Tsk tsk, Fisk Fisk

Yawn. Happy hibernating and all that. I am almost as inconsistent at reading blogs as I am at posting, but I’ve been catching up with my RSS today, and I’m riled. Heresy Corner usually fails to strike a chord with me, and I’m loath to remove it entirely from the RSS, but it’s definitely now on my internal monologue equivalent of a final warning.

The first thing that piqued me about it was the fact the bottom of every RSS article from the Heresy Corner feed bears the sinister warning “© 2009 Heresy Corner, all rights reserved”. Vive la creative commons! – there’s nothing quite like that disclaimer for saying “I’m too good for all this new media malarky – I’m holding out for the book deal”. I’m not really digging the self-styled iconoclasm either, especially not when one of your major targets is the bogeyman fish barrel of religion and ‘superstition’ – edgy stuff indeed. Never mind, I’m aware that my complaints are mostly just a matter of taste, as is the fact that Ghostery shows 8 separate tracking systems on it – there are some much more interesting bits and pieces on there.

However, the snowy weather has not been kind on the Heresiarch’s ability vis a vis incoherent thought. First of all he coughed up a repetition of the UK commentariat’s most tired cliché – ‘Aren’t these weathermen useless’? The meat of the post referred to a comment posted on the Daily Mail website by someone claiming to work for the Met Office, and pulling apart the three sentence description of their methodology therein.  Plenty of blog posts are indistinguishable from typing up whatever ill-informed conversations the author has overheard in the toilets of their local pub, and I generally file such rubbish under ‘ignore’. However, in the context of a renewed right-wing push to discredit climate science, and the accompanying comments by Heresiarch, this banal fare becomes much more pernicious:

Of course. I’m passing no comment here about the climate science, except to say that the more I hear it proclaimed in ever shriller tones that the science is settled, the less I believe it. I used to think the science was settled. I now merely think that there are a lot of people who think that it ought to be settled, which isn’t the same thing at all.

There is plenty to take issue with here, but I shall move on to more egregious matters, pausing only to note that if you really want to blog about the weather, you probably ought to make a bit of an effort to understand it. Things might be a bit more complicated than you realise, hmmm?

The really appalling piece of gibberish from Heresy Corner (think of it as the part of the classroom where they give you a special pointy hat) came on Thursday, in the guise of a ‘Guest Post‘ from ‘The Pedant General’ of Devil’s Kitchen (What is it with bloggers and their pompous nicknames? Hello? We are nerds in our bedrooms – enough with the airs and graces!). It is a horrible example of how little FUD the climate change deniers need to spread in order to stymie public action on complex scientific matters. I bet it takes me longer to counter it (lacking, as I do, immediate access to the correct scientific data, and only a passing knowledge of proper climate science blogs) than it did for it to be written in the first place.

Most of us simply lack the time and specialist knowledge to disprove their bullshit, and for many people climate denial suits their prejudices and political persuasion, and they won’t even seek it out. Think of  the Pedant General as an intelligent human being who has swallowed just enough bullshit from various sources to convince himself that there isn’t a problem, and that the solutions will make things worse, in line with his political leanings.

In a comment on the earlier thread inspired by the Met Office’s inaccurate predictions of a warm winter, Sue R asked: Why are people so keen to deny global warming?

That entirely misses the point.

The fact that we are noticeably warmer than we were 5, 50 or 150 years ago is not remotely interesting. We were and are emerging from a (non-man made) little ice age.

The vital question is whether we are warmer than we were 1000 years ago, and that is very definitely not settled science in any way shape or form.

And… even if we are warmer than we were 1000 years ago (which, for the avoidance of doubt, is denied – the historical record is pretty clear that it was indeed significantly warmer – one reason the science isn’t settled BTW), it is not at all clear whether this change is man-made to any really significant degree.

OK, so first of all – no links, no evidence, just assertion. Cheers. It’s actually extremely interesting if we are warmer than 150 years ago, considering the small matter of industrialisation. But the claim here is that we should be looking at longer terms trends and whether we are warmer than 1,000 years ago. So lets:

Temperature trends in past centuries and the so-called hockey stick
Temperature trends in past centuries and the so-called hockey stick

The graph is from RealClimate.org, which is  well worth reading for the extra information, especially the comments (and other pages here, here and here). Basically it shows the reconstructed data on long term climactic variation from various sources and methodologies, and against several computer simulations – it’s Northern Hemisphere data, incidentally.

The different coloured lines show the trends suggested by the different studies, and the grey areas show the different outer limits for the uncertainty on two of the studies (Mann & Jones and Man et al). If we go back to the year 1000 all of them are below the 1961-1990 baseline, with the possible exception of the green line (Mann et al). The green line is crossing the baseline around that point, heading steeply downwards – the previous short spike above the baseline is the only time it rises above it in the whole series.

