Topic: Energy and Environment

Current Wisdom: Observations Now Inconsistent with Climate Model Predictions for 25 (going on 35) Years

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 that may not have received the media attention that they deserved, or have been misinterpreted in the popular press.  

 

Question: How long will the fantasy that climate models are reliable indicators of the earth’s climate evolution persist in face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary?  

Answer: Probably for as long as there is a crusade against fossil fuels.  

Without the exaggerated alarm conjured from overly pessimistic climate model projections of climate change from carbon dioxide emissions, fossil fuels—coal, oil, gas—would regain their image as the celebrated agents of  prosperity that they are, rather than being labeled as pernicious agents of our destruction.  

Just how credible are these climate models?  

In two words, “they’re not.”  

Everyone has read that over the past 10-15 years, most climate models’ forecasts of the rate of global warming have been wrong. Most predicted a hefty warming of the earth’s average surface temperature to have taken place, while there was no significant change in the real world.  

But very few  people know that the same situation has persisted for 25, going on 35 years, or that over the past 50-60 years (since the middle of the 20th century), the same models expected about 33 percent more warming to have taken place than was observed.  

Thanks to Natural Gas and Climate Change, U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions Continue Downward Trend

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

Carbon dioxide emissions in the United States from the production and consumption of energy have been on the decline since about 2005, after generally being on the rise ever since our country was first founded.

The decline in emissions between 2012 and 2011 was 3.8 percent, which, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA) was the largest decline in a non-recession year since 1990 and the first time that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions fell while the per capita economic output increased by more than 2 percent.  In other words, we are producingmore while emitting less carbon dioxide.

 

Mayor Bloomberg Doesn’t Understand Economics

Mayor Bloomberg says New York City’s lack of affordable housing is a sign of a vibrant economy, because it proves people want to live there. Despite his reputation in the business world, he obviously doesn’t understand the laws of supply and demand.

“Somebody said that there’s not enough housing,” Bloomberg said on a radio show. “That’s a good sign.” Housing is only scarce, he said, because “as fast as we build, more people want to live here.”

In fact, as I showed in chaper 10 of my book, American Nightmare, as well as in this blog post, high housing prices do not prove that lots of people really find an area desirable. Instead, they are more a sign of government barriers to housing. In a nutshell, downward sloping demand curves means a few people may be willing to pay a high price for any good, but that doesn’t mean the public in general finds that good to be particularly valuable.

As reported by Virginia Postrel on Bloomberg’s own news service a few months ago, America’s elites have built an economic wall around places like New York City and California in order to make these areas more exclusive. Rent control in the city combined with New Jersey’s and Connecticut’s smart-growth policies have turned New York from a fairly affordable place to live as recently as 40 years ago to one that is completely unaffordable today.

Yes, Bloomberg’s city may be building some housing. But it obviously isn’t building enough to meet demand. In 1969, median housing prices in the New York urban area (including northern New Jersey) were just 2.6 times median family incomes, and 3.3 times in 1979. By 2005, they were 8.4 times. Thanks to the recession more than new housing, they were down to 5.3 by 2012–still way too high. But in New York City alone median prices were still 8.7 times median family incomes.

Here’s the surprise: Median family incomes in New York City were just 15 percent greater than in the city of Houston in 2012. But home prices were 284 percent greater. That’s not a sign that people are demanding to live there; it’s a sign of acute shortages.

Houston frets when its median home prices approach $150,000 and price-to-income ratios come close to 2.2. With New York City median prices approaching $480,000 and median values nearly nine times median incomes, Mayor Bloomberg should do more than pat himself on the back; he should recognize that the city is suffering from a major housing crisis.

Clean Coal Subsidies

The federal government has been subsidizing so-called clean coal for decades, and the hand-outs have resulted in one bipartisan boondoggle after another. 

Under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, for example, the government pumped $2 billion into the Synthetic Fuels Corporation, which supported efforts to convert coal into a gas fuel. The SFC collapsed in the mid-1980s in a spasm of gross mismanagement, conflicts of interest, and changing market conditions. 

Unfortunately, the government never seems to learn any lessons from the silliness of its energy subsidies. The latest installment of the long-running clean coal scam was highlighted by the Wall Street Journal yesterday: 

For decades, the federal government has touted a bright future for nonpolluting power plants fueled by coal. But in this rural corner of eastern Mississippi, the reality of so-called clean coal isn’t pretty. 

Mississippi Power Co.’s Kemper County plant here, meant to showcase technology for generating clean electricity from low-quality coal, ranks as one of the most expensive U.S. fossil-fuel projects ever—at $4.7 billion and rising. Mississippi Power’s 186,000 customers, who live in one of the poorest regions of the country, are reeling at double-digit rate increases. And even Mississippi Power’s parent, Atlanta-based Southern Co., has said Kemper shouldn’t be used as a nationwide model. 

One of just three clean-coal plants moving ahead in the U.S., Kemper has been such a calamity for Southern that the power industry and Wall Street analysts say other utilities aren’t likely to take on similar projects, even though the federal government plans to offer financial incentives.

Southern recently took $990 million in charges for cost overruns approaching $2 billion.

*** 

Through various subsidies, the federal government had committed nearly $700 million for the Mississippi Power plant, though part of that was the $133 million that the utility will forfeit because of delays.

***

Kemper’s cost, previously projected at around $2.9 billion, soon began to soar. Southern recently estimated the price tag at $4.7 billion.

For more on clean coal and energy subsidies, see Downsizing Government.

Climate Models’ Tendency to Simulate Too Much Warming and the IPCC’s Attempt to Cover That Up

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 that may not have received the media attention that they deserved, or have been misinterpreted in the popular press.

 

The biggest criticism to emerge so far regarding the new Fifth Assessment Report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is that it generally fails to acknowledge how poorly climate model simulations of the earth’s temperature evolution compare with actual observations. If the models cannot accurately simulate known climate variability and change, using them for policy purposes is a fool’s errand.

There are two lines of evidence that converge to show that the climate models are largely failing to accurately simulate observed climate behavior.

The first is that a collection of about ten research papers (including 16 separate analyses) published in the scientific literature beginning in 2011 that collectively indicate that the earth’s equilibrium climate sensitivity—that is, how much the earth’s average surface temperature rises as a result of a doubling of the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration—is about 2°C, give or take about 0.5°C (Figure 1). You can find details here

Figure 1. Climate sensitivity estimates from new research published since 2010 (colored), compared with range of estimates from the climate models incorporated into the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5; black). The arrows indicate the 5 to 95 percent confidence bounds for each estimate along with the best estimate (median of each probability density function; or the mean of multiple estimates; colored vertical line). Ring et al. (2012) present four estimates of the climate sensitivity and the red box encompasses those estimates. The light grey vertical bar is the mean of the 16 estimates from the new findings. The mean climate sensitivity (3.2°C) of the climate models used in the IPCC AR5 is 60 percent greater than the mean of recent estimates (2.0°C).

 

Just in Time for Halloween Come Some Scary Global Warming Predictions

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

Global warming beater Justin Gillis of the New York Times had an article yesterday describing a new paper in the current issue of Nature magazine, the point of which seems to be scaring people with alarming global warming statistics.

Gillis’ article “By 2047, Coldest Years May Be Warmer Than Hottest in Past,” describes the results of a class-project-cum-Nature-article headed by Camilo Mora from the University of Hawaii at Manoa (please, no puns). The class assignment was to identify the year for each spot on the globe in which all future years were, according to climate model projections, warmer as a result of greenhouse gas emissions than the warmest year simulated by the models during the historical period 1860 to 2005. Mora and students termed this pivotal year the “climate departure.”

This work is significant, according to Gillis, because:

Thousands of scientific papers have been published about the model results, but the students identified one area of analysis that was missing. The results are usually reported as average temperature changes across the planet. But that gives little sense of how the temperature changes in specific places might compare with historical norms. “We wanted to give people a really relatable way to understand climate,” said Abby G. Frazier, a doctoral candidate in geography.

Perhaps Dr. Mora should have injected a little climate-science history in this class.

Looking at the time that a human climate signal will rise above the background noise is not particularly a novel concept. It’s commonplace. We would guess that a signal-to-noise ratio was probably present in the first papers describing the performance and output of the very first climate models.

After all, without such information it is impossible to put absolute changes in perspective.  Some measure of the statistical significance of climate change has been present in every climate assessment report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change dating back to 1990.

In our presentation to the Science Policy Conference of the American Geophysical Union this summer, we even included a table listing the number of years into the future it would be before projected changes in precipitation across the U.S. rose above the level of nature variability. We guess we just didn’t give that year a catchy enough name like “climate departure,” because our results didn’t capture the attention of the press (nor were they very frightening).

But Gillis does manage to carve some new, scary Jack-o-Lanterns from the Mora study.

Here is his lead paragraph:

If greenhouse emissions continue their steady escalation, temperatures across most of the earth will rise to levels with no recorded precedent by the middle of this century, researchers said Wednesday.

Uh, correct us if we are wrong, but we already thought that global temperatures were reported to be at unprecedented levels in recorded history. According to the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report:

Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850.

So, is this recycled news, or is the new paper saying that we have to wait until 2047 for that to happen? Well, whatever, it sounds B-A-D.

Or how about this one:

“Go back in your life to think about the hottest, most traumatic event you have experienced,” Dr. Mora said in an interview. “What we’re saying is that very soon, that event is going to become the norm.”

Hot Tub Time Machine came immediately to mind, but Gillis provided another scenario:

With the technique the Mora group used, it is possible to specify climate departure dates for individual cities. Under high emissions, climate departure for New York City will come in 2047, the paper found, plus or minus the five-year margin of error.

How scared should you be about passing the date of “climate departure”?

Not at all.

Understanding The IPCC Climate Assessment

Each IPCC report seems to be required to conclude that the case for an international agreement to curb carbon dioxide has grown stronger. That is to say the IPCC report (and especially the press release accompanying the summary) is a political document, and as George Orwell noted, political language “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

With respect to climate, we have had 17 years without warming; all models show greater tropical warming than has been observed since 1978; and arctic sea ice is suddenly showing surprising growth. And yet, as the discrepancies between models and observations increase, the IPCC insists that its confidence in the model predictions is greater than ever.

Referring to the 17 year ‘pause,’ the IPCC allows for two possibilities: that the sensitivity of the climate to increasing greenhouse gases is less than models project and that the heat added by increasing CO2 is ‘hiding’ in the deep ocean. Both possibilities contradict alarming claims.

With low sensitivity, economic analyses suggest that warming under 2C would likely be beneficial to the earth. Heat ‘hiding’ in the deep ocean would mean that current IPCC models fail to describe heat exchange between surface waters and the deep ocean. Such exchanges are essential features of natural climate variability, and all IPCC claims of attribution of warming to mans activities depend on the assumption that the models accurately portray this natural variability.

In attempting to convince the public to accept the need to for the environmental movement’s agenda, continual reference is made to consensus. This is dishonest not because of the absence of a consensus, but because the consensus concerning such things as the existence of irregular (and small compared to normal regional variability) net warming since about 1850, the existence of climate change (which has occurred over the earths entire existence), the fact that added greenhouse gases should have some impact (though small unless the climate system acts so as to greatly amplify this effect) over the past 60 years with little impact before then, and the fact that greenhouse gases have increased over the past 200 years or so, and that their greenhouse impact is already about 80% of what one expects from a doubling of CO2 are all perfectly consistent with there being no serious problem. Even the text of the IPCC Scientific Assessment agrees that catastrophic consequences are highly unlikely, and that connections of warming to extreme weather have not been found. The IPCC iconic statement that there is a high degree of certainty that most of the warming of the past 50 years is due to man’s emissions is, whether true or not, completely consistent with there being no problem. To say that most of a small change is due to man is hardly an argument for the likelihood of large changes.

Carbon restriction policies, to have any effect on climate, would require that the most extreme projections of dangerous climate actually be correct, and would require massive reductions in the use of energy to be universally adopted. There is little question that such reductions would have negative impacts on income, development, the environment, and food availability and cost – especially for the poor. This would clearly be immoral.

By contrast, the reasonable and moral policy would be to foster economic growth, poverty reduction and well being in order that societies be better able to deal with climate change regardless of its origin. Mitigation policies appear to have the opposite effect without significantly reducing the hypothetical risk of any changes in climate. While reducing vulnerability to climate change is a worthy goal, blind support for mitigation measures – regardless of the invalidity of the claims – constitutes what might be called bankrupt morality.

It is not sufficient for actions to artificially fulfill people’s need for transcendent aspirations in order for the actions to be considered moral. Needless to add, support of global warming alarm hardly constitutes intelligent respect for science.

Cross-posted from The Global Warming Policy Foundation