Saturday, July 26, 2014

Roy Spencer, an Exhibit that Climate Change Refuters Might Heavily Question, and the Real Climate Change Discussion

Roy Spencer is not a scientist.  He plays one on T.V. And, less satirically, in the News.

In the real world, Scientist Roy Spencer has a repeated history of errors. Yet his errors are not random, as would be expected if someone were merely trying to study an issue and figure out what is, or what might, be going on.

Instead, every single one of Spencer's known errors has followed the pattern of always serving to make a weaker case for the phenomenon casually, if a little simplistically, referred to as Climate Change.

Statistically, this is mildly remarkable.  Yet, as it turns out, it's not a coincidence.
I would wager that my job has helped save our economy from the economic ravages of out-of-control environmental extremism.
It's okay to have whatever view one wants on environmental issues. But not to use that view to always manufacture results to fit a pre-determined pattern: so much so that other scientists stop paying attention to Spencer as a scientist.

Kevin Trenberth, a leading atmospheric scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (via email to Climateprogress):
I have read the paper. I can not believe it got published. Maybe it got through because it is not in a journal that deals with atmospheric science much?
Andrew Dessler, professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University (emphasis added):
You would think, if you have a scientific history of being wrong on so many issues, you would have a little bit of humility before claiming you've overturned scientific evidence yet again.
Dessler also suggested (via email to Climateprogress)
Spencer’s “paper is not really intended for other scientists, since they do not take him seriously anymore (he’s been wrong too many times).”
Yet the media, does. And to a fairly high, degree, unfortunately. Such as, for instance, Yahoo News, a major source of public news and information, which also unfortunately published an enormously headlined article (penned by an anti Climate Change ideologue no less), that was then relied upon by countless other news related sites as well as advocacy organizations, based on a study so flawed that the editor of the journal who published it apologized and resigned due to the level of mistake involved for a peer reviewed journal.

Media wise, where was the story about the mistakes?

As pointed out in a comment to Real Climate's refutation of the piece itself:
Despite your superb dissection, the paper was wildly successful. And it has nothing to do with its scientific worth. This was another PR assault masquerading as a serious science paper. 
It garnered terrific publicity in Fox, Forbes and other Murdoch outlets. It further stoked the emotional embers of confusion and doubt in the public. Politicians and climate policy wonks can wield and wave this one.
People are getting assaulted by heat waves, droughts and floods. It succeeded wonderfully in distracting attention and feeding the hunger for pseudo validation of magical thinking. Some will fiercely refuse to accept anthropogenic climate change – no matter what the evidence or science.
Yet Yahoo news, and Forbes, ran a story with a huge gaping hole headline, that even somehow manages to refer to climate scientists not as scientists, but as "alarmists" (multiple times even, in a piece that, with numerous other errors, looks more like a caricature of reporting than actual reporting, but was published as "actual" reporting), based on a scientific study so flawed that the editor of the journal who published it apologized and resigned due to the level of mistake involved.

Spencer's theory in the paper, and in support of the sensationalist national news headline it seemed designed to foment, was kind of a wacky one: Clouds drive warming, rather than serve as a response to it.

To contend that something that is short lived and always changing nevertheless drives climate, and that the far more long term, stable, and direct influences upon it (long term ocean temperatures, which have been consistently rising, a change in solar radiation, or a change in the long term atmospheric absorption and re radiation of heat) would not drive climate, seems backward.

While at the same time, the paper itself was a somewhat circular attempt to explain away recent warm ambient temperatures as coincidental to the longer term trend of more than 100 years now, and thus having little to do with the increased retention of radiated heat by the atmosphere. This interpretation was reached even though any such cloud cover response would reflect shorter term cloud patterns that may or may not be affected by the broader climate direction, rather than vice-versa, as Spencer postulated, yet with no real scientific basis or explanation.

Unfortunately, it received large attention in terms of (misleadingly) poking holes in basic climate change understanding, and very little attention in terms of the far more relevant story here: It was a highly erroneous paper - one which was "most likely problematic in both"  "fundamental error" and "false claims," that nevertheless lead to much headline and news confusion, and public mis-perception on the issue, that followed a similar pattern from the same author that nevertheless continues to make big time news.

