Climate

I was challenged about the “consensus” on climate change over at Citizen Tom’s blog, and told that I should accept it because of the correlation of extreme weather and CO2. This is a slightly edited version of my reply, fixing a couple of typos and formatting issues. Now it’s back to work for me…

I’ve been interested in atmospheric sciences since the 1970s, and writing about it almost as long.

Most scientists do take the words/papers/pronouncements/media releases of a core group of climate scientists on faith. They assume, reasonably enough, that the process of science gradually stumbles toward the truth, and that the core group most noisy about the topic are like them, imperfect but reasonable and trying hard.

The reality is rather odd, and quite disappointing to me as a lifelong science enthusiast who makes my living writing research papers and proposals. There is a shut-out process: If you think the data points in a contrary direction, you better keep it to yourself if you wish to keep your career that massive student loans have paid for. Governments and research orgs who are funded by them have tolerated little dissent. Happily, this is starting to ease up, as the evidence for scientific malfeasance is growing larger at the same time that the prattling about “extreme” weather threats is shown as increasingly hollow.

CO2 is feeding the planet, and the increase in the past century has increased crop production on the order of a seventh or so — in other words, feeding perhaps a billion people. In the somewhat higher CO2 environment, crops are more water-efficient as well. It’s amusing to see catastrophists struggle with this. Their approaches are usually “but the ozone will increase, too, so there will be no increase in growth” — shown to be false. Or “CO2 saturation hypothesis!” — shown to be false. Or “higher temperatures will impede growth” — also false. Or “droughts are getting worse and that will kill the crops!” — once more ignoring reality, though every drought or storm or whatever is played to the hilt.

Extreme weather was predicted during the global cooling from the 40s to the 70s, now almost erased from the records because of its inconvenience. It made sense, as storms are powered to a large extent by the differences in temperature from pole to equator, not a higher net temperature, and the catastrophist models predicted increased temperatures at the poles. (That hasn’t worked out.)

So based upon those predictions, the re-warming from the 70s to the 2000s should have produced milder hurricanes/cyclones and fewer tornadoes. That is, of course, what we’re seeing. We are still, famously, in the longest period without a major hurricane strike on the US mainland in the history of the US (through we really only have good records since about the Civil War). Tornadoes have been at record lows, though again every single tornado that does happen is played as a Major Disaster — instead of a mention in the news as was true in decades past. This is sort of anecdotal stuff; these storms are on a cycle of about 40 years or so and I expect them to start increasing in the next years. But an increase to levels of the 60s and 70s is not “unprecedented extremes” though it will be hyped as such. In fact, you’re talking about “extreme” weather as if it were happening now!

I have been gathering data from the various temperature data sets for years. My modeling began in the 1970s, originally in code, then on spreadsheets (remember Visicalc and SuperCalc? SuperCalc is still installed on my systems) then in code again. What annoys me most about the data is the constant changing. If you are going to run a study based on data from a given network, you must identify the vintage, as every month history changes.

As a result, the 1930s and 40s have gotten fractionally cooler, more than a hundred times, over the past two decades, especially since 1999. It took seven years after 1999 for 1934 to drop below 1998’s temperature in the continental US, making 1998, belatedly, the new record high. Every month, you could see 1934 getting a bit cooler, and 1998 warming up a bit. Then, hey presto! The hottest year ever! Let me point you to an excellent statistician’s blog who has been pursuing these topics for years; he tracked and exposed that changing of historical temperature rankings.

I understand TOBS adjustments and other offsets and I have the algorithms, but the repeated re-processing of historical data, over and over, can produce useful results but cannot be used for “hottest year ever” pronouncements. And yet it is, including this month once again.

So there are key questions to ask. For example:

Is it getting warmer?
Yes (compared to 40 years ago, though it’s been pretty stable for the last half of this period).
No (compared to 75 years ago in the warm 1930s and 1940s)
Yes (compared to 100 years ago; the 1910a were fairly chilly)
No (compared to 1000 years ago; the Medieval Climate Optimum was in play)
No (compared to 5000 years ago; we’re a lot down from the Holocene Climate Optimum).
Yes (compared to 20,000 years ago during the last glaciation)
No (compared to most of the Earth’s history, particularly the last 500,000,000 years; we’ve been running on the cool side.)

The net effect of a slight warming from the frigid 1970s (and the Little Ice Age, of course) will be benign. There is a reason that the Holocene Climate Optimum was called that: It was an optimum time for human civilizational and agricultural development. (Now the name is politically incorrect, and newer textbooks and papers no longer call it that.)

Is Man producing CO2 and contributing to an increase?
Yes to both. Less than half of this is related to fossil fuels, the rest is land use changes (including things like cement production) and crop effects, notably rice paddies.

Is more CO2 a problem?
No, and in fact it is evidently a benefit for plants with clearly little impact on temperatures. There is likely some impact on temps, but diminishing returns because of spectrum masking and so forth.

Would warming up toward those previous optimums be a “catastrophe”?
There is no evidence for this.

Is sea level rise a problem?
No; it has been maintaining the same slow rate (actually slightly slower now) since the 19th century of a few inches per century. Few even noticed this. Are the Maldives threatened. Obviously not: they’ve survived more than 300 feet of sea level rise so far this cycle, and evidence indicates that they’re expanding. This is how reefs work, of course.

Is ocean “acidification” (actually, what is proposed is a very slight neutralization, not acidification) a problem?
No. The studies are reluctantly admitting now that coral reefs are far more resilient that they’d been given credit for. There are issues with fishing, dredging, nutrient runoff and such, but these are clearly nothing to do with “climate change.”

Is there any evidence of a “runaway feedback” effect?

No, and clearly this has been true in the past as well when CO2 was ten or twenty times the current level. Catastrophists worry about a potential doubling, but land plants evolved during the time of very much higher CO2, and have been gradually storing it in the Earth (and therefore suffocating themselves) for millions of years. No wonder they’re doing better! CO2 and oxygen are not balanced in the atmosphere, of course: CO2 is at about 400ppm, oxygen at about 209,000 ppm, a gigantic difference.

Some scientists talk about the “runaway feedback” on Venus, but not only is it much closer to the Sun, it has about 400,000 times the CO2 we have (not to mention a tremendously dense atmosphere overall, which is a major factor).

Most people don’t realize that even argon, a “rare” and inert gas, is about 25 times as common in Earth’s atmosphere as carbon dioxide. (So the idiots at the US EPA have just banned argon in certain products. A different topic.)

Will the proposed mitigation measures, from Kyoto Protocol to the latest Chinese deal, have any measurable effect on temperatures?
No, and this has been readily admitted; the differences at the century scale would be, if implemented perfectly among all nations, only a tiny and unnoticeable fraction of a degree. Completely undetectable since models cannot estimate anywhere near close enough to show that there even was an effect.

What else can affect temperature here if CO2 is not a big deal?
In addition to various natural cycles which we do not understand well enough to model, albedo is important (and to an extent connected with those cycles.) Albedo changes, which we measure only poorly, have a much more dramatic effect upon surface insolation. This is so large that rounding errors of albedo measurement are larger than the putative effects of all CO2 increases over the past century. But we don’t track albedo over the planet multiple times per day over the entire planet on a 24 hour basis as we do temperature (and there is a reverse albedo at night, which is why it is so cold at night in a cloudless desert). We’re content to look at this imperfectly, and model it to create details to feed into other models.

Don’t you trust the models?
No. For one thing, climate models have been notoriously poor at out-of-sample data. In other words, you can run them over and over, tinkering with the parameters, to get a result that looks sort of like history and also sort of like the prediction you want (i.e., scary warming). (The same thing can be done in the stock markets.) But then feed this a few more years of data, and the match to reality falls apart. Is a model capable of producing something like reality? Eventually, with a much more complex system than we now use — but as long as climate scientists select and publish only the results they like, this will still be a problematic area.

As a person who has developed scientific and technical software for more than four decades, I was flabbergasted reading the code and programmer comments released as part of the first ClimateGate batch. The “Harry_Read_Me.txt” file made it clear that a fair amount of key input parameters to models were simply fabricated (he used “made up” and “fudged”) — and at one point they decided to change the solar “constant” by 10 watts per square meter(!) just to make the output look like what they wanted. Disgusting.

I’m going to put my turkey baster down now; it is what I am having to use to type these days but I’ve gotten pretty good at it. But as for Catastrophic Climate Change, it is not a subject I come to lightly … and thus you will need to peddle the story to someone else.

As usual, most comments will be on my LiveJournal post.

==============/ Keith DeHavelle

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