Do you feel lucky?

Airconcover.jpgOnce again, Ian Wishart is working himself up into a fine frenzy over at his blog, responding to a perceptive post by Bomber Bradbury at Tumeke! In the comments there he claimed to have “pointed out numerous mistakes in Gareth’s snide and out of context ‘review'”, and — funnily enough — I didn’t feel inclined to let that pass. So I suggested a little wager, and drew this furious response. So, knowing it will make precious little difference in the strange version of reality that Wishart occupies, here’s my (final) response…

Wishart begins by claiming that the “child-eating greens” quote was taken out of context, and — by the by — calls me a liar.

Gareth, your Asian brothels quote was taken utterly out of context, and the spin you put on it was crap. You know it, I know it. As I showed, both in the book and my response to you, I was quoting Green activists. You lied in your review, and I clearly established that.

What I put in my original review was this:

Consider the mental space occupied by someone who is willing to write, publish and promote this (p247):

What they [“wild greens”] really mean is that they want ordinary families and kids to become extinct, leaving space for the Green elite to run the planet and enjoy exclusive bird-watching excursions while feasting on the bones of six year olds who’d earlier been sold to Asian brothels.

This sentence is not in quotes, so it was certainly written by Wishart. He also published the book, and is very keen to promote it, so it’s hard to see how I misrepresented him in any way.

The sentence comes from Chapter 18, titled Priests Of The New Green Religion, and could be described as a creative synthesis of a series of quotes from people Wishart defines as “Green activists”. Ted Turner is first, then Lyall Watson, quoted as saying “[Cannibalism is a] radical but realistic solution to the problem of overpopulation” in the Financial Times in 1995. Wishart then adds his own gloss:

[Watson thus evokes] cannibalism as a lifestyle choice for committed Greens, who of course prefer not to dine on battery hens. The idea of eating their fellow human, primitive as it sounds, is not a huge ideological leap for some of the numbnuts on the loopy left who have the ear of those in power. They don’t see any value in humanity, and see global warming as a chance to spread their beliefs.

I haven’t seen Watson’s original article. It doesn’t appear to be on the web, but I’d love to see the full text, because the exact quote and attribution Wishart provides is liberally scattered around far-right, anti-green web sites without any context (although I have also seen the words ascribed to Prince Philip). Was Watson misquoted, or taken out of context? I don’t know, but it did start me off an a train of thought. Wishart continues the chapter with quotes from Carl Amery, Merton Lambert, David Brower and Maurice Strong. I plugged those names (and Watson) into a famous search engine, and it produced this result. What a coincidence! All the same names and quotes appear together in a list that appears to have been doing the rounds of the far right, Lyndon Larouche followers, and strange religious sects. Scholarship? As someone once said, there’s no wisdom button on the Google.

Let’s return to the original quote I used, and look at the paragraphs that follow it:

Now, again, you may dismiss all this as fantasy, and to an extent it is — right up to the moment that people with this kind of world view start getting funding cheques from a newly enriched United Nations thanks to compulsory emissions trading fees or transaction taxes imposed. Because when these people get access to real money and political power, that’s when life will become seriously interesting on Planet Earth, and not in a nice way. Laugh and scoff about the “New World Order” all you like, but if Copenhagen goes through at the end of this year you’ll effectively be funding their daft schemes, and you won’t be laughing for very long.

A veritable army of straw men in service of Wishart’s vision. In other words, I didn’t choose my quote “out of context” to make Wishart look bad, for the context it’s in speaks for itself. Wishart wants us all to believe, on the basis of some scary-sounding quotes he’s dredged up from dodgy web sites that a New World Order driven by billionaire socialists and rabid Greens is going to make our lives very unpleasant. No interpretation required. No spin. It’s there in black and white. If Wishart doesn’t want to be judged by what he writes, then he should give up writing rubbish…

He then returns to the next section I quoted in my review:

So much for the popular theory that CO2 levels increase first, then warming. All of this is vital in identifying the culprit behind the current warm period. If these two studies are to be believed, then it’s conceivable that the Earth is currently heating as direct result of the sun’s warmth during the Medieval Warm Period in AD1000. Jump ahead 800 years, and the planet starts to warm up around 1850, a warming trend that continues into the present.

Wishart tries to make a fuss about the difference between my description of the drivers of the end of an ice age (classic Milankovitch, based on increased NH insolation) and that of the link I provided, which suggests a SH initiation. The simple fact is that there is no one “right” answer — there are lots of complex factors at work. The IPCC AR4 summarises thus:

Current data are not accurate enough to identify whether warming started earlier in the Southern Hemisphere (SH) or Northern Hemisphere (NH)… (WG1, Chap 6, p447)

But one things is clear, warming 800 years ago is not driving the increase in atmospheric CO2 now. There’s 40% more now than there was in the 1850s, and we know where it’s come from. I discussed the point in this post, where I was pleased to demonstrate Wishart’s “central thesis” was bunk (read the comments too, there are good links and discussion for those interested in the real science).

Nevertheless, Wishart’s on a roll, so he continues his aggressive attack:

Regardless, follow the logic for a moment, Gareth, if you can. On your simplistic understanding of greenhouse theory every warm period should turn into runaway global warming. Another newsflash, it hasn’t.

Spot the straw man? Yup, that’s right — “runaway”. Not all positive feedback loops have to “run away”. And the climate system being complex, lots of factors are in play. So if warming triggers CO2 release, and that then amplifies warming so that more CO2 is released, that’s one factor. But as the world warms, you get other feedbacks kicking in: a dry world becomes a wetter world. More forests grow, sucking CO2 out of the air. The orbital forcings change, so that less solar heat reaches the important parts of the world, be they north or south of the equator, and so warming slows. Eventually, the negative feedbacks overwhelm the positive, and the world cools into a new ice age. You can see evidence for this in the shape of the temperature curve over the last few ice ages. The warming is always fast, but the descent into full ice age conditions is relatively gradual.

The lesson, of course, is that the evidence suggests that the climate system is a sensitive beast that we shouldn’t, as Wally Broecker has put it, be prodding with sticks. However Wishart is still keen to beat around the bush:

Why did the Earth not collapse in a heatwave of unstoppable global warming at that stage [warming out of an ice age], then? (particularly when you claim the heat of the MWP should have resulted in one).

See above, obviously, but I want to make a couple of points about the Medieval Warm Period. Throughout Air Con, Wishart argues that the world was warmer during the MWP than now. He even helpfully prints graphs purporting to show that — even though they all stop short of the last half of the 20th century (Air Con colour section). Nobody else agrees with him (barring a few crank sites). Here’s a somewhat more helpful illustration (IPCC WG1, Chap 6, fig 6.10):


This graph includes many of the series reproduced in Air Con, but helpfully provides a comparison with recent temperatures (the black line at left that reaches up to +0.5ºC). This is for the northern hemisphere only, please note, and there is certainly a “warmish period” around 1000AD. Unfortunately for Wishart, modern temperatures are well above that…

I dealt with the “runaway” straw man above, but there is something interesting to note about the MWP and CO2. Bill Ruddiman in Plows, Plagues and Petroleum looks at “wiggles” in the CO2 record over the last 2,000 years and links them with the emergence of pandemics causing population crashes that allow forest regrowth. This is a controversial theory, to be sure, but it prompted me to take another look at the data for CO2 for the last 1,000 years from the Law Dome in Antarctica (below). We can see that there’s a CO2 hump around the putative MWP and a pronounced dip around the Little Ice Age. Perhaps the link between warming and CO2 is a little closer than many suspect…


Wishart then witters on about “devastatingly embarrassing gaffes” (that aren’t), before addressing my challenge to him at Tumeke!.

As for your “wager”, purportedly based on page 208 of Air Con, again you misrepresent and misquote me.

You say: “You think the planet is going to cool (Air Con p208). I am willing to bet $100 (for the charity of your choice) that there will be a new record global average annual temperature within the next five years (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, or 2014”

However, that page wasn’t about general cooling. What I actually wrote on page 208 is:

“Not withstanding a hot regional blip in Australia, the odds are not good that 2009 will be a record breaking warm year. On current trends it may be cooler again than 2008.”

For the record, the relevant paragraph on p208 concludes thus:

“The full extent of the sun’s drop in activity isn’t expected to hit until late 2009 and into 2010, because of the thermal lag in the oceans. In other words, the cooling is likely to increase.”

Where’s the misrepresentation and misquotation? Wishart clearly doesn’t expect anyone to refer to his book, because he is apparently quite content to misrepresent its contents himself. On the basis of that sentence, I made my offer of a small wager. His response is risible:

We know CO2 emissions continue to rise, we know methane emissions continue to rise. Are you willing to wager $2,000 against my $20 that 2009 will be “the hottest year on record”? By rights, if you are so confident that what I wrote in Air Con on p208 was wrong, you should be leaping at the chance.

I would be absolutely nuts to take any bet on this year alone. The chances of 2009 being a record breaker are slim indeed, as I discussed earlier this year (long before Air Con came out) when looking at a couple of iPredict contracts. I framed my offered bet carefully. Wishart is on record that “the cooling is likely to increase”. I believe there will be a new record by 2014 — that is, sometime in the next five years (barring major volcanic activity). I repeat my offer: $100 to a good cause of his choice if there’s no new record by the end of 2014. If there is a new record, he can pay $100 to the good cause of my choice. I think I might choose Greenpeace…

Note for the weary. That’s the last in this sequence of posts. No doubt Wishart will rustle up some claim about “winning” in our little blog conversation, perhaps even continue directing his readers over to Hot Topic when he sees “nonsense” from MIT or other august bodies. Meanwhile, the offer of the wager stands, and will remain open. Henceforeward, my only comment to Wishart will be:

You got to ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do you, punk?

17 thoughts on “Do you feel lucky?”

  1. Hey Gareth, does your temp graph from the IPCC adjust for urban heat island affect? Keep in mind there is no comparison for that black line back in AD 1000, and none of the proxies that go back that far stretch as high as the ‘black line’.

    Just been out in the snow in Wellington! Amazing whether we are having in NZ this May.

  2. Interesting, in the vid the graphic shows all the warming anomaly has happened in eastern Europe and the former USSR. This backs up claims I recently read in Air Con, that since 1990 there has been a large ‘cull’ of weather stations, mostly in the former soviet union, and these have distorted comparisons.

    The vid claims NASA adjusted for the UHIE but does not explain to the sceptic/denier HOW NASA adjusted for the urban heat island effect. To me, the only way to adjust for it would be to only include temperature readings from rural stations – as how can one simply estimate a UHIE? Estimate an average effect? All the temperature readings from cities are contaminated so they should be completely excluded. The simple explanation is to only use satellite temperature readings (only available since 1970), or only use proxies.

    According to the IPCC graph in this article (which is disputed by many ‘deniers’) the proxy data does not show the same level of warming (as the NASA temperature record).

    At the end of the vid it suggests we use natural signals, such as tree lines and animal behavior, to understand climate variations. This is good for the alarmist since 1970, as the world has warmed, but what happens when the same logic is applied to medieval temperatures?? Do the tree lines in Siberia and California / crop cultivations (wine in UK, Norse in Iceland)/ historical anecdotal records, suggest the MWP was cooler than today?

  3. Well first of all, I have said over and over again on this site that I don’t believe solar variation causes climate change any more than I believe in AGW…

    But those sound like good odds to me, I would agree to the $100 dollar bet, but do I have to give it to a charity??? Lol. Maybe I can think of a creative one, count as a charity??

    Suggest a temperature series that will be used to decide the bet?

    So if we don’t get a warm year in the next five what will be your reaction Gareth? Would you change any of your opinions on AGW?

  4. It’s not that we won’t get a warm year in the next five — after all, every year so far this century has been amongst the warmest since records began — it’s whether or not we get a new record. In theory, I think you could go more than five years with no new record and still be within the range of natural variability about an upwards trend (as Tamino at Open Mind demonstrates here), but my feeling is five years will be long enough. I would also be tempted to take a bet that there will be a new record set next year, though I’d like odds (perhaps 4-1) and wouldn’t wager as much money.

    If you want the evens bet of $100 on a new record by 2014, I’ll nominate Hadley or GISS. You choose between them.

    If after five years we have no new record (and there have been no intervening major volcanic eruptions to cool things down), then I will want to look closely at the other signs of warming and see what’s happening with them — ice melt, phenological changes etc. If those still show the clear signs of warming, then I’ll probably think we’re in the realms of statistical outliers (see Open Mind post linked above) and want to wait longer. If there are unequivocal signs of a halt to warming, and no obvious cooling factors at play (anthropogenic aerosols, for instance), then I won’t be the only one looking very closely at our understanding of the climate system’s response to GHG forcing.

    But, as you can see, my money’s on a new record long before that sort of reappraisal becomes necessary…

  5. You say five years should be long enough… hmm if you had said the same thing 10 years ago, two lots of five wouldn’t have been enough. So actually we are talking 10, so given that we have had 10 years without a record, and you say we should 20:1 have a warmest year 1 out of every 5 – why have your opinions remained so steadfast? Why do you have so little doubt / scepticism?

  6. Ten years ago was different: the record set then was a huge outlier (way above the year before or after).

    Why do you have so little doubt / scepticism?


  7. R2, go read the Open Mind link I gave earlier. The explanation there is about as good as it gets. Besides, if you take the GISS series, the last record was 2005.

  8. Ive got Bob Carters submission to the select committee in front of me and all three temperature graphs show 1998 as far and away much warmer than anything before or since, are all three of these graphs wrong?

    Is this the same GISS that reported October 2008 was the warmest anomaly of all time? And that in October 2008 Russia was 13.7 C warmer than average 1951-1980?

    I would like to direct Laurence to this webpage, as he showed me a vid on youtube ‘debunking’ the urban heat island, this fully debunks the map shown in that vid.

    Maybe we should trust satellite records over the GISS weather station data set, it is open to UHIE and changes in the number of weather stations, not to mention incompetence at the Goddard Institute. Lets just say that if Russia was 13.7C less than normal I’m sure they would have checked why – James Hansen has always shown a bias on the AGW issue and he has let this affect his data sets.

  9. Talking points are no substitute for understanding, R2, which is why you constantly trip up in the details. But I am curious as to why you feel free to natter on like this when you obviously still haven’t done the reading you said you would.

    Let’s do one of your points: Re the Siberian warming, don’t you think it should occur to a person of average intelligence a person exhibiting average curiosity to look at the satellite temp records for the lower troposphere? Of course they’re not identical to the surface record since they’re measuring the atmosphere several kilometers up, but any large, persistent regional trend shown in the surface record should be equally obvious in the satellite record of the LT. Let us know what you find.

  10. Nah I’m reading Air Con at the moment, and then have Poles Apart next on my to read list, but maybe after that – who knows I might be global warminged out by then – move onto something lighter. I want to read “Breakfast of Champions” by Kurt Vonnegut at some stage, I have read “Slaughterhouse 5” and that was pretty good.

  11. So you are unpersuadable, but on the plus side you’re unpersuasive.

    Excellent. 🙂

    Is it original? I’d like to use it if I may, with credit to the source.

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