Thursday, September 19, 2013

Heartland Institute's NIPCC science deniers make startling finds: "CO2 is plant food" and "it's the sun"

Sou | 6:06 PM Go to the first of 13 comments. Add a comment

The "Not the IPCC" crowd of science deniers from the Heartland Institute have released their latest report (NIPCC page archived here).  The main authors are listed as Craig D. Idso (USA), Robert M. Carter (Australia), S. Fred Singer (USA).  The full list includes people like Tim Ball, and denier Don Easterbrook and Cliff Ollier - so you can imagine the lack of quality and silliness their report contains.

It doesn't look as if they've come up with anything new from their last equally silly report.  I've listed their "summary of findings" from their "Summary for Policy Makers" (ie the tea party in the USA).  I've put their summary document up on Google docs to save you going to the NIPCC website.

They've covered a lot of SkepticalScience's climate myths.  Like many science deniers, they seem to use Skeptical Science's most common denier memes as a cheat sheet. This so-called "report" is a load of crock.  It's nothing more than a repeat and mishmash of some of the silliest denier memes that they used in their previous "reports" from "CO2 is plant food" to "it's the sun" to "it's not warming" to "it's warming but it's a recovery from the Little Ice Age".

Here is their Summary of NIPCC’s Findings, which they list as: Source: “Executive Summary,” Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science (Chicago, IL: The Heartland Institute, 2013).  I've made a brief comment for each of their claims, explaining why each is wrong.

"CO2 is only a weak greenhouse gas" - no, it's not!

False claim: Atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) is a mild greenhouse gas that exerts a diminishing warming effect as its concentration increases. 

Why it is false: CO2 is not mild.  It is the main greenhouse gas that controls earth's climate.  Although it has a smaller effect than water vapour in absolute terms, it is long-lived in the atmosphere.  A change in CO2 acts as a force on climate.  In response to the forcing, water vapour changes, known as a feedback.

"We don't understand the carbon cycle" - that's obvious!

False claim: Doubling the concentration of atmospheric CO2 from its pre-industrial level, in the absence of other forcings and feedbacks, would likely cause a warming of ~0.3 to 1.1°C, almost 50% of which must already have occurred. 

Why it is false: In the absence of any other feedbacks or forcings,a doubling of CO2 would cause a warming of around the same magnitude as a 2% increase in solar radiation.  This effect takes a long time - ultimately the time it takes to complete a carbon cycle - many millenia.  Therefore it is also wrong to claim that almost 50% of which "must already have occurred".

Source: Realclimate.org

"We're building a straw man" - question is why?

False claim: A few tenths of a degree of additional warming, should it occur, would not represent a climate crisis. 

Why it is false: This is a strawman argument.  There has been and will continue to be much more warming than a "few tenths of a degree".  This is already causing problems for the world and it will get much worse if we do not cut emissions.

"We don't know what we're trying to argue" - well, that's obvious!

False claim: Model outputs published in successive IPCC reports since 1990 project a doubling of CO2 could cause warming of up to 6°C by 2100. Instead, global warming ceased around the end of the twentieth century and was followed (since 1997) by 16 years of stable temperature.

Why it is false: Firstly the argument is very mixed up.  The doubling of CO2 is not the same as any projected surface warming by 2100.  We are on track to double atmospheric CO2 well before the end of this century, maybe triple it. Secondly, global warming has not stopped.  The first decade this century was the hottest on record, hotter than any decade in the twentieth century. In addition to surface and tropospheric temperatures, now even the deep ocean is warming up.

"It's natural" - and we're causing it!

False claim: Over recent geological time, Earth’s temperature has fluctuated naturally between about +4°C and -6°C with respect to twentieth century temperature. A warming of 2°C above today, should it occur, falls within the bounds of natural variability.

Why it is false: The causes of temperature variations in "recent geological time" are known.  The ice ages and deglaciations referred to are caused by changes in solar irradiance combined with changes in CO2 as a feedback (Milankovitch cycles).  The current changes are not a result of natural variability.  They are the result of a very rapid increase in atmospheric CO2 because of human activities - predominately the burning of fossil fuels.  The variation in temperature over the entire Holocene, since the beginning of civilisation is not likely to have exceeded +/- one degree at a maximum.  A rapid warming of 2°C above today would vastly exceed anything that could be caused by "natural variation" of anything other than our huge emissions of CO2.

"We don't believe science" - ummm - oka..a..ay

False claim: Though a future warming of 2°C would cause geographically varied ecological responses, no evidence exists that those changes would be net harmful to the global environment or to human well-being. 

