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Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin!

Filed under: — raypierre @ 16 February 2006

Charles Darwin was born on February 12, 1809. The events commemorating Darwin’s birthday anniversary last Sunday, together with the recent conclusion of an important court case concerning the teaching of Intelligent Design (ID) in public schools prompts me to some musing concerning the relation of the Evolution/ID dialog to similar issues arising in connection with anthropogenic global warming. The age of the two theories is similar as well: Darwin introduced his theory in 1859, whereas Fourier initiated the study of the effect of atmospheres on climate with his 1821 treatise, stimulating the chain of developments leading to Arrhenius’ enunciation in 1896 of the theory that human influences on the atmosphere’s CO2 content could change the climate.

I don’t propose to wade into questions of religion, or the question of whether or in what form ID could be taught in public schools. However, the discussion surrounding ID is significant because it has focused a lot of public attention on the question of : "What is science?" A Nov. 5, 2005 letter to the Chicago Tribune by one Mr. Ross Williams makes the connection explicit: In his letter, Mr Williams implies that the Theory of Global Warming is more like ID than it is like Evolution. Referring to global warming, he states: "It is no more than an idea, a notion." and goes on to say:

  • " The scientists pursuing this hypothesis are struggling to test it and make predictions using their ideas. Thus far, they have had extremely limited success in testing, and virtually no luck in predicting–resulting in continually modified (and, consequently, less severe) forecasts. Despite this, they are spawning a whole cadre of non-scientific worry warts who are declaring that, well, really, the science doesn’t matter."

In Mr. Williams lexicon, a hypothesis is just "a notion," presumably not much better than ID. In this article, I will attempt to explain why the bleak picture painted by Mr. Williams and people of like mind is unwarranted.

Another relation between the two issues is that Evolution skeptics are motivated by ideology to deny a well-established scientific theory. In the case of Evolution, the ideological motivation is a perceived conflict between the picture of the operation of the natural world presented by the Theory of Evolution, and the tenets of certain faiths (a perceived conflict that, I am happy to see, is not shared by all people of faith, as witness the extensive "Evolution Sunday " activities ). Similarly, most Global Warming denialists are for the most part motivated not by abstract curiosity about the behavior of climate systems, but by a perceived conflict between the actions that would need to be taken to avert unacceptable climate change, and their beliefs about the extent to which economic growth and material prosperity based on fossil-fuel energy use should be unfettered. (Again, not all economists or members of the business community perceive a conflict here). In both cases, the skeptics prosecute not just an attack on the policy implications of science, but on the scientific method itself, often using similar rhetorical devices. In fact, sometimes skepticism about global warming and about evolution are combined in one and the same person, as is the case for Roy Spencer, for example (see his article on evolution here.)

Just what is the theory here?

First, we need to get straight on just what we might be talking about when referring to "The Theory of Global Warming." There’s a natural tendency to identify such a theory with the statement that "The Earth is Warming." That’s wrong because it confuses a theory with observations that might be used to test a theory. It’s also wrong because it would imply that the only reason we think that the Earth will continue warming in response to increased CO2 is that we already see it warming today; it loses the chain of physical causation. Somewhat better would be the statement, "The Earth is warming, and the warming is largely due to increases in atmospheric CO2 and other long lived greenhouse gases." This is defensible as a hypothesis, but I think it would be far better to consider this statement, too, as more properly in the domain of one of the tests we might apply to the Theory of Global Warming.

My own preferred statement of The Theory of Global Warming is this:

  • An increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 and other long lived greenhouse gases requires the surface temperature to ultimately increase so as to maintain a balance with the absorbed solar radiation. The increase is amplified by water vapor (also a greenhouse gas), which increases with temperature in such a way as to keep relative humidity approximately constant. Melting of ice will further amplify the warming, particularly in high latitudes. The resulting widespread warming corresponding to a doubling of CO2 will be large enough and rapid enough to be well outside the range of past experience of the human species, by an amount comparable to the difference between a glacial and interglacial climate. Changes in atmospheric cloud properties may somewhat reduce or increase the sensitivity, but do not substantially alter the conclusion.

The last part of the statement of the theory is, of course, the hard part, and the most uncertain.

I have deliberately left the matter of the severity of the impacts of such a climate change out of the hypothesis. Theories regarding the impact are nascent and in many regards still rather ill-formed, in comparison to the theory dealing with the physical dimensions of climate change. Also, insofar as there are uncertainties about the severity of the impacts of climate change, it is a matter for the political apparatus to decide how to deal with the uncertainties, and the extent to which one should pay attention to the worst case vs. the most likely case. The question of how to factor in the uneven distribution of harms (and possibly benefits) across the peoples of the Earth, and between human societies and natural ecosystems, is also at heart a matter of ethics and values. These are questions that can be informed by science, but they are not themselves scientific questions.

Finally, one must be careful not to be confused by the usage of the word "theory" in common everyday English. Statements like, "Oh, that’s just a theory, not a fact" have little to do with the scientific understanding of the word "theory." Linguistic confusion goes the other direction as well: Scientists often talk about "believing" in a theory, but this expresses a judgement of whether the balance of tests of a theory against observations lends sufficient support to the theory to rely on it in drawing further inferences. It does not declare that subscribing to the theory or not is an article of faith, to be left to one’s conscience. If I say that I "believe in" quantum theory, that is expressing a different kind of judgement than if I say I "believe in" the tenets of Buddhism.

Judge Jones on "What is Science"

Judge Jones (a George W. Bush appointee, by the way) of the Middle District Court of Pennsylvania, presided over the case Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, which dealt with the constitutionality of an attempt to introduce some limited teaching of Intelligent Design into science classes. His decision that teaching ID in public school science classes would be an unconstitutional establishment of religion, is a masterpiece of wit, scholarship and clear thinking. Most of the decision deals with application of tests (such as the "Lemon Test") of whether a government action constitutes an establishment of religion. These make fascinating reading, and show Judge Jones’ wide ranging intellect, but they are not of concern to me here. What’s relevant to the point at hand is the rather extensive part of the decision devoted to the question "How do we know whether something is science?" This question wasn’t entirely central to the basis of the Judge’s decision, but he devoted a lot of attention to it because, in his words,

  • "Having so concluded, we find it incumbent upon the Court to further address an additional issue raised by Plaintiffs, which is whether ID is science. To be sure, our answer to this question can likely be predicted based upon the foregoing analysis. While answering this question compels us to revisit evidence that is entirely complex, if not obtuse, after a six week trial that spanned twenty-one days and included countless hours of detailed expert witness presentations, the Court is confident that no other tribunal in the United States is in a better position than are we to traipse into this controversial area. Finally, we will offer our conclusion on whether ID is science not just because it is essential to our holding that an Establishment Clause violation has occurred in this case, but also in the hope that it may prevent the obvious waste of judicial and other resources which would be occasioned by a subsequent trial involving the precise question which is before us."

In other words, Judge Jones had already seen enough irreducible complexity, bacterial flagella, fossil record interpretations and panda’s thumbs to last a lifetime (maybe two), and didn’t want any of his colleagues to have to go through the same business all over again.

For the most part, the good judge takes a positivist approach to the definition of science, following Karl Popper. This approach emphasizes that a scientific theory should be falsifiable. The centrality of this notion has been challenged by Thomas Kuhn and a few other philosophers of science , but as a description of the way most of us in the trenches actually see our enterprise, Popper does pretty well, as long as we allow a little flexibility in the matter of what counts as falsifiability. The important thing is that a scientific theory should be productive. It should make predictions that can be tested against observation and experiment, the more the better. Thus, Ptolemy’s epicycle theory of planetary motion is not bad as a scientific theory: it does make predictions about where planets will be, that can be tested against data. Newton’s theory is far better, though, because it makes far more predictions over a vastly wider range of circumstances, while requiring far fewer assumptions. It’s not just that it’s more economical than epicycles. It’s far more productive of testable predictions — all of which prove true, so long as one steers clear of speeds close to that of light and very strong gravitational fields. Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity is even more productive, covering the extreme cases while reducing to Newton’s theory in the low speed and weak gravity limit.

