McLean’s folly and the climate clueless

In an astonishing press release issued last week, the New Zealand Climate “Science” Coalition predicts that 2011 will be the “coolest year globally since 1956 or even earlier”. The C”S”C bases its prediction on the work of Australian “computer consultant and occasional travel photographer” John McLean. Hot Topic readers will remember McLean as the lead author of a rapidly rebutted 2009 paper (written with Chris de Freitas and Bob Carter) which claimed that El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events were a driver of global temperature increases. I covered the full story at the time: see Mother Nature’s Sons and subsequent posts.

One unoriginal finding of the McLean paper was that global temperatures were affected by ENSO events — warming after El Niños and cooling after La Niñas. Last year NZ C”S”C member Bryan Leyland used this to “predict” a coming cooling, which was lapped up by the usual suspects. In January this year, Leyland predicted cooling would continue until at least June. Now McLean has taken this a step further by predicting that temperatures will plunge to that of a cool year 50 years ago. There’s no justification for this prediction in the press release, beyond McLean pretending that his 2009 paper showed that CO2 was a minor player in global temperature change.

Unfortunately for the credibility of all involved, McLean’s prediction is utter unphysical nonsense. Here’s why…

I wanted to find out how McLean’s prediction looked in the context of the long term temperature record, so I downloaded the NASA GISS series data (available here), and plotted it on a graph:


I’ve shown the 1956 temperature (-0.17ºC referenced to the 1951-80 average) as a blue line. The red cross on the end is where the 2011 temperature would plot if McLean’s prediction were to come true. I also looked through the data series for the biggest single year cooling event. That was a fall of 0.29ºC from 1963 to 1964, helped along by the explosive eruption of Mt Agung in Bali. The higher red cross labelled “1963 cooling” is where 2011 would plot with the same temperature fall. By way of contrast, the largest recent cooling not benefitting from volcanic help was 1998 – 1999, and “only” 0.24ºC.

McLean wants us to believe that global temperatures will fall by 0.8ºC in a single year. There is no precedent for such a large drop in the last 130 years — the variation between years is much smaller, not often exceeding 0.2ºC. The reason for that is easy enough to understand: there’s a lot of thermal “inertia” in the climate system, provided by the oceans that cover 70% of the planet’s surface. The only way global temperatures could fall by 0.8ºC in a single year would be for the amount of solar energy reaching the earth’s surface to be hugely reduced — and the only natural mechanism that could do that would be a volcanic eruption (or series of eruptions) of truly vast size. It won’t happen because of a single La Niña event, however strong and long one might be.

Here’s my prediction. Barring the volcanic equivalent of a nuclear winter, 2011 will probably turn out to be slightly cooler overall than 2010, because of the current La Niña (which may or may not fade away later this year). Given a really steep fall like the one from 1963 to 64, we might have the coolest year since… 2000. That’s what 50 years of heat accumulating the system means. And the underlying warming trend will continue.

You might think that the “scientists” and “experts” at the NZ Climate “Science” Coalition would have noticed that McLean’s temperature forecast is rubbish. After all, they have noted scientists like Bob Carter and Chris de Freitas as members and advisers. Unfortunately Chris and Bob appear to have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to criticising their erstwhile co-author. Meanwhile, the Climate “Science” Coalition, and everyone involved in promoting this sorry little weather forecast are shown, yet again, to be the Climate Clueless™.

[PS: I haven’t got round to formulating a bet with Bryan Leyland on “warming” v “cooling” (yet), but if he’s willing to bet that McLean’s right, I’ll very happily take the other side.]

[Robert Palmer]

15 thoughts on “McLean’s folly and the climate clueless”

  1. Bryan Leyland and Willem de Lange were a little more cautious in a column they recently wangled in the business section of the Waikato Times, where they satisfied themselves by saying that 2011 will be a cold year. But sunspot activity is, according to them, likely to make temperatures over the next decade something like 1 degree cooler than previously, “more than all the global warming that is supposed to have happened in the past 100 years or so”. The column was a dog’s breakfast and included the observation that in the northern autumn not one mainstream climate scientist was predicting a cold winter! It also ascribed signifigance to the recent “peer reviewed research” of McLean, de Freitas and Carter.

    I offered a critical response in letters to the editor, of course, and was reprimanded by one correspondent for having the “gall”, as a mere retired teacher, to criticise the respected Dr de Lange and the other distinguished scientists associated with the Climate Science Coalition.

    1. Bryan, that atrocious article was also in the Dom Post business section. Seems like they have some traction with the business editors – curious that they couldn’t get it published in the more mainstream sections. It was, of course, the usual litany of falsehoods that we have come to expect from Leyland and co.

  2. I think it was a misspelling, Bryan – he was probably referring to de Lange and “other extinguished scientists associated with the Cargo Cult Science Coalition”.

  3. Bryan, there’s at least one paper that looks at the solar influence over the course of the 21st century. Even if the sun were to go into a prolonged grand minimum it would reduce global temperatures by about 0.1 degrees C (IIRC).

    I like it when the contrarians venture into prognostication, at least there’ll be something new to rub their noses in.

    I wonder where they think all that heat accumulated in the last 5 decades can possibly hide?. It can’t escape out to space. Not all of it can get down into the oceans. So where do they think it can go?.

  4. Perhaps we should all stock up on food staples if someone (reliable) thinks that Pinatubo, Krakatoa and Agung are all going to go for broke within a year.

    That really is just silly. Because he’s not talking about volcanic calamity is he. He’s just talking rubbish.

  5. Wow! Talk about a falseifiable prediction! there is not much time to wait. If McLean is right it ought to start being obvious by July. And once again, the physics underlying the prediction is absent. Sounds like certain earthquake predictions to me…

    1. Talking about that certain earthquake predictor: Ken the Ring will the star on TVNZ’s Sunday next weekend!
      I guess after the Channel 3 rip down he thinks that Channel 1 will be kinder to him…. its unbelievable how much notoriety bladderdash gains these days!

  6. I think it would probably make sense to work out where Leyland is getting his “global temps have dropped by 0.5°C since September” shtick from before committing to any bets, Gareth. I’m assuming that he is referring to temp anomalies, which don’t include seasonal variation, but if so, I can’t work out which series he thinks shows this. GISTEMP, HADCruT and RSS all show a much smaller drop in anomalies, about 0.2-0.3°C, and UAH has not been updated due to “channel data problems” in AMSU since mid Dec. If he has that much trouble reading a graph, you would be advised to get an independent arbiter.

    Otherwise, as Keith notes, it is good that the septics are committing themselves to such drastic and readily falsifiable predictions. I’m sure Watts is all ready to commit to another “you betcha” recovery of Arctic sea ice on the basis of the upward blip of the last few days, as well. By the end of this year there should be a good few examples of “she’ll be right” predictions that have crashed and burned.

  7. Plus the deniers got the facts so wrong on this as well:

    Here is a link to a paper Received 16 November 2009 by the JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH and published in 2010 from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Potsdam, Germany which indeed just predicted that: Colder than usual winters in northern Europe as a consequence of rising temperatures in the arctic and sea ice melt there:

    So there you go, they do not know what they are talking about and spout allegations without checking their facts, pathetic!

    That was meant as a added bit of info to Richard C1’s comment, just to add to the dimension of these deniers obvious denial of even the published literature.

  8. Thanks for the link, Thomas.

    IMHO Leyland and his ilk are progagandists, not scientists, and thus have no interest in the facts, nor the literature of climate science.

    What does seem to motivate them is sowing confusion and delay; they are the “useful idiots” of the fossil fuel industries.

  9. I hadn’t seem that release. Jeebuz… First quote in it:

    “The global cooling that started in October 2010…”

    I remember (visiting NASA to see that decade-by-decade animation) be struck by the way that despite all the snow starting last November was the warmest on record globally.

  10. Werent the sceptics saying about 6 years ago that this last decade would be cool or cooling? Hasnt turned out that way. Their “modeling” isnt too good, so why trust it now? I wouldnt put my name to obvious rubbish like the el nino cycle causing global warming. Why would anyone do that?

  11. Focusing on year-by-year temperature variation is diverting the public away from the more important long-term trends. This applies just as much to those making a big deal about last year’s highs as for McLean’s bit of foolishness. IMO, this is a trap.

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