Tag: copenhagen

The Current Wisdom

The Current Wisdom is a series of monthly posts in which Senior Fellow Patrick J. Michaels reviews interesting items on global warming in the scientific literature that may not have received the media attention that they deserved, or have been misinterpreted in the popular press.

The Current Wisdom only comments on science appearing in the refereed, peer-reviewed literature, or that has been peer-screened prior to presentation at a scientific congress.

History to Repeat:  Greenland’s Ice to Survive, United Nations to Continue Holiday Party

This year’s installment of the United Nations’ annual climate summit (technically known as the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change) has come and gone in Cancun. Nothing substantial came of it policy-wise; just the usual attempts by the developing world to shake down our already shaky economy in the name of climate change.   News-wise probably the biggest story was that during the conference, Cancun broke an all time daily low temperature record.  Last year’s confab in Copenhagen was pelted by snowstorms and subsumed in miserable cold.  President Obama attended, failed to forge any meaningful agreement, and fled back to beat a rare Washington blizzard. He lost.

But surely as every holiday season now includes one of these enormous jamborees, dire climate stories appeared daily.  Polar bear cubs are endangered!  Glaciers are melting!!

Or so beat the largely overhyped drums, based upon this or that press release from Greenpeace or the World Wildlife Fund.

And, of course, no one bothered to mention a blockbuster paper appearing in Nature the day before the end of the Cancun confab, which reassures us that Greenland’s ice cap and glaciers are a lot more stable than alarmists would have us believe.  That would include Al Gore, fond of his lurid maps showing the melting all of Greenland’s ice submerging Florida.

Ain’t gonna happen.

The disaster scenario goes like this:  Summer temperatures in Greenland are warming, leading to increased melting and the formation of ephemeral lakes on the ice surface.  This water eventually finds a crevasse and then a way down thousands of feet to the bottom of a glacier, where it lubricates the underlying surface, accelerating the seaward march of the ice.  Increase the temperature even more and massive amounts deposit into the ocean by the year 2100, catastrophically raising sea levels.

According to Christian Schoof of the University of British Columbia (UBC), “The conventional view has been that meltwater permeates the ice from the surface and pools under the base of the ice sheet….This water then serves as a lubricant between the glacier and the earth underneath it….”

And, according to Schoof, that’s just not the way things work. A UBC press release about his Nature article noted that he found that “a steady meltwater supply from gradual warming may in fact slow down the glacier flow, while sudden water input could cause glaciers to speed up and spread.”

Indeed, Schoof finds that sudden water inputs, such as would occur with heavy rain, are responsible for glacial accelerations, but these last only one or a few days.

The bottom line?  A warming climate has very little to do with accelerating ice flow, but weather events do.

How important is this?  According to University of Leeds Professor Andrew Shepherd, who studies glaciers via satellite, “This study provides an elegant solution to one of the two key ice sheet instability problems” noted by the United Nations in their last (2007) climate compendium.  “It turns out that, contrary to popular belief, Greenland ice sheet flow might not be accelerated by increased melting after all,” he added.

I’m not so sure that those who hold the “popular belief” can explain why Greenland’s ice didn’t melt away thousands of years ago.  For millennia, after the end of the last ice age (approximately 11,000 years ago) strong evidence indicates that the Eurasian arctic averaged nearly 13°F warmer in July than it is now.

That’s because there are trees buried and preserved in the acidic Siberian tundra, and they can be carbon dated.  Where there is no forest today—because it’s too cold in summer—there were trees, all the way to the Arctic Ocean and even on some of the remote Arctic islands that are bare today. And, back then, thanks to the remnants of continental ice, the Arctic Ocean was smaller and the North American and Eurasian landmasses extended further north.

That work was by Glen MacDonald, from UCLA’s Geography Department. In his landmark 2000 paper in Quaternary Research, he noted that the only way that the Arctic could become so warm is for there to be a massive incursion of warm water from the Atlantic Ocean.  The only “gate” through which that can flow is the Greenland Strait, between Greenland and Scandinavia.

So, Greenland had to have been warmer for several millennia, too.

Now let’s do a little math to see if the “popular belief” about Greenland ever had any basis in reality.

In 2009 University of Copenhagen’s B. M. Vinther and 13 coauthors published the definitive history of Greenland climate back to the ice age, studying ice cores taken over the entire landmass. An  exceedingly conservative interpretation of  their results is that Greenland was 1.5°C (2.7°F) warmer for the period from 5,000-9000 years ago, which is also the warm period in Eurasia that MacDonald detected.  The integrated warming is given by multiplying the time (4,000 years) by the warming (1.5°), and works out (in Celsius) to 6,000 “degree-years.” 

