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Les Chevaliers de l’Ordre de la Terre Plate, Part I: Allègre and Courtillot

Filed under: — raypierre @ 18 November 2007 - (Français)

France has a per capita carbon emission of 1.64 tonnes, compared to 2.67 tonnes for the U.K and 5.61 tonnes for the US. So, if anybody has earned the right to rest on their laurels and pontificate to the rest of the developed world about what they should be doing, you’d think it would be France. Far from it, under the leadership of Nicolas Sarkozy, France has embarked on an ambitious program of deeper carbon reductions. In introducing the measures, Sarkozy said "The guiding principle is that the cost to the climate — the carbon cost — will be integrated into planning of all major public projects, and into all deliberations affecting the public." These measures include: a commitment that all new buildings would be net energy producers by 2020, incandescent lighting would be banned by 2010, buyers of efficient vehicles would be subsidized, drivers of inefficient vehicles would be penalized, and road construction would be severely curtailed in favor of expanded rail travel using state-of-the-art French TGV technology. A carbon tax is also being seriously contemplated. These proposals are the result of an intensive months-long series of discussions with scientists and stakeholders such as environmental nongovernmental organizations, industry representatives, and labor union representatives. The process, known as Le Grenelle de l’Environnement, was described here by Nature (subscription required) and a summary of some of Sarkozy’s proposed actions was reported in the press here.

All the same, there has been some pushback from a vocal pair of highly decorated French academicians, Claude Allègre being the most prominent and noisiest of the two. In recent years, Vincent Courtillot has emerged as a reliable sidekick to Allègre — a Dupont to his Dupond — helping to propagate Allègre’s claims and adding a few of his own. Both are members of the Académie des Sciences, and Allègre has been awarded both the Crafoord Prize and Bowie Medal. Allègre has an impressive list of publications relating to the Earth’s interior, and besides that was Minister for Education, Research and Technology in the Jospin government. Courtillot — currently director of the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP) — has had a distinguished record of research on fundamental aspects of geomagnetism and is currently President of the Geomagnetism and Paleomagnetism Section of the American Geophysical Union. Their views were amply (some would say more than amply) represented at a symposium on the IPCC report, held last Spring at the Academie (See the issue "Evolution des Climats" of La Lettre de l’Académie des sciences, and press reports in Le Figaro, Le Monde, and Liberation). What does all this mean? Are the opinions of Allègre and Courtillot founded on some special profound insight that has escaped the notice of the community of scientists who have devoted entire careers to studying climate? Let’s take a look.

When an active scientist of the distinction of Allègre or Courtillot speaks out, the voice has a special claim on our attention, no matter how implausible the claims may seem. It would be a mistake, however, to accept the proclamations of such luminaries on the basis of authority; one must examine the arguments on their merits. Allègre does not publish his arguments on climate in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, so we have to turn to his popular writings and public statements to get a glimpse of what these arguments are. A treasure trove of Allegrisms (Allegrories? Allegrations?) can be conveniently found in a little opus humbly entitled Ma vérité sur la planète (Plon/Fayard:Paris 2007). Many of the things said here merely parrot standard discredited skeptics’ arguments without adding anything new: For example, Allègre at several junctures repeats the old fallacy of confusing unpredictability of weather with the problem of determining how climate responds to changes in radiative forcing: "I have difficulty believing that one could predict with precision the temperatures that will occur a century from now, when we can’t even predict what they will be one week from now." (p.89) He also repeats the fallacy that the lead-lag relation between CO2 and temperature in Antarctic ice cores proves that temperature causes CO2 variations rather than vice-versa — a tired and thoroughly discredited argument (look here for a summary of the rebuttals) . There is little more to say about such arguments, save that Allègre’s willingness to repeat them shows either a remarkable gullibility or a disturbing lack of scientific integrity.

Elsewhere, though, Allègre breaks new ground with regard to passing off nonsense as scientific argument. Here are a few examples.

