There Is Less Than Meets the Eye

This is a repost because the graphics in the original did not show up

Climate alarmists and those who blindly follow them often refer to graphs that show an increasing temperature trend over recent decades.  Michael Mann’s Hockey Stick, which has been discredited, is perhaps the most infamous graphs depicting the alleged human influence on temperature.

As with all graphs, it is important to know about the quality of data used to construct them.  In the case of temperature graphs, it turns out that there is clearly less than meets the eye.  MIT’s Dick Lindzen, using work from the late Stan Grotch from the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, in a CO2 Coalition paper–Lindzen—made it abundantly clear that  these graphs represent the art of statistical magic.  This scatter gram contains 26,000 data points representing temperature measurements from the 1850s to 1984.

See figures 1a and 1c in the Lindzen paper

Grotch calculated the signal that is contained in the scatter gram and according to Frederick Colbourne in Geoscience-Environment determined that eliminating the top and bottom 10% of these anomalies resulted in an annual variance of +/-0.2 CI.  He concluded that a data range 10 times greater that the signal range, raises serious questions of confidence.

 It is clear that these anomalies don’t provide a convincing picture of warming.  To get that Lindzen demonstrates with the following graph that first the anomalies are averaged and then the temperature scale is stretched “by almost a factor of 10 so as to make … minuscule changes … look more significant.”

Going from raw data that does not show anything dramatic to graphs like this or the Hockey Stick that do are what Ross McKitrick, who provided a devastating critique of the Hockey Stick, labeled parlor tricks. This is especially true when the data sets contain their own sources of error and are not comparable.  In the scatter gram, ocean temperatures were added to land based measurements.  But as Lindzen points out ocean data measurements were from buckets in old ship data and then ship intakes after WW1. And, the surface measurements contain land based devices, weather balloon data and satellite measurements after 1979. Prior to 1900 the land based devices were sparsely distributed.

Inaccuracies in climate data sets have been documented by many scientists and brings to mind the observation of Sir Josiah Stamp,”The Government are extremely fond of amassing great quantities of statistics. These are raised to the nth degree, the cube roots are extracted, and the results are arranged into elaborate and impressive displays. What must be kept in mind, however, is that in every case, the figures are first put down by a village watchman, and he puts down anything he damn well pleases!

Analysts are fond of saying, torture the data until it confesses but torture it too much and it will confess to anything.  In view of all the noise in the temperature record and Lindzen’s CO2 Coalition paper, it is clear that there has been torturing of data on the scale of waterboarding.

There is a lot that can be done to improve the current situation that involves a standoff between skeptics and alarmists and the general public which by inaction is saying, we are not convinced.  First, the NAS could assemble a committee of skeptic and alarmist scientists, including some statisticians to develop a set of guidelines for adjusting historical data and for developing a more robust data set.  A similar approach could be taken with respect to models, although it may be the case that the complexity of the climate system combined with known uncertainties makes it impossible to develop a reliable forecasting model. 

 Finally, those of us who challenge the orthodoxy need to find a more effective way to communicate.  Climate alarmists have managed to marginalize us a “denier” and “skeptic.” As Nate Silver observed in his book The Signal and the Noise:“ In science, dubious forecasts are likely to be exposed-and the truth is more likely to prevail.  In politics, a domain in which the truth enjoys no privileged state, it’s anybody’s guess.”

China’s Achilles Heal

The media as well as the President seems to be obsessed with China’s subsidizing exports and the economic risks it poses. While the trade imbalance caused by China’s export policy is serious, focusing mainly on it and threatening more tariffs goes down the wrong road.

China’s economic strategy is mercantilism which has proven over centuries to be a failed economic model. As far back as the 18th century when Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, he demonstrated that labor productivity and free trade were superior to the protectionism that is embedded in mercantilist practices. Centrally planned economies have a superficial appeal to those who believe in top down control but inevitably it is the road to ruin because of misallocated resources and misguided incentives.

China is no exception. It’s economy has been slowing for at least the past year. Friday’s market sell off was driven by weak data on industrial output and retail sales., China had earlier reported a slowdown in trade and economic growth but there is now suspicion that the slowdown has deepened. Time will tell whether that is a consequence of mercantilism.

It is consistent with the inevitable effect of using government directed economic investment to promote industrial growth for export which misallocates resources. In the long run, investing in innovation, technology, and productivity is superior to investing to promote export growth. That is history’s lesson. In today’s globalized world, protectionism keeps firms from adapting to the new market conditions. China recognizes this which is why it engages in forced technology transfers and mandatory joint ventures. Eventually, China will pay a price for ignoring the law of comparative advantage.

Engaging in a trade war with China and focusing on tariffs doesn’t get to the heart of the trade challenge. The Trump Administration’s tariffs approach simply imposes a tax on consumers and has harmed exports. If China wants to give our consumers lower prices, let’s say thank you while addressing the real problems that also include currency manipulation.

Instead of persistent attacks on our allies, the President should start trying to build an economic coalition of our trading partners to challenge China by filing WTO complaints and taking collective actions that will allow markets to drive global trade.

Politicians Eventually Get It

The media has given a lot of coverage to the riots in France over the proposed increase in fuel taxes—a carbon tax. It has been pointed out that “ Macron is hardly alone in his frustration. Leaders in the United States, Canada, Australia and elsewhere have found their carbon pricing efforts running into fierce opposition.”

This most recent rebuff of a carbon tax should send a message to the delegates who are meeting in Poland for the annual Conference of the Parties to discuss climate change and make grand pronouncements about the end of the world and what we must urgently do to avoid it. Begin with recognizing that globalism is out of favor and not just in the US.

Delegates and other proponents would do well to go beyond the recent defeats of carbon tax proposals. If they look back over the past 35 years of so, they will see that there is consistent resistance to taxes on fuels no matter what they are intended to achieve or how the revenue produced is used. There has been consistent opposition to increasing the federal gasoline tax even though the Highway Trust Fund desperately needs more funding.

In 1983 the Greenspan Commission on Social Security recommended a 50 cent per gallon increase in the gasoline tax to help fund social security. The reaction was swift and decisive. Opposition was broad and deep. Not only did motorists and the oil and auto industries oppose it but groups like the Coalition for the Homeless and groups running shelters also did. A large percentage of the homeless work and need their cars to get to jobs and shelters operate vans to pick up people to take them to shelters.

A decade later, President Bill Clinton proposed his infamous BTU tax on fuels as part of his first budget. it would have raised $70 billion over five years while increasing gasoline prices less than 10 cents a gallon. Unfortunately for the President, it was clear that the BTU tax was really aimed at petroleum based fuels because coal was given a break to get Senator Byrd’s support. In less than 3 months, the President surrendered because opposition in the Senate was overwhelming.

Since then, Al Gore, climate change advocates, and their supporters in Congress have floated various forms of a carbon tax and each one has landed with a thud in spite of broad support from environmentalists and the economics profession. While a carbon tax is intellectually elegant to economists it has proven to be a political case of a deadly virus. The most recent incarnation is the Baker-Schutz plan that is being flacked by a group called the Climate Leadership Council. In spite of a promise to rebate the cost to citizens with monthly checks to everyone with a social security number, it has not gained traction in Congress.

The reason may be that a majority in Congress recall a variation of Lord Melbourne’s observation, “What all the wise men promised has not happened, and what all the damned fools said would happen has come to pass.”