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Climate Reporting in Physics World

Filed under: — rasmus @ 23 February 2007 - (Português)

PhysicsWorld cover, Volume 20, no. 2, February 2007 The February 2007 issue of PhysicsWorld contains several articles relevant to climate research, with a main feature article on climate modelling written by Adam Scaife, Chris Folland, and John Mitchell, and a profile on Richard Lindzen as well as an article on geoengineering in the ‘News & Analyses’ section. The magazine also contains an article (‘Living in the greenhouse’) under ‘Lateral Thoughts’ that brings up a bunch of tentative analogies to a wide range of topics completely unrelated to the greenhouse effect in a technical sense, and an editorial comment ‘Hot topic‘, arguing that it would be wrong of PhysicsWorld to ignore those outside the mainstream. To be more precise, the editorial comment devotes a few lines justifying the profile on Lindzen and the report on geoengineering, with a reference to a Feynman quote: “There is no harm in doubt and scepticism, for it is through these that new discoveries are made”. Wise words! Nevertheless, I cannot resist making some reflections.

One thought that immediately struck me was: has PhysicsWorld tried to make a ‘balanced report‘, or does the issue of doubt and scepticism by itself merit the profile article? Is the scepticism or doubt really genuine (doubt is the product)? To be fair, the article does bring up objections against some of Lindzen’s arguments (citing Gavin). However, I’d like to see a more consistent and critical article, as Lindzen’s arguments – at least the way they are echoed in PhysicsWorld – are in my opinion inconsistent.

Here is one example: Take Lindzen’s controversial claim that the good comparison between modelled and historical temperature evolution is an exercise in “curve fitting”. Written between the lines is the assumption that the climate models are driven with forcings based on historical GHG emissions. Later in the article Lindzen argues that the climate models used by the IPCC are far too sensitive to changes in the concentrations of atmospheric CO2. To me, these two statements say opposite things – and are thus in violation with each other. Because, either the models give a good description of the historic evolution or they don’t, given past GHGs, aerosol emissions and natural forcings (surely, Lindzen must have known about these simulations).

So, why didn’t the magazine ask critical questions about these conflicting views, or at least comment on what appears to be faulty logic? Or, perhaps Lindzen bases his claim on other aspects of model evaluation? Lindzen argues that the effect of CO2 on the temperature is small because the effect of additional CO2 molecule decreases as the concentration increases, but at the same time, Lindzen also seems to forget – just for a moment – all the feedbacks which can enhance the warming. Gavin confounds him with an objection on a different point – that Lindzen has not taken the delay response properly into account, for instance due to the ocean thermal inertia. In the next paragraph, however, Lindzen maintains that climate models do not replicate the feedback mechanisms in the climate system, and later on refers to his hypothesis, the ‘infrared iris effect‘, which more or less has been buried by the scientific community.

Gavin makes this point in the article (also see an argument for why it is wrong), but a final thought that dawned on me was that Lindzen is probably no better at calculating the feedback effects in his head than the climate models.


296 Responses to “Climate Reporting in Physics World”

  1. 101
    Ike Solem says:

    RE#96, you seem to be justifying cutting the budget for the Deep Space Climate Observatory due to the need to employ Russian dual-use personnel? That’s bizarre – why not put them to work on the Climate Observatory? If that had been done, the hard data would be at hand, and it would probably support the current estimates – or do you think that it wouldn’t? It is very clear that certain elements simply don’t want to see the data collected. Ignorance is bliss?

    As far as the Roesche paper ( http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2006/2005JD006473.shtml ), that is yet another example of misuse of a publication. The quote is “Simulated global mean annual surface albedos are slightly above the remote-sensed surface albedo estimates.” I haven’t looked at the full paper, but your interpretation seems highly skewed.

    The issue of how the net energy imbalance estimate of 0.85 W/m^2 (not ‘less than 0.8′) was arrived at is discussed at http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/05/planetary-energy-imbalance/

    Quote: Firstly, as surface temperatures and the ocean heat content are rising together, it almost certainly rules out intrinsic variability of the climate system as a major cause for the recent warming (since internal climate changes (ENSO, thermohaline variability, etc.) are related to transfers of heat around the system, atmospheric warming would only occur with energy from somewhere else (i.e. the ocean) which would then need to be cooling).

    Secondly, since the ocean warming is shown to be consistent with the land surface changes, this helps validate the surface temperature record, which is then unlikely to be purely an artifact of urban biases etc. Thirdly, since the current unrealized warming “in the pipeline” is related to the net imbalance, 0.85+/-0.15 W/m2 implies an further warming of around 0.5-0.7 C, regardless of future emission increases.

    Now, you can cite Lyman et al, Recent Cooling of the Upper Ocean, GRL 2006 as evidence that the ocean heat issues aren’t well understood, but that shouldn’t be reassuring. Since sea levels haven’t dropped, the most likely explanation is an increase in freshwater input to the oceans – and there are other uncertainties, like lack of Arctic coverage and the use of new data collections systems (Argo floats) in the recent data. For a discussion of the freshwater issue, see http://www.climate.unibe.ch/~stocker/papers/stocker05natnv.pdf (Stoker and Raible Nature 2005 “water cycle shifts gear”)

  2. 102

    Re: Raypierre’s response to #96.

    The spread in the IPCC forecasts is not due to the model uncertainties but to the future CO2 scenerios. Because the Roesch paper demonstrated a positive surface albedo bias in all the AR4 models, the models may not even bracket the correct answer. For Ike’s benefit (again), the globally/annually averaged model albedos that are “slightly” above the data are albedo errors of 0.016 and 0.019. These are the numbers that look slight. But, when you apply the net solar flux from

    http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg1/fig1-2.htm

    of 198 W/m^2, you get 3.2 to 3.8W/m^2 respectively (I hadn’t updated the lower figure previously from when I was using 168W/m^2). What response would you make to the WSJ editors if they raised this issue? Hopefully you could do better than the importance of this paper has been “inflated”. The paper itself has not been disputed, and the demonstrated errors in the whole meta-ensemble from this one diagnostic subproject, are more significant than the global energy imbalance figure the models must attribute.

