A Fortunate Mistake

I return to the issue of the history of climate change ‘science’. The article in the October BBC History magazine by Dr Paul Parsons is a mass distortion of history and science. We gave one example in the post Convenient Lies.

One of the authorities underpinning this article is Spencer Weart, Director of the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. It looks as though Parsons has cobbled together most of his article from Weart’s book The Discovery of Global Warming. Weart, for his part, has attracted public funding to the tune of $184,177 for studies in the ‘history’ of climate change. One would expect better value for money, because out of such studies emerges a string of scientists with phoney ideas and methods who are now hailed and adopted by the climate alarmists as visionaries because they ‘predicted’ anthropogenic global warming. One such is Guy Stewart Callendar (1898-1964), the steam engineer and amateur meteorologist.

Even the American Meteorological Society have been sucked into this. In 2006 they published The Callendar Effect with the blurb

This is the untold story of the remarkable scientist who established the carbon dioxide theory of climate change. Guy Stewart Callendar discovered that global warming could be brought about by increases in the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide due to human activities, primarily through burning fossil fuels.

But as meteorologists should know, climate warms and cools dramatically quite independently of man’s activities. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the problem was cooling, leading to serious crop failures, riots, and mass migrations, and, in 1816, the famous ‘Year without a Summer’. We are still, in our present day, recovering from these low temperatures, which caused great hardship and famine.

The view from North America in 1818 makes fascinating reading (fuller details at the bottom of the post):

But what may be considered as coming more home to the present generation is, that on ground where the vine once flourished, even the apple has of late years scarcely ripened. It is now sixteen years since the orchards have afforded a plentiful crop.
We are not however, it seems, alone; for in all the northern parts of our hemisphere the mean annual temperature is on the decline: and…in mountainous parts of Europe the accumulation of ice and snow is very sensibly increasing… From America, too, we learn, that, in consequence of the coldness of the seasons, Indian corn will no longer ripen in New England, and that the farmers have consequently taken to the cultivation of wheat, which has succeeded so well as to render it likely to supersede maize.

In the BBC History article Parsons states

1938. The first evidence for global warming is brought to light by British researcher Guy Stewart Callendar.

However, temperature records from various stations around the world had been kept for hundreds of years. In 1865 James Glaisher, FRS, of the Royal Greenwich Observatory, and sometime Secretary and President of the Meteorological Society, delivered a paper (Proceedings of the British Meteorological Society, 1865, Vol. II, No. 17) On the Secular Increase in Mean Temperature about significant warming that had taken place over the previous hundred years. To him should go the credit for observing and revealing warming trends.

Thus the results…tend to confirm the accuracy of the indications found by instruments, viz.
1) That our climate in the last 100 years has altered.
2) That the temperature of the year is 2° warmer now than it was then.
3) That the month of January is 3° warmer.
4) That the winter months are all much warmer, and every month in the year seems to be somewhat warmer than before. These results are indeed important…The result is of national importance. These results illustrate very forcibly, indeed, the advantage of long continuance of series of observations…Who, looking at the great, the frequent changes in our climate…would have considered that even 100 years would have yielded the results here shown? This is the first time we have been able to speak with any confidence of this increase of temperature, an increase spoken of and dwelt on for years past by very aged people.
I may, in conclusion, express a hope that series of observations now in progress over the world will be patiently continued; for other questions now open themselves — for instance, has any part of the world become 2° colder in its mean annual temperature in the last 100 years, or has the world itself increased generally 2° in warmth…These questions, with many others, press themselves on us, and make it extremely desirable that similar determinations to the above should be made as soon as possible at other parts of the world.

Parsons’ article in BBC History continues about Callendar:

He was first to tally soaring temperatures since the mid-19th century with increasing carbon dioxide levels.

In 1938, he published figures showing that between 1890 and 1935, the Earth had warmed by about half a degree.

Soaring temperatures? Why does Parsons grossly exaggerate the temperature rise claimed by Callendar? In the article, a graph is shown of Callendar’s data, which exhibits a temperature rise in the tropics over that period of no more than 0.05 degree Celsius, and an average temperature rise between latitude 60 degrees north and 50 degrees south (i.e. the inhabited world) of no more than 0.25 degree Celsius. The Cambridge History of Science confirms

And in 1938, G.S. Callendar read a paper to the Royal Meteorological Society that argued that CO2 from fossil fuel consumption had caused a modest but measurable increase of about one quarter of one degree in the previous fifty years.

Not only is it an offence to double the temperature rise claimed, but it is also sheer hype to claim that a temperature rise of a quarter of a degree Celsius in half a century constitutes ‘soaring temperatures’. That’s ridiculous. If Callendar had bothered to go back two hundred years he would have found that average temperatures in central England rose by over 2 degrees Celsius within 40 years, from the 1690s to the 1730s. Clearly very much larger climatic changes, such as those before the industrial revolution, were not due to man-made carbon dioxide emissions.

Parsons continues

He pointed out that carbon dioxide had risen by ten percent in this time, owing to the industrial revolution.

Oh, really? Where did he get that information? The carbon dioxide concentration in the air had been measured since the early nineteenth century, in many parts of the world, by many independent persons, several of whom were Nobel laureates, so there were datasets available listing literally tens of thousands of measurements over that period, with 1-3% accuracies. Unfortunately, for those, like Callendar, who want to see patterns where such patterns don’t exist, Callendar discounted most of the data, and selected only that which supported his contention that global temperature was rising in line with increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Very conveniently, he started his CO2 plots near the end of the nineteenth century, just at the time when CO2 concentrations were starting to increase again, having decreased from a very high level around 1820, and having monotonically decreased from around 370ppm in 1857 to around 300ppm in 1885. So as man-made carbon emissions were increasing through the nineteenth century, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were rapidly decreasing. This very inconvenient truth is too strong for the climate alarmists, as well as for Callendar, and later Keeling and the IPCC, so it is just airbrushed out of history.

Even more revealing is that atmospheric CO2 rose dramatically over the period 1935 to 1950, from a level around 330ppm in 1935 to over 410ppm in the 1940s, before falling back in the 1950s. Although we do not know the reason for this, the fact is well attested by many independent measurements, including by Haldane (British Isles, 1500 measurements), Duerst (Switzerland, >1000 measurements), Kreutz (Germany, >64,000 measurements), Misra (India, >250 measurements) and Scholander (worldwide >1000 measurements). Today’s atmospheric CO2 concentration is around 387ppm, which is lower than the levels seen from 1936 through the 1940s. Accordingly, as happened in the nineteenth century, CO2 in the atmosphere has decreased from the levels of 70 years ago, even though man-made emissions have increased, which explodes the hypothesis that increasing temperature is caused by increasing CO2. Another inconvenient truth.

It is noteworthy that when Callendar published a further paper in 1958, he chose to ignore the nearly 70,000 records of Duerst, Kreutz and Misra, which documented the tremendous increase and decrease in CO2 concentrations over the previous 20 years. Likewise the IPCC and the climate activists ignore the mass of real, actual field measurements of atmospheric CO2 from 1812 until the 1950s, and use proxies like ice core data, which are highly suspect, to reconstitute evidence instead. That is science at its worst – there is no substitute for real measurements. As Zbigniew Jarowowski, who himself measured atmospheric CO2 concentrations in Spitzbergen in 1957-58, records

From among this treasure of excellent data (ranging up to 550 ppmv of measured CO2 levels), the founders of the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis (Callendar 1949, Callendar 1958, and Keeling 1986) selected only a tiny fraction of the data, and doctored it to select out the low concentrations and reject the high values—all in order to set a falsely low pre-industrial average CO2 concentration of 280 ppmv as the basis for all further climatic speculations.

Recapitulating Parsons’ article again:

A British scientist by the name of Guy Callendar first gathered numerical data to support the anecdotes. In 1938, he published figures showing that between 1890 and 1935, the Earth had warmed by about half a degree Celsius. He pointed out that carbon dioxide levels had risen by ten percent in this time, owing to the industrial revolution. It was the first solid scientific observation linking climate warming with human carbon emissions.

But nobody believed it.

Of course they didn’t believe it, because Callendar had not proved any causation whatsoever. C.E.P. Brooks, in the Compendium of Meteorology (1951) considered the recent rise of temperatures and CO2 content over such a short period, as highlighted by Callendar, to be pure coincidence – which it was, looking at datasets over much longer periods. The only ‘link’ was that there was an upward trend in CO2 levels from 1885 (reversing a previous downward trend conveniently airbrushed out by Callendar) and a slight increase in global temperatures. The fact that the ‘correlation’ wasn’t seen before 1890, or for hundreds of years before that, was simply an inconvenient truth that had to be ignored. But taking a 45-year ‘correlation’ when no such correlation existed before or after, and then making some linkage to infer causation, is not science. That is deception, pseudo-science and mumbo jumbo. But now people want to believe this rubbish.

Even Weart, who is a climate alarmist, but who has attracted public money to do history, has to admit that

Callendar seemed to be picking only the data that supported his case.

Most damaging of all, Callendar’s calculations of the greenhouse effect temperature rise ignored much of the real world’s physics.

…he argued for conclusions that mingled the true with the false

The scientists who brushed aside Callendar’s claims were reasoning well enough. Subsequent work has shown that the temperature rise up to 1940 was, as his critics thought, mainly caused by some kind of natural cyclical effect, not by the still relatively low CO2 emissions.

So Callendar selectively ‘gathered numerical data to support the anecdotes’, and picked ‘only the data that supported his case’; he ‘mingled the true with the false’ and he made predictions that ‘ignored much of the real world’s physics’; and the CO2-induced temperature causation that he inferred was, in fact, ‘as his critics thought…caused by some…natural cyclical effect, not…CO2 emissions’.

But Callendar’s dodgy methods, ignorance of physics and false correlations are still with us, with the same silly predictions. He is hailed by the climate alarmist lobby as the ‘father’ of the anthropogenic carbon global warming theory, and the alleged rise in temperature due to anthropogenic CO2 emissions is termed the ‘Callendar Effect’ after him. We can confidently predict that as the climate naturally cools (as the trend has been since 1998), Callendar will be hung out to dry as just another amateur whistling in the wind.

We end with Weart:

Yet if Callendar was mistaken when he insisted he could prove global warming had arrived, it was a fortunate mistake.

Yes, very fortunate, because ‘a fortunate mistake’ became in the mouths of the climate alarmists a convenient lie.

*************************************************************************************

The severe cooling trend reported by The Panoplist, published 1818:

SOME curious remarks have lately appeared relative to the supposed deterioration of the climate of Great Britain. Our springs, it is said, are now later, and the summers shorter, and both those seasons colder and more humid, than they were in the youthful days of many persons, and those not very aged, who are now alive. We learn from our old chronicles, that the grape has formerly been cultivated in England, for the manufacture of wine, but we now know that, even with much care and attention, it can scarcely be brought to ripen a scanty crop under walls exposed to the sun, sheltered from cold wind, and in every respect in the most favorable aspect; and it would be folly to attempt its growth in the method of a vineyard, as a standard.
But what may be considered as coming more home to the present generation is, that on ground where the vine once flourished, even the apple has of late years scarcely ripened. It is now sixteen years since the orchards have afforded a plentiful crop.
We are not however, it seems, alone; for in all the northern parts of our hemisphere the mean annual temperature is on the decline: and on recurring to the accounts of modern travellers, it appears that in mountainous parts of Europe the accumulation of ice and snow is very sensibly increasing. This is perhaps particularly the case, and is easily observable, in the vicinity of Mont Blanc; and the glaciers which, descending from the summits of that and the adjoining peaks, invade the adjacent valley of Chamouny, are making such progress as to threaten, at no very remote period, to render the heart of that district inaccessible to the traveller. In a recent Number of the Bibliothèque des Sciences et des Arts, Professor Pictet informs us, that the Glacier des Jîossons has very lately advanced fifty feet, much to the dismay of the neighboring villagers. But if we resort to more northern climates we shall find yet more alarming evidence of the great increase of snow and ice; and of this, the history of Greenland furnishes perhaps the most remarkable facts upon record. That country received its name from its verdant appearance; and the original colony continued to prosper, and to carry on an extensive commerce with Norway, until the beginning of the fifteenth century, since which period all communication with East Greenland has ceased, and what was once known respecting it is almost buried in oblivion. Since that period too, the east coast of Greenland, which once was perfectly accessible, has become blockaded by an immense collection of ice, so that till within these few months no vessels could approach near enough even to see land in that direction.
To this accumulation of ice is attributed the deterioration of our own climate; and which, if the same causes continue to act, is equally threatening to our neighbors upon the continent of Europe. From America, too, we learn, that, in consequence of the coldness of the seasons, Indian corn will no longer ripen in New England, and that the farmers have consequently taken to the cultivation of wheat, which has succeeded so well as to render it likely to supersede maize. Hopes are entertained of the amendment of the climate of Britain, from the gradual breaking up of the ice, which has advanced so far as to re-open the communication with East Greenland.

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2 Responses to “A Fortunate Mistake”


  1. 1 Emma Glaisher October 27, 2008 at 10:15 am

    Glad to see my ancestor James Glaisher acknowledged for his dedicated and rigorous scientific observations!

  2. 2 Billy Liar March 13, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    Fascinating stuff! Thank you for putting it together.


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