Sunday, September 27, 2009

Running hot and cold

As I've done a few times before, I'm going to cheat and turn comments on a different site into a post, in this case on global warming.

The first two are comments from last Thursday and Friday in response to an item at MMFA on how Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity distorted the statements of Dr. Mojib Latif of the IPCC. He had addressed the issue of the need to consider decade-level cooling precisely because of the tendency of the nanny-nanny naysayers to use any short-term cooling trend to deny the reality of global warming - which Beck and Hannity immediately did, claiming that by discussing cooling, Latif had retracted claims about global warming and he had "pulled the rug out" from those warning about climate change. My reaction:
So what we have here is a typical response by right-wing know-nothing blowhards when faced with a real scientist approaching an issue in a scientific way: See what they want to see, hear what they want to hear, understand what they want to understand precisely because they don't understand, they don't understand science or scientific process.

Either that or they're just lying through their teeth. They're either ignoramuses or liars, if not both.

It has long been a basic premise of climatology that you have to look at data in chunks of 30 years or more to discern overall trends precisely because of the short-term variability that is natural to, inherent in, the planet's climate.

Latif said nothing new on that. It was, rather, that he had a different emphasis, suggesting that it's necessary to consider not only year-to-year variability but decade-to-decade variability and we need to do that expressly because of the media buffoons, pushed by the industry flaks behind them, who present global warming as a year-to-year event, so that if a new all-time record is not set every year, that "disproves" global warming.

Right now, we are in a natural decade-level cooling phase sufficient to for a time conceal or even overcome the anthropogenic warming trend. The thing to remember is that this cooling phase is temporary and when a natural warming phase returns, it will combine with the anthropogenic warming to raise temperatures to new heights.

And before anyone says it, yes, there would at some point be another natural cooling phase which could stall or for a time overcome the warming trend. But it would be doing it from a new, higher plateau. The overall trend is unaffected. The only way to stop it is to go after the anthropogenic warming.

As a footnote, I suspect that another reason people like Beck and Hannity rail against the science is revealed in an email I got some time ago from an acquaintance who said that all the predictions talk about the really bad effects hitting in 50 years or more and she'd be dead by then so what did she care?

So: Ridiculously ignorant of the science they would judge, liars, or incredibly selfish. Take your pick.
A nanny-nanny naysayer responded by accusing me of "ignoring the science" because "we've been cooling for a decade - unbeknownst to you of course" and "natural ocsillation [sic] explains it." What's more, "the whole premise of your arguement [sic] is 'but wait until the warming comes back.'" So I answered (please note the links were not in the original but are inserted here):
aren't you also ignoring the science

No, I'm citing the science and the consensus of predictions of climatologists and other relevant experts.

We've been cooling for a decade

No, we haven't. Stop just parroting right-wing deceit and get a flipping clue. That whole "cooling for a decade" inanity is based completely and solely on the fact that 1998 was something of an outlier, and driven by an exceptionally strong El NiƱo, it set the all-time record for average world temperature. In 1999, temperatures dropped back to the levels on the late 1990s - and then climbed again so that despite the slight cooling of the past three years (not 10), the decade 2000-2009 will still rank as the warmest on record.

As for new heights, I expect explaining it to you will be like trying to explain relativity to Mortimer Snerd, but let me try it this way. There are well-known, well-understood natural cycles of warming and cooling. In addition to that, there is now an additional, non-natural factor: anthropogenic, or human-created, warming, because in recent times our impact on the climate has become big enough to have a measurable effect.

That human-driven warming is a constant upward pressure. The cooling phases can temper or even temporarily conceal that upward pressure, but it is still there. Put another way and admittedly oversimplifying because this is a comment board, not a climatology conference, because of that additional factor, during the cooling phases temperatures won't go down as much as they would otherwise and during the warming phases they will go up more than they would otherwise. So yes, over time, temperatures will increase. Not in a steady unbroken pattern and not without dips along the way, but overall, they will go up unless anthropogenic warming is addressed.

Consider this number series, formed by a pattern of +3 -1 -1:

1, 4, 3, 2, 5, 4, 3, 6, 5, 4, 7, ...

You simply can't deny that the values gradually increase. But you are like someone who looks at that second 5, ignores everything else, and says "Aha! That is less than the number before it! Therefore, there is no upward trend!"

But there is an upward trend. That is what the science, which despite your ignorant fantasies is quite well aware of natural variations, says. That is what Latif said. Your refusal to believe it does not change it while your refusal to face reality, multiplied by enough others, can have serious consequences for hundreds of millions of people in the not-distant future.
The last comment is also on an MMFA item, this one from today. Sean Hannity misquoted a NY Times article to make it sound like it was saying global warming was not happening. In reaction, a nanny-nanny naysayer commented that he doesn't believe in global warming, citing a graph by and quoting a statement from the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition questioning the validity of temperature measurements because of the lack of standardization in type and location of measuring devices. Again, the links were not in the original.
As always, consider the source. Your first link is to, a site run by the Cooler Heads Coalition, a concoction of right-wing and industry groups formed by the Competetive Enterprise Institute.

The graph to which you refer is grossly misleading to the point of outright falsehood on two accounts: One, it treats the IPCC predictions as if they were for straight-line, year-by-year increases, which is so patently nonsensical that I have to regard it as deliberate distortion: No outfit even pretending to scientific understanding could be so ignorant. Two, it is based on less than 15 years data when it is a basic, first-grade level concept of long standing among climatologists that predicting long-term changes to climate requires at least 30 years of data to smooth out natural variations. That is, they have less than half the data they need to claim what they are claiming.

Even with that, and even with restricting their time line to a period of natural cooling (which is thought to have begun about 1995), their own data still shows a 0.9C (1.6F) per century increase. Let me repeat that to make sure it's clear: Even when they restricted the data to a period of natural cooling, it still showed a long-term increase.

As for the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition, a group which appears to exists only as a website (the site offers no mail address or phone number and there is no way to contact the group except through a form at the site), for all we know it may not even be in New Zealand: The web sites of the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition, the Australian Climate Science Coalition (created by a right-wing, corporate-funded Australian think tank called the Institute for Public Affairs), and the International Climate Science Coalition are all hosted at the same IP address: a single Internet service provider in Arizona. All three dip heavily into various conspiracy theories on climate change popular among the nanny-nanny naysayers, such as that the whole purpose of the Kyoto agreement had nothing to do with global warming but was actually about undermining "big, successful capitalist economies like America."

Finally, there is the recent grasping-at-straws argument of those nanny-nanny naysayers, that of measurement bias. Now, it is true that there hasn't been a lot of standardization of measuring devices and locations. But one, such standardization has been increasing. Two, it really doesn't matter. For scientific accuracy it does, but for generalized predictions of global warming it doesn't: Models and predictions are not based on data from one or a few such measurements, but from hundreds, thousands, of measurements from a variety of sources, the range of data being sufficient to generate a good deal of confidence that any measurement biases are smoothed out. (I also find it amusing that our knowledge of short-term climate variations is based on exactly the same sort of measurements they question - which means to question the measurements also means to question the existence of those short-term variations that they claim are what we're actually experiencing! Accepting their argument here means rejecting their other argument over there. Then again, intellectual consistency was never very high on their list of concerns.)

In fact, potential measurement bias matters even less than that and the whole business is a red herring. The issue is not what the temperature of the Earth is at any given moment or even whether you can meaningfully assign a single number to it. The issue is the average temperature of the Earth and how that average is changing over time. Even if there was a persistent, non-smoothed-out measurement bias, if that average is going up over time, there still is global warming. And if over time it's going up to an extent that cannot be accounted for by natural variations - which is exactly what it is doing - then there is anthropogenic global warming, the nanny-nanny naysayers and their self-interested corporate backers nitpicking and spewing bogus comparisons notwithstanding.
I try to do this - quote something I said somewhere else as a post here - as little as possible, but once in a while for one reason or another, usually either particular relevance or outside pressures, I'll go ahead. I hope no one minds too much.

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