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A Misunderstanding
The Unsettling Science of Climate Change

The “pause” in global warming is temporary. It is an illusion. It is caused by volcanoes…no, by the heat being buried in the Pacific Ocean…no wait, the Atlantic Ocean. The latest research now points to winds in the Pacific by way of explaining the pause in the rising rates of surface temperatures. According to Climate Central reports, they are apparently also responsible for drought in the western United States:

Strong trade winds have been forcing heat into ocean depths, contributing to a temporary slowdown in land surface warming over the past 15 to 20 years that some have called a warming hiatus, pause or false pause. New research published in the Journal of Climate has gone further — implicating those winds in stubborn droughts afflicting Western states. […]

Delworth and his colleagues looked at the role strong winds blowing out of the east have played in pushing warm water across the Pacific and eventually forcing it below the surface. Meanwhile, cooler-than-normal water has risen up to replace it in the eastern Pacific, a mechanism that has temporarily helped slow the rate of warming on land, despite continued global warming. (Globally, 2014 was the hottest year on record, and 13 of the hottest 15 years have been recorded since 2000.)

The ocean and atmosphere are intimately linked, so the story doesn’t just stop in the watery depth of the Pacific. Delworth’s analysis shows the precipitation deficit that has driven drought in the western U.S. since the early 2000s is due to these changes in the Pacific region. In particular, ocean conditions have helped set up a ridge pattern that deflects storms into Canada.

None of this makes us doubt the underlying science of climate change. It’s fairly easy to demonstrate that greenhouse gases raise surface temperatures, and that humanity has been emitting these gases at alarming rates of late. However, this warming slowdown (and the myriad attempts to explain it) does remind us that the study of complex systems like the human body or the earth’s climate is extremely difficult and that scientists develop, test, discard and contest many hypotheses on the way to truth.

We may never fully understand our climate; there are a mind-boggling number of variables and relationships that continue to defy even our best climate models. That doesn’t mean we should stop trying, nor does it mean that we shouldn’t craft policies based on what we do know. However, the green movement needs to understand that by selling global warming as “settled science,” it opens itself up to criticism when scientists fail to predict what comes next.

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  • stanbrown

    What are the feedbacks? We don’t know.

    “None of this makes us doubt the underlying science of climate change.
    It’s fairly easy to demonstrate that greenhouse gases raise surface
    temperatures, and that humanity has been emitting these gases at
    alarming rates of late”

    This is the most incredibly stupid thing I can imagine Mead writing. Or ignorant. Or both. I suggest he avoid further comment on climate science until he gets a clue. This is ridiculous.

    • Andrew Allison

      It is fairly easy to demonstrate that greenhouse gases raise surface temperature (they are, after all, the reason that the Earth is habitable). What’s also been demonstrated is that we don’t know the relationship between the two, and that the long-term increase in temperature is an order of magnitude less than predicted by the Church of AGW.

      • Laurence Levin

        As I understand the direct impact of increased carbon dioxide is fairly small about 1 degree C per doubling. The issue is the feedback effects. The most common theory is that an increase in carbon dioxide causes an increase in water vapor which is a stronger green house gas amplifying the impact of carbon dioxide by a factor of two or more. Estimating the impact is where the science becomes more artful

        • Andrew Allison

          As with so much artful, er climate “science”, there’s no empirical evidence that an increase in carbon dioxide causes an increase in water vapor thereby amplifying the impact of carbon dioxide by a factor of two or more. See, e.g:
          http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887323981504578179291222227104
          Atmospheric CO2 has steadily increased from about 280ppm before the Industrial Revolution to about 400ppm today. Smoothed average global temperatures fell (yes, fell) until 1910, rose until 1945, fell until 1975, then rose again until 2005 (http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/hadobs/hadcrut4/diagnostics.html). What the data suggest to me is there are unknown forces at work which have much greater effect on temperature than atmospheric CO2.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Perhaps that huge fusion generator in the sky might have something to do with it?

      • Roy_Lofquist

        “It is fairly easy to demonstrate that greenhouse gases raise surface temperature (they are, after all, the reason that the Earth is habitable).”

        There is no such thing as a greenhouse effect.

        http://greenhouse.geologist-1011.net/

        In none of the papers and articles about the greenhouse effect vis a vis the earth’s mean temperature have I seen a mention of the internal heat of the earth – some 6,000 degrees farenheit at the core.

        “Geothermal gradient is the rate of increasing temperature with respect to increasing depth in the Earth’s interior. Away from tectonic plate boundaries, it is about 25 °C per km of depth (1 °F per 70 feet of depth) in most of the world.”

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geothermal_gradient

        We are sitting on a hot plate which more than adequately explains our surface temperature without an appeal to the greenhouse effect.

    • Enemy Leopard

      Unless it’s a signed post – which it isn’t – it’s not clear who wrote it. The American Interest as a whole is responsible for its content, but perhaps not WRM directly.

