An eye-opening “global cooling consensus” CIA document dated 1974 has just been re-discovered in the British Library by Yours Truly and is extensively mentioned today in the (printed) pages of The Spectator (UK) and Il Foglio (Italy).
(updated 20091203 – 1042am GMT – the (suitably degraded) scan of the Spectator article is at the bottom of this blog)
the most obdurate catastro-warmists (when they will notice that almost all AGW scares are a search-and-replace job from “cooling” to “warming”), and
the history deniers fixated on ‘demonstrating’ that a scientific consensus about Global Cooling in the 1970’s were a ‘myth'(*)
And there is more (much more), from ever-improving climate models promising to become good in a few years’ time to the unsettling apparent ease with which Government agencies then (as now) could get scientists to agree on whatever they needed them to agree on.
Nobody aware of the CIA document’s contents should be able to avoid a good chuckle after reading any of the current AGW reports on famine, starvation, refugee crises, floods, droughts, crop and monsoon failures, and all sorts of extreme weather phenomena; on climate-related major economic problems around the world; on Africans getting in climate troubles first; and so on and so forth.
Why? Because it is all too clear that those scares cannot be real, since they have already been mentioned verbatim in all their dramatic effect, but about Global Cooling.
The whole lot of them, they are just empty threats, instruments of doom-and-gloom policy manipulation with no relation to reality.
It is deeply ironic that it takes a 35-year-old document, available on the web so far only in title, to show the absolute vacuity of the vast majority of pre-COP15 reports and studies. It is time to ditch everything we hear about collapsing ice sheets, disappearing glaciers, species extinctions, and each and every “it’s worse than we thought” report by “scientists”.
It is time to become climate adults.
As I wrote for The Spectator:
This might be the most important lesson of the 1974 report on global cooling: that we need to grow up, separate climatology from fear, and recognise – much as it pains politicians and scientists – that our understanding of how climate changes remains in its infancy.
(*) Anybody thinking about Thomas C. Peterson, William M. Connolley, and John Fleck’s largely mistitled “The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus” (Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society Volume 89, Issue 9, September 2008, pp 1325-1337)? Well, think again after reading this little gem of theirs:
By the early 1970s, when Mitchell updated his work (Mitchell 1972), the notion of a global cooling trend was widely accepted, albeit poorly understood
As I wrote a little more than a year ago: “Widely accepted”: check. “Global cooling”: check.. There was a global cooling consensus among scientists, at least up to 1974. And it went on to appear in Newsweek, The Washington Post, The New York Times and many more media outlets around the world, at least up to 1976.
SRC have identified nine Planetary Boundaries (PB):
Stratospheric ozone depletion
Atmospheric aerosol loading
Biogeochemical flows: interference with P(hosphorus) and N(itrogen) cycles
Global freshwater use
Land system change (to cropland)
Chemical pollution (eg persistent organic pollutants (POPs), plastics, endocrinedisruptors, heavy metals, and nuclear waste)
(yes there is a reason why SRC do not list then in alphabetical order)
I have several criticisms about the above (I am not alone). What “stewardship” can we provide to the planet if we consider our existence as under siege? Do Planetary Boundaries exist, and even if they do, what can they scientifically tell us about the real world? And even if they are really, mostly useful as a policy tool, is it prudent to take any decision based on them?
-1- A PLANET UNDER SIEGE, or THE MASADA MENTALITY
The “joyous and optimistic” (not my words) goal of SRC appears to be computing the limits of essential resources (essential to us, that is), in order to help better manage those same resources better.
Crucially though, those “limits” are considered “boundaries” in the sense of “thresholds”: once a certain threshold is passed, SRC say, the tipping point (“non-linear changes in the functioning of the Earth System”) starts looming. That is, passing the limits means risking “unacceptable, potentially disastrous” changes, jumping into the dark, most likely straight into a ravine.
In this respect, SRC’s all-too-desperate attempt of communicating a “message” (“The Planet is in peril! It’s all our fault!”) is just too blatant to convince the unconvinced. Consider for example the way they describe PBs in their website. From the PB homepage, aptly titled “Tipping towards the unknown”:
Within these boundaries, humanity has the flexibility to choose pathways for our future development and well-being. In essence, we are drawing the first — albeit very preliminary — map of our planet´s safe operating zones. And beyond the edges of the map, we don´t want to go
- 2- DO PLANETARY BOUNDARIES EXIST?
According to SRC, no tipping point has been reached so far. That is, simply none of the expected “non-linear” changes of state has happened. What are we talking about, one wonders? Every “unacceptable environmental change” that would “drive the Earth System[…] abruptly into states deleterious or even catastrophic to human well-being” is firmly in the future.
The PB framework is only loosely connected to reality. In fact, too many of the foundations of the PB framework are taken for granted rather than demonstrated. Are we really in the “Anthropocene”? Only if we believe so. Can we seriously link Arctic ice extent and the increase of atmospheric CO2? (more about this later). Etc etc.
And in any case…do planetary thresholds/boundaries exist?
It is true that the simplest spinning top can show what a tipping poin is. On the other hand, is there anything about the environment or any of its aspects that suggests they behave like spinning tops? That is, do we have any example where a minor perturbation has resulted in a major shift from one relatively stable status to another relatively stable status?
Say, has the temporal evolution of any environmental indicator about the now-mostly-dry Aral Sea followed a similar path to the graphs used by SRC?
- 3 – WHAT COULD PLANETARY BOUNDARIES TELL US ABOUT THE REAL WORLD?
SRC admit that they can do quantifiable work in only seven out of nine PBs. In other words, discussions of PBs for “Biodiversity loss” and “Chemical pollution” are on the threshold of being science-free.
Among the remaining seven PBs, SRC state that only in three cases they have solid data to estimate the “threshold” has been “transgressed”. In other words, even if thresholds exist, there is little indication we are near danger for “Atmospheric aerosol loading”, “Biogeochemical flows”, “Global freshwater use” and “Land system change”.
Among the remaining three “transgressed” PBs, regarding “Ocean acidification” and “Stratospheric ozone depletion” the tipping point “into states deleterious or even catastrophic to human well-being” is still far away in the future.
Finally, for Climate Change, the one remaining PB where the threshold has been (perhaps) transgressed and the tipping point (perhaps) reached, all the SRC work appears to be pivoting around a single published work:
The author presents an empirical relation between annual sea-ice extent and global atmospheric CO2 concentrations, in which sea-ice reductions are linearly, inversely proportional to the magnitude of increase of CO2 over the last few decades
Hopefully the esteemed Johannessen will be magnanimous with whomever will state that his findings are contrary to other research, e.g. done by NASA.
Who knows, perhaps there is a case for awaiting more analysis and confirmatory studies? It is not one swallow that bringeth in summer.
- CONCLUSIONS – WHAT ARE PBs GOOD FOR?
Based on unremittingly pessimistic and undemonstrated assumptions, observation-free, with admittedly shaky foundations, and the one promising application based on a single article… would it be wise to follow SRC and base public policy on the concept of “Planetary Boundaries”?
One can expect the usual criticisms…who am I to dare critically reading some scientist’s work…
Thresholds are comforting for decision-makers […] But is a threshold really a good idea at all? […] Waiting to cross the threshold allows much needless environmental degradation. […] Unfortunately, policymakers face difficult decisions, and management based on thresholds, although attractive in its simplicity, allows pernicious, slow and diffuse degradation to persist nearly indefinitely […]
Schlesinger’s insight is important. The concept of “Planetary Boundaries” is written in the language policymakers will understand. On the other hand, under PB scientists and anybody caring about the environment become second-class players, in this paradoxical locking up of the study and preservation of our planet to the service of those who make “policy“.
That’s the way of the worst kind of management techniques, geared up to handle not what should be managed, rather just whatever happens to be measurable. A quick look at the proverbial efficiency and low costs of the British National Health System (NHS) will be enough to understand what can this all end up as.
Obviously, the PB concept is not unadulterated rubbish to be thrown away. Just as obviously, it is not (even remotely) the ultimate solution to our problems. My wild guess is that PB is valid and useful in two out of seven of the listed “boundaries”, but the thresholds need to be understood in terms of the range of possible scenarios (some good, some bad) that the reaching of the tipping point may bring.
