Thursday, January 24, 2013

CNN: Marc Morano on extreme weather trends

CNN and its Piers Morgan show just aired a very short exchange of opinions
Michael Brune vs Marc Morano (video)
between a defender of the climate alarm (an activist in the Sierra Club, well, its executive director) and the man behind the skeptical website.

I think that Marc Morano couldn't be a full-fledged scientist – I mean to actually calculate various things from the observed data, including confidence levels, and other things. It's my understanding he doesn't have the technical background for that.

However, when it comes to his ability to localize the relevant literature and data for a question, to figure out their implications for some general enough questions, to memorize all these things, and to clearly present them, he would probably beat a vast majority of scientists and non-scientists on both sides of the dispute about the climate change.

A significant part of the scientific research – even in climatology – is complex enough so that the laymen can't really understand it or reproduce it and they may end up with wrong conclusions if they use their inadequate approximate methods to think and their not really solid and verified "idiosyncratic theories of physics" – and they should know that these methods aren't rigorous.

On the other hand, I believe that there exists a certain elementary layer of all these scientific questions that even a layman, assuming his or her basic intelligence, should be able to follow. When a layperson is actually told some data about some question, he or she should be able to deduce the right conclusions.

Brune said that everything is settled and the climate change is real. But what does this widespread yet ill-defined slogan mean? He immediately switched to the enumeration of some recent extreme weather events or recent natural catastrophes, if I use a strong word. Fires, droughts, hurricanes, floods in his parents' house, and so on.

He doesn't say so comprehensibly or explicitly but these events are supposed to be summarized by the phrase "climate change" (in its meaning as of January 2013 and the meaning keeps on mutating and changing). But despite its ill-defined character, "climate change" must surely have something to do with the "climate" and with the "change". But an elementary evaluation of the data shows that the "examples" that Brune enumerated have nothing to do with the climate and nothing to do with a change.

They have nothing to do with the climate because they are weather events. If you talk about these events in isolation, they're weather events of the kind that simply do occur sometimes (or generalized weather events: wildfires are surely not "just" weather events). If you want to talk about the climate, you must look at their frequency or statistical distribution over longer periods of time, at least 30 years or so.

But as Marc Morano was able to efficiently and quantitatively explain in the highly limited room he was given, none of these "bad events" actually has had any positive (i.e. increasingly worrisome or harmful) trend in recent years or decades. These are just scientific facts. A talk about some particular events may impress some viewers but to suggest that these events have been getting increasingly frequent, strong, or devastating is simply a lie. It is incompatible with all the observations.

So Piers Morgan may be obsessed by the rise of CO2 but the scientific fact is that despite the nearly religious status that CO2 seems to play in the world view of people such as Morgan, it hasn't mattered for the weather at all, at least not at a detectable level. After all, this conclusion of numerous explicit observations isn't a purely empirical fact. Even according to the state-of-the-art theories of the climate, there doesn't seem to be the tiniest reason why the increasing CO2 should directly yet strongly enough (for the detection to be possible) affect the frequency of fires (more CO2 usually means less oxygen, and this actually makes fires slightly harder to ignite, not easier), hurricanes, tornadoes, drought events, floods (those things seem to be uncorrelated).

The only hypothetical, theoretically justifiable influence of CO2 on the weather events is an indirect one: increasing CO2 concentrations first increase the global mean temperature (or at most the overall latitude-dependent temperature gradient), and then this higher global mean temperature changes the frequency and composition of extreme events (although it's usually not clear why the overall shift of the global mean temperature should seriously matter for the local weather: there isn't any counterpart of the "greenhouse effect" here that would make it natural to believe in these correlations). Because the link is indirect and at least one of the links in the chain is speculative, one should expect – even theoretically – that this relationship will be even weaker and less visible in the data than the hypothesized influence of CO2 on the global mean temperature.

But even the hypothetically stronger influence of CO2 on the temperature has been empirically non-existent in the last 15 years. If we assume that the changes in the extreme events are caused by the change of the global mean temperature, and it's the only mechanism that is theoretically defensible these days, then we may predict that there should be no significant CO2-driven change in the frequency of extreme events in the last 15 years, either. And indeed, this expectation seems to be true.

However, even if you found some change in the frequency of some extreme events, e.g. one type of them, in recent years (less than 15), it simply couldn't have been caused by global warming because there's been no global warming for 15 years (the slope of the straight lines most accurately approximating temperature graphs and calculable by linear regression seems to be "flat"). This is such a simple logical observation that I believe that everyone who has a college degree (or even a good enough high school in his CV) should be able to "rediscover" this simple argument and reach the simple conclusion. No change of extreme events between the late 1990s and the recent 5 years could have been caused by global warming because the latter just didn't exist.

What do the champions of the climate alarm respond to this simple and pretty much indisputable argument? They usually switch topics, usually to personal attacks (and absurd claims about the funding that is behind the skeptics rather than the alarmists: Brune did make this switch immediately), so that they don't have to deal with some basic science that is inconvenient for their beliefs. They want everyone to forget this argument quickly, to forget their knowledge of science and even logic in general. However, when they do respond, they usually say that the global warming is still there. It is "underlying" the noisy evolution of the temperature record.

The separation of the temperature graphs to the "noise" and the "underlying trend" of course can't be reliably done and it is hypothetical – this separation i.e. attribution is just another way to formulate the basic climate dispute. But more importantly, it is physically inconsequential, too. It's unimportant because if the frequency of some extreme weather events depends on the temperatures (imagine a whole map of them, one for each moment of time), it is the actual temperatures measured by thermometers and not some hypothetical "underlying" temperatures that can't be measured by thermometers! For example, if the frequency of wildfires were affected by the temperature and if the temperature were changing, it wouldn't matter whether it was changing because of the Sun, black carbon, CO2, or accidentally lowered number of clouds in the air.

And the actual temperatures simply haven't risen for 15 years which is why this non-existent rise couldn't have increased the frequency of wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, or floods in the houses of parents of Sierra Club hired guns. It's just not physically and logically possible. Something that doesn't exist can't really cause anything!

(The number of flooded Sierra Club members' parents' houses was increasing but that's not because of climate change but because of the dramatically increasing number of these demagogic parasites in that NGO and other alarmist organizations, and the implied increase of the number of their parents and their houses, and maybe even in the increase of the number of houses per one Sierra Club family as these jerks have been accumulating wealth.)

These logical arguments about the possible causal relationships are so simple that it's very hard for me to imagine that some superficially moderately intelligent people such as Piers Morgan who talk about climate change very often and listen to many comments about it haven't been able to understand them as of today. But maybe I am wrong. Maybe they are really not getting it. Alternatively, they know that their opinions about the climate are pure crap but they spread them because the belief in them leads to some convenient conclusions and they're convinced that many TV viewers are stupid enough to buy these illogical comments, anyway.

I am leaning towards the latter scenario. Piers Morgan and others isn't completely stupid; he's more dishonest than stupid.


  1. I don’t agree that most alarmists know that their opinions are crap. The ones that I have personally argued with are “true” believers in almost the same way that creationists are certain of their ground. It is religion, not science, and Brune fits the picture perfectly. Of course they aren’t quite as certain as creationists, who don’t generally (have to) resort to personal attacks. When one is totally certain the emotion fades away.

    Many alarmists also profit financially from their outlook and this makes self-delusion almost inevitable. The ones who receive no financial benefit seem to benefit emotionally and that, I think, is what Feynman warned us about. We all have to be on guard against that insidious devil.

  2. I find it difficult to think that less than two hundred years of systematic records of global temperatures –even if they are perfect– would be significant in a planet that has four and a half billion years old. But, assuming that they actually are significant: why are these fifteen years of non-warming important/relevant?
    I am asking this because, when someone brings the non-warming, NASA goes with this picture:

  3. "Maybe they are really not getting it. [Or worse.]" — Luboš.

    I don't know the answer either. I guess for most people everything about science is a mystery. They pay lip service to it only because they can't avoid its every-day results in technology and medicine, not because they have any interest in it for its own sake— they don't in my experience, apart from the occasional momentary gee-whiz thrill.

    I suspect a significant factor might be that since they have effectively no mathematics they have very little experience of following a chain of reasoning of any length. Pretty much all of their every-day requests for explanations can be answered to their satisfaction in one or two sentences. If an explanation involves anything technical they switch off, deem the details to be beyond them, which in most cases they are, and just take the word of the relevant interlocutor (dish-washer repairman, optician, wine-buff). That's what they're used to and that's how they like to keep it. Same here, with global warming. Sustained argument!? —> Reach for the 'off' switch and just ask the man. But which man? Well, obviously the one who seems to know best, stoopid.


    Load on top of that all their values, leanings, prejudices and appreciation of fashion and Bob's your uncle: an informed and happy bunny who now knows what to think — she's just been told what, 'as requested' effectively. Job done. No need for a revisit either. Not until the new fashion comes out, that is.

    Cynical? I don't think so. Most of us naturally associate only with people of a broadly similar educational level to ourselves, and that's regardless of any egalitarian leanings we might have. Given the likely 'demographic' for this site I doubt there's much conversational contact of any length with the 'vast majority' among you. I have no time for snobs or snobbishness but I got stuck in one protracted (10-minute) conversation recently and I couldn't wait to depart. He was a nice person, and I'd guess a pretty good representation of 'the many', but I found his thought processes strange and erratic, almost mindless. It was a very orthogonal experience.

    Piers Morgan is bright, in that quick jack-the-lad way (Jonathan Ross too, is another), but when it comes down to it they exhibit just the same kind of 'orthogonality' as my recent acquaintance.

    So I'm not sure that general intelligence has much do with it.

    Indeed I have a friend who has done extremely well in life, and purely by his own efforts and ideas, but he has almost no formal education worth speaking of even though his parents paid for him to be privately educated. He is pretty sharp. But he also entertains some very odd beliefs. That he doesn't accept CAGW is neither here nor there. In my view it wouldn't have surprised me if he did, but in that case it would simply have been by default and any conversation on that topic that I initiated would be cut short through lack of interest. He doesn't accept CAGW for reasons I can't recall exactly but a lot of them are what I would label sort of circumstantial or proxy. (It's hard to remember them for that reason.) My point here is that the 'chain of reasoning' involved is not one I'd recognise as the kind of basic, logical thinking that Luboš mentions here, and that the fact that it is not is NOT due to lack of intelligence. [Apologies for that sentence — I had to read it twice too.]

    The upshot is that I think acquaintance—or lack of it—with more lengthy reasoning is probably more significant. But that's really only a guess.

  4. Without scientists the weather and climate will do what it had always done. We just adapt to it.

  5. Gene Day - I doubt that all or anything like all (young-earth) creationists are "certain of their ground." The same goes for AGW alarmists as well as various other types, Maybe that's just me finding it hard to believe that some people are as stupid as they seem to be - or maybe not.

  6. I think that a majority of educated individuals who have bought into the CO2-induced climate doom (and who do not financially benefit from it) are genuinely stupid. It certainly helps their belief system that the bullshit is unashamedly spread by organizations like NASA and otherwise intelligent humans like Stephen Hawking.

    Here goes Prof. Hawking.

    I don't know whether to :-) or :'-( .

  7. More Co2 is good for the planet, just ask a tree or plant.

  8. I personally first observed the phenomena Lubos describes above (...Piers Morgan and others isn't completely stupid; he's more dishonest than stupid.) when Timothy Leary discovered his love affair with the jet-setting-to-the-next-interview lifestyle while lecturing others the answer to saving mankind could only be found in dropping out.

    I think the CAGW lie gaining importance has everything to do with the collective pop-culture fed path to utopianism than individual intellect/critical thinking. That seems to be where the world is today whether discussing 'climate change' or politics - Group Think to absurd levels. As an example, like followers of the hypocrite Leary, followers of say,a DeCaprio care less about DeCaprio's supposedly climate destroying jet-setting lifestyle as his impassioned plea that he has the answer to save us from the ills thrust upon us by the very lifestyle DeCaprio enjoys.

    In short; the fad lives on not so much due to the message as the perceived iconic messenger. Realating to Piers, in his twisted mind hasn't it always been about him....the messenger...and pushing his image of fan club president of the latest fad? This is not unusual for those in the media but it remains both sad and dangerous to witness scientists caught up in this pop-culture madness.