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Olympian efforts to control pollution

Filed under: — gavin @ 14 March 2009

There is a new paper in Science this week on changes to atmospheric visibility. In clear sky conditions (no clouds), this is related mainly to the amount of aerosols (particulate matter) in the air (but is slightly dependent on the amount of water vapour as well, which is corrected for in this study). The authors report that the clear-sky visibility has decreased almost everywhere (particularly in Asia) from 1973 to 2007, with the exception of Europe where visibility has increased (consistent with the ‘brightening trend’ reported recently). Trends in North American stations seem relatively flat.

There is another story that didn’t get as much press when it came out late last year but that is highly relevant to this issue – whether any of the efforts that the Chinese authorities to reduce air pollution ahead of the Olympics last year had any impact. To the extent that they did, they might point the way to reducing aerosols and other pollutants across Asia, but it might also reveal how hard it is to do so.

The press release and abstract for the Science paper link their results to the ‘global dimming’ trends we have reported on in the past, but it’s worth perhaps pointing out that previous studies (and the term ‘global dimming” itself) have referred to all-sky conditions. So that includes changes in clouds – which are obviously a big factor in how much sunlight gets to the surface. Looking at the clear sky conditions (i.e. only when there are no clouds) can help attribute changes to aerosols or atmospheric dynamics say, but since aerosols affect clouds (the ‘indirect effect’) as well as circulation too, it is only a partial estimate of the true impact of aerosols.

But getting back to the Olympics…. Monitoring of pollutants near the surface has improved enormously in recent years with the various satellite instruments now in orbit (MOPITT, GOME, OMI and TES for instance (sounds like a comedy revue team, no?)). These instruments detect specific frequencies where pollutants are known to absorb and so can give a birds eye view of where the pollutants are and how they are changing. Among other things, the satellites can detect ozone, NOx, SO2, the total amount of aerosols and carbon monoxide. Each of these have different atmospheric lifetimes and so can be used either to detect point sources (from pollutants that only last a short time) or long range transports of pollution (from the longer lived pollutants). NO2 (a big component of NOx – which lumps together NO and NO2all of the reactive nitrogen oxides), is very short-lived and so tells you a lot about local sources. Carbon monoxide has a longer lifetime (a couple of months) and so can show the long-range impacts. Many of these pollutants have related industrial sources (car exhausts, coal burning, industrial production etc) and so can be used as proxies for many other pollutants (such as specific aerosols) which can’t (yet) be directly measured.

What do the results show? The team at GSFC have released preliminary images from the NO2 analysis showing the before and during the pollution controls. In both images, Beijing shows up as a huge hotspot of pollution, but relatively, the levels during the Olympics were significantly smaller:

August 2008 levels were therefore about 50% less than a similar period the year before. Meanwhile values at other hotspots in China were steady or got even worse. So there was a significant effect, but the scale of the task was indeed Olympian.

342 Responses to “Olympian efforts to control pollution”

  1. 1
    Theo Kurten says:

    Thanks for the interesting article! A very small nitpicking comment: most atmospheric chemistry textbooks I have seen define NOx as just NO + NO2, while the sum of “all reactive nitrogen oxides” (NOx + NO3, HNO3, N2O5 etc) is usually called NOy. For the purposes of your article this makes no difference, as NO2 is the major component of both NOx and NOy.

    [Response: You are correct. I’ll fix it. – gavin]

  2. 2
    James Staples says:

    So, does this mean that I – a ‘Tibetan School’ Buddhist – have to forgive them?

    [edit – sorry, but this is not a forum for discussing that.]

  3. 3
    Hank Roberts says:

    > values at other hotspots in China were steady or got even worse.

    I realize these are just preliminary images. Are they going to be able to correlate this with any sort of economic, sales, transportation or other data? I sure wonder what was happening in Shanghai during the Olympics — look at the difference!

    And of course how much all these sites vary apart from the specific Olympic effort.

  4. 4
    Richard says:

    It made me splutter into my 6 nations beer to imagine Chairman Mao’s China could point us the way forward to control pollution! As I understand it they just switched off their industry in the general area to reduce pollution. In addition I believe they also sprayed silver iodide into the atmosphere to try to prevent clouds forming during the Olympics (by making them form elsewhere).

    Clearly the current recession and eventual depression is in the process of switching off industry. However I am unsure that it would be terribly good idea to start spraying lots of silver iodide into the atmopshere to mess around with cloud formation. (Or spraying other aerosols into the atmosphere to “block” the sun’s radiation for that matter)

  5. 5
    Tom Woods says:

    From the two images above it would appear that pollution intensive activities were simply increased in other areas around China during the Beijing Olympics, especially the Shanghai area. This is almost analogous to the cap-and-trade system that governments want to enact to ‘control emissions of GHGs’ and also proves why it’s a wasted effort. It simply shifts pollution intensive activities from one region to another without any real reductions.

    We even run into these contradicting efforts in everyday life. Ever bought a so-called ‘green bag’ for $0.99 from your local grocery store? It may comfort you to know that you’re using a bag made from recycled material that you can reuse. But then realize that the recycled materials used to make these bags come from America, then is shipped to China to make the bags then shipped back to the US for sale, usually traveling from a port in California by diesel powered trucks stopping at several distribution centers along the way to your local food mart. Chinese industry, as shown in the images above, aren’t the cleanest or most efficient places either.

  6. 6
    Roger says:

    “From the two images above it would appear that pollution intensive activities were simply increased in other areas around China during the Beijing Olympics, especially the Shanghai area. This is almost analogous to the cap-and-trade system that governments want to enact to ‘control emissions of GHGs’ and also proves why it’s a wasted effort. It simply shifts pollution intensive activities from one region to another without any real reductions. ”

    This is a non-sequitur. While it would be interesting to see why Shanghai got worse, it could be for unrelated reasons, like say a week of storms over Shanghai the year before, and has nothing to do with cap and trade.

    Under cap and trade for traditional pollutants, what has happened in practice is that the largest facilities cleaned up first. They can’t just shift pollution around unless the cap (limit) isn’t set lower than current pollution levels. It’s cheaper to invest in pollution controls at one large facility than three small ones, so that’s what happens. There’s a wealth of data on this at the US EPA’s Clean Air Markets page.

    Now it is fair to say that under the cap and trade programs to date (US Acid Rain, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, EU ETS) the mechanism worked but the programs achieved limited reductions due to cap levels that weren’t ambitious enough.

  7. 7
    Ike Solem says:

    The role of shipping emissions in the aerosol and NOx production is probably pretty high, and it might be worth looking at shipping volume around Beijing and Shanghai around the Olympics.

    The specific issue of ship aerosol/NOx emissions has been studied:

    Soot From Ships Worse Than Expected 9 July 2008
    American Geophysical Union & National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

    WASHINGTON—Large cargo ships emit more than twice as much soot as previously estimated, and tugboats puff out more soot for the amount of fuel used than other commercial vessels, according to the first extensive study of commercial vessel emissions.

    The connection between NOx and shipping emissions is as follows:

    These emission indices depend mainly on engine size/speed and load, and range from a minimum of about 40 kg NOx per ton of fuel (typical high-speed diesel engine, burning clean gas oil) up to 140 kg/ton plus for a large-bore, low-speed two-stroke diesel engine running on poor-quality heavy fuel oil. Quite a few of correction factors had to be introduced into the calculation procedure. A very important one took into account that, in terms of installed engine output, 86 percent of all ships are driven by old and unregulated engines and only 14 percent by NOx-optimized state-of-the-art prime movers.

    Cap-and-trade would do nothing for ship emissions, which are from many small point source emitters – in fact, the opposite effect is true. Recall the premise of cap-and-trade – that it worked well to reduce sulfur emissions? Think again:

    But sulfur emissions from international shipping represent about 8 percent of sulfur emissions from all fossil fuels, said James Corbett, one of the authors of the study.

    Most ships run on bunker fuel, which is cheaper than distillate, but also more polluting. Corbett said it was also getting dirtier over time as distillate fuels become cleaner, since the sulfur driven out of distillates ends up in the residuals used by ships.

    Remember, the primary argument for cap-and-trade is that it worked well to reduce sulfur in diesel fuel in Europe and the U.S. – but if the bunker fuel is getting the residual sulfur, than what does that say? As others have noted, that’s just outsourcing pollution, not reducing global emissions.

    P.S. I saw this earlier, on UAV flights over Beijing.

    AUG 10 2008 The National Science Foundation-funded Cheju ABC Plume-Monsoon Experiment (CAPMEX) will include a series of flights by specially equipped unmanned aircraft known as autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles (AUAVs) that were developed at Scripps. Instruments on the aircraft can measure smog and its effects on meteorological conditions.

