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The global cooling mole

By John Fleck and William Connolley

To veterans of the Climate Wars, the old 1970s global cooling canard – “How can we believe climate scientists about global warming today when back in the 1970s they told us an ice age was imminent?” – must seem like a never-ending game of Whack-a-mole. One of us (WMC) has devoted years to whacking down the mole (see here, here and here, for example), while the other of us (JF) sees the mole pop up anew in his in box every time he quotes contemporary scientific views regarding climate change in his newspaper stories.


The problem is that the argument has played out in competing anecdotes, without any comprehensive and rigorous picture of what was really going on in the scientific literature at the time. But if the argument is to have any relevance beyond talking points aimed at winning a debate, such a comprehensive understanding is needed. If, indeed, climate scientists predicted a coming ice age, it is worthwhile to take the next step and understand why they thought this, and what relevance it might have to today’s science-politics-policy discussions about climate change. If, on the other hand, scientists were not really predicting a coming ice age, then the argument needs to be retired.

The two of us, along with Tom Peterson of the National Climatic Data Center, undertook a literature review to try to move beyond the anecdotes and understand what scientists were really saying at the time regarding the various forces shaping climate on time human time scales. The results are currently in press at the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, and Doyle Rice has written a nice summary in USA Today, and an extended version based on a presentation made by Tom at the AMS meeting in January is on line.

During the period we analyzed, climate science was very different from what you see today. There was far less integration among the various sub-disciplines that make up the enterprise. Remote sensing, integrated global data collection and modeling were all in their infancy. But our analysis nevertheless showed clear trends in the focus and conclusions the researchers were making. Between 1965 and 1979 we found (see table 1 for details):

  • 7 articles predicting cooling
  • 44 predicting warming
  • 20 that were neutral

In other words, during the 1970s, when some would have you believe scientists were predicting a coming ice age, they were doing no such thing. The dominant view, even then, was that increasing levels of greenhouse gases were likely to dominate any changes we might see in climate on human time scales.

We do not expect that this work will stop the mole from popping its head back up in the future. But we do hope that when it does, this analysis will provide a foundation for a more thoughtful discussion about what climate scientists were and were not saying back in the 1970s.

Update: Full paper available here.


243 Responses to “The global cooling mole”

  1. 101
    David says:

    Those 7 articles predicting cooling apparently inspired at least 2 films that I remember being shown in Junior High School.

  2. 102
    Jim Eager says:

    Re Richard Ricardo @ 94: “I have a question, why is the warming of the earth so bad? It is hot in the tropics year round and life there seems to thrive. I read some place that the ice caps are melting, and that places like Florida adn some other coastal areas would be flooded,would not people just move further inland or adapt like the Dutch building dykes?”

    Richard, the potential threat of global warming is two fold. One is what else will change as Earth’s atmosphere warms and by how much, two is the rate of that change.

    Under what else will change besides temperature, we have to consider, among many, many other things:
    – How will weather change as the atmosphere warms?
    – How will a warmer Arctic and Antarctic affect weather patterns across the rest of the planet?
    – Will severe storms become more or less intense or more or less frequent?
    – How will precipitation patterns change? Will precipitation during growing seasons remain dependable or will it come at the wrong time or all at once? A warmer, longer growing season will be of no use if there is less or no precipitation when it is needed.
    – What crops will it be possible to grow as climate zones shift, and where will climate zones suitable for our current crops shift to?
    – How much will it warm in areas that currently grow rice, for instance? Rice, the main food crop in some parts of the world, has an upper temperature limit above which it can not be grown.
    – Increasing CO2 does more than raise temperature, it can also make the oceans acidic, which would have a huge impact on the marine food chain, on which a large number of human depend.
    – We know the Greenland ice cap is becoming more unstable and that it has the potential to raise sea level by up to 7 meters. How much of it will actually melt and how fast, and how much will sea level rise and how fast? How much time will we have to move not just people, but infrastructure?

    How fast any of these changes take place compounds each of them and bears on your question about our ability to adapt to the changes.
    For example, think about the number of coastal cities, ports, power plants, refineries, grain terminals, etc world-wide that could be vulnerable to rising sea levels. Keep in mind, that they would not need to be completely inundated, just made significantly more vulnerable to storm surges. How rapidly could dykes be built or these facilities be moved inland, and how much would it cost?
    Now think of low-lying nations like the Netherlands or Bangladesh. Where, exactly, would their displaced populations move to? Think back to the last great migration that took place on the Indian subcontinent when India and Pakistan were partitioned.
    Now think of the wheat belt that stretches across the great plains of the US and Canada. What would happen should the climate zone suitable for growing wheat on an industrial scale shift northwards to lie in the area that is currently largely boreal forest and exposed shield bedrock by 2050, as some projections suggest? Cutting down the boreal forest is one thing, conditioning is acidic soils so that it can grow wheat is quite another, and in the shield soils are thin, lie in scattered pockets, or non-existent.

    You see, a changing climate means fundamental changes in just about every facet of human activity, and those changes will be world-wide and simultaneous. Moreover, if they happen rapidly, it could outstrip and overwhelm our ability to adapt. That’s why a warming Earth could be so bad.

  3. 103
    David B. Benson says:

    Richard Ricardo (94) — At the top of the page there is a Start Here link. Start there. Then read The Discovery of GLobal Warming at

    http://www.aip.org/history/climate/index.html

    also linked on the sidebar, first under Science Links.

  4. 104
    Jim Eager says:

    Re Fred @ 95: “Whether one believes in man-made global warming, man-made global cooling, or natural climatic cycles, the real worry that many people have is that some political body will dictate their perceived solution via punitive laws rather than allowing the free market to sort things out.”

