I believe the Climate debate is over
The main debate has been over something called TCS which is the change to be expected from a doubling of CO2. The human race is on course to double our CO2 content in the atmosphere and the question has been what will be the change in the temperature for this doubling. This effect of doubling CO2 and its impact on temperature is given the acronym TCS. It represents the transient (immediate) impact on climate. It is guessed that the long term impact of some forcing will be double the transient impact although there are theories it could be zilch as the system somehow adjusts. Either way the longer term impact is over many centuries and hasn’t been in the debate yet.
It is also to be noted that there are other effects besides higher temperature. Many of these other effects are the worry because as temperature deviation becomes larger it is expected those other things are more important than the actual temperature but without significant temperature gain these other things also aren’t that significant it is thought at this time. This is accepted by all.
TCS = 0.6-1.2C. Temperatures will NOT rise 2C by end of century. Is 1/3 what climate scientists said was best guess.
You may wonder why I say this with such surety. The reason is simple. We now have enough data to make this conclusion without the complexity of climate models, without all the physics or other arguments. This is simple unavoidable and indisputable claim I make which no scientist could argue nor do I believe could anyone else.
This is simple extrapolation that is based on the data we have which now is a major portion of the total change expected. We are no longer at the bottom end of the curve guessing where this curve will go. We are in the middle of the curve and we have 50% of the change we are going to get. If we can’t figure out what will happen with the remaining 50% we would be terrible scientists. Since we have seen such a large portion of the period and data in question it is not likely to see a significant deviation from an estimate based on this much data.
A key factor in making this statement is that CO2 acts logarithmically in the atmosphere. This fact is accepted by all. Each CO2 molecule has to compete with other CO2 molecules to absorb IR radiation and the more CO2 molecules the less the effect increases. Since we have 1/3 the CO2 in that means we have seen 50% of the effect we will get from the remaining 67% of the CO2. So, this is the simplest math you will see since grade school. All we need to do is see how much temperature change we got since CO2 was at 310 (1945) and double that amount and we will have the total temperature change for a doubling of CO2.
This is pretty indisputable science. We don’t need climate models. Whatever funny effects CO2 has in the atmosphere, complex interactions with humidity and clouds, the sun and ocean we have 70 years and half the full effect in front of us and that data is right there available to us. We don’t have to wait for it. All of the physics that is purported to be in the computer models is in the data. It is included in the total temperature change we have observed so the doubling of the effect includes everything in the climate models and even stuff not in the climate models.
Don’t all Scientists believe in Huge Dangerous Impact from Global Warming?
Here is a wikipedia article summarizing a number of polls of scientists on Global warming. What’s important to understand about these “polls” and studies is that the question being asked is very vague. Sometimes the question is “Are humans causing any temperature change?” or “Is the temperature change significant?” It’s important to note that my article does NOT say that humans are having NO impact on climate or the environment. Any TCS > 0.0 is by definition saying there is some effect from mankind on temperature. What these polls are missing is the real important question. The IPCC and most scientists agreed (which may mean nothing) that for temperature changes <2.0C the net effect on humanity was either positive or neutral. Thus, the question is straightforward. They should ask do you believe that humans will cause 2C change in temperature by 2100? They never ask what significant is. They never ask if significant also means significant damage to humanity, nature or whatever or just noticeable. What is the definition of significant. Nonetheless what is surprising is that 10% of climate scientists said the change wasn’t significant. This certainly puts a nail in the head of the 97% polls that are bandied about. Gartner did a poll of scientists in general in 1990s and they found even then that 1/3 of scientists would not state unequivocally that humans were causing any global warming. I want to be clear. I definitely believe humans are causing some warming. There is a significant probability that humans (CO2) is responsible for less than the 0.6C TCS I am suggesting here is “defensible” number.
The TCS could be lower if it turns out that whatever caused the cycle that warmed the MWP 1000 years ago contributed to some of the warming we saw in the 20th century. In this case CO2 would have made even less of a contribution than the 0.6C suggested here. We could also already be on the downside of the 1000 year cycle of MWP and LIA meaning that if it weren’t for CO2 temperatures might have fallen quite a bit. In this case CO2 may have added more than 0.6C and thank god we put out that CO2 because otherwise we might be heading to another LIA or even ice age.
The point is that these things are unknowable at this time so all we can say is that assuming whatever trend was in place for the last 70 years if that overall trend continues for the next 85 years we will see 0.45C more heat on average to 2100.
The point is that I am in no way denying basic physics or “denialist” if denialist means that CO2 doesn’t actually absorb IR radiation and emit heat in response. All I am doing is saying that we can now calculate using very basic math the likely effect from CO2 in 2100 because we have enough data to make a lazy projection that must be fairly close to what we will get. In fact it would take an awful lot of proof to suggest anything different than this and I believe any scientist would agree we don’t have the data to conclude with high probability significantly greater than this.
Still some question about the amount of heating from 1945-2015. Adjusted land records double the amount from multiple satellites.
All we have to do is double the temperature change from 1945 to 2015. You can imagine this can’t possibly be hard. Isn’t there one well known answer to this? Well, the climate community has been a little difficult on this point. We have 2 satellites which have been in orbit and measuring hundreds of thousands of points in the atmosphere every day since 1979. We have land records which are spotty. It would take several books to go through all the debate on the land records and ocean records. However, the argument is constrained by the fact that no matter who you talk to or what adjustments they’ve made the total change from 1945-2015 could only be between 0.3 and 0.6C. This is a small enough range that it really doesn’t make any difference. This is like arguing over the number of angels on pins.
It would be awesome if all the sources added up to the same thing. This is definitely an area to study for some group to nail down why but the satellites and the land records diverge. The land records show a much larger gain since 1979 than the satellites.
TCS came in below the lowest guess
The whole debate has focused on whole degrees of change in temperature change, 3, 4, 5, 6 even 10 degrees TCS. The IPCC was clear that they could constrain that the low end of TCS was 2.5 or so. It was extremely unlikely to be this low. The accepted value was 3 but it could also be 4,5,6 even 10. (Please note that the actual value has turned out to be between 0.6 and 1.2 far far below what they said was the minimum value). In the most recent IPCC report they lowered the TCS to 2.5 and said it could be as low as 2. It’s a lot lower than 2. What went wrong is certainly interesting but not important. This is a matter of history.
There is still doubt there may be other things that will happen that we haven’t seen but barring some unknown incident like an asteroid strike, huge volcano eruption or massive change in the suns activity the debate is over.
What will be the effects from 0.6-1.2C. The climate community agrees it is net positive.
The IPCC (climate community) itself has been clear that under 1.5C would be net positive for humanity in its own analysis. There is enormous debate about the effects but at this level of climate change these can be confined to relatively insignificant. I am sure there will be continued accusations that this is from the CO2 or that is because of man and CO2 but the fact is that at <1.2C the impacts are not going to disrupt the world.
What we learned about the process
I have followed this debate forever it seems. Since the early days when James Hansen (from NASA) spoke to the Congress and pointed out that temperatures were rising I believed that he had a point. Being a scientist from MIT, math, physics and computer science trained this fit right into my center of what I could understand. I understood the use of computers and the mathematics of chaos, the physics of CO2 and so I could understand what they were doing precisely.
At that time the amount of CO2 we had put in the atmosphere was still small. Extrapolating from that small amount to a large amount required something extraordinary. The climate community put all its aces in “computer models.” I knew something of this. I had also seen the debacle of the Club of Rome who built computer models. The more I studied this the more convinced I became that the basic science was unconvincing. Not that there would be zero effect but that the effect could be known using the tools they were using and considering what we knew and didn’t know. I became more and more skeptical as I saw what they actually said.
Scandal has plagued this community since the beginning. The group which publishes the IPCC, sometimes referred to by the other side of the debate as “the team” produced in its first report on the 1st page of the report a graph which summed up their entire position succinctly.
They wanted a graph like this badly so there would be no doubt, there would be no questions. They pieced together from a carefully selected set of tree ring data going back 1000 years a temperature history which showed complete flat-line till the last 50 years where the temperature spiked. In a nutshell they showed the problem. 1000 years of stasis and then POW we are zooming out of control up and away. Perfect.
However, the facts turned out to be dramatically different. This graph was produced by selecting a few trees and ignoring a huge number of other trees. When the full data set or even a few more trees were added to the hand selected list the graph took on a funny up and down shape that didn’t show flat.
Even more alarming the graph didn’t end with a nice curve going up initially. The trees themselves actually show the temperature declining in the last 50 years.
The architects of this alarmism and new science decided it would be better to splice on some land temperature data at the very end without mentioning this. So, this hockey stick was carefully constructed to produce the desired impact.
Unfortunately, a layman who had studied tree rings a lot was confused what tree rings were being used. When he kept asking questions he was rebuffed and rebuffed. He kept trying to replicate the data and he personally pretty much discovered all the subterfuge made in this graph.
Soon after this we had climate-gate, in which members of “the team” emails were somehow discovered. These emails it turns out showed “the team” conspiring to hide the decline. It showed that the “team” disdained their opponents and were doing everything they could to discredit and hold back the people who wanted to know more about this.
This is a very sad thing for me to believe. I personally think if we let scientists do things like this we are really in trouble. We won’t be able to trust anything from science again. I don’t think we will make good decisions as a society. The “team” thinks that it knows better what we should believe about the climate. This is really bad for science to take this position. That’s my main worry, my main interest, my main concern in all this from the beginning. I believe science must be held to a higher standard that is something we can’t allow to be muddled as it was during this time.
I don’t know why this debate has fascinated me more than other things I could have gotten excited about but part of me was offended by the way climate “scientists” talked about things. They were highly certain of everything they said which is counter to the way I had been taught scientists talked. When I listen to Physics lectures there is always an excitement about what we don’t know, about the errors that we made. There is always an excitement about conundrums and discovering the errors in how we think about things. There was brutal honesty. The climate “team” didn’t operate this way. They were sure. It seemed their major efforts were to confirm their theory not to tear it apart as physicists are always doing.
I believe we are now to the point we can de-politicize this. There can be little doubt about the facts of the situation and the limits to what can happen. I believe the debate is over as far as catastrophic change.
The climate science community during this process has acted as advocates. Recent articles describe the funk they are always in worrying that they haven’t gotten the message of destruction and doom that they saw. They felt their models were right that showed catastrophic warming. A recent article by Judith Curry has talked about this “funk” that the climate community has been in. Nonetheless, these scientists had an agenda and anyone who didn’t believe them was called out as a “heretic denialist.”
Where we went wrong
One of the big problems in this whole process has been the focus on computer models. It was clear to me from the beginning this would be hard. Like trying to estimate where a bullet will go coming from a gun barrell knowing what the climate would do back in 1970s was hard. A small error in the initial trajectory would result in a huge bad guess. They could have concluded the problem was too hard to solve to make a guess where this was going to go but they felt a compelling need to make a prediction because honestly I believe they thought it could be bad.
They could have argued this on two fronts. There was evidence from historical records from ice ages that could be constructed to show that a doubling of CO2 would cause a 3 degree increase in temperature or worse. This was called the paleontological argument. It suffered from the fact that there was still a lot of debate about the factor and it would be hard to really improve that without a time machine. The other mechanism was to use computer models. I believe like other people there is a seduction of the almighty computer and its ability in our age to change things. The belief was that computer models could be improved and improved till they could show not only how much temperature change but other things like storm activity and rainfall. So, a huge effort was made to produce computer models. It would take another book or two to explain all the issues with computer models and where that has gone. Suffice it to say the computer models have not worked out.
The biggest problem with the computer model approach is they attempted to model the physics of the world. This is a very complex thing. They missed some important physics. In particular the oceans were a huge variable. The “team” had successfully argued the oceans were mostly irrelevant. The ocean was so dense that it was reasoned not much energy could penetrate into the ocean so almost all the energy would go into the surface and come out from the surface quickly and easily. The “team” constructed simplified 2 layer models for the ocean that basically said anything that happened below a few feet was inconsequential. At the time when these models were constructed we didn’t know about the El Nino and La Nina phenomenon. These were meterological puzzles to the climate scientists so they mostly ignored them until it was shown that in fact there was a 60-70 year cycle of El Ninos to La Ninas and back that corresponded precisely with a lot of the variation seen in the climate record over the last 200 years. It turns out that the ocean did have some really interesting things going on that could impact climate.
They didn’t know about this major cyclic effect
In the 90s the computer models were tuned so precisely that the “team” was very happy with itself. They proclaimed that they had understood natural variability and they had caclulated how things like pollution, volcanoes, changes in sun energy affected climate to a great degree. They said from this analysis and the fact their models were so accurate (even more than they hoped) that they could therefore say with great precision that the heating of the world between 1975-2000 was because of CO2 and man 100%. No other thing had contributed. One scientist even stated 110% caused by CO2. They were certain. This hubris was short lived.
As you can see from the above graph co2 was NOT the only reason temps went up from 1975-2000.
By 2000 the temperature of the world started going sideways. Of course at first they thought it was a bunch of bad luck. However, as the years went on it became more and more apparent they had not accounted for “climate variability.” Something else was going on. By this time people were understanding that El Ninos and La Ninas operated in cycles and they were driven by what were called the PDO and AMO phenomenon which had to do with temperatures of ocean in the pacific and atlantic which seemed to go in cycles with some variability.
The problem was that they did not anticipate this and they had no understanding of ocean cycles. They denied it. In my Stanford Global warming class the head of Lawrence livermore computer model team told me that the cycles would disappear as CO2 overwhelmed these minor fluctuations. They had no idea why the PDO happened. They didn’t know if it was caused by flows of “weather” in the ocean, by sun interactions, something to do with geography or even biology.
There is no understanding even today yet how these cycles are driven. Since there is no way to put some equations to shove into the computer models they have been slow to adapt the computer models to incorporate these phenomenon. The problem is that it has become clear that now going onto 20 years of no significant warming that the Model Director at Lawrence Livermore was wrong about PDO going away and that these waves of PDO and AMO were in fact responsible for some of the things the models thought happened because of other effects like that we had polluted the atmosphere in the 70s.
