December 07, 2007 | Graham

Another minimum? What about an optimum?

Ray of hope: Can the sun save us from global warming? is the title of a piece in the Independent by the Sun’s biographer, David Witehouse. It relates the fact that sunspot activity is currently at a low, and shows none of the usual signs of turning-up.
Conditions like these are believed to have been responsible for the Little Ice Age of the 17th Century, called the Maunder Minimum, as well as a number of other temperature fluctuations in the past.
The article details the devastation caused by the Little Ice Age, and quotes un-named Russians who suggest that a drop in temperature of 1.5 degrees is likely over the next 13 years. (Not sure if this prediction is after allowing for some greenhouse warming over the same period).
Which raises the question in my mind of not whether we will be saved from global warming, but what exactly the optimal conditions are for human life on earth. Put another way, the headline could have read, will CO2 save us from global cooling.
Much of the global warming debate proceeds on a false basis. It assumes, despite the facts and the assumptions implicit in the forecasting, that we currently have a durable equilibrium which will persist into the indefinite future and which is uniquely optimal to life, so that any movement away from it results in greater costs than benefits.
People like Sir Nicholas Stern then tote up the costs, ignore the benefits, and come to an inevitably negative figure providing a fictional price to a problem which can then only be solved by limiting carbon emissions. It’s a common accounting practice adopted by economists who are paid to advance a client’s interest rather than independently assess the facts.
In fact, climate is dynamic and will change for the worse, and the better. If mankind can have an effect on climate, the issue ought to be to what level do we try to stabilise it, is this possible, and what are the genuine costs and benefits? How ironic if the warming predicted to occur by the IPCC as a result of CO2 is exactly what is required to mitigate the conequences of decreased solar activity, producing the illusion that climate is after all in perfect equilibrium and that we live in the most optimal of all possible worlds.
Note: In an interesting counterpoint to my dissertation above about essentially static, versus dynamic systems, a consortium of Australian and Canadian scientists have concluded that….corals may actually evolve to cope with increased temperature. Darwin would be surprised. Of course it’s almost axiomatic amongst AGW hysterics that nothing adapts, including mankind, making them, if not anti-evolutionary, at least counter to the observed facts of the whole history of human existence. (Added at 3:29 pm)

Posted by Graham at 1:18 pm | Comments (32) |
Filed under: Environment


  1. You’re proceeding from a bogus assumption yourself: “the conequences of decreased solar activity”
    1. Sunspots are *not* fluctuations in solar activity in the form of radiation ie. heat output (except in the most minor levels). They are more akin to storms, ie. local atmospheric conditions, than overall output.
    2. Even if they were indicative of changes in total output sufficient to drive the “forcing” changes we see in the Earth’s climate, current levels are *low* not high and can therefore have nothing to do with the current elevated tempretures on Earth, rather they should be causing the opposite, ie. cooling.
    3. Sunspots have an 11 year cycle. Tempretures on Earth have been rising steadily – not cyclically – over the last 30-50 years (at least). ie. there is *no* alignment between the sunspot cycle and the climatic changes the earth is experiencing. Sunspots are cyclic, the earth’s tempreture increase is unidirectional.
    Try to get basic facts right before you build tenditious castles on sand.
    Oh – btw, Darwin would *not* be in the least bit surprised if corals evolved in the face of warmer oceans. That’s what evolution is all about – duh. The real question is whether they can do it on timescales of a century or so. The answer we have from the past is:- probably not.

    Comment by JM — December 8, 2007 @ 10:09 pm

  2. There’s always some clown who comes along and can’t read the article straight. Dear JM, the comment about Darwin, was irony. But I guess I couldn’t expect you to understand that when your grasp of the rest of the article is so loose.
    Lower solar activity equals cooler temperatures is exactly what I am talking about. It is cooler on earth than it would otherwise be because there is less solar activity.
    Your idea that solar temperature fluctuates on some sort of a strict 11 year cycle is laughable. The major forcing agent of temperature on earth is solar – has to be because it’s the only source of energy. Past history shows this doesn’t fit an 11 year cycle – that’s the point of the article I referenced. Did you even bother to read it?
    If you were even half paying attention you would have realised that temperature hasn’t increased in 10 years and wouldn’t have asserted that it has been “rising steadily” for 30 to 50 years.
    The problem with this area is that there are too many evangelists, and not enough scientists. Although reading your comment, there’s no chance you could have ever fallen into the latter class.

    Comment by Graham Young — December 8, 2007 @ 10:33 pm

  3. Graham
    You say that solar activity is low using sunspots as an indicator.
    My point is that sunspots do not correlate well with overall output. (Look it up)
    Sunspots do have an 11 year cycle. Again look it up.
    Solar output is a much different thing and fluctuates trivially (the Sun is at the very stable end of star variation – variation so low that it is not even regarded as a variable star, but rather an unusually stable one.)
    The minor variation in solar output does not correllate well with sunspots.
    The minor variation is not sufficient to explain global warming.
    Sorry I missed the irony re. Darwin, but denialism comes in many forms – and there does seem to be a correllation between evolutionary denialism and climate change denialism. Forgive me.
    Lastly, apropros of your comment re “too few scientists” I do have scientific training and qualifications – specifically in astronomy. Do you?

    Comment by JM — December 10, 2007 @ 5:05 am

  4. JM, I don’t think the qualifications of anonymous online commenters count for very much. If you want to compare qualifications with qualifications, the guy you should be looking at is the author of the Independent piece, David Whitehouse
    You also shouldn’t make slurs about “denialists”. Apart from the insult implied by this term all of the people that I know who challenge the AGW panic are evolutionists.
    Why don’t you go away and come up with some evidence as to how Whitehouse is wrong instead of just telling me to “look it up”?

    Comment by Graham Young — December 10, 2007 @ 10:50 am

  5. OK Graham, I looked at the guy’s site.
    He’s a journalist. The site says nothing to back up the claims made in the article but refers to a couple of books he wrote and a list of awards for journalism.
    So since there’s no backing on his site, let’s just compare the words in his article to the references he cites in support.
    Specifically the third sentence which forms the basis of his argument: “Months have passed with no spots visible on its disc.”
    And now the sole relevent reference (which is at the foot of the page):
    On that site’s home page – prominently displayed – we find this: ” the sunspot number sits at 29. (Dec 6)”
    That’s 29 – not zero. His own reference contradicts his claim.
    Either he’s bungled or his article dated 10 Dec was out of date before it was published.
    Either condemned out of his own words or “overtaken by events”, I don’t really know, but certainly not to be taken seriously.
    My statements re “look it up” are relevent, you did more than simply resort to quoting a (somewhat dubious) authority, you went on and mounted your own argument. Once you take that step, you have a responsibility to “look it up”. You’re the one making the argument, not me, so the ball is in your court to justify it.
    Lastly I do object to ad hominem arguments. “clown”, “[loose understanding]”, and “[no scientific understanding]” without backing them up, and without making a substantive response to my comments is ad hominem.

    Comment by JM — December 10, 2007 @ 6:57 pm

  6. Dear JM, you decided to go ad hominem. You levelled this accusation at me right in the beginning: “Try to get basic facts right before you build tenditious castles on sand”. I’m used to AGW alarmists going ad hominem, and then getting into a tizzy when their arguments don’t stand up and then accusing someone else of denigrating them! And your post fits the pattern.
    You continue the ad hominem by saying that Dr David Whitehouse is just a “journalist”. In fact, he happens to have a PhD in radio astronomy. Easy to find out for some, but too difficult for you, who can’t even find references to support your other assertions.
    Instead of having a discussion about this article, which is what you were invited to do, you decided to try to beat-up on me.
    The major points in the article are not disputed by you – which is that variations in sun spots have coincided with cooler periods on earth. You try a “bait and switch” by picking on minor points, or just taking sentences out of context. For example, to say that there have been months with no sun spots is not the same thing as saying there were no spots this month. But that’s the case you are trying to make with your reference to Solar24.
    You claim that he has no references, but he directly quotes people, such as David Hathaway. You can find Hathaway’s predictions on NASA’s site at
    So, not only are you no scientist, but you struggle with logic and comprehension, not to mention good manners. Or more likely your are just trolling. I’ve noticed a tendency for people like you to suddenly appear from nowhere on blogs and try to disrupt serious discussions with unfounded assertions. My working hypothesis on this is that it suits a political rather than a scientific agenda.
    If you’re genuine, perhaps you could tell us who you are? But then, you probably wouldn’t be hiding behind a hotmail address if you were genuine.

