Tag Archives: climate change

How accurate are climate scientists’ findings? Look at ocean warming.

Summary:  This might be one of the more important of our 3500 posts. It looks at an often asked question about climate science — how accurate are its findings, a key factor when we make decisions about trillions of dollars (and affecting billions of people). The example examined is ocean heat content, a vital metric since the oceans absorbing 90%+ of global warming. How accurate are those numbers? The error bars look oddly small, especially compared to those of sea surface temperatures. This also shows how work from the frontiers of climate science can provide problematic evidence for policy action. Different fields have different standards.

“The spatial pattern of ocean heat content change is the appropriate metric to assess climate system heat changes including global warming.”
— Climate scientists Roger Pielke Sr. (source).

Warming of the World Ocean

NOAA: Yearly Vertically Averaged Temperature Anomaly 0-2000 meters layer

NOAA website’s current graph of Yearly Vertically Averaged Temperature Anomaly 0-2000 meters with error bars (±2*S.E.). Very tiny error bars. Reference period is 1955–2006.

Posts at the FM website report the findings of the peer-reviewed literature and major climate agencies, and compare them with what we get from journalists and activists (of Left and Right). This post does something different. It looks at some research on the frontiers of climate science, and its error bars.

The subject is “World ocean heat content and thermosteric sea level change (0–2000 m), 1955–2010” by Sydney Levitus et al, Geophysical Research Letters, 28 May 2012. Also see his presentation. The bottom line: from 1955-2010 the upper 700 meters of the World Ocean warmed (volume mean warming) by 0.18°C (Abraham 2013 says that it warmed by ~0.2°C during 1970-2012). The upper 2,000m warmed by 0.09°C, which “accounts for approximately 93% of the warming of the earth system that has occurred since 1955.”

Levitus 2012 puts that in perspective by giving two illustrations. First…

“If all the heat stored in the world ocean since 1955 was instantly transferred to the lowest 10 km (5 miles) of the atmosphere, this part of the atmosphere would warm by ~65°F. This of course will not happen {it’s just an illustration}.”

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90% of the biggest Yosemite glacier has melted. Did we do it?

Summary: Climate activists provide journalists with vivid stories about global warming, inciting public action to regulate CO2 emissions. Such as the recent surge of articles describing the melting Lyell Glacier in Yosemite Park as warnings of our future. They misrepresent the science by conflating natural and anthropogenic warming, an example of activists’ tactics which have failed despite decades of effort.

Melting of the Lyell Glacier

Glacier was once Yosemite’s largest; now it’s almost gone” by Tom Stienstra in the San Francisco Chronicle of 16 October 2015.

The Lyell Glacier in Yosemite Park is one of climate activists’ “poster children” for global warming. Recently there has been another surge of articles such as “Glacier was once Yosemite’s largest; now it’s almost gone” by Tom Stienstra in the San Francisco Chronicle of 16 October 2015…

The glacier has lost about 90% of its volume and 80% of its surface area from 1883 to 2015, according to Stock and Peter Devine, a naturalist with the Yosemite Conservancy who has studied the Lyell Glacier for 30 years. Stock and a crew of geologists measured the perimeter of the glacier with a GPS in the last week of September.

“’I think about John Muir a lot up there on the glacier,’ Stock said. ‘I try to envision what it was like when Muir was here. It would have been so different. I think about what (Francois) Matthes (of the U.S. Geological Survey) said in 1935, about why we need to measure our glaciers, that glaciers are sensitive indicators of climate change.’

“… At one point, Devine turned to get one last glimpse of the Lyell Glacier. ‘It’s like saying goodbye to an old friend,’ Devine said. ‘It’s hard to believe that the glacier that John Muir found and that I’ve loved for most of my life looks like it will be gone.’”

Other recent examples are “You Can Barely Even See Yosemite’s Largest Glacier Anymore” by Ria Misra at GIZMODO and “Incredible images show how the Lyell Glacier has lost nearly 80% of its surface area since 1883” at the Daily Mail. An older example is “Yosemite’s largest ice mass is melting fast” by Louis Sahagun in the LAT of 1 October 2013.

These show one of the major climate scams: describing the effects of two centuries of warming as purely anthropogenic (see other examples below). In fact much of the warming of the past two centuries is a natural recovery from the Little Ice Age.  Our CO2 emissions skyrocketed after WWII (see data here), becoming a major driver of warming. Which is why the IPCC’s AR5 says “It is extremely likely (95 – 100% certain) that human activities caused more than half of the observed increase in global mean surface temperature from 1951 to 2010.” (See this for details.). Attributing all glacial melting to our actions is a material misrepresentation of the facts.

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The New Yorker’s “The Siege of Miami” reveals a serious problem

Summary: Today’s post examines a recent example of climate fear-mongering. Not only is this misleading (at best), but it shows how this propaganda makes it more difficult for us to clearly see the world and respond to its many dangers.

AR5: projections of rising sea level

Today’s fear-mongering: “The Siege of Miami

By Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker
“As temperatures climb, so, too, will sea levels.”

