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Discussion > Much ado about nothing much

Long verbose post follows, be warned. This relates to the science of CAGW, not the politics
.

OK, here we go again. This time it is a comment on what I have learned so far. I can't claim my best evidence thread produced much evidence, or that my experimental thread produced a valid experiment to try. I have however come to a couple of tentative..well, not conclusions, but working conjectures. This is the first and the other will come later just as soon as I can remember what it was, subject to his Grace's indulgence in allowing me to use this discussions board.


I came to this subject as a sceptic, many years ago. I do not present myself as an impartial judge and would suspect anyone making such a claim. We are all informed by our prejudices. First I read Lomborg's Skeptical Environmentalist, then later begin reading sceptic blogs. CA, WUWT etc. I haven't made a habit of commenting until recently.

What we have in the climate 'debate' is a war fought on several battlefields. It is intrinsically adversarial. There is no referee, there is nobody enforcing fairness or good behaviour, everybody is on one side or the other. That doesn't mean there are not many interest groups, the two sides are alliances rather than single combatants. Everybody wants a say, everybody wants to strike the final killing blow at the enemy.

My tentative conjecture is that nobody can.

Every day or two a new paper comes out or an article is publishes or a data set updated. Every day someone from one side makes more of it than is really there, and someone from the other side attempts to 'debunk' it by fair means or otherwise. Or present any threatening paper as debunked even when it has not been. None of the papers from either side is ever the final killing blow. Anthony at WUWT posts any relevant paper or piece of news. The tendency there is for sceptics to jump all over any item which makes exaggerated claims for AGW or to look favourably on any new theory which contradicts AGW no matter how flimsy. Of course both sides get blamed for the behaviour of their worst commenters as if the blog owner was writing the comments himself. It's all part of the ongoing struggle, every day in the trenches, war without end.


Can anyone make an objective assessment of the evidence and come down on one side or the other? Well, probably not, now. The trouble is that anyone who is funded or merely determined to make a case can plausibly do so. There is no overwhelming evidence, there is no indisputable disproof. The warmist case relies too much on the big three, global average temperature, palaeo and models. All of them appear to be indicative of something on the face of it and even though each has been subjected to severe criticism by sceptics much of it soundly based there still remains an upward trend in temperature. Nobody was able to show me evidence of the actual change in CO2 producing a measurable change in anything. It's supposed to be 2 watts per square metre by now, and that quantity is apparently not distinguishable in the noise. (You know, if I had a sixty watt bulb illuminating a three-metre radius circle of ground I think I'd have no trouble finding the light, but hey.) Nobody proposed an experiment or critiqued the Berthold Klein experiment which found no GHE.

An assessment is nevertheless possible. And it is: Nothing much is happening. It seems that there is warming, but nothing unprecedented is going on, no new records are being set, the warm winter / increased night minima signature is far from prominent, no natural disasters can be realistically laid at the door of warming. That doesn't mean the warmists are wrong and the sceptics right. It just means that in the absence of any strong signal for or against warming, we have to assume as a working hypothesis that nothing much is going on. Until one side or the other brings something new to the battlefield, that's how it is.

Aug 29, 2012 at 7:37 PM | Registered Commenterrhoda

Hi Rhoda,

Well said. I agree with most of this, particularly that nobody can make the "final killing blow" in terms of proving the argument for or against the "C". One might add that the basic reason for this boils down to the complexity of the climate system, which means that things are likely to change erratically and unpredictably even in the absence of man-made or natural perturbation.

I also largely agree with your final assessment: "Nothing much is happening", certainly in terms of temperature, weather, etc. The one aspect where this may not be true is the CO2 record, which as it stands does show a clear recent rise caused by human CO2 emissions. By itself, this measurement gives cause for some concern, simply because CO2 is a greenhouse gas.

To my mind, the best thing to do at this point in the argument is to simply put these two basic observations together, and ask what should best be done about it? I don’t think radical mitigation is a good answer. But perhaps you are planning to address this in part 2? In any case, I think it would be a very good idea on both sides to treat this as a practical (as opposed to ideological) issue.

Aug 30, 2012 at 6:19 AM | Registered CommenterPhilip Richens

Although one must surely add that there is a lot of very poor / invalid statistics being applied and very dubious conclusions / wild claims being drawn from pretty tenuous science and a distinct absence of reputable statisticians / scientists drawing attention to it.

This is surely the real 'crime' against science: "for evil to succeed it is sufficient that good men do nothing".

Perhaps if more scientists did speak out, instead of allowing the IPCC to serve as a mouthpiece, we might get a lot closer to agreeing what is really going on.

Aug 30, 2012 at 6:32 AM | Registered Commentermatthu

What has been revealed about the conduct of 'climate science' by its practitioners means that none of it can be trusted. Even those that appear to be honest people suffer from delusions such as genuinely believing they have validated their models and being convinced that the output of computer models is scientific evidence.

And now, for the reasons you have spelled out, even if climate science were redone from scratch, its results could not be taken seriously.

Which is a pity, because understanding the earth's climate would surely have been worthwhile. But the well has been poisoned and will remain that way.

Aug 30, 2012 at 8:22 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Philip
You say: By itself, this measurement gives cause for some concern, simply because CO2 is a greenhouse gas.
Do you know what you're talking about? That's not meant to be rude, by the way, but it seems that the phrase "CO2 is a greenhouse gas" has been repeated so often that it is just casually accepted even by sceptics as being true. Yet there is an increasing level of argument from a variety of sources, some more reliable than others, that says that CO2 is irrelevant to climate.
There is also the well-established argument that since the earth is not a greenhouse the whole "greenhouse gas" argument is an over-simplification anyway.
Added to which the correlation between CO2 levels and temperature is not all that great — not as good, for example, as Svensmark's cosmic ray hypothesis.

The "nothing much is happening" hypothesis is one I agree with. I keep forgetting where I have posted my most profound thoughts (!) — senior moments get more frequent — but it's only a couple of days since I said that the CO2 argument needed a bit of explanation by its proponents.
I have to accept the 2*CO2=+1C statement (unless any of you know different) because I don't know any different but nobody seems very keen on defining exactly at what point in the past and at what level of CO2 they are counting the doubling from.
Whatever and whenever, at what point on the scale of doubling do we see the catastrophic effects start to take shape? If we are more than half-way to a doubling of CO2 and given that its effects are logarithmic surely we should be seeing something more than we are seeing.
If CO2 accounts for 0.004% of the earth's atmosphere, is it reasonable to assume that it can only trap and re-radiate 0.004% of the outgoing radiation? Which doesn't seem like a helluva lot to me.
And where does convection come into this?

Aug 30, 2012 at 10:13 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

If CO2 accounts for 0.004% of the earth's atmosphere, is it reasonable to assume that it can only trap and re-radiate 0.004% of the outgoing radiation? Which doesn't seem like a helluva lot to me.
And where does convection come into this?

Aug 30, 2012 at 10:13 AM | Mike Jackson>>>>

A point I made some months back only to be chided by the back radiation proponents here who said we must allow for for the spurious argument about the 'height' of the atmosphere and the possible number of collisions between ir photons and CO2 molecules [but of course offering no proof to their hand waving].

They went on to discuss an experiment they were proposing to PROVE back radiation - which fizzled out in pretty short order.

So yes Mike, it is all hand waving without a scrap of empirical proof in my opinion in order to make AGW [or in the case of the lukewarmists AGW - lite due to their assumed lessening of mankind's influence] seem feasible.

Klein's mylar bag experiment has shown NO effective back radiation [see rhoda's thread on an experimental demo of GHE] whilst laboratory proof of ATMOSPHERIC back radiation remains as elusive as ever.

Aug 30, 2012 at 11:38 AM | Registered CommenterRKS

Hi Mike,

No offence taken, and I appreciate all of your objections. CO2 is a greenhouse gas because it absorbs and radiates long-wave radiation. Because the radiation occurs in all directions, additional CO2 will create an energy imbalance within the atmosphere. I accept this because the basic mechanisms are explained in my c. 1970s physics textbooks. However, these properties of CO2 do not mean that it necessarily creates a serious problem, because as you so rightly point out, the details about how the imbalance works its way through the system are not fully understood. So my intended meaning is that more CO2 will have some effect, but no one knows quite what. I also broadly agree that there are a number of reasons to think that CO2 is not such a big problem as the IPCC makes out. Nonetheless more CO2 is likely to have some effect. Meanwhile, the climate system could decide to do something surprising all by itself, irrespective of more CO2 - although more CO2 is also likely to modulate that "something" as well.

Aug 30, 2012 at 11:50 AM | Registered CommenterPhilip Richens

Meanwhile, the climate system could decide to do something surprising all by itself, irrespective of more CO2 - although more CO2 is also likely to modulate that "something" as well.