    Exactly, for many people climate change is an ideological, political and/or economic issue having nothing what so ever to do with science or with what is actually happening in physical reality.

    Unfortunately for them physics has nothing what so ever to do with ideology, politics or economics. Perhaps that’s why they have such a hard time understanding the science of climate change and its ramifications, including the potential threat that some future political body will have no choice but to dictate solutions if nothing is done to address the problem until it’s presence is felt by even those who refuse to see what is in plain sight.

    As for Fred’s assertions that temperatures have been steady since 1998, and that there has been a “sharp decline in the average global temperature to pre-global warming era levels in the past year alone”, these have been rebutted here at RC repeatedly.

  5. 105
    Frank H says:

    A friend forwarded me the “Washington Times” commentary ( http://www.washingtontimes.com/article/20071219/COMMENTARY/10575140 ) that claims that since the past year has been cooler, there can’t be global warming. How can I best refute this garbage? HELP!

  6. 106
    Marcus says:

    Lynn: I think that there is a distinction between standard feedback processes and non-linear events.

    Most climate scientists talk about standard feedbacks: this is the snow/ice albedo effect, the permafrost methane, etc. In most cases, the assumption is that every degree of direct CO2 induced warming has attached to it another 2 or 3 degrees of feedback. This is _not_ in any way “runaway” warming.

    You tend to talk about the extreme non-linear events, where by passing some (unknown) threshold, a major state change occurs. Eg, if at 3.7 degrees C warming suddenly a vast amount of methane hydrate destabilized, adding another 5 degrees C warming – _that_ could be labeled as “runaway”. But I don’t think the climate community thinks that these events are at all likely. Possible, they might agree with, but likely, no.

    “Hysteresis” is merely a term for a process that, when reversed, behaves differently. For example, the Greenland ice cap exhibits hysteresis under temperature changes: you need to warm the ice cap up a lot to get it to melt (say, 2.5 degrees C for a long time), because it is reflective and high altitude. But once it melts, you have to cool it down far below the point at which it melted to get it to refreeze, because now you have to form permanent snow and ice at a few meters above sea level, rather than a mile above sea level. But hysteresis is not only for huge events: if there is a one way road on the way to work, your commute would have hysteresis: you take the one way road to get there, but on the way back, you have to take a longer route.

    Just trying to help you understand terms, and why “runaway warming” in particular is not the right term to use for what we expect from the climate.

  7. 107
    Phil Scadden says:

    #94 warming isnt bad. Its rate of change that bad. The concern here is not much whether climate is changing warm or cold but that its changing too fast to allow adaption.

  8. 108
    Phil Scadden says:

    #95
    “(And also, explain the lack of correlation between RISING carbon emissions and STEADY global temperatures since 1998, as well as the sharp decline in the average global temperature to pre- “global warming era” levels in the past year alone – which just happens to correlate better with the extended solar minimum!)”

    Huh? Do you just get your information from people distorting the data.
    Try joining temp from 1997 to 2007. Still steady? Look around this blog and you will see more meaningful ways to analyse the data. And what makes you think that climate is only one factor? Sure the sun has a effort, so do aerosols etc. Every natural pattern is still operating but on top of this is rising CO2. Compare temps with last global minimum. Better still, read the IPCC “Scientific basis” for the gory detail.

  9. 109
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Richard Ricardo, Do not confuse fetid with fertile. The jungles look green, but tropical plants actually produce little in the way of colories per hectare. Almost all of our most important crops require a period of cold to germinate and grow properly. Cold also kills off weeds, pests and disease. Moreover, “warmer” is not all there is to it. More energy in the system makes it less predictable. All the infrastructure of human civilization was developed during the past 10000 years or so of remarkable climatic stability. Now imagine trying to support 9-12 billion people as our agriculture begins to fail, our transport is washed out, our water sources dry up…

  10. 110
    Tom Fiddaman says:

    Re 86

    I am now hearing, the ice has returned and a large part of the NH 2008 winter has broken records for coldness and snowfall. Apparantly AGW has stopped !

    Well, Bob Carter and the National Post say it’s so, so it must be so!

    Many of the records cited recently are just normal variation, or in some cases sloppy writing. The multiyear ice is not back.

    A look at the data should make it clear that news of the death of warming has been exaggerated:
    http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs/
    http://nsidc.org/data/seaice_index/
    http://climate.rutgers.edu/snowcover/chart_anom.php?ui_set=0&ui_region=nhland&ui_month=1
    http://www.remss.com/msu/msu_data_description.html#figures (last)
    http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/info/warming/

    Tom

  11. 111
    robert says:

    Re: (94): Hello Richard, welcome to Realclimate…

    Go to the top of the webpage and click the link “Start Here”. Many of the questions you have have been addressed in detail on this extensive website, and the “Start Here” link will help you to organize your thoughts and questions and find the related discussions that have already occured…

  12. 112
    Joel Shore says:

    Re #95 (“Fred”): First of all, the worry “that some political body will dictate their perceived solution via punitive laws rather than allowing the free market to sort things out” is a rather confusing statement from the point of view of the economics of markets. It makes no sense to talk about the market sorting something out when externalities are involved…i.e., the costs of the CO2 emissions are not being borne by the parties involved in any given transaction but are instead borne by all the rest of us. In fact, a proper understanding of markets, rather than a blind faith in markets, tells us that this is exactly why one needs a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system!

    Your statement about “the lack of correlation between RISING carbon emissions and STEADY global temperatures since 1998″ is a strawman. The science of climate change does not say that the increase in temperature will be steady. There will be fluctuations as there always are in weather and in climate. In fact, climate models that are run with a steadily-increasing CO2 forcing show these same sorts of fluctuations. What the theory does say is that the trend over a large enough period of time that you get good “signal-to-noise” should be upward, as it has been for the last ~35 years.

    Next, your statement about the temperature declining to pre-global warming levels over the last year is wrong. It is true that January 2008 was the coldest month (anomaly-wise) in a fair while. However, I believe that all the temperature data sets still showed a net positive anomaly relative to their 1951-1980 base period, which means that the global temperature was still higher than the average during that 1951 to 1980 period (which itself was already warmer than the average temperature earlier in the 20th century). And, again, that was a fluctuation. It is likely that 2008 as a whole will have an even higher positive anomaly from the 1951 to 1980 base period than January alone did.

    Finally, your claim of the temperature being well-correlated with the solar cycle minimum is untrue. If you look at a plot of the two, they don’t look particularly well-correlated at all. It is much better correlated with a shift from weak El Nino conditions to pretty strong La Nina conditions, a shift that is understood to produce temporarily-cooler global temperatures, just as it did between 1998 and the following two years.

  13. 113
    Tom Fiddaman says:

    Re 95
    the hysteria to “do something now” ignores the immense ability for humans to adapt to wildly changing environmental conditions, and may cause the human race to take actions with unintended consequences which are more damaging to humankind than the climate change itself.
    Funny how we’re so capable of adapting to climate, but we can’t handle a little carbon tax.

    explain the lack of correlation between RISING carbon emissions and STEADY global temperatures since 1998
    It’s called natural variability. In addition, there’s no general expectation of an emissions-temperature correlation, because of the intervening accumulations of atmospheric carbon and heat. Falling emissions would be perfectly consistent with rising temperatures, as long as emissions exceed uptake and the equilibrium temperature given forcing exceeds the actual temperature (as at present). The reverse is also true.

    as well as the sharp decline in the average global temperature to pre- “global warming era” levels in the past year alone – which just happens to correlate better with the extended solar minimum!
    Your sunspot-temperature rapid response theory would predict a regular 11 year cycle in temperature, and a hot year in 1957. Neither fits the data.

    Tom

  14. 114
    Ken Rohleder says:

    Philip Machanick Says:
    10 March 2008 at 4:04 AM

    Ken Rohleder (#71): you quote the article as saying ““By the early 1970’s…the notion of a global cooling trend was widely accepted.” but left out the next 3 words, “albeit poorly understood”

    Which is precisely my point Philip — the notion was accepted but not understood. In ten years, the literature will likely disavow the current hysteria by saying, “By the early 2000’s…the notion of a global warming trend was widely accepted albeit poorly understand.”

    “Widely accepted and poorly understood” sums up the current state of climate science.

  15. 115

    Richard writes:

    [[I have a question, why is the warming of the earth so bad?]]

    Because our agriculture and economy are adapted to the present temperature regime.

    [[ It is hot in the tropics year round and life there seems to thrive. I read some place that the ice caps are melting, and that places like Florida adn some other coastal areas would be flooded,would not people just move further inland or adapt like the Dutch building dykes?]]

    Sure — at a cost of trillions of dollars. Losing Miami, New York, San Francisco and New Orleans won’t be something we can compensate for cheaply.

  16. 116

    fred posts, disingenuously:

    [[explain the lack of correlation between RISING carbon emissions and STEADY global temperatures since 1998]]

    You know damn well temperatures have not been STEADY since 1998, and you know it damn well because you’ve been on Tamino’s blog, “Open Mind,” where this has been discussed over and over for some time. You’ve had your arguments demolished there, and apparently your response is to come over here and repeat them again. Dishonest.

  17. 117

    Frank posts:

    [[ claims that since the past year has been cooler, there can’t be global warming. How can I best refute this garbage? HELP!]]

    Point out that climate is defined as regional or global average weather over a period of 30 years or more, and that a sample size of one year tells you nothing. There have been lots of little jogs downward in the curve of rising temperature, but the trend is still up.

  18. 118

    Ken Rohleder posts:

    [[“Widely accepted and poorly understood” sums up the current state of climate science.]]

    Speak for yourself.

  19. 119
    Jim Eager says:

    Re Ken Rohleder @ 114: “In ten years, the literature will likely disavow the current hysteria by saying, “By the early 2000’s…the notion of a global warming trend was widely accepted albeit poorly understand.”

    How scientific. Sounds more likely that you’re whistling past the graveyard to me, not a wise basis for making decisions that will have a global impact. We might as well be reading tarot cards.

  20. 120
    pete best says:

    Re #110, I know Tom but its good to see some data that clears it up.

    Re #112, Fred is obviously just another person who trolls looking for an argument.

  21. 121
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Ken Rohleder, Wow, what an amazing use of double-speak. The entire point of this post is that the cooling risk was not widely accepted. Indeed, the only reason it was mooted is that some researchers had underestimated the magnitude of CO2 forcing. And you cannot speak of all of climate science as poorly understood. We understand greenhouse forcing quite well. Indeed, even our understanding of aerosols is markedly improved, or the climate models would not have nailed the effect of Mt. Pinatubo as they did. So, Ken, might I suggest to you that not everyone shares your ignorance.

  22. 122
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Fred says in #95: “Whether one believes in man-made global warming, man-made global cooling, or natural climatic cycles, the real worry that many people have is that some political body will dictate their perceived solution via punitive laws rather than allowing the free market to sort things out.”

    Well, Fred, do you think we are more likely to get rational policy when we address this threat in the cold light of reason, using science as a guide, or do you think we ought to wait until we have an increase in national disasters so people can demand redress in a state of panic?
    You claim that humans have thrived under all manner of climates–and yet or civilization has thrived only under the current conditions of remarkable climatic stability. Indeed, no one really seriously thinks we can stop change from occurring. Rather, we are looking to buy time so that our economies and technology can adapt to the change with minimum disruption.

    Something I have noticed–see if it rings true to you. Homo Economicus understands enough about economics to realize that our models are not sufficiently well advanced to attempt social engineering. Homo Scientificus knows enough about climate models to see with virtual certainty that increasing CO2 is bringing about a condition of instability, but understands that there is insufficient knowledge to attempt geoengineering via any other variable than reducing ghg emissions. The analogy would be that we have realized that we are in a minefield and the minimum risk path out of it is via the way we came into it. However, Homo Economicus sees this as a tremendous disruption of our current economy, which depends on cheap fossil fuels to facilitate global trade (how else to explain why tropical fruits cost half what locally grown apples and pears do?). It seems to me equally fruitless to gainsay the laws of physics or the laws of economics, so perhaps the answer is to use the insights of both to plot a course leading to minimum disruption both short and long term.

  23. 123
    Hank Roberts says:

    Hold on, folks, don’t assume one “Fred” is the same “Fred” as another “Fred” even when the poster is copypasting nearly identical stuff across multiple forums. The only ones able to tell are the hosts who have access to the logs, and then only if the IPs aren’t spoofed.

    You have to remember this is an election year, that disrupting conversations is both a longterm sport online _and_ a political tactic.

    We readers do not have file headers and weblogs are far easier to disrupt than the old Usenet newsgroups. Weblogs need more restraint from the readers because they’re so *ing easy to * up.

    When we see yet another iteration of the same old stuff attributed to some “Fred” repeatedly posted again and again, about all we can say is that someone is “Fredding” — might as well recognize it as generic trolling, whether it’s one sincere believer witnessing or an organized group doing the copypaste thing.

    http://www.faqs.org/faqs/net-abuse-faq/troll-faq/
    —–
    K) “Arguing with anonymous strangers on the Internet is a sucker’s
    game because they almost always turn out to be — or to be
    indistinguishable from — self-righteous sixteen-year-olds possessing infinite amounts of free time.”
    -Neal Stephenson, _Cryptonomicon_

  24. 124
    agent phyzx says:

    Im not a scientist ,but Im very sceptical about AGW .My reasoning is
    that you have no evidence of the gasses involved causing what you
    suggest is going to happen ,actually doing it.Kraka Toa the largest
    volcanic eruption of our recent past belched out billions of tonnes of these gasses and cooling followed.Ok dust flew around for some years aiding cooling but when it settled the gasses were still there
    and no runaway greenhouse efect happened.Also the north American
    super volcano must have released much more pollution than man could ever do,no runaway effect there either.So I think a runaway effect is only a hypothosis ,not backed up by historical evidence.The cooling effect suggested in the seventies at least has a history of happening unlike the senario suggested by AGW. We have been told that things will just get hotter,how does this fit in with the latest NASA,GSS data that shows the sharpest global cooling ever recorded last year ,wipeing out a hundred years of global warming in one year ? http://www.dailytech.com/Temperature+Monitors+Report+Widescale+Global+Cooling/article10866.htm
    No one has the perfect model ,it just seems that who shouts loudest
    is the winner.Predicting the future is not science ,its fortune telling crystal ball territory.
    phyzx

  25. 125
    Trevor Williams says:

    I’m not sure “Whack-a-mole” is the best analogy for dealing with climate change sceptics and dodgy reasoning. “Chew toy” would be better.

  26. 126
    Ellis says:

    Any chance of letting us know what other search words you used beside global temperature, global warming and global cooling. Also, thats pretty fancy footwork disqualifing anything not centered on decades to centuries. Sure does bring down the total of reviewed papers predicting cooling, but completely skews the results. Ice cores in Greenland began in the 50’s, however, it wasn’t until the late 60’s-early 70’s that a useful model was created by Willi Dansgaard, and Hans Oeschger to be able to understand what the ice was telling us. This of course led to the ability to test Milankovitch’s theory with actual data, which led to our present understanding of ice ages. And, yes if you were the first to see the ice core results, you to would have said that the Earth is due for glaciation.

    I have another problem with this kind of research as it is very subjective, for instance, I note Hoffert 1974 introduction,

    It is presently accepted that the burning of carbonaceous fossil fuels since the 19th century
    industrial revolution has resulted in measurable increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide
    on a global scale (SCEP, 1970; SMIC, 1971). Moreover, given the present state of energy
    technology and energy policy in the industrially developed nations this trend is likely to
    continue for some time, at least, and a growing concern has developed as to its potential
    consequences for the environment.
    This current interest in anthropogenically-generated CO2 centers on its relationship to
    the climate. As a strong absorber in the infra-red, the carbon dioxide molecule plays a
    major role in determining the amount of long-wave radiation from earth reflected back
    into space and the amount which is retained as heat in the lower atmosphere (the greenhouse
    effect). The idea that CO2 levels regulate atmospheric temperatures is not new, having
    been proposed independently by Chamberlin (1899) and Arrhenius (1903) over 70 y
    ago. But since then the status of the “climate modification” problem has become much
    more involved. It is now recognized that the radiative-convective energy balance over (say)
    a latitude zone is determined by a number of optically active constituents of the atmosphere
    including water vapor, clouds and aerosols as well as the reflectivity of the underlying
    surface; and that feedback mechanisms couple temperature and circulation changes
    induced by variations in these constituents back to the levels and distributions of the constituents
    themselves (SMIC, 1971).

    reads as contemporary as any paper today, but is not included. And yet, you include Wang et al 1976 which states,

    Thus we can anticipate that CO2 will play a major role in future trends of the earth’s radiation budget; perhaps it will have a dominant role, but it is certainly not possible to be categorical about that at this time.

    bold mine.

    This paper actually has almost nothing to do with CO2 and is basically a reply to the WMO that they should accurately monitor the global trends of minor constituents of the atmosphere. In fact, at the time, as reported by Wang, the WMO believed the N2O, CH4 and NH3 were present in such small concentration that their direct radiative effects are negligible and that those trace gasses could only have an indirect effect on the energy budget of the planet.

    By the way, Hoffert 1974 cites Rasool et al 1971,

    Let us see how this might work in the case of a carbon dioxide increase. It has been
    estimated that (neglecting a possible compensatory cooling trend by anthropogenic aerosol
    scattering) a doubling of atmospheric CO, levels would result in a climatologically significant
    increase of a few degrees centigrade in the mean temperature of the troposphere
    (Manabe and Wetherald, 1967: Rasool and Schneider, 1971).

    So was R&S 1971 talking about cooling or warming?

    In closing, do you really think by appealling to reason that you are going to change the opinion of any nitwit who believes that because they were wrong then they must be wrong now? If so, all the power to you, like they say, you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. If not, than I will have to agree with my agnostic friend that this kind of propaganda is truly a turn-off.

    ps-the time to spring forward has past ;-)

  27. 127

    RE #106 & “the assumption is that every degree of direct CO2 induced warming has attached to it another 2 or 3 degrees of feedback. This is _not_ in any way “runaway” warming”

    As I did point out re technical climate science terminology.

    However, I still say “runaway” is a useful concept for laypersons, since they can understand the notion of a runaway train or horse — one that runs away from human control, but eventually stops on its own accord (runs out of energy). So from an anthropocentric POV, the idea of global warming which is caused by humans, and that which takes on a life of its own, beyond human control, and zaps us up much higher than where we would have been without the initial warming by humans — that is a distinction (the human part v. the “beyond human control” part) important for laypersons (at least for me), whereas it is totally unimportant for science….which doesn’t care where the GHGs or extra warming mechanisms (albedo loss) come from.

    So let’s say that general runaway warming is what is happening on Venus, and what might possibly happen here (and has happened several times in the past) is a limited runaway warming. Though I’d much prefer to consider Venus the special case of runaway, because “limited” sounds very tame and doable when in fact it could mean a great die out of a huge portion of life on earth.

    If we layperson truly understood the stakes (tho granted this hyperwarming scenario is not very likely), I think there would be more effort to reduce our GHGs…at least to reduce in ways that save us money. And I don’t see much of that happening. The U.S. has gone up 20% since 1990, when it could have gone down by at least 25% (perhaps a lot more, according to http://www.natcap.org) without lowering productivity or living standards.

  28. 128
    Chris Colose says:

    AdeV, William

    I’ve had some time to go through this paper, and frankly was not impressed. The first half of it seemed to be going through well known relationships, but did not discuss the TOA energy imbalance associated with making the atmosphere more opaque to infrared, but over emphasized the surface energy budget. Not too sure about their comments on “optical depth” (e.g. pg 22), but they seem to jump on to the conclusion of low climate sensitivity rather quickly, and they compute the atmosphere like a single column. Any climate sensitivity less than the planck response, without very good justification for negative feedback should probably be viewed with a good amount of skepticism. Maybe if one of the experts wants to throw in more comments, but I was not convinced.

    Of also note, is some assumptions that were made in this paper that need more justification, such as that water vapor decreases when you add CO2. I fully doubt someone like Isaac Held or Brian Soden would read the one paragraph on that and say “oh yea, we all screwed up!!!”

    The more important criticism is obviously that a runaway effect does not contradict physics, since a runaway effect occurred on Venus. Falsification by example even prior to this being published is not a good start. Unless of course Venus is not bound by physics. Even with much less sunlight on its surface (high albedo), Venus manages to be the hottest planet in the solar system with oceans long evaporated. The ice ages are not the only other thing to explain; try the faint young sun times, the Cretaceous hothouse, the PETM. Try running a GCM today with no CO2 and not getting an ice age.

  29. 129
    Pat Cassen says:

    Re #4, #80, #87, and William’s responses:
    I suspect that RC will have to deal with the Miskolczi paper sooner or later (link to paper pdf in #4, #80) . It presents an analytic solution (readily checked, although I have not done so yet) for the plane, bounded Milne problem in which there is no discontinuity in the long wavelength source function at the surface. Miskolczi then invokes this solution and a minimum energy (most efficient cooling) argument to draw his conclusions about climate sensitivity. This argument may be flawed (I don’t know), but the paper is generally well-written (despite some seemingly bizarre statements), with explicit derivations and comparisons with data. In any event, it should not be judged on the basis of what Daily Tech, etc. say about it. I see no evidence from the paper itself that its author is either a dilettante or a crackpot.

    If Miskolczi’s conclusions are incorrect (they are provocative, to say the least), it would be nice to know exactly where he goes astray.

  30. 130
    Jim Eager says:

    Re phyzx @ 124: “My reasoning is that you have no evidence of the gasses involved causing what you suggest is going to happen, actually doing it”

    Does “it” mean greenhouse gasses make Earth’s surface and atmosphere warmer than it otherwise would be it if they were not present, and that adding more of them will make it warmer still?

    If so, then your reasoning is decidedly faulty, because the above can be and has been measured in the lab and in nature.

    phyzx: “Kraka Toa the largest volcanic eruption of our recent past belched out billions of tonnes of these gasses and cooling followed.”

    This is one of the most sophomoric arguments a climate change “skeptic” can put forward, and I have to say I haven’t seen it in some time now.

    I suggest that you check some actual references on the composition of volcanic gas emissions. If you do, you will learn that by far water vapor is the most abundant gas emitted by explosive volcanoes (it is in fact what makes them explosive), followed by carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide (SO2), and a host of lesser gasses. Of those three big ones, water vapor and CO2 are both greenhouse gasses, while SO2 is not. Because the amount of water vapor the atmosphere can hold is limited by temperature, volcanically emitted water vapor does not stay in the atmosphere for very long–mere days–before condensing and precipitating as rain or snow, so water vapor emitted by volcanoes simply does not add to the greenhouse effect. That leaves the CO2, but each year, on average, volcanic activity world-wide emits less that one percent as much CO2 into the atmosphere as humans burning fossil fuels does today. Even a massive eruption like Krakatau emitted less than a percent as much CO2 as humans do per year today. Meanwhile, the SO2 reacts in the presence of water vapor and sunlight to form sulfuric acid droplets, which reflect incoming sunlight. This, combined with the dust and ash of an explosive volcanic eruption, which blocks incoming sunlight, is what leads to the cooling for a few years after a large eruption. The bigger the eruption, the greater the cooling.

    Now, since you mentioned super volcanoes, if you really want an example of truly massive volcanic activity that produced enough greenhouse gas to warm the atmosphere, look up the end-Permian extinction of 251 million years ago, when the volcanic eruptions that laid down the vast Siberian Traps flood basalt lead to the largest mass-extinction in Earth’s prehistory. Or, look up the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum of 55-56 million years ago, when massive subsea volcanic activity and/or the massive release of methane hydrates led to another mass extinction. Either one of them kind of disproves your contention.

    Oh, and that “runaway” greenhouse effect you mention? It can’t happen. The increase is not linear, it’s logarithmic. To get the same amount of warming from doubling CO2 you have to double it again.
    And that nonsense about this winter’s cooling wiping out a hundred years of global warming in one year? It also can’t happen.

  31. 131

    Ken Rohleder (#114): Are contending that science never advances? If something was poorly understood 30 years ago, we cannot possibly understand it better today?

    If you would like another example, how about gravitation? The theory was widely understood among educated people until Einstein’s time. Then Einstein messed everything up by introducing a theory that was too complex for the nonspecial-ist to understand. In this sense, gravitation to the ordinary person is now “poorly understood” whereas to the physicist, although big questions were opened by Einstein, things are better understood in the sense of being able to make more accurate predictions than before.

    Climate science has advanced in a similar kind of way (better understanding by special-ists, harder for non-special-ist to grasp). To have a deep understanding, you need not only underlying sciences like physics and chemistry, but also a clear understanding of statistical methods for large, noisy data sets. Much of this is beyond the non-scientist, though not completely beyond the non-special-ist scientist. The statistical methods should not be beyond a good economist (what kind of economist would predict that the market would never grow, every time there was a downturn: you can bet these people have actually heard of moving averages, even if some of them turn ignorant at the sight of a squiggly temperature anomaly graph).

    What is happening today is that the clarity of the science is being obfuscated by people who do not or will not understand the scientific basis, and carp from the sidelines (including some like Bob Carter who should know better: “global warming stopped in 1998″ http://www.logicalscience.com/skeptics/bobcarter.html). I have no problem with anyone who genuinely questions the science. But I don’t see that happening much). I have no problem with anyone who genuinely questions the science. But I don’t see that happening much.

    Ken Rohleder (#114): Are contending that science never advances? If something was poorly understood 30 years ago, we cannot possibly understand it better today?

    In case anyone is worrying about the suprious hyphens, the spam filters catch special-ist without the hypnen as a containing a drug name…

  32. 132
    Hank Roberts says:

    Miskolczi is coauthor on quite a few papers in recent past years (Google Scholar for F.M. Miskolczi). I’d imagine this recent solo paper will be cited in more familiar journals if it makes sense to those with whom he’s worked in the past. Keep checking for citations to it and see who publishes mentioning it.

  33. 133
    Lawrence Coleman says:

    Re: 104 Jim Eager..excellent reply you gave to Richard. In regard to displaced populations..virtually every country will be facing their own difficulties..trying to adapt to the runaway train..and yes..it is a runaway train! One scenario in the movie day after tomorrow was that the population of the US would move into Mexico..all assuming the climate in Mexico is unchanged, but Mexico has an acute water shortage, one of the most acute in the world..It is impossible for that country to take on any more people, so then where do you go? the amazon basin perhaps?..think again..people need space so will need to clear vast amounts of forest..less tress..more CO2 and the situation keeps compounding. Packing up and moving to Canada sounds nice..think again..if the North Atlantic Current is sufficiently slowed down by artic/greenland meltwater it could cause the rapid onset of another iceage..So moving demographies is in most cases NOT the solution. Trying to adapt where you live is the only practical solution as far as I can see. I’m an Australian, my wife is from the Philippines, I have thought of moving at some later stage to the Philippines, but her country is even more vunerable than Australia Regards CC. So best to stay put and somehow by hook or by crook adapt. What do you guys think?

