Denial Punching bag: moving on from this “climate game”

It seems that we go forever around in circles in comments and when looking at the misinformation published by the media. It’s also becoming increasingly apparent to me that the vast majority of criticisms used against climate science are already debunk or nonsense to begin with (thereby demonstrating scientific ignorance). For these reasons, I’ve decided to put together this post – which also has it’s own page (on which I plan to update and add questions to as the need requires). The hope is to provide a ‘cut and paste’ template that can be used to address the more mundane denial arguments, based on the science. In that respect, feel free to offer advice, point out other reference material, offer questions, paste the arguments elsewhere or link back to the independent page.

Quite frankly, I feel enough is enough. This might be entertaining for some, but the paralysis it invokes is very disheartening to many. Many of those still making denial noise have very little scientific background and have found something that they feel enables them to get quite hot-headed and angry. It’s a game to them – which many have made clear to me. If this is what they want, setting up a standard response like this more or less builds a punching bag on which they can go crazy at but will remain solid enough for the next angry individual.

This work was largely inspired by John Cook and Peter Sinclair, so I don’t claim much credit – merely compiling the sections to a ‘comment style’. Please feel free to use the following when you come across the usual denial tones.

Is the world warming?

I think that we’re largely past this question, with most people who choose to debate over climate science accepting that there has indeed been a noticeable warming trend for more than a century. NASA and NOAA provide enough data on this.

Some of the louder “sceptics” of the science argue that the warming has stopped. This is one of Jo Nova’s favourite arguments for example. They demonstrate this however, by producing a short term graph that looks only at the most recent decade.

Using the temperature graph from NASA (figure 1.), we can see that the most recent data does in fact show little warming. However, we can also see that in the 1950’s and in the 1970’s there also similar trends as we’re currently witnessing, but this doesn’t change the fact that over the past 130 years, there has been a noticeable upward trend in temperature. This has also been the warmest decade on record and it you look at the data available at AMSU, you see that 2010 has largely been above the decade average. This past decade does not prove that climate change has ended.

Global Surface Temperature

How do we know it’s not the sun or the result of the urban heating effect?

All three warming possibilities (including an increasing greenhouse effect) are differentiated by their signals.

If warming was the result of the solar activity, this would cause greater heating at lower latitudes, which would correlate well with sun spot activity, but as there is no increase in the amount of heat being trapped, much of this heat would be lost before reaching higher latitudes and also at night. Thus the greatest heating would be on summer days, at lower latitudes.

If warming trends in the records were the result of urban heating, this would be made obvious by comparing monitoring stations in good locations (ie. away from human activity) to bad sites (ie. close to human activity) and to satellite data (ie. away from everything), to demonstrate bias in those sites affected by the urban heating effect.

If warming was the result of an increasing greenhouse effect, the temperature data would demonstrate an atmosphere that is trapping more heat. This would be noticeable in more even heat transfer across latitudes, with wind patterns (thus a greater warming potential at the poles) and increasing number of warmer nights (with less heat escaping at night).

Figure 2. Adler et al. (2008)

If you pull out the global surface temperature anomaly graph (figure 2), which used NASA-GISS data from 1979-2006, from Adler et al. (2008), you can see that the greatest temperature changes over this 28 year period is largely at higher latitudes in the northern hemisphere and also does not correspond to major urban developments.

As for ground based measurements, NOAA have done a comparison of good stations against poorer station, within the US, to demonstrate that there is very little difference between the data collected (see figure 3, which came from this NOAA report).

Figure 3. weather station comparison, NOAA

If we look at warm nights, we could use;

Alexander et al. (2006)
Alexander and Arblaster (2009) (Aussie data modelled projections past 2000)
Klein Tank et al. (2006) Central and South Asia data, TN10 is cold nights, TN90 is warm nights
Tank et al. (2006) again, now a subset of stations with long data sets

The warming trend is most obviously the result an increased greenhouse effect and not due to urban interference or solar activity.

For references, see References Part 1.

How do we know the increasing greenhouse effect is in anyway related to our greenhouse gas emissions? (seems a silly question when you look at it, but I’ve heard it very often).

As like with warming, few people seem to question the increasing concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. Ghosh and Brand (2003) explain how the different species of carbon can be identified, allowing the contribution of fossil fuel combustion to be known.

NOAA has been monitoring CO2 atmospheric concentration for over 50 years. Criticism that relates to the sites proximity to a volcano is unfounded as this is recognised and adequate methods are taken to reduce the impact (basic explanation here). Ghosh and Brand (2003) also mention CO2 monitoring at Cape Grim in Tasmania, which saw CO2 concentrations increase by 24.43 ppmv over the 25 year observation time (ending with a value of 378.50 ppmv in 2006 – see here).