Now let’s assume that our dreaded emissions of carbon dioxide spike the temperature there some 4°C.  Since we cannot burn fossil fuel forever, let’s put this in over 200 years.  That’s a pretty liberal estimate given that the temperature there still hasn’t exceeded values seen before in the 20th century.  Anyway, we get 800 (4 x 200) degree-years.

If the ice didn’t come tumbling off Greenland after 6,000 degree-years, how is it going to do so after only 800?  The integrated warming of Greenland in the post-ice-age warming (referred to as the “climatic optimum” in textbooks published prior to global warming hysteria) is over seven times what humans can accomplish in 200 years.  Why do we even worry about this?

So we can all sleep a bit better.  Florida will survive.  And, we can also rest assured that the UN will continue its outrageous holiday parties, accomplishing nothing, but living large.  Next year’s is in Durban, South Africa, yet another remote warm spot hours of Jet-A away.

References:

MacDonald, G. M., et al., 2000.  Holocene treeline history and climatic change across Northern Eurasia.  Quaternary Research 53, 302-311.

Schoof, C., 2010. Ice-sheet acceleration driven by melt supply variability. Nature 468, 803-805.

Vinther, B.M., et al., 2009.  Holocene thinning of the Greenland ice sheet. Nature 461, 385-388.

I Am Not Making This Up

Dec. 17 (Bloomberg) – World leaders flying into Copenhagen today to discuss a solution to global warming will first face freezing weather as a blizzard dumped 10 centimeters (4 inches) of snow on the Danish capital overnight.

Copenhagen (CNN) –- In a strange twist, a Washington snowstorm is forcing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, to make an early departure from a global warming summit here in Denmark.

Pelosi told CNN that military officials leading her Congressional delegation have urged the 21 lawmakers to leave Copenhagen several hours earlier than scheduled on Saturday.

The Speaker said she has agreed to the new travel plan so that lawmakers can get back to Washington before much of the expected storm wallops the nation’s capital.

Washington Post: Before long, we will be buried by several times that amount making this a record breaking December storm. Double digit accumulations have already been reported to our south in central Virginia. This is a dangerous, severe storm with the worst still to come.

True enough, as President Obama’s courtiers at Media Matters remind us, one day’s weather doesn’t change the climate. Indeed, they quote Pat Michaels making that point last year in the New York Times:

Patrick J. Michaels, a climatologist and commentator with the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington, has long chided environmentalists and the media for overstating connections between extreme weather and human-caused warming. (He is on the program at the skeptics’ conference.)

But Dr. Michaels said that those now trumpeting global cooling should beware of doing the same thing, saying that the ”predictable distortion” of extreme weather ”goes in both directions.”

Still, I think we know that if it were unseasonably warm this week, there’d be people pointing that out on television from Copenhagen.

Copenhagen Agreement Is Just More Hot Air

Late Friday afternoon, the White house announced a “meaningful agreement” at the Copenhagen climate summit.  Details are currently unavailable, but a White House official said that developed and developing countries have agreed to list their national actions and commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with a “target” of a two degree (Celsius) limit to any further global warming.

In other words, there are no specific emissions reductions targets and timetables.  A country may choose no national reductions, or maybe a national program and that would be their “list.” And just what carbon dioxide level will stop warming over two degrees?

No one knows, at least until computer models stop forecasting warming that isn’t happening and/or drastically overstating the warming that is verifiable.

It sounds like the Copenhagen agreement is just more hot air. But not to worry, it will be hailed as a “breakthrough” by all the participants.

In reality, nothing much was accomplished and any significant agreement for emissions reductions has been punted to the next UN climate confab, beginning on November 8, 2010 in Mexico City, six days after our congressional election.

Weekend Links

  • How the president’s policies are holding back the economy: “Right now, the best thing Washington can do for our economy is to simply stop what it has been doing.”

Obama’s Copenhagen Speech

Politico asks, “Was he convincing?”

My response:

In Copenhagen this morning, President Obama convinced only those who want to believe — of which, regrettably, there is no shortage.  Notice how he began, utterly without doubt:  “You would not be here unless you, like me, were convinced that this danger is real.  This is not fiction, this is science.”  The implicit certitude is no part of real science, of course.  But then the president, like the environmental zealots cheering him in Copenhagen, is not really interested in real science.  Theirs, ultimately, is a political agenda.  How else to explain the corruption of science that the East Anglia Climate Research email scandal has brought to light, and the efforts, presently, to dismiss the scandal as having no bearing on the evidence of climate change?  If that were so, then why these efforts, or the earlier suppression of contrary or mitigating evidence that is the heart of the scandal?

We find such an effort in this morning’s Washington Post, by one of those at the center of the scandal, Penn State’s Professor Michael E. Mann.  Set aside his opening gambit — “I cannot condone some things that colleagues of mine wrote or requested” — this author of the famous, now infamous, “hockey stick” article seems not to recognize himself in Climategate.  That he then goes after Sarah Palin as his critic suggests only that on a witness stand, confronted by his real critics, he’d be reduced to tears by even a mediocre lawyer.  One such real critic is my colleague, climatologist Patrick J. Michaels, who documents the scandal and its implications for science in exquisite detail in this morning’s Wall Street Journal.

But to return to the president and his speech, having uncritically subscribed to the science of global warming, Mr. Obama then lays out an ambitious policy agenda for the nation.  We will meet our responsibility, he says, by phasing out fossil fuel subsidies (which pale in comparison to the renewable energy subsidies that alone make them economically feasible), we will put our people to work increasing efficiency in our homes and buildings, and we will pursue “comprehensive legislation to transform to a clean energy economy.”

Mark that word “legislation,” because at the end of his speech the president said:  ”America has made our choice.  We have charted our course, we have made our commitments, and we will do what we say.”  But we haven’t made “our choice” — cap and trade, to take just one example, has gone nowhere in the Senate — even if Obama has made “our commitments.”  And that brings us to a fundamental question:  Can the president, with no input from a recalcitrant Congress, commit the nation to the radical economic conversion he promises?

Environmental zealots say he can.  Look at the report released last week by the Climate Law Institute’s Center for Biological Diversity, “Yes He Can: President Obama’s Power to Make an International Climate Commitment Without Waiting for Congress,” which argues that in Copenhagen Obama has all the power he needs under current law, quite apart from the will of Congress or the American people, to make a legally binding international commitment.  Unfortunately, under current law, the report is right.  I discuss that report and the larger constitutional implications of the modern “executive state” in this morning’s National Review Online.

There is enough ambiguity in the president’s remarks this morning to suggest that he may not be prepared to exercise the full measure of his powers.  But there is also enough in play to suggest that it is not only the corruption of science but the corruption of our Constitution that is at stake.

A Few Notes on Climate Change

As the Copenhagen Climate Conference is taking place, it is appropriate to clarify once again what is more or less accurately known about the climate of our planet and about climate change.

Obviously, a brief post can not substitute for detailed studies of professionals in a variety of scientific disciplines – climatology, atmospheric physics, chemistry, geology, astronomy, and economics. However, a short post can summarize basic theses on the main trends in climate evolution, on its forecasts, and on its actual and projected effects.

1. The Earth’s climate is constantly changing. The climate was changing in the past, is changing now and, obviously, will be changing in the future – as long as our planet exists.

2. Climatic changes are largely cyclical in nature. There are various time horizons of climatic cycles – from the annual cycle known to everyone to cycles of 65-70 years, of 1,300 years, or of 100,000 years (the so called Milankovitch cycles).

3. There is no fundamental disagreement among scientists, public figures and governments about the fact that the climate is  changing. There is a broad consensus that climate changes occur constantly. The myth, created by climate alarmists, that their opponents deny climate change is sheer propaganda.

4. Current debate among climatologists, economists and public figures is not about the fact of climate change, but about other issues. In particular, disagreements exist on:
- Comparative levels of modern day temperatures (relative to the historically observed),
- The direction of climate change depending on the length of record,
- The extent of climate change,
- The rate of climate change,
- Causes of climate change,
- Forecasts of climate change,
- Consequences of climate change,
- The optimal strategy for human beings to respond to climate change.

5. Unbiased answers to many of these issues are critically dependent on a chosen time horizon – whether it is 10 years, or 30 years, or 70 years, or 1000 years, or 10,000 years, or hundreds of thousands or millions of years. Depending on the time horizon, the answers to many of these questions may be different, even opposite.

6. The current level of global temperature in historical perspective is not unique. The average temperature of the Earth is now estimated at about 14.5 degrees Celsius. In our planet’s history there have been few periods when the Earth’s temperature was lower than the current – in the early Permian period, in the Oligocene, and during periodic glaciations in the Pleistocene. For most of the time during the last half billion years, the air temperature at the Earth’s surface greatly exceeded the current one, and for about half of this period it was approximately 25°C, or 10°C higher than the current temperature. Regular glaciations of cold periods during the Pleistocene era lasted for approximately 90,000 years, with a low temperature of approximately 5°C below that of the present, alternated by warm interglacial periods (for 4,000-6,000 years) with temperatures of 1-3°C higher than at present. Approximately 11,000 years ago the last significant increase in temperature began (of approximately 5°C), during which time a huge glacier, that covered a considerable part of Eurasia and America, had melted. Climate warming has played a key role in humanity’s acquisition of the secrets of agriculture and in its transition to civilization. Over the past 11,000 years there were at least five distinct warm periods, the so-called “climatic optima” when the temperature of the planet was at 1-3°C higher than at present.

7. The focus of climate change depends critically on the choice of time horizon. In the past 11 years (1998-2009 years) global temperature was flat. Before that, in the preceding 20 years (1979-1998 years) it increased by about 0.3°C. Before that, during the preceding 36 years (1940-1976 years) the temperature fell by about 0.1°C. Before that, for the preceding two centuries (1740 – 1940 years), the overall trend in global temperature was mainly neutral – with periodic warming, followed by cooling, and then again warming. Over the past three centuries (from the turn of 18th century), the temperature in the northern hemisphere has increased by approximately 1.3°C, from the trough of the so-called “Little Ice Age” (LIA) during the years 1500-1740 years, followed by the contemporary climatic optimum (CCO), which started around 1980. During the three centuries preceding the LIA, the temperature in the northern hemisphere was falling compared to the level it was during the medieval climatic optimum (MCO) in the 8th – 13th centuries. Depending on the chosen time frame the long-term temperature trend has a different trajectory. For periods of the last 2,000 years, the last 4,000 years, and the last 8,000 years, the trend was negative. For periods of the past 1,300 years, the last 5,000 years, and the last 9,000 years it was positive.

8. The rate of contemporary climate change is much more modest in comparison with the rate of climatic changes observed earlier in the history of the planet. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) describes the increase in the global temperature by 0.76°C over the last century (1906-2005 years) as extraordinary. There is reason to suspect this temperature value is somewhat overstated. However, the main point is that previous rises in temperature were greater than those in the modern era. Comparable data demonstrate that the increase in temperature, for example, in Central England in the 18th century (by 0.97°C) was more significant than in the 20th (by 0.90°C). The climatic changes in Central Greenland over the past 50,000 years show that there were at least a dozen periods during which the regional temperature increased by 10-13°C. Given the correlation between changes in temperature at high latitudes and globally, those shifts in temperature regime in Greenland meant a rise in global temperature by 4-6°C. Such a rate was approximately 5-7 times faster than the actual (and, perhaps, slightly exaggerated) temperature increase in the 20th century.

9. The rate of current climate change (the speed of modern warming) by historical standards is not unique. According to IPCC data, the rate of temperature increase over the past 50 years was 0.13°C per decade. According to comparable data, obtained through instrumental measurements, a higher rate of temperature increase was observed at least three times: in the late 17th century – early 18th century; in the second half of the 18th century; and in the late 19th century – early 20th century. The centennial rate of warming in the 20th century is slower than the warming in the 18th century that was instrumentally recorded and slower than the warming in at least 13 cases over the past 50,000 years that were measured by palaeoclimatic methods.

10. Among the causes of climate change in the pre-industrial era there were hardly any anthropogenic factors – due to modest population size and mankind’s limited economic activities. But the range of climatic fluctuations and their rate and peak values in the pre-industrial era exceeded the parameters of climate change recorded in the industrial period.

11. During the industrial age (since the beginning of the 19th century) climate change is believed to be under the impact of both groups of factors – of natural and of anthropogenic character. Since the rate of climate change in the industrial age is so far noticeably smaller than at some time in the pre-industrial age, there is no basis for the assertion that anthropogenic factors had already become as significant as natural factors, even less for the assertion that they overwhelm natural factors.

12. Factors of anthropogenic climate change are rather diverse and can not be confined to carbon dioxide only. Mankind impacts local, regional and global climate by constructing buildings and structures, heating houses, industrial and public premises, by logging and planting forests, plowing arable land, damming rivers, draining and irrigating lands, leveling and paving territories, conducting industry, issuing aerosols, etc.