    Comment by Graham Young — December 10, 2007 @ 9:34 pm

  7. Graham
    Your argument doesn’t stand up. You confuse sunspots with solar flux. You refer me to Dr Hathaways press release – which notes that cycle 24 will be intense but cycle 25 weak. The press release is about sunspots, not solar irradiance. Do I dispute that sunspots are strongly correlated to “cooler periods on earth” otherwise known as “solar forcing”? I most certainly do, see my first post.
    [Incidently, there’s something wrong with your link to Dr Hathaway’s press release, it should be this.]
    You asked for some comments on Dr Whitehouse’s article (and possibly also your ideas).
    First the nitpicks.
    Dr Whitehouse makes some interesting claims (without citations), such as:
    – a correlation between “the weak Sun and the cold Iron Age”
    – a correlation between “the active Sun and the warm Bronze Age”
    claiming these are “observational correlation[s]”. I was unaware that pre-literate humanity left records of sunspot activity and daily temperatures, but you learn something new everyday. It might be claimed the weak/active sun hypothesese are backed by proxy variables that don’t require direct observational records. Ahem. Those proxy variables have a pretty ropy relationship to sunspot numbers let alone global climate. Certainly worse than direct observations of sunspots and climate over the last 200-300 years. Interesting that Dr Whitehouse implicitely accepts the proxies but is not so keen on the direct observations.
    Dr Whitehouse also has weak authorities for some of his claims. For example, he cites “astronomer Giovanni Battista Riccioli” [1598-1671] as an authority for the view that sunspots affect the Earth’s climate. Personally I would have expected something more up to date, but never mind. I also note that Riccioli was a Jesuit who strenuosly rejected the Copernican solar system, so maybe he wasn’t the most forward looking guy, but whatever. Neither Wikipedia, nor the Catholic Encyclopedia mention any work he did regarding the Sun, so I don’t know how influential or valuable it was. Not very I suspect.
    Another weak authority is the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) regarding the start of the new sunspot cycle. Interesting but not very relevent as NOAA is essentially the weather bureau and not directly responsible for monitoring the sun. That’s NASA’s job. NOAA can have an opinion on the sunspot cycle, but actually monitoring and predicting it belongs to the other agency: NASA. NASA expects the next cycle to “start” within months (although “start” in the context of a natural, variable cycle is a pretty dubious concept. There is no starter’s gun, rather after a period of low activity things gradually get more active until we notice it happening).
    Now the general.
    Running throughout the entire article is a confusion between sunspot activity and solar flux (or irradiance, aka heat and light). These are not the same thing. Dr Whitehouse refers to “solar activity” (he means sunspots) being at an 8000 year high (a pretty widely accepted view) and confuses this with solar flux, or the energy the sun puts out.
    There’s a good article at that explains both the
    8000 year high for sunspots and touches on solar flux.
    Here’s the money quote: “the exact relationship of solar irradiance to sunspot number is still uncertain”.
    Ok, so let’s try Wikipedia which has a great article on solar variation (with references, you can follow them if you wish) at From the sub-section on Global Warming (about half way down the page) we read:
    “More recently, a study and review of existing literature published in Nature in Sept. 2006 suggests that the evidence is solidly on the side of solar brightness having relatively little effect on global climate, and downplays the likelihood of significant shifts in solar output over long periods of time.”
    Nature of course is the premier science journal of our time, and pretty reliable.
    “over the past 20 years, all the trends in the Sun that could have had an influence on the Earth’s climate have been in the opposite direction to that required to explain the observed rise in global mean temperatures”
    In other words, solar variation is tiny (less than 0.1%) and is of absolutely no relevance to global warming.
    In fact, the “it’s all down to sunspots” line Dr Whitehouse is reporting is a denialist “just-so story” that is not new and has been thoroughly debunked.
    Now I don’t think this is deliberate, the whole article looks more like a short “history of sunspots” gussied up with some minor concern mongering about how the sun “might be changing” topped off with a sub-editors attention grabbing headline relating it to an issue of current prominence. Good commercial journalism, but not science.
    And your “cosmic-gaia” idea where global warming compensates for solar cooling is just as much a “just-so story”. It’s based on a groundless view of the relationship between sunspots and the earth’s climate, is contradicted by the facts and would be a pretty fanciful basis for public policy don’t you think?
    Am I being ill-mannered? No. I’m attacking your argument, not you. I’ve asked you to justify your argument, you haven’t, despite it being something you’re required to do as the proponent of the novel idea.
    Instead I’ve done you the courtesy of explaining my support for the consensus view, which is something I’m not required to do, but have nonetheless done.
    Do you dislike robust discourse? Tough.

    Comment by JM — December 10, 2007 @ 10:16 pm

  8. JM, you are the denialist. Instead of dealing with the evidence that CO2 is not the primary driver of earth’s climate and that the system is far more complex than our understanding of it you set up a whole range of straw arguments, switch and baits and the rest to support your favoured position.
    For example, you accuse me of confusing solar flux and sun spots, but don’t show where. I’ve always been talkiing about sun spots. Any confusion is either in your own mind or a deliberate tactic on your part.
    You might dispute the speculation on sunspots, but to dismiss it because one of the historical observers of it was pre-Copernican is just more ad hominem. Almost as ridiculous as saying that because Nature published a paper that agrees with you, you must be 100% right.
    But it gets worse – you accuse me of a “cosmic-gaia” theory. In fact, this is the reverse of what I said. I said that it would be “ironic” if compensation by CO2 for a decrease in other forcings gave the “illusion” of equilibrium.
    I note you have a problem with proxies, so should I assume that you discount the whole world of paleoclimate, and a fair bit of astrophysics? That would mean that you never accepted the Hockey Stick graph of temperature, and don’t accept any evidence for previous ice ages, or hotter periods because they haven’t been directly observed.
    And so you go on.
    What can’t be disputed is that temperature has varied independently in the past, to a large extent independent of CO2 levels. No amount of cut and pastes from Wikipedia is going to change that, nor prove that you have any idea what you are talking about. In fact, the reverse, it is a pretty good proxy for your lack of scientific training in the relevant areas.

    Comment by Graham Young — December 11, 2007 @ 6:51 am

  9. “JM, you are the denialist. Instead of dealing with the evidence that CO2 is not the primary driver of earth’s climate and that the system is far more complex than our understanding of it you set up a whole range of straw arguments, switch and baits and the rest to support your favoured position.
    For example, you accuse me of confusing solar flux and sun spots, but don’t show where. I’ve always been talkiing about sun spots. Any confusion is either in your own mind or a deliberate tactic on your part.”
    Graham, you could at least publish my post, you know, the one you are selectively paraphrasing. Then your readers could judge for themselves.
    However, since we are now agreed we are dealing with sunspots and not solar flux, can you now justify your view that sunspots – a magnetic phenonema – drive global warming? No-one else believes that, why do you?