    I haven’t seen anything since, but it was part of the same group (Ramanathan et. al) that was previously studying the Asian brown cloud using UAVs. See the DotEarth blog on Ramanathan’s work. There were a few inaccuracies in that, however. The ABC is not “rising mainly from cooking fires fueled with firewood or dried dung”, it is more like a 50-50 split.

  8. 8
    Richard says:

    Very interesting post Gavin. It really indicates the “Olympian” task facing the world and developing Asia over the next few decades. A time series of those images from August 2008 up to recently would be of interest to see what impact the economic slowdown in China has had on pollution levels. Given the decrease in oil demand from China and decrease in shipping rates over the last quarter of 2008, it could be quite telling. Any chance this could be done soon?

  9. 9
    Nigel Williams says:

    (Sorry if slightly OT)

    George Monbiot has just observed

    “What’s clear from Copenhagen is that policymakers have fallen behind the scientists: global warming is already catastrophic….”

    And he concludes:

    “… we have to stop calling it climate change. Using “climate change” to describe events like this, with their devastating implications for global food security, water supplies and human settlements, is like describing a foreign invasion as an unexpected visit, or bombs as unwanted deliveries. It’s a ridiculously neutral term for the biggest potential catastrophe humankind has ever encountered.”
    “I think we should call it “climate breakdown.” Does anyone out there have a better idea? “

    Breakdown suggests – like a broken down car – that it will grind to a halt. Unfortunately what is happening is not that passive.

    I believe the better term to adopt would be Climate Excitation. The issue is the increased energy in the climate system. Every event becomes more extreme. Where there is some there will be more. Where there is less there will be less still. Where it is warm it will be hot. Where there are breezes there will be hurricanes. Where there are showers there will be torrential rain. Where man already clings to life by his fingernails there will be death.

    Climate Excitation.

  10. 10
    Kevin Byrne says:

    Will the rapid decline in fossil fuel combustion that is part of our current world recession reduce aerosols enough to cause significant global brightening? If so could this brightening cause a significant rise in global heating in the near future?

  11. 11
    tim jenvey says:

    I’m new to this commenting so please be kind. Got into searching around on this man-made global warming and clicking around. My attention was taken to the bold text in #9 “climate excitation”.
    In clicking around a few days ago I read about the amount of storm energy released has been in decline for 30yrs: This seem to be contradictory. I see this a lot and the proponents on both sides appear to be eminent practitioners in their fields . Your site appears to strongly support and defend the theory and call those that disagree skeptics and deniers (some get stronger)
    It appears there are a lot of areas where we are bogged down in defensive positions which are stopping us from getting to the next level of understanding.
    My science teacher exuded a passion for his subjects and taught me to have an approach of respect and questioning for differing views and encouraged to think wide to take a subject into new ground.
    My question is: Shouldn’t it be encouraged to be skeptical?

  12. 12
    GFW says:

    Nigel, in terms of getting the idea across to the general public, I think Steven Kimball’s term “climaticide” is better than yours. Unfortunately, “excited” is a generally positive word to people, even though it has a specific meaning in physics/chemistry. Heh, the only place the average person has heard the word “excitation” is in the Beach Boys song “Good Vibrations”.

  13. 13
    Dennis Baker says:

    so what your saying is that efforts have shown tangible benefits short term.

    Exactly what politicians need to hear

    as they have a 4 year attention span

    excellent reporting

  14. 14
    tim jenvey says:

    I see you posted! Thanks. Slight correction on reading. Should have said lowest in 30yrs. My apology.

  15. 15
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Nigel W #9:

    “Dark, Satanic mills” comes to mind.

    Though the experts may differ on what Blake meant to refer to: coal-fired power plants, or denialist think tanks? Hmmm…

  16. 16
    Brian Dodge says:

    “I think we should call it “climate breakdown.” Does anyone out there have a better idea? “
    some other possibilities are calamity, cataclysm, catastrophe, crash, crisis, disruption, debacle, disaster, fiasco, havoc, meltdown, tragedy, trainwreck.

    My vote is for: crisis
    Definition: A highly volatile dangerous situation requiring immediate remedial action.

  17. 17
    Alan of Oz says:

    A bit offtopic but some good news on the subject of clean air.

    Cyclone Hammish, that at the “last minute”, broke up over the Tasman sea brought both good news and bad. The oil spill on the sunshine coast is international bad news.

    However the reason why every one here in SE Australia is in a joyful mood this weekend is that it’s also dragged up a large LOW from Antaritica. It’s now centered over Tassie and to qoute the vanacular, it’s pissing down!

    I found grass shoots growing in my door mat this morning! :)

  18. 18

    “…the efforts that the Chinese authorities to reduce air pollution…” should read “the efforts that the Chinese authorities made to reduce air pollution…”

  19. 19
    Mark says:

    tim #11 asks “My question is: Shouldn’t it be encouraged to be skeptical?”

    Yes. Start with the information you have recieved and take as truth at this moment. Be skeptical of that. See if it is true, not just take Watt’s word for it.

    Be skeptical. Be skeptical of what you read there first. Then you can ask questions about skepticism.

  20. 20
    Manu Phonic says:

    In #11 tim jenvey said:

    “Got into searching around on this man-made global warming and clicking around…. [Online claims and opinions] seem to be contradictory. I see this a lot and the proponents on both sides appear to be eminent practitioners in their fields…. My science teacher exuded a passion for his subjects and taught me to have an approach of respect and questioning for differing views and encouraged to think wide to take a subject into new ground.

    “My question is: Shouldn’t it be encouraged to be skeptical?”

    My response: Yes, but there are problems with treating “proponents on both sides” as equally “eminent practitioners” of science.

    One issue is that manmade global warming theory is built on peer reviewed scientific findings that have accumulated since Fourier in the 1820s. Among much else, these findings outline a physical basis by which infra-red excitable gases such as carbon dioxide transfer solar heat, as re-radiated by the Earth’s surface, into the atmosphere. Over time, objections by the likes of Angstrom and Lamb were decisively refuted; since then, there is no scientific reason to doubt that increasing the concentration of IR-excitable gases physically increases atmospheric warming.

    Models of climate consistent with nearly two centuries of scientific findings have successfully predicted climate changes both prehistoric and recent. Models inconsistent with those findings have not successfully predicted anything. Why then reject a known physical process that successfully explains the observational record while no other theory can?

    Spencer Weart’s website is a good resource on that topic:

    The other, uglier issue is that fervent opponents of government regulation have conducted an organized, and not very honest, propaganda campaign intended to discredit the science behind climate change. This campaign strives to confuse the public with claims that, in many cases, were scientifically refuted in the peer reviewed literature decades ago; in some cases, more than a century ago.

    Campaigners employ tactics directly descended from efforts by tobacco companies in the 20th century to discredit the science linking their products to lethal disease. They include so-called experts like S. Fred Singer and C. Dennis Avery whose published works on climate summarize the science in a manner so deficient and misleading, it’s as if they claimed to have refuted the theory of evolution, but never even mentioned the works, names or concepts of Darwin, Wallace, Huxley, Mendel, Watkins, Crick, Dawkins, Gould, Mayr, Margulis or any other major contributor to the field!

    This propaganda campaign has been offensively unscrupulous yet very successfully persuasive in its efforts to influence the media, politicians and the public. Bitterness over such successful dishonesty is the reason why people here so often, as you put it, “call those that disagree … deniers (some get stronger).” Remember too that, for human civilization and planetary biodiversity, the stakes could scarcely be higher. We’re likely to lose whole cities, whole agricultural regions and whole ecosystems because this propaganda campaign has already prevented timely action to curb emissions of IR-excitable gases, so that less timely action is the only option left us.

    This Naomi Oreskes video is a good resource on the anti-regulatory propaganda campaign:

    Tim, I hope this information illuminates your search for factual clarity in the debate over how we respond to global warming.

  21. 21

    Shouldn’t it be encouraged to be skeptical?

    Only if you can present some form of scientific evidence which supports your skepticism. So rather you should be encouraged to be inquisitive. If you have evidence that your skepticism is warranted, then you could pursue that as an alternative hypothesis, but mere skepticism itself is generally not considered to be a viable scientific method in the modern paradigm fo science, which is by no means static.

  22. 22
    Alan of Oz says:

    Re #11 My question is: Shouldn’t it be encouraged to be skeptical?

    Tim, you will find most people here think it IS essential.

    The thing that is disregarded by psuedo-skeptics (fale skeptics) is you also have to be skeptical of yourself, you have one article, find another article that can convine you otherwise and justify why it’s “better”.

    The more of us that click on that link the more ad revenue it draws, we’ve seen the story before and think it’s a bad one. Just linking from a popular site like RC will up psuedo-skeptics pagerank but to avoid losing credibility the editors have to point to some of their “critics” others you will have to find elsewhere.