13. There is no consensus in the scientific community on the role of carbon dioxide in climate change. Some scientists believe that it is crucial, others believe that it is secondary to other factors. There are also serious disagreements on the nature and direction of possible causality between concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and temperature: some researchers believe the former causes temperature to rise, others argue the opposite – that fluctuations in temperature cause changes in carbon dioxide concentration.

14. Unlike carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2) is harmless to humans; in contrast to aerosol, a harmful and dangerous substance, carbon dioxide does not pollute the environment. It has neither a color, nor a taste, nor a smell. Therefore, popularly used photos and videos showing factory chimney stacks emitting smoke and cars emitting exhaust to illustrate carbon dioxide are just misleading – CO2 is invisible; what is visible in those images are pollutants. It should also be noted that the increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the air has a positive impact on the productivity of plants, including agricultural crops.

15. The relationship of the concentration of carbon dioxide to climate change remains a subject of intense scientific debate. True, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over the past two centuries increased from 280 parts per million of air particles in the early 19th century to 388 particles in 2009. It is also true that the global temperature in that period rose by about 0.8°C. But whether these two factors are connected is unclear. The dynamics of CO2 concentration did not correlate well with the expected changes in temperature. The significant and rapid increases in global temperature during the interglacial periods of the Pleistocene, during the Medieval Climatic Optima, in the 18th century, were not preceded by an increase in carbon dioxide concentration. In the industrial age, an increase in carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was not always accompanied by a rise in global temperature. In 1944-1976 CO2 concentration increased by 24 units – from 308 to 332 particles, but the global temperature fell 0.1°C. In 1998-2009 CO2 concentration increased by 21 units – from 367 to 388 particles, but the global temperature trend remained flat. In the first half of the 1940’s the decline in the concentration of carbon dioxide by 3 units (as a result of the massive destruction caused by World War II) did not prevent the global temperature to rise by 0.1°C.

16. So far global climate models demonstrate their limited effectiveness. The complex nature of the climate system is not reflected adequately enough in the global climate models whose use has recently spread around the world. The projections developed on their basis in the late 1990s through the early 2000s predicted the global temperature to rise by 1.4-5.8°C till the end of the 21st century with a 0.2-0.4°C increase already in the first decade. In reality during 1998-2009 the temperature was flat at best.

17. Forecasts of global climate change made at the beginning of this decade by Russian scientists (from the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, the Voejkov Main Geophysical Observatory) predicted a fall in the global temperature by 0.6°C by 2025-2030 in comparison with a temperature peak reached at the end of the 20th century. So far the actual temperature for the last decade has not risen.

18. Implications of climate change for human beings differ greatly depending on their direction, size and rate. An increase in temperature leads as a rule to a softer and moister climate, while a decline in temperature leads to a harder and drier climate. It was a climatic optimum in the Holocene period with temperatures 1-3°C higher than today that greatly contributed to the birth of civilization. Conditions for people’s life and economic activities in warmer climates are usually more favorable than in colder environments. In warmer climates there is usually more precipitation than in drier areas, the cost of heating and volume of food required to sustain human life is lower, while vegetation and navigation periods are longer, and crops’ yields are higher.

19. Methods “to combat global warming” by reducing carbon dioxide emissions suggested by climate alarmists are scientifically unfounded in the absence of extraordinary or unusual changes in climate during the modern era. Such measures, if adopted, are especially dangerous for mid- and lower income countries. Those measures would effectively cut those countries off the path to prosperity and hinder their ability to close the gap with more developed nations.

20. The impact of all anthropogenic factors (not only CO2) on climate is unclear when compared with factors of nature. Therefore, the most effective strategy for humanity in responding to different types of climate change is adaptation. That approach is exactly the way that humans have reacted to the larger-scale climatic changes in the past, even though they were less prepared then for such changes. Now mankind has greater resources to adapt to lesser climate fluctuations and it is better equipped for them scientifically, technically and psychologically. The adaptation of humanity to climate changes is incomparably less costly than other options being proposed and imposed by climate alarmists. Human society has already adopted to climate change and will continue to do so as long as economy and society are vibrant and free.

Thursday Links

  • Why Copenhagen is all pain and no gain. Meanwhile, Brookings finds that  “meeting the Waxman-Markey emissions targets would result in a loss of personal consumption from $1 trillion to $2 trillion; GDP would be lower by 2.5 percent by 2050; and there would be 1.7 million fewer jobs.”