The other day, I was reading a New York Times editorial that began:
On Friday, in a move that has already caused dismay in industry and among Congressional Republicans, the Obama administration proposed the first-ever federal limits on power plant emissions of carbon dioxide, which account for nearly 40 percent of the greenhouse gases America contributes to a gradually warming climate.
This reminded me of an article from a year ago, in which David Rose of the Daily Mail reported:
The world stopped getting warmer almost 16 years ago, according to new data released last week.
The figures, which have triggered debate among climate scientists, reveal that from the beginning of 1997 until August 2012, there was no discernible rise in aggregate global temperatures.
This means that the ‘plateau’ or ‘pause’ in global warming has now lasted for about the same time as the previous period when temperatures rose, 1980 to 1996. Before that, temperatures had been stable or declining for about 40 years.
That article set off a firestorm of criticism. To take a couple of examples, LiveScience asserted that
Claims global warming stopped 15 years ago are based on “cherry-picked” data and don’t account for natural fluctuations in climate, according to climate scientists responding to an article that appeared Saturday (Oct. 13) in the British newspaper, The Daily Mail.
But then, after claiming the data was “cherry-picked”, it adds:
The Met Office has issued a response to the article. It does not dispute the trend Rose identifies, but says Rose’s article contains “some misleading information.”
In other words, there’s no dispute that warming has plateaued, that there hasn’t been an overall increase in global temperatures since 1997. But the piece continues:
Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, called the latest story “just more dishonest cherry-picking and sleight of hand by Rose” and his go-to sources.
“This is just one in a continuing series of hit pieces by David Rose in The Daily Mail that completely misrepresents climate science and climate scientists. Global warming hasn’t stopped by any objective measure; it is proceeding right on schedule. In many respects (e.g. the dramatic loss of Arctic sea ice this summer), it is well ahead of schedule,” Mann told LiveScience in an email.
To reiterate, Mann’s argument is that Rose was “cherry-picking” information, and we know that global warming is “proceeding right on schedule” because of “dramatic loss of Arctic sea ice”. So what does it mean now that the Arctic sea ice has expanded by 60% this year? Applying his own logic, this dramatic gain of Arctic sea ice pretty much demolishes Mann’s argument. Again, as reported by Rose:
A chilly Arctic summer has left nearly a million more square miles of ocean covered with ice than at the same time last year – an increase of 60 per cent.
The rebound from 2012’s record low comes six years after the BBC reported that global warming would leave the Arctic ice-free in summer by 2013.
Instead, days before the annual autumn re-freeze is due to begin, an unbroken ice sheet more than half the size of Europe already stretches from the Canadian islands to Russia’s northern shores.
This doesn’t mean we’re in for another Ice Age, of course. While there has been a dramatic increase in ice since last year, the amount of Arctic ice still remains below where it has recently been in previous years. It was higher in 2009 and pretty much every year from ’06 going back decades.
Still, it does throw a wrench in the gears of Mann’s argument. Furthermore, the Arctic ice could increase even more this year. As the Telegraph points out (emphasis added):
In a rebound from 2012’s record low, an unbroken ice sheet more than half the size of Europe already stretches from the Canadian islands to Russia’s northern shores, days before the annual re-freeze is even set to begin.
The Telegraph also points out that David Rose’s Daily Mail article has since been acknowledged as being correct:
Despite the original forecasts, major climate research centres now accept that there has been a “pause” in global warming since 1997.
Moreover, Antarctic sea ice hit a 35-year high earlier this week. As reported by Jason Samenow in a blog post for the Washington Post:
Antarctic sea ice has grown to a record large extent for a second straight year, baffling scientists seeking to understand why this ice is expanding rather than shrinking in a warming world.
Getting back to the LiveScience article, it added:
“Climate change can only be detected from multi-decadal timescales due to the inherent variability in the climate system,” reads The Met’s response.
Scientists at NASA make the same point, stating that
naturally occurring periods of no warming or even slight cooling can easily be part of a longer-term pattern of global warming.
it is easy to “cherry-pick” a period to reinforce a particular point of view. “Claims that global warming is not occurring that are derived from a cooling observed over short time periods ignore natural variability and are misleading.”
A Climate Scientist for NASA, Josh Willis, is quoted as saying:
“Despite the fact it’s been warmer and cooler at different times in the last 10 years, there’s no part of the last 10 years that isn’t warmer than the temperatures we saw 100 years ago.”
A piece in The Guardian attacked David Rose’s piece under the headline “Why the Mail on Sunday was wrong to claim global warming has stopped”. It includes this chart:
But there’s a problem. The Guardian article’s argument is itself disingenuous, since its purpose is to debunk a strawman argument. The fact is that Rose didn’t claim that “global warming has stopped”. In fact, Rose explicitly noted that (emphasis added):
This ‘plateau’ in rising temperatures does not mean that global warming won’t at some point resume.
But according to increasing numbers of serious climate scientists, it does suggest that the computer models that have for years been predicting imminent doom, such as those used by the Met Office and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, are flawed, and that the climate is far more complex than the models assert.
Indeed, it does seem to show just that. And there’s another problem with the Guardian’s argument. This image got me thinking (a nasty habit of mine, I know). I thought, “What if we extended this graph back even further than 1973, though — like a long way back, as in thousands of years — and applied the same logic? What would that look like?” So I spent a few minutes Googling, and this is what I came up with:
Here is a website with a graph showing estimated global temperatures over the past 420,000 years based on ice core analysis from Antarctica.
The text explains (emphasis added):
The diagram above (Fig.2) shows a reconstruction of global temperature based on ice core analysis from the Antarctica. The present interglacial period (the Holocene) is seen to the right (red square). The preceding four interglacials are seen at about 125,000, 280,000, 325,000 and 415,000 years before now, with much longer glacial periods in between. All four previous interglacials are seen to be warmer (1-3oC) than the present. The typical length of a glacial period is about 100,000 years, while an interglacial period typical lasts for about 10-15,000 years. The present interglacial period has now lasted about 11,600 years.
According to ice core analysis, the atmospheric CO2 concentrations during all four prior interglacials never rose above approximately 290 ppm; whereas the atmospheric CO2 concentration today stands at nearly 390 ppm. The present interglacial is about 2oC colder than the previous interglacial, even though the atmospheric CO2 concentration now is about 100 ppm higher.
Now here is the graph showing in greater detail that red-boxed area of more recent history in the above image:
The observation is made (emphasis added):
The past temperature changes show little (if any) relation to the past atmospheric CO2 content as shown in the lower panel of figure 3… [N]o net effect of CO2 on temperature can be identified from the above diagram, and it is therefore obvious that significant climatic changes can occur without being controlled by atmospheric CO2. Other phenomena than atmospheric CO2 must have had the main control on global temperature for the last 11,000 years.
Another graph, estimating global temperatures from meteorological observations:
Along with the comment:
From figure 3 it is obvious that the global meteorological record (Fig.4) begins in the final part of the Little Ice Age, and thereby documents the following temperature increase, especially clear since about 1915. In other words, the temperature increase documented by meteorological records represents the temperature recovery following the cold Little Ice Age. The ongoing climate debate is essentially about this being mainly a natural temperature recovery, or caused by atmospheric CO2, especially for the time after 1975? It can, however, from figures 2, 3 and 4 be concluded that the temperature increase 1975-2000 is not unique when compared with past records, and that the net effect on temperature by atmospheric CO2 has been small or even absent (Fig.3).
I found another graph of estimated temperatures in the northern hemisphere in this paper:
The peaks corresponds with the Roman warm period, the Medieval warm period, and the modern warm period from the previous graphs. This website makes some observations about what this graph shows and apply some logic (emphasis added):
The pattern of temperature change over the past 2000 years is important for several reasons. First, if there has been no long-term pattern to it, then any warming in recent decades can more easily be attributed to human activity. On the other hand, if there have been natural cycles or centennial-scale excursions of temperature, then it is more difficult to claim that recent warming is unnatural or unprecedented. Second, impacts of climate change are often based on the assumption that “unusual” warmth is harmful to life and human society; but if it was equally warm, or warmer than today, a thousand years ago, then there is much less basis for predicting harm….
The resulting reconstruction has values at each decade. It shows a clear repeating warm/cool pattern of Roman Warm Period, Dark Ages Cold Period, Medieval Warm Period, Little Ice Age and recent warming. This long-term pattern was stated to relate to the 1500-year Bond cycles. Looking at the reconstruction itself, the RWP and MWP were both warmer than the decades from 1961-1990; and the composite proxies do not show rapid warming after 1990. Thus, the study clearly shows that large temperature excursions on centennial scales are real features of the past 2000 years, and that recent warmth is not unprecedented.
So getting back to that Guardian piece and the question I asked myself when reading it; applying the same logic they used to make “skeptics” look like idiots, we could have a little fun and do something like this:
So this brings me to the latest news on global warming. The U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released its much-anticipated report on climate change. As the New York Times observed:
One issue much cited by the climate doubters is the slowdown in global warming that has occurred over the past 15 years. The report acknowledged that it was not fully understood, but said such pauses had occurred in the past and the natural variability of climate was a likely explanation.
So in other words, the “doubters”, like David Rose, have been right that there has indeed been a “slowdown” in global warming. As James Delingpole comments in The Telegraph,
At the heart of the problem lie the computer models which, for 25 years, have formed the basis for the IPCC’s scaremongering: they predicted runaway global warming, when the real rise in temperatures has been much more modest. So modest, indeed, that it has fallen outside the lowest parameters of the IPCC’s prediction range. The computer models, in short, are bunk.
To a few distinguished scientists, this will hardly come as news. For years they have insisted that “sensitivity” – the degree to which the climate responds to increases in atmospheric CO₂ – is far lower than the computer models imagined. In the past, their voices have been suppressed by the bluster and skulduggery we saw exposed in the Climategate emails. From grant-hungry science institutions and environmentalist pressure groups to carbon traders, EU commissars, and big businesses with their snouts in the subsidies trough, many vested interests have much to lose should the global warming gravy train be derailed.
This is why the latest Assessment Report is proving such a headache to the IPCC. It’s the first in its history to admit what its critics have said for years: global warming did “pause” unexpectedly in 1998 and shows no sign of resuming. And, other than an ad hoc new theory about the missing heat having been absorbed by the deep ocean, it cannot come up with a convincing explanation why.
Apart from “natural variability”, of course, which, as just illustrated, can go both ways.
Going back again to the Times article just quoted, it is titled, “U.N. Climate Panel Endorses Ceiling on Global Emissions”. So we see that it is not just a scientific report, but a political one. This is what troubles me about the whole debate. Going back to that Times editorial I quoted at the beginning of this post, after how “the Obama administration proposed the first-ever federal limits on power plant emissions of carbon dioxide” that “contributes to a gradually warming climate”, it continued:
The move, the first in a suite of executive actions on climate change promised by President Obama in June, is a welcome sign of his determination to move ahead on his own authority and bypass a Congress whose interest in tackling global warming is virtually nil.
So here we have the New York Times explicitly endorsing the Executive claiming for himself the absolute power to make laws unilaterally, without the Congress. Which is pretty much how “dictator” is defined. Does this seem very wise to you? And what is it, exactly, that Obama is claiming the unconstitutional authority to do?
The rules would restrict emissions at new natural gas-fired plants to 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour, and at new coal plants to 1,100 pounds per megawatt-hour. Because existing coal plants, even advanced ones, produce about 1,800 pounds per megawatt-hour, industry will find it virtually impossible to build new coal plants without capturing and storing some or all of their carbon emissions — a technology the administration has promised to promote but which has not been commercially demonstrated on a wide scale. New gas-fired plants should easily fit under the new limits because they now produce only about 800 to 850 pounds per megawatt-hour.
“So how much has the gas industry contributed to Obama’s last election campaign?” I immediately asked myself after reading that. So I just Googled it and found that, according to Politico, through April 2012, the oil and gas industry had given $772,000 to reelect Obama. By far the company with the most donations to the Obama campaign was Exelon.
So I just took another moment to Google that company, where I find a company overview stating:
Climate change is real…. A price on carbon remains essential to ensuring that national efforts to address climate change are undertaken at the lowest possible cost. Without a price on carbon, the United States will overlook many cost-effective solutions while continuing to spend billions on more speculative, less reliable and more expensive ones.
I’m not sure how to interpret that as anything other than a company in the gas industry calling for the federal government to enact legislation harmful to its competition in the coal industry. The company overview continues:
Public concern about climate change is bringing new demand for environmentally friendly products and services to meet future energy needs and Exelon is leading the way.
Well, if consumer demand is driving production in cleaner energy, what, then, is the use of such draconian, dangerously unconstitutional measures as proposed by the Obama administration? Back to the Times editorial, it also begs this question (emphasis added):
Coal’s share in the national energy mix has been declining; coal provided more than half of electricity generation in 2003 but only 37 percent in 2012. New regulations governing emissions of mercury and other pollutants have accounted for part of this decline by forcing utilities to retire some older coal-fired plants. But coal’s main enemy has been the marketplace — the discovery of abundant supplies of cheaper natural gas and the remarkable advances in wind and solar power that have encouraged power companies, for economic reasons alone, to switch to cleaner fuels.
It seems to me that the free market could sort this all out on its own, if allowed to, without having to resort to draconian measures dependent upon governments usurping dangerous powers. It seems to me that free market capitalism, rather than this kind of crony capitalism evident here, offers the most reasonable solutions — solutions that aren’t anathema to the concepts of limited government and individual liberty.
Whatever the truth about global warming and mankind’s role in climate change, we should never allow anyone to deceive us into believing that catastrophe will befall us all if we do not allow our governments to assume ever greater authorities over our lives to dictate to us how to behave.
I fall back on an axiom: government bureaucrats making decisions at best arbitrarily, assuming good intentions and not corrupt purposes, cannot know better than the free market with its pricing system how to efficiently direct scarce resources towards productive ends. Decisions about what energies drive our economies should be made not by politicians, but the consumers.
Another thing we should never allow anyone to deceive us into believing is that consumers are too stupid to know how to behave, that they require supposedly enlightened government bureaucrats to enact legislation to restrict their choices and instruct them how to live their lives.
Freedom, it seems to me, is always the best solution.