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Saturday, September 3, 2016

Do WUWT-ers live on another planet? Dim Denier David Middleton takes on science journalist Seth Borenstein

Sou | 3:16 AM Go to the first of 12 comments. Add a comment

At WUWT, Anthony Watts has posted another article by David Middleton (archived here) who asks: "Is Seth Borenstein a journalist or a political activist?". He adds "This should matter to the associated press, but clearly doesn't." David described a recent article by award-winning journalist Seth Borenstein as "a particularly ignorant rant" and then proceeded to write a particularly ignorant rant on the conspiracy blog WUWT.

Seth Borenstein's article is part of the series called "Why It Matters", which is examining three dozen issues at stake in the presidential election in the USA. In this particular article, Seth Borenstein begins by comparing what Hillary Clinton says about climate change with what Donald Trump has been saying. He said "it's as if Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump live on two entirely different planets: one warming, one not." You can guess which planet Donald Trump thinks he lives upon.

The article continues with an explanation of why it matters, starting with how the global surface temperature has been rising and setting many, many new records. It mentions sea level rise and the threat to coastlines. It raises the issues of worsening allergies, deaths from heat, diseases spread by insects, and contaminated water.

Seth Borenstein points out that although there is a cost in shifting away from burning fossil fuel, the cost of not doing so is far greater. He mentioned a 2015 study from Stanford, which estimated that the world's average income will shrivel by 23% by the year 2100 if carbon dioxide pollution continues at its current pace.

Seth finishes by saying that Presidents Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush were able to achieve a lot to reduce air pollution, as well as address ozone depletion and acid rain. The implication is that government action can help mitigate climate change.

David Middleton's "ignorant rant"

It's only in the mind of a conspiracy theorising science denier that the AP article could be described as an ignorant rant. So how about we look at what David Middleton had to say about it at WUWT.

David started by wanting to deny that the world is warming. His evidence was that the world is warming. He wrote:
Hold on there a minute Seth… Dozens of measurements show that Earth has warmed since the mid-1800’s and all of the non-Hockey Stick climate reconstructions show that this warming began around 1600 AD (plus or minus a couple of decades).  However, there is no basis to claim that “it’s worsening.”  The data demonstrate that the rate of warming has actually slowed down…
He's wrong. The rate of warming hasn't slowed down. It's also odd that David can't make up his mind whether the world is warming or not, and if it is warming whether it started in 1600 or in the mid 1800s. He mentioned non-hockey stick climate reconstructions but didn't say what they were. What he did say was that they showed that the warming began around 1600 A.D. That's probably about right, at least for the northern hemisphere.

Here's a chart from the latest IPCC report from 2013, which shows the various temperature reconstructions going back a few centuries. The line across the top is the average temperature of the surface for 2015. This year looks as if it's going to be even hotter.
Figure 1 | Reconstructed (a) Northern Hemisphere and (b) Southern Hemisphere, and (c) global annual temperatures during the last 2000 years. Individual reconstructions (see Appendix 5.A.1 for further information about each one) are shown as indicated in the legends, grouped by colour according to their spatial representation (red: land-only all latitudes; orange: land-only extra-tropical latitudes; light blue: land and sea extra-tropical latitudes; dark blue: land and sea all latitudes) and instrumental temperatures shown in black (HadCRUT4 land and sea, and CRUTEM4 land-only; Morice et al., 2012). All series represent anomalies (°C) from the 1881–1980 mean (horizontal dashed line) and have been smoothed with a filter that reduces variations on timescales less than ~50 years. Source: Figure 5.7 - IPCC AR5 WG1 Chapter 5
I don't know which particular reconstruction David thought was a non-hockey stick reconstruction. Every temperature chart I know of has a sharp rise from the lower of the early 1900s. Note that in the figure above, the top chart is northern hemisphere and the chart on the bottom right is the global surface temperature. Globally, surface temperatures dropped in the early 1400s and stayed low until the early 20th century. Then they rose, and rose with a vengeance.

Nor do I know why David said there is no basis to claim that "it's worsening". Seth Borenstein provided the evidence referring to all the hottest months in a row and pointing out that the five hottest years in the record have been from 2005 on and that it's now about 1.8° warmer and it was a century ago. (He'd be talking in Fahrenheit.) As long as the world keeps heating up, the heat is getting worse.

In order to object to Seth Borenstein writing about the 15 hottest months, David had to resort to the UAH satellite record. In other words, he didn't even try to dispute that the global surface temperature has had a remarkable run of hottest months on record.

David's "barely 2 standard deviations"!

I'll also mention what David said about Arctic sea ice. First he claimed that the sea ice record only dates back to 1979. That's correct as far as the continuous satellite record goes, however there have been reconstructions going back further. One of them, by Walt Meier and co, goes back to the early 1950s. Here's the chart.

Figure 2 | Annual average Arctic sea ice extent from 1953 to 2015. Data updated from Meier et al 2012

There's now an even longer reconstruction, going back to the 1850s. It's described by Florence Fetterer at the Carbon Brief, with a chart of March and September sea ice extent:

Figure 3 | Time series of Arctic sea ice extent, 1850-2013, for March (blue line) and September (red line). Credit: Walsh et al. (2016) via Carbon Brief

Given the rapid recent loss of Arctic summer sea ice, what got me was when David wrote:
...the flirtations with record lows are barely exceeding two standard deviations (a.k.a. natural variability).

Barely two standard deviations? Barely? Really! David doesn't know the meaning of standard deviation. Roughly speaking, it means that Arctic sea ice extent this year is outside the 95% range. Nor does he seem to understand that the two standard deviations were from the very recent 1981 to 2010 average, not the long-term average.

He also referred to a paper about historical sea ice cover in the Chuchki Sea and, contrary to what was described in the paper, claimed that the entire Arctic "has been ice-free during the summer throughout much of the Holocene." What utter rubbish!

David doesn't stop protesting global warming

I noticed, too, how David wrote off the current massive widespread coral bleaching events, which have been recorded all around the world as "unsubstantiated, unquantified drivel". David himself didn't bother to substantiate or quantify the amount of coral that has been at risk of being damaged by excessive heat.

In the rest of his gish gallop, David lurched from the Statue of Liberty to the back of someone's envelope, chasing rising seas and the cost of mitigation. He failed as dismally there as he did in the earlier part of his "particularly ignorant rant".

David Middleton has been waging his war on the world for quite some time. He's one of Anthony Watts occasional disinformers. I've written about quite a few of his articles in the past.

From the WUWT comments

Many of the comments are really silly and show up how inconsistent deniers are. In response to Griff who pointed to the Carbon Brief article about the sea ice reconstruction back to 1850, David Middleton said:
September 2, 2016 at 7:07 am
Splicing a high resolution satellite data set onto a low resolution reconstruction from old maps and anecdotal records is just Hockey Sticking,
That said, sea ice should have covered a much larger area in the 1800’s. Neoglaciation reached its peak in the 1800’s.

This is the same David Middleton who used a single tide gauge in New York to make a claim about global sea level change!

Tom Halla hangs out with the shallow and credulous at WUWT, and dismissed the AP article with:
September 2, 2016 at 6:59 am
So Borenstein is a devout green and works in the MSM. Being shallow and credulous is a near requirement for the job as an environmental reporter.
That's all there is, so far. There's bound to be more Seth bashing if Anthony Watts doesn't cover this up by throwing up a few more silly articles.

References and further reading

WHY IT MATTERS: climate change - Article by Seth Borenstein, in The Big Story, Associated Press, 29 August 2016

Meier, W. N., Stroeve, J., Barrett, A., and Fetterer, F.: "A simple approach to providing a more consistent Arctic sea ice extent time series from the 1950s to present," The Cryosphere, 6, 1359-1368, doi:10.5194/tc-6-1359-2012, 2012. doi:10.5194/tc-6-1359-2012 (open access)
Walsh, John E., Florence Fetterer, J. Scott Stewart, and William L. Chapman. "A database for depicting Arctic sea ice variations back to 1850." Geographical Review (2016). doi: 10.1111/j.1931-0846.2016.12195.x

Guest post: Piecing together the Arctic’s sea ice history back to 1850 - article by Florence Fetterer at the Carbon Brief, August 2016

McKay, J. L., A. De Vernal, C. Hillaire-Marcel, C. Not, L. Polyak, and D. Darby. "Holocene fluctuations in Arctic sea-ice cover: dinocyst-based reconstructions for the eastern Chukchi Sea." Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 45, no. 11 (2008): 1377-1397. doi:10.1139/E08-046 (pdf here)

From the HotWhopper archives


  1. I love the way that, at WUWT, the only justification now needed to reject data is to call it a 'hockeystick'. By implication, the inmates need never accept that the world is warming no matter how much hotter the temperature record becomes becomes the record will become more and more like a hockeystick.

  2. Middleton writes:

    Hold on there a minute Seth… Dozens of measurements show that Earth has warmed since the mid-1800’s and all of the non-Hockey Stick climate reconstructions show that this warming began around 1600 AD (plus or minus a couple of decades). However, there is no basis to claim that “it’s worsening.” The data demonstrate that the rate of warming has actually slowed down…

    What's a 'non-hockeystick' millennial temperature reconstruction anyway? Which reconstruction(s) show warming from ~1600CE? I've not seen it/them. As for the final claim, presumably he's thinking of the non-pause and muddling up the troposphere with the climate system as a whole.

    DM is apparently both mendacious and clueless.

  3. Apparently, 3+ standard deviations is essentially equivalent to 2 standard deviations in denier math land.
    FYI, the probability of being outside 3 sigma is more than 16 times less than 2 sigma, which is itself only 5%.

  4. In the bizarro world of conspiracy theorists, the only valid "reconstruction" is a rough schematic of a temperature record for a tiny patch of land that stops at 1990, spliced onto a satellite record that shows cooling until it doesn't.

    1. I realise the above is only a thought experiment, but... the infamous Lamb schematic of CET stopped in 1950:

      So where do the deniers get the ca. 30 years of data from 1950 until the satellite records begin in 1979? They make it up, of course, just like they accuse the climate scientists of doing. It's all about projection with them. Also, there is no scale on the Y axis of that schematic. What's up with that?

      "...the satellite data are the best data we have." --Judith Curry at a recent Senate hearing

      It's the best data for deniers because it doesn't show the warming at the *surface* like the thermometer records do. Also, being a more recent baseline, the temperature anomalies appear smaller (to people like Anthony Watts, who don't understand how baselines work anyway). To do an apples to apples comparison between the satellite temps and the land based ones, you need to do something like this:

      I know I'm preaching to the converted here, so I'll stop now :-)

    2. no they are willing to believe/ they know for a fact that Co2 was high and temperatures low 450M years ago. This accurate plot shows it to be so and there is no hockey stick:

      Absolute garbage concatenation of two approximations ignoring continental movements.
      The temperature to me seems to show warm/cold/not so warm type of temperatures not that it was 25C 600M years ago!
      The CO2 comes from a MODEL described here

      wait a minute! a Model I thought these were all wrong.

    3. 450 million years ago the continents were arranged very differently: so climate would be radically different regardless of CO2 levels.

    4. Whenever contrarians try to use palaeoclimate as a sandbox for their denial, comedy ensues.

    5. @metzomagic Thanks for the correction - I found the 1950 end date after pressing 'Publish'. Oh for an edit function.

  5. Automatic gainsay. He's heavily influenced by the Bart Simpson school of ... whatever that thing is he does..

  6. Once in a while one of the posts in the comments section of WUWT is so bad that all I can do sit and chuckle at the level of ignorance while shaking my head in despair.

    george e. smith September 2, 2016 at 5:35 pm writes:

    Northwest-northeast; what’s the difference ?

    My commute route is open in both directions simultaneously. If the arctic ocean is open to passage, it is open. Doesn’t really matter which way the ship goes if it is open.

    I don't think geography is one of George's strengths.

    Nor is fact checking from what I read. George seems to think that the Crystal Serenity is planing on taking a “season” to traverse the North West Passage.

    So what is this crossing the arctic ocean “in a season ” ??

    if it was open you should be able to get through there in a week or two, not five months.

    At my count based on the Crystal Serenity web site the ship has gone from Seward Alaska to Croker Bay on the west coast of Baffin Island in 19 days with significant stops for the passengers to play tourist.

  7. If you want to stir up deniers, go political and point out how global warming will affect the US Presidential election. The result is interesting.

    To me it is not surprising that deniers "deny" democracy as well.


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