Global Warming

Definition of Global Warming: 
A gradual increase in the earth's average surface temperature.
Common-usage definition:  Warming caused by human activity.          
Technical term for this:  Anthropogenic global warming.
Definition of Greenhouse Gas:  A gas, like CO2, which traps the sun's heat.
Definition of Global Carbon Pricing: A single price per ton of CO2 that all countries would try to achieve.
The debate:  Is the observed global warming natural or man made? The Answer.
Human causes:  Carbon dioxide (CO2), e.g. exhaust from cars and power plants.
Natural causes:  Some claim the sun is getting hotter (it's not). Cause unknown.

It's virtually impossible that none of it is caused by people, because we know we have increased CO2 in the air from 280 to 400 ppm, and we know CO2 (sometimes called "carbon'}has a warming effect. But there's still a very small chance that the effect is tiny. But there is no evidence that it's tiny.

U.S. Government Position:  The Energy Act of 2005 states: "the President shall establish a Committee on Climate Change Technology [which] shall submit to the Secretary and the President a national strategy to promote the deployment and commercialization of greenhouse gas intensity reducing technologies and practices."

History:  In 1896 Svante Arrhenius (1903 Nobel Prize in Chemistry) predicted thedecrease in CO2 needed to cause past ice ages. He wasn't far off, and it is not a large decrease. This helped confirm the 1859 prediction that human-producedincreases in CO2 would cause just the reverse: global warming.

What's to be done? A global problem requires a global solution, and that requires countries to cooperate. The science of games and strategies explains what leads to cooperation and what doesn't. The basic situation—what each country does helps that country very little—is a classic game call the prisoner's dilemma. And the prisoners do not cooperate. Unfortunately the Kyoto approach actually makes the problem worse. But a better design leads to cooperation, as explained in the Green Fund Game.


What Causes Global Warming (climate change), human activity or the sun? The final answer is not in, but you can see the results so far. (1) Exhaust is clearly the source of CO2. (2) Everyone now agrees the earth is warming. (3) Decide for yourself if warming is better explained by CO2, or the sun's heat.



Stoft  2005 09 hurricane global warming-S

The Effects of Global Warming. We can see the long-term effects coming in the melting of polar ice and glaciers. But apowerful trend in Atlantic hurricane data indicates we can already see the impact. Katrina was partly the result of a normal weather cycle, but that cannot explain away stronger hurricanes world wide.




Can we Stop Global Warming?
It's too late for that, but we can slow it down and lessen its effects. CO2 does not last as long in the air as was once thought, so the big problem is slowing human use of fossil energy, especially coal. (Especially since CO2 goes into the ocean and destroys coral reefs.)  Here's the latest think on how to reach an international agreement that would really work to stop climate change. That agreement would set a global carbon price.



The Answer

Environmentalists "know" that we are wrecking the climate, and we are doomed.

The deniers "know" that we are not.

The right answer: We don't know which it will be, but we should not risk the Earth while waiting for the scientists. The U.N. Report disaggree's with both sides. It says there's a 90% change that half of the warming since 1950 was caused by people. That means there's a 10% chance that global warming will be much milder than the environmentalists claim.

My view (11/1/2011), after reading extensively and having some science background, is that it's about as likely to be three times milder than environmentalists claim as to be as bad as they say. I'm a bit of a skeptic. Its not unreasonable to be somewhat more pessimistic or optimistic than the UN report.

So what does all this tell us? Everyone pays good money to buy insurance against things that probable won't happen -- like their house burning down, or running over someone while driving, or a horrible illness. We don't wait and see. You can buy a new house. You can't find a new Earth.

What to do. We should take action now. But the good news is that at the start it's cheap — if you are smart about it. The problem with the environmentalists is that they don't care about wasting money for a good cause. I agree the cause it good, but it's a sin (and politically foolish) to waste other people's money.

They will claim they don't. But I'm an economist, and I've worked with Environment Canada, The World Bank, the Union of Concerned scientist, and the UK's Dept. of Energy and Climate Change, and I've done lots of research in this area. Believe me, the environmentalist are the worst money wasters this side of crony capitalism. But just because they are stupid about this, does not mean we should risk the Earth. It just means we need better environmentalists.


McKibben 350

McKibben's July 2012 Roling Stone article "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math" tosses out scary numbers such as "Saudi authorities reported that it had rained in Mecca despite a temperature of 109 degrees, the hottest downpour in the planet's history." Really? In the history of planet Earth?!

Perhaps' the hottest rain since Mecca started keeping temperature records of rainstorms. Before that, who knows? But say this was the hottest rain in a couple hundered years. What does that prove. Nothing actually. It simply indicates the world is likely hotter in th 21st centurey than in the 20th. But even most climate skeptics know this. And rain when it's 109 — praise Alah. Terrifying math?

Checking on 350 — McKibben's #1 Number

McKibben named his mass movement 350 — "The most important number in the world." Did he get that right? He says scientist agree we must not exceed this level of carbon dioxide in the air -- 350ppm. It's worth doing the math to see who McKibben really is. It's pretty simple. back in 1770, CO2 was at 280ppm. Ever since Jimmy Carter asked MIT to study global warming, climate scientist have been estimating their most important number — the climate sensitivity. Here it is: If you double the CO2 (from 280) the temperature will increase by 3°C. Now for the math:

  1. 350 – 280 = 70  (Bill's limit on the CO2 increase)
  2. An increase of 280ppm would cause a 3°C temperature increase (science).
  3. An increase of 70 ppm would cause 70/280 = 1/4 as much temperature increase.
  4. Going to 350 would cause a global warming of 1/4 of 3°C = 3/4°C.

So McKibben is claiming that the scientific consensus tells us that we must hold the temperature increase to 3/4°C and no more.

In fact, the UN climate scientists refused to name any limit, although they hinted a limit of 2°C until 2013, and then, yes, they said 2°C just as expected.

That's 2.7 times greater than McKibben has told his followers. Never once has he mentioned that most scientists disagree with him.

McKibben Notes

Naming Hurricanes (funny, but misleading)


26:20 They produced a paper that's probably the most important scientific of the millenium to date, it said we know enough about carbon, any value in the atmosphere greater than 350 parts per million is not compatible with the planet on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted. That's strong language for scientists to use.

Well it sounds strong, but does it mean anything strong.  "to which life on earth is adapted" So that means that there will be some adaption if the world is about 1 degree warmer on average for that last couple thousand years or something like that. It does not mean anything ever remotely cataclysmic will happen. In fact it does not mean that anything would happen that most people would even notice. "not compatible with the planet on which civilization developed." Well that planet was Earth (not Eaarth) and that planet has flourished with far warmer temperatures. So that part of the statement is just flat wrong. But Hansen (unlike McKibben can't write) so perhaps he meant to write 350 is not compatible with the development of civilization. But how could it know this, and why would anyone think this is true? Why couldn't civilization develop just fine one degree warmer? So what we have is a statement that sound very scary and is presented as being very scary but it essentially meaningless. And McKibben has the quote memorized and uses it over and over.
Same explanation advertized as The explanation of 350.  What McKibben does not say recently but I hear from him, maybe in an email, was that he asked Hansen to produce that number.
The temp during the Eemian (previous interglacial period) was much (5C) warmer than today for about 3,000, and Greenland did not melt.
This gives us an idea of what it's really about: 
The tipping level is easier to assess, because the paleoclimate equilibrium response to known 
climate forcing is relevant. The tipping level is a measure of the long-term climate forcing that 
humanity must aim to stay beneath to avoid large climate impacts. The tipping level does not 
define the magnitude or period of tolerable overshoot. However, if overshoot is in place for 
centuries, the thermal perturbation will so penetrate the ocean (10) that recovery without 
dramatic effects, such as ice sheet disintegration, becomes unlikely.
All of Hansens data is paleoclimate data, so it can't say much about phenomena that take less than a few centuries.
What he thinks he's found is that if we exceed 350 for a few centuries the long-run feedbacks (heat build up in the oceans) will get us.
McKibben of course gives absolutely no hint of this, and probably doesn't get it. 
He just quotes the line from the abstract discussed above.
Hanson obliged and gave him what he wanted -- a round, low number with potentially horrible consequences after a millenium or so.
(Although I don't really think Hansen even knows that, and I've seen no indication that any other scientist has corroborated this.
7:40 So far we've raised the sea-level of the Atlantic off the coast of New York a foot.
I would lay heavy odds that this is a lie. I call it a lie and not a mistake because Hansen is one of the top experts in sea level and is very close to McKibben.
Shall we check that are to you agree that that number is unsupportable?
0:56 ... on a biblical scale. Last summer the arctic melted.
"We should be naming hurricanes after oil companies."  Because hurricanes are caused by global warming?
5:25 So far the temperature's only increased 1 degree, and look look at what happens to finely balanced systems even with that small change. You begin to see phenominon, like saw this summer across the midwest, July was the warmest month ever recording in the United States any month any year and it accompanied this epic drought, a drought so deep the 70% of the country is now in a federally declared drought, a drought so deep that they said today for the first time in 38 years America will less grain than it consumes this year, a drought so deep that the price of corn and soybeans up about 40% in the last 10 or 11 weeks. 
endlessly weird weather: no tornados
op-ed extreme weather is obviously 

In my reading, though Roberts is clearly more “realistic” politically, Gelbspan’s desperate demand for convulsive change displays a more acute realism, one informed by deep immersion in climate science.  June 10, 2004, NYRB

"Deep immersion in climate science"? I doubt that's what led to a "desperate demand for convulsive change."


Bill McKibben: The interesting thing about this movement is it really has no leader at all. I, as you can tell, am the furthest thing from an activist leader. I'm a writer. 

As you can tell from this quote, black is white.

