Foreign Policy Blogs

Temperature 101

You may have been hearing about the contretemps regarding emails to and from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia.  I have no particular desire now, frankly, to get into all the allegations, counter-allegations, etc., etc. that have been flying around in the news, the blogosphere and beyond.  There is a discussion – more like a ping pong match – on this under one of my posts here if you want to see my perspective and some others.  I will, however, quote for you what I have quoted before, from a recent editorial in the “FT”.  Here’s what I think is the heart of the matter: “The most important point to make about the leaked correspondence is that it does not undermine the scientific case for cutting emissions of carbon dioxide to fight climate change, which is growing more rather than less compelling. None of the e-mails seized on by sceptics shows manipulation of the science itself.”

With that in mind, let’s step back and take a look at the science.  There is no more lucid and succinct explanation of the science and practice of collecting and analyzing global temperature records than this from Dr. Peter Stott at the UK’s Met Office.  He explains that there are three centers, working independently and using different methods, that gather and calculate the temperature data:  the Met Office, in collaboration with the CRU, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), and the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  These centers receive tens of thousands of temperature observations that are taken across the globe, on land and at sea, every day.  Considerable care is taken in the quality assurance for these observations.

Stott explains how the data are reported.  “Absolute temperatures are not used directly to calculate the global-average temperature. They are first converted into ‘anomalies’, which are the difference in temperature from the ‘normal’ level. The normal level is calculated for each observation location by taking the long-term average for that area over a base period. For HadCRUT3, this is 1961-1990.”  (HadCRUT3 is the record produced by the Met Office and CRU.)

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)  has used this data, among others, to produce its conclusions on global temperature.  (The IPCC shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore in 2007, as you may remember.)  Here is a graph from the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC in 2007.


Figure SPM.4. Comparison of observed continental- and global-scale changes in surface temperature with results simulated by climate models using either natural or both natural and anthropogenic forcings. Decadal averages of observations are shown for the period 1906-2005 (black line) plotted against the centre of the decade and relative to the corresponding average for the period 1901-1950. Lines are dashed where spatial coverage is less than 50%. Blue shaded bands show the 5 to 95% range for 19 simulations from five climate models using only the natural forcings due to solar activity and volcanoes. Red shaded bands show the 5 to 95% range for 58 simulations from 14 climate models using both natural and anthropogenic forcings.

It shows the temperature anomaly of increasingly rapid warming which correlates with how the models predict the warming should proceed.  As Stott puts it:  “The warming has been particularly rapid since the 1970s. The records also clearly show each decade since the 1970s has been successively warmer than the last, including the decade since 2000.”

Now here is a graph that I use in my MS in Global Affairs class at NYU.  It portrays not only the rise in temperatures (since 1970), but it correlates these to tens of thousands of observations of physical and biological changes that are “consistent with warming.”


Figure SPM.2. Locations of significant changes in data series of physical systems (snow, ice and frozen ground; hydrology; and coastal processes) and biological systems (terrestrial, marine and freshwater biological systems), are shown together with surface air temperature changes over the period 1970-2004. A subset of about 29,000 data series was selected from about 80,000 data series from 577 studies. These met the following criteria: (1) ending in 1990 or later; (2) spanning a period of at least 20 years; and (3) showing a significant change in either direction, as assessed in individual studies. These data series are from about 75 studies (of which about 70 are new since the TAR) and contain about 29,000 data series, of which about 28,000 are from European studies. White areas do not contain sufficient observational climate data to estimate a temperature trend. The 2 × 2 boxes show the total number of data series with significant changes (top row) and the percentage of those consistent with warming (bottom row) for (i) continental regions: North America (NAM), Latin America (LA), Europe (EUR), Africa (AFR), Asia (AS), Australia and New Zealand (ANZ), and Polar Regions (PR) and (ii) global-scale: Terrestrial (TER), Marine and Freshwater (MFW), and Global (GLO). The numbers of studies from the seven regional boxes (NAM, EUR, AFR, AS, ANZ, PR) do not add up to the global (GLO) totals because numbers from regions except Polar do not include the numbers related to Marine and Freshwater (MFW) systems. Locations of large area marine changes are not shown on the map.

Is there rapid warming?  Yes.  Is it impacting our home?  You bet.  Should we care?  How can we not?

  • njcons

    “The most important point to make about the leaked correspondence is that it does not undermine the scientific case for cutting emissions of carbon dioxide to fight climate change, which is growing more rather than less compelling. None of the e-mails seized on by sceptics shows manipulation of the science itself.”

    This statement is astounding.

    Not since Frank Drebin uttered the famous words “nothing to see here folks…please disperse”

    See here:

    Have we had such a willing suspension of disbelief.

    I mean….growing MORE compelling not less? If this is true…is there ANYTHING that could make the case less compelling? We have an e-mail that says “we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment, and it’s a travesty that we can’t”.

    None of the e-mail shows manipulation of the science????

    What does “hide the decline” mean then?

    What does “apply artificial correction” mean?

    What does ‘”contain” the putative Medieval Warm Period mean?

    What does “juggle the chronology statistics” mean?

    And most incredibly, the report (IPCC AR4) that has been corrupted is now being held up to support the “science” and the conclusion that there has been substantial warming.

    It’s like Bernie Madoff saying to his investors “ here is your monthly statement, as you can see your investments are doing quite well”.

    The AR4 report that is referenced is the very same report whereby the manipulation of the science was taking place. It is the very same report that the scientists encouraged each other to “delete all e-mails” after a FOIL request was made. It’s the very same report about which the “scientists” said they would delete the raw data rather than provide it…and that they would “hide behind” other laws to protect it.

    You can call this anything you’d like….but it’s not science.

    And it will never be….until the data are shared, the code is made public, and the conclusions can be validated.

    • Bill Hewitt

      Njcons – I really am not in the business of arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I have tried to make that clear. By the way, I’m sure you take comfort in the fact that the Saudis are foursquare behind your view that the science is unproved.

  • sceptic

    There are many questions and facts “true believers” of “global warming” conveniently ignore or are unable to answer. And when the do answer it is typically behind vague and unproved assertions like “most scientists agree”. Regardless I think we can all safely agree that weather patterns and climate are changing.I don’t think the current science or data illustrates what is causing the weather change or whether or what “normal” weather patterns or climate are. Perhaps lower temperatures from prior years were an anomaly and current weather is “normal” And how accurate are our derived temperatures from anything older than 150 years ago? Can they be proven? And more importantly, much (all?) of the predictive weather change is based on a variety of “models” – “models” are also what weather forecasters, hedge fudge managers, portfolio analysts and gamblers use in attempts to predict future events based on past results, all to eventual failure because of the untested assumptions, factors and inputs inherent in any model – climate change models are no different.

    I have no doubt that many computer models illustrate a rise in global temperatures – those same models will also illustrate a lowering in temperatures or no change in temperatures as factors and assumptions are adjusted, based on “input bias”. Unless those models are continually back-tested and refined and can “predict” past results they are “interesting”, but not necessarily “accurate”.

    And lastly, the most troubling aspects regarding climate change is the scientific hubris that we can “fix” the changes with more “science”, like cloud seeding or co2 sequestering or high-altitude reflectors or… trust me, we aren’t that smart to have figured out the intended or unintended consequences.

    Just call me a sceptic.

    • Bill Hewitt

      sceptic – I have great respect for the practice of skepticism. What you and your cohorts are doing is not, however, being skeptical. It is denying the facts. The charts I have here are not just about the modeling. They indicate observations of temperature change as well as the physical and biological changes that are consistent with the patterns of warming that have been recorded. This is about the records, not the models. (Although, as illustrated here, the models correlate nearly perfectly with the observations.)

      I don’t say “most scientists agree.” I say thousands of qualified scientists, using tens of thousands of datasets, compiled over decades, writing in fully peer-reviewed journals, and embraced by the National Academies of Science of a dozen major countries, the IPCC, and policymakers and business leaders all over the globe, agree that there is warming, it’s manmade, and we damn well better be sharp about addressing it.

      You and I agree on one thing. Geoengineering is a blind, wasteful and dangerous path.

  • GALJohnson

    What all of you folks yelling about the CRU emails and data are overlooking is that this is one piece of the puzzle on climate change that thousands of scientists are putting together. Should these folks who wrote these emails have tried to fudge the data? Absolutely not! But complain loud and long when you find a few thousand, or even a few hundred emails over a period of several years talking about fudging data. These folks at the CRU are such a tiny drop in the bucket compared with all of the tens of thousands of people researching this, that your hysteria is ridiculous. It’s like saying that because one car was broken into in your neighborhood you have a major crime spree going on. Context, put these emails in context.

  • njcons

    How can anyone possibly know what the facts are when those holding the data won’t share them? How can anyone know what the facts are when the raw data has been destroyed? How can anyone peer review something when the data and code are not made available? How can anyone trust a peer review process whereby those doing much of the peer reviewing (the CRU crowd) have been shown to fudge the data.

    It was allegedly a “fact” that 1998 was the warmest year on record in the US….until the “peer reviewed” conclusion was shown to wrong by a blogger.

    It was allegedly a fact that temperatures over a 1000 year period rose to unprecedented levels…until the peer reviewed conclusion was shown to be faulty…by a blogger.

    It was allegedly a fact that October 2008 was the warmest on record…until an error was found in the process and NASA had to correct itself.

    The historical GISS temps have been corrected time and time again. Which version of the “peer reviewed” temps were “the facts”?

    • Bill Hewitt

      Njcons – You are proving yourself in the company of not only the Saudis, but Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck and some other really lofty company. You’re going to love this video explaining why, as I asserted a while back in all this, the CRU emails are a tempest in a teapot being kept at a boil by folks like … well, just like you.

  • njcons

    A tiny drop in the bucket? GAL, these folks were the premier “scientists” who:

    1) controlled much of the content that made it to the IPCC reports

    2) Authored several sections of the IPCC reports

    3) Peer reviewed much of the materials in the IPCC report.

    4) were 100% responsible for the paleoclimatological record (temps pre-1850).

    The context is that these “keepers of the data” have been shown to have been intentionally keeping the record out of public view and “fudging the data” to produce a particular outcome. This is not even in dispute. And it ain’t science.

  • sceptic

    Bill: the facts show an increase in temperature over a period of time; the facts do not illustrate “why” that is happening nor if it is “normal” or abnormal. The charts attempt to illustrate the changes are “abnormal”, but one must carefully read the provided information:

    Figure SPM.4. Comparison of observed continental- and global-scale changes in surface temperature with results simulated by climate models using either natural or both natural and anthropogenic forcings…

    The simulated results cannot be proved nor disproved – they are “theories”‘ or conjecture based on medels loaded with assumptions. Also, it is easier to develop models to produce a result when you know the desired result – have the models been independently reviewed for their scientific validity? The rise in temperature may in fact be exactly what one could expect.

    Please also explain the highlighted portion of the following:
    Figure SPM.2. Locations of significant changes in data series of physical systems (snow, ice and frozen ground; hydrology; and coastal processes) and biological systems (terrestrial, marine and freshwater biological systems), are shown together with surface air temperature changes over the period 1970-2004. A subset of about 29,000 data series was selected from about 80,000 data series from 577 studies. These met the following criteria: (1) ending in 1990 or later; (2) spanning a period of at least 20 years; and (3) showing a significant change in either direction…

    Why exclude data series that do not show a “significant change in either direction”?

    • Bill Hewitt

      Sceptic (You must be British, based on the spelling.) – Okay, not only do we agree that geoengineering is crazy, but also that there is warming. We’re getting somewhere. Is the rapidly accelerating rate of warming normal? No. Assessments based on the instrumental records and the work done with proxies indicate we’re seeing some seriously abnormal warming. I would refer you to the excellent work done at Skeptical Science, this, for instance, on What does past climate change tell us? There’s also this Historical Overview of Climate Change Science from the IPCC’s AR4.

      As to causation, I think the IPCC charts here, SPM.4, show that the observations track the models that include anthropogenic forcing. That seems a perfectly lucid explanation that, as Pogo would have it, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Yes, many assumptions go into modeling. For one thing, some of the forcing agents, such as black carbon are not getting enough weight, and methane appears to be a much greater factor than we’ve heretofore understood. (See this from me recently.) And we haven’t adequately looked at the “tipping points” that could radically exacerbate warming. (See this, for instance, from the PNAS.) So, for me anyway, there are more things, not fewer, to address than the models predict.

      We certainly can’t err, can we, in the vigorous, full-throated pursuit of energy efficiency, renewables, green building, “cool” farming, prevention of deforestation and forest degradation (not to mention promoting reforestation), and generally lessening our massive environmental and economic burdens?

  • njcons

    Bill, thanks for the link to the video. It was quite an entertaining piece of fiction….along the lines of “An Incovenient Truth”.

    Noteworthy are the following:

    The commentator opens up with the argument that the term “trick” is used all the time in science.
    In making his case he provides seven slides that:

    1) Repeat a single slide three times (slides 2, 4 and 6) and
    2) In each and every case reference a “computational trick”.

    Now we all now in mathematics “tricks” have been developed to short-cut solutions. The “rule of 72’s” is one for determining compound interest returns. However “computational tricks” are irrelevant to the discussion at hand since it was NOT a computational trick that was in play here. It was a “trick” whereby one set of data (instrument records) were substituted for another set of data (proxy records). In doing so, rather than get at the same answer (as computational tricks do) it resulted in an completely different (and wrong) answer. The “trick” was simply one of deception to “hide the decline”.

    The commentator follows this up with two straw-man arguments:

    The first is that “hide the decline” refers to the historical record using proxy data…not the recent global measurements.

    Huh? Whoever said it did?

    Of course it referred to the proxy data. And the decline showed just how faulty those data are. And hiding showed the complete lack of integrity of the scientists. Period.

    The second straw man is that comment that “it’s a travesty that we can’t explain the lack of warming at the moment” shows just how honest these “scientists” are with other and that they speak freely and don’t hide outcomes.

    Huh? The issue is not how they deal with each other but rather how they deal with the public! They talk of “consensus” and a “settled science”. They talk of accurate models…yet internally they talk of a lack of understanding. They acknowledge among themselves that they don’t understand the present…but tell the public their models know exactly what will happen in 20 years if we don’t act now.

    That’s the travesty.

    • Bill Hewitt

      Njcons – Actually, I thought the video made a perfectly convincing argument regarding the use of the term “trick” with scientists. In any event, I can sit here and type until the cows come home and there’s not one thing I can say to convince you that the climate scientists are right. The problem lies in that we see the world differently. I mentioned George Lakoff once in this context. No, he’s not a climate scientist. (But neither are Limbaugh, Beck or any of those other vicious bloviators, nor you, for that matter, I daresay.) Lakoff is a cognitive scientist, meaning he looks at how people think. You think, in a word, differently than I do, and, thankfully, the real world’s scientists, business leaders, government policymakers, and environmentalists also see things differently than you do. Chris Mooney has written The Republican War on Science. It talks about why folks like Inhofe and Morano, Limbaugh, Beck, the old Bush administration climate deniers and the like – you too? – are terrified of the science.

      Sorry, bro, but there’s no there in the CRU story. But stay with it, by all means.

  • Windy City Kid

    Shouldn’t we verify that the thermometer record is legitimate? There is at least two peer reviewed papers that I know of that have determined that there is a post 1950 warming bias inherent in the thermometer record. There is more evidence coming out every day showing that raw thermometer data has been manipulated as much as .3 to .5 degrees Centigrade which is half of the warming in the historic 160 year record. A recent peer reviewed study on Asia found a 1degree Centigrade warming bias in their thermometer record. An open source study on US thermometers shows that over 70% of US stations have a warming bias. There are huge differences in urban stations located just a few miles from rural stations. There is a bias for most of the recorded warming in the US occurring at night.

    There has also been a significant difference in satellite versus surface station temperatures. I have no regard for the value of surface station data as it exists now only as adjusted data with very poor quality control, and I prefer open source technology that allows anyone with skill to track ocean heat content as a true indicator of a warming planet. Access to climate scientific data and methods has to become all open sourced before it can be trusted.

    Lastly the Earth Radiation Budget Experiment has recently been shown in peer review to assess a .5 degree Centigrade maximum to a doubling of CO2 based on satellite measurement of the Earth’s actual radiation budget. By all means let us look at the accurate real world measurement before we act, and let us confirm scientifically by independent means exactly what the real trend is and what are ALL the influences on that trend.

    • Bill Hewitt

      Kid – See Peter Stott’s explanation – “How do we know they are accurate?” – at the article I’ve referenced above. He says, for my money, what needs to be said on this score.

  • Windy City Kid

    Bill, thanks for the discussion and I hope you will consider another perspective on the temperature data as evidence of warming.

    In 1999, a U.S. National Research Council panel was commissioned to study the state of the U.S. climate observing systems and issued a report entitled “Adequacy of Climate Observing Systems”

    The panel was chaired by Dr. Tom Karl, director of the National Climatic Center, and Dr. James Hansen, lead climate researcher at NASA GISS. That panel concluded:

    “The 1997 Conference on the World Climate Research Programme to the Third Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change concluded that the ability to monitor the global climate was inadequate and deteriorating.”

    Adding to this, here is the beginning of Chapter 2 of the book published in 1999:

    “Scientific analysis of the issues relative to detecting climate change, attributing causes to that change, and evaluating the consequences of projected climate change all require a robust, credible climate observing system. Observing systems are in place that partially fulfill the requirements for meeting these objectives, but the continued viability of some of these systems is questionable. Without immediate action to prevent the deterioration of some essential observing systems, the ability of the climate research community to provide over the next decade the objective scientific information required for informed decision making will be seriously compromised.”

    Bill, nothing has been done in 10 years as a result of this report. What is even more troubling to me is that an investigation into US surface stations by meteorologists and volunteers began a few years ago only to discover that the US surface station system was poorly sited with less than 70% meeting siting criteria established by NOAA in order to ensure accuracy. There is an observable bias towards warming in these stations.

    I have not researched Dr. Stott’s credentials and assume he is a fine gentleman and scientist, but his opinion is certainly not shared by other expert climatologists who specifically looked into the temperature monitoring systems and found problems. Since I have spent time researching so much information on the temperature bias in the current US system and coupled with the findings of the report done by the NAS as well as the recognition by CRU for the need to reconstruct their temperarure record, I can only conclude that Stott is either ill informed or pulling a CYA in trying to save face at the MET for not fully vetting their sources of data.

    Best Regards

    • Bill Hewitt

      Kid – I didn’t want you to think I’d forgotten you. I often have to juggle several balls – as do most of us. In any event, I believe that your concern regarding keeping the climate science updated and in line with the best technology available is shared by the highest echelons of American science. NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center is engaged in maintaining an existing network of monitoring stations and rolling out a new network. See this from them. Certainly they look at how they’ve been monitoring and analyzing data. See this paper for instance: Improvements to NOAA’s Historical Merged Land–Ocean Surface Temperature Analysis (1880–2006). Beyond this, the National Academy of Science and other federal agencies came out with a report this year: Restructuring Federal Climate Research to Meet the Challenges of Climate Change.

      Is the system broken? No. Can it be improved? Yes.

  • njcons

    WCK, you have it exactly right. The station sitings are horrible and have been shown to be heavily influenced by the Urban Heat Island effect (a warming bias).

    As far as Dr. Stott, he may be ill-informed, but I think he is a flat out liar. I say this because he is held out as a “climate expert”.

    Yet he attempts to make the case that 3 different record sources containing thousands of records are independently developed and miraculously come to the same conclusion. The sources are:

    Met Office (UK) Climate Research Unit (CRU)

    Goddard Institute for Space Studies (US) – Part of NASA (GISS)

    National Climatic Data Center (US) – Part of the National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Specifically he states: “ These (3 sources) work independently and use different methods in the way they collect and process data to calculate the global-average temperature. Despite this, the results of each are similar from month to month and year to year…”

    This is absolutely a falsehood.

    The Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN) is a database of temperature, precipitation and pressure records managed by the National Climatic Data Center, Arizona State University and the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center.

