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Monckton makes it up

Filed under: — group @ 7 August 2010

Guest commentary by Barry R. Bickmore, Brigham Young University

If you look around the websites dedicated to debunking mainstream climate science, it is very common to find Lord Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount of Brenchley, cited profusely. Indeed, he has twice testified about climate change before committees of the U.S. Congress, even though he has no formal scientific training. But if he has no training, why has he become so influential among climate change contrarians? After examining a number of his claims, I have concluded that he is influential because he delivers “silver bullets,” i.e., clear, concise, and persuasive arguments. The trouble is his compelling arguments are often constructed using fabricated facts. In other words, he makes it up. (Click here to see a number of examples by John Abraham, here for a few by myself, and here for some by Tim Lambert).

Here I’m going to examine some graphs that Lord Monckton commonly uses to show that the IPCC has incorrectly predicted the recent evolution of global atmospheric CO2 concentration and mean temperature. A number of scientists have already pointed out that Monckton’s plots of “IPCC predictions” don’t correspond to anything the IPCC ever predicted. For example, see comments by Gavin Schmidt (Monckton’s response here,) John Nielsen-Gammon (Monckton’s response here,) and Lucia Liljegren. Monckton is still happily updating and using the same graphs of fabricated data, so why am I bothering to re-open the case?

My aim is to more thoroughly examine how Lord Monckton came up with the data on his graphs, compare it to what the IPCC actually has said, and show exactly where he went wrong, leaving no excuse for anyone to take him seriously about this issue.

Atmospheric CO2 Concentration

By now, everyone who pays any attention knows that CO2 is an important greenhouse gas, and that the recent increase in global average temperature is thought to have been largely due to humans pumping massive amounts of greenhouse gases (especially CO2) into the atmosphere. The IPCC projects future changes in temperature, etc., based on projections of human greenhouse gas emissions. But what if those projections of greenhouse gas emissions are wildly overstated? Lord Monckton often uses graphs like those in Figs. 1 and 2 to illustrate his claim that “Carbon dioxide is accumulating in the air at less than half the rate the UN had imagined.”

Figure 1. Graph of mean atmospheric CO2 concentrations contrasted with Monckton’s version of the IPCC’s “predicted” values over the period from 2000-2100. He wrongly identifies the concentrations as “anomalies.” Taken from the Feb. 2009 edition of Lord Monckton’s “Monthly CO2 Report.”

Figure 2. Graph of mean atmospheric CO2 concentrations contrasted with Monckton’s version of the IPCC’s “predicted” values over the period from Jan. 2000 through Jan. 2009. Taken from the Feb. 2009 edition of Lord Monckton’s “Monthly CO2 Report.”

It should be noted that Lord Monckton faithfully reproduces the global mean sea surface CO2 concentration taken from NOAA, and the light blue trend line he draws through the data appears to be legitimate. Unfortunately, nearly everything else about the graphs is nonsense. Consider the following points that detail the various fantasies Monckton has incorporated into these two graphics.

Fantasy #1.
Lord Monckton claims the light blue areas on his graphs (Figs. 1 and 2) represent the IPCC’s predictions of atmospheric CO
2 concentrations.

Reality #1.
The IPCC doesn’t make predictions of future atmospheric CO
2 concentrations. And even if we ferret out what Lord Monckton actually means by this claim, he still plotted the data incorrectly.

The IPCC doesn’t really make predictions of how atmospheric CO2 will evolve over time. Rather, the IPCC has produced various “emissions scenarios” that represent estimates of how greenhouse gas emissions might evolve if humans follow various paths of economic development and population growth. The IPCC’s report on emissions scenarios states, “Scenarios are images of the future, or alternative futures. They are neither predictions nor forecasts. Rather, each scenario is one alternative image of how the future might unfold.” Lord Monckton explained via e-mail that he based the IPCC prediction curves “on the IPCC’s A2 scenario,which comes closest to actual global CO2 emissions at present” (2). In his “Monthly CO2 Report” he added, “The IPCC’s estimates of growth in atmospheric CO2 concentration are excessive. They assume CO2 concentration will rise exponentially from today’s 385 parts per million to reach 730 to 1020 ppm, central estimate 836 ppm, by 2100,” which is consistent with the A2 scenario. In other words, Monckton has picked one of several scenarios used by the IPCC and misrepresented it as a prediction. This is patently dishonest.

Monckton’s misrepresentation of the IPCC doesn’t end here, however, because he has also botched the details of the A2 scenario. The IPCC emissions scenarios are run through models of the Carbon Cycle to estimate how much of the emitted CO2 might end up in the atmosphere. A representative (i.e., “middle-of-the-road”) atmospheric CO2 concentration curve is then extracted from the Carbon Cycle model output, and fed into the climate models (AOGCMs) the IPCC uses to project possible future climate states. Figure 3 is a graph from the most recent IPCC report that shows the Carbon Cycle model output for the A2 emissions scenario. The red lines are the output from the model runs, and the black line is the “representative” CO2 concentration curve used as input to the climate models. I digitized this graph, as well, and found that the year 2100 values were the same as those cited by Monckton. (Monckton calls the model input the “central estimate.” )

Figure 3. Plot of atmospheric CO2 concentrations projected from 2000-2100 for the A2 emissions scenario, after the emissions were run through an ensemble of Carbon Cycle models. The red lines indicate model output, whereas the black line represents the “representative” response that the IPCC used as input into its ensemble of climate models (AOGCMs). Taken from Fig. 10.20a of IPCC AR4 WG1.

Now consider Figure 4, where I have plotted the A2 model input (black line in Fig. 3), along with the outer bounds of the projected atmospheric CO2 concentrations (outer red lines in Fig. 3). However, I have also plotted Monckton’s Fantasy IPCC predictions in the figure. The first thing to notice here is how badly Monckton’s central tendency fits the actual A2 model input everywhere in between the endpoints. Monckton’s central tendency ALWAYS overestimates the model input except at the endpoints. Furthermore, the lower bound of Monckton’s Fantasy Projections also overestimates the A2 model input before about the year 2030. What appears to have happened is that Lord Monckton chose the correct endpoints at 2100, picked a single endpoint around the year 2000-2002, and then made up some random exponential equations to connect the dots with NO REGARD for whether his lines had anything to do with what the IPCC actually had anywhere between.

Figure 4. Here the black lines represent the actual A2 input to the IPCC climate models (solid) and the upper and lower bounds of the projected CO2 concentrations obtained by running the A2 emissions scenario through an ensemble of Carbon Cycle models. This data was digitized from the graph in Fig. 3, but a table of model input concentrations of CO2 resulting from the different emissions scenarios can be found here. The red lines represent Monckton’s version of the IPCC’s “predicted” CO2 concentrations. The solid red line is his “central tendency”, while the dotted lines are his upper and lower bounds. Monckton’s data was digitized from the graph in Fig. 1.

John Nielsen-Gammon also pointed some of this out, but Lord Monckton responded:,

[Nielsen-Gammon] says my bounds for the 21st-century evolution of CO2 concentration are not aligned with those of the UN. Except for a very small discrepancy between my curves and two outliers among the models used by the UN, my bounds encompass the output of the UN’s models respectably, as the blogger’s own overlay diagram illustrates. Furthermore, allowing for aspect-ratio adjustment, my graph of the UN’s projections is identical to a second graph produced by the UN itself for scenario A2 that also appears to exclude the two outliers.

It is fair enough to point out that Fig. 10.26 in IPCC AR4 WG1 has a plot of the projected A2 CO2 concentrations that seems to leave out the outliers. However, Monckton’s rendition is still not an honest representation of anything the IPCC ever published. I can prove this by blowing up the 2000-2010 portion of the graph in Fig. 4. I have done this in Fig. 5, where I have also plotted the actual mean annual global CO2 concentrations for that period. The clear implication of this graph is that even if the A2 scenario did predict atmospheric CO2 evolution (and it doesn’t,) it would actually be a good prediction, so far. In Figures 1 and 2, Lord has simply fabricated data to make it seem like the A2 scenario is wrong.

Figure 5. This is a blow-up of the graph in Fig. 4 for the years 2000-2010. I have also added the annual global mean atmospheric CO2 concentrations (blue line), obtained from NOAA.

Fantasy #2.
Monckton claims that “
for seven years, CO2 concentration has been rising in a straight line towards just 575 ppmv by 2100. This alone halves the IPCC’s temperature projections. Since 1980 temperature has risen at only 2.5 °F (1.5 °C) per century." In other words, he fit a straight line to the 2002-2009 data and extrapolated to the year 2100, at which time the trend predicts a CO2 concentration of 575 ppm. (See the light blue line in Fig. 1.)

Reality #2.
It is impossible to distinguish a linear trend from an exponential trend like the one used for the A2 model input over such a short time period.

I pointed out to Lord Monckton that it’s often very hard to tell an exponential from a linear trend over a short time period, e.g., the 7-year period shown in Fig. 2. He replied,

I am, of course, familiar with the fact that, over a sufficiently short period (such as a decade of monthly records), a curve that is exponential (such as the IPCC predicts the CO2 concentration curve to be) may appear linear. However, there are numerous standard statistical tests that can be applied to monotonic or near-monotonic datasets, such as the CO2 concentration dataset, to establish whether exponentiality is being maintained in reality. The simplest and most direct of these is the one that I applied to the data before daring to draw the conclusion that CO2 concentration change over the past decade has degenerated towards mere linearity. One merely calculates the least-squares linear-regression trend over successively longer periods to see whether the slope of the trend progressively increases (as it must if the curve is genuinely exponential) or whether, instead, it progressively declines towards linearity (as it actually does). One can also calculate the trends over successive periods of, say, ten years, with start-points separated by one year. On both these tests, the CO2 concentration change has been flattening out appreciably. Nor can this decay from exponentiality towards linearity be attributed solely to the recent worldwide recession: for it had become evident long before the recession began.

In other words, the slope keeps getting larger in an exponential trend, but stays the same in a linear trend. Monckton is right that you can do that sort of statistical test, but Tamino actually applied Monckton’s test to the Mauna Loa observatory CO2 data since about 1968 and found that the 10-year slope in the data has been pretty continuously rising, including over the last several years. Furthermore, look at the graph in Fig. 5, and note that the solid black line representing the A2 climate model input looks quite linear over that time period, but looks exponential over the longer timeframe in Fig. 4. I went to the trouble of fitting a linear trend line to the A2 model input line from 2002-2009 and obtained a correlation coefficient (R2) of 0.99967. Since a perfectly linear trend would have R2 = 1, I suggest that it would be impossible to distinguish a linear from an exponential trend like that followed by the A2 scenario in real, “noisy” data over such a short time period.

Temperature Projections

Atmospheric CO2 concentration wouldn’t be treated as such a big deal if it didn’t affect temperature; so of course Lord Monckton has tried to show that the Fantasy IPCC “predictions” of CO2 concentration he made up translate into overly high temperature predictions. This is what he has done in the graph shown in Fig. 6.

Figure 6. Lord Monckton’s plot of global temperature anomalies over the period January 2002 to January 2009. The red line is a linear trend line Monckton fit to the data, and the pink/white field represents his Fantasy IPCC temperature predictions. I have no idea what his base period is. Taken from the Feb. 2009 edition of Lord Monckton’s “Monthly CO2 Report.”.

FANTASY #3. Lord Monckton uses graphs like that in Fig. 6 to support his claim that the climate models (AOGCMs) the IPCC uses to project future temperatures are wildly inaccurate.

Monckton didn’t actually get his Fantasy IPCC predictions of temperature evolution from AOGCM runs. Instead, he inappropriately fed his Fantasy IPCC predictions of CO
2 concentration into equations meant to describe the EQUILIBRIUM model response to different CO2 concentrations.

Monckton indicated to me (5) that he obtained his graph of IPCC temperature predictions by running his Fantasy CO2 predictions (loosely based on the A2 emissions scenario) through the IPCC’s standard equation for converting CO2 concentration to temperature change, which can be found here.

The problem is that the equation mentioned is meant to describe equilibrium model response, rather than the transient response over time. In other words, they take the standard AOGCMs, input a certain stabilized CO2 concentration, and run the models until the climate output stabilizes around some new equilibrium. But it takes some time for the model systems to reach the new equilibrium state, because some of the feedbacks in the system (e.g., heat absorption as the ocean circulates) operate on fairly long timescales. Therefore, it is absolutely inappropriate to use the IPCC’s equation to describe anything to do with time evolution of the climate system. When I brought this up to Lord Monckton, he replied that he knows the difference between equilibrium and transient states, but he figures the equilibrium calculation comes close enough. But since the IPCC HAS published time-series (rather than just equilibrium) model output for the A2 scenario (see Fig. 7,) why wouldn’t he just use that?

Figure 7. Ensemble AOGCM output for the A2 emissions scenario, taken from Fig. 10.5 of IPCC AR4 WG1.

The answer is that if Lord Monckton had used the time-series model output, he would have had to admit that the IPCC temperature projections are still right in the ballpark. In Fig. 8, I have digitized the outer bounds of the model runs in Fig. 7, and also plotted the HadCRUT3 global annual mean temperature anomaly over the same period. The bottom line is that Monckton has put the wrong data into the wrong equation, and (surprise!) he got the wrong answer.

Figure 8. The blue and green lines represent the upper and lower bounds of the global average temperature anomaly from AOGCM output for the A2 emissions scenario during the 2002-2010 period. The black line represents the HadCRUT3 global temperature anomalies for that timeframe, normalized to the same base period.


I have shown here that in order to discredit the IPCC, Lord Monckton produced his graphs of atmospheric CO2 concentration and global mean temperature anomaly in the following manner:

  1. He confused a hypothetical scenario with a prediction.
  2. He falsely reported the data from the hypothetical scenario he was confusing with a prediction.
  3. He plugged his false data into the wrong equation to obtain false predictions of time-series temperature evolution.
  4. He messed up the statistical analyses of the real data.

These errors compound into a rather stunning display of complete incompetence. But since all, or at least nearly all, of this has been pointed out to Monckton in the past, there’s just no scientifically valid excuse for this. He’s just making it up.

665 Responses to “Monckton makes it up”

  1. 201
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    I’d like to echo the sentiment that you all ignore the professional deniers.

    Monckton’s as sincere in his science as Andy Kaufman was as a wrestler. Think of the gaudy title. It’s like being a Kentucky Colonel or having the right to be an usher at a Fat Pigs agricultural show. And he knows it. It’s English theater like Screaming Lord Sutch. Monckton is laughing at you for responding since your response increases the attendance at his next show. That’s he’s worked up an elaborate presentation is just frou-frou. He’s a barker drawing in the rubes.

  2. 202
    Doug Bostrom says:

    SecularAnimist says: 10 August 2010 at 1:44 PM

    When can we stop engaging in the phony, bogus, endless, repetitive “debate” with the deniers and their corporate-scripted, copied-and-pasted, boilerplate drivel, and start engaging with the real scientific debate as to whether or not it is already too late to prevent catastrophic warming even if we ended all anthropogenic GHG emissions tomorrow?

    Until we (you and I and some other people) move enough people to overcome effects of such things such as the minority rule problem here with the U.S. Senate there’s no way to move ahead. This is a political problem, not a physical sciences problem. If there’s progress possible, it’s going to come from political solutions comporting with what we know of how people think, so look to social sciences for a way forward. Deconvolve “deniers” and “drivel” into what they really mean, figure out a way to move a few percent of those Leiserowitz identifies as “cautious” and “disengaged.”

    If we want other people to be in better tune with science we ourselves need to be more scientific. Use Leiserowitz’ list of relevant research papers as a springboard to learn more, chase down their citations.

    More of the same will not work, I think that’s been proven to our complete satisfaction.

  3. 203
    bill says:

    in case no-one else hs made the obvious point, let me: Viscount Monckton would normlly be addressed as ‘Lord Monckton’, and the appellation ‘Lord’ would in no way imply membership of the House of Lords. Even before the 1999 reforms, the style ‘Lord’ was often nothing more than a courtesy title given to younger sons of peers of a certain rank, and did not imply that those Lords were members of the House of Lords. So, its quite normal for Viscount Monckton to be called Lord Monckton, its quite odd for him or anyone else to suggest that means he’s a member of the House of Lords.

  4. 204

    Wili, #197 & 8–

    This may get you started. I found it by Googling “o2 flux atmosphere.” I’m a layman, but this paper appears to say that:

    1) O2 fluxes occur from ocean to atmosphere and vice-versa;
    2) These fluxes are regionally dependent, with high latitudes mostly seeing O2 moving from atmosphere to ocean, and the tropics seeing the opposite pattern;
    3) Fluxes are driven by both thermal and biological processes;
    4) Globally, the atmosphere loses about 49 Tmol yr-1; this sounds large but is described by the authors as “relatively small.”

  5. 205
    Jacob Mack says:

    Billy 170: I will time permitting. My posts were more than just about wikipedia, they are also about Monckton (and others) making things up and why people fall for it. Whwn people get past a paragraph or two of the paleo encyclopedia or a climate physics textbook then they may start to see why the climate scientists warming us about possible future consequences know climate is complex and AGW so serious; that is my brief point. However, I will be doing that soon.

  6. 206
    David B. Benson says:

    Phil C — Please study “The Discovery of Global Warming” by Spencer Weart:
    before returning to ask questions.

  7. 207
    SecularAnimist says:

    Doug Bostrom wrote: “Until we (you and I and some other people) move enough people to overcome effects of such things such as the minority rule problem here with the U.S. Senate there’s no way to move ahead.”

    I’m not really talking about efforts to take action to phase out GHG emissions, which are of course beyond the scope of this blog.

    What I am talking about is, that it seems to me that with regard to climate science, this blog spends far too much time responding to the phony, trumped-up “debate” fueled by denialist drivel, and not enough time addressing the legitimate scientific question as to whether it is in fact too late to prevent global warming and climate change that will be catastrophic to human civilization, not to mention the entire Earth’s biosphere.

    How many articles have been published here addressing obtuse and/or dishonest “arguments” from the likes of Monckton, compared to those addressing the profoundly pessimistic views of James Lovelock, for example?

    In a way I suppose that it is fun and satisfying to “argue” with the denialists, because we KNOW that we are right and they are wrong.

    It is not so much fun to argue with the pessimists, because we suspect that they may be right.

  8. 208
    J Bowers says:

    202 Bill: “So, its quite normal for Viscount Monckton to be called Lord Monckton, its quite odd for him or anyone else to suggest that means he’s a member of the House of Lords.”

    In an open letter from Monckton to US Senators Snowe and Rockefeller:

    “Finally, you may wonder why it is that a member of the Upper House of the United Kingdom legislature, wholly unconnected with and unpaid by the corporation that is the victim of your lamentable letter, should take the unusual step of calling upon you as members of the Upper House of the United States legislature either to withdraw what you have written or resign your sinecures.”

  9. 209
    chek says:

    Doug Bostrom @193 said: “When somebody purposely infects our culture with intellectual rot the damage doesn’t stop where commercial interests end.”

    Exactly so Doug, as Spencer and Pielke Snr. recently found out.
    And as we enter the second decade of the millennium which is on track to be hotter than the last, who will the shriekers turn to for solutions? Monckton? Watts? Pielke? Somehow, I think those self-styled “men of science” aren’t up to the demands of the future.

    That Monckton et al are financed and courted by self-seving interests is evidence of a nihilistic decadence our culture can no longer afford.

    p.s. Did anybody else find that exchange with Monckton that terminated with Gavin’s “You think the context makes it better? Ha.” worthy of the best of Groucho Marx? :)

  10. 210
    flxible says:

    wili@197 – another look with some links. Makes you reconsider living in major cities.

  11. 211
    Doug Bostrom says:

    SecularAnimist says: 10 August 2010 at 3:01 PM

    Ah, I get your point. Arguably things such as you speak of are addressed from a scientific perspective in the IPCC reports as well as more recent summaries such as the (very excellent) NAS set of reports. Putting those together with what appears to be a complete failure so far to set effective boundaries on emissions it seems quite clear that we’re headed for the upper range of scenarios described by those authorities. I’m not really sure what RC could add other than to highlight that fact?

    As well, it help to remember that people can synthesize rubbish a lot faster than researchers can reveal useful and new information, yet all the crap needs to be cleaned up by somebody with the intellectual means to do so properly. So for my part I’m not surprised about the general weighting of content here.

  12. 212
    Hank Roberts says:

    > flxible above points to “another look with some links” — a Guardian guy going on about decreasing oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere.

    Don’t miss this. It’s Marx Brothers quality writing from a Peter Tatchell who is “not a scientist” but relies on people who claim to be.

    Tatchell quotes a “Professor Ervin Laszlo, … UN advisor” as claiming that the “oxygen content of the Earth’s atmosphere dips to 19% over impacted areas, and it is down to 12 to 17% over the major cities ….”

    Tatchell says “Professor Ian Plimer of Adelaide University and Professor Jon Harrison of the University of Arizona concur. Like most other scientists they accept that oxygen … levels are even less in densely populated, polluted city centres and industrial complexes, perhaps only 15 % or lower.”

    About 15 percent oxygen is required to support combustion. Have you noticed candles going out? gas heaters failing? Nothing moving on the freeway except vehicles with turbocharged engines?


  13. 213
    Hank Roberts says:

    PS — Jon Harrison at Arizona is for real, and he doesn’t seem to have said anything like what’s attributed by the Guardian guy Tatchell.

    And Tatchell, though he attributes his story to an upcoming book, is recycling an old story that’s been circulating on blogs for years.

    I should’ve just posted this and dismissed the Tatchell nonsense:

  14. 214
    Anne van der Bom says:


    I have seen you have trouble grasping the concept of and reasons behind the IPCC scenarios.

    Your doctor will never say “There’s a good change you’re gonna die of lung cancer”. Instead he will say: “if you continue smoking two packets of cigarettes a day, there’s a good change you’re gonna die of lung cancer”. The if-part of that sentence is a ‘scenario’. Just like your doctor can’t predict whether you’ll give up smoking or not, the IPCC can’t predict whether strict CO2 legislation will be enforced or not.

    ‘Choice’ is the problem here.

    CO2 emissions are a matter of choice. The consequences aren’t.

    This world has chosen A2. The consequences are pretty much how the IPCC predicted them.

  15. 215
    sambo says:

    SecularAnimist (#206) “…the legitimate scientific question as to whether it is in fact too late to prevent global warming and climate change that will be catastrophic to human civilization, not to mention the entire Earth’s biosphere.”