And I realize that these questions do not have as much sense to most of the catastrophiliacs now, but let me ask their selves, reading this in 2029:
(1) Why were you scared silly of the future?
(2) On what logical basis did you take any possible change as something necessarily negative?
(3) Why did you fill your “scientific” thoughts of “tipping points” before having ever experienced even one of them?
Another gem from the August issue of Scientific American, a few pages after David Appell’s climate double-entendre titled “Stumbling Over Data“: it’s time now for Kate Wong’s “The Mysterious Downfall of the Neandertals“, given the pride of cover to discuss the most up-to-date theories about the disappearance of those “bygone humans” around 28,000 years ago.
Here’s a detail of one of the theories:
[…] the isotope data reveal that far from progressing steadily from mild to frigid, [between roughly 65,000 and 25,000 years] the climate became increasingly unstable heading into the last glacial maximum, swinging severely and abruptly. With that flux came profound ecological change: forests gave way to treeless grassland; reindeer replaced certain kinds of rhinoceroses. So rapid were these oscillations that over the course of an individual’s lifetime, all the plants and animals that a person had grown up with could vanish and be replaced with unfamiliar flora and fauna. And then, just as quickly, the environment could change back again. […]
What else goes extinct then with our barrel-chested, stocky-limbed cousins in the space of a few sentences? Let’s see: unprecedented climate change; global warming endangering polar bears; life on Earth threatened by wild climate swings; collapsing global ecosystems; disappearing coral reefs; upcoming biodiversity crisis; etc etc etc.
Not only that…if our direct ancestors’ “somewhat wider range of cultural adaptations provided a slightly superior buffer against hard times“, why would those characteristics fail us now, their direct descendants more than 280 centuries later?
It is commonly accepted that all it will take for us to be able to predict future climate, is faster computers with gigantic computing power, in a progression analogous to meteorology’s.
I find that unlikely. And that’s why climate forecasting is likely to go nowhere, just like…alchemy. Not due to anybody’s fault: rather, because it is intrinsically impossible for it to do otherwise.
Climatology is the study of the long term behavior of something that is stable, and predictable, but only until it goes through a state change, perhaps all of a sudden.
Imagine what if anything would nuclear physicists be able to study if there were not even sure if today’s proton-proton accelerators would or would not transform themselves into proton-neutron accelerators, in ten, thirty or a hundred years, thereby completely changing all results and all predictions?
Add to that the climatological possibility, or shall I say the absolute certainty, that in any meaningful (i.e. multi-decadal) period of study, there will be external, uncontrollable, unpredictable inputs such as volcano eruptions and changes in the Sun…as if the energy available to power the LHC would vary at random.
“If we had had 10% more cloudiness over Germany, that would have compensated for the warming of the past 30 years”
In other words, a minor change in a climate detail is enough to modify the end result altogether.
How do you study in a scientifically appropriate manner a system whose simplest scientifically appropriate representation is…itself?
You don’t. You cannot even follow the usual statistical route, because in the long term every possible solution is equally probable. And if you don’t work on the long term, on the decadal or secular scale, then you are not doing climatology.
The problem of climate forecasting is therefore unassailable, just as it is not possible to predict the stock market, another system that is heavily influenced by external factors.
Think of the money thrown for nothing in the financial forecasting route. Then, think of the results.
Of course, the above does not mean that we can not do any climatological study, for example to determine which crops appear to be more suitable for a certain territory…just as one can play the stock market using reasonably objective parameters and computer models without falling necessarily into financial ruin.
But climate forecasting might be the one and only science where “blacks swans”, the events that throw all predictions up in the air, are ironically the one thing that can be predicted.
ADDENDUM #2: There is one point that needs to be clarified in the above.
The climate forecasts I am talking about are multi-decadal. The stuff just criticised by Pielke Sr. Those, I am educately guessing, are impossible, even if we knew all the physics and we had vast amounts of computing power.
The simplest way to compute the climate of 20-30 or more years in the future, is to build a system at least as complex as the climate own’s . In other words, the Earth’s climate is its own simplest multidecadal computer.
Since “climate” is usually taken as a multi-decadal concept, then perhaps we can move the forecast of what next season will bring, into meteorology. Of course, before anybody says anything, no, I do not think meteorology is “inferior” to climatology.
