the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

The balance between ‘Natural Variability’ and ‘Man-Made Impacts’.

Posted by Jeff Id on September 22, 2010

Guest post by Roddy Campbell


Some comments on Judith Curry’s blog post on ‘Doubt’ explored what we know about the causes of ‘Natural Variability’, and hence whether we can predict it based upon that knowledge, or whether the null hypothesis of more of the same is the best and simplest option.  Clearly without some assessment of likely natural variability, discerning man’s fingerprint becomes harder.

I have some personal experiences which I think can shed light on this question.

My wife’s moods have considerable natural variability. I am, of course, an ACC adherent, like any right-thinking man, if of a ‘lukecoldist’ persuasion, and I believe that my man-made impacts may well have had a cumulative effect on Gaia (my wife), which may at least in part explain a multi-decadal apparent cooling.  The physical side of this is well-understood, most famously in ancient Hindu texts, with later studies in Vienna, and is beyond reasonable argument, although laboratory experiments are difficult as most of us only have one wife.  (Apologies, if needed, to all women – I can write only from the husband’s point of view.)

I am however aware, and my therapist has been of use here, that distinguishing my fingerprint from natural variation and natural trends, and being specific about attributing changes in temperature, climate, and extreme weather events to my actions in the Campbell household is not easy.  She has suggested that feelings of guilt may be at play here, the allocation of scarce time and resources, and the all-important impact that population explosion can have on the environment.

There is also the question of reliability of data – while I, perhaps through rose-tinted spectacles, recall past winters as being generally much warmer, especially in average night-time temperatures, there is a possibility of Youth Heat Island (YHI) effect, where historic data clearly shows nights as warmer in the past than the present, and extreme night-time events as more frequent.  I have been back over the raw data, and if I adjust for YHI (more commonly known as ‘penny-in-the-jar’ syndrome), using adjustment methodology from the peer-reviewed literature (Kinsey et al 1948), it would appear there is considerably less evidence for a statistically significant trend.  There is also, of course, the risk of false memory syndrome when extreme events are being recalled.

It is clear that natural variability is a strong cause of swings in household climate, and indeed causes extremely turbulent and stormy conditions from time to time, sometimes accompanied by floods, not to mention the kitchen, where I am often unable to stand the heat and have to stay out.

What causes natural variability, do we understand its causes, and is it predictable?  I have to say no, we do not understand, and hence to pretend we can predict on the basis of knowledge is futile; nevertheless there is enough data of a repetitious nature that I am presumptuous enough to assume the null hypothesis; it will continue more or less on the same basis, with cycles of varying lengths from monthly to generational.

Our marriage counsellor, who I know as RC, always seems to have an answer, backed by intensive research, much peer-reviewed literature, and what he likes to call the consensus.  Sometimes he seems plausible in his urgent recommendations of mitigation rather than adaptation, and I enjoyed his suggestions of geoengineering, which include the following:

– He suggested that an increased use of aerosols judiciously added to the atmosphere, especially during warmer months, might help.

– He suggested increased solar activity was important, but I have found this expensive, the effects temporary, and the unintended consequences perplexing (the Greek waiter on Rhodes being only the latest example).

– His persistent focus on the need to add more CO0 to the relationship was also useful, as it can persist in the atmosphere for some time, and there definitely was more CO0-ing in the early years.

– While essentially negative on clouds on the horizon, and their effects on feedback, he did say that giving them a silver lining showed promising results.

Sadly he lost me when he insisted that her recent behaviour was unprecedented, as even through my aforementioned rose-tinted glasses I can recall prior climatic conditions in reality equally difficult to adapt to, and impossible to have mitigated. This insistence of his led to a nasty scene, when he said I was unable to see what was obvious – ever-accelerating cooling, which would lead to a runaway ‘Neptune Effect’ on Gaia because of mechanisms of positive feedback.  His best forcing examples were clouds which collect over the winter solstice – the ‘in-law’ effect – persisting through to mid-February – the ‘Cupid’ effect – and combining forces to cause climate disruption for the entire first half of the year).

His explanation for my blindness was ideological blinkers, in effect a deep unwillingness to accept that my life as I liked it had irreparably changed, apparently common in middle-aged middle-class men, and that I had changed Gaia through my over-consumption and absurd and unnecessary gas emissions. It was up to me. It was all my fault.  That I could not see that, could not accept that natural variation in Gaia was minor compared to my man-made effects, made me feel beyond redemption.

At that point it was clear that he was stating that I was the cause of it all, and that if I wished to rediscover Gaia, and return her to the perfect and gorgeous equilibrium I so well recalled, it was up to me to change, drastically and unilaterally, my behaviour.

I conducted further research, of a paleo nature, in that I spoke to my father-in-law about Gaia’s mother, enquiring as to her nature on a multi-decadal timescale, and her mother also, his mother-in-law, looking for some measure of natural variation and apparent but false trends in the data on a multi-generational basis.  He had no idea what I was talking about, and it was clear that, in his wisdom, the possibility of anything other than natural variation, coupled with sensible husbandry, concern for the environment, and eviction of his children from the house to prevent over-population, made no sense at all.  When I asked his advice on whether I should, as RC advocated in the strongest possible terms (‘You must act, and act now, there is no time to lose’) make drastic and unilateral changes to my behaviour, he suggested that a round of golf and a couple of hours at the nineteenth hole would benefit both of us.

These suggested changes were clearly not acceptable to me, being very attached to my gas emissions and lifestyle.  I also questioned what effect the changes might have, and what unintended consequences might accrue.  So I asked Gaia her opinion.

Luckily she felt strongly resentful that the major and over-arching influence on her moods, behaviour, and temperature was being diagnosed as me – in her wilful way she thought it was possible she herself might have something to do with it (which is of course what I’d been telling her all along).  She was clear that I was placing too much importance on my behaviour, and told me that I was not, as I seemed to believe under the influence of too much time, therapy, and counselling, the centre of the universe.

So Gaia and I sacked RC, decided that these questions had been asked and wondered about for centuries, and took the decision to adapt, and muddle along as best we can, in a glass half-full kind of way, usually pinot noir.

And I am happy to report that not only have average temperatures started to recover, especially those all important night-time ones, but there is much more CO0 in the atmosphere.  I tried to discuss causation and correlation with her, but she told me to shut up.

20 Responses to “The balance between ‘Natural Variability’ and ‘Man-Made Impacts’.”

  1. hal said

    Oil companies and their astroturf monkeys will make natural variability irelevent

  2. Neil said

    Hmm, interesting. Prior to my current posting to the Northern hemisphere, I had noticed a similar sequence of events when living in the Southern hemisphere. I have now noted that the same natural variability occurs in both hemispheres, despite my understanding (via indepth analysis of US TV progams) that this was not the case. I too have discovered that Pinot Noir helps and have been rebuidling my supplies due to the inability to import my offshore holdings into the USA.

  3. co2fan said

    That’s great stuff, didn’t know you had comedic genius.

    BTW, I sometimes post as Hal, but the first post was not me, sine I know how to spell. (irrelevant)

    the REAL Hal

  4. co2fan said

    Just saw that it was a guest post.

    The kudos go to Roddy

  5. MDJackson said

    I have noticed a similar occurrence with my own Gaia but soon discovered a regularity in the oscillations. Nevertheless, whenever I try to attribute behavior to this oscillation the system becomes completely upset. I find it best to avoid any attribution and merely try to be as understanding as possible while weathering the atmospheric variation.

    I’m happy that your story had a happy ending (and they say romance is dead!).

  6. reid simpson said

    Having fairly recently gone thru a step change in anomalies, I hate to report that the worst is yet to come. Regular oscillations were bad enough, but the lack thereof was worse. Sudden hot flashes became the norm. Gradually such extreme variations flattened out and Gaia appears to achieved steady state. It is so much better.

  7. GregO said

    I have also observed long-term oscillations in my domestic Gaia but have also noted that the system can demonstrate strongly chaotic responses to minor perturbations – wherein a small perturbation results in an unexpected and dramatic response; forcing me to mutter to myself, “it’s worse than we thought…”; and like Kevin Trenbeth unable to account for the heat of alleged Man-Made Global Warming but knowing full well it had gone deep; only to surface later and cause more harm; Gaia cooling can go deep only surfacing at a later date thus confounding localized observations to establish clear-cut cause and effect.

  8. Ian said

    …now if only I could find that hot spot…

  9. TGSG said

    haha you guys are good!