The outer limits of uncertainty do show that it’s possible that the temperature in the past may have been above the baseline, but the likely trends are universally below the baseline, as are all the other data series, except for a brief spike in the yellow line (Crowley and Lowery) around 1200, and the early progress of the Bauer et al simulation. None of the data trends, or the extremities of uncertainty exceed 0.4 above the baseline prior to the era of industrialisation. Our current position is significantly above +0.4. The long term data does show us emerging from the ‘little ice age’ in the mid 19th century but it also shows a completely anomalous rise beyond previous norms. We are much warmer than we were 1,000 years ago, and the Pedant General is talking bollocks. And before you start, there’s a very good Hockey Stick Q&A here.

And, even if:

  • we are warmer than we were 1000 years ago and
  • we are causing it to some significant degree

it’s not at all clear that we are really able to influence it the other way

And, even if:

  • we are warmer than we were 1000 years ago and
  • we are causing it to some significant degree and
  • we are really able to influence it the other way

it’s not at all clear that doing so is necessarily necessary. Do the benefits of warmer temperatures outweigh the costs? The historical record suggests that yes, they do. Humans do better when it’s warmer. The numbers dying of unseasonal cold far outstrip those dying of unseasonal heat.

Y’what? Y’WHAT? So “it’s not at all clear that we are really able to influence it the other way”. This witless assertion is so lacking in substantiating information that it’s very hard to dismantle. The mechanism by which CO2 makes the world warmer is such old hat that even I learned it in school. The correlation between CO2 and temperature is very well documented in Ice Core data, and the ‘lag’ is well explained. Essentially, other factors begin warming events (output of CO2 from the earth’s fauna & flora having been fairly static until the age of industrialisation), but this warming stimulated release of CO2 which then droves the warming even further.

Granted, if we don’t reduce emissions soon, the feedback loops (several of which involve the same CO2 release as in no-anthropocentric  warming events),  will reduce our ability to reverse this human-caused warming. But that is an argument for urgent action now, not for prevarication. As for the claim that the historical record suggests that “the benefits of warmer temperatures outweigh the costs” – this has got to be the most stupid claim of the lot. El General really hasn’t taken the time to understand what climate change means, has he? Cimate Change means more increased extreme weather events, disruption of the water cycle and decreased agricultural productivity, not sunglasses and the occasional hot flush. The 300,000-odd estimated deaths a year from climate change didn’t die of heat stroke.

And, even if:

  • we are warmer than we were 1000 years ago and
  • we are causing it to some significant degree and
  • we are really able to influence it the other way and
  • doing so is necessarily necessary and
  • it’s more cost effective to try adapt the climate itself

it’s not at all clear that this indeed the best use of our money right now. There are (pace Lomborg) stacks of really actually pressing problems that would benefit mankind massively more proveably right now if a tiny tiny fraction of the sums being bandied about were to be devoted to them. Eradicating malaria for example.

Bjorn Fucking Lomberg. I should have known he’d hear from that twat sooner or later. Because of the feedback loops mentioned above, we have a window of effectiveness after which we will not be able to lower average global temperatures by reducing our carbon emissions, and will be locked into a much greater warming event. This means we don’t get to wait around until it’s a bit too warm for our comfort, and then start to do something about the problem.

Lomberg’s major contribution to fiddling while Rome burns involved getting a load of economists into a room and getting them to assess a competition of global projects for the benefit of mankind, using a budget too small to make a difference to global warming. At $50 billion US, it was actually less than half the annual estimated costs of climate change. On the basis of that, global warming was deemed to not be cost effective, never mind what the real scientists said. I don’t think Dante was sufficiently forward thinking to reserve a place for hell for contrarians who look on global catastrophe as a chance to launch a career in denial punditry, but part of me wishes he had.

And, even if:

  • we are warmer than we were 1000 years ago and
  • we are causing it to some significant degree and
  • we are really able to influence it the other way and
  • doing so is necessarily necessary and
  • it’s more cost effective to try adapt the climate itself and
  • this is a better use of our money than any of the myriad other much better uses of our money

it’s not at all clear that the best way to do this is to subborn all our freedoms to a putative world government in the form of the monstrously corrupt UN who will then proceed to tax us all into oblivion in order to give all our money to the most corrupt and incompetent governments on the planet (who are more likely to squander or nick it rather than use it – incompetently – for whatever it was supposed to be for).

I quite agree, this would not be a very good course of action, even when stripped of the demented right-wing hysteria. We need something much more radical – centrally coordinated, but properly democratic and involving everyone. And fast.

Thus, Sue’s claim that “the weather/climate is changing and it is necessary for governments to act upon it ” is a monster fallacy of well known form:

  • something must be done (which is denied)
  • A is something (A is not shown to be effective)
  • therefore A must be done (logical fallacy)

with the added knobs on that

  • A must be done by the government.

Or is that akin to being a young earth creationist?

As its been quite well shown that something that tackles climate change really does need to be done, I think it’s not unreasonable for people to look to the existing political authorities to take action. Obviously, what is to be done, and by whom is a proper political debate, instead of this head in the sand bullshit, and I rather look forward to having it. And actually General, you’re much worse than a young earth creationist. They are considerably less harmless.

Approximate time to Fisk: 4 hours. Incidentally, for future reference, these two sites can save you hours of wasted effort with these goons in the future: