On this week’s show: 2010 wrap-up, the temperature records are wrong, the future, the Queensland floods, Monckton Myths, sea ice news in winter, and a new political attack on climate science
Irregular Climate is now accepting donations.
Feedback is always appreciated.
2010 Wrap up
NOAA has released its annual State of the Climate report for the year 2010, and it goes down in the record books as another hot one, in a statistical tie with 2005 as the warmest year on record. But what’s most striking about this past year’s data is how it fits into the larger trend. The list of the 10 warmest years since NOAA’s records started now features nine years from the last decade, and we haven’t seen a year with temperatures below the 20th century average since 1976.
Global surface temperatures in 2010 tied 2005 as the warmest on record, according to an analysis released Wednesday by researchers at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York.
The two years differed by less than 0.018 degrees Fahrenheit. The difference is smaller than the uncertainty in comparing the temperatures of recent years, putting them into a statistical tie. In the new analysis, the next warmest years are 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007 and 2009, which are statistically tied for third warmest year. The GISS records begin in 1880.
The analysis found 2010 approximately 1.34 F warmer than the average global surface temperature from 1951 to 1980. To measure climate change, scientists look at long-term trends. The temperature trend, including data from 2010, shows the climate has warmed by approximately 0.36 F per decade since the late 1970s.
“If the warming trend continues, as is expected, if greenhouse gases continue to increase, the 2010 record will not stand for long,” said James Hansen, the director of GISS.
In my thirty years as a meteorologist, I’ve never seen global weather patterns as strange as those we had in 2010. The stunning extremes we witnessed gives me concern that our climate is showing the early signs of instability. Natural variability probably did play a significant role in the wild weather of 2010, and 2011 will likely not be nearly as extreme. However, I suspect that crazy weather years like 2010 will become the norm a decade from now, as the climate continues to adjust to the steady build-up of heat-trapping gases we are pumping into the air. Forty years from now, the crazy weather of 2010 will seem pretty tame. We’ve bequeathed to our children a future with a radically changed climate that will regularly bring unprecedented weather events–many of them extremely destructive–to every corner of the globe. This year’s wild ride was just the beginning.
Some very basic, but oft-confused points:
- Not all extremes are the same. Discussions of ‘changes in extremes’ in general without specifying exactly what is being discussed are meaningless. A tornado is an extreme event, but one whose causes, sensitivity to change and impacts have nothing to do with those related to an ice storm, or a heat wave or cold air outbreak or a drought.
- There is no theory or result that indicates that climate change increases extremesin general. This is a corollary of the previous statement – each kind of extreme needs to be looked at specifically – and often regionally as well.
- Some extremes will become more common in future (and some less so). We will discuss the specifics below.
- Attribution of extremes is hard. There are limited observational data to start with, insufficient testing of climate model simulations of extremes, and (so far) limited assessment of model projections.
The temperature records are wrong
Claims that global warming has slowed down over the past decade were partly based on faulty data. Instead, the rate of global warming was underestimated because of a new way of measuring sea-surface temperatures, suggests a new study.
Since the 1970s average global temperatures have risen by 0.16 °C per decade, but over the past decade they seemed to rise by only 0.09 °C, an apparent slowdown of 0.07 °C. John Kennedy and colleagues at the UK Met Office have now found that the real slowdown was smaller.
Over the past decade, sea-surface temperature has mostly been measured by thermometers on buoys, whereas previously it was measured aboard ships. Ship measurements tend to be too high because the water warms up as it is taken on board.
So although the newer buoy measurements are more accurate, the switch in method has erroneously shown sea-surface temperatures appearing to level off.
“Compared with ships, buoys show cooler temperatures,” says Vicky Pope at the Met Office. “You have to be careful of false signals.”
Climate models are invaluable tools for understanding Earth’s climate system. But examination of the real world also provides insights into the role of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide) in determining Earth’s climate. Not only can much be learned by looking at the observational evidence from Earth’s past, but such know ledge can provide context for future climate change.
The study also indicates that the planet’s climate system, over long periods of times, may be at least twice as sensitive to carbon dioxide than currently projected by computer models, which have generally focused on shorter-term warming trends. This is largely because even sophisticated computer models have not yet been able to incorporate critical processes, such as the loss of ice sheets, that take place over centuries or millennia and amplify the initial warming effects of carbon dioxide.
To loosely paraphrase an old saying, a piece of misinformation can travel halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on. This is the conundrum facing climate scientists as they attempt to communicate the realities of climate change, amidst the noise and fury of the internet. The problem is global warming skepticism is a renewable resource. When you take the time to closely follow online discussions, blog posts and op-eds, you find the same skeptic arguments appear repeatedly, well after they’ve been thoroughly debunked in peer-reviewed research.
Christopher Monckton is a prolific climate skeptic. Perusing all the articles published by Moncktonand the arguments he uses, Monckton appears to be zealous about recycling skeptic arguments. The same ideas appear over and over again. Recycling is usually good for the environment but sadly not in this case.
Of particular interest are the arguments Monckton uses most often. There are several sitting atop the pile which presumably are Monckton’s killer blows. A close examination of these favourite arguments reveals much about how Monckton presents the science to the public.
Monckton’s most popular argument is that climate sensitivity, a measure of how much the earth warms from rising CO2, is low. As our planet warms from increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere, Monckton suggests negative feedbacks suppress the warming. This is supposedly our Get Out Of Jail Free Card – we can pollute as much as we like and nature will take care of things. To back up this claim, Monckton cites the work of Richard Lindzen who uses satellite measurements of outgoing radiation as evidence for negative feedback.
A new political attack on Climate Science
The spending plan the House GOP was supposed to roll out on Thursday included a number of cuts meant to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from doing anything about climate change. But Republicans had to take that plan back to the drawing board Thursday night after tea party members claimed the package of cuts didn’t go deep enough. And if a trio of House members get their way, we won’t ever have to worry about the climate—since we won’t know what’s happening with it, anyway.
This week, Reps. Bill Posey (R-Fla.), Sandy Adams (R-Fla.) and Rob Bishop (R-Utah) called for a budget that would “reprioritize NASA” by axing the funding for climate change research. The original cuts to the budget outlined yesterday would have cut $379 million from NASA’s budget. These members want climate out of NASA’s purview entirely, however. Funding climate research, said Adams in a statement, “undercuts one of NASA’s primary and most important objectives of human spaceflight.”
Weather predictions were once a frequent punchline but have improved dramatically in recent years. More often than not you’ll need an umbrella if your local television channel or website of choice tells you to take one when you leave the house. But we could take a huge step back to the days when your dartboard had a reasonable chance of outpredicting Al Roker if House Republicans have their way with the 2011 federal budget.
The House of Representatives is debating the Full Year Continuing Resolution Act (H.R. 1) to fund the federal government for the remainder of fiscal year 2011. The Republican leadership has proposed sweeping cuts to key programs across the climate change, clean energy, and environmental spectrum. They have also decided that accurate weather forecasting and hurricane tracking are luxuries America can no longer afford.
The GOP’s bill would tear $1.2 billion (21 percent) out of the president’s proposed budget for theNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA…
More than $700 million of the president’s proposed 2011 increase in NOAA funding would be tagged for overhauling our nation’s aging environmental satellite infrastructure. Satellites gather key data about our oceans and atmosphere, including cloud cover and density, miniscule changes in ocean surface elevation and temperatures, and wind and current trajectories. Such monitoring is integral to our weather and climate forecasting and it plays a key role in projections of strength and tracking of major storms and hurricanes—things most Americans feel are worth keeping an eye on…
The United States needs these satellites if we’re to continue providing the best weather and climate forecasts in the world. The implications of the loss of these data far exceed the question of whether to pack the kids into snowsuits for the trip to school. The concern here is ensuring ongoing operational efficiency and national security on a global scale. In some cases it can literally become a question of life and death.
Just before 2 a.m. on February 19, the war on climate science showed its grip on the U.S. House of Representatives as it voted to eliminate U.S. funding for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The Republican majority, on a mostly party-line vote of 244-179, went on record as essentially saying that it no longer wishes to have the IPCC prepare its comprehensive international climate science assessments. Transcript of floor debate follows.
The amendment to the Republicans’ spending bill would have fixed a flaw put in place by a Republican-controlled Congress in 1995 and seek to recover funds from faulty drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico that allow oil companies to drill without paying any royalties. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has estimated that taxpayers could lose up to an additional $53 billion over the next 25 years as a result of royalty-free drilling when oil prices are high. The Interior Department also informed Rep. Markey that American taxpayers will lose $1.5 billion just this year from this free drilling.
If Republicans in Congress want to build on their 2010 gains, going on the warpath against environmental protections might be a flawed strategy.
Recent polling and focus group work indicates that roughly three-fourths of Americans – including 61 percent of Republicans view EPA’s emissions rules favorably and most want EPA to do even more to hold polluters accountable and protect air and water.
This public support is likely to get even stronger as the economy improves.
Successfully blocking EPA regulations is a longshot while Obama in the White House with veto pen in hand, so industry will undoubtedly rise to the occasion and adapt over the next two years. How will GOP lawmakers then look if their overwrought predictions of economic distress and job loss resulting from these regulations fail to materialize?
History is replete with examples of gloom and doom predictions about environmental standards that failed to materialize. For example, fuel economy standards were going to shut down the auto industry and curbing acid rain was going to wreak all sorts of havoc on the economy. Such predictions betray a lack of confidence in the ability of American industry to innovate…
The need to address climate change is only going to get clearer as time marches on, as is the realization that industry can adapt and thrive with new emission standards. Republicans need to be part of the solution. That cannot happen if they are busy pandering to the climate denier sect and siding with our worst corporate citizens—those who seek every advantage no matter what the cost to others.