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Carbon Brief on the Sahel

The Carbon Brief is doing one of those "news management" pieces that inevitably follow anything that could reasonably be construed as representing good news on the climate change front. As readers are aware, a recent paper pointed to increases in rainfall in the Sahel, seeking to link these to global warming.

This of course was rather off-message and such heterodoxy has to be dealt with. Step forward Roz Pidcock and Robert McSweeney whose factcheck (a monicker that is presumably facetious) put forwards a corrective from the paper's lead author: that climate change is "helping Africa" are misleading and that a temporary respite from the Sahel drought is no reason to slow action on tackling climate change.

However, when you parse what is actually being said it all becomes a bit bizarre. Sutton claimed at the time of the paper's publication that:

"Amounts of rainfall have recovered substantially...[and] the increase in greenhouse gases appears to have been the dominant factor".

Yet now he is saying that it is "misleading" to say that greenhouse gases are helping. How can this possibly be? Is he suggesting that increases in Sahel rainfall are harmful?

It seems that the argument is twofold. Firstly that "past performance is no guide to the future". Another scientist working in the areas is quoted as saying that:

There is absolutely no need to extrapolate from this model result about the 20th century and say something about the next decades.

However, she then completely contradicts herself by saying that the models tend to prefer more rainfall in future anyway. So if the models are to be believed (and obviously this is not my position) then in terms of the effect on rainfall, climate change is a good thing for the Sahel.

But, Pidcock and McSweeney say in their second line of argument, the higher temperatures are going to lead to higher evaporation and so drought conditions are still going to prevail. So it's going to be a disaster anyway!

This is a bit odd. The experience of the recent decades has been a substantial greening of the Sahel. So I wonder why this evaporation-trumps-rainfall argument doesn't apply now. I also wonder, if we have more rain and more evaporation, whether we simply have a job for microirrigation, an adaptive measure the use of which is already accelerating in the developing world.

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Reader Comments (30)

IIRC, there is also the line of argument that what happens in the Sahel should not be taken as representing the whole of Africa, large parts of which are projected to suffer under climate change.

Jun 4, 2015 at 8:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterChris Hope


Arguments about the rest of Africa can be taken on their merits. That is not an excuse to brush off any benefits for the Sahel as the Carbon Brief appears to want to do.

Jun 4, 2015 at 8:59 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

I predict, with 97% confidence, that a lot of these people, whose cognitive dissonance has led them to construct more and more tortuous self-contradictory logic, will result in them needing padded rooms in later life.

Jun 4, 2015 at 9:04 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Higher Co2 = less transpiration = green sahel

Jun 4, 2015 at 9:09 AM | Unregistered Commenterconfused

I see, it's a bit like the 'pause' in warming, this is simply a 'pause' in the drought.

Jun 4, 2015 at 9:17 AM | Unregistered Commenterjaffa

Their arguments become ever more contradictory and ludicrous.
I don't know how they manage to keep a straight face.

Jun 4, 2015 at 9:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Catley

IIRC, there is also the line of argument that what happens in the Sahel should not be taken as representing the whole of Africa, large parts of which are projected to suffer under climate change.

Chris Hope

The Sahel was one of those 'parts of Africa' that were "projected" to suffer under global warming. The FACT that it was a failed "projection" would indicate a lack of reliability in other "projections".

Jun 4, 2015 at 9:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

Since I don't put much store in models it's hard to know if the extra rain is due to natural variation or AGW. Some of the greening will be due to CO2 and that in turn will change the climate. Is this good news? The only down side I can see is that periods of good climate lull people into thinking a landscape can support more people than is can. I think the west side of America is experiencing this albeit those people have been living in high use mode. Unless you start extracting water from an inexhaustable supply eg the sea, anywhere can reach a limit.

I wouldn't mind if people voice caution over an improvement in circumstances so long as their equally cautious about the bad times. For the warmist it's ALWAYS worse than they thought, even when it clearly isn't. While the media endlessly laps up catastrophe, eventually the public and even politicians stop listening. Did these people never learn the lesson from crying wolf?

Jun 4, 2015 at 9:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

"There is absolutely no need to extrapolate from this model result about the 20th century and say something about the next decades"

Correct me if I am wrong here, but isn't that what these damned (and useless) models were supposed to do?

Now they are projecting something other than disaster, the Dramagreens don't like it.

"To make cherry pie, you have to pick cherries"

Jun 4, 2015 at 9:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterBitter&Twisted

Even more ludicrous that Myles Allen et al. had earlier claimed the drought was originally caused by aerosols from fossil fuels - using more unvalidated models of course. Using the reasoning of Sutton therefore if drought is still the long term expectation then sulphate aerosol cooling must dominate CO2 warming as had indeed been postulated in the 70's.

The underlying constant bias is that fossil fuels must be bad somehow for the climate but these charlatans can't say if they cause drought, floods, warming or cooling anywhere at any time because nature keeps contradicting them. And still the research money rolls in......

Jun 4, 2015 at 9:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Too many people simply don't understand what is being said.

Increased temperatures will cause additional rainfall ONLY where such rainfall is harmful. Where such increased rainfall would be beneficial, there will either be no additional rainfall, or the beneficial effects will be more than counteracted by other bad, bad things.

It's really quite simple stuff.

Jun 4, 2015 at 10:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterTim Hammond

No matter what happens, the story is always the same – catastrophe tomorrow.

Jun 4, 2015 at 11:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Dawkins

Frankly, I'm getting embarrassed for them,,,,

Jun 4, 2015 at 11:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

Climate Science has moved on from never being right about anything.

Now they just do damage limitation, to try and appear not completely wrong.

It is correctly referred to as "Climate Change Mitigation", but they only appear to be fooling themselves.

Jun 4, 2015 at 11:32 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Perhaps the idea is that if it gets better in the Sahel, it will be indescribably worse everywhere else? A "cool spot" in the new climate regime.

Jun 4, 2015 at 11:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

The projections are always couched in vague language. I recall reading a Wet Office statement on AGW/CC, it covered just about every eventuallity, by design! That way it doesn't matter what happens, they are always right! The classic statement from the warmist community is made after some naturally occurring weather event, e.g. the wet winter being the "worst on record" a little while ago, which it wasn't, but they deny attribution intially by saying thing like "no single weather event can be attributed directly to Climate Change", immedialtey followed by, "but yes, this is the sort of thing we expect to see more of in the future!" Arse covered, job done!

Jun 4, 2015 at 11:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

HH Lamb and others understood these processes well back in the 1970's.

Put simply, with global cooling a colder Arctic pushes the weather belts equatorward. This means the desert zones move south, not just in Africa. Lamb found the same in India where droughts were more common in the 1960's and 70's.
At the same time, the tropics became wetter, as the zone there was squeezed.

At its most extreme during the LIA, there are instances of lakes near the equator being much higher than now.

Jun 4, 2015 at 12:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Homewood

Paul Homewood, HH Lamb may well have been right, but natural causes gave no "cause", anything to get alarmed about.

Jun 4, 2015 at 12:08 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

"IIRC, there is also the line of argument that what happens in the Sahel should not be taken as representing the whole of Africa, large parts of which are projected to suffer under climate change.

Jun 4, 2015 at 8:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterChris Hope

A completely useless line of argument.

Weather and climate projections are not based on science, but on catastrophic sophistry and personal opinions.

At no time in recorded history have warmer periods resulted in more weather disasters. Instead mankind and wildlife flourished; cooling causes suffering.

Jun 4, 2015 at 1:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterATheoK

As far as I know; the current paradigm is that global CO2 is well mixed (yes I know the Japanese satellite said "oh no it isn't"), that being the case should we not be seeing global greening of deserts?

Jun 4, 2015 at 1:28 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Jun 4, 2015 at 1:15 PM | Unregistered Commenter ATheoK

At no time in recorded geological history did CO2 cause warming but that has not stopped these wonkers.

Jun 4, 2015 at 1:31 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Big wet, windy, warmy, CO²-ee = big greeny presently.

I can't put it simpler than that.

Jun 4, 2015 at 1:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

I would hazard a guess that not much has changed since Phil Jones wrote:

"The scientific community would come down on me in no uncertain terms if I said the world had cooled from 1998. OK it has but it is only 7 years of data and it isn't statistically significant."

Presumably this will often be done quietly at the "peer review" stage. But some unapproved messages will inevitably slip through and require correction, possibly after a quiet word from the rabid response team. I think the fear is palpable.

Jun 4, 2015 at 1:41 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

michael hart, what has happened since Phil Jones wrote that honest assessment, is that the length of time, during which nothing statistically significant can happen without upsetting the theory, has actually increased significantly.

When something does happen however, it will predictably, be worse than previously thought possible. I bet no one would have thought of that.

Jun 4, 2015 at 1:59 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

GCM's [general circulation models] - someone tell me - other than to keep some very mediocre climate prognosticators, charlatans and stats bod's in jobs - what are they for?

Jun 4, 2015 at 2:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Athelstan, GCM's or Glorious Cash Merry-Go-Rounds are a vital part of climate science. You start with a stupid idea, get funding to look into it, and this confirms that you need more funding. When after 20-30 years nothing has happened, you need more funding to explain why everybody, and everything is wrong, apart from the original stupid idea.

Jun 4, 2015 at 3:34 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Over at the Guardian climate hysteria is up to 11, and it's only June. There's some truly absurd claims being made, including the beauty that the 2C 'limit' will be reached by 2036 or at the latest, 2038, just 23 years from now. Quite pathetic, really.

Jun 4, 2015 at 5:49 PM | Unregistered Commentercheshirered

cheshirered, yeah but they're admitting that everything the west is and will do in the next 20 years won't scratch the surface of developing world increases.

Jun 4, 2015 at 6:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

I.anticipate a future Incarnation of Sir Humphrey reprising the exchange from the denouement of "The Skeleton in the Cupboard":

"Was 2038 a bad year for the integrity of computer modelling?

"No, Minister: it was an excellent year. We lost al sorts of awkward anomalies by attributing them to the 32-bit Unix epoch expiry.

Jun 4, 2015 at 10:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Peakall

Perhaps the biggest climate change catastrophe in the Holocene occurred neat the Sahel - about 5,000 years ago when the Sahara grasslands turned into a desert and the large lakes and rivers that flowed through it dried up. When climate models can reproduce this event, perhaps I believe in their predictions about the future.

Jun 6, 2015 at 4:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrank

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