Global Cooling: Deliberate lies or abject stupidity?

There is a nice repudiation by Tamino at Open Mind of the current round of stories announcing the “cooling trend” in global average temperatures. (Thx Jim Eager for noticing.)

Tamino concludes that the deniers are right: it was cooler in 2008 than in 2007 - which is a variation - but inexorably warmer over the last century - which is the trend.

When people ignore this longterm direction, choosing instead to pick the high point (perhaps 1998) and then claim a decline in average temperature, Tamino keeps an open mind about whether that is a reflection of dishonesty or stupidity.

In this, however, stupidity should not be a defence. It’s bullshit, even if the liar is delusional rather than dishonest.


James Hansen showed a similar graph in his December 17 2008 Bjerknes Lecture delivered at the American Geophysical Union meeting, which is available online top of page 3.

Hansen’s presentation adds the additional detail of a graph on the same time scale at the bottom showing the strength of El Nino/La Nina.  The “cooling” that people talk about from 2007 to 2008 is shown to correlate to the La Nina event currently underway, which as I understand things in my dim way indicates the planet may not be “cooling” at all, as some of the heat measured in 2007 at the surface of the ocean may be underneath the cooler surface waters of the La Nina, which may be a wind caused event mixing ocean waters.  In any case, this graph showing the global temperature figures and the El Nino/La Nina correlation is used by Hansen as he confidently predicts the global temperature graph to be showing “heating” again as soon as an El Nino appears, which looks to be very soon.  Hansen notes that there is not enough good data about temperature in the deep ocean.  It is preposterous to believe one can condemn global warming theory on the basis of a one year wiggle in a graph of global surface temperature like this.



Could you clarify what you think is the long term? For you, how long would temperatures have to cool - or at least fail to rise - while CO2 emissions continued to rise - for you to say, “okay, the theory of Catastrophic AGW doesn’t fit with observable reality”? Two years, five, ten, fifty?


It’s not within my expertise to set out definitions, but if you look at the Tamino graph for the 10 year average, you might get a sense of what the “long term” trend looks like. If you look at the material on which the graph is based, you will see that every years since 1999 has been hotter than any year before 1998. That seems to indicate a long term trend, too.

I have to wonder, what would have to happen to make you spend a little time looking critically at the literature and notice the preponderance of evidence? Because I am confident that if we hit an El Nino year in the next couple of years and the temperature spikes again to a new high, that everyone in the denier community would say, “Oh, that’s only one year. That’s weather, not climate.” Yet in a La Nina year, when the global average temperatureis holding at a top-10-in-recorded-history level, you’re implying that the global warming has stopped.

You are under a couple of misunderstandings about the effects of CO2.

Firstly, the physics of CO2 in the atmosphere is unequivical. It is acting as a greenhouse gas and increasing concentrations will result in long term temperature increases. Over the short term these increases may be masked by other factors e.g. volcanoes, solar variation and just weather. One of the factors which is being looked at right now is the effects of Asian brown clouds which are having a number of effects on climate and weather. (see: Thus global temperatures may seem to be flat for a period of time but the underlying forcing is still present and is increasing (till we produce less CO2) and will come back with a vengeance when the temporary maskings cease.

Secondly, even if other factors ABC, sulphate aerosols (see geo-engineering) produce a temporary levelling off in temperatures the effects of CO2 on oceans will continue unabated. Lowering the pH of the oceans will have catastrophic effects on ocean life cycles including food for human consumption and reduction in oxygen production.

So please don’t think that if temperatures are level for a period of time that everything will be alright. Things will only get worse if we continue to pump ever increasing amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.

I was asking what empirical data would constitute a falsification of the theory of catastrophic man-made global warming? If no imaginable data could ever falsify it, then it’s not science, it’s religion.

Richard Littlemore - you suggest I “notice the preponderance of evidence”. But you can’t have it both ways. If a marked rise in global temperatures since the 1980s supports the theory, then a failure to continue rising in the future would surely put the theory into question. Don’t you agree?

Ian Forrester - You seem to be saying that anything that might happen to the Earth that conflicts with the theory of catastrophic man-made global warming  - no matter how intense, no matter how enduring - must, by definition, constitute merely a “temporary masking”, not a falsification of the theory.

You say “the physics of CO2 in the atmosphere is unequivocal” - that we already know everything there is to know about it. Yet the fourth IPCC report, for instance, predicts a temperature rise of between 1.1 and 6.4 degrees centigrade across the next hundred years. That’s a very wide predictive margin of error for a scientific forecast. I don’t know if the low figure is to allow for a hundred years of “temporary masking”. But it suggests that there is still a fair bit of honest scientific disagreement about the extent of positive and negative feedback effects in the climate system. If a climate scientist predicts the Earth will warm by only 1 degree, is she a “denialist”? If in fact the Earth only warms by 1 degree, is the Earth a “denialist”?

It seems incredibly anthro-centric to assume that everything effecting the earth system other than man-made CO2 is just a trivial, temporary masking phenomenon. The forces we’re talking about - the Sun, cosmic rays, Milankovic cycles, Jupiter, the Earth’s interior, the Earth-Moon interaction - are giant forces. Maybe they’re all effectively flatlined, and only man-made CO2 is changing the climate system significantly - for the moment at least. But if evidence emerges that they are causing major effects on the climate - in either direction - we will have to adjust our models to take account of them, and not just dismiss them as “temporary masking”.


It’s just that any conceivable “falsification” is so improbable as to be laughable.

Perhaps there are aliens on a planet far removed from our solar sytem who, just for fun, are shooting rays which we cannot detect, that will have the same effect on the earth’s temperature as increasing the levels of carbon dioxide. Of course, these rays would also have to neutralize the radiative properties of carbon dioxide.

A second way the theory could be falsified is if for some reason the radiative properties of carbon dioxide only functioned in a narrow range of concentrations so that once a certain level was reached there would be no further warming observed as concentrations increase. This has probably been disproved in the lab (maybe 100 years ago?).

If you believe that such nonsense could be true you are the one who is following a religious belief system, not climate scientists or other intelligent people.

It is funny that the only people who ever bring up Karl Popper and his ideas are deniers. I first heard of him on evolution denying websites. I have been a scientist for over forty years and I have never heard his name mentioned once in all my courses and many countless hours talking to other scientists. Clearly we do not seem to think that his ideas have much to do with how science is actually conducted (successfully, I might add). How can scientists be considered scientists before Popper told us how science should be conducted? The scientific method predated Popper by a long time.

As for your comments about the range of warming stated in the IPCC, the range was based on different scenarios as far as output of carbon dioxide, not on the effects of a doubling as many deniers like to, falsely, claim.

The IPCC consider that 3-5 degree increase for a doubling, reducing the uncertainty from the previous report while leaving the most likely unchanged.

Why do people have so much trouble interpreting the IPCC reports? Do not rely on second hand comments (especially from right wing think tanks or denier websites), go and read the reports directly or go to sites where actual scientists discuss these things (RealClimate, Open Mind, Deltoid, Skeptical Science) etc.).