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New study quoted by Cato Institute deniers concludes “warming over the 21st century may well be larger than that predicted by the current generation of models”

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"New study quoted by Cato Institute deniers concludes “warming over the 21st century may well be larger than that predicted by the current generation of models”"

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RealClimate has an excellent post (here) on the Cato Institute’s efforts to get signatories for its new global warming denial ad. But they missed one especially ironic point — a key study Cato uses to argue we may see much less warming than the models predict comes to exactly the opposite conclusion.

The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank that has long been a bastion of anti-scientific denial (see “The intellectual bankruptcy of the Cato Institute“). The new ad (here) attacks President Obama directly. First, it quotes his November 19, 2008 statement:

“Few challenges facing America and the world are more urgent than combating climate change. The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear.”

Then in big bold letters it says:

With all due respect
Mr. President,that is not true.

Then it launches into its diatribe of disinformation:

We, the undersigned scientists, maintain that the case for alarm regarding climate change is grossly overstated. Surface temperature changes over the past century have been episodic and modest and there has been no net global warming for over a decade now.[1,2] After controlling for population growth and property values, there has been no increase in damages from severe weather-related events.[3] The computer models forecasting rapid temperature change abjectly fail to explain recent climate behavior.[4] Mr. President, your characterization of the scientific facts regarding climate change and the degree of certainty informing the scientific debate is simply incorrect.

RealClimate does an excellent job of debunking all of these points, explaining “Of these papers, not one has the evidence to support the statements attributed to them in the main text.”

I am not going to repeat all of that debunking. I will note that using the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies temperature data set (which is almost certainly a more accurate representation of actual global temperatures than Hadley’s, see “What exactly is polar amplification and why does it matter?“), 2005 was the warmest year on record. And even using Hadley’s data the “2000s are easily the hottest decade in recorded history.”

[As a related aside: While the recent La Ni±a and solar minimum have no doubt had a modest impact in slowing the temperature rise, I suspect one of the reasons the temperature record doesn't show much warming since 2005 is that we simply lack the temperature stations in the Arctic needed to reveal the hyper-warming there.]

And I will note that footnote #3 is of course our old friend Roger Pielke, Jr. What a shock that his work would appear in a global warming denier ad. Or that the scientific literature suggests he is wrong (see Pielke in Nature: “Clearly, since 1970 climate change … has shaped the disaster loss record.”) Still, this ad shows once again that deniers try to shout down any talk of a link between climate change and extreme weather.

But what is most amusing is footnote #1, Swanson and Tsonis (GRL, 2009). RealClimate notes

The use of the recent Swanson and Tsonis paper is simply opportunism. Those authors specifically state that their results are not in any way contradictory with the idea of a long term global warming trend. Instead they are attempting to characterise the internal variability that everyone knows exists.

But we can go further.

This paper, “Has the climate recently shifted?” has become a favorite of deniers because it offers a theory that says the recent apparent flattening in temperature rise (which, as I have said, is more apparent than real) could last for decades:

… the new global mean temperature trend may persist for several decades

The deniers, however, never bother reading the entire conclusion. The very next line says :

Of course, it is purely speculative to presume that the global mean temperature will remain near current levels for such an extended period of time.

And it gets better. Even if you buy into their purely speculative theory, it offers no respite from global warming — quite the reverse, as the final sentence from the paper’s conclusion makes clear:

If the role of internal variability in the climate system is as large as this analysis would seem to suggest, warming over the 21st century may well be larger than that predicted by the current generation of models, given the propensity of those models to underestimate climate internal variability.

Now that would be particularly bad news since, as of its publication date, the current generation of models is predicting tremendous warming this century:

In other words, the key footnote that Cato has cited suggests warming this century may exceed 5-7°C warming.

The paper’s author, Swanson, has said:

When the climate kicks back out of this state, we’ll have explosive warming.

And that is precisely the same conclusion as recent studies in Science and Nature, although the authors of those papers argue that explosive warming is going to happen much sooner (and the media and the deniers were confused about that, too):

Over the next decade, the reality that we are facing catastrophic global warming will become painfully obvious to the vast majority of people — rendering deniers like Patrick Michaels of Cato the laughingstocks they should already be.

For more background on Cato’s Climate ad campaign, see DotEarth.

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14 Responses to New study quoted by Cato Institute deniers concludes “warming over the 21st century may well be larger than that predicted by the current generation of models”

  1. paulm says:

    All hell breaking out in the Arctic….

    Arctic meltdown is a threat to humanity
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20127011.500-arctic-meltdown-is-a-threat-to-humanity.html?full=true

    …”I AM shocked, truly shocked,” says Katey Walter, an ecologist at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. “I was in Siberia a few weeks ago, and I am now just back in from the field in Alaska. The permafrost is melting fast all over the Arctic, lakes are forming everywhere and methane is bubbling up out of them.”

