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Shaping your view of the world with well-constructed propaganda: about rising sea levels

21 June 2012

Summary: Perhaps among the worst consequences of the anti-carbon crusade (fighting anthropogenic global warming and climate catastrophe) is the loss of confidence by the public in scientists and science media.  Many scientists have become advocates first, scientists second — abusing the public’s trust to produce what they consider desirable public policies.  Much of the science media — such as New Scientist and Scientific American — have become accomplices.  Here’s a case study, valuable for several reasons.

CGI is truth. Believe!

We will need science to guide us through the difficult years ahead, helping us to balance the conflicting needs of current growth, investments in the future, and protection against shockwaves.  We need to have confidence in scientists, and the journalists who convey their discoveries to us.  Their actions put this essential resource at risk.  Today we look at one example.  It’s useful both as an example of the skillful propaganda that fills our newspapers (from both left and right), but also as a look at an important climate change trend.

The evidence for sea-level rises in North Carolina“, New Scientist, 20 June 2012

Here are excerpts from the article, showing the truth behind the narrative.  The data in the article itself contradicts the story’s message.  Nor does it clearly compare the results of the different forecasting methods. The article opens misleadingly:

In one US state, it is now illegal for sea level rise to speed up. Although climate models predict that sea level rise will accelerate over the coming decades, North Carolina’s state senate has passed a bill saying that its Division of Coastal Management cannot “include scenarios of accelerated rates of sea level rise”.

The first line is either an insult or a joke (or the former pretending to be the latter).  Despite the gibe, extrapolation from history is a valid forecasting method.  This article refer to NC House Bill 819, which says:

The General Assembly does not intend to mandate the development of sea-level rise policy or rates of sea-level rise. … The Division of Coastal Management shall be the only State agency authorized to develop rates of sea-level rise and shall do so only at the request of the Commission. These rates shall only be determined using historical data, and these data shall be limited to the time period following the year 1900. Rates of sea-level rise may be extrapolated linearly to estimate future rates of rise but shall not include scenarios of accelerated rates of sea-level rise.

Next, in the tradition of AGW propaganda, they start with an issue not in question (the bill explicitly refers to the rise in sea levels during the past century):

Are sea levels rising?

In the next section New Scientist discusses the main issue: forecasts of accelerating rate of increase in sea level.  But their own evidence shows a reasonable basis for doubting them:

-

It’s your fault!

Is sea level rise accelerating?

This is a harder question to answer, because older records are incomplete. “It’s a hot debate,” says Simon Holgate of the National Oceanography Centre in Liverpool, UK. Some papers claim that the rise has accelerated over the 20th century, while others (often using the same data) say it hasn’t. “The overall sense of the community is that there’s a small acceleration, but there is a lot of noise in the signal,” Holgate says.

… The best dataset is thought to be one compiled by John Church of CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research in Australia, and colleagues. According to a widely-cited 2006 paper, sea level rise has been accelerating at 0.013 mm/y2 since 1870 (Geophysical Research Letters, 2006). A more recent paper, from 2011, found a smaller acceleration of 0.009 mm/y2 using data that goes back to 1860 (Surveys in Geophysics, 2011).

By the end of the 20th century, sea level rise had accelerated to 3mm/y, compared to earlier rates around 1mm/y. But Holgate has found that some tide gauges recorded similar high rates much earlier in the century. That means it’s hard to be sure that the current rates are truly out of the ordinary (Geophysical Research Letters, 2007). …

What is the evidence that sea level rise isn’t accelerating?

Some studies have found no evidence of acceleration, and NC-20 cites these in its literature. {citations and discussion follows}

After that accurate summary, New Scientist goes off the rails.

… Holgate says the rise could be as much as 1.5 metres by 2100, but he says that is “an extreme upper end”. The linear rise mandated by North Carolina is the lowest possible, he says.

That’s obviously false.  Given the immature state of climate science, an 88-year forecast is speculative.  The odds of 7 inch rise in sea levels by 2100 (vs. the historical rate giving an 8 inch rise) are not zero.  The odds of no increase are greater than zero.

Holgate says the consensus among his colleagues is that sea levels will rise about 1 metre by 2100. … However the rise will continue for several centuries after 2100.

Stating a multi-century forecast as fact is clearly unjustified, beyond the state of current science. Last we look at the conclusion of the article, which misuses the research they cite.

What is happening to sea levels in North Carolina?

North Carolina actually has one of the world’s best records of past sea levels: extensive salt marshes. Because they were frequently flooded by high tides, their sediments record changing sea levels for the past 2100 years.

Last year Rahmstorf and colleagues showed that sea levels in North Carolina have been rising at 2.1 mm/y since the late 19th century. This is by far the steepest rise seen there over the last two millennia (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 5 July 2011). What’s more, the salt marsh data suggests that sea level rise in North Carolina has accelerated. According to a 2009 study, the speed-up began in the late 19th century (Geology, November 2009).

It’s a weak ending on several levels.

  1. Both references clearly describe the acceleration in sea level as occurring during 1880-1920 — before substantial human-caused CO2 influences.
  2. Neither study mentions any acceleration since then.
  3. They estimate the rate of past sea level rise as 2.1 – 3.3 mm/year.  That 0.2 – 0.3 meters (8 – 11 inches) during the rest of this century, compared to the 1.0 – 1.5 meters (39 – 59 inches) forecast assuming the start of another period of acceleration.
  4. Which is correct?  The article provides no basis for laypeople to decide, as the evidence remains uncertain.

What do these articles actually state?  From PSAS:

A second increase in the rate of sea-level rise occurred around AD 1880–1920; in North Carolina the mean rate of rise was 2.1 mm/y in response to 20th century warming. This historical rate of rise was greater than any other persistent, century-scale trend during the past 2100 y.

From Geology:

The measured rate of relative sea-level rise in North Carolina during the twentieth century was 3.0–3.3 mm/a, consisting of a background rate of ~1 mm/a, plus an abrupt increase of 2.2 mm/a, which began between A.D. 1879 and 1915. This acceleration is broadly synchronous with other studies from the Atlantic coast.

For more information

See this FM Reference Page for

The sociology and politics of climate science:

  1. A look at the science and politics of global warming, 12 June 2008
  2. “Aliens cause global warming”: wise words from the late Michael Crichton, 15 November 2008
  3. Richard Feynmann, one of the 20th centuries greatest scientists, talks to us about climate science, 12 February 2009
  4. An example of important climate change research hidden, lest it spoil the media’s narrative, 22 May 2009
  5. More attempts to control the climate science debate using smears and swarming, 19 October 2009
  6. The floodgates slowly open and the foreign news media debunk climate change propaganda, 24 January 2010
  7. Quote of the day – hidden history for people who rely on the mainstream media for information, 12 February 2010
  8. A real-time example of the birth and spread of climate propaganda, 9 March 2010
  9. Programs to reshape the American mind, run by the left and right, 2 August 2010
  10. Puncturing the false picture of a scientific consensus about the causes and effects of global warming, 20 September 2010

Be afraid. Fear makes you easy to manipulate.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. 21 June 2012 11:24 am

    As I recall, CO2 emissions had begun rising dramatically by 1880, as the Industrial Revolution was well under way.
    Of course, my memory is hazy, as I was only a boy…

    Like

    • 21 June 2012 1:22 pm

      Good question. Direct measurement of atmospheric CO2 starts in 1958 at Mauna Loa observatory (see Wikipedia for the history and NOAA for the data). Estimates of levels before that rely on indirect measurements, such as trapped air in ice bubbles.

      Here’s one of the best series, the Anartica Law Dome (from the Dept of Energy’s Carbon Dioxide Information Center). CO2 increased over the commonly cited “preindusrial level” of 280 parts per million (that’s a very small number) in the late 19th century, but took decades to rise significantly above that (the y-axis is not at zero):
      Law Dome, CDIAC

      An easier way to understand this is look at estimate emissions of CO2, which accellerated after WWII (also from CDIAC):
      CDIAC

      Like

  2. Wise words from Prof Lindzen, Prof Meteorology, MIT permalink
    21 June 2012 3:08 pm

    Climate physics, feedbacks, and reductionism (and when does reductionism go too far?“, R.S. Lindzen (Prof Meteorology, MIT), European Physical Journal Plus, May 2012

    Abstract

    We review the basic physics of the greenhouse effect, the concept of climate sensitivity, a variety of ways of evaluating climate sensitivity and the limitations of the concept of climate sensitivity.

    Introduction

    The public perception of the climate problem is somewhat schizophrenic. On the one hand, the problem is perceived to be so complex that it cannot be approached without massive computer programs. On the other hand, the physics is claimed to be so basic that the dire conclusions commonly presented are considered to be self-evident. Consistent with this situation, climate has become a field where there is a distinct separation of theory and modeling. Commonly, in traditional areas like fluid mechanics, theory provides useful constraints and tests when applied to modeling results. This has been notably absent in current work on climate. In principle, climate modeling should be closely associated with basic physical theory. In practice, it has come to consist in the almost blind use of obviously inadequate models.

    In this paper, I would like to sketch some examples of potentially useful interaction with specific reference to the issue of climate sensitivity. It should be noted that the above situation is not strictly the fault of modelers. Theory, itself, has been increasingly idealized and esoteric with little attempt at real interaction. Also, theory in atmospheric and oceanic dynamics consists in conceptual frameworks that are generally not mathematically rigorous. Perhaps, we should refer to it as physical or conceptual reasoning instead. As we shall see, when reductionism goes beyond the constraints imposed by these frameworks, it is probably going too far though reductionism remains an essential tool of analysis.

    Like

  3. Todd Guthrie permalink
    21 June 2012 9:28 pm

    I think the main point behind the article in New Scientist was that the NC Legislature was trying to dictate specifics of Oceanography/Climatology for which they were not completely qualified. It would be much less of an issue if they simply deferred policy decisions to the results of expert analysis, rather than mandate a linear extrapolation that may or may not conform to actual observations.

    Still, your main point is valid that sensationalism detracts from the effective dissemination of scientific understanding. For example, see ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. Al Gore thinks his movie informed the masses about climate change, but all it really did was transform the issue into a political one. Now people debate climate change science the same way they debate taxes and gay marriage.
    Al Gore cried wolf and now a large section of the public no longer trusts science in general.
    Really a shame…

    Like

    • 21 June 2012 11:56 pm

      “the NC Legislature was trying to dictate specifics of Oceanography/Climatology for which they were not completely qualified.”

      There is no gold standard to answer such things, but their decision seems reasonable to me — to require use of historical data, rather than untested models, for making public policy decisions. That’s well within their authority and competence. Especially given the debate about the validity of the models.

      “your main point is valid that sensationalism detracts from the ”

      Sensationalism: The use of exciting or shocking stories or language at the expense of accuracy, in order to provoke public interest.

      I don’t believe sensationalism well describes the New Scientist article. It was outright propaganda, combining misrepresentation of the research and ridicule of a reasonable viewpoint in order to discredit it.

      Like

  4. Alex permalink
    21 June 2012 9:59 pm

    Scientific opinion is a commodity.

    Like

  5. 22 June 2012 1:55 am

    I don’t believe the biggest fear for man-made climate change believers is the sea level rise as it is the increasingly unstable climate and therefor weather (continuous record breaking heat, wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and what have you). I want your side (and sources) to THIS. sea level rise doesn’t interest me much.

    Like

    • 22 June 2012 2:18 am

      “I don’t believe the biggest fear for man-made climate change believers is the sea level rise”

      Did anyone say that it was?

      “as it is the increasingly unstable climate and therefor weather (continuous record breaking heat, wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and what have you).”

      There is little evidence that there is an increasingly unstable climate. Like the “accellerating sea level rise”, its just hype. Lots of media attention to normal weather variation. Many of the claims (eg, increase hurricane and tornado activity) are clearly false.

      Like

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