An exercise in how Climate Denial works

Been away on holiday as well as busy with marking the last few weeks, so not really had time for blogging.

bear_loon

Figure 1: Deniers, like Polar bears, are becoming something of an endangered species

Before I went away, I stumbled on a paper by a one Professor Nasif Nahle, which claims to contradict the general accepted theory that Carbon dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas. Naturally the deniers lapped it up, like a fish swallows a worm without even thinking (then again, thinking or reading has never exactly being they’re strongest point).

However it actually exposes how the dishonest nature of the denial machine works, the very limited technical knowledge of most deniers and how they are increasingly become a cargo cult, trapped in an echo chamber of anti-intellectual delusion.

First thing that tripped me off was a lack of any reference to his alleged “peer reviewed” paper on Science direct.com. This is a clearing house for scientific papers online, often the first port of call for genuine academics like myself. A lack of mention on science direct does imply this paper has not been subject to proper peer review.

Figure 2: Scientific Consensus on Climate Change is increasingly strong [Transition culture.org, 2013 http://transitionculture.org/2013/04/24/im-sorry-what-a-visit-to-the-met-office-hadley-centre/ ]

Figure 2: Scientific Consensus on Climate Change is increasingly strong [Transition culture.org, 2013]

I finally found a copy, but on a site called “principia-scientific.org”. However this is not a reputable science journal, just a site posing as such, but run by a known climate denier Tim Ball and John O’Sullivan, another known denier with a habit of miss-representing himself.

Further a profile of the author Nasif Nahle on Wikipedia (apparently self penned) reveals his principle expertise to be in the field of herbal medicine….not climate physics! Furthermore he appears to be a (self-appointed) “Professor” of a small back alley lab (view their own profile here), one without any official backing, i.e. not a university, etc. Another blogger did a similar review of the author and also found Mr Nahle lacking in credibility…to say the least! So we have a paper that is going out of its way to try to appear to be from a reputable source, when in fact it is nothing of the sort.

Figure 3: Peer review is rigorous and not without its flaws but it serves an important purpose in stopping bad science making it through to publication [Nick Kim, 2008]


Climate literalists

But what about the actual contents of this paper? Does it make any sense? Well no! As one climate blogger points out Nahle’s paper can be dismissed as little more than the work of an amateur who doesn’t understand what he’s talking about. A large part of his failure here is he seems to take the term “greenhouse effect” a little too literally, as he assumes that the atmosphere acts exactly like the windows of a greenhouse, but of course it’s not quite as simple as that.

I would further chip in my two cent’s that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. This paper includes none. It appears to be built on a dubious theoretical model “verified” by a couple of bench experiments build using cardboard and sticky tape. It’s Blue Peter science at its worst!

That carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas is not controversial, except among deniers. And I mean the lunatic fringe of the denier movement. Those climate skeptics with any vaguely creditable qualifications (such as John Christy or Richard Lindzen) know enough to not dispute this fact, as they understand that’s about the scientific equivalent of supporting “intelligent falling”. But of course the loony “lord” Monkton brigade of the denier camp will not hear any of it. Unwilling to concede any ground, they insist on the fact that carbon isn’t a greenhouse gas, even though they are ignoring basic chemistry by doing so.

Figure 4: Absorption spectrum of Carbon Dioxide [Physics of Global Warming, 2008]

Figure 4: Absorption spectrum of CO2 [Physics of Global Warming, 2008]

The physics and heat absorption properties of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have been known about for over a century. Carbon dioxide’s infrared absorbing properties were determined experimentally in the 1890’s, leading eventually to Svante Arrhenius making his famous hypothesis (although the significance of this early work was not entirely understood at the time).

Figure 5: Dr Iain Stewart demonstrates an experiment to prove the heat trapping properties of Carbon Dioxide, video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SeYfl45X1wo [BBC, 2011]

Figure 5: Dr Iain Stewart demonstrates an experiment to prove the heat trapping properties of Carbon Dioxide, video here  [BBC, 2011]

I have seen similar experiments to John Tyndall’s 1850’s research performed in a lab before. We rig up an infra-red camera with a candle and a flask between the two. By introducing carbon dioxide into the flask, the candle appears to vanish thanks to the increased heat absorption properties of the CO2. Like I said, it’s fairly basic chemistry we’re talking about. In fact here’s a link from a website advising schools as to how to perform such experiments. Indeed the US TV program Mythbusters conducted one such experiment a few years back  (supervised by a child for some reason), demonstrating the effects of various green house gases.

But of course such experiments extend to simply quantifying the properties of a greenhouse gas. One cannot simply assume that the whole atmosphere will behave the same as a cardboard box. This was in fact part of the problem in the early days of research into climate science, as this assumes the atmosphere is scalable in such regards and such analysis ignores various processes in the atmosphere, such as convection cells, cloud formation, geological activity, interaction with the biosphere, that big shiny thing in the sky, etc. that have a combination of net positive and negative effects. This is why real climate scientists use super computers or experiments with weather balloons.

Figure 6: Effects of Greenhouse gases in the Atmosphere [IPCC, 2007 or Skeptical Science, 2009 http://www.skepticalscience.com/empirical-evidence-for-co2-enhanced-greenhouse-effect-advanced.htm ]

Figure 6: Effects of Greenhouse gases in the Atmosphere [IPCC, 2007 or Skeptical Science, 2009]

The effect of greenhouse gases within the atmosphere has been verified numerous times over the past few decades by masses of real world experiments and data collection records going back at least 60 years (excluding ice cores and other proxies that is, which go back even further). Perhaps oddly enough the first large scale atmospheric studies into GHG’s were conducted not by environmentalists, but by the US military back in the 1950’s. The US military weren’t trying to prove global warming, but support the development of new heat seeking missiles.

Figure 7: Some of the first efforts to research the Greenhouse effect were performed not by hippies with long hair, but military engineers (with buzz cuts one assumes!), specifically to aid in the accuracy of heat seeking missiles, such as this test of an AIM-9 missile in the 1950’s [USAF, 1958]

Figure 7: Some of the first efforts to research the Greenhouse effect were performed not by hippies with long hair, but military engineers (with buzz cuts one assumes!), specifically to aid in the accuracy of heat seeking missiles, such as this test of an AIM-9 missile in the 1950’s [USAF, 1958]

The lone black sheep

In short, even if we ignore this author’s dubious background, the fact that he has chosen to publish his work through a mechanism that seems designed to misrepresent his work as that of a respected organisation, that his research is full of holes and obvious miss-conceptions….and that a ten year old appears to be smarter than him ;D. He fails to address the obvious question – Why is his research is at odds with all the past research over the last 150 years?

One cannot prove or disprove a theory like global warming with one paper (badly researched or otherwise). That’s not how science works. Without him or his supporters addressing how this research ties in with the masses of seemingly contradictory research (e.g. how is it that those heat seeking missiles can hit their target when they are programmed to assume the atmosphere behaves in the way chemistry says it should?), then one is forced to draw the obvious conclusion – he either faked everything or screwed up royal and his work can be dismissed as the ravings of an oddball crank.

A similar controversy as that surrounding Mr Nahle’s work has brewed up around a paper by a J. E. Postma. However, as with the Nahle situation, dig a little and you quickly find the same script of dubious misrepresentation of qualifications, questionable sources …and that’s even before we look at the “science.

Figure 8: Cartoon about Global Warming Skeptics [Cagle.com]

Figure 8: Cartoon about Global Warming Skeptics [Cagle.com]

Changing tactics

I would argue that these sort of shenanigans represent a change in how the denier camp do business. Back in the old days, those denying climate change, had to look to a small handful of scientists with vaguely credible qualifications, such as the aforementioned John Christy, Richard Lindzen or Patrick Michaels (and presumably drive up too their house with a truck load of cash!). Monbiot does an interesting take down of one of one such distortion by Fred Singer (via David Bellamy, who got in way over his head) in the Guardian a few years ago.

Figure 9: While the consensus on climate change is strong with scientists, confusion and doubt spread by contrarians means the message isn’t getting through to the general public [The Consensus Project, 2013]

Figure 9: While the consensus on climate change is strong with scientists, confusion and doubt spread by contrarians means the message isn’t getting through to the general public [The Consensus Project, 2013]

However one assumes that, given the increasingly strong consensus as regards the science to support global warming, very few credible scientists are now willing to be made fools of by endorsing these views.

Plus there is now clear blue water between the genuine “skeptics” (such as John Christy or oddly enough James Randi) and the hard core (referring one assumes to the thickness of they’re skulls ;o ) deniers, such as Lord Monckton. While the skeptics will generally concede that yes, global warming is happening and that humans are at least partially to blame (they’re main argument is to what degree we are to blame). The deniers instead are going for presentation over content. Creating things that looks like proper science (to non-scientists anyway!), but in fact is little more than amateurish technobabble.

Figure 5, the bumber book of right-wing science [Source: Cagle.com http://www.cagle.com/2012/10/republican-science/]

Figure 10: The bumper book of Republican science

Of course given that more Republicans believe in demonic possession than climate change, it’s no surprise that we see a sort of “emperor’s new clothes effect”. i.e. Many of those in the denier camp don’t understand big words or equations, so they don’t dare question a paper like this for fear of looking stupid in the eyes of their peers. Hence we see this herd effect among its bloggers, without any attempt at critical thinking.

Figure 11: The Yes men http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Yes_Men have previous shown how easy it is to get those on the right to buy into any silly idea if they advertise it the right way.

Figure 11: The Yes men have previous shown how easy it is to get those on the right to buy into any silly idea if they advertise it the right way.

In much the same way that many on the right have resorted to increasingly insane and fundamentalist political positions, be it the sort of lunacy we see coming out of the Tea Party or in particular Ron Paul, or Bible literalism, or creationism, we are seeing a lurch to a type of “climate literalism”, which clings to equally bizarre notions.

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About daryan12

Engineer, expertise: Energy, Sustainablity, Computer Aided Engineering, Renewables technology
This entry was posted in climate change, Global warming denial, politics, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to An exercise in how Climate Denial works

  1. neilrieck says:

    quote of the week: “(deniers are) trapped in an echo chamber of anti-intellectual delusion”. Makes me laugh whenever they compare themselves to Galileo with the IPCC playing the role of the Catholic Church.

    • daryan12 says:

      One has to feel a little sympathy for deniers like Lindzen or Christy. I mean as climate deniers they are put in the same category as Monckton!

  2. klem says:

    I agree with everything you’ve written above, right wing climate deniers have the stupidest wackiest ideas. Yet the deniers have still totally beaten you greenie alarmists.

    What does that say about you? Lol!

    cheers

    • daryan12 says:

      This is not some sort of egotistical game where we can tot up the scores and see who “won”! Do you think the planet will stop warming just because a few con artists proved to be very good at fooling people? Did the Sun start revolving around the Earth just because the catholic church said it should?

      • klem says:

        “Do you think the planet will stop warming just because a few con artists proved to be very good at fooling people?”

        And do you think the planet will continue warming for the same reason?

      • daryan12 says:

        No I think the planet is warming because 97% of the guy’s with the PhD’s in climate science and masses of scientific data to back them up say it is…same way if my doctor says I should go to the hospital for tests I trust his professional judgement and not some quack (noting that one or two climate denier are, as noted in the article also quack herbal medicine pedlars), or what I read in the tabloids.

  3. Jason Bascom says:

    I read a thread on a forum a while back where there was several learned deniers and many GW supporters opposing their views. The deniers raised many valid points and I was concerned the proponents of GW had no real satisfactory answers to the technical questions being asked of them.
    The base load issue is the one argument I see the deniers bring up when talk turns to renewables as an alternative to fossil fuels. I believe this is a legitimate argument as I don’t believe any government would turn to nuclear or carbon produciing energy if they had a viable alternative.
    There’s only so much space for hydroelectric dams, which is the most common form of renewable energy storage. But there is another involving water that doesn’t get talked about as much.
    Hydrostatic energy storage. Why isn’t this form of energy storage used more widely. I realise the cost increases dramatical over 1500m beneath the sea, but the potential is near limitless.
    Daryan, what are your views on this form of energy storage for things such as stranded wind and ocean floating turbines?

    • daryan12 says:

      I can’t really comment on a conversation I wasn’t party too. However, I often find climate deniers seem to have idological reasons to oppose renewables (they seem to think that all wind/solar companies are owned by left-wing hippies!).

      As for baseload, remember that electricity is only about 20% of final energy consumption. Transportation, heating/cooling and embodied energy (i.e. everything from cornflakes to cars) represents the other 80%. How suitable renewables are to this largely depends what sort of energy grid you’re looking at, e.g. are we mostly using wind turbines (such as those offshore) to create hydrogen which is then used for vehicles or winter heating (or running peaking power plants), or do you try and electrify everything.

      As for hydro, output of this is still growing, rumours of it being “all used up” are not borne out by the IEA statistics, with hydro representing about 30% of added renewables capacity worldwide over recent years. There is also good potential for pumped storage hydro, even in countries (such as Scotland) where most of the main rivers already have dams. Liquid air energy storage is another storage option that seems to be attracting quite a bit of attention, tho its not quite mature enough at this stage to say.

      But certainly we need to acknowledge that it is the ability to be stored that’s the main selling point of fossil fuels and why replacing them isn’t going to be easy.

      • Jason Bascom says:

        http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/articleDetails.jsp?arnumber=6471167

        Another problem the deniers like to bring up is the energy density of renewables. The above link proposes the energy be stored undersea where the sea depth would compress the energy. Disused mines are used to store compressed air at present but ORES should ensure no natural gas combustion at the expansion phase.
        The problem here is what man made materials could withstand the pressures of the ocean floor for years on end?

        p.s. I only ask because of the breadth of knowledge on material science you displayed in the ‘molten salt reactor conept’ article.

      • daryan12 says:

        Energy storage
        I’ve been hearing alot about liquid air energy storage recently which can achieve quite high energy densities. Other alternatives include hydrogen, batteries (in particular so called flow batteries, which work a bit like a Fuel cell) or indeed established technologies such as pumped storage or indeed biofuels.

        I recall working out sometime ago that you could tuck away a good few GWh’s worth of energy in Scotland’s dams just by upgrading more of them to perform pumped storage. Even greater energy storage potential could be realized by building further pumped storage capacity.

        Also it is perhaps reflecting that there is a need to match supply to demand. Much of the electricity load could be met by even intermittent renewables, you’d still have fossil fuel plants on the grid, but they’d only be needed for a few hours each day or during times of low wind and no sunshine. Eventually storaged renewable energy could eliminate or replace this.

        Not saying the results going to be easy or cheap, but that doesn’t mean its impossible.

  4. Barakn says:

    I had the misfortune of running into one of Nasif Nahle’s papers some time back. It was full of errors, many of the kind that would earn a high school student an F, such as using the wrong constants or formulas and not keeping track of units. I critiqued as much of it as I could before gagging, and posted it here: http://www.physforum.com/index.php?showtopic=19833&st=30&#entry320720 .

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  10. You go to a lot of trouble to vilify the category of “climate deniers,” which is an artificial distinction in any case. Healthy science is built upon reasonable debate and not on closing of all theories except the one that favors a particular agendum. This is particularly true of a theory that has not been adequately tested in the laboratory, save the one careful experiment by Knut Angstrom in 1900 that essentially disproved greenhouse warming.

    • daryan12 says:

      What puts the D in denial (as opposed to genuine sceptics) is a failure to understand how science works. i.e. deniers will cherry pick one or two studies that happen to support their position, often taking the results of said study out of context (as you do regarding the Knut Angstrom’s paper), while ignoring the tens of thousands of other studies which reach a different conclusion.

      Furthermore, you cannot debunk a theory by simply publishing one paper (again we have to weight that against thousands of others which give the opposite conclusion). A key step would be to explain why it is that your theory is right, yet past observers were wrong. The failure of the deniers I highlight above, aside from dubious credentials and fairly shaky “science” is that they do not offer any sort of explanation for why all the past science on climate change from Tyndall in the 1860’s onwards are wrong. If the atmosphere behaves the way you suppose (e.g. if we took Knut’s paper out of context) why is it all those military head seeking missiles still manage to hit the target? Why is it all the data consistently shows warming?

      In essence you’re denying basic science because it offends your ideology.

  11. No, I am a synthetic scientist (as opposed to an analytic one). My only concern, really, is that interpretations of Nature be as accurate as possible. I deplore the current trend in defending the theory of greenhouse warming at all costs. Consensus counts for nothing if it happens to be wrong. Show me that greenhouse warming is correct, beyond a rather shaky correlation that doesn’t hold up over geologic time. There are other things that are much better correlated with global warming than CO2, among them ozone depletion from HCl emitted by non-explosive, Hawai’ian type volcanoes. Read the book I just co-authored with Peter L. Ward, “What Really Causes Global Warming? Greenhouse Gases or Ozone Depletion?” (available on amazon). We have been researching this for ten years, and I think we know whereof we speak. I have specifically disproven greenhouse warming theory by showing that annual CO2 variation peaks in May in the Northern Hemisphere, whereas temperature anomalies peak in March, together with ozone depletion (p. 150, Figure 10.8). What we really need to do is continue our use of efficient fossil fuels, but nationalize them in order to conserve the resource.

    • daryan12 says:

      And your qualifications to lecture the climate science community are what exactly? Like I said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Can you explain then why all the other scientists going back over 150 years are wrong and you are right? And quoting from a book that I can’t read unless I buy it and probably hasn’t been subjected to independent peer review, isn’t exactly convincing me.

      To be honest as an engineer, I don’t really care for this “debate” regarding climate change. The fact is a reasonably plausible case has been put forward by the IPCC and in line with the precautionary principle (an often misunderstood engineering concept) we’d be fools to ignore it and we must take action. Its going to be vastly cheaper to deal with the problem now than wait and see and adapt to the consequences.

      Let me put it this way, I recall John Christy (a well known sceptic) suggesting he thought there was only a 50/50 as to whether the IPCC were right, while the IPCC would say its more like 1 in 100 against them being wrong. If I was the engineer responsible for your car, or a plane you were travelling in, and I told you there was a 50/50 chance of catastrophic failure, would you buckle yourself and the kids into it? If your doctor said there was a 50/50 chance of you dying if he didn’t operate immediately, would you ignore this?

      What’s your comfort zone? I’m guessing that even if the odds were 1 in 100 against catastrophic failure, you’d still think that was too risky. Yet deniers will ignore such basic maths and imply we should take risks that in everyday life would be considered downright reckless.

      • bobvau says:

        I agree with your post. FYI David Laing is a retired University of Maine assistant professor of geology, not a climate expert. I pulled up the book he says he “coauthored” and the lone author listed is Peter Ward.

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