Sunday, December 4, 2016

Head slap: Deniers feign "shock" at James Hansen. It's just @wattsupwiththat using denier tricks

There are several points to note in this rather silly WUWT article (archived here), written by someone called Robert Bradley Jr. (who I'm guessing is this one-man show - of fossil fuel advocates). The article provides a good illustration of common denier tricks - as well as the usual misrepresentation of climate science:
  • The headline is completely wrong. It is a "fake news" article typical of WUWT.
  • Robert has applied the Serengeti strategy - attacking a single scientist, Dr James Hansen, hoping to isolate him and bring him down (as if!).
  • It resorts to quote mining and quote splicing to fake that Dr Hansen said something different to what he actually said.
  • It illustrates that the author doesn't understand much of anything about greenhouse gases - or pretends he doesn't and assumes WUWT readers don't.
  • It is trying to persuade readers that Dr Hansen is saying there's no rush to cut CO2 emissions - when he isn't.

Robert's WUWT article is a quote mine of things Dr James Hansen has written over the years. Problem is that Robert is either incapable of understanding what he copies and pastes, or believes that WUWT readers are incapable.

Robert Bradley Jr. seems to think that all it takes to reduce atmospheric GHG amounts is to reduce GHG emissions.  In fact, from what I can tell, Robert doesn't know the difference between atmospheric greenhouse gases and human emissions of greenhouse gases.

If we are to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases, first we'll need to cut GHG emissions enough so that the atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHGs) stop increasing. That would mean a cut of probably at least 70% of current emissions. That would get us to a steady state situation where GHG's are neither increasing nor decreasing. Then, if atmospheric GHGs are still considered too high for comfort and a status quo of atmospheric GHGs isn't acceptable, we'd have to cut emissions further and maybe even start sucking GHGs out of the air.

The quote-mined splice trick

Credit: NASA
Robert came upon an article by Dr Hansen about what it will take to prevent dangerous climate change. Robert then looked for quotes that he hoped would convince some dumb deniers that James Hansen has changed his position on the urgency of mitigation. Of course he hasn't. Robert led in with this:
Contrary to the impression favored by governments, the corner has not been turned toward declining emissions and GHG amounts…. Negative CO2 emissions, i. e., extraction of CO2 from the air, is now required.”
– James Hansen, “Young People’s Burden.” October 4, 2016.

The ponderous response of the climate system also means that we don’t need to instantaneously reduce GHG amounts.
– James Hansen, “We Hold Truths to be Self-Evident“ December 2,  2016.

What a difference a few months make!
Nope. A few months makes no difference. Dr Hansen's view is unchanged - that we must take much bigger steps right away to mitigate global warming. Robert is part of the "fake news" brigade, and is relying on confirmation bias and lack of scepticism at WUWT.

The splice: First up, you'll have noticed the ellipses signifying that the first quote is not a proper quote. It is different parts of the document stitched together to mean something different from what Dr Hansen wrote.

The first part of the October quote mined splice, with more context, is this:
The growth of the three principal human-caused greenhouse gases (GHGs: CO2, CH4, N2O) are all accelerating.  Contrary to the impression favored by governments, the corner has not been turned toward declining emissions and GHG amounts.  The world is not effectively addressing the climate matter, nor does it have any plans to do so, regardless of how much government bureaucrats clap each other on the back.

On the other hand, accelerating GHG growth rates do not imply that the problem is unsolvable or that amplifying climate feedbacks are now the main source of the acceleration.  Despite much (valid) concern about amplifying climate-methane feedbacks and leaks from “fracking” activity, the isotopic data suggest that the increase of CH4 emissions is more a result of agricultural emissions.  Not to say that it will be easy, but it is still possible to get future CH4 amount to decline moderately, as we phase off fossil fuels as the principal energy source.

Notice how Hansen says that the problem is not impossible to solve, even though governments are not doing enough right now to address the problem.

The second part of the October quote-mined splice is further down in the document. Here is the broader context:
B. “Negative CO2 emissions,” i.e., extraction of CO2 from the air is now required, if climate is to be stabilized on the century time scale, as a result of past failure to reduce emissions. If rapid phasedown of fossil fuel emissions begins soon, most of the necessary CO2 extraction can take place via improved agricultural and forestry practices, including reforestation and steps to improve soil fertility and increase its carbon content.  In this case, the magnitude and duration of global temperature excursion above the natural range of the current interglacial (Holocene) could be limited and irreversible climate impacts could be minimized.
This time, see how Dr Hansen says that provided we phase down fossil fuel emissions quickly enough, the earth system itself, with our help, can be used to remove CO2 from the air.

Compare the first quote-splice expanded above (from October) with the second Hansen quote (from December), which Robert claims was a backtrack. Let's look at the December quote in more context. Hansen is talking about the difficulty of removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. He wrote:
Stopping human-made climate change is inherently difficult, because of the nature of the climate system: it is massive, so it responds only slowly to forcings; and, unfortunately, the feedbacks in the climate system are predominately amplifying on time scales of decades-centuries. The upshot is that there is already much more climate change “in the pipeline” without any further increase of atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHGs). That does not mean the problem is unsolvable, but it does mean that we will need to decrease the amount of GHGs in the relatively near future.

The ponderous response of the climate system also means that we don’t need to instantaneously reduce GHG amounts. However, despite uncertainties about some climate processes, we know enough to say that the time scale on which we must begin to reduce atmospheric GHG amounts is measured in decades, not centuries. Given the fact that the fastest time scale to replace energy systems is decades, that means that we must get the political processes moving now. And that won’t happen until the public has understanding of what is actually needed and demands it.
In the December article, Hansen defines GHGs as atmospheric greenhouse gases. What he is saying is that we don't immediately have try to reduce, say, CO2 to get it back to 350 ppm or so. We don't need to cut emissions to zero today, and start sucking GHGs out of the air. Although he knows it will be necessary to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the air, he is saying that we don't have to use geoengineering right this minute. However the time scale for reductions required will be decades, not centuries. And we do need to start to reduce emissions right now.

No contradiction, no inconsistency

In October Dr Hansen was pointing out that atmospheric GHGs are still increasing at a very fast pace and we haven't yet turned the corner.

In December, Dr Hansen was saying that we will need to not only reduce emissions, but in the near future we will have to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. (This is a much bigger task than just getting the growth in emissions to start declining.)

Those two thoughts are not contradictory.

Lowering annual emissions a little bit is not enough to "reduce GHG amounts"

We're going to have to do a lot more than stabilising annual emissions or reducing them just a little bit. We're going to have to get to a point where only a very small amount of CO2 is emitted each year. The simple fact is that every time we add a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the air, about half of it will stay there and not return to the surface. So it accumulates. Every year there is more and more CO2 in the atmosphere.

The chart below is from an HW article earlier this year, and shows how CO2 has risen and fallen over the past 800,000 years. The red line is from the Scripps Keeling Curve as at 19 June 2016: 406.95 ppm. We humans first appeared only around 200,000 years ago when CO2 was much lower than now - well below 300 ppm. Human "civilisation" only began about 10,000 years ago - almost on the right hand axis. At the time CO2 was still well below 300 ppm.

Most growth of CO2 has occurred in just the past few decades and it's not going to stop growing until we cut emissions enough.  To get it to reverse (even to get it back to 400 ppm after it hits 450 ppm or more) will take some doing. Hover over the chart to see the different levels at different times.
Figure 1 | Atmospheric CO2 for the past 800,000 years. Data sources: EPICA Dome C Ice Core 800KYr Carbon Dioxide Data, Luthi, D., et al.. 2008 and Scripps Keeling Curve

Avoid fake science blogs like WUWT

I've written about CO2 and greenhouse gases many times before, and a lot of readers here would know this stuff probably better than I do.

What separates a science blog from a fake science blog is not just the disinformation on the latter. It's also the fact that people who specialise in fake science continue to propagate the same old lies and disinformation year after year after year. WUWT celebrated it's 10th anniversary recently - and promotes itself as a climate blog. Yet in those ten years Anthony Watts has not even managed to come to grips with the most basic, easy to understand, concepts underpinning climate science.

You might want to make excuses for Anthony Watts. Despite his name, he isn't the brightest spark in the dim deniosphere. He can't read a simple temperature chart, doesn't understand temperature anomalies, and assuming he posted today's article, he doesn't know what it means to "to reduce atmospheric GHG amounts".

From the WUWT comments

The comments were the usual mix of conspiracy theories, scientist bashing and wilful denial you see everyday at WUWT.

Bloke down the pub promotes a favourite denier conspiracy theory, which has little relevance to Dr Hansen (who has retired) or CO2 emissions or atmospheric greenhouse gases:
December 3, 2016 at 1:18 pm
Anything to keep the gravy train rolling.

Jay Hope combines a conspiracy theory with scientist-bashing, and like most WUWT-ers, has nothing to say about the topic of the article:
December 3, 2016 at 2:17 pm
Basically, the guy’s a big opportunistic bullshitter. No surprises here. LOL. These people have the face of brass.

Chimp demonstrates that she or he doesn't know what is pretty well settled in science and what is still being researched, and relies on the straw man fallacy implying that all scientists maintain their life's work is useless, and there is nothing left to learn about climate. Chimp couldn't be more wrong:
December 3, 2016 at 1:19 pm
“Uncertainties about some climate processes”? So, not settled science then, after all.
pameladragon thinks climate science isn't about careful observation and analysis, it merely involves going out her or his back door. She's probably either too young to know about how climate is changing almost everywhere, or has lost her long term memory.
December 3, 2016 at 1:22 pm
About time Hansen went outside and realized just how wrong the models are. I’ve gotten really tired of hearing about how “sensitive” our climate is to GHGs when it is nothing of the kind!

Greg Woods seems to think that the physics and chemistry underpinning our centuries-old understanding of the greenhouse effect is going to change tomorrow or in ten years time. He's a full blown science denier and member of the scientific illiterati. I don't know what he thinks will happen to technology that makes use of the same physics. Will it suddenly stop working?
December 3, 2016 at 3:33 pm
Paul H.: As much as I would like to believe in Cosmic Justice, I think we must just make do with what we can get. Whether tomorrow or in 10 years, the AGW mime will disappear, and so will all those True Believers, who will never, ever admit to having been believers…. 

asybot is not a fact-checker, critical thinker, or rational when it comes to climate. He or she saw what they wanted to see, decided it gelled with his or her world view, and that was enough. A fake news fan.
December 3, 2016 at 3:07 pm
@ tgm, please oh please can you show the conversation? I need a laugh after reading the disgusting about face from hansen. His ilk make me sick. I hope the new administration throws him in the ditch but I guess with hansen being retired he can now spout anything he wants without losing anything. Like your pension hansen? SCUM!, (sorry about the rant I am just sick of these sycophants) 

BillW 59 takes the view that if a person demonstrates their commitment to and understanding of an important issue, they are not to be listened to. He is basically saying that he's a right wing authoritarian follower and fan of "scumbuckets". He only listens to people who are fake, and have neither principles or integrity. (What's the bet he voted for Donald Trump?)
December 3, 2016 at 1:39 pm
A desperate attempt by a discredited has-been to regain relevance.
Once a researcher/scientist stops doing careful well-documented and reproducible work and starts carrying protest signs, that person should no longer expect to be listened to.

davidmhoffer quotes Hansen saying we've only got decades to cut atmospheric greenhouse gases (reduce atmospheric CO2). Then ignores what he quoted, and waffles on about centuries and emissions (instead of atmospheric concentrations). He must be part of the "powerful new strain of fact-resistant humans who are threatening the ability of Earth to sustain life" that was reported last year.
December 3, 2016 at 1:40 pm
we know enough to say that the time scale on which we must begin to reduce atmospheric GHG amounts is measured in decades, not centuries
Oh. So all those papers claiming current climate disasters are complete bullsh*t then? After all, if the father of climate insanity himself is now admitting that the disasters he has been predicting are decades to centuries away, then he is at the same time discrediting any claim that current matters (real or imagined) can be blamed on CO2 emissions.

At this point, Nick Stokes tried to inject some reality into the thread, without much success.
December 3, 2016 at 4:02 pm
decades to centuries away
No, he said the time was decades, not centuries. And that is the time to reduce amounts>, not emissions. 

Oh that's quite enough. I cannot be bothered wading any deeper into the slime. I'll stop on Nick's high note - which is probably the only one there is at WUWT. If you have the energy or are a student of the weird (aka denier psychology), you can read more here.

References and further reading

We Hold Truths to be Self-Evident - article by James Hansen, 2 December 2016

Young People’s Burden - article by James Hansen, 4 October 2016

HotWhopper articles (various) on CO2 emissions, our carbon budget, and the greenhouse effect


  1. Nothing like an ellipsis to sound the alarms, is there?

    It's a little like always checking the references, and not just the abstract, if it is an important topic.

    The WUWT crowd are unlikely to even look at an abstract so one can probably feed them just about anything but I've seen cases in other areas of research were the actual article was not at all related to the subject matter but the abstract sounded good enough that it appears the author just used it for reference padding.

  2. So what is the chance that the author of the WUWT post was acting in good faith?

    1. I think climate change denial is long past the stage when concepts like "good faith" are appropriate. It's more like a choice between fossil fuel industry shills and psychologically disturbed conspiracy theorists.

    2. I agree that it's a small number of cynical hacks manipulating a larger number of ineducable zealots. Combine this with the Fake News Complex and you can see how climate denial became the template for Trumpism and the whole self-defeating, post-fact, alt-right populist miasma.

    3. Zero?

      Have a look at his affiliations, Cato, the UK's Institute of Economic Affairs, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute among others.

      Though, admittedly right-wing economists' grasp on reality is so tenuous that perhaps he does believe this nonsense.


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