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Yes, It's Still Us, and It's Still Bad

Posted on 28 October 2011 by dana1981

Now that the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) study results are in, and have confirmed the accuracy of the surface temperature record (see here and here), those "skeptics" who spent years disputing the accuracy of the record despite all the evidence pointing to its accuracy are now shifting the goalposts.

Climate "skeptic" and WattsUpWithThat (WUWT) contributor Maurizio Morabito incorrectly predicted that the BEST results would show less warming than the records compiled by NOAA, NASA, and HadCRU, but he did make one nearly correct prediction on the subject:

"Several attempts will be made by climate change conformists and True Believers to smear the work of BEST, and to prevent them from publishing their data"

Although unless Anthony Watts is a "climate change conformist and True Believer," he got the party wrong:

"the Muller et al paper uses data for comparison from 1950 – 2010....I see this as a basic failure in understanding the limitations of the siting survey we conducted on the USHCN, rendering the Muller et al paper conclusions highly uncertain, if not erroneous....I consider the paper fatally flawed as it now stands, and thus I recommend it be removed from publication consideration by JGR until such time that it can be appears they have circumvented the scientific process in favor of PR." -Anthony Watts

Indeed, since the BEST results became public, rather than accept their results as promised, WUWT has produced a steady stream of attacks on their work, including a mocking cartoon and guest author Willis Eschenbach going as far as to call the BEST team "media whores"Twice.

Morabito has now published a new post on WUWT attempting to minimize the impact of the BEST results, claiming that the following three questions (quoted from Eschenbach) remain unanswered:

"To date, I have not seen any “useful quantative results” regarding [how much increasing greenhouse gases will warm the Earth].

Once those quantitative results are in, we can proceed to the next question — is a warmer earth better or worse on balance? there a cost-effective way to reduce the GHGs, or are we better off putting our money into adaptation?"

Likewise, Kenneth Green at Master Resource has asked the exact same questions in a separate article.  Clearly, now that they are forced to admit the planet is warming, the "skeptics" are doubling down on these other climate myths.  Green, Morabito, Eschenbach, and the WUWT folks in general would benefit from reading Skeptical Science (SkS), because we have answered all of these questions many times.

Quantifying the Increased Greenhouse Effect

Coincidentally, my very first post on SkS was on quantifying the human contribution to global warming.  It's actually not a terribly difficult exercise - all we need to know are the radiative forcing and climate sensitivity.  Quantifying the net human influence on the climate is a more difficult task, because the magnitude of the cooling effect from aerosols remains highly uncertain. 

However, quantifying the increased greenhouse effect is relatively simple.  We know the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases with high precision, and the associated radiative forcings are known with a high degree of confidence (Figure 1).

ipcc forcings

Figure 1:  Global average radiative forcing in 2005 (best estimates and 5 to 95% uncertainty ranges) with respect to 1750.  Source (IPCC AR4).

We recently discussed this subject during our dialogue with Dr. Pielke Sr., and showed that using the CO2 radiative forcing estimate of Skeie et al. (2011) and the Padilla et al. (2011) 90%  confidence range for the transient climate sensitivity parameter, we can estimate a CO2 contribution of 0.64 to 1.28°C, with a best estimate of 0.79°C warming of average global surface temperature over the past ~150 years.  If we add in the warming effects of the other long-lived greenhouse gases, the best estimate rises to 1.22°C surface warming caused by human emissions (we've only observed ~0.8°C warming because much of that has been offset by human aerosol emissions).  And the IPCC has quantified how much future warming we can expect in various emissions scenarios - in the ballpark of 4°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100 if we continue on our business-as-usual path (Scenario A2) (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Global surface temperature projections for IPCC Scenarios. Shading denotes the ±1 standard deviation range of individual model annual averages. The orange line is  constant CO2 concentrations at year 2000 values. The grey bars at right indicate the best estimate (solid line within each bar) and the likely range.  (Source: IPCC AR4).

We believe these are "useful quantitative results," and thus Morabito and Eschenbach's first question has been answered.  And of course on top of these quantitative results, there are the many empirically-observed fingerprints of man-made global warming (Figure 3).


Figure 3: 'Fingerprints' of man-made global warming

It's Bad

Morabito proceeds to make various "common sense" arguments as to why a warmer world would benefit humanity, for example "a warmer world is predicted to be a wetter world, which overall can only be a good thing."  This is quite obviously a grossly oversimplified argument.  How much wetter, and what part of the climate system (atmosphere?  surface?)?  Uniformly wetter, or will some areas receive the bulk of the increased precipitation?  Without answering these questions, arguing that a "wetter world" will necessarily benefit humanity is foolish.  "Common sense," when based on ignorance, is rarely correct.

As SkS has documented, the balance of the consequences of rapid climate change will be bad, according to the peer-reviewed scientific literature.  Increased evaporation will lead to drier land, while increased atmospheric water vapor will lead to stronger storms concentrated in smaller areas, meaning more floods and more droughts, depending on the geographic location.  Sea levels will rise, flooding populations along the coastlines (where a large percentage of people live), and ocean acidification will cause marine ecosystems to decline.  We are also currently on pace to trigger the Earth's sixth mass extinction, with climate change playing a major role.

Even if you deny all of this scientific evidence, risking the future of humanity on little more than your optimism and personal beliefs is extremely unwise and poor risk management.

Cost-Effective Solutions

There appears to be a very strong correlation between climate "skepticism" and ignorance of climate economics.  Watts, Monckton, Christy, SpencerLindzen, Montgomery, and a large number of politicians have all incorrectly argued that putting a price on carbon emissions will damage the economy.  What all of these "skeptics" fail to understand is that we already have to pay the external costs of those emissions (which we experience through climate change impacts).  If those costs are reflected in the market price of the carbon emissions sources (which they currently are not), then people can accurately consider those costs in making their purchasing decisions. 

In short, putting a price on carbon emissions is a free market solution that remedies a market failure (external costs).  That's why there is an economic consensus that we should put a price on carbon emissions (Figure 4), and why Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman called putting a price on these emissions "Econ 101."

should US reduce emissions

Figure 4: New York University School of Law Institute for Policy Integrity survey of economists with expertise in climate, results when asked under what circumstances the USA should reduce its emissions.

It's also why even conservative economists like Nicholas Muller, Robert Mendelsohn, and William Norhaus agree that we should put a price on carbon emissions, even when their estimates of the current external costs of those emissions are exceptionally conservative.  Simply put, economic analyses have consistently shown that the benefits of carbon pricing will exceed the costs several times over.  Thus, to answer the third Morabito/Eschenbach question, carbon pricing systems are indeed cost effective solutions.

Doubled-Down Denial

It's understandable that those who are in denial about anthropogenic climate change are shifting the goalposts now that the BEST results have made the accuracy of the surface temperature record almost impossible to deny.  However, the BEST results have not made the body of climate science (or economics) literature disappear.  Multiple lines of scientific evidence overwhelmingly show that human greenhouse gas emissions are the dominant cause of the current global warming, that the consequences of that warming will on the whole be bad, and that there are cost-effective solutions to the problem, of which carbon pricing systems are a critical component.

If BEST convinces the self-proclaimed "skeptics" to stop denying the accuracy of the surface temperature record, that will be a small step in the right direction.  But rejecting the rest of the body of climate science and economics research is still denial, and doubling down on different climate myths is not going to solve our problems.

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Comments 51 to 68 out of 68:

  1. dana1981: "You have to wonder why Curry was even invited to join the BEST group..." Perhaps Watts recommended her inclusion. Or perhaps Curry recommended Watts's inclusion. I'd vote for the former since Watts was involved with the BEST group fairly early on.
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  2. 51, dhogaza, I guess my question would be... how did she actually contribute to the project? What did she actually do? I didn't think people were listed on papers just for show, or to add their cachet.
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  3. All is not lost... "In a brief email statement, the Koch Foundation noted that Muller’s team didn’t examine ocean temperature or the cause of warming and said it will continue to fund such research. “The project is ongoing and entering peer review, and we’re proud to support this strong, transparent research,” said foundation spokeswoman Tonya Mullins." Source: "Skeptic’s own study finds climate change real, but says scientists should be more critical," Washington Post, Oct 30, 2011 To access this in-depth article, click here.
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  4. Stay tuned... "On Monday, Muller was taking his results — four separate papers that are not yet published or peer-reviewed, but will be, he says — to a conference in Santa Fe, N.M., expected to include many prominent skeptics as well as mainstream scientists." Source: "Skeptic’s own study finds climate change real, but says scientists should be more critical," Washington Post, Oct 30, 2011 To access this in-depth article, click here
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  5. It appears there are a few news reports about this being the next climate gate. Hide the decline part two. This article seems to capture it. I assume there will be an update from Skeptical Science?
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    [DB] Your linked source speaks eloquently for itself.  I'm sure all readers will be able to determine for themselves its veracity and assign it an appropriate measure of reliability.

    A larger issue is that this is the anticipated response from "skeptics" when their expected "silver bullet" audit into the heart of AGW turns out actually to verify the basic accuracy of the global temperature records.  That then they resort to this type of "fair-balanced" piece as a form of damage control should hardly come as a surprise to anyone.

    First, Faux-Climate-Gate.  Now Faux-BEST-Gate.  Deja-vu, all over again.

