Tag: climate change

Band-aids Can’t Fix the New IPCC Report

The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) today released the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of the physical science volume of its Fifth Assessment Report. The SPM is the most widely-read section of the IPCC reports and purports to summarize and highlight the contents of the thousand-odd pages of the full report. The SPM is agreed to word by word by the international attendees of the IPCC’s final editorial meeting which concluded as the SPM was released.

The Humpty Dumpty-esque report once claiming to represent the “consensus of scientists” has fallen from its exalted wall and cracked to pieces under the burdensome weight of its own cumbersome and self-serving processes, which is why all the governments’ scientists and all the governments’ men cannot put the IPCC report together again.

The pace of climate science far surpasses the glacial movements of large, cumbersome international efforts at consensus building, such as the IPCC, which is why the new report has experienced such a disastrous crack-up.

For example, just this past May, a blockbuster finding was published that the climate sensitivity—how much the earth’s average surface temperature increases as a response to increasing greenhouse gas concentrations—is some 40% less than the average value characteristic of the collection of climate models that the IPCC used to produce the projections of future climate change—projections which are at the heart of the IPCC reports. But by the time this paper was published (and several others with similar conclusions), it was far too late to go back and try to fix the climate models and then rerun the projections.

The  fact is that the IPCC’s climate models need fixing. Prima facie evidence is that they cannot even track the evolution of broadest measure of climate, the earth’s average temperature, for the last 10-20 years.  Despite this being widely obvious to everyone, it didn’t find its way into the scientific literature (although not without trying) until earlier this month.

As a result, the latest science on two key issues: how much the earth will warm as a result of human greenhouse gas emissions, and how well climate models perform in projecting the warming, are largely not incorporated in the new IPCC report.

Which renders the new IPCC report, and its “four years’ work by hundreds of experts” not only obsolete on its release, but completely useless as a basis to form opinions (or policy) related to human energy choices and their influence on the climate.

The IPCC report should be torn up and tossed out, and with it, the entire IPCC process which produced such a misleading (and potentially dangerous) document.

We review the problems with the new IPCC report and the political consequences of relying on it in a couple of recent op-eds, one in the National Review (“The IPCC Political Suicide Pill”) and the other at Fox News (“UN’s new climate change report an embarrassment, self-serving and beyond misleading”), as well as a myriad of blog posts.

US Carbon Dioxide Emissions Fall as Global Emissions Rise

A new report from the International Energy Agency is sparking headlines across the media. “Global carbon dioxide emissions soared to record high in 2012” proclaimed USA Today; The Weather Channel led “Carbon dioxide emissions rose to record high in 2012”; and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer added “The world pumped a record amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in 2012.”

The figure below (taken from the IEA summary) provides the rest of the story.

It shows a breakdown of the change in carbon dioxide emissions from 2011 to 2012 from various regions of the globe.

 

Notice that the U.S. is far and away the leader in reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, while China primarily is responsible for pushing global CO2 emissions higher. In fact, CO2 emissions growth in China more than offsets all the CO2 savings that we have achieved in the U.S.

This will happen for the foreseeable future. Domestic actions to reduce carbon dioxide emissions will not produce a decline in the overall atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration.  The best we can hope to achieve is to slow the rate of growth of the atmospheric concentration—an effect that we can only achieve until our emissions are reduced to zero. The resulting climate impact is small and transient.

And before anyone goes and getting too uppity about the effectiveness of “green” measures in the U.S., the primary reason for the U.S. emissions decline is the result of new technologies from the fossil fuel industry that are leading to cheap coal being displaced by even cheaper natural gas for the generation of electricity. As luck would have it, the chemistry works out that that burning natural gas produces the same amount of energy for only about half of the CO2 emissions that burning coal does.

A new report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that as a result of these new technologies (e.g., hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling), globally, the technologically recoverable reserves of natural gas are nearly 50% greater than prior to their development.

Currently, the U.S. is the leader in the deployment of these technologies, and the effects are obvious (as seen in the figure above).  If and when more countries start to employ such technologies to recover natural gas, perhaps the growth in global carbon dioxide emissions will begin to slow (as compared to current projections).

Considering that possibility, along with the new, lower estimates for how sensitive the global average temperature is to carbon dioxide emissions, and the case for alarming climate change (and a carbon tax to try to mitigate it) is fading fast.

Low Climate Sensitivity Making its Way into the Mainstream Press

When it comes to the press, the New York Times pretty much defines “mainstream.”

And Justin Gillis is the Times’ mainstream reporter on the global warming beat.

