The age old battle of the thermostat – the 'Goredian' Knot of global temperature

People send me stuff.

Reader Kurt writes:

I just found your excellent website and have book marked it and will visit it often for updates. One simple question the global warm-mongers have never been able to answer is…

…that if in fact warming is taking place as they claim, what then is the optimum temperature of the Earth? Can they give us a number? is it 55 degrees? 78 degrees? 85 degrees? 98.6? Al Gore says the Earth has a fever – then what is the “normal” temperature?

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I thought about that long and hard, and thought to myself that it is sort of like a “Goldilocks” subjective temperature for porridge:

At the table in the kitchen, there were three bowls of porridge. Goldilocks was hungry.  She tasted the porridge from the first bowl.

“This porridge is too hot!” she exclaimed.

So, she tasted the porridge from the second bowl.

“This porridge is too cold,” she said

So, she tasted the last bowl of porridge.

“Ahhh, this porridge is just right,” she said happily and she ate it all up.

But what is “just right” for Earth’s temperature? Depending on who you might ask, I suspect you’d get different answers.

The Neanderthals, who lived through the last ice age, 10,000 to 70,000 years ago, might say “uggghaa bok mak!”  or in present language “warmer than it is now!”.

Ancient Greece, living in their age of enlightenment, which flourished during the 5th to 4th centuries BC might remark “είναι σωστό τώρα, τον πολιτισμό μας ευδοκιμεί”  or “it is correct now, our civilization is thriving”.

The Romans, who lived through the Roman Warm Period from 250 BC to 400 might say “frigus quam praesens placere” or “cooler than the present please”.

During the Islamic Golden Age of expansion, 622-750AD, They might argue the temperature was “just right” for them.

In the Medieval Warm Period, from about AD 950 to 1250, when humanity started to thrive, they would probably say the porridge was “just right”.

Right after that, the Vikings in Greenland would probably have asked Onan Odin for some extra warmth.

During the Little ice Age, from 1300-1850 it would seem certain most people would ask for it to be warmer, especially since it had such a well documented negative effect on human history.

As for now for 1850 to present? Well, it just safe to call it the tail end of the Holocene Climatic Optimum although some people think it is too warm and are actively campaigning to reduce Earth’s temperature.

File:Holocene Temperature Variations.png

After thinking about how those previous civilizations in time might perceive their preferred temperature, and thinking about Kurt’s question, I realized that it might very well be an intractable problem, aka the Gordian Knot:

“Turn him to any cause of policy,

The Gordian Knot of it he will unloose,

Familiar as his garter”

(Shakespeare, Henry V, Act 1 Scene 1. 45–47)

Or as Dr. Judith Curry once remarked to Congress:

Climate change can be categorized as a “wicked problem.”

As to the answer to Kurt’s question, the best answer I can offer would be this:

A temperature at which the widely geographically varied and widely climate adapted human civilizations and cultures can go about their lives without undue hardship.

But what is that optimum “just right” temperature numerically?  Well, first it is a local-versus-global problem. A local temperature suitable for the Eskimos isn’t likely to be suitable for the indigenous people of the Amazon. Second, it is a question of global average.

The average temperature of the Earth is said to have been and is:

Between 1961 and 1990, the annual average temperature for the globe was around 57.2°F (14.0°C), according to the World Meteorological Organization.

In 2011, the global temperature was about 0.74°F (0.41°C) above that long-term average, according to the WMO’s estimates.

Source: UCAR/NCAR

So if we are to accept those numbers, our current global temperature is 57.2 + 0.7 = 57.9°F

Between 1961 and the present, Earth’s human population has gone from 3 billion to 7 billion, more than doubling, and in that time the global temperature changed only 0.7F according to UCAR/NCAR.  Given the population growth, you could say that slight temperature rise has increased the human condition to a more favorable environment.

But, honestly, I don’t think the global temperature matters much in the scheme of things, because despite gloom and doom predictions of global warming to kill millions by 2030, the projections are still upwards:

pop_005[1]

The graph shows this pattern of accelerating growth (including the predicted population for 2025).

Source: BBC

I think it is science and adaptation that matters more than global temperature:

World_Population_Chart[1]

Source: http://econosystemics.com/AphetaBlog/?p=9

So probably, the best path forward from here is to shrug our shoulders at global warming, and to simply adapt, as mitigation (given the performance we’ve seen from current schemes to reduce Earth’s temperature) will be a true Gordian knot that will likely bankrupt us in the process.

Besides, our current warming from posited greenhouse gas effects may actually be helpful to us, because in climatic terms, there’s this maxim of mine:

If you don’t like the Earth’s climate, just wait a millennium.

And that is not too far ahead it seems, E.M Smith writes in Annoying Lead Time Graph

This graph from TheInconvenientSkeptic bothers me.

It bothers me because of what it says.

What it says, by two different modes of reading, is that we have no business being warm right now…

LI-Holocene[1]

Click to enlarge

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Steve Keohane

That last graph bothers me too. It seems the past few interglacial periods have run 10-12K years. We are 12K years into this one. This was a concern in the 70s, until Jack bought his magic CO2 beans,and sprouted a hockey stalk. It has always nagged me that temperatures dive when CO2 is at its highest levels according to the ice cores. WUWT?

Keith AB

I think you meant Odin, Onan was famous for something rather “different”.
But a good thread. What should the optimum look like? Just because someone today thinks things were perfect 50 years ago , say, doesn’t mean that we all would agree. Seems like another imposed halcyon ideal being imposed for our own good by our betters. *tugs forelock*.
We all think that things were at their most excellent when we were growing up. Every kid in every time agrees that those were the best conditions under which to grow. Even our grand children will feel that way, it’s human nature.

Send me a bunch of money and I’ll study that for you . PS Let me know in a secret email what you want the answer to be .

SasjaL

Onan, 2nd son of Judah …
The biblical person who masturbated, doesn’t exist in Norse mythology …
It is probably Odin (Oden) you seek, who together with his brothers Vili (Vile) and Vé (Ve) created the earth.

James Davidson

The Earth reaches an equilibrium temperature when the energy it loses to space as infra-red radiation is the same as the energy it receives from the Sun. This equilibrium temperature is -18C. The actual average surface temperature of the earth, as you say, is 14C, – a difference of 32C. This 32C difference is the greenhouse effect. Ferenc Miskolczi has shown that the physics and mathematics demand that this is a saturated greenhouse effect. We have been conducting an unplanned experiment. Every year we have been dumping billions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. As levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have increased, levels of water vapour have declined. Miskolczi has shown that the optical thickness of the atmosphere, that is the number of times a photon of infra-red energy will be captured and released either by a molecule of CO2 or by a molecule of water vapor, has been unchanged since 1949. We have added more CO2 to the atmosphere and water vapour has declined to keep the greenhouse effect constant.

RACookPE1978

Nah.
The Vikings knew Onan was just going twist the handiest knob on his thermostat …. 8<)

cui bono

Absolutely right Anthony. Humans can adapt (by technology, mitigation and migration) to whatever is thrown at us. A larger question would be: do we have the right or the ability to try to ‘freeze-frame’ the world as we know and like it, or let the constant change of Nature take its course? I don’t know the answer to that.
Happy New Year to you, mods and everyone!

John Archer

Right after that, the Vikings in Greenland would probably have asked Onan for some extra warmth.

Onan!
Careful, Anthony. There might be children reading this.
I guess if Onan replaced Odin that might explain why the Vikings had a hard time. 🙂

RockyRoad

The “optimum” would be anything but the temperature cliff from which the earth recovered at the start of the Holocene (your first graph). Obviously, the earth will repeat that truly catastrophic* dive into the temperature abyss sometime in the future and Warmistas will be pining for the good ol’ days of relative global warmth.
*catastrophic: Most of the earth’s population will starve to death. The billions unavoidably killed by the next Ice Age will dwarf the Warmist’s fanciful prediction of millions killed by “climate”. And it will happen so fast that starvation will be the major cause unless we first annihilate ourselves through war.
Oh, and Happy New Year! (A very sobering one, I might add.)

Axel

Adaptation:
I once looked up the rate at which the coastal sea level advanced at the end of the last ice age, as witnessed by our ancestors of “Sealand” whose archaeological remains are today scattered [across] the bed of the North Sea. I forget precisely the figure, but itwas something like SIXTY FEET PER WEEK! You may want to check that. Could be Im out by a factor of ten. Hmmm, that would still be six feet per week. Out by a factor of a hundred: still more than half a foot per week. That’s more than we are supposed to see this century, PER WEEK!
Kind of knocks the scare mongering of present Neo-Environmentalist hysteria into a cocked hat.
Meanwhile, just when are those Pacific islands going to finally be inundated? We are about ten years late on that I [believe.]

SasjaL

… but Jörð (Fjorgyn / Jord [transl. Earth]) is the goddess of Earth (and mother of Thor), who is even a better choice.

davidmhoffer

I frequently see this question asked, and I’m sort of amused by the answers. Why? ‘cuz it don’t much matter! The earth’s temperature has varied from planetary hot house to ice age. Even if we knew what the “optimum” temperature was, how would we do anything about it? When it comes to temperature swings like that, we’re the germ on the flee on the elephant’s putootie.
The question is, in my mind at least, what do we do about any temperature swing large enough to be problematic? That, at least, has answers within our capacity to act.

