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Claude Allègre: The Climate Imposter

Filed under: — group @ 28 April 2010

Guest Commentary by Georg Hoffmann

In mathematical proofs, it’s a well-known fact that if at some point you divide by zero accidentally or on purpose, then you end up being able to prove absolutely anything you want – for instance, that 2+2=5 or that 1+1=0. The same phenomena appears to govern any number of publications that conclude that climate science is all a fraud – at some point, an impossible calculation is performed and from then on, anything (and everything) can be proven. Critical thinking appears to vanish.

The latest example is that of Claude Allègre – whose recent book “The climate imposture” would have you believe at least six impossible things before breakfast and a great many more before dinner. This is notable because Allègre is one of the most eminent figures in science communication in France, Academie de Sciences member, Crafoord prize winner, former minister of education and research and a fixture on the late night talk shows in France (including a topical satirical version of the ‘muppets’). One might expect a certain degree of rigour from an author with such a pedigree, but on the contrary, nearly every explanation, graphic, or citation in this book is misleading or just plain wrong. If Allègre was not such a high profile figure in France, this nonsense would have been dismissed and ignored, instead, it is regular fodder for the late night talk shows. In my entire career I have never seen so many factual errors in a single publication. It is truly a remarkable work!

It is practically impossible to give a complete overview of what is wrong with the Allègre’s book. However, some people have made a good start: Stephane Foucart, a science journalist at Le Monde, wrote a piece on Le cent-fautes de Claude Allegre (the ‘Hundred Errors’ – this is a play on words, ‘un sans-faute’ (pronounced the same way) means a perfect score) and Sylvestre Huet from the Liberation started a series of debunkings and is now at part five (also in French) and which he has turned into a short book! I started my own list of errors here (in German).

One of the more egregious examples of blatant making stuff up was covered by Science last week (following on from a post by Huet who revealed that Allègre had hand-drawn a continuation of tree-ring data from Hakan Grudd to show cooling over the 21st Century – something of course that no trees could possibly show (at least yet!). Even before Allegre “improved” the data by drawing in an extension more to his liking, the implication that Grudd’s work in any way challenges the prevailing view of unusual large scale warming in recent years was highly misleading. Grudd’s paper (available here, open access) deals solely with summer temperatures at Lake Tornetrask in Northern Sweden, and the paper states clearly that “although the climate of northern Fennoscandia seems to have been significantly warmer during medieval times as compared to the late-twentieth century, the published composite records of northern hemisphere climate (Moberg et al. 2005) do not show a conspicuously warm period around AD 1000.” Once again, Allègre has shown himself willing to jump on any curve “going my way,” regardless of its relevance.

But much of the joy of reading this book is in details – things that it would be trivial to get right without having much impact on the general thesis being put forward, but instead reveal without doubt that the author does not have a single clue about the subject. So let’s start (all translations are mine and reasonably accurate):

  • The first thing one might notice is that almost every non-french scientist has their name spelled wrong: Solansky for Sami Solanki; Usoskiev for Ilya Usoskin and Funkel for Richard Finkel. The most amusing case is during the discussion of tropical cyclones with climate change, where he lists three names of people who have posited a connection: “Wester, Tech and Kerry Emmanuel”. Everyone of course recognizes Kerry Emanuel (despite the incorrect spelling), and “Wester” is (also misspelled) Peter Webster (of Webster et al, 2006). But who was this eminent Hurricane expert Tech? I had no idea until Stephane Foucart lifted the veil. Peter Webster is from the Georgia Institute of Technology, frequently abbreviated to simply “Georgia Tech”. So in his “extensive literature studies” Allègre probably found a line like “Peter Webster, Georgia Tech, thinks that …” and voila! Professor Tech was born!

  • On page 53, in a typical example of his style, Allegre writes that

    ”Jones declares that the global mean temperature raised by 0.6% [sic]. …. How can he claim such a precision with such sampling errors? Nevertheless, Hansen-the-fanatic, without revealing his sources, immediately approves of Jones curve. Those who made statistics based on such shortcomings in sampling are discredited as scientists”.

    Wow. We’re pretty sure that most people measure temperature deviations in degrees, so maybe the ‘%’ was just a simple typo. The characterisation of Hansen is presumably hyperbole (though see below for worse treatment), but given that all of the sources of the GISTEMP temperature record (which was first published in 1987) are available online (along with all the source code, and completely independent replication), the ‘without revealing his sources’ line is a little rich (especially given Allègre’s undocumented ‘extrapolation’ (cough) of the Grudd data series mentioned above.

  • On page 300, the greenhouse effect is explained, but for some reason CO2 is not considered to be a ‘real’ greenhouse gas. He says explicitly there are three such gases, water vapour, carbon dioxide and methane (This is a pretty large simplification since it neglects ozone, N2O, any number of CFCs, and theoretically pretty much any gas with a structure that has three or more atoms). He continues:

    ”It is due to water vapour, and water vapour alone, that the mean temperature at the Earth surface is +15°C and not -18°C”.

    This again is plain wrong. Depending a bit how you weight the overlapping spectral absorptions of the different greenhouse gases the contribution of CO2 to the total greenhouse effect is about 20% (with water vapour giving 50% and 25% for clouds, which we are sure that Allègre realises are made of condensate (liquid water and ice) and not vapour…). And indeed, since water vapour in particular is a feedback to the temperatures, removal of CO2 will certainly lead to cooling and a subsequent reduction in water vapour.