Aug 30, 2012 at 11:50 AM | Philip Richens>>>>

One could also propose, as many have, that due to it's properties, as explained in your 1970's textbooks, CO2 is also an extremely efficient conductor of heat throughout the atmosphere and thence to TOA. Nobody has PROVED that CO2 causes atmospheric heating, leading to enhanced surface heating, [though it has been shown empirically that historically increase levels of CO2 have been as a result of increased global warming] so references to the effects of it as a greenhouse gas are merely speculation.

Aug 30, 2012 at 12:03 PM | Registered CommenterRKS

The answer to Rhoda's quest, the solution to the war about climate change, the guidance needed by governments about policy are all available right now to anyone who looks at these arguments in the right way. The problem is that those on the other side have an agenda and are not interested.

First there is a need for scientists to be honest, not about what they know about our climate but about what they dont know. What they dont know completely and overwhelmingly dwarfs what they do know.

The study of our climate is a real hive of activity at the moment and there are literally dozens of theories about what has caused recent warming, there is no way this would be happening if we really understood the climate.

Theories (in brief):

Ozone controls the climate and cosmic rays control the ozone.
Cloud controls the climate and cosmic rays control the clouds.
The oceans control the climate.
Activity along fault lines beneath the oceans control the climate.
The sun's IR radiation alone controls the climate.
CO2 and water vapour control the climate.

These are off the top of my head and in addition obviously there are earth orbits, earth axis changes, earth magnetic field changes, sun magnetic field changes etc etc.

What we know about climate is at about the same level as stone age man knew about manufacturing a car (he had the wheel and that was it).

The only sane behaviour in this situation is to STOP trying to predict or mitigate against climate changes, get our economies back to concentrating on the real world and of course continue our studies of everything including climate.

Aug 30, 2012 at 1:51 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Philip

You are right that levels of CO2 are rising and I started a discussion here asking why a few weeks ago but it fizzled out. However why single out CO2?

The sun's radiance is changing, the suns magnetc field is changing, the level of cosmic rays is changing, cloud cover is changing, the sun's position in our galaxy is changing, Ozone cover is changing, why the fixation on CO2?

Aug 30, 2012 at 2:01 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Hi Dung,

Again I agree with your statements concerning other things that change. I promise you, I’m not at all fixated on CO2. Rather the opposite, and I generally try to avoid the topic. I think there are many far more interesting climate related topics that we could discuss. I did touch on some of them in my first comment, but unfortunately everyone seems to have missed that :-(.

Aug 30, 2012 at 3:28 PM | Registered CommenterPhilip Richens

Mike,

You asked me for my opinions on a couple of specific questions earlier, which I didn't answer (sorry).

"at what point in the past and at what level of CO2 they are counting the doubling from."

According to the formula, the relationship between CO2 levels and 1C is logarithmic. Consequently, it doesn't matter where you start from. If levels of CO2 have doubled since that start, then the associated temperature change is always 1 C.

"is it reasonable to assume that it can only trap and re-radiate 0.004% of the outgoing radiation?"

Not really. Even though the concentration of CO2 molecules is small, there are still an immense number of them in any given piece of air. Very well tested equations are used to calculate the effect. Unfortunately, this can't be done in a closed form (like sin or cos), so must be done numerically. The result of the calculation is the 3.7 W/m^2 for a doubling of CO2 concentration.

"And where does convection come into this?"

Convection is the primary means by which heat is transferred from the surface to a height at which it is radiated directly to space.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Regarding CO2...

Jonathan Jones had a thread earlier where he discussed some of the mechanisms, http://bishophill.squarespace.com/discussion/post/1784066

Roy Spencer has had many posts explaining the greenhouse effect together with several little experiments for detecting it.

Science of Doom had a series of posts explaining it,

http://scienceofdoom.com/roadmap/

He also had a recent guest post from Leonard Weinstein explaining it.

http://scienceofdoom.com/2012/07/23/how-the-greenhouse-effect-works-a-guest-post-and-discussion/

If you doubt SoD’s trustworthiness or motives, then please also take a look at this post,

http://scienceofdoom.com/2009/12/13/understanding-the-flaw/

At the recent Richard Lindzen HoC presentation, the person sitting next to me pointed out that Lindzen was a warmist, which is true in the sense that he accepts the GHE. Lindzen himself said that he wished people would stop trying to dispute the reality of the GHE because it is not a good strategy for winning the argument over CAGW.

