Monthly Archives: July 2015

Old Predictions Make Prejudiced Scientists

On Monday, the Alaska Dispatch News reprinted a Washington Post story by Chris Mooney titled Renowned climate scientist projects rapid rise in sea level, more intense storms The article discusses a research study Dr. James Hansen and 16 of his associates are about to release.  That study predicts gloom and doom even if the UN is successful in controlling climate change. The study has yet to be peer reviewed but is given priority by the Washington Post because as the article states:

It’s an alarming picture of where the planet could be headed — and hard to ignore, given Hansen’s reputation.

Why is it hard to ignore?  Why is gloom and doom by Dr. Hansen news?  Dr. Hansen has been predicting gloom and doom since the 1980’s.  He has been predicting rapid temperature rises and sea level mass destruction since 1982.  His 1988 projections in front of Congress were wrong.  This graph from a Skeptical Science article defending Hansen shows three Hansen predictions.  Scenario A predicted changes with carbon dioxide near current levels: According to Dr. Hansen, we should be quite a bit warmer.  And I would argue that the black line drawn by Skeptical Science is a bit too aggressive.  Most temperature models show a rapid rise from the 1992 cooling following the  Mt. Pinatubo eruption, to the great El Nino of 1998.  Worldwide temperatures since 1998 have been largely unchanged.  The  Skeptical Science graph makes it look like there is a persistent uptrend that really stopped in 1998.

Climate research sites  UAH, and East Anglia University both show this.   As Skeptical Science said in the article, Dr. Hansen’s models had a too high climate sensitivity. English translation…his predictions were wrong.

Dr. Hansen is not alone, most early models at the IPCC were wildly high  in their predictions.  Climate models have had to be modified to reflect the lack of warming since 1998.   IPCC reports have been toning down the immediate impacts of carbon dioxide (and methane too), using natural climate variation as the reason.

They still think they are right, but natural climate variation appears to be masking the predicted results and their predictions  might take a long time to materialize.  Virtually every temperature based prediction made by the IPCC in the 2007 Climate Change Report was wrong.  The IPCC has now modified their positions to reflect this reality.   Not Dr. Hansen. Back in June of 1988, Dr Hansen is quoted in a New York Times article as saying the following to Congress:

that it was 99% certain that  the warming trend was not a natural variation but was caused by a build up of carbon dioxide and other artificial gasses in the atmosphere.

And in 2007 he had not changed his view one iota as these quotes courtesy of the Steve Goreham website demonstrate:

“…99 percent confiden t that the world really was getting warmer and that there was a high degree of probability that it was due to human-made greenhouse gases.”     —Dr. James Hansen on his 1988 Senate testimony, PBS Frontline, Apr. 24, 2007

Two years later he said:

“The climate is nearing tipping points. Changes are beginning to appear and there is a potential for explosive changes, effects that would be irreversible, if we do not rapidly slow fossil-fuel emissions over the next few decades.”     —Dr. James Hansen, The Observer, Feb. 15, 2009

“The greatest danger hanging over our children and grandchildren is initiation of changes that will be irreversible on any time scale that humans can imagine.”     —Dr. James Hansen, The Observer, Feb. 15, 2009

“Burning all the fossil fuels will destroy the planet we know, Creation, the planet of stable climate in which civilization developed.”     —Dr. James Hansen, letter to Barack and Michelle Obama, Dec. 29, 2008

Back in 1988, we knew much less than we do now and Dr. Hansen was 99% sure he was right.  How could anyone be that sure then or now?   Even the UN is only 90% sure that most warming seen since 1950 is man caused.  Some could be natural climate variation.  This is one extraordinarily difficult science discussion.  A rational person should have more doubt.

Now, Dr. Hansen believes even a modest rise in temperature of less than a degree C will be catastrophic.  I have doubts.  Dr. Hansen is so prejudiced in his view, I doubt he can produce a document that does not display his almost religious zeal on the subject.

Interestingly, the Washington Post decided to use Michael Mann as their independent scientist to discuss this controversial paper presented by Dr. Hansen. Mann would not have been my first choice.

Back in 1998, Dr. Mann produced a paper predicting rapid climate change.  It was the rage of the Climate Community for years. Al Gore used the Hockey Stick Graph as it was called in his film.  In 2005 the study was successfully challenged by Canadian mathematicians.  Dr. Mann has been at the center of a climate fire storm for some 10 years now.

Hansen and Mann share a common problem.  Both made wild predictions in the distant past and must either defend them or admit mistakes.  Neither has been willing to admit errors, and errors were made. Some times I don’t understand journalistic choices.  I cannot think of any duo more shrouded in controversy in Climate Science than Dr. Hansen and Dr. Mann.

All this begs a question – Why did Mr. Mooney give Dr. Hansen such stature and why did he use Dr. Mann as a source confirming the story?

Note to the IPCC — Develop Realistic Goals

The IPCC has a global temperature goal for the World that makes no sense.   The leading “authority” on climate wants to keep the world temperature to less than 2 degrees C higher than it was at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.  The Earth has already warmed over a degree C since 1750. This makes the IPCC limit  something less a than 1 degree C from current temperatures.

Natural climate variation makes the goal unattainable in the long run.  At some time in the future, the world will change (probably begin cooling) in  a way the IPCC failed to anticipate.   Nobody can make such a precise temperature guarantee.  Our knowledge of the science is simply too primitive.  And yet the goal is repeated over and over again.  I see references to the goal almost daily.  A goal that is nothing more than a wild ass guess.

We live in an ice age cycle and have been in this cycle for some 2.5 million years.   Average Antarctic temperatures as calculated using ice cores during the last three ice age cycles (about 400,000 years) have varied by about 13 degrees C.  Average Antarctic temperatures have been 8 degrees colder than today, and the coldest place on earth averaged 5 degrees C warmer some 130,000 years ago.  Most of the time it’s colder.

We are living in the Holocene, a 10,000 year period of very stable temperatures.   When one looks at the Vostok Ice Core from Antarctica it is clear that the Holocene is a surprisingly stable time from a temperature perspective.  Nowhere else on the chart does the climate stay stable and warm for 10,000 years.

Now let’s take a peek at a Greenland Ice Core that only goes back about 10,000 years.  This core takes place entirely within the Holocene and covers most of the period.

This ice core indicates that we have spent most of the last thousand years in a relatively cool period of the Holocene.   The recent warming has brought us up to the average.  The average temperature for the last 10,000 years in this particular part of Greenland was about the same as it is right now.  The chart stoped some 95 years ago and back then the world was about .7 degrees colder than it is today.   Add that bit back in and were about average for the Holocene.

The world has warmed rapidly, but there are lots of periods along the chart that are more severe.  Yep…wild natural climate variation…in a calm period of the ice age cycle.  Hmmm…..

I’m not a big fan of ice cores because they provide climate for a single location and regional climate varies more wildly than the world as a whole.   But if Greenland has varied by more than 3 degrees C at a time when the entire planet was unusually stable and warm, maybe a 1 degree C goal is for the world includes just a bit of wishful thinking.

Remembering that the world has warmed steadily since the end of the Little Ice Age, let’s look again at recent temperature data provided by East Anglia University in the UK.

gtc graph

Wild annual variation everywhere.  My favorite section…from 1863 to 1878, the world warmed by a bit over half a degree  C in only 15 years.  Warming before 1950 is presumed by the IPCC to be mostly natural variation.  Furthermore, the world warmed by almost .7 degree C between 1912 and 1942, a 30 year period not unlike the period between 1976 and 1998.  Since 1998, the pattern has been unusually stable.  More stable than at any time in the last 175 years.  No single year has varied from the prior year by more than .2 degree C during the last 17 years

One would never guess we are living (since 1998) in a time of relatively stable temperatures.    Reports in the media cast climate change as an accelerating problem.   And they could be right.  Perhaps natural climate variation is masking a disaster in the making?

But the IPCC could be wrong too.  The IPCC has been making temperature predictions since 1992.  The world went along as predicted until 1998, and then it didn’t.  7 years of right, 18 years of wrong.  7 for 25, not bad if your playing baseball.  I expect more from my scientists. When I look at IPCC data, I see guessing.  Wild Ass Guessing.

Problems are here, there, everywhere in the climate game.  Guessing is a part of the scientific process.  And guessing is everywhere as scientists attempt to predict future climate.  Carbon dioxide is higher than it has been in a really long time, and man probably plays a significant part in that impact.  But it is not the only input required in any attempt to predict future climate based on the past.

We have difficulty accurately measuring the Earth’s temperature both right now and in the past.  Arguments persist about volcanic impacts.  Sudden changes in the Earth’s magnetic field might matter.  Some think solar winds are important. The World was dramatically changed when Antarctica and South America became separate continents some 23 million years ago.

We know solar output varies and some suspect sunspot activity might matter.   Ice ages are presumed to be impacted by the location of the continents and by variations in the Earth’s orbit.   Land near the poles makes the world colder than when most land is near the equator is it was 50 million years ago.  The shape of the the earth’s orbit varies, as does it’s tilt.  And the earth wobbles too.  All 3 orbital variations are presumed to impact climate.

I suspect the IPCC is simply playing politics.  They need the problem to be immediate and urgent in order to secure funding.   And they know that our society lacks the political will to do what they say needs to be done.  If something bad happens, they can say I told you so.  If nothing happens they can blame natural climate variation.   And as long as the problem persists in the minds of the population, they continue to get funding!

The IPCC cannot afford to tell you the truth. It might impact funding.

THIS TRUTH —   The  scientific community is confident that man is impacting climate.  That impact is extraordinarily difficult to quantify,  measure,  or predict   When scientists use computer models they are guessing.  The models are not as precise as they should be and change wildly as new information come to life.   There is much we still do not know. The entire process is strongly influenced by  politics and economics . We all share the planet together.  We have a shared responsibility to be good stewards of the environment.  Society should act in a cautious manner because it might be important.

Gloom and doom sells newspapers and provides funding, but does little to advance the science.  I wish those that advocate climate change science in it’s current form were just a bit more circumspect and a bit less confident they are right.   Until I see some healthy skepticism from within the advocate community, I will remain skeptical.