  • Unsurprisingly, Allègre is of course very sceptical about the use of computer models, and thinks they are taking up all the money available for research (an error that would be easily corrected by looking at NASA’s budget for instance) and so his preference for ‘true’ observations is clear. Take the last interglacial period for instance (also known as the Eemian), around 125,000 years ago. He compares (see figure above) something called the “Gore curve” with something called the “true curve” (la courbe veritable). Al Gore actually shows the temperature and CO2 evolution from Epica Dome C for the last 600.000 years. So let’s assume that this is in fact what Allègre means. Amusingly, this image from the movie shows that Allègre’s hand drawn version of the bottom curve (the reconstructed temperature in East Antarctica) is profoundly different (in the relative warmth at the Eemian, and the number of cycles), but let’s move on…

    Skipping past the inconsistency in the text where he says that until now the best estimate for the last interglacial temperature in Antarctica was +3°C (compared to present) while his “Gore curve” has a zero anomaly compared to today, let’s look at the justification for the new ‘true’ estimate of +6°C warmer. This is referenced to a paper by Sine et al, 2007 in Science (note that every piece of that reference is wrong: as usual, the name is misspelled (it’s Louise Sime, not Sine), the year was 2009 and the publication was in Nature – easy mistakes, I guess).

    Ice core temperature reconstructions such as Dome C are based on the isotopic composition of the ice. This isotope signal needs careful calibration and Louise Sime and colleagues make the point that under warm climate conditions such as the Eemian the calibration developed for cold climate conditions might be different – in fact isotopes during warm periods might be less sensitive to temperature, and so applying the cold-climate calibration might underestimate actual temperatures. However, their results would therefore only concern the time period at the peak of the ultimate interglacial, and does not have any implications for the cold climate values. Note however, that Allègre’s ‘one true curve’ seems to have had a warm trend imposed from 125,000 years ago to the present. I contacted Louise Sime and asked if she thought this was a good use of her paper. She made it clear that she’d not had any exchange with Claude Allègre and that her paper does not discuss the temperature reconstruction over the entire glacial-interglacial period at all (that would be a ‘no’).

    In summary, Allègre presents a ‘true curve’ which is hand-drawn, in which an Antarctic temperature record is described as a global mean, on which he imposes a long term trend which is credited to Sime and colleagues who completely disown it. And the irony of ironies? Sime’s results are based on a climate model.

  • The phase relation between CO2 and temperatures in the Antarctic ice cores is a frequent source of confusion, and Allègre doesn’t attempt to miss this opportunity to confuse further. As is well known, both temperature and CO2 are correlated to the Milankovitch cycles in complex ways – with both climate acting on the carbon cycle and with the CO2 level changing climate through it’s role as a greenhouse gas. The changes over time have been described as a “chicken and egg” situation in which changes in one component affect the other – however the first one was changed initially (Lorius et al, 1990). Thus the leads and lags involved doesn’t have any impact on climate sensitivity calculations, but it is important for understanding carbon cycle feedbacks which might affect future concentrations of CO2. Allègre makes the standard (and illogical) contrarian argument that if eggs follow chickens then chickens cannot follow eggs, and highlights the paper by Caillon et al, 2003 that constrained the CO2 lag to about 800 years (though with large uncertainties) based on work from his PhD. According to Allègre, Caillon was then ‘punished’ by his institute (which is mine too) for publishing this paper. So I called Nicolas to ask about this ‘punishment’. Once he stopped laughing, he pointed out that he is doing exactly what he wants to be doing (developing measuring technologies) and is very happy with his permanent (tenured) position at CNRS. I’m sure more people would love to be punished like that!
  • It is a very common technique in debating to try and suggest that your argument is correct by claiming that more and more important people are agreeing with it. Allègre makes frequent use of this tactic, but Sylvestre Huet made the effort to call some of these alleged “heretics” and “insurgents” and found that they didn’t agreed with Allègre’s position at all. Allègre additionally claims (p138) that there is even numerical proof for this reversal in the opinion among “american specialists of climate”. However, the source for this claim was a 2009 survey among American TV weather presenters. In a further effort to round up some support, he cites Bill Ruddiman’s hypothesis that human land use change was an important climate forcing over the last few thousand years. But Ruddiman’s theory works via the influence of prehistoric man on the global methane and carbon cycle and needs their greenhouse effects to work! [RC note: Allègre isn’t the only contrarian to have mistakenly dragooned Ruddiman to their cause – see this earlier example!]

Overall, the book is as full with conspiracy theories and insults against climate scientists as any blog you might find on the wilder shores of the internet. However I have never seen something as bad as this from someone who is a leading member of a National Academy of Science. Lindzen (a member of US National Academy) writes articles that are a model of scientific decorum in comparison! In describing the history of the different IPCC reports Allègre introduces the different participants as “religious fanatics”, “Marxists” in search for new arguments to destroy the civil society, “greedy” and “mediocre scientists” (all literal expressions from the manuscript). The list of accusations against Jim Hansen for example is nearly unbelievable. Among other things Allègre makes the astonishing claim that during the last 15 years Hansen has done no scientific work and that he has forced his collaborators to put his name on the publications. Over that period, Hansen has listed 68 publications with 37 as first author – thus the scale of his perfidy would need to have been immense! I asked Gavin whether GISS is really the slave camp implied, and he just laughed. Hansen presumably can’t be bothered to deal with this kind of accusation, but Allègre’s claim is almost certainly libelous.

The truly astonishing thing though is how hermetically sealed and impervious to fact Allègre’s whole argument is. No-one is honest, every result is fraudulent (excepting of course, Allègre’s ‘true curves’), no-one is without an agenda (except Allègre of course, and possibly Michael Crichton) and any scientist espousing the mainstream view or journalist questioning him is a Stalinist. Any contradiction of his arguments is simply proof that you are part of the conspiracy. It is this error that is the equivalent of ‘dividing by zero’ – once you have convinced yourself that only your own opinion matters, you can prove absolutely anything to your own satisfaction – but, unfortunately, to no-one else’s.

462 Responses to “Claude Allègre: The Climate Imposter”

  1. 251
    Gilles says:

    “CFU /“a-) What do you call “business” ?” What everyone else calls business.”

    As often, you fully confirm what i’m saying. Words that everyone says in the all-day life are very rarely coinciding with scientific definitions.

  2. 252
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “I actually do not think this is the right approach, since libel laws can also be abused by vested fossil fuel interests ”

    The vested FF interests already abuse the libel laws.

    AND they’re getting away with slandering and libelling the scientists.

