Matt Ridley’s Second Test

In the estimable Mr. Ridley’s essay published by the GWPF he provides 10 questions that he says need to be answered before he is convinced that current policy is more or less sane.

Yesterday we looked at his first test. I finished the exercise believing that we could in fact convince Mr. Ridley, given time and attention, that the question was answerable in a way that would support green policy measures to some extent. (Not everyone agrees with me–see the comment thread.)

Today we’re on to Mr. Ridley’s second question–”Despite these two contaminating factors, the temperature trend remains modest: not much more than 0.1 C per decade since 1979. So I would need persuading that water vapour will amplify CO2’s effect threefold in the future but has not done so yet. This is what the models assume despite evidence that clouds formed from water vapour are more likely to moderate than amplify any warming.”

This is the toughest question for ardent activists to answer and I have posed variations of it here on this blog–as have many other scientists, reporters and bloggers.

Because we don’t know at all what the sensitivity of the atmosphere is to a doubling of the concentrations of CO2, we cannot show Mr. Ridley a mathematical proof, a historical record or even accurate model outputs. So far we express our estimates of sensitivity as a range–the IPCC sets the parameters of this range at between 1.5C and 4.5C. If Mr. Ridley insists on one certain value we should just say frankly that we cannot persuade him and wish him well going forward.

As someone who believes that we require something in the way of a green policy oriented towards global warming (even if my ideal might differ dramatically from what’s on offer today), I would try and continue the conversation with Mr. Ridley if he were willing.

Taking the temperature since 1979 captures one period of rapid warming and one period of stasis. Averaged together they show a very tolerable level of warming if continued throughout the century. And this record certainly is not convincing evidence of a high level of sensitivity of the atmosphere.

However, given the multitude of forces that interact to move atmospheric temperatures up, down and sideways, we’ve always known that average temperatures could stall for an extended period between rises–they can even dip. As has happened during the Age of Thermometers. So I would look at more of the past and spend time trying to look into the future.

This isn’t a problem of theory–which strongly suggests that there is some level of sensitivity to rises in CO2–it’s a problem of attribution. How much of the rise from 1979 to 1998 is due to CO2, how much of the stasis since then is due to ENSO periodicity and strength, etc. We don’t know the answer to that. And if uncertainty invalidates any action for Mr. Ridley then he will end up an opponent of green policies. And again, that doesn’t make him an enemy of the human race or a bad person. He’s just an opponent in a political struggle.

Almost every scientist who has tried to calculate sensitivity of the atmosphere to CO2 has come up with a positive number for it, from Svante Arrhenius (who I think actually came up with 4 values in 4 different calculations, ranging from 2.1C to more than 6C) to James Hansen to self-proclaimed skeptic Richard Lindzen (who has variously estimated sensitivity at between 0.5C and 0.8C). Those most inclined to be activists found higher values, those most inclined to either Lukewarm or skeptical status found lower values. But that it is a positive is the norm.

I remain worried by almost any positive value and this is why. I’ve done quite a bit of number-crunching of energy consumption figures for this century and come to the dismaying conclusion that the estimates for energy consumption developed by others (particularly the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration) are far too low to take into account the rapid development of countries like China and India.

I have spent the last year documenting this over at my other weblog and I invite all to look through what I’ve written there–hopefully one of you will find my great mistake and I can cease worrying about this.

Until that happy day I will remain of the opinion that in 2075 the world will be using six times the energy that we used in 2010 and that most of it will be provided by burning coal. In addition to the problems of conventional pollution and black soot this will cause, it will also emit incredible volumes of CO2.

Planned coal construction

And my fear is that even with a low sensitivity, when combined with a confluence of upward movements in the other various cycles affecting our temperatures ranging from ENSO to solar cycles to even our progression through Milankovitch cycles, that there will be a pronounced effect on temperatures.

So I would say to Matt Ridley that he has identified the area of weakness that must be addressed if climate science is to provide definitive answers instead of provocative questions. I don’t have the hard answers he may require to enlist his support in efforts to contain our contributions to climate change, and I honestly don’t think anyone else does, either.

But if he is unwilling to make even a modest provision for an uncertain future, given what little we do know, that will make Mr. Ridley, much as I respect him and admire what he’s written, my political opponent in this struggle.

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69 responses to “Matt Ridley’s Second Test

  1. Tom,

    If you can find me an official government document form either China or India to support the ‘proposed plant’ nonsense I would appreciate it.

    I seriously doubt such a document exists.

    If we look at the US the 20 GW of new coal for the US we can’t find a US EIA supporting document.

    Neither the India or China numbers are supported by their respective national 5 year energy plans. Energy plans outside of 5 years are pure speculation.

    Endlessly quoting a document for which no supporting evidence can be found constitute what? Wild speculation?

    • I don’t like the WRI. But they did spend time on this. Even if the rule of thumb saying only half of proposed capacity gets built, it at least puts all the numbers in one place. If you want to help put together a counterview of their numbers, that’d be great.

      • China ‘coal capacity’ in it’s 5 year plan leaked. A total of between 928GW and 960GW ending in 2015 running at 50% capacity.

        To get to 960 GW they would have to accelerate coal fired builds.
        Current capacity is 830 GW running at 56% capacity.

        I have been estimating 900 GW since about 2010.