    So, in thinking of my children, I see no reason to give even the middle of the model range credibility. It is more likely the estimates will have to be extended to the lower end, when this anti-solar bias is eliminated and when solar activity is better understood. I’ve read the papers that claim to provide an “independent” estimate of climate sensitivity, such as Annan’s, and even they aren’t independent of the models, and make the assumption that the different forcings are equivilent, when they are quite differently coupled to the climate. Even the worst scenerios don’t rise to the importance of fighting disease or tracking near earth objects. Yes, uncertainty doesn’t justify inaction, but focusing on economic growth while doing research and taking the measures that are economic (such as , telecommuting, passive solar, compact flourescents, etc) is not inaction. The current evidence does not justify making uneconomic decisions.

    There are scientifically credible scenerios that might eliminate the warming. According to Solanki, there is only an 8% chance that the currently level of solar activity will continue until 2050. Solar activity is itself poorly understood, so the strong correlations of climate with solar activity might be better explained when we have more than just a couple cycles of high quality data. Current models of solar activity only explain 80% of the variation in irradiance over the last two cycles, and probably will explain even less when applied to more extreme varations. A return to more normal levels of solar activity and a couple of volcanic eruptions may be all it takes to make any near term economic sacrifice an obvious waste.

    There is such a potential for wealth and technology creation in the burgeoning productivity of the Indian and Chinese populations, that I am extremely hopeful that any mitigation decisions that may ultimately be needed, will be both more informed and affordable in the future.

    Roesch A. (2006), Evaluation of surface albedo and snow cover in AR4 coupled climate models, J. Geophys. Res., 111,D15111, doi:10.1029/2005JD006473. The albedo errors I reported above are 0.140-0.124 and 0.140-0.121 respectively.

    [Response: You are incorrect about the source of the spread in the IPCC forecasts. The IPCC separately keeps track of two different sources of uncertainty: that due to variations in model scnsitivity, and that due to uncertainties abot which scenario best dexcribes the future. The results presented in the SPM lay this out very clearly. YOu are still overselling the meaning of the Roesch paper. A small difference in the estimated albedo would lead to a small difference in the basc climate, but an even smaller difference in the amount of warming predicted. To get a reduction in predicted warmng, you'd have to have a reason to believe that model shortcomings in albedo are missing a major stabilizing influence in which albedo increases with temperature. If you want to argue that models have some uncertainty in the way they handle albedo, you also have to say why you think that correcting those shortcomings would decrease rather than increase model sensitivity. You are making another one of the old standard arguments -- if the model has any shortcoming, the whole thing is junk. That doesn't cut it. You have to think hard about the way the uncertainty contribute to climate sensitivity. You aren't doing that. If you want to pray that the Sun is going to dim and save us from the warming effects of CO2, that's fine with me. Every little bit helps, though I wouldn't want to bank on that as a solution. Putting your faith in Solanki's prediction isn't much better. --raypierre]

  3. 103

    [[Re #89. Developing solutions to climate change will require a healthy, growing economy--not just in the US and Europe, but globally. A healthy economy requires lots of energy, and there simply is not combination of renewables, etc. that can meet those needs. Even with fossil fuels, the demands of 9 billion people will be challenging. Nuclear power is quite simply the cleanest and cheapest way to produce the energy required for a future economy. All the renewables have a role, but they simply aren't practical to meet the energy demands of 9 billion people. ]]

    Why aren’t they? The amount of Solar power falling on the Earth dwarfs anything we use in the world economy. We can do it all with renewables, and we don’t even need nuclear.

  4. 104

    Raypierre–
    Re “Armed Cant” is scarcely new–before King Kong could be cited by The League of Nations Environmental Program as establishing the fifty foot gorilla as an endangered species , or that Art Deco Hollywood Ecoterrorist, Ming the Merciless could zap the ozone layer with his Niton Ray , The New York Times took aim at the popular imagination with this timely shocker :

    “The Earth is steadily growing warmer. As all the ice at the two poles melts a stupendous volume of water will be released.

    Fish will swim in Buckingham Palace… New York will be marked by the…taller skyscrapers as they jut out of the water…the climate..as when dinosaurs roamed the earth and dense jungles…grew in…Canada.

    Palms and alligators would flourish at the poles …man’s food supply will not …it is a question if he will survive ” — The New York Times..May 15, 1932.

    Whole thing at:
    http://adamant.typepad.com/seitz/2007/02/global_warming_.html

  5. 105
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE #99, Steve, you don’t have to be a fence-sitting due to the uncertainty you have. I’m not a climate scientist either, but I figured it this way: If GW is happening & we do nothing, we’re in really bad trouble. If GW is NOT happening, but we act as if it is and reduce our GHGs, we will be saving money, and this can be done without lowering living standards….even up to a 1/3, 1/2, or even 2/3 reduction. So, all you need to do is get off the fence (I, too, was a “passive” environmentalist until 1990, when I started reducing GHGs & saving money), investigate how you can reduce without giving up your favorate lifestyle, and get to it. It’s actually fun & you feel a sense of accomplishment.

    RE #86 & nuclear. Here’s an idea, first we reduce our GHGs all we can without going nuclear, then we figure how many nukes we need. Those plants are very expensive to build & take a long time to go thru the reg process, so best reduce, reuse, recycle to the hilt, and incorporate other alt energy (like wind & solar)….then see how many nuke plants we need.

  6. 106
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re 104. Russell, was there a point lurking in that rant somewhere? Might I suggest this treatment of the history of climate change.
    http://www.aip.org/history/climate/solar.htm

  7. 107
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    Mr. Seitz, it looks to me like you’re having to go fairly far afield for the left half of your combatants. 1932? A disaster movie?