Further, the notion of prediction has to be broadly construed. The fact that we can’t predict the exact weather a year out is no refutation of the basic theory of climate, any more than the fact that we can’t predict the position of Pluto in its chaotic orbit is a refutation of Newtonian mechanics. In the context of testing scientific theories, a prediction need not refer to something that happens in the future; this is important in observational sciences such as Earth science or cosmology, where one’s "predictions" often deal with things that happen in the past. A prediction in this context is any inference drawn on the basis of a theory, that can be objectively tested against observations. For that matter, a prediction need not even come in advance of an observation. Obviously, it is a more convincing test of a theory if the inference is made before the observation, since this provides some protection against the accusation of tuning unknown parameters; however, there are other ways to check whether a match succeeds only because of unwarranted tuning.

Judge Jones’ considers three basic arguments in his consideration of whether ID is science. The detailed application of each argument to ID is buttressed by numerous citations to theological, scientific and ID-advocacy writings, which are not reproduced in detail below.

The first argument is against ID as science is that science does not rely on untestable supernatural causes. Supernatural explanations are "science stoppers" which preclude further inquiry. This is, in essence, a restatement of the falsifiability (positivist) criterion. Among the many documents Judge Jones cites is a National Academy of Sciences statement that notes that the publications arguing for ID "do not offer hypotheses subject to change in light of new data, new interpretations, or demonstration of error. This contrasts with science, where any hypothesis or theory always remains subject to the possibility of rejection or modification in the light of new knowledge." The Judge declares, on the basis of the evidence, that "ID fails to meet the essential ground rules that limit science to testable, natural explanations."

The Judge notes that the preceding alone is sufficient to disqualify ID as science, but given a surfeit of evidence, he does not want to stop halfway. The next argument he produces is quite different from the positivism criterion, namely that the arguments for ID rest on a contrived dualism. "ID is at bottom premised upon a false dichotomy, namely, that to the extent evolutionary theory is discredited, ID is confirmed, " he writes. He then points out that arguments for ID based on this contrived dualism are, from a scientific standpoints, not arguments for ID at all, but merely tests of the Theory of Evolution — and hence only serve to further establish that Evolution is science. Judge Jones, in this connection, disassembles some of the arguments against Evolution made by ID proponents, but this is a matter of evaluating tests of Evolution as a scientific theory, not a matter of deciding whether ID is science. The notion of "irreducible complexity," for example, is a refutable and testable negative argument against evolution, but that does not make it a testable argument for ID. The discussion of the merit of ID proponents’ arguments against Evolution does, however turn up a point that has some relevence also to the argument brought to bear against the Theory of Global Warming. Discussing testimony on the ID case against Evolution, the judge writes: "We find that such evidence demonstrates that the ID argument is dependent upon setting a scientifically unreasonable burden of proof for the theory of evolution." (My emphasis added). The judge finds that Evolution skeptics argue by "pointing to real gaps in scientific knowledge, which indisputably exist in all scientific theories, but also by misrepresenting well-established scientific propositions." This description applies word-for-word to many skeptics’ arguments against global warming, for example to most of Richard Lindzen’s testimony to the House of Lords (discussed here)

Judge Jones’ third argument is a pragmatic one: it assumes that there is such a thing as a recognized scientific community, and that it knows science when it sees it even if it may be hard to rigorously and unambiguously define the criteria. He specifically looks to the peer-reviewed publication process as an indicator: "A final indicator of how ID has failed to demonstrate scientific warrant is the complete absence of peer-reviewed publications supporting the theory." After some further discussion of the publication record of ID, he concludes "ID is not science and cannot be adjudged a valid, accepted scientific theory as it has failed to publish in peer-reviewed journals, engage in research and testing, and gain acceptance in the scientific community."

Does "Global Warming Theory" pass Judge Jones’ science test?

In one sense, the Theory of Global Warming is clearly a falsifiable scientific theory: all we need to do is wait around a while until industrial activities have doubled CO2, and observe what has happened to atmospheric temperature, water vapor and clouds. This indeed seems to be the experiment that most of the world seems intent on carrying out.

However, when we talk about "verifying" the Theory of Global Warming, what most of us have in mind is doing something to test the theory right now, so that (to the extent that it is correct) necessary policy decisions can be informed by the predictions of the theory.

Earth science shares the full range of difficulties generic to observational sciences, in that we can carry out laboratory experiments testing individual basic physical principles making up our theories, but have only limited opportunities to conduct experiments on the collective behavior of the whole system. For the latter, we must do the best we can with those ready-made examples that Nature provides. In this regard, the situation of the Theory of Global Warming is rather similar to that of the Theory of Evolution.

There are indeed a great many aspects of the Theory of Global Warming that are falsifiable without waiting for the next century’s climate to come upon us. There are, to start, all the laboratory tests of basic physics, such as the infrared absorption properties of CO2 and water vapor. There are also field tests of the predictions of these basic physical theories, as is done when one measure water vapor and temperature in the atmosphere, and compares the predictions of radiative transfer theory with observed infrared radiation measured at the top of the atmosphere by satellite, or at the surface by radiation sensors. One can check the evaporation formulae used in climate models against the measured evaporation at buoys in the ocean, or the predictions of cloud models against observed cloud reflectivity. Going up the scale in complexity, one can compare the predictions of the theory against observations of recent climates, and of climates of the more distant past. General circulation models encapsulate the assumptions of the theory, and provide the tool necessary for testing hypotheses in such a complex system.

A further point regarding the positivist criterion is the the Theory of Global Warming is productive. The implied influence of CO2 (or methane) on climate can be, and has been, applied to the understanding of the Last Glacial Maximum, to Snowball Earth, to the Faint Young Sun, and to Cretaceous warmth. Variants apply also to Venus, Mars (present and past) and Titan. It is fair to say that this theory plays as central a role in the theory of planetary climate as the Theory of Evolution plays in biology. A relatied point is that the theory can be and has been challenged by data, and forced to adapt accordingly. This was the case in the precursor to the theory, when Tyndall discovered that minor constituents (CO2 and water vapor) dominated the greenhouse effect; the resulting adaptation of Fourier’s theory opened the way for Arrhenius to conclude that human influences on the atmosphere could change the climate. A more recent adaptation was the incorporation of aerosol effects in the late 1980’s which was forced upon the theory by the inability to explain the pattern of 20th century climate change with greenhouse gas increases alone. Contrary to the assertion in Mr. Williams’ letter to the Chicago Tribune, revisions to the theory have not led to any systematic downward revision of the appraisal of the magnitude of the thread caused by doubling CO2. Indeed, some discoveries, notably the prevalance of abrupt climate change in the past record, have raised concerns that the current understanding may underpredict the magnitude of the response.

What of Judge Jones’ other two criteria applied in the Kitzmiller case? The false duality issue does not arise in the judgement of Global Warming Theory itself, since the theory has never been argued for on the basis of such a stipulated duality ("The world is warming, and if it’s not the Sun, then it must be CO2!"). On the other hand, a false duality has often been invoked in arguing against the Global Warming Theory. This typically takes the form of pointing out some aspect of the observations that Global Warming Theory doesn’t explain, and then jumping to the conclusion that the observed warming must be due to the local skeptic’s favorite cause: maybe solar variability, maybe some unspecified sort of "natural variability." Often such arguments involve holding Global Warming up to unreasonable standards of proof ("If we don’t understand everything about climate, then we understand nothing about climate."), and often, like ID proponents arguing against Evolution, the arguments offered against Global Warming are at best distortions of scientific truth. In this regard, Global Warming plays the role of the Theory of Evolution, with the Global Warming Skeptics playing the role of ID advocates.

On Judge Jones’ final criterion (presence in the peer-reviewed literature) the Theory of Global Warming gets an easy and obvious pass. Here, the Global Warming skeptics are in a somewhat better position than the ID advocates, in that a very few of the skeptics arguments have appeared in the peer reviewed literature. This doesn’t make them right, but it does mean that to some extent, some of them are playing by the rules of science. Still, the relative paucity of skeptics arguments being played out in the peer reviewed literature suggests that they may not be as wrong as the ID advocates, but that they are not as right as the vastly greater number of researchers who have published in support of the Global Warming Theory.

