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Obsessing Over Global Temperatures

December 18, 2018

By Paul Homewood



Ron Clutz picks up on a recent essay by Mike Hulme, formally of the UEA and Tyndall Centre.

In recent years, Hulme has shed a lot of the alarmism gathered in his earlier career.



Reification is the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness. It is a mental process by which someone comes to believe that an abstraction (idea or concept) is a material, physical object in the real world. Mike Hulme observes that many people are obsessing over global temperatures, not realizing they are abstractions and not things to be feared. He provides calm and sensible views regarding global temperature reporting. The post at his blog is Climatism and the Reification of Global Temperature. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Over the last 40 years global-mean surface air temperature – ‘global temperature’ for short – has gained an extraordinary role in the science, politics and public discourse of climate change. What was once a number crudely calculated through averaging together a few dozen reasonably well-spaced meteorological time series, has become reified as an objective entity that simultaneously measures Earth System behaviour, reveals the future, regulates geopolitical negotiations and disciplines the human imagination. Apart perhaps from GDP rarely can so constructed an abstract entity have gained such power over the human world.

All of this is very nicely illustrated in a new paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, titled ‘Predicted chance that global warming will temporarily exceed 1.5°C’. Doug Smith and 32 colleagues set out to develop a new capability to predict the likelihood that global temperature will exceed 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, for a variety of durations upwards from a month, in the coming five years. The assumed importance of the study is suggested by the author team mobilising climate modelling and analysis capabilities at 17 institutions in 9 different countries.

But why is such an early warning system deemed necessary or useful? What power is being imputed to small increments of global temperature to alert future danger?

Smith and colleagues argue that forewarning of temporary excursions of global temperature above a certain threshold—1.5°C is the normative threshold aspired to in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, even though 2°C is the threshold formally agreed—for periods even a little as a month is relevant for policy-makers. To make such a claim requires an extraordinary degree of abstraction.

Global temperature does not cause anything to happen. It has no material agency. It is an abstract proxy for the aggregated accumulation of heat in the surface boundary layer of the planet. It is far removed from revealing the physical realities of meteorological hazards occurring in particular places. And forecasts of global temperature threshold exceedance are even further removed from actionable early warning information upon which disaster risk management systems can work.

Global temperature offers the ultimate view of the planet—and of meteorological hazard—from nowhere.

I have argued elsewhere about the dangers of climate reductionism, a form of reasoning that lends disproportionate power in political and social discourse to climate model-based descriptions of the future. The adoption of forecasts of global temperature exceedance as an early warning index is a clear case of the related phenomenon of climatism. Similar to explanations of scientism—“the phenomenon whereby authority is implicitly granted to scientific and technical experts to define the meaning, scope and, by extension, [the] solution for public policy concerns”—climatism grants authority to an abstracted global climate, in this case to global temperature, to guide, direct and discipline human actions in the world.


Read the full essay here.

Just one thought that I would add.

The Smith paper referred to sets great significance on a global temperature of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. But why?

Even assuming we can measure global temperatures so accurately now, never mind back then, the simple fact is that is where we are now.

We know that global surface temperatures can fluctuate by half a degree or so, simply as a result of ENSO changes. There is nothing frightening at all about our climate now, so why should anybody be in the least concerned about the current global temperature?

  1. markl permalink
    December 18, 2018 10:44 pm

    “….why should anybody be in the least concerned about the current global temperature?…” because it serves the purpose of uniting people for a cause. In this case to save the world. What could be more noble? Any collateral damage from the propaganda is irrelevant as long as the goal is achieved which in this case is destruction of Capitalism and redistribution of the booty.

  2. nickreality65 permalink
    December 19, 2018 1:02 am

    For the greenhouse effect to work as advertised the surface of the earth must radiate as an ideal black body. However, the non-radiative heat transfer processes of the contiguous atmospheric air and water molecules render such ideal BB upwelling radiation impossible.

    Because the atmosphere and the albedo reflect away 30% of the incoming solar energy the earth is cooler compared to no atmosphere and does not warm it per greenhouse theory. Without the atmosphere the earth would receive 20% to 40% more kJ/h and be much like the moon, blazing hot on the lit side, bitter cold on the dark, a bone dry, gray, barren rock, nothing like NOAA’s frozen ball of snow and ice.

    No greenhouse effect, no carbon dioxide warming and no man caused climate change.

    • dave permalink
      December 19, 2018 8:17 am

      But Tyndall:

      “Remove for a single summer night the aqueous vapour from the air which overspreads this country and you would assuredly destroy every plant capable of being destroyed by freezing temperature. The warmth of our fields and gardens would pour itself unrequited into space and the sun would rise upon an island held fast in the iron grip of frost.”

      That is the greenhouse effect as advertised, except that Tyndall did not even bother to mention carbon dioxide because it was such a minor thing compared to water vapour; and when searching for an analogy Tyndall, more accurately, described the effect as being like having a blanket on the bed or – sometimes – as being like a local dam which ‘deepened’ the temperature at the surface but only delayed the inevitable heat overflow into space. (Scientists at that time still occasionally confused heat energy and temperature. They knew the distinction, but unconsciously fell back into the wrong ways.)

      Anyway, Tyndall thought it (global warming) was a jolly good thing.

      Tyndall would most assuredly have despaired of modern propagandist science:
      “Hard thinking and fleet talking do not run together.”

      • December 19, 2018 9:43 am

        The so-called “greenhouse effect” has nothing to do with why humidity (water vapour) prevents the ground from cooling at night. The water vapour contains huge latent energy which can only be radiated away very slowly to space at night. Take away the water vapour and there is next to nothing to prevent rapid radiative cooling of the surface, as we observe every might when humidity is low (paricularly in deserts) and there is little wind to bring in warm air from elsewhere.

      • paul weldon permalink
        December 19, 2018 1:35 pm

        Philip, from what I have read and learned over many years, I seem to have come up with a completely different understanding of the situation. Firstly that as a gas, water vapour does not have that latent energy that you mention. A damp air is something different, small drops of water are suspended in the atmosphere and although not visible as rain or cloud, do act as a liquid and hence can cause the effect you mention..
        Secondly, and with somewhat more uncertainty, it is very difficult to find a consistent definition of the greenhouse effect. Many take it to mean the result of the effect of GHGs alone, but the scientific version seems to tend towards the effect that the atmosphere as a whole has on temperatures as opposed to not having an atmosphere. From the second definition, the greenhouse effect would be real, as without an atmosphere there would be no water in the atmosphere. Hope that makes sense?

      • December 19, 2018 2:12 pm

        Here is a primer on the contemporary notion of greenhouse gas warming, along with observational evidence of it’s absence in our atmosphere.

  3. Stonyground permalink
    December 19, 2018 7:35 am

    “…destruction of Capitalism and redistribution of the booty.”

    After they have destroyed capitalism there won’t be any booty to redistribute. This is obvious to anyone who is not a lefty idiot.

  4. Harry Passfield permalink
    December 19, 2018 10:41 am

    I have said many times that calculating and relying on a GAT is as useful to climate science (as opposed to climate activism) as calculating the average of lottery balls drawn since 1994 and expecting it to give you an indication of what the next draw will produce.

  5. Jack Broughton permalink
    December 19, 2018 11:00 am

    What still amazes me is that “Scientists” can believe that the outpourings of models, that are full of approximations and assumptions, can be other than crude guidelines. The role of clouds is little understood, the ocean heat exchange barely explored and the even the effect of CO2 on radiant-forcing is based on old and incorrect science. The 2 deg K bogeyman is a further artefact, with no basis in science. The “climatic-reifiers” as Ron notes are not concerned about the facts, just having a holy cause.

    • December 19, 2018 1:22 pm

      As I completed my MA in plant taxonomy/ecology at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1969, computers were just coming on board. I returned in 1981 to begin my PhD in plant ecosystems. At that point, computers were now surging. There was one monitor in the big ecology lab where I entered my data to be processed by the mainframe.

      My major professor for both degrees was basically a taxonomist and principal author of “The Flora of the Carolinas,” but a darn good ecologist also. What I observed was the change in the ecology students from the late 1960’s to the early 1980’s. Instead of being in the field and learning the species and observing them au naturel, they were huddled in labs discussing the computer models. They were obsessed with “random” to the point they would put a plot in the middle of a stream if their random method chose that point. On the other hand, I was putting my plots where there was consistency throughout the plot–using a bit of common sense. I heard more discussion of methods and models than I heard about the species themselves. By this time, they eschewed learning species and were proud of it. It led to some interesting and rather embarrassing mistakes. They would ponder their models as to why a species was declining in an area. I could have walked by and said, “the deer ate them,” from my field experience.

      And this is how and why we got to where we are today. Computers and models have replaced knowledge and field experience.

      • JimW permalink
        December 19, 2018 4:31 pm

        Yes, throughout the world in every aspect of life, information has usurped wisdom. We are awash with data that no-one has the time or inclination ( or possibly the ability) to understand.
        There is a complete disconnect between the physical world and the digital world that we have created which now rules everything. We are living in a computer ‘game’.
        Soon we will find it hard to tell the difference because our only experiences will be digital.

    • Mike Jackson permalink
      December 19, 2018 1:50 pm

      The 2 degree “artefact” was a purely arbitrary figure plucked from the air — on his own admission — by Schellnhuber to keep the pollies happy. We all know how much they love some hard peg to hang their most recent piece of control freakery on.

      BMI <30, 21 units a week, 5-a-day. The list is endless. The question that no-one ever troubles to answer, and one that I think we ought to be posing every chance we get, is precisely what was the “pre-industrial temperature” which is the benchmark for this mythical 1.5° or 2° which will inexorably lead to Armageddon!

      And it appears from that Anders Levermann at Potsdam has put his foot in it by inadvertently quoting fiures that show that GAT is actually 0.5° lower than it was in 1850! Except, of course, that he can’t have done really because in 1850 there was no way to calculate anything that could reasonably be called a GAT, if only because nobody cared.

      Added to which … the IPCC has now defined the “start of the industrial age” as 1900 (so I understand) which conveniently shoves the problem back half-a-century and James Hansen himself has argued that a GAT “is not a useful metric” anyway!

      PS On a tangential topic can I point towards Donna Laframboise’s latest offering:

  6. Gerry, England permalink
    December 19, 2018 1:43 pm

    ‘Doug Smith and 32 colleagues’ ’17 institutions in 9 different countries’

    Standard trick used in producing useless reports. Remember Einstein – it only takes one.

  7. Tom Abbott permalink
    December 19, 2018 2:52 pm

    From the article: “We know that global surface temperatures can fluctuate by half a degree or so, simply as a result of ENSO changes.”

    Yes, the current temperatues are 0.6C cooler than the highpoint of Feb. 2016.

    They say we have already experienced an increase of 1C since 1850. I have to assume that 1C is based on the Feb. 2016 temperature highpoint, so we are currently experiencing only an 0.4C increase since 1850.

    “They” said we only had an additional 0.5C increase to go, on top of that 1C increase since 1850, before the Earth experienced CAGW disaster. Now we can breath a sigh of relieft because our margin of error is 0.9C instead of 0.5C. And the temperatures may be going lower.

    Unfortunately, after reading Dr. Spencer’s latest statement on human-caused CO2 warming of the atmosphere this morning, where he says he thinks *most* of the warming since 1950 could be human-caused, it looks to me like the only thing that is going to bust this CAGW fraud is for the temperatures to go lower.

    The only reason I can figure for Dr. Spencer making that statement is that he believes the Hockey Stick charts are an accurate representation of the past. If that’s the case, then how can we expect the average citizen to question the fraudulent surface temperature records?

    We are just going to have to wait for the temperatures to drop for an extended period of time while CO2 rises.

    I would have made this comment over at Dr. Spencer’s website, but he allows a person I can’t stand, to post there, so I don’t post there. He will probably crosspost his post to WUWT and I’ll have something to say then.

    • dave permalink
      December 20, 2018 8:04 am

      “We are just going to have to wait for the temperatures to drop…”

      Unfortunately, there already is a fall-back position, for which the sheeple have been successfully prepared by the “industry” or the “religion” (however one wants to describe it):

      “ANY change in weather is a change in climate and ANY change in climate is caused by humans and ANY change will incur the wrath of God or Gaia or whatever. And If no change is what happens, it DID actually change – and the scientists have ten explanations for the false impression that it did not change.”

      A problem with modern science is that everybody involved – including the fairly good guys like Dr Spencer – believe the nonsense that “Science is what scientists do.” So if someone with some sort of a science degree says something – however dumb – that has to be respected as part of science and all a non-scientist has to say is “(A) scientist says…” and the agenda is set, like the polarity of a permanent steel magnet.

      As a “contrarian” I should welcome my fellow citizens making a mistake from which I can presumably profit. But the present nonsense is too much like watching a toddler run into the road.

  8. Athelstan permalink
    December 19, 2018 5:10 pm

    for all the world climate changes, the truth about man made warming it is a myth, the inconvenience, and the problem: liars can and do, ceaselessly figure – it’s all politicians can do.

  9. Reasonable Skeptic permalink
    December 19, 2018 5:33 pm

    We are around a degree above industrial age temperatures now. Another 0.5 deg C and we are screwed!


    • Harry Passfield permalink
      December 19, 2018 9:12 pm

      ‘Yawn’, ye may, but that yawn will turn to a scream as those that control the narrative impose their ‘solution’ to mankind’s global warming ‘travails’ (not the first time a ‘solution has been imposed, methinks). In years to come – long after I’m gone, thank god – there will, I hope be ‘Nuremberg trials’ to convict the guilty. That is how serious I think this is. This is not – NOT – as academic fight.

  10. Eddie P permalink
    December 19, 2018 8:07 pm

    What is driving climate change, if such a thing is the disaster it is claimed to be, is something that no politician dares to mention. The basic and underlying driving force for all the observed effects is that as a species there are just to many of us for the planet to sustain. How long before there is someone brave enough to grasp the nettle?

    • December 19, 2018 8:50 pm

      What, like Pol Pot?

      No, but seriously: there are not too many people for the planet. The fact is that we could fit into a much smaller footprint than we do at present, leaving truly vast areas of pristine wilderness with no impact.

      Trouble is, as humans we won’t leave places be. We have to colonise, clear-cut the forests, build towns, and roads, and multiply. If a higher proportion of us lived in cities, I think the biosphere would thank us.

      • paul weldon permalink
        December 20, 2018 9:14 am

        But where do the cities get their needs from, certainly not the city. The countryside of course with the same effect on the environment ( covered in wind turbines?). The more people in the world, the more pressure on the environment. Leaving ‘pristine areas’ depends on there not being pressure to occupy/use them, and that can only be at the expense of other areas.

    • Mike Jackson permalink
      December 19, 2018 8:53 pm

      Where is your evidence for that claim, Eddie?

      The UN’s estimate is that world population will peak by mid-century and start to decline by 2200. There are models which project that some regions may be under-populated by 2250-2300.

      In the meantime it would be possible to give every living person one-quarter acre of land in Australia with some bits left over as well as the whole of the rest of the planet.

      Eight years ago, researchers at Harvard University led by Professor Calestous Juma published a book claiming that Africa was capable of feeding itself. And it could make the transition from hungry importer to self-sufficiency in a single generation. According to the book:

      • One in three Africans is chronically hungry in spite of almost £2bn being spent on food aid annually and ten times that amount being spent on food imports;

      • Africa is the only continent with land readily available to expand agriculture;

      • Southern Sudan alone could feed all Africans if it was properly developed.

      We are too quick to look at the situation in and around Greater London (for example) or to forget that drought is natural but famine is political and assume that all the world’s problems would be solved just by reducing numbers.

      • dave permalink
        December 20, 2018 8:13 am

        All I know is that 98% of the human race presently living came into this world after me, and I did not invite any of them to join me. Well, all right, my wife is much younger than me, and I am glad she came along…and I have to say I like my children…but APART FROM THEM…

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