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So how did that global cooling bet work out?

Filed under: — group @ 22 November 2010

Two and a half years ago, a paper was published in Nature purporting to be a real prediction of how global temperatures would develop, based on a method for initialising the ocean state using temperature observations (Keenlyside et al, 2008) (K08). In the subsequent period, this paper has been highly cited, very often in a misleading way by contrarians (for instance, Lindzen misrepresents it on a regular basis). But what of the paper’s actual claims, how are they holding up?

At the time K08 was published, we wrote two posts on the topic pointing out that a) the methodology was not very mature (and in our opinion, not likely to work), and b) that the temperature predictions being made (for the 10 year overlapping periods Nov 2000-Oct 2010, Nov 2005-Oct 2015 etc.), were very unlikely to come true. These critiques were framed as a bet to see whether the authors were serious about their predictions, similar in conception to other bets that have been offered on climate related matters. This offer was studiously ignored by the scientists involved, who may have thought the whole exercise was beneath them. Oh well.

However, with the publication of the October 2010 temperatures from HadCRUT, the first prediction period has now ended, and so the predictions can be assessed. Looking first at the global mean temperatures…

we can see clearly that while K08 projected 0.06ºC cooling, the temperature record from HadCRUT (which was the basis of the bet) shows 0.07ºC warming (using GISTEMP, it is 0.11ºC). As in K08 this refers to T(Nov 2000:Oct 2010) as compared to T(Nov 1994:Oct 2004). For reference, the IPCC AR4 ensemble gives 0.129±0.075ºC (1\sigma) (and a range of -0.07 to 0.30ºC related to internal variability in the simulations) (using full annual means).

More interestingly, we can look at the regional pattern. The K08 supplemental data showed their predicted anomaly along with anomalies from a free-running version of their model the standard IPCC results for the 2005-2015 period (which is half over), rather than the 2000-2010 period, but the patterns might be expected to be similar:

The anomalies are with respect to the average of all the decadal periods they looked at, which is roughly (though not exactly equal to) a 1955-2004 baseline. The actual temperature changes for 2000-2010, using GISTEMP for convenience, look like this:

It is striking to what extent they resemble the spatial pattern seen in the AR4 ensemble free-running version rather than the initiallised forecast, though there are also some correlations there too (for instance, west of the Antarctic peninsula, related to the ozone-hole and GHG related increase in the Southern Annular Mode).

It is worth emphasising that the RC bet offer was not frivolously made, but reflected some very clear indications in the paper that the predictions would not come true (as explained in our second post). Specifically, their ‘free’ model run, without data assimilation, performed better in hindcasts when compared to observed data, i.e. the new assimilation technique degraded the model performance. Both previous hindcasts showing cooling of the model were wrong. Since global warming took off in the 1970s, the observed data have never shown a cooling in their chosen metric (ten-year means spaced 5 years apart). Other climate models run for standard global warming scenarios only rarely show this level of cooling. On the other hand, there is a simple explanation for such a temporary cooling in a model: an artifact known as ‘coupling shock’ (e.g. Rahmstorf 1995), which arises when the ocean is switched over from a forced to a coupled mode of operation, something that has no counterpart in the real world.

The basic issue is that nudging surface temperatures in the North Atlantic closer to observed data would probably nudge the Atlantic overturning circulation in the wrong direction since changing the temperature without changing the salinity will give the opposite buoyancy forcing to what would be needed. The model indeed shows negative skill in the critical regions of the North Atlantic which are most affected by the overturning circulation. All this can be seen from the paper. Last but not least, by the time the paper was published three quarters of the 2000-2010 forecast period were over with no sign of the predicted cooling – barring an unprecedented massive temperature drop, the prediction was always very unlikely.

Was this then an “improved climate prediction“? The answer is clearly no.

So what can we conclude? First off, the basic idea of short term predictions using initialised ocean data is a priori a good one. Many groups around the world are exploring to what extent this is possible, and what techniques will be the most successful. However, before claiming that a new methodology is an improvement on other efforts and that it predicts a very counter-intuitive result, a lot of effort is required to demonstrate that even theoretically or in ideal circumstances that it will work. This can involve ‘perfect model’ experiments (where you test to see whether you can predict the evolution of a model simulation given only what we know about the real world), or hindcasts (as used by K08), and only where there is demonstrated skill is there any point in making a prediction for the real world. It is nonetheless important to try new methods, and even when they fail, lessons can be learned about how to improve things going forward.

It is perhaps inevitable that novel prediction methods that appear to ‘go against the mainstream’ are going to be higher profile than they warrant in retrospect – such is the way of the world. But scientists need to appreciate that these high profile statements will be taken and spread far more widely than they possibly anticipate. Thus it behoves them to be scrupulous in explaining the context, giving the caveats and making clear the experimental nature of any new result. This is undoubtedly hard, especially where there are people ready to twist anything to fit an anti-AGW agenda, but we should at least try.

Note, we asked Noel Keenlyside if he wanted to comment on our assessment of their prediction, and he declined to do so. We would be still be happy to post any of his or his co-authors comments in response though.

Update Dec 2: The Stuttgarter Zeitung newspaper (in German) followed up on this and got the following comments from the authors:


“The forecast for global mean temperature which we published highlights the ability of natural variability to cause climate fluctuations on decadal scale, even on a global scale. I am still completely convinced that this is correct.”


“I do not want to comment on this.”

Then an indirect quote: the fact that warming for 2000-2010 was greater than predicted in their study does in itself not speak against their study, and then

“You have to look at this long-term. I would not weigh a few years earlier or later too much.” But if the forecast turns out to be wrong by 2015, “I will be the last one to deny it”.

252 Responses to “So how did that global cooling bet work out?”

  1. 101
    Sir says:

    #88 “Are you surprised Dr. Lindzen is still at MIT considering he is so ignorant about the clouds as you point out.

    Lindzen is not the only voice of MIT. Other researchers who are publishing in Peer reviewed journals think it may get a lot warmer. Below is a news release from MIT. The spam filter won’t let me put in the url, so go to the web site and search Ronald Prinn. He is director of MIT’s Center for Global Change Science

    “The most comprehensive modeling yet carried out on the likelihood of how much hotter the Earth’s climate will get in this century shows that without rapid and massive action, the problem will be about twice as severe as previously estimated six years ago – and could be even worse than that.”
    “The study uses the MIT Integrated Global Systems Model. The new projections, published this month in the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate, indicate a median probability of surface warming of 5.2 degrees Celsius by 2100, with a 90% probability range of 3.5 to 7.4 degrees. This can be compared to a median projected increase in the 2003 study of just 2.4 degrees. “

  2. 102
    wilt says:

    Re: Daniel Bailey (#100)

    Thank you for the link that you provided.
    Unfortunately, it is not very helpful. Although I did not have the time to study all details of the document, I noticed that already in the very first part of this document an incorrect statement is given about the solar magnetic field. I quote the whole paragraph here: “Solar magnetic field strength correlates strongly with other solar activity, such as TSI and sunspot number. As is the case with these other solar attributes, solar magnetic field has not changed appreciably over the past three decades (Lockwood 2001).”
    However, in the abstract of the Lockwood article it is stated that the strength of the solar magnetic field “has risen, on average, by an estimated 34% since 1963 and by 140% since 1900.”
    Apart from this, in my view there is nothing in the document that directly contradicts that the observations and conclusions of the Atmos. Chem. Phys. article may be correct. I would advise you to read it, or at least read the abstract.

  3. 103
    Alex Katarsis says:

    The metaphor seems a little forced. To make it feel more appropriate, let’s change your small shove to a natural occurrence – like a strong burst of wind or a charging moose – the fact would be that the cause was not the deliberate action of a self-aware individual, and, in fact, there are any number of factors that could have caused the slight shove. We can guess that it was the wind, but we don’t know for certain. Especially if there was a bag of beef jerky in the back seat and the windows were open. Next, the element that is lagging (the delta of inclination) is meant to be synonymous with CO2 lagging temperature, but the C02 increase lag is at least partially effected by temperature, where as the inclination of the hill won’t change whether the wind is blowing or not. Also, there is huge potential energy in that system, and it’s not hard to calculate or visualize the nature of that potential energy in advance. A slight nudge can be considered a severe act in a system with as much potential energy as this one has. But all in all, the patronizing should wait until after all of my questions and comments are published – which will be lagging by at least 800 years by the computer models i’ve constructed.

  4. 104

    103 (Alex),

    I think you’re being a bit hard on the analogy. The basic components of an initial forcing and a feedback are what matter. And your statement about a huge potential energy in the system is very true, and an accurate part of the model. That, after all, is part of what a positive feedback is: potential energy. The fact that it is easier to understand (because we all learned about kinetic and potential energy in exactly that frame of reference) is part of the strength of the model, not the weakness.

    But, still, if you wish…

    Let’s try a more direct model, then. This is my own interpretation of everything I’ve read, so I eagerly encourage corrections to any assumptions/flaws in what I present.

    First, variations in the shape of the earth’s orbit (more versus less elliptical), the axial tilt, and the direction of that tilt with respect to perhelion all combine to affect the relative seasonal insolation for the northern and southern hemispheres.

    When these factors combine in such a way that summers are cool and short enough that they fail to melt back the previous year’s winter ice cover to the usual degree, the “permanent” (as in year round) ice extent in the north begins to grow and spread south.

    This changes the albedo of the planet significantly, reducing total insolation and resulting in cooling. Remember that generally the planet is always taking in the exact same amount of sunlight no matter what time of year or day it is, as defined by the relatively constant output of the sun and the cross-sectional area of the earth. So while the orbital factors can change the seasonal distribution of insolation, the total insolation is constant. But by changing the planet’s albedo through a large seasonal variation, the total insolation is changed — more sunlight is reflected back into space without being absorbed as heat.

