Doug L. Hoffman's blog

Scry Me A River

Nostradamus, the famous prognosticator, was said to have received his visions of the future by scrying—staring into a pool of ink for hours on end. The climate science equivalent of a gazing pool is the computer climate model, huge collections of complicated computer code that supposedly crank out frightening visions of the future. Most of the discussion about climate change has centered on the global aspects of the anthropogenic global warming (AGW), but now a number of climate mystics are turning their modeling dark arts to doing regional predictions. Why? The better to frighten the public and elicit funding from government coffers. Unfortunately, as climate researchers struggling to sharpen their fuzzy picture of what the future holds one fact has been ignored—there is even more uncertainty in regional models than in the global ones.

The Inappropriate Anthropocene

In 2009, the International Commission on Stratigraphy, the body charged with formally designating geological time periods, decided the Anthropocene concept “has some merit.” To investigate further they formed the Anthropocene Working Group, which published their initial findings this past February in a special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A. The group reported a wide range of human impacts that could leave a stratigraphically significant mark on the planet's geological record. There is no doubt that humans have changed the world we live in, but has the change been significant enough to declare a whole new epoch? The Anthropocene debate is continuing this week at the 2011 Geological Society of America conference.

The Sun's Hidden Power

No phenomenon in astronomy has been studied more closely than solar flares, gigantic eruptions on the Sun that can affect Earth's climate and even disrupt power grids. Scientists have been watching the Sun with ground based instruments and orbiting satellites for years, so it might be thought that we know a lot about such eruptions. Well think again. A new report from NASA has revealed that, like earthquakes, solar flares often have aftershocks. Moreover, the aftershocks can emit bursts of ultraviolet (UV) radiation more powerful than the original eruption. Combine this new finding with the recently uncovered linkage between fluctuating UV levels and El Niño, and the Sun-Climate connection looks stronger than ever.

A Walk In The Clouds

Given that the Sun powers Earth's climate system and provides the energy for all life on our planet, it should come as no surprise that changes in solar activity can affect climate conditions. Because total solar irradiance varies only slightly, climate scientists have discounted our variable star as a driver of climate change. At the end of the 20th century, Heinrich Svensmark, of the Danish Space Research Institute, and Eigil Friis-Christensen proposed that solar activity may be a controlling factor for climate by changing low level cloud cover. Not surprisingly this idea was disparaged by mainstream climate science, since it would diminish the importance of greenhouse gases, CO2, the IPCC's favorite daemon, in particular. Now, after several years of experimentation at CERN, the preliminary results are in and it looks like Svensmark and Friis-Christensen were right after all.

Climate Science's Tangled Web

Recent days have seen a number of announcements about our changing climate. As it turns out Arctic ice is rebounding, sea levels are dropping and things just are not going according to the IPCC's plan for catastrophic global warming. Faced with reversal after reversal, it might seem logical for mainstream climate scientists to admit that they are wrong, that global warming is not taking place at a breakneck pace, but this has not happened. Instead, climate change apologists are weaving a tangled web of excuses—hot is cold, wet is dry, up is down. No matter what happens to the world we live in, the root cause according to the doomsayers is always the same: it's always global warming's fault.

Himalayan Glacier Disappearance Overstated

A pair of researchers has published a new report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in which two out of three glaciers studied were disappearing. In a report that was edited by James Hansen, of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, it would appear that the glaciers of the Himalaya are melting rapidly, but that is not how the report ends. The authors state that poor selection of study sites have led to the widespread use of non-representative data. Moreover, the IPCC report and others overstate the disappearance of Himalayan glaciers.

Driftwood On Ice

Tracking the flow of ice in the Arctic is difficult. Reconstructing the extent and flow in times past is even more difficult. An interesting new report has turned to driftwood, embedded in the Arctic pack ice, as a way of deciphering Arctic climate conditions over the last 10,000 years. The researchers found a climate record that is in good agreement with previous histories, including such events as the Medieval Warm Period, the Little Ice Age and the Holocene Thermal Maximum. In fact, they found temperatures during the HTM to be 2° to 4°C higher than today. They also found a complementarity oscillation in sea-ice abundance between East and West that is not correctly simulated by current ice models.

Climate Malpractice

Climate alarmists have been pointing to the output of computer models for decades, insisting that the models could predict the future. The Earth is warming uncontrollably, they claim, and human CO2 emissions are the proximate cause. Others have argued that CO2 is not a powerful enough forcing factor to cause such a calamity. Still, the climate change catastrophists point to their models, claiming that the models do not lie. Now, according to data released by NASA, it seems that climate models not only can not predict the future, they do not even echo current conditions correctly. A new paper says climate scientists have misdiagnosed the surface temperature feedbacks and more heat is being radiated back into space than the models allow for. We have all been subjected to three decades of climate change malpractice.

