Fun with an Open Climate Letter

Hurricane Sandy

By Evan

Open Climate Letter” – goes the headline. A pretty strange, and clearly not proofread, headline from the usual professional standards at the National Post. This is an open letter to the UN Secretary General from over 100 climate scientists (not all are actually climate scientists or geologists), saying that action of global warming is unnecessary. Surely, the Post has published this as it is sure to get a lot of readers. But let’s deconstruct this for a moment.

The letter starts with some quotes from Ban-Ki Moon and Al Gore on why it is necessary to have immediate action on man-made climate change, and that it will cost more to correct the problems if people wait. Recent events such as Hurricane Sandy are evidence of these problems. The letter begins:

We the undersigned, qualified in climate-related matters, wish to state that current scientific knowledge does not substantiate your assertions.

There we go, they suggest that climate science is not settled. Fair enough, there are limitations on what we know about climate. For instance, the role of water vapour and clouds on global climate is poorly understood.

The U.K. Met Office recently released data showing that there has been no statistically significant global warming for almost 16 years. During this period, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations rose by nearly 9% to now constitute 0.039% of the atmosphere. Global warming that has not occurred cannot have caused the extreme weather of the past few years. Whether, when and how atmospheric warming will resume is unknown. The science is unclear. Some scientists point out that near-term natural cooling, linked to variations in solar output, is also a distinct possibility.

They don’t link to the MET Office Report, but on their website, they have a chart of their model of global temperatures for the past 160 years. The opening statement is a pretty clear example of cherry picking data, because the trend over the past 100 years is one of increased temperature. If you look at the data over the long term (that’s climate), you can say with high levels of confidence that the past 16 years have been statistically warmer than any time in the past 100 years. So although it may be correct that there is no observed statistical increase during the past 16 years, the data are highly variable, and the error is large. Simply put, 16 years is not long enough to determine a trend.

The statement: “carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations rose by nearly 9% to now constitute 0.039% of the atmosphere” is a confusing one, and doesn’t really fit in with their argument. They acknowledge that CO2 levels have increased. I imagine the purpose of putting this number in the letter is to show that the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is small, as if to lead the reader on to think that the level is insignificant.

They then say that global warming that has not occurred cannot cause extreme weather changes. Except that ignores the fact that global temperature is an average – there are places that have warmed, while other areas have cooled. There is pretty clear evidence that the Arctic is experiencing unprecedented warming during the past 15 years, leading to low sea ice extent. Meanwhile, people throughout Australia can attest to nightime temperatures being below normal during the winter of 2012. The fact that global temperatures may have leveled out for 15 years may very well be masked by increased variability in weather patterns.

They then go on to talk about solar variability. 2008-2009 was the deepest solar minimum in over 100 years. 2008 was the eighth warmest year on record, while 2009 was tied for the second hottest. Any correlation between solar variability and climate change is pretty weak, and the only long term proxy we have is the sunspot record. Certainly, the recent sunspot minimum has had little effect on lowering global temperatures, at least in the short term.

One thing they mention is that it is unknown if global temperatures will begin to rise. Predicting the future is always risky business – just ask an economist. However, most climate models are based on physics, and tested on past climate records, so if they say increasing greenhouse gas emissions will cause temperatures to rise, I’d be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

The “even larger climate shocks” you have mentioned would be worse if the world cooled than if it warmed. Climate changes naturally all the time, sometimes dramatically. The hypothesis that our emissions of CO2 have caused, or will cause, dangerous warming is not supported by the evidence.

This is kind of a silly statement. Large increases of CO2 have been implicated in rapid climate change in the geological record. The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, a rapid change in climate that caused global temperatures to increase by 5-8 degrees, caused extreme shocks to the Earth. It is thought that this event was caused by a rapid release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Make no bones about it, the current release of CO2 in the atmosphere has caused levels to increase higher than any time in the past 400,000 years, at least. The climate system may be slow to respond to forcing mechanisms, so it is possible that we have not observed the worst effects.

