Friday, 29 May 2009

The most incoherent climate change clap-trap ever?

There was a most extraordinary letter in yesterday's Times. Extraordinary not just for its factual inaccuracy and it's blatant assertion of an obvious untruth but also for asserting a conclusion that doesn't follow from its flawed premise and for displaying a poor knowledge of English. I will not bother trying to correct their grammar and syntax, no doubt they are too old to learn. The letter was signed by a number of people involved in the field of medicine. I could call them doctors but wouldn't want to mislead because I don't know whether any of them actually holds a doctorate.

Their starting position is that many people assert "climate change doesn't exist". How breathtakingly stupid of them to put their case in this way. "Climate change doesn't exist" is another way of saying "the climate is not changing" and/or "the climate does not change". For all I know there might be some existing in hermetically sealed mental bubbles who do indeed assert one or both of these preposterous nonsenses, but I have never read anything to suggest that such people exist outside secure psychiatric facilities. No sane person could ever assert that the climate is not changing or does not change. Of course it changes and of course it is changing now, it always has and it always will.

They then assert that many say climate change is not caused by humans. This is true enough provided one defines "climate change" accurately. The buffoons who signed the letter clearly have not defined it with any care. Let's go back to the days before human beings found a way to make life comfortable, back to the days before the industrial revolution and the development of processes that keep us alive but produce atmospheric carbon dioxide in order to do so . The climate was not stable then any more than it is stable now. What caused climatic instability in those days? I'm no expert but I would suggest two (no doubt there are many more but no one can argue with these two).

First, the sun. That's the big yellow thing in the sky. It does its thing and the result is more or less heat at the earth's surface. If it is busy we get more, if it decides to put its feet up and read a good book we get less. It changes the climate and human activity has nothing to do with it

Secondly, the oceans, they are those watery bits that appear as two thirds of the earth's surface in atlases and on globes. They are not just surfaces they go down a long way and slosh a vast amount of water about. Some of that water is cold, some is not so cold. Both the warm and cold bits are vast quantities of matter. It moves about, churns itself around and oceanic surface temperatures vary according to what the churning produces. We can have years of relative warm waters at the surface and years of chilly stuff exposing itself to the air. The churnings of the oceans change the climate and human activity has nothing to do with it

There we have it, two hugely powerful factors that change the climate regardless of human activity. It is axiomatic that human activity does not cause these climatic changes. You have to narrow down the field to find a contributory factor to changing climate that can be blamed on people. We all know what that factor is - production by human activity of carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere. From there we have to ask what detrimental effect carbon dioxide is alleged to have in order to know what the allegation against we naughty people is, because unless the allegation is defined clearly any denial cannot be placed in its proper context.

The case put against carbon dioxide is that increased levels of that gas in the atmosphere lead to higher surface temperatures because of the so-called "greenhouse effect." It's not actually anything to do with the way greenhouses retain heat, it would be more accurate to call it the "duvet and storage radiator effect". Atmospheric gases are said to act like a duvet in that they prevent heat escaping as fast as it would in their absence (yes, I know it's not actually "heat" but energy which at surface level is translated into heat). They also act like storage radiators by releasing energy to heat the surface when it is cool.

But that's only a tiny part of the picture and it is not the part that matters. Nice Mr Pogo has been kind enough to remind me of this point when I have been too loose in my use of language in previous offerings on this topic. The worse case scenarios produced by computer models and by applicable mathematical formulae suggest that a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere might, of itself, cause average surface temperatures (whatever that means) to rise by around one degree Celcius. That is equivalent to moving from Brighton to Birmingham. The newspapers are not swamped with tales of emigres from the south coast of England to the middle of the country being troubled by the changed climatic conditions. It is only when the great hypothesis is added that people start to fret.

The great hypothesis is that adding further carbon dioxide to the atmosphere will give rise to an amplification effect. The starting point is that adding carbon dioxide will increase both the duvet and storage radiator effect because more carbon dioxide means a greater storage capacity for the "blanket" around the earth. The crucial hypothesis is that various factors will result in an increase in surface temperatures far beyond those that the increased storage capacity would produce by itself. Some argue that this amplification process will happen, some argue it will not, some argue that it is impossible to tell but are inclined towards one position or the other. The one thing of which we can be sure is that it hasn't happened yet.

