The Coldism War

So apparently The Telegraph has a climate change denialist columnist, one Christopher Booker. The little biography given of him is “Christopher Booker of The Sunday Telegraph exposes the ever-growing power of the European Union in Brussels and the excesses of mad officialdom“. Fairly standard Telegraph fare, though the denialism is a new spin on it. Anyway, today’s column is “Desperate days for the warmists“. Is this going to be another paragraph-by-paragraph takedown? I think it is!

So he opens with a photograph of cattle herders in Chile, surrounded by snow, captioned “Herding cattle in Chile as South America suffers one of its coldest winters for years“. Now seems as good a time as any to drop a link to an awesome website: If Global Warming Is Real Then Why Is It Cold?, a collection of the most inane newspaper cartoons on the subject. Such a stupid argument from cold doesn’t really need refuting at all (average temperatures are increasing, of course there is still variation year on year, etc.), but I would like to point out that in fact South America is in fact particularly at risk from climate change – the glaciers are in retreat, the coastline of Brazil is shrinking and average temperatures are soaring. Don’t forget also that the South American climate is affected strongly by El Niño and La Niña – right now, the colder La Niña appears to be in effect, so the fact Chile is having an unusually cold winter is not surprising at all.

Ever more risibly desperate become the efforts of the believers in global warming to hold the line for their religion, after the battering it was given last winter by all those scandals surrounding the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The scandals which were recently found to be largely baseless? Don’t worry, he’ll return to this topic later.

One familiar technique they use is to attribute to global warming almost any unusual weather event anywhere in the world. Last week, for instance, it was reported that Russia has recently been experiencing its hottest temperatures and longest drought for 130 years. The head of the Russian branch of WWF, the environmental pressure group, was inevitably quick to cite this as evidence of climate change, claiming that in future “such climate abnormalities will only become more frequent”. He didn’t explain what might have caused the similar hot weather 130 years ago.

This is another equally stupid argument that denialists love. Yes, some hot weather occurred in the past. However, temperatures in Russia have risen by at least 1.29 °C in the last century, possibly closer to 2°C (Roshydromet report (PDF), 2008, p. 7). According to the graph they give, Russia experienced unusually high temperatures – i.e. highest for over a century – in 1991, 1992, 1996 and 2006. Booker doesn’t explain what might have caused the similar hot weather 4, 14, 18 and 19 years ago.

Meanwhile, notably little attention has been paid to the disastrous chill which has been sweeping South America thanks to an inrush of air from the Antarctic, killing hundreds in the continent’s coldest winter for years.

Yes, because of an “an inrush of air from the Antarctic”. Antarctic air is always going to be colder than subtropical air, regardless of what climate change is doing to air temperatures. Anyway, for “notably little attention”, read “as little attention as most climate catastrophes outside the first world do”. It’s not as if the heatwave is front page news outside Russia anyway, nor the recent floods – worst for a decade – covering China.

In America, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been trumpeting that, according to its much-quoted worldwide temperature data, the first six months of this year were the hottest ever recorded. But expert analysis on Watts Up With That, the US science blog, shows that NOAA’s claimed warming appears to be strangely concentrated in those parts of the world where it has fewest weather stations. In Greenland, for instance, two of the hottest spots, showing a startling five-degree rise in temperatures, have no weather stations at all.

NOAA and Watts Up With That (which incidentally is not just a “science blog”, but an explicitly climate sceptic blog)? Yes, those sound like two sources of equal authority. Anyway, the reason warming is “strangely concentrated” on areas where there are few weather stations is because climate change disproportionately affects areas of extreme weather which, by their very nature, are going to be remote. That’s why we use climate satellites, sea-based weather stations, scientific expeditions and other indicators – changes to the pack ice, for instance – to make up for this gap, and the NOAA weights their data to give less credence to data from less reliable sources.

A second technique the warmists have used lately to keep their spirits up has been to repeat incessantly that the official inquiries into the “Climategate” scandal have cleared the top IPCC scientists involved of any wrongdoing, and that their science has been “vindicated”. But, as has been pointed out by critics like Steve McIntyre of Climate Audit, this is hardly surprising, since the inquiries were careful not to interview any experts, such as himself, who could have explained just why the emails leaked from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) were so horribly damaging.

There is certainly a point to made that the inquiries were not as rigorous as they could have been, but it wasn’t the whitewash some claim. One area they specifically looked at were the emails, and rather than blithely clearing the scientists of all charges, they pointed out that the science may have been sound, but the emails themselves showed a general attitude towards secrecy that harmed climate science as a whole. In addition, Steve McIntyre is not a climatologist, but a mining and gas exploration consultant. As he was one of the leading critics of the CRU – and many of the emails were critical of him – he could still have played an important role in the investigation, and it was an oversight of the inquiry not to include him, but it’s rather dishonest journalism to claim he’s just another critic of the CRU, detached from the whole affair.

