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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).


… 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. 201
    Brian Dodge says:

    “The recent warming has not yet resulted in increased severe weather events. ” Dan H. — 11 Jan 2011 @ 1:46 PM

    Not true.
    “In areas where a drought or excessive wetness usually accompanies an El Niño or La Niña, these dry or wet spells have been more intense in recent years.”
    “In some areas where overall precipitation has increased (ie. the mid-high northern latitudes), there is evidence of increases in the heavy and extreme precipitation events. Even in areas such as eastern Asia, it has been found that extreme precipitation events have increased despite total precipitation remaining constant or even decreasing somewhat.” (Last Revised: 11/10/03, so increases had already been observed seven years ago, by people other that Anthony Watts and Steven Goddard)
    “Some regions have also experienced an increase in extreme precipitation events, as predicted in model simulations (Nicholls et al., 1996). Observations for the last 100 years indicate that extreme precipitation events (more than 2 inches in 24 hours) in the United States have increased by about 20% (Karl and Knight, 1998). Increases in heavy precipitation have also been reported for Japan and northeastern Australia.”
    “As the NASH(North Atlantic Subtropical High or “Bermuda High”) intensified and migrated westward, Li’s team’s analysis found that its north-south movement also was enhanced from 1978 to 2007, a period when the frequency of extreme summer rainfall variability in the Southeast more than doubled over the previous 30 years.”

  2. 202
    Maya says:

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

    Just because one cannot claim that a specific event is climate-change-related does NOT logically lead to your stated conclusion. The models show, and the evidence bears out, that severe weather events are *more likely* in a warmed world. See also: and

    “Since we have not experienced such an increase in the past century, why would we expect one in the coming century?”

    Well, part of your premise is faulty, as I stated above. And, you make this statement as if 1) the warming in the next century is expected to be the same as the warming of the past century (it isn’t), and 2) that the damage is only additive (it does not appear so to me, but if you think so, please provide evidence).

  3. 203
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    DanH #196. “The recent warming has not yet resulted in increased severe weather events.” Please go to Brisbane and say that. As a layman I feel quite comfortable drawing a link between such flooding and the predictions of climate scientists. I know that no one event can be linked to AGW with anything approaching certainty, but the stumbling block for humanity isn’t our understanding of the climate system, it’s blind stupidity masquerading as skepticism – politics in other words, and I think the residents of Brisbane have a little more understanding of what’s at stake than you do.

  4. 204
    Dan H. says:

    My premise may only be slightly faulty. I used the 130 years whn arriving at a 35% increase in atmospheric CO2. At the current rate of increase, CO2 will increase another 35% by 2085, so I would expect to see a 0.6C increase if the observed temperature rise was entirely due to CO2 concentrations. I admit that the values are slightly off, but still in the same ballpark.
    As alluded to by several posters, flood data is not readily available, therefore no accurate conclusion can be drawn from them. Drought data presented on this site earlier shows no major change over the past three centuries, and if anything, has decreased. Tropical activity has shown no major changes in the past century besides natural variability. Much of the data presented has occurred over time intervals much too short to make reasonable assessments.
    Once last comment. If temperatures actually increase significantly more at the polar regions as predicted, that would lessen the temperature and pressure gradient resulting in less, not more, severe storms.
    I do understand all the different theories that stem from increased CO2.

  5. 205
    Hank Roberts says:

    Oh, Dan will probably agree with the observed and documented facts.
    The changes are widely documented, e.g.
    He’s denying any causal connection.
    No matter how many facts, there’s never any proof.
    Proof, you know — it’s only available in math, not in science.

  6. 206
    adelady says:

    It’s not just Brisbane. The most important feature of the current flooding is not just that the levels are breaking 100 year records in some places.

    It is that, despite Queensland areas often experiencing flooding in the wet season, they have never before had all three of those major SEQ river basins flooding simultaneously.

  7. 207
    Dan H. says:

    The flooding in Quensland can be directly related to the strong La Nina.

    Previosly strong La Ninas have yielded similar results.
    Maybe everyone should tell the residents of Brisbane what is actually causing the flooding. The strong La Nina was forecast several months ago. Were the residents warned?

  8. 208
    Hank Roberts says:

    > similar

    Similar to the most extreme in the record, is what Dan means to say, from that website he points to: Wednesday 5 January 2011

    “The Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) value for December of +27 is the highest December SOI value on record, as well as being the highest value for any month since November 1973…. The current event has contributed to 2010 being Australia’s the third wettest year on record, and Queensland having its wettest December on record ….”

  9. 209
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    DanH “The flooding in Queensland can be directly related…” How would you know? You have no more basis to trust the information you’ve presented here, than you have to trust the information other climate scientists give you. You have to laugh at the comments section of the first article you link to though – all the Canutist loons are bagging the author, and here you are at RC trying to use him to bolster your credibility.

  10. 210
  11. 211
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Uh, Dan, you do know that energy consumption increases exponentially, don’t you?

    And you do know that while previous La Ninas resulted in flooding that what we are seeing now in Oz is unprecedented in recorded history, right? And you do know that this is precisely what climate models predict, right?

  12. 212
    CTG says:

    According to Dan H, “The flooding in Quensland [sic] can be directly related to the strong La Nina”.

    On the other hand, we are not allowed to attribute any one single weather event to AGW.

    Anyone else see a slight asymmetry here?

  13. 213
    john byatt says:

    Dan H, here is Jeff’s take on the QLD flood, at Wunderground

    Deadly flash flood hits Australia
    Flood-weary Queensland, Australia suffered a new flooding disaster yesterday when freak rains of six inches fell in just 30 minutes near Toowoomba. The resulting flash flood killed nine people and left 59 missing. The flood waters poured into the Brisbane River, causing it to overflow, and significant flooding of low-lying areas in Brisbane, Australia’s third largest city with some 2 million people, is expected on Thursday. As I discussed last week, Australia had its wettest spring (September – November) since records began 111 years ago, with some sections of coastal Queensland receiving over 4 feet (1200 mm) of rain. Rainfall in Queensland and all of eastern Australia in December was the greatest on record, and the year 2010 was the rainiest year on record for Queensland. The ocean waters surrounding Australia were the warmest on record during 2010, and these exceptionally warm waters allowed much higher amounts of water vapor to evaporate into the atmosphere, helping fuel the heavy rains. The record warm ocean temperatures were due to a combination of global warming and the moderate to strong La Niña event that has been in place since July.

  14. 214
    nigel jones says:

    Global warming is believed to affect the mechanism behind the el nino / la nina cycle, although this mechanism isnt fully understood. However the frequency of these events has altered in the last 50 years, and it may affect the intensity of the events as well. So global warming could be one factor in the Queensland Floods.

  15. 215
    Lloyd Flack says:

    This Brisbane flood is worse than the worst flood of the 20th Century, that of 1974. However it is not as bad as two 19th Century floods, those of 1841 and 1893.

  16. 216
    FurryCatHerder says:

    Ray @ 154:

    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.

    Sadly, if the truth isn’t “in the middle” the people reporting “the truth” are doing a very poor job of presenting the risks.

    The IPCC has presented a collection of scenarios, each having some level of certainty, error bars, etc. These scenarios are based on our responses — BAU, etc. Within those scenarios there are still unknowns, such as the behavior of clouds — which I think is a major unknown.

    That’s the state of what’s known and so forth.

    What would be nice is to see Climate Change scenarios laid out such that there is some range of “truth” — below this level of Climate Change is clearly denial, above this level of Climate Change is alarmism.

    What we see instead are “scenarios”, some of which may happen, and some of which may not happen. For example, when I see the “business as usual” scenario, I want to know where all of the liquid fuels are going to come from (in the real world, not the fantasy mouth-of-mine liquification).

    Likewise, I don’t see “this is what happens if clouds go with us, and this is what happens if they go against us”. All I know is that clouds are still a gaping hole in the models. Because there are no models that include clouds.

    Even with the fantasy “no new carbon” types of scenarios the climate sort of flattens out into something that doesn’t resemble the past — that caused the large dips and spikes of the past few hundred years? How can a “no new carbon” scenario be more stable than the last few hundred years?

    So, if I were trying to plan what my business should do, other than “stop producing CO2”, what should I do? And how much of that should I do? And how much are my competitors — that’s the key point, I suspect — going to have to do?

    There is a lot of “middle” in there. Not to say the piece isn’t long on denial, but they are being given a lot of fodder for the grist mill.