    It is this single source that provides the raw data used in all of the sources referenced above . Each source mentioned above “tweaks” the GHCN data for variables they feel are relevant.

    We know this because GISS tells us directly that this is the case.

    Current Analysis Method

    The current analysis uses surface air temperatures measurements from the following data sets: the unadjusted data of the Global Historical Climatology Network (Peterson and Vose, 1997 and 1998), United States Historical Climatology Network (USHCN) data, and SCAR (Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research) data from Antarctic stations.


    And Phil Jones told us that CRU does as well in one of his e-mails:

    “Almost all the data we have in the CRU archive is exactly the same as in the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN) archive used by the NOAA National Climatic Data Center.

    As regards NOAA we have :

    The merged land air and sea surface temperature anomaly analysis is based on data from the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN) of land temperatures and the International Comprehensive Ocean-Atmosphere Data Set (ICOADS) of Sea Surface Temperature (SST) data.

    So there you have it. A single source of temps populating each database for further manipulation and analysis. Is there any wonder the outcomes look similar? And we know from the e-mails that there are very frequent communications between the three sources. Rather than these data being independently developed…we find they are highly interdependent.

    Mr. Stott lied.

    • Bill Hewitt

      Njcons – Like I said.

  • njcons

    so Bill concludes the “system isn’t broken”.

    And his support is a piece from NOAA that “it’s fixed”.

    The problem is that Bill’s reference is dated 2007…

    yet the evidence of the broken system is from 2008-2009.

    I’m sure Bill wil respond with yet another “But Limbaugh”..”But Beck”…”But Republicans”….

    those pesky facts we keep raising seem to be tough to deal with.

    • Bill Hewitt

      njcons – The real pesky facts are that there are readings from all over the world, over decades in the case of instrumental records and over hundreds of thousands of years using proxy, showing that we’re in the soup. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), as you well know, has recently characterized the last decade as the warmest on record.

  • sceptic

    Bill; with regards to IPCC chart SPM.4, you conveniently failed to address the question as to why data series that do not show a “significant change in either direction” were excluded. Why only include data that show a significant change? Or do the other data series not validate the hypothesis?

    But the crux of the “true believers” argument ultimately rests with “well, the science may not be proven right, but it can’t be bad to act now”, or as you stated, “We certainly can’t err, can we, in the vigorous, full-throated pursuit of energy efficiency, renewables, green building, “cool” farming, prevention of deforestation and forest degradation (not to mention promoting reforestation), and generally lessening our massive environmental and economic burdens?”

    Well, yes we can “err”; we can implement costly, disruptive and unnecessary policies and actions in the misguided attempts to “correct” conditions that are otherwise “normal” and explainable.

    At this point, much of the “science” does not adequately address real concerns as to the validity of the observations or conclusions reached by the “true believers”.

    For another interesting perspective, read here

    • Bill Hewitt

      sceptic – Now you are reverting to the rhetorical style that characterizes your position: slash and burn. I didn’t “conveniently” fail to address anything. I have neither the time nor the inclination, as I’ve said before here, to debate how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. (Or pinhead, as the case may be.) In any event, I have no idea why the folks who put together that graphic didn’t include the data you decry as being missing. You’d have to ask them. “True believer?” I’m guilty as charged. I believe in the laws of physics, I believe in the data that the instruments record, and I even believe in the conclusions of scientists who actually care about what they’re doing and saying.

      As to “costly” policies, that’s the crux. Those left-wing “true believers” at McKinsey identify energy efficiency, renewables and other green tech as cost-negative. You are towing the line of the special interests of Big Oil, Coal, Power and Ag. Your natural allies are ExxonMobil, Saudi Arabia, Cargill and Massey.

  • sceptic

    Bill; as you stated, “I didn’t “conveniently” fail to address anything. I have neither the time nor the inclination…” and “… I have no idea why the folks who put together that graphic didn’t include the data you decry as being missing…”. The chart notes themselves indicate that less than half the available data series were used and data series not showing “significant change in either direction” were excluded.

    If you’re going to use “scientific” information in your classes (i.e. chart IPCC SPM.2), don’t you think you should understand what it is (and what it isn’t) before “promoting” it to your students? As it stands, all you can say is that a chart, produced using a subset of available data, bolsters a position that you hold. Well isn’t that convenient.

    But then that’s one of the points of us “non believers”; too many people are taking “information” at face value without understanding it or questioning it. That by itself would be negligent, but worse, when others do take the time to question the “information”, answers are not forthcoming or the questioners are shouted down.

    Also try

  • sceptic

    Bill; that’s quite an alarmist viewpoint you have there. I also hadn’t realized that asking questions about data and viewpoints that you are presenting can be charactized as vicious or phony. But thank you for so quickly validating my previous assertion that “when others do take the time to question the “information”, answers are not forthcoming or the questioners are shouted down”. The validity of your position is not commensurate with its volume nor its hysteria.

    I reviewed the material you referenced, and aside from being rather boring, it is far from conclusive. While it does make a solid case for observed climate change, the linking of climate change to human activity is much more tenuous.

