Taking the Science Out of Climate Science

Communicators of the mainstream position on climate science, including prestigious scientists, appear to be papering over gaps in our understanding of climate science, presenting their position as the default state of the world.

They’ve done it with atmospheric sensitivity, which they quit talking about once observations led to the surprising finding (not 100% confirmed) that sensitivity is less than half the median value used by the IPCC. It was replaced by Representative Concentration Pathways, which in fact are nothing more than preset inputs to climate models, using dictated assumptions for 2100 and working backwards to see how they could get there. They are not predictions, they are not projections–but they are being used as such so that nobody has to confront the disturbing (for them–it’s good news for the human race) reality regarding atmospheric sensitivity.

Now they are doing it with attribution. Given that the more serious scientists have the bad habit of saying that no specific weather event can be attributed to climate change, they want to build climate change into the assessment–before the assessment. Climate has changed. It’s the new normal. We don’t need to do formal attribution exercises. Of course this will allow them to attribute everything from a hangnail to an oncoming meteor to climate change.

Surprisingly, this is a follow-up to yesterday’s post about Michael Tobis’ endorsement of Kevin Trenberth’s blanket assertion that climate has entered a different state of existence–that we are living in a ‘new normal.’

According to this theory, analysis of extreme weather events starts with the built in assumption that climate change has made it worse.

As Tobis writes, “Trenberth is however responding to an overvaluing of the formal attribution question that has plagued climate change conversation from the beginning. When we see something odd in the weather, it is natural to ask whether it is “because of” human interference. This is formalized into scientific questions of various sorts, and the result is often inconclusive or misleading.”

Overvaluing attribution? That’s kind of like a district attorney saying that evidence is overvalued.

If we accept Trenberth’s proposition, then of course it would give him more time to sign letters calling for the prosecution of climate skeptics. Which would be convenient for him.

But one of the main reasons we are debating climate is that we are not often even able to recognize climate change and its impacts, let alone attribute some portion of that change to human contributions to climate change.

Trenberth’s–and Tobis’–blanket assertion that we have entered a ‘new normal’ where the climate does violence to all the tenets of science. Essentially, they have recognized that they are not winning the debate, so they are just echoing the past meme that said ‘the debate is over, the science settled’ using different words.

If the climate has changed, it has changed to something that looks remarkably like the old climate. Global warming has been concentrated in the Arctic, and it has had effects there: increased summer melt, changes in wind and ocean currents, weird weather and storms.

But the rest of the world? No. Drought indices haven’t changed in the past 100 years. Storms are neither more frequent nor more intense. Sea level rise is inching along at somewhere between NOAA’s figure of 1.7mm per year to alarmist claims of 3mm per year–about a foot per century.

But as we see with the recent rains in South Carolina, if we take it for granted that the climate has changed (and of course accept the corollary that human activity has caused it), then all that rain can be blamed on fossil fuels.

As Kevin Trenberth said in another context, “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.”

If he and Michael Tobis get away with this stunt, they won’t have to.



19 responses to “Taking the Science Out of Climate Science

  1. “According to this theory, analysis of extreme weather events starts with the built in assumption that climate change has made it worse.”

    I saw no such claim and endorsed no such claim. The word is “different” not “worse”, and this isn’t an “assumption” but a conclusion.

    • But you write, “As Trenberth et al. assert, “The climate is changing: we have a new normal. The environment in which all weather events occur is not what it used to be. All storms, without exception, are different. Even if most of them look just like the ones we used to have, they are not the same.”

      You go on to say that we should focus on past events for comparison’s sake, which is fine as far as it goes–which isn’t very far, as what we know of past climate events is limited.

      But it is the assertion–“we have a new normal”–that needs to be backed up. What do we see in today’s climate that we didn’t see 100 years ago?

      • 400 ppmv CO2, to start with. As for what the new climate, be it ever so marginally changed or massively so, I am proposing we try to look at it systematically and globally, rather than rushing for the barricades each time there is a news story and playing our increasingly useless parts in this clumsy dance.

      • 400 ppm of CO2 is an input. I thought we were talking about outputs.

  2. You have me exactly backwards. I am not saying we should stop thinking about this stuff or make any assumptions. I am saying we should think about it more clearly, because the positions that we see in the usual arguments are not fruitful.

    I’m trying to reopen the conversation from a position of neutrality and you are shooting me down as trying to shut the discussion down.

    • But you only say we should think about it more clearly because past arguments have either been effectively disputed or refuted. How much did you write about sensitivity before 2013? And how much have you written since?

      You should think about it more clearly, I’ll grant. And of course some of the more out-there skeptics should too. But when I said at your blog that I thought sensitivity would probably end up in the lower half of the IPCC’s range, what names did you call me? How many times did you insult me?

      And now you think ‘we’ should start thinking more clearly?

      Umm, okay.

      You say you are trying to reopen the conversation from a position of neutrality. Your move, then. You compared me to Jack Abramoff and said I was pulling shit out of my ass. Move from that to ‘neutral’ and give me a call back.

      • I said you were pulling stuff out of your hat, if I recall correctly, though I did slyly indicate it was a euphemism. I don’t recall exactly how you were floundering for a rebuttal at the time.

        I did not compare you to Abramoff. I compared Greg Pollowitz to Abramoff. http://initforthegold.blogspot.com/2010/01/bad-guys.html

        Though I am convinced that you are very wrong on many things, I don’t think you mean badly and have actually defended you on occasion.

  3. You’re definitely misreading Tobis’s argument. He is arguing that the question of “did we cause (all or part) of some event is poorly framed, and that we should consider, as available evidence accumulates, whether recurrence rates are changing significantly and what that implies for policy (adaptation as well as mitigation).

    • Hi Paul,

      I don’t think I’m misreading it. I am discounting it because of his reliance on Trenberth’s assertion that we are living in a new normal. Had Tobis said that this was a method we could use to test Trenberth’s assertion I would have been far more welcoming of his guest post at ATTP.

  4. “Had Tobis said that this was a method we could use to test Trenberth’s assertion I would have been far more welcoming of his guest post at ATTP.”

    I will fall back to that position if you call off the misdirected attack; that reformulation does me no harm. Still, I must say I believe you are misunderstanding Trenberth, not for the first time.

      • The Trenberth quote in question says “different”. “Worse” is something you are throwing in. It’s not in the quote in question.

        It’s not that things are or aren’t getting worse; that’s a separate argument (actually a whole slew of separate arguments on a whole variety of phenomena) where Trenberth et al’s claim is only the first step.

        I think that, except for sea level related problems, it’s indeed quite early for a statistically robust signal to emerge. On the other hand, we have been seeing quite a lot of weird stuff on the ground lately, so I’m suggesting we try to figure out how we should think about that, rather than rushing for the barricades and yelling at each other.

        The quote, which I find helpful and you find repellent, doesn’t actually say what you are claiming it says. Feel free to read it again. Here it is:

        ““The climate is changing: we have a new normal. The environment in which all weather events occur is not what it used to be. All storms, without exception, are different. Even if most of them look just like the ones we used to have, they are not the same.”

        It’s not about polemics; it’s about how to frame the statistical problem.

        The forcing is different. There is no way that the response is the same. For output to stay the same under different inputs just makes no physical sense. Whether the changed response matters, and how much, is where there is serious intellectual work to do. I suggest we try to do it. The disputed quote makes no claims about how it will come out.

      • If the climate was merely “different” (yet another undefinable term) and that difference was not dangerous no one give a hoot.
        It takes fanatics like you and the small lucrative cottage industry of climate hypesters to make “different” = “dangerous”.
        That you take the coward’s argument and pretend it is not about dangerous climate change is not surprising.
        By the way, please define “climate change” in a non-circular rational fashion.

  5. Let’s see: we are fairly sure the amount of energy in the ocean and atmosphere is increasing. We also think we know that increasing CO2 concentration ought to increase their ability to hang on and store incoming solar and geothermal energy. Therefore it’s reasonable to think anthropogenic CO2 and other gas emissions cause climate change.

    The disagreement seems to be mostly about phenomena such as cloud feedback, solar influence, and what I call “energy transfer mechanisms between the deep ocean and the surface”.

    Note: this reminds me, how come land and ocean temperature and energy level reanalysis software fail to account for geothermal heat flows?

  6. Trenberth is delusional. Weather that is the same is the same. He is no different than those scientists and progressives who in the age of the eugenics decided which humans were perfect and ideal and not surprisingly found out that those they were bigoted against were bad and that they and their friends were ideal.
    In fact Trenberth now relegates himself to doing what MT and the other climate obsessed kooks tell us we must not do- chase particular weather events.

  7. FL: Geothermal flux is tiny compared to solar flux and can be neglected in most climate-related situations. The only climate-related exception is the detailed flow of ice sheets over very long times, where geothermal hot spots can alter the flow.

  8. tom,
    By the way the title of this post is excellent. The sad truth is that the science left climate science a long, long time ago.
    The hard copy of your book has arrived and I am enjoying the read.
    I disagree with you quite a bit but I see the good faith and transparency and appreciate both greatly.

  9. Anyone who is finally willing to stand up and call Trenberth’s delusional destructive game playing is ultimately on the side of good.
    Based on what MT is saying here, I am willing to read more of what he has written on this topic with an open mind.

  10. Interesting discussion. One would think that after 50 years (or 150, take your pick) of increasingly strong radiative forcing the weather statistics would demonstrate conclusively that something had actually changed. Simply cherry picking random excursions from the mean is not statistically sufficient for these purposes.

    Given that most folks agree that average temperatures have increased over the past century or so (even if not perfectly uniform) then one could reasonably expect evidence exists for similar increases in the energy-magnitude-frequency of weather events. If such evidence has eluded us, perhaps we do not understand the climate system as well as some have claimed.

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