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All IPCC definitions taken from Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Annex I, Glossary, pp. 941-954. Cambridge University Press.
Explaining climate change science & rebutting global warming misinformation
Scientific skepticism is healthy. Scientists should always challenge themselves to improve their understanding. Yet this isn't what happens with climate change denial. Skeptics vigorously criticise any evidence that supports man-made global warming and yet embrace any argument, op-ed, blog or study that purports to refute global warming. This website gets skeptical about global warming skepticism. Do their arguments have any scientific basis? What does the peer reviewed scientific literature say?
On the week of Sept. 8, 2014, the Web site Skeptical Science launched an online campaign to emphasize the broad scientific agreement about climate change. It was called “97 hours of consensus,” and for each hour, the organizers put out a new statement from a climate scientist highlighting the scientific consensus — accompanied by tweetable cartoon images of each scientist.
The campaign was popular enough that organizers claimed to have reached “millions” online. A tweet from Barack Obama surely didn’t hurt:
The campaign did indeed create a successful spike in online attention, say the authors of a new academic analysis that crunches vast amounts of Web data to compare how differently Twitter and the mainstream media handle the subject of climate change.
Australia 'public enemy number one' of UN climate talks, says Nobel laureate
Australia is emerging as “public enemy number one” of the United Nations climate change negotiations to be held in Paris in December, according to a Nobel laureate of medicine speaking from a sustainability symposium in Hong Kong.
Prof Peter Doherty is representing Australia at the symposium, held every three years and which is being attended by 11 other laureates from around the world, who will sign a memorandum detailing their recommendations for making major cities sustainable.
The four-day symposium ends on Saturday afternoon, and Doherty said a clear message had emerged from his peers, who hold expertise across specialities including climate, economics and business.
“People are saying informally that Australia and Canada are emerging as public enemy number one for the Paris talks on climate,” Doherty said.
“No other names are being mentioned. Australia is seen as very much out of touch and out of sync with what’s happening globally.”
On that last point, there’s been much confusion among non-academics about what it means to have no credible academic track record. In my previous post, I reproduced a letter from the Head of UWA’s School of Animal Biology, Professor Sarah Dunlop where she stated that Lomborg had a laughably low h-index of only 3. The Australian, in all their brilliant capacity to report the unvarnished truth, claimed that a certain Professor Ian Hall of Griffith University had instead determined that Lomborg’s h-index was 21 based on Harzing’s Publish or Perish software tool. As I show below, if Professor Hall did indeed conclude this, it shows he knows next to nothing about citation indices.
What is a ‘h-index’ and why does it matter? Below I provide an explainer as well as some rigorous analysis of Lomborg’s track record.
A very new paper currently in press shines light on climate feedbacks and the balance of energy flows to and from the Earth. The paper was published by Kevin Trenberth, Yongxin Zhang, John Fasullo, and Shoichi Taguchi. In this study, the authors ask and answer a number of challenging questions. Their findings move us a big step forward in understanding what is happening to the planet now, and how the climate will evolve into the future.
So, what did the scientists do? First, they used measurements at the top of the Earth atmosphere to count the energy coming into the Earth system and the energy leaving the planet. The measurements were made by satellites as part of the Clouds and Earth’s Radiant Energy System project (CERES for short). By subtracting one energy flow from the other, they found what is called the Earth’s energy imbalance. Most studies show that the energy imbalance is in the range of 0.5 to 1 Watt per square meter of surface area, which is causing ongoing global warming.
What the authors then asked is, how does this imbalance change? It turns out, the imbalance changes a lot over time. On a monthly basis the balance might change 1 Watt per square meter of surface area. The changes are caused principally by changes to clouds and water vapor, and other short-term weather patterns. Clouds have the ability to reflect sunlight back to space; however, clouds also have the ability to trap more heat within the Earth’s atmosphere. So, short-term fluctuations in clouds have large impacts on the net rate of heat gain by the Earth.
The authors also correlated the observed temperatures, the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, and the flow of radiant energy to explore how they affect each other. They found a strong relationship between the outgoing long wavelength radiation (infrared energy) and temperature; however, this relationship varies substantially across the planet. In fact, the relationship switches sign in some regions, such as the tropics. Measurements of the absorbed incoming radiation from the sun provided direct indications of the effects of clouds on that quantity.
Big insurance companies are warning the U.S. to prepare for climate change
A coalition of big insurance companies, consumer groups, and environmental advocates are urging the United States to overhaul its disaster policies in the face of increasingly extreme weather due to human-caused climate change.
According to a report released Tuesday by the SmarterSafer coalition, the U.S. needs to increase how much it spends on pre-disaster mitigation efforts and infrastructure protection. That way, it asserts, the U.S. can stop wasting so much money on cleaning up after a disaster happens.
“Our current natural disaster policy framework focuses heavily on responding to disasters, rather than putting protective measures in place to reduce our vulnerability and limit a disaster’s impact,” the report reads. “This needlessly exposes Americans to greater risks to life and property and results in much higher costs to the federal government.”
The course coordinator is John Cook, University of Queensland Global Change Institute Climate Communication Fellow, and founder of the climate science myth debunking website Skeptical Science. Cook’s research has primarily focused on the psychology of climate science denial. As he explains,
We have good reason to be concerned about the potential for nasty climate feedbacks from thawing permafrost in the Arctic. Consider:
The Arctic contains huge stores of plant matter in its frozen soils. Over one-third of all the carbon stored in all of the soils of the Earth are found in this region, which hosts just 15% of the planet's soil-covered area.
The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet. The vegetable matter in the soils is being taken out of the northern freezer and placed on the global kitchen counter to decompose. Microbes will take full advantage of this exceptional dining opportunity and will convert part of these plant remains into carbon dioxide and methane.
These gases will add to the already enhanced greenhouse effect that caused the Arctic warming, providing a further boost to warming. There's plenty of scope for these emissions to cause significant climatic mischief: the amount of carbon in the permafrost is double the amount currently in the air.
But exactly how bad will it be, and how quickly will it cause problems for us? Does the latest research bring good news or bad?
Ted Schuur and sixteen other permafrost experts have just published a review paper in Nature: Climate change and the permafrost feedback(paywalled). This long and authoritative article (7 pages of text, plus 97 references) provides a state-of-the-art update on the expected response of permafrost thawing to man-made climate change. Much of the work reported on in this paper has been published since the 2013 IPCC AR5 report. It covers new observations of permafrost thickness and carbon content, along with laboratory experiments on permafrost decomposition and the results of several modelling exercises.
The overall conclusion is that, although the permafrost feedback is unlikely to cause abrupt climate change in the near future, the feedback is going to make climate change worse over the second half of this century and beyond. The emissions quantities are still uncertain, but the central estimate would be like adding an additional country with the unmitigated emissions the current size of the United States' for at least the rest of the century. This will not cause a climate catastrophe by itself, but it will make preventing dangerous climate change that much more difficult. As if it wasn't hard enough already.
There's a lot of information in this paper and, rather than attempt to describe it all in long form, I'll try to capture the main findings in bullet points.
The top three metres of permafrost contain about 1035 PgC (billion tonnes of carbon). This is similar to previous estimates, but is now supported by ten times as many observations below the top 1 m depth. Very roughly, the deepest deposits richest in carbon are near the Russian, Alaskan and Canadian Arctic coasts, with the poorest in mountainous regions and in areas close to glaciers and the Greenland ice sheet.
Andy Lacis responds to Steve Koonin, a guest post by ATTP of the blog site, and Then There's Physics, garnered the most comments of the articles posted on SkS during the past week.
We Heart CleanTechnica
Many of us here at CleanTechnica are big fans of the site Skeptical Science. Skeptical Science has a great system for debunking common myths put forward by global warming deniers, and then getting those articles and key points out to more people. Bob Wallace had the excellent idea of doing something similar with regard to anti-cleantech myths.
By the reckoning of the three main agencies that track global temperature, 2015 has so far been the warmest year in more than a century. Coming immediately after the hottest year on record, the ranking serves as a reminder of how much the globe’s overall temperature has risen thanks to the ever-growing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
With the year only a quarter through, it’s difficult to say definitively how 2015 as a whole will turn out. But with an El Niño event currently in place that could help keep temperatures at record or near-record levels for the remainder of the year, 2015 may be poised to eclipse 2014’s newly minted record, though climate scientists are cautious on such pronouncements.
How surface temperatures around the world varied from the 20th century average over the period from January to March 2015. Credit: NOAA
“We expect that we are going to get more warm years, and just as with 2014, records will be broken increasingly in the future. But perhaps not every year,” said Gavin Schmidt, who leads NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies.
Everyone at Skeptical Science spends a lot of their time reading the scientific literature and listening to experts. Without that we wouldn’t be able to write all the material that’s published on Skeptical Science. It’s a lot of work, especially when you do this with a critical eye. Our goal, after all, is to ensure that what we write reflects the scientific literature on the subject as accurately as possible.
The materials created by Skeptical Science are used by teachers, politicians, and of course by users on the internet to rebut climate myths. Thanks to this a lot of people have seen materials produced by us, even though they might not know that they have.
The website Skeptical Science wasn’t created overnight, nor was the team behind it assembled instantly. It started small with John Cook starting the website and publishing the first rebuttals to climate myths. As I wasn’t familiar with the story of how Skeptical Science evolved to the website it is today I had the idea to interview John about this.
Despite John constantly saying “I’m just not that interesting” I eventually managed to get him in front of the camera:
This video is longer than usual and is right at the limit of how long I make my videos. But the story of Skeptical Science is an interesting one with a lot of anecdotes of how the team came together and how the website evolved. Well worth your time if you want to know the history of Skeptical Science (plus there’s a fun little bonus if you watch the video till the end).
The latest “This is Not Cool” video is the third in a trilogy of very important, and sobering, pieces I’ve posted over the last year. I didn’t start with a trilogy in mind, but the developments of the last few months have been jarring and momentous.
Chris Mooney wrote recently in the Washington Post, “A hundred years from now, humans may remember 2014 as the year that we first learned that we may have irreversibly destabilized the great ice sheet of West Antarctica, and thus set in motion more than 10 feet of sea level rise.” He added, “Meanwhile, 2015 could be the year of the double whammy — when we learned the same about one gigantic glacier of East Antarctica, which could set in motion roughly the same amount all over again.”
The decades-long unfolding of this story – that vast areas of ice once thought to be invulnerable on time scales meaningful to humans, may in fact already be in the process of disintegration – is one that that the vast majority of humanity still does not understand, and that the media has been unwilling to track. It’s a realization that, one top expert told us, even seasoned ice sheet veterans find “shattering”.
For this video I used in-person interviews from December’s AGU conference, as well as a skype chat with Jamin Greenbaum of the University of Texas, whose recent research on East Antarctic vulnerability has been widely reported. Jamin pointed me to some Australian research from the same area. There was a huge volume of material, not all of which made it into this video, but which I’ll be posting in coming weeks to flesh out the picture. The overriding message: we have a problem.
The Canadian Rockies, which sit as a backdrop to many a stunning vista, could be almost entirely devoid of glaciers by the end of the century, a new study suggests.
Researchers modelled the impact of rising temperatures on glaciers across western Canada.
The results show widespread ice loss by 2050, and ice all but vanishing a few decades later.
Around 27,000 square kilometers of Western Canada is covered by glaciers, an area similar in size to the amount of ice in the Himalayas or the whole of South America.
For the new study, published in Nature Geoscience, the researchers developed a model to see how rising temperatures will affect the volume and area of glaciers in three regions in western Canada. These regions are shown in the map below: the coast (green sections), the interior (pink) and the Rockies (blue).
65 researchers from provinces across Canada have published a report, Acting on Climate Change, that details how the country can successfully decarbonize its electric grid to slow global warming.
Map of researchers contributing to the Acting on Climate Change report.
The team unanimously endorsed putting a price on carbon pollution as a key strategy. Without a carbon fee, the price of electricity on the market doesn’t reflect its true costs to society. This is a market failure that economists call an “externality,” where the costs associated with a product (in this case, damages incurred via climate change) aren’t captured in its market price. Instead they’re paid by taxpayers in what could be considered a massive subsidy to the fossil fuel industry.
This is a guest post by András G. Pintér who is the vice-president of the Hungarian Skeptic Society.
Thanks to the co-operation of a few enthusiastic people, The Debunking Handbook is now available in Hungarian. Although, the translation project was initiated by the Hungarian Skeptic Society about a year ago, the job itself was completed by a supporter of our organization by the name Ilona L'Homme, leaving us with only some polishing work to do on the text before sending it back to author John Cook for the final touches on the design.
Many thanks to the authors and the translator who provided Hungarian skeptics with an important tool for the most difficult challenge we tend to take on: correcting erroneous beliefs and mindsets of other people.
Since it fits perfectly into our actions of skeptical activism (lectures, conventions, shows, blogs and social media presence), we are planning to spread the word and make this booklet known to as many people as possible within the Hungarian skeptical movement (and beyond).
It seems like a small thing to do, but far from it: it is a powerful tool, that's now within reach for even those who happen not to have a very strong conduct of English.
We could not be more grateful for this booklet. Let it be translated to all the languages, so that everyone has the chance to use it for the benefit of all.
Note to other translators:
If you'd like to translate the Debunking Handbook into another language, please download the two-column Word document which has the English text in one column and a blank column where you can add the translated text. Email the complete document back to us, and we'll insert it into the existing design. To ensure that no one else is already working on your language, please contact us first by selecting "Enquiry about translations" from the contact form's dropdown menu.
I know Eli’s already posted Andy Lacis’s response to Steve Koonin on Judith Curry’s blog, but I thought it worth repeating. It’s a pretty impressive comment in terms of what it covers, so it’s worth reading in it’s own right. I do find myself amazed at what Steve Koonin has been willing to say. Ignoring that much of what he says suggests a woeful lack of understanding of the topic itself, that anyone of his supposed intellectual calibre would construct an argument that essentially goes “look, this number is small, nothing to worry about” is remarkable, and not in a good way. It’s one thing to suffer from hubris, but it’s hard to see why if one’s argument is so obviously silly. Maybe Eli’s right that the best description is beyond contempt.
Anyway, Andy Lacis’s comment is below (bolds mine).
Physicists should take the time to understand their physics better (Comment: some of us are trying :-) )
Only 1% to 2% . . . that may sound small and insignificant . . . but it isn’t.
It is well known that the normal human body temperature is about 310 K. Furthermore, it is also well known that a seemingly small change (up or down) in absolute body temperature by only 1% (3.1 K, or 5.6 F) would make one sicker than a dog, and, that a 2% change in body temperature (up or down by 6.2 K, or 11.2 F) will virtually guarantee a dead body. From this, it should be sufficiently clear that, when viewed in absolute energy terms, the viable margin between life and death in the Earth’s biosphere is remarkably narrow – so much so that a seemingly insignificant 1% to 2% change in the total energy of the global environment will invariably result in serious disruption of the established infrastructure of life in the biosphere.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting a 60 percent chance that the El Niño it declared in March will continue all year. An El Niño is a weather pattern “characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific.”
California's new era of heat destroys all previous records
The California heat of the past 12 months is like nothing ever seen in records going back to 1895. The 12 months before that were similarly without precedent. And the 12 months before that? A freakishly hot year, too.
What's happening in California right now is shattering modern temperature measurements—as well as tree-ring records that stretch back more than 1,000 years. It's no longer just a record-hot month or a record-hot year that California faces. It's a stack of broken records leading to the worst drought that's ever beset the Golden State.
The chart below shows average temperatures for the 12 months through March 31, for each year going back to 1895. The orange line shows the trend rising roughly 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit per decade, just a bit faster than the warming trend observed worldwide.
12-Month Average Temperature (°F), April-March. Source: NOAA / Bloomberg
Changes to the climate have had major impacts on the oceans and the biological systems that live there. A new study sheds more light on how fast these systems respond to changes. What the authors find is that short term climate changes can require 1,000 years for recovery. This means the current harm caused to the deep oceans by the changing climate will last for many centuries to come.
The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Dr. Sarah Moffitt and her colleagues is novel for a number of reasons. The researchers took core samples from ocean floor regions off the coast of California. The location was chosen in part because of the exceptional synchrony between sediment archives from offshore California and ice core records from the Greenland Ice sheet.
Dr. Sarah Moffitt. Photo credit: Wayne Freedman
The authors’ method was novel because they sampled many different types of creatures, not merely the single-celled organisms that are most commonly studied. In fact, the authors included Mollusca, Echinodermata, Arthropods, and Annelida samples (approximately 5,000 fossils). There was major “turnover” in these animals with only small changes to oxygen levels.
Using the ocean sediment core, the authors were able to travel back in time to the last deglaciation. They connected cooling and warming events to increases and decreases in the oxygen contained within the waters. Past events of abrupt warming, which occurred in decades to centuries and were accompanied by subsurface oxygen loss, significantly impacted the types and numbers of animals found within the sediments. Recovery from this abrupt, climate-forced disturbance can take 1,000 years.
Among the changes documented are expansions and intensification of oxygen poor regions. These regions, called “Oxygen Minimum Zones” get larger when the oceans warm. As these oxygen poor zones get larger, there is a predominance of animals that thrive in low-oxygen environments. Animals that need higher levels of oxygen suffer and die off.
You may have heard that global warming has 'paused' but it's only one part of a bigger picture and the search for understanding has equipped climate scientists with better tools than ever.
"It is frustrating," says climate scientist Michael Mann from his office at Penn State University in the United States.
"There certainly has not been a hiatus in global warming — global warming hasn't stopped, even though you still hear those contrarian talking points," he says.
Professor Mann, the director of the university's Earth System Science Centre, is famous for his 'hockey stick' graph that reconstructed 1,000 years of global temperatures showing a dramatic spike towards the end of the 20th century.
The 'pause', also known as the 'slow down' or the 'hiatus', refers to the average rate of warming across the whole planet's surface in the last 15 years or so. The latest major report (pdf) from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said the rate of warming between 1998 and 2012 had been about 0.05°C per decade.
This rate, the report said, was "smaller than the rate calculated since 1951" which was 0.12°C per decade.
"The occurrence of the hiatus in global mean surface temperature trend during the past 15 years raises the two related questions of what has caused it and whether climate models are able to reproduce it," the report said (pdf).
This was proof enough for some commentators that computer models of the climate were wrong and that the risks of global warming may have been overblown.