RealClimate logo


Forbes’ rich list of nonsense

Filed under: — group @ 6 January 2011

Guest commentary from Michael Tobis and Scott Mandia with input from Gavin Schmidt, Michael Mann, and Kevin Trenberth

While it is no longer surprising, it remains disheartening to see a blistering attack on climate science in the business press where thoughtful reviews of climate policy ought to be appearing. Of course, the underlying strategy is to pretend that no evidence that the climate is changing exists, so any effort to address climate change is a waste of resources.

A recent piece by Larry Bell in Forbes, entitled “Hot Sensations Vs. Cold Facts”, is a classic example.

Bell uses the key technique that denialists use in debates, dubbed by Eugenie Scott the “Gish gallop”, named after a master of the style, anti-evolutionist Duane Gish. The Gish gallop raises a barrage of obscure and marginal facts and fabrications that appear at first glance to cast doubt on the entire edifice under attack, but which on closer examination do no such thing. In real-time debates the number of particularities raised is sure to catch the opponent off guard; this is why challenges to such debates are often raised by enemies of science. Little or no knowledge of a holistic view of any given science is needed to construct such scattershot attacks.

The approach also works somewhat in print, if the references are sufficiently obscure and numerous. Ideally, someone will take the time to answer such an attack, but there is a fundamental asymmetry of forces at work. It is, in fact, easier to form an allegation than to track down a reasonable explanation of what it means and how it really fits in to the balance of evidence. Also, the skills required to reflect the science are deeper than the ones required to attack it; hence the defenders are outnumbered and outgunned. Still, sometimes an article is prominent enough that it merits a detailed response.

The slightly out of the ordinary thing about Bell’s piece is that he casts his attack not as an attack on science (his usual method) but on the media:

As 2010 draws to a close, do you remember hearing any good news from the mainstream media about climate? Like maybe a headline proclaiming ‘Record Low 2009 and 2010 Cyclonic Activity Reported: Global Warming Theorists Perplexed’? Or ‘NASA Studies Report Oceans Entering New Cooling Phase: Alarmists Fear Climate Science Budgets in Peril’?” he begins.

But the remainder of the article is true to the form. Bell gallops through all the purported “good news” that the media ignored. The implication is that the media is complicit in overstating the climate change story.

But these aren’t the sorts of observations that most people generally receive from the media. Instead, they present sensational statements and dramatic images that leave lasting impressions of calving glaciers, drowning polar bears and all manner of other man-caused climate calamities.

Many intentionally target impressionable young minds and sensitive big hearts with messages of fear and guilt. Take, for example, a children’s book called The North Pole Was Here, authored by New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin. It warns kids that some day it may be “easier to sail than stand on the North Pole in summer.” Imagine such images through their visualization: How warm it must be to melt that pole way up north. Poor Santa! And Rudolph! Of course it’s mostly their parents’ fault because of the nasty CO2 they produce driving them to school in SUVs.

Lots of grown-ups are sensitive people with big hearts too. Don’t we all deserve more from the seemingly infinite media echo chamber of alarmism than those windy speculations, snow jobs and projections established on theoretical thin ice?

Whether the enemy is the “mercenary” scientific community, the “power hungry” liberal politicians or the “sensationalist” press matters little. What matters is to suggest the public has been manipulated, before starting the manipulation in earnest. The strategic point is to divert attention from what most scientifically informed people consider the key facts: the climate is changing as a result of human intervention. The longer we delay taking policy action, the more damage we will take and the more an effective policy will cost. It is conceivable and increasingly foreseeable that we will delay long enough that useful policy becomes infeasible and both human civilization and the biosphere will be permanently damaged.

The near-silence of the media on these matters is considered by many to be a key part of the problem. Yet, in this context, Bell suggests we are ignoring “the good news”.

Does he have a point? Is there really much of substance that qualifies as good news justifying his conclusion? The value of his piece depends crucially on how newsworthy his good news was, and how these items fit into the big picture.

We counted eleven assertions of fact in his gallop. Let’s look at each of them and place them in context. Bell especially emphasizes his first two points, so we examine them in detail (quotes from the article are bolded).

Record Low 2009 and 2010 Cyclonic Activity Reported

Bell’s first claim is not a confidence builder.

It’s possible that Bell is referencing a specific metric of hurricane activity (Accumulated Cyclone Energy), but that does not give a full story, nor does it show ‘record lows’. According to NOAA the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season, which ended Dec 31, was one of the busiest on record. In the Atlantic Basin a total of 19 named storms formed – tied with 1887 and 1995 for third highest on record. Of those, 12 became hurricanes – tied with 1969 for second highest on record. Five of those reached major hurricane status of Category 3 or higher. 2010 was just behind 2004 and 2005 for earliest occurrence of a third category 4 hurricane.

It is true that none of the 12 hurricanes made landfall in the US (though tropical storm Hermine made landfall in US and hurricane Karl made land fall in Mexico but caused major flooding in Texas. But the climate system cares nothing for national borders. This may be just a lucky break . Looking in detail it is attributable to some other features of the prevailing winds last year.

What is certainly untrue is that there was “record low” cyclonic activity in the Atlantic!

What about elsewhere? A tie for the strongest eastern Pacific hurricane on record (Celia). A category 5 hurricane hitting the Philippines (Megi).

