The Heated Debate Over Temperatures

87583224As the war over warming perception spills into a new decade, the last month of 2009 provided fresh ammo for the prevailing view. According to a preliminary report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the “noughties” may have been the warmest decade on record.

And despite the rare sprinkling of snow we woke up to one December morning in the Bay Area, the report also says that 2009 will likely go down as one of the hottest years in modern history. Based on climate data from January to October, the WMO says that 2009 will likely be the fifth warmest since scientists began keeping records in 1850.

If that last claim seems improbable, you’re likely in Canada or the United States: The data shows that every continent but North America saw above-average temperatures in 2009, and that parts of Asia and Africa experienced their warmest year yet.

Dean Moosavi, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, chalked the apparent discrepancy up to the Pacific ocean phase known as La Nina, and said it’s important to note the difference between weather and climate. “Snow in Houston this week, for example, is not proof of the absence of global warming any more than a large drought in the summer is proof that global warming is occurring,” Moosavi wrote in an email to Climate Watch. “You have to look over much longer periods of time…decades at the least before you can see a climatic trend of significance.”

This is perhaps a good place to acknowledge the oft-heard claim that the planet has actually been cooling down for more than a decade. In an article published in NOAA’s online magazine ClimateWatch (not affiliated with KQED Climate Watch), David Easterling of NOAA’s Climatic Data Center explains the statistical quirk that produces that mirage.

But Moosavi says he’s not quite ready to make a pronouncement. “I am not yet convinced that the 2000′s were warmer than the 90′s at this point,” Mossavi wrote. “Given the political and economic stakes of a statement of this type…I would be very cautious before declaring the 2000′s the warmest decade.”

Stanford’s Mark Jacobson, on the other hand, was less equivocal: “As 8 of the 10 warmest years in the history of surface measurements are in the 2000′s, it is clear that the 2000s was the warmest decade on record,” he wrote in an email.

The WMO findings come on the heels of a pair of reports that indicate that despite the global recession, average temperatures are on track to rise between 4 and 6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

For some perspective, the California Climate Change Center’s 2006 report on the risks of global warming predicts that a 6 C increase would have a devastating effect on the state. The report projects that a 10.5 F increase (just a little under 6 C) would result in up to 100 extra days of “extreme heat” in Los Angles and Sacramento, a 90% reduction in the Sierra snowpack and a 2-to-3-foot increase in sea levels.

The half-dozen climate scientists contacted for this post agreed that the 6 C prediction was within the realm of possibility, and most had the same answer when asked how the world should combat this risk. Stanford professor Ken Caldeira chose to respond in capital letters: “WE HAVE TO ACT NOW.”

“The question isn’t so much whether we need to take action this year or next, but rather how much more expensive and difficult are the solution and the impacts, if we delay,” Chris Field, director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology, said. “Delaying action on climate is sort of like delaying action on paying your credit card bill. You may get by for a few months, but the problems get worse through time and more expensive to address.”

  • http://ncwatch.typepad.com/ Russell Steele

    I wonder what the professors would have to say about this analysis that shows no significant warming since 1995, based on data analysis, not some dodgy computer model or “adjusted” temperature files from rent seeking research agencies who depend on AGW being real to justify more research funding. If it is a natural cycle no funding. Climate Watch would be wise to follow the money as they seek answers:
    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/12/26/no-statistically-significant-warming-since-1995-a-quick-mathematical-proof/

  • http://ncwatch.typepad.com/ Russell Steele

    Ah yes, the referenced 2006 report which cites the climate models, which we now know from the Climategate are filled with fudge factors and effort to hide the decline.

    “This new summary report highlights the latest scientific projections for how a global warming-induced warmer climate may impact California. These projections, based on state-of-the-art climate models, indicate that if global warming emissions proceed at a medium to high rate, temperatures are expected to rise 4.7 to 10.5 degrees F by the end of the century. In contrast, a lower emissions rate would keep the projected warming to 3 to 5.6 degrees F.”

    These state-of-the-art climate models do not and cannot prove CO2 global warming is a threat. These models are nothing but the wet dreams of some scientist, the true believers who have tortured the data to prove human caused warming where none exists. How do we know this, by reading the Climategate emails and studying the believers computer code.

  • http://sierravoices.com Don Pelton

    It always strikes me as interesting that scientists, whether working with projective models or hard data, usually frame their conclusions provisionally and subject to constant refinement.

    Whereas the contrarian skeptics, as illustrated in the comments above, usually speak with utter certainty (” … human caused warming where none exists …”).

    So, who then are the true … “true believers?”

  • http://ncwatch.typepad.com/ Russell Steele

    Don,

    You are right most of the climate studies end with a statement that more research is need. Laying the foundation for the next grant. It is part of the rent seeking AGW researchers play book.

  • Steve Bloom

    David, this from Moosavi seems like a very odd statement from a scientist: “Given the political and economic stakes of a statement of this type…I would be very cautious before declaring the 2000′s the warmest decade.”

    Could you fill in the missing text?

  • Steve Bloom

    Russ, as you yourself are rent-seeking (by wanting to continue externalizing the costs of pollution), all of your views self-cancel. That and the obvious fact that you don’t know the first thing about climate science.

    Strictly speaking, neither of those things explain the pleasure you take in just making stuff up. Oh, er, it turns out there’s a recent study showing that people like you have a measurable pleasure center response when they make claims that they know are likely not true. Now there’s a hypothesis that fits the facts.

    Oh, re the Watts post you linked to, the comments to it make it very clear why it’s invalid. But you knew that, didn’t you?

  • http://ncvoices.us Anna Haynes

    > the contrarian skeptics, as illustrated in the comments above, usually speak with utter certainty

    …yet get discombobulated if you ask them to give a confidence level for their assertions, or to stand behind them in any way.

    And he’s got grandchildren.

    “Anyone who has children has an investment in the future – an investment in the kind of world we leave behind for our descendants.”

  • http://ncvoices.us Anna Haynes

    > it turns out there’s a recent study showing that people like you have a measurable pleasure center response when they make claims that they know are likely not true.

    Steve, if I’m not being gullible, do you have a reference…?

    It would be fascinating to see MRI’s of what’s happening during climate confabulation; I wonder if it’s any different from confabulation on other subjects?
    (Prediction: the “team spirit” area will light up, and the “anticipating the future” area will go dark – as will the locus of rationality.)

  • http://ncvoices.us Anna Haynes

    David Ferry, two things:

    1. Ditto to Bloom’s Q (“Could you fill in the missing [Moosavi] text?”)

    2. Please consider moderating the comments, so they don’t become a forum for disinformation (& thus require attention from commenters like Steve Bloom, which has an opportunity cost. You do *not* want Climate Watch to act as flypaper for would-be activists, & thus hinder progress.

    There are ways you could do this moderating that would still let contrarians to have their objections addressed, but not permit them to cloud public understanding.

  • http://ncvoices.us Anna Haynes

    p.s. re “MRI’s of what’s happening during climate confabulation”, we should ask Dano – “… friend who is working on his PhD in cognitive science, studying confirmation bias with fMRI”
    (link)

  • Steve Bloom

    I’ll have a look for it, Anna. I expect Dano’s friend would be quite familiar with it.

  • Steve Bloom

    This isn’t quite what I was looking for, but is of some relevance. This passage from near the end of the article is of some help in explaining Russ, though:

    “Another experiment reveals that children behave in the same way in a real eyewitness situation. When asked to report how a maintenance man they had seen in a waiting room had broken something that he had not in fact touched, they said he didn’t break it, or that they didn’t see. They were then asked to make something up. A week later, many of the children believed their lies and would now willingly confabulate about the false situation. As with the adults, the effect was strongest when the questioner gave positive feedback, telling the person that their made-up answer was correct.” (emphasis added)

  • Steve Bloom

    The chapter on belief (starting on page 40) in this now public-access book Kluge (referring, suitably, to the human brain) looks like a helpful overview. The scan was a little rough, but it’s still readable.

  • http://www.kqed.org/climatewatch David Ferry

    Steve, Anna:

    The ellipsis in professor Moosavi’s quote is actually his own — he responded to my questions in an email, and used ellipses in several other sentences.

    When I spoke to Moosavi in December, all of the climate data for the decade was not yet in. While he noted that a number of indicators (like shrinking glaciers) pointed to higher temperatures in the ’00s, he said: “As a scientist, however, I am not yet convinced that the 2000′s were warmer than the 90′s at this point.”

    I hope this clarifies things,

    David

  • http://ncwatch.typepad.com/ Russell Steele

    Dear Mr Bloom,

    You accuse me with out evidence. It would most helpful if you would provide some evidence when you claim I have made something up? Just exactly what was it that I made up? Once I know what I have “made up”, I will provide more references for my remarks. However, and Craig request, I have to limit my comments to references, while I will have to assume you will read before your next accusation.

  • http://ncwatch.typepad.com/ Russell Steele

    Dear Anna,

    This is a discussion forum. This is not Real Climate where they moderate opposing views out of existence. If you find I have provided information that is wrong, please challenge the information, not my ability to present my views for discussion.

  • http://ncfocus.blogspot.com/2009/12/my-comment-that-local-contrarian-russ.html Anna Haynes

    > “If you find I have provided information that is wrong, please challenge the information, not my ability to present my views for discussion.”

    Russ, do you remember Sept 2007, when I did that on your blog for an entire month, and the refutations just bounced off you? Can you explain why you think you’d be more receptive now, if I tried it again?

  • http://ncfocus.blogspot.com/2009/12/my-comment-that-local-contrarian-russ.html Anna Haynes

    What is KQED’s vision for the comments here? Does it include providing a stage for the Dunning-Kruger set to endanger their grandchildren? If you provide the stage, and they come, whose responsibility is it, to contain the damage?

    (and for anyone who doesn’t already know this, and/or hasn’t heard it many times before: RealClimate moderation doesn’t delete all contrarian comments, just the ones spouting long-discredited talking points.)

    David (and other KQEDers), how about doing a post on MT’s graph, here?
    (“Michael Tobis reckons the consensus (IPCC) position on the potential impact of business-as-usual AGW is on the sceptic/denialist side of ‘most informed opinion’. His chart…” – Vinny)

    You could show it to your sample of climate scientists & ask if they concur; and if they do, you could address the Q of how we go about getting more accurate news coverage.

  • Dixon Cruickshank

    The reason most ” skeptics” talk with certainity is they are dealing with raw real data, when they can actually get it – not models that require continued revisions.

    Although you are exactly correct as Climategate has turned everything upside down – the old Deniers are now the Belivers ( they knew all along it was a crap sandwich)

    now the Deniers are the old Believers – trying to deny they we’re feed a crap sandwich –

    I do want to state it was done very well, you shouldn’t be too hard on yourselves, those guys were good and certainly had plenty of money

  • James Mayeau

    “Snow in Houston this week, for example, is not proof of the absence of global warming any more than a large drought in the summer is proof that global warming is occurring,” Moosavi wrote in an email to Climate Watch. “You have to look over much longer periods of time…decades at the least before you can see a climatic trend of significance.”

    This is a very interesting statement for Moosavi to make when you consider the short time between 70′s coming ice age and Jim Hansen’s testimony before congress declairing a new anthropogenic global warming.
    Let me see, 1976 to 1988. That’s twelve years.

  • James Mayeau

    “Does it include providing a stage for the Dunning-Kruger set to endanger their grandchildren?” < That's an ad hominem.

