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Global Cooling-Wanna Bet?

Filed under: — stefan @ 8 May 2008 - (Español) (Deutsch) (Italian)

By Stefan Rahmstorf, Michael Mann, Ray Bradley, William Connolley, David Archer, and Caspar Ammann

Global cooling appears to be the “flavour of the month”. First, a rather misguided media discussion erupted on whether global warming had stopped, based on the observed temperatures of the past 8 years or so (see our post). Now, an entirely new discussion is capturing the imagination, based on a group of scientists from Germany predicting a pause in global warming last week in the journal Nature (Keenlyside et al. 2008).

Specifically, they make two forecasts for global temperature, as discussed in the last paragraphs of their paper and shown in their Figure 4 (see below). The first forecast concerns the time interval 2000-2010, while the second concerns the interval 2005-2015 (*). For these two 10-year averages, the authors make the following prediction:

“… the initialised prediction indicates a slight cooling relative to 1994-2004 conditions”

Their graph shows this: temperatures in the two forecast intervals (green points shown at 2005 and 2010) are almost the same and are both lower than observed in 1994-2004 (the end of the red line in their graph).

Fig. 4 from <em/>Keenlyside et al ’08″ align = “left” width=90%/><br />
<b>Figure 4 from <em>Keenlyside et al</em> ’08</b></p>
<p>The authors also make regional predictions, but naturally it was this global prediction that captivated most newspaper stories around the world (e.g. <a href=New York Times, BBC News, Reuters, Bloomberg and so on), because of its seeming contradiction with global warming. The authors emphasise this aspect in their own media release, which was titled: Will Global Warming Take a Short Break?

That this cooling would just be a temporary blip and would change nothing about global warming goes without saying and has been amply discussed elsewhere (e.g. here). But another question has been rarely discussed: will this forecast turn out to be correct?

We think not – and we are prepared to bet serious money on this. We have double-checked with the authors: they say they really mean this as a serious forecast, not just as a methodological experiment. If the authors of the paper really believe that their forecast has a greater than 50% chance of being correct, then they should accept our offer of a bet; it should be easy money for them. If they do not accept our bet, then we must question how much faith they really have in their own forecast.

The bet we propose is very simple and concerns the specific global prediction in their Nature article. If the average temperature 2000-2010 (their first forecast) really turns out to be lower or equal to the average temperature 1994-2004 (*), we will pay them € 2500. If it turns out to be warmer, they pay us € 2500. This bet will be decided by the end of 2010. We offer the same for their second forecast: If 2005-2015 (*) turns out to be colder or equal compared to 1994-2004 (*), we will pay them € 2500 – if it turns out to be warmer, they pay us the same. The basis for the temperature comparison will be the HadCRUT3 global mean surface temperature data set used by the authors in their paper.

To be fair, the bet needs an escape clause in case a big volcano erupts or a big meteorite hits the Earth and causes cooling below the 1994-2004 level. In this eventuality, the forecast of Keenlyside et al. could not be verified any more, and the bet is off.

The bet would also need a neutral arbiter – we propose, for example, the director of the Hadley Centre, home of the data used by Keenlyside et al., or a committee of neutral colleagues. This neutral arbiter would also decide whether a volcano or meteorite impact event is large enough as to make the bet obsolete.

We will discuss the scientific reasons for our assessment here another time – first we want to hear from Keenlyside et al. whether they accept our bet. Our friendly challenge is out – we hope they will accept it in good sportsmanship.

(*) We adopt here the definition of the 10-year intervals as in their paper, which is from 1 November of the first year to 31 October of the last year. I.e.: 2000-2010 means 1 November 2000 until 31 October 2010.

Update: We have now published part 2 of this bet with our scientific arguments.

_______________________
Update: Andy Revkin has weighed in at “dot earth”.

Update 5/11/08: so has Anna Barnett at Nature’s ‘climate feedback’ blog


228 Responses to “Global Cooling-Wanna Bet?”

  1. 151
    trrll says:

    It would indeed be a leap of logic for me to say there is no point in doing forecasts, as you infer. Of course we need to do forecasts and to continually measure their accuracy as the models improve. It would be absurd to do otherwise. What we don’t need to do is to base sweeping policy on demonstrably incomplete science.

    wmanny, science is never absolutely complete. There will always be things that we don’t yet know. We don’t even have a complete science of gravity. Does that mean that we should not formulate sweeping plans like launching of satellites and space stations because we don’t know everything?

    It sounds like you are just looking for a rationalization to avoid dealing with the problem.

  2. 152
    wmanny says:

    To Ray’s “Just what should we base policy on if not the insights we gain from sound modeling?” You are the one who noted the incorrect use of models to get answers rather than insights. I inferred that you meant models should be used, then, for study rather than for policy-making. I now infer that you believe “sound models” can and should be used to get answers, and fair enough. Your reading takes you to the point of view that says human CO2 contributions to climate change are determinative. Mine takes me to a more optimistic place, where among other things I admire the responsible choices many people make when they come to believe in AGW. My pessimistic side, though, says that once AGW is shown to be a trivial factor in the geological swing of things, the backlash will be strong. Were I a cynic, then, I might pretend to be a believer, but I prefer to shoot straight with my students and try to educate them about the myriad other reasons to behave in more sustainable ways. Most of them have been indoctrinated in AGW, but a minority could use some other incentives.

  3. 153
    leebert says:

    @ Hank,

    I’m not talking SC#24 max in 2013, but SC #25. And we’d have to wait, um, 17 years for any prediction of its max to actually transpire.

    I guess there’d be two or three different bets. SC #25, then SC #26. And any discernible negative climate effect as of SC #26 max.

    The data behind what I’m citing about SC#25, there are two big indicators: Sunspot group surface speed & cumulative spotless days. The SS group speed has become dog slow, reflecting the plasma energy level in the convective layer. Current spotless day trends like 17th – 19th C solar activity, as do the wolf #’s, etc.

    Honestly it’s anybody’s guess WTF SC #24 will do. Some trendcasts based on 19th century data say the sun’s hibernating, but I haven’t sat down with those data & I think it’s probably premature speculation.

  4. 154
    leebert says:

    @ Ray,

    > The thing is that while ENSO and other such oscillations
    > are not periodic as such, their net contribution averages
    > out. As Raypierre says, “the sun goes up and down and up
    > and down, and temperature (trend) goes up.” Same goes for
    > ENSO.

    Thanks Ray, that makes sense, but I wonder if there’s more to the story. Scripps & JPL both saying they were expecting a crapload more heat, more than the NPR story is saying has been found. Is the gist of the NPR segment wrong?

    Has anyone seriously looked at amplitude, frequency & phase switch frequency. Even if the amplitude & frequency went up couldn’t the running averages look the same? What I’m driving at is taking the avg high/low bands & looking for increased amplitude differential that’d reflect more total energy throughput with some uptick in sea temperatures.

    If the gist of the NPR segment is correct, where’s the missing heat? It may have been offloaded by heat-exchange mechanisms, like ENSO or open ocean boreal & austreal seas that have less insolation most of the year. Can the system respond to keep a nearly-level thermal constant, via increased local entropies from increased system enthalpy? The result would be negentropic. How dynamic would a system have to be in order to keep up with additional heat loadings?

    Hmmm. I work on cars. When I explain the climate problem to friends I speak of the potential for latent heat getting swept under the rug. Like an engine, the faster you pump energy through it the more heat comes out the radiator. If the radiator is clogged, the heat backlogs in the engine, the engine overheats. If the radiator is in good shape, a motor sheds heat. The heat exchange capacity of the system stays efficient even in 40 degrC b/c it has excess emissive capacity.

    I read about missing heat (Argo), lower-than-modeled RH in the mid- upper-troposphere and marginal increase in WV & my reaction is to wonder if the system has become more energetic but somehow, through various emissive mechanisms, seeks a thermal constant (thermal inertia).

    Stephen Schwartz’ energy paper has been reviewed & SS has accepted a time constant of 8 years as more apropos. How does that jibe with a less-dangerous rate of cumulative heat retention? Can the system keep up w/ the extra energy through other mechanisms?

    But then, they’re really not “artificial variations” if bigger perturbations are caused by increased energy throughput caused by human influences. Artificial variation is misnomer.

    As for risk assessment, here’s my quandary. There’s cost containment to consider in the pursuit of mitigation, not b/c the USA or whoever is a cheapskate, but b/c there are conflicting priorities and we can’t serve them all.

    The soot problem looks more immediate to me b/c of its effects in the boreal environment, particularly the risk of tundral permafrost methane release.

    Thanks,

    /lee

  5. 155
    Harold Pierce Jr says:

    Re: #143

    If you live in the Canadian praries you can see the temperature swing from -40 deg C to almost +40 deg on occasion in the course of a year. I don’t these folks will ever notice a slight increase annual mean temperature. The mean annual temp in Alice Springs has changed hardly at all since 1880.

  6. 156

    I agree with #144 wmanny & “What we don’t need to do is to base sweeping policy on demonstrably incomplete science.”

    Yes, we certainly do need to immediately halt this ridiculous policy of burning fossil fuels and emitting GHGs into the atmosphere until we know for certain that they don’t cause GW. Scientists have been trying and trying for decades to disprove AGW (that’s how science works), and so far all they’ve been able to do is reject the null hypothesis.

    So we really do need to halt this ongoing and dangerous policy of continuing to emit (even increasingly emit) GHGs…at least until they are 99% confident the null hypothesis is correct!

  7. 157

    Alex Hayworth wrotes:

    “The next ice age is due 20,000-50,000 years from now. It’s something that can be calculated with fair accuracy, since it depends on the Earth’s orbit and other astronomical factors.”

    Obviously I (and I suspect many others) are ill-informed on this question, since I had no idea that the timing was known with such accuracy. I’d be grateful for some pointers on where to read up on it.

    Google “Milankovic cycles.” The Pleistocene ice ages seem to correlate with periodicities in the Earth’s orbital eccentricity, axial tilt, and precession. The theory was first proposed by Milutin Milankovic in 1930, but it wasn’t generally accepted until the 1970s.

  8. 158
    Mike Donald says:

    Here’s a paper found in the blogosphere which seems to take on the IPCC and modelling as well no less. I’ve included their conclusions.

    http://www.itia.ntua.gr/en/docinfo/850

    20..Conclusions

    All.examined.long.records.demonstrate.large.overyear.variability (long.term. fluctuations).with.no.systematic.signatures.across.the.different locations/climates.


    GCMs generally.reproduce.the.broad.climatic.behaviours at.different.geographical. locations.and.the.sequence.of.wet/dry.or.warm/cold.periods.on.a.mean.monthly.scale..


    However,.model.outputs.at.annual.and.climatic.(30.year).scales.are.irrelevant.with. reality;.also,.they.do.not.reproduce.the.natural.overyear.fluctuation.and,.generally,. underestimate.the.variance.and.the.Hurst.coefficient.of.the.observed.series;.none.of.the. models.proves.to.be.systematically.better.than.the.others.


    The.huge.negative.values.of.coefficients.of.efficiency.at.those.scales.show.that.model. predictions.are.much.poorer.that.an.elementary.prediction.based.on.the.time.average.


    This.makes.future.climate.projections.not.credible.


    The.GCM.outputs.of.AR4,.as.compared.to.those.of.TAR,.are.a.regression.in.terms.of. the.elements.of.falsifiability they.provide,.because.most.of.the.AR4.scenarios.refer.only. to.the.future,.whereas.TAR.scenarios.also.included.historical.periods..

    They have a point? I dunno.

    PS hope you win your bet.

    [Response: With all due respect to the authors, they do not appear know very much about either TAR or AR4. Looking at the statistics of local temperature and precipitation is useful but picking just a few long records and comparing to the nearest individual grid cells is not sensible. The differences in topography an local micro-climates are probably large and will make a big difference. A better approach would have been to look at aggregated statistics over larger areas. This has in fact been done though - for instance Blender and Fraedrich (2003), and there was a recent paper that looked the AR4 models (in GRL maybe? - I can't quickly find the reference). The most curious aspect of this paper's reception in the blogosphere is that the authors use the surface station records which in all other circumstances the cheer squad would be condemning as being horribly contaminated. Just saying. - gavin]

  9. 159
    Alex Heyworth says:

    Hank Roberts, thanks for your suggestions. I followed up on them but the results do not seem to me to make the issue as clearcut as I was led to believe by Barton’s comment. For example, this is one of the papers I got to. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6VBC-4G1WYBT-1&_user=10&_origUdi=B6VF0-49HMV5N-1&_fmt=high&_coverDate=08%2F31%2F2005&_rdoc=1&_orig=article&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=9a39a83975d15b29fd34728f4b0c4784

    According to these researchers, warming (particularly of tropical oceans) is one of the things that leads to a glacial. They also say

    “A significant part of the current global warming is due to the gradual temperature increase of the tropical oceans. As the changing orbital configuration today resembles that of the last interglacial/glacial transition, the warming is likely to have a natural component.”

    This seems to me to be saying that the Earth is in a similar position in terms of its orbit around the sun to where it was at the onset of the last glacial. So to suggest that it is 20,000 to 50,000 years off apparently wouldn’t be supported by these researchers.

  10. 160
    Natassa says:

    Who said science can’t be fun? Isn’t that fun?

    IMHO, the reason this made huge news at least in Europe (where I am now) is because it is mostly in Europe that the large weather prediction centers are pushing this idea of “decadal predictions”. This paper wants to show that IPCC models fail to give decadal predictions although they maybe correct in the longer time scales.

    So this tongue-in-cheek bet is much more than that. Can the weather
    prediction centers do decadal predictions as they claim?

  11. 161

    This seems to me to be saying that the Earth is in a similar position in terms of its orbit around the sun to where it was at the onset of the last glacial. So to suggest that it is 20,000 to 50,000 years off apparently wouldn’t be supported by these researchers.

    You’ve completely misinterpreted what the article states.

  12. 162
    Alex Heyworth says:

    Further reading on Milankovic cycles and their influence on our climate has not convinced me that the next glacial must be 20-50 Ky away. This is clearly the view of some researchers (eg Berger and Loutre, Drexler et al), mainly on the basis that the interglacial approximately 400 kya known as marine isotope stage (MIS) 11 is the best analogue for the present interglacial, but even they admit that there is a lot we don’t know about the causes of interglacial/glacial transitions.

    This paper
    http://www.esmg.mcgill.ca/index_files/TheoriesLGI.pdf

    concludes that:

    “Much progress has been made in the understanding of glacial-interglacial cycles in
    the past 30 years, since Kukla et al. (1972) predicted that the present interglacial
    would end soon. Nevertheless, the dynamics which govern the glacial-interglacial
    cycles are still not fully understood. The results from Paillard (1998) suggest
    that the glacial-interglacial cycles are indeed driven by insolation, as predicted by
    Milankovitch (1930), since Paillards (1998) simple, orbitally forced model could
    successfully simulate the observed glacial-interglacial cycles of the past 2 million
    42
    years, including the change from the dominant 41 kyr cycle to the 100 kyr cycle
    after the MPR around 900 kyr BP. However, which of the orbital parameters is the
    primary driver of glacial-interglacial cycles remains debated. Vetoretti and Peltier
    (2004) found that glacial inceptions can be caused either by a strong obliquity
    forcing or by a combination of eccentricity-precession forcing and low CO2 values,
    which is in line with results from Berger and Loutre (2001) who found that CO2
    is important during times like the MIS-11, when the insolation variations are
    too small to drive glacial-interglacial cycles. However, Kubatzki (2005) found
    that a simultaneous changes in the perihelion and obliquity forcing is necessary
    to initiate a full glaciation, while obliquity forcing alone or in combination with
    eccentricity forcing is not able to cause a glaciation.”

    While Richard Muller (http://muller.lbl.gov/papers/nature.html)suggests that orbital inclination is the key factor, with changes between interglacials and glacials being due to accretion of extraterrestrial dust or meteoroids. Muller makes a strong case that Milankovic cycles, however manipulated, cannot be matched up properly to the transition timeframes.

    To sum up: some researchers think the next glacial is a long way off. Their reasons for thinking this are plausible, but not yet stringently tested. They rely too heavily, imo, on comparisons with a previous interglacial that may or may not be a good match to the current one. Other research suggests that a glacial could be much closer.

  13. 163
    Hank Roberts says:

    Alex, we know who the “some researchers think” are, and can read what they’ve published. But your “Other researchers suggest” lacks a cite.

    The researchers who think, as you say, think the orbital parameters give us a long time til the next glacial. We can read that.

    Who are the people who suggest otherwise? Where are you reading the suggestions, who quotes it, what has been published, where is it published? Have you a cite to any research journal?

  14. 164
    pete best says:

    How can it get colder unless energy is being reflected back into space before it is absorbed/released by the earth as heat or the energy is being used to warm the oceans to a greater depth. I am presuming that thermalmally expanded water is a less effective heat absorber so the energy penetrates deeper into the ocean?

  15. 165
    JCH says:

    Reading through the RC stacks last night I found a post that indicated the cooler than expected ocean temperatures were also confirmed at depths below those discussed in a recent peer-reviewed paper.

    I also found an interesting post and response that discussed fresh water possibly being behind sea level not behaving in a way ocean cooling would indicate.

    And I found a post that suggested heat going back into space as being the most likely answer. In the denialospere that will inspire the notion of a “thermostat”, and perhaps even revive Lindzen’s unmentionable.

  16. 166
    David B. Benson says:

    Alex Heyworth (159) — From the discussion section of the paper you linked:

    “It is therefore likely that the future natural climate development would result in a prolonged continuation of an interglacial type of environment.”

  17. 167
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Pete Best, If you have more cold water upwelling than normal, that is that much more heat going into the ocean just to maintain the surface temperature. Since the ocean is a huge heat reservoir, it’s overall temperature would only rise marginally. Now, of course this can’t go on forever. Eventually the flow diminishes and even if it did, the effect of CO2 persists for thousands of years–plenty of time to warm the entire ocean. The thing is, the energy can’t be lost into space is because until the atmosphere heats up, the greybody radiation doesn’t increase to restore equilibrium.

  18. 168
    Sean O says:

    I have left two other comments on this site within this conversation that are dated prior to the comments that are last posted. My comments are not being posted. Are the good folks here at RealClimate blacklisting me?

    [Response: No. But tirades and misrepresentations are not welcome. We work to make this a relatively pleasant place to discourse, if you are not interested in that, comment elsewhere. - gavin]

  19. 169
    L Miller says:

    “If you live in the Canadian praries you can see the temperature swing from -40 deg C to almost +40 deg on occasion in the course of a year. I don’t these folks will ever notice a slight increase annual mean temperature. The mean annual temp in Alice Springs has changed hardly at all since 1880.”

    You think wrong. As it happens I live on the Canadian Prairies and it’s not unusually for be to be cycling to work in Dec, and back on the road in March. That would have been unthinkable 30 years ago because temperatures would have been -25 deg C. Early springs combined with late falls can have profound impact on a relatively dry ecosystem that depends heavily on spring runoff.

  20. 170
    Hank Roberts says:

    You can find almost anything here, but if you don’t cite your source, there’s no way to tell if you read a hobbyhorse post or a bit of something out of context. Care to attribute what you say?

  21. 171
    pete best says:

    Just been looking at new books on global warming /climate change and guess what.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Deniers-World-Renowned-Scientists-Political-Persecution/dp/0980076315/ref=sr_1_74?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1210537570&sr=1-74

    This one stands out a tad and Lawsons book. Blimey, I just cannot believe that people are able to get this stuff into print!

    [Response: Never underestimate the need for frequent reinforcement for people who fervently wish something to be true but who know it isn't. They will buy almost anything to support their illusions. - gavin]

  22. 172
    David Ahlport says:

    One question nagging me.

    How is it possible that this will have a significant effect, if it should have already been a part of the assumed baseline of the past few decades.

    Has the meridional overturning circulation changed significantly in the past few decades?

    [Response: There is no evidence for an MOC change in recent decades - however the measurements are very noisy and sparse, thus some small changes cannot be ruled out, but they are effectively unknown. - gavin]

  23. 173
    JCH says:

    Hank, if that was directed at me –

    http://tinyurl.com/5ps4wa

    cooling at depth/lost into space:

    posts 3, 9 and 11

    fresh water:

    post 16

    Posts 14, 42 and 63 are also interesting.

    The above should be considered in context of this later RC article:

    http://tinyurl.com/3hpqdk

    On sea level, I found 122′s response to 119 valuable.

  24. 174
    Hank Roberts says:

    JCH refers to Bryan Sralla’s postings, where he wrote
    “lets assume for a moment that this loss of heat is confirmed, and this heat is not still in the deep ocean (no evidence of this)….” and then in 11 wrote “In respect to heat transport to the deeper ocean, Lyman also took a look at heat changes below 750 meters, and the cooling signal was still quite strong. This does not invalidate the deep ocean hypothesis, but with no viable mechanism proposed to transport this heat, it looks unlikely at this time to be the answer.”
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/08/ocean-heat-content-latest-numbers#comment-17765

    There’s always something new; the few press reports I’ve seen suggest these very slow currents may go quite deep:

    http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2008/2008GL033267.shtml
    “… striations are oriented nearly zonally and coherent vertically at least through 700 m depth….”

    Most of the following is paywalled:
    http://environment.newscientist.com/channel/earth/mg19826524.700-mysterious-striped-currents-revealed-in-the-oceans.html

  25. 175
    Hank Roberts says:

    PS, looking up the researcher’s name
    http://oceanmotion.org/html/research/niiler.htm
    let me backtrack to this:
    http://oceanmotion.org/index.htm

  26. 176

    I like this bet. It seems the denial people use all sorts of blatant gimmickry and bullishness to make them sound confident, which achieves the goal of stirring up a lot of support among those who don’t think very much. And it seems to me we of the realistic, scientific persuasion need to get our points out to those people too, so it follows that making an unscientific personal challenge to back up good science is a good way to get unscientific people to listen. It makes a scientific debate into a tabloid drama. That way Glenn Beck and O’Reilly might understand it.

  27. 177
    wmanny says:

    to #151 (trrll) I grant we don’t know what gravity is, but we do know what it does, and nobody feels the need to claim there is a consensus on the issue, so I don’t think the analogy is apt. And I am not looking for a rationalization to avoid dealing with the [AGW] problem. I don’t happen to share your view that there is one.

    to #156 (Lynn) I agree it is ridiculous policy to to keep mindlessly burning fossil fuels, but not because I am worried about GHGs and AGW. I do not think the ends justify the means, and I fear backlash when those means are shown to be groundless. One could argue backlash is already upon us when we look to Europe, which on the one hand is way ahead of us by your way of looking at things, but whose latest actions (Enel in Italy and elsewhere) are to build new coal plants. When Gore overstates the case in Myanmar, as another example, he does a huge disservice to the AGW cause, and those of us seeking cleaner energy for reasons aside from AGW can be heard gnashing our teeth in unison.

    [Response: Please no nonsense about Gore. Read the actual transcript rather than some hachet job from the 'BMI'. - gavin]

  28. 178
    Charlie B. says:

    To those who think this is frivolous, there’s a longstanding tradition of wagers in science. Almost any memoir or history of scientific discoveries contains wagers. I like this wager, although the stake is a little higher than most scientific wagers (my favourite examples being the wagers involving Kip Thorne and Stephen Hawking where a year’s worth of Playboy was up for grabs…).

  29. 179
    Richard Guenther says:

    I guess these guys don’t recall the famous Julian Simons bet… those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it… goodluck guys.

  30. 180
    Craig Allen says:

    The following article is about the ‘Weather Olympics’ that will be run alongside the Beijing Olympics, in which international teams will compete to predict Beijing’s weather with 36hr forecasts.

    >> Teams prepare for weather Olympics

    Perhaps we similarly need an annual climate forecasting competition. There could be multiple events:

    1. Global average temperature.
    2. Regional average temperatures.
    3. Arctic and antarctic ice extent prediction.
    4. Glacial extent.
    5. El Nino/La Lina prediction, along with predictions for a bunch of other such phenomena.

    etc.

    And where appropriate there could sub-events for different time periods or for trends rather then absolute values.

    Then we’ll be able to see who’s models and theories stack up to the cold hard facts of reality the best.

    And competing for prizes is a little more dignified than taking bets.

  31. 181
    Chuck Booth says:

    A bit off-topic, I suppose, but the following essay does pertain to making bets on the future (in the form of risk assessment):

    “…People are too complacent. They think it isn’t going to happen here.”Complacency about the prospect of catastrophe can be a “deadly enemy,” warns top investment strategist Barton Biggs in his new book, Wealth, War & Wisdom. The rich are especially vulnerable, Mr. Biggs writes, “because they cherish the illusion that when things start to go bad, they will have time to extricate themselves and their wealth. It never works that way. Events move much faster than anyone expects.”

    How much faith can any of us have that we’ll see devastating events coming? According to Nassim Nicholas Taleb, not much.

    Mr. Taleb is a former Wall Street trader who has become a philosopher of probability. He wrote a terrific nonfiction bestseller last year, The Black Swan – the title is his term for a totally unexpected, utterly game-changing event, like 9/11 – that explored the importance of what we falsely think we know.

    The notion that it isn’t going to happen here is an example of a logical fallacy that Mr. Taleb calls confirmation bias. It’s the same mistake made by the turkey that wakes up the day before Thanksgiving convinced that this day is bound to be just as terrific as the last thousand, based on his own experience.

    And then there’s the narrative fallacy, which depends on the human weakness for imposing patterns on data. Because we’re hardwired to interpret facts in terms of a story, Mr. Taleb explains, we erroneously exclude information that doesn’t fit our preferred narrative. It was easy for Americans to believe erroneously that the Iraqis would welcome U.S. invaders as liberators because that conclusion fits the story we like to tell ourselves about human nature and progress….”

    The essay quoted above, by Rob Dreher of the Dallas Morning News, was about an impending global food crisis. And who is taking the lead in ringing the alarm bell? None other than Wall Street Journal financial columnist Brett Arends. Initially, I found it curious that the WSJ op-ed staff would see this issue as a major concern while continuing to deny or downplay AGW (for example, here and here). (I’m not referring to the WSJ news division, which tends to do a reasonable job of reporting on scientific issues, including global warming). However, with the price of food rising much faster than the global mean temperature, I suppose it is really not terribly surprising that financial analysts would seize on the potential catastrophe that is most immediate (especially if there are no major energy companies waging a campaign to confuse the issue). I also read another of Brett Arend’s columns, this one (in TheStreet.com) dealing with U.S. energy policy (such as it is), and realized that he may not be your typical WSJ oop-ed page columnist; I have to wonder if an essay like the latter would ever run in the WJS.

  32. 182
    Jim Cross says:

    Hank, Barton , et al

    To think we understand a lot about of Ice Ages when we can only guess whether the next glaciation begins in 20K or 50K years seems self-contradictory on the face of it. If we were really confident in our knowledge, we could say with confidence one or the other.

    The real danger on the cooling side, however, probably isn’t the next onset of the glaciation phase of the Ice Age. It is more likely to be a cooling somewhat like the Little Ice Age which is still largely unexplained.

  33. 183
    UNSICHERHEITSRAT says:

    Incredible misinterpretation of their own results!!!

    The authors say: “Our results suggest that global surface temperature may not increase over the next decade, as natural climate variations in the North Atlantic and tropical Pacific temporarily offset the projected anthropogenic warming”

    Their figure 4 shows: the black graph (“old modell”) and the green graph (“improved modell” are exactly parallel from 1999 (= mean 1994-2004) to 2010 (= mean 2000 to 2010). Both show the same increase from 1999 (mean 1994-2004) to 2005 (mean 2000-2010) and both show constant global temperature from 2005 to 2010. So the result is: the new climate modell shows no influence of the new ocean parameters on the development of the global average temperature from 1999 (mean 1994-2004) to 2010 (mean 2005-2015)!!!

    The standstil of global average temperature predicted by the “improved” modell compared to warming predicted from the “old” modell is nothing that happens in the future, it should have happened (but did not happen) in the past, from 1985 to 1999: The “improved” modell (green graph) shows that the global average temperature did not change from 1985 (= mean 1980-1990) to 1999 (= mean 1994 to 2004). This was completely wrong, as the real development (red graph) shows. Also the “hindcasted” cooling from 1960-1970 did not happen. Why should we trust in the forecasts of this modell, which gave so bad results for the last 14 years of the verification (1985-1999 = mean 1980-1990 to mean 1994-2004)? Even without understanding the work in detail everybody who is able to interpret data should see that the conclusion of the authors cited above doesn´t make any sense.

  34. 184
    Steve Milesworthy says:

    The consensus answer to Jim Cripwell’s question would appear to be that if you compared their forecast run with the projection run, the ocean heat content would be slightly higher in the forecast run in 2015. The difference can be measured in the models, but it would probably be much less than measurement uncertainty in the real world.

  35. 185

    re #129 Jim Cripwell:

    I belatedly happened upon this. It’s easy for me to provide Cripwell the references he seeks. There’s a detailed discussion of the history of Milankovich cycle science on my Website, and some references that give the key points on future projections may be found in a note at

    http://www.aip.org/history/climate/cycles.htm#N_53_

    This is a historical essay so there may be some more recent calculations I haven’t noticed, but the papers cited in that note remain valid. Read on to the end of the essay for recent questioning of how well we understand all this.

  36. 186
    Sean O says:

    Re. 168. Gentlemen, I do not think that my comments on your site fall into the “tirade and misrepresentation” bucket. If you think that I am putting up a misrepresentation then publish it and poke holes in my logic. I wasn’t doing a tirade because I was simply responding to other comments that were left. I see no reason for you to hold back my comments. Do you really mean to be so Orwellian? I begin to wonder how many other comments get edited out because they are critical of your logic.

    [Response: Critical of our logic? none. Accusing us of unethical behaviour because you misunderstand completely the nature of this proposal. One. If you want to discuss logic do so - if you want a platform for overblown rhetoric take it elsewhere. Hint - this wager has nothing to do with who's the better scientist, it is all to do with how new research results play out in the public perception. The forecast for the first decade has almost no chance of being correct, and the one for the second decade implies a degree of natural variability that is significantly larger than their model generates on their own or is seen in the obs. Yet, the forecast was seized upon all over the media as a likely, nay probable, truth. Bets like this are useful ways of examining confidence in predictions - any trivial wager would be accepted immediately since there is nothing to lose, while having it be something more substantial requires reflection on the benefit of accepting (public respect) vs the probable loss. They are only useful when the prediction is for something concrete and limited, and where there is a mismatch between what people say and what is likely. - gavin]

  37. 187

    To think we understand a lot about of Ice Ages when we can only guess whether the next glaciation begins in 20K or 50K years seems self-contradictory on the face of it. If we were really confident in our knowledge, we could say with confidence one or the other.

    We know enough about ice ages and global warming to definitively say that the next ice age ain’t coming, not now, not in 20,000 years and not in 50,000 years. Period.

  38. 188
    JBL says:

    wmanny in 177 — don’t you suppose, if there were a well-funded assault on the “so-called theory of gravity” by the political right (say, with funds provided by American Airlines for research positions at right-wing think tanks, economists writing op-eds about how dealing with gravity prevents us from fighting malaria in Africa, engineers writing blog comments pointing out that their personal expertise makes it clear that this “gravity” thing is just a fiction made up to get grant monies, and others popping up to note that if science can’t solve the three-body problem we can’t possibly say with enough certainty what the effects of this alleged gravity might be), that physicists might spend some of their time pointing out that the science on this point really has been settled for quite some time now, and that the physics community is in agreement about the underlying nature of the effect?

    The emphasis on the existence of consensus by the defenders of science is entirely a result of the assault by denialists who insist (falsely!) that the science on this subject isn’t settled. In other words, the consensus issue is one that was raised by those claiming there was none — you will find that biologists involved in evolution-creationism disputes also frequently point out that scientists have reached consensus on evolution (although perhaps not in those words), and in both cases this protestation is raised only because it is a (true!) refutation of an opposing talking point.

  39. 189
    Sean O says:

    Regarding the response to 186 from Gavin:
    But that is the fallacy of your logic. The authors of the original study already put something of value on the line with the publishing of their study – they opened themselves, their reputation, and their study up for review, analysis, critique and (ultimately) ridicule if they blew it. You, however, have not offered anything of value in your ridicule outside of exercising the right for all to critique another’s paper. Now you are asking them to double down on their analysis while you are just putting down part of the bet. How does piling on with 2500 Euros make it better? Unless I misread the paper in question, they did not single out any of the authors of this site as being wrong or doing bad work.

    And why 2500? Why not make it 10,000 or 100,000? That would increase its significance. At what point does the penalty of “the side bet” become a deterrence to science? If they accept this bet, does this mean that all studies that are published in Nature should be ready to defend their conclusions from all comers with side bets?

    Also, why this particular prediction that causes the need for this site to stand up and take such a strong stance. I didn’t see anyone here betting against (or for) Dr. Gray’s recent hurricane prediction. Maybe it was because the seven (6 authors plus Gavin) agreed with Dr. Gray but surely there has been at least one other scientific study and prediction that you thought was inaccurate – will you be betting on that one as well? Can we anticipate this behavior against all predictions that you don’t agree with?

    I hope that you can see why I believe that your logic is flawed. I would not be fighting this cause so aggressively if this was a gentleman’s bet (see my other comments – published and unpublished). I find gentleman’s bets to be perfectly within the realm of scientific discussion but 2500 Euros is too significant of a price such that the price becomes the discussion point and not the science itself.

    I am sure that you disagree and perhaps I am unaware of other major scientific bets. Please cite other references of scientific bets that exceed the gentleman’s bet category (e.g. the various Hawking bets). I honestly am not aware of a scientific study that the authors accepted a significant sum of money bet against their conclusions. If this is common place than please accept my apology but if it is not then please revise your bet to gentleman’s status and move on with scientific discussion.

    [Response: I was not involved in the discussions over this bet, but I don't see a problem with it. If they wanted to negotiate something different, I'm sure the others would be amenable. I don't see the connection with Gray's forecast at all. His forecasts and track record are well known and anyone taking note of it will obviously factor that in. The issue here is that people have taken way too seriously a prediction that has no track record at all. A bet is a good way of seeing how seriously the authors take it. As has been hypothesised elsewhere, it seems unlikely that they would accept the bet at any level. We will see. - gavin]

  40. 190
    wmanny says:

    Gavin, I can understand why you might not decide to publish this first paragraph — it would be embarrassing for you — but for you to accuse me of taking my cues from a BMI “hatchet job” (I don’t know what BMI is, by the way) is so unfair I almost don’t know how to respond. I’m not sure what you think is to be gained by laying the “nonsense” bit on me. If you don’t print the next part, though, I will know you are not sincere in what you say, and move on. I am sure NPR has the audio transcript if you want to listen yourself.

    To the “hatchet job” inference (#177), I listened with my ears and nobody else’s to the May 6th ‘Fresh Air’ interview, when Gore moved from an ethanol/food price debate, to his joke about some minister’s absurd believe that Katrina was New Orleans’ punishment for a gay pride parade, to his clear inference that Myanmar and, previously, Bangladesh, are part of an emerging consensus that the trend towards more Category 5 and stronger storms appears to be linked to AGW, specifically the heating of the upper oceans, driving convection energy, etc. He offered the caveat that you can’t attribute a single storm to global warming, and then he moved on directly to say that, in fact, you can:

    “And as we’re talking today, Terry, the death count in Myanmar from the cyclone that hit there yesterday has been rising from 15,000 to way on up there to much higher numbers now being speculated. And last year a catastrophic storm from last fall hit Bangladesh. The year before, the strongest cyclone in more than 50 years hit China – and we’re seeing consequences that scientists have long predicted might be associated with continued global warming.”

    He then moves on to polar icecap melting. If some right-wing nut jobs characterized the quotation as evidence of Gore going off the deep end, that’s their business. I would characterize it, did characterize it, as Gore overstating the case. The double-speak about hurricanes is not new, and you hear the construction all the time: while scientists have not yet established a clear link between global warming and individual hurricanes, nevertheless the trend towards more and stronger storms is likely a result of AGW, etc. I believe Gore did a disservice when he linked Myanmar to AGW — at the very least, with his poor timing, he opened himself up to understandably harsh criticism.

    [Response: You are either fooling yourself, being fooled or being disingenuous. The quote you have from Gore is out of context. The statement about consequences was in a sentence concerning the polar ice cap, not hurricanes. He specifically stated and you heard that "any individual storm can’t be linked singularly to global warming " and yet you appear to think he said the exact opposite. - gavin]

  41. 191
    Jared says:

    Funny thing, the HADCrut data that these guys are using has already shown a cooling trend since 2005. 2006 was cooler than 2005, and 2007 cooler than 2006. And 2008 has a very good shot at being cooler than 2007. So according to that data, the trend is already going the way they predict…

  42. 192
    Alf Jones says:

    re#183 UNSICHERHEITSRAT

    See RC’s response to #33 for correct interpretation of plot.

  43. 193
    wmanny says:

    To Gore’s statement, what can I say? You obviously did not listen to the audio transcript, and it appears you have no intention to do so and are relying on others to tell you what he said. Why anyone would pay attention to the biases of the Drudge Report or the Wonk Room is beyond me, when it’s so easy to listen for yourself and make up your own mind. The context is very clear, and Gore does not, I repeat NOT, refer to icecap melting until after he has made his linkage of the storms to global warming. You seem like an open-minded fellow, though, so here’s how to determine for yourself the context. Go to NPR, which does not doctor its own tapes, and listen to:

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=90190092

    Start listening at minute 28, on the nose — he has just made his French Quarter joke (a good one in my opinion). If you come away from the tape itself, and you can’t believe your own ears, and you still think Gore did not say one thing and then the other, then I can only assume you don’t want to hear it.

    [Response: My ears obviously don't work the same way as yours. He states specifically that single storms can't be attributed (correct), he talks about increasing SST fueling more intense hurricanes (reasonable), mentions a few big hurricanes as examples (fine). Then he states that 'And we are seeing consequences...' - note the 'and we are seeing' implying additional information, not 'these are' - and then discusses polar ice etc. If you want to believe that he was deliberately contradicting what he had just stated, then I can't dissuade you, but that is certainly not the reading I and most other neutral listeners would take. - gavin]

  44. 194
    wmanny says:

    Neutral listeners! Well, you have the religion, and you can’t talk someone out of that. Nor should you try, I suppose. You now find yourself squarely in the middle of an “it depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is” moment in order to defend your god. You have stretched logic so hard and thin that you are now in the position of having us suppose Gore mentioned Myanmar (and its rising death toll) to make sure we all understand that the severity of the cyclone was NOT necessarily a consequence of global warming. I am completely comfortable with the idea that Gore meant us to understand that AGW is and will be the cause of future Myanmars. He believes it, I believe he is sincere in his beliefs, and he says what he should say given those beliefs, his apologists notwithstanding.

    If you want to get into a parsing contest, note that “and” can mean “and, as I have just noted, we are seeing” just as easily as it can mean “and, separately from what I just noted, we are seeing”. At any rate, we’ll see soon enough whether he drops the linkage or continues on with it.

  45. 195

    I’m sure we’ll see future Myanmars as well, population and sea level are rising, if you haven’t noticed that yet.

  46. 196
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Walter, Here’s a hint: when you find yourself accusing scientists of “religiosity” for believing what the science tells them to believe, you have crossed over into the land of the kook. When talking climate, the rules are that you cannot attribute any particular event to climate change. Gore was careful to make that disclaimer. Can you not see that it is one thing to attribute a cyclone to climate change and quite another to suggest that such a strong cyclone coupled with a strong tidal surge could be part of a trend that is quite credible (though perhaps not 100% established) based on scientific evidence? Did Gore want to use the specter of future devastation from storms like that in Burma to motivate people? Hell, yes. That is what politicians do. However, he stayed within the bounds of what is justifiable scientifically.

    Look, I’m not the world’s biggest Al Gore fan. However, did it ever occur to you that by your very hatred of him, you help to elevate his stature? He’s not worth hating. And certainly, he is not worth allowing yourself to be blinded to solid science just because he has embraced it.

  47. 197

    I can’t tell the argument for the noise about betting and Penthouse magazine and how mean certain people are, but what are the claimed causes of this “pause”? Because for as long as Al Gore has been a major voice in Climate Change, I’ve been saying we need to get out of the current solar cycle and see how that changes things.

    Now that SC24 is here and things aren’t broiling, I think this bears out the point I was trying to make since first trying to make it — CO2 is not the end-all, be-all of climate. It makes things go “up” in the long term, but there are other things that make it go “up” and “down” and right now “down” seems to be winning. Not to worry, “up” is going to take over again, but after how many lost wagers and delayed changes in energy policy?

    At this point, I think the failure of the climate community to take predictions about SC24 (and now SC25) seriously pose a greater threat to the long term climate than CO2. Because if people such as myself who see a pause based on solar behavior during SC24 are right, and you guys keep saying we’re wrong, the result is going to be people thinking your models must be wrong. Tactically it would be better to accept the obvious — if SC24 and SC25 are fizzles, the climate models won’t be “right” again until whatever solar cycle related cooling is made up for by CO2 related warming — than to engage in a different form of denial.

  48. 198
    Hank Roberts says:

    And “single storms can’t be attributed” doesn’t fit your belief, so you ignore that part. This is how statistics works — probability, not certainty, about risk. Ask someone in, for example, the insurance industry. They mostly understand this, it’s how they do business.

  49. 199
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    re: 193 & 194

    wmanny seems to want to say that because no one storm could be pinned to Global Warming then it becomes dishonest to complain about storms and Global Warming. A good analogy would be drunk drivers and accidents. Not all accidents that occur after someone has been drinking are due to the drinking, but it’s preposterous to suggest that we shouldn’t complain about drunk driving or take steps to keep people from driving drunk.

  50. 200
    Russell says:

    A better question is, how many storms similar to the most recent one, struck the Myanmar area in the last 10,000 years? And how was this one different from the others? This is the case for all the issues that are associated with AGW.
    If we had perfect knowledge of the past, we could make a better determination of how the present differs from what could be considered “natural events”.
    If you want to change the behavior of people you need a firm foundation. Everytime someone jumps to conclusions that are easy to make, but without the data to prove causation, another skeptic is born.


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