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The climate issue summarized in two points


vinterbild

[Denna text på svenska.]
The climate issue has, obviously, gained enormously in importance in the last 10-15 years. People panick because of the likelihood of an imminent disaster. Any questioning or criticism of the theories behind this notion av doom is labeled as denial, almost as heresy in the context of what is more and more starting to look lika a new religion or dogmatic ideology. Critical scrutiny is otherwise a cornerstone in science.

In recent years, we have experienced an increasing uniformity in research and social debate, which has rarely been seen before in democratic countries. How this situation has arisen is difficult to understand, if one does not give in to fairly dubious conspiracy theories.

The factual matter at hand could, however, with a seemingly drastic simplification, be summarized in two points (which, of course, could be much elaborated with extensive reasoning and nuances):


1. Any great danger due to human addition of CO2 in the atmosphere probably does not exist, as the evidence base for this is very weak and uncertain.


2. If the CO2 content in the atmosphere actually were to be a problem, it would still be impossible to alleviate this more than very marginally; those who think we could reach ”pre-industrial levels” of CO2 content in the atmosphere live in a dream world.

One could add another clause here, a question that has nothing to do with the definition of the alleged problem, but which still might be useful to consider:

If humans would succeed in reducing their contribution of CO2 to near zero, or at least to so-called pre-industrial levels, would the climate on earth then cease to change? Would the earth never again go through smaller or larger ice ages? Would no more warm periods occur, like the medieval warm period? Would influence from the sun in e.g. 11, 88, 210, 350 or 2,400 year cycles cease? Would the effects of the El Niño phenomenon or jet streams come to an end? Would we then have a completely static climate, constant through the centuries?


branson_twitter_small

Founder of Virgin company, Richard Branson, seems to dream of a world, where climate is constant and never changes. Tweet from Clean Choice Energy.


Those who answer yes to that question, have not realized that our climate always has changed, for millions of years, and that it certainly will change in the future as well. And furthermore, that carbon dioxide is not the only factor that can affect the climate. Water vapor, clouds, solar radiation etc. have a much greater impact than carbon dioxide.

Below, the two main points are explained somewhat further.

1. Any great danger due to human addition of CO2 in the atmosphere probably does not exist, as the evidence base for this is very weak and uncertain.

Most debaters (even so-called skeptics) are convinced that a certain warming of our earth is going on, probably as a recovery after the so-called little ice age, which occurred around 1400-1850. Most people also agree that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, but how much it affects the Earth’s temperature and the extent to which the CO2 content in the atmosphere is a consequence of human activity is, however, debated and not scientifically ascertained.

The predictions of the future climate made by the UN Climate Panel (IPCC) are the result of computer simulations that are extremely uncertain, not to say impossible. Indeed, in its third report from 2001, the IPCC wrote:

In climate research and modelling, we should recognise that we are dealing with a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible. (Third assessment report, Working group I, 2001, p. 774, my boldface / KET.)

It should perhaps be said that in a few other places in the report it is claimed that some predictions can still be made, e.g. the El Niño phenomenon is mentioned, which can be predicted a year in advance. But one year is not much, when we discuss climate change for hundreds of years.

Despite this insight, the IPCC has been trying to predict the future of the climate with the help of numerous computer simulations since 1990 – almost for 30 years. The predictions (or projections as the IPCC prefers to call them) have not come true, but rather it has become obvious that they were exaggerated by over three times when it comes to temperature levels in the troposphere, according to John Christy, professor of atmospheric science, who previously participated in the IPCC network (see this PDF, p. 13).

In their latest reports, the Fifth Assessment report from 2013/14 and the special report Global Warming of 1.5 °C, from the fall 2018, the IPCC have revised their view on so-called tipping points and irreversible processes (link to Google translation). There is now hardly any risk of such an outcome, except perhaps with regard to the addition of carbon dioxide and methane from melting permafrost.

The press often writes about increased risk of forest fires, droughts, storms, etc. The IPCC, however, have found that there is no evidence for this: ”In the present climate, individual extreme weather events cannot be unambiguously ascribed to climate change, since such events could have happened in an unchanged climate.” (Assessment report 5, p. 928.)

In the same report, p. 216, the IPCC write: ”Current data sets indicate no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century …”. Doerr and Santin wrote in a 2016 article published by the British Royal Society (”Global trends in wildfire and its impacts”) that ”there is increasing evidence that there is less fire in the global landscape today than centuries ago”.

Those who claim that we are facing a disaster would, of course, preferably argue that our current weather/climate is unique in history. But that is hardly the case. The world has been warmer than it is now, and this happened when the atmosphere content of CO2 was lower.

Increased CO2 content in the atmosphere is unlikely to affect the temperature as much as is often said in the press and among politicians. The degree of impact is called climate sensitivity, which means that doubling the CO2 content in the atmosphere can result in about one degree of warming. This occurred when we went from about 200 to about 400 ppm (parts per million) of CO2 in the atmosphere, which happened approx. in the last hundred years.

Maybe there will be a doubling again, over the next hundred years. Of course, it is not ceertain, since we may have completely different kinds of energy sources and methods for energy production at that time. But if there is a doubling, then the global average temperature will probably rise about one more degree.

