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Saturday, August 30, 2014

James McCown and WUWT reject CO2 science and the greenhouse effect

Sou | 8:40 PM Go to the first of 3 comments. Add a comment

Anthony Watts works too hard to make sure people know that WUWT peddles pseudo-science crap. He doesn't have to go overboard like he does. Anyone who has heard of denier blogs knows that his is the most favoured utter nutter blog on the internet. He boasts about it. Every now and then he claims to accept the science of the greenhouse effect, but you'd not know it. He often puts up articles disputing the greenhouse effect, and many of his "guests" and probably most of his most ardent fans are stuck in greenhouse effect denial.

Today at WUWT there was another "guest essay" by someone called James McCown. James has a bee in his bonnet about atmospheric carbon dioxide. I've written before about an article he wrote.

James is a one-man band who has a website about his consulting business in oil and gas, and real estate, among other things. When he's not rejecting science, he spends his spare time (of which I'll bet he has a lot) writing Android apps, which he offers for free. He also tries to sell his services as an "expert witness". Whatever, it's clear that his many self-declared talents do not include climate science or any of the physical sciences.

How James McCown disputes basic chemistry

What I don't understand is why Anthony Watts gives idiots like this chap a platform. I mean he comes up with the silliest things. Last time he was arguing that burning fossil fuels doesn't produce carbon dioxide. For example, with one of the simplest hydrocarbons, methane:

CH4 + 2O2 → 2H2O + CO2 + energy

James wrote:
This leads me to believe that if the CO2 concentration is accurately measured by Etheridge et al (1996), then it is more likely the result of a natural process than from industrial sources.

Natural processes? Is he saying that burning hydrocarbons doesn't produce CO2?

How James McCown disputes basic physics

Today he's just as nutty, trying to argue that atmospheric CO2 isn't long-lasting in the atmosphere and isn't well-mixed. That's contrary to every bit of science on the subject for the past goodness knows how many decades. It's not as if this is something that's being debated in science. This is basic, well-founded knowledge that dates back years and years.

Here is a chart of CO2 as analysed at Law Dome in Antarctica, from Etheridge and co, just for the period from 1840 to 1969. (There are more charts below).

Data source: NOAA

You can see that it's risen since 1840, without any sharp fluctuations.

James doesn't like it. He even dug up a ridiculous chart from somewhere or other (a chap called Beck in the so-called "journal" Energy & Environment), which claims that atmospheric CO2 in the 1830s was as high as it was in the 1990s. It has all sorts of wild swings and is not just way off base, there is no plausible mechanism by which such swings could be explained.

Source: WUWT

Eli Rabett has the story. Georg Hoffmann at RealClimate wrote about it too. And there are other rebuttals, from CO2 guru, Ralph Keeling and Harro A.J. Meijer if that doesn't satisfy you.

James doesn't know much about the data sampling of CO2. He got some of it partly right, (though it's not just flask measurements), saying:
The usual sources of atmospheric CO2 concentration data, beginning with 1958, are flask measurements from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, from observatories at Mauna Loa, Antarctica, and elsewhere. 

Then he veered off into ignoramus land, writing:
These have been sampled on a monthly basis, and sometimes more frequently, and thus provide a good level of temporal accuracy for use in comparing annual average CO2 concentrations with annual global average temperatures.

Monitoring atmospheric CO2

Samples aren't just taken once a month. For example, the monitoring at Mauna Loa is continuous, with readings only interrupted by calibrations.

You can read about the history Charles (Dave) David Keeling and his CO2 monitoring here. You can read about the current process for monitoring atmospheric CO2 at Mauna Loa here.  This CSIRO page describes what happens at Cape Grim in Tasmania.

Here is a map showing all the places around the world that contribute to the World Data Centre for Greenhouse Gases (WDCGG). Click to view it larger, or go to the source here.

Distribution of the fixed stations that contribute data to the WDCGG.   The symbol " • " denotes that the data from the station has been updated in the last 365 days

CO2 from Law Dome, Antarctica

James is all hot and bothered about the Law Dome data, compiled by Etheridge and co back in the 1990s. Here is a chart from the CSIRO website, showing Law Dome data together with data from Cape Grim:

James is upset because he says:
Due to the issues of diffusive mixing and gradual bubble closure, each of these figures give us only an estimate of the average CO2 concentration over a period that may be 15 years or more. If the distribution of the air age is symmetric about these mean air ages, the estimate of 310.5 ppm from the DE08 core for 1938 could include air from as early as 1930 and as late as 1946.

Umm, even if it did, looking at the Table 4 in Etheridge et al (1996), the range would be from 305.2 ppm (1929) and 311.4 ppm (1948). And comparing the three cores, the CO2 around that period was found to be 310.5 in 1938 (DE08), 310.5 in 1940 (DE08-2) and 309.2 in 1939 (DSS). Not much between them is there.

The dating accuracy of the ice core samples was said to be +/- two years at 1805 and +/- ten years at 1350 AD. The precision of the analysis of the air samples was to 0.2 ppm. This is what is written about the Law Dome analyses for the period 1006 A.D.-1978 A.D:
The CO2 records presented here are derived from three ice cores obtained at Law Dome, East Antarctica from 1987 to 1993. The Law Dome site satisfies many of the desirable characteristics of an ideal ice core site for atmospheric CO2 reconstructions including negligible melting of the ice sheet surface, low concentrations of impurities, regular stratigraphic layering undisturbed at the surface by wind or at depth by ice flow, and high snow accumulation rate. ...
...The precision of analysis of the Law Dome ice core air samples was 0.2 ppm. For greater details on the experimental techniques used on the DE08, DE08-2, and DSS ice cores, please refer to Etheridge et al. (1996).
The ice cores were dated by counting the annual layers in oxygen isotope ratio (δ18O in H2O), ice electroconductivity measurements (ECM), and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) concentrations. For these three parameters, each core displayed clear, well-preserved seasonal cycles allowing a dating accuracy of ±2 years at 1805 A.D. for the three cores and ±10 years at 1350 A.D. for DSS.

