The Lowdown on the Meltdown

By Howard Hayden
(from 21st Century Science & Technology)


Global Warming: The Complete Briefing
Third Edition
By Sir John Houghton
New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004
Paperback, 351 pp., $45

Meltdown: The predictable Distortion of Global
Warming by Scientists, Politicians and the Media
By Patrick Michaels
Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute, 2004
Hardcover, 271 pp., $24.95

Sir John Houghton has famously told the world that global warming is a weapon of mass destruction, a far worse threat than terrorism. His humorless Global Warming: The Complete Briefing is several notches above Al Gore's Earth in the Balance and Stephen Schneider's Laboratory Earth, but it is a horror story nonetheless.

Patrick J. Michael's “Meltdown: The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians and the Media,” is a welcome antidote to global warming hype. Read the title carefully. It should not be news to anybody that politicians and the media distort global warming, but Michaels asserts that scientists are also guilty – and provides de data to make his case.

The first five chapters of The Complete Briefing are the ones of interest. These 115 pages have a good summary of data and models used by the IPCC. Then the speculation and carping begin with chapter 6 and continue for the next 200 pages. Here we can learn about the usual litany of horrid things that will happen to the Earth if we continue to cause global warming: more hot weather, more extreme hot weather, more rain, less rain, more tropical diseases, changes in ocean thermohaline circulation, and rising sea levels. Houghton cites religious reasons (some taken from Al Gore) for being better stewards of the Earth.

As a late colleague used to comment, the first thing towards understanding something is to memorize the facts. As te useful facts are in the first five chapters, I shall concentrate on them, leaving the speculative parts to those who are comfortable playing 5-card stud with 52 cards wild.

It is not high temperature, but temperature differences that drive the winds. If the enire Earth were at some uniform but extremely high temperature kike 50º C, there would be no storms whatsoever. None. On the other hand, a cyclonic storm has existed on ultra-cold Jupiter for at least 300 years. This is a matter of elementary thermodynamics.

All global circulation models predict that global warming will be greatest at the poles, and basically trivial in the tropics. That is, all global circulation models predict a reduction of temperatures differences, hence a reduction in the frequency and severity of storms. That much said, it is hard to understand why Houghton goes out of his way to emphasize “The remarkable last decades of the “20th Century.” One page is devoted to a map showing severe events in 1998. His purpose us clearly not to say that we are going to see a decrease in such weather-caused devastation, but rather to produce a frightening scenario for the stupid but numerous.

Houghton's horror story continues with the usual litany of weather related insurance losses, which have increased much faster that generic insurance losses during the last half-century. There is not a word in the book attempting to produce a honest analysis of this often repeated insurance history. For example, because air conditioning has made the state more hospitable, the population of Florida has quadrupled since 1950, largely by wealthy and semi-wealthy retirees, who have built expensive homes in hurricane territory. For that matter, Houghton presents no actual data on hurricane frequency or intensity, but says incorrectly that there are clear trends in the last half of the 20th Century.

Rising sea levels, of course, don't have anything to do with violent weather. Houghton tell us, correctly, that sea level rose between 10 and 20 centimeters during the 20th Century, and he implies that rising seas caused by further global warming will inundate lowlands everywhere. But it has also risen 100 meters –10.000 cm – since the last ice age, when a tremendous amount of water was locked up in ice sitting on land. Of course, the 10.000 cm rise happened before the industrial revolution, but everything since is obviously caused by mankind.

It is interesting to look at Houghton's discussion on how global average temperature is measured. “All the observations, from land stations and from ships, are then located within a grid of squares, say 1º of latitude and 1º of longitude, covering the Earth's surface. Observations within each square are averaged; the global average is obtained by averaging (after weighting them by area) over the average of each square.”

That all sounds simple and straightforward. A 1º-by-1º region is nearly square at the equator (roughly 111 km by 111 km), but is wedged-shaped nearer the poles. Presumably, this inequality in area is what is meant by “after weighting them by area,” although Houghton provides no explanation. But that is hardly the problem. To imply that there are regular readings on every 1º square of the Earth is way beyond absurd. By and large, thermometers are where people are –in heavy populated areas likely to have a heat-island effect.

There are huge uninhabited regions on this planet. It is also a fair bet that there are millions of square miles whose average temperature is inferred from no more than a half dozen thermometers. Moreover, assessing the temperature of the ocean accurately is even more perilous, because there has been no consistency in the method of taking readings (near ship, far from ship, ahead of ship, behind ship, depth of sampling, time of day)…

Microwave sounding units on satellite, on the other hand, sample all areas of the Earth, and do uniform sampling of temperature. Readings taken by satellites agree closely with readings of the same region taken by weather balloons; therefore, the calibration of instruments is assured. But the worldwide average temperature as taken by satellites does not show the recent rapid upturn of worldwide “average” temperatures that is inferred from ground-based thermometers.

