Opinion

Global warming's discredited "hockey stick" chart

by Emily Atkins

As I noted in a recent blog entry, I've recently encountered instances at conferences and other professional gatherings of people delivering presentations on the topic of global warming and climate change wherein they use the famous "hockey stick" chart to illustrate the idea that we're living in the warmest period in the Northern Hemisphere in the past 1,000 years, and that temperatures are rising rapidly. The presentations I tend to attend focus on how greater recycling and composting can help us lower our contribution to global warming, but the presentations make use of the same research that's put forward in other "environmental" venues. Trouble is, this chart (and much of the data behind it) has been discredited. Yes, you read correctly. The "hockey stick" chart is so named because of its long, stable shaft and fast rising blade. It's often cited in global climate reports -- particularly the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) -- and illustrates the work of Michael Mann, Raymond Bradley and Malcolm Hughes, whose findings were fundamental to the assumptions behind the Kyoto Accord. My most recent encounter with this chart was Maria Kelleher's presentation last week at the Association of Municipal Recycling Coordinators (AMRC) conference. She presented on the benefits of waste diversion and energy efficiency in regard to lowering CO2 and methane emissions, to combat man-made climate change. The PowerPoint slides were borrowed from Ralph Torrie, a consultant on global warming who is popular with the folks at Environment Canada and who speaks regularly at their events. Maria acknowledged that the slides were Ralph Torrie's (whose name was also in large type on the slides themselves), so I'll ascribe the error that I'm about to describe to him. (Maria and I are friends and she knows I hold her in high esteem, so I'm sure she'll forgive me for going on about this.) Anyway, I got really ticked off when I saw the "hockey stick" chart in the slide presentation. Why? Because the chart, and the research behind it, has been discredited. And in peer-reviewed journals, no less. (More on that below.) The main point isn't that global warming is or is not occurring, so much as that people need to understand there is no "consensus" among scientists on this matter, including climatologists. Opinions range much more than we are often led to believe. I drew Maria Kelleher's attention to this fact, for her benefit but really more for the benefit of the audience. It really bothers me, as a person who follows the climate change debate fairly closely, to see the hockey stick chart's continued use as a propaganda tool. Does bad science really serve anyone's interests? Including those of even the most alarmist subscribers to the global warming theory? I think not. Don't get me wrong -- although I am a "skeptic" about the theory that man-made global warming is under way, I don't claim to know "for a fact" or "beyond all doubt" that it is not. I've simply encountered many documents written by credible people that indicate there are problems -- some of them very serious -- with the theory, and I find these don't get reported very often. In environmental circles and the mainstream media, the concept that anthropogenic climate change is real and happening in a big way has become an article of faith, and anyone trying to prick that balloon, or any part of it, is accused of heresy, and is shunned. (I'm not kidding! I've been made to feel like a holocaust denier at some environmental gatherings.) In the discussion afterward (in the conference room and also in the hallway) I took issue with several of the Ralph Torrie slides, including the one that claims that hurricanes have increased in number and/or intensity, doubling in the past ten years from the ten years prior. This is typical selective nonsense: if you look back over the past century, there are natural fluctuations in hurricane activity and things are no worse now than 40 or 50 years ago. Anyway, I don't want to rehash the whole climate change debate here. What I want to do is simply establish for the record that there are very serious problems with the hockey stick chart, which has been called "rubbish" by one peer-reviewer in the journal Science. (See article below.) My challenge here is to offer readers something fairly short and accessible to summarize the situation. The trouble with this topic is that one can trot out articles to refute this or that point which are either too short, shallow or glib to be convincing, or way too long and technical for anyone to actually read. ("Inside baseball" as I like to call it.) I went through my files and have cut and pasted an article below that does a pretty good job summarizing the problems with the hockey stick chart, and the controversy triggered by the scientists and statisticians who revealed those problems. The article is by no means the last word on the subject, but it's a good entry point for the lay person. Please read the article below, and if you want to dig deeper, here are a couple of websites you might want to check out. Some are "skeptic" websites, but offer links to other material that is in the "pro global warming theory" camp. Again, my goal here is not to convince you that global warming isn't occurring, but just to make you aware that there is quality information out there that questions the "common wisdom" on this, and suggests that, going forward, no one should trot out that hockey stick chart without at least acknowledging that it has been challenged and the science behind it is under serious review. Websites you might find useful include: The Science & Environmental Policy Project http://www.sepp.org/ Note that because this organization has received a very small amount of money from oil companies, global warming theory enthusiasts like to say that it has no credibility and that its founder, Fred Singer, Ph.D. (who was behind the global weather satellite system, ahem!) is just a shill for "Big Oil." Nonsense! I've read a lot of entries at this site, enjoyed them and found them very informative. University of Guelph http://www.uoguelph.ca/~rmckitri/research/trc.html This site leads directly to material gathered by Steven McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, known as "M&M" in climate change circles. Their work, alluded to in the article below, was crucial in exposing problems with the hockey stick data sets. I find their observations about the games played by some of the peer-reviewed journals to try and exclude their findings very funny, and more than a little frightening. If you read enough of their material, including the book Taken By Storm (Key Porter Books) you'll never sit through another Environment Canada cliamte change presentation with a straight face again, no matter where you stand on these issues. Steve McIntyre's blog: http://www.climateaudit.org/ The message threads and blog posts here are very interesting, and McKitrick has posted some full papers on the "hockey stick" chart and related (or unrelated) topics in paleoclimatology. Climate Science: http://climatesci.atmos.colostate.edu/ A blog site that offers detailed technical information and opinion about the leading-edge issues of climate change. Now, here's the short article. And please note that I couldn't easily reproduce in my blog a couple of charts that go with this article, so I deleted reference to them from this text. I'm not hiding anything, so if you want the whole article, go here: http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=102704F

The problem with "Environmental" groups

by Emily Atkins

Today's National Post features a wonderful article by one of my favorite writers, Lawrence Solomon, on the topic of supposed wilderness protection in B.C. (As a convenience, I have pasted the whole article below.) I've followed GreenPeace's campaign for years to get a large area of old-growth forest in B.C. protected from exploitation. I recall being mildly offended at the organization coming up with the cheesy name "Great Bear Forest" which is in fact their creation, which was quickly followed by posters and a boycott campaign directed at Europeans (e.g., Germany) who don't know enough about realities on the ground in Canada to see how they were being manipulated. Don't get me wrong, I'm a conservationist (as opposed to "environmentalist") and I very much favor settting aside certain tracts of land and water as world heritage sites. Actually, I'm of the school that things we can't, in fact, be trusted to "manage" wilderness, which is why I favor setting aside large pristine areas for the preservation of habitat and wild creatures, and the enjoyment of future generations of backpackers and canoeists or kayakers. Which is why, as Solomon so deftly points out, the Great Bear deal is such a sham. It's not at all what the environmental groups advertised, beforem during or after the deal. And it's entirely the kind of "manage the wilderness" arrangement that I distrust and that is sought out by rent-seeking corporations. Sometimes my friends react with amazement when I tell them I have no time for GreenPeace and some of the other mainstream environmental groups. They assume this means I'm somehow against the environment. Nonsense. Read Solomon's article and you'll see a perfect illustration why I distrust these groups, and overtly dislike them, in fact. They allow their members and supporters to feel smug and superior to everyone else, while in fact they are the biggest sellouts around. It's true, and I've encountered literally dozens of sad stories like this over the years. This Great Bear sell-out is not an exception -- it's actually the rule nowadays with environmental deal making. It's a bit simplistic, but my rule-of-thumb in assessing these things is to follow the money and ask, Is there a subsidy? If there is a subsidy (direct or indirect) that's usually a red flag that someone is fooling us again. In a perverse way I have to admire the Machiavellian lumber companies for their cynical tactics. I hate the outcome, but I have a sort of awed respect for how good they are at playing this game, actually getting the government to underwrite the costs of logging old growth forests, and getting the world's best-known environmental groups to applaud them for it in public. Who'd a thought it possible? Anyway, here's the story.