    Here’s the thing with psuedo-skeptics. No genuine-skeptic wants to tell you WHAT to think but they might show you HOW they think as a skeptic. They offer plenty of info if you can be bothered looking for something interesting to you and THEM. Look at the posts in the “young blogger” story, have a look what I found about ice as a buffer and one particular psuedo-skeptic. Both will stick in my head because I found out for myself.

    You can disagree with skeptical thinking but you can’t only use bits of it and claim it’s the same thing. If you do disagree then it’s up to you to offer another method we can disagree using skeptical thinking.

    To his discredit the psuedo-skeptic does that in his bubble blog.

  23. 23
    Aaron Lewis says:

    “Please, Sir, may I have some more?”

    Will there be some follow up on the Fate and Transport of “products of combustion”?

    Will there be some follow up on the Human Health and Environmental Impacts of these products of combustion?

    Will there be some follow up on how these materials affect global warming, the modeling of global warming, water and ice cycles?

  24. 24
    Thomas says:

    (7) Interesting discussion. I wanted to note that prior to the current recession cum commodities bust, the price of Sulfur had skyrocketed to circa $1000/ton. Sulfur is a key industrial feedstock which is critical for fertilizer production. The bottom line, I think is that since much of the Sulfur supply comes from scrubbing of exhaust gases, or from refiners who remove it from high sulfur oil, the economic incentive to remove it from fuel should be pretty strong going forward.

    (2) The was a really great response!

  25. 25
    Christopher Hogan says:

    I believe the Realclimate contributors have been quite circumspect on the issue of whether or not global warming will result in more or more extreme hurricanes.

    Seems worthwhile to quote realclimate’s FAQ on this:

    “Examples of non-robust results are the changes in El Niño as a result of climate forcings, or the impact on hurricanes. In both of these cases, models produce very disparate results, the theory is not yet fully developed and observations are ambiguous.”

    So, you may see comments that assert a known impact of global warming on hurricane frequency and intensity, but that’s not the position of the knowledgeable individuals who run the site.

    As an aside, hurricane frequency is not just a matter of heat input, but is also affected by atmospheric flows in the area where tropical storms form. Shear off the tops of the storms fast enough and they don’t form as often. There are apparent correlations between El Nino, monsoons, and intense hurricane frequency. For example see here:

    So it’s not as simple as “higher average temperatures must lead to greater storm intensity”. Failure to find greater storm intensity doesn’t prove or disprove anything in particular.

  26. 26
    dhogaza says:

    In clicking around a few days ago I read about the amount of storm energy released has been in decline for 30yrs: This seem to be contradictory.

    The scientist who made the original post at Climate Audit attributes this to the strong La Niña we’re experiencing. He does not argue that it’s “contradictory”, nor does he appear to be a climate warming denialist. His argument is limited to making the point that the warming signal that might or might not be present in this metric is currently overwhelmed by natural variability due to events like El Niño and La Niña.

    He takes a cheap shot at Gore, but doesn’t directly contradict the work by Emmanuel and others that attempt to show that the warming signal is already present. Please read this closely:

    The notion that the overall global hurricane energy or ACE has collapsed does not contradict the above papers but provides an additional, perhaps less publicized piece of the puzzle. Indeed, the very strong interannual variability of global hurricane ACE (energy) highly correlated to ENSO, suggests that the role of tropical cyclones in climate is modulated very strongly by the big movers and shakers in large-scale, global climate. The perceptible (and perhaps measurable) impact of global warming on hurricanes in today’s climate is arguably a pittance compared to the reorganization and modulation of hurricane formation locations and preferred tracks/intensification corridors dominated by ENSO (and other natural climate factors).

    No contradiction at all with AGW. Having read this carefully now, I hope you see this right? Also, “less publicized” does not mean “other climate scientists have ignored natural variability, I’m letting you into a secret bit of data that they ignore, blah blah blah”. OK?

    I won’t bother to read the thread at Watts’ blog because I’m certain that this statement is being blown out of proportion and being touted as more “proof” that climate science is a fraud, blah blah.

  27. 27
    schnurrp says:

    Warming trends in Asia amplified by brown cloud solar absorption

    What is the current thinking on this type of pollution as a positive forcing?

  28. 28
    Hank Roberts says:

    Try pasting your question into Google Scholar.
    You’ll find several good recent review articles.

    click “recent” and set for 2009 — this year’s articles are good.

  29. 29
    David Horton says:

    “Trends in North American stations seem relatively flat” – hate to be picky, but can a “trend” be flat (relatively or otherwise)?

