‘Bygones.’ Forgetting the Climate Past, Reinventing the Climate Future

Back in the mists of time, the television show Ally McBeal popularized the one-word dismissal of all past wrongs–‘Bygones.’  Where normal people would offer an apology and attempt to make things whole, a senior lawyer would, when confronted with mistakes or misdeeds, just utter the magic word and expect everyone to get on with their lives.

He wasn’t the hero.

Yesterday in comments to a previous post, Michael Tobis of Only In It For The Gold made a number of surprising assertions, which I’ll discuss in a moment. But what really struck me is that he is willing to throw under the bus entire lines of argumentation regarding sensitivity and temperature rises that inspired endless debate, name calling and accusations of climate denial and utter, base ignorance.

The Alarmist Brigade, which I have taken to calling Klimate Kultists, are the ones who made those arguments and uttered most of the insults. They insisted that the sensitivity of the atmosphere to a doubling of concentrations of CO2 was the key metric in climate change and that it was obviously high. Cuz their models told them so.

Now, observation-based models strongly suggest that sensitivity is low. Well, duh. 18 years with almost no increase in temperatures accompanied by the emission of almost one-third of all the CO2 humans have emitted throughout history will kind of wake most of us up.

But not the Klimate Kultists. They are now engaged in a campaign to pretend sensitivity doesn’t matter–and hilariously, that it never mattered.

They have replaced their devotion to sensitivity with a dogmatic belief in an artificially constructed forcing figure, the RCP 8.5 monstrosity I have discussed frequently. (Basically, a team of scientists was given a forcing figure–8.5 watts per square meter–and a date–2100–and told to develop inputs for climate models based on those two assumptions. They were asked for, but have not yet delivered, narratives that showed how this could plausibly happen. In everything this team of scientists have written they have explicitly said they were not predictions or projections. They started with the conclusion as a given. But that hasn’t stopped Klimate Kultists from treating the one with the highest forcing as gospel truth.)

Based on this artificial end-point to the data, Tobis insists:

“The ECS is probably between 2.5 and 3, where it has always been.” No, Tobis. The ECS has been continually defined–and defined down.


Tobis says, “The extent of change can already be expected to be comparable in magnitude to the Milakovic cycle changes but much faster, leaving local adaptations, both artificial and natural, stressed and at risk of decline.”

Measured peak to trough, the Milankovitch cycle appears to correspond with about 11C of temperature change at its strongest. The smallest change peak to trough looks like 6C. If Tobis is suggesting that this will manifest in a short period of time due to climate change, he is not basing that suggestion on either observation or model output.


Sensitivity still matters. It matters to scientists trying to narrow the broad range of potential values–the IPCC still has it at between 1.5C and 4.5C, which is so broad that you can justify skeptics, lukewarmers and alarmists using a value potentially acceptable to the IPCC.

Sensitivity still matters to policy. If it is low, we will have to do less in the way of preparation and accommodation and we will have more time to make those preparations.

To suggest otherwise is daft. Tobis has been daft frequently in the past. He claims Peter Gleick and Stephan Lewandowsky as friends. One is a thief and a forger, the other a charlatan. He calls Michael Mann a ‘mensch,’ which basically redefines the term to include a whining, litigious, sloppy wannabe scientist under the rubric. All three have been conspicuously wrong on what Klimate Kultists want to call the defining issue of our age.

Temperature rises have not been notable. Nor has sea level rise. Drought, flooding, heatwaves, storm frequency and intensity are all within the range of historical variation. This is probably because sensitivity is quite low.

So Tobis wants to change the subject.

21 responses to “‘Bygones.’ Forgetting the Climate Past, Reinventing the Climate Future

  1. Excellent article! You write very well, Thomas.

  2. I wonder if it might take centuries for climate equilibrium to assert itself through the natural variability. Ice cores show an eight hundred year lag between temp rise and Co2 rise. Perhaps it might be prudent for humanity to develop geoengineering techniques to deal with natural climate swings.