So it is somewhat telling, that his article on Tuesday, “A Change in Temperature,” was largely dedicated (although begrudgingly) to facing up to the possibility that mainstream estimates (i.e., those produced by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) of climate sensitivity are too large.

Readers of this blog are probably well aware of the reasons why.

Despite our illusions of grandeur, this blog isn’t the mainstream press –although we do seek to influence it. Maybe we are being successful.

Throughout Gillis’ article are sprinkled references to “climate contrarians,” and even the recognition of the effort by such contrarians to push the new science on low climate sensitivity to the forefront of the discussion to change the existing politics of climate change.

Gillis writes:

Still, the recent body of evidence — and the political use that climate contrarians are making of it to claim that everything is fine — sheds some light on where we are in our scientific and public understanding of the risks of climate change.

We at the Cato’s Center for the Study of Science are at the leading edge of efforts to present a more accurate representation of the scientific of climate change through our testimony to Congress, public comments and review of government documents and proposals, media appearances, op-eds, and serial posts on this blog, among other projects. We emphasize that current regulations and proposed legislation are based on outdated, and likely wrong, projections of future climate impacts from human carbon dioxide emissions from the use of fossil fuels to produce energy.

Gillis recognizes the positives of a low climate sensitivity value:

“…tantalizing possibility that climate change might be slow and limited enough that human society could adapt to it without major trauma.”

“It will certainly be good news if these recent papers stand up to critical scrutiny, something that will take at least a year or two to figure out.”

“So if the recent science stands up to critical examination, it could indeed turn into a ray of hope…”

But, the “mainstream” is slow to change. And so despite the good news about climate sensitivity, Gillis closes his article by pointing out that, in his opinion, the political response to climate change has been “weak” (contrary to our view), and that therefore:

Even if climate sensitivity turns out to be on the low end of the range, total emissions may wind up being so excessive as to drive the earth toward dangerous temperature increases.

Clearly we still have work to do, but there are signs of progress!

CO2: 400ppm and Growing

The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) has recently reached a “milestone” of 400 parts per million (ppm). In some circles, this announcement has been met with consternation and gnashing of teeth. The proper reaction is celebration.

The growth in the atmospheric CO2 concentration over the past several centuries is primarily the result of mankind’s thirst for energy—largely in the form of fossil fuels.  According to the World Bank, fossil fuel energy supplies about 80% of the world’s energy production—a value which has been pretty much constant for the past 40 years. During that time, the global population increased by 75%, and global energy use doubled. Global per capita energy use increased, while global energy use per $1000 GDP declined.  We are using more energy, but we are using it more efficiently. In the developed world, life expectancy has doubled since the dawn of the fossil fuel era.

Of course, burning fossil fuels to produce energy results in the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, tipping the natural balance of annual CO2 flux and leading to  a gradual build-up.

There are two primary externalities that result from our emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere—1) an enhancement of the greenhouse effect, which results in an alteration of the energy flow in the earth’s climate and a general tendency to warm the global average surface temperature, and 2) an enhancement of the rate of photosynthesis in plants and a general tendency to result in more efficient growth and an overall healthier condition of vegetation (including crops).  There’s incontrovertible evidence that the planet is both warmer and greener than it was 100 years ago.

As we continually document (see here for our latest post), more and more science is suggesting that the rate (and thus magnitude at any point in time) of CO2-induced climate change is not as great as commonly portrayed. The lower the rate of change, the lower the resulting impact. If the rate is low enough, carbon dioxide emissions confer a net benefit. We’d like to remind readers that “it’s not the heat, it’s the sensitivity,” when it comes to carbon dioxide, and the sensitivity appears to have been overestimated.

As new science erodes the foundation of climate worry, new technologies are expanding recoverable fossil fuel resources. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have opened up vast expanses of fossil fuel resources—mainly natural gas—that were untouchable just a few years ago. The discovery that the world is awash in hundreds of years of recoverable fuels is a game-changer, given  the strong correlation between energy use per capita and life expectancy.

400ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere should remind us of our continuing success at expanding the global supply of energy to meet a growing demand. That  success which ultimately leads to an improvement of the global standard of living and a reduction in vulnerability to the vagaries of weather and climate.

400pm is cause for celebration. “A world lit only by fire” is not. 

Getting Our Due

In the Diary feature of this week’s The Spectator, rational optimist Matt Ridley has a collection of rather random observations from his daily life that have him thinking about (or maybe wishing for since Old Man Winter has been slow to loose his grip in the U.K. and Western Europe, much like he has across the Eastern U.S.) anthropogenic global warming.

What has his attention is that global warming just doesn’t seem to be going according to plan. And for those who have bought into that plan, their plan-driven actions are starting to make them look foolish.

