A great letter to the editor on ‘the pause’

WUWT reader Steve Hales writes in Tips and Notes:

Thought you might get a chuckle out of my letter to our local bucolic paper.
Story from The Chronicle-Independent

“Whatever the cause of climate change – and there are healthy debates going on about that on a regular basis – one thing can’t be denied: the planet is heating up at an alarming rate. Worldwide, it was the warmest November on record, and so far this year, we are tied with 2002 as the fourth-warmest year on record. Last month was the 345th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th-century average, and that’s a statistic that’s hard to argue with.” – Noted and passed Chronicle Independent 12/23/2010.

My letter in response:  

December, 30, 2013

Chronicle-Independent
Martin L. Cahn, Editor
Camden, South Carolina 29020

Dear Editor:

“So all of this adds up to no warming for almost 17 years now. And climate scientists are still debating and trying to figure out what’s going on. We have some subjective explanations and possibilities for what’s going on, but something quantitative or having the models actually be able to predict something like this–well, no, we’re not there yet.” — Dr. Judith Curry on the pause in global warming

In your paper’s “Noted and passed” feature, December 23, 2013, I discovered that “the planet is heating up at an alarming rate.” This surprised me for global temperatures have remained remarkably unchanged on a trend basis for the past 16 years. This phenomenon has received a bit of notice because it shows how complex the climate is and how difficult it is to make predictions. It also shows that there are natural factors e.g., the “Pacific Decadal Oscillation” (PDO) which negatively swamp the effects of greenhouse gasses for perhaps decades. These negative factors get precious little attention because they would lessen the urgency felt by some policy proponents to currently begin to curb emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from fossil fuels. The political difficulty of convincing electorates of the problem seems to have enabled an attitude of being less than truthful about the problem’s urgency.

NOAA’s monthly report “State of the Climate” bases its warmest or coldest month claim upon an instrument record for land based stations, which in 1880 through the first 40 years of the instrument record was extremely sparse. Based on that sparse network, then that claim of the warmest November is accurate but incomplete. What would be more helpful would be to more fully explain the pause in global warming that has occurred since 1997 and then place that warmest month claim in that larger context.

Consider for a moment if the economy had failed to grow for the past 16 years but over the last century had increased in size by 5% you could make the claim that economic output for November was the highest it has ever been since recordkeeping began (bumps and wiggles in a time series don’t influence trends) and it was the 345th consecutive month that economic output was above its 20th-century average. At the same time, government statisticians ignored that economic output had remained unchanged for the past 16 years. I am sure you would be screaming from the highest point in Camden that this deceitful practice of reporting economic statistics must end at once. But yet when this exact same practice is preformed upon climate data you are alarmed at a trend that doesn’t exist.

Steve Hales

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66 thoughts on “A great letter to the editor on ‘the pause’

  1. Perhaps late on that specific instance, but I still see the exact same argument from climate alarmists, so it’s still relevant.

  2. Your local newspaper might redeem itself and show that it is an honest broker of the news by publishing your letter.

  3. We know that climate always changes and does stand still, we also know it is not getting colder, what is the third option?

  4. “I am sure you would be screaming from the highest point in Camden that this deceitful practice of reporting economic statistics must end at once.” – If you scream in Camden does anyone hear you?? http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/apocalypse-new-jersey-a-dispatch-from-americas-most-desperate-town-20131211?print=true

    Perhaps some resources could be better directed to the here and the now of real problems. Or does CO2 cause total degeneration of what used to be a good city into what is now basically unmentionable in polite society?

  5. Good point John Silver, there is plenty of evidence based on long term trend data that we’re in a Holocene Climactic Optimum.

  6. Well…are we not in an interglacial period? In which the earth warms until a point beyond which it doesn’t? Then back to an ice age. Am I wrong?

  7. one thing can’t be denied: the planet is heating up at an alarming rate

    Have they talked to the people at “New Scientist”? The “New Scientist”, 7 December 2013 cover story was: CLIMATE SLOWDOWN IS IT TIME TO STOP WORRYING ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING?

  8. The only problem Steve is that you have inadvertantly schooled them how to report stagnated life expectancy numbers after Obamacare takes hold – “Under Obamacare, US life expectancy has remained at or near the highest level it’s ever been!”

  9. @ Gareth Phillips –

    “We know that climate always changes and does stand still, we also know it is not getting colder, what is the third option?”

    As for the third option? – well not making false correlations would be a start don’t you think?

    As for it not getting colder – I am old enough to remember the Global Cooling scare story that preceded the Global Warming one. I also suspect that the temperature was not getting any warmer just before the Maunder Minimum.

  10. So if the climate as defined by the temperature of the earth remained exactly at the same level as Nov 2013 for the next 100 million years and never exceeded this value, but was 0.1 degree warmer in November of the Year of our Lord 100,002,013 you could then claim it was the warmest November since the one in 2013 and continues the sequence of the 12,000,000,345th consecutive month stretch that exceeded the 20th century average.

  11. The problem with warmists is that – like a 3-year-old who doesn’t want to go to bed – they will only hear what they want to hear. Anything not conforming to the agenda is to be ignored.

  12. My analogy is if climate scientists were watching a marathon race and their favourite runner dropped down dead half way round, they’d still all be convinced that all was going well because statistically for the last hour their runner is still at the furthest point from the start that he has ever been.

  13. The cause of the warming, and end of it, are no longer a mystery.

    Curiosity resulted in the discovery of the two primary drivers of average global temperature that explain the reported measurements with 90% accuracy. http://agwunveiled.blogspot.com/. CO2 is not one of them.

    Common motivation can result in activity very similar to conspiracy.

  14. Gareth Phillips says:
    December 30, 2013 at 9:21 am
    We know that climate always changes and does stand still, we also know it is not getting colder, what is the third option?

    Since we also know that the climate isn’t statistically warming and hasn’t for the last 17 years or so, the next possible option is that the Earth could be slipping into the next 100,000 year ice age cycle which has instead has been moderated/stabilized by current CO2 levels

  15. Anthony Watts posted: “WUWT reader Steve Hales writes in Tips and Notes:

    “Thought you might get a chuckle out of my letter to our local bucolic paper. Story from The Chronicle-Independent:

    ‘Whatever the cause of climate change – there are healthy debates going on about it’.”

  16. . Over the last 10 years, the Northern Hemisphere SST is declining, the Southern Hemisphere

    ” one thing can’t be denied: the planet is heating up at an alarming rate. ”
    What nonsense ! One time regional events do not translate to the globe heating up long term nor anywhere near at an alarming rate

    Sounds like the author who writes the TIPS & NOTES for the CHRONICLE -INDEPENDENT does not do his homework . H e or she is likely in for a big surprise in the coming decades.
    There has been no heating up of the planet for some 17 years .
    North Atlantic Ocean SST and AMO are declining, the Pacific Ocean SST is flat and the North Pacific Ocean SST is flat and possibly declining. The PDO index is also declining but this is just a pattern change indicator and indicates that there is now more colder water at the eastern side of the Pacific than in the western or central part of the Pacific than we had 10 years ago. There are also fewer strong El Ninos. I don’t see another strong El Nino for some time yet. [3-4 years?] These factors all combined to keep the global temperatures flat and now slightly declining as they did 1880 to 1910 and again 1945-1975. The decline in global temperatures is likely to continue as ocean cycles tend to be long [65-70 years]. so the cooll cycle will likely last 30-35 years.

    Winters during the upcoming years will get colder and most likely by 2018/2020 will be much colder than today. Already the winter temperatures of Northern Hemisphere , Contiguous US, Europe and UK have been declining since 1998
    The winters could stay cold for the next 2-3 decades. Land locked areas like Central US, Central Canada (especially the Prairies); Central Europe and Asia which do not get the moderating effect of the oceans could have colder winters than the coastal areas.

    The attached graph illustrates the cold weather in North America which is likely to continue all Janauary

    http://www.findlocalweather.com/weather_maps/temperature_north_america.html

  17. We do know a couple things, either warming is not accelerating as would be necessary for it to be dangerous or natural variability is greater than figured. Or a combination of the two.

    The implications are the same, the rate and duration of warming aren’t unusual. Claims about “unprecidented” are certainly wrong.

  18. Bryan A says:

    Since we also know that the climate isn’t statistically warming and hasn’t for the last 17 years or so, the next possible option is that the Earth could be slipping into the next 100,000 year ice age cycle which has instead has been moderated/stabilized by current CO2 levels.

    Amazing, isn’t it? For seventeen years, the steadily rising CO2 concentration has exactly counteracted what, at the same exact time, has turned into global cooling! It’s as if “carbon” has been calibrated precisely to the approaching ice age, which is now cooling the planet at exactly the same rate as rising CO2 is warming the planet…

    …or, maybe CO2 just does not have the claimed warming effect.

    Bryan, let me introduce you to William of Ockham, of Occam’s Razor fame. Which explanation above do you think is the more likely one?

  19. In what way does that “global temperature above the 20th-century average” consider that we didn’t start burning much oil until 1950, and there was quite a bit of warming before 1950? How is the 20th-century average relevant as something to compare to? Why not the average of the 1800s?

  20. NOAA’s monthly report “State of the Climate” bases its warmest or coldest month claim upon an instrument record for land based stations, which in 1880 through the first 40 years of the instrument record was extremely sparse. Based on that sparse network, then that claim of the warmest November is accurate but incomplete.

    This is not accurate. What NOAA uses is a model of the data, not the data itself. Their model makes the past colder, which is why Nov 2013 looks warmer, but the actual temperatures in the instrument record do not agree.

  21. The simple fact is that for 17 years, no warming, and subsumed into that is 12 years of observed cooling. ‘Nuff said.

  22. Never in human history has so much fuss been made over such trivial changes in temperature.
    A whole academic false trail laid down and embraced by media and the politicians – all over changes of fractions of a degree. Incredible.

  23. @andrewmharding
    As for myself I am more than ever convinced that it is not about warming, likely never was. They can not give up on the “line” and admit to a political agenda – like wealth redistribution? People may be a little more savy to politics even if gullible on science.

  24. dbstealey says:
    December 30, 2013 at 11:00 am
    Bryan A says:

    Since we also know that the climate isn’t statistically warming and hasn’t for the last 17 years or so, the next possible option is that the Earth could be slipping into the next 100,000 year ice age cycle which has instead has been moderated/stabilized by current CO2 levels.

    Amazing, isn’t it? For seventeen years, the steadily rising CO2 concentration has exactly counteracted what, at the same exact time, has turned into global cooling! It’s as if “carbon” has been calibrated precisely to the approaching ice age, which is now cooling the planet at exactly the same rate as rising CO2 is warming the planet…

    …or, maybe CO2 just does not have the claimed warming effect.

    Bryan, let me introduce you to William of Ockham, of Occam’s Razor fame. Which explanation above do you think is the more likely one?

    Since most razors have 2 sides to the blade, in this particular case, I would guestimate that either possibility has a 50% chance of being correct.

    Only time will tell if temperatures remain stable, decrease, or begin to climb again. Personally, I would place my money on a slight but continued decrease over the next several decades. After that, It depends on which cycle takes the reigns

  25. I understand where the newspaper is coming from. When global warmists say that the planet is heating up at an alarming rate from their perspective it is. “Alarmingly slow” . When they have been so adamant that their theories are correct they would be alarmed at how far the actual temperatures have been below their expectations. Now that IS alarming!

  26. ” John Silver says: December 30, 2013 at 9:13 am
    It’s not a pause, it’s a peak. ”

    I like it. From now on I promise to refer to it as “the peak”. Dr Libby’s work and several others would agree. I’m afraid we’re heading for some cold times. Enjoy the top of the sine wave while we can.

  27. John Silver says:

    December 30, 2013 at 9:13 am
    It’s not a pause, it’s a peak.

    Agreed. Thermal momentum is waning and will soon be declining.

  28. The MSM will just continue to boldy lie, to advance their progressive agenda.

    I’d bet dollars to donuts, within a week the NY TImes will publish yet another “news” article by Justin Gillis, containing statements like “The earth’s climate is warming at an alarming & dangerous rate, due to carbon emissions … blah-blah-blah”.

  29. Bryan A says:

    “Since most razors have 2 sides to the blade, in this particular case, I would guestimate that either possibility has a 50% chance of being correct.”

    Occam’s Razor doesn’t work like that. You’re not using the correct definition of ‘razor’.

    The question is: which explanation is more likely? Occam’s Razor says the simplest explanation is most likely the correct explanation.

    Is the simplest explanation that the rise in CO2 has exactly counteracted the putative decline in global temperature, thus resulting in a completely flat temperature record since ≈1997?

    Or, is the simplest explanation that CO2 does not have the claimed effect?

    C,mon, Bryan. Give us a straightforward answer. ☺

  30. Thanks to everyone for commenting and thanks to Anthony for posting it. It was the part about trends that just gnawed at me for a week until I couldn’t stand it any longer. We are a bit slow in the South but don’t hold that against us. 

    Shrnfr
    It is Camden, SC not Camden, NJ.

    Mike M
    Yes, there are unintended consequences. :)

    Rob
    Our editor is a pretty reasonable fellow but needs guidance from time to time. Our local paper does not draw enough on the resources of the community which surprisingly is highly educated with over 34% of the adult population with a college degree or higher..

  31. John Silver says:
    December 30, 2013 at 9:13 am

    > It’s not a pause, it’s a peak.

    There’s some evidence pointing to the peak being in 2005 or 2006 and we’re on the downhill.

    [OT: what happened to WP's posting info? I see strings like "Connecting to %s" which clearly means they're confused. Man battlestations!]

  32. db
    There is no Black or White / Right or Wrong for this issue, only subtle shades of Gray and models that don’t work relative to measured empirical data. I for one can’t discount some small effect from CO2 nor weather it does or does not create some form of imbalance. I certainly believe it to be a very small effect compared to natural forcing. But, if we were to be swinging into the next 100,000 cooling cycle, could the hypothesized warming effect be sufficient to offset the cooling enough to ensure societal survival?

  33. I read Steve Hales post in tips and tricks and immediately copied and saved it for a template for responses to my local news papers and news agencies when they utter similar inaccuracies. Why/how people continue to fall for these “extremes” continue to baffle me. According to these guys we should be seeing new high temperature records routinely and very few low temperature records. In my small area of the planet we continue to see few of both which means that we continue to fall within the norm of the slightly over 100 years of temperature logging. ie our little picture continues well within the big picture. Thank you for sharing the letter Steve Hales.

  34. Good response to the paper! I suggest to people that they do as I do and simply stick their head out the window to discern for themselves whether they see any significant changes over their lifespan. I’m a 63 year old Texan. When I stick my head out the window these days, I can’t discern any climate or weather differences from when I was a kid, a teenager, young adult, adult.

  35. occams razor is not science.

    when your version of philosophical positions is worse than wikipedia you know you’re in trouble

    “Occam’s razor (also written as Ockham’s razor from William of Ockham (c. 1287 – 1347), and in Latin lex parsimoniae) is a principle of parsimony, economy, or succinctness used in logic and problem-solving. It states that among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected.
    The application of the principle often shifts the burden of proof in a discussion.[a] The razor states that one should proceed to simpler theories until simplicity can be traded for greater explanatory power. The simplest available theory need not be most accurate. Philosophers also point out that the exact meaning of simplest may be nuanced.[b]
    Solomonoff’s inductive inference is a mathematically formalized Occam’s razor:[2][3][4][5][6][7] shorter computable theories have more weight when calculating the probability of the next observation, using all computable theories which perfectly describe previous observations.
    In science, Occam’s razor is used as a heuristic (general guiding rule or an observation) to guide scientists in the development of theoretical models rather than as an arbiter between published models.[8][9] In the scientific method, Occam’s razor is not considered an irrefutable principle of logic or a scientific result.[1][10][11]

    The problem with apply occams razor in climate science is you only have ONE theory that explains ( albeit poorly) past observations.

    To apply the razor you need two explanations that explain the same observations with different mechanisms.

    Here is a hint: “natural variation” is not a mechanism. its not an explanation its the absence of explanation.

  36. It seems to me that the underlying temperature trend over the last seventeen years must be downward if it is being masked by increasing CO2 emissions yet only succeeding in remaining flat. If we did not burn fossil fuels the world would be cooling at “an alarming rate”. We’ll have to keep pumping and fracking, fracking and pumping just to stay warm. If we get significant cooling the cardiac patients are going to start dropping like flies in winter…..but I guess that’ll just be part of the depopulation scenario the greenies seem to want.

  37. Mosher,

    How can one explain what one doesn’t understand? isn’t it a fools errand to purport what we dont know as fact and then make stupid political policies on it?

  38. It’s funny to see Mosh deny Occam’s Razor. He probably has nightly nightmares about it shaving his convoluted tangled AGW “science”.

  39. TomH says:
    December 30, 2013 at 1:47 pm
    The MSM will just continue to boldy lie, to advance their progressive agenda.
    I’d bet dollars to donuts, within a week the NY TImes will publish yet another “news” article by Justin Gillis, containing statements like “The earth’s climate is warming at an alarming & dangerous rate, due to carbon emissions … blah-blah-blah”.

    Coincidentally, Justin Gillis has an article that just came out explaining how mangrove trees are creeping up the coast of FL since there are no longer freezes to keep them in check. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/31/science/without-winter-freezes-mangroves-are-marching-north-scientists-say.html?nl=afternoonupdate&emc=edit_au_20131230&_r=0

    I love the comments posted, so smug and arrogant in their lack of knowledge.

  40. Steven Mosher says:
    December 30, 2013 at 3:52 pm
    occams razor is not science.

    The problem with apply occams razor in climate science is you only have ONE theory that explains ( albeit poorly) past observations.

    To apply the razor you need two explanations that explain the same observations with different mechanisms.
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Two? How about dozens? How to pick? How many formulae do we use in engineering that have been simplified and work as long as you stay within the bounds of the simplification. We often reduce formulae with many variables to simpler versions that sufficiently accurate for engineering purposes though not “scientifically” correct. I think climate science could use a good dose of “applied” science.

  41. Steven Mosher says:

    “To apply the razor you need two explanations…”

    Actually, you can have any number of explanations. Occam’s Razor is simply a convenient way to get rid of convoluted ‘explanations’ like CO2=CAGW, when natural climate variability produces exactly the same result now that it always has.

    For example, how many ‘hockey stick’ shapes can you count here?

    Billy Ockham would certainly agree that natural variability is the simplest explanation for current observations — not some convoluted “carbon” entity.

  42. “…we don`t know if this is a pause, peak or what…” Then call it a 17-year plateau. The next 17-year step-run could be up, down, or continuing level.

  43. Buried the lead. The comparison with economics and hypocrisy was the winner. They might publish everything except the last paragraph.

  44. Mike M says:
    December 30, 2013 at 9:34 am

    The only problem Steve is that you have inadvertantly schooled them how to report stagnated life expectancy numbers after Obamacare takes hold – “Under Obamacare, US life expectancy has remained at or near the highest level it’s ever been!”

    Mike M, that’s the funniest thing I’ve read here in a long time! Stealing!

  45. I am always reluctant to weigh in here because I am not an expert but as a skeptic and a lukewarmer I feel I need to clarify just a bit and hope that not too much calumny heads in my direction. :) When Mosher brought up the notion of climate mechanisms he was, I think, referring to GHGs but he wasn’t talking about climate sensitivity upon which he has stated before “[i]f you understand the formula for estimating ECS, its clear why the estimate is coming down and getting more narrow.” I think Curry’s Stadium Wave fits nicely into what Mosh said earlier about mechanisms vs. features. In Curry’s example the TCS is affected by the wave but not the ECS which is a century or more response. A recurring theme is more data and more data another 10 years and ECS estimates will be a lot better.

  46. Steven Mosher says:

    occams razor is not science.

    That’s right. It is an easily proven statistical principle.

    when your version of philosophical positions is worse than wikipedia you know you’re in trouble

    Not sure why you’re being snarky with the previous poster here, but I’ll leave that in so those who live by the snark can die by the snark.

    The problem with apply occams razor in climate science is you only have ONE theory that explains ( albeit poorly) past observations.

    The previous poster did not apply OR to all of climate science, only to a specific proposition: that an exact balance exists between two specified mechanisms: warming by CO2 vs cooling due to a slide into an ice age. Out of the two hypotheses: (1) “the temp is flat because an ice age is starting and the CO2 CAGW theory is correct, but the ice age slide is of the same magnitude as the CO2 warming” vs (2) “the temp is flat because nothing is happening” – (2) is the simpler.

    When your understanding of another poster’s comment is worse than a five-year-old’s, you know you’re in trouble.

  47. John Silver says: “It’s not a pause, it’s a peak.”

    Robert W Turner says: “Agreed. Thermal momentum is waning and will soon be declining.”

    Speaking of peaks, short term peaks in temperature represent heat-shedding mechanisms–rapid T⁴ greater-than-average loss of heat from the system. Adding them into the equations to estimate a “global” temperature is missing the point.

  48. Probably the simplest explanation is this:
    Whatever it was that caused the 20th century warming has now reached a peak and may be going into reverse.
    It’s simple, and you don’t even have to know what caused the warming.
    It’s also what’s been happening for the past few billion years.

    Best regards, and happy new year to everyone at WUWT!
    Chris

  49. “Consider for a moment if the economy had failed to grow for the past 16 years but over the last century had increased in size by 5% you could make the claim that economic output for November was the highest it has ever been since recordkeeping began (bumps and wiggles in a time series don’t influence trends) and it was the 345th consecutive month that economic output was above its 20th-century average. At the same time, government statisticians ignored that economic output had remained unchanged for the past 16 years.”

    Excellent point. Puts into perspective the silliness of UK Met Office’s statements about “the hottest years since records began”. I shall use it myself.

  50. Somewhat related. Check out this article at the Guardian. Money quote:
    “Climate sceptics like to criticise climate models for getting things wrong, and we are the first to admit they are not perfect,” said Sherwood. “But what we are finding is that the mistakes are being made by the models which predict less warming, not those that predict more.

    The comments are also more than a little depressing. I swear that if St. Louis were being ground to dust under a mile thick glacier, these people would still be screaming about us burning up.

  51. Steven Mosher says:
    December 30, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    The problem with apply occams razor in climate science is you only have ONE theory that explains ( albeit poorly) past observations.

    To apply the razor you need two explanations that explain the same observations with different mechanisms.

    How about Willis’s one-line climate model?

  52. noaaprogrammer says:
    December 30, 2013 at 8:12 pm

    “…we don`t know if this is a pause, peak or what…”

    Then call it a 17-year plateau. The next 17-year step-run could be up, down, or continuing level.

    Seconded!

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