    (I blame all typos, omissions, etc. on my broken bifocals.)

  17. 217
    Dan H. says:

    If we cannot attribute rainfall to atmospheric and oceanic circulation, then why bother weather forecasting at all?
    Understand that there is a difference between climate and weather.

  18. 218
    FurryCatHerder says:

    In re, flooding — how much of that can be attributed to land use changes as well as efforts at “flood control”?

    I spent 20+ years of my life near the Mississippi River and the #1 contributor to flooding in the Mississippi River area was people trying to keep the Mississippi from flooding.

    Not saying that increased precipitation isn’t a side effect of Climate Change (that bit of science seems pretty solid for some parts of the planet), just saying that without an understanding of why an area is subject to increased flooding, there could be all manner of causes including ill-advise flood control efforts.

  19. 219
    Sou says:

    (I think this and the post it responds to should probably be in the Unforced Variations thread.)

    @207 DanH asks ‘were the residents warned’.

    The people of Australia have been informed for some months about La Nina and the record warm sea surface temperatures. Most people in rural towns are localities would have been aware. Some people in cities might have been less interested in the weather but could hardly have been unaware of the increasingly wet conditions in Queensland in the past few months, particularly after the long drought.

    The Bureau of Meteorology provides regular reports on ENSO, SSTs etc.

    However, even only a couple of days ago, neither Ipswich nor Brisbane was expecting to have floods of this magnitude because of their flood mitigation works. They thought these cities would avoid the devastation that has affected other parts of Queensland in the past couple of months. But the weather was not kind.

    Nevertheless, it’s clear from the excellent response of the government and the emergency services that they have planned very well and been extremely well prepared for an event of this magnitude.

    There is extremely high admiration being expressed by all, no matter what their personal political bent, for the way the Queensland Premier is managing the situation and for the way all those involved have come together to respond. This includes a myriad of government agencies, volunteer organisations and the media as well as the general public, particularly those directly affected. Paid and unpaid volunteers have come together from all states to help Queensland. The emergency response phase will be looked at in future years as one of the models for disaster response in my view. I believe the following phases of relief and recovery will also be managed very well. A person has already been appointed to lead the recovery and the recovery phase has already been started in some areas of the state, even while the disaster is still unfolding in other parts.

    In Australia disaster management has been honed to a fine art. It is rarely perfect, but compared to responses in some other developed nations, it is of a high standard. Very large simulations are done at a state and national level from time to time for many types of catastrophic events, including bushfires, floods, animal disease outbreaks and human health emergencies. There is a major review after each big event with recommendations. Australians often help in or observe major disasters in other countries and the learnings are incorporated into disaster plans. Normally all or almost all of the recommendations of major reviews are implemented.

    There is an agreement between all states and the Federal Government that costs of a disaster will be shared across the nation once a threshold cost has been met. This event will cost well above the threshold so the whole of Australia will come together to share the cost of rebuilding Queensland. In addition to government funding, donations from the public and corporations will go directly to those affected to help them survive in the short term, clean up their homes after the disaster and start to rebuild their lives. Some have estimated this event will cost more than Katrina. It has been estimated that the floods will impact the next quarter GDP of the nation by about 1%, although the estimates for the impact on the annual GDP are much less, as recovery continues during the year.

    You can make a donation here:

  20. 220
    adelady says:

    fch – as far as Brisbane is concerned, remember that much of the land is, literally, floodplain. But that doesn’t help with looking at the extraordinary precipitation – esp the ghastly results in Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley. That quantity of water falling out of the sky in half an hour hasn’t been recorded there, ever. And it was unfortunately onto already sodden soil – though it would probably have run off even very dry soil coming down at that rate.

    The most remarkable thing of all is that there’s no sign of a cyclone anywhere in the vicinity. In the past most of the big sudden precipitation events have been linked to the edges of cyclones affecting these regions.

  21. 221
    Brian Dodge says:

    “The strong La Nina was forecast several months ago. Were the residents warned?”

    Yes. Climatologists have been warning people for years that global warming will lead to “increase in extreme precipitation events, as predicted in model simulations (Nicholls et al., 1996).” Did you read my comment – 11 Jan 2011 @ 3:59 PM?
    They were dismissed as “alarmist” (and a lot worse) by WUWT, Heartland, CEI, Australia’s Senator Steve Fielding, Rupert Murdoch’s Australian newspaper, Christopher Monckton(recently on tour in Oz), and a host of others.