There was also frustration about this among some scientists. NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt:
If you want to do a story then write one pointing to the ridiculousness of people jumping onto every random press release as if well-established science gets dismissed on a dime," Schmidt said. "Climate sensitivity is not constrained by the last two decades of imperfect satellite data, but rather the paleoclimate record.
That is, really, the story, as there seems to be some confusion in the media over what Climate Change refers to as well. It more accurately refers to the long term geologic history of earth, and the recent rapid additions to the long lived concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, to levels not collectively seen in at least several million years; and the expected, if somewhat uncertain, range of likely and even severe changes to longer term climate in response.

But, theory aside, what about the fundamental mistakes in Spencer's paper and its grand claims, and the continued pattern of one sided mistakes that always seem to try and discredit climate science? (Which, again, mistake wise is fine; but the pattern of mistakes always in the same direction, is not.)

Why the mistakes? Possibly because Spencer views himself more...
Like a legislator, supported by the taxpayer, to protect the interests of the taxpayer and to minimize the role of government. 
The unfortunate thing for informed public discussion and information on this issue is that he is not a legislator.  He is a scientist. Yet apparently acting like a legislator by constantly coming up with formulations designed specifically to achieve a predetermined policy role.  This is near the opposite of science.

As is this:
Like the Nazis, they advocate the supreme authority of the state (fascism), which in turn supports their scientific research to support their cause (in the 1930s, it was superiority of the white race).
Re-quoted in the Guardian, Spencer wrote the quote above in a blog piece that was letting of steam at being labeled a climate change "denier," yet also in an update to the same piece frighteningly claimed that redress of climate change will "kill far more people than the Nazi's ever did": an odious comparison, one based on wild speculation that seems to have no basis in anything, nor (but trivially in comparison) much faith in long term macroeconomics or ourselves as people. (As if our ability to be industrious and thrive and work and grow is based not on our ability to be industrious and thrive and work and grow, but only on cheap oil.)

It is also a claim that, even as exaggeration, juxtaposed next to the still uncertain but far less wildly speculated threats that increasing melt and warming poses, would be humorous if it wasn't really anything but, funny. And it also may be a statement for the ages, as future generations, wondering why we continued compounding any long term climate affect of an already somewhat radically long term atmospheric change, rather than seek to mitigate and ameliorate, can look back, and groan in disbelief.

In somewhat of an inherent contradiction, not to mention further irony, Spencer also labels others who are "sure" (aka, they believe) that our radical alteration of the atmosphere presents a significant risk of fairly severe future climatic shifts, as being "extreme." Thus also labeling the majority to great majority of professional climate scientists or atmospheric physicists who have professionally studied the issue, not as "wrong," but as "extreme," which is almost to castigate the practice of science itself, or nearly everyone practicing it.

This is particularly ill thought out, given that most who are assessing these risks aren't completely sure of anything in terms of specific affect, which is the whole point here - and what has been clung to, in order to disparage any concern, as well as most general climate science, in the first place.  Yet on the other hand, the inability to perfectly model almost the exact path that climate alteration takes, over a geologically super short term, is repeatedly if mistakenly used to then discredit the basic idea that the idea of a risk of such alteration even exists in the first place. When the two are separate concepts. The basis for the risk is the geologic record along with multi million year and still rising atmospheric alterations, further corroborated by geologically short term (i.e,the past 100 years or so), if not fully probative, observation.  Models are an attempt to further quantify and predict something which, the shorter the term, the more unpredictable.

Scientists, not thinking of the context of misunderstanding that they are furthering, then nevertheless frequently utter such absent minded statements that in affect amount to, "Gosh, I''m frustrated, I wonder why we can't model this perfectly in advance."

Here's why: Because it's climate. It's over a long period of time. And knowing the precise parameters of any long term shift, or change to what was already a largely random system to begin with, and upon what exact pace, path and pattern those parameters may change - when again some of that pattern is subject to natural climate variability no matter what, as well as probably even more variability inherent over the geologic short term in responding to the massive external forcing which our atmospheric alteration represents - is probably next to impossible, save by luck, until after such time as it has happened.

It doesn't mean that over time we can't get closer, as we get more and more data and more understanding. But climate models' inability to predict exactly 1) how much change 2) per X unit of time, has been repeatedly mistaken as an inability to then predict the far more important, general response or even likely response. On which, climate models have been repeatedly spot on.   In other words, we and models can (generally) predict what type of effect and over what general range, but not exactly the effect, and not over the exact range. And models have repeatedly done the former, while shooting, of course, for the latter.

Yet in contrast with the assessment of risk that includes a range of uncertainty, Spencer's "non extreme" view is founded upon the fairly "sure" idea that something of multi million year potential - in terms of the basic change in the atmospheric absorption and re radiation of heat that over time would build up heat in our oceans and permafrost and ice sheets - nevertheless represents no real risk of altering the climate in a way that would be ho hum for the earth, but potentially enormous for us. Thus, in a bit of a flip flop, extremists are those who think this poses significant risk. Non extremist "pragmatists," are those that somehow know it somehow, likely does not.

Such an analysis essentially castigates any view that assesses "risk," of anything, under any scenario, as extreme, and in essence undermines, or completely misconstrues the entire concept of "risk" to begin with, rendering it a non factor. That is, there is either known certainty. Or the condition, the threat, the need or sensible argument for response, doesn't exist.  "Risk," in essence, no longer exists.

On this same general sort of reasoning also hinges the climate change "skepticism" idea that current changes in our temperature, which reflect non unprecedented but, statistically, far out of the ordinary century long term upward trending changes in ambient global temperatures, are not caused by what is often called "AGW," simply because it is "possible" that they are not.

But it is far more likely that they are. Thus the fact they "could" otherwise have occurred on their own, is not evidence that Climate Change is not real. If anything, the fact that earth has responded in the general pattern - and one that over at least the last several millennium, even though it is likely still early in this process, somewhat stands out - is evidence that what we would expect to start to have an affect (increasing atmospheric re radiation of heat on a scale not seen for a very long time here on earth), is in fact starting to have such affect.

Yet labeling current changes, "natural" as non climate expert George Will, for example, does here, simply because it is possible, although extremely unlikely, that the current change would have simply happened in this direction and to this degree over a century plus of time on its own, doesn't make a lot of sense. It does not serve as evidence (let alone refute, as it is often used) for the idea that our atmospheric alteration is not already starting to somewhat impact the climate. It is just evidence for the idea that the earth "might have" moved this way on its own anyway; even though odds wise, the chances are extremely low, while the chances that increasing atmospheric re-radiation would not over time simultaneously have an increasingly significant effect, lower still.

Spencer also questions the very idea of a large climate science majority.  For instance, back in May of this year, he co-authored a piece in the WSJ arguing there really is no predominant consensus; one that, not surprisingly, is misleading. Spencer's coauthor on the piece? Joe Bast, who founded and heads an institute to discredit climate science. Bast, who is not publishing scientific papers - unlike Spencer, who is - but yet also views his role as that of a legislator, seems, like Spencer, to also be driven not by the science of the matter, but of the speculated societal or governmental response to the science. Which, also, is not science, but wholly separate from it. Yet which is serving to further misinformation on the science, or serve toward a biased analysis of it. For instance:
Bast says it is only natural that a libertarian like him would decide to question the scientific foundation for climate change. Getting serious about global warming means implementing government regulation, going after industry, raising taxes, interfering in markets — all anathema to a conservative agenda.
All that is well and good. But attacking climate science in anyway possible, as a means to an end, rather than as part of that science itself, is leading to a lot of confusion and misunderstanding on the part of the public.  And on the part of those seeking to discredit science - particularly in the highly polarized, and polarizing, self reinforcing, insular world of the Internet, where in groups with almost the same perspective, alternative ideas or perspectives not only get drowned out, but spurned; often derisively.

But what of this fear of redress, that prompts Spencer, in frustrated moments, to ridiculously assert that his critics want simply to support the Supreme Authority of the State (which this blog argues heavily against, even protecting the right to purposefully misinform on an issue that many Climate Scientists and policy advocates will do great future harm to mankind simply to protect a short term interest in profits).

What of the idea of redress - is it radical, or as Henry Paulson, former Treasury Secretary Under George W. Bush specifically writes- radical not to?

