Don’t Forget Climate Change: Chapter 5 Bob Carter – Precambrian Conservative?

Previously…chapter by chapter I’m reading a dodgy book in which people try to pretend climate change isn’t really anything to worry about…

Intro, Ch 1, Ch2, Ch3, An Aside, Ch4, …

Robert M Carter was an Australian geologist and academic. He died earlier this year As is conventional in a review, I’ll talk about him in the present tense when describing the text.

Funded in part by the Heartland Institute, Bob Carter was an early adopter of the ‘global warming has stopped’ argument based on the relatively low level of warming since the 1998 El Nino.

Carter aims for a clearer structure in this chapter by using what he describes as:
“In this chapter, four basic scientific facts are described that provide an essential context for intelligent discussion of the global warming”

“Context 1— error bounds on reconstructing the global average temperature from thermometer data”

Carter starts with a criticism of the HadCRUT temperature data. We encountered HadCRUT in Chapter 2 where it was the preferred choice of Patrick Michaels when discussing climate models. You’ll remember from that chapter Michaels treated the temperature data as a given and indicated no kind of error bars/confidence intervals for the temperature data but only for the models. Ah, but that was a different chapter and a different sceptic. For Carter, the issue is that HadCRUT has error ranges in its data. This is true, there is necessarily error in the data set and the size of that error for any given point can be quite larger – larger (as Carter points out) than the additional warming caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gases.

But this is a statistical shell game he is playing. The error of an individual measurement is not the same as the error in the size of the warming trend. Simply put, aggregating measurement data that has error can reduce the amount of measurement error. It’s why statistics works.

“Context 2— natural temperature variations over geological time”

We haven’t heard much yet in this book about the paleoclimate record but it will loom large later. However, Carter is just knocking down the same straw man we’ve seen before – essentially that past changes in temperature show that temperature can change for reasons other than carbon dioxide levels. This undoubtedly true – other things can cause climate change. However, we know (see Lindzen in Chapter 3 because he agrees) that carbon dioxide CAN cause changes in global temperature and we know that levels of CO2 have increased significantly.

This rather like a defence lawyer saying that their client didn’t commit a murder on the grounds that other murders have happened in the past which their client couldn’t have committed.

Still, Carter perseveres with a graphic Greenland air temperatures for the last 10,000 years. Interestingly for this data set, Carter does not seem to be concerned about any error ranges – I guess measurement error became unfashionable somewhere between the end of the last section he wrote and the start of this one. The data for the graph is from a paper whose abstract and data can be read here

One thing to note is the time axis of the graph is in Years Before Present. This is a standard use in collecting data using things such as radiocarbon dating or the techniques used with estimating temperatures using ice-core samples. However, “present” here does not mean 2016 nor does it mean 2000 when the study was published. It means specifically 1950 CE as it is a technical term for a fixed point. The data does not address late-twentieth-century warming. However, the more recent instrument record (which Carter doesn’t trust) is shown as a thin grey line.

In addition, Greenland is far from typical as far as the Earth’s climate goes. In Carter’s first section he expresses scepticism about temperature sets taken from multiple sites world wide and in the next section points to a single indirect set of measurements from one part of the globe. Greenland is not the world.

“Context 3— carbon dioxide variations over geological time”

“It is widely misrepresented in the public domain that Earth’s current levels of atmospheric CO2 are dangerously and atypically high. Such claims are false, because modern CO2 levels lie near to an all-time low as assessed against the geological record.”

At this point, Carter slides from disingenuous to laughable. CO2 levels are atypical for human history. Yes, sure, a civilisation of trilobites might regard current CO2 levels as a tad low but this hardly seems relevant.

“500 million years ago, before land-plant photosynthesis was operating, atmospheric CO2 attained about fifteen times present day levels”

😩! In what way is that sentence reassuring? Never mind the imagined trilobite civilisation, let’s just consider a time when the first multicellular creatures were hanging out. Essentially Carter out-conservatives every other conservative on earth by waxing nostalgically for the good-old-days of the Precambrian, leading to the classic line:

“Utilising coal as an energy resource simply returns the CO2 to the atmosphere from whence it came in the first place,”

i.e. burning coal returns CO2 to the atmosphere bringing Earth close to the atmospheric conditions that prevailed when early plants first colonised the land? Quite what Carter is trying to prove at this point is unclear. Yes, it is a sound argument against a claim that burning coal will destroy all life on Earth (it won’t) but that really wasn’t the issue.

“Context 4— efficacy of warming caused by extra carbon dioxide”

This is the climate sensitivity argument again. However, Lindzen did it better and Carter gets in a muddle.

