On Being a Denialist

Recently, The Git was called a Denialist by someone he generally thinks of as a friend. Oddly, the word denialist does not occur in The Oxford English Dictionary, though there is an entry on Denialism in the Wiki-bloody-pedia:

Denialism is choosing to deny reality as a way to avoid an uncomfortable truth.[1] Author Paul O’Shea remarks, “[It] is the refusal to accept an empirically verifiable reality. It is an essentially irrational action that withholds validation of a historical experience or event”.[2]

In science, denialism has been defined as the rejection of basic concepts that are undisputed and well-supported parts of the scientific consensus on a topic in favor of ideas that are both radical and controversial.[3] It has been proposed that the various forms of denialism have the common feature of the rejection of overwhelming evidence and the generation of a controversy through attempts to deny that a consensus exists.[4][5] A common example is Young Earth creationism and its dispute with the evolutionary theory[6]

The terms Holocaust denialism and AIDS denialism have been used,[7][8][9][10][11] and the term climate change denialists has been applied to those who argue against the scientific consensus that global warming is occurring and that human activity is its primary cause.[12][13][14][15] Use of the word denialism has been criticised, for example as a polemical propaganda tool to suppress non-mainstream views.[16] Similarly, in an essay discussing the general importance of skepticism, Clive James objected to the use of the word denialist to describe climate change skeptics, stating that it “calls up the spectacle of a fanatic denying the Holocaust.”[17] 

Clearly, the use of the term denialist is intended to cause distress, especially when this particular denialist’s father was a guest of The Beast of Berlin. That said, it is intended also to establish a claim, if the above quote is to be taken seriously, that The Git refuses “to accept [the] empirically verifiable reality” of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (aka Thermageddon/Climate Change/Climate Disruption and hereafter CAGW). This is distinctly at odds with The Git’s preference for empirically verifiable reality rather than unjustified belief. Let’s first look at what CAGW means.

Catastrophe: A sudden disaster, wide-spread, very fatal, or glaringly obvious.
Anthropogenic: Having its origin in the activities of man.
Global: Pertaining to or involving the whole world.
Warming: The action of making warm where warm means to raise in temperature.

We are told that there is a consensus that humanity is facing a number of crises due to our wanton activities including, but not limited to:

  • rising sea levels
  • more frequent and severer storms
  • increases in assaults, rapes and murders
  • ice sheets grow
  • ice sheets shrink
  • more frequent and longer droughts
  • more frequent and intense flooding
  • suppression of locust plagues
  • increased crop pestilence
  • polar bears eating themselves
  • polar bear drownings
  • jets falling from the sky
  • jellyfish exploding
  • fish going deaf.

All of these catastrophes and many, many more are allegedly caused by emissions of CO2 from the burning of fossil fuel. Temperatures are increasing everywhere (that’s what global means) and the ecosphere cannot cope.

Questioning any of the above means you are a Denialist. There’s a “scientific consensus” that all this is true and “the debate is over”. It seems to The Git that it’s passing strange that if the debate is supposedly over that there can possibly be any denialists.

Consensus

There’s a bewildering range of views on what constitutes a scientific consensus. You can probably recall recent publicity in the mass media about the “97% consensus” on global warming. Even Barack Obama tweeted about it. Unfortunately, the authors don’t want to reveal their data so some inference is required. Almost everyone The Git knows who takes an interest in climatology would appear to be be included in the 97%. This includes The Git and ever so many people who are clearly beyond redemption when it comes to understanding science and hence are denialists, heretics, or worse. Cook and Nuccitelli’s study looks at ~12,000 journal papers written in the last 25 years. They then discard about 8,000 papers because they don’t take a position on Global Warming. Finally, Cook and Nuticelli put researchers (not papers) who agree into three different bins — 1.6% whose papers explicitly endorse Global Warming with numbers, 23% that explicitly endorse global warming without numbers and 74% that “implicitly endorse” because they’re looking at other issues in regard to global warming which in turn means they must agree with human-caused global warming. [It would seem that some scientists in this latter camp do not necessarily agree with Cook and Nuticelli’s putting them into that bin.] Their fanboys then claim 97% support for Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming when there’s nothing whatsoever about catastrophe in the survey. This is statistics at its worst. ‘Nuf said.

There are ever so many sceptics (the polite word for denialists) who deny that there is ever a scientific consensus. To a small extent, this is true. When Einstein published his famous 1905 papers, the prevailing wisdom was that Classical Physics was complete. Einstein disagreed. Science proceeds on a provisional truth basis; theories are accepted until something better comes along. There is, however, what is called The Received View in the philosophy of education; i.e. what is taught in standard curricula.

When The Git took physics in 1969, there was a required text: Physics by David Halliday, and Robert Resnick, John Wiley & Sons 1967, and I dare say the latest edition is as popular as The Git’s edition was in his day. The content consisted in what was generally agreed to be the best account of physics at that time. However, none of it IIRC consisted of ideas less than thirty years old since that is usually how long it takes to sort out the chaff from current journal papers.

One of The Git’s favourite books is Boundary Layer Climates by TR Oke, wherein there is no mention of Anthropogenic Global Warming, Catastrophic or otherwise. The Git took a Geology course less than ten years ago and the required text was The Changing Earth: Exploring Geology and Evolution, Munro and Wicander, Brooks Cole, 2001. There’s passing mention that some scientists believe that there is human-induced climate change, but that’s it. Less than a paragraph. There is a lot of climatology in The Changing Earth, just not the sort one might expect given the hysteria in the mass media, Nature, Science, Scientific American, New Scientist and so forth.

Despite asking ever so many CAGWers for the title of a book that explains in depth what CAGW is all about — something on a par with Oke’s Boundary Layer Climates — the response has been total and utter silence. The Git suspects that they are also unaware of Oke! Clearly, CAGW has yet to come of age in the academic sense. Note well that books such as Heat, by George Monbiot and Global Warming by Paul Brown are not even close.

It’s now at least twenty years since The Git was interviewed on ABC radio (along with several other “pundits”) about his response to the imminent threat of CAGW. Perhaps it’s best that he not remember a word of what was said by himself or the rest of the panel. Of one thing he was convinced: he didn’t know what the fuck he was talking about and likely the other participants were equally ignorant. The interview did rekindle The Git’s interest in climatology, and that’s what the rest of this post will cover: climatology.

A Note on Sources

Many of the hyperlinks in this piece are to such publications as Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Science etc. Several are to the Wiki-bloody-pedia. While this latter source contained what I intended to convey at the time of writing, this may not remain so in the future. Recently, the entry for the village of Flowerdale in Northern Tasmania had it as the location of 95% of Australia’s cotton production. This ridiculous claim has since been amended. Unfortunately, the reverse can and does happen. There is only one link to a Blog. Despite the frequent claim by Gulliblists (gullible is the antonym of sceptic) that Blogs are the only place you will find anything contrary to CAGW The Git finds plenty in mainstream academic journals. The Git prefers to use the term CAGWers. It’s less insulting than Gulliblists so that’s the last time he will use the term in this piece. The Blog link is to a CAGWer, not a denialist website.

Global Warming

Around 150 years or so ago, Earth began emerging from the grip of the second coldest part of the Holocene, the interglacial that commenced about 10,000 years ago. Here’s a chart from the First IPCC Assessment Report (FAR):

The chart is based on the work of Hubert Lamb, founder of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. As you can see, it was considerably colder than present 150 years ago. Obviously, the climate has warmed considerably since. It seems more than passing strange to declare that those of us acknowledging this are in some abstruse sense denying that climate changes, or that we consequently deny the reality of the Nazi Holocaust. But it gets even worse:

What if I told you pedophilia is good for children, or that asbestos is an excellent inhalant for those with asthmatics, or that smoking crack is a normal part and a healthy one of teenage life, to be encouraged? You’d rightly find it outrageous, but there have been similar statements coming out of inexpert mouths, distorting the science. These distortions of science are far from trivial, our neglect of what may be clear and urgent problems could be catastrophic and now a professor of psychology at UWA has shown what he says is the basis of this unrelenting debauchery of the facts… [Robyn Williams, on The Science Show, Saturday 24 November 2012]

Some people have great difficulty understanding what science entails. Clearly, Robyn Williams seems to believe that it consists in gross and gratuitous insult, though decades ago this was not so and The Git recalls ensuring he listened to every Science Show.

It’s also worth noting from the chart above that temperatures were 2–3°C higher than present about 6,000 years ago. This is the period that climatologists (and archaeologists) call the Holocene Optimum in the graphic the IPCC drew on for FAR. The catastrophe(s) attendant on anthropogenic global warming will apparently be caused by a predicted 2–3°C increase in temperatures. Why will the condition that allowed humanity to begin civilisation be a catastrophe when it occurs in the future? Dunno…

Carbon Dioxide

CAGWers seem wedded to a belief that CO2, which they persistently and inaccurately refer to as “carbon”, is a pollutant. When The Git was a lad in shorts, he was taught that plants convert CO2 to sugars and that these are the basis of life on Earth. It seems more than a trifle odd to deny this by calling CO2 a “pollutant”. That is, in some undeclared way, an essential ingredient for life on Earth is damaging life on Earth. There are plenty of pollutants that need controlling: SO2, SO3, particulate carbon, NO2, and so forth. Neglecting them in favour of attempting to reduce CO2 levels seems somewhat perverse.

Sure, there could potentially be more CO2 in the atmosphere than is beneficial, but that level (50,000 ppm) is way, way more than we currently have (<400 ppm), or ever will have. There’s even considerable doubt that we could ever burn fossil fuel fast enough to double current levels! Most anthropogenic CO2 emissions (3% of total emissions) are eagerly taken up by the biosphere. Greenhouse producers regularly increase the level of CO2 in their greenhouses to 1,000 ppm to increase productivity. It would appear that our current food crops are best adapted to an atmosphere containing ~1,000 ppm of CO2 implying that’s the condition under which they evolved Here’s what the “consensus” of scientists say about CO2 levels and temperatures in the past:

It is immediately obvious that for most of the last 600 million years CO2 levels were higher than today — at 5–7,000 ppm more than an order of magnitude higher for most of that time. Likewise, temperatures have mostly been around 10°C higher.

