Such ignorance must not be allowed to go uncontradicted (*)

homer.jpgLast week an essay — Why I Am A Climate Realist — by NZ CSC “science advisor” Dr Willem de Lange started popping up all over the crank web. I first spotted it at Muriel Newman’s NZ CPR site, and it has since appeared at Monckton’s US lair (complete with a pretty cover). De Lange, a senior lecturer in the Dept of Earth & Ocean Sciences at Waikato Unversity, has not had many starring roles as a climate crank — his biggest claim to fame was a place on the panel discussion after Prime’s showing of The Great Global Warming Swindle last year. But this time he has really stuck his neck out, channelling Wishart’s delusions in this sentence:

It is more likely that the warming of the oceans since the Little Ice Age is a major contributor to the observed increase in CO2.

To show just how wrong he is, I asked Doug Mackie, who is a researcher in chemical oceanography at the University of Otago and regular commenter here, to point out the flaws in de Lange’s essay. Over to Doug:

When Gareth invited me to write a guest post about Willem de Lange’s Why I am a climate realist I knew it was going to be hard. Most of the article is wibble and he really only makes 2 serious points:
– About sea level
-The oceans as the main source of CO2.

(*) Katherine Mansfield, The Advanced Lady.

What has sea level actually done so far this century? There have been large regional variations, but the global rate has slowed and is currently negative, consistent with measured ocean cooling.

This is just another version of Bob Carter’s “not since 1998” big lie. Just lines above in his article de Lange clearly states that [New Zealand] sea level rises of 0.18 mm y-1 in the 1980’s, 0.17 mm y-1 in 1990 and 0.16 mm y-1 “were not enough to prove that sea level rise was slowing. However, they clearly did not show that sea level rise was accelerating.” And then a few lines later he says the rate has slowed and is currently negative.

It is irresponsible to try using less than a decades worth of data to say anything sensible about global changes in sea level or sea temperature this century. Yes, there have been a minor wiggles in heat content – as we would expect with any real world system — but, as with Bob’s graphs, if you step back and look over a longer term, see AR4WG1 Figure 5.1) or this figure it simply shows small interdecadal variability is imposed over a strong upward trend; see Section

It is more likely that the warming of the oceans since the Little Ice Age is a major contributor to the observed increase in CO2

Actually, temperature has only a small effect on pCO2 (I can come back to this in a dedicated post if there is sufficient interest but it is worth noting that this is basic chemistry and physics). We can be confident the extra CO2 in the atmosphere has come from the oxidation of fossil fuels and has not come from outgassing from the ocean or from soil/land sources by using two key observations.

1) Oxygen decrease
Atmospheric oxygen is going down by the same amount as atmospheric CO2 is going up. Oxygen is so abundant at about 21% (209,500 ppm) that we are in no danger of running out; the change in oxygen simply shows that whatever the source of CO2 in the atmosphere, the carbon part of it has come from the oxidation of reduced carbon compounds and the oxygen has come from oxygen gas in the atmosphere. That is, the extra CO2 was not released in the form of CO2 from an unknown source but instead some reduced carbon compound was burnt in the atmosphere to produce CO2. See: AR3WG1 Section 3.5.1, especially Figure 3.4.

2) Known fossil fuel CO2 emissions.
Most obviously, any alternative explanation for the source of the CO2 in the atmosphere has to also come up with where the 30 billion tonnes of CO2 known to be released by fossil fuel burning each year goes.

Atmospheric CO2 is currently increasing at about 2 ppmv per year (or 16 billion tonnes). That is, only around half of the CO2 we release remains in the atmosphere. The pH decrease in the oceans corresponds to most of the “missing” CO2, so we can also be confident that land use changes etc are not a major source/sink. Caveat: Land use and biomass changes certainly soak up a lot of CO2, some it simply regrowth of forests etc, but the point is that the increasing CO2 in the atmosphere clearly demonstrates that they do not soak up enough.

In summary: (amount of increased CO2 in the atmosphere + the amount of increased CO2 in the oceans) = (amount of known fossil fuel emissions of CO2).

Carbon isotopic ratios indicate that while there is a contribution from the burning of fossil fuels, it is of the order 1-5 percent of the increase.

At first this made no sense to me. Measurements show the ratio of 13C to 12C in atmospheric CO2 is decreasing while the overall total amount of CO2 is increasing.

Photosynthesis strongly favours 12C over 13C. Thus biomass-carbon (including fossil fuels) is depleted in 13C. For inorganic processes, like the way in which CO2 dissolves into the ocean or is degassed from the ocean, does not involve a significant degree of fractionation. Thus ocean-carbon is not depleted in 13C.

Thus, regardless of the total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, the amount of 12C is going up as a proportion of the total. Therefore some of the extra CO2 in the atmosphere has come from a source that is depleted in 13C, i.e. fossil-carbon. AR3WG1 Box 3.6 . And it was this “some” that gave me the clue.

The answer is that de Lange does not seem to understand about residence times and mixing. This is surprising because it is about as fundamental a concept you get in environmental chemistry and I would expect a coastal oceanographer to use it on a daily basis (e.g. when thinking about tides).

Calculating the amount of fossil fuel CO2 in the atmosphere purely from a change in the isotope ratio is not trivial (but really ought to be within the abilities of any oceanographer). This is because there is constant natural exchange between the atmosphere, the oceans and the terrestrial biosphere (plants and soil). For example, the famous saw-toothing of the Keeling Curve shows the annual uptake and release of atmospheric CO2 by Northern Hemisphere plants. (There is also a SH effect but as the NH has way more land the effect is more obvious).

Look at AR3WG1 Figure 3.1 . It shows the sizes of each pool and the fluxes between each pool. The oceans contain something like 38,000 Pg of carbon (1 Pg = 1 billion tonnes), the atmosphere about 730 Pg C and the land 2,000 Pg C. However, the natural flux (or exchange) between the atmosphere and the oceans is about 90 Pg C y-1 and between the atmosphere and the land the flux is 120 Pg C y-1. This means that each year 230/730 = 32% of the total CO2 in the atmosphere is exchanged with other reservoirs.

A vital point to note is that it is not the exact same carbon atoms taken up and released (i.e. if they all had serial numbers it would be different ones taken up and released). Thus, the natural flux means that though the total CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing, many of the original fossil carbon atoms released to the atmosphere have been swapped and are now in the ocean or in soils/plants. It is the increase in total CO2 that matters in terms of the radiative balance of the atmosphere, not the exact serial number on each carbon atom. The points above demonstrate how we know the extra CO2 comes from fossil fuels.

I haven’t done the numbers (but I could do so running a tweak of Wally Broecker’s Pandora model) so it might be technically true (in a Bill Clinton sense) to suggest 1-5% of the individual carbon atoms in the atmosphere at any one time are the exact same carbon atoms released by fossil fuel burning. But it really shows a truly surprising lack of understanding about residence times, fluxes and perturbations to those fluxes.

Disclosure: Doug Mackie receives funding from the Illuminati of the One World Government, its puppet governments and corporations and has a strong political affiliation (was once party president) to the McGillicuddy Serious Party. I am also a researcher (chemical oceanography) at the University of Otago.

32 thoughts on “Such ignorance must not be allowed to go uncontradicted (*)”

  1. Wow record lows for June around Wellington this morning.

    So whats the point, why am I posting? Well I’m not trying to claim a long term global trend based on a short term local weather events,

    no I don’t think a few cold weeks in NZ mean anything by them self. But what I will say is that almost every year there will be a high in some airport or a record low in some town somewhere in New Zealand, it doesn’t mean the climate is changing, only that it is variable and unpredictable. Ah but people are so quick to believe the hype,

    1. Its the long term pattern that we have to be concerned about – decades – not months or even years. That pattern unfortunately is quite clear! What we might also be watching is the pattern of the night time temperatures.

  2. R2 you’re right, the record daily highs and lows doesn’t mean the climate is changing. Weather is by nature variable and unpredictable (unless you’re Ken Ring).
    However the billions of tons of CO2 we emit means the climate is changing, and until you can rewrite the laws of physics it will continue.
    I think the warrior princess understands this better than you.

  3. Kind of amusing (in a Shakespearean tragedy sort of way) that none of the denialists will address my point that de Lange has made an error isn’t it?

  4. Doug: Yeah I was only vaguely interested. Like usual the alarmist finds one little part of a larger argument, points to something in the IPCC, and claims victory.

    So CO2 may have been created by warming oceans, or burning fossil fuels. So it goes. But what difference does it really make? If de Lange is wrong then it does not mean AGW exists at a significant level. And I think de Lange is sincere in belief on this issue, so he hasn’t lost credibility either (in my mind if thats what the aim is).

    As for sea level rise, this is just more alarmist double think. If the sea level rises for 28 years its AGW, if it falls for ten its natural variation. Ten years is too short, 30 years is just right. 1000 years? No that was before the industrial revolution. Established trends? Never changed before GHG emissions.

    Personally I think sea levels will rise because we are only 10,000 odd years out of the last ice age. Apart from areas that are experiencing glacial rebound, sea levels have been rising for quite some time. The black sea was once a lake (around 5000BC?). The people of Holland had to build dyke’s.

    The warming or cooling of the time either magnifies or masks this response to the last ice age. The long term trend is for a rise.

    But thats all peripherals, you or Gareth would do better to attack this comment: (I am genuinely interested, yours and de Lange’s knowledge on this is ahead of my own and I want to learn about these hard claims, not the irrelevant ones over sources of CO2 – I know burning something will create CO2!)

    “99.9 percent of ocean heat is derived from sunlight at wavelengths less
    than 3 microns. The balance is mostly from heat leaking from the interior of the Earth. The Greenhouse Effect involves a delay in the loss of infra-red radiation at wavelengths greater than 5 microns.”

  5. Artoo,
    Rather than waste time recursively whacking moles I will simply point out that de Lange has tried this before. Read the thread at
    brave new climate And then get back with specific questions.

    What do *you* make of the fact de Lange did not address the objections made at brave new climate in his Muriel piece and simply gave the same argument?

  6. artoo, you are right that burning something will create CO2.

    And that is the point that de Lange has missed.
    It might be technically true that if CO2 molecules had serial numbers then a small portion of those in the atmosphere right now are from fossil fuels because there is constant swapping between the small reservoir of the atmosphere and the enormous reservoir of the oceans.

    But this shows a surprising lack of understanding about one of the simplest concepts in oceanography. If the fact that de Lange does not understand residence vs. mixing does not reduce your faith in him then it should.

    I think it is at best misleading of de Lange to make this point. As I said, he failed entirely to address the issue of where the CO2 produced by fossil fuel burning goes. That, again, is at best misleading.

    Take a bucket of 10 red balls and 90 green balls and a room containing 5000 green balls.
    Each day add one red ball to the bucket
    Each day take 10 random balls from the room and 10 random balls from the bucket and swap them.
    The number of balls in the bucket increases but the number of red balls in the bucket will be quite low.

    The fact remains that the atmosphere contains more CO2 than it used to.

    It is an entirely different argument about what effect the extra CO2 will have and the physics is clear that it will involve warming.

  7. Hey,
    The key is not to quibble about the science. I don’t really care about where the excess pollutants in our environment are coming from. The basic argument seems to be between those who believe that the Earth can be used as a huge garbage warehouse forever, accepting whatever we throw at it, and those who believe that there are limits.
    I happen to believe that there are limits.
    Atmospheric CO2 cannot simply increase forever without impact. You cannot mess with basic atmospheric chemistry forever and at will without effect.
    If we make the change to an economy that has multiple benefits, and does not operate with “externalities” as a source of profit, then we will have an economy that is better for people, the environment and the economy.
    Arguing that we should just accept that business should be able to exist and be able to pollute at will is not ethical in the long run, regardless of the quarterly return.
    New Zealand, of all places, should recognize this.

  8. I do care where the excess pollutants in our environment are coming from, because if we don’t understand that, we won’t understand what we can and can’t do to limit or reduce them. The current excess of long-lived greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (by “long-lived”, I mean other than water) comes from anthropogenic effects, of which the largest is fossil fuel burning.

  9. Nicol d,
    mostly you are right that it does not matter where the extra CO2 comes from. BUT when people like de Lange start saying:
    “most of it comes from the ocean and it is all natural so don’t worry”
    Then I think that is misleading.

    We do understand exactly where the extra CO2 is coming from. It is from fossil fuel emissions.

  10. Hey folks, I am an industrial designer, and I definitely do care about where, specifically where, the pollutants are coming from. Essential stuff.

    But to clarify, in the context of the discussion on global warming, I don’t care anymore. It is not an issue.

    What is more important is what we do with the information. And there are plenty of ideas about what to do, lots of information and research that shows that the benefits, across the board, of doing what needs to be done to address the climate crisis far outweigh the costs.

    The possibility that we could have done something and didn’t, to at least clean up the mess we have made and are making, is just not what I want to wake up thinking about. To know that we could have done something… the choice is an ethical, cross boundary question.

    Let’s just say that you are the ONLY one on the road with your gas powered … Hummer, or Mini or whatever, and you get the news that your exhaust is likely changing the chemical composition of the air you breathed. Wouldn’t you stop and think about that? Just for one minute? And isn’t that the time to think about the implications, for your neighbours, your children, yourself, isn’t it just then what we call an ethical question? Didn’t it just then turn that way?

    Nope. We have to wait until we are driving millions of cars, through the worst soup, braving headache on the freeways, continue over cooling our buildings, not paying attention to the way we throw herbicides all over the place, watch our husbands die from rare blood cancers, continue ignoring the best of advice, and watch our wells dry up and our rains come less often, looking north to Easter Island.

    And still we bicker like schoolyard twits.

    Nope. Not for me. So if I can, if we can, do something, then I… we ought to. Simple. I wouldn’t pass a guy with a broken down car struggling away on the side of the side road in the middle of winter where I live, any more than I suspect most Kiwis would turn away someone in need of help. I have no intention of seeing whole islands submerge, worlds lost, again, without doing what I can.

    Whatever. That’s my little rant on that.

    The second reason that I don’t care to bicker about the details anymore is that now is the time for solutions, for ideas, for action, for positive cooperation, for a lack of fear and a time of friendship. Bickering takes so much energy away from the real tasks at hand. And in the end, isn’t it tiring? Draining?

    I would so much rather get excited, go out and plant some trees or talk to my neighbour or go off and build a new sail/solar, tethered, hyper-lightweight rail line based passenger system, taking advantage of local talent in machining, sailing, manufacturing, and then consign your perfectly preserved motor cars to fun rallies and museums. Car amusement parks where you have to go to drive them, at special events, only seen running once a year.


  11. Nicol, thanks for acknowledging that everybody on both sides of this debate is similar in that they care enough to contribute to the discussion. Very good point.

    I would like to say that I feel you are confusing two different issues. I am, like you, concerned about chemicals in the food, water and air. Especially possible links to cancer / disease.

    However, no one has ever said CO2 can cause disease directly. Some sources of CO2, such as coal fired smoke stacks and cars, are also sources of other chemicals. But it is very important to distinguish between global warming theory and chemical concerns.

    I am concerned about chemicals, but am not concerned about atmospheric concentrations of CO2, CH4 and N2O (unless they get too low). I consider myself environmentally concerned, a ‘green’ if you will.

    However for me the issues are opposing. Many environment ministries around the world are so concerned with GHG’s they ignore the issues you talk about. What’s more the whole ‘green’ movement is staking its credibility on AGW. If it turns out to be false, then it could do irreversible damage to the long term green movement. A real issue may materialise, and people will say, “Oh this is just like the global warming scare”.

    There for the science is VERY important, and yes these discussions are very important. Thank you.

  12. 3rd time lucky. (clicked submit twice before but no result).
    I made the point that most of de Lange’s article was wibble and I would focus only on the “serious” points. But I can’t really resist for the benefit of artoo (and/or nicol d) a few more examples of why de Lange’s article demonstrated poor scholarship and that is reason to question other statements made by de Lange.

    de Lange: As the size of the area considered increases, the impact of human activities decreases. As the latest IPCC report notes, there is no convincing evidence of the impact of CO2 (or any other human influence on climate) at a continental scale

    de Lange doesn’t give references so I had to look this up. As far as I can see this is actually about urbanization and land use change and comes from AR4 Section 3.2. That does go on a bit but Section 3.1.1 of the Technical Summary is succinct:

    Recent studies confirm that effects of urbanisation and land use change on the global temperature record are negligible (less than 0.006°C per decade over land and zero over the ocean) as far as hemispheric- and continental-scale averages are concerned.

    I could find nothing that said the same about the effect of CO2 in the same way. So reference please. Especially since AR4 Technical Summary section 4.2 goes on to say: “It is likely [>66% probability] that there has been a substantial anthropogenic contribution to surface temperature increases averaged over every continent except Antarctica since the middle of the 20th century. Antarctica has insufficient observational coverage to make an assessment.”

    de Lange: This is being used to imply that global sea level rise is accelerating due to global warming (now renamed /Climate Change/).

    “Renamed”? What does he think the “CC” in IPCC (founded in 1988 and mooted well before that) stands for? I asked Owen McShane this exact question once (in response to the same comment) and he claimed he “had never thought about what the CC stood for”. Being fair minded I found that I agreed with the first part of his answer.

    de Lange: The climate inside my house is different to the climate that would exist if my house were gone. There are many ways human activities affect climate on a small scale. Interestingly the concentration of CO_2 is not one of them (CO_2 are often elevated inside buildings).

    It is vapid to mention the concentration of CO2 inside a building in connection with the “climate” inside a building. In what way is it relevant to climate change?

  13. Willem De lange doesn’t seem to have issued a response to any of these comments and I don’t blame him. Global warming alarmists keep having their predictions proved wrong by observation and so have to create wildly complex reasons why it didn’t happen, and who wants to descend into ridiculously complicated, even harder to prove theories that were only created because the world wont do what they expect. Must be a hell of a job saving face as the world keeps failing to warm. Get a new cause please!

      1. Ah cmon macro don’t act like the term ‘global warming alarmist’ is something unusual, its almost like you haven’t heard the term before, even though it’s a term that people are hearing more and more everyday. The recent Rio summit which was attended by even less international leaders than before and given much less attention than say, Copenhagen was a demonstration of the waning interest and credibility of the alarmist movement….I’m living on a planet that refuses to warm the way that alarmist’s careers were depending on it to…you mark my words your funding will dry up because the public aren;t buying it anymore..and whats more there is not a person who can prove to a reliable enough extent that the world is in danger….Having your predictions proven wrong by observation was a reference to how the ipcc predicted future temperature hikes based on the fiction of positive feedback never eventuated and the temperature records emperically support a feedback level of zero or less…Cmon alarmists show me what your famous for and deliver the ad hominem attack… like how it was inappropriate to debate lord
        monckton even though he has more intelligence, knowledge and guts than all of you put together

    1. Hey, way to find a 2009 thread! Funny, you guys were saying exactly the same things back then…

      Bad news, genius: Climategate’s over – you lost. And now the media won’t touch you with the proverbial 10-foot pole! Sad. :-(

      How’s the Arctic going, by the way? What’s that, didn’t quite hear? Oh, you don’t understand the question. Oh well, how about that court case you guys were going to run, then? 😉

      1. yeah ive noticed that the 2009 threads have less of the sense of desperation about them… How to sell the argument to the public? Hows the Artic going? look at cryosphere today the satellites will show you that its just fine and that it has infact increased significantly since 2007, you seem very much like someone who listens to others and doesn’t check for yourself… infact its hard to find any date before 2007 in any month, or week dating back to 1980 where there was a greater northern hemisphere ice extent than from 2007 – 2012 but hey what would the University of illinois and it’s satellites prove? not to mention the cooling trend they measured since 2002… comes the personal attack that alarmists are so famous for! check what I said an disprove it please (though I know you wont)

      2. Who cares about what the media will touch? whats that got to do with anything? If i was you I wouldn’t draw attention to the court case…The court case was an embarassment to the AGW movement and only survived by NIWA due to the reluctance of the judge to intervene in issues of conflicting scientific opinion… You would do just as well to celebrate the innocence of Ewen MacDonald….We both know that the unadjusted raw data showed no significant increase in the last 130 years or so, and the numbers were fudged for political purposes….My salvation is found in the fact that 20-30 years from now the global warming movement will be acknowledged as the biggest sham of the last 100 years at least…..give it up Einstein

    2. Don’t worry guys. This Jimmy is from another planet. Got lost in the intergalactic internet and posted on the wrong planets blog site.

      Luckily on his planet predictions of planetary warming apparently did not materialize. Here on Earth however we can assure Jimmy the that the situation is actually deteriorating towards positive feedback cycles quicker than we thought. Our planet’s North Pole ice is melting at an alarming rate and soon the albedo effect will accelerate warming beyond our scientist’s predictions from just a decade earlier.
      Perhaps we can send an expedition to Jimmy’s planet to see if they want to take a few hundred million of our climate refugees later this century….

      1. Hey Thomas, how do we deteriorate towards positive feedback cycles? ….Are you suggesting that the world was previously dominated by negative feedback and because of increased co2 it changed towards a positive feedback?….very interesting,,are you on my side and trying to undermine the alarmists? please continue I love your work, maybe you and Al Gore could make movies together. Just don’t tell him that the warming stopped at least 10 years ago

        1. P.S you should be ashamed of that post. It was so full of confidence in the safety in numbers that this webpage provides… As though you can just spout out arrogant, personal attacks because you’re so confident in other peoples intellect without displaying any of your own past the level of a primary school student…. You don’t have the right to stand on the shoulders of others with such arrogance when it is so clear that the movement you stand for is wavering, and losing support….This is supposed to be science but that was a pathetic ad hominem attack that a self respecting scientist would never dream of… I hope no one you know well saw that post

          1. For the last time Jimmy, this blog is about the climate change on planet Earth!
            And if you want to contribute successfully to this blog, catch up with some high school science education first.

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