Summary: The rise in temperatures during the past few years shows how both activists and skeptics have misrepresented the global warming story. This has been especially so during the decade-long debate about the warming pause. Since 1950 warming has occurred in stair-like steps, with pauses between them. That gives a useful frame to watch temperatures to understand what happens next.
The pause in global warming after the the 1997-98 El Niño sparked a decade of public bickering. Some climate activists denied the pause and the scores of peer-reviewed papers about it and its causes (e.g., here). Some skeptics declared that it proved the models wrong, or even that the two centuries of warming had stopped (not paused). All that ended with the warming spike brought by the 2015-16 El Niño. Now begins speculation about what follows — warming, cooling, or a new pause. It’s not a useful framing.
The warming since 1950 — the period in which over half of the warming comes from anthropogenic causes (IPCC AR5 WGI SPM) — occurred in steps: 1963/64, 1968–70, 1976/77, 1979/80, 1987/88 and 1996–98, with the big ones of 1979/80 and 1996–98 associated with big El Niños. Then climate scientists saw the “pause” (aka “hiatus”). There are various theories about the cause. That lasted sixteen years, then temperatures spiked during the 2015-2016 El Niño. Although the peak-to-peak rise, 1998 to 2016, was only 0.4°F — this appears to have marked another step-up in temperatures. As I wrote in June 2015, the pause has ended — and warming resumed.
To see the step up, look at this graph of February global temperatures (as anomalies vs. 20th C average). See the 2016 El Niño spike, and the tiny fall-off in February 2017 — like that in November 2016, Dec 2016, and Jan 2016. If this continues (it is too soon to say for sure), we begin the clock on the new plateau.
What comes next?
The typical framing for activists fighting “deniers” is warming vs. none. So activists get excited at every increase in temperatures, no matter how small (even if not statistically significant, as in 2014 and in 2016). They scream “denier” at anyone pointing to the peer-reviewed literature describing the pause (e.g., here). Skeptics pointed to the pause as evidence (or even proof) that warming had stopped (rather than “paused”).
This is a clear example of how the public policy debate about climate change has become a cacophony, with neither side providing fragments of useful information mixed with misinformation. Naturally the result has been gridlock
Now the Republicans run the Federal government and most states, so the gridlock will continue. Eventually either we will get some big extreme weather — natural or magnified by anthropogenic factors — which will panic the public and force political action. Or global warming will slow or stop. Either way, the weather will decide which side wins.
A new paper explains why the stair-step warming
“Reconciling the signal and noise of atmospheric warming on decadal timescales“, Roger N. Jones and James H. Ricketts, Earth System Dynamics, 8 (1), 2017 — Abstract…
“Interactions between externally forced and internally generated climate variations on decadal timescales is a major determinant of changing climate risk. Severe testing is applied to observed global and regional surface and satellite temperatures and modelled surface temperatures to determine whether these interactions are independent, as in the traditional signal-to-noise model, or whether they interact, resulting in step-like warming.
“This model indicates that in situ warming of the atmosphere does not occur; instead, a store-and-release mechanism from the ocean to the atmosphere is proposed. It is physically plausible and theoretically sound. The presence of step-like – rather than gradual – warming is important information for characterising and managing future climate risk.”
For More Information
New research from NOAA about “Global Warming and Hurricanes“: It is premature to conclude that global warming has affected hurricane or tropical cyclone activity. You won’t see it in the news because journalists believe they know what’s best for you to know.
If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information about this vital issue see the keys to understanding climate change and these posts about the propaganda of climate change…
- Important: climate scientists can restart the climate change debate – & win.
- How we broke the climate change debates. Lessons learned for the future.
- A story of the climate change debate. How it ran; why it failed.
- Put the stories about record 2016 warming in a useful context.
- A look at the future of global warming. Our political response depends on its trend.
- An eminent climate scientist describes the frontiers of climate science.
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). From the publisher…
“In recent years the media, politicians, and activists have popularized the notion that climate change has made disasters worse. But what does the science actually say? Roger Pielke, Jr. takes a close look at the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the underlying scientific research, and the data to give you the latest science on disasters and climate change. What he finds may surprise you and raise questions about the role of science in political debates.”