The Willie Soon Story broke on Saturday night, having cloned off the front page of the Sunday New York Times into a few secondary sources. But we all saw it coming. Since then there has been quite a bit more written and there will be quite a bit more.
The main thing I want to add to the discussion is this. It is clear that Willie Soon was taking piles of Big Fossil money for his climate research. It is clear that his research was widely discredited in the mainstream scientific community. It should have been easy to check to see if he was using the money properly (mainly, with respect to disclosure on publication) and to discover that he was not. So, why did it take an article in the New York Times to alert the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics of a problem going on under their roof for over a decade? Was the administration of HSCA compliant? Ignorant? In short, what did they know and when did they know it? And, will there be any effort by the Smithsonian, or Harvard for that matter, to address this?
Worth thinking about.
The image in the above meme is Senator Jim Inhofe referring to a list of some 58 “climate scientists” who oppose the global warming consensus. One of them is Soon. Many of the others are not climate scientists, or even scientists. Many are well known deniers. This list was provided by the discredited Heartland Institute. Expect new scrutiny into each of those individuals over the next few days, to see if there are any other Willie Soons on the list.
Anyway, here are a few more items of interest that came across my desk this morning.
Davies drew attention to Soon’s funding disclosures last month after Soon and three colleagues published a paper in the Chinese journal Science Bulletin2 that presented results from a simple climate model to argue that burning all recoverable fossil fuel reserves would result in little more than 2.2°C warming. By comparison, models assessed by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on average project around 4° of warming with unabated fossil fuel use by 2100 and further warming beyond that time. The paper was appended with the statement: “The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.” Davies wrote to the journal insisting that Soon’s past funding sources do constitute a conflict of interest that should have been reported.
Science Bulletin’s conflict of interest policy states that authors must disclose “all relationships or interests that could influence or bias the work,” including “professional interests or personal beliefs that may influence your research.” The policy also gives a series of example disclosures. The first reads, “Author A has received research grants from Company A.”
…as it turns out, our old pal Ken Cuccinelli, when he was (appallingly) Attorney General of Virginia and waging a witch-hunt against climate science (and specifically against leading climate scientist Michael Mann), was busy citing some of those fossil-fuel-funded climate science deniers. That includes, as you can see below (from Cooch’s “Civil Investigative Demand” against the University of Virginia, none other than…that’s right, Willie Soon, who was falsely smearing the meticulous research of Michael Mann and many other scientists on the famous “hockey stick” graph. Not that Cuccinelli acting like this comes as a big surprise, but still, it’s yet more evidence of how “in bed” with fossil fuel interests Cuccinelli was when he was Attorney General of Virginia. Now, can someone please explain to me why THAT is legal, even as Bob and Maureen McDonnell face possible jail time for their corrupt (but arguably, FAR less severe and damaging than Cooch’s) behavior?
A watchdog group called the Climate Investigations Center alerted nine scientific journals Monday that studies they published most likely breached conflict-of-interest protocols. The studies in question were co-authored by Willlie Soon, a prominent climate-change skeptic whose work was funded by fossil fuel interests.
The letters grew out of the release Saturday of public records showing that Soon failed to disclose industry funding in 11 studies published by those journals.
“…Much of the commentary on the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics hi-jinks has concerned how one of Dr Willie Soon’s sponsors the Southern Company had the right to examine and review any manuscripts that Dr. Willie Soon submitted for publication…” Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Hi-Jinks2
“…Amanda Preston was hip deep in the financials of Willie Soon’s support network. As the Advancement and External Affairs Officer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics she negotiated the terms for his support from Exxon Mobile among other things. Today she has moved on to be Executive Director of the Origins of Life Initiative at Harvard University, where, amongst other things she works works with faculty to squeeze out more dimes. …”
Regular readers of this blog will know Tom Harris, as he is an occasional commenter here. Tom is a climate science denier who wears an Invisibility Cloak of Concern. However, this particular Invisibilty Cloak was never worn by Ignotus Peverell; you can see right though it.
