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Carter Confusion #1: Anthropogenic Warming

Posted on 19 May 2011 by dana1981

Bob Carter is a marine geologist at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia who in recent years has forayed into the field of climate science, for example co-authoring the extremely flawed study McLean et al. 2009 which attempted to blame global warming on the El Niño Southern Oscillation.  Recently, Carter penned a media article in which he argued against Australia's proposed carbon tax.  The article is a fairly typical Gish Gallop in which Carter seems to attempt to jam as many climate myths into as few words as possible, interspersed with a lot of empty political rhetoric and the usual misunderstanding of climate economics.  The article contains too many myths to refute in a single post, so we will address it in a Carter Confusion series in the same vein as Monckton Myths, Christy Crocks, and Lindzen Illusions.

In this first installment, we will examine Carter's claims that there is no evidence that the observed global warming is man-made, and that it is instead caused by the natural internal variability of the climate system.

Anthropogenic Fingerprints

Carter leaps quickly out of the gate, launching a whopper in the second paragraph of his article (emphasis added):

"Since [the 1980s], with the formation of the IPCC, and a parallel huge expansion of research and consultancy money into climate studies, energy studies and climate policy, an intensive effort has been made to identify and measure the human signature in the global temperature record at a cost that probably exceeds $100 billion. And, as Kevin Rudd might put it, “You know what? No such signature has been able to be isolated and measured."

First of all, it's difficult to determine where Carter is getting this $100 billion figure from.  The article focuses specifically on Australia, and the country has not spent $100 billion on climate research in its entire history, period.  Even on a global scale, nowhere near $100 billion has been spent on studies to identify anthropogenic signatures of global warming.  Carter appears to be playing fast and loose with the facts in order to appeal to his readers' emotions during difficult economic times, which is a highly unscientific approach.  Not a promising start to the article.

Furthermore, as Skeptical Science readers know, the claim that no human warming signatures have been identified is entirely false, and reveals that Carter is either ignorant of the field of climate science, or is not being honest in his article.  We have previously addressed the anthropogenic "fingerprints" or "signatures" of global warming in the rebuttal to "it's not us".  Below is a brief summary of those fingerprints:

  • the upper atmosphere is cooling
  • the tropopause height is rising
  • nights are warming more than days
  • sea level pressure is rising
  • precipitation is changing as expected from anthropogenic forcing
  • ocean heat content is changing as expected from anthropogenic forcing
  • downward longwave radiation is increasing
  • upward longwave radiation is decreasing

Additionally, the warming trend is accurately projected by climate models – another fact which Carter denies later in the article.

Models Accurately Project Warming

"One thing is known for certain about these computer models, and it is that they are wrong as tested against the last twenty years of elapsed global temperature."

This is another false statement.  As we saw in Lindzen Illusion #2 and the rebuttal to "Hansen's 1988 prediction was wrong", in 1988 James Hansen projected global temperature changes to a high degree of accuracy (Figure 1).

Hansen vs Lindzen

Figure 1: Hansen et al. 1988 Scenario B adjusted to reflect observed radiative forcing changes (red) vs. our reconstruction of what Lindzen's temperature projections may have looked like based on comments he made in a 1989 talk (blue) and the average of the GISTEMP land-only and land-ocean temperature record (black).

Additionally, the observed temperature change is well within the range of IPCC model projections (Figure 2).

RC model data comparison

Figure 2:  IPCC AR4 hindcast and forecast temperature projection range vs. observations (RealClimate)

Internal Variability

Carter also suggests that rather than being man-made, the observed global warming could just be due to natural internal variability:

"that we can’t identify and measure [an anthropogenic warming signal] indicates that the signal is so small that it is lost in the noise of natural climate variation....Global average temperature at the end of the twentieth century fell well within the bounds of natural climate variation"

"It's internal variability" has become a popular "skeptic" argument, and one which we have previously addressed in Christy Crock #3 and Lindzen Illusion #5.  The argument's Achilles heel is that the oceans, from which heat would be transferred to the air if surface warming were simply due to internal variability, are also warming.  Moreover, contrary to Carter's claim, the average global surface air warming over the past century (0.8°C) is well outside the range of the influence of internal variability on surface temperatures over decadal timescales (generally no more than 0.3°C), and this variability can account for little if any of the 20th century warming (Figure 3).

Swanson Tsonis variability

Figure 3: Estimation of the observed signature of internal variability in the observed 20th century global mean temperature in climate model simulations (Swanson et al. 2009).

Carter Strikes Out

Here we have examined just three of the many false claims in Carter's article.  In each case, Carter's claims were easily refuted by a quick review of the scientific literature.  Yet amazingly, Carter also has the gall to claim

"environmental activists and their supporters, including apparently many scientists, [developed] the disease known as deaf ear."

In reality it's Carter who appears to be deaf and blind to the body of climate science research.  Until he puts in the time to learn about the scientific field, Carter is in no position to be advising others how we should respond to the threats posed by climate change.  Carter advising climate "skeptics" is a case of the blind leading the blind.