And from the paper, variations within a time scale less than ten years would have been difficult to pick up:
It is possible that other CO2 changes of similar magnitude occurred in the past but with such short duration that even the Law Dome ice did not record them. However, it is unlikely that such changes would be recorded in ice cores with still higher accumulation rate than DE08 and DE08-2 (even if sites could be found without significant surface melting), because the diffusion of air through the firn will significantly smooth any variations shorter than about 10 years. The DE08 cores may be at the upper limit of air age resolution for ice cores. 

But so what? Exactly. I really don't know what James is going on about. He spends most of his article talking about cointegration tests. But I think that's just waffle to try to make his main point, which is to question the relationship between atmospheric CO2 and temperature.

In other words, he goes to great lengths to reject the greenhouse effect.

Just another denier nutter.

CO2 is rising too quickly

The bottom line is that CO2 is a well-mixed greenhouse gas and once it gets into the air stays there for a very long time. Look at the CSIRO chart above and tell me how much it matters whether the estimate for 1938 should be 308 ppm or 312 ppm. What is a concern is that atmospheric CO2 broke through 400 ppm this year.

Source: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, USCD

From the WUWT comments

James' silly article had the deniers salivating, particularly the greenhouse effect deniers.

Latitude thinks that James got his historic data from someone other than scientists, who he reckons have ignored it, contrary to the information that James himself provided (lots of references to studies that looked at historic CO2 levels from the dim distant past). What a nutter.
August 29, 2014 at 10:21 am
James, thank you
CO2 levels are the root of the entire global warming hoodoo…and people have been completely fooled into believing it
CO2 history has been almost completely ignored…and it’s the biggest h o a x of them all

Solomon Green doesn't know that CO2 is a well-mixed greenhouse gas or that the data is not sparse.
August 29, 2014 at 11:00 am
I have seen several postings and/or papers discrediting Ernst-Georg Beck but I had not realised that the pre 1958 data was so sparse. If that is the best data available it is very difficult to see that any supposed correlation between CO2 and temperature prior to 1958 can be anything but an act of faith.
I would only disagree with one word in James McCowan’s essay. In the sentence “The results from the tests of the pre-1958 data are almost certainly spurious” I think that he has shown that the words “almost” is not necessary.

TheLastDemocrat wrote a very long comment that shows he doesn't accept the physics of the greenhouse effect. Which only goes to show he's one of the 8% Dismissives and a member of the scientific illiterati.
August 29, 2014 at 11:17 am (excerpts)
Great post.
...ANY coincident variable that dramatically goes from zero at baseline to its highest values at the end of the time span will have relatively powerful mathematical relation with temp.
We could plug in the human population, or the number of computers, etc., and would get a similar result...
...There are many other human-activity-related measures that wold show up as significantly predictive. They only have to have their lower value at the beginning of the timeline, and highest value at the end...
 john robertson is a conspiracy theorist who doesn't know that the world is getting hotter.
August 29, 2014 at 11:48 am
Not by empirical standards.
The Magic Gas Meme is either not falsifiable or it is long dead.
As temperature records from 1970 alone destroy it.
But then facts never did matter in the Great Cause, ™ Team IPCC.
So far all we have is weak speculation, that an increase in atmospheric concentrations of CO2 will cause a warmer planet.
Right now, in the incredibly short time we have data for, looks like CO2 = Cooler .
But we do not have sufficient data to say any more than; “Could be, couldn’t say for sure”.
I believe I can make a better case, that hysterical humans produce garage in the place of science.

Here are some temperature records for john robertson, not just from 1970.

Data source: NASA GISS

Etheridge, D. M., L. P. Steele, R. L. Langenfelds, R. J. Francey, J‐M. Barnola, and V. I. Morgan. "Natural and anthropogenic changes in atmospheric CO2 over the last 1000 years from air in Antarctic ice and firn." Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres (1984–2012) 101, no. D2 (1996): 4115-4128.


  1. Watts' standard operating procedure seems to be not to screen what he posts -- or barely screen it -- but rather to throw it all up against the wall and see what sticks. [One exception: I don't follow him closely, because I value my sanity, but I don't think he posts contributions from people he's feuding with.]

    Of course, what 'sticks' is the stuff that passes 'citizen peer review' -- in other words, what will appeal to his readers. And his readers, as we all know, are a band of howling motivated reasoners with a Paul Bunyan-size axe to grind.

    'Citizen peer review', if that was his phrase, is a delicious oxymoron -- until you realize that the commenters are just as clueless as those who write the articles, so in some sense they are each others' peers. It's an endless feedback loop of epistemological closure ...

  2. I've been having a fun time on Twitter with "sceptics" over CO2 in the last 24 hours. I responded to a retweet late last night which was just a simple denial meme and then ended up being set upon. After three tweets I stopped replying (I value my sanity) but then woke up to over 100 'interactions' from a braying hoard. There were some beauties amongst them, from the usual "CO2 is only a tiny 0.04%" to "animals and plants are quite safe in up to 20,000ppm". Amazing how they hunt in packs and when one of them comes across an 'AGW activist' (which is one of their names for anyone who accepts the scientific consensus) they all pile in. It's nothing but attempted intimidation.

    1. Its the Age of Stupid. I just got in from a short walk, having narrowly avoided being hit by a car full of youths with small penises. I'm sure their views on CO2 would be the same as your braying horde.


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