    While there are no consequences to lying, they’ll lie more and more.

  3. 253

    BR 211: Barton, you may want to take a little time off from your 24/7 posting on RC

    BPL: I take perhaps an hour a day to go through three climate blogs including RC. You might want to take a little time off from your 24/7 advocacy of your own pet theory to learn the matrix equations governing the Milankovic cycles and actually calculate a few. If you’d like I’ll write a program to do it for you–in Fortran so you can understand the code.

  4. 254
    Hugh Laue says:

    #122 I think you’re right – one may be a “genuine scientist” in a particular field and a AGW theory denialist, as we see with Allegre, Plimer et al.
    Therefore, instead of
    “The vast majority of genuine scientists will see through the BS”
    let’s say “Any scientist with a credible track record of peer reviewed publications AND that has not abandoned scientific integrity will ignore or reject climate change denialism as anti-science”.
    Or perhaps “The vast majority of competent scientists (credible track record of peer reviewed publications) that have not abandoned scientific integrity will not be seduced by climate change denialist rhetoric”.

    In my view a competent scientist with scientific integrity would approach evaluating a theory outside their field of expertise by first researching as to what the mainstream view is. For climate science the IPCC has done that for AGW theory (and for the impact of the projected consequences), supported by statements from major professional scientific associations. And all the supporting evidence is referenced and can be explored to whatever depth one is competent to do so.
    In other words, any scientist that embraces the denialist agenda has abandoned scientific integrity and has lost the right to be called a scientist, no matter how illustrious his/her track record was before.
    “AGW denialist scientist” is thus an oxymoron.
    And once integrity is abandoned any right to be trusted is abandoned. Rehabilitation is always possible, but it’s much easier to lose trust than gain it.
    Allegre, Plimer and their ilk need to be held accountable for their lies by the scientific community – the scientifically illiterate public is not competent to do it.
    Professiona sceintists are being challenged by this anti-science onslaught and we need to see statements from the professional societies not just supporting the IPCC but actively exposing the likes of Allegre, etc. Where they are still members of a professional society such membership should be terminated – publicly. I’m sure it’s a condition of membership of all such societies to behave in an ethical way and such behaviour is clearly unethical.

  5. 255

    This discussion of CO_2 feedbacks is interesting but we have a multi-feedback scenario. If anything warms the air, to keep relative humidity constant, absolute humidity rises, causing further warming since water vapour is also a greenhouse gas. Then there’s also ice albedo and clouds. For those new to this, the start here link at the top of this page leads to a lot of pointers.

  6. 256
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Bill Ruddiman, Since Pat M. is just entering a treatment program for climate denialism, perhaps we should stick to first name and initial of last name. It’s OK, Pat. Feel the pain and let it go.

  7. 257
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Dale Power asks, “Do those speaking against Climate science and data actually know they are wrong, or do they believe they are right simply because they don’t have the depth of understanding needed to see that they are lacking information and skill in the area of Climate Science?”

    Dale, you should check out what John Mashey has written about the thirty-onederful flavors of climate denailist. Some scientists simply believe that their expertise knows no bounds–these are usually guys who are “intuitive” in their approach and disdain actually “doing the math” (e.g. Allegre, Motl). Some simply can’t be bothered to learn enough of the science for it to make sense to them–and since it threatens future progress in their little subfield as more effort is directed at mitigation, they’ll latch onto any argument that sounds convincing. I think that there are also a lot of technological optimists out there, who feel sure that we’ll find a magic bullet to deal with the consequences even if they are wrong, so they don’t bother too much with the subject (folks like Dyson). Finally, there are a few otherwise knowledgeable scientists who are convinced that somehow there will be some magic negative feedback that saves our tuckuses. These are people like Lindzen and Spencer, who have fallen in love with negative feedback and the idea of a “stable” climate despite all the contrary evidence.

    I don’t include folks like Singer among the scientists. They’ll believe anything you pay them to believe.

  8. 258
    Jim D says:

    Re: 239 and others
    I want to clarify why the ocean is a negative feedback on CO2 even though it warms as CO2 increases. To understand why, you have to know that it is the equilibrium ratio of CO2 in the water compared to air that changes with temperature, not absolute CO2 in the water. Therefore, as the air CO2 doubles, the water CO2 will increase but not quite double due to the warming, but it will remain a sink to increasing atmospheric CO2.

  9. 259
    Mike M says:

    Ray Ladbury says: “….despite all the contrary evidence.” Such as? If there was a strong positive feedback we most CERTAINLY would have seen it raise its ugly head by now.

  10. 260
    Sam says:

    (239) David B. Benson

    ”  Added CO2 –> warming ocean
    Warming ocean —> outgases CO2″

    This will get me screamed at loudly for being a climate “birther”, but what if the warming ocean itself is the sole or primary cause of the increase in atmospheric CO2?  What if our planet is an overpowering CO2 sink and releaser.  Yes I have read about the evidence of isotope ratio changes… but just because anthropogenic CO2 is being introduced into the earth system, doesn’t mean that our contribution is controlling of the airborne concentration.  I guess there would be a way to disprove this theory….  If we looked at another airborne gas (which humans do not emit) and adjusted for solubility curves and then looked at it’s historical concentrations…. If it’s trends mimicked the trends of CO2 — especially in the last 150 years — wouldn’t that be really strong evidence that humans do not effect atmospheric CO2 levels?     

  11. 261

    Ray @ 257:

    I think you’re doing a gross disservice to people who actually seem to have actual clues. The GCMs still don’t include clouds, and despite mentioning the exponential nature of absolute humidity with respect to temperature numerous times, no one here has bothered to say “Yeah, we don’t know what that’s going to do”. If the same standard that’s applied to GCRs is applied to “we don’t know what clouds will do to GCMs”, GCMs should be tossed out as well.

  12. 262
    David B. Benson says:

    Barton Paul Levenson (253) — Surely the orbital forcings have been calculated and somewhere there is even a good graphic for these. I’ve used Figure 3 in Archer & Ganpolski’s “Moveable Triger” paper. That paper clearly marks the Holocene as predicted to last a long time and seems to indicate that the current 65N insolaion isn’t low enough to trigger a stade even with excess CO2, but certainly right on the endge.

