2010 retrospective 4: the theme of climate change

This is one of two major themes that have emerged on this blog in the course of 2010. Look at all the posts. Here are the last five:

Of course with such amazing weather events here and overseas just lately, people are wondering whether there is any global warming. Europe and North America are freezing, and here in Australia we’ve been having a drenching, especially just now in Queensland. Hence this cartoon.


I can sympathise, but go along with the article that accompanied that cartoon: Climate change: the black, white and grey in the science by Professor Kurt Lambeck, a climate scientist and immediate past president of the Australian Academy of Science.

Recognising that the consequences of climate change are potentially global, serious and irreversible on human time scales, the Australian Academy of Science has published such an assessment, The Science of Climate Change: Questions and Answers.

In the past few months several other national science academies have produced statements detailing the extent of consensus and uncertainty about climate change science too. These include the Royal Society in Britain, the US National Academy of Sciences and the French Academy of Sciences. In addition, other science bodies, including the Geological Society of London, have expressed their views.

A scientist is not usually elected to a national academy for doing consensus science. These recent academy statements express views that have been robustly debated both by experts in areas of climate science and by eminent scientists with extensive research experience in related fields.

The independent messages from the four academies and the geological society are consistent and urgent. They include that the role of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is well understood, and that increasing the atmospheric concentration of the principal anthropogenic greenhouse gas, CO2, leads to higher mean global surface temperatures…

While it is foolish to link a particular weather event as certainly a result of climate change, it remains true that extreme weather events are among the predicted results of global warming, and these can include paradoxical extremes such as we see in Europe and North America.

See Warming and Winter Storming.

t’s a typical blog comment for this time of year. “I hope,” wrote one of my ‘skeptic’ readers, “the folks in the NE USA and Europe didn’t hurt their backs when shoveling all that global warming.”

Har har.

This common insinuation–that somehow, human-caused climate change is refuted by the perennial occurrence of bad winter weather–puts us scientific rationalists in a bind. The problem is that unlike many denier talking points, there isn’t really even an argument being put forward here that might be refuted. It’s more of a “nyah nyah,” followed by, “I  never believed you to begin with, but this time of year, I just feel sorry for you.”  …

Another resource I have just lately found, though I knew of part of it, is The American Geophysical Union Blogosphere. See especially NOAA: January-November 2010- Hottest On Record.


See Peter Sinclair’s excellent (and darkly funny) post 2010 Climate B.S. of the Year Award. For a very persuasive account of the origins of denialism in ideology rather than science, see Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes.

In this public lecture at the Global Change Institute (UQ), Naomi Oreskes sheds light on a dark corner of the American scientific community. She tells the story of how a loose-knit group of high-level scientific advisers, with deep connections in politics and industry, ran effective and highly influential campaigns to mislead the public on the science of several major issues – beginning with a defence of tobacco, moving on to acid rain, CFC’s and most recently climate change.  ‘Doubt is our product,’ wrote one tobacco executive. These ‘experts’ supplied it.

See too Adam Morton, The deadly decade.

In the US, there was a concerted attack from the resurgent Republican Party and influential parts of the media claiming climate science was a hoax and conspiracy. A University of Maryland study published this month found Fox News viewers were 30 percentage points more likely to incorrectly believe that most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring, or that views are split…

Not everyone working in the area is comfortable with linking the current shift in extreme events with greenhouse gases. There is disagreement in the scientific literature over whether extreme weather disasters have started to worsen. According to one view, there is little to no change in the proportions of people affected once population growth is factored in.

What does not remain a contested area in the scientific literature is that the planet is getting hotter. Analysing the data from the world’s three temperature datasets, the World Meteorological Organisation last month reported that the past decade was the warmest since instrumental measurement began in 1850, and 2010 was on track to be the hottest year, and certainly in the top three, regardless of the extraordinary snow dumps clogging European and US cities over Christmas. (There is significant evidence to suggest that global warming is responsible for the extreme northern winters of the past two years. An increase in air pressure in the Arctic atmosphere caused by warmer heat coming off a relatively ice-free ocean is pushing cold air south.)…

8 January update

Note the videos added to the comment thread today.

Also, a post on that chestnut that climate scientists only “believe” to get big fat grants.

…Given that there are far more good ideas proposed than can ever be funded, there is inevitably some subjectivity and different panels would have different discussions and a different emphasis. I’m confident however that almost any panel, given the same input, will have a reasonable overlap among the highly rated (and therefore most fundable) proposals. Clearly, these methods work best when the proposals are similar or in a similar field, and will not work quite as well when there is a lot of diversity (because the judgements in those cases can be more subjective, and thus more easily swayed by random contingencies). There could always be improvements (shorter proposals might be easier to get reviewed by outside specialists, calls can be clearer about what they want etc.) but none of the problems are anything like the contrarian imaginings of hysterical climatologists trying to outbid each other in who can come up with the worst case scenario.