RealClimate logo

Unforced Variations: Mar 2016

Filed under: — group @ 1 March 2016

This month’s open thread. Pros and cons of celebrity awareness-raising on climate? The end of the cherry-picking of ‘pauses’ in the satellite data? Continuing impacts of El Niño? Your choice (except for the usual subjects to be avoided…).

376 Responses to “Unforced Variations: Mar 2016”

  1. 1
    Dan Miller says:

    I’m wondering what the take is on climate scientist Kevin Anderson’s claims about “Going Beyond Dangerous”:

    He says that the projected temperature rise numbers that are presented by the IPCC and others either assume “time travel” (emissions peaking begins in the past) and/or assume enormous amounts of CO2 air capture and sequestration. He also claims that many climate scientists present their results to fit the political narrative that things will be OK (we can stay below +2ºC) if only we get started now.

  2. 2
    Felix says:

    Any thoughts on this or how it is being presented elsewhere?

    Applying organized scepticism to ocean acidification research
    By Howard I. Browman

  3. 3
    Russell says:

    The Oscars once again became a Climate Wars battlefield , as Viscount Monckton strove to upstage Leonardo Di Caprio.

  4. 4
    MA Rodger says:

    UAH (v6.0.beta5) has posted for February with its highest anomaly on record.
    Interestingly, while this +0.83ºC global anomaly is the sort of thing you would expect given the UAH data from the 1997/98 El Nino, as Spencer explains (sadly with a few graphics problems at the moment), the large rise from January results not from tropical warming but from NH extra-tropical warming over land which presents startling properties of the “scorchyissimo” variety.
    We will await the RSS posting with some trepidation.

  5. 5
    Chuck Hughes says:

    “Keep in mind that it took from the dawn of the industrial age until last October to reach the first 1.0 degree Celsius, and we’ve come as much as an extra 0.4 degrees further in just the last five months. Even accounting for the margin of error associated with these preliminary datasets, that means it’s virtually certain that February handily beat the record set just last month for the most anomalously warm month ever recorded. That’s stunning.”

  6. 6
    Chuck Hughes says:

    “So, when you do the maths, you see that the Agreement implies a carbon budget far in excess of what is safe. Thus, the only way to reconcile the global emissions implied by the Agreement and the emission levels that are demanded by the science for “well below 2°C” is by sucking an incredible amount of carbon out of the atmosphere, through the ‘successful’ roll out of highly speculative negative emissions technologies—technologies that do not yet, and may never, exist.”

  7. 7

    A new month, a new monthly record from UAH, at 0.83 C. And actually, it’s more than that: it’s the warmest monthly anomaly they’ve ever recorded:

    Looks like the realization of the normal Nino lag in tropospheric temps has worked through–though, interestingly, Dr. Spencer says this anomaly is not all Nino:

    The February warmth is likely being dominated by the warm El Nino conditions, which tends to have peak warmth in the troposphere close to February…but it appears that isn’t the whole story, since the tropical anomaly for February 2016 (+0.99 C) is still about 0.3 C below the February 1998 value during the super-El Nino of that year. In addition to the expected tropical warmth, scattered regional warmth outside the tropics led to a record warm value for extratropical Northern Hemispheric land areas, with a whopping +1.46 C anomaly in February…fully 0.5 deg. C above any previous monthly anomaly (!)

    In other news from that post, Dr. Spencer also says that they are hopeful that the current beta version (#5), will be the last needed before they finalize and publish the update of the UAH methodology.

  8. 8
    Chris Dudley says:

    Congratulations to Jacobson et al. on winning a PNAS Cozzarelli Prize and to Oscar winner Dicaprio for supporting those results so publically.

  9. 9
    Just A Reader says:

    2. Felix. The august Daily Caller spewage outlet thinks that the Browman article heralds the destruction of what they call the ocean acidification pillar of global warming alarmism. Browman’s likely sympathies towards the petroleum industry are kind of obvious if you check his background. His article seems to pretty much emit a standard “Get Off My Lawn” authoritarian tone towards scientists documenting responses to ocean acidification. I wonder how many congratulations and gifts he will receive from the grumpy old man fossil fuel crowd. Full disclosure- I am a grumpy old man, and I will give him a raspberry for his stupid article trying to minimize concern for a potentially really serious problem. A rotten tomato to you Browman. Concern about a potential cascade of problems from ocean acidification is not unintelligent or alarmist.