To what extent is "Global Warming Theory" verified?

The basic physical principles upon which the Theory of Global Warming is based include the notion of interconvertibility amongst forms of energy (introduced by Fourier in his formulation of planetary energy balance), thermodynamics (air cools when it rises), thermodynamics of phase change (cold air holds less water), quantum theory (absorption and emission of infrared by CO2 and other greenhouse gases), blackbody radiation, and Newton’s laws of motion. Each of these components has passed literally thousands of tests in the laboratory. There is essentially zero uncertainty in the validity of such things, which form the basic physical underpinning of the Theory of Global Warming. If any of these parts of the theory didn’t work, neither would microwave ovens, computers, steam engines, infrared remote controls, and any number of other everyday devices.

Tests of the collective behavior of the Earth’s climate system are somewhat harder to come by, but there has been substantial progress here as well. I would highlight the following, which is far from an exhaustive list:

  • Reproduction of the temporal and spatial pattern of 20th and 21st century warming. To be sure, models with varying assumptions about clouds and aerosols can fit the observed warming equally well, indicating that the job is not complete. However, no quantitative model based on physical principles can match the 20th century warming without incorporation of a substantial warming component from greenhouse gas increases.
  • The rapid increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases should throw the Earth’s radiation budget out of balance, because the ocean has not yet had time to warm up to restore balance. The expected imbalance has been observed. (Hansen et al. 2005)
  • The planet’s energy imbalance has implications for the pattern of subsurface ocean warming. The predicted pattern has been observed. (Discussed here.)
  • Satellite observations indicate that mid-tropospheric water vapor is indeed increasing with temperature, as the theory requires and as models predict (Discussed here).. Note that the water vapor assumption I included as part of the statement of the Theory of Global Warming is not itself built into the general circulation models used to predict climate change. It is an emergent property that is deduced from more basic assumptions made in the models. In this regard, the statement regarding the presumed behavior of water vapor amounts to a statement that the models capture the same processes governing water vapor in the real atmosphere. There is now a wealth of evidence (in the "large scale control" literature) supporting this viewpoint.
  • Melt-back of Northern Hemisphere sea ice
  • Nearly worldwide melting of mountain glaciers, many of which survived previous naturally occurring warm periods
  • The theory predicts that the stratosphere should be cooling at the same time the surface is warming. This pattern is observed.
  • The degree of cooling of the Tropics and Southern Hemisphere during the Last Glacial Maximum, for which there would be no explanation if we were to assume that current models substantially overestimate sensitivity to CO2. An interesting bit of history concerning this point is that in the 1980’s the tropical behavior in glacial times was considered an indication that models were wrong: CLIMAP data indicated little surface cooling in the tropics, while mountain snowlined data did show cooling. This led to all sorts of theories spun about exotic thermostat mechanisms and strange lapse rate behavior. In the end, it turned out that the models were right and that the CLIMAP data was wrong. Thus, in this instance, the models (based on theory) made a true prediction, which was verified after the fact.

The scientific community is still searching for a really good way to evaluate the nature of cloud effects, though comparisons with past and recent climates provide some reassurance that we are not too far off base with cloud effects. More importantly, there is not yet a physically based hypothesis on the table which is compatible with data and which reduces climate insensitivity to inconsequential levels. Lindzen’s "Iris" hypothesis comes closest, but it has been evaluated in the scientific literature and most of the community remains unconvinced.

Besides the ongoing problem with clouds, the general theory of Earth’s climate, like any good scientific theory, continues to be confronted by phenomena it cannot yet fully explain, and to evolve in response. Some notable problems include the tendency of many coupled general circulation models to produce double Intertropical Convergence Zones in the Tropics, inconsistencies in the prediction of the regional distribution of climate change, inability to make firm inferences concerning the effect of global warming on El Nino, and the inability of general circulation models to reproduce recurrent abrupt climate change events like D-O events or even the full magnitude of response to the Younger-Dryas event. An especially notable unresolved challenge is the inability of models to reproduce the low North-South gradient in warm climates such as the Cretaceous. In this case as well as in others (such as the problem of vertical structure of tropical tropospheric warming) the problem may lie as much in the data sets being used to test the theories as in the theories themselves.

A theory can never be definitively proved; there is always the possibility that some new observation will overturn it, and most theories are imperfect and fail in one way or another to account for some of the data. The question thus emerges as to the extent to which global warming skeptics are holding the theory up to an "unreasonable standard of proof," much as ID proponents do in the case of Evolution. Given that the intensity of interest in the Theory of Global Warming stems largely from its policy implications, it is fair to ask how the standards of proof to which global warming has been held stack up against other theories that have been used to make policy decisions of enormous consequence. "Supply Side Economics" (the theory that tax cuts pay for themselves by stimulating economic growth) is a telling example that comes to mind (to say nothing of the "theory" that Iraq had WMD).


And speaking of intelligent design, I feel compelled to remark that the CO2 molecule seems rather admirably designed from the standpoint of regulating climate. It’s a good infrared absorber even in small quantities so you don’t need to much of it, yet the radiative effect is logarithmic in concentration, so you don’t have to tune its concentration too terribly precisely to get a habitable climate. There’s plenty of it in the form of carbonates in the Earth’s crust, so you can always get more if you need some to keep the climate warm enough. Most importantly, it plays well with liquid water, so that if the planet gets too warm or too cold the rate of removal tends to adjust to reset the atmospheric carbon dioxide at a point where the climate will stay relatively equable. It has thermodynamic properties that keep it from condensing out of the atmosphere (in contrast to water vapor), resulting in it having a long enough lifetime to even out the vicissitudes of climate forcing fluctuations. How strange it is, then, that the Earth should have an abundant supply of so attractive and convenient fuel as coal. A fuel which, unfortunately, messes up the system by releasing CO2 when it is burned.

Bad design? Or just forbidden fruit?


Hansen, J., et al. 2005. Earth’s energy imbalance: Confirmation and implications. Science 308, 1431-1435, doi:10.1126/science.1110252.

255 Responses to “Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin!”

  1. 151
    Brian Forbes says:

    re 142
    1)The crude sea surface publshed in a 1984 paper Folland, Parker and Kates Worldwide marine temperature fluctuations 1856-1981, Letter to Nature, Vol 310, 23 Aug 1984, page 670-673. A copy of which is available at
    shows a curve for SSTS before “modification and modernisatiom”.
    This curve does not show any any consistent warming between 1860 and 1980.
    It also correlates with temperatures from truly rural stations.
    It looks to me as if the “modification and modernisatiom” was done to make the SSTs correspond to the the idea of AGW (after all wasn’t “AGW” proved at the time)
    2) GISS modifies its Urban station temperatures by modifying the slope of the graph to that of neighbouring
    “Rural” station with a population of less that 10000.
    As explained in 126 any “built up” area will influence local temperature .Places with populations in 1000s must
    have a UHI component.
    Also some stations highly influencrd by UHI are supposed to be rural eg, Stornoway UK and some stations that actually
    rural (ie.miles away from the nearest built up area) are listed as urban eg Jonkoping Sweden.
    Data from stations such as these would not cancel each other out (as GISS believes) the temperature of Stornoway would increase the temperature of Jonkoping thus introducing UHI into the combined average temp.
    Gavin,The MSU sattelite showed 0.09 temp increase per decade before correction and 0.12 after, the GISS temp shows a rise 0.19 per decade.
    If models are based on faulty temperatures then they are going give to faulty forecasts.

    [Response: Oh dear. Why use SST records from 1984 when better ones are available? If you’re reduced to vast conspiracies to fudge the data, you’re lost. UHI: try the wiki page, esp the Peterson ref. MSU: there are multiple records. The multiply-wrong S+C is currently at 0.12; the RSS trend is 0.193 (wiki) – William]

  2. 152
    Pat Neuman says:

    In 147. Steve asked … Do you agree, or disagree, that there is now more Arthropogenic Thermal Dissipation and Albedo Change in typical (e.g settled) rural areas in North America and Europe now, than there was in 1850, yes, or no. ?

    I asked speakers at a climate change forum a similar question in 2002 at the University of Minnesota. Speakers at the public forum included Richard Lindzen and Dennis Hartmann. Dr. Hartmann, atmospheric sciences chief at the University of Washington, replied that land use albedo changes were minimal (pos or neg). Thus my yes or no answer to your question is no, i.e. no significant change.

  3. 153
    Brian Forbes says:

    Faster flowing glaciers
    When ice is pressurerised it tends to melt this because water at freezing point is denser than ice at freezing point.
    Because it is better lubricated thicker ice will flow faster than thin ice.
    In many of the “receeding” glaciers the upper reaches are gaining mass whilst lower down they are losing mass.
    As the ice slides down the moutainside it accelerates.
    it is quite possible for it to get thinner and so have less mass than when it was slower flowing.
    This explains why Greenlands glaciers are accelerating whilst the ice cap is getting thicker (ref 34)
    Although this does not explain glaciers that are actually shrinking but apart from Europe it appears that for every shrinking glacier there is an expanding one sometimes issuing from the same icefield.

  4. 154
    Coby says:

    So Brian, I take it you know there are as many growing glaciers as shrinking from your personal global travels? Perhpas you can provide your notes and data. If not, then please let us know what studies you are citing.


  5. 155
    JH Waddell says:

    There is NO such thing as a Theory of Global Warming. In science a theory exist only after it passes the hypothesis testing. Therefore, you can not compare global warming to evolution.

    Scientific Laws, Hypotheses, and Theories

    I am pretty much amazed that such ignorance seems to be plentiful amoung so many people involved in the global warming debate.

  6. 156
    Hank Roberts says:

    If you go back to the top and reread, the discussion here addresses exactly the issue you raise.

    Jerry Wilson’s page — the page you point to — talks about how hypotheses contribute to theorizing. Wilson’s a high school science teacher, and his page describes how a theory is built up slowly from hypotheses.

    The discussion below the original post is a good example of exactly what Wilson’s page says — this is how a theory gets developed.

  7. 157
    Matt says:

    There is a greenhouse law, provable in the lab. There is a greenhouse hypothisis, in its limited form is not a theory.

    But, there is a scientificly accepted global greenhouse theory, verified by repeated observations of geological evidence, fossils, ice records, sediment records, glacial movement records, DNA fauna changes, extinction verifications, and the like.

    Does this greenhouse theory applied to the current 100 years? Sure, to some extant.

    Does this greenhouse theory apply to next summer. Sure, too some extant.

    I mean, what is the point of pinning down a particular group on such a fine tuned hypothesis that measuring the observations is lost in the error.

    We are at the top of a glacial cycle and even a simple aquarium owner knows greenhouse effect is important.

  8. 158
    Pat Neuman says:


    When I look at the Minnesota State Climatology Office, it’s like they say what you said (in 154), that:

    … “there is NO such thing as a Theory of Global Warming”.

    The MN Climatology people say they: … “make no claim of expertise in this highly complicated and politicized field of study.”

    The MN climatology people work closely with the National Weather Service (NWS) Forecast Office people and the NWS hydrologists at the NWS North Central River Forecast Center, having pubic hydrologic forecast responsibility for the Upper Midwest.

    Three NWS in Minnesota, the NWS Forecast Office, the NWS NCRFC and the NWS National Hydrologic Operational Remote Sensing Center (NOHRSC) are located in the same building, in a growing southwest Twin Cities area suburb called Chanhassen, MN.

    In reply to a re-post of an article at the Colorado Independent Media Center (15 Nov 2003) called: … Public disclosure – government agency says “no global warming problem”, re-posted to a global warming yahoo group today,

    Mr. Ross Thomas, retired teacher living in Texas, wrote:

    > Your conclusions were the exact opposite of what I got
    > when I talked to your NWS colleagues. In conversations
    > they would give me the current line from their powers
    > that be,… Then they would look over their shoulder
    > to see who was nearby and then say they didn’t believe
    > that GW was anything more than a statistical fluke.

    I replied that NWS staff have been telling the public about the same thing on GW since before Jan. 2001, … “they didn’t believe that GW was anything more than a statistical fluke”, and that as far as I know, NWS has continued to say things like that to the public (off the record) until the day I was fired from the NWS NCRFC in 2005.

    I spent my entire career as a hydrologist for NWS, 29 years, right out of college, preparing spring snowmelt flood outlooks for the Upper Midwest, hydrologic modeling and flood prediction. After the NWS office moved from Minneapolis to Chanhassen, MN for it’s implementation of Doppler radars and reorganization, and after my daughters graduated from high school, I moved from St. Paul to Chanhassen, MN so I could bike and walk to work. Had I known earlier that I would be fired for my position on climate change and global warming, we (my wife came too) would not have moved here (Chanhassen, MN).

  9. 159
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re #152 (BF): I can’t make much sense out of what you said about lubrication, but if I’m following some of your other reasoning correctly, apparently glaciers will have their greatest mass just before disappearing entirely. Sarcasm aside, it appears you’re missing some of the basics on glaciers, such as the fact that warmer air has a greater moisture capacity and thus produces more snow, all else being equal (and noting that this fact was mentioned much earlier in the comments). I would also suggest to you that it’s unhelpful to just make things up as you did with this statement: “Although this does not explain glaciers that are actually shrinking but apart from Europe it appears that for every shrinking glacier there is an expanding one sometimes issuing from the same icefield.” Evidence for that?

  10. 160
    Matt says:

    We need climate engineering, the video game. Seriously.

    We need to practice setting the ice line, adjusting the thermohaline circulation, and trying various bioengineering strategies on the boreal forests and tundra line.

    I suspect long term bioengineering of the Northern Hemisphere is going to get us a contract extension. There seems to be the possibility of “in place” fixation of carbon using bioengineered agents.

    In this game, we can establish energy budgets, and determine the long term safety of operating at a given temperature.

    As the agents in charge, we obtain a certain entropy advantage by selecting our operating temperature and planning for that temperature.

    If we bioegineer properly, we additional recover the entropy lost to current natural micobial work.

    By managing lost energy propery and planning for long term carbon fixation, then we earn the right to continued use of fossil fuel.

  11. 161
    Brian Forbes says:

    I, unlike you, heve to rely on reports of which there are plenty on the internet but very few in the press. I did preface my statement with the word appears.
    Here is another statement for you to consider .
    All the reports from polar explorers between about 1890 and 1915 indicate that the extent of polar ice then was less than or equal to the extent that it is at present times. For example (this is not the only one):
    From Jan 27th to about Feb 4th 1911 Filchner sailed along the front of the Ronne ice shelf (which according to his map was the same place then as it is now)
    Can you explain the why after 90 years (or is it 30} of global warming 100s of miles of pack ice would have prevented him from doing the same this year.

  12. 162
    Stephan Harrison says:

    Re 152. There aren’t as many advancing glaciers as receding ones. A small percentage of glaciers flowing out of icefields are advancing but they don’t have positive mass balances at the moment. The advancing ones are often calving glaciers whose behaviour is partially decoupled from climate by the influence of water depth, topographic pinning points etc. For instance, about two of the glaciers of the South Patagonian Icefield are advancing; both are calving glaciers. The rest of them (40 odd) are in recession. All the 25 or so glaciers of the North Patagonian Icefield are in recession. Much the same applies to other icefields.

  13. 163
    Brian Forbes says:

    If you censor my replies you make me look foolish. Meybe I am for thinking I could get a fair whack on this biassed web site .
    I’ve learned something however: the real sore points of Global Warming Theory .Don’t ask me what they are my reply would be censored.

  14. 164
    Pat Neuman says:

    re 157.

    Mike, I think it might be better to use the revision below, which I worked on this morning.



    Climate change impacts on hydrology of Upper Midwest, Career ends, Disclosure of agency

    Career ends:

    The office where I worked in Minnesota from 1979-2005 is called the National Weather Service (NWS) – North Central River Forecast Center (NCRFC). NCRFC is located in a southwest Twin Cities area suburb called Chanhassen. NCRFC was created in 1979, and has flood prediction responsibility for the rivers in the Upper Midwest.

    In 1979, I was the only person to make the move from the parent NWS river forecast center office in Kansas City, Missouri to the new office in Minnesota. Thus I had responsibility for training a brand new staff of hydrologists and meteorologists in river forecasting modeling and prediction techniques during the early years of NCRFC operations during the 1980s.

    I spent my entire career as a hydrologist for NWS (29 years from right out of college in 1976 to 2005). My primary tasks included preparation of the annual spring snowmelt flood outlooks for the Upper Midwest, ice and water supply, hydrologic modeling and flood prediction.

    After the NCRFC moved locally from Minneapolis, MN to Chanhassen during the mid 1990s, for the nation-wide implementation of NWS Doppler radars and NWS reorganization, and after my daughters had graduated from high school in St. Paul, MN, I moved from St. Paul to Chanhassen, MN so that I could bike and walk to work. Had I known a few years earlier, that I would be fired for my position on climate change and global warming in 2005, we (my wife came too) would not have moved here (Chanhassen, MN).

    I’ve had experience with snowmelt runoff and flood prediction for many rivers within the Upper Midwest, including rivers in the following states:

    Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas,
    and Missouri.

    Climate Change Impacts on Hydrology of the Upper Midwest:

    Due a position which I took in Jan. 2000, and which I feel strongly about, that

    Climate change is already having an impact on the hydrology
    of the Upper Midwest and therefore should at least be considered
    in hydrologic modeling efforts and flood prediction,

    my career ended by being handed a “Decision to Remove” memorandum on July 15, 2005 by the acting NWS Central Region headquarters office director from Kansas City, Missouri; in the presence of my supervisor at NCRFC in Chanhassen, MN.

    Disclosure of a Government Agency:

    Federal employees say global warming no more than a “statistical fluke”.

    Public disclosure on NOAA administrators and National Weather Service (NWS) directors, supervisors and employees, for seriously downplaying global warming.

    A retired teacher from Texas said recently that NWS people told him that global warming was nothing more than “a statistical fluke”

    In a globalwarming Yahoo Group, Mr. Ross Thomas, a retired teacher and businessman from Texas, wrote:

    “Your conclusions were the exact opposite of what I got when I talked to your NWS colleagues. In conversations they would give me the current line from their powers that be, … Then they would look over their shoulder to see who was nearby and then say they didn’t believe that GW was anything more than a statistical fluke.”

    By “powers that be”, I believe that Mr. Thomas meant the NWS field office supervisors (several hundred of them in offices within the U.S.), and NWS regional office directors (several dozen), NWS directors in headquarters (a couple) and NOAA administrators (several), all presently answering to political appointees in the Department of Commerce, the vice president and the president.

    I replied to Mr. Thomas that NWS staff have been telling the public about that same thing (that global warming is no more than a “statistical fluke”) since even before President G.W. Bush took office in Jan. 2001, and that as far as I know now, the public is still being told that about global warming by NWS managers and employees.

    Also see:

    Pat Neuman
    Chanhassen, MN


    — “Mike Neuman” wrote:
    Since Pat made this public disclosure (PD) on our ClimateArchives, we
    could all help spread the news by forwarded it to other media sources.

    I’m starting this out by forwarding a copy of the Pat’s PD to my two
    local newspapers: the Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times.


  15. 165
    JH Waddell says:

    Nothing I have seen convinces me a Theory of Global Warming exist. Yes global warming exist. There is NO consensous, therefore you have a long way to go. Comparing global warming to evolution is slap in the face to biologist and decent scientist. Evolutionary Theory is one of a few milestone advances in knowledge. Compared only to such things as DNA sequencing.

    Come up with a consensous on global warming first. Try to get agreement on natural or man made.

  16. 166
    Matt says:

    When I eyeball the co2 content integrated over the interglacial period, for the last four cycles, I do not see the biosphere, in the current cycle, using terribly more co2 than previous cycles.

    It appears to me that we have managed carbon quite well over the holocene period. An independent observer, looking at the ice core, might say we have had a run, and now we are engineering the next part of the cycle.

    The biosphere is an adaptive filter, removing the high frequency effects of ice and ocean from the low frequency change in orbit and inclination. Judge our performance against that model.

  17. 167
    Dano says:

    Re current 159 (Matt):

    You may want to ask yourself: what are the ethics and moral imperatives behind re-jiggerin’ multiple entire ecosystems so we can continue to profligately use fossil fuel?

    Once we do this exercise, we see it’s a non-starter on the ground. Sounds like an interesting game, tho.



  18. 168
    Steve Latham says:

    This post touched on several subjects that are of general interest to me.
    1. Responding to #25, I’m not going to tell anybody else what religion to adopt, but agnosticism (coined by Darwin’s bulldog) seems to be the most scientific. I’ll refrain from any more comments on that or on Iraq’s WMD (except to say that I found it interesting to correlate media outlets’ views on AGW and Iraq’s WMD).
    2. With greater respect to the thalweg of the post, I find it interesting that even the scientific establishment focused so much on the religious implications of Darwin and Wallace’s theory than it did on the scientific problems (of which there were several; eg, no known mechanism of inheritance). A surprising (to me) proportion of Asa Gray’s review of The Origin of Species in The American Journal of Science and Arts was dedicated to rebutting the religious arguments of scientists. He went so far as to point out that Newtonian physics, which involved unseen forces, was never considered to be an argument for atheism. It wasn’t until later, when scientists opposed to the idea (like Louis Agassiz) tried to construct their own explanations for the fossil record and the results of selective breeding, that the superiority of natural selection as a theory became self-evident. I’m reading a book called Darwinism and the American Intellectual (1967) by RJ Wilson: “By 1885, one of the best known clergymen in America, Henry Ward Beecher, could declare blandly that “the period of controversy is passed and closed.”” Relating the above to AGW, I guess the parallels are that too many skeptics focus on non-science in their arguments (motivations of climatologists, governmental policy implications, and so on); that alternative explanations should continue to get examined (I like Ray’s response to #46 and Tom’s suggestion in #59); and finally that the scientific debate can be settled a disturbingly long time before the public/legal/policy debate even gets its pants on (or something like that).
    3. I thought a more direct comparison of the theories could be illuminating. Natural selection, as simply as I can put it, occurs because (i) organisms produce more offspring than the environment can support, (ii) organisms vary in their ability to obtain and make use of environmental goods, (iii) individuals with traits that confer a greater ability to get and use resources will generally leave more offspring, (iv) there is hertibility in the traits, and (v) therefore a population’s traits can change greatly over time. When I look at your your wording of the theory of global warming, I can imagine a similar structure. There are at least two differences, however: you include a quantitative prediction and you include a statement about what things play minor roles. Darwin never said how quickly evolution by natural selection should occur (and this led in part to the micro vs macro -evolution argument), and he never really denied the possibility of other influences.
    4. Lastly, in response to #163, I’m a population geneticist (only an MSc, mind you) who doesn’t feel insulted by the comparison of AGW theory to evolutionary theory. Granted, there are many aspects of evolutionary theory that have been thoroughly tested and are well nailed-down, but there is still a lot of work to do (thankfully). I don’t think there are any real qualitative differences between the two bodies of theory; I find their similarities more striking and interesting.

  19. 169
    Steve Latham says:

    Dear Matt,

    I have to admit that I don’t really ‘get’ most of your contributions. However I think you would find the stuff at Popular Science to be interesting (I linked to it last July but the link has since changed).

    Note for others: the link has little to do with Darwin or the nature of science.

  20. 170
    Matt says:

    “You may want to ask yourself: what are the ethics and moral imperatives behind re-jiggerin’ multiple entire ecosystems so we can continue to profligately use fossil fuel?”