    Possibly there is another paper which works this out in more detail?

  13. 263
    Holly Stick says:

    @240 Ike Solem

    Andrew Weaver’s lawsuit is not so much about the science as about allegedly false claims that he had said or done certain things.

    I would say they were not just misinterpreting the science, they were attacking his integrity. I think they will either have to apologize or have to pay.

  14. 264
    Ike Solem says:

    “I appreciate all of the work you guys put into debunking this sort of nonsense, but you really should get back to highlighting some of papers and findings that are coming out right now. – Comment by Elias”

    Yes, I notice that there is less of that kind of work on realclimate as of late. Here’s one example of some more recent research, however:

    Khalil & Rasmussen (2010) Climate-induced feedbacks for the global cycles of methane and nitrous oxide, Tellus B v41B p559

    …In the future, as the earth warms from increasing levels of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and other trace gases, these feedbacks may produce more and more methane and nitrous oxide. Melting of the upper layers of permafrost in the high arctic could add still more methane and nitrous oxide to the atmosphere. The combination of the response of wetlands and permafrost may add as much or more methane and nitrous oxide to the atmosphere as expected from the increasing anthropogenic sources. Since adding methane is about 20 times more effective in increasing global temperatures as adding equal amounts of carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide is perhaps more than 200 times as effective, even small increases in the emissions of these gases could be amplified into large effects on the earth’s temperature and climate….

    They essentially try to estimate the sensitivity of these carbon/nitrogen cycle feedbacks based on historical records of small-scale cooling events. The sensitivity of the global temperature to atmospheric forcing from greenhouse gases is pretty well established, but the natural carbon & nitrogen cycle sensitivity to temperature changes? That’s an important question for any long-term climate projections.

  15. 265

    #247 Dale Power

    Mostly they say things like NASA’s data is wrong, which they can’t quantify with anything other than something they heard or read on the internet that is not established science. Other times, they simply misunderstand the contexts, such as look it was cold this winter, therefore global warming can’t be real.

    Context will get you relevance.

    For the most part they do not have sufficient knowledge to even understand the context to get to the relevance.

    I hear it all the time, “I’m and engineer and I know that models can be wrong”.

    It’s has become a religious meme/mantra but it has nothing to do with the relevant contexts.

    A Climate Minute The Greenhouse EffectHistory of Climate ScienceArctic Ice Melt

    ‘Fee & Dividend’ Our best chance for a better future –
    Learn the Issue & Sign the Petition

  16. 266

    General on the Nuclear Issue

    – No. 4th gen. is not ready yet.
    – Yes. more 2nd gen. plants increase certain risks that may not be palatable in the long term.

    I would caution those that are hardcore advocates of 2nd gen. nuclear to consider the following national/international security issues:

    How is it possible to guarantee the safety of nuclear waste for generations to come, say in 100 years, 1,000 years, 10,000 years, 100,000 years (time needs dependent on material)?

    Answer: It is not.

    Unless you can guarantee that nuclear storage containers and locations will not be subject to unanticipated potentials such as storage unit and container deterioration of systems that have been deemed safe for ‘the future’ are already experiencing problems); or tectonic or volcanic issues, then there is reasonably no safe storage that is economically feasible.

    We are in a situation that by all reasoned security assessments indicate that there is high risk of not only the breakdown of the resource and monetary economies, but that this leads to the inevitable consequences of the breakdown of governance.

    In such instance as governance breakdown the security of nuclear materials is no longer an issue because there is none. If there is not security for these materials, then it is no longer an issue, it is a problematic reality.

    Climate, Peak Oil.

    These two alone are on a collision course that is untenable but now inevitable. Add to that the dysfunction of the economic system we are operating on and you have a catastrophic potential that can not be ignored without straining the credibility of any such ignorance.

    All in all, it is readily apparent that 2nd gen. nuclear is a more expensive and dangerous option than rapid development of 4th gen. systems.

    A Climate Minute The Greenhouse EffectHistory of Climate ScienceArctic Ice Melt

    ‘Fee & Dividend’ Our best chance for a better future –
    Learn the Issue & Sign the Petition

  17. 267
    David B. Benson says:

    Sam (260) — Up until humans began burning fossil fuels the oceans were indeed a primary agent for changing atmospheric CO2. There are many good web sites whch explain the carbon cycle.

    While there weere some early effects of farming (for which read climatolgist W.F. Ruddiman’s popuar “Plows, Plagues and Petroleum”) it wasn’t until the industrial revolution that CO2 levels began to significantly depart from the natural cycling of the past (at least) 650,000 years. For the past 13 decades, read
    and for more depth, study Tol, R.S.J. and A.F. de Vos (1998), ‘A Bayesian Statistical Analysis of the Enhanced Greenhouse Effect’, Climatic Change, 38, 87-112.

  18. 268
    Ike Solem says:

    Well, Holly Stick, isn’t the lawsuit itself an attack on the National Post’s integrity? So should they now counter-sue, because their integrity has been attacked?

    For example, CNN should then be able to sue me for pointing out that their firing of their entire science staff had nothing to do with any financial concerns, but was simply done so that they could prevent accurate stories about global warming, Arctic ice melt and the ecological impacts from reaching the public? To me, that says that CNN has no integrity when it comes to reporting on science in general and global warming in particular. Based on this sequence of events – O’Brien’s team runs a series of accurate reports on global warming, and then the whole team is fired – I’m claiming that CNN has forsaken journalistic integrity.

    Should they be able to sue me for making that claim on a public forum? What do you think about CNN’s decision?

  19. 269
    Jim Eager says:

    Sam @260: “what if the warming ocean itself is the sole or primary cause of the increase in atmospheric CO2?”

    Then how would you explain the fact that the amount of dissolved CO2 in the ocean is also increasing, which is lowering the pH of seawater?

    Sam: “Yes I have read about the evidence of isotope ratio changes…”

    And what about the isotope ratio evidence do you find lacking?

    How about the simple balance sheet analysis:
    We know how much fossil carbon we are burning each year in the left column, and we know how much atmospheric CO2 increases each year in the right column. From this we know that we are emitting roughly twice as much fossil carbon as is accumulating in the atmosphere each year.
    That means the biosphere and ocean has to absorb 100% of all CO2 from natural sources, plus roughly half of what we emit.

    Sam: “If we looked at another airborne gas (which humans do not emit)…”

    We do look at other airborne gases. Methane and nitrous oxide have also increased, the former by ~150%, the latter by ~15%, while CFCs and other man-made greenhouse gases did not even exist naturally.

    We have also been measuring a very small but steady decrease in the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere — exactly what we would expect to see from the combustion of many gigatonnes of fossil carbon.

    Sam, there are areas of our understanding of human influence on climate are not at all certain. That we are the source of the increase in CO2 is definitely not one of them.

  20. 270
    Ray Ladbury says:

    FCH@261, I think your characterization of the state of the models is somewhat unfair. Yes, clouds remain an uncertainty. However, the evidence to data suggests that it will be a small net positive feedback, and quite independent of what clouds do in the models, we know very well that CO2 sensitivity is 3 degrees per doubling. It is not as if the models are all there is to climate science. Those hoping for a miraculous negative feedback to save us do so against the evidence rather than because of it.

  21. 271
    Steve Fish says:

    RE- Comment by Jim D — 1 May 2010 @ 11:31 AM:

    Please explain. I understand that warmer water will dissolve less CO2, but his means that more remains in the air to cause more warming. Where is the negative feedback and what is negative to what?


  22. 272
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Sam, we know that the carbon entering the atmosphere is enriched in the isotope C-12 relative to C-13. This means it must come from a fossil source. Moreover, only about half of the carbon we’ve emitted has wound up in the atmosphere. The rest has gone into–you guessed it–the oceans, where it is causing the water to acidify, yet another threat.

  23. 273
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Mike M., as a start, you can put down our existence as proof of positive feedback. If there were no positive feedback, you wouldn’t get 33 degrees of warming, and Earth would be a snowball.

  24. 274

    Hugh Laue #254

    Allegre, Plimer and their ilk need to be held accountable for their lies by the scientific community – the scientifically illiterate public is not competent to do it.

    How would you propose to do that? This site and others like Deltoid already do a good job of taking this stuff apart. Aside from that, you are left with the mass media, who have repeatedly failed at their job, and the option of an academic misconduct case against the worst miscreants.

    Plimer claims association with two universities in Australia, Adelaide and Melbourne, who you’d think would be jealous of their reputation. I have a research position at University of Queensland and was told to keep my head down when accusing some bunch soliciting money from the public of being a scam, because UQ has a policy of not commenting as a member of the academic community outside your area of speciality. This was a knee-jerk reaction on receiving a lawyer’s letter, but I was annoyed that UQ has such a low threshold for silencing their employees. Plimer apparently is immune from this, or UQ is unique in this respect. I complained to Melbourne and Adelaiade about his conduct, and Melbourne said they could do nothing because he’s emeritus (retired), and Adelaide’s response was:

    The University acknowledges that individual staff members may express their
    opinions or interpretation of scientific data and research in their area of
    expertise. The University feels that this issue, which may be perceived as
    controversial, is an accepted part of the freedom of debate in higher

    You may argue that Plimer is operating closer to his field of expertise than I was (a scam purporting to be a means of accessing UN projects for an annual membership is something I would have guessed any professional should feel entitled to expose and anyway I didn’t use my academic affiliation in so arguing to the public — see if you can spot my contribution here). But what of the accusations against Mann and Jones that to me were prima facia vacuous?

    There are two standards at play here. Academics can prattle in the public arena to their heart’s content until they offend someone who can launch a big harassment campaign or pay lawyers to write a threatening letter. Then all pretence of academic freedom and supporting freedom of speech disappears.

    So good luck with taking on this issue as one of academic misconduct.

  25. 275
    Geoff Wexler says:

    Re #260

    The suggestion that the rise in CO2 is not anthropogenic is a kind of finger-print which distinguishes extremist contrarians, such as Plimer, from the rest.There are a sufficient independent lines of evidence for your thought experiment to be redundant. (It would not be rigorous anyway).

    Your comment is based on a zombie argument which was killed by Revelle and Keeling but has been udergoing a bogus revival in the denialosphere.

    It could have been the case, that all or most of the human produced CO2 might have been removed e.g. by the oceans. It hasn’t happened. Just as Revelle predicted in the 1950’s only some of it goes that way (about half); and as you say the isotopic measurements reinforce that conclusion.

    It could have been the case that the rise in atmospheric CO2 is caused by the warming of the oceans, but it hasn’t, at least not yet,as shown by the direction of the flux of CO2 i.e. into the oceans causing the acid ocean effect.

    It could have the case that human CO2 has gone into a sink and been replaced by some more CO2. This would involve a weird combination of negative feedback opposing human alteration of the atmospheric CO2 cancelled by a natural CO2 rise. Have you heard of Occam’s razor? What sink would do that?

    It could have been the case that the conservation of matter does not hold for CO2 but the evidence for that is still to be discovered.

  26. 276
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Sam — 1 May 2010 @ 1:40 PM:

    Further on ocean CO2- The amount dissolved in the ocean is easily measured and it is increasing, not outgassing, so your proposed mechanism cannot be in play. As the ocean warms it could reach a temperature where it will outgass, but if this happens we are really up the creek without a paddle. The ocean taking up CO2 when it is cold, and then outgassing when it warms, has been elaborated mostly for very large excursions of temperature on long time scales, such as during the phases of the ice ages. As a home brewer I am very familiar with the relationship between temperature and carbonation level from a practical standpoint.


  27. 277
    Steve Missal says:

    I’m a little lost here…wasn’t this supposed to be about Allegre? So far, a couple of surmises…that he is a sloppy scientist, hence grabs at quick generalizations or somesuch, or is looking merely to make a dollar and is therefore just cynical, but I’m not seeing really anything convincing. I’m wondering if anyone has a deeper read on the guy; has he in the past wandered off the road like this? Is there some stressor in his recent life that has generated this book? Or, what? I’d love to hear a bit of reparte on this, although I love the other debates. But…Allegre…

  28. 278
    Edward Greisch says:

    “So the Gods have sent us another warning that humans need to set aside the greed of the corporate elite and start thinking about the well being of all of life. ”
    So there you have your “warning-from-the-gods.” The Gulf of Mexico oil leak has been deemed the “sign” that “we” have been waiting for By Grant Lawrence. Let’s make the best of it and call our senators on Monday and ask that all coal fired power plants be converted to non-fossil fuel by the end of 2015. A list of factory manufacturable reactors is available at:

  29. 279
    Ike Solem says:

    Sam, (#260), you provide a wonderful example of how many media organizations distort science and pervert the words of reputable scientists. I’m guessing you might have picked up your blurb from watching Britain’s Channel 4 Mockumentary on global warming, perhaps?

    Notably, that program interviewed the very reputable oceanographer Carl Wunsch, snipped the interview up into sound bites, rearranged those sound bites, and tried to make it look like Prof. Wunsch was claiming that global warming was due to, yes, the cause that you claim. Let’s take a look at the relevant section of his response:

    …What we now have is an out-and-out propaganda piece, in which there is not even a gesture toward balance or explanation of why many of the extended inferences drawn in the film are not widely accepted by the scientific community. There are so many examples, it’s hard to know where to begin, so I will cite only one: a speaker asserts, as is true, that carbon dioxide is only a small fraction of the atmospheric mass. The viewer is left to infer that means it couldn’t really matter. But even a beginning meteorology student could tell you that the relative masses of gases are irrelevant to their effects on radiative balance. A director not intending to produce pure propaganda would have tried to eliminate that piece of disinformation.

    As noted, this is a widespread problem in major media organizations today – CNN being another example. Here’s the bit you may be referencing, Sam:

    An example where my own discussion was grossly distorted by context: I am shown explaining that a warming ocean could expel more carbon dioxide than it absorbs — thus exacerbating the greenhouse gas buildup in the atmosphere and hence worrisome. It was used in the film, through its context, to imply that CO2 is all natural, coming from the ocean, and that therefore the human element is irrelevant. This use of my remarks, which are literally what I said, comes close to fraud.

    Do you understand how you may have been fooled into swallowing some slick propaganda, Sam?

    I also think this is a good way to deal with this kind of media distortion – write a response, and bring it to the attention of those media outlets, and go on other news programs to defend yourself – for example, here are some further interview statements from Prof. Wunsch on the Australia Broadcasting Corporation:

    CARL WUNSCH: There are a number of issues. There’s one point in the film where I was attempting to explain that the ocean contains a very large amount of carbon dioxide that is there naturally. It’s one of the great reservoirs of carbon dioxide in the world. And what I was trying to explain was that if you make the ocean warmer, as one likely would do under a global warming scenario, that much of that carbon dioxide now resident in the ocean could be released into the atmosphere with very serious effects.

    It was put into the film in such a way, in the context that it was put to have me saying that, “Well, carbon dioxide occurs naturally in the ocean and so whatever is going on is all natural,” which in some sense turned my point on its head. Or if you like, completely removing the main point, which is while the carbon dioxide in the ocean is primarily there naturally, having it expelled through warming is not necessarily natural.

    All that was lost in the film as broadcast.

    In the end, Channel 4 was clearly shown to be the guilty party, correct?

  30. 280
    MalcolmT says:

    @176 – “The Revenge of Gaia” by James Lovelock is, sadly, full of errors and bias. Lovelock believes that nuclear power will provide a solution because (IMO) nuclear power companies treated him with respect; he rejects windpower farms because they would make his beloved local moors look ugly; he thinks mankind will be reduced to ‘a few breeding pairs’ in the Arctic (presumably living on boats!) if we don’t do something to stop AGW; and he (quite seriously) advocates the creation of a new world religion, Gaia worship, to motivate us to change. I can’t give page numbers because I threw my copy away very soon after reading it ( ‘a few breeding pairs’ stuck in my mind, for obvious reasons). Few books about climate – indeed, few books of any kind – have disappointed me as much as this one.

  31. 281

    #260 Sam

    It’s easy Sam. For your hypothesis to hold water, all you need to do is show that the billions of tons of extra CO2 (that above 300ppm) in the atmosphere is a part of the natural cycle in the past say, 5 million years.

    In other words at what point in time did all that stuff you are talking about in your post raise atmospheric CO2 above 300ppm in the last 5 million years?

    And while you are contemplating that, you will also need to explain where all the CO2 from the fossil fuels that have been burned (a quantifiable amount) since the beginning of the industrial age went, since you are hypothesizing that it is all, or even mostly, natural?

    – Did it magically jump into outer-space?
    – Did aliens hover a giant vacuum cleaner above our atmosphere and suck it up to fuel their amazing CO2 burning rocket engines?
    – If so, why does our military command and NASA not detect their ships, or are you also assuming these ships are cloaked using Romulan technology?

    Your opinions obviously raise some interesting questions. Maybe that is why you are afraid to post your real name? Heck, I guess I can’t blame you. If I were to post such stupid ideas, I would not want anyone to know who I was either.

    But I don’t hide. Only people like you.

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  32. 282
    Mike M says:

    Ray, if you believe that ‘positive feedback’ is why the earth is the temperature that it is then you are apparently confusing ‘positive feedback’ with insulation. The earth at times was ~10C warmer than now. If there was a net positive feedback, (per that being foisted on us as ‘proven climate science’), then the temperature would have just kept increasing and never had come back down again ever. It never did that; it was always very stable for the last 400 million years, never varying much more than about 14C even though continents moved around, killer asteroids hit the planet, massive volcanic eruptions occurred and CO2 concentration was even well over 10X what it is now. Stability is the earmark of a system with a strong NEGATIVE feedback, (like a thermostat). Net positive feedback would mean we either get cold and stay cold or we get hot and stay hot – forever, (notwithstanding some dramatic intervening event). Such does NOT describe the geologic history of our climate and, as Dr. Lindzen points out, water vapor appears to be a net negative feedback element to explain why it is so stable. A thumb nail sketch of one specific negative feedback: a warmer surface will evaporate more water and a warmer lower atmosphere will hold more water vapor, which is lighter than air and rises, which then creates more clouds that then reflects more sunlight thus cooling things down on the surface. That describes a negative feedback system. If water vapor did not rise and condense at altitude we’d probably be as hot as Venus. We are a water planet and water appears to be the main driver of our climate – certainly not CO2.

  33. 283
    Edward Greisch says:

    266 John P. Reisman (OSS Foundation): ” safety of nuclear waste”


    We don’t recycle nuclear fuel because it is valuable and people steal it. The place it went that it wasn’t supposed to go to was Israel. This happened in a small town near Pittsburgh, PA circa 1970. A company called Numec was in the business of reprocessing nuclear fuel. I almost took a job there, designing a nuclear battery for a heart pacemaker. [A nuclear battery would have the advantage of lasting many times as long as any other battery, eliminating many surgeries to replace batteries.] Numec did NOT have a reactor. Numec “lost” half a ton of spent fuel. It wound up in Israel. The Israelis have fueled their nuclear power plants by stealing nuclear “waste.” It could work for any other country, such as Iran or the United States.
    It is only when you don’t have access to nuclear “waste” that you have to do the difficult process of enriching uranium.
    Numec is no longer in business. Terrorists can’t compete with Mossad and Israeli dual citizens who are CEOs of companies like Numec. Israeli nuclear weapons are exact duplicates of American nuclear weapons. All persons who were “born of Jewish mothers” are citizens of Israel regardless of any other fact. Since the US can’t and shouldn’t discriminate, the reprocessing of nuclear fuel in the US stopped. That was the only politically possible solution at that time, given that private corporations did the reprocessing. My solution would be to reprocess the fuel at a Government Owned Government Operated [GOGO] facility. At a GOGO plant, bureaucracy and the multiplicity of ethnicity and religion would disable the transportation of uranium to Israel or to any unauthorized place. Nothing heavier than a secret would get out.

    NOTE: THE SOURCE OF “FUEL” FOR THE HEART PACEMAKER BATTERY WAS SPENT REACTOR FUEL. Nuclear heart pacemakers were sold and implanted in living human heart patients, but they were expensive. Other uses for radioactive elements from spent fuel: cancer treatment, such as radioactive “grains” to put in your cancerous prostate.

  34. 284
    Mike M says:

    Geoff Wexler says: “The suggestion that the rise in CO2 is not anthropogenic is a kind of finger-print which distinguishes extremist contrarians …”

    Is it impossible for a given isotope of carbon in CO2 from us to be absorbed by a plant then re-released when it decomposes? It would seem to me that whatever CO2 is currently in the atmosphere right now being absorbed by plants is going to recycle the fastest. Is that a bad assumption?

  35. 285
    Edward Greisch says:

    209 Completely Fed Up: The numbers I gave are accurate. You forgot to consider the concrete required to build a dam, make a foundation for a wind turbine, how many wind turbines are required and so on. When you add it all up, nuclear produces the least CO2 PER KILOWATT HOUR. Remember that nuclear produces a lot of power from a few pounds of U23, it is all in one place, and it works 24/7. Power transmission line loss is even less than for wind because the nuclear power plant can be conveniently located next door to the user. Yes, I would want to live next door to a nuclear power plant.

  36. 286
    NoPreview NoName says:

    Ray Ladbury: “Sam, we know that the carbon entering the atmosphere is enriched in the isotope C-12 relative to C-13. This means it must come from a fossil source.”

    I think it only means it probably comes from an organic source, i.e. not the oceans or volcanoes. A fair amount comes from deforestation and other land use changes.

  37. 287
    Mike M says:

    As the saying goes, there are no stupid questions – just stupid answers.

    Sam said(160):
    If we looked at another airborne gas (which humans do not emit) and adjusted for solubility curves and then looked at it’s historical concentrations…. If it’s trends mimicked the trends of CO2 — especially in the last 150 years — wouldn’t that be really strong evidence that humans do not effect atmospheric CO2 levels?

    Well comparing some other gas concentration sounds like an interesting idea to me Sam. It seems people like John P. Reisman didn’t actually spend a moment to consider it and instead favored a knee-jerk reaction along with the typical ad hominem attack:

    “If I were to post such stupid ideas, I would not want anyone to know who I was either.”

  38. 288
    Edward Greisch says:

    230 SecularAnimist: Ike Solem owes nuclear power an apology and an endorsement.

  39. 289
    Jim D says:

    Re: 271 Steve.
    What I mean by the ocean being a negative feedback on CO2 increasing is that it means the atmosphere ends up with less CO2 than it would without the ocean. When water vapor is considered too, then the ocean would be a source of positive feedback on greenhouse gases, but I was just arguing in terms of the CO2 budget, not temperature or greenhouse gases.

  40. 290
    Jim D says:

    RE: 261 FCH
    Of course GCMs include clouds. If they didn’t, the missing albedo would play havoc with their global energy budget, and the current climate couldn’t even be simulated to within 15 degrees. Whoever gave you that information, you need to go back and correct them.

  41. 291
    Ike Solem says:

    Mike M, your water vapor feedback claims have actually been experimentally debunked – but how, you’re thinking, can you do global-scale experiments in climate science?

    Well, on June 15, 1991, Pinatubo discharged an estimated 15 million tons of sulfur into the upper atmosphere, and that cooled the planet (via reflection) a few degrees for a few years. How did the water vapor respond in that case?

