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Yes, Deniers, Global Warming Continues

By Climate Guest Contributor

"Yes, Deniers, Global Warming Continues"

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mainstream predictionsDana Nuccitelli, via Skeptical Science

William Happer is a Princeton physicist and Chairman of the Board of Directors at the right-wing fossil fuel-funded think tank George C. Marshall Institute.  Although he has not published any climate-related research in his scientific career, Happer nevertheless seems to enjoy making his opinions about climate science known, as we have previously examined here and here.  Unfortunately, Happer does not seem interested in taking the time to ensure that those are informed opinions.

Rather than subject his thoughts to the peer-review process, Happer’s publication of choice appears to be The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), as he was one of the 16 scientists who recently published a plea for climate inaction in that paper, and a follow-up article defending their previous misrepresentations.  Happer has now gone solo, publishing another opinion-editorial in the WSJ with such a Gish Gallop of climate-related myths as to be a truly Moncktonian effort.

Though we will briefly whack each of Happer’s moles in the post below, one particular myth caught our attention.  This myth was also recently endorsed by Roy Spencer in an interview with John Stossel on Fox News – the myth that the planet has not warmed in the past 10 years.

Global Warming Continues

The quotes relevant to this myth are:

Happer: “What is happening to global temperatures in reality? The answer is: almost nothing for more than 10 years…The lack of any statistically significant warming for over a decade has made it more difficult for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its supporters to demonize the atmospheric gas CO2 which is released when fossil fuels are burned.”

Spencer: “…for some reason it stopped warming in the last 10 years, which is one of those dirty little secrets of global warming science”

There are a number of problems with these assertions.  First, Happer mentions statistical significance, but global surface temperature trends are rarely if ever statistically significant (at a 95% confidence level) over periods as short as a decade, even in the presence of an underlying long-term warming trend, because of the natural variability and noise in the climate system.

Second, if we filter out some of those short-term (i.e. interannual) influences, as Foster & Rahmstorf (2011) did (the El Niño Southern Oscillation, volcanoes, and solar activity), once we reduce the noise, the global surface warming trend over the past decade does become statistically significant.  We can use the new SkS temperature trend tool developed by Kevin C to illustrate this with any data set, but since the argument was made by the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH)’s Roy Spencer, we will choose the UAH data set (Figure 1).

UAH FR11 2002-2012 trend

Figure 1: UAH lower troposphere temperature since February 2002 with the Foster and Rahmstorf method applied, and linear trend with two-sigma uncertainty

As Figure 1 shows, the UAH warming trend over the past decade is indeed both positive and statistically significant once these three short-term effects are filtered out.

Third, as Roger Pielke Sr. is fond of pointing out, very little of the global energy imbalance actually goes into heating the surface and atmosphere.  The vast majority goes into heating the oceans, and thus if one is to argue that the planet has stopped warming, one must look to see if ocean heat content (OHC) has stopped increasing.  So has it?  Only if you consider the equivalent of two Hiroshima bomb detonations per second “almost nothing” (Figure 2).

NODC 0-2000 meter OHC

Figure 2:  Global OHC for the upper 2000 meters of oceans (Levitus et al. in preparation)

The OHC increase over the past decade is also statistically significant (Nuccitelli et al. in preparation).

In short, Happer and Spencer are committing the classic Escalator fallacy, focusing on short-term noise while ignoring the long-term signal, as well as ignoring the vast heating of the oceans.

Whack Those Moles

As promised, we will take a brief moment to provide the resources to debunk the many other myths from Happer’s WSJ article.  The quotes below are from Happer’s article, and the following discussions and links debunk the myths in those quotes.

Juicy Cherries

“The latest (February 2012) monthly global temperature anomaly for the lower atmosphere was minus 0.12 degrees Celsius, slightly less than the average since the satellite record of temperatures began in 1979.”

Does the inappropriateness of focusing on the temperature anomaly from a single month really need to be pointed out to Happer?  Monthly temperature data are extremely noisy, and Happer’s comparison tells us nothing of use whatsoever.  It is a classic cherry pick of a time period influenced by a strong La Niña event, pure and simple.

CO2 is a Pollutant

“CO2 is not a pollutant.”

Yes, it is.

CO2 was Higher in the Past

“Life on earth flourished for hundreds of millions of years at much higher CO2 levels than we see today.”

Life on Earth hundreds of millions of years ago was quite different from life today, and the sun was also dimmer at the time.

CO2 as Plant Food Oversimplification

“Increasing CO2 levels will be a net benefit because cultivated plants grow better and are more resistant to drought at higher CO2 levels”

The ‘CO2 is plant food’ argument is such a gross oversimplification of a complex issue that frankly it is an insult to the WSJ readers that Happer expects them to swallow it.

Fossil Fuels = Prosperity?

“Nations with affordable energy from fossil fuels are more prosperous and healthy than those without.”

Certainly high energy consumption is a sign of “prosperity,” but there is no reason that energy must come from fossil fuels.   The correlation merely represents the fact that ‘prosperous’ nations which have used more energy have historically primarily relied on fossil fuels to supply that energy.  It does not follow that nations must rely on fossil fuels to supply their energy needs, particularly since renewable energy technologies are advancing and becoming rapidly cheaper.

In fact, when all costs are taken into consideration, fossil fuels are already more expensive than many renewable energy sources.  Solar photovoltaic power has already reached grid parity (when the cost of the energy matches market electricity prices) in several countries (Australia, Germany, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Portugal, and Brazil) and is expected to reach grid parity in many other coutries within the next few years.  Wind power is even cheaper.

Feedbacks are Net Positive, Sensitivity not Low

“The direct warming due to doubling CO2 levels in the atmosphere can be calculated to cause a warming of about one degree Celsius. The IPCC computer models predict a much larger warming, three degrees Celsius or even more, because they assume changes in water vapor or clouds that supposedly amplify the direct warming from CO2. Many lines of observational evidence suggest that this “positive feedback” also has been greatly exaggerated.”

There are two false claims in this quote.  First, positive net feedbacks are not “assumed,” they are observed (i.e. see Dessler et al. 2008).  Second, there are not “many lines of observational evidence” suggesting low climate sensitivity.  In reality both observational data and models agree that climate sensitivity is likely between 2 and 4.5°C for doubled atmospheric CO2, with a most likely value of 3°C (Figure 3).

Various estimates of climate sensitivity

Figure 3: Distributions and ranges for climate sensitivity from different lines of evidence. The circle indicates the most likely value. The thin colored bars indicate very likely value (more than 90% probability). The thicker colored bars indicate likely values (more than 66% probability). Dashed lines indicate no robust constraint on an upper bound. The IPCC likely range (2 to 4.5°C) and most likely value (3°C) are indicated by the vertical grey bar and black line, respectively.  Adapted from Knutti and Hegerl (2008)

Global Warming is Human-Caused

“the timing of the warming—much of it before CO2 levels had increased appreciably—suggests that a substantial fraction of the warming is from natural causes that have nothing to do with mankind.”

Approximately 80% of the global surface warming over the past 130 years has occurred over the past 4 decades (as can be shown with the SkS Temperature Trend Tool).  Some warming during the early 20th Century was caused by natural effects such as increased solar activity, but this does not negate the human-caused warming, in particular over the past 50-65 years (Figure 4).

HvA 50 years

Figure 4: Net human and natural percent contributions to the observed global surface warming over the past 50-65 years according to Tett et al. 2000 (T00, dark blue), Meehl et al. 2004 (M04, red), Stone et al. 2007 (S07, green), Lean and Rind 2008 (LR08, purple),Huber and Knutti 2011 (HK11, light blue), and Gillett et al. 2012 (G12, orange).

Extreme Weather on the Rise

“some IPCC supporters have been claiming that “extreme weather” has become more common because of more CO2. But there is no hard evidence this is true. After an unusually cold winter in 2011 (December 2010-February 2011) the winter of 2012 was unusually warm in the continental United States. But the winter of 2012 was bitter in Europe, Asia and Alaska.”

As long as we’re cherry picking, since 12 March 2012 (a span of less than 3 weeks), more than 7,000 high temperature records have been equaled or exceeded in the USA.  While it is difficult to attribute individual extreme wather events to global warming, increases in some extreme weather events have been observed.  Also see Hansen et al. (2011) and Rahmstorf and Coumou (2011) for efforts to quantify the increased frequency of extreme weather events, and the IPCC SREX for an overview of the subject.

Models are Reliable

“The observed response of the climate to more CO2 is not in good agreement with model predictions.”

The model results beg to differ (Figure 5).

mainstream predictions

Figure 5: Various best estimate global temperature climate model predictions evaluated in the ‘Lessons from Past Climate Predictions’ series vs. GISTEMP (red).

