Winter of our Disrespect

lighthouseOn a cold February morning recently I checked the Great Lakes Environmental Research site and found that only one of the Great Lakes had any waves on it. Superior, Erie, Huron, and Ontario were frozen solid. A small peanut of Lake Michigan remained partially liquid and filled with floe ice. The same map also shows me that I could drive a snowmobile straight from St. Joseph, Michigan to Chicago, Illinois avoiding all the traffic on the interstate. On one hand I’m exhilarated, because I may personally witness in the winter of 2014 the first complete freeze of the Great Lakes in recorded history. Yet on the other hand, I’m disgusted by the chicanery, incompetence, self-righteousness and posturing of the so-called “climate scientists” who assured us that the opposite of this bitter weather would prevail in the 21st century. It is not so much that they made such a prediction and were wrong. My emotional overtone springs from the fact that, through politicization of their alarmism, they were just ginning up the funding mechanisms to allow them to spend poorly even larger sums of money in the service of predicting future climates badly.

Contempt is a poor prognostic indicator for any future reconciliation between disputing sides in a conflict. Upon reflection, it is surprising that I would find myself in such an intractable state of disagreement. I myself am a scientist. I’m naturally sympathetic towards other people who study things in detail and make discoveries about those systems or objects, even when those discoveries are counterintuitive or unexpected. I actually do read the peer reviewed literature that pertains to climate, and find many of the authors publishing there to be competent scientists making credible observations, carefully restricting their conclusions to those that are supported by their data. I also browse through news reports and social media, reading what various advocates and journalists say and write about climate. This led me to follow a recent Twitter post by Carl Zimmer, that took me to 173 pages of congressional testimony by Andrew E. Dessler,  that brought me to the crystalline, cathartic comprehension of the source of this winter’s ill will.

But first I want to point out the work, unnoticed in the press and generally unheralded, of some real climate scientists.

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Professor Christian Berndt is a German scientist working at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany. In January of this year, he and his group published a detailed study of the release of methane from submarine arctic sediments off Svalbard Island in the North Atlantic. In 2008, passing ships had noticed vigorous outgassing of methane in a narrow zone of water about 400 meters deep, and this was interpreted by some as the onset of catastrophic methane hydrate dissociation caused by global warming. Methane matters, because it is 30 times more opaque to infrared radiation as CO2 is. The GEOMAR team made several expeditions to the area, made parametric echosounder profiles of the area, photographed the bottom sediment features of the gas release sites, and made a continuous 21-month bottom water temperature observation at the site. They observed carbonate precipitate crusts up to 40cm thick indicating that methane had been oozing from these sediments for at least 3,000 years, and that it was being oxidized by benthic microbes. Based on the recorded temperature profile, the authors deduced that there is a seasonal growth and decay of methane hydrate deposits along the continental shelf that has been stable for many centuries. This work was characterized by the generation of much new data through direct observation, not by computer modelling of existing data. The conclusions were limited, in that the authors admit that we do not have any precise knowledge of the global methane budget. We do not know how much methane is released worldwide or where it comes from; we do not know why the atmospheric concentration of methane stopped increasing about 15 years ago, or why it began increasing again in the last few years. But we do know, thanks to their data, a lot more about this one source, and that it is not coupled in any way to global warming.

Andrew Dessler gave testimony in the US Senate with respect to President Obama’s Climate Action Plan on January 17, 2014, the same day that Professor Berndt’s paper published in Science. By way of background, Mr. Dessler’s previous employment experience was with First Boston Corp in the investment banking industry, and then as a senior policy analyst in the Clinton White House. That is to say, he has apprenticed in the two largest criminal con games operating in America – banking and politics. A review of his sparse peer reviewed publications reveals that he is a climate modeler. That is, he does not actually study climate, he takes the data generated by real scientists such as Dr. Berndt and plugs it into computer games that he programs using public funding, yielding improbable projections of future climate that are almost certainly incorrect. A summary of more than 100 of these contradictory computer climate models recently appeared on  Steve Goddard’s Twitter feed.

It may be of little consequence what I think of Andrew Dessler, but what is so telling is what he thinks of himself. On the third page of his Senate testimony, which reads very much like a political position paper, there is a little footnote 1 after the sentence “The actual amount of warming over the last century roughly matches what is predicted by the standard model of climate.” Then, at the bottom: “1. Following particle physics and cosmology, I’ll refer to the mainstream theory of climate science as the Standard Model. A climate model is a single computational realization of the physics embodied in this standard model.” So…Mr. Dessler thinks of himself and his faulty computer model as being on a par with the Standard Model of particle physics. Not only does he rub shoulders and share the stage with Einstein, Bohr, Schrodinger, and Feynman, but also more recent Nobel laureates Sheldon Glashow, Steven Weinberg, and Abdus Salam. With a pompous grandiosity that induces vomiting, Dessler tries to paper over the absurdity of his jury rigged algorithms with the wizardry and precision of physics. He’s nothing if not generous – every single climate model that runs and generates ‘roughly the same amount of global warming’ gets to be equivalent in importance with the foundations of particle physics and the fundamental properties of all matter.

I am driving my 4×4 pickup through 20 inch snow now on the weekends, to cut firewood that I could have cut a lot more easily in September. My mare is due to foal in 4 weeks, and I can hardly afford to heat her barn with propane now that the price has doubled. I could have bred her a month later, and filled the propane tank in August. Michigan is having one of the coldest winters ever recorded. This was not predicted six months ago by long term weather forecasters. But in the 1990s, the opposite of this was vigorously predicted by climate forecasters. They were wrong. Humans are currently unable to predict either seasonal weather or  long term climate with an accuracy that allows actionable steps to be made by ordinary people. This state of affairs will likely continue, because the likes of Mr. Dessler consume an inordinate amount of the scarce public funding available to actually study climate. Unnoticed and underappreciated, the true scientists in the field who make no alarmist statements and who generate real measurements and data find their support being parasitized by thinly-veiled con men who anoint themselves as a bunch of Einsteins. A validated climate model is one that has accurately predicted  100 year average precipitation and temperature anomalies, to within 5%, over the entire planet 25 years in advance, in 4 out of 5 iterations. We have no validated models. Even if one that’s up and running is valid, we won’t know that for 125 years.  For the present, it would help if those who wish to pontificate about  future climate preface their remarks with the sobering truth: Man does not yet understand how climate works.

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