Not true

He seems like an honest, homespun almost religious guy. But ...

McKibben's web site claims he is the founder[#1] and chairman of board of But he told Bloomberg, "I, as you can tell, am the furthest thing from an activist leader." This makes us wonder if he might be playing some word games with his climate claims.

Here you can see McKibben (0:50) say, "... the truth is the things the scientiest worried about then are happening faster and on a bigger scale, on a biblical scale. Last summer the arctic melted." So, did the arctic melt in 2012?

McKibben must have meant the sea ice. The area of sea ice that used to melt away (1979-2000) was about 55% every year. Then it would return in winter. But it's been melting more lately. In 2012, it melted 5% more than in 2007, the previous maxium melt. But there was about 23% of the winter ice area left. So yes, that artic melted -- it always melts in summer. But no, it did not completely melt in 2012. Yes this is from global warming, but why mislead people like that? 



[=1] He also claims to be the co-founder, but never says who his partner was.
[=PopNotes] Just hover over green-underline links above to see the "pop" notes.


Smart Republicans

The extreme weather of 2011 and 2012 has conservatives changing their mind. As one weatherman points out, it could be true, even if Al Gore says it is.

Skeptic Says Hot

Republican scientists supporting global warming include Prof. Kerry Emanuel of MIT who was inundated with hate mail after identifying himself in a video as a conservative and voicing concerns about the GOP denial of climate change. Prof. Barry Bickmore, a Mormon, is a geochemist at Brigham Young University and has represented the GOP in local politics. Prof. Richard Alley is the author of a plethora of peer-reviewed papers on climate change and has offered expert testimony to Congress on several occasions. Prof. Calvin DeWitt, is a co-signer of the Evangelical Climate Initiative, a statement from high-profile evangelicals calling for concerted action to battle global warming. Finally, Prof. Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist, is an evangelical married to a pastor. Newt Gingrich notoriously dropped a chapter she wrote from his latest book on the environment after Rush Limbaugh referred to her as a "climate babe."

Spencer Has No Comment
October 15, 2010. Dr. Roy Spencer is, for my money, the most respectable climate skeptic—a genuine climate scientist. He published "The Great Global Warming Blunder: How Mother Nature Fooled the World's Top Climate Scientists," in April 2010.
There are 4 main global temperature series and Roy follows his (cool) favorite, a U.S.-satellite based series. It's been accumulating data since December 1978. To smooth out the data hiccups, Roy plots a 13-month running average. That's his version of "How hot has the last year been?" That average just reached its highest level ever, as you can almost see in the graph below. I downloaded his data to make the exact comparison.
Sept. 2009 -- Sept. 2010 = 0.511  -- New record.
Dec.  1997 -- Dec.  1998 = 0.502  -- Previous record.
Remarkably, Dr. Spencer makes no mention of this all-time record set by his favorite temperature series, either on his home page xlnk.gif (where he draws attention to the cooling ocean due to La Nina) or on his temperature-graph xlnk.gif page. However we do find this remark on his home page: "Past experience ... dictates that the global tropospheric temperature, still riding high at +0.60 deg. C for September, must cool in response to the cool ocean conditions. But given Mother Nature’s sense of humor, I’ve given up predicting when that might occur."
Hmmm. Perhaps his new book is somewhat autobiographical, and one of the "Top Climate Scientists Fooled by Mother Nature," has been Dr. Roy Spencer. Here's his graph:

Full size graph xlnk.gif.  And here's the image of his comment:

Now, to tell the whole story, you should know that if Roy used a 12-month average (I asked him a year ago why 13, but got no reply) this would not yet be the hottest year ever, but if the globe is as warm next month as this month (remember it's going toward summer in the southern hemisphere), then the 12-month average will also hit an all-time record.
When 1998 set the record we were in an unusually hot El Nino, and sun was near average temperature. Now we are in a La Nina (cool) and the sun is the coolest it's been in decades. So this seems like it does out-do 1998. I guess mother nature is just determined to trick us into thinking that we're warming up the globe.


Hansen's Answer

Warmer by  +3°C  if we double  CO2

James Hansen's new book, Storms xlnk.gif explains—better than any other non-technical source—how we know that climate change is strong and real. But it's still tricky. So zFacts will simplify it for you here on this page and some sub-pages (for footnotes).
The key climate question is:

"How sensitive is the climate to greenhouse gases?
This is called "climate sensitivity" and it's usually described by how much the Earth will warm if we double the CO2 from what it was in 1750. Hansen's answer is that the Earth would warm 3°C, or 5.4°F. So far we've increased CO2 from 280 to 387 ppm, or 38%, so we should have already warmed 1.1°C, or 2°F. That's a little more than we've seen so far, but that could be because of natural fluctuations or man-made counter-effects, such as small sulfur particles from coal-fired power plants in China—they cool the Earth as volcanoes do.
How does Hansen find the answer?
He looks at what happened as the Earth warmed up from the last ice age.
1. It warmed 5°C from 20,000 years ago (ice age) until 1750.
2. Two things caused that, (1) less ice, and (2) more greenhouse gases (GHGs).
3. Less ice caused 3.5 Watts of "climate forcing" and GHGs caused 3 Watts.
4. So 6.5 Watts causes a 5°C temperature increase, or 3/4° per Watt.
5. Doubling CO2 will cause 4 Watts of forcing, so that's 3°C of warming.

