23 April 2012

Pushing Back on Extreme Nonsense

UPDATE 4/25: Mike Wallace sends the following comment in by email:
The quote from my article shouldn't be interpreted as indicating that I'm not concerned about human-induced global warming. To put it in perspective, please read on. You can find the entire article on the LA Times web site.
 Please do read the whole thing, Mass' also.

Cliff Mass and Mike Wallace at the University of Washington have expressed some thoughts on the hype associated with climate change and extreme events.

Mass writes on his blog:
It is happening frequently lately.  A major weather event occurs---perhaps a hurricane, heat wave, tornado outbreak, drought or snowstorm-- and a chorus of activist groups or media folks either imply or explicitly suggest that the event is the result of human-caused (anthropogenic) global warming.  Perhaps the worst offender is the organization www.350.org and their spokesman Bill McKibben.  Close behind is Climate Central, which even has an extreme weather/climate blog.  The media has noted many times that the U.S. in 2011 experienced a record 14 billion-dollar weather disasters--and many of the articles imply or suggest a connection with human-forced global warming.  Even the NY Times has jumped into the fray recently, giving front-page coverage of an unscientific survey that found that a large majority of Americans believe recent extreme weather events are the result of anthropogenic global warming. One does not have to wonder very hard about where Americans are getting their opinions--and it is not from the scientific community.
He explains:
It is somewhat embarrassing for me to admit this, but part of the problem is that a small minority of my colleagues--people who should know better-- are feeding the extreme-weather/climate hype in the mistaken belief that by doing so they can encourage people to do the right thing--lessen their carbon footprint.
Writing in the LA Times yesterday, Mike Wallace takes issue with the cavalier linkage of the March heat wave to human-caused climate change, reminding us that climate is complex:
The cause of last month's strange weather was an extraordinarily large and persistent meander of the jet stream that swept tropical air, with temperatures reaching into the 80s as far north as southern Canada.

Likening today's climate system to a muscle-bound, drugged athlete performing feats far beyond the capabilities of straight athletes would be appropriate if the extreme and persistent distortions of the jet stream we saw in March could be demonstrated to have been caused by global warming.

But let's remember where the burden of proof lies. In the world of sports, when an athlete is accused of relying on performance-enhancing drugs, it is the prosecutor who must prove the case. The same should apply to claims that the behavior of the jet stream is being profoundly altered by global warming. Thus far, such assertions are not well supported by scientific evidence.

In the absence of proof that the jet stream's variability is human-induced, we must consider the possibility that the apparent weirdness of the weather in March isn't all that weird if viewed in a larger historical context. In this respect, it's noteworthy that large areas of the U.S. were just about as warm in March 1910 as they were in March 2012. With weather, weird things happen every now and again.

Fortunately, the flora and fauna and the human inhabitants of temperate latitudes are accustomed to dealing with huge swings in wintertime temperatures, and so most of the effects of March Madness will be short-lived.
Over the long term I have every confidence that scientific questions will be resolved using the tools of science. In the meantime, it sure is nice to see these prominent scientists standing up for the integrity of their field, even if it means sticking their necks out and risking criticism from a few overly enthusiastic scientists and reporters.

9 comments:

  1. Not just the US, but the UK has also been having its share of weird things happening with the weather.
    March broke records for highest temperature across most of the country - warmer than the Sahara apparently.
    Early April we had snow settling as far south as the Midlands and falling even in the south-east (unusual but not unheard of - probably the first April snow for about 10 years).
    Mid April the papers announced we were now in a worse drought than 1976 (after 2 unusually dry winters). Of course, this being British weather, it has hardly stopped raining for the last 2 weeks and is forecast to keep going at least through all this week.

    Climate change? No, just the differences that happen in the weather at our edge of the Atlantic.

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  2. Just "a few overly enthusiastic scientists and reporters"? I think more than a few of the scientists, and quite a few of the reporters. Though the latter may be more lazy and/or gullible than overly-enthusiastic.

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  3. While some may attack these two gents for their failure to support the Warmthists’ party line, their outspokenness -- candor, bluntness, whatever one chooses to call their approach -- is refreshing and quite valuable. Thanks for posting their remarks on your blog. I doubt that I would have run across their contributions had you not done so.

    The implication, however, is that other scientists and those in the media who assert that each metrological event that’s the least bit destructive or unpleasant can be traced to climate change are engaging in politics, generating political proclamations, not statements rooted in science, in hopes of convincing the masses that they are in grave danger, and must change their ways whether they want to or not. I don’t know that they’ve gone all in a la Naomi Klein, but they are on that path.

    This blog entry is timely for two wholly unrelated reasons:
    - It seems that James Lovelock of Gaia fame is backing down on climate alarm. The man’s 92 and working on a new book. I suppose he’s looking for supplementary income to live on when he retires…
    - The Royal Astronomical Society has published (online) Henrik Svensmark’s latest paper entitled “Evidence of nearby supernovae affecting life on Earth”. “After years of effort Svensmark shows how the variable frequency of stellar explosions not far from our planet has ruled over the changing fortunes of living things throughout the past half billion years.” He seems to have figured out the clouds and much else. The Svensmark Hypothesis will surely drive the Warmthists to even greater extremes, but the important part is that scientists in a full range of fields will start generating hypotheses and developing experiments to tackle the new angles Svensmark has introduced.

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  4. I think the problems started when scientific enterprise was exploited to serve political ends. Actually, this has always been the order. Consensus, real and perceived, has a way of overriding the better judgment of individuals who otherwise act in good faith and with good will. No, the problem is that science is conflated with philosophy. There is a good and defensible reason why science is necessarily constrained to a limited frame of reference. We should be wary when it exceeds that boundary and wanders off to pursue agendas defended with limited, circumstantial evidence.

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  5. Not so much reasonable Mike Wallace as one would think from your quote.

    It is true that the signature of human-induced global warming is clearly apparent in the increasing number of new high temperature records, which are currently outnumbering low temperature records by a factor of about 3 to 1.

    Great. And how would that be a signature of man-made warming, and not a signature of a warming from any other cause?

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  6. I am not the least bit concerned that the temperature or climate or weather conditions will get outside the range of the past ten thousand years. 

    I am very concerned that the temperature or climate or weather conditions will stay inside the range of the past ten thousand years.

    In this warm part of the very stable, well bounded cycles, we have it really good right now.  Life thrives in the warm cycles and Life is really rough in the cool cycles. The Little Ice Age was between the Medieval Warm Period and the Current Warm Period and we will head back toward those conditions.

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  7. I am not the least bit concerned that the temperature or climate or weather conditions will get outside the range of the past ten thousand years. 

    I am very concerned that the temperature or climate or weather conditions will stay inside the range of the past ten thousand years.

    In this warm part of the very stable, well bounded cycles, we have it really good right now.  Life thrives in the warm cycles and Life is really rough in the cool cycles. The Little Ice Age was between the Medieval Warm Period and the Current Warm Period and we will head back toward those conditions.

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