Thursday, January 24, 2013

Followup: My Comments About President Obama's Climate Remarks

Earlier this week I posted my comments pertaining to President Obama's remarks about climate change in his Inaugural Address. I wanted to follow up because of the amount of controversy my comments generated.

From Facebook, email, and other comments we have the following typical comment.

You are simply wrong on this issue, and it is irresponsible and dangerous for someone in your position of trust to mislead the public into believing that there is more uncertainty with regard to AGW than there is.

One, since deleted, predicted I would be responsible for the "deaths of thousands" and ended with a sarcastic "congratulations" because I do not believe storms have increased and believe that, when netted out, global warming will be a small problem. Not a non-problem, but a small problem.  I see nothing that indicates catastrophic global warming is imminent and I believe that adaptation and mitigation make far more sense than trillion dollar (literally) schemes to decarbonize the atmosphere and put in 'green' energy.

I dislike the idea of "consensus" in science. Science is about what can be proven. That said, I would like to provide some wisdom from scientists that believe -- more than I do -- that global warming is a problem that needs action.

Let's start with environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg in today's Wall Street Journal. The following are direct quotes:

Historical analysis of wildfires around the world shows that since 1950 their numbers have decreased globally by 15%. Estimates published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences show that even with global warming proceeding uninterrupted, the level of wildfires will continue to decline until around midcentury and won't resume on the level of 1950—the worst for fire—before the end of the century...
Claiming that droughts are a consequence of global warming is also wrong. The world has not seen a general increase in drought...
As for one of the favorites of alarmism, hurricanes in recent years don't indicate that storms are getting worse. Measured by total energy (Accumulated Cyclone Energy), hurricane activity is at a low not encountered since the 1970s. The U.S. is currently experiencing the longest absence of severe landfall hurricanes in over a century—the last Category 3 or stronger storm was Wilma, more than seven years ago.

If these sound familiar, these were the same points as in my original posting. But, you might say, "I'd like more evidence." Fair enough.

Here is what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on November 28:

It is premature to conclude that human activities--and particularly greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming--have already had a detectable impact on Atlantic hurricane activity. 

Here is Dr. Roger Pielke, Jr's, updated graph of normalized (adjusted for inflation and national wealth) hurricane losses in the United States:
Hurricanes Sandy and Isaac of 2012 are included in the gray bar at lower right. There is no upward trend!

The IPCC SREX report (see original post at top link) says,

"Long-term trends in normalized economic disaster losses cannot be reliably attributed to natural or anthropogenic climate change."

A draft of the (due in April) forthcoming IPCC summary report was leaked about a month ago and it says about the same thing: No indication, so far, of increased disasters due to climate change. I am not going to quote those sections because it is a draft and might change before the final version is released.

I could go on but, as I said in the original posting, President Obama's remarks were not justified by the science. Might the science change in the future? Sure. But, current science does not support worsening storms, droughts or wildfires. 

Finally, there is the issue of whether earth's temperatures are rising. They are not. For simplicity, here is a composite of the four primary indices (HADCRUT, NASA GIS, RSS, and UAH) since 1990. You can verify the graph below by clicking here.

So, there you have it. Between the original posting and this update you should have a pretty good idea of the state of the science in this regard.

Addition: Please see my exchange with Pam Knox in the comments below. I've added the annotated graph to help you follow the questions I am asking.


  1. If you go to the link for temperature and plot the entire data series, there is an upward trend since this data set began in the late 1970s. And in fact in the data you plotted there is a perceptible upward trend even in your truncated version, in spite of the large El Nino signal in 1998. It will be interesting to see what temperatures the next strong El Nino brings, although I don't expect to see one any time soon.

  2. Pam,

    The point of this graph was to show that global warming has stopped/paused. Thus the reason for starting it in 1990.

    You are absolutely correct that temperatures began rising in 1978-79. The entire period, starting in 1950, is here: This graph has been posted on this blog at least a dozen times but I'm happy to link to it here to prevent any confusion.

    Since you are a climate science I greatly respect, I invite you to write a guest post that addresses the following questions:

    1. Since the mid-late 19th century was the end of the "Little Ice Age" wouldn't it have been expected that temperatures would rise? If so, to what natural level (i.e., w/o human effects)?

    For the next questions, I don't dispute the multiple peer-reviewed papers that say human-forced global warming began in the 1950's.

    2. Look at the rise from 1910 to 1944. It is approximately the same magnitude as the rise from 1979 to 1998. If the same magnitude rise can be naturally forced, how do we KNOW the latter rise was anthropogenic? This relates back to question 1.

    3. Why did temperatures fall from 1945 to 1978? I can only find one peer -reviewed paper n this subject and it says a model study could reproduce that result if it is assumed that soot/dust increased in that period. However, as far as I can tell, the dust has never been found (i.e., in ice cores). Can you find the dust or offer an alternative explanation?

    If humans caused the mid-20th century drop as posited, doesn't that mean that temperatures, if they had continued to rise at the rate prior to 1944, would be even warmer today?

    Finally, what is the ideal temperature for humanity?

    Pam, I hope you'll take me up on this.

    With very best wishes,

  3. Correction: The linked graph starts in 1850, not 1950. Sorry for the typo.

  4. Mike:

    Although I fully and completely agree with you, unfortunately the global warming/climate change discussion has long ago ceased to be a healthy fact-based debate. As we say in high tech, it is now a 'religious war', a la Java vs Microsoft and iPhone vs Android.

    So far the only winner has been Al Gore.

  5. I agree that the attribution of every drought, hurricane and tornado outbreak to global warming is absurd.

    But my question is this:

    What convinces you that a 1980-1998 type trend won't follow the trend of the past 15 years, which looks awfully similar to 1940-1980? If 1980-98 happened again, what convinces you that we could stop the warming in time? This question is important because the 1940-80 and 1998 through present trends did little to change the overall trend since the late 1800's and the biggest threat from a warmer planet would be sea level rise, not more frequent storms.

  6. Hi AVK45, I'm going to do a post on your question. Stay tuned.


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