Boulder and Fort Collins: Wise city action prevents global warming? WUWT misreports the story


This is a story of two cities located within 100 miles of each other in Colorado, in that paradise created by close mountain recreation, clean and clear western vistas, and local, great universities.  The question is, does this story tell a tale of urban growth that mistakenly shows up as global warming, or is it a story of wise planning that avoids the harms of global warming — or something else in between, or completely different?

Boulder at twilight - Wikipedia Image by Phil Armitage

Boulder, Colorado at twilight, at the foot of the Rockies - Wikipedia Image by Phil Armitage

Anthony Watts complained that I don’t read his blog closely enough, or often enough.  He may rue the day he made that complaint.

Browsing over there I found a post hidden under a headline, “A UHI Tale of Two Cities.” I say “hidden” because Watts once again falls victim to the Dunning-Kruger syndrome of using an acronym, UHI, which sounds sciency but is in fact confusing to anyone not following the debate closely.  I’m science literate, I’ve done research, I’ve done air pollution research, I’ve served state, federal and local governmental bodies working on environmental issues, and “UHI” didn’t ring any bells with me.  It’s a MEGO phrase, in other words:  My Eyes Glaze Over.

It took five clicks, but I discovered UHI is “urban heat island,” the well-worried-over effect of cities, with all their concrete, asphalt and steel, holding heat longer than surrounding countryside.  In some cases, it is hypothesized that these urban heat islands affect or create their own weather.  In the airline industry we worried about late afternoon thunderstorms that continued well past historical evening limits (and I suspect airline meteorologists and flight schedulers still worry about the issue, but I’ve been out of it for well over a decade).

For the study of global warming, the issues are simple but important:  Do temperature measures made in or near big cities inaccurately show warming that is wholly local, and mislead scientists into thinking there is global warming?  Or is some of the supposed heat island effect instead due to global warming?  And, if it the urban heat island effect is mostly local, should we worry about it when developing policies to combat global warming and preserve our forests, wildlands and wildlife, wildernesses. oceans, rivers, farmlands and urban areas, and modern life?

Southwest quadrant of Boulder Colorado, showing greenbelt and trails - image from city website with information on greenbelt use and open space regulations, and maps.

Southwest quadrant of Boulder Colorado, showing greenbelt and trails - image from city website with information on greenbelt use and open space regulations, and maps. Boulder's greenbelt open space and wild lands may get more visitors than nearby Rocky Mountain National Park.

In the post at Watts’s site, this is stated (from Watts?  from someone else?  Who can tell?):

Conclusion:

We have two weather stations in similarly sited urban environments. Until 1965 they tracked each other very closely.  Since then, Fort Collins has seen a relative increase in temperature which tracks the relative increase in population. UHI is clearly not dead.

Watts misses much of the story.

In the middle 1960s and into the early 1970s Boulder, Colorado, made conscious and careful attempts to preserve its environmental quality.  In 1967 Boulder created a greenbelt plan that started the processes to preserve an open space belt around the city, to preserve wild lands and to provide a sink for air pollutants and other effects of the city.  In the early 1970s the city limited city growth to assure environmental quality.

Alternatives to Growth Oregon (AGO) featured an excerpt from a book detailing several growth-controlling actions by American cities as well and succinctly as anything else I’ve found (excerpted from Better Not Bigger by Eben Fodor)

In 1967, Boulder voters approved one of the nation’s first locally funded greenbelt systems. They used a local sales tax increase of 0.4 percent to finance open space land acquisitions. As of 1998, Boulder had raised $116 million and acquired 33,000 acres of greenways and mountain parks. The greenbelt system serves as a natural growth boundary, defining the limits of the city with open space and parkland. This natural boundary helps to block urban sprawl and “leapfrog” development. The greenbelt has also helped protect the quality of life in Boulder as the city has grown. It is said that more people use the greenbelt system each year than visit nearby Rocky Mountain National Park. As an added measure, Boulder established a building height limitation of 55 feet in 1971 to preserve the view of the Rockies. The city and surrounding county have cooperated on planning and growth-management policies and jointly adopted the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan. A city-county study in 1970 showed the area’s population doubling in 20 years to 140,000. This projection alarmed many residents and prompted discussions about optimum population size. A public opinion survey found that more than 70 percent of respondents favored population stabilization near the 100,000 level.

In November, 1971 Boulder citizens set another first when they placed an initiative on the ballot to create a charter amendment setting a maximum population limit for the city. Voters narrowly defeated the initiative. The defeat may have been partly due to an alternative referendum placed on the same ballot by the city council. This second referendum was approved by 70 percent of voters and directed local government to “take steps necessary to hold the rate of growth in the Boulder Valley to a level substantially below that experiences in the 1960’s.” This important decision has led to a number of experimental growth-management policies that are still being fine-tuned today.

More information on greenbelts, how they work and why they are such a great idea, can be found from the Trust for Public Lands (also here), among other sources.

Fort Collins is a college town, like Boulder, and loaded with people interested in preserving the environment.  Colorado State is the state’s Land Grant College (Morrill Act), the official repository of studies of protecting and wisely using the lands of Colorado.  But Fort Collins did not create a green belt.  Development in Fort Collins follows rules, but rules set by more traditional zoning and protection regulations than Boulder’s green belt.

Exploring Old Town Fort Collins by bicycle - City of Fort Collins photo

Exploring Old Town Fort Collins by bicycle - City of Fort Collins photo

Watts’s blog lays the differences in temperatures between Boulder and Fort Collins since 1965 entirely at the feet of rising population, and an assumption that rising population means more concrete, asphalt and steel (Watts writing, or someone else?).  Analysis of population growth from any serious statistical viewpoint, comparing Fort Collins-Loveland SMSA against the Boulder MSA (or Denver-Boulder SMSA) is lacking.  This is probably more a reminder that Watts’s blog is not engaged in serious scientific analysis global warming from a global view — nor even a national, state or regional view.  The comparison is simple, on population and temperature, and probably not sustainable to the point Watts suggests he wants to take it.

The population of the City of Boulder grew less than the population of the City of Fort Collins grew.  That appears to be enough for Watts.

Check with the public officials of Boulder, especially those in charge of development and zoning.  They’ll let you know in a hurry that Boulder’s slower-than-Fort-Collins growth is intentional.  While the Boulder plan technically has no upper limit, it slows growth so that environmental quality can be maintained, especially the greenbelt, with its manifold recreation opportunities.

Fort Collins has a lot of good recreation, too.  The Cache de Poudre River offers great river running within 40 minutes of downtown in the summer, and the local National Forests and other public lands offer camping, hiking, hunting, fishing, and I imagine, snowmobiling in winter.  There are bike paths through Fort Collins — but not the green, automobile-free style of trails available all around Boulder.

Scouts climbing at Camp Ben DelaTour, outside of Fort Collins - Longs Peak Council BSA photo

Scouts climbing at Camp Ben DelaTour, outside of Fort Collins - Longs Peak Council BSA photo

Perhaps most important, Fort Collins experiences “leapfrog” development that Boulder specifically spurned 40 years ago.  New businesses cluster along roads into town, frequently just out of the city limits and beyond the zoning rules of the city, at least until the city annexes the land and its problems.  This is the traditional growth model for American cities.  What it ensures is urban sprawl and suburban growth.  It also virtually guarantees that there will be no preserved greenlands around the city.  Green land, rural or more wild, get developed in sprawl.

Here’s the question Watts and his collaborators don’t deal with:  How much of Boulder’s cooler climate is due to the greenbelt, and how much due to the striving for wise development instead of sprawl?  Considering Boulder’s proximity to Denver and explosive growth there, the fact that Boulder’s climate is cooler than Fort Collins’s, according to Watts, suggests even more strongly that tough protection of the environment can work wonders, if not near-miracles.

Who is Anthony Watts to claim that Boulder’s cooler climate is not the result of careful planning to preserve the environment, initiated by Boulder’s visionaries 50 years ago?

Perhaps more critically:  Doesn’t Boulder demonstrate that planning that stops global warming, is feasible, practical, economical, and perhaps, preferable?  Doesn’t the greenbelt, and lower temperatures, suggest that we can kill the urban heat island effect, to the betterment of local living standards?

There is a moral to the story of development in Fort Collins and Boulder, Colorado.  That moral has very little, if anything, to do with heat islands.  It is instead a model to tell us that planning to avoid environmental disaster is the wise thing to do.  Anthony Watts has the charts to prove it.

Notes:

  • A serious study of the effects of the greenbelt, or effects of population growth, on local climate, or on global warming, in the area along the Front Range in Colorado and Wyoming would probably be strengthened with analysis of Greeley and Denver thrown in.  Denver is big enough to contain a couple of universities; Greeley is home to Northern Colorado University (as Fort Collins and Boulder are homes to Colorado State and the University of Colorado, respectively).  Growth in Greeley, a prairie, farming and beef ranching town (and former utopian destination of easterners headed west), differs markedly from Fort Collins, founded as a military outpost to protect the Overland Trail and other commerce routes through the Rockies, and Boulder, largely a mining town.  Similarities and differences between the cities could be instructive, especially considering the proximity of each to the others.
  • Boulder gets its water from a glacier, a point that shouldn’t be lost in discussions of global warming
  • City of Boulder’s officials and advisors, and Copenhagen 15 – the city took what it regarded as an active role to combat warming
  • Watts visited Boulder to check out its weather stations; his photos show the station, near the NOAA headquarters, close to the green belt.  “Sometimes people smack into the truth, and then pick themselves up and walk off as if nothing had happened.”  Watts said construction near the site demonstrated “expansion pressures.”
  • From Boulder, it’s 38 miles to Fort Collins, and 38 miles to Greeley.  Greeley and Fort Collins are 19 miles apart.  From Denver it’s 26 miles to Boulder, 47 to Greeley and 55 to Fort Collins.
  • Two-needled ponderosa pines live outside of Fort Collins, to the northwest.  Most pines have odd numbers of needles, and ponderosa typically have five needles.

Update, James Madison Day (3-16-2010): Watts still doesn’t get it.  In a post today he wrote:

My last few posts have described a new method for quantifying the average Urban Heat Island (UHI) warming effect as a function of population density, using thousands of pairs of temperature measuring stations within 150 km of each other. The results supported previous work which had shown that UHI warming increases logarithmically with population, with the greatest rate of warming occurring at the lowest population densities as population density increases.

Comparing Fort Collins with Boulder, and noting that Fort Collins grew faster, is an inadequate explanation for more warming in Fort Collins, about 40 miles north of Boulder.  Boulder has a greenbelt designed to frustrate global warming, locally and globally.  To fail to account for the effect of a massive green belt of 33,000 acres — more than double the size of the city’s 16,000 acres — is a failure of science.  If Watts’s methodology misses such factors that slap an unbiased viewer in the face, you’ve gotta wonder what else he’s missing.  If he can’t see a greenbelt twice the size of the city, surrounding the city, what else has he overlooked?

