One line summary of story: A critique of two typical articles on “dangerous” AGW – Kivalina, and the Southern Ocean
Guest essay by Peter Kemmis
Over the last few days, I received references for two different articles from a couple of quite different friends, one from Australia, the other New Zealand, one near retirement age, the other in the early thirties. These two articles with their influence on many readers, typify much of what is happening in the “climate debate”, an actual but unacknowledged debate that so far runs most actively through the underground currents of the Internet.
The two friends whom I like and respect, are puzzled that I should challenge the currently orthodox explanations of climate change causes, because in turn they respect and like me also. I’m writing this in response to my two friends, but thought I would also post my response online, as I’m sure that many thousands of those who are similarly sceptical of CAGW as I am, face exactly the same questions from friends and acquaintances, and may accordingly find this response useful.
The first is titled Kivalina: A Climate Change Story http://truth-out.org/news/item/2187-kivalina-a-climate-change-story#.UfzC7upzgWY.email .
This article cites official U.S. Government reports of 2000 and 2003 that climate change was affecting life in Alaskan native villages “due in part to rising temperatures that cause protective shore ice to form later in the year, leaving the villages vulnerable to storms”. An Inuit petition of 2005 alleged violation of “the human rights of Arctic people by refusing to limit greenhouse gas emissions”. As a lawyer involved in the case was to say later “No one asked the people of Kivalina, y’know, ‘Would you like to have your environment ruined?’ “ Underlying these first four paragraphs is the assumption (and no doubt conviction) that human caused emissions are primarily responsible for the reported effects of climate change that I’m sure are quite real for these Alaskan villages.
The article raises no question about natural variability in climate, about the natural warming that has been occurring at an approximate rate of 1.70C, nor of the clear pause in global warming since 1998 (officially acknowledged subsequently by the UK Meteorological Office in December 2012). Nor is there any reference to our slowly rising sea levels, a rise certainly not accelerating, all despite the clearly increasing CO2 levels.
The assumption that the case for CAGW is quite proven is illustrated with later references to the promulgation of “junk science”, of “misinformation”, “efforts to deceive the public about global warming”. These frequent and highly charged emotional statements will be familiar to many. But they are assertions, they have everything to do with alleged intention, and nothing to do with evidence. Yes, most of us are sympathetic with these Alaskan peoples, but our natural sympathy must not cloud objective science. Solutions based on wrong reasons, may well become wrong solutions.
The emotional nature of the article carries through the rest of the account, which has a large banner at the bottom “email this story to a friend” – and so the CAGW call for action spreads photon-like through the ether of the internet. Never mind that the implied call for action, while reporting factual accounts of climate change effects, contains no more than the orthodox assumption about its causes. But that’s okay, for it’s all about persuading by emotion, and not clouding the message with fact or analysis.
A careful reading between the lines, however, suggests there is a parallel universe which is more about money than climate. In 2008, Kivalina filed a legal claim against 24 energy companies (oil, electricity and coal), for up to US$400million, presumably to cover relocation costs. Secondary claims were included: the defendants were “conspiring to create a false scientific debate about climate change to deceive the public”. For your interest, the current Wikipedia entry at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kivalina_v._ExxonMobil_Corporation explains that despite two appeals against previous adverse judgments, the US Supreme Court decided not to hear the casse, effectively ending the claim.
There may be a real need, and a good case for the public purse to provide major relocation assistance, but if so, it should be for the right reasons.
There is a nice touch to this story, for the CAGW camp gained a recruit from “Big Tobacco” in lawyer Steve Susman, “notable both because he is a high-profile litigator who charges up to a thousand dollars an hour for his services, and because he was involved in the tobacco suits – on the side of tobacco”. Granted , he has worked pro-bono for some Texan cities, but I can see the commercial opportunities for both notable and less notable lawyers But doesn’t it warm your heart, to find that even lawyers can be persuaded to come over from the Dark Side to fight for truth and justice? And we all know that delightfully invalid syllogism: all oranges are fruit; all apples are fruit; therefore all apples are oranges – or if you prefer, all pro-tobacconists are denialists; all sceptics are denialists; therefore all sceptics are pro-tobacconist denialists. Sweet subliminalism here, but it’s all in a good cause!
Now to the second article sent by the other good friend:, “Making Waves” (New Scientist 23 July 2013). http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21929262.200-storm-warning-the-winds-of-climate-change.html
It opens with a great photo , of a 300 foot ship on a research voyage, heeling well to starboard in some pretty good seas in the Southern Ocean. The opening paragraphs take us straight under: “The Southern Ocean is the door to the deep, the place where stupendous amounts of heat and carbon dioxide can enter the oceans – or escape from them . . . the deep could soak up more heat, slowing surface warming – a bit like flinging the door open on a hot day . . . If the door opens too wide, it could let carbon dioxide from the deep oceans escape. If it slams shut instead, the surface – where we live – will warm faster and end up even hotter.” Did you notice the caveats – “can”, “could”, and “if”? Hard to register these little caveats, as now my heart is beating a little faster with the alarming message. But the caveats matter to the scientists concerned; they need a way out if it doesn’t turn out as suggested.
A discussion of changing wind patterns and Hadley circulation follows, and now we have a bald statement: “Human emissions have already made both Hadley cells expand by about 200 kilometres.” This statement is immediately followed by “The evidence . . . is patchy but persuasive. ‘Each observational data set gives us a different answer . . . but they all . . . indicate that there is a widening of the Hadley cells.’” Hmm . . . so are they 200 kms wider, or something less, and that we’re not sure about yet? If so, don’t assert they are 200 kms wider, and don’t assert the cause without justification.
Here we have yet another article about an important area of science that does bear on climate, but there is no reference to actual sea temperatures. Sure, the climate models “show the Hadley cells expanding as the climate warms” – but over the past 15 years, it hasn’t been warming, so we can’t rely on those models yet, and the models relied on by the IPCC for its previous four reports have been woefully wrong. Nevertheless, the dire warnings persist. After all, “the seas have soaked up more heat than ever. This could be why the average global temperature has not risen over the past decade as it had previously.” This is plainly misleading: the uniformed reader may well assume that the temperature has still been rising, but not as fast. Further, the ARGO floats are showing no acceleration of heating at the 1 km and 2 km depths, so there is no evidence for an increased absorption of heat. Never mind – “there are consequences to ‘dumping’ heat in the oceans.” Note the pejorative term “dumping”, with all of the implication of waste and carelessness. Such is the nature of persuasion by emotion. Let’s wind it up the worry a bit more: for suddenly the oceans may cry they’ve had enough, and can absorb no more, and so “the door slams shut”, and we start to warm very fast.
Wait a minute! “Between 1981 and 2004, the Southern Ocean has been soaking up as much CO2 as ever” (I think “as ever” means as it has been absorbing CO2 at a constant rate). “more CO2 in the air should mean more CO2 entering the ocean. ‘This did not happen . . . the carbon sink was very stable’ ” (Team Leader Corinne Le Quéré ). This contrasts with the general claim of a few paragraphs earlier: “The oceans have been acting as giant sponges, soaking up half of the excess CO2 we are pumping out and 90% of the excess heat the planet is absorbing because of higher greenhouse levels.”
Then I read on: it’s shifting winds that have stirred up the CO2-laden deep waters of the Southern Oceans to be up near the surface, so that’s why the extra CO2 is not being absorbed – these waters can’t take any more. Further on, “ ‘ there is relatively little excess carbon dioxide in the deep (Great Southern) ocean, so there isn’t as much to come out’ (Robbie Toggweiler)”. What do I make of this?
The dismal tone continues, right to the end. So what has been the method? We might be readily bamboozled by the contradictions, not recognising them for what they are. There is actually no resolution of any of the questions raised, except for bland statements assuming anthropogenic global warming to be the culprit. The analysis is shallow, but the emotional tone is high. It is an article not worthy of the New Scientist of former times.
That’s how to push your product, and influence people. Ignore the wider facts, press the foreboding button, wind them up, and tell them what to think. It works.