In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

Climate science: models vs. observations

Posted by seumasach on January 17, 2010

Richard K.Moore

Aletho News

16th January, 2010

Science and models

True science begins with observations and measurements. These lead to theories and models, which lead to predictions. The predictions can then be tested by further measurements and observations, which can validate or invalidate the theories and models, or be used to refine them.

This is the paradigm accepted by all scientists. But scientists being people, typically in an academic research community, within a political society, there can be many a slip between cup and lip in the practice of science. There are the problems of getting funding, of peer pressure and career considerations, of dominant political dogmas, etc.

In the case of models there is a special problem that frequently arises. Researchers tend to become attached to their models, both psychologically and professionally. When new observations contradict the model, there is a tendency for the researchers to distort their model to fit the new data, rather than abandoning their model and looking for a better one. Or they may even ignore the new observations, and simply declare that their model is right, and the observations must be in error. This problem is even worse with complex computer models, where it is difficult for reviewers to figure out how the model really works, and whether ‘fudging’ might be going on.

A classic example of the ‘attached to model’ problem can be found in models of the universe. The Ptolemaic model assumed that the Earth is the center of the universe, and that the universe revolves around that center. Intuitively, this model makes a lot of sense. On the Earth, it feels like we are stationary. And we see the Sun and stars moving across the sky. “Obviously” the universe revolves around the Earth.

However, in order for this model to work in the case of the planets, it was necessary to introduce the arbitrary mechanism of epicycles. When Galileo and Copernicus came along, a much cleaner model was presented, that explained all the motions with no need for arbitrary assumptions. But no longer would the Earth be the center.

In this case it was not so much scientists that were attached to the old model, but the Church, which liked the model because it fit their interpretation of scripture. We’ve all heard the story of the Bishop who refused to look through the telescope, so he could ignore the new observations and hold on to the old model. Galileo was forced to recant. Thus can political interference hold back the progress of science, and ruin careers.

Climate models and public opinion

In the case of the climate models being used by the IPCC, the assumption is that CO2is a primary driver of climate. There is an intuitive basis for this assumption, given that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and both CO2 levels and temperature have risen sharply in the past century. In addition, a strong correlation has been observed between temperature and CO2 levels in long-term records revealed by ice-core samples. Furthermore, the burning of fossil fuels is continuing to pollute the atmosphere (and the oceans) with ever-higher levels of CO2. This has led to the hypothesis that temperatures are likely to rise precipitously, endangering life on the planet. All of this was presented very dramatically by Al Gore in his famous documentary.

As with the Ptolemaic model however, there are many problems with the assumption that CO2 drives climate, and with the prediction of dangerous warming. For one thing, the long-term records show that temperature has historically changed first, followed much later by changes in CO2 levels. For another, there have been periods of significant cooling in recent years, even while CO2 levels have continued to rise dramatically. In addition, long term records show that temperatures have been much higher than today in the past — including only a thousand years ago (the Medieval Warm Period) — and no bizarre disasters, such as the extinction of polar bears, or runaway feedback loops, occurred as a result.

As with the Ptolemaic model, there are politically powerful factions that have embraced the theory of dangerous, human-caused global warming for their own purposes. More about their purposes a bit further on. For now, suffice it to say that generous funding has been provided to CRU (East Anglia, Climate Research Unit) scientists who have been more than willing to ‘refine’ the model to deal with the ‘uncomfortable truth’ of the model’s problems — even if it requires such things as “hiding the decline”.

And those political factions, who happen also to be involved with the UN and the IPCC, and who are set to make trillions from cap-and-trade, and who own most of the Western mass media, have seen to it that the media continually hammers home the message that human-caused global warming is a threat to all life on Earth.

All of this has dovetailed with the objectives of the environmental movement, which for very good reasons of its own is concerned about pollution of all kinds, and with society’s over-dependence on fossil fuels. Given the studies generated by the ‘coalition of willing scientists’, plus the ‘authority’ of the IPCC, plus the ‘objective’ messages of the media, plus the naive enthusiasm of the environmental movement, a ‘perfect storm’ of global public opinion has turned the cause of ‘stopping carbon emissions’ into the equivalent of a religion.

Scientists who persist in exploring the problems of the model are labeled by environmental activists and the media as ‘deniers’; their integrity is called into question, and their studies have difficulty being accepted by refereed climate-science journals. They are treated as heretics of this modern religion, and not given a fair hearing in public discourse.

However problems in the model do not automatically invalidate the model, nor does all of this non-scientific interference — even though these things do justify skepticism regarding the claims of the IPCC, and the CRU models those claims are based on. Let’s make an attempt to investigate the actual science of the matter for ourselves.

Question 1

Is there an alarming global warming problem at all, regardless of what might be causing it?

The historical record: 2,000 BC — 1900 AD

Let’s look at the actual long-term temperature measurements over the past 4,000 years — based on ice-core data. I downloaded this data from the official NOAA website (, and constructed the following graph myself. Ice-core data is universally recognized as a very reliable indicator of temperature. According to the NOAA, the error is within 1%. You can click on any of the graphs in this article to see an enlarged version.

We can see that over the past 4,000 years there have been a series of temperature peaks, each lower than the previous. Toward the end of the graph, as we emerge from the Little Ice Age, a new peak begins, leading up to 1900. This new peak began long before human-generated CO2 became significant, and is consistent with the pattern of diminishing peaks. In 1900 the temperature was very low compared to temperatures over this period, and 3°C below the maximum for the period. Overall, in the Northern Hemisphere, temperatures have been on a clear downward trend since about 1400 BC, when the maximum occurred.

These 4,000 years, up until 1900, include most of the history of civilization. During this whole time the polar bears did not go extinct, there was no runaway feedback of methane leakage, the island nations were not submerged, the Greenland ice-cap did not melt, agriculture was not wiped out, the gulf stream did not stop flowing, etc. In this whole era, temperatures did not get high enough to cause the kind of disasters predicted by the IPCC/CRU models.

If such disasters are to occur, and if warming is to be the cause, then temperatures will need to get higher than they have been at any time during this era. In the northern hemisphere, that would require a rise of at least 3°C above the 1900 level. Let’s turn our attention now to the temperature record since 1900 — the era of human-generated CO2.

The historical record: the past hundred years

Unfortunately, it is difficult to find a temperature record for this last century that is as reliable as the ice-core data. Many of the thermometer-based measurement stations are in areas that have become urbanized during this period, which yields temperature readings that are atypically high. Not only that, but meteorologists in both Russia and Australia have claimed that the CRU climatologists are using very selective measurements from their regions, including far too many of those urban stations.

The leaked emails from CRU indicate a strong intention to prove the case for dangerous warming, even if it becomes necessary to “hide the decline” in one way or another. Data selectivity is one such way. The published temperature summaries from the establishment climate scientists may be exaggerated, but we’ll go ahead an use them anyway. As we shall see, even using their own data, dangerous global warming is not occurring.

Here’s the GISS summary for 1800-2008, from one of the leading proponents of the dangerous-warming model:

NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS)
Dr. James Hansen
Global Land-Ocean Temperature Index in .01°C

1800 – 2008

This graph indicates that temperatures rose 0.5°C from 1900 to 1988. We also see a steep decline during 2007, and we’ll be getting back to that. For the period 1988-2008 we have this graph, from the CRU’s own Phil Jones:

UK’s Hadley Climate Research Unit Temperature anomaly (HadCRUT)
Dr. Phil Jones
HadCRUT Global temperature Anomaly
1988 – 2008

This graph shows that temperatures leveled off in 2004, and again we see a steep decline beginning in 2007. If we append readings from these graphs to the long-term ice-core data, we get this graph for the period 2000 BC to 2008:

Here we see that the current peak — even with its possible exaggerations — did not reach the level of the Medieval Warm Period, and is far below the two earlier peaks during this period. Thus we have not been experiencing dangerous warming, neither from CO2 nor any other cause, and we aren’t going to experience dangerous warming — if a downward trend has indeed begun.

Notice that this last peak falls within the long-term pattern of diminishing peaks, each separated by about 1,000 years. This indicates that natural forces have been driving climate all along, with little or no discernable influence from human-generated CO2.

Has global cooling begun?

The following three graphs also indicate that temperatures leveled out around 2004, and began a steep descent around 2007.

University of Alabama, Huntsville (UAH)
Dr. John Christy
UAH Monthly Means of Lower Troposphere LT5-2
2004 – 2008

Remote Sensing Systems of Santa Rosa, CA (RSS)
RSS MSU Monthly Anomaly – 70S to 82.5N (essentially Global)
2004 – 2008

Goddard Institute for Space Studies
GISS Surface Temperature Analysis
Global Temperature Trends: 2008 Annual Summation

Both recent measurements and long-term trends indicate that we have now entered an era of global cooling. We may even be starting a slide down to a new ice age, given that this has been the longest inter-glacial period on record, based on very long-term ice core data.

Indeed, the folks who support the CRU models are themselves taking the possible reversal seriously, and are claiming that if a reversal is happening, that would only be further evidence for the dangers of CO2-caused warming! Their argument for CO2causation, however, depends on the assumption that temperatures have indeed risen to a dangerously high level, which they haven’t.

The ‘common sense hypothesis’ I draw from this is that climate is continuing with its long term trends, due to natural causes. The effects of our human activities, as unwise as they may be, are being swamped by bigger, natural forces. This doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to go out and buy an SUV, but it does we can take the time to respond sensibly to the real problems of pollution and resource depletion, rather than running around like chickens with our heads cut off, trying to rush a radical response to a non-existent emergency.

Question 2

Since CO2 is known to be a greenhouse gas, and its levels are significantly above what they should be from an historical perspective, why isn’t CO2 influencing temperature trends in any significant way?

In fact a quite plausible answer to this question has been put forward by Roy Spencer, Ph.D., based on some very recent research using satellites. Here are his relevant qualifications:

Roy W. Spencer is a principal research scientist for the University of Alabama in Huntsville and the U.S. Science Team Leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR-E) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. He has served as senior scientist for climate studies at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

He describes his research in a presentation available on YouTube:

In the talk he gives a lot of details, which are quite interesting, but one does need to concentrate and listen carefully to keep up with the pace and depth of the presentation. He certainly sounds like someone who knows what he’s talking about. Permit me to summarize the main points of his research:

When greenhouse gases cause surface warming, a response occurs, a ‘feedback response’, in the form of changes in cloud and precipitation patterns. The CRU-related climate models all assume the feedback response is a positive one: any increment of greenhouse warming will be amplified by knock-on effects in the weather system. This assumption then leads to the predictions of ‘runaway global warming’.

Spencer set out to see what the feedback response actually is, by observing what happens in the cloud-precipitation system when surface warming is occurring. What he found, by targeting satellite sensors appropriately, is that the feedback response is negative rather than positive. In particular, he found that the formation of storm-related cirrus clouds is inhibited when surface temperatures are high. Cirrus clouds are themselves a powerful greenhouse gas, and this reduction in cirrus cloud formation compensates for the increase in CO2–caused warming.

Spencer explains the design of his experiment and it made good sense to me. Given the importance of what his findings suggest, it would make a great deal of sense for other scientists to re-do his research, if for no other reason that to prove his conclusions wrong. For if those conclusions are right, the argument for runaway global warming goes out the window.

In his YouTube talk, he mentions a rebuttal to his work that was published, and he says that rebuttal was squashed in a recent Nature article. I didn’t download the article because Nature wanted me to register and pay to get a copy. I hate to encourage that kind of thing, putting a money barrier between people and information that is important to them, and that came from publicly funded research.

Meanwhile on the popular website SourceWatch, we don’t find any notes about rebuttals to his research, but we are told that Spencer writes columns for a free-market website funded by Exxon. They also mention that he spoke at conference organized by the Heartland Institute, that promotes lots of reactionary, free-market principles. They are trying to discredit Spencer’s work on irrelevant grounds, what the Greeks referred to as an ad hominem argument. Sort of like, “If he beats his wife, his science must be faulty”.

And it’s true about ‘beating his wife’ — Spencer does seem to have a pro-industry philosophy that shows little concern for sustainability. That might even be part of his motivation for undertaking his recent research, hoping to give ammunition to pro-industry lobbyists. But that doesn’t prove his research is flawed or that his conclusions are invalid. His work should be challenged scientifically, by carrying out independent studies of the feedback process. If the challenges are restricted to irrelevant attacks, that becomes almost an admission that his results, which are threatening to the ‘climate establishment’, cannot be refuted. He does not hide his data, or his code, or his sentiments.

What is the real agenda of the politically powerful factions who are promoting the global-warming alarmism?

One thing we always need to keep in mind is that the people at the top of the power pyramid in our society have access to the very best scientific information. They control dozens, probably hundreds, of high-level think tanks, able to hire the best minds, and carrying out all kinds of research we don’t hear about. They have access to all the secret military and CIA research, and a great deal of influence over what research is carried out in think tanks, the military, and in universities.

Just because they might be promoting fake science for its propaganda value, that doesn’t mean they believe it themselves. I’m quite sure they know what the real story is with global warming, and I suggest their understanding is similar to the composite temperature record I presented. The actions they are promoting are completely in line with that suggestion.

Cap-and-trade, for example, won’t reduce carbon emissions. Rather it is a mechanism that allows emissions to continue, while pretending they are declining — by means of a phony market model. You know what a phony market model looks like. It looks like Reagan and Thatcher telling us that lower taxes will lead to higher government revenues due to increased business activity. It looks like globalization, telling us that opening up free markets will “raise all boats” and make us all prosperous. It looks like Wall Street, telling us that mortgage derivatives are a good deal, and we should buy them. And it looks like Wall Street telling us the bailouts will restore the economy, and that the recession is over. In short, it’s a con. It’s a fake theory about what the consequences of a policy will be, when the real consequences are known from the beginning.

Cap-and-trade has nothing to do with climate. It is part of a scheme to micromanage the allocation of global resources, and to maximize profits from the use of those resources. Think about it. Our ‘powerful factions’ decide who gets the initial free cap-and-trade credits. They run the exchange market itself, and can manipulate the market, create derivative products, sell futures, etc. They can cause deflation or inflation of carbon credits, just as they can cause deflation or inflation of currencies. They decide which corporations get advance insider tips, so they can maximize their emissions while minimizing their offset costs. They decide who gets loans to buy offsets, and at what interest rate. They decide what fraction of petroleum will go to the global North and the global South. They have ‘their man’ in the regulation agencies that certify the validity of offset projects. And they make money every which way as they carry out this micromanagement.

And then there’s the carbon taxes. Just as with income taxes, you and I will pay our full share for our daily commute and for heating our homes, while the big corporate CO2 emitters will have all kinds of loopholes, and offshore havens, set up for them. Just as Federal Reserve theory hasn’t left us with a prosperous Main Street, despite its promises, so carbon-trading theory won’t give us a happy transition to a sustainable world.

Instead of building the energy-efficient transport systems we need, for example, they’ll sell us biofuels and electric cars, while most of society’s overall energy will continue to come from fossil fuels. The North will continue to operate unsustainably, and the South will pay the price in the form of mass die-offs, which are already ticking along at the rate of six million children a year from malnutrition and disease.

While collapse, suffering, and die-offs of ‘marginal’ populations will be unpleasant for us, it will give our ‘powerful factions’ a blank canvas on which to construct their new world order, whatever that might be. And we’ll be desperate to go along with any scheme that looks like it might put food back on our tables.

Author contact –

3 Responses to “Climate science: models vs. observations”

  1. Dan Miller said

    Mr. Moore does a commendable job of explaining the difference between computer models and data, and his fair-minded reporting on the science that backs up the skeptic’s view of global warming is most welcome in the debate.

    It’s regrettable, however, that he relies on SourceWatch, which exists solely for the purpose of attacking global warming skeptics, to assert that the Heartland Institute is “funded by Exxon.”

    As can be seen in Exxon’s own public statements on funding, the company hasn’t donated to Heartland since 2006. Donations to Heartland from the entire energy sector — petroleum, coal, nuclear, natural gas — totals less than 5 percent of Heartland’s operating budget.

    85 percent of our donations come from individuals and foundations. If we really wanted to tap into that corporate cash from the energy sector, we would embrace what Mr. Moore so accurately describes as the alarmist point of view.

    Dan Miller
    Executive Vice President
    The Heartland Institute

  2. Hi Dan,

    Sorry for circulating an incorrect rumor. I was of course mentioning SourceWatch to discredit their methods, not to demean the Heartland Institute, which in fact I am not familiar with.

    By the way, I’ve made a major update to my article, above, and the current version is always maintained at my Website, immediately above.

    again, sorry,

  3. An improved version of the article is on my website.

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