Three Scientific (non-partisan) Books.  Fresh, Ultra-Competent and Surprising
Storms of My Grandchildren xlnk.gif Hansen's struggle to get the word out on the new climate evidence. He criticizes Republicans for suppressing science and Democrats for blocking the solution. But most important, he explains the new evidence on climate.
Carbonomics xlnk.gif Written a year ago, Stoft explains the reasons Copenhagen is failing and prescribes a simple fix. He also explains Hansen's fully refunded carbon tax.
Sustainable Energy—No Hot Air xlnk.gif MacKay, a brilliant and humorous physicist, Chief UK Scientific Advisor for Climate Change. As forthright as the other two.
All Three Support Effective Action But Rethink What's Really Needed

Why is Hansen's method believable? These are all the main steps in the calculation, but each one requires several smaller steps to gain a better understanding. These are explained below and on sub-pages. But first, why is this approach (paleoclimate science) better than the huge climate models?
Because it gets the feedbacks right. What are feedbacks? For example, say GHGs warm the Earth by 1°. Warm air holds more water (and cold air less—which is why your lips chap in the winter) so there is more water in the air when temperature increases. Water is a greenhouse gas, so it warms the Earth more, say 1/2°. So the air holds more water. The Earth warms another 1/4°, etc., etc. and the grand total is 2° even though the CO2 only warmed the Earth 1° directly.
Some (positive) feedbacks (like water vapor) amplify the warming while others (negative feedbacks) do the reverse. Some are very tricky—like cloud formation—so the big models cannot get them all calculated right. But when the Earth warmed up in the last 20,000 years all the feedbacks happened and so Hansen's approach takes every feedback into account in exactly the proportion as they actually occurred.
The data are reliable. The required data are tricky, but they are self checking. Scientists have data on the ups and downs of temperature for the last 400,000 years (4 ice ages) from sampling ice that is a couple of miles deep in Antarctica. It's that old at the bottom. And trapped in the ice is a bit of air from that long ago. So they can see what GHGs were in the air.
Now here is the check. They work out (1) how much ice, (2) GHGs, and (3) the Earth's temperature. Then they use a quite-simple formula to predict temperature from ice and GHGs for 400,000 years, and the predicted temperature fits the ups and downs of the measured temperatures amazingly well. You can see for yourself. It's just too amazing to be coincidence.
Under construction Dec. 12, 2009.


Ice-Age Data


Things to Note

1. In graph (c), "Observations" (of global temperature) and "Calculated Temperature" match so well that there is no chance this is 400,000 years coincidence.
[Observed temperature is determined from the ratio of heavy hydrogen (deuterium) to normal hydrogen in antarctic snow. The extent of ice is based on sea level which is determined from sea level based on Red Sea sediment cores. Greenhouse gases (CO2 and methane) are measured from Antarctic Vostok ice cores.]


1. Warmed 5°C

Step 1 is simply to measure the Earths warming compared to the last ice age. Part of that was due to the increase in CO2 and the trick will be to find out how much of it.
Temperature over the last 400,000 years has been measured in Antarctica by extracting a core (a cylinder a few inches in diameter) of ice about two miles deep. The ice is made up of year after year of snowfall, so it contains a sample of snow from most of those years.
Snow is water is H20, hydrogen and oxygen. But both H and O come in two varieties, heavy and light. Heavy hydrogen (1 proton and 1 neutron) weighs twice as much as normal hydrogen and it's call deuterium. (Heavy Oxygen has two extra neutrons, but is only 18/16 as heavy as regular Oxygen). In both cases the ratio of heavy to normal atoms in snow varies with temperature. So by looking at (mainly) the ratio of deuterium to normal hydrogen in the ice they can determine the temperature when it snowed.
Since temperature changes most at the poles, the change was actually about 10°C, and Hansen divided that by two to give a rough but decent estimate of the average temperature change of the earth as a whole.
For a possible source of the 10°C value see ORNL xlnk.gif which mentions that the overall amplitude of the glacial-interglacial temperature change is ~8°C for atmospheric temperatures above the inversion level and ~12°C for surface temperatures.


2. Less Ice

Step 2 just says that the warming from the last ice age was caused by two things: less ice and more GHGs. That's not too surprising, since those are about the only things that could do it, but we're all curious about how it worked, so here's the story.

About 100,000 years ago, the world was comfortably warm like it is now. And then for 80,000 years it slowly slid into a deep ice age, during which the place where New York City is now was covered with ice 1000 feet thick.
Then it began to warm, the ice began to melt and greenhouse gases (GHGs) started to increase. But what caused what? Some think the GHGs caused the earth to warm, but then what caused the GHGs to increase? When people learn that the warming came first, this confuses them, and they think that proves GHGs did not warm the Earth. But here's the way it actually happened, starting from when there was maximum ice.
1. The Earth's orbit and/or axis changed.
Orbital and axis changes happen in complicated cycles. It's not that the earth gets closer to the sun and heats up; we are stuck at our average distance. (Also, since the earth is almost a perfect sphere, small changes in the axis make almost no difference to how much sunlight we get.) What changes is the seasons. If the summers get hotter and the winters get colder then more ice melts in the summer and less ice forms in the winter because when it's very cold the air can't hold enough water to snow much.
So, the orbit/axis change does not make the earth warmer on average it just makes the glaciers covering the top part of the U.S. and Canada melt away and not re-form in the winter.
2. Less ice makes the Earth warmer.
Ice is cold, right? So when it goes away, we warm up. Well, actually, NO. That's not it. It can be bitterly cold with no ice or snow. What makes us warm is absorbing sunlight. If you wear black, you will get hotter in the sun than if you wear white. When the ice melts, the earth starts wearing more green and brown -- not black, but darker than snow white. So the Earth reflects less and absorbs more sunlight and warms up.
3. Warmer waters lose their fizz (CO2)
Pour some Coke in two pans. Get one quite warm on the stove. Cool it off and taste the Coke from both pans. The one you heated has less fizz. Fizz is carbon dioxide / GHG / greenhouse gas / CO2 / CO2. It's great stuff. But (1) it likes to dissolve in water (Coke and oceans), (2) it's what plants breath in to grow, and (3) when it's in the air it helps keep us warm. There is not much fizz in the ocean compared to Coke on a per-can basis. You can't taste it. But oceans are big (and deep) and when they warm a little bit a lot of CO2 can come out. That started happening. The Earth's warming caused more CO2 in the atmosphere. That's why the warming comes first!
4. CO2 causes warming, and around we go
But it works both ways -- warmer oceans release CO2 and CO2 warms the Earth and its oceans. This is a vicious circle. Scientists call it a "positive feedback."
(Positive mean "more," and this feedback loop is a more-more-more loop. Negative feedback is like your home's thermostat: more heat in the room makes the thermostat turn off the furnace and you get less heat from the furnace. Or less room heat causes more furnace heat. So strangely "negative feedbacks" are good because they are stabilizing, and "positive feedback" are bad because they are destabilizing.)
Fortunately the more-CO2-more-warmth feedback loop only tends to be destabilizing. It is not strong enough to get out of control. So this vicious cycle adds to, or amplifies, the warming that gets us out of the ice age. It roughly doubles the warming.
5. That's it for Step 2.


Quick History

The Amazing History of Global-Warming Science 
John Tyndall, an English scientist in the forefront of the ice-age debate of the 1800’s, wondered how the climate could have changed so much. He suspected the atmosphere, which was known to have the ability to trap the sun’s heat. Working in his laboratory, in 1859 he found the most important greenhouse gas was water vapor (H2O), but that carbon dioxide (CO2) was also effective.

In 1896 Arrhenius completed a laborious numerical computation which suggested that cutting the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by half could lower the temperature in Europe some 4-5°C (roughly 7-9°F) — that is, to an ice age level.

In the 1990’s French and Russian scientists extracted a mile and a half deep ice core from Antarctica. Analysis by an international team found that over the four ice-age cycles in the last 400,000 years, CO2 dropped in step with the temperature but only by about one third, not one half. That could easily be because other greenhouse gases changed with CO2. This is either confirmation of the 1896 prediction, or an amazing coincidence.


The Debate


Global Warming — 90% Sure

That's what the IPCC says (the UN climate scientists). How sure are you that your house is going to burn down this year? 90%? More like 0.1%. So I'm sure you don't buy [#fire insurance] That's the position of climate-change deniers.

Climate Predictions More Uncertain than You Think

By Steven Stoft, January 23, 2009

OK, I can't read your mind. But most people think climate change will definitely bring disaster, or definitely be a nothingburger. As the Washington Post xlnk.gif explains, there's even more uncertainty than the UN shows in their graphs—and that's a lot.
Here's the worry I explain in Carbonomics. A lot of global-warming activists say, "Just look, you can see it happening." So they're smarter than a 1000 scientists who still have doubts? Nature plays its tricks—and pretty soon it will play a cooling trick and all those activists who said "just look" will have to eat their words. Better to make the real point. We're all unsure! But if there's a 10% chance of a world catastrophe, it's good to take precautions. Don't be an idiot who says you know we're safe. You don't.

Temperature Trends in the Lower Atmosphere: Steps for Understanding and Reconciling Differences   5/02/06  report xlnk.gif

A newly published report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration finds that there is no discrepancy in global average temperature increase.  "This is an important revision to and update of the conclusions of earlier reports from the U.S. National Research Council and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change."

"[R]esearch ... shows clear evidence of human influences on the climate systemdue to changes in greenhouse gases, aerosols, and stratospheric ozone. Also, the observed patterns of change over the past 50 years cannot be explained by natural processes alone, nor by the effects of short-lived atmospheric constituents such as aerosols and tropospheric ozone alone."


The debate has shifted. Global-Warming deniers used to say the earth is not warming; now they look to natural causes for why it's warming. First among these is the sun. (Definition of global warming)

The sun does get warmer and cooler every eleven years with the sun-spot cycle. It's actually hotter when it has more spots even thought the spots are cool. They are accompanied by hot spots which are not as easy to see. But the earth has not been found to warm and cool in step with the sun spot cycle, so deniers are forced to look for cycles of cycles and trends in the cycles. In fact, there is something to this. During the little ice age, back in the 1500's there were very few sun spots. But the bottom line is, the global warming of the last thirty years is not explained by solar warming.

Many have denied big hurricanes are part of global warming, but their arguments carefully miss the point. They say we are in a natural upswing. Yes, but it's much bigger than the last one. They say it's caused by Atlantic currents. Yes, but hurricanes are also stronger in the other five hurricane basins around the world. (Read a translation of a NOAA denial.)

There is a scientific consensus. It is that the last 30 years of global warming is, to a considerable extent, the result of human generated carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane. Even the Pentagon commissioned a report xlnk.gif on "Abrupt Climate Change."


[=fire insurance=] "I don’t want to wait around until the house burns down till I decide whether it’s a serious fire or not."  —Oilman T. Boone Pickens on climate change, 2008.


Top 10 Facts

1.  How sure?  90% that humans caused at least half the warming since 1950.

  • From the UN's report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
2.  How hot?  2000-2009 was hottest decade, about 1º F hotter than in 1970.
3.  CO2 dumping?  About 1000 tons/second into the air—2011 sets the record.
4.  CO2 level?  Highest in 650,000 years. 11% increase till 1950, now 40%.
5.  Sea level?  About 1 inch rise so far, but it could get serious by 2100.
6.  China?  Emits about 40% more CO2 than the US.
7.  Impact?  When Earth was 9ºF cooler, ice over NY City was 2000 feet thick.
  • There is a decent chance the Earth will get 9º F hotter by the 2100.
8.  Cost?  A 20% reduction is cheap: about $0.16 per person per day.
  • Assumes a $30/ton CO2 tax would work after a few years.
  • Assumes the environmentalists do not abscond with the revenues.

9.  The problem?  US and China need to cooperate.

  • If they cooperated, it's almost sure the Europe, Australia, Japan, and India would go along.

10.  Why  failure?  Environmentalists use scare tactics and command & control.

  • The biggest mistake has been for the rich countries to try to cap the poor countries.
  • The US and Europe tried to cap India at the level of emissions (per person) of the US sometime before 1850.
  • Contrary to environmentalists, caps are not the only way. Economists don't even think they are the best form of commitment.

Why Worry?

As the deniers say, the science is unsettled. We don't know for sure. It might not be terrible. But the same goes for your house catching fire, a terrorist attack, or a heart attack. So we take precautions and we buy insurance. Science tells us all we need to know: There's a decent chance we are wrecking the earth. The idea that we should not spend even the 16 cents per person per day that it would take to make a good start on the problem, is not just crazy, it's evil. It's source is the greed of big oil and big coal, although most people are honestly confused. But it's way past time to stop and think.

Warming Causes

There's a good case that the warming of the last 30 years (about 1°F) is human-caused. Here are the three steps.

Human emissions of CO2 predict the increased atmospheric CO2 almost perfectly for the last 250 years.


Is the earth really getting warmer?Yes, and there is complete agreement among several differnent temperature records that in the last 30 years it has warmed dramatically. (See the oldest record of measured temperatures.)


Did the CO2 cause the global warming?We can't be absolutely sure. Here's the best graph of CO2 and global temperature. The only other known contender is the sun, so check that next.


Is the sun causing it? We now have 27 years of accurate solar temperature data from NASA satellites. Although the sun has changed climate in the past, it looks like it is not the culprit this time.


Carbon Dioxide

Linked to Human Activity

What do we know for sure?  We know for a fact that CO2 levels are rising and that human activity is the cause.

How do we know this?  A simple calculation. Let's start with the year 1750, generally accepted as the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when the standard measure for CO2 levels was 278ppmv. We'll begin then, add the known level of human-generated CO2 for that year, then subtract 2.84% of the excess CO2 – because that's how fast nature tries to restore the balance. If we do this for 255 years, up to 2005, we get the pink line in the graph below. It fits the black line – the actual CO2 level – like a glove.


How accurate is this fit? Considering the difficulties of gathering data from centuries past, amazingly close. We know, for example, that up until 1950, deforestation was putting about as much CO2 into the atmosphere as were burning fossils, but it's not easy to know how many trees were chopped down in, say, 1850, and how much CO2this put into the air. In spite of imperfect data, the fact that a simple calculation predicts the extraordinary shape of actual CO2 so well is clear evidence this can not be a coincidental convergence. Human CO2 emissions must have caused the upsurge is atmospheric CO2.

So what?  The link between human activity and rising CO2 levels is the first step. The next one is between CO2 and global warming. That was predicted over 100 years ago, but the evidence has become convincing only very recently. ZFacts will be adding pages about this during February, 2006.


Fossil Fuel data are from the U.S. DOE, including an estimate that fossil fuel emissions will increase at 1.2% per year until 2030. We assume this rate to 2050. However, the average rate for the last 5 years was about 1.9%, so this may be optimistic. Cement manufacture also releases CO2 from the rocks it processes, so that source is tracked separately.

More electric power plants run on coal than oil, natural gas or hydro-power, but burning coal produces CO2, one of the gases that cause global warming. New and more expensive technology makes it possible to build coal-burning power plants that could be adapted to "sink" the CO2 underground to keep it out of the atmosphere. Builders of new power plants are divided on using the new technology or just polishing up the old for less money. Proponents of both are pushing for government blessing.more

Amazing "Synfuel".pdf Gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and other petroleum products can be made from coal. The conversion process removes greenhouse gases, sulfur, mercury and arsenic; a synfuel plant can generate electricity, make synthetic natural gas and even hydrogen. Ordinary engines can use it. Montana has 120 billion tons of coal which would make the equivalent of one quarter of the oil under the Middle East. Do we need Montana?

Mining Under the Radar.pdf  A proposed Canadian mine would endanger Glacier and Waterton Parks, Flathead Lake and that is just a start.

Synthetic Fuel.pdf  Dreams of reinventing both small town Montana and the fossil fuel industry.



It's now official, 2005 was the hottest year on record. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ( has just updated global temperatures from 1890 to 2005, and 2005 beat out 1998 by a hair. Global-warming skeptics had dismissed 1998 as due to an unusually strong El Niño, but 2005 was not. Moreover, 2005 was the coolest solar year since 1987.

Global Temperatures 1975-2005
Central-England-Temperatures from 1650

Above. This is a plot of average annual temperatures based on measurements made at the time starting in 1659. The temperatures from 1975--2005 have been corrected for urban warming. The dark line is a smoothed version of the annual data.

Below. "In February, 2006 NCDC/NOAA transitioned to the use of an improved Global Land and Ocean data set." These new global temperatures slightly different from those previously posted. They are freely available at oa/climate/research/anomalies/anomalies.html

global temperature 1860-2005

C02 is Cause

carbon dioxide vs global temperature graph

Local and global weather has always fluctuated and always will, so global warming cannot be expected to be a smooth process. But what can be seen above is that half of all man-made CO2 has been put into the air since 1975, and that matches the one-degree F global temperature increase since 1975 rather well.

This is not proof of that the CO2 caused the warming. But, if CO2 did not cause it, we have a somewhat unusual coincidence. As seen on the temperature page this thirty-year temperature increase is unusual. There was only one temperature swing of this size in the oldest thermometer record which dates back 350 years, and it was a down swing. Upswings of this magnitude would seem to happen only about once in 700 years, and this one happened right in step with human CO2 production.


Caution:  The match of the CO2 and temperature graph above is somewhat deceptive. Since one is temperature and one is CO2 they cannot be graphed on the same axis, so the two axes have been adjusted to align the two. However this process does not change the fact that temperature rose faster from 1975 to now than from 1880 to 1975, and so did CO2. It also cannot change the fact the temperature has been highest recently and so has CO2.

The slight downward trend in temperature from about 1945 until about 1975 is due to the increase in Sulfate Aerosols (SO4), largely produced by burning coal that contains sulfur. These cool the earth, and their increase during these years largely canceled the increase in CO2 during the same period.


Solar Heating

Good Article on solar effect xlnk.gif.

Solar output and Earth's temperatures

The nay-sayers admit the globe has warmed but deny it is the result of human activity. They say it is caused by the sun getting warmer. In fact it is quite likely that changes in the sun's temperature do cause changes in the the Earth's temperature. But that does not prove the current temperature increase is caused by the sun.

Starting in late 1978, NASA began monitoring the sun's power output from space. This increased the accuracy of such measurement by more than 10 times and produce the first accurate record of Total Solar Irradiance (TSI), which is astro-speak for total solar power reaching the earth.

Sun spots, though cool, are indicators of solar storms which have hot spots, so when there are more sun spots the sun is hotter than usual. Sunspots go in 11 year cycle and so does the sun's heat as can be seen above. But since the record began there appears to be no connection between solar heat and global temperature. The swings in solar heat at first appear to keep step with temperature, but the earth's temperature gets ahead of the sun to the point where in 2000, the earth's temperature hits a valley exactly when the sun's temperature reaches a peak. Moreover, the solar ups and downs are huge compared with any possible trend, while the earth's ups and downs are minor compared with its trend.

