Critics Agree: Global Warming is Occurring

October 23rd, 2011
in econ_news

global-warming-sweat Econintersect:  Richard Muller published an article in Technology Review (October 15, 2004) which has been a poster child paper for global warming skeptics.  In that paper Muller criticized the so-called “hockey stick” graphic which showed dramatic increases in global temperatures over the past century.  Muller declared the interpretation to be an artifact of poor mathematics.

The Koch brothers have been identified by Climate Science Watch as leading funders of climate change skeptics and research aimed at disproving global warming and, specifically contributions to climate change from their industrial activities.

Follow up:

The Charles Koch Charitable Foundation and Muller have participated in a comprehensive research project that has concluded that global warming is real.  The project, headed by Muller, is called the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study and has conducted a rigorous examination of more than five times as many unique measuring stations as any previous study or data base.  The project was conducted by a group of pre-eminent scientists that are leaders in the field of mathematical physics and statistical science.  Only one of the project’s ten lead scientists is a climatologist, Judith Curry of Georgia Tech.  In addition to the Koch foundation, the research was supported by Director, Office of Science, of the U.S. Department of Energy, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Lee and Juliet Folger Fund, William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation and Ann & Gordon Getty Foundation.  A number of small private donations have also been received, totaling 2.3% of total project costs.

Four research papers have been written and made public for review prior to completing a peer-review process for formal publication.  The project web site also summarizes the objectives of the project:

The most important indicator of global warming, by far, is the land and sea surface temperature record. This has been criticized in several ways, including the choice of stations and the methods for correcting systematic errors. The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study sets out to to do a new analysis of the surface temperature record in a rigorous manner that addresses this criticism. We are using over 39,000 unique stations, which is more than five times the 7,280 stations found in the Global Historical Climatology Network Monthly data set (GHCN-M) that has served as the focus of many climate studies.

Our aim is to resolve current criticism of the former temperature analyses, and to prepare an open record that will allow rapid response to further criticism or suggestions. Our results include not only our best estimate for the global temperature change, but estimates of the uncertainties in the record.

The following graph is from the Berkeley reports:


Temperature progression has not been uniform over the last century.  As seen above, there have been significant short-term temperature fluctuations, which are seen across all measurement systems examined.  Most interestingly, from 2000 to 2010 a temperature plateau has occurred.  In spite of blogosphere claims that the last decade disproved global warming because it had been reversed (an incorrect claim), the decade still saw rising temperatures at a slower rate than before and new global temperature records were set.

While there is less and less disagreement over the temperature record data, what is causing the temperature trends observed over the last century is not agreed upon.  Many are focused on carbon containing gases that have been increasing in concentration from combustion and release from sequestered sources.  But there are other occurrences that can impact temperature, including such things as the thickness of ozone layers and the amount of water vapor and other chemicals (such as sulfate aerosols from coal burning) in the atmosphere.  In fact, water is the most abundant of the greenhouse gases.  From The Christian Science Monitor:

Water vapor is the most abundant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. By some estimates, it accounts for anywhere from 36 percent to 85 percent of the atmosphere's greenhouse effect, depending on whether clouds are included.

Among factors besides greenhouse gases and ozone layers, solar sun spot activity affects weather.  Sun spots have been in decline in recent years.  In June, GEI News posted an article that reported research indicating a rare long-term cycle event known as “The Maunder Minimum” for sunspot activities might be possible in the near future.  The last such occurrence was from 1645 to 1715 and corresponded to a climate period known as “The Little Ice Age”.  A more recent period of low sunspot activity occurred from 1820-1825 which also corresponded to an unusually cold interlude, although not as severe as the Maunder Minimum.

Finally, anecdotal observations influence what individuals think about global warming.  Last winter the number of people surveyed who thought that global warming was real went down in the eastern U.S. during a bad stretch of winter weather, while, at the same time, the number of people in Australia who said they believed in global warming went up.  Australia was in the grip of a heat wave and severe drought at the time.

Sources:  Technology Review, Climate Science Watch, Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature, World Meteorological Organization, The Christian Science Monitor (Warming Plateau), NASA Science News and  GEI News (Mini Ice Age)

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  1. Derryl Hermanutz Email says :

    The most recent 3 million years of geological history is called the Pleistocene, which is characterized by a series of deep ice ages lasting 10s of thousands to one hundred thousand years, interspersed with interglacial periods that last 10,000 years or more. The most recent 10,000 year period, called the Holocene, is an interglacial, the period since the end of the most recent ice age. Within an ice age or an interglacial there are periods of significant warming and cooling that can last years or decades. There is no evidence to suggest that the Holocene is anything other than one of the series of interglacials, which means at some point Earth will enter the next ice age.

    Nobody knows what started the ice age cycles. Apparently there is no evidence of permanent polar icecaps until about 13 million years ago. Earth is 4.6 billion years old and has been "geologically active" throughout its entire history. That is, Earth is not "finished" developing. Nor for that matter is the Sun, or the solar system, or the universe. We live in an active system that generates changing conditions, not a dormant system that generates stable conditions.

    We know that the Medieval Warm Period (about

  2. Admin (Member) Email says :

    Derryl - - -

    We should have had you write the news story.

  3. Derryl Hermanutz says :

    I don't want to see us rushing off to "Stop Global Warming!!!", when the evidence and the history suggest that if we're going to 'prepare', we should be girding ourselves against freezing to death, not melting down.

  4. Admin (Member) Email says :

    Derryl - - -

    A few years ago I read a good discussion of possible long range climate cycle scenarios. Unfortunately I have not been able to find that discussion in the last couple of years when I have seen much more debate in the blogosphere.

    One of the scenarios went something like this:

    At some point in a process of progressive warming, atmospheric water will reach a high enough level (from all the ice melt and evaporation from warm bodies of surface water) that cloud cover for the planet will become much more extensive. While water is a "greenhouse gas", cloud cover provides a reflective and absorptive/readmitting medium for energy from the sun. The model suggested that once cloud cover reaches a certain critical extent there will be a shift from increasing surface temperatures to decreasing surface temperatures because the heavy precipitation from the extensive cloud cover will produce evaporative cooling which, combined with the reduced solar energy reaching the earth's surface through the clouds, will start a precipitous cooling cycle for the planet and lead to another deep ice age.

    If I ever find this publication again I will definitely not lose it again.

    There must be an alternative model as well. That model would describe the conditions where the warm planet reaches a metastable state that persists for many millenia and recreates the climate conditions before (or during) the early Pleistocene where the entire planet had periods when it was ice free and consisted of desert and tropics.

    And finally, could we ever return to the conditions of "snowball earth" which has been postulated as a period of entire planetary glaciation some 700 +/- million years ago?

    There is only one problem with practical application of such modeling and speculation: The time scale for such events is far longer than any reasonable expectation for the survival of man as a species on this planet. What we need to understand today are the possibilities of any drastic climate change over periods of 100-200 years. Changes that occur over many millenia are likely to be adapted to by mankind and other terrestrial life.

    John Lounsbury



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