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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Denier weirdness at WUWT: Anoxic oceans, socialism and a deficit of CO2

Sou | 1:49 AM Go to the first of 17 comments. Add a comment

See addendum below for more muddle-headed thinking by richardscourtney.

There was fun and games at WUWT today, with an event that occurred 93.9 million years ago somehow morphing into a lot of to-ing and fro-ing about socialism in the twenty first century (archived here).

What first caught my attention was this comment from Pippen Kool who quoted richardscourtney and wrote:
October 28, 2013 at 4:41 pm
richardscourtney says: “atmospheric CO2 concentration has reduced to dangerously low levels for the survival of plant species. Hence, an unprecedented extinction event induced by lack of atmospheric CO2 is a real possibility for the first time in the history of the planet”.
Good one. Are you trying to get your comment on the hotwhopper site?

How could I resist?

Richardscourtney is a self-appointed playground monitor at  WUWT.  He's also a "scholar" of the Cornwall Alliance, which rejects climate science and takes an alarmist stance on climate mitigation.

Being of a religious bent, I suppose richardscourtney thinks it was nothing short of a miracle that plants thrived during most of the Holocene prior to industrialisation, given that CO2 was almost 30% less than it is today.

Richardscourtney doesn't just think that it's low levels of CO2 that will lead to extinctions, it looks as if he rejects this chemical reaction (update: I could be wrong here - see addendum below):

hydrocarbon + oxygen ---> CO2 + H2O

Richardscourtney writes this non sequitur - twice for good measure:
The AGW-scare is based on the hypothesis that the observed rise of atmospheric CO2 concentration since the industrial revolution results from emissions of CO2 from human activities.
If the observed rise of atmospheric CO2 concentration since the industrial revolution results from volcanic and/or biological introduction of sulphide to the ocean surface layer then the entire AGW-scare is refuted. And the paper under discussion says that sulphide variation in the ocean surface layer does alter concentrations of O2 and CO2. October 29, 2013 at 1:33 am and October 29, 2013 at 6:11 am

So that takes us back to the paper that prompted Anthony Watts to write the headline:
The big stink 93.9 million years ago – blame CO2
The paper apparently describes how a deficit of oxygen and surfeit of hydrogen sulphide in around five per cent of oceans led to a major extinction of marine life.  The reason the WUWT-ers take such exception to the research is because it mentions high levels of CO2 in the context of a warmer atmosphere and oceans. The oceans lose oxygen as they warm.  (They'd normally lose CO2 as they warm, too.  But these days there's just too much of it in the air so the oceans are absorbing about half our waste CO2.)

The press release stated:
“Today, we are facing rising carbon dioxide contents in the atmosphere through human activities, and the amount of oxygen in the ocean may drop correspondingly in the face of rising seawater temperatures,” Lyons said. “Oxygen is less soluble in warmer water, and there are already suggestions of such decreases. In the face of these concerns, our findings from the warm, oxygen-poor ancient ocean may be a warning shot about yet another possible perturbation to marine ecology in the future.”
Now that goes against all that WUWT-ers hold sacred.  Forget oxygen deficits, it's the CO2 reference that got the mob riled.  CO2 is plant food after all.  It can do no harm.

How about socialism and CO2?

The socialism diversion started with the second comment in the thread, from R Taylor and went on for dozens of comments:
October 28, 2013 at 3:06 pm
Wilful misinterpretation of cause-and-effect between temperature and CO2, from temple priests of the Church of Socialism.

That got richardscourtney going, because he reckons he's a socialist.  This in turn prompted dbstealey (aka Smokey) to write in sympathy (excerpt):
I am not a Socialist. But I think most Socialists have their hearts in the right place. The problems come in when evil schemers try to take power for their own self aggrandizement. October 28, 2013 at 8:14 pm

The thread is a crazy compilation of mixed up politics, mixed up ideology, lots of pseudo-science and multiple accusations of trolling.  The last is almost all by richardscourtney, who falls back on "troll, troll go away" every time he comes across someone writing anything remotely resembling real science.  Here's the link to the archived article again.

Addendum.  Richardscourtney's non-explanation for rising atmospheric CO2

Richardscourtney, in a wonderful example of doublethink, rationalises his assertion that human activity may or may not be causing a rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide in a long comment at WUWT - comment archived here (time stamped October 29, 2013 at 9:16 am).

His first piece of evidence is that he got a paper published in E&E - which is about on par with  his claiming to be an expert reviewer for the IPCC.  Both may be true and neither says anything about his credibility in climate science (although it would be fair to say that if one publishes in E&E then one probably does not have much credibility as a climate scientist):
In our two 1995 papers we considered all the available evidence (sadly, there is not much) concerning the behaviour of the carbon cycle. One of those papers specifically assesses whether the data can determine a natural or an anthropogenic cause of the rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration as measured at Mauna Loa since 1958.
(ref. Rorsch A, Courtney RS & Thoenes D, ‘The Interaction of Climate Change and the Carbon Dioxide Cycle’ E&E v16no2 (2005) ).

His next piece of evidence is an assertion.  That's it.  He doesn't explain how the carbon cycle speeds up so much.  Probably because it hasn't.
We determined that the dynamics of the natural sequestration processes can cope easily with ALL the CO2 emissions both natural and anthropogenic of each year. From this we determined that rise is not accumulation of part of the anthropogenic emission (as is asserted by e.g. the IPCC and Ferdinand).

Next he acknowledges that the evidence doesn't match his conclusion and asks why not:
But the natural sequestration processes do NOT sequester all the CO2 emissions (both natural and anthropogenic) of each year. If they did then there would not be a rise. This leads to the important question; i.e.
Why don’t the natural sequestration processes sequester all the CO2 emissions of each year when their dynamics indicate they can?

To try to figure out why not, he says he built a model.  That's right.  A WUWT-er used a model to test his hypothesis:
We addressed this paradox by modelling the system behaviour with six different models three of which assumed a natural cause of the rise and the other three assumed the anthropogenic emission was the cause of the rise.
All six of ourmodels each matched the empirical data of the atmospheric CO2 concentration for each year to within the stated measurement accuracy of the Mauna Loa data. Thus, each of our models is better than the Bern model used by the IPCC because the IPCC uses unjustifiable 5-year smoothing to get its model to fit the empirical data.
This match occurs because – according to each of our models – the total CO2 emission of any year affects – and is affected by – the equilibrium state of the entire system. Some processes of the system are very slow with rate constants of years and decades. Hence, the system takes decades to fully adjust to a new equilibrium.
I don't know what he was going on about with his five year smoothing.  Nor can I follow his conclusions:
This leads to a direct answer to your question. The anthropogenic emission cannot directly add to rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration because the rate of that rise is limited by the rate constants in the processes of the carbon cycle. But the anthropogenic CO2 may possibly be the cause of the rise because the addition of anthropogenic CO2 may have caused the change in the equilibrium of the carbon cycle which is providing the rise. However, that possible cause is only a possibility. The six models which each provide that indication are three models which each assumes a natural cause of the change and three which each assumes the anthropogenic CO2 emission is the cause of the change.

I think he is trying to argue that pouring gigatonnes of CO2 into the air each year can't add to the amount of CO2 in the air.  But then again maybe pouring gigatonnes of CO2 into the air each year can cause the amount of CO2 in the air to increase.  And he's taken a 50:50 bet on the subject.  This muddle-headed interpretation is supported by richardscourtney writing:
Hence, the only factual statements that can be made on the true cause of the recent rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration are
(a) the recent rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration may have an anthropogenic cause, or a natural cause, or some combination of anthropogenic and natural causes, but
(b) there is no evidence that the recent rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration has a mostly anthropogenic cause or a mostly natural cause.

In other words, richardscourtney is none the wiser after building his models and writing papers for E&E.

Nevertheless, he continues to argue that adding billions of tonnes of CO2 to the air each year can't possibly add billions of CO2 to the air each year (and have half those billions of tonnes of extra CO2 absorbed by the ocean).


  1. One assumes this Richard Courtney is the same one who has signed various open letters and petitions, and awarded himself a Doctorate at the same time. A Ph.D he never actually, y'know, earned.

    I made a polite request to know the topic of his thesis and which institution awarded him the degree, but Anthony snipped it.


    1. That thread of Eli's is a beauty. Thanks, Phil. I knew richardscourtney was nutty, I didn't realise he was such a fantasist.

      I noticed that in the current WUWT thread richardscourtney wrote (October 29, 2013 at 5:33 am):

      "I have been promoting real science against AGW scaremongering for 33 years and it has cost me much time, trouble and money."

      I can easily see from a scientific perspective why he can't make any money. And maybe he's not managed to make too much from the anti-science lobby groups. Time for him to think of a career change? Maybe he could become an anti-vaxxer or a UFO-er.

    2. I hear the money's in Agenda 21 these days. That's where Monckton's gone, and he has a nose for these things. Weird eyes, but a good nose.

  2. According to WUWT, all models are equally wrong, but some models are more equally wrong than others.

    Not sure why the Rev R S Courtney bothers because he signed an thing that basically says God is sorting it out so what's the fuss.

    1. Thought I'd dig a little deeper on the reference Courtney gives. According to this page his affiliation is the very journal he is publishing in.

      Of the co-authors, A Rorsch appears to be Professor Arthur Rorsch, molecular geneticist, and D Thoenes is Dirk Thoenes, a chemical engineer. So, not one relevant qualification amongst them.

    2. It's E&E, so my comments are (1) What else could you expect? and (2) When referring to it as a "journal", use scare quotes thusly.

  3. WTF? Courtney reckons he's a socialist! I'm flabberghasted. I've had run ins with him before, and he gave no sign of being one. But, if you think about it, there's a small number of socialists of the "Mankind is the measure of all things and can conquer all!" sort who think industrialisation is wonderful and ignore the pollution. Some of them write for Spiked.

    Sou, Courtney is retired, he must be in his 70's by now, or near enough. He's made all sorts of claims about things he's worked on with the coal board and suchlike, and of the one or two I was able to check, I couldn't find any evidence about him being so wonderful.

    1. I had a summer holiday job in the mid seventies in a lab at the Coal Board. (My father worked there). I had just completed my A Levels and was waiting to go to university. The next most junior person after me in the lab was Richard Courtney. He did not have a Doctorate and I'm not even sure that at that point he had a degree. (Does anybody know what his degree from the Open University is in?) He was essentially a lab assistant.

    2. The Coal Board?!? Socialist!

    3. A lab assistant eh? A TA, not even a TO. A good occupation but it sounds as if he aspired to more but didn't do the necessary study. I figured his education was a diploma mill 'theology' diploma, given his "Rev" title. I doubt he has any formal scientific qualification going by his posts.

      He does have a giant chip on his shoulder.

    4. To be fair I think the correct title was a Technical Officer.

    5. People rather underestimate the quality of or education available in the socialist republic of great britain before the sainted Margaret freed the peons from their slavery. Courtney claimed to have authored chapters in one of those big doorstop books used by engineers when they need to check something, but the versions I could find didn't mention him at all, so either his contribution was deleted after a year or two or someone stole his work, or, he actually contributed some numbers.

      Anonymous - so is Courtney older or younger than I suggested. I got the impression he was older, but if he was just above you in the hierarchy nearly 40 years ago, maybe he is only mid 60's.

      Oh wait, De smogblog has an article of him, he looks around 60 ish in his photo. HHmm, so getting old isn't the reason he's an idiot.
      It also says:
      "In the early 1990s Courtney was a Senior Material Scientist of the National Coal Board (also known as British Coal) and a Science and Technology spokesman of the British Association of Colliery Management."
      That's the kind of job I was trying to find, but there aren't any nowadays, which is one reason why I'm unemployed.

    6. I think he would have been between 22/23 and 30 then so between 60 and 68 now.

  4. Dixie is one, and Smokey says 'IANAS, but I think most Socialists have their hearts in the right place'?

    Say what!?

    I thought all the green (Socialist!) Socialist (Socialist!) eco-Nazi (Nazis are Socialists!, remember. Like North Korea is 'Democratic'.) UN (Socialist!) IPCC (Socialist!) watermelon (geddit?! Socialist!) scientists (Socialists!) were the epitome of all Evil (Socialist!).

    I mean, aren't they all trying to Regulate (Socialist!) and maybe even Tax (Socialist!) the Most Hallowed Free Market™ (un-Socialist! Bourse be Praised!), and as our beloved new PM (un-Socialist! Repent, Sinners!) points out, that's Socialism, that is!

    Anthony will just have to stamp out this particular Red brushfire. Someone might yet ask him to pay more Tax...

  5. The only conclusion I draw from that gibberish is that English is obviously not his first language.

  6. OK, I just clicked on your archive link and that WUWT comment section was unbelievably pathetic this time. I actually laughed loudly a couple of times. Richard got me with his "troll" this and "troll" that, followed by "socialist!" from the others. Then, all angry souls tried to use their common hatred of AGW "alarmists" as a rallying cry for unity. It's a Greek tragedy + political sitcom all thrown into one. This begs the question - would people behave better if the discussion focused more on the science and less on the worldviews? And when I say science, I really mean science not anti-science BS.

  7. Those engaged in the usual stupid physics denial of claiming that elevated GHG forcing somehow would not cause the ocean to heat up have missed the important part of this study:

    [A] research team led by University of California, Riverside biogeochemists reports that oxygen-free and hydrogen sulfide-rich waters extended across roughly five percent of the global ocean during this major climatic perturbation — far more than the modern ocean’s 0.1 percent but much less than previous estimates for this event.

    The research suggests that previous estimates of oxygen-free and hydrogen sulfide-rich conditions, or “euxinia,” were too high. Nevertheless, the limited and localized euxinia were still sufficiently widespread to have dramatic effect on the entire ocean’s chemistry and thus biological activity.


    “Our work shows that even though only a small portion of the ocean contained toxic and metal-scavenging hydrogen sulfide, it was sufficiently large so that changes to the ocean’s chemistry and biology were likely profound,” Owens said. “What this says is that only portions of the ocean need to contain sulfide to greatly impact biota.”

    I haven't seen this paper, but if the authors are correct, they have uncovered something else to be uncomfortable about, namely that ocean anoxic events of relatively small area extent are more disruptive to the global marine ecosystem that previously supposed.

    The press release is a bit coy about it, but the OAE under investigation is the Cenomanian-Turanian boundary OAE 2 event, which was a biggie. But not, perhaps, in terms of the actual extent of anoxic/dysoxic waters.


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