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Ball of Confusion
Climate Change Keeps Surprising Scientists

To hear the average activist tell it, climate change is going to fry us all up, if it doesn’t drown us with rising oceans and increasingly catastrophic storms first. A trio of new studies, however, suggest that the effects of climate change are going to be a lot more varied, and in some cases a lot more surprising. Deutsche Welle reports:

[I]n recent decades, global warming could have been responsible for a cooling of the sea along Europe’s northern coastline. A team of researchers around Stefan Rahmstorf comes to that conclusion in a study published in “Nature Climate-Change” on March 23. […]

Another group of scientists used data from satellites and weather stations to conclude that air currents are also likely to slow down. The team around geophysicist Dim Coumou published a study in “Science” on March 12, arguing that the number of storms over the northern hemisphere is likely to decline during the summer months. […]

This seems to clash with a study that suggests considerably more precipitation as a result of global warming. A working group around the mathematician Katja Frieler discovered a double paradox. On 16 March, she published a study in “Nature Climate Change” arguing that there is likely to be more snowfall in Antarctica as a result of global warming.

The more we research climate change and its effects, the greater the uncertainty we discover about what global warming will actually do: will future climate be dryer? Wetter? Colder? Hotter? Will it have more ice? Less ice? It seems it depends on who you ask, and which part of the globe you’re talking about.

We know that our climate is changing and that humans bear responsibility for that because the greenhouse-gas effect is relatively easy to understand. But beyond that we know frighteningly little, as the litany of failed predictions produced by our best climate models demonstrate. Our planet’s climate is immensely complex, and it’s proving nearly impossible to anticipate what might happen when a few factors—like greenhouse gas concentrations—are adjusted. There are so many variables in the system, and so many relationships between those variables (many of which we aren’t yet aware of), that it’s no wonder we can’t correctly model the future.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be concerned by climate change, but it does suggest that greens ought to use more caution when predicting humanity’s imminent doom, if only for the sake of the environmental movement’s own credibility.

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  • Fat_Man

    The output of climate models is at best just fun with numbers. It is only to be used for entertainment purposes.

    If you want to understand how climate models are built and why they incapable of producing meaningful forecasts, you should spend a few minutes listening to this lecture by a professor of Applied Mathematics:

    “Believing in Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, and Climate Models” A talk by Dr Christopher Essex – Professor and Associate Chair, Department of Applied Mathematics, University of Western Ontario, Canada. Published on Feb 17, 2015.

    • Andrew Allison

  • FriendlyGoat

    Since “the environmental movement’s own credibility” is NOT the most important thing on the planet and various potentially-catastrophic outcomes for some people in some places ARE more important than debaters’ reputations, it’s best to err on the side of caution.

    OF COURSE it’s complex and unpredictable, but I’ll give TAI a point for the first sentence of the sixth paragraph above. We are in the stage of trying to discern what outcomes will be and past the stage of debating whether 150 years of fossil fuel use has caused anything at all.

    • Andrew Allison

      Sorry, but the AGW movement’s credibility IS one of the most important things on the Planet. Simply put, even if there were a snowflake’s chance in hell of developing countries reducing their emissions, there is insufficient evidence (as opposed to the 100% failure rate of the predictions) to justify wrecking the economies of the developed countries. The debate among thinking people is not whether burning fossil fuel has caused anything, but about exactly what it has caused and might.

      • FriendlyGoat

        I’m the village liberal arguing that a liberal movement’s credibility is not the most important thing and you’re the conservative saying it is. That’s weird. Either the environmentalists are really right or they are not. You would not eliminate the correctness of the consequences they predict—-if they are right—–by getting some jury of citizens to declare them not credible.

        • Andrew Allison

          Aside from the fact that the subject is the environmental movement not so-called “liberals” (about which there’s nothing liberal), I thought we’d established that I’m a cross-dresser, i.e.,care about the facts, not ideology. As to your second non sequitur, it is those stubborn the facts, not I, which suggest that the environmentalists are wrong.

          • FriendlyGoat

            And I think we covered in the past that a cross-dresser is a person who dresses up in the clothing of the opposite gender, not a person who happens to have different left-right views on different left-right subjects.

            All I care about with AGW is the facts as they play out, too. It is not important to me, for instance, to vindicate Al Gore’s ideas because of his political identity. But we’re past the point of just hiding under the covers on this.

          • Andrew Allison

            “We ALL have some divergent views from those in the party platforms”? Surely you jest [grin]

          • FriendlyGoat

            Nah, once, back in 1987 (or sometime), I had a conservative thought.

  • Andrew Allison

    “We know that . . . humans bear responsibility for that [climate change] because the greenhouse-gas effect is relatively easy to understand.” In fact, we know no such thing. What we do know is that climate changes, always has, always will. However, since every single model of the effect of atmospheric CO2 on global temperature has failed, it’s clear that we really know what’s going on. It’s complicated (because the rate of increase in CO2 concentration has been accelerating), but the bottom line is that the actual increase in temperature over the past 150 years is roughly an order of magnitude less that the Church of AGA prophecises, and we have lots of time to adapt. In this context, we should note first that despite the dramatic increase in CO2 since 1998, there’s been negligible, if any, increase in temperature, and that CO2 levels did not increase last year.

    • Loader2000

      We do, in fact know that CO2 affects climate and that
      eventually, enough CO2, will warm it considerably. What we don’t know (and failed to predict) is
      when we reach that point and how long negative feedback systems would delay or
      re-channel that warming effect. I think
      we are in agreement with that. However,
      the statement that, “we have lots of time to adapt” is equally unproven and
      unknown. We may have lots of time to
      adapt, we may not. The leveling off we’ve
      seen over the last 14 years could be a long term thing, OR, we could simply be
      seeing a sine wave pushed up at a 45 degree angle. Such a pattern could be characterized by
      dramatic increases in temperature for 20 or 30 years followed by 20 or 30 years
      of no increase, then another 20 or 30 years of dramatic increase. If that is true, than we are halfway (or
      more) through the flat period. Neither
      you nor I (nor anybody) has the evidence to flat out make any kind of certain
      statement about what kind of effect we are or are not having on the climate
      right now. With that being said, it
      wouldn’t be a bad idea to START adapting and researching ways to adapt. This doesn’t mean a carbon tax (because that
      wouldn’t make any significant difference in the long run anyway), it means
      putting more money into basic research, investigating ways geoengineering the
      planet, pulling carbon out of the air, promoting nuclear and research into LNER
      and a whole host of other options. Even
      if we wern’t warming the planet, we should be doing these things because the
      climate is likely to shift dramatically over the next 1000 years one way or
      another. The important thing for AGW activists (and maybe ourselves too) is not
      to take a hardline, emotional stance, one way or the other because when people do that, other people start dismissing their opinions out of hand.

      • Andrew Allison

        “Neither you nor I (nor anybody) has the evidence to flat out make any kind of certain statement about what kind of effect we are or are not having on the climate right now.” is exactly the point that I made. The Church of AGW, however, insists that it knows exactly what kind of effect we’re having, a proposition which is demonstrably false.
        Smoothed average annual temperature has increased 0.8 degrees since 1850, or a terrifying 0.005 degrees per year. As I wrote, this is a bit simplistic because the rate of increase in CO2 had been increasing, at least until last year.
        You are correct that there is an cycle of rising and flat-to-down temperature ( The fact that CO2 has been rising at a steadily increasing rate for 165 years and temperature hasn’t is just one more proof point of the fact that we really don’t know what’s going on. Regardless of that, it is perfectly clear that developing nations are going to more than make up for the reductions achieved by developed nations, which suggests to me that we should devote much more effort to mitigating the effects of the global warming which has manifestly occurred than wrecking our economies.

      • Robert C Gladstone

        We do know for a fact that plants love CO2 and I’ll bet feeding them planet wide with our autos is probably better than spraying them with chemicals.

        • Loader2000

          Some plants benefit from higher CO2. Some plants, once you reach a certain minimum level, stop benefiting. Grasses (which include most of our stable grains), in particular, are specifically adapted to lower carbon levels and, if I am remembering what I read correctly, don’t benefit from higher carbon levels. However, there are a few food crops that would. This topic, like most the topics related to climate and biology interactions, is complicated and nuanced.

      • SDN

        First, the “climate scientists” need to answer one simple question: What is the ideal temperature for life, especially humans, on earth. Show your work.

        Note 1: Earth has been both hotter and colder than the present for millennia in the past.
        Note 2: It is a historical fact that warmer is better, because cold induced restrictions on agricultural production cause things like famines, and Volkerwanderung style mass migrations, with accompanying wars, to escape them.

        • Loader2000

          The ideal temperature for life is probably a few degrees higher than it is now. That would result is greater precipitation which is better for species diversity and growing food. However, it would also result in less arable land (as sea levels rise slightly). The real problems with increasing temperatures are not long term (100+ years). They are all short term (100- years). Specifically, as climate changes, for whatever reason, climatic patterns shift. What was once dessert becomes forest and farmland and what was once forest or farmland because desert. This would not happen in all locations, but it would happen in enough locations to cause a lot of famine, war and human social upheaval, especially in less developed parts of the world that are already on the edge with regard to that sort of thing. Higher temperatures certainly don’t hurt nature long term. Less humans and more precipitation can will only lead to more species diversification in the long run. People are always crying about Polar bears, but Polar bears won’t die, their range will just be reduced and they will start behaving more like brown bears in the southern most parts of their range. Any species that does go extinct due to increasing temperatures would have gone extinct eventually anyway sometime in the next 30K years, over a few interglacier periods.

  • ScienceABC123

    This is not science. The current hypothesis of mad-made climate change is that everything proves it: hotter, colder, wetter, dryer, more ice, less ice, etc.. It is an unproveable hypothesis because it claims to cause everything. That’s simply not the scientific way. For this to be science there must be some condition(s) that has happened in the past that can’t happen now. For all you proponents, please name that condition(s).

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “We know that our climate is changing and that humans bear responsibility for that because the greenhouse-gas effect is relatively easy to understand.”

    This is just wrong, the Earth’s climate isn’t that simple. The increase in Carbon Dioxide that the simpletons would have us believe is going to cause us all to “Fry”, is also the only food source of Plants (the bottom of the food chain). Experiments have shown that the increase in Carbon Dioxide has caused plant growth to expand by over 15% (based on biomass created)! The fact is that 300 million years ago the Earth’s atmosphere contained 9,000 ppm of CO2 (and the earth didn’t fry then), and that shrank down to 285 ppm a number over 30 times less. Plants the primary food source for all life, have literally been starving for millions of years.
    The fact that the Earth hasn’t warmed in 18 years despite the “Global Warming” models saying it would, should have sent everyone that makes a claim to be a scientist, back to their data with their “Global Warming” hypothesis lying in ruins.

  • Gregson14

    Planet Earth has spent 70% of it’s 4.5 Billion years with atmospheric concentrations of CO2 at 4000 ppm or greater – an order of magnitude (10X) greater than current levels of CO2 in our atmosphere – and guess what?… the Planet survived just fine… all by itself!

    In fact on an existential scale – Planet Earth is experiencing historic low levels of CO2 in our atmosphere (400 ppm) – the argument can therefore be made with statistical relevance that there is a greater chance of Planet Earth becoming a frozen and lifeless planet (much like Mars); simply because we are closer to a CO2 deficiency on the planet than we are to an over-abundance of CO2 – a compound that is essential for the survival of all plant-life on Earth. Carbon Dioxide also forms the very basis of the food chain in our Oceans!… CO2 is consumed almost exclusively by vast quantities of algae and plankton in our oceans – these micro-organisms feed the small shrimp and krill that sustain the baitfish, who in turn are prey for the larger ocean predators.

    Without CO2, our Oceans would be lifeless – our atmosphere would be toxic and the Planet would be dead!

    Mankind with all of his Industry, Agriculture, Manufacturing and Transportation needs is responsible for approximately 6-7 giga-tons of CO2 emission into our atmosphere per year worldwide – a mere 4% of the 165+ giga-tons that is emitted into our atmosphere by natural sources like our oceans, lakes, deltas and swamps, volcanoes, dying vegetation, animals and microbes.

    Why then is CO2 the source of such angst and hysteria from Academia, our bureaucracies, technocrats and Progressives?… Answer: In today’s world of misinformation, CO2 has been tagged as the prime candidate onto which our Progressive elites can attach a brand new tax to pay for the entitlements that 1st World Nations have promised to their constituencies – while at the same time the United Nation’s Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been instrumental in limiting the growth potential of “developing” Nations who are now depending on their own carbon-based energy sources to develop their emerging economies.

    I suppose under the auspices of the United Nations IPCC, we can expect the hype and ramped-up rhetoric to increase – soon to be augmented by the Progressive Carbon Tax, the Fresh Water Tax, the Sunshine Tax and last but not least, the Oxygen Tax!

    All of it coming to you via the “lock-step” agenda of a Progressive platform near you!…

    • David Green

      Excellent post! Thanks Gregson

  • Anthony Thomas

    You say (as other commentators have noted) “We know that our climate is changing and that humans bear responsibility for that because the greenhouse-gas effect is relatively easy to understand.” The obvious response is to ask you to provide the reference to the testable, repeatable, scientific paper that documents the hard evidence for the second half of that statement. You may be quite surprised when you try to find it, that it does not exist. Will you then be prepared to either change your evidence-free belief, or alternatively, acknowledge your membership in a cult with, at best, modest to no scientific backing?


    • ThomasD

      It is “so easy to understand” that none of the models so far tested have proven any ability to accurately predict actual climate changes.

  • Ben Vincent

    I’m all for a greener planet.
    And that means more CO2.
    Plants grow faster and stronger with more CO2.
    Plants are also more water efficient and more drought tolerant with more CO2.

    Crop yields continue to rise as CO2 has increased.
    The Earth is noticeably greening including parts of deserts.

    Tropical cyclone energy trended downward during the recent warming period.
    Violent tornadoes also trended downward.
    Current record ( setting new record every day) of over 9 years since a major hurricane (Cat 3 or higher) has hi the US.
    Three years of much lower than average tornado numbers.
    For the first time since 1969 there were no tornado watches or thunderstorm watches in the month of March (as of March 21st)

    Record Antarctic sea ice.
    Regardless of claims, Arctic sea ice has rebounded 60% from 2012 levels.

    Simply put, the man made climate change theory is bunk.

  • OdinsAcolyte

    It suggests they don’t know what they are talking about.
    I have had multidisciplinary training and know that there is no such thing as an environmental expert.
    Few come close to being remotely qualified. There are plenty of educated idiots running around and even more uneducated willing to follow. CO2 is good for plants. Planets with runaway greenhouse effects have no plants, seas, nor moon. In fact all is conjecture over failed computer modeling…And then we have the single most mighty climate engine that has not been mentioned. The SUN.
    Yes. Humanity changes the planet. We ARE nature not apart from it. All living things change their environment.

    We are also doomed to pass away. It is inevitable. You go ahead and sacrifice. It will make you feel better and I am sure your death shall be more comfortable because of it….right.

  • Anthony

    Loader2000 provides a most reasonable view regarding issue in dispute. However, the more information hypothesis will not probably persuade either pole on continuum (the more information partisans get, the deeper their disagreements become). See Still, the advise to avoidance of hard stands I find words to the wise.

  • stanbrown

    Rahmstorf is a fool. See his incompetent “worse than we thought” study where he smoothed a time series to its endpoint. More importantly, anyone who assumes that a study is accurate simply because it has been peer-reviewed and published is brain dead. The vast majority of published studies are wrong.

    Until science has some measure of quality control, expect flawed studies to be the norm.

  • stanbrown

    What we actually know. From Duke physicist R G Brown: “This is a hard problem. Not settled science, not well understood, not understood. There are theories and models (and as a theorist, I just love to tell stories) but there aren’t any particularly successful
    theories or models and there is a lot of competition between the
    stories (none of which agree with or predict the empirical data
    particularly well, at best agreeing with some gross features but not
    others). One part of the difficulty is that the Earth is a highly
    multivariate and chaotic driven/open system with complex nonlinear
    coupling between all of its many drivers, and with anything but a
    regular surface. If one tried to actually write “the” partial
    differential equation for the global climate system, it would be a set
    of coupled Navier-Stokes equations with unbelievably nasty
    nonlinear coupling terms — if one can actually include the physics of
    the water and carbon cycles in the N-S equations at all. It is, quite
    literally, the most difficult problem in mathematical physics we have
    ever attempted to solve or understand! Global Climate Models are children’s toys in comparison to the actual underlying complexity, especially when (as noted) the major drivers setting the baseline behavior are not well understood or quantitatively available.

  • stanbrown

    A climate scientist responds to Rahmstorf “Well, if there is anything I distrust more than climate model
    simulations of decadal to millennial scale ocean circulations and
    internal variability, it is Mannian proxy analysis of same. It seems
    like strip bark bristlecones and Tiljander sediments can tell us about
    Gulf Stream flow rates, as well as global temperatures. Remarkable.”

  • Robert C Gladstone

    I’d say the credibility ship has long since sailed…

  • Curious Mayhem

    The greater snowfall would make sense — after all, warmth somewhere has to evaporate water into vapor, which then forms into clouds, which are transported somewhere else, where they eventually dump their precipitation (rain or snow).

    However, the catch in this is that the polar regions should be warming relatively more than temperate and tropical regions. That should lead to increased rain and reduced snowfall in the polar regions, increased rain in the temperate and tropical regions, and shrinking latitudinal coverage of ice. This is not happening.

    Ice has thinned (reduced thickness) in some polar areas because of reduced snowfall, because of reduced evaporation, because of flat-to-falling temperatures over and in the polar oceans. But its latitudinal coverage has seen no consistent shrinking trend in the Antarctic (quite the opposite, for more than three decades) and an upswing in the Arctic (after a shrinking trend in some areas in the late 90s and 2000s).
    The polar regions are a fairly clean test of the “global warming” concept, and the concept is a flop.

    I find it amazing that Nature publishes a separate “Climate Change” sub-journal. That’s what all that money redirected to “climate change” has done — every year, less and less science, more and more “soft” “climate studies.”

  • Clive

    “humans bear responsibility for that because the greenhouse-gas effect is relatively easy to understand”

    Does the author actually intend what this implies? Or is this just a poorly written article?

    In any case, any sane human being who maintains some distance from the ideological warfare surrounding this issue can plainly see that we simply do not know what effect we are having on the climate, if any. Just because this or that hypothesis is “relatively easy to understand” does not make it true. Conversely, it is just as silly to assume we are having no effect at all given the sheer volume of effluents and gases we emit.

    Our effect on the climate deserves careful scientific study — something that is all but impossible today given the enormous pressure placed on scientists from all quarters. I don’t envy the poor climatologists who are caught in the middle of this. Maybe in 50 years the political aspect will have faded away and the scientists can get back to their work, unimpeded by the chattering classes.

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