  • Andrew Allison

    Evermore desperate BS from so-called “climate scientists”. Tree ring history shows that the drought currently affecting the Western States is a regularly occurring phenomenon which predates the Industrial Revolution by a couple of thousand years (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/14/science/californias-history-of-drought-repeats.html?_r=0)

  • Blackbeard

    No reasonable person doubts the basic physics of climate science. That CO2 contributes to the greenhouse effect and that global average temperatures have risen in the 20th century are not at issue. What are at issue are the basic tenets of climate alarmism:

    1. That the various GCMs are a reasonably accurate reflection of climate physics and can be relied upon to predict temperatures out to 2100;
    2. That human contributions to greenhouse gases are all that matter. Nature variation either solar or terrestrial can be ignored;
    3. Therefore, we face an imminent catastrophe. Unless we reduce fossil fuel usage dramatically and quickly we face certain disaster.
    4. That fortunately we can easily substitute renewable energy (solar and wind, not nuclear or hydro-power which Greens disfavor) for fossil fuels. This transition can be accomplished quickly and easily, it will save money and create numerous well paid jobs. The only thing stopping us is the evil fossil fuel industry and their paid henchmen the Republicans.

    Every one of these points is wrong. The models failed to predict the ongoing 20 year hiatus in global warming so why would anyone believe they are good out to 2100? The belated explanations the alarmists are now offering for the hiatus, such as the argument that ocean currents hid the heat somewhere, are all tacit admissions that natural variation does matter. And the idea that we can essentially do away with fossil fuels without wrecking the world economy is a fantasy.

  • Arkeygeezer

    I will grant you that their are “greenhouse” gasses in the atmosphere. According to the EPA, the current concentration of these gasses are as follows:

    Concentrations in parts per billion (ppb) parts per million (ppm) Percent

    Carbon Dioxide 398000 398 .0398%

    Methane (CH4) 700 0.7 .00007%

    Nitrous oxide (N2O) 270 0.27 .000027%

    Tropospheric ozone (O3) 25 0.025 .0000025%

    The EPA adds to the confusion as they report Carbon Dioxide in parts per MILLION (ppm) and the other gasses in parts per BILLION (ppb). When you convert these numbers into an average percentage in the atmosphere, the gases amount to a minuscule .04% , which is predicted to go as high as .05% by the end of this century. Some of that is contributed by man, but the rest is naturally produced in nature.

    I have a hard time believing that a rise in the amount gasses which compose less than 1/2 of 1% of the atmosphere can have such as a catastrophic effect on our planet.

    • rheddles

      Oh ye of little faith.

  • jburack

    The quotation from Climate Central provided here is ludicrous. First, it is not “science” to label the current lack of warming a “pause” since that assumes what has not been confirmed to begin with. Yes, we know all about how increases in CO2 by itself can cause minor warming. We also know that this factor by itself does NOT cause the warming levels being warned of in the IPCC reports, since they tell us that themselves – all kinds of so far unproven feedback loops are needed to do that. We also know of other times on earth when CO2 was vastly more concentrated than now but without any clear correlation with worldwide temperature. Hence what we know for sure about CO2 is utterly irrelevant to the issue of whether current flat temperature lines are a “pause,” a result of some natural variability, or the prelude to continuing flat temperatures, COLDER temperature trends, or warming trends. The only conclusion from the hilarious “Where’s Waldo” quest for the missing heat is NOT confidence in the “underlying science of climate change,” as this piece claims. It is to doubt that the underlying science has yet even begun to explain in any reliable way how climate systems work.

  • fastrackn1

    You can’t take a 100 year slice of a 5 billion year old planet and declare with any accuracy that ‘change’ is occurring for a specific reason (human civilization).
    Scientists (humans) think they know so much….

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “It’s fairly easy to demonstrate that greenhouse gases raise surface temperatures, and that humanity has been emitting these gases at alarming rates of late.”

    Only simpletons or those with a political ax to grind make bogus statements like this in the face of 18 years of evidence that refutes the effects of increasing Carbon Dioxide on the Earth’s climate. It now seems that reports of Carbon Dioxide being a “Greenhouse Gas” are wrong, especially when compared to other so called greenhouse gases and the fact that the ecology of life on Earth has historically had by far the most profound effect on the atmosphere.

  • SLEcoman

    A number of scientists and organizations, including Berkley Earth and the UK Met Office, have disputed NASA’s and NOAA’s claim that 2014 was the warmest year on record.

    Berkeley Earth, formerly Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST), released its analysis of the 2014 temperature record on January 14.

    “The key findings are:

    1. The global surface temperature average (land and sea) for 2014 was nominally the warmest since the global instrumental record began in 1850; however, within the margin of error it is tied with 2005 and 2010 and so we can’t be certain it set a new record.

    2. For the land, 2014 was nominally the 4th warmest year since 1753 (when the land surface temperature record began)

    3. For the sea, 2014 was the warmest year on record since 1850

    4. For the contiguous United States [i.e. not including Hawaii and Alaska], 2014 ranked nominally as the 38th warmest year on record since 1850.”

    The United Kingdom’s Met Office issued the following statement:

    “The HadCRUT4 dataset (compiled by the Met Office and the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit) shows last year was 0.56C (±0.1C) above the long-term (1961-1990) average. Nominally this ranks 2014 as the joint warmest year in the record, tied with 2010, but the uncertainty ranges mean it’s not possible to definitively say which of several recent years was the warmest

    None of these surface temperature announcements referenced satellite based measurements of the earth’s surface temperature, which continued to show 1998 and 2010 as the first and second warmest years on record. 2014 ended up being statistically tied for third through fifth warmest with 2005 and 2013. Dr. John Christy, a professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at The University of Alabama – Huntsville stated. “2014 was warm, but not special. The 0.01 [ºC] difference between 2014 and 2005, or the 0.02 [ºC] difference with 2013 are not statistically different from zero. That might not be a very satisfying conclusion, but it is at least accurate.”

    Even the statement by Dr. Gavin Schmidt (GISS Director) that 2014 was not an El Niño year was disputed by a number of scientists and organizations. These scientists, while agreeing that 2014 did not meet the official criteria to be considered an El Niño year, believe that significant El Niño type temperatures were experienced, especially in the Northern Pacific Ocean. For example, the Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA) stated, “The highest temperature for 2014 is thought to be associated with the El Niño phenomenon that began in summer 2014.”

    Thus, not only was there disagreement as to whether 2014 was or was not the warmest year but also whether there were or were not El Niño conditions.

  • FriendlyGoat

    The population of people can increase nine-fold on the earth in 200 years (1850-2050) during which time the growing numbers of people burn everything they can find or dig up, AND, this won’t affect anything at all. That’s the alternative argument against all the dire predictions from settled or unsettled climate science.

  • SLEcoman

    A more complete statement of known effect of CO2 and its greenhouse effect would be

    “It’s fairly easy to demonstrate that:

    1. greenhouse gases raise surface temperatures,

    2. Global CO2 concentrations have increased from 290 ppm to ~400 ppm concurrently with mankind’s dramatically increased use of fossil fuels.

    3. Doubling of CO2 concentrations from pre-industrial levels would increase global temperatures by 1.2ºC,

    4. The ‘greenhouse’ effect of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHG) is logarithmic; each successive incremental increase in GHG concentrations produces a smaller incremental increase in global temperatures.”

    It should also be noted that predictions of catastrophic impacts of anthropogenic GHG emissions rely on predictions that positive feedback mechanisms multiply the direct GHG impact of doubling CO2 concentrations by 3- 6 times.

    In 1998, CO2 concentrations were 367 ppm; the predicted direct temperature impact of the increase from 290 ppm in 1890 to 367 ppm is ~0.4ºC. But global temperatures had increased by ~0.8ºC, indicating that positive feedback had caused global temperatures to increase by twice as much as the direct CO2 impact. And it was plausible to argue that the feedback loop (i.e. increased warming due to increased CO2 concentrations, causing warmer oceans, causing higher atmospheric water vapor content, which then causes more global warming) was just getting started and feedback factors that multiplied the direct impact of increasing CO2 by 4-6 times were going to occur in the future.

    Fast forward to 2014. Global temperatures are still ~0.8ºC higher than in 1890, but atmospheric CO2 concentration has increased to 400 ppm. Now the predicted direct impact on increased CO2 concentration is almost 0.6ºC. Thus, the observed feedback multiplier has decreased from 2.0 to ~1.4. The exact opposite of what proponents of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW) had predicted.

    But this analysis assumes all the observed temperature increase is due to CO2. However, as many have noted, including Berkeley Earth, global temperatures had been increasing since the end of the Little Ice Age in the mid-1600’s, so it is very plausible that some of the observed warming since 1890 was a continuation of the previously observed warming.

    The IPCC’s WG1 AR5 Chapter 7 stated that “Many empirical relationships have been reported between GCR [Galactic Cosmic Radiation] or cosmogenic isotope archives and some aspects of the climate system (e.g., Bond et al., 2001; Dengel et al., 2009; Ram and Stolz, 1999). The forcing from changes in total solar irradiance alone does not seem to account for these observations, implying the existence of an amplifying mechanism such as the hypothesized GCR-cloud link.”

    The possibility that changing GCR could impact cumulus cloud formation was demonstrated by CERN in 2011.

    Assuming that only 25% of the observed warming since 1890 was due to GCR, then we have warming due to CO2 of 0.6ºC, exactly what would be expected as a direct effect of CO2 without any feedback mechanisms amplifying the GHG impact.

    Using Occam’s Razor, the most logical conclusion today is that there is no positive feedback mechanism amplifying the direct impact of increasing GHG concentrations on global temperatures. Therefore, the most prudent action is to do nothing until evidence is developed to demonstrate that the positive feedback mechanism actually exists.

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