  • Allègre claims that the disappearance of the glaciers on Kilimanjaro is due to moisture supply changes arising from tectonic uplift, and has nothing to do with global warming. This claim appeared over a year ago in Allègre’s column in L’Express, and was discussed in an earlier RealClimate post on Allègre. Essentially, Allègre failed to understand that the tectonic events referred to in the Science paper he cited affected the African climate millions of years ago, whereas the present Kilimanjaro glacier didn’t even come into existence until around 10,000 years ago. The erroneous claim about Kilimanjaro is repeated in Ma vérité sur la planète (p.120), despite ample time and opportunity to correct the mistake. So much for vérité ("his" or otherwise).
  • Allègre says that "common sense" casts doubt on the idea that CO2 could have such a controlling effect on climate, because its concentration is only 300 parts per million (p.104). This "common sense" flies in the face of over a century of meticulous physics going back to the time of Tyndall, which shows precisely why certain trace gases have such a strong influence on infrared absorption by the Earth’s atmosphere.
  • Allègre says we "know nothing" (p.109) about the Dansgaard-Oeschger events and other form of millennial variability appearing in the ice-core record. From this statement, I think you are supposed to infer that since we "know nothing" about the events it could well be that the current warming is just the latest warm phase of such a thing. To be sure, there’s a great deal still to be learned about millennial variability, but the phenomenon has been the subject of several hundred peer-reviewed scientific papers, dozens of conferences, and a major study by the US National Academy of Sciences. We know enough about the pattern of such events and the mechanisms involved to essentially rule out the possibility that the recent warming is a related form of natural variability. We also know enough to worry about the possibility that climate change due to greenhouse gas increases could trigger massive ocean circulation shifts of the sort that were involved in past millennial variability.
  • Allègre says that under an increase of CO2 there would be no warming at the equator, whereas the predicted warming at the equator is in fact only somewhat below the global mean warming. He states correctly that the warming is strongest at the poles, but states without support that a 10ºC warming would be no big deal (p.122). This is quite a startling statement, given that a much more moderate warming has already caused substantial loss of Arctic sea ice. Part of his misconception may come from the fact that he thinks that the temperatures at "the poles" range from "-30 to -60ºC." (p.122) If that were really true, there would be no open water in the Arctic at the time of the sea ice minimum. It is easily verified that this is not the case, and indeed the Arctic commonly gets up to 0ºC in the summer, and sometimes more.
  • Ignoring the numerous independent studies of the instrumental record of the past century, he says the Phil Jones analysis of this data has been "put seriously in doubt" (p.100). And by what means? A comparison of Jones’ global mean data with an unpublished analysis of the average of a limited number of hand-picked European stations — presented as the epitome of the Geophysicists’ incomparable expertise at time-series analysis! More on this when we come to discuss Courtillot.
  • Helpfully, Allègre advises modellers that "It is necessary to avoid basing predictions of future climate on a global mean whose status is vague." (p.106) Evidently he is unaware that general circulation models have been simulating geographical variations of future wind and temperature changes at least since the 1970’s, and that maps of such changes have been included in every IPCC report going back to the very first. Oh, but I forget. Elsewhere Allègre states that "nobody reads" the IPCC reports (p.115). Evidently, this statement applies to at least one person.
  • Continuing his display of ignorance of the modelling enterprise, Allègre wonders why modellers put CO2 in their models, and concludes that it is only because they happen to know how it has varied over the centuries. Could a century of meticulous laboratory and field work documenting the radiative effect of CO2 perhaps have something to do with modellers’ preoccupation with this gas? Evidently not in Allègre’s universe. But there’s more: "Because one doesn’t well understand how clouds form, one neglects them! Because one has not mastered the role of aerosols and dust, one neglects them!" (p.104) This is not at all true. Clouds, aerosols and dust (as well as solar irradiance variations and volcanic eruptions) are all included in modern models. Models that leave out the influence of the CO2 rise fail to reproduce the warming of the past 30 years, and it is precisely for this reason that CO2 is confirmed as the prime culprit in global warming.
  • Allègre makes a number of false or misleading statements concerning the contents of the IPCC Fourth Assessment report. He claims that this report (contrary to French media coverage) "considerably toned down" its conclusions compared to previous reports (p.119). By way of evidence, Allègre states "For a doubling of CO2 emissions the temperature of the globe will rise between 2 and 4.5ºC in a century. The previous report said between 1.5 and 6ºC." (p.119) First of all, the IPCC statements on climate sensitivity refer to a doubling of CO2 concentration, not CO2 emissions, but let’s give Allègre the benefit of the doubt and assume this is just another instance of sloppy writing rather than true misunderstanding. Even so, Allègre is mixing up his apples with his pommes de terre in this statement. Though the climate sensitivity range narrowed from 1.5-4.5ºC previously to 2-4.5ºC now, reducing the likelihood of low climate sensitivity, the range of predictions for 2100 remain largely unchanged (and are moreover not strictly comparable between the reports given changes in the way "likelihood" is estimated). In a similar vein, Allègre claims that the IPCC reduced its forecast of sea level rise, which is not the case.
  • And there’s more. He says that IPCC has "modified, though not completely abandoned, its argument concerning 20th century temperature rise." (p.119) This evidently refers to Allègre’s belief that one of IPCC’s main arguments has been that CO2 must be responsible for temperature rise because (ben voilà!) they both go up! It’s hard for IPCC to abandon an argument it never made, and in any event the Fourth Assessment Report probably devotes more space to discussing the twentieth century temperature record, using more techniques, than any earlier report. And yes it does (pan to shot of Galileo here, speaking through clenched teeth as he bows before the inquisition) still go up (and by essentially the same amount as previously estimated). Continuing the theme of abandonment, Allègre says that the IPCC has "abandoned" its argument regarding the implications of ice-core CO2 and temperature variations. Actually, not. There is no change in the way IPCC interpreted the Vostok isotope and CO2 curve, which appears both in the 2001 and 2007 reports (the latter with Epica extensions into earlier times). The discussion appears in Chapter 6 of the Fourth Assessment Report (p 444 fig 6.3), but how could Allègre be expected to know that? Nobody reads the IPCC reports, right?

Misconceptions and misrepresentations of the sort given above are liberally supplemented with the usual arsenal of innuendo and quote-mining. Because Christopher Landsea (extravagantly compared to Galileo!) chose to make a scene by resigning from the IPCC, the whole process is deemed to not allow dissent — conveniently ignoring that Lindzen happily stayed on the IPCC Third Assessment Report. An entirely reasonable and uncontroversial statement by Dennis Hartmann on modelling uncertainties is twisted to imply that modellers think we can’t simulate anything with sufficient precision to draw conclusions about future warming (p.105). Quotes on the possible necessity of adaptation measures from MIT’s Ron Prinn and Columbia’s Wally Broecker are used to imply that these two notables favor adaptation over CO2 emissions reduction (p.126). And on the subject of adaptation vs. mitigation, some of Allègre’s statements are downright bizarre: He says that we have nothing to fear from global warming. After all, we adapted to the ozone hole, didn’t we? We adapted to acid rain, didn’t we? (p.127) Well, no actually, we did nothing of the sort. We "adapted" to the ozone hole by passing the Montreal Protocol to control CFC emissions. We "adapted" to acid rain by passing pollution control measures which reduced sulfate emissions. If this is "adaptation," I guess I can just say: ‘d’accord!’ Let’s just "adapt" to global warming by reducing CO2 emissions!

What is to be said of such claims? I couldn’t put it better than Allègre himself: "… une imposture intellectuelle, une escroquerie!" (p.107)

Whatever agenda Allègre is pursuing in his public pronouncements on global warming, it would seem to be very little informed by his scientific expertise. Through his litany of errors, misconceptions and misrepresentations, he has abdicated any claim to be taken seriously as a scientist when he speaks about climate change. And lest Lomborg and similar eco-Pollyannas draw too much comfort from Allègre’s support, let us note that, at the end of the day, Allègre still calls for a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions over the next 20 years. Many of us who wouldn’t touch Allègre’s arguments with a 10 foot baguette would be quite happy if such a plan were enacted in the United States, at least as a first step towards ultimate deeper reductions.

So much for Allègre. Now what of M. Courtilllot? Fortunately, we need not go into nearly so much detail, since almost all of the arguments presented in the Academie debate (see his article in La Lettre de l’Académie des sciences) mirror those given in Allègre’s book. Still, the man manages to add a few wrinkles of his own. For example he confidently declares that the glacial-interglacial CO2 variations are "simply" explained by the effects of temperature on CO2 solubility. He is evidently unaware that this simple mechanism was in fact quite simply evaluated years ago by Wally Broecker — like Allègre, a Crafoord prize winner — and found to be woefully insufficient (see Martin, Archer and Lea, Paleoceanography 2005, for a recent treatment of the subject).

Remember the graph of European temperature in Ma vérité which was supposed to put Phil Jones’ analysis of the instrumental record "seriously in doubt?" Well, it reappears in Courtillot amply decorated with a lot of new verbiage: climate scientists spend all their time modelling and hardly any looking at data; geophysicists are uniquely qualified to look at time series because they do it all the time and anyway they invented most of this stuff in the first place; nobody ever cross-checks or verifies Phil Jones’ work. And patati, and patata, none of which holds a glimmer of truth. But, having declared all this the brave geophysicists of the IPGP decide to take a look for themselves by averaging together a few tens of European weather stations (with a few distant ones from the Urals thrown in for good measure) and ben voilà, how Courtillot is "astonished" that the curve doesn’t look at all like what they were taught it should look like! (Courtillot is evidently a man easily astonished, and equally easily surprised, since these words appear with stunning regularity in his article.)

The analysis which evidently shocked Courtillot like a coup de foudre was presented at the Academie debate by Le Mouël (himself an Academician, and holder of the Fleming Medal). A video of his talk is here. Dear reader, I urge you to take a look at this video for yourself and see if you can make any more sense of it than I could, amidst all the mislabeled graphs, bizarre choices of what to compare to what, and missing information about crucial aspects of the data handling. I have done my best to convey what I think is the essence of the argument Le Mouël is trying to make, but it isn’t easy. In the left panel below I reproduce the only graph in which Le Mouël attempts a direct comparison between his data and the Phil Jones analysis which appeared in the IPCC report; it was redrawn by tracing over a freeze-frame of Le Mouël’s presentation. The graph is labeled "European Average" in the presentation, but the data (thin black line) which Le Mouël compares to Jones’ European analysis (red line) is actually from Denmark. Moreover, Le Mouël’s data seems to be monthly (or maybe daily) minima. Why one would want to compare Danish temperature minima with all-Europe temperature means is beyond me, but in the end what Le Mouël is making a big noise about is his claim that the yellow curve fit describes the data better than Phil Jones’ curve. Given the variability, there is really no objective reason to prefer one over the other, but the distinction between the two fits is largely immaterial. What you can take home from Le Mouël’s analysis is that, in Europe, a marked temperature rise does not set in until the 1980’s. Sound familiar? It should, because that is more or less what the IPCC says, pointing out further that natural variability cannot explain the recent warming. This can be seen well in the right panel, taken from the Fourth Assessment report. The blue shaded region is the ensemble of simulations forced by natural variabiity, while the pink shaded region includes anthropogenic forcing. Only the latter reproduces the rise at the end of the record.

The point of a lot of this fiddling with temperature curves is that the Sun must be doing something to control all these fluctuations. That brings us to radiative forcing, and Courtillot and company have had some problems with this issue, since they have a hard time making it look like CO2 is a small forcing and solar variability is a big forcing. One botched attempt at this was to claim that cloud fluctuations swamp CO2; Courtillot claims that clouds cause 80 Watts per square meter of radiative forcing, so that a mere 3% change in cloud cover would cause 2.4 Watts per square meter radiative forcing, which would be comparable to greenhouse gas forcing changes to date. To get this figure, though, Courtillot evidently assumed that all the Earth’s albedo is due to clouds, and moreover neglected the cloud greenhouse effect. When properly calculated, the net cloud radiative forcing is more like 20 Watts per square meter, so a 3% change gives you only 0.6 Watts per square meter, well below the greenhouse gas radiative forcing to date, to say nothing of what is in store for the future.

This flub is nothing compared to the trouble Courtillot’s collaborator Le Mouël got into during the debates, when he was trying to show that the 1 Watt per square meter variation in the Solar irradiance over the solar cycle is fully half the greenhouse gas forcing. Well, there is the little matter that Le Mouël forgot to take into account the sphericity of the Earth (which means divide the solar irradiance by 4) or its reflectivity (which means take 70% of the result). As the Le Monde reporter archly noted, Le Mouël’s calculation assumes a black flat Earth, but, "Hélas! La Terre est ronde" (zut alors!). Le Mouël seems eager to follow in Allègre’s geometrically-challenged footsteps: In a 1988 book (12 clés pour la géologie, Belin:Paris), Allègre confidently stated that the pole to equator temperature gradient was due to snow albedo and atmospheric absorption, making no mention of the role of the Earth’s spherical geometry, which is far and away the dominant factor (and the reason there’s ice at the poles to make a high albedo). Messieurs, here’s a little hint: What does the "G" stand for in "IPGP?"

The round Earth having robbed him of his 1 Watt per square meter –which in any event is mostly averaged out over the relatively short solar cycle leaving a miniscule tenth of a Watt variation between cycles — Courtillot grasps at the possibility some unknown and unquantified nonlinear mechanism for turning the very high frequency solar variability into a century scale trend.

There is also a bit of nattering about Moberg’s take on the Hockey stick, the supposed considerable warmth of the Medieval Warm Period, and some supposed millennial solar variability which supposedly accounts for why the present warming sort of looks like Moberg’s take on the Medieval Warm. Even leaving aside evidence that Moberg’s method exaggerates variability (see Mann, Rutherford, Wahl and Ammann 2005, available here), the "blame the Sun" mantra falls apart because neither the Sun nor cosmic rays have been exhibiting any trend that could conceivably account for the recent warming, as we have discussed in many places on RealClimate (most recently here).

With regard to climate, Courtillot’s main claim to fame is not found in his article in La Lettre. For that we have to look to a paper recently published in EPSL, which claims that climate variations are closely tied to the geomagnetic field. How convincing is this work? That will be the subject of Part II.

291 Responses to “Les Chevaliers de l’Ordre de la Terre Plate, Part I: Allègre and Courtillot”

  1. 1
    tamino says:

    Excellent! And obviously, a lot of work.

    However, the graph doesn’t seem to appear. An html error?

    [Response: Fixed. Thanks for pointing this out.]

  2. 2
    andy says:

    Wonderful post, I particularly like the itemised nature – very helpful. Have you (or anyone else) considered a Climate equivalent of the excellent “Index to Creationist Claims” page (which deals with a wholly different topic of course but requires some of the same methodical taking down of pseudoscientific claims) ? For reference, it’s here:

    …and I apologise if something like this already exists!

  3. 3
    anonymous says:

    And will they be given the chance to respond here?

    [Response: And do you yourself get the chance to respond here? –raypierre]

  4. 4
    Bengt Randers says:

    I dont follow with the CO2 per capita, the value that I use is 6.3, UK 9.2 and USA 20 and Sweden 5.9 metric ton CO2? And these value is exluding CO2 in importgoods and international shipping and flight. For Sweden the value is ca 5,9+7+4 ~17 ton CO2 per capita.

    [Response: This is a perpetual source of confusion. Like many people doing carbon accounting, I was quoting values as tonnes carbon, not tonnes CO2. If I multiply your 9.2 number for the UK by (12/44) — the ratio of molecular weight, I get 2.5 which is about the same number I quoted. The issue of where to allocate emissions attributed to import goods and international flights is a very important one, but the standard accounting I’ve used still gives a good indication of the relative contribution of the various countries to the rise of atmospheric CO2. –raypierre]

  5. 5
    jonathan says:

    Not mentioned in your list of the wonderful things France is doing to have such a low per capita emissions is the reliance on nuclear energy for electricity. Why is there a consistent reluctance in the scientific community to put forth nuclear energy as an option to mitigate AGW?

    [Response: Why is there such a consistent tendency for people like you to assume that I would object to some expansion of nuclear energy. Socolow openly includes it as one of his “wedges.” The economics of nuclear vs. other carbon free energy, in the absence of the kinds of subsidies nuclear receives, needs to be examined, of course, but nuclear is definitely one of the options that needs to be on the table. –raypierre]

  6. 6
    Ray Ladbury says:

    A wonderful cautionary tale about why a scientist’s claims of expertise must be taken with a veritable salt mine outside his or her specialized realm. It is a pity that Allegre’s scientific reputation should suffer for his foolishness, but as both he and James Watson show, scientists are human. That is precisely why consensus is so important. Any of us can be wrong. We are less likely to persist in our error if we listen to the real experts–the ones who actively publish in the field.
    The rest of us can attempt within our abilities to independently assess the science, but you had better be awfully sure of yourself to assert your expertise outside of your field of study. “Common sense” refutations are often based simply on misunderstandings. The really sad thing is when a scientist is too arrogant his error.

    [Response: With regard to scientists speaking outside their realm of expertise, I wouldn’t want to over-generalize from the examples of Allegre, Courtillot and Watson. Generally, many aspects of the scientific method transcend field, and so when a very bright scientist turns his or her attention to something novel, important new insights can be turned up. We can all think of examples where scientists have made important contributions to discussions bearing on public policy, which take them outside there own fields. The contributions of Linus Pauling to the Atmospheric Test Ban Treaty are one case in point. This is why it is particularly reprehensible when a scientist like Allegre puts aside the scientific method and makes use of his reputation to promulgate ideas that wouldn’t pass muster on their own. It is an abuse of the public trust in that scientists’ hard-won reputation. –raypierre]

  7. 7

    As Tamino said in #1, obviously a lot of work (and there is a Part II to come!). Thanks, it is really useful for non-scientists like me (I am a lawyer) to see the arguments raised against AGW dissected with so much detail (and humour). The fact that there is no convincing counter-theory or contradictory evidence presented by other scientists should be an important point for any critical thinkers in government, economics, and other fields.

  8. 8
  9. 9
    Dick Veldkamp says:

    #4 Carbon emission per capita

    1. CO2 emission = 44/12 times pure C emission.
    2. There is a lot of uncertainty in determining the actual figures.

  10. 10

    Andy: should be what you are looking for.

  11. 11
    S. Molnar says:

    Re #6: Put another way, Ray Ladbury’s serendipitous invention, the credibel, a logarithmic measure of a person’s credibility, is likely a function of both field and time.

  12. 12

    Nuclear energy. Hmm. Could it be because we have no idea what to do with the extremely toxic & long-lived waste products? Could it be that it can be used for making bomb material & is a target for terrorists? Could it be that solar & wind alternatives (as well as others) are better?

    But congratulations to France’s government. Too bad these 2 scientists are so wrong.

  13. 13
    S2 says:

    Bengt Randers said:
    “I dont follow with the CO2 per capita, the value that I use is 6.3, UK 9.2 and USA 20”

    You’re both right.

    You’re quoting figures for CO2, raypierre is using figures for pure carbon (which is just over 27% of the mass of CO2).
    They’re both valid ways of measuring, but it does lead to confusion at times.

  14. 14
    George Robinson says:

    Interesting article, but isnt there something missing here. Although France only uses approx 9% fossil fuels at source for energy production, France still uses almost 30 million tons of coal, and 45000 million cubic meters of natural gas. These two items must have some effect on CO2 emissions. How can it be that France has such a “low footprint” of 7.27.
    Perhaps someone can enlighten me about the figures

  15. 15

    Nikolas Sarkozy’s efforts are to be commended. Some of our state governors like Gov. Schwarzenegger of California have taken leadership positions as well, proposing that heat trapping emissions be cut 11% by 2010 and to 1990 levels by 2020 and to 80% below that by 2050. By contrast Sarkozy’s counterpart in the White House would allow national emissions to grow 31% by 2012.(Union Of Concerned Scientists Vol 4,No 2 Fall 2008)
    What is to be made of such (in)action in Washington? Honi soit qui mal y’pense.

  16. 16
    Ray Ladbury says:

    S. Molnar, Gee, I guess it’s too late to say “I meant to do that…” I’ll happily share credit. It’s a very convenient scale, as one’s credibility declines exponentially with each outrageous position one adopts.

  17. 17
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Johnathan #5 asks why the scientific community doesn’t recommend nuclear power. Actually, I think that the scientific community is divided on nuclear power, just as the larger community is. Many here are proponents and several are vehemently opposed. While a proponent, I caution that it is a big mistake to underestimate the very serious technical and security issues proposed by reliance on nuclear power. While I think that technical answers can be found to these (involving reprocessing of spent fuel, actively monitored storage, different fuel cycles, etc.), these are still unproven. Having said this, my reservations about nuclear power are less than my reservations about a much warmer world, and my confidence in our ability to meet the energy needs as we transformt to a sustainable economy is much greater with nuclear power than without. There are no perfect solutions.

  18. 18
    inel says:

    Re: #15.

    Honi soit qui mal y pense.

    (Shame on him who thinks evil of it.)

    Indeed. A jolly good motto that is too!

    HRH The Prince of Wales is a permanent member, so to speak, of The Most Noble Order of the Garter, whose motto that is and he has held a leadership position on climate change for several years. Now it looks like Gordon Brown is more serious about climate change too …

  19. 19
    Charles Muller says:

    Aux Chevaliers à la triste figure(*)

    Great, I enjoy reading your paper as a French connaisseur of such polemics (albeit on the other side of the public debate). Allègre is here well-known as an isotrope provocateur and for sure, his climatic arguments are partly unsound. Not so much to object to the 1st part of your text sur le fond comme sur la forme. (I give up many rhetoric details of your indictment presenting climate modelling as a robust exercise or IPCC communication as a fair process, which is of course du grand n’importe quoi) :D

    (*) A chacun de deviner la figure…

  20. 20
    Philippe Chantreau says:

    There are no perfect solutions, indeed. France’s nuclear park is in serious need to evolve. A significant number of reactors are close to decomission, I believe that some had their service life extended because convenience demands it and the maintenance and safety are quite good. New designs fall short of showing a notable evolution (I’m not so convinced by EPR). The waste is still as much of a problem as ever. In my opinion, they are too bound by their comfort zone and I would like to see them explore more eagerly the kind of solutions discussed in the January 03 (I think) of SciAm.

  21. 21
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Just as long as the French keep up with their plans of reducing GHGs, shaming fuelish Americans into doing the same….

    I’m so glad you real scientists are here to refute these charletans. Keep up the wonderful work.

  22. 22
    jacob l says:

    is the antarctic a good proxy for what the greenhouse effect would be without water vapor?

    the reason I asked is because I was looking at a graph in Principles of Planetary Climate on page 46 (figure 3.7)
    while the gap between surface and erbe is smaller, it’s not as small as the decrease in water vapor.

    basically what I’m asking is can you use the difference between the surface energy and ERBE on different parts of the planet to determine the role of water vapor vs long lived green house gases


  23. 23
    Eli Rabett says:

    Neglecting to divide by four is endemic among denialists, probably because if they forget to account for the Earth being a sphere, rather than a pizza, solar forcing appears larger.