The Kingdom Of Darkness

North America, after suffering through a lingering cold, wet spring, is now experiencing a bout of record setting summer heat. Once again, the sizzling summer temperatures are being blamed on global warming. The prophets of climate catastrophe claim to be exposing mankind's folly by shining the light of science on humanity's sins against nature. Perhaps it is time to recall the words of Thomas Hobbs who described the Kingdom of Darkness as “nothing else but a confederacy of deceivers that, to obtain dominion over men in this present world, endeavour, by dark and erroneous doctrines, to extinguish in them the light.” With sweltering weather as their cover, minions of the ecological Kingdom of Darkness are again on the march.

Mismanaging Maize

Maize, called corn in the US, is one of the world's great staple crops. It is consumed directly, fed to food animals, and processed into oil and sweeteners. The US is the largest consumer and producer of corn, growing more than twice as much as next largest producer China. A rise in corn prices causes a rise in food prices in general, and shortages have even caused riots in some countries. As important as corn is to the world's food supply it would seem the height of insanity to convert corn into automotive fuel. Yet last year, for the first time, more of the US corn crop went into the manufacture of ethanol fuel than for livestock feed, corn's traditional main use. About 40% of US corn now goes to ethanol, and though there is serious talk about dropping the $0.45 per gallon government subsidy, ethanol producers remain sanguine about their future. Why? Because the federal government will still mandate the mixing of ethanol with gasoline even if it no longer subsidizes its use directly.

Climate Models Fail To Predict Past Catastrophes

Most people fall into one of two categories when it comes to predictions of future climate calamities: they either do not realize that the predictions are predicated on computer models or they unquestionably trust the models to reveal the future. A clear and lucid online article in Nature Geoscience addresses the current state and limitations of climate modeling. The article points out that State-of-the-art climate models are largely untested against actual occurrences of abrupt change. “It is a huge leap of faith to assume that simulations of the coming century with these models will provide reliable warning of sudden, catastrophic events,” the author states. To counter claims of predicted “tipping points,” incidents of abrupt climate change from the past are examined—incidents that current models get wrong.

The Sensitive Kind

In the debate over climate change one of the most misunderstood and misused terms is sensitivity. Climate sensitivity is usually defined as the change in global mean surface temperature following a doubling of atmospheric CO2 once equilibrium is reached. The concept seems simple but there is a catch: the definition of 'equilibrium', which depends on the timescale employed. As it turns out, the timescales that nature uses—which can encompass thousands and even millions of years—cannot be compared with the century long timescale used in climate models. A recent online article, published by Nature Geoscience, states that accurate prediction of Earth's future warming hinges on our understanding of climate sensitivity. Moreover, only by studying climate change in the past, the paleoclimate, identifying all the factors involved and how they interacted can our understanding of climate sensitivity be improved.

Polar Bear Ruling Makes Mockery of Legal System

Recently, a US Federal Court ruled that placing polar bears on the endangered species list in 2008 was justified because it was based on the science available at the time and thus met the letter of the law. Yet the Polar Bear Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has issued a report indicating that there was no change in the overall global polar bear population in the most recent four-year period. Nonetheless, a Federal Judge ruled that, even though the EPA's action was based on bad science, the misclasification was justified. As Dickens' put it in Oliver Twist: “If the law supposes that, the law is a ass — a idiot.”

Quiet Sun, Deadly Sun

Much fanfare was associated with the reappearance of sunspots earlier this year, marking the beginning of a new period of high solar activity. Now come a number of reports saying the Sun is most likely headed for a prolonged period of low activity, possibly rivaling the Maunder minimum. Three independent studies of the Sun's dynamics all predict that the next solar cycle will be significantly delayed and might even be skipped. The Maunder minimum is associated with a prolonged period of climate cooling known as the Little Ice Age. Whether Earth's climate is headed for a significant cooling trend has become a matter of heated debate, while at the same time NASA is warning that a quite Sun can also be a deadly Sun. In the 1850s, following a period of low sunspot activity, the largest coronal ejection event ever witnessed caused havoc with telegraphs and ship's compasses around the world. Such an ejection today could cause widespread power outages and failure of electronic equipment. Will our star turn both quiet and deadly?

The Immorality Of Climate Change

After decades of trying to argue the case for catastrophic human caused climate change, aka global warming, based on its scientific merits, AGW proponents are now shifting their focus to a more abstract argument. Instead of trying to establish a causal relationship between human CO2 emissions and the planet's modest warming trend, the new tactic is to re-brand global warming as a moral dilemma. Because the perceived problem is global in scope and the science so tentative, the result of the debate so far has been distributed blame and inequitable impact on the world's poor. According to a new book, this leads to a kind of moral corruption where we let ourselves be persuaded by weak or deceptive arguments, with disastrous consequences for our ability to act on climate change. Can not acting in response to wild speculation based on incomplete science be immoral? Can actions based on a lie be moral?

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