Global Warming at the Tipping Point

Climategate has done for Global Warming what the Pentagon Papers did 40 years ago for perception of the Vietnam War in the USA. It has decisively changed the narrative of the debate. Further revelations of unethical behavior, errors, and serial exaggeration in climate science are rolling out on an almost daily basis, and there is good reason to expect more.

The IPCC is under fire for shoddy work and facing calls for a serious shakeup. The British media, even the leftist, global warming alarmists of the Guardian and BBC, are increasingly critical. Al Gore’s apocalyptic parade of floods, storms, pestilence and war are now rightly treated with derision.

The IPCC has issued several embarrassing retractions from its most recent 2007 report, starting with the claim that the Himalayan glaciers were going to melt away completely in the near future. That such a ludicrous claim was ever taken seriously is a sign of the credulity of the environmentalists and the media.

But what made this first retraction noteworthy was the way in which it cast light on the dire quality of the climate establishment. The IPCC’s chairman, Rajendra Pachauri (a former railroad engineer better known as a writer of pornographic fiction but who had been routinely described as a “climate scientist”), initially said that critics of the Himalayan glacier melt prediction were engaging in “voodoo science”. It later emerged that he had been informed of the error prior to in early December Copenhagen but failed to disclose it.

The Himalayan retraction has touched off a cascade of further retractions and corrections. These included the fantastic claim that 40% of the Amazonian rain forest was about to disappear because of global warming. As with another score of similar claims of imminent disaster in the IPCC’s 2007 report, it was based on reports from advocacy groups such as Greenpeace and the WWF rather than peer-reviewed research. Further nonsense included claims that African agricultural production would be cut in half, estimates of coral reef degradation, and the scale of glacier melt in the Alps and the Andes. These and other claims were sourced to unpublished student papers and dissertations, or to misstated or distorted research.

Peer reviewers in the formal IPCC process had flagged many of these errors and distortions during the writing of the 2007 report but were ignored. For example, the IPCC claimed that the world was experiencing rapidly rising costs due to extreme weather related events brought on by climate change. But the underlying paper, when finally published in 2008, expressly contradicted this, saying, “We find insufficient evidence to claim a statistical relationship between global temperature increase and catastrophe losses.”

Another embarrassing retraction was the claim that 55% of the Netherlands was below sea level, and therefore gravely threatened by rising sea levels. The correct number is 25%, which Dutch scientists say they tried to tell the IPCC before the 2007 report was published, to no avail.

The IPCC also ignored several published studies casting doubt on its sea level rise estimates. For example, a paper published in Nature Geoscience had predicted a 21st-century sea level rise of an astonishing 32 inches. This has been withdrawn, with the authors acknowledging mistaken methodology and admitting “we can no longer draw firm conclusions regarding 21st century sea level rise.”

Further embarrassment came when the 2006 Stern Review, a report commissioned by Gordon Brown on the economics of global warming from one of his civil servants, was revealed to have quietly watered down some of its headline-grabbing claims in its final published report. Stern had cherry picked the “science” to an outrageous degree and the economics was just about as flaky. Many of the scientists and economists cited in the Stern Review had disavowed the misuse of their work.

Two weeks ago the World Meteorological Association pulled the rug out from under one of Gore’s favorite claims that climate change will mean more tropical storms. A new study by the leading scientists in the field concluded that there has been no climate-related trend in tropical storm activity over recent decades and that there would, in fact, be significantly fewer tropical storms in a warmer world. “We have come to substantially different conclusions from the IPCC,” said lead author Chris Landsea, a scientist at the National Hurricane Center in Florida. Landsea had been a long time member of the IPCC but resigned in 2005 on account of its increasingly blatant politicization.

When Roger Pielke, an expert on hurricane damage at the University of Colorado at Boulder, pointed out defects in the purported global-warming/tropical storm link in a 2005 edition of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, the lead author of the IPCC’s work on tropical storms, Kevin Trenberth, called the article “shameful,” said it should be “withdrawn”. However in characteristic warmist fashion, he refused to debate Pielke about the substance of the article.

Finally, the original Climategate controversy over the leaked documents from the CRU is far from over. The British government has determined that the CRU’s prolonged refusal to release documents sought in 95 Freedom of Information requests is a potential criminal violation.

The U.N. has announced that it will launch an “independent review” of the IPCC, though like the British investigation of the CRU, the U.N. review will probably be staffed by “settled science” camp followers who will obligingly produce a whitewash. But Pachauri’s days as IPCC chairman are likely numbered – there are mounting calls from within the IPCC for Pachauri to resign, amid charges of potential conflicts of interest. Like Gore, Pachauri is closely involved with commercial energy schemes that benefit from greenhouse gas regulation. Robert Watson, Pachauri’s predecessor as chairman of the IPCC from 1997 to 2002, told the BBC: “In my opinion, Pachauri has to ask himself, is he still credible, and the governments of the world have to ask themselves, is he still credible.”