Did the press ignore this story? Even on this Bell’s leading point is dubious. But in the context of climate change, sea surface temperatures continue to increase and strong tropical cyclones continue their upward trend. So Bell leads off with a real clunker.

NASA Studies Report Oceans Entering New Cooling Phase

Bell’s second point, also from the lead paragraph:

According to two separate NASA studies, one conducted by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the other by the Langley Research Center, the oceans now appear to be heading into another natural periodic cooling phase within a typical 55- to 70-year dipolar warm/cool pattern.

We traced this claim to an internet article by Justin Berk that says:

Two separate studies through NASA confirm that since 2003, the world’s oceans have been losing heat. …

Josh Willis, an oceanographer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, published his first report about the warming oceans. The article Correcting Ocean Cooling published on NASA’s Earth Observatory page this week discussed his and other results. Willis used data from 1993-2003 that showed the warm-up and followed the Global Warming Theory. In 2006, he co-piloted a follow-up study led by John Lyman at Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle that updated the time series for 2003-2005. Surprisingly, the ocean seemed to have cooled. He was surprised, and called it a ‘speed bump’ on the way to global warming.

But the excellent article “Correcting Ocean Cooling” which Berk references (and to which Bell is implicitly referring) for this actually explains how Willis went back and found that his earlier report of cooling was erroneous!

So the new Argo data were too cold, and the older XBT data were too warm, and together, they made it seem like the ocean had cooled,” says Willis. The February evening he discovered the mistake, he says, is “burned into my memory.” He was supposed to fly to Colorado that weekend to give a talk on “ocean cooling” to prominent climate researchers. Instead, he’d be talking about how it was all a mistake.”

Berk is so happy to find the word “cooling” in an article that despite the title “Correcting Ocean Cooling” he doesn’t bother to read or understand the whole point of the article. It’s really a very compelling example of how superficial this kind of journalism is; Berk gets something backwards, Bell picks it up, and Forbes, no less, uses it to lead off an article (albeit an op-ed column).

What’s more, the NASA article itself is from 2008, so even if the press had reported it as news as Larry Bell suggests, it would not have been in 2010. But in fact, the news was that the previous evidence of cooling was erroneous. Bell’s second point is simply wrong as well.

Now that we have some sense of the quality of Bell’s research, we’ll go a little more quickly through most of the other points, saving for last a case where he might have a stronger point.

A special press conference called by IPCC spokesman Kevin Trenberth announced “Experts warn global warming likely to continue spurring more outbreaks of intense activity.” Christopher Landsea, a top U.S. expert on the subject, repeatedly notified the IPCC that no research had been conducted to support that claim–not in the Atlantic basin, or in any other basin.

This famous controversy occurred in 2004 and is not 2010 news. Nor was it ignored by the press. We doubt that Landsea went so far as to claim that “no research had been conducted to support that claim” but if he did he is certainly incorrect. This topic goes back at least to 1987 with a paper in Nature by Kerry Emanuel. Kevin Trenberth offers some salient points about the controversy from his point of view:

  1. I was not an IPCC spokesperson and I was not advertised as such. Landsea claimed otherwise.
  2. I did not call the press conference, it was called by Harvard university (Paul Epstein and Jim McCarthy), I participated.
  3. There was a ton of research including my own on changes in the hydrological cycle that were pertinent but not specifically Tropical Storm based, as well as Kerry’s work.
  4. Landsea did not notify IPCC once, let alone repeatedly. He called a press conference and resigned from IPCC but he was not even part of IPCC. He had been asked by me to write something as a contributing author. It was a horrible distortion of many facts.

A globally viewed December 2005 BBC feature alarmingly reported that two massive glaciers in eastern Greenland, Kangderlugssuaq and Helheim, were melting, with water “racing to the sea.” … Only 18 months later, and despite slightly warmer temperatures, the melting rate of both glaciers Kangderlugssuaq and Helheim not only slowed down and stopped, but actually reversed.

This again is not 2010 news since it happened in 2007. It is a fact that after a massive retreat from 1991 to 2005 Kangderlugssuaq regained a tiny fraction, less than a tenth, of that retreat by 2007. This may be of interest to glacier dynamicists, but its climatological importance is nil. Glaciers worldwide are in massive retreat. Indeed, Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier lost another 5.2 square km in 2009.

[The] ice cap has been accumulating snow growth at a rate of about 2.1 inches per year

The top of the ice caps are growing slightly as expected, since warmer air contains more moisture which will fall in those places as snow. The issue that the public ought to pay attention to is the much larger and accelerating melt at the edge of the ice sheet. This is not especially 2010 news, but in any case it is sleight of hand. The real action is the instability at the edges, which already dominates the accumulation in the interior and looks likely to overwhelm it.

The new sea level, which has been stable, has not changed in the last 35 years.

Just wrong:


Figure showing the last 18 years of sea level rise derived from satellites and validated against tide gauges. (Update: longer records available here).

Next:

… if you want a grant for a research project in climatology, it is written into the document that there ‘must’ be a focus on global warming.

There are many grants supported by the grant agencies. Some are very broad and some very narrow. While it is possible that some grants specify “global warming”, it is relatively unusual. Currently open climate calls in the US through NSF can be seen at here. The claim simply isn’t true.

