Getting climate change and asbestos wrong

You’d think that there had been enough pop science articles about climate change for even the thickest journalists to have grasped that “global warming” is

  • short-hand for complicated climatic processes, more accurately referred to as anthropogenic climate change, which don’t necessarily involve warming in any given place. (For instance, the diversion of the Gulf Stream could make the UK colder.)
  • not specifically identifiable in any given day’s or year’s temperatures in any particular place. Climate is not necessarily the same as weather

I assume that Christopher Booker is not a complete fool. He’s expensively educated, and he studied at Cambridge. So, it’s hard to see why he’s spreading ideas as confused as those in his Telegraph article, where seems imply that climate change is pretty well only “global warming” and the fact that some Russian measurements are wrong makes it all false anyway. (I paraphrase)

The world has never seen such freezing heat
A surreal scientific blunder last week raised a huge question mark about the temperature records that underpin the worldwide alarm over global warming. On Monday, Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), which is run by Al Gore’s chief scientific ally, Dr James Hansen, and is one of four bodies responsible for monitoring global temperatures, announced that last month was the hottest October on record.(from the Telegraph)

Oh dear, Christopher, the point really isn’t whether a given month is “hot”.

How can you explain this to someone who believes that it is somehow discrediting Al Gore’s arguments to mention Al Gore’s name in the context that someone he knows has been misled by being supplied with a handful of duff numbers?

The science is too difficult for me to understand, but I’m pretty confident that it rests on millions of different types of observations, over many years and all parts of the world. And the work has been analysed and peer-reviewed by legions of climate scientists.

So, it’s not actually proven. (And, granted that my own assessment that the climate has changed dramatically over my lifetime, let alone Christopher Booker’s, is anecdotal.) But there seems to be such a serious weight of evidence to support it, it would be pretty dumb to imagine it is contradicted by one month’s error figures.

Pretty well as dumb as this complete misunderstanding of the evidence on asbestosis, for example, on the basis of some spuriously-qualified scientist :

Booker’s articles in The Daily Telegraph on asbestos and also on global warming have been challenged by George Monbiot in an article in The Guardian newspaper
Booker’s scientific claims, which include the false assertion that white asbestos (chrysotile) is “chemically identical to talcum powder” were analysed in detail by Richard Wilson in his book Don’t Get Fooled Again (2008).
Wilson also highlighted Christopher Booker’s repeated endorsement of the alleged scientific expertise of John Bridle, who has claimed to be “the world’s foremost authority on asbestos science”, but who in 2005 was convicted under the UK’s Trade Descriptions Act of making false claims about his qualifications, and who the BBC has accused of basing his reputation on “lies about his credentials, unaccredited tests, and self aggrandisement”.(from the Criticism section of Brooker’s Wikipedia entry)

Deny this

Climate change denialists have yet another serious piece of evidence to  ignore.

The work was produced through a collaboration of the Global Carbon Project, University of East Anglia and British Antarctic Survey. Studies of ice cores found that levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide were rising at a rate that is about a third higher than was predicted only half a dozen years ago.

This increasing rate is not seen as due to an increase in emissions but to an apparently failing planetary capacity to soak up the excess. This is a very depressing finding, suggesting that it might soon be too late to do anything to solve the problem.

The study suggests that

….18% came from a decline in the natural ability of land and oceans to soak up CO2 from the atmosphere.
About half of emissions from human activity are absorbed by natural “sinks” but the efficiency of these sinks has fallen, the study suggests. (From the BBC report of the study)

If you can understand it, the dry pre-publication abstract is available at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences website

Baseless Creationist Arguments Find a New Home

Blimey, yesterday, Heather wrote about some empty nonsense being spouted by a blog on the atheist blogroll. In a nutshell, Tom Stelene, writing on the Al-Kafir Akbar blog, has spent a few days recently, ranting about how environmentalism is a “secular religion,” how global warming is a scam, how people who care about about the environment are dirt worshippers and so on. Over the last few days, Heather, Blacksun Journal and Salient have drawn attention to the nonsense he spouts.

Sunrise in AutumnTom Stelene has tried a comeback blast with a post titled “Deniers” (Blog Action Day Continues), and it is well worth reading if only to see the logical holes presented as “argument” and the good rebuttals from BlackSun and Salient. They have both done an excellent job of taking his nonsense to task.