When the medical buffoons asserted that many say climate change is not caused by humans what they should have said, in order to have any credibility, is that many dispute the hypothesis that increased emissions of carbon dioxide will result in an amplification process causing significant and detrimental increases in surface temperatures. Being buffoons, they did not say this. Instead they asserted that many say climate change is not caused by man. Not only does this misrepresent the argument put forward by those who decry the Chicken Licken scenario but it is hopelessly misleading because it adopts the weasel words du jour of "climate change" rather than "man made global warming". Unless human production of carbon dioxide will trigger dramatic and damaging warming, the whole Chicken Licken argument falls to the floor.

That deals with the untruth in their letter. Factual inaccuracy is proved by their ridiculous assumption that "nearly 2,000 of the world's leading climate scientists who consitute the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change" agree with the Chicken Licken hypothesis. I call this an assumption because there is absolutely no evidence at all to support it. Yet, tellingly, the buffoons assume that all those who contributed their thoughts and analyses to the IPCC agreed with every apocalyptic word in the conclusions written by politicians. Even in real science people can contribute their views and be noted as contributors to a report without agreeing with a single word of the final report. I wonder how many of the buffoons have been involved in a research project as a contributor of ideas and analysis only to find that the authors produced something they consider to be utter tripe.

And so we get to their conclusions. How appropriate it is that I have just used the term "utter tripe". This is what they wrote: "there are immediate benefits to be had from action now, mainly about how we move, how we eat and how we redistribute resources more fairly around the globe - all of which are fundamental to health and welfare." I am almost lost for words. But I'll try my best to find some.

Take the first two phrases: "there are immediate benefits to be had from action now". No. No, no no. If you are looking at influences on the climate there are, by definition, no immediate benefits. Nothing we do now will affect the climate immediately even if you believe the most extreme of the computerised projections. Maybe they did not mean climatic benefits. We need to look at the rest of their conclusion to see whether they are actually addressing the climate at all.

What is it that they say we must do? They identify three areas. The first is described as "how we move". I know I said I wasn't going to pick at their use of English but I have to. What in the world of living buggery does "the way we move" mean? My best guess is that they might be referring to aeroplanes and motor cars because these are pet hates for the greenies. But that can't be what they mean because changing our motorised travel habits cannot have an immediate effect on climate and giving up air travel and the internal combustion engine is not "fundamental to health and welfare".

Then they say we should take action about "how we eat". I'm beginning to lose the will to live at this stage. Do they mean importing runner beans out of season from Kenya? Fine, let's bankrupt Kenya's farmers. Well, actually, not fine at all. It may be fine for the buffoons but it's the absolute opposite of what I want to see. Maybe they mean we should all turn vegetarian so as to do away with flatulent cows. No, that can't be it, you'd just transfer the production of flatus from cows to humans. Sorry, I don't get this one at all.

Maybe their third idea carries weight: "how we redistribute resources more fairly around the globe". And the connection to human incuded climate change is ...? Yes, that's right, it has absolutely no connection at all to what industrial plants, cars and cargo planes full of Kenyan runner beans might be doing to the environment. It is a totally different topic, a purely political topic. No climate science is involved. No medicine is involved. I would say no sense is involved but that opens another subject for another day.

These idiots started by saying there are many who deny the climate is changing, and ended by saying that people working in medicine "will be reminding" those who question the effect of human activity on the climate that "immediate benefits" will result from changing the way we move, eat and distribute resources around the world. The whole thing is incoherent clap-trap.

The lead signatory carries the title "Professor". Now words do fail me.


Mark Wadsworth said...

Agreed. I've made the Kenya point as well. Those flights may be 'non-essential' from the point of view of the English gourmet but they are totally essential from the point of view of the Kenyan farmers.

Pogo said...

The lead signatory carries the title "Professor". Now words do fail me. It just goes to show how far up the chain "dumbing down" in education has reached.

Pete said...

"...production by human activity of carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere..."

I believe that nearly all is released by the oceans after a 600 year lag from the initial sunspot activity which caused it - evidenced by the large amounts around pre the industrial revolution. I think that today's man made contribution is around 0.2% of the total.

(It's difficult to blame mankind when the Romans were tending vineyards in Northumberland a couple of thousand years ago...)

Stan said...

I think it was to be expected to see a "ratcheting up" of the AGW supporters rhetorid. The sun has gone into something of a deep sleep, global temperatures have stopped climbing and actually started to fall, Arctic and Antarctic sea ice is on the rise, sea levels - which haven't actually increased in rate since the end of the LIA - appear to be dropping off and a couple of crucial ocean systems have gone into negative (cooler) phases - which tend to last 20 years or so. In other words, climate change alarmists are - to borrow a phrase from HRH Prince of Wales - drinking in the last chance saloon. Either they force through their required policies now or they won't be able to say in ten years when Britain is "basking" in Dickensian winters "phew, thank God we managed to get those changes through in time to avert that warming".

Alex Cull said...

A fine analysis as always, FB. The writers of this letter manage to come across as condescending, clueless, illogical and patronising all at the same time, which is quite an achievement. And these are meant to be the educated elite?

That "immediate benefits" part is hilarious. Mind you, some people are already making serious amounts of money from the Global Warming scare (carbon trading, brokerage, etc.) so in that context, the phrase is apt. These "benefits" are not applicable to the majority of us, however; quite the opposite.

energybalance said...

Some of the "new universities" are full of "professors" with no published work in the subject they are supposed to be eligible to profess in.

If proper academic practices were followed very few would be eligible for promotion and that would look bad, as the professorial to other staff ratio would appear rather small in comparison with decent universities.

Someone has just written an amusing satirical novel about the state of university education - a fiction of course!

james c said...


Once again we see the benefit a legal mind can bring to a scientific problem.

Neil said...

Dear Fat Bigot,

You seem to be suggesting that Birmingham is warmer than Brighton?


TheFatBigot said...

Well spotted, Mr Neil, it should be the other way round. Thank you.

TheFatBigot said...

"Someone has just written an amusing satirical novel about the state of university education - a fiction of course!"

Well goodness gracious me, Mr Balance. I wonder who the author might be. Someone most erudite, no doubt.

james c said...

Fat Bigot,

The following article from the Royal Society addresses your points.

Chalcedon said...

This sort of nonsense often occurs when academics and learned individuals stray from their speciality subject into what for them is unknown territory. They are not climatologists, geophysicsists, Linmologists, meteorologists and the like. If they were or even just competent scientists they would start from first principles. Look at the data. See how it is collected. is it raw data or processed data? etc etc.

From what I know about paleoclimate work, during most of geological history there wre no polar caps. There were in the PreCambrian, there were in the Ordovician and there are some now. during these times there was an ice age (there were probably others) so our melting caps simply show us we are moving out of the last stages of the latest ice age. It's a natural phenomenon owing to the axial wobble of the Earth and the progression that goes with it.

Umbongo said...

James C

Thanks for that reference.

Unfortunately and unscientifically, rather than offering refutation the authors of this Royal Society report rely largely on straightforward denial by appeal to authority particularly of the "wot the IPCC says" variety.

Generally speaking the arguments of the sceptics (as exemplified by those on the websites of Steve McIntyre and Anthony Watts) concern not only the deficiences of the models but the (in many cases) dodgy nature of the statistics used by the warmists. Watts is extremely good at exposing the scare tactics used by the warmists and the gullibility (or worse) of the MSM in relaying such garbage to the population at large

james c said...


FB's post makes the assertion that the IPCC's statements are not widely held by scientists.

The document by the Royal Society is a counter to that.

Umbongo said...

james c

I would agree with you that the IPCC statements are probably widely held by those contributing directly to the preparation of the IPCC reports. However, it may be (and, admittedly, I haven't read the reports in depth nor compared their conclusions thoroughly with the research on which they claim to be based) that there is a disconnect between the political ends of those who wrote the report and the evidence of those scientists who did the work. One dispute is chronicled here. This is the kind of thing which I assume FB was referring to but I'm sure he is quite capable of defending himself had he not gone on to deal with other topics of the day.

Diogenes said...

Mr FB you make your case well.

Here is my take.

Probability that the increase in CO2 is caused by industrialisation - 85%.

Probability that the MWP was not globally, significantly warmer than present - 25%.

Probability that cloud feedback is strongly positive 15%.

Probability that observed warming is not due to solar influence combined with land usage changes and deforrestation - 50%.

Probability that increased CO2 and temperature is of net detriment - 50%.

Probability that the increase in temperature in the last century is actually 0.7c and not in fact about 0.3c (UHI + spurious adjustments) - 45%

Probability that the planned curtailing of emissions will have any positive effect on climate 05%

All these issues have to be in place to justify the drastic actions proposed. The probability figures are merely my opinion so feel free to plug in your own numbers.

My combined probability that the trillions of £££s will be money well spent is about 00.02%. Therein lies the problem with the precautionary principle.

Pogo said...

I'm somewhat late to this party... however, it's worth noting that the IPCC reports are unique in the annals of science in that the "summaries" are written first, largely by politically-connected individuals, and the main body of the report is written later, carefully adjusted to match the summary!

J Bonington Jagworth said...

"Birmingham is warmer than Brighton?"

That thought struck me, but then I realised that Brum is one big urban heat island...

BTW, Anthony Watts has done some sterling work on dodgy temperature measurements - here's a fine example:

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