        India is adding 70 GW by 2017. It’s likely they will fall short. They fall short every 5 year plan.

        So 130GW new for China is planned and 70GW new for India are planned. A far cry from the 1,000 GW WRI estimates.

        What happens in the next set of 5 year plans is nothing more then speculation…since the plans don’t exist.

  2. This is the toughest question for ardent activists to answer

    So anyone who does not **** the science is an ardent activist? What was that about derogatory language not being allowed again?

    As for climate sensitivity, there’s lots of research on it:

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/climate-sensitivity-advanced.htm

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/lindzen-illusion-4-climate-sensitivity.html

    Why pretend otherwise?

    (Spirited defense of homeopathic remedies for all that ails mankind callously removed by blog administrator.)

    • Snerkersnerk, please don’t use derogatory language on this weblog.

      Thanks for your consideration.

      • Using the word “***” is not allowed on this site? (Answer: Not by you. Ed.)

        Geez.

        You are getting more censorship happy than Anthony “King of Censorship” Watts!

        Also, why are others allowed to use derogatory language such as “alarmist” and “warmist”? Hypocrisy, much?

        (Mathematical proof that Scott Adams was wrong and the answer is actually ’41′ removed by blog administrator.)

      • Thomas, for those of us who are following along from home, would you mind posting a comments policy on some of these censored posts? It’d help us know what is expected of us.

      • Hi Windchaser

        Yes, I will. Until I do, don’t worry. I don’t like to interfere with commenting–Snerkersnerk basically forced my hand.

    • Dagfinn Reiersøl

      I find the position of Skeptical Science to be inconsistent. On the one hand, they claim high climate sensitivity, on the other hand, their analysis of the temperature trend implies lukewarming, as I’ve pointed out here: http://judithcurry.com/2013/01/25/open-thread-weekend-7/#comment-289265

      • You find their position to be inconsistent because you are misrepresenting their position. This was also explained to you in replies to your comment, but you evidently chose to ignore that.

      • Consistency is not a virtue much in evidence in this debate–by either side, to be honest. Certainly SkS is not a passionate believer in it, as they change their posts and commentary every time facts emerge to contradict their exposition. And they don’t say they’ve changed the text. (I’ve changed the text twice in this reply…)

      • Certainly SkS is not a passionate believer in it, as they change their posts and commentary every time the facts contradict their exposition.

        Yes, it’s much better to cling to things you know are false, right? What an awesomely scientific position you have there!

        That said, could you provide a couple of specific examples of this?

  3. Tom,

    Could you explain why 1-2C of gradual warming over 1 century is bad. I’m not being facetious. But unless you state your arguments we’re dealing with a non sequitur. It would also help if the argument wasn’t presented in the form of an argument from authority.

    Let’s say a sceptic comes along and points out to you that we’ve had 1C of warming over the last 150 years or so. Nothing bad has happened. In fact, things seem to have improved a lot for a variety of different reasons. The sceptic asks you, why are you therefore so worried about the next 1C or even 2C?

    How do you respond to this?

    • Hi Will,
      Please forgive the mobile blogging.

      Global warming is, of course, an accounting fiction. It will be expressed regionally and some areas will be hit harder than others. My fear is that those hit hardest will be those worst equipped to handle it.

      That’s pretty much it in a nutshell.

      • Hi Tom,

        I’ve read your article several times now but it’s vague on details concerning your fears.

        The way the models and the theory work is that most of the warming will occur in the coldest regions (“polar amplification”). The equatorial regions will only experience tiny temperature changes. Additional warmth for human populations in cold regions will surely be a net benefit, not a negative. Ecological concerns may be different. (Species better adapted to warmer climates might threaten cold adapted species for example.)

        Could you clarify if your concern is ecological in nature or are you fearful of human impacts? Because your reply seems to suggest the second.

        Now regarding your reply, what do you mean exactly by “those worst equipped to handle it?” Asia and South America is progressing well economically. In 50 years from now they are likely to be as rich as we are in the West, if not richer. Africa may remain a basket case — one hopes not — but those nations are found in warmer climates already, where the impacts (in terms of temperature change) are likely minimal.

        Yes I know you’ve repeated the statement that you are scared. But scared of what specifically?

      • Roger Caiazza

        Tom
        I have an objection to your nutshell belief that “those hit hardest will be those worst equipped to handle it”. This assumes that the negative impacts of indirect CO2 and the direct impacts of more fossil fuel use are greater than the benefits for the developing world to use fossil fuel to provide affordable electricity. (I assume that is where most of the 3000 quad growth is coming from.)

        I think that point is debatable. There are a billion people without electricity and those of us who have had it all our lives sometimes forget how much that has improved our lives. Negative externality advocates want to count the negative impacts and discount the positive impacts all the while presuming it is not ultimately a difference between having electricity and not having it. For those without and many on the fringes with electricity that is entirely inappropriate because I believe that the benefits of affordable electricity far out-weigh the negative externalities. I also believe that as a society becomes richer through the use of that fossil fuel that they will demand reductions in the direct environmental impacts. Sixty years ago there were killer fogs in London and Pennsylvania. That would not happen today so it is unfair to think that Bejing won’t be cleaned up in sixty years.

