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Unsettled Science

Filed under: — gavin @ 3 December 2009

Unusually, I’m in complete agreement with a recent headline on the Wall Street Journal op-ed page:

“The Climate Science Isn’t Settled”

The article below is the same mix of innuendo and misrepresentation that its author normally writes, but the headline is correct. The WSJ seems to think that the headline is some terribly important pronouncement that in some way undercuts the scientific consensus on climate change but they are simply using an old rhetorical ‘trick’.

The phrase “the science is settled” is associated almost 100% with contrarian comments on climate and is usually a paraphrase of what ‘some scientists’ are supposed to have said. The reality is that it depends very much on what you are talking about and I have never heard any scientist say this in any general context – at a recent meeting I was at, someone claimed that this had been said by the participants and he was roundly shouted down by the assembled experts.

The reason why no scientist has said this is because they know full well that knowledge about science is not binary – science isn’t either settled or not settled. This is a false and misleading dichotomy. Instead, we know things with varying degrees of confidence – for instance, conservation of energy is pretty well accepted, as is the theory of gravity (despite continuing interest in what happens at very small scales or very high energies) , while the exact nature of dark matter is still unclear. The forced binary distinction implicit in the phrase is designed to misleadingly relegate anything about which there is still uncertainty to the category of completely unknown. i.e. that since we don’t know everything, we know nothing.

In the climate field, there are a number of issues which are no longer subject to fundamental debate in the community. The existence of the greenhouse effect, the increase in CO2 (and other GHGs) over the last hundred years and its human cause, and the fact the planet warmed significantly over the 20th Century are not much in doubt. IPCC described these factors as ‘virtually certain’ or ‘unequivocal’. The attribution of the warming over the last 50 years to human activity is also pretty well established – that is ‘highly likely’ and the anticipation that further warming will continue as CO2 levels continue to rise is a well supported conclusion. To the extent that anyone has said that the scientific debate is over, this is what they are referring to. In answer to colloquial questions like “Is anthropogenic warming real?”, the answer is yes with high confidence.

But no scientists would be scientists if they thought there was nothing left to find out. Think of the science as a large building, with foundations reaching back to the 19th Century and a whole edifice of knowledge built upon them. The community spends most of its time trying to add a brick here or a brick there and slowly adding to the construction. The idea that the ‘science is settled’ is equivalent to stating that the building is complete and that nothing further can be added. Obviously that is false – new bricks (and windows and decoration and interior designs) are being added and argued about all the time. However, while the science may not be settled, we can still tell what kind of building we have and what the overall picture looks like. Arguments over whether a single brick should be blue or yellow don’t change the building from a skyscraper to a mud hut.

The IPCC reports should be required reading for anyone who thinks that scientists think that the ‘science is settled’ – the vast array of uncertainties that are discussed and dissected puts that notion to bed immediately. But what we do have are reasons for concern. As Mike Hulme recently wrote:

[S]cience has clearly revealed that humans are influencing global climate and will continue to do so, but we don’t know the full scale of the risks involved, nor how rapidly they will evolve, nor indeed—with clear insight—the relative roles of all the forcing agents involved at different scales.

The central battlegrounds on which we need to fight out the policy implications of climate change concern matters of risk management, of valuation, and political ideology. We must move the locus of public argumentation here not because the science has somehow been “done” or “is settled”; science will never be either of these things, although it can offer powerful forms of knowledge not available in other ways. It is a false hope to expect science to dispel the fog of uncertainty so that it finally becomes clear exactly what the future holds and what role humans have in causing it.

Dealing with the future always involves dealing with uncertainty – and this is as true with climate as it is with the economy. Science has led to a great deal of well-supported concern that increasing emissions of CO2 (in particular) are posing a substantial risk to human society. Playing rhetorical games in the face of this, while momentarily satisfying for blog commenters, is no answer at all to the real issues we face.

567 Responses to “Unsettled Science”

  1. 351
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Jim Prall, In fact, McIntyre and Horner were outnumbered. Oppenheimer had truth and evidence on his side–hardly a fair fight.

  2. 352
    Ray Ladbury says:

    How are attempted character assassination of scientists and attempts to distort science not scientific matters?

  3. 353

    Matthew L: It must take a certain amount of ‘cognitive dissonance’ to be both a Christian and a scientist.

    BPL: Not at all. I am a born-again Christian with a physics degree and I have no problem with evolution, or with AGW theory, for that matter. My objection to Spencer is his embrace of nutty fringe ideas, and the dishonestly of his January 2009 blog post on how small the CO2 fraction is–and for that matter, his waiting for a year to acknowledge that people had found a sign error in his satellite analysis that invalidated his conclusion about the world cooling.

  4. 354
    Jim Bouldin says:

    more rubbish from bob carter
    he wants you all dead

    Everyone dead by teatime.

