Pielke Senior: Climate Science Myths & Misconceptions

Climate Science Myths And Misconceptions – Post #1 On The Global Annual Average Surface Temperature Trend

By Dr. Roger Pielke Senior

There are a remarkable number of myths and misconceptions about climate science. In a set of upcoming posts in the coming weeks starting with this one, I overview these “errors” in the communication of climate science among scientists and to the policymakers, the media and the public.

Misconception #1The global average surface temperature trend is a robust metric to assess climate change.

As just one example to refute this claim, I refer to a new excellent post by Judy Curry

Separating natural and anthropogenically-forced decadal climate variability

where she refers to the paper

Solomon, Amy, and Coauthors, 2011: Distinguishing the Roles of Natural and Anthropogenically Forced Decadal Climate VariabilityBull. Amer. Meteor. Soc.92, 141–156.  doi: 10.1175/2010BAMS2962.1

which states

“….over the course of the next 10–30 years the magnitude of natural decadal variations may rival that of anthropogenically forced climate change on regional scales…”

The authors may not realize the significance of their statement (although Judy does).  However, this focus on regional scales, along with the recognition of the importance of regional circulation patterns, illustrates how the 2007 and earlier IPCC reports failed by focusing on a global average radiative forcing, as represented by an annual global average surface temperature trend.

Work that we have written about further illustrates the failure of the global average surface temperature trend as a useful climate metric with respect to climate impacts, such as drought and floods, that matter to the environment and society.  The erroneous use of this metric by high level scientists and policymakers to communicate risks from climate  is misleading policymakers.

One example is illustrated by the article

Pielke, R.A. Sr., H.J. Schellnhuber, and D. Sahagian, 2003: Non-linearities in the Earth system. Global Change Newsletter, No. 55, 11-15.

What is also interesting about this article is that Hans Schellnhuber was Chief Government Advisor on Climate and Related Issues during Germany’s EU Council Presidency and G8 Presidency and has other high level political positions (e.g. see).

Unfortunately in his political role, he has  ignored the significance of the statements we reported on in our co-authored article.  Instead, in his poltical role, he has  focused on the global average radiative forcing as represented by the global annual average surface temperature trend as the primary metric to encourage  energy policy.

He has done this  not just in Germany and the EU, but also in the USA; e.g. see the news article Four Degrees of Devastation by Stephen Leahy on October 9 2009), where he was reported as saying

“Schellnhuber ….. briefed U.S. officials from the Barack Obama administration….[and] told them that the U.S. must reduce its emissions from its current 20 tonnes of carbon per person average to zero tonnes per person by 2020 to have an even chance of stabilising the climate around two degrees C. “

However, as Schellnhuber agreed with in our earlier 2003 article that he co-authored

“…climate is not the long term average of weather statistics, but involves the non-linear interactions between the atmosphere, oceans, continental ice, and land surface processes, including vegetation, on all time scales.”

In the context of Judy Curry’s post and the Solomon et al 2011 article, we (with Hans Schellnhuber as co-author) write in our 2003 article

“…irregular variations of the North Atlantic Oscillation, the El Niño Southern Oscillation, and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation are well documented…. While the reasons for the temporal changes in these climate features are not fully understood, the close coupling between the ocean and the atmosphere has clearly been demonstrated by observations and modelling. Such temporal variations in the Earth System may partly explain the large changes observed in some regional hydrologic and ecological systems during the 20th century. For example, an abrupt change in the annual outflows from African equatorial lakes occurred in 1961, followed by a slow downward trend…”

Thus

“…since none of the general circulation models (GCMs) used to project climate change over the next hundred years include all of the important forcings and feedbacks, they should be considered as sensitivity studies rather than forecasts…”

The recognition of the complexity of the climate system is becoming better recognized by the IPCC community, but it is way overdue. Hans Schellnhuber, who I respect as a colleague, should revisit his viewpoint that was expressed in our 2003 paper. His 2003 view is a  robust characterization of climate science,while his more recent political pronouncements are  not.

The new Solomon et al paper and posts by Judy Curry should alert Hans that in the last few years he has been focusing his policy recommendations on a misconception of the real world behavior of the climate system.

As a result of  inaccurate communication of climate science by senior climate scientists who have had a different view in the past (such as Hans), policymakers are making decisions with seriously flawed climate science information.

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28 Responses to Pielke Senior: Climate Science Myths & Misconceptions

  1. crosspatch says:

    I will try to state this as simply and clearly as I can.

    Our politicians tell us that we need to make adjustments that are going to cost trillions of dollars globally in order to prevent some climate disaster.

    We are currently out of money and must already borrow to simply meet current expenditures.

    If we are to spend this additional money, we will need to borrow additional funds and obligate our children and our grandchildren to repay it.

    We have an obligation to those children and grand children to make absolutely sure that there actually is a problem and that spending this money will make a difference else we are simply robbing them of their future earnings. It is basically taxation without representation as when a government spends beyond its means and borrows monies to be repaid with the earnings of future taxpayers, they are taxing people who may not even have been born yet, let alone have a chance to cast a vote one way or the other on the issue.

    We are obligated as a society to see to it that we don’t waste their money. If we don’t and it turns out to be folly, we may find them cutting us off in our old age in order to pay for it.

  2. Smokey says:

    crosspatch:

    Bravo!

  3. Rob R says:

    And where are we going to borrow the money from? China? That sounds real clever.

    We cut our emissions, export entire industries to China/India and other parts of the developing world, thereby making ourselves poorer. They use the new industrial dominance to make truck (no) shiploads of money (from us when we buy the product) while releasing all the CO2 we would have anyway, and probably even more.

    Then in order to meet some crazy ecozelot carbon dioxide quota we get the Chinese and Indians to loan us what really should have been our own money, and they make the interest on that as well. End result: more CO2 in the atmosphere than would have been the case under a business as usual scenario, and even more ecozelots screaming its worse than we thought.

    Really prudent stuff. This is all so easy. Why not make the CO2 targets even tougher while we are at it?

  4. Lady Life Grows says:

    I shrieked with laughter when I saw the first descriptor of how you tell natural from anthropogenic climate change:

    “….over the course of the next 10–30 years the magnitude of natural decadal variations may rival that of anthropogenically forced climate change on regional scales…”

    Over that time period, the Earth is expected to cool from decadal cycles. So: cooling is natural cycles and warming is AGW.

    Hilarious, but given the realities of life benefitting from both warming and carbon dioxide, it would be well to get lots of other people to laugh with us.

  5. rbateman says:

    You tell ‘em , Dr. Spencer.
    I live in a Regional Climate, as does everyone on Planet Earth, and it is everything to me.

  6. Neville says:

    I’ve been concerned that very few people seem to understand anything much about energy use and co2 emissions in Australia and I suspect most countries/people around the world.

    Here is a letter I just got published in a local paper in country Victoria Australia.

    There seems to be a lot of confusion about co2 emissions and Labor’s support for a co2 tax that will help to wreck the Australian economy.

    I would like to list some of the facts about co2 emissions and energy to prove what a total lie the Gillard labor party’s tax really is.

    The gas co2 makes up just 0.039% of the atmosphere, just 0.01% increase over the last 200 years. That is an increase of one hundredth of one percent in the last two centuries.

    Australia produces just 1.3% of global manmade emissions. So Australia’s contribution of that total is 1.3% of 0.01% or 0.00013% or one ten thousandth of one percent of the total.

    The scientists say the planet’s temperature has increased by 0.7 C over the past century so Australia’s contribution would be 0.009C or one nine thousandth of a degree C, if we were to attribute that temperature increase to extra human co2 emissions.

    Australia’s co2 emissions are derived from coal 55%, oil 30%, and natural gas 15%.
    The Gillard government intends to reduce our emissions by 5% by 2020, i.e. 1.3% minus 0.07% = 1.23%.

    Of course that tiny amount ( 0.07%) will be replaced by the developing world’s co2 increases in a matter of months.

    But here are the problems, from now until 2035 all projections show that the developing world will increase emissions at 20 times the rate of the developed world. ( Latest EIA report)

    By 2035 the total developing world’s emissions of co2 will be nearly twice that of the developed world and of course Australia’s emissions will be a much smaller percentage of global emissions than today.

    Now here is the cruncher, while the Labor party is planning to reduce our emissions by 5% they are increasing coal and natural gas exports every year. Of course Australia is the biggest exporter of coal in the world.
    At the present time we export 75% of all coal mined in Australia every year and when this is used overseas the co2 produced is three times more than from our domestic use of coal.

    Our Labor government is either stupid or suffers from a type of bi-polar disorder or they are very untruthful when discussing our co2 emissions.

    Just to finish, Andrew Bolt recently forced climate commissioner Tim Flannery into an astounding revelation on radio 3MTR.
    He stated that even if the “entire world stopped emitting co2 today we would not see a drop in temperature for hundreds of years, perhaps a thousand years.” A surprised Bolt said it didn’t seem like a very good deal.

    Wake up Australia you are witnessing one of the greatest cons in history and it will not change the climate in the slightest and you have this confirmation from our Climate Commissioner as well.

  7. Mike Bromley says:

    We are obligated as a society to see to it that we don’t waste their money. If we don’t and it turns out to be folly, we may find them cutting us off in our old age in order to pay for it.

    And this is precisely what is so onerous about the attitude of green-leaners, is that they come up with “yes, [it] (meaning whatever ’cause’) might no be anything at all, but I’d rather take the chance and be wrong, than do nothing at all”

    In other words, they’d rather not play catch-up ball, preferring to leave it to their great-grandchildren, who will wonder what on EARTH their forebearers were on about to wreck their lives so. History is about to be very unkind to the AGW boondoggle, ironically, no matter what the outcome.

  8. Brian H says:

    Mike;
    They’d rather do SOMETHING, however costly and useless whether they’re right or wrong, than be blamed for not blowing up the world economy.

    Ya, that’s sensible.

    Where’s my resolver?

  9. Robertvdl says:

    Piers Corbyn
    What Does & Doesn’t drive Climate

    http://www.weatheraction.com/docs/WANews11No5a.pdf

  10. Geckko says:

    Colour me sceptic, but when I read this:

    “….over the course of the next 10–30 years the magnitude of natural decadal variations may rival that of anthropogenically forced climate change on regional scales…”

    I am immediately alerted to a case lining up the excuses for when warming stops or reverses. Dress it up in expensive computer models and peer reviewed papers, but it amounts to nothing but a purile argument:

    “look at the human caused warming”

    “oh, look we are no getting some natural offsetting cooling”.

    Give us a break.

  11. I read the above posts and was horrified by the assumption that the climate was changing due to CO2. The fact is that having looked at every conceivable angle on the subject over many years, I’ve yet to find a single conclusive proof of any climate change.

    Yes in a world of 150 countries, and many climate variables, it is always possibly to find some country whose rain/drought, temperature, wind, humidity, cyclones, earthquakes, toads, newts or whatever has gone up/down, but on a global scale, we are yet to see any impact of so called “manmade climate change”. Indeed, we haven’t even seen any affect of the apparent “natural climate change” over the 20th century.

    I have to conclude that either:
    1. The temperature record is entirely false
    2. That temperature has no measurable effect on the world’s eco-system
    3. We are just not measuring the “thing” which is affected by the “massive” temperature rise of less than a degree.

    As for “spring coming earlier” nonsense … will someone please explain to these journalists about urban heating and how cities have got warmer over the last century … or better still force them to get out of their sweaty cities and go and see the real world where spring isn’t getting earlier.

  12. Arfur Bryant says:

    @crosspatch:

    Well said indeed.
    The more I read about the whole cAGW scam, the more I realise that it was never about science. It is about tax revenue. In the same way that governments handle alcohol and tobacco, they will tell us that CO2 is really really bad but, instead of banning it (at least partially) – they just tax it, and then tax it again. The difference, of course, is that it can be proven that alcohol and tobacco actually are bad for you…

  13. Harold Pierce Jr says:

    rbateman says on April 11, 2011 at 10:49 pm:

    You tell ‘em , Dr. Spencer.

    What have you been drinkin’ and smokin’? Thunderbird and cheap Mexican pot?

  14. Tenuc says:

    rbateman says:
    April 11, 2011 at 10:49 pm
    “…I live in a Regional Climate, as does everyone on Planet Earth, and it is everything to me.

    It’s worse than they thought, Rob. After experiencing living in three different areas of tiny England for a number of years on each occasion, I can state categorically that there are very large differences in the climate we actually experience even at the local 100 mile scale. Global climate is a man-made illusion and has no mathematically sound foundation. Deterministic chaos ensures that global climate cannot exist.

  15. Steve C says:

    More laughter, this time from me, at ” … over the course of the next 10–30 years the magnitude of natural decadal variations may rival that of anthropogenically forced climate change on regional scales … ”

    May I rewrite that for them?

    ” … over the course of the foreseeable future the magnitude of natural decadal variations will continue to swamp that of anthropogenically forced climate change on all scales … ”

    That’s better.

  16. Bob Barker says:

    crosspatch & Rob R

    Well said.

  17. Ed Fix says:

    It seems to me the point Dr. Pielke is making here is very much like something I’ve been thinking for some time.

    Climate can be thought of as the ocean currents transporting heat around the earth, and the air temperature is merely an effect of climate. The heat capacity of the atmosphere is miniscule compared to the oceans.

    However, the anthropogenic hypothesis of global warming requires that ALL the excess heat in the climate system ORIGINATES in the atmosphere (I dare somebody to make me repeat my “infrared radiation is not heat” rant). This is very much a “tail wagging the dog” scenario.

  18. Jeff says:

    I am always interested in how true scientists can “respect” con men and charlatans …

  19. Paul Irwin says:

    @ crosspatch:
    spot on. was just thinking the same thing this morning. and voting adults must fight for them.

    in our busy days it’s easy for us to forget, too, that every tax is borne by – and only by – consumers. i.e: increase taxes for a corporation by $1 and it will cost consumers $1.50 as the corporation necessarily recoups its higher costs of doing business. in this sense, there is no such thing as a corporate tax; it all comes out of the consumers’ pocketbook.

    …but planning to tax millions of unrepresented children, born and unborn, for an atmospheric trace gas while also reducing their ability to produce to pay those taxes, is sickening.

    -paul irwin

  20. kim says:

    Now Rocky Raccoon, he fell back in his room,
    Only to find his resolver.
    ============

  21. kim says:

    Prof. Schellnhuber wants
    Truth and Beauty and much more.
    But that’s all there is.
    ============

  22. Alexander K says:

    Well said, Crosspatch, I agree with almost all of your statement, except that I am already ‘old’ in the numerical sense and my wife and I are are busy ‘skiing’, spending our kids’ inheritances and getting our fill of overseas experiences before it’s too late for us to enjoy life. We looked after the kids pretty well for the first twenty years of their lives and did what we could to see them educated as broadly as possible, supported them as much as possible in their chosen sports and interests and their feet on the lower rungs of successful lives and now it’s our turn. We are quite proud of our kids and know that when we are clapped-out and at the end of our active days, they will step up to the plate.
    But we will be very sour if the Al Gores of the world make it difficult for our kids.

  23. vigilantfish says:

    The thing I always wonder about concerning the supposed worry about global warming and future generations is how many of these alarmists are pro-life? If they’re so worried about the harm done to future generations, who don’t even exist yet, surely by extension they should be worried about the death rate of the next generation already in utero?

    Of course, it’s not people they think about at all; it is Nature, upon which Bolivia wishes to grant Human Rights in the Law of Mother Earth:

    http://impunitywatch.com/?p=17162

    We must protect Nature, at all costs! /sarc.

  24. Dave Wendt says:

    “Schellnhuber ….. briefed U.S. officials from the Barack Obama administration….[and] told them that the U.S. must reduce its emissions from its current 20 tonnes of carbon per person average to zero tonnes per person by 2020 to have an even chance of stabilising the climate around two degrees C. “

    It’s hard to figure out who the bigger moron is, someone who would make such a statement, or someone who wouldn’t laugh him out of the room when he did.

  25. TonyG says:

    “…stabilising the climate around two degrees C. “

    Can’t speak for anyone else, but I would be QUITE uncomfortable in that particular climate.

  26. Ted says:

    Neville says:
    I’ve been concerned that very few people seem to understand anything much about energy use and co2 emissions in Australia and I suspect most countries/people around the world.
    Here is a letter I just got published in a local paper in country Victoria Australia
    Hi Neville.

    I heard your letter and the CO2 stats…being reference one of the Ausy Radio stations. your brillant CO2 stats.. were used to beat Tim Flannery on the head with.
    It wasn’t Andrew Bolt.
    Your letter was spot on and undeniale even for moter/foot in mouth Tim Flannery.
    Regards and good luck with the ETS battle.
    Ted. Canada.

  27. Mike says:

    Uncertainty in predicting regional climate effects makes adaptation measures more difficult and thus increases the need for mitigation. If we knew just which regions were going to have more droughts and which were likely to become more hospitable to agriculture we could plan ahead. The fact that this is hard, but that we do have good reasons to beleive big changes are coming if we continue our current energy useage practices, puts more weight on the need to reduce our net GHG emissions.

    The idea that we should not act without absolute certainty is absurd. Major economic policy decisions are always made under uncertain conditions.

  28. IanG says:

    “Schellnhuber ….. briefed U.S. officials from the Barack Obama administration….[and] told them that the U.S. must reduce its emissions from its current 20 tonnes of carbon per person average to zero tonnes per person by 2020 to have an even chance of stabilising the climate around two degrees C. “

    Since everyone exhales CO2 may we safely assume that Schellnhuber will head the queue at the koolaid stand?

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