2009-04-01

The Heartland Institute's Skeptic Handbook - Get Out the Shovel...

Most climate denial material is all over the map so it is a pleasant change to have a nice clear target.

I am talking about the "Skeptic’s Handbook" that the notorious Heartland Institute is helpfully printing 150,000 copies of for distribution across the US including 850 journalists, 26,000 schools, “19,000 leaders and politicians”.

The mass printing of this climate propaganda piece is being funded by an “anonymous donor”. It is odd that “someone” feels strongly enough to shell out that kind of money but also wants their identity concealed. We do know that the Heartland Institute has been bankrolled to the tune of $676,000 from ExxonMobil since 1998. Nuff said.

It is also interesting that this latest product of the denial machine is washing over the nation less than a month after the US government released their Climate Change Literacy brochure – cosigned by 13 federal agencies and 24 educational and scientific partners.

Membership in the supposed climate change conspiracy now includes such well known eco-freaks as the Department of Defense, the Department of the Interior and the US Forest Service.

The handbook itself is hilariously illogical. It coaches “skeptics” to avoid talking about the evidence of changing climate - for obvious reasons presumably. According to them, something may be heating things up, its just not carbon dioxide. Independent thinkers are instead counseled to follow these four cookbook points:

  • The greenhouse signature is missing
  • Ice Cores do not support carbon as a driver of climate change
  • Temperatures are not rising
  • Carbon dioxide is doing almost all the warming it can do.

All of these points are either entirely wrong or grossly misleading. Lets get out the shovel and start unloading this pile of manure.

The greenhouse signature is missing

Flat out wrong.

There is a clear signature that greenhouse gases are warming the atmosphere and has been for years. If you thought that the scientific community had picked over this issue pretty carefully for about 100 years, you would be right. Hundreds of studies have looked at this question using mathematical analysis, laboratory studies and atmospheric observation. Modeling based on this data agrees very well with what we are seeing.

There are several drivers of temperature change on Earth, including atmospheric sulfatesclimate model, volcanic ash, fluctuations in the ozone layer, changes in the Sun and greenhouse gases. Here’s what the modeling and direct observations shows:

The “missing hotspot” argument is also a favourite red herring that pops up perennially from deniers like a game of whack-a-mole.

First of all, the hotspot is not missing. Secondly, is not a signature of the greenhouse effect, it is the signature of warming from any source.

As a matter of fact, the warming profile of the atmosphere is exactly what you would expect from the greenhouse effect due to carbon emissions – namely a hotter lower atmosphere and a colder stratosphere.

Sorry deniers – that one is tossed in the tank yet again.

Ice Cores do not support carbon as a driver

Grossly misleading. Ice core data shows a very strong link between atmospheric carbon and global temperatures. What the deniers are harping on is that it appears that carbon does not start the warming, it only amplifies it.

atmospheric carbon signatureBelieve me, this is nothing to take comfort from. Ice core data dating back hundreds of thousands of years clearly shows that once warming is started due to regular fluctuations in the Earth’s orbit or solar output, it leads to massive increases in atmospheric CO2 from melting permafrost and release from the oceans. This in turn leads to positive feedbacks that amplify warming by up to five times.

The difference now is that we are jump-starting warming by dumping huge amounts of ancient carbon into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. This is already leading to positive feedbacks like melting permafrost, and increased forest fires.

The other scary difference is that scientists believe that this time we may push past tipping points like melting the Greenland ice sheet that the planet has not seen in a long, long time. Sound like a good idea? Maybe we shouldn’t give it a try.

It is also amussing that deniers say that atmospheric carbon dioxide has nothing to do with warming, while also maintaining that it does, but it dosn't matter. You try and figure out what they are saying - I can't.

Temperatures are not rising

Politely put, this is complete crap. The clear trend is upwards and has been since about 1900 with a large increase since 1980. global temperaturesHere is the latest world land temperature graph from NASA – decide for yourself whether things are getting chillier.

What climate deniers love to do is cherry pick the data by starting counting in 1998 – the warmest year in the history of meteorology and one of the strongest El Nino years on record.

Another hoary old myth is the urban heat island effect – that weather stations that used to be far off in the country are now in the city surrounded by pavement and air conditioners. Believe it or not, scientists actually thought of that.

Still don’t believe the entire scientific community? Have a look at the latest graph of global temperatures for both land and oceans. Not many air conditioners floating around sea.

land ocean temperaturesCarbon dioxide is doing almost all the warming it can do

Absolutely false. Saying increased atmospheric carbon is not going to make a difference is like suggesting that throwing more wood on a fire will not make it bigger.

It is true that high school physics shows that CO2 warming in the atmosphere follows a logarithmic relationship – meaning that heating from increasing CO2 does not follow a straight line. That is precisely why scientists instead talk about an atmospheric doubling of CO2 (yes, they’ve thought of that tooprehistoric atmospheric CO2).

Climate models predict that every additional doubling will lead to global warming of about 3°C – but some estimates put it as high as 6°C. I guess we’ll find out…

In the last 150 years, we have increased atmospheric carbon from 280 ppm to 385 ppm, and the pace is picking up speed. We are on track to hit 530 ppm by 2050.

To see what all these numbers mean, have a look at this animation from the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research in Norway.

Of course a real scientist making such baseless arguments among their peers would be laughed out of the room. That is why you will never ever see climate deniers make their claims in the scientific literature – only in the mainstream media. Meanwhile the voting public remains dangerously confused by this garbage. As they say, tick tock goes the clock.

The Denier’s Handbook was written not by a practicing researcher of course, but by a woman named Jo Nova whose past vocations included hosting of children’s program in Australia and touring Australia with a science circus sponsored by Shell Oil. Interesting, her former funder (the oil company) is no longer denying the link between carbon emissions and climate change in their communications with kids. Maybe she didn't get the memo.

She has at least one science-related publication to her credit: Serious Science Party Tricks ($14.95 AUD plus $2.50 postage). It does not directly relate to atmospheric chemistry however. It instead documents how to:

“Do the funniest, silliest, and most surprising tricks with things like paper, balloons, straws and flour. Simple, quick, easy and stunning. An activity book to keep you engrossed for hours!”

Hardly peer-reviewed stuff. I do not mean to disparage children’s literature, but these patently false claims are going to be distributed to 16,000 decision-makers and politicians and frankly she is asking for it.

It is also interesting that almost all of these augments seem to originate from our “rocket scientist” friend David Evans. Real climate scientists in Australia were tearing their hair out when he kept popping up in the media Down-Under claiming to have an expertise in climate science. FYI – he has not published one single peer-reviewed paper in the field.

For some excellent critiques of these old and erroneous talking points see the blog of Dr. Barry Brook, a climate scientist from the University of Adelaide, and Dr. David Karoly at the University of Melbourne. There are good eviscerations of Nova's "arguments" here.

The old field of climate science misinformation blooms anew – well fertilized by ““anonymous donors” and of course the fossil fuel industry.

4 comments:

Peter said...

Mitchell,

You do a very good blog. But ....

This from RealClimate, not exactly devout carbon sceptics like me.

"However, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that climate is actually the dominant control – so what does the history of English vineyards show?

The earliest documentation that is better than anecdotal is from the Domesday Book (1087) – an early census that the new Norman king commissioned to assess his new English dominions, including the size of farms, population etc. Being relatively ‘frenchified’, the Normans (who had originally come from Viking stock) were quite keen on wine drinking (rather than mead or ale) and so made special note of existing vineyards and where the many new vines were being planted. Sources differ a little on how many vineyards are included in the book: Selley quotes Unwin (J. Wine Research, 1990 (subscription)) who records 46 vineyards across Southern England (42 unambiguous sites, 4 less direct), but other claims (unsourced) range up to 52. Lamb’s 1977 book has a few more from other various sources and anecdotally there are more still, and so clearly this is a minimum number.

Of the Domesday vineyards, all appear to lie below a line from Ely (Cambridgeshire) to Gloucestershire. Since the Book covers all of England up to the river Tees (north of Yorkshire), there is therefore reason to think that there weren’t many vineyards north of that line. Lamb reports two vineyards to the north (Lincoln and Leeds, Yorkshire) at some point between 1000 and 1300 AD, and Selley even reports a Scottish vineyard operating in the 12th Century. However, it’s probably not sensible to rely too much on these single reports since they don’t necessarily come with evidence for successful or sustained wine production. Indeed, there is one lone vineyard reported in Derbyshire (further north than any Domesday vineyard) in the 16th Century when all other reports were restricted to the South-east of England.

The Normans had only been in England for 21 years when Domesday was written never mind the survey date.

Those northerly MWP vineyards make the map of past vineyard limits more than slightly inaccurate

If you are a sucker for hard work, have a look at some other maps, and the attached words and odd bits of sarcasm, on the adjacent posts there.

http://www.pool.org.au/group/climate_change

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