|The EPW Senate Blog
Schulte's paper was first cited on Senator Inhofe's Environment And Public Works (minority) Press Blog on August 20, as part of a
long post by Marc Morano. We'll have more to say about Morano in a bit. But first let's look at the content of this post.
Washington DC - An abundance of new peer-reviewed studies, analysis, and data error discoveries in the last several months has prompted scientists to declare that fear of catastrophic man-made global warming "bites the dust" and the scientific underpinnings for alarm may be "falling apart." The latest study to cast doubt on climate fears finds that even a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide would not have the previously predicted dire impacts on global temperatures. This new study is not unique, as a host of recent peer-reviewed studies have cast a chill on global warming fears.
"Anthropogenic (man-made) global warming bites the dust," declared astronomer Dr. Ian Wilson after reviewing the new study which has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research. Another scientist said the peer-reviewed study overturned "in one fell swoop" the climate fears promoted by the UN and former Vice President Al Gore. The study entitled "Heat Capacity, Time Constant, and Sensitivity of Earth's Climate System," was authored by Brookhaven National Lab scientist Stephen Schwartz. (LINK)
"Effectively, this (new study) means that the global economy will spend trillions of dollars trying to avoid a warming of ~ 1.0 K by 2100 A.D." Dr. Wilson wrote in a note to the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee on August 19, 2007. Wilson, a former operations astronomer at the Hubble Space Telescope Institute in Baltimore MD, was referring to the trillions of dollars that would be spent under such international global warming treaties like the Kyoto Protocol.
"Previously, I have indicated that the widely accepted values for temperature increase associated with a doubling of CO2 were far too high i.e. 2 - 4.5 Kelvin. This new peer-reviewed paper claims a value of 1.1 +/- 0.5 K increase for a doubling of CO2," he added.
The first thing to note here is the wildly exaggerated claims being made-the consensus "bites the dust," it's "falling apart," overthrown "in one fell swoop"-and the wildly distorted view of science implicit in those claims (not to mention the 2-4 year old's fantasies of omnipotence). No single paper can possibly overturn a decades-long consensus in any scientific field. Things just don't work that way. First of all, peer review is quite important, but it's not a guarantee that the work will stand up over time-or even that it should have been published in the first place. As the scientist-run RealClimate website explains in the article "Peer Review: A Necessary But Not Sufficient Condition":
Put simply, peer review is supposed to weed out poor science. However, it is not foolproof - a deeply flawed paper can end up being published under a number of different potential circumstances: (i) the work is submitted to a journal outside the relevant field (e.g. a paper on paleoclimate submitted to a social science journal) where the reviewers are likely to be chosen from a pool of individuals lacking the expertise to properly review the paper, (ii) too few or too unqualified a set of reviewers are chosen by the editor, (iii) the reviewers or editor (or both) have agendas, and overlook flaws that invalidate the paper's conclusions, and (iv) the journal may process and publish so many papers that individual manuscripts occasionally do not get the editorial attention they deserve.
Thus, while un-peer-reviewed claims should not be given much credence, just because a particular paper has passed through peer review does not absolutely insure that the conclusions are correct or scientifically valid. The "leaks" in the system outlined above unfortunately allow some less-than-ideal work to be published in peer-reviewed journals. This should therefore be a concern when the results of any one particular study are promoted over the conclusions of a larger body of past published work (especially if it is a new study that has not been fully absorbed or assessed by the community). Indeed, this is why scientific assessments such as the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, and the independent reports by the National Academy of Sciences, are so important in giving a balanced overview of the state of knowledge in the scientific research community.
In short, Morano's overheated prose is completely unjustified, just as you thought it was. A single peer-reviewed paper can't even be accepted as true, necessarily, much less be used to overturn a long-standing scientific consensus.
So what about Schwartz's paper? In its "Friday roundup" dated 24 August 2007, RealClimate reported:
An Insensitive Climate?:
A paper by Stephen Schwartz of Brookhaven National Laboratory accepted for publication in the AGU Journal of Geophysical Research is already getting quite a bit of attention in the blogosphere. It argues for a CO2-doubling climate sensitivity of about 1 degree C, markedly lower than just about any other published estimate, well below the low end of the range cited by recent scientific assessments (e.g. the IPCC AR4 report) and inconsistent with any number of other estimates. Why are Schwartz's calculations wrong? The early scientific reviews suggest a couple of reasons: firstly, that modelling the climate as an AR(1) process with a single timescale is an over-simplification; secondly, that a similar analysis in a GCM with a known sensitivity would likely give incorrect results, and finally, that his estimate of the error bars on his calculation are very optimistic. We'll likely have a more thorough analysis of this soon…
Not quite earth-shattering, is it? The underlying attitude exhibited by Morano is that anything that bolsters his side is treated like gospel, like a revelation direct from God, not something that needs to be critically examined. At the same time, anything that bolsters the other side is inherently suspect, not just by the normal standards that require careful checking of any claim, but in terms of a pre-determined double standard which sees them as inherently dishonest and up to no good.
