Friday, September 27, 2013

IPCC AR5 WG1 report out: a non-event

A busy evening: I was giving a one-hour talk about the Higgs discovery on the (European) Scientists' Day tonight. Before it began, I was ordered by the Czech Public TV's main news channel, ČT24, to be a guest (via video chat from Pilsen, with the Pilsner Tower in the background) in the #1 news story at 10 pm (the IPCC report) along with two more well-known Gentlemen on the alarmed side of the climate debate, Dr Tolasz and Prof Moldan. I resisted for quite some time but then I said OK. It was a better experience than I was afraid of. The host did a good, balanced job, I think. The hiatus wasn't discussed at all but other things were – even without me, he grilled them about the fact that the humans may still be causing just one-half of the climate trends and I could say some words about the decreasing IPCC figures (lower bound from 2.0 to 1.5 Celsius) as a proof of exaggerations before, how long the CO2 elevation will last, how many errors could have been there in AR4 aside from Glaciergate, some sea level rise and whether it's dangerous or unprecedented (it's nothing compared to 100+ meters in the last 20,000 years), the CO2 residence time in the atmosphere (even if CO2 were a problem, it would be a temporary problem at most for a century or so and then CO2 largely drops back), and a few others. Prof Moldan who used to be in the center-right ODS ironically turned out to be much more enthusiastic alarmist than Dr Tolasz who is largely apolitical.
The summary for policymakers has been released. It has been expanded from 31 pages to 36 pages because a different layout was used but there seems to be no significant change one should waste his time with given the insignificance of the document. So there's no need to discuss these IPCC issues again.

Some journalists have responded with the usual hype. For example, the Times wrote
Scientists blame man for climate change and warn of more freak weather.
If we forgive them the obsession with the hypothetical human impact, shouldn't they be more polite and blame the woman as well, at least sometimes? ;-)

While I think that the release of the document was a non-event and nothing too interesting happened in that portion of climatology in the last 6 years (and the only "new events" that influenced the report was the lower degree of bigotry by the current IPCC writers relatively to the previous IPCC report's authors and the continuing absence of a warming trend), I was watching a part of the IPCC webcast from Stockholm because I was ordered to write a 13-kilobyte article about the newly released document for the Newsletter of the Václav Klaus Institute and I wanted to check that I was not missing – and I was not wrong – about any major enough issue.

The competing NIPCC report released its summary a week ago or so and it would arguably deserve more time which I don't have at this moment. But I hope that some reader will read it. See Fox News on NIPCC (2 minutes).

The webcast featured Pachauri and similar folks but there were also some men whose training was visibly more scientific – and one could say that they arguably loved science much more than Pachauri does. I could sometimes symphatize with them as they were trying to explain some scientific concepts, while they were also being bounded by the expectations that they wouldn't directly contradict the IPCC's general message (alarm) by any sentence.

David Rose of Mail on Sunday asked the most articulate question. I hope that I remember it right. For how much more time the hiatus has to continue for the IPCC to consider the possibility that it means that the models are fundamentally flawed.

Now, there's clearly no sharp moment at which models or theories allowing for any nonzero stochastic, unpredictable component may be falsified with 100.00000% certainty. It's always possible, albeit increasingly unlikely, that all the deviations are due to the noise. So if that were what he has asked, the question would indeed be "ill-posed", as the old scientist described it. The certainty never becomes 100.00000%. As more data is being accumulated that contradicts a theory, the theory is only gradually getting disfavored.

But that's not really what Rose asked. He asked when they start to consider the possibility. That's a different question, one about the procedures at the IPCC and the panel members' subjective judgement. While the accumulation of the data incompatible with the conjecture is a gradual process, there comes a moment at which a scientist starts to consider a possibility. The moment may be somewhat unpredictable as well but some estimate should have been given. There was no estimate (except for their mentioning of the 30 years – which however wasn't claimed to be the answer to the question).

In particle physics and other hard sciences, scientists falsify the null hypothesis when the data is found to deviate by 2 sigmas or 3 sigmas or 5 sigmas. The precise moment isn't given but you should notice that all these possibilities – despite their vastly different \(p\)-values – require the amount of data that is of the same order of magnitude. For example, a 5-sigma discovery only requires \(2.5^2=6.25\) times more data than a 2-sigma "discovery". Below 2 sigmas, no sensible scientist would claim credible enough evidence in one way or another; above 5 sigmas, the certainty of the discrepancy is becoming obvious super-exponentially. Moreover, the standards of rigor in their field should be known to the IPCC folks so they should have given an estimate when a real problem for the models emerges.

Well, Santer et al. 2011 has answered the question and the answer was 17 years. For some reason, the IPCC folks didn't find it appropriate to quote this piece of official literature that tried to answer exactly the same question. Of course, the reason is that we have already seen 17 years without global warming so their basic cause's being in trouble would become too self-evident to everyone.

So they deliberately suppressed all the numbers but I had lots of understanding for the old chap who was saying that thermodynamics is able to make macroscopic predictions about the gas even though the detailed microscopic properties of all the molecules are unpredictable. That's an important point in physics and science and one that the laymen should be led to understand (I will try to explain that using the Higgs discovery example during my popular Higgs talk tonight, on the Scientists' Night – the word "European" was apparently dropped here in Pilsen haha). But they may still rightfully ask where is the boundary of the "macroscopic realm" and Rose has actually done exactly that. The answer to that question isn't sharp but it's sharp within the order of magnitude or so (and even sharper when conventions of a field are obeyed) and the answer wasn't given to Rose, apparently because it was inconvenient.

Needless to say, the conventional length "30 years" where climatology begins is something that people just made up. It's deliberately chosen to be comparable to the length of a human productive life – or a career. So whatever one accumulates during his career may be used as a "climatology" which may differ from the "climatology" of the previous generations or previous 30-year-long intervals. But there doesn't really exist any physical rather than anthropological evidence – any justifiable calculation – that 30 years is the right value of the critical time scale at which the climate becomes predictable or something like that. Nothing qualitative is changing at that timescale. The variations of temperatures are affected by tons of processes whose typical timescales cover pretty much everything from split seconds to billions of years.

What we're trying to find out here is the period after which the hypothetical relentless increasing trend caused by CO2 emerges – at some confident level – from the "noise" by which we (naively) mean all other factors. The answer – the timescale – of course depends on the climate sensitivity. The lower the climate sensitivity is, the longer time you need to observe the hypothetical effect of the CO2.

A Chinese journalist asked whether it's the plan of the IPCC to ruin the growth and prosperity to China. Vague words, not a real answer, were given to him. And lots of similar questions you may imagine – questions of that type have been discussed thousands of times and you know exactly what the alarmists would answer so it wasn't terribly interesting. Except for Rose and perhaps one more exception, the journalists were asking questions that indicated that they didn't know much about these matters.

A Twitter notifier Chrome extension has been bombarding me by tweets written by Katie Mack, an Australian astrophysicist. I find it amazing that someone in this more or less hard science may get so sucked by these pseudoscientific delusions. She seems really obsessed by the hypothetical climate threat. So I was sort of forced to read dozens of tweets about the overwhelming consensus, terrifying predictions, criticisms of Australian politicians for their climate realism, and so on, and so on. Needless to say, there was no consensus about the nontrivial issues in Stockholm (for example, even the "explanation" of the hiatus was changed during the last night; it isn't due to the "heat eaten by the ocean", the "leading hypothesis" as quoted by the U.S. delegation that loves its Trenberth, but due to the reduced solar activity and aerosols – it's totally clear that they're just guessing and making things up all the time, otherwise huge changes like that couldn't occur overnight) and none of the things they published were terrifying despite the fact that many of them were inflated by a hundreds of percent.

She has also linked to The Guardian that used the opportunity to publish an applet that calculates how warm it gets in your lifetime depending on your year of birth. A funny thing is that the applet uses numbers that are incompatible with those released just today – the applet was made in 2009 so all the temperature increases are approximately 50 percent overvalued relatively to the new IPCC ones which are still overvalued by 50-200 percent relatively to the right ones. It's clear that these folks aren't listening even to their "holy IPCC" if they are ready to ignore the single most important number in the new report. Their only goal is to spread lies that keep the climate alarmism alive in the brainwashed part of the human society – people like Katie Mack.

Quite generally, I simply can't understand people like Astrokatie. Or even Alexander Ač, for that matter. They often seem to have some basic intelligence, like IQ above 90. And they have apparently been interested in these matters for many, many years. But they still don't seem to get the basic facts, they still don't remember the basic numbers, they still can't see when someone says something completely wrong at a very basic level. Maybe they see it but they don't want to see it and they act as if they weren't seeing it.

I just don't get those things. Two decades ago, it was before I had any good enough clue about the magnitude of various temperature changes in various regions and at various timescales etc. I was reading newspaper articles about global warming. They would never show any graphs so I was assuming that the graphs were sort of linear and clear, not just red noise, so they have a reason to talk about these things. But when I started to be interested in those things, it took just hours to learn, understand – and, in fact, memorize – all the key facts and next to key facts that I encountered and needed to fact-check.

The idea that someone of my age (or someone who is as old/young as I was then) need more than a decade (and maybe an infinite time) to penetrate into a basic body of knowledge that I could master in hours just seems otherworldly to me. These people must be either utterly irrational, taking the belief in the apocalypse as a necessary prerequisite for their survival, or totally lacking intelligence. How that can be compatible with their being hired in more or less hard sciences such as astrophysicist is beyond me.

Holy cow, the tweets keep on flowing; I should unfollow her. Now she writes that she first learned about global warming in the kindergarten so it's great that we waited for so long. Has she ever thought about the possibility to understand what they were telling her when she was 6 in some more detail and somewhat less uncritically? Well, that assumes that her science and maths skills have made some progress during the decades.

OK, I won't talk about her anymore, unfollowed. This frequently posted stupidity on one's screen isn't something a rational person should undergo voluntarily just because one of the thousands of tweets she wrote some months ago looked relevant to me. ;-)


  1. The BBC have spun it as expected.

    I got my quite moderate comment onto the editor's picks at the bootom of the article (there are 4 there currently - this may change)

    I'm at ~0 votes - so equal numbers voting up as down

    Climate forecasts are about as reliable as economic forecasts.

    There are far too many micro-causes and emergent phenomena for us to accurately model the climate. It's ridiculous for these people to claim
    forecasts extending to the end of the century when they can't even model the absence of warming over the last two decades.

    We need "less politics in science and more science in politics"

    [Sorry, stole the quote from a blog comment on here this week]

  2. Thanks Lumo, I think climate science is science in slow motion. Make a prediction and wait decades to assess. Until then, 1-sigma counts as 95% certainty :)

  3. Congratulations on being ordered commissioned ;) to write an article for the Klaus foundation's newsletter.

    What an odd jumble of disparate groups congregate under the CAGW umbrella. Scientists feeding at the research $ trough; chicken littles afraid of the sky falling; companies grabbing subsidies at the expense of the rest of us; pinko commie socialists latching on the new way to "redistribute wealth"; thanatists drooling at the mouth over the prospect of human extinction; financial institutions profiting from carbon credits; insurers hyping supposedly looming environmental disasters; and the biggest group probably: people jumping on the bandwagon because it is so much easier to go with the flow.

  4. The non-answer to the journalist's question is infuriating, isn't it? I was at a public event last week and when it came to Q&A I asked a question that was completely twisted around and the guy launched into some kind of stump speech like he was on a campaign platform (he wasn't; it was a book reading). A complete maroon :(

  5. Dear Eugene, do you mean "moron" ? ;-)

  6. No, he means a "maroon":

  7. No, he meant what he wrote:

  8. Katie Mack is from U. Melbourne, same as Gergis

  9. James you naughty boy, I noticed you posting a harsh comment at Klimazwiebel :)

    Hans von Storch is a quintessential fence-sitter. On the one hand he questions the conventional wisdom in climate science. But he doesn't stray too far from the reservation.

  10. By comparison, the Pitch Drop Experiment is

  11. With the release of the SPM I decided to check in on Prof. Ranga Myneni's billion signature petition project which you discussed in this post.

    He is accumulating signatures at extraordinary pace. The current total is an amazing 15506, up an entire 12 names in just the last two weeks. It won't be long now before he has achieved his goal and can send his petition off to Ban Ki-Moon urging the UN to protect the atmosphere from humanity. ;)

  12. Lubos, I disagree. This is a very important report.
    I think this is a significant improvement compared to the past. You can see after all those years what is the 97% consensus about. To quote the report:

    "No best estimate for equilibrium climate sensitivity can now be given because of a lack of agreement on values across assessed lines of evidence and studies." (on page 11)

    So they all agreed to disagree. No prediction and therefore no attribution of portion of AGW caused by humans are possible, at least not in any scientific manner. It is way more that I have expected. ;-)

    Also I cannot resist to quote Czech news - "Neviditelny Pes" editorial: "[M]edia with pleasure and willingly publish dramatic information and pseudo-information. Oceans will go a meters up, that is, Wow, something!

    Maybe it would be good time to choose a different note: Pachauri and his IPCC is an association of fraudsters fooling the public. Is it not a bad idea for the title on the first page of the newspaper? Moreover, it is true statement." (Or in original: [M]édia ráda a ochotně zveřejňující dramatické informace i pseudoinformace. Oceány o metr nahoru, to je, panečku, něco!

    Možná, že by bylo dobré zvolit jinou notu: Pachauri a jeho IPCC je spolek podvodníků balamutící veřejnost. Není to snad špatný námět pro titulek na první straně novin? Navíc je to tvrzení pravdivé.")

  13. Dear Honzo, I don't really disagree - what you write doesn't sound that different from what I was saying on ČT24 against Moldan and Tolasz last night.

    Read my essay in the coming Newsletter of Vaclav Klaus Institute to see that I actually do think it's an improvement for similar reasons, too.

  14. Given your ;-), it's hard to tell whether you know that "maroon" is used as a funny word for "moron," but anyway let me give you another: "forehead," which is used by, and may have been coined by, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

  15. I didn't know. I do now. Thanks for teaching me. But I don't find it funny. I prefer to be straight when it comes to birds names :~). It's way more fun.

  16. Hey, well done Luboš! You did great on TV. I didn't get what you were saying but still it was great to see and hear you ;-). You're awesome!

  17. There is also a reason *why* maroon is used for moron, which you can find in my reply (which for "technical reasons" was delayed and posted twice).

  18. I don't recall ever posting there, are you sure it was me?

  19. Last comment here by "JamesG" was not yours? In that case I'm sorry.

  20. No not me, but I pretty much agree with him.

  21. The media spin continues and is often unbelievable.

    One would think that the IPCC had released a report about how they underestimated warming and ocean rise, not overestimated. All these hacks making predictions about what will happen a century from now is remarkably stupid. Even worse are chicken littles taking them at face value. One report suggested that in 100 years all coastal cities would be under water, then later stated that the max. sealevel rise would be three feet. I think they just make this stuff up. We should all endorse Bohr's statement: " Prediction is very difficult, particularly about the future."

    --3 more from Yogi Berra (the baseball player/coach): "The future ain't what it used to be."

    "If you don't know where you are going, you might not get there."


    "Ninety percent of this game is half-mental." :)

  22. Re: Astrokatie--Yes, Lubos, yet another example of the lamentable effect of women in physics.
    ( I couldn't help trolling, just too tempting:) )

  23. Same *hit is pushed through the Finnish media :-) And I bet the majority of an innocent bystanders (media consumers) swallow it without no problemo!

  24. I have seen this beautiful expression of the report in one sentence:
    When it was warming, the reason was CO2 and climate was simple; now that it's not warming, the reason isn't known and climate is complex.

  25. Hi Lubos.

    You said - "...and then CO2 largely drops back"
    Can you give me something to work with on that?

  26. Hi Clothrap, I've explained that many times on this blog.

    Mankind is emitting extra CO2 which translates to the increase of 4 ppm in the air per year.

    The actual increase is just 2 ppm.

    It follows that Nature Herself has an imbalanced budget - it absorbs more than it emits by 2 ppm - the difference 4-2 = 2 ppm - because the CO2 grows by less than the emissions (just 50%, it's also known as the airborne fraction).

    Clearly, the reason why the natural processes love to absorb CO2 is that the concentration of CO2 in the air is above the equilibrium value. The reason is *not* that we emitted something in the last year - natural processes don't care whether the CO2 in the air was emitted in 2012 or 1840.

    So if we stop emitting CO2 completely, these processes will still run because CO2 will be elevated for a while, and they will devour about 2 ppm from the air, every year.

    We're 120 ppm above the (preindustrial) equilibrium concentration of 280 ppm, so it takes about 60 years to absorb everything. Because the absorption rate will be slowing down, the convergence towards 280 ppm will also be slowing down, exponentially (decreasing exponential), so 60 years is the time after which the excess CO2 in the air drops e=2.718 times.

    The fact that CO2 adjusts to the equilibrium value dictated by the temperature at most within centuries is also seen in the ice core's correlation of CO2 which temperature where the CO2 lags but at most by several centuries - the lag is probably greater at very cold temperatures when Nature becomes slower in its ability to restore the equilibrium (less flexible flora etc.).

  27. I made the mistake of reading this post on Steve McIntyre's blog and now I'm so angry I want to commandeer a bulldozer and flatten a climate institute or two. Grrr...

  28. Lubos, I cannot do the math, but I knew the gig was up when Mann tried to rewrite history and the IPCC went with it. Then I look at their adjustment and ask why would you lower the recorded temperature of the Grand Canyon record from the 1930. Anyone willing to rewrite history is not to be trusted.

  29. I'd think the most important absorbtion process is the oceans, and the biosphere to a much lesser degree

    I also think it's wrong to talk about an equilibrium of 280 ppm, the concentration of CO2 is in constant flux and most of the time it was a lot higher than today, the only way to talk about equilibrium is that there's an equilibrium ratio of CO2 (dependent on temperature) between atmosphere and oceans

    I actually asked Nir Svaviv something about this recently on his site:

  30. An interesting report in "Der Spiegel", which presumably will now be considered to have joined the denier camp and will no longer be read by any self-respeting leftist.