Friday, 4 December 2009

Hurricane Bill: Gray areas in climate change debate

Someone drew my attention to a debate, between Dr Bill Gray, and Dr Kevin Trenberth , on the topic of Climate change (1).

I was intruiged by it because - unusually - Gray actually has proper qualifications in climate science and he has some authority. Admittedly, his area of specialisation is hurricanes, and not climate change, but it was enough to make me want to see what he has to say.

Perhaps I shouldn't have bothered.

The estimable Dr Gray is an authority on hurricanes, but his work on climate change is considered shonky (scientific term meaning not very good) and has failed peer review (2). He seems to have become more irrascible over they years . Here he uses a few strawmen andsome disingenuous argument to make his case:
This is because nearly 20 years of gross exaggeration on the part of scientists, environmentalists, politicians, and media; most of whom wish to profit in some way from the public’s lack of knowledge on the topic-have distorted the subject of human-induced global warming out of all sensible proportion. Many have been lead to believe that Al Gore’s movie and book An Inconvenient Truth provides incontrovertible evidence that human-induced global warming is a real threat. (3)
Neither Al Gore nor climatologist are to blame for the public or the media's failure to grasp the nuanced leanguage of climate change debate. The IPCC does not talk in absolutes. It only goes as far as to say that it is "very likely" that human activity is contributing to cliamte change. Neither does the fact that the media often exagggerate or misrepresent, nor the fact that the public swallow these misrepresentations uncritically, actually affect the basic science.
Yet, contrary to what is heard from warming advocates, there is considerable evidence that the global warming we have experienced over the last 30 years and over the last 100 years is largely natural. It is impossible to objectively determine the small amount of human-induced warming in comparison to the large natural changes which are occurring.
Er ... yes. Most climateologists would accept that the majority of global temeprature increase through the 20th century is attributeable to non-human causes.

But the influence of CO2 is growing, as evidenced by the fact that global temp hasn't dropped since 1998, even though there isn't anything much happening to keep it that high. The cycle should go up, then down. Instead, it is going up, and then just hanging about doing nothing. What's holding it up? Greenhouse gases seem to be the most likely candidate. And given the long life of CO2 in the atmosphere, its influence will continue to grow as long as we keep pumping it out and chopping down trees.
Many thousands of scientists from the US and around the globe do not accept the human-induced global warming hypothesis as it has been presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports over the last 15 years. The media has, in general, uncritically accepted the results of the IPCC and over-hyped the human aspects of the warming threat.
Hmmm ... thousands of scientists? 31,000, perhaps (4)?

As for the media 'uncritically' accepting the IPCC position, that just ... hilarious. Obviously, the man hasn't opened a newspaper in the last decade, far less in the last year.

The contrary views of the many warming skeptics have been largely ignored and their motives denigrated. The alleged “scientific consensus” on this topic is bogus. As more research on the human impact on global temperature change comes forth, more flaws are being found in the hypothesis.

It must be pointed out that most climate research is supported by the federal government. All federally sponsored researchers need positive peer-reviews on their published papers and grant proposals. This can be difficult for many of the “closet” warming skeptics who receive federal grant support. Many are reluctant to give full expression of their views, primarily because of worries over continuing grant support. It is difficult to receive federal grant support if one’s views differ from the majority of their peers who receive support to find evidence of the warming threat.

Crazy. "People who challenge the AGW theory are denigrated, but, by the way, did you know the pro-AGW crowd are a bunch of money grubbing spoungers off the tax payer?"

It was at this point that I stopped taking Dr Gray seriously.

Implementation of the proposed international treaties restricting future
greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 20 to 80 percent of current emissions would lead to a large slowdown in the world’s economic development and, at the same time, have no significant impact on the globe’s future temperature.

Why not, Bill? If CO2 is a greenhosue gas, then reducing concentrations will limit future temperature increases. You need to explain why CO2 emmissions aren't to blame.

Few of the GCM modelers have any substantial weather or short-range climate forecasting experience. It is impossible to make skillful initial-value numerical predictions beyond a few weeks ... GCMs should not be relied upon to give global temperature information 50 to 100 years into the future. GCM modelers do not dare make public short-period global temperature forecasts for next season, next year, or a few years hence. This is because they know they do not have shorter range climate forecasting skill.

Yet the original computer models from the 80s have proven accurate (5), even down to predicting - to with in a few years - the temperature stagnation of the first decade of this century.

As for his comments about short term prediction/forecasting, in that context he is wessentially talking about weather. Weather and climate are not the same (6). Weather is something that is fairly unpredictable that happens within a framework, called climate, which is more easily forecast. Like rolling a die, I can't say what number will come up, but I can state that it will be between 1 and 6. Unless it is one of those weird roleplaying dice with 23 sides.

Global temperatures have always fluctuated and will continue to do
so regardless of how much anthropogenic greenhouse gases are put into the atmosphere.

Yes, but as pointed out earlier, the fluctuations will be within an overall warmer context. Instead of ranging from WARM down to COLD, global temperatures might range from HOT to COOL. Or, if things get out of hand, from VERY HOT to WARM. The range (on the soon-to-be-patented Lurgee's Scale of Temperature Classification sysyem) is the same, but the parameters are different. So the fluctuations are only relevant in so much as you'd like your year rare or well done.
The globe has many serious environmental problems. Most of these problems are regional or local in nature, not global. Forced global reductions in human-produced greenhouse gases will not offer much benefit for the globe’s serious regional and local environmental problems.

Not really relevant, Bill.
We should, of course, make all reasonable reductions in greenhouse gases to the extent that we do not pay too high an economic price. We need a prosperous economy to have sufficient resources to further adapt and expand energy production.

So we should reduce greenhosue gas emmissions - a backdoor admission that they will warm the planet. Ooops.

Even if CO2 is causing very small global temperature increases there is hardly anything we can do about it. China, India, and Third World countries will not limit their growing greenhouse gas emissions.

They may well come to the party, because many of them face far more worrying issues with climate change than the west does. Anyway, saying "Climate change isn't happening because the Chinese don't want to do a deal on it" is a very strange argument. Why include it if you don't think we're in a climate crisis, or that one is coming?

What the developing world won't do is accept the prospect of a second best standard of living compared to the west, and nor should they. We need to find a means to balance the need for growth and material improvement with the need to avoid causing further danmage to the eco system. This final point by Gray is effectively nationalist-isolationist - "The USA shouldn't do anything because others won't" and again betrays the reality that something is happening, but he's carping about what should be done about it.

I should now go on to examine the coutner arguments put forward by Trenbeth, but I hit this in the second paragraph:

In recognition of the stalwart work over 20 years, the 2007 Nobel
Peace Prize was awarded to the IPCC and Al Gore.

WTF? That's so vapid and irrelevant that it makes Gray look credible. Please, don't make me read any more.

1 - 'Dr. William Gray and Dr. Kevin Trenberth Debate Global Warming: Part 1,' text of debate posted on Laissez-Nous Faire by Ray, 10th of October, 2009. (
2 - 'William M. Gray: criticisms of Gray's statements on global warming,' wikipedia biography of Professor Gray, viewed 4th of December, 2009.
3 - Indented sections in bold are taken from the debate linked in #1, above.
4 - As described previosuly on Lefthandpalm:
5 - As described previosuly on lefthandpalm:
6 - As described previosuly on lefthandpalm:

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