Willard reminded me of the Trenberth travesty in another post. Apropos is this quote, taken from one of the illegally hacked / released CRU emails. Given the continual misrepresentation of it in the denialosphere, it, and the misrepresentation, deserves reconsideration:
“The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.”
To consider something seriously, you have to look at it in its proper context. I argue, as do many others, that this line taken from the CRU emails, along with countless others, are used out of context to condemn climate science and smear scientists. Perhaps this line, along with “the trick” to “hide the decline”, is one of the most clear examples of the machinations of the denialist machine and its witting or unwitting dupes who propagate such tripe around the blogosphere.
I’ve come up with a term for the trainwreck that is Curry’s blog and similar ventures — Climate Denial Chum. It’s pretty self-explanatory, but just to be clear, people like McIntyre, Watts and Curry throw bait out there knowing full well (or at least, they should know full well) that when they do, the sharks will come. Then, they do little in the ensuing frenzy. Hey – it feeds the tip jar and garners traffic…
What do you think?
The infamous and much-misrepresented quote and Trenberth’s submission “Promoting climate information and communication of climate change” to the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society, are not given serious consideration on skeptic / contrarian / denialst blogs. They are, in fact, merely used as convenient truncheons to make one’s personal and very biased point.
For example, over at Judith Curry’s blog (which has, IMO, become nothing more than a mouthpiece for the lukewarmers, denialists and their dupes) the peanut gallery is busy discussing the latest Trenberth paper, his “Climategate” quote and its greater meaning. But they aren’t, in my view, giving any of it a serious review and analysis. How could I expect otherwise given the tenor and content over at Climate etc.? Not even Curry gives Trenberth anything more than a brief dismissal before opening up the floor for more of the same.
I shake my head. Many times.
Curry’s blog, along with WUWT, CA and Air vent are all examples of this denialist chum, but Curry’s is the current exemplar.
It will be interesting to see how the AMS responds to this (the AMS has many skeptics among its membership). Well, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but as a smart move in the politics of expertise, well this statement can’t rank very high, IMO.
So, a thumbs down from Curry at the start.
Well, burning fossil fuels and other anthropogenic activities have undoubtedly changed the climate and even weather patterns, the butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil, and all that. Maybe the Brisbane floods would have been less severe without humans on the planet, but maybe the flood would be more severe, there is just no way to know about an individual weather system and it is a pointless question to ask.
This “We just can’t know” response to the impact of climate change on weather patterns seems very disingenuous. In fact, it seems like a way to avoid serious consideration of an issue that demands our attention. She does not deny climate change, or that burning of fossil fuels and other human actions have changed climate and weather, but is unwilling to address linking a specific weather event to climate change as if it’s just not possible to do so. A convenient excuse or scientific fact?
My question is this: when would Curry feel comfortable attributing extreme weather events to global warming?
When we have the hottest decade on record, and some of the most extreme la Nina and El Nino events one year after another, and when we have the worst flooding in a thousand years and other extreme weather events all occurring in the same time frame, are even the most unschooled of us not to wonder if there is some connection? Some causal relationship?
No. “there is just no way to know about an individual weather system and it is a pointless question to ask.”
It’s pointless to ask. That’s it. Game over. The science is settled on this. Don’t even bother to ask any more questions.
No can do.
She adds this:
The kinds of statistical analyses of climate model simulations to come up with such statistics arent convincing IMO (the attribution of extreme events will be the topic of a future post.) The reason reporters ask this kind of question can probably be traced back to Trenberth’s statements in 2005 attributing 7% of the intensity of Hurricane Katrina to global warming, and that 7% of the intensity was just enough to breach the levees (or something to that effect.)
She argues that the climate models aren’t convincing without specifying why in any detail (that’s for a later post…)
But my question to Judith is this: Don’t you think this is important information for your readers to have at their command when discussing this issue? Why bring it up only to leave them floundering in ignorance?
Curry can’t even be bothered to find the actual Trenberth quote, gesturing to it, and then almost shrugging it off — “or something to that effect” — as if accuracy in referencing another scientist’s words isn’t worth the effort.
Dismissing climate models and Trenberth in one fell swoop. Pretty impressive way to set the tone of the post and resulting commentary. How’s that as an example of “the politics of expertise”?
What I see is this: Expert dismisses topic and fellow scientist and then asks the masses to chime in…
“Do you think Trenberth is helping or hindering public education and developing political support for the climate change issue?”
Hey, Judy — back atcha! Are you helping or hindering public education when you smear the reputation of your fellow scientists and by implication, science itself?
She adds this proviso:
Moderation note: No rude words or personal insults. Criticize the statements or the strategy, but no personal insults, I will be deleting insulting statements that do not make substantive points.
But wait — she doesn’t really delete insulting statements…
Here’s Willis E commenting on Louise’s insistance on using the term “denier”:
Oh, please. If everyone in the room says “I don’t like to be called a whinging Pom, please call me British”, you would be the one idiot in the room who wanted to insult everyone by insisting on accuracy.
“You would be the one idiot” — in other words, Willis called Louise an idiot. That sounds like a personal insult to me, cleverly disguised perhaps, but still a personal insult.
When Louise calls Trenberth “courageous”, Labmunkey opines:
The man’s an idiot.
I’m sorry, but to assert what he does whilst still pretending to follow the scientific method- to preach deliberate falsehoods as fact and to use deeply offensive and politically motivated tactics to marginalise ANYONE who disagree’s with him
paints him not as a courageous man, but as a bully and a coward.
Here, Curry steps in to strikeout the insult, rather than delete it. If she were to follow her own rule, she’d delete the entire rant. But no. We can’t question of the link between weather and global warming, but we can still call people idiots, bullies, cowards, accuse them of lying and political machinations and get away with it. The statement is still there, even if Curry has struck it out.
Idiot….yes but, whilst agreeing with much of your characterisation of Trenberth’s views, I do think that he’s a courageous idiot.
I’m still trying to work out if that’s actually any better than just being an idiot…..actually, yep, definitely better.
I just feel a little sorry for him actually, because he probably doesn’t realise that he’s exposed himself to a storm of indignation and invective for absolutely no gain whatsoever. Feet and shotguns spring to mind.
Curry doesn’t strike out the term “idiot” here. She does post a huffy self-righteous reply to Labmunkey who shows contrition, barely, by comparing his tone to that of Trenberth in a disingenous apology:
the standards here for civil discourse at Climate Etc. are higher than at some other blogs and higher than that expressed in the “denier” section of Trenberth’s AMS essay.
So, at Climate etc. you may or may not use mean words or insults — depending on the whim of the moderator, I suppose.
Unfortunately, Louise, with whom I tend to agree on many points, steps up to discuss not the issue at hand — Trenberth’s statement — but to demand that Curry repudiate other blogs where bad words and insults are routine. This is the old “If you criticize me, you must spend equal time criticizing everyone else like me.”
I’ve seen this done at CA and WUWT – indeed, it is one of the tired old red herrings used to attack a speaker with whom you do not agree or who raises and uncomfortable issuer. Yes, Louise was OT and spent her time discussing moderation policy rather than the issue, which led to another round of “Am too!” “Am not!” over use of the word “denier”. I’ve already commented on my use of the term “denier” and I defend it against all comers so other than to note this blog post and the comments are an example of this red herring.
Here, we see a very telling exchange between none other than Ron Cram and Joe Lalonde:
Notice that Curry does not see fit to moderate this common smear of climate scientists because it is not personal, but in reality, it smears everyone with the same lump of turd… but I already posted on that the other day. Just pointing to it as further proof of this meme of “the corrupt climate scientists in it for the gold” that Curry and her denizens seems to propagate. Curry should, if she were genuine, step in and correct this mis-statement but no.
Like I say, chum.
The next part of that comment thread is spent debating whether there is in fact any serious risk from global warming, with Ron Cram claiming that there has been no warming since 1998 — that old canard!
Sharperoo sums Ron Cram and most of the lukewarmer and denialist crowd up succinctly:
“This is the problem with getting your information from blogs, it’s simply wrong.”
Michael also provides a good assessment:
The ‘skeptics’ seem to have a visceral need for a face to direct their bile towards.
May have something to do with what appearsd to be a great deal of identity politics that motives them.
As I have said before, a lot of lukewarmers / deniers are motivated by identity politics.
Willard shows up — thank the gods for his comic relief! He’s far too subtle for the Curry crowd…
Kevin “Travesty” Trenberth.
Let’s not forget that one too.
Lest we forget what it meant.
Obviously Saaad doesn’t get Willard, comparing him to the narrator on Spongebob Squarepants…
Finally, Willard offers this:
You could also try to convince me that we’re not witnessing climate porn.
Climate Porn, Denialist Chum…
Mosher turns up to reply:
Yes, Mosher knows how to message all right.
Sharperoo is among the few who get it, and I quote him/her at length because that gets us past the hijinks of Curry’s peanut gallery to the meat of the issue:
“Basically, he said: “Golly, the data doesn’t support our theory, what a travesty, we really need to work on that data.””
My entire point is that’s not what he said at all. A statement by him was taken sans context and a meaning was inserted, people then argue that their meaning is the real real one no matter what Trenberth has said or continues to say.
His viewpoint is captured in
“To better understand and predict regional climate change, it is vital to be able to distinguish between short-lived climate anomalies, such as caused by El Nino or La Nina events, and those that are intrinsically part of climate change, whether a slow adjustment or trend, such as the warming of land surface temperatures relative to the ocean and changes in precipitation characteristics. Regional climate change also depends greatly on patterns or modes of variability being sustained and thus relies on inertia in the climate system that resides mostly in the oceans and ice components of the climate system. A climate information system that ﬁrstly determines what is taking place and then establishes why is better able to provide a sound basis for predictions and which can answer important questions such as ‘Has global warming really slowed or not?’ Decisions are being made that depend on improved information about how and why our climate system is varying and changing, and the implications.”
It’s simply impossible to resolve your interpretation with the above. Trenberth wants enough data to be able to isolate natural variability from other forcings while you characterise his statement as “The data doesn’t support the theory, better work on the data”.
Yes, yes, and yes! Trenberth was commenting on the need for more and better data so that they could better model short-term changes in the energy budget and account for natural variability. This was not at all meant as an indictment of climate science or the theory of AGW or admittance that there was no warming. It was an honest assessment of the weakness in existing science from an insider who wanted to improve it — not an indictment of the science itself.
Instead, deniers and their dupes took his comment in the CRU emails out of context and claimed it showed he was doubting the theory. That he was critical of AGW and admitted that warming had stopped.
IMO, Curry’s blog is a waste of effort because she is not clearing up these fabrications. Just the opposite. She allows them to continue unabated and gives space for denialist dupes to propagate them. Labmunkey and Sharperoo get into a long discussion of UHI — another denialist canard.
Sharperoo — I am really increasing my admiration for this person. Here it is in a nutshell and why I think that Climate etc. is doomed to fail:
“all I’m suggesting is that Trenberth shows us that it isn’t ‘everyone’ by engaging in a debate with those who disagree with him in some sort of public arena.”
When has science ever progressed in this fashion?
“It should be beer and skittles for a guy like him “
No it shouldn’t be. Public debates are very much stacked in favour of the best orator and least scrupulous.
Amen. The best orators and the least scrupulous. Those who know how to turn a phase convincingly, even if it’s a lie, and those who don’t give a crap about truth.
Climate scientists tread this path with great risk. They aren’t, for the most part, equipped to do so and really should have communications advisors to help them navigate.
Fred Moolten says it well:
Climate science still faces the dilemma articulated by the late Steve Schneider and misrepresented by his adversaries – how do we best ensure that the public arrives at an accurate understanding of climate change, when the “sound bite” limits on our speaking time to the media force us to choose between making a few points with all the appropriate caveats, vs presenting details of all the points we believe important but without acknowledging uncertainties?
Science is complex. It is always fraught with uncertainties at some level or in some aspect of a theory. It takes years of training and research to gain competency in doing it and understanding these complexities and uncertainties.
The public, for most part, lacks this expertise and competency. It’s inevitable given our complex division of labour and expertise.
For example, a NSF report finds that 25% of the public believes in Astrology and ghosts, 50% believe in ESP. A third of the American public believe the government was involved in a 9/11 conspiracy. Various polls have shown that between 6 – 25% of respondents believed the moon shots were faked. Half of Americans polled in a Harris poll clung to the belief that Iraq had WMD.
Crafting communications meant for this public involves simplification and reduction. As as result, complexity and uncertainty gets short shrift — of necessity. A summary is just that — a condensing of the whole into a part that encapsulates the whole without retaining its detail.
When scientists do craft such communications pieces meant for the lay public, they are attacked for simplifying the science and reducing uncertainties. It’s a no-win situation.
Whichever option is chosen is often motivated by the expectation that what any one individual says will be matched in the media by challenges from others. It sometimes plays out as though climate science were a courtroom drama, based on the legal philosophy that truth is best reached when differing views are advanced in an adversarial format rather than by a single individual, with the public in the role of jury – and when it comes to policy decisions, judge as well.
I don’t think that’s the best road to the truth. The weight of evidence is not the same as the ability to persuade, and “balance of evidence” is not the same as “equal time”. In that sense, I’m not sure how the process can be improved, except in the sense that each of us tries to improve our ability to understand evidence, to evaluate it objectively, and to communicate it effectively to a public audience with a limited attention span and with many other things on its mind as well.
That, my friend, requires an overhaul in the public education system such that young minds are taught logic and to look more deeply into the underlying assumptions about statements and to better understand what evidence is and what constitutes a solid argument. Dream on.
So, onto the actual substance of the issue — Trenberth, his statement in the CRU emails and their misuse, and his talk to be given at the AMS meeting.
Here’s what Trenberth said that is seen as so terrible:
“…we frequently hear that “while this event is consistent with what we expect from climate change, no single event can be attributed to human induced global warming”. Such murky statements should be abolished. On the contrary, the odds have changed to make certain kinds of events more likely.”
This seems to be what is up for debate — does global warming make extreme events like the flooding in Pakistan and wildfires in Russia more likely? If so, given that fires and floods happen on a regular basis as part of the climate system and weather patterns, if we cannot say that global warming created this flood or fire event, can we at least say that the severity or sheer number of the floods and fires is due to human-induced climate change? At what point could we make this claim and what would constitute adequate evidence?
For precipitation, the pervasive increase in water vapor changes precipitation events with no doubt whatsoever. Yes, all events! Even if temperatures or sea surface temperatures are below normal, they are still higher than they would have been, and so too is the atmospheric water vapor amount and thus the moisture available for storms. Granted, the climate deals with averages. However, those averages are made up of specific events of all shapes and sizes now operating in a different environment.
If we accept that anthropogenic global warming has led to increased evaporation and increased water vapour and increased precipitation (and if you don’t agree with that you are a denier) — even though rain fell before global warming and we can’t say that this particular rain event was caused by global warming — can we say that the rain that falls in the future is falling in a new climate state (warmer moister wetter) and thus, its severity may be due to, at least in some measure, global warming?
Another point is that we have substantial natural climate variability from events like El Niño and La Niña. Given that global warming is always going in one direction, it is when natural variability and global warming reinforce one another that records are broken and extremes occur. This takes place with warming in the latter part of and shortly after an El Niño event, for instance, as has happened in 2010.
In other words, anthropogenic global warming has not stopped, despite what deniers might claim using deceitful statistics, and thus when that warming and El Nino / La Nina are added together, the result is more intense than it would have been without global warming.
Is Trenberth overstating the science when he comments on single events like flooding in India, Pakistan, China — and more recently, Australia?
This is what the IPCC WG1 says about Australia and scenarios for warming:
Precipitation is likely to decrease in southern Australia in winter and spring. Precipitation is very likely to decrease in south-western Australia in winter. Precipitation is likely to increase in the west of the South Island of New Zealand. Changes in rainfall in northern and central Australia are uncertain. Extremes of daily precipitation are very likely to increase. The effect may be offset or reversed in areas of significant decrease in mean rainfall (southern Australian in winter and spring). An increase in potential evaporation is likely. Increased risk of drought in southern areas of Australia is likely.[my emphasis]
Here we see the typical IPCC expression of uncertainty — “likely” and “very likely” and “uncertain”.
Significant factors contribute to uncertainty in projected climate change for the region. The El Niño-Southern Oscillation significantly influences rainfall, drought and tropical cyclone behaviour in the region and it is uncertain how ENSO will change in the future. Monsoon rainfall simulations and projections vary substantially from model to model, thus we have little confidence in model precipitation projections for northern Australia. More broadly, across the continent summer rainfall projections vary substantially from model to model, reducing confidence in their reliability. In addition, no detailed assessment of MMD model performance over Australia or New Zealand is available, which hinders efforts to establish the reliability of projections from these models. Finally, downscaling of MMD model projections are not yet available for New Zealand but are much needed because of the strong topographical control of New Zealand rainfall.
In a nutshell, climate model projections suggest that extremes of precipitation are likely to increase as is drought in some regions. However, climate models vary with respect to climate projections for Australia and thus, there is considerable uncertainty about the future such that it is not possible to place much confidence in the projections. El Nino and La Nina have a great effect on rainfall and drought in the region and it is uncertain how the ENSO will change in the future.
What this says to me is that much work remains to be done when it comes to climate model projections or regional climate change and its impacts. This is what Trenberth said in that notorious email.
This does not say to me that we are fools to ask such questions as whether the ENSO has become more intense or whether specific weather events are made worse (or better) due to anthropogenic global warming. We should and must ask the question, but perhaps have to be more circumspect in providing an answer, always keeping clear that there are many unknowns and uncertainties. But to claim, as Curry does, that we shouldn’t even be asking that question is to stop science in its tracks.
Which reminds me of a quote I read recently:
“Nothing is so dangerous to the progress of the human mind than to assume that our views of science are ultimate, that there are no mysteries in nature, that our triumphs are complete and that there are no new worlds to conquer.”
— Humphrey Davy
Curry ‘s statement is the opposite of Trenberth’s intention. While individual weather systems are chaotic, the underlying climate system is much more predictable and ultimately sets the stage for those individual weather systems. As humans with a stake in the weather, given our reliance on weather for our food, and considering how vulnerable we are to its vississitudes, it behooves us to try to reach the point where we can do what Curry claims we can’t and are foolish to even consider.