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Global warming denier Dennis Avery doesn’t know the difference between growth and growth rate

By Joe Romm on March 30, 2009 at 1:18 pm

"Global warming denier Dennis Avery doesn’t know the difference between growth and growth rate"

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The American Daily has just published this laughably wrong piece of disinformation by long-term global warming denier Dennis Avery, “Now CO2 is Declining as well as Temperatures.” Before AD and Avery take it down, let’s look at what passes for analysis among the deniers. The piece opens:

The atmospheric CO2 levels at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa observatory have declined since 2004. How can this be when humans keep emitting more greenhouse gases? Could declining atmospheric CO2 levels mean that the whole Greenhouse Warming theory is collapsing?

Now let’s look at the Mauna Loa data, something Avery didn’t bother to do (from the NOAA website here):

mauna-loa.gif

Doh!

Avery is an environmental economist, and a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC. I guess for conservative economists, “declined” means “steadily increased.” I guess that’s why, after eight years of being run by conservative economics, the economy is in such bad shape. [Insert your conservative economist joke here in the comments.] But I digress.

What’s especially laughable about this piece of “analysis” is that not only didn’t Avery check the Mauna Loa data, which would take maybe 10 seconds to find with Google — he apparently didn’t bother reading his original source or look at the title of his own footnote, which is “Mauna Loa Rate of Change.”

Avery’s inanity is actually based on some torturous and cherry-picked analysis from the winner of the 2008 Weblog Award for Best Anti-Science Blog, “Watts Up With That” [see "Diagnosing a victim of anti-science syndrome (ASS)"].

Watts tries to make the case that the rate of change of CO2 growth at Mauna Loa has declined and that means something (see here if you are a masochist with much free time on your hands). But Mauna Loa is only one of great many stations around the world, and CO2 concentrations are not perfectly uniform globally.

Here is the “Annual Mean Growth Rate [of CO2 concentrations] Global Average” for the last two decades of data from NOAA’s “Trends in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide – Global” (see here halfway down the page):

1990 1.24
1991 0.82
1992 0.64
1993 1.15
1994 1.68
1995 1.98
1996 1.07
1997 1.97
1998 2.91
1999 1.36
2000 1.24
2001 1.85
2002 2.39
2003 2.21
2004 1.62
2005 2.41
2006 1.79
2007 2.16
2008 2.08

Do you see any slowing in the rate of growth of carbon dioxide emissions? [Please ignore this question if you are a conservative economist.]

In fact, since 2000, global average CO2 concentrations have risen 2.06 ppm per year on average — 40% higher than the rate from the previous decade. Indeed, “since 2004″ — from 2005 on — they have risen 2.11 ppm per year on average, so it is awfully hard to make a case that even the rate of growth of CO2 concentrations has slowed — unless of course you are a global warming denier and/or conservative economist.

Quite the reverse — they have soared. Why? At the same time that CO2 emissions are soaring, CO2 sinks are saturating (see “The ocean is absorbing less carbon dioxide“).

Yes, once again, the actual data gives one more reason to be worried, not less. Avery ends his piece:

Scientific maxim: If you [sic!] theory doesn’t fit observed reality, change your theory.

That is indeed a scientific maxim, though it isn’t terribly relevant here. More to the point would be:

Conservative maxim: If your theory doesn’t fit observed data, misstate and cherry-pick the data until it does.

But then Avery, has been at the global warming disinformation game for a while. He coathored Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years with uber-denier Fred Singer — in spite of the fact that the Earth wasn’t actually in a warm trend — unstoppable or otherwise — 1500 years ago! (see “Unstoppable disinformation every 15 minutes from Fred Singer“).

You can’t make this stuff up — unless you are a denier, that is!

UPDATE: Avery admitted his error in an interview with Wonk Room: “I stand corrected . . . I apparently misstated the case.”

As of 9:22 pm, the original article is still up, but with this disclaimer, “Editor Note: This article is under review by the author. It will be revised shortly, certain aspects need to be clarified.”

Yeah, “clarified.”

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45 Responses to Global warming denier Dennis Avery doesn’t know the difference between growth and growth rate

  1. Diil Weed says:

    As Dennis Avery’s unclaimed love child, I am deeply offened by my unacknowledged father’s over the top hubris.

    Dill Weed

  2. Sean Pool says:

    It is mind boggling that someone with so little ability to understand numbers could possibly be pursuing a career as a senior fellow at any kind of institute, let alone in a nominally quantitative field like economics. wow.

  3. paulm says:

    Unbelievable. Why isnt this posted under Humor?

    Sounds like an article in the tabloid like…
    ‘Aliens arrive on Earth and are increasing Global Warming’

  4. Wonhyo says:

    Sean – It’s naive to think Avery has “little ability to understand the numbers”.

    If one takes a true-false test with no knowledge if the subject, one should expect a score of 50%. If one scores 0%, that indicates thorough knowledge of the subject, with intentionally chosen wrong answers.

  5. EricG says:

    Great article Joe. I don’t know how these guys get away with publishing these lies. You’d think there would be someone over there who is concerned with the facts.

    BTW, with all due respect, I don’t check your numbers. My calculation is below. Am I missing something?

    1990 1.24
    1991 0.82
    1992 0.64
    1993 1.15
    1994 1.68
    1995 1.98
    1996 1.07
    1997 1.97
    1998 2.91
    1999 1.36 1.48

  6. EricG says:

    Oops, half my numbers were dropped. Let me try a different format:

    1990 1.24
    1991 0.82 2000 1.24
    1992 0.64 2001 1.85
    1993 1.15 2002 2.39
    1994 1.68 2003 2.21
    1995 1.98 2004 1.62
    1996 1.07 2005 2.41
    1997 1.97 2006 1.79
    1998 2.91 2007 2.16
    1999 1.36 2008 2.08
    Ave 1.48 Ave 1.97

    Change 0.49 33.1%

    [JR: 33% is fine. But you didn't read what I wrote precisely. The deniers always go by traditional decades (i.e. starting in 1991 and 2001) so they can claim 2008 is the coldest year of the decade. I was just doing the same here.]

  7. tidal says:

    Sean Pool Says: It is mind boggling that someone with so little ability to understand numbers could possibly be pursuing a career as a senior fellow at any kind of institute

    Sean, that’s not a bug! It’s a feature!… (at least at the Hudson Institute and in the “field” he is specializing in!!!…)

  8. Will Greene says:

    Is this some kind of practical joke? These people need to be locked up. A denier that actually spends some time researching sources and observing data I will listen to, but to write an article like this is despicable.

  9. PeterW says:

    Hi Joe,

    I’m sure you noticed Andy Revkin is at it again. He’s posted another smug bit on his blog. Andy thinks environmentalists and some scientists (Hansen for one) are alarmists when they discuss Tipping Points.

    I’m starting to find this lecturing by the press almost as offensive as listening to Singer and Avery spout off. You would think people like Andy would be a little humble considering how bad a job him and his brethren in mainstream media have done educating the masses about climate change.

    Peter

    P.S. I just want to thank you. This is the best place to find out the latest news on climate change on the internet. I don’t know how you find the time but please keep it up.

  10. Lou Grinzo says:

    How many conservative economists does it take to change a light bulb?

    Change the light bulb!? Why would you force me to do something like that through an unfunded light bulb mandate??? Don’t you know that the free market will provide all the light we want, at no cost, and make corporations money in the process?

  11. Greg N says:

    Avery: “Scientific maxim: If you theory doesn’t fit observed reality, change your theory”

    No doubt Avery will realise his confusion over the data, will realise his theory doesn’t fit the observed increasing rate of CO2 increase, and will change his theory.

  12. Andy Bauer says:

    I got to the 2nd paragraph of the Foreward of ‘Unstoppable Global Warming’ where I found Avery’s and Singer’s first misdirection. Forgetting the title of their own book, they try to use US temps to refute the global trend.

    The book should have been named ‘Unstoppable Cherry-Picking’.

  13. Mr. Romm,

    I am not sure how you justify this statement:

    “At the same time that CO2 emissions are soaring, CO2 sinks are saturating.”

    Take your numbers for the rate of CO2 increase each year and divide them by the numbers for the annual global CO2 emissions each year (available from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, http://cdiac.ornl.gov/ftp/ndp030/global.1751_2005.ems) and see what you get.

    Hint: the ppm/emissions ratio shows no trend at all which means that there is no decline in the CO2 sink—otherwise, this ratio would be increasing.

    -Chip Knappenberger

    [JR: It is Dr. Romm, Chip, and, hint, it is what the scientific literature says. Try reading it, some time. Start with the Global Carbon Project.]

  14. Jim Beacon says:

    I have to wonder — and maybe Joe or someone can explain to me — WHY does the world continue to use the Manua Loa Observatory CO2 tracking data as The Global Standard? Isn’t Hawaii located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and probably surrounded by some of the cleanest air on the planet? I know it has an elevation of 13,679 feet above sea level, but that does not even put it in the top 100 highest peaks — and aren’t we most concerned about CO2 levels in the upper atmosphere?

    I know Manua Loa has been taking these measurements since the 1960s and so has a nice long reference record, but shouldn’t it always be supplemented with data from other sites (and atmospheric balloons and high-flying aircraft)? By using Manua Loa as the Global Starndard aren’t we risking missing the true concentration trends? Isn’t it likely that Mauna Loa represents the very low average increase in CO2 concentration?

  15. David B. Benson says:

    Jim Beacon — Carbon diioxide is a well-mixed gas in the atmosphere, with a mixing time of about 2+ years; concentrations are about the same everywhere and at all altitudes.

    While Mauna Loa used to be the only observatory, that has not been true for some time. The graphs are some suitable average of dozens of observations around the globe.

    =============
    Regarding CHip’s comment: many scientists are concerned that various carbon sinks are filling up and will take less carbon dioxide in the future. I have no doubt that this is the case for certain terrestrial reservoirs.

  16. David,

    Well, perhaps the sinks are saturating, but they are still growing steadily, otherwise the ppm/emissions ratio would be increasing as emissions have been increasing–which it isn’t.

    -Chip

  17. Wonhyo says:

    Chip – I haven’t checked your calculations, but do you really want to wait until the saturation of CO2 shows up in the global ppm/emissions ratio?

    A friend of mine waited for a year before getting treatment for his cancer. During that year, he was waiting for confirmation from his doctor that the tumor was cancerous. At the same time he declined the biopsy that might have confirmed the cancer because biopsies are not 100% reliable.

    The world’s top climate scientists have agreed in no uncertain terms in the IPCC report that human CO2 emissions are driving climate change. The conclusions cap a body if research dating back to 1896, when the greenhouse warming theory was first proposed.

    How long will we wait before treating this patient?

  18. Joe says:

    Here’s a question for Chip:

    Assuming the world listens to your … skeptical buddies and stays on the business-as-usual GHG emissions path, what do you expect CO2 concentrations and total warming from preindustrial levels to be?

  19. Ben Lieberman says:

    Joe,
    You will know you have fully arrived when deniers start to inhabit your blog.

  20. Jarad Holmes says:

    …but CO2 has nothing to do with global warming…and the Polar ice continues to grow and thicken…

  21. All,

    I am not sure that I am accurately characterized as a denier. Read my posts at MasterResource.org to get some idea of my stance on things.

    Joe, your question seems a bit out of the blue, but nevertheless…since you don’t give me a time frame, I’ll give you my expectations for the end of the century–I imagine that the atmospheric CO2 concentration will be about 550-600ppm and the global average surface temperature will rise another ~1.5 degC between then and now.

    Does that seem reasonable?

    -Chip

    [JR: I didn't see your name on the Cato ad so I thought I would ask. I did mean 2100. Of course your answer doesn't seem reasonable since it doesn't have any basis in our current scientific understanding of global warming.

    We're currently on an emissions path above A1F1 -- that is a 1000 ppm, 5°C warming according to IPCC, which doesn't even include most carbon cycle feedbacks (see here).

    The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Climate Change projects 5.1°C mean warming, 866 ppm (see here).

    Hadley says on our current emissions path, mean warming is 5.5°C (see here).

    So the question is, what do you know that the IPCC, MIT, and Hadley don't know?]

  22. Knappenberger:

    “or the end of the century–I imagine that the atmospheric CO2 concentration will be about 550-600ppm and the global average surface temperature will rise another ~1.5 degC between then and now.

    Does that seem reasonable?”

    It seems, to me, just barely plausible. Do you propose we bet the farm on it? Because that’s a bit scary as is, and the equally plausible worst case is terrifying.

    Regarding the topic at hand, the carbon sinks are noisy beasts. Canadell et al in PNAS has the latest scoop as far as I know. They do seem to be saturating, but it’s not going to be easy to spot in a short record. See their excellent graphic of the carbon budget 1850-2006 on this article, from the linked PowerPoint.

    It’s here: Carbon Cycle Misfortunes

  23. Harrier says:

    It seems like as we reduce our emissions we’re going to need to create new carbon sinks to help draw down the CO2 in the air. What are some good geographical candidates for reforestation? Where could we put new forests?

  24. Bob Wright says:

    This is humorous, but API ads and conservative talk radio are gearing up for the cap and trade and carbon tax fight with things like:
    *Freeman Dyson called GW hysteria in recent NYT article. (Article was actually about how cranky old Dyson loves being a contrarion).
    *”These new carbon taxes” will ham the economy and send even more jobs abroad as imposing the carbon tax on imports would be illegal protectionism. Carbon taxes will effectively be a tax increase on working people…
    *The “majority of Americans”agree we need to exploit more domestic fossil fuel sources.
    *carbon taxes would be more of the liberal agenda to distribute wealth as opposed to creating wealth.

    These guys continue the denier/delayer damage is done right or wrong / change the paradigm to the evil socialist agenda. Conservative democrats from fossil fuel producing states are going to vote against carbon taxes. This is going to be a mess.

    Looking at the CO2 chart, its only been a few months but the CH4 charts are showing new life after being flat for years.

  25. jorleh says:

    This Avery chap must be nuts. How can even some economics (which is not much) to be done by this sort of people?

  26. Roger Martin says:

    Help!

    A good person I respect has read the 2007 paper by German physicists Gerhard Gerlich and Ralf D. Tscheuschner dismissing the connection between increased atmospheric CO2 and increased temperatures and now proclaims himself confirmed in his belief that AGW is bunk.

    Have there been peer reviewed refutations of this paper that I can point him to?

  27. Dr. Romm,

    We are currently on the A1FI emissions path and temperature path that is less than B1…temperatures seem to be speaking louder than emissions (which brings our understanding of sinks and sensitivity into scrutinty).

    You point me to the literature to try to convince me of something that I (and you) can see by dividing two numbers–the annual CO2 build-up by the annual CO2 emissions. This ratio is unchanced since good CO2 measurements begin. So, the CO2 sinks continue to expand. This is not to say that they are not saturating, but that they show no declining capacity (at this time).

    Mr. Martin, although it is not peer-reviewed, Eli Rabett has an involved series of posts describing what is wrong with Gerlich and Tscheuschner. I think he has plans of combining them into a paper in the near future (see http://rabett.blogspot.com/).

    -Chip

    [JR: You keep asserting stuff that is in direct contradiction to the scientific literature. As you well know, there are many short-term factors, like the big La Nina of the last two years, that affect the yearly temp data a little. This has NOTHING to do with sinks and sensitivity, except to the extent that we are witnessing some global dimming. The land sink was SUPPOSED to grow, but it didn't. Your denier friends predicted incorrectly there. The ocean sink appears to be saturating. Glad you admit that CO2 concentrations rise at an accelerating rate with emissions -- not all your denier buddies agree with that.

    I assume that once the next El Nino kicks in, you'll admit that we are in the A1F1 temperature trend, since you insist on hiding behind the La Nina.]

  28. Roger Martin says:

    Thanks, Chip.

    I think I’ll have to wait for a peer-reviewed paper or get my friend to talk to a physicist who fully understands Gerlich’s and Tscheuschnerp’s arguments.

    There are many substantial, good people out there who are AGW skeptics. I think most of them are naturally individualistic and right-wing and therefore suspicious of interference in the market and large collective efforts to address purported large, collective problems. And I try to work on those people as best I can.

    This guy is not of that ilk, however. He’s a bit left wing, if anything (like Freeman Dyson). He says his skepticism is based on the science.

    [JR: They all say their "skepticism is based on the science." Standard rhetoric trick. Dyson isn't left wing. He just says he is. He was a big supporter of Reagan's Star Wars proposal.]

  29. Roger Martin says:

    So, JR, how do I deal with this guy?

    Want to take a “ad substantiam”, not an “ad hominem” approach.

    I see way too much “ad hominem” in this debate, which tends not to achieve our shared objective of convincing people that AGW is a real and pressing problem.

  30. Joe says:

    If he is willing to take a science-based approach, then I would start with the scientific literature. The 2007 IPCC synthesis report is good. The January 2009 MIT analysis is good.

    My “introduction to global warming impacts post” has links to most of the recent impacts literature.

    I find most of these types are not really science-based, they just say they are. And so they aren’t persuadable in geologic time.

  31. Roger,

    If you look through Eli Rabett’s stuff, I think you’ll find it to be rigorous. You don’t need a peer-reviewed paper to find what’s wrong with Gerlich and Tscheuschner, you just need to properly work through the physics.

    At have let your friend have a look at it and let him see for him/herself.

    If they can make it through Gerlich and Tscheuschner, then then ought to understand Eli Rabett’s counter to it.

    That’s what I suggest!

    -Chip

  32. Dr. Romm,

    Climate models can (or claim to) simulate natural variability (such as ENSO). So, it is relatively straightforward to see if models forced with A1FI expect such a period of slow global temperature rise as we are now seeing. If you do this (or have someone else do it for you) you’ll find that probably they don’t (models forced with A1B barely are able to do so, models forced with B1 do much better). This indicates that natural variability has either a greater effect on global temeprature trends or that the models are overly sensitive00in either case, the models need a bit if work. I think that the slow rate of warming in recent years has gone beyond a simple La Nina and probably entails a longer time-scale process such as the PDO.

    -Chip

  33. EricG says:

    Hey Chip,

    The ratio you are talking about is is generally called the “airborne fraction.” It is usually expressed as a fraction by comparing the atmospheric increase to emissions using the same units (i.e. Gt C or billion tons of carbon). This concept has been in use since Keeling’s work, though I don’t know if he originated it. Check out slide 22 on the link below. You’ll see why real scientists using real data believe that carbon sinks are becoming less efficient.

    http://www.globalcarbonproject.org/global/pdf/GCP_CarbonBudget_2007.pdf

  34. Eric,

    Thanks for the link.

    Notice that the trend in slide 22 is not statistically significant, and that it is primarily driven by low values at the beginning of the record rather than high values at the end. There is little trend in this ratio for the past 40 years (since the late 1960s) despite global CO2 emissions nearly doubling.

    Also, the difference between my suggested calculation and Canadell et al.’s is that they incorporated emissions from land use changes–which convert sinks to sources–this is a separate issue than fossil fuel use and interferes with the earth’s natural response (also, the ocean’s declining sink is related by the authors to the southern ozone hole, another issue which is for the most part, not related to the fossil fuel issue and which is projected to recover in time…will that lead to an increase in the southern ocean’s sinkiness?)

    -Chip

  35. Jim Eager says:

    Roger, Chip recommended Eli Rabett’s multi-post dismantling of G&T’s utter nonsense at http://rabett.blogspot.com/

    These are the pertinent posts:

    In closing?? (March 27)
    The Rabett is fisky (March 24)
    Chris Colose suggests (March 23)
    The mystical planet problem (March 22)
    Rabett stylin (March 21)
    The Second Law and its Criminal Misuse (missing date stamp)
    A burrow project? (March 23)

    The G&T paper is a travesty masquerading as science. It is so far off it isn’t even wrong. For that reason there is and will not be a peer-reviewed paper debunking it. Eli’s effort is as good as you are goign to find.

    Frankly. if your friend was taken in by G&T he may not deserve as much respect as you show him.

  36. Roger Martin says:

    Thanks, Joe, Chip and Jim. I’ll read Rabett’s stuff. Also MIT’s stuff. And yours too, Joe.

    I’ll ponder how to deal with my buddy. Unusual mix – all for renewables and the electrification of transportation (in fact he’s co-authored a book on it). Thinks air pollution from burning fossil fuels is a serious human health and enviro issue. But the big driver for him is impending oil scarcity. He’s an AGW skeptic, but the remedies he supports for the problems he sees as real and serious are mostly the same as those for AGW, so his skepticism isn’t rooted in his economic philosophy, as many people’s seems to be.

  37. MikeB says:

    Joe, the idiot Philip Stott http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Stott has just recommended Watts Up on a BBC Radio 4 programme, Home Planet (the other panallists were far too polite to object ,although they did at least mention the Met Office site, etc).

    I’ve just written to the Beeb, but if you would like to do a piece on this crappy site, please do. He even said it was award winning! Aaaahhhh!

  38. PurpleOzone says:

    Singer/Avery book authoritatively states the Arctic sea ice won’t melt anymore. This was written in ~ 2006

    But it did. Have Avery or Singer ever noticed?

    I’m guessing here — Avery has the economics of his own pocket down pat?

  39. David B. Benson says:

    Chip Knappenberger — According to Tung & Cabin (2008) the temperature increase from solar minimum to solar maximum is about an (astounding) 0.17 K. We are currently in a prolonged solar minimum and have only fairly recntly left (I think) la Nina conditions. The combination of these two temperature decreasing effects together must be rather rare; I am under the impression that the previous solar minimum prolonged such as this was in 1913 CE.

    In my amateur opinion, the PDO has a fairly minor effect of global climate, unlike ENSO which certainly porduces noticable signals globally.

  40. Eli Rabett says:

    The best on-line explanation of the Mauna Loa record, its methods, strengths and limits, is on Ferdinand Engelbeen’s blog. Eli and Ferdinand don’t always agree but he has done a really good job. It’s the sort of thing you can just point to and say RTFR.

    (Eli and Chip don’t always agree either, but we’ll happily take a bunch of carrots when offered. Thanks)

  41. Eli,

    Thanks for the pointer to Ferdinand’s CO2 discussion. It is far more thorough than my recent one at http://www.masterresource.org (http://masterresource.org/?p=1538) that was so kindly and warmly received.

    I’ve included a hat tip to you in the comments.

    -Chip

  42. Joe says:

    Chip:

    I agree with David (and Hansen), ENSO plus solar minimum pretty much cover it.

    Pretty clear that the 2010s will be at least as much warmer than the 2000s as the 2000s were than the 1990s.

  43. Dr. Romm,

    I think you all give too much credit to solar cycle influences (I don’t think the impact is consistent through time which makes me wonder whether the recent pattern fit between solar cycles and global temperatures isn’t simply coincidental…perhaps I’ll explore that more when I get a chance).

    ENSO could very well explain things…but I tend to think that it needs some help. You (and others) turn to the sun I (and others) turn to the PDO, but I don’t think any of us know yet for sure.

    -Chip

    -Chip

  44. Wonhyo says:

    Joe – I hope you’re still reading this thread. I revisited the American Daily article article and found the entire article has changed. There is no retraction or correction of the earlier article. Instead the title, conclusion, and body of the article are changed (and faulty plots removed) and replaced with an equally faulty (but different) story. Very devious.

    Did anyone save the original AD article? I would really like to compare the original and the new one side-by-side. I’ve been explaining the fallacy of the original article to a friend and he will not have the benefit of seeing what I was referring to.

    Somebody, please send me a saved copy of the original article.

  45. Geogrif says:

    Avery retracted the article, and “stands corrected:”

    http://wonkroom.thinkprogress.org/2009/03/30/avery-denier-corrected/

    Idiot.