I’ll drown in my own tears

homer.jpg But tears of laughter or tears of frustration? I honestly don’t know whether to laugh or cry (but I’ve certainly got the blues) about a “Viewpoints” feature in this week’s Listener – here’s the intro that runs above two single page articles:

The latest UN climate change conference canvassed many opinions. The Listener asked people from opposite sides of the debate to share their views.

On the crank side we have Bryan Leyland and Chris de Freitas. The “balancing” view comes from Professor Dave Kelly, an ecologist from the University of Canterbury (previews only – full text available after April 19). As I’ve said before, framing the discussion about climate change as a “debate” and with only two sides (it’s real/it isn’t) is highly misleading because it misrepresents the balance of evidence – and I’ll be returning to that in more depth in a future post. But what really brought tears to my eyes were the outright lies from the cranks. CdF repeats some of the untruths in his last outing in the Herald, and BL adds a few more of his own. Here we go again…

I’ll ignore the standard crank window dressing (the emissions trading scheme will cost billions, climate changes naturally, “alarmist scaremongering”), and concentrate on the straightforward untruths.

Records from ice cores show the world was warmer during the Middle Ages when the Vikings settled Greenland[…] It was also warmer in Roman and Minoan times.

Wrong. The Medieval Warm Period (as it is called) is not thought to have been a global phenomenon, and was certainly not warmer than today. The warmest period since the last ice age was the Holocene Climatic Optimum, but that took place between 9,000 and 5,000 years before present, not in Roman or Minoan times. Whether it was warmer than now everywhere round the world is debatable.

Then it’s time to roll out the “not warming now” canard:

Research since the latest IPCC report was finalised in 2006 shows the world is no longer in the 23-year warming phase that started in 1975. […] …there has been no global warming since 2002.

Oh dear. Clearly neither the energy consultant nor the associate professor have any command of climate statistics. Here’s what the World Meteorological Organisation has to say:

The long-term upward trend of global warming, mostly driven by greenhouse gas emissions, is continuing. Global temperatures in 2008 are expected to be above the long-term average. The decade from 1998 to 2007 has been the warmest on record, and the global average surface temperature has risen by 0.74C since the beginning of the 20th Century.

[BBC story here, with nice La Niña graphics]

Which leads in to:

Climate models predict that greenhouse gases will heat the upper atmosphere, but observations show this is not happening.

Climate models predict that the stratosphere will cool. This has been observed. Warming in the upper troposphere is not so clear cut, but model predictions overlap with the error bars around observations, so the two are not inconsistent, as RealClimate explains here.

And then, by a heroic leap of logic both unsupportable and unsupported:

Therefore, CO2 cannot have been a major factor in the late 20th century warming.

Let’s rewrite the laws of physics, chaps. Let’s pretend that only one thing drives the climate system. Let’s pretend. Let’s… move on to the sun.

Recent research shows temperatures correlate well with sunspots and cosmic rays.

Recent research finds no such thing. There is no correlation between sunspots or cosmic rays and global temperatures. There are some cranks who claim there is – but nothing substantial (or uncontested) in the peer-reviewed literature.

But there’s a lot of direct evidence of warming, so they try to downplay it:

…the Arctic had less ice in the 1930s and it is now back to normal after a record rate of refreezing…

The Arctic most certainly did not have less ice in the 1930s, and it is not “back to normal” after this last winter. The National Snow and Ice Data Centre has just started an ice monitoring page for this summer’s melt season (here), and this is what they say:

Arctic sea ice reached its yearly maximum extent during the second week of March, 2008. Maximum extent was slightly greater compared to recent years, but was still well below average. Despite strong growth of new ice over the winter, sea ice is still in a general state of decline. The ice that grew over the past winter is relatively thin, first-year ice that is susceptible to melting away during the summer. Although natural variability in the atmospheric circulation could prevent the ice pack from breaking last year’s summer record, a closer look at sea ice conditions indicates that the September 2008 minimum extent will almost certainly be well below average. […] ..the September minimum extent this year will likely be extremely low.

And CdF is still repeating the untruth about sea levels from his last few articles:

..the sea level is still rising at 2mm a year – a rate that has been steady for more than 100 years.

This still isn’t true. (Full quote from the IPCC here.)

Chris and Bryan want to do nothing. They want no ETS, no action on climate change beyond a talking shop – they’re still pleading for a Royal Commission – and they are clearly prepared to lie in the service of their “cause”. That should be unacceptable in any public debate, and it’s time the NZ media faced up to the challenge of sorting the wheat from the chaff.

Let me be clear. I do not want to shut down any debate: but I want the debate based on facts, not lies. There is much to debate in both the science and policy of dealing with climate change, plenty of arguments to be had. But first we have to get beyond the is it/isn’t it distraction.

15 thoughts on “I’ll drown in my own tears”

  1. Why is CdF, who is presumably a reputable academic in his field, not embarassed by his inability to understand basic climate data?

    I wouldn’t be surprised if his colleagues are on his behalf. I suspect that he has a lonely existence at AU.

  2. Has anyone here had a look at Kesten Greens forecasting principles? http://www.forecastingprinciples.com/Public_Policy/WarmAudit31.pdf

    Here’s some of the funniest statements from the first couple of pages:

    “Unaided judgmental forecasts by experts have no value.”

    “Agreement among experts is weakly related to accuracy.”

    “When there is uncertainty in forecasting, forecasts should be conservative.”

    A pity the dom-post didn’t add a few of these quotes to their article about his paper – at least it would have been a bit more entertaining.

  3. Yes, I’ve read the thing. Completely misunderstands (deliberately? surely not!) the nature of physical models of climate. You’d think they’d want to keep quiet – but clearly they think that our legislators are even more stupid than they are. And on that point I could not possibly comment.

  4. Oh dear, it looks like he slept through his non-linear dynamics classes too…

    “While advocates of complex climate models claim that they are based on “well established laws of physics”, there is clearly much more to the models than the laws of physics otherwise they would all produce the same output, which patently they do not.”

  5. The latest climate change conference, actually, did NOT canvass opinions. It already had the IPCC’s report.

    The conference focussed on moving ahead on tackling climate change. Bryan and his cronies tried to raise a “debate” but were ignored.


  6. Hi folks,

    My name is Dave Hansford.

    Until recently, I wrote the Ecologic column in The Listener, including “Some Like it Hot” (March 22, 2008) which looked at media treatment of climate deniers and the NZ Climate Coalition’s links to Exxon through front groups like the Heartland Institute and Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow.

    I say “until recently,” because shortly after publication of that column, I was dropped from Ecologic with no valid explanation.

    In the Listener’s ‘both sides of the “debate” treatment this week, we appear to have a situation where somebody who presents a page of verifiable, supported facts is summarily dismissed, while somebody else is given free rein to present a page of unsupported misrepresentation, disinformation and plain lies (and I’m not talking about Dave Kelly!).

    The Listener will tell you that it is upholding the principle of balance.

    Dave Hansford

  7. To supply some context, here’s the article Dave refers to, and here’s a link to the Letters page (scroll down a bit) a couple of weeks later that includes an extraordinary outburst from the Heartland Institute’s head honcho, Joseph L Bast. The letter concludes:

    I don’t know how writers like Hansford sleep at night. If he has even a shred of personal integrity, he should apologise for his attacks on the growing number of scientists who say the threat of global warming has been over-sold, and promise to never again write on this subject. And his publisher should accept nothing less.

    It appears the Listener’s editor was craven enough to agree.

  8. Hi Dave
    Your article appears to be right on the nail but your story is shocking.
    Would a few more letters to the editor help?

    To other readers here make sure you follow Gareth’s link to the letter from J L Bast. The final paragraph is not the worst of it as far as distortions go.

  9. so much for an editor backing their staff. Dave’s story can be substantiated – every last bit of it. And it was a good story: Heartland paying for Leyland et al to go to Bali is news! Don’t start me on Heartland. Go to http://www.globalwarmingheartland.org and you’ll see what I mean. RABID.

    Don’t forget this is a Listener which ran more than three pages from Nigel Lawson last year after he was brought out here by big business.

  10. Way back in March of 2007 I wrote to the Listener offering them an article I’d written showing how Augie Auer and NZCSC were either very stupid or were deliberately misleading people.

    The Listener said they’d think about it and did nothing until the day after Auer died when they sent me a “thank you for your submission, we will not be using it” letter.

    Of course it was silly of me not to have realised I was wrong to suggest a binary choice for Auer and NZCSC when the fact is both choices are true.

  11. Dave

    I am disappointed that you will no longer be appearing in the Listener. IMHO the previous Ecologic columnist wrote content more suited to a glossy womens mag or a TV reality show, long on general statements and short on data or analysis. When you arrived the column I started reading the column seriously, in the same way I read Brian Easton’s column.

    The “balance” issue is interesting. Flying Spaghetti Monster / Kansas State Board of Education springs to mind.

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