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2009 temperatures by Jim Hansen

Filed under: — group @ 17 January 2010 - (Français)

This is Hansen et al’s end of year summary for 2009 (with a couple of minor edits). Update: A final version of this text is available here.

If It’s That Warm, How Come It’s So Damned Cold? 

by James Hansen, Reto Ruedy, Makiko Sato, and Ken Lo
The past year, 2009, tied as the second warmest year in the 130 years of global instrumental temperature records, in the surface temperature analysis of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). The Southern Hemisphere set a record as the warmest year for that half of the world. Global mean temperature, as shown in Figure 1a, was 0.57°C (1.0°F) warmer than climatology (the 1951-1980 base period). Southern Hemisphere mean temperature, as shown in Figure 1b, was 0.49°C (0.88°F) warmer than in the period of climatology.

Figure 1. (a) GISS analysis of global surface temperature change. Green vertical bar is estimated 95 percent confidence range (two standard deviations) for annual temperature change. (b) Hemispheric temperature change in GISS analysis. (Base period is 1951-1980. This base period is fixed consistently in GISS temperature analysis papers – see References. Base period 1961-1990 is used for comparison with published HadCRUT analyses in Figures 3 and 4.)

The global record warm year, in the period of near-global instrumental measurements (since the late 1800s), was 2005. Sometimes it is asserted that 1998 was the warmest year. The origin of this confusion is discussed below. There is a high degree of interannual (year‐to‐year) and decadal variability in both global and hemispheric temperatures. Underlying this variability, however, is a long‐term warming trend that has become strong and persistent over the past three decades. The long‐term trends are more apparent when temperature is averaged over several years. The 60‐month (5‐year) and 132 month (11‐year) running mean temperatures are shown in Figure 2 for the globe and the hemispheres. The 5‐year mean is sufficient to reduce the effect of the El Niño – La Niña cycles of tropical climate. The 11‐year mean minimizes the effect of solar variability – the brightness of the sun varies by a measurable amount over the sunspot cycle, which is typically of 10‐12 year duration.

Figure 2. 60‐month (5‐year) and 132 month (11‐year) running mean temperatures in the GISS analysis of (a) global and (b) hemispheric surface temperature change. (Base period is 1951‐1980.)

There is a contradiction between the observed continued warming trend and popular perceptions about climate trends. Frequent statements include: “There has been global cooling over the past decade.” “Global warming stopped in 1998.” “1998 is the warmest year in the record.” Such statements have been repeated so often that most of the public seems to accept them as being true. However, based on our data, such statements are not correct. The origin of this contradiction probably lies in part in differences between the GISS and HadCRUT temperature analyses (HadCRUT is the joint Hadley Centre/University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit temperature analysis). Indeed, HadCRUT finds 1998 to be the warmest year in their record. In addition, popular belief that the world is cooling is reinforced by cold weather anomalies in the United States in the summer of 2009 and cold anomalies in much of the Northern Hemisphere in December 2009. Here we first show the main reason for the difference between the GISS and HadCRUT analyses. Then we examine the 2009 regional temperature anomalies in the context of global temperatures.

Figure 3. Temperature anomalies in 1998 (left column) and 2005 (right column). Top row is GISS analysis, middle row is HadCRUT analysis, and bottom row is the GISS analysis masked to the same area and resolution as the HadCRUT analysis. [Base period is 1961‐1990.]

Figure 3 shows maps of GISS and HadCRUT 1998 and 2005 temperature anomalies relative to base period 1961‐1990 (the base period used by HadCRUT). The temperature anomalies are at a 5 degree‐by‐5 degree resolution for the GISS data to match that in the HadCRUT analysis. In the lower two maps we display the GISS data masked to the same area and resolution as the HadCRUT analysis. The “masked” GISS data let us quantify the extent to which the difference between the GISS and HadCRUT analyses is due to the data interpolation and extrapolation that occurs in the GISS analysis. The GISS analysis assigns a temperature anomaly to many gridboxes that do not contain measurement data, specifically all gridboxes located within 1200 km of one or more stations that do have defined temperature anomalies.

The rationale for this aspect of the GISS analysis is based on the fact that temperature anomaly patterns tend to be large scale. For example, if it is an unusually cold winter in New York, it is probably unusually cold in Philadelphia too. This fact suggests that it may be better to assign a temperature anomaly based on the nearest stations for a gridbox that contains no observing stations, rather than excluding that gridbox from the global analysis. Tests of this assumption are described in our papers referenced below.

Figure 4. Global surface temperature anomalies relative to 1961‐1990 base period for three cases: HadCRUT, GISS, and GISS anomalies limited to the HadCRUT area. [To obtain consistent time series for the HadCRUT and GISS global means, monthly results were averaged over regions with defined temperature anomalies within four latitude zones (90N‐25N, 25N‐Equator, Equator‐25S, 25S‐90S); the global average then weights these zones by the true area of the full zones, and the annual means are based on those monthly global means.]

Figure 4 shows time series of global temperature for the GISS and HadCRUT analyses, as well as for the GISS analysis masked to the HadCRUT data region. This figure reveals that the differences that have developed between the GISS and HadCRUT global temperatures during the past few decades are due primarily to the extension of the GISS analysis into regions that are excluded from the HadCRUT analysis. The GISS and HadCRUT results are similar during this period, when the analyses are limited to exactly the same area. The GISS analysis also finds 1998 as the warmest year, if analysis is limited to the masked area. The question then becomes: how valid are the extrapolations and interpolation in the GISS analysis? If the temperature anomaly scale is adjusted such that the global mean anomaly is zero, the patterns of warm and cool regions have realistic‐looking meteorological patterns, providing qualitative support for the data extensions. However, we would like a quantitative measure of the uncertainty in our estimate of the global temperature anomaly caused by the fact that the spatial distribution of measurements is incomplete. One way to estimate that uncertainty, or possible error, can be obtained via use of the complete time series of global surface temperature data generated by a global climate model that has been demonstrated to have realistic spatial and temporal variability of surface temperature. We can sample this data set at only the locations where measurement stations exist, use this sub‐sample of data to estimate global temperature change with the GISS analysis method, and compare the result with the “perfect” knowledge of global temperature provided by the data at all gridpoints.

