Skeptical Science on Vahrenholt’s Interview in Spiegel

Craig seems to have fallen in with the anti-global-warming tinfoil-hat crowd, which is kind of disappointing; I’d always thought he was smarter than that. I guess it’s an indication that as long as you’re willing to consume garbage as input, your output will suffer accordingly.

Craig describes Fritz Vahrenholt as “a significant German warmist-turned-skeptic”; later Craig comments that “a warmist representative who has seen an advance copy of the book, says a ‘number’ of the issues brought up have been ‘refuted’.”

Digression: This term “warmist” bugs me. The implication is that there’s an unreasoning element advancing a nefarious global warming conspiracy. I’ll accept that there’s room for legitimate debate in terms of the policy response to global warming, and I think it’s likely that the actually-criminal tactics of the conspirators on the anti-science side (and, admittedly, the success of those tactics in influencing the public debate) have induced a bunker mentality and more rigid positions from those arguing for warming-aware policies. But to characterize those who accept reality on climate science as “warmists” is to engage in a false equivalence. Setting policy responses to one side, there’s an objective reality in terms of the underlying facts of the matter as determined by science, and the denialism worthy of an “ist” suffix is almost entirely on the anti-warming side. Also, putting “number” and “refuted” in scare quotes is misleading; there are indeed a number of obvious problems with Vahrenholt’s arguments, and those arguments have indeed been refuted.

Anyway, in response to hype that the Spiegel item apparently has been getting recently from the anti-warming conspiracists, Skeptical Science pointed to a previous debunking they did: Fritz Vahrenholt – Duped on Climate Change.

Let’s begin with the book’s authors. Who are they, what expertise do they have, and what possible motive might they have to distort the science?

German electric utility executive Fritz Vahrenholt is co-author (along with geologist Sebastian Lüning) of a book expressing “skepticism” regarding the human contribution to global warming, which predictably has been trumpeted by the usual climate denial enablers. Why should we particularly care what Vahrenholt thinks about climate science? That is something of a mystery – he has a PhD in chemistry and has worked in the energy sector for Shell Oil and wind turbine maker RePower. Vahrenholt and Lüning both currently work for RWE Innogy, Germany’s second-largest energy company (Vahrenholt as a manager, Lüning as a scientist in its oil and gas division).

Vahrenholt admits he has no expertise in climate science, but apparently his status as “Germany’s Top Environmentalist” (a title which Vahrenholt appears to have been awarded just recently by anti-climate think tanks and denialists) and his climate “skepticism” are sufficient for some people to take his climate claims seriously.

Sigh. The credentials of the authors suggest what we’re in for: a Gish gallop of misleading claims about what climate science says from people whose livelihoods depend on getting the science wrong. SkS does the dirty work of going through Vahrenholt’s claims from the interview, knocking them down one by one:

  • Vahrenholt claim: WARNING: BULLSHIT: “The long version of the IPCC report does mention natural causes of climate change, like the sun and oscillating ocean currents. But they no longer appear in the summary for politicians. They were simply edited out.” In fact, as SkS points out, there are many prominent mentions of natural causes of climate change in the report’s summary for politicians. They quote five passages and reprint two prominent figures as examples.
  • Vahrenholt claim: WARNING: BULLSHIT: “It hasn’t gotten any warmer on this planet in almost 14 years, despite continued increases in CO2 emissions. Established climate science has to come up with an answer to that.” Except that it has gotten warmer, though on short time scales that warming is hidden in land-based measurements by the noisy oscillations resulting from land-ocean heat exchange. “And of course,” continues SkS, “there’s the fact that the odd timeframe choice of 14 years conveniently begins at the peak of the strongest El Niño in a century (a.k.a. cherrypicking of short-term data).” See the “down the up escalator” graphic I ran recently, or any of numerous “hockey stick” graphs produced using various methods by various independent research teams over the last few decades, demonstrating that recent warming is an anomaly unrivaled in the past 800,000 years.

The SkS piece goes on to point out Vahrenholt misstatements on solar radiation, galactic cosmic rays, and research on cloud formation at CERN. In each case, SkS gives links to supporting information on the actual science that refutes Vahrenholt’s claims.

I find it hard to escape the conclusion that Vahrenholt is a hack, someone willing to blatantly distort and mislead as part of a disinformation campaign aimed at confusing the public about the facts uncovered by scientists.

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