  10. 10
    MA Rodger says:

    Further to #4&7,
    Following the UAH posting for February & while we await February’s RSS TLT anomalies, I note hiding away in the previous month’s RSS data, the NH high latitude RSS TLT anomaly for January is what can also be described as “sore prendentimenty scorchyissimo!!”
    This data (for 60-82½N) didn’t show any significant response to the 1997/98 El Nino, if anything reducing the peak global temperature. This last year it was seeming to show a bit more interest in playing ball until January when the anomaly has jumped to +3.3ºC. (The previous record was +2.58ºC back in 1981.) It is also evident in the UAH v5.6 data for January which shows the same latitude range (60-85N) but splits Ocean & Land. Both Land & Ocean present outstanding record readings but the rising Ocean anomaly over the decades is a contributor to the pan-Arctic value being so outstanding. These January data are presumably another showing of the phenomenon behind the remarkable February UAH data.

  11. 11
    Mitch says:

    The affect of changing pH on organisms is actually very complex. The Feb-March issue of ICES J. Marine Science is a series of articles trying to understand the effects, not an attempt to cover up bad impacts. We really don’t know much about how physiology of marine organisms will be impacted by changes in pH, and it is very important to get more data. This is a case of real skepticism in my mind.

  12. 12
    Hank Roberts says:

    Felix, Brownman is the editor of the ICES Journal of Marine Science. Oxford Press is the publisher. That issue is by invitation and explicitly invited and publishes studies showing no effect (usually no effect by 2100, as though the problem were going to stop there). This is pretty typical of the shortsighted view that, as he writes, “inferences about a process that will occur slowly over the next decades–centuries must be made with appropriate caution. That is, the experiments and the interpretations made from them must consider how populations might acclimatize, adapt, and evolve to climate change ….”

    Well, gee, that’s hoping for good luck. In other words, you can’t prove a problem will develop until one develops. Do we feel lucky? Do we?

    Mighty shortsighted. Ocean pH change is high school chemistry, not radiation physics

    I saw nothing about the rate of change, skimming the list of articles, and the rate of change and committed change already in the pipeline are the red flags to look for here.

    Remember none of the early work in any area of science is expected to be entirely correct — early work gets followed up if it’s interesting.

    In that sense this collection of mostly “nothing to worry about this century before 2100 probably” studies is equally early work and also will be followed up.

    In time? Time will tell. Ninety percent of the big fish are gone. We never knew what an undamaged ocean was like — science started long after deep sea fishing had already seriously altered the ocean ecosystems.

    Google “shifting baselines” for that, it’s widely documented.

    Yeah, I do miss the American Chestnut and the Passenger Pigeon

  13. 13
    Hank Roberts says:

    P.S. for Felix, JAReader, and those who twitter:

  14. 14
    Russell says:

    Browman has done something fear more subversive . He reminds us that , long before political framing became fashionable, someone well versed in publicizing climate model projections wrote :

    “The importance of negative results–nature’s apparent silence or nonacquiescence to our expectations–is also a major concern in science. Of course, scientists acknowledge the vitality of a negative outcome and often try to generate such a result actively–as in trying to disprove a colleague’s favored hypothesis. But the prevalence of negative results does pose an enormous, and largely unaddressed, problem in the reporting of scientific information. I do not speak of fraud, cover-up, finagling, or any other manifestation of pathological science (although such phenomena exist at a frequency that, in all honesty, we just do not know). I refer, rather, to the all too wonderfully human love of a good tale–and to our simple and utterly reasonable tendency to shun the inconclusive and the boring.

    The great bulk of daily scientific work never sees the light of a published day (and who would wish for changes here, as the ever-increasing glut of journals makes keeping up in one’s own field impossible and exploration of others inconceivable?). Truly false starts are deposited in circular files–fair enough. But experiments fully carried forth and leading to negative results end up, all too often, unpublished in manila folders within steel-drawer flies, known only to those who did the work and quickly forgotten even by them…

    Positive results, on the other hand, tell interesting stories and are usually written up for publication. Consequently, the available literature may present a strongly biased impression of efficacy and achieved understanding. Such biases, produced by the underreporting of negative results, do not only permeate the arcana and abstractions of academic science. Serious, even tragic, practical consequences often ensue. …

    But these subsequent negative results often appear only in highly technical journals read by more restricted audiences and, as nonstories, do not so readily attract the attention of the media–and people may continue to squander hope and waste precious time following useless procedures.”
    Stephen J. Gould, Cordelia’s Dilemma 1993

  15. 15
  16. 16
    Chris Korda says:

    I second Dan Miller’s question in post #1. I’ve been following Anderson all along, and to my eye he looks upset and I suspect many scientists feel similarly. His tone was always confrontational but it’s increasingly strident, even bitter. Reduced to a phrase his point is that “Annex 1 mitigation rates for 2°C are incompatible with economic growth.” More specifically he claims that 1) to have even a moderate chance of 2°C would require emission cuts on the order of 8 to 10% per annum, 2) that this would involve “radical and immediate de-growth strategies in the US, EU and other wealthy nations”*, 3) the only recent example of de-growth on anywhere close to the required scale is the collapse of the Soviet Union, hardly a picnic, and 4) nothing of the sort is being contemplated by any nation, wealthy or otherwise. On the contrary all nations are committed to continued growth, and in many cases continued use of fossil carbon on a massive scale.

    But perhaps his most controversial claim is that many climate scientists are contributing to the problem, not only by flying to conferences, but by softening their conclusions to fit the range of policy choices economists and politicians deem “possible” or “reasonable.” I would like to see more discussion of this possibility though I understand that it’s a hot potato here. I think many if not most readers here would agree that the 2°C train is leaving the station now, and that drastic action is called for, but if that’s so it can’t be only Hansen who gets chained to the Whitehouse fence. At some point scientists will have to acknowledge publicly what many of them already say in private: that the unthinkable is being realized, and ahead of schedule to boot.

    Anderson’s recent presentation at London School of Economics is here.

    *see “We Have to Consume Less”: Scientists Call For Radical Economic Overhaul to Avert Climate Crisis

    [Response: There are multiple issues that arise here. First off, is staying below 2ºC a huge challenge? Yes – I don’t think anyone who knows much about it thinks that this would be easy. Physically it’s possible, but economically or socially – it’s unclear. Given the reasonable result that the eventual warming will be determined by the total amount of carbon emitted, one can estimate a budget that would have some likelihood of staying below the threshold. However, it is something else to assume that any price should be paid to stay within that budget. The marginal cost of the last 0.1 Trillion Tons of the budget will only be a little less than the marginal cost of an additional 0.1 Trillion Tons – and so it may remain rational to only spend that much to prevent it (this is all assuming these things are calculable – which is uncertain), and hence that there is a clear limit on how much it makes sense to spend to prevent exceeding the budget.

    The second point is whether climate scientists or advocates themselves have a special responsibility to have a low carbon footprint. This is tricky – firstly the charge of hypocrisy is only relevant if for instance, someone is advocating for people not to fly and then flying themselves. Instead, if people advocate for a widespread carbon tax, they’d only be a hypocrite if they were also arguing for a personal exemption. However, the dominant term in most climate scientists’ carbon footprint is indeed their travel. Whether travel is worth the carbon cost is going to depend – obviously some travel is easily and sensibly replaced by video-conferencing, but then other travel is essential. Mixing with different people, cultures and environments is one of the most rewarding things you can do and can build a great deal of awareness of the differing vulnerabilities or situations other societies have. To put aside the benefits of travel because of the carbon cost is the same error alluded to above – not properly balancing costs and benefits. There is quite a good discussion of this by David Roberts at Vox in relation to Leo DiCaprio. – gavin]

  17. 17
    Steve Fish says:

    In addition to what Gavin said in his inline response to ~#10, I would like to add the following. There are around 100,000 commercial airline flights/day worldwide (per day, folks) and I would guess that %99.99 are for business or pleasure. I enthusiastically support airline traffic for anyone who’s travel is in pursuit of improving our future, and this would especially include climate researchers. Sheesh.

  18. 18
    Steve Fish says:

    Oops! Gavin’s inline response to ~#16.

  19. 19
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    Re #17 (Chris Korda and Gavin’s response)

    What should scientists do about climate change? They should do science! In the Vox piece Roberts correctly notes that we will need collective action. That does not mean that we will all have to do the same things.

    As far as scientists having to fly, the costs need to be weighed against the benefits. If doing good science requires extensive travel, then so be it.

    At the environmental group I work for, people are surprised and sometimes appalled by the amount of paper we use. Yes we do use a lot of paper, but it’s part of the cost of advocating for positive change.

  20. 20
    Dan Miller says:

    Gavin @ #16: While Anderson does comment on travel (and he hasn’t taken a plane flight in more than a decade, IIRC), his main point was NOT that climate scientists travel. It was, as Chris Korda pointed out, that climate scientists are softening their conclusions to fit the current political narrative. This is a much more serious concern than traveling by air. What say you to that?

