Attacked By A Climate Idiot

Matt Ridley responds:

I discovered something my informants had failed to disclose – that even fast rising levels of carbon dioxide could not on their own generate “several degrees” of warming in a century: for that to happen requires amplification by water vapour. All the models assumed this amplification, but the evidence for it began to look more and more threadbare. So by 1993, six years after the piece just quoted, I no longer thought that 2-10 feet of sea level rise was likely and I no longer thought that several degrees of warming were likely. Instead, I wrote – in a single throwaway sentence in a long piece about eco-scares generally – that

“Global warming, too, has shot its bolt, now that the scientific consensus has settled down on about a degree of temperature increase over a century-that is, little more than has taken place in the past century.”

This was published in a book the Economist put out each year called (in this case) “The world in 1994”. The main prediction of the essay, by the way, was that genetic engineering was the next big eco-scare. I was right, if a few years early, and I did not spot that tomatoes, rather than dolphins, would be the species that touched the heart strings and purse strings of the green movement. I’ll append the essay at the end of this blog post for those that are interested.

I am even prouder of that sentence. At the time such a “lukewarm” view was unfashionable among activists, though not yet among scientists – and you were allowed to say things like that without being treated like a holocaust denier. But it’s not far from what I think now. Since the modal climate sensitivity in all the best studies is now settling down at a bit over 1.5 degC, and since the effect of aerosols, black carbon, ocean heat uptake etc are now all better understood and provide fewer and fewer excuses for high sensitivity models to disagree with data, for me to have come up with “about a degree” two whole decades ago, in a single sentence in an essay on other topics, seems quite surprising. Climate change was not my main interest then: I was writing a book about the evolution of sex having left the Economist to be my own boss.

Indeed, if you take a look at the graph below, you will see that over 34 years, there has been about 0.36 degrees of warming on a rolling average using data from five different sources: or on track for 1.08degC in a century, give or take. About a degree?

…Now look, fellers, you do this kind of thing for a living. I’m just a self-employed writer with no back-up team, no government grants, no taxpayer salary, no computer simulations, and absolutely no pretensions to being Nostradamus about anything. But it strikes me I did a far better job of predicting the climate back in 1993 than any of you! How could that be?

Anyway, the whole episode was depressing in two ways.

First, it’s a little sad that a lecturer in computer graphics took the trouble to look up a sentence a freelance journalist wrote 20 years ago in a piece about something else and falsely claimed it was already “wrong” when it isn’t, and would hardly matter if it was. Does he not have anything better to do?

Second, it’s also a little sad to read just how little has changed in the climate debate since then. If I could travel back in time and tell my 34-year-old self in 1993 that I would be roughly right to take a “lukewarm” view about global warming, but that in the meantime the world would ignore me and would instead spend hundreds of billions of dollars on ways to prevent the poor getting rich with cheap electricity, on destroying rain forests to grow biofuels, on spoiling landscapes with windmills to provide less than half a percent of the world’s energy, and on annual conferences for tens of thousands of pampered activists, then surely my younger self would gape in disbelief.

Well, in order to get a government salary, you have to come up with the politically correct, if scientifically incorrect answer, as (e.g.) Jim Hansen does. Speaking of which, even he’s starting to climb down from his more extravagant hysteria.

8 thoughts on “Attacked By A Climate Idiot

  1. Karl Hallowell

    Speaking of which, even he’s starting to climb down from his more extravagant hysteria.

    One thing I’ve noticed in recent years (this might have been going on for longer, it’s just when I noticed it) is that “climate change” claims tend to be episodic. In part this is natural due to the annual UN conferences which make a convenient high profile place to release your climate research.

    But I think it also is a propaganda strategy. There are now big attempts (even by historical standards) to procure huge amounts of public funds at these conferences. I think this explains both the aggressive claims made before such conferences, and the low profile retractions made afterward. I don’t think that Dr Hansen here is actually “climbing down,” but rather that it’s part of a strategy. Here, he’s preserving his scientific credibility for future propaganda pushes down the road.

    For example, prior and during the Doha Climate Change conference there was a lot of “it is worse than we feared” talk going on. There was also set up a potentially huge cash flow for mitigating the effects of AGW, I gather tens of billions a year, if they can get enough countries to sign off on it. A big problem for the parties trying to get that money is simply that the best strategy is to wait a couple of decades and see what happens. Hence, we have the need for hysteria in order to get that money flowing now rather than say sometime after 2100.

  2. Andrew W

    I’ll go with Ridley in his scrap with Lambert, though the water vapor feedback is no surprise, and he’s wrong about the hockey stick.

    Regarding Watts jab at Hansen:

    From Hansen’s (non peer reviewed) paper:
    On the contrary, however, the continuing planetary energy imbalance and the rapid increase of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use assure that global warming will continue on decadal time scales. Moreover, our interpretation of the larger role of unforced variability in temperature change of the past decade, suggests that global temperature will rise significantly in the next few years as the tropics moves inevitably into the next El Nino phase.

    I see no indication that this paper “pretty much ends the caterwauling from naysayers about global temperature being stalled for the last decade”, or that Hansen is “starting to climb down from his [previous position]“.

    Watts “money quote” of Hansen’s: The five-year mean global temperature has been flat for the last decade, which we interpret as a combination of natural variability and a slow down in the growth rate of net climate forcing. Is simply pointing out that the resent flattening of the rise in temperature is a result of predominantly the result of predominantly La Nina conditions between 1998 and 2008 and predominantly El Nino conditions since then.

    No one disputes that natural variability over decadal time scales has often concealed the longer term trend, so once again Anthony sees what he wants to see.

    1. Bart

      “No one disputes that natural variability over decadal time scales has often concealed the longer term trend…”

      But, that “linger term trend” is, in fact, the same as it has been since the end of the LIA, is thereby mostly natural, and is too small to be of major concern.

      If “natural variability” explains the hiatus of the past nearly two decades, then it can explain the uptick of the previous nearly two decades, and the empirical evidence for AGW vanishes. You have faith that it is otherwise, and that the trend of approximately 1970 to 1997 will resume and remain persistent, but faith is not science.

      Moreover, it cannot merely resume from where it is now to be consistent with AGW – it has a lot of lost ground to make up, and so must markedly accelerate. There is just no way that is going to happen. The AGW hypothesis is dead.

          1. Bart

            Not a question. And, learn how to form contractions, sheesh.

            So, so lame. You really don’t know what to say, do you? No rebuttal at all. Just seek shelter in the flock and chant the mantra: “It’s Science! I’m using Science. There’s Science all over the place here! Science is on my side!”

            It isn’t science, laddie. It isn’t even Science. It’s humbug. It’s religion. It’s a Cargo Cult, going through the motions of science but not actually doing it. And, you were taken in and played by the cult. Tough break. Maybe next time, you’ll be a little wiser.

            But, I doubt it.

  3. wodun

    A change of one degree over a century is statistical back ground noise in geologic terms and shouldn’t be assumed that it will continue to rise after that. People should expect changes like this to take place if they really believed in natural variability.

    The problem with alarmists is that they use weather on any given day as evidence for climate change. Then they do the same year by year or even decade by decade but these time periods are too short to support their assertations and predictions, which are never accurate anyway.

    Even if you buy their argument that the world is warming and humans are the cause, there is the problem of their predictions of cataclysmic storms sweaping the Earth, forests burning, no farmland, no drinking water, and other such apocalyptic nonsense. A warmer climate in Earth’s past did not lead to the scenarios being fear mongered.

    Then there is the matter of whether their “solutions” would solve the problems they are claiming to solve.

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