Why Anthony Farnell’s Climate Change Report is Flawed

IPCC

With the recent release of the latest report by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) there has been a cluster of news articles and television timeslots devoted to climate change in the Canadian media over the past couple of weeks. Anthony Farnell, a meteorologist with Global News wrote a piece about the IPCC’s latest report entitled “Why the IPCC’s Climate Change Report is Flawed”.

In his article published on September 29th, Farnell writes:

The (IPCC) report will argue that the situation is becoming more and more dire and that failure to act will lead to a “point of no return” where the temperature train will race out of control and Earth’s ice caps will completely melt, and that hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and droughts will all become more frequent.

Farnell lists 9 points, or flaws, related to the IPCC’s report. His 9 points are discussion worthy and present an opportunity to examine how climate science is often incorrectly reported to Canadians.

When science reporters, like Farnell, challenge their readership to think about climate change by providing a chunk of evidence that suggests climate scientists might be mistaken about something, I wish they would do two things first.

A. Explain how you know that climate scientists are ignoring that chunk of evidence, or explain why the scientists are unaware that chunk of evidence.
(If you believe that you have information that the experts do not have, you are probably mistaken.)

B. Find out why the climate scientists are not convinced by that evidence.
(If you believe that you have thought longer than the experts about the implications of that chunk of evidence, you are probably mistaken.)

I will now attempt to answer both of these questions for each of the 9 points raised by Farnell.

 

Farnell point 1)

The Earth has not warmed at all in the past 15-20 years.

A. Why are the scientists ignoring or unaware of this evidence?

Scientists disagree with this evidence because it is demonstrably wrong. The Earth has warmed in the past 15-20 years. Point 1) is a false statement.

 

B. Why are the scientists not convinced by this evidence?

The scientists understand how “temperature” is not the same thing as “heat”. They have a good understanding of how surface temperatures are coupled to global heat content and how ocean currents affect surface temperatures. Farnell’s point is false because surface temperatures can drop while the Earth still warms (over short time periods). The folly of point 1) can be illustrated with this example:
Imagine an office building with 10 floors. Now picture yourself sitting on the 10th floor of the building and making this claim,

“No one must be entering this building since the number of people on the 10th floor has not gone up.”

Imagine making that statement above while simultaneously looking out the window and noticing the number of people entering the building is greater than the number of people leaving the building. Point 1) is like that. Its conclusion does not follow from its premise, and it is observably wrong.

 

Farnell Point 2)

Global climate models are severely flawed and have not predicted the pause in warming over the past 15-20 years.

 

A. Why are the scientists ignoring or unaware of this evidence?

Scientists are aware of this claim, but this claim is also demonstrably false. The past 20 years of surface temperature data is consistent with the projections made by the climate models. In fact, even climate model projections from the 1980s have been accurate.

 

B. Why are the scientists not convinced by this evidence?

Any claims about severely flawed computer models must have been made by a non-expert in the field, or are the result of someone taking an expert opinion out of context. The IPCC explains the accuracy of their models in their recent report. They directly address the “hiatus in the global-mean surface warming” (PDF 6.0 MB). Climate scientists are constantly evaluating their climate models. It is a process that never ends for them. The claim of “flawed” climate models is addressed in chapter 9 of the IPCC’s report which is titled, “Evaluation of Climate Models”.

 

Farnell Point 3)

Several of the same scientists that are claiming the planet will be free of ice by the summer of 2020, claimed we would be ice-free right now as recently as 2007.

 

A. Why are the scientists ignoring or unaware of this evidence?

The IPCC’s review of the scientific literature did not indicate that the planet would be ice-free in 2013.

 

B. Why are the scientists not convinced by this evidence?

Scientists are not convinced by this evidence because there never was compelling evidence that the arctic (or the planet) would be ice-free by now. If someone said the arctic was going to be ice-free by 2013, that person was not basing it on the scientific literature or any of the IPCC reports.

 

What does “ice-free” mean?

Typically it means, ice-free enough that boats can easily get through the Arctic ocean in the late summer and early fall.
The IPCC is not alarmist even though that is a common perception. If a scientist says something like “The arctic should be ice-free by 2014.”, one should be skeptical of that claim and refer to the best climate change resource that we have…, the IPCC ‘s Fifth Assessment Report (PDF 2.5 MB). There is no better source of accurate information, no higher “scientific court” in which to present your case.  If you want to know what the science actually says, start there. It says to expect “nearly ice-free” conditions in the arctic’s summer months by 2050, with the clarification that this projection is highly dependent on our global greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s it.

That is humankind’s best prediction (as of 2012). If scientists tell you something different about an ice-free arctic, it may be:

  • due to a miscommunication.
  • that they are an unreliable source of scientific information in the area of arctic ice.
  • that they have left out technical details about their claim that need to be clarified.

 

Farnell Point 4)

The Arctic ice sheet is healthier than it’s been in the past five years and is over 50 per cent above last year’s ice total.

 

A. Why are the scientists ignoring or unaware of this evidence?

Climate scientists are completely aware of this evidence – they published it. Every year climate scientists document arctic ice thickness and extent.

 

B. Why are the scientists not convinced by this evidence?

This factual observation does not change any of the conclusions of the latest IPCC report. It is completely consistent with the projections of the IPCC. In fact, past projections by the IPCC greatly underestimated northern arctic ice loss.  In the IPCC’s latest report they were forced to be less conservative in their future ice-loss projections due to the last decade of ice observations which were worse than they previously expected. To avoid obscuring the issue, Farnell should have rephrased point 4) to read something like this: “The ice in the arctic has been in bad shape, and melted to historic lows this past decade. Last year was the 6th worst year ever recorded.”

That rephrasing more accurately captures the state of affairs in the north. Unfortunately, Anthony Farnell’s wording could leave his readers with the incorrect impression that the arctic sea ice is recovering. Even with arctic ice being “50 per cent above last year’s total”, the ice is still not healthy when compared to the ice on the year that any of us were born. The only exception to this rule applies to those people who are not yet old enough to read this article.

 

Since 1870, the period of time over which we have had observable arctic ice data for,:

The number of years that the arctic ice was healthier than last year: 137
The number of years the arctic ice was worse than last year: 5
(All five of those years have occurred since 2005.)

Once you put the loss of arctic sea ice in the correct context, you can see how unhelpful point 4) can be in an educational context.

The same can be said about point 5) below.

 

Farnell Point 5)

The Antarctic ice sheet has actually grown over the past 33 years and is now near an all-time record high.

 

A. Why are the scientists ignoring or unaware of this evidence?

Scientists are aware that the antarctic sea ice has grown. Climate scientists have been studying the southern ice as well as the northern ice. They are not ignoring this data. It is constantly considered in the scientific literature.

 

B. Why are the scientists not convinced by this evidence?

The climate scientists know that the Earth’s ice is melting, overall. They can tell you in what locations it is growing, and in what locations it is shrinking. They carefully measure the amount of ice on our planet, using multiple methods, in order to verify their own results. They do calculations comparing the Earth’s ice growth to the Earth’s ice shrinkage. The Earth is losing ice faster than it is growing ice. Point 5) erroneously suggests that we may not need to worry about the Earth’s melting ice.

If water is leaking into your boat faster than water is being pumped out of your boat –  your boat is sinking. Pointing out how well your bilge pump works can be a source of pride, but you should not allow that to distract you from your larger problem.

 

And there is more.

The sun does not shine in the antarctic during its cold winter months so the extra reflectivity due to the larger sea-ice during that time of the year is wasted. Greater sea ice in the south does not help to cool the Earth as much as we need, and that is a shame. Normally, having more ice helps to cool the Earth by reflecting sunlight before it can be absorbed. Unfortunately, if you have more ice in the antarctic winter when there is no sustained sunshine each day – very little extra sunlight is reflected. Meanwhile in the northern hemisphere, the loss of summer ice amplifies global warming because more sunlight is absorbed, not reflected. The net result is that ice melting in the north heats our planet more than ice growing in the south cools it. Therefore, climate education on this topic should emphasize two things:

1)      ice growth is less than ice melt (we have a net loss of ice).

2)      currently, ice in the southern hemisphere has less impact on climate change than ice in the northern hemisphere.

 

Farnell Point 6)

The sun is in its quietest cycle since the early 1900s and there are increasing signs we are entering a prolonged quiet period similar to the Maunder Minimum that froze Europe and was the coldest period of the past millennium.

 

A. Why are the scientists ignoring or unaware of this evidence?

Climate scientists are aware that it is possible the sun could enter a solar minimum. Some suggest that it could start around 2020 and that it could run for several decades.

 

B. Why are the scientists not convinced by this evidence?

This is not believed to be relevant in the global warming picture for several reasons. There is not a consensus that the sun will be entering a minimum anytime this century. Scientists have also investigated what the consequences of a solar minimum would be, just in case one did happen.

“Would a solar minimum offset any human caused global warming?”

Not really. The effect of a grand solar minimum would be less than you might think. The Earth’s average surface temperature has already warmed more since 1970, than a grand solar minimum would cool the Earth by 2100. Even if we stop using all fossil fuels immediately, the greenhouse gasses that humans have already released into the atmosphere would be a larger contributor to climate change over the next century than a grand solar minimum would be.

In other words, a solar minimum could not even undo the warming we have already caused. Point 6) is not a legitimate concern.

 

Farnell Point 7)

The Pacific Ocean has recently entered its cool cycle which will last for at least the next couple decades. The Atlantic will follow in a few years time. The last time the two oceans were cool was in the 70s where fears of a “mini ice age” made the cover of Time magazine among other major publications.

 

A. Why are the scientists ignoring or unaware of this evidence?

Climate scientists are constantly analyzing ocean currents. There are many different ocean currents and oscillations to consider and they are very challenging to model. (Some climate scientists at the University of Toronto have been working actively in this area.) Like in the previous points made by Farnell, the knowledge gained by scientists is being presented as if the scientists themselves, who published the research, were somehow not aware of it.

 

B. Why are the scientists not convinced by this evidence?

The cycles of the Earth’s oceans are part of what could be called “the Earth’s internal thermal variability”. They significantly affect the weather and the surface temperatures of the Earth because the oceans slosh heat around the planet. However, ocean currents cannot be not a big player in climate change because their heating/cooling effects on the Earth’s radiative energy balance cancel out over relatively short time spans. Carbon dioxide (CO2), on the other hand, is not like this.
CO2 :
(i) directly affects the energy entering and leaving the Earth, and (ii) has a long term accumulation effect that ocean cycles do not.

 

Attention – all members of the Canadian media reporting on climate change, please…

Stop saying that climate scientists thought that we were entering a “mini ice age” back in the 1970s.

That is a big misrepresentation – just ask them. The majority of research in the 60s and 70s were indicating that global warming was on the horizon. The majority of scientists looking into climate were talking about warming, not mini ice ages.

 

Farnell Point 8)

Floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, winter storms, droughts and other extremes are part of nature. Ballooning populations in major disaster zones are much more likely the cause for the billion-dollar disasters of the past couple decades.

 

A. Why are the scientists ignoring or unaware of this evidence?

Everyone is aware of population growth. Whether or not population growth is “much more likely” responsible for the recent billion dollar disasters is a more open question.

 

B. Why are the scientists not convinced by this evidence?

Even if population is factored out of the calculations, you still have more floods and droughts occurring this decade than you did in the previous decade. The previous decade had more floods and droughts than the decade before that one did. This is a true whether you include people, or not, and whether you include insurance costs, or not.

Increasing population, and population sprawl, can explain some of the increasing insurance costs, but it cannot explain the increased precipitation. Population growth is not sufficient to explain the increased atmospheric humidity. Insurance companies think climate change is to blame.

 

This pathway must be responsible for at least some of increasing insurance costs:

pathway

 

Farnell Point 9)

Tornado numbers are at a record low this year and the hurricane season is practically non-existent with the ACE value as low as we’ve seen since the late 70s.

 

A. Why are the scientists ignoring or unaware of this evidence?

Climate scientists are aware of the data collected on tornadoes and hurricanes.

 

B. Why are the scientists not convinced by this evidence?

Tornadoes are pretty irrelevant to climate change. The fifth IPCC report has very little to say about tornadoes, except to say that they are weather, not climate. Claims of more of less tornado events are not relevant to climate change. The IPCC report would be flawed if it made projections about tornadoes, but it does not. This is also partly true with regards to hurricanes and tropical cyclones. The IPCC’s report accurately documents what has been happening with hurricanes and cyclones (PDF 7.7 MB) and what the state of the art is, as far as modelling hurricanes and cyclones is concerned.

 

I think it is a tricky business to summarize the new IPCC report. It is written like the previous ones were – in a humble scientific style that is not reflective of normal human speech. If one looks at the 5 reports in historical order, it is fair to conclude that things are, slowly, getting more dire. They essentially tell us that the potential bad outcomes of global warming are slowing increasing in likelihood. To me, the only obvious criticism of the recent IPCC report is that it is already more than one year out of date because their process of vetting takes so long.

It seems to me that Anthony Farnell’s 9 points do not represent any flaws in the report itself.

9 Responses to “Why Anthony Farnell’s Climate Change Report is Flawed”

  1. Composer99 says:

    Great takedown.

    It is unfortunately the case that the claims advanced by self-styled skeptics are, to my knowledge, almost universally debunked by even the most cursory analysis.

    (I say unfortunately because, personally speaking, I would just as soon avoid the apparent consequences of global warming. So it would be great if some solid scientific argument came along suggesting this was possible without going through the effort of cutting emissions.)

    No surprise to see that Farnell’s claims suffer a similar fate.
    ———-

    With respect to Farnell’s claim #7, over and above the lousy scientific reasoning he uses, his claim about Time magazine covers is flat-out false.

    In fact, the Time magazine cover about an ice age is a hoax, perpetrated (presumably) by self-styled “skeptics” of climate science.

    The linked article discussing the cover hoax, and the links it contains, also goes into more detail about the Ice Age fears of the 1970s.

  2. Composer99 says:

    In addition to the above, it is worth mentioning, I think that Farnell’s point #5 also rests on a very convenient – for Farnell – equivocation.

    While it is certainly the case that Antarctic sea ice has increased (in extent/area/volume) in recent years, it is also the case that Antarctic land ice has not – it is losing ice.

    So Farnell’s point not only falls as an attempt to redirect attention from the decline in Arctic sea ice, but also falls on account of this conflation between land and sea ice in Antartcica.

    To sum up: as noted in the OP (and illustrated graphically in the link I have provided), Antarctic sea ice (and particularly the increase thereof) does not play an especially crucial role in mediating Earth energy balance, where Arctic sea ice (and particularly its summertime decline) does. What is more, Antarctic land ice is melting away, contributing to one of the most intolerable (in my opinion) consequences of global warming: sea level rise.

    • Shawn Brooks says:

      Thanks for the comments and additional clarification about the 1970s “coming ice-age” prediction.
      I didn’t know that the often heard claim about the Time magazine article was that manipulated. I just knew the claim was inaccurate.

      I have corrected my wording a bit for #5 A, so that I say “antarctic sea ice”.

      I am willing to bet that Anthony Farnell has been listening to the wrong people with regard to climate change. I would love to meet up with him at a Tim Horton’s and chat about this stuff.

  3. Composer99 says:

    Without knowing Farnell personally or having read his writing before now, I would tend to agree.

    It’s really easy to be less skeptical about information from people you trust or who you know tend to make reasonable claims. If such people pass on misinformation (whether deliberately or because they themselves are misinformed), well, you might end up believing it based on that history.

    (In fact, I would say that most of the time, such behaviour is efficient, as long as the information being passed around is accurate, because it saves time and effort. Nobody has all day, every day, to fact-check every single piece of information they encounter.)

  4. Marty Martelle says:

    I think Anthony should stick to short-term weather forecasting. It is disappointing to see him write this article. I often see his weather forecasts and he attempts to explain weather science to a public that is quite uneducated in many science related areas – this is a good thing. This article just devalues his credibility.
    ( As with other stations, he provides 7-day forecasts which have been shown to be close to useless. Maybe he should be more skeptical of his own predictions….).

  5. Keith Massey says:

    “The Arctic ice sheet is healthier than it’s been in the past five years and is over 50 per cent above last year’s ice total” just blew my mind. I cannot grasp how it’s even possible for someone to state this as an argument against global warming unless they didn’t actually do -any- research themselves and were just parroting (likely), or they were being deliberately dishonest (i.e. his source). Learning that someone like this is a chief meteorologist at a nation-wide news station is just utterly baffling.

  6. John Hooper says:

    Very good, but we do we all agree that on there’s also rampant hyperbole on the fearmongering side of the church hall as well?

    For example, anyone who attributes Climate Change as the reason why things aren’t like they use to be back in the day is, of course, talking completely out of the arse. If you do it, then shame on you.

    Next up, positing the theory (that’s fine), getting unbearably holy, and then rejecting any criticism of stupid fixes like covering every inch of the countryside with wind turbines.

    And finally, if you really feel fighthing Climate Change is your God-given mission, then for your God’s sake do not have children. Each one will exponentially use more carbon hungry resources than you do today. Especially if you live in the developing world where you have yet to get your first air-conditioner.

    In conclusion, the stronger you feel about this subject the better you should feel when a natural disaster wipes out masses of humans, who are in your mind responsible for it anyway.

  7. Anado Cruse says:

    Farnell is right. YOU are the herald of bad science actually, an authentic agent of disinformation.

    • Shawn Brooks says:

      Anthony’s Farnell’s post on GlobalNews.ca may have been penned by him before the 5th IPCC report even came out. I think he is a good guy. He may not have been aware of what the report actually said about things like tornadoes and ice melt at that time. Maybe he was concerned that some anti-oil people were exaggerating what the report contained. I don’t know.
      I like being called an authentic agent – but not a disinformation agent.
      I will fix anything that I got wrong in the article above. As of right now, I am not aware of any substantive errors.

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  • Shawn Brooks

    Shawn has taught physics for many years and has also worked for a software company. He has presented at conferences and has conducted workshops for physics teachers. He is the former treasurer of the Ontario Association of Physics Teachers and has participated in and co-designed research projects pertaining to technology enhanced science education. He cares about science education and critical thinking.