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Silent Consensus

I used to be “warmer” to the idea that climate change is a serious problem. That was, until the folks started intentionally exagerrating claims in order to “get our attention” and to want to spend 5o times more funds to prevent change than even the worst case damage scenarios portray. But when these sorts of things continue to get the silent treatment, in prevents us from thinking harder about the impacts of warming, and other things that might be going on. It prevents us from thinking harder about just how much we really know about climate modeling. It prevents us from asking serious questions about what the worst damages from warming are likely to be.

Here is the latest:

Antarctic Ice Melt at Lowest Levels in Satellite Era

Where are the headlines? Where are the press releases? Where is all the attention?

The ice melt across during the Antarctic summer (October-January) of 2008-2009 was the lowest ever recorded in the satellite history.

Such was the finding reported last week by Marco Tedesco and Andrew Monaghan in the journal Geophysical Research Letters:

A 30-year minimum Antarctic snowmelt record occurred during austral summer 2008–2009 according to spaceborne microwave observations for 1980–2009. Strong positive phases of both the El-Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Southern Hemisphere Annular Mode (SAM) were recorded during the months leading up to and including the 2008–2009 melt season.


Figure 1. Standardized values of the Antarctic snow melt index (October-January) from 1980-2009 (adapted from Tedesco and Monaghan, 2009).

The silence surrounding this publication was deafening.

It would seem that with oft-stoked fears of a disastrous sea level rise coming this century any news that perhaps some signs may not be pointing to its imminent arrival would be greeted by a huge sigh of relief from all inhabitants of earth (not only the low-lying ones, but also the high-living ones, respectively under threat from rising seas or rising energy costs).

My emphasis added. I ask students regularly, why are we concerned about climate change? Isn’t it because of the expected negative impacts on humans and animal life? If warming does not seem to be impacting those things, then what is the concern? And if there is concern, does it make sense to remake the entire world economy? Sadly, the more I think about this issue, the more I lean toward believing that some in the climate change community simply WANT it to happen because that is their next death sentence against a free-enterprise society. And believe me, when climate change doesn’t pan out, or if we are somehow able to mitigate the damages efficiently, some other crisis will come along that requires unprecedented global action, and a rethinking of how we live our lives.

But ideas and merit no longer matter. “Consensus” does … and all consensus means is that many people who do not have the slightest clue about how the world works, agree with each other that their superstitions are correct. That is why there is a consensus that the minimum wage helps the poor. That is why there is a consensus that labor regulations protect workers. That is why there is a consensus that when I respond to higher taxes by working less, there is really no loss to society. All bunk.

If I had a genie, I would not ask for wealth or fame or any of that. One of my wishes would be to have access to an unbiased and temperate source of scientific truth. I don’t believe we human beings are generally capable of producing it, or recognizing it if it were there.

4 Responses to “Silent Consensus”

  1. Jim says:

    It’s a shame, Professor, that you don’t actually spend a few minutes to actually verify the information you’re posting, and citing the conclusion of some blogger rather than reading the actual article and forming your own.

    Having attended yesteray’s presentation by Dr. Steven Chu’s (energy secretary, nobel prize winner), and having seen the graphs he presented, I was interested in what the scale in the “Standardized Melting Anomaly” was, so I did a quick google search:

    http://www.google.com/search?q=“Standardized+Melting+Anomaly”

    The results? Exactly two, from a message board. Well, that’s pretty odd, isn’t it?

    So I decided to look at the study referenced at the bottom, wondering if it actually exists and what it actually says. Thanks to our wonderful database system, it took me about 30 seconds to find it:

    http://www.agu.org/journals/gl/gl0918/2009GL039186/
    (Link might not work outside of UofR)

    So what does it actually say? Let me quote the conclusion from the study:

    “Negative melting anomalies observed in recent years do not contradict recently published results on surface temperature trends over Antarctica [e.g., Steig et al., 2009]. The time period used for those studies extends back to the 1950’s, well beyond 1980, and the largest temperature increases are found during winter and spring rather than summer, and are generally limited to West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula. Summer SAM trends have increased since the 1970s [Marshall, 2003], suppressing warming over much of Antarctica during the satellite melt record [Turner et al., 2005]. Moreover, melting and surface temperature are not necessarily linearly related because the entire surface energy balance must be considered [Liston and Winther, 2005; Torinesi et al., 2003].”

    Yep, that sure disproves the claims of the effects of the warming!

    • wintercow20 says:

      think you totally misunderstand the point of my post.

      I am not making any claims about warming … and your comment is precisely the reason why I post the things like this in the first place.

      The intellectual atmosphere surrounding global warming is TOXIC – as your note reminds us. The point is that the Antarctic ice sheet is thicker … and I make that point because it is not reported at all. This is problematic for two reasons …
      (1) If this is not inconsistent with what certain models predict, and if it is possible that this ice sheet remains thick, then what is the worry about warming? There is no reason to worry about warming per se unless someone tells us what the problems from the warming will cause. I don’t think you’ve studied it too much, but the economic cost is not expected to be anywhere near what we are being told to spend on it. If you have been reading my site regularly for the past couple of years, you can see what I mean by that. I don’t take a “do nothing” approach … so if that is a claim you wish to make, it is simply ad hominem because I simply think the hysterics is unhealthy, and also because anything we do about warming gets run through our political sausage grinder and will not be effective, and will be used by a few to enrich themselves at my expense.

      (2) Despite what Mr. Chu says, this strange melting pattern should make us a little concerned about exactly what the climate change models are doing. There are serious problems with the way these things are estimated, calibrated and used to forecast.

      The anomaly study I cited came from a paper from the same folks that did the Greenland work that is published everywhere and the Greenland anomaly is regularly reported. If the melting Greenland glacier “is what the models predict” and it gets reported regularly, then how come something that is 8 times as important in terms of the effects of warming is not reported on, even if what is happening is “within the range of what the models predict”? There is no legitimate explanation for it … and that is the point I am making. It would be like reporting that during this recession, hot dog vendor employment has increased, without mentioning the huge blow to financial sector employment. But I never see that kind of oversight when it comes to those matters.

      I am not a climate scientist, nor do I purport to be. That is why I hope for more in the debate. But as an economist, I understand full well exactly the magnitude of what we are being “told” we need to do to combat the expected warming versus what is really required to deal with the warming directly as opposed to adapting to it. If I am going to be asked to pay 50x the cost of the damage something is expected to cause, and if I am going to be told that this is the most serious risk humanity has ever faced, I think it the issue is worthy of full reporting. When some studies find small disemployment effects from the minwage, the press definitely covers this issue big time, even though those things are well understood by our models. What is different about climate issues?

  2. wintercow20 says:

    My point about modeling and certainty … seconds after I posted the last comment …

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8299079.stm

    What shall I be accused of next?

  3. […] trends in the tropical upper troposphere do not fit well with any climate models. And for all the hemming and hawing we see about melting glaciers and rising temperatures, the recent decade of temperature […]

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