Rather than basing decision-making on a predict (probabilistically of course) then act model, we may have to face up to the fact that skillful prediction of variables of interest to decision makers may simply not be possible. And even if it were possible, we would not be able to identify skill on the same time scales as decisions need to be made. The consequence of this line of argument is that if stationarity is indeed dead, then it has likely taken along with it fanciful notions of foreseeing the future as the basis for optimal actions. Instead, it may be time to rethink how we make decisions in the face of not simply uncertainty, but fundamental and irreducible ignorance
The list includes the Arctic “ice-free before 2020“, “superstorms like Katrina“, “a heatwave as bad as Europe’s 2003” , and the 2012 IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (perish the thought it might be less catastrophiliac than the Fourth Assessment Report…).
Note that Romm’s blog has been echoed by Heliophage, on Andrew Revkin’s Dot Earth, and in Nature’s Climate Feedback. An unwise move, if you ask me: one wonders what people would make if they knew that those claiming to work towards saving Planet Earth, are actively hoping disasters of all sorts befall upon us.
Talk about striving for unpopularity!!!
The desperation is evident in the fact that a person allegedly as well-informed on climate stuff as Romm, comes up with wholly inappropriate examples. Katrina was a big storm but not more superstorm than other hurricanes (Romm even acknowledges this point), and the destruction of New Orleans was evidently a matter of bad engineering and incompetent relief management. Didn’t he have anything better to put forward?
Likewise for the European heatwave of 2003. And even more importantly: neither Katrina, nor the European heatwave, can be linked to Climate Change and/or Global Warming. And so if, say, another heatwave will materialize, it will tell us absolutely nothing about Climate Change and Global Warming.
Actually, looking at the list of 9 items posted by Romm, the only ones that may provide ammunitions to the AGW cause may be the ice-free Arctic, and “accelerated mass loss in Greenland“.
Most likely, Romm is simply and perhaps unwittingly acknowledging the fact that for all the huffing and all the puffing, there is very little that AGWers can show to support their claims.
As I [Revkin] wrote in 2006 (”Yelling Fire on a Hot Planet“) problems that get people’s attention (and cause them to change) are “soon, salient and certain” and the dangerous aspects of human-forced climate disruption remain none of those things
And what has Romm got to reply to that? Very little. Actually, almost nothing: he spells out some kind of humanitarian deathwish, a desire for a big climate crisis; makes a critical point against journalists (who doesn’t); and decries how he understands things but most people don’t:
Multi-hundred-billion-dollar-sized government action happens only when there is a very, very big crisis […] labeled as such by very serious people who are perceived as essentially nonpartisan opinion leaders […] bad things must be happening to regular people right now […]
Better journalism would help. […] We simply don’t have a critical mass of credible nonpartisan opinion leaders who understand the nature of our energy and climate problem.
Won’t Prof. Ingram be excited upon hearing that salience is not a problem, but persons not being bright enough is…
The supreme pinnacle of irony, in the Romm/Revkin exchange, lies in the former’s misunderstanding of the latter’s point about “certainty“. In 2006, Revkin noted that:
Projections of how patterns of drought, deluges, heat and cold might change are among the most difficult, and will remain laden with huge uncertainties for a long time to come […]
While scientists say they lack firm evidence to connect recent weather to the human influence on climate, environmental campaigners still push the notion […]
Romm’s reply? Another accusation, refusing to acknowledge Revkin’s first point (emphasis in the original):
You [Revkin] understand this but you don’t convey this to your readers: Doing nothing or doing little eliminates the uncertainty.
Romm’s near-term climate Pearl Harbors post, actually, does look suspiciously as a way of “pushing a notion” the non-scientific notion of connecting recent weather to (future?) climate change.
The above doesn’t look very promising for the AGW movement.
I am actually starting to think that the problem is in the fact that most AGWer haven’t grasped the nature of the issue they are concerned about. And so they use the tools learned to protect pandas or clean up the Hudson river. And for most intents and purposed, they fail: because, as Revkin has realized, Anthropogenic Global Warming, aka Climate Change, truly is a completely different beast.