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  1. Along with the continuing disappointing coverage of climate change relative to weather that we surely will see throughout 2009, we can celebrate some of the outstanding coverage equally certain to continue. In properly lamenting this example of coverage in The Telegraph, which has not established itself as one of the preeminent media voices on this issue over past years, let’s acknowledge the truly outstanding coverage we also see early this year in a far more influential and respected outlet: Coverage of these issues in the Economist’s “The World in 2009″ Special Section on the Environment and also in the magazine’s January 3-9, 2009 16-page “Troubled Waters” special report on the seas is strong testimony to the power of good journalism done exceedingly well. These make for critical must-reading.

    Comment by Bud — 3 Jan 2009 @ 9:08 AM

  2. Bravo.
    And Happy 2009, Real Climateers. More on how the media tend to fall into traps covering this stuff at this shortcut to a Dot Earth post on “whiplash journalism”:

    Comment by Andy Revkin — 3 Jan 2009 @ 9:23 AM

  3. Just a quick note on the UK, and the use of ‘climate’ and ‘weather’ in that country. I spent two years over there, and had to adjust lots of my vocabulary, as a native American English speaker. What I learned is that England uses the word climate where we, as people who live on a vastly larger continent, would use simply weather. For them, a small pocket of our ‘weather’ often translates into an entire climatic event, given the size of the land mass. I do realize the difference between climate and weather, in terms of time and weather events and the averages that are needed to define climate. I think, especially in the newspapers, the British often think of their country as bigger than it is, and therefore have a tendency to see things a little by myopically. Of course, this is just an outsider’s observation, and is not meant to paint an entire nation of people into one swath, but it’s what I saw, and experienced.

    Comment by Thom — 3 Jan 2009 @ 9:46 AM

  4. Another unfortunate habit of the mass media is to report speculation as though it were established science. For example, there was speculation that global warming could lead to higher likelihood of people experiencing dehydration, which could lead to higher incidence of diabetes. Of course it’s just speculation, but some media reported it as though it were a scientific finding — which of course gave the denialosphere an opportunity to add to the “global warming causes everything” meme which they often use to ridicule climate science.

    What can be done to counter the mistaken impressions given (willfully or inadvertently) in mass media reports? I don’t know, but at least one good idea is: more from RC!

    Comment by tamino — 3 Jan 2009 @ 9:50 AM

  5. There must have been hundreds and possibly thousands articles and reports on AGW which in scientific terms are incorrect. The UK Guardian Newspaper reports extensively on environmental matters (is it its liberal nature I wonder) as opposed to the Telegraph who seems to believe in Viscount Monckton somewhat and this is a right wing newspaper in general and hence I am summising that in the UK and probably the USA (you know it I reckon) liberals and republicans/tories are clashing over AGW.

    After all it all comes down to doing less prosperity stuff, spending billions on changing economics and politics via energy delivery and sorts of radical behavioural changes.

    Sarah Palin hardly backed that strategy did she and even though McCain did back it he lost. After all, there is the real america and the liberal one according to her. The real one wants to dig up the Arctic and Alaska as cheap oil is everything and it is going to need to be found and the liberal one sees the peak and the AGW problems and went for Obama. Thank you USA, we have a fighting change now.

    Comment by Alan Neale — 3 Jan 2009 @ 11:05 AM

  6. I’ve been thinking lately that our culture could be characterized as “epistemologically broken”–that is, we don’t know how we know what we think we know! It seems that for all too many, the answer is basically “everyone is saying that—-.” For others, it’s a trusted source–which begs the question as to why a given source *ought* to be trusted.

    I trust RC because there is an ethos of open (if occasionally tedious) debate, and of examining and sharing original sources.

    [Response: Thank you! And yes, I agree. Espistemologically broken is a good term. I have no idea what to do about it, other than try to teach well, contribute to RealClimate, and well, encourage people to read the brilliant work written over the last century about what science is, and how it works. Carl Sagan's writings would be a good start.--eric]

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 3 Jan 2009 @ 11:09 AM

  7. Great piece.

    I note that Climate Progress seems to complement your story.

    Since this global problem requires a global solution there should be some way to harness and guide personal observations and amateur science appropriately.

    Comment by Richard Pauli — 3 Jan 2009 @ 12:00 PM

  8. A friend sent me that Telegraph article, but I have not yet had time to read more than the abstract of the scientific article it was allegedly based on. I assume that the reporter was confusing correlation with causation.

    In any case, the modern earth’s albedo is less than that of a snowball earth, and the sun’s output is quite a bit brighter. I’ve heard that 100,000 ppm carbon dioxide would be required to counteract the albedo melt the snowball– so even a 12,000 ppm C02 atmosphere would still be quite cold.

    [Response: You've pretty much got it right. There is a pretty comprehensive description on Ian Fairchild's website. - gavin]

    Comment by Jeremy Erwin — 3 Jan 2009 @ 12:15 PM

  9. >”It’s not an entirely a fair criticism, because there is a world of difference between the willful obfuscation of science and the naive exaggeration of it.”

    While I certainly agree there is plenty of ‘willful obfuscation of science’, why do you think the “environmentalist side” only engages in ‘naive exaggeration’?

    Don’t you think professional activists and politicians are just as capable of willful deception on the environmentalist side? If not, I might ask who is naive here?

    Thanks for the attempt at some balance, though. It does help your credibility with me.

    [Response: This is a fair question. I have a long philosophical answer I could give, but it basically comes down to the idea that those who would like to make anthropogenic climate change sound serious have little need to distort the facts, as established in the scientific literature (though there is certainly motivation to exaggerate it). For more on this point, see my review of Mark Lynas's book, Six Degrees, here--eric]

    Comment by Steve Reynolds — 3 Jan 2009 @ 12:32 PM

  10. I certainly want to second what Kevin @6 said, we really need to start teaching good epistemological practices. The acceptance of poor ones IMO is a primary reason that propaganda is given equal weight to science.

    But to change the subject a bit, there is a grey area between weather and climate which has important practical consierations. That is the predicting of near term seasonal “climate”. By this I mean the sort of predictions NCEP makes, such as June,July,August in location X has a 40% chance of being in the driest 30% of years. These sorts of prognostifications while pretty vague are still useful for optimization of activities like water storage, crop selection, estimation of heating fuel needs etc. So predictability on this sort of time scale, and changes in predictability have substantial economic consequences.

    Comment by Thomas — 3 Jan 2009 @ 12:34 PM

  11. Although it seems to be that most of the popular media and the institutions who are targeting the mass readers tend to oversimplify and thus exaggerate certain aspects of climate change, the importance of what the average man on the street says is far less than the importance of what the decision maker has to say. Yes, it is important that the masses know how climate change works and the fundamentals behind it, but this is quite unrealistic. The important thing for those with the knowledge is to give it those with most of use for it.

    So the mass readers need to know how to improve their behaviour and change their habits to better serve the environment, and those with some ability to influence government policy for example, should know the hard science. If someone thinks they can sell more newspapers by saying something outrageous, the effect is not really pronounced because he has given wrong knowledge to people who have no use for it.

    There is a need however to refute their fallacies so that the public does not put pressure on the politicians to do the wrong thing. And politicians being normally more eager to be reelected (and thus do more “good” things in the future?) could yield.

    Comment by Amr El Beleidy — 3 Jan 2009 @ 12:41 PM

  12. “The fact is, climate changes are — so far — small enough in most places, relative to the natural variability, that one’s personal experience is a very poor guide to what is happening over the long term.”

    Is that a personal experience, or a scientific survey including farmers trying to anticipate planting dates, crop nutrient needs, and pest control programs? I very much suspect that you have no idea of the little nuances of weather and climate that farmers traditionally used to trick plants into growing while avoiding weeds and pests. Any change in the climate and they lose these tricks, and their margin narrows.

    One well documented case is farmers in California who depend on irrigation, but the source water for that irrigation depends on a climate that delivers more snowpack then we have seen in the “weather” in 8 of the last 10 years. Again, this year we are behind in snow pack. Is this just weather, or a real world impact from climate change?

    I have fruit trees. Fruit trees depend on “chill hours” to bloom and fruit properly. If one of your statistical mavens looked at the chill hour record from the local pomology weather station (, his response would be, “From the view of an pear tree, now, you have a different climate than you had 10 years ago!” That is real world data with real world impact. It affects what kind of trees I plant. It affects when I fertilize. It affects when I spray. It affects when I harvest. And, it affects when I must have bees available. These days, bees must be scheduled well in advance. Based on the Concord data, anybody want to estimate my sickle pear bloom date in 2012?

    The daffidills that John Muir recorded as blooming in March, have been blooming for 3 weeks. If they were a commercial product for me that I was expecting to sell in March – that would be a real problem. Now, it is only a problem for the bumble bees that will be looking for them in March. And, without the bumble bees, the daffidills (and other spring bulbs blooming too early) will not set seed. Without the spring bulbs, what will happen to the bumble bees? What will happen to the other plants that depend on the bumble bees?

    Agricultural production and the weather/climate that affects it is important to everyone. Entire eco-systems depend on weather and climate cues. Change those cues, and the system is no longer a system.

    [Response: Your point is well taken. Farmers no pay attention more closely than the average anecdotal observation by the lay person I was thinking of when I wrote that. Still, even farmers (in my limited experience) are capable of making claims about the weather and the climate that wouldn't likely stand up to scientific tests. Unless you've been farming for 30 years or more -- or have very good records from your predecessors -- then my statement would still apply. And you obviously agree that that long time perspective is needed, since you are quoting John Muir here.--eric]

    Comment by Aaron Lewis — 3 Jan 2009 @ 12:44 PM

  13. Eric wrote:

    Another thing that bugs me … is the suggestion that climate is becoming “more unpredictable”. I suspect what is meant here is that we used to know what a mean season and normal variations were, and now we don’t. That’s valid, since the baseline climate is changing. But saying it this way … is misleading. In fact, climate may, if anything, become more predictable as anthropogenic forcing becomes even more dominant … relative to natural forcing and variability. And what is definitely not the case … is that weather is becoming more unpredictable.

    But it is my understanding that while anthropogenic global warming is rapidly heating up the planet and thus changing the climate, long-standing climate patterns are becoming unstable. At some point, presumably anthropogenic GHG emissions (and feedbacks like methane from melting tundra) will cease, and the “greenhouse effect” will stabilize at some new level, and a new global climate system will settle in. That system, as you suggest, may be more stable and predictable than the pre-AGW climate system. But the transitional period between the Holocene and Anthropocene climate regimes, driven by the rapid warming we observe today, might well be quite chaotic and unpredictable both at the level of “climate” and the level of “weather”.

    [Response: I think it is a very liberal reading of the scientific literature that "climate patterns are becoming unstable". I'm actually not sure what that means. It's this kind of terminology --- which sounds scary but conveys very little sensible meaning -- that I'm complaining about in my rant. The basic patterns of weather --- mid latitude westerlies, trade winds in the tropics, etc., are not going to change. There's no theoretical or empirical basic for supposing that there will be some interval of "chaos" before the new regime "settles in", unless something truly catastrophic happens (say, massive collapse of the thermohaline circulation). Such scenarios are possible but unlikely, and in any case haven't happened yet -- and the topic of my post was about the recent past and the present, not the future.--eric]

    Eric wrote:

    … one cannot, as we are fond of pointing out, attribute a single, or even several individual extreme weather events to “climate change” …

    It would be an error to say that global warming “caused” Hurricane Katrina. Global warming does not “cause” a particular hurricane to form at a particular time and place, or to follow a particular path, or to encounter particular conditions along that path that make it more or less powerful or long-lasting. On the other hand, after Katrina lost strength passing over Florida, it regenerated into a huge, powerful storm by drawing energy from the unusually warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. So it does not seem unreasonable to me to attribute that aspect of Katrina’s development, and its ultimate destructiveness, to global warming.

    Moreover, it is my understanding that anthropogenic global warming could, in principle, lead to more powerful and longer-lasting hurricanes by making more energy available to those hurricanes that do form, and that empirical observations suggest that this trend may already have been observed. In your view, at what point would this trend progress from merely “several individual extreme weather events” that cannot be legitimately attributed to AGW, to a change in weather patterns that can be so attributed?

    There are also observations indicating that parts of the USA are experiencing more frequent, long-lasting and extreme droughts, consistent with the predictions of global warming. Again, at what point on the trendline from “grasslands with occasional moderate droughts” to “grasslands with frequent, intense, multi-year droughts” to “desert” does a mere “several individual extreme weather events” become “climate change”?

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 3 Jan 2009 @ 1:11 PM

  14. Steve Reynolds wrote: “Don’t you think professional activists and politicians are just as capable of willful deception on the environmentalist side? “

    It’s not a question of “don’t you think“. It’s a question of what has been demonstrated and documented with evidence. Willful deception on the “denialist side” has been thoroughly documented: fueled by tens of millions of dollars from ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel corporations who for twenty years funded the fake, phony, deliberately deceptive pseudo-science cranked out by propaganda mills disguised as “conservative” think-tanks. And of course this has been complemented by the eight-year campaign of censorship and suppression of actual climate science by a US executive branch sympathetic to the concerns of those who profit from fossil fuels.

    If you have any actual examples of “willful deception” by the “environmentalist side”, please share them rather than asking readers to imagine that they might exist.

    [Response: There are no doubt some examples that could be found, but your basic view here is one I share.--eric]

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 3 Jan 2009 @ 1:19 PM

  15. The article, entitled Changing climate devastates UK species, reports that “insects in particular, and creatures that feed on insects…were sharply reduced in numbers” due to a “cold late spring, a wet summer, with few sunny days, and the long dry autumn….”

    Technically I think it is correct if that is the weather which tends to be dictated by the on going change in the climate.

    Comment by paulm — 3 Jan 2009 @ 2:20 PM

  16. I agree with the sentiment of the post. One bad year for wild birds cannot be pinned on climate change.

    However up in Scotland we have had terrible breeding seasons for seabirds for 5 years now. Puffins, Razorbills, Fulmars, Kittiwakes and Guillemots are all suffering.

    They all feed on sandeels, and the sandeel population is declining. One possible reason for this is overfishing, so a ban on sandeel fishing was imposed since 2004 – but has had little effect.

    Another reason is that the plankton that the sandeels feed on is migrating northward, and the sandeels are simply following. This isn’t too much of a problem for the birds for most of the year (since they spend much of their time at sea and can follow their prey), but at breeding time they need land – and if that land is too far away from their food source they either have to abandon their nests or starve.

    It is distressing to find dead and dying Guillemots on your doorstep.

    Nature copes with fluctuations – occasional bad years don’t matter that much in the long term – but after five successive bad breeding seasons numbers are declining rapidly. Harbour Seals are also suffering around Scotland, the adults are fine (they can feed on anything) but the juveniles need sandeels for proper development, and they’re not finding them.

    More recently, there are reports of seabird breeding failures from Norway and Iceland.

    The fact is, climate changes are — so far — small enough in most places, relative to the natural variability, that one’s personal experience is a very poor guide to what is happening over the long term (observations of sea ice changes by those that live in the high Arctic notwithstanding).

    I’d agree with that, but the problems with high latitude seabird populations is real.

    (I can post more links if anyone is interested)

    Comment by S2 — 3 Jan 2009 @ 3:27 PM

  17. Isn’t part of the problem that most of the offenses (the vast majority) are in the form of a couple of bad lines in news articles that are (individually) unimportant? I think these are a lot less satisfying to point out and correct than high profile junk essays on op-ed pages of widely-read newspapers. In any case, I will appreciate more posts like this one tackling the worst of the big ones. Thanks.

    Comment by Steve L — 3 Jan 2009 @ 4:12 PM

  18. 12. Aaron Lewis: Thank you. May we quote you? That is exactly the information the world and the politicians need to make the necessary laws to stop AGW before we all starve. Please take your message to Congress. We many friends will come with you, at least as far as local congressional offices.

    Comment by Edward Greisch — 3 Jan 2009 @ 4:12 PM

  19. SA> “If you have any actual examples of “willful deception” by the “enviromentalist side”, please share them…”

    My personal experience with previous attempts to share something like that at RC have been blocked by the censor (perhaps rightly so to stay on a science topic, although a lot of accusations the other way seem to get through).

    I hope that you realize that financial and other incentives exist to exaggerate AGW that are far larger than the puny ‘tens of millions’ you describe provided by the fossil fuel industry. The proposed carbon trading schemes provide almost unlimited opportunities for rent-seeking for corporations and corruption for politicians.

    [Response: We moderate unfounded accusations of fraud and corruption. If you have an actual example, then post it - original text in context preferred. Links to wild eyed conspiracy sites are not requested. - gavin]

    Comment by Steve Reynolds — 3 Jan 2009 @ 4:40 PM

  20. There is also a gap between Climate and Weather, not defined very well.
    Planetary Waves placing themselves at a certain location or another affects both weather and in the long run climate. People are right to be confused. After 1 week of steady planetary wave configuration, giving dramatic weather, is this a climate shift? Or a Weather pattern? Or is weather more easily defined as day to day changes, rather than monthly averages? The intermediate between the two, not weather, neither climate is a bit nebulous…..

    Comment by wayne davidson — 3 Jan 2009 @ 4:47 PM

  21. There’s much data indicating rainfall intensity has increased in the U.S. but there’s few studies on that. Why?

    Comment by Pat Neuman — 3 Jan 2009 @ 4:50 PM

  22. Almost as bad and common as confusing weather with climate: thinking that every shorefront problem is due to “rising seas”. So far I don’t believe rising sea level has caused any noticeable problems, that’s all for the future. Most of the problems you hear about are actually due to erosion, subsidence due for example to withdrawal of groundwater, dams preventing silt from maintaining deltas, etc. caught a good example of this, correcting rising seas to erosions in this post.

    Comment by Spencer — 3 Jan 2009 @ 5:00 PM

  23. my favourite weather/climate analogy is an almost boiling saucepan
    of water. There is a (probably) unpredictable formation of bubbles rising to the surface. Add a little heat and the number
    of bubbles increases.

    Does it make sense to claim that a particular bubble
    was caused by the added heat? Obviously not.

    But given the statistical naivety of most people, even some intelligent and well educated people, the
    occasional incorrect claim that some particular bubble is due
    to added heat doesn’t seem too sinful! Its better than saying
    that none of the bubbles are due to the increased heat.

    Comment by Geoff Russell — 3 Jan 2009 @ 5:01 PM

  24. Funny about the Independant article and the weather climate thing. In England the last few Summers, especially the last 2 have been the exact opposite of what the climate models said they would be. According to the climate models British Summers should be getting hotter and dryer. Instead we have been having record rainfall. We have even had Summer floods, which are previously unheard of. No wonder people are confused. Perhaps the models need some tweaking.

    Comment by dave p — 3 Jan 2009 @ 5:14 PM

  25. SA and gavin,

    OK, here is an example of one of my comments previously censored, this time with complete text. This in particular is not claimed to be fraud or corruption, just hypocrisy (that may indicate something about sincerity).



    Confirmed at
    with a little balancing info.

    [Response: But this is nothing more than snark. It represents neither hypocrisy, fraud or corruption. Has Gore suggested that everyone live in a cave and use no energy? If so, that would be hypocrisy. But he hasn't. Instead he has promoted renewables, increased efficiency and carbon credits and used each himself. You were asked to come up with a misleading statement by an environmental organisation, but instead you came up with a smear on Al Gore because he breathes and eats and has a large organisation. The problem here is that you are assuming that being worried about climate change implies some wish for a Rousseauian idyll - yet this is neither espoused here, nor by Gore. Your point is nowhere near made, and if this is the best you can do (and it wasn't even a statement by an environmental organisation), forget it. - gavin]

    Comment by Steve Reynolds — 3 Jan 2009 @ 5:20 PM

  26. I really liked this posting. In my opinion the environmentalists have been getting away with too much loose talk in the name of common good.

    Here in Scandinavia at least, where the green political movement is strong, a lot of stuff is commonly, and w/o any scientific proof, attributed to global warming. Typical examples being eg those that eric described.

    I think that it might be good for the greens to cool it a bit in their rhetoric. The way they are referring to global warming as political justification and/or excuse for whatever, will one day backfire.

    Comment by Juha — 3 Jan 2009 @ 5:21 PM

  27. Pat @#21 says,
    There’s much data indicating rainfall intensity has increased in the U.S. but there’s few studies on that. Why?

    The study I am most familiar with is “When It Rains It Pours.”

    I wish it contained language that would help me communicate to even less scientifically educated folks than I am… suggestions?

    Comment by John Atkeison — 3 Jan 2009 @ 7:14 PM

  28. Steve Reynolds Says: (3 January 2009 at 4:40 PM): “The proposed carbon trading schemes provide almost unlimited opportunities for rent-seeking for corporations and corruption for politicians.”

    In my observation, virtually all of the rent-seeking behaviour of corporations regarding carbon trading schemes has been the effort to scuttle or circumvent them.

    In a properly managed CTS, the economic rent should accrue to the seller of the right to emit – in the first instance the government -rather than the acquirer.

    The fact that exiting emitters seem to be gaining some success in acquiring these rights for free – and thereby gaining economic rent from their ownership – simply means the adjustment to a low-emissions economy will be less efficient than it otherwise would be.

    And all this, of course, has nothing whatsoever to do with the science…

    Comment by Garry S-J — 3 Jan 2009 @ 8:12 PM

  29. Certainly after this post no-one could a bias on the part of realclimate, at least no-one I could name. “Epistemologically broken” indeed.

    Comment by mac — 3 Jan 2009 @ 8:46 PM

  30. gavin> “…you came up with a smear on Al Gore…

    Merriam-Webster: smear 3: a usually unsubstantiated charge or accusation against a person or organization

    Since my charge was substantiated, I do not think it is properly characterized as a ‘smear’.

    gavin> “(and it wasn’t even a statement by an environmental organisation)”

    The comment by SA was “If you have any actual examples of “willful deception” by the “enviromentalist side”, please share them…”,

    so I don’t feel limited to environmental organizations (where _proving_ willfulness and economic interest is fairly hard).

    How about a likely willful deception from the most recent week from an insurance company that has been taking the “environmentalist side”:
    Torsten Jeworrek, member of Munich Re’s Board of Management: “This continues the long-term trend we have been observing. Climate change has already started and is very probably contributing to increasingly frequent weather extremes and ensuing natural catastrophes.”

    I think the willful point is made fairly well here:

    [Response: Munich Re is not an environmental organisation, they are a private company with a clear interest in encouraging people to pay higher insurance premiums. Their statements should be judged accordingly (but this is much better than your Al Gore comment). Mind you, the statement you quote is actually true - IPCC did note trends in certain weather extremes (intense rainfall, heat waves, etc.) that were attributable to climate change. The implication that a single year's insurance losses are tied to that is more dubious, but I think describing this as 'deception' (willful or otherwise) is still a stretch. Try again. - gavin]

    Comment by Steve Reynolds — 3 Jan 2009 @ 9:06 PM

  31. Dave P, you write “according to the climate models …” and gives a weather report for “Summers, especially the last 2″ and says the models were wrong.

    Which climate models are you using as your source for predictions for the past two summers? Cite please? If you’re not looking at an actual science paper, what blog or newspaper article did you read that says this? Why do you consider that a reliable source?

    You’re not thinking of these for decades in the future, are you?

    Aside — sometimes I wonder when I see name+single initial userids; there seems a pattern to the associated beliefs that makes me wonder if they indicate use of the same source material. No doubt mere coincidence.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 3 Jan 2009 @ 9:08 PM

  32. Steve Reynolds says, “I hope that you realize that financial and other incentives exist to exaggerate AGW that are far larger than the puny ‘tens of millions’ you describe provided by the fossil fuel industry. The proposed carbon trading schemes provide almost unlimited opportunities for rent-seeking for corporations and corruption for politicians.”

    OK, Steve, ‘splain me this. How are folks getting rich off of exaggerating risks due to climate change? Yes, climate change been berry-berry good to Al Gore, but that has more to do with the failure of politicians on the right to stand up and admit to their followers that climate change is a real threat. If Jim Baker of John McCain had been willing to stand up on stage with Gore, the message would have been less strident and more effective, and I rather doubt the IPCC would have had to share the Nobel Peace Prize with Gore, your bete noir.
    I certainly agree that it is possible to screw up a cap and trade scheme. It’s also possible to screw up a carbon tax or just about any other policy. The answer, however, is not to avoid action, but rather not to screw it up!

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 3 Jan 2009 @ 9:58 PM

  33. When it is said that the weather will become more extreme, this could be taken as 1. weather and low frequency variability will increase and/or 2. with averages such as temperature increasing, the hottest heat waves will be even hotter if the variability were kept fixed. But with 2., there would be fewer cold spells. It is possible to imagine that 1 and/or it’s opposite could be the case depending on specific phenomenon – for example, with SSTs increasing on average but with the thermal inertia of the deep ocean, there could be greater temperature variations between upwelling regions and non upwelling regions, and that implies a potential for more extreme differences between El Nino and La Nina; higher SSTs in general could give the otherwise same SST anomaly greater influence in a mode of low-frequency variability because of the role of latent heating and the roughly exponential relationship between water vapor concentration and temperature. Also, stronger rain concentrated into smaller pockets would lead to greater local short-term extremes which has potential consequences… On the other hand, one can imagine that variability in other forms could diminish, for example, if the temperature difference between the coldest and warmest air masses decreases, then there might be less temperature variation associated with the movement of those air masses…

    And so on with predictability – a greater amount of rain concentrated in a smaller area would make local short-term rainfall harder to predict at specific locations, while a reduced temperature difference across a front would lead to less error in temperature prediction for the same error in frontal movement, etc…

    Comment by Patrick 027 — 3 Jan 2009 @ 10:49 PM

  34. Reynolds …

    I hope that you realize that financial and other incentives exist to exaggerate AGW that are far larger than the puny ‘tens of millions’ you describe provided by the fossil fuel industry. The proposed carbon trading schemes provide almost unlimited opportunities for rent-seeking for corporations and corruption for politicians.

    So on the one hand, climate science will destroy the economy and cause the collapse of the first world as we know it. On the other hand, profits from climate science are so huge that they dwarf the benefit that would derive from preventing climate science form destroying the economy and cause the collapse of the first world as we know it.

    I’m mightily confused, folks …

    Comment by dhogaza — 3 Jan 2009 @ 11:51 PM

  35. I am going to pick on a minor point. I am not sure if one can really characterize the two sides as “willful obfuscation” and “naive exaggeration”. In reality, there is no basis to distinguish between the two. There are plenty of people with agendas on both sides of the debate that would like to exaggerate or minimize claims according to their convenience. As scientists, we should not judge the intentions, rather just be accurate for the sake of it. In my humble opinion, there should be no free ride for exaggerators whether they are naive or not.

    Comment by Roberto — 4 Jan 2009 @ 12:15 AM

  36. Well sure. You can’t go wrong overestimating the venality of the business world.

    We invent a new light blub that saves 20 percent on electricity.
    We contract to sell you the design but we reserve the right to all of any potential future carbon credit payments for use thereof.
    You take the design and create a big market, sell sixty zillion of them, people install them all over the world, everyone gets all excited because at every step of the way people think oh, I’m not only getting paid for this, I’m writing down how much carbon credit I get.

    And lo, only the person who hired the lawyer who had the foresight to put some wording somewhere in some contract actually collects.

    Carbon credits can’t be like markups — where something passes through five or six or a dozen hands between design and final use and every transaction doubles the price of the thing.

    Or can they? Are there enough auditors?

    That’s why the idea of a flat tax at the beginning makes more sense.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 4 Jan 2009 @ 12:25 AM

  37. Re: tamino Says: 3 January 2009 at 9:50 AM

    “What can be done to counter the mistaken impressions given (willfully or inadvertently) in mass media reports?”

    As someone who has spent over 45 years of my working life in a broadcast newsroom or teaching journalism (now well and happily retired), I feel a bit of a duty to offer a short review of what everybody should have learned before junior high school about the nature of the press, and how it deals with the GW issue (AS IT DOES WITH EVERY ISSUE). With few exceptions journalists are rarely, if ever able to determine the truth of any matter they report because they lack (a) the time and training of scientists to discover truth, or (b)the power of the judicial system to compel sources to tell the truth using the threat of jail for perjury. So, journalists rely instead on self interested sources in both the establishment and the counter establishment for a version of the truth. But if a source burns a reporter with bad information there will be a reporter looking for revenge.

    There are two other salient characteristics of the press to keep in mind. One is the indoctrination too many journalism students get that they have to tell “DRAMATIC” stories to grab and hold the attention of the audience—and what`s grabier than, for example, a cute polar bear cub floating off on a melting chunk of ice to a horrific burial at sea—-ohh the ursanity!!! The other is the inherent laziness of so many mainstream media practitioners. They`re more than happy to let others provide them with the news—it easier than digging for it. That`s what a lot of public relations is about, and there are few bigger sources of publicity stunts and pre-written new stories than those body, soul and earth saviours with massive funds (often tax free) to solicit press support for their causes. Again with few exceptions the people involved here are NOT scientists, or even people with a general knowledge about science, but people earning their bread by mastering the tricks of spinning.

    Do I have a good (grabby) answer for Tamino? No…I mentioned I was retired didn’t I. But there are a few things that could do no harm. 1-Realize where the main action is; TV is far and away the biggest source of news for most people, and the internet now appears to have passed the print press as the next choice. 2-Get to know the local media operations and how they work, and be available as an expert source. 3-Make the calls, i.e.when you hear/read/see obvious BS, tell the reporter, the editor, the owner and even cancel a subscription or two making it clear why; 4-Get rid of this denialist/alarmist silliness (mostly it’s preaching to the choir anyway and it becomes a boorish habit). I have a bright 15 year old grand daughter who spent an hour or so reading a climate blog as an assignment; she walked away muttering that no sane person would bother with any of that stuff, “…they’re supposed to be experts”, she said, “ but they’re just another bunch of politicians”. She told me she read more name calling than science. Maybe she picked a bad blog, or a few bad comments on a good blog. But it may also be the last science blog she reads.

    Comment by RW — 4 Jan 2009 @ 12:33 AM

  38. I’m confused too; I thought the discussion was about environmental reporters more than organizations or big Gore Al. I would ask Reynolds (or anybody else) to identify ‘alarmist’ examples of terribly biased, incorrect, deceptive reports in the important media. I would be interested in an evaluation of some of these in comparison to those on the ‘denialist’ side.

    Comment by Steve L — 4 Jan 2009 @ 12:58 AM

  39. 16 S2 reminds me of the book “The Long Summer” by Brian Fagan. If memory serves, there was an “empire,” of [I'm guessing] 50 square miles in South America. A slight change of climate moved the place the rain fell by a few hundred miles. The first empire fell with great suffering and death because food would not grow without the rain. A new empire arose in the new rainy place. The people did not just move because they had no idea where the rain went. The people died. New people found the new spot. The climate changed back and the cycle repeated. “The Long Summer” by Brian Fagan and “Collapse” by Jared Diamond tell a few dozen of these stories. It happened many times in the middle east. It happened in Chaco Canyon. Centuries later, we can say that the climate changed by some fraction of a degree.

    Last summer in eastern Iowa and western Illinois there were 3 or 4 floods rather than the usual 1 flood. A recent previous year was way too dry. Should farmer X plant rice or cactus in 2009?

    We need to be able to tell, for example, farmer Aaron Lewis to move his pear trees 97 miles north by northeast. But of course that won’t work for long. Just building irrigation ahead of time won’t work for long either. It isn’t just about one thing like water. It is about a lot of interlocking things, not the least of which is the farmers’ experience of when to do what. Adaptations also won’t work for long as Nature ramps up her response as AGW gets worse. I’m referring to “6 Degrees” by Mark Lynas. Nature’s wrath gets severe unexpectedly. In that light, are environmentalists’ inflammatory statements morally wrong if they get people to take action against AGW? Yes.

    BUT: RC is not able to advise farmers well enough and Congress has not acted yet. RC is still not posting articles by, for example, paleontologists or archaeologists on the possible or probable consequences of small climate changes. Unscientific statements need to be traded for scientific statements that include knowledge from enough other fields to make an emotionally convincing case. Yes, I realize that invoking emotion is taboo in science, and very difficult for us scientists anyway. It is morally wrong to allow civilization to fall for lack of the emotional engagement required to move the political process. The emotional decision comes first when average people decide who to vote for.

    NOTHING will happen without invoking emotion, as the Democrats found out in their election losses in times past.

    The $100 Billion/year coal industry is not restricting itself to unemotional science. Based purely on what RC posts so far, average people and Congress will do nothing.

    Comment by Edward Greisch — 4 Jan 2009 @ 1:16 AM

  40. #12 Aaron Lewis Says: “The daffidills that John Muir recorded as blooming in March, have been blooming for 3 weeks.”

    Aaron, I absolutely agree with most of what you wrote about the affects of warming on agriculture (the reduction of chilling hours already are affecting my fruit trees). But I do want to make one observation regarding daffodils.

    I have been growing a number of narcissus here in Davis, California, for 26 years. They are not a New World species, and from my observations, the blooming time depends mostly on the advent of winter rains (or artificial watering). I have hundreds of paperwhites (narcissus tazetta) growing in various areas in my yard. Where they get summer irrigation, the leaves emerge in August and flowers may occur as early as late September. Where they are grown on dry sites, the leaves emerge a few weeks after the first substantial winter rain, and the flowers often wait until January or February to bloom.

    Native flowers probably would be a better choice to observe, although again it needs to be determined whether it is water or warmth (or both) that affects blooming times.

    Comment by Jim Eaton — 4 Jan 2009 @ 1:29 AM

  41. re 3

    “I think, especially in the newspapers, the British often think of their country as bigger than it is, and therefore have a tendency to see things a little by myopically.”

    Ha ha, I just cant let that pass. I think u’ll find us Brits have been here for a while now, and we know how big our countries are, thank you very much! Whilst i understand your point about differences in the use of language, i dont think it is a significant issue in this case.

    It is true that we are obssessed by the naturally rather changeable weather over here, but we have had a bewilderingly out-of-kilter few years, with all sorts of records being broken, particularly as regards summer rainfall, but also in terms of a certain lack of our tradional ‘seasonality’. It will be interesting to see if this develops into a meaningful trend over the next few years.

    The Independent is actually a proper newspaper, not just an online publication as you seem to imply in your piece, and whilst it is probably the one the most AGW aware papers in the UK, it does have a tendancy to get a bit carried away in its efforts to highlight the dangers we face. But then i doubt that there is a newspaper anywhere in the world that is consistently on the money, as regards climate science.

    [Thank you for pointing this out. I suspected that there was also a print version, but could find no evidence in the online version that this was the case. Funny how web sites often do not provide the most basic information. --eric

    Here is an exclusive and rather better informed piece (in condensed internet form) from Jan 2, where the paper actually surveyed some of the leading lights in climate science (did they ask anyone off RC?), over the issue of geo-engineering. It basically asked if they felt that because of the lack of success in reducing our emissions, is it time to start working on a ‘plan b’? It recieved 80 replies, about 20 of which were published in the paper on the day.

    Here are about 40 of the replies it recieved…

    I know that one better piece doesnt really make up for a misleading piece, but its not all doom amd gloom at the Indy, tho I’m normally a Guardian reader myself.

    Happy new year to all at RC, thank you for all your efforts to keep me sane!

    Comment by mark s — 4 Jan 2009 @ 6:15 AM

  42. Please forgive me, if this question has been raised before. I have looked at the wiki without results though.

    People who are less convinced about the AGW theory have asked me this question, to which I currently have no answer. I hope you guys can help me out.

    Although global warming has slowed down (some even claim cooling) in the last 7-10 years (apparently there is some dispute over what a decade is). AGW proponents claim that althogh this was not very likely since only app. only 9 out of 55 model runs predicted this (please dont ask me for ref on this, and I admit the numbers might be wrong) the current stalling of temp rise is still within our model predictions.

    The question then goes: What temp observations will it take for us to abandon the models?? (please make the timeline short as possible—so the modellers will not have passed away before their theory is proven/disproven)

    I hope my question is clear (english is not my native language).


    [Response: Discussed here. - gavin]

    Comment by Anders — 4 Jan 2009 @ 7:22 AM

  43. I’ve heard some claims of very large amounts–such as $40 billion–being somehow “on the table” in funding AGW research. Challenged to source this, the best anyone could do was to point to a Canadian AGW researcher who is a university faculty member! (I suppose he does all his instructional and administrative work pro bono, then.)

    But there’s no reason to think the university mandates what his research says, which was explicitly the case with some of the Exxon “incentives.” And Spencer, Christy, and Lindzen, to name just three contrarians, are also faculty, which means that the alleged $40 billion is funding them, too.

    So far, this idea that AGW research is “all about the money” seems unpersuasive, if it is evidence that persuades.

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 4 Jan 2009 @ 7:47 AM

  44. Unless there is a catastrophic event or change, then slow changing climate or slow changing sea level is always going to be someone elses problem. Thom (No. 3) says sea level rises haven’t so far caused a problem??
    Well if you combine the rises that have taken place so far with the tilt that the UK is going through, storm surges in the North Sea and atmospheric pressure changes, then i’m afraid it is having an impact.

    The trouble is i think people want simple answers and simple models of what is going on. People live in their homes and like to know that when the tap is turned on, water will flow and if it doesn’t there are a small number of reasons why it doesn’t. Simple, easy.

    But you have to have a very open mind and an ability to see a very big picture in order to take onboard the consequences of even small changes, such as sea levels. There are some places that are literally centimetres away from occasional flooding due to small sea level rises.

    I have an engineering background and as such can understand the science to a certain extent. I do get stuck occasionally, but i do trust the scientists mainly because of the wide ranging research that also indirectly supports climate change science and the modelling.

    Comment by Paul — 4 Jan 2009 @ 9:14 AM

  45. Gavin, one question; in the thread you pointed Anders to, which answers his “how long” question
    — early on there, you answer someone else’s question inline:
    12 May 2008 at 3:52 AM
    When the models show cooling for a few years, is this due to heat actually leaving the (simulated) planet, or due to heat being stored in the ocean ?

    [Response: You’d need to look directly at the TOA net radiation.

    My followup question: How can, or how could, you look directly at TOA net radiation? Is this a missing piece of information,
    do we have an instrument to do this, or a method for inferring the number from other information available? It seems to me it's the "bottom line" that -- ideally -- whould have been determined first, before all the details of the transactions within the climate system were figured out.

    [Response: The measurements aren't accurate enough yet. Maybe at some point. - gavin]

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 4 Jan 2009 @ 11:31 AM

  46. Of topic. Sort of. Has anyone else noticed that in the comments section of online news articles discussing climate change that the deniers are ALL OVER it. Denialist comment after denialist comment after denialist comment. And on and on and on. It’s probably at a 50:1 ration to non-deniers. I’ve seen this in several articles now recently. I suspect that Big Energy is upset about Obama’s stated plans to tackle Climate Change and is trying to jaundice the debate. Create a groundswell of opposition before Obama can do anything about it. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of this is coming from the usual camps, The Marshall Institute, Heritage, Cato, CEI, AEI, Bivings etc.

    Disgusting. These people would sell their mother for a dollar.
    Check out the comments section of this article for example:

    Comment by Ron R. — 4 Jan 2009 @ 12:13 PM

  47. Ray>… ’splain me this. How are folks getting rich off of exaggerating risks due to climate change?

    There are plenty of ways to get rich off of poorly implemented schemes that are supposed to reduce carbon emissions. One link:

    Most of the ‘folks’ exaggerating risks due to climate change are sincere (and not getting rich), but the hysteria they attempt to produce is very useful to the corrupt politicians and financial traders selling these purposely poorly implemented schemes.

    Ray> I certainly agree that it is possible to screw up a cap and trade scheme… The answer, however, is not to avoid action, but rather not to screw it up!

    I agree!
    I think we will be much more successful developing effective action against AGW if we recognize the bad guys are not all on the denialist side. It is not only ‘possible to screw up a cap and trade scheme’, it is almost certain if you let politicians with financial interests design it.

    Instead of continuing an us vs. them fight between alarmists and denialists, why not make it a fight between honest science and economics vs. those favoring negative externalities, rent-seeking, and corruption?

    Comment by Steve Reynolds — 4 Jan 2009 @ 12:13 PM

  48. re #40: I did not say that they were a native species, just that in this area they were observed to bloom in March from the 1870′s to 2002. From 2003 to 2006, we had inconsistent blooms, but but they have bloomed in each of the last 3 Decembers. It is worth noteing that in 2003, my pears also bloomed in December.

    I am well aware of moisture effects on bulbs. However, a change in rainfall patterns causing a change in bloom date would also be a change in climate? Possibly due to??

    Prior to 2000, the mountain ash in the neighborhood dropped their leaves in mid-November. Over the last 5 years, they have dropped their leaves later and later. Now, as I look out the window, they are just starting to drop their leaves. The figs and the grapes were almost 4 weeks late (compared to a pre-2000 basse line)in dropping their leaves. I have posted here previously about the date of bud break and bloom moving earlier and earlier in the spring.

    I would say that for anybody that gets out of their centrally heated environment, and pays attention (keeps a journal)to what is going on, global warming is easily observable in time frames as short as a decade. My local climate changed from temperate to subtropical in the period 2002 to 2005. It is a change that is very hard to see in most meterological data, but the change in ecosystems is profound. The doves in our area hatch 4 clutches of eggs instead of 2. We see more generations of deer mice each year. And, I am able to serve rasberries from the garden on Christmas. (3 years in a row!) Where prior to 2005, I cut the then bare canes back to the ground in mid-November.

    Is three consecutive years row climate or weather? How many consecutive years do we need to have dramatic sea ice melt before we say, “Ja, the climate is changing?” In their own way, the local changes that I see are as dramatic as the changes in sea ice.

    [Response: Aaron. I don't disagree with your points. But the article I was complaining about could have been titled "Two consecutive wet summers devastate UK wildlife" and then gone on to talk about the possible relationship with climate. That would have been much more accurate. As to your (rhetorical) question about whether three years in a row is climate or weather, it very much depends on the variable involved (e.g. precip, temperature etc) and the magnitude of the change. But in general, three years in a row is probably not very convincing, by itself. See also our earlier post on how to establish what is and what isn't record-breaking change; in particular, consider the graph, here--eric]

    Comment by Aaron Lewis — 4 Jan 2009 @ 12:37 PM

  49. Ron R (No. 46).

    Yes i have noticed that Deniers are currently VERY active on various Newspaper comments columns in the UK and US, possibly elsewhere. I’m glad i’m not the only person to notice.

    I think there seems to be some sort of campaign going on. But on the other hand a lot of these comments are appearing in Google News, which is how i am finding them. Also some newpapers are running blogs from the general public, which google is picking up.

    But i think there is something going on.

    Comment by Paul — 4 Jan 2009 @ 1:07 PM

  50. Thanks, Gavin. Would Triana/DSCOVR (or some instrument in such a fixed position/distance) suffice to determine the TOA number? Or do we yet have no instrument good enough, even if we could put what we have in the right place for long enough?

    [Response: Well you need to determine two (large) numbers and the imbalance is the (small) difference between them. Unfortunately the two measurements need to be done with two different instruments (short wave and long wave) and integrated over the spectra. Getting the requisite accuracy is hard, whatever your sampling is going to be (ie. from orbit or from L1). I think Triana would have helped certainly, but it wouldn't be sufficient on it's own. Of course, at the rate we are increasing the forcing, the imbalance might be directly observable even with current technology sooner than we think! - gavin]

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 4 Jan 2009 @ 1:18 PM

  51. mark s #41 is quite right: the Indie [as it is known] is noted for its over-the-top reporting on climate change: the end is reported to be nigh so regularly that no-one takes any notice any more. It used to be a highly thought off broadsheet [see: here] but is now in a sad decline and unlikely to last much longer.

    Comment by Chris Squire [UK] — 4 Jan 2009 @ 1:19 PM

  52. Eric wrote: “I think it is a very liberal reading of the scientific literature that ‘climate patterns are becoming unstable’. I’m actually not sure what that means … The basic patterns of weather … are not going to change … There’s no theoretical or empirical basis for supposing that there will be some interval of ‘chaos’ before the new regime ‘settles in’ …”

    Let me reference two other comments to try to clarify what I mean …

    Gavin subsequently wrote: “IPCC did note trends in certain weather extremes (intense rainfall, heat waves, etc.) that were attributable to climate change.”

    Edward Greisch subsequently wrote: “Last summer in eastern Iowa and western Illinois there were 3 or 4 floods rather than the usual 1 flood. A recent previous year was way too dry. Should farmer X plant rice or cactus in 2009? … It is about a lot of interlocking things, not the least of which is the farmers’ experience of when to do what. Adaptations also won’t work for long as Nature ramps up her response as AGW gets worse.”

    What I meant by “climate patterns becoming unstable” during a period of “chaos” between “climate regimes” is just this: that the trend towards more frequent “extreme weather events” which the IPCC attributes to global warming implies less predictable patterns of weather. The “extreme events” like droughts, floods and heat waves will, almost by definition, occur more or less unpredictably, not following historical pre-AGW patterns but neither yet settling into a new pattern. As the accelerating rise in CO2 emissions & concentrations, and the resulting accelerating warming, drive accelerating climate change, patterns of weather will change continuously from season to season and year to year.

    At some point in the future, I suggest, observers will be able to look back over the preceding thirty-year or so period (which I understand is accepted as a conventional time window to observe “climate”) and describe it as a time when climate in much of the world became “chaotic”, shifting frequently in unpredictable ways, with the historical patterns of seasonal and regional weather that over time are called “climate” giving way to unpredictable extremes. And then, assuming that humanity ends CO2 emissions, and CO2 concentrations and the greenhouse effect stabilize, weather and climate will eventually again settle in to more stable and predictable patterns.

    But as long as accelerating emissions accelerate the warming that accelerates climate change, I expect we are in for a period of rapidly and unpredictably changing weather extremes and weather patterns which can be characterized as “chaotic”.

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 4 Jan 2009 @ 2:10 PM

  53. These are not deniers.

    These are hecklers.

    Comment by Richard Pauli — 4 Jan 2009 @ 2:10 PM

  54. John @ #27 says, …

    The report you mentioned by Environment America (EA) was note-worthy but received little
    attention. That’s because only studies by NWS (on severe weather and rainfall) are given
    media and public attention – and NWS avoids climate change in it’s research and reporting.

    Comment by Pat Neuman — 4 Jan 2009 @ 2:39 PM

  55. Myself in #42

    Thank you for the link gavin. I am sorry if my posts are a little of context with the current thread.

    Have I understood the link correct if I say that if we see no additional heating for the next decade we will have to admit that AGW is false??

    This was based on the following statement form your link:

    “Over a twenty year period, you would be on stronger ground in arguing that a negative trend would be outside the 95% confidence limits of the expected trend (the one model run in the above ensemble suggests that would only happen ~2% of the time).”



    [Response: You obviously want some kind of simple answer, but I can't give it to you. Think about things like this - the expectation is that with the current rate of increase of CO2 (etc.), we anticipate a warming trend of about 0.2 deg C/decade for the next couple of decades. This assumes that the changes in all forcings follow more-or-less their current trajectories. However, there is a lot of internal variability in the system, and so that makes it difficult to be clear that a signal has come out of the noise over short periods of time (the length of which depends on the magnitude and structure of the variability). If there is another ten years without much change in such a way as it falls outside of expectations, then people go back and examine all the pieces that went into the prediction/data mismatch. For instance, are the data reliable (remember MSU)? Did the forcings change as expected (maybe aerosols from Asia have increased more than we know, maybe the sun is doing something weird)? do models underestimate internal (decadal) variability? In previous mismatches each of these has been at fault. What isn't going to happen is that people will suddenly decide that CO2 isn't a greenhouse gas. It is, and the evidence for that is overwhelming, and our understanding of radiative transfer (that is tested every time we do a satellite retrieval) is very good. Therefore the expectation that AGW will be falsified is naive - AGW is a consequence of many, many different bits of science. Which bit would be wrong would be the issue - and it's very unlikely that it would be the role of GHGs. But this is all hypothetical since no mismatch has yet been detected. - gavin]

    Comment by Anders — 4 Jan 2009 @ 3:53 PM

  56. This is well-meaning, fair-minded, bending-over-backwards, to be even-handed, and all that. But I think it is wrong-headed, as well. If you believe the graphs, and we all do, of rising CO2, rising temperatures, etc, over the last, say, 30 years, then how could these be not having an effect on every aspect of the biology and ecology of the natural world (not to mention the physical world of storms, droughts, heat-waves, cold-spells, and the effect of those in turn on the natural world)? If it is true that you can’t ascribe any particular change in species distribution, breeding season, food supply failure directly to global warming (and I can’t see that you could ever directly ascribe them at least in the short term), it is also true that there is almost nothing that can’t be ascribed indirectly. If you are going to put an embargo on using changes in ecology to illustrate what is going on, and what the future holds, then you will remove a great deal of the possibility of Joe Public understanding what is happening. You just get left with “2 degrees warmer? Bring it on, it’s been cold lately in Chicago/Manchester/Melbourne”. Your article echoes an earlier (2006) comment by the Royal Society which I disagreed with here ( With the greatest respect to Real Climate and Royal Society I think you both got this one wrong.

    [Response: David. Fair points, and I agree with what you wrote on your blog. But let me reiterate that I'm not saying that one should not use changes in ecology to illustrate what is going on. Nor that one should not use Katrina, or the 2003 heat wave. Those are all good examples to use. The question is how one uses those examples.--eric]

    Comment by David Horton — 4 Jan 2009 @ 6:09 PM

  57. Anders, Think about this. Climate change manifests as a steadily rising trend on top of a noisy background. In any one year, or two or 3, the noise can overwhelm the added forcing–maybe due to La Nina, or a volcanic eruption or decreased solar output. Grand Solar minima can last decades. However the effects of carbon dioxide persist for centuries to millennia! The only way they will not happen is if there is some unexpected negative feedback that magically kicks in right at our current temperature range or if everything we understand about climate is wrong and there is some other theory that explains Earth’s climate better. I’m not holding my breath for either. BTW, you seem to think warming has “stopped” or stalled. Have you seen this analysis:

    Even if you just look at a simple average, it’s still warming.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 4 Jan 2009 @ 6:26 PM

  58. re: #35 roberto
    “I am going to pick on a minor point. I am not sure if one can really characterize the two sides as “willful obfuscation” and “naive exaggeration”. In reality, there is no basis to distinguish between the two.”

    Actually, these are (usually) quite different. From how to learn about science:

    “To paraphrase Stanford Professor Stephen Schneider, in any scientific discipline, ideas can be roughly categorized as:

    (S3) Some things are well-established – strong proof is required to overturn [strong theory]

    (S2) Some things (especially measured effects) have competing explanations. [hypotheses]

    (S1) Some things are speculation. [ideas]”

    One group sometimes promotes S1 to S2, or S2 to S3, thus ascribing more certainty than is deserved, or perhaps emphasizes the more alarming edge of a range. Some exaggeration of this may be purposeful, and some may be naive, but much is inherent in summarization, especially when translating science-speak for the general audience. It is *hard work* to explain caveat-laden, error-bar-filled stuff to audiences not so used to it. It is even hard work just to get people to think in distributions instead of averages.

    The other side tries very hard to *eliminate/obscure* inconvenient knowledge in S3, for which people have recently coined the term agnotology. Doing it really well actually takes some knowledge. In this case, making basic physics disappear takes real effort.

    Alternatively, one could say:
    science = {S1=>S2=>S3 (or not, weighing evidence)
    non-science = conclusions not (yet?) warranted by science
    anti-science = attempt to make science disappear

    Those latter two modes are *not* symmetric.

    [Response: Interesting, and well said. I made a minor correction -- you wrote science = {S1=>S3=>S3 (or not, weighing evidence) but you meant science = {S1=>S2=>S3 (or not, weighing evidence). Let me know if you meant otherwise.--eric]

    Comment by John Mashey — 4 Jan 2009 @ 9:28 PM

  59. re: #56 David Horton

    1) Humans notice noise, including especially extreme events, which by their nature are relatively rare. As a result, it really needs a long baseline or really major changes to determine changes in:

    - Frequency OR
    - Intensity

    and especially to ascribe any specific one to AGW.

    2) Hence, I’d claim that for many people, especially in some places, it’s much easier to use events that happen more continuously, or in changes naturally averaged over time or space.

    3) I mentioned here at RC some of my favorites (kudzu, bark beetles, and to some extent, West Nile mosquitoes), as they’re all geographically controlled by specific kinds of coldspells. People track these very carefully, as all have highly visible downsides, unlike effects like longer growing seasons or milder climate in the Okanagan or Yorkshire for vineyards. I don’t know the equivalents for Australia, maybe kudzu or cane toads. I asked Barry Brook about such at BraveNewClimate, 11, and you might check his answer there, i.e., there’s a lot less biological-response data for Oz, but they’re working on it.

