About the imminent spike in global warming

Summary: Our dysfunctional politics result largely from polarized views of Americans, both sides shaped by skillful and expensive propaganda. To break free we’ll need to learn their methods and develop far deeper skepticism. This is another in a series of posts looking at examples of our minds being molded by pros. It discusses the work of climate activists, but it’s vital to understand that both sides do this — because it works.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Global Warming

Yesterday’s post discussed the largely erroneous framing in an article about climate change by investment expert Barry Ritholtz at Bloomberg. How do intelligent, educated people become so convinced by the propaganda of climate activists, dismissing any who disagree with them as “deniers”?

We might find an answer by looking at the work of activists, such as Joe Romm (note that most climate activists are paid employees, unlike most of those on the Right). This post follows his chain of evidence in a typical article, showing how his bold conclusions rest on misrepresentations of the literature, and exaggerating the scope and certainty of specific papers.

The work by activists have large effects because liberals often read only activists, giving them a misunderstanding of climate science — exacerbated because activists seldom cite the work of institutions like the IPCC (designed to make the work of scientists understandable to laypeople).

Today’s example: “NOAA Study Confirms Global Warming Speed-Up Is Imminent” at ThinkProgress, 5 June 201 — Opening …

A major new study from NOAA finds more evidence that we may be witnessing the start of the long-awaited jump in global temperatures. As I reported in April, many recent studies have found that we are about to enter an era of even more rapid global warming. … The new study in Science from a team of NOAA scientists, “finds that the rate of global warming during the last 15 years has been as fast as or faster than that seen during the latter half of the 20th Century,” as NOAA explains.

… What happens when these various temporary factors stop? Karl explained: “Once these factors play out, and they may have already, global temperatures could rise more rapidly than what we have seen so far.” In other words, the long-awaited jump is global temperatures is likely imminent.

The cracks appear right at the start of this. Note the jump between Karl’s careful “may have already … could rise” and Romm’s “likely imminent”. Romm also omits the cautious language Karl gives in the NOAA’s well-written (as always) press releases (first one, second one) …

“Adding in the last two years of global surface temperature data and other improvements in the quality of the observed record provide evidence that contradict the notion of a hiatus in recent global warming trends,” said Thomas R. Karl, LHD, Director, NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. “Our new analysis suggests that the apparent hiatus may have been largely the result of limitations in past datasets, and that the rate of warming over the first 15 years of this century has, in fact, been as fast or faster than that seen over the last half of the 20th century.”

Activists (Left and Right) often point to one study as definitive, ignoring the contrary conclusions of other studies and painting a false picture of a consensus in the literature. This is an important forecast, but there have been many forecasts showing that the pause will end sometime between now and several decades from now.

Romm mentions an earlier article showing that “many recent studies” find “that we are about to enter an era of even more rapid global warming”:  “Long-Awaited ‘Jump’ In Global Warming Now Appears ‘Imminent’” , 2 April 2015. Here’s the opening …

We may be witnessing the start of the long-awaited jump in global temperatures. There is “a vast and growing body of research,” as Climate Central explained in February. “Humanity is about to experience a historically unprecedented spike in temperatures.”  A March study, “Near-term acceleration in the rate of temperature change,” makes clear that an actual acceleration in the rate of global warming is imminent — with Arctic warming rising a stunning 1°F per decade by the 2020s.

This is quite an odd article. He sets the stage by listing dots of record warmth (ignoring cold records, or that most such records represent natural variation). These include an outright misrepresentations: “Antarctica appears to have set its all-time temperature record — 63.5°F (17.5°C) — on March 24 at the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.” That was at Base Esperanza: it’s not even inside the Antarctic circle, and has a record going back only to 1945 (hardly the vast record implied by “all-time”).

The rest of the article discusses the likely El Nino — a multi-year period of the Pacific releasing heat. While that will boost global temperatures, it’s part of a naturally occurring cycle — not an anthropogenic effect.

World burning

What about that alarming Climate Central article Romm cites?  It has the lurid title of “Looming Warming Spurt Could Reshape Climate Debate” by John Upton (journalist), 27 February 2015 — Opening…

Humanity is about to experience a historically unprecedented spike in temperatures. That’s the ominous conclusion of a vast and growing body of research that links sweeping Pacific Ocean cycles with rates of warming at the planet’s surface — warming rates that could affect how communities and nations respond to threats posed by climate change.

Papers in two leading journals this week reaffirmed that the warming effects of a substantial chunk of our greenhouse gas pollution have been avoided on land for the last 15 to 20 years because of a phase in a decades-long cycle of ocean winds and currents.

… The growing body of research helps explain why ocean temperatures have been rising faster than anticipated, and, perhaps more compellingly, why land temperatures rose less than models had projected after the turn of the century — a mystery, sometimes dubbed the warming “hiatus,” “pause” or “faux pause,” that confounded science until just the last couple of years.

These papers discuss one of the many explanations given in the recent literature for the pause. Neither gives evidence of “looming” warming (i.e., “about to happen”). Upton neglects to mention the many other theories, or even that there are other theories — which disproves that his implication that there is a consensus about the causes and likely duration of the pause.

The first of the two papers he cites is “Quantifying the likelihood of a continued hiatus in global warming“, Christopher D. Roberts et al, Nature Climate Change, April 2015 — It gives a specific forecast: “… we should not be surprised if the current hiatus continues until the end of the decade.” No mention of a “historically unprecedented spike in temperatures”.

The second paper Upton cites is “Atlantic and Pacific multidecadal oscillations and Northern Hemisphere temperatures” by Byron A. Steinman, Michael E. Mann, and Sonya K. Miller in Science, 27 February 2015. Their conclusion gives no specific forecast for its ending (let alone “looming”): “Given the pattern of past historical variation, this trend will likely reverse with internal variability instead, adding to anthropogenic warming in the coming decades. ”  No mention of a “historically unprecedented spike in temperatures”.

Tribal Truth

What does the link John Upton gives for “a vast and growing body of research” point to? It goes to his 22 December 2014 article “Clues in Coral Hint at Looming Temperature Spike“, which in turn points us to the not very alarming “Early twentieth-century warming linked to tropical Pacific wind strength” by Diane M. Thompson et al in Nature Geoscience, February 2015 — Abstract…

Of the rise in global atmospheric temperature over the past century, nearly 30% occurred between 1910 and 1940 when anthropogenic forcings were relatively weak. This early warming has been attributed to internal factors, such as natural climate variability in the Atlantic region, and external factors, such as solar variability and greenhouse gas emissions. However, the warming is too large to be explained by external factors alone and it precedes Atlantic warming by over a decade. For the late twentieth century, observations and climate model simulations suggest that Pacific trade winds can modulate global temperatures, but instrumental data are scarce in the early twentieth century.

Here we present a westerly wind reconstruction (1894–1982) from seasonally resolved measurements of Mn/Ca ratios in a western Pacific coral that tracks interannual to multidecadal Pacific climate variability. We then reconstruct central Pacific temperatures using Sr/Ca ratios in a coral from Jarvis Island, and find that weak trade winds and warm temperatures coincide with rapid global warming from 1910 to 1940. In contrast, winds are stronger and temperatures cooler between 1940 and 1970, when global temperature rise slowed down. We suggest that variations in Pacific wind strength at decadal timescales significantly influence the rate of surface air temperature change.

So we dig down to the end, and find our fears rest on the evidence provided by a coal reef. This is typical activism at work — picking a few studies out of the vast science literature to describe a certain future. This is the path to unreliable conclusions. I suggest instead relying on the IPCC and major climate agencies.

Postcards from the frontier of science

Conclusion

One reason American politics has become so dysfunctional (for us, at least) is that so much money and skilled effort goes to mislead us. It leaves us fragmented and confused about things about which we should have a clear vision. We can do better. I believe as a start we should each try to hear what our political opponents are saying, rather then just denounce them (e.g., as “deniers”). It would be a first small step to a better future.

For More Information

To learn more about the state of climate change see The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change by Roger Pielke Jr. (Prof of Environmental Studies at U of CO-Boulder, and Director of their Center for Science and Technology Policy Research).

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information see the keys to understanding climate change and my posts about climate change. Also, see more examples of climate denial by Left & Right dominates the public debate and these posts about the pause …

 

 

18 thoughts on “About the imminent spike in global warming

  1. After 18 years of pause – yes it’s still 18 years of pause and please don’t deny it!

    You must be using “spike” in the sense of driving a spike into a gun to totally disable it.

    1. Pause in what? Lack of clarity and comparison of apples and oranges is another part of the problem in the debate.

      The place is the whole lower troposphere, taken as a global average, as measured by satellites. Measurements closer to the surface by thermometers are showing a continued rise (and no, it is not heat islands).

      All measurements, even of same thing, taken in the same way, have noise in them. The atmosphere is especially noisy relative to the trend because oceans alternately store and release heat. There was a big heat release in 1998. That cooled the ocean but warmed the atmosphere. But since then the oceans have mostly stored heat. Some it started coming out in May in a nascent El Nino, and June is running warmer still. A large wave of warm water is on the way from the central Pacific to the eastern Pacific, where cool water is usually at the surface. So, expect a spike. If the El Nino is as strong as the one in 1998, expect new temperature records, even in the satellite data.

    2. Hops,

      “lack of clarity and comparison …”

      Perhaps you should read the scores of peer-reviewed papers discussing the pause. If you believe they show a “lack of clarity” you can submit one of your own correcting the climate science community. Tell us how that works out.

  2. I would take issue with the assertion that climate activists are paid employees unlike those on the right. Merchants of Doubt and other sources have tracked down the vast sums of money spent on propaganda by fossil fuel interests. It appears to me that far more money is spent on denial.

    I also think it is fair at this point to castigate those who clearly twist the facts to suit their ideology or financial interests. The most obvious and obnoxious twisting of the facts to take the exceptional El Nino year of 1998 and use it as a baseline to argue that atmospheric warming has stopped. Even a causal look at a chart of the temperature record shows that there has been many periods when the temperature did not rise, and even used to go down. So when I hear this argument, I want to further than to say “denier,” I want to say “liar.”

    1. Hops,

      “The most obvious and obnoxious twisting of the facts to take the exceptional El Nino year of 1998 and use it as a baseline”

      If you are reading activists on either side, then in my opinion you are wasting your time. If you disagree with the scores of peer-reviewed papers discussing the pause (e.g., causes, forecasting its duration), then I suggest you submit a paper in rebuttal. Tell us how that works out.

      “tracked down the vast sums of money”

      Perhaps you can name some of the well-known paid climate activists on the Right, to offset the two named here? I believe Marc Morano of Climate Depot is one. Most of the others — such as Anthony Watts, “Jo Nova”, Steve McIntyre — are all self-supporting.

  3. “How do intelligent, educated people become so convinced by the propaganda of climate activists, dismissing any who disagree with them as “deniers”?”

    In that very sentence you just dismissed anyone who disagreed with YOU as an “activist” engaging in “propaganda”, rather than, say, credentialed scientists or policy experts who may just be honestly mistaken in their understanding of a highly complex system. You can’t demand others assume good faith from you while being unwilling to extend the same courtesy.

    1. Thomas,

      “In that very sentence you just dismissed anyone who disagreed with YOU as an “activist” engaging in “propaganda””

      That’s a fanciful reading, but quite odd. I gave a specific example (heavily documented), one of long series of posts giving examples — and stated that there were others influenced by propaganda. Do you really disagree?

      “rather than, say, credentialed scientists or policy experts who may just be honestly mistaken”

      No. I am explicitly talking about laypeople influenced by activists — as explained in the following thousand words documenting exactly the opposite of what you allege. Did you read the post before writing your comment?

  4. Both sides of this complex issue at the lower levels, Politicians and Bloggers, all have an agenda of a socio economic range. Inside the scientific community on these issues, we can see them grappling with insufficient info, re: the Hiatus. The Uk says this and NOAA says maybe the same or different. Of course it is opinionated as the usual Blue Team vs. Red Team stuff.

    Can we do better? Can we expect better? …wait, let me stop laughing! How boring.

    Let me get back to TPP and Greece. Plus DSK doesn’t do pimping, he’s just an old IMF letcher!

    Breton

    1. Breton,

      “Inside the scientific community on these issues, we can see them grappling with insufficient info … let me stop laughing”

      I do not understand what you are saying. That’s called science. If you’re laughing at it, you don’t understand.