    Well, I’ll ask myself. Principle one, we are here, therefore, by definition, we are doing somethings right. Principle two, we should experiment, that is a defined mission of evolution.

    ‘Profligerately’ is a loaded term. We are required to run more, not less, energy through the biosphere, relative to our evolutionary cousins, for evolution expects us to take charge.

  21. 171
    Coby says:


    You are doing another very frustrating thing here, now you are a moving target. We were talking about glaciers and you present some anecdotal evidence about ice shelves in the south pole.

    FWIW, the South Pole has not show a very strong signal either warming or cooling, so I don’t think it says very much new to bring up 100 year old anecdotes.

    No one claims that a few melting glaciers is proof of Global Warming. Proof is a mathematical concept. In climate science one needs to look at the balance of evidence and this is just more evidence on one side of that balance. Widespread and rapid retreat of glaciers is merely yet another observation consistent with all the other kinds of “melting” evidence.

    Here is some of that evidence:

    Sea ice reaches new record declines:
    Glaciers in Greenland are receeding and calving at record rates:–rag111405.php

    This is a global phenomenon:

    Ancient permafrost is also thawing:

    Clearly we are dealing with much more that a few receding glaciers.

  22. 172
    Coby says:

    JH Waddell,

    What would convince you that there is a consensus? Every major institution dealing with the relevant scientific fields agrees with the conclusions of the IPCC TAR. As well almost 20 nations Science Academies have signed joint statements explicitly endorsing the same conclusions.

  23. 173

    Re #94,

    Urs, sorry for the late reply (just finished the next phase of in-house renewal…).
    Indeed, there is little trend in solar indices since 1950, be it that temperatures are going up (and sometimes down) more or less in phase, until about 1985. Since then, there is more warming. Of course this is in part due to the build-up of greenhouse gases. But there is some residual increase from the higher solar energy input since the beginning of the previous century. Just have a look at what happens in climate models if you stop increasing CO2 levels. It takes some 30 years before ocean temperatures are in equilibrium again, after an increase in forcing stops, but much lomger for other feedbacks (ice/snow albedo, vegetation, deep sea exchange)… Indeed the highest rise should be seen in the first years after the end of the rise, but the solar cycles were quite variable just after the 1940’s.

    Moreover, one need to take into account large natural variations. Have a look at the variation of ocean heat content (which is a better measure of total heat flow than surface temperatures alone, see Levitus ea.). The reduction of heat content of the oceans 1980-1990 is quite large, while CO2 levels increase, sulphate aerosols are near constant and solar makes one cycleâ?¦

    Who is right or wrong on the TSI composition trend of the past two solar cycles is difficult to know. It seems a matter of filling the gap between subsequent satellites with the measurements of a third one. But the (small) shift in cloud cover (and to a certain level with GCR) at the solar minima of the two subsequent cycles point to a (small) shift in irradiation, as Willson calculated.

  24. 174
    Matt says:

    Steve Latham,

    The original post compared the testability of ID and the greenhouse theory, and correctly concluded that ID was untestable, hence was not a validly constructed theory.

    This begged the question, therefore, if ID is out the window what is our moral imperative? Science; and the science we rely on to guide us is evolutionary science, not climatology. Climatology theories make climate predictions, evolutionary theory make existential predictions about us.

    So, the greenhouse theory says nothing about when, where, how much, or what kind of fossil fuel we use. The greenhouse theory is useful in helping us choose what to do.

    [Response: Yes, the predictions of science can be very important inputs to moral or ethical decisions. To decide the “ought,” you need to know about the “will be” contingent on your actions. Science may tell you how warm the Earth will get if you double CO2, how many people may die or be displaced, how many species will go extinct, but it will never tell you WHY (or even WHETHER) you should act to avoid such things. –raypierre]

  25. 175

    Re #169


    You are right that most glaciers are receding/melting, but with a few remarks:
    – most receding/melting started a long time ago, some before 1850. Which points to natural causes (at least until 1950).
    – the record receding of (West) Greenland’s glaciers was in 1930-1950, not recent. Summer temperatures in Greenland now still are lower than in that period.

    [Response: You’re still committing the fallacy that, since glaciers started melting in 1850, the continued melting must be due to the same processes which were going on in 1850. That’s not even a testable hypothesis until you say why the glaciers were melting in 1850. This remark in no way “points to a natural cause.” As for your second comment, you’re being to selective. The marginal melt zone has penetrated further inland essentially all around the coast of Greenland now. –raypierre]

  26. 176
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    #164, if there’s no proven theory of GW yet (& I do think there’s enough evidence to have us reduce our GHGs), then that’s because we’re still in the experimental stage. I hope you’re not implying that we should carry on full force with the experiment just to see what happens after 100 years, and whether it reaches your standard for a “theory.”

  27. 177
    Steve Latham says:

    Hi Matt. It appears you disagree with Hume regarding is/ought. I don’t think most evolutionary biologists would agree with you about existential predictions and moral imperatives. I read a book as an undergrad that made some sense to me (the author says that our close relationship and similarity to Earth’s other inhabitants should give us more pause when we harm them):

    I should add that I think the manner in which you are interpreting evolutionary theory is close to that which motivated/motivates so many religious folks to reject it. Perhaps ethicists should construct the equations defining right and wrong on the basis of value systems, whereas science is a method of giving the variables some quantitation. IMO that goes for theories about evolution and AGW.

  28. 178
    raypierre says:

    I am fascinated and gratified by the range of comments on the article. I want you all to know how much I appreciate your taking time to write. Even if I don’t have time to comment on all of them, be assured I’m reading them all and profiting.

  29. 179
    Matt says:


    I looked up the book you recommended by Rachels, and read a few reviews of his philosophy. I do believe that Rachels is deriving a moral philosophy from elements of evolution theory. His conclusions seem to agree with mine.

    So, how does his philosophy lead us to determine if the 2 deg mark is magic? Or whether fossil fuel should be used in what amounts? Or what amount of energy can we run through the biosphere over a specific amount of time?

    We are still stuck, according to climatologists we are required to set the temperature and energy levels.

  30. 180
    Matt says:

    I hypothisize a different fear gripping the climatologists.

    They look at the co2 history, over time, in this interglacial period, and find that co2 behavior, in total content over time, matches the other interglacial periods, and we are likely to reach the tipping point.

    The problem is, the land biosphere has been so engineered by man over the last 10,000 years, that it is out of state with regard to the normal inerglacial periods. Hence, we do not yet have a handle on what the down slope looks like, or even if there will be one.

    The fact that man uses an efficient fossil fuel source is immaterial. If man had not controlled oxidation, the soil microbes would have, and they too would have reached the “holding” capacity of the atmosphere. And if the microbes weren’t there, the dry carbon would have burned.

  31. 181
    Brian Forbes says:

    You AGW protagonists always call written evidence older than 100 years anectdotal whenever it contradicts you.If such evidence supports AGW it would be treated as it should be.
    Such evidence is not anecdotal it usually report written at the time of observation by a concientious
    scientist and and published later in book form .Any statements they made would be checked by succeeding explorers.
    There are many reports regarding the extent sea ice in the Antarctic at the time:they all confirm my view.To my mind there are enough reports from the Arctic also but the case is not as strong.
    Regarding mathematical proof: there is a nice paper
    which proves with the aid of a model that although the bulk of the Antarctic is cooling the area north of 65 south is warming.There is a big problem with this, Sea ice is expanding slowly instead of retreating as it should.

    [Response: I presume you are aware that I am the second author on that paper? What it suggests is that ozone depletion (and GHGs) could lead to a strengthening of the winds around the southern oceans and is consistent with a mild cooling over Antarctica. This is actually seen in many other models (Miller et al, in press) and thus gives a robust physical reason to explain the situation around Antarctica. In general it shows the difficulty in using any one locality (which is affected by global and regional patterns) to conclusively say something about the global mean – it doesn’t matter how conscientiously a local measurement is taken, it is still only one point. – gavin]

  32. 182
    Brian Forbes says:

    If anyone finds a hole in AGW theory one or more of amall group of scientists produce(s) paper(s) based on a computer model to patch it up.
    The parameters of a computer model can be tweaked to produce the desired result (I’ve done it myself when I was convinced the result would be true). This does not prove anything except that a model can be produced for any eventuality.
    I believe that there is enough evidence to demostrate that the sea ice in Antartica is as extensive nowadays as it was at the beginning of the 20th century.It is not just one point or one area. Look up the number of records there are for youself.

