I have something else to write about for next Monday, but in the last few days I have been involved in someone else’s website, that of John Quiggin, a respected economist. He has taken a pro-orthodox position on ‘climate change’ for a long time, and is a member of the Board of the Climate Change Authority. I remember his dismissing me and my Planning Institute of Australia speech in 2008, but otherwise I have not encountered him in the blogosphere, apart from my offering him space here a couple of weeks ago to put forward his own views on ‘climate change’ and why he held them. That is, until the other day, when commenter ‘David’ on this website pointed out that I was being attacked on the Quiggin website. What Professor Quiggin said there seemed a bizarre interpretation of my views, and I suggested he make suitable corrections. Professor Quiggin did a little.
A commenter over there, ‘Nick’, apparently decided to take my work apart. You can read what he said on the Quiggin website, but I decided to bring his first two sallies here, where I have the space to set out both sides. ‘Nick’ has been informed, and may visit. I hope he does. Why am I doing this? I think ‘Nick’ displays clear signs of the believer, and they are worth exploring. It also helps to explain why were is no serious debate about ‘climate change’. I can’t put in all the responses I would like to make, but there is enough, I think, to illustrate the problem. I apologise for the length of this whole essay. ‘Nick’ has kept going on the Quiggin site, but without adding light.
First, ‘Nick’s’ opening salvo.
‘Don, I cannot understand your arrogance, unless it’s to compensate for the woeful incomprehension evident in your musings on climate change and AGW.
Your essay #4 : Is the Planet Warming? completely avoids answering the titular question in a direct and coherent way. And there is no lack of information to provide such a clear and direct answer.
‘Is the planet warming’ in the industrial era? The answer is unambiguously ‘yes’. We have a useful thermometer network. We have evidence from long-term tide gauges. We have evidence from changes to the cryosphere, shrinking glaciers and ice caps. We have evidence from measured changes to the atmospheric temperature profile. We have evidence from the arctic, in widespread changes to permafrost and increase in methane outgassing. We have long term ice-in, ice-out records for lakes and rivers, and long term phenological records for cherry blossoms and grape vines. The planet is warming, and continues to warm.
Back to your essay#4
Your graphs sources are unacknowledged, not very good form on your part. The first looks at the past 450,000 years and is irrelevant to your titular question. Why? Because the human species was not numbering in the billions, and had no sophisticated agriculture and infrastructure to plan, build and maintain during the vast bulk of that period. No matter the extremes that the long past show, we don’t live back then…we live here, and now, and in an unprecedented state for our species. A state that is threatened by any enduring climate shift.
The second graph is a crude picture of the Holocene, apparently derived from an ice core program…extrapolating to a global picture from such data needs to be done with care and explanation. You provide none. You muse that maybe that illustrates we are in a long-term cooling trend, since the Holocene Optimum…indeed that is the view of the experts. Their view is also that the anthropogenic CO2 spike has cancelled that weak cooling trend for many tens of thousands of years, yet you do not discuss that.
But what seems almost indisputable to me is that there hasn’t been some kind of special ‘right’ climate for humans. Our species has had to cope with more and less warmth, as we do at the moment.
Yet your first graph clearly shows that there were long periods of special ‘wrong’ climates for human beings! The glacial maxima were apparently times of species contraction to refugia, and homo sapiens was one of those species… and the Holocene has been a time when our species could eventually prosper, the stability of the last 10,000 years allowing agriculture and technology to advance. Now we are warming beyond Holocene maxima..we’re in uncharted territory, obviously with some good tools…and good knowledge, if only so much of it was not being rejected by AGW pseudo-skeptics like yourself…but it’s not going to be easy to deal with several metres of committed sea level rise in the next century and a half.
You may not be aware that the arctic is warming at a faster than global mean rate, despite the insolation level at that latitude being in decline for the last ten thousand years. IOW, the Holocene Optimum was a lagged response to the peaking of high latitude insolation, the increase of which brought the planet out of the last ice age minimum.
So yes, we should be in a slow cooling trend: the data based on orbital calculations says so.
But your third graph shows global warming since 1900….and it is quite rapid warming. [Re your ice cores, surface temperatures at the GISP2 ice core site are now higher than they were estimated to be at any time during the Holocene….a fact that is vigorously ignored by climate change rejectionists who love to cite a certain fake graph]
In your essay #4, it’s evident that you clearly do not know what you’re doing with your material, Don…though you may have attracted an audience to make you feel comfortable about that.’
DA Response I didn’t respond to all of it, because his piece alone is nearly 700 words. And he is right that I did not say where the graphs came from. I normally do, but I don’t think that’s a substantial point, since the graphs are well known, and ‘Nick’ is not disputing their force.
The tone of Nick’s critique is lofty, authoritative and scornful, indeed, insulting. It required a response, which went like this (I have edited it a little):
‘What follows is a short reply to ‘Nick’ who starts his long attack abusively — he ‘cannot understand [my] arrogance unless it is to compensate for my ‘woeful incomprehension’. Wow! What a civil start to a discussion.
