(Some of) What I Say to Skeptics

Previously I wrote about some of what I say to alarmists. It’s time to address the skeptics.

One of my original premises when I started following the global warming issue almost a decade a go was that scientists (and physicists especially) jumped into analysis of climate change using every sophisticated tool at their command.

I don’t think this served them well and my response has been to try and use ‘lower math’ to see if this explains some phenomena more effectively. Obviously I think it has worked or I probably would be too embarrassed to write about it here. (I mean, c’mon–lower math?)

It worked for me last year when I was (one of?) the first to note that one-third of human emissions of CO2 had taken place since 1998, which some label the start of the current (?) pause in global warming. I asked then and have asked since if this does not constitute a real argument against high values for atmospheric sensitivity.

But lower math also argues in favor of anthropogenic contributions to global warming. On my other blog I note that concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are climbing more rapidly than just 30 years ago–from 1980 through 1993 I notice that the mean rise in concentrations from  has a fairly modest average of 1.45 ppm. However, the average from 1993 to 2013 jumps to 1.96 ppm. Early in the data series, there is only one year over 1.6 ppm increase. In 1994 the increase jumps to 1.75 ppm and from 1994 to 2013 there are only two years with an increase below 1.6 ppm.

CO2 is accumulating in our atmosphere and more quickly than in the past.

But to use even lower math, if I may, it’s enough to go to any of the temperature records. Any of them. (I know they are not completely independent and I know we cannot put all our faith in them. But they are what we have to work with.)

If you create an average temperature record from 1901 through 2000 and use it as a baseline and plot temperature changes against that baseline, according to the NOAA it looks like this:

Global temperature record NCDC NOAA

The lower math analysis of this says that the last time temperatures were below this average was 1978. If temperatures fluctuated randomly that wouldn’t happen. (By the way, they haven’t gone below that average since 2000, either.) That’s what–37 years without one year below average?

During that same period, human emissions of CO2 increased by about 20% (from 5,087 million metric tons to 6,765 mmt) and concentrations of CO2 increased 20%.

I personally believe man has been affecting the climate for 50,000 years, cutting down forests or burning them, clearing land for agriculture, damming rivers, etc. I believe that emitting large quantities of CO2 is an additional impact we are having on the climate. In 1945 there were about 5 million vehicles with internal combustion engines on the roads of this planet. There are now close to 1 billion. I think this has an impact. Planes, washing machines, driers, air conditioning units, etc. And power plants. The first one in New York in, what, 1881? Now there are tens of thousands.

We are  still clearing land. We are still damming rivers. We are still burning forests. Now we are also emitting industrial quantities of CO2 (and of course, conventional pollution both in the form of aerosols and black carbon, which may counteract some of that CO2).

I don’t know what atmospheric sensitivity is. Sorry–maybe the clerk at the next window can help. I do know that even without lower math, adding an additional component to human impacts on the climate looks to have an effect just by looking at the temperature record.

And I say that knowing there has been a pause in temperatures since 1998. Like James Hansen. It’s easy to see. But you know what? There have been pauses before–two in the modern temperature record–and when they finished, temperatures did not resume a random nature. They just kept climbing. The pause has been a plateau. Looking at the temperature record would have us bet (not the farm, not our livelihood, but a modest wager) that when this pause concludes temperatures will rise again.

My other blog is dedicated to showing that energy consumption is rising faster than predicted, that we will use 3,000 quads a year by 2075. For any–any–positive value of atmospheric sensitivity that should be troubling. Because we are not planning for this faster rate of consumption, the odds are good that the energy burned for most of these 3,000 quads will be coal.

This is something we need to take seriously.

And that’s some of what I say to skeptics. Happy Sunday to all!


20 responses to “(Some of) What I Say to Skeptics

  1. As a climate skeptic, I find nothing here to disagree with. Unlike too many of my fellow skeptics, who lean libertarian, I believe that setting a high bar for CAFE Standards, converting coal-fired power-plants to gas, encouraging telecommuting and various conservation measures are wise public policy in the short term. In the long term, for a variety of environmental, economic and security reasons, it is vital that we find other sources of energy.

    What makes me a skeptic is the bad science, fear, mendacity and greed of the environmental movement.

    Walter Russel Mead said it best, “Just because you see a problem does not mean that you see the solution.”

  2. Some of this is fine, but the bit in the middle about years above average is nonsense. You seem to be using the Borenstein argument which even UEA climate scientist Tim Osborn says is wrong.

    • Thanks for your comment, Paul. Is that Seth Borenstein? Can you point me to his work? Lower math won’t get us all the way to a perfect understanding of the problem, I admit. But we need to start there or we end up talking about models without understanding the inputs…

    • Sorry, that was a half-hearted comment from a phone. Yes, Seth, see Bishop Hill post for his comment and responses.

      The random fluctuation argument used by some sceptics doesn’t say that each year’s temperature is just a random number. It says that in a time interval there is some small random change in the temperature, like a random walk. If you look at the wiki article on random walks there is a graph with 8 random walks and 2 of them are at or near a max, suggesting that the chance of this happening is not so small. To put it another way, if this year is a record year, then the chance of next year also being a record breaker is 1/2, according to this model.

    • If you wonder what the real left is saying about climate change, They’re quoting Tom.

    • Wow. Who are those guys?

      • They’re what’s left of the left (my favorite pun). It’s the only American based left site I still take seriously. Notice they don’t have much in common with the Nation or Common Dreams or Naomi Klein or Bill McKibben of the rest of the faux left. They’re fairly typical of real leftists I know.

  3. Nothing to argue with here. Although I fall clearly into the polemic side of skeptics, here is what I find tiring about my side:

    1. Enough of questioning whether warming has occurred. The case for this is very solid, both instrumental and the energy balance equations.

    2. Stop highlighting papers that are from “academics” whose arguments are weak. This is one of the problems with WUWT. Print anything that disagrees with the consensus invariably sweeps up a lot of garbage.

    3. There is as much uncertainty about more future warming as there is about less future warming. Assuming it is a fact that the models are over-estimating * future * warming is making the same mistake as those who profess models are “truth”.

    4. The AGW activists provide a target rich environment as it is, no need to invent ones that aren’t there. A day doesn’t go by without some crazy alarmist statement that is easy to discredit. Try to stay consistent.

    5. Clean energy is a good thing. Clean energy that costs much more than fossil fuel may not be. Clean energy is not the enemy, unjustifiable economic pain is.

    I’m sure there are more, this is my 5 minute list.

  4. How about a thought experiment?

    It’s always healthy to assume that one can be completely wrong, especially about the things we feel most strongly about. So for the skeptics, what if Ben Santer were to create the perfect climate model, one that is 100% accurate on both the short and long term, and predicts climate catastrophe within 50 years, if CO2 emissions are not reduced by 20% within 5 years?

    What would you propose be done?

    I know the first thing I would propose… We convene all climate conferences via GoToMeeting. 🙂

    I mention this because I believe alarmists and skeptics not only differ in their interpretation of climate science but differ in their approach to problem solving.

    Activists of all stripes want to do good. People who are not activists tend to want good to be done. These very different things.

    To do good demands one be an active participant It implies the reward of feeling good about having done good. It is the driving force behind activism.

    To want good to be done is something else entirely, it’s more hands off and goal oriented. To want good to be done, implies the reward of feeling the world is in good hands.

    • I’ll give a slightly more serious answer. Let’s be, not just Charlie, but French all the way down and replicate their nuclear buildout and get to 85% nuclear in 20 years.

      • Here’s the problem. The French nuclear project was big government at its finest. American’s who love big government projects hate nuclear. Americans who love nuclear think that it would happen all by itself if the government would get out of its way. Ain’t gonna happen.
        Compare what the French paid with what we paid. How many American nuke plants came in on or under budget? I bet you can guess at that answer and be right to 3 significant figures.
        All countries with practical nuclear programs didn’t let the market decide.

      • Well, Marty, I’m not against big government.I think big government is needed for big problems.

      • Tom, is it a big problem?

      • Well, as postulated by Almost in Iowa, yes. He said ‘climate catastrophe in 50 years.’ It’s not a real world exercise…

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