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Skeptical Logic Can't Save Greenland Ice - for that you need to stop climate change

Posted on 15 October 2010 by gpwayne

Climate change skeptics like Marc Morano employ gross exaggeration to dismiss or diminish the potential disruption that climate change is likely to bring about. In the Inhofe EWP press blog, Morano made much of this statement:

“...evidence that suggests the frozen shield covering the immense island survived the Earth’s last period of global warming”

Irrespective of what it means to claim the ice sheet ‘survived’ (a rather unqualified claim since survival could be taken to mean that 99% or 1% of the ice was left), it is generally recognised that a complete melt-down of the Greenland ice sheet is far less likely than partial melting. The time-scales over which such a dramatic and complete failure could occur must also be reckoned in centuries rather than decades. Given how much uncertainty surrounds even the accurate measurement of negative mass balance (how much the ice is reducing per year), projections on the century scale are too speculative to be helpful when considering the current problem, which is sea level rise.

Sea level rise will depend on how much water is currently held in the Greenland ice sheet, because the sheer volume of water is so immense that even a small loss of ice will produce considerable rises in sea level – and concerns about loss of mass from ice sheets focuses on sea level rise because this is one of the most serious threats climate change may invoke.

So let’s consider the ice sheets, individually and collectively. Estimates suggest that if the Greenland ice sheet was to melt away to nothing, sea levels would rise around 7 metres. To put that a different way, a loss of just one percent of the ice cap would result in a sea level rise of 7cm.  Consider this in context: if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) were to melt, this would add around 6 metres to sea levels. If the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS) were to melt, seas would rise by around 70 metres. So a mere 1% loss of ice from these three sources would produce a likely increase in sea levels of around 83cm - from these ice formations alone.

It is important when considering the impact of ice sheet mass balance to bear in mind that a global phenomenon like climate change will produce negative mass balance at both poles, and the shrinking glaciers will also contribute to sea level increases.

While the complete disappearance of Greenland’s ice sheet is hard to predict and the probability lower than a partial collapse, it is clear that even a relatively small loss of ice through melting will produce considerable, and very disruptive, increases in sea levels.

This post is the Basic Version (written by Graham Wayne) of the skeptic argument "Greenland ice sheet won't collapse".

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Comments 1 to 30:

  1. Not exactly on topic, but none the less relevant in light of the statement referring to "the last period of global warming", is there any defined point at which it can be declared as the beginning of an ice age, or an ending? Would an ice age only be declared as having ended when all the ice sheets have melted? With still a considerable number of glaciers of immense size existing, are we still in fact in what would be defined as an ice age? When statements such as "the last period of global warming" or the last ice age are being used, there should be some criteria that defines ice ages so that it is clear whether the period being referenced is within an ice age or not.
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  2. Defining an end (or start) to a glacial could likely be done by defining a limiting multiple for the pace of global warming (or cooling) exceeding the forcing from Milankovich cycles alone. This though would lead to extensive intermediate periods between 'stable milankovich climates', the current of which began by AGW. I've no reference for this though, as it seems too evident a definition, maybe no one has done that. An easy thesis subject for someone who wants to quarrel with the denialists for the rest of their existence?
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  3. It seems like you're first two paragraphs puts the rest of the article completely in the realm of speculation and fantasy. And then I was knocked a little sideways by that sudden jump from Greenland to global. Any evidence the EAIS is going anywhere? I hope it's not wrong to assume that with the 1% and 99% examples you were simply plucking numbers out of thin air? In relation to the bold statement at the bottom of your article it's worth considering that 1% isn't the lowest possible limit. How's about o.1% or even 0.0001%? I'm not saying either of these are relevant on any real world time scale but it's also possible that rates of melt maybe so low as to be NOT very disruptive as well.
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  4. @johnd: you seem to be confusing ice ages with glacial periods. We are in fact still in an ice age, as ice exists on the globe. We are, however, in an interglacial period, i.e. one of the warm periods of the current ice age.
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  5. HR: Information on the negative mass balance trend of the East Antarctica ice sheet can be found here.
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  6. There were two relevant talks on this topic presented at the Tenth International Conference on Paleoceanography in San Diego last month. First, I assume that "Earth’s last period of global warming" in Morano's quote refers to the last interglacial period about 125,000 years ago. The latest estimates place global average temperatures at that time about 2°C above today's temperature, so that period is very relevant conditions that lie ahead. This time period was the topic of the two presentations I refer to. One speaker (Dorthe Dahl-Jensen, Niels Bohr Institute, Copenhagen, Denmark) used results from all existing ice cores in Greenland to conclude that the amount of ice that survived the warmer conditions roughly 125,000 years ago was about half the current volume of ice. So, in this sense the Morano statement is correct, but the Greenland ice that did melt contributed about 3 to 4 meters of sea level rise. The second speaker (Andrea Dutton, Australian National University, Australia) presented evidence that eustatic (global average) sea level during the last interglacial period was 8 to 10 meters greater than today, rather than 5 to 6 meters greater, as previously thought. If both speakers are correct, then the simplest interpretation of their findings is that the west Antarctic ice sheet, which is much more sensitive to melting than the east Antarctic ice sheet, was almost completely gone during the last interglacial period. That is, global average warming of about 2°C, 125,000 years ago, led to the complete loss of the west Antarctic ice sheet and to the loss of about half the Greenland ice sheet. It will be very interesting to see if further research supports these findings.
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  7. There is a bit more detail about the Pleistocene history of the Greenland ice sheet in this post: The Past and Future of the Greenland Ice Sheet There is good evidence (from both ice cores and models) that (a) the ice sheet was smaller during the last interglacial [MIS-5e], but (b) it did not melt away completely. Otto-Bliesner (2006) shows the following modeled comparison of the extent of the ice sheet then and now: Modeled configuration of the Greenland Ice Sheet today (left) and in MIS 5e (right), from Otto-Bliesner (2006). The reduction in size of the ice sheet during MIS 5e probably added 3-4 m to global sea levels, which accounts for about half of the 6+ m total rise in sea levels during that interglacial (Alley 2010). For what it's worth, the Greenland ice sheet appears to mostly or entirely have disappeared during an earlier interglacial (MIS-11, around 400,000 years ago) that is considered to be the best analog for our current interglacial. I'm not sure whether the different extents of the ice sheet in MIS-11 vs MIS-5e was due to its longer duration (MIS-11 was a particularly long interglacial), warmer summers in Greenland, a combination of both, or something else.
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  8. Hey, thanks for that comment boba10960. It will be interesting to see if that SLR estimate from Dutton's presentation (8-10 m) holds up. Re: the WAIS, there is evidence that it has collapsed during at least one previous interglacial (Scherer et al. 1998). The authors speculate that MIS 11 is a likely candidate but if global sea levels really were at +8-10 m during the last interglacial one would think that the WAIS would be the most likely source for the additional water. I don't think its extent is as well constrained as Greenland's is.
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  9. Posted by gpwayne on Friday, 15 October, 2010 at 14:59 PM Climate change skeptics like Marc Morano employ gross exaggeration to dismiss or diminish the potential disruption that climate change is likely to bring about. In the Inhofe EWP press blog, Morano made much of this statement [...] That blogpost is more than three years old, dated 9:39 AM ET, July 30, 2007. Latest Scientific Studies Refute Fears of Greenland Melt Posted By Marc Morano What he says is not entirely unsupported. For the sake of fairness you could at least dig up references from that post or peer reviewed literature backing them.
    1. Annals of Glaciology Volume 46, Number 1, October 2007 , pp. 209-214(6) DOI: 10.3189/172756407782871558 20th-century glacier fluctuations on Disko Island (Qeqertarsuaq), Greenland Jacob C. YDE & N. Tvis KNUDSEN
    2. GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS VOL. 33, L11707, 5 PP., 2006 doi:10.1029/2006GL026510 Greenland warming of 1920–1930 and 1995–2005 Petr Chylek, M. K. Dubey & G. Lesins
    3. Science 11 November 2005: Vol. 310. no. 5750, pp. 1013 - 1016 DOI: 10.1126/science.1115356 Recent Ice-Sheet Growth in the Interior of Greenland Ola M. Johannessen, Kirill Khvorostovsky, Martin W. Miles & Leonid P. Bobylev
    4. JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH VOL. 111, D11105, 2006 doi:10.1029/2005JD006810 Extending Greenland temperature records into the late eighteenth century B. M. Vinther, K. K. Andersen, P. D. Jones, K. R. Briffa & J. Cappelen
    5. Science 16 March 2007: Vol. 315. no. 5818, pp. 1559 - 1561 DOI: 10.1126/science.1138478 Rapid Changes in Ice Discharge from Greenland Outlet Glaciers Ian M. Howat, Ian Joughin & Ted A. Scambos
    6. Science 6 July 2007: Vol. 317. no. 5834, pp. 111 - 114 DOI: 10.1126/science.1141758 Ancient Biomolecules from Deep Ice Cores Reveal a Forested Southern Greenland Eske Willerslev, Enrico Cappellini, Wouter Boomsma, Rasmus Nielsen, Martin B. Hebsgaard, Tina B. Brand, Michael Hofreiter, Michael Bunce, Hendrik N. Poinar, Dorthe Dahl-Jensen, Sigfus Johnsen, Jørgen Peder Steffensen, Ole Bennike, Jean-Luc Schwenninger, Roger Nathan, Simon Armitage, Cees-Jan de Hoog, Vasily Alfimov, Marcus Christl, Juerg Beer, Raimund Muscheler, Joel Barker, Martin Sharp, Kirsty E. H. Penkman, James Haile, Pierre Taberlet, M. Thomas P. Gilbert, Antonella Casoli, Elisa Campani & Matthew J. Collins
    7. IPCC Fourth Assessment Report Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report 3.2.1 21st century global changes Table 3.1. Projected global average surface warming and sea level rise at the end of the 21st century.
    8. The Holocene 12,1 (2002) pp. 49–58 DOI: 10.1191/0959683602hl519rp A mid-Holocene shift in Arctic sea-ice variability on the East Greenland Shelf Anne E. Jennings, Karen Luise Knudsen, Morten Hald, Carsten Vigen Hansen & John T. Andrews
    9. GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS VOL. 32, L17605, 4 PP., 2005 doi:10.1029/2005GL023740 One more step toward a warmer Arctic Igor V. Polyakov, Agnieszka Beszczynska, Eddy C. Carmack, Igor A. Dmitrenko, Eberhard Fahrbach, Ivan E. Frolov, Rüdiger Gerdes, Edmond Hansen, Jürgen Holfort, Vladimir V. Ivanov, Mark A. Johnson, Michael Karcher, Frank Kauker, James Morison, Kjell A. Orvik, Ursula Schauer, Harper L. Simmons, Øystein Skagseth, Vladimir T. Sokolov, Michael Steele, Leonid A. Timokhov, David Walsh & John E. Walsh
    10. GLOBAL WARMING Notes on Climate Change Syun-Ichi Akasofu
    11. Earth and Planetary Science Letters Volume 207, Issues 1-4, 28 February 2003, Pages 13-22 doi:10.1016/S0012-821X(02)01155-X Modern spectral climate patterns in rhythmically deposited argillites of the Gowganda Formation (Early Proterozoic), southern Ontario, Canada Gary B. Hughes, Robert Giegengack & Haralambos N. Kritikos
    12. Global and Planetary Change Volume 40, Issues 1-2, January 2004, Pages 177-182 Global Climate Changes during the Late Quaternary doi:10.1016/S0921-8181(03)00108-5 New perspectives for the future of the Maldives Nils-Axel Mörner & Michael Tooley
    13. CLIMATE RESEARCH Vol. 23: 89–110, 2003 Proxy climatic and environmental changes of the past 1000 years Willie Soon & Sallie Baliunas Energy & Environment doi: Reconstructing climatic and environmental changes of the past 1000 years: a reappraisal (2003) Willie Soon, Sallie Baliunas, Craig Idso, Sherwood Idso & David R. Legates
    14. Science 11 August 2006: Vol. 313. no. 5788, pp. 827 - 831 DOI: 10.1126/science.1128243 Insignificant Change in Antarctic Snowfall Since the International Geophysical Year Andrew J. Monaghan, David H. Bromwich, Ryan L. Fogt, Sheng-Hung Wang, Paul A. Mayewski, Daniel A. Dixon, Alexey Ekaykin, Massimo Frezzotti, Ian Goodwin, Elisabeth Isaksson, Susan D. Kaspari, Vin I. Morgan, Hans Oerter, Tas D. Van Ommen, Cornelius J. Van der Veen & Jiahong Wen
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    Moderator Response: [Graham] Fine example of the Gish Gallop. And Soon and Baliunas, E&E - you have a fine sense of humour - at least, I hope that's your intention. As for 'fairness', as soon as Morano adopts such values, I'll be pleased to follow his example.
  10. Marc Moreno's usage of the term "global warming" is representative of a frequent and intentional effort by AGW Denialists to confuse and obfuscate the issues surrounding the current, ongoing episode of warming, which is interpreted to be largely anthropogenic in origin. It makes it sound as if the present warming is no different from episodes of warming that have occurred in the Earth's past. Yes, Earth's climate has changed significantly in the past in response to natural processes; however these changes generally occurred over much longer time frames, and although they were evidently enhanced by increased atmospheric CO2 (in Pleistocene to Recent glacial cycles, at least), they were not initiated by CO2. Greenland temperatures warmed during the mid-Twentieth Century, but again, this was evidently not driven by anthropogenic GHGs. The present episode of warming, which is popularly referred to as "global warming" (a term which the IPCC neither uses nor defines) is being driven largely by the build-up of anthropogenic greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. As we can potentially control these, we can potentially influence ongoing climate change. At the same time, the title of the current discussion, which refers to "stopping" climate change, is open to valid skeptical criticism. Even if we can successfully reduce the impact of anthropogenic forcing on climate, this will not eliminate the effects of natural forcings, which will continue to play a role, albeit over a much longer time frame.
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  11. Berényi - That's 15 references, from all over the place; the AR4 SYR Synthesis report (known to be underestimates of current conditions), Climate Research and E&E papers by Soon arguing against the hockey stick (my apologies, I cannot take Soon or those two journals seriously based on their history), the Howat et al Science article indicating higher than expected variability in Greenland glacier speeds, the Monaghan et al Science article indicating that Antarctic precipitation has not increased as expected (bad news for Antarctic mass balance, quite frankly), and so on. That's quite a shotgun blast of articles. Could you perhaps indicate what they point to? How they support Morano's statements? Because they seem to be all over the map to me, and presenting links without commentary isn't all that useful.
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  12. I'm sure he had reasoning to feel the way he did but lets be honest here, you cited Soon and Baliunas (2003) eventhough the aforementioned paper is widely discredited and resulted in the resignation of half the editorial board because it was published. Is this the evidence that Morano was using to support his thesis? Awful convenient of you to bring up that study.
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  13. Berényi - Never mind, I see that you've just copied the Morano references to this thread.
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  14. Looking at the Morano post puts me in mind of the Most Used Skeptic Arguments - it's like a rundown of the most common denials. * "It's not warming" * "Climate has varied before" * Stating that Greenland survived the last interglacial without noting that even a fraction of Greenland melting would cause considerable sea rise * Strawman arguments about 20ft theoretic rises from complete melting that nobody is predicting * "Models are unreliable" Not to mention the poor scholarship from Mörner and the discredited Soon/Baliunas article, as Robert Way points out.
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  15. Digging in these references does not bring up much support for Morano's confused denial, except perhaps from the Soon/Baliunas or Morner pieces... Although his influence on the public is significant, I don't see why would anyone interested in the real science of the climate pay attention to what Morano says. He is a political operative, not of very high level, with an understanding of science in general that is strictly limited to how it can fit in his political designs. That much is obvious from his selection of references that actually lend little or no support to his argument but can appear, on the surface, to run counter to the consensus model of Earth climate. They were selected based on that superficial appearance. His argument is transparent and of no interest whatsoever. It has no place in any kind of scientific debate. Morano's opinion is null and void as far as I'm concerned.
