The Grist Grifters Part 1

There’s a “global warming awareness” site on the internet called grist.org. Big hitters in the global warming arena such as Adam Browning, founder of a non-profit solar consortium, Adam Stein, co-founder of a website/organization, Amanda Griscom Little, who… writes for grist, Andrew Sharpless, co-founder of Oceana (another non-profit), and Anna Fahey, communications strategist. Of course while people like these are easy to deride, there are actual scientists who post to Grist, and they are Andrew Dessler and Michael Tobis, both Ph.D. holders, Andrew in atmospheric science and Tobis in oceanography. I give a reluctant nod to the graduate students in their midst, Yolanda Crous, Stephanie Ogburn, Kif Schuer, and Julia Olmstead. (A reluctant nod because I’ve known many graduate students and there are those who know what they are doing, those that don’t know what they are doing, and those who pretend to know what they are doing. Additionally, two of these graduate students are in agriculture, and the other two don’t say what they’re studying, although they are at a Environmental Institute.)

The other 40 or so contributors are all artists, directors of non-profit organizations, web editors, writers, or some other non-science related field.

That’s not to say these people couldn’t know what they are talking about. However, they have no training in the field. That, of course, doesn’t stop them from making fun of people like Pat Michaels and Richard Lindzen, two actual climatologists.

On this site, there’s the “gristmill” which is supposed to grind up the “skeptic” arguments and churn them out. It’s like Ann Coulter’s “How to Argue with a Liberal”, except it’s the reverse, green, and smells like patchouli oil.

The topics are broken down and well organized (and it should be, given the number of web developers working there) so when you hear a skeptic say something, you can run to the website and find the proper rebuttal.

Except that they aren’t so much rebuttals as vagaries and misinformation. In the next few days, I’ll provide a detailed response to the sections in the Skeptics Gristmill and explain if the claim is correct, incorrect, or just plain bogus.

We’ll start with the list in general. It starts with the There’s Nothing Happening and gives some “standard” arguments from “those in denail”.

  • 1. There is no evidence.
  • 2. One record year is not global warming.
  • 3. The temperature record is simply unreliable.
  • 4. One hundred years is not enough
  • 5. Glaciers have always grown and receeded.
  • 6. Warming is due to the Urban Heat Island effect.
  • 7. Mauna Loa is a volcano.
  • 8. Scientists aren’t even sure.

There are the bullets. Now let’s discuss them.

1. There is no evidence. Despite what the computer models tell us, there is actually no evidence of significant global warming. Most skeptics will agree that the world is warming, on average. They are disputing the cause, not the effect.

2. One record year is not global warming. So 2005 was a record year. Records are set all the time. One really warm year is not global warming. Taking single data points and drawing conclusions from them is poor form. Taking a small set of data points (the past 30 years) and running around like Chicken Little isn’t much better.

It is important to recognize that our ability to measure temperature directly (with a thermometer) dates back to, well, the invention of the thermometer (around 1714). To detect temperatures beyond that, we have to figure out some other way of determining temperature, and that can be radioisotope absorbence of various items. While this is useful, it can only provide a rough estimate of global temperature because the comparisons are to other eras. For example, if in 1932, 1958, and 1964, the global temperature was X, the emissions of pollen in antarctic ice cores would have count Y. So, getting a core from 1015 and seeing the count as Y, the extrapolation is that the temperature in 1015 was X.

It’s an oversimplification on my part, but it illustrates how temperatures from the past are guessed at, and that leads to the next statement.

3. The temperature record is simply unreliable. The surface temperature record is full of assumptions, corrections, differing equipment and station settings, changing technology, varying altitudes, and more. It is not possible to claim we know what the “global average temperature” is, much less determine any trend. The IPCC graphs only say what the scientists want them to say.

Grist software engineer Coby Beck states the following:

There is actually some truth to the part about the difficulties; scientists have overcome many of them in turning the hundreds of thousands of measurements taken in many different ways and over a span of more than a dozen decades into a single globally averaged trend.

Now, be careful here because there’s a bait and switch. What is the bait? The skeptic warns about the unreliability of the temperature record going back before 1750. Coby spends his time here debunking that the past 100 years are unreliable, when they are quite reliable. He’s avoiding answering the real question and is instead dressing his answer as though all of the temperature record is behind him.

4. One hundred years is not enough. One hundred and some years of global surface temperatures is not long enough to draw any conclusions from or worry about anyway. Again it’s not something I hear from the skeptics that often. What I do hear is how the current 100 years compare to other times in our history.

Strangely, the information on that page actually contradicts the idea that this is the hottest time on our planet ever, which would have easily been explained had they hired some scientists to vet their data (so these graphs could conveniently be hidden).

Here are the two most curious that Grist has posted:

Notice that in the Holocene temperature average, it looks like (on the blue line) that the temperature variations matched or surpassed our current global temperature. Now look at the Volstock graph just below it. Anyone with scientific training should be able to look at the bottom graph and determine that there is a regular pattern of hot and cold on the planet, and it looks as though we should be in a hot period. Certainly would explain the global temperatures.

What is also clear is that the variability here is certainly caused by some external factor that goes through prolonged cycles. Every 100,000 years or so there’s a temperature spike that follows a prolonged cool period. It looks like we’re in for a “spike”, or we were in the middle of a spike when the Industrial Revolution rolled around.

5. Glaciers have always grown and receded. A few glaciers receding today is not proof of global warming. Glaciers have grown and receded differently in many times and places. It should be noted that glaciers are a localized effect. For example, Kilamanjaro’s glaciers are vanishing because of a lack of moisture, not because of a drastic change in temperature.

Coby contradicts himself here:

Firstly, it is more than “a few glaciers” that are receding; it is a pervasive, sustained, and accelerating global trend.


But no one claims that melting glaciers are proof of global warming.

Then why mislead?

6. Global Warming is due to the Heat Island Effect. The apparent rise of global average temperatures is actually an illusion due to the urbanization of land around weather stations, the Urban Heat Island effect. My response– you’re a moron if you think this is true. The UBIs cannot provide the energy necessary to heat a globe. They have their effect on local climate, but the impact on global climate is minor at best.

But, this is an important bit, and I’ll get to it later, because the flip side of the argument, the GW Truthers, use the same reasoning to say GW is happening.

7. Mauna Loa is a volcano! CO2 levels are recorded on top of Mauna Loa … a volcano! No wonder the levels are so high. If there was a sequestering problem, it would show up in comparison to other CO2 recordings from non-volcanic sources.

8. The scientists don’t even know if the world is warming! Even the scientists don’t know that the climate is changing more than normal and if it’s our fault or not. If you read what they write it is full of “probably,” “likely,” “evidence of” and all kinds of qualifiers. If they don’t know for sure, why should we worry yet?

Probability is the language of science. There is no proof; there are no absolute certainties. Scientists are always aware that new data may overturn old theories and that human knowledge is constantly evolving. Consequently, it is viewed as unjustifiable hubris to ever claim one’s findings as unassailable.

Given that climate is variable, and those variables haven’t been clearly categorized, and that the direct temperature record is very short, there’s very little that’s “highly likely” in any current observations. In addition, models which predict climate status up to the year 2100 are making many assumptions and are highly unreliable. Such graphs could have been constructed in 1920 but would have run into a problem in the little cooling zone we had in the 50’s and 60’s.

I also take exception to the idea that probability is the “language of science”. Science is an expression of ideas which are experimentally tested and refined and prove resistant to falsifiability.

CO2 is a greenhouse gas. CO2 is going up. So is the temperature. There’s the science, right?

Mmm, not really. While all the statements are true, it has yet to be shown that there is a correlation between them all. I will say that an increase in CO2 concentrations should give a corresponding increase in temperature, but the wide changes in temperature predicted by the IPCC are just silly, and the biggest objection I have comes from the misperception of a global average temperature.

Take the man who stands in a bucket of boiling water with a block of ice on his head and ask him how he feels on average, and he’ll say his average temperature is room temperature.

It’s the same concept with GW. The biggest temperature changes come from cold, dry areas and temperature anomalies during the winter. Average these in with tropical and summertime temperatures and you’ll seen an overall increase in temperature, even though the tropical and summertime temperatures do not change.

In addition, as I’ve stated before on this blog, the amount of energy required in places like Siberia (where the temperature change is significant) to heat the entire rest of the planet is enormous. Don’t forget that even trapped heat diffuses back into space. In addition, given that CO2 levels are constant and global, we should see corresponding temperature spikes, but we don’t. Instead we see large anomalies which throw off the average but mask the true nature of the warming, which has to do with other factors than CO2 concentration.

I’ll have more on this on Thursday.


1 Response to “The Grist Grifters Part 1”

  1. 1 Bobak
    April 24, 2007 at 7:41 pm

    Wow, you seem like you know what you are talking about, but despite all of this – Are you 100% that there is no global warming as is almost the consensus among scientists? If not, wouldn’t it be better to stay cautious about these gases and temperatures by trying to stop them. I mean we are talking about something that can negatively effect existence and you seem to want to wait until our polar ice caps are completely gone.

    If it does happen I would bet that you would 1) wait for god to save you or 2) figure that it is the day of judgment -in which case you will be “saved” (by virtue of prescribing to the “correct” religion, right?) by some flying dog….wait that The Never Ending Story…

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My name is Doc. Welcome to my blog. If you're visiting from another blog, add me to your blogroll (and I'll happily reciprocate). I have a Ph.D. in Chemistry and live in Wisconsin. If you have any questions, feel free to email me. My email is docattheautopsy at gmail. (No linking to deflate the incredible spam monsters).



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