    I think you’re extending the science a bit with this statement. Most skeptics argue that the “catastrophic” shouldn’t be there, although I’d say it’s possible, but not a given. The last part of the sentence especially poor however, since it depends on how you define catastrophic with respect to the earth’s biosphere. If you define it as killing of all life on earth (in my opinion a reasonable definition to a loaded term such as catastrophic), then I would challenge everyone to find any study that suggests a that this is a possibility. In order for that to happen, the earth would almost have to move towards a climate much more similar to Venus (correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that is forseable in the next few centuries even under the worst scenarios).

    I don’t think we shouldn’t do anything, but answering false statements by Monckton with exagerated statements that the science doesn’t support will not help either.

  16. 216
    HAS says:

    Couple of follow up comments and a postscript to Hargreaves “Skill and uncertainty in climate models”.

    Ray Ladbury #177 said I didn’t understand Hansen saying it’s not a statistical model but a physical model; that Hansen does not use temperature data to get a best-fit slope, but rather estimates a slope from the physics; and therefore to get the slope as close as he does represents significant skill.

    Putting aside the fact that climate models are filled with parameter estimation, Gavin and Hargreaves were saying that the temperature slope forecasts from Hansen were of greater skill than that possible from a naïve model. I dispute that. Note all the claims are about relative skill, not whether Hansen had any skill.

    Didactylos #82 says using a linear trend to forecast is wrong because that is what we expect. In fact what is being done here is to compare the naïve forecast (i.e. exactly what we would expect) with the more sophisticated Hansen model. Beyond that point I get lost, although Didactylos does end repeating Gavin’s point that “even a naïve model needs justification”.

    So to the postscript.

    Despite being uncomfortable about the technique Hargreaves uses to select “no trend” as the model to compare Hansen’s skill against, and to reject one “with trend” as the comparator, I did have a quick look.

    What Hargreaves did isn’t completely specified. To quote: “These baseline methods [trend vs no trend] were evaluated over the historical record, by using a segment of the temperature record to establish the baseline for persistence or trend, and then evaluating the performance of this naive forecast against the subsequent 20 years of data. When the two alternatives are evaluated over the historical temperature record in this way, persistence [no trend] turns out to have the best performance. That is, over the historical record, it is generally better to use the mean of a 20-year period as a predictor of the subsequent 20 years than to extrapolate a trend forward.”

    There are 120 overlapping (NB not independent) sets of 40 year data from 1850 – 1988 in the HadCRUT3 annual anomalies. I calculated the least squares trend over the first 20 years in each set to forecast the subsequent 20 year trend and calculated the relative forecast skill of this approach against the assumption of no trend. In 74 cases out of the 120 the “with trend” out performed “no trend” on Hargreaves’ skill score.

    The average of the skill score was 0.0031 in favour of the “with trend” approach so not much in it perhaps. However you’d think both approaches should have been used and reported for the Hansen comparison, and this would have produced a result that showed Hansen had poor skill when compared with the “with trend” forecast.

    I actually think I know what has happened here. In what I did I tested the two approaches against exactly the criteria they were going to be used for in the subsequent run off with Hansen. How well they forecast the anomaly trend, not the actual values.

    I suspect Hargreaves tested the two methods against a different criteria, namely how well they forecast the actual anomalies (otherwise why mention the “mean of a 20-year period as a predictor” to describe the “no trend” option). This gave “no trend” the edge and eliminated the counter factual that would have done a better job.

  17. 217
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re PhilC – agreeing with 188 dhogaza, far more is understood than you know. I’d explain how a lot of CO2 can exist in a snowball Earth state but that’s been done before so many times… so just look it up (hint ‘runaway albedo feedback’). Ice ages, etc.

    (PS note ‘CO2 feedbacks’ could refer to the feedbacks (to climate change or to CO2 changes) to the C-cycle that alter amounts of CO2. You were refering more generally to ‘feedbacks’. Also bear in mind that the term feedback is generally used differently in climatology than in engineering, because an engineer would actually look at the models and evidence and, in agreement with IPCC, etc, would conclude that there is a net negative feedback. In climatology, the Planck response, a negative feedback, is included in theory and modelling, but when refering to ‘net feedback’, it is generally the net feedback of all feedbacks besides the Planck response. Hence the ‘net positive feedback’ increases the equilibrium climate sensitivity but can still allows the climate to be stable.)

    Regarding predictions/projections/scenarios, not being able to better predict how anthropogenic emissions will evolve in time is not really a problem for understanding climate change. Actually, with regards to policy, we should use our understanding of climate and the effects thereof to inform our decisions regarding which scenario we should follow. (If the future were ‘set in stone’, why would we want to tax emissions, etc.?)

  18. 218
    SecularAnimist says:

    sambo wrote: “… it depends on how you define catastrophic with respect to the earth’s biosphere. If you define it as killing of all life on earth (in my opinion a reasonable definition to a loaded term such as catastrophic), then I would challenge everyone to find any study that suggests a that this is a possibility …”

    Read Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us About Our Future by paleontologist Peter Ward for a scenario that comes close to “killing of all life on earth”.

    And projections that AGW may cause the extinction of 30-50 percent, or more, of existing species, and the collapse of entire ecosystems, by the end of the century are quite mainstream. I would regard that as catastrophic.

    And what do you make of the recent study which found a 40 percent die-off of oceanic phytoplankton over the last 60 years? How long do you think that can go on, before it has catastrophic effects?

    sambo wrote: “… answering false statements by Monckton with exagerated statements that the science doesn’t support will not help either.”

    What I am asking of the maintainers of this blog, is precisely to help sort out what is “exaggerated” and what is not, what is supported by the science and what is not, with regard to potential catastrophic effects, and especially with regard to the question of whether there in fact remains any plausible scenario in which such effects can be prevented, given the effects that we are already seeing from the GHGs we have already emitted.

    I would submit that the views of those scientists who are genuinely alarmed about such possibilities, are worth at least as much discussion as the effluvium emanating from the likes of Monckton.