So, is one (or one and a half) degree of increase in temperature something to be afraid of? Degree data usually do not refer to absolute temperatures (what you see on your thermometer) but to deviations from an average. (Often, the zero line in temperature charts is set according to the mean at different locations during the period 1961-90, when we’re dealing with recent times.)

The elevated temperature of a degree can hardly be much to worry about. After all, most countries experience temperature fluctuations of maybe 20-50 degrees between summer and winter. So, one or two degrees temperature difference should mean quite little in most locations. If the Swedish town of Gävle were to go from cultivation zone IV to Stockholm’s cultivation zone II in 50 years, would hardly constitute a major disaster.

Areas with extreme weather today (such as India), will probably be extreme also in a 100 years. Noone really knows if the weather then would become even more extreme; the greatest relative warming will probably occur on our latitudes and not in the tropics. This depends, among other things, on sea and air currents.

The fear that the masses of ice in Antarctica or Greenland would melt is in all likelihood exaggerated. These masses of ice are huge, with a thickness of several kilometers. The masses of ice have changed in the past, sometimes growing and sometimes shrinking. The IPCC stated in their report 2013/14 that the ice in Antarctica would hardly melt down due to global warming faster than in a thousand (or several thousand) years. A few researchers believe that a sufficient meltdown to make the sea level rise dramatically could happen in a few hundred years, but most scientists estimate that it would take thousands of years.

The question is also whether a rise in temperature might be beneficial in many parts of the world. An IPCC scientist wrote this in one of the leaked e-mails from the so-called Climategate scandal (here the IPCC’s fourth report is discussed):

… the panel text does not mention that some people (and countries) may experience benefits as a result of climate change. I think this needs to be mentioned somewhere … (Mike Hulme, professor of human geography in a mail February 5, 2002.)

It is easy to believe that the earth is getting very hot when you see maps with blue and red areas supposed to show what it will be like in a few decades. You think the blue is icy and the red is glowing hot. But the difference between the areas in these maps is usually no more than a few degrees.



1884_2018

Global temperature is often illustrated with maps like the above, with color codes. From the left image (1884) to the right (2018), the difference is about one degree in global average temperature. Locally, the difference can be 4-5 degrees. (Source: NASA.)


It is often said that certain years in the 2000s have been the hottest since measuring began in the late 1800s. However, this is misleading. Often, the very hot 1930s are ”forgotten”. And, it is almost never mentioned that the record may consist of as little a difference as 0.02 degrees above the previous record.

To the extent that some problems will arise in 50 or 100 years, this is probably something we can mitigate with dams, land reinforcements, fire breaks, etc.

SvD eldar och värmerekord 1933_10juli rev2

The 1930s were very hot. Here a clipping from Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet of July 10, 1933. The headlines to the left say ”Violent wildfires rage all over the country. Several hundred fire sites”. The headline to the right says ”All temperature records in Sweden beaten yesterday”. This record of 37-38 °C still stands today, according to the Swedish meteorological institute SMHI.

USA_1934_185000_forest_fires_1937

The Bend Bulletin in Oregon (left) reported July 25, 1936, that there were 12,183 deaths in the United States due to heat and drought during one week in July, compared with 8,851 dead at about the same time 1934. According to The New York Times (right) on October 9, 1938 there were 185,209 forest fires in 1937, one every three minutes.

2. If the CO2 content in the atmosphere actually were to be a problem, it would still be impossible to alleviate this more than very marginally; those who think we could reach ”pre-industrial levels” of CO2 content in the atmosphere live in a dream world.

A quite enormous amount of coal-fired power plants and other CO2-generating energy plants are presently being built all over the world. China is now building hundreds of new coal-fired power plants, and hundreds of coal-fired power plants are also being built in other countries, e.g. in Turkey, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Even such an environmentally ”aware” country as Germany invests in coal. Coal or oil are still the cheapest alternatives for energy production. Developing countries can hardly operate the steelworks they intend to build with fluctuating energy sources such as wind power or solar energy.

Let’s, for the sake of argument, suppose that Sweden would succeed in reducing its CO2 emissions to zero, then the world’s carbon dioxide emissions would (according to a very approximate estimate) decrease slightly – for about 23 days. After that, the levels would revert to the same concentration as before the Swedish CO2 stop and then continue to increase again.

If the United States, which is one of the largest emitters in the world (100 times more than Sweden approximately), right now would cut emissions to zero, then the world’s carbon dioxide emissions would decrease by around 14 percent but be the same again in just over eight years. [Note 1]

Mostly, I try to avoid the word emissions (additions are better) because you associate with air pollution. Carbon dioxide is not in the usual sense a pollution or a poison; carbon dioxide is a gas absolutely necessary for life on earth and we all breathe it out (almost 400 kg per person per year).

Getting the whole world to cut its carbon dioxide additions, perhaps not to zero but to what is usually called pre-industrial levels, is simply utopic. The result would be that our modern life would completely cease.

Today’s society, with its production, consumption and communication, is extremely energy intensive. The so-called carbon footprint from smartphones is today about a quarter of that from aviation, while the entire IT industry’s carbon dioxide addition is about twice that from aviation, according to doctor of technology Kari Hiekkanen (link to Google translation) at Aalto University in Finland. Watching streaming video is one of the most energy-intensive ways to utilize IT. The question is how many of today’s climate activists would like to live like a hundred years ago.

