[Vision2020] Some reasons I'm skeptical about anthropogenic globalwarming

the lockshop lockshop at pull.twcbc.com
Thu Dec 10 11:52:59 PST 2009

Thanks for a well reasoned and well presented post. I, for one,  appreciate it.

As to the whole pariah thing, while I'm sure you need no reassurance from me, I wouldn't 
give it a second thought. Any post that breaks away from the usual chorus of "me too" 
and "I couldn't agree more" comes as an extremely welcome change.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Paul Rumelhart" <godshatter at yahoo.com>
To: "Vision2020" <vision2020 at moscow.com>
Sent: Thursday, December 10, 2009 10:41 AM
Subject: [Vision2020] Some reasons I'm skeptical about anthropogenic globalwarming

> Since I feel I've basically made myself into a pariah on this list 
> because of my skepticism towards anthropogenic global warming, I thought 
> I'd go whole hog and totally alienate myself from all free-thinking 
> people by expanding upon my opinion by giving more detail and examples 
> of why I'm skeptical.
> A Note About Skepticism
> Someone who is skeptical about a subject is not the same thing as a 
> "denier" or a "contrarian".  A "denier" would be someone who is 
> unequivocally stating that the subject is incorrect.  A "contrarian" 
> would automatically be stating the opposite conclusion is true, no 
> matter what was said.  A skeptic, on the other hand, is merely 
> expressing doubt about the topic.  
> Thus, I will explain some of my doubts.
> Climate vs. Weather
> Weather and climate are different, yet related, topics.  In effect, 
> climate is an aggregation of weather data over a large period of time.  
> How warm is the Earth, today?  Right here, it's very cold.  There are 
> blizzards in the mid-west.  In Tokyo, it's 52F.  In Sydney it's 77F.  
> These temperatures change quickly over time.  If you took an average 
> temperature right now at every weather station on the globe, how good a 
> representation of the Earth's temperature would it be?  There are large 
> parts of the globe that are a large distance away from a weather 
> station.  In some places, you may be a short drive from several.  Factor 
> in the temperature of the water in the oceans in various spots and at 
> various depths and the temperature of other bodies of water such as 
> lakes and rivers and the temperature at various altitudes in our 
> atmosphere, and you have a confusing jumble of data that you're trying 
> to coalesce into one number.
> How useful is that number?  It's presumably useful for long-term trends, 
> but may not tell you much on it's own.  How long-term?  A few days?  A 
> few months?  A few years?  A few decades?  Longer?  How chaotic is the 
> system?  Does that number change fractionally from hour-to-hour, 
> day-to-day, or month-to-month?  Does it jump all over the place?  If you 
> had a thermometer that was connected to all of these data sources and 
> more that could show you the exact averaged temperature at any moment, 
> what would it look like?  Would the needle be rock-solid or would it be 
> vibrating like mad?
> I've learned from playing around with the NCDC global temperature 
> datasets that more information does not automatically lead to clearer 
> conclusions.
> The State of the Data Past 1850 or So
> Unfortunately, we don't have data going back before about 1850 that is 
> global in scope.  That's about 160 years, which is a small fraction of 
> the amount of time we should be looking back.  
> The current global temperature data that we do have available comes from 
> three places and covers data from around 1850 onward.  Some of it comes 
> from NASA's Goddarad Institute for Space Studies, some of it from the 
> NOAA's National Climatic Data Center, and some of it from the CRU at the 
> University of East Anglia, which is the victim of that data hack (or 
> whistle-blowing event) that hasn't been all over the mainstream media.  
> The CRU and NCDC datasets are averaged data for the month for each 
> station.  I haven't looked at the GISS data yet, so I don't know if it's 
> averaged by month or not.
> I won't belabor the point about my current mistrust of the CRU dataset 
> too much, suffice it to say that since they have "lost" the original raw 
> data and don't have methodologies posted that I can find about how they 
> made it into their current "value-added" set of data, so I'm pretty much 
> discounting it completely.
> I am somewhat familiar with the NCDC's dataset, since that's the one 
> I've been playing around with plotting. There are stark differences 
> between the raw dataset and the adjusted dataset.  Sometime in the 
> future I'll have some nice plots that will show these adjustments.  
> However, at least we have access to the raw data.  I did dig around on 
> the net a little, and came across this: 
> http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/img/climate/research/ushcn/ts.ushcn_anom25_diffs_urb-raw_pg.gif  
> Take a look at that graph, and think what would happen if you took any 
> old mp3 file and plotted it's waveform as if it's global temperature 
> data, then applied that adjustment to it.  What would it show?  Yep, you 
> guessed it, global warming.
> I'm not familiar with the GISS dataset, so I can offer no conclusions 
> about it's trustworthiness.
> Another problem is that the stations that provide this data move around 
> or change in some other way over time.  What used to be an isolated 
> station perfect for measuring weather gets a parking lot put in next to 
> it, raising the temperature by 1C.  A station gets moved behind a 
> building, too close to an exhaust fan for the air conditioning.  You 
> name it, it's happened.  Look at http://surfacestations.org for an idea 
> of the quality of data we're getting from these stations.  Take a good 
> look at the pie chart labeled "USHCN - Station Site by Quality Rating".  
> Notice that with 82% of the sites surveyed, 69% of them are categorized 
> as having an error bar of >= 2C, 61% of them as having an error bar of 
> >= 5C.  That's in the US, I don't know how other countries stack up.
> The State of the Data Before 1850 or So
> Well, there isn't much.  Not that I've seen, anyway.  There are probably 
> temperature records that go back farther than that, but they are 
> sparse.  Before that, it's anecdotal.  Descriptions of storms, bad 
> winters or good summers, etc.  Go far enough back, and there is no data 
> whatsoever produced by man.
> This only gets you back a short amount time compared to the time frame 
> of the Earth.  It's just a blink of an eye, geographically speaking.
> Temperature Proxies
> So how do we graph temperature going back before 1850?  Using 
> temperature proxies.  These are measurements that are only indirectly 
> related to temperature.  These are things like tree ring growth, coral 
> growth, composition of snow, and others.  You basically take some 
> natural process that can be measured currently that has a history of 
> growth fluctuations over time and try to determine based on what causes 
> those fluctuations what the past was like.
> The simple example, which is central to some of the debates about the 
> CRU email hack, is tree rings.  Trees grow better in certain temperature 
> ranges, and they grow a new ring every year.  So you can go back and 
> measure the size of the rings to get a basic determination of how well 
> the tree grew that year.  That, presumably, gives you some idea of what 
> the temperature record was like in the past.
> The problem with this is that temperature is not the only variable that 
> affects tree growth.  There are other factors which affect this, such as 
> moisture, tree placement (how much competition it has for sunlight), 
> disease, soil composition, and who knows how many others.  You can 
> measure tree rings on a lot of trees to try to average some of these 
> factors out that affect individual trees, but you are still stuck with a 
> few that should be taken into consideration, such as moisture or 
> rainfall.  How much each of these factors affects trees varies by the 
> kind of tree that is being sampled.
> You take your tree ring growth chart and your reconstructed temperatures 
> and you run them against known temperatures for that region (1850 to 
> present, if the temperature record there goes back that far), and 
> compare the data points.  If there is a good fit, then you have some 
> validation that the proxy you are using might be correlated with 
> temperature.  This is still doubtful to some degree, because we only 
> have a temperature record that covers about 160 years, which may or may 
> not be really accurate.  These proxies are being used, by looking at 
> fossils of trees, to go back one or two thousand years.
> The controversy about "hide the decline" that you may have heard about 
> has to do with tree rings for pine trees in Yamal in Siberia.  
> Apparently, if you compare the reconstruction with current temperature 
> records, you get a pretty good fit until about 1960 or so.  After that 
> point, the reconstructed temperature falls off while the temperature 
> record goes up.  The trick to hide the decline had to do with splicing 
> the temperature record onto the reconstructed temperature record at 1960 
> and smooth the curve, then cut it at 1960 in order to make the curve 
> that ends at 1960 appear to be curving up instead of down.  There is a 
> good explanation of this here: 
> http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/11/20/mikes-nature-trick/  In my 
> opinion, that discrepency (50 years over at most 160 years don't fit) 
> should have signaled to them that that proxy was not a good proxy for 
> temperature.  Instead, they tried to make it appear that it fit better 
> than it did, so that they could show that the remainder of the 
> reconstruction record before 1850 was more valid than it would otherwise 
> appear to be.  Another criticism I've seen about this study is that they 
> used a small number of trees to get their data points.  Twelve trees, I 
> think.  That's obviously not enough to get an accurate reconstruction, 
> even if tree rings are a good proxy for temperature.