  30. 30
    Ike Solem says:

    #27 see Ramanathan et. al 2005, and this quote:

    Atmospheric brown clouds—wandering layers of air pollution as wide as a continent and deeper than the Grand Canyon—are enough to dim atmospheric physicist Veerabhadran Ramanathan’s innate optimism. In fact, studying the effect of these clouds on the climate has landed him in the peculiar role of a scientist who wants to be wrong. “The most pessimistic scenario for me would be that what our model is suggesting for the future turns out to be true,” he says.

    Re#10 There’s been no reduction in carbon emissions, just a switch away from renewable energy towards dirtier, cheaper fuels. Engine upgrades for ships are also less likely – meaning more pollution due to the recession, not less, as credit for renewables has dried up.

    The priority for the fossil fuel lobby still appears to be the defeat of initiatives like this one:

    “New legislation that would require many U.S. utilities to generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewable energy resources by 2020 was introduced Thursday by Congressman Tom Udall of New Mexico.”

    Re#24 The sulfur in bunker fuel is in the form of organic sulfur compounds like dibenziothiophene derivatives. Those are highly toxic, especially if alkylated, and are also responsible for sulfur emissions when combusted. Not an economical source of industrial sulfur – so, there really has been no benefit from cap-and-trade for sulfur reduction other than to reduce local air pollution in cities – meaning cap-and-trade is useless for reducing global CO2. Coal has the same problem – “clean coal” means that the fly ash has more contaminants like sulfur, and look at the TVA ash spill – that’s clean coal’s poster child.

    #26. Dhozaga, take a look at the real Enso indicators:

    In general, equatorial Pacific temperatures fell short of typical La Niña values and were around 1°C warmer than those observed at the peak of the 2007/08 La Niña.

    Posting a link to a Steve McIntyre web site and quoting it at length isn’t going to do a whole lot for your credibility, by the way – and neither is repeating the “La Nina is the culprit” theme seen in U.S. press reporting on drought, for example:

    La Niña blamed for more drought: Powerful air pattern back again this year, By Robert Krier San Diego Union-Tribune (100,000 circulation). January 6, 2009: “La Nina is the culprit” – and forget about the chore of deciding between “global warming” and “climate change”, because no mention was made.

    That all seems just a tad bit deceptive – and posting Mcintyre’s nonsense on “global hurricane energy collapse” also looks like an effort to move the discussion away from Beijing’s approach to air pollution.

    #26 The hurricane issue has been discussed extensively, see:
    Reactions to tighter hurricane intensity/SST link RealClimate

    Bottom line? None of the other variables have as much explanatory power for the long term trends as SST which is the only consistently trending constituent in the mix.

    I would take this story on Beijing aerosols as a positive note – at least the Chinese officials clearly understand the problem:

    “The record-low water levels in some parts of Yangtze and its tributaries and the drought are not directly related to the Three Gorges Dam,” Hu Jiajun, spokesperson for the Yangtze Water Conservancy Committee said at a press conference this week. “The dam can only store as much water as is brought by the river.”

    Officials blamed the adverse climate for the unprecedented drought afflicting Sichuan province and the municipality of Chongqing. “The abnormalities are caused by global warming and the overall change in the world’s climate,” said Dong Wenjie, director of the National Weather Forecast Centre.

  31. 31
    tim jenvey says:

    Mark #19, Manu #20, Thomas #21 and dhogaza #26. Thanks to you all (I hope I’ve included everybody) for taking the trouble to reply. I was a bit nervous about doing this as I’ve seen some messy fire fights. You have been most gracious.
    I came to this site and others like it as I have become inquisitive lately as I see more news on alternative theories so I decided to check out. One was a meeting in NY called ICCC which had some very well qualified individuals which, I confess, has challenged me to look deeper and question.
    I’m not qualified to address the science myself but I must admit that I think it would be good to see a few open debates on the subject as I know science from the past has always encouraged. I think we all agree that this is a very important subject which will have serious consequences. At the moment I have questions about our understanding of the basics and in my work unless they are founded on rock they will fall down. This can be a very messy and painful if we are heading in the wrong direction because so much baggage needs to be unhooked and redirected and personal allegiances need to be broken and special interests given up.
    Thanks for your hospitality. I will save you as a favorite and come back from time to time.

  32. 32
    dhogaza says:

    Posting a link to a Steve McIntyre web site and quoting it at length isn’t going to do a whole lot for your credibility, by the way

    Well, gee, all I was doing was pointing out that our friend tim was misinterpreting what the actual grad student at FSU (not McIntyre, though the post appeared there) was saying.