        I suggest that we should consider priorities and the top of the list is getting power to people without reliable electricity. Maybe we should not be devoting as much time and money on utility-scale renewable projects in the developed world but instead developing technology for the third-world. Is it possible to jump technology like the telephone from nothing to the cell phone so that wires are not needed?

      • Hi Roger–what else can I say but that I hope you’re correct but think it prudent to plan as if you were not? We cannot resolve models to regional scale–and yet scientists have repeatedly conjectured that rainy areas will get rainier and dryer areas dryer. And the bulk of both are in the developing world.

        I’ve been writing about the billion without electricity for years. I’m a big advocate of solar for REP (Rural Electrification Programs) which thankfully are growing like wildfire. I’m certainly hopeful the developing world can leapfrog a generation of technology…

    • things seem to have improved a lot for a variety of different reasons

      Maybe from where you’re sitting. I doubt that the people who are negatively affected even now share your joy and optimism.

      Global warming doesn’t mean a fiery death for everyone. Some people will probably be lucky and live in areas that won’t be negatively affected. Others will suffer greatly. You can already see people affected negatively in various places.

      It is quite egotistical to ignore the problem just because you don’t think you personally will be affected.

  4. Yes the developing world is building a lot of coal power plants, oh my.

    “This isn’t a problem of theory–which strongly suggests that there is some level of sensitivity to rises in CO2–”

    But the evidence does not. In engineering school you get taught that the data is sacrosanct. If the theory does not fit the data the theory is wrong. CO2 goes way up, temperatures change a very little, as they always have, and not in step with CO2 at all, does it not make you go, “Hmmmm,”???

    ” ‘Global warming’ is, of course, an accounting fiction. It will be expressed regionally and some areas will be hit harder than others.”

    The theory is that CO2 absorbs outgoing IR and heats the atmosphere, a tiny amount, but somehow this tiny amounts triples the heating effect of water vapor of which there is a hundred times more than CO2, absorbing outgoing IR and heating the atmosphere, not a tiny amount, without increasing cloudiness and thus the Earth’s albedo. How this could be a non-uniform effect, as CO2 is well-distributed, is beyond me. Water vapor is supposed to increase itself without clouds?? Huh?

    Do any of you guys have any urge to consider Occam’s Razor, that these elaborate theories backed up by no evidence whatsoever are not likely to be true? Is all this angst caused by the Precautionary Principle?

    Most guys on here sound articulate and educated. How many of you work with any kind of scientific data, ever? At what point do you see that your worries are groundless until we have far more data? Oh, I get it, “tipping point,” by then it will be too late. Nothing like a “tipping point” has ever ever happened on Earth despite CO2 levels up to 20 times higher than they are now.

    I may be wasting my time here. I find the rigor of the logic here somewhat lacking.

    • CO2 goes way up, temperatures change a very little, as they always have, and not in step with CO2 at all, does it not make you go, “Hmmmm,”???

      You will benefit from this nice image, it seems:

      http://www.skepticalscience.com/graphics.php?g=47

      Do any of you guys have any urge to consider Occam’s Razor, that these elaborate theories backed up by no evidence whatsoever are not likely to be true? Is all this angst caused by the Precautionary Principle?

      I think thomaswfuller2 will agree with me here, shockingly enough, but there is evidence for human emissions of CO2 causing warming. What the lukewarmers are saying is that they don’t think the effect is as high as the current scientific consensus states.

      You may be ignorant of the evidence, but that, frankly, is your problem.

      • snerkersnerk, you seem to have a peculiar fetish with skepticalscience, infamous as the most widely edited ( in a negative way) blog on the net. You should seriously seek some counseling. It almost seems that someone from the warmers rapid response team planted you to disrupt Tom’s new blog out of the gate. It is a shame, or maybe not, that they picked some dim witted, vulgar, mean-spirited, semi-illiterate pissant progressive.

    • Now this is what I’ve been expecting since I started this–getting it from both sides!

      Michael, the physics that shows a warming effect from CO2 is not only old and conventional, it’s the same equations that do productive work for us in other sectors. And if Dick Lindzen thinks sensitivity is between 0.5C and 0.8C, can’t we accept that as a bottom?

      I think sensitivity is low–the data supports that thought. I don’t think it’s non-existent. The science supports that conjecture.

      I’m not worried about a tipping point. I’m worried about a gathering and inexorable wave of CO2 emissions due to growing energy use. Recent history and everybody’s plans for the future strongly suggest that this will happen.

      I do not believe that it will be a civilization buster. I do think it will have sharply negative effects that cost us a lot of time and money and makes the lives of lots of people in the developing world a lot more miserable than would otherwise be the case.

      I don’t mind if you disagree with me–but disagree with what I actually think, please.

      • I think sensitivity is low–the data supports that thought.

        Actually, the science shows that sensitivity is higher than you think it is.

      • Tom,

        How do you factor undiscovered technologies into your thinking regarding future energy use and CO2 production? After all, if energy use actually rises as much as you expect, we can be sure of one thing: lots of people will be working very hard to find (and patent!) lower-cost energy technologies.

        It wasn’t even a year ago I was still parrying arguments that we were on the precipice of the end of oil from supposedly knowledgable people.