    Comment by JM — December 15, 2007 @ 2:32 am

  10. Graham
    I’d thought I’d look into Dr Whitehouse’s background a bit – just to the extent that it’s relevent to this
    debate you understand.
    1. Royal Society Letter
    In September 2006 he wrote to the Royal Society objecting to a letter they’d sent to Exxon. ( for a copy, ignore the editorial around it).
    According to his letter the world’s most prestigious scientific association should not be expressing it’s views
    (ie. it’s consensus views) or “[use] its authority to judge and censor”. In other words, he believes that if he
    disagrees with the Royal Society, then the Royal Society should ‘just shut up and say nothing to contribute to the debate’ [my characterization].
    To be honest, his actions on that occasion strike me as extraordinarily arrogant. The Royal Society are hardly
    a bunch of raving Marxist revolutionaries and is actually one of the most conservative intellectual bodies around.
    They wouldn’t have written that letter if they didn’t mean it, and the views of a single journalist with an attitude
    don’t matter a hill of beans in comparison.
    2. Long held views
    As long ago as 1999 he published ( articles outlining a view that the “sun [is] to blame”. This was not a well supported view at the time and has not gained traction since.
    So Dr Whitehouse is a denialist from wayback, and lacks support where it counts.
    A second point I’d like to make concerns Dr Whitehouse’s claim to special priviledge on the basis of authority.
    Dr Whitehouse may be a “former BBC online science journalist” (who clearly still contributes articles to places such as the Independent Online), but I don’t see a lot of evidence that he is actually a practicing astronomer (neither am I as it happens), or has ever been one.
    I can find no professional let alone peer-reviewed publications of his.
    Furthermore, I don’t really see how a radio astronomer would have much expertise in solar astronomy as radio astronomers generally deal with extra-solar observations (I could be wrong in this particular case).
    But he has definitely been a journalist, possibly freelance these days, and I don’t see how an employed journalist can also be an employed astronomer. In other words, his claims to special expertise are suspect. Lots of people have qualifications in astronomy, but there are very (!) few jobs in astronomy and most end up in other professions. Take Dr Brian May, also a radio astronmer. He ended up as the guitarist in a pop band called ‘Queen’. You may have heard of them. (Not to take anything away from Dr May’s dissertion.)
    Clearly Dr Whitehouse has training and that training would allow him to be well informed. But I can be well informed, and so can you and so can the IPCC. Which is why appeals to authority are weak, because they depend not on the strength of the idea, nor the strength of the authority, but of the strength of the appeal. Which is of course merely emotional.
    In this case I’d back the scientific consensus – extraordinary claims require extraodinary evidence, and apart from
    his PhD, Dr Whitehouse doesn’t have it. Many other qualified and authorative people have seen the same evidence
    he quotes, and have reached opposite conclusions. His evidence is commonplace and not extraordinary.
    Perhaps you should reconsider your support for his ideas, or at least consider contrary views.
    Lastly, let me offer a very personal and perjoritive view. The galaxy (and the universe) is full of variable stars,
    most of them vary grossly over relatively short periods of time. Anyone who thinks that the Sun is one of them
    is wrong. Life could not have gotten established on this planet otherwise. Anyone who then goes on and says that our very stable star has suddenly started after 4 billion odd years to become a significantly variable star is full of it. They’re a crank and a quack.

    Comment by JM — December 15, 2007 @ 4:03 am

  11. JM, I didn’t refuse to publish your comment, it got caught by the spam filter. Because I receive an email everytime a comment comes in I didn’t realise and responded using the email rather than looking at the comments. I’m hardly likely to deliberately keep a comment out and respond to it – that doesn’t make any more sense than the rest of your last comment.
    I see that your basic criticism of Dr Whitehouse is that he doesn’t agree with you and therefore he must be suspect. And as he’s a journalist he can’t be a scientist. So who are you again? Mr Ad Hominem, sorry, I’d forgotten. None of those arguments is a serious one, because serious arguments proceed from facts, not reputations.
    I agree with him about the Royal Society. It is a disgrace that an organisation which should be dedicated to scepticism should try to suppress dissent.
    And just because you disagree with his ideas about the sun doesn’t make him wrong.
    If you were across the science you’d know that there are a number of people working on possible mechanisms for amplifying small radiation signals into temperature. The fact that a correlation appears to exist has to raise questions that need to be investigated. We certainly know that CO2 isn’t the driver – the ice cores are quite clear on that. In the past CO2 concentrations have been determined by temperature, not the other way around.
    In other words, the correlation for CO2 and temperature has been shown not to exist in a strong way, despite us having a mechanism for how CO2 heats atmosphere, while the correlation with sunspot activity is good, but we don’t have a mechanism. More work needs to be done. And that goes for the whole of climate, and people like you, who try to make people conform to an ideologically predetermined position, are an impediment to that happening.

    Comment by Graham Young — December 15, 2007 @ 8:01 am

  12. Hi Graham
    “serious arguments proceed from facts, not reputations”
    I agree, I’ve proceeded from Dr Whitehouse’s facts and disputed his conclusions, as have others.
    “an organisation which should be dedicated to scepticism ”
    The Royal Society is not the International Society of Sceptics, neither is it dedicated to scepticism. From its web page:
    “The Royal Society, the national academy of science of the UK and the Commonwealth, is at the cutting edge
    of scientific progress.
    It supports many top young scientists, engineers and technologists. It influences science policy, it
    debates scientific issues with the public and much more. It is an independent, charitable body which
    derives its authoritative status from its 1400 Fellows and Foreign Members.”
    It’s a national science acadamy, not a sceptics society. If it chooses to ask Exxon to stop funding the spread of
    disinformation it has the right to do so, and given its conservative nature must have felt pretty strongly about
    the issue. In other words, sceptical criticism of non-scientific bodies is not an everyday action of a science
    academy. You should consider the implications.
    “possible mechanisms for amplifying small radiation signals into temperature”
    I’m sorry, but to me this is gibberish (I’ll explain why in a sec). You’re really going to have to provide references for this statement or outline what you’re talking about because I can’t make head nor tail of it.
    Let me explain why:
    – “small radiation signals”. Radiation from the sun is neither small nor a signal.
    – “into temperature” Heat from the sun is infra red radiation. It becomes temperature when the gases
    in the earths atmosphere are excited by it. No ‘mechanism’ is required, it is
    a natural process which we understand very well.
    – “amplifying” Amplification requires the addition of extra energy into the “signal”. Where is
    this extra energy coming from? And if it is large enough to “amplify” the gross
    amounts of infra red emitted by the Sun, how come we don’t experience it in other
    ways already?
    – “possible mechanisms” Do you mean human mechanisms or previously unknown science? I doubt there is
    any previously unknown science that would change our view of the interaction of
    infrared radiation and atmospheric gases in any significant way. On the other hand
    if you mean human action, why would we possibly want the make the situation worse?
    If you provide me with some references, I’ll follow them up. If you’re right, I’ll publicly concede, if not I’ll
    give you my response.
    “the correlation with sunspot activity is good”
    Please explain how an 11 year periodic cycle correlates with a linear increase. You keep insisting on this, but
    never explain or provide references that would help me understand you viewpoint.
    Or you could break out Excel, plug in some data and do a quick calculation to convince me.

    Comment by JM — December 15, 2007 @ 12:54 pm

  13. Dear JM, I’m not going to try to deal with the wall of assertions that you throw up each time, just a couple of the most basic.
    Science is by its nature sceptical. As a scientific organisation the Royal Society must be sceptical. You’re just trying school boy debating tricks with your claim that they’re the “International Society of Sceptics”, and they’re not going to work here.
    I’d also like to deal with some basic science in your post – there’s not much point sending you references if you don’t understand the basics. The earth is warmed not just by the infrared energy that comes from the sun, but through all the radiation that does, whether we are talking about light, electromagnetic or other.
    This is really basic science, and you need to get your head around this before getting into dogmatic assertions about more complicated things, such as how solar activity can be tracked using C14 atoms. This allows us to look at solar activity prior to reliable observations.
    But then again, you dismiss observations on the basis of the person who makes them, so you’re unlikely to be interested in proxies if they don’t support your prejudices.