The Indian Ocean, for example, was higher between 1900 and 1970 than it has been since.

This is at least a current topic. It probably is based in Patterns of Indian Ocean sea-level change in a warming climate, Han et al. Nature Geoscience 2010. They conclude that “sea level has decreased substantially in the south tropical Indian Ocean whereas it has increased elsewhere. This pattern is driven by changing surface winds associated with a combined invigoration of the Indian Ocean Hadley and Walker cells, patterns of atmospheric overturning circulation in the north–south and east–west direction, respectively, which is partly attributable to rising levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases.”

So yes, there are apparently parts of the Indian Ocean where sea level has declined. This just leaves more water to pile up elsewhere. In fact, it shows how powerful the forces of climate change already are, in order to be able to outweigh the generally rising ocean volume in a limited area. It is hard to see how this rises to a general interest topic or how it qualifies as “good news” though.

The Northwest Passage has certainly opened up before.

This is untrue in recorded history. The traversals prior to 2007 were in very specialized boats and often took years. In 2007 and 2010, genuine shipping lanes opened up for the first time. It was possibly open in the mid-Holocene about 6,000 to 8,000 years ago and was certainly open millions of years ago. But since the opening of the passage itself received far too little attention (in our opinion), it is hard to see what Bell is complaining about.

in February 2009 it was discovered that scientists had previously been underestimating the re-growth of Arctic sea ice by an area larger than the state of California (twice as large as New Zealand)

“Previously” is grossly misleading. This was an instrumental glitch that lasted a few weeks. And February 2009 was not in 2010 either.

… previous estimates of Greenland and West Antarctica ice melt rate losses may have been exaggerated by double.

We’ve saved this for last because here Bell has a fraction of a point; as far as we can tell the only thing he raises that is 1) current and 2) arguably of general interest and 3) arguably good news. The use of the word “exaggerated” however is malicious and unjustified.

There are a number of ways of estimating the large scale mass balance of the ice sheets. Prominent among them uses information from the GRACE satellite, which measures the gravitational field of the earth. By its nature, the resulting measures are very large scale. They are complemented by precise local measures of ice altitude, for example, which are precise but cannot give broad coverage. To estimate ice cap melting the GRACE results also have to be combined with an estimate of the post-glacial rebound from the last ice age (which is still affecting the mass distribution of the Earth’s crust). Observing a planet is tricky business.

A recent publication by Wu et al makes the claim that:

“these [previous] results were not properly corrected for glacial isostatic adjustment, the phenomenon that the Earth’s crust rebounds as a result of the melting of the massive ice caps from the last major Ice Age around 20,000 years ago. These movements of the Earth’s crust have to be incorporated in the calculations, since these vertical movements change the Earth’s mass distribution and therefore also have an influence on the gravitational field.”

There is some contention here. If it proves true, it is an example of science at its best; a sequence of corrections converging on objective truth. The original estimates would have been corrected, pretty much by a factor of two as Bell says.

So this is current, substantially good news, and possibly salient for a general audience. On the other hand it is only good news about bad news; the ice retreat may have been overestimated, but we are still talking about hundreds of billions of tons more ice melting than accumulating every year, and this rate still shows signs of accelerating.

In this case, it is worth noting that all the evidence is that the ice sheets are losing mass and that the loss is accelerating. The Wu et al paper would be simply a recalibration of the net loss. This is good news, but not great news, and is certainly no evidence at all that climate change is negligible.

Please notice how we are trapped in a polemical double bind here.

What the naysayers will do is celebrate every correction that makes matters look less dangerous and criticize every correction that makes matters look more dangerous. In the former case, the older measure will have been “exaggerated”, and “corrected” by some noble and courageous hero. In the latter case, the newer measure is treated as the “exaggeration”. Thus, every single change in the estimate of any quantity is treated as evidence of the grand conspiracy.

What should be celebrated as advances of truth are instead recast either as the bad scary science defeated by the good non-scary science or the other way around. This is especially evident in the clumsy way the Willis tale is told, wherein the casting is confused because one person takes both roles.

So what remains of the criticism Bell raises? Very little indeed! The only unreported good news is that ice cap melting might have been overestimated, though it is still large and probably accelerating. The other ten of his eleven points are essentially nonsensical. I am not being partisan or oppositional here. I examined every point with an open mind and came up with ten points that boil down to complete nonsense and the last one a bit heavy on the spin.

Ultimately, though, the criticism of the press is ludicrous. The naysayers ought to be thrilled at the lack of interest in climate change shown in the press, at least in North America. The longer we delay, the bigger the topic gets, and the more ridiculous the refusal of the press and policy sector to grapple with it becomes.

Yet widely respected publications like Forbes seem eager to promulgate great clouds of rhetorical ink to make the problem seem ever more trivial and distant. If there is good news of general interest, of course it should be reported. But Bell seems to want, instead, to invent it.


334 Responses to “Forbes’ rich list of nonsense”

  1. 151

    SM 140: For the time being, this political contest has, in the US, been won by opponents to CO2 controls.

    BPL: For the time being? It’s been won, period. Human civilization will go down in this century. You simply can’t convince Americans that this is a real problem, and the third world (including China/India) will refuse to move until we do.

  2. 152
    Richard Reinert says:

    I think that the media scientists are equally responsible for reporting changes in the world’s climates and assigning guilt. Mind you, I do not question the validity of concern about climate change; in fact, as a (former) physical oceanographer, my intuition tells me that the system is way out of kilter.
    But many geophysicists and many managers of mass (and local) media ignore results that may support the null hypothesis – it simply ain’t worth reporting – it don’t make headlines.
    Valid studies may fall by the wayside; remember. we are talking about a system that is so complex that we can’t predict the weather with acceptable accuracy more than eight days in advance.
    I say garbage! The real emphasis should be on eliminating the most obvious dangerous compounds that pump into the atmosphere or plann to store underground for, as we have seen, accidents happen.
    Richard Reinert

  3. 153
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Richard,
    Why rely on “intuition”? There’s evidence. Lots of it. Go look at it.

  4. 154
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Keith,
    I did not call Dot Earth “anti-science”. I said that Andy’s unwillingness to take a stand on the science makes the commentary an anti-science cesspit. Andy is a journalist and has fallen victim to the myth that “the truth is in the middle”. It ain’t. The truth is where the evidence is, and Andy has utterly failed to take a stand when commenterd post patent nonsense as fact.

    Fully 97.5% of experts agree that we are warming the planet dangerously. Dot Earth does not come close to reflecting this. Sometimes one must take a stand and label a lie a lie.

  5. 155
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Susan Anderson,
    While I agree that Andy Revkin sometimes makes an effort to “point out the errors in the comment section”, these are spotty and inconsistent. What is more, it is incorrect to characterize these comments as “errors”. They are lies. Perhaps the poster does not realize they are lies, but a person who propagates a lie without verifying it is still guilty of lying.

    This is not a debate that is isolated to climate science. Science–indeed rationalism, itself–is under attack. We must not coddle to liars. We cannot shrink from confrontation. Percy Shelley told us “The Devil is a gentleman.” The way forward is to cleave to the truth, not to try to fine a middle ground between truth and lies.

  6. 156
    Susan Anderson says:

    Anna Haynes, Ray Ladbury, and others:

    I completely agree that the situation is out of control. The thing that passes under the radar of reporters is the level of organization and purposiveness in the organization that rolls out and keeps roiling the likes of climategate. All of us tend to attribute motives to other humans similar to our own, and while schemers think we never stop scheming, we find it hard to believe they scheme as much as they do. I’m not talking about their fellow travelers, but the core people who keep the argument going and develop ever more skilled, technical, changing the subject, personal attacks, and other types of arguments.

    Andy’s problem IMHO is that he is unwilling to censor and unable to deal with the volume and purpose-driven denial movement, as are all the other places where public commentary has been kidnapped. It’s a huge problem. A core of less than half a dozen can “own” any public blog with the support of a slightly larger group and a bunch of “innocent” wannabes.

    Anna, I don’t think it’s much use collecting data on inaccuracy. It’s obvious and measuring it won’t change it. It would be nice if the solution were as simple as measuring and exposing it, but there are none so blind as will not see.

  7. 157
    LosAngelista says:

    The coverage of warming on Mars provides an example of the generally shoddy reporting on Climate Change. I have never once heard or read a reporter actually explain why the Martian climate has warmed. Instead, I have only heard denialists use Martian warming as an mocking example of the alleged absurdity of Climate Change on Earth (most recently by Rep. Sensenbrenner who observed there are no IC engines on Mars). Would it be that difficult to explain in one sentence that Martian warming was a short term phenomenon, effecting primarily the Southern Hemisphere, that was caused by dust storms that changed the albedo of the frozen CO2 icecap and released CO2 in a feedback mechanism? And further, make the connection that increasing CO2 is melting Arctic ice and decreasing albedo in a similar feedback mechanism on Earth. Instead, such nonsense as espoused by Sensenbrenner et. al goes completely unchallenged.

  8. 158
    Jim says:

    OK, everyone knows the rules now. Off topic comments belong in “Unforced Variations mm/yy”. Please either stay ON TOPIC or put your comment there so we don’t have to move them. Thanks.
    Jim

  9. 159
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    The first explicitly climate related article I’ve seen prominently displayed as a lead article on Stuff for a long time: http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/4525379/New-Zealands-glaciers-face-great-melt. They’ve got comments switched off, or a whole chorous of the Canutist choir would be there singing away. It says it summarises “research published in nature Geoscience this week…” names the lead researcher as Dr Valentina Radic. I can find not a single mention of her in Nature online – not that I’m a subscriber – and since the whole article seems to have been lifted from The Guardian in the first place, looking there left me none the wiser. One step forward, two steps back.

  10. 160
    John Mashey says:

    1) While Forbes is probably not helpable, I continue to suggest proactive measures to help improve scienie reporting.

    2) Unforced variations & the Bore Hole are very helpful starts. Hopefully blog software will generally improve to make it easier for moderators in general to do better moderation if they are so inclined. Experiments with manual methods are useful.

  11. 161
    Anna Haynes says:

    FYI, in case anyone else was curious – I emailed Larry Bell asking if he’s any relation to fellow (with Steve Forbes) Heritage Foundation trustee Belden Bell – but the emailed reply was “no”.

  12. 162
    Anna Haynes says:

    (clarification, Larry’s not a trustee, Belden & Steve are.)