    If you roll an honest pair of dice many times, you’ll get snake eyes(you lose) ~1/36 of the time. If the dice have lead filled sixes, you’ll get snake eyes(You Lose) more often, but each individual roll can’t be predicted. If we dump a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere(we have), La Nina will come up snake eyes(QUEENSLAND LOSES) more often, but predicting which roll of the weather dice is a loser is currently almost as difficult as predicting each roll of a pair of loaded dice.

    If the next La Nina isn’t so bad, the suckers will inevitably come back to the table, urged on by hucksters like Forbes, and bet their house(modern technological civilization) against the House(Mother Nature’s Reality), and ignore the warnings from the IPCC about loaded dice.

  22. 222
    Hank Roberts says:

    Look at the past 11,000 year record — “Medieval climate anomaly” temperature levels were associated with lots of fires and lots of floods in this study for example:

    Google creates a quickview that can be saved, here’s my copy of that for the moment at least:

    See particularly the chart on p3 of that article. Does it look like we’re returning to that kind of fire and flood regime?

    I’ve repeately mentioned an earlier paper that really impressed me about the erosional events associated with the PETM. The change in intensity of rainfall events associated with warming is — scary.

  23. 223
    Rod B says:

    1) Increased energy increases global temperatures
    2) various fluxes and flows causes anomalous regional temperature increases (meaning regionally, the temperature change can be different from the global average.)
    3) on a regional basis a climate change can simultaneously (over a period) cause a large decrease in average rainfall and an extreme increase in the intensity of some rainstorms.

    I have a fairly good idea of the general physics (though maybe not the explicit details) underlying the first two points. Can anyone describe the general physics behind #3?

  24. 224
    Dan H. says:

    You have got to be kidding me. That is your idea of warning the residents of Queensland that torrential rains are possible.
    Last I knew, global warming predicted warmer sea temperatures which results in more frequent and stronger el ninos. What we are seeing is a very strong la nina. Check out the graph. The warming from 1980-2000 was accompanied by several strong el ninos and weak la ninas. Recently, the el ninos have weakened and the la ninas have strengthened. This is opposite to the forecasted global warming effect.

    [Response: When looking for references on what the ‘forecast global warming effect’ is or is not, you would do well to stick to the IPCC reports in the first instance. And when we look it up….p751 “Multi-model averages show a weak shift towards … El-Nino-like conditions”, but “there is no consistent indication at the time of discernible changes in projected ENSO amplitude or frequency in the 21st Century” (see also sections & 4)”. That is not in any sense a claim that strong La Nina’s are going to disappear, and indeed, there is still evidence that the AR4 crop of models are not of sufficient skill to have their ENSO projections taken very seriously at all. See also this old post. – gavin]

  25. 225
    Maya says:

    Dan, I’m going to post a reply over in unforced variations. That’s a more appropriate thread.

  26. 226

    Dan H., 224–

    “warmer sea temperatures which results in more frequent and stronger el ninos”

    Why do you think so? It sounds as if you are conflating different things: “Nino has warmer SSTs, so warmer global SSTs must lead to more Ninos.”

    But ENSO is (in part) a pattern of SST changes with a particular spatial pattern. Those SST patterns are driven by changes in prevailing winds, which in turn are driven by changes in barometric pressure patterns (see “SOI.”) If I have it right, the SST changes are more effect than cause. (Though the chain of causation doesn’t stop there.)

    In short, global SST trend is (as far as I know, at least) utterly unrelated to ENSO in any straightforward way.

  27. 227
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    Kevin McKinney “..utterly unrelated…in any straightforward way.” Isn’t that a bit like saying the hands are unrelated to the feet in any straightforward way? Global climate is one system: it’s the gaps in our understanding that make it look fragmented. Closing the gaps is where the fun is, for scientists at least.

  28. 228
    David Miller says:

    Rod, look for the hadley cell changes due to warming. The dry zones outside the tropics expand so previously temperate land becomes desert. Weather, obviously, still happens and the warmer air occasionally dumps more water in a single event. Some places may experience both drought and flooding because of this effect. Hadley cells are at least one key to this phenomena.