    [Response: I don’t see this happening. He is mostly objecting to IAM folk seeing what it would take to stay below 2C – he thinks that saying it would take large negative emissions by the end of the Century is equivalent to advocating that no cuts are needed now. These are two very different things and they don’t logically follow. – gavin]

    Also, I’m a bit confused about what you are trying to say about meeting the +2ºC limit. Yes, 0.1 GtC more or less won’t make much difference, but Anderson’s point is that the claim we can meet +2ºC for a particular carbon budget that allows continued growth is simply false and is based on assuming emissions peak in the past (time travel) and/or there is a massive amount of future air capture of CO2 (in other words, the real carbon budget is less than is being stated). What do you think the real carbon budget is to meet +2ºC without negative emissions (and assuming some real-life natural feedback mechanisms such as permafrost melt)?

    One more thing, the real costs of burning fossil fuels are much higher than we pay directly. While the benefits of burning fossil fuels are short-term, the external costs are large and continue for hundreds of years. There is a point where there is no possible economic justification for burning more fossil fuels. Anderson says of +4ºC warming: “There is a widespread view that a +4°C future is incompatible with an organised global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of eco-systems and has a high probability of not being stable (i.e. +4°C would be an interim temperature on the way to a much higher equilibrium level). Consequently…+4°C should be avoided at ‘all’ costs.”

  21. 21
    Pete Best says:

    Re #16 and #1

    Anderson seems bitter ? Hardly in my mind, more frustrated that in terms of the issue that is CO2 emissions and its subsequent warming of the oceans and atmosphere we do not appear to be doing much about it and have in fact done little except the very thing which is being argued against, namely that of increasing our emissions. So now the issue is becoming more serious as we approach the point of the new limit (1.5C) and come closer and closer to the more politically and economically viable limit of 2C we can see that being frustrated is perhaps a good thing because if you are going to be involved in the business of reporting on climate science or limiting its damage and danger than it does not look like much has been done so far to tackle the issue.

    Gavin’s response to #16 is in itself interesting (and telling) in that as so many people seem to be think is the right cause of action if to continue as per normal (BAU) becuause these utopian technological fixes are coming becuause it has all been thrashed out in the Paris climate talks and all will now be ok. Forget adjusting your own behaviour for at the moment that is not something politically or economically anyone is being asked to do as its a dangerous thing to suggest presently. It is best to deploy all that solar, wind and whatever else comes along (negative emissions technologies if we fail to do this of course) as well as buying electric cars or hybrids or fuel efficient new cars as this should be snough to see of the issue in the time line afforded whilst we carry on investigating the seriousness or the issue at hand and reporting back that its worse than once feared (and not better).

    So put simply, techno utopian fixes (as bill gates keeps on going on about) are going to reduce emissions significantly enough and we can deploy it in time to avoid dangerous climate change for we west mainly as other places will probably and perhaps already suffering from current emissions let alone future ones.

    Its all very interesting and a little frustrating perhaps to those who have been advocating doing something about it for since 1992 (RIO summit) and even before then perhaps.

  22. 22
    MA Rodger says:

    The high NH extra-tropical land temperatures seen in UAHv6.0 for February maybe has some supporting evidence. The Rudger’s Uni NH snow cover data has shown decadal snow averages (usually 2 clicks to ‘download your attachment) showing rising snow-cover trends through the winter before crashing into big falling trends through the spring.
    Without the UAH data, the 2016 snow data (plotted with those decadal averages) through to February may have been dismissed as just a big wobble. It certainly looks dramatic against the decadal averages and 2016 has managed the largest snow-cover loss on record weeks 1 to 9, and quite spectacularly so.
    The biggest losses week 1-9 in order:-
    2016 . 6.2m
    1990 . 4.8m
    2008 . 4.5m
    2013 . 4.2m
    1992 . 3.7m
    2009 . 2.9m
    Yet the 2016 snow-cover anomaly is not the record for this time of year (2016 lies second -3.5m with 1990 -4.2m) so it is, so far, momentarily just bouncing round the bottom of the anomaly list. 2015, for instance, wobbled down to -3.4m in week 11 only to bounce back to +2.3m in week 14.
    But add in the UAH data and the 2016 snow-cover becomes rather more interesting.

  23. 23
    Geoff Beacon says:

    Gavin’s comment seems to doubt that “any price should be paid to stay within that budget” but who is paying the price? The richest 10% of the world create 50% of carbon emissions and dumps the costs on the poor. As Kevin Anderson points out we (the cognoscenti?) know we do this but don’t care. We pretend there are easy technological fixes that will save us without us rich changing or lifestyles much.

    In the UK we have had the fantasy of eco-towns – aimed at sustainability but ending up with residents even more polluting than average and their carbon emissions many times their share of the carbon budget necessary to keep below 2°C . See “Three failed eco-towns” ( )
    P.S. It actually saves me money not to fly, not to drive a car and not to eat beef. Where’s the “price [that] should be paid” there?

  24. 24
    MA Rodger says:

    RSS TLT for February is also showing a record global anomaly, +0.974ºC, up from +0.663ºC in January. The previous record was +0.857ºC back in April 1998.
    A healthy record-breaking NH extra-tropics is also evident at +1.31ºC, up from +0.85C with the previous record being +0.97ºC (August 2010).
    The Arctic anomaly has reduced since the stonking levels reported in January, down to +2.1ºC (now 4th highest on record) from +3.3ºC in January.

  25. 25

    Two things.

    1) #16–“I think many if not most readers here would agree that the 2°C train is leaving the station now, and that drastic action is called for, but if that’s so it can’t be only Hansen who gets chained to the Whitehouse fence.”

    Right, it can’t. But every climate scientist in the country could chain themselves to the White House fence and it wouldn’t shift Congressional opinion an iota. (Though it would make one hell of a photo op…)

    To shift things politically, it’s on *us*, not the scientific community. So we need to organize and act. Join a chapter of an action organization, and work like hell to further their aims (I’m working with the CCL, but there are many others). If there isn’t one where you live, then start a new chapter.

    Climate change is, from a practical POV, a social problem. To solve it, use social tools.

    Not necessarily my preference; by nature I’m an introvert, though you might not immediately guess it if you were to meet me in the flesh. But the fate of the planet is kind of a big deal, so I’m trying to ‘stretch’ a bit, and would think that if we are truly concerned, we’d do so collectively as well.

    2) On the scientific front, there is a development. As noted at Tamino’s, RSS has released an update for their TMT data; seems the cooling bias long evident comes from inadequate compensation for local time of observation drift. They’ve looked at fixes, and settled on a method. Goodbye ’18 years with no warming’ graph! (Well, soon; TLT data hasn’t been updated yet.)

    If anyone needs to illustrate the need for the correction–as surely this will be presented as yet more ‘fudging the data’–I’ve done a wft graph showing how much of an outlier RSS had become:

  26. 26

    #23–OK, let’s be fair, Geoff; those ‘eco-towns’ are really just developments, as noted at the end of the blog:

    “P.P.S. OK, these three developments aren’t actually proper towns so “eco-town” is a bit of poetic license.”

    I suppose, based on that, that they were much more cases of ‘lifestyle marketing’ than actual mitigation attempts.

  27. 27
    Hank Roberts says:

    > “Anderson seems bitter”
    That nonsense, like Victor’s snark about Richard Alley’s presentation, is typical and expected disparagement of scientists at work.

    Y’all know the quotes — I learned these sixty years or more ago:

    “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”


    “Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching – even when doing the wrong thing is legal.”


    “The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, ‘What good is it?’ If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”

    ― Aldo Leopold

  28. 28
    Geoff Beacon says:

    #26 Thanks Kevin. You are, of course, right. However “OK, let’s be fair” is not what I would say. In the sense that the image that these developments project totally misleads, I would say they have been conceived and engineered through dishonesty and/or stupidity so why be “fair”?

    The Bicester example is the only one of the actual UK “eco-towns” that is actually being built. Wikipedia has

    Eco-towns are a government-sponsored programme of new towns to be built in England, which are intended to achieve exemplary standards of sustainability.

    I don’t know whether the government (in a wider sense) ever believed this stuff but I suspect the knew but didn’t care, rather like Kevin Anderson said.

    But I do think we need different ways of designing our towns and neighbourhoods that can help us cut our carbon emissions very drastically. See “A market in prototype neighbourhoods” ( )

  29. 29
    Vendicar Decarian says:

    25 – “But every climate scientist in the country could chain themselves to the White House fence and it wouldn’t shift Congressional opinion an iota. (Though it would make one hell of a photo op…)”

    I would suggest – as I did here years ago – a good start would be a one day work stoppage by the global scientific community.

    Would that galvanize world attention onto the problem?

    If so then organize and do it.

  30. 30
    SecularAnimist says:

    Kevin Anderson is a very good example of why climate scientists are not particularly valuable voices when it comes to the technology and economics of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

    The claim that rapidly phasing out fossil fuels equals economic devastation is false, has been repeatedly and thoroughly debunked, and in fact the opposite is true — it would have huge economic benefits for almost everyone, the notable exception being the fossil fuel corporations and those who are invested in them.

  31. 31
    Geoff Price says:

    On #16 and the hypocrisy / tu quoque arguments, the way I usually frame my response is to say that we already have plenty of incentives for scientific illiteracy in today’s world, we don’t need to add in explicit rewards for this (i.e. those least familiar with science get the bonus reward of not having any individual requirement to reduce their carbon footprint whatsoever.)

    The simple, traditional economic answer to a negative externality problem is to better fix the price of the commodity in question and let the market settle things, which bypasses all of the finger-wagging economics-via-morality entirely, and I’ve yet to hear of a better alternative.

  32. 32
    Geoff Price says:

    Curious about model vs. observation comparisons floating about in the wake of the current surface temp surge: does anybody understand why the chart Stefan shared on twitter from his recent paper ( ):

    shows obs much more ‘down the middle’ than something like what Gavin shared:

    Sounds like both use updated forcings. Some sort of natural variability statistical “noise” removal in the former? What specifically? (Is the latter chart from a specific paper?)

  33. 33

    Great discussions here. RC provides great climate science, but it seems we stray outside of our expertise in discussing economic and political and social impacts of 2 degrees. Long ago RC did a cursory review of Lynas’ “Six Degrees..” Perhaps climate scientists could better describe the world of 3 or 4 or 5 degrees of average heat increase. Right now, a breathlessly dramatic National Geographic describes 6 degrees:

    It would be useful to see updated definitions for the degree scenarios. Are there summaries? Is National Geographic still the most accessible description? Somewhere I read that we are committed to 3 degrees of warming no matter what we do.

    But we all know that the “how bad?” is too well described. It’s the “how soon?” that confounds everyone. So many times I read, “Well, that’s happened sooner than expected.” But in one sense, how soon means nothing… it’s the difference between stealing the future from our children or from our grandchildren. Not a social/political/economic discussion I want to defend.

  34. 34
    Jean-François Fleury says:

    I am rambling on. Stephan Rahmstorf published a nice post ( the dipole between atlantic regions of US east coast and sub polar gyre and the consequences for US east coast weather. But as an (french) european, I am very interested by the (possible) consequences on european weather. Then, what are the (possible) climatic consequences of the great cold anomaly in Atlantic for Europe???

  35. 35
    Hank Roberts says:

    does anybody understand why the chart Stefan shared …
    shows obs much more ‘down the middle’ than something like what Gavin shared

    One covers 1880-2020, the other covers 1975-2015
    Set them side by side.
    The X and Y axis scales don’t quite line up; stretch or shrink to fit.
    Once you compare the years where they overlap and notice the scales, they don’t look different.

  36. 36
  37. 37
  38. 38
    Digby Scorgie says:

    I do believe it’s time for a summary. I love summaries, so I’m going to have a bash at summing up the debate so far regarding Kevin Anderson’s concerns.

    The two-degree threshold

    I’m sure most commenters here know that the global climate has been getting worse in recent years and will continue to get worse, probably at an accelerating rate. Picking two degrees of warming as the threshold between acceptable and dangerous is therefore quite arbitrary. However, it has the distinct advantage of giving politicians a goal to aim for.

    The carbon budget

    Having decided on two degrees, we see from the science that we have available to us a certain maximum carbon budget — the amount of fossil fuel we can still burn and not exceed two degrees. This budget is difficult to calculate but there seems to be some agreement as to roughly the amount concerned. (Anderson thinks there’s none left for the rich!)


    Having determined the approximate size of the carbon budget, we can also see from the science the rate at which we should reduce the burning of fossil fuel and the period for doing so. (Actually the former determines the latter.) Given the rate of decarbonization, one can dispense with talk of thresholds and budgets. The essential message to the politicians then becomes:

    To avoid dangerous climate change, cut the burning of fossil fuel at a rate of X% per year for the next Y years.”

    How they do that is another story altogether of course — and shall be avoided at this website!


    I haven’t mentioned land use, which also needs attention, but if we don’t decarbonize, I suspect that what we do about land use will be irrelevant. Possibly the required rate of decarbonization implied above will not be enough either, as Anderson insists, but it should help us avoid a catastrophic four degrees.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but from all I’ve read the foregoing seems to me to be a reasonable summing up. But now I have a final comment of my own to add:

    A decarbonization rate specified as above and agreed to (?) by the science community would give us a graph against which to plot annual progress — and a stick with which to beat the politicians if (when) they fail.

