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Berkeley earthquake called off

Filed under: — eric @ 24 October 2011

Anybody expecting earthshaking news from Berkeley, now that the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature group being led by Richard Muller has released its results, had to be content with a barely perceptible quiver. As far as the basic science goes, the results could not have been less surprising if the press release had said “Man Finds Sun Rises At Dawn.” This must have been something of a disappointment for anyone hoping for something else.

For those not familiar with it, the purpose of Berkeley Earth was to create a new, independent compilation and assessment of global land surface temperature trends using new statistical methods and a wider range of source data. Expectations that the work would put teeth in accusations against CRU and GISTEMP led to a lot of early press, and an invitation to Muller to testify before Congress. However, the big news this week (e.g. this article by the BBC’s Richard Black) is that there is no discernible difference between the new results and those of CRU.

Muller says that “the biggest surprise was that the new results agreed so closely with the warming values published previously by other teams in the US and the UK.” We find this very statement surprising. As we showed two years ago, any of various simple statistical analyses of the freely available data at the time showed that it was very very unlikely that the results would change.

The basic fact of warming is supported by a huge array of complementary data (ocean warming, ice melting, phenology etc). And shouldn’t it have helped reduce the element of surprise that a National Academy of Sciences study already concluded that the warming seen in the surface station record was “undoubtedly real,” that Menne et al showed that highly touted station siting issues did not in fact compromise the record, that the satellite record agrees with the surface record in every important respect (see Fig. 7 here), and that numerous independent studies (many of them by amateurs) also confirmed the warming trend?

If the Berkeley results are newsworthy, it is only because Muller had been perceived as an outsider (driven in part by trash-talking about other scientists), and has taken money from the infamous Koch brothers. People acting against expectation (“Man bites dog”) is always better news than the converse, something that Muller’s PR effort has exploited to the max. It does take some integrity to admit getting the same answer as those they had criticized, despite their preconceptions and the preconceptions of their funders. And we are pleased to see Muller’s statement that “This confirms that these studies were done carefully and that potential biases identified by climate change sceptics did not seriously affect their conclusions.” It’s far from the overdue apology that Phil Jones (of CRU) deserves from his critics, but it’s a start.

But Muller’s framing of the Berkeley results is still odd. His statement, that had they found no warming trend, this would have “ruled out anthropogenic global warming”, while true in a technical sense, would not have implied that we should not worry about human drivers of climate change. And it would not have overturned over a century of firmly established radiative-transfer and thermodynamics. Nor would it have overturned the basic chemistry which led Bolin and Eriksson (reprinted here) to predict in 1959 that fossil fuel burning would cause a significant increase in CO2 — long before the results of Keeling’s famous Mauna Loa observations were in. As a physicist, Muller knows that the reason for concern about increasing CO2 comes from the basic physics and chemistry, which was elucidated long before the warming trend was actually observable.

In a talk at AGU last Fall, Naomi Oreskes criticized the climate science community for being reluctant to take credit for their many successful predictions, so here we are shouting it from the rooftops: The warming trend is something that climate physicists saw coming many decades before it was observed. The reason for interest in the details of the observed trend is to get a better idea of the things we don’t know the magnitude of (e.g. cloud feedbacks), not as a test of the basic theory. If we didn’t know about the CO2-climate connection from physics, then no observation of a warming trend, however accurate, would by itself tell us that anthropogenic global warming is “real,” or (more importantly) that it is going to persist and probably increase.

Muller’s other comments do very little to shed light on climate change, and continue to consist largely of putting down the work of others. “For Richard Muller,” writes Richard Black, “this free circulation also marks a return to how science should be done,” the clear insinuation being that CRU, GISS, and NOAA had all been doing something else. Whatever that “something else” is supposed to be completely eludes us, given that these groups all along have been publishing results in the peer-reviewed literature using methods that proved easy to reproduce using easily available data (and in the GISTEMP case, complete code). In one sense, though, we do agree with Muller’s quote: nobody has stolen his private emails and spun them out of context to make his research look bad.

Laudably, Muller’s group have submitted their research to peer-reviewed journals, and the submitted drafts are available on their website. Amidst a number of verifications of already well-established results on the fidelity of the surface station trends, they also claim to have discovered something new. In their paper Decadal Variations in the Global Atmospheric Land Temperatures, they find that the largest contributor to global average temperature variability on short (2-5 year) timescales in not the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) (as everyone else believes), but is actually the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). This is pretty esoteric stuff, but it would actually be quite interesting if it were true — though we hasten to add that even if true it would have no significant bearing on the interpretation of long term temperature trends. Before anyone gets too excited though, they should take note that the basis for this argument is that the correlation between the global average temperature and a time series that represents the AMO is higher than for one that represents ENSO. But what time series are used? According to the submitted paper, they “fit each record [ENSO and AMO times series] separately to 5th order polynomials using a linear least-­squares regression; we subtracted the respective fits… This procedure effectively removes slow changes such as global warming and the ~70 year cycle of the AMO, and gives each record zero mean.” Beyond the obvious fact that if one removes the low frequencies, than we’re really not talking about the AMO anymore (the “M” in “AMO” stands for “Multidecadal”), one has to be rather cautious about this sort of data analysis. Without getting into the nitty-gritty technical details here, suffice it to say that Muller & Co are proposing a new understanding of global temperature variability, and their statistical approach is — at the very least — poorly described. There is a large literature on how to do this sort of thing, not to mention previous work on the AMO and its relationship to global temperatures (e.g. this or Mann and Park (1999) (pdf), among many others), which the Berkeley group does not cite.

Overall, we are underwhelmed by the quality of Berkeley effort so far — with the exception of the efforts made by Robert Rohde on the dataset agglomeration and the statistical approach. And we remain greatly disappointed by Muller’s public communications (e.g. his WSJ op-ed) which appear far more focused on raising his profile than enlightening the public about the state of the science.

It will be very interesting to see what happens to these papers as they go through peer review. No doubt, they will improve: that’s one of the benefits of the peer review process (suddenly popular again!). In the meanwhile, Muller & Co. have a long way to go before they can claim to be the best (as opposed to just the BEST). By launching his BEST project, Muller has no doubt ensured a place for himself in shaping the narrative on climate change science, but it remains to be seen to what extent he is going to contribute to the science of climate change.

208 Responses to “Berkeley earthquake called off”

  1. 1
    eric says:

    Update:: Tamino has a post up detailing exactly the problems with the AMO paper that struck me when I read it. They don’t seem to have dealt with the influence of their removal of low frequencies on the high-frequency ‘redness’ (and hence correlation) of the data. If so, then they have not actually demonstrated the main claim of the paper.–eric

  2. 2
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Berkeley Earthquake called off, but what about Climate Change?

    [Response: cute link, but I don’t really get it.–eric]

  3. 3
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    “There were good reasons for doubt, until now.”

    Agreed about Muller, but I think the subheading of the WSJ article is significant. It gives various political types a way to back off stark denial without losing face. This could be a benefit to planet earth.

  4. 4
    Eric Swanson says:

    Looking at the AMO paper, the section on spectral analysis caught my eye. They report a strong peak in both the AMO and the PDO data at around 9.1 years and a weaker peak at about twice the period of the strong peak, both of which may be the result of the lunar precession cycle or the 18.6 year precession of the nodes of the moon.

    The BEST group may have re-discovered the moon…

  5. 5
    Thomas says:

    When I read the media PR on this, it looked like BEST claimed better statistical methods, leading to lower estimates of the uncertainty in the temperature change -even at the decadal level. Is there any basis to this, -or is it just another meta-analysis?

    In any case, it is amusing that he used (I think) Koch money inthe study. No doubt that funding source believed they would get a revoltionary result. I shudder to think what sort of hate mail Muller is getting because of his perceived betrayal.

  6. 6
    Joerg says:

    Muller finishes his WSJ editorial with claiming that Berkeley Earth does not find out whether global warming is man-made. After successfully reproducing all scientists had found out a number of times, you would imagine that it would be high time to at least state the established science as being right until – very very probably not – being proven wrong (by him?). But no, the arrogance of the physicist is too strong in him, which really annoys me. Especially since now he will be dragged through the media to no end…

  7. 7
    Tony Matthews says:

    I always thought that science was built on concenus.
    So Best confirms that the HADCRUT3 and UAH data are in agreement.Great.
    I personally did not expect any earth breaking news.
    Lets celebrate at least an agreement between the opposing foes.

    [Response: There is absolutely nothing wrong with BEST having done the work they did. It’s fine — it’s great even — if that’s what it took for Muller and his colleagues to convince themselves of the facts. On the other hand, science won’t progress if it takes this long for most scientists to come to grips with reality. Scientifically speaking, Muller should have done all this work first, rather than making public pronouncements first. Of course, there are political reasons why one might shoot first and ask questions later — and perhaps history will judge Muller’s political decisions well; I don’t know. Let’s just not confuse the two things (science with politics that is).–eric]

  8. 8
    Nick Barnes says:

    I applaud the Berkeley dataset, the new data analytic approach, and the potential of those for filling in some voids and delivering better error bars on local, regional, and global rates of change. These are valuable contributions, and open some doors for interesting new science (although on first skim I thought the AMO paper was a good example of this, Tamino’s take-down of it has changed my mind).

    Of course I welcome open data, open code, and open preprints. Yay for open.

    The headline GMST result is uninteresting in every way apart from the political.

    [Response: Open is great, and no one is against it. But the point I keep repeating is that what BEST has demonstrated is that whatever was ‘closed’ was unimportant, except politically. That’s not to say calls for openness are wrong — but before complaining that someone is ‘hiding’ data for some nefarious purpose, it is a very good idea to establish first whether it is likely that it matters in the first place. This is the simple homework that Muller and Co did not do.–eric]

  9. 9
    Mal Adapted says:

    Muller and Rohde will present their results on November 1 at the Third Santa Fe Conference on Global and Regional Climate Change. The conference is sponsored by Los Alamos National Laboratory. The program committee chair is Petr Chylek of LANL, who thinks the CRUhack emails revealed an intent to manipulate the temperature record. Also on the conference program are R. Lindzen, D. Easterbrook, C. Monckton, F. Singer, J. Curry, and other well-known deniersskeptics. How they receive the BEST results may be newsworthy, even if the results themselves are not.

    Love the instant preview, BTW!

  10. 10
    Paul from VA says:

    One thing that seems potentially new and interesting from their results (and that I haven’t seen many comments on) is the fact that their global record goes back about 50 more years than CRU and 80 more years than GISTEMP by starting with the year 1800. I’m curious as to how well that particular result will hold up to peer review, since it apparently involves some creative statistics.

  11. 11
    caerbannog says:

    Whatever that “something else” is supposed to be completely eludes us, given that these groups all along have been publishing results in the peer-reviewed literature using methods that proved easy to reproduce using easily available data (and in the GISTEMP case, complete code).

    Folks with some programming skills don’t need to take realclimate’s word for this. The global temperature results really are easier to confirm than most people realize. I was able to replicate the NASA/GISS land-temperature index surprisingly closely with a pretty crude implementation of the standard temperature anomaly gridding/averaging procedure. Coded it up, ran the GHCN raw data through it, and got results much closer to the officially published NASA/GISS results than I expected (especially given a couple of shortcuts taken out of sheer laziness on my part).

    The basic procedure is quite straightforward; it could be broken down into a series of homework assignments for a first-year C++/Java/whatever programming class. Additional exercises such as comparing the results for rural vs. urban stations, confirming that Watts’ “dropped stations” accusation is baseless, etc. are surprisingly easy to code up and run. There’s a wealth of free development/data-analysis software out there that makes all this much easier than it was back during the bad old days of Fortran-4 and punch-cards.

    Anyway, I’ve stashed a plot of my results (plotted against the official NASA/GISS results) in my gmail inbox so that I can whip it out on my smartphone on short notice should the need arise (i.e. whenever relatives/co-workers/whoever decide to start trash-talking climate scientists in my presence).

    For those who are curious, here’s the plot:

    There’s nothing even remotely interesting here from a scientific perspective; what it *is* useful for is countering claims that climate-scientists have “hidden” their data/code so that “outsiders” can’t scrutinize their work.

    [Response: Nice. My bold highlight]


  12. 12
    john byatt says:

    Muller got it right, let us all give him a big clap, whether they got it

    right or wrong the study was arrogant and about as relevant as Wegman.

  13. 13
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Technically, the Berkeley research could not establish the cause of global warming, since the research is just statistics, no physics. But is it not odd then for Muller to have thought that the AMO might be the cause of global warming, or some of it? The AMO is an oscillation (or fluctuation since it is not that regular) but not an energy source. A fluctuation in the location of slightly warmer surface water could hardly cause the global increase in ocean heat content. ENSO changes the overall surface temperature, but the change is up and down, up and down. But if you want a temperature trend not an oscillation, it is handy to have an energy source.

  14. 14
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    caerbannog, RC, so let’s do it! in a nice interpreted language of course.

  15. 15
    dhogaza says:

    Anybody expecting earthshaking news from Berkeley, now that the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature group being led by Richard Muller has released its results, had to be content with a barely perceptible quiver.

    Oh, I don’t know, the 4-ish quake centered NE of Berkeley felt earthshaking where I sat (in SFO south of market, near the ballpark). Felt like a truck ran into our office building, actually.

    Yet I instantaneously recognized it as being shallow, weak, and nearby – hmmm, not a bad description of the BEST “advancement” of climate science.

    [Response: lol This reminds me of when when I was a kid a car ran into our fence, making a big bang sound. About 1 week later, the same sound came from outside, and we ran out to look — no car. Turned out it was Mt. St. Helens erupting, some 300 miles away.–eric]

  16. 16
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Pete #13, I think the idea is not so much that AMO contributes to the global warming trend, but rather that it overlays the modern temperature record in such a way that a “naive” analysis ignoring it will find a slightly greater trend than is really there.

    See, e.g., Knight et al or DelSole et al.

  17. 17
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Thomas #5:

    I shudder to think what sort of hate mail Muller is getting because of his perceived betrayal.

    Been thinking that too, but somehow I don’t find it in myself to shudder. Bad, bad me

  18. 18
    john byatt says:

    Martin #17
    My favorite word is Schadenfreude = pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.

    Does that make me a bad person?


  19. 19
    Poul-Henning Kamp says:

    There is one statistical detail which irks me about their papers: Their “uncertainty estimates”.

    Considering how much they have filtered, chopped, and fitted the data, they should have made it very, very, clear, that the uncertainty estimates are not the uncertainty on the global average land-temperature, but on the mathematical model they force their data into.

    For instance they throw out series which do not correlate enough with neighboring stations, and while that is a valid filter to screen out changes in siting micro-climate, it also tends to cut the uncertainty a fair bit.

    They also operate on time-wise averages, which is a guaranteed to get your uncertainty down, the main reason why we do that in the first place.

    Let me stress that I basically couldn’t be any other way, the other temperature reconstructions obviously suffer from the same kinds of issues.

    But I would really have preferred if they had written in Helvetica,30,Bold that the uncertainty band is not on the actual, as measured in the field, global average temperature, but on their matematical model of it, and because of the steps that model contain, probably an order of magnitude too optimistic with respect to the actual temperature.

  20. 20
    Edward Greisch says:

    I still meet people who think “hide the decline” is something important. I refer them to RC.

  21. 21
    Nick Stokes says:

    #10 Paul
    “One thing that seems potentially new and interesting from their results (and that I haven’t seen many comments on) is the fact that their global record goes back about 50 more years than CRU and 80 more years than GISTEMP by starting with the year 1800. I’m curious as to how well that particular result will hold up to peer review, since it apparently involves some creative statistics.”

    Yes, they don’t have any more data. I checked that out here. Basically what they have is GHCN.

  22. 22
    Tom_P says:

    An analysis published earlier this year (Wu et al, Clim Dyn (2011) 37:759–773 DOI 10.1007/s00382-011-1128-8) extracted, using empirical mode decomposition (EMD), a multidecadal (65-year) component to global temperature trends. They could localise this component to the North Atlantic with EMD. This analysis was based on HadCRUT, which seems to be underestimating recent warming. An analysis of the BEST data with EMD might be worthwhile.

  23. 23
    Geoff Sherington says:

    The 3 main unresolved problems seem to be (a. What would the result be if 100% raw data was the feed? Each country that provides data has the opportunity to adjust it before sending; and then the same country data set is used for all of the derived sets except satellite – thus increasing the probability of agreement by new analyses. (b. Given the large number of cases where there has been essentially no temperature trend in the last 100 years, how does this fit with the selective geography of greenhouse gas mechanisms? (c. UHI remains a counter intuitive result and disagrees with direct simultaneous measurement in some papers. I have seen no time series method of UHI estimation that agrees with stationary methods. It could be that UHI has other important causes besides common postulates like population, including local effects happening within metres of the instruments.

  24. 24
    Eric Swanson says:

    Re: My comment #4

    The authors of the BEST AMO paper do mention in the discussion section that the 9.1 year peak, which their analysis found in the AMO and PDO, could be the result of the lunar tidal cycle. That the lunar tidal cycle appears in the data is not surprising, as others have also pointed to this possibility. For example, I recall this paper, which I referenced back in 1988:

    Currie, R. G. “Examples and Implications of 18.6- and 11-year terms in World Weather Records”, Climate Van Nostrand Reinhold (1987)

    Curry also wrote this paper (which I haven’t read):

    D.P. O’Brien and R. G. Currie, “Observations of the 18.6-year cycle of air pressure and a theoretical model to explain certain aspects of this signal”, Climate Dynamics Volume 8, Number 6, 287-298 (1993)

    The BEST authors also note:

    “Correlation does not imply causation. The association between Atlantic sea surface temperature fluctuations and land temperature may simply indicate that both sets of temperatures are responding to the same source of natural variability.” They continue suggesting that the AMO oscillation may be the source of much of the trend seen in the temperature data, yet the AMO data can not be used to analyze a 65 to 70 year “cycle” as a consequence of the Nyquist-Shannon criteria. The data set(s) available do not extend over enough time to be used for an accurate determination of periodicity at these time scales. In addition, the early data for sea surface temperatures is not global, which further limits the usefulness of these data for long period harmonic analysis.

    As Pete Dunkelberg points out in #17, there needs to be some link in physics between the AMO index and the temperature record before one can claim that the AMO causes anything. The same might also be said about the NAO regarding repeated claims that the NAO index pressure differences are the cause, rather than the result, of changes in atmospheric circulation, i.e., weather. Physics tells us that a fluid can not cause a flow due to a “pull” of lower pressure, only exert a “push” caused by the difference between high and low pressure fields. Gravity does the pulling in the atmosphere and oceans, although, once in motion, viscous shear forces occur between adjacent layers moving at different velocities.

    There is recent evidence suggesting that there are oscillations in the THC, which might then be a driver of the AMO index, as the authors suggest, but then at the next level, one must understand what physics is involved in THC variation. Since we know by now that the lunar orbital changes are a driver of tidal forces and thus should not be surprised to find this cycle appearing in various climate records, including the THC (and the AMOC).

  25. 25
    cRR Kampen says:

    “In a talk at AGU last Fall, Naomi Oreskes criticized the climate science community for being reluctant to take credit for their many successful predictions, so here we are shouting it from the rooftops: The warming trend is something that climate physicists saw coming many decades before it was observed.”

    Now hear hear!!
    To add e.g. this: HadCrut published its data couple of weeks ago – but shouldn’t have. You don’t give in to slander. You demand evidence – or you sue.

  26. 26
    clv101 says:

    Do you have any idea why so much effort as gone into publicizing this work before peer review? Wouldn’t it have been better to wait for publication before cranking up the PR machine? It seems that discussing these results before peer review unnecessarily leaves them open to the criticism that they haven’t been peer reviewed.

  27. 27
    vukcevic says:

    AMO is simple, but it is not understood by the climate people. No mystery there, just simple movements of warm and cold water back and forth across the Greenland-Scotland ridge.

    [Response: I agree that most ‘climate people’ don’t understand it, but I also don’t see how your graphs help (what are the data, and what are they supposed to illustrate. Also, your explanation doesn’t fit the historical definition (see the papers linked in the post). Want to say more about what you are trying to say?–eric]

  28. 28

    The idea that the AMO is the source of global warming seems rather like the idea that human beings come from cars. You go to an NFL football game, and *holy smokes* look at all of these people getting out of cars! Cars must breed people!

    The difference is one of experience. Terms like AMO and PDO are alien to most of us. We don’t know the processes. Smart science people do. So, it seems so odd that a physicist would make that error. Why you might think that …

    [Response: I agree with you that these ideas come out of the blue for the most part, and are not well thought out. However, we don’t know the physical basis for the AMO or the PDO. Not really. They are both simple statistical descriptions of observed sea surface temperature patterns. Some people think that the AMO is related to the atlantic thermohaline circulation, and that the shifting of heat North and South that is associated with its variations could cause some of the recent warming trend in the north Atlantic. That’s a very mainstream view. Muller’s only additional take on it is that the *short-term* variations in the global temperature variations. This is much less sensible because it would imply that the ocean circulation is undergoing large variations quickly. Not likely, not evidence, probably not possible. The PDO has not been linked to anything interesting other than the annual storage of summer (solar) heat in the North Pacific, which creates some memory in the system. That memory timescale is about 1 year, which is all you need to get the apparent decadal variations in the PDO index. Very few people seem to get this point, and they (e.g. J. Curry) talk about the PDO like it is in the drivers seat (to mangle your own analogy above). I very much doubt this is correct.–eric]

  29. 29
    Bill says:

    Eric, thanks for the even-handed treatment of this “new” climate data, but I remain an anthropogenically-caused climate change skeptic because of the extraordinarily high number of unproved variables that must be shown to be true, in order for man’s puny efforts at controlling the climate to have any long term effect.

    While the vagaries (i.e. AMO) of climate change study may glaze the eyes of all but dedicated scientists who are paid to examine these climate change causative permutations, the consequences of being WRONG about the facts and acting on those wrong beliefs prematurely, are hardly vague.

    The CCX (Chicago Climate Change) ceased operation in 2010, largely based on public skepticism, but would have (by their own figures) become a 10 TRILLION (with a T) dollar per year trading exchange. And that was hardly the cap for this hardy cap and trade enterprise. It was just getting started. The US GDP by comparison, was approximately 14 Trillion dollars and if you can imagine suddenly taking 2/3 of the US economy out of the global economy for an unproved reason, I think you can see why we “skeptics” would want to make sure that the science is right before we bankrupt large swaths of energy-producing global business enterprises before we are sure that they are truly responsible for the 1 or 2 degree change that’s predicted over the next century. (not to mention the fact that China and other energy consumption giants have no intention of putting similar restraints on their own use of fossil fuel use, thus negating much of our conservation efforts)

    This “follow the money” detective approach may not address your specific concerns regarding Richard Mueller’s ego and the veracity of data collection and statistical analysis, but from my day job (former options, futures and equities trader and current financial services employer) I can see an extremely large motivation for getting the science wrong (in favor of trading climate instruments and the power to make or break entire business sectors) and a skeptical public who have seen this movie before, and naturally want to see conclusive and comprehensible cause and effect proof, BEFORE we wean ourselves from our current living standards on the hope that it’ll make a discernible difference in 100 years from now.

    [Response: I don’t disagree with you that these sorts of motivations are likely to exist among climate-information *users*. It is harder for me to understand how this can motivate climate information producers (like me). It is even harder for me to see how any of this affected Joseph Fourier or Svante Arrhenius, some 100+ years ago. The only way to figure this out, of course, is to follow the scientific arguments, and see where they lead. To his credit, this appears to be what Muller has done, with the apparent result that he has shown his own preconceptions about what motivates people to be wrong.–eric.]

  30. 30
    Rob Honeycutt says:

    I wonder if Muller is going to speak publicly about the response he’s received from the “skeptic” community because of his results. The fact that Muller went from hero to enemy #1 merely based on the results their research turned out is at the very crux of the climate issue.

    This is the story we should all be discussing. It’s not the man, the scientist or the data that are objectionable to the “skeptics.” The only thing they find genuinely objectionable is the conclusion that humans could have an impact on climate. They are a conclusion looking for justifications.

  31. 31
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Bill, I might have more sympathy for your line of argument if you weren’t taking issue with physics that has been established for more than a century–as Eric points out.

    We understand the greenhouse effect pretty very very very well. It has a quite distinctive signature in both the troposphere and the stratosphere–and we see that signature in the current warming.

    The thing is that you are wrong not just on the science, but also on the economics. Fossil fuels are finite and rapidly running out. We will have to completely replace the current energy infrastructure on a timescale of decades, quite independent of climate concerns. Climate change merely increases the urgency and limits our ability to rely on coal, tar sands, etc.

    Finally, your “follow the money” argument is absurd. Climate scientists aren’t trading carbon on exchanges. They aren’t getting rich. They are motivated by trying to increase their understanding of the planet’s climate. Is that so utterly foreign to you that you cannot entertain it as a possibility? If so, don’t you think we’d be better off listening to the scientists than to you?

    [Response: My italics. –eric]

  32. 32
    Martin Vermeer says:

    John Byatt #18:

    > Does that make me a bad person?

    Perhaps it does, but you would be in good company ;-)

    BTW it’s not ‘Schadenfreude’ for me, rather that my quota of compassion was spent in toto on Phil Jones, and the account has remained empty.

  33. 33
    MartinJB says:


    let’s do some math on carbon trading (and apologies in advance for any gross errors… this is a little rushed). The annual CO2 emissions of the US are in the vicinity of 6 billion metric tons. Let’s assume that all of those were to be traded on the CCX and that the price was somewhere between $10/MTon and $100/MTon (current prices are about in the low teens, I believe). That gives us a value of the asset at somewhere between $60bn and $600bn. (multiply by about 5 to get the global numbers)

    That’s a far cry from $10 Trillion, even assuming that all emissions are traded on the exchange, isn’t it? And the size of the market doesn’t even indicate the value [taken out of the global economy], any more than the ~$100bn notional per day volume of the 10-yr Treasury futures market is value taken out of the global economy. So, saying that cap and trade would take 2/3 of the USD GDP out of the global economy is just, well, alarmist.

  34. 34
    vukcevic says:

    Response: ….Want to say more about what you are trying to say?–eric]
    Hi Prof. Steig
    Of course I am familiar with the AMO definition and the N.A. SST, currently writing an article which will contain all necessary and some new information. Hope to finish in the next few weeks. I’ll email you a copy when finished.
    p.s. underlining cause of the natural changes is far simpler than it is normally assumed.

    [Response: Great, I look forward to seeing that. By the way, I did not mean to imply you don’t know what you’re talking about — only that your link doesn’t provide enough information for the rest of us to learn anything! -eric]

  35. 35
    Dave123 says:

    @Bill in 29. If people like Al Gore weren’t investing in carbon exchanges you’d say that they don’t believe in their own solutions. The denier, never enough evidence side of things can always find a way to frame things in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t way.

    The goal isn’t to wean ourselves from our current standard of living…it’s to maintain our standard of living while having a planet left to live on.

    I’m glad you also have a crystal ball and a palm reader at your disposal to say with such certainty what China and other emerging economies will do. My on-the-ground Chinese experience suggests that they will adopt the best available technologies that they can buy, beg, borrow or steal.

  36. 36
    Martin Vermeer says:

    the consequences of being WRONG about the facts and acting on those wrong beliefs prematurely, are hardly vague.

    Indeed. Try this on for size on YOU being wrong about the facts:

    * Existing fertile agricultural production zones, like California-Florida and Southern Europe, turning arid permanently
    * Coastal zones around the world, where most of our cities and expensive infrastructure are located, being flooded (or expensively protected or relocated) by a metre or more of sea level rise.

    I don’t want you to argue that these are uncertain, and might not happen; I know that already. I want you to prove that they will not happen, with certainty, before allowing the further release of vast quantities of a known greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. A greenhouse gas, I may say, that is known to be implicated in a large part of the temperature swings between ice ages and interglacials, not even to mention the going in and coming out of the “Snowball Earth” episodes of the Precambrian.

    Are you really, really serious about allowing the build-up of CO2 to a level not seen since Antarctica first acquired its ice sheet, just on your belief, or suspicion, or hunch, contrary to what those that have actually studied these things think they know, that this ‘control knob’ might not be doing much; just because scientists have not managed to prove, to your satisfaction, that consequences like the above are certain, rather than just very well possible? Feeling lucky, are you?

    Remember that our economy, and our material production system, exist within the natural environment and the climate system, and on its terms; not the other way around. The planet can do very well without us.

    Sorry for the OT.

    [Response: I don’t think this is so off topic. We at RC do not consider ourselves experts on economics, nor do we have by any means a unified view of what the policies ought to be (e.g. I have no idea how Gavin or Mike feel about Cap&Trade, as I have never talked with them about it), but that doesn’t mean that people should not feel free to discuss this sort of thing here in the comments section. Particularly when it’s in response to a post that is really about the very political nature of the way that the science is being presented. In my view, as long as the science is not conflated with the politics, this is fine.–eric]

  37. 37
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Bill
    > …
    > from my day job (former options, futures and equities trader and
    > current financial services employer) I can see an extremely large
    > motivation for getting the science wrong

    You’ve listed quite a few ways you’re getting the science wrong above.
    You’ve mentioned several ways you’re getting the competitive facts wrong, e.g. see

    It’s always competitively tempting to claim the other guy is doing X so you have to do X to succeed. When X involves damage to everyone around, it’s a spurious argument. The damage is what you’re eager to deny.

    Muller now accepts that the scientists were right and the climate is warming, so he’s got a dilemma. He can go straight to “we can’t affect it” but that’s scientifically already debunked. He can go straight to “it’s too late” but that’s scientifically at least arguable.

    He’s stuck with: business as usual makes this worse. What is to be done?

    There are many examples of businesses reacting when the science says their business model is false.

    One way is to compartmentalize the market.

    The Lead Industry Association did that; when the science became clear enough for political action in Europe, the lead industry lost business there. The Lead Industry Association successfully kept their market in the USA for decades afterward by promoting false reassurances. (abstract, and links to related articles)

    At least look at the pictures in that one; full text as PDF is here:

    It’s practically a guidebook to how to lobby and advertise against the science to prolong your marketability, at least long enough to shift investments elsewhere and get out before the stock collapses. That’s a business method, isn’t it?

    Lead in paint is — in the short term — a problem that can be kept local. Climate change isn’t.

  38. 38
    Hank Roberts says:

    Another for Bill — if you did look at the pictures in the PDF linked in my last post, and I hope you did — then this will help:

    Am J Ind Med. 2007 Oct;50(10):740-56.
    The politics of lead toxicology and the devastating consequences for children.
    Rosner D, Markowitz G.

    Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health, New York, USA.


    At virtually every step in the history of the uncovering of lead’s toxic qualities, resistance was shown by a variety of industrial interests to the association of lead and toxicity. During the first half of the last century, three primary means were used to undermine the growing body of evidence: first, the lead industry sought to control lead research by sponsoring and funding university research…. A second way was to shape our understanding of lead itself, portraying it as an indispensable and healthful element essential for all modern life. Lead was portrayed as safe for children to use, be around, and even touch. The third way that lead was exempted from the normal public health measures and regulatory apparatus that had largely controlled phosphorus poisoning, poor quality food and meats and other potential public health hazards was more insidious and involved directly influencing the scientific integrity of the clinical observations and research.

    Throughout the past century tremendous pressure by the lead industry itself was brought to bear to quiet, even intimidate, researchers and clinicians who reported on or identified lead as a hazard.

    This article will draw on our previous work and add new documentation of the trajectory of industry attempts to keep out of the public view the tremendous threat of lead poisoning to children.

    (c) 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

    [paragraph breaks added for online readability –hr]

    Look for parallels now that Muller’s drafts have come out.

  39. 39
    Bill says:

    Eric, Ray and Martin, Please forgive me for not having time to adequately explain my opposition here, but scientific research must be financed, which introduces the possible profit motive into any study.

    Eric, I’m not a scientist, but well remember struggling through 100+ year-old Maxwell’s equations at university and reading more recent research that speculated that, although not “wrong” per se, Maxwell may not have been entirely “right” either, specifically in the 2nd law of thermodynamics relating to non-linear dynamics and non-polluting sources of energy that may be available with changes in assumptions based on century old science. (I’m mentioning this because you mentioned the work of Fourier and it’s continued validity today)

    Ray and Martin, regarding the 10 Trillion dollar figure of the now-defunct CCX trading exchange, you guys have forgotten that options and futures markets are many times larger than the underlying instrument trade in any given market, and is (ironically) the most worrisome aspect of the current global financial malaise. IOW, you don’t have to be an energy user or producer to buy/sell/trade options or futures on those underlying sales and to say that there’s no money to be made there, is like saying that the CBOE doesn’t make any money……lol.

    Global derivative trade is currently estimated to be well over 200 Trillion dollars and the counterparty risk of default is by far, the most dangerous aspect of world financial collapse. Today we have a housing market collapse fueled by derivatives trading and speculation. But imagine a future collapse in energy credit trade and being gridlocked by regulations while ordinary people affected are starving or freezing to death!

    Again, I’m not a anti-climate change evangelist or anything of the sort. But I don’t think that you have a firm grasp on the real world importance of getting this research right, either.

    I have to leave , but thanks for the cordial discussion gentlemen.

    [Response: Bill. Thank you for the cordiality. Much appreciated. I think what I, Hank, etc. are objecting to here is not that you are raising issues about policy. Those are very legitimate issues to raise, and I definitely think that there has not been a very complete conversation at the international level about the possible economic consequences of various proposed policies. What we’re objecting to, though, is the confusion between what the science tells us about the risks and what the risks associated with specific policies might be. The climate science is certain (certain) that the risks are high, and in the face of those risks it is clear that we ought to be reducing CO2, and fast. There is nothing in that statement that implies that we ought to be reducing CO2 by any means possible. That’s a different question.
    The most significant uncertainties do *not* lie with the science, but in knowing the consequences of various policy options.

  40. 40
    SecularAnimist says:

    Bill wrote: “I remain an anthropogenically-caused climate change skeptic because of the extraordinarily high number of unproved variables that must be shown to be true”

    The “extraordinarily high number of unproved variables that must be shown to be true”?

    What is that even supposed to mean?

    Bill wrote: “would want to make sure that the science is right before we bankrupt large swaths of energy-producing global business enterprises”

    Oh, I understand now.

    What that sciencey-sounding gibberish about “unproved variables” means is that you don’t want to see trillions of dollars in wealth shift from the fossil fuel corporations to other sectors of the industrial economy, therefore, anthropogenic global warming cannot be true.

  41. 41
    VPK says:

    The generation in power now is totally irresponsible and selfish. The prudent action for the younger generation would be to dramaticly cut greenhouse emissions. Unfortunately, we have a “quarter” short term time frame and not at all interested in what happens after we are gone.
    The sad fact is when it is apparent that climate change is our own fault and we must act, it will be too late to do so because of the delay reaction.
    For us ‘Older” generation of 50 age plus, won’t be held personally responsible and only be “cursed”.

  42. 42
    Martin Vermeer says:

    options and futures markets are many times larger than the underlying instrument trade in any given market, and is (ironically) the most worrisome aspect of the current global financial malaise.

    Bill, when you write about something you know, you make a lot more sense…

  43. 43
    Chris R says:

    So deniers think that scientists are ‘cooking up’ global warming by manipulating data…

    Yet even a non-scientist such as myself can appreciate that inventing a warming trend by underhand processing of data is a very stupid thing.
    1) At any stage someone might find you out by trying to replicate what you’re doing; as you’ve been dishonest they’ll fail. 2) It’s a warming trend that’s projected to continue, so you commit yourself long term to having to ‘cook up’ evidence that fits with that warming trend across an increasingly wide area of observations.

    Really, this whole notion of AGW as conspiracy says more about those who espouse it than about science and those practising it (and yes, I’m thinking delusion mixed with a dash of Dunning Kruger).

    I glanced over the BEST website and did note that in the recent decades CRU is the outlier (tracking below BEST, GISS, and NCDC), I guess this is due to CRU’s lack of coverage in the Arctic. Otherwise I’m not spending my time reading the papers, I’m overloaded with papers containing novel insight. If there’s anything interesting in BEST I’ll be made aware by reading the appropriate blogs. RC being one of them.

    #34 Vukcevic,
    As I’ve said to you some months ago: I found myself in the same situation Dr Steig is now in. Your graphs aren’t nearly enough.

  44. 44
    MartinJB says:


    I work in finance. I’m very aware of the underpinnings of our markets. Which is why I can say that your claim that the carbon market ballooning to $10tr amounts to that much being taken out of the economy (and I think I found your wonderful sources for that…) is nonsensical and intended to be alarmist. When you think about the uncertainties of economic models and how much money is invested using those models as a basis, the idea that we don’t know enough about climate change is laughable.


  45. 45
    Mal Adapted says:

    I’d like to recommend to Bill David Brin’s take on how to distinguish between “rational, open-minded ‘AGW-skeptics'” (which Brin considers himself to be) and ideology- or profit-motivated deniers. At the outset, he says:

    I find this distinction attractive, at the surface, because I too find some parts of HGCC theory unclear, ill-supported or poorly explained. In such a complex field, there are sure to be gaps.

    Does that sound like something you’d be willing to read, Bill?

    [Response: What the heck does “HGCC theory” mean? –eric]

  46. 46
    CM says:

    Bill says the global financial system is so insane that a market-based solution to reduce carbon emissions could spin out of control and freeze/starve us to death.

    But trading wheat futures is okay? What’s special about carbon?

    I’ve had my doubts about capitalism, but this sounds a bit over the top. But anyway, I’m game, if we can’t cap and trade, I guess we’ll just have to tax emissions. Failing that, we’ll just have to regulate.

  47. 47
    Hank Roberts says:

    > the confusion between what the science tells us about the risks
    > and what the risks associated with specific policies might be.


    Any business that reduces fossil fuel use “too soon” (before they can recover the cost or profit from the change) is at a competitive disadvantage.

    Any business that reduces fossil fuel use “too late” (after others have made the change and captured newly attractive opportunities early) — ditto.

    Businesses get together to request the government regulate so they can avoid the “scorpions in a bottle” aspect of market competition and all move at the same time in a direction that benefits society — even losing the competitive advantage, because of the longterm savings

    Examples abound. Here’s a classic: industry and conservation groups together sued the Bush administration’s Dep’t of Energy to get better energy efficiency standards and won:

    Finally being accomplished:

    That change could have been accomplished a decade or more ago:
    “The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that increasing energy efficiency could reduce national energy use by 10% or more in 2010 …”$FILE/Energy+efficiency+in+the+power+grid.pdf

    Why wasn’t it? Old, inefficient transformers with a 50-year service life were in stock that couldn’t have been sold under the new standards. With a decade’s delay, those were sold and installed around the country during that time. Those invested in building cheap inefficient gear got their profit.

    Confusion prolongs market opportunities for those creating the confusion.

    “Biologically rational decisions may not be politically possible once investment has occurred.”
    DOI: 10.1126/science.1135767, Science 315, 45(2007)

  48. 48
    Chris Colose says:

    eric in response to #45 (Apparently “Human-generated global climate change”)…everyone apparently makes up their own acronyms, but at least it isn’t as bad as “CAGW” :-)

    Actually, to Mal (#45), going through the first few paragraphs of the article, I see little to disagree with. Of course we can distinguish between “open-minded skeptics” and “deniers.” That’s a no-brainer.

    However, whenever I hear people talking about how they are an “open-minded skeptic” they seem to be referring to some sort of third party, divorced from both the practice of doing science in the way “scientists do it,” or at the other extreme, separated from the noise-makers who just play dishonest gotcha games. The implication seems to be (although not always) that there is currently a rational justification for disbelief in AGW, but this is just as consistent with the literature as is the moon being made of blue cheese.

    I associate “open-minded skeptic” with “scientists” (those who do science, or are are at least well-read in the science, and have formed various opinions in the process, and can mold those views over time as evidence develops). This is by definition. There just happens to be overwhelming evidence (that is understood by people who read or do the science) that AGW is real, but there is plenty to debate about the specific details on certain topics.

    How do we interpret d18O records in the tropics? Is it reflecting large-scale temperature changes, local precipitation or transport changes, etc? Is lichenometry a good dating tool? What is the best method to diagnose climate sensitivity…do measurements of the co-variability between satellite retrieved radiation budgets and the surface temperature tell us anything useful about sensitivity, or do paleoclimate constraints tell us more? What are the quantiative mechanisms/sources by which CO2 fluctuates between glacials and interglacials?

    You’ll get a lot of different answers to these types of questions by “experts” in the field, due to a shaping of their own views developed during their research time, uncertainties in the science, various interpretations of the same data, etc. You’ll find people who will tell you the flaws in a lot of methods (for example, issues in Mg/Ca temperature proxies) but that doesn’t mean they dismiss everything out of hand, or that there views on Mg/Ca somehow means they don’t believe in climate change. Of course, the blogosphere is largely a black and white world, which gives rise to these absurd perceptions about climate science.

  49. 49
    Lee says:

    It seems we needed another acronym =:-o

    Human-generated Global Climate Change (HGCC)

  50. 50
    SecularAnimist says:

    Eric asked in reply to #45: “What the heck does ‘HGCC theory’ mean?”

    According to David Brin’s website, HGCC is an acronym for “Human-generated Global Climate Change (HGCC)… also called Anthopogenic [sic] Global Warming (AGW)”.

    I have never much liked Brin’s science fiction and I’m even less a fan of his nonfiction ruminations, but the article that Mal Adapted linked to is a pretty good essay on the difference between genuine skeptics and the faux-skeptic deniers.