1880‐1900 1900‐1950 1960‐2008
Meteorological Stations 0.2 0.15 0.08
Land‐Ocean Index 0.08 0.05 0.05

Table 1. Two‐sigma error estimate versus period for meteorological stations and land‐ocean index.

Table 1 shows the derived error due to incomplete coverage of stations. As expected, the error was larger at early dates when station coverage was poorer. Also the error is much larger when data are available only from meteorological stations, without ship or satellite measurements for ocean areas. In recent decades the 2‐sigma uncertainty (95 percent confidence of being within that range, ~2‐3 percent chance of being outside that range in a specific direction) has been about 0.05°C. The incomplete coverage of stations is the primary cause of uncertainty in comparing nearby years, for which the effect of more systematic errors such as urban warming is small.

Additional sources of error become important when comparing temperature anomalies separated by longer periods. The most well‐known source of long‐term error is “urban warming”, human‐made local warming caused by energy use and alterations of the natural environment. Various other errors affecting the estimates of long‐term temperature change are described comprehensively in a large number of papers by Tom Karl and his associates at the NOAA National Climate Data Center. The GISS temperature analysis corrects for urban effects by adjusting the long‐term trends of urban stations to be consistent with the trends at nearby rural stations, with urban locations identified either by population or satellite‐observed night lights. In a paper in preparation we demonstrate that the population and night light approaches yield similar results on global average. The additional error caused by factors other than incomplete spatial coverage is estimated to be of the order of 0.1°C on time scales of several decades to a century, this estimate necessarily being partly subjective. The estimated total uncertainty in global mean temperature anomaly with land and ocean data included thus is similar to the error estimate in the first line of Table 1, i.e., the error due to limited spatial coverage when only meteorological stations are included.

Now let’s consider whether we can specify a rank among the recent global annual temperatures, i.e., which year is warmest, second warmest, etc. Figure 1a shows 2009 as the second warmest year, but it is so close to 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, and 2007 that we must declare these years as being in a virtual tie as the second warmest year. The maximum difference among these in the GISS analysis is ~0.03°C (2009 being the warmest among those years and 2006 the coolest). This range is approximately equal to our 1‐sigma uncertainty of ~0.025°C, which is the reason for stating that these five years are tied for second warmest.

The year 2005 is 0.061°C warmer than 1998 in our analysis. So how certain are we that 2005 was warmer than 1998? Given the standard deviation of ~0.025°C for the estimated error, we can estimate the probability that 1998 was warmer than 2005 as follows. The chance that 1998 is 0.025°C warmer than our estimated value is about (1 – 0.68)/2 = 0.16. The chance that 2005 is 0.025°C cooler than our estimate is also 0.16. The probability of both of these is ~0.03 (3 percent). Integrating over the tail of the distribution and accounting for the 2005‐1998 temperature difference being 0.61°C alters the estimate in opposite directions. For the moment let us just say that the chance that 1998 is warmer than 2005, given our temperature analysis, is at most no more than about 10 percent. Therefore, we can say with a reasonable degree of confidence that 2005 is the warmest year in the period of instrumental data.

Figure 5. (a) global map of December 2009 anomaly, (b) global map of Jun‐Jul‐Aug 2009 anomaly. #4 and #2 indicate that December 2009 and JJA are the 4th and 2nd warmest globally for those periods.

What about the claim that the Earth’s surface has been cooling over the past decade? That issue can be addressed with a far higher degree of confidence, because the error due to incomplete spatial coverage of measurements becomes much smaller when averaged over several years. The 2‐sigma error in the 5‐year running‐mean temperature anomaly shown in Figure 2, is about a factor of two smaller than the annual mean uncertainty, thus 0.02‐0.03°C. Given that the change of 5‐year‐mean global temperature anomaly is about 0.2°C over the past decade, we can conclude that the world has become warmer over the past decade, not cooler.

Why are some people so readily convinced of a false conclusion, that the world is really experiencing a cooling trend? That gullibility probably has a lot to do with regional short‐term temperature fluctuations, which are an order of magnitude larger than global average annual anomalies. Yet many lay people do understand the distinction between regional short‐term anomalies and global trends. For example, here is comment posted by “frogbandit” at 8:38p.m. 1/6/2010 on City Bright blog:

“I wonder about the people who use cold weather to say that the globe is cooling. It forgets that global warming has a global component and that its a trend, not an everyday thing. I hear people down in the lower 48 say its really cold this winter. That ain’t true so far up here in Alaska. Bethel, Alaska, had a brown Christmas. Here in Anchorage, the temperature today is 31[ºF]. I can’t say based on the fact Anchorage and Bethel are warm so far this winter that we have global warming. That would be a really dumb argument to think my weather pattern is being experienced even in the rest of the United States, much less globally.”

What frogbandit is saying is illustrated by the global map of temperature anomalies in December 2009 (Figure 5a). There were strong negative temperature anomalies at middle latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere, as great as ‐8°C in Siberia, averaged over the month. But the temperature anomaly in the Arctic was as great as +7°C. The cold December perhaps reaffirmed an impression gained by Americans from the unusually cool 2009 summer. There was a large region in the United States and Canada in June‐July‐August with a negative temperature anomaly greater than 1°C, the largest negative anomaly on the planet.

Figure 6. Arctic Oscillation (AO) Index. Positive values of the AO index indicate high low pressure in the polar region and thus a tendency for strong zonal winds that minimize cold air outbreaks to middle latitudes. Blue dots are monthly means and the red curve is the 60‐month (5‐year) running mean.

How do these large regional temperature anomalies stack up against an expectation of, and the reality of, global warming? How unusual are these regional negative fluctuations? Do they have any relationship to global warming? Do they contradict global warming?

It is obvious that in December 2009 there was an unusual exchange of polar and mid‐latitude air in the Northern Hemisphere. Arctic air rushed into both North America and Eurasia, and, of course, it was replaced in the polar region by air from middle latitudes. The degree to which Arctic air penetrates into middle latitudes is related to the Arctic Oscillation (AO) index, which is defined by surface atmospheric pressure patterns and is plotted in Figure 6. When the AO index is positive surface pressure is high low in the polar region. This helps the middle latitude jet stream to blow strongly and consistently from west to east, thus keeping cold Arctic air locked in the polar region. When the AO index is negative there tends to be low high pressure in the polar region, weaker zonal winds, and greater movement of frigid polar air into middle latitudes.

Figure 6 shows that December 2009 was the most extreme negative Arctic Oscillation since the 1970s. Although there were ten cases between the early 1960s and mid 1980s with an AO index more extreme than ‐2.5, there were no such extreme cases since then until last month. It is no wonder that the public has become accustomed to the absence of extreme blasts of cold air.

Figure 7. Temperature anomaly from GISS analysis and AO index from NOAA National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center. United States mean refers to the 48 contiguous states.

Figure 7 shows the AO index with greater temporal resolution for two 5‐year periods. It is obvious that there is a high degree of correlation of the AO index with temperature in the United States, with any possible lag between index and temperature anomaly less than the monthly temporal resolution. Large negative anomalies, when they occur, are usually in a winter month. Note that the January 1977 temperature anomaly, mainly located in the Eastern United States, was considerably stronger than the December 2009 anomaly. [There is nothing magic about a 31 day window that coincides with a calendar month, and it could be misleading. It may be more informative to look at a 30‐day running mean and at the Dec‐Jan‐Feb means for the AO index and temperature anomalies.]

The AO index is not so much an explanation for climate anomaly patterns as it is a simple statement of the situation. However, John (Mike) Wallace and colleagues have been able to use the AO description to aid consideration of how the patterns may change as greenhouse gases increase. A number of papers, by Wallace, David Thompson, and others, as well as by Drew Shindell and others at GISS, have pointed out that increasing carbon dioxide causes the stratosphere to cool, in turn causing on average a stronger jet stream and thus a tendency for a more positive Arctic Oscillation. Overall, Figure 6 shows a tendency in the expected sense. The AO is not the only factor that might alter the frequency of Arctic cold air outbreaks. For example, what is the effect of reduced Arctic sea ice on weather patterns? There is not enough empirical evidence since the rapid ice melt of 2007. We conclude only that December 2009 was a highly anomalous month and that its unusual AO can be described as the “cause” of the extreme December weather.

We do not find a basis for expecting frequent repeat occurrences. On the contrary. Figure 6 does show that month‐to‐month fluctuations of the AO are much larger than its long term trend. But temperature change can be caused by greenhouse gases and global warming independent of Arctic Oscillation dynamical effects.

Figure 8. Global maps 4 season temperature anomalies for ~2009. (Note that Dec is December 2008. Base period is 1951‐1980.)

Figure 9. Global maps 4 season temperature anomaly trends for period 1950‐2009.

So let’s look at recent regional temperature anomalies and temperature trends. Figure 8 shows seasonal temperature anomalies for the past year and Figure 9 shows seasonal temperature change since 1950 based on local linear trends. The temperature scales are identical in Figures 8 and 9. The outstanding characteristic in comparing these two figures is that the magnitude of the 60 year change is similar to the magnitude of seasonal anomalies. What this is telling us is that the climate dice are already strongly loaded. The perceptive person who has been around since the 1950s should be able to notice that seasonal mean temperatures are usually greater than they were in the 1950s, although there are still occasional cold seasons.

The magnitude of monthly temperature anomalies is typically 1.5 to 2 times greater than the magnitude of seasonal anomalies. So it is not yet quite so easy to see global warming if one’s figure of merit is monthly mean temperature. And, of course, daily weather fluctuations are much larger than the impact of the global warming trend. The bottom line is this: there is no global cooling trend. For the time being, until humanity brings its greenhouse gas emissions under control, we can expect each decade to be warmer than the preceding one. Weather fluctuations certainly exceed local temperature changes over the past half century. But the perceptive person should be able to see that climate is warming on decadal time scales.

This information needs to be combined with the conclusion that global warming of 1‐2°C has enormous implications for humanity. But that discussion is beyond the scope of this note.

Hansen, J.E., and S. Lebedeff, 1987: Global trends of measured surface air temperature. J. Geophys. Res., 92, 13345‐13372.
Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, J. Glascoe, and Mki. Sato, 1999: GISS analysis of surface temperature change. J. Geophys. Res., 104, 30997‐31022.
Hansen, J.E., R. Ruedy, Mki. Sato, M. Imhoff, W. Lawrence, D. Easterling, T. Peterson, and T. Karl, 2001: A closer look at United States and global surface temperature change. J. Geophys. Res., 106, 23947‐23963.
Hansen, J., Mki. Sato, R. Ruedy, K. Lo, D.W. Lea, and M. Medina‐Elizade, 2006: Global temperature change. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., 103, 14288‐14293.

932 Responses to “2009 temperatures by Jim Hansen”

  1. 801
    John E. Pearson says:

    792: Walt Bennett: My snark detector is going into overload. You are full of hot air. I challenge you to put your money where your mouth is. I claim that we are making major strides. You claim the opposite. I bet you $100 that by the end of 2015 we will have 100GW of installed wind power capacity. Put up or shut up.

  2. 802
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #798

    Surprised? I wonder why.

    I get a lot of knee-jerk reactions in here, and I get a lot of people throwing their data at me.

    All while neatly avoiding dealing with the very real issues I bring up.

    I’ms something of a one man show.

    Remember “Twelve Angry Men”? The one holdout looked to the others like a madman, until slowly they came to understand that he saw things they did not see.

    Why is it that I see things that others don’t? Well, one explanation would be that they are dug in and I am not. I have no horse in the race. I started off in 2006 ready to rush to the front lines to save the planet.

    A lot can change in four years. Actually, three. I’m on hold for at least the last year, waiting for the conversation to catch up with me.

    Believe it or not, this latest round is a huge improvement. Perhaps you noticed the same thing while archiving me.

    Your latest assertion is that humanity will spontaneously respond to visual evidence.

    I quite agree.

    What you will find, from all the brightest minds, is that AGW cannot be solved that way. By the time we see visual evidence, the damage is done. That’s why all the urgency to act now, even when it’s still not evident to many people that the need is there. By the time the need is evident, the system will have so much warming momentum that it will finish the job of melting all or most of the ice on the planet, eventually raising sea levels 75+ meters, a devastating outcome.

    So, yes, man will react, only to find out that it’s much too late.

  3. 803
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #801

    Here’s what I want to know, John:

    By 2015 will humankind be emitting more or less CO2 than it does today, per annum?

    I assert that it will be more, and furthermore, I assert that it will continue to be more for at least another decade beyond that.

    I never said we weren’t developing alternatives. I said we need 20 or 30 years to see a lessening of reliance on fossil fuels.

    As I’m sure you know, that’s where all the action is.

  4. 804
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “By 2015 will humankind be emitting more or less CO2 than it does today, per annum?”

    What will knowing that prediction do?

    The question to ask is “Should we be emitting more or less CO2 than today in 2015”.

  5. 805
    Completely Fed Up says:

    Ron: “You are assuming that public psychology will remain more or less fixed. I think you are in for a big surprise.”

    It is, however, a self-fulfilling prophesy. If Walt can ensure that enough people learn the helplessness he says that all peons have, then nothing WILL be done, because the greater cost is borne by the richest and most powerful and the consequences felt by the least able to cope.

  6. 806
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #804


    All I can do is laugh at you.

    What does it matter to Ma Nature what the question “should be”?

  7. 807
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #805


    So your plan is to watch my predictions play out, then blame me for them?

    Thanks for my morning funnies.

  8. 808
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #804

    CFU wrote: ” the helplessness he says that all peons have”

    Those were your words, not mine, and they come nowhere close to describing my position.

  9. 809
    Hank Roberts says:

    Don’t fall for the chant that ‘people will never decide’ as individuals to have foresight. That’s the gibbertarian notion that only individuals can make decisions individually, forgettabout that community planning stuff..

    One of the big energy conservation measures has long been controlling urban sprawl, strict zoning limitations, and planned building.

    That transfers the profits from build-and-runners to longterm buyers and communities. And it works, and it worked again this time:

    “… look at the cities with stable and recovering home markets. On this coast, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and San Diego come to mind. All of these cities have fairly strict development codes, trying to hem in their excess sprawl. Developers, many of them, hate these restrictions. They said the coastal cities would eventually price the middle class out, and start to empty.

    It hasn’t happened. Just the opposite. The developers’ favorite role models, the laissez faire free-for-alls — Las Vegas, the Phoenix metro area, South Florida, this valley — are the most troubled, the suburban slums.

    Come see: this is what happens when money and market, alone, guide the way we live.”

    Compare San Diego in past slumps, before it regulated sprawl, to San Diego this time ’round

  10. 810
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #809


    As long as people believe they are acting in their own best interests, they can unite as a group and make significant changes. I’m sure we agree on that.

    My point is, there is no such belief among humans with regard to AGW, not nearly enough to move the needle. And as I noted before, that is not due to lack of discussion.

    It’s due to lack of clarity.

    Well, what’s the solution to that? Gore failed; Hansen failed. Two extremely well spoken men who know their subject well. They did not move the needle.

    They moved some people, sure, including me. It just didn’t add up to a hill of beans.

  11. 811
    Doug Bostrom says:

    “Well, what’s the solution to that? Gore failed; Hansen failed. Two extremely well spoken men who know their subject well. They did not move the needle.”

    The solution is concerted, constant effort, same as the fossil fuel lobby is performing.

    Examples abound. The U.S. DoJ has burned through much of our constitution and bill of rights, just by always being there, always being ready to exploit a moment of doubt or fear. The attorneys at DoJ are a tightly focused constituency with a narrow set of goals, facing nothing with similar drive, purpose and organization. Thus their agenda prevails.

    A little tiny knife can slice through a huge block of butter if it is kept warm with gentle pressure sitting on it. To push the metaphor further, a knife is an inherently better weapon than a block of butter because it is better organized, more wieldy, harder.

    Gore is one person yet he put climate change on the map for a measurable fraction of the human population, but his message has not been backed up by a suitable organization to maintain pressure. The progressive side of the climate change policy debate (there is no “debate” on science) is effectively an ad hoc rabble facing an opposition that is small in numbers but well organized. They are a block of butter, facing a knife.

    Until this is recognized and dealt with, policy making for dealing with C02 will be crippled.

  12. 812
    Ric Merritt says:

    Walt B’s rant is all about facing reality. He mentioned admitting what inning we’re in. The thing is, we know we’re behind (not taking the needed steps), but it’s not clear whether we’re down by 3 runs in the 6th, or it’s the bottom of the 11th and they just scored 8 runs in the top. We just don’t know. This is part of reality, and well known to RC readers, and Walt’s rants make much less sense if he admits that. So Walt, take some of your own recommended medicine, fess up that you don’t know all is lost, and cop to the crime of spreading pessimism, which could very well feed back and make things worse.

    A well-run hospital is a fine thing, but you’re not excused from triage and helping out if you find yourself in the Eastern Congo, and things are rough. (The analogy is inexact, as I just made the point that we don’t *know* where we are, but the logical and moral point remains.)

  13. 813
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Walt says: “Well, what’s the solution to that? Gore failed; Hansen failed. Two extremely well spoken men who know their subject well. They did not move the needle.”

    Personally, I have been disappointed that some of the more decent conservatives in the Senate who have accepted the science have not been more vocal. If Al Gore were standing on stage with John McCain and Lindsey Graham, the impact would be much greater. I still don’t know if they would succeed in convincing the die-hard libertarian right as to the existence of objective reality, but the impact would be significant.

    Instead, what we hear from the right is deafening silence. Frankly, I think it is arguable that the ability to accept objective reality is a litmus test for whether a supposedly intelligent species if fit to survive.

  14. 814
    Hank Roberts says:

    Walt, do you ever read the pointers to the successes? Some long- and hard-fought.

    Reading some of those would limit your argument that you don’t know of any.

    For example, these:

    Repeating the prior example, with an older link that had more discussion:

  15. 815
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Ric Merritt says: 12 February 2010 at 1:17 PM

    Not to bash Walt in particular, but well said, particularly “A well-run hospital is a fine thing, but you’re not excused from triage and helping out if you find yourself in the Eastern Congo, and things are rough.”

    Pilots contemplating emergencies are fond of the phrase “Aviate, navigate, communicate” with priority dependent on the phase of an emergency. We seem to be at the “communicate” part.

  16. 816
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: 811,


    Your hubris is bleeding all over. Please don’t say there’s no debate on the science, because it makes you look like you accept every new observation, conclusion and publicity release without question.

    Debate is an integral part of science.

  17. 817
    Ron Taylor says:

    Uh, folks, I think Walt is on to something here. I hear him saying that we have to find a different approach to uniting the public if we are going to reduce greenhouse gases in time to avoid disaster. I also hear him saying he does not know the answer, but that is no excuse for avoiding the question.

    Walt, if I have read you correctly, I don’t know the answer either. That is why the default position is simply to keep trying. But it is generally true that continuing to try something that has not worked, and expecting a different result, turns out to be an exercise in futility.

    I agree with others here that we are making progress, but the question is whether it will be fast enough. There is so much greenwash mixed in that some of the apparent progress may be misleading.

    My honest speculation? Society will not get serious about this until serious trouble is obvious, probably at least a decade. We probably will be committed to an eventual sea level rise of at least 3-5 meters. But if we can hold it to that, that is much better than 10-20 meters, or more. Even that, I think, will require not just emissions reductions, but something like CO2 air capture to pull down the long tail.

    The only way to get going faster would require the emergence of a critical mass of outstanding political leaders across ideological lines. That is a very tall order. It might be worth a try though.

    How about DOD framing this as a national security issue, which it is and they are already doing. Get the CIA and others involved. Then have them give regular classified briefings to key political leaders to update them on the risks associated with AGW. Making them classified helps avoid a need for posturing by the attendees. Having political leaders attend the briefings makes it clear to them that they will be held accountable for what they do with the knowledge.

    Just a thought.

  18. 818
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #812


    You know I’m all about keeping it real.

    So let’s remember what I have consistently said:

    “If we are to believe the science, destabilization is already underway and are past the tipping point to prevent further destabilization.”

    Or, to paraphrase Hansen and others, “When it goes, it goes.”

    I think everybody agrees we are in late innings, perhaps extra innings.

    Now if they would just admit the score.

  19. 819
    Walt Bennett says:

    I also decline to have my comments described as “rants”, as they are no such thing. They are usually short, to the point and devoid of ad hom.

    I also try not to repeat myself too much.

  20. 820
    Steve Fish says:

    RE- Comment by Doug Bostrom — 12 February 2010 @ 1:14 PM:

    Perhaps what is needed is for someone to whom Bill Gates would listen to convince him that his foundation’s world health efforts are being hampered by the climate denial industry. This is an easy argument to make. An aggressive, independent, persistent and well funded agency that took on global warming, ocean acidification, peak oil, overpopulation, and …. might be able to cut through the smoke and mirrors, and apathy.


  21. 821
    Bill says:

    Nothing relevant to the original post in the last 50 or so comments, and , like so many threads on RC recently, it just degenerates into the same old ‘warmist/deniers’ name-calling. So boring now………..

  22. 822
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #813


    I see that you are becoming more open to the reality. (a) Gore/McCain might get together but further right pols, no way. And furthermore, they will continue to bash. (b) It wouldn’t make any difference anyway.

    This is tough stuff, no doubt. But when we’re all on the same page, we can at least have meaningful discussions.

  23. 823
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: $814,

    Hank, are you saying that I have asserted that I am not aware of any government efforts to wean us off of fossil fuels?

    I have made no such claim.

    I have simply looked at this as empirically as I can, and concluded this:

    It’s not going to make enough of a difference in the time scales being discussed. In fact, it’s already too late in some ways.

  24. 824
    Ron Taylor says:

    Some further thoughts…

    It is a shopworn phrase, but we need a new paradigm.

    So far, the effort has been to educate the public (with the help of the popular press) and policy makers through the work of the IPCC. An educated public would then push policy makers, or elect people to Congress who would support action on AGW.

    There are several problems with this approach:
    (1) As noted above, the public will not really get it until it is too late.
    (2) There will always be a substantial number of Republicans in Congress for whom the UN is ideological anathema.
    (3) This approach hands AGW opponents in Congress political cover by allowing them to frame the debate as political, with both sides having scientific support, but with the AGW side undermining national sovereignty by giving power to the UN, weakening the US economy, and expanding government.

