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Kevin Trenberth's weird opinions about the climate

Anthony Watts' blog reprints the full text of Kevin Trenberth's preprint (PDF, JPG) that will be published by the American Meteorological Society (AMS). The first thing I have to say is simply:


The scientific portion of the letter is superficial and plagued by elementary logical fallacies, as we will analyze in some detail. But when it comes to the political substance of the preprint, it is powerful, indeed. Trenberth spends much of the time by explaining conspiracy theories about the deniers' influence on the media; he uses the term "denier" six times in the preprint.

I can't believe he really believes those conspiracy theories given the fact that the percentage of skeptics among the journalists is significantly lower than the percentage of skeptics in the AMS where he wants his very preprint to be published.

Have the computers and software evolved since 1992? Well, you guess. There wasn't even a commercial Internet back then. What about the climate modeling? Well, Trenberth's 1992 book (below) on climate models was reprinted - without any changes - in 2010. Now the math homework problem for you is: Calculate how much did we get for those 30 billions of dollars that have been paid to the discipline since 1992?

Trenberth recently became famous for the following quote that appeared in the ClimateGate e-mails:

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.
His newest interpretation of the quote is pretty incredible. He writes:
It is amazing to see this particular quote lambasted so often. It stems from a paper I published bemoaning our inability to effectively monitor the energy flows associated with short-term climate variability. It is quite clear from the paper that I was not questioning the link between anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and warming, or even suggesting that recent temperatures are unusual in the context of short-term natural variability. But that is the way a vast majority of the internet stories and blogs interpreted it.
He apparently thinks that he is not addressing his thoughts to a half-skeptical AMS but instead, he is speaking in front of the alarmist thought police (or AGW-KGB) that has just accused him of blasphemy :-) so he attempts to demonstrate that his quote couldn't have possibly undermined the holy claims about the man-made climate disruption.

(Trenberth admits that many AMS members are skeptics or, in his words, "poorly informed" if not "downright hostile", and even quotes a "scientific" paper with the same claim.)

Note that if one omits the adjective "short-term" in the newest interpretation, the interpretation directly contradicts his ClimateGate quote. If we can't explain why the temperature has been changing the way it has been changing, it logically follows that we can't claim that we can predict the future temperature changes, either. Our ability to explain the past phenomena is necessary for us to be confident about our theories and predictions about the future; however, it is not a sufficient condition because the explanations of the past could be fundamentally incorrect. A theory has to be sufficiently tested before science may become confident that it knows the actual causes of various phenomena - which is needed for reliable enough predictions of the future.

The adjective "short-term" used by Mr Trenberth is meant to soften the contradiction. So in between the lines, Trenberth tries to argue - without providing the reader with any evidence - that the absence of warming since 1998 is just due to the "short-term natural variability".

(Note that the RSS AMSU and UAH AMSU satellite records showed that 2010 was somewhat cooler than 1998 while all the surface records claimed a statistical tie - in the case of GISS, it was a tie with 2005 which is GISS' warmest year on record. That's despite the fact that 2010 and 1998 were very similar when it came to the dynamics of the ENSO index throughout the year - see pages 25-26 of the ENSO weekly report.)

But the assertion that the absence of a warming signal in a 12-year period may be ignored in the predictions of the future climate because it is just about some "short-term climate variability" is highly extraordinary and requires extraordinary evidence: Trenberth (and his colleagues) haven't offered a glimpse of evidence.

In particular, James Hansen in his 1988 testimony has predicted something like 5 °C of warming per century under the business-as-usual scenario that was obviously realized when it comes to our CO2 emissions. This prediction translates to 0.60 °C of warming during the 12-year period 1998-2010. Instead, we received zero - according to the surface records - or the small negative amount of -0.04 °C - according to the satellite records.

The two purple dots show the difference between Hansen's 1988 Congress prediction for the 2010 temperature (up) and the instrumentally measured reality (down): the difference is over 0.6 °C and it will grow much bigger after the cooler La Nina Year 2011. The industry followed Hansen's Scenario A; Scenarios B and C assumed that the fossil fuel economy would have been in huge decline or completely stopped years before the present.