  34. 134
    PHE says:

    Why there was far less global cooling science has a very simple explanation. Its a question of the length of the trend. If the ‘cooling’ had continued for a few more years, then the IPCC would have been established to assess the causes. Alongide, there would have been a proliferation of studies on the subject. The conclusion would have been, ‘global cooling is caused by man-made aerosols, it will cause extremes of weather, and thousands will die as a result of floods, colder winters, storms, etc. Al Gore would still have his Oscar and Peace Prize. This website would exist, And the same people would be on opposite sides of the debate, but with the sides reversed.

  35. 135
    amao says:

    re 112

    Joel Shore said:
    “However, I believe that all the temperature data sets still showed a net positive anomaly relative to their 1951-1980 base period, which means that the global temperature was still higher than the average during that 1951 to 1980 period (which itself was already warmer than the average temperature earlier in the 20th century). And, again, that was a fluctuation. It is likely that 2008 as a whole will have an even higher positive anomaly from the 1951 to 1980 base period than January alone did.”

    OK but what I find difficult to explain is why the northern latitude area (64N-90N) is precisely the part of the world where (i) you will find no significant temperature trend on the 1920’s-2007 period and (ii) where the 1978-2007 average is indeed the highest value of the data sets but is still very close to the levels reached on the 1920’s-1950’s period. I guess that, according to the theory, this northern area should warm faster than every where else on the planet.

  36. 136
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Agent Phyzx–No, you are skeptical BECAUSE you are not a scientist. You blithely make assumptions about gasses and dust from Krakatau (note spelling), and you don’t even have the mechanisms right. Good lord, man, it’s not that hard to do a little work and learn enough about the science to at least appear credible.
    First, volcanos produce cooling because they send sulfates into the atmosphere. Second, they produce much, much less CO2 than do humans. Do us all a favor and read Spencer Weart’s history of climate change linked through the front page.

  37. 137
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #122 [Ray Ladbury] “Homo Economicus understands enough about economics to realize that our models are not sufficiently well advanced to attempt social engineering.”

    Ray, “Homo Economicus” does not mean “a typical economist”, as you seem to think. It means, according to Wikipedia “the concept in some economic theories of man (that is, a human) as a rational and self-interested actor who desires wealth, avoids unnecessary labor, and has the ability to make judgments towards those ends.” Also, as I’ve pointed out a number of times, “social engineering” is undertaken whenever a law is passed, or an organisation (a firm, a political party, a chess club…) is founded. Your use of the term as a scare-word has no scientific justification whatever.

  38. 138
    Jim Eager says:

    “The conclusion would have been, ‘global cooling is caused by man-made aerosols, it will cause extremes of weather, and thousands will die as a result of floods, colder winters, storms, etc. ….”

    More alternate universe tarot card reading, this time by PHE.

  39. 139

    RE #122 & 137, if anyone wants scary, here’s something that’s scary, the film CRUDE AWAKENING: THE OIL CRASH – http://www.oilcrashmovie.com . And it doesn’t even mention global warming, even once.

    The scariest part was the graph that linked the huge population boom of recent history to the discovery and use of oil to greatly increase agricultural production, and how our big world population will be grossly decimated by us running out of oil (even taking into consideration all the alternatives).

    This film bopped me back to the 70s when I first learned about peak oil and entropy, and how extremely dependent on fossil fuels, especially oil, we are. It’s when I first started conserving — not so much bec of the pollution, not at all bec of GW (of which I knew nothing), but bec fossil fuels are finite resources and we’d eventually run out. That’s when I started conscientiously selecting homes closer to work, and reducing my driving.

    Every time we house-hunted over the ensuing decades upon moving to a new job area I’d ask the realtor if any solar homes (passive and/or active solar) were available. They always said “no,” and I wondered how strange that was that people weren’t building them. Later I learned passive solar had been known about and practiced over over 2500 years — but not after the new (and soon to be over) age of oil. See the book Golden Thread: Twenty-five Hundred Years of Solar Architecture and Technology.

    We are NOT at all Homo economicus (rational, self-interested beings), but I can’t write here what we are or they’ll moderate the comment out. But the initials are H.s., and the “s” doesn’t stand for sapiens (wise one).

  40. 140
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Nick,
    I think you misunderstand my intent. I am trying to explain why those of an economic/business bent seem more likely to challenge the science (which they do not know) or propose geo-engineering solutions, while those of us who understand the science are more likely to suggest changes that affect our current economy (despite the fact that we are not trained in economics or business).
    In my experience, there is a tendency for people to think that whatever they don’t understand is simple.
    To those who understand the science, anthropogenic causation of climate change is a lead-pipe cinch. It is also clear that the current understanding of climate is not sufficient to map out all the unintended consequences of proposed geo-engineering schemes (other than reducing ghgs). I am proposing that much of the opposition of the business-minded folks is because their theoretical understanding of the economy is insufficient to map out unintended consequences of drastic reduction of fossil fuel consumption.
    I also stand by my differentiation of homo scientificus from homo economicus, as the former seeks work, eschews wealth and does whatever possible to maximize time spent at the lab.

  41. 141

    Minor correction: the preprint shows 42 warming abstracts, not 44.

  42. 142
    Johann says:

    Great Discussion! Here are a few articles which address points of interest:

    On Ocean Currents and how GW can contribute to GC:
    http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0130-11.htm

    NASA Astrobiologist Peter Ward on the nasty effects which (inevitably?) follow our current contributions to GW:
    http://www.lacitybeat.com/cms/story/detail/?id=5816&IssueNum=214

  43. 143
    Johann says:

    RE:#130

    Can you please provide links to studies/papers/research for this information about content of volcanic eruptions? Thanks

  44. 144
    Ed Pardo says:

    I am skeptical about AGW (not climate change) and have read a recent hypothesis about solar cycles which is entirely different from past theories involving luminesence. Richard Mackey wrote a paper expounding the hypothesis originated by the late Dr. Rhodes Fairbridge. In it he states “The IPCC dismissed any significant link between solar variability and climate on the grounds that changes in irradiance were too small.” … “Short wavelength radiation (UV and Xrays) ionises the upper atmosphere and heats the middle atmosphere. As a result, atmospheric temperature varies in a nonlinear manner with the amount and type of solar radiation. The sun ejects enormous quantities of matter continuously in the form of the solar wind, or periodically as either a mix of high energy protons and electrons (Coronal Mass Ejections, (CMEs)), or as mostly high energy protons (Solar Proton Events (SPEs)). The earth’s atmosphere is more sensitive, and more reactive, to the CMEs and SPEs than to the sun’s short wavelength radiation, to which it is, in any case, highly reactive. The effect of the solar wind, CMEs and SPEs is to reduce the amount of ozone and as a result, warm the middle atmosphere. The overall effect on climate is more turbulence: stronger winds, more storms and greater precipitation.”
    How does Realclimate regard his paper “Rhodes Fairbridge and the idea that the solar system regulates the Earth’s climate” Journal of Coastal Research SI 50 955 – 968 ICS2007 (Proceedings) Australia ISSN 0749.0208 (2007).

  45. 145
    Sue says:

    Thanks for the really interesting review of the research.

    One poster made mention of films he saw in high school that dealt with a cooling earth. I’m reminded of science fiction stories from the very early 60’s that did the same.

    another point: I’m sure Tom Fiddaman (#113) had his tongue in his cheek when he said:
    “Funny how we’re so capable of adapting to climate, but we can’t handle a little carbon tax.”
    But as a sociologist/anthropologist the adaptability of the human species to vast different climatic regimes is quite different from the adaptability of a single socio-economic system (modern, fossil fuel addicted industrial capitalism). A point that has been suggested by several posters(e.g., Levenson in #115).
    Which is all the more reason why it would be in the best interests of the very people most inclined to bury their heads in their profit and loss reports, to start planning now for changing resource and climatic patterns.

    There are some folks out there who are capable of following both the climate science and the economic science (although having put considerable formal study into the economics part of it, I’m convinced that most economists don’t really grasp the real world economy).

  46. 146
    Jim Eager says:

    Johann, here are a few quick links that I just grabbed that have current or recent data on volcanic vs fossil fuel sources of CO2:
    USGS: http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/volcanowatch/2007/07_02_15.html
    USGS: http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/Hazards/What/VolGas/volgas.html
    USDOE CDIAC: http://cdiac.ornl.gov/by_new/bysubjec.html#carbon
    British Geological Survey: http://www.bgs.ac.uk/programmes/landres/segs/downloads/VolcanicContributions.pdf

  47. 147
    Ric Merritt says:

    PHE (#134) really made me laugh–the only reason we didn’t have a mirror image world with the IPCC gravely explaining cooling and Al Gore sharing his Nobel with them was because the cooling didn’t go on long enough! You have to admit it’s slightly more original than the usual drivel. Only problem is, since PHE was not able to observe this fantasy world, to be convinced of its hypothetical validity we must necessarily depend on an extremely accurate model that encompasses not only physics and climate but also politics, social psychology, etc etc. Maybe PHE should write some sequels to Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. Alas, the evidentiary basis of PHE’s required but unexplained model is a tad flimsier than that underlying climate science in the real world.

  48. 148
    Lawrence Coleman says:

    Re: 144 Ed Pardo, Solar flares producing spurts of CME’s and SPE’s by memory occur roughly..very roughy every 7-10 years. And the warming of the middle atmosphere probably does cause some climatic effects but AGW is based on very long term trends going back to the turn of the century and earlier..if you take ice-cores you can go back 1mil years. And the correlation between the gradual but increasing rate of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere and the global air and sea temp rise over the same time frame is unequivical..absolutely unequivical. What do you think happens when you increase a major atmospheric gas CO2 by 30%..somethings gotta give..pure logic! What you are talking of is sporadic events which have occurred since time immemorial..what the IPCC is talking of is long term and in direct proportion to the levels of global emissions since the mid 1800’s

  49. 149
    Phil Scadden says:

    #134 An interesting question is how does a viewpoint like this even arise? PHE would appear to have a worldview in which reality for scientists is constructed purely for funding/economic reasons. How much of the population thinks this way? This is post-modernist thinking which I think is seriously undermining political process. If people think that reality is only a social construct then political processes that are needed to deal a problem are hamstrung by an inability to accurately perceive truth. The 20th century has seen science understand that you cannot have certainty but at the same time post-modernism has hijacked this understanding to push the idea that science is merely one way among many other equally valid ways of perceiving truth. This is serious trouble.

  50. 150

    Re #99:

    And it’s for this reason that I maintain the solution to AGW is the current price of oil at $109 / bbl the last time I looked. I forget what it was when I first posted here, but it hadn’t made it to $100 yet.

    One thing is for sure in my mind — if we’re in a recession here in the States, when we come out of it, oil consumption will have been addressed. Oil shows up in too many places for us to NOT address oil consumption.


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