Sunday, December 30, 2012

Yes, Mr Spooner, Deniers are Deniers

MobyT | 11:14 PM Go to the first of 4 comments. Add a comment
The Age has printed an opinion piece by John Spooner, a cartoonist, in which he writes about his rejection of climate science.  It was copied and pasted in HotCopper's science and medicine S&M forum.

Spooner has that peculiar form of denial in which he indicates very clearly that he doesn't understand the least bit about what it is that he is denying.  He asks:
What exactly is the relationship between CO2 and temperature?
This one's easy.  CO2 is the 'thermostat' controlling the earth's temperature.  Turn it up and the heat goes up, turn it down and it gets very cold.
Why did the warming trend stop as it did between 1945 and 1975, when CO2 emissions took off? 
Spooner fails again.  The global surface temperature trend is up and has been trending up for decades.  This past ten years have been the warmest on record.  In fact, NOAA reports that it's almost three decades since any month has been cooler than the long term average:
November 2012 also marks the 36th consecutive November and 333rd consecutive month with global temperature higher than the long-term average. The last month with a below average temperature was February 1985, nearly 28 years ago.

Here's a chart.  If anything the trend has shifted up a notch.  It's about twenty years since the temperature touched the bottom trend line:

What is really odd is when Spooner suggests that a layperson shouldn't take any notice of experts:
The implication was that all who are untrained in "climate science" are required to accept the scientific and political authority of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its local colleagues such as the CSIRO: the scientific establishment.
First of all, no-one is 'required' to do anything of the sort.  However if Spooner doesn't accept what people actively researching climate are saying - if, as he implies, he rejects the experts - then what are the odds that Spooner gets a dentist to repair his car and a motor mechanic to fix his teeth?

The thing is, he quotes support for people who are flat out wrong, like 'skeptic' Nigel Calder.  Now Nigel Calder is not a scientific researcher, he was a science writer.  He is also one of the few people who, since at least 1970, mistakenly thought we were heading for an ice age.  In 1980 Calder predicted an ice age would be well and truly on its way by 2000.  What happened there, Nigel?

In between comments lauding 'skeptics' and naive questions about climate, Spooner spends a couple of paragraphs bemoaning the fact that people who deny climate science should be referred to as 'deniers'.  Maybe next Chrissy some kind soul will buy him a copy of the Oxford Dictionary:

After complaining about people using English correctly, he writes a dogs breakfast of a paragraph.  After reading it, if anyone was in any doubt before, they will realise that Spooner doesn't understand the first thing about climate or climate science.  The paragraph doesn't make any sense whatsoever:
But times have changed, and since 2007, the non-scientific players in this great intellectual drama have been confronted by creeping uncertainty about many of the major climate science issues. These have included the composition of the IPCC and the credibility of its processes; remember Glaciergate? The IPCC predicted the end of the Himalayan glaciers based on non-scientific literature; the unusual (or not) melting of sea ice and glaciers; the evidence for warm temperatures during the mediaeval period; the importance of sun spots; changes (or not) in patterns of extreme weather events; ocean "acidification"; ocean warming and rising sea levels; bio-mass absorption and the longevity of molecules of atmospheric CO2; the influence of short-period El Nino southern oscillation (ENSO) and other similar oscillations on a multi-decade scale; the chaotic behaviour of clouds; and the impact of cosmic rays on climate. Even James Lovelock, the founder of the "Gaia", movement has turned sceptic.
Non-scientists are confronted by creeping uncertainty?  Really?  That's not what polling trends show.  And even if any non-scientist were 'confronted' in this way - so what?  It's not non-scientists who we need to pay attention to.  The scientists are busy narrowing the uncertainty and that's what matters.

Glaciergate?  I think he is probably referring to a sentence about when the Himalayan glaciers are likely to disappear.  This was one of about only three errors in this mammoth report and blown out of all proportion.  It was buried deep and it was found by a scientist not a fake 'skeptic'.

