The Making of a Global Warming Skeptic

There seems to be some collective brain fart in the minds of the people at Hadley CRU (HadCRU) at East Anglia.  And with Michael Mann at Penn State University, the author of the Hockey Stick, who also seem to be the ringleader, the Little Engine That Could of the AGW paradigm.

To be honest, they all seem wrong thinking about several things, but the one I am addressing here is that they seem to believe (at least for public consumption) that all of the people who don’t agree with them are sitting down every other day for a conclave with oil industry CEOs and plotting to kill the planet.  As in shooting Bambi.

Well, I know that there is not one oil magnate who even knows who the hell I am.  Nor middle management, and probably not even any rowdies out in the oil fields.  I am not paid to think the way I do, and in fact, run a lot of  gauntlets among friends when I bring up the topic.  On some of the blogs I like to spend time on the most, I dare not overtly declare my position on AGW, for fear of forever being labeled a troll.  Being a global warming skeptic does not win friends or influence enemies very much.  Or at least, not until recently…

… The truth is that right now I am bopping around on and a lot, plus the Pielke’s (Sr and Jr) here and there, and I am there because it is fun to read up on the latest dirt on the bozos who sold us global warming.

Yes, “us”.  You see, there was a time when I accepted that AGW was correct.  It literally seemed correct, so I accepted it at face value.  I have a habit of accepting something that seems correct, and doing it tentatively – until I can get around to verifying it for myself.  So, for the nonce I accepted it, and had no reason to doubt it, really.  I agreed that we’ve put a lot of crap up in the air and in the water.  With the advent of the Chinese flavor of capitalism, I’ve heard some dastardly stories about what effluent they in particular are putting into their environment. Some of you know that I have worked on the designs of several forms of pollution control, usually in some small design capacity.  I’ve worked on scrubbers, on water and sewage treatment plants, and on oxidizers (which used to be called incinerators until that became a no-no word).  So I know what kind of effort in the U.S. we’ve made to clean up the water and air.  I actually am quite proud of that effort we’ve made.  But still I thought, “We have done some damage along the way that we haven’t dealt with yet?  It seems plausible… even if we seem by my standards to have a good record.”

But then a funny thing happened on the way to fully jumping on the bandwagon:  My curiosity took over.  I decided it was time to look into it.

Like I do on a lot of things, I have just enough memory of high school science classes (chemistry and physics) to remember that science is about the scientific method, about peer-reviewed literature and about replicability.

As a brief aside, I recall the period in 1989 when Cold Fusion was declared to have been discovered, by two scientists out in Utah.  I remember the flurry of news after the news was announced, that the other scientists had declared those tow guys bozos, and then in the ensuing weeks there were reports that other scientists either could or could not replicate the work.   That is what the scientific method does – try to find principles that can work for everybody.  I will post again soon about that very episode, but for now the lesson is about replicability.

You see, the data and the methods of those who have been telling us for so long that humans are killing the planet with our CO2 happen to be under assault.  In case you missed it, in November a stash of emails and documents were either hacked (the original speculation) or leaked (a later guess), and in those thousands of emails and docs – apparently all genuine – is a peek into efforts at playing with the data and biasing/controlling the peer-review process by powerful scientists on at least two continents.

I was not surprised at what was in the emails.  I was surprised to see them – and oh, so very happy to see them.  You see, I could not believe the announcements every year, that each year “was the warmest ever” or very nearly so.  All year, in each of the last several years (ten or more) I’ve paid close attention to climatic conditions around the world, and each year I heard little about heat waves, as compared to earlier years and compared to cold waves – or compared to nothing.  I really wanted to be able to get in and look at their data, at what adjustments they were making to it all, of how they compiled it, of how they dealt with the 75% decline in meteorological stations (met stations, hereinafter) since 1980.

My first endeavor to satisfy my curiosity had nothing to do with skepticism.  It had to do with just wanting to see what all the hoopla was about.

We have all read something of Sherlock Holmes.  One of his famous quotes is

…when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth…

The Sign of Four, Chapter 6, A.C. Doyle  (1890)

When assigning responsibility for one cause over all others, science must – MUST – first eliminate all those other possibilities.  It might as well be written in stone.  You need to get to the point in the figurative police lineup where only one is left standing, out front, where everyone can see it.  I began my benign inquiry by looking for studies that did just that.

I was bright enough to have my own suspects that they must have eliminated – natural variation, solar energy output (called “solar irradiance,” I later learned), Milankovitch Cycles (something I’d heard of, about the Earth passing through various regions of space, as well as the Earth’s tilt), even sunspots.  (I’ve never heard it said specifically, but with its 11.2-year sunspot cycle, it always seemed somewhat obvious to me that the Sun is a variable star.)

I searched and searched (this is about 1999), but for some reason I could NOT find any studies designed to determine that any of those possible causes were ruled out.  That was odd, since by that time the claims I knew were about a decade old.   There should have been several papers prior to the first determination that humans were the causative agents.

Before long I found out about satellite data.  I hadn’t even known we were measuring the global temperature with satellites.  It seemed the satellite data was not agreeing with the met station data (ground measurements).  I was also amazed to find out they actually DO use weather balloons to measure the temperature, and quite extensively, too.  Well, the satellites and weather balloons were in very close agreement, and both contradicted the met station data.

When two data sources agree and a third disagrees, it is the obvious thing to do to investigate the third source, to see if somehow the methodology is out of whack.  In this case, that was the met station data.  The two that agree are usually assumed to be working properly.  So what did the researchers do?  They ignored that option, they ignored the weather balloons, and they went looking for flaws in the methodology of the satellites, and even personally and professionally attacked the scientists involved as being sloppy, not up to the task, etc.  This was my first discovery that something might be crooked in Denmark (a kind of metaphor that later became somewhat literal).  By getting VERY picky, the met station advocates were able to point at a degradation in the orbit of the satellites that was throwing off the readings by a very small amount.  But they never looked at the balloons at all, and they never had anyone look at their own data, not that anyone else was every informed of.  They brought the satellite a bit closer to the surface data, but not very much, and then went back to business as usual, thinking they had solved the conflict.  In my opinion they had not.

In any event, I still had not (this was around 2003) found any studies eliminating other possible causes that did more than present some evidence on one side of the ledger.  Evidence taken in isolation can be suggestive of something without being proof of it.  Proof has pretty strong standards.  Statistics is used in climatology to semi-prove certain things.  Usually, if there is 95% statistical certainty, they treat something as proof.  To this day I have never found even one study that has reached that level of certainty about discarding other causes.

Back to 1999, that was also when the world first saw what was to become known as “The Hockey Stick,” a data curve from a study known as MBH1999.  My first look at the graph told me – again – something is crooked in Denmark.  There was no Little Ice Age!  I knew enough about climate history to be well read about the Little Ice Age.  It was when the sunspots had almost disappeared from the face of the Sun – for several decades (50 sunspots in 70 years), to the point that most people denied their very existence.  Known as the Maunder Minimum, the sunspot cycle was closely paralleled by very cold winters and cool summers.  Its beginning and end are mildly disputed but it lasted essentially from about 1650 to about 1850, and included the years of the American and French Revolutions.  Washington’s men’s experience at Valley Forge was during this epoch.

But also missing from that curve was the Medieval Warm Period (MWP), the period when the Vikings of Eric the Red farmed and raised cattle on Greenland.  It was very well documented in climate studies, yet where was it on that curve?

Mann, the primary author even though he was only an assistant professor at the time, just told everyone that those events weren’t global, that they were relatively local occurrences.  For some reason, everyone seemed to accept that now the MWP’s and the Little Ice Age’s existence was a fantasy.  It didn’t convince me, and I couldn’t understand how scientists would agree to change their thinking on something so readily, something that had been part of climate history for longer than my entire life.

Mann, to me, appeared to be an intellectual bully.  Later events were to prove this to be true – much more so than the proof that humans were causing a runaway greenhouse effect.

3 responses to “The Making of a Global Warming Skeptic

  1. There might be global warming or cooling but the important issue is whether we, as a human race, can do anything about it.

    There are a host of porkies and not very much truth barraging us everyday so its difficult to know what to believe.

    I think I have simplified the issue in an entertaining way on my blog which includes some issues connected with climategate and “embarrassing” evidence.

    In the pipeline is an analysis of the economic effects of the proposed emission reductions. Watch this space or should I say Blog

    Please feel welcome to visit and leave a comment.



    PS The term “porky” is listed in the Australian Dictionary of Slang.( So I’m told.)

    • I’ll look up porkies shortly. It’s midnight and I haven’t slept in well over 24 hours.

      You are inviting me, but I don’t see a link.

      And I would agree that there is so much blather, so much it isn’t so easy “truthing” any of it. We used to have a saying, “He didn’t know sh*t from Shinola.” Now, knowing sh*t from Shinola isn’t a can of corn. You can do it – but the archiving you have to do in your head is pretty immense.

      I’ve been at it for along time. A long time, jamming stuff in my head and making a concerted effort to make sense of it all. Effort does matter. The correct info IS out there. Effort is needed to find it, and some experience is necessary to recognize it.

      Climategate is something I’ve hoped would happen, sooner or later. Like Colin Powell with the WMDs, when everybody was saynig, “Look! If Colin Powell says it, it must be true!” And I was there, biting my tongue, knowing I’d look like a fool to say something – but, dammit! I didn’t believe him. Drawings and claims are one thing. Proof wasn’t there that day. AWG has been me saying as often as I could without getting all my friends pissed off at me. I’d tell them the science is NOT settled. And they’d look at me like I was ready for the asylum.

      But every mainstream media article had a great Chicken Little headline, and then down in the quotes from scientists, all I saw was phrases like, “We think that,” “probably,” “It appears,” and “as far as we can tell.” That set off alarms in my brain. Then I went looking for the data, or someone vetting the data (I can’t analyze it well myself), and there was more solid stuff on the anti- side than the pro- side.

      When someone does a bullrush (like Mann does in the emails), you know the guy is insecure about his work. And he is the freaking LEADER, and there he is, he can’t win over people with solid work – he has to bully them. That is a sure sign the guy is over his head.

      With climatology having so much to do with statistics, how can they get by without a full time stat man to check their statistical methods?

      And with it having so much programming, how can they get by without a step-by-step program review process and a programmer on staff? There are many scores of millions of Pounds going into HADCRU, and they can’t bring on solid people to make their work 100% solid? It is a joke. Plain and simple. HADCRU is a joke. A bunch of cowboys. And not even good cowboys.

      I call the leaker “Deep Leak.” I think the guy should win the Nobel Prize for letting us all know how bad the data has been processed.

      At this point I am 100% certain that when the work is done by competent people, the data will align with the balloons and the satellites, which means it will basically go away.

      And then money can be spent on real science, not trying to shove Greenpeace down our throats.

      Bah humbug!

      . . . . Steve

      P.S. Notice, I can’t seem to write anything short…

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