Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Bill McKibben - 100% wetter than he was forty years ago

I generally pay little attention to Bill McKibben's seemingly daily rants; however, he seems to have excelled himself in pseudo-facts and self-contradictory logic in the last couple of days. Mckibben was invited to testify before the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee in Vermont on Tuesday (7th. Feb. 2012). Among his many exaggerated and unsubstantiated claims outlined here was this gem:
From the beginning to the end of his testimony, McKibben voiced his frustration with the lack of action out of Washington DC, capital of the country that historically has contributed one third of the greenhouse gases now in the atmosphere.
Really? Silly me thought it was around one third of what was emitted into the atmosphere. Bill seems to have difficulty getting his (huge) head around even the basics. After his usual stuff about "climate deterioration"  and the wonderful "Everything frozen on earth is melting" (did you shut the freezer door dear?) comes this:
“Most remarkable, and certainly for Vermont most dangerous, are changes in hydrology. Warm air holds more water vapor than cold. What that means is that with this one-degree increase in temperature [that has occurred so far], the atmosphere is about 4% wetter than it was forty years ago. That is a staggeringly large change in a basic physical parameter, one that we assume has held basically steady for ten thousand years. What it does is load the dice for two things: drought and flood. We get more evaporation in arid areas. The flip side of this is that once that water vapor has evaporated into the atmosphere, it’s going to come down. This means that we load the dice again for deluge and downpour and flood, and we have seen it all over the world.”
Magic stuff, water - it can be in two places at once, both in the atmosphere as increased water vapour, and falling as rain. I really like that "one that we assume has held basically steady for ten thousand years" bit - who is "we", and how would "we" know that? "We get more evaporation in arid areas" - let's see, water vapour content in the air rises, which means that more evaporates from the ground in "arid" areas? I think he must mean less - it's "settled science", Bill.

"The flip side of this is that once that water vapor has evaporated into the atmosphere, it’s going to come down" - see? Two places at once - told you so. "This means that we load the dice again for deluge and downpour and flood, and we have seen it all over the world" - does that include your "arid areas" Bill? Of course that extra water vapour has to form clouds (which are water droplets, not vapour) before it becomes "deluge and downpour and flood", so it must be in three places at once. There must have been a significant corresponding increase in cloud, then, eh Bill? Even Wikipedia reckons that's where rain comes from. The only increase in cloudiness is in Bill's brain.

Just a mo - Bill also witters on elsewhere about feet or yards or metres (or was it tens of those units? I forget- I need to forget) of sea level rise "in the pipeline". The XL pipeline, is it Bill? (Sorry -couldn't resist that little dig. Bill is resisting the big dig). Where does that "4% wetter" come from - someone leave the tap on? (Note my kitchen theme today - I'm warming to it) I read somewhere once, could have been the back of a cereal packet (he won't leave the kitchen out of it - Ed.) that the oceans covered a bit more than two-thirds of the Earth's surface, and were the source of most of the water in the atmosphere. Oh - I forgot Bill's "arid areas". Must be a lot of water in them "arid areas" to affect rainfall in the "non-arid areas".

Sorry - I've lost the thread - I found myself thinking of a foaming pint in a cosy hostelry with a real "killer-coal" fire not ten minutes walk away. That barmaid, the one with the tight black skirt... I  never get a cloudy pint from her. Ahem! Back to the kitchen once more. Where was I - oh yes - the source of all that "extra" water must be the oceans (don't forget the "arid areas" - Ed.). So there must be less water in the oceans, right? No - on 350,org Bill says that "Sea levels have begun to rise, and scientists warn that they could go up as much as several meters this century". "Begun to rise" - I should do some research, and find out when that "begun" began. I could even make it my special subject - who knows - even start a blog with graphs and stuff!

UPDATE 8th Feb 2012 2310

Just in from the scientific literture, and not from the "Gospel according to Bill McKibben":

Surface Water Vapor Pressure and Temperature Trends in North America during 1948-2010
V. Isaac and W. A. van Wijngaarden
Journal of Climate 2012

Over 1/4 billion hourly values of temperature and relative humidity observed at 309 stations located across North America during 1948-2010 were studied. The water vapor pressure was determined and seasonal averages were computed. Data were first examined for inhomogeneities using a statistical test to determine whether the data was fit better to a straight line or a straight line plus an abrupt step which may arise from changes in instruments and/or procedure. Trends were then found for data not having discontinuities. Statistically significant warming trends affecting the Midwestern U.S., Canadian prairies and the western Arctic are evident in winter and to a lesser extent in spring while statistically significant increases in water vapor pressure occur primarily in summer for some stations in the eastern half of the U.S. The temperature (water vapor pressure) trends averaged over all stations were 0.30 (0.07), 0.24 (0.06), 0.13 (0.11), 0.11 (0.07) C/decade (hPa/decade) in the winter, spring, summer and autumn seasons, respectively. The averages of these seasonal trends are 0.20 C/decade and 0.07 hPa/decade which correspond to a specific humidity increase of 0.04 g/kg per decade and a relative humidity reduction of 0.5%/decade.
A "specific humidity increase of 0.04 g/kg per decade" - that's 40 milligrams per kilogram or 0.004% per decade. Those "arid areas" are sure giving up their water fast.

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