What of the idea of redress itself, or merely the consideration of what the best approaches might be? The very thing that prompts Joseph Bast, a self described former hippie who wanted to "live off the land" (the continuity being that Bast is still radical, albeit in a different direction), to try and discredit climate science in the first place. And that Roy Spencer, playing scientist not just on T.V., but in real life, joins him on.

By labeling views, even if in frustration, that he disagrees with as "Nazism," Spencer of course relegates all perspectives that anybody might have on any issue that would involve our government, "Nazism."  Anything the government does, thus - again the excess, and counterproductive seeming hysteria of this extreme term aside - could be so similarly termed. And everybody who exists, who ever had an opinion (unless that opinion was one of sheer anarchy, or no government at all), so similarly termed.

But what of the more general role of the government, which is invariably playing a role in the debate. What is reasonable?

Is it reasonable to want to protect our society, and our people and our kids from something they can not otherwise avoid, and maybe they should have some sort of right or option to be able to avoid - pollution - or in this case our society and our future generations from the potentially society and world damaging affect of what would be, to us, a radical climate shift to hotter, far more volatile, and intense, weather with increasingly rising oceans, until a new stases is reached?

The EPA was started under non Nazi Richard Nixon.  Protection of the earth used to be a basic Republican Party tenet, and as the Republican Party started moving to the right, it somehow got lost in a sea of anti-government rhetoric.

Yet government is nothing but us, managing our affairs in the world, that we share and interact upon. What it does or should do is a matter of some debate with widely varying opinions depending on subject, and specific contexts. But in terms of having some form of government, as opposed to absolutely no rule or law, and thus pure anarchy,  what basic purposes should government serve? What can not be addressed through even the most idealistic of anarchistic intentions?

Possibly these three, maybe a couple more.  But these three are all by definition collective, and unavoidably so:  National Defense. Justice. And the protection of that which we both must share, and can not avoid sharing. Namely, our environment. Once thought of as "limitless," this is a newer addition. And because of this, it is often mistakenly confused with the notion of "big government."

But big government is not that which we must collectively solve and or protect - harm to the very air we breathe, or possible radical threats to our very long term climate itself through inadvertent yet geologically intense alteration to the long lived nature of our blanketing atmosphere. Big government is how we choose to respond to the few, true, real collective challenges that we do face; most sensibly assessed, through honest, responsive examination, analysis, study, discussion and debate. Just as with every other issue and policy choice we face.

This blog for instance, as one main idea, has argued for sensible climate change redress, and in what is suggested here, in the least intrusive way possible. Former Bush Administration Treasury Secretary Paulson advocates a reasonably similar view:
The solution can be a fundamentally conservative one that will empower the marketplace to find the most efficient response.
Others may call for for intrusive action, such as allocations or certain prohibitions; which if no action is taken, ironically, will almost inevitably occur after a period of particularly bad weather or very bad short term climate, and people really start to get concerned or worse over it. It's also a view to address what most climate scientists who professionally study the issue call a possible to probable enormous future - and at that point largely irreversible, and ongoing, problem.

Those who claim the science is unsettled or action is too costly are simply trying to ignore the problem. ... The nature of a crisis is its unpredictability....waiting for more information before acting — is actually taking a very radical risk.
The problem is that the only way to know what the total affect of this problem is, will be after the fact. If (when) larger and larger amounts of ice start to melt - a pattern that is already slowly starting - the earth's albedo decreases, and more and more solar radiation is not reflected harmlessly back out to space, but heats the earth even more, giving off even more thermal radiation (when the earth does become cooler than the air), the process will be self reinforcing, and probably unstoppable, until a new relatively stable "stases" is reached.  One that will almost undoubtedly be far different from the very narrow range are used to. This is called belief. But it's also based upon, as Gavin Schmidt puts it, the Paleoclimate record, and our additions to the atmosphere, that don't get turned off and on as molecules, but, there, in the atmosphere, act as they are bound by physics and chemistry, to do.

The idea or assertion that it nevertheless won't, often accompanied by great derision of the "belief" in climate change, and asserted as based upon science (essentially meaning the absence of full proof before an event occurs) is also a belief, and perhaps a more basic one. (Further entangled, or even created by, the otherwise wholly separate issue of concerns over its redress.)