  29. 229
    Dan H. says:

    Maybe you should look more closely at the ENSO data. The periods of increasing temperatures (1910-1940 and 1970-2000) were accompanied by stronger and more frequent el ninos. The cooling periods (1940-1970 and 2000-present) have been characterized by stronger and more frequent la ninas. I think you find it considerable more than “unrelated.”

  30. 230
    Anna Haynes says:

    In #161 I’d said “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”.”

    However, I haven’t been able to confirm this yet with Belden Bell – who hasn’t responded to my Facebook query – and it *fits* so perfectly, it’s such a beautiful hypothesis, that I need confirmation before relinquishing it.

  31. 231
    Sou says:

    For a good discussion of why this is the strongest or second strongest La Nina recorded (it depends on the period used for La Nina), go to this article:

    Prof Nicholls discusses why SOI comparisons (Southern Oscillation Index – a comparison of surface atmospheric pressures between Tahiti and Darwin) are better to compare the strength of the current La Nina across time, rather than sea surface temperature (SST), which is normally used to determine if we are approaching an El Nino or La Nina episode. The two reasons he gives are that firstly, the records of SSTs aren’t available going back as far, and secondly global warming (and increasing SSTs) makes direct comparisons difficult over longer periods of time.

    He further states:

    There is no a priori reason to expect that global warming has necessarily led to long-term SOI changes that would confound our results if we use the SOI to compare historical and recent La Niña events. And values of the SOI are available from the end of the 19th century.

    (If any of the rc experts sees differently to the above, I hope they comment here.)

    To stay closer to the topic, Unleashed is published by the ABC – the government’s radio/television/internet broadcaster. It is a web forum for articles of all sorts from world-recognised experts like Prof Nicholls, to somewhat unhinged persons like Jo Nova. It is often (ab)used by the IPA (a right wing think tank) to promote the ‘teachings’ of the IPA. It is just as often used by individuals of all political persuasions and no political persuasion to express ideas, usually on matters that have become topical in the news. It can be a very good (or woeful) source for a deeper discussion of news items – reading comments as well as the article itself.

  32. 232

    #229–Dan, maybe you should look more closely at the temperature data; 2000-present is not a “cooling period.”

  33. 233
    Sou says:

    @207 DanH asks ‘were the residents warned’.

    Further to my previous response to Dan’s question, in mid-October last year, there was an article warning of possible disastrous weather in the Brisbane daily paper, the Courier Mail (hat tip HumanityRules on

    Supports my previously stated observations about the impeccable preparation that is evident by the response to these floods.

  34. 234
    JiminMpls says:

    #229 The cooling periods (1940-1970 and 2000-present)

    1999 was warmer than 1989
    2000 was warmer than 1990
    2001 was warmer than 1991
    2002 was warmer than 1992
    2003 was warmer than 1993
    2004 was warmer than 1994
    2005 was warmer than 1995 (and tied with 2010 as the warmest year on record)
    2006 was warmer than 1996
    2007 was warmer than 1997
    2008 was COOLER than 1998 (but warmer than any other year in the 1990’s)
    2009 was warmer than 1999
    2010 is tied with 2005 as the warmest year on record.

    What is the correct term for someone who claims that 2000-present shows a cooling trend. Somehow, “denier” just isn’t sufficient.

  35. 235
    Nick Gotts says:

    “Somehow, “denier” just isn’t sufficient.” – JiminMpls

    No, but if you say it out loud, with the emphasis very much on the “ier”, the sound is pretty much right.

  36. 236


    “..utterly unrelated…in any straightforward way.” Isn’t that a bit like saying the hands are unrelated to the feet in any straightforward way?

    Well, that’s true for a great many teenage boys, isn’t it? ;-)

    If we’re doing analogies, I’d tweak yours a bit–say, “hands are unrelated to the femoral artery in any straightforward way.” Yes, the entities belong to the same system, but exist at different scales and functional “levels.” Yes, the functioning of one will affect the functioning of the other–but not in an obvious, direct way that we can (at present, at least) articulate. Or, as Nigel Jones put it:

    Global warming is believed to affect the mechanism behind the el nino / la nina cycle, although this mechanism isnt fully understood.

    But I’ll cheerfully admit that I could be totally wrong about this; I’m not an expert and have no qualms about saying so.