    The cooling (that results from the change in albedo) necessarily reduces the amount of H2O in the atmosphere, which is a positive feedback that further cools the planet.

    At the same time, CO2 levels also drop (which also reduces temperatures, which further reduces H2O content, which further reduces temperatures). I myself am a bit fuzzy on the mechanisms here, but I know that as ocean temperatures drop, they hold more CO2, so that’s one sink. I can also imagine that it can be as simple as snow and ice covering vast areas of vegetation, and so preventing decomposition which would have returned CO2 to the atmosphere.

    This cooling all combines to let the ice extent spread further south (meaning an even higher albedo, less H2O, less CO2, etc., and so the ice age deepens and temperatures continue to drop).

    So, you have an initial forcing, which you can debate (Was it the change in orbital features, or the growth of the ice, or the change in albedo resulting from the growth of the ice? Does it really matter?).

    You have positive feedbacks (H2O, CO2 decline) which reinforce an otherwise nominal effect.

    With enough time, you have an ice age, checked only by the fact that the ice can only get so far south, because this all hinges on seasonal insolation changes resulting from the axial tilt of the earth, and this makes no difference at or near the equator — insolation there is constant, regardless of the tilt of the earth, and the days are warm and long enough to hold back any threat of snow and ice.

    Time goes by, and the combination of orbital factors slowly change. Eventually, the combination of elliptical orbit and axial tilt change so that northern hemisphere summers are longer, and warmer. As such, the ice extent starts to melt back in the summer, and the reverse process occurs.

    Albedo is reduced. Once covered CO2 is exposed and released. The atmosphere warms, which adds H2O, making the atmosphere warm further. The ice melts more. Some monkey hits another on the head with a leg bone, and jumps up and down in front of a strange, black monolith, and wallah! The scene is set for Stanley Kubrick’s long and illustrious film career.

  5. 105
    Josh Cryer says:

    How come the forecast goes up in the paper (Fig. 4) but down in your recreation?

    [Response: The line in the original figure was not a trajectory – rather it joined disparate forecasts. The line in our figure is the actual trajectory from the initialisation to the forecast. You were not the only person to be confused by this. – gavin]

  6. 106
    Hank Roberts says:

    Looked up Lockwood (2001) and found this–much newer paper.

    Solar Influences on Climate
    L.J. Gray, J. Beer, M. Geller, J.D. Haigh, M. Lockwood, K. Matthes,U. Cubasch, D. Fleitmann, G. Harrison, L. Hood, J. Luterbacher, G.A. Meehl, D. Shindell, B. van Geel, W. White
    Reviews in Geophysics Accepted April 2010

  7. 107
    Alex Katarsis says:

    104) Bob:
    Truly, an excellent summarization – and quite helpful. I wish all of the questions could make it through for that kind of consideration. Thank you.

  8. 108
    Daniel Bailey says:

    Re: wilt

    Couple of questions for you:
    1. Why do you read the Lockwood abstract when the Main article is freely available? How about an even more recent Lockwood paper (H/T to Hank Roberts)?
    2. Your exchanges with Thomas Lee Elifritz and Barton Paul Levenson were centered around GCR’s and cloudiness, which is why I directed you to the Skeptical Science post which dealt with that. Did you not read it?

    You seem confused on things climatological; being here is a good start then in order to fix that.

    Or you could try BPL’s Climatology pages.

    Learning is fundamental and should never cease. Unless that’s not why you’re here.

    The Yooper

  9. 109
    Didactylos says:

    I suppose the moral of the story is that climate science isn’t one of those fields where you can publish a “career low” paper and hope that nobody notices it, and that you will be able to put out something better soon just to make sure nobody ever cites the garbage.

  10. 110
    Hank Roberts says:

    And for Wilt — ask yourself, why did the people who pointed you to that 2001 Lockwood paper not help you find the 2010 paper? Telling people stuff based on old papers instead of looking at progress is a bad sign, sometimes.

  11. 111
    wilt says:

    Re: Daniel Bailey (#108), apparently you misunderstood what I wrote about the Skeptical Science link you mentioned earlier. The trouble with that document (as I tried to explain in #102) is that it clearly misrepresents the data. I gave one clearcut example: they mention the Lockwood 2001 citation and suggest that it would demonstrate that solar magnetism has remained constant in recent decades, whereas Lockwood clearly concluded that there was a strong increase (34% since 1963, and since 1900 even 140%). Of course I am familiar with the whole Lockwood article. I was not expecting that you would read it completely, that is why I made it easier for you by quoting the main conclusion.

    [edit – stick to science, not personal comments]

  12. 112

    wilt 102: “… solar magnetic field has not changed appreciably over the past three decades (Lockwood 2001).”
    However, in the abstract of the Lockwood article it is stated that the strength of the solar magnetic field “has risen, on average, by an estimated 34% since 1963 and by 140% since 1900.”