    For the pine beetle, here’s the Canadian Pine Beetle website. See especially the 1959-2002 animation, and the realtionship to coldspells.

    4) I also like glaciers, since they do their own physical time-averaging. That doesn’t help you much in Oz, but the Swiss glacier website is very nice. Longer glaciers often average over longer periods – see the Grosser Aletsch on that page, which is shrinking fairly smoothly.

    Anyway, I think it is all too easy to get confused by noise, so it’s often better to pick examples that are inherently less noisy.

    Comment by John Mashey — 4 Jan 2009 @ 10:17 PM

  60. David, I think attribution has to be done carefully, but look for example at the recent paper simply assessing the likelihood that the temperatures over the past ten years don’t indicate a trend.

    Similarly biological changes can be looked at — the odds of any one variation may be hard to determine; the odds that most of the butterflies over a decade shift to, say arriving a week early and fifty miles north of their previous documented appearance, will be convincing statistically as suggesting a change.

    And meanwhile the practical questions are being addressed. None of the practicing biologists need to be convinced, I think.

    I just looked up studies on British hedgerows for a posting at Tamino’s blog and this is the sort of paper that’s turning up, just one striking example; plenty more.

    The Role of Constructed Ecosystems in An Era of Rapid Climate Change
    John Cairns, Jr., Department of Biological Sciences,
    Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University,
    Blacksburg, Virginia 24061, USA
    —-excerpt follows—–


    Rapid climate change is causing ecological disequilibrium in many parts of the planet, which makes restoration of natural ecosystems to predisturbance conditions less probable. An alternative to restored ecosystems may be constructed ecosystems that are designed to address this problem. These circumstances offer only two choices: (1) do nothing and see if natural systems can adjust and (2) design constructed ecosystems that can tolerate and adjust to rapid climate change. Constructed ecosystems are not restored to ecological predisturbance condition because the probability of restoration to predisturbance condition is minimal. The ecological procedures and goals for constructed ecosystems are similar to the emergency room at a hospital – the goal is to keep the patient alive. The goal is a naturalistic biotic community with a structure and function similar to natural communities, which should consist of natural capital that provides ecosystem services similar to those provided by natural systems….

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 4 Jan 2009 @ 10:43 PM

  61. mark s, in #41, referring to this article in The Independent, asks whether the paper included anyone at RC in its survey regarding geoengineering.

    The answer to Marks’ question is in the Independent article itself, which quotes David Archer (of RC) as follows:

    Among those who oppose geoengineering is Professor David Archer, a geophysicist at Chicago University and expert on ocean chemistry. “Carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere will continue to affect climate for many millennia,” he said. “Relying on geoengineering schemes such as sulphate aerosols would be analogous to putting the planet on life support. If future humanity failed to pay its ‘climate bill’ – a bill that we left them, thank you very much – they would bear the full brunt of climate change within a very short time.”

    [Response: I suspect that many of us share David's views on this. We took a somewhat critical look at geoengineering in Dire Predictions -mike]

    Comment by Dave Rado — 4 Jan 2009 @ 11:52 PM

  62. #56 David, I agree and I would like to have consensus on what is considered AGW events.
    I would say without hesitation that warming of the Arctic and the shrinking/thinning/disappearing Arctic ocean ice are AGW attributable, but I’d like to hear more, like the mid west Dew point data Pat is mentioning, a thunderstorm over Baffin Island in February, bees active in NY state during winter etc. There has to be a general agreement or solid guidelines before all diverges with their own AGW interpretations as it is happening right now.

    Comment by wayne davidson — 5 Jan 2009 @ 1:00 AM

  63. #19 Steve Reynolds:

    I hope that you realize that financial and other incentives exist to exaggerate AGW that are far larger than the puny ‘tens of millions’ you describe provided by the fossil fuel industry. The proposed carbon trading schemes provide almost unlimited opportunities for rent-seeking for corporations and corruption for politicians.

    For a little while there I thought you were going to say that climate scientists were in line for riches. That being the case, I would have to ask why I ended up switching from computer science to bioinformatics, rather than climate science.

    I hope you realise that the purpose of the carbon trading schemes is to make pollution expensive, and phase it down. Ultimately the fact that almost 20% of CO2 emissions are still in the atmosphere after 1000 years means that to meet any target, we will have to scale down to zero emissions. That’s a bigger economic reality for those selling fossil fuels than the possibility of corruption in carbon trading. Looked at in that way, you can see the economic incentive to buy time; the tobacco companies got away with it, why not fossil fuels? Tobacco has killed millions more than if it were treated as a rational health policy issue, and it is perfectly conceivable that fossil fuels executives are cut from the same cloth as tobacco executives.

    Comment by Philip Machanick — 5 Jan 2009 @ 1:05 AM

  64. More articles with an overwhelming amount of deniers comments.

    Comment by Ron R. — 5 Jan 2009 @ 1:15 AM

  65. Dear Ray and gavin

    Thank you for your replies. I agree with your points.

    I dont think any of the deniers are unaware that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. I think that what they believe in uncertain is the ability of increasing CO2 pressure to significantly induce global temperature rise. I think they believe that the effects of CO2 is second to other phenomena such as La Nina / El Nino Solar output. Therefore, if temp fails to rise in the next decade or so (and lets not hope that happens, or we will all be out of work) and we can actually attribute this to La Nina or other similar events, then we have proven the point of the deniers. Namely that CO2 of-course is a GHG but that its effect on global climate is easily overruled by other phenomena.

    To make our point more digestible to the public I therefore believe it is important that we state which observations that will falsify our models (Not falsify that CO2 is a GHG, of-course).

    For me it is difficult to ague agains people who say: “If you dont know which events that do not agree with your theory (GHG induces temp rise) then it is not a theory”. Of-course, since we are not dealing with pure mathematics, then this statement will have to be accompanied by a probability.


    Comment by Anders — 5 Jan 2009 @ 1:56 AM

  66. Re: Eric’s inline comment on 48
    My point was that temperature changes that are not record breaking, may have huge impacts on ecosystems. I cannot find any weather records that were broken around here about the time that plants started blooming the wrong time of the year.

    What I have is a ten-year trend of warmer nights in November and December. Actual lows seem about the same, but now we seem to spend more time above freezing so we get more chill hours and less frost hours.

    I have a continuous ten-year trend that I break in to three parts because 4 of those years were temperate, three of those years were “transitional” and the last three were sub –tropical. Basically, in the course of 10 years the boundary between the two climate zones moved 3 miles.

    My point is that in the short space of 10 years, I have seen dramatic changes in local plant and animal behavior resulting from tiny amounts of warming. That is, changes so small that they did not really affect the daily high temperature, or the daily lows but only the ratio of “chill hours” to frost hours in late fall nights. Even the ratios were not records, but now we have a consistent trend, year after year, of fewer frost hours, and that is changing plant and animal behavior. It shows it is not necessary to have “record-breaking” change to disrupt an ecosystem. It is necessary to keep records on what does affect ecosystems. Perhaps we have been breaking the records that do matter to ecosystems without knowing it.

    [Response: Aaron. Point taken. There are of course records of directly ecosystem relevant variables, but they are generally shorter and less reliable. Monitoring this stuff well is hard. There is no doubt more information out there than I'm aware of though.--eric]

    Comment by Aaron Lewis — 5 Jan 2009 @ 3:28 AM

  67. Anders:

    I think the ‘policy’ of deniers to reduce CO2 to a minor influence on climate change whilst accepting global warming is happening (see well known Scandinavian economist and others) is a political move.

    IMO most of these people are still denying humans are responsible, but by allowing CO2 to have a small influence gives them credibility with those that are in the middle ground and don’t like the implications of significant change. They are trying to twist the subject in their favour having failed to convince people there is no warming at all.

    It is a clever marketing/political tactic.
    But armed with that knowledge, it is quite easy to counter this political stance.

    Comment by Paul — 5 Jan 2009 @ 5:21 AM

  68. As a sceptic turned firm believer in AGW (thanks largely to RealCimate), I was interested in Hank Roberts’ posts (#45 and #50) and the responses to them. They related to changes in TOA radiation balances which apparently (and unfortunately)cannot be directly measured with any accuracy and thus have to be inferred. In my sceptical phase, I became very hung up on the question of saturation in the CO2 band, in part because saturation appears to be defined differently by physicists and biologists. I was instructed about brightness temperatures and effective radiating levels. My attention was drawn to plots indicating that less IR was escaping to space if its wavelength was in the CO2 or water vapour absorption bands than if its wavelength was outwith those bands. It occurred to me that nobody could possibly retain a figleaf of respectability in maintaining a sceptical viewpoint if direct measurement could show that that the effective radiating level in the CO2 band had increased (brightness temperature decreased)in the last quarter of a century, coincident with an increase of atmospheric CO2 concentration of about 15%. Did the answers to Hank’s question imply that such direct measurement remains impossible or were they addressing the more complex question of total balances (energy in vs out)?

    Comment by Douglas Wise — 5 Jan 2009 @ 6:28 AM

  69. re #61 and David Archer’s purported opposition to geoengineering.

    It seems that there are several possible geoengineering approaches and they possibly suffer by being discussed in a single lump. I can understand that many would be squeamish about lofting large amounts of SO2 into the upper atmosphere. However, an alternative albedo-increasing strategy has been mooted which involves increasing the number of cloud condensing nuclei over the oceans by spraying small water droplets into the air (Latham, Salter and Smith). I originally thought that this might be a more innocuous stopgap measure. However, in order to work, I understand that these small droplets would require the presence of algal-derived dimethyl sulphoxide which might otherwise have sunk in the oceans. Would the latter form of sulphur equate to the former in terms of possible damage or is the scale totally different?

    Most other forms of geoengineering are, in effect, carbon sequestration technologies, some of which will have to be deployed if it is deemed necessary to get atmospheric CO2 below 350 ppmv. These include ocean fertilisation (iron and/or nitrogen), ocean turnover/pumping to sink CO2 (Lovelock), mechanical extraction of CO2 from air, accelerated weathering of rock by grinding and spreading and biochar production by pyrolysis. I am aware of a previous RC post on air capture. Would it be possible to have further posts on geoengineering issues, given that climate scientists appear to be more or less equally divided into pro and anti camps?

    Comment by Douglas Wise — 5 Jan 2009 @ 7:03 AM

  70. Ron R.

    If you want a crazy example of a Newspaper comments board gone mad, try the Belfast Telegraph and an article about Sammy Wilson the NI environment minister:

    I think there is probably a small number of people posting in political support for Sammy.

    Comment by Paul — 5 Jan 2009 @ 7:41 AM

  71. I’d like to compliment Eric on an excellent post. There’s too much garbage in the mainstream media on all scientific subjects, not just climate, and it’s always good to see it corrected.

    Reading this comment string I’ve gained the impression that there is some concern that recently deniers have been monopolising comments in online articles on climate change and that this must be due to some nasty conspiracy got up by big oil or coal or whatever. Does nobody pause to think that the cold winters of the last couple of years might cause ordinary people in the street to doubt the wisdom of the consensus position?

    20 years have passed since Dr. Hansen made his testimony to congress and since then sea levels have hardly changed; since the El Nino spike in 1998 temperatures have not accelerated upwards either. In summer 2008 the icepack at the north pole recovered slightly from 2007, rather than disappeared, as more excitable activists thought it would. (I think everyone enjoyed the kayakers getting stuck hundreds of miles from the pole & having to turn back.)

    This has certainly caused me to wonder if the theory of AGW is correct. My limited understanding of the science causes me to believe that the CO2 levels in the atmosphere cause a warming of about 0.5C… and this is an observed fact. Then it essentially comes down to feedbacks – do positive feedbacks outweigh negative ones and cause runaway warming? At this point I’m not persuaded they do.

    [Response: Thanks for the thanks but you've entirley missed the point. A couple of years of observations -- 2008 vs. 2007 for example -- don't tell you anything. You are making precisely the same mistake (just in the opposite direction) from the article I was complaining about.--eric]

    Comment by Steve D — 5 Jan 2009 @ 8:17 AM

  72. Re #65, how many more decades to we have to await that fall in temperature before we do anything about it. We surely cannot just keep om awaiting more and more proof due to a few skeptics who have no scientific theory of present summer Arctic sea ice melting and warming other than natural variabilty.

    If we wait one more decade and then another one and another one when then will we listen to the scientists?

    Comment by Alan Neale — 5 Jan 2009 @ 8:20 AM

  73. Re. mark s, #41:

    e 3

    “I think, especially in the newspapers, the British often think of their country as bigger than it is, and therefore have a tendency to see things a little by myopically.”

    Ha ha, I just cant let that pass. I think u’ll find us Brits have been here for a while now, and we know how big our countries are, thank you very much! Whilst i understand your point about differences in the use of language, i dont think it is a significant issue in this case.

    We in the UK certainly have a tendency to extrapolate our weather and assume it reflects the global mean. As an example, the extremely disappointing BBC series “Earth: The Climate Wars” pretended that global warming rather than global cooling began to be taken seriously as an imminent danger by climate scientists following the exceptionally hot summer in 1976. The film then showed many shots of sweaty people eating ice cream on beaches to illustrate how hot 1976 was. In fact 1976 was not an exceptionally warm year globally (it was slightly cooler than 1975 and 1977), but it was exceptionally warm in the UK, and the film was made for a UK audience.

    (And of course, as has frequently been exposed on Realclimate, the preponderance of 1970s peer reviewed literature prior to 1976 had emphasised anthropogenic global warming (due to GHGs) rather than global cooling (due to sulphates) as the most likely threat, while making it clear that the uncertainties were at that time to great to be definitive about which would predominate.

    My point is that when a geologist like Iain Stewart (who made that film and who really should know much better) confuses UK temperatures with the global mean, we have a serious problem in the UK.

    I admit that people in the US also tend to be very insular in this respect (last year, for instance, there was a lot of misinformation in blogs implying that the warmest year in the 20th century occurred in the 1930s, which may arguably be true in the case of the US but is very far from the truth in the case of the global mean temperature). But extrapolating from one’s own country’s mean temperatures to the global mean is statistically less flawed in a country as large as the US than it is in one as tiny as the UK, and we do have a tendency in the UK to fall into this trap.

    Comment by Dave Rado — 5 Jan 2009 @ 8:47 AM

  74. Douglas Wise,
    First, keep in mind that the measurements involved are difficult and have to be conducted over a long period, since clouds, weather, dust, etc. will change the measurements over time. The DISCOVR satellite would have gone a long way toward resolving the issue definitively. It spent the Bush administration, however, mothballed in a warehouse in Greenbelt, MD, and it would appear that there is now a rush to refurbish and launch it–sans any Earth-observing instruments–before the new administration finds its sea legs. See:

    As to geoengineering, unfortunately, many of them involve aerosols and clouds–the two most uncertain aspects of current models. As such verification of efficacy and avoidance of unintended consequences would be problematic. Our best bet for now are the schemes that sequester carbon (e.g. biochar, weathering of olivine… and avoiding putting the damn stuff into the atmosphere in the first place).

    Happy New Year, Ray!

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 5 Jan 2009 @ 8:48 AM

  75. Re. Steve D, #71, in addition to the inline point Eric made:

    Does nobody pause to think that the cold winters of the last couple of years might cause ordinary people in the street to doubt the wisdom of the consensus position?

    You illustrate the point that I made in #73 perfectly – you are extrapolating UK weather and assuming it is the same as the global mean. Globally the winters in the last couple of years were not cold, and in any case, it is the average temperature over a year that counts, not the winter in isolation. Globally, 2007 was one of the ten warmest years since records began (look it up if you don’t believe me).

    20 years have passed since Dr. Hansen made his testimony to congress and since then sea levels have hardly changed

    It’s true that the “man in the street” who doesn’t look at the figures has yet to see any obvious ill effects from sea level rise, and that is a good illustration of the difficulty in communicating what is actually happening to laymen, and of the failure of the media to communicate scientific knowledge effectively, but the fact is that global mean sea level has risen significantly faster than had been forecast. Have you looked at the figures? If not, why not?

    since the El Nino spike in 1998 temperatures have not accelerated upwards either.

    No one said they would accelerate upwards, just that the long term trend would continue, which it has. Did you read #57 and the article Ray links to?

    In summer 2008 the icepack at the north pole recovered slightly from 2007, rather than disappeared, as more excitable activists thought it would.

    No credible scientist predicted it would. As Eric points out, you are confusing weather with climate while simultaneously criticising The Independent for making the same mistake that you are making!

    Comment by Dave Rado — 5 Jan 2009 @ 9:32 AM

  76. Steve Reynolds wrote: “I hope that you realize that financial and other incentives exist to exaggerate AGW that are far larger than the puny ‘tens of millions’ you describe provided by the fossil fuel industry.”

    It is certainly true that financial incentives exist for the fossil fuel industry to deny the reality of AGW that are far larger than the “puny” tens of millions they have invested in funding fake, phony, pseudo-scientific denialist propaganda. For example, ExxonMobil alone reaps some forty billion dollars per year in profits from “business as usual” fossil fuel consumption. But that just demonstrates that the “puny” amounts they have invested in deliberately deceiving the public have paid off handsomely, since they effectively delayed action to reduce fossil fuel use for a couple of decades.

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 5 Jan 2009 @ 10:15 AM

  77. Re#75

    The point I was trying to convey (obviously not very well) was that overclaiming by excitable activists generates tremendous press attention & when the predicted event (eg the ice pack disappearing) does not occur, lots of readers will tend to be more sympathetic to the opposite point of view. Neutral observers will also tend to react unfavourably when they see ad hominem abusive stuff dished out to opponents, whoever is doing it, irrespective of the scientific merits of the case.

    BTW, in the UK we have had mild winters over the past few years so I am not extrapolating.

    My personal opinion, for what it is worth, is that man does contribute to GW but I do not believe we will see runaway warming (pace Mark Lynas’s 6 degrees). Another 30 years of trends to look at will show who is right.

    [Response: Steve. Fair enough, and you have put it better this time; I agree with your sentiments. BUT: note that Mark Lynas's book does not talk about a "runaway". He is simply talking about where we are going if we keep pumping GHGs into the atmosphere, business as usual. And you are right that it essentially comes down to feedbacks. But don't confuse net positive feedbacks with "runaway". If the strength of the feedback decreases with increased forcing (as is often the case), then you reach a new equilibrium state, not a runaway. See Brian Soden's excellent post on feedbacks, here.--eric]

    Comment by Steve D — 5 Jan 2009 @ 10:17 AM

  78. Steve D, Cold winters? Uh, Dude. I’ve still got collard greens and leeks alive in my garden from last Summer–in Washington DC, right at 40 degrees North. Yes, it’s been chilly, but my dogs will tell you not cold enough to kill of last years ticks. Despite a good-sized La Nina, 2008 was the 8th warmest year since 1880! Saying warming has stopped requires either a special stupidity or a special mendacity or a combination thereof.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 5 Jan 2009 @ 10:45 AM

  79. “Steve D” you first say 2 years then 30 years; the answer depends on the exact measures and statistics. Neither is a good generalization.

    Steve, I notice this Arctic ice notion has been posted — by a lot of userids, in a lot of places around the Web, just this morning. Be careful where you get your information. I think there’s a bot posting this kind of stuff on the theory that seeing misinformation repeated many times convinces people it’s true. Regrettably that does work.

    Try here for Arctic sea ice references:

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 5 Jan 2009 @ 11:05 AM

  80. In line with #42, #55 and #67

    So we have not settled on future observations, which are so unlikely given that our models are correct, that we will have to rethink CO2 as a climate driver??

    If this is true I will be a laughing stock next time I meet my denialist friends. Please do not let that happen to me. I am to cute.

    Comment by Anders — 5 Jan 2009 @ 11:46 AM

  81. Steve D:

    My personal opinion, for what it is worth, is that man does contribute to GW but I do not believe we will see runaway warming (pace Mark Lynas’s 6 degrees). Another 30 years of trends to look at will show who is right.

    Yes it will, unfortunately, and by then we’ll have lost thirty precious years of inaction. You, or folks like you, are part of the problem: not foreseeing the consequences of an exponential growth process with major built-in delay loops, before it is well too late.

    You see, the 0.6 degree warming over pre-industrial that we see now is transient warming. Equilibrium warming — after we allow the oceans with their huge heat capacity to catch up — is about twice that.

    If we wait 30 years, those figures will double: transient 1.2 degrees, equilibrium 2.4.

    If at that point we were to stop emitting, temperature would stabilize thereabouts after a while. But obviously we cannot do that as it would amount to major capital destruction: power plants, real estate, infrastructure have depreciation times of 30-50 years.

    But if we go for depreciation-rate replacement by carbon-neutral alternatives, CO2 will continue to go up further, perhaps to 2×2.4 = 4.8 degrees. And that’s assuming we all play along, Russia, China, India, Australia… Lynas’ iconic number isn’t very far away then.

    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 5 Jan 2009 @ 12:08 PM

  82. “The trends for the past 20 years are pretty clear, and if they keep up there won’t be any moose in 50 years,” said John Vucetich, a population biologist at Michigan Technological University in Houghton.

    “As the climate warms, some creatures will do better, some worse. For moose, it’s fairly straightforward that we’ll lose them … and there are a lot of people who identify with moose,” Vucetich said.

    I think parasites are the main culprit (but parasite problems increase with warmer temperatures).

    Comment by Pat Neuman — 5 Jan 2009 @ 12:34 PM

  83. One aside — back to the original subject.

    Save some wrath for the headline writers and editors; it’s quite possible the science writer got it right (that this is a weather story) and was edited to error.
    (Has anyone invited the writer to drop by and say?)
    ReCaptcha: “Chedo Confesses”
    (I wonder if Chedo works at the Daily Telegraph …)

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 5 Jan 2009 @ 1:19 PM

  84. Anders, The misunderstanding the both you and your denialist friends seem to be operating under is that there is some simple proposed hypothesis that humans are behind the current warming trend. There isn’t. Rather, there is the entire body of climate science amassed over >150 years of study and confirmed by countless studies and observations, and the inevitable conclusion of this body of theory and evidence is that if you increase CO2, the atmosphere will warm. So, really, what would be necessary would be a theory of climate that better accounted for the evidence and which determined that CO2 sensitivity was in fact small (less than 1.5 degrees per doubling, say). Alternatively, if one came up with a strong negative feedback that kept temperatures from warming up from present levels, that could also alleviate concern. To date, however, there’s no evidence for either proposition. There is also no evidence that warming has stopped or even slowed down:

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 5 Jan 2009 @ 1:28 PM

  85. A few years back I did an analysis of the Hulme gridded precipitation data, which (in my work) accounted for ~45% of global land area outside Antarctica during 1901-1998. Won’t get into the details of the methods here (see ** below), but the paper’s ‘punch line’ was similarly significant wet regimes over Northern Europe and North America in recent decades. There was a highly significant incidence of wet years over a northern Europe grid region that includes the British Isles, with 7 of the 10 wettest years occurring during 1978-98. There was also a similarly significant incidence of wet years over a North American grid region during 1972-98, with 8 of the 10 wettest years of 1901-98 occurring during 1972-1998. I found significant wet and dry regimes over other land areas in the last decades of the 20th century, but the late century North American and northern European wet periods stood out as the most statistically significant during 1901-98. Didn’t attempt any kind of attribution study or discuss the possible impact on biota. etc., but did suggest that these two wet regimes were actually part of a single multi-decadal wet regime extending across the North Atlantic.

    ** Intra-to multi-decadal terrestrial precipitation regimes at the end of the 20th Century. Climatic Change. 78: 317-340. 2006.

    Comment by Steve Mauget — 5 Jan 2009 @ 1:41 PM

  86. Some recent articles link the level of toxic tannins in eucalyptus leaves to rising levels of greenhouse gases, thereby threatening the koala bear as a species

    All over the world there are increasing numbers of marine mammals being washed ashore. Are these a result of the ocean circulations changing abruptly and causing disorientation to sea life?

    In my garden here in England, the spring leaves on the elder trees sprouted about a month ago. The hummingbird hawkmoths are not native to these parts but are becoming a common sight as they migrate with the changing climate. The salticidae (jumping spiders) are also moving northwards, having for so long been fairly restricted to the southern parts. There is a myriad of changes now taking place and being observed by ordinary people – and the examples are merely indicative of what is being noticed.

    Once some of threads are pulled out from the fabric of nature, other sections of the intricate quilt come apart.

    Climate change is causing nature’s quilt to come part. It is a shame that so much of the human race cannot see it happening. For those that do see it, there is a heavy sadness.

    Comment by it is not ok — 5 Jan 2009 @ 3:18 PM

  87. Humans are dangerously deluded to think that by redefining perceptions we can change the underlying reality.

    We need a confident understanding of behavioral economics, marketing, political science, psychology, etc, – all required to decide on momentous change.

    Until now the consequences mis-perception and wrong action have been slight.

    The physical science of climate change is neither ruthless nor forgiving. It is totally uncaring of human emotions. And will unfold as it must.

    Comment by Richard Pauli — 5 Jan 2009 @ 4:43 PM

  88. Re #58 John,

    >“I am going to pick on a minor point. I am not sure if one can >really characterize the two sides as “willful obfuscation” and >“naive exaggeration”. In reality, there is no basis to >distinguish between the two.”

    >Actually, these are (usually) quite different. From how to learn >about science:

    Well, in practice they might be different but a priori, there is no difference. Thinking only as a scientist (if that is possible at all) both are equally bad and I don’t see any reason (from a science standpoint) to fear one more than the other.

    Your sequence S1 to S3 can actually be used to construct both, obfuscations and exaggerations in both sides of the debate. What struck me was that the phrasing of the post seemed to imply that when environmentalists exaggerate a claim, they must be given the benefit of naivete. I don’t see the relevance (for the understanding of the science) of the argument (which you didn’t make) that, since environmentalists don’t make money out of the exaggerations, they must be acting out of naivete and therefore forgiven.

    Comment by Roberto — 5 Jan 2009 @ 4:44 PM

  89. Re: Nature’s quilt unraveling

    All the suggested possibilities for observable consequences of global warming’s impact are suggestive, and merit close investigation.

    BUT: as I said in #4, it’s a mistake to report speculation as though it were established science. For example, there seems to be a trend in “chill hours” compared to freezing hours which affects fruit trees, and that is “real world data with real world impact.” But is it statistically significant? Is it a trend or a fluctuation? I followed the given link and was only able to find about 7 years of data — an extremely paltry sample for such a phenomenon. I am NOT saying that the phenomenon fails statistical significance, or that it’s not a direct result of global warming, just that *I* haven’t yet seen any hard evidence of that.

    I certainly agree that someone who makes his living from the fruit of trees, and therefore has paid careful attention to this for a long time (many decades?) is far better qualified to opine on the subject than I am. I also agree that from such an expert, even anecdotal evidence is valuable, surely highly suggestive. But it is no substitute for proper statistical analysis of data. While I consider the testimony of those who have experienced such changes as sufficient to justify careful study, I do not regard such testimony as a proper substitute for scientific study.

    Likewise, I read here claims that “there won’t be any moose in 50 years” and “there are increasing numbers of marine mammals being washed ashore” and “hummingbird hawkmoths are not native to these parts but are becoming a common sight as they migrate with the changing climate.” Are any of these results statistically sound? Frankly I don’t trust results even if they’re from the peer-reviewed literature until I’ve reviewed the data and analysis myself (I don’t distrust them, but I don’t trust them either) or unless they come from a source I regard as nearly unimpeachable. I’ve seen too many instances of unanticipated subtleties or even sloppy work in scientific research. And when the references are to the New York Times or Washington Post or somebody’s blog, not only is the credibility of the reference vastly lower, I don’t even have the opportunity to review the data or analysis.

    I repeat, I am not saying that any of these claims are false, just that I haven’t yet seen the evidence and haven’t yet heard it from sources I consider unimpeachable.

    Therefore, while I think it’s important (maybe even crucial) to expose all such evidence to public scrutiny, and to speculate on the possible or probable root cause (global warming), I think it’s even more important to emphasize the difference between speculation and established science. Only such a practice can prevent the kind of embarrassment, when claims go sour, which impedes public acceptance of the necessity to address the global warming problem. And without such rigor, it’s far too easy, nay inevitable, that the public is flooded with ridiculous denialist claims like “global warming stopped in 1998″ when in fact rigorous analysis shows its folly. A lack of rigorous and correct distinction between proper analysis, speculation, hyperbole, and outright mendacity, is a hallmark of denialists.

    Comment by tamino — 5 Jan 2009 @ 4:53 PM

  90. The postings on RealClimate are usually thoughtful and insightful, but I’m afraid this one was a bit misguided. While ‘The Independent’ has been guilty of occasionally exaggerating evidence about climate change, in this case its primary failing was uncritically reporting the source of the story, namely the UK’s National Trust:

    I think it would have been far more constructive if RC had leveled its criticisms primarily at the National Trust, rather than The Independent. The National Trust is a reputable organization, which makes the shortcomings all the more serious.

    Likewise, I am willing to bet that the opening paragraph of the article from The Daily Telegraph was probably re-written by an uninformed sub, rather than by the journalist, so the criticism of him may also be somewhat unfair.

    Journalists are guilty of many things, but not nearly as many as researchers tend to think. It would be helpful if RC could promote informed insight into how the media operates, rather than falling into all the usual trap of assuming that journalists are always at fault.

    If you want to find a legitimate journalistic target for criticism, then I would suggest Christopher Booker, who writes a column each week for ‘The Sunday Telegraph’, which is the UK’s second largest circulation Sunday national ‘quality’ newspaper: (see, for instance:

    Booker is to climate change what Neville Hodgkinson was to AIDS (see:

    [Response: Bob. Fair enough in a way, but it would be taking several steps back to seek out the disinformation that may or may not have come from the National Trust. I don't have the time or energy (or indeed, the desire) to do that. After all, the National Trust does not, in general, claim to be an expert organization on climate change! In any case, I was critiquing the way things are reported, and so it is the reporter who (in this case) deserves the critique.--eric]

    Comment by Bob Ward — 6 Jan 2009 @ 9:23 AM

  91. Re #30:

    Steve, don’t give up so easily…simply point Gavin et al. the Al Gore’s (he certainly is an environmental organization) New York Times Opinion Piece from July 1, 2007. In it he repeatedly talks about how adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere is going to “destroy…the conditions that have made it hospitable for human beings” and that “If we don’t stop doing this pretty quickly, the average temperature will increase to levels humans have never known and put an end to the favorable climate balance on which our civilization depends.”

    He then goes on to discuss the runaway greenhouse effect on Venus as if it has some relevency (RC readers will recall that it does not).

    Clearly, Gore’s editorial is a “willful deception” if there ever was one. The idea is to scare us in to doing what he feels that we should do.

    Eric commented in #9 that “ basically comes down to the idea that those who would like to make anthropogenic climate change sound serious have little need to distort the facts.”

    Apparently, Mr. Gore doesn’t see it that way (just flip through the book version of “An Inconvenient Truth” for as many examples as you care to find).

    -Chip Knappenberger
    supported, to some degree, by the fossil fuels industry since 1992

    [Response: Chip, I will certainly grant you more expertise in willful deception than I possess. But your implication that any mention of Venus is a distortion cannot stand. Gore's point is that carbon dioxide is powerful thing, and since plenty of people are happy to assert without evidence that it is not, pointing out that Venus is warm because of carbon dioxide is perfectly valid. Like I advised Steve, try again. (I note that the fact you have to try and wring out possible misconceptions out of this thin gruel is quite telling). Meanwhile on the other end, plenty of evidence for ongoing willful distortion (and simple making stuff up).... - gavin]

    Comment by Chip Knappenberger — 6 Jan 2009 @ 1:39 PM

  92. 30 Steve noted that:

    Merriam-Webster: smear 3: a usually unsubstantiated charge or accusation against a person or organization

    Since my charge was substantiated, I do not think it is properly characterized as a ’smear’.

    Steve, the word “usually” means that the facts are sometimes correct. “Smear” is about intent and abuse. For example, if I were to say you can’t comprehend simple definitions, it would be a smear even though I just gave substantiated evidence.

    Comment by RichardC — 6 Jan 2009 @ 3:11 PM

  93. hey snap. i just came on line to show the awfulness of the telegraph to someone who said its only the sunday mag that is bad. i couldnt believe that article. ‘science’ correspondent? shouldnt be allowed.

    Comment by gerda — 6 Jan 2009 @ 3:17 PM

  94. Re 91:


    “Chip, I will certainly grant you more expertise in willful deception than I possess.”

    I would contend that we both have well-honed “willful deception” detectors, and would like to think that we do our best to try to keep it out of our own writings and thinkings–and while we can try to do our best to educate those around us, we don’t hold their hand to the paper. And, as you know, there can be several valid interpretations of a set of observations, especially in complex systems. I am sure we do our best to steer folks away from the invalid ones. Perhaps in many cases, you and I may differ in our support of the potential valid ones.

    The main point I was making the NYT piece was the one about Gore’s repeated contention that the planet is going to become unsuitable for human civilization because of our use of fossil fuels. I haven’t seen take spelled out in the literature anywhere. In fact, I would contend that we have made the planet more habitable/suitable primarily by our technological advances (primarily made possible through fossil fuel use). I would imagine that 6.3 heading to 9 billion people is pushing the carrying capacity of the earth for humans not relying on fossil fuels.

    Gore throws in the point about Venus, inapropriately, in order to try to convince the unwary that it we keep things up, we will end up like that.

    I think you well know that discussions about the conditions on Venus have no part in discussions about efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions on earth. And I have seen no prominent person, other than Gore, drop such a hint. As you all at RC have already pointed out, the earth is not headed there.


    [Response: You appear to be setting up a litmus test that can be trumpeted from the rooftops every time someone says Venus in whatever context. There are more ignoramuses declaring that CO2 is saturated and can't possibly contribute to more warming than I can point a stick at. Venus is the obvious counterexample to that and I reserve the right to bring it up whenever appropriate (and Gore can too). You are imagining words and statements that weren't made in order to add to a store of untrue memes, and that just isn't kosher. How about making a new year's resolution not to misrepresent people's statements? Is Gore concerned about where the planet is heading? Of course. But to equate warnings of potential and serious trouble with a runaway Venusian atmosphere just because Venus mentioned further up the text is hyperbole. You can do better than this. Dare I say it's on a par with equating an overhead projector with a planetarium ;) - gavin]

    Comment by Chip Knappenberger — 6 Jan 2009 @ 3:52 PM

  95. Gavin,

    I have already been queried and tried to set someone straight about Ambler’s notion that the CO2 bands are saturated, if that in any consolation to you.

    And yes, I agree that equating the greenhouse effect on Venus with that of Earth is like equating an overhead projector with a planetarium projector (or vice versa)! :^)


    Comment by Chip Knappenberger — 6 Jan 2009 @ 5:43 PM

  96. Re 31
    I don’t know what you are getting at but in England every source has said that summers will get hotter and dryer. There is an anticyclonic system over the Azores which tends to move north in relation to NH temperatures.
    For the last 10 years summers have been generally unsetted. The last 2 are extreme examples but there has been no sign of the summer climate the models predicted.
    My point is that for a specific region the models have been wrong. There are obviously there are things happening the models have not factored in. Their predictions for future precipitation need some work.

