Procrastinating About The Pause
The world is entering the 16th year of the greatest climate science embarrassment in modern history—the pause in global warming. Despite rising IPCC confidence levels and hundreds of computer model predictions, that darned old climate is just not behaving like the boffins say it should. After all, CO2 keeps rising, and we all know that CO2 drives Earth's climate like the thermostat in a house... or not. No longer able to sweep the lack of warming under the observational rug, the climate change community had started flailing about for answers: the heat must be hiding deep in the ocean, it must be soot from China, some have even begun to wonder whether there is something wrong with their models. Most are still convinced that the missing heat is hidden somewhere because they will not accept the simplest explanation—the theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming is fundamentally incorrect.
In a year that has seen a boat full of intrepid tree-huggers get stuck in the Antarctic summer ice and North America pummeled by Arctic fronts, the likes of which not experience for decades, it is difficult to convince the average Earthling that the ecosphere is in deadly danger from global warming. Just as the warming climate of the last three decades of the 20th Century helped make the climate alarmists' claims seem more plausible, the Pause has made the global warming catastrophists look like a bunch of over educated Chicken Littles. Finally having to admit that the pause is not just a yearly fluctuation, the forces of AGW are trying to mount a counter attack. Their offensive has begun with a piece in the journal Nature:
For several years, scientists wrote off the stall as noise in the climate system: the natural variations in the atmosphere, oceans and biosphere that drive warm or cool spells around the globe. But the pause has persisted, sparking a minor crisis of confidence in the field. Although there have been jumps and dips, average atmospheric temperatures have risen little since 1998, in seeming defiance of projections of climate models and the ever-increasing emissions of greenhouse gases. Climate sceptics have seized on the temperature trends as evidence that global warming has ground to a halt. Climate scientists, meanwhile, know that heat must still be building up somewhere in the climate system, but they have struggled to explain where it is going, if not into the atmosphere. Some have begun to wonder whether there is something amiss in their models.
Notice the modest room for doubt inserted in the last sentence, as if to prove that the warmist lobby is actually open-minded about climate change. Nothing could be further from the truth. That pack of public purse parasites are nothing if not persistent. The latest idea floated is that the El Niño of 1997–98 tipped the equatorial Pacific into a prolonged cold state that has suppressed global temperatures ever since. This was preceded by the pumping of prodigious quantities of heat out of the oceans and into the atmosphere, a trend now reversed.
The Pacific cycles between warm, El Niño, and cold, La Niña, phases.
“The 1997 to ’98 El Niño event was a trigger for the changes in the Pacific, and I think that’s very probably the beginning of the hiatus,” says Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado. According to this theory, the tropical Pacific should snap out of its prolonged cold spell in the coming years.“Eventually,” Trenberth says, “it will switch back in the other direction.”
Brilliant. It has been getting colder and could get colder still, but eventually it will get warmer. It's the bloody climate! It's always getting colder or warmer, in cycles that operate over years, decades, centuries, millennia, and even millions of years. The unvoiced truth here is that all of the climate model based simulations that were held up as “proof” that the climate was going awry were wrong. All of them. Simulations conducted in advance of the 2013–14 assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggest that the warming should have continued at an average rate of 0.21°C per decade from 1998 to 2012. Instead, the observed warming during that period was just 0.04°C per decade, as measured by the UK Met Office in Exeter and the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK.
According to Jeff Tollefson, a science writer at Nature, the simplest explanation for both the pause and the model prediction discrepancies is natural variability. Chaotic climate fluctuations can send global temperatures up or down from year to year and even decade to decade. Supposedly, climate models suggest that long-lasting global heatwaves and cold snaps can occur as the world warms under the influence of greenhouse gases.
“But none of the climate simulations carried out for the IPCC produced this particular hiatus at this particular time,” Tollefson opines. “That has led sceptics — and some scientists — to the controversial conclusion that the models might be overestimating the effect of greenhouse gases, and that future warming might not be as strong as is feared.”
In other words, climate theory, at least when it comes to sensitivity to atmospheric CO2 levels, could be wrong. That is how science works: theories are proposed; then they are tested by comparison to the real world; if they are proven wrong or found wanting they are replaced by new theories. Repeat as necessary. Why has it proven so difficult for climate scientists to back away from the outrageous claims they made decades ago?
Not so long ago, warmist climate types were saying you needed ten or fifteen years to establish a real trend. Many researchers still caution against evaluating models on the basis of a relatively short-term blip in the climate, but the “If you are interested in global climate change, your main focus ought to be on timescales of 50 to 100 years,” says Susan Solomon, a climate scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The time-frame changes but the song remains the same.
According to Judith Curry, a professor at Georgia Institute of Technology's School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences: “Solomon should have stated that if you are interested in the climate response to a long-term secular buildup of greenhouse gases, then your main focus should be timescales of 50-100 years. I agree with this. And if you look at the last 100 years, you have that other inconvenient pause to explain: 1940-1975.”
The Pacific cycles have been controlling short-term climate change for decades.
In their near panic, some climatologists are looking to the Sun's changing output for an explanation. Energy received from the Sun tends to wax and wane on an 11-year cycle, but some researchers suggest that longer term variability in our star's output could explain things like the Medieval Warm Period or the Little Ice Age, perhaps even the recent modest warming trend. Even when new mechanisms that amplify the Sun's natural variability were discovered, the linkage between climate change and the Sun's output was poo-pooed by the climate change establishment.