        All of which brings me to another point – how do we factor in the unacknowledged knowledge? With Peak Oil, we had many and influential experts about climate and physics simply rejecting well established principles of resource economics – not out of spite or malice or even ideology, but because they didn’t understand those principles – or, perhaps, because the principles of resource economics were simply to foriegn. Shale oil and shale gas have been known since the 1970s at least, yet they were excluded from the resource calculations about peak oil.

        So when we’re looking to the future, we know more situations like this will arise, right? Where we have unacknowledged knowledge. Right?

  5. This is “the” question that matters. Since the beginning the true signature of CAGW is an *** accelerating *** temperature and sea level trend in the face of BAU CO2 emissions.

    That’s the prediction that started it all. It isn’t happening. Yet. Maybe it will later. But the data matters. Sorry if it doesn’t fit your model.

    The argument that the temperature run-up after 1980 is all CO2, and the recent stall is all natural variation suppressing it stretches credibility. That could be true, but all things being equal, likely not.

    Honest science says you must scale back climate sensitivity in the face of the observations not matching your projections. This is a character test for climate science. We shall see how they handle it.

    • I don’t think that’s right Tom. The underlying theoretical basis for the expected long term T is, roughly, the radiative forcing equation for CO2:
      deltaRF = 5.35 * ln(C2/C1) where C2 and C1 represent atmospheric CO2 concentrations at two given time points. That’s not accelerating, that’s decelerating, given a constant increase in CO2. It requires an accelerating CO2 concentration to give even a linear T increase.

      • From the high level, if we are going to reach a 3C increase this century, and we are currently motoring along at a linear ~1.0C increase, then we obviously require an increase in the rate of increase to get there (i.e. acceleration). This is supposed to be provided by positive feedbacks to the underlying CO2 forcing (water vapor, clouds, whatever).

        It is the theory of positive feedbacks that is questionable. Nobody has unwound all the forcings and cracked the equations, (or else models would work much better).

        The observations support a feedback that is either small, or possibly even negative. We dumped enormous amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere in the last 20 years. The temperature hasn’t responded as expected.

        This leads skeptics to question the positive feedback theory.

        The data matters.

  6. The argument that the temperature run-up after 1980 is all CO2, and the recent stall is all natural variation suppressing it stretches credibility.

    Argument from incredulity.

    You don’t seem to get it. Short-term variations != long-term trends.

    This image will explain it for you:

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/graphics.php?g=47

    • Hey everybody, checkout snerkies above link. It’s a hoot. You know snerky, there are people who can fit curves that aren’t straight lines to data. Fit a complex Fourier series to the signal. It loads up on oscillating terms. That’s how skeptics see the temperature..

      • The fact is, Marty, that the temperature has a clear trend over time: Up. There is no denying this simple fact. Cherry-picking data or a shorter period of time is not going to help you, I’m afraid.

    • Are you really offering up skeptical science as an authoritative source? How about if I respond with a WUWT?

      Believe it or not, after 30 years of engineering experience I am able to read and understand a trend. I am also able to compare projections vs. observations. I comprehend noise and short term fluctuations. I don’t require help from you, WUWT, or SkS on this.

      The data speaks for itself. Maybe it will bounce back up in the next ten years. Maybe not. But my guess is that the data is irrelevant to your view.

      In the mean time, I’m awaiting the emergence of an accelerating trend.

      • Tom, you clearly need help understanding this. SkS is an excellent source, much like Talk.Origins is an excellent source when it comes to debunking creationist claims.

        You are apparently not able to read and understand a trend since you think short-term variations are the same things as a trend.

      • I’ve found SS (aka SkS) to be a poor source of reliable information. It quotes peer reviewed papers selectively, and represents highly speculative modelling studies (such as those that purport to reconstruction dramatic temperature changes tens of thousands of years ago) as sound established science, when they are anything but. I could go on, it’s a long list.

        I think you really need to be reading the actual papers themselves and the scientific reviews, not blogs. But if you do read blogs (especially those written by non scientists), you need to treat them critically and sceptically.

      • Could we please respect what Tom F is trying to do here and not have this devolve into the kind of discussion you can find frequently elsewhere, i.e. wild over-generalization, misinterpretations, name calling and so forth.

  7. I am amazed that anyone is bothering to talk about this anymore. The politicians will do what they do best, drive up the cost of energy which will not do anything but hurt people, companies and the economy. It makes no difference who is right or what right turns out to be.
    I also do not understand why people who believe in this are using electricity. Snackersnerk, how can you continue to use electricity when you believe it will harm the planet. Put a solar panel on your roof and live off that.
    I find that living in a warmer climate helps. I am using around 175 kw of electricity per month. No heat, no A/C and I haven’t had my fan on since the rain storm cooled things off. This is the way the system works here in the subtropics. In the morning it is clear. The sun starts heating up the ground and warm, humid air starts to rise. In the afternoon the clouds get blacker and finally it rains and cools everything down.
    In Greece people are now using wood for heating fuel as anything else is too expensive. Surprise, they can no longer hang their clothes out to dry, they get black from the air. Maybe people like snickerserk can turn whatever country he lives in back to the 19th century with the pea soup smogs from burning coal and wood. That is progress.
    However I do not want to see snerkerserk back on here unless I have proof that he is using a wind turbine or solar panel or peddling a bike to provide electricity for his computer, heat, refrigeration, cooking, etc. I suggest we all greet his next post with “What are you doing on here? Turn off your main breaker.”

    • “In Greece people are now using wood for heating fuel as anything else is too expensive.”

      Thank you, Eve!

      This example shows that economic contraction is a direct threat to the environment. The corollary is that economic growth is a benefit to the environment.

      This is why we should be optimistic about China’s and India’s new coal plants. Coal plants will drive economic growth.

      More coal plants means more economic growth. Economic growth means higher incomes. Higher incomes mean people will have the resources to invest in more efficient technologies. More efficient technologies means that we’ll move from yak dung to wood to coal to oil to wind, sunshine, and all those other expensive CO2-free technologies.

  8. Couple of points/reminders here relative to some things that have been said above.

    The first is that the various pdfs of temperature sensitivity have long right tails–low probabilities of high sensitivities. Some of these derive from as systematic and thorough of an evaluation of various possible parameter combinations as is possible, by Myles Allen and collaborators. This has to be kept in the back of the mind. If Tom’s assessment of C emissions over the next 60 years is correct–and I’m not saying it is or isn’t–this increases the importance of this issue accordingly, because then you really are talking about the *potential* for catastrophe (and I am one who almost never uses terms like “catastrophic” because they are essentially meaningless in any practical sense, and therefore don’t really help anything).

    The second is that there is some empirical evidence (although by no means definitive), and plenty of theoretical justification, for believing that the world’s carbon sinks will not exhibit a linear response to T: their storage capacity will begin to saturate at some point, especially for the terrestrial biosphere, which means the current ~ 41% atmospheric retention rate can be expected to increase. This is somewhat helpful for ocean acidification issues, where it constitutes a negative feedback, but decidedly unhelpful for atmospheric temps, where it is a positive one.

    The third is that, while yes, you can fit any number of oscillating terms to a time series, that of course is rarely justified, because it badly overfits the model to the data, in proportion to the number of terms used, falsely ascribing signal to what is actually noise. You have to first examine whether there is any evidence for a trend, the simplest of which is linear, constituting the bare minimum possibility of over-fitting the data. Then you can look for oscillatory signals in the residuals, or at least the auto-correlation, either of which indicates something else is affecting the system, though not the true long term *trend* in the system. This issue gets at why climate models are so important in providing insight, because they alone can experiment with what is trend and what is not in order to provide insight into what the empirical data represent. Most likely Tom Scharf can discuss these concepts at length, perhaps others also.

    The fourth, and I’ll throw this out there de novo, is that temperature variations over the last couple thousand years or less have been widely under-estimated due to analytical problems, especially terrestrial temperatures based on tree rings. There *are* other things than CO2 that drive temperature variations, sometimes for decades.

    • “you can fit any number of oscillating terms to a time series, ” You need to keep about 4 and they all have plausible explanations. See Stothers power spectrum of the VEI for short periods and Scafeeta for the longer periods..
      Cyclical models have a long history, they just went out of style. Maybe that will be my next long post.

      • If you can provide some definite references I will look at them. I don’t think of volcanic explosions as periodic except on some kind of plate tectonics scale, and at any rate, volcanic event effects are limited to a couple of years typically. I’m thinking of things like the PDO, AMO, ENSO and so forth.

      • Jim Bouldin Try for starters; Stothers, R.D., 1989a. Seasonal variations of volcanic eruption frequencies. Geophys. Res. Lett., v. 16, p. 453-455.
        Stothers, R.D., 1989b. Volcanic eruptions and solar activity. Jour. Geophys. Res. v. 94, p. 17,371-17,381.

      • Thanks Marty, I’ll add those to the stack.

    • I agree with most of what you say here. My response to the unknowns is not so much to invoke the precautionary principle, but to go figure it out first. Politically I am in the “only perform low regrets actions until we have better answers” camp. I don’t deny there is risk, but it is near unquantifiable from my view.

      Our response to asteroid collisions has been to go quantify how likely this is by tracking the all the big rocks we can find. We *** know *** this is planet killer threat. We didn’t spend enormous amounts of money building nuclear tipped asteroid killer rockets before we started mapping all the asteroids. We may end up regretting that, but it is a calculated risk.

      In the end, the action to take is not science, it’s a value judgment. People can honestly disagree on the “right” answer.

      Modeling things with oscillating components (FFT, Fourier, DFT, etc.) is only really useful if the native components of that signal are truly comprised of well behaved oscillating signals. Otherwise it tends to be GIGO. Phase changes, amplitudes changes, frequency shifts, all tend to get resolved in rather unpleasant ways.

      You might gain some insight here, but far too many people over interpret results, just as they do with statistics.

      • Hi Tom

        There are a lot of things that I think fall into the no regrets category. I may be the only one, but I include a (revenue neutral) carbon tax among them.

      • I think your statements on the limitations of inferring periodicity by fitting Fourier series, particularly that is easy to infer something that’s not real, are fair. You need high quality time series data to do that right, and I’m not sure that we have it in many cases. I’m not a fan of the whole idea personally, which also is why I doubt (until demonstrated otherwise) the supposedly detected volcanic periodicities of Scafetta or whomever. The main point I was trying to make is that you look for the trend first and everything else is secondary and more difficult. It’s the trend that is most confidently extractable from the full variance, not any supposed periodicities. However, you can still look for autocorrelations in the detrended residuals and infer from them whether something else is going on or not, even if that “whatever” might not follow some nice tidy sine function.

  9. I’d like to ask everyone to please be more considerate and polite–but most of you already are.

    So please, those of you who are fighting, we’ve all seen this a thousand times. It’s neither new nor interesting.

  10. Thomas,

    “It is a shame, or maybe not, that they picked some dim witted, vulgar, mean-spirited, semi-illiterate pissant progressive.”

    Not from me!

    Repeating it, that IS from me. Polite? There is some money involved here, and more.

    Once again Thomas,

    Tell everyone what you believe. Tell us over and over. Shout it from the rooftop. Belief is a very signicant indicator of your self-image.

    Then, after it is all over and you have calmed down,

    Tell us what you KNOW and can PROVE.

    Anything?

    This is the engineering approach, not hostile, just seeking truth. Once again, it is a significant amount of money, could we not abandon the concept of truth before destroying our economy? Must we all turn off the heat and walk to work, seriously?????

    God Bless.

  11. Snerk!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    How much time, and do you know why that matters???????????????????????

  12. Thomas,

    Old, conventional physics turns out to be wrong with depressing regularity. Physics is difficult to study. I will pose this simple question to you, and hope for a cogent answer: at what height in the atmosphere above Earth’s surface does the absorption of the 15-micron outgoing IR fraction saturate?

    Actually, anyone on here except Marty? Anyone have a clue?

    And why does that matter???????????????

    Michael

  13. shockingly enough, but there is evidence for human emissions of CO2 causing warming. What the lukewarmers are saying is that they don’t think the effect is as high as the current scientific consensus states.

    You may be ignorant of the evidence, but that, frankly, is your problem.

    There IS? Did I miss something, which you are far too busy with other important matters to actually MENTION?

    • What is the scientific consensus? What the IPCC says? If so, why with all their documented problems, get to be the consensus? Are Lukewarmers outside of the consensus? If this is your claim, on what basis do you make that claim?

  14. “But if he is unwilling to make even a modest provision for an uncertain future, given what little we do know, that will make Mr. Ridley, much as I respect him and admire what he’s written, my political opponent in this struggle.”

    Tom, you are jumping ahead to my penultimate point here — the cost-effectiveness of cures for carbon emissions. I thought this post was about how much warming had happened since 1979 — the topic of my point 2. On that issue, I don’t find your analysis here changes my mind: sure there’s been a natural pause in the past 16 years, just as there was a warming in the previous 18 and a pause/cooling the 20 before that. The longer the period we choose, the slower the warming looks. A temperature record that’s probably slightly upward biased (point 1), that probably includes some natural warming (few volcanoes, positive PDO, some strong solar cycles), and that is still only showing 0.1C per decade even if you start it from the start of the warming, does not look to me very easily reconciled with high-sensitivity models.

    As for whether I am willing to make modest provisions, well here’s a rough summary of where I am on “modest provisions”:

    subsidising biomass and biofuel today — disastrously bad idea economically and ecologically and likely to make CO2 levels higher, so foolish whatever the climate sensitivity is.

    subsidising wind power today — disastrously bad idea economically and ecologically and likely to make little or no difference to CO2 levels because it generates so little energy (less than 0.5% of global demand) so unreliably — it can never displace coal to any meaningful extent

    subsidising solar today — far too expensive and unlikely to displace coal. The lower the sensitivity, the less justification for such subsidies (ie the more time we have before we start rolling out an immature technology).

    building hydro dams today — terrible idea because although it can displace coal, the loss of free flowing rivers and the ecological harm (and in places seismic risk) is too high, especially if sensitivity is low

    subsidising research on solar — good idea, because in the long run solar can displace coal. The higher the sensitivity, the more we should spend.

    subsidising research on thorium, fusion, solar in space, wave, coal gasification, etc — generally a good idea. The higher the sensitivity, the more we should spend.

    subsidising research on carbon capture and storage — the higher the sensitivity, the more we should spend.

    spending money on adaptations like sea walls — heavily dependent on sensitivity: I would not spend much if sensitivity is 1-2C; I would if it was 2-4C.

    allowing shale gas development wherever possible — great idea whatever the sensitivity, because it displaces coal with cheap lower-carbon fuel.

    encouraging economic growth — great idea, whatever the climate sensitivity, because it leads to more efficient and cleaner technologies, cutting soot, cutting deforestation, cutting farmland requirements etc. As well as less poverty.

    A revenue neutral carbon tax is one I explicitly supported in my book, by the way (making it revenue neutral is far from straightforward, however, in current politics). The level it should be set at does depend on climate sensitivity, and it’s interesting that if it were set at Lord Stern’s recommended $80 per tonne, on very alarmist assumptions, then the tax on petrol/gasoline in the UK would actually have to DROP!! See http://timworstall.com/2013/01/31/a-proper-carbon-tax-would-lower-the-cost-of-petrol/

    This is not a complete list, but it shows that yes climate sensitivity matters for how much we spend on research and adaptation, but no, high climate sensitivity cannot rescue any justification for the crazy biomass and wind policies that dominate climate policy today and which take money from the poor and give it to the rich to no or to counterproductive effect. That I would call a “regrets policy”.