  5. 355

    Matthew: Don’t most scientists agree with Kenneth Trenberth that there has been no net warming since 1998?

    BPL: No. No scientist agrees with that. Nor would anyone who understands statistical analysis. Nor does Kevin (not Kenneth) Trenberth. Read what he actually said and the context in which he said it. The Earth is still warming.

  6. 356

    TR: More important is the lack of a strong magnetic field around our solar system when the sun is quiet. This exposes the earth to more cosmic rays which in turn causes more cloud formation that then causes more albedo. The AGW people deny this because of the lag response that happened after solar cycles topped out. But a kettle of water doesn’t rise to the level of heat that you put under it immediatly. It takes time. And the ocean is a big kettle of water.

    BPL: So tell me how cosmic ray irradiation causes clouds to form seven hours later… when the average cumulus cloud, for instance, lasts 20 to 30 minutes.

  7. 357
    ccpo says:

    “Anyway, the reason contrarians or sceptics or deniers or just the deluded are treated as, well, what they are is because we know where there opinions come from, and it ain’t science in the vast majority of cases.”

    Really, you know where they are coming from? Without even talking to them about it? You should got to WattsUpWithThat or ClimateAudit or the Blackboard or Peilke’s or Motl’s website and tell those folks that.

    Comment by Patrick M. — 8 December 2009 @ 12:51 AM

    Short answer, “Yes.” Long answer, “Yes, Patrick.” You can search for my handle in any of these recent e-mail-related posts or visit my blog for links and details. Do keep in mind the 6 degrees of separation concept. Not all of you have been paid by Exxon, et al., and not all of you are selling your souls, but the vast bulk of denialism has its roots there. They’ve written books on the topic! (I’d bet there’s no more than 2 degrees of separation for most deniers, three at the outside. I’m just 2 from James Coburn…)

    You might be surprised at the diversity of thought (both sensible and not).

    I might (would) not. Been there, done that.

  8. 358
    phil c says:

    Gavin, thanks for the links

    I’ll ignore the first one as the article was a satire.

    [Response: You can learn from satire – specifically that there are predictable things in the climate system despite the chaotic nature of the weather well beyond your 3 day cutoff. – gavin]

    The others seem only to show that Real-Climate (and others) have looked at solar output and cosmic rays and decided it’s not important.

    So, I go back to Kirkby’s lecture. He shows a good number of very interesting graphs that show strong correlations between cosmic ray intensity and various climatic events.

    From what I understand it is not an argument for any major change due to solar output itself but that cosmic ray intensity effect the formation of clouds which would have major impact on temperatures.

    He is not some quack you can just dismiss, I believe he has worked at CERN for many years and CERN are funding his experiment, he has presented what looks like serious information.

    Do you think that he is talking nonsense?

    [Response: Nonsense? no. Is he weighting the scale a little in favour of his hypothesis? perhaps a little. My position is certainly not that solar forcing is unimportant (read papers I’ve co-authored on the subject – all online), but that a) it isn’t of much significance in attribution of recent trends, and b) not some kind of magic solution for all decadal and centennial variability in the climate record. Unfortunately, solar forcing has attracted a lot of bogus correlation studies which have ended up not showing any predictability, it has also attracted many cranks, and so serious people working in this field need to be scrupulous to avoid the mistakes that have been made before. – gavin]

  9. 359
    Fred Magyar says:

    For a good chuckle on the topic of balanced views with regards to settled science.”Well science doesn’t know everything…”

  10. 360

    A bit OT, but worth noting:

    Evidently, you really can’t fool all the people all the time. . .

  11. 361
    Geoff Wexler says:

    Evolution, neutrality and the greenhouse gas theory of global warming.

    Yesterday archaeologist Tony Robinson launched Channel 4’s (UK) new series “Man on Earth”.

    This is what he has written about the series. “Climate change is part of our heritage, and throughout various moments of history, we’ve either adapted to the changing climate and have ultimately been successful, or we have failed to adapt, and ignored it, in which case disaster has arisen. We can choose either to deal with it or not. We have in the past, and it’s there to see.”

    This appears to emphasise adaptation over mitigation. The first programme dealt with past episodes of global warming and cooling and involved interviewing paleoclimatologists and visits to museums containing human skulls. So why am I still grumbling, at least about the first programme?

    Because these huge natural climate swings were dealt with in some detail without once mentioning the greenhouse gas contribution. This is so often how this topic is taught. There was nothing in the last 50 minutes (I missed the beginning) which might have displeased Fred Singer who propagates the “climate is always changing” mantra.

    It is just as if some editor had said that ‘we’ll leave out greenhouse gases because they are controversial’ and we should have to put on opposing programme if they were included. This was combined with another fault, i.e that the whole story was presented as if it was 100% certain. Just history. When will greenhouse gas mechanisms take their rightful place in the teaching of science instead of being segregated as part of green environmentalism and entertaining controversy? Perhaps later in the series?

