One Confusedi Bastardi

Joe Bastardi is a meteorologist who, on 06 August 2011, went on Fox News and grossly misinformed its audience on a number of climate-related issues.  You can view the interview here:

A few days later, Bastardi had the temerity to post a comment on tamino's Open Mind blog, repeating many of the same Gish Gallop points, and adding a few new ones.

Re-Writing History

Bastardi began the Fox News interview by saying that the global climate "was as bad...or even worse" in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, as today.  This is a twist on the myth that 1934 was hotter than today, when in fact globally it was the 48th hottest year on record (though it was among the hottest years in the contiguous United States, which is the basis of the myth, but which covers less than 2% of the Earth's surface). 

Somehow Bastardi expanded this myth not only from local (lower United States) to global, but also from one year to three decades!  Not only is this a patently absurd claim that any weatherman should know is absolutely untrue, but Bastardi also neglects the mid-century cooling that "skeptics" usually love to focus on.  It's rather self-contradictory to argue that while the planet cooled after a period of warming, the climate got "worse".  Plus, I thought "skeptics" believed that warmer is better.  Perhaps Bastardi disagrees with his fellow "skeptics" on this point, since he suggested a warmer climate is "worse".

Distorting the Data

Bastardi then commited a major error in discussing human CO2 emissions, both on Fox News and the Open Mind blog:

"...when you look at carbon dioxide, it increases 1.5 parts per million a year.  We contribute 3% of that, which means the human contribution is 1 part per 20 million.  Do you realize how small that is of a trace gas that is necessary for life on the planet?"

This is simply wrong.  While human CO2 emissions are approximately 3 to 5% of global CO2 emissions, because natural carbon sinks are actually slightly larger than natural carbon sources, human emissions are responsible for 100% of the atmospheric CO2 increase.  Which, by the way, is now over 2 ppm per year.  This is the simple accounting which MarkR recently discussed

There's nothing controversial or complicated about this - it's simple addition and subtraction.  It's rather stunning that so many "skeptics" can't seem to comprehend this simple point.

Re-Writing the Laws of Physics

On Fox News, Bastardi proceeded to claim that CO2 can't be causing global warming, because this would violate the First Law of Thermodynamics (energy can neither be created nor destroyed).

This argument is like saying "putting on a blanket won't warm you up because it can't create energy."  As a Scientific American response to Bastardi recently explained, greenhouse gases don't create or destroy energy, but they do effectively trap it in the Earth's atmosphere.  Again, this is really basic stuff that one should get right before posing as a climate expert.

Bastardi went on to claim Le Chatelier’s Principle

"says that any system in distress, physical or chemical in the atmosphere, tries to return toward normalcy. And that is why you’re seeing temperatures level off."

However, as Kevin Trenberth points out, the increase in global temperature is the Earth's way of "returning to normalcy" (a.k.a. restoring energy equilibrium) in response to the increased greenhouse effect.  So Le Chatelier’s Principle isn't going to save us - it just means the planet will keep on warming as long as we continue increasing atmospheric CO2.

Bastardi clearly does not understand the physical principles he invokes here.

Gish Gallop Time

On Fox News, Bastardi then reeled off a number of long-debunked climate myths.  He blamed global warming on sunspots, even though solar activity has been flat for 60 years.  He suggested it could also be due to oceanic cycles, even though the oceans and air have both been warming. He claimed "they can't find the missing heat", which refers to a lack of observational data, and in no way undermines the man-made global warming theory.  And he claimed that the planet will cool in the coming decades, which is a prediction with no basis in reality.  Similar cooling predictions have already fared exceptionally poorly.  Finally, the Fox News anchors and Bastardi both referenced Roy Spencer's recent study; however, his paper contains a number of fundamental flaws.

Global Warming Hasn't Stopped

In both his Fox News interview and Open Mind comment, Bastardi claimed several times that global warming has "leveled off" over the past 15 years.  As tamino noted in response, short-term noise is expected to cause "leveling off" of a long-term trend from time to time.  In fact when we filter out many of those short-term effects like El Niño, solar variation, and volcanic eruptions, we see that global warming hasn't even slowed down (Figure 1).

temps with short-term filtered out

Figure 1: Various average global surface temperature data sets with ENSO, solar, and volcanic effects filtered out (Open Mind)

And as Rob Painting noted in a recent article that was re-posted on Climate Progress and Richard Dawkins' blog, the oceans, where most of the global energy imbalance is going, continue to warm.

Satellite Data is Adjusted Too

In his Fox News interview, Bastardi claimed that

"We have a way of measuring objectively now, not readjusting data...Since 1978 we have been training satellites on the Earth so we can measure temperature without having to readjust things"

Just like mercury in a thermometer, voltage from a satellite instrument must be "adjusted" to obtain a temperature measurement.  Additionally, satellite data must be adjusted further to filter out effects like satellite orbital decay, and the fact that they're peering through all layers of the atmosphere, but we want to know the average temperature of each layer individually.  Satellite temperature data goes through many adjustments, and in fact the difficulty in making those adjustments led Roy Spencer and John Christy to arrive at some very wrong conclusions about global warming in the past.

"Leveled Off" Self-Contradiction

Even worse, while Bastardi considers Spencer's satellite data the global temperature "gold standard", their data show no sign of his claimed "leveling off" of global temperatures.  The UAH lower troposphere temperature trend since 1978 is 0.138°C per decade.  The UAH trend since 1996 is 0.132°C per decade - statistically indistinguishable (Figure 2).


Figure 2: UAH Lower Troposphere Temperature data, and linear trends since 1978 and 1996.

