2017 was warm. The next few years will be more important.

Summary: The world’s temperature is in the news again, showing that 2017 was another warm year. Now that it is in the record books, let’s look at the more important question — about future warming, if a new pause has begun — and what might be the political implications.

One of the most important datasets of our time.

Another warm year!

The world has been warming for two centuries, since the Little Ice Age ended. “It is extremely likely (95 – 100% certain) that human activities caused more than half of the observed increase in global mean surface temperature from 1951 to 2010” {from AR5, the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report). See the above graph. So we have had a lot of headlines like this: “For the globe, 2017 was the third warmest year on record and the warmest year without an El Niño present.

Look at the numbers (from NOAA’s Climate at a Glance interactive graph).

  • The total 18 year increase from the 1998 El Niño to the 2016 El Niño was 0.31°C (0.56°F).
  • That is 0.18°C (0.32°F) per decade.
  • That is faster than the warming of 0.11°C (0.20°F) per decade during 1950 – 1998.
  • That is 4x faster than the warming of 0.04°C (0.07°F) per decade from 1880-1950.

We did not get these headlines during the “pause” (aka “hiatus”) from 1999 through 2014. The global surface temperature did not exceed the 1998 high (by more than the ~0.1°F margin of error) until the 2015-2016 El Niño. Scores of papers discussed the pause; scores explored its causes.

Climate activists responded by denying the science and concealing these papers from the public (examples here and here). For good reason. Frequent stories about warming are the core of their messaging. The long pause disrupted that program. They had to rely on scary but false predictions (more & bigger hurricanes after Katrina) and falsely blaming most extreme weather on global warming (e.g., 2017’s hurricanes).

What comes next?

“Mr. President, if that’s what you want there is only one way to get it. That is to …scare the hell out of the country.”

— Senator Arthur Vandenberg’s advice to Truman about starting the Cold War. Truman did so in his famous speech on 12 March 1947. From Put yourself in Marshall’s place by James Warburg (he helped develop the US WWII propaganda programs).

Unfortunately, motivating America to action is more easily done using fear than reason. Fears ‘R us (it makes us easy to rule). So our news is presented as a series of hysteric fits. That is why we live in the crisis crisis. Hence the misuse of the worst-scenario in the IPCC’s AR5 (RCP8.5), ubiquitously described by activists as the “business as usual” scenario (which it is not; it is unlikely — and becoming more so).

That’s why the pause had such a large political effect, disproportionate to its significance to scientists — it interrupted the flow of scary stories about global temperature records.

What happens if we get another plateau, a step up only one or two tenths of a degree C (0.2 or 0.3°F) higher than the previous plateau? A pause perhaps lasting 10 or 15 years. Can the climate policy campaign continue without new record highs in temperature? A post by James Hanson et al. describes why this is “plausible, if not likely” — “Global Temperature in 2017.” Excerpt…

“The record 2016 temperature was abetted by the effects of both a strong El Niño and maximum warming from the solar irradiance cycle. …Therefore, because of the combination of the strong 2016 El Niño and the phase of the solar cycle, it is plausible, if not likely, that the next 10 years of global temperature change will leave an impression of a ‘global warming hiatus’. …Therefore, temperature change during even the next few years is of interest, to determine whether a significant excursion above the trend line is underway.”

A new pause might already have begun. To see tentative signs of a new plateau, watch the YoY seasonal temperature changes in temperature. Like the following graph showing the average temperature per year for October to December. The September – December and August – December graphs are similar, but weaker. The passage of time will tell the answer.

NOAA: Global Temperatures - December 2017


What do Activists have without new temperature records? Thirty years of blaming extreme cold and warm, drought and floods, on CO2 has accomplished little (details here). Activists’ favorite tactic of focusing on worst case climate futures doesn’t work. It shouldn’t work.

Activists could try science instead. Stop exaggerating the research, stick with reports from the IPCC and major climate agencies, and accurately describe the large uncertainty of climate forecasts. Of course, that is not as scary as their usual tactics.

Stand back I'm trying science.

Why the (possible) stair steps in warming? (updated)

Where did the heat come from in the massive warming during the 2014-2016 El Nino period? A new paper proposes an answer: “Big Jump of Record Warm Global Mean Surface Temperature in 2014-2016 Related to Unusually Large Oceanic Heat Releases” by Jianjun Yin et al. in Geophysical Research Letters (in press).

A recent paper give an explanation of this pattern: “Reconciling the signal and noise of atmospheric warming on decadal timescales“ by Roger N. Jones and James H. Ricketts in Earth System Dynamics, 8 (1), 2017 — Abstract…

“Interactions between externally forced and internally generated climate variations on decadal timescales is a major determinant of changing climate risk. Severe testing is applied to observed global and regional surface and satellite temperatures and modelled surface temperatures to determine whether these interactions are independent, as in the traditional signal-to-noise model, or whether they interact, resulting in step-like warming.

“This model indicates that in situ warming of the atmosphere does not occur; instead, a store-and-release mechanism from the ocean to the atmosphere is proposed. It is physically plausible and theoretically sound. The presence of step-like – rather than gradual – warming is important information for characterising and managing future climate risk.”

This paper points us to another perspective on climate change. Ocean heat content (OHC) is in many ways the best metric of warming. This was controversial when Roger Pielke Sr. first said it in 2003 (despite his eminent record, Skeptical Science called him a “climate misinformer” – for bogus reasons). Some scientists point to changes in the ocean’s heat content as an explanation for the pause.

Graphs of OHC should convert any remaining deniers of global warming (there are some out there). This shows the increasing temperature of the top 700 meters of the oceans, from NOAA’s OHC page. See here for more information about the increase in OHC. It is in a sense the clearest metric of global warming. Why do we not see this graph more often? Probably because it is not scary.

Ocean temperature 0-700m

That’s all a sideshow. Here’s the center ring.

Information about past and present warming is important. But for making public policy decisions, we need to know about future warming. What are the odds of severe warming during the 21st century? There is no easy answer, and no consensus of climate scientists about it. So climate activists either ignore the research (e.g., the 4 scenarios described in AR5) or focus on the worst of these (the truly horrific RCP8.5) while ignoring its unlikely assumptions.

So far the weather has sided with the skeptics, with little of the extreme weather activists predicted. No surge of hurricanes after Katrina (despite the predictions). No sign of the methane monster. Northern hemisphere snow extent has risen since in both the Fall and the Winter. There is little evidence that we have passed one of the often declared “tipping points”.

The smart way to bet is on inaction, as both sides continue their food fight while climate scientists make incremental progress (insufficient to affect the public policy debate. America will not prepare for the repeat of past extreme weather, let alone what we can reasonably expect in the future.

There are ways to break this deadlock, but neither climate scientists nor the US government will push for them. So we hope for pleasant weather. Hope is not a plan.

For More Information

For more information see The keys to understanding climate change, and especially these …

  1. How we broke the climate change debates. Lessons learned for the future.
  2. My proposal: Climate scientists can restart the climate change debate – & win.
  3. Thomas Kuhn tells us what we need to know about climate science.
  4. Daniel Davies’ insights about predictions can unlock the climate change debate.
  5. Karl Popper explains how to open the deadlocked climate policy debate.
  6. Paul Krugman talks about economics. Climate scientists can learn from his insights.
  7. Milton Friedman’s advice about restarting the climate policy debate.
  8. We can end the climate policy wars: demand a test of the models.

via Watts Up With That?


January 25, 2018 at 04:23AM

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