Climate consensus cracking under weight of evidence
By Larry Bell, 7/12/13
As the President demonstrated once again during his “climate action plan” address in Georgetown, he is not someone ever to allow facts to stand in the way of ideology and Green lobby cronyism. The familiar take-away line is that even more regulation is essential to bludgeon energy producers and consumers to abandon climate-ravaging fossil fuels in favor of heavily taxpayer-subsidized “alternatives.”
Even his staunch allies in all things liberal, the New York Times, appears to have finally recognized that the feverish climate fervor behind these Green grab gambits is overheated. They reported on June 6 that, “The rise in the surface temperature of Earth has been markedly slower over the last 15 years than in the 20 years before that. And that lull in warming has occurred even as greenhouse gases have accumulated in the atmosphere at a record pace.” Reporter Justin Gillis went on to admit that the break in temperature increases “highlights important gaps in our knowledge of the climate system,” whereby the lack of warming “is a bit of a mystery to climate scientists.”
Incidentally, on the same day that the NYT wondered where the warming went, the Washington Post breathlessly reported that “Global emissions of carbon dioxide from energy use rose 1.4 percent to 31.6 gigatons in 2012, setting a record and putting the planet on course for temperature increases well above international climate goals.”
They went on to quote the International Energy Agency declaring that “continuing that pace could mean a temperature increase over pre-industrial times of as much as 5.3° C (9° F), which IEA chief economist Faith Birol warned ‘would be a disaster for all countries,’ ”
Yup. Climate Really Changes…Has Before…Will Again.
Should lack of actual recent observed warming be taken to mean that climate doesn’t change, or that warming won’t occur again? No…hardly. But it does suggest a couple of important things. First, and foremost, it means that theoretical climate models upon which crisis claims are entirely based can’t be trusted. Second, if those models can’t be validated, then claims of consensus attributing an unproven crisis to human CO2 emissions, or to any other cause for that matter, certainly don’t warrant legitimacy either.
Isaac Held, a research scientist at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, says “no one has ever expected warming to be continuous, increasing like a straight line.” He’s right about that. As Fred Singer stated in my recent article, “the global climate has warmed since the Little Ice Age (about 1400-1700 AD), and it will likely continue to warm for another 200-300 years, in fits and starts, towards a max temp roughly matching that of the Medieval Warm Period.“
Held notes that observations “make it more plausible that the size of climate response to greenhouse gas increase is on the lower side of what models have been projecting over the last 10 or 20 years than over the high side.” Citing scientific uncertainty, particularly with regard to cloud influences, he said “It’s like cancer.” Held referred to “many, many research problems” posed by numerous types of clouds, each with their own special properties that might reflect or trap more or less of the sun’s heat.
Can’t Be the Models… Something Must Be Wrong With the Climate!
Mark Maslin and Patrick Austin stated in their June 2012 article in the journal Nature that, for the next UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment, “climate scientists face a serious public-image problem.” If the ClimateGate scandals weren’t enough, they observe that, “The climate models they are working with, which use significant improvements in our understanding of complex climate processes, are likely to produce wider rather than smaller ranges of uncertainty in their predictions. To the public and to policymakers, this will look as though the scientific understanding of climate change is becoming less, rather than more, clear.”
D’ya suppose they might have something there?
Maslin and Austin emphasize that a major uncertainty relates to subjective ways models are weighted. They note, for example, that “Every model has its own design and parameterizations of key processes, such as how to include clouds: and every model and its output [in IPCC’s last 2007 assessment] was assumed to be equally valid, even though some perform better than others in certain ways when tested against historic records. The differences between the models will be exacerbated in the 2013 IPCC assessment, because many, but not all, of the models have improved spatial resolution.”
Writing in The New Republic, Nate Cohn shares Maslin’s and Austin’s public climate science confidence concern: “Since 1998, the warmest year of the 20th Century, temperatures have not kept up with computer models that seemed to project steady warming: they’re perilously close to falling beneath even the lowest projections.” He observes that “in the end, the so-called scientific consensus on global warming doesn’t look much like consensus when scientists are struggling to explain the intricacies of the earth’s climate system, or uttering the word ‘uncertainty’ with striking regularity.”
Cohn then unhappily concludes, “The recent wave of news and magazine articles about scientists struggling to explain the warming slowdown could prolong or deepen the public’s skepticism.” He’s correct in acknowledging an existing and growing public skepticism.
How Trustworthy are those Models? Here’s a Reality Check.
Well-known climatologists Roy Spencer and John Christy at the University of Alabama in Huntsville compared global mean temperature increases predicted by 73 models from 1979 to present with those actually observed. The observed temperatures were taken from four balloon radiosonde datasets and two satellite datasets which provided virtually identical trends. Less reliable ground readings weren’t used to avoid misleading trend data resulting from land-use changes around recording stations. In addition, the observed temperatures were taken from the tropical troposphere, a region where models project the strongest, least ambiguous greenhouse warming signal.
The results of the modeled versus observed trends revealed a striking contrast. Seventy of the model plots increased sharply over the measurement period, and three increased more modestly. Observed temperatures slogged along a slow incline, overall about two-thirds lower, amounting to a less than 0.25° C increase since the beginning. Many of those disproven models will serve as the basis for IPCC’s next report.
Cohn finally confesses that, “Nonetheless, the combination of imperfect data, overlapping explanations, and continued uncertainty means that scientists cannot discount the possibility that they have overestimated the climate’s ‘sensitivity’ to additional greenhouse gas emissions.”
And what are some of those overlapping explanations and uncertainties? Well, even as Cohn points out, there are unfathomable (sorry…pun intended) ocean influences…although sea surface temperatures and the upper heat content didn’t increase over the last decade by enough to account for the “missing heat” that greenhouse gas emissions should have trapped in the Earth’s climate system but couldn’t find.
So some scientists (including Kevin Trenberth) have speculated that the heat may have taken a dive into the deep ocean, beneath 700 meters (where lamentably, there are no reliable temperature measurements). And how have they arrived at this hypothesis? Well, perhaps you already guessed the answer. Of course! They developed some hypothetical, unproven guess-work models.
Another theory attributes the lack of warming to an increase in stratospheric aerosol levels since 2002. Although there hasn’t been a large volcanic eruption to blame since 1991, some have correlated this with increased coal burning from South and East Asia.
Worse Yet…Some Very Chilling Prospects.
Yes, and there are other scientists who think that the heat is missing because it never made it into the Earth’s climate system in the first place due to the fact that the sun’s energy output ebbs and wanes. In fact, scientists at Russia’s prestigious Pulkovo Observatory in St. Petersburg have stated that solar activity is waning to such an extent that the global average yearly temperature will begin to decline into a very cold and protracted climate phase.
Observatory head Habibullo Abdussamatov, one of the world’s leading solar scientists, member of the Russian Academy of Science, and director of the Russian segment of the International Space Station, points out that over the last 1,000 years deep cold periods have occurred five times. Each is correlated with declines in solar irradiance much like we are experiencing now with no human influence. “A global freeze will come about regardless of whether or not industrialized countries put a cap on their greenhouse gas emissions. The common view of Man’s industrial activity as a deciding factor in global warming has emerged from a misinterpretation of cause and effect.”
Murry Salby, a climate scientist at Macquarie University in Sydney, agrees about the cause and effect reversal: “in the real world, global temperature is not controlled exclusively by CO2, as it is in the model world…in significant part CO2 is controlled by global temperature, as it is in the proxy record.” Salby points out that when models that have been predicting CO2-induced heating differ from direct observations, then they’re wrong, calling practices that claim otherwise a “cult science.”
Climate of Fear for Alarmists…Fewer People are Listening.
There can be little doubt that ongoing climate science consensus bleatings are receiving less and less of a howling response. According to Pew Research, fewer than half of all Americans now believe that scientists agree that warming is mostly due to human activities, down from 59 percent in 2006 to 45 percent today. And according to their annual policy priorities survey released last January, only 28 percent of those polled believed that global warming was a top priority for the President and Congress to address this year (ranking at the bottom of the 21 priorities listed). Four in ten of those who said it should be a top priority were Democrats, compared with only 13 percent of Republicans and about 30 percent of Independents.
Referring to flat temperatures and cooling public trust, The Economist observes that “there’s no getting around the fact that this reprieve for the planet is bad news for proponents of policies, such as carbon taxes and emission treaties, meant to slow warming by moderating the release of greenhouse gases.” The article points out that the moralizing stridency behind such policies was founded upon the idea that there is a scientific consensus about how much warming there would be if carbon emissions continue to rise according to a particular trend and heated debates regarding the economic and social damage that will result. “If that consensus is now falling apart, as it seems to be, that is, for good or ill, a very big deal.”
The Economist concludes: “The reality is that the already meager prospects of these policies, in America at least, will be devastated if temperatures do fall outside the lower bound of the projections that environmentalists have used to create a panicked sense of emergency. Whether or not impossible, to sell to the public, which will feel, not unreasonably, that the scientific and media establishment has cried wolf.”
No, that’s really not unreasonable at all. But there are a couple of larger issues. First, will someone at the New York Times please inform the President about this? Even more important…will he really care to know?
CFACT Advisor Larry Bell heads the graduate program in space architecture at the University of Houston. He founded and directs the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture. He is also the author of “Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax.”