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Nigel Lawson suggests he's not a skeptic, proceeds to deny global warming

Posted on 28 July 2014 by dana1981

Nigel Lawson is the chairman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation; a political group that regularly releases selective scientific reports about climate change. The organization consistently tries to argue that concerns about global warming – concerns that are based on the full body of scientific evidence – are overblown, which would imply that there's less urgency to solve the climate problem.

In a recent interview with The Independent, Lawson implied that he doesn't consider himself "a climate-change sceptic," but immediately proceeded to deny that the planet is warming, and reject mainstream scientific estimates of the climate sensitivity to the increased greenhouse effect.

There is no global warming to speak of going on at the moment. If you look at the Met Office statistics, that's quite clear. But there could be, there clearly could. If it does happen, there would be a much slower process than the alarmists pretend.

The first statement is untrue on several levels. First, even the Met Office HadCRUT4 estimates of global surface temperatures show we're still in the midst of a warming trend (you can easily check the data for yourself with this tool). Second, the Met Office estimates have a known cool bias due to a lack of coverage in the Arctic, and estimates correcting for that bias show an even larger surface warming trend.

Third and most importantly, the atmosphere only accounts for about 2% of the warming of the planet as a whole. Over 90% of global warming goes into heating the oceans. Studies that account for the warming of the entire global climate have found that it continues unabated. In fact, the planet has built up heat at a rate equivalent to 4 Hiroshima atomic bomb detonations per second over the past 15 years.

Land, atmosphere, and ice heating (red), 0-700 meter ocean heat content (OHC) increase (light blue), 700-2,000 meter OHC increase (dark blue).  From Nuccitelli et al. (2012) Land, atmosphere, and ice heating (red), 0-700 meter ocean heat content (OHC) increase (light blue), 700-2,000 meter OHC increase (dark blue). From Nuccitelli et al. (2012)

This isn't the first time Lawson has suggested that global warming magically stopped 15 years ago. He made a similar false claim on BBC Radio 4 Today. The BBC's editorial complaints unit determined that the broadcaster broke its guidelines on due accuracy by allowing Lawson to make these false statements.

The BBC has used the excuse that Lawson was invited on the show to discuss climate policy, but that his inaccurate claims came when he strayed into the realm of science where he lacks expertise. That lack of expertise has never stopped Lawson from making inaccurate comments about climate science.

What about Lawson's assertion that future global warming will be conveniently slow? There have been a few papers suggesting the planet may not be as sensitive to the increased greenhouse effect as most studies indicate, and Lawson's GWPF has latched onto those outliers to argue that global warming in the coming decades will be slower than expected. However, recent research suggests that it's those outliers that are incorrect, and that mainstream climate sensitivity estimates are accurate. The full body of scientific evidence on this subject contradicts Lawson's argument.

Like Rupert Murdoch, Lawson appears to be getting his climate information from biased non-expert sources, and ignoring or rejecting the vast amount of scientific evidence and expert opinion that doesn't conform to his worldview. At least one of Lawson's implications in the Independent interview appears to be accurate; he certainly lacks skepticism when it comes to fringe scientific research that arrives at conclusions he finds convenient.

In the interview, Lawson also misrepresented the 97% expert consensus on human-caused global warming.

Yet how can he justify his position when 97 per cent of scientists say that global warming is happening now? Lawson corrects me: "It wasn't 97 per cent of scientists – but what they did was take a whole load of papers which they selected and then they said 97 per cent of the papers said, as I have, that it could well happen. The only people who are in the 3 per cent were people saying, 'No way it could ever happen.'"

No, the 97% expert consensus is that humans are the driving force behind global warming. The 3% of fringe papers outside the consensus say that humans are playing a minimal role in global warming.

That consensus is based on scientific evidence. Specifically, there is a global energy imbalance, with more energy entering the Earth's atmosphere than leaving it. This imbalance is a result of the increased greenhouse effect essentially trapping more heat in the climate system. As long as we continue adding carbon pollution to the atmosphere, the planet will keep warming. That's just basic physics.

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Comments 1 to 21:

  1. Could someone tell me what the rate of warming was, over land, in (10 year? ??) increments starting with 1800?  I assume the earth has been warming since the little ice age then began to warm faster as we began to dump c02 into the atmosphere.   I am wondering how much faster it is warming now.... compared to how fast it was warming before the increased co2.  It seems like it would be an easy survey to do with climatologists just asking them what percentage of the warming do they feel is man made. ... it seems to me if we are warming twice as fast as we were. .... then half is natural and half is man made. 

