10 Important Climate Change Facts: Untangling Bob Hinnrich’s Climate Denial

We have nothing against free speech, but we do have a problem with dangerous misinformation being presented as fact. This was the case on December 19, 2013, when against the objections of many, Chair Jim Richardson invited climate change denier Bob Hinnrichs to present what he called, “a scientific look at global warming data” to the Santa Barbara Air Pollution Control District Board — the entity responsible for regulating emissions in our county.

Many unbiased scientific experts on climate change are living and working in our area who could advise the board, but Chair Richardson who is also Mayor of Solvang, chose to invite a denier with no background in climate science. Mr. Hinnrichs also did not disclose his ties to the fossil fuel industry.  He is co-founder of a gas detection company (Pacific Advanced Technology) that sells to the oil and gas industry.

There is a lack of logical consistency in Mr. Hinnrichs’ arguments. (It is both getting warmer and not getting warmer. CO2 both is and is not a greenhouse gas.) His goal seems to be to confuse the issue and cast doubt on all facets of climate science. Below we clarify some of the outrageous and misleading information presented to the APCD Board on December 19.

For a quick overview of main indicators of climate change, please review the NASA website.

Below are 10 important facts to know about climate change.

1. 97 out of 100 climate experts agree humans are causing global warming. 

From NASA blog: http://climate.nasa.gov/blog/938

Several independent surveys find 97% of climate scientists who are actively publishing peer-reviewed climate research agree that humans are causing global warming. On top of this overwhelming consensus, all National Academies of Science around the world endorse the consensus view of human caused global warming, as expressed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).Movements that deny a scientific consensus seek to cast doubt on the fact that a consensus exists. One technique is the use of fake experts, citing scientists who have little to no expertise in the particular field of science. The OISM Petition Project cited by Mr. Hinnrichs claims 31,000 scientists disagree with the scientific consensus on global warming. However, around 99.9% of the scientists listed in the Petition Project are not climate scientists. The petition is open to anyone with a Bachelor of Science or higher and includes medical doctors, mechanical engineers and computer scientists.

2. The principle finding represented by Mann’s “hockey stick” – that the warming trend and temperatures over the last few decades are unprecedented over at least the last 600 years – has been verified and strengthened over time.

An independent assessment of Mann’s hockey stick was conducted by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (Wahl 2007). They reconstructed temperatures employing a variety of statistical techniques (with and without principal components analysis). Their results found slightly different temperatures in the early 15th Century. However, they confirmed the principal results of the original hockey stick – that the warming trend and temperatures over the last few decades are unprecedented over at least the last 600 years.

Since 1999, there have been many independent reconstructions of past temperatures, using a variety of proxy data and a number of different methodologies. All find the same result – that the last few decades are the hottest in the last 500 to 2000 years (depending on how far back the reconstruction goes).

 3. Scientists have ruled out solar radiation as the cause of recent global temperature changes. The sun has actually contributed a cooling influence in recent decades.

It’s true that solar radiation has caused temperature changes in the past as we moved from ice ages to warmer periods, but this is not going on right now.  Mr. Hinnrichs’ claim that the sun is the cause of recent warming has been debunked so many times that one geophysicist  (Ray Pierrehumbert) said the solar argument is, “a coffin with so many nails in it already that the hard part is finding a place to hammer in a new one.” 

The charts Mr. Hinnrichs uses are from Willie Soon who has received over $1,000,000 from petroleum and coal interests since 2001 and frequently speaks at climate change denial events.

In reality, over the last 35 years of global warming, sun and climate have been moving in opposite directions. The sun has actually contributed a slight cooling influence in recent decades (Lockwood 2008).

Annual global temperature change (thin light red) with 11 year moving average of temperature (thick dark red). Temperature from NASA GISS. Annual Total Solar Irradiance (thin light blue) with 11 year moving average of TSI (thick dark blue). TSI from 1880 to 1978 from Krivova et al 2007 (data). TSI from 1979 to 2009 from PMOD.

4. Sea level rise is accelerating and poses a direct and imminent threat to Santa Barbara

Mr. Hinnrich’s claim that sea level increase has been constant is demonstrably false as sea level rise is accelerating. The deliberately misleading chart he used was also from Willie Soon.

From 1880 to the early 1900’s, sea level was rising at around 1mm per year. Throughout most of the 20th century, sea levels have been rising at around 2mm per year. In the latter 20th century, it’s reached 3mm per year. (Skeptical science)

Projections for our area is that we could see up to 5 feet of sea level rise this century. We would lose our beaches – critical for our tourist economy. Bluffs would retreat 270-525 feet; cliff-side housing and amenities like Shoreline park would be gone, and our airport would be under water. (City of Santa Barbara Sea-Level Rise Vulnerability Study)

Global mean sea level from 1870 to 2006 with one standard deviation error estimates (Church 2008).

 5. Arguing that CO2 is not a greenhouse gas is like arguing about gravity. This is settled science.  

Mr. Hinnrichs presents a red herring in arguing that carbon increase follows a temperature rise. Of course in past natural cycles when the sun caused warming, that warming happened first – by definition. The sun warmed the oceans which then released CO2, which then caused more warming. However, even in that case, such as during the last glacial-interglacial transition, about 90% of the global warming occurred after the CO2 increase. (Skeptical science)

Regardless, that’s not what’s happening today.  Temperature increase is following the increase in CO2. CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is increasing at a frightening rate. It’s now at a level (400 parts per million) higher than it’s been in 800,000 years.

We’ve only begun to see the temperature increase that is the inevitable result of that level of CO2 in the atmosphere. We’ve only begun to see the disasters – the floods, fires, droughts, crop failures and species extinctions that will be the result of the current level of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Waiting to see how catastrophic it will get before we act is insane.


This shows carbon dioxide concentration and temperature over past 800,000 years. We’re now at 400 ppm, unprecedented in human history. We’ve only begun to see the temperature impacts of the current level of CO2 in the atmosphere as it takes time for the radiative forcing to heat the oceans. If we do not reduce emissions over the next couple of decades, we’ll reach 600 or more ppm and face the risk of run-away global warming that we will not be able to contain.

 6. It is getting warmer. It is NOT getting cooler. 13 of the hottest years ever recorded have occurred in the past 15 years.

Mr. Hinnrichs’ claim of a recent “cooling trend” is a dead giveaway that he is not interested in presenting facts.

The 2000 to 2010 period was the warmest decade on record so far. All of the warmest years have been since 1998 and 2013 continues the underlying, long-term warming trend. The coldest years now are warmer than the hottest years before 1998. (World Meteorological Society)

According to NOAA, the globally-averaged temperature for November 2013 was the highest for November since record keeping began in 1880. November 2013 also marks the 37th consecutive November and 345th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average. The first 11 months of 2013 tied with 2002 as the fourth warmest such period on record, with a combined global land and ocean average surface temperature of 1.12°F (0.62°C) above the 20th century average of 57.0°F (13.9°C). The margin of error is ±0.18°F (0.10°C). (NOAA)

Scientists have drawn direct connections between extreme  weather events around the world and global warming. For instance, researchers at the University of Melbourne calculated that the devastating heat wave and fires in Australia last summer were 5 times more likely because of global warming. (Livescience)

image (1)

To show a “cooling trend”, you have to cherry-pick your data like crazy.

7. Climate models have already predicted many of the phenomena for which we now have empirical evidence. Climate models form a reliable guide to potential climate change.

Mr. Hinnrichs’ claims that it’s hard to model the climate, the UNEP was wrong about climate refugees and that global cooling would be more serious than warming are all beside the point.

According to the World Health Organization, although global warming may bring some localized benefits, such as fewer winter deaths in temperate climates and increased food production in certain areas, the overall health effects of a changing climate are likely to be overwhelmingly negative. Climate change affects social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter. (WHO)

We are seeing the impacts of climate change in increased deaths from disease and disaster now. For instance, 4 million people were displaced recently by typhoon Haiyan in the Philippians. (NY Times)

The climate models, far from being melodramatic, may be conservative in the predictions they produce. For example, here’s a graph of sea level rise:

image (2)

Sea level change. Tide gauge data are indicated in red and satellite data in blue. The grey band shows the projections of the IPCC Third Assessment report (Copenhagen Diagnosis 2009). Here, the models have understated the problem. In reality the events are all within the upper range of the model’s predictions. All models have limits – uncertainties – for they are modeling chaotic systems. However, all models improve over time, and with increasing sources of real-world information such as satellites, the output of climate models can be constantly refined to increase their power and usefulness.

8. 90% of glaciers are in retreat. Arctic sea ice is at record lows.  

The answer is not only clear but it is definitive and based on the scientific literature. Globally glaciers are losing ice at an extensive rate (Figure 1). There are still situations in which glaciers gain or lose ice more than typical for one region or another but the long term trends are all the same, and about 90% of glaciers are shrinking worldwide (Figure 2). (Skeptical science)

Figure 1: Long-term changes in glacier volume adapted from Cogley 2009


Figure 2:  Percentage of shrinking and growing glaciers in 2008–2009, from the 2011 WGMSreport

Arctic sea ice grows and shrinks seasonally, with an annual minimum in September. In 1979, when satellites first measured it, September Arctic sea ice extent was roughly equivalent to the area of Australia. Since then it has declined by about a third, equivalent to losing Western Australia – outstripping all projections. (Skeptical science)


(Image sourceCopenhagen Diagnosis.)

(Image sourceNational Snow and Ice Data Center.)

9. Warmer air holds more moisture. There is 4% more moisture in the air over the oceans than there was 30 years ago. This means both more rain AND MORE SNOW.

Mr. Hinnrichs claim that record snowfall is inconsistent with a warming world betrays a lack of understanding of the link between global warming and extreme precipitation. Warming causes more moisture in the air which leads to more extreme precipitation events. This includes more heavy snowstorms in regions where snowfall conditions are favourable. Far from contradicting global warming, record snowfall is predicted by climate models and consistent with our expectation of more extreme precipitation events. (Skeptical science)


10. Climate change is increasing the intensity of hurricanes, causing more floods and extreme precipitation events, increasing the severity of droughts and fires, acidifying the ocean and putting entire ecosystems at risk. This is the standard consensus view.

All areas of the United States are being affected. Just read the 2013 Federal Climate Assessment report for a summary of the extreme impacts of climate change.

No one has claimed that there are more lightening deaths due to climate change and consensus is that impact of climate change on tornadoes is unknown so Mr. Hinnrichs irrelevant graphs of these are beside the point.

In Santa Barbara County, climate change poses a direct threat to our economy. Our largest crops, strawberries and wine, are temperature sensitive and could be wiped out. (Mercury News)

Our businesses and homes are at risk from fire. We are particularly vulnerable to sea level rise and drought, and our freeway can be cut off by flooding.

Even if there was much less certainty about human-caused global warming than there is, the existential threat is so great that it would make sense to reduce emissions simply as insurance.

That change needs to happen now. The longer we wait, the harder it will be.


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