There she goes, my beautiful world

by Gareth on November 26, 2008

IanMcEwansmall.jpg Ian McEwan is one of my favourite writers. By chance, whilst reading George Monbiot’s latest offering in the Guardian this morning, I stumbled on a link to an essay by McEwan welcoming Barack Obama, outlining the considerable climate policy challenge he (and we) face. The world’s last chance is a superb summary of the current situation, and a masterful piece of writing. Any article that starts like this deserves a read:

‘I refute it thus!” was Samuel Johnson’s famous, beefy riposte one morning after church in 1763. As he spoke, according to his friend James Boswell, he kicked “with mighty force” a large stone “till he rebounded from it”. The good doctor was contesting Bishop Berkeley’s philosophical idealism, the view that the external, physical world does not exist and is the product of the mind. It was never much of a disproof, but we can sympathise with its sturdy common sense and physical display of Anglo-Saxon, if not Anglican, pragmatism.

Still, we may have proved Berkeley partially correct; in an age of electronic media, where rumour, opinion and fact are tightly interleaved, and where politicians must sing to compete for our love, public affairs have the quality of a waking dream, a collective solipsism whose precise connection to the world of kickable stones is obscure, though we are certain that it exists.

His take on the state of play echoes mine (and Monbiot’s), but he puts it much better than I (or Monbiot) ever will:

Within the climate science community there is a faction darkly murmuring that it is already too late. The more widely held view is hardly more reassuring: we have less than eight years to start making a significant impact on CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, eight years to move from Berkeley’s solipsism to Johnson’s pragmatism. Thereafter, as tipping points are reached, as feedback loops strengthen, the emissions curve will rise too quickly for us to restrain it. In the words of John Schellnhuber, one of Europe’s leading climate scientists and chief scientific adviser to Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, “what is required is an industrial revolution for sustainability, starting now”.

If you read nothing else today, read this. And the Monbiot’s worth a look too, as is the Nick Cave title reference…

[Title reference]

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

rtreadgold November 30, 2008 at 12:27 am

whilst reading George Monbiot’s latest offering in the Guardian this morning

It’s a hard read, don’t you think? No science, he advocates the cessation of all industrial and transport activity by about 2050, predicts runaway warming (Gavin doesn’t) without evidence for it. Dismal. Although at least he has the decency to admit it will cost quite a bit.

Nobody could claim to enjoy reading a polemic like that, could they? Who could be cheered by such unending bad news?

But I hope you’re not too depressed about it, Gareth. Remember that it’s not warming now, it hasn’t warmed for years and there’s no indication of dangerous heating in the future.

What arrogance in some people, to assert the sudden appearance of a dangerous positive feedback (runaway warming!) in an ancient climate system that has never had one before! And to assert this without evidence.

Arrogant and ignorant.

If I find time tomorrow I’ll finish reading McEwen’s piece. My thoughts so far: I’m not impressed with his science; and he can’t spell minuscule. Not that I’d choose to be petty, or anything.

All the best,
Richard Treadgold,
Convenor,
Climate Conversation Group.

Bryan W November 30, 2008 at 9:13 am

No science? Arrogant and ignorant? Richard, your certitudes are breathtaking. Do you really think that people like Monbiot are uninformed on the science? Or McEwan, for that matter, who has a longstanding interest in science? Maybe in your circles a distinguished scientist like James Hansen is dismissed out of hand, even if he is an elected member of the US National Academy of Sciences, but in case you might like to look at what he has to say about the possibility of positive feedbacks, this short article published in the New Scientist last year is an accessible statement:
http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/docs/2007/2007_Hansen_2.pdf

Gareth November 30, 2008 at 10:31 am

Remember that it’s not warming now, it hasn’t warmed for years and there’s no indication of dangerous heating in the future.

There you go again, Richard. Repeating a repeatedly debunked talking point. You talk a fine argument, but fail miserably at dealing with the facts. Why should we take you seriously?
Monbiot may occasionally err on the side of hyperbole, but he at least knows there’s a serious issue to confront.

rtreadgold November 30, 2008 at 12:22 pm

I’m still reading through McEwen and Monbiot and researching Hansen, so let me keep it simple. These are true statements: The atmosphere has not warmed for several years; the oceans have not risen (overall) for several years; nobody says they know what’s happening thermally in our vast oceans; nobody says they know the planetary energy budget, and there is no evidence for the sudden emergence of positive temperature feedback in our ancient climate system—oh, except in models assembled by people with the above-mentioned gaps in their knowledge (and even Hansen criticises some of those).

Saying a point has been debunked does not debunk it, you know, nor does describing it as a talking point. It’s an easy way to win an argument, but it does not constitute a refutation.

Please don’t take me seriously; just hear the words I speak. I don’t need to be taken seriously, since I’m anchored far beyond these petty climatic issues. However our communal thinking on climate is about to affect our pockets, and that should be focussing our minds.

There is otherwise no cause for concern.

Best,
Richard Treadgold.

rtreadgold November 30, 2008 at 2:37 pm

I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have described ‘these climatic issues’ as petty; we treat them with the weight they deserve.

Gareth December 1, 2008 at 2:13 pm

However our communal thinking on climate is about to affect our pockets, and that should be focussing our minds.

So Richard, does the cost of action mean we should not act?

There is otherwise no cause for concern.

Do you really mean this? That we should not be concerned by the vast amount of evidence piling up that shows that warming is happening now, that it is already having significant impacts, and that if allowed to continue will cause great damage? No cause for concern?

That’s like the man who, on being diagnosed with terminal cancer and having it confirmed by several leading oncologists, prefers instead to believe the faith healer who tells him it doesn’t matter – his pain is just part of a natural cycle…

Your attitude to this whole issue was covered very nicely by George Monbiot writing about David Bellamy (hat tip to John Philip in a comment at Deltoid):

It is hard to convey just how selective you have to be to dismiss the evidence for climate change. You must climb over a mountain of evidence to pick up a crumb: a crumb which then disintegrates in your palm. You must ignore an entire canon of science, the statements of the world’s most eminent scientific institutions, and thousands of papers published in the foremost scientific journals. You must, if you are David Bellamy, embrace instead the claims of an eccentric former architect, which are based on what appears to be a non-existent data set. And you must do all this while calling yourself a scientist.

password1 December 1, 2008 at 9:18 pm

The 14th Conference of the Parties starts today/soon in Poznan. Officials and Ministers from NZ are attending. The best way to follow the negotiations is via: http://www.iisd.ca/climate/cop14/

Note that Poznan is halfway towards the Copenhagen conference, which is the deadline for a post-2012 framework.

Gareth December 1, 2008 at 10:21 pm

The good news (if there is any), is that Hot Topic has a guest blogger on the ground at Poznan, and I’m hoping for updates and behind the scenes news over the week. Expect a scene-setting post at some point soon.

rtreadgold December 1, 2008 at 11:36 pm

So Richard, does the cost of action mean we should not act?

No, but if the cost were so very high we would be ruined anyway, then where would be the gain? No, noticing the imminent involvement of our pockets is simply to say we should be quite certain both of what is happening and that what action we take will have the desired effect.

rtreadgold December 1, 2008 at 11:57 pm

Do you really mean this? That we should not be concerned by the vast amount of evidence piling up that shows that warming is happening now, that it is already having significant impacts, and that if allowed to continue will cause great damage? No cause for concern?

Yes.

There is a vast body of material about present and future warming. But there is also an overlooked and unperformed step—ascertaining the fact of warming.

All the future harm arises from models, and nobody is saying (least of all the IPCC, which insists it has never issued a forecast) they know all the processes producing climate, except the far fringe. So the models are incomplete; this is shown by their lack of predictive skill. Now, that wouldn’t be a problem for me; for why insist on knowing everything to the nth degree if that meant unacceptable delays?

But without confirmation of present warming or sea level rise, which are the basic indicators of global warming, I could not gamble our prosperity merely on the ghosts of our fears.

It is not warming; the sea is not rising. The warming effect of CO2 is logarithmic and by now vanishingly small; the minor GHGs can be ignored, however much our regulators purse their lips and pay big money to winkle them out. There is a large negative feedback from water vapour as temperature rises.

These facts make it impossible for me to believe in dangerous man-made global warming. When those facts change, I shall change my mind. I can see the possibility of warming, follow the idea, as it were; but those facts stand in the way of believing it.

It’s your theory (as it were; you have adopted it), so it’s up to you to prove it, not up to anyone else to disprove it. For that, you need, of course, evidence. Only facts are admissible, and relevant ones at that.

Until some of these facts change, I cannot join your parade. In the meantime I continue to spread knowledge of the facts to others.

rtreadgold December 2, 2008 at 12:05 am

That’s like the man who, on being diagnosed with terminal cancer and having it confirmed by several leading oncologists, prefers instead to believe the faith healer who tells him it doesn’t matter – his pain is just part of a natural cycle…

Yes, droll. It illustrates wishful thinking perfectly.

The analogy is not entirely apt, however, since the climatic patient displays no symptoms, therefore the diagnostic revelations are quite spurious. I should say, displays no symptoms beyond natural variability.

rtreadgold December 2, 2008 at 12:21 am

It is hard to convey just how selective you have to be to dismiss the evidence for climate change. … And you must do all this while calling yourself a scientist.

Yes, yes. Creative writing, certainly. A solid display of certitude and endurance, definitely. But an exposition of theory it is not, nor does it answer the simple objections: it is not warming, the sea levels are not rising and CO2 is incapable of warming any further.

The ad hominem reference to ‘an eccentric former architect’ attempts to refute an argument by deriding the protagonist; logically in error and distasteful as well. Many ‘warmers’ stoop to that; a pity, as it prevents a discourse.

This is interesting: “the world’s most eminent scientific institutions”. Why do they agree the world is warming? What treasure do they protect in trying to ignore the facts? All the teams show stasis or cooling over the past few years.

This is nice writing, but I find it unpersuasive because it ignores climatic facts.

The Climate Conversation Group has sent another complaint to TV3 about a bad piece of journalism concerning global warming. You might be interested in the details at http://www.climateconversation.wordshine.co.nz.

Gareth December 2, 2008 at 9:00 am

It is not warming; the sea is not rising. The warming effect of CO2 is logarithmic and by now vanishingly small; the minor GHGs can be ignored, however much our regulators purse their lips and pay big money to winkle them out. There is a large negative feedback from water vapour as temperature rises.

You assert these to be facts. They are in fact the direct opposite. In every single respect you are wrong.

The planet is warming. The IPCC finds the evidence to be “unequivocal”. It’s there in the temperature record, the melting of land-based glaciers all round the world, the decline in mass of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, the decline in Arctic sea ice, melting of permafrost, decline in seasonal snow cover, and the warming of the oceans. It’s there in the movement of species in response to climate changes, and the changes in their response to the timing of seasons.

The sea is rising. Direct satellite measurement (TOPEX/Poseidon) confirms it. The rate of increase has itself increased in recent years, and the amount of sea level rise expected over the coming century is now likely to be at least 1m (based on work done since AR4). The oceans are becoming more acidic as they absorb CO2.

CO2 is not “saturated” – there’s plenty of room in its absorption spectrum to deliver plenty more warming. The other greenhouse gases are not negligible – methane in particular has 25 times the warming potential of CO2 and is once again increasing (and the vast stores in permafrost and in hydrates on the sea floor pose the threat of a positive feedback of large proportions).

There is no “large negative feedback” from increasing water vapour. No sign of the existence of such a thing can be inferred from climate history, and although one recent paper claims to have uncovered a small negative feedback, others do not. The most recent describes the feedback as “large and positive”.

I can supply references and links to datasets for all the above. I am not relying on my personal opinion, or my own interpretation of material disputed in the scientific literature. Every single one of your assertions is demonstrably wrong.

I suppose there is some sociological or psychological interest in why you are so happy to declare black to be white, so happy to deny the existence of a problem, but there can be no scientific interest in what you assert. You are not making scientific arguments, or even arguments about the science – you are essentially making a political argument because you don’t like what you are being told. You therefore make yourself irrelevant to the debate about what should be done.

Return to Weart. You dismissed him last time because you didn’t like the message. Read about the history of the science. Learn why your CO2 argument (which was accepted 60 or 70 years ago) falls down. Then come back here and offer words of educated wisdom, not wishful thinking.

fragment December 2, 2008 at 9:05 am

Richard, what you list as “facts” are either false, not in evidence, or mistakenly interpreted as relevant when they are not. Briefly:

It is not warming; the sea is not rising.

As you’ve been told before, what is important is longer-term trends that shows through any noise (“wiggles”) in the climate data. Those trends are positive.

The warming effect of CO2 is logarithmic and by now vanishingly small

Logarithmic yes, vanishingly small no. Try this graph from http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/aggi/.

the minor GHGs can be ignored

No, they can’t. Graph from same link as above.

There is a large negative feedback from water vapour as temperature rises.

Do you mean clouds? Care to show some evidence for this? Numeric estimates for positive and negative water vapour related feedbacks would be useful, do you have some?

It looks to me like you have strings of assertions rather than facts, that have been ultimately drawn from a small and biased selection of low-quality sources. Here’s a test for bias: look at the calibre of the reasoning and evidence and ask yourself if you would accept them if Gareth, I or some other “warmist” presented them to you.

I’ll also add that you’re making some positive assertions yourself with regard to these “facts”, so there is, in fact, a burden of evidence on you here as well.

Steve Wrathall December 2, 2008 at 11:46 am

Meanwhile the Aussies are also being mugged by reality and are backpedalling on any meaningful economic violence against their citizens.
http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2008/11/30/1227979844927.html
What’s the bets on how long before Obama does a “Rudd”?

password1 December 2, 2008 at 1:27 pm

That’s an strange interpretation Steve. Are we reading the same story?

Showing your hand so close to international negotiations would be pretty crazy. And the mid term targets clearly links to the design of their ETS, which has already suggested limiting international trading (so to make a domestic cap more meaningful).

Your words “mugged, backpedalling, economic violence” are just emotive nonsense

Dewhurst December 2, 2008 at 2:55 pm

Where are you these days Steve?

Roger

Previous post:

Next post: