Climate Updates

Believe it or not, I am not going to update on the CRU emails.  The insights into the science process are illuminating, and confirm much that we have suspected, but faults in transparency do not automatically win the game -- they lead to [hopefully] future transparency which then allows for better criticism and/or replication of the work.

My frustration today is a recent article in Scientific American [with the lofty academic title "Seven Answers to Climate Contrarian Nonsense"] which purports to shoot down the seven key skeptics arguments.  Many others have shown how the author does not do a very good job of shooting down these seven, but that is not my main frustration.  The problem is that, like many of the global warming myth buster articles like this, the author completely fails to address the best, core arguments of skeptics, preferring to snipe around at easier prey at the margins.

In this post, I discuss his article and suggest 7 better propositions alarmists should, but never do, address.

You can see discussion of all of these in my recent lecture, on video here.

Don't have 90 minutes?  Richard Lindzen of MIT has a great summary in the WSJ that mirrors a lot of what I delve into in my video.

Here are my seven alternative skeptics' claims I would like to see addressed:

Claim A: Nearly every scientist, skeptic and alarmist alike, agree that the first order warming from CO2 is small.  Catastrophic forecasts that demand immediate government action are based on a second theory that the climate temperature system is dominated by positive feedback.  There is little understanding of these feedbacks, at least in their net effect, and no basis for assuming feedbacks in a long-term stable system are strongly net positive.   As a note, the claim is that the net feedbacks are not positive, so demonstration of single one-off positive feedbacks, like ice albedo, are not sufficient to disprove this claim.  In particular, the role of the water cycle and cloud formation are very much in dispute.

Claim B: At no point have climate scientists ever reconciled the claims of the dendroclimatologists like Michael Mann that world temperatures were incredibly stable for thousands of years before man burned fossil fuels with the claim that the climate system is driven by very high net positive feedbacks.   There is nothing in the feedback assumptions that applies uniquely to CO2 forcing, so these feedbacks, if they exist today, should have existed in the past and almost certainly have made temperatures highly variable, if not unstable.

Claim C: On its face, the climate model assumptions (including high positive feedbacks) of substantial warming from small changes in CO2 are inconsistent with relatively modest past warming.  Scientists use what is essentially an arbitrary plug variable to handle this, assuming anthropogenic aerosols have historically masked what would be higher past warming levels.  The arbitrariness of the plug is obvious given that most models include a cooling effect of aerosols in direct proportion to their warming effect from CO2, two phenomenon that should not be linked in nature, but are linked if modelers are trying to force their climate models to balance.  Further, since aerosols are short lived and only cover about 10% of the globe's surface in any volume, nearly heroic levels of cooling effects must be assumed, since it takes 10C of cooling from the 10% area of effect to get 1C cooling in the global averages.

Claim D: The key issue is the effect of CO2 vs. other effects in the complex climate system.  We know CO2 causes some warming in a lab, but how much on the real earth?  The main evidence climate scientists have is that their climate models are unable to replicate the warming from 1975-1998 without the use of man-made CO2 -- in other words, they claim their models are unable to replicate the warming with natural factors alone.  But these models are not anywhere near good enough to be relied on for this conclusion, particularly since they admittedly leave out any number of natural factors, such as ocean cycles and longer term cycles like the one that drove the little ice age, and admit to not understanding many others, such as cloud formation.

Claim E: There are multiple alternate explanations for the 1975-1998 warming other than manmade CO2.  All likely contributed (along with CO2) but it there is no evidence to give most of the blame to Co2.  Other factors include ocean cycles (this corresponded to a PDO warm phase), the sun (this corresponded to the most intense period of the sun in the last 100 years), mankind's land use changes (driving both urban heating effects as well as rural changes with alterations in land use), and a continuing recovery from the Little Ice Age, perhaps the coldest period in the last 5000 years.

Claim F: Climate scientists claim that the .4-.5C warming from 1975-1998 cannot have been caused natural variations.  This has never been reconciled with the fact that the 0.6C warming from 1910 to 1940 was almost certainly due mostly to natural forces.  Also, the claim that natural forcings could not have caused a 0.2C per decade warming in the 80's and 90's cannot be reconciled with the the current claimed natural "masking" of anthropogenic warming  that must be on the order of 0.2C per decade.

Claim G: Climate scientists are embarrassing themselves in the use of the word "climate change."  First, the only mechanism ever expressed for CO2 to change climate is via warming.  If there is no warming, then CO2 can't be causing climate change by any mechanism anyone has ever suggested.   So saying that "climate change is accelerating" (just Google it) when warming has stopped is disingenuous, and a false marketing effort to try to keep the alarm ringing.  Second, the attempts by scientists who should know better to identify weather events at the tails of the normal distribution and claim that these are evidence of a shift in the mean of the distribution is ridiculous.  There are no long term US trends in droughts or wet weather, nor in global cyclonic activity, nor in US tornadoes.  But every drought, hurricane, flood, or tornado is cited as evidence of accelerating climate change (see my ppt slide deck for the data).  This is absurd.