    Comment by Graham Young — December 15, 2007 @ 4:03 pm

  14. Graham
    I do understand the physics, much better than you do I think. What I need from you is an explanation of your central claim – that sunspots affect the earths climate.
    > Please explain how an 11 year periodic cycle correlates with a linear increase.
    That’s what I don’t understand. Because regardless of any mechanism – known or not – it doesn’t make sense.
    If you can’t back up the central claim, you should withdraw it. Only when you justify that statement does any talk of possible mechanism become valid. Otherwise it’s just fanciful noise.
    Free speech is a right that comes with a responsibility to defend your claims.
    Put up or shut up.

    Comment by JM — December 15, 2007 @ 7:01 pm

  15. JM, I think you’d be scraping to pass 8th grade maths. Let’s just assume for a second that there is a strict 11 year cycle, which doesn’t appear to be exactly the case, frequency doesn’t say anything about amplitude. If you look at the cycle24 website you’ll see that activity each period varies, and there is no dispute that the sun has been unusually active over the last century.
    There is an observed correlation between sunspot activity and global temperature. It’s in the article, and just a quick google will show that it is accepted by just about everyone except you. Michael Mann of Hockey Stick infame even co-authored a paper in Science in December 2001 suggesting a mechanism for how the temperatures of the Maunder Minimum occurred based on solar irradiance.
    But mate, if you can’t get simple facts right like how the sun warms the earth (infrared, you’ve got to be joking), you’re going to have trouble understanding, or accepting any of this.
    You’re the one who came in and criticised me, it’s up to you to come up with a single citation to support what you are saying, and you haven’t, because you can’t.

    Comment by Graham Young — December 15, 2007 @ 9:33 pm

  16. Graham
    Let’s recap. We’re discussing Dr Whitehouse’s claim that (more or less) the sunspot cycle has greatly weakened in the past ten years and that it may have even stopped. This is a pretty remarkable claim for which absolutely no evidence has been offered – by you or him. Dr. Hathaway – who Dr Whitehouse refers to – believes with very good reasons that the next sunspot cycle will be strong. In other words, he contradicts Dr Whitehouse, and Dr Whitehouse is left without evidence.
    You then argue that CO2 related warming might ‘ironically’ be just the thing to warm us in the face of Dr Whitehouse’s projected solar cooling, and therefore keep us in the drought, crop failures, increased bushfires and warm winters that we’ve grown so accustomed to over the last 30 years. Not a great prospect, but if that’s your preference, that’s your preference. I’m not sure many of us share it.
    [BTW apropos of your comments re. ice cores and CO2 not driving global temperature; where is your irony if you don’t believe the effect it depends on – CO2 driven warming – even exists? If the sun, not CO2 drives warming, then if the sun cools we’re in for some global cooling, and our production of CO2 won’t produce the compensating warming will it? You’re completely incoherent.]
    So, we’re arguing about changes over a period of a 2-4 decades, and more particularly the sun’s behaviour over the last 18 months. Amplitude of the
    sunspot cycle has no effect on that timescale. Further your argument is about the frequency of the cycle – specifically that it is about to stop.
    You respond with a single reference to a paper co-authored by the ‘infamous’ Michael Mann regarding northern hemisphere climate changes on a centennial timescale, a paper I’ve read. ( – you could at least provide real references for your citations, and not expect me to do it for you.).
    It concludes that solar forcing can be responsible for no more than 1/3 of the temperature increase since 1970.
    Not a huge lot of support for the sunspot based “it’s the sun wot done it” theory of Dr Whitehouse there. Just flat out irrellevent. The paper is discussing solar irradiance not sunspots, which you have been so insistent on. And unfortunately for your case, other studies ( have shown that there is *no* upward or downward trend in solar output since 1970 – ie. the recent forcing effect is even less than 1/3, possibly zero in fact. So there is no short term trend in solar output and long term large changes in sunspot numbers track – at best – only minor changes in solar output.
    Instead, in support of your ideas you offer this aside:
    “infrared, you’ve got to be joking”
    No I’m not joking. How else do you think heat from the sun gets here? Convection or conduction? I don’t think so. How else do you think increased CO2 causes warming? Does it absorb infrared, or heat daemons? Graham you may not realise it, but this statement is stupid and betrays ignorance. If you want to continue this argument I suggest you get an education first.
    I’m sticking a fork in you, because you’re done.
    You made a claim and despite a lot of wriggling and obsfuscation, you’ve completely failed to back it up.
    You’ve conceded that:-
    – there is no well understood relationship between solar flux and sunspots,
    – your chosen authority is in fact a journalist and not a scientist with working knowledge in the relevent area,
    – the references claimed by your guy either don’t provide support for his views or contradict him.
    You’ve also made and resiled from a number of completely nonsensical statements – one of which I characterized as ‘gibberish’. You failed to respond to my request that you explain what you were talking about, so I concluded that you didn’t know what you were talking about. [I’ve subsequently worked out what you might have been trying to say, but since, apart from your snark, you failed to make or explain the point, I think it’s fair to say that you’re just regurgitating jargon that you have little grasp of.]
    Other statements, misquotes and mischaracterizations I haven’t bothered to rebut because they just demonstrate your ignorance and are a distraction from the main point.
    Throughout you’ve thrown up a barrage of patronizing insults apparently in an attempt to distract and/or provoke me. I’ve ignored them because they aren’t germaine to the debate.
    And yet you still refuse to either back off or back up your claim that sunspots affect the earth’s climate, that we are now entering a period of long term “sunspot shortage” and can therefore expect a cooling. You’ve provided exactly zero supporting evidence. You lack the honesty that is fundamental to science, the ability to admit that you are wrong.
    Stick to politics, real intellectual debate is beyond you.

    Comment by JM — December 16, 2007 @ 1:16 pm

  17. JM, let’s really recap. I did a blog post which posed the question of what the ideal climate might be bouncing off some reporting by Dr David Whitehouse about the possibility of another solar minimum occuring. You’ve been attempting to side-track that discussion with phony arguments about the underlying science. Your first paragraph is a cracker in this respect. No-one has claimed that sunspot activity has “greatly weakened in the last 10 years.” That’s just an invention of yours.
    I’ve checked your references, and as usual they don’t support what you say. For example, the reconstruction of solar irradiance only goes back to 1978. So what is this supposed to say about relative solar activity? How does this sit in terms of the last 100 years? Or three hundred. You need a timescale like that to mount the argument you’re trying to.
    As well there’s roughly three cycles in there, and there is a slight upward trend on the peaks, and this last trough is the weakest and the trend on troughs hasn’t bottomed – exactly what Whitehouse is saying. There is a divergence between previously strong activity and now weaker activity.
    The point about Mann’s paper was not to accept his conclusions, but to point out that even he accepts some influence on climate of solar variation. Much of his work has been concerned with trying to minimise the variations in historical temperature, and I’m not sure why, after the hockey stick, anyone would trust his calculations as to how much warming is due to CO2 and how much to solar activity. He’s invested a lot in pushing CO2 as the primary forcer of climate.
    And so it goes on. You’re just a troll who’s learned to put a veneer of knowledge over your google searches. Good thing you’ve gone.
    The essential question remains – what is the best climate for earth and should we accept that because we grew up with particular settings we should try to preserve them?

    Comment by Graham Young — December 16, 2007 @ 9:12 pm

  18. Well, it’s all moot. Solar cycle 24 is beginning right now:
    I think we can put the lets-engineer-the-weather-and-save-on-the-heating-bills plans back in the Bad Ideas From 1950’s Science Fiction Box.
    C’mon Graham – it was always a dumb idea, let it go.

    Comment by JM — December 17, 2007 @ 10:49 am

  19. JM why are you trying to turn an article which intelligently looked at the issue of optimal temperature into a slugging match about whether the solar cycle will turn up?
    If you read the article you reference it concludes “Just one problem: There is no sunspot. So far the region is just a bright knot of magnetic fields. If, however, these fields coalesce into a dark sunspot, scientists are ready to announce that Solar Cycle 24 has officially begun.” So, no, the cycle hasn’t begun.
    And if you read what Whitehouse has said, he’s not suggesting that Cycle24 won’t turn-up either, but that it will be weaker than previous cycles.
    I don’t have a position on this particular cycle. Whitehouse says this cycle will be weak, Hathaway the cycle after. Everyone appears to agree that solar cycles have an impact and that we’ve just experienced an 8000 year high in solar activity. The odds are that there will be some cooling.
    I do have a position on anonymous posters coming along and trying to deface a site by defaming people and misquoting them. And diverting attention from the issue that is up for debate, which is that, given mankind apparently has an ability to influence climate, shouldn’t we be trying to quantify the upsides and downsides more accurately so as to work out what we ought to do rather than assuming that the last 100 years of so is perfect.

    Comment by Graham Young — December 17, 2007 @ 12:31 pm

  20. Graham
    “Whitehouse has said, he’s not suggesting that Cycle24 won’t turn-up ”
    Oh contraire – that is precisely what he has said. His entire article is built on that “possibility”.
    “Whitehouse says this cycle will be weak, Hathaway the cycle after. ”
    I think we have clearly established that Whitehouse has no better expertise or authority in this matter than you, I or Dr Brian May do. Hathaway, on the other hand does.
    Why am I attacking your thoroughly mistaken ideas on the sunspot cycle? Because they are the basis of your idea of fine-tuning carbon emmissions to create a climate more “suited” to our needs. Or, as I like to put it: we should just go on wrecking the climate and adapt.
    That is not an intelligent idea – it’s silly and impractical. Dumb, in a word.
    Why silly? Let’s look at why a climate different from the one we grew up in just isn’t the greatest thing since the wheel:
    All of our economic and social structures were created and are adapted to the old climate. Change will disrupt those structures and new ones will have to be formed. That change will not be good. We’ve built our societies around the environment and climate that we have. If the climate
    changes, all the efficiencies and structures we have are invalid and go out the window.
    Crop failures, extintions, changes to markets – we already have that. That’s the minimum, the best that we can expect from climate change.
    The maximum is worse, much worse. The sea level *will* rise if the Antarctic and Greenland ice melts. That is undeniable. And most of the worlds population lives on the sea shore (my house is only about 5 meters above sea-level and only 500 meters from the sea). All of those people will have to move, if you think we have problems now with immigration try adapting to a few billion people on the move. You can kiss goodbye to the modern economy.
    Now, do you really want to “fine tune” the level of pain?
    Those of your political persuasion are very quick to decry the economic effects of small changes in the social compact. Why on earth are you so sanguine about massive disruption to the basis of the economy? I don’t think you’ve thought this idea of yours through.
    Why impractical? First let’s examine the assumptions of the idea:
    1. That we want the climate we will have in 30 years when all the harm we’ve done so far stabilizes,
    The climate we have now is measurably deteriorating. Stopping all emmissions right now means it will stabilize in about 30 years, but it will be worse than what we have now.
    I think we can agree that in an ideal world that the climate we have now is not ideal, and the one projected 30 years from now, is not one we would wish for. So, not a desirable outcome.
    2. That can control our CO2 emmissions to the point where we can fine tune them to exactly balance the projected cooling of the sun
    We can cut our emmissions if we try real hard with carbon trading and technology change, but honestly, the suggestion that we can fine tune is just off with the pixies. Any reductions we can effect will be course, uneven and rough.
    Many people criticize the Kyoto process because “we don’t know enough”. Well if we don’t know enough to slam our foot on the brake, we certainly don’t know enough to negotiate the chicanes.
    3. That we understand the workings of the sun well enough to predict it’s behaviour over the next 30 years
    How much do we know about the earth’s climate? Enough to know we’re in trouble, but not enough to satisfy many critics. How much do we know about the sun’s “climate”? Much, much less. We don’t live there and we don’t have anything like the level of data that we have for the earth.
    One thing we do know however:- its has been pretty much the same the last 4.5 billion years or so (with due regard to the long term trends as it moves through it’s life), and when it changes, it changes very slowly.
    Predictions of sudden cooling of even the slightest significance, that fly in the face of all available evidence, are just rubbish.
    4. That we understand the interaction sun’s behaviour with the earth’s climate well enough to predict the effect of any (totally fanciful) changes in the sun on the earth’s climate.
    Do we? The IPCC puts out a series of conservative, consensus based reports and look what happens. Controversy everywhere.
    You and I have just been arguing about it, and have been throwing out references (well I have, you not so much) to research that says that we really don’t know other than in a very rough fashion. We know the direction and the general relationships, but the magnitude is known only as an approximation.
    So where is the science for trading off global warming and solar cooling? The formula (or even approximation) that relates a 0.5% (say) cooling in the sun’s temperature to x% change in the earth’s atmospheric temperature, and then to the effects on sea level, on crops; that we don’t have.
    We need to know that formula if we are to “choose” the climate we want. We need to know a lot more if we are to fine tune that choice.
    We don’t know that formula. All we have is a crude, but very alarming understanding. As I said, we know the direction and approximately
    the magnitude and it’s enough to give any rational person pause.
    Practically speaking, we’re not even within sight of engineering the earth’s climate. Suggestions that we can choose are just science fiction. Fine tuning it to compensate for imagined changes in the sun are the stuff of lunacy.
    Practically? We’re not even there in theory.
    Give it away Graham. It was an idle thought that didn’t stand up to scrutiny. Well meant, but not worth pursuing.

    Comment by JM — December 24, 2007 @ 12:35 am

  21. Au contraire yourself. Here is but one quote from Whitehouse that demonstrates that he isn’t saying that Cycle 24 won’t occur.
    “The first indications that the Sun is emerging from its current sunspot minimum will be the appearance of small spots at high latitude. They usually occur some 12-20 months before the start of a new cycle. These spots haven’t appeared yet so cycle 24 will probably not begin to take place until 2009 at the earliest. The longer we have to wait for cycle 24, the weaker it is likely to be. Such behaviour is usually followed by cooler temperatures on Earth.”
    The press release that you drew my attention to quoting Hathaway where you asserted that Cycle 24 had turned-up actually referred to the “small spots at high lattitude” which Whitehouse refers to above.
    Why do you bother coming back with these clearly wrong assertions? You’re not a good reader, and you don’t understand the science. (I’m still laughing at your claim that the only way the sun’s heat gets to earth is via infrared radiation!).
    My point, which I am getting tired of repeating, is not that you can manage an ideal climate, but that there is no reason to think that the climate that the global warming fundamentalists like you implicitly want to preserve is the best. Further my point is that erring on the side of hotter rather than colder is likely to do mankind a favour.
    If you accept that greenhouse emissions can influence the climate, then you have a responsibility to look at both sides of the equation – the benefits as well as the costs on both sides.
    Some of your last comment is an attempt to look at the costs of global warming, but you tend to overstate the costs. For example, you imply that if we stop greenhouse emissions seas will stop rising. This will only happen if we go back into another ice age. Seas have been rising for all of the Holocene, and show no sign of stopping now. What will change under greenhouse is how quickly seas rise, not whether.
    Likewise your comments about replacing infrastructure arise from a false idea of how infrastructure works. We are constantly replacing infrastructure because it wears out. Global warming might accelerate that obsolescence in some cases, which might cause a cost, but not the full capital cost. It might also bring advantages. When we get to build on greenfields sites we don’t have to make the concessions that we do when we refurbish or retrofit. Being forced to replace obsolete infrastructure can actually lead to a net increase in standard of living.
    Much of this is moot however, because we’re likely to run out of fossil fuel at reasonable cost before we pump too much into the atmosphere. Which is a much bigger concern for me.

