The International Conference on Climate Change - Part IV

We’re still rumbling along with the stories that came out of the International Conference on Climate Change, which was organized by the Heartland Institute and held in Washington DC a couple weeks back.

Given the volume of material, I’ve ended up serializing this into a series of reports. This is Part IV; you can find Parts I, II, and III here, here, and here.

As noted in Part III last Friday, Part IV contains the thoughts of University of Alabama/Huntsville climatologist Prof. Roy Spencer, some comments from Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and (a RedState exclusive!) a few items from my interview and conversation with Steve Milloy – founder of junkscience.com and the author of the recently-issued book, “Green Hell.”

More below the fold.

Prof. Roy Spencer is a respected climate scientist at the University of Alabama/Huntsville. His talk provided a wide-ranging overview of a number of technical points – which I’ll do my best to describe.

He noted (as have many others) that all of the IPCC-esque climate models include a number of assumptions (for various mechanisms) of positive feedback – without anything more than untenable suppositions that those feedbacks are positive (rather than negative). Without the inclusion of positive feedback, even the IPCC models themselves predict a trivial amount of warming – and “warming” would thus clearly be a non-issue. It is only by piling a number of CO2-triggered positive feedback mechanisms onto the CO2 content itself that large predicted “outcomes” are produced.

A good example is the assumed relationship between warming and clouds. The IPCC models assume that warming causes a reduction in cloud cover, leading to more warming…. and thus to positive feedback causing more warming. This, of course, seems counter-intuitive – since warmer air would have an increased water absorptivity, and warming would convectively drive more moisture up into the atmosphere…. where it would more readily produce more clouds.

Prof. Spencer noted that the positive-feedback assumption seems to come from measurements showing that when there are fewer clouds somewhere, warmer temperatures are found below. Obviously, this seems to be confusing cause and effect – since it is more likely that the absence of clouds causes the warmer temperatures, rather than the other way around.

He also noted something that has been on my mind for a number of years – that one can’t simply assume that if there is some warming or cooling, these changes must be caused by some tangible “driver” or “forcing function.” Being a highly complex, non-linear (chaotic) system, sizable changes can happen on their own, with no need for forcing.

Prof. Spencer also noted that there are a number of climate and ocean features that show clear long-term cycles; he cited the famous Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), which has a 30 year cycle.

Taken together, it’s reasonable to ask what the meaning of the phrase “average climate” really is. There is a variety of oscillatory processes, and the system clearly has a very large amount of natural variability within the confines of any actual “stability.”

In these comments, I find that Prof. Spencer and I land on the same page. In weather reports and forecasts, the term “average high/low temperature” for a particular place on a particular calendar day is regularly bandied about as if the high or low temperature is “supposed” to be that exact value every time that calendar day comes up – and if it doesn’t something is “wrong.” But the “system” just isn’t like that. An “average” temperature is indeed just that – an “average” of the recorded temperatures for that particular calendar date over some period of time; in the case of the U.S. National Weather Service, the 30-year average over the span 1961 – 1990 is used.

But the “average” is not enough to describe the behavior of the system. Statistical variability around that average value must also be quantified – and in weather data those variations are quite large. Just simple statistical fluctuations can produce very, very widely-varying results when a system is sampled sequentially – these variations are merely the behavior inherent in a stochastic system.

(And yes, I would much enjoy the chance to ask Mr. Gore to explain what a “standard deviation” is and see if he has any idea….)

Prof. Spencer noted that the IPCC has ignored any natural variations in cloud cover.

He closed by noting something that does require some humility – something that Prof. Lindzen and Prof. Singer also noted…. but which is clearly absent from the rationales of Mr. Gore, Mr. Hansen, and the IPCC (my comment there, not Prof. Spencer’s). There is just a great, great deal that we simply neither know nor understand about the “climate system” – and we can’t try to override that reality with our own wishes. In particular, Prof. Spencer noted that we really have little grasp of the degree of the sensitivity of the climate system to various stimuli.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) made a few brief remarks of note.

He said that during the Congressional recess of the prior week, he had been back home in southern California and had been out surfing. Apparently there’s some surfer trick where you reach down under the board and rub it, causing something to happen that is similar to rubbing a wet finger around the rim of a wine glass – and this squeaking sound attracts dolphins.

Seeing the dolphins reminded him of a conversation that he had had some years back with the famous ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau; he gave a time for this conversation which I didn’t catch – but since M. Cousteau went to the great coral reef in the sky back in 1997, the conversation had to have happened before that.

M. Cousteau told a group that included Rep. Rohrabacher that the oceans were on the verge of dying and very soon would be nothing but “black goo.” Rep. Rohrabacher said that he noted to M. Cousteau that he had just recently been in the ocean off southern California, and that things looked pretty good; this made M. Cousteau irate, to the tune of something like “Don’t you understand what I just said? The oceans will soon be nothing but BLACK GOO!” Well, more than a decade on, they’re not black goo, so clearly the alarmism of “experts” has to be taken with a fair bit of salt (sea or otherwise).

He noted that a key problem with the whole “climate change” matter is that the “argument” has been completely one-sided (and regularly dishonest) for some 15 years now. As other people begin to look at the problem and other voices begin to be heard – and as the long-running apocalyptic predictions continue to fail to materialize – things are inevitably shifting.

He finally noted that there has been a consistent aspect of the alarmist propaganda – that the charts have a strong tendency to be “baselined” on about 1850. Why 1850? That year marks the approximate bottoming associated with the end of the multi-century-long “Little Ice Age” – and using that as a baseline is a great way to make things since then look like a big warming disaster-in-progress.

This is actually a not-unusual trick; as an aside, I’ve been noting a tendency lately in a similar very selective baselining. In several matters, ranging from “green jobs” to the effect of steeply-progressive taxation, the baselining conveniently uses…. 2007. Of course, 2007 represented what turned out to be the peaking of a large number of bubbles – and 2008 was the year when all of those bubbles burst.

While I was in Washington, the ICCC event also provided a chance to have a long chat with Steve Milloy. Steve is the founder of junkscience.com, and his new book “Green Hell” was published earlier this year by Regnery.

I will soon be reviewing “Green Hell” for RedState.com (and also here), and my extensive interview will appear along with that review. But for the purposes here, I’ll just note a few items relating to “climate change” that we discussed.

I asked Steve if he thinks that we’ve already had “peak climate hysteria.” He noted that it’s really a two-fold problem; there never really has been any real public hysteria – it’s all been a matter of Washington power-players and the various rent-seekers now buzzing about them. Seeing a way to game the system in their particular favor, a number of large businesses are now riding the climate change horse as a method for advancing their own agenda.

Steve also noted that, being based in the Washington DC area, he’s watched as the whole cap-n-trade circus has been becoming more-and-more a creature of the way Washington does things. In this case, it is morphing into something similar to the various farm-subsidy schemes that have been around forever and which never seem to be susceptible to reduction (let alone elimination) – because they build a constituency that can be fed forever.

We also discussed some of the more “edgy” aspects of the green agenda – the obsession with command-and-control, the various attempts to empty the countryside and force everyone to live in densely-packed cities, etc. These are the real iron fist that lurks inside the velvet-glove feel-good-for-Gaia aspects of the green agenda.

But I’ll stop there for now, since I want to give proper respect to Steve, his marvelous book, and his thoughts in more detail – a little ways down the road.

Well, that’s a good way to end Part IV. We should be able to wrap things up in Part V – where we’ll hear from Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), Ben Liebermann of the Heritage Foundation…. and a “closer” of the caliber of Jonathan Papelbon – Lord Christopher Monckton.