    Here’s something on it from 1992:

    11 January 1992 by Jeff Hecht, New Scientist

    The Earth is likely to cool substantially over the next three years because of material injected into the upper atmosphere when Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines last June, according to an American atmospheric scientist. He says the cooling will be an ‘acid test’ for climate models which predict global warming

    Yes, the atmosphere dried out as a result, showing that water vapor responded as the climate models were predicting, and several heavily cited papers on the topic were published in Science (Soden et al, etc.), a fact you’re conveniently ignoring – so, your “thumbnail sketch” is more like an Aesop’s fable – how the elephant got its nose, ever heard that one?

    Lindzen, contemptibly, refused to acknowledge any of this and kept repeating his “stable equilibrium” PR line – much as Lysenko did (all genetics is nonsense!), and Lindzen was likewise feted by various political interests who liked his ideological stance, even if they didn’t understand the science…

    However, if you want a readable introduction to the topic and a list of references, here you go:

    Tedious repetition of thoroughly debunked claims – that’s a typical propaganda technique, isn’t it?

  42. 292
    Tom Dayton says:

    Mike M, positive feedbacks do not need to run away. You can demonstrate that for yourself with a spreadsheet by following the instructions I gave in a comment on

  43. 293

    #282 Mike M

    Wow, what a surprise, another mysterious anonymous person saying silly things about climate, showing off how much he does not know. Bowling us over with your red herring arguments and you thinking that you are impressive?

    Context is key.

    “it was always very stable for the last 400 million years”

    Stable compared to what? Modern industrial age? Climate of the holocene? Pluto?

    Paleo climate has a lot of factors, some understood and some not. Your point?

    Ray knows a hell of a lot more about this than you do though. You might consider other factors involved such as different tectonic plate configuration, a different atmospheric concentration s based on different types of events on different time scales.

    Did you notice that earth settled down in to a relatively stable range bound climate between warm periods and ice ages? Based on Milankovitch cycles?

    As to feedbacks, it is certainly reasonable to see that feedbacks are likely involved, both positive and negative. Relative stability based on thermal equilibrium due to varied states in orbital forcings combined with feedbacks are part of the system.

    Though magnitudes are not fully understood, the orbital cycles move us in one direction or another and the earth system feedsback amplitudinal changes based on the forcing directions until a new relative thermal equilibrium is reached based on the total influences of all forcings.

    So, while runaway feedbacks are possible to the limits of the forcings applied, it is understandable that positive does not mean continual positive forever, or negative forever. The climate/earth interactions are inter-dynamic, as are all systems with in the scope of their own given limitations.

    Not so hard to understand really. It’s kinda Newtonian, action reaction, balance. Centrifugal vs. centripetal, dynamic equilibrium, etc.

    In other words, there are lots of intervening events in a dynamic system. Remember, context is key.

    Dr. Lindzen may belittle the effect but is he comparing earth to Jupiter? He tends to say and use irrelevant examples when discussing earth climate which he does not seem to understand has a particular relevance to the human race. I’ve heard some of his more ridiculous statements and in my opinion, he is seriously deluded, or well paid to continue to mislead people regarding the relevance of this particular warming event.

    I really don’t think he was walking around during the peak warming of the Permian, or during the Cambrian explosion, or when T-rex was walking around wishing he could find a juicy Lindzen walking around for a nice aperitivo before dinner.

    So what do you think he is really saying when he says earth’s climate is stable?

    Besides, if Lindzen is right about the Iris Effect, then how has the temperature ever been warmer than the holocene?

    Hmmmm. . . quite a head scratcher.

    Context is key.

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  44. 294


    Handwaving “proves” that water is “the main driver of our climate.”

    And yet the best efforts to quantify all relevant physics in GCMs still reproduce past climate quite well.

    Hmm–handwaving, or mathematics?

    Tough call.

    Putting that aside, I must say that the idea that temperature variation appears to be limited to “only” 14C is not particularly comforting.

  45. 295
    Hunt Janin says:

    I’m not sure that this is the right place to post this but the Arctic and Antarctic category on this website seems to be closed to further comments or questions.

    I need an estimate for the total amount of ice in the world today. The clearest estimate I’ve found on the net dates from 2005 and says that at that time there was a total of about 30 million cubic kilometers of ice.

    What do you think? Is this still a reasonable estimate?

  46. 296
    Ron R. says:

    What a horrible situation in the gulf. Truly frightening.

    Environmentalists have been warning about just such a disaster for decades now. But few people really listened to them. We should have made the change to safer and lower profile alternatives a long time ago. Funny that that rig was supposedly “state of the art”. All those assurances of safety, kind of like those we hear all the time from another prominent energy industry.

    Oh, and of course Halliburton, Cheney’s old digs are involved.

  47. 297

    MM 259: ay Ladbury says: “….despite all the contrary evidence.” Such as? If there was a strong positive feedback we most CERTAINLY would have seen it raise its ugly head by now.

    BPL: Google “Clausius-Clapeyron relation.”

  48. 298

    Sam 260: what if the warming ocean itself is the sole or primary cause of the increase in atmospheric CO2? What if our planet is an overpowering CO2 sink and releaser. Yes I have read about the evidence of isotope ratio changes… but just because anthropogenic CO2 is being introduced into the earth system, doesn’t mean that our contribution is controlling of the airborne concentration.

    BPL: The new carbon dioxide’s isotope ratio matches that in fossil fuels, not that in the ocean. Period.

  49. 299

    Furry 261: The GCMs still don’t include clouds

    BPL: There have been clouds in RCMs since at least 1964 and I’m pretty damn sure GCMs include them as well. Where in the world did you get the idea that GCMs leave out clouds?

  50. 300

    MM 282: If there was a net positive feedback, (per that being foisted on us as ‘proven climate science’), then the temperature would have just kept increasing and never had come back down again ever.

    BPL: Wrong. It’s a converging series, not a diverging series. Do you understand the difference between an infinite series like

    1 + 1 + 1 + 1….


    1 + 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8…