    “…now if only I could find that hot spot…”

    is that the G aia spot?

  10. Mark F said

    Climate “moods”?
    Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean….

  11. michelle said

    One feels a little sorry for men sometimes. They do not understand that most women are marrying so as to avoid sex. How so, you will ask, this makes no sense?

    Yes it does, if you think about it from a woman’s point of view. She wants a man. Not just a friend, she wants her own locked in permanent man. It really helps with the other aim, to have and raise children. She is not going to get him if the proposition is, lets live together and be celibate. So this is definitely not the starting proposition. But as things become more and more committed and the exit costs rise, less and less reward has to be given, and less and less is given. Men don’t leave their wives unless they absolutely have to. And a bad sex life most of the time is not an absolutely have to, not when there is a house, children, friends, and they are anyway working like dogs to keep all this stuff going.

    Men are complete idiots when it comes to the life of the feelings. So when this happens, which it does in 80% of cases, they think the problem is the woman, and so when they do leave, they end up in the same silly mess again.

    The reason sexual therapy works, when it does, is that this is a sign to the woman that things are getting serious. Also, therapists now follow a very simple protocol, they instruct the couple that a condition of the therapy is they have to have sex. Since that always was the problem, this mostly fixes it.

  12. Roddy Campbell said

    Michelle – A friend of mine, a woman, offers this advice to her girl-friends undergoing frequent extreme weather conditions. ‘Cook pie, and put out’. Great man-management.

  13. Geoff Sherrington said

    Roddy, well done.

    Like in dendro work, I have found that one can reconstruct dates by counting rings; but for temperature, I have yet to find how to hide the decline. Maybe I need to turn a Mike’s Nature trick.

    (In the current vein, yesterday a granddaughter and her 15 year old girl companion were visiting from interstate. We showed them some flowers that we had bred and registered. Friend says “How do you make flowers breed?” G-D says “First you go to the video store and rent a naughty flower video …”

  14. Chuckles said

    #12, The variation on that is ‘show up naked, bring beer.’

    And scientists have identified the substance that causes a loss of sex drive, it is called ‘wedding-cake.’

  15. American Pie said

    Just out of interest, would your friend adhere to her own advice in her personal life? If you introduced that guide to managing relationships at home, would Gaia feel that your relationship has a sustainable future?

  16. American Pie said

    The above was for #12 ( just for clarity’s sake)

  17. HotRod said

    #15 – well, I was married, the post was about climate change not truth. The lady I referred to is my particular friend, in no small part because I deeply respect her wisdom.

  18. HotRod said

    American Pie – yes, she seems to at least try and follow her own advice.

    Your second question, a question too far I fear given that I use my real name, and can find no way of answering that Gaia would find acceptable in a public forum!

  19. American Pie said

    HotRod – my guess would then be that your particular friend has no children and wants to get married (#11). It seems to me that you have a distorted idea of what a relationship should be like. The advice offers no solution, to anything, and seems to be based on fear and insecurity. The sole point to the advice is that “anything is better than being left and/or alone”. I beg to differ. Love (physical or otherwise), in order to be worth having, should be given freely, happily, without any fear and be based on mutual respect and trust. It shouldn’t be about “man management” and I am sure you must, at some point in your life, have been in a relationship where there was no need for such a thing. Of course understanding, loyalty, patience etc, is important in a relationship and as with Gaia it is certainly important to offer some thoughtful tender-love-and-care (if you are lucky you marry your best friend. I did and have been married for a long time) but the equivalent of “come naked and bring beer” doesn’t suggest that to me. What it suggests to me is one very big compromise, quite possibly for more than one of the persons involved.

  20. michelle said

    See, it goes both ways. Women do fail to realize what they are getting into with marriage, and what a task it can be to keep a man happy over the years. It is not easy. But equally, a man has to realize that come naked and bring beer is the quickest route to sleeping alone, whether there is someone else in the bed with you, or not. A lot of the time they are doing something for you, so what you need is to receive gratefully, and reciprocate, to the extent you can, and if they want it, which they may not.

    There is nothing wrong with man management. All good long term heterosexual relationships have an element of it. But the manager has to want to manage. Figure out why anyone should want to manage you, in that way, and you will be half way there. No, its not easy for you either. Life is not easy.

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