Furthermore, it is probably quite good to have a fairly high CO2 level. Vegetation thrives and deserts are getting smaller. Too low a CO2 level can cause problems. Plants risk dying if CO2 levels fall below 150 ppm.

Politicians who paint a catastrophic future, where the earth is basically devastated by fires and floods, literally play with fire. What if many of the young people who now ”school strike for the climate” think this is not enough, but resort to more militant methods. We know how animal rights activists can take action. Many of these young people are wondering (and rightly so to some extent) why the politicians are not doing more, if we are really facing a disaster. Of course, I can’t prove it, but I guess the answer is pretty simple. The politicians themselves do not believe in the horror picture they paint of the future, but they must follow the spirit of the time in order to go on as politicians.

It is believed that only scientists or politicians who receive money from some industry can have dubious motives for their conclusions and positions. But politicians have their own interests, often with great economic benefits in the form of wages, side assignments and pensions. So, surely they have reasons to keep up with the current, and perhaps even to reinforce it, as long as they appear concerned and resourceful.

_________________________________________________

Note 1) The calculations are based on the fact that the world’s emissions totaled 37,077 megatons of CO2 equivalents in 2017 (according to Wikipedia) and that Sweden then emitted about 51 megatons, while the United States emitted about 5,107 megatons. For a decade to come, the increase in CO2 emissions is expected to continue to be the average for 2000-2017, i.e. 2.16 percent (according to the Global Carbon Project). Setting Sweden’s emissions to zero would hardly have a significant impact on the global annual increase, but a zero setting of the US would probably change the percentage 2.16 to about 1.86 percent. All this, of course, is very approximate estimates. See these links: Wikipedia, Global Carbon Project (p. 9).

Attenborough’s climate film: more fiction than facts

 

[Denna text på svenska.]
David Attenborough’s film ”Climate change – the facts”, is now being shown in many countries. Swedish Television recently aired it. Unfortunately, it is a film that, with its imagery and its rhetoric, is very much like such repulsive and distasteful propaganda films that one thought we would be spared in our present-day knowledge society.

One could expect that those who are now convinced that we are approaching a climate disaster, at least should convey their message objectively and without affect. But Attenborough’s film is probably the most misleading and bombastic I’ve seen since Al Gore’s 2006 film ”An Inconvenient Truth”.

The worst may not be the individual errors and half-truths; the worst is that Attenborough (and the other contributors) give the impression that everything is certain (”evidence is now unequivocal”), that all researchers agree and that there is nothing to discuss or add. Now action is required.

But this is not true. Researchers connected to the UN Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) also have different judgments. Some such points are described here [in Google translation from Swedish] (about sea levels and how much time we have left to act) and here (about the so-called hiatus of global warming in recent years) and here (about the medieval warm period).

 

greatest threat in thousands of years

Are we really facing ”our greatest threat in thousands of years”, worse than thousands of years of war, famine, pandemics and purges?

 

The film starts with a few voices from various news programs reporting extreme weather and heat, then Attenborough is heard as a voiceover to a series of short video clips:

Right now we are facing our greatest threat in thousands of years [photos of white smoke from factory chimneys are shown, in one chimney the emitted gas is burning] – climate change! [Lightning, hard rain and rain curtains moving across a landscape.]

Naomi Oreskes (historian of science, Harvard University): For a long time climate change was considered something that scientists predicted would happen in the future [image of a ticking clockwork, a big ocean wave, dramatic music] but that’s no longer the case.

Richard Lazarus (professor of environmental law at Harvard University): What we’re doing right now [image of a truck overturning in a hurricane wind on a bridge, and then almost sliding off the roadway] is we’re so rapidly changing the climate, for the first time in the world’s history people can see the impact of climate change. [The sound of glass shattering, pictures of buildings destroyed in a hurricane, flooding.]

Mark Maslin (professor of climatology at University College, London): Greater storms, greater floods, greater heatwaves, extreme sealevel rise.

Michael Mann (climatologist at Pennsylvania State University): All of this is happening [pictures of melting and floating snow and ice] far faster than any of us thought possible [pictures of ice blocks on rocks, washed over by water and almost disappearing].

Already the first sentence proclaiming ”our greatest threat in thousands of years” is most probably a huge exaggeration. Not even the IPCC paints a picture of an impending disaster that would be worse than World War II or the Great Plague, for example.

 

lastbilen_på_bron

”For the first time in the world’s history people can see the impact of climate change,” says professor Richard Lazarus in the film, and this is illustrated by pictures of a large truck in a storm, which slides off the roadway on a bridge.

 

One cannot see climate change, as Lazarus claims. And later in the film Michael Mann states: ”We are seeing the impacts of climate change now, play out in real time.” Singular weather events could possibly, in retrospect, be put into such a context, but hardly while they are going on. Only 20-25 years ago, experts believed that climate change could not be detected from data from just a couple of summers or winters; observations were required for perhaps a hundred or several hundreds of years. This has now shrunk to 30 years. But it has hardly shrunk so that you can see it in the present.

Storms and floods

The claim of storms and floods getting more severe, worse heat waves and extreme sea level rise has not been supported by research. The IPCC has not seen an increase of cyclones over the past hundred years: ”Current data sets indicate no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century…” (Fifth assessment report 2013/14, chapter 2, p. 216).

