Monday, July 30, 2012

Re-Counting the Deck Chairs on the Titanic?

Two recent announcements on the Climate Change front have the blogosphere buzzing:

Richard A. Muller announced an updated paper, in the NY Times Opinion Page, originally presented and rejected for publication in 2011, claiming that global warming is indeed occurring and "essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases." Oh, and he also claimed, again, despite evidence to the contrary, that he is a "converted skeptic." 

Just in the nick of time, Anthony Watts announced on Sunday the paper he and others have been working on since June 2011, consisting of a reassessment of temperature instrumentation siting across North America based on a newly certified method of classification of siting criteria. Unlike the Muller paper, Watts has made the contents and data available openly for all to view and critique.

Despite evident similarities in scientific grandstanding, neither paper offers anything to a produce a sea-change in conclusions about the reality and nature of anthropogenic climate change. Muller's paper amounts to saying, "And another thing..." a year and half after the argument is over. Watts paper, makes an important contribution to the interpretation of a a small part of available atmospheric data, and may point the way to a reassessment of surface temperature measurements throughout the world.

LuboÅ¡ Motl, in his blog, The Reference Frame, asks: Have Muller or Watts transformed the AGW landscape? The answer, of course, is "No."

Science doesn't work that way. Science is not advanced by opinion pieces in the New York Times nor strategically timed blog announcements, both designed to build popular interest in otherwise esoteric studies of scientific methodology. Science advances by the slow accumulation of observations, painstaking hypothesis testing of theories to explain those observations and careful modification, or in extreme cases, rejection, of established theory. Science doesn't take place in the blogosphere or on rapidly yellowing newsprint.

The climate science hyperbole exposed this past weekend is not about science, it is about credibility.

Despite recent headlines, there are only two scientific questions about climate variation of importance to politicians, policy-makers and the general public: 

Does CO2 produced by human activities contribute significantly to observed changes in global average surface temperature and, thusly, global weather patterns? The corollary question is: Will reduction of human atmospheric CO2 production significantly reduce future increases in global average surface temperatures and resulting changes in global weather patterns?

On these two questions, climate science is equivocal.

The controversy centers of the observed correlation between variation in global average surface temperature and global average atmospheric CO2 concentration. 

Global average atmospheric CO2 concentration has increased at a steady rate since modern measurements began in 1957. 

Global average surface temperature has increased variably since modern measurements began in  1885 (in most places), 1650 in the UK.

Those who support human origin of increased temperature point out that atmospheric CO2 warms the atmosphere, and note the (rough) correlation between these two graphs and proclaim linear causation. 

Judith Curry has this to say about observation-based attribution.

Those who do not support causation point out that correlation does not equal causation, and also notice that, while global average surface temperature has fluctuated throughout the study period, global average CO2 concentrations have retained a steady, linear rate of increase.

Furthermore, ice core records reveal a 200 to 800-year global lag between prehistoric global average surface temperature fluctuations and subsequent prehistoric atmospheric CO2 concentrations, indicating that atmospheric CO2 concentration variation is driven by global average surface temperature, not the other way round. 

While global average surface temperature may be a largely irrelevant mathematical computation, it is increasingly evident that atmospheric dynamics are driven, to a large extent, by natural cosmic forces, such as Milanković  Cycles, solar magnetic variation and cosmic rays.

It remains to be seen whether the Muller and Watts papers are recounting the deck chairs on the Titanic, or building new acceleration couches aboard SpaceShipOne.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

How to Craft Headlines to Mold Public Opinion

I’ve been disturbed for some time with the propensity of news headline writers to ignore the content of the articles being headlined in favor of hyperbole, misrepresentation and outright falsehood.

The recent news flap about a sudden “melt” on the Greenland ice sheet is a perfect example of escalating “Headline Wars.”

The article in question describes a recent sudden melting of the upper surface of 97% of Greenland’s ice sheet. In the above headline, fairly modest compared to others, the melt is described as “unprecedented.”

However, “Common Dreams Staff” and/or the headline writer, ignored the explanation contained in the article so headlined:

"Ice cores from Summit show that melting events of this type occur about once every 150 years on average. With the last one happening in 1889, this event is right on time," says Lora Koenig, a Goddard glaciologist and a member of the research team analyzing the satellite data.”
The observed melt is not at all “unprecedented,” having been recorded in historic times and repeatedly earlier.
Some headlines have gone even further, from The Independent. 

Voice of America, in an article that deletes the paragraph about historical periodicty:

Associated Press:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Nearly all of Greenland's massive ice sheet suddenly started melting a bit this month, a freak event that surprised scientists.
This paragrah is a complete lie, as only the surface of the ice sheet melted slightly for a few hours.

Only one source questioned the hyperbolic headlines of its sister publications: in a refreshingly rational article by weatherman JUSTIN BERK

In all of the media hype over Global Warming and Climate Change, no periodicals or news web sites publish scientific literature that calls to question the Anthropogenic Global Warming hypothesis. It’s no wonder the news reading public has become inured to lurid headlines and hyperbolic claims by media pundits. The public has nothing to compare against this headline propaganda onslaught. Few read the story through to the end, even if it does contain an explanation that contradicts the headlines. Most people get their news impressions from headlines and pictures.
Editors, and their handlers, know this well.
Far be it from me to suggest that the news is manipulated by extra-editorial interests. We have a “Free Press” after all, free to print whatever is in the interest of the owners of the press, that is.
This is one advantage that can be gained by reading the news in computer based news aggregators that present the same subject material from a variety of sources. One can compare headlines and content across a broad spectrum.
It’s amazing what one can discover through critical reading and analysis. You may not find The Truth, but you can reveal The Lies in the headlines.

UnCommon Nightmares

I've recently noticed disturbing trends in the content of alleged “news” web sites such as Common Dreams.

I write comments on these sites frequently, mainly because their “news” articles frequently leave out critical parts of stories that do not fit the bias of the publication. (More on this later.) I have frequented Common Dreams, in the past, because it was a central source of articles from around the world on topics I’m particularly interested in, such as climate change.

I was deeply disturbed this past week, after a lengthy exchange on a climate change article on Common Dreams, to see the following announcement.

 All “news” web sites have rules about commenting behavior. It’s necessary to avoid spam, flames and other distracting posts. I moderate each comment to this blog for the same reason, using my own set of criteria. I think I’ve only excluded one comment in the many years I’ve written this blog and I have never banned anyone from submitting comments.

For whatever undisclosed reason(s) (I have received no response to my email query), “Common Dreams Staff” has decided that I may no longer contribute my comments critical of mainstream “Global Warming” hysteria. Others who comment in support of Global Warming articles, no matter how inflammatory, inane or repetitive, continue to post. Yet my comments pointing out the science that contradicts the Anthropogenic Global Warming hypotheses are denied exposure.

Not only am I denied access to future comments on Common Dreams, all of my prevous comments managed by Disqus have been disappeared down the Memory Hole. This is 1984 writ large in 2012.

This action by Common Dreams Staff is the culmination of a trend I've observed with concern since the first of the year.

I’ve noticed, with considerable irritation, a number of articles on Common Dreams attributed to “Common Dreams Staff,” at first postings that cited more than one article and source, but more recently, articles written by Common Dreams Staff and only incidentally referring to other press releases.

The change began on January 2rd of this year with the byline “, rather than the usual byline indicating where an article was originally published.

This was followed, on January 4 by a one line, unattributed comment in an article bylined, and the first article attributed to “Common Dreams Staff.”

After January 4, the part of the article written by unspecified “Common Dreams Staff” increased in length, until recently, when entire articles started to appear, attributed to “Common Dreams Staff,” with no credit given to the articles’ author(s).

Scientists fear the impact of feedback loops as dramatic ice loss begets further melting

Searching for “Common Dreams Staff” on their web site reveals five “Key Staff:” Craig Brown, Jon Quelly, Andrea Germanos, Abbey Zimet and Malory Shaughnessy. As near as I can determine, none of these “Key Staff” have been credited as authors of Common Dreams articles, as they are identified as Executive Director, three Editors and one Director of Development and Special Projects.

Who are the “Common Dreams Staff” that are writing these articles and what are their political, economic and environmental biases? 

Common Dreams seems to have followed the “Democracy Now” model of development from news reporting to news commenting. Since authors of these Common Dreams opinion pieces are unattributed, we have no way of knowing how to evaluate the opinions expressed, as we have no way of knowing what influences are guiding and formulating these opinions. 

Transparency is needed at Common Dreams, lest they become UnCommon Nightmares.

I'll have more to say about recent trends in "news" reporting in the following post: "How to Craft Headlines to Mold Public Opinion."

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Church of Anthropogenic Global Warming

Welcome to the Church of Anthropogenic Global Warming, with the Reverend Billy McKibben!

Hallelujah, brothers and sisters! Bang your hands together! Let me hear you say "Amen!"

In McKibben's latest sermon: Global Warming's Terrifying New Math, The Beloved and Respected Reverend Pastor attempts to quantify the imminent Apocalypse by holding up the holy relics of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW): the sacred 2 degrees Centigrade of allowable global temperature increase; the parable of the 565 Gigatons of CO2; and the holy sacrifice on the altar of CO2: 350 ppm.

According to his bio, Bill McKibben has been an active Methodist all of his life, and he openly recruits religion and religious leaders to play vital roles in protecting the Earth. “The future of Christian environmentalism may have something significant to do with the future of the planet,” he testifies in OnEarth, the proselytizing house organ of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In The Christian paradox: How a faithful nation gets Jesus wrong, McKibben expresses his environmental and religious frustrations with modern life:

"America is simultaneously the most professedly Christian of the developed nations and the least Christian in its behavior. At the moment the idea of Jesus has been hijacked by people with a series of causes that do not reflect his teachings. … We were trying to get politicians to understand why the Bible actually mandated protecting the world around us (Noah: the first Green), work that I think is true and vital.”