  1. bj chippindale:

    Per the "A" argument, my the question arises, what did the climate look like the last time we saw this level of CO2? Given that the climate changes slowly to reach a stable state with this level and will take hundreds of years to do so, it isn't a bad idea to check it out. At the levels we are at you have to go back about 3 million years. The ocean was at least 20-30 meters deeper and the temperature 2-3 degrees warmer. So we can know that whatever negative feedbacks exist, they don't prevent conditions that we would find "uncomfortable". Lindzen has proposed the Iris, and Spencer echoes his notion that the climate is self-correcting but there are limits to that... we know that it actually has more metastable states than the two WE are so familiar with (glacial and interclacial).

    Moreover, the CO2 released to date is CO2 sequestered even further back. The "tipping points" that are likely to be tripped if we let the temperature go far past the added 2 degrees currently locked in, involve methane and desertification of rainforests and loss of albedo at the poles. Some HAVE apparently tripped in past interglacials and contribute to past variability... but now would be added to the human volcano that is driving CO2 up.

    I think I will not try to do all these at once.



  2. ArtD0dger:

    I found this to be a rather interesting assertion. From CRU email 1079108576:

    I also think people need to come to understand that the scientific
    >> uncertainties work both ways. We don't understand cloud feedbacks.
    >> We don't understand air-sea interactions. We don't understand
    >> aerosol indirect effects. The list is long. Singer will say that
    >> uncertainties like these mean models lack veracity and can safely be
    >> ignored. What seems highly unlikely to me is that each of these
    >> uncertainties is going to make the climate system more robust against
    >> change. It is just as likely a priori that a poorly understood bit
    >> of physics might be a positive as a negative feedback.

    So "Richard" (Richard Somerville?) thinks that there are a lot of unknown factors, but they are just as likely to contribute to catastrophe as to stability. But as you have frequently pointed out, Warren, positive feedback mechanisms are rare in natural and dynamic systems precisely because they drive the system towards regimes where they are no longer operative.

    With this kind of naive physical intuition, it is no wonder that these people were able to convince themselves that they were the prophets of an apocalypse.

  3. tomw:

    My late father told me about 'stackup of tolerances' when manufacturing turbojet engines[and cars].
    Seems to me that these 'scientists' are beyond any measurable meaning when you consider the 'stackup of tolerances' in their raw data and their self-designed 'correction factors'. Interpolation of data when there are gaps deludes the 'scientist' into thinking that they have 'covered all bases'. Using dendro data for the first chunk of time, and then throwing it out because it does not match recent, more 'valuable[accurate]' readings, is insane, and totally unscientific. If the dendro readings are crap now, why do we consider them sacrosanct from the because they are old?
    This whole mess is a joke. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? How much snow fell in Shasta? How many cubic feet per minute must flow in the Ganges? There is no way to measure all of the components of "climate". It cannot be done.
    The idea of AGW could have been demonstrated or denied by using actual temperature measurements from areas that have relatively complete raw data measurements, have few modifiers such as encroaching cities, and all the rest. [See Indonesia on the equator where angle of incidence effect is small]
    Then, using the "Scientific Theory", show how the addition of XX Gt of CO2 to the atmosphere, between these particular years, raised the temperature X.YYYY C.
    To my knowledge, to date, there is no proposed theory, just the generalization that 'there has to be some effect from adding CO2 to the atmosphere'.
    That is not a theory, that is a guess.

  4. Xealot:

    Science involves hypothesis and experimentation. Global Warming is a hypothesis, but there is no way to experiment with it. In order to experiment one has to be able to create an exact set of circumstances, setup a control group and be able to reproduce those results consistently over time.

    One cannot reproduce the entire Earth and play with CO2 levels with all other factors remaining equal. Thus experimentation is impossible. The system is too large to examine in the traditional scientific manner, any attempt to do so is doomed to failure. Those who want to doom our economy with repressive regulation designed to combat an unproven thing have an agenda that has nothing to do with saving the Earth.

    There's a common sense solution to all of this. Do nothing. Our technology continually improves on its own. The efficiency of engines, factories and the like gets better as we learn more. Waste gasses are exactly that, waste, and a source of inefficiency. The free market must be given an opportunity to increase efficiency (and thus profit) on its own. The more technology is regulated, the less chance there is of breakthroughs.

    Personally, if someone built a car that was cheap, affordable, not a tin can (very important) and clean, I'd buy it. So would most anyone. Make it a marketing initiative (Toyota has had some success with this) to buy cleaner cars, rather than government fiat that says everyone must buy them. Then poof, CO2 emissions go down, no government regulation is required and if there is any man made global warming (doubtful) then it is greatly reduced.

    Science is extremely important, but it must be accurate science, free of political concerns. And equally important is Common Sense, something that's consistently lacking from the modern world.