In relation to this increased concentration, Harries et al. (2003) looked at the different spectra of outgoing longwave radiation measured by spacecraft between 1970 and 1997. They produced the following graph;

Harries (2001).

The changes in brightness, they noted, provided direct evidence of an increasing greenhouse effect in relation to anthropogenic related increases in concentrations of known greenhouse gases. Griggs and Harries (2007) later re-explored and added to this study and concluded with, “Using the AIRS data with data from the IRIS project allows a difference spectrum to be generated for the period 2003–1970, a period of 33 yr. Changing spectral signatures due to CH4, CO2, and H2O on decadal time scales are observed using the new AIRS data, thus adding confidence to the previous 1997–1970 study.”

For references, see References Part 2.

What does a scientific consensus mean?

In reality, this is a confusing term and like “theory” means different things to different people (and from the scientific meaning). There is a difference between consensus and scientific consensus, however, as this isn’t well understood by most and seeing as at least Donna Laframbiose and Jo Nova (and probably others) exploit this misunderstanding, it’s a pointless argument and should be avoided.

Indeed, obsessing over consensus views is as meaningless as trying to portray a raging debate within the climate science community because not all studies agree.

What is misunderstood about science is that it’s a tool – like a duster that sweeps away ignorance. When you’re working on something very big, it is likely that you won’t see the whole picture. Others might work on different areas and come to other (sometimes contradictory) conclusions. The more work is done, the better the clarity and ultimately consistency of the different findings. A better image is developed.

This is part of the peer-review process and the debate that occurs within the scientific community. Good science stands up to cross-examination. Errors are found out eventually and improvements are made. Our scientific understanding ever improves. It’s highly unlikely that most scientific arguments will ever reach 100% certainty on anything, however, as more evidence supports a hypothesis, eventually it becomes very much more likely than not. Theories are when the weight of evidence that supports the idea is so great that for all practical purposes it’s as good as certain and contrary views are incredibly implausible.

Peter Sinclair puts it excellently in one of his presentations when he concludes that there is no one single paper that removes beyond all doubt the relationship between smoking and cancer, but instead a whole body of research spanning decades that removes the doubt.

This is a good basis for a scientific consensus.

The same has been misconstrued regarding climate science.

Anderegga et al. (2010) demonstrate that the vast majority (over 97%) of researchers actively publishing in the field of climate science concur that climate change is real and is largely the result of human greenhouse gas emissions. It’s not the result of a small group of mates either – 1,372 experts were included in the study. The dusts of ignorance are being blown away and we’re seeing a very clear image of our actions.

This is also expressed in Oreskes (2004), who argues that the media largely portrays climate science as quite uncertain about change. Six years on, it seems many are still falling for this delusion of climate debate. The truth of the matter is, the vast majority of research supports anthropogenic climate change.

For references, see References Part 3.

But someone told me that this paper proves that anthropogenic climate change is a myth…

As with the argument over scientific consensus, this is a situation where popular misconception is targeted by denialists to build a strawman argument rather demonstrate how the bulk of scientific investigation has come to a false conclusion.

As Anderegga et al. (2010) demonstrated, a small number of actively working researchers (about 2%) publishing on climate science disagree with the anthropogenic climate change (ACC) findings. There are also a number of others, such as statisticians and weathermen etc, how also publish opposing arguments.

Without much effort, one could easily find papers through a Google scholar search that argue that there is no relationship between cancer and smoking. However, like the arguments against ACC, they are in the minority and when published in peer-reviewed or influential literature, really don’t stand up to cross-examination.

Outside of peer-reviewed literature, a good example is the NOAA report that addressed the report by Anthony Watts, which criticised the quality of US weather stations.

A paper that has been used to argue against ACC is Scafetta and West (2007). This is a good example of contrary studies that are published and explored. Scafetta and West (2007) do raise some good points, however, the warming trend has the signatures of an increasing greenhouse effect and does not match solar activity (Griggs and Harries, 2007).

It is certain that we do not have all the answers regarding climate change – deniers will exaggerate contrary views to distort and confuse and loudly hold claims to the papers that agree with their particular view. That said, what is equally certain is that the vast majority of research supports ACC. Contrary views either fall down to cross-examination or help to clarify the uncertainties that remain over climate mechanics, but it is at this point very unlikely that the weight of evidence could amount to suggest anything but a changing climate that is largely the result of human activity.

For references, see References Part 4.

Is there any evidence that climate warming will have a negative effect on biodiversity? I was told that warmer climates are more productive.

