Thursday, December 27, 2012

Severe weather events

It is one of the great perceived truths of today, that severe weather events are on the increase.

If this were so, one would expect more and more people to be dying as a result of floods, hurricanes, typhoons, lightning, snow and all the rest.  There are, after all, many more people than there used to be, so even if the severity of the weather were not on the increase, one would expect more to lose their lives.  Add more people to a hypothetical greater severity, and you would expect many more fatalities - right?

Wrong! Very wrong.  Not only has the risk of being killed fallen, but the absolute numbers dying from extreme events has also fallen:
The average dying each year from extreme weather has fallen from nearly half-a-million a year in the 1920's to about 30 000 a year today.  Extreme events may indeed be getting more frequent, but we engineers have become better at coping with the forces of nature.  So do not be panicked into striving unnecessarily for a low-carbon world - we engineers have already taken the essential precautions!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Something missing!!

The Second Order Draft of the IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report has now been published ( 

There is definitely something missing.  The IPCC is supposed to assess the latest peer-reviewed literature and provide a reasoned and balanced review of any differences of opinion.  In the Fourth Assessment, they made much of a prediction that the temperature in the upper troposphere (around 10-12km above the surface) would rise faster than the surface.  Indeed, their models suggested the upper troposphere between about 30 deg N and 30 deg S could warm as  much as 0.6 deg C per decade.  

However, we have been flying weather balloons with thermometers into this region for over 60 years. The measurements show no such warming.  The temperature can also be inferred from some satellite records, extending about 30 years back. These inferred measurements show slight warming, but nothing like 0.6 deg C per decade (and there is also quite a debate about the reliability of the models used to infer temperatures from satellite data).

So all the experimental evidence is against the IPCC's models.  This is particularly surprising, because the physical reasons for a more rapid warming seem sound. 

I would have expected the IPCC to consider this problem in depth.  There are recent publications drawing attention to the problem. For instance, Singer, S Fred, (2011). "Lack of Consistency Between Modeled and Observed Temperature Trends," Energy & Environment, 22, 375-406 stressed the fact that "The US Climate Change Science Program [CCSP, 2006] reported, and Douglass et al. [2007] and NIPCC [2008] confirmed, a 'potentially serious inconsistency' between modeled and observed trends in tropical surface and tropospheric temperatures." He noted further that "Santer's key graph --- misleadingly suggests an overlap between observations and modeled trends. His 'new observational estimates' conflict with satellite data. His modeled trends are an artifact, merely reflecting chaotic and structural model uncertainties that had been overlooked. Thus the conclusion of 'consistency' is not supportable and accordingly does not validate model-derived projections of dangerous anthropogenic global warming." 

Similarly Douglass, D. H., Christy, J. R., Pearson, B. D. and Singer, S. F. (2008), "A comparison of tropical temperature trends with model predictions". Int. J. Climatol., 28: 1693–1701 noted "Model results and observed temperature trends are in disagreement in most of the tropical troposphere, being separated by more than twice the uncertainty of the model mean." 

Neither of these critical references are quoted in the Second Order Draft.  Section starting on page 36 of the Draft considers 'Intercomparisons of Various Long-Term Radiosonde and MSU Products.' It concludes that "the differences among the data sets, all of which are uncertain, means there can only be low confidence in the details of the upper air temperature trends."  In other words, because there are differences in the data, the discrepancy with the model predictions can be ignored.

This is not science as I know it.  The models represent a theory.  In my science, observations in conflict with the model show that the model is wrong and must be abandoned.  Here, the observations are being questioned and the model is assumed to be right.  

In a nutshell, at its present stage of development, the Second Order Draft is not to be trusted.  The politicians of this world seem far wiser than normal, in refusing to believe the IPCC's so-called "scientific assessment." These COP bun-fights, such as that just concluded in Doha, are clearly going nowhere while the advisers to the process (namely the IPCC) miss the absolute need to provide unbiased assessments.

Sunday, December 9, 2012


So the gathering of climate politicians in Doha, also known as COP19, has come to an end with a whimper. Some will cheer the renewal of the Kyoto Protocol, hoping no-one will notice that less than a quarter of all nations have signed up.  It means some bureaucrats will remain employed for a few more years - which is probably a good thing, because otherwise they would have to return to their native land where, no doubt, they would regurgitate all the nonsense about global warming that has been keeping them employed since 1992.

But probably the greatest win will be the demise of a number of NGO's.   They have been an enormous force in the global warming debate.  They achieved their power by a form of blackmail.  Companies confessing to emitting carbon dioxide found it was cheaper to pay the NGO's than to make large cuts in their emissions.  Small cuts, by improving their efficiency for example, brought them some relief from the blackmail and actually improved the bottom line slightly.  But, of course, the NGO's kept asking for ever larger cuts, so the blackmail increased.  It was disguised as "social payments", which reduced the company's bottom line but looked good in the annual report. Overall the shareholders were impoverished but the NGO's got richer and richer.

The net result, however, was that the only people who could afford to go to meetings like the gathering in Doha were the NGO's.  I saw this in Durban two years ago. There were a few businesses, but they were relegated to 'side events'.  Municipalities gathered round the fringe, countries had stalls close to the heat of action, and the NGO's were there in the thick of things, usually as official delegates.

Not surprisingly, the real decision makers have become fed up with this charade.  They jet in for the last few days of such meetings, almost expected to rubber stamp the NGO's decisions reached in dark rooms.  They refuse to play ball; the meeting breaks up acrimoniously and late, and achieves nothing, zilch, nada. This has been the pattern of the last four meetings, and the only result has been ever shriller cries from the NGO's.  A few wimpish countries have made hand-waving promises, which has partly mollified the shrill, but achieving a lower carbon world is far removed.

The US has been mercifully sane in much of this.  It refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.  It stuck to business-as-usual.  And guess what - it has achieved what Western Europe and Australia, with all their carbon taxes and Clean Development Mechanisms and carbon trading and you-know-what have failed to do.  It has reduced its emissions to below 1992 levels by the simple application of appropriate technology.  As a result, it now has some of the cheapest energy in the world, and Western Europe is screaming that it can no longer compete on world markets.

So if we tend to laugh at Dohaha, it is with a strong sense of schadenfreude. Lower carbon emissions are not achievable.  Development has trumped ecological scaremongering.  Breathe deeply - CO2 is good for you!