Additionally, the observed surface temperature changes over the past decade are within the range of model predictions (Figure 6) and decadal periods of flat temperatures during an overall long-term warming trend are predicted by climate models (Easterling & Wehner 2009).

model-data comparison

Figure 6: Annual mean anomalies from the IPCC AR4 models plotted against the surface temperature records from the HadCRUT3v, NCDC and GISTEMP products. Everything has been baselined to 1980-1999 (as in the 2007 IPCC report) and the envelope in grey encloses 95% of the model runs (created by Gavin Schmidt).

Gish Gallop Giddy-Up

Rather than publishing uninformed opinion pieces in the Murdoch media, if Happer thinks his climate-related opinions are correct, perhaps he should subjugate them to the peer-review process to see if they can withstand scrutiny.  As a physicist, Happer should know that science advances through scrutinized research, not uninformed opinion pieces published in newspapers.  Moreover, “skeptics” like Spencer and Happer should cease cherry picking and consider all the data, in which case they will realize that global warming has not magically stopped.

This piece was originally published at Skeptical Science and was re-printed with permission.

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18 Responses to Yes, Deniers, Global Warming Continues

  1. prokaryotes says:

    We need this information discussed at prime time on the television. It must then be addressed every question and must be shown that we have the evidence.

    If the denial machine tries to disrupt this again, we have to make this a crime, because they threaten the survival of the species.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      I absolutely agree. And like other crimes against humanity that amount to genocide, there must be no statute of limitations. The prospect of the decent, sane, moral fraction of humanity (in my opinion the majority, particularly of the informed)sitting by and wringing their hands in frustration as a determined, zealous, well-financed cabal of denialist miscreants, aided and abetted by a Rightwing MSM and at the head of a suicidal rabble of Dunning-Krugerites drive our species to destruction is rage-inducing. I find rage almost entirely negative and destructive, but occasionally, it is the only sane and rational reaction.

      • prokaryotes says:

        Disturbing emotions not only disturb our own state of mind, they also disturb the minds of others. Self-centredness gives rise to fear and insecurity, which in turn creates distrust. This is why having an altruistic attitude brings a great sense of happiness and peace of mind. https://www.facebook.com/DalaiLama

      • Dan Miller says:

        A relevant quote from Albert Einstein:

        “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

    • EDpeak says:

      Prok:

      A for-profit advertiser-based media system (in fact, for-short-term-profit, which is even more extreme) is not going to do what you said, not in the present circumstances with the profit motives of fossil industries, and the corporate NewThink against any government “regulation” (read: oversight and protection, which are better terms than ‘regulation’) They simply will not.

      Therefore, logically we can conclude that if one agrees that:

      “We need this information discussed at prime time on the television. It must then be addressed every question and must be shown that we have the evidence. ”

      then one must agree that what “we need” is a media system not including, or at the very least, not dominated by, the for-profit-advertiser-funded corporate type.

      Anyone who cares about climate must be an activist to transform (overhaul) not merely reform, media, for this simple reason.

  2. dana1981 says:

    Thanks for the re-post, Joe. I have to say, debunking these same myths over and over again becomes tiresome. Especially when they come from supposedly reputable scientists who ought to know better than someone like Christopher Monckton.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Best not say, I would suggest, ‘supposedly reputable’, which implies knowledge of the individual’s past behaviour, by ‘formerly’ reputable, which acknowledges the current situation, while giving them the benefit of the doubt over their previous behaviour.

  3. prokaryotes says:

    Another Key Finding, which perfectly fits into the systematic denial, which is outlined above..

    TEMPERATURE IS CORRELATED WITH AND GENERALLY LAGS CO2 http://climateprogress.net/item/temperature-is-correlated-with-and-generally-lags-co2-during-the-last-that-is-the-most-recent-deglaciation.html

    We got the evidence (from 80 studies!) this is scientifically certainty. Which means that we are in for a pretty ruff ride – with absolutely no winners at all!

    We have to act now, we have to reduce our carbon emissions immediately!

    • prokaryotes says:

      The last time the earth saw Co2 emissions around 390 ppm the global mean temperature was about 3 degree’s higher. But today we have the ozone depletion, black soot, aerosols masking warmth and thousands of other “artificially” introduced agents in the atmosphere. Also the RATE is unprecedented in the geological record of earth history!

      • prokaryotes says:

        What was it like the last time CO2 levels were this high?

