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Avery and Singer: Unstoppable hot air

Filed under: — david @ 20 November 2006

Last week I attended a talk by Dennis Avery, author with Fred Singer of Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Years (there is a summary here). The talk (and tasty lunch) was sponsored by the Heartland Institute, and was apparently enthusiastically received by its audience. Still whoozy from a bit of contention during the question period, a perplexed member of the audience told me privately that he thought a Point/CounterPoint discussion might be useful (he didn’t know I wrote for realclimate; it was just a hypothetical thought). But here’s my attempt to accommodate.

Note: The Points are paraphrases from the slides and my notes from Avery’s talk.

Point. The existence of the medieval warm and the Little Ice Age climate intervals, and the 1500 year D-O cycles in glacial climate, proves that the warming in the past decades is a natural phenomenon, not caused by human industry at all.

CounterPoint. The existence of climate changes in the past is not news to the climate change scientific community; there is a whole chapter about it in the upcoming IPCC Scientific Assessment. Nor do past, natural variations in climate negate the global warming forecast. Most past climate changes, like the glacial interglacial cycle, can be explained based on changes in solar heating and greenhouse gases, but the warming in the last few decades cannot be explained without the impact of human-released greenhouse gases. Avery was very careful to crop his temperature plots at 1985, rather than show the data to 2005.

Point. Hundreds of researchers have published on the Little Ice Age and Medieval warm climates, proving that there is no scientific consensus on global warming.

CounterPoint. Natural and human-induced climate changes both exist. Studying one does not imply disbelief in the other.

Point. Human populations of Europe and India thrived during the medieval warm time, so clearly warming is good for us.

CounterPoint. No one asserts that the present-day warmth is a calamity, although perhaps some residents of Tuvalu or New Orleans might feel differently, and the Mayans may have been less than enthusiastic about the medieval climate. The projected temperature for 2100 under business-as-usual is another matter entirely, warmer than the Earth has been in millions of years.

Point. NASA identified a huge energy hole over the tropical Pacific, which sucked out as much heat as doubling CO2. NASA scientists asked modelers to replicate this, and they failed, by 200-400%, even when they knew the answer in advance!

CounterPoint. This appears to be a reference to Chen et al., 2002. Satellite data from the equatorial Pacific showed an increase in IR heat flux to space of about 5 W/m2 from 1985 to 2005, and a decrease in reflected visible light of about 2 W/m2, leaving a 3 W/m2 change in net heat flux.

Avery’s implicit promise would seem to be that with rising CO2, the heavens will part and let the excess energy out, a Lindzenesque mechanism to nullify global warming. The measured change in heat fluxes in the equatorial Pacific is indeed comparable to the radiative effect of doubling CO2 but the CO2 number is a global average, while the equatorial Pacific is just one region. The measurements probably reflect a regional rearrangement of cloud cover or ocean temperature, a decadal variation with no clear implication at all for the global mean heat budget of the Earth. The global heat imbalance has been inferred (Hansen et al, Science, 2005), and it is consistent with rising greenhouse gas concentrations and transient heating of the ocean.

A word about models in science (as opposed to in think-tank economics, Mr. Avery’s home turf). Models would have little use if they were so easy to bend into any answer we thought we knew about in advance. One can always be critical of models, but there is no model that avoids global warming by parting the heavens, or that is exquisitely sensitive to solar variability but insensitive to CO2, the worlds that Mr. Avery wishes for.

Avery’s talk also dusted off many of the good old good ones, like the cosmic-ray / cloud connection, the temperature lead of CO2 through the deglaciation, the Antarctic warming, the cooling during the period 1940-1970, the now-resolved satellite temperature discrepancy from ground temperatures, and even the ancient CO2 band saturation myth.

In addition to Chen, Avery offered to us the work of Maureen Raymo and Gerard Bond. Bond didn’t think his work cast any doubt on the possibility of anthropogenic warming, neither do Raymo or Chen. Hint: if you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about, the accent on the fourth syllable of foraminifera, not foraminifera.

Point. Environmentalists do what they do because they miss having their mommies reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales to them. They like getting all scared.

CounterPoint. To hybrid-phrase Thomas Jefferson and Richard Feynman, I tremble for humanity when I reflect that nature cannot be fooled. You’re damn right I’m scared.


209 Responses to “Avery and Singer: Unstoppable hot air”

  1. 201
    John L. McCormick says:

    RE # 199

    Marco does not grasp the magnitude of the CO2 US electric power sector generation boilers emit.