  6. garythompson - you are correct, we have a post in the works responding to this "skeptic" effort to hide the incline. Keep an eye out for it tomorrow.
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  7. In recent discussions (or arguments if you prefer) with denailist friendws of mine the meme has followed very closely what we have seen on this thread. Muller's credibility is questioned. Curry is lionised for distancing herself from the results. The 60% of stations in 30% of the world's surface meme is repeated interminably. Don't you know, folks, its all a conspiracy? And all this from folks who agreed only a few weeks ago that no sane person would argue that the planet isn't warming. Apparantly denialism and consistancy don't sit well together, but there again that is not news to folks around here.
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  8. I was curious about this image from a skeptic site. When I followed Sphaerica's link to the excellent Wood for Trees site, I discovered very similar plots over similar time scaling. This is the land only data from BEST, and WFTs Temperature Index. It appears there is some validity to the observation that temperature rise has flatlined over the past decade. I am not sure how important this information is, but I can't easily dismiss it.
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    Moderator Response: [Dikran Marsupial] The trend is over such a short period that there is no statistically significant evidence from the data that the rate of warming has stayed the same, slowed or even accelerated. If someone shows you the graph again, ask them "is the statistically significant evidence that the rate of warming has slowed over that period". See the recent discussion with Prof. Pielke of this issue for details.
  9. Mod DM: What time period is statistically significant? 30 years?
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  10. Sasquatch, the same sort of 'logic' could be applied to create an argument that the temperature trend at the end of 2010 was +2 degrees per month (the sharp rise following the equally steep drop on your graphs). Trends over time periods within the 'noise level' of the data are essentially meaningless. There have been ten year periods with 'flatlined' warming several previous times in the BEST and WFT data. Those did not indicate the end of the overall warming trend... thus, there is no logical reason to conclude that this one will either. Anyone who claims that this '10 year trend' suggests an end to global warming is ignorant of or lying about basic statistics.
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  11. 58, Sasquatch, I think the easiest way to understand this is to consider this image put together by Bernard J at this comment: Notice how many times one has been able to take a 10 to 15 year span and draw a correct (not eyeballed) trendline to show that warming has stopped, slowed or reversed, and yet the overall trend is clearly seriously up. This is what Dikran means when he says it is not statistically significant. Climate models show the exact same behavior. To put it another way, imagine flipping a coin. You know if you flip it 100 times you'll get somewhere around 50 heads and 50 tails, but not exactly. But you also know you'll not infrequently get 2 heads in a row, and sometimes 3, or runs of ten tosses with 7 or more heads. This is not evidence that the coin has suddenly become biased (because it does not perfectly alternate heads-tails-heads-tails). To the layman, ten years will seem like more than long enough to tell if something is happening or not. That's the trick. Skeptics and Roger Pielke are knowingly preying on people's natural reactions to such things, while at the same time knowing that scientifically and mathematically that such conclusions are invalid.
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  12. 58, Sasquatch, Visit this fun page and use the Java applet. The slider control lets you change the length of the trends you want to see, while the graph shows you every possible trend line of the selected length. See how many blue (negative) trend lines will appear by using short time series, and the point at which they all go away. You might also want to visit this post by Tamino, which makes an attempt to remove some of the noise from the signal (known, measurable factors, like solar changes, volcanism, ENSO events). Even here you have periods of apparent cooling, but the long term trend is unequivocal. The bottom line is, I'm afraid, that for the globe to abruptly cool while we are dumping more and more CO2 into the atmosphere, one of two things must have happened: a) Physics stopped working. b) Other factors (e.g. aerosols) have overwhelmed the CO2 temporarily. [I personally have a huge, huge fear that Chinese coal plant pollution is the culprit. This would be very, very bad because it would give the illusion that CO2 is not as dangerous as we think, and it will stay that way until the Chinese clean up their plants. When they do, which some day they must, then the added aerosols will quickly fall out of the atmosphere while the CO2 stays there for hundreds of years, suddenly unimpeded by the aerosols, to stand up and say "Remember me? Brahahahahahahaha..."]
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  13. 58, Sasquatch, Okay, last post, I promise!!!! The following image definitively proves that the earth has cooled since 1973. Every 7-8 year trend line on the graph is down... shows a definite cooling trend, throughout that period. The conclusion is inescapable: 1) Every trend graphed below is down 2) All trends overlap 3) Therefore the globe has cooled How can anyone possibly argue with this? Don't I have a very good point? [The point is that there is no point in time when a skeptic would not be capable of saying "the globe is cooling" and draw a trend line to prove it to you.]
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  14. Everyone, I highly recommend reading JMurphy's post @46, it is an excellent (succinct) summary and assessment of this sad situation that the fake skeptics and those in denial about AGW have gotten themselves into. Nicely done JMurphy.
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  15. Sasquatch @58 - we'll be publishing a post to address the issue you raise later today. There are a number of problems wrong with the "no warming in BEST since 2001" argument, not the least of which being that the argument is simply incorrect when the data is properly analyzed.
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  16. Sasquatch, Regarding the short-term trend (whether you refer to it as flatlining, marginally cooling or a warming hiatus), a nice summary of the competing theories is summarized here:
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  17. Thanks, all. I was just asking as I try to wrap my head around this.
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  18. Dana1981, has the post gone up yet?
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