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Some Guardian myths about climate change

Posted By Joanne Nova On May 5, 2015 @ 1:48 am In Global Warming | Comments Disabled

Ooh. Here’s a bit of a backdown. Skeptics must be getting to The Guardian. Smile.

Mocking skeptics and calling them deniers has somehow failed to win them over, so the Guardian is trying a slightly new tack. This time they pretend to be balanced, and post up a list of “Myths to explode” from both sides of the debate. But don’t bring the ear-muffs, or the ambulances — these bombs are pussy-foot puff balls. The air-drops on alarmist camps are so convoluted they manage to support The Big Fear Campaign even as they try (gently-bentley!) to reign in a few excesses of the believers — don’t mention human extinction, and do remember the world has been hotter before, right? On skeptical “myths”, nothing has changed but at least they’ve stopped the namecalling (Bravo!). But it’s hard for author  — she even serves up a new myth to try to squash an old one. The rate of global warming is apparently “unprecedented”, as in one-degree-in-a-century has never ever happened before, not once. How likely is that we could know the rate of global temperature swings to a tenth of a degree back in the days of dinosaurs and at continuous unbroken resolution of 100 year intervals?

The headline “Climate change: the big myths that need to be exploded” is the usual hyperbolic fluff. Nothing even pops, let alone goes bang. Five myths here are overdone alarmist claims, and three are skeptical talking points.

It’s good to see The Guardian say that “it’s Hotter than Ever” is a myth. So will they stop using “hotter than ever” headlines? Probably not. At no point do they admit that skeptics were right all along, or that The Guardian itself is happy to leave its reader with a “hotter than ever” message. How about some intellectual honesty, anyone? Instead, on this first myth, Hannah Devlin quietly sweeps the Guardian’s own history under the rug, and shifts the goals. “Hotter than ever” is wrong. Oh yessity, but really, that never mattered, and what matters is the rate of warming. Digging their hole deeper, she goes on to interview a professor who swears the rate now is “unprecedented”, as if we could measure the decadal rates of warming 50 million years ago. Good luck with that one. We’ll just quote Phil Jones — the current rate of warming is the same as in the 1870s when CO2 was perfect.

Devlin seems to believe that the Sun is nothing more than a  ball of light. To try to kill off the skeptical idea that the sun might have something to do with the weather on Earth she discusses solar irradiance like there is no other possible way the sun could influence our climate. Forget charged particles, magnetic fields, spectral changes, who cares? UV, IR, it’s all the same. If Devlin read skeptical blogs, she might have thought up some hard questions for Jo Haigh. But then she’d be a real journalist (and she wouldn’t fit in at The Guardian).

Take the article as a backhanded tacit acknowledgment that skeptics have some points that are not going to go away by simply denying them. On the plus side, this is a more mature article than the Guardian normally manages, there is no “denier” namecalling, though there is no honesty about how skeptics have been right over and over.

As a bit of sci-masochist I bothered to unpack each myth one by one. Sorry. But here they are:

Myth 1. THE EARTH IS WARMER NOW THAN IT HAS EVER BEEN

The Guardian finally acknowledges, years too late, that skeptics may have a point (not that they say it). Yes, the climate has been hotter in the past. But this doesn’t matter (they say) because the warming rate now is faster than ever. This is called “shifting the goal posts”. Global panickers have argued all along that the absolute temperature matters. Now they pretend it doesn’t and shift it to “rates”? Here’s the new fantasy goal:

“It’s not how much the temperature has gone up – that’s only around 1C over the past 100 years,” says professor Adam Scaife of the Met Office. “What’s unprecedented is the rate of change.”

Scaife’s comment is bizarre. They are talking about the rate of warming over the last 30 or 100 years, and comparing it to a time 50 million years ago. There is no rational person on Earth who would claim to know the rate of warming to a tenth of a degree between, say, the year 50 million BC, and 49.9999 BC. They can claim it is “unprecedented” but we don’t have the proxies, there is no data with anything remotely like that time or temperature resolution. Though, conveniently, we actually know when the unprecedented rate was last precedented, and we don’t have to go back to the Eocene, but just to 1870. The decadal rate of change in the 1980s (the peak rate) was the same as in the 1870s (*Both were 0.16 C per decade). The “unprecedented” label, which doesn’t apply for the last 50 million years, doesn’t even apply for the last 150.

Myth 2. CHANGES IN THE SUN’S ACTIVITY CAUSE WARMING

The entire argument posted on the Guardian to show the Sun does not cause climate change is (a) because “scientists don’t think so” and (b) because total solar irradiance doesn’t change enough to explain the climate.

(a) is argument from authority, and wrong. Many scientists do think the sun causes changes in our climate, but they aren’t (and won’t be) employed by the Bureau of Met, nor interviewed by the Pravda-Guardian. There are hundreds of papers for the last 200 years that suggest links between solar factors and the climate.

(b) is argument from ignorance. The Sun emits more than just light. Jo Haigh, the atmospheric physicist they quote, should know better. Climate models don’t include solar magnetic, solar wind, cosmic rays, or changes in the solar spectrum, and other solar forces. A scientist can’t rule out things which has barely been studied, nor use models that assume these factors don’t matter to conclude that they “don’t matter”.

Myth 3. WE WILL BE WORSE OFF IF TEMPERATURES KEEP RISING

Skeptics have been pointing out for years that more people die due to cold weather, and in winter, than due to hot-spells and rising summer temperatures. Instead of saying that skeptics were right (they were), Devlin picks a couple of studies, waffles about details, and muddies the points that matter. Give her a half-point for at least including a useful quote: .“I think that focusing only on the negative aspects of climate change can risk scientific credibility,” Spiegelhalter says. If only he’d told the Hadley Met Centre, NOAA, the CSIRO and The Guardian that ten years ago.

What we know is that deaths during hot spells are often the people who would have died soon anyway, as mortality rates often fall after the hot spell is over. Deaths due to cold snaps are not like that. We also know that even in hot locations, more people die in winter.

As far as crops go, we know for a fact that more CO2 will generate more crops and higher yields. The extra carbohydrate slightly dilutes protein and other essential nutrients, but as I calculated, for all the lost protein in rice, we just need to feed people an extra chick-pea. Problem solved. Can we discuss real problems instead?

Myth 4. EXTREME WEATHER IS CAUSED BY CLIMATE CHANGE

Here, Devlin smacks alarmist’s connecting floods, storms and disasters to climate change, but she’s slapping them on the wrist with a limp $100 bill. Oh, the pain.

The lame defence of the shameless politicization of noise in “storms” is to pretend that saying it has a “hint of a signal” is somehow respectable science. She turns again to Professor Adam Scaife. He has this idea that climate models, which are unable to predict anything useful, are able to somehow calculate meaningful odds of events. He says: “It’s all about the risk of certain events changing. You can say that a specific type of event is more likely.” Yes, you can say that, but not if you are being scientific.

Myth 5. ANTARCTIC SEA ICE IS DECREASING

Again, this is a a backhanded acknowledgment that the skeptics the Guardian mocks and calls “deniers” elsewhere were right, and that the Antarctic Sea Ice growth is a problem for the experts who predicted the, ahem, opposite.

She reassures the readers that really it’s not so much a paradox because:

  • Scientists say it isn’t.
  • We can’t measure the thickness of the ice there and it might be shrinking still, we just don’t know.
  • Slightly more ice is disappearing from the North pole. (So?)
  • It could be due to the ozone layer hole.
  • The trend might reverse.

Dear Guardian readers, remember this is what 95% certainty looks like. Quick, let’s wreck western economies and build a global bureaucracy!

Myth 6. ARCTIC SEA ICE SEEMS TO BE RECOVERING

The Guardian’s favourite experts said the Arctic ice would disappear. Skeptics said it was cyclical.

Instead of admitting the experts were wrong, Devlin declares it’s a myth that the Arctic Sea “seems” to be recovering. Why? Because the scientists who were wrong say its “probably temporary” and five years is too short to say anything about the climate — except when we talk about one bad storm, one hot season, one flood, or heat-wave week, right?

Myth 7. THERE IS NO SCIENTIFIC CONSENSUS ON WARMING

Ah, the mythical-myth the global worriers want to believe more than any other. It’s a myth that consensus matters. It’s a fact that there is no consensus among scientists. To be sure, there is a consensus of certified climate experts, but no consensus at all among scientists at large. The certified experts have failed utterly to convince the broad masses of people trained in the scientific method. Surveys show that half of meteorologists and two thirds of engineers and geologists don’t find the carbon-catastrophe at all believeable.  There is no survey, anywhere, that interviews all scientists, there are mostly just fallacious, inept rehashes of surveys that asks people-who-get-grants-to-study-a-crisis what they think of that crisis.

The inaccurate fogging of the terms “climate scientist” and “scientist” is misleading. But who cares about accurate English, it’s only the fate of the world at stake right?

After investigating, scientists also found no evidence that papers with a sceptical slant were being systematically rejected by journals.

Which investigation was that I wonder — one of the Climategate whitewashes? Is that why Devlin doesn’t cite it?

But wait til you see this:

The strength of the consensus appears not to have been conveyed to the public.

After twenty years of relentless propaganda and headline after headline about the “Consensus”, Devlin expects people to believe that just repeating it for the 800th time will finally convince the public? The truth is that 57% of people just don’t believe that climate experts know what they are talking about.

UPDATE: Only 43% of climate scientists agree with the IPCC “95%” certain claims that man-made CO2 is the major driver of climate change. 

Myth 8. HUMANS FACE EXTINCTION AS CLIMATE CHANGE INTENSIFIES

In the weakest possible way Devlin is saying (between the lines) that it might not be good idea for believers to wax loquacious about the death of humanity. It’s more like PR instructions for fellow fanatics than anything we could call reporting.

Though apparently calling humans “hard-to-kill weeds” is a perfect alternative: extinction is out, human-weeds are “in”.

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