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  16. #14 KR at 01:46 AM on 16 October, 2010 Strawman arguments about 20ft theoretic rises from complete melting that nobody is predicting Of course. No sane person would predict such a thing. But watch this (starts at 1:42), directly from the guy who used to be the next president of the United States. "The Arctic is experiencing faster melting. If this were to go [points to map of East Antarctica], sea level worldwide would go up twenty feet. This is what would happen in Florida. Around Shanghai home to forty million people, the area around Calcutta sixty million. Here is Manhattan. The Word Trade Center Memorial would be under water. Think of the impact of a couple of hundred thousand refugees and then imagine a hundred million. [caption: NOTHING IS SCARIER THAN THE TRUTH]" One should ask Is Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth accurate? Dr Stott, the Defendant's expert, is right when he says that: "Al Gore's presentation of the causes and likely effects of climate change in the film was broadly accurate." (Rebuttal written by gpwayne. Last updated on 7 October 2010) Yes, twenty feet is broadly accurate. If a strawman says so, it must be true. It is substantially founded upon scientific research and fact, albeit that the science is used, in the hands of a talented politician and communicator, to make a political statement and to support a political programme. Al Gore is a successful politician who presented a film, his training and experience suitable to the task. To invoke Gore is a way to obfuscate about climate science, for which Gore has neither responsibility, claim nor blame.
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  17. The only rational response to Berényi Péter's latest descent into skeptical irrelevance is the last sentence of the thread he links to : To invoke Gore is a way to obfuscate about climate science, for which Gore has neither responsibility, claim nor blame. To anyone who doesn't know the whole story, New Scientist goes into more detail : Gore does not explicitly say that Greenland's ice will disappear in the immediate future, merely that coastal areas will be dramatically flooded very soon. That point aside, there is...some debate over how quickly the ice caps and Greenland in particular could melt.
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  18. @BP: actually, Gore is right. *If* East Antarctica was to go, sea levels would go up dramatically. He's not predicting it will in the near future, but simply states what such an extreme scenario would entail. Is it manipulative? A little, sure. Is it false? No, it isn't.
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  19. OK, the Goracle is finished. He just had such a tremendous influence on the public mind with statements about as definite like "if you put this stuff on your hair it could get up to 23.5% thicker", that this Morano guy could not help but attack him. And if Gore has neither responsibility, claim nor blame, neither has Morano. #12 Robert Way at 01:32 AM on 16 October, 2010 you cited Soon and Baliunas (2003) eventhough the aforementioned paper is widely discredited and resulted in the resignation of half the editorial board because it was published Now, let's be accurate. It was Morano who brought up Soon & Baliunas, not me. And it was gpwayne who brought up Morano. But you make me curious. How was this resignation story? And exactly what is wrong with that paper? Is there a sensible rebuttal? BTW, these MWP papers just keep coming, deconstructing Mann's broken hockey stick further. Geografiska Annaler Series A, Physical Geography Volume 92, Issue 3, pages 339–351, September 2010 DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0459.2010.00399.x A New Reconstruction of Temperature Variability in the Extra-tropical Northern Hemisphere During the Last Two Millennia Fredrik Charpentier Ljungqvist Instrumental record removed, spaghetti graphs are awful.
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  20. @BP, words like "Goracle" do nothing to help your flagging credibility, nor does brining up Ljungqvist 2010, which is about the Northern Hemisphere only (whereas Mann's "hockey stick" is about global temperature). I agree with others on this site. It seemed that once you were able to provide thoughtful analysis. Now, it's as if you're not even trying anymore.
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  21. #21 archiesteel at 10:19 AM on 16 October, 2010 Ljungqvist 2010, which is about the Northern Hemisphere only (whereas Mann's "hockey stick" is about global temperature) Ah, you mean the Southern Hemisphere was cooler during the MWP than in the LIA? Interesting conjecture. Could you elaborate on it a bit more?
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  22. It is actually possible to see quite a bit of daylight between Morano and Gore. Equating the two doesn't really wash. Here's an example. Morano: Why does Eilperin fail to note that a top UN IPCC scientist, Mojib Latif of Kiel University in Germany told a UN conference earlier this month that he is now predicting global cooling for several decades and he admitted he was unsure how much the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) had impacted global temperatures in the past three decades. Latif: In an interview today, Dr. Latif told me “we don’t trust our forecast beyond 2015″ and “it is just as likely you’ll see accelerated warming” after then. Indeed, in his published research, rapid warming is all-but-inevitable over the next two decades. He told me, “you can’t miss the