The Heretics: Anthony Watts

Rich Trzupek is a veteran environmental consultant and senior advisor to the Heartland Institute. He is the author of the new book Regulators Gone Wild: How the EPA is Ruining American Industry (Encounter Books).


Given the dogmatic fervor of global warming proponents, and their intolerance of skeptics who dare to question the latest commandment (see: cap-and-trade) in the green scripture, it is perhaps no coincidence that the environmentalist movement sometimes seems to have more in common with theology than with science. If that is true, then the logical word to describe those scientists who have challenged environmental hysteria and extremism is “heretics.” In a series of profiles, Front Page’s Rich Trzupek will spotlight prominent scientists whose “heretical” research, publications, and opinions have helped add a much-needed dose of balance and fact to environmental debates that for too long have been driven by fear mongering and alarmism. In a field that demands political conformity, they defiantly remain the heretics. Previous profiles in the series include Steve Milloy, Dr. Craig Idso, Dr. Roy Spencer, and Lord Christopher Monckton. – The Editors

Theorizing that burning fossil fuels can cause catastrophic global warming is relatively easy to do, all you need is a computer model and the “right” set of inputs. Proving that one’s model reflects reality is another matter entirely. Meteorologist Anthony Watts has been a leading skeptical voice in the global warming debate because he has challenged supposed evidence that the models work, through his herculean efforts in examining the dubious surface temperature records published by leading climate change centers.

At first blush, Watts seems an unlikely heretic. While he questions the veracity of alarmist data, Watts personal lifestyle reveals a man who spends a great deal more time trying to conserve energy than, say, Al Gore. He describes himself thus:

“While I have a skeptical view of certain climate issues, I consider myself ‘green’ in many ways, and I promote the idea of energy savings and alternate energy generation. Unlike many who just talk about it, I’ve put a 10KW solar array on my home, plus a 125 KW solar array on one of our local schools when I was a school trustee. I’ve retrofitted my home with CFL’s and better insulation, as well as installed timer switches on many of our most commonly used lights.”

Watts’ two chief websites, wattsupwiththat.com and surfacestations.org are regular stops for most people interested in learning more about the other side of the global warming debate. While many of the themes on his sites are familiar to skeptics, his examination of the United States’ surface temperature monitoring network affords him a unique niche in the debate.

A bit of background first. When Climategate – the publication of data and e-mails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (CRU) – first broke, some climate change supporters said, in effect, that even if CRU’s temperature data was flawed, plenty of other respected, reliable organizations reached the same conclusion as CRU, so climategate didn’t matter. Chief among those seemingly respectable, reliable scientific organizations cited was the United State National Weather Service, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA’s data does indicate a steady rise in average temperatures across the country for the last few decades. But, how reliable is NOAA’s data and, specifically, the data from the National Weather Service’s network of 1,221 surface temperature monitoring stations?

This is where Anthony Watts comes in. Watts started a surface stations auditing project in 2007, assisted by Dr. Robert A. Peilke, a climatologist at Colorado State University. The purpose of the project is to examine each of those 1,221 surface temperature monitoring stations and to determine how reliable the data from is, following the National Weather Service’s own guidelines. The results were stunning. Though the project is not complete, Watts has released preliminary reports through the Heartland Institute. In the latest version of the report, entitled “Is The U.S. Surface Temperature Record Reliable?” and published in 2009, Watts reached a damning conclusion:

“During the past few years I recruited a team of more than 650 volunteers to visually inspect and photographically document more than 860 of these temperature stations. We were shocked by what we found.

We found stations located next to the exhaust fans of air conditioning units, surrounded by asphalt parking lots and roads, on blistering-hot rooftops, and near sidewalks and buildings that absorb and radiate heat. We found 68 stations located at wastewater treatment plants, where the process of waste digestion causes temperatures to be higher than in surrounding areas.

In fact, we found that 89 percent of the stations – nearly 9 of every 10 – fail to meet the National Weather Service’s own siting requirements that stations must be 30 meters (about 100 feet) or more away from an artificial heating or radiating reflecting heat source.

In other words, 9 of every 10 stations are likely reporting higher or rising temperatures because they are badly sited.”

NOAA responded to Watts’ latest report, saying that its data is reliable and claiming: 1) the 70 properly sited stations supported a warming trend, and 2) the remainder of the data had been “homogenized” and showed the same trend. Homogenization is, simply put, a statistical method of blending data points in order to come up what a number that replaces all the bad data points. The technique has been widely used, and roundly criticized, as part of the global warming debate. As responses go, even given the often bizarrely unscientific tone of many climate change defenders, NOAA’s answer to Watts rang exceptionally hollow.

