Understanding Global Climate Change

I think global climate change is real and is a threat, and that we need to take action to prevent it. I am taking action, as I think the issue is too important not to.
But (I hope) I’m not a “believer”. I could be wrong, and I am determined that my opinion will always be based on evidence.

My goal for this area is to summarise the issues as objectively as I can, based on hard evidence, and avoiding logical fallacies. It’s a bit of a work in progress. There are many, many resources out there, many of which duplicate what I’m doing here, and I’ll be using those as a starting point.

In the sidebar to the right there is a list of subtopics under “Global Climate Change”. Sorry, it’s a bit hacky at the moment.

Currently up for examination are the following:

Al Gore’s summary of the state of debate in the U.S.

A presentation of Pascal’s Wager

A New Scientist Introduction

Senator Fielding asked 3 questions of Penny Wong

Further analysis by Fielding’s three skeptical advisers

Scientists who lie

Global Warming Myths

– summarise existing discussion points on Pascal’s Wager, Al Gore’s article
– add discussion topics
– break this page up into subtopics
– read Fielding/Wong discussion, analyse
– Finish watching “Scientists who lie”, analyse

– suggest subtopics
– analysis of Fielding/Wong discussion, “Scientists who lie”
– other analysis

I currently have the vague idea of removing links to any article once that article is completely broken into subtopics (ie. no longer provides any raw data or logic that is not also discussed directly).

Also, while the articles may contain heated rhetoric, I will try to avoid doing so here.

35 Responses a “Understanding Global Climate Change”

  1. Marco Parigi Says:

    There are several features of the article which tend to indicate that the target audience is the undecided, rather than the converted – and the language certainly smacks of the good vs evil narrative of a sermon rather than a scientific app…roach. Of course a scientific article will hardly, of itself, spur any emotion to act on the issue. The drawing at the top inspires fear without empowering the reader with information. Of course “the other side” is doing this as well, which smacks of competing religions looking to convert the uncommitted, rather than rational scientific debate. Even rational debates tend to spill over into debates about ideology, which is more about politics and religion.
    Facebook comment threads are fine, and feel free to start or continue anything like this on my wall if this is getting clogged up with threads that are off topic.

    Are we trying to convince people onto “our side” that is the good side, or are we wanting to get insight into one or another detail of the world that we live in? I for one have no interest in sides, nor the futile arguments that emanate from individuals that have,as a primary concern, motivation to “convert” people

  2. admin Says:

    A goal of this page is to avoid taking sides, converting people, etc. but simply summarising the issues and removing bad logic and rhetoric.

  3. Marco Parigi Says:

    I did read the first Senator Fielding link. It does appeal to my need for a dry scientific discussion, even though the parties were, in essence, just political advisors, with no incentive to give opposing views a fair scientific hearing. I found, in comparison, the Al Gore article completely against what you are trying to do here. It quite obviously uses several literary and visual techniques that inspire emotion , and even religious fervour, such that rational discussion would be impeded rather than heightened.

    I am even incensed at the suggestion that because people have a tendency to take sides in the US, that it means that you are either against “us” or with “us”, as if there is no option to feel that which side you are on is a meaningless question.

  4. Richard Says:

    Awesome, thanks Andrew. In terms of subtopics, maybe we can break out the scientific points of contention so we can look at them one by one?

    Offhand, contentions I can think of are:

    * Ice core studies that show an 800 year lag between temperature increase and increase of CO2. (I’ve found articles pointing this out as a problem and also some explaining why it’s not a problem. I good review but all of us would be good)

    * The “no hotspot” argument

    * Global cooling of the last 10 years


  5. Kate Says:

    My suggestion: leave links to the articles themselves, which will be useful for reference; but discuss nothing here but the facts and reasoning therein, eschewing the La Brea of metadiscussion.

  6. Kate Says:

    Excellent starting points, Richard! Here’s some skinny on the last one:



    Here’s something on the ice core thing:



    (Can you say more about the “no hotspot” argument? I don’t think I’ve come across that one.)

    A side issue for discussion might be the economic arguments *for* energy conservation and efficiency – how much taxpayer money is saved by solar powered traffic signs and so forth.

  7. David Astley Says:

    Hi there.

    I’ve begun to realise that debate is futile.

    Personally, I believe

    and not

    Ultimately, it’s easy to see the motivations of the industry deniers. A struggling government wouldn’t risk wasting so much money on something that doesn’t exist, no matter how incompetent you think they are. Heaven knows enough other important things get neglected for political and financial reasons. But there, I go, arguing with believers. No more talk. Just action.

  8. Richard Says:

    Here’s the hotspot, or missing signature –


    Here’s some replies –


    I haven’t fully understood the responses yet.

    I also found a list of contentions and replys here –


  9. admin Says:

    So, hmm. Organising the subpages is surprisingly awkward. The wordpress theme I’m currently using doesn’t have a way of showing all the subpages automatically, and I’m extremely reluctant to include links to subpages manually.
    I think I’m going to have to hack the theme. Ideally, I want all the “Global Climate Change” pages to have a list of all the other pages on the right, instead of the categories/archives/friends etc. that are currently not doing anything useful there.

    Anyway, to summarise: I’ve created a bunch of subpages. More organisation work needed.

  10. Marco Parigi Says:

    Well. I am going to make an assertion here, which emanates from the discussion on FB.
    Marco’s Assertion 1 – The case for a causative link between increased CO2 concentrations and higher global average temperatures is strong, both from empirical observations (historical and geological) and from models – While in comparison, the causative link between increased CO2 concentrations and increased numbers and severity of severe weather events (Cyclones, droughts, floods, fire weather, blizzards, extreme cold, extreme heat), is weak.

    At any rate, “proof” from empirical methods, that there is a statistically significant increase over the rate that the Earth has had against naturally occuring climate change will take many more decades of data than has the temperature link.

    I don’t have any links, but this was one of the subject threads I followed in detail on Realclimate a couple of years ago. The gist of it was that (supposed) one in one hundred year events cause a lot more damage and kill more people than they did, say, one hundred years ago. Another scientist who was doing a statistical analysis of the events (Hurricanes at this point), comparing the increase in risk to humans and property due to a greater population, and a tendency for all the increase in population to be in coastal areas, vs the increase in risk due to increased number and strength of Hurricanes, both predicted by models and observed and found that virtually all the increase in risk of damage and death was accounted for by the former and a statistically insignificant amount for the latter. In essence, the jury is still out, but it doesn’t change the fact that more and more people are going to suffer damage and loss from natural disasters regardless of global warming. It should not be taken as a proof of Global Warming, and agreeing with my assertion should not be taken as meaning disagreeing with climate scientists in general.

    However, if we are making financial investments in abatement, we should not expect a reduction in future risk of damage or death due to natural disasters, unless there is also a reduction of population living in prone areas.

  11. Kate Says:

    Poking around at the New Scientist site, I found recent articles which indicate that the link between warming and tornadoes is still uncertain:


    Whereas the link between warming and floods is clearer:


    And the link between higher temperatures and fires seems pretty self-evident:


    Here’s an overall look at extreme weather events predicted by climate models:


    (Where NS doesn’t provide the full article, I’ve linked to copies hosted at other sites.)

    Severe weather events are not the only dangers of global warming, of course – my cursory rummage also brought up rising sea levels, the spread of diseases, and the crash in rice yields, amongst other hazards.

  12. Richard Says:

    I agree with your assertion Marco. Both Gore and Flannery have been guilty of pointing to weather phenomenon such as droughts and floods as proof that action on CO2 emissions is a pressing need. Whilst this doesn’t prove anything in the for and against argument, its an annoying distraction and used by the against side all the time as proof of ‘alarmist’ behaviour.

    Maybe we can mark this down as an agreed point so we don’t get distracted ourselves in working through the contentions?

  13. admin Says:

    Lots of reading here – I’ll try to get onto it when I’m not quite so sick.

  14. Richard Says:

    As suggested in the ‘cooling in the last 10 years’ thread, I propose we close that off as irrelevant and tackle the ‘Recovery from the little ice age’ contention (marco temp changes rather than micro):


    I appreciate others thoughts on the Ice Core topic. I’d like to turn our attention to end game temp peaks, equalisation and CO2 saturation (if any)…..

    BTW – My understanding is growing, so thanks for doing this.

  15. Marco Parigi Says:

    I like the idea of marco temp changes (although you should either capitalise the M or switch the r and the c for complete clarity :-)) Recent temperature increases OR decreases outside of expectations should be taken with a pinch of salt. EVEN MORE SO with recent (presumed) increases or decreases in severe weather events. Because severe weather events are so statistical in nature (eg 1 in 100 year events), many multiples of the interval in question are required to prove anything beyond reasonable doubt. Even with a precautionary stance, one must look at the differential probability between the net number (and severity) of severe weather events decreasing over the calculated probability that they are increasing due to warming.

  16. Richard Says:

    I found some discussion of Akasofu’s paper –



  17. admin Says:

    Thanks for all of the analysis, people! I’m still way behind on my reading, but I’m getting to it.

  18. Richard Says:

    Interesting article of sea level rises (they are decelerating). The observations are so far removed from CSIRO modelling that there must be a problem:


    Phil Watsons current slide show states “limited certainty with modelled projections of these impacts at this point of time”


  19. Chris Says:

    You conflate a lot of different issues in your introductory blurb, and I am glad that you appear to be sticking to the first one, that “(Anthropogenic) global climate change is real”. This is an interesting question which is susceptible to objective investigation.

    You do not mention the logical fallacies you fear you may fall into, but I would recommend the following two pieces of advice from an eminent friend of mine in the the physical sciences:

    “Just because the model fits the data, it doesn’t mean the model is true.” There are always many models that can fit the data and distinguishing them is not easy.

    “With enough adjustable parameters you can fit a camel.” Any data that appears to contradict your pet model *can* always be explained away in an ad hoc fashion. You need a strong scientific will not to do this. It is always easier to complicate your model than jump ship to a new model.

  20. Richard Says:

    Media Watch on The Australian article about the deceleration of sea level rises –


  21. Chris Says:

    I thought I would suggest an on-topic subtopic:

    *Differences in warming trends in the northern and southern hemispheres

  22. admin Says:

    Chris – good to hear from you again! Yes, the introduction conflates issues. It’s such a big discussion area it’s rather daunting to organise. What do you suggest? Certainly I want to stick to testable hypotheses, so if you think there are any under discussion that aren’t testable, they’re candidates for removal.

    I certainly wish to avoid logical fallacies, and the ones you mention are potentially relevant. The whole area of climate modeling is a very tricky one, and appears to require a lot of specialised knowledge. I’m currently working in a research area, so I’m all too aware of the danger of too many parameters. I think, however, it’s also a logical fallacy to dismiss a model simply because it has many parameters! You can have lots of adjustable parameters and *not* be able to fit a camel as well; it depends on the equations. I’d argue that pure empirical models are much more susceptible to camel-fitting than ones that have a bit more science behind the working parts.

    I think to pierce further into the issue of climate modeling, we need to discuss particular climate models, and their assumptions, strengths and shortcomings. Which is a lot of work. I don’t suppose you’ve got any notes we could start from?

  23. Chris Says:

    Yes, I don’t envy you trying to organise such a vast area at all.

    I think the core mechanism is solid and where each specific model needs to be examined in detail are:

    * Radiative forcing from water vapour – how arbitrary is this contribution in the model?

    * Clouds – what does the model say about albedo changes, how arbitrary ditto?

    * Energy transport at atmosphere/ocean interface – how completely is this modelled?

    And, since the proof of any program is in the running: how predictive is it? If we put 1981 data in the model and run it for 30 years, do we get anything that looks like 2011?

  24. Chris Says:

    Here is a document outlining the structure I would use if I was writing a glossy coffee-table book on the subject…. it is a post from 2007 with a few updates today.


  25. Marco Parigi Says:

    If you are sticking to testable hypotheses, you almost certainly have to throw out any models that predict things long term. The reason being that testing involves several runs of the prediction/comparison with actual data/repeat with correction cycle. The issue is more about what *could* happen, which due to different thresholds for different people becomes too subjective for the scientific approach which you crave. We can’t get a testable hypothesis for even a probability that any particular temperature threshold happen in 20+ years, let alone probabilities of other interesting things like weather related deaths etc.

    The conundrum is that these less testable long term consequences are the ones with all the media attention. As much as the scientists at RealClimate stress that the BAU long term temperature prediction is statistically solid, predictions of various consequences related to that and other aspects of climate change are not.

  26. Marco Parigi Says:

    These questions borrowed from Chris’s link are crying out for some kind of response from someone on the “political left”.

    Most Realclimate discussions skip through to assumed answers to no.6, and work backwards. Yes we personally must do something – This is basically a social-engineering excercise that everyone can comprehend, and technological solutions don’t address the root cause or the elephant in the room. The more we can reduce the CO2 the less we will *have* to adapt to it. How much difference it will make compared to the effort or cost is an imponderable anyway. The climate if we keep going down the current road could be catastrophic.

    This above paragraph is completely unscientific and starts with the answer working back to the question. I do not think it is enough to have scientifically valid research on the climate. We must have scientifically valid logic and hierarchy in our arguments for one specific policy or another, based on observed effects and possible “rebound”.

    Q3a: Can we stop this rise in temperature now?
    (Short of a ‘Diamond Age’ technological fix or a ‘Cambodian-style Forced Agrarianisation + Genocide’ social engineering fix ?)

    Q.4: Should we try and stop this rise in temperature now?
    Or, would it make more sense to adapt to it? A degree of adaptation will be absolutely inevitable in any case, as we have absolutely no means whatsoever of stabilising the temperature at the status quo short of a nuclear winter. We could do our best to predict what climate would be like in the extreme scenario where the carbon dioxide bands are completely saturated, and plan for that. I have previously argued this at some length and pointed out that regions that are particularly vulnerable to climate change are regions that are particularly vulnerable to unchanged climate, anyway. Let’s get people off those marginal rangelands and marshy coasts: they are not good places to live.
    [3 and 4 are where Bjorn tried to get the discussion happening and where I think discussion is most necessary. See, for example, http://evildrclam.blogspot.com/2008/07/hidden-cost-of-global-warming.html%5D
    Q5: What are the best solutions for stopping this rise in temperature now?
    What are the likely costs and benefits of different technological solutions? What is the probability that they could realistically be implemented? What are the likely costs and benefits of different social-engineering solutions? What is the probability that they could realistically be implemented? Out of this will come the answer to the next question:
    [This is theoretically the level where the debate between the political parties in Australia is at the moment. Of course it is nothing of the sort.]
    Q6: Is there any meaningful personal action I can take towards stopping this rise in temperature?

  27. Marco Parigi Says:

    My take on where the argument in my head is at the moment – at :Global Warming blog post.

  28. admin Says:

    At the moment I’m feeling a little overwhelmed with the level of homework to be done – kinda inevitable once Chris became involved, of course, but I was already feeling like it would be hard to get the time to do the thorough research.
    On the other hand, I did ask for it! It’s an important issue, and I *will* get around to doing the required reading.

  29. Chris Says:

    I’m feeling a little overwhelmed with the level of homework to be done – kinda inevitable once Chris became involved, of course

    Sorry! I think the students here say similar things about me…. :/

  30. Chris Says:

    Bored now.

  31. admin Says:

    Did I ever mention how much I hate arguing with friends? It’s a serious source of procrastination for me.

  32. Chris Says:

    Hmm, don’t you ever have discussions at work about whether something is a problem or not, and if so, what the best way to address it is? Don’t think of it as us arguing, think of the subject of global warming as a patient etherised upon a table, like the evening spread out against the sky, and all of us poised eagerly with our scalpels to carry out a delicate intellectual operation. Cooperatively. Collaboratively! (Kind of like those creepy german fairytale guys in the ‘Hush’ episode from season 4 of BTVS. Except that we don’t want to kill the patient and steal his heart. And our heads should not explode at the end.)

  33. admin Says:

    The issue is just that I’ve got a lot of reading to do, and then analysis of the reading. In this analogy, it’s a three hour discussion, and if it’s an uninformed discussion it’s a complete waste of time.
    I’m still going to do this reading and subsequent discussion – I’m interested, and it’s important to me – but it just takes time, due to the aforementioned procrastination.

  34. Chris Says:

    I like your cheesy smile, btw, on the face you have prepared to meet the faces that you meet. It means I always envision you writing in a cheerful mood when I read what you have written. I hope my ‘Don’t Panic’ button serves a similar cheering purpose!

    (And I hope you have noticed that I am going to work fragments of T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” into each comment I make on this blog until I have used up the whole poem.)

  35. Marco Parigi Says:

    I don’t know if it is fair to say that just because you haven’t read in detail the articles in question, that you are “uninformed”. We inform ourselves enough about what we are interested in to make decisions about what we should do in life. If it’s informed enough to decide that it is important, it ought to be informed enough to talk through the logic that comes to that conclusion.

    Just to talk about my own views, I think the question “is climate change real?” is a loaded question, and thus my current response is pure agnosticism- ie. Quite different from being unsure, I am quite well informed, and I believe it to be a political question rather than a scientific question, thus should be treated as a kind of rhetoric. I believe the politics has perniciously entered every article about global warming, and certainly all the ones I have read from the links to this site. This is what prevents me digging into the scientific validity of any particular article(from either side, really). Once the “angle” becomes clear to me, it saps my enthusiasm for the article completely.

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