Warming heresy

UnAustralian Ken Miles has a reflexive whinge about an article in yesterday’s Australian newspaper by noted geologist Professor Ian Plimer. Why? Well, I can’t be sure because I didn’t buy yesterday’s Oz, and the article isn’t online (at least not for free). But it’s a fair bet that Plimer’s article was a spin-off from a paper he presented at a Climate Change Conference sponsored by the Institute of Public Affairs earlier this year.

Of course, the identity of the sponsor will have already induced most leftie readers to close their minds and conclusively assume that Plimer must be one of those ratbag fringe scientists they can safely ignore. Their worst fears would be confirmed if they bothered to read the paper, which does indeed challenge the Henny Penny dogmatic views on global warming of bloggers like Ken Miles. For those with open minds on the issue, however, Plimer’s paper contains a wealth of fascinating information and a valuable perspective on climate change over geological time. Here’s a substantial extract:

Yesterday

The northern polar ice sheet started to melt 14,700 years ago. There were very rapid and major temperature fluctuations, sea level rose and fell and the total sea level rise over the last 14,700 years has been at least 130 metres. Land masses previously covered with ice started to rise. For example, Scandinavia is still rising and has risen more than 340 metres over the last 14,700 years. As a counterbalance, the Netherlands, south eastern England, Schleswig-Holstein and Denmark are sinking. The breaching of dams of melt waters filled the oceans with cold surface waters 12,000-11,000 and 8,500-8,000 years ago resulting in changed climates, an increase in sea level and changes to ocean currents. After these intensely cool periods, temperatures rose by 5-10 °C in the space of a few decades. Sea level rise resulted in the breaching of the Mediterranean into the Black Sea Basin some 7,600 years ago and is probably the origin of the Sumarian, Babylonian and biblical stories of a great flood.

One of the consequences of a massive sea level rise over the last 14,700 years is that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet was no longer unpinned by the land. Two thirds of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapsed into the oceans and sea level rose 12 metres. The final third of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has yet to collapse to produce a 6 metre sea level rise as part of the dynamic post-glacial climate on Earth. Climate changes induced by changes in ocean currents cooled North Africa, grasslands changed to a desert, humans migrated and the great Mesopotamian cities were established.

Sea levels were 1-3 metres higher in a greenhouse 6,000 years ago. There was 20% more rainfall. Cold dry periods, glacier expansion and crop failures between 5,800 and 4,900 years ago resulted in deforestation, flooding, silting of irrigation channels, salinisation and the collapse of the Sumerian city states. Long periods of El Nino-induced drought resulted in the abandonment of Middle Eastern, Indian and North American towns. In 1470 BC (?), Thira exploded and threw 30 cubic kilometers of dust into the atmosphere. The tsunami, ash blanket and destruction of Thira greatly weakened the dominant Minoans. This led to the rise of the Mycaeneans and Greeks. One volcano changed the course of western history.

Global cooling from 1,300 to 500 BC gave rise to the advance of glaciers, migration, invasion and famine. Global warming commenced again at 500 BC, there was an excess of food and great empires such as the Ashoka, Ch’hin and the Romans grew. Contemporary records and Roman clothing shows that conditions were some 5 °C warmer than today.

In 535 AD Krakatoa exploded, as did Rabaul in 536 AD. The Earth passed through cometary dust in 536 AD. The dusty atmosphere reflected heat and darkness prevailed and, as a result, the climate cooled and there was famine and warfare. Changes in ocean currents resulted in the Medieval Warm Period from 900 to 1300 AD. The first to feel the change were the Vikings who were able to navigate the northern waters, colonized Newfoundland, colonized Greenland and established extensive trade routes as far south as the modern Gulf States. On Greenland, crops were grown and there were cattle. This would not be possible today. The warmer wetter climate of Europe produced excess crops and wealth which resulted in the building of castles, cathedrals and monastries. As with previous greenhouse events, there was great prosperity.

In 1280 AD, volcanic eruptions on Iceland and a change in ocean currents started the Little Ice Age which finished in 1920. The North Sea froze in 1303 and 1306-1307, there was massive famine in 1315 and the plague pandemic attacked the weakened population in 1347-1349. There was massive depopulation and it took Europe 250 years to reach the population of 1280 AD. During the Little Ice Age, there were warmer periods associated with sunspot activity. During minimum sunspot activity (1440-1460, 1687-1703 and 1808-1821), the intensely cold conditions were recorded by the Dutch masters and King Henry VIII was able to roast oxen on the frozen Thames. There were food shortages. Short cold periods occurred after the eruptions of Tambora (1815) and Krakatoa (1883) respectively. In fact, 1816 was known as the ‘year without a summer’. This was the time when Turner painted stormy oceans and skies full of volcanic dust, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein and Byron wrote Darkness.