  37. 237
    Dan H. says:

    Thanks Sou,
    It appears that the Australian weather agency was aware of the impending rains.
    What is your point? I already explained that the 1990s was part of the warming trend. The CRU data from 1970 (when the 10-yr moving average bottomed) until 2002 (when the 10-yr average peaked) was 0.018C / year. Since 2002, the trend is -0.003C / year (not significantly different from zero as Phil Jones would say). Would you prefer the term “lack of warming” as some like to say?

    [Response: I’m baffled. How can a figure which shows a clear warming trend be your justification for ‘a lack of warming’? – gavin]

  38. 238
    Nick Dearth says:

    Dan H says:
    “not significantly different from zero as Phil Jones would say”

    Source, please? Perhaps you were referring to this:

    “BBC: Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming

    Phil Jones: Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.”

  39. 239

    So, has Dan H. got *anything* right yet? Or are his posts all still just recycled ‘skeptic’ bafflegab?

  40. 240

    Wait! Stop the presses!

    2002 gives the lowest temperature trend of any year in the last decade. . . amazing coincidence that that’s been proposed by DanH as proving a “lack of warming.”

    But, gee, more recent trends show we’ll be boiling in no time!

    “Migawd–that’s a degree and a half per decade! We’re all going to die! Some of us more than once!!!”

    I believe that the cure for this rampant madness is a little something called “statistical significance.” Let’s all make it our friend, shall we? Even DanH?

  41. 241
    David says:

    I don’t know about the rest of your rebuttal of the Forbes article, but the item on the North West Passage is misleading and disingenuous.

    You state that “…. traversals prior to 2007 were in very specialized boats and often took years..”

    In fact the passage was successfully navigated, in a single season, during 1944 By the St Roch – 30m wooden hulled RCMP patrol boat crewed by 12 regular mounties. The only specialization was a steel plate covering the wooden bow.

    You go on to say “….In 2007 and 2010, genuine shipping lanes opened up for the first time…”

    You seem to be implying that the passage was then open to regular commercial shipping but that’s simply not true. The first “commercial voyage” was made in 2008 by the 133m MV Camilla Desgagnés, a craft built for arctic waters to the highest ice category 1A Super – and therefore far more “specialized” than the St Roch, as well as being much bigger and more powerful. There was also a Canadian government ice breaker on standby for the voyage.

    Such obvious distortion doesn’t really engender confidence in the rest of the article.

  42. 242
    Dan H. says:

    I have no problem using the statistically significant long-term trend of ~0.6C/century (depending on the individual data set). I just do not understand how some people think it might accellerate to up to ten times that rate.

    [Response: Something to do with exponential increases in CO2 or something… I think I read that somewhere…- gavin]

  43. 243
    nigel jones says:

    Kevin #229

    Im struggling with your claim its been cooling since 2000. Both the NASA GISS data and the latest Roy Spencer UAH data shows a warming trend from 2000 to december 2010.

    I also note that according to NASA and NOAA 2010 is tied with 2005 as the warmest year on the instrumental record. 2000 is also a meaningless start point you need about 25 years to get a trend that stands out from sunspot cycles etc.

  44. 244

    #229–Nigel, you are confused. It is DanH who claimed it was cooling; I was refuting him. See my comments at #232 and #240 (note the latter has sarcasm mode engaged.)

  45. 245
    SecularAnimist says:

    Dan H wrote: “I have no problem using the statistically significant long-term trend of ~0.6C/century (depending on the individual data set). I just do not understand how some people think it might accelerate to up to ten times that rate.”

    The latest from NASA GISS:

    NASA Research Finds 2010 Tied for Warmest Year on Record
    January 12, 2011

    Global surface temperatures in 2010 tied 2005 as the warmest on record, according to an analysis released Wednesday by researchers at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York.

    The two years differed by less than 0.018 degrees Fahrenheit. The difference is smaller than the uncertainty in comparing the temperatures of recent years, putting them into a statistical tie. In the new analysis, the next warmest years are 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007 and 2009, which are statistically tied for third warmest year. The GISS records begin in 1880.

    The analysis found 2010 approximately 1.34°F warmer than the average global surface temperature from 1951 to 1980. To measure climate change, scientists look at long-term trends. The temperature trend, including data from 2010, shows the climate has warmed by approximately 0.36°F per decade since the late 1970s.

    “If the warming trend continues, as is expected, if greenhouse gases continue to increase, the 2010 record will not stand for long,” said James Hansen, the director of GISS.

    The analysis produced at GISS is compiled from weather data from more than 1000 meteorological stations around the world, satellite observations of sea surface temperature and Antarctic research station measurements. A computer program uses the data to calculate temperature anomalies — the difference between surface temperature in a given month and the average temperature for the same period during 1951 to 1980. This three-decade period acts as a baseline for the analysis.

    The resulting temperature record closely matches others independently produced by the Met Office Hadley Centre in the United Kingdom and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center.

    The record temperature in 2010 is particularly noteworthy, because the last half of the year was marked by a transition to strong La Niña conditions, which bring cool sea surface temperatures to the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean.

    “Global temperature is rising as fast in the past decade as in the prior two decades, despite year-to-year fluctuations associated with the El Niño-La Niña cycle of tropical ocean temperature,” Hansen and colleagues reported in the Dec. 14, 2010, issue of Reviews of Geophysics.

    A chilly spell also struck this winter across northern Europe. The event may have been influenced by the decline of Arctic sea ice and could be linked to warming temperatures at more northern latitudes.

    Arctic sea ice acts like a blanket, insulating the atmosphere from the ocean’s heat. Take away that blanket, and the heat can escape into the atmosphere, increasing local surface temperatures. Regions in northeast Canada were more than 18 degrees warmer than normal in December.

    The loss of sea ice may also be driving Arctic air into the middle latitudes. Winter weather patterns are notoriously chaotic, and the GISS analysis finds seven of the last 10 European winters warmer than the average from 1951 to 1980. The unusual cold in the past two winters has caused scientists to begin to speculate about a potential connection to sea ice changes.

    “One possibility is that the heat source due to open water in Hudson Bay affected Arctic wind patterns, with a seesaw pattern that has Arctic air downstream pouring into Europe,” Hansen said.

  46. 246
  47. 247
    Brian Dodge says:

    “St Roch – 30m wooden hulled RCMP patrol boat crewed by 12 regular mounties. The only specialization was a steel plate covering the wooden bow. ” David — 13 Jan 2011 @ 4:32 PM
    “Hallidie copied the ship’s lines and several construction details while planning St. Roch. These included a round, egg-shaped hull, thick ironwood planks that formed an extra layer of ice sheathing on the hull, a large cabin aft, a single-screw diesel engine, a rudder that could be lifted up through a special well to avoid being snapped off by ice, and thick beams to brace the hold against the crushing pressure of ice floes.”
    “Length: 31.8 m (104’3”) Beam: 7.5 m (24’7”) Draft: 3.25 m (10’8”) Tonnage: 196.5 t Hull: Douglas fir with Australian gumwood outer hull; rounded hull to allow ice to slide underneath; steel plate covering bow”

    sounds like an icebreaker to me, twice as massive compared to
    “Specifications for Superyacht Diano Crowbridge by Riva Trigoso
    LENGTH OVERALL 31.20 m
    MAXIMUM DRAFT 2.10 m

    dis·in·gen·u·ous (dsn-jny-s)
    1. Not straightforward or candid; insincere or calculating:

    misleading [mɪsˈliːdɪŋ]
    tending to confuse or mislead; deceptive

  48. 248
    nigel jones says:

    Kevin #244

    Apologies, I meant to direct my comments at Dan H. Having read your posts it appears we have much the same issue with his comments.

  49. 249
    nigel jones says:

    Dan H #229

    Im struggling with your claim its been cooling since 2000. Both the NASA GISS data and the latest Roy Spencer UAH data shows a warming trend from 2000 to december 2010.

    I also note that according to NASA and NOAA 2010 is tied with 2005 as the warmest year on the instrumental record.

    2000 is also a meaningless start point you need about 25 years to get a trend that stands out from sunspot cycles etc.

  50. 250

    #247–Thanks for the great detail, Brian. I’d only add that the phrase “regular Mounties” David used is pretty suspect, too; firstly because being a Mountie in the first place is being a member of an elite; secondly because I don’t believe for a moment that they just picked names at random off some duty roster.