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Plain english rebuttal to 'Global warming isn't happening' argument

Posted on 5 September 2010 by James Wight

The 2009 State of the Climate report of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), released in mid-2010, brings together many different series of data “from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the ocean”. The conclusion? All of these independent lines of evidence tell us unequivocally that the Earth is warming.

The very accessible 10-page summary examines the trends for 10 key climate indicators using a total of 47 different sets of data. All of the indicators expected to increase in a warming world, are in fact increasing, and all that are expected to decrease, are decreasing:

Warming indicators

The 10 indicators are:

  1. Land surface air temperature as measured by weather stations. You know all those skeptic arguments about how the temperature record is biased by the urban heat island effect, badly-sited weather stations, dropped stations, and so on? This is the only indicator which suffers from all those problems. So if you’re arguing with somebody who tries to frame the discussion as being about land surface air temperature, just remind them about the other nine indicators.
  2. Sea surface temperature. As with land temperatures, the longest record goes back to 1850 and the last decade is warmest.
  3. Air temperature over the oceans.
  4. Lower troposphere temperature as measured by satellites for around 50 years. By any of these measures, the 2000s was the warmest decade and each of the last three decades has been much warmer than the previous one.
  5. Ocean heat content, for which records go back over half a century. More than 90% of the extra heat from global warming is going into the oceans – contributing to a rise in…
  6. Sea level. Tide gauge records go back to 1870, and sea level has risen at an accelerating rate.
  7. Specific humidity, which has risen in tandem with temperatures.
  8. Glaciers. 2009 was the 19th consecutive year in which there was a net loss of ice from glaciers worldwide.
  9. Northern Hemisphere snow cover, which has also decreased in recent decades.
  10. Perhaps the most dramatic change of all has been in Arctic sea ice. Satellite measurements are available back to 1979 and reliable shipping records back to 1953. September sea ice extent has shrunk by 35% since 1979.

Science isn’t like a house of cards, in that removing one line of evidence (eg. land surface air temperature) wouldn’t cause the whole edifice of anthropogenic global warming to collapse. Rather, “land surface warming” is one of more than ten bricks supporting “global warming”; and with global warming established, there is a whole other set of bricks supporting “anthropogenic global warming”. To undermine these conclusions, you’d need to remove most or all of the bricks supporting them – but as the evidence continues to pile up, that is becoming less and less likely.

This post is the Basic version (written by James Wight) of the skeptic argument "It's not happening".

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Comments 1 to 14:

  1. Good post. I like the summary of the bullet points. It is too bad you have to summarize so much interesting data. In number 4 why is the stratosphere an exception? The stratosphere is a separate part of the atmosphere than the troposphere. The troposphere is predicted to warm and the stratosphere is predicted to cool. Both have been measured and are warming/cooling as predicted.
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  2. I meant the stratosphere was the exception in that it wasn’t warming. I didn’t mean that it wasn’t consistent with AGW – which it certainly is.
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  3. Most of those graphs are presented in terms of "anomalies"... I.e. deviations from some arbitrarily chosen reference period. Is it the same reference period for all of them? Is there some reason to pick one over another? My first reaction was "Oh! the ordinate value is rising! But it's not so bad, because it's only about as far above what it's 'supposed' to be, as it was below for a few decades!" (What can I say; I just got up and haven't had coffee.) But then I realized they all seem to be relative to a period somewhere around 1980, not some halcyon period when all was right with the world.
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  4. Re: VoxRat (3) In any trend analysis one has to deal with noise in the datasets. In climate science, anomalies are used to reduce noise in the data, enabling better discernment of whether or not there is change in the data. See here. Reference baselines typically consists of periods of 30+ years for statistical robustness. BTW, what exactly did you mean with your use of the word "halcyon"? If you genuinely seek to improve your knowledge, or have knowledge you wish to share here, that is why John created this resource for all. As far as coffee, my preference is Papua New Guinea, fresh roasted and ground. Cheers, The Yooper
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  5. "BTW, what exactly did you mean with your use of the word "halcyon"?" Sorry. It was a flippant allusion to the notion that there was once a Golden Age, when the climate was what it's "supposed to be". And I understand the concept of "anomalies"; I'm just curious as to what the (arbitrarily chosen) baseline period is in each of these cases; whether it's the same in each; and if there's any particular reason for choosing one period over another. (And, BTW, I share your enthusiasm for this site as a great resource.)
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  6. VoxRat, the IPCC has a good explanation of choice of baseline in the Working Group I report from the TAR back in 2001. Sorry I've not got a more recent one; I'm lazy, and that popped up at the top of a Google search.
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  7. James, good post. I agree with m. sweet's point, though. The inclusion of the stratosphere in #4 is confusing. I'd suggest dropping it from #4 and adding it as a parenthetical after the list, or as a footnote to #4. Also, I'd suggest dropping the comments about skeptics from #1, and put them with your discussion of the "bricks" at the end. If you do those two things, your list will be clean and uncluttered and pure evidence, and will serve to support your comments below. If you decide to take any of this editorial advice, feel free to delete this comment.
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  8. I, for one, am happy that the Fact that our world has been warming has at last been Found. Else all the Red Herrings of the sea would disappear like Deleted Comments are wont to do. The Yooper
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  9. Since satellite measurements don't actually cover all 50 years, I think it would be safer to mention radiosondes in #4. Lower troposphere temperature as measured by radiosondes (weather balloons) for around 50 years and satellites for around 30 years
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  10. Off topic, but I don't want to die wondering: What does 'The Yooper' signify?
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  11. Re: chriscanaris (10) People that live in the Upper Peninsula (the UP) of Michigan are known as Yoopers. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is connected to the Lower Peninsula of Michigan by the Mackinac Bridge, a 5-mile long suspension bridge. Yoopers refer to those from the Lower Peninsula as Trolls, as they live "below da bridge". Ethnically, most are from Finno-Scandinavian stock, with some German and Cornish (England) thrown in. If you've ever seen the movie Grumpy Old Men than you've seen a typical Yooper, both in attitude and accent. Few Yoopers my age or older will be found on Internet science commenting sites (because that takes away time from deer camp), so I'm comfortable with the tag "The Yooper". Probably more than you ever wished to know, eh? ________________________________________________________________ Re: VoxRat (5): I well understand flippancy and it's twin sister snark. And have dated both frequently. :) ________________________________________________________________ Nice job, James. I second CBW's comments, as that will aid in clarity. The Yooper
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  12. CBW, I’ve taken out the part about the stratosphere – it doesn’t really matter because I do mention it in the “It’s not us” rebuttal anyway. I’ve left point #1 as is because I think that structure works.
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  13. Wonderfully simplistic explanation.. but the problem remains: How to convince those obstinate skeptics that mankind CONTRIBUTES to - and exacerbates - global warming? I'm way past tired of hearing "oh, it's naturally cyclical (warming) - and we [mankind] have but a miniscule contribution.. if at all".... What simplistic retort might you have for THEM (other than my first urge to string a few expletives together... you know - something they're SURE to comprehend!)???
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    Response: The question of mankind contributing to global warming is indeed the main subject of this website. We have a basic version that looks briefly at 10 human fingerprints on climate change. There's a more in-depth version that takes you through the logical progression of evidence for human caused global warming. Then if you're a glutton for punishment, there's the 'Advanced version' that looks in detail at a number of human fingerprints on climate change.
  14. Re: ResqDogz (13) A short version of the CO2 is caused by us thread: Due to its isotopic signature, the 40% extra CO2 above background interglacial levels is due to us. WE are the problem. The Yooper
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