      “how boring”

      OK, you really don’t understand science. It’s one of the most important and exciting shows of our time.

  5. This is the most telling statement in the entire article: “…we may be witnessing the start of the long-awaited jump in global temperatures.”

    “Long awaited” by who? Certainly not regular, everyday people, nor by skeptics. The only people who have been longing for and waiting for a jump in global temperatures are alarmists, because the pause or hiatus or whatever you would like to call it, has become a long-term inconvenience to their pet theory that humanity has caused the small rise in ‘global’ temperature (whatever that actually means) through the burning of fossil fuels.

    1. Pinroot,

      That statement was artlessly phrased — even callously, as you note — but is technically correct. Another example might put this in context: the next big California earthquake is “long awaited” by geologists.

      I live a few miles from one of the two faults mostly likely to be the next “big one”. I too wait for it.

  6. I don’t think I understanding what you’re asking me to disagree with.

    The problem I have with your post (and I am new to this blog, so forgive me for not reading all the others) is your pejorative use of the term “activist”. Technically, anyone who studies a problem professionally, and publicly argues something be done about it, can be classified as an activist. The fact that they get paid for their work only becomes an issue when the source of funding has a vested interest in the outcome of the research and advocacy. The obvious sources to be avoided in this case, would be anyone working in fossil fuels or green energy. Of course, it should be obvious which of the two has more money to throw around, and whose side anyone cynically motivated by money would take up. That is NOT to say everyone in the “skeptical” camp is being bought off.

    As for the IPCC reports, no climate “activist” I know of has ever denied that they are a highly authoritative source of information, unlike many “skeptics” who refuse to take even those seriously. What they would dispute is that it is they are the ONLY authoritative source, since the very fact that their conclusions demand such strong consensus makes them constantly behind the most cutting-edge research.

    1. Thomas,

      (1) “Technically, anyone who studies a problem professionally, and publicly argues something be done about it, can be classified as an activist.”

      Yes. And attorneys are officers of the courts, and elected officials are servants of the people. I think the sense in which I use the word “activist” is quite clear to most readers (by “most”, I mean “all”).

      (2) “no climate “activist” I know of has ever denied that they are a highly authoritative source of information … What they would dispute is that it is they are the ONLY authoritative source,”

      Please explain how this relates to the post under discussion.

      Note: “activists” are found on both the Left and Right.

  7. “Yes. And attorneys are officers of the courts, and elected officials are servants of the people. I think the sense in which I use the word “activist” is quite clear to most readers (by “most”, I mean “all”).”

    Yes, pejoratively. It makes for effective rhetoric, but not much else. Lawyers being sleazy, Politicians being corrupt and “activists” being dishonest may be popular stereotypes and, like all stereotypes, may have some truth to them. But they can never prove anything on a case-by-case basis, and can hide sloppy reasoning even from the person engaging in it. The problem is made worse when pejorative use of a term makes it harder to even define, such as when “activist” comes to mean, in practice: “people advocating policies I don’t like or think are wrong”.

    At the end of your post you say:

    “I suggest instead relying on the IPCC and major climate agencies.”

    I was pointing out that no “activists” for action on climate change I know of dispute the importance of these sources, and even encourage people to read there work, even if they believe other, less established sources to also be valid. There is no parallel among much of the “activists” for inaction, with even these highly cautious organizations often vilified for saying a problem even exists at all. You are engaging in false equivalence, I suspect unknowingly, which often happens when people set themselves up as opposing “extremists on both sides”.

    “Your English grammer is not perfect, but you communicate your thoughts quite clearly. That’s helpful (and not always the case in comments)!”

    Why thank you! :)

    1. Thomas,

      I am unsure what is the point of your long discourse about activists. If you believe something I said was incorrect, say so. As an abstract thesis it’s interesting, but not helpful.

      “I was pointing out that no “activists” for action on climate change I know of dispute the importance of these sources”

      False. I’ve documented the movement of activists away from the IPCC for years. They seldom even mention it now.

      To give just one example: by 2011 activists were saying it was “too conservative”, which became a widespread response to the release of AR5 in 2013 (e.g., see Inside Climate News, The Daily Climate, and Yale’s Environment 360).

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