But it’s not as if we haven’t “told you so”—a fact that Ridley draws attention to in the closing segment of his article.

David Rose of the Mail on Sunday was vilified for saying that there’s been no global warming for about 16 years, but even the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] now admits he’s right. Rose is also excoriated for drawing attention to papers which find that climate sensitivity to carbon dioxide is much lower than thought — as was I when I made the same point in the Wall Street Journal. Yet even the Economist has now conceded this. Tip your hat to Patrick Michaels, then of the University of Virginia, who together with three colleagues published a carefully argued estimate of climate sensitivity in 2002. For having the temerity to say they thought ‘21st-century warming will be modest’, Michaels was ostracised. A campaign began behind the scenes to fire the editor of the journal that published the paper, Chris de Freitas. Yet Michaels’s central estimate of climate sensitivity agrees well with recent studies. Scientists can behave remarkably like priests at times.

What we determined in our 2002 study was that the amount of global warming projected by the end of this century was most likely being overestimated.  When we adjusted the climate model projections to take into account and better match the actual observations, our best estimate of the amount of warming we expected from 1990 to 2100 was about 1.8°C (3.2°F), which was in the lower end of the IPCC projected range, and which Ridley correctly noted, we termed as “modest.”

Further, we anticipated the slowdown in the warming rate. Quoting from our 2002 paper titled “Revised 21st century temperature projections” (Michaels et al., 2002):

The ‘worst case’ warming now appears to be merely linear, subject to the modifications described in this paper. Furthermore, both Table 1 and Fig. 3 indicate that any exponential rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations is weak at best. Consequently, the current linear warming may in fact be the adjustment to the exponential growth in CO2 that took place prior to 1975. Levitus et al. (2000) documented a warming of 0.06°C in the top 3 km of a large-area ocean sample over the course of 40 yr. A lag correlation between that deep-water record and the sea-surface temperature record from Quayle et al. (1999) is very suggestive that oceanic thermal lag maximizes around 35 yr (Michaels et al. 2001). Thus, the truly exponential phase of concentration growth in the atmosphere, which ended about 25 yr ago, should induce a linear warming for the next decade or two before it could actually begin to damp.

Now, more than 10 years later, more and more evidence is piling in that we were right, including several recent papers that apply a technique not all that dissimilar in theory than our own (e.g. Gillett et al., 2012; Stott et al., 2013).

So even though we still are largely ostracized, at least we rest assured that we were pretty much on target—and some people are starting to take notice.

References:

Gillett N. P., V. K. Arora, G. M. Flato, J. F.  Scinocca, and K. von Salzen, 2012. Improved constraints on 21st-century warming derived using 160 years of temperature observations. Geophysical Research Letters, 39, L01704.

Michaels, P. J., P. C. Knappenberger, O. W. Frauenfeld, and R. E. Davis, 2002. Revised 21st century temperature projections. Climate Research, 23, 1-9.

Stott, P., P. Good, G. Jones, N. Gillett, and E. Hawkins, 2013. The upper end of climate model temperature projections is inconsistent with past warming. Environmental Research Letters, 8, 014024, doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/1/014024.

Government Science

We started up Cato’s Center for the Study of Science to investigate how the government’s virtual monopoly funding of many branches of science results in unseemly mixtures of science, scientists, and the political process.

Lest anyone wonder why we do this, here is the “motto” of the U.S. government’s Global Change Research Program (with its annual $2.6 billion budget):

“Thirteen Agencies, One Vision: Empower the Nation with Global Change Science”

Yikes!

We are currently in the midst of reviewing the latest offering from the USGCRP—its assessment of the potential impacts in the U.S. from anthropogenic climate change. Guess what, “it’s worse than we thought!”

Nevermind that this new document has no problems using screeds from the Union of Concerned Scientists, various climate “alliances,” and literature greyer than a Russian Blue cat, in support of some of its more lurid claims. After all, the USGCRP has a “vision.”

Speaking of vision, if you want to look for yourself, download this turkey here. Public comments due by April 12, 2013.

Quote Without Comment

Okay, maybe not “without” comment, but with very little comment.

Dr. Peter Stott of the U.K.’s Hadley Center was a contributing author to Chapter 10 “Global Climate Projections” of the 2007 U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report.

He is also the lead author of a new paper just published in the scientific journal Environmental Research Letters.

For those of you who have been following much that we have been writing about climate change, the following will only be surprising in its candor.

So, without further ado (we promise this time) here is the title of Stott and colleagues new paper:

“The upper end of climate model temperature projections is inconsistent with past warming”

Details are available here (sorry, couldn’t help ourselves).