Doug Proctor

The NH summer energy: the 21,000 year tilt wobble?
What is most important about the NH summer energy shift, as the TOA TSI changes by 6.8% or 91 W/m2 (45 W/mw whole Earth, daytime 12 hours, 22 W/m2 full Earth-24 hour) during the course of every year, because of orbital eccentricity, is that the Earth doesn’t just stay at a stable temperature, but that the NH is actually 2C warmer than the SH even though the NH summer occurs during the aphelion stage of the orbit, the point furthest from the sum, when the energy reaching the Earth is the lowest. So although 3.4 W/m2 (13.6 W/m2 TOA TSI equivalent) is said to bring the Earth’s temperature up 2C (CO2 theory), a negative 22 W/m2 difference creates a positive 2C change in the NH.
Counter-intuitive, or what?
The key point here is that the Earth’s atmospheric and oceanic system works very hard and very efficiently to redistribute solar energy. This cannot be emphasized enough. The system of energy redistribution is so powerful that it overwhelms the intuitive solar radiative forcing that would make the SH warmer by perhaps 1.5C, instead of cooler by 2.0C than the NH. A counter-intuitive negative 3.5C difference of about 6 W/m2 whole-Earth-24-hour, or 24 W/m2 TOA TSI.
This key point cannot be emphasized enough for this reason at least: as the energy redistribution system is more powerful (energy over time) than TOA TSI changes, any fluctuation in the energy redistribution system will have a greater effect on regional temperature differences than any other forcing mechanism considered by the IPCC. If you cannot identify the energy redistribution systems to a level of 0.5 W/m2 over a 30 year period within a system that routinely handles 24 W/m2 over a 1 year period, you cannot say that currently anything other than normal processes are controlling global temperatures.
One in 480. That is the level of both accuracy and precision you need. We don’t have it.
The global temperatures show significant regional differences. A global number is not very meaningful unless it occurs globally. Which it doesn’t. Regional differences are the condition of the planet.
The world has warmed since the end of the LIA. Was this a heat redistribution change? We say that the GHGs create a 13.5C or so additional heating of the planet, but under what conditions of radiative heat discharge is this true? Can the heat redistribution system that is so obviously stabilizing our planet each day vary by several degrees in its natural variability, so that we have a variable thermostat?
It is the human desire for certainty and cause that created the Greek gods of weather and fate. This desire seems to have created the climate change god, CO2, today. Gore admitted that he became a climate change activist in a moment of existential doubt (the illness of his son), seeing it as a positive movement to give meaning to his life. I see his conversion on the road to Damascus as a leap to find certainty and cause in an uncertain and somewhat arbitrary world. A world in which fluctuating energy redistribution brings, at times, the tropics to the poles and the arctic to the equator.
Al Gore, David Suzuki, Harold Camping. What is the difference?

Holbrook

500 millions years ago we had 15 times the current amount of CO2 so could you look for another answer? We do not have high levels of CO2…if anything we have too little. The average CO2 from Cambrian times to present day was probably around 2,100ppm. Simple question: Did we burn up or green up? We greened up. So 390ppm can in no way harm the earth…simple commonsense.

RayG

This old Tom Swanson cartoon of Goldilocks seems apropos:
http://home.netcom.com/~swansont_2/goldilocks.jpg

Tony

Pilots, by use of the International Standard Atmosphere (ISA), work with a baseline temperature and pressure of 15ºC (sea level) and 1013mb.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Standard_Atmosphere
Seems as good a baseline as any. So how to the temperature anomalies compare to that?

I think this video is appropriate, including the bit at the end.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgHM98rfE28?feature=player_detailpage&w=640&h=360%5D

csanborn

You wrote: “Between 1961 and the present, Earth’s human population has gone from 3 billion to 7 billion, more than doubling, and in that time the global temperature changed only 0.7F according to UCAR/NCAR.” Warmists apparently hate people, so that increase in people count is a disturbing figure for them… Since (I think) it is commonly accepted that one person at rest gives off about 100 watts of heat, that 4 Billion person increase represents well over (people exert too) 400 Billion watts of additional heat. 🙂

There is an interesting discussion of that last graph over at E. M. Smith’s website:
http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/annoying-lead-time-graph/
What that graph should tell you is not so much the “current temperature” as it should tell you the propensity for ice to melt or accumulate globally. We are already at the point where we have accumulated significant ice over the past 5000 years. While we get minor ups and downs, the general trend has been to cooling. We have valleys in the Alps that are currently glaciated that were forested 5000 years ago, we know that because we are finding 5000yo wood at the termination of the glacier. We know that mines in the alps that were working prior to the LIA are still iced over. We know that fields that were worked in Scandinavia at that time will not support a crop today. We know that areas of Greenland once supported grazing of animals and that those areas are frozen today.
If we were trying to farm the US Midwest with varieties of grain the settlers first arrived with, we would have no winter wheat today, it is too cold for those varieties.
Keep an eye on the Columbia Ice Field in Canada. When you begin to hear reports of Athabasca Glacier advancing, worry. The problems will come in the form of unexpected killing frosts, first in Canada and Russia, wiping out grain crops. Look for increased summer snow cover across northern Canada and Alaska. It won’t happen all at once, it will be very gradual with ups and downs along the way. We will have a cold spell like the LIA. It will warm after but not quite as warm as today just as today’s warming is not quite as warm as the MWP and the MWP not quite as warm as the Roman and the Roman not quite as warm as the Minoan.
5,000 years from now there will be more ice than there is today and in 20,000 years from now we might have permanent snow cover over most of Canada above 50N. This next glacial looks to be about 50% longer (120K years vs 80K years) with a “double dip” of cold that looks to be colder than the maximum of the last glacial but with a rather warm period between the two dips.
It took about 30,000 years for Eastern NA glaciation to reach its maximum with several episodes of advance and retreat in the interim and it stayed that way for about 10ky. Western NA had two maximum with about 40,000 years between them. Glacial periods are LONG and it can take twice as long as this current interglacial for significant ice to build up in some place. During the LGM, Eastern glaciation was actually already in retreat but the second Western maximum added to the overall ice. This was likely due more to shifts in precipitation patterns than temperatures where Pacific storms changed their track and a persistent Aleutian Low brought storms across California, Nevada and Utah year-round, not just in winter.

The question of ‘what is the optimum temperature for the earth’ is an ill posed question. It’s like asking what is the optimum speed of a car. The notion of “optimum” as you can see from the last question carries with it the notion of purpose or goal. So, the optimum speed for best fuel ecomony may be one speed. the optimum speed for ‘avoiding speeding tickets’ may have several values or a range of values. The real question is this: Is there an optimum temperature for humans? And even here, the question is ill posed. for which humans?. the right question is this. Are there boundary conditions that we don’t want to cross, if we dont have to.
So, just some simple observations. From the time we evolved, from the time we adapted to our environment and adapted our environment to suit our needs, the global average temperature has
varied from roughly 10C to 16C. Maybe less, maybe more. If we take todays temperatures to be roughly 14-15C (on average) we have estimates for the LGM that range around 2-4C cooler, and ranges for the holocene optimum that range 0-1C warmer. humans have evolved and adapted in the range. Moved where it is warmer, or constructed an environment to thrive where it is colder.
Now, comes the question, is it safe, is it wise, to go to a world that is 20C. That is, if you had the power to suddenly make the global average 20C, would you do it without thinking twice. Last time the earth avergae 20C, there were alligators at the north pole. no prudent person would argue that is a good idea to go to 20C. If you could turn the temps down to 10C would you?. No prudent person would argue for this, as North america would be covered by an ice sheet.
Consider now, that during the LGM when it 2C-4C cooler than today, the primary supply of energy, the sun, delivered the same TSI as today. Insolation was the same. c02, however, was about 200ppm, or half. C02 has doubled from the LGM and temps are about 2-4C warmer. Thats a very rough and crude approximation to give you a sense of how sensitive the climate is to doubling c02. 2-4C per doubling. Question. We are now at 400ppm, do we want to burn all the fossil fuels and go above 1000ppm. At 800 ppm, the evidence suggests, we get a world that is somewhere between 17C and 19C, if not warmer. some think (me included) we will get there at lower concentrations. Seems to me, that we don’t want to run the risk that may occur at 800ppm. Simply put, we don’t want to burn all the fossil fuels. A plan to avoid that would be a good thing.
Comes the question, how much more can we safely burn? up to 450ppm? 600ppm? 350? like mckibben argues. And who decides? If china, drives emissions up to 600ppm and AGW is true, and our country suffers a disproportiate outcome, are folks ok with that? who’s air is it?
because there is a risk, we should not ignore pathways to mitigation. we should not unthinkingly dump C02 into the air if we have other choices or can develop other choices. Neither should we adopt mitigation plans, where adaption can work.
That is all pretty vague. My sense is that if people can’t agree to these rather vague principles then we will just continue with BAU and future generations will pay the price.

Steve E

Keith AB says:
January 1, 2013 at 11:43 am
“I think you meant Odin, Onan was famous for something rather “different”.”
I don’t know Keith, the way “The Team” operates is a bit of a circle jerk. 😉

Gene Selkov

This was the wisdom about the little ice age and the present warmth we used to hear by way of BBC 30 years ago, before the world was commanded to go mad:

Andrew

@James Davidson (the on-duty Skeptical Science rebuttal clerk)
Your 1st sentence is a statement of the obvious.
Can you show me empirical proof of your second sentence? (Not someone’s theory, however often it is repeated doesn’t turn it from theory to fact).
The remainder of your post is superfluous. Why not ask your handler how a cooler object (the atmosphere) can cause net warming in a warmer object (the surface).
I’m all ears.

Mike McMillan

Right after that, the Vikings in Greenland would probably have asked Onan for some extra warmth.
I think you mean Odin. Onan was not someone the Vikings would have asked for anything. He even has an ‘ism’ named after him.

Now?
I’d say it is too cold.
http://www.vukcevic.talktalk.net/TemOpt.htm

@Axel
The sixty-feet-per-week sounds harsh
The total rise: About a hundred
And that took centuries: a marsh
Became sea-bottom. Crawled, not thundered.
Happy New Year! Let it be
Full of new wisdom, and success
Let panic over one degree
Decline and fail, and Team confess.
===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

TinyCO2

Imagine – it’s Monday morning and you have a job interview. Outside it’s blowing a gale and it’s the coldest it could possibly be to produce instant slush but no snow. Your car is hating the cold and almost certainly has a flat battery. The alarm has just gone off and you poke your nose out of the duvet. At that moment your bed is at the optimum temperature for humans.

Steve B

James Davidson says:
January 1, 2013 at 11:51 am
So would you prefer to live in a world at -18 deg Celcius or 14 degrees Celcius?

“The Earth reaches an equilibrium temperature when the energy it loses to space as infra-red radiation is the same as the energy it receives from the Sun. This equilibrium temperature is -18C. The actual average surface temperature of the earth, as you say, is 14C, – a difference of 32C. This 32C difference is the greenhouse effect.”

I was given to understand back in my college days that the earth had an internal heat source which was nuclear in nature. If heat is generated in the core of the earth, does that not effect the surface temperature even a little bit? None at all? Weird.

Steven Mosher says:
January 1, 2013 at 12:25 pm
“Now, comes the question, is it safe, is it wise, to go to a world that is 20C. That is, if you had the power to suddenly make the global average 20C, would you do it without thinking twice. Last time the earth avergae 20C, there were alligators at the north pole. no prudent person would argue that is a good idea to go to 20C.”
It all depends on how you get the global average of 20C doesn’t it. If daytime temps are 21C and nighttime temps are 19C all year round then bingo – you have an average of 20C. If we swing from 100C to -80C then you can say we have a problem. As it stands at the moment even if we do get an average of 20C we still won’t get alligators at the North Pole or South Pole since the axial tilt means that for 3 months of the year there is no sun and temps will still plummet to -70C or so.
I think maybe you need to think about things a little more.

Janice The American Elder

Steve, one could also ask, “What is the optimum CO2 level for our world?” However, the problem with trying to answer a question like that also leads one back to the optimum temperature question. For, no matter what parameter is chosen, that parameter is part of a very complex system. So even if you could magically set the temperature at some “golden” place, what makes you think it would stay there? The same with CO2 levels, for by raising or lowering CO2 we are inadvertently also raising and lowering an overabundance of other parameters, most of which we probably don’t even realize exist. The error bars on our knowledge of this planet (solar system, universe) are much greater than the knowledge itself. We see through a glass, darkly (to coin a phrase). There are very few times, during the whole of recorded human history (which is, granted, rather short) where a problem is solved without creating many other (and sometimes more severe) problems. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy (Hamlet, 1, 5). I actually think that future generations will look back at us in much the same way we look back at Tulipmania, and wonder why we made such a fuss about nothing. Sorry, it has been snowing here the last few days, and I get super philosophical at those times.

Auto

My first thought is that we – like the rest of our planet’s inhabitants – pretty much have to get on with what we have. There is not much we can do about the Sun’s output, or orbital geometry, or volcanism, directly.
We can adapt.
As humans we are able, to a considerable extent, to adapt. We have clothes, and houses, and, more recently, gas and electricity. And caribbean holidays!
But
cui bono’s
comment about ‘freeze framing’ caused me to pause. Any substantial change in global average temperature will, I think, lead to changes in coastlines, watercourses, population distribution, crop and livestock productivity, and doubtless many more factors.
We live in a world where national borders – recently – have been pretty fixed. But look at Europe in the Nineteenth Century – wholesale changes in borders, with the creation of Italy and Germany, Norway splitting from Sweden in about 1900, then, about 1918 the shattering of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the creation of the Irish Free State – now Eire.
Perhaps the post-1945 stasis, or comparative stasis, as the Soviet Union broke apart after it lost the Cold War with Yugoslavia following somewhat bloodily, is the historically abnormal? Perhaps states, principalities, duchies, always merge and split?
What might be normal if, either, sea level rose by ( whatever, say 100 metres), or if glaciers returned to Liverpool, Illinois, and the course of the Neva River?
IIRC, studies have been published – no, not the same as verified – indicating that the previous warm period ended pretty quickly. A descent into a full Ice Age glaciation in decades, or less, possibly, would be somewhat disruptive, were it to occur.
Adaptation will help – but major energy, raw material, and container ports miles from the receding sea, as water gets tied up in glaciers, will certainly hamper world trade.
Will your Walmart, Carrefour or Tesco shelves be full of he world’s bounty without modern mega-ships, and mega-ports?
Regardless of the pleasure it might give to the warmistas, delightful chaps and chapesses though we know they are ( yeah, sarc off!), I think a smidgen of warming is preferable to the same amount of cooling, overall.
And, no, I don’t know which we will get. I fear it might be the cooling.
Auto

tz2026

Tongue firmly in cheek:
It’s wicked. Or wicca. Plot the number of witches v.s. earth’s temp. It was warm until we started burning as many witches as trees. Draw a chart! You’ll see the hockey stick!
We can’t wait to see if the Malleus Malificarum is correct, if we wait, the earth will go up in the flames of divine judgment (Gaia if no one else, apparently the B* doesn’t like even one W*, or as Barbara Bush once said, “Rhymes with rich”). We need to burn them now!

Neill

“because there is a risk, we should not ignore pathways to mitigation. we should not unthinkingly dump C02 into the air if we have other choices or can develop other choices. Neither should we adopt mitigation plans, where adaption can work.”
Perhaps we should pause and inform ourselves further by sitting back and observing, measuring and learning more about how natural processes actually work. Instead of the current panicked policy of firing a decreasing store of ammunition into the dark, while betting humanity’s survival on hitting the target.

JohnH

@Steve Mosher
You mention that TSI was approximately the same during the LGM as it is today. Whether or not that can be accurately determined is questionable enough, especially since the process of glaciation took place well before the LGM, I believe current theories show substantial differences between today’s TSI and that of 5-10,000 before the LGM. Leaving that aside, you proceed directly to CO2 as a causal factor, without considering any other conditions that could lead to cooler temperatures.
My degree in physics has taught me at least one thing: no single variable in an extremely complex system can be ignored. I’m not arguing for epistemological nihilism, but I would gently suggest that anyone who tries to infer climate sensitivity from three factors (temperature, TSI, and atmospheric CO2) is on extremely shaky ground. What we do know is that cold temperatures should lead to greater absorption of CO2 in the oceans so it’s certainly possible that the 200 PPM level that you cite was an effect, not a cause.
CO2 certainly causes some warming, but it’s extremely simplistic to infer climate sensitivity by attributing 100% of global temperature changes to GHGs.

Jimbo

In the Medieval Warm Period, from about AD 950 to 1250, when humanity started to thrive, they would probably say the porridge was “just right”.

I vaguely recall, but stand to be corrected, that some of the coral island atolls were being populated during the Medieval Warm Period.

Willis Eschenbach

Steven, first, thank you for a thoughtful and detailed post. I read most of it before looking to see who wrote it, and I was shocked. Onwards to your points:
Steven Mosher says:
January 1, 2013 at 12:25 pm

The question of ‘what is the optimum temperature for the earth’ is an ill posed question. It’s like asking what is the optimum speed of a car. The notion of “optimum” as you can see from the last question carries with it the notion of purpose or goal. So, the optimum speed for best fuel ecomony may be one speed. the optimum speed for ‘avoiding speeding tickets’ may have several values or a range of values. The real question is this: Is there an optimum temperature for humans? And even here, the question is ill posed. for which humans?. the right question is this. Are there boundary conditions that we don’t want to cross, if we dont have to.

It would be useful if you would define “boundary condition”. A “boundary” implies a dividing line between two different things. What “boundary” is there in something like temperature.

So, just some simple observations. From the time we evolved, from the time we adapted to our environment and adapted our environment to suit our needs, the global average temperature has varied from roughly 10C to 16C. Maybe less, maybe more. If we take todays temperatures to be roughly 14-15C (on average) we have estimates for the LGM that range around 2-4C cooler, and ranges for the holocene optimum that range 0-1C warmer. humans have evolved and adapted in the range. Moved where it is warmer, or constructed an environment to thrive where it is colder.
Now, comes the question, is it safe, is it wise, to go to a world that is 20C. That is, if you had the power to suddenly make the global average 20C, would you do it without thinking twice. Last time the earth avergae 20C, there were alligators at the north pole. no prudent person would argue that is a good idea to go to 20C. If you could turn the temps down to 10C would you?. No prudent person would argue for this, as North america would be covered by an ice sheet.

OK, we can agree that there is something called “too hot”, and something else called “too cold”.

Consider now, that during the LGM when it 2C-4C cooler than today, the primary supply of energy, the sun, delivered the same TSI as today. Insolation was the same. c02, however, was about 200ppm, or half. C02 has doubled from the LGM and temps are about 2-4C warmer. Thats a very rough and crude approximation to give you a sense of how sensitive the climate is to doubling c02. 2-4C per doubling.

Absolutely not. The change in CO2 from glacial to interglacial is adequately explained by the change in sea surface temperature. You are assuming that about 100% of the change in temperature is a result of CO2 change. In fact, about 100% of the change in CO2 is a result of temperature change. This argument is completely wrong.

Question. We are now at 400ppm, do we want to burn all the fossil fuels and go above 1000ppm.

This question is premature. First, you need to answer the question, what are the chances that in 150 years we’ll still be burning fossil fuels for energy? Because that is how long it may take to burn the fossil fuels. I’d say that the chances of us still burning fossil fuels for energy in the year 2150 to be about zero.

At 800 ppm, the evidence suggests, we get a world that is somewhere between 17C and 19C, if not warmer. some think (me included) we will get there at lower concentrations.

I’m sorry, but as I just showed, the “evidence” you just presented is meaningless. We do not know how much temperature change, if any, we’ll get from increasing CO2. We have lots of speculation, we have lots of models.
We do have some evidence. For example, we have the evidence that the warming 1975-2000 is statistically indistinguishable from the earlier warming of 1920-1945. This means that the great increase in CO2 post 1945 made no noticeable difference in the warming rate. This is actual evidence, Steven, that the effect of CO2 was too small to measure, even over a quarter of a century.
In fact, the globe has been warming, in fits and starts, at about the same rate, half a degree per century for the last three centuries or so. The recent rise of CO2 has not changed that in the slightest, as near as I can tell. This is even more evidence that the effect of CO2 is very, very small.

Seems to me, that we don’t want to run the risk that may occur at 800ppm. Simply put, we don’t want to burn all the fossil fuels. A plan to avoid that would be a good thing.

I love it. A “plan” on how to shift the world off of fossil fuel, as if that will make the slightest difference. I guess I’ve seen too many such “plans” come and go, Steven, from the USSR’s five year plans to Jimmy Carter’s plans for energy independence to Obamas “plans” to make us a solar Eden. None of them have made the slightest difference. The market is inexorable. The only place we have solar is where well-meaning idiots are picking someone’s pocket to pay for how horrendously expensive it is … after decades and decades of unending work, still way too expensive.
A plan to get off fossil fuels? You’ll forgive me if I’m in a wait-and-see mode regarding that.

Comes the question, how much more can we safely burn? up to 450ppm? 600ppm? 350? like mckibben argues. And who decides? If china, drives emissions up to 600ppm and AGW is true, and our country suffers a disproportiate outcome, are folks ok with that? who’s air is it?
because there is a risk, we should not ignore pathways to mitigation. we should not unthinkingly dump C02 into the air if we have other choices or can develop other choices. Neither should we adopt mitigation plans, where adaption can work.

Should we burn “up to” three hundred and fifty ppmv as McKibben argues? Well, as of today we’re at 392.8 ppmv. If you can show me one single person who has been demonstrably harmed by that, Steven, I’ll shake your hand.
And when you, or anyone, comes up with a cost-effective way to reduce CO2 without increasing energy costs, I’ll be the first man to sign up. Kyoto ain’t it … cap-n-tax ain’t it … diluting gasoline with corn alcohol ain’t it …

That is all pretty vague. My sense is that if people can’t agree to these rather vague principles then we will just continue with BAU and future generations will pay the price.

Yea, that’s a great theory about the future, steven. Here’s an ugly fact about the present.
As your policies continue to increase the price of energy, current generations are demonstrably being harmed right now, today. Pensioners are shivering in fuel poverty today in Europe and the UK because they’re bought into your carbon alarmism. Increasing energy costs is one of the most regressive, repressive taxes imaginable. It hardly touches the wealthy, but it body-slams the poor … and you just look the other way and continue dreaming about causing a tenth of a degree temperature reduction in fifty years.
You want to accuse me of possibly maybe causing pain and suffering in a hundred years? Get real. Your short-sighted carbon policies are causing pain and suffering today. All you have to offer in return are incorrect calculations about the ice ages and promises of the possible avoidance of future suffering.
Perhaps you think that is a good deal, trading present suffering for a vague possibility of future gain. Me, I think that future generations will view the effect of the carbon hysteria on the poor of the planet and judge you harshly. You are ignoring current suffering in order to focus on some imagined future benefits. We don’t have to wait to see if your policies will make future generations “pay the price”. The poor of this generation are paying the cost of carbon hysteria today, and will continue while you sit in your warm office and ignore the damage your policies have already occasioned.
w.

Other_Andy

@Steven Mosher
“At 800 ppm, the evidence suggests, we get a world that is somewhere between 17C and 19C, if not warmer. ”
There is evidence?
What kind of evidence?
Empirical evidence, historical evidence or ‘computer modeled evidence’?
Evidence that shows that a difference of 200 parts per million of CO2 (0.0002% of the Earth’s atmosphere) overwhelms all other ‘climate drivers’?

I always presumed the Climatic Optimum was so called because it provided optimum conditions for man and other life on Earth. So a Goldilocks temperature is implied by the name.
If warmists mention a Climatic Optimum they invariably precede it with “so-called”.
Likewise, the Medieval Warm Period becomes the Medieval Climatic Anomaly.
Newspeak: alter people’s thoughts by altering the language.
I like the Goldilocks metaphor. It evokes an image of carbon bureaucrats force-feeding the world with cold porridge forevermore.

Jeff Alberts

Should we burn “up to” three hundred and fifty ppmv as McKibben argues? Well, as of today we’re at 392.8 ppmv. If you can show me one single person who has been demonstrably harmed by that, Steven, I’ll shake your hand.

Well, McKibben has, psychologically, anyway. And hasn’t Joe Romm’s head exploded more than once? Of course, one could argue whether those would be considered “harm”.
/sarc

Dan in Nevada

Being of Scandinavian descent, I thought I might be the first to catch the erroneous reference to Onan, but was beat by several. But, to clarify, Onan is the poster child for coitus interruptus, not masturbation. Today, Onan’s successors might be those in government who enjoy all the benefits of screwing the rest of us over while not delivering on their stated aims. It would be better if, on the other hand, they were just screwing themselves.

Matt

Would it be getting too warm, at least within short time, if, say, species would go extinct and habitats shifting north? Would that indicate a non – normal temperature even without knowing what is “optimal”?
() yes
() no

Axel says:
January 1, 2013 at 11:56 am

Yeah, Doggerland was a sort of Celtic Atlantis at one time. There would have been a tsunami from a slide in Norway that swept across it and wiped out most people happening to be sleeping there one night (might have been day, but to think if it happening at night is more dramatic). Most of that place probably got washed away in that event.
What are now the Persian Gulf and the Adriatic Sea would have been flat, fertile river valleys. These would have been places from which the people that originally founded the Mesopotamian and Greek and Roman civilizations would have originally come. They would have been forced to migrate to a land where living was harder as the sea levels rose and the climate began to dry out. It is no wonder that these cultures gave rise to such cultural legends that include stories of bountiful carefree times of the past and flood legends. Most of the areas that are flooded today are very flat in topology. A small rise in sea level could have deprived tribe of a lot of their territory and forced them into the area occupied by a different tribe or into “the wilderness”.
Meltwater Pulse 1A was a 20 meter rise in global sea levels over a period of about 200 years or so and even after that the sea level kept rising at a good clip though that period was a period of extraordinarily faster rise. Assume that most people at that time had their first child at 15 years old and assume that it was fairly common for someone to live to 40 if they made it out of childhood alive. Over 10 generations would have experienced that rise. A meter a decade of rise is amazing and that assumes the rise happened gradually in a linear fashion, we don’t know that it did. Parts of it might have come “all at once” as some melt water lake burst its containment. A meter of altitude above sea level can be a long distance over flat ground. Now imagine someone were to see four meters of sea level rise in their lifetime. Places that are under 12 feet of water when they died at 40 would have been the beach when they were a child. They would have told stories to the children about villages and tribes and water holes in locations that were then under deep salt water and the stories the parents of the elders told them would be under deeper water still. No wonder so many flood legends built up in so many different civilizations. Maybe Atlantis is what is now the Adriatic Sea and was a fertile valley watered by the Po and other rivers that joined it.
I believe you can see what used to be a shoreline in the Adriatic. If you pull it up on Google Earth, you will notice a feature that runs across the Adriatic from Pescara, Italy to roughly Sibenik, Croatia. “Upstream” of that feature is much shallower. In any case, the drastic change in sea level at that time over such a relatively short period of time SHOULD have made for some stories to explain it. Even of a lost civilization that was swallowed by the sea. What if one tribe migrated to Mesopotamia and another to Persia without either knowing the fate of the other but who had been aware of each other in the valley. Maybe they developed stories of the other tribe having been “punished” for their wicked ways and their own tribe having been saved. The possibilities are nearly endless but the way humans worked back then with stories passed by word of mouth from one generation to the next, it SHOULD have made for some interesting legends to be written down when we finally figured out how to do that.

Bill Illis

We evolved on the African savanna. Mostly because it is too hot in the middle of the day for almost all other animals other than us. We were the King of the African savanna day-time. Now our language and technology has allowed us to survive the 6 month night-time 3.5 kms high on the Antarctic ice-sheet but we are made for the heat of the mid-day Sun.

Between 1960 and 1991 the global mean temp was 14.0°C and increased by 0.41°C by 2011. Really? Climatologists can resolve an average temp to 0.1°, or better still, 0.01°? No standard deviation? No testing for statistical difference? Pardon me if I find it difficult to believe that the measurements of global temperatures are that good.

Stephen Richards

Steven Mosher says:
January 1, 2013 at 12:25 pm
That is your worst post in many years. Go back to your thinking of 3 years ago and start again.

john robertson

Timely post, I have been searching the reference pages trying to figure out what , assumed mean global temperature, is used with which global temperature anomaly graph.
I was trying to track down the post which mentioned the dropping of this mean from 15 to 14C and my inability to do so has lead me sideways.Ethanol has helped.
What kind of incompetent would graph temperature anomalies about a zero, of an assumed historical mean, without posting that mean under the graph.MET 1961-1990 mean, No number.
Without being sure, which mean is used, the discussion of changes amongst the anomalies becomes a discussion of ,how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
And because this is climatology, I will assume the worst, the undefined mean is deliberate, an intentional diversion of attention and effort.
A change of 0.5C looks so meaningful on a scale range of 3C(-1.5 to 1.5) Until you consider that the mean is 14 to 15C best guess? and has an uncertainty of 2C on a good day.
Richard Courtney points out in his 2010 brief to UK parliament, that the mean, means various things to various beings, but there is only one true global average temp, if such is possible.
So a little help here, NASA uses a 1951-1980 GMT of 14C , MET uses 61-90 MGT of ??Is it me or their site? Mosher up post uses 14-15C, well is that the best we have?
And if any of the key (IPCC) organizations did change their reference mean, when and what is the effect on claims of temperature rise?
Struck me that by reducing the mean 1 degree would allow one to claim to show a 0.5 warming in the face of a 1degree cooling, all else held equal.

robinedwards36

Axel wrote about the advance of the sea experienced by our ancestors who lived on what is now the North Sea, and was a bit perturbed about the figure of 60 feet per week. He then suggested the idea that even two orders of magnitude (downward) might be feasible rate. I think that the surmise that the figures referred to sea /level/ is perhaps wrong. I believe that it may refer to the /horizontal/ advance of the coast line, not the sea level in a vertical sense.

John West

“that we have no business being warm right now…”
That conclusion is not entirely supported by the graph:
1) You’d need to see a lot more than a partial cycle to determine “what now should look like”. For all I can tell from that graph there’s no correlation at all outside the snippet that’s shown and looking at the time frame I’d guess that during the last few peaks of the “leading indicator” the temperature remained cold as it would have been the last glacial period which lasted much longer than the current interglacial.
2) There no reason to believe Earth would have exactly equal and opposite rates of warming and cooling, it sure doesn’t for the diurnal cycle.
See figure 2 & 3: http://www.oneonta.edu/faculty/baumanpr/geosat2/Urban_Heat_Island/Urban_Heat_Island_Part_I.htm
3) There’s only one temperature driver? What about solar spectral variation for example? Considering the time frame: snow albedo?
A better statement IMO as opposed to the one quoted above would be:
That we are likely to be as warm as we are only by the thinest margin of thermal resistance, favorable albedo, and favorable shorter and longer scale forcing alignments such as solar spectral variations. An unfortunate confluence of unfavorable (to warmth) shorter and longer scale drivers could lead to a relatively rapid (geologically speaking) decent into glacial conditions.
Hopefully, our own paltry influence will assist in maintaining this interglacial.