Plus there is this:  Assume for a moment that he proves a heat island effect exists (a proposal unquestioned in meteorology and atmospheric sciences for a generation, by the way) — the question he’s seeking to prove is that urban heat islands skew official temperature readings enough to falsely indicate global warming.  To skew measurements that include thousands of at-sea sensing devices, and rural areas around the world, there would have to be an massive effect that would be immediately obvious in the cities causing the effect:  They would melt.

Flatirons rock formations, on Green Mountain, near Boulder, Colorado - Wikimedia photo by Jesse Varner

Flatirons rock formations, on Green Mountain, near Boulder, Colorado - Wikimedia photo by Jesse Varner

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21 Responses to Boulder and Fort Collins: Wise city action prevents global warming? WUWT misreports the story

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    If you dig deeply enough, you will see that a formal accusation was made, and the U of A cleared him of it. I never claimed anything more than that.

    I didn’t find that. That’s why I asked.

    I found no formal accusation made anywhere. If you have evidence of such a thing, I’d really like to see it.

    Personally, I am not interested in claims of fraud, and I have repeatedly stated that in my blog.

    Then don’t make false accusations. An investigation that clears a guy is not worth reporting as an accusation and investigation. What you’ve done is slandered the guy.

    It would be more accurate to point out that there is no formal accusation of research fraud before any government agency, and that a couple of universities investigated the internet rumors of fraud, and found them to be completely false.

    If you’re not trying to conduct a smear, that’s the way to report it.

    I am interested in sloppy science that is so bad, it looks like it what a fraud would do.

    Unless, of course, it’s done by Anthony Watts. Then you’ll go to the mat to defend it.

    Watts and other critics don’t have to be scientists to point this sort of thing out.

    Watt’s claims to be a journalist. As a 35-year veteran of the Society of Professional Journalists, I note that he does not abide by the ethical canons of journalists.

    You don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. But if you’re going to claim the weathervanes are in error, you should have some extraordinary evidence.

    And if one makes charges of fraud, one should be careful to be accurate, just to avoid slander and libel liability.

    There is ample evidence of the sloppiness in the posts I sent you – just leave out the fraud issue if that helps you think straight.

    The sloppiness I saw was in making false charges. There was no report of any paper that questioned any finding reported to IPCC.

    All you have is a cry of fraud. I don’t see any science backing any contrary claims.

    It looks to me like a political smear, not science at all.

    Scientists have a higher standard than bloggers and journalists: tough luck, but that’s the way it is.

    I don’t think journalists, serious journalists, should be held to lower standards of accuracy. That’s not what the J-schools teach. That’s not what the libel insurance carriers want.

    Your comments are very much like the response to the leaked emails. “NO SMOKING GUN SHOWING FRAUD FOUND!” That’s what I heard and read over and over. Okay…so what about everything else that was found?

    You’re right: There was a finding of fraud demonstrated there, but fraud by contrarians. You’re not calling for prosecution of those frauds, I note — nor is Watts. You don’t even ask for investigation.

    I see a double standard, a duplicity that smells of politics.

    Specifically, there is no finding of fraud on the part of the scientists. There is not even a solid allegation from the material you cited (nor anywhere else I’ve found). There is a smear campaign by scientists too lazy or incompetent to do the work themselves (my opinion — but no one seems in any hurry to disprove it by redoing the work, an absence of action which in this case means a complete absence of faith in the claims).

    Where is there a study which claims the findings of Mann or others is in error? Watts keeps claiming it would be simple to do, and so do others. Yet they won’t put their research chops where their big, libelous mouth is.

    Blowharding on contrarians’ part does not make fraud on Mann’s nor Jones’s part.

    If someone had a paper which showed that warming is not occurring in China, or even a paper which demonstrated that urban heat islands have skewed readings inaccurately, there would be a case that urban heat islands have skewed warming data.

    But absent such a showing, what we have is a political smear. I think that’s unethical for a journalist, unethical for a scientist, error in reporting, and morally wrong for anyone in polite discussion.

    I know these AGW folks want to be honest. Like you, they are so passionate about their quest, that they let that get in the way of their science sometimes.

    I haven’t seen that anywhere. I’ve seen a concentrated campaign to smear the scientists, conducted by some of the same people who used to shill for tobacco companies (“the science is not clear that tobacco smoking or chewing is harmful to health; scientists disagree”), and by others with political motivations that are not so pure as a pursuit of science.

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  2. lichanos says:

    If you dig deeply enough, you will see that a formal accusation was made, and the U of A cleared him of it. I never claimed anything more than that.

    Personally, I am not interested in claims of fraud, and I have repeatedly stated that in my blog. I am interested in sloppy science that is so bad, it looks like it what a fraud would do.

    Watts and other critics don’t have to be scientists to point this sort of thing out. There is ample evidence of the sloppiness in the posts I sent you – just leave out the fraud issue if that helps you think straight. Scientists have a higher standard than bloggers and journalists: tough luck, but that’s the way it is.

    Your comments are very much like the response to the leaked emails. “NO SMOKING GUN SHOWING FRAUD FOUND!” That’s what I heard and read over and over. Okay…so what about everything else that was found? I know these AGW folks want to be honest. Like you, they are so passionate about their quest, that they let that get in the way of their science sometimes.

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  3. Ed Darrell says:

    You may want to make it clear that you retract any claim about fraud.

    Watts’ report is third-hand hearsay — exactly the same as a second citation you offer. In neither version of that report is there any claim of fraud. There is conjecture, but there is no accusation.

    And there is no evidence of fraud in any of that.

