Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Cat. Pigeons. Climate Change

Finally, I managed to get a letter into The Australian after many tries at arguing reasonably about the drivel that passes for debate about climate change that they publish on a regular basis.

It seems that polite doesn’t pay: strong words are what they are after. Could it be that the tactic many on the science side of the debate have been using of politely refuting the scientific inaccuracy of the other side is not the way to get editorial attention?

Here’s the letter and some responses to comments (since they don’t keep updating comments at the site).

DOUG Hurst (Letters, 26/6) tells us climate change isn’t always matched by changes in CO2. So what? No one claims that has to be the case except climate change deniers.

Every serious scientist working on climate science has absolutely no problem with acknowledging and taking into account a wide range of influences on climate. If Hurst wants anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions to have been an influence on climate in the 14th century, good luck to him in finding an industrial society with the capacity to pollute on the scale that is happening today.

The argument that mainstream climate science is somehow invalidated because there is more than one driver of climate is completely bogus, and it’s time you stopped wasting space reprinting the same drivel. Repeated stating of obviously stupid arguments does not increase their plausibility.

Now my responses to comments (you’ll have to go to the Letters site to see the names):

  • Perhaps rather than having written a romantic novel involving climate change, you could have written something factual – At least I know when I’m writing fiction (see sidebar, top right, for how to buy – thanks for the plug).
  • The colourful climate change theories promoted by Al Gore, Tim Flannery et al are at the heart of the dire “carbon pollution” predictions that drive and apparently sustain bogus academic careers and the political positions of many ... A good number of us simply don’t enjoy being lied to and manipulated, and especially not by politicians. – What’s your evidence? I’ve put a lot of time and effort into studying the case that the science is bogus, and all of the lies and trickery are on the other side.
  • Well surely then we are wasting a lot of effort on harnessing CO2 if it is not necessarily the cause? – It was not the cause of most climate variation in the past. That doesn’t mean it can’t be the cause today.
  • Which is why we need more broadcasting of the deep flaws in the agw hypothesis. – Let’s hear them then. All I hear is talking points that are stupefyingly easy to shoot down.
  • Thats just a bizarre statement! If there’s no link to CO2 and global warming then what the hell is the global warming industry on about with promoting a ETS? – I did not say that. I said that warming in the past was not caused by anthropogenic CO2 emissions. I did not say anthropogenic CO2 emissions are not causing warming now.
  • Last time I checked the latest IPCC report these factors such as cloud albedo affect, and affect of aerosols were listed as having a low level of scientific understanding. Given this represents a high degree of uncertainty in our knowledge of the affect of these other forcing agents (of about 1.8Wm-2 or 113% of the calculation net Anthropogenic forcing)) and the low levels of warming expected from increases in CO2, arguably the precautionary principal supports a do nothing, or do very little response, until these factors are better understood – the warming since pre-industrial times is sufficient to be sure that these effects are well enough understood to have confidence in modelled predictions.
  • The original theory is that emissions of man-made CO2 will cause global warming. That has not been proven. What evidence can you offer that the theory is correct? – A lot of scientific papers. But here’s one thing you can check yourself. If the sun is the sole driver of the climate then the temperature trend should closely track variations in solar output. That was true until the twentieth century when that relationship slowly changed. If you look at the last solar cycle, while it has been on a strong downward trend, temperatures have still been slowly increasing. The “paper” you point to at the Letters site claims: “If the climate feedbacks are as strongly positive as the ones programmed into the IPCC climate models...”. First, the IPCC does not do climate models; they report the work of others. Second, feedbacks are not built into these models. The feedbacks arise out of application of laws of physics and observational data. Calling people “warmists” assumes there is some sort of religion or political movement out there. There is not. There is the scientific mainstream, and there is a small group of dissenters, as in any mainstream field of science.
  • Are you seriously defending Lovelock’s Revenge of Gaia’s dire predictions or saying they’re within an acceptable range of accuracy – his claims are at the outer end of probability but not impossible, especially if we do not slow down on CO2 emissions. I do not agree with him that it’s too late to stop.
  • Science says that nothing happens by chance – try studying quantum physics.