  13. 163
    Anna Haynes says:

    FYI, the “Unforced Variations” (aka Open Thread, which will make more sense to more people) for Jan 2011 is here (link)

    (perhaps I overlooked it, but I didn’t see a link to the open thread on this page anywhere)

  14. 164
    steve says:

    The Northwest Passage has certainly opened up before. Diary entries of a sailor named Roald Amundson confirm clear passage in 1903, as do those of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police Arctic patrol crew that made regular trips through there in the early 1940s. And in February 2009 it was discovered that scientists had previously been underestimating the re-growth of Arctic sea ice by an area larger than the state of California (twice as large as New Zealand). The errors were attributed to faulty sensors on the ice.

  15. 165
    Didactylos says:

    “steve”: Are you kidding me? Merely repeating the errors addressed in the post at the top of the page is not a very compelling argument. In fact, it makes us wonder whether you can read.

    Go. Read. Then come back. Only then.

  16. 166
    flxible says:

    OneAnonBloke@159 – The article you reference is recapped here, the lead being Dr Valentina Radic a Univ of B.C. post-doc and coauthor from Alaska. One of our poor Vancouver papers was about the first MSM to report on it along with the Guardian.

  17. 167
    Daniel Bailey says:

    Anna Haynes et al:

    Your link to the January Open Thread (Unforced Variations) is broken. Here’s the actual link:
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/category/open-thread/

    FYI: The link can also be found in the right margin in the ‘Categories’ section, 3 above the ‘Bore Hole’ link.

    The Yooper

  18. 168
    Sou says:

    The Australian, a national newspaper, is well-known for printing lies and nonsense about climate. I suspect the following article is considered ‘balance’ to their norm, maybe to soften the bad exposure they received after their response to Julie Posetti’s tweet. (Every now and again a more reasoned article on climate does slip by the editors at The Australian.)

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/opinion/global-weather-disasters-a-sign-the-heat-is-on/story-e6frg6zo-1225983256858

    In fact, WUWT was so incensed by the above article it even posted a ‘rebuttal’ by, of all people, Monckton! When an article in The Australian is slammed on WUWT (esp by an idiot such as Monckton) it has to be a good thing!

  19. 169
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    @flxible #166 Thank you.

  20. 170
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    Further to 169 – I now know why I couldn’t find Dr. Radić – I had missed the accent on the ‘c’, which was not present in the Stuff article. So this only counts as a small failure for the MSM, though if I can find the extended character set, why can’t they? It illustrates the issue quite neatly though – without RC I might have simply concluded that the Guardian et al were blowing smoke, and another Canutist meme is born.
    @ Sou #168 – A Monckton rebuttal? Somewhat rarer than a snark I fear.

  21. 171
    Andreas says:

    Re Kangerdlugssuaq and Helheim glaciers:

    The “reversed melting rate” probably means advance of the calving front. But that means little for the mass balance of a tidewater glacier in the longer term. Petermann also advanced substantially between the calving of the 2008 and 2010 ice islands. Actually, mass loss continued, but at rates similar to that before the surge. Thickness didn’t recover.

    Howat et al. 2007, Joughin et al. 2008, Howat et al. 2008.

    Nevertheless, looking at the latest Modis images with clearly visible calving front (2010-09-14): Kangerdlugssuaq, Helheim (made from raw Aqua and Terra images). For reference: Kangerdlugssuaq, Helheim (click on “Photos” for 2005 calving fronts; more in Joughin et al. 2008).

    The calving front of Kangerdlugssuaq hasn’t much moved within the last years, but this animation shows a clear retreat between 2009 and 2010; still it seems slightly in front of 2005. Helheim also hasn’t reached the 2005 minimum again, but there’s a large retreat compared to 2006.

  22. 172
    Nick Gotts says:

    Anthropogenic climate change denialist lies. In other news, it has been confirmed that the Pope is a Catholic, and a new scientific study indicates that ursines frequently defecate in forested areas.

  23. 173
    Keith Kloor says:

    I’m going to postpone my experiment (tracking news coverage of climate change). The tragic events in Arizona will dominate the national discussion and media coverage this week. I’m not suggesting that other news will not be reported–obviously it will. But I think we all know this is going to be one of those unusual weeks in the nation’s political discourse, where one event overshadows much else going on.

    This tragedy will perhaps trigger a soul-searching debate on the nation’s increasingly harsh and vitriolic political rhetoric, and I’d like to stay dialed into that, rather itemizing climate change stories.

    But I’ll do that next week.

  24. 174
    Dan H. says:

    The Australian has fallen into the recent trap as printing recent weather events as evidence of global warming; record heat, cold, flood, drought, etc. One would think that unless the temperature was in the middle of the daily range and the average amount of rainfall fell everyday then it is the result of some change in the climate. In reality, these are just weather events, and WUWT was correct to slam the report, even if Sou think that whoever disagrees with him is an idiot (some of us prefer to think of our adversaries as worthy opponents).

  25. 175
    Russell Seitz says:

    Forbes was not always thus- a decade ago ,the Editors used to just add a canonical poke at Al Gore, and let the science stand- alas no longer –

    Here’s a link, Wait for the add to pass, then contrast and compare:

    http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2000/0821/6605036a.html

    http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2000/0821/6605036a.html

  26. 176
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    FWIW, a short and rather aggressive interview with David Koch, in which he is asked about his opinions on global warming.
    http://thinkprogress.org/2011/01/07/koch-interview-global-warming/

  27. 177
    Alex Katarsis says:

    If I were to give specific examples of how you have ignored or acted as apologists for overzealous AGW activist media, would you publish those? Let alone critique them with equal vehemence? [edited to remove offsensive accusations]

    [Response: Find me *one* good example in a commonly read mainstream newspaper or magazine, and I’ll take you up on it. I agree with you that such examples exist. Send me a personal email — you can find my email address at my University of Washington web site.–eric]

  28. 178
    Sloop says:

    Bell’s Forbes piece states that:

    “Subsequent hurricane seasons returned to average patterns noted historically over the past 150 years, before exhibiting recent record lows with no 2010 U.S. landfalls.” (“Subsequent” refers to seasons after 2004.)

    What is Bell referring to with regard to “average patterns”? Number, storm tracks, intensity? Similarly, what variable(s) does “recent record lows” refer to? Is he referring to the Atlantic? Or The Global Ocean? The vagueness of this statement makes it difficult to rebut.

    The fact that there were no 2010 US landfalls is irrelevant to the Bell’s basic argument. But it does arguably indicate that he is referring to the Atlantic Basin. (And Bell ignores Hurricane Earl’s near miss in southern New England in late August and its destructive landfall (as a tropical storm) in the Canadian Maritimes.

    The RC post notes that the 2010 Atlantic basin season was extremely active with of 19 named storms.
    In Comment 71 to the RC post, Mann (?) points out how Emmanuel’s and Knutson et al’s research indicates that cyclone frequency may increase in the Atlantic basin due to AGW, but not in other basins.

    Nevertheless, on WUWT, in a 1/6/2010 post, Maue rips into the RC post, and Emmanuel, citing a multi-year decline in his seasonal ACE index values as proof that Bell is “completely right”, insisting that RC “owes Bell an apology”. But Maue’s seasonal ACE index values are global and hemispheric values, contradicting the expected distinctions in ocean basin-level cyclone activity. He assumes that Bell is referring to global values.

    “2010 produced the fewest Tropical Cyclones globally on record — and it has NOTHING to do with global warming. The Team only can look at the Atlantic — but did they talk about 2009 being one of the quietest seasons on record?”

    But given the vagueness of Bell’s statement, why is it a failing that the RC post does not to refer to the 2009 season?

    On Maue’s website that he provides a link to in his WUWT post, he states:

    “North Atlantic TC ACE has doubled since 1995, exactly compensated by a halving of Eastern Pacific ACE. It appears that in the context of global and NH ACE, the NATL increases are at the expense of the other basins, or simply within the common climate framework.”

    Why would one expect that “NATL increases” are to come at the “expense of other basins”? What does he mean by “common climate framework”? That increases in seasonal ACE values in one basin will cause decreases in the seasonal ACE values in other ocean basins?

    The Wikipedia entry on ACE states the following:

    “The ACE of a season is calculated by summing the squares of the estimated maximum sustained velocity of every active tropical storm (wind speed 35 knots (65 km/h) or higher), at six-hour intervals. If any storms of a season happen to cross years, the storm’s ACE counts for the previous year.[2] The numbers are usually divided by 10,000 to make them more manageable. The unit of ACE is 104 kt2, and for use as an index the unit is assumed. Thus:

    ACE = 10**4 ∑ VMax**2

    where vmax is estimated sustained wind speed in knots.

    Kinetic energy is proportional to the square of velocity, and by adding together the energy per some interval of time, the accumulated energy is found. As the duration of a storm increases, more values are summed and the ACE also increases such that longer-duration storms may accumulate a larger ACE than more-powerful storms of lesser duration. Although ACE is a value proportional to the energy of the system, it is not a direct calculation of energy (the mass of the moved air and therefore the size of the storm would show up in a real energy calculation).”

    This last sentence leaves me wondering about the value of seasonal ACE measurements as a means to track changes in storm intensity predicted by AGW science. The Wikepedia entry continues by noting:

    “The term hyperactive is used by Goldenberg et al. (2001) based on a different weighting algorithm which places more weight on major hurricanes, but typically equating to an ACE of about 153 (171% of the current median).” It then provides an Atlantic basin seasonal ACE value for 2010 of *163*.

    As a reasonably informed (alarmed and worried) observer with no particular expertise in the science of tropical cyclones, I am left with the following questions:

    How do seasonal ACE index values relate to predictions of impacts of AGW on hurricane activities in various ocean basins? (The RC post notes that the ACE “doesn’t tell the whole story” but doesn’t pursue this point any further.)

    Given how seasonal ACE index values calculated, how should we expect it to vary in relation to increasing SSTs? Bell seems to argue that they should they should be directly proportional.

    How would current projections regarding the impacts of AGW on storm frequency and intensity in the global oceans be reflected in global or hemispheric seasonal ACE values? In individual ocean basin seasonal ACE values?

  29. 179
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    Alex Katarsis #177: “overzealous AGW activist media”, at least, have the advantage of having some real world basis for their activism.
    Re: Eric’s response – surely if such examples (of unconcern or ‘apologism’) exist it makes more sense to confront them directly out in the open. Front-foot, as it were. Or is that getting too far OT?

  30. 180
    Alex Katarsis says:

    I’m far from one of your denialist enemies. At least I believe the earth is warming and that humans have some impact on that, but the irony of your “editing” is hilarious. OFFENSIVE COMPARED TO WHAT? Care to revisit the names you have let people call me (and other cacaphonous voices) on this blog? If that sentence is offensive, then you have already made my point.

    [Response: OK easy please, editing is a judgment call and we do our best. Regarding your previous comment–we ignore lots of over the top stuff here. The fact that we do doesn’t mean that we approve of it, nor that we never speak up about such things.–Jim]

  31. 181
    steve says:

    Didactylos – so you get your info from Wikipedia, must be correct then. The NW passage was open before the so called AGW. Maybe you should THINK before you write. Go away and think ……… dont bother coming back ……. ever!

  32. 182
    steve says:

    The great Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen clung grimly to the tiller of his little ship Gjoa. Adrift in the remote waters of Simpson Strait, the Gjoa had just spent 2 agonizing weeks in August 1905 avoiding the death grip of the polar ice. Over and over the exhausted crew begged Amundsen to turn back. Haggard and ill, he had not eaten for days and he dared not sleep. He knew that his dream of sailing across the top of the world was within his grasp.

    On August 25 he heard the lookout cry “Sail. Sail ahead!” Amundsen knew instantly what it meant. They were in open water and had spotted a whaling ship from the Pacific. In his diary he wrote: “The North West Passage was done. My boyhood dream was accomplished. A strange feeling welled up in my throat; I was somewhat over-strained and worn, but I felt tears in my eyes. ‘Vessel in sight…Vessel in sight'”!

    http://historywire.ca/en/article/21272;jsessionid=EEEE5E3A8270E8F628526DEDBD29B4DA.tomcat1

  33. 183
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    Steve #182 Oh too funny. An intrepid explorer and his crew almost die making the attempt, and you think this proves your point? I believe the technical term for this is “clutching at straws”.

  34. 184

    #182–

    Yes, Amundsen’s trip was remarkable. Yes, ONE of the NWP routes–but not the deep-water route–opened enough (just barely enough!) that he made it through–taking three seasons and enduring two winters in the ice to do it. Lucky–well, it was good planning, not luck–that the Gjoa had a specially strengthened hull to withstand the pressure of the ice.

    Now, compare and contrast 2010, when 18 miscellaneous ships and boats made it through in a single season–two of them having also done the NEP in the same season! Some of the boats had plain, ordinary fiberglass hulls. Two Royal Marines made it though in 2 seasons, rowing and sailing an open 17-footer. It was also the third consecutive season of Canadian Arctic resupply shipments being sent via the NWP.

    Notice a difference? On the one hand, a heroically desperate, skin-of-the-teeth success; on the other, what amounts to a combination of “extreme” recreational cruising and incipient commercial exploitation. It matters little whether we quibble over whether the Passage was “open” in 1904-5 or not. What matters is that the environment today is very, very different.

  35. 185
    Rick Brown says:

    Good one steve @182. You quote the dramatic passage about Amundsen’s final escape from the NW passage in 1905. Perhaps you were so caught up in it you failed to read three more paragraphs where you would have encountered “When Amundsen and his little ship the Gjoa set sail on June 16, 1903 . . . ”

    Or perhaps the fact that his traverse took over two years would undercut your fantasy.

  36. 186
    john byatt says:

    # 168 Sou

    Tim Lambert, Deltoid keeps an eye on the un-Australian ,number 57

    http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2010/12/the_australians_war_on_science_57.php

  37. 187
    jgarland says:

    @164. Forgive me, but your comment re. the RCMP schooner St. Roch is either inaccurate or a lie. There simply were no “regular” trips. The first trip took 3 seasons. It did make one trip (1944) in a single season. Even this was hardly “regular” as the St. Roch was specially built to be trapped in ice (round hull). It overwintered a total of 12 winters trapped in ice during its career.

    As for Amundson, it took him from 1903-1906 to make the passage. You present no evidence the whole passage was ever open during that entire time. His ship was specially built to be trapped in ice as well. Finally, Amundson’s route was not a deep water route.

  38. 188
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Dan H,
    It would certainly be incorrect to attribute the current flooding in Oz to climate change. It would not be incorrect to say that such events are expected to be more frequent due to climate change. In fact, it would be irresponsible not to point out that fact.

  39. 189
    jgarland says:

    @187…The St. Roch only ever made 2 crossings of the NW Passage taking 3 sailing seasons for one voyage and one sailing season for the other. It never made “regular” crossings.

  40. 190
    Dan H. says:

    Ray,
    You stated that such events [i.e. flooding] are expected to be more frequent due to climate change. This is not yet a fact, only a prediction assuming that precipitation increases in a warming world. If that does indeed occur, then it would be reasonable to assume that floods was consequently increase. Attributing a particular flood (particularly in regions were flooding occurs frequently) to climate change is irresponsible. If precipitation and flooding were to increase in the future, then you may have a case. That would be more responsible, regardless of what happens in Oz.

  41. 191
    Didactylos says:

    Didactylos

    steve: Wikipedia is useful. I make no claims for its accuracy.