So Hansen's prediction for the 12-year interval is wrong by 0.60 °C. Now, Trenberth tries to downplay this error as a consequence of "short-term natural variability" that should be ignored and that has earned the label "travesty" just because of a typo. The error is obviously too tiny, he says in between the lines - and sometimes explicitly.

But note that this 0.60 °C discrepancy per the 12-year period is as high as the whole 20th century "global warming" that remains the main empirical argument in favor of the "climate disruption". How is it possible that the change by 0.60 °C per century is a "sign of a looming catastrophe" while the same unexpected change by 0.60 °C - but now per 12 years (a much faster change) - is a tiny error or an effect that may be ignored?

Of course, this is just a rhetorical question: it is not possible. If you can accumulate an error of 0.60 °C per 12 years, you may also accumulate a 0.60 °C error - and probably a significantly larger error - during 100 years. Hansen's predictions just don't work and the very statement that the 20th century warming was real and due to a "long-term trend" is clearly questionable, too. If one can't say what's happening with the heat that should have increased the temperature by 0.60 °C in the last 12 years, he obviously can't say what will be happening with the heat of the same magnitude in the next 100 or 990 years, either.

Is this trivial observation really so difficult for Mr Trenberth to understand? I don't think so. I think that he knows damn well that what he wrote doesn't make the slightest sense. The inability to predict the temperature change in 12 years with an error smaller than 0.60 °C - or to explain the fate of the corresponding energy flows - really is a travesty. And a sensible and honest person who is aware of this travesty would surely avoid breathtakingly arrogant statements of this kind:
Given that global warming is unequivocal, the null hypothesis should be that all weather events are affected by global warming rather than the inane statements along the lines of “of course we cannot attribute any particular weather event to global warming”. That kind of comment is answering the wrong question.
Holy cattle. So all weather events are affected by "global warming". (We just can't say how they would look like if they were not affected haha.)

The term "global warming" is, first of all, completely meaningless. It may mean hundreds of different things and this ambiguity is the ultimate lifeblood of the AGW movement and its superstitions. One half of the meanings are processes that are (or have been) taking place but they're not interesting or dangerous in any way. For example, the global mean temperature is always moving in some direction. The other half of processes sometimes called "global warming" is not taking place. In particular, it's not true that all places in the world have warmed up in the last XY years and it's not true that there is anything dangerous about the expected trend-like changes in the next 50 or 100 years. The AGW movement depends on the trick of finding the evidence for the modest interpretations of the term "global warming" while pretending that they prove the immodest interpretations.

But how can something be "unequivocal" about one of the most discredited pseudoscientific terms of the last 100 years?

How does Trenberth shows that "global warming" is "unequivocal"? Well, if you read his essay, it all boils down to his Holy Scripture:
Given that global warming is “unequivocal”, to quote the 2007 IPCC report, the null hypothesis should now be reversed, thereby placing the burden of proof on showing that there is no human influence. Such a null hypothesis is trickier because one has to hypothesize something specific, such as “precipitation has increased by 5%” and then prove that it hasn’t. Because of large natural variability, the first approach results in an outcome suggesting that it is appropriate to conclude that there is no increase in precipitation by human influences, although the correct interpretation is that there is simply not enough evidence (not a long enough time series). However, the second approach also concludes that one cannot say there is not a 5% increase in precipitation. Given that global warming is happening and is pervasive, the first approach should no longer be used. As a whole the community is making too many type II errors.
Note that when many champions of the climate panic reacted to the video "Global Warming Panic Explained" by saying that it is not true that they exclusively use ad hominem, political or quasi-religious pseudo-arguments to support all their major propositions. However, in almost every individual case, we see that the film was right. Mindless worshiping of a completely discredited political institution called the IPCC is the only thing that the "climate scientist" Kevin Trenberth offers the American Meteorological Society. And he is no semi-outsider - a clown similar to Greg Craven - who just brings a bad name to the climatology. Trenberth is at the very heart of the group of people who call themselves climate science experts.

He tells us that the man-made climate disruption has become a dogma because it was written down - and shot - in several Holy Scriptures including the IPCC report and the Nobel-winning fraudulent movie starring Al Gore. Everyone who dares to disagree with their propositions has to bring the blue clothes from the Heavens.

Some statements in the IPCC report are right, some statements are wrong, and at least in average, the percentage of the wrong ones is an increasing function of the political charge hiding in the question - because the political applications introduce pressures and produce bias. Every intelligent person has already understood how this dynamics works in an institution where scientific, political, ideological, and financial interests intersect. But it's surely ludicrous - and childishly naive as well as arrogant - to claim that some proposition is valid because it was written down in an IPCC report.

If Mr Trenberth lives among the people who are ready to believe things just because they're written in an IPCC report, he should perhaps get used to the fact that most people in the world are not as gullible or dumb as the environment where Mr Trenberth lives.

If you read Trenberth's explanations of the relationship between the man-made climate change and the natural variability, you will see that the satirical video was 100% accurate once again. Any event that looks convenient may be blamed on man-made climate change while any other event that could produce evidence against the man-made theory is just hand-waved away as an artifact of the natural variability. There exists no conceivable observation that would imply that there is something wrong with the basic man-made dogma.

There are absolutely no moral standards in this procedure. This procedure has nothing to do with science. A proper science that studies these things must obviously spend 99.9% of the time with the detailed research of the observed phenomena - of the natural variability - and only when the things are understood, it may claim that there could perhaps be a leftover - a simple extra uniform term related to CO2 or anything else. But one can't claim to understand the leftover without understanding the bulk of the dynamics - and the bulk has clearly been the natural variability, at least in the last 4.7 billion years.

Trenberth's rant is much richer when it comes to fringe political declarations. We learn that "the planet is already over-populated" and our usage of the atmosphere leads to "the tragedy of the commons". That's what breathing boils down to: I kid you not. Trenberth wants to introduce a planned economy "for decades ahead" because he finds it bad that politicians may be replaced in "the next election" (a concept known as democracy); recall that James Hansen is working hard to become an official ideologue of the Chinese Communist Party. And the sectors that climate change "scientists" such as Trenberth should influence include "environment, but also energy, water, sustainability, the economy, foreign policy and trade, security and defense."

In other words, Mr Trenberth and other kibitzers want to become universal dictators. Do I undestand well, Mr Trenberth? The last thing you should think about is how to extend your power. Instead, you should be thinking how to humbly undo your largely inexcusable behavior in recent years so that you will spend as little time in the prison as possible.

Just to make you sure, you're not being criticized for admitting that the climate science doesn't allow us to calculate temperature change with a 0.6 °C precision or the corresponding energy flows; right now, science can only explain what can be explained at this moment. You're criticized for denying this ignorance in the context of the policy discussions and for claiming that this ignorance doesn't exist when you want to self-confidently claim far-reaching things about the climate in the future and when you use these bizarre statements as arguments in the scary totalitarian society you are dreaming about.

We've had enough of the priggishness and unjustifiable moral superiority of mediocre and obsessed pseudoscientific would-be scientists such as yourself, Mr Trenberth. The American Meteorological Society should show you the door, and if it fails to do so, the AMS and other institutions should be showed the door away from the U.S. budget for the fiscal year 2012. The funding of this junk should drop from $2.5 billion to zero simply because it produces zero value.

Sorry, I don't have the patience to read similar texts by aggressive yet intellectually limited writers of Trenberth's caliber for extended periods of time so I will stop at this very moment.

P.S. I: On the last page of his preprint, Trenberth is at least honest about one question. He includes the following cartoon that reveals what is the genuine climate-related threat to recipients of the fear-driven government grants such as himself. Well, it's not climate change:

Click to zoom in

It's the people who have understood - or are beginning to understand - what is actually going on.

P.S. II: By the way, the very concept of "short-term variability" vs "long-term behavior" is scientifically flawed, too. There is no qualitative separation between "short-term" (which is supposed to include 12-year changes) and "long-term" changes. To be more precise, the changes of the climate appear at all timescales.

As Bob Carter likes to add, every weather event is a climate event, too. And there is nothing mysterious that happens with the climate dynamics when you average it over 12 years or 30 years. The timescale of 30 years is just a convention - to separate the short-term "weather" from the long-term "climate" - because a typical human only actively perceives the weather around her for something like 30 years.

But Nature doesn't stop from being affected by many different factors - including the chaotic and hardly predictable ones - when the timescale reaches 30 years. Trenberth may downplay 12-year changes as a "short-term natural variability" but there also exists analogous discrepancies between oversimplified (and therefore inadequate) theories and the actual dynamics of the atmosphere at the timescales of 30 years, 100 years, 1000 years, or any other timescale.

For example, the AGW theory failed not only between 1998 and 2010 but also between 1945 and 1975 when it was (slightly) cooling in average. The latter interval is pretty long so the climate "scientists" decided that they can't just wave their hands and talk about a "short-term natural variability". Instead, they invented an explanation - the first culprit that came to their minds - and began to say that the slight cooling after the war was due to "aerosols".

This may be true and it may be untrue but it is a spectacularly uncertain claim; even the IPCC report admits that the impact of the aerosols is so uncertain that even the sign could be the opposite one than what is usually said. The cooling could have been mostly due to a short-term natural variability, the PDO, or any driver we normally talk about - especially because there could have been no reason to expect a 1945-1975 warming to start with.

All these speculations are totally uncertain and all the people claiming that these explanations are certain have only referred to the would-be Holy Scriptures where no arguments have been explained, either. It is all about an irrational intimidation of other people by an aggressive group of crooks obsessed with their power, grants, and the doomsday scenarios.

Even if there were observable human influences on the climate, it is totally obvious that the detailed spatial and temporal patterns observed in Nature - whose huge majority is clearly due to natural effects - are the actual things that should be studied and explained. It's because there obviously exist some (most likely probabilistic) laws that dictate how the climate behaves naturally - and it has behaved in a natural way for 4.7 billion years - and science simply has to try to understand what's going on.

The assumption that the important and interestings parts of the behavior of the climate boil down to effects that didn't exist 200 years ago is an extreme form of the Young Earth Creationism. It is a complete denial of the history of the Earth and the Universe.

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reader warren said...

I wanted to comment about the 12 years are too short issue (I posted comments about Trenberth here:

Take the core IPCC argument: for the period after 1950, they claim their computer models cannot explain warming patterns without including a large effect from anthropogenic CO2. Since almost all the warming in the latter half of the century really occurred between 1978 and 1998, the IPCC core argument boils down to “we are unable to attribute the global temperature increase in these 20 years to natural factors, so it must have been caused by man-made CO2.”

In effect, the core IPCC conclusions were really based on the warming over the 20 years from 1978-1998. There was never any implication that their models couldn’t explain, say, the 1930′s or the 1970′s without manmade CO2.

So while 12 years is admittedly short compared to many natural cycles in climate, and might be considered a dangerously short period to draw conclusions from, it is fairly large compared to the 20 year period that drove the IPCC conclusions.

Here is where we stand: The IPCC models supposedly cannot explain the 20 year period from 1978-1998 without factoring in a high climate sensitivity to CO2. However, I would venture to guess that, prior to tweaking, the IPCC models cannot explain the 12 year period from 1998-2011 while still factoring in a high climate sensitivity to CO2.

Postscript: I suppose the IPCC would scream “aerosols,” but even putting aside the equivocal and sometimes offsetting effects of aerosols and black carbon, I do not think one could reasonably argue their effect was much greater in one period than the other.

reader LovePhysics said...

I really love this blog. What an Evisceration!

There is only one thing I would change: When you say "Holy Cattle", you should always follow that with the word "Batman" :-)

Don't archive this one, I want to share the link!

reader Brian G Valentine said...

