James Hansen, Congress, GISS, and Adding Fuel to the Fire for Skeptics
Posted by The Diatribe Guy on June 23, 2008
If you’ve followed this blog, you know that I have willingly used the GISS data for analysis of global temperature trends. The GISS (Goddard Institute of Space Studies) uses surface temperature readings to derive monthly average temperature on regional and global bases, but not before incorporating some complicated – but publicly available – smoothing of the current data, and adjustments of past data through an algorithm process. These adjustments are somewhat controversial for different reasons. The smoothing process stretches to 1200km, and it is suspect that such large distances can be trusted to proxy intermediate distances. We know that temperatures can vary widely across such distances. It is not so much that smoothing is incorporated that is the problem as much as the paucity of measuring stations in some areas, and exclusion of others with little explanation as to why.
The algorithmic adjustment process is also suspect in that it continues to tweak historical temperature data. This would not be problematic to many if the results were unbiased as to a particular direction and the adjustments distributed relatively evenly both up and down across all periods. This, however, has not been the case. The historical adjustment process has lowered early century temperatures and increased more recent temperatures. This increases the trend line’s slope and increases the estimate of warming rates. One result of this can be seen by looking at the comparison I did between GISS and NCDC monthly anomalies. While I cannot say all the difference in the early data is due to adjustment, it is clear that the greatest divergence between the two data sets is early in the period, and any such adjustments only exacerbate this difference.
But why would any skeptic actually believe such data would be manipulated in favor of warming? Well, there are a few reasons that the tinfoil hats get put on, and one of the main factors is the man behind the GISS processes himself, James Hansen. If one wishes to escape the criticism and doubts about credibility, then one should stick to science and analysis and stay out of policy debates. Now, don’t get me wrong… I am not saying he should stay out of it. I suppose he feels very strongly about the issue and wishes to see what he considers to be a problem confronted. What I am saying, though, is if he is going to take on this debate, then he must live with the fact that his work will be scrutinized. And herein lies the issue: is it coincidence that the data that he presides over shows the greatest trend in favor of global warming? Is it coincidence that of all the major data sets, his shows the shortest recent level of flat/cooling temperatures? Is it coincidence that he uses the lowest baseline temperature, so that in presenting the temperature anomalies, the GISS number always shows an anomaly value that is elevated? Is it coincidence that whenever there seems to be an outlier in agreement among the differing data sets, GISS seems to be that outlier, and more often than not it is warmer (anecdotal)?
It is reported that Hansen will be before Congress, in anniversary to his 1988 speech that was a major advance in the pro-Anthropogenic Global Warming debate. According to this Guardian article, Hansen is prepared to up the ante:
James Hansen, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, will today call for the chief executives of large fossil fuel companies to be put on trial for high crimes against humanity and nature, accusing them of actively spreading doubt about global warming in the same way that tobacco companies blurred the links between smoking and cancer.
In an interview with the Guardian he said: “When you are in that kind of position, as the CEO of one the primary players who have been putting out misinformation even via organisations that affect what gets into school textbooks, then I think that’s a crime.”
He is also considering personally targeting members of Congress who have a poor track record on climate change in the coming November elections. He will campaign to have several of them unseated. Hansen’s speech to Congress on June 23 1988 is seen as a seminal moment in bringing the threat of global warming to the public’s attention. At a time when most scientists were still hesitant to speak out, he said the evidence of the greenhouse gas effect was 99% certain, adding “it is time to stop waffling”.
This serves only to fuel the flames of AGW skeptics. It is rhetoric at its worst, and even if one wishes to stand on a pro-AGW soapbox, when you start calling out opponents as criminals and openly suggest you will campaign against people in Congress and essentially are saying that those who disagree with you need to be shut up, even to the point of imprisonment, then you have moved beyond the pale. Expect a severe reaction from skeptics.
But let’s look a bit closer at this 1988 tipping point, and see why Hansen is held in such high regard. The text and supporting exhibits of his speech are in the link above, which is provided here.
Hansen declared that the 25 year rate of warming in 1988 was the highest on record. I have presented in my latest GISS analysis, up to date as of the month ending May, that warming rates have been on the decline. They are still positive, but falling. While I didn’t present the 25-year decline in my last post, it is also in general decline, although with some expected variations due to front-end low anomalies coming up. Will Hansen dare note this trend?
He says that the 1980s to that point had the four warmest years on record, with 1988 shaping up to be the warmest again. I am sure that we will hear something about the last decade as well, and how we continue to see the X warmest years on record within the last Y years. Skeptics don’t dispute that, but also note the recent years of cooling or flatness and also note that this may or may not be due to Carbon Dioxide. It is likely that Hansen will dismiss the recent trends as being too short, or an aberration, or being controlled by the sun, or what-not, even though he was willing to use short-term warming as a cause for alarm 20 years ago.
Hansen stated 20 years ago that causal association requires first that warming be larger than natural climate variablility AND that the magnitude and nature be consistent with the greenhouse mechanism. This is a little bit of gobbledy-gook, but I guess it was convincing. First of all, the first requirement, while valid as far as it goes, has little or nothing to do with whether or not there is a causal association. Suppose there was no increase in greenhouse gases. Well, then, there would be no unusual warming to be seen even under AGW theory, but it would not disprove a causal relationship. In fact, the causal relationship may, in fact, reduce natural variability if there were other forcings that would sway our temperatures more wildly without the CO2 effect. But, taking it for what it is, Hansen believed it to be an important point, probably because he could easily demonstrate that current (in 1988 ) warming was unusual in light of recent historical information. It is doubtful that Hansen will include other scientific estimates regarding global temperatures that show the Medieval Maximum was as warm or warmer than our current period. This comparison would not demonstrate effectively that we are in unusual times from a long-term prespective. Secondly, the temperature versus CO2 charts in 1988 did look impressive. Less impressive is the 2008 chart, which shows CO2 continuing to escalate while the last decade of temperatures are not doing the same.
In 1988, Hansen made some predictions for future temperatures. By 2008, he said, the global temperature anomaly if we did nothing [scenario (a)] would be over 1. It looks to be about 1.05. Well, as far as I can tell, we really haven’t done much of anything, and we are not close to being at an annual average of 1.05. In my June GISS link given above, I looked at the most recent 12-month average temperature. It is 44.3, and continues to fall. Under his scenario (b), we would be at 0.85. His estimate (c) given draconian and immediate implementation of efforts to reduce CO2 was still 0.65.
Hansen was flat-out wrong. It will be interesting to see if those predictions are questioned, and if so, what the answer will be. My guess is that they will not be questioned, and Hansen will continue to deliver the same message he did 20 years ago.