The Turning Of The Tide
Supporters of the CO2 driven theory of anthropogenic global warming (CAGW) are in full panic mode. The continued hiatus in global temperature increase has led to a flurry of statements denying “the pause,” as climate scientists have named it. This new denialism even extends to international organizations like the WHO, that just recently claimed that global warming had not ceased, even though numerous organizations—including Britain’s Meteorological Office, NASA, and the IPCC—have admitted that it has. Among climate change true believers there is a scramble on to “find the missing heat” that would explain the pause. Strangely, among these practitioners of group think there is no consensus about the cause of the pause. At the same time, the IPCC is about to release its latest screed regarding climate change and the leaks have been flowing fast and furious, saying there is dissent in the land of consensus. This may well be the turning of the tide on the greatest scientific hoax in history.
The number varies between 15 and 17 years but there is no doubt that the climate change cabal is worried. It seems Earth's temperature is stubbornly refusing to rise according to the demands of their computer models. Do not misunderstand, this is a big thing in climate circles. It could bring into doubt the entire house of cards that is CAGW. Even the Economist, a past cheerleader for the global warming crowd, has been forced to admit that something is rotten in climate science (see “Who pressed the pause button?”):
Still, attempts to explain away that stable average have not been convincing, partly because of the conflict between flat temperatures and rising CO2 emissions, and partly because observed temperatures are now falling outside the range climate models predict. The models embody the state of climate knowledge. If they are wrong, the knowledge is probably faulty, too. Hence attempts to explain the pause.
In short, the whole bloody story could be a sham. Many climate change apologists have put forth explanations. In fact, the explanations have come from so many quarters that the Economist has stated: “The slowdown in rising temperatures over the past 15 years goes from being unexplained to overexplained.” Let's review the leading explanations.
In September 2013 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) pointed to fluctuating solar output, atmospheric pollution and volcanoes. All three conspired to suppress global warming. Gavin Schmidt and two colleagues at NASA’s Goddard Institute quantify the effects of these trends in Nature Geoscience. They argue that climate models underplay the delayed and subdued solar cycle, and that volcanic activity since 2000 has been greater than previously thought. Here is how Schmidt et al. framed the conundrum in “Reconciling warming trends”:
Any divergence between real-world climate phenomena and prior expectations poses interesting science questions. The case of the apparent slow-down of warming since the record El Niño event in 1997/1998 is no exception. The global mean surface temperature trend was smaller1 between 1997 and 2013 (0.07±0.08 °C per decade) than over the last 50 years (0.16 ± 0.02 °C per decade), highlighting questions about the mechanisms that regulate decadal variability in the Earth's temperature. In addition, the warming trend in the most recent 15-year period is near the lower edge of the 5–95% range of projections from a collection of climate models that were part of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5). Why most of the model simulations suggest more warming than has been observed is a second question that deserves further exploration.
Tweaking their models for these missing factors can bring the predictions back into line with reality. As I have mentioned many times, you can tune a computer model to give you any output you desire. This is particularly easy after the fact, as Gavin and the GISS boys know. Below are some of the corrections and outputs from their model. “The adjusted ensemble spread (dashed grey) clearly shows the decadal impact of the updated drivers,” the authors claim, adding, “As an aside, we note that although it is convenient to use the CMIP5 ensemble to assess expected spreads in possible trends, the ensemble is not a true probabilistic sample.”
Recently, Dr. Judith Curry, Professor and Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has been shedding light on why climate models are such failable friends to climate scientists. “As temperatures have declined and climate models have failed to predict this decline, the IPCC has gained confidence in catastrophic warming and dismisses the pause as unpredictable climate variability,” she states on her blog. Moreover, “the IPCC does not have a convincing or confident explanation for the current hiatus in warming.”
Why? “The stagnation in greenhouse warming observed over the past 15+ years demonstrates that CO2 is not a control knob on climate variability on decadal time scales,” said Dr. Curry in testimony before the US Senate. The models' over-reliance on carbon dioxide as the primary driver of climate has bitten the hands of those who coded it into their models. As a result, the vast majority of their models failed to predict the pause as shown below.
Pick a model, any model and it will be wrong.
Another proposed explanation says the missing heat is hiding in the deep ocean. It is certainly true that Earth's oceans, especially the largest, the Pacific, absorb prodigious amount of heat energy, storing some and transport it around the globe. Several new studies link the pause with changes in the Pacific and the trade winds that influence the circulation of water within it. There are a number of normal, wholly natural cycles that center on the Pacific: the frequent El Niño and La Niña; a long-term cycle called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), which switches from a warm to a cool every 20 or 30 years; and a supposedly one-off increase in the strength of the trade winds during the past 20 years. This, according to Kevin Trenberth and John Fasullo of America’s National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), has produced a period of unexpected cooling.
“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,” said Trenberth in a news feature in Nature. According to this theory, the tropical Pacific should snap out of its prolonged cold spell sometime in the future. “Eventually,” Trenberth says, “it will switch back in the other direction.”