The city of Miami Beach floods on such a predictable basis that if, out of curiosity or sheer perversity, a person wants to she can plan a visit to coincide with an inundation. Knowing the tides would be high around the time of the “super blood moon,” in late September, I arranged to meet up with Hal Wanless, the chairman of the University of Miami’s geological-sciences department. Wanless, who is seventy-three, has spent nearly half a century studying how South Florida came into being. From this, he’s concluded that much of the region may have less than half a century more to go.

… According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sea levels could rise by more than three feet by the end of this century. The United States Army Corps of Engineers projects that they could rise by as much as five feet; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts up to six and a half feet. According to Wanless, all these projections are probably low. In his office, Wanless keeps a jar of meltwater he collected from the Greenland ice sheet. He likes to point out that there is plenty more where that came from.

“Many geologists, we’re looking at the possibility of a ten-to-thirty-foot range by the end of the century,” he told me.

Fear-mongering like this is the path to fame for journalists and scientists in today’s America. Let’s look at Kolbert’s well-written propaganda.

“According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sea levels could rise by more than three feet by the end of this century.”

That is the high-end of the range to the worst of the four scenarios considered by the IPCC’s AR5 (RCP8.5; see the graph above).  Professor Wanless forgets to mention that the low-end for that scenario is only 21 inches, that RCP8.5 makes unlikely assumptions about population and technology (e.g., the late 21stC is a coal-burning world like the late-19th), and that the IPCC gives only “medium confidence” to their sea-level projections. See AR5’s conclusions here.

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COP21 has ended. Here’s why it was a milestone in the history of climate policy.

Summary: Here’s an after-action review of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris. Historic or forgettable? It was both, in different ways. {First of two posts today.}

COP21 Logo

World leaders agree to historic climate accord
By Timothy Cama at The Hill, 12 December 2015

World leaders Saturday adopted an historic international climate accord in Paris, the first-ever agreement to commit almost every country to fight climate change.

The 31-page pact does not have binding language or a mechanism to force countries to live up to the promises to cut greenhouse gases emissions or provide money for developing and poor nations to cope with the effects of global warming.

Nonetheless, leaders and the environmental community hailed the United Nations agreement has a historic turning point that has the potential to stave off the worst expected effects of global warming. Adoption of the accord is a major win for President Obama. He has made it a central piece of his second-term climate agenda to get an international agreement, since domestic action can only make a small dent in the world’s greenhouse gases.

COP21 produced an agreement, therefore it is a “win” for Obama — at least by his standards (according to The Hill). I doubt future historians will judge this accomplishment so generously, probably deeming it neither as “historic” nor a “win for Obama.” More likely it will be like its predecessors, lost in the dustbin of history.

This conference has followed the pattern of previous climate conferences. They are preceded by announcements that this is the last chance to prevent climate doom. Here are examples from the 2009 Copenhagen Conference; here is a larger set of examples from the past decade.

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Yesterday’s Senate hearing shows why climate policy has gridlocked

Summary: Here is the video and transcript of a revealing discussion at yesterday’s Senate hearing about climate change. It shows in miniature how the debate about public policy to fight climate change has become gridlocked.

Cover of "Turning the Tide On Climate Change" by Robert Kandel

Cover of “Turning the Tide On Climate Change” by Robert Kandel (2009)

Hearing by the Senate Commerce Committee:
“Data or Dogma? Promoting Open Inquiry in the Debate
Over the Magnitude of the Human Impact on Earth’s Climate”.

I recommend attention to the Q&A at the hearing between Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), Judith Curry (Prof Atmospheric Science, GA Inst Tech), and Mark Steyn (arts reviewer and conservative activist, introduced by Senator Cruz as “an international bestselling author, a Top Five jazz recording artist, and a leading Canadian human rights activist”).

You can see a video of the hearing and the witnesses’ written testimony at the Senate website. Here is Prof Curry’s verbal testimony. The witnesses mostly rehashed material long-familiar to anyone following both sides of the debate (but, as usual, astonishing to the majority following only one side).

I found the Q&A more interesting, as it nicely illustrates why this important issue has become gridlocked — and policy discussions like Kabuki (formal opera, predictable but entertaining).

The transcript appears below, followed by a few comments by me.

——————– Computer-generated transcript ——————–

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The climate change crisis as seen from 2100 AD (a business as usual scenario)

Summary: To share the excitement of the UN Conference of Parties in Paris (COP21) let’s imagine how the people of 2100 AD will see the world, an exercise giving us a better perspective on the choices facing us. This post describes a “business as usual” scenario, an antidote to the prophecies of doom flooding the news. This is the fourth post in a series attempting to understand the final chapters of the campaign for public policy measures to fight climate change.

World in A Forest


The campaign for public policy action to fight climate change relies on visions of a horrific future. Most of these have their roots in the RCP8.5 scenario used in the IPCC’s Assessment Report 5, one of its 4 Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs). While AR5 provided little information about RCP8.5, it was appropriately used as a worst case outcome for the 21st century — showing a future where long trends in tech progress and population growth reverse, creating a crowded late 21st century world that (like the 19thC) relies mostly on coal (details here). RCP8.5 should reassure us, showing that this worst case outcome is unlikely.

But before and after AR5 activists (including activist scientists) scored a propaganda coup, wrongly describing it as the “business as usual” scenario — using it to manufacture nightmarish visions without explaining RCP8.5’s unlikely assumptions (many examples here). Journalists loved these stories.

I’ve found no attempts to describe a realistic “business as usual” scenario, so here’s a rough draft as an antidote to the fearmongerers. This describes continued tech progress (solar power was space science in the 1960s, it is on your neighbor’s roof today), declining fertility (Iran’s fertility was 6.0% in 1980, it’s ~1.6 now, far below the replacement rate of 2.1), and consensus estimates of the climate’s sensitivity to CO2.

To frame this description, let’s ask ourselves how might The Britannica’s 2100 edition describe the campaign of 1988 – 2015 for massive public policy action to fight climate change? This exercise can help us gain better perspective about our own time.

A more reasonable “business as usual” scenario, seen from 2100 AD

One interesting if little-known story of the transitional period between the 20th and 21st centuries was the last large-scale outbreak of eschatological fears — that the world’s end was coming, visions of an imminent end time combining fear of death and the fear (or eagerness) for judgment. These were common in western history, becoming more frequent as the rate of social and technological change accelerated during the first three industrial revolutions.

Previous outbursts prepared society, with fears of collapse from pollution, overpopulation, and “peak oil”. See their entries for explanations of these terms. In brief, “pollution” resulted largely from release of byproducts of that era’s industrial chemical processes, before the breakthroughs of catalytic chemistry. People worried about overpopulation before the baby-bust of 2030-2080, never imagining that today only large subsidies for child-rearing maintain our population at 2 billion. Peak oil described fears that centuries of technological process had ended so that the late 21st century would be powered by coal (before the invention of the Flynn-Fletcher fusion generator in 2030).

All of these things were predicted in outline by experts at that time — but people’s fears proved stronger than their confidence, despite the repeated failure of doomsters’ predictions. The movement gained a large following on the Left, but never gained a majority in America — and remained a minority concern in most emerging nations (e.g., in China, many of whose leaders considered it another western tactic to restrict their development).

The campaign was stymied by early — and fatal — tactical errors. First, they allowed activists of the Left to hijack it as a means to advance their political goals — from increasing government control over the economy to substantially changing the current economic system (e.g., Naomi Klein). This made climate change a partisan issue. Large-scale political change in the US usually requires a bipartisan support, difficult to achieve in the divided governments of the early 21st century. This became almost impossible after climate change policy became politicized.

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Activists go thru 5 stages of grief for the climate change campaign

Summary: Climate activists have begun to see the failure of their campaign to get public policy measures to fight climate change. Their actions follow the five stages of grief in the Kübler-Ross model. This helps us predict what comes next, and prepare. For example, stage four (bargaining) offers an opportunity to gain something from the expensive policy gridlock in this vital area. This is the third in a series attempting to understand the ending of this 26-year-story and find in it some useful lessons for the future.

“The time for debate has ended.”
— True words by Marcia McNutt (editor-in-Chief of Science, next President of the NAS) in “The beyond-two-degree inferno“, editorial in Science, 3 July 2015.

The 5 stages of grief in the Kübler-Ross model
Five Stages of Grief

The final chapters appear to have come in the great campaign to enact public policy measures against climate change. Twenty-six years have passed since James Hansen’s Senate testimony and ten since Al Gore’s speech (predicting a “time of consequences” with, among other things, more Katrinas). Despite support from the Left, academia, journalists, and the major science institutions — yet after 20 years they had achieved only minor support from most developed nations and almost nothing from the emerging world.

Activists responded with ever-more extreme predictions of doom from climate change. The scientists working with the IPCC refused to support most claims of a certain coming catastrophe, most recently in their 2012 Special Report on Extreme Events and Disasters and in 2014’s Working Group I of AR5 (e.g., about methane). Activists responded by denigrating the IPCC. From the “gold standard of climate science”, it became “too conservative” (e.g., Inside Climate News, The Daily Climate, Yale’s Environment 360, Naomi Klein). This too had little effect on public opinion.

Climate activists hoped for a boost from either a large weather event or President Obama. Obama did little until this year he then made only a small step with his Clean Power Plan (phasing out coal, but not addressing oil or natural gas). Activists attempted to blame CO2 for several large weather events, but were often frustrated by denials from the major climate agencies (e.g., NOAA about the 2012 Central Plains Drought and the California drought).

By 2015 climate change was moving off the center stage, as it consistently ranked near the bottom of the US public’s major policy concerns. Newspapers reassigned staff to hotter stories (the LAT in 2008, the NYT in 2013). Presidential candidates of both parties muted their climate change policies. The COP21 festival seems likely to produce few results (just like its predecessors).

The death of a large joint effort creates grief, best described (impressionistically) by the five stages of the Kübler-Ross model. This fits the recent actions of climate activists. First there is…

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