‘Nick’ says that in my Chapter 4 I avoided answering the question ‘Is the planet warming?’ in a direct and coherent way. What did I say? This — ‘The apparently simple question like the one in the title of this essay is in fact almost impossible to answer unless it is specified further.’ And I explained why and showed what I meant any further specification. ‘Nick’ says I ought to have asked a different question: ‘Is the planet warming’ in the industrial era?’ Well, if ‘Nick’ had written the essay he might have chosen such a title. But he didn’t write it. Blaming someone for not doing what you would have done is not a helpful contribution to a discussion.
Then ‘Nick’ has a go at answering his own question. I’ll quote the whole section.
Is the planet warming’ in the industrial era? The answer is unambiguously ‘yes’. We have a useful thermometer network. We have evidence from long-term tide gauges. We have evidence from changes to the cryosphere, shrinking glaciers and ice caps. We have evidence from measured changes to the atmospheric temperature profile. We have evidence from the arctic, in widespread changes to permafrost and increase in methane outgassing. We have long term ice-in, ice-out records for lakes and rivers, and long term phenological records for cherry blossoms and grape vines. The planet is warming, and continues to warm.
Now let’s look at the first four of these claims, or assumptions.
(1) When did the industrial era start? My economic history reading says the second half of the 18th century — 1760 or 1770. Wikipedia says 1760. Has the planet warmed since then? Possibly, and I’ve said so myself. Unambiguously? Well, it depends on what you are using as measurements. So what measurements is ‘Nick’ using?
(2) ‘We have a useful thermometer network’. Do we? Let’s look at the datasets. HADCrut4 is the standard, and it starts in 1850 not 1760, and its designers are at their most confident from 1951 on. There are real problems with sea-surface temperatures until very recently. (See https://crudata.uea.ac.uk/cru/data/temperature/). GISS is the US equivalent, and for much the same reasons, it doesn’t start in the 18th century either. Try 1880 (http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs/). Now I’ve written about all this many times. Yes, there are temperature data, but no, they’re not great. Yes, the planet has warmed, but up and down, as you will see with any long-term graph of ‘global temperature’. The best data are from satellites, but they start in 1979. Unambiguously warming it doesn’t seem to be, other than it is higher now than it was then, though not by much. And of course the 18th century was at the end of the Little Ice Age. One might have expect some warming.
(3) ‘We have evidence from long-term tide gauges.’ What evidence is ‘Nick’ talking about? The Sydney tide gauge, which is one of the long-term ones, shows an average 6.5cm rise over a century. For those who wonder why such a metric is important, the assumption is that a warming world will produce warming oceans, which will expand in volume, and cause a rise in sea levels. There is argument at the moment about whether or not there is acceleration of the rate of warming, but the measured rate so far is tiny. The whole area of the measurement of sea-level rise is made difficult by differences in the rise and fall of land-masses, but Sydney is a stable region geologically. Unambiguous? Again, I’ve written about all of his. Did ‘Nick’ somehow miss it? He believes we are set to experience ‘several metres of committed sea level rise in the next century and a half’. Not even the IPCC says this. Evidence from ‘Nick’? None.
(4) ‘We have evidence from changes to the cryosphere, shrinking glaciers and ice caps.’ Do we? What does it show? I used ice-core data in my chapter and ‘Nick’ didn’t like my data, because they didn’t help with his answer to his question. They weren’t intended to, because I had no prior notion of ‘Nick’s’ question. What data exactly is he pointing to? No sign there. ‘Shrinking glaciers? Which ones? Does ‘Nick’ know how many glaciers there are in the world? A few short of 200,000. We know little about any of them, and our best knowledge has occurred since 1999. Unambiguous since the beginning of the industrial era? Hardly. The glaciers closest to us, Franz Joseph and Fox, in the South Island of New Zealand, have both advanced and retreated in the last fifty years. Unambiguous?
There are four more sentences/claims/assumptions in just the paragraph I quoted, and each of them is equally questionable. And ‘Nick’ provides no evidence, no data — he just makes a claim, as though all of this is somehow given. The rest of his critique is of the same quality — expansive, authoritative and empty of evidence. Can I make the point, as politely as I can, that when one is talking about major changes to policy, one has to do much better than vague claims?
I’ve looked hard through my Chapter 4, and I can find no ‘arrogance’ there. It is not arrogant to point out apparent errors or flaws in analysis. That was my job, in research policy and funding, for almost three decades. Nor can I find any ‘woeful incomprehension’, and ‘Nick’ has not shown any evidence of it. What I do find, both in his long complaint, and in the words of others on the Quiggin website, is a kind of indignation that someone of apparent standing could object intellectually to the CAGW orthodoxy. How dare he!