    The goal is not to educate the public, but to get effective action. It is only necessary that the public be willing to accept action; they do not have to understand it.

    To get effective action, it is essential that Republicans be brought on board. To do that, several things are necessary:
    (1) Remove the anti-action political cover of Republicans by reframing the debate as a national security issue.
    (2) Remove the potential cover of plausible deniability of understanding of the problem by the use of regular briefings.
    (3) Have the effort led by someone who will have trust and respect across ideological lines among both the public and policy makers.
    (4) Provide Republicans with political cover for shifting, however gradually, to support of action on AGW. This has to be made a political win-win to succeed.

    We still need the IPCC, but a new path has to be found to feed the information into the policy formation process. It has to be vetted, laundered, if you will, by someone who cannot be dismissed out of hand. To me, that has to be some combination of the DOD and the intelligence services. I can imagine someone like RAND being given a six month contract to review the findings of the IPCC, then a continuing contract to provide semiannual or quarterly updates. Their reports would include threat assessments based on their review of the findings. (Okay, I have been away from this game for a long time, so this may be naïve, as Walt likes to say.)

    Anyway, if this worked, can you imagine any member of Congress declining to attend a DOD/CIA briefing on a critical national security issue?

    Bill, I agree this is getting OT, but…

  25. 825
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #821


    Go over these last 50 posts again. Nothing typical about them.

  26. 826
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Walt Bennett says: 12 February 2010 at 1:53 PM

    “Your hubris is bleeding all over.”

    How pugilistic.

    I was referring to the vast bulk of broadly agreed scientific research findings on dominant gross effects beginning with the response of the atmosphere/ocean system to insolation, including the well known role of C02 in the atmosphere and uncontroversial response of C02 to illumination with IR, extending to a plethora of observational evidence, all of which predicts and indicates a very real risk factor far beyond what we would sensibly ignore. All that is beyond debate.

    That still leaves a lot of things to quibble over, sort of like arguing over whether you should fasten your seatbelt when traveling at 50mph, or 60mph. In other words, not truly a debate for anybody with average common sense.

    Don’t bother trying to change my mind; I fasten my seatbelt before I even start my engine.

  27. 827
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #817/#824

    First, this is RealClimate and we are having a climate discussion, so Bill can spare us his “OT” concerns and really, if you don’t want to participate in a discussion, then don’t. No need to announce it.


    I appreciate the “take a step back” approach you are taking here, because that’s what I’ve had to do too.

    Why do I say “had to do”? Did somebody force me?

    Yes. I forced me. If I have a unique gift/curse in this world, it is that I am hyper-rational to the point of completely changing positions without regard to any previous emotional investment I may have made. My mind will not let my emotions overrule my rational side.

    So to all of those who don’t understand: Does Walt even want solutions? The answer is: What I want is rational discussion, which gives us our only chance to arrive at rational conclusions.

    Ron, I am somewhat further down the road on this, as to be expected. I may have crossed over into cynicism, but if so I have a lot of supporting reasons why. It may not be as late in the game as I say it is, but it probably is, or even later.

    I find it interesting that you are concluding that a “war-like” footing may be the only realistic way that we make an immediate shift away from fossil fuels.

    And suppose the U.S. did that? Now, what about India, China, Australia? Therein lies the rub, as I outline some pages back: When a nation has X dollars to spend, it will tend to spend them in its own national interest. It is not in the national interest to invest in a global solution while others do not. No matter how much we spend we cannot reduce China’s or India’s emissions.

    Only a global treaty had a chance to get that done, and it failed utterly. The disgusting part of all of this is that these people still seem to believe that a meaningful global treaty is achievable, and that it will make a difference. I scoff at both of those beliefs, in the strongest possible terms. My belief that these efforts are futile is a pillar of my current position.

    I believe that global measures are a fiction. What will happen is that each nation will determine the economic cost of using fossil fuels, and each nation will use different metrics, because each nation is at a different stage of development (especially the former Soviet states), and each nation has different access to resources, and different levels of cash available.

    The reason there is not a global treaty is that those differences proved impossible to reconcile.

    Now, you still seem convinced that the IPCC holds the moral high ground. I continue to say: That’s a discussion worth having. The relationship humans have with energy is essential, fragile and complex. One reason we still do things the way we do, is that change implies disruption, and access to energy is not something that people tend to be cavalier about. I already pay an enormous amount for my electricity; alternatives, from an infrastructure standpoint alone, START in in the thousands of dollars.

    And I should mention I am a well paid middle class white collar worker.

    You dig me? I can’t afford much disruption; what does that say about 99% of the rest of the planet?

    So, I see global cooperation as a fantasy, and yes of course it is a commentary on humanity itself. Nation states are by definition in competition with each other, so you would have to imagine a post-border world where we have resolved those conflicts, at of course the cost of a massive human toll.

    Suffice it to say, that’s an awful vision. We can’t force the dissolution of Nation states, certainly not peacefully, and certainly not nearly soon enough to head off worst case scenarios.

    You say you are resigned to some sea level rise. The problem is that the property of acceleration is very real. The more it warms, the more it warms. The more it loosens, the more it loosens. And the awesome amount of energy involved implies that there’s no way to turn it around, not without a significant game changing leap forward.

    So no, unfortunately I am not saying “There’s still time, but not much.” I am saying “That game is over, we lost, what’s the new game?”

    And I am suggesting as a first response that nations will act in their own best interests, so let’s get started discussing what those interests might be and how we might address them.

  28. 828
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “(1) As noted above, the public will not really get it until it is too late.”

    Actually, since the ones who “don’t get it” won’t want to pay anything and the scare is that this mitigation will cost them, they will complain loudly as it progresses towards doing something.

