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Yes Happer and Spencer, Global Warming Continues

Posted on 3 April 2012 by dana1981

William Happer is a Princeton physicist and Chairman of the Board of Directors at the right-wing fossil fuel-funded think tank George C. Marshall Institute.  Although he has not published any climate-related research in his scientific career, Happer nevertheless seems to enjoy making his opinions about climate science known, as we have previously examined here and here.  Unfortunately, Happer does not seem interested in taking the time to ensure that those are informed opinions.

Rather than subject his thoughts to the peer-review process, Happer's publication of choice appears to be The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), as he was one of the 16 scientists who recently published a plea for climate inaction in that paper, and a follow-up article defending their previous misrepresentations.  Happer has now gone solo, publishing another opinion-editorial in the WSJ with such a Gish Gallop of climate-related myths as to be a truly Moncktonian effort.

Though we will briefly whack each of Happer's moles in the post below, one particular myth caught our attention.  This myth was also recently endorsed by Roy Spencer in an interview with John Stossel on Fox News - the myth that the planet has not warmed in the past 10 years.

Global Warming Continues

The quotes relevant to this myth are:

Happer: "What is happening to global temperatures in reality? The answer is: almost nothing for more than 10 years...The lack of any statistically significant warming for over a decade has made it more difficult for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its supporters to demonize the atmospheric gas CO2 which is released when fossil fuels are burned."

Spencer: "...for some reason it stopped warming in the last 10 years, which is one of those dirty little secrets of global warming science"

There are a number of problems with these assertions.  First, Happer mentions statistical significance, but global surface temperature trends are rarely if ever statistically significant (at a 95% confidence level) over periods as short as a decade, even in the presence of an underlying long-term warming trend, because of the natural variability and noise in the climate system.

Second, if we filter out some of those short-term (i.e. interannual) influences, as Foster & Rahmstorf (2011) did (the El Niño Southern Oscillation, volcanoes, and solar activity), once we reduce the noise, the global surface warming trend over the past decade does become statistically significant.  We can use the new SkS temperature trend tool developed by Kevin C to illustrate this with any data set, but since the argument was made by the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH)'s Roy Spencer, we will choose the UAH data set (Figure 1).

UAH FR11 2002-2012 trend

Figure 1: UAH lower troposphere temperature since February 2002 with the Foster and Rahmstorf method applied, and linear trend with two-sigma uncertainty

As Figure 1 shows, the UAH warming trend over the past decade is indeed both positive and statistically significant once these three short-term effects are filtered out.

Third, as Roger Pielke Sr. is fond of pointing out, very little of the global energy imbalance actually goes into heating the surface and atmosphere.  The vast majority goes into heating the oceans, and thus if one is to argue that the planet has stopped warming, one must look to see if ocean heat content (OHC) has stopped increasing.  So has it?  Only if you consider the equivalent of two Hiroshima bomb detonations per second "almost nothing" (Figure 2).

NODC 0-2000 meter OHC

Figure 2:  Global OHC for the upper 2000 meters of oceans (Levitus et al. in preparation)

The OHC increase over the past decade is also statistically significant (Nuccitelli et al. in preparation).

In short, Happer and Spencer are committing the classic Escalator fallacy, focusing on short-term noise while ignoring the long-term signal, as well as ignoring the vast heating of the oceans.

Whack Those Moles

As promised, we will take a brief moment to provide the resources to debunk the many other myths from Happer's WSJ article.  The quotes below are from Happer's article, and the following discussions and links debunk the myths in those quotes.

Juicy Cherries

"The latest (February 2012) monthly global temperature anomaly for the lower atmosphere was minus 0.12 degrees Celsius, slightly less than the average since the satellite record of temperatures began in 1979."

Does the inappropriateness of focusing on the temperature anomaly from a single month really need to be pointed out to Happer?  Monthly temperature data are extremely noisy, and Happer's comparison tells us nothing of use whatsoever.  It is a classic cherry pick of a time period influenced by a strong La Niña event, pure and simple.

CO2 is a Pollutant

"CO2 is not a pollutant."

Yes, it is.

CO2 was Higher in the Past

"Life on earth flourished for hundreds of millions of years at much higher CO2 levels than we see today."

Life on Earth hundreds of millions of years ago was quite different from life today, and the sun was also dimmer at the time.

CO2 as Plant Food Oversimplification

"Increasing CO2 levels will be a net benefit because cultivated plants grow better and are more resistant to drought at higher CO2 levels"

The 'CO2 is plant food' argument is such a gross oversimplification of a complex issue that frankly it is an insult to the WSJ readers that Happer expects them to swallow it.