But the IPCC predicting evidence for warm temperatures during the medieval period?  It's a bit late for a prediction.  Different parts of the earth did warm at different times during the medieval period and before and after it.  The earth didn't get as warm then as it is now though.

And what is in the rest of his grab bag - does he even know what he is writing about? 

  • Sun spots - these are loosely correlated with the level of radiation emitted from the sun, which does affect earth's temperature.  Thing is, the temperature is going up despite the fact the sun being less active.  In any case, these days by comparison with CO2 forcing, any change in solar radiation is inconsequential.  What is of concern isn't the incoming energy, it's the fact the energy can't escape.  We're trapping heat on earth because we're using the air as a rubbish tip for waste CO2;
  • Extreme weather - more of it happening sooner than expected as shown by Tamino and as monitored by Munich Re in this chart.

  • Ocean acidification - a huge and growing problem
  • Rising sea levels - not just rising but rising faster than projected
  • bio-mass absorption - umm, yes?  Surely Spooner isn't implying that biomass is absorbing CO2 at a greater rate than our emissions.  It's not.
  • Longevity of CO2 in the atmosphere - yes, much of the CO2 stays in the air for centuries, some for millenia, that's why CO2 emissions are such a huge concern.
  • ENSO - remember 1998 El Nino?  It was a whopper and the earth didn't have a hotter year till 2005.  How about the 2010 La Nina and the big wet? So much water was transferred to the land that the sea level drop was remarkable.  The effect of ENSO events compound the difficulties of living in a warming world - hotter, drier, wetter than ever before.
  • Clouds - latest research suggests if anything clouds have a small negative feedback effect.  In other words, clouds will not save us from global warming.
  • Cosmic rays - no, cosmic rays are not causing global warming.  (But then again, I thought Spooner said he thought the world had stopped warming - duh!)
James Lovelock is a deep thinker.  Not everyone agrees with, nor understands, all his ideas.  However contrary to what Spooner wrote, Lovelock does accept the science of global warming.  The following quotes are from a speech Lovelock made in May 2011:

My main reason for not relaxing into contented retirement is that like most of you I am deeply concerned about the probability of massively harmful climate change and the need to do something about it now....

...This is especially true of the next catastrophe, the climate change we are now causing by the excessive excretion of CO2....

...I like to think our CO2 emissions were an innocent mistake not something done with malice, so there is no occasion to feel guilty about it.

PS The post copying Spooner's opinion piece won a 'gold star' from HotCopper readers deniers.

ADDENDUM: In the comments, roymustard pointed out that earlier this year Lovelock revised his position - and deniers pretend he reversed it, which he didn't of course.  According to NBC News he has gone from saying that "before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable.” (he didn't get that notion from climate scientists) to saying climate change is still happening, but not as quickly as he once feared.


  1. Great post, although if I must correct one thing, it's that Lovelock did actually fall for the brief "no warming in 12 years" hysteria last year, which was right before the current "no warming in 16 years" hysteria.

    If you didn't notice it, it's because the only people who paid attention were the denier crowd who took as more proof of whatever their latest meme was that week.

  2. Thanks Roy. I've also now found a CNN article (refer update in the blog) that seems to refer to the same thing. Lovelock went from being extremely pessimistic (thought change would come much more quickly than what climate scientists are saying) to being somewhat less so. He still accepts climate change and understands the mechanism, which is more than you can say of our cartoonist :)

  3. "CO2 is the 'thermostat' controlling the earth's temperature. Turn it up and the heat goes up, turn it down and it gets very cold."

    That's an incredibly ignorant thing to say. CO2 is one of a number of greenhouse gases which act to slow leakage of heat, causing a higher average temperature than otherwise. You put the cart before the horse and mistook the horse for an elephant.

  4. Thanks for your comment anon. Seems to me that you're saying pretty much the same thing as I did.

    BTW, I'm in excellent company with my analogy to a thermostat - eg Richard Alley's title for this presentation.


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