This is the favourite last retreat for the scoundrel. If all the typical denial calls fail, they try to turn the evidence on its head; “Sure, the climate is changing with atmospheric CO2 concentration increase, however, CO2 is important for plant growth and warmer climates are more productive and produce more precipitation. It’s all good!”

It’s amazing how often this argument ends discussions with deniers and ultimately it’s just as wrong as their previous arguments.

I could pull out a many papers that explore bio-physical indicators of change which demonstrate that biological timing, species distribution and physical events (must as weather patterns and ice melts) are changing in response to climate change. However, for simplicity, I will use Rosenzweig et al. (2008) who looked at over 29,500 data series of bio-physical responses and found that 95% of physical and 90% of biological responses were consistent with climate change. Often this meant earlier timing of events.

Deutsch et al. (2008) looked at the widening tropical belt and concluded that tropical insect species are already living near their optimal temperature while temperate species live in cooler than their optimal thermal range, meaning that as climate continues to change, tropical insect species are less likely to be resilient to the warming climate. As many insect species play keystone roles in ecosystems (pollination being the more well known) it is not a great jump to conclude that the reduction in insects will have major impacts to the ecology of tropical environments.

Heerwaarden and Hoffmann (2006) have demonstrated that fly populations are already showing genetic shifts to adapt to climate change.

Cantin et al. (2010) very recently showed increasing coral bleaching (ie. where symbiotic algae photosynthetic capacity is reduced by excessive temperature) has resulted in a 30% decline in skeletal growth since 1998 of Diploastrea heliopora.

As climate zones move poleward (see the Arbor Day Foundation for an example), species will ultimately have to adapt to the new environment of move with climate zones. As soil types will differ between old and new areas and different species have varying capacity to migrate, local biodiversity is likely to change, upsetting interspecies relationships. Biodiversity resilience to impacts is attributed to at least the persistence of key species within an ecosystem (Fischer et al. 2006), thus such shifts are likely to exacerbate species loss and biodiversity degradation.

As for CO2 being “plant food”, this is of course silly. Until the twentieth century, at no time in the whole of human history had CO2 concentration been above 300ppm. Plants did just as well; arguably they did better until our machines became efficient at deforestation.

It’s also worth noting that carbon produced by fossil fuel combustion is 13C which plant photosynthesis also seems to discriminate against (Ghosh and Brand 2003).

For references, see References Part 5.

References Part 1.
Adler, R. F., Gu, G., Wang, J., Huffman, G. J., Curtid, S., and, Bolvin, D. (2008) Relationships between global precipitation and surface temperature on interannual and longer timescales (1979-2006). Journal of Geophysical Research. Vol.113. doi:10.1029/2008JD010536
Alexander, L. V., Zhang, X., Peterson, T. C., Caesar, J., Gleason, B., Klein Tank, A. M. G., Haylock, M., Collins, D., Trewin, B., Rahimzadeh, F., Tagipour, A., Rupa Kumar, K., Revadekar, J., Griffiths, G., Vincent, L., Stephenson, D. B., Burn, J., Aguilar, E., Brunet, M., Taylor, M., New, M., Zhai, P., Rusticucci, M., and, Vazquez-Aguirre, J., L. (2006) Global observed changes in daily climate extremes of temperature and precipitation. Journal of Geophysical Research. 111. D05109. doi: 10.1029/2005JD006290.
Alexander, L. V., and, Arblaster, J. M. (2009) Assessing trends in observed and modelled climate extremes over Australia in relation to future projections. International Journal of Climatology. 29:417-435. doi: 10.1002/joc.1730
Klein Tank A. M. G., Peterson, T. C., Quadir, D. A., Dorji, S., Zou, X., Tang, H., Santhosh, K., Joshi, U. R., Jaswal, A. K., Kolli, R. K., Sikder, A. B., Deshpande, N. R., Revadekar, J. V., Yeleuova, K., Vandasheva, S., Faleyeva, M., Gomboluudev, P., Budhathoki, K. P., Hussain, A., Afzaal, M., Chandrapala, L., Anvar, H., Amanmurad, D., Asanova, V. S., Jones, P. D., New. M. G., and, Spektorman, T. (2006) Changes in daily temperature and precipitation extremes in central and south Asia. Journal of Geophysical Research. 111. D16105. doi: 10.1029/2005JD006316
References Part 2.
Harries, J., E., Brindley, H. E., Sagoo, P. J., and, Bantges, R. (2001). Increases in greenhouse forcing inferred from the outgoing longwave radiation spectra of the Earth in 1970 and 1997. Nature. 410: 355-357
Ghosh, P., and, Brand W. A. (2003) Review: Stable isotope ratio mass spectrometry in global climate change research. International Journal of Mass Spectrometry. 228:1-33.
Griggs, J. A., and, Harries, J. E. (2007) Comparison of Spectrally Resolved Outgoing Longwave Radiation over the Tropical Pacific between 1970 and 2003 Using IRIS, IMG, and AIRS. Journal of Climate. 20: 3982-4001 doi: 10.1175/JCLI4204.1
References Part 3.
Anderegga, W. R. L., Prall, J. W., Harold, J., and, Schneidera, S. H. (2010) Expert credibility in climate change. PNAS. doi:10.1073/pnas.1003187107
Oreskes, N. (2004) Beyond the ivory tower: The scientific consensus on climate change. Science. 306(5702):1686 doi: 10.1126/science.1103618
References Part 4.
Griggs, J. A., and, Harries, J. E. (2007) Comparison of Spectrally Resolved Outgoing Longwave Radiation over the Tropical Pacific between 1970 and 2003 Using IRIS, IMG, and AIRS. Journal of Climate. 20: 3982-4001 doi: 10.1175/JCLI4204.1
Scafetta, N., and, West, B. J. (2007) Phenomenological reconstructions of the solar signature in Northern Hemisphere surface temperature records since 1600. Journal of Geophysical Research. 112. Doi: 10.1029/2007JD008437
References Part 5.
Catin, N. E., Cohen, A. L., Karnauskas, K. B., Tarrant, A. M., McCorkle, D. C. (2010) Ocean warming slows coral growth in the central red sea. Science. 329(322). doi: 10.1126/science.1190182
Deutsch, C. A., Tewksbury, J. J., Huey, R. B., Sheldon, K. S., Ghalambor, C. K. Haak, D. C. And, Martin, P. R. (2008) Impacts of climate warming on terrestrial ectotherms across latitude. PNAS. 105(18): 6668-6672. doi:10.1073/pnas.0709472105
Fischer, J., Lindenmayer, D. B., and, Manning, A. D. (2006) Biodiversity, ecosystem function, and resilience: ten guiding principles for commodity production landscapes. Frontiers in ecology and the environment. 4(2): 80-86.
Ghosh, P., and, Brand W. A. (2003) Review: Stable isotope ratio mass spectrometry in global climate change research. International Journal of Mass Spectrometry. 228:1-33.
Heerwaarden, B., and, Hoffmann, A. A. (2006) Global Warming: Fly populations are responding rapidly to climate change. Current Biology. 17(1). doi:10.1016/j.cub.2006.11.035
Rosenzweig, C., Karoly, D., Vicarelli, M., Neofotis, P., Wu, Q., Casassa, G., Menzel, A., Root, T. L., Estrella, N., Seguin, B., Tryjanowski, P., Liu, C., Rawlins, S., and, Imeson, A. (2008) Attributing physical and biological impacts to anthropogenic climate change. Nature. 453(15):353-357. doi:10.1038/nature06937
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8 thoughts on “Denial Punching bag: moving on from this “climate game”

  1. I do like the comparison with the smoking- lung cancer link. In fact epidemiology is a bit like this all over.

    Either you have the smoking thing, where you cannot definitively say that any one person’s cancer is caused directly by smoking, or you have a definitive illness or death caused by an identifiable virus or bacteria but you can’t say why this person rather than another was vulnerable to the infection. Epidemiology tells you that clean air, clean water and handwashing reduces or eliminates the risks of exposure or severity of many of these transmissible diseases. Would we want to live without potable water or with sewage running in the streets?

    My view is that CO2 in atmosphere is a bit like an invisible organism festering in apparently clear water. You can’t see it, but you know it’s a problem.

    Don’t know of anyone who’s ever been persuaded by that argument. otoh, we shouldn’t be disheartened by people not responding immediately to views that challenge their own. Vivid examples or analogies stay in the mind, and one day, six weeks or six months from now when that person sees something related – it might just click.

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    1. Peter is a clever bloke. He’s done a lot of good work in this videos.
      It’s a bit like the comparison I made the other day, where I looked at medical science in the middle of the nineteen century. It was near impossible to convince the medical community about infection transfer between patients or between the dead and pregnant patients (pretty disgusting habits I have to say, but retrospect is poor wisdom). Imagine how much more difficult if denial “experts” went on the trumpet to tell the audience that they were always right and that there’s nothing to worry about. It’s a terrible situation.

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  2. Nice summary of the science. Within a few years the question will be answered for good; not by scientists but by farmers, biologists, medical personnel, hunters, the elderly, etc.