In the special report from IPCC 2018 (Global Warming of 1.5 °C), it is claimed that at least the number of cyclones (in contrast to their force) will decrease with warming above 1.5 degrees: ”the total number of tropical cyclones is projected to decrease during global warming” (p. 204). Much is written about what will happen if we get ”intensified storms”: disturbed ecosystems, increased difficulty for people to recover from storms, damage to forests and corals, etc. That’s if. But will storms really be more plentiful and/or stronger? The Special Report’s view on this is not altogether clear.

In the case of floods, the Fifth assessment report had not seen trends indicating more frequent or worse floods: ”There continues to be a lack of evidence and thus low confidence regarding the sign of trend in the magnitude and/or frequency of floods on a global scale over the instrumental record.” (Fifth assessment report 2013/14, ”Technical summary” p. 112). However, the special report from 2018 claimed that some increased risk could be expected regionally (future risk, few actual observations have been made), but they also pointed out: ”There are studies, however, that indicate that socio-economic conditions will exacerbate flood impacts more than global climate change … ”(The Special Report, p. 214).

NASA has found that sea levels rise about 3 millimeters per year, since at least the 1990s. This is hardly the extreme sea level rise being proclaimed of a up to one meter to the year 2100, which is said in the 37th minute of the film. If one wants to scare people with dramatic climate changes, it is of course important to make weather events that happen today appear as if they are unprecedented in history. This is often said about temperatures, forest fires, etc. In Attenborough’s film, astrophysicist Jim Hansen says that sea levels previously have ”been stable for several thousand years” (in the 18th minute of the film). But it’s just the opposite. The sea level has both dropped and risen for thousands of years. The situation has also been affected by a land rise since the ice from the last ice age withdrew.

 

a man made disaster on a global scale

Attenborough talks about ”a man made disaster on a global scale”. His view of nature fits into a tradition of ecologists and natural philosophers who regard nature as having been rather static, until man broke the balance.

 

After the initial striking clips, Attenborough appears in a beautiful English landscape and says: ”Standing here in the English countryside, it may not seem obvious, but we are facing a man made disaster, on a global scale. In the twenty years since I first started talking about the impact of climate change on our world, conditions have changed far faster than I imagined. ”

Attenborough’s view of humans as a species that both destroys itself and the earth fits into a tradition of ecologists and natural philosophers, e.g. George Perkins Marsh or Ernst Haeckel, who regarded nature as fairly static and well balanced, as a perfect machine – until man came and ruined everything.

Entomologist and ecologist Stephen A. Forbes wrote in his article ”The Lake as a Microcosm” (1887): ”Perhaps no phenomenon of life in such a situation is more remarkable than the steady balance of organic nature, which holds each species within the limits of a uniform average number, year after year … ” and further on that ”Although every species has to fight its way, inch by inch, from egg to maturity, yet no species is exterminated, but each is maintained at a regular average number which we shall find good reason to believe is the greatest for which there is, year after year, a sufficient supply of food.” Such a view of nature hardly leaves room for any Darwinian natural selection.

Ecologist Daniel Botkin, on the other hand, says that change has been the rule in the history of the earth, and that includes climate change:

None of these steady-state assumptions are true. Species do not come into instant equilibrium with a new climate; they are always in the process of responding to previous environmental change. There are other factors that limit distribution that are changing over time. Individuals, populations, species have the ability to adjust to a changing environment; otherwise they all would have gone extinct in the past. (Botkin, The Moon in the Nautilus Shell , 2012, p. xiii.)

The Attenborough film then shows an animated world map, in which colors indicate temperature changes between 1884-2018. At first, the map is yellow, white and blue, then blue and orange, then light red, and finally, in the 2000s, it becomes dark red, as if the earth is glowing: ”Our climate is changing because of one simple fact, our world is getting hotter,” says Attenborough.

The difference in temperature between this blue-white cold world of 1884 and our red-hot earth 2018 is about 1 degree Celsius! Since this is a question of mean temperature, one should note that this implies that the earth has become say three or four degrees colder in some places and say three or four degrees warmer in others. That’s what the different colored spots show. Whether this is good or bad depends on the local conditions.

The temperature rise: cause and consequences

Even some of the scientists within the IPCC network are aware that the effects of a possible future temperature rise must be assessed differently at different locations. Mike Hulme, now a professor of human geography at Cambridge University, wrote this (February 5, 2002) in one of the emails that later leaked to the public in the so-called Climategate scandal: ”… the panel text [the discussion then concerned IPCC’s Fourth assessment report/KET] does not mention that some people (and countries) may experience benefits as a result of climate change”. (The whole email is here.)

Peter Stott (at the UK Meteorological Office and Exeter University) then says: ”What we’ve seen is this steady and unremitting temperature trend [again the image of the map glowing], twenty of the warmest years on record have all occured in the last 22 years.”

 

rolling_stoneaug_2019_hottest

Sometimes you get it a tad wrong. ”Human history” is something else than ”recorded history”. And ”recorded history” is something different than ”historical temperature records”.

 

You frequently hear proclamations that various summer months certain years were the hottest since measuring started (sometimes they even were the hottest in human history). Most recently, it was July 2019 that was declared the warmest since measuring began.

One must ask, what is meant by the hottest month? Is it the highest average temperature for the whole month? Or is it a month that has had a peak temperature a certain day or week? And are we talking about anomalies (deviations from the ”normal” or average temperature over a longer period at a certain location) or absolute temperature (what the thermometer actually shows)?

