Climate Confusion

Climate Confusion by Roy Spencer is a book by one of the leading expert climate skeptics. Spencer is one of the heads of one of the teams that does satellite measurements of the earth’s temperature. He is a significant skeptic because he can in no way be labelled as someone who does not understand the science of climatology.

In Chapter 1: Global Warming Hysteria he looks at how climate is reported and the claims that are made about global warming. He has a long look at the claim that worse storms will result from global warming and that global warming has caused particularly bad storms already. It’s a good claim to focus on because even a lot of the global warming alarmists will admit that it’s dubious at best, downright nonsense at worst. Spencer also says that he is highly suspicious of paleoclimatology. As he puts it:

“Since scientists can’t even agree on the accuracy of actual thermometer-measured temperatures over the last hundred years, I find claims that we can discern ancient temperatures based upon the tree-ring spacing of a Bristlecone Pine growing at 9 000 feet elevation in a remote corner of Colorado to be a little dubious.” (p15)

Spencer also puts in the amusing story of how he set up a satirical site ecoenquirer where he made up bogus stories about environmental doom. He also set up a forum there so that people could post their views. To his amusement and dismay it became apparent to him that many people would believe pretty much any story of eco doom. It’s not just Quadrant that can get hoaxed easily.

In chapter 1 he also refers to Nature and Science as scientific grey literature which is an intesting point. He suggests that their articles, due to their setup should not be taken as being as important as specialist journals.

Chapter 2: Science isn’t Truth deals with the practice of science and how science is well suited to answering questions about which billions of dollars of money do not depend on. It also points out how scientists have their own things that drive them and that the government funds almost all science in many areas and that scientists have a huge interest in having a consensus and not rocking the boat when their research funding depends upon certain opinions. He points to the discovery by Barry Marshall and Robin Warren that there is a bacterial basis for stomach ulcers for which they won the Noble Prize as a recent example of something where two scientists opposed the consensus and were proven correct.

Chapter 3: How Weather Works describes the weather system. His descriptions are crisp and very interesting. He describes how the earth is heated and then transmits that heat by radiating infrared energy. One thing he points out is that if the greenhouse effect alone operated on the earth then the earth’s temperature would be 140 F at the surface, what cools the earth is the temperature regulation of weather. Weather heats the higher atmosphere leaving it considerably warmer.

Chapter 4: How Global Warming (Allegedly) Works does exactly what it says. It describes how there is no dispute that doubling the amount of  C02 in the atmosphere will, according to pretty much everyone, without feedback result in a temperature increase of 1 F but that the controversy is about what the feedbacks are and whether they are positive of negative.

He discusses how complex the system is to model and how he has met a number of senior scientific people who have modelled far simpler systems and who are skeptical of global warming because it puts so much faith in unvalidated computer models. This has to be a pretty common experience as it is one I’ve had myself. The chapter continues by focussing on how complex water vapour is in the atmosphere and how poorly we understand it. Clouds at the same height can have different effects on temperature dependent on the size of the water droplets. Spencer outlines how he believes that the rest of the climate system gives feedback to make the overal system reasonably stable.

Chapter 5: The Scientists’ Faith, the Environmentalists’ Religion describes how the scientific dispute, which he describes as quite real is also the subject of a bigger argument outside science that is far more heated. He mentions the failure’s of Paul Ehrlich’s predictions. He points out that much global warming hysteria has similarities to religion and global warming rhetoric often has a distinctly religious tone.

Chapter 6: It’s Economic Stupid is not a strong chapter. It is interesting how someone can show how much doubt there is on controversial questions in science but who then goes on to express a remarkable confidence about the predictive power of economics. It would have been far better of him to put forward costings of various mitigation strategies. The numbers for trying to cut C02 emissions rapidly are pretty daunting, the return on investment is also pretty dubious and he could happily have a go at this without revealing his own biases in this section. His description of Sweden as a socialist state is pretty funny, anyone who has any familiarity with the place would realise it’s just a country where the government is a bit bigger, taxes a bit more and is a bit more intrusive than most places.

Chapter 7: The Politics of Climate Change describes how politicians seek views that they agree with from scientists and that he has kept his mouth shut while on congressional boards while others with more power have used their status to put forward AGW alarmist views. He describes how he views Jim Hansen’s claim that he was ‘muzzled’ which is interesting. He says that NASA public relations always wants to put out one voice of NASA and is always worried about scientist independently putting forward their views and that this is standard practice. He states that in Hansen’s 1988 testimony he put forward the AGW alarmist case brilliantly, he didn’t say anything untrue, but he did his best to show that things were more certain and far more worrying than most scientists thought at the time.

Chapter 8: Dumb Global Warming Solutions points out that the Kyoto accord has been an amusing exercise in deception and failure. And even had it worked it would have delayed global warming by a neglible amount. He points out that radical, costly solutions have a huge opportunity cost and the money could be far better spent on reducing things disease, particularly Malaria. He mentions and borrows extensively from Cool It by Bjorn Lomborg.

Chapter 9: Less Dumb Global Warming Solutions describes how nuclear power, clean coal, hydrogen power, solar energy and biofuels should all be researched. Spencer is not optimist about hydrogen as he points out that creating hydrogen requires a lot of energy and it is a very volatile substance.

Chapter 10: Summary summarises Spencer’s views on the state of the science and what he believes is happening. It rounds out the book well.

Overall the book is a good short read that provides a very good introduction into the science. It’s one of the first books I’ll lend to my friends who are global warming alarmists and the book will be lent happily next week. At minimum it points out that the scientific dispute about global warming is real and provides a bit more understanding of climate systems. The political and economic sections are weaker but aren’t terrible. Spencer is also a good and amusing writer and throws in a few funny anecdotes.

3.5/5

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