    I pointed you there because you evidently knew so little about any of
    the attempts to navigate the NWP, it seemed quite clear that you
    needed some useful background information. I hoped that you would go
    on from wikipedia to check the references and learn more.

    Did you?

    You managed to find another source, but you only quoted the first
    paragraphs. Did you read to the end?

    “the Gjoa set sail on June 16, 1903″ […] “and on December 5, 1905
    reached Fort Egbert. There, by telegraph, Amundsen informed the world
    of his triumph.”

    So, if the NWP was open water all the way, why did it take Amundsen so
    long? No. Accounts of the passage are quite clear. There was lots
    and lots of ice
    , and it took them years, and they very nearly died
    (one of them did).

  42. 192
    Leonard Weinstein says:

    While it is no longer surprising, it remains disheartening to see advocacy for climate policy by climate scientists in the business press where they do not belong.

    [Response: You think that made-up ‘facts’ to support Bell’s advocacy ‘belongs in the business press’? Curious…. – gavin]

  43. 193
    jgarland says:

    @191 Ft. Egbert is very far inland (800 km straight line distance) on the Yukon River about halfway along the eastern border of Alaska (65N,141W). The reason Ft. Egbert figures into this voyage is that he, a whaling captain wanting to return to San Francisco, and 2 Inuit guides left the expedition and took sleds/skis south to the Army post/telegraph station there while the ship was trapped in the ice for the winter again (knowing that since he had cleared Canadian waters he could get out the next sailing season from the position off Alaska he was in). He sent his message in Dec 1905 and then returned to the Goja before breakup the following spring sailing into Nome in 1906.

  44. 194
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Dan H. says,
    “You stated that such events [i.e. flooding] are expected to be more frequent due to climate change. This is not yet a fact, only a prediction…”

    Uh, Dan, you wanna parse that sentence again? Of course its a fricking prediction, what with having to do with the future and all. Or would you prefer that we all throw up our hands like you denialists and say, “Oh, it’s all too difficult to understand.”

    Dan, you can’t have it both ways. Either we use the best theories we have to try and prepare for what is coming or we punt and fall back on risk avoidance–which means pullin the plug on carbon right fricking now.

  45. 195
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    Ray Ladbury: Dan H has made himself quite clear. Noting that happens in the present can be attributable to global warming: only future events will convince him. In other words, he’s moved the goalposts to next week and that’s where they’re staying.

  46. 196
    Dan H. says:

    Ray,
    Oftentimes, predictions are based on current observations. The recent warming has not yet resulted in increased severe weather events. Since we have not experienced such an increase in the past century, why would we expect one in the coming century?

  47. 197

    #190, Dan H.–

    “You stated that such events [i.e. flooding] are expected to be more frequent due to climate change. This is not yet a fact. . .”

    Correction. It is not yet a measured fact.

    I was looking just the other day for simple timeseries of floods, but only found them for relatively small regions–such as central Germany, or Holland. Creating them was evidently quite challenging; obviously areas more remote would be much tougher, and then there’s the whole issue of geographical weighting, and so on and so on. And it is clear that various atmospheric oscillations strongly affect rainfall, so you have to allow for that.

    But I bet someone’s hard at work on this now. When they’re done, I wouldn’t be shocked to hear that they have identified a signal going back earlier than the present day.

    As to precipitation, I don’t understand this thoroughly, but I don’t think that you’ve posed the question correctly. It’s not just “more precip=more flooding.” Some places will get less precipitation, for example, the Middle East is expected to get less, as is the American Southwest. Relevant for this subthread, the same is true of Eastern Australia.

    But even these areas may get more intense rain when it does rain, even if the total over time is less. Which is kind of what just happened to Queensland.

    By the way, there are archives of precipitation data, but they are presented as maps so that they retain the spatial information showing what’s drying and what’s moistening.

    I do wonder what we’d see if someone wrote a script to sum the monthly totals and create a graph of global totals over time?

  48. 198
    SecularAnimist says:

    Dan H wrote: “The recent warming has not yet resulted in increased severe weather events.”

    That’s a blatant falsehood. We have seen a dramatic increase in severe weather events all over the world, which taken together comprise a pattern of increasing severe weather events that is just what the science of anthropogenic climate change predicts.

    Dan H wrote: “… why would we expect one in the coming century?”

    If you are not just trolling with deliberate drivel in order to waste people’s time for the fun of it, and you really, honestly don’t understand why the science of anthropogenic global warming gives us strong reasons to expect increasing frequency of severe weather events in the coming century, then you need to go to the “Start Here” link at the upper left corner of this site, and do a LOT of reading before you post any more comments here.

  49. 199
    flxible says:

    DanH: “The recent warming has not yet resulted in increased severe weather events.

    Your proofs of the total lack of attribute-ability would be welcome, as it’s attribution you argue against. I believe the “prediction” that climate change would take the form of increasing extremes has been around for quite awhile, what level of increase will qualify?

  50. 200
    Steve Mennie says:

    Is this not like attempting to point to a single cigarette or pack of cigarettes and saying that it caused a person’s lung cancer or will cause a person’s lung cancer when we know it’s the statistical probabilty of smoking a pack or two a day that causes lung cancer? We can’t point to any particular weather event and link it to global warming but as more energy is put into the climate the probabily of such events increases no?


Switch to our mobile site