Friday, April 5, 2013
Global Warming Flatlines
I have been blogging about global warming for years and I have been consistently right. I have argued that the world’s governments are not going to pursue policies, individually or collectively, that would have a significant effect on global greenhouse emissions. That certainly has been confirmed. The Kyoto treaty, modest as it was, was not even a modest success. No follow up treaty has been achieved or is on the horizon.
I have recognized the evidence that we have seen significant global warming over the last century and I have taken seriously the proposition that human activity is in part forcing this warming. I also pointed out that it is very difficult to know how much of a factor this has been.
That the evidence has been kinder to me than to the climate alarmists is evident from the recent bombshell in the London Economist. The Economist has beating the climate alarm drum for many years. They once pushed hard for a global treaty that would have put a heavy burden on industrial production, on the grounds that something had to be done quick to avoid an ecological catastrophe.
So it is a milestone that they are now trimming their sails on the issue.
OVER the past 15 years air temperatures at the Earth’s surface have been flat while greenhouse-gas emissions have continued to soar. The world added roughly 100 billion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere between 2000 and 2010. That is about a quarter of all the CO₂ put there by humanity since 1750. And yet, as 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.”
I have been skeptical of world climate modeling projected into the future for the same reason as I am skeptical of anyone who claims to have discovered a formula that will predict the next winner of the World Series. It is possible to build a formula that corresponds to what has happened so far; it is another thing to guess what will happen next.
The Economist admits what is patently obvious: the climate isn’t following the script.
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 mismatch might mean that—for some unexplained reason—there has been a temporary lag between more carbon dioxide and higher temperatures in 2000-10. Or it might be that the 1990s, when temperatures were rising fast, was the anomalous period. Or, as an increasing body of research is suggesting, it may be that the climate is responding to higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in ways that had not been properly understood before. This possibility, if true, could have profound significance both for climate science and for environmental and social policy.
In other words, we don’t understand the collection of forces that is responsible for the climate history that we observe and we don’t know what is going to happen next.
Does this mean that we should relax and forget about climate change? I am tempted to say that we might as well because that is what we are going to do anyway. China and India aren’t going to hobble their economies and neither are the governments in Europe or the U.S.
What I do say is that we should continue to pay close attention to what the climate does while doing what we can to deal with it. The U.S. has made considerable progress when it comes to moderating its greenhouse emissions, but all of that progress owes to new technologies designed to extract fossil fuels. The various green technologies that Western governments have invested heavily in have contributed nothing.
One thing that we cannot project into the future is the nature of technological development. New sources of energy under the ocean floor will be exploitable very soon and it may be possible to put some of the carbon back when we got the energy. If we really want to solve the problems that our environment poses, the only hope lies in new technologies. The only way to get those is to promote economic growth. This is a lesson that the environmental left desperately wants not to learn.