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Response to denier of climate change

December 11, 2012
california-poppy

California poppy

Last week we published an article about how plants are responding to climate change.  We received a comment from Don E that questioned the accuracy of the climate data in the study in Ohio which found a relationship between increased temperatures and earlier blooming times.  We didn’t have access to the information needed to respond to that comment, but we were unwilling to publish it without verifying its claims because we do not want to misinform our readers. 

So, we asked the author of the study in Ohio, Kellen Calinger, if she could help us verify the accuracy of the comment.  Ms. Calinger has generously obliged us with a detailed critique of the comment.  With her permission, we are now publishing her reply in its entirety.

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Don E:   “There are controlled laboratory experiments to show that temperature, moisture, and CO₂ effect plant growth. The Ohio study was not a controlled study and the temperature data are questionable.”

Ms. Calinger:  There are indeed controlled laboratory experiments regarding impacts of temperature, moisture, and CO2 on plant growth and my study was not controlled.  My study falls under the broad heading of observational science.  Observational and experimental studies are both extremely common and each has pros and cons.  The pros of experiments include a high degree of control over the system allowing you to focus on impacts of your variable of interest while the cons include less realistic description of a natural system.  The pros and cons of observational studies are essentially the opposite of an experiment; I didn’t control environmental variables in my study, but it likely reflects the reality of what’s happening in ecosystems far more than an experiment.  Again, these are both accepted methods of the scientific community.

Don E:  .”USHCN makes a huge TOBS adjustment in Ohio between 1979 and 1988. The justification for this is that they claim people in Ohio switched from reading temperatures in the afternoon, to reading them in the morning. That would theoretically push measured temperatures progressively down from 1979 to 1988. The Ohio raw data does not provide any support for the TOBS theory. In the middle of a long term cooling trend, measured temperatures rose very quickly from 1979 to 1988.”

Ms. Calinger:  The TOBS adjustment (time of observation adjustment) is essentially to control for the time of day that temperature measurements were taken.  A simple example would be that if I measured temperatures at noon from 1980-1990 and the next observer measured temperatures at 6AM from 1991-2000, it would probably seem like it was cooler in the ’90’s since 6AM is typically cooler than noon.  If you don’t correct for the time of observation, the actual temperature trend would be obscured by daily variation in temperatures based on time of observation. 

The U.S. Historical Climatology Network is part of the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis center, and they lay out exactly how they treat data on their website–here’s the link: http://cdiac.ornl.gov/epubs/ndp/ushcn/monthly_doc.html

Don E:  “In addition Ohio Valley Summer Temperatures have been plummeting for 80 years. July of 2009 was the coldest on record in the Ohio Valley, and July temperatures have been plummeting in that region since 1930. July 1934 and 1936 were both much hotter – even after NCDC adds 1.5 degrees on to recent temperatures relative to the 1930s.”

Ms. Calinger:  It seems that the commenter got this information from the following blog: http://stevengoddard.wordpress.com/2012/08/03/ohio-valley-summer-temperatures-have-been-plummeting-for-80-years/

The blog presents a plot of temperature data for the Ohio Valley that starts in 1930 and runs until 2011 that indicates an overall trend of temperature decrease by 0.19 degrees Fahrenheit per decade.  While I can’t know the intentions of the author of this blog, this seems to be a case of data manipulation to mislead.  I went to the NCDC website used by the blog author and made an identical plot of Ohio Valley temperature data for July, but I didn’t restrict my plot to 1930-2011.  Instead, I used the full temperature data set from 1895-2012 and found NO indication of temperature decrease.  An extremely common tactic among climate change skeptics is to restrict a data set to a small subset of the total data that shows a cooling trend even though this is not indicative of the long term pattern.  

You can make these graphs at: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/research/cag3/ce.html

Don E:   “I would never call anyone a denier. That is an ugly term intended to denigrate skeptics by associating them with holocaust deniers. There are many highly regarded climate and physical scientists not funded by the fossil fuel industry that don’t accept the hypothesis that CO2 is the primary cause of climate change. BTW there has been no global warming in 16 years.”

Ms. Calinger:  There is simply no debate in the scientific community about climate change.  It is accepted that climate change is occurring and that warming is predominantly caused by humans.  This blog provides a really good summary of the scientific consensus: http://www.desmogblog.com/2012/11/15/why-climate-deniers-have-no-credibility-science-one-pie-chart

Of 13, 950 scientific papers, 24 reject climate change. That’s pretty clearly an overwhelming majority.  

Also, there has most definitely been warming in the past 16 years.  This past summer was the 3rd hottest on record in the U.S. and seven of the 10 hottest summers in U.S. history have occurred since 2000.  

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Webmaster:  We are grateful to Ms. Calinger for her help to respond to Don E.  We have certainly learned something from her and we hope that Don E has as well. 

We take the time and trouble to research the claims of those who choose to deny the reality of climate change because we believe that it is presently the most serious threat to our environment.  Human civilization is currently unwilling to take needed action to reverse this dangerous trend. Those who refuse to believe that it is necessary to take action are at least partly to blame for this.  We hope that if and when human civilization acknowledges climate change and its consequences, we will finally make the tough decisions that are needed.

Postscript:  The word “denier” is defined by Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary as “one who denies.”  It is not used exclusively to describe those who deny that the holocaust occurred.  In fact, it doesn’t even imply that the denier is denying something that actually exists.  It is a neutral term that applies to any person who denies anything.  For example, I deny that I am fabricating information about climate change.  Therefore I am a denier of that accusation.

Although we do not use the word “denier” in order to denigrate those who choose not to believe in climate change, we are frankly mystified by their motivation.

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 13, 2012 9:05 am

    Webmaster: We have received more comments from Don E which we are not going to publish because some of them are repetitive and would require repetitive replies. Also, we can’t verify many of the claims because we don’t have the research tools needed to do so. We are unwilling to become the forum for refuting climate change. There are many other sources of such information for those who seek it.

    However, we concede that it was not polite to use this phrase in the first post on this subject, “…die-hard deniers and their corporate enablers in the fossil fuel industry.” This characterization reveals our anger at the people with whom we debate about the destruction of non-native trees, many of whom earn their living by destroying those trees. To be clear, we are not earning one cent from our effort to inform the public about this issue. In future, we will make a greater effort to maintain a civil discourse.

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