The Climate Show #8: Kevin Trenberth and our shaky future

The Climate Show returns with a packed show, featuring one of the world’s best known climate scientists, NZ-born, Colorado-based Dr Kevin Trenberth — star of the Climategate “where’s the missing heat” emails. He’s been in New Zealand to visit family (experiencing the Christchurch quake in the process) and to attend a conference, and his comments on the state of our understanding of climate change should not be missed. John Cook of Skeptical Science returns with his new short urls and an explanation of why declines have never been hidden, and Gareth and Glenn muse on Arnie “Governator” Schwarzenegger riding to the rescue of climate science, cryospheric forcing and carbon cycle feedbacks from melting permafrost, and a new paper that suggests that current policies are pointing us towards extremely dangerous climate change. All that and hyperbranched aminosilica too…

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Show notes below the fold.

News & commentary:

Christchurch earthquake, Feb 22 2011. At the time of writing the death toll was expected to rise to over 240. At least 100 of those who died were tourists or foreign students. If you would like to donate to support the recovery effort, please consider the Red Cross appeal.

Schwarzenegger: It’s Time to Terminate Skepticism on Climate Change

Good northern hemisphere cryosphere graphic from NASA, and bad news from the permafrost.

Models guiding climate policy are ‘dangerously optimistic’: Computer models predicting future climate change are underestimating emissions and overestimating technology, warns climate scientist Kevin Anderson. Guardian story here, and full paper [Anderson and Bows. Beyond ‘dangerous’ climate change: emission scenarios for a new world. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences (2011) vol. 369 (1934) pp. 20-44 — PDF], and Bryan Walker’s discussion at Hot Topic.

Increased flood risk linked to global warming

Feature interview:: Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder Colorado. Born in NZ, worked at MetService, now based in Colorado, one of the highest profile climate scientists in the world, and a regular subject of attacks by denialists. The AMS paper referenced is available from KT’s web site linked above.

Debunking the skeptic with John Cook from Skeptical Science.
Skeptical Science Short URLs:

Clearing up misconceptions about “Hide the Decline”

1. It’s not about “global temperatures” but a small number of high latitude tree rings:

2. “Hide the decline” has nothing to do with “Mike’s trick” which is the simple technique of plotting instrumental temperature and reconstructions on the same graph.

3. It’s not hidden at all but openly discussed in the peer-reviewed literature since 1995:


Green Machine: Sucking carbon dioxide out of the air.

Thanks to our media partners:, Scoop and KiwiFM.

Theme music: A Drop In The Ocean by The Bads.

28 thoughts on “The Climate Show #8: Kevin Trenberth and our shaky future”

  1. Another great show guys. Was most impressed by Kevin Trenberth, he’s a great communicator and consciously makes an effort to de-jargonize the scientific references.

    Look forward to the interview with David Suzuki.

  2. Just wondering in light of a more recent Joe Romm blog including KT content — did he expand on the greater intensification of storms, precipitations etc as direct consequence of AGW..?

    Gareth, perchance my recent login had a style change to color gray.. I’d wanted silver but no do by WP. And the other thing was to wring out my former business monicker, a highly integrated entity with no need of a space between its two names. All to say I am not the other joker, whose presence elsewhere has been somewhat too dramatic in light of necessary arrangements.. trusting you will understand if indeed you need to.. sorry about this.. but ohh–ohh- the ways of some.. 😉

  3. Gareth, your last comment on the permafrost paper implied that fast action can still reduce the ultimate scale of the emissions, a view the paper doesn’t support. The key point is that the process is already underway (noting that melt precedes emissions) and can’t be stopped since the carbon will be emitted quickly enough to feed back on itself. It does seem clear that a sharp immediate reduction in our emissions would extend the process, FWIW. Also, the paper says it lowballs total emissions since it assumes CO2 but no methane, and excludes areas of intermittent permafrost, which are considerable. The follow-on paper, being worked on now, will fill in some of this detail, so there’s worse news to come.

    Also, since the Anderson paper doesn’t account for this newly-quantified source, I suppose we can say it takes an optimistic view of things!

    It’s interesting how little media coverage these papers received.

    Great interview with KT, although more time would have been good. Perhaps a follow-up?

    1. I didn’t want to be too gloomy Steve…

      Yes, I’ve been surprised at the lack of attention. They seem to me to be important, certainly from the perspective of informing what passes for policy debate. While the UN process grinds on, the scale of the task we face becomes ever more daunting.

      It would be good to get KT back on at some point, but my wishlist of people to interview is very long — might take a while!