    In 2005 US coal fired electric power generation boilers emitted 2.4 billion tons of CO2. Since the gas has volume, the total emissions would neatly fit into a box having volume of 293 cubic miles. Try hiding that gas every year in abandoned coal mines, played out oil fields or geologic formations.

    Maybe CO2 sequestration could be the answer to coastal innundation from sea level rise?

  2. 202
    Matt says:

    Hold your horses, I live in New Zealand and no Tuvaluans are jumping our borders, Gore’s movie was the first anyone heard of it, Also New Orleans was the direct result of poor levy maintanence, not global warming, that is a poor counter point, a better counter point would be something like the populations of India and Europe weren’t bursting at the seams like they are now, in fact massive population growth in India simply outstrips resources so an uncharacteristic increase in population would be unfavourabe in todays world (and probably wouldn’t be affected on way or the other by favourable conditions in this part of the world)

  3. 203
    Matt says:

    The evil ones say there is no consensus on global warming, actually that is obviouly a lie, on real climate you have a consensus that it is happening and it is bad. On some other sites run by the Dr evils they have a consesus it either isn’t happening or it is happening and it is good, i’m hoping it will be good, more importantly there is consensus one way or another, it just isn’t 100% one way or the other, just each faction agreeing with itself.

  4. 204
    Hank Roberts says:

    Matt, try Google for information about your country’s policy toward immigration from Tuvalu, you’ll find policy statements.

    There are also news programs:
    New Zealand�s Climate Refugees from Tulava. (audio and text) Reported by Alexandra Berzon, Living on Earth, NPR, March 31, 2006.
    http://www.livingonearth.org/shows/segments.htm?programID=06-P13-00013&segmentID=6

  5. 205
    Matt says:

    Whoa there folks, we get immigration from all these pacific islands non stop 24/7. Suggesting that it is because of Global warming at this early stage is a bit of a scare monger, sorry don’t buy it. What their stated intentions are does not necessarily reflect why they leave such as a total lack of opportunity offered by pacific islands. This is NOT worthy of news in our country, why is it bothered with by an american network with limited background in the issue. Repeat, The REAL reason is lack of space NOT related to sea levels and lack of opportunity due to typically poor economic conditions on pacific islands.

  6. 206
    Matt says:

    Note please the Tuvaluans aren’t exactly charging in, the expected yearly immigration is less than 100. Don’t get me wrong, we are contributing to global warming, just don’t tell us New Orleans and Tuvalu issues are related until they actually are proven so. more likely NO was flooded because the government are tightasses and Tuvalu is overcrowded because they keep breeding without producing enough industry to support themselves.

  7. 207
    Matt says:

    re #196. Couldn’t you just blow it through a wet scrubber, rather a lake and grow algae or other bio mass.

    Regarding CO2 taxation, I can’t agree wholeheartedly with that, carbon use needs alternatives not taxes. You will find yourself unable to trust the government to spend the tax income wisely, also demand is price inelastic for these goods so to cut coal use for example you will need a substitute not a tax which will lead to net wastage of economic surplus. Why do you think poor people get heating oil vouchers, it is because their demand is irrespective of price, the only answer is alternatives. We don’t really need more climate scientists we got enough of them and you all do good work, we need more technological scientists and engineers who can provide alternatives.

  8. 208
    James says:

    Re #207: Of course trusting any government to spend any tax money wisely is… well, misguidedly optimistic seems a mannerly way to describe it. However, that’s neither more nor less true of a carbon tax than any other tax, with the benefit that quite a bit of carbon taxes can easily be avoided. Indeed, isn’t that the main purpose of a carbon tax, to encourage people to avoid it?

    As for energy demand being inelastic, nothing could be further from the truth. Take your example of heating oil vouchers for the poor. I live in an older, oil heated house that I bought a decade ago. By adding decent insulation, a small woodstove, and other obvious & fairly inexpensive improvements I was able to cut my heating oil use to under 20% of what it was the first winter, and by next year I hope to get it to near-zero.

    The demand isn’t inelastic: it only seems so because the price of oil is still so low that it’s cheaper (in the short run) to give heating oil vouchers than to make energy-efficient houses.

  9. 209
    Marco Parigi says:

    Regarding CO2 taxation, I can’t agree wholeheartedly with that, carbon use needs alternatives not taxes.

    The alternatives are in the main already there, avoiding the taxes encourages the alternatives in a PROPORTIONAL way. Picking and choosing technologies to fund loses the proportionality of the alternative encouragement, and we could waste time and money. However, if Cigarette taxes are anything to go by, the taxes may have to become excruciatingly high to wean us off our CO2 “addiction”.


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