Climate Anecdote

Damn the decline. Warming speed!

It was before 5:00 AM PDT on Thursday morning when I heard from The Weather Channel’s chirpy Stephanie Abrams that the debate was settled:  “global warming is real.”  The way we know this is that 300 scientists have come out with a new report that there has been a 1 degree Celsius increase in the global average temperature over the last 50 years.

That is, in fact, what she said: 1 degree Celsius.  Somebody’s bound to have it recorded somewhere.  I don’t remember how many times she said it, but it was more than once.  I’m sure it was simply a burble, an inadvertent misstatement, because as I confirmed later on the web, the claimed temperature increase is 1 degree Fahrenheit, not 1 degree Celsius.  This is a significant difference in the scope of the claim, of course, degrees Fahrenheit representing smaller increments than degrees Celsius (1 degree F being about 0.55 degrees C).  The increase in global average temperatures thus sounds a whole lot like the 0.6C advertised to us over the last decade, until discrepancies in NOAA’s data processing and the revelation of ClimateGate-o-List gave us the parody-ready expression “hide the decline.”

But like all the unequivocal assertions periodically made about “global warming,” this newest one reverts automatically, on the slightest examination, to either banal meaninglessness or probable falsehood.  The verbal slip of “Celsius” versus “Fahrenheit” just seems emblematic of the eager, relentless carelessness with which the case is regularly made to the public.

For one thing, the statement “the earth is warming up” is not the same thing as saying “human activity is causing the earth to warm,” nor does it have any meaning at all outside of some climatologically relevant context.  (The earth warms up – and then cools down – virtually every day of the year over most of its surface.)

I suspect a good 7 out of 10 skeptics of anthropogenic global warming would stipulate that there does seem to be fairly good evidence of a slight increase in average recorded global temperatures over the last 50 years.  But we could say that about multiple 50-year periods in the last several thousand years – and indeed, we need only extend our data set back another 50 to discover that the last 50 years have not seen “warming” more extensive than the previous 50 years, when measured by recorded temperature data.

Trumpeting the findings of the 300 scientists as incontrovertible evidence of “global warming” amounts to chopping logic and burying premises for rhetorical effect.  Unfortunately for the narrow substance of the claim, there are also good reasons to doubt its particulars.  For one thing, as this post outlines, much of the evidence it offers is either cherry-picked or anecdotal.  Its principal observations don’t show a linear trend (e.g., temperatures don’t show a linear upward trend), begging the indispensable question of what temperatures were doing before the last 50 years.  The memory of the “hockey stick graph” is fresh enough in our minds that we won’t blindly accept a 50-year cut-off without skepticism about the longer-term trend being ignored.

But the methodology behind the NOAA data used for the new study also remains questionable.  This more critical piece provides an outline of concerns, citing (among several) one analysis that came to this conclusion:

NOAA “systematically eliminated 75% of the world’s stations with a clear bias towards removing higher latitude, high altitude and rural locations, all of which had a tendency to be cooler,” explained climate researchers Joseph D’Aleo and Michael Smith in a study published by the Science and Public Policy Institute. “The thermometers in a sense, marched towards the tropics, the sea, and to airport tarmacs.”

Newman also links to this eye-opening post by Anthony Watts – at whose blog it was famously demonstrated that the CRU climatologists were, in fact, using data-norming to “hide the decline” – which shows the instances of literal data interpolation that ought to make us take to the streets with torches and pitchforks.  Where there aren’t local sensors to receive data from – e.g., in parts of Africa, Canada, and Greenland – NOAA has been basically making up temperature data as if there were sensors in place.  Surprise, surprise:  where the data points are interpolated, the trend of “observations” is toward higher temperatures.  As Watts drily notes:

There seems to be an inverse correlation between the number of [actual] stations and warming – more stations in a 5×5 degree grid and less warming is observed.

Interpolation is not, per se, a criminal practice in scientific procedures.  But it should certainly be clarified and highlighted when advocates propose to make public policy based on the conclusions drawn from it.  The fact is that we don’t know what the temperatures were in a number of locations where NOAA has arbitrarily assigned values.  To call a data set that includes this form of input “incontrovertible evidence” is to turn empiricism and even sanity itself on their heads.

No part of the argument seems to remain intact under scrutiny.  The loss of Antarctic ice, for example, is not by any means established as a seminal trend.  The Antarctic seems, in fact, to be adding ice, even as some of its edges, in some areas, recede.  But that isn’t the whole story either:  apparently, the introduction of space-based magnetic sensors is confusing the picture, and may be exaggerating the amount of icepack recession in these edge areas.

Meanwhile, as pointed out here, the margin of error in the Antarctic temperature data used by NASA – 2-3 degrees Celsius – is too great for a temperature increase of less than that margin to be validated.  With a margin of error that big, any depiction of a temperature trend that’s based on the reported observations is an arbitrary product of scientist bias.  Visit the reader comments at this post for a good discussion of why icepack recession is not directly correlated with temperature in this part of the world anyway.  Where temperatures never rise above freezing, ice loss is not due to the melting we traditionally think of – just as, in the Himalayas, icepack loss correlates much more strongly to solar radiation than to ambient air temperature.

Whenever you do the smallest amount of research, you discover that the most repetitive claims being touted as AGW/CC “science” are worse than junk science:  they are like fairy tales for toddlers.  The Bugs Bunny-Roadrunner Hour I used to watch as a kid offered more empiricism and integrity.  Given the numerous holes and guesses infesting our current temperature databases, I assess that the best we can truthfully say is that it looks like there’s been a slight rise in the globally-averaged temperature in the past half-century, if we consider solely the numbers offered from those databases – but ultimately, we can’t be absolutely sure.

There are too many places on earth that still haven’t been measured comprehensively over time – and there’s been too little strictness in ensuring identical measuring conditions over time, even where we do have comprehensive observations.  Meanwhile, this slight rise in temperature, if it is one, is neither unique nor obviously a unidirectional trend, because we’ve seen temperatures go up and down in a cyclical manner before.  Insisting that our average temperatures are being influenced by anthropogenic carbon emissions further ignores the fact that we don’t even have a means of accurately detecting and recording the “greenhouse gas feedback process” on which the whole AGW/CC theory depends, much less identifying the precise impact on this posited process of the slight amount of terrestrial carbon emissions for which humans are responsible.

We really don’t know enough for certain to start ordering each other around, as with Cap-and-Trade legislation, EPA regulations, and judicial rulings.  That’s the bottom line.

Cross-posted at Hot Air.

23 thoughts on “Climate Anecdote”

  1. A fabulous book was written 3 years ago that outlined all of the flaws in the global warming argument, titled The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming and Environmentalism: Most importantly, the book points out that the lies and the scandal of “climategate” would have been obvious to anyone– liberal OR conservative– had they actually bothered to look at the data. It masterfully exposes global warming for the politically motivated fraud that it is, 3 years before anyone would listen.

  2. I am copying two comments here as there’s something wrong with the WordPress site, and it’s not recognizing previously-approved commenters, nor can I access my account to give the one-time original “approval.”

    From tarpon:

    The hoaxers are going to get the money one way or the other. If it takes lies, then lie.

    From Kristen:

    A fabulous book was written 3 years ago that outlined all of the flaws in the global warming argument, titled The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming and Environmentalism: Most importantly, the book points out that the lies and the scandal of “climategate” would have been obvious to anyone– liberal OR conservative– had they actually bothered to look at the data. It masterfully exposes global warming for the politically motivated fraud that it is, 3 years before anyone would listen.

    Thanks, welcome, and I think you’re both quite right! You’ll be “approved” for automatic comment posting as soon as the system glitch goes away.

  3. OK, looks like the comments have now made it through. Sorry about that!

  4. I was going to call for more “transparency” in the global warming discussion. But what I really mean is more honesty.

    The global warmingists should list all the data and not just their cherry-picked data. We have at least the following categories:

    Data that we just totally made up (er, “interpolated”)

    Data that we “adjusted” because the actual readings didn’t seem right to us (the “value-added” data, which is the only data retained by the CRU at East Anglia)

    Data that we had, but disregarded because, well, because.