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  2. Donny @1, with several crucial caveatts, your answer is given by the BEST land temperature index:

    The caveats are that prior to 1880, thermomeeter records are largely restricted to those from Europe, and from the East coast of North America.  That makes the record a regional rather than a global record, which accounts for the very large fluctuations in the record prior to 1880, and hence for the short term rapid trends.  For that reason, I agree with the many scientists who think the land temperature index is insufficiently reliable prior to1880 to be considered a true global index. The area of coverage by BEST is shown in this video:

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  3. Donny, I have replied to you here which is the appropriate thread. Please also read the main article. You can use the Search function on top left page to find appropriate places for comments.

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  4. Donny - others with more detailed knowledge can add to my 'answer', but i believe the IPCC has done your "survey" already by literature review and determined that responses from experts attribute from more than half to more than 100% of the observed global average temperature increas to anthropogenic sources.  Also, I suspect there are better ways to look at the problem than simply projecting a post LIA temperature trend into the 1900's and assuming the difference between that and observed is anthropogneic, if such a projection even made sense.

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  5. Roger D @4, the IPCC conclusion is that humans are responsible for 50% plus of global warming since 1950.  In fact, they think that humans are responsible for around 100%, indeed, possibly more than 100% of warming since 1950 as shown in this IPCC figure, but allow with very low probability that it could be as low as 50% due to uncertainty:

    ANT is anthropological, OA is Other Anthropological, ie, anthropological other than greenhouse gases, and NAT is Natural.

    From a survey of climate scientists, it has been determined that the mean estimate of anthropological contribution since 1850 is 80%, with most of that coming since 1950.  Prior to 1940, natural contributions dominate but anthropogenic factors still make a substantial contribution.  Further, from 1850 to 1910, natural factors overwhelmed the then relatively weak anthropogenic forcing to cause a net cooling.

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  6. Tom, the video shown doesn't match the BEST graph: some of the early temperatures in the video are higher than present-day ones, which is not true in the static graph. But they did another one covering the same period in which the modern ones are highest:

    I can't account for the difference.

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  7. Two communications problems -

    Surface air temperatures as the measure of global warming. I think heat content is a more direct measure of actual change to the climate system, with a trend showing less variability. I'm interested to know how much variability within heat content estimates and what physical processes drive it.

    The broad misunderstandings tha projections/predictions based on an average of many models and model runs where reality will look like some of the model runs but will never look like that smoothed average. The expectation that failure of reality to follow that smooth average is portrayed as a failure of reality to follow prediction. I understand about short term variation vs longer term trend, but arguments such as Lawson use only work because it's not broadly understood.

    I understand reality will look most like the model runs that put oscillations like ENSO in the right places but for most people, who get their information via media interpretations that may or may not include biases as well as simple failure of journalists to be well informed, the idea of "IPCC prediction" that has "failed" can look compelling. I like the analogy of the "prediction" of summer being warmer than winter based on an planetary tilt theory having a smooth transition, one day warmer than the one before, and a cool few weeks in spring 'proving' the prediction and theory is wrong... is clearly wrong - but analogy is less than best and only works in some contexts, such as a lecture without the media's requirements for brief (one or two lines) and clear and unambiguous content.

    As an aside, how do models include oscillations like ENSO? Random but bounded by statistical likelihoods of strength, duration and change? 

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  8. johnthepainter@6, the video I embedded is the current annual series from the BEST website.  It's URL on Youtube is:

    It was published in February of this year, whereas the one you link to was published in July of last year.  Therefore I must presume the video to which I linked to be the more accurate of the two. 

    As to matching the graph, the video shows the annual average surface temperatures.  In the graph, that is shown by the thin black line, which indeed matches the video.  You were probably looking at the 10 year moving average (in red).

    The high temperatures in the 18th century are irrelevant.  They are based on solely western europe and east coast of the US stations in the first case, and on western europe alone in the second.  In the both cases they rely on approximately thirty thermometers, or which (in the first case) just three were in the US (see graphs below).  They are strictly regional temperatures and provide almost zero information about actual global temperatures.

    As I noted in my previous post, I do not think any global instrumental temperature series prior to 1880 is realiable enough to be scientifically usefull.  They simply record too little of the lands surface temperature to be reliable.   


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  9. Ken,"As an aside, how do models include oscillations like ENSO? Random but bounded by statistical likelihoods of strength, duration and change? "

    ENSO is an emergent feature in the models. It may be more accurate to say the the models demostrate ENSO-like features. I understand that they still leave a lot to be desired. eg see here.

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  10. Ken in Oz @7.

    If we shift from surface temperatures to Ocean Heat Content as the measure of global warming, we are still at odds with Lawson of Blaby. In his appearance on BBC Radio 4 back in February he contradicted Prof Brian Hoskins by insisting that any rise in OHC was but speculation.

    Of course this wasn't the only point that his Lordship got wrong. And that was why in my own complaint to the BBC over his appearance I pointed out that almost everything he said was woefully wrong.

    So if he is continually and systematically wrong with everything he says, that makes two reasons why Lawson would surely deny he is a denier.

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  11. One observes that if we are to discuss ocean heat content we're also going to have to address Wunsch's recent paper.   My cursory read was that he is saying that he can't say... but a more authoritative and deeper analysis is going to be needed.    The echo chamber is alread abuzz with the notion that the "ocean is cooling".  

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  12. bjchip - I've seen the 'buzz', and it's based on a nonsense interpretation of Wunsch 2014

    From the abstract: 

    Interpretation requires close attention to the long memory of the deep ocean, and implying that meteorological forcing of decades to thousands of years ago should still be producing trend-like changes in abyssal heat content. At the present time, warming is seen in the deep western Atlantic and Southern Ocean, roughly consistent with those regions of the ocean expected to display the earliest responses to surface disturbances. Parts of the deeper ocean, below 3600 m, show cooling. (emphasis added)

    In short, while there are sections of the abyssal ocean that show cooling, they are consistent with the timescale for long past temperature changes to reach those sections (LIA?), while those portions of the ocean expected to be responding to recent changes are indeed warming. 

    The current portrayal of this paper on the denialist blogs relies on taking portions of it out of context, which is just sad. But not IMO terribly surprising...

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  13. And see the response by Wunsch to mispresentation of the paper here.

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  14. Scaddenp @ 13:

    I would like to see the response by Wunsch. Unfortunately, the current link directs me to an article in The Australian about the Gaza conflict. Please help.

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  15. It links to letters to editor. Go to the bottom for the Wunsch letter.

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  16. Ocean heat content - or more correctly, global heat content within the climate system, of which ocean is the largest component - is a more direct measurement of something fundamental. I also think it's more generally comprehensible as direct evidence of a warming world. And I don't think you can pick out a period even as short as 5 years within the past few decades that could be claimed to show a pause or slowdown.  Meanwhile, surface air temperatures look more like a secondary consequence of sea surface temperatures and subject to a lot of variability because of phenomena that move and mix ocean water around.     

    We can and should try for more ocean temperature coverage, especially of deep ocean that is not well covered but what is known surely does not, for example support Ian Plimer's undersea volcanoes heating the world from below; on the contrary it is quite consistent with warming from above.

    What we can't or shouldn't do is vacillate whilst we wait for every cubic metre to be measured continuously and every cool spell, cold spot or instance of glacial advance is understood and explained to the satisfaction of people like Nigel Lawson. We know more than enough to know we need to commit to action on emissions reductions.

    Of course, in the current political climate - at least in my nation of Australia, and apparently in USA and Canada - if any part of the ocean, or world for that matter, doesn't show continuous and incremental warming it will be used by opponents of action on climate to distract and deceive and promote inaction. Recall the "world is cooling" hype when the eastern USA had a winter that was colder than average,  despite far more of the world simultaneously showing much warmer than average conditions.

