More ice, flat temperatures – what does it all mean?

Simple messages, which make headlines and create doubt amongst the laity, are an easy sell in the pseudo-sceptical world of climate science contrarianism. Many sound (kind of) plausible, and so gain an undue amount of traction among the general public and non-science decision-makers.  Ian Plimer’s recent book capitalises on these themes to full advantage, and, as Tim Lambert has patiently detailed over the past year or so, some media outlets such as The Australian also give such unscientific messages an extended and unbalanced run.

One that never seems to go away is that ‘1998 was the hottest year and every year since has been cooler‘ meme, or similar such variants. This little gem preys upon most people’s lack of appreciation of statistical inference, just like the ‘climate models didn’t predict recent variability‘ exploit a lack of understanding of the difference between a mean model output and any single realisation of a stochastic model run. Another one that’s come up quite a bit recently — including a number of editorials and reports in The Oz (I’m quoted in one of them) — is the claim that Antarctica (and worldwide) ice extent is growing. It’s a great one for climate contrarianism, because it immediately raises people’s suspicion levels — ‘How can the Earth be warming if the ice is growing?‘. You get the picture. Doubt is their product.

Now it would be nice to give people a simple explanation to these — ideally, some analogy that is easily visualised in the mind. Alas, the scientific explanations for these will always be, by necessity, somewhat technical and therefore easily glazed over by 95% of readers. Recently, the Australian Science Media Centre asked some scientists for an explanation, in simple terms, as to why ice in Antarctica might be growing. You can find their answers here. Ian Allison gave the most technically comprehensive and scientifically satisfactory reply, but I don’t imagine it meant much to most folks. I had a stab at a simpler explanation, which I reproduce below, but I also struggled, I think, to really make it clear.

Question: With confusion in the media this week over whether ice is decreasing or increasing in the Antarctic, here experts clarify the apparent anomaly.

Answer: This is a common source of confusion among climate change sceptics. As the world warms, the atmosphere’s ability to hold water vapour increases. Think of how humid it is in the tropics, and how dry the Arctic air is. The largest desert on Earth is the continent of Antarctica — it receives very little annual precipitation. In a warming world, more water vapour allows for more snowfall in Antarctica, which accumulates particularly in East Antarctica where the temperature never rises above freezing point. So, ice accumulates on that side of the continent. In the Antarctic Peninsula and West Antarctica, this extra accumulation of snow is more than offset by summer surface melt.

Also, as the sea warms around the continent, especially in the most northerly parts of the continent (Antarctic Peninsula) large ice shelves are eroded from beneath, and the frequency with which they break up starts to accelerate. This melting of buttressing ice shelves unplugs the land-based glaciers, and they begin to flow into the sea more rapidly. As such, there is a large net loss of ice from the western half of the continent, and a slight gain in the eastern half. More sea ice builds up around the continent because as the surface waters warm, the ocean becomes more stratified (it ‘turns over’ less readily). Less ocean heat is brought up from below. So it’s a battle between the negative effect of increased surface melt of sea ice, and the positive effect of more snowfall and decreased in melting from below, both of which reinforce sea ice formation. The result — a steady state or slight increase in the amount of floating ice around the great southern continent.

Better explanations than this exist. The main point of this blog entry is to alert my readers to two sites that I consider to be outstanding in this respect. They are ‘Skeptical Science (examining the science of global warming skepticism’ and ‘The Global Warming Debate (a layman’s guide to the science and controversy)’. I’d recommend these two sites as the first ‘go to’ point for anyone with doubts or simple curiosity about what the whole ‘climate change debate’ is about — even above Real Climate (which is technically superior to all other climate science blogs, but is generally pitched at a sufficiently advanced level that the casual layperson may often feel overwhelmed by the content and technical jargon).

John Cook, who runs Skeptical Science, took a break for a few months but is now up and running with three excellent new posts — one on the ‘cooled since 1998’ malarky and the other two on Antarctic ice spread. All three offer superb explanations. This site also has a list of the 50 ‘Hottest Skeptic Arguments‘ (in rank order) and regular specific posts which add further commentary to key points or things that are currently in the news. It is worth spending a day reading through the whole site, and sending links to your friends and family when they raise questions.

The Global Warming Debate is a wealth of interesting information. It includes 14 ‘chapters’ (extended web-based postings with pictures, hyperlinks and scientific references), supported by flash-driven video presentations presented by the author. It is simply superb. Here is the ‘About‘ description from the website, which gives you a broader idea of the motivation and content:

I created this presentation in response to persistent arguments that I’d read throughout the Internet (see introduction). “The Global Warming Debate” is my attempt to document the controversy as it is presented to the general public. Legitimate scientific questions remain, but the question of whether or not humans are capable of significantly altering the climate has been resolved.

If you are wondering “why should I believe you?” my advice is: don’t take my word for it. I have no special expertise in climate science. I call it a “Layman’s Guide” because it is by and for the layman. What I do suggest is to investigate the citations that I provide and weigh both the credibility of the argument and those making it. This is covered in much more detail in section 2 (“The Scientific Consensus”), but the world’s scientific societies, from which we draw virtually all of our scientific knowledge of the Earth, have all endorsed the science of anthropogenic global warming (AGW).

Skeptics call this an “appeal to authority” but it is really an appeal to credibility. There is a very small group of active climate scientists who doubt the consensus position on climate change, and their alternative theories will be examined in this presentation. The “debate” that you read about in newspaper editorials or watch on political talk shows overwhelmingly originates from Libertarian-leaning think tanks who see anthropogenic global warming as a conspiracy of greedy scientists and a danger to free market ideals.

In reality, a very good case for global warming has been made by the world’s scientists, and the consequences of not acting are grave. I will present a mainstream view of global warming based on my best effort to understand the various issues, from measurements of past temperatures and atmosphere, to modeling the climate of the future, to policies and technologies intended to mitigate the problem. This remains a work in progress, and comments are always welcome.

If you are truly sceptical (i.e., unsure of the case but willing to be convinced, if sufficient, logical and rational explanations are presented), about whether humans are having an impact on the climate system, how valid past temperature reconstructions and present measurements are, what the models really say, and how climate change attribution works, then you have a duty to read this site. All of it. Then we can talk, here at BNC or on other climate science sites (many linked in my left sidebar), about the points you still don’t understand or are unconvinced about.