This effect was destroying the entire logic process used earlier in concluding that CO2 would produce this or that. It became clear that the PDO/AMO was responsible for possibly half the temperature rise from 1975-2000 not 100% CO2. Effectively this means that they had grossly missed the trajectory of the bullet coming from the gun I mentioned in the first paragraph.
What has happened is that now we are so far into this that it is like we had a gun barrel halfway to the target. It is possible for the bullet to be deflected by wind or something could jump in front of the bullet but barring some incredible unknown factor we can be quite certain where that bullet is going with enough precision even if there is some question about the exact location of the bullet along the path it can’t go very far from where we estimate. That’s where we have come. We have the barrel halfway to the target We know the position of the bullet halfway down the course. It really doesn’t take a lot of sophisticated physics or high precision measuring devices at this point to say we know the bullet is going to end up roughly here.
TCS = 0.6 -> 1.2C NOT 3.0C
What we learned about the science
Along this journey we have got a lot of useful knowledge. It hasn’t been a total waste. I think the computer models are mostly crap but the basic stuff we have learned a lot. We have learned a lot about the atmosphere, the oceans. This alarmism has caused us to put out the ARGO fleet of buoys which for the first time have given us some real data on the oceans. What we have learned more than anything is how much we don’t know. The fact we don’t know doesn’t stop me from making the statement that TCS = 0.6-1.2C. I can measure the position of the bullet and guess accurately its final spot halfway there without having to know a lot about gun barrell chaos theory, wind variations that could affect the initial trajectory of the bullet slightly, resistance of the wind and how humidity might affect that etc.
Where do we go from here
We don’t know a lot about the climate still but whatever happened to the CO2 and the temperature we now can say that the sum of all the effects of all those things is in the number for the halfway point. So, doubling it takes into account all these “other” things without having to know what all those things are.
This is a problem though. It is still a mystery that is worth solving to understand our climate system. This has uncovered to me how pitiful our knowledge of our own world is. Until ARGO was put out to sea our records of ocean information was so spotty and so poor that we really had no idea that PDO/AMO even existed, what the temperature of the ocean was and what is going on. This is astonishing that we know more about other galaxies than we know about our own ocean which comprises more than 70% of the surface area of the earth, has more than 50% of the biologic life on the earth and has 1000 times the heat capacity of the atmosphere and we are still clueless. Our ARGO floats number 3,000 but the ocean is so vast and the work so strenuous that the ARGO coverage of the ocean is about as good as the 3 temperature stations we have for all of the antarctic between 75 and 90 degrees south. The ARGO floats only see 30% of the ocean. They miss lower depths and some places that are shallower. They float with the current and only measure a few variables. We need a lot more information about the ocean.
We have studied glaciers and we have come up with some interesting theories around them. We have studied a few other things. The problem is we have focused way too much attention on the models. We still have only the 2 satellites to measure a few factors in the atmosphere. We recently launched another satellite that will provide a little more data. The 2 satellites we have are getting very old. They will be gone before too long. We have not engaged in experiments to validate many things that are in the models. We need to focus on the basic science of climate and much less on trying to predict. Now that we have shown roughly where temperature is going and that it is not a problem I am hoping we can now focus away from long term prediction and more on understanding the nuts and bolts of the climate system.
Of major importance to understand is the oceans, clouds and sun as well as the earths mantle and geography. Finally there could be biological factors that contribute. All of these things could be affecting the long term climate. The reason I say this is that if you look at the overall history of the earth and the temperature and climate variations it becomes abundantly clear we have no real understanding of why all these things have happened. In fact we still do not understand why the ice ages even happen. Some believe they have to do with cycles of the earths orbit but the energy change from these orbital variations is extremely small and can’t account for the huge temperature swings. Over time these swings have varied dramatically and don’t match the orbital periodicity accurately. Something else is going on. Clearly the sun must have impact but it seems clear that something to do with oceans and long term cycles, vents or biologic and geologic phenomenon must play a role. We really have no clue. Ultimately this is why our models failed. They are missing a vast amount of the real stuff going on. It’s a mystery of really amazing proportions and one of the last real scientific areas we know so little about.
I hope the scandal of all this climate buffoonery doesn’t derail our ability to engage in this fascinating and worthwhile pursuit of really understanding our environment better.
This is exciting science in my opinion. It is going to be tough. A lot harder than the self-righteous advocate scientists have stomach for. I believe we need a reset of the science on the climate and the first step is admitting that the overall climate will not represent a catastrophic scenario we can get off the stump predicting doom and moping around predicting the end of the world and start to do the hard work of real science.