When NASA declared 2014 to be the warmest year measured (since 1880), they forgot to mention that the difference with 2010, previously considered as the warmest year, was 0.02 °C. The error margin was said to be 0.1 °C. Thus, the margin of error was 5 times greater than the measured (calculated) difference. Furthermore, the compilation of measurement point data from all over the earth is so uncertain that the announcement that 2014 was the warmest year since 1880, was probably certain only to 38 percent. (See article ”Nasa climate scientists: We said 2014 was the warmest year on record … but we’re only 38% sure we were right” in Mail Online, January 18, 2015; maybe here too)

It is being discussed whether we for twenty years now have experienced a pause in global warming, a so-called hiatus. See ”Has global warming stopped?” (in Swedish, with Google translation here). But how can there be a hiatus (if that is the case) and record heat at the same time?

The answer is probably that the warming that has been discussed in recent years is so small, it is tenths and a hundredths of a degree, that it can also be seen as a decrease in the heating that was much more tangible during the years 1920-40 and 1980-98. As for the years 2010 and 2014, the margin of error is so large (and the difference so small) that the relation could be the opposite: that 2010 was warmer than 2014.

Peter Stott also says: ”What is striking is that this warming trend cannot be explained by natural factors, it is caused by human activities, in particular by use of fossil fuels.”

Why couldn’t natural influence be the explanation? After all, warm periods have existed for thousands of years before both industrialism and before man. There have probably been warm periods, with no particularly high carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere, and also quite cool periods, when the carbon dioxide content was relatively high (according to Ernst-Georg Beck 2007, the CO2 concentration around 1820-30 may have been higher than now). So the correlation is not ascertained, at least not regarding carbon dioxide as the main regulator of average temperatures over longer periods of time. Historically, solar activity, volcanoes, the inclination of the earth’s axis, ocean currents, etc. would (also) have had an influence.

It should be pointed out that although most people, including so-called skeptics, agree that the earth has become somewhat warmer over the last hundred years, and that carbon dioxide probably has a (greater or lesser) role in this, there are still great uncertainties. The number of measuring points on the earth for temperature is not very big. GISS/NASA now lists 7,300 weather stations, but that includes closed stations whose data is used in historical statistics and graphs. In practice, data from perhaps around 2,000 stations are used today. Especially over the world ocean, the picture is extremely incomplete. How data from this uneven coverage may be compiled and calculated into a ”global average” is very complicated and extremely uncertain.

Recently, some evidence has also been presented about unreliability of the HadCrut4 database, on which many temperature calculations are based. The database may be suffering from major errors. In his doctoral dissertation from 2017, John McLean, at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, points out around 70 problems with these temperature data, e.g. that some corrections, that must always be made of measurement data, also create a false notion of heating. (See McLean, An Audit of Uncertainties in the HadCRUT4 temperature anomaly dataset plus the investigation of three other contemporary climate issues, diss., James Cook University, 2017.) Also in this case, there is thus reason for a TV program claiming to tell the facts, to mention the uncertainties that exist.

The IPCC often states that there is evidence for one thing or the other based both on observations and on computer-generated climate models. But these models require verification – so they cannot easily be included in the evidence. The Special Report from 2018 states, for example, on page 183: ”Evidence for the assessment of climate change at 1.5 °C versus 2 °C can be drawn from both observations and model projections.”

In the ninth minute of the film, Attenborough shows dead bats (or rather so-called flying foxes) in Australia. Despite being evolutionarily adapted to high temperatures, they have succumbed to heat in thousands. You see a moving picture of a little baby bat clinging to his dead mother. Peter Stott says: ”It’s inconceivable that you would see these temperatures without the fact of climate change.”

Then, several dead flying foxes are being put in a wheelbarrow, and you hear someone off camera say ”it’s climate change in action” (at 10:27-10:30). Or rather, you heard it in the original BBC program from April 2019, but this phrase has now been removed in the version shown on Swedish Television. I doubt that Swedish TV deleted this. My guess is that the BBC received criticism for the statement and removed it.

 

climatechangeinaction_svenska

”If you have two more events like we had, the species are gone,” says a female voice, and then a male voice is heard saying ”it’s climate change in action” – but only in the original film from April. In the version that is now shown in Sweden, the last statement has been removed.

 

It has long been known that flying foxes die in this way. In fact, the phenomenon was documented as early as in the 18th century. This is what British naval officer Watkin Tench wrote in a travelogue about his 1790 visit to the Sydney region, more specifically Rose Hill, where it was 40-41 degrees in December:

An immense flight of bats driven before the wind, covered all the trees around the settlement, whence they every moment dropped dead or in a dying state, unable longer to endure the burning state of the atmosphere. Nor did the ‘perroquettes’, though tropical birds, bear it better. The ground was strewn with them in the same condition as the bats. (Watkin Tench, A Complete Account of The Settlement at Port Jackson, chapter XVII, 1793.)

In addition, another program about flying foxes, ”Secrets of Wild Australia” part 4 (made in 2016), was recently shown in Sweden. Here too, it was shown how many bats died because of the heat, but not one word about climate change.

Have forest fires increased globally?

The film then displays extremely dramatic pictures of fires, seen from inside a car and from a house, where flames strike out from all windows in a violent fire. Attenborough: ”Last year saw record breaking wildfires take hold across the globe.” Michael Mann: ”We’ve seen wildfires break out in Greece, even in the Arctic.” (Wildfires in cold areas, such as the Arctic, are not uncommon, as long as the flammable material is dry enough and some kind of ignition occurs.) Mann again: ”We’ve seen a tripling of the extent of wildfires in the western US, in California.” Pictures from a car that drive on a road, where the forest burns on both sides. A shocked father and son who escaped are interviewed about how close they were to death.

The description of the forest fire and the other fires may be correct, but does this really have to do with climate change? According to the statistics, the fires have rather decreased (see, for example, the statistics at NIFC), but it is debated whether they may have become fewer but larger. A program that sets out to report facts should tell if things are contentious. Both in Sweden and the United States, many areas also burned in the late 1800s and 1930s, for example.

In the article ”Global trends in wildfire and its impacts”, published by the British Royal Society 2016, Stefan H. Doerr and Cristina Santín write: ”… global area burned appears to have overall declined over past decades, and there is increasing evidence that there is less fire in the global landscape today than centuries ago.”

In the 16th minute, Attenborough says: ”I won’t say that all can be due to climate change. Last years extreme weather events meant that millions of people needed humanitarian aid.” What does he wish to imply by saying this? That a flood in Kerala in India, of which images are being shown here, may not be due to climate change, but this kind of imagery will be common when floods occur that really are caused by climate change?

This seems to be the film’s main rhetorical device. Everything that is shown, forest fires, floods and dead flying foxes, regardless of what caused the events in question, are examples of dramatic climate change and that it already is underway. And that everything will get worse.

Is the ice melt in the Arctic unique?

The film then moves on to ice melting in the Arctic and Antarctic. Andrew Shepherd (climate scientist, University of Leeds):

In the last year we have had a global assessment of ice losses from Antarctica, from Greenland, and they tell us that things are worse than we expected. The Greenland ice sheet is melting, it’s lost two trillion tons of ice, it’s losing five times as much ice today as it lost 25 years ago.

Here, the program makers, if they wanted to convey the facts, should have mentioned that the masses of ice in both the Arctic and Antarctic always have increased and decreased over the centuries. How the present trend towards ever-smaller summer ice in the Arctic should be interpreted is a controversial issue. Animations showing the Arctic ice maximum during the winter of 1979-2006 can be seen here, and the Arctic ice minimum in the summer during the same time can be found here.

The Arctic also underwent an unusual warming in 1920-40, which the scientists could not explain. Within the framework of their research at the Max-Planck Institute in Hamburg, professor Lennart Bengtsson et al. wrote in 2003:

The Arctic 1920-1940 warming is one of the most puzzling climate anomalies of the 20th century. Over a period of some fifteen years the Arctic warmed by 1.7 °C and remained warm for more than a decade. This is a warming in the region comparable in magnitude what is to be expected as a consequence of anthropogenic climate change in the next several decades. (Bengtsson et al., ”The early century warming in the Arctic: A possible mechanism”, MPI Report 345, 2003.)

The fact that this happened during a period when the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide was only about 20 percent of today’s, led the scientists to believe that the cause rather was increased solar activity than human influence.

A Danish study from 2005 by Knud Lassen and Peter Thejll examined sea ice in eastern Greenland between the years 1500 and 2000, based on previous surveys of eg. oxygen isotopes in ice cores. Lassen and Thejll found an ice minimum, perhaps as that of today, in the 16th century and significant peaks some time each century from 1600 to 1900. An abrupt decline of ice also happened in the 1920s, as in our days. The variations, they believe, are due to, among other things, solar activity. Finally, Lassen and Thejll write:

The considerations of the impact of natural sources of variability on arctic ice extent are of relevance for concerns that the current withdrawal of ice may entirely be due to human activity. Apparently, a considerable fraction of the current withdrawal could be a natural occurrence. (Lassen & Thejll, ”Multi-decadal variation of the East Greenland Sea-Ice Extent: AD 1500-2000”, Scientific Report 05-02, Danish Meteorological Institute, 2005.)

A 2017 study by Paola Moffa-Sánchez and Ian Hall (”North Atlantic variability and its links to European climate over the last 3000 years”, Nature Communications volume 8, 2017) investigates Arctic ice for 3,000 years using pollen in sea sediment. According to this study, the ice would have covered smaller areas 500 years ago than today. But there are other studies that arrive at other results, so the matter is, as I said, debated, which the TV program should have mentioned.

Sea level rise and coral reefs

The film then turns to sea level rise: ”Rising seas are displacing hundreds of thousands of people,” Attenborough says. You can see pictures of flooded areas, with people sitting on meter-sized small banks with water all around. Colette Pichon Battle (CEO of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy in Louisiana) says: ”In the United States Louisiana is on the frontline of this climate crisis, it’s loosing land at one of the fastest rates on the planet. A rate of a football field every 45 minutes.”

