Commentary

Global Warming Flatliners

On April 7, I wrote about global warming “hotheads,” who dominate the science profession for a lot of very sound economic, incentive-based reasons.

We don’t shell out multimillion-dollar grants to people who say something isn’t a problem. Recipients of this largess peer-review each other’s papers. There’s a lot of incentive to give a bad review to a manuscript downplaying the issue and to give a great one to the paper describing an upcoming apocalypse.

Anyone who disagrees with this should spend some time reading the “climategate” e-mails purloined from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in November 2009.

Transport yourself from the biased world of peer-reviewed science to the biased world of amateur climatology on the Internet. They really aren’t very different; they’re just symmetrically opposite.

In the Internet world where the flatliners live, there’s no such thing as global warming. Where the hotheads reside, it’s everywhere and all the time. Some flatliners even doubt the whole notion of the greenhouse effect — the recycling of infrared radiation by water vapor and carbon dioxide (and a few other things) — that keeps the lower atmosphere about 60 degrees warmer than it would otherwise be.

Both groups are delusional. Hotheads are convinced, mind you that the Koch Brothers are behind the flatliners, and flatliners are convinced, mind you that there’s a hothead conspiracy coordinated by George Soros. Both view each other as murderers of the world: Hotheads will kill the economy, while flatliners will destroy civilization.

Here is the flatliner Holy Picture:

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This is the global surface temperature departure from the 1961-1990 average, also from the CRU at East Anglia. (Despite all the climategate hubbub, this is still the reference standard in the business). It’s obviously flat, giving rise to the flatliner mantra: “No warming in 14 years — the same time in which the greatest increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide occurred.” Or, put in more stark terms, “Global warming is a commie plot.”

The flatline argument happens to be popular because it is occurring now, and few people outside of Aspie climate guys like me can remember the weather more than a year or two back.

Here’s a little secret about global warming. The central tendency of computer models using input that pretty much mimics the observed changes in carbon dioxide is to produce a constant (not an increasing) rate of warming.

There are many reasons for this. The response of surface temperature to an increment of carbon dioxide is logarithmic. So for every part per million (ppm) increase, a little less warming is generated. But the actual increase in its atmospheric concentration is a low exponent. When we started monitoring it at Mauna Loa in 1957, CO2 was growing at about 0.75 ppm annually. Now it’s growing at around 2 ppm.

The addition of a logarithmic response to an exponential increase in the cause of something can in fact add up to a straight line, which is very obvious in a suite of the temperature projections made by our friends at the U.N.

There are two warming periods in our recent history. One, in the early 20th century, could not have been caused by carbon dioxide, because we simply hadn’t put very much in the air back then. The second one, which begins in the mid-1970s, is much more suspicious because it has been accompanied by a cooling of the stratosphere and is accentuated at high latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere and in the winter, which is what one would expect from increasing CO2.

Here’s the East Anglia history since then, with a straight line fit to the data:

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The fit of a constant trend to the overall data is striking, despite the fact that indeed there is no net warming in the last 14 years. In fact, fitting any simple curve to the data does no better than the straight line.

So much for the flatliners. They have lived in fortuitous times. Stay tuned for an analysis of the lukewarmers.

Patrick Michaels is senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute and author of Climate Coup: Global Warming’s Invasion of our Government and our Lives.