Tumblr Icon RSS Icon

Exclusive: Dr. Mojib Latif sets the record straight on what his work says about global warming and what it doesn’t say about global cooling

By Joe Romm  

"Exclusive: Dr. Mojib Latif sets the record straight on what his work says about global warming and what it doesn’t say about global cooling"

Share:

google plus icon

Warming might or might not stall for “several years” but we risk “an unprecedented warming in the history of mankind if no measures are taken to cut global carbon dioxide emissions”

Here is Dr. Mojib Latif, perhaps the world’s most misquoted climate scientist, in a previously unpublished op-ed (boldface in original).

Given all the warnings about and plans to forestall global warming, people may be surprised to find, over the next several years that, over parts of the Northern hemisphere, summers are no warmer than before, maybe even a bit cooler–and that winters are as cold, or a bit colder, than they have been in the past couple of decades.

This is because the climate may go through a temporary halt in warming.  It’s nothing unusual, just a natural fluctuation. It doesn’t mean that global warming is not still at work, or that we no longer need to worry about global temperatures rising by as much as 6°C by the end of the century — an unprecedented warming in the history of mankind if no measures are taken to cut global carbon dioxide emissions. The only problem is that by considering the mean of many models of global warming, the natural fluctuations are averaged out, if they were not initialized by the current climate state, and this can be confusing.

Anyone who thought Latif, head of the Ocean Circulation and Climate Dynamics Division at the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences, was not a firm believer in human-caused global warming and the threat it poses, missed his 2009 book, Climate Change: The Point of No Return (The Sustainability Project).  And they missed the NPR interview where he said, “If my name was not Mojib Latif, my name would be global warming.  So I really believe in global warming.”

Before printing the rest of the piece, let me explain how Climate Progress came to publish it.

Back in 2008, Latif coathored a somewhat opaque article that generated many flawed media stories.  I spent a fair amount of time trying to decipher it, including an email interview with the lead author — see “Nature article on ‘cooling’ confuses media, deniers: Next decade may see rapid warming.”

Last fall, Latif gave a talk that the media got wrong again, with New Scientist (!) writing things like “World will ‘cool for the next decade’ ” and “We could be about to enter one or even two decades of cooler temperatures, according to one of the world’s top climate modellers.”  Since I knew that wasn’t what Latif’s work showed, I called him up (see Exclusive interview with Dr. Mojib Latif, the man who confused the NY Times and New Scientist, the man who moved George Will and math-challenged Morano to extreme disinformation).

He told me “we don’t trust our forecast beyond 2015″³ and “it is just as likely you’ll see accelerated warming” after then. Indeed, in his published research, rapid warming is all-but-inevitable over the next two decades. He told me, “you can’t miss the long-term warming trend” in the temperature record, which is “driven by the evolution of greenhouse gases.”  Finally, he pointed out “Our work does not allow one to make any inferences about global warming.”

As I reported, he also told me that that at the request of the NY Times, he submitted an op-ed to clarify his work.

When the anti-science crowd misquoted and misrepresented his work again this time, I called him up again, see FoxNews, WattsUpWithThat push falsehood-filled Daily Mail article on global cooling that utterly misquotes, misrepresents work of Mojib Latif and NSIDC.  Latif told me: “I don’t know what to do. They just make these things up.”

I asked what happened to the NYT piece.  He said the NYT decided not to publish it (he told me he didn’t think it was because of the content).  So I told him I would be interested in printing it and asked him to send it to me.  I offered a few small clarifications and typo fixes, which he was fine with.

Here is the rest of the piece (figure included):

The past record of globally averaged surface air temperature illustrates how gradual warming and short-term fluctuations can operate side by side. The temperature ups and downs superimposed on the 20th century warming trend reflect the natural variability. To some extent, we need to ignore these fluctuations, if we want to detect the human influence on climate.