In his 2005 book: The Comforting Whirlwind : God, Job, and the Scale of Creation acclaimed environmentalist and writer Bill McKibben turns to the biblical book of Job and its awesome depiction of creation to demonstrate our need to embrace a bold new paradigm for living if we hope to reverse the current trend of ecological destruction.” Google Books

It is no surprise to see Global Warming couched in religious terms. It has all of the classical Biblical trappings: a theological morality tale complete with Heaven, Hell, the Devil, angels and cherubim, confession, sins, retribution and redemption, with final salvation to eternity.

Global warming threatens descent into an eternal hell of fire and drought for those who don’t see the light, following the dreaded Tipping Point of inevitable irreversible climate collapse. We are shown vivid revelations of the great flood, of pestilence, plagues of insects, famine, disease, social collapse, war and death. We are cautioned against the great Devil denialist whispering doubts into our ears, challenging our faith in Global Warming. We are promised redemption if we just confess our sins and promise to change our ways. The promise of a new world, with abundance for all in eternity, lies just beyond the horizon studded with wind generators and papered with solar panels.

“Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been two weeks since my last recycling. I am guilty of the sin of impure thoughts about Styrofoam plates. I coveted my neighbors SUV.”

The Reverend McKibben speaks glowingly of colleagues who have gained the faith: “Ronald Bailey, the science writer at Reason, converted a few years ago to belief in global warming and called for a carbon tax.”

McKibben’s website for this campaign: has a page for faith-based supporters of the Global Warming campaign, with a list of 40 “resources” for religious support, stating: “Communities of faith are at the forefront of the 350 movement.” One might assume this includes economical as well as spiritual support.

Pass the Love Offering plate, brothers.

The Faith page at also states: “350 represents more than just a scientific benchmark for a safe climate – there are also deeply moral and spiritual reasons for getting the world back below 350 ppm CO2.”

It is true, and somewhat frightening to consider, that 90% of the people in the United States believe in a god, and 80% of them believe in a return of Jesus Christ to save the world. This merely demonstrates that consensus opinion does not trump scientific reality. Climate science is not about belief, it is about rational observation, testing and verification of the evidence of the parameters of natural climate variation and the extent to which human activities influence those natural changes.

The “moral and spiritual” arguments employed as the basis of the perception of Anthropogenic Global Warming are anti-scientific. It is this irrational faith-based acceptance of proselytizing AGW proponents that is the greatest threat to an understanding of natural climate variation and the role played by human action in observed climate change. It is irresponsible, misleading and ultimately demagogic to stand at the digital pulpit and wave the AGW Bible to spread fear and misunderstanding among people who have been conditioned to accept such authoritarian pronouncements without question or critical thinking. 

Climate variation is real and has consequences for the very real world we live in. We cannot accommodate to the realities of the natural world by pretending we can continue the present unsustainable course of human development by substituting solar and wind energy technologies for fossil fuel technologies. Whether or not human action can in any way change natural climate variation, it is certain that life on earth cannot withstand unlimited growth in consumption by an unlimited growth in human population in a world of finite resources. 

Looking to renewable energy resources as the savior of human civilization is as self-deceiving as praying to a god for salvation from human foibles. Couching the debate over Climate Change and Anthropogenic Global Warming in religious terms, even for the purpose of bringing religious believers into the fold, is self-defeating, because it denies rational investigation, critical thinking and self-reliant decision-making. 

If we are to find a way to accommodate climate variation, natural or human caused, it will be through rational discourse, not through blind religious acceptance and belief.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Situation Normal

Shell Loses Control Of Arctic Drilling Rig In Alaskan Harbor

The same as it ever was - Shell attempts to scuttle into the Arctic on the cheap, ignorant of conditions to waiting for them in unforgiving northern ice.

Notice in this article that the Coast Guard has refused to certify Shell's oil-spill response barge, still hunkered down in Washington state, due to inadequacies in fire control equipment, electrical wiring and piping, and overall unsuitability for operation in stormy Arctic seas.

There is no oil spill response technology in the Arctic, where oil on the ice can never be recovered. And yet, we blithely allow an oil spill, uh... er..., drilling industry carte blanche in the most dynamic maritime environment on Earth.

Exxon with all its billions of oily dollars could not clean up Prince William Sound after a spill that happened in the most advantageous weather conditions. They finally slunk away with their tail between their legs, hauling the critically damaged Exxon Valdez behind them to hide in ignominy, ultimately to limp off to anonymous dismantlement on a far away, heavily polluted beach, outside the glaring eye of public scrutiny.

How insane is it to destroy fragile Arctic environments to keep Highway 1 clogged with oil consumers, to keep the commuting public addicted to work far from home, to keep the unending stream of consumption flowing from open pit mines to landfills, to maintain an impossibly growing economy in a world of finite resources.

"Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area, and you multiply, and multiply, until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet, you are a plague, and we are the cure." Agent Smith, The Matrix