Not being grown up enough to be bothered engaging in reasoned debate, I am simply going to point out some of the more obvious bits of nonsense Tom has turned into bits on the internet. Fisking is fun. If we start with the opening paragraph:

Amidst the latest politically-correct trend of environmentalists to throw out the smear, “global warming deniers,” I sense that by and large they probably have little familiarity with the science and reasoning as to why some deny “global warming” – as most narrow-minded religionists are unfamiliar with the reasons and arguments of atheists – or, better still: “God-deniers.”

Sunrise in Autumn 2By Toutatis, that is a difficult sentence to read. It is completely meaningless but it is still difficult to read. It makes a single attempt at a real claim and, personally, I doubt that this (basic) claim is true. If he is saying, as it seems to read, that his detractors have little understanding as to the science about why the detractors deny global warming. After the headache (caused by trying to resolve this tortured line of attribution) cleared, I decided he must be talking about the psychological reasoning as to why some people will pathologically deny the evidence which is presented to them and disproportionately give value to the minority evidence which can be interpreted as arguing against the mainstream. I am sure that there is a term for people who evince this weird behavioural trait, but I am not a psychologist so I have no idea. Generally, most of the people who do this seem to be arguing for the creationist brand of woo.

After I realised where I had seen this idiotic type of “argument” before, it suddenly became clear that pretty much all of Tom’s “arguments” against AGW fall from the Intelligent Design is Science school of idiocy. Blimey. Loki must have been having a field day letting this one out into humanity.

Tom claims his area of expertise is philosophy, so we can look at the first type of argument he uses and critique it with a philosophical point of view attached.

Swan in flight - Vignette addedOne of his oft-repeated claims is that those who advocate action to combat human-influenced climate change are following a “secular religion” – he uses such entertaining terms as “dirt worshippers” and so on. All very clever. This is the same as the ID / Creationist claims that “Darwinism” is a religion. The reality however is different.

Religion, in its normal use of the term, tends to mean people are holding to a belief either without any evidence or will hold to the belief in the face of evidence to the contrary. In keeping with the creationists, Tom holds to his beliefs without any evidence and retains the belief in the face of contrary evidence. Yet he still claims it is his detractors who are holding to a religion. Yeah, seems odd to me as well.

The next issue I have with his claims is, still in keeping with the creationist ideal, the idea that the isolated – often badly interpreted – data which may be interpreted as contradicting Anthropogenic Global Warming is so significant and Earth shattering it means more than the mountains of data which support AGW. Here Tom shows he doesn’t understand science – something he freely admits – and really should try to learn some more before demonstrating his ignorance. The fact of the matter is there is nearly always some data published which can be interpreted as contradicting a scientific theory.

Little Burrowing MammalMost of the time this data is the result of experimental issues – poorly designed experiments, mistaken conclusions, equipment issues and so on – but some times the data is valid and does pose a contradiction. What happens next is part of the broader scientific method – something Tom seems to neglect – the data is double checked, additional experiments are conducted and, if it is verified and repeated, the theory is adjusted to account for the new information. Despite the greatest wishes (and prayers) of the creationists, isolated findings do not count as evidential falsification. Likewise, Tom has fallen into the layperson’s trap of finding isolated contrary reports and attributing to these much greater weight than they deserve.

Here is a quick quiz question: If 99 reports conclude humans are responsible for climate change and one doesn’t, which should you go with?

The most blatant example of Creationist-Inspired woo-nonsense comes in this little gem:

Precisely because science is not my area (that being philosophy) I have to carefully consider both sides, and for some twenty years as a curious observer (if man causes global environmental problems I obviously want to know) I have read and listened to environmentalist claims – which get plenty of publicity – yet the science that challenges them gets ignored.

Chimpanzee on a TreeThis is seriously worthy of some further examination. It reeks of the same lack of understanding which tries to push ID into the classroom. There are not “two sides” to the argument (if anything there are dozens), so considering “both sides” is meaningless. In the past, I have commented on the debate problem which creates the illusion there are “both sides” regarding evolutionary theory. It seems the same fallacy applies with regards to AGW.

The idea that some one completely ignorant of the methodology and theories of climate science can accurately assess the validity of any competing theories (and there are dozens) is interesting – strictly speaking the layperson can go through the published data and draw their own conclusions, but the chances of that conclusion being a valid expression of the reality are not great. It would be better for Tom to say that, because science is not his area he would be better off listening to the scientific consensus.

For my, cynical, mindset, the reason why he has not gone down this route is borne out by the last part of that sentence. It reeks of the conspiracy-theories pushed by all kinds of deviant scientists.

“…yet the science that challenges them gets ignored.”

Utter nonsense. The “science” that challenges the various AGW theories is not “ignored” by any stretch of the imagination. Where science does challenge the theory it is investigated – sadly most of the claims of “science” which challenges turn out to be bad science at best. This, as with most of Tom’s arguments, is straight from the ID School of non-science. When people from wildly unrelated scientific disciplines (at best, often it is complete non-scientists) write a pile of nonsense about Evolution / AGW, it is quite rightly ignored. The pro-ID / Anti-AGW crowd then pick on this nonsense and scream about some hidden cabal who are suppressing the “alternative theories.” Total nonsense.

If some one can prove AGW is false they will be in line for the Nobel, along with all the people who can invent perpetual motion machines, prove ID, falsify GR, falsify SR etc., etc.,

Until then, science is science. You can rail against the findings all you want, but remember it is akin to shouting at the sun that your “research” shows it should be dark…

Phat city?

In an enthusiastic, if last-minute bid for a Nobel-prize, the UK Health secretary claims that fatness is as great a threat as climate change.

Must try harder, Alan Johnson.

Unless of course, Mr Johnson is implying that all the fat people in the UK will do something along the lines of knocking the Earth out of its normal orbital path, plunging it into months of unbearable heat, followed by months of intolerable cold.

To be honest, I doubt this is likely. I think that Alan Johnson is just trying to get some media attention by slinging empty soundbites around, if he gets to re-direct some public funds then it is just a bonus for him… Am I too cynical?

Gore, Nobel Prize and the BBC…

On the BBC editors’ blog, Craig Oliver discussed Al Gore’s Nobel prize, in the context of the BBC’s decision to lead Wednesday’s night’s news with a judge’s ruling that there were 9 errors of fact in “An inconvenient truth.”

Oliver says the Nobel prize is “controversial” as the award raises the question “What does climate change have to do with world peace?”

Well Craig, there’s this little thing called an ecosystem. All our lives depend on it. When it gets too damaged to support life, we are going to have to fight over the dwindling store of global life -supporting goodness.

I’m not a judge or a scientist, so I would have thought that 9 “errors” was about normal for a documentary. It’s a truism that, if you know about any topic, you will always find any media reports about that topic to be full of gaping holes.

I would have thought, in this context, that a more suitable topic for the BBC News to consider would be why would anyone spend the enormous sums required to take such a case to the High Court to stop schools showing a documentary? Hadn’t they thought of contacting the school or the local education committee, if they were that stressed about it?

How much did this little exercise cost “school governor Stewart Dimmock, from Dover, a father of two, who is a member of the New Party.”?

The judge awarded Mr Dimmock two-thirds of his estimated legal costs of more than £200,000, against the government.

Are there many parents/school governors out there who are so rich beyond the dreams of avarice that they will spend a sum that would take about 15 years to earn at a minimum wage rate on telling teachers what documentaries they can show in schools?

The New Party? Who are these legally minded philanthropists? Given the sums of money at their disposal, cosying up to them looks like almost as canny a financial move as a brief marriage to a former Beatle.

Biblical rain and Gods

As a mild, but boring – hence homeopathic – antidote to boredom, you can look in Wikipedia to find out what saints are attributed to any given day. (Today there is a preponderance of German saints, for example. Plus, it was Haile Selassie’s birthday.)

Somewhat appropriately, given the recent Biblical-style rain and floods – nay, Floods – experienced in parts of the UK, China and USA, today also appears to be the date of the Roman Nepturnalia – celebrations for Neptune (the Roman sea god, do keep up.)

While we are increasingly being brought to face the reality of climate instability, there are enough people willing to try to influence the weather by ritual means that the devotees of Neptune could fit right in unnoticed.

This was a really great news item and photo. As an inspired publicity stunt for the new Simpsons movie, a giant cartoon Homer, holding aloft a doughnut, was drawn next to the Cerne Abbas giant.

Rent-a-pagans were quick to get in on the story, for the sidestream publicity benefits. (They’ve got a district manager. They must need a serious revenue stream.)

Ann Bryn-Evans, joint Wessex district manager for The Pagan Federation, said: “We were hoping for some dry weather but I think I have changed my mind.
“We’ll be doing some rain magic to bring the rain and wash it away.”
She added: “I’m amazed they got permission to do something so ridiculous. It’s an area of scientific interest.”

(Yes, people who claim to believe that they can influence the weather by their magical actions are saying that the giant Homer is ridiculous.)

Well I think they can claim overkill success on this one. Although praying for rain in the current UK is like praying for continuing war in Iraq. I.e. your prayers are answered before you’ve got the first words out.

Most people who aren’t Native Americans might feel that conducting communal rituals to influence the movement of clouds and air and water is just an example of doing something/anything to feel less pathetically weak against forces that are more powerful than us by several orders of magnitude. It’s not likely that massive air masses are going to be swayed by a good ululation. It might make you feel better, but only if you suspend rationality.

(It’s obviously still more rational than praying for interference by the creator of the universe though. If there were such a being, and s/he shared human thinking processes about guilt or innocence, we’d be pretty far down the deserving-a-miracle list, having brought this on ourselves, despite having the Free Will gift. There must be beings in Alpha Centauri facing going down a galactic plughole to worry about first.)

The rational response to climate chaos is to change our lifestyles, en masse, at a social level and hope it’s not too late. Well, that doesn’t appear to be going to happen does it?

Well, Plan A, then. Pay loads of lipservice to the issue. Come up with “ecological” solutions that create new products for us to consume and new waste mountains. Devise carbon crediting ideas that noone can understand and that actually reward countries with ancient forests for ripping them down and replacing them with fresh young trees. Solutions that monetise everything then treat money as the key to the solution, so that the poor end up paying the most anyway.

This will let our societies carry on spending our resources like a drunken sailor in a new port, with 6 month’s pay and a terminal illness. As if none of us really expect to have any great-grandchildren. Bit of a short-term solution though.

In the meantime, better put either or both of Plans B and C into operation then. You start believing there’s a needy and insecure but easily-pissed off human being that’s bigger and stronger than the earth’s atmosphere who can smite it into submission or will beam us all up to heaven if you are just adequately sycophantic. I’ll start knocking up a really big boat and collecting a couple of samples of any life that come within my reach. It’s worked before, allegedly.

I dont like rain

Not wishing to rub it in to all the people who are discovering that “Global Warming” is a misnomer that only survived because it is more “catchy” than Human Influenced Climate Change and certainly not wishing to disparage the suffering and loss people are sustaining as a result of the widespread floods in the UK, I thought it would be nice to share a holiday snap taken today:

Holiday Snapshot

You see there are places in the world where it is not raining! [tags]Photos, Photographs, Holiday, Sun, Climate Change, Global Warming, Seaside, Nikon, D80[/tags]

Good diagrams, shame about the message

BBC diagrams about climate change and greenhouse gases are really good. No matter how science-challenged you are the messages are easy to understand.

This accompanies a page that says that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is about to release a report suggesting that the science supports the view that climate change will soon lead to mass extinctions, as well as have some pretty dire effects on human society.

It had me wondering about scepticism. Is there some connection between a willingness to evaluate evidence and be swayed by it and being an atheist. It seems that generally atheists are more likely to look at the proof. Does being a non-believer in gods make people more ready to believe the science?

Those people who refuse to accept the evidence on climate change or evolution or the role of HIV in AIDS, or a number of scientific issues, are often the very people who have the strongest belief in God, to the point of willfully pushing it onto others. Continue reading

More on the Weather

Old Sarum 1 - 25 Nov 06 - ThumbnailA while ago I posted about how “uncommonly warm” the weather was for February. This got me thinking about the recent weather in general, and it seems fairly safe for me to say that despite the one or two days where it was cold enough to snow it has been very warm this winter.

As some more examples, this is a picture taken at Old Sarum on 25 Nov 06. Although you cant see how warm it is, trust me it was warm – and English Heritage sites such as this are not known for their nice climate…

Normally, when you visit an English Heritage site which dates back to the iron age it is like taking a holiday in a fridge. Only windier and colder.

Old Sarum Picture 2 - ThumbnailThis year, it has been very different. The weather has been nice all winter, the skys have been clear and while there has been a fair bit of rain, it has not been anything major. The sun, on the other hand, has been brilliant.

Now I am not going to make the same mistake as last time, so I wont joke about the “joy” of Global Warming, but having such a nice, warm winter has been…. fun…