Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Dissecting Prison Planet’s Nonsense on Climate Change

In a article published on Alex Jones’ popular website, prisonplanet.com, writer Paul Joseph Watson accuses the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) of using deception and fear mongering in a scientific study evaluating the potential effects of climate change.

At first glance, Watson’s argument may seem compelling, but a close analysis exposes the writer’s research as fundamentally flawed and misleading.

Watson’s arguments are reproduced below in bold and critiqued in regular font.

“Global warming fearmongers the World Wildlife Fund have been caught in a new act of deception after citing shrinking Arctic ice coverage to suggest climate change is ‘faster and more extreme’ than first thought, while failing to acknowledge that Arctic sea ice expanded over an area bigger than the size of Germany during the year of 2008.”

“For the WWF and the London Telegraph to use 2007 data and completely discount a gigantic 30 per cent increase in Arctic sea ice coverage from August 2007 to August 2008 is not only misleading, it is completely dishonest and atypical of the politicized agenda-driven global warming lobby.”

There are several basic aspects of the Arctic environment Watson is not taking into account. Before evaluating scientific research, one should be familiar with the basics of the material.

Ice in the Arctic goes through an annual cycle of melting and expanding. The ice has ‘expanded over an area bigger than the size of Germany’ numerous times, not just in 2008. This does not, in any way, discredit the theory of global warming. Climatologists are fully aware of this cycle and use it analyze environmental changes.

The ice usually reaches its annual peak in March and its annual low in September. The following chart, utilizing satellite data dating back to 1980, illustrates this cycle and shows a very clear pattern of steadily decreasing ice levels in the summer time.


(Image made available by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Watson accuses the World Wildlife Fund of omitting critical facts in an attempt deceive the public. In reality, Watson is the one presenting incomplete and misleading information.

Watson acknowledges the last two years, but decides to discount the past thirty. As the above chart shows, the ice extent has been getting consistently lower in the summer for almost three decades. While it is true 2008 did not break the 2007 record, the overall downward trend continued just as climatologists predicted. In fact, many studies now suggest the Arctic will be ice-free in the summer within five years, decades ahead of many original projections.

Watson also fails to mention the difference between the loss of seasonal ice and the loss of older, thicker perennial ice. As summarized this March by the Washington Post, “the very old ice, which remains in the Arctic for at least six years, made up more than 20 percent of the Arctic in the mid- to late 1980s, but by this winter it had decreased to 6 percent.”

“Because we had a cold winter, the public might think things have gotten better," said Walter Meier of the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “In fact, the loss of the perennial ice makes clear that they're not getting better at all.”

"According to collated data from the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and the University of Illinois, Arctic ice extent was 30 per cent greater on August 11, 2008 than it was on the August 12, 2007. This is a conservative estimate based on the map projection."

Here Watson uses old, incomplete and largely irrelevant information.

To compare the total ice melt from two separate years, the statistics must be taken from September when the ice reaches its lowest point. This is easily accessible information that should have been included in Watson’s analysis, although it would have refuted his main point.

The true figures show summer ice in 2008 melted to the second lowest level on record, surpassed only by the previous year. The measurements from August show a nine percent difference between 2007 and 2008, not thirty percent as Watson suggests.

Watson cites NASA satellite data, but a quick search of NASA’s website discredits his argument. This particular NASA article takes into account all of the pertinent satellite data and states: “While slightly above the record-low minimum set Sept. 16, 2007, this season further reinforces the strong negative trend in summer sea ice extent observed during the past 30 years.”

This is considered basic knowledge within the climate community.

“The 30 per cent increase coincided with a record low in sunspot activity over the same period, again proving that climate change is driven by natural catalysts as it has been throughout history.”

Again, Watson uses incomplete and inaccurate information.

As shown above, the “30 percent” figure is wrong. The actual difference is nine percent. More to the point, Watson boldly cites this as “proof” of a direct link between sunspot activity and recent changes in climate, a theory discredited and discounted several times over.

It is indeed true that sunspot activity effects environment. It is also true that sunspot activity is at its lowest point since 1954, but there is no correlation between this lull, or any other historical sunspot trend, and the radical changes in climate now attributed to greenhouse gas emissions. There are countless examples to establish this point.

In addition to the disappearing ice, Arctic air temperatures have climbed to record levels. This follows a warming trend dating back to the mid-1960s. If sunspots were, as Watson asserts, the predominant factor influencing the environment in the Arctic, one would expect to see record low temperatures.

The recent global warming trend correlates with emissions of greenhouse gases, not solar activity.

“[The lack of sunspot activity] is why we are seeing evidence of natural global cooling all over the planet… All the evidence is screaming out that the planet has now embarked on a cooling trend to follow the natural warming trend that caused Arctic ice to shrink in the first place…”

The lower temperatures this year have been attributed to a La Nina weather pattern, not sunspots. As climatologists predicted in January, this year is expected to be cooler than the last few, but still well above average. Nothing about this is a mystery and it certainly doesn’t refute the theory of man-made climate change. Average global temperatures have been rising and are expected to continue rising once La Nina passes.

A ‘trend’ typically exhibits a pattern. There is no evidence of a global cooling pattern, just the opposite. Watson relies on a few selective examples from a single year, while failing to acknowledge La Nina and the very real warming trend of the past half-century.

A thorough, objective writer would have been able to find this basic information online through a simple search. The fact that none of it was included in Watson’s report is indicative of sloppy research and a desire to prove a predetermined conclusion before evaluating all the evidence. Watson has chosen to critique the scientific consensus on global warming, but he clearly does not understand the fundamental principles behind the theory.

Watson accuses the WWF of pursuing a "misleading" and “completely dishonest” political agenda, but fails to deliver a single substantive point to support his claim. Watson uses inaccurate information, excludes important facts and frames the majority of his arguments around false premises. It is clear that Watson and prisonplanet.com are the ones deceiving the public when it comes to the reality of climate change, not environmental groups like the WWF.