Year End Climate Potpourri

To ring in the new year, The Resilient Earth presents a collection of recent journal and news articles regarding climate science. Some are about actual science and others are more in the way of commentary on the state of global warming. New discoveries continue to be made, though the climate change faithful stubbornly refuse to abandon the party line: Earth's temperature is going to rise dangerously and humanity is to blame. Perhaps the most interesting development is that a number of green advocates have given up on avoiding global warming, deciding instead to stress the unfair social impacts that climate change will supposedly cause. At the end of 2010, here is a snapshot of the state of the climate change debate.

The Frontiers of Climate Science

The weekly ScienceNews, a typical mouthpiece for claims of climate catastrophists, put global warming on their December 4th cover with the caption “The Real Questions About Global Warming.” Reporter Alexandra Witze toes the climate change party line, stating: “Despite vigorous questioning of the premises and conclusions of research into climate change, reviews of the evidence consistently confirm the basic findings of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: The Earth’s rising temperature cannot be explained by natural processes alone.” Nonetheless, Witze admits that science continues to make new discoveries and that, as the IPCC 2007 report put it: “There is still an incomplete physical understanding of many components of the climate system and their role in climate change.” Seems there was some truth in the IPCC report after all.

The ScienceNews report continues, stressing the need for funding climate research, particularly the societal aspects of global warming. With the addition of economists and “social scientists,” there appears to be an increasing number of the academic fields feeding at the global warming funding trough (see “Climate Science Parasites”). Witze looks forward eagerly to the next IPCC report:

By the time the next IPCC report is released, in 2013 or 2014, scientists should have shortened—or at least sharpened—their list of unknowns. “There’s a whole lot of climate science that needs to be done,” says climate researcher Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford University. And while the new information might not pacify climate change skeptics, it will clarify key areas of uncertainty in the climate system. It will also help fill in the last details of the geography of climate, giving society a guide for navigating the shoals of future changes.

The article goes on to mention problems with aerosols, inaccurate regional predictions and how global warming will impact people around the world. This last seems to be a developing trend—no longer are climate change activists demanding the immediate deindustrialization of the developed world. Instead they are concentrating on how the now inevitable rise in global temperature will savage the world's poor and disadvantaged. More on this theme below.

Brown clouds hovering over India (such as one captured in December 2008, left) contain smoke from agricultural burning, industrial pollution and inefficient cookstoves (right). Such clouds can magnify the effects of climate change. Credit: From left: NASA; A. Datta/Reuters.

Climate Models Underestimate Global Dust

Aerosols, fine particles of dust and biological material, are known to have an important impact on the absorption of solar radiation by the atmosphere. They represent one of the major areas of uncertainty with regard to climate “forcing.” Depending on size and composition, aerosols can either heat or cool the planet. Reporting in PNAS, Jasper F. Kok, from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, provides an updated view of clay based aerosols. The study shows that regional and global circulation models (GCMs) overestimate the emitted fraction of clay aerosols (< 2 μm diameter) by a factor of ∼2–8 relative to measurements. According to Kok:

Because clay aerosols produce a strong radiative cooling, the overestimation of the clay fraction causes GCMs to also overestimate the radiative cooling of a given quantity of emitted dust. On local and regional scales, this affects the magnitude and possibly the sign of the dust radiative forcing, with implications for numerical weather forecasting and regional climate predictions in dusty regions. On a global scale, the dust cycle in most GCMs is tuned to match radiative measurements, such that the overestimation of the radiative cooling of a given quantity of emitted dust has likely caused GCMs to underestimate the global dust emission rate.

Another factor that has been incorrectly accounted for in the IPCC's computer models. Furthermore, the underestimation of dust production means that the dynamics of the dust cycle are probably inaccurately modeled. For more see “A scaling theory for the size distribution of emitted dust aerosols suggests climate models underestimate the size of the global dust cycle.”

The Future Looks Cloudy

Most climate experts will admit that one of the most poorly understood climate mechanisms is cloud cover. According to A. E. Dessler, estimates of Earth's climate sensitivity are uncertain, largely because we do not understand long-term cloud feedback. Writing in Science, Dessler attempts to estimate the magnitude of the cloud feedback in response to short-term climate variations by analyzing top-of-atmosphere radiation levels. “A small negative feedback is possible,” he reports, “but one large enough to cancel the climate’s positive feedbacks is not supported by these observations.”

Based on this statement in the report, “A Determination of the Cloud Feedback from Climate Variations over the Past Decade,” Science staff writer Richard A. Kerr wrote a news article that proclaims there is no evidence of a large negative cloud feedback (see “El Niño Lends More Confidence to Strong Global Warming”).

Others, including climate researcher Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama, Huntsville, have published papers finding the opposite, meaning evidence of a strongly negative cloud feedback. Spencer finds in his own analyses signs that Dessler is seeing not only cloud changes caused by temperature changes but also temperature changes caused by natural cloud fluctuations. Such effects garble the true negative feedback beyond recognition, he says.

As the greenhouse strengthens, changing clouds may either amplify or minimize the warming.

Dessler also compared his calculations with the output of various climate models. Naturally, his results are in close agreement with the models, which are based on assumptions similar to Dessler's pronouncements. Even so, things are not really that certain:

The models’ cloud feedbacks range from 0.34 ± 0.20 to 1.11 ± 0.20 W/m2/K. Thus, the models paint a consistent picture of positive cloud feedbacks in response to short-term climate variations. The observations fall within the range of models, and taken as a group, there is substantial agreement between the observations and the models’ cloud feedback. However, given the large uncertainties, the observations are currently of no obvious help in determining which models most accurately simulate the cloud feedback.

So both the report results and the model outputs are so uncertain as to prevent chosing between them. Is this report significant? Recall, the uncertainty in climate change was blamed on uncertainty in long-term cloud feedbacks. The report analyzed short-term cloud feedbacks and Dessler concludes “I find no correlation in the models between the short- and long-term cloud feedbacks.” It does not appear that this work has resolved the cloud question.

Nitrous Oxide From Rivers & Streams

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change and stratospheric ozone destruction. There are many sources for oxides of nitrogen: the ocean, peat bogs, microbial denitrification in soils, etc. One source that has been mostly overlooked is how much N2O is produced by flowing waters: the world's rivers and streams. In a PNAS article, “Nitrous oxide emission from denitrification in stream and river networks,” Jake J. Beaulieu and colleagues make a new estimation of nitrous oxide emissions from this source.

In our study, most streams were sources of N2O to the atmosphere and the highest emission rates were observed in streams draining urban basins. Using a global river network model, we estimate that microbial N transformations (e.g., denitrification and nitrification) convert at least 0.68 Tg·y−1 of anthropogenic N inputs to N2O in river networks, equivalent to 10% of the global anthropogenic N2O emission rate. This estimate of stream and river N2O emissions is three times greater than estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

This is yet another example of the IPCC getting its greenhouse gas sums wrong. In this case they underestimated the emission of N2O from river systems by three fold. One more reason to discount the blame CO2 first dogma put forth by warmist climate science.

Younger Dryas Not Caused By Asteroid Impact

The Younger Dryas (10,800 to 9500 BC) was a period at the beginning of the Holocene warming marked by a sudden return to glacial conditions. The exact cause of this 1,000 year cold snap has been debated by climatologists for many years. The leading candidate is a sudden release of fresh glacial melt water into the Arctic, disrupting the Atlantic thermohaline circulation, but others have suggested a possible Younger Dryas impact event. A new report in PNAS, “Nanodiamonds do not provide unique evidence for a Younger Dryas impact,” by H. Tian, D. Schryvers and Ph. Claeys, discounts the impact theory:

Microstructural, δ13C isotope and C/N ratio investigations were conducted on excavated material from the black Younger Dryas boundary in Lommel, Belgium, aiming for a characterisation of the carbon content and structures. Cubic diamond nanoparticles are found in large numbers. The larger ones with diameters around or above 10 nm often exhibit single or multiple twins. The smaller ones around 5 nm in diameter are mostly defect-free. Also larger flake-like particles, around 100 nm in lateral dimension, with a cubic diamond structure are observed as well as large carbon onion structures. The combination of these characteristics does not yield unique evidence for an exogenic impact related to the investigated layer.

Impact diamonds are a widespread mineral indicator created by shock, and can have both terrestrial and cosmic causes. Unlike the diamonds associated with other impacts, the diamonds found in sediment layers associated with the Younger Dryas do not show evidence of any impact, at least at the site in Belgium this report is based on. The importance of this conclusion is that it reinforces the notion that Earth's climate can undergo rapid, dramatic swings in global temperature without extraterrestrial interference. Earth's climate system is, indeed, unpredictable given the current state of climate science.

Climate Science On The Defensive

A news article in Science, a notably pro-global warming publication, laments climate science's reversal of fortune. Richard A. Kerr and Eli Kintisch, both staff writers for the AAAS publication, reinforce anthropogenic global warming orthodoxy, stating that the effects of human greenhouse gas emissions on oceans and polar ice were swifter than climate models had predicted. “In the United States, even as the science grew stronger, a political backlash forced climate scientists to defend their credibility and motives,” they lament. The article, “Climatologists Feel the Heat As Science Meets Politics,” reports widespread failure to move the world's nations to action:

The sudden reversal blindsided global-warming researchers. They had been issuing assessments of the state of greenhouse-warming science under the aegis of one organization or another since 1979; in 1990, the new United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) took the lead. IPCC's second assessment, released in 1995, asserted mildly that “the balance of evidence suggests” that humans were influencing global climate. But by 2007, IPCC had reached a solid scientific consensus: Warming was “unequivocal,” it was “very likely” due mostly to human beings, and natural processes were “very unlikely” to blunt its strength. The breadth and depth of the IPCC process seemed to drown out the small but well-publicized chorus of climate contrarians.