    I wanted to keep my essay very short so as to set out what it would take to persuade me to change my mind. The reaction has been interesting: many attempts to get me to drop my acceptance of the greenhouse effect; and some dismissive abuse from those who disagree with my ten points. But with the exception of yourself, almost no effort to address my ten points in turn. Thanks for writing this post.

    • At the risk of completely hijacking the thread – In response to Matt’s modest provisions and Tom’s prudent planning response above at February 1, 2013 at 5:30 pm I agree with both that it would be prudent to start planning and making investments because there are risks. Frankly this is where the advocates who say we can decarbonize today – it is only a matter of political will, really go off the rails. I have re-ordered and annotated Matt’s suggestions with my own:

      I would add one at the top of the list. subsidising research on conventional nuclear implementation, i.e., determining what it would take to get public acceptance so this can be part of the plan is a necessary idea because I don’t see how we can ever de-carbonize without nuclear power—. The higher the sensitivity, the more we should spend.
      spending money on adaptations like sea walls — I disagree with Matt on this because I believe that adaptations for extreme weather are “no regrets” because they are appropriate with or without climate change impacts. For example, should New York spend money on a sea wall or any mitigation efforts when we know that there will be another storm someday that will combine stronger winds and the same storm surge. Even if there is not another foot due to sea level rise or a foot less due to cooling that storm will be catastrophic. If there is a specific adaptation that depends entirely on climate change impacts then I agree with Matt’s suggestion vis-à-vis sensitivity.

      subsidising research on thorium, fusion, solar in space, wave, coal gasification, etc — agree with Matt – generally a good idea. The higher the sensitivity, the more we should spend.

      subsidising research on solar — good idea – Although I agree with Matt that it is a good idea my rationale is slightly different. Solar can shave the diurnal and annual peak loads and because it is a relatively new technology I suspect that is a much higher chance for appreciable research gains. The higher the sensitivity, the more we should spend.

      subsidising biomass and biofuel today — Agree completely with Matt – disastrously bad idea economically and ecologically and likely to make CO2 levels higher, so foolish whatever the climate sensitivity is.

      subsidising wind power today — Agree completely with Matt – disastrously bad idea economically and ecologically and likely to make little or no difference to CO2 levels because it generates so little energy (less than 0.5% of global demand) so unreliably — it can never displace coal to any meaningful extent

      subsidising solar today — Agree that photovoltaic is far too expensive and unlikely to displace coal. The lower the sensitivity, the less justification for such subsidies (ie the more time we have before we start rolling out an immature technology). However, I do believe that solar thermal should be encouraged and subsidized because it works, is relatively cheap, and can shave diurnal peaks.

      building hydro dams today — Agree completely with Matt – terrible idea because although it can displace coal, the loss of free flowing rivers and the ecological harm (and in places seismic risk) is too high, especially if sensitivity is low

      subsidising research on carbon capture and storage — Agree but frankly think that it will never fly – the higher the sensitivity, the more we should spend.

      allowing shale gas development wherever possible — Agree completely with Matt- great idea whatever the sensitivity, because it displaces coal with cheap lower-carbon fuel.

      encouraging economic growth — Agree completely with Matt- great idea, whatever the climate sensitivity, because it leads to more efficient and cleaner technologies, cutting soot, cutting deforestation, cutting farmland requirements etc. As well as less poverty.

      A revenue neutral carbon tax is a great theoretical idea but I doubt that it will ever be implemented because politicians are politicians.

    • Hi all,

      Matt, thanks for dropping by and commenting at length.

      In trying to limit my response to your point two I did not and won’t now offer a competing laundry list of no regrets options until we come to some type of agreement on how important an understanding of sensitivity really is.

      I do have one and will be happy to take it up–some items similar, some different to yours.

      As your point two says, models may well be set up with an assumption of 3C sensitivity, although modelers deny it. I would argue that the overall utility of models is not in their projections of future temperature rise, which we know are flawed, but in their ability to capture interactions in climate systems which are of interest to those thinking and wondering about them. So I think their failures at forecasting are not evidence of flawed thinking about climate.

      My argument against your second point, after comments by you and others here, still stand in my opinion–physics tells us that CO2 can cause notable rises in temperature, we’ve certainly not been shy about emitting it, temperatures have risen–investigating this confluence of events seems reasonable.

      I won’t argue that climate activists did anything other than jump to conclusions, because I think they have. But if sensitivity has any positive value, progress in the developing world implies future temperature rises that are worth addressing.

  15. Tom

    “the overall utility of models is not in their projections of future temperature rise, which we know are flawed, ”

    You and I may know they are flawed, but if I write this in an article I am treated as some kind of evil denier by even quite reasonable journalists and commentators, let alone the rabid ones. Very few journalists and politicians are even aware that some people consider the projections flawed. How can one say this and not be abused?

    Matt

    • I don’t know the answer to your final question, Matt. I’ve been saying it for some time now and I have been abused.

      It’s not just you and I who know this, however. Indeed, the activists also know it–hence the abuse. James Annan has been writing about lower sensitivity for seven years–but as he details on his weblog, he has to be so circumspect about it that he is essentially operating undercover.

      You’re already getting abused by all and sundry. So am I–join me and Bonnie Raitt: “Let’s give ‘em something to talk about…”

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  17. I’m not sure I understand the benefit of a carbon tax for several reasons.