    Comment by Graham Young — December 24, 2007 @ 12:14 pm

  22. Graham
    Stop wriggling and look at your headline:
    “Another minimum? What about an optimum?”
    I think I’ve characterized you position fairly when your own headline states it clearly. Nothing about oil there, just flagging a search for a means to engineer an optimum climate in the face of a (projected) new solar minimum.
    Whitehouse (and you) have clearly postulated a cooling of the sun within the next sunspot cycle (11 years), *not* the much longer term and smaller changes in the suns’ output over the long time scales that you’re now trying to bring into play. Time scales much longer than that encompassed by CO2 forcing.
    If there was a goal post moving award, you’d win it.
    The following two statements from Whitehouse are untrue:
    1. “The longer we have to wait for cycle 24, the weaker it is likely to be.”
    No. He’s basing this (I think) on some research from a few years ago that suggested that the intensity of the sunspot cycle was related to variations in its length. That research has be overtaken and is now not taken seriously. Hathaway’s research and methods on the other hand have been shown to have far more predictive power, and his observations show a strong cycle 24, not a weak one. About the only person who disagrees is Whitehouse.
    2. “Such behaviour is usually followed by cooler temperatures on Earth.”
    Yeah? When, where? None of our data over the last 400 years (ie. since the Maunder Minimum) supports this. Why?
    Because there has been no decrease in solar output since the Maunder Minimum, just a very steady (but slight) rise since then.
    This was paralleled by very slight rises in the earths temperature up until 1970. (It took off pretty fast after that without corresponding rises in solar output – that’s the CO2 forcing at work). We have no basis for saying that a weak sunspot cycle is followed by colder climates – you’re just making this stuff up.
    Now regarding infra red. Perhaps you could explain why you think it’s irrelevent. (Perhaps you could even outline your understanding of what infrared radiation is – because I have my doubts that you have any real idea.)
    The major components of the suns spectrum affecting the earths atmosphere are microwave (which tends to heat water vapour), ultra-violet (which affects the upper atmosphere particularly in the production of ozone) and infrared. Visible light doesn’t do much because the atmosphere is transparent at those wavelengths.
    The spectrum peaks at about 6000K which means the solar output is about 50/50 infrared and visible, with smaller amounts of UV and microwave energy. To a first approximation just under 1/2 of the suns output is infrared. Are you suggesting we ignore that? What should we pay attention to – in your view? Visible? Which has little warming effect. UV. Which warms the upper atmosphere, but there isn’t much of it and the relationship with climate is unclear. Microwave? Of which there is even less, and which warms water vapour a bit. Or infrared. Which is strongly absobed by CO2 and related to atmospheric temperature and responsible for most of it.
    As far as CO2 forcing is concerned, only infrared is relevent.
    Tell me again why you think infrared is funny.
    Now this solar variance thing of yours. Let’s put it in perspective. Over the course of the 11 year (nominal) sunspot cycle the sun’s output varies by about 0.1%. Not much. And the variation over 400 years since the Maunder Minimum? Not a lot more, maybe 0.3% (and that’s on the high side).
    Contrast this with the variance in solar energy arriving at the top of the earths atmosphere between January (when the earth is closest to the sun) and July (when it is furthest). That amounts to about 7%. Nearly 2 orders of magnitude greater than that over the sunspot cycle and a little greater than 1 order of magnitude over the variation since the Maunder Minimum.
    In other words, every 6 months we experience nearly 70 times the variation in solar forcing than we get from the sunspot cycle, and a little over 10 times the variation since the Maunder Minimum.
    Since we don’t get mini ice ages every year, I think we can agree that even in the (unlikely) event of a sudden new minimum the effect on climate would be minimal compared to what we experience in the normal turn of the seasons.
    So even if a new Maunder Minimum were to turn up tommorrow – which is unlikely because a 400 year steady rise would most likely be “corrected” by a steady decline at a similar rate); we would experience no more change in the climate than that between the 1st and 3rd weeks of January. I don’t think we’d even notice it. (Granted if it persisted over 70 years, then the climate would respond, but over say 5 years or less? Nup)
    Now, one last point about the Maunder Minimum and the cooler weather experienced. That cooler weather was only reliably documented in Europe – ie. at high latitudes in the northern hemisphere and we have no reliable documentation from other parts of the earth.
    This is relevent for several reasons:-
    1. High latitudes means that the effect of solar variance is amplified in those regions. Although the earths total solar input varies due to the season by 7%, in high lattitudes the variation is greater because the suns radiation is less direct. So very tiny falls in solar irradiance that will go unnoticed at the equator, can have more significant effects in England and Scandanavia. This means that the whole solar irradiance/cooler weather effect of the Maunder Minimum is an exaggeration of what happened across the world as a whole.
    However, engineering climate using CO2 *would* apply across the whole world – indiscrimanantly. ie. if we balanced the effects for Europe, we’d fry the equatorial and near equatorial regions. And that’s where we grow wheat and other staple crops.
    2. Because we don’t have records for the remainder of the world, we don’t know what the climatic effect was there. We don’t have any basis for determining what the effects of your suggested climatic engineering would be.
    Now about sea-level rises. These can be very serious and relatively rapid. For example, about 14,000 years ago the seas rose by about 20m over a few hundred years (the event is called the “Meltwater pulse 1A” if you’re interested). This is believed to be related to the melting of an ice shelf in Antartica over that period.
    This was followed by a much larger (about 60m), but slower rise in sea levels that occured about 9,000 years ago. It was also caused by melting land ice. That also was a slow rise due to a slow melt.
    Sea levels have been quite stable over the last 8000 years – rising a bit but only about 1-2m over the whole period. Far from showing “no signs of stopping” they essentially stopped 8000 years ago. The rises since the last ice age were in discontinuous bursts up until about the start of recorded history, and little since.
    We are now observing – not postulating – observing, very rapid melting in both Greenland and Antartica that is possibly more extensive and certainly faster than either of those events. What we are faced with looks more and more like a tipping point where there is sudden discontinuous change. If we get that, we will see large rises over short periods of time.
    If that is the case then any arguments about renewing infrastructure are just palliatives, nostrums and canards. The disruption will be real and probably pretty rapid. We won’t have time to rebuild while we slowly retreat. 20 years ago the “North West Passage” was a 19thC fantasy, today it is opening up. 20 years ago no one cared about oil exploration rights in the arctic, now the US is trying to muscle Canada into giving them up. 20 years ago a trip to the north pole required sleds and huskies, now you can go on a cruise ship in summer.
    Do you really think we can just move and rebuild our coastal cities and the connecting transport every 25, 50 or 100 years? Without economic cost? Replacing infrastructure as it wears out is one thing, moving the whole damn lot of it somewhere else is another thing entirely.
    While it is normal to discount an investment over 20 years, no investor expects it to be worthless at the end of that time. They expect to go on extracting value from it much longer. That’s why highways are expected to last for 40-50 years, skyscrapers are built with expected lifetimes of around 80 years and so on. How about your house? Most of its value is in the location which is derived from the surrounding infrastructure. Do you seriously suggest you’d take out a 30 year mortgage on a location that will be worthless when you pay it off? No. You expect to go on living in it cost free in the latter phase of your life so you can devote your income to other things.
    Lastly, I’m getting a bit sick of you slanging me off. I am not a fundamentalist. I am simply someone who studied this stuff back in the 1970’s when we called it the “Greenhouse Effect”. I’m simply someone who can read the evidence, has read the evidence, and can evaluate it free of cant. Graham, this isn’t rocket science. It is well and long established fact. And it is really easy to understand.
    Contrary to an earlier assertion of yours, the mark of science is not scepticism, rather it is the ability to change one’s mind in the face of the evidence. Are you capable of that?
    Oh one more thing. “Much of this is moot however, because we’re likely to run out of fossil fuel at reasonable cost before we pump too much into the atmosphere.” Wrong.
    You’ve no doubt heard of peak oil. It means that we’re at the half way point. We’ve burned half of the oil, and have half to go (although we’ll burn the last half much faster than the first). What that means, is that we have done only half the damage we’re capable of, and that we are about to go on a rampage with the last half. The remaining oil is not some inconsequential small amount, it’s 50% of the available fuel. It’s just that because of China, India and the rest we are going to burn it up pretty damn fast.
    Second point: “reasonable cost”. Compared to what exactly? No readily available energy that is easy to extract and cheap to transport in convenient liquid form? What should we go back to? Wood? Human and animal power like cow driven flour mills and water pumps like they used to use in China and India?
    I will make you a bet. Compared to that we will find that oil at any price is “reasonable”.

    Comment by JM — December 25, 2007 @ 12:49 am

  23. JM, just give us all a rest. I’m sorry you didn’t have anything better to do with your time on Christmas morning than post this nonsense.
    You claimed way back down in the thread that the only way that the Sun’s heat reached the earth was via infrared. “Heat from the sun is infra red radiation. It becomes temperature when the gases in the earths atmosphere are excited by it.”
    That statement is flat wrong.
    You try to cover your tracks in the previous post by referring just to warming of the atmosphere. I’m not particularly interested in the atmosphere on its own. The earth is heated by light across the spectrum and the atmosphere captures and re-radiates some of it that is re-radiated from the earth as infrared. You’ve obviously done a google search and boned-up, although not well enough, but it’s a pretty lame debating point to suddenly try and limit yourself to talking about the atmosphere only.
    But at least you now seem to accept that it’s not just infrared that heats the earth, so we’re making some progress.
    So, as you’re into grudging concessions, perhaps you could concede the point of my post – if you’re going to talk about reducing carbon dioxide levels it’s reasonable to ask what the optimal level ought to be. Now before you go off and misrepresent me again, I should point out that an optimal level of CO2 does not imply that temperature will always be pleasant. I assume you’re not suggesting a zero level of C02 as being the appropriate level, and if that’s the case, then you must have some thoughts on a greater than zero figure.

    Comment by Graham Young — December 26, 2007 @ 9:28 pm

  24. > I’m sorry you didn’t have anything better to do with your time on Christmas morning
    That’s ‘cos I prepare them beforehand, fact check them, and post them when I have a spare minute.
    Graham, when I’m wrong I concede, what do you do?
    I’ve been wondering what it would take to make you see the error of your thinking. How about a quote from your mainmain Dr. Whitehouse?
    “In principle the greenhouse effect is simple. Gases like carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere absorb outgoing infrared radiation from the earth’s surface causing some heat to be retained.
    Consequently an increase in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases from human activities such as burning fossil fuels leads to an enhanced greenhouse effect. Thus the world warms, the climate changes and we are in trouble.
    The evidence for this hypothesis is the well established physics of the greenhouse effect itself and the correlation of increasing global carbon dioxide concentration with rising global temperature. ” Dr. David Whitehouse, author of ‘Sun: A Biography’, New Statesman, 19 December 2007.
    So infrared is responsible after all. Now we have that little contretemps out of the way, lets cut to the chase.
    In that same article, Dr. Whitehouse goes off the rails a couple of paragraphs later when he says:
    “For the past decade the world has not warmed. Global warming has stopped.”
    [See I’m fair, I don’t cherry pick quotations or misrepresent peoples views – unlike Dr. Whitehouse’s article in the The Independent and the quote mining he does on Dr. Hathaway.]
    This statement is just flat out untrue, and is simple denialist garbage. It also assumes the conclusion that he wants the reader to reach.
    It relies on the fact that 1998 was the hottest year on record and subsequent years have been cooler.
    It also relies on that very reliable statistical technique (not) of “eyeballling” the data, rather than using all that fancy, namby-pamby mathematical stuff called statistical analysis. I think you were guilty of the same a little while ago when you pointed out the maxima and minima points in the tempreture series since 1998. Maxima and minima don’t matter so much, what matters is the average and the trend.
    Unfortunately, things don’t work out quite so well if you do a straight line fit to the data points – ie. use a technique, that although simple, is actually scientifically and mathematically valid. If you do that, the “cooling” dissappears and the continued warming over the last decade is quite clear. 1998 is simply an outlier. (Try it in Excel, the data series are publically available on the web.)
    More sophisticated and careful analysis makes it even clearer, and the warming is present regardless of the base year, 1998 or any other. We’ve not just had a linear increase, we’ve had an acceleration. There are a couple of really good expositions of this at Open Mind ( and The good Dr. W even gets a guernsey as some of his other denialist propaganda is quoted .
    I suggest you take the time to read them
    . I await your concession.

    Comment by JM — December 27, 2007 @ 5:36 pm

  25. Sorry Graham, you asked me a question and I didn’t answer it.
    “it’s reasonable to ask what the optimal level [of CO2] ought to be.”
    I think I addressed this a couple of days ago. The optimal level is the level (or range rather) that sustains the climate we are evolved for and in which we have constructed our lives and economies.
    The climate appears to go through phase changes (what is popularly called “tipping points”), rather than gradual linear evolution. This shouldn’t be surprising in a complex system.
    Therefore we don’t have the luxury of choice. We don’t know where the phase boundaries are, but we are clearly getting near one when you look at the melting of very old ice combined with very rapid climate forcing.
    Any idea of choice is like “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin”. Intellectually stimulating in some contexts, but entirely irrellevent to the main event.

    Comment by JM — December 27, 2007 @ 6:26 pm

  26. JM, I see you’re still trying to avoid the infrared issue. I well understand how the “greenhouse” effect works. The issue is how the sun’s energy gets here, not what happens after it does. You stated categorically that it only got here as infrared, which is garbage.
    Not the only thing you have problems with. On what basis can a peak in temperature be a “statistical outlier”? You’re misusing statistical analysis, that’s if you really have any understanding of it. Certainly using a straight line fit is a nonsense as it depends far too much on where you start and end. It could quite easily still show an “up trend” when temperature had been declining for quite some time.
    I notice you’ve dodged the issue of what the level of greenhouse gases ought to be. What is the range? And what is the climate that you consider we are “evolved for”? Does that include ice ages?
    Or will you just label any intelligent assessment of the issues as “denialist” again? (BTW, my understanding is that Whitehouse believes in the greenhouse effect, so I’m vaguely amused at your continual branding him as a “denialist” because he reports some things that you don’t agree with.)

    Comment by Graham Young — December 30, 2007 @ 3:26 pm

  27. “Certainly using a straight line fit is a nonsense as it depends far too much on where you start and end.”
    You obviously haven’t tried it. Even if you use 1998 as a base year, you still get an upward trend, not downward.
    In any case, the choice of base year doesn’t affect linear regression, only naive, ignorant fits apparently used by the likes of Dr. Whitehouse where you draw a line from the first number to the last and ignore all the ones in between.
    Pick any 10 year series since 1970. 1971, 1972, 1977, 1997, 1998 – I don’t care.
    You’ll always get an upward trend.
    The NASA data is available here: (It’s a small file)
    I’ve extracted the 1970-2006 annual (January-December) averages, converted to absolute Celcius as outlined at the end of the file, and pasted them to the end of this message. Should make it easier for you.
    Cut ‘n paste to Excel, create a line chart and add a linear regression trend line. (Click on the chart, select “Chart->Add Trendline” from the top menu.) Easy, shouldn’t take more than a minute.
    1998 was hot because there was a very strong El Nino effect that year. 2005 was just as hot, if not hotter.
    Whether you object to me calling it an outlier or not, is something I don’t really care about. The result is never cooling, always warming.
    I’ve been very clear on what’s an acceptable level of Co2 – one that doesn’t destroy our economies or our food chains.
    The 1C we’ve had since 1900 is threatening both of those. The extra degree or two we have in the pipeline risks much greater damage.
    Burning the rest of the oil and getting another 4-6 degrees is very risky.
    Come back and tell me when you’ve found the elusive cooling. It isnt’ there. The likes of Dr. Whitehouse are educated and should know better. They are deceiving you.
    NASA Giss Land-Ocean Temperature, Annual Degrees Celcius
    Year Avg Temp
    1970 14.03
    1971 13.9
    1972 14
    1973 14.14
    1974 13.92
    1975 13.95
    1976 13.84
    1977 14.13
    1978 14.02
    1979 14.09
    1980 14.18
    1981 14.27
    1982 14.05
    1983 14.26
    1984 14.09
    1985 14.06
    1986 14.13
    1987 14.27
    1988 14.31
    1989 14.19
    1990 14.38
    1991 14.35
    1992 14.12
    1993 14.14
    1994 14.24
    1995 14.38
    1996 14.3
    1997 14.4
    1998 14.57
    1999 14.33
    2000 14.33
    2001 14.48
    2002 14.56
    2003 14.55
    2004 14.49
    2005 14.62
    2006 14.54

