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.