If the Antarctic ice core record is to be believed, during the Late Glacial Maximum (LGM) the level of CO2 in the atmosphere was low enough to be causing severe stress on plants. While some deny the CO2 record from ice cores, The Git does not. Nor does Joy Ward et al:

Carbon starvation in glacial trees recovered from the La Brea tar pits, southern California

The Rancho La Brea tar pit fossil collection includes Juniperus (C3) wood specimens that 14C date between 7.7 and 55 thousand years (kyr) B.P., providing a constrained record of plant response for southern California during the last glacial period. Atmospheric CO2 concentration ([CO2]) ranged between 180 and 220 ppm during glacial periods, rose to ≈280 ppm before the industrial period, and is currently approaching 380 ppm in the modern atmosphere. Here we report on δ13C of Juniperus wood cellulose, and show that glacial and modern trees were operating at similar leaf-intercellular [CO2](c i)/atmospheric [CO2](c a) values. As a result, glacial trees were operating at c i values much closer to the CO2-compensation point for C3 photosynthesis than modern trees, indicating that glacial trees were undergoing carbon starvation. In addition, we modeled relative humidity by using δ18O of cellulose from the same Juniperus specimens and found that glacial humidity was ≈10% higher than that in modern times, indicating that differences in vapor-pressure deficits did not impose additional constrictions on c i/c a in the past. By scaling ancient c i values to plant growth by using modern relationships, we found evidence that C3 primary productivity was greatly diminished in southern California during the last glacial period.

If this paper and those detailing CO2 levels from the Antarctic ice cores are to be believed, then CO2 levels of between 180 and 220 ppm prevailed during the LGM. The lower limit at which C3 plants can photosynthesise is ~150 ppm. Most become incapable of making viable seed at levels somewhat higher than this. Another glaringly obvious conclusion to draw from the Scotese and Berner chart is that there is no correlation whatsoever between CO2 and temperature. During the last 15–17 years, the amount of anthropogenic CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by ~40%. Here is the effect:

Note that the ever so slight downward trend is not statistically significant. However, there’s no sign of the predicted temperature rise, rapid or otherwise. That doesn’t seem to worry NASA:

How is the global earth system changing?

Earth is currently in a period of warming. Over the last century, Earth’s average temperature rose about 1.1°F (0.6°C). In the last two decades, the rate of our world’s warming accelerated and scientists predict that the globe will continue to warm over the course of the 21st century. Is this warming trend a reason for concern? After all, our world has witnessed extreme warm periods before, such as during the time of the dinosaurs. Earth has also seen numerous ice ages on roughly 11,000-year cycles for at least the last million years. So, change is perhaps the only constant in Earth’s 4.5-billion-year history.
Scientists note that there are two new and different twists to today’s changing climate: (1) The globe is warming at a faster rate than it ever has before; and (2) Humans are the main reason Earth is warming. Since the industrial revolution, which began in the mid-1800s, humans have attained the magnitude of a geological force in terms of our ability to change Earth’s environment and impact its climate system.

You have to wonder about someone at NASA writing “In the last two decades, the rate of our world’s warming accelerated” in the light of the chart above of temperatures measured by NASA satellites! The glacial cycles are also ~100,000 years, not the 11,000 years stated above. The current ice age began 2.6 million years ago at the start of the Pleistocene epoch. As to “The globe is warming at a faster rate than it ever has before”, this is directly contradicted by the 8.2 kya event that occurred 8,200 years ago.

Milder than the Younger Dryas cold spell that preceded it, but more severe than the Little Ice Age that would follow, the 8.2 kiloyear cooling was a significant exception to general trends of the Holocene climatic optimum. During the event, atmospheric methane concentration decreased by 80 ppb or 15%… the cooling was 3.3 °C (decadal average) in less than ~20 years, and the coldest period lasted for about 60 years, and the total duration was about 150 years. [Emphasis The Git’s]

From the above, it seems that the warming following this Bond event was 3.3°C in ~130 years, or 2.5°C per century, four times the rate of change experienced in the 20th C. Then there’s the Younger Dryas:

The Younger Dryas saw a rapid return to glacial conditions in the higher latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere between 12.9–11.5 ka BP,[6] in sharp contrast to the warming of the preceding interstadial deglaciation. It has been believed that the transitions each occurred over a period of a decade or so,[7] but the onset may have been faster.[8] Thermally fractionated nitrogen and argon isotope data from Greenland ice core GISP2 indicate that the summit of Greenland was approximately 15 °C (27 °F) colder during the Younger Dryas[7] than today. In the UK, coleopteran (beetle) fossil evidence suggests that mean annual temperature dropped to approximately 5 °C (41 °F),[9] and periglacial conditions prevailed in lowland areas, while icefields and glaciers formed in upland areas.[10] Nothing of the size, extent, or rapidity of this period of abrupt climate change has been experienced since.[Emphasis The Git’s]

Oh dear. There’s clearly a disjuncture between what the NASA publicists say and the consensus science in the climatology textbooks. If you are as interested in rapid climate change as The Git, he highly recommends The Oceans and Rapid Climate Change: Past, Present, and Future, Volume 126, Dan Seidov (Editor), Bernd J. Haupt (Editor), Mark A. Maslin (Editor), American Geophysical Union 2001.

Until a few decades ago, scientists generally believed that significant large-scale past global and regional climate changes occurred at a gradual pace within a time scale of many centuries or millennia. A secondary assumption followed: climate change was scarcely perceptible during a human lifetime. Recent paleoclimatic studies, however, have proven otherwise: that global climate can change extremely rapidly. In fact, there is good evidence that in the past at least regional mean annual temperatures changed by several degrees Celsius on a time scale of several centuries to several decades.

Obviously the NASA publicist is still relying on a view that was outdated more than a decade ago. While the CAGWers continually claim that Earth’s climate is modulated by the atmosphere, the thermal capacity of the oceans is ~200 times greater. Perhaps they believe that tails wag dogs too. The Oceans and Rapid Climate Change puts the dog firmly in control of the tail.

