A New Scientific Low

I am really just amazed by these remarks by NCAR's Dr. Ken Trenberth to be given, apparently planned for the American Meteorological Society gathering this month.   The and Anthony Watt has reprinted it on his blog.

It is hard to know where to start, but the following excerpt is an outstanding example of climate science process where 1.  Conclusions are assumed; 2.  Conclusions are deemed unequivocal by reference to authority; 3. Debate rules are proposed wherin it is impossible to refute the conclusion; 4.  All weather events that make the news are assumed to be caused or made worse by man-made warming, and thereby, in circular fashion, further prove the theory.

Normally, when I cite the above as the process, I get grief from folks who say I am mis-interpreting things, as usually I am boiling a complex argument down to this summary.   The great thing about alarmist Trenberth's piece is that no interpretation is necessary.   He outlines this process right in a single paragraph.  I will label the four steps above

Given that global warming is “unequivocal” [1], to quote the 2007 IPCC report [2], the null hypothesis should now be reversed, thereby placing the burden of proof on showing that there is no human influence [3]. Such a null hypothesis is trickier because one has to hypothesize something specific, such as “precipitation has increased by 5%” and then prove that it hasn’t. Because of large natural variability, the first approach results in an outcome suggesting that it is appropriate to conclude that there is no increase in precipitation by human influences, although the correct interpretation is that there is simply not enough evidence (not a long enough time series). However, the second approach also concludes that one cannot say there is not a 5% increase in precipitation. Given that global warming is happening and is pervasive, the first approach should no longer be used. As a whole the community is making too many type II errors [4].

Are you kidding me -- if already every damn event in the tails of the normal distribution is taken by the core climate community as a proof of their hypothesis, how is there even room for type II errors?  Next up -- "Our beautiful, seasonal weather -- proof of global warming?"

Remember that the IPCC's conclusion of human-caused warming was based mainly on computer modelling.  The IPCC defenders will not admit this immediately, but press them hard enough on side arguments and it comes down to the models.

The summary of their argument is this:  for the period after 1950, they claim their computer models cannot explain warming patterns without including a large effect from anthropogenic CO2.  Since almost all the warming in the latter half of the century really occurred between 1978 and 1998, the IPCC core argument boils down to "we are unable to attribute the global temperature increase in these 20 years to natural factors, so it must have been caused by man-made CO2."  See my video here for a deeper discussion.

This seems to be a fairly thin reed.  After all, it may just be that after only a decade or two of serious study, we still do not understand climate variability very well, natural or not.  It is a particularly odd conclusion when one discovers that the models ignore a number of factors (like the PDO, ENSO, etc) that affect temperatures on a decadal scale.

We therefore have a hypothesis that is not based on observational data, and where those who hold the hypothesis claim that observational data should no longer be used to test their hypothesis.    He is hilarious when he says that reversing the null hypothesis would make it trickier for his critics.  It would make it freaking impossible, as he very well knows.  This is an unbelievingly disingenuous suggestion.  There are invisible aliens in my closet Dr. Trenberth -- prove me wrong.  It is always hard to prove a negative, and impossible in the complex climate system.  There are simply too many variables in flux to nail down cause and effect in any kind of definitive way, at least at our level of understanding  (we have studied economics much longer and we still have wild disagreements about cause and effect in macroeconomics).

He continues:

So we frequently hear that “while this event is consistent with what we expect from climate change, no single event can be attributed to human induced global warming”. Such murky statements should be abolished. On the contrary, the odds have changed to make certain kinds of events more likely. For precipitation, the pervasive increase in water vapor changes precipitation events with no doubt whatsoever. Yes, all events! Even if temperatures or sea surface temperatures are below normal, they are still higher than they would have been, and so too is the atmospheric water vapor amount and thus the moisture available for storms. Granted, the climate deals with averages. However, those averages are made up of specific events of all shapes and sizes now operating in a different environment. It is not a well posed question to ask “Is it caused by global warming?” Or “Is it caused by natural variability?” Because it is always both.

At some level, this is useless.   The climate system is horrendously complex.  I am sure everything affects everything.  So to say that it affects the probability is a true but unhelpful statement.   The concern is that warming will affect the rate of these events, or the severity of these events, in a substantial and noticeable way.

It is worth considering whether the odds of the particular event have changed sufficiently that one can make the alternative statement “It is unlikely that this event would have occurred without global warming.” For instance, this probably applies to the extremes that occurred in the summer of 2010: the floods in Pakistan, India, and China and the drought, heat waves and wild fires in Russia.

Now he has gone totally off the scientific reservation into astrology or the occult or something.   He is saying that there is a high probability that if CO2 levels were 120ppm lower that, for example, the floods in Pakistan would not have occurred.  This is pure conjecture, absolutely without facts, and probably bad conjecture at that.  After all, similar events of similar magnitude have occurred through all of recorded history in exactly these locations.

Some Notes

1.  For those unfamiliar with the issues, few skeptics deny that man's CO2 has no effect on warming, but believe the effect is being enormously exaggerated.  There is a bait and switch here, where the alarmist claims that "man is causing some warming" is the key conclusion, and once accepted, they can head off and start controlling the world's economy (and population, as seems to be desired by Trenberth).   But the fact that CO2 causes some greenhouse warming is a trivial conclusion.  The hard part is, in the complex climate system, how much does it cause.  There is a an argument to be made, as I have, that this warming is less than 1C over the next century.  This number actually has observational data on its side, as actual warming over the last century, given past CO2 increases, is much more consistent with my lower number than various alarmist forecasts of doom.  Again, this is discussed in much more depth here.

2.  One interesting fact is that alarmists have to deal with the lack of warming or increase in ocean heat content over the last 12 years or so.  They will argue that this is just a temporary aberration, and a much shorter time frame than they are working on.  But in effect, the core IPCC conclusions were really based on the warming over the 20 years from 1978-1998.  So while 12 years is admittedly short compared to many natural cycles in climate, and might be considered a dangerously short period to draw conclusions from, it is fairly large compared to the 20 year period that drove the IPCC conclusions.

Update: More thoughts from the Reference Frame.


  1. Don Lloyd:

    Reverse meaning typo --

    "...For those unfamiliar with the issues, few skeptics deny that man’s CO2 has no effect on warming..."

    Regards, Don

  2. klem:

    "(and population, as seems to be desired by Trenberth)."

    What's weird is most people know that population is a non-problem today. According to Wikipedia "Globally, the growth rate of the human population has been declining since peaking in 1962 and 1963 at 2.20% per annum. In 2009 the estimated annual growth rate was 1.1%." Population growth is already at levels which will not replace us after the next 40 years or so. The problem is already over. So why do so many people still make a fuss about this? Especially the UN.

  3. John Cheek:

    Keep up the good work Warren. There are many people duped by the glowarming "settled science" conclusionists.Although I haven't noticed anything yet about the massive floods in probably the driest continent on the planet! Jac

  4. klem:

    Australian floods? Here you go pal. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41041650/ns/us_news-environment/

    Don't forget last summer when the volcano in Iceland erupted, that too was caused by global warming. So was the earthquake which hit Haiti a year ago. I kid you not.

    Environmentalists are truly environ-mental.

  5. me:


    Don't forget me eating too much chocolate over the holidays. I blame global warming ;)

    I just wish the philosophy departments of our august universities were put to good use and made to ridicule papers such as these 24/7.

  6. oldf4drvr:

    Global warming alarmists have pinned their argument for catastropic warming on the secondary greenhouse effect of vast amounts methane which were projected to be released by the primary anthropogenic CO2 warming.
    An article in the Jan. 7th WSJ ("Microbes Mopped Up After Spill Bacteria Swiftly Devoured Methane Unleashed Into the Gulf of Mexico") appears to throw 'cold water' on that thesis. Extensive water sampling and analysis concluded that the estimated 200,000 tons of methane released by the BP blowout are gone - devoured by naturally occuring microbes.
    "We were shocked," said chemical oceanographer John Kessler at Texas A&M, who was the lead author of the Science study. "We thought the methane would be around for years."

  7. Roy Lofquist:

    Without regard to the arguments, it seems just plain stupid for NOAA to proclaim 2010 the warmest year on record the same day as the headlines proclaim snow cover in 49 states.

  8. Dr. T:

    "Remember that the IPCC’s conclusion of human-caused warming was based mainly on computer modelling."

    Here are some not facts about the models you won't learn from the mainstream media:

    1. Twenty-five climate models were submitted to the IPCC for inclusion in its 2004 report. Not one of the models met acceptance criteria. All the models tried to encorporate CO2-based global warming (an unproved theory), but not one model accurately predicted temperatures for the 1990-1999 period despite training the models with climate data from the preceding twenty years. This is scientific incompetence.