Fossil Fuels = Prosperity?

"Nations with affordable energy from fossil fuels are more prosperous and healthy than those without."

Certainly high energy consumption is a sign of "prosperity," but there is no reason that energy must come from fossil fuels.   The correlation merely represents the fact that 'prosperous' nations which have used more energy have historically primarily relied on fossil fuels to supply that energy.  It does not follow that nations must rely on fossil fuels to supply their energy needs, particularly since renewable energy technologies are advancing and becoming rapidly cheaper.

In fact, when all costs are taken into consideration, fossil fuels are already more expensive than many renewable energy sources.  Solar photovoltaic power has already reached grid parity (when the cost of the energy matches market electricity prices) in several countries (Australia, Germany, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Portugal, and Brazil) and is expected to reach grid parity in many other coutries within the next few years.  Wind power is even cheaper.

Feedbacks are Net Positive, Sensitivity not Low

"The direct warming due to doubling CO2 levels in the atmosphere can be calculated to cause a warming of about one degree Celsius. The IPCC computer models predict a much larger warming, three degrees Celsius or even more, because they assume changes in water vapor or clouds that supposedly amplify the direct warming from CO2. Many lines of observational evidence suggest that this "positive feedback" also has been greatly exaggerated."

There are two false claims in this quote.  First, positive net feedbacks are not "assumed," they are observed (i.e. see Dessler et al. 2008).  Second, there are not "many lines of observational evidence" suggesting low climate sensitivity.  In reality both observational data and models agree that climate sensitivity is likely between 2 and 4.5°C for doubled atmospheric CO2, with a most likely value of 3°C (Figure 3).

Various estimates of climate sensitivity

Figure 3: Distributions and ranges for climate sensitivity from different lines of evidence. The circle indicates the most likely value. The thin colored bars indicate very likely value (more than 90% probability). The thicker colored bars indicate likely values (more than 66% probability). Dashed lines indicate no robust constraint on an upper bound. The IPCC likely range (2 to 4.5°C) and most likely value (3°C) are indicated by the vertical grey bar and black line, respectively.  Adapted from Knutti and Hegerl (2008) 

Global Warming is Human-Caused

"the timing of the warming—much of it before CO2 levels had increased appreciably—suggests that a substantial fraction of the warming is from natural causes that have nothing to do with mankind."

Approximately 80% of the global surface warming over the past 130 years has occurred over the past 4 decades (as can be shown with the SkS Temperature Trend Tool).  Some warming during the early 20th Century was caused by natural effects such as increased solar activity, but this does not negate the human-caused warming, in particular over the past 50-65 years (Figure 4).

HvA 50 years

Figure 4: Net human and natural percent contributions to the observed global surface warming over the past 50-65 years according to Tett et al. 2000 (T00, dark blue), Meehl et al. 2004 (M04, red), Stone et al. 2007 (S07, green), Lean and Rind 2008 (LR08, purple),Huber and Knutti 2011 (HK11, light blue), and Gillett et al. 2012 (G12, orange).

Extreme Weather on the Rise

"some IPCC supporters have been claiming that "extreme weather" has become more common because of more CO2. But there is no hard evidence this is true. After an unusually cold winter in 2011 (December 2010-February 2011) the winter of 2012 was unusually warm in the continental United States. But the winter of 2012 was bitter in Europe, Asia and Alaska."

As long as we're cherry picking, since 12 March 2012 (a span of less than 3 weeks), more than 7,000 high temperature records have been equaled or exceeded in the USA.  While it is difficult to attribute individual extreme wather events to global warming, increases in some extreme weather events have been observed.  Also see Hansen et al. (2011) and Rahmstorf and Coumou (2011) for efforts to quantify the increased frequency of extreme weather events, and the IPCC SREX for an overview of the subject.

Models are Reliable

"The observed response of the climate to more CO2 is not in good agreement with model predictions."

The model results beg to differ (Figure 5).

mainstream predictions

Figure 5: Various best estimate global temperature climate model predictions evaluated in the 'Lessons from Past Climate Predictions' series vs. GISTEMP (red).

Additionally, the observed surface temperature changes over the past decade are within the range of model predictions (Figure 6) and decadal periods of flat temperatures during an overall long-term warming trend are predicted by climate models (Easterling & Wehner 2009).

model-data comparison

Figure 6: Annual mean anomalies from the IPCC AR4 models plotted against the surface temperature records from the HadCRUT3v, NCDC and GISTEMP products. Everything has been baselined to 1980-1999 (as in the 2007 IPCC report) and the envelope in grey encloses 95% of the model runs (created by Gavin Schmidt).

Gish Gallop Giddy-Up

Rather than publishing uninformed opinion pieces in the Murdoch media, if Happer thinks his climate-related opinions are correct, perhaps he should subjugate them to the peer-review process to see if they can withstand scrutiny.  As a physicist, Happer should know that science advances through scrutinized research, not uninformed opinion pieces published in newspapers.  Moreover, "skeptics" like Spencer and Happer should cease cherry picking and consider all the data, in which case they will realize that global warming has not magically stopped.

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Comments 1 to 20:

  1. First gaph -> for Feb 2002 to Jan 2012 inclusive, are the correct annual values 2002.08 and 2012.08? I'm getting a slightly different result.
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  2. "some IPCC supporters have been claiming that "extreme weather" has become more common because of more CO2. But there is no hard evidence this is true. After an unusually cold winter in 2011 (December 2010-February 2011) the winter of 2012 was unusually warm in the continental United States. But the winter of 2012 was bitter in Europe, Asia and Alaska." Happer uses examples of five extreme weather events to illustrate his point that there is no "hard evidence" for an increase in extreme weather events. What more proof do we need that his critical faculties desert him when discussing climate?
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  3. Even if you exclude warming, CO2 is still a pollutant because you are left with ocean acidification. And it seems that Happer has stated that the source is humans burning fossil fuels! Everything can be classed as a pollutant if there is to much of it, to the extent that it changes the environment with a detrimental impact on a species.
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  4. Further to my comment@3 Also I think leaf pores of plants in some regions tend to shrink with increases in CO2, that results in less water vapour being released and less cooling.
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  5. On that series "The Climate Wars", there's a scene where Spencer admits on camera that after they corrected the high profile mistake about those early sattellite measurements, they found a trend going up, "and it has been upwards ever since". I don't know why he brags so much on his blog every year a La Nina comes up.
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  6. It will be interesting to see whether Dr Spencer keeps the cubic model fit on his updates of lower trophospheric temperatures once it starts to point upwards again. He used to add a caveat that it was just for "entertainment purposes only, and should not be construed as having any predictive value whatsoever.", which he seems to have omitted in his most recent post. Even with the caveat I think this is deeply irresponsible as there are those that will reproduce the figure without the caveat as if it actually meant something (for example, see here and scroll down to the section "Decide for yourself if the trend should be curved ..."). I have to say that fitting models in excel with no attempt to determine their validity or error bars doesn't seem particularly entertaining to me!
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  7. Dikran Marsupial. I've posted a number of times, and on several sites, to criticise exactly what you discuss. In fact in the middle of last year I went to the trouble of fitting to each of the major temperature records, polynomial curves of all orders up to 6, and I then extended each terminus beyond the record period for at least a century in each direction, to show how the polynomials behaved. I had written an explanatory dissection of the whole... and about five minutes before I finished editing my hard drive crashed. By the time I replaced my drive I'd lost the inclination to repeat the exercise. Perhaps it might be a useful enterprise for one of the SkS authors, so that any future "entertainment" activity by a data dissembler can be quickly and decisively dismantled.
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  8. Happer does present some truth in his WSJ Op Ed. He says "It is easy to be confused about climate." If your name is William Happer that really does hit the nail on the head. Happer's solo efforts at explaining climate science The Truth About Greenhouse Gases (linked in post's first paragraph) was published for a third time as the GWPF Briefing Paper No3. This gave me the delightful opportunity to 'whack them moles,' taking not one but two posts over at DeSmogBlog to do the subject justice.
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  9. barry - I wasn't terribly precise, using 2002.2 as my starting point (February '02 should probably be 2002.13, if you want to be precise).
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  10. Barry, Dana: The F&R version of the trend calculator uses the F&R distributed results, and so the data only runs to Dec 2010. So the best you can do is calculate to Jan 2001 - Dec 2010 (2001.0-2011.0). I hope to set up monthly updates on the F&R data eventually, although I expect this will create some confusion (the GISTEMP data changed significantly for example when they switched to GHCNv3). However I don't have it set up at this stage.
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  11. Using the gapminder site and plotting CO2 emissions per person against life expectancy shows a very clear correlation when plotted on a log scale for the x axis, as does energy use per person. In fact it strikes me they should be correlated. Rich nations are in general those with long life expectancy and those that use the most energy. As you point out there is no need for this energy to come from fossil fuels; which is of course the proper point that Happer is avoiding. Unfortunately this is not supported by the graph. I think you need to reconsider using it. I'm not optimistic of finding an alternative that can make the point that low CO2 emissions can still mean prosperity (as indicated by long life) since we all (rich or poor) live in a fossil fuel world.
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  12. Kevin @10 - thanks, I thought that might be the case. The answer isn't terribly different from 2001 to 2011 (0.20 +/- 0.15°C/decade). Solidly statistically significant in either case.
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  13. mdension @11 - fair point, I removed the gapminder graph from the post. The main issue is that there's no reason the increased energy demands from 'prosperous' nations must be met with fossil fuels.
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  14. The SkS trend calculator linked in the OP is different from the one linked in the "Trend Calculator" button - the one Dana1981 linked here includes the Foster/Rahmstorf corrected records. The one linked from the button includes seven raw records, including NOAA and BEST, while the the FR corrected one includes only five records (not NOAA or BEST) and their FR corrections. Perhaps these need to be combined into a single tool? The seven raw records plus the five corrected for regressed variations? At the very least they should be cross-linked so that it's possible to work with all the data sets.
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  15. Well done SkS team. The turn around between what the fake skeptics say and what rebuttals can be done is getting quicker and quicker.
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  16. Sadly, I've seen some other well-known PhD climate researchers repeat these same inaccurate statements, while at the same time being both aware of the OHC information as well as attribution studies such as Foster & Rahmstorf. Very sad and disturbing. Thanks for continuing to attempt to illuminate the truth SkS!
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  17. KR: I ought to at least cross-link the two pages, and authors need to be careful about which one they link. (I'm thinking simulated tabs within the page are probably the most intuitive user interface element for this purpose.) Merging them though is potentially much more confusing - at the moment we have one tool for up-to-date observed data, and one for comparing a fixed snapshot of the observed data against the adjusted data, which is only available for some datasets. (One thing which is often opaque to people is how hard intuitive data presentation and intuitive user interface design are. I've lost many nights sleep on both. When writing a paper you always want to present as much information as possible, but if you do so no-one else can understand it. And I've lost track of the number of incomprehensible graphs I've seen at conferences.)
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  18. Here's another way of looking at some of the golden oldies in Happer's blogpost editorial...explicitly in terms of SkS's Skeptic Arguments. The Fixed Numbers numbering system in the Argument drop down box, is used because it is permanent. The other lists are in order of popularity, so their numbering will change over time. Fixed Numbers "Par" is the number of Happer's paragraph, followed by its first two words. Next comes a brief summary of Happer's statement. Followed by the Fixed Number, and the shortie description of the Skeptic Argument. Par 2 What is... For 10 years...........Fx7-1998 Par 3 The lack... Statistical significance..........Fx82-1995 Par 4 CO2 is... CO2 not a pollutant..........Fx42-pollutant Higher CO2 levels..........Fx45-pastco2 Plants grow better..........Fx120-plant Exaggerated effects..........Fx12-impacts Fossil fuel countries..........Fx177-expensive Par 5 The direct... Low sensitivity..........Fx30-sensitivity Positive feedback..........Fx-143-clouds Par 6 There has... Early warming..........Fx1-sun Natural causes..........Fx35-pre1940 Par 7 Frustrated by... Extreme weather..........Fx41-extreme Par 9 Large fluctuations... US cold weather..........Fx15-cold Par 13 It is... Computer models..........Fx5-model On its editorial pages, on the global warming issue, the Wall Street Journal plays a strange kind of favoritism towards the fossil fuel, and fossil fuel dependent, industries. While deceiving another constituency: all those who read the WSJ for long term investment advice. In this instance an atomic physicist writing as an authority on climate science declares that global temperatures have not increased much in the last 10 years. Yet we see from Foster and Rahmsdorf's graph in Fx7-1998 that, after removing the ENSO signal and the effects of solar and volcanic activity, that the global temperatures are actually still increasing relentlessly at the same rate as they have been since 1979.
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  19. Roy Spencer's March update is out with the unlabeled sinusoid overlay: I assume that means it is no longer entertainment but a prediction. What is interesting is that the initial downward part of the curve was mainly a blip from the two volcanic eruptions. Perhaps Dr Spencer is predicting more volcanic eruptions?
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  20. no it is still there but only on WUWT.....
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