Tag Archives: global cooling

Darlings of the denialosphere reaffirm that, underlying natural variability, the man-made global warming signal is real – and say it’s accelerating


Monday, like any other day, was a pretty miserable one to be a climate denialist.

As with Intelligent Design proponents (née Creation Science proponents, née Creationists), 9/11 Truthers, the anti-vax loons, et al., in order to give themselves the appearance of credibility, climate denialists have to simultaneously wrap themselves in the vestments of science while rejecting what the science actually says. It is, as you can imagine, an entirely unconvincing act.

The evidence that man-made processes, notably our emissions of greenhouse gases, are warming the planet and altering the climate has grown astoundingly in the 30 years since the National Academies of Science-commissioned Carbon Dioxide and Climate: A Scientific Assessment. Each week, evidence pours in in the form of primary scientific literature documenting the changes to our climate, their already-significant impacts on plants and animals, and so on. Calls to cut GHG emissions are heard from the science academies of nations around the world. There is, to put it mildly, a stunning lack of scientific evidence suggesting we should keep on as we are and expect no fallout.

Hence you get Serious Thinkers like Jonah Goldberg asserting that, despite a study’s lead author’s clear statement that his paper on sunspots has nothing to do with anthropogenic warming, we should in fact believe it has something to do with- and indeed undermines- our understanding of anthropogenic warming. There are only a few avenues open to denialists who seek to keep up the charade that they care about science: attempt to discredit the actual science and substitute their own bloggy version, champion studies that are tremendously flawed, clumsily misrepresent papers that don’t actually challenge the undeniable reality of anthropogenic warming, or some combination thereof.

Enter Kyle Swanson and Anastasios Tsonis.

Swanson and Tsonis have been exploring an apparent series of climatic regime changes (marked by the synchronization, coupling, and decay on multidecadal scales of naturally variable climate features) superimposed on the long term warming trend of the 20th century (e.g. here and here). They think that the existence of these regimes might better explain some features of the temperature record than the mechanisms usually invoked (e.g. mid-century cooling via sulfate production). Naturally, their hypothesis has been seized upon by a denialosphere desperate for anything that seemingly challenges the mainstream on global warming (e.g. here, here, here, etc.) and touted as evidence that “the science isn’t settled”, “nature not humans controls the climate”, and similar rubbish. Thus Swanson and Tsonis became a sort of fig leaf behind which the denialists sought to conceal their anti-science beliefs.

For its part, the reaction from the larger climate science community has been along the lines of, “interesting, but absent any physical explanation, not entirely convincing at the present” and it was repeatedly pointed out that Swanson and Tsonis’s work wasn’t saying anything like what the denialists imagined it to. In the interests of clarifying some misconceptions, RealClimate recently hosted a guest post by Swanson. There, Swanson points out that those attempting to use any findings of increased influence of natural variability over the 20th century as a rebuttal to concerns over enhanced greenhouse warming couldn’t be more wrong; a climate system more sensitive to natural variability is one also that will respond more strongly to anthropogenic forcing:

A climate that is highly sensitive to radiative forcing (i.e., responds very strongly to increasing greenhouse gas forcing) by definition will be unable to quickly dissipate global mean temperature anomalies arising from either purely natural dynamical processes or stochastic radiative forcing, and hence will have significant internal variability. The opposite also holds.

In a new paper published this week in the early edition of the journal PNAS entitled Long-term natural variability and 20th century climate change (or here), Swanson and Tsonis, along with coauthor George Sugihara (from here on “SGT”), have attempted to address more explicitly the mechanism by which this enhanced natural variability hypothesis might work and its impact on the 20th century temperature record.

In the paper, SGT make a point to highlight the same argument made by themselves and others in response to specious (denialist) claims that their findings mean anthropogenic warming is as a result less of a concern:

Viewed in this light, the lack of modeled compared to observed interdecadal variability may indicate that current models underestimate climate sensitivity.

Reiterating that a climate system highly sensitive to natural variability is one also that will respond more strongly to anthropogenic forcing. A higher climate sensitivity would mean, for example, that the IPCC estimates of ~3°C warming in response to doubled CO2 are too optimistic. Continue reading

Of Moles and Whacking: “Mojib Latif predicted two decades of cooling”

Or: Journalists should report what climate science actually “says”, rather than what they mistakenly “believe” it to say – Part II

In Part I we looked at some issues relating to climate science that the Houston Chronicle’s “SciGuy” Eric Berger was mistaken about and had blamed “climate scientists” for. And while pointing out that it isn’t particularly fair for Mr. Berger to blame climate scientists for his misunderstandings, it would also be unfair to say that his confusion was his fault alone.

Fred Pearce wrote a recent column for New Scientist claiming climate modeler Mojib Latif predicted that up to two decades of cooling were coming: “We could be about to enter one or even two decades of cooler temperatures, according to one of the world’s top climate modellers.” Pearce’s claim was promptly picked up by the denialosphere and has been cited by “skeptics” as well as those who believe climate science is undergoing some sort of shake up, like Mr. Berger. Pearce’s story is greatly misleading both in terms of what Latif actually said and the role climate scientists believe natural variability plays in the climate system. Continue reading

Of moles and whacking: “Climate models didn’t predict this lack of warming”

Or: Journalists should report what climate science actually “says”, rather than what they mistakenly “believe” it to say – Part I

Not everyone who writes misleading or confused stories on climate change does so for the partisan reasons that the Jonah Goldberg’s of the world do. Sometimes the writer is simply incorrect about what the science says, and his or her errors are made in perfectly good faith. Such problems often arise when the writer mistakes the “conventional wisdom” or individuals’ opinion on climate change for what the science actually says. A case in point is a recent column by the Houston Chronicle’s “SciGuy”, Eric Berger, entitled “Climate scientists should talk about what ‘may’ happen, rather than what ‘will’ happen”. Predictably, the post is being lauded in the denialosphere.

It appears that Mr. Berger has made some unfortunate assumptions about climate science that turn out not to be supportable. Finding these assumptions to be mistaken, Mr. Berger disappointingly chooses to blame climate scientists instead of digging a little deeper into his misconceptions to see where he went awry. Doing so ourselves may help illuminate not only how and why Mr. Berger came to such unsupportable conclusions, but also how we can avoid doing so in the future. Continue reading