An obvious question arises, do you believe Al Gore (failed theologian and politician), George Monbiot (an English writer, known for his environmental and political activism), Paul Brown (environmental correspondent for the Grauniad), or working scientists investigating climate change? The Git puts much credence in the latter and none whatsoever in the former.

Here’s a chart showing Holocene CO2 levels:

As you can see from this graphic (from High-resolution Holocene N2O ice core record and its relationship with CH4 and CO2, Global Biogeochemical Cycles, Vol. 16, No. 1, March 2002) CO2 has been rising for the last 8,000 years. Temperature has on average been falling for the last 7,000 years. This directly contradicts the claims of the CAGWers.

Quoting one of the staunchest CAGWers, Kevin Trenberth: “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.” In fairness, Trenberth has made an attempt to explain away the problem in a recent paper wherein he and his collaborators argued that the “missing” heat is sequestered in the ocean, below 700 m. How it got there without any effect on the upper 700 m is somewhat of a mystery remaining to be explained. The Git isn’t holding his breath!

In his movie, An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore shows the following graphic, “proving” that CO2 concentration causes the atmosphere to warm:

As you can see, the black line (temperature inferred from oxygen isotope concentration) and CO2, the blue line, co-vary. Co-variance alone, though is never evidence of causality. The number of deaths in a society co-varies with the number of marriages, but only an idiot would claim that marriages cause deaths, or vice versa. You will also notice that the red line, the even more potent greenhouse gas, methane (CH4), also co-varies with inferred temperature. If CO2 caused the temperature to change, then logically it must also cause the change of methane level. There is no theory The Git has come across demonstrating that methane causes CO2.

There is a notable outcome of the undeniable rise in CO2 occasioned by the burning of fossil fuel: a significant increase in vegetation in the drier regions of planet Earth.

Timing of Atmospheric CO2 and Antarctic Temperature Changes Across Termination III

Nicolas Caillon, Jeffrey P. Severinghaus, Jean Jouzel, Jean-Marc Barnola, Jiancheng Kang, Volodya Y. LipenkovThe analysis of air bubbles from ice cores has yielded a precise record of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, but the timing of changes in these gases with respect to temperature is not accurately known because of uncertainty in the gas age-ice age difference. We have measured the isotopic composition of argon in air bubbles in the Vostok core during Termination III (~240,000 years before the present). This record most likely reflects the temperature and accumulation change, although the mechanism remains unclear. The sequence of events during Termination III suggests that the CO2 increase lagged Antarctic deglacial warming by 800 ± 200 years and preceded the Northern Hemisphere deglaciation. [Emphasis The Git’s]

So, according to one of the most prestigious scientific publications on the planet, the underpinning of CAGW theory, that carbon dioxide drives climate, is wrong; the reverse appears to be true. Temperature drives the CO2 level. It’s common-sense really. Think of the oceans as like a can of beer. If the beer is warm, the carbon dioxide comes out of solution really fast; if it’s really cold, the carbon dioxide comes out of solution far less quickly since it’s far more soluble in cold water. [Of course there’s always causation backwards in time … The Git takes special care not to do anything to reverse Napoleon’s fortunes in his war against the Russians!] This is far from the only paper on the lag between CO2 and temperature change. The data come from the Antarctic ice-cores taken from Vostok.

Deserts ‘greening’ from rising CO2

In findings based on satellite observations, CSIRO, in collaboration with the Australian National University (ANU), found that this CO2 fertilisation correlated with an 11 per cent increase in foliage cover from 1982-2010 across parts of the arid areas studied in Australia, North America, the Middle East and Africa, according to CSIRO research scientist, Dr Randall Donohue. “In Australia, our native vegetation is superbly adapted to surviving in arid environments and it consequently uses water very efficiently,” Dr Donohue said. “Australian vegetation seems quite sensitive to CO2 fertilisation.

The fertilisation effect occurs where elevated CO2 enables a leaf during photosynthesis, the process by which green plants convert sunlight into sugar, to extract more carbon from the air or lose less water to the air, or both.

This, along with the vast extents of arid landscapes, means Australia featured prominently in our results.” “While a CO2 effect on foliage response has long been speculated, until now it has been difficult to demonstrate,” according to Dr Donohue. “Our work was able to tease-out the CO2 fertilisation effect by using mathematical modelling together with satellite data adjusted to take out the observed effects of other influences such as precipitation, air temperature, the amount of light, and land-use changes.”

Quite why an increase in green living things for animals to eat is Evil is beyond the Git’s wit to explain.

The Greenhouse Effect

Physicists estimate that the Earth would experience much lower temperatures without the so-called Greenhouse Effect. Greenhouses such as The Git uses to grow tomatoes, capsicums, early French beans, eggplants and cucumbers operate on an entirely different basis to the Greenhouse Effect. Consequently, we will pass this over. We will also pass over how the atmospheric Greenhouse Effect works; just follow the link if you need to. Suffice it to say, The Git and nearly all “denialists” accept the reality of CO2‘s properties as a so-called greenhouse gas (GHG). Here is a list in descending order of the strength of their effect:

  • water vapor, 36–70%
  • carbon dioxide, 9–26%
  • methane, 4–9%
  • ozone, 3–7%

The most important by far is water vapour and is estimated by some to be responsible for up to 98% of the greenhouse effect contra the above stated 36–70%. In a region of desert, the effect is very small; in the humid tropics, the effect is very much greater; the net effect is difficult to estimate there being no standard method. The Earth is currently estimated to be some 33°C warmer than it would otherwise be without this thermal effect, but again there are other estimates (higher in the past) and there is no agreed standard method for calculating this. It seems odd that a scientific consensus supposedly exists on values that appear to have no agreed standard method for their calculation.