Why it is false.  The main reason for the changes being so harmful is because they are happening so quickly.  Life on earth does not have time to adapt to the changes.  This is one reason we are now witnessing the beginning of the sixth major extinction event and why it's likely to speed up.  Global warming and the rapid rise of CO2 is affecting the oceans through warming of the seas plus acidification; it is affecting the land by melting ice, droughts, wildfires, heatwaves and intense precipitation.  And if you want know about potential direct harm to humans, read what the science says if web bulb temperatures were to exceed an achievable threshhold.

These changes are already causing harm and it will only get worse

"CO2 was higher before life on land existed" - errr ... so what?

False claim: At the current level of ~400 ppm we still live in a CO2-starved world. Atmospheric levels 15 times greater existed during the Cambrian Period (about 550 million years ago) without known adverse effects. 

Why it is false:  This is one of the sillier of this list of silly claims.  Humans didn't even exist 550,000,000 years ago when CO2 levels were 7000 ppm and neither did any other life on land.  Life did start to flourish in the late Cambrian - just not on land.  It wasn't till CO2 dropped and oxygen increased in the atmosphere that the land was colonised with plants and animals.

"Climate changes by magic" - no it doesn't!

False claim: The overall warming since about 1860 corresponds to a recovery from the Little Ice Age modulated by natural multidecadal cycles driven by ocean-atmosphere oscillations, or by solar variations at the de Vries (~208 year) and Gleissberg (~80 year) and shorter periodicities. 

Why it is false: Contrary to what Not the IPCC implies, climate does not change by magic.  Any "recovery" from the Little Ice Age has to be explained in terms of what caused the earth to warm.  Not only that, but it would have to explain why it continues to warm.  "Cycles" and "oscillations" mean that if temperature goes up from a cycle or oscillation it also goes back down again in the same cycle or oscillation.  Otherwise it's not a cycle or oscillation.  The fact is that energy is being built up in the earth system, which is causing the temperature of the air and oceans to rise, the ice to melt etc.

"It's not warming" - yes, it is!

False claim: Earth has not warmed significantly for the past 16 years despite an 8% increase in atmospheric CO2, which represents 34% of all extra CO2 added to the atmosphere since the start of the industrial revolution. 

Why it is false: Firstly the argument is a repeat of part of the one above. The first decade this century was the hottest on record, hotter than any decade in the twentieth century. In addition to surface temperatures, now even the deep ocean is warming up.  This is very significant!

"CO2 is plant food!" - ROTFL!

False Claim: CO2 is a vital nutrient used by plants in photosynthesis. Increasing CO2 in the atmosphere “greens” the planet and helps feed the growing human population. 

Why it is false: This is the silly denier meme of "CO2 is plant food".  C3 plants like wheat (but not maize) do respond to increased CO2, all other things being equal.  But rising CO2 makes other things not equal.  The downside working against "feeding the growing human population" are temperatures so hot that it kills crops; drought so long that crops, if they get planted at all, don't produce seed or fruit and die from dehydration; rain so intense that it washes away crops that have been planted or prevents farmers from getting into the paddocks to sow their crops; humidity such that plant disease flourishes and reduces productivity.

"It's not CO2" - yes, it is!

False claim: No close correlation exists between temperature variation over the past 150 years and humanrelated CO2 emissions. The parallelism of temperature and CO2 increase between about 1980 and 2000 AD could be due to chance and does not necessarily indicate causation. 

Why it is false: This one is just plain dumb.  Physics explains the greenhouse effect.  Paleoclimatology shows that when CO2 increases in the atmosphere the earth system heats up in response.  Modern climatology shows exactly the same thing.  I'm surprised at how these so-called scientists oscillate between accepting the greenhouse effect and denying it.  They are as bad as Tim Ball and his merry band of "sky dragon slayers".

"It's the sun" - not!

False claim: The causes of historic global warming remain uncertain, but significant correlations exist between climate patterning and multidecadal variation and solar activity over the past few hundred years. 

Why it is false: This is the "it's the sun" argument, which is dumb as.  The causes of historic global warming are explained by science.  The temperature keeps rising even though incoming solar radiation hasn't increased.  That's because atmospheric CO2 keeps rising.

"We're heading for an ice age!" - they didn't go quite that far, but came close!

False claim: Forward projections of solar cyclicity imply the next few decades may be marked by global cooling rather than warming, despite continuing CO2 emissions. 

Why it is false: Even if there were to be a grand minimum it would only reduce the warming by a very small amount.  Earth will continue to heat up very quickly as we continue to pour more and more waste CO2 into the air, polluting the atmosphere for centuries.

Wrap up

Nothing new from the anti-science crowd at the Heartland Institute.  It's not suprising it hasn't caused a ripple in the mainstream media.  One could say the denier mob from Heartland Institute are showing symptoms of brain deficiency.

WUWT is late to the party

I haven't seen this posted on WUWT yet.  Anthony Watts is too busy telling everyone about what the new Abbott government is doing and undoing in Australia.

Note: The "Not the IPCC Report" from the US-based anti-science lobby group, the Heartland Institute, is part of a wider disinformation campaign (as described by Bloomberg) ahead of the release of the real IPCC report at the end of September.  Members of the anti-science brigade are coming out of the woodwork.  Graham Lloyd of the Australian did his bit and so did Mail hack "journalist" David Rose (and again) as well as right wing economist (and failed banker) Matt Ridley and science denying scientist, Judith Curry (and again).

What's going to bite these other disinformers in the proverbial is that they are all saying that the IPCC report is correct (although misrepresenting it).  What will this pack of science deniers say when the real report comes out?  I guess they'll do an about face and say that 97% of scientists are wrong and tabloid journos know better.  Self-contradiction is one of the hallmarks of a science denier.


  1. "The main reason for the changes being so harmful is because they are happening so quickly. Life on earth does not have time to adapt to the changes. This is why we are now witnessing the beginning of the sixth major extinction event."

    The first two sentences are true. The third sentence seems to put the blame for the ongoing extinction solely on climate change: This is not correct, since there is a lot of land-use impact as well.

    1. Thanks for picking up on that, Neal. I didn't mean to imply that's the only reason. I've changed the text to be more clear.

  2. But it's the sun! We all know the 1760's/1770's and the 1960's are the hottest decades! -> http://helios.gsfc.nasa.gov/cycle1.gif

    I might actually visit the presentation of Not The IPCC Report in The Hague, 3rd of October. Though I'll leave the verbal artillery home (only 25 km from The Hague).

  3. The summary of the NIPCC report reads like something out of the Onion.

    This really made me laugh:

    "At the current level of ~400 ppm we still live in a CO2-starved world. Atmospheric levels 15 times greater existed during the Cambrian Period (about 550 million years ago) without known adverse effects."

    (But for the record, there were single-cell photosynthesising organisms on land even before the Cambrian.)

    1. Thanks - yes I wondered about the single-celled organisms. There weren't too many multi-celled ones on land back then.

    2. "Without known adverse effects" is probably an important phrase here. We will probably never know. But the Cambrian is a lengthy period of time, about 54 million years, so it is a rather sweeping generalisation. Of course, trilobites may have been busy building seaside towns which were washed away by the rising sea levels and that have left no trace. As for land organisms, Sou might be pleased to see this http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1475-4983.2011.01099.x/abstract for some middle Cambrian land organism fossils from Australia itself.

  4. Greening from this extra plant food is going to be a rapid response, and we've already seen a 40% increase, so ... where is it?

  5. Has dear Judith checked the "forward projections of solar cyclicity" for uncertainty monsters, I wonder? I rather think she should.

  6. I'm just skimming through the solar chapter. It's like bad-paper bingo. All sorts of terrible papers are being cited - this either means that the Nipcc authors are incapable of distinguishing good science from junk, or they are just using them deliberately to obfuscate.

    I've already found Di Ritam (2013), Akasofu(2010) and Scafetta (lots), (Sirocko et al., 2012), (Kokfelt and Muscheler, 2012), and this is just the papers I recognise immediately.

  7. Are they citing Gerlich and Tscheuschner anyhwere in the report?

    1. Alas no, according to google, but they have cited it previously.

  8. I've listed their "summary of findings" from their "Summary for Policy Makers" (ie the tea party in the USA).

    Actually, the policy makers in question are the bulk of the Republican party (and a few Democrats too). The Tea Party is the seriously looney fringe of the party, who have hijacked the party primary (i.e., nomination) process to the point where the realistic and rational Republicans still in office are so afraid of primary challenges that they parrot what the Tea Party members say. In the US House or Representatives, the tea party caucus is about 60 of the 230 Republicans. They say no to everything and offer no solutions. They refuse to compromise. Since we don't have a parliamentary system, there's no way to isolate them from the majority of the members who might actually listen to the scientists.

    Before the rise of the Tea Party (which is really a disguised racist, anti-Obama movement), there was a growing number of prominent Republicans willing to look for solutions to the climate change problem (Newt Gingrich and John McCain come first to mind). But now they follow the Tea Party line. The Heartland "report" will give them a way for their nonsense to look authoritiative.

    -- Dennis

  9. I'd like to add to the "CO2 plant food" meme rebuttal. Apart from the issues around nitrification, water efficiency and whatnot, are the ecological ramifications. Some plants will do well in increased CO2 and others won't. What this means is there will changes in plant biodiversity and distribution as those species that perform better have conditions tipped in their favour. They will outcompete those poor performers changing niche partitions. The effectof this will be felt throughout entire ecosystems through changes in trophic cascades as well as competetion for resources. Deniers do like simple slogans like "CO2 is plant food" but seriously lack the critical thinking skills to understand the wide-ranging big picture ramifications.


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