    [Response: No climate model predicted anything for two specific years. Their projections cannot be tested over such a short time period. What I imagine (because I haven't looked in detail) they did project is that in the long term (decades and longer), average summers will be hotter and drier. You could presumably analyse them further and come up with a timescale for which this signal comes out of the noise of interannual weather. I haven't done it, but I will guarantee it is longer than a couple of years. - gavin]

    Comment by dave p — 6 Jan 2009 @ 6:44 PM

  97. Thanks Eric, good article. It never hurts to be reminded that no group in society has a monopoly on the less-than-accurate portrayal of scientific research results, regardless of motive or political orientation. Of course the outing of those distortions by those capable of seeing them as such should reflect the amount and severity emanating from the various camps, so that the innocent bystander (Joe public) has some chance of assessing the relative BS factors of the groups/individuals responsible.

    Scientists have the task of determining cause and effect relationships in complex systems, often with limited ability to perform the manipulative experiments that would lead to “strong inference” (cf Platt, 1964). This presents many difficulties and usually results in qualified or probabilistic conclusions, the uncertainty of which often does not fit well with those who want a black and white confirmation of their beliefs and/or support of their positions.

    The public needs to understand that attribution of observed ecological (or any other) effects involves a hierarchical attribution chain (e.g. delta climate forcing–> delta global temperature parameters—> delta other climatic variables —> delta ecological effect #1—> delta ecol. effects #2, #3…#n. Each step in this chain has to have solid evidence behind it to arrive at the stated conclusion (delta climate forcing—> delta particular ecological effect x). This challenge is further complicated by the degree of complexity of the system and the spatial and temporal scales at which the putative cause and effect relationships are proclaimed, by whomever, to exist.

    Ain’t nearly as simple and straightforward as many want it to be to support their “agendas”.

    Comment by Jim Bouldin — 6 Jan 2009 @ 7:08 PM

  98. Hope this is the place to post this, Gavin.

    There is a real need for climate scientists to stop, or at least constructively chastise, journalists who exagarate GW. I see it all the time, and constantly I am told “There are only two/four/ten years @to save the world’”. And sometimes I was told it was three years – but that was five years ago and I’m still here.

    Climate exagerators are as much of a menace as deniers, in my mind.

    Comment by Theo Hopkins — 6 Jan 2009 @ 7:25 PM

  99. “Climate exagerators are as much of a menace as deniers, in my mind. …” – Theo Hopkins

    To prove you are not a menace, link a story from 5 years ago that claimed life on earth was going to end in 3 years.

    Comment by JCH — 6 Jan 2009 @ 8:02 PM

  100. They have been in decline for a long time (mostly due to land use change and pesticides) and there is little doubt that climate change will continue to add insult to injury.

    Do you mean a warmer, wetter climate? How will this be bad for insects?

    Comment by nanny_govt_sucks — 6 Jan 2009 @ 11:59 PM


    Comment by Hank Roberts — 7 Jan 2009 @ 12:52 AM

    “… warming in the tropics, although relatively small in magnitude, is likely to have the most deleterious consequences because tropical insects are relatively sensitive to temperature change and are currently living very close to their optimal temperature. … the greatest extinction risks from global warming may be in the tropics, where biological diversity is also greatest.”

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 7 Jan 2009 @ 12:59 AM

  103. Tamino (#89):

    Excellent post.

    Comment by Jim Bouldin — 7 Jan 2009 @ 1:52 AM

  104. Ray #84

    Thank you for your answer. If I understand you correct, we are waiting for an appropriate amount of years to pass, which be observation will clarify wether a dobling in CO2 pressure will affect temp by 1.5 deg C. Considering the period of 20 years starting in 2001 and ending in 2021. If CO2 pressure emissions are unschanged, how much must temp rise for us to be able to say that CO2 affected temp as we predicted it to. And how must temp evolve for us to say that CO2 did not affect temp as we predicted.

    By the way:
    your comment
    “There is also no evidence that warming has stopped or even slowed down”

    Got me a little puzzled. Since there has been no increase in temp during the last 8 years ofcourse warming has stopped. That rising CO2 levels are preventing it from dropping and that warming will start againg might be likely scenarios, but we dont know that. Thats a guess. Saying that warming has not stopped makes is free of sense.

    Also, I do not agree with the argument that you can attribute effects to a certain factor, just because you have not found a better candidate. That argument is prehistoric.

    To be honest I am quite surprised that we are so confident that CO2 dobling impacts temp by at least 1.5 deg C. But we cannot set up a future observation that would make us have less confidence in our belief.

    Comment by Anders — 7 Jan 2009 @ 1:56 AM

  105. The semantic issue of weather vs. climate seems to be a FAQ. And it seems that there is some inconsistency in the original posting between “… 2008 was a hard year for UK insects and insectivores. But this is weather we’re talking about, not climate.” and “Weather prediction is based on observations just a few days in advance”.

    It seems possible to have a local agreement here at RealClimate to include the cumulative feature of weather during a whole year in “weather” (even though its prediction is not based on observations just a few days in advance). But, as Thomas (#10) says, it is what the Climate Prediction Center of NOAA NCEP (USA) and its counterparts in other countries are expected to predict.

    As I remember (though my memory is not very sure), the activity to predict the state of near-surface atmosphere in the time range between a month and a year was usually called “long-range weather forecast” in 1970s. By 1990, it became “climate prediction”.

    (Japan Meteorological Agency often avoids both terms by calling the activity just “seasonal forecast”. It’s no problem because no one expects JMA to do a seasonal economic forecast….)

    The 1980s saw a transition (maybe called a paradigm change). The notion of the climate system became well known by the book “Understanding Climate Change” by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 1975. Global Atmospheric Research Program was changed over to World Climate Research Program in 1980. A big El Nino event of 1982-83 (the biggest of the century before 1997) promoted the studies of tropical ocean and global atmosphere. It became obvious that the ocean (at least the upper part of the tropical ocean) is essential in the predition of the atmospheric situation several months ahead. Thus, “climate” (here meaning the climate system, not 30-year average weather) seems to be a better term than “weather” to describe the activity of prediction in this time range.

    So I think that the usage of “climate prediction” by CPC is as legitimate as that of “climate change projection” in the context of IPCC. Both are based on the concept of the climate system (a coupled ocean-atmosphere-land sytem), though how deep we must dive into the ocean is different.

    But this situation is confusing enough. Can we invent a new technical term to fill the gap? Unfortunately, even where there is such an intermediate term as “tenko” in Japanese or “Grosswetter” in German, it is often overwhelmed by direct translation of “climate” from English. (e.g. I see “Klima actuell” at the web page of DWD.) Perhaps a viable intermediate term should be based on “climate” rather than “weather”. I tentatively suggest “seasonal-climate” (with hyphenation).

    Comment by Kooiti Masuda — 7 Jan 2009 @ 6:23 AM

  106. Anders #104, did you look at my link to Tamino’s Open Mind post on the subject? This makes it clear that even looking at a simple average over any reasonable period (e.g. 10 yr avg, 5 year avg), warming is still occurring. I even looked at 3 year averages, and there the only point where there was a decrease was the last–and that by a tiny amount. Please go look at the link

    Anybody who claims warming has stopped is either ignorant or mendacious.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 7 Jan 2009 @ 8:30 AM

  107. “Get rid of this denialist/alarmist silliness (mostly it’s preaching to the choir anyway and it becomes a boorish habit). I have a bright 15 year old grand daughter who spent an hour or so reading a climate blog as an assignment; she walked away muttering that no sane person would bother with any of that stuff, “…they’re supposed to be experts”, she said, “ but they’re just another bunch of politicians”. She told me she read more name calling than science. Maybe she picked a bad blog, or a few bad comments on a good blog. But it may also be the last science blog she reads.” – RW

    You expect us to take this seriously, but you don’t identify the blog? It sounds like you don’t even know what it was yourself. If you meant to exemplify journalistic laziness, you’ve succeeded.

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 7 Jan 2009 @ 9:45 AM

  108. Sorry Eric, I really do think it is important not to shoot the messenger so readily when it comes to reporting. If a reputable organisation publishes something that is false or wrong and it is reported in good faith by a journalist, I think it is unfair to blame the journalist rather than the source. I think this particularly applies to research where it is practically impossible for reporters to check for all flaws and errors before deciding whether to cover it. In this case, the information had clearly not been subject to peer review, which maybe should have caused the journalist to treat it with care. But then, peer review is not always an indicator of credibility or accuracy, and not all credible and accurate information about climate change is subject to conventional peer review (eg postings on RC!).

    I am willing to bet that a fair number of problems with reporting that are complained about actually arise from the source rather than the journalist. My challenge to RC fans is that the next time they see a story that they think is problematic, they spend a few moments to try to track down the source and work out if it is the fault of the journalist – in this case the National Trust was clearly mentioned near the beginning of the story and it took less than 30 seconds to find the source on its website – I suspect that is rather less time than it took to write the initial posting on RC.

    Perhaps Andy Revkin might care to comment, if he looks in again on this posting? Or any other journalists?

    [Response: Bob, thanks for commenting. We have often fingered the press release as being one of the problematic steps in communicating scientific research (here or here for instance). However, like the poor, poor press releases will also be with us. Clearly journalists are not just passive conduits of PR to the masses, and so must be expected to critically look at releases that they get. Sometimes the problems are subtle - and journalists don't always have the context and background to see where something is overstated - but I'm not sure that was the case here. There was plenty of information in the release of interest to many people, so covering the story is a no-brainer. But the press release does indeed make some fundamental errors and badly conflates weather with climate, but you can't give the journalist a free pass just because they're busy. - gavin]

    Comment by Bob Ward — 7 Jan 2009 @ 9:56 AM

  109. Anders, I think one of the sources of your puzzlement over the idea that the “warming has (not) stopped” is semantic. It sounds as if you are thinking in terms purely of what we might call the “realized record”–since we have a history, we can consider objective facts without much uncertainty, and we can look at the temps and make a straightforward judgement that year x is or is not warmer than year y. (This seems logical at first glance, but note Ray’s analysis.) Most of us, however, are really more interested in the future than in the past–when we talk about warming we want to know whether or not it is dangerous–and this brings us to the second meaning.

    In this sense of “the warming has (not) stopped”, people mean that the physical process of warming is (or is not) ongoing regardless of the natural short-term variability of the system. Temperatures may not rise during period x due to any number of short-term factors, but the behavior of the GHGs in the atmosphere doesn’t change, which means the warming continues, although it may be “masked” at times by natural cooling (or even anthropogenic cooling, as in the case of aerosol pollution.)

    There has been a lot of confusion on this score, some of it almost certainly intentionally promoted. Consider the too-often expressed idea that this or that cool snap has “wiped out” x years of GW. This implicitly says that you can draw meaningful conclusions based on two points in a time series. Not so!

    To get an intuitive sense of why not, ask yourself what qualifications a time point should have in order to be the “right choice” to begin or end a comparison. Should it be a record year, or at least a notable one? Well, it doesn’t seem right to pick the least typical data points somehow, so what about the most typical points, then? Well, then we fail to capture the variability of the data. (Besides, we just smuggled extra data points in the back door via the “most typical” descriptor.) Is there even any good reason to privilege the present (or most recent) data point over any other? I don’t think it is clear that there is, when you really think about it!

    Moral of the story: use good statistical methods to compare, and shun these seemingly intuitive point-to-point comparisons–being aware that they can creep into our thought processes without our explicit invitation! After all, that’s why statistical tools were invented. We need them, in order to bring consistency and clarity to our intuitions about process and probablility.

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 7 Jan 2009 @ 10:04 AM

  110. Chip Knappenberger wrote: “The main point I was making the NYT piece was the one about Gore’s repeated contention that the planet is going to become unsuitable for human civilization because of our use of fossil fuels.”

    There is absolutely nothing about that contention that is inconsistent with climate science, let alone “misleading”.

    Given the primary effects of anthropogenic global warming, plus the self-reinforcing feedbacks (albedo changes, methane release, etc.) caused by that warming, plus the effects of that warming on the biosphere, plus the acidification of the oceans, it is entirely possible and indeed probable that continued “business as usual” use of fossil fuels with the resulting accelerating increase in anthropogenic CO2 emissions could make the Earth inhospitable to human civilization.

    Chip Knappenberger wrote: “I would contend that we have made the planet more habitable/suitable primarily by our technological advances (primarily made possible through fossil fuel use).”

    I would contend that your contention is ludicrous. No “technological advance” achieved by humans has ever enhanced the capacity of the Earth to support life — technology has only enabled humans to usurp more and more and more of the Earth’s biological productivity and vitality to human uses, often with destructive effects that eventually prove inimical even to human well-being. And fossil fuel use has inarguably and demonstrably degraded the capacity of the Earth to support life, and continues to do so, with detrimental impacts on humans already apparent to anyone who can see clearly.

    The simple fact is that we are technologically and economically capable of moving beyond fossil fuels now, to a post-carbon energy economy based on harvesting limitless, abundant, ubiquitous, FREE wind and solar energy. The only obstacle to making that transition is the entrenched political and economic power of the fossil fuel corporations who don’t want to lose the trillions of dollars in profit they can expect to reap from a few decades more “business as usual” fossil fuel consumption. It’s not a question of “fossil fuels vs. starving in the cold and dark”. It’s a question of breaking the death-grip of an obsolete and destructive technology and moving on to the New Industrial Revolution of the 21st Century.

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 7 Jan 2009 @ 10:28 AM

  111. Re: #104 (Anders)

    If you study temperature data, you’ll find that its shows two kinds of change: trend and noise. “Noise” refers to that part that is essentially random, it’s the constant up-and-down “jitter” in temperature data. I’m not talking about measurement error (although there’s that too), I’m referring to jitter in the actual physical phenomenon. Noise definitely exists in temperature data (and in fact in almost all data), anyone who tells you different is selling something.

    Over the last 30+ years global temperature has shown an upward trend, but of course it has also shown noise. Climate is the trend; the jitter is weather. If we want to separate climate from weather, we have to separate the signal from the noise.

    When you do so, you find that the “hasn’t risen in x years” we hear all the time, is really just data noise. The signal is inexorably rising. It’s counterintuitive to most people that this can be the case, but it’s really easy to show that if you take an artificially constructed signal which is forever rising at a constant rate, and add noise which looks just like the noise we observe in global temperature, the result looks just like the temperature record for the last 30 years. Including the last 8 years. This is illustrated in this post.

    Probably the simplest way to reduce the noise is to compute simple averages over a long enough time span that the noise is reduced enough to let the signal emerge visibly. One-year averages aren’t long enough to do that. Five-year averages are better, and they look like this. Ten-year averages are better yet, and they look like this.

    “Global Warming” refers to the trend in temperature, not the noise. There’s no statistically valid evidence whatsoever (despite what you’ll hear from misinformants) that global warming has stopped, or even slowed down.

    Comment by tamino — 7 Jan 2009 @ 10:55 AM

  112. Bob Ward said: “I am willing to bet that a fair number of problems with reporting that are complained about actually arise from the source rather than the journalist.”

    OK, right here in this sentence, I see a big problem for the journalist, and that is the fact that “source” is singular. Any investigative reporter who went with a single source would be violating a cardinal rule. Why should it be OK to take a PR blurb from a single source and run with that? Look, I understand about deadlines, but is it too much to ask that a science reporter cultivate some relationships with trusted scientists and ask them for comment before rushing to print?

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 7 Jan 2009 @ 10:58 AM

  113. I’d like to speak to the teacher behind this problem:

    > reading a climate blog as an assignment; she walked away muttering > “…they’re supposed to be experts”,

    Please find out which of the people writing on the blog were “supposed to be experts” and who “supposed” that. Was it the child? If so why did the child rely on the teacher for this? Did the teacher suggest the child check whether the writers were experts? If so, how? Did the teacher have any prior familiarity with the particular text assigned? Did the teacher just say “find a climate blog for yourself and read it” perhaps?

    Could the teacher tell a troll from a scientist by what’s read on a blog screen? If so, how?

    What is being taught here, except despair and hopelessness?
    Who is the teacher relying on for good information?

    And do you have a PTA or a school board you can report this to?

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 7 Jan 2009 @ 11:18 AM

  114. I think Bob Ward (108) picks up on a very important point that many here should note: Much of what the mass media picks up doesn’t come directly from the scientific journals or scientists themselves but is filtered through issue advocacy groups such as the National Trust, Sierra Club, NRDC, or, on the other side, similar conservative, issue advocacy organizations. These groups often take out many of the caveats that may appear in the original papers and emphasis the whatever points best support the issue they are advocating. Further, they issue numerous press releases to get the broadest possible coverage. Journalists are more than willing to use these groups as their source of information rather than digging deeper and talking directly to the scientists that did the original research.

    Kevin Mckinney in #109 also (and finally) makes the important point that climate scientist here and at other blogs are using the term “Warming” more or less as a noun that describes the overall process of increasing GHGs and landuse change leading to higher temperatures whereas those that say warming has stopped for the last x years are using it in its layman sense of an active verb that describes what is happening with temperatures here and now. Since there has been no statistically significant increase (or decrease)in the estimated global mean temperature over the past 7 or 8 years, they are technically correct in the smaller sense even it is not right in the big sense. A lot of the very long-winded arguments I see about this point really come down to how the word is being used.

    Comment by Bob North — 7 Jan 2009 @ 11:29 AM

  115. Gavin, I agree with what you say – the journalists don’t have enough time these days to properly investigate sources. This is spelled out very clearly in the recent book ‘Flat Earth News’ by Nick Davies, which I highly recommend to all RC devotees.

    However, I think science and environment reporters need greater support, rather than scorn, from the research community, if we are going to bring about any improvement. The reporters get a hard enough time from their editors, without also dealing with attacks from researchers who only speak up when they want to complain.

    As I suspected, the very poor report in the Telegraph that was flagged up in the original posting is actually a pretty faithful reproduction of a very poor press release issued by the University of Birmingham, the host institution of the researchers whose Science paper provided the hook for the story:

    I would also add that the science correspondent at the Telegraph has only just taken on the science brief in the last few months, having previously been a general reporter at the newspaper, so he may not have appreciated just how poor the press release was.

    [Response: Yes of course. I don't think anyone is thinking that this was done on purpose. But where do we go from here? We've been exhorting (you as well of course) that environmenal journalists learn to cultivate a bbackground network of reliable sources who they can go to for context - we try and provide such context here as well, and we've tried to help scientists better nip-in-the-bud potential issues in press releases that will likely lead to miscomunications. But we can't mandate that everyone be correct in what they say at all times, and so the natural journalist skill - that should have been honed on a news desk - to look behind the press releases should be encouraged as well. - gavin]

    Comment by Bob Ward — 7 Jan 2009 @ 12:33 PM

  116. Certainly any errors in a press release on which a news story is based, are the fault of those who issued the press releas. But if that misinformation is repeated in a news story, the responsibility lies with: the journalists.

    I remember when the three most important words in journalism were: accuracy, accuracy, and accuracy. It’s a reporter’s job to get the truth, not his sources’, and it’s especially a reporter’s job to know enough about how information (and misinformation) is disseminated to know better than to rely on a single source of unknown credibility.

    I couldn’t care less if “the science correspondent at the Telegraph has only just taken on the science brief in the last few months,” in his time as “a general reporter at the newspaper” he should have learned just how poor press releases can be, and he should have known a helluva lot better than to rely on a single press release on a topic about which he’s clearly not savvy.

    I repeat: accurate and correct news is the journalist’s job, and failure is the journalist’s responsibility. There’s way too much “slack” given for sloppy reporting and way too much “but it was a bad press release” abdication of responsibility; the title of this post is hauntingly appropriate. Oh for the days of Harry Truman, when people actually appreciated the virtue of “the buck stops here.”

    Comment by tamino — 7 Jan 2009 @ 1:19 PM

  117. Bob N., thanks for the tip of the hat. Whether “technically correct” or not, the “verbish” usage of “warming”–I call it that since “global,” like all adjectives, isn’t really supposed to modify a verb–is problematic. It is too easy to conflate the usages, promoting the very confusion you describe.

    I feel reasonably sure that some whom I have encountered in the media are, regrettably, employing this ambiguity quite intentionally in order to mislead or confuse the naive. (I am not speaking of professional journalists here, for the most part, but rather some bloggers and columnists.) Disambiguating the two usages should help a bit–as would the statistical literacy so ably promoted by Tamino.

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 7 Jan 2009 @ 1:30 PM

  118. Gavin, a thought about how to encourage herewith.
    Yes, I wish it were better. It’s not. Bob Ward is telling you the cold hard truth. We all wish news writers scrutinized PR.

    Run many a news story through a plagiarism detection site, or Google pithy phrases — and you find much of the “news” is copypaste PR. Word for word.

    This was a surprise to many of us. Thankew Google.

    A suggestion — you still have a “Journalist” login area here somewhere? If not, if this would work, revive it? Either by you or as a pointer to help you know is good?

    Announce — Press Releases Critiqued ——

    Sign up some people to try to cover that, on specific advance request, with some clear ground rule about how much homework help they get. Like
    – they have to identify themselves
    – they have to identify the PR provider
    – they have to provide full text of the PR
    – they agree the critique is left available for the next news writer who logs in looking for the same help
    – what happens in that area stays there unless attribution to a RC author is authorized
    – any amateur help is identified as such, there are some talented amateurs who could maybe help but who aren’t scientists.

    Maybe instead call on help from someone with expertise like DeSmogBlog or direct people there if they could do it, but with some oversight to avoid even the semblance of PR versus PR.

    Maybe invite some of the university science writing people to get involved.

    Maybe set out a tip jar to hire a competent reference librarian who could set up shop with a link on all the climate blogger sites and take questions (sigh).

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 7 Jan 2009 @ 1:47 PM

  119. Anders, 104, why 8 years? Surely 10 is the closest year that makes sense to pluck from the air.

    So do you maths voodoo on the 10 years temperatures and tell us if it’s cooling or not.

    Comment by Mark — 7 Jan 2009 @ 1:58 PM

  120. 94 Chip said, “I would contend that we have made the planet more habitable/suitable primarily by our technological advances (primarily made possible through fossil fuel use). I would imagine that 6.3 heading to 9 billion people is pushing the carrying capacity of the earth for humans not relying on fossil fuels.”

    That’s like saying that if one spends his savings and goes into debt, he’s wealthier. Using fossil fuels for agricultural use temporarily boosts productivity, but in the long term it degrades carrying capacity. The hope is that another source of fertilizer and power can be developed in time to prevent the otherwise inevitable crash when the bill comes due. As you said, 9 billion people is difficult to support without seriously dipping into the carbon bank account.

    Comment by RichardC — 7 Jan 2009 @ 2:28 PM

  121. RichardC, #120. Worse than that, it has been shown definitively that the increase in productivity by using oil-based fertilisers and all the modern gizmos only last a few years. After that, the benefits disappear slowly and you need MORE of the petrochemicals to keep up.

    It was shown.

    They stopped modern techniques in an african plantation and moved to local production methods with some assist from what is known to be able to work in that area from modern science. The productivity went UP from the earlier petro-based production methods. And, since they didn’t use foreign supplied petrochemicals, their costs were lower.

    Comment by Mark — 7 Jan 2009 @ 2:41 PM

  122. PS, I agree with both Gavin and Tamino about what should be.

    But what is, is. The PR departments apparently never heard of the requirement to check facts and present all relevant information. I’d bet university PR offices hire and write using the same criteria they’d use working in an industry or religion or mass marketing firm — and I’d love to be proved wrong on that.

    Do they have an ethics code in that business? If so does it say anything should be done differently writing about science?

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 7 Jan 2009 @ 3:15 PM

  123. Mark, for Anders, instead of suggesting a change from 8 to 10, I think that’s not the best help possible and may prolong confusion.

    Repeating my suggestion from another thread, suggest reading Bob Grumbine as well as Tamino’s postings on how to identify trends:

    In brief (in a journal paper, this would be the ‘abstract’):

    * You need 20-30 years of data to define a climate trend in global mean temperature
    * Forward and backward trends are markedly different
    * Therefore, to discuss climate trends in global mean temperature, you need to use 20-30 years of data centered on the date of interest.

    As with any abstract, it’s too brief to show you why any of these are true, just some simple declarations. Now, …. let’s take a look at the whys.

    —-end excerpt ———-

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 7 Jan 2009 @ 3:51 PM

  124. Anders: Tamino’s “You Bet” post describes IMO a really great crucial test of the continued warming vs. no warming (or cooling) hypotheses. Type “You Bet” into Tamino’s search box and go through a couple of pages of results until you find it. Sorry if this is redundant; I haven’t read all the responses in this thread.

    Comment by kevin — 7 Jan 2009 @ 4:10 PM

  125. Chip wrote: “I would imagine that 6.3 heading to 9 billion people is pushing the carrying capacity of the earth for humans not relying on fossil fuels.”

    RichardC wrote: “As you said, 9 billion people is difficult to support without seriously dipping into the carbon bank account.”

    Aside from the question of whether 9 billion humans can be sustained with or without fossil fuels, without degrading, depleting and impoverishing the Earth’s biosphere, who says it is even desirable to have 9 billion humans living on the Earth?

    Maybe it is better, even in the narrow terms of human happiness and well-being, to have only a billion or two billion humans living on the Earth, in which case our challenge is find a way to peacefully and humanely reduce the human population, rather than to find more aggressive ways of exploiting the rest of the biosphere to support an endlessly growing human population. Is the “optimum” situation really to convert all of the Earth’s biomass to human flesh, and live on a diet of Soylent Green?

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 7 Jan 2009 @ 4:10 PM

  126. Re: #124 (kevin)

    The “you bet!” post can be found here.

    Comment by tamino — 7 Jan 2009 @ 5:19 PM

  127. Re. Bob Ward’s comments at #90, #108 and #115:

    1) With regard to article by Michael McCarthy of The Independent, as others here have pointed out, I don’t think it is right for an environment correspondent to uncritically report on a claim about science made by a non-scientific body, and most especially it is wrong to do so when that body is a lobby group (which the National Trust is, albeit they are fairly well respected one). I think the journalist should certainly have contacted either his own climate scientist contacts, if he had any, to verify the story’s veracity, or if he had no contacts with the relevant expertise (unlikely in this instance), he could have contacted the Royal Society and asked them to put him in touch with someone appropriate. To me this is one of the basic rules of journalism, that one should always verify stories and put them into context, and especially when they come from lobby groups; and I don’t think lack of time is really an excuse.

    Reporting uncritically on the press releases of lobby groups (from either side of the “debate”) has been in my opinion one of the great failings of the media’s coverage of climate change (and of science in general), as it leads to the public being fed a constant diet of first one extreme non-scientific point of view and then the opposite extreme, with mainstream science rarely getting a look in.

    Even when the source is a scientist rather than a lobby group, lack of context in media reporting is a major problem – for instance, one minute red wine in moderation is claimed to be good for you, the next minute it’s claimed to be bad for you, with no context being provided in either report, and the public ends up with the strong impression that the entire scientific community is simply incompetent. But when the source is a non-scientific body, and especially when it is a lobby group, there is an especially strong duty for the journalist to verify its veracity, and to provide context.

    2) With respect to your suggestion that Chris Booker is a better target for criticism than Michael McCarthy, I think it is right that RealClimate should criticise misleading articles from both sides of the “debate”, and many would say that RC already reserves too high a proportion of its criticism for the Chris Bookers of this world (even if they haven’t yet covered Booker himself), and too little to the many press articles that support greenhouse warming theory but go way beyond what the science can justify.

    3) With respect to The Telegraph’s article, while the press release may have been poor, I can see nothing in it that claims or even gives the impression that high levels of CO2 caused an ice age. On the contrary, the press release states: “in a very severe ice age, even plenty of greenhouse gas cannot stop the world being covered in reflective ice and snow.” (Emphasis added).

    By contrast, not only does the Telegraph’s headline explicitly state that the ice age was caused by high levels of CO2, but the body of the article also strongly implies this, e.g. in the sentence: “Such glaciation could happen again if global warming is not curbed, the university’s school of geography, earth and environmental sciences warned.” Thus even if the headline itself was written by a scientifically illiterate sub-editor, I think the journalist bears most of the responsibility. And if Alleyne was at all uncertain about the meaning of the story, a 5 minute phone conversation with Ian Fairchild (who would surely have made sure he was available for interviews on the day of the press release) is all it would have taken for him to put himself right.

    Comment by Dave Rado — 7 Jan 2009 @ 5:22 PM

  128. re. Mark, #121, sources with links, please.

    Comment by Dave Rado — 7 Jan 2009 @ 5:32 PM

  129. Hank, 123, the intent was to show that 8 years was cherry picked. Why pick 8? Because that makes the start of the period 2000. Which was really very far out of line.

    10 years would be a more normal number to pick, but those who cherry pick will wait until 2010/2011 to use it because 1998 as the start date doesn’t come close to “proving” their point.

    And if it’s been cooling for 8 years, why was 2008 warmest?

    Comment by Mark — 7 Jan 2009 @ 5:51 PM

  130. re. Chip Knappenberger, #91:

    Al Gore’s … New York Times Opinion Piece from July 1, 2007. In it he repeatedly talks about how adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere is going to “destroy…the conditions that have made it hospitable for human beings”

    That statement is in line with the IPCC reports, albeit the timescales are uncertain

    and that “If we don’t stop doing this pretty quickly, the average temperature will increase to levels humans have never known and put an end to the favorable climate balance on which our civilization depends.”

    The IPCC’s “best guess” is that we are likely to experience a 3C rise by 2100 (with an even higher rise under BAU), which would indeed mean a higher global mean temperature than humans have ever hitherto experienced. And it is certainly arguable, based on the best science, that at that level, if it persisted, conditions would be very different from those on which civilization has depended, with very serious implications, especially in the developing world. Agsin, this is fully in line with the IPCC reports.

    He then goes on to discuss the runaway greenhouse effect on Venus as if it has some relevency (RC readers will recall that it does not).

    He doesn’t say earth could become Venus, he uses Venus to illustrate the fact (which many denialists deny) that CO2 levels can have a major effect on climate – and as Gavin points out, that the “saturation” argument is a fallacy.

    Clearly, Gore’s editorial is a “wilful deception” if there ever was one.

    I can see nothing deceptive about it at all, wilful or otherwise. The language is that of a politician who cares passionately about an issue, rather than of a scientist, but he doesn’t pretend to be a scientist, and there is nothing substantively misleading in his article that I can see.

    Comment by Dave Rado — 7 Jan 2009 @ 5:53 PM

  131. Hank,

    Comment by nanny_govt_sucks — 7 Jan 2009 @ 6:30 PM

  132. #123 Hank

    So I guess these last ten years or so of temperatures that everyone points to shouldn’t be regarded so highly?

    Comment by Jim Cross — 7 Jan 2009 @ 7:41 PM

  133. Gavin, I think part of the answer is to turn the spotlight on our colleagues in universities and other institutions who are responsible for generating the materials that are distributed to the media. I do not think it is a coincidence that the two examples featured in the original posting are both taken from the UK. I believe that UK science journalism is the best in the world – the science journalists generally display a very high degree of accuracy and integrity and reach a far greater proportion of the UK public than their counterparts in other countries, including the United States. However, the standard of media relations professionals promoting the work of researchers in UK universities and institutions is, I believe, of a woefully lower standard than that of their counterparts in the United States.

    I believe, therefore, that it helps for RealClimate to call out more often examples of press releases and other media relations that result in misleading and inaccurate media coverage. This will help make the case to universities that they should invest more in the professionalism of their media relations teams.

    Let me also declare here my various vested interests in this issue. I am currently employed as Policy and Communications Director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, I am a member of the executive committee of the Association of British Science Writers and the World Conference of Science Journalists 2009, and I have previously worked as a health, science and technology reporter for The Daily Telegraph.

    Comment by Bob Ward — 7 Jan 2009 @ 7:56 PM

  134. I liked the Response to #115 thus I used it in here:

    Comment by Pat Neuman — 7 Jan 2009 @ 8:07 PM

  135. Also see Ben Goldacre’s article on the Telegraph story. Not a great moment in UK journalism.

    Comment by gavin — 8 Jan 2009 @ 1:06 AM

  136. Dave #128 I’d have to google it. It was a New Scientist or El Reg article a good two years ago. Do you have a reason for it to be false? That may be able to help me since I can look for that and see if the article turns up in a search for a rebuttal.

    Jim #132, 10 years is insignificant for climatology on the earth because you don’t average out several well known oscillations (El Nino/La Nina) so your signal is hidden by the fact you could have chosen a weak then strong (or reverse) cycle in your sample.

    Comment by Mark — 8 Jan 2009 @ 4:11 AM

  137. Gavin, I’m glad you have provided a link to Ben Goldacre’s blog, because it cites the letter that the researchers sent to the newspaper to try to correct the original story. Unfortunately, the letter does not acknowledge that the errors originated from the researchers’ press office and instead implies that the fault entirely rests with the newspaper. That doesn’t seem very fair. It seems to me that mistakes were made by a number of people in the chain that led to the publication of the newspaper article, and they should each accept some responsibility instead of trying to lay all of the blame on the journalist.

    Comment by Bob Ward — 8 Jan 2009 @ 5:24 AM

  138. Re. Ben Goldacre’s article, I have emailed Ian Fairchild and suggested he report this to the UK’s Press Complaints Commission.

    Comment by Dave Rado — 8 Jan 2009 @ 7:35 AM

  139. Perhaps I should clarify my comments. I am not trying to absolve the Telegraph of all blame. For a start, it independently introduced the erroneous statement that “Such glaciation could happen again if global warming is not curbed”, which is not suggested or implied by the press release.

    However, I think the Telegraph’s confusion originated from the spin that the press release introduced by suggesting that the Science paper commented on the current warming and geoengineering proposals to counter it by pumping sulphate into the atmosphere – in fact, the paper does not mention that at all.

    Comment by Bob Ward — 8 Jan 2009 @ 7:54 AM

  140. Jim Cross, “Hank So I guess …” followed by an odd opinion with no apparent connection to either the topic or the research. Can’t help ya.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 8 Jan 2009 @ 9:31 AM

  141. I was with Ben Goldacre right up to where he wrote
    > It’s quite hard to understand both the intellectual
    > and moral reasoning behind this kind of behaviour.

    It’s not intellectual and it’s not moral, obviously.

    Does Britan have the same “freedom of the press belongs to those who own one” approach as the US? The US law is that the owners get to decide what the “news” media presents, it’s their opinion, not anything more. I know the Florida Supreme Court settled that for their newspapers; my recollection is the US FCC has said the same thing about cable channels. And there are only a handful of owners for all these media. Look up who owns the thing, it’s their behavior.

    You know the last word: “Profit!”
    You know the antepenultimate and penultimate words: “Short Term”

    I better go have coffee, maybe I’ll lighten up a bit. Is it dawn anywhere?