For reasons that will become clearer/murkier [delete whichever is inapplicable] The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) do not consider water vapour to be a GHG. Instead, they refer to water vapour as a “feedback”. Supposedly, as the level of anthropgenic CO2 increases, so does the level of water vapour in the air. Unlike ordinary water vapour, this anthropogenic water vapour does not appear to condense out as precipitation; it stays aloft and enhances the effect of the CO2. How this latter water vapour knows it’s anthropogenic is a mystery. There is no evidence of this so-called Enhanced Greenhouse Effect in the paleoclimate record. Nor is there any convincing evidence of it in the Earth’s current atmosphere. Certainly Garth Paltridge, Albert Arking, and Michael Pook found no evidence in:

Trends in middle- and upper-level tropospheric humidity from NCEP reanalysis data.

The National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) reanalysis data on tropospheric humidity are examined for the period 1973 to 2007. It is accepted that radiosonde-derived humidity data must be treated with great caution, particularly at altitudes above the 500 hPa pressure level. With that caveat, the face-value 35-year trend in zonal-average annual-average specific humidity q is significantly negative at all altitudes above 850 hPa (roughly the top of the convective boundary layer) in the tropics and southern midlatitudes and at altitudes above 600 hPa in the northern midlatitudes. It is significantly positive below 850 hPa in all three zones, as might be expected in a mixed layer with rising temperatures over a moist surface. The results are qualitatively consistent with trends in NCEP atmospheric temperatures (which must also be treated with great caution) that show an increase in the stability of the convective boundary layer as the global temperature has risen over the period. The upper-level negative trends in q are inconsistent with climate-model calculations and are largely (but not completely) inconsistent with satellite data. Water vapor feedback in climate models is positive mainly because of their roughly constant relative humidity (i.e., increasing q) in the mid-to-upper troposphere as the planet warms. Negative trends in q as found in the NCEP data would imply that long-term water vapor feedback is negative—that it would reduce rather than amplify the response of the climate system to external forcing such as that from increasing atmospheric CO2. In this context, it is important to establish what (if any) aspects of the observed trends survive detailed examination of the impact of past changes of radiosonde instrumentation and protocol within the various international networks. [Emphasis mine]

The effect of a doubling of current CO2 levels is readily estimated by using MODTRAN5,  an atmospheric radiative transfer model developed by Spectral Sciences Inc. and the US Air Force Research Laboratory. It is a tad over 1°C. The IPCC estimate varies somewhat from report to report, but is usually quoted as ~3°C. Paul Brown’s Global Warming, Blandford 1996 has it as 37 – 41°F! In the absence of any convincing empirical justification for the Enhanced Greenhouse Effect, denialists such as The Git tend to believe the MODTRAN5 result. Richard Lindzen is an American atmospheric physicist, widely known for his work in the dynamics of the middle atmosphere, atmospheric tides and ozone photochemistry. He manually calculated a result almost identical to that generated by MODTRAN5. Lindzen was a lead author of Chapter 7, Physical Climate Processes and Feedbacks, of the IPCC Third Assessment Report on climate change (TAR). Despite being one of the “2,500 scientists” who supposedly subscribe to the CAGW consensus, he has also criticised his fellow climate scientists for succumbing to political pressure to conform to what he calls climate alarmism. Thus as a lead author of IPCC’s TAR The Git must believe his anointed words as one of the cognoscenti, yet simultaneously disbelieve him for being a heretic. It’s very difficult indeed being a denialist!

Conclusion

The wiki-bloody-pedia entry on denialism above stated: “[climate denialists] argue against the scientific consensus that global warming is occurring and that human activity is its primary cause.” You may have noticed that I have nowhere denied the following:

  • That the Earth has been warming for the last 160 years
  • That increased CO2 warms the atmosphere
  • That atmospheric CO2 levels are rising
  • That there’s a recent, anomalous rise in atmospheric CO2 caused by the burning of fossil fuels

You will also note that nowhere has The Git advocated any of the following:

  • That  pedophilia is good for children
  • That asbestos is an excellent inhalant for those with asthmatics
  • That  smoking crack is a normal part and a healthy one of teenage life, to be encouraged

The Git has presented The Received View of climatology. He has also presented the claims made in the name of CAGW that are clearly incompatible with The Received View. It’s important to realise that rejection of The Received View in any discipline is a recipe for failure at examination time. In the geology course mentioned above The Git was awarded a Credit despite failing to hand in some assignments for marking. Had he done so, it is likely that he would have received a Distinction. When attending university had to compete with working for a wage and running a small farm sometimes led to insufficient time for the former. So it goes…

Pending the incorporation of CAGW into The Received View in climatology, The Git will continue to hold The Received View as substantially correct. He hasn’t yet come to grips with the Catastrophe that is supposedly happening or going to happen, but will leave writing about that for next time.

