Topic: Energy and Environment

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

What the New IPCC Global Warming Projections Should Have Looked Like

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.”

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) last week to fanfare and stinging criticism.

Most of the criticism was aimed at the IPCC’s defense of climate models—models that the latest observations of the earth’s climate evolution show to be inaccurate, or at least are strongly indicative that is the case.

There are two prominent and undeniable examples of the models’ insufficiencies: 1) climate models overwhelmingly expected much more warming to have taken place over the past several decades than actually occurred; and 2) the sensitivity of the earth’s average temperature to increases in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations (such as carbon dioxide) averages some 60 percent greater in the IPCC’s climate models than it does in reality (according to a large and growing collection of evidence published in the scientific literature).

Had the IPCC addressed these model shortcomings head on, the flavor of their entire report would have been different. Instead of including projections for extreme climate changes as a result of continued human emissions of greenhouse gases resulting from our production of energy, the high-end projections would have featured relatively modest changes and the low-end projections would have been completely unremarkable.

Since changes in the earth’s temperature scale approximately linearly with a property known as the earth’s equilibrium climate sensitivity (how much the earth’s average surface temperature rises as a result of a doubling of the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide concentration), it is pretty straightforward to adjust the IPCC’s projections of future temperature change to bring them closer to what the latest science says the climate sensitivity is. That science suggests the equilibrium climate sensitivity probably lies between 1.5°C and 2.5°C (with an average value of 2.0°C), while the climate models used by the IPCC have climate sensitivities which range from 2.1°C to 4.7°C with an average value of 3.2°C.

To make the IPCC projections of the evolution of the earth’s average temperature better reflect the latest scientific estimates of the climate sensitivity, it is necessary to adjust them downward by about 30% at the low end, about 50% at the high end, and about 40% in the middle.

The figure below the jump shows what happens when we apply such a correction (note: we maintain some internal weather noise). The top panel shows the projections as portrayed by the IPCC in their just-released Fifth Assessment Report, and the lower panel shows what they pretty much would have looked like had the climate models better reflected the latest science. In other words, the lower panel is what the IPCC temperature projections should have looked like.


Shutdown Could Shut Down Waste

A benefit of the government shutdown may be that it slows the stream of waste and bad behavior flowing from the federal bureaucracy. Catching up on my reading, I noticed these items in just the last few days of the Washington Post:

  • To maximize their budgets over time, federal agencies drain their bank accounts on often wasteful items at the end of every fiscal year. The rule is “use it or lose it.”
  • A high-level EPA official ripped-off taxpayers $900,000 over two decades, apparently duping administrators, supervisors, and auditors over many years.
  • About $800,000 of federal unemployment insurance benefits were bilked by employed D.C. government workers.
  • The availability of federal subsidies for dredging may induce Key West to destroy an area of unique coral and other sea life. Historically, the Army Corps of Engineers has been an environment-destruction machine, so residents should think twice before going that route.
  • The Department of Commerce has kicked out the National Aquarium from its building after 80 years. There is no bad behavior here, just a sad story since the aquarium is an example of successful privatization. Federal funding was eliminated in 1982, and the aquarium was converted into a nonprofit corporation and supported by admission fees, donations, and volunteer efforts.
  • The FHA is asking for a $1.7 billion taxpayer bailout.
  • Environmentalists are concerned that grasslands and wetlands are being turned into farmland at a rapid pace across the northern prairies. This story mentions the effect of ethanol subsidies, but another cause of the change is the $30 billion of farm subsidies pumped out each year.
  • The central figure in the IRS scandal, Lois Lerner, was finally pushed out. It is pretty obvious that a political and ideological agenda was at work in the targeting of conservative groups, but it has been very difficult to squeeze even an apology out of IRS officials and the Obama administration. Bart Simpson’s line “I didn’t do it” has long been the approach taken by government officials caught violating the public trust.
  • A recent Washington Post article by Joe Davidson—the paper’s advocate for federal workers—was headlined “Shutdown Would Corrode Our View of Government.” I don’t think we need a shutdown for that.

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.

New IPCC Report Will Be Internally Inconsistent and Misleading

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.”

The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) seems more intent on maintaining the crumbling “consensus” on anthropogenic global warming than on following climate science to its logical conclusion—a conclusion that increasingly suggests that human greenhouse gas emissions are less important in driving climate change than commonly held.

This fact is obvious from the embarrassing lack of internal inconsistency contained in the leaked versions of  the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report. The Summary for Policymakers, a succinct and brief document supposedly encapsulating what is in the entire 3,000-page report is supposed to be approved by closing time on Friday, at a meeting currently taking place in Stockholm.

In no place will this internal inconsistency be more obvious than in how the IPCC deals with the discrepancy between the observed effectiveness of greenhouse gases in warming the earth and this effectiveness calculated  by the climate models that the IPCC uses to project future climate change.

The warming effectiveness is known as the “climate sensitivity” and is the key parameter in how much the earth’s surface temperature rise as a result of the increasing atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Most all climate impacts are related to the climate sensitivity—the lower the climate sensitivity, the fewer the impacts.

One problem. Climate scientists don’t know what the value of the climate sensitivity really is.

Not because the calculation is complicated—just take how much the global average temperature has changed over some longish time period (a couple of decades or longer) and divide by much energy was used to force that change.