Archive for March, 2009

Weather, Chaos, and Climate Change

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Yesterday I received a request from a reader in Wisconsin for me to address a question I hear pretty frequently from the public: If weather can’t be predicted beyond 7 to 10 days, what then makes climate modelers think they can predict climate 50 years in advance?

For many years I gave the ‘IPCC-approved’ reason…but now I’m not so sure anymore.

First let’s review the ‘scientific consensus’ explanation of the difference. In weather forecasting, you take a snapshot of global weather patterns with weather balloon, satellite, surface, and aircraft-based measurements, and then extrapolate them out in time using a set of equations. And as Ed Lorenz demonstrated in 1963, any unmeasured weather on very small space scales can cause huge differences in the forecast the farther out in time one projects the weather. This is the classic example of the chaotic, nonlinear variability inherent to atmospheric circulation systems. Even the flap of a butterfly’s wing will eventually change global weather patterns. Mathematically speaking, this is referred to as sensitive dependence on initial conditions.

Global warming forecasting, in contrast, has been claimed to be possible because we are instead dealing with a small change in the rules by which the atmosphere operates. The extra carbon dioxide we are putting into the atmosphere, it is argued, changes the Earth’s greenhouse effect slightly, which is then expected to change average weather (climate) to a lesser or greater extent. Mathematically speaking, this is referred to as a change in boundary conditions.

But upon closer examination, I have come to realize that the two kinds of variability – weather and climate – maybe are not so different after all. The only major difference between the two is just one of time scale.

The weather today is impacted by what has happened on the Earth, in the atmosphere and on the surface, every day previous to today. In a very real sense, today’s weather retains a memory of all weather which has occurred in the past.

But climate variability is really no different. This year’s climate is a natural result of average weather and climate in previous years. For instance, the slow overturning of the ocean can bring water to the surface which hasn’t been in contact with the atmosphere for maybe hundreds of years. Therefore, the climate we are experiencing today can be related to average weather conditions which occurred hundreds of years ago.

So, one might argue that climate variability is just as good an example of chaos as weather variability. Mathematically speaking, the ‘sensitive dependence on initial conditions’ we associate with chaos might also be called ‘sensitive dependence on continuously changing boundary conditions’.

In fact, nature does not distinguish between changing initial conditions and changing boundary conditions…it is all just change. The real question is how a human source of change (e.g. carbon dioxide emissions) stacks up against all of the natural sources of change.

“But”, one might object, “Nature has been the same until humans came along and changed it!” Well, is it really valid to think of nature as unchanging? I don’t think so. Nature causes its own changes, all the time. And each of those changes forever alters the future direction of both weather and climate.

But we aren’t aware of these continuous subtle changes — only the spectacular ones. For instance, a major volcanic eruption can inject millions of tons of sulfur into the stratosphere, leading to a couple of years of global cooling. But what isn’t mentioned is that such an event will also forever change the future course of weather and climate on the Earth simply because future weather and climate retain a memory of that event.

Similarly, a chaotic change in precipitation patterns in the Pacific Ocean will change ocean salinity, which will then change the circulation of that water into the deep ocean over time, which maybe a hundred years hence will then reemerge as a change in surface waters which will, in turn, affect weather patterns once again.

So, are these changes in initial conditions, or boundary conditions? I think the question is only one of semantics…it is all just change. And change in nature is ubiquitous.

The possibility that mankind can change climate, even for hundreds of years down the road, does not impress Mother Nature. She has been changing climate all by herself since time immemorial. Millions of tons of sulfur spewed into the stratosphere by a volcano illustrates the power of nature, and the spectacular sunrises and sunsets that result vividly display nature’s beauty.

Of course, if humans did the same thing as a volcano does, it would be called the greatest pollution disaster in history. But I digress….

The climate modelers assume there is no such thing as natural climate variability…at least not on time scales beyond maybe ten years. In effect, they believe that chaos only exists in weather, not in climate. But this view is entirely arbitrary, and there is an abundance of evidence that it is just plain wrong. Chaos occurs on all time scales. Climate change happens, with or without our help.

And maybe there is one more difference between weather forecasting and climate forecasting…a difference which has allowed climate alarmism today to flourish. When the TV meteorologist blows his forecast for tomorrow’s weather, people will remember his error, and hold him responsible. But climate modelers get to forecast any kind of climate change they want, knowing full well that no one 50 or 100 years down the road is ever going to remember how good – or how bad — their forecast was.

Set Phasers on Stun

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

I’ve been receiving a steady stream of e-mails asking when our latest work on feedbacks in the climate system will be published. Since I’ve been trying to fit the material from three (previously rejected) papers into one unified paper, it has taken a bit longer than expected…but we are now very close to submission.

We’ve tentatively decided to submit to Journal of Geophysical Research (JGR) rather than any of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) journals. This is because it appears that JGR editors are somewhat less concerned about a paper’s scientific conclusions supporting the policy goals of the IPCC — regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, JGR’s instructions to reviewers is to not reject a paper simply because the reviewer does not agree with the paper’s scientific conclusions. More on that later.

As those who have been following our work already know, our main conclusion is that climate sensitivity has been grossly overestimated due to a mix up between cause and effect when researchers have observed how global cloud cover varies with temperature.

To use my favorite example, when researchers have observed that global cloud cover decreases with warming, they have assumed that the warming caused the cloud cover to dissipate. This would be a positive feedback since such a response by clouds would let more sunlight in and enhance the warming.

But what they have ignored is the possibility that causation is actually working in the opposite direction: That the decrease in cloud cover caused the warming…not the other way around. And as shown by Spencer and Braswell (2008 J. Climate), this can mask the true existence of negative feedback.

All 20 of the IPCC climate models now have positive cloud feedbacks, which amplify the small amount of warming from extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But if cloud feedbacks in the climate system are negative, then the climate system does not particularly care how much you drive your SUV. This is an issue of obvious importance to global warming research. Even the IPCC has admitted that cloud feedbacks remain the largest source of uncertainty in predicting global warming.

Significantly, our new work provides a method for identifying which direction of causation is occurring (forcing or feedback), and for obtaining a more accurate estimate of feedback in the presence of clouds forcing a temperature change. The method involves a new way of analyzing graphs of time filtered satellite observations of the Earth (or even of climate model output).

Well…at least I thought it was new way of analyzing graphs. It turns out that we have simply rediscovered a method used in other physical sciences: phase space analysis. This methodology was first introduced by Willard Gibbs in 1901.

We found that by connecting successively plotted points in graphs of how the global average temperature varies over time, versus how global average radiative balance varies over time, one sees two different structures emerge: linear striations, which are the result of feedback, and spirals which are the result of internal radiative forcing by clouds.

But such a methodology is not new. To quote from Wikipedia on the subject of ‘phase space’:

Often this succession of plotted points is analogous to the system’s state evolving over time. In the end, the phase diagram…can easily elucidate qualities of the system that might not be obvious otherwise.

Using a simple climate model we show that these two features that show up in the graphs are a direct result of the two directions of causation: temperature causing clouds to change (revealed by ‘feedback stripes’), and clouds causing temperature to change (revealed by ‘radiative forcing spirals’).

The fact that others have found phase space analysis to be a useful methodology is a good thing. It should lend some credibility to our interpretation. Phase space analysis is what has helped others better understand chaos, along with its Lorenz attractor, strange attractors, etc.

And the fact that we find the exact same structures in the output of the IPCC climate models as we do in the satellite observations of the Earth means that the modelers can not claim our interpretation has no physical basis.

And we can also use some additional buzzwords in the new article…which seems to help from the standpoint of reviewers thinking you know what you are talking about. The new paper title is, “Phase Space Analysis of Forcing and Feedback in Models and Satellite Observations of Climate Variability”.

It just rolls of the tongue, doesn’t it?

I am confident the work will get published…eventually. But even if it didn’t, our original published paper on the issue has laid the groundwork…it would just take awhile before the research community fully understands the implications of that work.

What amazes me is the resistance there has been to ‘thinking out of the box’ when trying to estimate the sensitivity of the climate system. Especially since the ‘new’ manner in which we analyze the data has been considered to be thinking in the box by other sciences for over a century now.

And it is truly unfortunate that the AMS, home of Lorenz’s first published work on chaos in 1963, has decided that political correctness is more important than the advancement of science.

A Dozen Reasons Why a Former CNN Executive Producer for Science Doesn’t Understand Doubters of Manmade Global Warming

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

The following editorial appeared on the Huffington Post website today (italicized entries, below)…and I couldn’t help but give the writer some of his own medicine (my responses not italicized, & in parentheses).


By Peter Dykstra

A dozen reasons why climate change deniers are the way they are:

No, there aren’t only a dozen reasons, but some are bigger than others. Scientists and climate change advocates are constantly amazed and appalled at how durable the climate change denial machine is. Here are some of the varied reasons.

1) Compassion fatigue: No one really denies world hunger, but we sure are good at turning away from it. People have been hearing about climate for two decades now, and they’d really not think any more about it.

(Americans give more to charity than any country in the world, and they are perfectly willing to help out…when there is a REAL crisis. They are not so crazy about supporting those who profit off of imaginary ones.)

2) Stigma: Pick one guy and stick with him as the personification of evil. That would be Al Gore, who plays the same role for climate that Jane Fonda did, and still does nearly 40 years later, for Vietnam. Jane has admitted that she made a huge mistake by posing with the North Vietnamese, and neither her multiple apologies, the fact that she was right about the war, nor the otherwise-accepted concept of Christian Forgiveness will ever let her off the hook for millions of Americans.

(Stigma? You mean like labeling us “deniers”? Or “flat-Earthers”? Or “corporate toadies?” Or “Holocaust deniers”?)

3) Dogma: Those who talk about climate change are the same ones who occupy the tenth circle of Hell for many Americans: Politicians, the Media, Scientists, Educators, Hippies, and Showbiz types. So it’s a moral imperative to be agin what they’re for.

(If the shoe fits….)

4) Fear Factor: Losing your SUV, or ATV, is more of a fright than phenology (the effect of climatic changes on the seasons), or melting permafrost, or polar bears.

(Losing liberty over a theoretical threat is the main concern here (no one has ever been killed by manmade global warming…because there is no way to distinguish manmade warming from natural).

5) Manufactured denial: Marc Morano is a Senate staffer for James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who’s said that climate change is a “hoax.” In that role, Morano’s been the Drum Major of the denial parade. The Marc Moranos of the world function for climate the way that Johnnie Cochran functioned for OJ Simpson: Raise enough shreds of doubt, even if you do it in reckless and theatrical ways, and climate change can win an acquittal, or at least a mistrial no matter how strong the rest of the evidence is. (It was reported last week that Morano’s career as a public servant will soon end, and he’ll take the denial machine to the private sector).

(I think a better analogy is one person, Marc Morano posting information…maybe with some spin…versus hundreds or thousands of journalists who are doing the same thing on the other side. Are those odds still not good enough for you?)

6) Devotion: The corollary to not believing anything Al Gore and his ilk is that you must believe everything that a crackpot like Glenn Beck says. [Blogger’s Note: The word “ilk” is a very special one. A nonscientific Googling of the terms “Al Gore” and “Ilk” yielded 705 results. “Al Gore” and “Antichrist” got 693 hits, but that’s misleading, since the “Antichrist” in question in many of those hits was either Hillary or Obama, and Gore was just mentioned as a henchman.]

(Actually, WE are the ones who tolerate a variety of theories for what causes climate change. We just don’t believe the first place you should look is in the tailpipe of an SUV, or up some bovine orifice.)

7) Lack of backbone in Senior Editorial Management: A long-gone CNN boss of mine once told me that he hesitated about climate change stories. If he had his doubts about a diplomacy story, he said, he could get Henry Kissinger or Madeleine Albright on the phone to explain it to him. But for climate, he said he was “stuck” with only me.

(WHAT? You mean there are MORE ways to be killed by global warming than the 37 that we’ve already heard about??)

8 ) Current events: The Gallup poll just released that shows an increase in the number of Americans who think that climate fears are “exaggerated” also points out that this always happens with many secondary issues when the merde hits the fan –9/11 or Depression tend to make issues like climate seem less important. They also get covered less.

(Yes, there is something about real death and suffering that concerns reasonable people somewhat more than science fiction documentaries.)

9) Credentials: Peer review means nothing to the general public. And it’s unreasonable to expect a casual reader to make a huge distinction between a respected and peer-reviewed climate scientist like Steve Schneider, and the “coal monkeys” (Schneider’s term) who staff the Denial Labs.

(We have peer reviewed science, too, but it is you journalists who don’t have the backbone to report on it. How convenient.)

10) Frank Luntz: Go to and read the 2003 memo from the peerless Republican consultant. It counsels that manufacturing doubt is the only way to avoid losing the battle. In an interview at last year’s Heartland Institute’s Deny-a-Palooza, Morano claims he’s never read the Luntz memo. Which, if true, means that a superstar political consultant wrote a memo for his party on the environment, and the party’s most prominent environmental spokesman has managed to ignore it for six years?

(Tell me again…who is Frank Luntz, and what does he have to do with me?)

11) Ideology: Environmentalists often make the mistake of tarring all skeptics with the same brush. Not everyone’s on the take from Exxon and Peabody Coal. Not by along shot. But policy fixes to climate change are absolutely toxic to many freemarketers and libertarians.

(“Policy fixes to climate change” is like saying, “let’s outlaw gravity”.)

12) Ossified science: William Gray, the hurricane guy, is the best example of an old-line scientist who has complete contempt for any science that’s not generated in a lab or on a chalkboard. He’ll go to his grave not believing in any global warming, nor anything else that relies on computer models for its science. Chris Mooney’s book “Storm World” tells this story very well.

(Actually, I think Bill Gray has the best answer to ultimately what causes most climate fluctuations, including global warming (and cooling): changes in ocean circulation. In fact, we now have satellite evidence that a major mode of this kind of change – the Pacific Decadal Oscillation – has caused most of the warming we’ve seen in the last century. But don’t look for it in the news when it finally gets published.)

So there’s a dozen reasons for denying climate change, and I didn’t even mention

(So, there’s a dozen reasons why a journalist can be misinformed on climate science, and I didn’t even mention Athiests.)

Diversity Abounds at New York City Climate Conference

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

The Second International Conference on Climate Change, held March 8-10 in New York City, was a great success, with considerably greater attendance than the first conference. Keynote speakers included President Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic, Prof. Dick Lindzen, Gov. John Sununu, Harrison Schmitt (last man to walk on the moon), Lord Monckton, and several others. A total of approximately 80 speakers packed a series of four parallel sessions throughout the 2 days of talks.

As was the case last year, several lines of evidence were presented in support of the two most important scientific objections to the currently popular view that humans now rule the climate system: (1) climate sensitivity is much lower than the United Nations claims it is; and (2) nature, not humans, dominate climate change.

On the latter point, there were several papers presented on the role of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), including my own recent results from the Terra satellite showing the PDO causes a radiative forcing of the Earth (from a change in low cloud cover) that can potentially explain most of the decadal to centennial global temperature change over the last 100 years. Bill Gray presented his theory that the PDO, as well as other long term climate fluctuations, are mostly due to salinity-driven changes in the overturning portion of the ocean circulation. At this point in our meager understanding of long-term climate change, I would agree that this is the most likely explanation.

Prof. Akasofu of the University of Alaska reported that Arctic cooling has continued, with colder Arctic Ocean temperatures and thicker sea ice being encountered by icebreakers than in previous winters. These changes are widely believed to be the result of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation having recently entered into its negative (cooling) phase.

In one of the keynote addresses, Bob Carter argued for a redirection of political and policy efforts to deal with natural rather than anthropogenic climate change, since paleoclimate evidence suggesting that sudden, large changes in regional climate can occur in just a few years.

There was considerable anger and frustration over the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) political hijacking of climate science, and the taking over of most of our professional organizations (e.g. the American Meteorological Society) by environmental activists with strong political connections. In his keynote address, Prof. Lindzen discussed the sorry state of climate science in this context. Lindzen also warned that the skeptics’ arguments need to be chosen wisely, since a few of them were clearly on weak scientific grounds.

I agree with Lindzen on this. But I would like to add that it takes only one of us to be correct for the anthropogenic global warming house of cards to collapse. We skeptics tolerate alternative scientific views, something the IPCC can not allow without undermining their political goals. The claim some others have made that we skeptics should rally around a single explanation for global warming reveals how dangerously close we have come to turning scientific research into a political process.

While it has been difficult to get research funding to investigate natural sources of global warming, a few peer reviewed papers have been getting published. Unfortunately, the greater these papers’ threat to the IPCC party line, the more they are ignored by both the news media and by IPCC scientists. This has perpetuated the public’s mistaken view of just how strong the ‘scientific consensus’ is on manmade global warming. In his keynote speech, Gov. Sununu mentioned the need to get congressional funding of climate science less dominated by a specific ideology.

Many of the talks dealt with the policy implications of global warming, including cap and trade legislation and EPA regulations. The futility of such efforts to fight a largely natural phenomenon (global warming), combined with the economically damaging effects on humanity of punishing energy use, were the main topics of discussion. Roy Innis and Paul Driessen discussed the devastating effects on the poor of current and proposed energy policies.

There was wide agreement that the tide is turning for those of us who doubt that humans play the dominant role in climate change. Increasing numbers of scientists are speaking out on the issue, and recent polls of the public in January have revealed dwindling public alarm over global warming, sentiment no doubt contributed to by the fact that global warming stopped in 2001.

This is in spite of the mainstream media continuing to try to marginalize the views of those of us who are skeptical of the role of humans in warming. Curiously, even though a new Gallup poll has found that an increased number of Americans think global warming is exaggerated, the Gallup writer who editorialized on those results said:

“Americans generally believe global warming is real. That sets the U.S. public apart from the global-warming skeptics who assembled this week in New York City to try to debunk the science behind climate change.”

This uninformed statement helps to perpetuate the myth that we skeptics do not believe in climate change when, of course, we do. Climate is changing all the time. In fact, research into natural sources of climate change was being published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature long before environmental extremists and politicians came along and hijacked the issue in order to achieve their policy goals. Equating “global warming” to “manmade global warming” shows just how successful the IPCC and activists such as Al Gore have been in their disinformation campaigns.

Of course, with hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising, a sympathetic news media, and an increasing number of corporations giving in to the pressure, it’s a wonder any skepticism remains.

All in all, the conference was hugely successful. Since there are so many international participants in these conferences, it looks like next year’s conference will probably be held abroad.

Two Days of Climate Realism in NYC

Saturday, March 7th, 2009

Many of us are off to NYC this coming week for the 2nd
International Conference on Climate Change
, being held on Monday and Tuesday, March 9 and 10 at the Marriott Marquis-Times Square.

I like to call this event the “skeptics conference”, but only because that rolls off the tongue easily. I suspect some don’t appreciate that label since it makes it sound like we don’t believe in global warming…which, of course, is wrong. We just don’t believe that mankind is responsible for global warming…or at least not very much of it.

Personally, I think the first place we should look for causes of climate variability is Mother Nature, not in the tailpipe of an SUV.

Those of us who were lucky enough to be asked to speak at the conference will present a wide variety of views on all things related to global warming…er…I mean climate change: the latest science, politics, economics, etc.

Of course, I’m most interested in the science…and there are a number of different opinions on what controls changes in the climate system. For instance, I now believe that most of the warming in the last 100 years was due to natural cloud variations caused by the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. I will be presenting evidence for that on Tuesday morning, along with new evidence that the climate system is much less sensitive than the alarmists claim it is.

In fact, I’ll be showing actual satellite measurements of this global warming mechanism…evidence that the climate alarmists do not have. You see, the mechanism for manmade global warming is so small that it can’t be measured by satellite…it instead must be computed based upon theory.

There will be other ideas presented, too: Fluctuations in the circulation of the oceans, solar activity, etc. As should be the case in science, we skeptics are pretty tolerant of multiple views on the causes of global warming.

In contrast, I hear there isn’t quite as much tolerance within the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Those folks decided over 20 years ago that humans cause global warming…even before the IPCC was established. The IPCC was formed to advance a policy agenda…to build the case that humanity is now in control of climate.

For 20 years, many governments have supported that agenda with lavish funding. And if you pay scientists hundreds of millions of dollars to find something, they’ll do their best to find it.

The rest of us, meanwhile, are operating on a shoestring. The NYC conference is supported only by conference fees and by donations from private individuals and foundations. No corporate money was solicited or used.

Later in the week I’ll provide an update on any significant developments.