  19. 219
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 214 sambo –

    Anything sufficiently significant and sudden might be considered a catastrophe, even if it’s desired (see ), although that’s obviously not how either SecularAnimist or you meant it.

    Relative to the human experience, any mass extinction event, occuring sufficiently rapidly, would rise to the level of apocalyptic, in my view (I tend to think of a cataclysm as being between apocalypse and catastrophe (nested sets; an apocalypse would be a catastrophe but a catastrophe wouldn’t be an apocalypse); I’m not quite sure if that is the official ranking, though – but see ). Would you have agreed with SecularAnimist if he had said ‘disastrous’ instead of ‘catastrophic’?

    I disagree with the fatalism (which I percieved to be) expressed in that post by SecularAnimist; in that we may now have a nearly unavoidable disaster in the making, but we could still make it worse – or not.

  20. 220
    flxible says:

    Hank@212 – Sorry, maybe I should have pointed to more specific info for wili, thought he might be able to investigate where his idea of “inconsistancy” came from.

  21. 221
    Patrick 027 says:

    replace ‘fatalism’ with ‘futility’ in my last comment

  22. 222
    SecularAnimist says:

    Patrick 027 wrote: “I disagree with the fatalism (which I percieved to be) expressed in that post by SecularAnimist; in that we may now have a nearly unavoidable disaster in the making, but we could still make it worse – or not.”

    Considering how little action to reduce GHG emissions has been prompted by the motivation that “we must drastically reduce our emissions, and fast, or AGW will massively disrupt if not end human civilization as we know it”, it seems hard to imagine that arguing “human civilization is toast, and so is most of life on Earth, but if we drastically reduce our GHG emissions in time, then it may only take thousands of years for the biosphere to recover rather than millions of years” will get much better results.

  23. 223
    Didactylos says:

    Peter Tatchell’s article is from two years ago. Evidently he fell for a silly story that was doing the rounds at the time. That’s no reason to rake it up again – just let it die.

    Tatchell is an activist, not a scientist or journalist. I don’t think the Guardian would cite Plimer in any sort of article these days.

  24. 224
    deconvoluter says:

    #re: 211. (oxygen scare)

    Hi Hank,

    I got the impression that Peter Tatchell accepted his error when he was informed … and I was one of several people to correct him. He is one of the more genuinely moral of UK politicians and stands up for human rights all over the world. Normally members of the Green party of the UK are better informed over such matters, but this lapse shows that interest in the environment does not always guarantee scientific knowledge.

  25. 225
    John E Pearson says:

    Bickmore said in the main article: “These errors compound into a rather stunning display of complete incompetence. ”

    I believe you are mistaken there. Scientifically Monkcton is a blithering idiot. But Mocnkton is not doing science nor is he attempting to make scientific arguments. He is doing politics and in that arena he appears quite competent. He understands full well that it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t have the foggiest idea about the science because the people he is talking to don’t either. Monckton’s blatant lies and techno-babble are simply smoke. He can’t simply chant over and over and over: “It is impossible for humanity to have any adverse effect on the environment. Therefore we can do whatever we want. Carry on. It is impossible for humanity to … ” He requires filler to be effective just like on television news when some disaster happens and there is no information forthcoming but the newscaster is there and he’s gotta say something so he just makes stuff up.

  26. 226
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 198 Wili – The CO2 fluxes into and out of the ocean, and into and out of land biomass/soil, are both near 100 Gt C /year (a bit less for the ocean, a bit more for the land biomass+soil).

    According to (linked from above site), about 50 Gt C/year in the ocean is metabolized by marine organisms.

    However, the total amount of C in marine organisms is about 3 Gt (implying rapid ‘turnover’ – ie a short residence time, 0.06 year, or about 3 weeks) while the total amount of C in land biomass+soil was about 2300 Gt (implied residence time: about 19 years)

    Photosynthesis: H2O + CO2 = (CH2O)n + O2, so aside from oxidizing ferrous iron or…, moles of O2 would increase by the same amount that moles of organic C would increase. 100 Gt C is about 8.33 E3 Tmol of C. From Hartmann, “Global Physical Climatology”, the amount of O2 in the atmosphere is about 209500 ppm (molar ratio in dry air), or 1.185 million Gt, which is about 37030 E3 Tmol of O2, which is about 4450 times the moles of O2 that are produced by photosynthetic uptake of 100 Gt of C; photosynthetic uptake of 100 Gt of C would, if all O2 remained in the atmosphere, increase atmospheric O2 by about 0.0225 % (relative to the total O2).

    Setting aside oceanic O2 and other O2 sources and sinks (H escape to space, ferrous Fe, geologic organic (or elemental?) C (or methane hydrates/clathrates, in case that isn’t considered geologic)), Halting all marine photosynthesis and letting respiration/decay continue at the same rate (it would actually decay over time as less organic C would be available) would result in an O2 decrease at a rate of about 0.011 % per year, but it could only fall at that rate for about 3 weeks, with a total O2 decrease of about 0.000675 % (relative to total O2, and not counting organic C burial, which wouldn’t make a big difference); Halting all land photosynthesis and letting respirationd/decay proceed at the same rate would cause O2 to fall about 0.027 % per year for about 19 years, with a total drop of about 0.52 %.

  27. 227
    Patrick 027 says:

    Photosynthesis: – I missed three n’s in the chemical reaction. Should be: nH2O + nCO2 = (CH2O)n + nO2

  28. 228
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 222 Secular Animist – Democrats (counting independents) have 59 seats in the U.S. Senate. Only 21 more and we could really see some action (though I’d prefer replacing Republicans with Greens).

    (I wasn’t trying to predict human actions, but rather, consider the range of possible actions.)

  29. 229
    E.L. says:

    Although I’m a little off topic, I came buy an interesting paper, and I’m curious what Gavin thinks about it.

    The first link:
    “Projection of world fossil fuel production with supply and demand interactions (paper excerpt)”

    A summery of the paper can also be found here:

    If some of these papers have merit, I think it will change the global warming debate considerably.

  30. 230
    Ray Ladbury says:

    There is a helluva difference between determining parameters by best fit and determining them by best physics. Until you grasp that fact, you will not understand model “skill”. Climate science is NOT and exercise in curve fitting.

  31. 231
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Keep in mind that climate change is not occcurring in isolation. It is happening as the human population is cresting at about 10 billion, and as the carrying capacity of Earth has already been degraded due to a century of overtaxing it. And it is happening as the era of “easy energy” is ending. It is difficult to envision how all of these simultaneous crises will result in a “soft landing” for an overpopulated planet. From my point of view, the resulting chaos could well result in the destruction of human civilization, and I do consider that catastrophic. By century’s end, we could well be over 1000 ppmv of CO2 in the atmosphere, perhaps enough to raise global temperatures by 10 degrees. The last time temperatures were that high, we saw one of the largest mass extinctions the planet has witnessed. I would call that catastrophic as well.

  32. 232
    sambo says:

    Patrick 027 (#219 & #221) & SecularAnimist (#218 & #222)

    I would agree with the statements above if they were “potentially disastrous” instead of “catastrophic”. The problem with using catastrophic, IMHO, is that it is being used to communicate scientific results to the lay public in a political discussion in order to secure political action on the issue. To a lay reader, “catastrophic” can be interpreted many ways that the scientist doesn’t want to imply since it would be incorrect. These types of arguments have lead to many people (especially those politically opposed to the proposed policy) to think that scientists are pushing a political agenda disguised as science, even if by the strict scientific definitions (eg the wiki links, which I will be reading later since they look very interesting) all the statements are correct. Personally I liked Gavin’s statement over at CaS that the science should be more “policy prescriptive”. By stating what the consequences are specifically, you can drop loaded terms like catastrophic and let the science speak for itself.

    Another way I like to view it is, if the political arguments are not strong enough, it is not necessary to make the science seem more scary. It is necessary to formulate a better political argument!

  33. 233
    sambo says:

    Ray Ladbury (#231)

    I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said, with the exception of the word catastrophic for the reasons stated in my previous comment. All of these scenarios are certainly plausible and don’t need to be hyped in order to have the desired effect (although a better political argument is certainly needed).

    As my high school physics teacher once told me, someone who claims that we need to “save the planet” isn’t really trying to save the planet, they’re trying to save us. The planet will still be orbiting the sun without noticing our passing. I would even say that if we caused our destruction, while there might be a significant die off of species ~ 50 to 90%, there would still be life and it would likely return in greater number eventually. This may be catastrophic to us, but a minor blip to the earth.

  34. 234
    sambo says:

    This is very off topic, but I just saw this article about crowd sourcing meteor observations. There could be some lessons for “citizen science”.

    BTW, I only pasted the link. If there is a better way, just let me know (html tags?).

  35. 235
    Doug Bostrom says:

    I would even say that if we caused our destruction, while there might be a significant die off of species ~ 50 to 90%, there would still be life and it would likely return in greater number eventually. This may be catastrophic to us, but a minor blip to the earth.

    Funny thing, I’ve tried essentially those exact same words w/my 13 year old, staring at about age 9, and he just never seems to get it, the stubborn little guy.

    Kids these days, eh? Just won’t accept the wisdom of their elders, always thinking about the here and now, never prepared accept a mere 20 million years or so of delayed gratification…

  36. 236
    HAS says:

    Ray Ladbury #230

    I think it would help you if you read a little physics and climate science so you understand better the place of uncertainty and parameter estimation in both. In the context of my comments about model skill have a look at Hargreaves and you will see there how some of these issues arise.

  37. 237
    Fred Moolten says:

    To E.L. (229) – I skimmed through the thesis linked to in your first link, focusing only on the most abundant fossil fuel – coal. It appears that the estimates of recoverable coal reserves differ widely, but a fairly conservative estimate comes out to about 1,000 gigatons. If 90 percent of this were combusted to CO2, it would add about 3.5 trillion tons of CO2 to the atmosphere. To date, we have added about 1.5 trillion tons of CO2 from fossil fuel use (this is my recollection from papers by Meinshausen and others), and so by my very rough calculations, coal alone would permit us to contribute much more to atmospheric CO2 than we have already done, with a warming effect substantially greater than what we have already observed – and that is without counting oil and gas reserves. It may well turn out that not all of the coal reserves are sufficiently extractable to be economically profitable, but to ensure that, we should try to make alternative energy sources as cost competitive as possible.

  38. 238
    Billy t says:

    Wili, #197 & 198–

    The amount of oxygen in the atmosphere is so huge compared to what is produced each year by photosynthesis that even if all plants/phytoplankton suddenly died it would take a good many years for the atmosphere O2 to start decreasing.

    Remember the O2 in the atmosphere is the accumulation built up over countless millions of years. It’s about 22% of all gas in the atmosphere – compared to .04% for CO2. The annual turnover of CO2 and O2 by the biosphere is (off the top of my head) about .001%. So it’s going to take a long time to get even a few percent change in O2.

  39. 239

    I’m not sure why we’re fixating on the word “catastrophic” here, but IMO the suggested benchmark is way too stringent. The first definition I pulled up defined it as “extremely harmful; bringing physical or financial ruin.”

    In human terms, I’d say the HIV epidemic is now “catastrophic”-about 2 million a year die from HIV, with a total mortality to date of around 25 million. The demographic and social structures of the most-affected countries have been distorted quasi-permanently, to enormous economic and human cost.