Today

The twentieth Century and early 21st Century AD are times of natural post-glacial rebound. Ice sheets, a rare phenomenon in the history of time, still exist. Sea level is relatively low, as are global temperatures and atmospheric CO2. Between 1920 and 1945, there was a period of warming (0.37 °C) and another that commenced in 1976 (0.32 °C). In 1976-1977, global temperatures in the lower atmosphere jumped 0.3 °C, sea surface temperature in the equatorial Pacific jumped 0.6 °C, sea surface temperature during upwelling increased 1.5 to 3 °C but there was reduced upwelling, the heat content of the upper 300 metres of the world’s oceans increased, there was increased wave activity in the North Sea and the length of the day changed. The stepwise increase in temperature in 1976-1977 shows that there was a major re-ordering of the ocean heat transport coinciding with an orbital change expressed as a change in the length of the day. Maybe global warming of the 20th Century is just a measure of the variability on a dynamic evolving planet?

To put such measurements into perspective over the history of time, changes in atmospheric temperature in the 20th Century can only be considered small and slow. A 24 year global coverage of satellite atmosphere temperatures shows only modest warming in the Northern Hemisphere and a slight cooling in the Southern Hemisphere. Temperature measurements from balloons agree with the satellite measurements for the period of overlap. Because greenhouse warming is a phenomenon of the atmosphere, significant changes should have been recorded. They have not.

Conclusions

Science is married to evidence and bathes in modest uncertainty. The nature of science is skepticism and science encourages argument and dissent. Scientific evidence is derived from reproducible observation, measurement, experiment and calculation. Evidence in geology is interdisciplinary, terrestrial and extra-terrestrial and shows the complex and fascinating intertwining of evolving natural processes on a dynamic planet. Scientists engage in healthy argument about the veracity of evidence. On the basis of evidence, an explanation called a scientific theory is constructed. A scientific theory is the best available explanation of evidence, it may change with new evidence and it must be coherent with the existing body of knowledge. Scientists also argue about scientific theory. Scientific theories are testable and once the scientific theory has been tested over time, it becomes accepted into the body of knowledge. The word belief is not used in science because belief is untestable. This process has not taken place with the construction of what is popularly called the greenhouse effect. Furthermore, science is unable to make judgments about what is good or bad. These are judgments with vary with time and are based on contemporary politics, religion, aesthetics and culture.

Underpinning the global warming and climate change mantra is the imputation that humans live on a non-dynamic planet. On all scales of observation and measurement, sea level and climate are not constant. Change is normal and is driven by a large number of natural forces. Change can be slow or very fast. However, we see political slogans such as Stop Climate Change or government publications such as Living with Climate Change demonstrating that both the community and government believe that climate variability and change are not normal. By using the past as the key to the present, we are facing the next inevitable glaciation yet the climate, economic, political and social models of today assess the impact of a very slight warming and do not evaluate the higher risk of yet another glaciation. Geology, archaeology and history show that during glaciation, famine, war, depopulation and extinction are the norm.

In 1831, Admiral Sir James Robert George Graham had the Union Jack hoisted on a volcanic land mass that suddenly appeared near Sicily. It was called Graham Bank and was claimed by England. It was also claimed by the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies who called it Isola Ferdinandea, the French (L’Isle Julia) and other powers who variously named it Nerita, Hotham, Scicca and Corrao. In the subsequent dispute over ownership, France and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies almost came to war and England and the Two Kingdoms of Sicily had a diplomatic row. During the intense diplomatic dispute, the island quietly slipped back underwater. In 1987, US warplanes thought the dark mass 8 metres below sea level was a Libyan submarine and attacked it with depth charges. In February 2000 when the volcano again stirred, Domenico Macalusa, a surgeon, diver and the Honorary Inspector of Sicilian Cultural Relics, took action. He persuaded Charles and Camilla, the last two surviving relatives of the Bourbon Kings of the Two Sicilies to fund the bolting of a 150 kg marble plaque to the volcano at some 20 metres below sea level. The plaque pre-empted ownership if the volcano ever again rose above sea level. It was placed underwater in September 2001, by November 2002, person or persons unknown had smashed the plaque into 12 pieces. This rock is worth nothing, is of no use as a territorial possession and is of no scientific interest and yet the French and Bourbons nearly came to war 170 years ago and the English and Italians are still in dispute. Graham Banks serves to show that whatever political decisions we humans make, the land rises and falls, sea level rises and fall and climates change as they have done since the dawn of time.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

I believe Plimer. I left an unseasonably balmy Sydney yesterday and now I’m in Wellington where the foehn zephyrs are doing a Roaring 40’s race though the mountains….with all the unmistakable whiff of the sub-Antarctic in early Spring.

The people are all built four-square and close to the ground – like ambulatory hurricane shelters – albeit with a cheery, outgoing bonhomie.

If there’s global warming going on round here, it can’t make it’s presence felt a moment too soon….:)

Norman
Norman
2022 years ago

Pilmer’s not actually saying anything new, but we need more commentators like him if we’re ever to have the general population begin to understand a whole range of problems which will face future generations. The “green” movement has never presented a rational analysis of long term environmental problems ahead of us. Their obsession with gimmicks as solutions won’t be easy to overcome. Unfortunately, their supporters want this sort of glib distraction, and even “greens” who know they’re really only play acting their parts, are unwilling to rock the boat, and bring the wrath of the movement down upon themselves.
If Troppo Armadillo can play even a small role in helping to encorage the dissemination of material like Pilmer’s to a wider audience, that fact alone justifies the site’s existence.

Ken Miles
Ken Miles
2022 years ago

Ken, your post has about one correct thing in it. Plimer’s article is a spin-off of his IPA talk.

Unfortunately, Plimer’s article, despite it’s pretensions, has precious little to do with human induced climate change. The vast majority of it is “wholly irrelevant” (to quote another IPA guest speaker, Jonathan Pershing, who unlike Plimer is an expert on ancient climates).

The majority of the extract which you cited, is about past regional climates. Interesting, but nothing to do with global warming here.

Another significant section is on climate change on a geological scale. Interesting, but nothing to do with human-induced global warming.

Where Plimer does tackle global warming he is wrong.

Assertions such as “[u]nderpinning the global warming and climate change mantra is the imputation that humans live on a non-dynamic planet”, are simply wrong. As should be apparent to anybody with even a mediocre knowledge of the science behind global warming. Do I even need to bother to find some references to demonstrate the incorrectness of this statement?

Plimer claim that a “24 year global coverage of satellite atmosphere temperatures shows only modest warming in the Northern Hemisphere and a slight cooling in the Southern Hemisphere” requires some pretty selective picking of data. There are four different analysis of the satellite data (this is a testament to the difficultly and uncertainties inherent in the satellite atmospheric record), Plimer has picked the one that best suits his case. Additionally, Plimer also gets it wrong. The slight cooling in the Southern Hemisphere, isn’t observed in the lower Troposphere, rather there is a slight warming trend – where the effects of extra CO2 are most felt. This might be good for ideology 101, but it sure isn’t science.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Ken,

Your response simply confirms that you’re an ideologue not an open-minded observer.

First, the relevance of long-term geological studies (and shorter-term proxy studies involving tree rings, ice cores etc) to claims of current man-made warming is well explained by Edward Cook (who with Jan Esper and Fritz Schweingruber last year published a peer-reviewed study which contradicts the 1999 Mann “hockey stick” study which you continually assert as definitive despite ongoing scientific debate, apparently because it suits your propaganda purpose):
“We don’t use this as a refutation of greenhouse warming,” Edward Cook told CBS News. “But it does show that there are processes within the Earth’s natural climate system that produce large changes that might be viewed as comparable to what we have seen in the 20th century. Greenhouse gases were not a factor back in the Medieval Warm Period.”
Plimer’s reference to warming advocates who seek to portray the earth as a non-dynamic system is clearly a somewhat hyperbolic reference to the Mann hockey stick, which arguably uses a variety of techniques (including arbitrarily halting his graph at 1000AD when data suggest that the peak of the Medieval Warm may have been around 950AD) in order to artificially suppress the amplitude of past climatic variability and permit the claim that the current warming is “unprecedented in the last 1000 years”. Esper et al argue (as do Baliunas and Soon) that the Medieval Warm Period was every bit as large as the current warming, and Plimer’s extension of the picture over a much longer period provides additional context: the current measured warming (especially if the satellite and radiosonde records are preferred, but in any event) is neither unprecedented nor especially large. That isn’t to say (at least on my part) that there isn’t a human-induced component in the current warming. However, the extent of the human component and the likelihood of future large temperature increases based on computer climate models remains very much in dispute, and not just by fringe ratbag scientists. You tend to claim a level of scientific consensus that simply doesn’t exist.

Plimer does indeed make an error in asserting that the southern hemisphere satellite record shows a slight cooling, when in fact it shows a miniscule warming (0.004 degrees C per decade), but seizing on such a tiny error and using it to suggest that the author’s entire argument is lacking in credibility is a typical ploy of an ideologically committed propagandist whose focus is on destroying opposing arguments rather than seeking the truth.

Lastly, you inject a throwaway line suggesting that Plimer has merely adopted one of 4 possible interpretations of the satellite data, namely the one that suits his conclusion. You carefully fail to mention that the Christy/Spencer record is by far the longest-standing, most credible rendering of satellite data. Because it contradicts that extreme global warming scare campaign (showing only very modest warming), it has come under sustained attack by global warming proponents, with a couple of “pro-warming” groups (notably Santer et al) recently devising alternative renderings of the satellite record which attempt to bring it into closer conformity with the surface mean. However, the Christy/Spencer satellite record closely matches (and is actually slightly higher than) aggregated radiosonde balloon records, which strongly tends to confirm the correctness of their approach. This article provides a clear, accessible explanation of this very current scientific argument:
For Santer and his team, this slams the door on the surface versus satellite temperature controversy. As they see it, temperature trends measured at the surface, in the lower-to-middle atmosphere, and derived from climate models now are in agreement about what has transpired over the last quarter century. For them, this means the models have been verified by observations and that the models now can be trusted to accurately project future climate. But Santer and his fellow researchers appear to have forgotten something: radiosonde data from weather-balloon observations of the atmospheric temperature show very little warming during the past twenty-five years. That data corroborates the UAH satellite-derived dataset.
To say Santer “forgot”

Murph
2022 years ago

Good stuff. Plimer wrote “Lying for God.” He sued some creationist in the Federal Court alleging misleading and deceptive conduct in trade or commerce. He lost, apparently because the court said preaching was not trade or commerce. Plimer had a $500,000 legal bill, so he wrote the book to recover some of his debts.

Good on him. Pity he wasn’t successful.

John
John
2022 years ago

Your description of the satellite data story is misleading. Christy et al originally claimed that it showed cooling, until it was pointed out (by Wentz and others) that they had failed to take account of orbital decay. When orbital decay is taken into account, there is an upward trend. Christy et al eventually conceded on this point, but came up with other adjustments that reduced the trend to statistical insignificance. The Wentz team has now come up with yet further adjustments that eliminate most of the discrepancy between the satellite and surface records. Given the past history, Wentz et a arel the ones with the best claim to have “the most credible rendering of the data”, and this rendering supports the global warming hypothesis.

Given the ambiguity of the satellite data, your argument amounts to relying on a handful of balloon measurements to bolster one interpretation of the satellites, which you’re then using to discredit surface observations derived from thousands of sites.

And, as usual, you impugn the motives of the vast majority of scientists who have looked at the same evidence and drawn the opposite conclusion to yours, while objecting violently to any suggestion of bias on the part of your own preferred experts.

Ken Miles
Ken Miles
2022 years ago

Murph, I was under the impression (but I’m not 100% sure of it) that Plimer wrote Lies prior to the lawsuit, so it can’t have been written to pay off debts (at least not lawsuit related debts).

Ken Miles
Ken Miles
2022 years ago

Ken, it’s good to see your carrying on your tradition of making incorrect assumptions about global warming, not bothering to do even a basic amount of research to see if they are correct, and then presenting them as fact.

When have I asserted that the Mann paper is definite? This is simply a fabrication on your part. I have no idea which reconstruction is better, and have never suggested that the Mann reconstruction is better than any other global or hemispheric reconstruction. The closest I have come to writing a overall review of the reconstruction data mentions the Esper paper (as well as the Mann paper), and makes no attempt to say which reconstruction is better (link).

Your criticisms of the Mann are also unfounded. For example, it’s ironic that you claim that Mann “arbitrarily halting his graph at 1000AD when data suggest that the peak of the Medieval Warm may have been around 950AD” – when he has recently extended his reconstruction to extend 2000 years backwards*. Had you bothered to read the paper which I based my criticisms of Soon and Baliunas’s work on, this would have been apparent (it also uses Esper’s reconstruction to build it’s case).

Since we are on the topic of not bothering to do some basic research, it’s pretty obvious that you haven’t read the Esper paper. Had you, it become apparent that the differences between the Mann and Esper reconstructions during the peak of the MWP are fairly minor (it’s during the little Ice Age that the reconstructions differ most). Eyeballing the graphs indicates that the difference is approx. 0.3 K, however, this is during a short sharp peak, which is unrepresentative of the MWP as a whole. The Esper paper, does however, containing larger error margins that the Mann paper, which leads it to having a potentially larger temperature than the Mann paper.

Likewise, had you read the paper, you would be aware that this statement; Esper et al argue (as do Baliunas and Soon) that the Medieval Warm Period was every bit as large as the current warming is false. To quote from the paper, …evidence for a large-scale MWP (sensu lato) has been reconstructed, and it approaches the magnitude of 20th-century warming in the NH up to 1990.

I assume that your statement “Plimer’s reference to warming advocates who seek to portray the earth as a non-dynamic system is clearly a somewhat hyperbolic reference to the Mann hockey stick” is a somewhat hyperbolic reference to Plimer telling an outright falsehood. Spin it whatever way you want (in that open minded way that you apparent have), but the Plimer’s statement is orthogonal to the truth.

Your next point is equally rubbish, I didn’t “seizing on such a tiny error and using it to suggest that the author’s entire argument is lacking in credibility is a typical ploy of an ideologically committed propagandist whose focus is on destroying opposing arguments rather than seeking the truth”. Maybe your weren’t paying attention, but my very incomplete critique was considerable larger than that one error.

As for the satellite data, as John points out, your description of the Christy data is rubbish. You failed to mention the huge errors associated with the radiosonde data (the errors are over an order of magnitude greater than the correlations), and that the correlation doesn’t exist at low altitudes where the balloons come very close to the ground data and very high altitudes (stratospheric).

To conclude, I’ll simply point out this. Despite being labeled as an “ideologue not an open-minded observer”, my position on the satellite data is this, there is no consensus over it, and because of the complexity involved in get trends out of the data, there is no current reliable way to determine which of the four reconstructions (if any) is correct. Ken P, on the other hand, despite labeling himself as open minded, is barracking for one particular reconstruction.

* Global surface temperatures over the past two millennia by M. E. Mann, P. D. Jones. Geophysical Research Letters, vol 30, pg 1820. 2003.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

I DO intend providing a detailed response to both Ken Miles’ and John Quiggin’s comments. However it probably won’t be until late this evening. I’m going for a long bike ride now, followed by an intensive stint watching the NRL grand final.

Dano
Dano
2022 years ago

I wonder if I should come back in a few days for that detailed response…

D

Dano
Dano
2022 years ago

Hmmm…still looking for that detailed response. Must be very detailed and thoroughly researched.

D

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Yes Dano, it is detailed and researched, as well as rather long. And it’s taking me quite a while to finish, too. But some of us actually have other things to do in our lives than just write blog posts for the idle amusement of brainless barrackers. Watch this space.

mark
2022 years ago

Excuse me, Ken, but my amusement is anything BUT idle!

Good response :-)

Dano
Dano
2022 years ago

Mite testy, eh?

Make sure you use the Vinnikov and Grody paper in the latest Science (269-272), Ken, to bolster your satellite case. You know, the one that doesn’t contradict the rising trop height as some other satellite studies do.

If you need some help tracking down the timing of the periodicity of the N Pac stepwise functions, Ken, let me know too – you’ll need them to compare conditions and relate increases in surface temps.

And if you need some references to show that actual scientists believe that earth is a non-dynamic system, I can help you there too…er…wait. No I can’t. That’s a strawman. Never mind.

Anyway, looking forward to your defending ‘grafting’, Ken. So I can barrack it.

D

Ken Miles
Ken Miles
2022 years ago

Dano,

Just be fair, to the best of my knowlege Ken P, has never used the term “grafting” in relation to the Mann reconstruction.

Dano
Dano
2022 years ago

Thanks Ken – that wasn’t meant to be a direct quote. My fault for that misunderstanding:

In my experience you can’t support the ‘hockey stick’ without falling for the view it was ‘grafted’; after all, that is the basis of Daly’s “Hockey Stick”.

I’d be happy to be corrected in this supposition.

D

David Mebane
David Mebane
2022 years ago

The only thing that an outside observer gathers from the preceeding exchange is that there’s no consensus, and that the science on whether the earth actually is heating up remains uncertain.

However, what one cannot argue with is the fact that humans now produce much more CO2 than they ever have. We would be foolish not to assiduously and continuously explore the consequences of this, and as mentioned (and evidenced by the posts), the evidence is far from resolved by the scientific community. In the midst of confusion, should we continue to ramp up CO2 emissions, unabated? Or should we settle on some relatively inexpensive compromise policy that will begin to protect against unforseen consequences in warming, while at the same time reducing our economic dependence on fuel supplies and *undoubtedly* reducing pollutants in the atmosphere?

I’m sure that all would agree that if global warming is a problem, absolute scientific assurance will come too late to manage it. Then what?