Thursday, February 11, 2010

"Global weirding" and the sins of willful ignorance and false consciousness

According to Time and the NYT, the recent spate of death storms here in the Mid-Atlantic are events which are consistent with global warming/climate change (whether human induced or not). So too are heat waves (tropical or not).

There is a very strange piece on the recent death storms . The blog post combines evangelical zeal with a Lakoffean attempt at re-framing the terms of the AGW debate, yet again. The piece is tellingly located in a section of WAPO dedicated to "conversation on religion and politics" named "On Faith" It is penned by someone with the unenviable tongue twisting name of "Thistlethwaithe" She bemoans the fact that people will look upon massive snow dumps as evidence that the climate is not warming/changing. But, that is a naive reading says she. The science is settled.

Thistlethwaithe's argument is essentially this: If only we were sufficiently conversant in the relevant science, we would see that "global weirding" (a term introduced by Tom Friedman who in turn borrowed it from another illuminatus who helped him write a book) is a consequence of global warming.

Damn. Really? Is it really that simple scientifically? Hold that thought. First the religious angle:

She approvingly sites a plan by a group of churches called Interfaith Power and Light to use the recent events as a teachable moment from pulpits this weekend. They will encourage folks to see the light, and get behind 'greening' the economy and passing climate legislation.

But, alas, Manichean threats abound. The deniers fail to appreciate what is plainly in front of them. For, according to Thistlethwaithe, people that do not agree with her cadre are being "willfully ignorant" and "sinful." Such folk purposefully ignore their senses, which clearly and unambiguously back the AGW thesis. (Wonder what she'd say to those scientists who disagree? Are they too willfully ignorant, or in the throws of false consciousness? Or, maybe they are on the dole from big oil? It's brain bending trying to figure that one out. But wait just a bit on that.)

I kid you not about the sinfulness bit. Torquemada (or maybe Jonathan Edwards) would be proud. Behold:

I hope some of the sermons this weekend are about the sin of refusing to see the effects of "global weirding" when they are right in front of you. Human beings, sinful as we are, can still refuse to see what is right in front of us, even when it's piled up five feet high and very, very cold. Catholic moral theologians have a wonderful term for this capacity in human nature, this particular way of sinning. They call it "willful ignorance." People who have a fixed idea that climate change is not happening are not likely to connect the dots on "snowmageddon" and the "global weirding" of our weather. They'll go on voting down climate change legislation and refusing to support the greening of our economy, while the snow piles up higher and higher and higher around their ears.

Now, I can't be the first one to have read "human beings..can still refuse to see what is right in front of us, even when it's piled up five feet high and very, very cold.." and promptly thought something like "physician heal thyself" or "pot kettle black" or some such thing. The image of Thistleback firmly 'fixed,' idea and all, in some monstrous snowdrift at DC street corner exhorting the few passers by, in high dudgeon, wearing an 'end is nigh' sandwich board, also firmly fixed in the snow...ah well, how could you avoid that image?

Anyway, in her view, because of AGW, 'global weirding' is happening. Earth heats up, end result: There will be a net increase in frequency of severe weather events (droughts hurricanes and death storms), disease, extinctions, and plagues of tree-eating bugs. I kid you not:

I wonder what's next for the plagues of "global weirding." Disease? No, we've already got diseases replicating and spreading more rapidly around the world. Locusts? Well, we don't have locusts in Colorado, but we do have the pine beetle destroying our lodgepole pines. When the snow comes off the trees, vast swaths of the once-green mountainsides are brown with dead and dying trees. We do have fish are (sic) dying in the polluted streams, and in the seas, though the water has not turned to blood.

Apocalyptic vision indeed.

Now, as mentioned twice earlier, there are skeptics, some of whom are well informed yet willfully ignorant chaps by Thistleback's lights. Well educated people like these folks. They provide some interesting history of the IPCC crowd directly relevant to the 'AGW causes global weirding' thesis. It seems that their own predictions about weirdness have not been entirely consistent, and in fact contradictory over time:

..the green media and alarmists spin the tale that these storms are what you expect during global warming. Actually friends they conflict with statements from the IPCC and EPA Technical Support Document that drew on the NOAA CCSP.

EPA TSD ES3 “Rising temperatures have generally resulted in rain rather than snow in locations and seasons where climatological average (1961-1990) temperatures were close to 0C. (32F).”

IPCC FAQ 3.2 Observations show that changes are occurring in the amount, intensity, frequency and type of precipitation. More precipitation now falls as rain rather than snow in northern regions. For a future warmer climate, models project a 50 to 100% decline in the frequency of cold air outbreaks relative to the present in NH winters in most areas.

So, that looks like a prediction of more rain, less snow. But, at least this winter that aint a- happening.

Preliminary all-time seasonal snowfall records were set at the three major climate sites in the Baltimore-Washington area...The Washington- Baltimore January average temperatures are near freezing (BWI 32.3F, DCA 34.9F, IAD 31.7F) with at least a month of winter to go.

With the 19.5 inch two-day snowfall total measured at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall airport...the seasonal snowfall total in Baltimore stands at 79.9 inches. This would break the previous all-time seasonal snowfall record for Baltimore of 62.5 inches set in the winter of 1995-96. Official snowfall records for Baltimore date back 118 years to 1893.

What is more, there have been consistent increases in snowfall for several years, while ice coverage at both poles has increased.

And, here is another well informed willfully ignorant chap, Roger Pielke, who is not exactly a skeptic, but takes issue with the factual accuracy of the Time piece above linked:

..the article contains misinformation. I briefly comment on two issues presented in the article.

1. It is written

“The 2009 U.S. Climate Impacts Report found that large-scale cold-weather storm systems have gradually tracked to the north in the U.S. over the past 50 years.”

The current set of snowstorms in the Middle Atlantic states this winter actually have become intense further south than average. New England is certainly accustomed to these nor’easters. In an earlier post (see figure top), illustrates that the jet stream (as represented by the lower tropospheric temperature anomalies) was well south of its average position across the northern hemisphere. It is the polar jet stream which is where winter storms develop and intensify.

2. It is written

“As global temperatures have risen, the winter ice cover over the Great Lakes has shrunk, which has led to even more moisture in the atmosphere and more snow in the already hard-hit Great Lakes region, according to a 2003 study in the Journal of Climate.”

A new paper in EOS titled Severe Ice Cover on Great Lakes During Winter 2008–2009 [subscription needed]

It writes

“After a decade of little ice cover, from 1997–1998 to 2007–2008, the Great Lakes experienced extensive ice cover during the 2008–2009 winter. The area of Lake Superior covered by ice during the 2008–2009 winter reached 75,010 square kilometers on 2 March 2009, nearly twice the maximum average of nearly 40,000 square kilometers. By this time, Lake Superior was nearly completely ice covered, as were Lake Huron, Lake Erie, and Lake St. Clair, a small basin between Huron and Erie (Figure 1a). Even northern Lake Michigan experienced severe ice cover.”

These news articles would be more accurate (and effective) if the actual behavior of the climate system were presented.

Ouch. So, are there any more well informed ignorant people? Here's another. Luboš Motl is just a physicist though. What would he know? But humor me, and read this extended excerpt from the post, in which he teases out some implications of several assumptions in the AGW orthodoxy:

But is there an argument why such a thing should be true? Well, there's no argument but there's surely something that the author considers to be an argument. In the middle of the article, we read:

That's in part because of global warming — hotter air can hold more moisture, so when a storm gathers it can unleash massive amounts of snow. Colder air, by contrast, is drier; if we were in a truly vicious cold snap, like the one that occurred over much of the East Coast during parts of January, we would be unlikely to see heavy snowfall.

Well, that's very entertaining. While it's true that hotter air can hold more moisture, the comment about "a truly vicious cold snap" negates the argument. It disagrees with the weather records, too.

First, it negates the argument because it admits that a "truly vicious cold snap" existed even in 2010. Second, it tries to suggest that once upon a time, before the global warming began, there was nothing else than a "vicious cold snap" in D.C. in January and February.

That's, of course, a complete nonsense. Look at the climate profile of the U.S. capital. The average daily high in January is 42 °F (6 °C) and it is 47 °F (8 °C) in February. So it is surely not true that before the "catastrophic man-made global warming" began, the city was permanently suffering a "truly vicious cold snap".

Climate models are mentioned as another argument intended to show that snowstorms - and hurricanes - get bigger. Unfortunately, no reference is given so we can't look at this "argument". It's clear that even most climate modelers disagree with this proposition - and if their models show such a thing, they must know that it is an artifact of their being inaccurate. After all, if a hurricane is driven by the temperature differences, they should be reduced by AGW (poles are warming faster), so there should be less storminess.

But can't we see that the argument is "fundamentally" absurd, anyway? The problem is that the air that carries snow can't ever become terribly hot. There is some threshold near the freezing point that you simply can't exceed - otherwise the snow melts. Walsh is manifestly aware of this fact showing that his basic statement is ludicrous. So what does he say about this point?

But as far as winter storms go, shouldn't climate change make it too warm for snow to fall? Eventually that is likely to happen — but probably not for a while. In the meantime, warmer air could be supercharged with moisture and, as long as the temperature remains below 32° F, it will result in blizzards rather than drenching winter rainstorms.

So with global warming, the temperature is getting hotter, as he claimed previously, but it must still remain below the freezing point. Well, an average child would probably be able to figure out what's wrong with this combination of assumptions. If it is below the freezing point, it is not terribly hot, and consequently, the maximum amount of moisture in the air cannot be too high, either.

The bound for the maximum moisture is exactly equal to what it used to be when the world was colder but the global mean temperature was 0.6 °C lower than today. The maximum moisture of the air in D.C. only depends on the temperature in D.C., not on the global mean temperature, and Walsh's incoherent stuttering about the Greenland can't change it. A snowflake melts within minutes or seconds when the surrounding temperature is above the freezing point (or a nearby threshold): you can't fool the laws of physics, not even "for a while".

By the way, we have mentioned that the D.C. average daily mean temperatures are above the freezing point both in January in February. (Yes, even in the absence of the daily mean in the table, it's true because the average daily highs are more positive in degrees centigrade than the average daily lows are negative.) So an additional warming surely does mean fewer days when the temperature is below the freezing point - and fewer days when the temperature lies within any chosen interval of temperatures as long as the whole interval is below the freezing point. That's because the Gaussian curve decreases as you're getting further from the center - but I am sure that the normal people are capable to see this obvious fact without any maths, too.

When you look at his article carefully, you will see that there are no valid arguments, and those that are presented as arguments are completely wrong. So the proposition about "warming causing stronger snowing" is as wrong as you should have expected from the beginning. Warming obviously means less snow precipitation. I have estimated that a 1.5 °C warming in Prague would reduce snow roughly by 20 percent: such a change could occur in 100 years.

At the end, he realizes that no sane person is going to believe him, co he concedes that he had written just a pile of crap:

Ultimately, however, it's a mistake to use any one storm — or even a season's worth of storms — to disprove climate change (or to prove it; some environmentalists have wrongly tied the lack of snow in Vancouver, the site of the Winter Olympic Games, which begin this month, to global warming).

Note that it is surely a mistake to disprove "climate change" - but it is never such a mistake to prove it. Although he concedes that it was a mistake for him to prove "climate change" using the snowstorm in D.C., he only informs us about this mistake - which is actually relevant for the validity of his whole article - in parentheses while the opposite mistake is written as a main sentence.

Incidentally, Walsh mentions "environmentalists" who use the weather in Vancouver to support the AGW religion. In an e-mail he sent me today in the morning, Alexander Ač was victoriously celebrating a rainy and relatively mild weather in Vancouver and called for the whole Olympic games to be canceled and declared a victim of global warming, I kid you not. ;-)

Of course, he wasn't interested in the basic Vancouver climate data showing that such conditions are pretty normal around Vancouver and that early February 2010 is just somewhat warmer than average - and still much cooler than years such as 1978 or 1998. Even the average daily low in Vancouver is above the freezing point - both in January and February. In all months, in fact.

For some people, the obsession with the unscientific concepts of a global warming doomsday is much stronger an addiction than heroine or cocaine. I am afraid that the only way to cure these people would be euthanasia - once done, they could be declared victims of the AGW (the religion). Of course, I don't want this to happen to poor AA, but I surely do think that he is genuinely sick.

So, does this guy need to admit his sin of false consciousness and willful ignorance, along with the others?

Exit worry: Here's hoping we aren't exiting from the nice interglacial period we have apparently been enjoying for some time. If so, I'm moving to Florida, willfully.