current wisdom

Current Wisdom: A Closer Look at Climate Model Performance

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

Posted Wednesday in the Washington Post’s new online “Energy and Environment” section is a piece titled “No, Climate Models Aren’t Exaggerating Global Warming.” That’s a pretty “out there” headline considering all the evidence to the contrary.

We summed up much of the contrary evidence in a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union last December.  The take-home message—that climate models were on the verge of failure (basically the opposite of the Post headline)—is self-evident in Figure 1, adapted from our presentation.

Figure 1. Comparison of observed trends (colored circles according to legend) with the climate model trends (black circles) for periods from 10 to 64 years in length. All trends end with data from the year 2014 (adapted from Michaels and Knappenberger, 2014).

The figure shows (with colored circles) the value of the trend in observed global average surface temperatures in lengths ranging from 10 to 64 years and in all cases ending in 2014 (the so-called “warmest year on record”). Also included in the figure (black circles) is the average trend in surface temperatures produced by a collection of climate models for the same intervals. For example, for the period 1951–2014 (the leftmost points in the chart, representing a trend length of 64 years) the trend in the observations is 0.11°C per decade and the average model projected trend is 0.15°C per decade. During the most recent 10-year period (2005–2014, rightmost points in the chart), the observed trend is 0.01°C per decade while the model trend is 0.21°C per decade.

Current Wisdom: Record Global Temperature—Conflicting Reports, Contrasting Implications

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).

A Clear Example of IPCC Ideology Trumping Fact

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.

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When it comes to global warming, facts often take a back seat to fiction. This is especially true with proclamations coming from the White House. But who can blame them, as they are just following the lead from Big Green groups (aka, “The Green Blob”), the U.S. Climate Change Research Program (responsible for the U.S. National Climate Assessment Report), and of course, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

We have documented this low regard for the facts (some might say, deception) on many occasions, but recently we have uncovered  a particularly clear example where the IPCC’s ideology trumps the plain facts, giving the impression that climate models perform a lot better than they actually do. This is an important façade for the IPCC to keep up, for without the overheated climate model  projections of future climate change, the issue would be a lot less politically interesting (and government money could be used for other things … or simply not taken from taxpayers in the first place).

The IPCC is given deference when it comes to climate change opinion at all Northwest Washingon D.C. cocktail parties (which means also by the U.S. federal government) and other governments around the world. We tirelessly point out why this is not a good idea. By the time you get to the end of this post, you will see that the IPCC does not seek to tell the truth—the inconvenient one being that it dramatically overstated the case for climate worry in its previous reports. Instead, it continues to obfuscate.

This extracts a cost. The IPCC is harming the public health and welfare of all humankind as it pressures governments to seek to limit energy choices instead of seeking ways to help expand energy availability (or, one would hope, just stay out of the market).

Everyone knows that global warming (as represented by the rise in the earth’s average surface temperature) has stopped for nearly two decades now. As historians of science have noted, scientists can be very creative when defending the paradigm that pays. In fact, there are  already several dozen explanations

Climate modelers are scrambling to try to save their creations’  reputations because the one thing that they do not want to have to admit is that they exaggerate the amount that the earth’s average temperature will increase as a result of human greenhouse gas emissions. If the models are overheated, then so too are all the projected impacts that derive from the model projections—and that would be a disaster for all those pushing for regulations limiting the use of fossil fuels for energy. It’s safe to say the number of people employed by creating, legislating, lobbying, and enforcing these regulations is huge, as in “The Green Blob.”

The Current Wisdom: The Administration’s Social Cost of Carbon Turns “Social Cost” on Its Head

This Current Wisdom takes an in-depth look at how politics can masquerade as science.

                      “A pack of foma,” Bokonon said

                                                Paraphrased from Cat’s Cradle (1963), Kurt Vonnegut

In his 1963 classic, Cat’s Cradle, iconic writer Kurt Vonnegut described the sleepy little Caribbean island of San Lorenzo, where the populace was mesmerized by the prophet Bokonon, who created his own religion and his own vocabulary. Bokonon communicated his religion through simple verses he called “calypsos.” “Foma” are half-truths that conveniently serve the religion, and the paraphrase above is an apt description of the Administration’s novel approach to determining the “social cost of carbon” (dioxide). 

Because of a pack of withering criticism, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is now in the process of reviewing how the Obama Administration calculates and uses the social cost of carbon (SCC).  We have filed a series of Comments with the OMB outlining what is wrong with the current SCC determination. Regular readers of this blog are familiar with some of the problems that we have identified, but our continuing analysis of the Administration’s SCC has yielded a few more nuggets.

We describe a particularly rich one here—that the government wants us to pay more today to offset a modest climate change experienced by a wealthy future society than to help alleviate a lot of climate change impacting a less well-off future world.

Some Like It Hot

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.

 

With all the stern talk about global warming and widespread concern over climate change, you would think that we humans would have a propensity for cooler temperatures. Everywhere you look, the misery that rising temperatures (and the associated evils) will supposedly heap upon us seems to dominate reports about the coming climate. But do patterns of population movement really support the idea that we prefer cooler locations?

Increased Mobility

Since 1900, the population of the United States increased from about 76 million people to about 309 million people in 2010. Accompanying that population growth were major advances in technology and industry, including vast improvements in our nation’s system of transportation. As planes, trains, and automobiles replaced the horse and buggy, Americans became more mobile, and where we live was no longer connected primarily with proximity to where we were born. Instead, we became much freer to choose our place of residence based on considerations other than ease of getting there.

Where has our new-found freedom of mobility led us? Figure 1 shows the rate of population change from 1900 to 2010 for each of the contiguous 48 states. Notice the increases in states with warm climates such as Florida, Texas, and California, and also in states with big industry (that is, jobs), such as New York, Michigan, and Ohio for example.

 

 

Figure 1. The state-by-state population trend (people/year) from 1900 to 2010 (data from U.S. Census Bureau).

Climate Change and Disease: USA Today Gets It Wrong

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.


It’s  guaranteed: every article which is “part of a year-long series that explores the places and ways in which climate change affects us” will paint a horrific picture, a part of the strange universe of global warming journalism. 

Consider this: global warming has been with us as an issue for a quarter-century.  Everyone knows that it lengthens the beach season, but we have yet to see one article showing nubile females and tanned hunks frolicking on the shore. 


In 25 years of global warming hype, why hasn’t one article noted that it will increase the number of beach days? Where’s the beef?

In a recent USA Today article “Diseases on the move because of climate change,” The Campaign Continues.

It’s biblical. Brain-eating amoebas. Killer ticks. A fungus kills many among us. About the only thing missing from this one is all the deaths that will result from hail the size of canned hams.

It’s mind-boggling. 0.8°C ago, around 1900, life expectancy was one half what it is now. Malaria was endemic. Food and water-borne illnesses were real killers. All have been pretty much vanquished, despite dreaded warming.  Not a mention of this.

Such droning is probably why people tune this stuff out. There’s an epidemic of the real global warming-related malady, apocalypse fatigue, [1]  and still the Society of Environmental[ist] Journalists hasn’t gotten the email.

There’s no need to bring out climate change to explain recent patterns of the diseases that can be thoroughly accounted for by any of a large collection of confounding factors. We meant human-caused climate change as that’s the pernicious kind (it’s too bad we can’t ask our ancestors how much they liked the very natural ice age).

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.  

Current Wisdom: Greenland’s Disastrous SLR Is SOL

The Current Wisdom is a series of monthly articles in which Patrick J. Michaels, director of the Center for the Study of Science, 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.

Could President Obama have picked a worse time to announce his Climate Action Plan?

Global warming has been stuck in neutral for more than a decade and a half, scientists are increasingly suggesting that future climate change projections are overblown, and now, arguably the greatest threat from global warming—a large and rapid sea level rise (SLR)—has been shown overly lurid (SOL; what did you think I meant?).

You hardly need an “action plan” when there is so little “action” worth responding to.

As I frequently discuss the lack of warming and the decreases in the estimates of future climate change, I’ll focus here on new scientific findings concerning the potential for future sea level rise, interspersing a little travelogue.

Projections of a large sea-level rise this century depend on rapid ice loss from Greenland and/or Antarctica. Yes, as ocean waters warm, they expand, but this expansion-induced rise is pretty well constrained and limited to being about 6 inches plus or minus a couple of inches by century’s end. And the contribution from melting glaciers/ice in other parts of the world (not counting Greenland and Antarctica) is even smaller, maybe 2-4 inches. So that adds up to about 8-12 inches of sea level rise by the year 2100—not much different than that which has already occurred over the past century. This is hardly catastrophic.

Current Wisdom: Even More Low Climate Sensitivity Estimates

The Current Wisdom is a series of monthly articles in which Patrick J. Michaels, director of the Center for the Study of Science, 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.

Our periodic compilations of low equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) estimates have become a big hit.

In our on-going effort to keep up with the science, today we update our previous summary with two additional recently published lower-than-IPCC climate sensitivity estimates—one made by Troy Masters and another by Alexander Otto and colleagues (including several co-authors not typically associated with global warming in moderation, or “lukewarming”).  There is also a third paper currently in the peer-review process.

