Sunday, March 01, 2009

For Jim

More empirical evidence of the reality of climate change. As I've said before, it is the empirical evidence, not the climate models, that destroy the sceptics' case. Even sceptic Frank is beginning to see the light through the medium of James Lovelock, a man I am very proud to call a friend. Jim might even convert sceptic Nige with this question: 'When did you last sit down on a warm grassy bank in the sun and smell wild thyme, or see the oxlip and a nodding violent?' Probably a long time ago, the agricultural hinterland required by the cities and, increasingly, by the disastrous political embrace of biofuels and wind farms, will have destroyed most such banks.
I am just reading Jim's latest book, The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning. It is the empirical evidence that has convinced Jim that the model-based forecasts of the IPCC are wildly understating the problem. That and the fact that politicians have remade IPCC science into something called a 'consensus', a term that has no scientific use or meaning. Jim wonders why America, home of the world's best science, is so reluctant to accept the full implications of what is happening. He think it's because, as a nation, they are temperamentally averse to the idea of Gaia, preferring to see the earth 'as something that they could improve or manage; they seemed to see it as no more than ball of rock moistened by the oceans and sitting within a tenuous sphere of air'. Greens, of course, he dismisses, as part of the problem, not the solution. Not that there is a solution as such, there is only survival against Gaia's defensive heating. And even survival is probably beyond us because 'I fear that we still dream on and rather than waking we weave the sound of the alarm clock into our dreams.' Yep, that sounds pretty much like human beings to me.


  1. Hemlock is doing very well, maybe the old girl is giving us a hint?

  2. Well since you ask - all of those last year. Admittedly oxlips are not common now, but wild thyme grows like a weed on the North Downs, among many other places, and violets I can see any day on the roadside verges, even in suburbia. Sunny banks too are remarkably abundant - all you need is a bit of sloping ground facing vaguely south. The trouble with warmists (well one of the troubles) is that they don't get out enough, they don't see what's actually there, and I'm afraid they very often don't know much of what used to be called natural history. They'd sooner lament the absence of things than go to the end of the road and see them. I guess it's the pull of apocalyptic thinking, all that spilt religion...

  3. You cannot possibly be talking about Jim, Nige, he knows more about the English countryside than any man alive.

  4. an admirer of mr appleyardMarch 01, 2009 1:55 pm

    There has been abundant empirical evidence outside your very window all winter and each of the last two summers.

    The problem for the faithful, is their addiction to predictions. The world's climate has always been unstable - this is undeniable. But the concerned insist that the warming they believe is currently underway will have dire repercussions. But if these dire repercussions don't then materialise - and a faint shiver runs through the world - what are we to think?

    I have said - and I'll go on maintaining - that there are other much more real causes environmentalists could be focusing on, instead of spending all their credit on this fantasy.

  5. Well he's wearing it very lightly there. Yes I confess what I was looking at would be the false oxlip (a hybrid), but wild thyme? Violet? Sunny banks? Why would he expect someone not to have experienced those for years? I mean, Lovelock strikes me as a charming fellow, a good egg etc, but that doesn't mean he's right - and if he can ask a question like that, wishing perfectly common plants out of existence, you do have to wonder. about his grasp of 'empirical evidence'..

  6. I agree and I love greens. Spinach, watercress, arugula, chard... I would hate to see them go!

  7. Woah, so the models, central to the IPCC case not just for warming as minor scientific curiosity but as rock solid foundation for all the ridiculous and drastic global policy steps well under way to reduce CO2 emissions that will be (or already are) totally disastrous for those unfortunate enough not to have electricity ... those almost universally touted models are totally worthless?

    Let's hear, quite clearly, that Bryan believes that. All the models are worthless, as basis for anything at all, not just in science but, even more so, in policy. That's the world as I see it. End of sorry story.

    What we are then left with is mysticism, in the stable or unstable hands of a few gurus like Lovelock. The problem with the 'empirical evidence' is that there's way too much of it. Take the whole of the biosphere (let's say we restrict our interest to living things) over the whole of its history. What interesting things are happening in the biosphere today, this month, this year, this century? Who on earth (for once the cliche is worth preserving) can grasp whether things are getting better or worse? Than they were when the dinosaurs took their final bow at the end of Cretaceous, for reasons still not fully known? And who's tried living a spell in the Antarctic, to balance out the other continents? Who's shared digs with the world's deepest fish?

    Anecdotal stuff from our own backyard is great if we treat it with the nonchalance it deserves. And we should be concerned about the effect of land changes, as the Guardian seems to be. Though I guess it's seldom simple to know exactly what to do about it even then.

    But in waving goodbye, forever, to the witless worship of the global circulation models, with all due respect to the good men and women of the UK's Hadley Centre, Nasa's GISS and the others, as the basis for anything at all, we should also take to heart some tough lessons about software and the credulity of the modern world.

  8. Hear hear - very good points all, Richard.

  9. Is the book all doom and gloom, Mr. A? I'm looking for a good read right now but I can't abide pessimism.
    Also, when you (he) says ''greens'', do you mean the political greens or the lifestyle greens?

  10. I do not believe in climate change, Bryan. I know that climate is continuously changing. I remain agnostic as to whether one can accurately predict the long-term direction that change is taking. Nige is on to something when he says the warmists often "don't know much of what used to be called natural history." A few years ago, in this neck of the woods, a warm spell in winter had some trees sprouting blossoms. This was touted by the warmist newspaper I worked for as proof of global warming. More pertinent was the fact that all of the trees blossoming were not native to the region, whereas none of those that were native to the region were blossoming. You often say you are feeling apocalyptic, my friend, but do remember that the word apocalypse means revelation, not destruction.

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  12. Its a bit like the credit crunch, you did not need to understand where the money was to understand we were over borrowing.

    We actually dont have to agree if all this is real or not, or what we really know or not, all we have to do is take a good moral position.

    Is it a good idea to try and move away from fossil fuels?

    Is it a good idea to chop down forest and rain forest?

    If its yes and No to the above then the issue comes down to 2 things, Energy and land management.

    These 2 things are in our realm to act upon regardless of what we think is happening or not.

  13. Meanwhile, March has come in like a lion. Well, okay, maybe a white barn cat. Snow on the ground hereabouts, but not much. Meow.

  14. Scientists should just ignore the facts and blame global warming on muslims- they'd have Mad Mel & co convinced in no time.

  15. I don't even understand Richard's points. The IPCC forecasts say we'll have a terrible time in the medium term but their model forecasts have both undershot by a wide margin the actual air temperature and sea level rises. This probably means we'll have a terrible time sooner. End of point.

  16. Here we go again, a load of bleedin townies talking country matters. Metrolichenlanders.
    Let me straighten out their kinks with where it's at. Living as we do at approx 500 feet above sea level and have hills and Banded Galloways as neighbours we can observe nature at will.
    Over the past decade there has been a marked increase in lichen coverage of our trees particularly those in the birch grove and on larch, oak and ash. A true indicator of air purity. Although the numbers of individual species of bird vary, overall there has been an increase in the total population, including visitors, for some days now the skies have been filled with geese returning to Scandinavia, with no visible reduction in numbers. The deer population is increasing as are fox, although this is probably due to the hunting ban. We have noticed no loss of wild plants in the area nor any significant tree disease.
    The weather patterns are as ever, variable and this is where the weird ones bring on my vacant expression, accurate and meaningfull data over a long enough period of time to enable rational judgement to be made is non existent. That the climate is changing is a fact it is not, or has ever been static. The effect that man made pollution has upon it is little understood, what we are getting is opinion not fact.

    Remember the Y2Kers ? this computer expert sat in my office in August 1999 and said that if I did not form a committee to deal with the problem my systems would self destruct, he was told to f..k off.
    A suitable response for his breed.

  17. Nige: Thanks.

    Malty: Likewise. You might have said f..k off to me in 1999 if we'd had the pleasure. I was following Ed Yourdon in being very concerned about the outcome of Y2K, until forty days exactly before the due date. A story for another time maybe. But becos Bryan entered Twitter I was spurred this weekend to add loads of people to follow there. One of those was Ed. He at once reciprocated. He's still a famous dude in software circles, whose magazine I wrote for earlier in the 90s. Just a little excursion into minor synchronicity. But I was a catastrophist for a while on Y2K. Though never on global warming. F..k off was the right answer, anyway.

    Frank: Great point about apocalypse. More on that anon. Which reminds me:

    Anon: Great point about the muslims. They sold us all that oil, after all. Combine the fear ...

  18. Bryan: I would question 'terrible time', 'actual air temperature' and 'sea level rises'. It's complicated and I'd like to be brief.

    Remarkably, the IPCC predicts very moderate problems in its latest report, even in the 100 year timescale. Nigel Lawson was astounded when he looked in detail into it, for his book An Appeal to Reason, given the fear factor that has grown up around the subject in the popular mind. But that's the combination of the global circulation models and the impact forecasting (or scenarios) on top, which is what really counts, if anything does.

    Anyhow, we agree in the sense that your friend Jim says things are worse now than the IPCC previously predicted and so, you infer, whatever bad stuff is coming will come sooner, if he's right.

    But are the two things you mention worse?

    I have different problems as between air temperature and sea-level rises. The key and famous metric on temperature has been an annual global average. But, just to be maximally difficult, I agree with Essex & McKitrick in their very helpful Taken by Storm that averaging temperatures is about as meaningful as averaging telephone numbers for the contributors to this blog and expecting to gain insight on us all when you dial the result. That's a fundamental problem, not nearly often enough mentioned, but there are loads of others, even if you try to take the claims for the average seriously. I won't go further on that for now.

    As far as sea-levels are concerned, I'm sure we'd agree that they've been going up on average since records began (and the average is a more reasonable idea than for temperature). But the sea is rising in some places and falling in others and there's evidence to suggest that local factors, not global ones, may predominate. I know Al Gore was widely criticized, including by a UK court, for his claim in An Inconvenient Truth that we are threatened by a 20-foot average rise. I'm not familiar off the top of my head with current IPCC forecasts and how the real world has overshot them so genuine questions there.

    However, my main points stand. Let's say that there is a real issue in the next 50-100 years with sea-levels. Not on the Gore 20-foot level but something approaching it. That would take some adaptation no doubt. But as we have so little idea of the system perhaps these problems for humanity will be offset by benefits in other areas - for example, increased CO2 in the atmosphere will speed plant growth (that's known) and that will in turn have unforeseen positive effects in the rest of the biosphere.

    That's a hypothetical. But here are a couple of recent good news stories I noticed amongst the gloom on the Beeb:

    1. coral grows back faster than expected

    2. the wet summer was good for nature

    Ah, but was the second good or not? The National Trust seems to disagree deeply with the Woodland Trust on that. And so it goes on.

    Whatever we mean by climate (and that's another great big problem) it's a massively complex system that's always on the move, always changing. As flies to the gods and all that.

    In summary, and because I ran out of time, cheer up!

  19. What's most amusing, in that ironical sort of way that we so treasure in the British, is that all the things for which Bryan so rightly castigates the banks -- arguments from authority, reliance on complex models that the users don't fully understand, confirmation bias, etc. -- are exactly the failings of the agw crowd.

    Three years ago, the bankers would have told us, with great confidence, that we can't possibly understand the math but that there was, among the professionals, a banking consensus that all these mortgages and derivatives and credit swaps were entirely safe.

  20. David, agreed on the parallels. The difference of course is in the risk management aspect. The 'precautionary principle' was very little practiced in banking, partly I fear because the big guys knew that governments were in their pockets and they would be bailed out if worst came to worst. But the precautionary principle was (or should have been) highly relevant to all of us entrusting their money to these people. Think worse case. Act accordingly. My ten second summary, sans maths, of Taleb and Black Swan.

    But with climate change the precautionary principle is turned on its head and is constantly evoked as the most ridiculous and harmful policy measures are planned and implemented. "Maybe there is a problem with CO2, a lot of people with PhDs say that they know that there is (and are paid a lot to keep saying it), here are some pretty graphs from their latest models, we must act now as if the world could end if we pump one cubic centimeter more CO2 into the atmosphere than we should - and oh, given that we don't which cubic centimeter that is, we have to take control over all of civilisation, more than Hitler and Stalin would ever have dreamed of thinking about, just in case" (as every activity modern life emits some CO2, as the great professor Richard Lindzen has often pointed out).

    Put like that it's a naked power grab, just as the banking crisis may well be too. The perceived risk profile is the thing that's different. The precautionary principle that should have been applied to mortgages and CDOs should also be applied not to the control of CO2 but to all the measures proposed to limit its emission, not least because of the disaster they will be for the world's poorest:

    "To deny the third world access to fossil fuels and nuclear energy in an effort to pursue the pipe dream of stopping global warming, is not just madness ... it is evil." -- Larrey Anderson

    I don't mind doomsters and mystics in any area, really, because every now and then, of course, they are right. But Lovelock is in effect, at this moment, helping prop up an intellectual consensus that is barmy and not based on any solid science. Though it's great that he and Bryan seem to admit that biofuels were a disastrous move - a good example of the harm all attempted CO2 control is likely to do - and, most of all, that the global circulation models don't have any value at all (though this has not I note been admitted explicitly).

    So there is intellectual progress of a kind.

  21. Richard, I so disagree with you I don't know where to start. Le tme just say that to describe Jim as a mystic, as you did, is lunacy. You plainly now nothing of the man. He is the most hard-headed individual I have ever met.

  22. Bryan, last week I dipped into Clive James' Cultural Amnesia, purely because of your article on it and the author back in 2007, prior to giving it to my brother on his rare appearance in the UK on Saturday. James gives fascinating examples of individuals who were hard-headed in every area but one. Can't quote them to you, the book is now in Hong Kong!

    You're quite right that I don't know Lovelock. But I do feel that I know the state of 'climate science' having delved down into some of the disputed data and interpretation as well as taken the overview offered by various authors. Anyone who is not exposing the giant problems, very publicly, with things like the models is suspect for me. Just as you seem to be admitting. But then you talk of empirical evidence that is, by its nature, immensely patchy. This is a system that we simply don't begin to understand. We in the plate tectonics situation before Wegener.

    In that context my description of Lovelock as a mystic is in fact a compliment. Maybe he has had as an apocalypse, a revelation. How did Wegener get there? How did Einstein? But Einstein needed Eddington to confirm general relativity by experiment. Wegener of course needed many decades to be shown to be right. You could have called them mystics until then.

    But public policy should not be based on mysticism.

    Don't know if that creates any common ground.

  23. Whilst we still demand unquestionable evidence and proof, whilst we still focus on the people behind the theories (in defense or in criticism) and not the theories themselves or the reality of our experience, we will not be able to effect any profound change in our habits.

    Anyway, profound change will only happen through suffering, as is the nature of life and as determines the requirement for suffering.

    Regardless of what evidence there is, we have not led the world down a path which is healthy for it's conservation, just as we have not led ourselves down such a path, that is evident alone by the appalling diets of most of the western world. We will experience at some point the consequences of our actions, and we wont be able to exact any change until the negative effects are felt by each and every one of us.