy mankind.  As such, he is a supporter of the current cap-and-trade bill in Congress, whose purpose is to raise the price of fossil fuels (either directly as a tax or by restricting their supply) so that less will be used.

On a different but related topic, Joe Romm is also apparently a peak oil alarmist.  As I have written, I suspect real oil prices will rise steadily over the coming decades, but we aren't going to fall off some cliff and see a sudden hyperinflation of oil prices (temporary spikes are a different story).  He writes

The IEA's work makes clear that for oil to stay significantly below $200 a barrel (and U.S. gasoline to be significantly below $5 a gallon) by 2020 would take a miracle

I tend to doubt it, in part because I have seen so many very similar predictions ever since the mid-1970s, but I suppose some day someone will be right with one of these.   I wonder if there is some kind of psychological profile that causes people to see positive feedback-driven accelerating curves everywhere.

But here is my confusion -- he is absolutely convinced that oil is going up by $140 a barrel or more.  Let's look at this in the context of Co2.  The CBO estimates the clearing price for a ton of Co2 emissions under the current bill will be between $20-$30 a ton.  Since a barrel of oil creates about a third of a ton of CO2 emissions, this implies the cap and trade bill might increase the price of oil by $7-$10 per barrel.  But if Romm think oil is going up by natural market forces by $140+, why even bother?  Why not just put a tax on coal and be done with it?

I congratulate Mr. Romm, however.  If he is so sure of 2020 oil prices, there are all kinds of fabulous ways to become ridiculously wealthy with this knowledge.

Postscript:  There are two reasons why people have been making this same forecast for 30 years and have been wrong most of the time.

First, there is a very human tendency to assume current conditions and trends will go on forever.  Everyone is subject to this bias, even the smartest analysts.  Romm might argue that these are savvy, detail-oriented commodities analyst, but I only have to point to the recent behavior of savvy detail-oriented debt security analysts.

Second, analysts tend to apply current understandings of what technologies and substitutes are economic at $60 oil to a world where oil is priced at $160.  It just doesn't work that way.   The market for petroleum and its substitutes is enormously multi-variate and complex.  A $100 bump in prices will do things that are sometimes hard to predict in detail to the markets for exploration, new technologies, substitutes, conservation, etc.  But in all this complexity, the one thing we do know is that time and again, such changes have occurred quickly and decisively in response to rising oil prices, and have acted to mitigate and reverse price increases.

One ironic way of looking at it, since this is Joe Romm, is to say that there are negative feedbacks that cut in to slow and even reverse sharp rises in oil prices.  Romm seems to reject these negative feedbacks, in favor of a price model that rapidly accelerates.  This is all ironic, since this issue of negative vs. positive feedback is what separates climate alarmists like Romm from many climate skeptics like myself.

Get Bob Cratchitt to Do It

The Town of South Attleboro, MA sent out wildly threatening past due letters for folks with balances as low as 1-cent  (thereby investing at least 42 cents to get one back).  In response to charges that this was stupid, City Collector Debora Marcoccio responded:

A computer automatically printed the letters for any account with a balance remaining, and they were not reviewed by staff before being sent out, Marcoccio said.

"It would be fiscally irresponsible for me to have staff weed through the bills and pull out any below a certain amount," Marcoccio said. " And what would that amount be?"

What, are we living in the 19th century with clerks in a musty room preparing bills by hand?  This fix probably requires one whole entire line of program code in the billing system to fix.  I could probably teach myself to code whatever language the payroll system is written in (my guess is COBOL, which, god help me, I already know) in less time than this woman has spent fielding complaints and media inquiries.  Compare this to what TJIC has to do just to get the mail out.

And don't you love people who don't even have enough spine to make a simple decision about the cutoff for minimum bill size.  I have found this is one of those things the government is really, really bad at -- making decisions under uncertainty  (which covers about all decisions, except routine ones embodied in SOP).  Government has no incentives, in general, for productivity, or production, or customer satisfaction.  The only time government employees get feedback at all is when they get negative feedback from having someone yell at them for making a decision that some higher-up didn't like..  So if a decision is not justifiable either by past precedent/SOP or explicitly by the rules, it is not made.

By the way, I had a personal programming milestone last night.  I finally built a website without using a WYSIWIG editor that formatted the way I wanted it to all in CSS without a single table.  I predict that now that I have finally gotten a decent handle on CSS, which mainly consists of learning all the workarounds for when it doesn't work as you would expect, that someone is about to introduce a whole new system for formatting web pages.