    When Day After Tomorrow gets entered into the Congressional Record, I’ll raise a Bronx cheer with you. Until then, I don’t think there’s equality in the “pox on both their houses” category.

  8. 108
    Hank Roberts says:

    Speaking of “potential for wealth and technology creation in the burgeoning productivity of the Indian and Chinese populations” — have a look at the numbers on this page,
    http://www.sse.com.cn/sseportal/en_us/ps/home.shtml
    then, at the graphic presented at the bottom below the numbers

    Cute trick, literally distorting the picture of what’s happening in that market, eh?
    (It’s not a rising chart line, it’s a ‘three dimensional perspective view from above’ of a falling chart line.)

    This sort of thing points out how science education can change how people see business and politics.

  9. 109
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “Nuclear power is quite simply the cleanest and cheapest way to produce the energy required for a future economy. All the renewables have a role, but they simply aren’t practical to meet the energy demands of 9 billion people.”

    Again, this is just argument by assertion.

    Quite simply, nuclear power is neither the cleanest nor the cheapest way to produce electricity — and of course electricity generation is only one source of GHG emissions.

    According to the American Solar Energy Society, full implementation of existing energy efficiency technologies and clean renewable energy technologies (wind, solar, biofuels, biomass and geothermal) — without any expansion of nuclear electricity generation — can reduce total US carbon emissions from all sources by 60 to 80 percent by 2030 while the economy continues to grow, which is in line with what most scientists believe is necessary to keep atmospheric GHG concentrations below levels which are liable to cause the worst climate outcomes.

    And nuclear power is not even a remotely feasible way to provide electricity for the large and growing populations of the developing world. Most of these countries don’t have the resources to build or safely operate nuclear power plants, nor do they have the grid infrastructure to effectively distribute electricity from large centralized power plants. That’s why distributed photovoltaics and small wind turbines are experiencing rapid growth in the developing world in particular — they are the cheapest and fastest route to rural electrification in the absence of an existing power grid.

    And are you really comfortable with the prospect of hundreds or thousands of nuclear power plants being built and operated in developing countries all over the world, even if that were feasible? Including those countries with governments that are unstable and/or interested in acquiring nuclear weapons?

  10. 110
    James says:

    Re #104: Seems you missed an important point in your reading of that 1932 NYT article. It’s reporting on what might happen when the ice melts – in 30,000 to 40,000 years. (We can, I think, pass over the descriptions of drowned skyscrapers and fish swimming through Buckingham Palace as journalistic license.)

    It’s a matter of timescale: with AGW so far, climate change that naturally happens on a 10K year timescale is being compressed into a century. That doesn’t allow time for the system to adapt: as with many another natural phenomenon, increasing the rate of change doesn’t just fast-forward the action, it induces fundamental changes in system behavior: you move (and often quite abruptly) from a system that bends to one that shatters.

    Second point is that (in geologically-modern times, say the last few million years) we have a system that naturally cycles through warm and cold phases with a period of about 100K years, and likewise, cycles atmospheric CO2 levels between about 150-300 ppm. Now humans have jolted the system with an additional 70-80 ppm, with a bunch more in the pipeline. Do you seriously think that isn’t going to have a significant effect?

  11. 111
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re #109. Here is not the place to debate the relative merits of solar vs. nuclear energy. My point was that blind, fear-based opposition to nuclear energy is one reason why we are now so dependent on fossil fuels. France provides an example of the role nuclear power can play. ALL energy sources have their costs and benefits. (Ever look into the environmental costs of making photovoltaics?) If we are to keep the global economy growing at a rate sufficient to develop solutions to climate change AND bring developing nations out of povert, we will not be able to pick and choose our energy solutions. Don’t believe me? Go through the exercise of trying to meet China’s energy needs with solar energy even assuming they consume only 50% as much energy per capita as the US.

  12. 112
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “My point was that blind, fear-based opposition to nuclear energy is one reason why we are now so dependent on fossil fuels.”

    Nuclear proponents commonly demonize all opposition to nuclear power as “blind” and “fear-based” so they don’t have to address the substantive reasons for the opposition.

    The reason that nuclear power is not more widely used in the USA has nothing to do with such opposition in any case. It is because nuclear power is a complete economic failure, and the free market won’t touch it. That’s why the current campaign by the nuclear industry is entirely focused on getting massive subsidies from the federal government, as well as getting the federal government (i.e. the taxpayers) to absorb all the risks.

    Ray Ladbury: “Ever look into the environmental costs of making photovoltaics?”

    Yes, I have. The US Department of Energy has web pages devoted to that subject. The environmental costs of making photovoltaics are miniscule and insignficant compared to the environmental costs of nuclear power.

    Ray Ladbury: “If we are to keep the global economy growing at a rate sufficient to develop solutions to climate change AND bring developing nations out of povert, we will not be able to pick and choose our energy solutions.”

    On the contrary, given limited resources, it is of the utmost importance to “pick and choose our energy solutions” so that we don’t squander huge amounts of resources on technologies like nuclear power, which aside from being highly toxic and extremely dangerous, are the least cost-effective way of reducing GHG emissions, and which even in the nuclear industry’s dream scenario of a huge, taxpayer-funded buildup of nuclear power plants, can’t even begin to contribute to reducing the growth in emissions — let alone actually reducing emissions from current levels — for decades.

    We — both developed and developing nations — can do it better, faster, cheaper, safer with efficiency and clean renewable energy technologies (wind, solar, biofuels and geothermal). Nuclear is not needed, and money invested in nuclear is money that would be more effectively invested elsewhere.

  13. 113
    Ike Solem says:

    RE#111, #109,
    First of all, nuclear is not a renewable technology – it is a generally carbon-neutral transition technology. The reason it’s not renewable is the same that fossil fuels aren’t renewable – there’s a limited supply of the raw material (uranium) in the ground. Spent fuel reprocessing to recover plutonium has been an environmental disaster of the highest order – even the nuclear industry agrees it is uneconomical and dangerous. This isn’t to say that all nuclear should be shut down, but rather that the main efforts should go into maintaining and refurbishing existing nuclear plants.

    With regards to solar, wind and biofuels, the renewable resource is gigantic and largely untapped. Solar PV and computer technology arise from the same discovery – the semiconductor p-n junction – but computer technology has been massively invested in, while solar PV has seen little investment. This is slowly starting to change, but the support is still miniscule – and the reasons are largely political (solar is a disruptive technology to existing energy markets, in other words). What’s also unfortunate is the limited scientific base for renewable research and development due to decades of funding cuts (compare spending on pharmaceutical research to spending on renewable research, for example).

    In any case, the issue isn’t solar vs. nuclear, it’s nuclear and renewables and efficient technology vs. coal and oil and energy waste. Natural gas is also a fossil fuel, but it has the highest energy content per CO2 emitted, so it can also serve as a gap bridging technology. The most critical thing is to stop burning coal and oil – see
    http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Banning_New_Coal_Power_Plants_Will_Slow_Warming_999.html

  14. 114
    James says:

    Re #109: “According to the American Solar Energy Society, full implementation of existing energy efficiency technologies and clean renewable energy technologies (wind, solar, biofuels, biomass and geothermal) — without any expansion of nuclear electricity generation — can reduce total US carbon emissions from all sources by 60 to 80 percent…”,

    Let’s assume that estimate is accurate (though I can’t quite see why solar industry groups shouldn’t be tempted to the same sort of over-selling as for instance the oil industry). It still falls 20 to 40 percent short of cutting total CO2 emissions to zero, which is what must be done.

  15. 115

    [[ Go through the exercise of trying to meet China's energy needs with solar energy even assuming they consume only 50% as much energy per capita as the US. ]]

    Multiply 240 Watts per square meter by the total area of China to find out what they’ve got to work with. Obviously, they can only harness a small fraction of that, but it would be a small fraction of a huge amount of power. I don’t see any conceivable reason why solar couldn’t do it.

  16. 116

    [[Re #109: "According to the American Solar Energy Society, full implementation of existing energy efficiency technologies and clean renewable energy technologies (wind, solar, biofuels, biomass and geothermal) -- without any expansion of nuclear electricity generation -- can reduce total US carbon emissions from all sources by 60 to 80 percent...",

    Let's assume that estimate is accurate (though I can't quite see why solar industry groups shouldn't be tempted to the same sort of over-selling as for instance the oil industry). It still falls 20 to 40 percent short of cutting total CO2 emissions to zero, which is what must be done. ]]

    I think he was talking about a particular time frame; specifically, by 2030. In the long run we can make it 100%. By 2100 I don’t see why anyone would need to burn coal, oil or natural gas anywhere in the world.

  17. 117
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ike Solem wrote: “In any case, the issue isn’t solar vs. nuclear, it’s nuclear and renewables and efficient technology vs. coal and oil and energy waste.”

    I would point out that it is always the proponents of nuclear power who frame the discussion as “expansion of nuclear power is the only answer to global warming, and anyone who is opposed to expanding nuclear electricity generation is not serious about reducing GHG emissions” and as “renewables can’t make much of a contribution, nuclear is the only solution” while at the same time, as I mentioned above, consistently demonizing all opposition to nuclear power as “blind” and “irrational”.

    To which I reply that nuclear is certainly not the “only” solution to reducing GHG emissions, and it is far from the most effective solution even aside from its dangers; renewables can make an enormous contribution, and indeed the synergistic combination of efficiency and renewables can come close to solving the problem entirely; and there are plenty of entirely rational reasons to oppose an expansion of nuclear power.

  18. 118
    Ike Solem says:

    RE#115,
    Just to clarify, expansion of nuclear power is not the same as maintaining existing nuclear power plants, which currently account for some 600,000 GW of electricity generation in the US (compared to 2,000,000 GW of coal electricty generation, some 250,000GW of hydroelectric, and only ~20,000 GW of wind and 500 GW of solar). The real question is how to replace that 2m GW of coal with solar and wind – truly a massive undertaking, but one that should have begun decades ago. The expansion of coal over the past decade is equal to the entire hydroelectric capacity of the US – that’s the center of the problem as far as global warming and climate change are concerned. Climate science and energy technology science, however, are separate topics. Unfortunately, there is no online site dedicated to renewable energy discussions that approaches the quality of RC… maybe there will be soon.

  19. 119
    Sashka says:

    Re: 7

    Lindzen would do himself good only if he can predict something accurately, that would certainly help his credibility

    A good point. It so happens that Lindzen did predict something accurately. Most famously, he predicted quasi-biennial oscillation. And I’m sure there’s a lot more. Which is why his credibility among atmospheric scientists (as opposed to climate change community) is enormous. Make no mistake: very few people become full professors at MIT and it’s usually for a very good reason.

    I wonder why don’t you ask climate modelers to predict something accurately? Is this a double-standard or what?

    [Response: Actually he didn't "predict" the QBO. It was more a matter of coming up with a theory that could give an oscillation of the right sort. He had a lot of help from Holton, but while it must be admitted that people are still arguing about whether the theory is right, you'll get no argument from me about the QBO theory being first-rate science. I also give Lindzen credit for his co-discovery with Matsuno of the role of gravity wave drag in the mesospheric circulation I give him a lot of credit for his very early work on upper atmospheric tides. Begin to see a pattern forming? All the really good science he has done is above the troposphere. Almost everything he has touched with regard to the tropospheric climate has turned out to be wrong -- often wrong in a creative and interesting way, but wrong nonetheless. One possible exception is the Lindzen/Nigam paper on tropical precipitation, which isn't completely right but has a lot of the right picture in it. The point to keep in mind about Dick isn't that he's wrong about everything. The point is that he's clearly not infalliblle, and when it comes to tropospheric climate in general and global warming in particular he's perhaps more fallible than most. --raypierre]

  20. 120
    Sashka says:

    Re: 43.

    Why Lindzen has been driven for so long by the belief that CO2 can’t change climate is a matter for speculation. I doubt he could answer that himself. -raypierre

    I’m sure the answer is very simple: Lindzen is extremely stubborn. Which is compounded by his utmost lack of respect to just about anybody in the field.

    [Response:Stubborn, certainly, but lots of people in science have been stubborn without getting trapped in an idée fixe. I disagree about the "lack of respect" comment. With the exception of occasional insensitivity about smoking, Dick is basically a rather gentlemanly and respectful guy, and quite easy to air ideas with as long as you stay clear of global warming. To some extent ideas stand or fall on their own. Lindzen's track record (or record of being wrong) is mainly relevant for people who don't have the background to evaluate the ideas themselves, and need to judge whether to take, say, Gavin's assessment vs. Lindzen's assessment on the Iris mechanism--raypierre]

  21. 121
    Sashka says:

    Re: 120

    I disagree about the “lack of respect” comment.

    I’m gasping for air :-) Either you feel obliged to defend Lindzen on this count (not likely, I guess) or perhaps you are one of a handful of people whom he actually respects (more likely). I’m not saying that he’s outright and in-your-face disrespectful with colleagues. But his generall attitude is well-known. As one of his former students told me, loosely quoting, “He thought nothing of me as a scientist but I didn’t take it personally: he treated everyone the same way.” Heard it many times from various sources.

    [Response: What can I say? Dick has always been very nice to me, dating right back to when I was a graduate student. That's one of the things that makes it so painful to watch the turn his work on climate has taken. It's a real pity that Jule Charney (one of the truly towering figures) died so early; in fact not long after the first National Academy report on global warming, on which he was a key author. He would have provided a nice counterpoint to Dick. By the way -- I thought of another Lindzen paper that, while not entirely right is well worth thinking about. That's the Hou and Lindzen work on the effect of off-equator heating on Hadley circulations. --raypierre]

  22. 122

    Raypierre:re 110

    Right on the mark-but perhaps being a trifle engagee’- you miss the point- here is a smart guy with first-rate physical intuition who just refuses to buy into making bayseian models the basis of hard policy- that’s the dilemma we all face .

  23. 123
    Mark A. York says:

    “Why do most scientists lack conviction, where many laymen are full of passionate intensity? To answer, we might begin by way of reviewing a most important aspect of the greenhouse effect-the extent of our ignorance.” Russell Seitz 1990

    Well professor Seitz, I did read it, as per your email, but it’s quite clear that most scientists now have conviction, so I’m a bit preplexed by your refusal to update your thesis, shall we say. Sometimes the odd man out is just out. That’s the case with Lindzen, and I don’t think your media hype thesis warrants that kind of steadfast stand. KIlimanjaro is a poster mountain with multiple factors going on, global warming being but one. It’s not either/or as I understand it, but maybe Ray will offer support for what I just said, as I don’t understand your “ice up to the troposphere” quip.

    “So
    why is Al playing fast and loose with the un-seaonablerunaround viewsa
    of Kilimanjaro in his fick ? ice halfway up to the tropopause in the
    ITC seems a very peculiar metric upon which tohan [sic] a case for the
    Apocalypse.”

    [Response: Russell Seitz seems to have been hornswoggled by Crichton on Kilimanjaro. That's not in character for him. In fact, there's a good case to be made that Kilimanjaro is indeed melting because of global warming, if one looks at the whole picture. To be sure, Kili is one of the more complicated cases, but if you take it as representative of the whole mass of tropical glaciers whos melt is uncontrovertibly tied to global warming, one can't fault Gore all that much for using it to highlight the phenomenon. For details, see our article on Tropical Glacier Retreat, linked in the sidebar. --raypierre]

  24. 124
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re 117 and precedent. I believe a discussion of the relative merits of various energy sources is a bit too far off topic, but I need to counter some of you misinformation. I have no desire to debate a true believer. First, the estimates that show solar and conservation meeting US energy needs are fantasy. Energy demand will continue to increase unless we have a serious recession.
    Second, the assertion that nuclear has failed because it is uneconomical is absurd–it is made uneconomical by fear mongers clogging the courts with lawsuits that made it virtually impossible to build new plants. Nuclear power has done quite well in France and elsewhere. Third, nuclear power can provide a vast amount of cheap energy–safely. You and others speak as if U-235 were the only fissionable isotope. The Th232–U-233 cycle complements the U235/U238/Pu239 cycle–and it’s more immune to proliferation. Reprocessing and active management of waste can make that problem manageable.
    Finally, nuclear power is safe. More people die due to respiratory illnesses from the burning of fossil fuels than have died as a result of nuclear accidents. Every nuclear accident that has occurred to date is attributable to some moron doing something VERY stupid (Chernobyl required disabling or bypassing of 6 failsafes–and that was an inferior, obsolete design.). Indeed, more people would die installing solar panels to meet even a fraction of energy demand than have died due to nuclear accidents.
    In the end, your fear doesn’t matter. We simply cannot meet the energy needs of 9 billion people without nuclear power. I have yet to see any realistic study that says we can. Even James Lovelock–hardly a lightweight when it comes to environmental credentials–has said we need to turn to nuclear power. Fear or no fear, it’s going to happen if we get serious about reducing greenhouse gases.

  25. 125
    Hank Roberts says:

    This may explain why Ray sees the good side of Dr. Lindzen’s regard, and other people see the bad side. Just sayin’.

    One of my favorite quotes, tho’:

    http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=857#comment-52757

    “… Lindzen … differentiated ‘industry stooges’ as a separate category, people who were interested in obfuscating the issue towards supporting their own agenda, as opposed to people that are interested in the scientific truth. This is an important distinction, separating the Marshall Institute type reports (many of which are of the stooge nature), vs the more credible scientific scepticism. The challenge is for a bona fide skeptic to steer clear of being associated with stoogedom. …”

    That speaks well of the man.

  26. 126

    #119, What is coming through now is what counts, despite academic triumphs, I am sure well deserved. Lindzen says or writes nothing remotely convincing about AGW theory being bogus. For him Natural temperature variability is now becoming Natural Warming, which rings extremely hollow because there is no explanation causing the warming. Hardly again the stuff of Universities, but rather a thinly vailed PR ploy designed to confuse the lay from one of the biggest Ivory towers of learning. Just once would like to hear a prediction from Lindzen which is not a publicity stunt. Something with substance, not like “we can’t predict anything” from a meteorology-physics professor who is precisely into the science of forecasting.

  27. 127
    Mark A. York says:

    Thanks Ray. That is indeed my take on it, and the exact way I portrayed the issue in my novel Warm Front, answering Crichton. Given the preponderance of the tropical glacier retreat, this one isn’t exactly science fiction.

  28. 128
    Hank Roberts says:

    Dr. Seitz, the question in #95 please? Did you really think what you’ve said, about the chart?
    Here’s another one, shorter time, similar shape:
    http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/42353000/gif/_42353457_cent_eng_temp_203gr.gif

  29. 129
    Jim Eaton says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “Nuclear power is quite simply the cleanest and cheapest way to produce the energy required for a future economy. All the renewables have a role, but they simply aren’t practical to meet the energy demands of 9 billion people.”

    So it follows that we should be encouraging Iran (and like-minded countries) to go nuclear? This will be a most interesting world, indeed, when resources become scarcer and numerous countries have the ability to produce nuclear bombs (or just very dirty ones).

  30. 130
    pete best says:

    re. re#121, Raypierre, I was hoping that someone would mention the possibility of hadley cell circulation being affected by climate change in line with this article here at new scientist:

    http://environment.newscientist.com/channel/earth/dn9229-global-warming-stretches-subtropical-boundaries.html

    quite worring to be fair (as it seems to be decadal empirical evidence although only 25 years worth) and do climate models predict this hadley cell expansion effect?

  31. 131

    [[First, the estimates that show solar and conservation meeting US energy needs are fantasy.]]

    Says who? You?

    [[Second, the assertion that nuclear has failed because it is uneconomical is absurd--it is made uneconomical by fear mongers clogging the courts with lawsuits that made it virtually impossible to build new plants. ]]

    True, if you prevent people from protesting it, it’s much cheaper to install.

    [[Third, nuclear power can provide a vast amount of cheap energy--safely.]]

    You know those statements you hear about nuclear plants producing less radiation than coal? That depends on the nuclear plants operating under “normal conditions.” Turns out, if you check, that there isn’t even one that always operates under “normal conditions.” They all have “unplanned releases” at least once a year.

    [[Finally, nuclear power is safe. More people die due to respiratory illnesses from the burning of fossil fuels than have died as a result of nuclear accidents. ]]

    So far, yes.

    [[Every nuclear accident that has occurred to date is attributable to some moron doing something VERY stupid (Chernobyl required disabling or bypassing of 6 failsafes--and that was an inferior, obsolete design.). ]]

    But you see, that’s an important point. People DO do things that are “very stupid.” If safe nuclear power depends on plant operators always being rational and attentive to what they’re doing, then nuclear power is unsafe. Period.

    [[In the end, your fear doesn't matter.]]

    It does if it guides how I vote.

    [[ We simply cannot meet the energy needs of 9 billion people without nuclear power.]]

    There’s no reason to think you’re correct about that. You have never given a reason for it, just made the flat statement over and over.

  32. 132
    Sashka says:

    Re: 126

    Something with substance, not like “we can’t predict anything” from a meteorology-physics professor who is precisely into the science of forecasting.

    This is wrong again: his science, I mean the best part of it, is not about forecasting at all. It’s about understanding of physics of atmosphere.

    Without disagreeing with Ray’s assessment of Lindzen’s work on GW I must point out that at the time when he was putting his theories forward it wasn’t obvious at all that he was wrong. In other words, irrespective of what drove him, it was a legitimate science. It could have proven right but it didn’t. Well, that’s how science works: not every piece of peer-reviewed research proves correct, whoever it is coming from. Not a reason to kick him. Nobody’s infallible, as Ray says.

    That said, it doesnt’ follow that every doubt that Linzen has about GW is wrong and/or unfounded. His lack of faith in GCMs is very much understandable. It’s a legitimate scientific debate that needs tobe resolved on merits. Prior history of Lindzens’ errors is not irrelevant (because it does show his bias) but insufficient to justify ignoring him.

    Again, I have to ask you the same question that you keep ignoring: why the double standard? Why don’t you require GCM modelers to predict something accurately?

    [Response: What, like the effect of Pinatubo before it occured, or the decadal trend in global mean temperatures, or stratospheric cooling, or that ocean heat content would be found to be increasing, or that water vapour feedback was positive? Huh... good idea. Why didn't we think of that? - gavin]

  33. 133
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE #122, “[Lindzen] refuses to buy into making bayesian models the basis of hard policy- that’s the dilemma we all face.”

    I’m okay with hypothesis testing based, just as long at the null hypothesis is “GW is happening,” and we need to reject that at the .05 level or less (maybe .01) before we stop mitigating it. And that isn’t weird, since GW has happened before, sometimes at extreme levels (55 & 251 mya), so that’s just the way the world is. Someone would have to prove to me that that’s not the way the world is, before I’d change my mind.

    OTOH we’d be pretty unwise to stop mitigating GW through cost-effective measures, even if we were to reject this null hypothesis, since you’d think we’d want to save money.

    And then there are all the other problems (environmental, nonrenewable resource depletion, health, military) that get solved by mitigating GW. We should have actually been mitigating it since at least the 70s, well before most of us even heard about it.

  34. 134
    Hank Roberts says:

    Irony is wasted on people who reiterate their errors and ignore new information Gavin.
    More important, irony in answers, and repetition of mistaken assumptions, gets counted as fact by Google’s searches.

    It’s the same basic tactic as comment spam and search engine rank spoofing — get what you want found into as many web pages as you can as fast as you can, so it’ll show up as a frequently found search result.

    Sashka, are you just being a search engine parrot? That’s the effect when you continue to repeat the same questions based on false assumptions — your name and the errors show up high on hit lists in query.

    Try correcting your mistakes and asking new questions, show some learning here eh?

    [Response: I know - but sometimes you need to vary the routine otherwise you get bored. I'll try and be more straightforward in future! - gavin]

  35. 135
    James says:

    Re #131: “[[ We simply cannot meet the energy needs of 9 billion people without nuclear power.]]

    There’s no reason to think you’re correct about that. You have never given a reason for it, just made the flat statement over and over.”

    In fact reasons have been given, in #109 for instance, which l’ll quote again (though the link seems to be broken):

    “According to the American Solar Energy Society, full implementation of existing energy efficiency technologies and clean renewable energy technologies (wind, solar, biofuels, biomass and geothermal) — without any expansion of nuclear electricity generation — can reduce total US carbon emissions from all sources by 60 to 80 percent by 2030…”

    Now this is a group advocating solar & other renewable energy, so one would naturally expect them to present the best possible case for their technology, wouldn’t you? And that best possible case still gives a 20-40% shortfall.

    I can think of only two possible ways to deal with that shortfall: either keep burning fossil fuels (which at best just hands the burden of climate change down a generation), or build enough nuclear to cover it. If there are other options, I for one would appeciate it if you’d go public with them :-)

  36. 136
    J.C.H says:

    I think the thing with nukes is you can easily calculate how many would have to be built, how long it will take, and have a great degree of certitude that they can produce power 24 and 7.

    Having grown up watering cows with a windmill, I know there are days where there ain’t much wind. The cows don’t get as thirsty if those days are also overcast. Ever have your steers walk over a solar-powered electric fence. A few days with no sun will do that to you.

    I’m no futurist, but could human beings and other beasts of burden making electrical power be a part of the future? After all, unemployed NASCAR drivers and airline pilots will need to eat, and my oxen haven’t had a job in over a 100 years.

  37. 137

    #132, Haa yes… If you understand meteorology very well you can predict it likewise! Many have done so, models are wonderful giving exact temperature forecasts, some people show their prowess in climatology and meteorology by being right about their projections and forecasts regularly. No one can seriously (at a peer level) criticize them unless they have done the same or better.

  38. 138
    Sashka says:

    Re: 132

    Pinatubo effect (global mean) could have been (and actually was) calculated without help of GCMs, as I’m sure you know. It’s good that GCMs are able to capture the effect of major eruption but it hardly proves anything except that to first order the effect of aerosoles is modeled correctly. I don’t believe that anybody, including Lindzen, ever disputed stratospheric cooling or growth of ocean heat content. The question is how fast. (Recall that Mr. Davidson requested an accurate prediction.) Not sure what you meant re decadal trend. The linked paper is published in 2006. Whatever it says about the future has not yet been verified.

    [edit]

    [Response: Sashka, This is tiresome. If you don't bother to read linked papers, then there is no point in conversing with you (if you do, you will see that the 2006 paper examines projections made in 1988). The issue is not whether Lindzen disagrees or not, the point is that predictions were made and verified (though since Lindzen at the time (1997) did not accept that the planet had warmed, nor that the warming was radiatively forced, he would have had no logical reason to expect an increase in ocean heat content). Given that the default prediction would have been no change, then GCMs are more skillful than just guessing. 'Accuracy' of a prediction depends upon a number of issues - the inherent predictibility (i.e. the size of the forced component compared to the intrinsic variability) as well as uncertainties in climate sensitivity and forecasts of forcing functions. Since the unforced component is always non-zero, all predictions will be 'inaccurate', but can still be skillful. You can carry on playing games, but if you want to continue serious dialog, step up to the plate or forget it. -gavin]

  39. 139
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #135. Energy needs are different from energy wants. The ASES, to judge from your quote, is specifically not considering possible advances in energy efficiency and renewables in making their estimate, and even more important, doesn’t look at demand reduction – e.g., not travelling so much or so fast (and specifically, not travelling by air except in emergency), and switching to a diet with much less meat (particularly beef) and dairy – concerning which, it’s worth noting that neither nuclear power nor renewables can do much to alleviate transport-related CO2 up to 2030, and won’t stop cattle farting. You may say the rich (us) are too selfish to abandon our destructive habits and the poor just want to join in, and you may be right – but let’s be clear that this is far more the issue than global population growth. If it comes to a choice between a degree of fairly-shared austerity and a lot more nuclear power, do note that the latter is almost certain to mean nuclear weapons for any state that wants them, and greatly increased opportunities for non-state groups to get hold of dangerous nuclear materials.

  40. 140
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    #136, I’ve read about how a wind-generator company could have operations in various locales around a state, which would increase the prob of it being windy in at least some places. They can also build them on farms, without taking up too much space, and the farmers can farm right up to their bases AND get rent from the power co.

    RE human power, I remember Real Goods (it’s been bought by Gaiam – http://www.gaiam.com/realgoods ) had a contraption years ago that you put your bicycle on and generate energy. They used to advertise it by saying, “have your kids generate their own energy to watch their favorite TV programs.”

    The closest thing they have now is a human-powered generator (like an exercycle): http://www.gaiam.com/retail/product/17330

    But it would mainly be good for off-grid homes, or states where you can feed energy into the grid & turn back your electric meter (not mine, currently, but I am on 100% wind from GreenMountain). So, “Reduce your electric bill, while improving your health and saving the earth.”

  41. 141

    [["According to the American Solar Energy Society, full implementation of existing energy efficiency technologies and clean renewable energy technologies (wind, solar, biofuels, biomass and geothermal) -- without any expansion of nuclear electricity generation -- can reduce total US carbon emissions from all sources by 60 to 80 percent by 2030..."

    Now this is a group advocating solar & other renewable energy, so one would naturally expect them to present the best possible case for their technology, wouldn't you? And that best possible case still gives a 20-40% shortfall. ]]

    I have answered this before. Their estimate has the time horizon “by 2030.” It can easily be 100% by 2100 or so. Again, your assertion that renewables can’t do it all is just wrong.

  42. 142

    [[Having grown up watering cows with a windmill, I know there are days where there ain't much wind. The cows don't get as thirsty if those days are also overcast. Ever have your steers walk over a solar-powered electric fence. A few days with no sun will do that to you.

    I'm no futurist, but could human beings and other beasts of burden making electrical power be a part of the future? After all, unemployed NASCAR drivers and airline pilots will need to eat, and my oxen haven't had a job in over a 100 years. ]]

    With a national grid, or even a large regional grid, there will always be wind somewhere. And solar thermal plants of recent design store heat in molten salts so the plants can continue to run at night or during rain.

    Your assertion that you have owned cattle for over 100 years is an interesting one. I take it you’re about 121 years old or so?

  43. 143
    James says:

    Re #141: “Their estimate has the time horizon “by 2030.” It can easily be 100% by 2100 or so.”

    Sure, and by 2100 or so we may have dilithium engines capable of producing all the power we want, and pushing space ships to warp factor 5 to boot :-) The problem is that we don’t have the luxury of waiting until 2100 or so to take action. We need to do what we can do now, with the technology we have. (Well, we really need to start about 1975, but unless you’ve got a time machine too, that’s not one of the available options.)

    We know that nuclear power works, without significant real dangers, and it seems a pretty fair bet that it plus renewables plus conservation plus everything else we can think of will – if we’re lucky – be barely enough to do what needs to be done.

    “Again, your assertion that renewables can’t do it all is just wrong.”

    And your assertation about my assertation is too :-) How about showing us some real numbers from somewhere? I think those ASES numbers are about the best you are going to find, but I’m willing to look at different ones, as long as they don’t require the development of some sort of magical new technology.

  44. 144
    Sashka says:

    Re: 138

    I’m sorry that I haven’t read far enough (I did now). It’s not entirely my fault, though. First Rasmus was trying to get away with the old and tired 6 months prediction joke. Than you used several irrelevant “predictions” mixing in just one real among them. But I am sorry.

    Back to substance, I don’t know why you call Hansen’s (1988) forecast successful. It was sort of OK till 1998, I agree. But then the observed temps went sideways while prediction in scenario B calls for further growth, in more or less linear fashion. Do you call this forecast accurate? Based on what criterion if I may ask?

  45. 145
    Hank Roberts says:

    Scenarios are not ‘predictions’ — they are based on assumptions; over time, compare to reality to adjust your expectations. We aren’t living in Scenario A, or B, or C; we’re living in reality, and had best try to understand it.
    (Bok: “All models are false; some models are useful.”

    How’s your history? Check the assumptions, adjust your expectations. How’s it look?

    “… the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991. … Between 1992 and 2001, Russia’s energy consumption declined 19%…. In 1992, Russian carbon dioxide emissions stood at 573.5 million metric tons, but by 1997, the country’s emissions had fallen to 394.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide – a 31% decline …. In 2001, Russia’s energy-related CO2 emissions totaled 440.3 million metric tons ….”

    http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/russenv.html (2004)

    I’m not a scientist, certainly not a climatologist. I read and try to understand before making statements.

  46. 146

    [[I'm willing to look at different ones, as long as they don't require the development of some sort of magical new technology. ]]

    Like the magical new technology that will make nuclear reactors safe?

  47. 147
  48. 148

    Re 107 Mr Davis: Closer afield in time is Al Gore’s remark , delivered at the beginning of the 1989 NAS forum on “Global Change and our Common Future” , which Al could not find the time to actually attend:

    “My purpose is to sound an alarm, loudly and clearly, of imminent and grave danger, and to describe a strategy for confronting this crisis…the horrendous prospect of an ecological collapse. ”

    It thus appears that he truly believed in the Mother of All Hockey Sticks extinction graph decorating his 1992 bestseller ‘The Earth In The Balance’- the conveniently deleted from the new edition.

  49. 149
    Sashka says:

    Re: 145

    Quoting Hansen adding emphasis : Real-world GHG climate forcing (17 so far has followed a course closest to scenario B. … Because of this chaotic variability, a 17-year period is too brief for precise assessment of model predictions, but distinction among scenarios and comparison with the real world will become clearer within a decade. Close agreement of observed temperature change with simulations for the most realistic climate forcing (scenario B) is accidental, given the large unforced variability in both model and real world.

  50. 150
    Hank Roberts says:

    And there’s far more to understand
    http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1576294
    http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/103/39/14288
    http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/0606291103/DC1#F9
    than that one paragraph from which you pulled a fragment.
    And the paragraph you snipped from ends:

    “… Nevertheless, it is apparent that the first transient climate simulations (12) proved to be quite accurate, certainly not “wrong by 300%” (14). The assertion of 300% error may have been based on an earlier arbitrary comparison of 1988-1997 observed temperature change with only scenario A (18). Observed warming was slight in that 9-year period, which is too brief for meaningful comparison.”

    C’mon, man, read things through, read the footnotes.
    You’re just tweaking bits. Bye.


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