Brian Angliss, a journalist and engineer, is the science editor and climate and energy writer for the blog Scholars and Rogues. Brian has written an epic six part (five parts done so far, the sixth part will be an epilog) expose of Tom Harris’s previous commentary on climate science, prompted by a recent spate of Op Eds by Harris. I recommend visiting Brian’s posts not just to find out about Tom Harris, but to get a sense of how this particular brand of denialism works. You won’t be disappointed.
He is well known as a climate contrarian, though I don’t subscribe to the subcategories that are often used to divide up the denialists. Let’s just say that if governments followed Lomborg’s suggestions for addressing climate change, civilization would not do well. If you think anthropogenic global warming is for real, important, and something we can address, then you won’t like Lomborg’s ideas much. Same with energy. He gets that wrong too.
Anyway, I saw his Op Ed as an opportunity to Fisk, and so Fisk I did.
Climate change models have done a good job estimating future climate change
It is an indisputable fact that carbon emissions are rising—and faster than most scientists predicted.
No they aren’t. They are rising fast, and that is really annoying, and maybe if you go back far enough in time you can find predictions that are way off, but CO2 emissions are rising, unfortunately, pretty much as fast as the very people someone like Bjorn Lomborg might call “alarmists” have been claiming they would. The following graph is from here.
Lomborg continues …
But many climate-change alarmists seem to claim that all climate change is worse than expected.
I love the term “alarmist.” It is a dog whistle. If someone calls a mainstream scientists an “alarmist” you better check your wallet. Anyway, yes, mainstream science, in many areas, has been discovering of late that certain areas of climate change are perhaps worse than expected or happening faster. However, I can’t think of anyone who thinks that “all climate change is worse.”
This ignores …
No, it doesn’t ignore anything because it did’t happen. The premise is false. Anyway…
…that much of the data are actually encouraging. The latest study from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that in the previous 15 years temperatures had risen 0.09 degrees Fahrenheit. The average of all models expected 0.8 degrees. So we’re seeing about 90% less temperature rise than expected.
The difference between model estimates and observations is completely accounted for by natural variability and fits within the range of modelled uncertainty. The reality is that there is no inherent bias in climate models that make them over-estimate the effects of human activity. A recent study that combined 114 possible 15-year trends since 1900 found there was nothing statistically biased in the way that model data differed from observed global mean surface temperature measurements. According to the study’s co-author, Piers Forster, “cherry picking” the most recent 15-year interval to refute climate change modeling is misleading and obscures the long-term agreement between the models and measurements.
What’s more, short-term variation does nothing to change the fact that we are experiencing a dangerous rate of global warming, with nine of the 10 hottest years on record occurring since 2002 and NOAA and NASA officially declaring 2014 the warmest on record. So Lomborg’s insistence that we not worry about climate flies in the face of the record temperatures we’re experiencing.
Bjorn Lomborg, get your facts straight!
Now, returning to Lomborg…
Facts like this are important …
No they aren’t because they are not facts. They are thing you made up. Anyway…
The effects of climate change in the Arctic are more rapid than expected; The Antarctic is also warming faster than the rest of the planet
…because a one-sided focus on worst-case stories is a poor foundation for sound policies.
As would be a one sided focus on fabricated best case scenarios, or even a manufactured balance between to sides of a non debate.
Yes, Arctic sea ice is melting faster than the models expected. But models also predicted that Antarctic sea ice would decrease, yet it is increasing.
That is misleading. It seems reasonable to guess that with global warming change would happen in a similar way in both polar regions, but the two ends of the earth are very different from each other. To a person who does not know much about climate or sea ice it makes sense that both poles will experience reduced summer sea ice. But there are many factors that determine sea ice distribution, including factors that might be changed as a result of global warming that increase sea ice as well as those that decrease it. Also, the often cited increase in Antarctic sea ice is often stated without quantification next to a statement about Arctic sea ice decrease, leading to the impression that there is a balance, where the total global sea ice is constant. This is not true, though by omission of proper context, Lomborg’s statement might allow some to think it is. The amount of sea ice added to the Antarctic is smaller than the loss in the Arctic.
