July 3, 2009

EPA Global Warming document - Suppressed?

I recently received an email from a friend suggesting that I take a look at a draft document that the author claimed had been suppressed by the EPA.

1) The author of the document suggests that the EPA is obligated to review the IPCC data before accepting its findings. He suggests that the EPA has not acted properly and should engage in reviewing (or perhaps repeating) the work completed by the IPCC before making any rulings on climate change. The fact is that the peer review process completed on the IPCC report was vastly more extensive than anything EPA could conduct on their own. That said - from the EPA's own guidelines

"For the purposes of the Guidelines, EPA recognizes that if data and analytic results are subjected to formal, independent, external peer review, the information may generally be presumed to be of acceptable objectivity."

EPA's reasons for accepting the IPCC report are stated here.

"EPA is relying most heavily on these synthesis reports because they… 3)have been reviewed and formally accepted by, commissioned by, or in some cases authored by, U.S. government agencies and individual government scientists and provide EPA with assurances that this material has been well vetted by both the climate change research community and by the U.S. government; and 4) in many cases, they reflect and convey the consensus conclusions of expert authors."

and here.

"In addition to its reliance on existing and primarily recent synthesis reports from the peer reviewed literature,it also underwent a technical review by 12 federal climate change experts, internal EPA review, and interagency review."

The author says that the report is based on outdated science (3 year old IPCC data) and implies that we shouldn't do anything until we look at the latest science.

My first reaction is that this argument would preclude ever taking any action if we followed his advice, as we would always be waiting for the latest science before proceeding.

My second reaction is that the trend in the science is clear. The latest science says that climate change is happening faster than the IPCC report projected. The most recent science from MIT indicates that warming may be double the estimates from the three year old IPCC data.

2) I don't see much relevance regarding his second comment that there is divergence among scientists on the relationship between Atlantic hurricane activity and global warming. We are really just starting to learn about hurricanes and really only started keeping reliable records of hurricane wind speeds in the 50s. On top of that Atlantic hurricanes account for a very small percentage of the total hurricane (or cyclone) activity around the globe. Seems to me that this point is a red herring or perhaps a tempest in a teapot compared to the larger issues.

3) His claim that Greenland isn't shedding as much ice as expected seems completely at odds with the recent data that shows a non-linear acceleration of Greenland ice melt.

4) The idea that we don't need to do anything to respond to climate change because GHG emissions have been lower as a result of the recession shows a complete lack of understanding of climate science or a deliberate mis-representation of the facts. Is he suggesting that economic activity will not recover from the current slump?

While the amount of CO2 released in 2008 was less than the amount released in 2007, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is still increasing.

Of course, climate change responds to the total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, not just the CO2 released in the last year. The CO2 increase in the last year added 1.66 ppm to reach a total of 387 ppm. We haven't and won't have any measurable effect by reducing the rate of increase for only a year or maybe two.

5) For a discussion of the impact of sunspots and Pacific Oscillation mentioned by the author see this report summarizing the climate data from NASA.

The data shows that we've had the hottest decade on record during a low in sunspot activity. With increased sunspot activity expected over the next 11 years, we can expect to see significantly higher temperatures in the future.

Summary: The Southern Oscillation and increasing GHGs continue to be, respectively, the dominant factors affecting interannual and decadal temperature change. Solar irradiance has a non-negligible effect on global temperature [see, e.g., ref. 7, which empirically estimates a somewhat larger solar cycle effect than that estimated by others who have teased a solar effect out of data with different methods]. Given our expectation of the next El NiƱo beginning in 2009 or 2010, it still seems likely that a new global temperature record will be set within the next 1-2 years, despite the moderate negative effect of the reduced solar irradiance.

Finally, he loses any remaining credibility with me when he claims in section 1.2 of the document that global temperatures are cooling.

He shows graphs comparing temperatures in 2009 to 2006 and temperatures in 2008 to 2001 and temperatures in 1998 to 2008.

He completely ignores the data of the last 160 years which show that these years are among the hottest years on record.

For example, when I look into his claims that we are cooling, by following the links cited in his paper to see where he is getting is data, you find yourself at a website that claims we are cooling because we had a large drop in temperature when comparing the measured temperature in January 2007 to the measured temperature in January 2008.

What isn't mentioned on the site is that the temperature in January 2007 was the highest January temperature (by far) since we started keeping records of these things 160 or so years ago. So if you really want to find a way to show cooling, pick the hottest month on record (ever) for your comparison. It is hard to believe that this could be anything other than a deliberate misrepresentation of the data for the purpose of supporting the author's thesis.

It would be just as invalid an argument if others claimed that we were warming solely on the basis of comparing January 2006 to January 2007 or January 2008 to January 2009 and saying that we should extrapolate warming trends based on any one piece of data.

The author also cites the work of an astrologer named Theodor Landscheidt, who also thought that the rise of Hitler and Stalin were due to cosmic cycles,

The author appears to have rather closely collaborated with Ken Gregory (his inline comments appear at multiple points in the draft). You may know that Ken Gregory is a leading light of the Friends of Science - an anti-climate science lobbying group based in Alberta. Indeed, parts of the report appear to be lifted directly from the FoS site.

The bottom line is that this document has so many holes in it, not to mention that it cites un-peer reviewed websites and astrologers, it would be an embarrassment if it was submitted for a high school science fair project, much less as a government sanctioned document.

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