    The FSU dude says that his analysis – right or wrong – is *not* “contradictory”, which was how tim interpreted it (probably because the CA and WUWT crowd interpret it that way).

    Now, as to whether or not his analysis is correct, I do not know, and I did not say. However I do know that he in no way said what tim believed he was saying.

    That should be clear from my post.

    I should think it’s rather useful to point out to tim that he’s misread (perhaps has been misled into misreading) what the FSU grad student claims his analysis shows, which boils down to “not much” and “nothing contradictory to AGW” if you parse what I posted above.

  33. 33
    dhogaza says:

    Tim, if you look past the smoke and mirrors you’ll find out that most of the attendees at the ICCC conference you mention are totally unqualified to discuss climate science.

    Some of those that are, such as Lindzen and Spencer, have other odd beliefs. In LIndzen’s case, that tobacco smoking is not harmful, and in Spencer’s case, in special creation rather than evolutionary biology.

    And their views on climate change are in a distinct minority vs. other researchers.

    Most of the rest of the attendees are qualified in other skills – Watts is a TV weather guy, for instance – but not climate science.

    I’m not qualified to address the science myself but I must admit that I think it would be good to see a few open debates on the subject as I know science from the past has always encouraged.

    That’s not really how science works. Scientists don’t get together and debate whether or not the earth is flat, nor whether or not the earth is 6,000 years old, nor whether or not CO2 is a greenhouse gas that warms the planet.

  34. 34
    tim jenvey says:

    Addition to #31.
    I see you have published. Just read and wanted to add a thanks for considered opinion giving me food for thought. Getting my confidence in this blogging….

  35. 35

    Manu — very good post, except that I would dispute that Dawkins is a “major contributor” to evolutionary theory. He tells everyone he is, but I don’t think most evolutionary biologists agree. “Gene selection” does not have majority support, and Darwin, Wallace, Huxley, Mayr, Dobzhansky and many others got along fine without it. The paradigm is still: genes mutate, individuals are selected, species evolve.

  36. 36
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Barton, At the risk of going far off topic, it is very hard to understand social insects–or for that matter naked mole rats–without gene selection. I would agree, though that the real breakthrough there came with Hamilton, not Dawkins.

  37. 37
    Hank Roberts says:

    Wrong place to argue evolution; sufficient to note that it ain’t simple, and is exciting. Watch the headlines, e.g.
    But not here. Please. Except as climate change is involved.

  38. 38

    No coverage of the Heartland Institute’s climate change denier conference … ?

    You people didn’t miss anything.

    Same old song and dance.

  39. 39
    Ike Solem says:

    Dhozaga – where did you get your information about “the strong La Nina we are currently experiencing?”

    Second, don’t you think that cap and trade is ineffective as a means of reducing emissions? Beijing’s approach of direct intervention is anathema to free market fundamentalists, but it’s very common in the U.S. as well – Congress intervened to block the sale of Unocal to China, for example, and instead made sure it went to Chevron.

    Third, this is also odd: “Scientists don’t get together and debate whether or not the earth is flat, nor whether or not the earth is 6,000 years old, nor whether or not CO2 is a greenhouse gas that warms the planet.”

    Funny selection of topics – why do you think all three fit into the same category? Also, how do you think that the IPCC report was prepared – discussion of the warming effects of increasing CO2 was involved, wasn’t it? Likewise, scientists get together and discuss ice sheet collapses, ocean warming, glacial melting, atmospheric circulation – that’s pretty typical.

    In any case, for a paper that tracks global shipping emissions, see:

    Corbett et al 2007 Mortality from ship emissions: A global assessment (pdf)

    In particular see Figure 3 and compare it to the NOx emissions. See also this paper for SO2 emissions in the Asian brown cloud region:

    Adhikary et. al Characterization of the seasonal cycle of south Asian aerosols: A regional-scale modeling analysis (pdf)

    In particular, look at the high level of SO2 emissions from figure 1B. Given the effects of the ABC (local amplification of warming), it seems that rapid aerosol reduction in India and China would be very beneficial for the people of the region.

  40. 40
    GlenFergus says:

    #17 Cyclone Hammish(sic):

    I suspect that it will also have stirred Queensland coastal waters sufficiently to avoid the looming Great Barrier Reef bleaching event this year. Anyone confirm?

    OTOH Cape Moreton (and probably Flinders Reef) is stuffed.


  41. 41
    Sig says:

    I thought the conference had merit. Thanks for bringing it up.

  42. 42
    GlenFergus says:

    OT: To tax, or cap & trade…

    Those interested in this arcane debate would do well to read Gittins’ piece in the Saturday SMH. A clear explanation and an interesting perspective.

    [Ross Gittins is an economics journalist and educator (nee nerd) who pens for Fairfax’s Sydney Morning Herald, Australia’s leading daily (sorry Rupert).]

  43. 43
    Bill DeMott says:

    What the public and the “skeptics” don’t seem to understand is that participating in the scientific debate means coming up with potentially relevant data and results, considering how these results relate to previously published work, writing this work up in the format of a scientific article and sending it off to peer review. The peer reviewers are quite critical, even when they agree with the general premise of a study. The scientific literature then is a record of the scientific debate. If you don’t read the scientific literature, you have a very limited perspective on this debate. You can learn about the concepts in blogs and journalist articles, but the debate takes place when the data are analyzed and placed in the context of previous studies.

  44. 44

    tim jenvey (11),

    For a skeptical look at climate science from the point of view of a hard-core skeptic (without climate science background), see this nice post:
    He makes the case that it is perfectly reasonable for a skeptical layperson to accept the scientific consensus on a complex issue such as climate science, especially when it is evident that self-proclaimed skeptics who don’t trust the science use some rather weak reasoning.

    I compiled a list of clues to make sense out of the public debate on a complex issue such as climate change:

  45. 45


    That’s the impression you’d get (can’t understand social insects without gene selection) from reading The Selfish Gene, but in fact you’re still getting individuals selected and not individual genes.

  46. 46
    Adam Gallon says:

    Just shows how much filth these “Tiger Economies” are spewing out.
    The lengths to which the Chinese authorities went to to clean up the enviroment for the Olympics was well-documented, closing factories completely (Any bets on the workers still getting paid?), removing homeless people from Beijing and suppressing any signs of dissent.

    [edit – OT]

  47. 47
    MJ says:


    Bill, being a climate scientist myself I can tell you keeping up with the peer reviewed is no easy task. At times it is difficult to just keep up with the subsections that relate to my specialties. While I also encourage everyone to do what you just said, I have over time realized that there is a huge gap in what even ‘interested’ individuals have time for or can reasonably digest. I think the peer reviewed journals/process could benefit from some modernization and the issue of climate change is a perfect test case. I generally find people want to understand a bit about the science and also how it impacts them, but jumping into peer reviewed articles can quickly overwhelm them or turn them off.

    I am wondering what you (and others) think solutions to that problem might be. How do me make legitimate climate science more accessible? I think there are a few steps that could help. One is taking place here at RC (and other blogs/sources) that help in the translation process. I believe another would be an overhaul of the abstract portion of most peer reviewed articles. I think that if they were written in more a true summary with well articulated findings presented it would help. I also wish there were more forums where qualified scientist and news journalists presented digestible summaries for a broader audience.

    Any thoughts you or others have on this I would appreciate hearing.

  48. 48
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Barton–Yes, individuals ARE the one’s reproducing, but the individuals reproducing are not the ones exhibiting “altruism”. It is only in populations with high genetic commonality that you see such behavior–either species reproducing via haplodiploidy or in the case of naked mole rats. And no, this is not Dawkins, but rather has a long history going all the way back to Darwin.
    While this stretches the topic, there is the question of whether social species exhibiting altruistic behavior will prosper or fail given the stresses of climate change. Bees seem to be suffering more from increased use of insecticides and herbicides than from climatic changes. Has anybody looked at social insect species that might be under stress from climate change and whether they are adapting–e.g. is there more “cheating” or less wrt altruistic abstinence?

  49. 49
    tarunkjuyal says:

    For the first time, a large study shows the deadly effects of chronic exposure to ozone, one of the most widespread pollutants in the world and a key component of smog, according to a study in today’s New England Journal of Medicine.

    Doctors have long known that ground-level ozone — which is formed when sunlight interacts with pollution from tailpipes and coal-burning power plants — can make asthma worse. This study, which followed nearly 450,000 Americans in 96 metropolitan areas for two decades, also shows that ozone increases deaths from respiratory diseases.

  50. 50
    truth says:

    Monbiot seems to be in an almost hysterical state—but I wonder why he doesn’t use his high profile to try to prevent the destruction of the Amazon forests that’s going on right now—nothing to do with climate change—-instead of throwing hissy fits about the end of the century?

    By the way, how come the George Will post has disappeared from the March archive?

    [Response: Cos it was in february.. – gavin]