Houghton acknowledges this difference, yet builds his entire book around the infamous “hockey-stick” graph (below) that actually denies that there ever was a Medieval Warm Period of a Little Ice Age. The absence of these well known climatic events ought to have made Houghton very suspicious. (In fact, there were numerous statistical errors made during the contruction of the hockey-stick graph). But how could you write a horror story about an Earth that is warming slowly, and on which there will be fewer and weaker storms?

Figure 1: The red line delimiting the yellow area is the "hockey stick" curve, alledgedly showing recent temperatures (the blade of the stick is at the right) as the highest since 1400. Authors of the curve, M.E. Mann et al., claimed that "temperatures in the latter half of the 20th Century were unprecedented," and that the 1990s was "likely the warmest decade." The IPCC adopted the Mann et al analysis, calling 1998 the "warmest year" of the millenium.

The blue line delimiting the light blue area is the corrected curve, which is derived from the same data set, showing the 20th Century temperatures tobe colder than those of the 15th Century.

Source: Adapted form S. McIntyre and R. McKitrick, 2003, "Corrections to the Mann et al (1998) Proxy Data Base en Northern Hemisphere Average Temperature Series," Energy & Environment, Vol. 14, No. 6 pp. 751-771.

Meltdown Refreshing

Meltdown is and an entirely different kind of book. With acidic humor and mountains of facts, Michaels thoroughly demolishes the standard shibboleths of global warming. For example, he shows –using uncontroversial data– that Greenland's temperature has been slightly declining since its highest temperature in the late 1930s and early 1940s; that Kilimanjaro's glacier has been retreating since at least 1912, and the temperature at te peak has recently been decreasing; that precipitation in the United States has been increasing since the late 1800s; that at least half of the global warming occurred before 1940, well before any perceptible increase in CO2 levels; that maximum wind speeds of Atlantic hurricanes have decreased since record keeping began in the 1940s; that sea levels has fallen around Tuvalu (about which island the news media have shed many tears); that the “heat index” (a as-if temperature, calculated from actual temperature relative to humidity) will not increase in those areas where temperature and humidity are high; and many, many others.

Importantly, Michaels makes three points: (1) the Earth is warming up; (2) the warming is sligh and manageable; and (3) there is nothing that we could do about it.

Michaels begins by looking at the science. He points out that the temperature rise of the Earth is proportional to the logarithm of the CO2 concentration. I wish the book had a brief explanation for this behavior; Michaels simply refer to a (refereed) paper he and three colleagues published in Climate Research that gave the reasons and presented actual data in support.

The global warming modelers assume that the CO2 concentration is rising exponentially at 1% per year. But even if that gross overestimate were true, then the temperature would rise linearly with time, because the of the logarithmic response of temperature to concentration. But the CO2 concentration has risen at less than exponential rates for three decades –a fact ignored by almost all global circulation models– so the rate of temperature rise should decrease.

Michaels tell us why most of the CO2 induced global warming must occur in the Arctic regions, primarily at night and in winter. The most important greenhouse gas in the world, by a factor of 10, is water vapor. Add a little CO2 in the humid tropics and the additional blanketing effect is negligible. Add a little CO2 in the Polar Regions where there is almost no H2O at all, and the blanketing effect is noticeable.

Houghton worries at length about heat stress, painting a picture of people and livestock dying, tropical diseases becoming rampant, and tourists “seeking other destinations” –presumably no New Yorkers will visit the Bahamas in January. But how bad can heat index become in high-humidity, low-latitude coastal areas? In fact, it can hardly increase, because more heat simply causes a little more water to evaporate, rather than raising the temperature. Using numerous examples, Michaels shows that the heat-stress argument is so much hogwash.

Glalciers and ice caps are dynamic things. There is some evaporation even at extremely low temperatures; there is melting and there is snowfall; the balance determines where glaciers grow or recede. Absent any mechanism to replace evaporated and melted ice, all glaciers and ice caps in the world would eventually be gone. Kilimanjaro's snows, for example, are in decline because of a decline in precipitation, and most assuredly not because of rising temperatures.

While The Complete Briefing goes into a rant about the supposedly devastating effects of global warming, Meltdown provides a bleak picture of global warming science and its practitioners. For example, the IPCC publishes a large array of global warming scenarios, asserting that all of them (even extremely unlike ones) are a priori equally likely; averaging them leads to a temperature rise that is triple de likely value. (It is vaguely akin to averaging Bill Gate's income with mine).

Michaels tell us that the National Assessment of Climate Change (USNA) was mounted politically. “This tortuous bureaucracy was larded with political appointees a all levels and served to ensure that the proper individuals ultimately produced the USNA.” Similarly, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has more than 200 “lead authors,” of whom only a third are climate scientists.

Michaels blame the system that finance research because it gives rewards to scientists for producing extreme scenarios that lead to scary headlines, hence to Gongressional demands to throw more money ot the researchers. There is much to be said for that point of view.

Howard hayden Ph.D. is the publisher of The Energy Advocate newsletter (P.O.Box 7595, Pueblo West, Colo. 81007), and is the author of the book, The Solar Fraud.

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