This piece is to alert you that the next round of climate change deniers is in full cry, ahead of the coming release of the new IPCC assessment report. But first, my thanks to everyone who read the recent climate overview piece. There were many of you.
About that new IPCC report. The IPCC (the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report is due very soon. This will be their fifth assessment report (abbreviated “AR5″), and their first update in six years. IPCC AR4 was released in 2007. There was a smaller (but significant) update from many of the same scientists in 2009 for the Copenhagen climate conference. That excellent and readable document is called the Copenhagen Diagnosis. I recommend it highly.
Ahead of the release of AR5, the deniers are launching a pre-emptive attack. The new gotcha is a supposed leveling of temperatures in the last decade. Here’s a sample of the denier story, oddly, from the BBC website:
Global warming pause ‘central’ to IPCC climate report
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is meeting in Sweden to thresh out a critical report on global warming.
Scientists will underline, with greater certainty than ever, the role of human activities in rising temperatures.
But many governments are demanding a clearer explanation of the slowdown in temperature increases since 1998. …
You can read the whole article for denier Matt McGrath’s “on the hand, on the other hand” mastery. The IPCC part of the reporting is all about the certainty. The author’s added questions are all about the latest denier red herring. More on why the deniers latest story is a false one below.
Most government leaders are hungry for reason not to act on global warming
A word about who the market for denialism really is. Yes, it’s the billionaires. But it’s also their key enablers. Note that the piece says “many governments” are demanding…”, not “many scientists”.
Why “many governments”? Because no major government official really wants to act to restrain global warming — for the simple reason that big money owns every national government worth owning, and putting the brakes on carbon means separating the carbon bigs from their unmonetized assets — the almost 3,000 gigatons of carbon reserves still in the ground awaiting transfer to our air and their cash accounts.
Let’s put that more simply. Is Barack Obama going to tell Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil, and David Koch that they can’t have their still-in-the-ground billions without first exploring every single reason he should just shut up? Obama can’t fund his library if he does.
So they grasp at straws. And folks, this “pause” is a straw.
Problem 1: Why the “global pause” is not a pause
Which brings us to the point of this post. From an excellent and readable science website, dedicated to taking on the deniers, Skeptical Science (my emphasis and some reparagraphing throughout):
The 5 stages of climate denial are on display ahead of the IPCC report
Posted on 16 September 2013 by dana1981
The fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report is due out on September 27th, and is expected to reaffirm with growing confidence that humans are driving global warming and climate change. In anticipation of the widespread news coverage of this auspicious report, climate contrarians appear to be in damage control mode, trying to build up skeptical spin in media climate stories.
The writer then lists a number of recent denial articles and editorials, and adds:
Interestingly, these pieces spanned nearly the full spectrum of the 5 stages of global warming denial.
He illustrates Stage 1, “Deny the Problem Exists,” by debunking the very problem we noted above, the so-called global warming “pause.”
Stage 1: Deny the Problem Exists
Often when people are first faced with an inconvenient problem, the immediate reaction involves denying its existence. For a long time climate contrarians denied that the planet was warming. Usually this involves disputing the accuracy of the surface temperature record, given that the data clearly indicate rapid warming.
In the 1990s, Christy and Spencer created a data set of lower atmosphere temperatures using measurements from satellite instruments. These initially seemed to indicate that the atmosphere was not warming, leading Christy, Spencer, and their fellow contrarians to declare that the problem didn’t exist.
Unfortunately, it turned out that their data set contained several biases that added an artificial cooling trend, and once those were corrected, it was revealed that the lower atmosphere was warming at a rate consistent with surface temperature measurements.
Most climate contrarians have come to accept that the planet has warmed significantly. Unfortunately many have regressed back into Stage 1 denial through the new myth that global warming magically stopped 15 years ago (most recently exemplified by David Rose in the Mail on Sunday). The error in that argument involves ignoring about 98 percent of the warming of the planet, most of which goes into heating the oceans. When we account for all of the data, global warming actually appears to be accelerating.
Here’s the chart that goes with that observation:
Not much of a “pause.” The technical description of that chart, from Skeptical Science, is as follows (my emphasis and paragraphing):
Global warming is sometimes thought of as just an increase in the air temperature, and it is a recurring myth that global warming has magically stopped whenever there is a pause in the long-term trend of increasing air temperature.
However, heat is exchanged between all parts of the Earth System, and the oceans can hold vastly more heat than the air. Global warming is actually the total accumulated heat in the whole Earth System that results from the imbalance between incoming solar energy and outgoing heat and reflected energy.
This figure from Nuccitelli et al. (2012) [PDF] [immediately above] shows the change in the total heat content of the Earth System since 1960 in terms of its major components: the total land, atmosphere, and ice heating (red) from Church et al. (2011), and the ocean heating for the 0-700 meter layer (light blue) and the 700-2,000 meter layer (dark blue) from Levitus et al. (2012).
More than 90% of global warming goes into heating the oceans, while less than 3% goes into heating the atmosphere. Even relatively small exchanges of ocean heat with the atmosphere, as occurs during the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), can produce short-term fluctuations and pauses in the increasing air temperature.
Just keep this in mind when you hear the magic words — “But what about the pause?” Don’t be fooled. There are pauses, but this “pause” is bogus.
Also, note above the author’s definition of global warming. It’s the:
“total accumulated heat in the whole Earth System that results from the imbalance between incoming solar energy and outgoing heat and reflected energy.”
In other words, energy in minus energy out across the system. Pretty simple. The IPCC has revised its previous SRES scenarios (explained by us here) to reflect this new definition. They’re calling the new baselines “radiative forcings,” which is just the scientific term for the definition above. Again, energy in minus energy out across the whole system.
For an advance peek at the four pathways on which projections will be overlaid, click here. Yes, that is indeed 1200 ppm by 2100 in the worst case pathway.
Problem 2: Sometimes things do pause before they kill you; doesn’t mean you’re safe
It’s true that sometimes there are pauses. But by definition, a pause is just temporary relief, and sometimes a “recovery” is just noisy data. Consider (my emphasis and paragraphing):
Cherrypicking is the practice, widespread amongst climate change contrarians, of carefully selecting particular points in the noisy short-term climate datasets and using them to show ‘trends’ that are not representative of the true situation.
The huge global surface air temperature spike that accompanied the monster El Nino of 1997-98 is thus chosen as the starting point for the “no warming in […] 16 years” that you may read in internet comment-threads below climate stories (the number varies, apparently at random, from commentator to commentator).
This year we have seen the Arctic sea-ice melting season once again reported by contrarians as a recovery, although as the graph below, from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, clearly shows, there have been a number of ‘recoveries’ in previous years too. The long-term trend, as shown by the dotted trendline, is downwards.
Here’s that northern hemisphere ice chart mentioned above:
Note that there are several places one could declare a “pause” or a “recovery” — and then go running to world leaders and say just what they want to hear — “See, maybe you should wait just one more year.”
What does this chart actually show? That the decline in Arctic ice extent, which last year surpassed 30%, is this year (through August) about 15%. That’s decline. Minus is still bad on that chart. And to make the author’s point, notice the trend from 1980 through today — about –1% per year. When the headline hits that “summer arctic ice is gone,” most of you will see it.
The Skeptical Science piece, Five Stages of Denial, is rather good and very readable. All five stages are well thought out, and you’ll see them all displayed in the coming weeks.
My suggestion, don’t be fooled. We have to act. We have to act now. And no world leader with billionaire money in his pocket wants to go first. Time to make them? I think so. (Yes, that’s Chris Hayes I’m linking to.)
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