Over to you, John Cook and cce. I tip my hat at your efforts.

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79 Comments

  1. Thanks for another great post Barry.

    I had been thinking about this since I saw the report on TV last week. The best I had come up was thinking that it might have something to do with the ocean currents taking the cooled water (as the ice melts in it) from the West to the East. My though process was that if this is the direction of the current flows (West to East) a slight change in the temperature due to additional melting ice might make a large difference to ice build up in the East (It also relied on the fact that the melt had more that offset the additional warming in the current flow).

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  2. Thanks Barry. Revisions have slowed to a crawl due to “real life.” There might be a 15th section/epilogue covering “what should I do” type issues, but at this rate it won’t be for a while.

    re: McAffee

    A subscriber to the free host that I use was infected with some kind of spyware a year ago (long since removed), so it triggers an alert anytime someone accesses the 890m.com domain. Some day, I’ll probably move to a paid host, unique domain and fancy up the theme. All of the good domains have already been taken, but I’m thinking of “The Global Warming Navigator” i.e. globalwarming-navigator.com or some variation.

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  3. I went there OK as well – really good site.

    I don’t think it will stop the “its cold today therefore global warming is wrong” crowd however I found it very interesting.

    Today Bolt has outdone himself. I often visit the site just to count the number of warming articles he has on the first page. I call it the stupid index. Today it is at an all time high of 6. Including the classic:

    http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/index.php/heraldsun/comments/snow_falls_early_spot_the_first_to_blame/

    “Global warming?

    NSW has experienced its first snow of the year, with five centimetres falling in the state’s Snowy Mountains the earliest fall in more than a decade.

    Of course, one bit of freak weather doesn’t prove blah blah blah. So where were all those caveats when outlets like The Age and ABC freaked over a poor snow season six years ago and swallowed alarmist nonsense like this: ”

    What do you do to counter this sort of thing?

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  4. Thanks for those. RealClimate has been at a bit too high a level I’ve thought.

    Can’t say you’ve nailed it on the ice thing. I was at a dinner party on saturday night and someone wound me up a bit by saying climate change was nonsense. Didn’t go for too long, but I really had to try and be very polite and smiley, but I couldn’t satisfactorily explain the antarctic ice thing, except to say that well before it was observed, lots of climatologists predicted it would happen as part of their climate change theories. Now that it’s been observed, this should be considered a win for the theory, except some professional nonsense generators are trying make stuff up.

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  5. It is a fact that any noisy, trended time series has periods of flatness, or even counter-trend data, as long as the noise is substantial relative to the trend.

    In an effort to convey that, I offered an ultra-simple Excel spreadsheet example, which shows the expected behavior without including any of that “known-by-some-to-have-been-manipulated” temperature data from GISS or Hadley or anywhere else. Appropriately, noise > yearly trend, although obviously the simple spreadhseet isn’t a climate model.

    Some people liked it, and Capital Climate kindly created an animation.

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  6. I love the way Believers can easily flip from “Ice is melting and that’s evidence of Global warming” to “Ice is increasing and that is evidence of Global Warming” .

    Talk about wanting to have your cake and eat it too.

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  7. Fancy the proliferation of instant climate experts popping out of the woodwork, not having read even basic text books in climatology, nor the IPCC or CSIRO or Global Carbon Project reports, many of which are written in a language aimed at the general reader (minimizing technical terms).

    Can you imagine people doing the same with the physics of nuclear fission, aerodynamics of jet planes or brain surgery?

    Surely not.

    Reasons: (1) we live under the weather (which many find hard todistinguish from the climate; (2) some people have a grudge/envy against scientists, and (3) who wahts to believe in global warming anyway.

    Those who self-compliment themselves as “skeptics” (but really are not using analytical thinking) but flutter at the edge of science looking for faults, much like creationists trying to shoot Darwin down in flames.

    The pseudo-skeptics are up for a “big prize”, namely, one of the consequences of continuing global warming is likely to include TANSIENT cooling of the North Atlantic due to Greenland ice melt, and the southern Oceans due to Antarctic, as has happened following 12.9 kyr (the “Youngest dryas”) or following the ~ 8 kyr “Holocone Optimum”. At present it is hard to estimate how long this, mostly regional, cooling would occur before warming is resumed.

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  8. there is always a reason!
    but are you trying to tell me that putting up windmills is going to cut our emissions by 80%. Seriously, only a fool doesn’t know enough to look out the window and realize the wind is not blowing. It is not blowing anywhere in Pennsylvania today. Yet if we put up a couple 10,000 windmills it is all supposed to average out? Complete nonsense. the-green-wind.com

    Wind power is easy to figure out as “bogus” science. Climate change is more difficult. Because no matte what you alarmists will come up with a reason on why it is happening, even if it is not. You want to drive our economy into the Dark Ages and I can only compare the ignorance of so many to the Taliban. And wind thing. Our Secretary of Interior says we can close thousands of coal plants with offshore wind. Complete insanity if you want electricity in August. I have been offshore fishing MANY Times in August and I can tell you, we run 100 miles to the tuna grounds of Jersey and it is not remarkable for the seas to be completely calm. This public discussion we are having is interesting but a complete Waste of Our Time. It was much better in the 90.’s when all we worried about was Bill & Monica, Geraldo and OJ!!! Bring them Back! and a handcuffed Democratic President with a Republican legistlature. Those were the good ole days. We go from spending 10 billion in Iraq fighting one boogey-man and right away we are fighting the next one. We are a STUPID RACE of people.

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  9. There are good grounds for skepticism of the claims being made by the climate alarmists in terms of the likelihood that the world will warm any where near as much as they have predicted; in terms of whether the consequences of such warming as has and will occur will be bad or good on the whole; and as to the scientific foundation of their arguments, for example: the infamous Mann “Hockey Stick” which purported to write out of history the Medieval Warm Period on the basis of bad statistics and worse proxies (for the latter see Climate Audit http://www.climateaudit.org/).

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  10. There are many daft arguments put forward to attack the theory of AGW. There are just as many daft arguments put forward in support. Both sides have their nutters and it is very easy to try discredit one side or other by demolishing these arguments. The links you provide do a good job on some of the sillier sceptic arguments but a very poor one on the more serious objections.
    For example on the question of the validity of the climate models the argument is put forward that the models accurately ‘predict’ the past and if CO2 is removed as a variable they no longer predict the past. I’d be embarrased if I set myself up as an expert and put forward this argument. Anyone with any understanding of statistical estimation will know that it is ridiculous. The climate modelers have wasted an awful lot of money “proving” what we already knew ie that there was a statistical correlation between CO2 and global temperatures during the 20th century.
    I have yet to see a convincing demonstration that the models are even capable of validation within any useful time frame.
    Many people in the sceptic camp have serious and as yet unanswered objections in regard to both the science and the economics of the “consensus” viewpoint and they will not be dismissed by a wave of the hand as you have attempted with Ian Plimer’s book

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  11. Regarding the graphic in this article – I assume it’s trying to show how a 10 year period can have a flat or negative trend when the underlying trend is still up. If that was the case, shouldn’t a time frame when a volcano (El Chichon in 1982) did not affect the global temperature be chosen?

    A large volcanic explosion can affect negatively global temperatures for up to four years.

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  12. Is Waxman’s explanation of the Ice Cap your understanding of the the Arctic Ocean is about?

    This Quote of the Week is from Congressman Henry Waxman, who is pushing (or maybe bribing) the carbon cap and trade bill through congress. The statement made by Waxman can be corrected by a third grader; it is that bad. From an interview on NPR as relayed by Tavis Smiley:

    “We’re seeing the reality of a lot of the North Pole starting to evaporate, and we could get to a tipping point. Because if it evaporates to a certain point – they have lanes now where ships can go that couldn�t ever sail through before. And if it gets to a point where it evaporates too much, there�s a lot of tundra that’s being held down by that ice cap..”

    That’s probably the scariest statement on “science” ever uttered by a Congressman.

    Let me go on record by saying Waxman is stunningly and stupidly misinformed and intellectually inadequate for the tasks at hand that bears his name: The Waxman-Markey bill

    This is what Waxman works on in Congress:

    Committee on Energy and Commerce (Chairman)

    * Subcommittee on Health
    * Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality
    * Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

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  13. Chris Maddigan:

    Anyone who knows statistics, physics, and is familiar the nature of different kinds of simulations, knows why climate models are actually useful.

    Would you like to understand the difference between *physics* models and purely *statistical* models?

    See RC FAQ #1 RC FAQ #2 on models, and then my comments on different kinds of models and how people over-generalize.

    If you don’t think physics models can be useful:

    a) Never fly in a modern airplane.
    b) Don’t ride in a modern car.
    c) Be careful of modern bridges and buildings.

    When you say “you haven’t seen”, what that means is that you haven’t looked in the right places, a few of which are listed above. Hindcasting from *statistical* models is not very useful, but is quite useful for physics models.

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  14. 1. You can predict and then prove experimentally that airplanes should fly.

    2. You can predict and prove experimentally that cars should move.

    3. You can predict and prove experimentally that bridges will hold your weight.

    4. You can predict but cannot prove experimentally that CO2 computer models are correct. But that’s OK according to the eco-believers as faith is good enough.

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  15. One thing about the effect of global warming on the climate in southern Australia is that since the ocean around East Antarctica isn’t warming very fast, cold air that we get from there will have much the same temperature as it’s had for a long time time. However, air that comes from the north is warmer with global warming.

    So we’ll get a climate with more extreme variation, i.e. the cold weather will be much the same as it used to be while the hot weather will be hotter.

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  16. Pingback: Darwiniana » Easy sell in a pseudo-skeptical world

  17. As a proud AGW skeptic (or call me a denier if you wish, I don’t mind at all) my favorite thing to do is post links on Facebook to articles that question the “certainty of climate change.” It’s just my way of fomenting doubt in casual observers (95% of the population) and possibly instigating the debate that Algore claims is over.
    I have no doubt that truth will eventually win out, but I’m hoping that will happen before Barack Obama and the Democrats completely cripple Western Civilization fighting the Man-Bear-Pig of Global Warming.

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  18. Glenncz,
    The link to thegreenwind web site, seems to be a tirade against wind energy.
    How come Iowa and South Australia both generate 20% of their electricity from wind power?
    How come the US added 8.3GW wind capacity last year?

    If you are concerned that the wind is not blowing in Pennsylvania perhaps you should inquire if it is bowing in Quebec or Iowa or N Dakota, because your power is linked to electricity generated at these locations.

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  19. As an ex-Pennsylvanian, who grew up on a PA farm established ~1850, I’d like to see PA be a reasonable place in another 100 years. My ancestors left us topsoil and planted orchards.
    ====

    Some pretty smart folks have indeed shown that if you have enough geographic dispersion of windfarms, that you can count on some useful fraction of it as baseload.
    See Jacobson & Archer and Archer, from Stanford.

    My alma mater Penn State has an active Sustainability Center, and a large set of groups for Energy Research, including pictures of wind turbines.

    So do Pitt, Carnegie-Mellon, Penn (wind!), Drexel.

    Many of these places have frequent public lectures, where you could go and hear good speakers and ask them questions.

    Many other states have better wind resources than PA, but it’s still a useful part of the solution.

    But if you have no interest in what the top universities in PA are doing about this, or why, and you want to continue Business-As-Usual indefinitely, there’s a simple solution:

    write a time-capsule letter to your (or your neighbor’s, if you have no kids) PA descendants in 2100, saying something like:

    “We had these things called “fossil fuels”, while your generation has almost none left. We had private cars that actually burned “gasoline” from oil. (really!)

    We didn’t invest much fossil fuel energy (capital) in renewable energy sources (energy income), because those would have been a waste. Hence, of the energy per capita available to us, you only have a small fraction…. but:

    Exercise is good for you, so I hope you enjoy manual labor, or maybe you’ve managed to join an Amish community, as those folks kept their horses and have always been fine farmers. Eight-grade educations are good enough, whereas *we* used to waste money on universities. In our day, 2% of the people fed us all, whereas you’re probably back to 1900’s 40%, or maybe even approaching 1800’s 80% farm population. At least PA has some reasonable farmland.

