Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Last Gasp of Climate Denial Groups

The headline in the Guardian says it all: "No longer taken seriously, we're seeing the last gasp of climate denial groups." Written by scientist and regular Guardian contributor, Dana Nuccitelli, explores the recent lecture given by "Lord" Matt Ridley, a somewhat journalist known for his misleading (to be kind) support of climate change denial lobbyists. Most specifically in this regard is the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), an anti-science climate denial policy lobbying organization in the UK.

Click on the link above to read Nuccitelli's debunking of Ridley's repetition of the usual denier talking points, all of which have been debunked over and over and over before.

In a nutshell, Ridley is wrong to claim that environmental predictions are "always exaggerated." The examples he gives weren't exaggerated (in fact, they were likely underestimated) AND they were corrected by taking appropriate policy action. We took responsibility for them and fixed them.

Ridley is also wrong to claim "model predictions have been consistently wrong." In fact, models have been remarkably accurate. If anything, they have underpredicted the rate and magnitude of man-made climate change.

Ridley is absolutely wrong to claim "the best evidence" indicates climate sensitivity is "relatively low." In fact, he's carefully, and dishonestly, cherry picked the handful of studies he likes and ignored all the majority of studies that he doesn't like.

Finally, Ridley is wrong again when he suggests that all the world's scientists for the last 100+ years are in on some grand conspiracy. Frankly, when you have to have global, multigenerational conspiracies to "explain" your position, you know you have no scientific evidence.

Again, these points are discussed in detail in Nuccitelli's excellent debunking.

Why was this talk even given?

But let's step back and explore the "last gasp" part of the title. The Ridley talk was given on the premises of the Royal Society, which is the UK's version of the National  Academy of Sciences. The obvious question is why would the Royal Society open up its conference facility to such a person as Matt Ridley, especially as he was there representing the GWPF lobbying organization? Many scientists asked this question as well, rightly concerned that the GWPF was attempting to garner some undue credibility by having the talk in such a prestigious location.

Like most scientific organizations, the Royal Society (RS) is underfunded and often rents out its conference rooms to outside groups. Once a contract is signed they can't really cancel the event without cause. Apparently the RS initially thought that since the science is unequivocal, having a "policy" oriented talk would focus on policy options for addressing the science.

Not surprisingly, that isn't what Ridley did. As usual for GWPF, he spent the majority of his lecture denying the science rather than proposing policy measures. That is par for the course for denial lobbyists, who prefer to deny the existence of reality instead of take responsibility for addressing it.

And so the "last gasp." Denial lobbyists have painted themselves into the corner of their own rhetoric. They've been denying the unequivocal science of man-made climate change for so long and with such clearly divorced-from-reality deception that they have no honest way of shifting to actual policy discussions. Given that their denial is so obviously dishonest, they have nothing left than to try stunts like this. "Ooh, what a coup. We're at the Royal Society. That will get us some credibility!"

Dana Nuccitelli's Guardian article shows the result is the opposite. Other than their ideological Facebook spammers, no one takes the denial lobbyists and their spokespeople seriously any more. The Paris climate agreement recently went into force earlier than expected because the nations of the world understand the necessity of dealing with the unequivocal science. Deniers are becoming more and more pathetic and alone in their denial.

Denial lobbying groups like GWPF, Heartland Institute, Cato Institute, George C. Marshall Institute, and all the other fossil fuel- and libertarian-funded lobbyists and their hired spokespeople have devolved into self-parody, much like, as Nuccitelli notes, the Trump-led Republican party in the United States.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) - The Smoking Gun of Climate Change

Carbon dioxide - the smoking gun of global warming! There, I said it. So far in this series we've established that the greenhouse effect is the normal process that keeps our planet within a reasonable temperature range so that we can live here. Now we'll jump ahead a bit and show why we know that it is CO2 from fossil fuels that is causing the rising global temperatures. This will take several posts so to begin with I'll focus on a series of graphs that will clearly show the relationship between CO2 and temperature.

First, a reminder of what has been happening with temperatures since 1880. In this land-ocean temperature index graph it's pretty clear that average global temperatures have been rising.

Now, what has been happening with CO2? Well, we have more than 50 years of very high quality continuous data on CO2 taken at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. The famous Keeling curve shows that CO2 has been rising steadily during that time. The line line goes up and down because CO2 release is seasonal. This year we passed 400 ppm, a 40% increase over pre-industrial highs.

By the way, if you look at the temperature graph and then the Mauna Loa CO2 graph you'll notice that the relationship isn't linear. In other words, while the CO2 has had a fairly steady and even climb, the temperature tends to go up and down in the short-term because there are important short-term events (e.g., El Nino, La Nina, AO, etc.) or other pollutant impacts (e.g., aerosols), not to mention the occasional volcano, that can either enhance or inhibit the effects of CO2. Anyone who suggests that there is an exact one-for-one linear relationship between CO2 concentration and temperature on a short-term basis clearly doesn't understand the science. In any case, even with the short-term "noise" you can still clearly see the longer-term climb in temperatures along with the CO2.

Okay, continuing on, you can also track back and see how CO2 and two other greenhouse gases have increased dramatically in the last century.

I'll come back and talk about methane and nitrous oxide in future posts, so for now just focus on the carbon dioxide (CO2), the red line in the graph above. So how does the CO2 relate to the temperature. In the graph below you can easily see that temperatures (cool blue to warm red) have increased as CO2 increased (the black line).

The following graph also shows the correlation between increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere and temperatures.

Looking pretty clear, isn't it. And it is pretty clear. As I've discussed in previous posts the dynamics of the greenhouse effect are basic physics, and they were first discovered 200 years ago. Of course, science always will look at new data, and with the incredible growth of technology, use of satellites, ability to measure ice cores and ocean depths, etc., climate scientists from all disciplines have been able to find more and more data, and all of it supports the concept that CO2 is causing an increased warming of the atmosphere.

Okay, this post has hit some of the highlights and tried to show the correlation with graphs. I'll take a closer look at key points in future posts. For now I'll leave you with one more graph. Scientists often get asked how they know it is human activity that is causing the increasing temperatures. The following is just one way we know. Graphs for each part of the world show the same trends.

I'll talk more about this later, so for now just look at the black line and the pink and blue bands in each small graph. The black lines are the observed (measured) temperatures in each geographical region going back to the early 1900s. The blue bands show the results of modeling with just the natural forcings, like those things I talked about in earlier posts. The pink bands show the results of modeling when human activity forcings are added to the calculations. Guess what. The modeling thatincludes human activity match pretty well in all regions to the actual observedtemperatures. The modeling that omits the human component, well, not so much.

[This is part of a series of posts explaining the basic science of climate change. More posts will be added weekly.]