Tyndall was debunked about it. Arrhenius was debunked about it. Similarly for Plass and Callender.

So - what makes this second-law violation perpetual motion machine junk so special now? Computers! Computers that draw maps with lots of red coloring to show that things are not well with the world.

What makes these people so special? It isn't their interest in continual funding, everybody wants to feel relevant somehow and bring in a pay check.

It's their CHUTZPAH in their treatment of others. They never answer objections, never apologize for projections that never materialize, never admit error, never admit the possibility they may be wrong, never fail to howl loudly at critics.

The real tragedy about all this is, they are helping to develop a generation of "scientists" who are incapable of producing anything meaningful.

reader Craig Goodrich said...

This preprint is useful in one respect: I had been wondering whether Trenberth was, like Jones and Briffa, a scientist who was aware that he had become corrupted and felt secretly somewhat guilty about it, or like Mann and Santer, a pure amoral manipulative propagandist.

This piece puts him "unequivocally" in the latter class.

reader climatewise said...

Let's try a thought experiment.
Dr Trenberth wants to reduce his heating bills so he insulates his house. He calculates what the reduction in his heating bills should be with the extra insulation. Over an extended period of time he monitors his bills and sees that the they have only decreased by half of what his prediction was. Does he
A. Assume his calculations were wrong?
B. Assume that that there must be some area of his home that is letting heat escape?
C. Tell himself that it's just natural variability and it will eventually reach the value he predicted.

reader aaron said...

Correct me if I'm wrong (it's been about 12 years since I've done a physics problem), but the according to wikipedia: the earth gets 505,000 cubic kilometers of water percipitation.

5% is 2.525E13 cubic meters

2260J/g are released when h2o condenses

The earth's surface is 5.10072E14 meters squared.

There are 3.1556926E7 seconds in a year.

That would mean 3.545 Watts per meter squared removed from the surface.

reader David said...

FORGET ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE!!!!! Derive the Koide formula from orthodox M-theory. You might think my heretical M-theory is garbage, but I am betting that you can introduce a simple hypothesis into orthodox M-theory and THEN DERIVE THE KOIDE FORMULA. This will make you famous.
Is NKS Chapter 9 essential for understanding the foundations of physics?
Hypothesis of Heretical M-theory: Heretical M-theory, or modified M-theory with Wolfram’s automaton, is more-or-less the same as orthodox M-theory with the added hypotheses that superstrings are virtual unifications of waves and particles spread across alternate universes, the number of alternate universes is finite, and there is a uniform upper bound for the number of primary harmonics of superstrings.
Can orthodox M-theory and heretical M-theory both explain the Koide formula?
Can this be used to derive the Koide formula from orthodox M-theory?
Superstring cosmological hypothesis of virtual energy-density levels: Superstrings are virtual unifications of waves and particles that are separated into three distinct levels of virtual energy-density. The three levels cause the 3 generations (or families) in particle physics.

reader Stefan said...

Dear Lubos,
This is not a comment directly related to this post. I wish to draw your attention to the paper by R.T.
Pierrehumbert which appeares on page 33 of Physics Today, January 2011.
You can find it on the web-site of Physics Today. The author concludes with an extremely strong statement: " ..basic radiative physics of the anthropgenic greenhouse effect is
Simply, this radiative physics is only a small sub-part of the whole physics of the problem which involves evaporation, condensation,
cloud formation etc!
I am thinking to write a comment but my comment would be probably partly a repeat of many interesting posts from your site. I already wrote to you about
the boundary problem related to
the energy exchange between the troposphere and the stratosphere.
In particular, his paragraph about the thermodynamic aspects and lack
of listing of all negative feedbacks (mostly fro clouds) requires a well written short comment to the section "Letters" in Physics Today.
It would be appropriate to mention the "Le Chatelier principle" (as you did earlier on your blog) and
also quote the attempts by I. Prigogine to generalize thermodynamics
to similar systems to the "Earth + atmosphere" system.