Tear-stained letter #2

by Gareth on December 22, 2008

pottypeer.jpg Some summer reading for NZ prime minister John Key: Christopher, Viscount Monckton of Brenchley (“I’m no potty peer”) has penned another of his dippy epistles — an “open letter” in the next issue of Free Radical, an NZ libertarian publication. His last, to John McCain, was a triumph of hilariously overblown climate crank nonsense. This looks to be no more succinct, but has the publishers of FR chortling with excitement. From Not PC:

This is pure gold; the world’s leading climate ‘skeptic’ explains to NZ’s new Prime Minister that the apocalyptic vision of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change is a lurid and fanciful account of imagined future events that was always baseless, was briefly exciting among the less thoughtful species of news commentators and politicians, and is now thoroughly and scientifically discredited.

Thoroughly and scientifically? How exciting. Let’s take a look.

Not PC kindly supplies us with “some leading excerpts”. They’re rather lengthy, so I shall restrict myself to examining edited highlights. First point:

I applaud the stated intention of both Act and National to re-examine both the fatally flawed emissions-trading plans of the previous government and the fundamentals of the science of “global warming”, but I remain concerned at your continuing policy goal – pointlessly to halve your country’s economic output.

National’s target of a 50% reduction in emissions by 2050 is going to halve our economic output? Not even the wilder shores[1. The NZIER study beloved of Rodney Hide, discussed here.] of economic analysis have suggested anything like that. Rather alarmist, I’d have thought.

Is climate change literally a “hot” topic? As you ponder that question, Sir, consider that the recorded temperature in the Christchurch of 2008 is no warmer than the Christchurch of 1910 – as you can establish for yourself by checking the record. Clearly, there are more facts to bring to bear than either your colleagues or your advisers have told you hitherto.

Thanks for the plug, Chris. The Christchurch temperature example seems to derive from Gerrit van der Lingen’s first Avenues article[2. Avenues' climate "debate" discussed here. Reference to Hot Topic is made by GvdL in his first article.], and is as irrelevant now as it was then[3. Global change cannot -- by definition -- be judged by the data from single temperature stations. Note that NZ as a whole has warmed by 0.9C since 1900.]

Today’s temperature, in the perspective of the long recent history of our planet, is unusually low…

At both Poles, it was warmer only half a century ago than it is today.

I wonder what he means by the oxymoronic “long recent history”? The last 400,000 years? Four million? Forty million? In the context of the current sequence of ice ages, the current temperature is warm (we’re in an interglacial). And he is wrong about the poles[4. NOAA's latest Arctic Report Card describes 2007 as the warmest year since records began.].

Then Monckton moves on to the cranks’ favourite lie:

From 1700-1998, temperature rose at a near-uniform rate of about 1 °F per century. In 1998, “global warming” stopped, and it has not resumed since. Indeed, in the past seven years, temperature has been falling at a rate equivalent to as much as 0.7 °F per decade. Very few news media have given any prominence to this long and pronounced downturn in the temperature trend. The January-January fall in global mean surface temperatures between 2007 and 2008 was the steepest since global-temperature records were first compiled in 1880.

Climate trends can’t be judged from short periods of data. Global warming has not stopped. 2008 has been a cool year in the context of the last ten years (thanks to the La Niña earlier this year), but still one of the ten warmest in the record.

Despite rapidly-rising carbon dioxide concentrations, there has been no new record year for global temperature in the ten years since 1998; and, in the United States, there has been no new record year for national temperature since 1934.

2005 was warmer than 1998 (according to NASA’s GISS).

Greenhouse gases keep the world warm enough for plant and animal life to thrive. Without them, the Earth would be an ice-planet all of the time rather than some of the time… Two-thirds of the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere is naturally present, and carbon dioxide occupies just one-ten-thousandth more of the atmosphere today than it did 250 years ago: for the atmosphere is large and we are small.

Gliding past the inconvenient truth: that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have increased by nearly 40% over the last 150 years, and that the well-established (for 150 years) physics of the atmosphere means that warming is inevitable as a result.

Sir, you have proposed a “target of cutting New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by the year 2050.” Yet your party is supposedly committed to free enterprise, and you have said you are “ambitious for New Zealand”. Do you not think that a far greater degree of scientific certainty as to the effects of minuscule increases in carbon dioxide concentration on temperature would be advisable before you inflict strategic damage on any such scale upon your own country’s economy from within?

Monckton is keen to overplay uncertainty in science, but overplay certainty in economic forecasting. Par for the course. He then moves on to have a go at climate modelling, demonstrating in the process that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Using computer models to predict the climate cannot ever be effective or accurate: for the climate, in the formal, mathematical sense, is chaotic. […] It is the common characteristic of any chaotic object, such as the climate, that the slightest perturbation, however minuscule, in the initial value of even one of that object’s variables can induce substantial and unpredictable “phase transitions” – sudden changes of state – in the future evolution of the object. The climate is defined not by one or two variables but by millions.

Monckton confuses climate with weather forecasting. There is a fundamental difference between climate models and weather forecasts. Weather forecasting depends — as Monckton identifies — on a detailed knowledge of the “initial conditions”. Climate models, on the other hand, are concerned with the response to changes in the “boundary conditions” — the forcings that drive climate change.

All of the climate models relied upon by the UN predict that the distinguishing characteristic or “fingerprint” of anthropogenic greenhouse-gas forcing is that in the tropical mid-troposphere, about 6 miles up, temperature over the decades should rise at two or even three times the rate of increase observed at the tropical surface.

Another basic error by Monckton. The “hot spot” in the tropics is not a fingerprint of greenhouse gas driven warming — it happens with any warming, including solar-driven. The real fingerprint of greenhouse warming, which Monckton ignores, is stratospheric cooling while the troposphere below warms, which has been observed for decades.

However (and it is crucial that you should understand this), the computer-predicted “hot-spot” over the tropics that is the supposed fingerprint of anthropogenic greenhouse warming, entirely distinct from that of any other source of warming, has not been observed in any of the tropospheric temperature datasets. Thirty years of satellite data do not show the “hot-spot” either. It is not there.

Here Monckton is just ignoring inconvenient research. The most recent paper suggests that observations are consistent with model projections.

You also need to know that the values for climate sensitivity in the computer models – in short, the central estimates of how much the world’s temperature will increase in response to a given rise in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – are not outputs from the models, but inputs to them. The computers are being told to assume high climate sensitivity, so a high climate sensitivity is what they find.

This is just an outright lie. Climate sensitivity is not an input to any climate model, but derived from their output. In any event, the “most likely” value for climate sensitivity (3C for a doubling of CO2 over preindustrial levels) is known with good precision from paleoclimate data, as James Hansen explained in his Bjerknes Lecture at the American Geophysical Union at last week. Hansen’s lecture notes [PDF] are worth reading in detail, because they provide a perfect antidote to Monckton’s nonsense.

The UN’s entire case is based on computer modeling, in which – astonishingly – the models are told at the outset the values for the very quantity (temperature response to increased carbon dioxide concentration) that we are told they are going to calculate.

A lie repeated is still a lie.

From late 2001 on, the oceans and the atmosphere simultaneously cooled. The UN dealt with the problem by ignoring it, as did many of the news media, who simply failed to report that the world has been cooling for seven years.

As the world hasn’t been cooling for seven years (see above), it’s no wonder it hasn’t been reported. And the oceans still seem to be warming[5. See this excellent NASA article, Correcting Ocean Cooling.]

Monckton then goes on an extended (and as you might expect, misguided) riff about sea level rise, before lighting on the IPCC’s projections:

Finally, only a tiny proportion of the future sea-level rise imagined by the UN’s climate panel is attributed by it to melting glaciers.

They specifically excluded increasing contributions from ice sheet melting because at the time the report was being finalised it was not well understood. We know more today. The US Geological Survey suggested last week that sea level rise could top 1.5m by the end of this century.

You will recall that in the 1940s the Arctic was warmer than it is today.

You will recall that this is wrong.

Both the summer and the winter extent of the sea ice surrounding Antarctica was greater in 2007/8 than at any time since the satellite record began 30 years ago.

And this year’s summer sea ice minimum in the Arctic was the second lowest recorded, a smidgin above the dramatic record set in 2007.

But the most telling evidence of all is that the mean thickness of the Greenland ice sheet increased by 2 inches per year – a total of 1 ft 8 in – during the decade 1993-2003. Once again, there is no cause for alarm.

A bit out of date, Chris. Since 2003 the world has lost “more than two trillion tons of land ice in Greenland, Antarctica and Alaska” and “more than half of the loss of landlocked ice in the past five years has occurred in Greenland, based on measurements of ice weight by the Grace satellite, said a NASA geophysicist, Scott Luthcke. The Greenland melt seems to be accelerating, he said.” [Source]

Monckton then proceeds to take a few ritual swipes at Flannery and Gore, before beginning his conclusion thus:

Sir, every one of the reasons advanced by the IPCC and its faithful adherents for alarm and consequent panic action has been demonstrated to be hollow and without any scientific foundation or merit. Yet, if your proposal to close down half of the economy of New Zealand is to be justifiable, then the false scientific and policy propositions that you apparently support must be shown to be true.

Once again the alarmist economic views are front and centre, and the science wilfully misrepresented. Monckton apparently thinks he can influence the public policy debate with this stuff, but as long as he makes unsupported economic claims and lies about the science, the world beyond the libertarian right will treat him as the very thing he claims not to be: a potty peer[6. For more Monckton madness, see Deltoid.].

[The title reference is wonderful: a superb performance by a great guitarist. Give yourself a Christmas present and watch it now.]

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Bloom December 23, 2008 at 9:28 am

Great post. These are uncomfortable times for the libertarians to be promoting their economic ideas, so I suppose this sort of thing makes them feel better.

Nitpicks: 1) Strictly speaking the fingerprint is stratosphere cooling in combination with troposphere warming. 2) The solar minimum gets part of the credit for current temps.

Gareth December 23, 2008 at 9:42 am

Nitpick 1 accepted (and clarified in the text). Nitpick 2 may be true, but I rather thought the ±0.1ºC attributed to TSI change over the solar cycle was still speculative rather than established (one paper?). It makes sense, but the signal is difficult to tease out of the data.

Steve Bloom December 24, 2008 at 2:32 pm

See the discussion about solar influence included here. The upshot seems to be that while the effect is hard to measure exactly, the forcing is large enough that it must be doing something.

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