  • That includes the theory that greenhouse gas is the prime cause – GHG is the prime human-controlled cause. No one says the solar cycle stopped when we started burning coal. It is this kind of argument that I claim is idiotic. Go and read the scientific literature, even IPCC reports (e.g. their report on attributing climate change) if you don’t have an academic library. Over the last 10 years, the solar cycle has turned to a strong cooling trend and that has not been reflected in the temperature trend. Tell me what else could have caused that.
  • Perhaps then you’d like to explain how your hypothesis fits the fact that the Late Ordovician Period was also an ice age, while at the same time CO2 concentrations at about 4400 ppm were nearly 12 times higher than they are today – No problem. First, the continental configuration was so different to today’s that you have to be careful to make comparisons (this was over 400-million years ago). Bearing that in mind, an increase of 15 times in CO2 levels is a bit less that 4 doublings, call that a 12°C increase. That increase is over whatever temperature you started with. With a large land mass over the south pole in this era, the conditions existed for a very big temperature drop as compared with today. The high CO2 level reduced that temperature drop. The sun was also weaker then. For an even more extreme case, look up literature on snowball earth. For anything vaguely comparable to what is happening today, you need to look for an era with a rapid increase in GHG levels on top of a moderate climate. Look at what happened in the boundary between the Permian and Triassic for example (251 million years ago, so we still have to be careful to extrapolate to today’s conditions).
  • The ‘debate’ on AGW will continue for as long as the believers ignore the sociological and quasi-theological underpinnings of their faith – in science, we argue on verifiable facts and testable theories. If you want to call this a religion etc. you’re confused. What’s you mode of argument? Easily debunked talking points? What do you call that?
  • I repeat as previous - if C02 is not the total, primary what ever cause of climate change, why are we not addressing the lot, if there is any need to do anything other trhan find alternative cleaner sources of energy – CO2 is the major human-caused effect on the climate. There is no evidence that anything else is varying the climate on a time scale that matters to human civilzation. The solar cycle is a cycle: it goes up and down. El Niña and La Niña are short-term effects.
  • Does temperature control CO2 or vice versa? The Vostok ice core data shows rhythmic glacial - interglacial cycles of around 100,000 years duration over almost a million years back from the present interglacial. The IPCC proposes that the primary cyclical influence is orbital variability, which provokes temperature increase followed centuries later by CO2 increase (2007 Report, Chapter 6 page 444). The difference between the rationalists and IPCC alarmists is that IPCC concludes that CO2 then takes over as the primary forcing agent. – Drivel. The IPCC (or actually, the scientists they quote) never assume that in this scenario CO2 is the primary forcing agent. In this scenario, CO2 is a feedback. It is only a forcing if it is the initiator of the change, not a subsidiary effect. Anthropogenic CO2 is a forcing because it adds to temperature change without being caused by some other temperature change. Over geological time, there have been periods when CO2 was a forcing (e.g., when emitted as a result of plate tectonics or massive volcanoes, far bigger than any in human history).
  • Peer-reviewed geological literature shows the peak of the current interglacial was around 6000 years ago with temperature around two degrees higher and sea level almost two metres higher than present. So in fact over the past 6000 years we have seen a cooling trend - But you wont read that in the IPCC reports. So much for drivel – The IPCC’s report on palaeoclimate says we are currently in period of low variability in orbital parameters, putting the onset of the next glacial at about 30,000 years. It’s not relevant whether we were or not on a cooling trend in the past. What’s your evidence that this trend is continuing?
  • you basically defeat your own arguement. You argue that there are a number of other factors at play as well as CO2. This is exactly what the climate change realists have been saying for yonks – No they haven’t. The denial crew have been saying that CO2 either has no effect, or is relatively insignificant. Mainstream scientists have never said that CO2 is the only influence on the climate, only that it is the major one that humans can influence. And that there is very little chance that anything else of significance is happening on a time scale of significance to humanity.

In summary: this whole exercise illustrates what it’s all about. The denial (or inactivist) position tries to summarise climate science as alleging that CO2 is the only influence on climate, then attacks this straw target vigorously, with ever-bigger bails of straw. The fact that CO2 is not the only influence on climate is well known and well understood buy anyone who works with the science or follows it in scientific publications.

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