The incidence and severity of extreme weather has not increased. There is little evidence that dangerous weather-related events will occur more often in the future. The U.N.’s own Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says in its Special Report on Extreme Weather (2012) that there is “an absence of an attributable climate change signal” in trends in extreme weather losses to date. The funds currently dedicated to trying to stop extreme weather should therefore be diverted to strengthening our infrastructure so as to be able to withstand these inevitable, natural events, and to helping communities rebuild after natural catastrophes such as tropical storm Sandy.

It is true that the frequency of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, has not increased with statistical certainty. Is this the result of lack of observations, or because there has been no actual increase in the frequency of events? Prior to the advent of global satellite observations in the 1970s, the reporting of extreme weather events was limited to ground based observations, which is heavily biased to the continents, and first world nations. Even so, it is improper to attribute a years worth of hurricanes to climate change, let alone a single storm.

Still, their second statement is confusing, and doesn’t really serve as a reason to discount the first. Whether or not climate change has caused an increase in extreme weather events, you cannot disagree with the fact that major storms that cause widespread damage happen. What the heck does “funds currently dedicated to trying to stop extreme weather” even mean? My home province of Manitoba recently expanded the diversion floodway around the city of Winnipeg to prepare for a one in 700 year flood event. When the floodway was originally constructed, it was derisively called “Duff’s Ditch” after the premier, because it was seen by people as being a waste of money. It has saved the city from several floods, including the “Flood of the Century“. There is nothing wrong with planning for extreme weather events, including those that statistically not expected to happen in our lifetime. I just don’t know where the authors of this letter are going with this statement.

There is no sound reason for the costly, restrictive public policy decisions proposed at the U.N. climate conference in Qatar. Rigorous analysis of unbiased observational data does not support the projections of future global warming predicted by computer models now proven to exaggerate warming and its effects.

I think the saying that goes with this is “show me the money”. What is this “unbiased observational data” they are talking about? Which models have “proven to exaggerate warming and its effects”? Climatic data is freely available from most government agencies that produce it (such as the GISS database). Perhaps they mean that global coverage of data is biased, which is certainly true due to the distribution of land mass. Truly global temperature records only exist for perhaps the past 30 years, the era when satellite records became available. As such, the models of global climate are only as good as the assumptions to fill in the gaps. We should be instructed by the work of former climate skeptic Richard A. Muller, who spent two years trying to find problems with the global climate dataset, only to come to the conclusion that there was nothing wrong with it.

The NOAA “State of the Climate in 2008” report asserted that 15 years or more without any statistically-significant warming would indicate a discrepancy between observation and prediction. Sixteen years without warming have therefore now proven that the models are wrong by their creators’ own criterion.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a misleading statement. Cherry picking 16 years of data to draw up conclusions, especially given the errors involved, is improper. Is 15 years long enough to make any conclusions on climate? I am not sure, even if NOAA concluded that in 2008. Another study I found states that 17 years is a minimum time to make such conclusions, and even at 32 years, the signal to noise ratio is low. Any geophysicist will tell you, the longer the time series, the easier it is to make a conclusion, because a short time series always contains noise. As concluded in that article: “Minimal warming over a single decade does not disprove the existence of a slowly-evolving anthropogenic warming signal.”

Based upon these considerations, we ask that you desist from exploiting the misery of the families of those who lost their lives or properties in tropical storm Sandy by making unsupportable claims that human influences caused that storm. They did not. We also ask that you acknowledge that policy actions by the U.N., or by the signatory nations to the UNFCCC, that aim to reduce CO2 emissions are unlikely to exercise any significant influence on future climate. Climate policies therefore need to focus on preparation for, and adaptation to, all dangerous climatic events however caused.

Their concluding statement is confusing to me. They chide the UN for blaming Hurricane Sandy on anthropogenic climate change and that CO2 emissions are not influencing climate change. Then they say that policies should be in place to prepare for any extreme weather event. The point of this letter appears to be “climate change isn’t caused by anthropogenic emissions, but we should prepare for damage by major storms anyways”, which differs from most climate scientists who would say “climate change is caused by anthropogenic emissions, and we should prepare for damage by major storms that may happen more frequently”.

There is, of course, more to this problem than just global temperatures. Sea level has increased during the past 20 years (as Bianca wrote about earlier today), regardless of whether or not there has been a statistical increase in temperatures during this period. So even if the frequency of storms is not going up or becoming more severe, the impact these storms have on populated areas near sea level becomes worse. A great quote by Erik Ivins on this matter:

“When you have 11 millimetres of increased sea level, if you compute the amount of mass that’s capable of coming onshore during a storm surge, that’s a lot of mass,” Ivins told reporters. “And small changes in sea levels in certain places mean very big changes in the kind of protection of infrastructure that you need to have in place.”

If you look what happened in New Jersey and New York during Sandy, this was exactly the problem. Whatever the global climate change was during the past 20 years, sea level has increased, and this causes problems with infrastructure.

So really, I don’t see the point of this open letter, except to attract attention to themselves. Even those on the list who have legitimate problems with the state of climate science at present do themselves a great disservice by putting the likes of “Lord” Monckton on there.

13 responses to “Fun with an Open Climate Letter

  1. Right now, talks are underway in Qatar to negotiate the next phase of the Kyoto Agreement on emissions reductions. It’s clear to me from the timing of this letter, that they are people trying to stir up public concerns on the legitimacy of climate science.
    It’s really just a cheap shot, based on little to no scientific evidence.

  2. Oh, without a doubt the intent of this letter was to mislead people. It is unfortunate, because there are parts of the climate puzzle that have large uncertainties. The influence of greenhouse gasses is not one of them.

  3. I note the private jets at DOHA airport. They should just have the conference on line and help save the planet. F***ing hypocrites! This conference with be another expensive failure. Global warming is just a scam.

    • I don’t know why after reading my article you would come to the conclusion that “global warming is just a scam”. The atmosphere follows physical laws, and one of those is that carbon dioxide will trap radiation, and thus warm the earth. There are uncertainties on the measurement of global temperatures, but the record for the past 150 years clearly shows that the earth has warmed. This is based on observation, not some random number that someone came up with.

      We can all be critical of public policy, but the politicians will only do as much as the public will allow them to.

      • ejgowan: It is a scam because it is just alarmist screaming, and is directly related to cap and trade. So its all about the money. I agree that humans are causing the planet to warm, but it might only be 1 deg c by the year 2100 even this number will not lead to CAGW. The feedback could even be negative. On top of that no one has any idea of the power technology in the next 78 years. We in the West have far more to worry about by the year 2100: This is of course the rise of Islam: They will breed us out.

  4. ejgowan: “without a doubt the intent of this letter was to mislead people”

    JF: You lot have not only been misleading people for the past 20 years, but used/using out right lies and deception. This is the norm you lot. BTW look up Chris Landsea as you no doubt think that Sandy was caused or exacerbated by global warming. And he is a warmist! Not that the MSM reported his views; after all he is only a REAL expert.

    “Chris argued that any such influence is expected to be small today, almost certainly undetectable, and that this view is not particularly controversial among tropical cyclone climatologists. He concluded that hurricanes should
    not be the “poster” representing a human influence on climate.”

  5. ” Simply put, 16 years is not long enough to determine a trend.”
    JF: Really I suppose for you lot, if it warming then 1 year is enough. But if is static or worse, re: “cooling” 100 years is not enough.

  6. ejgowan: You seem like a smart young man. You MUST listen to what Chris Landsea has to say. He is the only warmist I admire. As this guy is a real scientist. I am a historian, you would do well to read a lot of history. Please read below: I hope that you will uphold all the he believes. If you do not do this with your work, you would have sold out. You will regret that on your death bed.

    Extracts of “CARGO CULT SCIENCE” by Richard Feynman: Adapted from the Caltech commencement address given in 1974.

    If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then
    you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well
    as those that agree with it.

    The idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.

    We have learned from experience that the truth will come out. Other
    experimenters will repeat your experiment and find out whether you
    were wrong or right.

    Nature’s phenomena will agree or they will disagree with your theory. And, although you may gain some temporary fame and excitement, you will not gain a good reputation as a scientist if you haven’t tried to be very careful in this kind of work.

    And it’s this type of integrity, this kind of care not to fool yourself, that is missing to a large extent in much of the research in cargo cult science.

    I would like to add something that’s not essential to the science,
    but something I kind of believe, which is that you should not fool
    the layman when you’re talking as a scientist. I’m talking about
    a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending
    over backwards to show how you are maybe WRONG, that you ought to
    have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as
    scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen.

  7. Here is the argument that 97-98% of scientists say the planet has warmed and human activity is one of the factors. Let me answer the survey questions myself:
    Q1. “When compared with pre-1800s levels (ie: the Little Ice Age), do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?”
    JF: Risen
    Q2. “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?”
    JF: Yes
    I am the 98 percent! So are nearly all of the global warming “realists” that the alarmists rants about.
    Yet these two questions do not even remotely address the far more important and central question of whether or not humans are causing a global warming crisis. The mere fact that humans are likely responsible for some of the warming that has lifted the earth out of the Little Ice Age does not necessarily mean that climate Armageddon is at hand. For those who believe otherwise, please do some research on the strikingly negative climate consequences of the Little Ice Age and the striking beneficial climate consequences of the Medieval Warm Period and the Roman Climate Optimum.
    The alarmists know or should know that most global warming “realists” believe the earth has warmed since the Little Ice Age and that human activity is a partial cause. By erroneously claiming that these two banal questions define the split between “alarmists” and “realists,” They reveal their deceitfulness or ignorance on the core issues that divide “alarmists” and “realists.”

  8. I don’t see why you think I am an alarmist. Certainly, I did not say that we are heading towards some cataclysmic event. Climate change is a slow process, though it can happen quickly on a geological time scale. People do not perceive changes in climate, because it is slow, and do not happen at the same rate everywhere. It may well be that humans will adapt with any change in climate, because that is what we are good at doing. As I stated in my article, you can’t directly attribute a single weather event to climate change, so this is indeed a misrepresentation by people like Al Gore. However, I do think that 100 years is a suitable duration to see a warming trend, and the fact that sea level has began to rise after a nearly 4000 year hiatus does indicate that something in the system has changed. And that is why the letter is misleading – they purposely lead the reader to believe that greenhouse gas emissions can’t be affecting the atmosphere, because temperatures stopped rising during the past 16 years. There are many reasons that temperatures could stabilise (such as heat being absorbed by the deep ocean), so it would be premature to come to that conclusion, especially when other proxies come are included.

    I really don’t think you have met many climate scientists. The vast majority are rational people, and would not alarm people unnecessarily. I personally don’t know of any scientists who are out there trying to gain widespread fame.

    My personal opinion is either the earth warms up as predicted by models, or it doesn’t. There is no much I can do about it, and public policy is not something I delve into. Most politicians and pundits will interpret the results of models to suit their own agenda. We can’t spend our lives worrying about such things, it is just human nature.

    Regardless, we are privy to the largest scientific experiment ever – what happens when we pump a bunch of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere? The geological record indicates that it can causes global warming, though the resolution of sedimentary rock is on the order of thousands of years, so we don’t know exactly how fast. The only thing we can do is to continue measuring, and see what happens.

    Do I think that we should be reducing greenhouse gas emissions? Of course. Do I think it will happen. Not likely. Humans will continue to consume cheap fossil fuel based energy until the conditions in the environment make it untenable, and no sooner. Unless, of course, a cheap alternative is found.

  9. Good reply. Glad you are not CAGW. Remember since 1800 to 1850 we have been coming out of the LIA. And what caused the Roman warming and the MWP.?And it was not humans! No one knows YET. I see 90% of the current warming NOTto be AGW; yes natural.

    Look it all depends on feedback. And the feedback could be negative. So if that happens the planet will start to cool. So are they then going to say that Co2 causes global cooling? Lol why not; just keep feeding the gullible about Co2 and weather and it is a short step to global cooling,

    Should we reduce emissions? Yes we should be reducing them. Why not, better to be safe than sorry until real science is done, not computer models as proof.! But there is no need to go crazy about it. Just start using gas instead of coal. The big problem is going to be China and India. Even if every scientist on earth believed fanatically in CAGW it is more than likely that zero can be done about it. See: Co2 emissions until 2035 from the EIA. The OECD will increase by 6% and the non OECD will increase by 73% by 2035.Simple facts, simple maths and a simple graph.

    “A cheap alternative is found.” There is one here and now, it is call Nuclear and clean too!. And yes it can be made very, very safe.

    I suppose it is the likes of the team and Gore that really get me angry. I said to my wife when Sandy was approaching “The warmists are going to love this” That is part of the problem, these people want a disaster. But there is really no need to lie about it. I trust Chris Landsea’s judgement on Sandy.

    It all about the sun,clouds and the ocean!

    You should look into a guy by the name of M. Strong, lives in China now. Hiding!


  10. Yes, carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and levels are rising. And yes, every molecule of carbon dioxide we emit causes some global warming.
    Many non-scientists think that proves the case, but it doesn’t. In particular, it doesn’t rule out the possibility that carbon dioxide is merely a minor or insignificant player, and that something else is the main cause of global warming.

    Here’s a clue: the world has been in a warming trend since about 1680 (The depth of the Little Ice Age), and started to really kick in about 1850. It has warmed steadily since then, at half a degree per century. Within the trend there is a pattern of 25 – 30 years of warming followed by 25 – 30 years of mild cooling. We just finished a warming period that started in 1975, so chance are we’ll have mild cooling for the next couple of decades. But there were no SUV’s in 1680. Human emissions of CO2 were miniscule before 1850, nearly all come after 1945, and a quarter since 1998. Yet the warming trend was as strong in the 1700s and 1800s as it was in the 1900s.

    The theory of man-made global warming doesn’t stand up to even casual scrutiny. It requires believers to ignore or deny overwhelming evidence that it is bunk. The believers have to be schooled by massive propaganda not to notice certain things, and to ignore and revile anyone who points out those things.

    The climate models predict the oceans should be warming. We’ve only been measuring ocean temperature properly since 2003, using the ARGO system. In ARGO, a buoy duck dives down to 2000m, slowly ascends and reads the temperatures on the way, then radios the result back by satellite to HQ. Three thousand ARGO buoys patrol the oceans constantly. They say that the ocean temperature since 2003 has been basically flat. Again, reality is very different to the climate models.

    The climate models predict a particular pattern of atmospheric warming during periods of global warming. In particular, the most prominent change they predict is a warming in the tropics about 10 km up, the so-called “hotspot”. But we have been measuring atmospheric temperatures by weather balloons since the 1960s, and millions of weather balloons say there was no such hotspot during the last warming from 1975 to 2001. The hotspot is integral to their theory, because it would be evidence of the extra evaporation and thickening of the water vapor blanket that produces two third of the warming in the climate models – the carbon dioxide itself produces only one third of the projected warming, but is amplified in the models by water vapor. But in reality there is no hotspot, so there is no amplification, which is why the climate models have exaggerated temperature increases.BTW this became known by the mid-1990s, so the theory of man-made global warming should have been abandoned then, but there was too much money, bureaucracy, ideology , bank trading profits, and renewables action for the gravy train to be shut down.

    Satellites have measured the outgoing radiation from the earth and found that the earth gives off more heat when the surface is warmer, and less heat in months when the earth’s surface is cooler. Who could have guessed? But the climate models say the opposite, that the Earth gives off less heat when the surface is warmer, because they trap heat too aggressively. Again, the climate models are violently at odds with reality.

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