Things Smart, Educated People Distort About Climate Change

This is a lengthy response to this article. As always, I encourage readers to click the link and read the entire article. As the article is Part 2, I would also recommend that Part 1 be read.

The writer declares that smart people are getting things wrong about climate change. Yet she neglects to show how their claims are wrong. For example, she refutes “the climate is always changing” merely by insisting that recent CO2 levels have been rising.

No one doubts that CO2 levels are increasing. No one doubts that the Earth has been warming slightly since about 1984. No one doubts that CO2 is a greenhouse gas (if extremely weak one).

Also, no one doubts that correlation fails to show causation. There has been no definitive study that connects the recent warming to the recent increase in CO2. In fact, there has been no definitive study to show any correlation between the Earth’s temperature and CO2 at all…ever.

There has, however, been at least one study that shows no correlation. (You may download the complete paper for free)

Moreover, the writer makes at least two claims that are wildly exaggerated. She expresses them in the same sentence but they are two separate claims:

“We have less than six years to avoid the worst-case scenario, namely 4 degrees Celsius warming.”

When she says “worst-case scenario,” I assume she means RCP 8.5. The RCPs are the scenarios of possibilities introduced in 2013. They range from Best Case (RCP 2.6) to Worst Case (RCP 8.5).

However, the problem is that even the Best Case predicts nothing but warming in our future. What each one failed to predict was the cooling trend we have been in since 2014.

So, since the introduction of these, supposedly all-inclusive, possible scenarios, the actual temperature has been below even the “best case” possibility.

Now, an 8 year cooling trend is not a basis for projecting into the far future, but it does show her second claim that we have only a less than six year window of opportunity is nonsense. (Well, it also shows the entire spectrum of RCP guesses are nonsense but that is a different debate.)

(There is also the valid point that there is absolutely nothing the entire Human race can do that would have an impact on global climate within a six year span of time. So if the six year deadline was accurate, the only possible conclusion is that we are doomed. Any call to action is therefore moot.)

As to “data,” let me show one set of graphs with the hope that someone can adequately explain them to us all.

Here is a chart of forest fire burn acreage. This clearly shows a steady increase. Here is that data in a graph:

Graph of US burn acreage since 1983
https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/acres-burned-usa

This clearly shows a steady increase.

Looks terrible, right? However, there is a problem. I have looked at a lot of data sets in my life and one of the first things I do is look at the origin of the graph and ask “Why start there?” Many times there are perfectly reasonable reasons to start the graph where it starts. After all, it has to start somewhere.

So why start this particular data set at 1983? A very little research shows that we have data from way before 1983. Is there something else significant about that year?

See for yourself.

This graph shows almost an entire century, back to 1926. There are data elsewhere going back even further, but this is sufficient for our purposes.

Did you happen to notice where the absolute minimum of this graph is located? That’s right, precisely at the years 1983–84. That is significant because it doesn’t take much thought to realize that if you start graphing at the absolute lowest point, the only place you can go is up.

One way to give a false impression using accurate data is to carefully choose where one sets the origin of the graph representing that data. Limiting the data being displayed also limits the perspective of that data.

So, one possible answer to the question “Why 1983” could be “Because we are being lied to.”

But there is one additional explanation possible. On the chart page itself, this is the explanation given:

“Prior to 1983, the federal wildland fire agencies did not track official wildfire data using current reporting processes. As a result, there is[sic] no official data prior to 1983 posted on this site.”

There is no information on the nature of the “current reporting processes,” but I would guess that that is when they switched to satellite-based reporting. I would also guess that this is a more accurate method of reporting.

So now we have an interesting coincidence: the forest service happened to change reporting processes at exactly the time there was the absolute minimum in a century-long data stream. That’s extremely convenient if your desire is to push a global warming fright scenario.

Suppose, however, that the minimum was actually the result of the change in reporting methods. That would mean that the previous reporting methods had been under-reporting the burn acreage. But that would mean that all that burn acreage prior to 1953 was even worse than it shows in the graph which includes the older data.

(There is also the question of why do the fire agencies completely discard all the previous data. If the new reporting methods are more accurate, then all the existing data can still be shown but with a note explaining something like, “All data prior to 1983 is ±5%, after 1983 is ± 1%.” Or whatever the error bands happen to be. We are constantly developing more accurate means of recording data of all sorts. Afterwards, we don’t then purge the previous data as if it were useless. As long as it’s pertinent, more data is better than less data.)

Either way one looks at it, the current “record-breaking forest fires” are actually only one-fifth of the burn acreage that was typical during the first half of the 20th century. Either way one looks at it, starting the chart and graph at 1983 gives (accidentally or deliberately) an extremely false picture of reality. Either way one looks at it, we are being lied to.

Unless, of course, someone can provide a better explanation.

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Tomm Carr

Tomm Carr

A retired software engineer who hates retirement with a passion. My hobbies are economics, philosophy and futurism.