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Daily Archives: January 17, 2011


Richard Lindzen: AGW movement driven by money, power and dubious science

That’s the conclusion I gathered from a devastating essay Richard Lindzen published this past Saturday.  Here are the lead 2 paragraphs:

The notion of a static, unchanging climate is foreign to the history of the earth or any other planet with a fluid envelope. The fact that the developed world went into hysterics over changes in global mean temperature anomaly of a few tenths of a degree will astound future generations. Such hysteria simply represents the scientific illiteracy of much of the public, the susceptibility of the public to the substitution of repetition for truth, and the exploitation of these weaknesses by politicians, environmental promoters, and, after 20 years of media drum beating, many others as well. Climate is always changing. We have had ice ages and warmer periods when alligators were found in Spitzbergen. Ice ages have occurred in a hundred thousand year cycle for the last 700 thousand years, and there have been previous periods that appear to have been warmer than the present despite CO2 levels being lower than they are now. More recently, we have had the medieval warm period and the little ice age. During the latter, alpine glaciers advanced to the chagrin of overrun villages. Since the beginning of the 19th Century these glaciers have been retreating. Frankly, we don’t fully understand either the advance or the retreat.

For small changes in climate associated with tenths of a degree, there is no need for any external cause. The earth is never exactly in equilibrium. The motions of the massive oceans where heat is moved between deep layers and the surface provides variability on time scales from years to centuries. Recent work (Tsonis et al, 2007), suggests that this variability is enough to account for all climate change since the 19th Century.

One of the reasons I constantly ask those who believe in AGW what the “perfect temperature” for the world is and how we can achieve it is I understand that the only constant in the earth’s climate is change.   The world’s climate has always been changing in various cycles since its formation.  History shows us that we’ve had periods of more CO2 than now, warmer periods than now and neither of the events can be explained away by blaming man.

How we got into this scared mode of screaming about gloom and doom if we don’t do something is both interesting and constructive.  But a couple of things first.   Lindzen discusses the role of models in the current debate and why anyone seeing their output should be very skeptical of their conclusions.  He first discusses the “dominant role” of cumulus convection in the tropics and how the models handled that.  His discussion is a scathing critique of the models used:

For warming since 1979, there is a further problem. The dominant role of cumulus convection in the tropics requires that temperature approximately follow what is called a moist adiabatic profile. This requires that warming in the tropical upper troposphere be 2-3 times greater than at the surface. Indeed, all models do show this, but the data doesn’t and this means that something is wrong with the data. It is well known that above about 2 km altitude, the tropical temperatures are pretty homogeneous in the horizontal so that sampling is not a problem. Below two km (roughly the height of what is referred to as the trade wind inversion), there is much more horizontal variability, and, therefore, there is a profound sampling problem. Under the circumstances, it is reasonable to conclude that the problem resides in the surface data, and that the actual trend at the surface is about 60% too large. Even the claimed trend is larger than what models would have projected but for the inclusion of an arbitrary fudge factor due to aerosol cooling. The discrepancy was reported by Lindzen (2007) and by Douglass et al (2007). Inevitably in climate science, when data conflicts with models, a small coterie of scientists can be counted upon to modify the data. Thus, Santer, et al (2008), argue that stretching uncertainties in observations and models might marginally eliminate the inconsistency. That the data should always need correcting to agree with models is totally implausible and indicative of a certain corruption within the climate science community.

It turns out that there is a much more fundamental and unambiguous check of the role of feedbacks in enhancing greenhouse warming that also shows that all models are greatly exaggerating climate sensitivity. Here, it must be noted that the greenhouse effect operates by inhibiting the cooling of the climate by reducing net outgoing radiation. However, the contribution of increasing CO2 alone does not, in fact, lead to much warming (approximately 1 deg. C for each doubling of CO2).

The larger predictions from climate models are due to the fact that, within these models, the more important greenhouse substances, water vapor and clouds, act to greatly amplify whatever CO2 does. This is referred to as a positive feedback. It means that increases in surface temperature are accompanied by reductions in the net outgoing radiation – thus enhancing the greenhouse warming. All climate models show such changes when forced by observed surface temperatures. Satellite observations of the earth’s radiation budget allow us to determine whether such a reduction does, in fact, accompany increases in surface temperature in nature. As it turns out, the satellite data from the ERBE instrument (Barkstrom, 1984, Wong et al, 2006) shows that the feedback in nature is strongly negative — strongly reducing the direct effect of CO2 (Lindzen and Choi, 2009) in profound contrast to the model behavior. This analysis makes clear that even when all models agree, they can all be wrong, and that this is the situation for the all important question of climate sensitivity.

So there is your “consensus” and, as Lindzen points out, the consensus is/was wrong.   Furthermore:

According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the greenhouse forcing from man made greenhouse gases is already about 86% of what one expects from a doubling of CO2 (with about half coming from methane, nitrous oxide, freons and ozone), and alarming predictions depend on models for which the sensitivity to a doubling for CO2 is greater than 2C which implies that we should already have seen much more warming than we have seen thus far, even if all the warming we have seen so far were due to man. This contradiction is rendered more acute by the fact that there has been no statistically significant net global warming for the last fourteen years. Modelers defend this situation, as we have already noted, by arguing that aerosols have cancelled much of the warming (viz Schwartz et al, 2010), and that models adequately account for natural unforced internal variability. However, a recent paper (Ramanathan, 2007) points out that aerosols can warm as well as cool, while scientists at the UK’s Hadley Centre for Climate Research recently noted that their model did not appropriately deal with natural internal variability thus demolishing the basis for the IPCC’s iconic attribution (Smith et al, 2007).

The basic reason we’re still battling this nonsense? Uh, would you believe the usual – power and money:

When an issue like global warming is around for over twenty years, numerous agendas are developed to exploit the issue. The interests of the environmental movement in acquiring more power, influence, and donations are reasonably clear. So too are the interests of bureaucrats for whom control of CO2 is a dream-come-true. After all, CO2 is a product of breathing itself. Politicians can see the possibility of taxation that will be cheerfully accepted because it is necessary for ‘saving’ the earth. Nations have seen how to exploit this issue in order to gain competitive advantages. But, by now, things have gone much further. The case of ENRON (a now bankrupt Texas energy firm) is illustrative in this respect. Before disintegrating in a pyrotechnic display of unscrupulous manipulation, ENRON had been one of the most intense lobbyists for Kyoto. It had hoped to become a trading firm dealing in carbon emission rights. This was no small hope. These rights are likely to amount to over a trillion dollars, and the commissions will run into many billions. Hedge funds are actively examining the possibilities; so was the late Lehman Brothers. Goldman Sachs has lobbied extensively for the ‘cap and trade’ bill, and is well positioned to make billions. It is probably no accident that Gore, himself, is associated with such activities. The sale of indulgences is already in full swing with organizations selling offsets to one’s carbon footprint while sometimes acknowledging that the offsets are irrelevant. The possibilities for corruption are immense. Archer Daniels Midland (America’s largest agribusiness) has successfully lobbied for ethanol requirements for gasoline, and the resulting demand for ethanol may already be contributing to large increases in corn prices and associated hardship in the developing world (not to mention poorer car performance). And finally, there are the numerous well meaning individuals who have allowed propagandists to convince them that in accepting the alarmist view of anthropogenic climate change, they are displaying intelligence and virtue. For them, their psychic welfare is at stake.

So essentially, Lindzen is appealing for us all to stop this madness and, in a calm, rational way, discuss what we do know and why it isn’t a threat that needs drastic and expensive intervention  – for instance:

Given that the evidence (and I have noted only a few of many pieces of evidence) strongly implies that anthropogenic warming has been greatly exaggerated, the basis for alarm due to such warming is similarly diminished. However, a really important point is that the case for alarm would still be weak even if anthropogenic global warming were significant. Polar bears, arctic summer sea ice, regional droughts and floods, coral bleaching, hurricanes, alpine glaciers, malaria, etc. etc. all depend not on some global average of surface temperature anomaly, but on a huge number of regional variables including temperature, humidity, cloud cover, precipitation, and direction and magnitude of wind. The state of the ocean is also often crucial. Our ability to forecast any of these over periods beyond a few days is minimal (a leading modeler refers to it as essentially guesswork). Yet, each catastrophic forecast depends on each of these being in a specific range. The odds of any specific catastrophe actually occurring are almost zero. This was equally true for earlier forecasts of famine for the 1980′s, global cooling in the 1970′s, Y2K and many others. Regionally, year to year fluctuations in temperature are over four times larger than fluctuations in the global mean. Much of this variation has to be independent of the global mean; otherwise the global mean would vary much more. This is simply to note that factors other than global warming are more important to any specific situation. This is not to say that disasters will not occur; they always have occurred and this will not change in the future. Fighting global warming with symbolic gestures will certainly not change this. However, history tells us that greater wealth and development can profoundly increase our resilience.

Trying to claim there is a “global climate” and define it with a perfect temperature seems a fools errand in light of what Lindzen points out above about regional variability.  The models don’t explain those regional variables or their effects very well at all.  In fact, they insist on a “global” view vs. the view Lindzen gives us, and that makes the attempt to globalize regional events even more suspect.

My favorite paragraph though, is Lindzen’s parting shot , er, conclusion:

With all this at stake, one can readily suspect that there might be a sense of urgency provoked by the possibility that warming may have ceased and that the case for such warming as was seen being due in significant measure to man, disintegrating. For those committed to the more venal agendas, the need to act soon, before the public appreciates the situation, is real indeed. However, for more serious leaders, the need to courageously resist hysteria is clear. Wasting resources on symbolically fighting ever present climate change is no substitute for prudence. Nor is the assumption that the earth’s climate reached a point of perfection in the middle of the twentieth century a sign of intelligence.

I’m still laughing over the last sentence.   Given any intelligence and a smattering of curiosity about climate history, even a cursory examination of that history makes one immediately suspicious of the claims by the AGW crowd and very skeptical of the science.  For those who Lindzen describes as “well meaning individuals who have allowed propagandists to convince them that in accepting the alarmist view of anthropogenic climate change, they are displaying intelligence and virtue”, he’s saying it is neither intelligent or virtuous.

All I can say is, “agreed”.

~McQ


Was it bias or lack of time that caused the NYT to get the Giffords story so wrong? Or both?

The New York Times public editor, Arthur Brisbane, engages in a little self-criticism of the Times.  It is about the Giffords shooting, and it highlights one of my critiques of the media for years.

That is, it feels the need to get the story out first rather than getting the story out right.  Or perhaps “feels the need” isn’t the right way to say that – the media has devolved into an industry where getting the story out first has become more of a priority than getting it out right.

The Giffords shooting and the Times give us the perfect case study.  First the premise:

JIM ROBERTS, the assistant managing editor who has helped create today’s NYTimes.com, likes to call it the 1440/7 news cycle — 1,440 minutes every day, seven days a week, each one of those minutes demanding news for delivery to a networked world.

In a word – wrong.

I don’t know about you, but as a consumer of news, what some might call a news junkie, I’m not demanding “news for delivery” in every one of those minutes.  Heck, I couldn’t absorb that much news – nor could anyone else.  What I want is factual, complete and comprehensive news delivered when it is ready to be delivered – i.e. confirmed and out of the realm of rumor.

In the case of the Giffords shooting the Times failed miserably at meeting my demand.  Brisbane details the failure.

A major breaking news event, occurring on a Saturday afternoon with a small staff on duty, with print deadlines to worry about and a Web site that needed to be fed as fast and as frequently as possible.

The Times’ first online posting came at 1:47 p.m., followed by two quick updates — at 1:53 and 2:16. These stories, pieced together from other news organizations that were on the ground in Tucson, reported the shootings and other basic facts, attributing word of the shooting to the congresswoman’s spokesman, C. J. Karamargin. At this point, her condition was described as “unclear.”

At 2:27, though, the story was revised to say Ms. Giffords had been shot and killed, attributing the information to Mr. Karamargin and “news reports.” Lower in the story, those news reports were identified as coming from NPR and CNN. As it turned out, the information was incorrect. The Times compounded the error by appearing to attribute it in part to Ms. Giffords’s own spokesman, who was not the source of the error.

Or said another way, the Times got it completely wrong and really didn’t know they had.  The question then is this – did anyone get on the phone to NPR and CNN or Rep. Giffords spokesperson and try to confirm the details?  Apparently not.

Enter the infamous “3 layers of editors”:

Here’s how the error was made. It was hectic in the newsroom with many news reports flowing in as Kathleen McElroy, the day Web news editor, was trying to decide whether The Times was ready to report Giffords’s death. She decided against it and was telling Web producers to hold off reporting it in a news alert when J. David Goodman, who was writing the story, told her he had a few changes he wanted to make.

Ms. McElroy said, “I should have looked at every change,” but she thought Mr. Goodman was referring to small stuff. Mr. Goodman told me he then erred by reporting Representative Giffords’s death in the lead as though The Times itself were standing behind the information. In any event, Ms. McElroy had said O.K. without seeing that change, so Mr. Goodman pushed the button.

And suddenly, the Times was reporting, unedited, the death of Giffords.

Brisbane entitles his critique, “Time, the enemy”.  I call BS.  It wasn’t time that was the enemy, it was the unspoken premise that says “it is more important to get it out first than to get it out right” that seems to have infiltrated the media.  Brisbane sort of admits to that in another paragraph:

The Tucson shootings afforded another, quite different illustration of the pressure of time in news coverage — not pressure measured in seconds and minutes, but pressure that news organizations feel to define the context of a story, to set up a frame for it, sometimes before the facts can be fully understood.

Note his choice of words.  “define the context of a story” – “to set up a frame for it”.  He claims that has to be done “sometimes before the facts can be fully understood’”.

Really?  How in the freakin’ world does one “define the context of a story” without knowing the facts?  Well, as it turns out, they’re reduced to making assumptions and those assumptions, in the case of Giffords, were wrong.

The Times’s day-one coverage in some of its Sunday print editions included a strong focus on the political climate in Arizona and the nation. For some readers — and I share this view to an extent — placing the violence in the broader political context was problematic.

It wasn’t “problematic”, it was, as one reader claimed “a rush to judgment”.  So what was that rush to judgment based on?

One would have to assume, given the Times admits it didn’t have all the facts, it was based in bias.  How else does one “set up a frame” for a story for which it admittedly doesn’t have all the facts or “before the facts can be fully understood”?  You go with what you believe to be true, that’s how.

And, apparently, that’s precisely what the NYT and a whole bunch of other news organizations, politicians, pundits and bloggers did.

So strong was this bias that the Times admits it missed even more facts available and germane to the story:

Meanwhile, opportunities were missed to pick up on evidence — quite apparent as early as that first day — that Jared Lee Loughner, who is charged with the shootings, had a mental disorder and might not have been motivated by politics at all.

Fancy that – with the story framed the way the bias dictated, the Times wasn’t looking for facts that might contradict or dispute their frame. 

Is that what happened?  Well, not according to Brisbane.  You see, it was a function of “framing protocols” developed “generations ago”.

My, my – you mean like this nonsense?  If this is the function of generational framing protocols it would seem to me media organizations would be taking a serious look at modifying them.

Jerry Ceppos, dean of the journalism school at the University of Nevada, Reno, said journalists’ impulse to quickly impose a frame on a story is “genetic.”

“Journalists developed automatic framing protocols generations ago because of the need to report quickly,” he said. “Today’s hyper-deadlines, requiring journalists to report all day long and all night long, made that genetic disposition even more dominant.”

Nonsense. It may be "genetic" to an organization, but it is hardly "genetic" in the real sense to reporters. It is what is demanded of them by the media organization. And when that is what is demanded, inaccurate stories and bias are what you will get. And that’s precisely what the Times got.

A self-imposed dictum of "publish or die" has overridden that of "get the facts, corroborate them and get the story right" that should be dominant in any media organization. This internal requirement to "get it out first" instead of "get it out right" has naturally led to short-cuts – like pre-conceived frames which can be imposed even "before all the facts are understood".

The editors simply make assumptions based on what they initially have heard and then select the "facts" that support those assumptions. In short, they establish a bias and then "support" it. Brisbane’s two pages of equivocation and "transparency" aside, that’s the short version of what happened.

~McQ