    That’s the problem I have with Watts: As a journalist, he’s sloppy to the point of libel. As a scientist, his same sloppiness shows no signs of being corrected.

    Which leaves implications that there is fraud in dealing with heat islands, when as we’ve seen, the misreporting is on Watts’s side, underreporting the Boulder area population by 30,000 people, missing a climate-altering land preserve twice the size of the city of Boulder itself, and otherwise not being careful with data, moving from hints of data to conclusionary statements without going through the data analysis and due diligence.

    If you have any evidence of an investigation for scientific fraud, bring it out. Nothing you cited indicates any such investigation going on right now — and in fact, there is an indication that a university, being way overly cautious, checked to see about fraud without any accusation, and found no fraud at all.

    It would be accurate to say that climate denialists and contrarians yell fraud, but they have offered no hard evidence, and that all investigations to verify the data in question have found the scientists were honest and straightforward.

    Those are the simple facts, journalistically and legally.

    When people are so sloppy with history and law, why should we expect any better accuracy with science, absent a showing of a mending of the ways?

    That’s why I don’t trust Watts’s blog. I asked you for evidence of fraud investigation, and you pointed to rumor, hearsay and gossip. You may have been convinced. There’s no showing of fraud, there’s no evidence of a fraud investigation that I can see. If I’ve missed something, feel free to point out the investigation to me — who is investigating whom, where.

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  4. lichanos says:

    You’re accusing a scientist of a potentially criminal act. Slander or libel — truth is a defense.

    Are you engaging in hyperbole bordering on libel, or do you have some facts?

    I said that one of them was the subject of an investigation for scientific fraud. This is a simple fact.

    From The Guardian, UK:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/feb/01/dispute-weather-fraud

    Watts’ summary of the facts of the affair:

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/05/03/climate-science-fraud-at-albany-university/

    Commentary on another blog:

    http://www.blogcatalog.com/blog/scientific-misconduct-blog/b3e8fbad65853ed3f39d3276a87b3b57

    Report by the maker of the accusations:

    http://www.informath.org/WCWF07a.pdf

    The University of Albany was satisfied, after investigating, that no fraud was committed. Not everyone thinks their procedure was valid, or even done according to their own rules. Regardless of whether there was fraud, it sure seems like a pretty sloppy basis for a very important conclusion.

    The IPCC cites Wang’s work, and little else, as justification for saying that the urban heat island effect has been purged from the surface record properly.

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  5. Ed Darrell says:

    . . . not to mention that one of them was the subject of an investigation for scientific fraud.

    Seriously? Got details?

    You’re accusing a scientist of a potentially criminal act. Slander or libel — truth is a defense.

    Are you engaging in hyperbole bordering on libel, or do you have some facts?

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  6. lichanos says:

    Watts has an axe to grind, surely, but what I like about his blog is that he is totally up front about it and quite polite. Totally unlike RealClimate, which is surly, rude, and underhanded.

    I spoke carelessly when I said heat islands were statistical. I did not mean that hadn’t been observed or that they are somehow not “real” things. I just meant that the evidence for them is based on statistical data linked with observations.

    Watts claims this shows that heat islands skew climate reporting? He’s dead wrong. His figures, when corrected, show that good planning can prevent warming.

    You don’t understand it? Get out of the new road, then, if you won’t lend a hand.
    Quoting Bob Dylan (whom I like very much) is not good science. Talk about being “political!”

    In short, you go to great lenghts to show that the Boulder greenbelt works, okay. I’m all for it. Maybe it makes the comparison less valid, maybe invalid. I don’t see how this addresses the issue of heat islands in other cities where paired comparisons have shown similar, perhaps less dramatic results.

    How is Watts correct in claiming the average world temperatures are skewed by Fort Collins?

    Keep in sight the forest, not just the trees. He’s not saying this. He’s saying this is one example of a general phenomenon that is biasing measurements.

    IPCC is right. The heat is real, to the extent that the real over-heating might skew temperatures across a continent, or across a hemisphere, they can be easily corrected for — but you shouldn’t try to “correct” them away. The heat is real, and it should be measured.

    You have totally misunderstood this point. The IPCC accepts heat island bias. They attempt to correct for it. I suggest they have not corrected properly, i.e., enough, which is to say, they underestimate the bias. The correction which you claim they have properly done is based on one or two studies which are themselves highly questionable, not to mention that one of them was the subject of an investigation for scientific fraud.

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  7. Ed Darrell says:

    I have a higher opinion of Watts’ blog than you do, but I’m not his agent, and I’m not going to defend him. I simply found the post interesting, but not definitive. I don’t think he presented it as such either – that’s entirely your overheated projection.

    Watts is good when he’s reporting observations. When he tries to interpret those observations to fit his political views — and his views are pointedly political — he’s generally in error. In this post comparing Fort Collins and Boulder, he’s trying to make a claim that IPCC is wrong, because Fort Collins is warmer than Boulder. Apart from the astounding number of logical leaps necessary to get from hypothesis to evidence, let alone proof, it’s purely political. Were it scientific, he’d need to make a real hypothesis and deal with issues like the greenbelt.

    It’s really quite astounding. Watts actually stumbled on the greenbelt, visited it, and features photos of it on his blog. Then he pretends it doesn’t exist.

    I will point out that your close logical critique of the post contains many arguments that can be and have been effectively applied to nearly every aspect of the AGW hypothesis, but the response of your camp is always to dismiss them as “voodoo” science. (And can we stop dissing voodoo, please? Really, Haitians would be quite justified in referring derisively to “protestant” science, or jew-science, if they wanted to.)

    Okay, crank science. Creationists will now object, because that’s the only kind of science they recognize. Can’t win.

    In any case, it’s not good science, not accurate science, not careful science, and not informative science. Those were my points. You’ve not demonstrated any error of mine on those points.

    In your extended rant against reasoning from correlation to causation, you ignore the basic issue. The urban heat island is itself – and you concede that it exists – a statistical concept.

    That’s wrong. That’s complete bafflegab. Heat islands are real, they can be measured. They affect weather, and they affect airplanes, balloons, and anything else that relies on atmosphere.

    Heat islands are not statistical adjustments. They are real phenomena.

    That is, it is accepted largely because of statistical studies that are supported by plausible physical explanations concerned with heat retention, transpiration, etc. etc…Nobody has actually done controlled experiments with cities under a glass bowl.

    I’ve talked with too many pilots to accept that. I’ve watched too many weather reports. There are just too much data on the reality of the phenomenon to pretend it’s not real.

    No one has done any experiments with black holes under a glass bowl, either. They are not statistical. Natural phenomena, observed, tend to be real.

    The correlation jives with the facts of physics, and is confirmed as a general trend across samples.

    I’m sure you mean “jibes,” since Watts is the one who jives with the data. The correlation jibes with observed effects. It’s not necessary to do statistics to see heat islands. One can observe hawks, kites and airplanes.

    Looking at correlation in one spot yields suggestive ideas, but not much proof. Looking at correlation between two places, near to one another, tells more. Temperatures in both cities rose as population and area increased.

    There’s not a direct correlation. More to my point, Watts did nothing to try to account for the greenbelt’s effect. We have a park, designed to hold temperatures down, twice as large as the city itself, and Watts pretends its not there.

    Watts also didn’t control for suburbs, nor for city footprint. If we wish to compare urban development based on population, we need to compare apples to apples, not apples to watermelons. How big is the footprint of Fort Collins? How big is the footprint of Boulder? Watts doesn’t care, doesn’t even bother to look.

    Population density can have a huge effect on heat islands, though. The heat island effect from Juneau, Alaska, differs significantly from that of Anchorage, Alaska — or from Charleston, West Virginia, which may be closer analog to Juneau since they are both strung out along waterways with mountains making Los Angeles-like sprawl impossible.

    My only point is that it’s not a fair comparison, and we can tell Watts isn’t bothering to make it fair by the way he completely ignores this massive land use issue. 33,000 acres is damnably difficult to ignore. Central Park in New York is 843 acres, for example. Boulder’s greenbelt is 39 times larger.

    In fact, all of Manhattan Island is 14,478 acres. Watts is ignoring an area 2.5 times as large as Manhattan.

    Do you think Manhattan has a heat island effect? What would be the heat sink effect if we blasted all the concrete off tomorrow and replaced it with trees and meadows?

    You’re not defending Watts, you claim, but you’re not being fair to his claims, either — you’re not being fairly skeptical. He asks you to ignore an area twice the size of Manhattan and you salute and say “yes, sir! I don’t see anything there, sir!”

    Give me a break.

    Temperatures in one surpassed the other as its population increased past the other. This is a very significant bit of evidence in favor of the Urban Heat Island…which you say you agree exists.

    I pointed out one huge hole in his hypothesis. Here’s another huge hole: Fort Collins sprawls over twice as much land as Boulder, at more than 34,000 acres (53.38 mi² = 34,163.2 acres). On one hand that might suggest that population growth means even more heating than Watts suggests — but the City of Fort Collins also manages 32,000 acres of parkland. Did you catch that? They’ve got nearly as much parkland as Boulder has greenbelt. And still the effect? With less population density?

    What is Watts’s claim? Is it concrete that makes the heat island, or people?

    Now compare it to Boulder plus Boulder’s suburbs outside the greenbelt.

    Here’s another cruncher of a hole: Watts understates Boulder’s planning area population by 30,000 people (see page 4 of the planning guide — 2004 figures, too). So if we add them in, all of a sudden Boulder’s population is about the same as Fort Collins, the city’s footprint is smaller, the green areas are about the same, and Boulder is measurably cooler by design.

    Watts claims this shows that heat islands skew climate reporting? He’s dead wrong. His figures, when corrected, show that good planning can prevent warming.

    You don’t understand it? Get out of the new road, then, if you won’t lend a hand. The times and climate are a-changing, and we need to be actively involved in making sure the new one is livable. Grousing about it doesn’t do much.

    The only point of the post was to demonstrate that the UHI can have significant impact on temperature trends. Do you disagree with this?

    Watts claims it’s a skewing effect — not real. I agree heat islands exist, and I think the heat is real, not fictional.

    The IPCC doesn’t. They claim to have “corrected” for it. The other point of the post is that perhaps they have not “corrected” enough.

    IPCC is right. The heat is real, to the extent that the real over-heating might skew temperatures across a continent, or across a hemisphere, they can be easily corrected for — but you shouldn’t try to “correct” them away. The heat is real, and it should be measured.

    Watts claims that too many thermometers are located where they measure heat islands, and not real warming when averaged out over the planet. In the example he chooses, Boulder vs. Fort Collins, the problem is that Boulder is artificially cool — it’s a heat-sink island, showing cooler than the local climatic trend.

    That’s exactly contrary to his claim. He doesn’t even consider the possibility. IPCC, filled with reports from people who measure climate, instead of people reporting street temperatures to radio listeners, is probably more trustworthy on this issue than Anthony Watts and company.

    You seem to want to have things both ways at once.

    I just want Watts to report things accurately. In this case, he’s comparing the oven with the freezer, and claiming that the oven’s heat isn’t real — he says that stove won’t bake. Meanwhile, Mrs. Fields is making a fortune baking cookies in the heat Watts says isn’t there.

    Heat islands exist. They are not statistical anomalies. The excess heat they produce cannot be politicked away. IPCC reporters have adequately controlled for any potential skewing that might results from heat islands.

    Somewhere over there at WUWT I point out that Watts assumes heat islands where they don’t exist. He says airports are huge heat islands, and so weather stations there should not be considered in reporting climate change. The reality is that many airports are quite wild — O’Hare, DFW, Austin, Denver, and most of the thousands of rural airports in the nation — and heat island effects are probably downplayed in their reports. They may be heat sinks instead.

    He’s got an axe to grind. And by that, I mean he’s not working with adequately sharp tools in making his claims.

    Are you seriously suggesting that heat islands don’t produce heating? I don’t think so. What, then, would be your solution to correcting for heat island effects, if anything? How is Watts correct in claiming the average world temperatures are skewed by Fort Collins?

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  8. Ed Darrell says:

    We can conjecture that the greenbelt worked – it’s plausible – but we don’t know how well it worked. If Ft. Collins had tracked Boulder’s population very closely, then we might be able to make that determination. (Of course, you claimed the cities weren’t comparable for other reasons too, but no matter…)

    We can conjecture that the rise in temperature at Fort Collins was due to development –- it’s plausible –- but we don’t know how accurate it is.

    We can conjecture that the failure of the temperature to rise as much in Boulder in the same period is due to less development — it’s plausible, but unproven.

    In either case, it’s just conjecture.

    If we were to make it a scientific inquiry, we’d need to check to see if there were other factors that might affect things.

    The greenbelt, designed to hold temperatures down despite of development, might be a cause. It would be irresponsible to ignore it.

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  9. lichanos says:

    Your reasoning in your last comment seems plausible, but not necessarily proven. We can conjecture that the greenbelt worked – it’s plausible – but we don’t know how well it worked. If Ft. Collins had tracked Boulder’s population very closely, then we might be able to make that determination. (Of course, you claimed the cities weren’t comparable for other reasons too, but no matter…)

    So what do we have here? Two cities, F and B. F is smaller than B. They both start growing. B develops a green-growth strategy and follows it. F grows without a green strategy. F grows faster than B. F surpasses B in size. The temperature of F seems to track its growth and the temperature of B seems to track its growth. The temperature of F goes from less than to greater than the temperature of B as its population goes from less than to greater than that of B.

    Now, what do YOU want to prove? That the greenbelt worked? Well, the slower rate of increase of temperature at city B seems to support that case, albeit without precision. No argument from me there at all. I’m all for green roofs too!

    BUT the overall data pattern seems to indicate that the urban heat island effect does track population growth and that it was clearly in effect here. That would suggest that surface temperature records are biased towards the high side.

    The fact that Boulder’s greenbelt may have been effective, even if marginally, doesn’t detract from this argument at all. You say:

    Watts’s figures show that the greenbelt worked. Instead of warming as Fort Collins did, it stayed cool despite some growth.

    This statement of yours essentially supports Watts’ argument, that the urban heat island exists and is significant. If all the AGW predictions come to pass, yes, cities would do well to have greenbelts, and even if not, they are nice! But you have agreed with Watts!

    Are you trying to argue that the two cities were both warming at the same rate due to global warming and that the greenbelt kept Boulder’s rate of warming down? That’s quite a stretch on a lot of fronts. How would you deal with the fact that F warmed faster and more than B in tandem with its population?

    None of this is definitive, but your arguments contra Watts strike me as baseless and based on some prior assumptions of your own that you are not making clear.

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  10. Ed Darrell says:

    I just don’t get this.

    I know, and I can’t figure out a way to explain it to you.

    Boulder’s citizens decided 40 years ago that they didn’t want to be a heat island (among other evils of concrete), and so they created a greenbelt surrounding the city that is twice the size of city itself.

    Watts’s figures show that the greenbelt worked. Instead of warming as Fort Collins did, it stayed cool despite some growth.

    Do you see any problems with that reasoning? Where?

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  11. lichanos says:

    it’s a classic case…

    I just don’t get this. You slip every which way. You said that you accept the notion of an urban heat island. How do you think this idea is supported if not by measurements of temperature at cities of different sizes over time? The concept is that cities are warmer that co-located non-city areas, and bigger cities have bigger, and somewhat hotter heat islands. Either you think this is a good concept or you don’t. I don’t care which, but don’t tell me you agree with it, and the argue on a basis that contradicts just that.

    The temperature rose in both cities, but by different amounts. The temperature in one surpassed that of the other just as its population did. If you accept the notion of the urban heat island, this is a pretty significant observation. It doesn’t prove everything, but I don’t understand your objections to this line of reasoning.

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  12. Nick Kelsier says:

    I’ll give you an issue of causation/correlation for you to examine Lichanos.

    Go to Mexico city and study why its one of the smoggiest cities on the planet. And then see how long all that pollution is good for your health.

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  13. Ed Darrell says:

    It’s a classic case of argument error. Watts assumes that because temperature rose, and Fort Collins grew, they are connected.

    There is no evidence of that connection.

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  14. lichanos says:

    Just a further clarification:

    Your critique seems to be implying that it is plausible to suggest that if Boulder did not have a greenbelt, its temperature would have increased in parallel with Fort. Collins’ In that case, you would have two cities, both growing in the typical headlong American way, both experiencing higher local temperatures.