Antarctic sea ice increase does not indicate cooling at that end of the earth. Rather, the Southern Continent and the sea and air around it have been warming, rather dramatically, faster than the global rate of warming, as is the case with the Arctic. Yet, the sea ice maximum has increased. From Skeptical Science:
If the Southern Ocean is warming, why is sea ice increasing? There are several contributing factors. One is the drop in ozone levels over Antarctica. The hole in the ozone layer above the South Pole has caused cooling in the stratosphere (Gillet 2003). A side-effect is a strengthening of the cyclonic winds that circle the Antarctic continent (Thompson 2002). The wind pushes sea ice around, creating areas of open water known as polynyas. More polynyas leads to increased sea ice production (Turner 2009).
Another contributor is changes in ocean circulation. The Southern Ocean consists of a layer of cold water near the surface and a layer of warmer water below. Water from the warmer layer rises up to the surface, melting sea ice. However, as air temperatures warm, the amount of rain and snowfall also increases. This freshens the surface waters, leading to a surface layer less dense than the saltier, warmer water below. The layers become more stratified and mix less. Less heat is transported upwards from the deeper, warmer layer. Hence less sea ice is melted (Zhang 2007).
Antarctic sea ice is complex and counter-intuitive. Despite warming waters, complicated factors unique to the Antarctic region have combined to increase sea ice production. The simplistic interpretation that it’s caused by cooling is false.
Recent research has made an even more direct link between Antarctic warming and Antarctic sea ice expansion. “NOAA said in a news release Tuesday that “as counterintuitive as expanding winter Antarctic sea ice may appear on a warming planet, it may actually be a manifestation of recent warming.”” – read this for all the details.
So, Bjorn Lomborg, do try to get your fact straight, which in some cases requires knowing more about the science you are referring to so you don’t make middle-school level mistakes.
The rate of sea level rise is going up
Back to Bjørn…
Yes, sea levels are rising, but the rise is not accelerating—if anything, two recent papers, one by Chinese scientists published in the January 2014 issue of Global and Planetary Change, and the other by U.S. scientists published in the May 2013 issue ofCoastal Engineering, have shown a small decline in the rate of sea-level increase.
No, the vast majority of research on glacial ice melt shows an increase in rate. Other research shows that there are areas in Antarctic previously thought to be essentially unmeltable to be meltable, eventually.
The first paper Lomborg refers to tries to understand the details of short term variability in sea level rise. It does not say that there is a decline in rate of sea level rise. The paper looks only at changes between 1993 and 2003, not long term trends, so it really couldn’t address that issue. The paper shows rapid changes in the rate of sea level rise over short periods of time. Recently, there was a stark drop in rate because thermal expansion temporarily slowed. There was also a recent stark increase because Australia stopped drinking in rain (an effect of huge global warming induced drought) so the ocean got bigger. Very recently, according to the paper Lomborg cites, there has been “rapid recovery of the rising [sea level] from its dramatic drop during the 2011 La Niña [which] introduced a large uncertainty in the estimation of the sea level trend…” source
The second paper Lomborg refers to states, “Whether the increased sea level trend of approximately 3 mm/year measured by the satellites since the 1990’s is a long-term increase from the 20th Century value of approximately 1.7 mm/year or part of a cycle will require longer records; however, the negative accelerations support some cyclic character.”
Not only is it important to get your facts straight, Bjørn, but also, if you cite a source as saying something, please don’t misrepresent it.
Droughts are more likely, or more severe, with global warming
Back to Bjørn…
We are often being told that we’re seeing more and more droughts, but a study published last March in the journal Nature actually shows a decrease in the world’s surface that has been afflicted by droughts since 1982.
Check your wallet. First, the study Lomborg cites does not examine changes in drought over time, so it can’t say what he says it says. The study, rather, looks to develop a “global integrated drought monitoring and prediction system” because, as the authors state, “Each year droughts result in significant socioeconomic losses and ecological damage across the globe. Given the growing population and climate change, water and food security are major challenges facing humanity.”
One can understand that someone who does not know much about drought would make the mistake Lomborg made. The drought situation is complex. The vast majority of the land surface of the earth has not, and probably can not, experience drought, so talking about percentages of the Earth in drought or not in drought is misleading at best. Places like the American Southwest and California are always dry, so when drought occurs in such an area it is very real but hard to identify against the backdrop of large scale and long term climate. If the surface area of the earth in drought is less since 1982, that would be nice. The study Lomborg cites primarily examines data beginning in 1982, so he probably didn’t get that idea there.
Recent papers published in a compendium of the American Meteorological Society included research linking drought to climate change. Climate change has probably had effects that predate the 1980s, so looking at droughts since 1980 may not be valid. Finally, much of the concern we have about drought is about a handful of current problems (i.e, Australia and California) and about future drought. In February 2014, the science advisor to the President of the United States, John Holdren, wrote:
In my recent comments about observed and projected increases in drought in the American West, I mentioned four relatively well understood mechanisms by which climate change can play a role in drought…
The four mechanisms are:
1. In a warming world, a larger fraction of total precipitation falls in downpours, which means a larger fraction is lost to storm runoff (as opposed to being absorbed in soil).
2. In mountain regions that are warming, as most are, a larger fraction of precipitation falls as rain rather than as snow, which means lower stream flows in spring and summer.
3. What snowpack there is melts earlier in a warming world, further reducing flows later in the year.
4. Where temperatures are higher, losses of water from soil and reservoirs due to evaporation are likewise higher than they would otherwise be.
h2>Hurricanes are not decreasing in frequency, and may be increasing in frequency and/or intensity, with global warming
And, back to Bjørn…
Hurricanes are likewise used as an example of the “ever worse” trope. If we look at the U.S., where we have the best statistics, damage costs from hurricanes are increasing—but only because there are more people, with more-expensive property, living near coastlines. If we adjust for population and wealth, hurricane damage during the period 1900–2013 decreased slightly.
Here Bjorn is referring to the widely discredited work of Roger Pielke Jr. In this case, Pielke has looked only at land falling hurricanes, which is egregious cherry picking. It might seem to make sense to do so, because they are the ones that matter, but in fact, land falling Atlantic Hurricanes are rare so they make for lousy statistics. Also, with climate change, we expect changes in the tropics to involve frequent years with fewer than average Atlantic hurricanes. Globally we generally expect more hurricanes, more energy in storms generally in the tropics and elsewhere, and possibly a greater occurrence of really powerful hurricanes fed by extraordinary ocean heat on surface and within the top 100 meters or so of the surface. Much more research is needed in this area, but to suggest that major storms are less of a problem now or in the future is wrong.
Got to get the facts straight, Bjørn. And Roger.
At the U.N. climate conference in Lima, Peru, in December, attendees were told that their countries should cut carbon emissions to avoid future damage from storms like typhoon Hagupit, which hit the Philippines during the conference, killing at least 21 people and forcing more than a million into shelters. Yet the trend for landfalling typhoons around the Philippines has actually declined since 1950, according to a study published in 2012 by the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate. Again, we’re told that things are worse than ever, but the facts don’t support this.
Again, Lomborg is cherry picking and using a discredited study.
There are several hurricane basins, several in the Pacific, the Indian ocean, and the Atlantic. One can look at data over several time scales: paleo covering hundreds or thousands of years, historic covering a century or so, and instrumental or recent, covering a century, or decades. One can count the number of hurricanes, use the limited “category” scale to divide up the number or use an overall measurement of energy in hurricanes. Then, these things can be studied by many researchers at various times. If you look across all of those studies examining various basins, time scales, and measures, you will see a range of studies showing increases or decreases in “how much hurricane” there is over time. The studies that take the longer time scales and that look at total energy rather than number of storms (or number of landfalling storms) almost always show increases. Here, Lomborg has picked a specific study that seems to meet his requirements, and ignored a vast literature. In this case, he has gone back to Pielke, whose work on hurricanes and other storm related issues has been widely discreted by actual climate scientists (like Lomborg, Pielke is not a climate scientist).
This is important because if we want to help the poor people who are most threatened by natural disasters, we have to recognize that it is less about cutting carbon emissions than it is about pulling them out of poverty.
Oh the poor poor people. If Bjorn Lomborg really cared about poor people why did he mention Hagiput and not mention Hayian/Yolanda, which killed 6,300 people? No. For Bjorn Lomborg seems more about selling oil and coal or serving the 1% or something. For the rest of us, it should be about keeping the Carbon in the ground.
The best way to see this is to look at the world’s deaths from natural disasters over time. In the Oxford University database for death rates from floods, extreme temperatures, droughts and storms, the average in the first part of last century was more than 13 dead every year per 100,000 people. Since then the death rates have dropped 97% to a new low in the 2010s of 0.38 per 100,000 people.
No, that is absolutely incorrect. Morbidity is the wagging tail of the much larger dog of underlying causes. The exact number of people who die because of phenomenon is usually a highly variable and unreliable number. This is the Pielke strategy: identify variables that are likely to have a lot of uncontrolled variation, and see if any of those happen to go the way you want the data to go. Instead of the number of tropical cyclones, look only at the ones that become hurricanes. Instead of hurricanes, look only at the ones that strike land. Instead of looking at land falling hurricanes, look only at the number of people killed per hurricane, and ignore all the other data. Haiyan vs. Hagiput provide an example. The former was a much more severe storm but the latter was not a walk in the park, maybe only half as strong. But the number killed in the two storms, 6,300 vs. a couple of dozen, is dramatically different. No Bjorn, the best way to track the effects of climate change is not to look at deaths over time. That is the worst way to do it.
Also, the preparation and mitigation argument is a red herring. Disasters get less disastrous over time because we either move out of the way (as the coasts of much of New England have been abandoned since the 1970s because of the storms), predict bad events more accurately, implement evacuation plans, or but extra nails in the roof so it is less likely to blow off. We spend enormous amounts of money and expend considerable effort in reducing deaths through storms. See this for an example of the difference between the deadly effects of storms in New England and how that changed over time with the ability to predict bad storms and close roads and require people to go home and chill rather than stay out and die. That has nothing to do with changes in storm frequency or intensity under global warming. Bjorn Lomborg is asking you to believe that these investments will solve any climate crisis that develops in the future.
The dramatic decline is mostly due to economic development that helps nations withstand catastrophes. If you’re rich like Florida, a major hurricane might cause plenty of damage to expensive buildings, but it kills few people and causes a temporary dent in economic output. If a similar hurricane hits a poorer country like the Philippines or Guatemala, it kills many more and can devastate the economy.
Rich like Florida? When a hurricane hits the US coast it is far more likely to hit an area in poverty than one that is wealthy. With the US south largely in the grip of conservative politicians who are put in place to preserve or increase wealth disparity, that situation is only going to get worse. We are experiencing rapid climate change. There is no chance that preparation for disaster will keep up, there is no change that we can gentrify the world’s poor regions at a rate sufficient that they are living in the equivalent of the rich part of Miami. The coast of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana is very vulnerable to severe hurricanes, and is in a major “First World” country, but is just loaded with poor people living in inadequate housing with crumbling infrastructure. So, no. We should certainly do what we can do to spread the wealth and bring people out of poverty but it won’t be enough and it won’t be quick.
In short, climate change is not worse than we thought. Some indicators are worse, but some are better. That doesn’t mean global warming is not a reality or not a problem. It definitely is. But the narrative that the world’s climate is changing from bad to worse is unhelpful alarmism, which prevents us from focusing on smart solutions.
A well-meaning environmentalist might argue that, because climate change is a reality, why not ramp up the rhetoric and focus on the bad news to make sure the public understands its importance.
Hardly anybody is doing that. All the activists and communicators I know try to be reasonable. The breathless argument that the argument of others is breathless is made of straw.
But isn’t that what has been done for the past 20 years?
A statement with no facts behind it, that one.
The public has been bombarded with dramatic headlines and apocalyptic photos of climate change and its consequences. Yet despite endless successions of climate summits, carbon emissions continue to rise, especially in rapidly developing countries like India, China and many African nations.
Ah, now we are talking about the press, not “environmentalists” and scientists, etc. Nice bait and switch there. The press probably has been bombarding with headlines, but half of those headlines are like the Op Ed Lomborg wrote for the Wall Street Journal; foundation-less appeals to the non existent “other side” of the argument, full of irrelevant citations, facts that are not true, wrapped in a cloak of faux skeptical scholarship, in service of a false balance that probably sells papers.
Alarmism has encouraged the pursuit of a one-sided climate policy of trying to cut carbon emissions by subsidizing wind farms and solar panels. Yet today, according to the International Energy Agency, only about 0.4% of global energy consumption comes from solar photovoltaics and windmills. And even with exceptionally optimistic assumptions about future deployment of wind and solar, the IEA expects that these energy forms will provide a minuscule 2.2% of the world’s energy by 2040.
In other words, for at least the next two decades, solar and wind energy are simply expensive, feel-good measures that will have an imperceptible climate impact. Instead, we should focus on investing in research and development of green energy, including new battery technology to better store and discharge solar and wind energy and lower its costs. We also need to invest in and promote growth in the world’s poorest nations, which suffer the most from natural disasters.
Few things threaten America’s future prosperity more than climate change.
But there is growing hope. Every 2.5 minutes of every single day, the U.S. solar industry is helping to fight this battle by flipping the switch on another completed solar project.
According to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the United States installed an estimated 7.4 gigawatts (GW) of solar last year — a 42 percent increase over 2013 — making it the best year ever for solar installations in America. What’s more, solar accounted for a record 53 percent of all new electric generation capacity installed in the first half of 2014, pushing solar to the front as the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in America.
Today, the U.S. has an estimated 20.2 GW of installed solar capacity, enough to effectively power nearly 4 million homes in the United States — or every single home in a state the size of Massachusetts or New Jersey — with another 20 GW in the pipeline for 2015–2016.
Additionally, innovative solar heating and cooling systems (SHC) are offering American consumers cost-efficient, effective options for meeting their energy needs, while lowering their utility bills. In fact, a report prepared for SEIA outlines an aggressive plan to install 100 million SHC panels in the United States by 2050. This action alone would create 50,250 new American jobs and save more than $61 billion in future energy costs.
So. Let’s do two things. Start ignoring Bjorn Lomborg (and the Wall Street Journal) and start doing more to keep the Carbon in the ground.
(ADDED: Since there have been so many wonderful questions about the controversial research and related issues, let me point you to this post, which is essentially a link farm to myriad resources for you to read and enjoy.)
Years ago before there was a lot of paleo climate data, there were some rather simplistic graphs of ancient climate used to make basic points like “around this time it was warmer than around this other time when it was cooler. Maybe. One of those graphs depicts the now debunked “Medieval Warm Period.” (We now call this the Medieval Climate Anomaly, which included both warm zones and cool zones, was on average, globally, kind of warm, but not as warm as today.)
One of those graphs is shown here, but I’ve carefully labeled it so it will not be misunderstood:
This graph was shown on the Senate Floor by James Inhofe, the famous climate science denier from Oklahoma. This graph has been long discredited. Senator Inhofe should be censured for this.
A quick response to an article by Christopher Booker in the Telegraph.
The video features a prototype tool for investigating the global temperature record. This tool will be made available with the upcoming MOOC, Making Sense of Climate Science Denial (http://gci.uq.edu.au/mooc), where we will interactively debunk myths regarding surface temperature records.
He’s paid for by big oil, he takes up hours of the Senate’s time going on and on with the most senseless drivel ever heard in that building (see video below) and he has single handedly probably done more to stop action in this country on climate change. That clearly makes him one of the worst people in the world. I’m rather pissed off at the people of Oklahoma. They sent him there. They should be ashamed.