        A vivid picture of our climate’s future can be found in our past. Currently, atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels have reached 390 parts per million (ppm). The last time CO2 was that high was around 3 million years ago, during the Pliocene. Back then, CO2 levels remained at around 365 to 410 ppm for thousands of years.

        Global temperatures over this period is estimated to be 3 to 4°C warmer than pre-industrial temperatures. Sea levels were around 25 metres higher than current sea level (Dwyer 2008). http://www.skepticalscience.com/what-was-it-like-the-last-time-co2-levels-were-this-high.html

        • Peter says:

          We should pass the 400ppm threshold in 2 years. This spring we should just pass 396pp, next year 398. So June 2014 seems like the earliest 400ppm will be achieved. I wonder if the media will report the significance of this?

          The Pliocene was perhaps the last time C02 was this high, but also the Miocene 15 million years ago. Incredibly if we are crazy enough to reach 450ppm by 2030 or so- that’s the highest in 35 million years- Geologically that stunning but very frightening.

      • EDpeak says:

        prokaryotes,

        glad you bring up the rate…the rate is indeed unprecedented but one can look at the last 800,000 years and say it is more than just unprecedented.

        After all unprecedented means “higher than any previous rate” but one can say more: it is almost 60 TIMES higher than the previous fastest rate: see “‘scary’ rate” section of

        http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/5314592.stm

        Divide the two numbers. 1000 / 17 = 58.8
        or almost 60 times faster than the previous fastest (pre industrial) rate in teh entire 800,000 years.

        So for the last 800,000 years at least, it’s not just ‘unprecedented’ it’s more than an order of magnitude above unprecedented

        • prokaryotes says:

          Hi,
          please visit my little video section here
          http://climateprogress.net/climate-progress-network-videos.html

          The featured video there is Dr James Hansen talking about the last 65 million years – and about the weathering process – the rate the earth naturally sequesters carbon from the air.

          He makes it very clear (starting at around minute 5-6) that we change today the natural rate – we change by 2 ppm per year which is 10.000 faster (and accelerating).
          Also the rate of “impact” is very little understood, which is in the same order when we look at the PETM – which took thousands of years to establish states which favored scenarios, which brought up spikes in the carbon record.

          PETM Wikipedia:

          The timing of the PETM δ13C excursion has been calculated in two complementary ways. The iconic core covering this time period is the ODP’s Core 690, and the timing is based exclusively on this core’s record. The original timing was calculated assuming a constant sedimentation rate.[13] This model was improved using the assumption that 3He flux is constant; this cosmogenic nuclide is produced at a (roughly) constant rate by the sun, and there is little reason to assume large fluctuations in the solar wind across this short time period.[14] Both models have their failings, but agree on a few points. Importantly, they both detect two steps in the drop of δ13C, each lasting about 1,000 years, and separated by about 20,000 years. The models diverge most in their estimate of the recovery time, which ranges from 150,000[13] to 30,000[14] years. There is other evidence to suggest that warming predated the δ13C excursion by some 3,000 years.
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleocene–Eocene_Thermal_Maximum

          Cheers

    • dana1981 says:

      I’ve got a post in the queue for Skeptical Science on that paper as well – to be published Monday.

  4. BBHY says:

    I find it ironic that he wrote in The Wall Street Journal of all places, since Wall Street analysts are experts at identifying trends in the presence of the strong noise of day to day stock trading ebbs and flows.

    The global temperature peaked in 1998, then exceeded that peak in 2005 and again in 2010. Progressively higher highs are a classic sign that the stock market is on a bullish trend.

    The coolest year of the 2000s was 2008, but that year was still hotter than every year of the 90′s except one. That clearly indicates that the global temperature is on a very strong bull run.

    Present the global temperatures as stock prices and any Wall Street expert will have no trouble identifying the rising trend, yet the Wall Street Journal, the paper that specializes in covering the stock market, cannot identify the trend in the global climate. Sometimes the irony just slaps you right in the face.

  5. EDpeak says:

    Regarding

    “Life on earth flourished for hundreds of millions of years at much higher CO2 levels than we see today.”

    You can add to “Life on Earth hundreds of millions of years ago was quite different from life today, and the sun was also dimmer”

    with another one: much of Florida was UNDER water! Show a map of USA for example from 70 million years ago like

    http://www.nps.gov/chcu/naturescience/geology.htm

    I suppose one might suggest that is indirectly somehow inherent in the notion that “life was also quite different” but that doesn’t wake up the public so much and throw cold water as quickly on the “high co2 is fine” argument than to point that out.