    One of my neighbors an astute observer of nature said that he is seeing some beetles this year that he has never seen before. On our farm there is more poison ivy than ever before, and according to experts that has to do with the increase in atmospheric CO2; fast growing vines (PI, kudzu, dodder, etc.) can take best advantage of the added CO2 for photosynthesis.

    The remaining question is and will be what to do about it. I am coming to think that the solutions are small scale, local and regional: for example bringing together local growers and local consumers, increased use of solar and wind, increased energy efficiency of buildings, and as “Moth” has pointed out smart transportation and smart growth to eliminate sprawl and our incredible overreliance of cars and petrol.

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    1. I know of a number of biologists and farmers who are already saying as much. A lot of the papers I reference are ecological studies that clearly identify changes in biodiversity due to the observed climate change.
      You probably will find more invasive/generalist species becoming dominant in ecosystems are change becomes greater – as they tend to fair best compared to highly specialised species.
      I’m completely with you: in every possible respect, to move forward and to adapt is to think local and diversify. Transit and pedestrian orientated development, coupled with increased local farming and rehabilitation of local fauna and flora is the only sensible (and I’d argue and much more enjoyable) option.

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  3. I’m very tired, and I haven’t yet read the whole post – but I think this bit is wrong:

    Thus the greatest heating would be on summer days, at lower latitudes.

    From memory, the greatest effect is indeed likely to be in the summer months, but the impact is much larger at higher latitudes. “Summer” doesn’t really mean a lot in the tropics – it’s always hot – but it has a big impact in higher northern latitudes (e.g. where I live). Less so in the Southern Hemisphere, mainly because you have so much water down there which acts as an efficient damper.

    I did some work on this a couple of years ago while researching Milankovitch cycles – I’ll dig out some links for you when I feel less tired.

    (I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before – but one of my hobbies is Astronomy).

    As an aside – I like the Global Surface Temperature graph at the beginning of the post. I’d like to use it – can you give me the url or source of the original?

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    1. I thought that amplified greenhouse effect caused more uniformed heating across the latitudes (ie. the temp bell curve across latitudes becoming flatter) meaning greatest temperature anomaly at higher latitudes, while if the increased temperature was the result of solar activity, the whole temp bell curve would be raise – if not steeper edged. However, as you can see, I didn’t put a reference to this – I couldn’t find a paper that looked in to temperature change across latitudes as a signature (so yeah, feel free to let me know of any papers that you think might be relevant). The NASA link takes you to the source of the graph, but here it is again. Just under the graph is an excellent global time-series tool regarding temperature difference. At 2006, it’s a lot like the global map I use here – I just wanted to provide more references.

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  4. Argh – thanks for pointing out the link, I should have spotted it. I really was tired.

    I can see your point about the “bell curve”, but I don’t think it works like that at high latitudes. Although the poles only receive about 40% of the insolation that the equator gets, it is much more seasonal – the poles get no insolation at all for 6 months of the year, and in fact get more daily insolation than the equator at their respective hemispheric midsummers. More at NASA’s Earth Observatory (including a link to a nifty little insolation calculator).

    That could have an impact, e.g. lower summer & higher winter temperature gradients, I guess, which might have implications for storms – but I don’t think that it would lead to most heating happening in the tropics.

    Incidentally, if you look at the insolation calculator for 2010 you’ll see that the summer insolation is stronger at the south pole than it is at the north. This is because we’re about 5 million kilometres closer to the sun in December than we are in June. Fast forward to 12,000 AD and you’ll see the situation reverse. That’s precession for you.

    Both Croll and Milankovitch came to the conclusion that the effect of orbital variations on insolation, although small, would be enough to trigger deglaciations if there were amplifying feedback proccess involved. Both thought ice was a primary candidate, Milankovitch reasoned that Northern ice would be dominant (because of geography).

    Sorry, I’m rambling on a bit here. The point is that a warmer sun would cause increased N.H. ice melt & a reduction in snow cover, which inevitably leads to polar amplification. Feedback processes don’t really care what the driver is, they just magnify the impact. Indeed, papers like this one study polar amplification of insolation changes in order to better understand what we might have in store for us in the future.

    Hope this helps.

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    1. I wouldn’t worry too much about it – I didn’t make the link very clear. I wanted to link the graph as well, but ended up linking it to a clearer version.
      I will admit that I was being a bit lazy, in that I was trying demonstrate global temperature anomaly as a signature of the type of warming (in this case clearly the result of an amplified greenhouse effect). The criticism is merited. I’ll modify the answering denial bit to include solar activity work that demonstrates that solar activity does not much recent warming.
      Cheers 🙂

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