Aug 30, 2012 at 3:39 PM | Registered CommenterPhilip Richens

" Very well tested equations are used to calculate the effect. Unfortunately, this can't be done in a closed form (like sin or cos), so must be done numerically. The result of the calculation is the 3.7 W/m^2 for a doubling of CO2 concentration."

At the Mcintyre pub meeting, Richard Betts couldn't explain that derivation to me. Maybe I'm too thick to understand, but when I ask for an empirical observation of same, nothing. When I ask how what is essentially an illustrative average figure can be said to repeat over successive doublings in a wet atmosphere, nothing. And that's why I think nothing much is going on. It isn't whether there is a GHE associated with CO2, but what effect it has in our actual atmosphere in the concentration range we are interested in. A mylar bag experiment that actually showed it might help.

Aug 30, 2012 at 3:48 PM | Registered Commenterrhoda

Philip

Am I right in asuming that this is what you think we need to discuss?:

The one aspect where this may not be true is the CO2 record, which as it stands does show a clear recent rise caused by human CO2 emissions. By itself, this measurement gives cause for some concern, simply because CO2 is a greenhouse gas.

To my mind, the best thing to do at this point in the argument is to simply put these two basic observations together, and ask what should best be done about it?

If not then I have indeed missed the point?

In terms of rising CO2 being the result of human activity then this is not proven. Murry Salby demonstrates that the daily changes in CO2 levels are totally disconnected from daily human caused emissions.

Aug 30, 2012 at 4:01 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Philip
I wasn't addressing the questions specifically at anyone; they were as much rhetorical as anything and aimed to pointing out that there appear to be a large number of questions that simply go unanswered by the alarmists. Lots of handwaving but not much hard proof.
To pick up on one point you made — I agree that the general consensus is that a doubling of CO2 will give a 1C rise in temperature but that in itself begs some questions. To start with, having established via Vostok that CO2 increase lags warming how can it be that it also causes warming? Then we have the whole question of catastrophism (for want of a better word) which demands that we limit our CO2 increase to .................................. what, exactly? 350.org says 350ppm. Too bad they missed it! We're at 390 and I'm still waiting for the disasters. When are they due?
Yes, it is arguable that a doubling can be started from anywhere but that doesn't answer the question of where the catastrophists' starting point actually was and when we are going to reach one of Hansen's famous "tipping points" which result from this doubling (or quadrupling)?
You see what I mean about lots of handwaving and not much else. The whole thing is a moveable feast to end all moveable feasts! As McIntyre reminds us, keep your eyes on their hands at all times or you will lose sight of the pea!

Now for where we will have to agree to differ (I fear).
0.004% cannot by any definition I know be in any way "immense". Put it this way, any "packet" of radiation has a 99.996% chance of getting past the CO2 lying in wait for it.
The greenhouse effect is a simple way of describing (for the benefit of scientific illiterates like me, I suspect) why the earth's temperature is not permanently bloody freezing (and that's on a warm day). But the earth is not a greenhouse. It doesn't have a roof; it is not a closed system and as RKS has pointed out there are increasingly hypotheses that give no credence at all to CO2 as a driver of climate.
Now, I'm not saying these are right or wrong but it would be nice to see them tested, discussed and debated with a few open minds rather than the knee-jerk reaction of "it doesn't agree with us; debunk it, Quick!"
As I have said more than once, Pavlov would have loved these guys.
On the other hand I definitely do agree with you that climate could "decide" to do something all on its own — as least as far as humanity is concerned. There are so many different forces at work that to focus on one (or even half-a-dozen) and (a) dismiss the rest, and/or (b) refuse to look for any others will eventually bring a few surprises and not a few people saying "why didn't we think of that?"

Aug 30, 2012 at 5:37 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

At the recent Richard Lindzen HoC presentation, the person sitting next to me pointed out that Lindzen was a warmist, which is true in the sense that he accepts the GHE. Lindzen himself said that he wished people would stop trying to dispute the reality of the GHE because it is not a good strategy for winning the argument over CAGW.

Aug 30, 2012 at 3:39 PM | Philip Richens>>>>

It's fine to trot out explanations and equations and referring to the opinions of Lindzen, but where is the empirical PROOF that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 would result in a rise of 1 deg C in atmospheric temperature. Rhoda and other have pointed there is no proof for any of these hypothetical statements. It is merely assumed these equations hold up with regard to the atmosphere.

To add to dung's list of proposed reasons for climate change we must also look at the well researched work of Nikolov and Zeller, based on NASA provided empirical data, which shows the underlying global temperature relies solely on atmospheric pressure and insolation, with atmospheric mix being immaterial. Any fluctuations in global temperature would then be solely due to changes in insolation - including cloud cover altering global albedo.

Simply conflating temperature rise with increasing levels of atmospheric CO2 is an abuse of the scientific method, especially when one considers the lack of warming for the past 15 years whilst CO2 levels continue to rise.

Aug 30, 2012 at 5:41 PM | Registered CommenterRKS

RKS
If we accept the NASA empirical data would it be incautious of me (or perhaps impolite) to ask why Hansen doesn't?
He is after all an employee of that organisation and would seem to be to some extent constrained by its findings.
And if the data demonstrate that, as you put it, "the underlying global temperature relies solely on atmospheric pressure and insolation, with atmospheric mix being immaterial", why doesn't NASA come out and say so and put us all out of our misery?
I'm not suggesting either that you or Nikolov & Zeller are wrong but there has to be some rationale here or am I missing something? Again.

Aug 30, 2012 at 7:41 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

I'm not suggesting either that you or Nikolov & Zeller are wrong but there has to be some rationale here or am I missing something? Again.

Aug 30, 2012 at 7:41 PM | Mike Jackson>>>>

You obviously have not read N&Z's paper at Tallbloke or you would know what data we are talking about. Their theory relies on tried and tested ideal gas laws.

Their work is with regard to the global temperature of Solar System planets with atmospheres and the now complete data from the Lunar Diviner probe.

http://tallbloke.wordpress.com/2011/12/28/unified-theory-of-climate-nikolov-and-zeller/

http://tallbloke.wordpress.com/2012/05/01/ned-nikolov-implications-of-diviner-results-for-the-s-b-standard-equation/

NASA just provide the data, N&Z spent over 2 years refining their research.

Nothing Hansen would be interested in as the data does not refer to our atmosphere, he's simply a drama queen who wants loads of attention.

Don't knock till you've tried it. They have umpteen pages of responses to questions all available on various Talbloke threads. Just type in Nikolov and Zeller in the search bar.

Aug 31, 2012 at 3:08 AM | Registered CommenterRKS

Something else we can add to Dung's list of reasons for pursuing different lines of investigation.

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/08/30/important-paper-strongly-suggests-man-made-co2-is-not-the-driver-of-global-warming/#more-70149

How much more evidence is needed that CO2 is NOT the primary driver of Global temperature?

Aug 30, 2012 at 10:19 PM | Don Keiller

Aug 31, 2012 at 3:29 AM | Registered CommenterRKS

RKS
This link leads direct to the paper referenced above.
In the comments on WUWT, Richard S Courtney draws attention to Kuo, C., Lindberg, C., Thompson, D.J., 1990. Coherence established between atmospheric carbon dioxide and global temperature. Nature 388, 39-44.
"... that paper reported atmospheric CO2 concentration and global temperature cohere such the changes to the CO2 lag changes to the temperature by 9 months. Subsequently, other papers indicate that the time of the lag varies with latitude."

Being a non-scientist (and also having a relatively short attention span!) I confess to not having read Nikolov & Zeller in detail though I have tried to follow the "idiots' guide". But that is not really the point I was making. If N&Z can draw the conclusions they have from NASA data, why have the experts at NASA not done the same thing? And if there are two conflicting conclusions to be drawn which is the right one? Or are they both right? Or are they both wrong?

Aug 31, 2012 at 9:47 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Being a non-scientist (and also having a relatively short attention span!) I confess to not having read Nikolov & Zeller in detail though I have tried to follow the "idiots' guide". But that is not really the point I was making. If N&Z can draw the conclusions they have from NASA data, why have the experts at NASA not done the same thing? And if there are two conflicting conclusions to be drawn which is the right one? Or are they both right? Or are they both wrong?

Aug 31, 2012 at 9:47 AM | Mike Jackson>>>>

The data would only seem relevant to climate if one decided to use it in conjunction with the ideal gas law, which of course would not occur to those with a fixation on GHE. The last thing one might expect from those promoting AGW would be the mindset to think laterally.

Aug 31, 2012 at 10:07 AM | Registered CommenterRKS

I take your point!

Aug 31, 2012 at 11:58 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson