Hooray! El Nino is back!

elnino2009It’s probably selfish of me to be reasonably pleased that el Nino conditions have reappeared in the Pacific. El Nino means real hardship for real people in Australia, Indonesia, and India, and some will lose their livelihoods and/or lives as a result of the droughts that come with el Nino. Similarly, el Nino tends to produce more eastern Pacific hurricanes, stronger storms in the U.S. that could cause flooding and, as a result, the death of innocent people. So on one hand, it’s morbid of me to be happy for the return of el Nino.

On the other hand, complaining about el Nino is about like complaining about a volcano that erupts and destroys a village – it’s sad that the village was destroyed, but the eruption is a great source of new data for vulcanologists around the world. And it’s not like humanity has control over the weather, so worrying about it, or feeling guilty about a little pleasure from it, is pretty much pointless.

So I’m feeling a little selfishly happy about el Nino right now. After all, it’s like a shiny new toy with which climate activists get to beat up climate disruption deniers.

To explain my small joy, a little historical context is probably in order.

1998 was the hottest year on record because of an extraordinarily powerful el Nino that heated up the entire planet dramatically. But because it was so hot, climate disruption deniers have been using it as the starting point from which they claim, wrongly, that “the global temperature has been cooling for a decade now.” This false claim was strengthened by the lucky coincidence that 2008 turned out to be a la Nina year, when the global temperature dropped significantly. Climate disruption deniers then took advantage of an unfortunate fact of least-squares linear trend estimates – they’re VERY sensitive to endpoint variation, especially in short, noisy datasets. And not only is global temperature noisy on a monthly and yearly basis, but ten years is a woefully short amount of data. And don’t even get me started on Joe D’Aleo’s, Lord Monckton’s, and Ross McKitrick’s 5-year “trend” from 2003 to 2008 which, conveniently enough, has another el Nino to la Nina transition.

So now, with a new el Nino heating up the summer and autumn global temperatures by some as-yet-unknown amount, climate disruption scientists and activists have their own convenient endpoints to the data. 1999 was a la Nina year, after all, and 2009 is an el Nino year, so any trend calculated from 1999 to 2009 will be huge, given that global temperatures for July through December are significantly warmer on average than January through June. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that 2009 could be warm enough to turn the supposed “cooling trend” into a “warming trend” all by itself. And that’s the first reason I’m happy about a new el Nino.

Of course, we’re talking weather here, not climate, and the exact same statistical tools that I and others use to debunk the bogus cooling trends touted by deniers could be used against any climate scientist who touts a hot 2009. But that brings me to the second reason I’m happy about el Nino – I’m actually looking forward to climate disruption deniers screaming “a hot year in 2009 is only weather, the cooling trend since 1998 is a real trend!” Because in return, I get to call the denier a hypocrite.

Math is math, after all. If the data statistics says that there’s too much noise in the data to extract a meaningful trend from 1998 to 2008, the the same will almost certainly be true from 1999 to 2009. And as a result, any denier who looks at the 99-09 trend and says “that’s just weather, not climate” or “the trend has endpoint problems that make it inaccurate” or even “you cherry-picked your endpoints” will immediately be revealed as a liar and a hypocrite.

Of course, any climate scientist who actually does tout the 1999 to 2009 “warming trend” but who complained about the 1998-2008 “cooling trend” would also be revealed as a hypocrite.

[I checked the trends using HadCRU3v data, and these are the results for 1998-2008 vs. 1999-2009, if the average for the first half of 2009 ends up the annual average temperature. 2008 to 1998 was a trend of -0.017 deg/dec with an autocorrelation adjusted standard error of 0.189. This means that there’s 10x more noise than signal, and so the trend could be anywhere between +0.172 and -0.206 deg/decade. The 1999-2009 (to date) trend is about 0.043 deg/decade with an autocorrelation adjusted standard error of 0.099. This means that there is only 2x more noise than signal for 1999-2009, and the real trend range could be anywhere between +0.142 and -0.056 deg/decade. There’s still more noise than signal, though, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about the trend from such a short period/limited sample size.]

