Is the Science Really Settled?

The last 17 years without warming have been disappointments to climate activists insistent that the globe is getting hotter thanks to human activity. So what happens when the climate acts in ways that that do not fit the human-caused global warming narrative? How do warming proponents respond to them?

The IPCC released its latest climate change report in September, stating with 95 percent probability that “human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” But Benjamin Zycher at the American Enterprise Institute dove into the document and detailed exactly why the IPCC report “is a political document first and a (partial) summary of the scientific literature only secondarily.” (And if you are wondering where that 95 percent probability comes from, see Kenneth Green’s piece.)

  • In a draft of the report that was leaked in June 2013, the IPCC admitted that its climate models had not predicted the reduction in warming that the globe has actually seen in the last two decades. The “models do not generally reproduce the observed reduction in surface warming trend over the last 10-15 years,” the draft had read. But the report that was released removes that straightforward language and replaces it with a set of confusing sentences, finally noting, “There may also be a contribution from forcing inadequacies and, in some models, an overestimate of the response to increasing greenhouse gas and other anthropogenic forcing.”
  • Zycher describes exactly what that “overestimate” consists of: “The average prediction for the increase in surface temperatures since 1980 across 32 climate models participating in Phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (a project of the World Climate Research Programme, sponsored jointly by the International Council for Science, the World Meteorological Organization, and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission) is at least 71 percent higher than the actual record, again putting aside the problems inherent in the surface temperature measurements.”
  • Moreover, the IPCC report says that “due to natural variability, trends based on short records are very sensitive to the beginning and end dates and do not in general reflect long-term climate trends,” citing the temperatures from 1998 to 2012 as an example. But AEI notes that the IPCC was not so quick to dismiss short-term trends when those short-term trends were periods of warming: “One wonders why such modesty did not accompany IPCC’s confident assertions in the 2007 AR4 that the warming observed from about 1980-1998 portended serious climate effects of GHG for the remainder of the century.”
  • Climate sensitivity is the measure by which the climate reacts to increased carbon in the atmosphere — it is the basis for determining the impact of emissions on global warming. But the IPCC report actually reads, “No best estimate for equilibrium climate sensitivity can now be given because of a lack of agreement on values across assessed lines of evidence and studies.” As AEI notes, “Wow…If we do not know how increases in GHG concentrations affect the climate, then the science really is not ‘settled,’ is it?”

Numerous experts had similar reactions to the IPCC’s report.

  • Meteorology Professor Richard Lindzen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who actually authored the third IPCC report, said the IPCC had “truly sunk to a level of hilarious incoherence…They are proclaiming increased confidence in their models as the discrepancies between their models and observations increase.”
  • Lindzen also noted that the IPCC’s explanation for the 17-year pause (either that the climate was less sensitive to greenhouse gases than the models expected, or that the warming is simply hidden in the ocean) contradicts the organization’s central message. Either rising CO2 is much less of a concern than they have insisted it is, or the models are inaccurate and unreliable – unable to illustrate heat exchange within the ocean.
  • Dr. Roy Spencer, a climatologist and former Senior Scientist at NASA, said that the biggest omission of the report “continues to be the almost total neglect of natural forcing mechanisms of climate change.”
  • Ken Haapala, Executive Vice President with the Science and Environmental Policy Project, said, “[T]he report glosses over the fact that there has been no statistically significant rise in surface temperatures for over 16 years. Instead, it asserts a greater certainty in its work than prior reports. It reduced the uncertainty from 10% to 5%, with no empirical basis…. The purpose of a physical science is to describe nature, and to understand how it works. It is becoming increasingly evident that IPCC science does not describe nature. Yet, the IPCC intensifies its certainty in its work?”

Notably, most “climate skeptics” do not deny that humans have some sort of impact on the climate, but it’s the amount and intensity of the impact with which they disagree.

Facts are stubborn things — unless you’re a global warming proponent. The idea that reality might conflict with one’s political agenda has received a thorough shellacking at the hands of climate change advocates who insist — against all manner of contradictory evidence — that humans are the ones wreaking absolute havoc on the atmosphere.

The climate models have continued to fail to forecast global warming accurately, yet the IPCC continues to tout them, doubling down on the idea that global warming is a serious crisis and that humans are undoubtedly responsible, even increasing that likelihood in the face of 17 straight years without warming!

Before denouncing those who raise questions about human-caused global warming, warming proponents should take a look at their own evidence. Despite efforts of the media and the climate change crowd to label global warming skeptics as anti-science kooks, it is those who insist that humans are the ones changing the world’s temperatures that are on shaky scientific ground.

For a piece on alternatives to anthropogenic global warming, see here. And for some background on global warming, see the NCPA’s primer here.

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  1. C. Bruce Richardson Jr. says:

    According to the NOAA global data, there were two warming periods in the 20th Century that were of a similar rate and magnitude. The first occurred before human CO2 emissions could have been the cause. It is generally assumed that the first warming period was natural. it coincided with warm phases of certain ocean oscillations and increasing solar activity. The second warming period also coincided with the same natural forces. Why do they assume that the second warming wasn’t mostly natural?

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