    First, for some fuels, there already are very high taxes and they don’t do alot to disuade the use of carbon fuels. I’m thinking in particular of gasoline taxes.

    Second, for a carbon tax to be effective, there must be an alternative that people can switch to. For some kinds of power generation (e.g., coal vs gas) there are alternatives. But for transportation fuel, there’s no real alternative. Electric cars, for example, aren’t very good. Charging times longer than 10-15 min are insufficient to create a viable alternative, and there’s no serious improvement in sight. Nat gas is an option, but building out infrastructure would take a decade or more.

    As far as I can see, the only thing to do at the moment is keep up the research on both power gen technologies and climate and see how things play out.

  18. Thomas Fuller, keep in mind that the worst projections of devastation from global warming assume high sensitivity, which assumes high levels of emissions, which assume high levels of emissions from the developing world, which assumes high levels of economic growth in the developing world, which means that they are no longer as susceptible to the worst projections of devastation. Extracting the economic projections behind the SRES is also useful. Your 3000 quads estimate also has the same basic estimate, with growth levels about what the US experienced in the 19th and 20th centuries.

    • Hiya MikeN,

      I’m not predicting catastrophe from global warming. I just think it has the potential to be a really big pain in the butt. Picture lead abatement, asbestos abatement, campaign against Malaria, AIDS and Pneumonia all rolled into one. And then throw in a Marshall plan worth of infrastructure assistance, technology transfer and trade aid for lost agriculture, when and if…

  19. Pingback: Matt Ridley’s Fourth Test | The Lukewarmer's Way

  20. I have spent the last year documenting this over at my other weblog and I invite all to look through what I’ve written there–hopefully one of you will find my great mistake and I can cease worrying about this
    =======
    I doubt you’ll find it reassuring, but I made much the same computation a couple of years ago with much the same results. However, I’m projecting only around 1000 quads late in the century unless some source of unlimited and not too expensive energy materializes in the next 9 or so decades.. 10^10 people * 3*10^5 btuperday * 365 daysperyear.

    Why only 3000000 BTU per day? Because I’m guessing that’s about the minimum level that supports, refrigeration, running water, climate control, household appliances, entertainment, and some form of personal transportation. Yes, Americans burn through three times that, but we’re profligate, and partly in subarctic climate zones that require a lot of heating, and we have a large petrochemical industry that produces products for export as well as domestic use, I think Japan and France at 450,000 btu per day are more likely models. Add some economic pressure to minimize consumption of increasingly expensive energy and throw in a little wishful thinking and you get 300,000 btu per day.

    Anyway, I enjoy your blogs

  21. “Coal consumption will peak below 4 billion tonnes,” Jiang Kejun, who led the modelling team that advised the State Council on energy use scenarios, told Fairfax Media.

    http://www.smh.com.au/business/carbon-economy/time-for-change-china-flags-peak-in-coal-usage-20130206-2dxrv.html#ixzz2K81vDHr5

  22. The comments thread has moved quite a distance from Matt Ridley’s Second Question, namely, is water vapor a positive or negative feedback?

    The AGW argument goes:

    1 > CO2 is a forcing and increased CO2 levels increase forcing.
    2 > As temperatures increase due to CO2 forcing, water vapor levels will also increase.
    3 > Water vapor is a forcing and increased water vapor levels increase forcing.
    4 > Water vapor has three times the optical thickness of CO2.
    5 > THEREFORE, water vapor has the potential to double, triple, quadruple… n times the forcing resulting from increased CO2.

    And my comments:

    1 > Greenhouse gases and the greenhouse effect. To the doubters I say, there is just too much good science, there are too many observations, too many Nobel Prizes and too many big names backing this. It’s not like the Flat Earth theory or believing in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The burden of proof now lies with the doubters. If you want to challenge GHE, you’d better have something good.
    2 > Anyone who has ever seen a kettle boil will just know that higher temperatures cause more evaporation, BUT so far, the average of water vapor levels at all altitudes, is little changed. (Source: NVAP as reported at http://clivebest.com/blog/?p=4517)
    3 and 4 > To this I add that water vapor in the form of cloud cover is a negative forcing.
    5 > Global temperatures have “paused” while CO2 levels continued to rise. Water vapor has neither increased nor decreased significantly. THEREFORE, something else must be a factor, and one guess is that cloud cover has increased. In spite of all those busy little satellites whizzing around overhead, it appears that nobody is seriously measuring albedo. Recently I read somewhere that our modern 21st century bigger brighter better “smart” clouds are more persistent, although this sounds like guesswork. Cloud supplies two thirds of Earth’s albedo, and a very small increase could stop a lot of incoming watts from getting through to the surface. However, that’s all hypothesizing, so let’s say that Mystery Negative Feedback Factor X is compensating for CO2 forcing.

    Basically, the 21st century warming pause has confused all heck out of climate science. We don’t know if cloud cover will continue to increase as CO2 increases. We don’t know if rising CO2 forcing will overwhelm Factor X. We have no good understanding of the pause phenomenon and no explanations.

    As a corollary, the predictions made by the GCMs have also been falsified.

    Matt Ridley is saying that the warmists have failed to prove a positive feedback link between CO2 and water vapor. I must agree.

    (Apologia: please excuse the barbarian spelling of vapour as “vapor,” the reason being that this is the form preferred by the wordpress.com spell checker.)

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