So I’m happy about el Nino this year. I’d have been happier if it had come on strong earlier, so that the news could have had horror stories of droughts just in time to scare the House into voting on a much stronger Waxman-Markey bill than what actually passed, but better late than never. At least el Nino arrived before the Senate got going on a climate bill. Maybe el Nino can do what an army of environmentalists and climate scientists couldn’t – convince the Congress to serioulsy address climate disruption instead of playing politics.

20 replies »

  1. I’ve been wondering why the global warming crowd calls the people who disagree with them, “deniers.” When you think of it, names and labels like that are very scary on so many different levels. After all, despite all the rhetoric, nothing has been proven, It sounds like if you haven’t drank the kool aid, you’ll get labeled a denier. It says a lot more about the minds of the people doing the name calling….their mental stability, or lack of…Even sounds sort of cultish.

    I like el Nino, as it’s bullish for soybeans 80% of the time.


    • I don’t know, Jeff. You’re a scientist. What do YOU call someone who denies established scientific fact? And please, let’s not have this “not proven” thing. If we take that angle we can argue that since we haven’t hacked out the relationship between relativity and quantum mechanics yet that gravity isn’t proven, either. There are lots of details yet to be fully explained, but a couple things seem uncontroversial. We’re experiencing climate disruption and human factors are a major cause.

      You’re about the last person among our readership who needs a lecture on scientific method. If you’re wrestling with some cognitive dissonance – I can understand how your political views and your scientific background might occasionally find themselves at odds – that’s fine. And the way you sort of try and flip this rhetorically, in an attempt to put Brian on the defensive, suggests that the political side is in charge at the moment.

  2. Sam,

    I never said that climate wasn’t changing. Climate has changed since the earth began, and will probably change long after mankind has left the planet. It just hasn’t been proven that the activities of man is responsible for any global warming. Both sides make very logical cases.

    Anyways, the real meat of my comment was regarding the mention of “Deniers.” Mentioning Activists vs. Deniers in the same sentence just seems creepy, that’s all. It’s like it’s almost a religion with y’all, and the lack of tolerance that goes with fundamentalism. I know that you are concerned for the environment just as I am,, but remember that Bin Laden is also concerned for souls in his own mind.

    It would be nice to just instill some civility into the debate and refrain from all of the invective and name calling….on both sides.


    • Wow, Jeff. Just … wow.

      For the record, there is no “debate.” That’s a word that has a meaning and none of those meanings describe the current landscape. The one side is comprised of every single peer-reviewed expert in the world and the other side is comprised of people who deny that the demonstrated phenomenon exists.

      “Denier” is an accurate descriptor for people who deny that it exists. What would you call your projection of (since you’re not down with “name-calling”) “fundamentalism”?

      Meanwhile, we have a thing called science and a well-developed, centuries-old process for pursuing fact, and you’re playing a fairly obvious rhetorical game. A cynical, corrosive rhetorical game that seeks to equate anti-intellectual dogma with legitimate research.

      Sorry. Nobody here is buying it, and I’m disappointed to see you schlepping it.

  3. (reposting cause post didn’t work)
    Jeff you have a point. Hearing people label people who question global warming “deniers” is creepy and cultish. It makes people who use these labels look like fascist eco-extremists. Here a definition of what Patrick Moore describes as an eco-extremist: (excerpted, sorry for the long text go to the link for the full text) The Rise of Eco-Extremism
    · It is anti-human. The human species is characterized as a “cancer” on the face of the earth. The extremists perpetuate the belief that all human activity is negative whereas the rest of nature is good. This results in alienation from nature and subverts the most important lesson of ecology; that we are all part of nature and interdependent with it. This aspect of environmental extremism leads to disdain and disrespect for fellow humans and the belief that it would be “good” if a disease such as AIDS were to wipe out most of the population.

    · It is anti-technology and anti-science. Eco-extremists dream of returning to some kind of technologically primitive society. Horse-logging is the only kind of forestry they can fully support. All large machines are seen as inherently destructive and “unnatural’. The Sierra Club’s recent book, “Clearcut: the Tradgedy of Industrial Forestry”, is an excellent example of this perspective. “Western industrial society” is rejected in its entirety as is nearly every known forestry system including shelterwood, seed tree and small group selection. The word “Nature” is capitalized every time it is used and we are encouraged to “find our place” in the world through “shamanic journeying” and “swaying with the trees”. Science is invoked only as a means of justifying the adoption of beliefs that have no basis in science to begin with.

    · It is anti-organization. Environmental extremists tend to expect the whole world to adopt anarchism as the model for individual behavior. This is expressed in their dislike of national governments, multinational corporations, and large institutions of all kinds. It would seem that this critique applies to all organizations except the environmental movement itself. Corporations are critisized for taking profits made in one country and investing them in other countries, this being proof that they have no “allegiance” to local communities. Where is the international environmental movements allegiance to local communities? How much of the money raised in the name of aboriginal peoples has been distributed to them? How much is dedicated to helping loggers thrown out of work by environmental campaigns? How much to research silvicultural systems that are environmentally and economically superior?

    · It is anti-trade. Eco-extremists are not only opposed to “free trade” but to international trade in general. This is based on the belief that each “bioregion” should be self-sufficient in all its material needs. If it’s too cold to grow bananas – – too bad. Certainly anyone who studies ecology comes to realize the importance of natural geographic units such as watersheds, islands, and estuaries. As foolish as it is to ignore ecosystems it is adsurd to put fences around them as if they were independent of their neighbours. In its extreme version, bioregionalism is just another form of ultra-nationalism and gives rise to the same excesses of intolerance and xenophobia.

    · It is anti-free enterprise. Despite the fact that communism and state socialism has failed, eco-extremists are basically anti-business. They dislike “competition” and are definitely opposed to profits. Anyone engaging in private business, particularly if they are sucessful, is characterized as greedy and lacking in morality. The extremists do not seem to find it necessary to put forward an alternative system of organization that would prove efficient at meeting the material needs of society. They are content to set themselves up as the critics of international free enterprise while offering nothing but idealistic platitudes in its place.

    · It is anti-democratic. This is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of radical environmentalism. The very foundation of our society, liberal representative democracy, is rejected as being too “human-centered”. In the name of “speaking for the trees and other species” we are faced with a movement that would usher in an era of eco-fascism. The “planetary police” would “answer to no one but Mother Earth herself”.

    · It is basically anti-civilization. In its essence, eco-extremism rejects virtually everything about modern life. We are told that nothing short of returning to primitive tribal society can save the earth from ecological collapse. No more cities, no more airplanes, no more polyester suits. It is a naive vision of a return to the Garden of Eden.

    May I remind scientists reading and posting here that labels such as “deniers” is NOT science and even “debate is over” is not science. Shame on people for replacing scientific inquiry and debate with political rhetoric and fear-mongering. In the past the world was controlled with fear and wars against those who had different points of views. Is that what you want to go back to?

    (sorry for the long excerpt)

  4. Sam,

    We ought to just cut to the chase and call a spade a spade. The global warming crowd is just a tool for certain people and governments that want to increase control over our lives and commerce. They want to deny us freedom under the guise of “Saving the planet.” They have a political agenda, and they actively seek power and control in any fashion they can. It’s not about the global warming(Notice how they call it climate change these days), it’s about the power and their control over your life. And what’s funny is that their regulations are going to hurt the people who support them the most. Cap and Trade not going to hurt me, but It will certainly hurt the guy who makes $10 an hour and has his electricity bill go up 50%. They are trying to handicap the United States in their lust for power, while China and India will just pick up the business we lose.

    Your personal freedom is at stake and you don’t even realize it. The people who push these agendas don’t care about you, they only care about their power over you. Think Al Gore is going to give up his Gulfstream V? Oh wait, he pays carbon offsets to the company he controls so that’s OK.

    Meanwhile, commerce and trade will continue like it has since the days of the Silk Road. Markets always adapt despite whatever crypto-fascist government we have in place.


    • This was a better post than I thought – it’s not every day I get called a cultish, anti-civilization extremist fascist and get compared to bin Laden, all for the same post. All that’s missing is the Nazi card to make this complete

      I’ve described the difference between a skeptic and a denier before, but here it is again. All scientific evidence in support of a hypothesis is like swiss cheese – it has some holes. Skeptics focus on the existence of the holes, but acknowledge that the cheese exists. Deniers reject that the cheese even exists.

  5. I wasn’t referring to you specifically but to the now common practice of persecuting a group of people because they hold different views whether scientific or not. Now that you mention it that does sound like what the Nazi’s did.

    What you neglect to mention is that the holes in the swiss cheese are huge but the IPCC pretends they don’t exist.

    I have a question for you: Would you rather have scientists not question climate theories and models? That’s like a religious dogma not science.

  6. Brian,

    I don’t know where you got the idea that I was comparing YOU to Bin Laden. I wrote,” I know that you are concerned for the environment just as I am,, but remember that Bin Laden is also concerned for souls in his own mind.” By that logic, I must be comparing myself to Osama also.

    I was just illustrating the religious fervor that you approach this subject. If you’d prefer, just substitute Hagee, the Pope, the Dali Lama or anyone else instead of Bin Laden. There was no offense intended.


  7. Jeff, I agree with you on a lot of subjects, but I have to say that you’re probably wrong about Brian’s approach to GW. I may not agree with a lot of what he says on the subject, but I can certainly confirm that he researches the hell out of what he posts. I know because he occasionally asks me to help find the original scientific sources. He also often contacts the principle investigators directly. If by “religious fervor” you mean he doesn’t question his beliefs, you’re wrong. Of course, if you mean that he’s seriously dedicated, then you might have a point.

  8. Jeff, you’ve been reading my stuff long enough to know that I call out bullshit wherever I see it. And you’ve also been reading my stuff long enough to know that I base what I call “bullshit” on very strong scientific and mathematical foundations. It’s not my fault that the vast majority of the bullshit is coming out from people like Lord Monckton, Icecap’s Joe D’Aleo, Ross McKitrick, Richard Courtney, Marc Morano, Sen. Inhofe, Anthony Watts, Judy Cross (who, surprisingly enough, hasn’t commented here), the OISM, and so on.

    Konstantin, I recommend you read the IPCC AR4 WG1 scientific report. You’ll find that you’re statement that the IPCC ignores the holes is incorrect. I recommend Chapters 3, 4, and 9 specifically, but there are caveats and explanations of unknowns throughout the approximately 1000 page document. The authors of the scientific document took great pains to recognize that there were significant unknowns in, for example, understanding the effects of clouds and aerosols (the two largest holes, IMO), that the effects of warming on ice sheets was to variable to predict as of last call for data (early 2006, IIRC), and that there were serious errors in both the satellite-based indirect atmospheric temperature measurements and in direct radiosonde thermometer measurements.

    I personally try to avoid using the IPCC report specifically because I feel it hurts my credibility with one of my target audiences, but it’s a fantastic reference document.

  9. Ubertramp,

    I know Brian does due diligence with his work and truly believes, which is fine and dandy. All that bothers me is that there’s two sides trying to debunk each other and it has become a religious war….I mean, they even have names for the other side…….It sounds too Orwellian to me. As for the slam dunk proof of human cause of global warming, remember that there was slam dunk proof against Galileo also. Interesting sidebar: It has sure been unseasonably cold in New York until just two weeks ago.


  10. Of course “they” have a name for it. 🙂 It’s a common tactic in debates. Look at pro-choice vs. pro-abortion. I guess the problem I have with so-called “deniers” is that they don’t seem to have the scientific rigor championed by their counterparts on the other side of the argument. To me, it seems more like science vs. religion, with the deniers mostly hanging out on the religion side.

  11. Jeff, this isn’t a question of what I believe, and certainly not in the religious sense you’re implying (ie faith). Faith is a belief in something for which there is no evidence, or even opposing evidence. Faith doesn’t factor into this.

    Science, on the other hand, relies on evidence and data, and at this point, the vast preponderance of scientific data and evidence says that human emissions of carbon dioxide are responsible for heating up the climate. My fervor, as you call it, stems from the ramifications of that scientific conclusion.

    Finally, your point about Galileo is incorrect. The scientific method hadn’t been developed by Decartes yet, never mind disseminated throughout Europe, and so the people and organizations who opposed Galileo’s conclusions had nothing but faith to go on. In scientific terms, hardly the “slam dunk proof” you propose.

  12. My family in Tennessee was dismayed when I told them in 2005 we were moving to Connecticut. They were afraid I might freeze. I assured them that, with global warming, Connecticut was the new Kentucky. Now my sisters all think they’re Mexicans. How do you fight that?

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