Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Another update to “An Inconvenient Truth”

It is a little known fact that most of the annual temperatures reported are not raw data from weather stations, but are corrected by a computer program to adjust for many factors that could affect the raw data. It is now being said that the temperatures NASA reported that indicated Global Warming, and that Global Warming is accelerating due to man-made greenhouse gasses were erroneous, that a Y2K related bug in the adjustment program made things look much worse than they are. What right wing-nut Exxon sucking mouth breathing Neanderthal is saying this? NASA itself!

In a quiet correction (no press conferences, no handouts to the media), NASA has changed all the corrected temperatures for the last century, almost all of them from recent decades corrected downwards, admitting that previous graphs had been in error. You can search NASA or NOAA websites, and/or read about it here , here , and here .

Does this mean we should stop looking for alternative energy supplies? NO. We still have to worry about little things like pollution, trade imbalance, terrorism, etc. But it does mean that what facts (as opposed to conjectures) Al Gore reported in “An Inconvenient Truth” that had not been debunked already (as I did to the hurricane data here ) have now been shown to be in error. Will future generations look at “An Inconvenient Truth” the way we look at “Reefer Madness”?

P.S. This is also an argument in favor of patronizing newspapers; I have not found a single story in any broadcast network about this- evidently their editors consider this less newsworthy than Lindsay Lohan entering rehab once again.

P.P.S. Sorry about the erratic nature of my posting lately- I’ve been making major progress on other writing projects, neglecting this one. Someday I’ll achieve balance.


New:
Washington Post headline: "Arctic Ocean Getting Warm; Seals Vanish and Icebergs Melt." Interestingly enough, it's from 1922! details here

10 comments:

Jamie Goodwin said...

I replied over at Trivium... Thanks for the post!

Anonymous said...

Can you give a reference more reliable than a blog with an obvious predisposition? Like NASA itself? Or the data?

Just now I went to the NASA GISS data download (the data that is claimed to have changed) at http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs/Fig.A2.txt
and the data provided does not support the story - maybe they have changed it somewhere else. There is still a very pronounced warming in the last decade and a half.

I am an ecologist who tracks climate science pretty carefully and all of the sources I would normally turn to don't support this story. I suspect this may just be an urban legend.

Joel Monka said...

Try http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs/Fig.D.txt , which gives the anomalies- it was one of the links, had you chosen to follow them; the blogs were exyensively noted.

You might also want to read these from Roger A. Pielke, Jr, a Professor in the Environmental Studies Program Unversity of Colorado at Boulder and a Fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES). http://climatesci.colorado.edu/2007/06/29/noaa-cover-up-of-us-historical-climate-network-surface-station-photographs/ http://climatesci.colorado.edu/2007/06/29/guest-weblog-by-robert-maddox/ He is also quoted in a CNNMoney.com article: http://money.cnn.com/news/newsfeeds/articles/newstex/IBD-0001-18734869.htm

While these people may indeed be biased, as you say, they are at least willing to put their names on them, anonymous.

Steve Caldwell said...

Joel,

You may want to check out the article on Wired's web site about the real magnitude of this change and how this change is being both misinterpreted and exploited by certain conservative commentators:

Did NASA Cover Up Temperature Mistake?
http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2007/08/did-nasa-cover-.html

The conservative commentary shows both a lack of understanding about how peer-reviewed science works and the magnitude of the correction in the climate data. See this quote from the article:

As detailed by Gavin Schmidt, Hansen's colleague at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the mistake was originally uncovered by Climate Audit's Steve McIntyre, who told NASA about it on Saturday, August 4. Hansen and company made the corrections and thanked McIntyre on Tuesday, August 7. On the page where the data is publicly available, McIntyre is now credited for pointing out the error.

The agency didn't issue any press releases, hold press conferences or hasten to inform policymakers that the change was made. This "silence" appears to be what has upset the skeptics.

But as the new figures show, the mistake just wasn't a big one. Yes, 1998 is no longer the hottest year on record, as 1934 edges it by a hair; this makes for less dramatic statements about that particular year, but not about the general rise in temperature.

McIntyre deserves a great deal of credit for his work. That really can't be stressed enough; if a lefty had showed that NASA's temperatures were fractionally lowballed, climate change believers would be celebrating their achievement as a milestone in citizen science. But the new results don't change the debate, or the context of the debate, enough to merit shout-from-rooftops treatment.

That being said, NASA should've foreseen what big news this would become in the hypersensitive, drastically warmed atmosphere of climate change politics. With a little bit of foresight, they could have turned it into a public relations triumph -- critic points out mistake, agency fixes mistake and magnanimously thanks him, the system works, data still shows rapid warming.

Their failure to do this was, from a certain vantage point, a big mistake. But you know what? That vantage point sucks. I hope they always made that mistake.

James Hansen and his colleagues could have been cynically opportunistic. Their first concern could have been damage control. They could have scored political points by unleashing a PR machine to spin everything their way. They could have been politicians first and scientists second. Instead they admitted a small mistake and went quietly about their jobs. Good for them.

Joel Monka said...

Yes, the corrections are small, but the impact of the corrections is not- especially in consideration of the movie "An Inconvenient Truth", which is where I was taking it. While the fact of current Global Warming is not in question, the new figures do call in question the anthropogenic nature of it, as they show the trend beginning before the major increase in CO2 generation that is usually given as the cause- is it logical to say that if A causes B, then 10 times A causes 1.025B? Additionally, the lowered figures call into question the hysterical urgency that Al Gore claims- perhaps we have more than a couple years to make decisions after all.

This is why I compared "An Inconvenient Truth" to Reefer Madness"; there was, in fact, some truth in Reefer Madness"- it was the hysterical nature of the flick that made it a laughing stock.

UUpdater said...

If you go from size 36 pants to 38, then 40, then 42 but find out that your scale was broken along the way giving inaccurate weight measurements then you still have a weight issue. Maybe you gained a little less weight than originally thought, but you still had to buy new clothes.

If the temperature increase is less significant, but the effects are no less significant (like glacier melting) then there still seems to be issues to address, and it means the effects were coming from smaller shifts, so I am not sure it makes things any less urgent. Showing that there were more damaging hurricanes is a much better counter argument.

It does greatly effect the rhetoric if statements about the hottest years are no longer accurate.

Oh, and in regards to your comment about A and B having a causal relationship. Not every correlation is linear, or has a one to one ratio. So, I am not sure exactly what point you are trying to make with your comment.

Joel Monka said...

About the correlation between cause and effect- yes, such things are often not linear. But look at it this way: man-made CO2 is a fraction of the total CO2 level in the atmosphere, only a few percent. Animals, from worms and insects on up, exhale it- and there are billions of tons of animals; volcanos belch it by the cubic mile; all fires generate it, and in North America alone we measure forest fires by the millions of acres. If CO2 alone is causing Global Warming, and the Earth, absent mankind's influence, is already so near the threshhold needed to start it that the increase in what man normally produces since 1970 can do it, then it should have happened many times in the past- when Krakatoa blew up, say, or a major forest fire. We had a forest fire of nine million acres just a few years ago- how much was released then?

And what about the effects of Global Warming? Hurricanes have actually gotten milder since 1950, according to NOAA. Many glaciers are melting, yes- but some are growing, too. There's something much more complex going on her than "burning fossil fuels is killing the planet", as the activists tell us.

Which finally leads us back to those temperature figures. Al Gore's argument is that the correlation between CO2 and Global Warming *IS* direct and linear, that there is a direct relation between the years we pumped out CO2, and the years temperatures went up, even if only fractionally. We already knew that hurricanes were both more frequent and stronger between 1900 and 1950 than between 1950 and 2000; now we know that the hottest years were not concentrated in recent decades, either.

David, a progressive UU said...

Sorry, but this sounds like another case where "conservative" means "misleading", and I am tired of it. The data correction does not change the underlying pattern, especially for global data, and it does not change the fact that the Arctic is melting at an alarming rate. And, has anyone noted that 1934 was during the dust bowl in the U. S.? It is time to admit we probably have a problem, and need to get to work on it, instead of torturing the data to feel good and make fun of Al Gore.

Rob Weinberg said...

We can turn the conversation into a "warmingGate" if we want to - asking who said what to whom, when. And spend our days reacting to each others' reactions.

The alternative is to listen to the 2500 climate scientists of the IPCC, and to the 1000+ US scientists who wrote the warning letter to the US Congress in October of 2003.

There are many reasons for choosing, but basically, that's the choice. If it was my body rather than the earth, and 3500 top physicians announced a 90% chance that I had cancer, I would start chemo tomorrow despite the difficulties.

Joel Monka said...

That is not an exact analogy. A better analogy would be if one had a list of undeniable symptoms, but not a certain diagnosis of the cause. In that case, to rush to cancer treatment would be harmful if the cause did not turn out to be cancer. Given the recent Danish Space Agency claim that warming is directly attributal to Solar activity, pursuing a man-made treatment could be counterproductive.