A reader receive a plaintive email from an associate who had converted to a global warming True Believer. The reader asked if I would answer the associate. I do so below. In order to protect the anonymity of the associate, I slightly edited his email (which I answer in chunks). I have not changed the tone, nor left anything important out.
*Tipping Point — Are We Too Late?*
How imminent is the tipping point when global warming is unstoppable and temperatures well beyond 2 degrees C are reached? Has it already happened or could it be within a few years, a few decades or do we have to 2100, which is the date climate scientists continually refer to? The movie Home stated that the tipping point could be reached within 10 years if the planet continues to warm at its current rate. The movie was made in 2009, we know since then that the rate of global warming has increased. Will the tipping point be reached by 2019?
There is no evidence that there was ever any “tipping point”, a point of no return, in the earth’s climate—excepting, of course, shocks drive by large rocks from space and tumultuous, concerted volcanic eruptions. These dramatic events caused, over a period of years to decades, noticeable changes in the climate. Yet even these gigantic disruptions pale next to the effects due to orbital mechanics.
The shocks caused by rocks and ash were nothing compared to the ice ages, glacial and inter-glacial periods (we are in one of these latter now, and we are expected to return to a glacial period soon, geologically speaking) caused by the earth shifting its position around the sun. No matter how you look at the physics, the sun and the earth’s position relative to it far, far outweigh any other influence. If you don’t believe this, try moving to Mars and releasing a little bit of carbon dioxide and see where that gets you.
There is no reason to believe the trace amounts of gases added to the atmosphere by humans will produce any “tipping point”. “Tipping points” are pure science fiction. The number of times we have, so far, passed a predicted end-of-the-world tipping point is already large, and growing larger, yet some never tire of saying “Wait until next year!”
How do we know there is no such thing as a tipping point? We already have the evidence of other catastrophic events, as mentioned, from which the earth “bounced back.” But we also have the overwhelming evidence of failed predictions.
For some 20 to 30 years, the predictions of global climate models, built with the theory of greenhouse gas (GHG) positive-feedback, have predicted temperatures HIGHER than were observed. And not just by a little bit, but by a lot. The discrepancy between the predictions and reality is growing wider and wider and wider over time. Yet this reality is ignored and the predictions are embraced. Why? Why do people love so much what these failed predictions are telling them?
If we really understood how the atmosphere worked at a level sufficient to make economic decisions, including knowing how trace amounts of GHGs influenced things, then our predictions would be good. The predictions are not good, they are lousy. Therefore, something is wrong with our understanding. The most likely suspect is the positive feedback of GHGs. In any case, whatever is wrong, there is zero warrant for declaring there will be a “tipping point” when we can’t even predict with any skill next year’s temperature.
*Record Temperatures — 2016*
Average global temperatures last month [February 2016] were 1.35 degrees Celsius (2.4 Fahrenheit) above normal for February, the biggest temperature excess recorded for any month against a baseline of 1951-80, according to NASA data released on the weekend. The previous record was set in January, stoked by factors including a build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the strong El Nino event, which releases heat from the Pacific.
There is no such thing as “global average temperature” (GAT); there are only functions of measurements taken at varying and fluctuating locations which are declared (operationally) the global average temperature. There is no one way to measure GAT, and this is for several reasons.
The GAT the public hears about is the result of a statistical algorithm. It is not the direct averaging of surface stations temperatures. It can’t be. Stations come and go, the method of measuring temperatures also changes at stations. Any and every change means a model has to be used to massage the numbers. The alternative is satellite-based (or balloon) measurements, and even these are not direct but mathematically adjusted. Surface stations cover a tiny fraction of the earth’s surface; the ocean is barely sampled. Satellites can only give a rough guess, since these effectively treats large swaths of the earth as one.
The satellite and surface stations statistical algorithm outputs often disagree. Which is right? It is far better to look at individual station data and see how and why these change. This is often revealing, because changes in individual station data often do not follow changes in the algorithm-produced GAT.
In other words, there is uncertainty in the GAT. So much so that, often, the GAT is “adjusted” statistically. Two funny things about these adjustments. One, the uncertainty is never mentioned. When is the last time you saw a graph of GAT with plus-or-minus bounds? I’ll tell you when: never. It’s almost as if everybody wants to forget the uncertainty, which is substantial and far above the claimed increases of the past few years (the uncertainty grows wider in history). Two, why is it that in the adjustments the historical data is lowered and more recent data upped. In other words, the manipulations always show additional warming, which is why we hear It’s worse than we thought.
In any case, it’s somewhat clear, even if there is uncertainty in exact rates, that GAT was slightly decreasing from the 1940s to the 1970s. This decrease, as climatologists then said, was caused by too much pollution, which itself was caused by a “population bomb”. This pollution, the theory said, was knocking back the sun’s rays, an effect which was about to cause us to hit our next glaciation ahead of schedule. Perhaps you recall that that didn’t happen. This was the consensus at the time. Many books and articles were written about it. But as Orwell says, it went down the memory hole.
Anyway, GAT was flat-ish from the late 1970s into the 1980s. This non-drama did not excite the imaginations of scientists, so it was said not to be caused by humans. Then starting in the 1980s until the late 1990s or so, GAT increased. This can’t have been caused by pollution, yet scientists were unable to imagine any other cause but mankind. If not pollution, then what? How about CO2, which does act like a sort of blanket? Great idea! And we were off to the races.
Only we weren’t. From about 2000 or so until now, GAT has been flat-ish again. Some scientists took to causing this discrepancy between predictions and reality a “pause.” But it can’t be a “pause” until we can prove we can make good forecasts, which we can’t. And anyway, what’s caused the pause? Dozens and dozens of theories were given, not all of which can be true. But notice the desperation to avoid admitting our fundamental ignorance.
But forget all this. Accept whatever manipulations of the GAT you like. It really is, then, the “hottest on record” (ignore also that the record is only a blink of the eye, and so “records” are yawn-inducing). What caused the increase? Why say it was mankind? If it was, then again—this cannot be over-stressed—the models would have made skillful predictions. The models made lousy predictions. Therefore, we do not know all the causes of GAT change. It’s as simple as that.
To say, then, in our ignorance, we must accept the theory we have because it is “best” is a terrible logical fallacy. We don’t need to accept anything. We can simple admit the truth: We do not know enough.
*The Arctic — March 2016*
With the winter season ending, scientists are warning that this year could see the lowest Arctic sea ice maximum ever breaking the record lows set last year. Arctic sea ice is a crucial part of the northern ecosystem, relied on by organisms from algae to polar bears…
But it’s also a significant factor on weather for the rest of the planet. An ice-free Arctic has already been linked by some studies to multi-day rains or storms in more southerly latitudes. Arctic sea ice has been declining at the rate of about 12 per cent per decade since satellite monitoring began in the late 1970s. The Arctic has been warming at about twice the rate of the rest of the globe and is now about four degrees warmer than it was before climate change.
The latest US Navy survey suggests there will be no sea ice left in the Arctic summer by 2016. This has been unprecedented within the entire record of human species. This contributes significantly to global warming as the water absorbs the sun’s heat rather than reflecting it off the ice.
Take an ice cube out of the freezer on a summer’s morning. Take it and also a thermometer outside to track the day’s course. What happens? The thermometer increases, yes? And the ice cube melts, right?
The thermometer will indicate a rising temperature. What happens to the ice cube? Would you say that the ice cube melting is extra evidence that it got hot outside? Of course not: ice melting is what happens what it gets hot out. People are always mixing up the effects of temperature with temperature itself. We don’t need to look at the effects of temperature to say whether temperature has changed. This is what thermometers are for.
In the same way that ice cubes melt on hot days, it is not news that some glaciers lost mass when the temperature was increasing in the 80s through the 90s, and that some still do when GAT remained flat-ish during the last two decades. Of course, some glaciers and areas of the Arctic have INCREASED in mass—directly against the predictions that by this time the Arctic would be ice free.
Ice comes and ice goes. Recall Greenland was called that for a reason. Ice mass changes not just because of temperature changes, but also because of adjustments in atmospheric water vapor. And these physical things are in turn caused to change by other mechanisms. Which?
Well, that is the big question. We can’t just say that global-warming-of-doom is true because it got hot (and because it got hot some ice melted). We have to show that we understand all the causes of change. Again, we do not. We can predict well enough at large time scales, at centuries or more, because these time scales directly relate to orbital mechanics. We know, with certainty, that we do not know what is causing all the changes on smaller time scales because, again, out models stink.
December 15, 2015: Greenland’s ice sheet melted twice as fast between 2003 and 2010 as it did from 1900 to 1983, according to the first study of Greenland ice loss over the past century that is based on observations rather than models. Greenland contains enough ice to raise world sea levels by about seven metres (24 ft.) if it all melted…The estimates of how fast the ice is melting I found ranged from significant ice melt in the next decade to collapse of the ice sheet in the next 100 years or more with other estimates stating that melting of the ice sheet will be irreversible in this century but it will take over a thousand years to actually melt.
More ice melting when it’s hot out. I wonder how many people realize that, some tens of millions of years ago, there was no ice on earth? (The earth was shifted relative to the sun.) And at that time life thrived? Cold is deadly.
Indeed, cold is deadly to humans. More die from cold spells than from heat. Consider that if heat were so deadly as the nervous believe, all those Canadians wouldn’t flock to Florida every December.
This is frozen ground located in the arctic regions from Siberia, to Alaska and throughout Northern Canada covering about 25% of the world’s land mass. The permafrost is melting due to climate change and is releasing methane and CO2 into the atmosphere. Estimates I found of the CO2 equivalent in permafrost ranged from 1700 billion tons to 2 trillion tons. The lower number is about twice the total amount of carbon currently in the atmosphere.
How fast the permafrost is melting and its impact on the climate is not clear. Again a conservative estimate is that by 2100, 10% of the CO2 will be released. However, actual observations over the past 4 years have shown that what was until recently a barren expanse of frozen peat is turning into a broken landscape of mud and lakes, some more than a kilometer across.
More ice melting. Plus, there’s another error here. Over most of the earth’s history, temperatures increases have been followed by carbon dioxide increases. Meaning something besides (mainly) CO2 is causing the increases, and that CO2 trapped in melted ice is released. That increased CO2 can cause temperatures to increase slightly, but there is no evidence whatsoever of the dramatic positive feedback imagined by the climate models is true. Also, plant life flourishes in warmer weather; indeed the earth is NOW greener than it has been. CO2 and heat are good for life.
It is elementary physics that temperature has a logarithmic response to increasing carbon dioxide. This means doubling the CO2 in the air does not mean a doubling of temperature. The atmosphere is insensitive to CO2, all other things equal. Yet the models say that when CO2 doubles compared to some ad hoc baseline, temperatures should soar. The models are wrong, as we’ve seen. The most likely reason for their continued failure is that the replacing of the known logarithmic response with a speculated exponential-like response is wrong. In other words, scientists have guessed that CO2 (and other GHGs) respond much more dramatically in the atmosphere than it does “in the lab.”
Where did they get this idea? From the belief that it must be true, from believing that humans can only have a negative effect on the environment. But if this belief were true, then the models which incorporate it would make good forecasts. They don’t, so etc. etc.
…It is estimated that we will burn enough fossil fuels to exceed 2C by 2045…
It is true, of course, that burning oil releases CO2 into atmosphere. Is that bad? How do we know?
The only answer is: the models says increased CO2 will cause increasing temperatures. In reality, CO2 has increased, partly because of human contributions and partly because the earth slightly warmed (after it slightly cooled) as said above. But did temperatures increase as predicted? No, sir, they did not. What must that mean? Only one thing: the models are wrong. Therefore, it is a fallacy to say that we must “do what whatever we can” to “hold” temperatures “below a 2 degree” increase.
We do not, right now, know the effect our activities are having on the temperature. Therefore, it is preposterous to say we know what we can do to limit warming to 2 C. Plus, it’s much more plausible that more direct harm would come to people by cutting off their supply of cheap, reliable fuel. What about all those areas of the world that still have to burn wood or dung? Wouldn’t it be more humane to provide them with fossil fuels?
Fossil fuels would also help us mitigate against whatever changes in the climate we do see, whether these changes were wholly or partially caused by mankind. Just think: don’t people live well in the extreme north in the modern era, whereas in times past this was nearly impossible. Why? Only one answer: reliance on fossil fuels.
Somehow we have developed the idea, in the face of all evidence, that there is no way we can adjust to small, subtle changes in the climate. As technology increases—increases aided by fossil fuels—our ability to adapt gets better. Even if temperatures “soar”, as predicted, a few tenths of a degree over the next fifty years, surely it makes more sense to mitigate against these changes, rather than to hand over to complete control of the economy to the government?
*The Limitations of Climate Scientists and the IPCC*
…[T]he IPCC are too conservative in their research and projections…melting permafrost [is] not included its effect on climate change in their models…
The second issue that really bothers me about climate scientists and the IPCC particularly is their inability or unwillingness to communicate their findings clearly and their fixation on 2100. Wading through the IPCC’s [report]…the language, the hard to understand graphs, the detail provided without really highlighting the most important points and the desire to remain scientifically accurate therefore not making clearly articulated specific, and easily understandable, definitive statements resulted in a report that only other scientists and the most dedicated expert policy bureaucrats could possibly understand…
…There is an urgent need for better science and better communications about the impacts of climate change in specific, definitive, understandable terms projecting the impact of climate change over the next 5/10/15 years, not the next century or centuries. There really is a failure to communicate.
That climate scientists are “too conservative in their research and projections” is hilariously wrong. The exact precise opposite is true. They have been proven, for DECADES now, to have shot off their mouths, to have been panicked Chicken Littles (we speak of the ones aiming for the spotlight; many climatologists have the good sense to keep quiet). None of their predictions of doom foretold, again and again, have come to pass.
Indeed, forest fires are down, hurricanes and tornadoes are down in number and in strength, ocean levels have not risen and driven people away from beaches, droughts are decreasing, and on and on. Most people are living better. With our increasing population, some, who choose to build houses on cliffs in hurricane-prone areas or on flood plains, do suffer. But even these people suffer less now because of improved building materials (more fossil fuel contributions here) and practices.
So why the doom and gloom? Answer: it is has ever been this way. In the late 1960s the world was also doomed by global cooling caused by population increases. We are now doomed by global warming caused by population increases. Nobody remembers the errors. Being wrong means nothing. It’s the theory that is loved, not reality. Reality is time and again tossed out on its ear and the beautiful theory that there are too many people is lovingly welcomed. Why is this?
Why is the solution always the same, too? More government, more rules, more restrictions, less freedom. But this is a whole other question which is not worth exploring here.
And we need MORE communication about global warming? Are you kidding? Even grade schoolers are indoctrinated into the cult of global warming. Lastly, the IPCC report is confusing and complicated because the actual science is confusing and complicated. Seeking simple answers to complex situations is what will doom us, not a tenth or a hundredth of degree increase in GAT.
…David Suzuki said in a recent interview, we really don’t know what is happening with climate change. Advocates on both sides of the debate cherry pick the data to prove their points regarding the seriousness, or not, of climate change. Secondly, and more troubling to me is the real possibility that nature will take over and global warming will significantly increase regardless of how much we reduce burning fossil fuels. The climate has or will reach the tipping point where the self-reinforcing feedback mechanisms of permafrost and arctic ice melts will lead to irreversible global warming.
Suzuki is right: we don’t know what is happening with climate change. It is a fallacy, then, to say that something “must be done” because we do NOT know what will happen. Yes, GAT may soar, but then again, GAT may fall. Who knows? We don’t, as Suzuki rightly says. And if we act assuming GAT is going to certainly increase, then what harm will our actions have? Actions aren’t free. It could very well be that our actions have the OPPOSITE of their intended effect, as so many government programs do. Plus we know of definite harms that will befall us were fossil fuel use to be widely curtailed.
Ignorance is not a reason to act.
*COP 21 Paris and the Real Scary Technical Solution to Climate Change*
…As part of the agreement Nations are to set voluntary national goals to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Goals were announced by nations extending from 2020 to 2050. The challenge of course is that these goals extend well beyond the mandates of the governments that set them therefore future governments may abandon or revise their goals…
What is particularly disturbing to me is that when all these goals are added up they fall far short of the actions needed to limit global warming. A solution being researched is “geo-engineering, the deliberate large-scale manipulation of an environmental process that affects the earth’s climate, in an attempt to counteract the effects of global warming.” This involves various mechanisms to remove carbon from the atmosphere on a large scale or reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the earth. From what I have read about this science, with what little we really know about climate, we could really create some disastrous consequences for humanity on a global scale.
Is it too late to prevent significant global warming and the possibility that much of our world will become uninhabitable?…
COP21 is what happens when politicians are allowed to decide what the science is, and what it isn’t. Once governments claim there is a “problem” (and that they are the only ones capable of “solving” it), that “problem” is never allowed to disappear.
There hasn’t been, according to satellites and taking into account the uncertainty in measurements, any warming for two decades. But this reality means nothing. There is a “problem” to be solved.
Reality is scientists do not know what effect mankind has on the climate. But this reality means nothing. There is a “problem” to be solved.
Having a world treaty that insists there is global warming means global warming will never disappear, even if GAT plunges and we enter (early) the next glaciation. Dangerous warming, even then, will be said, by policy, to be just around the corner. It will also be said that it’s actually there, but we can’t see it because it is being masked by some other “problem” that government must solve.
We know this because the government has already attacked scientists who dared point out some of the realities mentioned. The American (inaptly named) Department of Justice “discussed” prosecuting climate “deniers”—a word which can only be defined as someone who has the bad taste to mention reality. Senators Boxer and Whitehouse led a witch hunt for scientists who released information on (in their words) “scientific studies designed to confuse the public and avoid taking action to cut carbon pollution”. And on and on, all in an attempt at intimidation.
Actually, “attempt” is wrong. The intimidation does work. It causes many to keep their mouth shut, and it causes others to give the government what it wants. Either way, science suffers.
This is asinine and immoral. But it’s no surprise that the government does not want such a juicy “problem” like global warming to go away.