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  17. scaddenp @ 15:

    Thanks very much for the clarification. I found Wunsch's letter. For the benefit of other readers, here's Wunsch's letter (The Australian, July 28, 2014):

    Understanding the ocean
    THE article by Graham Lloyd will likely leave a mis-impression with many of your readers concerning the substance of our paper that will appear in the Journal of Physical Oceanography (“Puzzle of deep ocean cooling”, 25/7).
    We never assert that global warming and warming of the oceans are not occurring — we do find an ocean warming, particularly in the upper regions.
    Contrary to the implications of Lloyd’s article, parts of the deep ocean are warming, parts are cooling, and although the global abyssal average is negative, the value is tiny in a global warming context.
    Those parts of the abyss that are warming are most directly linked to the surface (as pointed out by Andy Hogg from the ANU).
    Scientifically, we need to better understand what is going on everywhere, and that is an issue oceanographers must address over the next few years — a challenging observational problem that our paper is intended to raise.
    Carl Wunsch, Harvard University and Massachusetts, Institute of Technology

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  18. Hi everyone!

    I am not a climate scientist but have been interested on a personal level in the the research going on for some time now. I like reading (and have been for a while) the discussions on this site even though I sometimes get annoyed by the sceptics/alarmist fights.

    Anyway I finally registered because everytime I see the figure posted in this blog post above I ask myself if one of the following estimates is somewhere near the 'real' thing :)

    If I sum up the total energy accumulated in all three regions I get something like a 35e22 J (or W*s) increase over 50 years (1960-2010). If I just devide this by the time of 1.577e9 s (50y in seconds) and by:

    1. the earths total surface of 5.1e14 m^2 I get a net power per squaremeter of 0.44 W/m^2 that is needed over 50 years to deposit the heat.

    2. half the earths surface as only one half is hit by the sun at a given time. It gives double the power per squaremeter nedded with 0.87 W/m^2

    3. the projected area of the earth (aka circle of earths radius) with an area of 1.27e14 m^2 which is roughly another doubling to 1.75 W/m^2

    If someone could just give me a quick response if this is complete nonesense or if one of them is a useful estimate I would appreciate it a lot. Thank you!

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  19. Falk @18.

    Two point for you.

    No 3 is not "roughly another doubling" but exactly a doubling. The area of a sphere is 4πr2 and the area of a disc is the well-known πr2.

    Your initial 35e22J estimate appears to be based on a misinterpretation of the graph and thus too high. It is a "stacked" graph, thus the sum of each element can be directly read from the graph. So about 21e22J would be nearer the mark. In my book, the graph is a bit on the schematic side as Ocean Heat Content fell 1960-70 if you plot out the usual Levitus 0-2000m data.

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  20. Falk @18, the Earth's surface area is the area of an oblate spheroid.  The area of a disc of the same diameter as the Earth's equatorial diameter is 1.27 x 10^14, ie, approx 1/4 of the Earth's surface area.  Therefore your step three, which attempts to compensate for the difference between a circular and a spherical surface is double counting.

    I am unsure as to the point of your step two.  Most of the change in the energy balance is due to increased greenhouse effect reducing outward radiation, and an increase in temperature increasing outward radiation.  Both of these effects occur approximately equally over the whole globe, so there is no need to determine the hypothetical case where it occurs only on one side of the globe.

    I assume you are trying to reconcile the global energy imbalance (average of 0.44 W/m^2 over the last fifty years) with the change in forcing due to anthropogenic causes (around four times that).  The difference is because the change in forcing is the calculated effect of change atmospheric compostion (primarilly) since 1750 on the assumption that there are no temperature changes at the Earth's surface.  In fact there have been temperature changes, which have increased outgoing radiation.  Therefore the expected energy balance is Forcing minus λ temperature change, where lambda is a linear factor representing the effects of feedbacks.  That is calculated to be around 0.5-1 W/m^2, and calculated values lie comfortably within the error margins of observed values.

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  21. Thank you Rodger @19 and Tom @ 20 for both your answers. I knew somebody would notice the 'roughly' in my doubling. I did it too but didn't know how to edit.

    I indeed did not notice that it was a stacked graph. Thanks for pointing it out. And it makes sense to take the earths whole surface into acount I just thought that 0.44 W felt too small (with 21e22 J instead 35e22 J even more so) and I didnt' know if it was a valid estimate.

    Tom Curtis @20: I really was thinking about the ~2 W/m^2 for anthropogenic causes. Thanks for the brief summary with the feedback effects that explains the difference in my head.  By the way step three was coming from the mislead thought about sun incidence on the earth projected area but as you pointed out the energy imbalance is mainly due to the insulating effect of greenhouse gases and not in combination with direct sun light passing through them. 

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