The new additions yield a total of at least 16 experiments published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature beginning in 2011 that have found that the most likely value of the ECS to be well below the (previously?) “mainstream” estimate from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Since the negative impacts from global warming/climate change scale with the magnitude of the temperature rise, lower projections of future warming should lead to lower projections of future damages. We say “should” because one way around this, as the federal government has figured out, is to ignore all the new science indicating less expected future warming when calculating future damages, and inexplicably doubling the damages estimated to be caused by a given increment of carbon dioxide (a.k.a., social cost of carbon).

Here is a quick summary of the two new papers:

Examining the output of climate models run under increases in human emissions of greenhouse gas and aerosols, Troy Masters noted a robust relationship between the modeled rate of heat uptake in the global oceans and the modeled climate sensitivity. With this relationship in hand, he then turned to the observations to determine what the observed rate of oceanic heat uptake has been during the past 50 years or so. From the observed behavior, he was able to determine the climate sensitivity, and found it to be substantially less than that in the vast majority of the climate models. He found that the most likely value of the ECS from the observations was 1.98°C with a 90 percent range extending from 1.2°C to 5.15°C. He notes that the high end is driven by uncertainties in the oceanic heat uptake data earlier in the record.

Otto and colleagues used a simple energy budget model to relate observed global temperature changes to changes in the radiation climatology and the heat uptake in the earth system as humans have heaped various substances into the atmosphere. They conclude that the at best estimate for ECS is 2.0°C with a 90 percent range from 1.2°C to 3.9°C.

Both studies come with a long list of caveats relating to data quality, etc., that are common to all studies trying to estimate the ECS.

Current Wisdom: We Calculate, You Decide: A Handy-Dandy Carbon Tax Temperature-Savings Calculator

The Current Wisdom is a series of monthly articles in which Patrick J. Michaels, director of the Center for the Study of Science, 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. In this special issue, we focus on the climate implications of a carbon tax.


A year ago, July 23, 2012 to be precise, former Republican congressman Bob Inglis famously predicted the facts on global warming will “overwhelm” GOP resistance to climate change action and alter the party’s stance.  In response, he proposed a carbon tax.

That’s the kind of thing that always pops up during the hottest time of the year, which is late July, and it’s again in the public yakstream.

Inglis is “former” because he lost his primary in a heavily Republican South Carolina district by an unprecedented—for an incumbent congressman with no scandal—70-29 margin, and he (correctly) blamed his defeat on his newly-found perseveration on global warming.

Since then, he has associated with R-Street Partners, which calls itself a libertarian think tank, but which is very vocal in support of his tax.

So, as discussions of a carbon tax continue in the halls and chambers of Washington, we provide a handy tool for tax fans to determine the global warming “savings” from whatever emissions reduction their hearts desire.

We leave it to the user (policymaker, Congressman, former Congressman, think tank scholar, President, voter, etc.) to decide how much of a carbon tax should be levied to produce the desired result.

Using our calculator, you can specify

  1. the carbon dioxide emissions reduction amount (calculated from the 2005 baseline) that will take place by the year 2050 (and remain in place thereafter),
  2. the region which will take part in the emissions reduction plan (the United States, or for the more optimistic, the industrialized nations of the world),
  3. and the climate sensitivity (how much you think the global average temperature will increase as a result of a doubling of the pre-industrial atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration). The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) modestly-educated guess is 3.0°C,  but a collection of reports from the recent scientific literature puts the value around 2.0°C, and based on recent global temperature behavior, a value of 1.5°C may be most appropriate.  Not wanting to leave firebrands like former NASA employee James Hansen out of the fun, we include the option of selecting an extremely high climate sensitivity value of 4.5°C.

We calculate, you decide.

Once you make your selections, the calculator will return the amount of global temperature rise that will be averted as a result of your choices by the year 2050 and also by the end of the century.

Try it using this example. Choose a 100% reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from the United States and the IPCC’s sensitivity value of 3.0°C. Hit “Submit.” The amount of temperature savings that results is 0.052°C by the year 2050 and 0.137°C by the year 2100. (Why we are using three significant digits is in the fine print at the end of this article.)

A Handy-Dandy Carbon Tax Temperature-Savings Calculator

Global Temperature Rise Averted

Your results will appear here.

Sorry, Major Kong (h/t to “Dr. Strangelove”), those are the figures.  That’s the right answer. Assuming the IPCC’s value for climate sensitivity (i.e. disregarding the recent scientific literature) and completely stopping all carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. between now and the year 2050 and keeping them at zero, will only reduce the amount of global warming by just over a tenth of a degree (out of a total projected rise of 2.619°C between 2010 and 2100).

If you think that a rise of 2.482°C is vastly preferable to a rise of 2.619°C then all you have to do is set the carbon tax large enough to drive U.S. emissions to zero by mid-century—oh yeah, and sell that tax to the American people.

To explore other alternatives, use our handy-dandy calculator.

Have fun! 

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The fine print:

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