Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tolasz: Klaus may not be wrong

Today, the #1 Czech newspaper, MF DNES ("Youth Front TODAY"), published an interview of a top Czech journalist, Ms Barbora Tachecí, with climatologist Mr Radim Tolasz.

Because I consider him the ultimate role model of a mainstream Czech climatologist, the "guy in the middle" (who also holds, in some sense, the highest climatological job in Czechia), I decided to translate the whole interview so that the readers from the whole world may learn that the climate hysteria is pretty much absent in the Czech climatological circles - and in fact, also in the Czech media.

The printed version starts with a big headline, "Klaus may not be wrong" ("Třeba se Klaus nemýlí"). The electronic version has a more refined title:

Politicians are satisfied as soon as the fight against the climate change is being written about; economists should calculate how much it costs, Dr Radim Tolasz says. Picture: Mr Michal Šula, MF DNES

Klaus may not be wrong but he oversimplifies things, a climatologist says

Weather fluctuations in recent days have confused everyone. There is an exception: climatologists are not surprised and they will probably never be. This statement was also confirmed by Mr Radim Tolasz, a deputy director for meteorology and climatology of the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute, in an interview with Ms Barbora Tachecí.

Ms Tachecí has talked with him about the weather which will offer extreme fluctuations, and about the mankind's influence on the climate change.

Within a few days, we've seen Summer, Fall, and Winter - does it prove the climate change?

It is a part of the evidence for climate change. Climate change is a huge topic and we can't say that when the wind blows right now, it's a proof.

Will these fast changes be occuring ever more frequently?

I am convinced that they will. After all, we've been seeing this development for decades. During the most recent decades, the frequency of extreme phenomena has increased. But our awareness about them has increased, too.

How far will it go? What will we experience 10 years from now?

There won't be too much change but the extremes will continue. The weather is eventually guaranteed to reach a cliff and five years of silence will follow. Our models for the Czech Republic have been calculated up to the year 2030 and we don't expect changes towards a cooler weather or towards the reduction of the extremes.

But these models include some influence of the planned fight against the climate change, don't they?

No. Because all models, not only our models, but even the global models, imply that no intervention has any chance to manifest itself before 2030. The climate system has an enormous inertia.

If Václav Klaus invited you for a dinner and wanted to chat about the climate, would you accept the offer?

Sure. I would have no reason to reject it.
Intermezzo: Who is Radim Tolasz
Personal data

Born in 1964. In 1987, he completed studies of physical geography at the Masaryk University in Brno. Besides climatology, he dedicated time to geology. He is the father of two adult kids, a son and a daughter.


In the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute, RNDr Tolasz (doctor of natural sciences) has worked since 1986. He works primarily on climatological data and the management of meteorology.


Besides work, which he named as his #1 hobby, he likes recreational sport activities - skiing in particular - and reading books on history regardless of the epochs. On his blog, he claimed that he tries to speak the literary form of Czech and to avoid expletives, smoking, and alcohol. He also claims to be unusable in the practical life.
What would you like to tell him?

I am not too happy that he is trying to intervene into a discipline he doesn't understand too well. He said that non-economists shouldn't try to intervene into economics. So he inspired me to tell him that non-climatologists shouldn't try to intervene into climatology. Let's hope that I would get away with that.

After years of my experience with men, I would recommend you to praise him immediately afterwards.

That's certainly right. I just wanted to say the same thing: I would praise him for his huge progress since the year 2006 when he began to discuss this topic in the media more frequently. In those times, he was essentially saying that the climate change didn't exist and the men didn't harm Nature - as of today, he's gone well beyond these attitudes. He has learned quite a lot.

Have you read his books on the climate?

One of them.

But he has written two. How do you know that he has made such a huge jump in his climatological expertise?

From the newspapers, magazines, TV. The second book summarizes his previous speeches and presentations on this topic.

Were the president's viewpoints inspiring for you in some respects, or were you just rolling your eyes all the time?

In the Chapters dedicated to environmentalism, I nodded my head in approval. In the Chapter about the climate dynamics, I was turning my head disapprovingly.

We will probably agree that President Klaus is neither stupid nor uneducated - and he is not unable to reach a rational conclusion out of the information available to him. So what mistake is he doing concerning the climate?