  4. re media (lack of attention) I thought hillary Clinton’s recent testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Al-Jazeera’s significant viewership growth in the US… — “You may not agree with it, but you feel like you’re getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news that is not providing information to us, let alone foreigners.” — may hold a pointer or two..

    ie ill or non-attention can be very counterproductive..

    1. I’ve been watching al Jazeera English a lot during the recent Arab state upheavals, and have found the coverage to be excellent. In fact, if you really want to know what’s happening with these popular revolts go there first (yes, even as against the BBC and Guardian!)

      I’m glad Clinton raised the issue of the exceedingly poor coverage of world events and real issues in the corporate media generally, as, while this insidious trend may be more advanced in the US, it is clear across the western world, or, at least, the English speaking portions of it. Future generations may well marvel at the shallow, narcissistic nonsense that preoccupied the attention of the masses as the time to act decisively slipped away…

      1. Bill,
        At least we agree in this. The BBC and the Guardian are one and the same thing. Cultural Marxists to the man. Their connection with the common man is minimal.

        1. Bearing in mind the standard definition of ‘Marxist’ in libertarian/contrarian circles is the equivalent of ‘rational person’ elsewhere…

          1. So, Bill, you are suggesting that all non-Marxists are irrational people?

            Or that all rational people are Marxists?

            I assume that you actually know what a “Cultural Marxist” is, and you are also familiar with the BBC/Guardian linkage and the anti-American pro-Arab campaigners that work therein?

            1. Off- topic: please restrain yourself to the stuff in the show or take it to the open thread. (Same goes for Bill).

  5. Yesterday I did a google to see if any deranged individuals were trying to link the devastating Christchurch earthquake and came across your site. I watched you A/V until the end of Kevin’s offering (having frequently visited John Cook’s biased-science blog I didn’t wish to here any more of his attempts to talk science that even scientists have a poor understanding of). You were very naughty, weren’t you, trying to get Kevin to support your biased opinion about the CAUSE of climate change – CACC. He nearly fell into the trap a few times but did leave enough wriggle room for the future when global cooling really sets in.

    I’m preparing a comment to post elsewhere giving more detail about the Kevin’s interview so I’m expect that you’ll appreciate any publicity that you can get, even if it is negative, because it all helps to sell books, doesn’t it (that is one of your sources of income, isn’t?)

    Best regards, Pete Ridley

      1. I googled “Pete Ridley” and found someone who deals in waste management systems. From the comments above and below I guess they are one and the same. I found a similar instance in NZ. Very good waste management system – but had not the faintest understanding of Climate Science. But very outspoken because he worked in an “environmental” situation.

  6. Hi again Gareth, it was good to find that you are interested in exchanging opinions with a CACC “denier” rather than simply with “disciples” and “followers”. The other blog that I have posted my review of you’re A/V is Andy’s Dhama “a positive side to global climate change?” thread ( ). Andy (a “follower” has a day job so takes a while to approve submissions therefore I copy it here for your consideration QUOTE:

    Hi Andy, this is some further information about the A/V broadcast by New Zealand journalist and author Gareth Renowden Gareth on his Hot Topic “the Climate Show – Kevin Trenberth .. ” thread ( I wouldn’t want you to waste your time listening to the earlier CACC doctrine propaganda from Gareth and his co-presenter or the later rubbish by John Cook of the biased-science blog SkepticalScience but Trenberth starts discussing climate (as opposed to the earthquake) from 29 – 50 minutes. Trenberth played a less-than-perfect but acceptable (for a scientist) political game when responding to the CACC-promoting prompts from Gareth, who first tried to draw him into attributing the Australian flooding events this year to our use of fossil fuels. Trenberth immediately turned to those worse-than-useless climate models, acknowledged that they aren’t perfect but still claimed that they were useful enough to indicate a human influence on climate due to warming. Fair enough to that point as no claims regarding how significant a roll that influence might be, so always wriggle room available over that response.

    Gareth then tried then to “up-the-anti” by likening increased water vapour to pouring petrol on a fire – well, like death by drowning (, death by fire is very scary. Obviously Gareth has taken to heart what sadly departed CACC disciple Professor Stephen Scheider said “ .. we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have”. ( was needed.

    Again Trenberth was sensibly guarded, simply saying that tropical cyclones are affected by moisture content but sub-tropical by temperature gradient. Gareth then tried to link the claimed “hot” 2010 with the extreme flooding weather events in Queensland and elsewhere in the world. Now Trenberth played clever, linking the unusually strong El Niño with the small amount of warming without making clear that there is no way of knowing how much impact the warming (natural plus any human contribution) had compared with El Niño.

    Trenberth then tried to steer away from the real problem (the poor scientific understanding of the processes and drivers of global climates) and claim that the problem was not being able to communication with lay people. He also tried to say that due to warming, Australia, which had been experiencing serious droughts, was suddenly having extreme flooding because of warming. Considering that there has been virtually no increase in mean global temperatures (no warming) during the past 12 years and the floods have only just happened, that one needed further explanation.

    Gareth then brought in “turning the null hypothesis around” and up came more politics from Trenberth. “The IPCC said in 2007 that global warming was unequivocal and very likely caused by human activity”. Trenberth went on to say “global warming is happening”, but no mention at that point that warming had stopped around 2005 ( despite human activity had continued its upward trend and no mention of any concerns about this “travesty”. Trenberth made it very clear that he is very much in favour of the onus being put on scientists to prove that human influence on global climates is insignificant, but is that a surprise? He knows full well that it cannot be proven either way with the current high level of scientific uncertainty about the processes and drivers of those different global climates.

    Trenberth went on to talk about lots of the things that we need to know more about but made no mention of the primary one – the science that describes climate processes and drivers. One thing that I did agree with him about was the need for far better measurement capability but he should have said not only better but over a much longer period (30+ years?) and under tight and independent scrutiny.

    Andrew, I’m sure that if you make the time to listen to that interview you will end with a totally opposed opinion about it to what I have but heh, that’s life.


    Best regards, Pete Ridley

    1. Considering that there has been virtually no increase in mean global temperatures (no warming) during the past 12 years…

      no mention at that point that warming had stopped around 2005…

      How very oddly specific. You don’t happen to be joining dots between cherry-picked points on a graph, rather than doing regression analysis to arrive at that conclusion, do you?

      I think you’ll find that the waters around Australia were unseasonably warm when the storm hit.

      And you’ll also find that both severe droughts, as well as more intense floods are a prediction of the climate models which is eventuating, and not a contradiction.

    2. I don’t think we were listening to the same interview. Trenberth is clear on attribution of human influences on extremes (difficult, but becoming well established), and very clear on the need for action.

      As samv points out, much of your comment consists of demonstrably wrong assertions about temperature and other matters. If you wish to discuss those, please post in an open thread.

      But thanks for the publicity.

      1. I don’t think we were listening to the same interview.

        I also was apparently listening to a different show!

        I’m slightly unclear as to how Trenberth manages to be both ‘sensibly guarded’ – even playing an ‘acceptable political game’ – while bluntly stating that ‘global warming is happening,’ wantonly deploying those ‘worse than useless’ climate models and wilfully failing to mention climate change stopped in 1998 or 2005 – take your pick! (The sun just passed behind a cloud here, so it’s definitely stopped, at any rate!) I didn’t see him allowing himself much in the way of ‘wiggly’ leeway when the (doubtlessly inevitable) global cooling sets in, either. But my comprehension skills are clearly markedly different.

        But in any event, it really was rather wicked of you to repeatedly attempt to lure him into saying what to me he appeared to be stating quite clearly anyway, Gareth, simply in order to move more units of your book. Tsk Tsk! And I trust you will be suitably humble and contrite in the face of any sales-boost the publicity surrounding this learned review might generate. No unseemly smirking on the way to the bank, please… 😉

        Quite why this review would need to appear on another “follower’s” blog – be he the possessor of a day-job or otherwise – is also a bit beyond me. But I’m quite confident the word ‘remarkable’ will be employed with regard to it several more times over there…

        ‘CACC’ is rather quaint. And only the terminally mean-spirited would be tempted to refer to piles of it…

  7. Thanks for the great show. I learned a lot by studying Trenberth’s papers earlier this year. This is the first podcast of yours I’ve listened to – your work is in the first rank.

    Re: your call for suggestions on what to “debunk”:

    Two climate science deniers not widely appreciated to even be climate science deniers are Stewart Brand (editor of the 1960s Whole Earth Catalog) and James Lovelock. Dr Trenberth fits into this story (through no fault of his own). Lovelock wrote Brand that as a result of reading something by Trenberth published in Science last year, he (Lovelock) decided global warming had stopped. What Lovelock misses about what Trenberth is saying in this paper is the same thing climate science denier’s miss as they distort what Trenberth says in the leaked emails. Brand then modified his public presentations on his current thinking to include a mention that by 2050 perhaps nothing in the way of climate change would happen because a mysterious feedback might kick in. Brand published his correspondence with Lovelock as well as his own modified views in his online “Afterword” In this piece, which is intended to update his book “Whole Earth Discipline: Ecopragmatist Manifesto” Brand touts the work of Garth Paltridge, i.e. The Climate Caper, which is a second rate piece of preposterous climate denial, calling it the work of a “sensible skeptic”. Brand quotes Lovelock, who says his (Lovelock’s) name is now mud among his climate science friends over the fact that he is now daring to “consort” with skeptics. Presumably, Lovelock told Brand that Paltridge is someone to pay attention to. Certainly, Brand says publicly that his views on climate science come mostly from Lovelock. Anyway, just a suggestion.

    This type of climate denial is harder for me to understand why it exists – Lovelock perhaps is now unable to understand what is in the peer reviewed literature due to advancing age, but it is harder to excuse Brand. Brand makes a point of writing in his book that everyone should be willing to admit mistakes, and everyone should be careful who to pay attention to, i.e. reputable scientific authorities as opposed to quacks. Yet Brand ignores people (George Monbiot is one very prominent example, I also sent Brand my critique of his position and got no response) who point out that he is mistaken on points.

    I wrote up my critique as sent to Brand and posted it online. “Stewart Brand: Fearless Follower of Lovelock, not science”

    1. Never having to admit you’re wrong is a key benefit of being a climate sceptic…

      I’ll pass your comments on Brand to John Cook for his delectation, but I’m a little confused about your characterisation of Lovelock as a denier. The Lovelock position — at least for the last few books – has been that it’s too late to do anything about rapid climate change (except for building nuclear power stations because he doesn’t like wind). He’s one of the few genuine catastrophists out there.

      1. The impression you have of Lovelock’s position is the same one I had, as I had read Lovelock’s last few books. And the latest entry on Lovelock’s personal website, under the “Latest Addidtions” section, is still a link to a The Guardian article “Enjoy life while you can” outlining the views of Lovelock you describe.

        However, Lovelock emailed to Brand, after the publication of that Guardian article, and after the publication of his books, that his views have changed. Now that they have, Lovelock is touting the work of climate denier Paltridge as something reasonable people should pay attention to, and he complains to Brand that his name is now mud in climate scientist circles. Brand, who thinks whatever Lovelock says must have a sound foundation, is following his lead, and we now have the spectacle of Lovelock looking very much like a climate science denier. Lovelock is definitely drawing the wrong conclusion from his reading of Trenberth. Trenberth’s “missing energy” as you touched on very briefly in this show, is a way of describing that when you add up all the measurements of where energy in the Earth system is going you can’t, at present, obtain “closure”, which led to the sentiments Trenberth expressed in his famous emails. However, all it means is that Trenberth thinks we are about to make a big leap in our understanding and he is frustrated that we aren’t quite there yet. Lovelock jumps to the conclusion that Trenberth is talking about some energy that was known about that has gone missing and hence is now slowing or has slowed or stopped the heating of the planetary system. He has misled Brand about what the state of knowledge in climate science is. My links in my original comment supply more details and more links.

        1. Re the missing energy, this new paper may have nailed it:

          “Deep ocean warming assessed from altimeters, Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, in situ measurements, and a non-Boussinesq ocean general circulation model”, Song, Y. T., and F. Colberg (2011).

          Observational surveys have shown significant oceanic bottom-water warming, but they are too spatially and temporally sporadic to quantify the deep ocean contribution to the present day sea-level rise (SLR). In this study, altimetry sea surface height (SSH), GRACE ocean mass, and in-situ upper-ocean (0-700m) steric height have been assessed for their seasonal variability and trend maps. It is shown that neither the global mean nor the regional trends of altimetry SLR can be explained by the upper-ocean steric height plus the GRACE ocean mass. A non-Boussinesq ocean general circulation model (OGCM), allowing the sea-level to rise as a direct response to the heat added into the ocean, is then used to diagnose the deep-ocean steric height. Constrained by sea-surface temperature data and the top-of-atmosphere (TOA) radiation measurements, the model reproduces the observed upper-ocean heat content well. Combining the modeled deepocean steric height with observational upper-ocean data gives the full-depth steric height. Adding a GRACE-estimated mass trend, the data-model combination explains not only the altimetry global mean SLR but also its regional trends fairly well. The deep ocean warming is mostly prevalent in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, and along the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, suggesting a strong relation to the oceanic circulation and dynamics. Its comparison with available bottom-water measurements shows reasonably agreement, indicating that deep-ocean warming below 700 m might have contributed 1.1 mm/year to the global mean SLR or one-third of the altimeter-observed rate of 3.11±0.6 mm/year over 1993-2008.

          I wonder what Trenberth thinks of it.

  8. Thanks for The Climate Show! A suggestion for future content:
    Please cover the issue of “The Missing Hotspot” that Jo Nova goes on about. For example as I understand it, the long term signature that she talks about is not recoverable from past data. How long will it take for new data to replace it and, as expected, confirm the tropospheric “hotspot”?

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