    BPL: wilt, the past three decades is 1981-2010.

  13. 113

    107 (Alex),

    You are most certainly welcome.

    An important takeaway point from this is that with a low climate sensitivity (i.e. one with limited positive feedbacks, or counterbalancing negative feedbacks), then the ice ages can’t happen. The changes in total insolation resulting from spreading ice (and the accompanying change in albedo) by themselves are no where near enough to drop temperatures by the amount needed. Positive feedbacks from CO2 and H2O are required. The proposed existence of strong negative feedbacks to balance all of this (such as Lindzen’s proposed changes in cloud formation over the tropics) would hold temperatures relatively constant, and the ice ages couldn’t and wouldn’t happen.

    For ice ages to occur, climate sensitivity must be reasonably high.

    As such, this is one of the arguments which supports higher climate sensitivity — in the 3C per doubling of CO2 range, although “per doubling of CO2” is just a metric, but it really means “3C per forcing equivalent to a doubling of CO2” (because, as this example shows, the initial forcing can be something totally unrelated to CO2). If clouds really formed more easily/frequently to reflect more sunlight as the planet warms (or, in this scenario, stopped forming, and stopped reflecting sunlight near the equator as the planet cools, providing an offset to the increased albedo to the north), then this scenario wouldn’t come about.

    At the same time, this scenario is a good example of an initial forcing. It doesn’t have to be CO2 — in this case it’s seasonal insolation changes which cause an expansion of ice cover which cause a change in the planet’s overall albedo.

    Last but not least, this scenario demonstrates how, in the usual case, CO2 concentration lags, but is a major factor in, the temperature changes.

    And that demonstrates how dangerous it potentially is for us to do something that’s never happened in the history of the planet… to very dramatically change the CO2 concentration, in a matter of mere decades as compared to the usual centuries or millenia involved in an ice age feedback scenario, through a mechanism never found in nature — uncovering plant matter that’s been buried for hundreds of millions of years, and burning it for energy.

    Even the ice ages only work by having the oceans absorb/release more CO2, and by covering/exposing carbon (or methane) on the surface of the planet. Very few mechanisms in nature can drill for oil or mine coal. Really, that represents an introduction of carbon into the system that hasn’t been available for hundreds of millions of years.

  14. 114
    wilt says:

    #110 (Hank Roberts), as you can see from the previous comments on this topic, the reference to Lockwood 2001 was provided by Skeptical Science, and not by people that one might refer to as skeptics. The more recent article (comprehensive review with Lockwood as one of the co-authors) that you referred to, is rather neutral in its conclusions, see pages 45 and 47 of the article (‘..continues to be an active area of investigation’, “only just begun to be tested in physical models”). In other words: to be continued, the jury is still out on this. Thanks for your contribution anyway.

  15. 115
    Hank Roberts says:

    > very few mechanisms in nature can drill for oil or mine coal
    Or burn off vegetation on the scale of continents.

  16. 116
    Hank Roberts says:

    >> (Lockwood 2001).”
    > BPL: wilt, the past three decades is 1981-2010.

    Barton, paper published in 2001 –> the “past three decades” would be earlier.

  17. 117
  18. 118

    114 (Wilt),

    You dismiss Hank rather abruptly, but I have not seen your response to Barton’s point in 112 (that you conflated two separate time frames and so misread the paper). In general, what I’ve learned from the string of comments it that your own points are not to be taken at face value, and one must go to the source to be sure that it is not being colored with a particular shade of near-truth. I find this sort of approach to the issues to be rather distasteful.

    So I looked at the paper supplied, and you did a rather admirable job of selecting one sentence from the paper, and using it to dismiss anything the doesn’t conform to your own tightly held belief. Your argument dwindles, in the end, to something along the lines of “we don’t know everything, and therefore we know nothing, and so no one can prove me wrong, and I shouldn’t change my own behavior based on such ignorance.”

    Following that reasoning, I might point out that the jury is still out on whether or not North Pole Eurasian Leprechaun Farts (jolly old ELFs in the literature) are the real cause for global warming. The fact that no one has yet been able to disprove this theory is not, however, an argument either for its adoption, or as evidence that other, competing theories (i.e. GHG) are therefore unlikely to be true.

    The jury is still out.

    Ho ho ho.

  19. 119
    Hank Roberts says:

    Wilt, I see your problem. The ‘advanced’ page at skepticalscience talks about a few papers in considerable detail, and skims over the source for the sentence you’re puzzled by. He explains this in the Comments section on the page. See the ‘intermediate’ page for more detail and more sources.

    No trend in 30 years is the summary statement — that 2001 paper shows no trend over 1980-2000; other work cited in the intermediate article shows no trend during the most recent decade.

    The 2010 paper linked above says the same thing basically — that they found trend, no change, in the very small forcing from the sun. That exists, it’s real, it’s clear it has has been swamped by the rapid change in forcing from increasing greenhouse gases.

    Now you say “we don’t know and we can’t know” lather rinse repeat.

  20. 120
    Alex Katarsis says:

    I realize it’s a political point, but we can’t ignore that the science is being used a weapon by both sides of the climate change issue. The middleground of establishing the truth of the peak oil turning point (along with the political volatility that accompanies it), combined with the universal desire for “clean water” and “fresh air” may still be the best place to begin in improving our “climate”. I have a feeling there would be much greater support bilaterally for actions aimed at attaining those goals. Certainly an argument could be made by both sides that these issues have reaches crisis levels (in my opinion, more effectively than by the demonization of CO2). The result of the effort may well be the same (with a net reduction in CO2), but both sides of the aisle could take credit for the success. Feel good policies of supporting pie-in-the-sky “new, green” technology won’t get us anywhere, either. I have more faith in the science as discussed here than in ANY of the efforts made by politicians on your behalf. There’s no question that detractors are inspired to propagandize by that corruption. In short, let’s find a crisis we can all agree upon. The science behind such an effort would find more open minds.

  21. 121
    Hank Roberts says:

    > a crisis we can all agree upon

    If only. It’d have to be one that would complete its work within a week or so.,18431/

  22. 122

    120 (Alex),

    I think that I more or less agree with you, except that I haven’t seen the tiniest bit of action taken on climate change in the U.S., so it’s hard to worry much about people “demonizing CO2” or “ANY of the efforts made by politicians” because there is nothing to see. I have not seen a single “feel good” policy “supporting pie-in-the sky ‘new, green’ technology.” I haven’t seen anything done, period.

    What I have seen is that hybrid vehicles which greatly reduce emissions, and have the potential to make use of clean energy sources (which do not currently exist in practice) have been publicly available and in such demand that manufacturers can never keep up, and yet the bulk of our road vehicle fleet is “dirty” and the numbers and choice of hybrid and EV models is still relatively low. It’s almost as if they’ve been artificially kept out of the market. Why don’t struggling car manufacturers supply something that consumers clearly want, and in high enough volumes to bring the price down to further increase demand? Something in this picture doesn’t make any sense, especially after the fed bailed out several failing car manufacturers.

    I have also seen inroads (but no more) to implementing clean, renewable energy technologies… not “pie-in-the-sky” methods, but things that are in successful, wide spread use in other countries, but simply have not been adopted here.

    I have seen absolutely nothing in the area of improving our power delivery infrastructure, something which will take decades by itself, so that it can support cleaner energy sources and vehicle fleets as they become economical and more numerous. (Actually, I have seen a few feel-good commercials by major corporations, usually fossil fuel corporations, touting their feel-good research projects with no real-life implementations to date, as if to say “see, we’re working on a solution, now go back and drive your car around the block, just for the fun of it, there’s nothing to worry about, and we’re certainly not to blame.”).

    I have seen nothing in the way of incentives to alter silly behaviors that contribute to fossil fuel waste, such as the fact that everyone commutes to work at 8 AM, and home at 5 PM, or that some companies will fly people all over the earth rather than use blossoming, effective telecommunication technologies.

    Basically, from my point of view, CO2 emissions look to be very, very dangerous. I don’t need to anthropomorphically “demonize” CO2 for it to be a serious issue. But at the same time, we’re doing absolutely nothing, so instead demonizing precipitous action is a non sequitur. There’s no action yet to demonize, precipitous, ill-advised, unnecessary or otherwise.

    Bristling at proposals for cap and trade or fee and dividend, or anything else, when such things are instantly stalled before getting anywhere, looks to me to simply be an excuse for paralysis. People seem to have adopted “the economy” as the new golden idol (or golden idle?). Don’t endanger the economy! Don’t disrupt the economy! Don’t anger the economy! De-regulation, free market, job growth/losses, everything is becoming a buzz word for “be afraid, be very afraid that the world might change.”

    I am very, very afraid that by the time we begin to address the issue in any sort of meaningful, intelligent way, the cost of action will be ridiculously and unnecessarily high, much as buying a new car is more expensive than bothering to fix the brakes on your old car before they cause an accident that totals the vehicle.

    All I (personally) ask of people is that they take the time to completely and thoroughly understand the science, and from that the implications of action or inaction, before taking a political position on the issue — and without letting a current political preference influence their understanding of (or belief in) the science.

    I myself am pretty confident that anyone who takes the time to really understand the science will also put enough wait on the implications for our future that they will make reasonable, rational decisions concerning that future.

  23. 123

    Sigh. “wait” should be “weight”, of course, in the last line of my recent post.

    Could RC pretty, pretty please get a post-submit edit button like the Blackboard? I may not agree with everything Lucia says, but I’ll defend to the death her right to give me a site which lets me attack what she says without typos.