long-term warming trend” in the temperature record, which is “driven by the evolution of greenhouse gases.” Finally, he pointed out “Our work does not allow one to make any inferences about global warming.” That's transcendent spin on Moraon's part. He's got a long history of this sort of thing, necessarily so because it's his job to do produce hyperbole. Read more about Morano and Latif here. Morano's expertise is not only confined to climate science: "Morano, who worked as a producer in the mid-90s for radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, was also among the first reporters to write about the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign scrutinizing Kerry's Vietnam War record. And earlier this year, Morano penned an article questioning the Purple Heart medals of Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), a leading critic of Bush's Iraq policy." Read more about Morano here at SourceWatch and then ponder if he and Al Gore are equivalently reliable.
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  23. @BP: "Ah, you mean the Southern Hemisphere was cooler during the MWP than in the LIA?" No, I don't. I don't compare apples to oranges, either. By the way, Ljunqvist 2010 has this to say about Mann: "Our temperature reconstruction agrees well with the reconstructions by Moberg et al. (2005) and Mann et al. (2008) with regard to the amplitude of the variability as well as the timing of warm and cold periods, except for the period c. AD 300–800, despite significant differences in both data coverage and methodology." Also, why did you feel you needed to change the original graph? You didn't like how it showed instrumental record temperatures in 2000 already reached higher than the RWP and MWP? Could you elaborate on these points a bit more?
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  24. BP, the more you defend Morano, the more your opposition appears political instead of scientific.
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  25. BP, you know the hockey stick is so 10 years ago... I think its well accepted now that the flatness of Mann's hockey stick was not the best representation of the world. That being said Mann hasn't done a hockey stick reconstruction in about 7 years so why don't you stick to current arguments instead of dragging up old ones. Yes there is climate variability on the millennial scale and yes there is undoubtedly some natural contributions to the warming since 1850 but to ignore the plethora of evidence which suggests (including empirical evidence) that we are amplifying the greenhouse effect to the point where it is/will have an affect on the climate, is at best disingenuous. Perhaps educate yourself by reading the following And on Soon's paper
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  26. Berényi Péter I'm not sure why you come out with Ljungqvist here and not in the appropiate post, but at least you shoud have shown the original figure. You showed a modified verion of Ljungqvist fig 3 dropping the instrumental record. Showing the original would have been better. Alternatively, you could have shown how Mann's reconstruction has been "deconstructed" by showing them together, as can be found here. The relevant figure is this: Hiding the incline was not a good job, Péter, and not much deconstruction can be seen.
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    Moderator Response: Everybody, please take this to the appropriate thread that Riccardo pointed to.
  27. The problem is that some authors that are creating the basic rebuttals are bringing their own personal feelings into the articles, usually in the first paragraph or two. John Cooks original intermediate article did not mention Marc Morano and most people around the world don't care about him. There is a lack of discipline IMO in the review process.
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  28. Sorry, I take that back! John did mention Marc Morano. But John just quoted Morano. The problem I have with some of these Basic rebuttals are the Tone of the first paragraph or two. They often seem to be out to provoke before even getting to an explanation.
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    Moderator Response: [Graham] Not provoke, but expose. Since my analysis (such as it is) consists of a single line in which I identify Morano's method - and since I believe that identification is strictly accurate - I believe it is both helpful and informative to expose the generic methods and agenda that lie behind specific examples. There is a constant trend by so-called skeptics to downplay or minimise the predicted effects of climate change, and these methods inevitably distort the science, or ignore it completely. By exposing both, I hope the open-minded reader will not only appreciate Morano's attempt to deceive, but be better equipped to recognise the greater pattern of deception in its many guises.
  29. Berényi Péter wrote : "OK, the Goracle is finished." I invoke the equivalent of Godwin's Law (Gore'dwins Law ?), which means that BP has lost the argument - whatever he was trying to argue !
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  30. @boba10960 #6 Do you know if the presentation by Dorthe Dahl-Jensen at icp10 is accessible as video anywhere?
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