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The last few weeks have seen substantial questioning of the quality of the analysis of the global climate record. This presentation, made to the top year at a local secondary school, looks at the Oxford climate series and shows how the way the data is presented may significantly affect judgments on how fast warming is occurring at one particular point on the earth’s surface. Apparently innocuous changes, such as varying the number of years in a moving average, can make substantial changes to the appearance of a temperature series. The notes to this presentation can be seen by downloading the PowerPoint file and clicking Notes Page in the View tab; or alternatively by downloading the PDF. Anybody wanting the raw data and the accompanying charts is very welcome to email Chris Goodall at chris@carboncommentary.com.

If your browser is not displaying the presentation properly in the embedded viewer above (Internet Explorer 7 and 8 users may encounter a problem depending on their settings), it is available for download in PowerPoint or PDF.

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The previous post on this web site analysed a recent DFID press release on malaria and climate change.

I’ve been sent three recent papers by scientists in Kenya dealing with the epidemiology of malaria. Links to two of these articles are provided below. These documents show that the DFID assertion that malaria is increasing in highland regions of Kenya is highly questionable and that overall malaria rates are probably decreasing, although the geographic picture is complex. They also demonstrate that rates of infection respond to simple but well-targeted interventions. Eradicating malaria from Africa is a difficult target but not one without hope of success.

Climate change doesn’t make getting rid of malaria any easier. But blaming rising temperatures for high infection rates is carelessly avoiding the real issues: poor public health provision in some parts of Africa, land use change and inadequate availability or use of insecticide treated nets.

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The malaria life cycle. Source: University of Tuebingen.

A recent press release from the UK Department for International Development (DFID) suggested that millions more people in Kenya are susceptible to malaria as a result of mosquitoes colonising higher ground as global temperatures rise. (‘New evidence of a link between climate change and malaria’, 30.12.09 – see below). The press release was extensively covered in UK newspapers and elsewhere.

Simple analysis shows that the claims of the press release are almost entirely without foundation. The battle against the severe threat from climate change is impeded, not helped, by government departments issuing alarmist and exaggerated alerts based on poor science.

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We don’t have direct CO2 records earlier than 800,000 years ago. So scientists use what are called ‘proxies’ – indicators that give us indirect estimates of the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Advances in scientific techniques have given us increasingly good proxies, meaning we can be more confident that our estimates of CO2 levels hundreds of millions of years ago are about right. There are anomalies: the various different proxies don’t always provide similar results. A paper published this week goes a long way to removing one important anomaly.[1] It shows that the proxy that uses estimates of CO2 concentrations based on isotope levels in ancient soil carbonates may have over-recorded atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at some periods. This brings the figures into line with other measures.

Why does this matter? In Mesozoic times, from about 250 to 80 million years ago, the soil carbonate proxy has previously suggested very high CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Some studies had concluded that the air had several thousand parts per million of carbon dioxide, peaking perhaps at fifteen times higher levels than today.  But records suggest that the temperature was only a maximum of 10 degrees Celsius higher than today. If the standard ‘carbon cycle’ models are correct, the estimated CO2 concentrations ought to have produced warmer conditions. The importance of this new research is that it shows that adjusted soil carbon proxies indicate that Mesozoic CO2 concentrations probably never rose above 1,500 parts per million, a figure consistent with other proxies and with the probable temperature levels at time. This is one more important indication that ancient CO2 levels were strongly correlated with climate.

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Discipline envy

Richard Black, the BBC’s online environment correspondent, attracted attention when he noticed that almost all climate sceptics are men. Instead, he might have chosen to comment that many of them were social scientists with leanings towards economics. Coincidentally, economics is populated by males. It is only this year that the first woman won the subject’s Nobel prize, and her work would not be regarded as part of the subject by many academic purists. Sceptics Nigel Lawson, Steven Levitt, Bjørn Lomborg, and others all think about the world as economists. That’s probably more important than that they are male.

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Image source: Aviation Enviroment Federation.

Image source: Aviation Enviroment Federation.

The UK government asked the wrong question. It demanded that the Committee on Climate Change calculated how much air travel can rise without causing an increase in aviation emissions. Not unsurprisingly, the CCC answered by saying that the number of trips could rise at the same rate as efficiency improvements in air travel. The Committee said that emissions per passenger will fall by about 1% a year, and so travel could rise by about this amount. No shocks there.

By 2050, the CCC opined, the number of passengers taking trips from UK airports can rise to 370 million a year, up from 230 million today. The maximum possible number of new passengers at Heathrow from the addition of new runway and sixth terminal is about 60 million. Hoorah, said the industry, there’s space for the expansion. Unsurprisingly, the press misinterpreted the Committee’s report and said that it had ‘approved’ the government’s plans for the airport. By answering the government’s disiningenous question, the CCC has lost some of its impartiality.

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_MG_0739Plimer

Image source: The Sydney Institute.

Professor Ian Plimer is one of the most influential global warming sceptics. A university academic in Australia, his trenchant views on climate change have helped persuade opposition politicians in his home country to back away from supporting schemes to reduce emissions. His book Heaven and Earth: Global Warming: The Missing Science (reviewed here last month) remains a best-seller in the UK.

He spoke in central London on 1 December at a meeting organized by the anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). The material in the talk was largely taken from his book, though his language was even more open and unrestrained. Unsurprisingly, in view of the controversy over the content of recently exposed CRU emails, he repeatedly used the word ‘fraud’ or ‘fraudulent’ to characterize the views of his opponents. He described his critics as ‘rent-seekers’ who spent their time seeking out the next research grant.

This article takes a small number of the more controversial statements made by Professor Plimer and sets them against the standard scientific view.

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Let’s face it: energy efficiency is boring when compared to the (relative) excitement of developing new sources of low-carbon electricity or heat. The popular science magazines are full of articles on new forms of solar panel and the latest designs for wind turbines. Improving the insulation of ordinary homes, shifting to LED lighting or increasing the take-up of heat pumps rarely command the attention of editors.

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Books referred to:

Ian Plimer, Heaven and Earth: Global Warming: The Missing Science, UK edition, Quartet Books, 2009.

Christopher Booker, The Real Global Warming Disaster: Is The Obsession With ‘Climate Change’ Turning Out To Be The Most Costly Scientific Blunder In History?, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2009.

The phrase ‘the science is settled’ is regularly used by politicians arguing for meaningful action on climate change. To the majority of the world’s scientists, global warming is a clear and present danger and those who deny it, or argue that its effects will limited or benign, are dangerous lunatics. Nevertheless, an increasing numbers of voters, particularly in the US and the UK, have drifted into the sceptic camp in recent months and years. A Pew Research October survey in the US showed the percentage of people seriously concerned by the climate change issue down from 77% to 65% in two years. An international survey by HSBC showed a fall from 32% to 25% over the past year in the percentage of people from developed markets saying that climate change was the biggest issue that respondents worried about. The overall figure across all 12 countries surveyed fell from 42% in 2008 to 34% in 2009.[*]

A batch of highly successful books from journalists and maverick scientists has provided the intellectual covering fire for this decline. The result of the growing scepticism will be a weakening of national resolutions to take the difficult steps required to shift rich countries away from dependence on fossil fuels.

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Image source: flourish.org.

Image source: flourish.org.

A study commissioned by the UK Food Standards Agency concluded that:

there is little, if any, nutritional difference between organic and conventionally produced food and that there is no evidence of additional health benefits from eating organic food.[1]

Yes and no. What the study actually shows is that organic food typically does have higher levels of important nutrients but the high degree of variability in the measured levels means that we cannot be 95% sure that these higher levels are not the outcome of chance. The Food Standards Agency and the report’s authors have misled people interested in this topic and should revise the summaries of their work.

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