    Data that we like.

    Data that might have been accurate, but somebody misplaced a decimal point or changed F to C.

    Finally, always remember the academic bias is for anthropogenic global warming. Does anyone think that the government grants would keep pouring in if the scientists concluded “The earth is not warming. But even if it is warming, people aren’t causing it. And we couldn’t do anything about it, anyway.”? Such a conclusion does not support an expanded role of government.

    If the government slush (I mean, grant) funds ran dry, these guys might have to go work for oil companies or something.

  5. I think being skeptical about cap and trade is in order. But I’m not so sure about trying defend that temperatures aren’t rising.

    Looking at photographs of glaciers in a number of parts of the world today and 50-75 years ago provide pretty easy to grasp evidence that it is getting warmer. The whole climategate things seems overblown to me. Working with data is hard and involves some judgement.

    However, I think that we can deal with the effects of a warming climate and maybe at worst offset it with injections of cooling gases into the atmosphere. Superfreakonmics discusses this.

    1. They have moved back and forth over time. Deniers don’t question that you can see increases and decreases in measured temperature over whatever defined time period you wish to capture readings.

      We just vehemently disagree that we have any real good idea over why – that it is the workings of an overall larger system, and that whatever inputs we as humans are placing into it are negligible at best, and likely quite harmless.

      Oh, and drop the carbon schtick. We know that carbon appears to be released into the atmosphere due to natural heating, not that it causes the heating itself.

  6. There has been too flimflam with the CRU, by placing monitoring stations in heat islands, by deleting parts oft he record during the Medieval period, I hava an acquaintance who was mentioning
    all about Yamal Briffa, the source of much of the CRU data, for a whole year before the revelations came to light

    1. The scary thing is how long it took for the world to begin to wake up to what the warmists were doing despite the debunking of the hockey stick graph which proved, to put it mildly, that none of the scientists who had promoted and defended it were worthy of respect or trust on the subject of warming.

      The recent whitewashing of the CRU emails and of Mann go further in proving just how politicized the “science” is.

  7. We’ve already been through this before, with the Montreal Protocol and the ban on R-12, R-22 and R-502 flourocarbon refrigerants. These stable, non-toxic and extremely useful gases were deemed to destroy the ozone layer over the poles and to allow increased penetration of ultra-violet light, causing eye damage and skin cancer, especially in the highest latitudes. Thus their use was phased out by pan-government agreement beginning in 1989. There was never any demonstrated scientific evidence that these substances actually caused this problem, if indeed, a problem existed. Everything was based on computer modelling performed at Cal-Irvine.

    However, the refrigerant bans apply only in the developed world, the substances are even now being produced and put into use. All of them ever produced prior to the implementation of the protocol are now being introduced to the atmosphere through leaks in equipment and that is what will happen to all that will ever be produced. Yet we no longer hear anything about blind school children and sheep in Patagonia or increased levels of skin cancer in northern Norway. The protocol was so successful that cap and trade advocates see no reason why their agenda shouldn’t succeed as well. It’s possible, however, that the public is beginning to wise up.

  8. Hey, Chuck, don’t forget: if you are duPont and your patent on freon ran out, and freon is cheap, useful, effective and nontoxic, What are you going to sell for refrigerant now? Get the government to ban the cheap and effective stuff and come up with some new, whiz-bang, almost-as-good-as-the-old-stuff that you can sell for ten times the basic cost of freon. Government creates markes where none should exist.

    1. A number of companies manufactured the refrigerants and there’s competition in the replacement market as well. The prohibition of flourocarbons certainly meant an increased expense to everyone dependent on refrigeration and HVAC but the manufacturers certainly weren’t obviously in the lead on it and most individuals in the industry felt that the whole thing was ridiculous. The mainstream media and academia were the drivers, much like the global warming scenario.

      By the way, has everyone made sure that their radon gas monitoring equipment is in operational condition?

  9. “Looking at photographs of glaciers in a number of parts of the world today and 50-75 years ago provide pretty easy to grasp evidence that it is getting warmer. The whole climategate things seems overblown to me. Working with data is hard and involves some judgement.

    However, I think that we can deal with the effects of a warming climate and maybe at worst offset it with injections of cooling gases into the atmosphere. Superfreakonmics discusses this.”

    brucetheeconomist, let’s say that the glacier pictures you cite are indeed proof of global warming. My retort to that is “so what?” It’s taken as gospel by the left that global warming is bad. Well, what is the ideal global temperature? Maybe the temperature that’s best for this planet is 5 degrees warmer than it is today. Will some people say the best global temp is 5 degrees warmer and others will say it’s 2 degrees cooler? If so, who is right? Is it subjective? If I say 5 degrees warmer is best and cite several reasons why, and you say 2 degrees lower is best because of XYZ, are we simply at an impasse?

    Have you noticed that Al Gore & Co have never said that the earth’s temperature needs to get lowered to X? I’ll bet you the value of all of Mr. Gore’s mansions the reason for that is the “global warming” drivel is not about the environment as much as it is about social and political control. The environment meme is just a conjured up vehicle to reach the desired end game – which is where “elites” (naturally, those who are proper liberal thinkers) develop control over how the rest of us are to live our lives through liberty choking laws and regulations.

    If the global temp actually did get to where Gore and a “consensus” of brilliant scientists said it needed to be, then the game would be up. No more grants, no more govt regulations needed, no more conjured up “climate” industry for the progressives to use to achieve their desired social and poltical goals. Hence, vague references to “global warming” and meaningless terms now such as “climate change.”

  10. Good points, all. For Bruce the Economist, if you visit the link at “Himalayas,” toward the end of the piece, you’ll see documentation from an earlier piece indicating that icepack loss is due much more to solar radiation than to temperature increases.

    Although this seems counterintuitive at first, it makes sense when you realize that in most of the areas where there is icepack, surface temps (whatever the altitude) don’t rise above freezing at any time of the year. It’s not temps causing ice to melt, in the ice-in-a-glass process familiar to humans. It’s a set of other processes coming together causing ice to break up; and with polar ice in particular, it’s a combination that is only partly attributable to climate. Careful scientists are very reluctant to attribute ice loss to a single phenomenon, from what I can tell. There was the solar maximum 10-12 years ago, which increased the level of solar radiation globally and gradually weakened the edges of the polar icepack, but there apparently is also an increase in undersea volcanic and tectonic activity, which puts the pressure of simple kinetic movement on already-weakened ice. It seems that some of the factors track together much (not all) of the time, like solar radiation and global average temperatures, even though they aren’t the same phenomenon but are related to the same influences. But other factors aren’t obviously related to climate.

    There is no question that the Arctic icepack (at the North Pole) has broken up considerably in the last 20 years. Northern maritime passages are navigable for much more of year now than they were in the 1980s. This is one I actually used to track assiduously, because of submarine activity under the Arctic ice; and the window for unimpeded surface passage (e.g., across northern Russia or northern Canada) used to be literally less than three weeks in August. Now ships can transit the same passages without necessarily having to follow icebreaker ships starting in late June, and running through mid-late September.

    But seeing this as a development analogous to ice melting in a glass is invalid. There are the solar radiation and volcanic/tectonic factors (the latter of which are particularly important for breaking up the very deep blocks of undersea ice, which is what has to happen for Arctic passages to become navigable). There is also — see the same link I referenced above — the factor of literal soot emissions from Asia, which interferes with the formation of ice more than it acts to “melt” existing ice. The overwhelming majority of the soot now settling over the Arctic comes from Asia, mainly China and India, where thousands of electric plants and factories belch the stuff out 24/7, and millions of households are putting it out as well.

    Soot is not the same thing as plain old carbon or CO2. It has its own set of effects, and is related to but not identical to the process called the “greenhouse effect.” Soot is not a greenhouse gas, it’s SOOT. Its action on the Arctic ice is NOT an example of the greenhouse effect, any more than plastic bags being thrown on the highway are an example of plastics having a greenhouse-gas effect on the planet.

    But demagogic advocates are usually happy to mash up all the things they don’t like together — plastic bags, greenhouse gases, soot — and urge people to confusedly believe that it’s all “killing the planet.” I suspect it’s possible there would be a little less ice loss in the Arctic, over the last 30 years, if China and India had not been industrializing and affording their people greater economic opportunities as rapidly as they have. Perhaps it’s possible that global GHG emissions have affected the rate of ice loss as well, although I doubt the effect has been very pronounced — quite possibly not even measurable, within the margin of error.

    But given the other factors — solar radiation, with a solar maximum during the data time period, and undersea volcanic and tectonic activity — there is a severe limit to our ability to influence what’s going on in the Arctic. Or the Antarctic, for that matter.

  11. Some good points. By the way, I would agree that showing warming is happening (I think it is and human activity contributes to it) doesn’t necessarily show we should make an all out effort to reduce carbon emissions.

    Those in a panic (which I’m not) about Global Warming seem to see have a tendency to dismiss their critics as a bunch of profit hungry sleazeballs, or at least funded by profit hungry sleazeballs in the oil, coal, energy industry.

    At least one theme I see here (and among GW critics) is a tendency to dismiss the “academics” as a bunch of grant seeking sleazballs, and the Al Gores of the world as power seeking sleazeballs.

    I tend to assume there is some truth to advocates of any policy position usually having an ax to grind for taking that position.

    So why are the warming advocates or its critics more innocent of a charge of just feathering their own nest?


    Agnostic on cap and trade like policy.

  12. Well Bruce, if Oppenheimer hadn’t been extolling the need for extreme scenarios, if the Climate Exchange
    hadn’t been set up, under false pretense

  13. “So why are the warming advocates or its critics more innocent of a charge of just feathering their own nest?”

    Bruce, because the warming advocates are advocating extreme measures that would cost massive amounts of money and give the govt a huge level of control over the citizenry – all of which may very well ruin our economy and way of life.

    The critics want no such excessive taxation or govt control or any govt overreach to solve a problem that doesn’t exist – or at the very least to not do anything until there is irrefutable proof that AGW is a tangible problem.

  14. I grew up swimming in the ocean. I went back 30 years ago and the water all of a sudden seemed brown, not nearly as clear as it used to be. What with all the TV shows about bull sharks, I never seem to want to swim in the Atlantic anymore.

    The Caribbean suits me to a T, and I have very fond memories of clear turquoise waters off Nha Trang and Cam Ranh. As I near 70 I want to get into good shape so I can safely swim in the sea, as I did as a boy. Body surfing and snorkeling in clear sea is an experience to always cherish.

    I bring this up because it seems that the left has a corner on the environment market, leaving many of us to seem like careless polluters. Never mind climate change, but shouldn’t nature lovers and conservationists and those who love trees and birds and wild critters feel more than welcome in our midst. “National Geographic” et all have been co-opted into the climate change camp.

    Where is there room for those like me who want clean seas, clear skies and a greener earth?

    1. I don’t recall the same clear and pristine Atlantic Ocean that you remember Zoltan. Perhaps it’s because I’m (a bit) younger than you; but I don’t think so. My father often talked of the local rivers (near Philadelphia) as being filthy with coal dust when he was a kid.

      The left has a good point about the necessity of control of pollution of the commons; but the irony is that we wouldn’t have the economic luxury of controlling pollution if we weren’t so wealthy as a result of capitalism. And there are many examples of leftist command economies devastating the environment on a massive scale.

  15. Great Sea of Azov mighty example of great Russian Soviet Sozialist environmental beauty.

    1. I think you mean ARAL SEA, a sea with no water anymore, thanks to wonderful central planning. Gore should build fishing lodge there.

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