Thoughts for the Day

“It doesn’t matter what is true, it only matters what people believe is true.” — Paul Watson, co-founder of Greenpeace

-oOo-

“We have to offer up scary scenarios… each of us has to decide the right balance between being effective and being honest.” — Stephen Schneider, IPCC author, 1989

-oOo-

“The only way to get our society to truly change is to frighten people with the possibility of a catastrophe.” — Daniel Botkin, Chairman of Environmental Studies at UCSB

-oOo-

“In searching for a new enemy to unite us, we came up with the idea that .. global warming.. would fit the bill…It does not matter if this common enemy is a real one or…one invented for the purpose.” — Club of Rome

-oOo-

“When we’ve finally gotten serious about global warming, when the impacts are really hitting us and we’re in a full worldwide scramble to minimize the damage, we should have war crimes trials for these bastards — some sort of climate Nuremberg.” — George Monbiot

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8 thoughts on “On Being a Denialist

  1. Well written essay, but as you allude in your ‘Thoughts for the day’, CAGW is really about politics, not climate. The science is as irrelevant as the magic 97%.

    I used to passively believe in CAGW. It fit the ‘evil mankind’ meme that seemed to be the dominant religion in academia (rather Calvinistic I think), the funding was grand, and I am neither a physicist, climatologist, nor modeller (although Google Scholar tells me my one publication on modelling the effects of CO2-driven changes on C3-C4 plants in grasslands is my 11th most important – but I was just the token biologist in a heap of modellers). But when the alarmists started producing clearly ignorant and wrong papers about things I knew about, I was forced to take a more critical attitude. At first I assumed it was just a few fools and incompetent reviewers, but the flow of similar papers soon became a flood.

    My current position is to not believe anything published that promotes CAGW. I think that is the only reasonable position considering the general lack of objectivity and scientific competence on exhibit. I am skeptical that anthropogenic CO2 drives climate, the data do not seem supportive, but I don’t see any studies that actually test that hypothesis one way or the other. Does that make me a ‘denialist’? Apparently so and my friends are very disappointed in me.

  2. Pingback: On seeing a denialist | Either way, 22.

  3. The mystery-man/mystery-woman at the other end of the pingback above claims

    “So far, [my] comment hasn’t appeared on the blog. I suspected a glitch, since I had to re-login while submitting, and tried re-submiting, but only got a duplicate content warning. Makes me think the author perhaps simply didn’t want the comment to appear on the blog. One can only wonder why.

    Ain’t cognitive dissonance a bitch.

    The only message from WordPress requesting The Git moderate from Eitherway 22 was in regard to the Pingback. The only comments that that have ever been blocked here are spam. And there are many such so moderation of initial posts is going to continue for the foreseeable future.

  4. Pingback: Response to Either way, 22′s Comment on Denialism Part 1 | The Pompous Git

  5. OK, here’s a second attempt then:

    1) “Questioning any of the above means you are a Denialist. There’s a “scientific consensus” that all this is true and “the debate is over”.”

    A classic straw man, if I ever saw one. You wouldn’t be able to refer me to any source that would define a “denialist” as someone who “questions any of the above”, or to the alleged scientific consensus that says that “all this is true”.

    2) The consensus — you ignore all surveys other than Cook et al. 2013 (that paint the same picture), then you set up another straw man: “their fanboys then claim 97% support for Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming when there’s nothing whatsoever about catastrophe in the survey” — opinions of “fanboys” have nothing to do with the paper itself. Legates et al. criticism of Cook et al. is bogus, to put it mildly. And please, Willie Soon? The guy who pocketed a million from Big Oil with not a disclosure note until the FOIA query result was published? And… Monckton, for pity’s sake?! You seem genuinely desperate.

    3) “CAGW has yet to come of age in the academic sense”

    If you actually claim that on the basis of “the guys I talk to don’t have One Book to rule them all”, then they have much better than a book: they have a comprehensive survey, summary and analysis of all scientific activity related to the subject, updated every few years, referencing in detail every significant development and result. You can find it here. And yes, there are books too, if you bother to look for them.

    4) “As you can see, it was considerably colder than present 150 years ago. Obviously, the climate has warmed considerably since.”

    But the climate doesn’t warm just because it was colder before. If it’s getting warmer, a physical factor that caused the cooling must have disappeared, or a physical factor causing the warming must have appeared. The whole issue boils down to one simple question: can you point to any physical factor other than the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases as the cause of the warming observed in the last 40 years?

    5) “Why will the condition that allowed humanity to begin civilisation be a catastrophe when it occurs in the future?”

    a) Lamb’s original work — the basis of your graph — concerned an area of Central England, not the globe. Most probably, the Holocene Optimum was neither global (the tropics were cooler than today), nor even constant (the temperatures reached values higher than contemporary seasonally, in NH summer/SH winter). Averaged global temperatures are estimated to actually be lower than at the end of the 20th century.

    b) The rate of the change is crucial. We’re raising the concentrations of the greenhouse gases two orders of magnitude faster than it used to happen for natural reasons, and the corresponding temperature peak is steep. Mother Nature deals with such abrupt changes using a strategy called “massive extinction”.

    6) “Sure, there could potentially be more CO2 in the atmosphere than is beneficial, but that level (50,000 ppm) is way, way more than we currently have”

    A non sequitur, of galactic proportions. The idea that we need to reach 50,000 ppm of CO2 to exit the “beneficial” range is preposterous. Even if you stick to the lower range of climate sensitivity estimates, for a “business as usual” scenario of emissions you get c. 800-1100 ppm in 2100, and an equilibrium temperature rise of c. 2.6 degrees comparing to 1900. 2.6 degrees of _global_ warming in just a few centuries will not be “beneficial” by any measure. The negative effects of ocean acidification alone will outweigh any gains that higher temperatures might bring in some areas.

    7) “There’s even considerable doubt that we could ever burn fossil fuel fast enough to double current levels!”

    No, there’s not. “Business as usual” scenarios based on existing, known fossil fuel reserves and usage rates give a value of minimum ~800 ppm in 2100 (p. 1096). For the last six decades carbon emissions have been accelerating. Moreover, climate sensitivity needs to be related to the pre-industrial levels of CO2, not current ones (we haven’t yet seen a thermodynamic balance in the climate system following the CO2 forcing).

    8) “Greenhouse producers regularly increase the level of CO2 in their greenhouses to 1,000 ppm to increase productivity. It would appear that our current food crops are best adapted to an atmosphere containing ~1,000 ppm of CO2.”

    Another non sequitur. Long-time tests in the open — you don’t plan to construct a greenhouse for the whole of global agriculture, do you? — show that given elevated levels of CO2, plants run into constraints with respect to other nutrients; also, some of them show a slowing in the rate of photosynthesis, some staple crops lose nutritional quality, and susceptibility to pests and diseases might rise significantly. CO2 is simply not the only factor in plant growth. This is like saying that humans are best adapted to eating burgers, because when restricted to this diet, they quickly grow much bigger around the waist.

    9) “It is immediately obvious that for most of the last 600 million years CO2 levels were higher than today — at 5–7,000 ppm more than an order of magnitude higher for most of that time. Likewise, temperatures have mostly been around 10°C higher.”

    So? If you were you planning yet another non sequitur here (“it used to be much warmer, so much warmer cannot be bad”) then you might not bother. The point is that the rate of change is dangerous, not change itself. If you read something about the PETM, for example, a rapid temperature change estimated at 6 degrees in 20 000 years is connected to a massive extinction event. And we’re looking at a few degrees’ rise in a century at the moment.

    10) “Another glaringly obvious conclusion to draw from the Scotese and Berner chart is that there is no correlation whatsoever between CO2 and temperature. During the last 15–17 years, the amount of anthropogenic CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by ~40%. Here is the effect.”

    First, the increase in the atmospheric CO2 concentration in the course of the last 17 years is ~10%, not 40%. Second, to deny the influence of CO2 concentrations on temperatures you’d have to invent some special kind of physics, in which CO2 molecules simply don’t absorb and re-emit heat radiation, which is to nullify over 150 years of science — from Fourier to Tyndall to Arrhenius to Callendar. Alternatively, it would really require suspending the conservation of energy, so that heat radiated back to the surface wouldn’t increase temperatures, but magically disappear instead. In either case, it would be a very ambitious anti-science undertaking.

    The graph you’re presenting is a great example of data cherry-picking: the starting year is 1996 just because 1998 was a record-breaking El Nino year — hence the convenient peak at the start. The RSS series was chosen just because it systematically underrepresents the warming trend. A surface (lower troposphere) graph was chosen just because it’s most susceptible to noise introduced by the El Nino/La Nina oscillation, volcanic aerosols and the solar cycle. And only 17 years are shown just because a longer interval would actually show a rising trend. During this same time, upper and deep ocean kept accumulating heat, ice cover kept shrinking, springs kept coming earlier, record temperature highs kept outweighing record lows, species kept migrating up/north etc. etc. and every decade _averaged_ kept being hotter than the previous decade. But you, citing just one carefully prepared graph, do not even merely assert that “global warming has paused”, but that CO2 concentrations don’t influence temperatures, no less. This is not skeptical approach to data, this is evidence of enormous confirmation bias.

    Here are two other graphs with a special dedication to you.

    11) “You have to wonder about someone at NASA writing “In the last two decades, the rate of our world’s warming accelerated” in the light of the chart above of temperatures measured by NASA satellites!”

    See above. Apparently, NASA knows the difference between signal and noise, and doesn’t cherry-pick their own data.

    12) “From the above, it seems that the warming following this Bond event was 3.3°C in ~130 years, or 2.5°C per century, four times the rate of change experienced in the 20th C.”

    And there’s no proof that it was global, and comparable to a sustained rise of averaged global temperatures. The very definition of Bond events that you link to defines them as “North Atlantic climate fluctuations occurring every ≈1,470 ± 500 years throughout the Holocene”.

    13)

    a) “While the CAGWers continually claim that Earth’s climate is modulated by the atmosphere”

    Who, for example? Care to refer the reader to sources? Preferably, in peer-reviewed literature? This is yet another straw man. “CAGWers” claim that Earth’s climate is modulated by a number of forcings, one of which is the contemporary energy imbalance caused by a rise in the concentration of greenhouse gases. I don’t know of a single paper that would follow this with a conclusion that oceans do not play an important role in the climate system.

    b) “the thermal capacity of the oceans is ~200 times greater.”

    So? Again, what’s your point here? All measurements that we have indicate that the upper and deep ocean heat content is rising. Therefore, the oceans cannot be the driver in the recent warming, irrespective of their thermal capacity.

    14) “CO2 has been rising for the last 8,000 years”

    Actually, it has been rising for at least 22,000 years. By about 100 ppm during that time, which gives an average of 0.45 ppm for a century. Compare that to the to the rate of the anthropogenic concentration rise.

    15) “Quoting one of the staunchest CAGWers, Kevin Trenberth: “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.””

    You apparently have failed, for 5 years, to research this old and mouldy “climategate” chestnut. If you had attempted “in all fairness” to actually check the context, you’d know that Trenberth had nothing to “explain away”, since his comment was simply related to the researchers’ (lack of) ability to track actual energy flows, beyond summary energy budget statements, and did not negate global warming in any way.

    16) “the “missing” heat is sequestered in the ocean, below 700 m. How it got there without any effect on the upper 700 m is somewhat of a mystery remaining to be explained.”

    This is just plain factually wrong. All available measurements indicate a steady rising in the heat content of both upper and deep ocean (see Levitus et al. above). What sources can you quote to support the implied lack of such rise in the upper ocean?

    17) “There is no theory The Git has come across demonstrating that methane causes CO2.”

    Except that we know physical mechanism governing those cycles and don’t need to guess the causation. All three — CO2 levels, CH4 levels and temperature levels — are related, and the forcing/feedback loop works in BOTH directions.

    18) “that carbon dioxide drives climate, is wrong; the reverse appears to be true”

    See above. CO2 can be BOTH a forcing and a feedback. Higher temperatures cause CO2 release from the oceans, but that doesn’t in any way preclude the role of anthropogenic CO2 (and other greenhouse gases) as the forcing in the recent temperature rises.

    19)

    a) “The most important by far is water vapour and is estimated by some to be responsible for up to 98% of the greenhouse effect”

    If I wanted to be cruel, I’d ask you for sources of that “98%” revelation.

    b) “For reasons that will become clearer/murkier [delete whichever is inapplicable] The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) do not consider water vapour to be a GHG. Instead, they refer to water vapour as a “feedback”.”

    Not true. IPCC clearly recognizes the role of water vapour as a GHG:

    http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/faq-1-3.html

    Water vapour is the most important greenhouse gas, and carbon dioxide (CO2) is the second-most important one. Methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and several other gases present in the atmosphere in small amounts also contribute to the greenhouse effect.

    And at the same time it correctly treats it as a feedback, not a forcing, in the document you linked. This is because, due to its physical propeties, water vapour CANNOT act as a forcing — it condenses within the range of temperatures and pressures encountered on Earth. Thus, any attempt to add more water vapour to the atmosphere (given constant averaged temperature and pressure) will only result in rain. You need to introduce a forcing in the system that will raise temperatures for water vapour concentrations to be able to follow as a feedback.

    You seem to be confused about basic terminology of the theory that you attempt to criticise.

    c) “Unlike ordinary water vapour, this anthropogenic water vapour does not appear to condense out as precipitation; it stays aloft and enhances the effect of the CO2.”

    After a rise in temperatures, caused by the GHG forcing, the atmosphere’s relative humidity can be higher. In other words, a hotter atmosphere can “hold” more water vapour. This is secondary school physics (Clausius-Clapeyron relation, ideal gas law, etc).

    20) “There is no evidence of this so-called Enhanced Greenhouse Effect in the paleoclimate record. Nor is there any convincing evidence of it in the Earth’s current atmosphere.”

    Again, this is simply factually wrong. There are a number of methods used to estimate past humidity — e.g. detecting deuterium excess in ice core data, oxygen isotopes in speleothem records, pollen composition, paleo dendrology — and numerous papers describing past humidity on their basis that by and large confirm the water feedback in past climate cycles (dry cold periods alternate with warm humid ones). Actually, changes like the glacial cycles would be impossible to explain without taking into account all feedbacks, including the water vapour one.

    The paper that you quote explicitly acknowledges that “radiosonde humidity measurements are notoriously unreliable and are usually dismissed out-of-hand as being unsuitable for detecting trends of water vapour in the upper troposphere”, and that it’s calculated trends (because it’s a reanalysis, not empirical observations report) are “inconsistent with satellite data”. Here you can find a review paper that compares a number of re-analyses and doesn’t exclude satellite data. Not surprisingly, it also doesn’t support the conclusions of the paper that you chose to pick.

    21) “The effect of a doubling of current CO2 levels is readily estimated by using MODTRAN5″

    No, it’s not. MODTRAN5 is an atmospheric radiation model, by definition providing only a fraction of the parameters necessary to assess climate sensitivity — it excludes the ocean component, the biosphere component, the cryosphere component (albedo itself has a tremendous effect as a temperature feedback), it doesn’t even include convection in its model of atmosphere. It’s a specialized tool, equivalent at most to just one component of General Circulation Models that are used, among others, for assessing climate sensitivity. There’s an ongoing project dedicated to inter-model comparison and collaboration (Coupled Model Intercomparison Project): here (p. 818) you can find a summary of results from 30 CMIP5 models, all of which include at least ocean, earth surface and sea-ice components beside an atmospheric component, with some also covering the biosphere, ice sheets, sediments and weathering, aerosols, atmosphere chemistry, and ocean biogeochemistry. The mean climate sensitivity of these 30 models is 3.2 +/- 1.3 deg. You don’t link to the MODTRAN5 results that you so enthusiastically subscribe to, but I very much doubt they stand any comparison to the results from any of the 30 different GCMs.

    Richard Lindzen has a long history of being very much wrong in his predictions, so I’d take what he “manually calculated” with much more than a grain of salt. Here you can find a comparison of his predictions (reconstructed, since he’d been much more willing to propagate his “manual calculations” on press conferences than to publish actual papers) against those of James Hansen. You can see for yourself whose assessment of climate sensitivity gave better agreement with actual temperature record for the last 25 years.

    I reviewed the points again before posting: I’d like to say that you don’t make a single valid point in your post, but alas, no such luck. You score half a point for all the writing: a very fresh paper suggests that the SRES emission scenarios might be exaggerated. Not to the point where your doubts about the ability of humans to double the pre-industrial levels of atmospheric CO2 would prove justified, but still quite substantially.

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