    [Response: Again, it is just not so. I cannot ‘tweak’ the model to produce whatever I want – once the model is set up to simulate the present climatology no parameters are tweaked when calculating the response to various forcings. With respect to sea ice in Antartica, there is no evidence of large declines except around the Antartcia Peninsula and I am unaware of anyone who has claimed the contrary. – gavin]

  33. 183
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Brian Forbes, I am a GW antagonist (I think we should reduce GW). I’ve been censored here several times. I take it as a high honor to be censored here. For instance, my Theory of Devolution was censored, but I still claim there’s plenty of evidence for it. Just look around.

    But I do agree with you. The sun does warm the earth. Just try to take a sun bath on a cloudy day. And if I could turn down the sun a bit to help balance things out, I’d do so. But since I can’t, I have to content myself with reducing my GHGs (which saves me $$$ to boot).

    And I do think, as you do, we should stop flying all those airplanes (#70). This is probably an understudied area, and you might be on to something there. Such air flight reductions would have a double positive effect — less WV and less CO2.

    I agree with you about the antarctic. It does seem reasonable it would be getting more snow & ice there, since warming increases WV, which then comes down as precip.–which means more snow in very cold regions. But I just take the scientists’ words on what’s happening in the antarctic, since I’m not a climate scientist. However, the warming-WV-precip theory I sort of know about on my own from Kitchen Physics 101.

    In fact, a lot of the GH effect theory is sort of common sense; like try rolling up your car window on a sunny day & see what happens. Really the burden of proof is on the part of the AGW-denialists to prove AGW is not happening. Maybe there’s some law of physics that hasn’t been discovered yet that can explain why atmospheric GHGs would not lead to warming.

    And who is this Dr. Butler you keep bringing up? You have to ask, (1) is he/she a climate scientist; (2) is he/she being sincere and honest (and is he/she sane); and (3) is he/she getting any money or brownie points from fossil fuel industries or gov people who support such industries. It’s a jungle out there. Beware of wolves in sheep clothing.

  34. 184

    Re #168 and “I’m not going to tell anybody else what religion to adopt, but agnosticism (coined by Darwin’s bulldog) seems to be the most scientific.”

    So how do you explain Alfred Russel Wallace being a devout Anglican? Theodosius Dobzhansky a devout eastern Orthodox believer? Francisco Ayala and Annie Dillard being devout Roman Catholics? Think they were all “unscientific?”

  35. 185
    Coby says:

    Brian, you have missed the point about Antarctic ice. No one claims that there is significant warming in the antarctic (except the peninsula). The point is that this is one region only and the global average is .8oC higher now than in 1900. I’m sorry if I seemed dismissive of your early 1900’s reports on sea ice, but I did clearly concede that there is no reason to expect less ice given the lack of any trend.

    What did you think of all the rest of the melting going on around the globe I provided links for?

  36. 186
    Brian Forbes says:

    “there is no evidence of large declines except around the Antartcia Peninsula and I am unaware of anyone who has claimed the contrary”
    You can’t be reading newspapers and watching TV .
    We are told constantly that Antarctica is melting that the sea will rise and flood the coast, all quoting some scientist who has just run a model.
    Its good news to see an eminent climatologist debunk
    such scare tactics. I would like you to publicise your opinion it would go a long way to allay public fears.

    [Response: You may be confusing sea ice changes (which is floating and has no significant impact on sea level) with ice sheet changes which are the biggest ‘danger’ that can be forseen in climate change scenarios. Antarctica as a whole is probably accumulating ice at the moment (which is a good thing), but the net loss of ice on the peninsula demonstrates how fragile some of those ice streams are. Should the rest of Antarctica warm at anything like the rate seen on the Peninsula, that would be very serious indeed. Our modelling (which you quoted earlier) indicates that with a stabilisation of ozone depletion, it is unlikely that Antarctica will continue to cool in the future. -gavin]

    Neither Dr Butler nor myself receive any payment from the fossil fuel industries(who by the way are profiting from Kyoto)
    I also am economical in my use of energy & recycle most of my rubbish .However this does not make me a believer
    In my work as a chemist I have seen examples of scientists self deluding themselves with results that have been moulded to fit the current theory.
    I am now retired and as an amateur astronomer I have found that skies are nowhere near as clear now as they were in my youth .This appears to be due to ice crytsals in the stratosphere ejected from Jet aircraft.
    There is a good example of the moulding of results but it has been censored.

    [Response: By whom? Minnis et al, 2003; Hansen et al, 2005 seem to have been published with no problem… – gavin]

  37. 187
    Brian Forbes says:


  38. 188
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Brian, that’s good that you are conscientious in energy use and in other environmental areas. That’s all I’d really like to see people do. What does it matter if they do or do not accept AGW science, or have problems with the evidence, theory, models, or whatever?

    You are doing the sensible thing by recycling and reducing energy & living a energy/resource efficient/conservative life–which can be done with 1/2, or even 3/4+ reduction without lowering living standards or productivity. And such reductions also help reduce so many other problems (including resource depletion), aside from mitigating GW. You might also try looking into alternative energy. I’m finding in Texas that 100% wind generated electricity provided by Green Mountain Energy is now a bit cheaper than conventional electricity. Maybe the same is true for your area, or maybe it costs a few dollars more, which could be covered by extra efficiency/conservation measures.

    So I admire you for what you’re doing. That’s better than agreeing AGW is happening, but doing nothing to reverse it. And if you’re right AGW is not happening, then you would not have lost anything by reducing & saving money; and if you’re wrong, then you would have been helping to mitigate it. That’s really sensible. I’ve been trying to promote that “personal policy” for a long time, and it seems I’m banging my head against a brick wall. But you are a shining example of it, and I’m sure people would listen to you, more than they do to me.

  39. 189
    Brian Forbes says:

    In my area the environmentalists oppose windmills they don’t want their moorland spoiled and atomic energy believing that the least bit of radioactivity (buried deep) is dangerous .There is a word for it NIMBY not in my back yard.There is very little chance of reducing the rise in CO2 .We had better learn to live with it.Not that it will make a great deal of difference.So long as you dont blame the global coolng that’s coming on CO2 shutting down the thermmohaline circulation.I know there’s a model for that

  40. 190

    Re #175 (comment)

    Raypierre, my reaction was more about the recent rates of Greenland ice retreat, mentioned in Coby’s #171 (was #169 when I posted). I agree that most glaciers worldwide are retreating…

    But about what caused the glacier retreat (in general) in the early period, is more probably by natural causes than by GHGs. The increase of 10 ppmv in the period 1850-1900 is not likely to have caused much temperature/glacier change. And the period 1900-1945 with 15 ppmv CO2 increase is neither impressive. That means that until 1945 (and in part thereafter, as once induced melting/calving/retreat speeds up glaciers as there is less friction), the (temperature related) glacier retreat was mainly natural.

    After 1945, GHGs became more important, but it is also the time that glacier retreat slowed down worldwide (or even reversed for several glaciers in the RealClimate graph), see Oerlemans. But in the recent decade(s), there is again more melting (and the graphs need updates for recent years).

    The Greenland case is quite different from the global case, as around Greenland edges summer temperatures were actually higher in the 1930-1950 period than today. And the only glacier I found (Ilulisat/Jacobshavn) with long term data, showed a much larger retreat of the break-up point in the 1930-1950 period than in the recent five decades. Btw if you do know of long-term data for other Greenland glaciers, I am very interested.
    Thus while Greenland glaciers are speeding up and thinning, a comparison with earlier data may indicate that this is comparable to other periods, when GHGs played less role.

    That doesn’t imply that GHGs are not important, or not involved in temperature increase/glacier retreat, but the Greenland case can not be used as proof for their influence…

    [Response: No single observation by itself is ever likely to prove that models are on the right track with regard to AGW, but when you put together a whole lot of indicators, all of which are consistent with a world warming by an unusual amount, and set them against relatively few indicators (interior Antarctic cooling) that aren’t an expected signature of AGW, it sure does seem to add up to a pattern, doesn’t it? Again, you have to ask what else besides GHG increase could explain such a remarkable concurrence of indicators. Even the indicators of local cooling, as in interior Antarctica, bolster the case, because, as Gavin described, they can be understood in terms of the physics that are in the same models used to predict future AGW. –raypierre]

  41. 191
    Hank Roberts says:

    >global cooling …

  42. 192

    Regarding #186: It is not the ice streams that are of first concern. it is the ice shelves that the ice streams feed. If you remove the ice shelves, than the ice streams feeding them accelerate, this has been observed in the case of feeder glaciers to the former Larsen B Ice Shelf. The feeder glaciers have all accelerated without a buttressing ice shelf. Of greater importance is the noted retreat of ice shelves buttressing Pine Island and Thwaites Glacier which are important glaciers draining the West Antarcti Ice Sheet. In both cases these major ice streams have accelerated. Thus, we see evidence of localized destabilization of the ice sheet-ice shelf system.

  43. 193
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Brian, it seems you’re in England, so, of course you cannot reduce as much GHGs cost-effectively as we Americans can. We are really high on the profligacy hog. Europeans, I think, emit about 1/2 of what American emit. So maybe you can only go down a bit more. We can go down a lot, but we prefer to burn money out in our front yards like so many autumn leaves.

    Re wind generators, I understand there are some small ones people can install themselves, that don’t mess up the view or cause much noise. But that’s a lot of work & expense. And I think solar will be coming down & put in all sorts of applications. I know we can reduce GHGs, but we are so slow to do it, even when it means saving money. You might read Lovins’s Natural Capitalism for inspiration ( ).

  44. 194
    Brian Forbes says:

    Re 186
    Mauri :The front of the Ronne ice shelf broke in 1985 and again in 1998 A sign of global warming? no just more ice moving off the Antarctic ice cap which is still thickening.
    At this moment the Ronne ice shelf is in much the same position as it was in 1912 when Filchner mapped it.
    The Larsen ice shelf is different It is probably made up mostly by the ice from the Ronne ice shelf which gets trapped against the Antarctic penninsula .
    The are signs of this happening at the moment.

  45. 195
    Steve Latham says:

    Regarding 179 (Matt) and 184 (Barton): here’s my last post on philosophy since I am no expert. Matt, for Rachels’ argument to work, I think somebody has to demonstrate two principles – do unto others… and value your relatives. Science can’t do this by itself. Rachels goes into it a bit. Note that depending on other values, evolutionary theory may be interpreted to support other positions (e.g., social Darwinsim — yuck).

    Barton, some Jehovah’s witnesses came to my door to give me a book about how evolution was the devil’s idea. They asked me if Einstein (“I want to know God’s thoughts, the rest are details”) was a scientist. Arguing about Einstein’s definition of God with them would have been fruitless. Now I could write about how some accounts say that Wallace came to understand evolution during a fever and how he never embraced the implacations for humans, but that line of argument wouldn’t benefit anyone.

    I wrote that I wouldn’t tell anyone what religion to follow. I think that is fundamentally a matter of faith and choice. Some have said that the fundamentals of science lie elsewhere. To me, maintaining an open mind and being skeptical seem opposed to faith (perhaps if this point needs more discussion we can move our conversation elsewhere). I don’t have any problem with scientists choosing faith over agnosticism when it comes to religion, but (similar to what I was trying to say to Matt about values and stuff) that choice is not fundamentally scientific. That’s my opinion, anyway.

  46. 196
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re 194 (BF): “The Larsen ice shelf is different It is probably made up mostly by the ice from the Ronne ice shelf which gets trapped against the Antarctic penninsula .” Evidence for that? You never did respond to my request for evidence for your assertion in #152: “Although this does not explain glaciers that are actually shrinking but apart from Europe it appears that for every shrinking glacier there is an expanding one sometimes issuing from the same icefield.” As I already noted, it’s not helpful to just make things up. Generally if you have an idea along such lines, you should start by checking Google Scholar. If there’s no result there, probably it’s because there’s nothing to the idea, but if you still insist on commenting at least do us the courtesy of posing your idea as a question.

  47. 197
    Brian Forbes says:

    More than half of all the glaciers in Norway expanded between 1995 and 2000. I’ve seen many alarmist reports on the collapse of the Ninnis glacier but the Mertz glacier flowing from the same ice field is expanding.
    On the Mertz- and Ninnis-Glaciers, Eastern Antarctica
    There are other examples and I did say”appears”.
    I have never made anything up but my only scource of infomation is the web. I often find it difficult to relocate web sites that I have viewed hence the word “appears”
    Here is a question
    In my work as a chemist I have seen examples of scientists self deluding themselves with results that have been moulded to fit the current theory.
    Are there any examples of this in the data that supports AGW?

  48. 198
    Florifulgurator says:

    Re 197, question,
    Dunno for AGW, but a nice example for solar forcing self-delusion is here:

  49. 199
    hugh says:

    Ref 197(BF)

    page 78 or your link:

    “A corresponding study by Reichert and others (2001) demonstrates that mass balances in Norway and Switzerland, are strongly correlated with decadal variations in the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). This mechanism, which is entirely caused by internal variations in the climate system, can explain the sharp contrast between recent mass gains for certain Scandinavian glaciers as compared with the marked ice losses observed in the European Alps.”

    and p.79

    – Concern increases that the ongoing trend of worldwide and fast if not accelerating glacier shrinkage at the century time scale is of non-cyclic nature … there is definitely no more question of the originally envisaged “variations periodiques des glaciers”.
    – Due to the human impacts on the climate system (enhanced greenhouse effect), dramatic scenarios of future developments “including complete deglaciation of entire mountain ranges” must be taken into consideration.
    – Such scenarios may lead far beyond the range of historical/holocene variability and most likely introduce processes (extent and rate of glacier vanishing, distance to equilibrium conditions) without precedence in the history of the earth.
    – “A broad and worldwide public today recognises glacier changes as a key indication of regional and global climate and environment change.”

    And your point in steering us toward that link in order to bolster your case was…?

  50. 200
    Matt says:

    OK, so how did human do 12 thousand years ago.

    If we hypothesis that the evolutionary accident was the ability to finally get more biological work from the soils, then we can grade the accident of man during the last quarter cycle of the period.

    Under many plausible scenarios of agricultural development, man’s impact 12,000 years ago could have been in the range of 10 gigatons to 200 gigatons over a three hundred year cycle. So, evolution found the power function.

    Did evolution get a breakthrough in finally cracking the glacial upswing and extracting more work? Evolution was stalled, other than worms, it is hard to do better than the microbes in oxidizing soil. The real evolutionary accident was that vertebrates scratched the soils. Then they ran in huge herds, tilling grasslands. They burrowed. Vertebrates flew around like tiny crop dusters, what a huge accident. These were just accidents, but a million bisson is in the range of a million tons of carbon a year over the American prairie.

    Science will likely rule that evolution did it right in finally cracking the soil problem, except for the younger-dryas glitch. Our grade, B+, relative to any other glacial cycle. The system analysis will show we have helped convert the rapid oxidation driven deglaciton to a smoother step function, at least. Had we gotten younger-dryas right, we would have run a gaussian minimum energy loss, smooth glide up to and through the holocene. Science will show that applying high impulse, counter-cyclical, carbon fluxes at appripriate moments was the best would could have done. Science will show that it was no accident, for the greatest chance of evolutionary success was exactly when oxidion was running high fever, as there is most entropy losses for evolution to work with.

    Was it an accident that evolution has gotten more than a hundred feet into the earth’s crust? Yes, a huge accident, that is what is exciting. We are in charge from now on, we have no other destiny than human management of the glacial cycle, at the very least. It is like a huge job promotion.