This isn’t the first time that climate change advocates have been caught fiddling with temperature records. Climategate showed that the Dr. Phil Jones of the CRU had truncated temperature data associated with tree ring measurements when that data ceased to show a temperature increase and replaced it with new surface temperature records instead, thus “hiding the decline.” More recently, The Guardian (which can hardly be accused of being a home to skeptics) revealed that Jones attempted to conceal flaws with temperature records in China – problems with the measurement network that are eerily similar to the inaccuracies that Watts uncovered in the United States. As increased urbanization compromised temperature measurement sites that had previously been properly located, effectively putting them into the middle of new urban heat-sinks, Jones appears to have been desperate to cover up the newly-discovered bias.

Temperature records are the key to proving the alarmist case. If they can show that nature dutifully follows the script that their computer models have written for them, their predictions of doom carry infinitely more weight. But, skeptical, independent, thoughtful scientists like Anthony Watts have cast more and more doubt onto the truthfulness of the official records, proving once again that one man can truly make a difference.

  • BS1977

    The most snow in Virginia and Washington DC in what 75 years….Huge snowfall in the Appalachians…..Record breaking cold in the Midwest and Rockies…..Global warming is a joke. For all we know another Ice Age is on its way. What controls global warming and cooling…volcanoes and solar output….not SUVs.

  • john

    i was told that the cold we are feeling was weather and not climate change….what….is not climate change inclusive of weather….hmmm?!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Swemson Swemson

      Did you ever notice that everyone complains about the weather, but only the democrats try to legislate it ?

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/WilliamJWard WilliamJamesWard

        That mand me laugh and hurt my brain all at the same time………
        Regards……………William
        Endless gas supply 'Liberals'

  • Robert Wesley

    When it's cold, it's weather, not climate. When it's warm, it's climate, not weather–one of the many "nuances" of climate change "science," like the statement that cooling is a "paradoxical effect" of global warming or the most ludicrous claim of all, that cooling means that global warming has gone into "hiding."

    Global warming, from the start, has been nothing but a cover for a political agenda. That it has nothing whatsoever to do with science or the environment is obvious to anyone whose understanding of science is not based on television commercials for "scientifically" developed products.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Swemson Swemson

      Amazingly, almost nobody notices the single most obvious flaw in the AGW theory, that warming is beneficial for mankind.

      Where would you rather live… On a warm & balmy island in the tropics, or in Northern Greenland with the Eskimos?

      Read the history about the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age, and then decide which climate is the real threat…

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/JosephWiess JosephWiess

    I’ve retrofitted my home with CFL’s and better insulation, as well as installed timer switches on many of our most commonly used lights.”

    Okay…so you've replaced wasteful incadescent bulbs with wasteful mercury filled flourescent bulbs. If you are so green, why not LED bulbs? They don't waste electricity, they last for 30 years.

    • Peachey

      I have started the replacement of bulbs with the LEDs. They are great and the heat problem previously experienced has been more or less worked out. When I was dropping of old paint cans at the hazardous waste round-up, one of the helpers and I were discussing someone dropping off several flourescent tubes. He stated that the tubes cost $ 84.00 each to dispose of and that the encouragement to change over to the flourescent bulbs is not only toxic but extraordinarily expensive. He stated that there is absolutely no savings. The downside to this is the fact that most people throw the CFL bulbs in the trash and carried to the landfills where mercury from the broken bulbs leaks into the ground water.The insanity of today's scientists and politically driven thieves has created this market of no benefit.

    • RonPE
  • davarino

    Whats to argue? This thing is collapsing under its own wieght. Its fun to watch as the man behind the curtain trys to tell us not to look behind the curtain heheh. It almost seems as though the whole liberal ediface is about to cave in. Thank you mr. president for the change and hope.

    : )

  • Aussie infidel

    I am not so worried about co2, methane, warming etc, so much as I worry about all the chemicals being pumped into the enviorment. Perhaps I am wrong, but to me the burning of fossile fuels isnt as big a deal apart from the fact we are burning them up so fast there wont be any left in 20 years.

    Alternatives are good, solar wind wave thermal, natural alternatives to petrochemicals. Not being a scientist I may be far off the mark, if so, can someone explain to me why moving away from petrochemicals would be a bad thing. surely getting away from giving terrorist states oil money is a good thing. move back to a localised economy.

    • boston

      To Aussie infidel. Two points:1. Nobody in his mind can object to new technologies,it just have to be natural development, and not into your face.
      2. If you cut money from fidelistan where do you think all these fidels go? You right they dont have any economy whatsoever

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Lary9 Lary9

    Aussie infidel:
    Unfortunately, no combination of all these alternative sources of energy will be able to replace the equivalent total energy currently produced by fossil fuels. An interesting stat is: It would take solar paneling covering the entire surface of the state of California to replace that equivalent total.

