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Settled Science
Climate Uncertainty Grows

New research published in the journal Science this week spells some bad news for our fight against climate change, as a group of scientists warned that our current climate models are overstating the cooling effect cloud cover can have. The New York Times reports:

The new paper suggests the effects of a flaw in the model could be serious: Based on its analysis of one model of climate change, the cloud error could mean an additional 1.3 degrees Celsius of warming than expected. […]

“Unfortunately, it means staying below 2 degrees is going to be even harder,” said Trude Storelvmo, an atmospheric scientist and another author of the paper, and an associate professor in the Yale department of geology and geophysics. “We have to emit even less CO2 to stay below those limits.”

The average green is likely going to seize on this study as more evidence that humanity is doomed—the modern environmental movement seems to work best when it’s predicted the end to be nigh. But there’s another, more general concern about climate science here beyond just this warning that one variable in our best climate models isn’t properly calibrated: this serves as another reminder that we know precious little about our planet’s climate.

Too often the science behind climate change is described by eco-activists as “settled,” but we can’t go a month without learning about new research disproving some climate process that was previously assumed to be true. Yes, human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are trapping more of the sun’s radiation in our atmosphere and heating up surface temperatures, but we can acknowledge that without pretending like climate science is somehow done and dusted.

Our models are woefully inaccurate, and no wonder—there are an astounding number of variables they need to account for, and countless relationships between those variables that also require study. This latest study offers a correction to just one of these variables, and it alone is enough to raise new doubts over hitting climate targets. There’s so much more we don’t know, and while researchers work towards a more complete understanding of our planet’s immensely complex climate, environmentalists would do well not to pretend we know more than we do—it only sets them up to look foolish when the models get it wrong.

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  • Andrew Allison

    Oh, please. Temperature hasn’t increased significantly since 1998, CO2, while 40% greater than in 1998, stopped increasing in 2014, etc., etc.

    • DiogenesDespairs

      Science – and policy – should be based on hard facts. Here are some crucial, verifiable facts – with citations – about human-generated carbon dioxide and its effect on global warming people need to know and understand. I recommend following the links in the citations; some of them are very educational. And please feel free to copy/paste this discussion wherever you think it will do the most good.

      The fact is, there has been global warming, but the contribution of human-generated carbon dioxide is necessarily so minuscule as to be nearly undetectable. Here’s why:

      Carbon dioxide, considered the main vector for human-caused global warming, is some 0.038% of the atmosphere[1]- a trace gas. Water vapor varies from 0% to 4%[2], and should easily average 1% or more[3] near the Earth’s surface, where the greenhouse effect would be most important, and is about three times more effective[4] a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So water vapor is at least 25 times more prevalent and three times more effective; that makes it at least 75 times more important to the greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide[5]. The TOTAL contribution of carbon dioxide to the greenhouse effect is therefore 0.013 or less. The total human contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide since the start of the industrial revolution has been estimated at about 25%[6]. So humans’ carbon dioxide greenhouse effect is a quarter of 0.013, works out to about 0.00325. Total warming of the Earth by the greenhouse effect is widely accepted as about 33 degrees Centigrade, raising average temperature to 59 degrees Fahrenheit. So the contribution of anthropogenic carbon dioxide is less than 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit, or under 0.1 degree Centigrade. Global warming over the last century is thought by many to be 0.6 to 0.8 degrees Centigrade.

      But that’s only the beginning. We’ve had global warming for more than 10,000 years, since the end of the last Ice Age, and there is evidence temperatures were actually somewhat warmer 9,000 years ago and again 4,500 to 8,000 years ago than they are today[7]. Whatever caused that, it was not human activity. It was not all those power plants and factories and SUVs being operated by Stone Age cavemen while chipping arrowheads out of bits of flint. Whatever the cause was, it melted the glaciers that in North America once extended south to Long Island and parts of New York City[8] into virtually complete disappearance (except for a few mountain remnants). That’s one big greenhouse effect! If we are still having global warming – and I suppose we could presume we are, given this 10,000 year history – it seems highly likely that it is still the overwhelmingly primary cause of continued warming, rather than our piddling 0.00325 contribution to the greenhouse effect.

      Yet even that trend-continuation today needs to be proved. Evidence is that the Medieval Warm Period centered on the 1200s was somewhat warmer than we are now[9], and the climate was clearly colder in the Little Ice Age in the 1600s than it is now[10]. So we are within the range of normal up-and-down fluctuations without human greenhouse contributions that could be significant, or even measurable.

      The principal scientists arguing for human-caused global warming have been demonstrably disingenuous[11], and now you can see why. They have proved they should not be trusted.

