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Monday, March 9, 2015

It's not my fault, sez E. Calvin Beisner, on Syrian drought and conflict

Sou | 4:44 PM Go to the first of 8 comments. Add a comment

Is Anthony Watts trying to send a message? Was I was off track when I wrote yesterday that "I'm not suggesting that Anthony Watts is part of the Cornwall Alliance or CFACT. "? He's followed up his article from CFACT with an article from the pseudo-religious political group the Cornwall Alliance.

Drought implicated in the Syrian conflict

There is a new paper in PNAS, which is getting a bit of publicity. Anthony Watts has already had a protest article by Pat'n Chip of the CATO Institute, and now has another.

The paper, was by Colin P. Kelley of the University of California, Santa Barbara and co-authors from Columbia University NY. It reports research that suggests that the 2007-2010 drought in the greater Fertile Crescent, which was the most severe in the instrumental record, was made 2 to 3 times more likely with CO2 warming than by natural variability alone. The authors conclude that human influences on the climate system are implicated in the current Syrian conflict.

The supplementary information shows a timeline of events. As always, click to enlarge it:

Fig. S1. Timeline of events leading up to the civil uprising that began in March 2011, along with a graph depicting the net urban influx (in millions) of Syrian IDPs and Iraqi refugees since 2005. Source: Kelley15 SI.

Last year an article on the Red Cross website stated in part:
Between 2006 and 2013, 60% of the Syrian territory experienced the worst long-term drought and the bigger reduction of agricultural crops since thousands of years. The drought in Syria this year is expected to cause an 18% reduction in wheat and 65% decrease in barley production. 

The PNAS paper isn't the first to report on the impact of the drought in Syria. Last year there was a paper by Peter Gleick in the AMS journal "Weather, Climate and Society", which discussed how water shortage was one of the factors contributing to conflict in the region.

Reactions to tragedy show the character of a person

Reactions to tragedy or a wrong can tell you a lot about the character of a person. The first reaction of a decent person of strong character will be along the lines of "how can I help" or "what can I do to fix this". The reaction of a person of weak character and dubious morals will generally be "it's not my fault".

The latter is how E. Calvin Beisner, supposed man of god, reacted to the news of how the droughts in the middle east were made worse by global warming, which in turn contributed to the conflict there. "It's not my fault" - he mumbles and mutters and protests at WUWT (archived here).

You may recall Anthony Watts showed similar lack of spine when he tried to minimise the tragedy of probably the worst hurricane in recent history.

Promoting every brand of extreme wingnut crazy

Calvin isn't a scientist by a long shot. RationalWiki describes him as a man who "promotes just about every brand of extreme wingnut crazy, though he has been particularly active in global warming denial and anti-environmentalism."

Calvin says he's a minister of religion. He likes to make pronouncements on science - minus any religion let alone any charity.  His is not a conventional religion. It's some new sect - or more than one. There's his Cornwall Alliance, which has very strange ideas and has very close links with CFACT, an extremist right wing lobby group. And the "Orthodox Presbyterian Church" (how can a reformist religion become "orthodox"? Only in the USA, it seems). The Presbyterian Church is a relatively new sect of Christianity, only around 300 years old, and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church is an even newer fundamentalist/evangelical sect, less than 100 years old.)

Not a single word of sympathy from E. Calvin Beisner - it's all blame-shifting and lies

E. Calvin Beisner not only tries every trick he can think of to disclaim responsibility for global warming and its impact in Syria, he offers not one word of sympathy for the people there. Not a single word of empathy or comfort for those suffering the food shortages and conflict. He's too busy trying to cover his own backside.

Here's an excerpt from an article published two years ago in the Washington Post, by Michael Peel and Javier Blas | Financial Times on 23 January 2013. It refers to both drought-related and war-related food shortages:
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Syrians face ever more acute food shortages and price increases as a spreading civil war sends agricultural production tumbling and threatens to damage crops such as wheat and barley, according to the United Nations.
Output of some foodstuffs plunged by as much as half last year in a farming sector now in “tatters,” the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned Wednesday. Analysts said the growing privations could hurt the rebels as much as, or more than, the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
The military conflict triggered by a government crackdown on a nearly two-year-long uprising has shattered Syria’s once-proud agricultural self-sufficiency, with bread lines growing in some areas and meat and vegetable prices soaring.

I was very saddened by the situation,” said Dominique Burgeon, director of emergencies at the FAO, after returning from a mission to Syria that ended this week. “The mission was struck by the plight of the Syrian people.”...
...Although some observers said one cause of the uprising against Assad was a severe 2008 drought that decimated rural communities and drove people to poor urban suburbs, analysts said the latest war-related food shortages would not necessarily harm the government. 

Was Calvin Beisner saddened? Was he struck by the plight of the Syrian people? Not that he said. He was too busy trying to claim that it wasn't his fault.

Thing is, it's not just his fault. It's the fault of all of us. People like E. Calvin Beisner are arguably worsening the situation because of their vocal opposition to doing anything to mitigate global warming. Which is why, when he tries to claim "it's not my fault" it only makes him look even worse.

Decrease in precipitation in Syria is a combination of natural variability and a long-term drying trend

Here is the abstract from the paper (my paras):
Before the Syrian uprising that began in 2011, the greater Fertile Crescent experienced the most severe drought in the instrumental record. For Syria, a country marked by poor governance and unsustainable agricultural and environmental policies, the drought had a catalytic effect, contributing to political unrest.
We show that the recent decrease in Syrian precipitation is a combination of natural variability and a long-term drying trend, and the unusual severity of the observed drought is here shown to be highly unlikely without this trend.
Precipitation changes in Syria are linked to rising mean sea-level pressure in the Eastern Mediterranean, which also shows a long-term trend. There has been also a long-term warming trend in the Eastern Mediterranean, adding to the drawdown of soil moisture.
No natural cause is apparent for these trends, whereas the observed drying and warming are consistent with model studies of the response to increases in greenhouse gases. Furthermore, model studies show an increasingly drier and hotter future mean climate for the Eastern Mediterranean.
Analyses of observations and model simulations indicate that a drought of the severity and duration of the recent Syrian drought, which is implicated in the current conflict, has become more than twice as likely as a consequence of human interference in the climate system.

Calvin's wonky eyeballs

Calvin chooses not to take any notice of the science reported in PNAS, and prefers his eyeballs and different measures. He wrote:
Consider first the measures of temperature and rainfall for the region. Are those two factors sufficient to explain the drought—or even much of it? Eyeballing graphs in the PNAS paper suggests not.

As if to contradict his own eyeballs, Calvin put up some charts that he got from an article at the Carbon Brief:

Long-term climate trends and population history for Syria. Graphs show A) six-month winter (November to April) rainfall, B) annual temperature, C) annual soil moisture, and D) total population. Red lines show annual trend, grey shading shows where data is taken from only a small number of stations, and brown shading indicates multiyear droughts. Source: Kelley et al. (2015)

There is definitely something wrong with Calvin's eyeballs, isn't there. As described at the Carbon Brief, "The decreasing rainfall (shown in the top graph below) combined with rising temperatures (second graph) resulted in a decline in soil moisture (third graph), the researchers say. This had dramatic consequences for Syrian agriculture."

A most severe drought

Calvin then even tried to deny the extreme drought in the region and wrote:
In the Fertile Crescent, of which Syria is part, the Palmer Drought Severity Index (which uses a scale from +3 to -3) worsened from about positive 0.2 to about negative 0.8 since 1930. That’s significant but not likely sufficient to explain the severe 2007–2010 drought.
Calvin is telling fibs again. That's not what the chart he copied showed. The chart had the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) dipping to almost -3 not once but twice since 2000.  Here is the PDSI portion of the above chart blown up - I've added a line showing the PDSI of -3 - the lowest possible. Thanks to metzomagic in the comments, I've learnt the PDSI scale goes from +4 to -4. Calvin and I were wrong about that.

Then Calvin changed his mind and acknowledged there was drought. He asked:
More important, what caused the drought?
The Fertile Crescent experienced about a 7% decline in winter rainfall since 1930, most occurring before 1980, leaving only about 3% during the period of allegedly manmade warming. Not much there to explain.

Maybe his god knows where Calvin gets his eyeballs from, they aren't working that's for sure. The serious rainfall deficiency this century as shown in the chart above was the lowest ever. Here's the winter rainfall portion blown up, again adding a line showing the lowest ever:

E Calvin Beisner is nothing more than your average denier liar who Anthony Watts promotes. The weird thing is that he puts up figures that contradict his words.

He's nutty as a fruitcake and knows zilch of the world beyond his own tiny sphere. He wrote:
So, with so little change in precipitation and temperature, why the major increase in drought, and, more important, what caused the conflict over water?
The highest temperatures and the lowest rainfall in the record by a long shot, and Calvin calls it "little change"? And yet he says there was a "major increase in drought". How on earth (or in his heaven) does he define drought if not for less rain and drier conditions than expected?

Well, it turns out that he blames the drought on a rise in population. Or maybe he blames the conflict on the rise in population. He wrote:
But there’s a second, more important culprit, and neither Holthaus nor Admiral Titley mentions it, though it’s obvious in the bottom portion of Kelley et. al’s graph....But assume for a moment that higher temperature and lower rainfall, not population growth, actually drove the drought. 

How does population growth cause the lowest winter rainfall on record? It could only happen in the world of a pseudo-religious fruitcake.

E. Calvin Beisner denies the greenhouse effect

Calvin is all over the place in trying to make excuses for his anti-mitigation stance. For example, after wrongly claiming it only changed a little bit, he wrote:
Even assuming that global warming contributed somewhat to the rise in annual surface temperature and the fall in winter rainfall, that doesn’t mean human activity drove the global warming. 

Aha - so he's not just a lying man of the cloth, it looks as if he's a greenhouse effect denier. Calvin wrote:
The computer models on which the IPCC depends simulate warming from rising atmospheric CO2 at double (and more) the observed rate, and none simulated the complete absence of observed warming over the last 18+ years, so they’re wrong and provide no rational basis for any belief about the magnitude to human contribution to global warming.
At most, human activity has contributed only a fraction of the global warming observed over the last 30, 50, 100, or 150 years, which means it can have contributed only a fraction of the half-degree increase in annual average surface temperature in the Fertile Crescent and only a fraction of the slight decline in rainfall, and hence only a fraction of a fraction of the increased drought and a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the conflict over water.

An exercise in blame-shifting, typical of deniers

What a pathetic figure is E. Calvin Beisner. First he tries to shift the blame away from himself by claiming there was no drought worth mentioning, calling a drop in winter rain to the lowest on record - a "slight decline in rainfall".  As noted in the Climate Brief article:
Syria gets almost all of its rain during its six-month winter, from November to April. In 2007-08, winter rainfall across Syria  fell by a third, with some areas receiving no rain at all. The winter was the driest in the observed record, the researchers say.

Then Calvin tries to shift the blame away from himself by claiming it's all the fault of the Syrians for having children and allowing in refugees.  Then, instead of saying that poor water policy added to the woes of the drought, he blamed the drought on Syrians saying they should have had better water policies.

Calvin finishes with the ultimate blame-shifting game, writing:
Rising population coupled with “poor water policy” is a far greater cause of conflict for access to water in Syria.

That's not just blame-shifting of a type worthy of the best cowards, it's a strawman. The PNAS paper didn't claim that the conflict was caused by the drought. What it showed was that the drought was implicated in it:
...human influences on the climate system are implicated in the current Syrian conflict.

and that:
Furthermore, model studies show an increasingly drier and hotter future mean climate for the Eastern Mediterranean. Analyses of observations and model simulations indicate that a drought of the severity and duration of the recent Syrian drought, which is implicated in the current conflict, has become more than twice as likely as a consequence of human interference in the climate system.

Selfish, deceitful and cowardly deniers

This little episode shows to me that deniers are supremely selfish as well as deceitful and cowardly. They will lie their butts off to shift the blame away from themselves. The lengths they are prepared to go to preserve what they regard as their little world and their's alone, is quite disgusting, isn't it. It's particularly horrible when a man who pretends to be religious thinks he has to lie and cheat to protect his own comfortable little patch of earth.

From the WUWT comments

TedL is in denial extremis and claims that Syrian farmers, refugees and international aid agencies are all wrong and that there was no drought in Syria:
March 8, 2015 at 6:38 am
Roger Andrews debunks the claim:
Below are the rainfall records for six GHCN stations in Syria. They show no sign of any “extreme drought in Syria between 2006 and 2009 …. the worst in the country in modern times”. Rainfall over the period was close to normal.
go to this link to see the charts

Peter Miller decides that the drought and food shortages had nothing to do with the conflict:
March 8, 2015 at 6:44 am
Well, by deed and action ISIS is the personification of evil, so it makes far more sense to blame the Syrian drought on the Devil, rather than supposed made made global warming in the region, which seems to be negligible.
Anyhow, ISIS is a post drought phenomenon. I suppose it all goes to show alarmists will use anything to try and add flesh to their dodgy ‘science’.

trafamadore didn't buy Calvin's argument:
March 8, 2015 at 6:58 am
“Rising population coupled with “poor water policy” is a far greater cause of conflict for access to water in Syria.”
Does the Kelley et al say that climate was the only factor? or that it contributed as a factor? They quantitated and gave a probability for their hypothesis, but you say their could be “a far greater cause of conflict” with no measurement.

Pamela Gray complains that the article was written by a non-expert and didn't discuss meteorological factors:
March 8, 2015 at 7:30 am
I was expecting an explanation regarding the elephant. None was forthcoming. Drought is a weather pattern variation. A couple years of drought is a short-term weather pattern variation. A multiyear/decade drought is a long term weather pattern variation. These variations are caused by oceanic/atmospheric semi-permanent teleconnected disruptions. So what flipped/moved/disconnected? What semi-residential atmospheric pressure system changed from one location to another? What warm or cold pool shifted where? What pattern stalled in neutral/nada/nado? This piece needed a meteorologist expert. Why was one not used to write this up? Like, we have several, even an in-house one.

nickreality65 blames population growth for California's drought too. Nothing to do with a lack of rain and snow.
March 8, 2015 at 7:49 am
Kind of explains California’s drought as well, large population growth and irresponsible water use policies.

george e. smith doesn't agree with nick and reckons the drought has something to do with the weather:
March 8, 2015 at 11:58 am
Would you care to explain just exactly how California’s population growth and wastage of water has led to the occurrence of a short period of drought.
California historically is a desert, at least south of Monterey; so all that is happening is a return to its normal climate.

Kelley, Colin P., Shahrzad Mohtadi, Mark A. Cane, Richard Seager, and Yochanan Kushnir. "Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2015): 201421533. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1421533112

Gleick, Peter H. "Water, drought, climate change, and conflict in Syria." Weather, Climate, and Society 6, no. 3 (2014): 331-340. doi:


  1. The New Calvanism

  2. "Pamela Gray complains that the article was written by a non-expert and didn't discuss meteorological factors:"

    In fact the paper did discuss this. In the abstract it says "Precipitation changes in Syria are linked to rising mean sea-level pressure in the Eastern Mediterranean, which also shows a long-term trend." There is a section called Mechanisms in the paper which discusses Eastern Med weather patterns and their influence on drought conditions. Unfortunately, not being open access, Pamela wouldn't have read that ;-)

    BTW Sou, did you follow the link to Roger Andrews post at It's a car crash! An ideological "rebuttal" of the press release (not the article) where he basically tries to claim firstly that the drought never happened, then that it wasn't unprecedented. At one point he got caught out quote mining the IPCC and took the huff. He's as much a piece of work, along with his pal Euan Mearns, as Calvin Beisner.

    1. Vccs - I think I've looked at Euan Mearns' blog once before, which was once too often. He's never had anything sensible to offer AFAIK, and doesn't seem to get quoted much by deniers either. Caught up in his own little no man's land of pseudoscience.

      I thought Pamela Gray was complaining about the WUWT article by Calvin, not the paper itself. Of course if she'd wanted the science she could have read the paper, as you point out. (Science deniers are allergic to science.)

  3. 'Stories from the IDZ', I call these. 'Instant Desertification Zone'.
    Including: California, Sao Paolo region, NW quarter of India, North Maghreb, Africa just south of the equator.
    I guess the forthcoming Brazil implosion will also be recognized as CC after all is said, done and the killing been going for years. Because that is the future, there, and for some other regions as well.
    Actually better start planning your move if you live in California!

  4. "Actually better start planning your move if you live in California!"

    On those days of the week when deniers admit that climate change is happening they tell us that it is better and easier to adapt. So I guess that dear Anthony will be adopting the Fremen lifestyle. I can't wait to see what he looks like in a stillsuit.

    1. I certainly can wait---not many people can pull off the stillsuit, Sir Patrick Stewart being one of the very very few. :-)

  5. Just a small factual problem I spotted in your otherwise sound analysis, Sou. When you say:

    I've added a line showing the PDSI of -3 - the lowest possible:

    A PDSI of -3 is classified as 'severe drought'. But the scale does go to -4, 'extreme drought', so -3 is not the lowest possible PDSI.

    1. Thanks, metzomagic. My mistake - I was going by the y axis. I'll fix it.


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