    2. Not one of the 25 climate models included cloud cover as a factor. Anything that causes warming (such as increased solar output or increased greenhouse gases) would cause more evaporation of water (that covers 75% of the planet). With warmer air temperatures, water vapor would rise higher into the atmosphere before condensing into clouds. High clouds are highly reflective of electromagnetic radiation, so more solar energy would be reflected away from the earth. This would result in cooling and a return to the previous lower temperatures (and lower evaporation rates). Since the climatologists wanted to "prove" anthropogenic global warming, they omitted cloud effects from their models. This was fraud by omission.

    3. Because none of the climate models met criteria, the IPCC created an empirical meta-model that cobbled together bits from 24 of the 25 climate models. The IPCC did not strive for an empirical meta-model with the best fit. Instead, it used mathematical forcing to meet the acceptance criteria while making polar zone temperatures as high as possible. In the final IPCC climate model, mean polar zone temperatures were 4-6 degrees centigrade higher than observed temperatures. This was climate model design fraud.

    4. The IPCC did not compare any of the models or its meta-model to the no-model alternative. The no-model alternative simply assumes no changes in mean temperatures in any of the zones throughout the 1990s. This no- temperature-change model outperformed all 25 climate models AND the IPCC's meta-model. Omitting the no-model is scientific fraud.

    5. The IPCC promoted its bullshit model and claimed future catastrophes from predicted global warming, polar ice cap melting, and massive coastal flooding. None of these predictions are based on real science.

    Overall, the IPCC and hundreds of self-serving climatologists created the biggest scientific fraud in history.

    Using manipulated data, the NOAA now claims that we've had 34 straight years of above-average global temperatures. Funny, back in the 1970s and 1980s climatologists worried about a coming ice age due to declining global temperatures. The NOAA uses temperature data that comes mostly from land (despite 75% of the planet covered in water and 10% covered in ice). Many land temperature readings have become corrupted by urbanization: the temperature monitoring stations that used to be rural are now within expanding cities. The urban effect raises mean temperatures substantially. Instead of throwing out bad urban data, the NOAA assumes (without any data or experimentation) that one-third of the temperature increases are "real" while two-thirds are urbanization effect. The reality is that 100% of the temperature increases are urbanization effect since nearby rural monitoring stations have shown no increased mean temperatures for decades. This is fraudulent manipulation of data.

  9. Nelson Wripnux:

    You're all wrong. The planet is warming dangerously and Sarah Palin is the cause.

  10. Evil Red Scandi:

    @Nelson - threadwinner.

  11. nofreewind:

    You are wrong about the warming from 1978-1998. The satellite models, UAH & RSS, show no trend during those twenty years. The jump in temperate in the past 50 years all occurred in one step with the 1998 El Nino, which we have not recovered from. Also, if you plot the land based temp series from 1950-1978 - they are flat, so all the temp increase in the past 60 years occurred in one step in 1998.

  12. Andre:

    Numerous studies confirm a statistical correlation between CO2 and global temperatures - with an 800 year delay between temperature and CO2. In other words, history shows that temperature LEADS CO2 concentrations (note: "leads" not "causes" - this is purely a statistical analysis). So most likely, what the temperatures were in 1978-1988, and what the CO2 concentrations are now is irrelevant. What may be more relevant, is what the CO2 concentrations will be in the year 2778 or so. And it may very well be that today's CO2 levels have more to do with the Medieval Optimum (about 800 years ago) than with my SUV.

  13. John T:

    "Remember that the IPCC’s conclusion of human-caused warming was based mainly on computer modelling."

    I thought the conclusion of human-caused warming was based on two things:
    1) The warming in the 80's & 90's was "unprecedented" (the infamous hockey-stick).
    2) Something "unprecedented" must have caused that warming, and the best guess was CO2.

    Since #1 has been debunked more times than I can track, there is no reason to even propose some "unprecedented" cause.

    Where the computer models come in, is that if you assume 1 & 2 are true -that all that warming was due to CO2, and plug those assumptions into the computer models using estimates of future CO2 concentrations, you get... the end of the world as we know it!

  14. greg:

    Warren, wait until you see the dragon I have in my garage!

  15. lawrie:

    My greatest concern is that these fraudulent scientists are giving other scientists a bad name and are making many, myself included, sceptical of any scientific announcement. I am also amazed that so many politicians have been conned to the extent they are spending huge amounts on a non-problem and nothing on real problems.

    Some day there must be justice and the fraudsters made to pay or at least repay their ill gotten gains.