Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Las Vegas Review Journal will never win a Pulizer Prize

The December 29 editorial in the Las Vegas Review-Journal (RJ), "Global warming?" repeats the RJ's past denial of manmade global warming. The editorial claims that there has been no warming in the past decade. The editorial confuses weather with climate: weather has short-term fluctuations, while climate is a running average of 30 years. In the short run, El Nino, La Nina, and solar cycles can affect the surface temperature. In the long run, these cyclical effects average out. The short term temperature fluctuations are often used by the global warming deniers to cherry-pick a beginning and ending date to "prove" a cooling trend or a constant temperature.

Looking at the very long run, in the last 120 years, the global temperature shows an unmistakable increase, as shown in this graph. Global temperature is increasing at 0.2 degrees centigrade per decade, in agreement with computer models.

Among climate scientists, the preferred term is "global climate change" rather than "global warming". Modern scientific understanding predicts an increase in global average temperature, and also an increase in extreme weather events. Here in the Mojave desert, the drought is predicted to continue, and that is consistent with our experience in recent decades. In colder regions, increased snowfall is predicted.

Consistent with the global warming picture, Arctic sea ice is decreasing. Just three years ago, this produced a dramatic development: Early European explorers sought a "Northwest Passage" in order to reach the Pacific Ocean by going through the Canadian Arctic. For five centuries they failed to find a Northwest Passage. But in 2007, the shrinking Arctic sea ice opened up the Northwest Passage to commercial ships without an icebreaker. This is a dramatic change, something new in the last five centuries.

Nor surprisingly, the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are beginning to melt. This has contributed to a rising sea level, and the rate of rise has accelerated from 0.9 mm/year in 1870-1920 to 2.0 mm/year in 1920-1975 to its present value of 3.0 mm/year.

The RJ editorial makes a big deal about the question of whether the rise in temperature leads or lags the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide. In fact, rising temperature can lead to increasing carbon dioxide concentrations, and in turn increasing carbon dioxide concentrations can warm the Earth. Thus temperature and carbon dioxide levels can rise or fall together over periods of centuries: the two trends reinforce each other in a positive feedback loop.

Before the industrial revolution, climate change was entirely natural. In the pre-industrial era, temperature rises were triggered by, subtle changes in the Earth's orbital motion, causing small changes in the sunlight reaching the Earth. In the last two centuries, burning of fossil fuels has raised the atmospheric carbon dioxide levels by nearly 40% over pre-industrial levels.

So it makes sense that before the modern era, the rise of temperature came first. In the modern era, the rise in carbon dioxide comes first. It's exactly what we expect to happen.

Many scientific societies have issued official statement acknowledging the reality of manmade global warming. In contrast, the global warming deniers are not supported by any scientific society in the world.

The picture of manmade global warming has been understood among climate scientists for a quarter of a century. The blogosphere has lots of deniers, but most of them are not scientists. Many of the deniers are supported financially by the fossil fuel industry or are motivated by ideological opposition to government regulation of the industry. The RJ editorial page, written by people with little or no science background, appears to be motivated by dogmatic Libertarian ideology.

If the RJ editorial were factual, the RJ would have refuted 97% of the world's climate change scientists. If the RJ editorial were factual, the RJ would then win (and deserve to win) at least a Pulitzer Prize, or maybe even the Nobel Prize. The RJ has never won a Pulitzer Prize and its record will be unchanged by this editorial.

Not all Libertarians are global warming deniers. For example, one prominent Libertarian and former denier changed his position in 2005 in the light of new evidence. Journalist Ronald Bailey, science editor of Reason magazine, proclaimed in an article entitled "We're All Global Warmers Now" that "Anyone still holding onto the idea that there is no global warming ought to hang it up."

Let me close with two helpful suggestions: (1) read the comprehensive article in the November 13 New York Times, headlined "As Glaciers Melt, Science Seeks Date on Rising Seas", documenting the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. (2) consult the excellent website www.skepticalscience.com, in which frequently raised objections by global warming deniers are answered convincingly.