    But Ft. Collins grew much more than Boulder. If there temperatures tracked one another closely, that would imply that the heat island effect is something other than what we think. Counter-intuitive that the smaller city would warm as much as the larger one. Local topography responsible? Then we are back at the regular heat island hypothesis, “distorted-modified” by local conditions.

    I really don’t get the logic of your argument.

    And you invocation of the Dunning-Kruger effect is a hallmark of closed minds.

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  15. lichanos says:

    I have a higher opinion of Watts’ blog than you do, but I’m not his agent, and I’m not going to defend him. I simply found the post interesting, but not definitive. I don’t think he presented it as such either – that’s entirely your overheated projection.

    I will point out that your close logical critique of the post contains many arguments that can be and have been effectively applied to nearly every aspect of the AGW hypothesis, but the response of your camp is always to dismiss them as “voodoo” science. (And can we stop dissing voodoo, please? Really, Haitians would be quite justified in referring derisively to “protestant” science, or jew-science, if they wanted to.)

    In your extended rant against reasoning from correlation to causation, you ignore the basic issue. The urban heat island is itself – and you concede that it exists – a statistical concept. That is, it is accepted largely because of statistical studies that are supported by plausible physical explanations concerned with heat retention, transpiration, etc. etc…Nobody has actually done controlled experiments with cities under a glass bowl. The correlation jives with the facts of physics, and is confirmed as a general trend across samples.

    Looking at correlation in one spot yields suggestive ideas, but not much proof. Looking at correlation between two places, near to one another, tells more. Temperatures in both cities rose as population and area increased. Temperatures in one surpassed the other as its population increased past the other. This is a very significant bit of evidence in favor of the Urban Heat Island…which you say you agree exists.

    The only point of the post was to demonstrate that the UHI can have significant impact on temperature trends. Do you disagree with this? The IPCC doesn’t. They claim to have “corrected” for it. The other point of the post is that perhaps they have not “corrected” enough.

    You seem to want to have things both ways at once.

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  16. Ed Darrell says:

    Putting a greenbelt around Ft. Collins would be a nice experiment. I agree that it may be wrong to compare the two cities as you say.

    Not just wrong. Voodoo science. Nonsense. Nonscience. Quackary. Crank science. Pick any two cities at random within 150 km of each other, ignore all other characteristics. Why not compare Palm Springs, California, with Tijuana, Mexico (93 miles apart, or 150 km)?

    Why not compare Cedar City, Utah, with St. George, Utah? Nevermind the massive elevation difference, or the fact that St. George is in a completely different climatic zone — they are within 150 km, so it’s a fair comparison, no? Why not compare the Lodge in Zion Canyon with the visitor’s center at Cedar Breaks NM? Heck, they even have similar architecture. One August my wife and I left Zion at 9:00 a.m. and 102 degrees F, and were warned against camping at Cedar Breaks 9 hours later, because a hard freeze was expected. Well, there is more asphalt in Zion Canyon . . . do you think Watts will use that comparison? (There is also about a 6,000 foot elevation difference.)

    No. A comparison is a first level step toward a greater study. Watts makes it the entire study, and that’s rank crankery.

    Not properly controlled.

    It’s completely out of control. It’s a small airplane that strayed too high, whose pilot passed out, and now it’s stuck in a spinning power dive from which it cannot escape intact.

    Still, this is only one pair taken from the statistical study of paired cities.

    Is there a statistical study? Watts hid that well. Where did you get that idea?

    If this is one pair, and it’s so badly paired, but it’s the one Watts highlights and headlines, it sounds like the hypothesis was completely out to lunch. Start over.

    You may have a point that by highlighting this one, and ignoring the greenbelt, the credibility of the argument is undermined. On the other hand, we really don’t know because we don’t know the impact of the greenbelt.

    Not only do we not know the entire impact of the greenbelt, Watts failed to consider it at all. It’s like comparing snowfall at Chicago against snowfall at Buffalo, and forgetting where the lakes are placed. Worse, it’s like comparing snowfall at Las Vegas, Nevada, and Buffalo.

    I just happened to be alert to one huge, study-nullifying difference between the two cities (and, by the way, I’ll wager there are a lot of studies that drop heavy hints as to the climate effects of the greenbelt on the city; we worked on exactly that sort of stuff in air pollution studies in the 1970s; I know from the testimony given to the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors there are a lot of studies on the Boulder greenbelt).

    Maybe worse, Watts shows us the photos of the weather station in Boulder, surrounded by parkland, and then he claims it’s “subject to similar expansion pressure [as Fort Collins] due to nearby construction as seen in this aerial photo.” Not quite, Watts: Look at your aerial photo to the north; that’s a cemetery. Dead people don’t build concrete roads to their abodes.

    Not sure what you are alluding to about shrubbery, heat, and WUWT, unless it’s the flap over data from the Amazon. Of course, a huge forest/jungle and an urban area can’t be assumed to behave the same way either.

    Though Watts completely ignores that in comparing Boulder and Fort Collins; claims that forests don’t provide cooling is a blatant disregard of botany. Transpiration makes at least a cooler microclimate; in the case of the Amazon, any comparison to a city is nothing short of bizarre, but voodoo science in any case.

    All of this is interesting, but really doesn’t address the point of the WUWT post: Temperatures in Ft. Collins begin by being below Boulder, and steadily track upwards and surpass Boulder as the population increases. The fact that a greenbelt may have suppressed temperature increase in Boulder, which grew far less than Fort Collins, is not much of a knock against the hypothesis. What explains the rise in Fort Collins?

