Tuesday, November 7, 2017

WSJ Dispatches Climate Hack Steve Koonin To Undermine New Climate Report

It had to happen.  Once a new exhaustive scientific report  from the Global Change Research Program was set for release, The Wall Street Journal recruited its reliable new toady (Steven E. Koonin)  to try to undermine its validity ('A Deceptive New Report On Climate', Nov, 3, p. 15) a day before the WSJ  actually published the news ('Report Ties Humans To Climate Change', Nov. 4-5, p. A15)

In the latter, we learned:

"Many lines of evidence demonstrate that it is extremely likely that hum an influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.  For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence."


"The global average sea level has risen about 7 to 8 inches since 1900, but nearly half of that increase has happened in the last 25 years."

The report also affirmed that climate change - driven almost exclusively by humans- is leading us to a worst-case scenario where seas could rise as high as eight feet by the year 2100,

But this was evidently all too much for the WSJ's go to climate stooge, Steven Koonin - who got his deplorable op-ed published the day before

Recall I had earlier torched Koonin in my April 21 post,  when he called for a "red  team"  test of Earth Day.  I wrote at the time:
"Let's reference that Koonin himself is not an honest broker for the "true representation" of climate science. As per a Wikipedia entry on him we read:

In Climate Science Is Not Settled a 2014 essay published in the Wall Street Journal, Koonin wrote that "We are very far from the knowledge needed to make good climate policy," and that "The impact today of human activity [on climate] appears to be comparable to the intrinsic, natural variability of the climate system itself." Koonin criticized the use of results from climate modelling to support the "scientific consensus" (quotes in original) about climate change, noting that, among other problems, "The models differ in their descriptions of the past century's global average surface temperature by more than three times the entire warming recorded during that time." Regarding climate sensitivity, Koonin wrote that "Today's best estimate of the sensitivity (between 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit and 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit) is no different, and no more certain, than it was 30 years ago. And this is despite an heroic research effort costing billions of dollars."

Ten days after Koonin wrote this, Jeffrey Kluger in Time called Koonin's piece disingenuous if not dishonest. Koonin simply used the old debating trick of setting up a strawman to knock down by misconstruing what climate scientists mean when they say the climate debate is "settled."

Koonin also resorted to the straw man technique with his objections to the newly released report, writing that "while much is right in the report it is misleading in more than a few important places:"   Going on to complain:

"One important example of alarm raising is the  description of sea level rise...the report ominously notes that while global sea level rose an average of 0.05 inch a year during most of the 20th century it has risen at about twice that rate since 1993. But it fails to mention the overall rate fluctuated by comparable amounts several times during the 20th century"

This is actually conflating a statistical definition with discrete outliers in the assembled data sets.  It would be somewhat analogous to making a complaint about my published  (Solar Physics) research on SID flares, say to the effect "he noted an average frequency of 3.3 major SID flares from his largest area sunspot class but ignored all the ARs-sunspots that fluctuated from that frequency by comparable magnitudes over the study interval"

Missing the key point that a subset of data outliers with magnitudes approximately the same as the average do NOT overturn the average.  For example, my raw SID flare-sunspot collection comprised more than 1,200 data points. of which perhaps 12 points "fluctuated by comparable magnitudes" in respect to the flare and sunspot classes investigated.  But this difference pertaining to discrete data points was simply too meager to overturn the mean flare frequencies computed per sunspot class. Or the mean sunspot areas, computed per SID flare class. In other words, Koonin's complaint mixes chalk and cheese and amounts to another straw man.

A similar objection was made by one of the report's authors who replied  that the report did not state that the rate since 1993 was "faster than during any comparable period since 1900" -  which is the "non-statement Steve seems to be objecting to."

Maybe we ought to rename the WSJ's go to guy "Straw Man Koonin".

Koonin also missed the point emphasized in a NASA September report on the unequal distribution of sea level rise owing to variations in the Earth's gravity field. As the report notes:

"As ice sheets and glaciers undergo climate-related melting, they alter Earth’s gravity field, resulting in sea level changes that aren’t uniform around the globe. For example, when a glacier loses ice mass, its gravitational attraction is reduced. Ocean waters nearby move away, causing sea level to rise faster far away from the glacier. The resulting pattern of sea level change is known as a sea level fingerprint. Certain regions, particularly in Earth’s middle and low latitudes, are hit harder, and Greenland and Antarctica contribute differently to the process"

Here's the skinny and essentially cutting through the propaganda of Koonin: Based on the mid-range IPCC  RCP4.5 scenario - around 650 ppm CO2 and equivalent producing a forcing of approximately 4.5 watts/metre - the most likely sea level rise by 2100 is between 80cm and 1 metre.  Can we really reach 650 ppm by then?  I already did the math several times before in posts based on a (conservative) rate of CO2 concentration increments of 2 ppm/ yr.  Currently, the steady CO2 concentration is at 402 ppm.  Seventy -two years hence it will be at 402 ppm + (72 x 2 ppm/yr) = 546 ppm. But this assumes a constant yearly  forcing of  2.0 watts/metre2  not  the recently revealed 4.5 watts/metre2 from the IPCC model.

This leads to a graph:

In his Nov. 3 op-ed Koonin also objected to the report's information on heat waves, writing:

"The report's executive summary declares U.S. heat waves have become more common since the mid 1960s yet buried deep in the report is a figure showing that heat waves are no more frequent today than in 1900."

Totally ignored by Koonin were the detailed and critical  distinguishing aspects within the report and (referring to the figures)  encapsulating the changes in the ratios of record highs to lows. Thus, one reads:

Consistent with these increases, the number of cool nights per year (those with a minimum temperature below the 10th percentile for 1961–1990) declined in all regions, with much of the West having decreases of roughly two weeks. The frequency of cold waves (6-day periods with a minimum temperature below the 10th percentile for 1961–1990) has fallen over the past century (Figure 6.4). The frequency of intense cold waves (4-day, 1-in-5 year events) peaked in the 1980s and then reached record-low levels in the 2000s.17


Changes in the occurrence of record-setting daily temperatures are also apparent. Very generally, the number of record lows has been declining since the late-1970s while the number of record highs has been rising.23 By extension, there has been an increase in the ratio of the number of record highs to record lows (Figure 6.5). Over the past two decades, the average of this ratio exceeds two (meaning that twice as many high-temperature records have been set as low-temperature records). The number of new highs has surpassed the number of new lows in 15 of the last 20 years, with 2012 and 2016 being particularly extreme (ratios of seven and five, respectively).

Also reckoned into the mix is the fact that the more recent heat waves have exhibited higher lows than seen in the past. If, for example, a heat wave in Milwaukee in the 1950s might be characterized by a high of 98 and low of 75 it is now more likely to be a high of 100 and low of 88.  Hence, the difference between the heat wave highs and lows are lessening. This lessening of night time temperatures (relative to daytime highs)  is what really sets modern heat waves apart and renders them more lethal.

E.g. from the 'Climate communications' website,


We read:

"In the past 3-4 decades, there has been an increasing trend in high-humidity heat waves, which are characterized by the persistence of extremely high night-time temperature.1 The combination of high humidity and high night-time temperature can make for a deadly pairing, offering no relief and posing a particular threat for the elderly"

In many ways Koonin's history as a devoted climate skeptic and hack precedes him. In a Slate 2014 article ('Climate Science Is Settled Enough  - The Wall Street Journal's Fresh Face Of Climate Inaction') we learned:

"Steve Koonin is the answer to a troublesome question facing the Journal’s opinion page editors: What you do if you want to continue obstructing progress on global warming pollution, but your usual stable of tame skeptics is starting to die off (Fred Seitz), retire from active research (Dick Lindzen), or discredit itself through serial scientific errors (John Christy) or by taking fanatical and manifestly untenable positions (Heartland Institute)? That puts the editors in quite a pickle. The Wall Street Journal evidently has high hopes for promoting Koonin as a prominent new voice for inaction, having lavished on him 2,000 words and front-page Saturday exposure outside the Journal’s paywall.

Who is Steve Koonin and why should we care?

Koonin has constructed a narrative that is calculated to make people take notice even if they wouldn’t ordinarily trust anything the Wall Street Journal published on global warming: I’m a physicist bringing my brilliance and outside perspective to the backwater of climate science! (He was a professor of physics, and later provost, at Caltech.) I’m green! (He was chief scientist for BP, the oil firm that likes to tout itself as the “beyond petroleum” company, and he was involved with renewables there, among other things.) I’ve got true-blue Democratic credentials! (He was undersecretary for science in the Department of Energy during Obama’s first term.)

But there are flaws in this narrative. Being a smart physicist can just give you more elaborate ways to delude yourself and others, along with the arrogance to think you can do so without taking the time to really understand the subject you are discussing. Freeman Dyson is a famous example. Koonin’s role in the Department of Energy was marginal and largely powerless, leading ultimately to his resignation. BP’s “beyond petroleum” vision evidently includes tar sands (both extraction and refining) and petcoke (arguably the worst fossil fuel of all). And anyway, how green can you be if you’re the company that gave us the Deepwater Horizon disaster?"

Why is the WSJ (among others) so committed to getting a tool like Steve Koonin to do their dirty work for them? Naomi Klein has the answer in her latest book ('NO Is Not Enough - Resisting Trump's Shock Politics'), explaining that IF climate change is real (and it is) all the Neoliberal economic pooh bahs as well as the entrenched capitalist state will have to ditch their narratives. She writes (p. 81): 

"Climate change, especially at this late date, can only be dealt with by collective action that sharply curtails the behavior of corporations such as ExxonMobil and Goldman Sachs. It demands investments in the public sphere - in new energy grids, public transit, light rail, and more energy efficiency....and that can only happen by raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations.

In short, climate change detonates the ideological scaffolding on which contemporary conservatism rests. To admit the climate crisis is real is to admit the end of the neoliberal project."

The neoliberal project, of course, depends on eviscerating all citizen security - financial or otherwise. This is precisely why The Wall Street Journal has had to find a semi-competent and dependable shill to inveigh against the latest climate science report from the Global Change Research Program. They found it in Steven Koonin, who still advocates "red  team"  tests of climate change. Maybe what we really need is a red team test of this guy's climate change bona fides. 

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