In making his "leveled off" claim in his Open Mind comments, Bastardi specifically references HadCRUT data:

"do you deny the hadley center, hardly right wing idiots like you think we are, has the correct measurements."

In fact Bastardi himself denied that the Hadley Center measurements are correct in his Fox News interview, saying that the satellite data is more accurate.  But yes, as a matter of fact, HadCRUT does have some problems as a global temperature data set.

Many climate "skeptics" like Bastardi have taken to using HadCRUT data recently, despite attacking it in the wake of "Climategate", because it shows the smallest warming trend in recent years.  This is partially because HadCRUT is not a complete global temperature data set, for example excluding the Arctic, where the warming trend is greatest.  An analysis of their data by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecast (ECMWF) concluded that

"The ECMWF analysis shows that in data-sparse regions such as Russia, Africa and Canada, warming over land is more extreme than in regions sampled by HadCRUT. If we take this into account, the last decade shows a global-mean trend of 0.1°C to 0.2°C per decade. We therefore infer with high confidence that the HadCRUT record is at the lower end of likely warming."

In other words, if HadCRUT were truly a complete global data set, like UAH, it wouldn't show a significant "leveling off" of global warming either.  Bastardi contradicts himself badly by using HadCRUT over UAH, but neither really supports his argument.

Gross Oversimplification

Bastardi's display of utter climate confusion continued on Open Mind.

"How is it, that the earths temperature has leveled off, if co2 continues to rise and it is supposed to be what is causing the rise.. The answer is obvious. it is the earths temperature which is driving the co2 release into the atmosphere. That is what Salby opines, and he is correct."

Here Bastardi shows his misunderstanding of the man-made global warming theory.  The theory does not state that CO2 is the only factor impacting global temperature, or that CO2 and temperature must correlate perfectly.  The theory states that currently, CO2 is the largest factor determining long-term temperature changes.  But the trend is currently only 0.2°C per decade, which can be offset by short-term effects if they align in the cooling direction, as has recently been the case.

As for Salby, Rob Painting has also detailed why his argument (that global warming is causing the atmospheric CO2 increase, rather than vice-versa) is fundamentally (and obviously) wrong.  Aside from the simple carbon accounting approach detailed in MarkR's post linked above, if temperatures are driving CO2 changes, and temperatures have "leveled off", as Bastardi claims, then why have CO2 concentrations not leveled off as well?  This is yet another to add to the staggering list of absolutely glaring errors and contradictions in Bastardi's comments.

Further Physics Failures

In his Open Mind comments, Bastardi then argued that because the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere seems small, it can't have a significant warming effect.

"lets just try to measure the addition of energy of co2, assuming that it is adding energy. The fact is you cant measure it. It is infinitely small. You dont have a leg to stand on"

To be blunt, Bastardi simply does not know what he's talking about.  Scientists have measured the change in longwave radiation on Earth due to the increased greenhouse effect (Figure 3).  Oh, and it's measured by the satellites Bastardi loves so much.

Figure 3: Change in spectrum from 1970 to 1996 due to trace gases. 'Brightness temperature' indicates equivalent blackbody temperature (Harries 2001).

Additionally, the radiative forcing from CO2 is currently far larger than any other radiative forcing (Figure 4).  It's the equivalent of detonating 13 Hiroshima "Little Boy" bombs per second; not exactly "infinitely small".

IPCC radiative forcings

Figure 4: Global average radiative forcing in 2005 (best estimates and 5 to 95% uncertainty ranges) with respect to 1750.  Source (IPCC AR4).

Logical Failure

Bastardi's display of climate confusion in his Open Mind comments didn't stop there:

"after a prolonged period of LACK OF SUNSPOT ACTIVITY, the world was quite cold around 1800. The ramping up of solar activity the past 200 years until now can easily be argued as the introduction of extra energy into the system. Much more so than the argument is co2, which gets shot down since the earths temps have leveled off the past 15 years while co2 is rising."

So Bastardi throws out the man-made global warming theory because he argues that over a 15 year period, temperatures did not follow the CO2 change.  Yet temperatures have certainly not followed (the flat, perhaps even slightly declining) solar activity over the past 60 years (Figure 5).

temp co2 sun

Figure 5: Global Surface Temperature vs. CO2 vs. Sunspots (Stanford Solar Center)

It appears that Bastardi's "skepticism" about global warming only applies to CO2.  He clearly has not applied his "logic" to his own arguments, or he would be unable to argue that the sun is causing global warming.

Bastardi Amateuri

Bastardi's comments on Fox News and at Open Mind reveal a glaring lack of comprehension of basic physics and climate science.  Frankly, he's the last person who people should be listening to as a climate expert.  As tamino described it,

"If reality is even the least bit complicated, if it can’t be summed up in a 10-second (or less) sound bite, if it involves any amount of “take some time and think about that before moving on” effort, it seems too much for him....Unfortunately for Bastardi, global warming cannot be learned, explained, or summarized through snappy one-liner comments."

"...far too many don’t even care to hear about it, and far too many others are tricked into misunderstanding when Joe Bastardi and his fellow fake skeptics offer them the cheap and easy chicken-McNugget version of global warming."

Indeed, Bastardi's arguments are wrong because they're gross oversimplifications of more complicated issues.  However, they probably sound good to people who, like Bastardi, lack an understanding of the physical sciences.  Unfortunately, this describes a significant percentage of the American public, including the audience of Fox News who were subjected to these absurd arguments from an amateur posing as an expert.  The misinformation of these millions of people is the real tragedy of this story.

Posted by dana1981 on Tuesday, 16 August, 2011

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