Does This Really Blow a Gaping Hole in Global Warming?

A longtime reader of this blog sent me a blog post from Forbes entitled, “New NASA Data Blow Gaping Hole In Global Warming Alarmism.” With such a provocative title, of course, I had to read it.

The blog post makes some amazing claims. It says that the data, published in the Journal Remote Sensing, demonstrate that global climate models do not agree with what happens in the real world when it comes to how much heat the earth is radiating into space. It then says:

The new findings are extremely important and should dramatically alter the global warming debate.

Now this bothered me a bit, because we’ve known for a while that the global climate models don’t work very well. Back in 2009, for example, Richard Lindzen showed that global climate models don’t conform to the data when it comes to how the earth reacts to rising sea surface temperatures. Why should a paper that reaches essentially the same conclusion suddenly change the global warming debate?

The blog post concludes with this statement:

When objective NASA satellite data, reported in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, show a “huge discrepancy” between alarmist climate models and real-world facts, climate scientists, the media and our elected officials would be wise to take notice. Whether or not they do so will tell us a great deal about how honest the purveyors of global warming alarmism truly are.

The way the author of the blog post, James Taylor, wrote about these data made me want to read the scientific paper that contained them. When I read it, however, I found that the “data” were significantly less dramatic than what Mr. Taylor indicates.

The paper is in an open-access, peer-reviewed journal, so it is available to everyone. The journal itself is quite reputable, and its editorial board contains several scientists who are well-respected in their fields. It even contains a climate scientist (Dr. Toby N. Carlson). It is certainly not one of the premier journals in climate science, but it is a reasonable venue for a paper about climate-related data.

If you know much about climate change and read the paper, you see that Mr. Taylor is way, way off in his analysis. Essentially, the study looked at satellite data on cloud cover and surface temperatures from 2000 to 2010. The authors proposed a simple equation that tries to explain how the earth’s energy budget works, and then they modified a parameter in that equation until it fit those two data sets. The resulting parameter gives us an idea of how much energy the earth radiated into space for a given change in earth’s temperature. It then compared that parameter to the predictions of six global climate models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is the United Nations organization that is promoting global warming as a serious problem. The study showed that based on the value of that parameter, the IPCC models were underestimating the amount of energy the earth radiates into space, which would make them predict global temperatures that were too warm.

So the key here is that the IPCC models were not compared directly to the data. They were compared to the results of the data being fit to a simple equation. That’s a big difference that leads to a very important question. How good is the fit? In other words, what’s the error associated with the parameter that they end up with? There is no indication of that in the paper. Since we don’t know the errors associated with the parameter, we don’t really know how well we should expect the models to compare to it.

Now if you look at the part of the paper that compares the parameter to the model calculations, you see that the calculations are consistently under the value of the parameter. Thus, there is definitely a discrepancy between the parameter and the models. However, we have no idea how bad that discrepancy is, because we have no idea how error-filled the parameter is.

Another shortcoming of the paper, which is common to many papers on climate science, is the short time frame of the data being studied. A ten-year period is a very small sample compared to earth’s history, and the smaller the sample, the more sensitive it is to random fluctuations. In addition, earth’s climate has short-term feedback mechanisms and long-term feedback mechanisms. At best, this paper indicates that the IPCC climate models are not doing well with the short-term feedback mechanisms. It says nothing about how they are doing with long-term feeback mechanisms.

Now don’t get me wrong. I think this is a very worthwhile paper. It not only tries to evaluate the IPCC climate models in a new way (which is always valuable), but it also tells us that the models aren’t doing as well as they could. Theoretically, this could lead to better models, which is what everyone should want. After all, if the current models are bad, we should not be making policy decisions based on them. If we get good climate models, good policy decisions could be based on them. Thus, any study that could lead to better climate models is worthwhile and should be published.

At the same time, however, this paper does not “blow a gaping hole in global warming alarmism,” as Taylor’s blog post implies. Instead, it simply shows what we have known all along – the global climate models used by the IPCC do not perform well when compared to the data. As a result, we need better models. Perhaps this paper (and many other papers along the way) may help us develop them.

6 thoughts on “Does This Really Blow a Gaping Hole in Global Warming?”

  1. Wow! An apparently even handed assessment!

    I’ll accept your assessment of the science in the paper, but I think your conclusion is way out. The fact is that the world has been led toward one particular policy which is highly financially beneficial to many people who are most in favour of it.

    And we have been told the “science is settled” that the evidence is “unequivocal” that anyone who questioned the “consensus” was an evil denier in the pay of big oil.

    Such unusually certain assertions DEMAND unusually watertight evidence. But the truth is that far from being watertight it is as you say: “the IPCC do not perform well when compared to the data”.

    But what other evidence is there for the massive feedbacks which are required to create the massive warming which is a requirement of the manmade global warming doomsday theory? The answer as far as I can see, is that there is not a single piece of scientific evidence to support the massive feedbacks …nothing that is except the absolute certainty of those involved that they are absolutely certain to be right.

    But far from being squeaky clean, robust, “beyond doubt” the truth is that climate “science” is highly suspect, that the models don’t match the data, that those involved all seem to be extremely biased in their interpretations and vastly overstate the robustness of the evidence supporting their views.

    If climate “science” behaved like a real science, if it kept the modesty of only asserting what the facts could support, if it didn’t run a wholesale propaganda war trying to change the whole world economy on their say so … it if were real “science”, then NO it wouldn’t blow a gaping hole, because science progresses just by such mismatches between real world data and theories.

    But climate science isn’t like any other science! It has stated certainty for massive global warming beyond all reasonable real world evidence, it has portrayed computer models as being capable of “proving” doomsday warming and it has stated a unbelievable “95% confidence” based on nothing more than opinion polls of self-claimed infallible “scientists”, and because those climate “scientists” who assert the manmade global warming theory have so oversold their ability to predict the climate … in that regard … YES it has blown a hole in their arrogant delusional self-belief in their own infallibility.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Mike. I would agree with you that the evidence for global warming is very thin, and it clearly doesn’t warrant the certainty that groups like the IPCC proclaim. I guess my point is that this study doesn’t show anything new. We’ve known that the global climate models don’t do well. This study just confirms that fact. If this study blows a gaping hole in global warming, why didn’t Lindzen’s study two years ago do that? Lindzen’s study came to the same conclusion, but in my mind, it did so in a much more precise, detailed way. However, it didn’t blow any gaping holes in global warming.

  2. Dr. Wile,

    Thanks for the article!

    I live in Texas, which is right now experiencing abnormally high
    temperatures and lack of rain. From what I hear, droughts like this
    have happened before, but not in any predictable or regular cycle.
    If not “global warming”, what causes these apparently unpredictable
    climate cycles? Is there a hidden pattern to it that we haven’t
    discovered? Or is it the result of a chain reaction caused by some
    global event? I know Climatology is not your specialty, but I would
    be interested in hearing your thoughts.

    1. Thanks for your question, Enoch. The short answer is that we don’t really know. Currently, the climate isn’t behaving like any of the global climate models predict, so that tells me we don’t know enough about climate to know what is really going on. Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t speculate. We just have to understand that what we are doing is speculation.

      Given that, here are my non-expert speculations. It is very difficult to track global temperatures now, but basically what I see in the data is that surface temperatures are on the rise, while atmospheric temperatures (as measured by satellites) are not. Thus, the warming that we are experiencing is focused on the land, not the atmosphere. If that’s really the case, then carbon dioxide has little or nothing to do with it, since carbon dioxide heats up the atmosphere, not the land. What heats up the land? Mostly, it’s the sun. Thus, I think the sun is the big culprit here. Since there is little we can do to alter the sun’s behavior, the best thing to do is understand the sun and use that understanding to help us figure out what to do.

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