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30 years later, deniers are still lying about Hansen’s amazing global warming prediction

Posted on 25 June 2018 by dana1981

30 years ago, James Hansen testified to Congress about the dangers of human-caused climate change. In his testimony, Hansen showed the results of his 1988 study using a climate model to project future global warming under three possible scenarios, ranging from ‘business as usual’ heavy pollution in his Scenario A to ‘draconian emissions cuts’ in Scenario C, with a moderate Scenario B in between.

Changes in the human effects that influence Earth’s global energy imbalance (a.k.a. ‘anthropogenic radiative forcings’) have in reality been closest to Hansen’s Scenario B, but about 20–30% weaker thanks to the success of the Montreal Protocol in phasing out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Hansen’s climate model projected that under Scenario B, global surface air temperatures would warm about 0.84°C between 1988 and 2017. But with a global energy imbalance 20–30% lower, it would have predicted a global surface warming closer to 0.6–0.7°C by this year.

The actual 1988–2017 temperature increase was about 0.6°C. Hansen’s 1988 global climate model was almost spot-on.

Hansen 88

Scenario B from Hansen’s 1988 paper, with the trend reduced by 27% to reflect the actual radiative forcing from 1984 to 2017, compared to global surface temperature data from Cowtan & Way. Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli

In the WSJ, deniers again lie about Hansen

The incredible accuracy of Hansen’s climate model predictions debunks a number of climate denier myths. It shows that climate models are accurate and reliable, that global warming is proceeding as climate scientists predicted, and thus that we should probably start listening to them and take action to address the existential threat it poses.

Hansen’s predictions have thus become a target of climate denier misinformation. It began way back in 1998, when the Cato Institute’s Patrick Michaels – who has admitted that something like 40% of his salary comes from the fossil fuel industry – arguably committed perjury in testimony to Congress. Invited by Republicans to testify as the Kyoto Protocol climate agreement was in the works, Michaels was asked to evaluate how Hansen’s predictions were faring 10 years later. 

In his presentation, Michaels deleted Hansen’s Scenarios B and C – the ones closest to reality – and only showed Scenario A to make it seem as though Hansen had drastically over-predicted global warming. Deleting inconvenient data in order to fool his audience became a habit for Patrick Michaels, who quickly earned a reputation of dishonesty in the climate science world, but has nevertheless remained a favorite of oil industry and conservative media.

Last week in the Wall Street Journal, Michaels was joined by Ryan Maue in an op-ed that again grossly distorted Hansen’s 1988 paper. Maue is a young scientist with a contrarian streak who’s published some serious research on hurricanes, but since joining the Cato Institute last year, seems to have sold off his remaining credibility to the fossil fuel industry.

In their WSJ opinion piece, Michaels and Maue claimed:

Global surface temperature has not increased significantly since 2000, discounting the larger-than-usual El Niño of 2015-16. Assessed by Mr. Hansen’s model, surface temperatures are behaving as if we had capped 18 years ago the carbon-dioxide emissions responsible for the enhanced greenhouse effect.

They provided no evidence to support this claim (evidence and facts seem not to be allowed on the WSJ Opinion page), and it takes just 30 seconds to fact check. In reality, global surface temperatures have increased by about 0.35°C since 2000 – precisely in line with Hansen’s 1988 model projections, as shown above. And it’s unscientific to simply “discount” the El Niño of 2015-16, because between the years 1999 and 2014, seven were cooled by La Niña events while just four experienced an El Niño warming. Yet despite the preponderance of La Niña events, global surface temperatures still warmed 0.15°C during that time. There’s simply not an ounce of truth to Michaels’ and Maue’s central WSJ claim.

It’s also worth noting that Hansen’s 1988 paper accurately predicted the geographic pattern of global warming, with the Arctic region warming fastest and more warming over land masses than the oceans. And climate deniers in the 1980s like Richard Lindzen were predicting “that the likelihood over the next century of greenhouse warming reaching magnitudes comparable to natural variability seems small.” If anyone deserves criticism for inaccurate climate predictions, it’s deniers like Lindzen who thought there wouldn’t be any significant warming, when in reality we’ve seen the dramatic global warming that James Hansen predicted.

Michaels’ and Maue’s misinformation didn’t stop there:

And it isn’t just Mr. Hansen who got it wrong. Models devised by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have, on average, predicted about twice as much warming as has been observed since global satellite temperature monitoring began 40 years ago.

Once again, this unsupported assertion is completely wrong. I evaluated the IPCC’s global warming projections in my book, and showed in detail that theirs have been among the most accurate predictions. The climate model temperature projections in the 199019952001, and 2007 IPCC reports were all remarkably accurate; the IPCC predicted global warming almost exactly right.