    Of interest though was the statement that “studies are more likely to be successfully submitted and published when a significant change is found… result that the ‘no change’ cases are underrepresented in the published literature” and recognition that there “is a notable lack of balance in the data and literature on observed changes”.

    I also found it interesting that when actual results were compared to natural, anthropogenic and combined natural / anthropogenic models, while there was a higher correlation of actual results to the combined natural / anthropogenic models, the actual results were significantly lower than what the models would have “predicted”.

    Lastly, I’m not “heavily invested” in “denying” anything; what I do expect though is that “dramatic” action be supported by facts, and if that is the case, the facts should easily stand up to questioning and scrutiny, and supporters of the facts should be able to defend their position with reason, and not insults.

  • sceptic

    Bill; I had a few other thoughts regarding the IPCC material and supporting data it references. I don’t expect you rto have answers, but the questionns would be worth your time to consider.

    1) the data used to generate the charts and respective conclusions categorize the miriad of environmental impacts as statistically significant or not significant “according to the author of each paper”. So how do I attribute validirty to tthe original author’s assessment (or not)?

    2) the climate observations themselves are identified as changes consistent with warming, changes consistent with cooling or an observation of no change, with the majority of observations claassified as “changes consistent with warming”. We are there any observations of changes consistent with cooling? Or is it possible that weather and climate are complex and we don’t undersrtand it as well as we think we do.

    Lastly, and this has been raised before, one of the problems with climate change studies is that many (most?) studies are based on the same underlying data or are based on conclusions from the same underlying data – the conclusions reached in the original material are self-perpetuating because no new information is incorporated. It’s like me offering a review of a book based on your review of the book – it would be hard for the two views to differ…

    • Bill Hewitt

      sceptic – “The validity of your position is not commensurate with its volume nor its hysteria.” Tell that to Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and your cohort of denialists who call scientists liars and accuse them of perpetrating “the greatest hoax” ever. When you accused me of “conveniently failing to address” something, you cast the first stone. That is tantamount to calling someone a liar where I come from. As to the IPCC and other literature being “boring,” I must give you points for having stones. You wouldn’t suspect for one moment, would you, that your bland attempts at critiquing the work of real scientists doing important work might be just a tad on the tedious side? (See Projection.)

      I, and many others, have supported our assertions with reason, over and over again. See the original blog post here, and many other references. It is not my fault that you are not amenable to reason, or have an entirely different view of what constitutes reason.

  • njcons

    Why don’t we take a look at some of these facts.

    Firstly you state: The real pesky facts are that there are readings from all over the world, over decades in the case of instrumental records and over hundreds of thousands of years using proxy, showing that we’re in the soup.

    In the soup? Really? The facts say that things were “soupier” during the Medieval Warming Period from 1000-1350…and man-kind sure survived that ok…in fact red grapes were being grown in southern England and Greenland was being farmed. Little man-made CO2 to speak of… and everyone did just fine when temps were significantly warmer than they are today.

    Now it’s quite true that some “scientists” wanted to “get rid of the MWP” and others to ”contain” the putative Medieval Warm Period. We know this through the recently discovered e-mails. And we know for a fact that they attempted to do so by using highly dubious (by the IPCC’s own account) tree-ring data. In fact, the whole disappearance of the MWP was produced by six tree-ring samples from a single region in Siberia. These were selected…apparently because while there were hundreds of others that could have been included in the sample, only these six show the cooling that was needed to get rid of the MWP. Furthermore we know that the very same tree-ring data were proven to be highly ineffective as a proxy source since they showed dramatic cooling since 1960 (which contradicts the warming that has been detected through instrument data). We know this because these “scientists” plotted to “hide the decline” as evidenced by the recent e-mails.

    So the fact that there has been (perhaps) warming over recent decades of a couple of degrees means what? Is there ANY reason to believe it isn’t 100% natural? The “scientists” themselves tell us that some of the warmest years of the century occurred in the 1930’s. It’s cooled over the last decade…what does that mean? Should we extrapolate this cooling and prepare for a new ice-age? Is this the way science works?

    I think not.

    And I think that your ability to separate “fact” from “conjecture”… not to mention completely fraudulent data manipulation…needs a bit of honing.

    • Bill Hewitt

      njcons – “The year 2009 is likely to rank in the top 10 warmest on record since the beginning of instrumental climate records in 1850, according to data sources compiled by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).” See the press release from them titled: 2000–2009, THE WARMEST DECADE.

  • sceptic

    Bill; nice attempt at redirection and avoiding the topic at hand. Try to stay focused please. Again, rather than answer the specific questions asked or address the points raised you choose instead to avoid the topic.

    As I previously asked, how can one assess the validity of an author’s study that categorizes impacts as significant or not significant without a statistical basis to confirm the author’s assessment? Would that not potentially jeopardize the conclusions based on unverified assessments? And why are there still statistically significant observations (>25%) of changes consistent with cooling? Shouldn’t we only observe changes consistent with warming if “climate change” is as big a threat as presented by you or your colleagues?

    • Bill Hewitt

      sceptic – Ask the authors of the IPCC material.

  • njcons

    Bill, a couple of points regarding 2009 and “the warmest decade” conclusions:

    1) until they release the station data, their conclusions are not verifiable and the world can only “take it on faith”.

    2) even IF you assign 100% credibility to their determined temps, there has been no further warming over the past decade (it’s due to the lower temps in the EARLY 90′s that the current decade is higher than the previous…but that doesn’t change the fact that there has been no warming in the past decade). And that’s not me talking…that’s the scientists themselves who declared that “it’s a travesty” that they can’t explain the lack of warming.

    3) even IF you assign 100% credibility to their determined temps, the most recent decade ….by their own records….reflect a one-tenth of one degree warming over the previous decade.

    One tenth of one degree. And this is data that has been revised and altered for station movements, station additions, station deletions, urban heat island effects,etc.

    Quite frankly I don’t think they can measure the temps of Rhode Island to the accuracy of one-tenth of a degree using such methodologies.

    Bottom line remains…until they release the raw data and the adjustments made to the public…it remains a matter of faith.

    • Bill Hewitt

      All the data is available:

      NCDC dataset: Smith, T. M., et al. (2008), Improvements to NOAA’s Historical Merged Land-Ocean Surface Temperature Analysis (1880-2006), J. Climate, 21, 2283-2293. NCDC data are available online.

      GISS dataset: Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, M. Imhoff, W. Lawrence, D. Easterling, T. Peterson, and T. Karl, 2001: A closer look at United States and global surface temperature change. J. Geophys. Res. 106, 23947-23963. GISS data are available online.

      Met Office Hadley Centre datasets.

      As to the warming, the trends are there, short-term, medium-term, long-term. What, if there’s no warming, is melting the glaciers, for instance? Is drying up the American West? Is producing the massive impacts we’re seeing and we’re seeing accelerating?

  • sceptic

    Bill; well, this has all become rather pointless. First you present graphs and charts and data to present or support your position, but are unable to answer questions about those same charts and graphs to explain what they mean. And worse, rather than improve your understanding you direct the questioner to the original authors.

    Which leaves me disappointed for your students, who are presented with information you don’t fully understand under the guise of “truth” – sadly, unless you yourself fully understand the material you are presenting it is little better than unsubstantiated propaganda. Unless of course you are more interested in proselytizing than educating.

    And in regards to your recent response to njcons; you again make the faulty leap in logic from observation of change to causation of change. And that assumes of course that the baseline used to identify the change represents “normal”.

  • njcons

    Bill, thanks for the links…however they are not what you say they are.

    The NCDC only provides the resulting “calculated” temps (not the measured temps) in gridded format. It does not provide the station data, nor does it provide “adjustments” made to the data (i.e. homogenizing, eliminations, error corrections, adjustments for relocated stations , adjustmenst for Urbam Heat Island effects).

    Same with GISS.

    The Met Office has released some station data…but only a few weeks ago..and only for 1,900 stations out of 5,000.

    The IEA out of Russia is already saying that their data had been monkeyed with…and much of it discarded.

    As far as your suggested antecdotal evidence…you need to be careful with cherry-picked information.

    Glaciers melting? Perhaps in the northern hemisphere…but not in the southern hemisphere. There is a long history of regional variances…suggesting that the current activity is occuring naturally. And glaciers are effected as much by precipitation as they are by temps.

    And even in the northern hemisphere there are recent examples of growing glaciers.

    And what of these “massive” and accelerating impacts?

    Recent tropical activity GLOBALLY hit a 30 year low in 2009.

    I thought they were suppose to be getting worse?

    The alarmers are telling us that every time the wind blows it’s due to global warming….as if we never exerienced extreme weather in the past. But the data suggest otherwise.

    • Bill Hewitt

      sceptic and njcons – As I’ve noted, I could respond to you and continue to respond to you, and you would always have some new silly spin. Please, feel free to enjoy your view of the world. Forgive me if I don’t share it. (Or don’t, as the case may be.)

  • njcons

    so it’s *hard science* to point out that glaciers are melting (your point)

    but it’s *silly spin* to point out that it’s only happening in the NH while glaciers in the SH grow…a phenomenon that has been on-going for centuries.

    Your reaction, sadly, is only too consistent with the alarmists reaction for decades to facts that don’t square with their perception of AGW.

    • Bill Hewitt

      njcons – Did Bolivia move above the equator when I wasn’t looking?

  • njcons

    Bill, you raise an excellent illustration.

    Firstly, there are always exceptions to the rules. For instance here is a northern Hemisphere glacier that is growing while most others are in decline.,2933,378144,00.html

    But more importantly, your illustration of the Bolivian glacier is a perfect example of how glaciers are impacted by many variables other than temps. Precipitation, cloud cover, and solar activity can have huge impacts on the changing size of glaciers.

    The fact is that temperatures have been declining at this glacier. While the rest of the world is allegedly warming, this area has been cooling by about -.2 C/decade for the past six decades. And this has been independently confirmed by the University of Dayton who have been studying this glacier since 1995 and have determined an average temp anomaly of -.6 C per year there.

    Here are the daily temps since 1995:

    Here also is a link with further details on this glacier:

    Here again is an example (as pointed out by sceptic as well) of an apparent knee-jerk reaction determining causation without considering all factors. Clearly it is not warming temps…let alone man-made warming…that is at play here.

    • Bill Hewitt

      Okay, but the entirety of the Andean glacial mass is diminishing. See this article from IPS and this report from the World Bank. The World Bank reports “Since 1970, glaciers in the Andes have lost 20 percent of their volume, according to a report by Peru’s National Meteorology and Hydrology Service (SENAMHI).” “Skeptical Science,” not one of your key sources I daresay, notes here that “Globally, glaciers are shrinking in area and thickness and the melt rate has accelerated dramatically since the mid-1990s. The National Snow and Ice Data Center have calculated global change in glacier volume – their results show glaciers are shrinking at an alarming rate.” Local conditions in all cases? The thawing of the Arctic sea ice and permafrost, the melting in the Alps, the melting of Kilimanjaro’s snow – all caused by local conditions?

  • njcons

    Bill, your links continue to make my point.

    Your first link quotes the following:

    “Now, Chacaltaya is fast disappearing, along with other Andean glaciers, a result of global warming, says Vergara. “The greenhouse gases are the main driver. The scientific community has a consensus—this is manmade.”

    I just got through showing that without a doubt the Chacaltaya glacier disappearance could not be attributed to warming…since it’s been cooling there. Your source simply has it wrong. And what should we make of a 20% decline in the Andes (which includes the massive Chacaltaya glacier)? If the remainder of the Andean glacial mass has declined 10-15% (pick a number), why wouldn’t this be considered entirely natural? Surely precipitation levels can vary that much over decades.

    And your “skeptical science” link boldly states that glacier growth in the Shastas is due to increased precipitation. Exactly my point! If glaciers can grow due to precipitation they can decline due to the lack thereof. This is another of the alarmists game. They will tell us that warming increases precipitation levels which lead to increased ice-mass. They will also tell us that warming diminishes ice mass. So they’ve conveniently got it covered regardless of what’s happening to ice mass.

    Finally, why is it that Arctic sea-ice loss is always raised but Antarctic ice growth is NEVER mentioned? You’ve got to look at the whole picture.

    And how has the “science” factored in recent massive volcanic activity under the Arctic Ocean? What impact has this had?

    A Merry Christmas to you and all of your readers. Thanks for the exchange.

    • Bill Hewitt

      As I said: “Okay, but the entirety of the Andean glacial mass is diminishing.”

      As to Antarctica, land ice is decreasing and the rate of decrease is accelerating. Sea ice accumulation is perhaps explained by several factors: the impact of ozone depletion on wind patterns, ocean circulation patterns. The waters around Antarctica are warming faster than the rest of the world’s oceans, so “global cooling” is not in play. (See the succinct explanation of this at Skeptical Science.)

      Does underwater volcanic activity explain all of the documented sea surface temperature rise worldwide? But yes, there is at least one other factor involved in Arctic ice melt: black carbon deposition. BC is a massive forcing agent, not only in the Arctic, but in the Himalayas and elsewhere.

  • njcons

    Bill, your source (Skeptical Science) is 1) brings a rather pointed bias to the discussion and 2) (unsurprisingly) cherry-picks a very limited (2002-2005) timeframe to make its point.

    Perhaps the folks who are charged with such monitoring (the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research and the Australian Antarctic Division of Glaciology) can bring a more measured response to the matter:

    From earlier this year :

    “Antarctica has 90 per cent of the Earth’s ice and 80 per cent of its fresh water. Extensive melting of Antarctic ice sheets would be required to raise sea levels substantially, and ice is melting in parts of west Antarctica. The destabilisation of the Wilkins ice shelf generated international headlines this month.
    However, the picture is very different in east Antarctica, which includes the territory claimed by Australia.
    East Antarctica is four times the size of west Antarctica and parts of it are cooling. The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research report prepared for last week’s meeting of Antarctic Treaty nations in Washington noted the South Pole had shown “significant cooling in recent decades”.

    The head of the scientific agency in charge of monitoring such thing said the following:

    “Australian Antarctic Division glaciology program head Ian Allison said sea ice losses in west Antarctica over the past 30 years had been more than offset by increases in the Ross Sea region, just one sector of east Antarctica.”

    Significant cooling increases in the East “more than offsetting” losses in the West .

    • Bill Hewitt

      What’s the bias? That the science is solid?


Bill Hewitt
Bill Hewitt

Bill Hewitt has been an environmental activist and professional for nearly 25 years. He was deeply involved in the battle to curtail acid rain, and was also a Sierra Club leader in New York City. He spent 11 years in public affairs for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, and worked on environmental issues for two NYC mayoral campaigns and a presidential campaign. He is a writer and editor and is the principal of Hewitt Communications. He has an M.S. in international affairs, has taught political science at Pace University, and has graduate and continuing education classes on climate change, sustainability, and energy and the environment at The Center for Global Affairs at NYU. His book, "A Newer World - Politics, Money, Technology, and What’s Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis," will be out from the University Press of New England in December.

Areas of Focus:
the policy, politics, science and economics of environmental protection, sustainability, energy and climate change


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