Indeed, Morano goes on to quote a scientist working at the American Enterprise Institute who talks about overturning the "political pretext for the energy-restriction policies." The mechanism of projection at work here is easily spotted: those who politicize absolutely everything accuse anyone who stands in their way of polititicizing absolutely everything.
Morano continues with a section quoting extensively from a former Harvard physicist, Dr. Lubos Motl, a self-described "conservative physicist" from the Czech Republic, who seemingly, like Boehmer-Christiansen, has transfered his quite understandable hostility toward the repressive bureaucracy of Eastern Europe onto the far-flung community of climate scientists. Among other things, Morano quotes Motl saying the new study has reduced proponents of man-made climate fears to "playing the children's game to scare each other." Motl himself is a string theorist with no particular expertise in climate science. But he's beligerant, and sweepingly dismisses the entire scientific community, so why not quote him at length?
There follows another section, "Overturning IPCC consensus 'in one fell swoop'" which is basically just reporting an American Enterprise Institute flak pushing the Stephen Schwartz paper discussed above. More codpiece strutting.
Then, there's the section that starts off like this:
UK officially admits: Global warming has stopped!
Recent scientific studies may make 2007 go down in history as the "tipping point" of man-made global warming fears. A progression of peer-reviewed studies have been published which serve to debunk the United Nations, former Vice President Al Gore, and the media engineered "consensus" on climate change.
Paleoclimate scientist Bob Carter, who has testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works (LINK), noted in a June 18, 2007 essay that global warming has stopped.
"The accepted global average temperature statistics used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change show that no ground-based warming has occurred since 1998. Oddly, this eight-year-long temperature stasis has occurred despite an increase over the same period of 15 parts per million (or 4 per cent) in atmospheric CO2. Second, lower atmosphere satellite-based temperature measurements, if corrected for non-greenhouse influences such as El Nino events and large volcanic eruptions, show little if any global warming since 1979, a period over which atmospheric CO2 has increased by 55 ppm (17 %)," (LINK)
In August 2007, the UK Met Office was finally forced to concede the obvious: global warming has stopped. (LINK) The UK Met Office acknowledged the flat lining of global temperatures, but in an apparent attempt to keep stoking man-made climate alarm, the Met Office is now promoting more unproven dire computer model projections of the future. They now claim climate computer models predict "global warming will begin in earnest in 2009" because greenhouse emissions will then overtake natural climate variability.
The section headline is, of course, a lie. Two links away, we come to Morano's source, a story titled Natural forces offset global warming last two years: study, reporting a completely unremarkable fact: global warming is a longterm trend that is readily masked by short-term variations, but shows no signs of stopping:
Natural weather variations have offset the effects of global warming for the past couple of years and will continue to keep temperatures flat through 2008, a study released Thursday said.
But global warming will begin in earnest in 2009, and a couple of the years between 2009 and 2014 will eclipse 1998, the warmest year on record to date, in the heat stakes, British meteorologists said.
Morano might also have observed that temperatures continue to go down during winter, as well as during the night.
In the real world, here's what the worldwide data presented by NASA at the Goddard Institute website look like:
[Full-size original here. Part of a collection of graphs indexed here.]
Uh, yeah. That red line really stopped going up, now didn't it? Screeching halt. Flat as a pancake. Whatever.
If that's not enough for you, click here for a chart of combined temperature proxy data (ice cores, tree rings, etc.) since 200 AD, so you can really see how fast temperatures are rising in a larger perspective. The blog post contextualizing the chart is "Hockey Sticks" at Open Mind.
If there were a serious debate about global warming, anyone using such transparently dishonest arguments would be summarily dismissed. In a serious debate, people are penalized for making bad arguments-it reflects poorly on their overall judgement, not to mention their honesty and integrity. But there is no serious debate about global warming. There is simply an effort to obfuscate and confuse. Which means throwing anything that sounds bad or distracts into the mix.
Which is why long lists of items that don't stand up to scrutiny are such an appealing ruse.
Did I say something about long lists of items that don't stand up to scrutiny? Well, what a coincidence! Because the next thing Morano offers is a list of 15 items Going through them all would take at least a couple of posts as long-winded as this one. But just to take a peak at a couple of them, almost at random, we find the following.
The second one contains this passage:
The study does not state that CO2 plays no role in warming the earth. "But it can never play the decisive role that is currently attributed to it", climate scientist Luc Debontridder said. "Not CO2, but water vapor is the most important greenhouse gas. It is responsible for at least 75 % of the greenhouse effect. This is a simple scientific fact, but Al Gore's movie has hyped CO2 so much that nobody seems to take note of it." said Debontridder. "Every change in weather conditions is blamed on CO2. But the warm winters of the last few years (in Belgium) are simply due to the 'North-Atlantic Oscillation'. And this has absolutely nothing to do with CO2," he added.
Whatever the study referred to says, Debontridder is talking condescending nonsense, which does not bode well for his paper. "The greenhouse effect," commonly spoken of is really shorthand for the "enhanced greenhouse effect," precisely because the dominant role of water vapor and pre-industrial age CO2 is so well known that it's taken for granted. (In the same equally irrelevent way, the Sun is the ultimate cause of the greenhouse effect. Without the Sun, the Earth would be as cold as Pluto. But, of course, without the formation of the Milky Way galaxy...)
More to the point, not only have people "take[n] note of it," as a matter of fact, the role of water vapor was a big part of the reason why the original warning about global warming in the 1800s was ignored for over half a century, as explained at RealClimate in "A Saturated Gassy Argument":
Some people have been arguing that simple physics shows there is already so much CO2 in the air that its effect on infrared radiation is "saturated"- meaning that adding more gas can make scarcely any difference in how much radiation gets through the atmosphere, since all the radiation is already blocked. And besides, isn't water vapor already blocking all the infrared rays that CO2 ever would?
The arguments do sound good, so good that in fact they helped to suppress research on the greenhouse effect for half a century. In 1900, shortly after Svante Arrhenius published his pathbreaking argument that our use of fossil fuels will eventually warm the planet, another scientist, Knut Ångström, asked an assistant, Herr J. Koch, to do a simple experiment.... The American meteorological community was alerted to Ångström's result in a commentary appearing in the June, 1901 issue of Monthly Weather Review, which used the result to caution "geologists" against adhering to Arrhenius' wild ideas.
Still more persuasive to scientists of the day was the fact that water vapor, which is far more abundant in the air than carbon dioxide, also intercepts infrared radiation. In the infrared spectrum, the main bands where each gas blocked radiation overlapped one another. How could adding CO2 affect radiation in bands of the spectrum that H2O (not to mention CO2 itself) already made opaque? As these ideas spread, even scientists who had been enthusiastic about Arrhenius's work decided it was in error. Work on the question stagnated. If there was ever an "establishment" view about the greenhouse effect, it was confidence that the CO2 emitted by humans could not affect anything so grand as the Earth's climate.
Nobody was interested in thinking about the matter deeply enough to notice the flaw in the argument.
In short, Debontridder-speaking as a presumed "authority" dismissing the ignorant heathens-is taking the history of global warming science and standing it on its head. This is the sort of material that Morano's list is full of. Small findings (or not) blown up to mammoth proportions, ultimately resulting in a Homer Simpsonish "D'oh!" It's just what Morano deserves for putting on airs like he's smarter than Lisa.
Don't believe me? Here's another one:
11) Team of Scientists Question Validity Of A 'Global Temperature' - The study was published in Journal of Non-Equilibrium Thermodynamics. Excerpt from a March 18, 2007 article in Science Daily: "Discussions on global warming often refer to 'global temperature.' Yet the concept is thermodynamically as well as mathematically an impossibility, says Bjarne Andresen, a professor at The Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, who has analyzed this topic in collaboration with professors Christopher Essex from University of Western Ontario and Ross McKitrick from University of Guelph, Canada." The Science Daily article reads: "It is impossible to talk about a single temperature for something as complicated as the climate of Earth", Bjarne Andresen says, an expert of thermodynamics. "A temperature can be defined only for a homogeneous system. Furthermore, the climate is not governed by a single temperature. Rather, differences of temperatures drive the processes and create the storms, sea currents, thunder, etc. which make up the climate."
Wow! Next thing you know, Professor Andresen will be telling us that it gets colder in winter and at night. Did you know that, Lisa?
Maybe that's why Google gives me about 104,000 hits for "average global temperature".
But, seriously, stop and think about it. What's the reasoninig behind this item? Global warming is impossible, because there's no such thing as a global temperature? Is that it? So what if the ice-caps melt and oceans rise thirty feet? No global temperature, no global warming! Yeah, that's the ticket!
The pattern here should be obvious. Morano is trying to use scientists as oracles. The ones who say things he likes, that is. It doesn't really matter what they say. We aren't supposed to critically think about what they're saying. Because they're not being listened to as scientists, they're being listened to as authorities. And authoritarians loves them some authorities. Of course, this means they must demean and humiliate scientists who disagree, which helps explain why Morano quotes Motl-a string theorist with no expertise in climate science-dismissing the real experts as "playing the children's game to scare each other."
But enough of the rest of the list, it's time for...