Louisiana has an extremely large land loss, which is largely due to that the land sinks and has been doing so for at least a hundred years. A global sea level rise of 3 mm per year (average) and a local landfall of 6 mm gives a total sea level rise of 9 mm per year. It has little to do with climate change, but to a certain extent it has to do with human impact. Badly designed hydraulic engineering, as well as the drawing of oil and gas pipelines in the lands around the Mississippi River have affected erosion. Colette Pichon Battle says that the residents of the Isle de Jean Charles, in the lowlands just off the coast of Louisiana, have been called the first climate refugees in the United States. That is hardly the case. The land loss in Isle de Jean Charles has been going on for at least a hundred years.

In the film’s 23rd minute, Attenborough says that a third of the world’s coral reefs have bleached and died in the past three years due to heat stress. This does not seem to agree with several articles on how the coral reefs recover, e.g. Michael D. Fox et al., ”Limited coral mortality following acute thermal stress and widespread bleaching on Palmyra Atoll, Central Pacific,” described here.

A Chinese study even assumes that the corals are well off in the heat: ”We identify abrupt coral reef recovery in the northern South China Sea (SCS) since the last century (especially post-1960 CE), indicating that the Current Warm Period is an optimal episode for reef growth in the northern SCS.” (Shuang Yan et al., ”Episodic Reef Growth in the Northern South China Sea linked to Warm Climate During the Past 7,000 Years: Potential for Future Coral Refugia”, JGR Biogeosciences, April 2019.) Again, the film should at least have mentioned that the issue is debated.

In the 26th and 27th minutes of the film, a few so-called climate deniers appear, e.g. Paul Broun, who says that no temperature rise has occurred in eight years. This is apparently considered so stupid that it doesn’t even deserve a comment. Perhaps Broun was out a bit early to say this in 2001, but the ”warming pause” is something that is being discussed – even by the IPCC (see ”Has global warming stopped?”; in Swedish, with Google translation here). No significant temperature rise has occurred (except for the natural fluctuations caused by the El Niño phenomenon) in 20 years (1998-2018).

Lord Lawson is also presented as a ”denier” when he says that there are also ”huge benefits from a warming planet”. This too is obviously regarded as so stupid that it doesn’t require any comment. Formerly chilly areas of the earth will likely be cultivated easier. The earth’s vegetation also benefits from increased carbon dioxide, deserts and other arid areas have begun to green. However, this is not primarily related to the heat but is due to the fact that carbon dioxide acts as a kind of fertilizer for plants. Lu, Wang & McCabe found ”extensive areas of ‘greening’ in dryland areas of the Mediterranean, the Sahel, the Middle East and Northern China, as well as greening trends in Mongolia and South America.” (”Elevated CO2 as a driver of global dryland greening”, Nature Scientific Reports, February 2016.)

See also this web page at NASA, where it is said that between 25 and 50 percent of the Earth’s green areas have become even greener.

In the 30th minute of the film, however, professor Matthew Hansen at the University of Maryland mentions the opposite phenomenon, deforestation. He shows a map, where forests disappear on large areas of the earth (according to the map, most of Sweden and Finland appear to have had their forests burned or felled, which is very strange – to put it mildly).

Apart from the matter of size of the affected regions, the question is whether this is a climate issue or a felling issue. Hansen says that rainforests are burned down and replaced with crops of soybeans or rubber or used as pasture for livestock. But among that which affects most, he says, is the cultivation of oil palms. Palm oil is found in almost everything, adds Mark Maslin, professor of climatology at University College, London. However, no one mentions that palm oil is used as ”environmentally friendly” biofuel.

Permafrost

Attenborough says (in the 38th minute) that in addition to all this, we could be threatened by even worse disasters, called tipping points, i.e. that any process reaches a point where it becomes irreversible. However, in its assessment of 2013/14, the IPCC has discarded most of these concerns. Some problems may arise from melting permafrost, that can emit greenhouse gases. See ”Is the climate apocalypse canceled?” (in Swedish, Google translation here).

When Attenborough then describes the problem with the permafrost, it is misleading. He mentions that methane (a greenhouse gas 20-30 times more potent than carbon dioxide) is found underground in the permafrost. You can then see ecologist Katey Walter Anthony from the University of Alaska step out on the ice on an ordinary lake near Fairbanks, Alaska. But there is a difference between methane in ordinary lakes, that are emitted constantly, and methane that can be formed and released from permafrost if it melts.

Dr. Anthony shows that there are bubbles frozen in the sea ice, and with a little hot water she melts the top layer. The gas bubbles come out into the air and they light a match so that the gas bursts into flames. The impression is spectacular, of course. The problem with methane, however, is not that it burns, but that it more efficiently than CO2 blocks the earth’s heat radiation from disappearing into space.

No one knows how much methane the permafrost (which is mainly found in the northern hemisphere) contains, but estimates are of 1.7 trillion tonnes of carbon, bound in organic material, which can thus become both carbon dioxide and methane when and if the permafrost begins to melt and the organic material degrades. It is estimated that current warming could result in 1 gigaton of methane having been emitted from thawing permafrost by the year 2100. By comparison, lakes, marshes and other wetlands are a greater source of methane, 0.167 gigatons per year, which by the year 2100 would be 13.36 gigatons.

On her website, Dr. Anthony shows a not-so-ominous side of the methane bubbles. She and her colleagues are working on a project that will provide villages in northern Alaska with cooking and heating gas from the sea bubbles instead of from imported diesel.

The IPCC 2018 Special Report (p. 208) refers to a study in which it is believed that it might be possible to bind methane and carbon dioxide in permafrost to increased peat formation: ”Transient releases of CO2 and CH4 may follow permafrost melting, but these occurrences may be compensated by peat growth over longer time scales (Yu et al., 2010).”

Both solar and wind power are mentioned as alternatives to the fossil fuels. Nothing wrong with that, but a program that wants to convey ”the facts” should also mention some of the problems with these energy sources. First of all, they have an uneven energy production and can hardly be an alternative for developing countries that want to build up heavy industry.

One problem with solar panels (if one is afraid of carbon dioxide) is that they are currently being produced in countries where electricity is produced using fossil fuels (China, for example). The solar panels often require huge landscape areas, thus interfering with habitat and wildlife, for instance are birds being injured. They also require large amounts of water, e.g. for cleaning, and when they have served out, they create environmentally hazardous waste. Wind turbine propellers kill numerous birds, insects and bats, animals usually regarded as important to protect for the sake of biological diversity.

It is sad, not to say devastating to public opinion, to public interest and to climate policy, that the media hardly ever report on the diversity of climate research, but constantly state that all scientists agree that a global disaster is rapidly approaching. I have tried to show here, that there are other sides to these matters, that mustn’t be excluded from the public debate. I find it highly counterproductive for education and sensible decision making to produce alarmist films like this.

Eric Ericson talks about choirs and choral works

Körledaren Eric Ericson

Swedish choir conductor Eric Ericson died on February 16th, 94 years old. My impression is that he was a very unassuming and extremely knowledgeable and passionate man. Hans-Gunnar Peterson and I interviewed Ericson in 1997 in his home at Gärdet in Stockholm, just before he was to receive the Polar Music Prize.

Eric Ericson gave generously of his knowledge and vividly accounted for how he started the Chamber choir, and he talked about the importance of practicing a cappella rather than with instruments. I believe Ericson’s enthusiasm for his trade is quite obvious in the photos I took at the occasion.

Ericson was apparently satisfied with the article, since he recommended it to students both in Sweden and abroad.

See ”Eric Ericson – 50 years with the Chamber Choir”

Pingad på Intressant.

Ye pyrates of olden days

Piracy of intellectual property is nothing new. To some, plagiarism was a problem already in first century Rome. Illegal copying of books was done long before the modern concept of copyright as a creator’s right was conceived. The right to copy during the first centuries of printing belonged to printers and booksellers (sometimes for generations), not like today when an author owns it and might or might not assign his or her rights to a publisher for a limited time.

Printers often pirated books that legally belonged to other printers. The first known instance of print piracy was probably Gutenberg’s former financier Johann Fust, who reprinted Johann Mentel’s edition of St Augustine’s De Arte Prædicatoria. A more well-known case is Martin Luther, whose works were pirated in all of the German states (and in many other countries as well). There were lots of printers who for many years made their living entirely from unlicensed printing of Luther’s works. Luther complained about this, not so much on economical grounds as because the pirated editions were sloppy and the content distorted. At this time pirates even gathered at the Frankfurt Book Fair to sell their wares.

Francis Kirkman on the title pages of his book The Unlucky Citizen (1673).

Piracy was very common, especially during the 17th and 18th centuries, and not just smaller, poorer Stationers yielded to this shady custom, but even large well-established members of the Stationers Company spent some of their working hours on unlicensed printing or the printing of ”overnumbers”, that could be sold by chapmen or exchanged for other books from other printers. Läs mer

What happened to Google Translate?

Some four months ago, I was planning to write an enthusiastic article about how great Google’s translation service had become. Outside of linguistic institutions, machine translation from Swedish into another language has not been available to the public for so long (I believe Babelfish was the first), and I was extremely impressed with how well Google managed also complex sentence patterns with parenthetical subordinate clauses, and how the translation engine managed to keep track of pronouns and various correlates. Sure, there were errors, but still, it was quite remarkable. Now, not much of this seems to work any longer, and I get the feeling that maybe a hard drive containing exceptions and phraseology might have crashed in Googleland. This is very sad, since the current translations are almost unreadable. The Swedish word ”hyllningskör” (approx. ‘unanimous praise’) became ”tribute fragile” the other day. And today it became ”tribute shoes”. So, obviously Google learns. But it learns erroneously. Läs mer

Swedish Pirate Party: A Critical Examination

(This is a translation of a blog entry in Swedish from June 14th, which was the hitherto most read article since the blog started in 2003.)

Now that the Swedish Pirate Party has got their 7 percent of the voters in the Swedish election for the European Parliament, I suppose it is time to write something about their goal, as it is presented in the party program.

Apparently, the party toned down its agitation in the file sharing issue before the election, and focused on the topic of personal integrity and privacy. This was probably, from their point of view, a good strategy. Otherwise, the party would probably to a much larger extent than now have been associated with selfish people who just want to safeguard their free-of-charge access to entertainment. What they say in privacy issues is much easier to agree with, even if not everything on this point is opposition-free either. Read more »

Copyright reform – or abolition?

The other day I came across a web site called Question Copyright. One of its leading men is the software developer Karl Fogel, and a prominence such as Brewster Kahle seems to be involved as well.

Their ”mission is to educate the public about the history of copyright, and to promote methods of distribution that do not depend on restricting people from making copies”. They say they want copyright reform, but ”if abolition is that better policy, then so be it”. Read more »