mead berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn bayles
Unsettled Science
Greens Are Their Own Worst Enemy

In an attempt to set right some popular misconceptions (it being April 1st, and all), the Gray Lady warned its readers not to be fooled by the notion that a recent pause in global warming disproves climate change. The New York Times reports:

There is, in fact, an active debate among scientists about whether the pause even happened at all. Data on global temperature appeared to show a slower comparative rise in the years following 1998, the end of the last El Niño event. But last June, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published a paper in the journal Science stating that the pause probably didn’t occur at all, or was at least greatly overstated; they blamed inaccurate data for giving a misimpression of a hiatus in warming. […]

Then in February, yet another paper in the journal Nature Climate Change took the opposite view, claiming that a slowdown, at least, is real.

Feeling whipsawed yet? Don’t. This kind of disagreement among scientists happens every day, and when the subject is less politicized it can be fascinating to watch. This is how scientific inquiry moves forward: Putting hypotheses out there and testing them. Most days, it makes a lot more sense than politics does.

But in many ways this corrective misses the point. Yes, the reported pause in warming gave plenty of ammunition to climate skeptics out there, and it’s true that it also did nothing to undermine the very basic science correlating climate change with human activities—namely that industrialized societies have been emitting large quantities of greenhouse gases that trap more of the sun’s radiation and thereby raise surface temperatures. But it did throw into question green claims that climate science is “settled,” that we’ve somehow reached a complete understanding of one of the most complicated systems we have at hand to study.

The warming pause didn’t make climate change any less of a long-term threat, but it did expose how little we know about it, and how faulty our best models are. That hasn’t changed, and in fact the debate over how significant this pause really was only serves to underscore the lack of consensus within the scientific community over the specifics of the effects of climate change. Again, at a fundamental level we can understand that humanity is affecting our climate via greenhouse gas emissions, but our understanding quickly breaks down when we try to tackle the “fiddly bits.” Given the immense complexity of our planet’s climate, with its innumerable variables and their many relationships (both known and unknown), it’s not at all surprising that we can’t accurately make predictions about what comes next.

Scientists will continue to refine their models and explore new avenues of research into climate change, and as they do we’ll get a more complete picture of what’s happening. But when environmentalists overstate the certainty of the science, they set themselves up to look like fools when their doomsaying prophecies are proven wrong. Greens, take note: those among you that claim the science to be settled are one of the leading drivers behind climate deniers.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Andrew Allison

    Given that “The warming pause didn’t make climate change any less of a long-term threat, but it did expose how little we know about it, and how faulty our best models are.” don’t you think it unwise to make statements such as “it also did nothing to undermine the very basic science correlating climate change with human activities—namely that industrialized societies have been emitting large quantities of greenhouse gases that trap more of the sun’s radiation and thereby raise surface temperatures.” In fact, the NOAA study referred to has been shown to be fraudulent (it adjusted historical data downward to make it appear that there has been no hiatus). Even “Hockey-stick” Mann has acknowledged that there has been a hiatus in warming. Ergo, since atmospheric CO2 has increased close to 40% during the hiatus, at the very minimum the hypothesis is questionable. The simple truth is that we (including climate scientists) can’t explain what’s going on. TAI itself recently published an essay ( which did a great job of laying out the issues.

    • Frank Natoli

      The fundamental problem, Andy, is that far too many people think opinions are synonymous with facts. IF CO2, from whatever combination of sources, continues to increase, and atmospheric temperature readings do not, then models which predict temperature increases heavily weighted by CO2 increases MUST BE MISTAKEN, as much as any [hysterical and fantastically expensive] public policies based on such models MUST BE DISMISSED.

      • Andrew Allison

        Another fundamental problem is the propensity of Americans to use a diminutive without being invited to.

        • rheddles

          Well said, Drew.

      • Angel Martin

        “… then models which predict temperature increases heavily weighted by CO2 increases MUST BE MISTAKEN”

        Absolutely correct !

        the global warming boys seem unable to grasp the concept that incorrect forecast = MODEL FAILURE, and they need to go back to the drawing board.

        In the meantime, no-one should be forced to spend trillions of dollars based on demonstrably failed models.

  • Fat_Man

    There is a 100% consensus among scientists on one question: They need more money to conduct more studies, to write more papers, to get more pay raises, and to get more tenure. everything else is up in the air — so to speak.

    • DiogenesDespairs

      It is to be hoped that at least some of those studies stick to 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. I recommend following the links in the citations; some of them are very educational.

      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 “”

      [2] ibid.

      [3] HALOE v2.0 Upper Tropospheric Water Vapor Climatology Claudette Ojo, Hampton University; et al.. HYPERLINK “” 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 “”

      [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 “” 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

      [8] New York Nature – The nature and natural history of the New York City region. Betsy McCully

      [9] Global Warming: A Geological Perspective John P. Bluemle HYPERLINK “” 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 “,_data,_models,_1996-2009”,_data,_models,_1996-2009.

      See also HYPERLINK “” and

      HYPERLINK “” and, more diplomatically: HYPERLINK “” Et al.


      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.

      • Dave Andrews

        Thanks for posting this. To me, a layperson, it is one of the most persuasive arguments I have ever read challenging the CAGW nonsense.

  • jeburke

    Odd that TAI recognizes the ambiguous “pause” data pointing to the unsettled nature of the science but turns around and says, “it…did nothing to undermine the very basic science correlating climate change with human activities…”

    Say what? If there is no warming, there is no problem, whatever the hypothetical effect of human greenhouse gas emissions on the atmosphere.

  • Steve Gerow

    From a scientist in the ’70s: “Freeze or fry, the problem is always Capitalism and the cure is always Socialism.”

  • CaliforniaStark

    It boggles the mind trying to determine what this article is saying. It appears to state that the “pause” in global warming shows the science behind the global warming theory is not completely settled. However, it then states the basic science is settled enough so that we should accept it as true anyways, in anticipation of further research and refinement of the models that will prove the truth of these assumptions.

    What if further research shows the “pause” is actually a long-term global climate trend away from warming? The claim of partially settled science would then also be incorrect. At this point, since the model has failed, so has the theory. No one knows with certainty what is going on regarding climate change. Instead what is taking place is a political battle between ideologues.

  • Proud Skeptic

    “The warming pause didn’t make climate change any less of a long-term threat, but it did expose how little we know about it, and how faulty our best models are.”
    This sentence defines the conflict nicely. Climate science and the rationale behind being concerned about rising temperatures are based almost entirely on models. Climate change is only a threat if the models are right. The “Pause” (and I object to the use of that term) demonstrates the fact that the models are unable to predict the Earth’s temperate accurately. Therefore, other than some laboratory experiments that demonstrate the impact of greenhouse gases on a theoretical Earth, there is no basis for concern.
    The reason I say that I object to the terms “Pause” and “Hiatus” is that they presuppose that an increase in temperature will restart at some point. This is not provable with current science. The temperature may go down for several decades. We just don’t know because the models have yet to be reliable enough to use as predictors.
    That said, the author’s point that this whole thing is much, much more complex than people are being led to believe is spot on. I doubt the average person realizes (1) the difficulties involved in measuring the “temperature of the Earth” with current instrumentation, (2) the sparseness of the temperature record going back starting only a few decades (3) the extent to which this science has to rely on proxy data to draw conclusions (4) the inability to ever test these proxy data to determine if the conclusions being drawn from them are correct (5) the amount of massaging that is being done to the data before entering them into the model or (6) the healthy scientific debate that surrounds the basic datasets…like the reconciliation of land based temperature measurements with those from satellites.
    It’s a mess and my own, personal conclusion is that they are deluding themselves into believing they can even measure these things to the degree of accuracy required to draw the conclusions they are peddling.

  • Blackbeard

    I have tried to debate this issue with some of my liberal friends here in Manhattan. These are intelligent, well-educated individuals but on this issue at least they are truly low information voters. Their basic understanding is that the NY Times thinks it’s a problem, CNN thinks it’s a problem, the New Yorker magazine thinks it’s a problem and the president thinks it’s a problem. On the other hand the stupid, racist, homophobic, flat-earth believing Republicans refuse to believe it’s a problem. Furthermore this problem could be easily solved if we would just all use CFL bulbs and recycle our trash. I exaggerate but only slightly.

    When the Times runs a story such as the one you mentioned all they do is skim the headline, if that, and get the impression that the problem is indeed real and that the Times is even handed in its coverage.

    Sadly, this fight is lost.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Given the failure of the Globe to Warm over the last 19 years as predicted, how much else have the “Global Warming” activists gotten wrong? Are their predictions that a warmer Globe would result in weather disasters of biblical proportions also as wrong? If we take the “Medieval Warm Period” when Greenland was colonized and grapes were being grown in Moscow to make wine, as evidence that the Globe was warmer back then. And the evidence that reports of weather disasters of biblical proportions at the time are absent. The answer is clearly yes; a warmer world would be a good thing rather than the disaster the Chicken Little Warmists declare it to be.

  • Jim__L

    Science, like the climate, is a highly nonlinear (even chaotic) system that does not lend itself to accurate prediction.

  • CapitalistRoader

    The warming pause didn’t make climate change any less of a long-term threat…

    Do you realize just how ridiculous that sentence is? The models have been off by a factor of four:

    And there’s $20 billion on the line. Scientists and their hangers-on have a huge monetary incentive to keep the general public whipped up in a Armageddon fervor. Houses and private school tuition ain’t cheap in Boulder, CO, home to lots of climate scientists and their families. Gotta’ keep that grant money rolling in!

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2017 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service