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Comments 1 to 8:

  1. Michaels is using a straw man comparison, because scenario A emissions were always at the outer extreme, and emissions have been lower in reality and close to scenario B, possibly due to the 2008 gfc? Scenario B is what Hansen should be judged against.

    Also If Michael's thinks the "unusually intense" 2015 el nino should be ignored presumably he is happy to ignore the "unusually intense" 1998 el nino and the "global cooling since 1998 myth?".

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  2. I will make the same comment here that did over at AndThenTheresPhysics:


    …discounting the larger-than-usual El Niño of 2015-16”

    That is a specific case of the “discounting all the evidence that doesn’t fit our narrative” argument. Of course, they also “discount the effect the 1998 El Nino had on temperatures”. Don’t like what you see? Apply a discount!

    Discounting the money they want, my local car dealer is giving away cars for free!

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  3. I do not think the concluding statements are the most accurate presentation of what is going on, but they may be the more politically correct thing to say (quoted below).

    "Michaels and Maue want us to bet the future of all life on Earth. They want us to put all our chips on black – a bet that burning billions of barrels of oil and billions of tons of coal every year won’t cause dangerous climate change. They want us to make that bet even though their arguments are based on unsupported lies, whilst they cash paychecks from the Koch brothers.

    We would have to be incredible suckers to take their bet."

    It is more likely that Michaels and Maue expect a lot of people to be easily tempted to like their claim because it excuses their pursuit of a better present for themselves at the expense of others, especially at the expense of future generations (including the future challenges like extinctions and other environmental impacts, such as water contamination, due to the impacts of fossil fuel extraction, processing, transportation and burning).

    It is very likely that deliberate misleading marketing is developed and presented by the likes of Micheals and Maue because they understand that competitions for popularity and profitability have been repeatedly proven to be won, at least temporarily (all that matters to a selfish person), by abusing the temptation to like misleading marketing.

    And being tempted to like getting away with more personal benefit at the expense of others is not being a sucker - it is far worse that that and should be called what it is (remember that future generations are Others - they do not benefit just because the current generation benefits. Yet may economic evaluations pretend that the people benefiting today are the ones suffering challenges and consequences in the future). Something like the following is more accurate:
    "What Michaels and Maue have done is the expected result of Despicably Deliberately Unethical Bad Thinking by the likes of the Koch Brothers - which is mostly, if not totally, legal because Bad Laws have been created by undeserving Winners and Bad Law Enforcement has happened for the benefit of those Winners - with popular support obtained from lazy/bad thinking people (easily tempted to be greedy - without caring about potential negative consequences to others) by Opinion Pieces that are allowed to be presented without the correction/clarification of the misstatements made presented to everyone who reads the Opinion piece 'Before they read the Opinion Piece'".

    What Michaels and Maue have presented is not 'An Opinion', it is a piece of false advertising paid for by the Koch Brothers.

    However, the lazy/bad thinkers will not be tempted to change their mind by having the unacceptability of their beliefs exposed too clearly. They would likely react by entering the flight or fight mode - most likely the fight mode - rather than start to seriously properly think about understanding things. Mind you, getting them thinking may not change their mind because when a person senses that better understanding an issue will not be to their personal advantage they will also often enter fight mode to protect their developed desired interests.

    That is why I suggest that the solution requires the wealthiest and most powerful to be held to standards of ethics and 'helpfulness to the future of humanity' (achieving and improving the Sustainable Development Goals) that are 'Above the Law - to a higher standard of ethical helpful behaviour than is required by law'.

    The games of popularity and profitability that developed the damaging unsustainable activity have also developed a powerful resistance to being corrected (Bad Selfish Thinking Winning resulting in Bad Laws and Bad Law Enforcement).

    It comes back to one of my favourite quotes of John Stuart Mill in "On Liberty" - "“If society lets a considerable number of its members grow up mere children, incapable of being acted on by rational consideration of distant motives, society has itself to blame for the consequences.”

    And that quote ties into a quote from the 1987 UN Report "Our Common Future" with distant motives being understood to be consideration of others especially of future generations (altruistic).

    "25. Many present efforts to guard and maintain human progress, to meet human needs, and to realize human ambitions are simply unsustainable - in both the rich and poor nations. They draw too heavily, too quickly, on already overdrawn environmental resource accounts to be affordable far into the future without bankrupting those accounts. They may show profit on the balance sheets of our generation, but our children will inherit the losses. We borrow environmental capital from future generations with no intention or prospect of repaying. They may damn us for our spendthrift ways, but they can never collect on our debt to them. We act as we do because we can get away with it: future generations do not vote; they have no political or financial power; they cannot challenge our decisions.
    26. But the results of the present profligacy are rapidly closing the options for future generations. Most of today's decision makers will be dead before the planet feels; the heavier effects of acid precipitation, global warming, ozone depletion, or widespread desertification and species loss. Most of the young voters of today will still be alive. In the Commission's hearings it was the young, those who have the most to lose, who were the harshest critics of the planet's present management."

    Unless global humanity can effectively hold the winners (anywhere and everywhere) to the highest standard of ethics and helpfulness, the future of humanity suffers the consequences.

    I appreciate that brevity is more powerful. At the moment the closest I can get to a concise statement of what is required is "Think about the Global Future - Be as aware and understanding as possible - Act Locally Now to help develop a sustainable better future". That statement applies to all of the Sustainable Development Goals, with action on climate change being one of the most significant goals. But that statement is too wordy to be a winner, and even that over-long statement does not expose the requirement to correct what has already developed popularity and profitability, and the need to change the system so that it produces sustainable good results rather than a string of results of 'Bad Thinking temporarily winning regional popularity for unjustified actions through misleading marketing appeals to greed and intolerance'.

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  4. The Koch Brothers fund the best junk science money can buy. I think their motives are greed, but perhaps that word is too blunt. Regarding their "libertarianism", there is a famous quote I came across:

    "There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs."

    Attributed to the writer John Rogers.

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  5. nigelj,

    I like that quote highlighting the unjustified popularity of claims made in stories like Atlas Shrugged.

    Real world evidence of Bad thinkers who are fans of Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman beliefs in the 'magic of people being freer to believe what they want and do as they please' is Alan Greenspan's statement/excuse for his lack of effort to prevent the actions that developed the 2008 financial crisis. He essentially declared that he was unaware that any executive or board member of a financial institution would put short-term self-interest ahead of the objective of sustainably developing a better future.

    The other real world examples of that Bad Thinking by Winners is the type of people that have been 'invited' by Congress to talk to Congress about Climate Science (and the type of people who do that type of Bad Inviting usually have a history of a diversity of Bad Thinking based actions - acting in opposition to the achievement of many of the Sustainable Development Goals, not just the climate change goals).

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  6. Patrick Michaels is not the only one presenting false information. Here ( is the NOAA ENSO record. YThe author cherry-picked his start date so as to eliminate the 1998 El Nino event. Since 1999 there has been 0ne lengthy La Nina immediately following the 1998 El Nino event. All 5 of the others have been short and weak. What the author has failed to mention is that the period he chose is the period of the pause in warming. The 2015 El Nino upped temperatures tremendously, but the latest La Nina and current neutral period has dropped temps down to pause level again.

    Hansen made no "prediction" about the warming rate in arctic. "Arctic amplification" is a known effect of the Hadley circulation and had been known well before Hansen's testimony.

    We have not seen "dramatic" warming as the author puts it. Warming has been less than 1C and is well within natural variability as shown by paleo reconstruction of the LIA and RWP.

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB]  "Warming has been less than 1C and is well within natural variability as shown by paleo reconstruction of the LIA and RWP."

    That's actually not the case, once the full context of the paleo record is used:

    Last 22,000 years

    Please note that this venue is based on credible evidence for claims and the usage of good principles of the scientific method.  This puts the onus on the person making assertions running counter to accepted science (you, in this instance) to be able to provide citations to credible sources to back up your claims.  Further, threads at Skeptical Science hew closely to the topic found in the OP of each thread.  If what you wish to discuss does not match that topic, use the Search function found in the UL corner of every page here to find a more suitable thread.  Thousands exist.

    Please note that posting comments here at SkS is a privilege, not a right.  This privilege can and will be rescinded if the posting individual continues to treat adherence to the Comments Policy as optional, rather than the mandatory condition of participating in this online forum.

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  7. Oortcloud,

    The graph starts at 1988 not 1998.  Temperatures have not returned to the "pause level", 2017 was the second hottest year on record.  Only 5C warming separates Chicago from having 1 km of ice on top of it, 1C in 30 years seems like a lot to me.  Natural variability, including the "LIA" and "RMP" is only 0.2C.  

    Perhaps your comments would make sense if you read the OP before you comment.

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  8. Oortcloud, since 1980 arctic amplification has been attributed mainly to burning fossil fuels causing warming and a reinforcing feedback from melting ice. Changes in global circulation as such (hadley cells, ocean processes) are not major factors, as explained in this article.

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