Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sweet Music

And here are the words we've waited eight long, hot years to hear, from AP:

Once booed at international climate talks, the United States won sustained applause Sunday when President Barack Obama's envoy pledged to "make up for lost time" in reaching a global agreement on climate change.
"We are very glad to be back. We want to make up for lost time, and we are seized with the urgency of the task before us," Stern said to loud applause from the 2,600 delegates to the U.N. negotiations.

They clapped again when Stern said the U.S. recognized "our unique responsibility ... as the largest historic emitter of greenhouse gases," which has created a problem threatening the entire world.
Stern said no one on his team doubted that climate change is real. "The science is clear, the threat is real, the facts on the ground are outstripping the worst-case scenarios. The cost of inaction or inadequate action are unacceptable," he said — a total change of tone from his predecessors.
What a difference one little election can make.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

More Fodder for Climate Change Critics

You've heard about the flooding in North Dakota. Although heavy snow melt is the primary cause, portions of Bismarck had to be evacuated due to a Missouri River ice jam that was exacerbating local flooding. Demolition experts blew it up to get the water moving again.

One moment while I peer into my crystal ball, consult my tarot cards, and analyze the goat entrails.

Yes, I see it now. The future is clear to me. I see yet another bullet point for the critics who don't seem to be able to understand the difference between weather and climate (I'm talking to you, Brit and Rush):

  • In 2009, demolitions experts had to blow up an ice jam in the Missouri River to save Bismarck, ND. What do the global warming alarmists have to say about that?
Yawn. Well, what we have to say is that sometimes it gets cold in North Dakota in the winter. It will still get cold, even with global warming.

Just not quite as cold, on average.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Post Finally Prints a Response

Well, the Washington Post has finally printed a reasoned response to George Will's silly climate change column.

In the paper's March 21 edition, more than a month after Will's column appeared, science writer Chris Mooney says:
In a long paragraph quoting press sources from the 1970s, Will suggested that widespread scientific agreement existed at the time that the world faced potentially catastrophic cooling. Today, most climate scientists and climate journalists consider this a timeworn myth.
Yet there's a bigger issue: It's misleading to draw a parallel between "global cooling" concerns articulated in the 1970s and global warming concerns today. In the 1970s, the field of climate research was in a comparatively fledgling state, and scientific understanding of 20th-century temperature trends and their causes was far less settled. Today, in contrast, hundreds of scientists worldwide participate in assessments of the state of knowledge and have repeatedly ratified the conclusion that human activities are driving global warming....
Mooney goes on to calmly debunk Will's abuse of sea ice data and his rather bizarre claim that the UN's World Meteorological Organization said that "there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade." (Of course, the WMO has said no such thing.)

I have quibbles with the response. It seems to imply that AGW critics have more "facts" on their side than they actually do. And I would have stated some things more strongly; for example, rather than "Today, most climate scientists and climate journalists consider this a timeworn myth," I might have said something like "This has been shown to be a myth," and included a link to the relevant AMS study.

But these are indeed just quibbles. Overall it's a nice piece of work. It's reasonable, and it makes its case without hyperbole and ad hominem attacks.

Update: I didn't notice that the same day's Post also contained this letter from WMO Secretary General Michel Jarraud disputing the conclusion Will drew from WMO data:
It is a misinterpretation of the data and of scientific knowledge to point to one year as the warmest on record—as was done in a recent Post column—and then to extrapolate that cooler subsequent years invalidate the reality of global warming and its effects.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Rush Limbaugh: Not a Moron

I have to say that because I made a promise to myself: when I started this little blog, I promised myself that I would never call anyone a moron, that staple of friendly Internet banter, no matter how thoroughly justified it might be. So here it is: I. Am. Not. Calling. Rush. Limbaugh. A. Moron.

But it is difficult, sometimes, keeping one's promises.

Listen to this audio clip, courtesy of Media Matters:

You heard it right, El-Rushbo thinks it is "rich" and "hilarious" that three climate researchers were in danger of freezing to death in the Arctic ("were" because they've been resupplied).

I'll tell you what's chilling here, and it ain't the weather at the North Pole. It's not even that Limbaugh considers the prospect of three people dying alone in 100-below-zero weather to be "hilarious". No, what's really chilling is that this idiot (that word I can use and even emphasize, since he did), the voice of American conservatism, the talking head to whom Republican leaders must apologize when he's offended, is either too ignorant or too stupid to understand that weather and climate are not the same.

What exactly is this commentary supposed to prove, Rush? It's cold in the Arctic, therefore there is no global warming? Really? Are you really that ignorant, or does this just serve some purpose of yours?

Conservative commentators, please try harder to grasp these concepts. They are difficult, I know, but you can do it if you really try. I have every confidence in you.

1. Weather is not climate.

2. It gets cold in the Arctic. Even with global warming.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Fox's Time Warp

You just have to hand it to Fox "News" for creative editing.

In its latest fox pas, the Terrorist Fist Bump Network used a clip from a Joe Biden campaign speech in a way that was just blatantly dishonest. There's really no other way to describe it.

Fox's Martha MacCallum asserted that "[A]fter weeks of economic doom and gloom, the Obama administration is now singing a slightly different tune. Take a look at what was said in recent interviews this weekend," followed by a series of sound bites from Obama administration officials, including this one from Joe Biden:
The fundamentals of the economy are strong.
MacCallum followed this with, "All right, well, the mantra for the weekend is clear, looking at what was said over the course of the shows on Sunday.”

There are just a couple of itty-bitty problems with this.

First, the Biden clip wasn't from "this weekend" at all—it was from a campaign appearance last September.

Second, Biden didn't actually say that the economy was sound, as you would know if Fox hadn't cropped the clip precisely where it did. He was quoting John McCain. Here is what Biden actually said, after asserting that McCain was not in touch with conditions outside the Beltway:
Ladies and gentlemen, I believe that’s why John McCain could say with a straight face as recently as this morning, and this is a quote, “The fundamentals of the economy are strong.” That’s what John said. He says that “We’ve made great progress economically in the Bush years.... Ladies and gentlemen, I could walk from here to Lansing and I wouldn't run into a single person who thought the economy was doing well—unless I ran into John McCain.”
The critical part of the speech is bold and the little bit of it that Fox used is in red. Puts a slightly different spin on the Fox clip, don't it?

I want you to imagine a clip of Biden being interviewed outside the Capitol in a howling blizzard; he says, "John McCain needs to look outside once in a while because he said, just this morning, 'What a beautiful day it is!'"

Now imagine that Fox "News" gets hold of this, crops everything except "What a beautiful day it is!", and headlines it with "Biden Says Weather Is Fine."

Because that is exactly what the fair and balanced "journalists" over there did.

See the clips for yourself at Think Progress.

Update: Fox "News" has apologized:
Yesterday during a segment on the recent change in tone from President Obama’s economic team, we inadvertently used a piece of video of Vice President Biden saying “the fundamentals of the economy are strong.”
Inadvertent, got it. Let's recall Biden's words immediately preceding the bit Fox used:
[T]his is a quote....
And the words immediately following it:
That's what John said.
So, in order to crop it, they had to hear that, right? They had to hear and intentionally remove the words "this is a quote" and "That's what John said."


Friday, March 6, 2009

Hume-an Error

I didn't intend for this to be a climate blog. It was just supposed to be a place where I could note odd stuff that I run across and to let off steam about foolishness that I see.

But people will keep spouting the most ignorant crap about global warming, so here we go again.

The latest loony tirade comes from the mouth of the redoubtable Brit Hume (incidentally, I think this argues for an entirely new definition of redoubtable: someone you can doubt over and over again.) Talking about a recent demonstration in Washington, he said this on the March 2 edition of Fox News's Special Report:
[Y]ou have to give those global warming activists credit for pluck. Not only were they protesting warming temperatures in a city going through its coldest winter in recent memories—a city in the midst of a snow emergency and sub-freezing temperatures—they were also doing so on a planet that has seen no average warming for the past 10 years. But climate change alarmists are not easily fazed.
The problem with [scientists' climate models] is that when data from the past have been plugged into them, they have had trouble predicting today's temperatures. The climate alarmists certainly did not foresee the cooling trend of the past decade. No matter.
Let's skip over whether or not he should be using the loaded term "climate change alarmists" twice in something that they're calling a "report." I guess that's why Fox News's slogans are "Unfair and Unbalanced" and "We Spin, You Listen Up." (I got those right, didn't I?)

While we're at it, we can also skip the bit where he apparently just makes up the "coldest winter in recent memories" factoid: a full third of the previous nine DC winters were colder.1 Maybe he has a really bad memory.

Nah. He just likes to make stuff up.

OK, that's enough Andy Rooney. Let's get to the serious issues.

"Coldest winter in recent memories"

Even if this were true—and it's not—this is a classic case of confusing weather and climate. Weather is something that happens day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year. There's a lot of variability—noise, if you will—in it. It's very hard to predict more than a couple of days in advance. Climate is, in essence, weather with the noise removed.

Climate information is obtained by averaging weather over a long period of time and observing trends. Suppose you were to graph annual temperatures over many years. If you observe the temperature trends and how they are changing, you are looking at climate; but if you observe the temperature spikes here and there, you are looking at weather.

This winter's average temperature is weather, not climate. (Whether or not there's a snowstorm that discourages global warming alarmists from demonstrating is really weather.)

Let's use a classic example: rolling dice. If you roll an ordinary six-sided die many times, you will find that it averages around 3.5. If you graph this, you'll find a lot of spikes for low and high rolls, but if you make a trend line, it will be more or less flat. Here's a little graph of a hundred simulated throws:

The trend line is in red. That is climate. The line is essentially flat because the dice rolls aren't trending up or down—there's no change in the average roll as we move along in time.

The actual throws are in blue. That is weather. These vary rather wildly. Some throws are near the trend line, some are way above it, and some are way below it.

Now here is another simulation. This time I've loaded the dice: as we go on, it gets progressively easier to roll higher numbers, so now the average roll is increasing as we move along in time (this simulates global warming):

The loading of the dice is clearly visible in the upward curve of the trend line. But notice where we rolled a 2 at the red arrow. It doesn't prove that the dice aren't loaded, right? In fact, we can't tell anything at all from the one data point.

If this were a graph of average DC winter temperatures instead of dice rolls, the arrow would point to our "cold winter" (and, yes, even with global warming, there will be relatively cold winters). Just as that one throw can't tell us anything about whether the dice are loaded, that one cold winter can't tell us anything about global warming.

Here's the key point: weather is, for all intents and purposes, random. Climate is not. And you can't look at that random weather for today or this month or this year and use it to say anything about climate.2 You can't just look at a single point in time and say, "It's cold, therefore global warming is bunk." But that's what Brit did with his "it's cold this winter" comment. (Maybe he'll come back in August when it's 105° in DC and say, "It's really hot today. Looks like I was wrong about global warming.")

"Cooling trend of the last decade"

Brit simply asserts this, so we don't know where he got it from—but I think I can make a pretty good guess. A lot of people (including George Will, quite recently—coincidence?) have been saying the same thing, and it always seems to come down to this: it was a little cooler in 2008 than it was in 1998.

OK, let's go back to our loaded dice. Look at the green line I've added:

See that, loaded dice alarmists? The recent trend is downward!

Well, not really. I just drew a pretty line between two arbitrary rolls. It doesn't mean anything at all.

But that green line is what makes Brit (or whoever he got this nonsense from) say that there's been no warming for the last ten years: he picked two arbitrary years, drew a line between them, and said, "See? No warming!" Unfortunately for Brit, it doesn't work that way. The individual data points are random, and you can't draw any conclusions by comparing two random things. Just as the green line here doesn't show that the dice aren't loaded (because they are loaded), the fact that 2008 was a little cooler than 1998 doesn't mean that there's no climate warming going on (because climate warming is going on).

(By the way, 2008 was cooler than 1998 in large part because 1998 was an El Niño year, while 2008 was a La Niña year—El Niño has a warming effect, while La Niña has a cooling effect. But despite La Niña, 2008 was still the 10th warmest year on record. There's more about this claim in the George Will response.)

"They have had trouble predicting today's temperatures"

Well, this one is real easy. "Today's temperatures" is weather. You can't predict weather from climate models. Repeat after me, Brit: for all practical purposes, weather is random. Climate models do not try to predict weather. You can't predict today's weather—or this year's weather, for that matter—from any climate model. That's not what they're for. Climate models try to predict the red line, not the blue line.

And the climate models are, in fact, rather good at doing that. Scientists have gone back to look at some of the older models and have found that longer term temperature trends have been pretty much as expected. RealClimate (a great site run by actual climate scientists) has more information.

Brit, you're supposed to be a journalist. You got some splainin' to do.

1 Source: Weather Underground. The mean winter (December 1-February 28) temperatures for Washington, DC. in 2000, 2002, and 2003 were all lower than 2008.

2 Even a decade is a bit dicey (sorry). For global surface temperatures, according to climate scientist Gavin Schmidt, 15 years is the point at which weather "noise" averages out. What this means is that, if the climate were not changing at all, the average temperature for any 15-year span would be about the same as that for any other 15-year span because weather averages out over a period that long. That is not be true for a shorter span such as a decade—two different decades could have significantly different average temperatures even with no climate change. So, 15 years is about the shortest time span you can use to say anything really meaningful about global climate trends.

Unless you account for noise.

If you do that, you can point to a shorter time period as being anomalously warm or cool. The weather noise for a decade has been calculated, and it's less that 0.1°C. So, in the absence of climate change, we would expect the average temperature for any decade to be within 0.1°C of the long-term average. If the average for a particular decade is more than 0.1°C different from the long-term average, we can say that it's an anomaly and possible evidence of a change in the climate.