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 NiÃ±a 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.