July 29, 2013 | Graham

ABC methane madness flouts reality

The ABC has been running alarmist reports from a Nature paper that suggests methane released from the  Arctic permafrost could cause $60 trillion worth of damage to the economy.

I’m watching Emma Alberici on Lateline, and surprisingly, she’s actually putting some criticisms of the paper to one of the authors. That’s not the Emma I expected to see.

Perhaps that is because real life is starting to fracture the simplistic fairytale version of climate change touted by any number of rent-seeking scientists. Climate change establishment figures like Richard Tol and Gavin Schmidt are prepared to criticise rubbish, and ABC researchers can access them on the Internet, including Twitter.

As the Arctic, in relatively recent history, has been much warmer and colder than it is at the moment, you’d have to say that the real historical model we have suggests there is nothing much to worry about, even if the temperature increase claims of the authors of this paper are borne out.

Chances are that they won’t be.

Steve McIntyre at Climate Audit has been looking at history too. In his case, historical models of CO2 forcing. One of the early 20th Century investigators of the phenomenon, Guy Callendar, developed a simple mathematical model which ignores things like water vapour forcing (which makes up the majority of the presumed temperature increase from CO2 emissions).

It turns out that Callendar’s model outperforms 10 out of the 12 climate models that McIntyre benchmarked it against, and ties with the other two.

In today’s post, I’ll describe Callendar’s formula in more detail. I’ll also present skill scores for global temperature (calculated in a conventional way) for all 12 CMIP5 RCP4.5 models for 1940-2013 relative to simple application of the Callendar formula. Remarkably, none of the 12 GCM’s outperform Callendar and 10 of 12 do much worse.

Not only that, but it suggests that global temperature may be less sensitive to CO2 emissions than the IPCC reports suggest.

So why are we spending so much money on “sophisticated” climate models which have less skill than the most basic ones? And why are we basing so much government policy on them?

There are a number of reasons for this, but the strongest one is that we humans like the idea of certainty, and we like the idea we can actually know the future.

Denser, less comprehensible models convince us that we are getting more predictability and certainty, when the opposite is often the case.

That’s certainly my experience in building financial and business models. But I’ve rarely found the results to be much better than back of the envelope calculations, apart from when it comes to persuading bankers to part with their cash.

So, when I talk about skill in a model, I’m not talking about its ability to predict, but to persuade. Why should climate change be any different?

Oh, and my back of the envelope calculations are generally pretty good!

Posted by Graham at 11:21 pm | Comments (16) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. Great observations Graham. I wonder why for a story that was published only 5 days ago on the ABC website, you get “Comments for this story are no longer available. ABC policy is to delete comments on stories three months after they are published.”

    Comment by Gavin G — July 30, 2013 @ 12:48 am

  2. Can’t see how tbe scientists are wrong. Lots of evidence from many sources that the ice is melting the methane is being released and extreme weather events are Increasing

    Comment by Ronda Jambe — July 30, 2013 @ 2:09 am

  3. Graham,

    What qualifications do you have in climatology? To each his own trade.

    I doubt that the level of sophistication of financial modelling would approach that of the research undertaken by climate scientists–I’m a business school graduate BTW.

    Climate change denial is essentially a political phenomenon, it’s another example of industry attempting to transfer the cost of externalities onto the taxpayers.

    Ronda Jambe,

    Yes, indeed,u the science is best left to the scientists.

    Comment by RussellW — July 30, 2013 @ 12:50 pm

  4. Certainty? There is hardly anything more certain than evidence based research, or that some woolly headed ignoramuses will choose to ignore or deny it.
    Nor is it possible to reduce a complex set of computer generated equations, into something simple.
    I also listened to Emma and felt she extracted plausible evidence, that the ice is melting, the methane is being released in an hitherto unknown and alarming manner.
    The 60 trillion was an averaged number, with the worst case scenario somewhere north of 250 trillion. The best only marginally better.
    While one can rubbish the conclusions drawn in the modelling, it is not possible to do the same with the collected evidence/scientific data.
    Methane is not Co2, is over twenty times more efficacious than Co2 as a green house gas, hangs around in the atmosphere for over a decade, and as a lighter than air gas, also performs its relatively modest radiation trapping feats at much higher and vastly more dangerous altitude.
    Even so, repeatable science identifies increased and increasing atmospheric moisture as the climate change culprit, trapping most of the additional trapped heat. Which then evaporates more moisture, in an endless exponentially expanding example.
    The last time the tundra completely melted, was around ninety million years ago?
    The amount of methane released, (a finite amount and around five times current atmospheric averages as the total possible?) forced ambient temperatures up by a further 3C, or around 5C in total.
    The end result of a rise of 5C in total, was according to the palaeoecological record, (evidence) the almost complete annihilation of all life on planet earth!
    It’s not an example worth repeating, just to examine, (prove or disprove) the conclusions drawn by climate scientists. (I don’t want to burn my house down, just to prove much of it is built out of highly flammable material!)
    Particularly, when we have the means to avoid repeating an historical example.
    Moreover, the changes we need to adopt, can actually and quite dramatically improve our economic performance and prospects. [There’s nothing to fear in the changes, unless you’re part of the international cartel, (destroying energy dependant economies) supplying ever increasingly expensive fossil fuels to the world?]
    i.e.,Change like NG/methane reduced to much lower cost electricity, via the locally invented, world’s best energy coefficient, (72%) methane consuming ceramic fuel cell should be welcomes rather than feared or mindlessly resisted.
    The reaction is a chemical one rather than combustion, meaning the exhaust products are mostly water vapour, not too difficult to simply condense and collect as pristine potable water.
    And we could earn literal trillions, mass producing CNG powered, ceramic cell driven, electric motor vehicles, that comepletely overcome the range reducing recharge.
    Why, CNG powered ceramic fuel cell combinations, may even allow trains, trams and trolley buses, to ply road and railways, without the obligatory and hugely expensive, and extremely dangerous, overhead wires!
    Another local innovation, (smell free two tank system) converts all our biological waste into methane, which can be scrubbed and stored in simple bladders, and used in ceramic fuel cells; to provide virtually free, on demand electricity; and free hot water.
    We can also convert to cheaper than coal thorium.
    We have huge reserves and could power the world for six hundred years!
    Or alternatively, covert smoke stack emission into bio-fuel, just via the simplicity of closed cycle companion algae farming. Now that’s what I call clean coal, and at a significant additional profit.
    [Watch $10.00 a litre on Thursday night, just to see where we are headed, without change. And, I’ve seen estimates that price algae based fuel types at just 45 cents a litre.] Which is as simple as sun-drying and crushing to extract ready to use diesel and or jet fuel.
    And yes that’s somewhere in the future.
    Further and further in the future if the four trillion plus a year, fossil fuel industry, can convince us that this is only potentially possible in a far flung future, or somewhere over the rainbow! Ditto, complete self sufficiency!
    We also have the option, in the interim, of relying almost exclusively, on locally sourced traditional fuel supplies. i.e., Australian sweet light crude and or natural gas. Gas is good because it can be consumed in fuel cells, which create mostly water vapour as the exhaust product.
    And, Australian sweet light crude traditionally leaves the ground, as a virtually ready to use sulphur free diesel, needing just a little insitu chill filtering to remove some sand particles; and a soluble wax content that creates black smoke; and or, fouls the injectors on cold and frosty mornings.
    Further, according to some published industry experts, we may have reserves to our immediate north to rival or even eclipse the entire known reserves of the increasingly volatile Middle East! A potential bonanza, we may only ever realise, if we explore and having found it, exploit and export it!
    The end result of choosing virtually ready to use traditional Australian sweet light crude, is a fuel type that produces four times less Co2 in use, than fully imported and highly refined fuels; simply put, is four times less Co2 emission.
    NG or LPG, (gas well condensate) even less!
    Exploring exploiting and exporting those products, if they bear out the prognostications of a number of published industry experts, would likely force the shut down/mothballing of most of the Russian oil fields, Canadian tar sand production, and or most shale oil and gas production.
    In the first instance, wherever that occurred, to reiterate, we’d reduce total Co2 emission by around or over 75%.
    Now someone somewhere is going to explain to me, how that is a very bad thing; or that it’s not really Co2 emission and or ocean acidification that’s destroying our reef, or together with crown of thorns star fish, has already killed off over half of it!
    I mean, is pragmatism and true conservationism mutually exclusive ideals, or forever banned by mostly mindless, manifestly moronic, moribund, maniacal green, carved in rock, thou shalt nots?
    Alan B Goulding.

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — July 30, 2013 @ 1:00 pm

  5. If it’s not mythane, yourthane, it must be me-thane or verbal flatulence, that once again enters the debate of AGW,in which the supposed reality of global warming has not been realised.

    Extreme weather does not = global warming. Cognitive dissonance I suspect.

    Comment by Ross — July 30, 2013 @ 7:00 pm

  6. So RussellW, what qualifications in climatology do you have? Perhaps we should just allow mining engineers and geologists to decide where and how we mine or extract gas and oil. Would you be happy with that? Afterall, if only those with “qualifications” by which I assume you mean “formal qualifications” are allowed to have a view, then climatologists ought to stick to climate, enviromentalists ought to stick to I’m not sure what, and geolgists and mining engineers ought to stick to mining. All seems perfectly reasonably, chaotic, impractical and utterly useless to me.

    Comment by Graham — July 30, 2013 @ 11:37 pm

  7. “So RussellW, what qualifications in climatology do you have?”

    None whatsoever, which is the point of my comments.

    You’re using a straw man argument by conflating two issues, first there’s the technical and financial calculations that mining companies need to make, then there are externalities e.g pollution or social dislocation and loss of productive agricultural land which require different criteria. So a reasonable conclusion could be that, while technically feasible, a project should not proceed on environmental grounds. However you’re dissenting on technical grounds.

    A more accurate analogy for climate change scepticism would be if opponents of a particular project, with no appropriate qualifications, claimed that mining engineers and geologists were incompetent and that their assessments of mineral resources were wrong. That is quite a different issue from opposition on environmental grounds or simply ” Not in my Backyard” (which is a reasonable objection in my opinion).

    Another problem is that the anthropogenic climate change hypothesis is associated with the Left and, for many conservatives, therefore tainted.

    People are entitled to express an opinion on climate change, quantum physics or any subject they chose. I’m also sceptical in relation to climate change– I don’t think much remedial action will be taken until most of the smart money moves to low CO2 emitting industries, and capital can slow the process by fighting a very effective rearguard action. It will probably be far too late.

    Comment by RussellW — July 31, 2013 @ 11:20 am

  8. It is indeed far too late. In no other area of science is the research so rejected. Much has been written a out the parallels with the smoking companies a d their denials.

    Comment by ronda jambe — July 31, 2013 @ 4:01 pm

  9. ronda,

    Manufacturers of dangerous products have used various delaying tactics since the start of the Industrial Revolution, 250 years ago, there’s a long history.

    Comment by RussellW — July 31, 2013 @ 4:58 pm

  10. Well Russell, when people arguing against you resort to smear you’ve obviously won the debate. So I’ll chalk up a win on this one.

    BTW, I’m quite happy to say that mining engineers are wrong. Investors do that all the time. That’s why I sold my shares in Geodynamics. They’re making it up as they go and the project – geothermal power – isn’t a goer.

    The science behind climate change is not complicated and you should try to understand it and you’d realise that most of what people call “the science” is either cherry-picked, greatly exaggerated, wrong or not even scientific.

    For example we are frequently told (most recently in my case by Peter Singer in an ABC radio podcast) that “the science” says extreme weather events will increase because of global warming. In fact, while some scientists might say that, the IPCC doesn’t actually support them.

    “The science” is just another rhetorical device to close debate down, as are allegations of links to tobacco. Another sign you’ve lost the debate.

    Comment by Graham — August 1, 2013 @ 8:46 am

  11. Geothermal powe

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — August 1, 2013 @ 9:02 am

  12. Thinking within a fixed circle of ideas limits the questions, and therefore by definition, the answers; and by implication, all the available choices.
    Geothermal power is a goer, if you start with very hot water. Injecting cold water means additional heat is required to bring it up to useful temperature, and that often means very deep holes and lots of expensive lateral drilling?
    And that then poses another inherent problem, heat loss on the long way back up.
    There’s a coal fired power station in the hunter, which reduces coal use and therefore carbon production, by preheating its boiler water with a solar thermal array.
    Some examples also include a giant Thermos flasks, which then maintain power generating temperatures for up to 36 hours. Perhaps geothermal could take a leaf out of that book and preheat their water with solar thermal?
    Currently, geothermal seems to be earning most of its money via very generous Govt. funding/subsidies?
    Which then seems to result in endless or interminable delays and hands extended for more and more Govt. funding?
    Coincidently Graham, as you may note from comment 11 above, you or your program started editing/censoring my comment on the quite spurious and fallacious grounds, I’d already said geothermal power before on this thread?
    Perhaps you or your editing program, need to visit an optician?
    Alan B. Goulding.

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — August 1, 2013 @ 9:31 am

  13. Alan, I do not censor, or many of the comments on these threads would have gone long ago, and anyway, I’ve only just seen your comment, so whatever happened it was due to WordPress, the content management system that runs this blog. I have no idea why it would have regarded geothermal power as a reason to cough. It will however put comments with more than (I think) three hyperlinks in them into a pending queue, just in case it is spam.

    And I don’t doubt that geothermal can work, it’s just that these particular engineers have been wrong. Or at least in my view wrong. Perhaps the person who bought the shares from me will make a fortune. My point was that of course we question experts in other areas of life, apart from climate change; and apart from climate change, this is always regarded as normal and reasonable. Indeed, a board of directors who failed to do this would be failing their fiduciary duty, which in some cases can be a crime.

    Comment by Graham — August 1, 2013 @ 10:04 am

  14. I’ve never encountered any censorship or ‘editing’ on this blog or Online Opinion although I rarely agree with Graham’s political opinions.

    Trolls are another matter of course.

    Comment by RussellW — August 1, 2013 @ 11:19 am

  15. RussellW Your comment about the lack of censorship by OLO and Graham Young is mostly true.

    Freedom of speech no matter how ignorant, must prevail.

    Comment by Ross — August 1, 2013 @ 9:54 pm

  16. Ross,

    The “ignoramus” might even have a valid point.

    Comment by RussellW — August 2, 2013 @ 8:06 am

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