Jonah Goldberg has a new op-ed in the LA Times on climate science, and it’s about as confused and asinine as you might expect. First Jonah wants to astound us with his grasp of paleoclimate science:
There was a Maunder Minimum! It had to do with sunspots! It was cold!:
During what scientist call the Maunder Minimum — a period of solar inactivity from 1645 to 1715 — the world experienced the worst of the cold streak dubbed the Little Ice Age. At Christmastime, Londoners ice skated on the Thames, and New Yorkers (then New Amsterdamers) sometimes walked over the Hudson from Manhattan to Staten Island.
Of course, it could have been a coincidence. The Little Ice Age began before the onset of the Maunder Minimum. Many scientists think volcanic activity was a more likely, or at least a more significant, culprit. Or perhaps the big chill was, in the words of scientist Alan Cutler, writing in the Washington Post in 1997, a “one-two punch from a dimmer sun and a dustier atmosphere.”
“What does the Maunder minimum have to do with anthropogenic warming?” you might ask, given that a mere 7 years of 2003-level CO2 emissions alone would make up for the lost radiative forcing. Jonah seems to believe that Revelations of Great Importance about sunspots may throw a monkey wrench in the whole anthropogenic warming scam:
Well, we just might find out. A new study in the American Geophysical Union’s journal Eos suggests that we may be heading into another quiet phase similar to the Maunder Minimum.
I’m not finding any “new studies” in EOS that claim this. Is Goldberg talking about Livingston and Penn’s article Are Sunspots Different During This Solar Minimum? If so, add “study” to the pile of things Jonah doesn’t understand the definition of. And again, given the effect of GHGs vs. a return to Maunder like conditions, Jonah’s barking up the wrong tree.
Meanwhile, the journal Science reports that a study led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, or NCAR, has finally figured out why increased sunspots have a dramatic effect on the weather, increasing temperatures more than the increase in solar energy should explain. Apparently, sunspots heat the stratosphere, which in turn amplifies the warming of the climate.
Scientists have known for centuries that sunspots affected the climate; they just never understood how. Now, allegedly, the mystery has been solved.
Meehl et al.’s paper Amplifying the Pacific Climate System Response to a Small 11-Year Solar Cycle Forcing is certainly interesting, but it’s by no means definitive, and it’s not really clear what impact it is supposed by Jonah to have on our understanding of anthropogenic warming- the paper purports to model the process by which known phenomena are amplified to produce known observations. Again, what point does Jonah hope to make by citing this?
Also, Milankovitch cycles have a significant impact on glaciation cycles! Something else climate scientists were ignorant of. Let Jonah blow your mind:
Last month, in another study, also released in Science, Oregon state researchers claimed to settle the debate over what caused and ended the last Ice Age. Increased solar radiation coming from slight changes in the Earth’s rotation, not greenhouse gas levels, were to blame.
The Clark et al. paper The Last Glacial Maximum helps pin down the timing of various forcings during the deglaciation ending the LGM (i.e. the lag vs. lead issue), identifying insolation as the initial driver. However, the paper confirms the significant amplifying effect of GHGs without which the magnitude of warming would not have been possible, and supports other evidence which shows that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet will not decay linearly but rather abruptly- not exactly a paper I’d want to cite in challenging the consensus on the need to mitigate.
Did you know that periodicity necessitates a long term upward trend, and that this self-evident fact is completely ignored by egg headed climate scientists? Gerald Meehl may think his team’s above referenced paper is only talking about a modest amplified response to the 11-year solar cycle, but Meehl’s actually in denial that he’s discovered a massive long term solar-induced warming trend. Jonah to the rescue:
“Global warming is a long-term trend, Dr. Meehl says. … [the Science 11-year solar cycle] study attempts to explain the processes behind a periodic occurrence.”
This overlooks the fact that solar cycles are permanent “periodic occurrences,” a.k.a. a very long-term trend.
Stupid, stupid Meehl… You have to look beyond what the evidence actually says and force yourself to see the evidence visible only to Jonah.
[Periodicity of course does not imply a long term trend either positive or negative. The existence or lack of any additional long term behavior superimposed on top of the 11-year periodicity is an altogether different kettle of fish, which again I'll get to later.]
It wouldn’t be a Goldberg piece without some requisite potshots at the deceptive Liberal Fascist Media:
For instance, when we have terribly hot weather, or bad hurricanes, the media see portentous proof of climate change. When we don’t, it’s a moment to teach the masses how weather and climate are very different things.
Of course we get the look-aren’t-I-reasonable non-denial:
No, I’m not denying that man-made pollution and other activity have played a role in planetary warming since the Industrial Revolution.
And you know what’s coming next- an enormous “but”, where non sequiturs and appeal to ridicule abound:
But we live in a moment when we are told, nay lectured and harangued, that if we use the wrong toilet paper or eat the wrong cereal, we are frying the planet.
Presumably the references to toilet paper and cereal aren’t meant to be taken at face value, but rather are to be “enjoyed” as Jonah’s trademark “aren’t enviros nutty little fascists” humor. If on the off chance they were an actual allusion to tropical deforestation, however, the warming effects of such due to increased atmospheric CO2 and decreased evapotranspiration are real enough.
Hey! Did you know that climate science has heretofore completely ignored solar variability in the context of climate change? Jonah breaks this scandal wide open:
But the sun? Well, that’s a distraction. Don’t you dare forget your reusable shopping bags, but feel free to pay no attention to that burning ball of gas in the sky — it’s just the only thing that prevents the planet from being a lifeless ball of ice engulfed in total darkness.
What’s priceless about this little argument from ignorance is that the sun is most certainly not, in Jonah’s words, “the only thing that prevents the planet from being a lifeless ball of ice.” There’s a little something called the bloody greenhouse effect that warms the Earth by an additional ~33°C, keeping it from being a “lifeless ball of ice” whereas the sole influence of the sun does not.
Jonah then doubles (triples) down on the increased sunspot gambit, a la The Great Global Warming Swindle:
Never mind that sunspot activity doubled during the 20th century, when the bulk of global warming has taken place.
This is presumably where Jonah’s sunspot obsession has been leading all along. The ever-observant Jonah has noted that there seems to be a Correlation between sunspots/solar activity (which he Has Recently Learned causes warming, long term warming mind you) and what the enivro hippie fascist scientists would have us believe is the period of Allegedly Man-made Warming. Case closed, mirite?
Did you know that climate science predicts anthropogenic warming should be monotonic even though climate scientists actually never make that claim? Jonah, again, sets the scientific community straight:
What does it say that the modeling that guaranteed disastrous increases in global temperatures never predicted the halt in planetary warming since the late 1990s? (MIT’s Richard Lindzen says that “there has been no warming since 1997 and no statistically significant warming since 1995.”)
Of course this has been covered many, many times elsewhere, notably by Robert Grumbine in determining climatologically significant temperature trends (and here), by Tamino in when to expect new record temperatures, and by RealClimate discussing what the IPCC models actually say. This issue is also explicitly addressed by Easterling and Wehner in their GRL paper Is the climate warming or cooling? that demonstrates (as does the RealClimate post) that climate models, contrary to Jonah’s claim they “guaranteed disastrous increases in global temperatures [and] never predicted the halt in planetary warming since the late 1990s” do in fact capture the kind of variability that can give the illusion of a period without warming despite a clear overall warming trend:
Jonah probably has, like Roger Pielke Jr., confused the IPCC projection of the forced component of climate over time with specific temperature predictions. However, the ensemble averaged projection isn’t even monotonic itself, and the individual modeling runs certainly are not:
What does it say that the modelers have only just now discovered how sunspots make the Earth warmer?
If it were remotely true, it would say quite a lot. Of course, there’s the pesky little issue of Jonah not knowing what the frack he’s talking about. Sunspots don’t themselves warm the Earth, but rather sunspots coincide with increased solar luminosity, and changes in solar forcing certainly have an impact on the climate system- something known for decades. While the precise mechanism by which this occurs may not have been modeled until now (and still might not), the magnitude of the effect is small enough so as to be irrelevant in the context of end-of-century projections of future warming.
Jonah’s own referencing of the Maunder minimum clearly demonstrates that the sunspot/solar variability/climate link is far from new information, and solar variability both pre-industrial and current are of course taken into account in modeling the climate. What does it say about Jonah that the implications of his own column debunks this ridiculous proposition?
And of course, we end with Jonah’s actual bottom line. All of this whinging about toilet paper and sunspots and cereal, and ignorance of the meaning of scientific “study”, what climate models actually say, etc. is merely the pretext for a political argument from ignorance in opposition to climate legislation:
I don’t know what it tells you, but it tells me that maybe we should study a bit more before we spend billions to “solve” a problem we don’t understand so well.
Although the scientific process is obviously deeply mysterious to Jonah, to the rest of us things aren’t so terribly opaque. While our understanding of the climate system increases, the broad strokes of the anthropogenic warming issue are well understood. This is why the national science academies of the US and other major science producing nations are united in their calls for significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Jonah’s argument is the equivalent of telling an HIV-positive patient that she should hold off on taking the recommended antiretroviral cocktail that will help her lead a relatively normal life because ‘we are still learning new things’ about the virus every day. It’s nonsensical, and more to the point grossly negligent advice.
The only meaningfully true statement Jonah makes in his entire column is this one:
What is the significance of all this? To say I have no idea is quite an understatement, but it will have to do.
Indeed. I believe in Jonah’s line of work we call that burying the lede.
This is what we can expect as blatant climate denialism becomes ever more ridiculed and politically untenable- the non-denial denialism. The lip service to anthropogenic warming that is ultimately revealed to be concealing the same old anti-mitigation arguments based upon economic/ideological opposition to the feared remedy of emissions reductions. This is what so many people who naively believe that “if only people were more accepting of science, they would be less opposed to preventing disastrous climate change” don’t get. The Jonah Goldbergs of the world are not, have never been, and will never be interested in what the science actually says. They are ideologically opposed to the implied solution of emissions reductions, and they shift their arguments accordingly.
Even if Jonah is made aware of the inanity of his specific complaints in this column in terms of policy relevance, he will simply move to a new but inevitably anti-mitigation position, be it geo-engineering, a gamed cost/benefit stance in the tradition of Jim Manzi, the Breakthrough fallacy of magical future clean energy, etc. Once those arguments are rebutted, we’ll still see a “But, but, China/India!” And by the time those arguments (or their successors, or their successors) are thoroughly debunked and untenable, there probably won’t be need of any further ones as the clock will have effectively run out on meaningful mitigation due to political and energy infrastructure inertia.
This is not, and will never be, about science for them. It’s about running out the clock on a perceived threat to economic interests.