There are hints of movement. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is girding for battle to cut emissions of big power plants, and China, Indonesia, Brazil, and India have recently made their first-ever commitments to tackle emissions. But “climate hawks” have lost time and momentum, and many experts now think that adapting to a warming planet, not mitigating emissions, will dominate policy discussions in the decade ahead.

True thermophobes, the authors just cannot face reality. It was global warming that had the well-publicized chorus of boosters behind it. The “contrarians” were initially drowned out by the din of catastrophist predictions, including overly excitable scientists, publicity seeking politicians and media talking-heads. It is the global warming skeptics that have battled back to bring some balance to the climate change debate.

In the midst of horrid winter weather in North America and Europe, the forces of global warming are now in retreat.

“The war on climate science and scientists that's going on now makes the Bush Administration look moderate,” says Rick Piltz, a White House climate official from 1995 to 2005 who now heads the watchdog group Climate Science Watch in Washington, DC. All I can say is, thank goodness: bad science and bad scientists need to be fought.

A New Approach

As I mentioned at the start of this report, there seems to be a new trend developing among the supporters of anthropogenic global warming. That trend is to stop pressing the developed nations to commit economic suicide and shift the socio-climatological propaganda war to a new front—mitigating the social impact of global warming. Do not be taken in by this shift in emphasis, the aim is still to transfer wealth from rich countries to poor ones while turning the UN into a form of world government to limit the power of the developed nations.

Some “experts” merely stress survival strategies. For example, here is an excerpt from a book review by Dave Levitan on the IEEE website:

Economist Matthew Kahn doesn’t screw around debating whether or not the world is going to get substantially warmer. Instead, his new book, Climatopolis, jumps right into how we—specifically our ever-growing urban areas—will survive such a sweaty future.

In long chapters on Los Angeles, New York, and several cities in China, Kahn appears to have more faith in the free market and the rationality of humans than this reader does. The likely rise in temperature and sea level in Southern California in 2050 should affect our actions now—leading to rational (and inevitably higher) electricity and water prices, and housing prices that reflect them, better city planning, and the like—but to assume that it will ignores the often irrational ways that humans move through the world.

The book in question is Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter Future, by Matthew Kahn. Note how Kahn does not debate the existance of global warming—for him it is a given. “A small cadre of forward-looking entrepreneurs will be ready to get rich selling the next generation of products that will help us all to adapt,” the author states. Unlike reviewer Levitan, Kahn is an optimist, stating “the story will have a happy ending.” And Climatopolis is just the tip of the new, pragmatic global warming survivalist movement.

Other articles have begun to appear that take this same tack—temperatures cannot be kept from rising so let's concentrate on making the best of a bad situation. No less conservative a newspaper than the UK's Economist has thrown in with the “how to survive global warming” crowd. In its November 25 issue, the article “How to live with climate change” captures the fatalistic ennui that now pervades the climate change community:

COMPARED with the extraordinary fanfare before the global-warming summit in Copenhagen a year ago, the meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that starts in Cancún next week has gone unheralded. That is partly because of a widespread belief that the publicity build-up to last year’s summit contributed to its failure, but also because expectations have changed dramatically. In the wake of the Copenhagen summit, there is a growing acceptance that the effort to avert serious climate change has run out of steam.

Basically, the Economist has proclaimed climate change avoidance dead. “Perhaps, after a period of respite and a few climatic disasters, it will get going again,” the article opines. This does not mean that the climate change faithful are throwing in the towel, quite the contrary:

Acceptance, however, does not mean inaction. Since the beginning of time, creatures have adapted to changes in their environment. Unfortunately, such adaptation has always meant large numbers of deaths. Evolution works that way. But humankind is luckier than most species. It has the advantage of being able to think ahead, and to prepare for the changes to come. That’s what needs to happen now.

Naturally, the rich countries of the world are needed to buck up the poor ones, to provide technological and economic aid to the developing world. “Drought and flood will put the livelihoods of hundreds of millions, mostly in developing countries, at risk,” states the Economist, adding that one way to help out the poor would be to drop immigration restrictions and allow more emigration to the OEDC nations. “That is a matter of justice, not just humanity.” Anyone getting the sense that there are other agendas here?

The Economist looks to the future with trepidation.

So the battle lines have shifted. The fight is no longer over taking draconian measures in an attempt to avoid the ravages of global warming. The climate catastrophists believe that Earth will be at least 3°C warmer by 2100. This “fact” will be used as leverage by social crusaders in an all-out campaign to restructure the world economic order.

In a way, this new face of global warming is more honest that the old climate science debate. Here all pretense is dropped and the hidden policy agenda revealed: social engineering has replaced science. And that is the real reason that climate change became a cause célèbre, promoted by so many NGOs and leftist organizations. For most of its backers, global warming was just a front for other, more dangerous ideas.

Be safe, enjoy the interglacial and stay skeptical.