Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Scientific Baloney Detection Kit

published in What’s Natural? column of Pacifica Tribune February 20, 2019
Dealing with the Climate Uncertainty Monster

Politicians from all sides manufacture “crises” and “demons” to promote their agendas superficially designed to fight those crises.  In his book “The Demon Haunted World”, Carl Sagan famously published his Scientific Baloney Detection Kit; a “do and don’t” list to guide honest scientific inquiry. Sadly, climate science has been too politicized. But Sagan’s advice can help separate the politics from honest science regards claims of a “climate crisis”.
The very foundation of scientific inquiry demands a vigorous skeptical challenge to every hypothesis. Several different hypotheses can explain the same phenomena. Anyone, scientist or layperson, can make assertions and models. But claims are not reliable science until rigorously tested and well vetted. Based on this understanding, our oldest scientific society, the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledgethat Sir Isaac Newton once presided over, made “Nullius En Verba” its motto. It means take “no one’s word for it’.
We are all naturally blinded by our beliefs. To overcome our biases and strive for a greater scientific truth, our discussions will be well served if guided by Sagan’s principles. Below I paraphrase the most pertinent points in Sagan’s Scientific Baloney Detection Kit. (I add my comments in parentheses)
1.    Do: Encourage substantive debate on the evidenceby knowledgeable proponents of all points of view. 
(Saying there’s no more debate triggers the Baloney alert)
2.    Don’t: Avoid arguments from authority. They carry little weight  - “authorities” have made mistakes in the past.
(Unable to refute Einstein’s ideas, his antagonists claimed authority via consensus and published “100 against Einstein”. Evoking the mythical “97% of all scientists agree” is a similar tactic.)
3.    Don’t: Don’t attack the arguer, attack the argument.
(Mud-slinging dominates politics. Dismissing valid arguments by calling the arguer a “denier” muddies the science.)
4.    Do: Spin more than one hypothesis. Think of all the different ways in which something could be explained. Think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives.
(Climate change is extremely complex and governed by many variables. The aim of the What’s Naturalcolumn is to delve into all those complexities. Detailing natural climate change is not denying a greenhouse effect.)
5.    Don’t: Don’t get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting your favored hypothesis. If you don’t, others will.
6.    Do: Ask whether a hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified.
(Unfortunately, predictions generated by climate change theory cannot be falsified or verified by simple experiments or short-term weather events.)
7.    Don’t: Don’t argue via adverse consequences.
(Claiming we will be “underwater in 70 years” or the world will be “irreversibly destroyed in 12 years”, are common adverse consequences; scare tactics that set off a Baloney alert)
8.    Don’t: Don’t “appeal to ignorance”. In other words, don’t claim that whatever has not been proved false then must be true.
(The earliest claim that 97% of all scientists agree, was an appeal to ignorance. It was assumed if authors did not explicitly disagree with CO2 driven climate change theory, then they must all agree. In subsequent surveys, only 22 to 32% of scientists ever replied. Of those responding, only 49% believed humans are causing more than 50% of observed climate change. That means only 16% have actually agreed.)
9.    Don’t: Don't confuse correlation with causation.
(A recent extreme weather event happening when CO2 concentrations are high, may or may not have been worsened by high CO2. Far worse weather events happened over the past thousand years.)
10.  Don’: Don'ttuse straw man arguments — caricaturing a position to make it easier to attack.
(A common straw man attack I encounter has been ‘Jim Steele ignores the effect of rising CO2only pointing out other possible reasons for climate change’. I do indeed point out natural causes to provide a greater climate perspective. But I never ignore the greenhouse effect. Clearly climate has been changing since the 1800s. CO2concentrations are unprecedently high and CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Those are undeniable facts on which we all agree.
But there is absolutely NO scientific consensus regards how “sensitive” the earth is to a doubling of CO2concentrations. IPCC estimates of how global temperature will respond to a doubling of CO2range greatly from 1°to 5°C. To accurately determine the earth’s sensitivity to higher levels of CO2, we must accurately assess natural climate change.)
11.  Don’t: Don't just count the “hits” and forget the “misses” when evaluating a hypothesis. 
(There are many hits, yet many misses by both CO2 global warming theory and natural climate change theories.  The science is not settled and the time for rigorous debate has not passed.)
Jim Steele authored Landscapes and Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Changing Sea Levels: Sinking Lands vs Rising Sea

(web version of column article published in Pacifica Tribune February 13, 2019 )

What’s Natural? 

Changing Sea Levels - Part 1

Flooded Sinking Land in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina

Local sea levels appear to rise when ocean volumes increase, but also when the land sinks. Scientists increasingly warn that coastal cities are sinking much faster than ocean volumes are rising. Pumping out groundwater not only causes lands to sink, it increases the oceans’ volume. China’s Huanghe Delta is sinking 10 inches a year. Southeast Asian cities battle sinking rates of 1.2 to 2.4 inches per year. Regions around Houston, Texas had sunk 10 feet by 1979; a disaster waiting to happen where hurricanes commonly generate 15-foot storm surges. Likewise, New Orleans was doomed by sinking 1.4 inches per year. Built on marshland, San Francisco’s airport sinks 0.4 inches per year.

In contrast, ocean warming plus added glacial meltwater are estimated to have only added 0.06 inches per year to sea level from 1850 to 1990, punctuated by decades that accelerated sea level rise to 0.14 inches a year. Still, that fastest rate of modern sea level rise remains only one-tenth of New Orleans’ sinking rate. 

Better water management could minimize the primary causes of sinking coastlines. But even if climate policies could reduce our carbon footprint, natural sea level rise that began in the 1800s will likely continue. To what degree rising CO2concentrations are accelerating sea level rise is still debated. Prominent climate scientist Dr. Michael Mann gives scant attention to the critical issue of sinking lands. He prefers scary models supporting his theory regards a rising CO2effect on sea level, “We’re talking about literally giving up on our coastal cities of the world and moving inland.”  Likewise, at California’s local coastal planning meetings, Mann’s followers similarly advocate moving inland, otherwise known as “managed retreat”. 

Intriguingly, San Francisco and North America’s west coasts have not experienced a rising sea level trend since the 1980s. Equally curious, using the average estimates from all researchers the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported known contributing factors only explained 40% of 20thcentury sea level rise. So, there is still much to learn.

San Francisco Sea Level (data from NOAA)

So, does Mann’s disaster scenarios represent an extreme climate doomsday cult? Or is he offering sage scientific advice we should heed?

Some researchers and politicians argue any accelerating rate of sea level rise must be the fingerprint of a human contribution as some models predict. But that is simply not true. In a 2007 peer-reviewed paper, On the Decadal Rates of Sea Level Change During the Twentieth Century, researchers reported rates of sea level rise accelerated up to 0.2 inches/year every 10 years, followed by a decade of deceleration. Sometimes sea levels fell.  Some of Mann’s followers believe it’s impossible for sea levels to fall in an age of climate warming. But they are ill-informed. 

20th Century changing rates of global sea level rise

Sea level remains un-changed when the same amount of water evaporating from the ocean returns to the ocean. However, when more rainfall remains on the land, sea levels fall. During the last Ice Age, rainfall stored in ever-growing glaciers caused global sea level to fall by 400 feet. Although those melting glaciers then raised sea level back to its current level, sea levels have yet to fully recover. Large amounts of meltwater that sank into the ground are still flowing slowly but surely back to the oceans.

Furthermore, water need not be stored as ice. When rains fall over land-locked landscapes with no outlets to the ocean, that precipitation similarly returns to the ocean via slow-moving sub-surface flows or evaporation. Rainfall over Nevada that sinks into the ground requires thousands of years to reach the Pacific. A similar fate befalls snowmelt and rainwater entering Lake Tahoe, and melt-water from Sierran glaciers draining into land-locked Nevada. Analyses of global sea level change have yet to fully incorporate the fact that over 13% of the earth’s land surface consists of landlocked basins slowly supplying ancient groundwater to today’s oceans.

Since the 1990s, satellites likewise detected a 10-year cycle of accelerating and decelerating sea level rise. A period of more El Niños followed by more La Niñas likely explains the 10-year accelerated rise followed by a 10-year deceleration. During the most recent deceleration, from 2010 to 2011 a La Niña amplified monsoons carrying above average rainfall into Australia’s landlocked basins. This caused global sea level to fall by nearly 0.3 inches. Amazingly, global sea level fell despite Greenland simultaneously experiencing its greatest ice melt. Conversely, during earlier El Niños, above average rains fell back onto the ocean, accelerating sea level rise. 

There is still no consensus regards Greenland and Antarctic contributions to sea level. There is also significant debate regards what adjustments need to be applied to satellite data. However, that discussion must wait for part 2. Until then, I urge local planning commissions to wait at least 20 more years for more data before “giving up on our coastal cities of the world and moving inland”.

Jim Steele authored Landscapes and Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism