Global Weirding and Optimism Bias

Last night’s Horizon programme on BBC TV was entitled ‘Global Weirding’. I had not heard of this term before but, apparently, it was not just dreamt up by the programme producers in a moment of appalling uncreativity. The negative review of the programme that Andrew Marszal has posted on the Telegraph website (and most of the comments thereon) provides further validation of Dr Tari Sharot’s work on Optimism Bias; about which I and Paul Handover (of Learning from Dogs fame) have both blogged recently. It is almost incredible that people (I use the term in a very loose sense) can watch a programme like this and yet remain comfortable in their bubble of unreality. Because they (apparently) watched the programme, Cognitive Dissonance does not explain their failure to recognise its significance (i.e. cognitive dissonance sufferers would not have watched the programme). However, Optimism Bias explains their behaviour perfectly. Yes, these people show commendable “bravery” (or is it unwarranted confidence in their rightness of their delusion?) for watching the programme but, nevertheless, the filter they use when watching stuff like this has a sanitising effect that makes a reverse-osmosis water purifier seem like the first phase of a sand and gravel processing plant! To me, the programme producers seem to have gone to great lengths to avoid being accused of bias or being “alarmist”; and just allowed the data (i.e. collective noun) to tell its own story. Therefore, to continue to believe that the Sun or natural variability is capable of explaining the fact that, for example, Texas can experience record-breaking rainfall and record-breaking drought in consecutive years would appear to be pushing Optimism Bias into the realms of insanity. As if to underline this point, Weatherdem recently posted this characteristically well-executed summary of weather data; demonstrating just how abnormal current weather patterns are in the USA. Amongst the evidence supporting an anthropogenic cause for the ongoing climatic disruption we are experiencing are the facts that: — If it were the Sun, the atmosphere would not be warming from the ground upwards; whereas if the warming is being caused by an energy imbalance (i.e. outgoing long-wave radiation being prevented from escaping into Space) this is exactly what you would expect. — If it were the Sun, the warming would be most obvious in sub-tropical latitudes, whereas if it is energy imbalance the warming will be most pronounced in polar latitudes; exactly what is happening. Then we have the evidence of solar expert Dr Mike Lockwood who very pointedly conceded that, although blamed for causing the Little Ice Age (1650-1700AD), the Sun is not responsible for the extremely cold UK winters of 2009/10 and 2010/11. On the contrary, the Horizon programme gave a perfectly plausible explanation for what did cause this extreme cold weather (and all the other extremes featured); and also explained how it is that none of this extreme (cold) weather changes the fact that, on average, the world is warming up. Katharine Hayhoe was seen very clearly making the point that as the Earth has warmed-up, so the average humidity of the atmosphere has increased by 4%. Thus, even though large parts of the USA, UK and Australia may be in drought, when the rain does fall it is likely to be very heavy and, in the meantime, someone somewhere else is undoubtedly getting more than they expected (or probably needed!). Along with warming oceans giving rise to more frequent and more intense storms, increased average humidity is part of a pattern of atmospheric behaviour that was predicted over 20 years ago. People like me often cite James Hansen’s testimony before US Congress in 1988 as the time since which many humans have been in active denial of the truth. However, the reality of the situation is that the denial started much earlier than that, may be even as early as when President Lyndon Johnson first admitted that we have a problem in 1965. Then there is the case of John Mercer being ridiculed in 1978 for daring to suggest we have a problem (whose treatment James Hansen cited as a reason for widespread scientific reticence in 2007)… Certainly, not much has changed since 1982, when Mike MacCracken was busy telling anyone who would listen (and many would not) that we have a problem. So, you see, James Hansen did not walk away from the Pioneer Mission to Venus on a mere whim, he took note of what his fellow scientists were telling him and decided that this was something upon which he should focus; and we should be grateful that he did. What we should be somewhat less than grateful for is the orchestrated nature of the campaign to discredit him and many other climate scientists that then arose out of the mendacious work of people like Robert Jastrow, Bill Nierenberg, Frederick Seitz, and Fred Singer… When the Devil was handing out crimes against humanity, they clearly mis-heard him as having been offering “times aspent in true sanity” However, compared to this, we should (IMHO) be positively enraged by the fact that the work of these Cold War physicists (with no Communists to fight), has been continued right up to the present day by equally ideologically-blinded experts in ultimately selfish and self-defeating obscurantism such as – yes you guessed it – MIT’s Richard Lindzen; but also the likes of Princeton’s Will Happer. Believe me, if I was seeking a Stalinist revolution, such truth-challenged people (a Barry Bickmore has called them) really would be first on my trains to re-education camps in Siberia (and would thereby count themselves lucky to have avoided the firing squad).