    Comment by JM — December 30, 2007 @ 6:27 pm

  28. JM, you are effectively confusing averages with absolutes. If I put my oven on to warm to 100 degrees, which it takes 10 minutes to do, and then turn it down to 70 degrees for the next 2 minutes and then increase it to 90 for the next 8 minutes you will get a straight line trend for whatever 10 year period you choose that says temperature is increasing.
    That won’t take away from the fact that it peaked at 100 degrees. The average temperature will be higher after the peak than before, but the average doesn’t tell you much about the peak.
    The reason that the trend line will still be up from 100 degrees is that I dipped temperature below the final point just after it. If I hadn’t done that, then the trend line would be different, and if temperature stays at around the current level for long enough, or goes a little bit longer, and you take a longer term view, then the trend will have actually been down. Illustrating my point about the problems with trend lines and where they start and finish.
    And irrespective, the trend line can’t take away from the fact that it was never hotter than 100 degrees, even though the average was higher after 100 than before.
    You’re the one who is deceiving yourself! Assuming this is more than an exercise in discovering what Excel has to offer in the way of charting software.

    Comment by Graham Young — December 31, 2007 @ 1:03 pm

  29. Graham
    “… you are effectively confusing averages with absolutes.”
    I have no idea what this means. Until you explain it in detail I will treat it as the gibberish that it appears to be. You’re making the claim, you make the case. If I’m wrong, I’ll concede.
    “If I put my oven on to warm to …”.
    I don’t give a stuff about your oven or an artificial example (from which you draw a fantasy conclusion). I care about the real world. Which has real data I gave you and you’ve ignored in favor of made-up cooking lessons.
    Let’s discuss the real data, not made-up stuff that might or might not be “like” the real thing. Back in reality land, things are a bit more serious than that.
    Now that you’ve run the numbers I presume you know there is no cooling of the climate, only warming. Thank you for conceding that at least.
    Let’s get real:- 2005 was as hot or hotter than 1998. 1998 was not a peak, just a way-point.
    The same as all other “peaks” like 1970 (14.03C), 1973 (14.14C), 1981(14.27C), 1990 (14.38C), 1998 (14.57C) and 2005 (14.62C). Note the trend. Run the whole dataset and it’s confirmed:- warming at a consistent rate of 0.017C per year since 1970. Since 1996, warming at 0.019C per year – an acceleration, not a stand-still, and certainly no cooling.
    If there is no cooling, as you now concede (because you want to talk about ovens instead), there is no basis for your blog posting. And there is also no point. There can be no trade-off between CO2 and cooling if there is no cooling to begin with. Which is what I said originally.
    You could at least be gracious instead of covering your ego.
    If you persist in this “cooling” nonsense of yours now that you clearly understand it to be false, you have no integrity. Intellectual, scientific, economic, political or otherwise.

    Comment by JM — January 1, 2008 @ 3:04 am

  30. Yep, average was the wrong word to use, but I think you are deliberately missing the point. There were some cool years just after 1998 which cause the trend line to be upwards. Because the line is set using every value in the array it is not an appropriate way to say when a peak was reached. And because of the method of calculating a best fit linear trend line, the two cool years have a disproportionate effect on the result.
    Note that you don’t want to deal with the thought experiment because it illustrates that you are using inappropriate techniques, and prefer to deal with the “real” data. In which case, where are you taking your data from? If 2005 was warmer than 1998 we wouldn’t be having this argument, but it wasn’t. So what’s your source?

    Comment by Graham Young — January 2, 2008 @ 10:57 pm

  31. >using every value in the array it is not an appropriate way to say when a peak was reached.
    In your method, yes, but not in the method I proposed which uses a moving 10 year set, thereby avoiding the rookie mistake. You use every value, I only use the most recent ones so I can see if there have been changes in the trend. The technique is perfectly applicable, yours is not.*
    > the two cool years have a disproportionate effect on the result.
    I agree, but only if you’re using fake data, and making the rookie mistake – which you are – of never moving the start point. If you use a shifting window of 10 years like I did, those “cool years” drop out and you get a realistic picture of behaviour over the last 10 years.
    Which is your point isn’t it? That recently the warming has stopped? We have to exclude older data if we are to see any recent cooling. I’ve done exactly that so I can be fair to your argument. (“Give it a fair shake rather than artificially rigging it my way”, you might say.)
    But guess what? We don’t. The warming trend has not stopped.
    And if you don’t like 10 years as a window, try 5 (at the cost of greater error) – it’s still shows increasing temperature. Hell, let’s really push out the boat – try 3 if you must (I wouldn’t), 2 would be ridiculous. Every option – long and accurate, or short and error-prone – shows increasing temperature, not a stand-still and not a decrease.
    > If 2005 was warmer than 1998 we wouldn’t be having this argument, but it wasn’t.
    It was. 1998 was not a peak.
    >So what’s your source?
    NASA. They call it “GISStemp” because it comes from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and is the “GLOBAL Land-Ocean Temperature Index”. It measures average global temperature.
    But you really didn’t have to ask, I told you in my previous comment:- “The NASA data is available here: (It’s a small file)”. Nobody disputes this dataset, and nearly everybody uses it. (Some prefer the Hadley Center data which is only triflingly different.).
    I even extracted a subset and posted it in a comment so you could see it, and check for yourself. I assume you did that? Right?
    Your argument is in shreds Graham. Concede.
    * But if you want to argue against the whole mathematical, scientific, public policy and business community – everybody really – that a standard technique invented by Gauss, one of the greatest mathematicians who ever lived, precisely to get rid of the problem of starting and ending points, and used in almost every data analysis of any kind for every purpose since the early 19th century, is wrong? Be my guest. I wouldn’t even have time to buy popcorn, that’s how long you’d last.

    Comment by JM — January 3, 2008 @ 3:45 am

  32. Yes, but youre method is wrong. No-one is arguing that there hasn’t been an increase in temperature during the last century, or even the last half century. We’re not talking about trends, we’re talking about whether there has been a hotter temperature since 1998.
    Trend analysis can’t define a peak.
    And it wasn’t invented by Gauss to eliminate the problem of starting and end points but to predict future values based on past values in a linear model. It was used to predict the paths of celestial bodies in the first place without solving the more difficult equations to do this exactly.
    I thought you were using NASA, which is probably the only data-set to show 2005 this high. According to NASA, because of the sampling error, 2005 and 1998 are actually “dead heats”. They admit to some pretty interesting techniques which lead to the higher potential measuring error, such as estimating Arctic temperature up to 1200 kms away from temperature stations! That’s the distance from Brisbane to Cairns.
    I think you need to do a bit more googling in these areas to get your head around some fundamental science concepts like measurement error. BTW, it’s normal to state temperatures as an anomaly against the average of the period 1961 to 1990. It doesn’t make any difference to your figures, but just further confirms that whatever training you might have is not in this area.
    I’m going to terminate this discussion. It’s completely pointless and taking up too much of my time. If you want to get some better understanding of some of the underlying concepts by arguing with others you’ll have to use someone else’s blog at least until I post something else on global warming. All that appears to be happening here is that you’re trying to distract from real points by arguing about red herrings. No-one is arguing that trends aren’t valuable, or that the world hasn’t got hotter. The question posed was what are the climate risks to mankind, how does CO2 play a part, and to what level should we reduce it, or might it be better even to have a little more of it. The fact that 1998 was the hottest year yet was not really particularly germaine to the whole argument.

    Comment by Graham Young — January 3, 2008 @ 6:54 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.