  3. Canman,
    In the pre-CO2 panic days, scientists openly discussed climate. They spoke of periods of time where records indicated that sometimes dramatic changes took place in the climate over periods as short as a century, and as long as hundreds of thousands of years. Droughts lasting over 50 years. Rapid sea level changes. Now there is this undefinable thing called “Climate change”. And the only question of importance is if we “believe in climate change”. Not *what* “climate change” is but only if we believe in it. And of course support the policies, and most importantly the funding, of those wise leaders who believe in “climate change”.

  4. Do you suppose part of the campaign to pretend sensitivity does not matter is a hope that the public won’t pick up on the fact that the social cost of carbon value is dominated by the extreme tail values of sensitivity (see http://judithcurry.com/2015/10/05/on-trial-social-cost-of-carbon/ for details)? The social cost of carbon numbers are being used now to justify all sorts of mitigation efforts and it appears that the latest values aren’t even using the most recent IPCC estimates. If they were updated to include those values or the observational estimates then a lot of the justification for mitigation goes out the window.

  5. From here, an apposite 17th century observation:

    The idea of reality being attached naturally to that of science, man tends to assume as true that which is proposed by those who have the reputation of being wise. And as the number of those who have only the reputation of so being is much larger than that of those who are so in fact, the average man, who simply counts the number of opinions, cleaves to the former group, and the more willingly embraces their opinion, given that it corresponds more closely to that which he holds already. In the case of poets and orators, who have no other aim than to please and persuade, the appearance of truth is sufficient for most people. Thus, as exaggeration and hyperbole serve well their purpose, by exaggerating their ideas at will, they cause things to appear good or bad, big or small, as they please. The style with which they ornament their discourse contributes marvellously to create the belief of those who are not on their guard. They speak with facility and grace, using certain manners of expression which are attractive, agreeable and uncommon to dazzle the mind and prevent it from perceiving the truth.

  6. Tom,

    As usual I mostly agree with you but there are a couple of points I feel I must raise.

    First, Vostok temperatures are not global averages. According to most paleoclimate estimates I’ve seen the global average temperature changes are a factor of 2 to 3 smaller than the ones at Vostok. It is the sort of detail that gives ammunition to those who might want to shoot you down.

    Second, you wrote: “The Alarmist Brigade, which I have taken to calling Klimate Kultists, are the ones who made those arguments and uttered most of the insults”.
    Name calling does not advance reasoned debate. And “they started it” is both childless and irrelevant as is “they do more of it”. This mars what is otherwise an excellent blog and probably repels some who might otherwise be open to your arguments.

    • Mike M,
      Your call to more civil discussion tones is very insightful. As someone who has flamed away with the best of them have been lately considering what is more important: The feeling of satisfaction one can get from flaming, or the possibility of leaving the extremists scrambling to look more reasonable…and even possibly convincing those open to discussion to seriously consider the skeptic points.

    • Hi MikeM,

      Thanks for your comments–and advice. At various times during my stint as a blogger/journalist/commenter/general pain in the butt I have tried to be polite. Notably with Michael Tobis. When I was writing for Examiner.com I was extremely polite with him. I addressed him as doctor, worked very hard to address his comments, cited papers to back up what I was saying.

      His response is typical of most I have received from his tribe. He said I was pulling s**t out of my butt and compared me to Jack Abramoff. He moderated and delayed comments at his website, deleted entire posts that showed I was getting the better of arguments, insulted me to third parties new to the debate, etc.

      When I have been polite, Tobis and members of his tribe have treated me like s**t. When I have been not polite, they have treated me like s**t.

      This blog really doesn’t target the general public, so I’m not afraid of tarring the reputation of Lukewarmers. Almost all of my readers are self-selected from the 5,000 or so active readers of climate blogs. Despite what Tobis’ tribe continues to maintain (that I am a denier, delayer, in the pay of fossil fuels, ad nauseum) I am not even a climate skeptic. I see no reason to any longer sugarcoat my contempt for those who are sabotaging what should be a clear-cut case for active policies to prepare for the impacts of climate change.