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 8 Jan 2009 @ 9:36 AM

  142. Bob Ward, I always thought that a cardinal rule in journalism or intelligence was to never go with a single source. It seems to me that if the journalist had sent the story off for comment to any reliable climate scientist, they would have identified it properly as horse puckey. So, by all means, shame on the writer of the press release for exaggeration, on the researchers for not catching the exaggeration, but especially on the journalist for not covering his tuckus by getting expert comment before the story went out under his by-line.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 8 Jan 2009 @ 9:36 AM

  143. Gack. Read the Telegraph’s Terms and Conditions; anyone using their site (would this include their own authors?) agrees among other things to:

    “4.3.6. not post, transmit, submit, refer to, make available or link to or from (or authorise or permit any other person to do the same) any material which:
    a) is untrue, fraudulent, inaccurate or misleading;…”

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 8 Jan 2009 @ 9:56 AM

  144. Anders posts:

    Since there has been no increase in temp during the last 8 years ofcourse warming has stopped.

    Remove the hyphens and paste into your browser’s address window:

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 8 Jan 2009 @ 10:33 AM

  145. Re.96 I wasn’t saying 2 years proved anything. English summers have been contrary to the models for a decade. Surely in that time climate trends should be apparent above the background noise of weather.

    [Response: "Surely" you have some statistical analysis that backs that up? I would be surprised actually, because a decade isn't long enough even in the global mean for temperature. The amount of variance in precipitation is much higher, as is the variance at regional (and more so for local) spatial scales. Detection of climate change requires a significant signal-to-noise ratio, and if the noise is much larger, it will take longer for detection to happen. - gavin]

    Comment by dave p — 8 Jan 2009 @ 1:24 PM

  146. Jim Cross (132) — Regarding recent annual temperatures, see

    Comment by David B. Benson — 8 Jan 2009 @ 4:46 PM

  147. Secular Aminist asks, “Is the “optimum” situation really to convert all of the Earth’s biomass to human flesh, and live on a diet of Soylent Green?”

    I’d ask what type of opportunity one would like for ones OWN grandchildren. Most would like their grandkids to be able to own a number of acres, (or a nice condo), be able to travel, excellent healthcare, etc etc. Now put the caveat that one’s own grandchildren *will* be totally average. Compute the resulting population. It goes up all the time, but a billion seems to be a huge stretch at current technologies.

    Comment by RichardC — 8 Jan 2009 @ 7:54 PM

  148. #140, #146

    Hank and David,

    My statement was partly supportive of looking at more than 10 years and partly sarcastic.

    I like 30 years for looking at climate and I’ve looked at the Hadley data. With a 30 year moving average, warming HAS NOT stopped.

    On the other hand, many, many posts on this site have made a big deal out of the last 10 years of warming and Arctic ice loss. If climate is 20-30 years, you can’t make a big deal out of the last 10. You need to wait another 20 years or so and see if the trend continues at the same rate.

    [Response: There's no magic number here. It is all dependent on the variability levels. Glaciers for instance have very small variability compared to the trends (because they integrate over a long time already) and so significant shifts can be seen over shorter time periods. Summer sea ice as well seems to be well out of the noise. - gavin]

    Comment by Jim Cross — 8 Jan 2009 @ 10:04 PM

  149. #148 Gavin

    You want to pick and choose, right?

    Glaciers seem to me to be the hardest argument to make since they are dependent not only on temperature but also on precipitation.

    And you want to look only at “summer” sea ice. And I guess that means only the Arctic too, right?

    [Response: I picked things where there were clear trends that didn't need 30 year averages to see. Wasn't that your point? There are lots of other obs where the noise is larger relative to any trends and where you might need even more than 30 years. The point is that '30 years' is not a magic number. It makes sense for temperatures, but any other field needs to be looked at individually. - gavin]

    Comment by Jim Cross — 8 Jan 2009 @ 10:58 PM

  150. Re: #148, #149 (Jim Cross)

    Gavin is right, there’s no “magic number.” Whether or not one can identify a meaningful trend depends on the size of the trend, and on the size and character of the noise. It’s made harder by the fact that the noise in most geophysical data shows autocorrelation, and its structure of is complex enough that the usual (AR(1)) correction in trend analysis is insufficient.

    The arbiter of significance for trends is statistical analysis, not length of time span. For temperature under present conditions, 10 years is not enough. For summer Arctic sea ice, ten years is more than enough.

    Comment by tamino — 8 Jan 2009 @ 11:22 PM

  151. #149 Gavin

    My point wasn’t that 30 years was a magic number. I don’t know there is a magic number but, if there is one, is probably at least 30 years and not less.

    You need to provide some criteria beyond “noise” for seeing “clear trends” or anyone could see a clear trend that no year has been warmer than 1998 and claim warming has stopped. Not that I am making that claim.

    Comment by Jim Cross — 8 Jan 2009 @ 11:26 PM

  152. Jim Cross. I think that the problem was the paucity of detail in your original off-the-cuff. I sort of figured you were just denying that my 10 years was useful for climatology. Not that you were making some sort of dig at how long you had to average to get climate rather than weather.

    You were rather the opposite side of what I was saying with “take 10 years”. I was picking out that 8 years is a strange number and that, currently, 10 years which would be more sensible would show warming quite strongly and that someone who didn’t use 10 rather than 8 (both stupid numbers, 10 just being a little less stupid than 8) was obviously cherry picking.

    You were as far as I could tell saying 10 was stupid. If I was wrong, you would be saying nothing that wasn’t trivially proved wrong.

    Comment by Mark — 9 Jan 2009 @ 4:25 AM

  153. I wonder if anybody could offer an informed opinion about the content of the University of Birmingham’s press release ( that was issued to accompany the publication of the paper by Bao et al ( It seems to me that the references to the current warming and potential geoengineering are rather tenuous and certainly not mentioned in the paper – in fact they seem to originate from a throwaway comment on the web pages of one of the authors:

    [Response: I read both, and while the link to present day concerns (geoengineering, CO2 levels) are tenous, these researchers are not the only ones to try and make their work more relevant. Most importantly nothing in those described links is wrong, and there is no suggestion that CO2 increases could cause a new snowball Earth - which was the main thrust of the Telegraph piece. In general, adding context to a press release that isn't in a technical paper in the literature is fine - and in fact very necessary because journalists are always asking what any new result actually means. In my opinion the journalist did a terrible job here - and it was not an inevitable result of the press release. - gavin]

    [Further response: Upon reflection, there is some missing context in the press release. There should have been a line or two explaining how the build up of CO2 was expected as the trigger to ending the snowball episode, and perhaps a quantitative estimate of how much CO2 would be needed to bring us out of a snowball state. That would have been helpful, but still, that doesn't excuse the topsy-turvy telegraph piece. - gavin]

    Comment by Bob Ward — 9 Jan 2009 @ 7:19 AM

  154. I wrote: “Is the ‘optimum’ situation really to convert all of the Earth’s biomass to human flesh, and live on a diet of Soylent Green?”

    RichardC replied: “I’d ask what type of opportunity one would like for ones OWN grandchildren.”

    My answer is that I have no children and had a vasectomy 15 years ago to ensure that I will not have any — it’s a simple, safe and painless measure that I heartily recommend to all males of reproductive age. So the “opportunity” I am seeking to leave for the future is more room for other folks’ grandchildren — and not only the human ones.

    And to answer my own original question, in my view the “optimum” situation is a rich, diverse, robust, sustainable biosphere within which human beings thrive as an integral part of the web of life, living in balance with, and with respect for, the other life forms with whom we share this planet.

    At present, the human species — one single species — consumes an estimated 40 percent of the total biological productivity of the Earth. I would suggest that for a planetary biosphere considered as a living entity, that represents a disease condition. And given the combined impact of our numbers and the particularly destructive and toxic technologies (e.g. fossil fuels, deforestation, overfishing, industrial monocrop agriculture, etc.) that we currently use to sustain ourselves, it is a life-threatening disease condition.

    We need to both move to less destructive and toxic technologies, and we need to scale back our numbers — preferably humanely, because if we don’t, the ensuing course of events will certainly reduce our numbers inhumanely.

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 9 Jan 2009 @ 10:50 AM

  155. “At present, the human species — one single species — consumes an estimated 40 percent of the total biological productivity of the Earth.”

    Sources please.

    Comment by Michael — 9 Jan 2009 @ 11:33 AM

  156. Re Michael: (#155): I’m guessing that SecularAnimist was referring to the Ehrlich calculation reproduced at Paul Ehrlich repeated this “40%” number at a talk I went to yesterday, though I don’t know if that now represents his middle estimate or if he hasn’t updated his “high” estimate, or what. I make no comments as to the accuracy of the calculation having not thought through it thoroughly myself.

    Comment by Marcus — 9 Jan 2009 @ 12:18 PM

  157. > Sources please

    Seriously, you should at least try Google before asking for help.
    Show that you know how to copy and paste into the search box.

    Even just copying the exact string out of the post before yours and pasting that in would have found the information you needed help with.

    Whigs dep’t

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 9 Jan 2009 @ 12:19 PM

  158. Chuckle — the first hit, if you paste that exact string (without the quotes) into Google:

    World Book Encyclopedia | Atlas | Homework Help
    … Today human beings consume, waste, or change about 40 percent of the net …

    Homework help indeed.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 9 Jan 2009 @ 12:29 PM

  159. Jim Cross writes:

    You need to provide some criteria beyond “noise” for seeing “clear trends” or anyone could see a clear trend that no year has been warmer than 1998 and claim warming has stopped.

    Try doing a linear regression of the mean global annual temperature anomalies against the year. If the slope has p 0.05, it’s not significant.

    A trend has to be statistically significant.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 9 Jan 2009 @ 1:22 PM

  160. Michael wrote: “Sources please”

    Hank Roberts wrote: “Seriously, you should at least try Google before asking for help”

    On the contrary, when I state a statistic it’s really my obligation to provide a citation, which I failed to do.

    The 40 percent figure I gave does indeed come from the Vitousek, Ehrlich et al study “Human Appropriation Of The Products Of Photosynthesis” published 1986 in Bioscience, which Marcus referenced above.

    Other estimates vary, some being as “low” as 24 percent.

    A relevant Google search term would be “human appropriation of net primary production HANPP”.

    A couple of articles that give a good overview of the subject:

    Global human appropriation of net primary production (HANPP)
    The Encyclopedia Of Earth, December 2008

    Our share of the planetary pie
    Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences, July 2007

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 9 Jan 2009 @ 2:26 PM

  161. Another useful search term:“ecological+footprint”

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 9 Jan 2009 @ 2:46 PM

  162. Re Jim Cross @151, “My point wasn’t that 30 years was a magic number. I don’t know there is a magic number but, if there is one, is probably at least 30 years and not less.”

    There is a way to determine how long you need:
    (Thanks to Hank.)

    Comment by Jim Eager — 9 Jan 2009 @ 3:02 PM

  163. Animist, I take issue with the idea that humans are a blight. I can imagine a far more [edit - ok, enough of this already]

    Comment by Michael — 9 Jan 2009 @ 3:26 PM

  164. 148 Gavin’s response… Yes, and sea level is a good proxy for GLOBAL (as opposed to atmosphere/surface interface) warming. Note that sea level has risen over the last 1,2,5,8, or even 10 years. There is no reasonable way to state that GLOBAL warming isn’t ongoing.

    Comment by RichardC — 9 Jan 2009 @ 3:51 PM

  165. #162 Jim

    Thanks for pointing me to a site that basically agrees with my post that 30 years is a good time frame.

    Apparently others think shorter times are fine with sea ice and glaciers. They didn’t really indicate what time frames were good for Arctic sea ice, Antarctic sea ice, summer ice , winter ice, and which time frames for which glaciers but perhaps we can ask them?

    I am only marginally comfortable with 30 years when we have decadal oscillations in both the Atlantic and Pacific and solar cycles of hundreds of years or more.

    The only good time frame for assessing a trend is a time frame that includes normal variation in the major factors that could affect the trend. The problem is in knowing what those major factors are. Most climate scientists think they know most of the factor(s) (CO2) so 20-30 years is fine for them.

    Comment by Jim Cross — 9 Jan 2009 @ 6:03 PM

  166. > 149, 165

    No, Jim Cross, that site doesn’t agree with your post, because it’s about climate data not sea ice data.

    Gavin pointed out to you the difference. You missed the point, and misread the site, in both cases ignoring the specific kind of data discussed and glomming onto “30 years” as a generality. It ain’t.

    Read it again. You don’t need to “ask them” about this — although you can ask for help over there, it’s meant to educate youngsters about how to figure this stuff out for themselves.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 9 Jan 2009 @ 6:47 PM

  167. #166


    Obviously, you’ve missed my point.

    I understood the site was talking about temperature.

    I haven’t read a good justification yet to choose a shorter time frame for evaluating trends for sea ice and glaciers (and which ones?) aside from vague comment about “noise”.

    Comment by Jim Cross — 9 Jan 2009 @ 8:04 PM

  168. Jim, you don’t need to read a good justification.
    Take the numbers.
    Go to Robert Grumbine’s site.
    Follow the steps he outlines.
    You’ll figure it out.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 9 Jan 2009 @ 8:21 PM

  169. And if you’re going to ask “which ones” again — that’s the point.
    You decide. Find the data set you want to understand.
    Apply the methods to understand it.
    You can’t generalize.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 9 Jan 2009 @ 8:22 PM

  170. Re: #167 (Jim Cross)

    I responded succinctly and correctly to your question in #150. Did you not believe me?

    Sea ice data has a bigger signal-to-noise ratio, so we can identify a meaningful trend with less data. That’s the way it is. Really.

    Comment by tamino — 9 Jan 2009 @ 8:28 PM

  171. No, the site is not talking about temperature, it’s talking about how to determine from the data itself how long it takes for the trend to be discernible from the noise. It uses the temperature trend to illustrate this.

    Comment by Jim Eager — 9 Jan 2009 @ 8:35 PM

  172. Jim (167), and argument why a short period is wrong can be done by taking it to a logical extreme:

    Measure the temperatures 12 hours apart. Once at midnight then at midday. You have now “proved” that there is warming and the earth will be as hot as the sun in three weeks time.

    North pole ice extent: measure 6 months apart, once at winter once at summer. You have now “proved” that there will be no ice on the north pole by november.

    It doesn’t help that you take them at the same time 1 year apart. Try it with the temperature in your house. One date/time measure the temperature in your kitchen. One year later ON THE DOT measure it again.

    WHY ARE THEY DIFFERENT??? Maybe you were late putting the dinner in the oven so the room was warmed by the oven. Maybe it was especially mild weather.

    The only way to stop that is to assume that, being “noise” it cancels out if you take enough samples at the same time in the same way.

    So it must be “years” else you can’t pick the same season.

    It can’t be only two or three years because binomial counting statistics tell you that this tells you NOTHING about a trend.

    It can’t be a decade because we KNOW of several cyclic elements that would affect the weather on that time (El Nino and sunspot activity, for example).

    So it has to be DECADES of measurements.

    Now humans live 70 years, so 100 year measurements is longer than anyone alive will see the end of, and 20 years aren’t many decades.

    50 years is two generations and the working life of a human today. It is several decades so will sample several El Nino and sunspot activity cycles, evening out the noise of having selected a year that just happened to have a very different activity cycle. We don’t know of any cycle that takes ~50 years either.

    Milankovich cycles take millenia and we can measure what stage along it we are, since the orbitals are a VERY much lower chaotic system.

    Now, what year would YOU say should be use and give an example of why it is better than 50.

    If you can’t think of one, why do you want to know why a shorter period is not useful? You say you don’t know of a reason for *any* period to be selected, so from that POV, any period someone comes up with is OK.

    Unless you don’t like 50 years for some reason. If so, what is it?

    Comment by Mark — 10 Jan 2009 @ 7:05 AM

  173. Guys, I don’t know if this will help. However, I’ve found it helpful to look at things in terms of a likelihood model for probability. Take the example of a coin toss, calculate the likelihood for n tosses over a range of probabilities of the coin to come up heads (you can do this in Excel). So you’ve got a single-parameter model, and the likelihood will tend to be distributed as Chi-square with one degree of freedom. Now watch how the likelihood for a given confidence level (say 99%) shrinks as n increases. That’s about as simple a model as you are going to get–no noise, one parameter, but it gives an idea how confidence increases with data. Any system will have a certain amount of data it will require to reach confident conclusions. For climate, it’s ~30 years; for ice, stronger signal, less noise=shorter timescale.

    Oracle of ReCaptcha reminds us to start our seeds now: tending plants

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 10 Jan 2009 @ 10:25 AM

  174. Mark, I like your considerations on the selection of sampling times. Nothing like good old logic.

    I’m a musician and academician by trade, so I can relate this to the question of sampling in digital audio: the minimal sampling rate necessary to avoid creating artifacts in the frequency domain is twice the frequency sampled (and this is still rather lo-fi.)

    In the case of the sea-ice trends, of course, we have pushing 30 annual cycles, ca. 3 solar or El Nino cycles, sampled at 365 samples/cycles–more than adequate to capture the waveform with reasonable accuracy.

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 10 Jan 2009 @ 11:05 AM

  175. Kevin, 174, though I find it eternally frustrating that people think that nyquist does anything other than give the lowest oversample needed to identify a frequency. Forgetting that this depends on infinite resolution in amplitude and that nyquist says NOTHING about how well it can reproduce the loudness.

    So a CD with 44kHz sampling and 16 bit resolution will, at 22kHz be about as accurate as 2-3 bit resolution and the accuracy of selecting that 22kHz is a warble that could put a poor record deck to shame.

    But they think that it is 100% accurate right up to the Nyqist limit.

    It ant.

    Frustrating, really.

    Comment by Mark — 10 Jan 2009 @ 6:22 PM

  176. Right–nor will the harmonic structure (waveform) be correct, either.

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 11 Jan 2009 @ 12:22 AM

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