  12. 362
    Radge Havers says:

    What a spectacle of spin!”

    There’s an odd kind of obliviousness that’s crept into journalism over the past couple of decades that’s now a full blown eruption. They report the controversy because the controversy is news. The controversy is reported by rote or embedded in a comfortable but energetic environment of middle-brow cliches. That keeps the controversy going by giving it false legitimacy — so they have to turn around and report the controversy some more because the controversy is news. The controversy is reported by rote…

    It’s a sort of fantasy perpetual motion machine that lays golden eggs, part of the fantasy being that it’s consequence-free.

    You see it in many of the comments here. There’s lots of amped up chatter and hopping around from talking point to talking point, but there’s a stubborn refusal to dig deeper or to try to view a problem from different angles.

    It’s mad nonsense even by my standards.

  13. 363
    Hank Roberts says:

    Above Matthew 7 December 2009 at 10:55 PM
    tries to spin a vague handwaving reference to this story, getting the species and habitat wrong, and faking the outcome to pretend it’s good news. Look it up (if he thought he was telling the truth, he’d provide the cite instead of the spin).

  14. 364
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE #331 & “I’d bet that wildlife will adapt to increased ocean acidification quite well..”

    Well, if it happens too fast there may not be time for natural selection to work its wonders, and in a geological timeframe, it’s happening lickity-split. That is one of the most serious issues, the rapidity of the warming and acidification, not giving enough time for species to adapat.

    And there are other ocean issues, such as the innundation of fresh water slowing the ocean conveyor. Now perhaps we won’t get DAY AFTER TOMORROW bec the warming might offset the regional cooling (tho apparently new studies indicate is could happen very fast). But there is this other issue — the upwelling of nutrients may be slowed (I think there is already evidence this is happening), and if the base of the ocean food chain doesn’t get its nurishment, that would be bad indeed…nothing could adapt to that. Also the warming ocean is bad new for much of sealife, including our seafood sources. I think Lovelock makes much of this in his THE REVENGE OF GAIA, and I have other peer-reviewed sources on this, as well.

    What we need is a holistic approach (with all the major threats to life on earth), and I’m very glad to note that NATURE had a good issue on that topic last month, and PNAS is coming out soon with one (I happened to meet a PNAS guy at an anthro conference I just attended).

    Of course, with a host of more variables thrown in the pot, this only makes the science that much less settled, but for laypersons concerned about life on planet earth & striving to avoid false negatives, it’s more like the final nails in the coffin of the science being super-settled.

  15. 365
    Chris Dudley says:

    I notice Eric shut down comments for the top story because too high a fraction were simply rude. This could be a mistake since this allows a sort of denial of service attack on Real Climate. Better to have two comment queues where previously rejected posters sit in purgatory which may or may not get moderated if there is time. A Purgatory Queue might get people to mind their Ps&Qs so that useful discussion can continue.

  16. 366
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE #336, & “Some smart-aleck journalist needs to ask the followup ‘if the science is settled, why do we need more research?'”

    I’m just thinking that “settled” has different meanings for different folks. I’ve considered the science settled since 1990, 5 years before scientific studies reached .05 on AGW. That’s when I began mitigating, eventually down to 2/3 GHG reductions while saving money & not lowering living standards…improving them a bit.

    Science is on-going, so it is never settled for scientists, and I did tune in now & then just to see how it was going, but I figured even if they came to the conclusion that GW was not happening or not threatening our future, or that humans were not the cause, I’d still go on mitigating it not only for the $avings, but also bec it mitigates many other problems.

    What’s unsettled for me is that others have not joined in full force to mitigate AGW. I had naively thought back in 1990 that all I had to do was pass the word on, and others would join in & pass the word on, then I could get back to my regularly scheduled life. But I ran into a brick wall of resistence…even to save money or solve the other problems. So until the solution aspect is settled, and everyone is doing his/her part, then my conscience requires that I keep struggling to get people to do the right thing.

    So for me the science is long past settled, but implementing the needed solutions is not settled. And I would suggest that for all policy-makers and journalists the science is also settled, long past settled. It’s settled for everyone on earth, except for scientists (who are also still studying evolution and other things that for most folks are settled). And that’s that.

  17. 367
    Tilo Reber says:

    Jim Prall #350:
    “There are over 10,000 stations with direct temperature measurements today, and that’s the data that Prof. Briffa showed to ‘hide the decline’ in the tree ring proxy.”

    You are right, the hide the decline has nothing to do with surface temperature. And there is no reason to use trees when you have instruments. But you also misunderstand the significance of hiding the tree ring decline. The importance of linking up the surface temp record with the proxy record is to show the validity of the proxy record. If the proxy record does not reflect the warming of the second half of the twentieth century, then there is no reason to believe that it reflected the warming of the MWP. Then you have a problem with claiming that the temperature record is unique within the last 2000 years. The claim that the divergence is a characteristic that is unique to the later half of the twentieth century is nothing more than an empty claim. We don’t know the reason for the divergence, so we cannot say that the same thing didn’t happen during the MWP. That is also why Edward Cook’s 2003 email to Keith Briffa, regarding reconstruction uncertainties for data more than 100 years old, is so important.

  18. 368
    Tim Jones says:

    It’s obvious to all that climate change denialists are playing up the stolen email controversy for all they’re worth so I’m throwing in on a salient point.

    When I was on the City of Austin, Texas Environmental Advisory Board someone climbed over a barbed wire fence onto ranch land being developed into tract housing to videotape erosion pollution of a local recreational creek.

    When I tried to present the information to the board so we could help codify mitigation to prevent such pollution one of the members vociferously objected to any information collected during the alleged commission of a crime. (Climbing over a fence is a very big deal in Texas) Her insistence suppressed the effort to share compelling evidence for what happens with unbridled development during rain events.

    It’s ironic that the businesswoman on our little board had the moral rectitude to demand that illegally obtained information be disallowed while a US Senator representing the coal and oil industries doesn’t hesitate to demand a full blown Senate investigation of allegations arising from the theft and distortion of scientists’ private emails in order to officially embarrass climate scientists and question the underpinnings of much of climate science.

    Seems to me there’s a real issue here regarding an unprincipled and unscrupulous US Senator having crossed an ethical
    line to condone and thus encourage illegal thievery of private email communications while the rest of us are supposed to play by the rules.

  19. 369
    Brian Dodge says:

    @Matthew — 7 December 2009 @ 10:55 PM
    “Results 1 – 10 of about 201 for petm “benthic foraminifera” “mass extinctions” acidification.”

    # 4 – (the authors are all geologists – any comments, Dr. Carter?)
    “The PETM is one of the best analogs for modern global warming because both share similar magnitudes and rates of pCO2 and temperature increases (6).”
    “Significant changes in marine and continental biotic communities are reported for the PETM, including significant test-size reductions and mass extinctions of benthic foraminifera” (there goes the bottom of the pelagic food chain)
    “and a dramatic turnover in fossil mammal faunas in North America” (bye-bye Angus burgers, hello rat burgers – For those of you not up to speed on this snarky reference, google PETM mammal body size reduction).

  20. 370
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Another way to look at differential degrees of “settled” is to consider the university. As freshmen taking introductory courses we learn God’s truth about the various subjects, then at the upper division we learn there are various schools of thought and different views and angles on a subject or issue. Then as graduates we learn that the whole thing is in debate, and we’re expected to take sides and work on proving our position, or disproving the other fellow’s. We learn that everything is unsettled and in a state of bitter conflict and acrimony. The carpet of God’s truth is pulled out from under our feet, and we’re expected to fly in the air of unsettlement.

    But for those of us not majoring in climate science, AGW has now pretty much been established as God’s truth for all of our intents and purposes.

  21. 371
    Anne van der Bom says:

    7 December 2009 at 10:55 PM

    I’d bet that wildlife will adapt to increased ocean acidification quite well.

    Do you have anything more on offer than your best bet? I’d rather have something solid like ‘evidence’. I hope you understand that I think ocean acidification is a big risk rather than a small bet.

  22. 372
    Doug says:


    “I think the key point to get across any time someone asks about this is that there is no ‘decline’ to ‘hide’ in the ‘real temps’, only in a few tree-rings.”

    Of course there is a decline to hide, that is the point. “Only in a few tree rings?” Are you kidding? Do you even understand the issue? If we had real temps going back 2,000 yrs there would be no issue today. The fact that many of you don’t have a problem grafting “real” temperature data to proxies and then presenting this as a reconstruction is simply unbelievable to me. I don’t recall reading anything about it in the IPCC report. I don’t recall a detailed explanation of this “trick” in the IPCC report.

    Now even “real” temperature data has problems with consistency. Has every temperature station remained unchanged over the last 20-30-40-50 yrs? Or are they now covered with blacktop and surrounded by buildings trapping heat and therefore altering the “real” temperatures?

  23. 373
    David B. Benson says:

    Matthew (334) — I fear you have it very wrong regarding MWP; just look at the borehole data, for example. Both you and Tilo Reber (337) ought to see
    regarding recent global temperatures.

  24. 374
    Anne van der Bom says:

    Tilo Reber,
    8 December 2009 at 12:49 AM

    Given the remainder of the unsettled issues, we have no right to ask the world to shell out trillions of dollars on unsubstantiated claims about future climate disaster.

    Given the remainder of the unsettled issues, we have no right to let the world dump billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere on unsubstantiated claims about future climate stability.

