13 July 2009

Two Decades of No Warming, Consistent With . . .

Over at Real Climate they are busy giving climate skeptics reason to cheer:
We hypothesize that the established pre-1998 trend is the true forced warming signal, and that the climate system effectively overshot this signal in response to the 1997/98 El Niño. This overshoot is in the process of radiatively dissipating, and the climate will return to its earlier defined, greenhouse gas-forced warming signal. If this hypothesis is correct, the era of consistent record-breaking global mean temperatures will not resume until roughly 2020.
Imagine, twenty-two or more years (1998 to ~2020) of no new global temperature record. What would that do to the debate?

Real Climate does say something very smart in the piece (emphasis added):
Nature (with hopefully some constructive input from humans) will decide the global warming question based upon climate sensitivity, net radiative forcing, and oceanic storage of heat, not on the type of multi-decadal time scale variability we are discussing here. However, this apparent impulsive behavior explicitly highlights the fact that humanity is poking a complex, nonlinear system with GHG forcing – and that there are no guarantees to how the climate may respond.
As I've argued many times, uncertainty is a far batter reason for justifying action than overhyped claims to certainty, or worse, claims that any possible behavior of the climate system is somehow "consistent with" expectations. Policy makers and the public can handle uncertainty, its the nonsense they have trouble with.


  1. Every tax, regulation and statute which is enforced upon citizens of the world in the name of climate change has a cost (else it would not be necessary to force it) which degrades living standards.

    Degraded living standards mean greater poverty, disease and earlier death for the world's poorest. Those are very real costs.

    I can't imagine a moral calculus which would impose such costs on the world's poorest without the greater threat of AGW having been established by solid evidence AND the costs having been similarly established by solid evidence as being necessary and able to relieve the threat.

    Anything less would be morally cavalier about the costs borne by the world's poor.

  2. You write:

    "As I've argued many times, uncertainty is a far batter reason for justifying action "

    Which I simply read as a srestatement of the fatally flawed precautionary principle.

    Uncertainy is why we should avoid locking in costly policy. Governments should stay out for now. This is a bitter fact that needs to be accepted by those involved in policy research, like yourself.

    There is no place for targets, subsidies, laws, directives, artificial markets yet.

    Although you write thoughtfully Roger, there are times yo have all the hallmarks of an advocate. To be an Honest Broker as a political scientist, requires a regular consideration of the reasons why you, personally, might be promoting or supporting policy action (any policy action).

  3. In synch with Dot Earth on this issue. Can climate campaigns survive a cooling test?> http://bit.ly/dotCool
    More here: http://bit.ly/dotCool2
    -- Andy R.

  4. As far as the science goes, Swanson is heading in the right direction.

    If anyone is interested, I have posted a reply to Swanson's post, here:


    Carl Wolk

  5. There is a degree of misleading from what Roger has quoted from Realclimate when they say that "humanity is poking a complex, nonlinear system with GHG forcing".

    Weather/Climate is not just "complex", it is chaotic. There's a fundamental difference in understanding between the two descriptions. Because it is chaotic, there isn't the ability to build predictive models as they quickly collapse as Gavin Schmidt pointed out last month. Its also why the IPCC calls the models they use as "scenarios" or to quote Kevin Trenberth "story lines".

    This is why I have issues with the sentiments behind the Realclimate quote I have highlighted. If you make a linear change such as increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere to a non-linear chaotic climate system and expect some sort of linear response, you haven't understood the nature of chaos.

    One particularly scary implication of understanding the chaotic nature of our climate is that transitional shifts in climate patterns can occur without any external forcing. Ultimately, uncertainty is the only state which humanity can have about the climate. To pretend otherwise is to delude oneself. We could decarbonate the global economy and still experience temperature increasing by 2 degrees or more. Equally, we could pump out as much carbon emissions as we could and still slip into another ice age.

    Hence I believe that the latest hypothesis from Realclimate is not usable in terms of policy-making. This isn't to say that pattern recognition isn't important in climate research, its just that the extrapolations need to be taken with a large amount of salt.

  6. What is uncertainty? In the absence of any certainty you have uncertainty which is the norm, certainty is a construct, a hypothesis, it does not exist in any form that is known. Therefore as only uncertainty is existent what else would you justify in its name, precisely how far would you go in trying to avoid whatever it is you are uncertain about, life, death, life after life? Maybe John Christy can help, what about the better safe that sorry argument? (uncertainty) Even if there's a chance Gore and Hansen are wrong, shouldnt we still take action in order to protect ourselves from catastrophe, just in case they are right? Answer. The problem is that the solutions being offered dont provide any detectable relief from this so called catastrophe. Congress is now discussing an 80% reduction in US green house gase emissions by 2050. That is basically the equivalent of building 1,000 new nuclear power plants all operating by 2020. Now I am all in favour of nuclear energy, but that would affect the global temperature by only seven hundredths of a degree by 2050 and fifteen hundredths by 2100. We wouldnt even notice it.

    Basically I am uncertain as to what might happen tomorrow, what do you think I should do, have my palms read, tealeaves might provide a relief, maybe Al Gore really can tell the future, maybe computers can sterilise data, remove all of the conflicting evidence, destroy history but I think not. What worries me is that prior to humanity planet Earth suffered the most severe and daunting attacks on its survival possibilities, ice ages, volcanoes, continent displacement, climate change so severe that the Arabian Gulf morphed from green paradise to torrid desert completed unaided by Co2 or the lack of it yet we humans are pouring huge volumes into the atmosphere and all we get is maybe a 2 deg rise in temperature, just enough to make the crops grow easier, I think that is rather odd. Something that is also very odd is that now we are told that what happens in the next 30 years is already built in and we cant change it, just another case of double speak necessary because very little has happened, no severe environmental attacks, zero that has not happened before and worse, Co2 rises and the temperature cools but thats because it overshot and now its regulating itself. Seems to me like a bunch of overpaid muppets looking for yet another research grant.

    Its utopia time for muppet scientists, they have having a field day with their anomalies and ninyos and forcings and negative forcings, pure flumery, jargon for the masses and food for thought when politicians starved of reputation go looking for other ways to raise taxes and support their empires. My solution is to lock the scientists away for 20 years and only let them out if they are proven right otherwise, let them rot, alongside the lame brained politicians of course.

    David Wells

  7. Mother nature doesnt do sums! What all of the various scientists and pseudo scientists are trying to do is manufacture a logical frame work in the vain endeavour of trying to work out exactly what happens with our climate and in truth that will never happen and even if it did some natural disaster would just upset the apple cart in one fell swoop so its a pointless endeavour and it really doesnt matter because as King Canute found out Mother Nature is just a smidgen more powerful than us humans who are a mere quirk of nature and infinitely disposable. Precisely why we get concerned overlosing a few hundred or thousand in Afganistan is beyond me or maybe we didnt notice that our population had crept upto 6.77 billion, more people die on our roads or from falling down stairs, 1500 did this last year. What is worrying though is the amount of money that intellectually challenged politicians think they should spend to hold back the tide - as if - it is true you know, there are more out than in, common sense is at a premium and now we know that even scientists forget all about morality and ethics and misrepresentation as soon as they see money dangled in front of their snouts, sorry forget about the pharmaceutical industry Oh and making bombs and weapons mustard gas, ground effect bombs, mines, nuclear weapons, chemicals, so now we really cant trust humanity at all can we just a bunch of snivelling snarks looking for a quick buck or a quick fix and probably both. Get a life and stop faffing about on blogs about climate change, you and your children will be dead before it gets worse if it ever does.

  8. Roger,
    Could you please update your post to make clear that the Realclimate.org post was a guest post by Kyle Swanson (co-author of the paper discussed), and not one of the Realclimate regulars.

    As Swanson himself points out, his work has been widely misinterpreted.

    Your first comment is an example of this: "consistent record-breaking global mean temperatures" (Swanson) is not equivalent to your charactarization of "twenty-two years of no new global temperature record". If the 2020s see a return to "consistent record breaking", as in the late 90s where HadCRU broke the record records three times in 1995-1998, it is also probable that the record would be broken at least once between now and 2020.

    And, of course, there *has* been a record set since 1998 (2005 in NASA GISTemp).

    In general, Swanson's hypothesis does not seem robust to differing choices of data sets. In fact, I can see no statistical evidence whatsoever of a so-called temporary "halt" in global warming in the GISS data set, and only weak evidence in HADCru.

    That and other problems are discussed in the commentary at Realclimate, as well as this post at Tamino's Open Mind:


  9. "In fact, I can see no statistical evidence whatsoever of a so-called temporary 'halt' in global warming in the GISS data set, and only weak evidence in HADCru."

    What do you see in the UAH satellite tropospheric measurements?


  10. And then there are the Remote Signal Systems' satellite temperature anomaly calculations:


  11. Here we have a statement that reveals the fundamental flaw in the current debate on climate change and proposed policy. Real Climate says:

    "However, this apparent impulsive behavior explicitly highlights the fact that humanity is poking a complex, nonlinear system with GHG forcing – and that there are no guarantees to how the climate may respond."

    True enough, but incomplete and very misleading. For one thing, Real Climate's whole purpose is to convince us that only one thing will happen...catastrophic warming. They only argue for carbon mitigation to prevent warming and not the adaptability to any possible change their statement would demand. More importantly, they are missing a more fundamental truth: All life changes (pokes a stick at) its environment.

    Real Climate assumes that humans should not have an impact on climate; that it is dangerous to do so. In a non-linear system, however, the lack of a poke is just as unprecictable as a poke. 'Bad' things could happen either way. Good things too.

    Uncertainty is the reality and decisions must be made with it in play. Those decisions should be made with the recognition that change is inevitable if life is to exist. Calls for stasis in climate, or any other aspect of the environment, are calls for death.

    Real Climate, like all AGW supporters, was forced to retreat to their ultimate argument...the Precautionary Principle. Of course, it is neither precautionary or a principle, because implementing it is just as likely to cause more harm than not. It is self- contradictory.