Posted by John (We are still working with Blogger)

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I wonder if I will ever be allowed to comment here?

Excluded, long time reading bunny.

Pinko Punko

jg said...

John: Welcome to one of my favorite science blogs. This blog was the 2nd or 3rd blog I discovered after waking up to the blogging world through RealClimate. Many days when RealClimate had nothing new, I'd find my daily fix here. I'm looking forward to your contributions.
jg

John Mashey said...

John: welcome!

I will offer one addition to your comment, and one minor nit.
Addition:

I like the USGCRP 2009 report, because it has a well-written 5-page section on impacts for each US region, in this case SouthWest.

The maps at lower right show the expected drop in precipitation with lower and higher emissions scenarios. Guess what city is in the middle of the biggest drops in both cases?

Nit:
"Before the industrial revolution, climate change was entirely natural."

I think this is arguable. See Bill Ruddiman's various hypotheses, which might be usefully split into:

1) Humans started altering CO2 ~8000 years via agriculture and cutting trees.
2) Humans started altering CH4 a bit later via rice paddies and livestock.

3) There might have been the usual slow drift downward into advancing glaciers otherwise.

4)Some of the short-term CO2 jiggles over the last 2000 years were to lower CO2 ... followed by recovery to deforestration to higher CO2.

Of these, the most striking would be the 50M-person die-off post-Columbus Americas, which might have something to do with the unique CO2 drop into ~1600AD as seen at Law Dome

In the ways interesting hypotheses do, these have stirred research by various people over the last ~7 years. I'm till not sure about 3), but haven't looked hard. I think the others are very likely by now, but I've also reviewed a few papers soon to appear in The Holocene, which has a big issue coming on this with many authors.

People are busily relooking at data they had, bounding uncertainties better, looking at differences in agricultural footprint/person at different times, looking at South American charcoal records, Chines rice paddy archaelogy and many other things. Here's one of the abstracts.

So, the dust is yet to settle on these hypotheses, but as useful ones do, these have stirred research, caused changes to the original hypotheses, but evidence does seem to be converging.

If I had to bet, I think the result will be:

1)Until the industrial revolution, human effects on climate mostly kept the Earth's temperature within a very narrow range, rather than starting the long slow descent into the next ice age. Most were relatively slow, from agriculture but had thousands of years to act.

2) Since the Industrial Revolution, climate is rapidly departing the narrow range that contains recorded history, and will later depart the range that covers the history of modern humans. Not all parts of the currently-inhabited Earth are guaranteed to remain so.

EliRabett said...

Pinko, but Eli thought you hung out at three bulls?

Anonymous said...

Great editorial! It takes skill to get that many memes into 500 words.

I particularly liked where they confused Karl Popper with Allen Dulles: "But the biggest problem with global warming theory as now propounded is that it lacks a vital component of any legitimate scientific theory: deniability."

So they think AGW is ... undeniable?

It's nice to see the slower students catch up.
:-)

FrankD

Kooiti MASUDA said...

What the RJ editor says may be paraphrased as "the science of AGW has been falsified by environmentalists". Then they must admit that AGW is falsifiable :-)

Seriously, I think that "refutability" is a better word for the principal concept of Popper's philosophy of science. ("Conjectures and Refutations" is a title of one of Popper's books.)

Timothy Chase said...

From the above essay,

"Before the industrial revolution, climate change was entirely natural. In the pre-industrial era, temperature rises were triggered by, subtle changes in the Earth's orbital motion, causing small changes in the sunlight reaching the Earth. In the last two centuries, burning of fossil fuels has raised the atmospheric carbon dioxide levels by nearly 40% over pre-industrial levels.

"So it makes sense that before the modern era, the rise of temperature came first. In the modern era, the rise in carbon dioxide comes first. It's exactly what we expect to happen."