    It’s pretty easy to imagine agricultural and economic challenges consequent to climate change causing comparable harm in the not-too-distant future. After all–to name but one hideous example–the Ukrainian famine of 1931-33 reached these levels of mortality in one SSR alone.

  40. 240
    Doug Bostrom says:

    There we go, a little storm band. Prepare for an absolute hurricane of parroted talking points. Too bad none of the distribution of noise will be centered on truth.

  41. 241
    dhogaza says:

    The problem with using catastrophic, IMHO, is that it is being used to communicate scientific results to the lay public in a political discussion in order to secure political action on the issue. To a lay reader, “catastrophic” can be interpreted many ways that the scientist doesn’t want

    This, of course, is why the denialist community harps on “CAGW” – catastrophic anthropogenic global warming – despite the fact that this is not a scientific term (i.e. commonly used by scientists).

    But your replacement “potentially disastrous” is no better, unfortunately. Anything stronger than “amusing and delightful” will be misapproriated by the denialist community …

  42. 242
    dhogaza says:


    As my high school physics teacher once told me, someone who claims that we need to “save the planet” isn’t really trying to save the planet, they’re trying to save us. The planet will still be orbiting the sun without noticing our passing. I would even say that if we caused our destruction, while there might be a significant die off of species ~ 50 to 90%, there would still be life and it would likely return in greater number eventually. This may be catastrophic to us, but a minor blip to the earth.

    Every grownup on the planet understands the difference. Not trying to belittle you, but anyone who tells you that “hey, it’s OK to intentionally cause the extinction of humans, maybe my [great]grandchildren because the rock will continue to orbit the sun!”, is probably not being entirely truthful.

  43. 243
    dhogaza says:


    I think it would help you if you read a little physics…

    It’s clear that Ray hasn’t read a little physics. He’s a PhD physicist, so he’s read a *lot* of physics.

    I presume, then, that you’re asking that he forget most of the physics he’s read?

  44. 244
    Veidicar Decarian says:

    Monckton’s S.P.P.I BIO has been updated and now claims that he is a Nobel Prize Winner and contributor to the IPCC.

    Here she is…

    His contribution to the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report in 2007 – the correction of a table inserted by IPCC bureaucrats that had overstated tenfold the observed contribution of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets to sea-level rise – earned him the status of Nobel Peace Laureate. His Nobel prize pin, made of gold recovered from a physics experiment, was presented to him by the Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Rochester, New York, USA.

    Are we – the royal “we” of course – still opposed to using the legal system to combat this perpetual dishonesty produced by the Denialists?

  45. 245
    HAS says:


    I do understand that Americans sometimes have difficulty with irony.

    So more directly to overcome the cultural divide: if he behaves like he doesn’t understand physics and climate science (for whatever reason) it seems appropriate to treat him as though he doesn’t.

    [Response: Please do not start down the road of commenting on commenters. Everyone, please try and stick to substantive issues. -gavin]

  46. 246
    Jacob Mack says:

    I second dhogaza. Even in my youthful arrogance Ray Ladbury’s physics is very good:) He is not just a physicist but a truthful one who is capable of explaining it in plain english. Unlike Monkton and the other authors I mentioned (cannot recall how to spell what’s his name) Ray Ladbury discusses the physics without pulling punches when necessary.

    Plus he is a fan of the economist, so he gets a third vote…

  47. 247
    Andrew Hobbs says:

    #215 Sambo

    Perhaps you are not a native English speaker but I think the word ‘Catastrophe’ is entirely appropriate as used by several posters here and in communicating with the general public in plain English. has the following definitions for the word ‘Catastrophe’:-
    1. a sudden and widespread disaster: the catastrophe of war.
    2. any misfortune, mishap, or failure; fiasco: The play was so poor our whole evening was a catastrophe.
    3. a final event or conclusion, usually an unfortunate one; a disastrous end: the great catastrophe of the Old South at Appomattox.
    4. (in a drama) the point at which the circumstances overcome the central motive, introducing the close or conclusion; dénouement. Compare catastasis, epitasis, protasis.
    5. Geology . a sudden, violent disturbance, esp. of a part of the surface of the earth; cataclysm.

    The Shorter Oxford Dictionary has rather similar definitions. Surely climate change which accentuates extreme weather events which in turn result in even a few million deaths of people, or which causes large scale extinction of plant and animal species ranks right up there with a poor play which ruins your entire evening.


  48. 248
    Jacob Mack says:

    Patrick # 228 While Democrats tend to be more supportive if green initiatives most if not all of the politicians from what I have seen, read and listend to, are not scientifically literate and often do not pass legislation that truly makes an impact on the AGW problem. If I am wrong please post some links of those who do. While, I do not want this to become a full blown poltiical discussion and derail the thread, even though I have and will vote democrat, I do not see that much being done to date. I do see some postive efforts but not nearly enough between Clinton and the current administration, other than the pretty recent EPA appointment and some hybdrid cars and EV’s coming off the assembly line.

  49. 249
    E.L. says:

    (237) Fred Moolten – The part I find interesting about the paper is the time estimate on the peak of coal production. If peak coal production happens, there will likely be a serious push for renewable energy. Because world economies are so linked to energy, nations will have little choice but to develop renewable energy once peak production has been reached. They will either develop renewable energy or watch their economies decline with coal production.

    I think we are realistically looking at good 70-80% consumed no matter what happens at this point. But I think the feature of peak production may help reduce some percentage points.

  50. 250
    Deech56 says:

    HAS, to get some clarification on the Hargreaves paper, you might want to head over to James Annan’s place, where he has a post devoted to that paper.

    And what dhogaza wrote 10 August 2010 at 10:52 PM. “Catestrophic” has become an undefined wiggle word for people who want to claim to accept the science, but not what they perceive to be alarmism. It’s best to turn the argument into one of climate sensitivity where real science can come into play.