The IPCC has made a forlorn effort to mount a defence. They claimed the errors amounted to a few isolated and inconsequential points in the report of Working Group II, which studies the effects of global warming, and not the more important report of the IPCC’s Working Group I, which is about the science of global warming. Working Group I, this argument goes, is where the real action is, as it deals with the computer models and temperature data on which the “consensus” conclusion is based that the Earth has warmed by about 0.8 degrees Celsius over the last century, that human-generated greenhouse gases are overwhelmingly responsible for this rise, and that we may expect up to 4 degrees Celsius of further warming if greenhouse gas emissions are not stopped by mid-century.

In fact the 2007 Working Group I report uses the terms “uncertain” or “uncertainty” more than 1,300 times in its 987 pages, including what it identified as 54 “key uncertainties” limiting our mastery of climate prediction. And each repetition of the “science-is-settled” mantra inflicts more damage on the credibility of the climate science community. The scientist at the center of the Climategate scandal, Phil Jones dealt the science-is-settled narrative a huge blow with his candid admission in a BBC interview that his surface temperature data are in such disarray they probably cannot be verified or replicated, that the medieval warm period was probably warmer than today, and that he agrees that there has been no statistically significant global warming for the last 15 years—all three points that climate campaigners have been bitterly contesting. And Jones specifically disavowed the “science-is-settled” slogan.

Judith Curry, head of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech, wrote February 24: “No one really believes that the “science is settled” or that “the debate is over. Those, such as Al Gore, who continue to say this nonsense, seem to want to advance a particular agenda. But there is, in fact, nothing more detrimental to public trust than such statements.”

The next wave of climate revisionism is likely to reopen most of the central questions of “settled science” in the IPCC’s Working Group I, starting with the data purporting to prove how much the Earth has warmed over the last century. The Climategate emails and documents revealed the disarray in the surface temperature records the IPCC relies upon to validate its claim of 0.8 degrees Celsius of human-caused warming, prompting a flood of renewed focus on the veracity and handling of surface temperature data.

Critics such as Anthony Watts, Joseph D’Aleo, and Stephen McIntyre have been pointing out the defects in the surface temperature record for years, but the media and the IPCC ignored them. Watts and D’Aleo have painstakingly documented (and in many cases photographed) the huge number of temperature stations that have been relocated, corrupted by the “urban heat island effect,” or placed too close to heat sources such as air conditioning compressors, airports, buildings, or paved surfaces, as well as surface temperature series that are conveniently left out of the IPCC reconstructions and undercut the IPCC’s simplistic story of rising temperatures. The compilation and statistical treatment of global temperature records is hugely complex, but critics such as Watts and D’Aleo offer compelling critiques showing that most of the reported warming disappears if different sets of temperature records are included, or if compromised station records are excluded.

The puzzle deepens when more accurate satellite temperature records, available from 1979 onwards, are considered. There is a glaring anomaly: The satellite records, which measure temperatures in the middle and upper atmosphere, show very little warming since 1979 and do not match up with the ground-based measurements. Furthermore, the satellite readings of the middle- and upper-air temperatures fail to record any of the increases the climate models say should be happening in response to rising greenhouse gas concentrations. John Christy of the University of Alabama, a contributing author to the IPCC’s Working Group I chapter on surface and atmospheric climate change, tried to get the IPCC to acknowledge this anomaly in its 2007 report but was ignored. (Christy is responsible for helping to develop the satellite monitoring system that has tracked global temperatures since 1979. He received NASA’s Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement for this work.)

Bottom line: We should expect some surprises to come out of the revisions of the surface temperature records that will take place over the next couple of years.

Eventually the climate modeling community is going to have to reconsider the central question about the models the IPCC uses for its predictions of catastrophic warming: do these overestimated the climate’s sensitivity to greenhouse gases?

Two recently published studies funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, one by Brookhaven Lab scientist Stephen Schwartz in the Journal of Geophysical Research, and one by MIT’s Richard Lindzen and Yong-Sang Choi in Geophysical Research Letters, both argue for vastly lower climate sensitivity to greenhouse gases. The models the IPCC uses for projecting a 3 to 4 degree Celsius increase in temperature all assume large positive (that is, temperature-magnifying) feedbacks from a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. However, Schwartz, Lindzen, and Choi discern strong NEGATIVE (or temperature-reducing) feedbacks in the climate system, suggesting an upper-bound of future temperature rise of less than 2 degrees Celsius.

There have been alternative explanations to observed temperature changes in the scientific literature for several years but they ignored by the media and the IPCC alike:

1. The IPCC downplays theories of variations in solar activity, such as sunspot activity and gamma ray bursts, and although there is robust scientific literature on the issue.

2. Several studies of Arctic warming conclude that changes in ocean currents, cloud formation, and wind patterns in the upper atmosphere may explain the retreat of glaciers and sea ice better than greenhouse gases.

3. Another factor in the Arctic is “black carbon”—essentially fine soot particles from coal-fired power plants and forest fires, imperceptible to the naked eye but reducing the albedo (solar reflectivity) of Arctic ice masses enough to cause increased summertime ice melt.