  24. 124
    Hank Roberts says:

    Bob, just screw up the ReCaptcha the first time, and you get a second chance.
    Works for me (grin).

  25. 125
    Maya says:

    “… we can’t ignore that the science is being used a weapon by both sides of the climate change issue.”

    No, one side uses science and one side uses wishful thinking. Please don’t legitimize the latter by putting them in the same category as the former.

  26. 126
    Susan Anderson says:

    Not much you can do about science with a bunch that is proud of being ignorant. They know how to use their cell phones and compute sports statistics, and they know how to vote on reality shows, and as far as they’re concerned, that’s all they need to know about science.

    The professional doubt-creation machine need only provide sciencey looking material for this group to justify their isolation from the world around them. It has, however, become more virulent; I was fascinated by the recent recasting of Thanksgiving in the light of sharing the wealth (word I tried to use, of course, hit the spam filter but this’ll do).

    You can’t make these people rise above their cheerleader-led adolescent attitudes towards knowledge and authority.

  27. 127

    125 (Maya),
    120 (Alex),

    …but we can’t ignore that the science is being used a weapon by both sides of the climate change issue…

    To add to what Maya said, I think I would point out that there are several different “climate change issues” to be considered and handled in different ways, with different implications.

    The issue of whether or not climate change is happening, and determining the cause, is pure science with an immutable truth behind it. Attempts to use science as a weapon in this case translates into an attempt to distort the truth. I do not see this from real scientists, unless they have a political investment, and the only political investment that I take seriously is an attempt to protect future fossil fuel profits.

    The issue of whether or not to take action is a political issue, and has nothing to do with the science (except where the science has been misrepresented and misinterpreted for political purposes). Really, it shouldn’t be a political issue, either, unless one is so callous and selfish as to be willing to harm hundreds of millions of other people for one’s own personal interests.

    The issue of what action to take, and when, is a political issue complicated by scientific, engineering, economic, social, and strategic/political factors, and is the conversation that we should be having, except that some people have us stuck on the science, as if it were in doubt.

    But in all of these cases, truth is truth, and attempts to purposely misrepresent the science are wrong.

    As far as “sides” go, while my perception is that many scientists are frightened by the implications of climate change(me, too!), and so are invested in making certain that others understand what they understand, they do not misrepresent the science (shrill denial protestations of “Climategate” being considered childishly silly and irrelevant here). There is no “side” to science, outside of the normal human habit of wishing to be right, and to convince others that one is right, and recognizing when something is as or more important than many discoveries in the history of human civilization.

    As far as sides go in the political issues, well, that’s obvious and doesn’t need discussion. Clearly there will always be people who hold their own self interests above others, and there will be conflict in arriving at a course (or many courses) for a society. That parties in the political issues use science as a weapon is not surprising in any way.

    But none of this is any excuse for misunderstanding the science, even if the misunderstanding is the result of falling for someone else’s misrepresentation of the science. It’s all the more reason for people to be true skeptics, and to willingly and eagerly accept the burden of really, truly learning and understanding the science.

    No one should put themselves in a position of saying, ten or twenty years from now, “it’s not my fault — they had me fooled!”

  28. 128
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    The demons are bipeds, not molecules. Rephrasing physics as “you’re being mean to those molecule” is screwy.

  29. 129
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Alex Katarsis: “I realize it’s a political point, but we can’t ignore that the science is being used a weapon by both sides of the climate change issue.”

    Sorry, Alex, but the science is all on one side of this issue. The other side has lies and anti-science. And if we are to agree that there is a crisis, I would hope that we do so based on the truth. Indeed, that is the only basis I can see for such agreement. Ultimately, the policies needed to address Peak Oil are different from those needed to address climate change, and likewise those to acheive clean air and water. The simple fact is that people must accept the science if for no other reason that the truth matters–both for practical considerations such as policy and for its own sake.

  30. 130
    Thomas says:

    Bib @113: Not sure I’d want to be quite so sure about:
    “And that demonstrates how dangerous it potentially is for us to do something that’s never happened in the history of the planet… to very dramatically change the CO2 concentration, in a matter of mere decades”
    The planets history is quite a long one, and a lot of details are not vailable. One “theory” for the strength of the Permian-Triasac extinction is that the volcanics (roughly a million cubic kilometers worth) erupted through thich layers of coal, and therefore liberated at huge amount of CO2 as well as the usual volcanic gases and ash. It is indeed possible, that there have been episodes where large amounts of greenhouse gases were released. We also have the PETM (roughly 55mya) which may have been accelerated by methane hydrate releases. Rapid changes of atmospheric composition may have occurred at least occasionally. We can draw little comfort from the fact that they are associated with mass extinction events however.

  31. 131

    130 (Thomas),

    Good point. I defer to the past. The more correct statement is that the planet has never before seen atmospheric carbon raise so much, so quickly, without a mass extinction event.

    Now I can sleep better. 8O

  32. 132
    Hank Roberts says:

    Maybe not:

    “This perspective article focuses on intervals in time in the fossil record when atmospheric CO2 concentrations increased up to 1200 ppmv, temperatures in mid- to high-latitudes increased by greater than 4 °C within 60 years, and sea levels rose by up to 3 m higher than present. For these intervals in time, case studies of past biotic responses are presented to demonstrate the scale and impact of the magnitude and rate of such climate changes on biodiversity…. the rates and magnitude of climate change are similar to those predicted for the future and therefore potentially relevant to understanding future biotic response. What emerges from these past records is evidence for rapid community turnover, migrations, development of novel ecosystems and thresholds from one stable ecosystem state to another, but there is very little evidence for broad-scale extinctions due to a warming world. Based on this evidence from the fossil record, we make four recommendations for future climate-change integrated conservation strategies.”

  33. 133
    Hank Roberts says:

    oops, the cite for that:

    4 °C and beyond: what did this mean for biodiversity in the past?
    DOI: 10.1080/14772000903495833
    Systematics and Biodiversity, Volume 8, Issue 1 March 2010 , pages 3 – 9

  34. 134

    #120 Alex Katarsis

    Some considerations for perspective:

    – “science is being used a weapon”
    – “middleground”
    – “demonetization of CO2”
    – “Feel good policies”

    Science is science, not a weapon. The weapon is how the body politic wields or demonizes the knowledge.

    Middle ground? 2+2=4 has no middle ground.

    Demonetization? CO2 is not a demon, it’s a molecule. The problem is that we burned a bunch of stuff that used to be buried underground and imbalanced the relative thermal equilibrium of the planet. If there is a demon, in is our own ignorance and naiveté, that unfortunately still continues en force today.

    Feel good policies – I agree, this is not sound. We need science based policy decisions. But the human understanding is key to sound policy making.

    As to open minds, motive and bias are a real factor. One finds in all worlds that entire swaths of people rely more on group think than physics or math. Making it meaningful in context remains a challenge.

    Economics: Balancing Economies
    October Leading Edge: The Cuccinelli ‘Witch Hunt”

    Fee & Dividend: Our best chanceLearn the IssueSign the Petition
    A Climate Minute: Natural CycleGreenhouse EffectClimate Science HistoryArctic Ice Melt

  35. 135

    #132, 133–

    Thanks, Hank. I cringe a bit at how this paper could be spun by some folks I interact with–basically, “See, I told you there was nothing to worry about, there won’t be any extinctions like you alarmists have been ranting about!” (A serious distortion, of course, but entirely predictable.)

    However, the paper is quite interesting in and of itself. I was particularly intrigued with the last section, discussing the importance of:

    “(i) Managing for novel ecosystems. . .
    (ii) Retaining ecological memory. . .
    (iii) Conserving regions of high genetic diversity. . .
    (iv) Developing resilience to threshold events. . .”

    I’d certainly be interested to hear what the paleontologists, biologists and ecologists around here have to say!

  36. 136

    132 (Hank Roberts),

    Well, this dovetails well with Jurassic Park — popular film always being the source of modern conventional wisdom — “Life will find a way”.

    Not necessarily human life, of course, but perhaps we can rest assured that we don’t have the power to destroy most life on the planet, or even our own species — only the stability of our own civilizations.

    I stand corrected (again).

    Now I can really sleep better. 8(

  37. 137


    “demonetization of CO2”

    Can we all agree that “demonetization” means “dissociating any monetary value” whereas “demonization” means “severely stigmatizing?”

    If so, I think this subthread could realize massive gains in clarity.

    Monetized or not. ;-)

  38. 138

    Afraid I’m losing track a bit as to which argument was made on which thread–but for those discussing the drought issue, and particularly those recalling (from Dai, 2010, or elsewhere) that the Mediterranean basin is projected to be at very high future drought risk–this story will have really serious resonance:

    Yes, of course it’s weather, not climate.


    But for those who have trouble visualizing what the early stages of the scenario might look like on the ground, this should help.

  39. 139
    Susan Anderson says:

    Thanks for the real conversation above.

    I’m worried that the general population doesn’t recognize themselves when people who buy into anti-science are described. In their own lives they are likely good-hearted, go to church, share with their friends, all that stuff. It is easy when I see something like the hate mail generated by Ed Markey’s committee meeting yesterday to think these people are deluded and/or awful. What they are saying is truly horrid, but they don’t recognize the disconnect between their daily lives and the opinions they hold.

    I don’t have a solution, but I am concerned that those I trust and to a limited extent understand on the science and issues of overexploitation and expanded consumption on a crowded planet not demonize others, no matter how “wrong” those others might be. It’s important to attack the misconceptions and misunderstandings without attacking the people. They know the latter is wrong, and they then disqualify the ideas as well.

    Scientists have to qualify in the top percentile for intellect, AND they have to work hard for decades, and fight in the court of their peers (and fashions there can get in the way as well) for their ideas, but they are not known for patience with what appears to be stupidity.

    So remember, please clarify the ideas, don’t attack the people. They know the latter is wrong and will walk away.

  40. 140
    Hank Roberts says:

    PS, Wilt, lockwood university reading –> About 97 results
    I found clarification and newer info at skepticalscience, but not at wattsup.

  41. 141

    #137 Kevin McKinney

    Oops, thanks for the catch.

    That was supposed to be demonization, not demonitization ;)

    since I was attempting to quote Alex in #120

    I should really just copy and paste :)

  42. 142
    Andy says:

    Re: the article Hank cites. In my opinion the authors are overreaching and conflating climate change effect on different measures of species diversity over different time periods to reach a conclusion that is not supported. For example they state that at the PETM tropical rain forests were at their greatest extent. This contradicts other studies of that time period. I think the authors are confusing distribution with extent. The area of tropical forest was almost certainly less as so much of the tropics had dried out; but yes, the global distribution of the forest had increased poleward. Also, there are many reasons for changes in biodiversity levels. During the PETM north and south America were separate and floral and faunal diversity decreased as they met and mixed with their linking. Also, studies focusing on that time period are necessarily discussing diversity at an arm’s reach as the fossil record is incomplete. This makes comparison with modern periods a little difficult. The earth was recovering from the KT incident at the time of the PETM and so it is expected that a large number of new taxa had developed. Whether or not this was due to or in spite of the high temperatures is debatable.

  43. 143
    CM says:

    Hank #132, Kevin #135, re: impact on biodiversity of past rapid warmings,

    They didn’t have chainsaws back then. As Willis et al. so nicely put it,
    “What we probably need to be considering is the synergistic effect of these two factors [habitat loss and global warming] on biodiversity (Travis, 2003).” Travis had been less coy: “The interaction between climate change and habitat loss might be disastrous.”

  44. 144

    NASA briefing online about arsenic based life is awesome… especially watching the scientists fight. Science lives!

    She even just worked in a Star Trek Horta reference! (How much of a geek am I?)

  45. 145
    Hank Roberts says:

    > chainsaws
    Not required; asteriods will suffice.

    \the optical flux from asteroids 60m in diameter is enough to ignite pine forests\ —….105.1114H&classic=YES

    Worst imagined case, shockwave-methane-lightning-fire:

  46. 146
    CM says:

    Bob #144, truly mind-blowing.

  47. 147
    TerryMN says:

    They obviously should have taken Dr. Steig’s Matlab course.

  48. 148
    Andy says:

    Good gravy, yes, when you consider man’s direct destruction and fragmentation of habitat along with the artificial mixing of the flora and fauna of different continents, then it’s clear that we’re already involved in one of the earth’s major extinction events. From that perspective this discussion about climate change and species loss is moot. Barring some miraculous epiphany involving all mankind, many if not most populations of plants and animals will be rapidly winding down to oblivion.

    I guess it says a lot that scientists will argue a point ad nauseum even though it’s irrelevent. Or maybe that’s just me.

  49. 149

    And, in other news, Qatar gets the World Cup in 2022, instead of the U.S.

    How does this relate to climate?

    But the IOC didn’t shortlist the Qatari capital over fears that the summer heat would be dangerous for the athletes, an objection that the Qataris were desperate to overcome with their ambitious plans to host the 2022 World Cup.

    Central to their bid was a revolutionary cooling system that would use solar power to provide zero-carbon air conditioning to cool the stadiums, technology that has the potential to transform the lives of tens of millions living near the equator.

  50. 150
    George says:

    #122 Bob
    “What I have seen is that hybrid vehicles which greatly reduce emissions, and have the potential to make use of clean energy sources (which do not currently exist in practice) have been publicly available and in such demand that manufacturers can never keep up, and yet the bulk of our road vehicle fleet is “dirty” and the numbers and choice of hybrid and EV models is still relatively low. It’s almost as if they’ve been artificially kept out of the market. Why don’t struggling car manufacturers supply something that consumers clearly want, and in high enough volumes to bring the price down to further increase demand?”

    Simple economics Bob. Any kind of hybrid/electric vehicle costs considerably more than a non-hybrid(non-hybrid vehicles with similar fuel efficiency are available)due to the complexity and added costs of batteries. It will take 5-10 years for development to reduce battery prices. There is no guarantee the current types of batteries(Li-Ion, Li-polymer) will end up the right choice. While hybrids have been somewhat popular, most of that popularity can be attributed to the government subsidies involved. We(taxpayers) will be paying some $8-13000 per vehicle for the current crop(Volt, Leaf, Prius, etc). Having someone else help pay for your car will make a new one more attractive. Without a subsidy the extra cost makes no economic sense. And, they only make any kind of sense for the limited number of folks who have to commute 20-30 miles every day in heavy stop and go traffic. The hybrid benefits disappear when heavy, slow traffic is not involved.