Tough. I was trained to find problems in what others were proposing, not to smile and let them through. I’m happy to argue the case on proper grounds, but to be called a ‘denialist’ is a bit too religious for me.’
Nick decided to go further, and posted a second critique. This one was shorter.
‘Deconstructing Don again: from his essay #5 ‘Are human beings causing the warming?’
Readers should note that ‘extremely likely’ in [the IPCC AR5 WGI SPM D.3 attribution discussion] means that those who wrote the statement assert that the probability of their being right here is more than 95 per cent (not that the probability of their being right is 95 per cent). I object to this sort of language, which gives the impression that real data show this to be the cause, and that it is not simply the opinion of the writers
…and the ‘opinion’ of the writers is drawn from a multitude of real data and observations, and synthesis of real data, evidence, theory and natural laws….not exactly a casual ‘opinion’.
Don makes no attempt to understand why and how attribution is decided then presented in such a report of unprecedented length and detail. Needless to say, it’s a complex and diverse process. It’s important to consider it…but Aitkin is completely uncurious, and prefers ignorance.
Then he offers:
Readers might also note that the baseline is now 1951, during a cooling period. Why not 1900, or 1850? My explanation is that starting at 1951 removes the need to explain a similar warming period between 1910 and 1940, when carbon dioxide is not thought to be important.
This has been plucked from his backside. 1951 was not during a ‘cooling period’, it was during a period of hiatus, and 1951-1980 is pretty much trendless, an ideal baseline. The reason for the baseline concept is discussed in the reports. The most important thing being that there is quality data, and thirty years of it. 1951-80 is ideal. His ‘explanation’ is deliberate rubbish. He could have cited the reports.
The question of the ‘attribution’ of global warming is perhaps the clearest case of the science not being settled. To begin with, there is no paper that clearly shows the link…
He wants one paper, and thinks it reasonable or necessary to demand it? There are so many papers that consider attribution directly or indirectly, and since attribution is fundamental to the ‘diagnosis’ and the strategies to deal with it, there is a chapter on it in the assessment reports. Don didn’t seem to think he could mention this…it might be too neutrally informative. Don should have no trouble understanding the concept of ‘synthesis report’…but again the aim is not to inform, but to pretend to consider.
That’s just the first few paragraphs of the essay…showing no respect for subject or reader, dispiriting, dull, and of no informative value.’
DA Response Well, there you go. I am dispiriting, dull and offer no informative value. The insults continue. But let’s look again at some of Nick’s critique.
(1) I did not say that the SPM statement was a ‘casual opinion’. Read it again. I said the the use of numbers here gives the impression that we are talking about real data, and we are not. Yes, there are no doubt some expert opinions here, but the numerical language gives the impression that we are talking about statistics. And we are not. We are talking about opinions.
(2) Things I pluck from my backside? No, by just looking at the data. There is indeed a slight cooling trend from about 1940 to about 1980. I don’t mind if ‘Nick’ wants to call it a hiatus. The important message, in the passage he objects to, is something else — that by starting at 1951 the writers did not have to deal with the cause of the warming trend from about 1910 and 1940, which is of much the same size and shape as that in the second half of the 20th century. It was simply ignored. Why? Why did not ‘Nick’ deal with it himself?
(3) ‘There is no paper that shows the link’. If ‘Nick’ thinks there is a paper that conclusively shows the link between increasing CO2 levels and increasing temperature, one that deals with the rises and falls in temperature alongside a steady increase in CO2, one that distinguishes CO2 ‘forcing’ from natural variation, and deals with the hiatus from the beginning of this century to last year, then I would be most happy to hear of it. There are many papers that have a go at aspects of this intractable issue, but no one has yet done it conclusively, to the best of my knowledge. Of course, if there were such a paper, ‘Nick’ could just have cited it. Yes, there is a chapter on attribution in WG1, which admits that this is a difficult problem, and makes a case. But that is all.
In retrospect I don’t know who ‘Nick’ is, but I would never use that sort of tone in debating anybody about anything. It is full of ad hominem, hand-waving, righteous indignation and scorn, but empty of data, real evidence and appropriate links. It is as though none of that is necessary. ‘Nick’ has the truth, and ‘Nick’ shall prevail.
It’s all really sad. We could benefit from a real discussion between Professor Quiggin and even a sceptic like me. But he does not need to do this because he is on the Board of the Climate Authority, along with other prominent orthodox believers like Professor Clive Hamilton, who says he knows who to believe. Whereas, I don’t think this a matter for belief at all, but for cool, rational consideration of data and argument. We don’t have it, let alone from the Climate Authority.
Later: I’ve added this graph at David’s request. I found it difficult to do it properly as a comment. The temperature data are from GISS, the CO2 from mauna Loa. The data stop at December 2014. The source is climate4you, the most comprehensive repository of official data on most aspects of ‘climate change’.
Here is another interesting graphs from a different source altogether. No CO2, but we can assume it will go on rising steadily for some time, I think.