    Unlike your neighbors in NJ, NY, DE, MD, you at least don’t need to worry much about sea level rise, although by now, the kudzu is all over the place, and it’s good exercise to try to keep that down also. I’m not sure what you do about the additional mosquitoes. I’m sure that Pennsylvania must still have some trees, although it’s too bad the pine beetles killed all the mature pine trees decades ago. I assume you’ve gotten accustomed to the additional floods. Anyway, in my time there was a lot of nonsense about imaginary climate change, but you can see that it really didn’t matter.”

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  20. “Charney” sensitivity can be derived a number of ways, i.e. temperature change since the last glacial maximum, temperature change over the instrumental record, and temperature change following an explosive volcanic eruption. These data indicate sensitivity around 3 degrees, which is the same answer from either “simple” models, or full blown AOGCMs. One of the great skeptical delusions is that all of these independent methods are wrong, and that somehow the figure is much lower.

    You can prove, experimentally, that airplanes fly, cars move, and bridges hold their weight because we can build those things. We cannot “prove” AGW because we cannot build a duplicate earth with no anthropogenic influence. Skeptics would prefer we wait until it is too late to prove that we should have done something decades earlier.

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  21. The models are indeed no more than statistical estimations. Of course they use established physics to model different components of the models – but some components are statistically derived as is much of the connective tissue between the components. This renders the physics moot and turns the models into pure statistical artefacts.
    I certainly wouldn’t fly in a plane that correctly modelled the engines but had never left the ground and used statistical estimates based on poor quality observations of existing aircraft to calculate the fuel flow and the connection of the wing to the fuselage.

    To claim the climate models are based on physics is like saying astrology is based on physics because it uses physics to accurately predict the position of the planets.

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  22. Chris – “This renders the physics moot and turns the models into pure statistical artefacts.
    I certainly wouldn’t fly in a plane that correctly modelled the engines but had never left the ground and used statistical estimates based on poor quality observations of existing aircraft to calculate the fuel flow and the connection of the wing to the fuselage.”

    You may be partially correct however aircraft makers have the luxury of building a prototype to test their computer models and make changes where theory does not quite meet practice. No aircraft manufacturer would ever dream of mass producing an aircraft designed and tested in a computer model only.

    In aircraft design however thousands of changes can be tested quickly and cheaply in the computer model and the design can be refined at a fraction of the cost of building hundreds of models and prototypes. This leads to modern aircraft, at prototype stage, conforming pretty well to computer predictions and saving millions of dollars and years of design time. Aircraft models have got so good the handling can be modelled and the aircraft ‘flown’ years before a plane leaves the ground.

    Climate modellers would love to do the same. They use computer models to do ‘what if’ studies on the Earths atmosphere with the best tools that they have. As Magrathea went out of business billions of years ago we cannot order a test planet or two to check how our computer models are doing. We can only check the models against what we observe and refine them and increase our confidence in them.

    “To claim the climate models are based on physics is like saying astrology is based on physics because it uses physics to accurately predict the position of the planets.”

    As astrology uses star charts that are a thousand years out of date then this is not even close to being an true analogy. Astrology is flying in the face of even simple observational astronomy of a hundred years ago.

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  23. Ender,
    I have no problems with computer based models. I develop software for a living. There is a vast difference though between a computer model of an aircraft and the climate models. Every component of an aircraft model is based on rigorous science. The connections (or interactions) between the components are also developed from first principles. Both the models as a whole and the component parts are rigorously tested experimentally.
    As to the climate models, many of the processes are poorly understood, and are modelled in abstract ways only loosely related to the actual physical processes. Many are just statistically estimated using structural forms whose only justification is it gets the right result.
    When you say that “We can only check the models against what we observe and refine them” you seem to be unaware (as it seems are the climate modellers themselves) that you are describing a process that is a defacto statistical estimation. The process is basically a sort of mechanical regression.
    I agree with you that we can’t rustle up new planets to test our theories on, but you and the modellers should accept the logical conclusion from this – that it is therefore impossible, given the paucity of reliable data over sufficiently long period of time, to build usable climate models.
    You should look at the links that John Mashey provided. I can’t see why he thinks the descriptions there give confidence in the climate modeling process. What is described there is a process chock full of statistical fudges and subjective judgments.
    At the end of the day, models that have no real predictive power are not better than no models at all, they are far worse as they give people a false sense that they know something about the future.
    By the way Ender, you misunderstand my point about astrology. Even if astrologers used modern physics to accurately determine the position of the planets their predictions would still be nonsense.

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  24. Alex Ac, I’m currently about 1/3 way through Ian Plimer’s book, and the only thing I could complain about are all his references, which tend to slow you down a bit. It helps, of course ,if you have some understanding of geological history, or even some understanding of how science actally progresses.Ian tends to include a lot of facts. As he states on page 99, “These facts are only uncomfortable if history is ignored,including the last ten years which provided the best data ever collected.”

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  25. I invite a AGW supporter (that is any supporter) to post scientific proof that AGW is real. Note that predicted climate change generated by computer modeling is not scientific proof.

    Thank you.

    If any of you are interested in a balanced view point about climate change please visit the following website. Take your time and have a good look around and read and absorb as many posts as you can.

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/

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  26. South Australia’s 800 million dollars worth of wind farms produced almost exactly nil power over the period of record summer heatwave conditions. The hottest times are when there is no wind, just baking heat. Similarly, the coldest periods are also [usually ]calm. The reason the US added 8.3GW wind capacity last year? Subsidies.. It would be a lot cheaper and more effective, {and less of a blot on the landscape} to build another nuclear power station. Much more environmentally friendly, too, from a native bird and resource point of view.

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  27. Real Climate is a waste of time since only one point of view is ever permitted. Science is a debate unlike religion.

    If I wanted to worship a point of view and pretend everything is known and well understood I would go to church.

    That is why I much prefer whatsupwiththat and climateaudit where differing opinions and positions are debated vigorously and often rigorously over wide ranges of expertise – and critical views and challenges are not totally suppressed as they are routinely on realclimate.

    The simple fact is that many aspects of climate change are not understood and even the very short comparatively well-measured amount of climate data we have contains many mysteries and is far too short to validate existing climate models – though current indications are that they are failing. See Lucia’s Blackboard for some proper scrutiny.

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  28. Chris Maddington – “Every component of an aircraft model is based on rigorous science. The connections (or interactions) between the components are also developed from first principles. Both the models as a whole and the component parts are rigorously tested experimentally.”

    That is not entirely true. The boundary layer and laminar flow etc are only estimated even in the most sophisticated models as this area is as grey as the unknowns in climate models. The flow equations used to describe the flow of air around a wing are chock full of emperical parameters that are set with observations. Ask an aeronautical engineer if he/she can predict exactly where the flow on a wing will change from laminar to turbulent.

    If you would like to read up on aerodynamics have a read of a classic text:
    Aerodynamics
    by Theodore Von Karman

    And the classic assumption that underlies all most aerodynamics is that air is incompressible which only breaks down at supersonic speeds, however most aircraft are designed with this obviously wrong assumption and fly perfectly well.

    I don’t see your point. As in the case of aircraft you do not have to be a complete master of everything to enable work to be done. No-one pretends that a climate model is an exact analog of the Earth and can tell you what the climate will be like on the 25th January 2020 in Perth. You seem to be of the opinion that if it can’t do this then it is wrong. However if an aircraft designer can only estimate where the boundary layer will trip and still design an aircraft to fly safely in the range, a climate modeller can also accept the limitations of the model and draw valid conclusions from it about the range where future climate might be in ‘what if’ scenerios.

    “By the way Ender, you misunderstand my point about astrology. Even if astrologers used modern physics to accurately determine the position of the planets their predictions would still be nonsense.”

    Not really as astrology is rubbish anyway you look at it however I simply made the point that you were presenting a false analogy which you have confirmed.

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  29. Ender,
    Once again you missing the point and getting lost in the analogies. I am not that much interested in finer points of aerodynamic analysis or that concerned with astrology. The point I will make again very plainly just for you is that even if astrologers used the best physics to calculate the position of the planets, astrology would still be absolute rubbish because there is no relationship between peoples destinies and the position of the planet. It would be wrong to say that astrology was based on physics.
    Similarly some of the components of the climate models are derived from physics. However many are not. More importantly the connections (parameters) between the components are statistically derived. Any link between the physics and the forecasts is distorted and filtered through a process of statistical estimation and (worse) “educated guesses”. To claim that the end result is based on physics is laughable. To put it another way – a chain is as weak as its weakest link. The models are just curve fits with unknowable predictive capacity.
    You claim I expect the models to be able to predict what “the climate will be like on the 25th January 2020 in Perth.” Nothing I have said would indicate this. I would however expect the models to be able to predict average global temperature for a decade fairly accurately. Certainly average over a whole globe over a whole decade isn’t “weather”?. But none of the models as they existed at the end of the last decade, fed with the correct drivers are likely to have come within coee of predicting the figure for this decade. How can anyone have confidence that the models as they stand today have any chance of accurately predicting the next decade (let alone century) .

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  30. Chris – “Similarly some of the components of the climate models are derived from physics. However many are not. More importantly the connections (parameters) between the components are statistically derived”

    OK if we are to accept this argument then you will have to specify the parts of climate models that are not derived from physics. Also I am not sure that you have the idea of parameters properly. Here is what I think is a parameter.

    Take a very simple model of motion first proposed by Newton:

    f = m * a

    So if I put a block of wood on my desk and apply a force it will not move. So by your standards then this model is false and Newton is disproved. However Newton of course stated that a mass will conform to this model by neglecting friction. So to correctly model a block on my desk you would have to include friction and the ‘sticking force’ to overcome the initial friction and get the block moving. In effect you have to add parameters to change the theoretical model into a real world model. If you get the parameters right and use a computer to make a model of how a block moves on my desk by doing lots of f=ma per second then you perhaps could end up quite accurately describing the motion of a block on my desk which you could then refine the model with observations to more accurately model the block.

    You seem to have the idea that parameters are fudge factors and in effect they are however scientists who use computers to model anything strive to make the parameters as close to reality as possible and only use them with justification from physics where the equations only describe perfect gases or frictionless surfaces and need to be changed slightly because there is no such thing in the real world as a perfect gas or a frictionless surface.

    Again please supply examples of unjustified parameters that you know of are in use in computer models.

    I know of one and that is clouds. Most models use a pretty idealised model of cloud formation as this is a very poorly understood area as it is extremely complex. Much more research is needed here and Australia is quite uniquely placed as some of the best cloud formations occur in the far North of Australia that attracts researchers from all over the world to Darwin.

    This is the nature of science – it is what we don’t know that is exciting. I was just listening to a NPR podcast that had the physicist
    Steven Weinberg as a panelist. He was asked about whether he would prefer the the LHC to produce the Higgs boson exactly as theory predicted or not.

    He replied surprisingly, given that the Higgs is his baby so to speak, is that he would prefer the LHC not to produce the Higgs boson as this outcome would be more fascinating than the other as it would force us to rethink physics.

    The scientists programming these models are just as excited about what comes out of them so they really make sure that what goes in and what happens to what goes in is as valid as they can possibly make it otherwise they would just pack up and go home.

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  31. Oh for god’s sake Ender why don’t you just read what the climate modellers themselves say about the models. The following is from Real Climate – http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2008/11/faq-on-climate-models

    “We are still a long way from being able to simulate the climate with a true first principles calculation. While many basic aspects of physics can be included (conservation of mass, energy etc.), many need to be approximated for reasons of efficiency or resolutions (i.e. the equations of motion need estimates of sub-gridscale turbulent effects, radiative transfer codes approximate the line-by-line calculations using band averaging), and still others are only known empirically (the formula for how fast clouds turn to rain for instance). With these approximations and empirical formulae, there is often a tunable parameter or two that can be varied in order to improve the match to whatever observations exist. Adjusting these values is described as tuning and falls into two categories. First, there is the tuning in a single formula in order for that formula to best match the observed values of that specific relationship. This happens most frequently when new parameterisations are being developed.
    Secondly, there are tuning parameters that control aspects of the emergent system. Gravity wave drag parameters are not very constrained by data, and so are often tuned to improve the climatology of stratospheric zonal winds. The threshold relative humidity for making clouds is tuned often to get the most realistic cloud cover and global albedo. Surprisingly, there are very few of these (maybe a half dozen) that are used in adjusting the models to match the data. It is important to note that these exercises are done with the mean climate (including the seasonal cycle and some internal variability) – and once set they are kept fixed for any perturbation experiment. “

    How anyone can read (or write) this and still claim that the forecasts from the models are based on physics and not curve fitting is beyond me. Just remember – the weakest link in the chain determines the strength of the whole. The climate model community is possessed by group think!

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  32. The complex transient and regional variations in temperature, ice extent and ice thickness in West and East Antarctica do not mask the overall decade-scale warming trend of the continent, which in west Antarctica reach surface tmperature anomalies 3 and 4 times higher than at lower latitudes.

    Formation of the Antarctic ice sheet was associated with abrupt cooling ~34 million years-ago (Ma) (end-Eocene) in connection with (1) decline of CO2 levels to below 500 ppm and temperature level by ~4 – 5 degrees C (Zachos et al., 2008; http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v451/n7176/full/nature 06588.html); (2) Opening of the Drake passage, isolating Antarctica from South America and retarding introduction of warm currents to high southern latitudes. Two major asteroid impacts (Popigai [D=90 km]and Chesapeake [D=100 km] occurred at that time, possibly triggering transient cooling. With this perspective, the current rise of CO2-e (including radiative forcing by methane and N2O) to levels near 440 ppm is approaching conditions under which the Antarctic ice sheet formed.

    Antarctic ice melt is affected by (1) polar-ward migration of climate zones by about 400 km (Hansen et al., 2007, 2008; http://arxiv.org/abs/0804. 1126); (2) contraction and thereby acceleration of the Antarctic wind vortex, causing reduced temperature in parts of the continent; (3) atmospheric ozone (greenhouse gas) depletion results in somewhat reduced greenhouse effect; (4) stratospheric ozone depletion results in increased UV radiation; (5) the increase in south oceans water temperature of ~0.2 to 0.3 degrees C erodes ice shelves laterally and from below. Increased evaporation results in increased snow fall and thickened ice in some regions.

    Melting is greatly enhanced by the ice melt/water interaction feedback process, the factor driving temperature rises to levels 3 or 4 times the mean global average (http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/). NASA/GISS surveys show that entire Antarctic surface temperatures increased by a mean of +0.12C per decade and West Antarctica by 0.17C per decade between 1957 and 2006. (http://www.giss.nasa.gov/ research/news/20090121/). Manifestations of warming include reduced concentration of sea ice north of the West Antarctic peninsula and in the direction of Australia, and increase in sea ice in other areas (http://nsidc.org/data/seaice_ index/). West Antarctica ice shelves which overlies sub-sea level basement are vulnerable to sea water-induced melting, as exemplified by the Wilkins ice shelf collapse.

    Given the mean overall warming of Antarctica (east and west combined) by about 0.6 degrees C over the last 50 years, with mean anomalies 5 to 6 times warmer over parts of west Antarctica, perhaps it would be too much to hope for that, while mean global T rise since 1750 reached ~1.3 degrees C (accounting for the transient masking effects of SO2 aerosols), the Antarctic ice remains intact.

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  33. Any serious readings of climatology text books and the peer-reviewed climate science literature should lead to realization of the hard data and experimental evidence on which modern climate research is based, consistent with the physics and chemistry of the atmosphere.

    Alternatively, any field of science can be dismissed by those who do not like its implications.

    Which is when we can go back to the caves and live happily ever after.

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  34. The peer review process is broken where AGW is concerned, which is an insult and travesty to science. Paper’s that challenge conventional IPCC dogma are routinely quashed as AGW research provides massive amounts of funding.

    I think it is hilarious that Deniers are accused with accepting millions from “Big Oil” while Believers rake in billions from their source. I wonder who has the most to lose?

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  35. Chris – “Oh for god’s sake Ender why don’t you just read what the climate modellers themselves say about the models. ”

    We are at an impasse then as when I read what you posted, which I have already done, my explanation is a vastly less comprehensive view of modelling that contains exactly the same thing. Parameters substitute for areas that are not well understood and we tune equations to conform with the real world rather than the perfect physics world that they were created in.

    As other people have said, the same things as you claim invalidate climate models occur in thousands of real world modelling applications from feed hoppers to jet aircraft. I have provided examples of poorly understood physics like the boundary layer that are estimated in computer models and still give valid predictive results.

    I think that you are missing a critical thing here. Models are tuned to observations of reality to conform better with what we observe not what we want to predict. Unless you are accusing the modellers of fraud nobody tunes computer models to get the output they want – that is really denier propaganda.

    To return to analogy this would be like Boeing wanting to design an airliner that is 10% more efficient. All they would have to do is tune the boundary layer estimation and get a 10% more efficient wing with less drag in the model. Nobody who designs real aircraft would do this as this tuning could cause the real plane to fall out of the sky from a bug landing on the wing and disturbing the boundary layer.

    There is a lot of material out there that accuses climate modellers of tuning parameters to produce warming in accordance with their preconceived ideas. As far as I am aware this is totally false and is just another one of the myths that Barry explodes with this blog.

    Again if you want to pursue this in this forum then you would have to provide specific examples and show why they invalidate the results.

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  36. Chris – the other thing that you are missing is that GCMs are investigative tools that enhance our knowledge of nature.

    For example a climate modeller when doing runs on a GCM might notice that parameter xyz has to be set to 700 for it to work. This would be written up in a peer reviewed journal where other researchers will read it.

    Other researchers after reading this could then examine the physical process that parameter xyz models to determine why it had to be set to 700 and this could lead to a whole new investigative path to a section of the climate we didn’t know existed or didn’t understand.

    Climate models are extremely important tools – don’t be sucked in by glib dismissals that they are used to confirm what we want to think.

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  37. Ender,
    Perhaps we are at an impasse, perhaps not. To go back to your F=ma analogy. The way I see the description (by the modellers) of what they do is something more akin to:
    F=((b1*m1a1) + B2M2A2)*J ….+k
    With b1, b2,j,k etc not derived from physical laws or experimentation but by statistical estimation or (worse still)- because they work. Models built in this way are extraordinarily prone to both specification error and to errors in working out confidence levels.
    Specification errors can include: omitting variable that should be in the model, including variables that shouldn’t and mistaking the way a variable relates to the whole (e.g. assuming a linear relationship rather than a logarithmic)
    I am not accusing the climate modellers of fraud. I am suggesting that they have become so accustomed to the shortcuts and assumptions they had to make in order to get any results at all, they have forgotten that they made them.
    This is what has happened in Econometrics a field in which I am highly qualified and have practiced. I walked away from this profession because the bulk of practioners had long since taken for granted the assumptions that they were making and as a result had far too much faith in their economic models. They published plenty of peer reviewed papers in prestigious journals too. Even won some Nobel prizes.
    At the end of the day the proof is in the pudding. I ask again would any of the models – as they stood at the end of 1999, fed the actual forcings for CO2, incoming solar radiation etc, forecast that actual average global temperature for this decade. I bet they would all have grossly overstated the figure.

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  38. Chris Maddington – “With b1, b2,j,k etc not derived from physical laws or experimentation but by statistical estimation or (worse still)- because they work. Models built in this way are extraordinarily prone to both specification error and to errors in working out confidence levels.”

    Yes and that is probably true however when such parameters are used generally the researcher will specify the confidence and explain why they used them. Some papers are just that explaining parameters and relating them to reality which is a fruitful field of research as it turns up new things.

    “This is what has happened in Econometrics a field in which I am highly qualified and have practiced. I walked away from this profession because the bulk of practioners had long since taken for granted the assumptions that they were making and as a result had far too much faith in their economic models.”

    Fair enough however climate science is different to Econometrics and being highly qualified in one does not automatically make you an authority on climate models. Some of what you say probably does go on however in the main GCM are tools for research not oracles of the future.

    “At the end of the day the proof is in the pudding. I ask again would any of the models – as they stood at the end of 1999, fed the actual forcings for CO2, incoming solar radiation etc, forecast that actual average global temperature for this decade. I bet they would all have grossly overstated the figure.”

    I would have thought that before launching an attack on climate models that a person of your qualifications would have taken a look at some of the ensemble runs of GCMs. If anything climate change is preceeding far beyond what was modelled and the models are conservative.

    http://www.physorg.com/news148705615.html

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  39. “Simple messages, which make headlines and create doubt amongst the laity, are an easy sell in the pseudo-sceptical world of climate science contrarianism.”

    In protesting against this you are being a trifle disingenuous. Even if everything you say about the real state of the science is right, and I am not disputing it, the fact is that global warming message has been sold, and deliberately sold, through head-line grabbing alarmism, much of it at odds with the very science you support, for years. Six metres of sea level rise, climate change as the explanation for everything from Hurricane Katrina to the Victorian bush fires (my favourite “global warming is responsible for everything” story is the way it has, we are seriously assured, caused an increase in prostitution in Bulgaria), admissions even by Stephen Schneider and Al Gore that they have exaggerated the horror stories intentionally, to persuade the great unwashed that this is a real crisis.

    Well the great unwashed are not actually that stupid. Sooner or later, they notice that alarmist extremism is exactly that, and this creates fertile ground for the deniers to exploit.

    In other words, the science is just too complex for most people to fully understand, so the media battle does come down to competing and misleading grabs for attention, and neither side of the debate is immune.

    Hoist by your own petard, really – or if not exactly your own, at least that of others arguing your side.

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  40. Oh well – at least there is balance – I post links to the “real science” on Facebook etc- so you may not be fomenting as much doubt as you hope! I, too, have no doubt that truth will out – unfortunately I am beginning to think that it will be too late to stop/reverse the process and so we will condemn our children and grandchildren to an uncertain future or worse – no future at all. Live with that on your conscience if you can.

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  41. Ender,
    I have not found anywhere a report on what the models of 1999 would have predicted for global average temperature anomaly during the following decade if fed the actual forcings. I have not found anything similar for any other period either. Maybe I am looking in the wrong place and you can set me straight.
    I have found plenty of spurious analyses that compare the models to the data from which they were built eg How Well Do Coupled Models Simulate Today’s Climate? BY THOMAS REICHLER AND JUNSU KIM (http://www.inscc.utah.edu/~reichler/publications/papers/Reichler_08_BAMS_Performance.pdf)
    Such studies are worthless in validating the forecasting ability of the models.
    I would have thought that comparing forecasts with actual observations (unknown at the time the forecasting model was built) was an essential part of validating the models and providing confidence in their skill. The fact I cannot find any such studies feeds my scepticism. But maybe I’m just lousy at finding these studies and you can set me straight.

    You say:

    in the main GCM are tools for research not oracles of the future.

    The problem is that trillions of Dollars are being bet on the forecasts from the climate models. If the modellers themselves don’t think their models are oracles of the future they should say so loud and clear.

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  42. Chris – “Ender,
    I have not found anywhere a report on what the models of 1999 would have predicted for global average temperature anomaly during the following decade if fed the actual forcings. I have not found anything similar for any other period either.”

    The link that Geoff Russel posted is this:

    “In response to a proposed activity of the World Climate Research Programme’s (WCRP’s) Working Group on Coupled Modelling (WGCM), PCMDI volunteered to collect model output contributed by leading modeling centers around the world. Climate model output from simulations of the past, present and future climate was collected by PCMDI mostly during the years 2005 and 2006, and this archived data constitutes phase 3 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP3).”

    I am sure that you will find what you are looking for here.

    This post at Real Climate has a composite graph of model runs:

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2008/05/what-the-ipcc-models-really-say/#more-564

    “The problem is that trillions of Dollars are being bet on the forecasts from the climate models.”

    Nothing is being bet on climate models. If climate models did not exist we would still have the science of the Enhanced Greenhouse Effect and all the results of observations of the natural world. We would still be using models however these would be pen and paper calculations the same way they did it before computers. To return to the aircraft analogy aircraft were designed successfully before computers. Computers only allow us to make billions of calculations per second rather than spending a lifetime doing one run manually.

    Computer models are tools and nothing else. We are no more betting trillions of dollars on them that we are on weather balloons or meteorology stations.

    Finally I understand your suspicion about modelling if you have a background in economics. However economics is not a science. It is at best a loose collection of half truths and hearsay concerning the behaviour of people passing around small pieces of green paper.