In recent geological time a rise in temperature precedes a rise in CO2 levels. Like a warming soda, the oceans lose their capacity to suspend as much carbon dioxide, then carbon dioxide reduces the rate at which thermal radiation and energy are able to escape, raising the temperature further.

But there are times in the more remote past when levels of carbon dioxide rose first. These are typically associated with supervolcanos and their flood basalt eruptions. Such supervolanic eruptions are directly responsible for a great deal of carbon dioxide, but they may also be aided and abetted by methane released from methane cathrates along shallow water continental margins.

Examples where carbon dioxide levels appear to have risen first in deep geologic time along with the flood basalt eruptions that appear to be responsible include:

55 Mya, Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum - North Atlantic Basalts
65 Mya, end-Cretaceous event - Deccan basalts (India)
183 Mya, Toracian Turnover (a lesser warming and extinction event in the Early Jurassic period) - Karoo Basalts (Africa)
201 Mya, End Triassic Extinction - Central Atlantic Magmatic Province
251 Mya, Permian-Triassic Extinction - Siberian basalts
360-375 Mya, Late Devonian Extinction - Viluy Traps (Eastern Siberia, more tentative according to Rampino below)

For a more extensive list, please see:

Vincent E. Courtillot and Paul R. Renne (2003) On the ages of flood basalt events, C. R. Geoscience 335, 113–140
http://www.mantleplumes.org/WebDocuments/CourtRenne2003.pf

For a recent commentary:

Michael R. Rampino (April 13, 2010) Mass extinctions of life and catastrophic flood basalt volcanism, PNAS, vol. 107, no. 15, pp. 6555-6556
http://www.pnas.org/content/107/15/6555.full

Jessica H. Whiteside (April 13, 2010) Compound-specific carbon isotopes from Earth’s largest flood basalt eruptions directly linked to the end-Triassic mass extinction, PNAS, vol. 107, no. 15, pp 6721-6725
http://www.pnas.org/content/107/15/6721.full

I believe it is worthwhile to mention these events in deep geologic time anytime someone raises argument that "temperature always rose first." It didn't. In some cases carbon dioxide rose first, then temperature. And those times that carbon dioxide rose first are strongly associated with sudden changes in climate and the resulting major and minor extinction events.

Timothy Chase said...

Correction:

I was missing a "d" in the name of the file...

Vincent E. Courtillot and Paul R. Renne (2003) On the ages of flood basalt events, C. R. Geoscience 335, 113–140
http://www.mantleplumes.org/WebDocuments/CourtRenne2003.pdf

John Mashey said...

(A Long post seems to have been lost), so I'll summarize:

1) Addition:
Las Vegas is in a bad location for H2O, see map at lower right of USGCRP 2009, Southwest.

2) Nit:
"Before the industrial revolution, climate change was entirely natural."

Bill Ruddiman has hypothesized otherwise, and over the last 5-7 years, evidence has been piling up in (general) support, from multiple lines of research, by a variety of researchers. This includes things as diverse as Chinese rice paddy archaelogy, charcoal records in the Americas, and better models of agricultural footprint/person. It also includes better calibration of the 50M-person post-Columbus die-off that seems to have contributed strongly to the millennially-unique CO2 drop into 1600AD, see Law Dome CO2.

There's an issue of The Holocene coming out with papers that cover this from various directions. Keep an eye out for that.

When the dust settles, I'd guess that we'll decide that starting 8,000 years ago humans started overriding normal slow/jiggly descent into the usual ice age, in essence setting a global thermostat that kept Earth in a very narrow temperature range, which covers recorded history.

Of course, the Earth is now headed out of that range on the upwards side, where the only real question is how far up.

Tom said...

If you were always as clear as this and managed to leave it at this state of play (without the faux prognosticating), you would rule the world. This is an excellent, clear and compelling post.

On point: You would be surprised (or maybe not, given the political nature of discourse these days) at the people currently labeled as 'deniers' who would agree with this post without revision.