Jim Peden, Atmospheric Physicist, makes some very dubious claims [UPDATED]

[UPDATE: After rereading his site I have found the most egregious error made by Peden. It is such a large error that it completely shatters his credibility and his argument]

In one of my recent posts a man named Jim Peden who claimed to be an Atmospheric Physicist, and who was sent by our good friend Marc Morano chimed in on the whole climate change debate. His argument boiled down to ‘trust me‘ but since I don’t know who he is and his claims are contradicted by published research his argument fell flat. As is common for deniers my unwillingness to trust him over peer-reviewed research lead to him claiming I was a member of the climate change religion. Oh well, I’ve been called worse things by better people. Since Peden refused to provide an argument besides trust me, I went to his site and decided to look at the claims he makes in more detail.

For a man who claims to have “[come] out of retirement by request of others, [to study] the whole “global warming” situation beginning from a completely neutral fiducial point“, it sure is amazing how many fully debunked denier talking points he repeats, and for a man who claims to be interested in the science it is amazing how much time he spends attacking Al Gore, who we all know is NOT a scientist. In fact thought much of his site Peden continually confuses the popular argument for climate change (which is frequently wrong) with the scientific argument for climate change.

The evidence for climate change that is available to the casual person of interest, including most students, is simplified to the point of being misleading, false, or useless. In other words, the popular argument for climate change is bullshit, independent of the underlying reality of climate change or the evidence available to experts in the field.

Anyone who was really interested in disproving climate change would attack the scientific argument, not the popular one.

So in the interest of exposing Peden’s climate change theories for the sham they are I thought I would go through his main points one by one and explain why Peden is wrong:

1. The “Greenhouse Effect” is a natural and valuable phenomenon, without which, the planet would be uninhabitable.

This is absolutely correct, and no climate scientists dispute that. But of course everyone knows that it is possible to have to much of a good thing, and what climate scientists are saying is that too much of the greenhouse effect (caused by our GHG emissions) is a very big problem.

2. Modest Global Warming, at least up until 1998 when a cooling trend began, has been real.

This is a clear indication that Peden is not presenting an honest look at the data. 1998 was a highly anomalous year, and as such it is a completely inappropriate baseline. But even if we accept his inappropriate analysis of the data recently a few papers have predicted a levelling off of temperatures as the large weather ‘noise’ temporarily swamps out the small climate change ‘signal’. Both of these papers, however, explicitly state that over longer time scales (decades) the dominant trend will be that of the warming caused by our GHG emissions.

3. CO2 is not a significant greenhouse gas; 95% of the contribution is due to Water Vapor.

Ignoring the fact that the 95% number was pulled out of his ass (the real number is somewhere between 66% and 85%), his claims that the IPCC ignore water vapour are simply false. It is true that the IPCC doesn’t list water vapour as a forcing, but there is a very good reason for this: they consider it a feedback. “Simply put, any artificial perturbation in water vapour concentrations is too short lived to change the climate. Too much in the air will quickly rain out, not enough and the abundant ocean surface will provide the difference via evaporation. But once the air is warmed by other means, H2O concentrations will rise and stay high, thus providing the feedback.” In other words water vapour is not considered a climate forcing, because the amount of H2O in the air varies as a function of temperature. Peden’s claims that scientists ignore water vapour are simple false.

[UPDATE: See the update at the bottom of this post for an even more egregious error made by Peden regarding CO2‘s ability to influence climate.]

4. Man’s contribution to Greenhouse Gasses is relatively insignificant. We didn’t cause the recent Global Warming and we cannot stop it.

This claim is based on claim #3, and since it is false so to is this claim.

5. Solar Activity appears to be the principal driver for Climate Change, accompanied by complex ocean currents which distribute the heat and control local weather systems.

Not the blame the sun myth again. Here is what a recent study from the Royal Society has to say on the subject: “Here we show that over the past 20 years, all the trends in the Sun that could have had an influence on the Earth’s climate have been in the opposite direction to that required to explain the observed rise in global mean temperatures“. And here is one from Nature: “In this Review, we show that … the Sun is unlikely to have had a significant influence on global warming since the seventeenth century

6. CO2 is a useful trace gas in the atmosphere, and the planet would actually benefit by having more, not less of it, because it is not a driver for Global Warming and would enrich our vegetation, yielding better crops to feed the expanding population.

While increased CO2 levels may increase plant productivity, and thus provide more plentiful food, the reality is that in many cases we don’t know what increasing CO2 will ultimately do to plant productivity. Not to mention that there is increasing evidence that all the extra CO2 in the atmosphere is wreaking havoc with coral reefs ecosystems which provide food for hundreds of million of people.

7. CO2 is not causing global warming, in fact, CO2 is lagging temperature change in all reliable datasets. The cart is not pulling the donkey, and the future cannot influence the past.

This was a favourite claim from deniers after an Inconvenient Truth was released, mainly because Gore glossed over this fact, and one could even make a reasonable argument that Gore, without explicitly saying so, lead viewers to believe that past climate change was caused by increases in atmospheric CO2 concentrations. This is a perfect example of the popular argument for climate change being bullshit, irrespective the underlying reality of climate change or the evidence available to experts in the field.

The truth is that since there were no SUV’s, or coal power plants, and the fact there are several possible causes of climate change (though none of those other causes can explain the recent warming trend), this is exactly what climatologists expect. Even more worrisome is the fact that given an increase in temperature, natural systems could begin to release CO2 and other GHGs as they have in the past, and further amplify our own GHG emissions. If anything this claim indicates that action on climate change is more urgent that previously thought.

The CO2 lag does not in any way mean that human emissions of CO2 are not responsible for the current warming trend. “That is, it doesn’t matter whether you put carbon dioxide in naturally or unnaturally, the fact remains that it is a greenhouse gas and traps outgoing longwave radiation“.

8. Nothing happening in the climate today is particularly unusual, and in fact has happened many times in the past and will likely happen again in the future.

While it is true that the climate has been warmer in the past (55 million years ago), it doesn’t in any way mean that we are not responsible for the current warming or that the current warming trend wont be hugely problematic. Remember there weren’t 6 billion people on the planet the last time the earth experienced warmer temperature.

9. The UN IPCC has corrupted the “reporting process” so badly, it makes the oil-for-food scandal look like someone stole some kid’s lunch money. They do not follow the Scientific Method, and modify the science as needed to fit their predetermined conclusions. In empirical science, one does NOT write the conclusion first, then solicit “opinion” on the report, ignoring any opinion which does not fit their predetermined conclusion while falsifying data to support unrealistic models.

Most of this claim rests on claim #3 which we know is false, and Peden’s claim that the “This chart [the Mann ‘hockey stick’], unfortunately, became the foundation for the first report of the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change ( IPCC )“. But that can’t be real because as Peden fully admits in his article Mann published his hockey stick in 1998, and we know that first IPCC assessment report was released in 1990. How does Peden explain this 8 year discrepancy? He doesn’t.

The Mann Hockey stick was not featured in an IPCC report until the AR3 report released in 2001, but it was the AR2 report released in 1995 (3 years before the Mann hockey stick) that concluded that “The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate“.

It is also worth noting that the IPCC’s conclusions have been accepted by all relevant scientific societies in the world.

10. Polar Bear populations are not endangered, in fact current populations are healthy and at almost historic highs. The push to list them as endangered is an effort to gain political control of their habitat… particularly the North Slope oil fields.

Even if we accept that (and there are plenty of reasons why we shouldn’t accept that), we need to make the distinction between what causes climate change and what the effects of climate change are thought to be. The claims that polar bears are in trouble are very clearly effects of climate change, not evidence used to support climate change. The fact that polar bears are adapting to a rapidly changing arctic (and again there is reason to believe they are not) does not in anyway challenge the theory of climate change.

11. There is no demonstrated causal relationship between hurricanes and/or tornadoes and global warming. This is sheer conjecture totally unsupported by any material science.

First of all there is a very large difference between hurricanes and tornadoes, we need to look at them separately. First of all even the Bush administration expects more extreme weather (including hurricanes) due to climate change. Even a recent paper, which predicts less influence on hurricanes going forward strongly re-affirms earlier analyses that show that hurricane power has increased by about 50% over the past 25 years likely due to climate change.

As for tornadoes, the data is far from certain but a recent model from NASA suggests “that the most violent severe storms and tornadoes may become more common as Earth’s climate warms“. Though as I said earlier the data is far from certain and we need to be careful not to overstate the possible relationship between tornadoes and climate change.

12. Observed glacial retreats in certain select areas have been going on for hundreds of years, and show no serious correlation to short-term swings in global temperatures.

This claim is usually made in reference to Greenland, but anyone who uses a regional effect, to argue for a global phenomenon, shouldn’t be taken seriously, especially if it is Greenland, because as one of the peer-reviewed papers Marc Morano sent me states “There are significant differences between the global temperature and the Greenland temperature records within the 1881–2005 period”, Which would make it an especially poor indicator of global climate.

13. Greenland is shown to be an island completely surrounded by water, not ice, in maps dating to the 14th century. There is active geothermal activity in the currently “melting” sections of Greenland.

Ah yes a variation on the Greenland used to be green myth. We all know how accurate 14th maps are. But even if the map were accurate it would still be a poor indicator of past climate. Mapping expeditions would have likely taken place in the summer months when the weather was more hospitable, and when the sea ice was at its minimum. Not to mention that it may also have been a Viking marketing trick to encourage settlers on the island. But even if it was warmer in Greenland it still doesn’t disprove climate change.

As for the fact that some of the more recent melting is caused by geothermal activity, that may be so (I haven’t double checked this) but the melting ice sheet is a predicted effect of climate change not evidence used to arrive at the conclusion that our GHG emissions are causing climate change.

14. The Antarctic Ice cover is currently the largest ever observed by satellite, and periodic ice shelf breakups are normal and correlate well with localized tectonic and geothermal activity along the Antarctic Peninsula.

Again this is a regional effect, and climate change is a global effect. Secondly because of its remote location we have very little data, and don’t really know what is going on. Thirdly a thickening of the antarctic ice sheet isn’t inconsistent with models… just the popular argument for climate change. “Warmer climates tend toward more precipitation. The Antarctic is one of the most extreme deserts on the planet. As it warms, we would expect it to receive more snow. But even a whopping warming of 20 degrees — say, from -50 degrees C to -30 degrees C — would still leave it below freezing, so the snow wouldn’t melt. Thus, an increase in ice mass.

15. The Global Warming Panic was triggered by an artifact of poor mathematics which has been thoroughly disproved. The panic is being deliberately nurtured by those who stand to gain both financially and politically from perpetuation of the hoax.

This is referring to the Mann ‘hockey stick’, but as I described above the first IPCC report came out 8 years before the hockey stick was published. So it wasn’t triggered by an ‘artifact of poor mathematics’ as Peden claims. Secondly while the hockey stick may have has some mathematical errors other independent (and far more current) proxy reconstructions have fallen within the hockey stick’s error bars. In fact the NAS was tasked by the US congress to look at the validity of the hockey stick and concluded that “The basic conclusion of Mann et al. (1998, 1999) was that the late 20th century warmth in the Northern Hemisphere was unprecedented during at least the last 1,000 years. This conclusion has subsequently been supported by an array of evidence that includes both additional large-scale surface temperature reconstructions and pronounced changes in a variety of local proxy indicators, such as melting on ice caps and the retreat of glaciers around the world, which in many cases appear to be unprecedented during at least the last 2,000 years

The ‘panic’ is also supported by every single relevant scientific society? What do they stand to gain if they are proven wrong?

16. Scientists who “deny” the hoax are often threatened with loss of funding or even their jobs.

And yet despite people’s best efforts no such bias has been found. I simply am not prepared to accept the the entire scientific community has been corrupted without compelling evidence.

17. The correlation between solar activity and climate is now so strong that solar physicists are now seriously discussing the much greater danger of pending global cooling.

Which solar physicists? Was it this one? or this one? See claim #5 from more info.

18. Biofuel hysteria is already having a disastrous effect on world food supplies and prices, and current technologies for biofuel production consume more energy than the fuels produce.

Which is why most biofuel policies have been sharply criticized as farm subsidies in disguise by many environmentalists.

19. Global Warming Hysteria is potentially linked to a stress-induced mental disorder.


20. In short, there is no “climate crisis” of any kind at work on our planet.

Peden still hasn’t made a convincing case. He presents many fully debunked denier talking points, and has virtually no links to supporting data. When all is said and done Peden’s argument boils down to ‘trust me‘. So this leaves us with a choice, do I trust Peden, or do I trust the IPCC the National Academies of Science from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, the Caribbean, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the USA, the American Meteorological Society, American Geophysical Union, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Geological Society of London, the Geological Society of America, the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, thousands of peer-reviewed journals, and even the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

Guess who I am going to believe?

UPDATE: After looking over Peden’s site again I realized the most damning aspect of his whole argument. When he attempts to explain the warming influence of CO2, he not only ignores slow feedbacks (such as land surface, ice sheets and atmospheric chemistry and aerosols), he completely ignores fast feedbacks (the most important of those being water vapour which is responsible for 66% to 85% (or 95% if you believe Peden) of the total warming effect). Without such feedbacks it is no wonder his estimate the effect of CO2 is far lower than other estimates. It also means that his estimate simply wont match with reality. This error alone is enough to both shatter any credibility Peden may have had, and completely debunk his argument.