> The Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age
> Why did they try so hard to make their reconstruction look better than 
> it did?  Because they wanted to minimize the "Medieval Warm Period" and 
> the "Little Ice Age".  This came out in the hacked emails.  Here is an 
> explanation of this from a blog post: 
> http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/12/06/american-thinker-understanding-climategates-hidden-decline/  
> The MWP was a period of time (about 800 - 1300 AD) during which the 
> temperature of the Earth appeared from historical writings to be at 
> least as high as the current temperature or even higher.  The LIA was a 
> period of time from about 1500 or so to 1850 during which temperatures 
> were low and slowly climbing, with minimal temperatures at various 
> points interspersed with periods of slight warming.
> There is evidence that both of these phenomena were global in scale, 
> although the exact periods of time change a bit in different areas of 
> the Earth.  You have the Vikings colonizing Greenland and farming there 
> for 400 years, and you have various other measurements that coincide 
> with this.  The Wikipedia article on MWP has a handful of them: 
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medieval_warm_period  For example, here is 
> a link to a description of an article that was published in Nature that 
> describes how the Indo-Pacific Warm Pool may have been as warm during 
> the MWP as it is today: http://www.physorg.com/news170598165.html
> So why try to minimize the MWP and the LIA?  Look at how it frames the 
> debate.  If it was naturally warmer one thousand years ago than it is 
> now, and we're recovering from a severe cold bout that has lasted 600 
> years, then global warming can be seen as a natural correction to the 
> LIA.  Furthermore, life during the MWP was prosperous, not some sort of 
> hell on earth that killed billions.  It's much more profitable and much 
> more ego-building to show that you are trying to save the world from a 
> mistake that we as a species has made, since we can presumably do 
> something about it.  That's why I am skeptical of these tree ring 
> proxies and our ability to state with any confidence exactly what the 
> temperatures were like.  
> Conclusions
> Well, I was going to write about Climate Model accuracy, Milankovich 
> Cycles, the Maunder Minimum, the Earth's history of Ice Ages and a few 
> other topics, but this has already turned into a book.  Look them up if 
> you're curious.  
> So, basically, I'm doubtful of the following things, to one degree or 
> another:
> Our ability to accurately graph global temperature with accuracy over 
> extended periods of time and have it mean much.
> The "adjustments" made to the three basic datasets that we use for 
> plotting temperature.
> The accuracy of our current temperature measurements used in these datasets.
> Our ability to accurately reconstruct temperature before 1850 based on 
> various temperature proxies.
> The predictive ability of tree-ring proxies in particular and their 
> explanatory ability for past temperatures.
> The removal of the Medieval Warm Period from the temperature record, and 
> indeed our general idea of what temperature has been like over the last 
> 2000 years.
> Now, on to what I'm not saying.  I'm not saying that the Earth is not 
> warming.  It seems pretty clear that it is warming, or has been since 
> 1850, generally speaking.  I'm not saying that carbon dioxide does not 
> have an affect on temperature, or that man is not having an affect in 
> other ways as well.  I'm not saying that massive amounts of CO2 aren't 
> harming our oceans.
> But I am skeptical about the science being "settled", and I'm skeptical 
> that we have enough of an understanding of the problem to warrant the 
> massive media campaign that is currently going on and the massive 
> expenditures that could come out of Copenhagen.  There is room for doubt 
> here about a lot of things.  Let's do more science.
> In twenty years, when it's all been proven and it turns out that the AGW 
> hypotheses were correct, will I feel like an idiot for being skeptical 
> of it now?  No.  In my opinion, the question is still up in the air and 
> I won't feel even a little bit chagrined then for doubting some of their 
> conclusions now.  How would some of these scientists handle the opposite 
> answer 20 years from now, I wonder?
> Paul
> My apologies for the long post.
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