February 11, 2009

The Other Side Of The Story

Impact Assessments Require Trust in the Climate Forecast

My specialty is in impacts assessment (oceans, coasts, fisheries, polar regions), not the science of climate change. However, to determine impacts correctly, one must understand the nature of change and its likelihood to continue. It is necessary to have trust in what the climate scientists tell you is going to happen in the future. In the IPCC structure, the science has been led by the UK and US scientists, and they have used modeling as their primary tool, with some paleoclimate analysis coming later. The Impact Assessments have been led by the Russians, who have had an intense distrust of modeling. They viewed paleoclimatology as the most valid tool: if you want to know what will happen when CO2 rises or the temperature changes, they say to look at the history of the earth. As an American, working with the Russian teams, I was often caught in the middle of both camps. I learned to listen to both views, and continue to do so. In particular, we learned to distrust any science literature or impacts assessment that did not consider all data available, whether modeling, the instrumented record back into the 1800s and/or the paleo and historical temperature reconstructions. If the data are truncated, there is likely an agenda. Many of us have learned, either formally, or informally, how to detect misrepresentation by statistical treatments and graphics.

How To Tell If an Impact Assessment Is Biased

When reviewing impact assessments, look for bias. Often the authors think only of negative changes. This is not necessarily because of personal agendas (such as to assist animals, clean the air, or reduce the birth rate), but is primarily due to human nature. To guard against having a biased report, one should look for balance. Does the material articulate that things will be different and that there are pluses and minuses? There may well be more of one than another. Sometimes balance is reflected in the amount of text, or graphics made to illustrate impacts and often it is reflected in the number of negative versus positive impacts, the latter often left out completely at the first draft stage. If missing, they tend to be only partially treated thereafter as the authors slowly yield to reviewer comments. Examples of balance:

Discussions of increased summer heat waves and deaths should also include the reductions of winter cold waves and hypothermia deaths. Far more people die of cold.

Increased costs of home air conditioning need to be discussed in the same context as reduced heating costs.

Increased mismatches between food availability in ecosystems need to also include reduced energy demands needed to maintain body temperature, such as for marine mammals.

Discussions of coral reef bleaching need to include the expansion of coral reef habitats.

Discussions of agriculture problems such as regional droughts and the need to change crops must include the expansion of production areas, general increased precipitation, and CO2 fertilization.

Discussions of poison ivy becoming more prolific should similarly treat agricultural crops and forests.

The IPCC Projections do not Comport with Reality

CO2 has usually been associated with temperature rise throughout the history of the Earth. It is indeed a greenhouse gas but it operates on a logarithmic function. The Earth's natural processes also contribute, and remove, copious amounts of CO2. Since plants first appeared on the Earth, they have converted nearly all available CO2 to oxygen, fossil fuels, and other longterm removals from the atmosphere. Today less than 4/100 of 1% (379 ppm) of our atmosphere is CO2. This pales in comparison with other periods in Earth's history. Common IPCC scenarios rely on an increasing supply of fossil fuels, yet we know that this is not possible and that production will soon peak (if not already) while prices will continue to rise. It is absolutely unrealistic to think CO2 emissions will rise for the duration of this century. Even China, with the largest coal reserves, is now importing coal, causing a doubling of the global price. This will get more coal out of the ground, quicker, but it cannot continue forever.

The projected temperature rise is unrealistic, given that the USA and global temperatures have risen by only 1 deg F (.5 C) in 100 years (revised, NOAA, 1 May 2007 ), (or 150 years using the full instrumented data set) during the height of industrial expansion. Even if all this rise is correct, and is attributable to human causes, it is a trivial amount in the natural variation of the Earth, and to suggest the rise would accelerate 5 fold (IPCC best estimate) in this century is incredible. Even after the release of the new data set and procedures by NOAA on May 1, which addressed some of the urban heat island issues and dropped the warming 44% (below IPCC 2007), significant other urban heat island issues still remain. There are also issues of calibration as measurement protocols have changed, issues about the design and placement of the temperature stations, and even the strongly held view by many skeptics that this is a natural rise as the Earth recovers from the Little Ice Age (circa 1500-1900).

Sea level rise may have increased recently, but other studies have consistently shown no increase. Even if there is an increase, it is in the order of 1 mm per year on top of the 1-2 mm per year that has been happening for the last century, this additional amount is 4 inches (10 cm) over the century. This is not trivial if you are in a low-lying region wrestling with land subsidence, but it is barely more than what would be coming anyway.

The other forecasts, such as for hurricanes, rainfall, and snow cover, are not significantly different than under natural variability, and will advance more slowly than the decadal oscillations. In particular, if ocean acidity were a problem for shell formation, it would have shown up already in areas where there are naturally high levels of CO2. It has not. Further, the lead hurricane expert for IPCC, Chris Landsea, resigned over the misrepresentation of data by IPCC .

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Dr. John T Everett

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