      The idea that we should be spending hundreds of billions of dollars and hamstringing the economy of the entire world to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is beyond ludicrous in light of the facts above; it is insane. Furthermore, it sucks attention and resources from seeking the other sources of warming and from coping with climate change and its effects in realistic ways. The true motivation underlying the global warming movement is almost certainly ideological and political in nature, and I predict that

      Anthropogenic Global Warming, as currently presented, will go down as the greatest fraud of all time. It makes Ponzi and Madoff look like pikers by comparison.

      [1] Fundamentals of Physical Geography, 2nd Edition

      by Michael Pidwirny Concentration varies slightly with the growing season in the northern hemisphere. HYPERLINK “http://www.physicalgeography.net/fundamentals/7a.html” http://www.physicalgeography.net/fundamentals/7a.html

      [2] ibid.

      [3] HALOE v2.0 Upper Tropospheric Water Vapor Climatology Claudette Ojo, Hampton University; et al.. HYPERLINK “http://vsgc.odu.edu/src/Conf09/UnderGrad%20Papers/Ojo%20-%20Paper.pdf” http://vsgc.odu.edu/src/Conf09/UnderGrad%20Papers/Ojo%20-%20Paper.pdf. See p. 4.The 0 – 4% range is widely accepted among most sources. This source is listed for its good discussion of the phenomena determining that range. An examination of a globe will show that tropical oceans (near high end of range) are far more extensive than the sum of the earth’s arctic and antarctic regions and tropical-zone deserts (all near the low end). Temperate zone oceans are far more extensive than temperate-zone desert. This author’s guess of an average of 2% or more seems plausible. I have used “1% or more” in an effort to err on the side of understatement.

      [4 NIST Chemistry Webbook, Please compare the IR absorption spectra of water and carbon dioxide. ] HYPERLINK “http://webbook.nist.gov/” http://webbook.nist.gov/

      [5] Three quarters of the atmosphere and virtually all water vapor are in the troposphere. Including all the atmosphere would change the ratios to about 20 times more prevalent and 60 times more effective. However, the greenhouse effect of high-altitude carbon dioxide on lower-altitude weather and the earth’s surface seems likely to be small if not nil.

      [6] National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. HYPERLINK “http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/gases.html” http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/gases.html. The estimated 90ppm increase in carbon dioxide, 30% above the base of 280 ppm, to a recent reading of 370 ppm, equates to just under 25% of present concentration, the relevant factor in estimating present contribution to the greenhouse effect.

      [7] Oak Ridge National Laboratory http://www.esd.ornl.gov/projects/qen/nerc130k.html

      [8] New York Nature – The nature and natural history of the New York City region. Betsy McCully http://www.newyorknature.net/IceAge.html

      [9] Global Warming: A Geological Perspective John P. Bluemle HYPERLINK “https://www.dmr.nd.gov/ndgs/Newsletter/NL99W/PDF/globlwrmw99.pdf” http://www.azgs.az.gov/arizona_geology/archived_issues/Winter_1999.pdf This article, published by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency, is drawn from a paper by the author in Environmental Geosciences, 1999, Volume 6, Number 2, pp. 63-75. Note particularly the chart on p.4.

      [10] Ibid.

      [11] Wikileaks: Climatic Research Unit emails, data, models, 1996-2009 HYPERLINK “http://wikileaks.org/wiki/Climatic_Research_Unit_emails,_data,_models,_1996-2009” http://wikileaks.org/wiki/Climatic_Research_Unit_emails,_data,_models,_1996-2009.

      See also HYPERLINK “http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1246661/New-scandal-Climate-Gate-scientists-accused-hiding-data-global-warming-sceptics.html” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1246661/New-scandal-Climate-Gate-scientists-accused-hiding-data-global-warming-sceptics.html and

      HYPERLINK “http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704075604575356611173414140.html” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704075604575356611173414140.html and, more diplomatically: HYPERLINK “http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/science/01tier.html” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/science/01tier.html. Et al.

      ADDENDUM

      What initially troubled me was the aberrant behavior of the climate research unit at East Anglia University, which had been the main data source for AGW arguments. They initially refused (!) to reveal their algorithms and data on the grounds that they were proprietary(!!). They responded to critics with ad hominem attacks and efforts to block their publication in scientific journals. Now, as I am sure you know, this is not how one does honest science, in which you PUBLISH your data and methodology and invite critical comment to ferret out error or oversights. It took the now-famous Wikileaks “Climategate” to pry loose the data and expose their machinations. Yet despite the devastating blow these revelations should have to their credibility, the AGW “cause” has taken on a life of its own.

      Fundamentally, the argument seems to rest on a logical fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc – after this, therefore because of this. We see a rise in temperature and a rise in (principally) carbon dioxide, and therefore conclude one must have caused the other. It does not necessarily follow at all. There can be other causes entirely behind both phenomena, and as you see above, almost certainly there are. Beyond that, I have encountered numerous assertions of fact that cannot add up given the physical properties of water vapor and carbon dioxide that go unchallenged. One-sided arguments proliferate and people arguing the other side are frequently denounced as being employed by business interests rather than rebutted on the merits.

      In sum, I have not come lightly to the conclusion that the AGW argument as it applies to carbon dioxide is largely untrue and certainly does not account for more than a very small, nearly negligible part of the phenomena we are seeing. The implications of widespread assertions of and belief in such an untruth are staggering, and potentially enormously destructive. It is unwise indeed to let oneself be stampeded in this matter, and stampede is clearly what many have been and are trying to induce.

      I can understand politicians behaving this way; a carbon tax or carbon trading regime would allow enormous revenues to fall into their hands. I can understand “Progressive” ideologues; it logically leads to enormous expansion of government power over industry, the economy, and the daily life of individuals, which they regard as a good thing. I understand the environmentalists; they want to shrink the size and impact on the environment of modern civilization. But responsible citizens need to put aside such considerations.

      • Simpatica

        Well done, Thank You

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “New research published in the journal Science this week spells some bad news for our fight against climate change, as a group of scientists warned that our current climate models are overstating the cooling effect cloud cover can have.”

    Good lord! How about the FACT that there has been no “Global Warming” in 19 years? Doesn’t that indicate that Carbon Dioxide isn’t as much of a Green House gas as said? How can these idiots still be predicting a 2 degree rise in temperature when the Globe stopped warming 19 years ago? How about before they adjust for the lower cooling effect of cloud cover they figure out how badly off they are on the warming effect of Carbon Dioxide?

  • Fat_Man

    What you need to know about Climate Models explained by a Mathematician who understands the mathematics behind the models and can explain it to you:

    Believing in Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, and Climate Models

    A talk by Dr Christopher Essex – Chairman, Permanent Monitoring Panel on Climate, World Federation of Scientists, and Professor and Associate Chair, Department of Applied Mathematics, University of Western Ontario, Canada

    I have posted this here before. But, if you haven’t watched it you should.

    • Jim__L

      “In climate research and modelling, we shuold recognize that we are dealing with a coupled nonlinear chaotic system, and therefore that long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.”

      The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Third Assessment Report (2001), Section 14.2.2.2, page 774.

      And that, ladies and gentlemen, is about all that needs to be said about that.

    • Anthony

      One hour and eight minutes well spent, thanks.

  • Blackbeard

    If facts mattered in a politicized dispute like CAGW then studies like this might have an effect, but facts don’t matter. Western civilization has largely given up on organized religion but people need something to believe in beyond just the day to day. For many on the left that something is now Gaia, or Greenism, or environmentalism, or call it what you will, and CAGW is a central tenet of the faith. Do some of the ideas in CAGW theory contradict the facts (temperatures aren’t really rising, it was warmer during the Medieval Warm Period, violent storms have decreased not increased, etc.)? Sure, but believing unbelievable things is not a sign of irrationality, it’s a sign of faith.

    Recently I saw that the last major steel mill in the UK, the home of the Industrial Revolution, will close soon. Four thousand workers will lose their jobs at the mill, and considering supporting workers about 40,000 overall. The head of the steelmakers association in Europe said recently that unless climate regulations are changed their will be no steel making left in Europe, at the cost of hundreds of thousand of jobs. And it’s not as though this will improve the environment as Europe will not be using any less steel, just importing it from China. Chinese environmental regs are much weaker so the emissions per ton of steel will roughly double and then you have to add the CO2 from shipping the steel halfway around the world. The elites in Europe think all this is perfectly reasonable, even mandatory.

    I think we will be seeing more like Donald Trump soon.

    • Simpatica

      Only he will have a small mustache.

  • Proud Skeptic

    This would be very bad news, indeed, if climate models had any validity to them at all. They constantly over predict temperature. There are ninety of them…which ones are you talking about in this article?

    We would do better with the Amazing Kreskin, a Ouija board, or the Oracle at Delphi than any of the current climate models.

  • Pete

    The eggheads maybe be clueless on the climate, but boy do they crave attention..

  • Frank Natoli

    I really wonder if the author of this article understood what he was writing. If “new” information indicates that the previous models were “wrong”, and that there should have been more heating than the previous models predicted, yet there has been no heating, that means the models’ weighting of CO2 to heating was more not less mistaken.

  • White Knight Leo

    “this serves as another reminder that we know precious little about our planet’s climate”
    .
    Which is pretty much the position of the so-called “deniers”: we don’t know nearly enough about this impossibly complex and unpredictable system.

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