As Lindsay Abrams, writing in the detailed article in Salon linked above, puts it:
Many of the effects of climate change are already being felt; the more serious effects, however, are still a way’s off. There is no one consensus on just how soon they’ll occur, and how bad they’ll be, because science, not being in the business of making prophecies, is not able to say with absolute certainty just what’s going to happen in the future. What science can do, however, is identify patterns that may lead to future risks, and then help us understand just how urgently we need to be thinking about mitigating those risks
Scientist Spencer, however views this very same view so well articulated by Abrams, as "extremist," of being "sure," when it is instead identifying a range, and general possibility of risk based upon radical atmospheric change and long term geologic history. (And, though it doesn't "prove" anything, some further corroboration in the fact that the Climate is generally changing, in the direction predicted, and, if not uniquely, somewhat unusually so in terms of recent geologic history.) 

Yet Spencer himself is nevertheless sure that while it's really not so certain what will happen, he is pretty certain that rapidly changing the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gas molecules to levels not seen on earth in several million years (and still rapidly rising) through fairly specific, identifiable, and changeable patterns, will nevertheless not unduly affect our "Goldilocks" climate. And that those that don't agree with this assessment - the great majority of those who have professionally studied the issue, are "extremists."

Possibly another reason for this, as referenced in the Guardian, is that (emphasis added):
Spencer is also on the advisory board of the Cornwall Alliance, a group with 'An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming' claiming that "Earth and its ecosystems—created by God's intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence —are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory." The declaration also has a section on "What We Deny," and Spencer recently wrote in The Christian Post,
...we deny "that most [current climate change] is human-caused, and that it is a threat to future generations that must be addressed by the global community." Spencer
There is nothing nothing for the earth to correct, let alone to support the view that the earth is "self regulating." Or even that the term, applied to a ball of rock moving through space, has any meaning, since there is nothing to "self regulate."

Lifeforms, and even ecosystems, however, would self regulate (and we might self regulate by, having identified the inadvertent and likely counter productive changes we were making, address them), and in terms of ecological systems, this would reflect an adjustment in response to a change in the total net energy input to the earth's surface over time - both from solar radiation, a fixed variable, and from atmospheric re radiation via long lived greenhouse gas molecules - the same molecules that in very small number are responsible for making the earth about 59 to 60 degrees F (or K) warmer than it would be in their absence, and which have now suddenly, and, from a geologic perspective, radically, risen to total collective levels not seen on earth in at least several million years; since, in fact, a time when there was far less total ice coverage, and our oceans were 30 to 60 feet higher.

And even if the earth were "self regulating," there would be nothing to support the view that it would "self regulate" in a way that happens to favor man's own interests. Other, than, well, faith.  Calling those that don't agree with that such names, seems the very antithesis of science, as well as, of reasoned consideration. What scientists are supposed to do, and what the scientific process consists of.

Yet Spencer's influence is profound.

This is due to several reasons, one of which fundamentally contradicts his and Bast's proclamation in the Wall Street Journal this past May (yet echoed throughout the blogosphere both well before and since) that there really is not real strong consensus. There's not really a narrowly defined consensus. How bad is the risk? How likely? Is there anything we can do to change it? How compounding might it be to continue to add?

Where there is a strong consensus is on the idea that our radical alteration of the atmosphere is likely already significantly impacting our climate right now, presenting a significant to high risk of doing so on the order of at least several degrees Celsius, which would likely bring about radical, fundamental change to our basic earth systems, and to the climate upon which we have generally, come to rely. Or, more simply, that we're affecting the climate right now in a significant way, and that it's likely to get worse, perhaps much worse.

But why was it Spencer, of all people, and out of all the scientists who now professionally study climate science, who helped pen such a piece that there's no real consensus?

The reason cuts directly against Spencer's main point in that piece itself.  And that is, while there are some practicing scientists on the issue who share some degree of skepticism on it, they are far and few between.  That is, there just aren't that many scientists, out of the many who professionally study climate science, who legitimately dispute the general consensus.

That doesn't mean questions on the issue are over, but they've only just begun, We're just mired down in the wrong, and counter productive, debate, still asking the wrong ones. 

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