He is not able to grasp the climate and climatology in the whole context. Let me simplify the situation a bit: for example, when he overflies the United States and after he returns back, he says that New York was 10 degrees cooler than Los Angeles, which makes it surprising why the climatologists are so excited about the temperature change by 1 degree per century.

Can't you laugh after a good joke? The president has prepared dozens of such provocations in his pocket and he is entertained how you seriously jump on each of them.

I love jokes but the president is not the exact person whom I would accuse of having an excess of jokes. So: if he speaks in this way after he returns from America, it reveals his complete misunderstanding of the climate system and what the very term "climate change" means.

Are his opinions dangerous in some way? Or are they irritating just because they disagree with the majority?

Opinions that don't agree with the majority usually do irritate the people: you're very right. But they can also be dangerous because of his special ability to influence the public - by his charisma etc. He is affecting the public in the direction that the climate change is no problem.

And what's wrong with that? After all, the public is not the decisive factor in the fight against the so-called climate change: it is a political issue. Are we on the same page?

No, we're not. The public will influence the issue exactly because it is a political issue.

Do you really think that when it comes to climatology, European and global leaders will be listening to the public? Please, allow me to smile a bit.

I am an idealist so I think that this should be the case in the context of all disciplines. But you're right: I don't believe it, either.

At that moment, it's completely irrelevant what Václav Klaus is telling the public about the climate: so where could the danger possibly come from? Are there people among the climatologists and meteorologists who are siding with him?

I am convinced that there are. I can't strictly say that they are siding with him because climatologists and meteorologists keep their doubts about the evolution of the climate. They always compute something, predict things, and continue to think whether they haven't forgotten something in the calculation. But the majority of climatologists are standing on the other side than Václav Klaus.

Both sides agree that the climate change exists. One side says that it's nothing to wrestle with because Nature will deal with it Herself. The second group - which you consider to be larger - says that we will stop it. Is it the main difference?

Yes, that's exactly right. One side wants to fight with it, the other side wants to forget about it. And there is also a third group that says that we should adapt to it.

Instead of the fight whose effects are almost unknown to us, shouldn't we really learn how to work, live, and exploit the climate change?

To learn how to live with the climate change, it's exactly the dictum that I subscribe to. But when you say that we should learn how to work with the changes and exploit them - it smells of a desire to take advantage of Nature.

What's wrong with that? People have been taking advantage of Nature from the beginning of time.

That much is right. There's nothing wrong with it. But it's probably not reasonable to twist or bend Nature. For example, people have been bending rivers and dry lakes are among the results. We should feel the difference between using Nature and abusing Nature.

Who can measure the human influence on the climate change and how he does it?

That's exactly one of the things in climatology that can't be computed unequivocally.
Intermezzo: By her eyes

It was the first climatologist whom I met in my life. I was imagining him to be a crazy scientist with an ambition to command the wind and rain. Instead, a likable man came here. He looked so normal that I had to treat him well despite his being a climatologist and despite the moderate hysteria which some of them are helping to grow. Whenever he was talking about Nature, he thawed - the noble word for this sentiment is humility. After the interview, he was unhappy that we didn't talk about the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute where he works and about its funding. He was apparently ready to fight for his company as a lion and that's nice. He asked me to guess how many people the institute employs. Three attempts were not enough for me: the right answer is eight hundred. But all the people only see Ms Taťána Míková on TV - but they don't see all the work we have to do, he complained. I love the people who love their job. Mr Radim Tolasz surely belongs to this group.
So may Václav Klaus, who is promoting doubts about the allegedly dominant influence of the mankind on these processes, be right, after all?

He may be right. On the other hand, the majority opinion of the climatologists and most of the outcomes of their models say that the mankind's effects dominate. However, our problem is that we don't have any labs that could verify such a proposition.

If you're really uncertain about the human contribution to the climate change, aren't the contemporary ambitions of the mostly European politicians to intervene into the climate an example of the efforts you criticized, i.e. efforts to bend Nature?

While we don't know what the contribution is exactly, we know that it is nonzero. And it's good to minimize any negative influence of Man on Nature.

At what costs?

I don't like to "fight against the climate change." But when we already use this term for the movement, one important thing has to be added: we must must calculate whether we will economically benefit from such a fight. And that's not happening today.

So all these international conferences, Kyoto protocols, plans to reduce the emissions of this and that now and then - all of them are swimming on water? Are they economically unjustified?

In this context, I think that the economists haven't reached an agreement yet. Not even a consensus of the majority.

So we're doing something and we're not sure whether we will benefit out of it. So why are we doing it?

Because we are in the state when the climatologists have already said something, politicians have adopted these words as their own, but we must still wait for the economists to calculate this thing.

So the politicians have grabbed this idea without having the relevant economic calculations. I guess that I know why: they love regulation, they love power, they love if they can intervene into anything. They don't need economic calculations if they have this excellent chance to regulate the world. What do you think?

Do you know what is enough for them? They're satisfied if it is a blockbuster in the media. And the fight against the climate change is one of them.

At the table of the European Union, there is a proposal to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions by twenty percent by 2020. Instead of having someone who will tell them: "Have you lost your mind? You don't have any economic calculations for these steps", Mr Martin Bursík, an ex-chairman of the Czech Green Party, is trying to make sure that Klaus won't participate at the Copenhagen climate conference. Are we in a mental asylum?

It's not normal. It really isn't. I think that the economists should accept this challenge and calculate the results.

What would really happen if the world didn't fight against the climate change?

One can't guess because we don't know how the world will behave in the future. I dare to say that if we're going to behave well and normally, Nature will deal with Her state within a few centuries.

So why do we see this hysteria? Can't it be that it's being encouraged not only by the politicians who want to be on TV but also by the business world? There must be many sectors that will be earning huge amounts of money if we jump on this train of hysteria. What do you think?

Business may play some role but in my opinion, it doesn't play a great role. Nevertheless, that's how the business works. Companies were even able to smell that even the Czech Republic might need the anti-malaria drugs, so they're developing them. But we should ask: is it good or bad?

It's good to develop anything, it's bad is to regulate the lives of people because of that. Besides the pharmaceutical companies, who is going to benefit from the fight against the climate change?

In individual sectors, one can find groups that will earn a lot: agriculture, especially the development of new species, engineering, transportation.

And who will be losing the money?

Everyone can lose his money if it will turn out that this whole activity will have been useless. And we can't rule this possibility out. But we should invest into new technologies even without the climate change, shouldn't we?

Václav Klaus may be unable to grasp the climate and climatology in the full context, as you said, but as a non-expert, he seems to end up with very similar conclusions. Where is the real disagreement between you and our president?

I disagree with the way how he oversimplifies things. But otherwise, I think that we agree about most things.

Hat tip: my dad

Bonus: Slovakia

By the way, on Saturday, a leading Slovak newspaper Pravda published an interview with Mr Pavel Šťastný, who is essentially the national climatologist of Slovakia.

They discussed the very same topics, including Klaus's viewpoints, and his opinions were pretty much identical to those of Mr Tolasz. Šťastný argued that the recent trends don't say enough to be extrapolated to the future and that Klaus may be right and surely should be debated with.

Hat tip: Alexander Ač

Here is the full translation of this Slovak interview.

The climate is changing, get used to extremes

The climate is still a big unknown, however, we already know something about it, Slovak climatologist Mr Pavel Šťastný (Paul Happy) admits. As the Slovak national expert, he participated at the report of the European Environmental Agency (EEA) about the impact of the climate change upon the old continent. For almost 2.5 years, he has worked in Copenhagen where the world conference about the fight against the climate change will be held in two months.

Slovak climate scientist Mr Pavel Šťastný says that although the recent years have been warmer, we can't deduce an unequivocal trend into the future.

Questions by Mr Vladimír Jancura. We're supposed to talk about global warming. However, in Slovakia, the weather dramatically cooled down a few days ago. The readers are interested whether there will be any gossamer, i.e. "babie/grandma summer".

If we can find some babes, even the babe summer will return (laughter). But seriously, much of it depends on the circulation conditions. Suddenly, a rearrangement of the pressure patterns may bring us the Arctic air, just like it did recently. Such a thing may be repeated in several waves and people may conclude - that's the end of global warming. However, that's not the case.

Your Czech colleagues have calculated that the average temperature in their country has increased by 1.1 °C during the last decade. The situation in Slovakia won't be too different. Does it prove climate change?

The recent years were warmer, indeed. But it is not possible to extrapolate the developments in the most recent decades into the future - it's not right. The climate system is much more complex.

Can the coming years be cooler?

That can't be ruled out, either. The temperature graphs are being affected by many factors. Fluctuations in the circulation of the atmosphere may have effects even in the long run, in the case of a sequence of several subsequent cooler years.

Is any climate change underway at all? Even this question is being disputed...

In the climate science community, we are talking about about the change as well as the variability of the climate at the same moment.


The variability is a natural process of the change. However, the present climate change is also caused by the human activity - especially the greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. So far, discussions continue about the relative importance of the natural and artificial - i.e. anthropogenic - factors for the changes that are taking place.

Which of them is dominant?

It can't be answered accurately - because of many reasons, but especially because we don't quite know the functioning of the climate system in its entirety. A lot of stuff is waiting to be revealed by science. The issue is not only about the mutual effects of oceans and lands on each other, but also about the effects of the cryosphere i.e. the part of the Earth that is permanently covered by ice. And after all, we need to clarify the influence of extraterrestrial factors, e.g. with the variations of the solar output.

According to Václav Klaus, the number of scientists who doubt the global warming theory is increasing. Do you observe this process?

To some extent, I do. And all of it stems from the uncertainty. No one can unequivocally say how big a part of the change is caused by the human activity and which part is a natural process.

Does it mean that Klaus is right in some sense?

In science, you rarely encounter a straight path from a proposition or a scientific hypothesis to an established insight. The truth is usually being born in a contradiction and an inherent feature of Man is his tendency to have certain doubts. Recall the fate of Galileo's and Copernicus's theories.

So is Klaus's skepticism meaningful for something?

What is meaningful is the whole discussion of the warmers with the doubters, as we call each other. Because of this discussion, people have to focus on the accuracy of their data and weaknesses in arguments are being efficiently identified. At the same moment, it's clear that the mankind will have big problems with the climate change regardless of its origin and that it makes sense to get ready for the new conditions.

Are you personally leaned towards the doubters more than the warmers?

I am standing somewhere in between. I know that both groups are right in some respects but the unequivocal truth can only be achieved by continuing scientific research. This research also gives rise to the new generation of models which will be describing the climate system more faithfully.

Has your group been participating in the arguments about the cause of the climate change?

No, our group has primarily focused on the consequences, but even when we tried to formulate them, we had to struggle with many uncertainties. They have occurred mainly because of the limitations of the available temperature data that only cover the most recent 150 years. Older data can only be obtained indirectly, e.g. from the ice cores.

Let's stop here for a while because the data from the glaciers deserve a special comment.

Yes, they do because the glaciers serve us as a good chronicle of the climate change that goes hundreds of thousands of years into the past. You may compare them to tree rings. Even the layers of the glaciers tell us about the separate years. It means that they have recorded the inter-annual air temperature and precipitation variations, and we can also read the data about the volcano activity, composition of the atmosphere, and the fraction of the greenhouse gases out of them.

What surprises have already been found by this research?

A discovery made by this research is the insight that neither ice ages nor the interglacials have seen any longer "peaceful" period without changes - at least not in the last 800,000 years. Even the interannual variations were substantial. The Greenland data even point to 10-degree inter-annual variations of the air temperature.

How is it possible?

All these phenomena probably arise from the changes in the air circulation patterns above the ocean currents. That's suggested by the episodes of sudden warming or sudden cooling. The former are caused primarily by the inflow of warm ocean water into the Arctic region while the latter is associated with the outpouring of ice sheets into the sea which cooled them down - and therefore cooled the air, too. Within a few years, the weather abruptly warmed up or cooled down and the climate was often stabilizing for a few centuries that followed.

What role has been played by the Gulf Stream?

The ocean circulation has several fragile quasi-stationary states. A small perturbation is enough to switch to another regime - which is a process largely unknown to us. Models are trying to describe it but the findings so far do not indicate that the Gulf Stream should be currently undergoing any significant transformation or that this pattern should even collapse, as the famous U.S. Congress report wanted to claim. No mechanism of such a hypothetical deceleration is even known.

Can we use the language of the glaciers and ice sheets to deduce that the climate change is nothing new under the Sun because they get repeated after some time?

Yes. However, the information obtained by science brings several new question marks. For example: according to the global warming theory, the air temperature increases with the increasing concentration of the carbon dioxide (CO2). However, the ice core data imply the opposite sequence of events - first, the air temperature went up, and then the fraction of CO2 was increasing. A topic of the present research is where the CO2 had been stored before that.

Because so many questions seem to be unanswered so far, was it possible in your expert group to agree about the main consequences of the climate change at all?

We were able to concretely formulate these effects in the cases that can be accurately measured. That is primarily the case of the atmosphere and the hydrosphere. After all, all impacts of the increasing temperature - and, partially, of the fluctuating precipitation figures may be observed even on the Slovak territory.

However, can't the process of warming be spontaneously reverted if it were caused mostly by the natural factors?

The climate system contains lots of feedbacks. For example, in the case of the Arctic ice, it's true that the less ice there is, the more the air temperature increases, and consequently, the faster the loss of ice becomes. The countries near the Arctic circle have already established forums where they gather and, independently of other research activities, solve the consequences of the climate change.

What are they worried most of all?

A larger reduction of the Greenland ice and sea ice as well as the general warming of the Arctic region which may thaw the so-called permafrost, permanently frozen soil.

Some people might be happy about it...

Sure because new possibilities to obtain oil and to transport oil and gas through the Arctic region could emerge. Our Norwegian colleagues were praising the longer summers that allowed them to scythe the grass twice, not just once. However, the permafrost has also its indisputable advantages: it supports the airports and roads, the whole infrastructure. If it were thawing, the infrastructure would be getting damaged and new expenses would be needed to rebuild it. And we're not even speaking about the methane that could be released by the thawing permafrost: it's an even more aggressive greenhouse gas than the carbon dioxide.

And would the sea level rise?

It's rising even today, although the melting ice sheets are not essential in this process, at least not so far. However, the projections for the following century predict a rise by 40-60 centimeters. In combination with tidal waves and tropical storms, it may bring some places a genuine catastrophe.

Are the Dutchmen clever when they are looking for alternative housing in Slovakia right now?

Quite in general, the Dutchmen are a foresightful and resourceful nation. Since the Middle Ages, they have been extending their living space at the expense of the sea. And today, they have one of the most sophisticated systems of arrangements designed to adapt to the climate change.

Can we feel more secure here in Slovakia?

Even in Slovakia, we observe decreasing precipitation, especially in the South: the landscape is getting drier. We're lucky that we have the Danube whose flow rate is pretty constant and that is continuously refilling underground sources of water in Western Slovakia. However, the underground waters in the rest of the Southern Slovakia are vulnerable, and whatever viewpoint we choose, we will probably need to transfer some water from the North to the South, and from the West to the Center.

How? Hopefully not by bending the river basins?

Don't worry, no. Instead, the recipe are new dams although they are not popular. But look at Spain which leads Europe in the number of dams. In one word, there's sometimes no other solution.

Is Slovakia threatened by more frequent weather extremes?

As the temperature increases, we are likely to see more frequent droughts as well as more frequent intense thunderstorms with torrential rain. In the winters, the amount of snow may decrease which could harm the tourist industry.

Albert Einstein used to claim that he didn't know anything more complicated than the climate system. That may be the reason why it's so hard to forecast the weather. Doesn't a person who studies it for his whole life sometimes fall into depression or the feeling of futility?

I know some people in the forecasting industry who are more successful than their colleagues. Besides the models, they build on their experience and intuition. The forces in the atmosphere are sometimes in such a balance and they hover near the edge, and your "sixth sense" is therefore often deciding whether you correctly guess which side these forces choose.
RNDr Pavel Šťastný, CSc (57)

Slovak climatologist. After his studies at the Comenius University in Bratislava, he started to work at the Slovak Hydrometeorological Institute in Bratislava where he remained up to these days. He is a co-author of multiple national reports about the climate change in Slovakia. As the national expert, he represented Slovakia during the preparation of the second report of the European Environmental Agency (EEA) about the impacts of the climate change in Europe.

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