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About Rick Altman

Possibly just another 'Climate Cassandra' crying 'Wolf' in cyberspace. However, the moral of the old children's story is that the Wolf eventually turned up!
This entry was posted in Climate Science, Cognitive Dissonance, Environment, James Hansen, Richard Lindzen and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Global Weirding and Optimism Bias

  1. Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez says:

    You go Rick!!!!!

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  2. Go undercover and lurk, or take up a sceptic identity [but dont use the same ip address as both sceptic and normal], and you will find there is a system: Firstly, as you say, it’s a political fight; the Cold War is over – it is now the Warmista Wars – saving the planet requires closer integration… Freak weather is difficult to accurately slot into ACD and this debate is seized upon: For instance, the use of insurance claims to indicate damage is not an accurate proxy of intensity but is, unfortunately, used by news outlets. In the same way I tell born again Christians that there isn’t more war or earthquakes or famine just better news coverage the same argument is used for freaky weather. But some of us rich westerners will benefit from a 2 degree increase – I have been soaking up the rays and cloudless skies of this month – but I am spending money on water tanks, dams, pumps as I expect the incredible low rainfall to be a more persistent feature. Dry springs, wet cool summers, massive downpours, and white Xmas; that’s the trend I see. First bluebell flower today. Although the vines [mid Wales] were hit by the cold 2010-11, my sitka spruce are just too warm, I will plant Sweet Chestnut rather than Oak; and my blueberries need irrigation, but I enjoy the sunshine and challenges and, secretly, I love wild weather. There is a part of me that wonders what if – how is the US going to cope? However, I am lucky; my spring is constant, whereas my neighbours’ dried-up and – as if they were in the Third World – they have had to spend £7k on a borehole… Hence the need for global action.

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    • Rick Altman says:

      Wow, what an information-rich comment, Jules! Thank you. Have you experience of going undercover? Having attended Richard Lindzen’s talk at the Palace of Westminster and broken cover in the question and answer session; I think I have an idea what it might be like… If I have interpreted your remarks correctly, you seem to imply that more integration is required to save the planet (i.e. worldwide Socialist government)? However, my view is that Globalisation is a neo-Capitalist enterprise that must be stopped because it enshrines and excuses – and will exacerbate – inequality. Environmentalism will only succeed if it is successful if it does the complete opposite of a Stalinist revolution – and establishes participatory democracy at local level – in order literally to revolutionise society from the ground upwards… Because Green is neither left nor right but out in front, I can embrace this even though I am a Conservative voter. Twelve years ago, I was telling my (then fellow) evangelical Christians that it did not matter whether the apparently increased frequency of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions was the result of improving global communications (Krakatoa was the first such global news event) or whether warmer oceans are speeding up plate tectonics etc. because, either way, God knew in advance what would happen! Nowadays, I may be much less eschatological; but I am much more alarmed! God is not going to solve this mess for us; and He is not going to be impressed if we trash the planet as a result of arrogantly assuming we are superior to Nature; rather than behaving as if we are part of it and accepting that we are dependent upon it (for what is known in the trade as essential ecosystem services). Any advantages we may glean from a warming world will be temporary and very localised: Climate change will be a global killer on a scale not seen since the mass extinction of Permo-Triassic times (something that has fascinated me since doing my final year dissertation on the Devonshire coast between Exmouth and Sidmouth in 1986). It seems to me that only geologists appreciate this fact because it is only they that take a long-enough view of (Earth) history. This is why I feel it is almost my mission in life now to explain such things (more on this next week). Having lived in Shrewsbury for 10 years (and having always regretted being forced to leave it), I think you are very fortunate to live in mid-Wales but, having also helped many people to install boreholes on their properties, I do not think you should think of this as Third World practice: In global terms, at a community level at least, it is not normal to have clean, UV-treated, water piped into your house!

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  3. Lionel A says:

    It seems to me that only geologists appreciate this fact because it is only they that take a long-enough view of (Earth) history.

    Hurumph! Or those who have studied and read widely and at more than just academic university, in other words the university of life too. Your comment about the late Permian extinction sequences raises an interesting point. That happened at a time when the geography of Earth was most certainly not arranged for efficient heat transport around the planet, no thermostats. As the Earth is now warming at a rate faster than any inferred from knowledge of earlier periods in bio-geological history when the continents and seas are arranged as they are then such warming is even more significant. To be sure I have not studied geology at the intensity that you have but hows your maritime history? Maritime history not relevant, I hear some think, I beg to differ. The history of maritime peoples is bound up with the state of the climate and the weather it produces. Anybody who has heard of The Great Storm of 1703 will know how many ships were lost in British and Dutch waters (I have references to names and details of the warships here). Daniel Defoe’s book ‘The Storm’ is an interesting read still. During the latter part of the preceding century there were many periods of high temperatures and drought in southern England which caused problems for ship builders and operators with many details in naval records, thank you Samuel Pepys and others. Old ships timbers may provide useful research sources for dendrochronologists. The above events were during what is thought of as the Little-ice age. One may care to consider the heatwave that preceded the Great Fire of London too, a heatwave, or sequence of such, which prepared the buildings to act as tinder. Conspiracy theorists point to Dutch or French agents as the fire raisers but the truth is probably far more prosaic.

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    • Rick Altman says:

      Thanks Lionel. Me thinks I may have over-stated the importance or being a geologist somewhat. Nevertheless, prompted by watching an amazing programme about the Geology of Australia last night, I think I will write at least one blog post on the subject next week… At first you had me intrigued about the possibility of a drought preceding the great fire of London (in the midst of the LIA) but then I recalled that parts of Antarctica experience less precipitation than either the Kalahari or Atacama deserts…?

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  4. with regards to people not wanting to believe, Rick, maybe you can drop this guy a line or two 🙂 http://ultimatechristianity.wordpress.com/2011/06/11/savior-or-messiah-complex/#comments

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    • Rick Altman says:

      job done – thanks for the tip. Comment pasted here just in case it doesn’t make it through Moderation:

      Did someone call me? Surely reality can and will trump intellectual dishonesty (within Christendom and elsewhere)? If it does not, atheists will not need convincing but, for that portion of the remainder of society who cannot bring themselves to embrace complexity (and the concept of good stewardship), God is not going to help any of us: We made the mess; we must clear it up. Please see: Will the true Messiah please stand up? (28 March 2012) for more information. Suggested further reading: How to be a climate change “sceptic” (7 September 2011). Also, please check me out before attempting to think you understand either Christianity or Palaeoclimatology better than I do. I know that sounds arrogant but, as Ben Goldacre says, “only 49% of the population can be better at driving a car”… and the same logic applies to everything else!

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  5. Rick- do I think a green future will be a neo-new world order?- no. It is a valid POV of the libertarian right, the europhobes, the little englanders who see cooperation as a the slippery slope to them losing control. Deniers are- at least appear to be male, paranoid, and aggressive, they are the Mail/telegraph reader who bemoans how they have been disempowered. They want things to be the way they were, when white middle-aged, middle class men got their own way. IMHO. As a long term green socialist I have actually seen the errors of some of my ways and see that state socialism takes away responsibility, a future requires smart, innovative thinking, sure- I want the state to tax and give the money to health care, climate adaptation in the poor world but ultimately thinking for ones self means taking responsibility. AGWD is about defending their manhood [so they can never admit to be wrong that’s why they make stuff up], its the oil dream, a hundred years of easy living. Until a new future is made an option to the up coming generations the old ways will be held up as a golden age. Please vote up my 5* review of Delingpole’s Watermelons, it is the one which is a parody – I am sure he will find it irritating.

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    • Rick Altman says:

      Thanks Jules. Given our very different political backgrounds (I was a member of the Labour Party between 1996 and 2002 thanks to an early reading of Jon Sopel’s biography of Blair) but see this now as a mental aberation (and Blair as a false prophet)… it is very encouraging that we can agree on so much. This is a positive thing because avoiding ecological catastrophe will require all kinds of people to work together for the common good… Your parody of a positive review of Watermelons sounds good but, I would like to check that it will be recognised as such as by the rentamob reviewers that took time out for JD’s blog to post their Homilies to their Lord and Master… Can you clarify where I should be looking A-.com or A-.co.uk; and on which inversion of reality (1.0 or 2.0) did you post it?

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      • It’s on version 2.0 of the book, on A-.co.uk, under my real name jules bywater-lees. If there any improvements that could be made then let me know. Political consensus between left and right is an important issue- I look forward to any posts on the subject.

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      • Rick Altman says:

        Who are the 28 of 38 that found your review helpful? Unless you can account for each one by name, I suspect many people have read your review and thought it sincere. With the possible exception of Toby Young (who is just plain ignorant on this subject), all the other 5-star reviews are so unhinged they could all be paradoxical missives by people who think Delingpole a complete fool… The only problem with that hypothesis is that it is almost certainly wrong (unfortunately).

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  6. Oh, and yes, clean water to flush the loo! I know we take that luxury for granted, in my travels I am aware of just how desperate life can get- it is just chance that I am in the 1%.

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