“Because of this logarithmic relationship, the amount of warming caused by increasing quanta of CO2 depends upon the level of CO2 already in the atmosphere, and diminishes steadily in a ‘less-temperature-bang-for-every-incremental-carbon-dioxide-buck’ pattern. Given the pre-industrial starting point of 280 ppm of atmospheric CO2, only minor additional warming will occur in response to the much-feared doubling of CO2 to 560 ppm.”

Yup, Carter gets logarithms wrong. The logarithmic relationship doesn’t diminish the impact of a DOUBLING of a quantity. A doubling is MULTIPLICATIVE. Seriously Lindzen already explained this back in Chapter 3:

“ Because of the logarithmic dependence of the radiative impact of CO2, it doesn’t matter what the starting value for the doubling is.” Lindzen Chapter 3

Carter closes the chapter with a more general note, essentially that governments should worry about all kinds of possible climate change and not just warming. Quite what governments should do in this regard he doesn’t say but let’s consider the issue of burning fossil fuels. If Carter is right and CO2 from burning fossil fuels has no net warming effect then burning them does not prevent global cooling. If Carter is wrong about CO2 and CO2 does have a warming effect but right about possible global cooling then it would make sense to conserve fossil fuel reserves so that they can be used later to counteract the possible future cooling.

In the meantime credible evidence exists that the anthropogenic global warming is occurring and while the trilobites might be OK with that, those of us from a more recent geological time have cause to be worried.

@wikileaks wikiwatergate in alternate-Pittsburgh


I’m sitting in a cafe in Pittsburgh – not the actual Pittsburgh (I’ve never been there) but Pittsburgh in an alternative reality. It’s pretty dull as far as parallel worlds go – it doesn’t even have many airships. However, it is very like the reality to which you, dear reader, are used to. Technically, it diverged from your world twenty three years ago when a man called Alvin was arrested in Brisbane, Australia for owning a contraband ferret – but that is a whole other story. No really discernible differences occurred until October 2015 when Jeb Bush took a surprise lead in the Republican nomination polls, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio dropped out and Donald Trump had his infamous ‘wardrobe malfunction’ on national television.

You can get from your world to this world via a portal in Chiang Rai in Northern Thailand that takes you straight to alt-reality Pittsburgh. The bad news is that unbeknownst to everyone, the chain of events sparked by that ferret-bust in Queensland has also led to a viral mutation that will wipe out every human in the alt-reality due to what will shortly become known as ‘The Weasel Flu Pandemic’. That isn’t entirely relevant to this story but I thought I should mention it before people started booking flights to Bangkok.

The big news here in alt-Pittsburgh is, of course, the national conventions of the Republican and Democratic parties. I shan’t mention the DNC because – well, you are better off not knowing who the candidate was and what the consequence of the so-called ‘Cruz eligibility amendment’ was. Let’s just say it is a great shame about the impending obliteration of all humanity here.

The GOP convention? It was OK I guess but it was overshadowed by events just before. Wikileaks released a trove of hacked emails from the Republican Party. Ouch! Really embarrassing stuff. Trump supporters are very angry, naturally. Internal emails show how much the GOP top brass have been collaborating with the media to stop Trump. Maybe, without those shenanigans, Trump might have won the nomination claim his supporters. That idea is laughed at of course. I try to join in so nobody suspects that I’m literally not-from-around-here.

It is all bad news for the GOP of course. The convention should have been Jeb’s triumph after a difficult campaign but it has become somewhat tainted by claims of media collusion, corruption and FEC violations. Jeb was always going to struggle against an image of being a Washington insider and part of a corrupt dynasty. In the wake of the Chilcott report from the UK a few weeks before, the leaks have all served to further muddy his reputation. The unresolved tensions from the Trump insurgency (as they call it here) may yet split the GOP in this alternate-reality.

I’m enjoying the schadenfreude, naturally. Confusion to the enemy! What’s not to like? The coffee is OK here too. I’d stay but, you know, everybody gets wiped out by a virus in a few months. Don’t think Station Eleven, think The Road. Shame really but that is parallel worlds for you – best not to get too attached to any one of them.

Still, while I’m enjoying seeing the GOP rushing around in full damage limitation mode as a consequence of this other world’s WikiLeaks email dump, another part of me is worried. This does not feel right (and I don’t mean the impending viral apocalypse). A political party is not the government and a political campaign necessarily has a degree of secrecy about it. Yes, we’ve all found out a lot about the shenanigans that go on but none of it is stuff that I really didn’t already know. The process is dysfunctional! Meanwhile, the Pope is catholic, dogs bite stuff and bears use the woods as toilets. I don’t want to sound complacent about the corruption that has been exposed but at the same time, it feels more like noise than signal.

Democrats are looking smug but I’m guessing their emails would look equally bad and I sort of don’t care. Compared with the inherent corruption of campaign funding, gerrymandered constituencies, a badly designed electoral process and active voter suppression; shonky emails look a tad tame even if they confirm my inherent prejudices about conservatives in general and the Bushes in particular.

And WikiLeaks? Sorry guys, I love a lot of what you have done and I admire the way you helped Chelsea Manning but this seems more than a bit off. Transparency is one thing but this looks a lot like you are directly helping the Democrats here in the alt-reality commonly known as that-tragic-one-where-everybody-dies-from-weasel-flu. Yes, yes, the Democrats are the good guys and Jeb Bush is some kind of dynastic threat to world peace – good grief we all know how appalling his brother was. Yet, this looks a lot like trying to influence a democratic process by unethical means.

I mean, how is this different from what Nixon attempted with the Watergate theft? Sure, it doesn’t involve a physical break-in but otherwise, it looks like pretty much the same dirty trick. Adding more dirty tricks to a corrupt process doesn’t make the process less corrupt.

Laughably Jeb is now playing the Russian card. I guess the Republicans have never fallen out of love with the Cold War. Still…yes, there is no direct evidence that Putin is behind this hack but it is a legitimate worry if he was. In which case is WikiLeaks complicit in helping a foreign power disrupt an election? Bush may be appalling but Putin is manifestly not a friend of freedom.

So my thoughts turn more to who and why? If the Democrats were behind this hack of emails then that would be a bigger scandal than the emails themselves. If the Russians or some other foreign power are behind it (and I can see why the Chinese might want [name] [redacted] to beat Jeb in November) then that is effectively an attack on US democracy. Worrying stuff. Yes, yes, I get that WikiLeaks never reveals its sources but it seems to me there is a greater issue in the who and why of this hack than there is in the content of the emails.

Anyway, that’s all moot here in alt-Pittsburgh. They never find out. I may pop back in a few years, once the mustelid population has died back enough for it to be safe again.
Anyway, time to head back before the flu-vector reaches North America. It’ll be interesting to see how this whole leak thing has played out back in base reality, although I can’t imagine anybody will care in that crazy version of Earth.

Review: Hunt for the Wilder People

Ricky Baker is a troubled youth. On his last chance for a foster home he is placed with a couple living a farm in a remote part of New Zealand…

Taika Waititi latest film is more in line with his earlier film Boy than his more recent What We Do in the Shadows, but if you liked either, there is a lot to enjoy here.

Sam Neill is on top form as Ricky’s reluctant foster uncle and mentor in bush-lore but Julian Dennison steals the show as Ricky – a wannabe gangster and occasional haiku writer.

It works best as a classic style children’s film but with more swearing and some violence. Definitely not a film for people who dislike violence involving animals or blood (some gruesome scenes with wild pigs including an attack on a dog by a boar). Yet, despite this it is a charming and funny film.

…and of course it makes exquisite use of sweeping New Zealand scenery.

Well He Kept That Quiet



The local newspaper reports:

In a surprising move, presumptive Democratic nominee for President of the United States, Hillary Clinton, has chosen local vermin catcher Timothy the Talking Cat as her Vice Presidential pick.

Timothy, known for his radical rightwing views, squirrel fixation and editorial ambitions is an unlikely choice for Clinton. However, commentators are suggesting this is a clever move on Clinton’s part as it challenges Donald Trump in the key ‘talking utter nonesense’ demographic.

UPDATE: Timothy explains that it is some other person called Tim.

Hugo Choices 13: Everything else

Previously on Hugo Choices:

Current Hugo State of Play

Hugo Choices 1: Best Novel

Hugo Choices 2: Best Related Work – The Story of Moira Greyland

Hugo Choices 3: Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form

Hugo Choices 4: Best Short Story

Hugo Choices 5: Best Fanzine

Hugo Choices 6: Best Fan Writer

Hugo Choices 7: Best Editor – Long Form

Hugo Choices 8: Best Semiprozine

Hugo Choices 9: Best Graphic Story

Hugo Choices 10: Best Fan Artist

Hugo choices 11: Novelettes

Hugo Choices 12: Novellas

And that’s it. Pro-artist, Editor short from, Dramatic Presentation – short etc; really didn’t feel I could contribute anything useful to the discussion. I’ll vote but sporadically in those categories.

Phew! As always hard work!

Retros? Hmm. I’m just hunting through for stuff for things that stand out to me.

Meantime – don’t forget to vote if you are a member.