4. Above all, if the medieval warm period was indeed warmer than today, we cannot rule out the possibility that the changes of recent decades are part of a natural rebound from the “Little Ice Age” that followed the medieval warm period and ended in the 19th century.

The question going forward is whether the IPCC will allow contrarian scientists and confounding scientific research into its process, and include the opportunity for dissenting scientists to publish a minority report. Last March, John Christy sent a proposal to the 140 authors of IPCC Working Group I asking “that the IPCC allow for well-credentialed climate scientists to craft a chapter on an alternative view presenting evidence for lower climate sensitivity to greenhouse gases than has been the IPCC’s recent message. An alternative view is necessary and should not be censured simply to maintain a ‘consensus’. This will present to our policymakers an honest picture of scientific discourse and process.” Christy, of course, received no response.

In the aftermath of Climategate, Christy proposed in Nature magazine that the IPCC move to a Wikipedia-style format, in which lead authors would mediate an ongoing discussion among scientists, with the caveat that all claims would need to be based on original studies and data. Such a process would produce more timely and digestible information than the huge twice-a-decade reports the IPCC now produces. Christy does not hold out much hope for serious IPCC reform. Although he was a lead author in the IPCC’s 2001 report and a contributing author for the 2007 report, the Obama administration has not nominated Christy to participate in the next report. IPCC participants are nominated by governments (a “gate-keeping exercise,” Christy rightly notes).

Perhaps the most ludicrous contortion is warmist response to the record snowfall of the eastern United States over the last two months. The ordinary citizen, applying Occam’s razor while shoveling feet of snow, sees global warming as a farce. The warmists now insist that “weather is not climate,” and that localized weather events, even increased winter snowfall, can be consistent with global warming. However, these are the same people who hysterically claimed that Hurricane Katrina was positive proof that catastrophic global warming had arrived, though the fact that the strong 2005 hurricane season was followed by four quiet years for tropical storms that made a hash of that talking point. Al Gore, the BBC, the Met Office, et al have been happy to point to any weather anomaly—cold winters, warm winters, in-between winters—as proof of global warming. But they refuse to name one weather pattern or event that would be inconsistent with their theory. It is clearly a pretty convenient state of affairs when your theory works in only one direction.

The long trajectory of the global warming controversy conforms exactly to the “issue-attention cycle” that political scientist Anthony Downs explained in the Public Interest almost 40 years ago. He laid out a five-stage cycle through which political issues of all kinds typically pass. A group of experts and interest groups begin promoting a problem or crisis, which is soon followed by the alarmed discovery of the problem by the news media and broader political class. This second stage typically includes a large amount of euphoric enthusiasm as activists conceive the issue in terms of global salvation and redemption. We all recall Gore preaching the ludicrous message that global warming was part of deep spiritual and metaphysical problems arising from our “dysfunctional civilization.” Before Giant Green Jolly in Copenhagen he was still warbling on that an international climate treaty would be “an instrument of human redemption.”

The third stage is the turning point. As Downs explains, there comes “a gradually realization that the cost of ‘solving’ the problem is enormous. This is where we have been since the Kyoto process proposed fantastically expensive near-term reductions in fossil fuel energy. In retrospect it is now possible to grasp the irony that President Bush’s open refusal to embrace the Kyoto framework kept the climate campaign alive by providing an all-purpose excuse for the lack of “progress” toward a binding treaty. With Bush gone, the insanity of the carbon-cutting charade is impossible to hide, though Gore et al are now trying to blame the Chinese for the lack of international agreement.

“The previous stage,” Downs continued, “becomes almost imperceptibly transformed into the fourth stage: a gradual decline in the intensity of public interest in the problem.” Despite the relentless media drumbeat, Gore’s Academy Award and ludicrous Nobel Prize, and millions of dollars in paid advertising, public concern about global warming has been steadily waning for several years. In the latest Pew survey of public priorities released in January, global warming came in dead last, ranked 21st out of 21 issues of concern for Congress and President Obama.

A separate Pew poll taken last October, before Climategate, reported a precipitous drop in the number of Americans who think there is “solid evidence” of global warming. The number who believed that humans were responsible for warming had dropped even further. Surveys from Rasmussen and other pollsters find similar declines in American public belief in human-caused global warming and European surveys are reporting the same trend. In Gallup’s annual survey of environmental issues, taken last spring, respondents ranked global warming eighth out of eight environmental issues Gallup listed.

“In the final stage,” Downs concluded, “an issue that has been replaced at the center of public concern moves into a prolonged limbo – a twilight realm of lesser attention or spasmodic recurrences of interest.” Of course, the death rattle of the global warming campaign will be deafening. It has too much political momentum and fanatical devotion to go quietly.

The lingering question is whether the collapse of the global warming campaign will signal a broader collapse in public enthusiasm for environmentalism in general. Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, two of the more thoughtful and independent-minded figures in the environmental movement, have been warning their green friends that the public has reached the point of “apocalypse fatigue.” They have, of course, been met with denunciations from the eco-fascists for their heresy.


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