The Atlantic Magazine’s “5 Charts About Climate Change That Should Have You Very, Very Worried”… Worried about scientific illiteracy.

I ran into this gem on Real Clear Energy this morning…

Figure 1. The only thing to worry about here is the scientific and mathematical illiteracy of the authors of this article.

The article cites terrifying new reports commissioned by the World Bank and the CIA and then launches into a graphical cornucopia of nonsense.

The Five Charts of Doom

“1. Most of Greenland’s top ice layer melted in four days” (The World Bank)

Figure 2. Chart number one is a map.

I previously addressed this “chart” here: 2012: The Year Greenland Melted (AKA Alarmists Gone Wild).

The “melt” is based on measurements of albedo. These measurements date all the way back to the year 2000.

The “normal” summer melt season albedo minimum at 2500-3200m is in the range of 0.79-0.82. This year, it briefly dropped to just below 0.74.

Figure 3. Greenland ice sheet albedo 2500-3200m elevations (

So… We have barely a decade’s worth of data and no idea if the modern melt rates and albedo changes are anomalous relative to the early 20th century Arctic warming, Medieval Warm Period or any of the other millennial-scale Holocene warming periods.

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that unless some alarmist can tell me what the albedo was in 1899, 1127, 1143 and 1939, during the vast majority of the Holocene or during the Sangamonian, my response is, “Very interesting. Now, move along, there’s nothing more to see here.”

Figure 5. Late Pleistocene-Holocene temperature reconstruction for Central Greenland.
(After Alley, 2000)

Figure 6. North Greenland temperature reconstruction since Late Sangamonian.

2. America just had its worst drought in over 50 years (The World Bank)

Figure 7. Chart number two is another map.

They chose the U.S. Drought Monitor “map” to support the World Bank’s claim that the U.S. just had its worst drought in 50 years… The U.S. Drought Monitor only has a 12-year record length. If they had only bothered to look at the historical drought trend (or lack thereof) they would have found that we just had the worst drought in a bit over 10 years (not 50) and that droughts of this severity occur about once every 8 years.

The drought of 2012 was pretty bad, about as bad as the droughts of 2000-2001, 1988, 1981, 1963, 1940, 1925, 1917 and 1910… But not nearly as bad as the protracted droughts of 1953-1956 and 1933-1936. And there is no increasing trend of drought severity or decreasing trend in precipitation over the last 117 years.

Figure 8. No trend in drought severity or precipitation since 1895. Source: NOAA National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS).

3. Coral reefs are doomed (The World Bank)

This one is really funny!

Figure 9. Chart number three is a cartoon.

The Mesozoic Era atmospheric CO2 was pretty well always 2 to 4 times the level at which the World Bank cartoon indicates that coral reefs will dissolve, yet the Mesozoic Era was full of coral reefs.

Figure 10. Coral reefs of the Mesozoic Era seemed to like CO2.

For that matter, the modern Great Barrier Reef also seems to like a CO2-enriched diet…

Figure 11. The average calcification rate of the Great Barrier Reef seems to be increasing along with atmospheric CO2. Data from De’ath, G., et al. 2009

A recent paper in Geology (Ries et al., 2009) found an unexpected relationship between CO2 and marine calcifers. 18 benthic species were selected to represent a wide variety of taxa: “crustacea, cnidaria, echinoidea, rhodophyta, chlorophyta, gastropoda, bivalvia, annelida.” They were tested under four CO2/Ωaragonite scenarios:

409 ppm (Modern day)
606 ppm (2x Pre-industrial)
903 ppm (3x Pre-industrial)
2856 ppm (10x Pre-industrial)

The effects on calcification rates for all 18 species were either negligible or positive up to 606 ppm CO2. Corals, in particular seemed to like more CO2 in their diets…

Figure 12. Coral seems to be A-OK with CO2 levels of 1,000 ppmv. This might explain how they thrived in the Mesozoic Era.

4. Wildfires are multiplying (NRC report for the CIA)

Figure 13. Chart number four is another map.

Are Colorado’s wildfires caused by global warming?

The wildfires devastating Colorado have been linked to a streak of unusually hot weather, but they that does not necessarily mean that global warming is the culprit.

By Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer / June 28, 2012


“You can’t say it’s climate change just because it’s an extreme condition,” said Colorado state climatologist Nolan Doesken. So far, Doesken told LiveScience, the spring of 2012 looks much like the spring of 1910, when warm temperatures hit early. That year, he said, was a bad one for fires.


The immediate driver of these fires is a lack of moisture and a ridge of heat that has settled over the central United States, said New Jersey state climatologist Dave Robinson, who also directs the Global Snow Lab at Rutgers University. After record snowpack last year, the Rocky Mountains did a 180 this year, Robinson said, seeing little moisture and early snowmelt.

“March and April are supposed to be your snowy months [in Colorado], and they weren’t,” Robinson told LiveScience. “Thus, the fire danger.”

Meanwhile, a high-pressure system in the central part of the country is preventing cloud formation and allowing the sun to bake the ground, heating things up. On Tuesday (June 26) alone, 251 daily heat records were broken across the nation, according to the National Climatic Data Center. In the past week, more than 1,000 new daily heat records were put on the books.


“Some would say there is a pattern, because we have had several years with exceptionally large fires over western states, particularly the Southwestern states, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Colorado in particular,” Doesken said. “Others would say, no, not enough data points yet to show that.”

This year has been extreme in terms of heat and dryness, he said, as was 2002 (a record-breaking year for fires in Colorado). So far, 2012’s weather looks very similar to the weather of 1910. That year, spring was warm and dry, which fed into a hellish fire season. Among the blazes was the Great Fire of 1910, also known as “the Big Burn,” which destroyed 3 million acres of forest in Washington, Idaho and Montana.


More recently, an analysis of 1,500 years of fire and tree-ring data revealed that a combination of climate change and human forest use could explain modern “megafires,” the kind that destroy large swaths of forest.



The modern climate is virtually identical to the Medieval Warm Period, yet the wildfires seem to be worse and humans may be somewhat responsible (just not in the way Warmists would like)…


Ancient Fires

The researchers combined previously collected fire data from Ponderosa Pine forests in the southwest United States during the Little Ice Age (from 1600 to the mid-1800s) with climate data derived from existing tree rings to determine the annual fire activity 1,500 years ago.

They discovered that this time period, the Medieval Warm Period, was no different from the Little Ice Age in terms of what drives frequent low-severity surface fires: year-to-year drought patterns.

“It’s true that global warming is increasing the magnitude of the droughts we’re facing, but droughts were even more severe during the Medieval Warm Period,” Roos said. “It turns out that what’s driving the frequency of surface fires is having a couple wet years that allow grasses to grow continuously across the forest floor and then a dry year in which they can burn. We found a really strong statistical relationship between two or more wet years followed by a dry year, which produced lots of fires.”

Changing Climate

The researchers found that even when ancient climates varied from each other — one hotter and drier and the other cooler and wetter — the frequencies of year-to-year weather patterns that drive fire activity were similar. Furthermore, the findings implicate as the increase in megafires is caused not only modern climate change, but also human activity over the last century, the researchers said.

These human activities include livestock grazing and firefighting, which combine to create more dense forests with accumulated fuels that make them more vulnerable than ever to extreme droughts, and these droughts bring on huge wildfires that wreak havoc on even the tops of trees.



The modern warming (AGW in Warmisteese) began in ca. 1600 AD, at the nadir of the Little Ice Age.

Figure 14. The ups and downs of climate change since the dawn of the common era.

Capitalism might be adding 0.1 to 0.3 °C worth of extra warming relative to what would have happened in a globally Third World; but our primary contributions to the change in wildfire patterns are land-use change and firefighting (and arson)… Not greenhouse gases.

The weather this year is “extreme.” According to NOAA’s Climate Extremes Index, the spring of 2012 set a new heat wave record. The previous record heat wave was 1910, the first year of the time series. The “anomaly” is the fact that it took over 100 years to set a new record. In a random time series, the 1910 record should have been broken 5 times by 2012. There is no correlation between climate change and extreme weather events.

The following chart is adapted from NOAA’s Climate Extremes Index

Figure 15. The NOAA CEI has no trend (Slope = R-squared = 0.0081). Using the same reference period as the Hadley Centre and East Anglia CRU (1961-1990), we can see that the CEI exceeded natural variability (2 standard deviations) during eight years from 1910-1954 and eight years from 1977-2011.

The NOAA CEI has no trend (Slope = R-squared = 0.0081). Using the same reference period as the Hadley Centre and East Anglia CRU (1961-1990), we can see that the CEI exceeded natural variability (2 standard deviations) during eight years from 1910-1954 and eight years from 1977-2011. The CEI is just for the contiguous USA and only goes back to 1910.

However, a recent paper coauthored by Gilbert Compo, of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) also found no evidence that climate change was causing any increase in the atmospheric circulation patterns that would be indicative of such an increase.

Figure 16. Figure 16 from Compo et al., 2011.

According to Compo, “In the climate models, the extremes get more extreme as we move into a doubled CO2 world in 100 years. So we were surprised that none of the three major indices of climate variability that we used show a trend of increased circulation going back to 1871.”

Not only is there no statistically meaningful correlation between the climate changes of the last 40 years and extreme weather events, there’s also no evidence that the recent climate changes are unusual and no evidence that extreme weather events were less common when the climate was significantly cooler than it currently is.

These charts have enabled me to worry less about the CIA’s wild fire map.

5. Civil wars on the rise

Figure 17. Chart number five is actually a chart!!!

This is even funnier than the coral reef cartoon! Wikipedia’s List of wars and anthropogenic disasters by death toll seems to indicate that the climates of the past were a lot more hazardous than the climates of the post-Cold War era.

Figure 18. War really was hell during the transition periods before and after the Medieval Warm Period!

I suppose one could argue that the frequency of wars is on the rise, they’re just smaller wars.  A Malthusian would probably say that the world population has grown so large that 10-12% death tolls are now unachievable.

Articles like this one make me think of the old Eddie Murphy Saturday Night Live skit, “The mind is a terrible thing…”

Any and all sarcasm and humor were purely intentional.


2 Responses to “The Atlantic Magazine’s “5 Charts About Climate Change That Should Have You Very, Very Worried”… Worried about scientific illiteracy.”

  1. David Middleton Says:

    Paul H says:
    November 30, 2012 at 7:11 am
    Official from WUWT, northern hemispheric temperatures are precedented in the last 2000 years:

    Very precedented according to Christiansen and Ljungqvist, 2012

    Our reconstructions indicate – in agreement with the results of Moberg et al. (2005); Ljungqvist (2010), and Loehle and McCulloch (2008) – that the first millennium AD was generally significantly warmer than the second millennium AD. The 17th century was the coldest century during the last two millennia and most of the LIA seems to have been colder than during the Dark Age Cold Period ca. 300–800 AD. In general, our LOC reconstructions show larger low-frequency variability than previous reconstructions.


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