    Sort of like me saying Anna doesn't really care how many babies are endangered when she's in the voting booth.

  • Dixon Cruickshank

    Well that is a deacde, just doesn’t have an S – although BS does LOL

    I have been in Central Florida since the 50′s and I never remember it not getting above 60 for 2 weeks and it won’t for another week either – even back in the 70′s it wasn’t this bad.

    I checked its warmer in Nevada City than at St Pete Beach

  • Steve Bloom

    Hey, Russ has friends!

  • Dixon Cruickshank

    Yes he does, and actually Russ’s blog is quoted on some of the top real science web sites on the .net thats where I found him, many of which you learn alot from.
    So keep in mind he has to be nice to you, I don’t, and will call a spade a spade even if its a duece LOL
    Have a nice day Mr Bloom

  • Steve Bloom

    David, Moosavi turns out to be a little bit of an odd source since he’s not active in climate research (with only two publications, both from over 10 years ago and neither even faintly related to global temperatures). Contrast that with Mark Jacobson for the same period. Easterling, Caldeira and Field have similar records.

    Anyway, the reason I asked about Moosavi’s strange-seeming answer is because determining whether the 2000s were warmer than prior decades in the modern record is simply a matter of running the numbers from the various data sets. It’s not a close thing with any of them, and the answer is certainly not conditioned by economic and political considerations. OTOH maybe Moosavi doesn’t have tenure and was expressing caution in making a public statement in the immediate aftermath of the CRU “scandal,” in which case I suppose we can take his statement at face value. Even so, the context in which you used it gave a false impression of the scientific reality.

  • http://ncvoices.us Anna Haynes

    David Ferry, I don’t see an email address for you. (I have an idea and would like to share it)

  • Mike M.

    Why, if it isn’t Anna Haynes, the Grand Inquisitor. Still trying to censor and control debate, I see. That’s not how it works in a democracy, Anna. No worthwhile cause ever has to resort to such totalitarian tendencies. It’s also one of the main reasons why it’s so easy to dismiss the views of Alarmists.

    I tell MY children to always be on the lookout for people like you.

  • Dixon Cruickshank

    (I have an idea and would like to share it)

    I’m sure Mr Ferry is just thrilled at that prospect LOL

    save yourself Mr Ferry, for your grandchildren’s sake, she’ll still be emailing them when your gone

  • Steve Bloom

    FYI, David, I have a comment with links still in moderation from a day or so ago.

  • James Mayeau

    Bloom says “… Moosavi turns out to be a little bit of an odd source since he’s not active in climate research (with only two publications, both from over 10 years ago and neither even faintly related to global temperatures).

    For disclosure purposes be warned that Steve Bloom is a Bay Area executive in the Sierra Club. Harrassment via lawsuit is his specialty.
    In the above sentence what Bloom really meant is Moosavi isn’t an activist, and is open as a target of derision through ad hominem.

    As the situation stands with CRU, not being even faintly related to Phil Jones or Jim Hansen is a badge of honor in the climate sciences.
    No chalk on Dean Moosavi’s fingers.

  • http://sierravoices.com Don Pelton

    “Still trying to censor and control debate, I see.”

    Since I’m new here, I’d appreciate it if you would instruct me on your idea of “censorship” by giving some concrete examples of it from this thread.

    If you’re referring to Anna’s request for some intelligent moderation, I don’t see that as rising to the level of “censorship.”

  • Steve Bloom

    James, do try to stay just a little connected to facts.

  • Dixon Cruickshank

    Steve I think that was an excellent fact to point out, apparently you didn’t but that’s certainly understandable.
    If I were him I wouldn’t stake any bets either on using those data sets after Climategate. New Zealand, Austrailia all show major unaccounted for adjustments upward – your not going to get good temp data from a thermometer located 6 meters from the parking lot – along the curb they park the tour buses, last I checked they usually leave them running – that’ll get you some warming alright though, that was adjusted up anyway LOL