    Back in 2006, in a paper in Nature, Walter warned that as the permafrost in Siberia melted, growing methane emissions could accelerate climate change. But even she was not expecting such a rapid change. “Lakes in Siberia are five times bigger than when I measured them in 2006. It’s unprecedented. This is a global event now, and the inertia for more permafrost melt is increasing.”

  2. charlie says:

    Correction: The Cato Institute is not “libertarian.” In actuality, Cato merely supports corporate interests under the guise of free market rhetoric. Hope that helps clarify things.

  3. Harrier says:

    Okay, that article on the Arctic is gut-wrenching. Would any place on Earth be safe if the permafrost really started giving up its carbon?

  4. jps says:

    Do we agree with Wired that we can max out the planet at about 72 terawatts of wind? What quantity of new wind in 1 and 4 years will put us back on the fastest path to 350 ppm CO2? How many terawatts of wind are most economical to build over the next one and four years? How much coal mining can we convert to lithium mining? Can we put the automakers who have been building PHEVs and EVs in charge of all the other carmakers? How much new wind over the next one and four years will put us on the fastest path to international energy independence? What selections from the set of possible mitigations other than wind are most economical and ecological? E.g., terra preta? Can we accomplish these goals with floating subsidies in the budget?

  5. Col says:

    How I wish more people read and understood articles like this one.

    The good news I suppose is that the deniers are now not just cherry-picking studies, they’re cherry-picking specific points within studies, even points which are tangential to the overall conclusion of those studies.

  6. Dano says:

    Dano’s key point in reading denialist cr*p with references: check the references. Rarely, if ever, do the references support the assertions.

    This has been another helpful tip from the Screamingly Obvious Network.

    Best,

    D

  7. Bob Wallace says:

    JPS – from an email from Jacobson (posted with his permission)…

    “We developed the first and only map of the world’s winds from data alone at the height of modern turbines, 80 m,

    http://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/winds/global_winds.html

    and found the global delivered potential over land at locations where the mean annual wind speed is > 6.9 m/s (about 15% of land outside of Antarctica) is about 72 TW, which is on the order of 35 times the global electricity use. More recently, we have done a modeling study and found that this number is conservative, and may be ~ 100 TW.”

    I’d love to hear your questions concerning speed of installation answered.

    As for putting the EV people in charge of the large automotive companies, I don’t think that’s a good idea.

    The skills needed to be innovative and the skills needed to run a very large concern are not necessarily found in the same package.

    If one company can bring a ~50 mile range PHEV to market at a reasonable price (which BYD seems to be doing, 60 mile range for $22k) then demand should cause all the big companies to follow suit.

  8. jorleh says:

    Baltic Sea is an tiny example of Arctic. It`s winter ice is almost gone. Fifty, even thirty years ago it was usually ice covered, 2/3 of it with 0.5 – 1.2 meters of ice. No ice last year, this year 10 %, 0,1 -0,5 meters. And this is an accelerating trend.

  9. Joannah says:

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Joannah

    http://2gbmemory.net

  10. This is simply a mischaracterization of how the Swanson and Tsonis results are used in the Cato ad. The Swanson and Tsonis citation, along with a citation to the Hadley center surface temperature dataset (the one used by Swanson and Tsonis) are used to support the statement “Surface temperature changes over the past century have been episodic and modest and there has been no net global warming for over a decade now.” In fact, Swanson and Tsonis show just that—that the nature of global warming during the past century has been episodic and has flattened in recent years—that is they whole point of their paper. Whether or not Drs. Swanson or Tsonis personally agree with the rest of the sentiment of the Cato ad is immaterial.

    -Chip Knappenberger

    [JR: Chip -- I'm afraid you have just jumped the shark. First, you seem to think it's okay to cite a study that says we may be underestimating future warming in an ad that claims we are overestimating future warming! Second, Swanson and Tsonis are not a primary source for the claim you make.]

  11. S.C. says:

    What’s wrong with Chip Knappenberger thinking it’s okay to cite a study saying that we may be underestimating future warming in an ad that claims that we are overestimating future warming? Global warming advocates use the fact that the earth isn’t warming, and has been cooling, to argue that global warming is real.

  12. bi -- IJI says:

    Global warming advocates use the fact that the earth isn’t warming, and has been cooling, to argue that global warming is real.

    This “Clinton Did It Too! Clinton Did It Too!” excuse of yours is so hackneyed that it’s not funny any more.

    * * *

    Also, I propose to reply to the Cato ad with a poster.

    bi

  13. bi -- IJI says:

    Global warming advocates use the fact that the earth isn’t warming, and has been cooling, to argue that global warming is real.

    This “Clinton Did It Too! Clinton Did It Too!” excuse of yours is so hackneyed that it’s not funny any more.

    * * *

    Also, I propose to reply to the Cato ad with a poster.

    bi