  • BS1977

    THe greatest threat to the planet, besides liberalism, ha ha, is unrestrained human over population….The world resources soon will be insufficient to support eight billion humans…probably already are. Fresh water, fuel, food, arable land, natural space and open areas are disappearing due to the rapacious needs of the humans…..This problem is ten times more serious than "climate change." I don't know what the solution is…..it is isnt Planned Parenthood, abortion, sterilization….nothing has worked so far. I think one scientist said the absolute maximum population for SUSTAINABILITY of resources, open land, farming and harmony between people and the planet was probably reached about 1870!!!!!! Can you imagine what America was like when the population was about ten million, instead of going on three hundred million???

    • ctruppi

      Actually, this is the biggest misconception in the world next to global warming. Population growth globally has slowed considerably since it's peak acceleration in the 1950's. Indeed, population reduction due to low indiginous birth rates is one of the biggest issues facing western, industrialized nations as well as Japan and Russia over the next century. Even in the poorest and most remote African and Asian countries, birth rates have declined to a point that overall global population growth will subside by mid-century and then actually start a gradual decline.

      As far as food, there is actually a huge global surplus of all types of food driven by technological innovation in agriculture over the past 100 years. The issue with food is more of the delivery infrastructure in the poorest (ie,most politically corrupt) parts of the globe and not by the actual quantity of food produced.

    • ctruppi

      ….reply continued….____Land use is another red-herring. In the US, less than 10% of all arable land is actually populated, so to cry for a time when even less population existed is a bit silly. In fact in all modern, industrialized countries, steps have been taken to "take back the land" by more educated and motivated populations. For example, the forests of Germany are at their most robust point in over 100 years due to land use legislation that has severely hampered further deforestation.____As for resources, taking into account the aforementioned popolutation decline and breakthroughs in technology, this will also be a passing issue over the coming century. In Germany, deforestation was required as a growing population used wood as their primary building and heating resource. With the replacement of wood as a resource over the past 50 years and the current decline in population, Germany has been able to stop thand reverse this trend.____The moral of the story here is that market-driven, modern economic growth will create slower population growth and eventual decline, better food distribution in currently corrupt nations and the technological advances that will replace the current need for many resources.

  • BS1977

    Hundreds of thousands of children die each week from famine, dysentery, malaria, and other preventable causes. You may be correct in saying world population may begin to decline…but the present situation is a crisis. The populations of India, China and Indonesia are crushing the ecosystems ….the human waste, industrial pollution and unrestrained developement has brought many areas to the typical state of Chinese landscapes….ruined, industrial and residential zones that have wiped out all natural and wilderness regions….horribly polluted rivers and streams, dead bays and ocean areas, mountains of garbage and plastic trash that go for miles……smoldering heaps of burning rubber and plastics….cities enveloped in brown and grey smogs…..oil spills, chemical spills, poisoned water sources, animal and plant extinctions…..This is directly connected to over population. Germany and Norway, areas of the United States may be turning "green", but most of Africa, South AMerica, Asia, Mexico etc etc are disaster zones, with high infant mortality, rampant misery and suffering ….Have you ever been to Calcutta, Sudan, Mexico City or Cairo? Tell me there isn't a problem!!!!

    • Peachey

      Agreed, but pouring more money into a system that is refractory to change will not affect a positive move forward. In Africa, despite the intense and expensive education regarding AIDS and STD's has not changed the basic problem of societal norms versus the needs of the population.Despite the trillions of dollars poured into Africa and areas of South America, the perceived problems that you express, are not their perceived problems. India is an entirely different problem and will never be resolved. There are also the psychological and dependency problems associated with these give-away programs that has removed the independence and self-motivation from these populations. Please don't say that too loud, you could upset the Progressives and their plans to control and dominate populations through dependency based programs. The "green" movement has nothing to do with ecology or energy independence. The only motivation in the green movement is the green-backs and government control and dominence that will result.

  • http://www.copywriter-ac.com Alan

    BS1977, I live on Borneo. This island is broken up into 3 countries, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

    There is a sharp and distinct contrast between Indonesia and the other two, in all areas.

    While land and resources are well managed, the cities clean and the people quite prosperous elsewhere, Indonesia is filthy, poor and they are indeed wrecking their environment.

    Here in the Malaysian section we often suffer smoke smog from Indonesians burning rainforest.

    Why?

    Because they’re poor and literally cannot afford to conserve or treat things well. It’s literally a matter of survival for many.

    Why?

    Because their government is so corrupt, destroying the chances of real innovation and business success.

    Same people, same language, same religion, same island, completely different outcomes.

    What the world needs is economic advancement, not restrictions and “aid” that props up dictators.

    Alan

  • BS1977

    The population-resource exhaustion crisis is way beyond liberal conservative arguments….this is a planet wide situation that will require all parties, nations, economies,and politics to confront and possibly solve….it is an enormous threat to the future of the planet. Having eight or nine billion people means all the fossil fuels will be exhausted in decades….fresh water will become very precious. Landscapes will be destroyed…..ONe of the greatest tragedies is seeing the finest soil, for crops and orchards, grain and grazing….being covered with condos, malls, parking lots and suburban sprawl…..seeing pristine wilderness areas and wild life habitat bulldozed and de forested by third world dictators and their corrupt governments…….to see millions of children living in starvation, squalor and misery while the government thugs steal the resources of the country and live in luxury. Just look at what happened in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe……total ruination….or Sierra Leon, or Iraq, or Pakistan…tragedies!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Swemson Swemson

      Tragedies ?

      Perhaps… Or maybe it's mother nature's way of dealing with the problem.

      The populations of all other non-domesticated creatures on earth are controlled by nature… by survival of the fittest…

      Why should we be any different ?

      I don't want to see the poor die out because they can't feed themselves, but on the other hand, I don't buy the idea that I'm morally obligated to take care of them.

      Looking forward to the future well being of our species, one must come to the conclusion that mankind would be better off if we stopped trying to interfere with the natural order of things.

  • Lary9

    I've come to realize that the current practice of dismissing someone or something as "liberal" in certain circles is a discussion killer. It's a way to suspend any further dialogue on an issue. In fact, it's just a new version of an old tactic that has been around since WWII and came to full flower during the McCarthy hearings. The word "liberal", which has essentially become meaningless, has acquired a kind of vague defining buzz among conservatives and pulling it out just stops the debate and seems to settle the argument without really settling anything. Used as an Ad Hominem attack It's a defense mechanism used by a closed mind.

  • http://www.stiblog.com/articles/reviews/bridgestone-blizzak-lm-25/ Marcel Bettes

    Great article! I look forward to reading more upcoming blog posts from you. I just bought a set of Bridgestone Blizzak LM-25 snow tires myself, and so far they

  • Arno Arrak

    Checking the condition of observation stations will make it possible to eventually verify the quality of input data to temperature curves. But I have found that the real problem is what is done with the input data after it is collected. We are supposedly in a warming period that started in the late seventies. Prior to that temperatures had been stable for several decades or even cooled a bit and people became worried about a coming ice age, not global warming. But in the eighties and nineties published temperature curves from NASA, NOAA and Met Office all show a steady increase known as the late twentieth century warming. And right smack in the middle of it, in 1988, Hansen gets up in front of the Senate and testifies that warming has started and that its cause is carbon dioxide in the air. His testimony and his predicted temperatures for 2020 started the global warming craze and were influential in establishing the IPCC. But I have compared these published temperature curves with satellite temperature measurements and found that satellites cannot see any warming in the eighties and nineties. What they do see is a multi-year temperature oscillation by half a degree that lasted twenty years before we got real warming in 1998. The oscillations trace out the warm El Nino and cool La Nina periods, part of the Pacific ENSO system. There were five such cycles during this period. If you put the satellite curve side by side with say, HadCRUT3 from the Met Office, you see how it is done: they cherry pick the El Nino peaks but then raise up the intervening cool La Nina temperatures to change a horizontal temperature curve into a rising temperature curve. This only works with the first four El Ninos so the fifth peak is raised by a tenth of a degree. The 1998 super El Nino is naturally incorporated into it even though it is demonstrably not of carbonaceous origin. And the twenty-first century high, another non-carbonaceous feature, is not high enough so it too gets raised by a tenth of a degree. But NOAA is worse. While HadCRUT3 at least shows the locations of the La Nina valleys NOAA simply stays with the peaks and jettisons all intervening low values. NASA's Land-Ocean curve follows HadCRUT3 at first but does not have the nerve to raise up the right end so that its peaks are all correct except for the super El Nino and it gets the beginning of the twenty-first century high also right where HadCRUT3 floats happily above it. You can get all this and more from my book "What Warming?" now available on Amazon.com. This kind of data manipulation is scientific fraud and should be investigated. And since three parties are involved it is also a criminal conspiracy that should be prosecuted.

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    I’ve got to i would have been a little leary with all the different hype occurring around solar. After taking a look at a lot of programs and purchase options we decide to make the leap. We wound up getting solar without money down and we immediatly started spending less the first month is was installed. I have to admit the benefits associated with solar appear to be real and I am happy that we decided i would proceed with it.