Answering A Global Warming True Believer

Global warming is causing an increase in pleasant afternoons.
Global warming is causing an increase in pleasant afternoons.

A reader receive a plaintive email from an associate who had converted to a global warming True Believer. The reader asked if I would answer the associate. I do so below. In order to protect the anonymity of the associate, I slightly edited his email (which I answer in chunks). I have not changed the tone, nor left anything important out.

*Tipping Point — Are We Too Late?*

How imminent is the tipping point when global warming is unstoppable and temperatures well beyond 2 degrees C are reached? Has it already happened or could it be within a few years, a few decades or do we have to 2100, which is the date climate scientists continually refer to? The movie Home stated that the tipping point could be reached within 10 years if the planet continues to warm at its current rate. The movie was made in 2009, we know since then that the rate of global warming has increased. Will the tipping point be reached by 2019?

There is no evidence that there was ever any “tipping point”, a point of no return, in the earth’s climate—excepting, of course, shocks drive by large rocks from space and tumultuous, concerted volcanic eruptions. These dramatic events caused, over a period of years to decades, noticeable changes in the climate. Yet even these gigantic disruptions pale next to the effects due to orbital mechanics.

The shocks caused by rocks and ash were nothing compared to the ice ages, glacial and inter-glacial periods (we are in one of these latter now, and we are expected to return to a glacial period soon, geologically speaking) caused by the earth shifting its position around the sun. No matter how you look at the physics, the sun and the earth’s position relative to it far, far outweigh any other influence. If you don’t believe this, try moving to Mars and releasing a little bit of carbon dioxide and see where that gets you.

There is no reason to believe the trace amounts of gases added to the atmosphere by humans will produce any “tipping point”. “Tipping points” are pure science fiction. The number of times we have, so far, passed a predicted end-of-the-world tipping point is already large, and growing larger, yet some never tire of saying “Wait until next year!

How do we know there is no such thing as a tipping point? We already have the evidence of other catastrophic events, as mentioned, from which the earth “bounced back.” But we also have the overwhelming evidence of failed predictions.

For some 20 to 30 years, the predictions of global climate models, built with the theory of greenhouse gas (GHG) positive-feedback, have predicted temperatures HIGHER than were observed. And not just by a little bit, but by a lot. The discrepancy between the predictions and reality is growing wider and wider and wider over time. Yet this reality is ignored and the predictions are embraced. Why? Why do people love so much what these failed predictions are telling them?

If we really understood how the atmosphere worked at a level sufficient to make economic decisions, including knowing how trace amounts of GHGs influenced things, then our predictions would be good. The predictions are not good, they are lousy. Therefore, something is wrong with our understanding. The most likely suspect is the positive feedback of GHGs. In any case, whatever is wrong, there is zero warrant for declaring there will be a “tipping point” when we can’t even predict with any skill next year’s temperature.

*Record Temperatures — 2016*

Average global temperatures last month [February 2016] were 1.35 degrees Celsius (2.4 Fahrenheit) above normal for February, the biggest temperature excess recorded for any month against a baseline of 1951-80, according to NASA data released on the weekend. The previous record was set in January, stoked by factors including a build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the strong El Nino event, which releases heat from the Pacific.

There is no such thing as “global average temperature” (GAT); there are only functions of measurements taken at varying and fluctuating locations which are declared (operationally) the global average temperature. There is no one way to measure GAT, and this is for several reasons.

The GAT the public hears about is the result of a statistical algorithm. It is not the direct averaging of surface stations temperatures. It can’t be. Stations come and go, the method of measuring temperatures also changes at stations. Any and every change means a model has to be used to massage the numbers. The alternative is satellite-based (or balloon) measurements, and even these are not direct but mathematically adjusted. Surface stations cover a tiny fraction of the earth’s surface; the ocean is barely sampled. Satellites can only give a rough guess, since these effectively treats large swaths of the earth as one.

The satellite and surface stations statistical algorithm outputs often disagree. Which is right? It is far better to look at individual station data and see how and why these change. This is often revealing, because changes in individual station data often do not follow changes in the algorithm-produced GAT.

In other words, there is uncertainty in the GAT. So much so that, often, the GAT is “adjusted” statistically. Two funny things about these adjustments. One, the uncertainty is never mentioned. When is the last time you saw a graph of GAT with plus-or-minus bounds? I’ll tell you when: never. It’s almost as if everybody wants to forget the uncertainty, which is substantial and far above the claimed increases of the past few years (the uncertainty grows wider in history). Two, why is it that in the adjustments the historical data is lowered and more recent data upped. In other words, the manipulations always show additional warming, which is why we hear It’s worse than we thought.

In any case, it’s somewhat clear, even if there is uncertainty in exact rates, that GAT was slightly decreasing from the 1940s to the 1970s. This decrease, as climatologists then said, was caused by too much pollution, which itself was caused by a “population bomb”. This pollution, the theory said, was knocking back the sun’s rays, an effect which was about to cause us to hit our next glaciation ahead of schedule. Perhaps you recall that that didn’t happen. This was the consensus at the time. Many books and articles were written about it. But as Orwell says, it went down the memory hole.

Anyway, GAT was flat-ish from the late 1970s into the 1980s. This non-drama did not excite the imaginations of scientists, so it was said not to be caused by humans. Then starting in the 1980s until the late 1990s or so, GAT increased. This can’t have been caused by pollution, yet scientists were unable to imagine any other cause but mankind. If not pollution, then what? How about CO2, which does act like a sort of blanket? Great idea! And we were off to the races.

Only we weren’t. From about 2000 or so until now, GAT has been flat-ish again. Some scientists took to causing this discrepancy between predictions and reality a “pause.” But it can’t be a “pause” until we can prove we can make good forecasts, which we can’t. And anyway, what’s caused the pause? Dozens and dozens of theories were given, not all of which can be true. But notice the desperation to avoid admitting our fundamental ignorance.

But forget all this. Accept whatever manipulations of the GAT you like. It really is, then, the “hottest on record” (ignore also that the record is only a blink of the eye, and so “records” are yawn-inducing). What caused the increase? Why say it was mankind? If it was, then again—this cannot be over-stressed—the models would have made skillful predictions. The models made lousy predictions. Therefore, we do not know all the causes of GAT change. It’s as simple as that.

To say, then, in our ignorance, we must accept the theory we have because it is “best” is a terrible logical fallacy. We don’t need to accept anything. We can simple admit the truth: We do not know enough.

*The Arctic — March 2016*

With the winter season ending, scientists are warning that this year could see the lowest Arctic sea ice maximum ever breaking the record lows set last year. Arctic sea ice is a crucial part of the northern ecosystem, relied on by organisms from algae to polar bears…

But it’s also a significant factor on weather for the rest of the planet. An ice-free Arctic has already been linked by some studies to multi-day rains or storms in more southerly latitudes. Arctic sea ice has been declining at the rate of about 12 per cent per decade since satellite monitoring began in the late 1970s. The Arctic has been warming at about twice the rate of the rest of the globe and is now about four degrees warmer than it was before climate change.

The latest US Navy survey suggests there will be no sea ice left in the Arctic summer by 2016. This has been unprecedented within the entire record of human species. This contributes significantly to global warming as the water absorbs the sun’s heat rather than reflecting it off the ice.

Take an ice cube out of the freezer on a summer’s morning. Take it and also a thermometer outside to track the day’s course. What happens? The thermometer increases, yes? And the ice cube melts, right?

The thermometer will indicate a rising temperature. What happens to the ice cube? Would you say that the ice cube melting is extra evidence that it got hot outside? Of course not: ice melting is what happens what it gets hot out. People are always mixing up the effects of temperature with temperature itself. We don’t need to look at the effects of temperature to say whether temperature has changed. This is what thermometers are for.

In the same way that ice cubes melt on hot days, it is not news that some glaciers lost mass when the temperature was increasing in the 80s through the 90s, and that some still do when GAT remained flat-ish during the last two decades. Of course, some glaciers and areas of the Arctic have INCREASED in mass—directly against the predictions that by this time the Arctic would be ice free.

Ice comes and ice goes. Recall Greenland was called that for a reason. Ice mass changes not just because of temperature changes, but also because of adjustments in atmospheric water vapor. And these physical things are in turn caused to change by other mechanisms. Which?

Well, that is the big question. We can’t just say that global-warming-of-doom is true because it got hot (and because it got hot some ice melted). We have to show that we understand all the causes of change. Again, we do not. We can predict well enough at large time scales, at centuries or more, because these time scales directly relate to orbital mechanics. We know, with certainty, that we do not know what is causing all the changes on smaller time scales because, again, out models stink.