Sunday, June 23, 2013

AGW Wishing, and Steyn

The rise in the surface temperature of earth has been markedly slower over the last 15 years than in the 20 years before that. And that lull in warming has occurred even as greenhouse gases have accumulated in the atmosphere at a record pace.

The slowdown is a bit of a mystery to climate scientists. True, the basic theory that predicts a warming of the planet in response to human emissions does not suggest that warming should be smooth and continuous. To the contrary, in a climate system still dominated by natural variability, there is every reason to think the warming will proceed in fits and starts.
***In other words, if you have a conjecture, one that is cherished and embraced by the masses, that does not accurately predict, one has to believe either: The conjecture is not correct, or the conjecture is not correct but that can't be, so it is not really incorrect, which will undoubtedly be proved in the near future.***

But given how much is riding on the scientific forecast, the practitioners of climate science would like to understand exactly what is going on. They admit that they do not, even though some potential mechanisms of the slowdown have been suggested. The situation highlights important gaps in our knowledge of the climate system, some of which cannot be closed until we get better measurements from high in space and from deep in the ocean.
***Gee, wasn't the science settled?***

As you might imagine, those dismissive of climate-change concerns have made much of this warming plateau. They typically argue that "global warming stopped 15 years ago" or some similar statement, and then assert that this disproves the whole notion that greenhouse gases are causing warming.

***Get ready, here comes a straw man ... ***
Rarely do they mention that most of the warmest years in the historical record have occurred recently. Moreover, their claim depends on careful selection of the starting and ending points. The starting point is almost always 1998, a particularly warm year because of a strong El NiƱo weather pattern.

Somebody who wanted to sell you gold coins as an investment could make the same kind of argument about the futility of putting your retirement funds into the stock market. If he picked the start date and the end date carefully enough, the gold salesman could make it look like the stock market did not go up for a decade or longer.

***Get ready, here comes the destruction of the straw man.***
But that does not really tell you what your retirement money is going to do in the market over 30 or 40 years. It does not even tell you how you would have done over the cherry-picked decade, which would have depended on exactly when you got in and out of the market.

Scientists and statisticians reject this sort of selective use of numbers, and when they calculate the long-term temperature trends for the earth, they conclude that it continues to warm through time. Despite the recent lull, it is an open question whether the pace of that warming has undergone any lasting shift.
***Oh darn, another dead straw man. Sigh.***

What to make of it all?

We certainly cannot conclude, as some people want to, that carbon dioxide is not actually a greenhouse gas. More than a century of research thoroughly disproves that claim.
***Well of course we can't conclude THAT! Who could think such a thing just because CO2 levels are rising rapidly but temperatures are not - such unsophisticated thought would be so embarrassing to admit to!***

In fact, scientists can calculate how much extra heat should be accumulating from the human-caused increases in greenhouse gases, and the energies involved are staggering. By a conservative estimate, current concentrations are trapping an extra amount of energy equivalent to 400,000 Hiroshima bombs exploding across the face of the earth every day.
***This sentence is too funny - "In fact, scientists can calculate what should be happening (IF their assumptions are correct)" - but I don't think TF gets the joke. Of course we can make assumptions and calculations based on assumptions. The point is, if we predict based on assumptions and the prediction is not born out, that's proof against the assumptions. Some folks call that logic.***

So the real question is where all that heat is going, if not to warm the surface. And a prime suspect is the deep ocean. Our measurements there are not good enough to confirm it absolutely, but a growing body of research suggests this may be an important part of the answer.
***Great point - we really need to know where all of the theoretical heat is theoretically going.

Exactly why the ocean would have started to draw down extra heat in recent years is a mystery, and one we badly need to understand. But the main ideas have to do with possible shifts in winds and currents that are causing surface heat to be pulled down faster than before.
The deep-ocean theory is one of a half-dozen explanations that have been proffered for the warming plateau. Perhaps the answer will turn out to be some mix of all of them. And in any event, computer forecasts of climate change suggest that pauses in warming lasting a couple of decades should not surprise us.
***Holy smokes and I thought the science was settled.***

Now, here is a crucial piece of background: It turns out we had an earlier plateau in global warming, from roughly the 1950s to the 1970s, and scientists do not fully understand that one either. A lot of evidence suggests that sunlight-blocking pollution from dirty factories may have played a role, as did natural variability in ocean circulation. The pollution was ultimately reduced by stronger clean-air laws in the West.
***IOW, they never knew what the hell was going on, but they sure wanted to think they did, and they weren't shy in telling us that they did.

Today, factory pollution from China and other developing countries could be playing a similar role in blocking some sunlight. We will not know for sure until we send up satellites that can make better measurements of particles in the air.

What happened when the mid-20th-century lull came to an end? You guessed it: an extremely rapid warming of the planet.

So, if past is prologue, this current plateau will end at some point, too, and a new era of rapid global warming will begin. That will put extra energy and moisture into the atmosphere that can fuel weather extremes, like heat waves and torrential rains.
***Translation: we are really sure about this doomsday scenario, in spite of our inability to explain it, so you should be afraid, VERY AFRAID.

We might one day find ourselves looking back on the crazy weather of the 2010s with a deep yearning for those halcyon days.
***Let's hope we all live that long and if we do, I'll say "You told me so." But we may all die tomorrow, or we may discover the key to endless lives. We may also find that our chicken little style pseudo-science was as wrong as most immature sciences are. But thank goodness it appears that we are not on the verge of passing economy and liberty killing, government empowering and life ending legislation based on the rantings of one whack job ex-VP.

From Mark Steyn:
As readers may know, National Review and I have an impending court date in Washington with Dr Michael E Mann, creator of the global-warming "hockey stick" and self-proclaimed Nobel laureate, for the hitherto unknown crime of "defamation of a Nobel prize recipient". 
(You can contribute to our legal defense fund here; also, the TV rights to my forthcoming white Bronco chase are still available – we'll be using a hybrid, of course).

Forced by circumstance to take an interest in the latest developments on the climate-change "consensus", I was interested to see this story, in which The New York Times belatedly acknowledges that for the last 15 years it's been all quiet on the warming front

Read on to get Mark's full commentary on the article above:

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