Indeed, the Sun entered a prolonged lull around the turn of the millennium. The natural 11-year cycle has again passed its peak, and the recent solar maximum proved to be the weakest in a century. “This could help to explain both the hiatus and the discrepancy in the model simulations, which include a higher solar output than Earth has experienced since 2000,” writes Tollefson. But no, that would be too logical, too easy. Besides we have the culprit, that daemon carbon dioxide. The missing global warming must be here somewhere. Frantic warmists have turned to the Ocean, the equatorial Pacific in particular, in the hunt for the missing heat:
Just before the hiatus took hold, that region had turned unusually warm during the El Niño of 1997–98, which fuelled extreme weather across the planet, from floods in Chile and California to droughts and wildfires in Mexico and Indonesia. But it ended just as quickly as it had begun, and by late 1998 cold waters — a mark of El Niño’s sister effect, La Niña — had returned to the eastern equatorial Pacific with a vengeance. More importantly, the entire eastern Pacific flipped into a cool state that has continued more or less to this day.
Others have jumped on the El Niño/La Niña bandwagon, including Shang-Ping Xie and Yu Kosaka from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Typical of modern climatologists, they turned to modeling. By driving a model with actual sea surface temperatures from recent decades, their model reportedly recreated the pause in global temperature rise, and even reproduced some of the seasonal and regional climate trends occurring during the hiatus.
Comparison of predicted and actual temperatures.
In the historical (HIST) experiment the model is forced with observed atmospheric composition changes and the solar cycle. In the Pacific Ocean–Global Atmosphere (POGA) experiments, sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies in the equatorial eastern Pacific (8.2% of the Earth’s surface) follow observed measurements. While their result is certainly an improvement over other modeling attempts it is really not a surprise that, when you force a model with the observed temperature over time, you end up getting output that closely follows the real temperatures. There is an old saying: “If you torture the data long enough it will tell you what you want to hear.” Computer models simply automate the process of data abuse.
More impressive, Mark Cane, a climatologist at Columbia University, was the first to predict the current cooling in the Pacific back in 2004, although the implications weren’t clear at the time. “I believe the evidence is pretty clear,” he said. “It’s not about aerosols or stratospheric water vapor; it’s about having had a decade of cooler temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific.”
But the models do not explain everything says John Fyfe, a climate modeler at the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis, commenting on the paper by Xie and Kosaka. “What it skirted was the question of what is driving the tropical cooling.”
Assuming the mechanism behind the climate oscillation is the shifting water temperatures in the Pacific, could this mean that the vaunted temperature rise that drove the global warming debate during the 80s and 90s was caused by the ocean dumping heat it had already stored up as part of a natural cycle? Once the heat was released into the atmosphere it was eventually radiated back into space during a period of relatively high solar activity. In the meantime, the ocean is now doing the reverse, cooling the atmosphere. Reinforcing the cooling trend, scientists report the Sun's activity is at its lowest for 100 years. Some are even warning of a new “Maunder Minimum” and an accompanying plunge in global temperatures.
The recent solar maximum was the weakest in 100 years.
Has the Sun gone to sleep? Are we about to swing from global warming to a new Ice Age? Nobody really knows (and if they say they do they are lying). Human climate science is still a crude, inexact practice and its practitioners are a lot less knowledgeable than they let on. Yet the dire warnings continue to flow from the warmist camp, accompanied by demands for more funding for “research.” In reality, the current climate change debate is nothing more than special interest politics competing in the news media for fame and public funding.
Nassim Taleb and Constantine Sandis published a paper expounding what they termed the “Skin In The Game Heuristic.” Though aimed primarily at the field of statistics, the author's posit that anyone making claims or predictions that could profit themselves while bringing harm to others should be held responsible for their actions: “We propose a global and morally mandatory heuristic that anyone involved in an action which can possibly generate harm for others, even probabilistically, should be required to be exposed to some damage, regardless of context.”
Therein lies the problem with global warming research—the predicted damage occurs far in the future, beyond the lifetimes of the scientists yammering on about climate catastrophes on the horizon. If the predictions do not come true, there will still be immense damage of an economic nature—ruined industries and ruined lives because of irrational fear spread by people all long retired and mostly long dead.
With little threat of contradiction, the inertia of group think—the much ballyhooed consensus—holds fast. John Tooby captured the essence of scientific consensus: “Because intellectuals are densely networked in self-selecting groups whose members' prestige is linked, we incubate endless, self-serving elite superstitions, with baleful effects.”
On the other hand, for climate researchers the global warming panic has been a goldmine. Government funds have been showered on researchers at universities and government agencies in an effort to cover politicians' posteriors. For climate scientists the profits are in the present and the risk of being wrong far in the uncertain future. In short, they have no skin in the game, nothing to lose and everything to gain by pandering to the green lobby and other climate cranks.
Skeptics like myself have been branded “climate criminals” by the more thuggish wing of the environmental movement, and some dissenting scientists have received death threats. I say we should level the playing field. All those blithely predicting climate doom should be held accountable for their half-assed predictions. Those whose models were used to bolster the outrageous claims made by the IPCC and their ilk should be defunded at the least and their respective financial sources should demand their money back.
I am not saying researchers should not be building models or even publishing their results, but when they take the leap from incomplete, hypothetical models to claiming the end is nigh they should be held financially responsible. As long as there is no prospect of punishment for those who shout “catastrophic global warming” in a crowded planet, the farce that is AGW will continue.
Be safe, enjoy the interglacial and stay skeptical.