The Current Wisdom is a series of monthly articles in which Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. “Chip” Knappenberger, from Cato’s Center for the Study of Science, review interesting items on global warming in the scientific literature or of a more technical nature that may not have received the media attention that they deserved, or have been misinterpreted in the popular press.
Despite what you may think if you reside in the eastern United States, the world as a whole in 2014 has been fairly warm. For the past few months, several temperature-tracking agencies have been hinting that this year may turn out to be the “warmest ever recorded”—for whatever that is worth (keep reading for our evaluation). The hints have been turned up a notch with the latest United Nations climate confab taking place in Lima, Peru through December 12. The mainstream media is happy to popularize these claims (as are government-money-seeking science lobbying groups).
But a closer look shows two things: first, whether or not 2014 will prove to be the record warmest year depends on whom you ask; and second, no matter where the final number for the year ranks in the observations, it will rank among the greatest “busts” of climate model predictions (which collectively expected it to be a lot warmer). The implication of the first is just nothing more than a jostling for press coverage. The implication of the latter is that future climate change appears to be less of a menace than assumed by the president and his pen and phone.
Let’s examine at the various temperature records.
First, a little background. Several different groups compile the global average temperature in near-real time. Each uses slightly different data-handling techniques (such as how to account for missing data) and so each gets a slightly different (but nevertheless very similar) values. Several groups compute the surface temperature, while others calculate the global average temperature in the lower atmosphere (a bit freer from confounding factors like urbanization). All, thus far, only have data for 2014 compiled through October, so the final ranking for 2014, at this point in time, is only a speculation (although a pretty well-founded one).
The three major groups calculating the average surface temperature of the earth (land and ocean combined) all are currently indicating that 2014 will likely nudge out 2010 (by a couple hundredths of a degree Celsius) to become the warmest year in each dataset (which begin in mid-to-late 1800s). This is almost certainly true in the datasets maintained by the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the UK Met Office Hadley Centre. In the record compiled by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), the 2014 year-to-date value is in a virtual dead heat with the annual value for 2010, so the final ranking will depend heavily on the how the data come in for November and December. (The other major data compilation, the one developed by the Berkeley Earth group is not updated in real time).