  25. 375
    Matthew says:

    Doug Bostrom, 341. There is nothing magical or hand-waving about random variation and natural selection, and the examples I gave are all real.

    cepo, Tom Dayton, Tilo Reber, Marco, Greg, thanks for your comments and links.

    The scientific method sometimes takes decades to get the right answer (as with Wegener and plate tectonics), and I think that this is one of those times. Almost always, everyone is wrong about something, though not the same thing.

    Paraphrasing Gavin Schmidt above (comment to #337), I do not think that we know the relative risks of global cooling and global warming.

  26. 376
    Didactylos says:

    Tilo Reber said:

    I have charts that show no warming for HadCru3, UAH, and RSS since 1998.

    This is probably the most common error made by denialists – and the most frequently shown to be wrong. You don’t work out the trend by picking the warmest year! Tamino explained the facts just yesterday, better than I ever could. With graphs, too. What mainstream climate scientists expected to happen. He also calculates the short term trends, and shows a) why they don’t show what the deniers want, and b) why relying on them at all is foolish.

  27. 377

    I managed to find a source (Vardavas and Taylor 2007) that gives an expression for the extinction cross-section due to Rayleigh scattering for nitrogen, oxygen, argon, and CO2, listing fitting constants A and B and a “depolarization factor” for each. Unforunately, it doesn’t give figures for water vapor! Can anyone point me to that data? I can’t really do the Earth’s atmosphere without accounting for water vapor.

  28. 378
    Clay says:

    “The phrase “the science is settled” is associated almost 100% with contrarian comments on climate and is usually a paraphrase of what ’some scientists’ are supposed to have said.”

    So where are the AGW scientests when their biggest supporter makes the same claims?

    “The science is settled, Gore told the lawmakers. Carbon-dioxide emissions — from cars, power plants, buildings and other sources — are heating the Earth’s atmosphere.”

    If the media and politicians took a more rational view, like we don’t know for sure, but have a good idea, you’d have a lot less skeptics and deniers getting bent out of shape. But, its hard to pass the largest tax in the history of the country based on a good idea… and might be a bit stupid too.

  29. 379
    dfree says:

    Excellent essay, indeed!!…composed like a true fence straddler ..rivaling the the professionals in the halls of congress..just one statement gives me pause? “anthropogenic warming is real”..”and say this with high confidence”…well ..sorry but the the antropogenic warming is not a high confidence explanation to many…but remains with the author.
    This is fine, just explain where natural occuring event place in youre anthropogenic confidence…as I really do not see any “hypothesis” with the componet of “volcanic activity” sub-terrestrial or terrestrial in any explaintion this site has ever offered..but i vist here only once a I am sure I am mistaken.
    Visit the link above?..maybe the anthrpogenic role in your summation will be lees then “high confidence”..
    But excellent essay!!..indeed.

    David G. Freeman

  30. 380
    Luke says:

    Hi Gavin,

    First of all, thanks for sharing your knowledge on here with everyone. Its greatly appreciated.

    I was hoping you could comment on the following article, and in particular this paper which is to be published in ‘Nature’ soon. Are you aware of this research and if so, is there any basis to its claims that basically state this new research dispoves the AGW argument or that Co2 is primarily responsible for warming?

  31. 381
    Deep Climate says:

    Sure, the WSJ is bad, but none can compare to Canada’s own “contrarian newspaper of record”, the National Post. My latest post, the second of the “In the beginning” series, focuses on the collaboration since 1998 (!) between editor Terence Corcoran and PR spinmeister Tom Harris.

    There’s more to come, too, including the real story behind the Bali open letter of 2007, and what Tom Harris is up to now in Copenhagen. Stay tuned …

  32. 382
    Mark A. York says:

    Yes I just watched the latest and Bill Nye dueled with Patrick Michaels. Michaels, with Brown’s expert help, got the better of him blabbering about lost data, and 6 degree anomalies in some Australian dataset, as if there actually are falsified data out there. We’ll get better science, Michaels said. Nye took Brown to task about the screen crawl of 50/50 emails from viewers on both sides that gives the impression of an equal debate when there isn’t. She hammered him about how to solve this PR problem! Yeah, how about getting off the false balance meme for a start?

  33. 383
    Lawrence Coleman says:

    re:331 Matthew. Ocean acidification has very far reaching effects indeed. Nothing can adapt in time to the disintegration of exoskeleton whether it be krill and other plankton, shrimp, crab, molluscs etc. Solid evidence is now available that shows the calcium carbonate structure of many ocean dwellers exoskeleton is getting thinner and icreased deformation of the shell and are thus more prone to disease and stress. No adaptation is possible when you are swimming in a medium that is slowly dissolving you from the outside in. You can directly link ocean acidification to ocean temp and in particular the effects of coral bleaching and die off. Coral reefs are the breeding ground and sanctuary for a very high percentage of ocean dwellers. Increase of sea temp kills the upper layer of coral, exposing it to the likes of crown of thorns starfish and others which goes on and erodes the rest of the reef leaving a desolate wasteland in their wake. The acidification also erodes the structure of the coral polyps making it a double whammy. What ititially is at greatest risk is the creatures at the bottom of the food chain and then as the sea becomes more acidic it spreads up the food chain until their is collapse of whole vast ecosystems supporting 10s of thousands of species. We will also have changes to the themohaline system which will quite quickly alter the flow of millions of years old ocean currents. So no the ocean cannot survive without the inverebrates simple as that. Another thing I forgot is that the vast waste disposal system of the oceans is manned mainly guessed it..invertebrates!..less garbage disposal..more waste accumulating and decaying to produce even more CO2 and CH4. It is terribly viscious and for the medium and long term an unstoppable +ve feedback system. Have I educated you now Matthew!

  34. 384
    Doug Bostrom says:

    A lot of comments here about “whistleblowers” leaking from East Anglia. In fact, some RC correspondents with the gift of second sight or plain old tunnel vision (Hi, Max!) seem entirely convinced it was an inside job by some heroic, conscience-stricken individual.

    Given that the material in question apparently showed up first on servers belonging to a Russian IT security firm, it seems said “whistleblowers” chose a rather strange means of publicizing their alarm. It’s rather an odd choice to make for anybody seeking to establish credibility. Next to Saudi Arabia, I can hardly think of a country that leans more heavily and crucially on petroleum earnings than does Russia; both countries would implode if faced with a serious loss of earnings via petroleum exports.

    Of course, in turn if the somebody commissioning a theft of the material were Russian, seeking to release it in a strategically timed fashion immediately prior to Copenhagen, the appearance of the material in Russia would seem to be an elementary mistake for a Russian interest.

    It would be almost as interesting to know -when- the material was stolen as opposed to by whom.

    How about a hybrid theory? The material was lifted from EA by a person with access who was paid by a third party with a strong interest in upsetting the applecart. Perhaps the only conscience in question is a very guilty one, lying awake at night and hoping no mistakes were committed while cleaning up access logs.

    Whatever. It does not seem like this imbroglio is having a jot of influence in the minds of decision makers so whatever the motivation, the effort was wasted.

  35. 385
    Vendicar Decarian says:

    “My question is how many years do we have to go without warming in order for climatologists to conclude that global warming has ended?” – 198

    10 to 20

    This last decade has been the warmest in recorded human history, and it looks like 2010 is going to be yet another very warm year.

  36. 386
    john byatt says:

    luke #380

    always conduct a search back to the source , it proved enlightening

  37. 387
    Philip Lloyd says:

    Surely some comment is needed on the finding that the HADCRUT temperatures have, in at least one case, been manually adjusted to reverse the measured temperature trend? If that data is suspect, then science is REALLY unsettled

    [Response: First off, that post is not discussing the HadCRU data at all (GHCN is from NOAA). Second, just because the writer can’t work out why something changed, it does not mean it was ‘manually adjusted’. Third, homogeneity adjustments are needed to deal with station moves, equipment changes, time of observation shifts etc. and some of these can be difficult to estimate. But the Australian Bureau of Meteorology is the best bet for detailed discussions of what is and is not appropriate at Darwin, and their record looks very much like the HadCRU one. Forgive me if I trust the relevant weather bureau over a guy on a blog. Perhaps reading the literature on the subject might help (e.g. Torok and Nicholls, 1996; Della-Marta et al, 2004). – gavin]

  38. 388
    phil c says:

    [Response: Nonsense? no. Is he weighting the scale a little in favour of his hypothesis? perhaps a little. My position is certainly not that solar forcing is unimportant (read papers I’ve co-authored on the subject – all online), but that a) it isn’t of much significance in attribution of recent trends, and b) not some kind of magic solution for all decadal and centennial variability in the climate record. Unfortunately, solar forcing has attracted a lot of bogus correlation studies which have ended up not showing any predictability, it has also attracted many cranks, and so serious people working in this field need to be scrupulous to avoid the mistakes that have been made before. – gavin]

    I’m glad you don’t quickly dismiss him or his work.

    Most scientific theories attract cranks (even AGW) so that is no sign of a problem in itself and I would hope all scientists are at all times scrupulous to avoid mistakes.

    In his lecture Kirkby shows graphs that indicate a very strong correlation between cosmic ray intensity and climate variations – even the MWP and LIA. Can I take it that his corrections are not part of the ‘bogus correlations’ that you mentioned.

    Could you also explain how he is “weighting the scale a little in favour of his hypothesis”.

    I get the impression that you don’t want to say his work is valid but can’t quite say it’s not.

    [Response: None of those correlations are ‘his work’. I assume that ‘his work’ is based on getting the CERN project to produce results and so I have no opinion of it as yet. Many graphs showing impressive solar/climate correlations are not all they appear to be. Timescales have sometimes been tuned to fit the solar theory (Neff et al, Mangini et al), some non-obvious processing has occasionally been done (Lassen and F-C), and sometimes completely unjustified ‘corrections’ have been added to improve the correlation (March and Svensmark). More subtly the solar forcing functions often used are out of date and have no basis in today’s understanding (Hoyt and Schatten). Kirkby’s use of some of this material is, to say the least, rather uncritical. Thus while I think there is evidence for solar forcing of climate, it is nothing like as strong or as dominant as some would have it. Going to the LIA for instance, our last paper on the subject (Shindell et al, 2003), came up with a rough 50/50 attribution of the cooling to solar effects and volcanic effects – but there is still a lot of ambiguity there. – gavin]

  39. 389

    Matthew: I do not think that we know the relative risks of global cooling and global warming.

    BPL: I’ll quantify them for you. The risks of global cooling are zero since global cooling isn’t happening and isn’t going to happen. The risks of global warming are greater than zero and are probably very, very large.

    There, now was that hard?

  40. 390
    Adrian says:

    Matthew, 7 December 2009 at 10:55 PM

    “Considering how rapidly mosquitoes adapted to DDT, malaria adapted to quinidine, TB and SA adapted to just about all antibiotics, and HIV has adapted to anti-retroviral medications, I’d bet that wildlife would adapt quite well…”
    If the best example of “wildlife” you can come up with is a bunch of rapidly dividing viruses, bacteria and parasites (it was the malarial Plasmodium parasite that adapted to both DDT and quinine, not the mosquito) that paints a pretty scary picture of the future!

  41. 391
    Zachariah says:

    This seems to be the latest line of attack: Attack the data. Any opinions?

    [Response: See here. – gavin]

  42. 392
    phil c says:

    I do appreciate the replies and that you are willing to engage with this matter.

    Where I referred to “his (Kirkby’s) work” I should have specified “his lecture”

    Are cloud formations a significant factor in global temperatures with respect to CO2 concentrations?

    [Response: Not sure what you are asking. Clouds are obviously important in climate. As is CO2. – gavin]

    Do cosmic rays play a role in their formation?

    [Response: Possibly. But clouds form in many ways, including via aerosol nucleation, and aerosols get to be cloud condensation nuclei in many ways, and ionization plays a small role there, and ionization can arise from many factors (natural radioactivity as well as GCR). But the impact that changes in GCR can have on clouds, let alone on climate, is very much at the edge of detectability. Read our recent pieces on this for background. – gavin]

    Is the formation of clouds effected by CO2 levels? (I think the answer is no)

    [Response: Not directly. – gavin]

    Could it be possible that over time the effect of cosmic ray intensity temp is significant with respect to CO2?

    [Response: At different periods in Earth history I guess it would be possible, but for the recent 40 odd years the answer is very clearly no (since there hasn’t been a long term change in GCR over that time). – gavin]

    thanks again

  43. 393
    phil c says:

    So we can look at two possible driving forces that are independent of each other.
    a) CO2 is a greenhouse gas
    b) Cosmic rays have some (possible) role in cloud formation
    as clouds are not (directly) formed by CO2 we shouldn’t have to consider any linked effects or feedback.

    So, the question is: what is the relative significance between cloud formation and CO2

    The consensus view is that the significance of CO2 is pretty well understood

    In Kirkby’s lecture the correlations for Cosmic rays looked very strong – and would also give a reasonable (though not proven) explanation for the LIA and why the climate began warming before any major CO2 emissions could be blamed.

    Going back to my original point #315
    But if the Earth has warmed before industry got started then until we can explain that, the more likely explanation is that the earth is doing the same thing – even if we have no idea what the mechanism is.

    Cosmic Rays are by your admission a possible mechanism different periods in Earth history I guess it would be possible
    If I’d never heard of either theory, I would start by looking at the theory which explained more of the earth’s climate as this is the more obvious fit. Anthropogenic CO2 could then explain some of the differences over the last 40 years, although it would downplay the effect of CO2 in the overall process.

    This is not denying AGW – although it would require an acceptance that it is less significant

    Thanks again

  44. 394
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Luke #380: the article is here:
    Make up your own mind on The Oz’s traditional fair and accurate reporting ;-(

  45. 395
    Hank Roberts says:

    Replying to Luke — 8 December 2009 @ 8:0 PM
    who links to a newspaper story in the Australian

    You can look this stuff up for yourself, rather than relying on some guy on a blog (or in a newspaper) to tell you what it means. The Australian has a point of view.

    Look at the authors’ work, here’s an example:

    Then get the cite by checking the journal (the first-mentioned paper was published weeks ago, it’s not in the future). (Oh, and the second-mentioned paper in the newspaper article– that was in Energy and Environment. That’s not peer-reviewed, and not a reliable source; lack of response is not, as the Australian guy claims, evidence that it convinced everybody, or anybody. It’s a publication widely ignored. You can look that up for yourself, same methods)

    Once you have the cite you can search on that and find, for example, this kind of discussion, which directly quotes the authors of the recent Nature study.

    The Australian got it entirely wrong. No surprise:

  46. 396
    Hank Roberts says:

    Nice quotes from authors here:

    The study’s findings, published in Nature online, confirm that atmospheric CO2 declined during the Eocene – Oligocene climate transition and that the Antarctic ice sheet began to form when CO2 in the atmosphere reached a tipping point of around 760 parts per million (by volume).

    Professor Paul Pearson from Cardiff University’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, who led the mission to the remote East Africa village of Stakishari said: “About 34 million years ago the Earth experienced a mysterious cooling trend. Glaciers and small ice sheets developed in Antarctica, sea levels fell and temperate forests began to displace tropical-type vegetation in many areas.

    “The period, known to geologists as the Eocene – Oligocene transition, culminated in the rapid development of a continental-scale ice sheet on Antarctica, which has been there ever since.

    “We therefore set out to establish whether there was a substantial decline in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels as the Antarctic ice sheet began to grow.”

    Dr Bridget Wade:
    “Our study is the first to provide a direct link between the establishment of an ice sheet on Antarctica and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and therefore confirms the relationship between carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and global climate.”


    And if 700ppm doesn’t worry you, remember the nature of ‘tipping points’ isn’t a simple, delicate, precision balance where a tiny change around a single number reverses a trend.

    Here, an example any old guy has experienced once or twice, of how a tipping point going UP can be at a very different number than the tipping point going DOWN:

    Once you get your engine to a certain temperature, your car radiator will start to blow steam out in a huge cloud. Having reached that point, it will boil dry very quickly even as it is cooling down. You can’t just open the radiator cap and start hosing in replacement water, you’ll lose your eyebrows, and crack your block — the whole system has to reach a different tipping point, a whole lot cooler, before you can replace the water in the engine.

    How long til we hit 700ppm CO2?

    Do ya feel lucky? Well, do ya?

  47. 397
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Matthew, 7 December 2009 at 10:55 PM
    Matthew, rate of change; microorganisms evolve under any changed selection pressure far faster than larger organisms. Do you understand why?
    It’s not the individual that evolves, you know. I hope you know.

  48. 398
    Matthew says:

    Gavin, in response to 388: Thus while I think there is evidence for solar forcing of climate, it is nothing like as strong or as dominant as some would have it. Going to the LIA for instance, our last paper on the subject (Shindell et al, 2003), came up with a rough 50/50 attribution of the cooling to solar effects and volcanic effects – but there is still a lot of ambiguity there.

    1. How much of the warming/oscillation before the mid 70’s (warnings of cooling) was due to the (fluctuating) increased solar activity? If the answer is in the paper, I’ll get the paper.

    2. If the current low solar activity persists (as you know, there are competing forecasts/models), how much might that ameliorate the warming effects of CO2 forcing?

    3. What do you think of Norm Kalmanovitch’s claim that most of the outgoing radiation that could be absorbed is already absorbed? (I have a guess.) Is there a published rebuttal somewhere, or else a published paper addressing the issue that he raised? His work seems to be entirely non-peer-reviewed.

  49. 399
    Mal Adapted says:

    Gavin, response inline to #388:

    Many graphs showing impressive solar/climate correlations are not all they appear to be. Timescales have sometimes been tuned to fit the solar theory (Neff et al, Mangini et al), some non-obvious processing has occasionally been done (Lassen and F-C), and sometimes completely unjustified ‘corrections’ have been added to improve the correlation (March and Svensmark).

    You mean to tell us that “skeptical” scientists have engaged in the same kind of data manipulations the CRU crew are accused of? Who’d have thought?!

    [Response: It’s called projection. If the contrarians are happy to cheat and manipulate and come up with results according to who is paying them, they assume the mainstream climate science does the same. Except they are wrong. – gavin]

  50. 400
    Matthew says:

    383, Lawrence Coleman. Just to be clear, I am not actually in favor of increasing the acidity of the ocean. However, if the tiny plants and animals whose skeletons are harmed by acidity can survive long enough to have offspring, and if those offspring can survive long enough to have offspring, then the populations will adapt. I would be more worried about large, slow-growing gill-breathing (is that what they call it?) animals that reproduce slowly: sharks, tuna, octopus, manta rays.

    On land, high CO2 promotes crop growth. It will be interesting to see what happens when they do experiments on kelp, sargassum, algae in CO2-enriched water. The biofuels folks may have answered the question wrt algae — they grow much faster.