Climate contrarians spreading confusion


XKCD wrote a cartoon about my dilemma

I write this blog to stop myself going crazy: but those Climate Contrarians over at The Register keep pushing all my buttons! Take this extract from the end of a recent article

Meanwhile there’s reason not to panic even though the 450 ppm target will never be achieved [1]. US government climate modelling now suggests that warming will only just exceed 2°C – or even come in well below – at 780 ppm CO2.[2] It has become clear that the Antarctic ice cap actually froze into being while levels stood at 600 ppm, and that no matter what happens it’s going nowhere for thousands of years [3]. Many scientists suspect that the Sun actually has much more effect on climate than current climate science suggests [4], and major physicists believe a period of low solar activity is approaching which could usher in a “mini ice age” of the kind seen in the 17th and 18th centuries [5].


Even if none of those reasons not to panic contains the slightest grain of truth – even if it really is time to panic about carbon – in the real world picture now developing, activists would surely be well advised to abandon their various marginal crusades – against meat, against mythical fat people, against wasted milk, against hosepipes and farting camels and coffee and all the rest of the silliness, and try to make a case for action that has some internal consistency. ® [6]

Let’s look at these six points in turn:

[1] Panic isn’t what anyone wants to create. We have lots of problems facing us(e.g. feeding ourselves, keeping healthy, world population etc.), and climate change is one more. Panic won’t help with any of them, but a sense of urgency and importance is appropriate. Why does The Register mock people’s perfectly reasonable concerns?
[2] Climate Sensitivity. By how much does global mean temperature change when carbon dioxide concentrations double? We don’t know, but estimates range from roughly 2 °C to 4 °C . It could be much larger, but even the smallest of these figures will usher in significant climate change. And if the permanent arctic ice cap disappears – as seems likely – then all of these calculations become irrelevant . Furthermore we are (realistically) going to at least double CO2 levels. Slowing down emissions now would probably be a good idea. Why doesn’t The Register recommend that?
[3] The Antarctic Ice Cap formed 34 million years ago when the continents were in different places. In particular the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans were connected through the Central American Seaway. The growth of the ice cap was triggered by the breaking off of South America from Antarctica which created a circular weather system which ‘sat’ on the south pole and reduced the flow of the heat from the equatorial regions. Frankly, the concentration of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere was a tiny perturbation on that kind of  gigantic change of oceanic and atmospheric circulation. Why does The Register write this irrelevant nonsense?
[4] Solar output has been pretty constant, and is certainly not responsible for the recent warming seen on Earth. Why does The Register write this irrelevant nonsense?
[5] The ability of scientists to predict solar behaviour is limited. At the moment all predictions are based on statistical correlations with previous solar behaviour. If there was a reduction in solar output and a mini-ice age that would probably help reduce global warming, but it is completely out of our control or knowledge. Why does The Register write this irrelevant nonsense?

and finally the truth

[6] The Register is fed up with ‘silly stories’ about Climate Change. Well so am I! But what I try to do is sift the wheat from the chaff. Climate Change is a serious issue and serious journalists should take it seriously.


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