    Oh, look! The temperatures in Fort Collins track steadily upwards as the years increase! Hey, they track upwards with Republican votes in presidential elections! Look! Temperatures increased with enrollments in private schools! Look! Temperatures increased with penetration of cable television! Zowie!! Temperature in Fort Collins increases with the construction of cell phone towers. Maybe it’s microwave linked, you think?

    What explains the rise of temperatures in Fort Collins? That’s a great question. If one starts out thinking one knows the answer before one bothers to gather any data, one is likely to come up with a religiously-based answer rather than a scientifically-based answer. The risk multiplies if one does not bother to control for any extraneous influences.

    What caused the increase? We can’t tell from anything Watts has.

    Post hoc ergo propter hoc is usually considered an error in argumentation, not a scientific research method.

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  17. lichanos says:

    Putting a greenbelt around Ft. Collins would be a nice experiment. I agree that it may be wrong to compare the two cities as you say. Not properly controlled. Still, this is only one pair taken from the statistical study of paired cities. You may have a point that by highlighting this one, and ignoring the greenbelt, the credibility of the argument is undermined. On the other hand, we really don’t know because we don’t know the impact of the greenbelt.

    Not sure what you are alluding to about shrubbery, heat, and WUWT, unless it’s the flap over data from the Amazon. Of course, a huge forest/jungle and an urban area can’t be assumed to behave the same way either.

    All of this is interesting, but really doesn’t address the point of the WUWT post: Temperatures in Ft. Collins begin by being below Boulder, and steadily track upwards and surpass Boulder as the population increases. The fact that a greenbelt mayhave suppressed temperature increase in Boulder, which grew far less than Fort Collins, is not much of a knock against the hypothesis. What explains the rise in Fort Collins?

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  18. Ed Darrell says:

    Uh…Ft. Collins grew more than Boulder. Ft. Collins warmed more than Boulder.

    Put a greenbelt around Fort Collins, see if it still warms the same.

    The greenbelt was put there specifically to prevent pollution, to act as a sink to pollutants and to ward off effects like warming. Maybe the lack of warming is a measure of the success of the greenbelt, and wholly unrelated to concrete.

    Which reminds me that pilots I’ve talked to say western cities, say, west of St. Louis, tend to have less of a heat island effect than eastern cities (Los Angeles excepted). Several wondered about the development of grassy suburbs with large lots, which mean less concrete/vegetated land, and consequently less heat island effect.

    Of course, over at WUWT they conjecture that green shrubbery absorbs more heat, and so there’d be an even greater effect. Go figure. Apparently they know nothing about botany at WUWT.

    Hypothesis: Ft. Collins’ growth is related to its increased warming. Evidence is the generally accepted heat island of developed cities.

    Why does the greenbelt around Boulder militate against this hypothesis?? So Boulder has an enormous greenbelt which, you suggest, retarded the rise of temperature there.

    All I’m suggesting is that the comparison is faulty. You’d need to compare a growing city with a greenbelt to Boulder, or you’d need to compare a smaller city with Ft. Collins. It’s piss-poor science to claim concrete makes hotter cities, ignoring a non-concrete area twice the size of one of the cities. It’s not a controlled experiment, it’s not a case where you’re comparing apples to apples, nor even apples to oranges.

    Were what Watts’s blog claims to be accurate, you could tell by checking the comparisons of temperatures at the airports of Boulder and Ft. Collins – right? The airport heat island effect would cancel out, and the heat island effect from the urban area itself should shine through. Why didn’t he make that comparison?

    Maybe Watts’s entire argument about placement of temperature sensors is moot. Clearly he didn’t consider that an issue in his comparison here. Why not?

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  19. lichanos says:

    To fail to account for the effect of a massive green belt of 33,000 acres… is a failure of science.

    Uh…Ft. Collins grew more than Boulder. Ft. Collins warmed more than Boulder.

    Hypothesis: Ft. Collins’ growth is related to its increased warming. Evidence is the generally accepted heat island of developed cities.

    Why does the greenbelt around Boulder militate against this hypothesis?? So Boulder has an enormous greenbelt which, you suggest, retarded the rise of temperature there.

    Two things come to my mind here. We have no way of knowing how much the greenbelt affected temperatures. To know that, the two cities would have to have stayed about the same size, right? But true, it’s plausible that the belt did have an effect. But isn’t that in itself a supporting bit of evidence for the overall argument? I mean, a huge greenbelt is the very opposite of the type of development that is associated with urban heat islands. Green roofs can do the same thing if they are applied on a massive enough scale.

    So yes, the green belt should be considered in this particular pairing of cities because it means that they both developed, but in quite different ways. But if there was a consequence, it tends to support the original idea. Unless you are going to argue that if Ft. Collins grew more than Boulder (without greenbelt) and:

    A) Ft. Collins warmed more than Boulder (without greenbelt) but the greater warming was caused by…elves? Local thermal activity..? Bad data?

    B) Ft. Collins would have warmed the same amount as Boulder if the greenbelt around Boulder had not been created. But clearly, even if were true in this case, in many cases, the pairing of cities shows that there is somewhat more warming in the bigger city.

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  20. John Mashey says:

    I am reminded that the Western half of Colorado has relatively few people to create UHI, but it does have:

    1) More bark beetles
    2) A lot less living lodgepole pines

    I guess nobody told the beetles the temperature changes were imaginary.

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  21. […] Boulder and Fort Collins: Wise city action prevents global warming? « Millard Fillmore’s… […]

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