  39. 39
    Tony Weddle says:

    From Gavin’s response to this comment: “Physically it’s possible, but economically or socially – it’s unclear

    It’s good that Gavin is acknowledging that it may not be possible to limit warming to 2 degrees C, but I’m sure that some readers may think that the first part of that quote seems too certain. Is it actually physically possible? Wouldn’t it be more scientifically correct to say “it may be physically possible”? Maybe this is the sort of obfuscation that Anderson is talking about. The estimated budgets only give us some uncertain chance of limiting warming to 2C. But isn’t it true that for it to be physically possible, at a minimum we need to see the kind of cuts Anderson is talking about, starting now?

  40. 40
    Dan Miller says:

    #20 – Gavin: I don’t think you are characterizing Anderson’s complaint properly. Here is Anderson himself:

    “The commentary demonstrates the endemic bias prevalent amongst many of those developing emission scenarios to severely underplay the scale of the 2°C mitigation challenge. In several important respects the modelling community is self-censoring its research to conform to the dominant political and economic paradigm. Moreover, there is a widespread reluctance of many within the climate change community to speak out against unsupported assertions that an evolution of ‘business as usual’ is compatible with the IPCC’s 2°C carbon budgets. With specific reference to energy, this analysis concludes that even a slim chance of “keeping below” a 2°C rise, now demands a revolution in how we both consume and produce energy. Such a rapid and deep transition will have profound implications for the framing of contemporary society and is far removed from the rhetoric of green growth that increasingly dominates the climate change agenda.”


    [Response: He seems to be conflating many different groups of people here. People who are tasked to find coherent pathways in an IAM (the scientists) have only been able to stay within 2ºC by hypothesising large scale negative emissions – this is not a secret and has been well-known for many years. How is this ‘self-censoring’ of their research? Do advocates for solutions present rose-tinted views of their proposals – of course, but that is not unique to this topic, and has very little to do with the IAM scientists themselves. Anderson is mostly guilty of overly expanding his thesis to impugn the motivations of scientists who are just responding to questions from policy-makers. – gavin]

  41. 41
    Geoff Beacon says:

    SecularAnimist #30,

    In relation to World GDP, there are two ways of reducing carbon emissions

    1) Reduce the carbon intensity of consumption (e.g. use renewable energy)

    2) Reduce consumption (e.g. reduce flying, reduce car use and give up beef)

    To stand a chance of keeping within the “remaining carbon budget” both are necessary. See “Is green growth a fantasy?” ( )

    Is (2) the “economic devastation” you mention? If it is I don’t believe those who “debunk”. (Who are they anyway?)

  42. 42
    Pete Best says:

    Re #30.

    Kevin Anderson is a very good example of why climate scientists are not particularly valuable voices when it comes to the technology and economics of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

    The claim that rapidly phasing out fossil fuels equals economic devastation is false, has been repeatedly and thoroughly debunked, and in fact the opposite is true — it would have huge economic benefits for almost everyone, the notable exception being the fossil fuel corporations and those who are invested in them.

    Where is the evidence for huge economic benefit for everyone and where is the evidence for it being easy to phase out fossil fuels for other forms of energy? Yes solar and wind can do a lot but the sheer numbers of turbines and CSP/solar farms and plants required is significant in terms of land area covered. And where is the political and economic will, sure in Paris they all agreed to voluntary reductions but where is the money, the will and the evidence it will get done? It is not even legally binding!

    So now we come down to time per (#33), we all know some of the impacts of 2C let alone droning on about 4 to 6C rises which are further out time wise and hence easier to deal with (well in the present anyway). Considering the first Paris style summit was in 92 and nothing much was done then and nothing all that much is being done now (yes its better but we are not presently deploying technologies to cur emissions fast enough) and where is the plan to do it? YEs we can do it I am sure but are we presently even planning for it?

  43. 43
    Pete Best says:

    This is Kevin Andersons latest interview (2016) and he is still scathing of the 10% not realising how serious our predicament is. Like I always suggest, the 10% require a techno fix rather than considering their lifestyle needs changing.

  44. 44

    #28–Thanks for that link, Geoff. It’s well worth a look. I agree that systemic change is needed, and that we won’t be able to figure it all out a priori. (Since we never manage to do so when designing anything else that’s complicated, and most of those things are more comprehensively understood than sustainable cities/towns/ neighborhoods.)

    #29–Maybe that could have some impact, Vendicar. But I think a permanent organizational effort by *us* is what’s really needed. If the climate science community could have solved this by educative activities, I think it already would have happened. Democracy is wounded, but not dead. If enough voters actually decide based on the issue, we’ll get results. But that means organization. That’s where the work is, IMO.

  45. 45

    For those interested in a summary of Six Degrees, I have one. It’s here:

    There are also tabular summaries of the various ‘worlds’–one-degree, two-degree and so on–beginning here:

    These are grouped, so you can click through to the next (or preceding) one (button at bottom of page.) You should also be able to substitute the appropriate numeral in the URL, e.g.:


    That will give you more direct access to the table you want.

    There has been some sporadic updating in the summaries, as I happened across research that was relevant, so there’s some newer content. But mostly it’s summarizing what the original text said.

    On a related note, a new summary review is that of Elizabeth Kolbert’s “Sixth Extinction,” the Pulitzer winner from last year. (And yes, I just mentioned it here on RC the other day, but since it’s germane to this subthread I’ll venture to point it out once again.)

  46. 46
    MA Rodger says:

    Geoff Price @32.
    It is simply the lining up of the GISS data & the CMIP5 data that is the reason for the two graphs looking so different, with the GISS data lined up ~0.1ºC higher on the Rahmstorf graph. There are perhaps more differences but the small scale of the Rahmstorf graph and the shorter timespan of the Schmidt graph becomes issues in tracking them down for certain.

  47. 47
    wili says:

    Ummm, while we were arguing about whether it is possible to stay below 1.5 or 2, the actual planet has gone ahead and smashed through those limits already, at least on a monthly and daily scale (respectively).

    These are limits set just a few weeks ago by the entire international community. (And yes, the daily record is for the Northern Hemisphere…still terrifyingly stunning to me that we are already talking about these kinds of temperatures.)

  48. 48
  49. 49
    ASLR says:

    I provide the following, indicating extremely high preliminary GMST values for February 2016:

    Extract: “The Moyhu NCEP/NCAR index rose from 0.665°C in January to 0.84°C in February, continuing to set records. Similar rises are likely in the main surface indices. The base period for that index is 1994-2013, but reset to the 1951-80 period used by GISS, it would be 1.436°C (see the linked table, bottom left). Currently GISS has been running about 0.1°C cooler than NCEP/NCAR, on the same base. Here is the plot of the last year or so, daily:

    A huge spike in recent days, again breaking records. The warmth was in Arctic, Canada/Alaska, East US, a large swathe of Central Asia, E Siberia, and still the ENSO Pacific region. Cool in Mid and W USA, and mixed in Antarctica.”

  50. 50
    Dan Miller says:

    #40 – Gavin: I take from this conversation that Anderson is correct that climate scientists are playing down the situation we are in by making it seem plausible that we can stay safe by following the UN prescriptions. It may not be a secret to climate scientists, but putting assumptions of negative emissions and lack of feedbacks in footnotes does not help the public and policymakers understand the situation we are in. And while it may be common to view difficult issues through rose-tinted glasses, we are talking about the survival of civilization here, so presenting a clear and realistic view of where we are and where we are heading is quite important.

    If our military fought wars like we are addressing climate change, we would lose every battle. Imagine if we sent scouts to the front lines and they came back and said “We saw 500 enemy troops*” where the footnote reads “* Does not include 1000 troops that were behind a hill so we didn’t see them, and also excludes 2000 troops that will be blocked by a bridge we hope to blow up sometime in the future.” This seems to be the situation with climate change. There aren’t any secrets, but the public and policymakers would prefer that there are only 500 enemy troops and scientists are willing to present results in such a way that they can continue to believe it.

    I don’t agree with Anderson that the only way forward is planned economic collapse. First all, I think there is zero chance of that happening (voluntarily!). I do think that putting a rising price on CO2 and giving all the money back to the public can get us to a carbon price that will make a difference. I’m investing in low-cost carbon capture technologies that can eliminate most power plant emissions once a carbon fee hits $50/ton and I believe that “air capture” will be possible at less than $100/ton. So with a rising carbon fee and a credit for certified sequestration, carbon capture will become one of the biggest industries on Earth… like the fossil fuel industry but in reverse. And such a carbon fee will create millions of jobs and grow GDP, so it makes sense to do it, even if climate change isn’t real! Here’s a TEDx talk I gave on this: