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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Climate Change Update

Best fuel for best use, and let the markets drive the technology. Trust the people to learn stewardship of the planet's resources as the dynamics of society change - the markets will reflect our increasing knowledge and preferences. Don't over-think it, and don't try to control temperature and hurricane activity through regulation and taxes tied to dubious accounting schemes. Trust that the environmental calculus has already been taken care of, and use the available resources to ease the burdens of society, not to increase them.
- Go Wood: Frost, Tolstoy and Wanniski Weigh in on the Folly of Carbon Accounting
That last sentence was brought to my mind again as I read "It’s the cold, not global warming, that we should be worried about" in last Thursday's edition of The Telegraph. It seems that the concept of considering climate change policy through the lens of actual, not theoretical, human impacts is beginning to dawn on others.
Since [the 2003 heat wave in the UK], some 250,000 Brits have died from the cold, and 10,000 from the heat. It is horribly clear that we have been focusing on the wrong enemy. Instead of making sure energy was affordable, ministers have been trying to make it more expensive, with carbon price floors and emissions trading schemes. Fuel prices have doubled over seven years, forcing millions to choose between heat and food – and government has found itself a major part of the problem.
This is slowly beginning to dawn on Ed Davey, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. He has tried to point the finger at energy companies, but his own department let the truth slip out in the small print of a report released on Wednesday. The average annual fuel bill is expected to have risen by £76 by 2020, it says. But take out Davey’s hidden taxes (carbon price floor, emissions trading scheme, etc) and we’d be paying an average £123 less. His department has been trying to make homes cheaper to heat, and in a saner world this would be his only remit: to secure not the greenest energy, but the most affordable energy.
By now, the Energy Secretary will also have realised another inconvenient truth – that, for Britain, global warming is likely to save far more lives then it threatens. Delve deep enough into the Government’s forecasts, and they speculate that global warming will lead to 6,000 fewer deaths a year, on average, by the end of the decade. This is the supposed threat facing us: children would be less likely to have snow to play in at Christmas, but more likely to have grandparents to visit over Easter. Not a bad trade-off. The greatest uncertainty is whether global warming, which has stalled since 1998, will arrive quickly enough to make a difference.
Of course, this preposterous viewpoint is Anglocentric, and puts the best interests of freezing Brits ahead of the interests of all those Africans, Asians, and Texans who are suffering heat stress from our planet's rapidly rising temperatures. As Dr. James Hansen so clearly demonstrated in his excellent visualization of average global temperatures, the number of hotter locations and temperatures is outnumbering the number of cooler locations. Quoted recently to clarify his most recent analysis, Dr. Hansen explained... James Hansen, the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, observes, “the five-year mean global temperature has been flat for a decade.”
Uh, yeaaahh, whaaa...OK, lets start over. The quote above is taken from an excellent article in last week's edition of The Economist, that bears a carefully-worded title and sub-title:
A Sensitive Matter - The climate may be heating up less in response to greenhouse-gas emissions than was once thought. But that does not mean the problem is going away
The article is really well-written, and takes pains not to downplay the significance of all the brilliant climate change research that's been undertaken to date. However, it does admit to a fundamental stall in the climate change debate...that in spite of rising global carbon dioxide levels, the actual global climate does not appear to be changing all that much.
The mismatch between rising greenhouse-gas emissions and not-rising temperatures is among the biggest puzzles in climate science just now. It does not mean global warming is a delusion. Flat though they are, temperatures in the first decade of the 21st century remain almost 1°C above their level in the first decade of the 20th. But the puzzle does need explaining. 
The article attempts to explain the puzzle in the context of two prevailing types of climate models - general circulation models (GCM's), and energy-balance models. The Economist article does a great job of simplifying the difference between the two approaches...
One type of model—general-circulation models, or GCMs—use a bottom-up approach. These divide the Earth and its atmosphere into a grid which generates an enormous number of calculations in order to imitate the climate system and the multiple influences upon it. The advantage of such complex models is that they are extremely detailed. Their disadvantage is that they do not respond to new temperature readings. They simulate the way the climate works over the long run, without taking account of what current observations are. Their sensitivity is based upon how accurately they describe the processes and feedbacks in the climate system. 
The other type—energy-balance models—are simpler. They are top-down, treating the Earth as a single unit or as two hemispheres, and representing the whole climate with a few equations reflecting things such as changes in greenhouse gases, volcanic aerosols and global temperatures. Such models do not try to describe the complexities of the climate. That is a drawback. But they have an advantage, too: unlike the GCMs, they explicitly use temperature data to estimate the sensitivity of the climate system, so they respond to actual climate observations.
So, the energy-balance models are more sensitive to short-term climate variation than the GCM's. Which is the main reason that scientists using the energy-balance models are predicting much smaller global temperature increases over the next century than are the GCM scientists...they place higher weight on more recent data; data which, as Dr. Hansen explained above, has been unpredictably flat for the last fifteen years.

Unpredictable, except to you profligate climate deniers who claim that natural variation is the main driver behind climate change. You dare to claim that variation in solar energy and the earth's ecosphere actually count for more than anthropogenic impacts, just to justify your gluttonous SUV and flat-screen TV usage. All scientists, all scientists are in agreement you are wrong. Well, OK, you've got a couple of mathematicians at the University of Washington whose calculations seem to take your side...
Lastly, there is some evidence that the natural (ie, non-man-made) variability of temperatures may be somewhat greater than the IPCC has thought. A recent paper by Ka-Kit Tung and Jiansong Zhou in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences links temperature changes from 1750 to natural changes (such as sea temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean) and suggests that “the anthropogenic global-warming trends might have been overestimated by a factor of two in the second half of the 20th century.” It is possible, therefore, that both the rise in temperatures in the 1990s and the flattening in the 2000s have been caused in part by natural variability.
As Tung and Zhou conclude in their paper...
It is pointed out that the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation, a likely natural and recurrent phenomenon, has not been taken into account in any multiple linear regression analysis of the global warming trends using observational data in published literature. Yet, over any multidecadal period, the AMO is the most important factor affecting the deduced “anthropogenic trend,” since other, shorter-term internal variability, such as ENSO or volcano aerosols, usually do not contain any multidecadal trend, and solar forcing's secular trend is small. When the AMO is included, in addition to the other explanatory variables such as ENSO, volcano, and solar influences commonly included in the multiple linear regression analysis, the recent 50- and 32-yr anthropogenic warming trends are reduced by a factor of at least 2. There is no statistical evidence of a recent slowdown of global warming, nor is there evidence of accelerated warming since the mid-twentieth century. The anomalous early twentieth-century warming is also explained as being caused by the AMO's upswing on top of the same anthropogenic warming trend. This deduced time behavior of anthropogenic warming is different from that previously constructed by GISS and used by Lean and Rind (2008) in deducing the latitudinal structure of anthropogenic warming.
So, their analysis shows that while the earth's current warming trend is not necessarily slowing over the last century, nor has it increased since the mid-twentieth century. And that anthropogenic impacts on that change are no more than half of what we thought.

Which brings us back, unfortunately, to global warming politics and policy. Considering all the economic distress out there right now (except in those countries that are essentially ignoring climate change policy), the academic and industrial sectors that have been profiting from climate change may find sources of funding shrinking unless things start to heat up again.

That is a scenario older Brits and Canadians may justifiably be rooting for.

And I think we should join them in that effort. Why not re-direct public policy at economic growth in the form of more affordable state-of-the-art natural gas, oil, and coal energy, rather than spending huge amounts of questionable "money" to possibly prevent a far-distant climate emergency that may not occur. After all, we are more likely to successfully transition to a culture of environmental stewardship under an energy-rich, prosperous global society than in one driven to regulatory-green human hardship. We already see this happening in the most prosperous nations, and others will follow as their economy gradually allows their citizens to learn about and focus on environmental stewardship instead of the thermostat and finding a chicken for the pot. And who knows...our knowledge of what we consider to be best for the global climate may even evolve a little as we learn more.

In the meantime, let's just enjoy the extra degree or two if it comes. Remember, redwoods used to grow in Alaska and Greenland...

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