Consider, for instance, the mid-century warming that was observed from 1930 to 1940. Had forecasters extrapolated into the future, they would have predicted far more warming than actually occurred.  Likewise, a brief cooling trend, if used as the basis for a long-range forecast could erroneously support the idea of a rapidly approaching ice age.

Latif

Natural climate variations may be produced by the climate system itself. A well-known example is El Ni±o, a warming of the Equatorial Pacific occurring on average about every 4 years. The record El Ni±o 1997/1998 helped to make 1998 the warmest year to date. The last year happened to be a moderate El Ni±o year, one reason, for instance, for the weak hurricane season in 2009. Volcanic eruptions and fluctuations in solar output can also bring temporary climate change. The Philippine volcano Mt. Pinatubo caused a temperature drop in 1991. And an increase of the solar radiation reaching the earth contributed to the mid-century warming.

We predict the coming years may see two natural oscillations, the Pacific Decadal and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, swinging into their negative phase, leading to a cooling of sea surface temperatures in large parts of both the Pacific and Atlantic.  A temporary halt in the global warming trend may be the consequence — nothing surprising to a climate scientist.

It is also possible that the current El Ni±o, combined with the long-term warming trend, takes us to record temperatures this year — again, nothing surprising to a climate scientist.

As is the case with all guest posters, I don’t necessarily agree with 100% of what he has written.  For instance, he tends to rely on the Met Offices’s Hadley/CRU dataset, even though it omits any data from the place on the planet that has seen the most warming recently (the Arctic) and even though, by the Met Office’s own recent admission, “The global temperature rise calculated by the Met Office’s HadCRUT record is at the lower end of likely warming.” It is interesting that he had anticipated there could be some slight cooling in North America for a few years, since we’ve seen some relatively coolish temps for NH, especially in 2008.

For the sake of completeness, I’ll repost his Nature “forecast” — the green dashed line (click to enlarge):

Nature5-1

When he writes that global warming may halt “over the next several years,” that’s what he means — a few years, not decades.  And then the warming accelerates to “catch up” to the long term trend.

I won’t repeat a full explanation of this figure or the entire paper, which you can find here.  But it bears repeating that Latif doesn’t believe this forecast has any skill past 2015.  Indeed, he is quite aware of predictions that 2010 will be the hottest year on record, and it wouldn’t surprise him if it were.

I’m sure this won’t clear things up 100%, and I’m sure the anti-science crowd will continue to misquote and misrepresent his work.  But there remains only one way to truly halt global warming over a long time period — and that is to cut greenhouse gas emissions sharply and quickly.

Tags:

‹ Energy and Global Warming News for January 14: White House says stimulus created 51,700 clean energy jobs; Decision promised soon on Cape Cod Wind Farm

WSJ shutters Environmental Capital blog; Revkin wonders “Green media bubble popping?” ›

4 Responses to Exclusive: Dr. Mojib Latif sets the record straight on what his work says about global warming and what it doesn’t say about global cooling

  1. WAG says:

    Great to hear Dr. Latif set the record straight. Deniers’ dishonesty knows no bounds.

    Also, off topic (again), but I just saw WSJ was axing its Environmental Capital blog. It wasn’t exactly progressive, but it was generally a breath of fresh air on WSJ.com.

    A move toward ideological purity at the Journal?

    http://blogs.wsj.com/environmentalcapital/2010/01/14/so-long-and-thanks-for-all-the-fish/

  2. Per, #1, purity is just so much easier to achieve than accuracy.

    Good entry, and good re-iteration of Dr. Latif’s argument.

  3. Dan B says:

    Great to hear Dr. Latif clarify his research.

    I hope his children understand that complexity is fascinating.

  4. Anna Haynes says:

    Calling all Wikipedians – I edited Latif’s Wikipedia page this morning to clarify Latif’s views, and some (ahem) reverted all my edits. Can someone with greater WP powers than me (I have none) fix it, and ideally, get the reverter fixed too? (my brother’s a vet, he might do it for free)