More myths of the Near Future

I thought 11 myths was fair going (#10 wasn't exactly carefully reasoned, though true) but still I forgot a few. Thanks to those who reminded me. I'm at my mothers house now with (horrors) only a dial up line and no wireless connections, so I'm a bit crippled for facts (who says greenies aren't in favour of technological advance?). But I'll post these myths here now, and probably do an update in a day or two with added facts - in the meantime, anyone who has a nice fact to fill in is welcome to comment.

1. Its all models Well obviously the measurements of the current temperature rise aren't (except the ones from the satellites, which do have to be passed through a model, ha ha, so its ironic that the same people who will argue "its all models" tend to prefer the satellite record...), nor are the observed rise in GHG's. But projections of future change inevitably come through models. But these models are themselves constrained by observations (match to the past century) and theory (basic radiative transfer; feedbacks; etc).

Consensus science is not science. Incredibly, some people are capable of arguing something along the lines of:

  1. Science is not done by consensus
  2. There is a consensus on X
  3. Therefore, X is wrong.

This is obviously silly. It is true that science isn't done by consensus - but so what: no one is saying it is. But when you're thinking of science advice to policy making, you ought to follow the consensus/majority view.

I've sort-of done this before.

3. All the scientists say the same thing because otherwise they will lose their jobs. This one fails to explain the existence of skeptics like Lomborg, Lindzen, Spencer or Svensmark. And it fails completely to understand the nature of scientific society. It isn't some kind of Sekret Kabal. Its an open process: if there are holes in a theory, you can make a name for yourself by pointing this out. I would say that consensus-busting papers stand more chance of being published (on an assumption of equal technical merit) than those supporting it: purely because of the requirement for novelty which journals impose.

4. Water vapour is the dominant greenhouse gas. Well no, it isn't (since I blogged this myself, I'm embarassed to have forgotten it). Its the submissive GHG :-)

5. CO2 saturates within 1m/10m. This one is fairly technical so not very popular as a myth, because it requires a bit to even understand it. The idea is that increasing CO2 won't matter, because the CO2 absorption regions are saturated anyway. Now this isn't one of my strong points (Josh?) but as I understand it this is why the radiative response to CO2 is linear (v low CO2 levels) to sqrt (moderate) and log (current levels).

6. There are not enough fossil fuels available to increase CO2 levels. This one is fairly rare and I'm not sure anyone really believes it. Oil might run out but I don't think there is any shortage of coal, tar sands and misc gunk to get us to at least four times pre-industrial CO2. I find it hard to believe that the future emissions scenario constructers failed to consider this point.

7. Its all the sun. Solar forcing has probably increased over the last century, but as far as can be told its small compared to GHG's. And it has (I think) decreased recently (last few decades)). The solar stuff tends to rely on correlations, whose significances are hard to assess - because the std statistical analyses rely on you doing the assessment once, not on keeping searching for things to correlate till you get a result. Mention here for Paul Farrars work on aliasing of ENSO onto the cloud signal, and the changing-their-minds stuff about polar or mid-latitude clouds. And the bit about the dodgy numbers at the ends of the record (Laut?). Sorry: life is hell without a proper connection...

8. Its all hype to get funding. This one has a grain of truth to it. Agencies do tend to look favourably on proposals which are relevant to the real world. Amusingly, this is probably why a number of solar type folk have got interested in GW and are pushing the solar-GW connection: its good for funding. Which shows up the converse: of the skeptics, plenty have tenure; plenty of tenured people aren't skeptics. But if you want large funds and high salaries... you don't go into science to start with, or stay there.

9. CO2 lags temperature in cores. In facts its pretty hard to tell whether is does or not, because the CO2 comes from the air trapped in the bubbles but the temperature signal comes from the ice itself. And this leaves an uncertainty as to the age of the CO2 relative to the ice, because the pores in the ice only close off slowly - leaving uncertainties up to about 800 y in high cold cores like Vostok. And when you're plotting picture to play with the data yourself, its hard to know what adjustments have been made, so be careful. However, having said that, I think that what indications there are do tend to indicate temperature leading CO2. But: this is not terribly relevant. Trying to explain the last 800 kyr of ice ages, there is a puzzle as to the size of the forcing, which needs an amplifier to produce the size of response. CO2 feedback is one candidate. In which case, you would expect T to lead CO2. But in the case of current climate change, we know full well that the forcing is CO2, not temperature.

10. Fred Singer has anything useful to say about global warming. The traditional number 10: not one that many people believe. Did you know that of those listed on the board of advisers to SEPP, three are dead? Play a fun game: see if you can guess which they are (no cheating by looking at the wiki page).


Tim Worstall said...

I’d hesitate to describe Lombog as a GW sceptic. Most of his comments start with it is happening and we are causing it....and then goes on to talk about what might be the best way to solve it.
Sceptic on Kyoto, for sure, but not on GW.

William M. Connolley said...

Hesitate, perhaps, but then still do it. In TSE he wiggles and quibbles, doing his best to weaken the std consensus without ever really finding anything wrong with it (from a WGI perspective). The CC, as I understand it, starts from the TAR, so maybe he is shifting his position somewhat. As to the best way of solving it: yes, thats another matter.

Anonymous said...

In regard to point 6, there was a recent Science article that gave some hard number estimates for CO2 atmospheric concentrations that would eventually be reached if we burned all of our estimated fossil fuel resources [K. Hasselmann et al., Science. Vol. 302, pp. 1923-1925 (Dec. 12, 2003)]. Their estimate (which presumably depends somewhat on the time over which they are consumed) is that concentrations would reach 1200 ppm if conventional estimated fossil fuel resources were used and 4000 ppm if conventional + exotic estimated fossil fuel resources were used. So, we are talking something between ~4X and ~15X the pre-industrial levels.

Anonymous said...

Global warming started some where near 27,000 years ago. The last glacial maximum was 18,500 years ago. The peak interglacial has yet to be determined. Global warming, so called, is riding on a natural phenomena. Reference to data from the Eemian (the last interglacial period ) predicts a possible 2C higher temperature yet to come and 5 to 8 meters sea level rise. Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eemian

The real question to ask is: Has Global Warming stopped? When will the next ice age begin?

For a much broader view take a look at: http://www.scotese.com/climate.htm

badcop666 said...

Science isn't done by consensus "...but so what: no one is saying it is"

I absolutely disagree with this statement. Confirmation bias maybe?

This is way off the mark, not even by a slim difference of opinion, not even a hairs-breadth of interpretation. It's simple nonesense.

The public marketing of AGW is incredibly dependant on us believing the consensus amongst people who know a lot more about everything than us is - experts in their fields! Thousands of respected scientists! Peer-reviewed! In agreement! Beyond doubt! Wake up and smell that ash tray Mr Stoat!

There may be some peer reviewing by the converted going on behind the scenes, but publicly there is very little offered other than 'experts have said' - assertion, condescending arrogance, cynical media pandering and rubber-stamping.

William M. Connolley said...

I deleted a pile of old spam here, leaving just one as a token. But I'd missed a couple of comments which, whilst wrong (;-) deserve a reply:

"Global warming started some where near 27,000 years ago" is "it's all recovery from the ice age" which is more commonly "it's all recovery from the Little Ice Age" but whichever one you pick it is, ermm, wrong. But I can't find a good link for that right now, alas.

As to the old favourite "consensus"... people seem to get confused again and again on this, and you've just (well, in 2007) done the same: you need to distinguish "in science" and "in public". Naturally, "in public", what is reported is the consensus view, if there is one, and the lack of consensus, if there is no overall agreeement. You may find Scott Adams is a tosser helpful.