Les Chevaliers de l’Ordre de la Terre Plate, Part I: Allègre and Courtillot

Misconceptions and misrepresentations of the sort given above are liberally supplemented with the usual arsenal of innuendo and quote-mining. Because Christopher Landsea (extravagantly compared to Galileo!) chose to make a scene by resigning from the IPCC, the whole process is deemed to not allow dissent — conveniently ignoring that Lindzen happily stayed on the IPCC Third Assessment Report. An entirely reasonable and uncontroversial statement by Dennis Hartmann on modelling uncertainties is twisted to imply that modellers think we can’t simulate anything with sufficient precision to draw conclusions about future warming (p.105). Quotes on the possible necessity of adaptation measures from MIT’s Ron Prinn and Columbia’s Wally Broecker are used to imply that these two notables favor adaptation over CO2 emissions reduction (p.126). And on the subject of adaptation vs. mitigation, some of Allègre’s statements are downright bizarre: He says that we have nothing to fear from global warming. After all, we adapted to the ozone hole, didn’t we? We adapted to acid rain, didn’t we? (p.127) Well, no actually, we did nothing of the sort. We "adapted" to the ozone hole by passing the Montreal Protocol to control CFC emissions. We "adapted" to acid rain by passing pollution control measures which reduced sulfate emissions. If this is "adaptation," I guess I can just say: ‘d’accord!’ Let’s just "adapt" to global warming by reducing CO2 emissions!

What is to be said of such claims? I couldn’t put it better than Allègre himself: "… une imposture intellectuelle, une escroquerie!" (p.107)

Whatever agenda Allègre is pursuing in his public pronouncements on global warming, it would seem to be very little informed by his scientific expertise. Through his litany of errors, misconceptions and misrepresentations, he has abdicated any claim to be taken seriously as a scientist when he speaks about climate change. And lest Lomborg and similar eco-Pollyannas draw too much comfort from Allègre’s support, let us note that, at the end of the day, Allègre still calls for a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions over the next 20 years. Many of us who wouldn’t touch Allègre’s arguments with a 10 foot baguette would be quite happy if such a plan were enacted in the United States, at least as a first step towards ultimate deeper reductions.

So much for Allègre. Now what of M. Courtilllot? Fortunately, we need not go into nearly so much detail, since almost all of the arguments presented in the Academie debate (see his article in La Lettre de l’Académie des sciences) mirror those given in Allègre’s book. Still, the man manages to add a few wrinkles of his own. For example he confidently declares that the glacial-interglacial CO2 variations are "simply" explained by the effects of temperature on CO2 solubility. He is evidently unaware that this simple mechanism was in fact quite simply evaluated years ago by Wally Broecker — like Allègre, a Crafoord prize winner — and found to be woefully insufficient (see Martin, Archer and Lea, Paleoceanography 2005, for a recent treatment of the subject).

Remember the graph of European temperature in Ma vérité which was supposed to put Phil Jones’ analysis of the instrumental record "seriously in doubt?" Well, it reappears in Courtillot amply decorated with a lot of new verbiage: climate scientists spend all their time modelling and hardly any looking at data; geophysicists are uniquely qualified to look at time series because they do it all the time and anyway they invented most of this stuff in the first place; nobody ever cross-checks or verifies Phil Jones’ work. And patati, and patata, none of which holds a glimmer of truth. But, having declared all this the brave geophysicists of the IPGP decide to take a look for themselves by averaging together a few tens of European weather stations (with a few distant ones from the Urals thrown in for good measure) and ben voilà, how Courtillot is "astonished" that the curve doesn’t look at all like what they were taught it should look like! (Courtillot is evidently a man easily astonished, and equally easily surprised, since these words appear with stunning regularity in his article.)

The analysis which evidently shocked Courtillot like a coup de foudre was presented at the Academie debate by Le Mouël (himself an Academician, and holder of the Fleming Medal). A video of his talk is here. Dear reader, I urge you to take a look at this video for yourself and see if you can make any more sense of it than I could, amidst all the mislabeled graphs, bizarre choices of what to compare to what, and missing information about crucial aspects of the data handling. I have done my best to convey what I think is the essence of the argument Le Mouël is trying to make, but it isn’t easy. In the left panel below I reproduce the only graph in which Le Mouël attempts a direct comparison between his data and the Phil Jones analysis which appeared in the IPCC report; it was redrawn by tracing over a freeze-frame of Le Mouël’s presentation. The graph is labeled "European Average" in the presentation, but the data (thin black line) which Le Mouël compares to Jones’ European analysis (red line) is actually from Denmark. Moreover, Le Mouël’s data seems to be monthly (or maybe daily) minima. Why one would want to compare Danish temperature minima with all-Europe temperature means is beyond me, but in the end what Le Mouël is making a big noise about is his claim that the yellow curve fit describes the data better than Phil Jones’ curve. Given the variability, there is really no objective reason to prefer one over the other, but the distinction between the two fits is largely immaterial. What you can take home from Le Mouël’s analysis is that, in Europe, a marked temperature rise does not set in until the 1980′s. Sound familiar? It should, because that is more or less what the IPCC says, pointing out further that natural variability cannot explain the recent warming. This can be seen well in the right panel, taken from the Fourth Assessment report. The blue shaded region is the ensemble of simulations forced by natural variabiity, while the pink shaded region includes anthropogenic forcing. Only the latter reproduces the rise at the end of the record.

The point of a lot of this fiddling with temperature curves is that the Sun must be doing something to control all these fluctuations. That brings us to radiative forcing, and Courtillot and company have had some problems with this issue, since they have a hard time making it look like CO2 is a small forcing and solar variability is a big forcing. One botched attempt at this was to claim that cloud fluctuations swamp CO2; Courtillot claims that clouds cause 80 Watts per square meter of radiative forcing, so that a mere 3% change in cloud cover would cause 2.4 Watts per square meter radiative forcing, which would be comparable to greenhouse gas forcing changes to date. To get this figure, though, Courtillot evidently assumed that all the Earth’s albedo is due to clouds, and moreover neglected the cloud greenhouse effect. When properly calculated, the net cloud radiative forcing is more like 20 Watts per square meter, so a 3% change gives you only 0.6 Watts per square meter, well below the greenhouse gas radiative forcing to date, to say nothing of what is in store for the future.

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