22 thoughts on “Jim Peden, Atmospheric Physicist, makes some very dubious claims [UPDATED]

Add yours

  1. Scruffy, the only guy I really believe about all this is Al Gore.

    Albert and I both believe the same thing: the whole man-made global warming story is absolute nonsense.

    That’s right! We both live our lives, according to what we believe to be true.

    Just because my words and my actions happen to match in this case, I’m not going to criticize Albert for “hypocricy” – I have too many faults of my own. And I’m not going to criticize Albert for making a buck for public speaking on things he doesn’t believe in – everybody has a right to earn a living.

    So join Albert and me. Forget about man-made climate change and tell everyone you know to forget about it too, if they happen to bring it up.

    PS: If you figure out a way to wake the sun out of its cycle 23 slumber, let me know. Hey – the only evidence you have against your argument, Scruffy, is the weather! That’s not “rock solid” evidence, though, is it

  2. Scruffy, the only guy I really believe about all this is Al Gore.

    Why would you trust Al Gore (who we can all agree is not a scientist) over real scientists, publishing peer-reviewed jounrals?

    No matter what Al Gore does, says or believes in, it doesn’t in anyway speak to climate science.

  3. Well, Scruffy, in fact I put a lot more faith in Al Gore’s nonbelief in human global warming – something tangible that I can see – than I put in a lot of the “peer-reviewed” “science” that amounts to computer simultations that involve more error than is actually possible in climate variability.

    Do you put your faith in something like that? Really? Why? Because its “peer-reviewed?” Do you know how much “peer-reviewed” stuff there is out there that is just plain wrong? Are you sure you aren’t putting your faith in it because you want to or because it appeals to you? That is the basis Al Gore begins from – as you say, he isn’t a scientist, so that’s where he gets the impetus to vocalize things that he obviously doesn’t believe. And if he doesn’t believe in it Scruffy – then why should you? Why should anybody?

    I’ll bet that some soul-seaching on your part would reveal that a lot of your faith isn’t just based on “science” and you don’t even need to say it out loud.

    One last question, Scruffy: If this “human global warming” thing were correct, don’t you think it would have been evident a long long LONG time ago? What does you intuition say, Scruffy? Really – no matter how much science education you or anybody else has had, what does your intuition tell you is the truth? You have to answer only yourself about that – eventually, everybody does

  4. I put my faith (if you want to call it that) in science, and that means it must meet the minimum standard of peer-review. It is that simple.

    Are you sure you aren’t putting your faith in it because you want to or because it appeals to you?

    I have said several times on this blog what it would take for me to question climate change: a real debate in the scientific literature. Valid criticisms of science have always come from within the scientific community, and that is where I will look for criticisms of climate change.

    If this “human global warming” thing were correct, don’t you think it would have been evident a long long LONG time ago?

    Nope. Why? Well because the climate change ‘signal’ is small compared with the yearly natural temperature ‘noise. That is the gist of it at least.

    What does you intuition say, Scruffy?

    My intuition tells me the look to the scientific community for answers to questions about the natural world, and that is exactly what I have done.

  5. Scruffy, what you are doing is attempting to put a brick wall between your intellect and your beliefs – with the rationalization that this is “science” because, for one thing, it is “peer-reviewed”.

    But if they had given some of that stuff for me to review I would have ripped it apart – so would many others I know.

    Now what? Just because it had a sympathetic set of eyes look at it, does that make it right?

    In due time, a lot of that will be torn down right on the same soapbox it was launched from – and that “signal” is the only real thing about it that we are seeing happen right now.

    It takes some courage to come out and say, “the human global warming stuff doesn’t really add up, I’m not going to support it because it makes no sense”

    Some folks have that courage Scruffy – and some just plain don’t.

  6. Perhaps you don’t understand the absolute importance of peer-review, perhaps you don’t understand how/why peer-review works (in fact based on your last comment I am fairly certain you do not), but to anyone with a strong science background it is abundantly clear why peer-review is so vitally important.

    As I said valid criticisms of the science come from within the scientific community, so that is where I will look for criticisms of climate change.

  7. Dear Scruffydan

    I should be interested to know why you use a pseudynom and why your design appears to be to mount personal attacks on others who do not share your belief? Come now, let’s not try to get the better of others in this way,but rather let’s try to improve one anothers knowledge and understanding.

    I thought I should draw your atttention to the fact that there is indeed a considerable and increasingly large body of peer reviewed scientific research which tends to disprove the assumptions underlying the IPCC’s hypothesis that man-made CO2 emissions are dangerously warming the planet. I am sure if you were to read the research and confer with an appropriately specialised scientist in each relevant field of expertise that you would be better equipped to make a useful contribution to our knowledge and understanding on the subject.

    I wish you well.


    Anna Fisher

  8. Anna, I may use a pseudynom, but it really wouldn’t be very difficult for someone to discover my real name if they wanted to.

    As for the personal attacks… I didn’t realize that debunking Peden’s claims was considered a personal attack.

    And finally about your claims of there existing a considerable and increasingly large body peer-reviewed research that challenges the IPCC, surely if it existed it would have been brought to my attention by Marc Morano. But all he did was provide links to research that SUPPORTS the basic conclusions of the IPCC, though he did claim the opposite. Sorry if I don’t buy your claims

  9. I find it curious that you say there exists a ‘a considerable and increasingly large body peer-reviewed research that challenges the IPCC‘ yet you link to sites that have a long and well documented history of misrepresenting the science. Is that the best you can do? I prefer to get my science directly from the scientific literature.

    If the IPCC (or any aspect of AGW) is to be successfully challenged, it will be challenged in the scientific peer-reviewed literature, not on some internet blog… especially one as dubious as the ones you linked to.

  10. Wow, even when people are slapped across the face with facts they still try and deny it. Notice to all you people who commented, that he provided citations where appropriate. Something a scientist does, regardless if they’re posting on a blog. To see Jim Pedens piece with none, is a red flag from the start. His assertions are baseless and Dan did a good job pointing out that fact. Hopefully someday people can drop their ideology and instead look at the science.

    **Thought I’d comment even though the article is 8 months old.

  11. Thanks Aaron, you are very kind. As you said getting past ideology is very important. For those who think I am just as much as an ideologue as Peden I suggest you read this post.

  12. I followed a link to Jim Peden’s blog from a poster on the Guardian website (UK)on a piece about hacked emails from UEA http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/nov/24/climate-professor-leaked-emails-uea?showallcomments=true#end-of-comments
    Being suspicious I then did some research on him and arrived here. Hi Dan, being not unaquainted with the world of media and PR, Mr. Peden’s piece is good, flawed, but good and as such makes compelling reading for the weak minded. The truth is out there as they say, your rebuttal is comprehensive and accurate without the visual frills and ego boosting he found necessary to make his point. Good work Dan.

  13. Thanks for this post. I am constantly fighting Jim on a number of points. In point of fact, he dropped out of science in late 1960s and is trying to elbow his way back into the game. He has a masters degree and was in a PhD program but did not graduate for some reason. I think that leads to his conflict with real, practicing scientists. There is a lot of that going on in the denier’s world.

    Bob Ferris

  14. Dan, i can’t find your “comprehensive rebuttal” of James Pedan’s analysis that CO2 is not a green house gas. Aside from using discrediting rhetoric, where do you deal with the meat of the argument that CO2 absorbs a negligible amount of infrared energy and that CO2 increases in the atmosphere follow average temperatur increases, not preceed it. No details here but polemic.

  15. @ Martin Burkard

    And because I care, there is this timely video from Peter Sinclair:

    And this from e! Science News about a study to be published tomorrow:

    Water vapor and clouds are the major contributors to Earth’s greenhouse effect, but a new atmosphere-ocean climate modeling study shows that the planet’s temperature ultimately depends on the atmospheric level of carbon dioxide. The study, conducted by Andrew Lacis and colleagues at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York, examined the nature of Earth’s greenhouse effect and clarified the role that greenhouse gases and clouds play in absorbing outgoing infrared radiation. Notably, the team identified non-condensing greenhouse gases — such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, and chlorofluorocarbons — as providing the core support for the terrestrial greenhouse effect.

    Without non-condensing greenhouse gases, water vapor and clouds would be unable to provide the feedback mechanisms that amplify the greenhouse effect. The study’s results will be published Friday, Oct. 15 in Science.

    A companion study led by GISS co-author Gavin Schmidt that has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research shows that carbon dioxide accounts for about 20 percent of the greenhouse effect, water vapor and clouds together account for 75 percent, and minor gases and aerosols make up the remaining five percent. However, it is the 25 percent non-condensing greenhouse gas component, which includes carbon dioxide, that is the key factor in sustaining Earth’s greenhouse effect. By this accounting, carbon dioxide is responsible for 80 percent of the radiative forcing that sustains the Earth’s greenhouse effect.

    That CO2 is a greenhouse gas has been known since John Tyndall’s work in the 1850s, and (as seen in the above video) is easily demonstrated. Also the fact that CO2 is a greenhouse gas is the reason why CO2 lasers work.

    If CO2 was not a greenhouse gas the amount of basic science that would have to be wrong is absolutely astounding.

    There is simply no doubt that CO2 IS a greenhouse gas.

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