    The noise level of the public is not a reliable indicator of the public.

    And I hope we’re all intelligent enough here to understand how easy it is to rig a poll to say what you want.

  29. 829
    John E. Pearson says:

    see that you are becoming more open to the reality. (a) Gore/McCain might get together but further right pols, no way. I wouldn’t have considered Newt Gingrich and Pat Robertson as being to the “left” of McCain but whatever. I’d say they’re pretty far right. Robertson is so far right that he has publicly advocated detonating a nuclear weapon in Washington D.C. .

    Pat Robertson: I’m ‘A Convert’ On Global Warming, ‘It Is Getting Hotter’

    Newt Gingrich:
    Newt admitted his thoroughly off beam conviction …
    “that the evidence is sufficient that we should move towards the most effective possible steps to reduce carbon loading in the atmosphere.”

  30. 830

    Walt Bennet wrote:

    “The disgusting part of all of this is that these people still seem to believe that a meaningful global treaty is achievable, and that it will make a difference.”

    Walt, you claim to be “hyper-rational,” yet this statement appears to have no rational foundation whatever.

  31. 831
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #826,


    Insolation is a constant. I assume you know that, but just for clarity.

    Solar variability is negligible in this discussion, as Hansen explained in 1988.

    However, things are not as settled as you say they are. It’s a common mistake. But if you isolate just the last four years, many things have been learned about the carbon cycle and climate sensitivity which were not as well known then.

    I think what you’re trying to say, which of course most of us fundamentally agree with, is that when we pour enough carbon into the atmosphere to re-create the conditions of 3 million years ago, we get the climate of 3 million years ago, 6*C warmer than today.

    And what I’m saying to you is, as you can plainly see and as Ron has started to elaborate upon, the human race is going to permit most of that warming to happen. It’s an undeniable reality, and if you don’t agree with that, let’s have that discussion.

    As regards hubris, what I said is true: Nothing is certain in science. There may be a strong negative feedback that we don’t know about. The last time this happened, continents were configured differently.

    One example of how we get out of this is: A massive overturning of ocean circulation, burying vast amounts of carbon in the layer that normally does not interact with the surface layer. We don’t know that it will, we don’t know that it won’t, but if it did – it’s a new ballgame.

    The point being, and I am trying to find the right way to say this, “What’s the moral thing to do?” is a much more complicated question than you and many others in here wish to admit.

  32. 832
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #829,


    Certainly I was referring to Republicans who are trying to get re-elected.


  33. 833
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #830


    I didn’t say I was Spock, did I?


    I have feelings in all of this. I get mighty riled up when people stick their heads in the sand, coming out only long enough to call me names before sticking them back in.

    I feel stabbed in the back by the political left. They were the ones who screamed “FOLLOW THE SCIENCE! IT’S – THE – SCIENCE – STUPID!”

    That was four years ago, when they could still sell that there was time, that we just had to do this and that and all would be well.

    We didn’t do this, we didn’t do that, and the science informed us that things were worse off anyway.

    And what did the political left do?

    They changed the goals and tried to convince us that they could be achieved.

    Liars, one and all.

    I guess they just didn’t want to go home from the party.

  34. 834
    Jerry Steffens says:


    “One example of how we get out of this is: A massive overturning of ocean circulation, burying vast amounts of carbon in the layer that normally does not interact with the surface layer.”

    Actually, the concentration of dissolved CO2 INCREASES with depth; thus, bringing deep water to the surface would send more CO2 into the atmosphere.

    See, for example, Fig. 3 here:

  35. 835
    David Horton says:

    Ray #813 “I still don’t know if they would succeed in convincing the die-hard libertarian right as to the existence of objective reality”. Ray you are assuming that these people are rational, educated human beings, who are truly skeptical in the best sense – have examined all the evidence and still have one or two doubts about, say, the projected rates of sea level rise, or the extent to which CO2 rise can be buffered by extra plant growth. And that all we need to do is just clear up those last couple of points and they will be happy to join Al on stage to plead with the world, and American energy companies, to stop adding CO2 to the atmosphere, right now. But it ain’t like that in the real world. These people are hard shelled ideologues for whom no regulation is still too much; no environmental problem should ever get in the way of business, ever, and if we humans decide to concrete over the whole planet to help Ford sell more cars then by god that’s what we’ll do; god is looking after the planet anyway, so what could go wrong, and anyway the rapture is coming soon, so bring on armageddon; science is a conspiracy against religion, and that atheistic nonsense about evolution should be kept out of schools; and the United Nations is a conspiracy by communists led by Hugo Chavez to take all the money away from god-fearing republicans in Utah and give it to al-kyda (wahtever) as the form a one world government led by hockey stick wielding hippie freaks and feminazis and libruls. These people aren’t for turning, they aren’t listening to arguments and they don’t understand the evidence and couldn’t care less what the evidence is. They may not know much but they know what they like. And what they like is for the world, the American world, to stay just as it is.

  36. 836
    Ron Taylor says:

    Walt, I am not prepared to throw in the towel. I think you really are too cynical about the human race.

  37. 837
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #834


    That was a very interesting read, but from what I could tell it explains that the deep ocean is a very efficient repository for absorbed CO2, for several reasons.

    I was looking to see if there might be some mechanism which could transfer a lot of CO2 from the upper layer to the deeper ocean, but I did not find any, and in fact it seems that the transfer is somewhat strictly regulated by certain chemical properties.

    But a very interesting read.

    I was definitely spitballing with my “sudden transfer” suggestion. I don’t know that’s possible for a lot of CO2 to be transferred in a short time, but what this paper clearly states is that much of the CO2 which is currently in the atmosphere will eventually be absorbed by the ocean and stored inertly at depth.

  38. 838
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #836

    Nobody is talking about giving up, certainly not me.

    I am starkly focused on getting the discussion right, so we can get the answers right.

  39. 839
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Walt Bennett says: 12 February 2010 at 7:17 PM

    “The point being, and I am trying to find the right way to say this, “What’s the moral thing to do?” is a much more complicated question than you and many others in here wish to admit.”

    You talk of hubris even as you speak it. The posture you strike here is conspicuously arrogant and supercilious.

    Give up trying to find the right way to express your ignorance of me. You don’t know me, don’t know what I am. You have zero information about how I would respond to any given moral hazard. Even I don’t know how I would respond to an infinity of possible true dilemmas. I cannot until I occupy their exact context.

    Last word on this discussion of nothing in particular goes to you; I don’t care what you think of me.

  40. 840
    Ray Ladbury says:

    David Horton, “They may not know much but they know what they like. And what they like is for the world, the American world, to stay just as it is.”

    Well, that really is not an option, is it? I mean T. Boone Pickens is about as hardcore and unsentimental a capitalist as there is, and he sees the writing on the wall–and in fact is looking to profit from it. Even if we were not wrecking the climate that fostered the growth of human civilization, things would still have to change dramatically just due to Peak Fossil Fuels. Even the denialists admit that.

    Certainly, we won’t reach everyone. There are still apologists for slavery, after all. All I am saying is that people tend to listen to people like themselves–people they otherwise trust already.

  41. 841
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Walt, again, with your deep ocean sequestration idea: it isn’t validated, we don’t know what the unintended consequences might be and it’s very tough to model. That is the problem with all geo-engineering solutions to date. Those that have actually been tested to some degree (e.g. iron fertilization of oceans) haven’t worked out too well.

    Time, Walt. It takes time to work out such mechanisms, and the only way to buy time is to conserve our asses off.

  42. 842
    David B. Benson says:

    Walt Bennett (837) — Its not that simple; please read David Archer’s “The Long Thaw”.

  43. 843
    Hank Roberts says:

    > some mechanism which could transfer a lot of CO2 from
    > the upper layer to the deeper ocean

    Settling of calcite and aragonite — forming limestone and dolomite and chalk, eventually.

  44. 844
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Walt, I commend to you the counsel of Henry Louis Mencken:
    “Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.”


    “Truth would quickly cease to be stranger than fiction, once we got as used to it. ”


    “The truth, indeed, is something that mankind, for some mysterious reason, instinctively dislikes. Every man who tries to tell it is unpopular, and even when, by the sheer strength of his case, he prevails, he is put down as a scoundrel.”


    “The most costly of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind.”

    At least we know the problem we confront is not new.

  45. 845
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #841


    I was not proposing a half baked geo-engineering idea, not at all.

    I was speculating that this warming may not follow the script of previous warmings. Nature is in charge and no two eras are identical.

    We’ll know it once it’s happened, and only then after some time to gain perspective.

    As Ron has speculated, it’s around then that humans will act.

    But back to your point, I am not in disagreement with you.

    But please understand my essential point: The game is over and we lost.

    We are going to burn most of our oil and much of our coal.

    In other words, don’t you already know that we’re going past 450 ppm? Don’t you already believe that only in hundreds of years will atmospheric CO2 decline? Don’t you agree that this is the nightmare scenario and that it simply can’t be avoided?

    I assume somewhere down inside, you do. Thus, we must really stop betting the ranch on agreements that will never come and if they did would not solve the problem but likely create massive new problems.

    And thus my discussion point: Which is the more moral course, At This Point?

  46. 846
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #843

    Hank, right. Just as the article said. Not likely subject to a sudden surge, I agree.

    Probably there is no natural mechanism to remove a lot of CO2 from the ocean/atmosphere system in a very short time.

    I wouldn’t bet any significant amount of money on it, for sure.

    My suspicion is that the planet will warm faster than we think.

  47. 847
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #844

    Ray, I quite agree. My observation is that humans behave, by and large, short-sightedly. I’ve read interesting POVs that this is not accidental, it’s actually the best way to survive. With all the variables which lurk in our midst, planning too far ahead can be foolhardy.

    Of course, AGW would seem to stand that paradigm on its head, and so:

    A lot of people are betting the future of the planet on our ability to stop being that way.

    And we may learn how to be more foresighted as a species; if so, we may save ourselves.

    However: We’re still going to burn most of our oil and much of our coal.

    So: CO2, she’s gonna keep going way, way up.

  48. 848
    David Horton says:

    Ray #840. I don’t doubt that some people (hardcore capitalists as you put it) will change sides, at the last possible moment, when there is more money to be made out of a changing climate than out of funding the deniers. The bulk of the people that are causing the delay in political response are incapable of changing. They would find it easier, and more palatable, to have a sex change operation than an ideology change operation. The beliefs that capitalism is not causing environmental damage, and that regulation leads to world communist government, are fundamental (and I use the word deliberately) to the core of their being.

  49. 849
    Lawrence McLean says:

    Re #744
    Does the US temperature record correlate with changes in the US climate?

    When I first saw the graph I was surprised by the relatively low temperature rise compared to Australia (see:

    The records do not correlate with changes resulting in the preferred habitats for some US species moving to higher elevations (see:,

    Maybe the US temperature record has a cool bias in recent years (that is temperatures are actually higher than the records indicate). I believe that habitat changes are the best indicator of climate change, including temperature changes.

    The Scientific American articles that I refer to here indicate that there are temperature changes of around +3 degrees Celsius, which is more than indicated by the link in comment #744.

  50. 850
    flxible says:

    “The beliefs that capitalism is not causing environmental damage, and that regulation leads to world communist government, are fundamental (and I use the word deliberately) to the core of their being.”

    well describes some folks I’ve encountered, who no doubt will deride any suggestions for change when they’re up to their knees in [warm] water and paying $50 a gallon to fuel their Hummers – it’ll be the governments fault