Simple Sam & Dr. Lindzen’s Missing Ingredients

Posted on February 7, 2011


I asked Simple Sam over for some tea, cake and sarcasm. I told him to bring his clop-clop denial slippers because climate change denial was going to be the subject of the conversation.  And here comes ol’ Clop-Clopalong, now.  — Hi, Sam.

“You said there was going to be tea and cake?” asks Sam, glancing around, not even a smile for me.  (Yet I laugh at him all the time.)

It’s on the table, Sam.

“What is this in the cup?”

Tea, one small spoonful of sugar, a squeeze of lemon, just the way you like it, Sam.  You told me you liked it with a squeeze of lemon, a spoonful of ….

“You didn’t put in any hot water.  You didn’t steep the tea.”

Yes, but otherwise, Sam…

“And what’s this, cake without flour in it?”

It’s only one ingredient missing, Sam.  Otherwise …

“It’s not the same thing at all,” says Sam.

Well, then you agree with me about Richard Lindzen.  It’s not the same thing at all.

“What?  Is this some sort of riddle?”

Let me explain it to you.

You see, Sam, Richard Lindzen, whom we met with before in Simple Sam & the Three Deniers, is going around saying things about IPCC predictions which aren’t really true.  It’s all about the issue of climate sensitivities.  Let me tell you what I mean by climate sensitivities first.

“You don’t need to explain it to me.”

The calculation of climate sensitivities is important, Sam, because it tells us—within, unfortunately, a still fairly wide margin of error—what to expect from the climate given the addition of a certain amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.  A low sensitivity means we’re safe from the more extreme changes of climate, at least in the short term.  A high sensitivity means that we better brace ourselves, because it’s going to be a wild ride, and this planet doesn’t have safety belts.

“Very poetically put.”

Ah, sarcasm, Sam!  I like it.  Now what Dr. Lintzen is saying is that, according to the climate sensitivities predicted by the IPCC, it ought to be warmer than it is right now.  That must mean, he says, that climate sensitivities aren’t as bad as the IPCC predicted, and doubling the CO2 in the atmosphere won’t warm the Earth nearly so much as we’re all worried about.

There, there.  It’s not so bad after all, the kind doctor says.

Except maybe the doctor’s wrong.  He kind of leaves a few things out of his recipe, like I did out of my tea and cake, Sam.

When you’re working with climate, the doctor ought to know, it’s not enough to merely account for CO2 and other greenhouse gases, you have to look at the effect of aerosols, too.  Aerosols like black carbon have a warming effect because they absorb heat.  But more important quantitatively is the effect of cooling aerosols, aerosols, that is, which have a cooling effect because they reflect light, or cause light to be reflected.  The net effect of aerosols,  once you subtract the warming from the cooling, is still cooling–at least according to peer-reviewed science.

(See Ramanathan and Carmichael, 2008:

This net cooling from aerosols would lower the warming effect to below that of a temperature rise calculated on the basis of greenhouse gases alone.  Leaving out the effect of aerosols as Dr. Lintzen does in his calculations is thus a serious error.

It is also not what the IPCC did.  The calculations that the IPCC makes take account of the effect of aerosols.

Equally serious, Sam, is that Dr. Lintzen leaves the oceans out of his calculations.  I mean, you’d think he might have noticed them splashing around, covering two thirds of the surface of the planet, absorbing heat all over the place.  It takes a lot of heat to warm water, as you know, and the oceans are a lot of water.  Since warming the planet includes warming the oceans too, you can expect a little delay in warming while the oceans catch up.

But it doesn’t mean the warming isn’t going on, Sam.  There is a huge amount of energy being stored in the upper layers of the world’s oceans, a quantity that increases day by day, year by year, decade by decade.  We’re getting a taste of that being released into our climate through heatwaves here and there, floods, superstorms, and so on, but most of that energy is still tucked away in the oceans, charging up and ready to power major climate changes in the coming decades.  Just because we haven’t felt the full effect of it yet, the heat is still there, Sam.

And returning to Richard Lintzen, it’s pretty silly of him to leave the oceans out of his calculations.  The IPCC didn’t.

Which kind of bring us to another point.

“What is that?” asks Sam.

Richard Lindzen was criticizing the IPCC climate sensitivity calculations, yet in his own calculations he left out things that the IPCC didn’t leave out.


So they weren’t really the IPCC’s calculations, then, were they?  Like tea without hot water.  Like cake without flour.  If you leave out important ingredients, then you can’t honestly criticize somebody else’s recipe, can you?  So tell me, Sam…


Is Dr. Lintzen stupid or is Dr Lindzen dishonest for leaving out the effects of aerosols and the ocean from his calculations while giving the impression that they were in effect IPCC calculations? Help us decide.

Sam, Sam ….?

Sam has left without drinking his tea.  I guess we’ll have to decide for ourselves.


Read about this issue in scientific detail (sans gratuitous sarcasm) at Skeptical Science: