30 December 2011

Those Inconvenient Numbers Just Keep Adding Up

Posted by Dan Satterfield

With the year ending in a matter of hours now, it seems like a good time to add up some of the climate numbers along with some perspective. The first little tidbit is the NCDC record of record highs versus record lows. This year’s numbers show the trend of record highs far outpacing record lows continues.

Notice the number of record high overnight lows, versus record lows, is running nearly 3 to 1.  Those that want to grasp at the “Its only one year” explanation should look at the graph below. It’s definitely not. The graph below is from Gerald Meehl at NCAR.


Images are much more powerful than words. I think this explains the attacks on Dr. Michael Mann (Climatologist at Penn. State Univ.) courtesy of the Attorney General of Virginia along with an extremist political group. There were many scientists at the AGU meeting in San Francisco who contributed to a fund for his legal defense. Dr. Mann’s big mistake was to put his data into a graph that made the powerful image (below) you’ve likely seen before.

From Mann et.al. 2008

This graph, and the one from his earlier paper is the reason Mann needs money for his legal defense. In spite of the fact that it has been dissected, time and again, by the best scientists in the field (and come out clean), his research is not the problem. Neither is the fact that there is not one shred of credible evidence that Mann did anything illegal. The image says it all, and it seems likely that this is the reason that political idealogues are doing everything they can to discredit it. If he had just published the data without the image!

Fear (of taxes, socialism etc), even if it is misplaced, can be a very dangerous thing, even in 21st century America. Scott Mandia (who I greatly enjoyed meeting at the AGU) has started a defense fund for Dr. Mann. You can contribute here.


Another powerful image is from just a few months ago. Dr. Richard Muller’s independent confirmation that NASA, NOAA, and the Climate Research Unit at the Hadley Centre have produced a reliable record of Earth’s rising temperature is perhaps the number one climate image of the year. This one image put the nail in the coffin of those diehards that still refuse to accept that the Earth is warming.



While a few still tenaciously hold onto the belief the planet is not warming, cracks are appearing. My friend Tom Smerling over at ClimateBites has a great post about it. It’s reached the point that claiming the warming is false, or a conspiracy, gets the same funny looks given to those who mention chemtrails or HAARP.

Newsrooms do not send out reporters to interview those who think the Moon landing was faked every July 20th, and it’s time that they act just as responsibly on scientific questions. Fortunately, there is growing evidence that they are indeed doing just that.  The attempt to discredit researchers with more stolen emails fell flat on its face in November. The real news organizations are starting to get the picture, and let’s hope that 2012 sees the press cover the real issue of climate change: What are we going to do about it!

This is a question that requires all sides of the political question to weigh in on. Both sides will likely make some important contributions if we can get the conversation started.


While at the AGU, Dr. Ben Santer handed me a paper (he coauthored) that was just published in SCIENCE. It’s a perspective piece on the history of the attempts to measure the Earth’s temperature beginning in 1982. While you can find blogs and web pages all over the web that purport to show that everything I’ve shown above is false, you will not find any published science that does so. As Santer ,Wigley and Taylor said in their paper: ” Reproducibility -the independent verification of prior findings is the core of the spirit of science.”

Ben Santer and myself in San Francisco. Always hang around with people smarter than you. Just listen and smile. You will usually learn something. 😉

Dealing with climate change is going to take the best and brightest ideas from both sides of the political spectrum. However, pretending there isn’t a problem, is no longer a viewpoint that can be held by those applying critical thinking to the evidence. Those that stubbornly hang onto the myth because it conforms to an unchangeable world view are going to end up looking foolish. It already does to an increasing number of people who realize that the skepticism, so visible on certain cable networks and on certain web sites, is not backed up by any real science. Scientific method always wins in the long run.

To understand why, one just has to listen to Richard Feynman.