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Richard Lindzen–Part II

May 3, 2017

By Paul Homewood




Continuing with Richard Lindzen’s article “Thoughts on the Public Discourse over Climate Change”:


The ‘warmest years on record’ meme.





This simple claim covers a myriad of misconceptions. Under these circumstances, it is sometimes difficult to know where to begin. As in any demonization project, it begins with the ridiculous presumption that any warming whatsoever (and, for that matter, any increase in CO2) is bad, and proof of worse to come. We know that neither of these presumptions is true. People retire to the Sun Belt rather than to the arctic. CO2 is pumped into greenhouses to enhance plant growth. The emphasis on ‘warmest years on record’ appears to have been a response to the observation that the warming episode from about 1978 to 1998 appeared to have ceased and temperatures have remained almost constant since 1998. Of course, if 1998 was the hottest year on record, all the subsequent years will also be among the hottest years on record. None of this contradicts the fact that the warming (ie, the increase of temperature) has ceased. Yet, somehow, many people have been led to believe that both statements cannot be simultaneously true. At best, this assumes a very substantial level of public gullibility. The potential importance of the so-called pause (for all we know, this might not be a pause, and the temperature might even cool), is never mentioned and rarely understood. Its existence means that there is something that is at least comparable to anthropogenic forcing. However, the IPCC attribution of most of the recent (and only the recent) warming episode to man depends on the assumption in models that there is no such competitive process.

The focus on the temperature record, itself, is worth delving into a bit. What exactly is this temperature that is being looked at? It certainly can’t be the average surface temperature. Averaging temperatures from places as disparate as Death Valley and Mount Everest is hardly more meaningful than averaging phone numbers in a telephone book (for those of you who still remember phone books). What is done, instead, is to average what are called temperature anomalies. Here, one takes thirty year averages at each station and records the deviations from this average. These are referred to as anomalies and it is the anomalies that are averaged over the globe. The only attempt I know of to illustrate the steps in this process was by the late Stan Grotch at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. Figure 1a shows the scatter plot of the station anomalies. Figure 1b then shows the result of averaging these anomalies. Most scientists would conclude that there was a remarkable degree of cancellation and that the result was almost complete cancellation. However, instead, one stretches the temperature scale by almost a factor of 10 so as to make the minuscule changes in Figure 1b look more significant. The result is shown in Figure 1c. There is quite a lot of random noise in Figure 1c, and this noise is a pretty good indication of the uncertainty of the analysis (roughly +/- 0.2C). The usual presentations show something considerably smoother. Sometimes this is the result of smoothing the record with something called running means. It is also the case that Grotch used data from the UK Meteorological Office which was from land based stations. Including data from the ocean leads to smoother looking series but the absolute accuracy of the data is worse given that the ocean data mixes very different measurement techniques (buckets in old ship data, ship intakes after WW1, satellite measurements of skin temperature (which is quite different from surface temperature), and buoy data).

Figure 2

These issues are summarized in Figure 2 which presents an idealized schematic of the temperature record and its uncertainty. We see very clearly that because the rise ceases in 1998, that this implies that 18 of the 18 warmest years on record (for the schematic presentation) have occurred during the last 18 years. We also see that the uncertainty together with the smallness of the changes offers ample scope for adjustments that dramatically alter the appearance of the record (note that uncertainty is rarely indicated on such graphs).

At this point, one is likely to run into arguments over the minutia of the temperature record, but this would simply amount to muddying the waters so to speak. Nothing can alter the fact that the changes one is speaking about are small. Of course ‘small’ is relative. Consider three measures of smallness.

Figure 3

Figure 3 shows the variations in temperature in Boston over a one month period. The dark blue bars show the actual range of temperatures for each day. The dark gray bars show the climatological range of temperatures for that date, and the light gray bars show the range between the record-breaking low and record-breaking high for that date. In the middle is a red line. The width of that line corresponds to the range of temperature in the global mean temperature anomaly record for the past 175 years. This shows that the temperature change that we are discussing is small compared to our routine sensual experience. Keep this in mind when someone claims to ‘feel’ global warming.


The next measure is how does the observed change compare with what we might expect from greenhouse warming. Now, CO2 is not the only anthropogenic greenhouse gas.

Figure 4. Red bar represents observations. Gray bars show model predictions.

When all of them are included, the UN IPCC finds that we are just about at the greenhouse forcing of climate that one expects from a doubling of CO2, and the temperature increase has been about 0.8C. If man’s emissions are responsible for all of the temperature change over that past 60 years, this still points to a lower sensitivity (sensitivity, by convention, generally refers to the temperature increase produced by a doubling of CO2 when the system reaches equilibrium) than produced by the least sensitive models (which claim to have sensitivities of from 1.5-4.5C for a doubling of CO2). And, the lower sensitivities are understood to be unproblematic. However, the IPCC only claims man is responsible for most of the warming. The sensitivity might then be much lower. Of course, the situation is not quite so simple, but calculations do show that for higher sensitivities one has to cancel some (and often quite a lot) of the greenhouse forcing with what was assumed to be unknown aerosol cooling in order for the models to remain consistent with past observations (a recent article in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society points out that there are, in fact, quite a number of arbitrary adjustments made to models in order to get some agreement with the past record). As the aerosol forcing becomes less uncertain, we see that high sensitivities have become untenable. This is entirely consistent with the fact that virtually all models used to predict ‘dangerous’ warming over-predict observed warming after the ‘calibration’ periods. That is to say, observed warming is small compared to what the models upon which concerns are based are predicting. This is illustrated in Figure 4. As I have mentioned, uncertainties allow for substantial adjustments in the temperature record. One rather infamous case involved NOAA’s adjustments in a paper by Karl et al that replace the pause with continued warming. But it was easy to show that even with this adjustment, models continued to show more warming than even the ‘adjusted’ time series showed. Moreover, most papers since have rejected the Karl et al adjustment (which just coincidentally came out with much publicity just before the Paris climate conference).

The third approach is somewhat different. Instead of arguing that the change is not small, it argues that the change is ‘unprecedented.’ This is Michael Mann’s infamous ‘hockey stick.’ Here, Mann used tree rings from bristle cone pines to estimate Northern Hemisphere temperatures back hundreds of years. This was done by calibrating the tree ring data with surface observations for a thirty year period, and using this calibration to estimate temperatures in the distant past in order to eliminate the medieval warm period. Indeed, this reconstruction showed flat temperatures for the past thousand years. The usual test for such a procedure would be to see how the calibration worked for observations after the calibration period. Unfortunately, the results failed to show the warming found in the surface data. The solution was starkly simple and stupid. The tree ring record was cut off at the end of the calibration period and replaced by the actual surface record. In the Climategate emails (Climategate refers to a huge release of emails from various scientists supporting alarm where the suppression of opposing views, the intimidation of editors, the manipulation of data, etc. were all discussed), this was referred to as Mann’s trick.

The whole point of the above was to make clear that we are not concerned with warming per se, but with how much warming. It is essential to avoid the environmental tendency to regard anything that may be bad in large quantities to be avoided at any level however small. In point of fact small warming is likely to be beneficial on many counts. If you have assimilated the above, you should be able to analyze media presentations like this one to see that amidst all the rhetoric, the author is pretty much saying nothing while even misrepresenting what the IPCC says.

  1. Dung permalink
    May 3, 2017 11:12 am

    Lindzen’s great strength is his vast climate knowledge along with a very keen mind of course, his great weaknesss is his inability to communicate anything to people who are not so fortunate, he is no Richard Feynman. Lindzen admits that when he tries to give a lecture to the public he is greeted by blank faces or puzzled expressions. In this attempt to put the record straight he makes all the same mistakes and therefore achieves nothing.
    I also can not understand Lindzen’s willingness to accept a climate sensitivity figure as useful at this point in time because of our lack of scientific knowledge about the climate. I do not challenge Lindzen’s knowledge (next to which mine is as nothing) but I am able to use reason and logic and I fail to see how (when he and all other scientists agree that we do not yet know all the factors which affect our climate, let alone understand them) it is possible to isolate and understand the effect of one ‘suspected’ factor in CO2.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      May 3, 2017 11:53 am

      @Dung: I agree with you about RL’s difficulty with communicating. I saw him give evidence to the HoC CCC last year(?) and as much as I could understand what he was saying the looks on the faces of the committee showed that they either couldn’t understand it or, if they did, thought he was talking heresy. That said, I did like the way he disposed of fake anomoly charts and the need of the warmists to scare people.

      • Gerry, England permalink
        May 3, 2017 12:51 pm

        You have to remember that MPs are amongst the least bright people around and have trouble understanding most things in life apart from expenses claims, taxpayer subsidized bars at Westminster and how to get your family on the taxpayer payroll.

    • May 3, 2017 1:49 pm

      You do surprise me. I’ve always found RL to be clear, lucid and undogmatic – exactly what an academic should be.

    • May 3, 2017 1:50 pm

      rupertwyndhamr PERMALINK
      May 3, 2017 1:49 pm
      You do surprise me. I’ve always found RL to be clear, lucid and undogmatic – exactly what an academic should be.

  2. Harry Passfield permalink
    May 3, 2017 11:54 am


  3. Gerry, England permalink
    May 3, 2017 12:57 pm

    Some time back Tim Ball posted a piece on WUWT about presentation. The problem is that we have scientists trying to present science when the debate is political/religious. No matter how hard you attack Climate Science Fiction with the truth, it refuses to die because they have some very slick liars on their side. The recent US hearing that had Pielke/Curry/Christie up against Mann brought a comment piece from an observer that if you didn’t know the facts you would believe Mann because he was so slick in his spiel and sure of his answers. While the others were scientifically correct and rightly referred to the doubts in climate science, they failed to counter Mann’s points and the certainty he delivered them. Media training for scientists is a must.

    • May 3, 2017 2:06 pm

      Something odd with the i/net today – earlier posting was supposed to be in reply to Dung. As for Harry Passfield’s response, I’m pretty sure that MPs were/are perfectly capable of understanding RL’s presentation, but simply didn’t want to. There is now a vast vested interest amongst politicians to support the orthodoxy (a) because they will look foolish if now they don’t and (b) because many have a financial interest in maintaining it. An Oxford contemporary of mine with an MPhil voted for the Climate Change Act, and is cross with me for questioning the scam. I do not understand this, but it is certainly not because he lacks comprehension.

      • May 3, 2017 2:39 pm

        I think you are right rupertwyndhamr.
        The main problem is “Group Cognitive Dissenance” being a total inability to admit you have been wrong; leading to a propensity to lie both to yourself and to others.
        It is a very serious quirk in the human mental processes and has been a contributory cause of many historical disasters.
        Sadly it is now infecting the Climate Change scene and will take years to offset.

    • Mike Jackson permalink
      May 3, 2017 4:31 pm

      Gerry, I pretty much made this point in a comment on one of Ball’s postings on WUWT. It never saw the light of day because at the end I chickened out and hoped that someone better qualified in the whole business would say the same.

      Somebody authoritative has got to make the case that, whether or not cAGW was a legitimate concern initially (and I have a raft of quotes going back 30 years that are enough to convince me it never was) for at least the last two decades it has been a scam. The very fact that Ken Lay was one of the early enthusiasts for renewable energy should have been enough to set alarm bells ringing in every government department in the civilised world.

      The scientific sceptics have been effectively sidelined and they only make matters worse by droning on about the science. I have a lot of time for Lindzen, as I do for Ball, but nobody is listening (except us) because they are not saying anything that means anything to the average listener. Or indeed the average decision maker. Nobody, so far as I know, has yet tried to establish why the Commons passed the Climate Change Act with only five dissenting voices. Nobody has yet satisfactorily explained how Pope Francis ended up with such one-sided advice when two of his own cardinals are devout climate sceptics. There is a reason somewhere!

      Meanwhile the devil, as ever, has the “best sound bites” and we have yet to come up with our own William Booth to change that.

      (Reference is to the founder of the Salvation Army who didn’t see “why the devil should have all the best tunes”! Just in case there is someone out there who doesn’t know that!)

  4. Dung permalink
    May 3, 2017 3:26 pm


    If you have read Richard Lindzen–Parts 1 & II, you should know that my comments on Lindzen’s communication problems mirror his own comments in the presentation, I am agreeing with the great man. However your opinion that MPs can/could understand what Lindzen is talking about are completely wrong.

    • Dung permalink
      May 3, 2017 5:03 pm


      I have always respected and mostly always agreed with your views but I slightly disagree with this one ^.^
      Our politicians are advised about the science by activist scientists (sometimes just activists) and they are not seeing any scientists who are making a good case for our side of the argument. Bring back Feynman and we would win tomorrow 🙂

      • Mike Jackson permalink
        May 3, 2017 6:02 pm

        I take your point, Dung, but the idea that a Bill like fhe Climate Change Bill should pass with only five MPs opposed? It reads like an Iraqi general election under Saddam!

        Scientists, even activist scientists, may advise governments but they don’t usually advise individual MPs. The only thing that occurs to me (hence my comment about the devil and his PR) is that there was a concerted effort by our friends Greenpeace, Fiends of the Earth, et al to nobble every MP. If so, it worked.

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