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Comments 51 to 59 out of 59:

  1. Adelady. As a physicist I would have to say that the site of correlation to hell does not appear to me to reflect an open mind. I'll pick this up again on the other site that Tony Curtis kindly directe me to. I find it a bit childish actually to resort to abusive type headings like "Mathturbation". Thermodynamics is important but it isn't the be-all and end-all behind climate science and, as you scaddenp will know, is sadly not well understood generally. Scaddenp: Thanks again. Yeah, people quote the First and Second Laws of thermodynamics when these are totally inapplicable in the situation in which they are used such as where convection, conduction and adiabatic effects underlie the processes which are being analysed according to these laws. And thanks for the links to those other articles. John Nicol
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  2. jonicol, while I highly recommend Science of Doom as being the best single website for explaining the physics of greenhouse, I think you would be better of reading the text books first. In fact, SOD has a list of text books that he recommends, which would be a good place to start. I also highly recommend Raymond Pierrehumbert's Principles of Planetary Climate, of which I had the good fortune to read a draft which (pre-publication) was available free on the net. If you want something easier to access, explanations by Chris Colose are note worthy for their clarity.
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  3. Thanks Tom. I am having difficulty in accessing the paper by Ramanathan... which IE keeps telling me it cannot access even though th elink lleads to what looks like a sensible web address and when I go to Climate physics which also presents the Ramanathan... paper the same thing happens. Do you know of another source? Thanks. John Nicol
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    [DB] I found it through Ramanathan's website here:

    If it takes too long to load IE may give you that message.  Try another browser or a faster connection.  Worked for me.

  4. jonicol - Tamino's expressed area of interest and expertise on that blog is in time series analysis, not the underlying physics. In other words, does the data support or not support various hypotheses. For the physics the Science of Doom blog is good. In that realm, time series analysis, he's one of the best I've seen.
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  5. "Thermodynamics is important but it isn't the be-all and end-all behind climate science and, as you scaddenp will know, is sadly not well understood generally. " Frankly claiming some causal relationship by overfitting a statistical model, where the proposed causal relationship implies violation of 1st law, does indeed deserve the abusive term.
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  6. Response: Thanks for the response. The web page you have quoted to Ramanathan is different from the one(s?) I had found before - and shorter. Thanks also KR for the comment. I'll have a look at Science of Doom. As you will b aware, time series is an area which is itself abused a lot in Ohysics of climate and the strict analysis depends on a regularly repeated factor, not necessarily sinusoidal, but with a fixed period to its structure. Trying to predict behaviour depending on functions which are not repetitive or "cyclical" is where a lot of statistical analysis comes to grief in science and in particular physics. It is only useful to fit such an expression to randomly varying data for which the functional form is very well known as a method of extracting information from noise. The FORM of global temperatures is not known either in the past or in the future, which is where Mann's Hockey Stick analysis came to grief. The only possible analysis of functional dependence might depend on analysis using known cycles to look for in the components of a very long term Fourier Analysis of the known temperatures. One might also try some other set of orthogonal functions other than sinusoids which are the basis for Fourier analysis. This is not dissimilar to Tamino's methods. However, each function must be unique and the set must be "complete" to work. Things like the solar sunspot cycle are easily picked up in this way. The amplitude of these cycles of course is too small and the period too short to account for more than a small part of global temperature change. Other cyclical events such as the variation of other solar surface parameters, the change in the eccentricity of the earth and the polar axial precession are other contenders the latter having very long periods associated very tightly and fairly completely with the onset of the Ice Ages and intermittent holocenes. As with a Fourier transform of a function, the components may be quite small in number, yet the function may display no suggestion of itself being cyclical - it is the combination which makes the function. You probably knew all this but I just get carried away. BTW, Scaddenp,I agree totally with your comment on the misuse of the first law and the idea of "Statistical Modelling" is coverd I believe in my comment on the inaplicability of a single assumed time series type function which unfortunately seems to be given legs by a number of people. Cheers, John Nicol
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  7. Actually I dont believe time-series are used, let alone abused, in climate physics at all apart from prediction of future solar forcings. They are of course useful for model validation against paleoclimate but have no part in the formulation of such models. Your comments about hockey sticks suggest you are somewhat misinformed there but please feel free to follow up in the appropriate thread. KR's link to R&C 1978 is the paper I meant. PS. I hope your promised new physics that predicts planetary temperatures isnt in same vein as Postma's
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  8. Scaddenp. I am not sure how time series analysis is useful in model validation against paleoclimte since again one could only look for cyclical or repetitive functions to match repeated changes, which is essentially what the Milanovich cycles do so well. I would be interested if you could eleborate a little. Perhaps you could point to the parts of the Postma's article you referred me to which you think I should avoid. Thanks again for your helpful comments and this reference. John
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  9. Jonicol - obviously needed to generate known forcing as you point out but trend analysis is also part of time series analysis and its trends that are robust predictions from climate models. Since you havent posted paper yet, I have no real idea on what you are proposing but some comments made me think you might be looking down same line as Postma. I hope not. I would hope your new physics can predict the lapse rate for a given atmospheric composition.
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