Trenberth is not alone in this hypothesis. According to a paper in Nature Climate Change, by Matthew England of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, University of New South Wales, the record trade winds have produced a super La Niña that is causing warm water to pile up at the western end of the Pacific. There it is getting buried by colder water, driving the heat deep into the ocean (see the figure below). This is known as the “the ocean ate my global warming” theory.
“[T]he pause has gone from being not explained to explained twice over—once by aerosols and the solar cycle, and again by ocean winds and currents,” the Economist article concludes. “These two accounts are not contradictory. The processes at work are understood, but their relative contributions are not.” This doesn't mean that the UK new magazine or the supporters of CAGW are folding their tents. Indeed, the article concludes with a flippant “like the Terminator, global warming will be back.” The global warming carnival never ends.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will publish their first update in seven years on the scale of the threat. This will be the second of three reports on the causes, effects and solutions to climate change. Leaked documents speak of significant effects on economies, food supplies and security. But some participants in the IPCC process say the summary, due out on March 31, is far too alarmist. An interesting piece on the BBC website, by Environment correspondent Matt McGrath, hints at dissent among the experts assembled by the UN agency to do its bidding.
IPCC scientists have distanced themselves from a number of their previous forecasts. Notable among these is the prediction of mass extinctions because of global warming. “There is very little confidence that the current models accurately predict the risk of extinction,” the new report states, contradicting previous IPCC tomes. In the draft report, no concrete numbers are mentioned for postulated extinction of species.
“The message in the first draft was that through adaptation and clever development these were manageable risks, but it did require we get our act together,” Prof Richard Tol, an economist at the University of Sussex, who has been the convening lead author of the chapter on economics, told BBC News. “This has completely disappeared from the draft now, which is all about the impacts of climate change and the four horsemen of the apocalypse.”
The IPCC opting for scare tactics over rational evaluation? Imagine that. Even the notoriously pro-global warming Met Office says a lot more work must be done to confirm the links that do appear in the report. While the new report is shaping up to be more nuanced, with far more emphasis on adaptation than the last one in 2007, it comes at a time when climate change has fallen off the political radar. Writing in Foreign Policy magazine, Professor Roger Pielke Jr. has hit the nail on the head when it comes to climate change's falling public profile. Here is how his article, “Climate of Failure,” begins:
The heady days of early 2009, when advocates for global action on climate change anticipated world leaders gathering later that year around a conference table in Copenhagen to reach a global agreement, are but a distant memory. Today, with many of these same leaders focusing their attention on jumpstarting economic growth, environmental issues have taken a back seat. For environmentalists, it may seem that climate policy has dropped from the political agenda altogether.
They're right. The world's biggest emitters have reached a consensus of sorts, but not the one hoped for in Copenhagen. In the United States, President Barack Obama has borrowed his energy policy — “all of the above” — from the Republicans. Europe has dithered on any further commitments to emissions reductions as governments have been completely consumed by the euro crisis. China and India have used the follow-on conferences to Copenhagen, held in Durban and Cancun, to decisively push international climate negotiations into the long weeds. Leaders' attention to climate policy is not coming back — at least not in any form comparable to the plans being discussed just a few years ago.
Pielke, who is a self described moderate in the climate change debate, goes on to say we should concentrate on attainable technologies to reduce our rampant CO2 emissions, primarily Natural Gas. He correctly labels carbon capture from coal and gas, large-scale wind, and solar technologically immature and expensive, especially when compared to gas. Lastly he tells the climate change alarmists and greens to forget a “mythical high carbon price” in today's political climate.
Professor Pielke is not alone in his call for more rational analysis of possible climate change impacts. Lenny Smith and Arthur Petersen have written a very interesting and insightful paper “Variations on Reliability: Connecting Climate Predictions to Climate Policy.” They question whether the statistical uncertainty adequately captures the relevant dominant uncertainty (RDU).
“While the IPCC has led the climate science community in codifying uncertainty characterisation, it has paid much less attention to specifying the RDU,” they state. “The focus is at times more on ensuring reproducibility of computation than on relevance(fidelity) to the Earth’s climate system, in fact it is not always easy to distinguish which of these two are being discussed.”
Barrack Obama is still offering lip service to green energy and climate change but he is rapidly becoming a political dinosaur. A recent Gallup poll shows that in the US climate change is way down on the list of things people are concerned about. This is very similar to the survey showing Europeans worrying a lot more about almost all issues other than global warming.
“While the climate wars will go on, characterized by a poisonous mix dodgy science, personal attacks, and partisan warfare, the good news is that progress can yet be made outside of this battle,” Pielke concludes. Yes, I would say that the tide has changed for climate change and those trying to make political gain from frightening the public with lurid tales of impending ecological doom.
Climate change alarmists will continue to prattle on about eco-apocalypse being just around the corner—just as soon as they can find the missing heat. The rest of us can get on with our lives, reassured by the knowledge that climate science hasn't a clue about what will happen in the future.
Be safe, enjoy the interglacial and stay skeptical.