The perfunctory report of the Science Appraisal Panel, chaired by Lord Oxburgh, examined only 11 papers produced by the CRU, none of them remotely connected to what the fuss was all about. Last week Andrew Montford, author of The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the Corruption of Science, revealed on his blog (Bishop Hill – bishophill.squarespace.com) that the choice of these papers was approved for the inquiry by Sir Brian Hoskins, of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College, and by Phil Jones, the CRU’s former director – an appraisal of whose work was meant to be the purpose of the inquiry.

This is the area of the inquiry that the New Scientist editorial, linked above, was critical of. For this, there’s not much defence – the panel was sloppy here. But I would like to point out the role of the inquiry was primarily to investigate the scientists’ behaviour, not the actual science itself, a fact the inquiry themselves stated in their report.

A third technique, most familiar of all, has been to fall back on the dog-eared claim that leading sceptics only question warmist orthodoxy because they have been funded by “Big Oil” and the “fossil fuel industry”. Particularly bizarre was a story last week covering the front page and an inside page of one newspaper, headed “Oil giant gives £1 million to fund climate sceptics”.

The essence of this tale was that Exxon Mobil, the oil giant that is the world’s third biggest company, last year gave “almost £1 million” to four US think-tanks. These had gone on to dismiss the Climategate inquiries as “whitewashes”.

The article he refers to was originally published in The Times. Thanks to the paywall, I can’t link it, unfortunately, but it appears to be related to this article in The Independent.

It was hardly necessary to be given money by Exxon to see what was dubious about those inquiries. Not one of the knowledgeable sceptics who have torn them apart has received a cent from Big Oil.

Well, except for the four you just mentioned (which some sources put closer to 40), plus the 35 funded by Koch Industries, and the half-dozen or so funded by Australian mining companies – not to mention that the very climate change sceptic mentioned three paragraphs ago is in fact a consultant for gas, oil and mining companies. And the fact that half of all sceptical scientists are engineers is completely unrelated to Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Auto etc. too, I’m sure.

But what made this particularly laughable was that the penny-packets given to think-tanks that have been largely irrelevant to the debate are utterly dwarfed by the colossal sums poured into the army of groups and organisations on the other side of the argument.

Even the big oil companies have long been putting their real money into projects dedicated to showing how they are in favour of a “low-carbon economy”. In 2002 Exxon gave $100 million to Stanford University to fund research into energy sources needed to fight global warming. BP, which rebranded itself in 2004 as “Beyond Petroleum”, gave $500 million to fund similar research.

There’s a big difference though. Putting money into green energy research is not the same thing as putting money into climate research. Climatologists are not receiving a penny of BP’s money. And seriously? You’re actually going to take BP’s greenwashing at face value now? Yep, they’re totally beyond petroleum. How ecofriendly they are.

The Grantham Institute provides another example. It was set up at the LSE and Imperial College with £24 million from Jeremy Grantham, an investment fund billionaire, to advise governments and firms on how to promote and invest in ways to “fight climate change”, now one of the fastest-growing and most lucrative businesses in the world.

Again, these people are not climatologists.

Compare the funding received by a handful of think-tanks to the hundreds of billions of dollars lavished on those who speak for the other side by governments, foundations, multinational corporations, even Big Oil, and the warmists are winning hands down. But only financially: they are not winning the argument.

There’s not much to do here except point out how exactly the “argument” is going amongst scientists, and when even a columnist for a national newspaper has to bring out arguments that would shame even a trolling YouTube commenter (“Winter is cold! This proves climate change is fake!”), you can’t help but wonder whether there’s even a proper argument left at all.

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  1. #1 by ukenagashi on Sunday, 25th July 2010 - 13:30 UTC

    I just want to express my wonder at how knowledgeable you are. About everything, apparently.

  2. #2 by Jamie on Sunday, 25th July 2010 - 14:08 UTC

    The Telegraph also hosts a blog by James Delingpole who, along with Booker, is one of the main climate change deniers in the UK.

    Still, it’s nothing on the Express:
    http://tinyurl.com/2wojgqb
    http://tinyurl.com/yd4lgqy
    http://tinyurl.com/yd9xk5a

    • #3 by atomicspin on Sunday, 25th July 2010 - 14:26 UTC

      The Express’s climate change coverage is beyond a joke, really. Their current debate topic is “Is Britain too obsessed with green energy?“, complete with a list of leading questions about how BRITAIN faces SOARING BILLS and BLACKOUTS because of “RENEWABLE” ENERGY. It’s enough to make you wonder whether Northern & Shell owns an oil refinery or two.

      • #4 by knightofthedropdowntable on Wednesday, 28th July 2010 - 22:36 UTC

        I’ve seen so much complaining recently about energy bills going up – being in the energy business I know exactly what’s going on, which is in fact the opposite of what the Express says. Energy prices are going down, they’re at the lowest point now for nearly 4 years, and the ‘rises’ everyone is complaining about are single fluctuations (due to economic uncertainty) that are reversed the very next day. Blackouts are predicted for the next decade because we haven’t invested in power stations, and now they’re old and have to be shut down. But the new offshore wind farms might stop the blackouts, if the energy companies take the profits from the new National Grid charges (for new power stations) and invested in wind power instead of piles of cash.

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