  24. 24
    andy says:

    Zeke – many thanks, that link will do nicely.

  25. 25
    Alexander Ac says:

    As Michael Mann told for NewScientist something like this:

    “We need climate change sceptics. But be need they do a better job”.

    Indeed, there is a lot of “junk science” inside “climate scepticism”… Why these people think, that climatologists are *not* doing their job properly??? That’s a mystery to me…

  26. 26
    GlenFergus says:

    Thanks Ray, a very thorough demolition. But, with respect (and, be sure, it is great respect), haven’t you missed something? Um, guys, you’ve won. You really don’t need to do this any more. Quite suddenly, no one is listening to these turkeys. The tipping point was somewhere back in September when the sea ice all but vanished. It’s time to move on … to what we do about it.

    As usual, Hansen is way ahead. We need a post here discussing his three point (or is it four point) plan … 1. No new coal fired plant without capture and storage. Hmmm.

  27. 27
    Eachran says:

    Very good comment and well done for pointing out France’s efforts in mitigation.

    I dont believe that M. Allegre and co. have done much damage in France except to themselves and I dont believe that their combined contribution has made a jot of difference to the public’s perception of the problems.

    For some years now France has been gearing up to bite the bullet of global warming. Public opinion is well behind mitigation and adaptation measures and barely a day goes by without someone on the TV, mainly the weather forecasters, reminding people to leave the car in the garage or whatever. The Minister of Economy etc, Madame Lagarde, is even famous for reminding people that if they have a problem with petrol prices they should get on a bike : not very helpful for fishermen, but the principle is a good one and she seems to be on record not to do anything to keep petrol prices down, by reducing taxes for example, as the UK Chancellor did a few years ago. But where there is a significant problem like the fishermen, the way to solve it is through temporary transfer payments, which has been done.

    M. Sarkozy and his government know that the solution to kick start everything is to tax carbon and he has offered to lead in Europe on this if other states follow. At the moment there is a deafening silence from the rest.

    When I was struggling to understand the RC comment on the ‘tail’ a few weeks back, I needed to check up on my stats and what did I discover? A host of French mathematicians contributing to and leading in the development of many branches of maths : a great shame that M. Allegre does not feel the need to follow their example.

  28. 28
    Keith says:

    OK. I posted (somewhat controversially) on one of the other threads and this particular post has given me food for thought. And it has brought up a question which I think is important but to which I can’t find a huge amount of solid information on.

    It concerns the biosphere and its potential reaction to the increased levels of CO2. I realise that some work has been done to look at how plants react to increased levels of CO2 and other gases (notably ozone) and some large scale experiments are being done. My question goes back to models yet again. I’ve noticed that most of the climate model focus very heavily on the physics of the situation but there seems to be less focus on the biosphere and what it does. So my question is how do the models cope with the biosphere? Are they weighted for a specific total amount of photosynthesis per year or do the models take into account seasonal variation and so forth? This information might be out there but it was rather difficult to gauge what was real and what was simply junk science.

    The reason this came up was that I was thinking of the sheer complexity of the issue and how things might be expected to progress over the coming decades. There are calculations for the total amount of chlorophyll on the planet and thus one can do a calculation but my expectation would be that this would be quite a simplification. The potential complexity might be as follows. There is seasonal variation in photosynthesis as a result of day length and tree type (evergreen versus Deciduous). This would also be affected by latitude. Then there are the various species variations which would mean that some carbon would locked in decaying biomass on a yearly basis whilst on others it would be locked only in the growing tree. Then there’s water availability since this is the key component to in photosynthesis. This, too, is in effect being pulled out of the system to the same degree (if one looks at the balanced equation that is). But, can this all be modelled with a good level of accuracy?

    Then, however, it gets interesting. Biology can react stupendously quickly to the environment and plants can populate areas that should be dead; trees going out of walls next to railway lines, on solidified volcanic rocks etc). I’d expect the biosphere to react quite quickly and perhaps unpredictably. I’ve noticed that some plants grow more quickly with high CO2 whilst others do not (US forestry service info). Under evolutionary pressure you’d expect those with that advantage to take over a particular area. It might give evergreens and advantage and so forth. Which migth lead to substantial changes to the amount of CO2 being removed (or not?). It does looks quick difficult to predict.

    So the next question is how the models deal with that level of variation? Or is it too small an effect to have much influence (I suspect not, which is why deforestation worries me so much) over the physical forcing. In some ways I’d expect it to be quite important but I’m not sure which is why I ask the question(s).

    Thanks in advance.

  29. 29
    Steffen Christensen says:

    What a brilliant piece! It’s nice to see a thorough rebuttal to the typical mishmash of obfuscation, incorrect arithmetic, and misleading rhetoric of the climate skeptics. I think that you’ve done a service to the community, putting this all in one place where you can send the skeptical out there… who are still a significant (and vocal) minority in North America. I foresee that one societal benefit of this debate, 50 years out, will be that the public will realize that the Earth being round means that a fourth of the sunlight hits it. Victory over the flat-Earthers at last! :)

  30. 30
    pete best says:

    France has a low co2 economy anyway but China, India and the USA do not. As the IPCC summary released at the weekend shows us, the global economy has to be tackled globally. France, Germany and the UK could cut their CO2 emissions significantly and still make no real impact globally as they are not major manufacturing powers any more. India, China and the USA are and as they are vying for superpower status and are scheduled to being onlint 1000 coal fired power plants in the next 5 years with shelf lifes of 50 years I would suggets that these documents and simply that nice documents.

  31. 31


    The refutation you reference, while mostly doing a good job, includes this phrase:

    [[ ~117 W/m^2 of thermal radiation is emitted from the earth, ~111 is absorbed by the atmosphere and ~ 96 is reradiated to the ground,]]

    This looks way wrong. A surface at 288 K radiates about 390 watts per square meter, not 117. I tried to point this out in the blog but was unable to figure out how to subscribe; could you possibly pass my observation along?


  32. 32
    Jim Cripwell says:

    Ref 26. Glen writes “The tipping point was somewhere back in September when the sea ice all but vanished. It’s time to move on … to what we do about it.”
    I wonder whether you have kept up with what is happening in the arctic since September. Just about all the extra ice that melted has reformed, and there is now just about as much ice there this year as there was last. In the part most affected by the melt, where the Arctic Ocean meets the Bering Strait, there is less ice this year than last. But on the Canadian side, in the Davis Strait and northern Hudson Bay, and also on the east coast of Greenland, there is more ice this year than last. Anyone want to make wagers as to how much ice there will be first at maximum next March, and then at minimum next September?

  33. 33
    Juola (Joe) A. Haga says:

    In respect to Johathan’s jibe (#5) and Raypierre”s response, I think an already complicating process has begun to endanger the French reliance on nuclear plants. As I understand it, most are watercooled and must now contend with the threat of drought widening in the course of climate change around the Mediterranean littoral.

  34. 34
    James Davey says:

    Excellent article.

    Those wishing to find information on different countries GHG emissions can look here (data available to 2005). Annex I (i.e. developed world) parties submit annual updates.

    No per capita data (yet) but you can get population numbers from wikipedia if you want.

  35. 35
    Edward Greisch says:

    RE 12 Bird Thompson: We DO know what to do with so-called nuclear “waste.” Recycle it. Make it back into fuel. We even have a type of reactor that uses it for fuel without reprocessing. Israel’s nuclear power plants run on stolen nuclear “waste.” We used to recycle “spent” nuclear fuel until Israel stole it from recycling plants. Terrorists can’t get fuel out of a reactor, it just isn’t possible. Terrorists can’t compete with Israelis in stealing from the recycling process. I have a longer article on this subject, but it is too long for here.

    Solar & wind alternatives are neither adequate nor available at night when there is no wind nor environmentally sound. See:

    [Response: Any mention of nuclear energy anywhere on any thread sparks the same discussion, so let’s please not go off on a general discussion of the issue. On the other hand, if anybody has specific information about the French experience with nuclear energy, how they handle waste, how the reactors are managed, plans for the next generation, that would be entirely appropriate, even welcome, on this thread. –raypierre]

  36. 36
    Sean O says:

    Re: 12 While wind and solar appear to be better, our current level of ability to use these options simply does not make a dent in the current energy needs of the planet. Without nuclear, we simply cannot make the goals of Kyoto (or its successor since Kyoto is fundamentally flawed). I believe that Ray in 17 is closer to correct “there are no perfect solutions”

  37. 37
    dhogaza says:

    Jim Cripwell:

    Just about all the extra ice that melted has reformed, and there is now just about as much ice there this year as there was last.

    You wouldn’t be confusing area with volume again, by any chance, would you?

  38. 38
    Luke Silburn says:

    Raypierre said:
    “On the other hand, if anybody has specific information about the French experience with nuclear energy, how they handle waste, how the reactors are managed, plans for the next generation, that would be entirely appropriate, even welcome, on this thread.”

    I don’t have any specific info myself, but I would recommend this article that Jerome Guillet wrote for the Daily Kos a couple of years ago as a good starting point for an overview of the French civil nuclear programme:


  39. 39
    dean_1230 says:

    RE: #26

    Regardless of which side of the AWG fence one stands, this statement is wrong. Science demands that we keep trying to improve our understanding. Everyone here recognizes that the current models have weak areas and if we stop studying those areas because we’ve “WON”, then there’s a better than average chance of doing more harm than good in the future.

    In other words, science isn’t about winning and loosing, it’s about understanding.

  40. 40
    AK says:

    Re: #32

    Jim Cripwell Says:
    19 November 2007 at 7:21 AM

    Ref 26. Glen writes “The tipping point was somewhere back in September when the sea ice all but vanished. It’s time to move on … to what we do about it.”
    I wonder whether you have kept up with what is happening in the arctic since September. Just about all the extra ice that melted has reformed, and there is now just about as much ice there this year as there was last. In the part most affected by the melt, where the Arctic Ocean meets the Bering Strait, there is less ice this year than last. But on the Canadian side, in the Davis Strait and northern Hudson Bay, and also on the east coast of Greenland, there is more ice this year than last. Anyone want to make wagers as to how much ice there will be first at maximum next March, and then at minimum next September?

    In my recollection there is a 2-year interpolar cycle with strong effects on such things as arctic/antarctic ice. An article on that and its effects might be welcome. I wonder whether there has been any change in its effects over the last century?

  41. 41
    Hank Roberts says:

    For Jim Cripwell, don’t confuse area (extent) and volume (one-year or multi-year), search for “multi-year” along with Arctic sea ice.

    That page has this movie. Slow to load and large, but worth it:

    “In general lighter shades of grey are newly formed first year ice and the dark shades of grey are older multi-year ice.”

  42. 42
    Andrew Dodds says:

    As a minor aside, if 93% of your electricity comes from low-to-zero carbon sources (I.e. Nuclear and Hydro), then how does changing lightbulbs to CF help?

    [Response: It frees up electricity production that can be used to substitute for things currently using fossil fuels (e.g. providing charging capacity if electric cars or plug-in hybrids start taking over the personal transportation fleet). It also frees up production that can be sold to countries that currently use more fossil fuels to produce electricity. –raypierre]

  43. 43
    Jim Cripwell says:

    Ref 37. I would be extremely grateful if you would give me a URL where I can get arctic sea ice volumes on a daily basis. I might well be confusing area with volume. Can you give me the difference in volume between September 2006 and September 2007, preferably with a URL? Approximately 9 million sq kms melt each year, and the same amount refreezes. Why this year should be any different from any previous year, I have no idea.

  44. 44
    tamino says:

    Re: #26 (GlenFergus)

    Quite suddenly, no one is listening to these turkeys. The tipping point was somewhere back in September when the sea ice all but vanished. It’s time to move on … to what we do about it.

    In large part I agree; the people who are still listening to the turkeys are those whose disbelief is ideological, and no amount of reason will persuade them.

    But the blogosphere is a focal point of denialism, so there’s still some value in debunking here. And, this particular post is rather entertaining.

  45. 45
    Matthew says:

    Jim is correct ice extent anomalies are now comparable to last year. However, this says nothing about the thickness of all this new ice. The ice anomalies next fall may tell the real story.


    # dhogaza Says:
    19 November 2007 at 9:38 AM

    Jim Cripwell:

    Just about all the extra ice that melted has reformed, and there is now just about as much ice there this year as there was last.

    You wouldn’t be confusing area with volume again, by any chance, would you?

  46. 46
    Timo Hämeranta says:

    RE 28. On biosphere in models.

    The IPCC modellers are trying to incorporate biosphere in their models (more or less) correctly before the next Assessment 2013.

  47. 47

    Re #28 Keith:

    I got this kind of question asked on another list last summer, and here is some of what I answered (forgive the not very scientific language — I’m just an amateur):

    “A typical boreal (and probably temperate or tropical as well) forest binds 10 tons of CO2 per year per hectare. Over 30 years that makes 300 tons, equivalent in mass to a layer of water 3 cm thick.

    “For comparison, the whole Earth atmosphere has a mass equivalent of 10 m water. And the atmosphere’s CO2, some 300 ppm IIRC, thus is equivalent to 3 mm water.

    “Conclusion: if we would plant 10% (more) of the Earth’s surface with forest, and let it grow for 30 years, it would suck all the carbon out of the atmosphere!

    “Crazy idea of course, but it shows that forestation/deforestation is a major player… It is right that forests aren’t true ‘sinks’ of carbon: cut the trees down and the CO2 is released again. But irrelevant they are not.

    “Yes, a one-time shot. But it stays out of the atmosphere indefinitely if the forest goes into a steady state, which I assumed would happen after 30 years.

    “And no, the 10 tons/year/ha refers to what gets permanently bound as biomass — I found these numbers on the Internet so they must be true :) Until the wood is burned or decays, of course.”

    It is true that biology is studied less than physics — probably because it is harder. E.g., the CO2 variation due to the glacial-interglacial cycle isn’t well understood, and it is presumably mostly biology too.

    BTW I don’t think it is very useful to study photosynthetic activity, if the carbon balance sheet is what you’re interested in. It’s more useful to look at net storage and release of carbon in biomass, soil etc. This is because the streams of carbon going into and out of plant life are large, but they seem to pretty exactly cancel over the long run (but there is a clear annual signature on the atmospheric CO2 curve). So you would be subtracting some large and not-so-precise numbers to get at a small number.

    Ramblings of an amateur, who may well be holding the wrong end of the stick :-)

  48. 48
    Timo Hämeranta says:

    RE 35. On nuclear waste.

    Well, scientific innovation has been done already four years ago:

    Ledingham, Ken W. D. et al., 2003. Laser-driven photo-transmutation of 129I—a long-lived nuclear waste product. Journal of Physics, D: Appl. Phys. Vol. 36, pp. L79-L82, September 3, 2003, online,ispVGjG+5zKrCE2bg/d3_18_L01.pdf

    Please see:

    “We report the laser-driven photo-transmutation of long-lived 129I with a half-life of 15.7 million years to 128I with a half-life of 25 min.”!!!

    I ponder: As far as I can see, one of the strongest arguments against nuclear power has been the half-life of nuclear waste (buried somewhere). With this new invention this scare is blown away. Economically feasible during next decades or hundreds/thousands of years? Mankind has no hurry.

  49. 49
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re ray-pierre’s response on 35:

    “… if anybody has specific information about the French experience with nuclear energy, how they handle waste, how the reactors are managed, plans for the next generation, that would be entirely appropriate, even welcome, on this thread.”

    How’s this?

    French Nuclear Reprocessing

    For the sake of disclosure, the author is the coordinator of Greenpeace International nuclear campaigns, so take it with the appropriate dose of salt.

  50. 50
    Jim Galasyn says:

    Re Keith’s questions about the biosphere, climate change, and modeling.

    I can’t speak to the model fidelity question generally, but afaik the biosphere isn’t typically modeled in any detail. We certainly are observing changes in the biosphere which probably fit your intuition, e.g., rapid incursion of boreal forest into areas that were recently tundra; continuous decline of primary production by phytoplankton in the southern ocean; rapid desertification of recently productive land.

    In the case of forest advancing into higher latitudes, I’ve seen a recent study that claims this will darken the albedo and accelerate warming.