      The exaggerations and unwarranted attacks that are the signature of his tribe have left the climate situation where it is today. They can blame Exxon all they want. They can rant against myself, Steve McIntyre and Steve Mosher ’til they’re blue in the face. Their stupidity has stalled action on addressing climate change.

      • Tom,

        I pretty much agree with all you say here except your conclusion. I decided to let it pass, then I saw today’s column in which you write “it doesn’t occur to the ‘struggling to understand’ ATTP that they could take away our new-found weapon … C’mon ATTP–make us weaker! Quit calling us deniers.”
        That is the essence of my point. By letting them name call and refuse to respond in kind, you gain the advantage of the high ground.

  7. The downsloping sensitivity graph reminded me of Michael Crichton’s opening statement for his Intelligence Squared debate on global warming. He mentions it at about three minutes and twenty seconds in.

  8. Nova is cherry picking, of course. One could as easily construct a graph that is heading up.

    Current estimates of ECS are in line with Charney et al 1979; there have been a few outliers here and there but the consensus estimate is still in the same range it has always been. And as I’ve pointed out, a factor of two in ECS doesn’t let us off the hook of policy urgency. I think you’d need a factor of 4 to even cut some slack, which nobody even half-serious is proposing. The reason for this is that at 2.5 C a concerted policy response is long overdue. At 1.25 C it would merely be timely.

    Regarding the comparison to Milankovic forcing, 1) Mike M is correct, 11 C is the Antarctic swing, which is larger than the global. (The WUWT crowd is forever confusing direct ice core temperatures with global temperatures. One should be careful of that.) 2) Milankovic forcing nets to zero globally, though it amounts to large latitudinal shifts in energy flux. Greenhouse forcing is positive over the entire surface. So Milankovic is more like a torque where greenhouse forcing is like a kick. If the kick gets anywhere close to the Milankovic regional numbers, why one should expect the system to behave calmly escapes me.

    It is not my fault if reality refuses to be moderate. You probably won’t believe me about this (or much of anything for that matter) but I truly wish it were otherwise.

    • Starting at the bottom of your comment and working upwards,

      No, I don’t believe you about much of anything. I’m sure you know why.

      Thank you and MikeM for clarifying the nature and extent of Milankovitch forcings.

      Current estimates of ECS are all over the map, as shown in Jo Nova’s chart. Feel free to cite others that are not included. But the highest sensitivity estimate in her chart since 2012 is 2.4. The lowest is 1.7.

      As for your closing remarks, nobody would blame you for anything reality does–you and reality don’t seem to be on good terms. Much of what you write seems to be based on a combination of disbelief and well, almost anger that reality has in fact been more moderate than you think it should be. Whether it be drought, flood, heatwaves, sea level rise, global surface temperatures, polar bear populations, the spread of malaria–nothing seems to be getting worse as fast as your flavor of scientific calculation would require to have a semblance of accuracy.

    • MT,
      The irony is that you are declaring a worldwide crisis based on data that is so ambiguous it “can easily construct” a graph going up or down.
      The strong grasp you have decided to make on high ECS, while simultaneously it does not matter if it is high or not does not pass the reason test.
      Your claim to wish it were different is not apparent in anything you write.
      Instead you come across as a fundamentalist who can’t wait for his interpretation of biblical prophecy to finish coming true so he can experience the rapture.

    • ” You probably won’t believe me about this (or much of anything for that matter) but I truly wish it were otherwise.”

      Perhaps we would believe you if you stopped making stuff up.

      Mind you, I suppose if you did, you would be out of a job…

  9. “Whether it be drought, flood, heatwaves, sea level rise, global surface temperatures, polar bear populations, the spread of malaria–nothing seems to be getting worse as fast as your flavor of scientific calculation would require to have a semblance of accuracy.”

    No. Well, sort of. “Seems to” is right.

    Seems to, if you get the balance of your information and its interpretation from naysayer blogs.

    I never made any claims about malaria; the polar bear argument is dubious, the drought and flood ones are highly arguable, and the heat wave one and the sea level one are just flatly wrong.

    And I can make a graph just like Jo Nova’s that slopes upwards by picking which points to include. It’s nonsense.

    If ECS is below 1 C with 90% probability, I would say we have a little time to let the dust settle. But it’s impossible to make such a case.

    • Actually, Tobis, academic, peer-reviewed papers that say that globally drought has declined do not qualify as naysayer blogs. The Environmental Protection Agency saying there is no discernible trend in U.S. heatwaves does not qualify as a naysayer blog. The NOAA on sea level rise does not qualify as a naysayer blog.

      The fact that you personally have only cheered from the sidelines as others made fools of themselves about malaria and polar bears does not exempt you. You made just as much a fool of yourself regarding the Greenland Ice Cap on your (what is the opposite of naysayer? worshipful?) blog. I know. I was there. You also made a fool of yourself regarding Moscow heat waves, availability of cereal crops in Egypt and floods in Pakistan. I know. I watched you do it. Now, finally, years later you call for a different approach to attribution. But at the time you called those of us using saner approaches to attribution deniers.

      I imagine you do know how to make a graph. Congratulations. But you haven’t. Nor has anyone else from your tribe. If Nova is wrong, don’t you think there is public utility in pointing it out?

      The fact is that no matter how much you criticize Guy McPherson for his particular brand of insanity, you are far more like him than you will ever admit. Perhaps more than you are capable of recognizing.

      There’s a reason you are called Dr. Doom.

    • mt,

      “If ECS is below 1 C with 90% probability, I would say we have a little time to let the dust settle. But it’s impossible to make such a case.”

      No need to make such a case. A reasonable “business as usual” estimate for forcing in 2100 is 5.0 to 5.5 W/m^2. There is a strong case for ECS around 1.8 K and TCR around 1.3 K. That gives warming of 1.7 to 2.0 K in 2100. There is no scientific basis for that being a big problem. It might even be beneficial. So although there is some cause for concern, there is no crisis.

    • “Seems to, if you get the balance of your information and its interpretation from naysayer blogs.”

      Unlike you, who gets the balance of your information and its interpretation from AGW catastrophist blogs, of course.

      Personally, I prefer peer reviewed scientific papers myself, but hey, I’m funny like that.

  10. MT,
    It is impossible to make the case only if one depends on alarmist clap trap.

  11. I believe it is incontrovertible that the whole AGW debate revolves around the increase in temperature caused by a doubling in the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide – commonly referred to as climate sensitivity, and that over the past three decades many billions of dollars have been expended researching this extremely important value. A low value indicates that we have little or nothing to fear from a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide, a high value indicates that we may have a serious problem.

    I doubt anyone on either side of the debate can disagree that this is a very important issue.

    So let us see how much progress has been made over the last couple of decades pinning down this extremely important number.

    The IPCC is commonly regarded as the most reputable authority on such matters, so let us see how estimates of the climate sensitivity have changed over the five IPCC Assessment Reports from 1990 to the present day, a period of some two and a half decades.

    Here are the ranges of value given by the five IPCC Assessment Reports that have been published to date.

    IPCC First assessment report 1.9 to 5.2°C, but states “…hence the models results do not justify altering the previously accepted range of 1.5 to 4.5°C

    IPCC Second Assessment Report 2 to 4.5 C”

    IPCC Third Assessment Report 1.5 to 4.5 °C

    IPCC Fourth Assessment Report 2 to 4.5 °C

    IPCC Fifth Assessment Report 1.5°C to 4.5°C

    So, despite the expenditure of many billions of dollars on research, estimates of the low and high limits of this essential parameter have not changed in 25 years.

    The original 1.5- 4.5°C estimate originally came from the 1979 Charney report, incidentally.

    Click to access charney_report.pdf

  12. Pingback: Moving the Climate Goalposts | The Lukewarmer's Way

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