    Climate models are based on physical laws proven by conformance to observations of nature. They are not flexible as they are what we think at this time nature works like. Scientists who work with natural science respect these laws and theories and the models conform to them. Perhaps you should spend some time with scientists rather than economists.

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  43. What some will call “alarmist extremism” others eee as their professional duty and social responsibility, namely to report their observations to the public and the authorities, whether with regard to a flu epidemic, the dangers of nuclear radiation, ozone depletion, tobaco smoking or dangerous climate change.

    The few climate scientists who are prepared to communicate their observations to the public, often despite organizational pressures, are usually not paid or supported, as contrasted with the media platforms and in some cases massive funding available to those who attempt to argue against the science.

    A relevant article by Clive Hamilton is at: http://newmatilda.com/2008/05/19/death-rattles-climate-change-skeptics

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  44. (back nearer left margin)

    0) Sayeth George Box: “All models are wrong. Some are useful.”

    1) In #6 above, I mentioned that Capital Climate had created a nice animation.

    It illustrates the behavior of a trended noisy time series, which anyone whose studied stochastic processes, fairly basic statistics, risk management for retirement etc, etc should understand. In particular, anyone who has done econometrics must surely understand this.

    In the simple Excel that I used, the trend is builtin; in the climate models, it emerges from the physics, unless one simply disbelieves the existence of the greenhouse effect, in which case it is magic. Of course, some of it is derived from approximations. I suppose, if we had a complete model of the Earth & rest of the Solar System, down to every atom, we could do complete ab initio simulations of climate. Maybe not, maybe we need to get down to quarks and Heisenberg would raise his head sometime.

    The noise (just ENSOs alone) is large enough to make it impossible to forecast the exact track, but the ensemble is still useful. I can’t predict the next coin flip of an honest coin with anything better than 50/50, and with a 1000 flips, I have little chance of predicting the H/T sequence … but (with a handy binomial calculator, can confidently predict that 500 +/-30 Heads is pretty likely.

    2) In the RC post I referenced, I suggested ways in which people familiar with some simulation domain overgeneralize and incorrectly think that climate models are useless as a result.

    This is the first time I’ve run into someone from econometrics thinking this, and I don’t know if that’s typical or just random, although it can overlap with the Financial engineering, I guess.

    I certainly have run into lots of software people who simply have zero experience even with FEA or CFD codes, and certainly none with climate models … but are somehow convinced that the latter are useless.

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  45. But that is not addressing my point. Perhaps I made it badly. Let me try a concrete example.

    Do you agree with Robyn Williams on the ABC’s science show (and there is a transcript of his saying it)in a debate on climate change that it is possible that sea levels will rise 100 metres in the next century? Of course it is trivially true, in the sense that it is possible that the moon has green cheese mines, but do you think it is anywhere near a statement of what the climate science says? If it isn’t (and there are plenty of ot similar examples), then it is climate alarmism and I suggest you evacuate the moral high ground forthwith.

    Yes, the deniers tell porkies. But so do some of the true believers. I merely think that pointing the finger at the deniers and screaming “liar”, without acknowledging that they are not alone in that sin, has a whiff of the hypocritical, and more to the point doesn’t actually advance your case with the “laity” whose predilection for swallowing simple, dramatic headlines you would like to wish away, because the laity have seen plenty of climate alarmism too and are well aware of that hypocrisy.

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  46. Davo — The difference is, it’s not the scientists that make claims like 100 m SLR (which is not even trivially true — if all the ice on the planet melted we might be 80 m). Yet it is the scientists (including conservative statements made by scientists in IPCC 2007 AR4) who are under sustained attack as ‘alarmists’ by Plimer, Bolt, The Oz etc.

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  51. Re the last ten years and the temperature record. An entire decade of noise? Some noise. Had it been climbing, though, there would have been a far louder howl, from the AGW axe-grinding classes.

    This is an invitation to one and all. ABC Pool is the Australian national broadcaster’s public website. You are invited to join the Climate Change Debating Group, where so far I debate with myself in splendid isolation, which many of you will of course applaud.

    Anyway, there are now lots of satellite maps there, maybe over a dozen. I have about 2,000 on this claptrap old laptop, as they come in large batches. AIRS, GRACE, etc., etc. AGW, those say, is required to distort the gravity field now, as well as the magnetic field, and also to appear in large amounts where there are no humans, just warming and de-pressurizing oceans and sedimentary basins, all covering for Holdens and steam turbines.

    There have been a lot of words in this splendid debate, as to who is and is not entitled to have an opinion.

    I have managed to boil my case down to one sentence. Geology is controlling climate change, not monkeys. There, it is as diplomatic as I can make it.

    I managed, if anyone is interested, to freeze the AIRS CO2 animation cartoon, and so to get the 500-odd maps there as individuals. Not one, as far as I can see, though I admit to poor eyesight and previous bias, locates any industrial effort convincingly. As long as you exclude the coal seam fires in China and Russia. In contrast, the NO2 data gets every city, and is a bit of an eye-opener. So, satellites can see human emissions. The main CO2 outputs are nowhere near human cities, and again, are nowhere near where this planet, at least, is warming. As said again and again, where the warming is is where the geomagnetic field is shifting most, and also, minor point, where the geoid has altered most. Amazing gas, CO2, it alters gravity waves, if they exit. Also, the ozone holes are where the mag, gravity and temperature field are shifting most, namely north of Lake Baikal, where the new magnetic north pole is forming rapidly, and on and adjacent to the Antarctic Peninsula.

    I do not say that if you are not a geologist you cannot participate in this debate, Just that if you want to talk sense, you perhaps owe it to yourself to look at the satellite maps with the brain in gear. Don’t take the ones I’ve picked, check the lot. There are only a few tens of thousands. Time series contour map illiteracy (or aversion) is not a very good idea, in this debate.

    Hooroo,

    Peter.

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  52. The link to the Australian Science Media Centre is frightening.

    It asks “some scientists for an explanation, in simple terms, as to why ice in Antarctica might be growing”.

    Glikson, in particular, should pay more attention to understanding the target audience.

    Little wonder the effectiveness of the communication of the science case is under stress.

    Find a comms specialist, please …

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