The consensus among astrophysicists studying this connection is that, while some (but not all) historical climate changes were probably significantly influenced by the sun, the present upswing is due mainly to human activity.


Warming Effects

What's Going on with Hurricanes?

With Wilma, 2005 ties 1933 for the year with the most (21) named storms (going back to 1851). The difference is that 1933 had no category 4 or 5 storms while 2005 had two category 4s and three category 5s—an all-time record for 5s. What's going on?

The Increase in Hurricane Strength is World-Wide
Partly it may be bad luck and partly it's a predictable, decades-long Atlantic hurricane cycle. But that does not mean global warming isn't part of it. The recent Sciencearticle found a similar increase in category 4 and 5 hurricanes in all six hurricane basins world wide. That's not from the Atlantic cycle, and it's very unlikely to be just bad luck.

To say how much impact global warming is having, two questions must be answered.
• How much has human activity warmed tropical oceans?
• How much does hurricane destructiveness increase per degree of warming?

Human-Caused Warming Has Been Very Slight
The consensus is that tropical oceans are about 0.5° C (slightly less then 1° F) warmer. This is so little that computer models of hurricanes predict only a very slight increase in hurricane power. 

But Hurricanes are Very Sensitive to Tropical Sea Temperature
That’s where Dr. Kerry Emanuel’s Nature article comes in. He did not look for global warming; he just looked at how hurricane power has related to tropical sea temperature for the last 61 years. His data show the computer models are wrong, and a 0.5° C causes a much larger impact.  

What's the bottom line? 

Global warming is obviously melting glaciers in Montana's Glacier Park and the Canadian Rockies, but the warming is so slow that no major effect has been demonstrated. The consensus is that since 1900, the oceans have warmed by slightly less than 1 degree F and the climate slightly more.

But hurricanes are different. Small changes in tropical sea temperatures shut them off completely every winter. In the 1930s-50s Atlantic hurricanes were intense and then tapered off to a low in the 1970s. The cycle reversed, and by the mid-1990s they were back. Most of this was caused by a natural ocean cycle, a fall and rise in sea temperature of about 1 degree fahrenheit that has been going on for centuries. But this time, it's more intense and the temperature is higher than last time. The difference appears to be caused by a little global warming, but with hurricanes, the consequence is not small.

The multi-decade Atlantic ocean cycle that the goverment likes to blame for all of the change is real. But it can't explain why hurricane intensity has risen even more in five other hurricane basins, two in the Indian Ocean, two in the North Pacific and one in the South Pacific. There's a chance the science is wrong and this is nothing unusual.  But there's a better chance we're seeing the first large-scale impact of global warming.

In spite of the natural ocean cycle and global warming, the dramatic increases in US hurricane damage is mainly due to the increases in coastal populations since the 1940s. Because hurricanes are so unpredictable, no specific cost can be attributed to global warming. This means it is just as wrong to say there has been no cost as to say it was 20% or 40% of hurricane damage in recent years. Without global warming, Katrina almost certainly would not have happened, but something else would have, and it might have been worse ... or better. We just don't know.

What's Going on with Glaciers?

A new study by scientists at University of Alaska Southeast, compared radar mapping data from a space shuttle mission six years ago with air photos taken between 1948 and 1979, of Alaskan glaciers.  Motyka, UAF colleague Chris Larsen and three other scientists pinpointed the extent of the glaciers' volume change. They found that 95 percent of Southeast Alaska's glaciers xlnk.gif are thinning. Some glacier surface elevations had dropped as much as 2,100 feet since 1948, such as the Muir Glacier in the popular Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.  

Southeast Alaska's glaciers are very sensitive to climate change because of their large surface areas at low elevations. In Juneau, the winters have been getting warmer and rainier -- 6.8 degrees warmer compared to 50 years ago, according to Laurie Craig, a naturalist for the Tongass National Forest. Those warmer temperatures can disrupt a glacier's surface mass balance, the balance achieved between the melting period of summer and accumulation period of winter.




Andean glaciers are melting so fast that some are expected to disappear within 15 to 25 years, denying cities' water supplies and putting populations and food supplies at risk in Colombia, Peru, Chile, Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina, and Bolivia.



Polar Melting

Effects of the more Rapid Melting of the Polar Caps
There are spots in Greenland and Antarctica which are actually gaining ice because of increases in annual snowfall. But, on average, they are melting faster. For a while change will come slowly, but later this century it will speed up. The consequences of this melting include the release of methane (a warming gas) trapped in the tundra, and a slowing of the Atlantic Conveyor, which would cool Europe and warm tropical waters.

Greenland Glaciers Speed Up:  Satellite measurments taken by NASA in 1996, 2000 and 2005 show that southern Greenland glaciers are moving into the sea almost twice as fast as 10 years ago. Greenland contains enough ice to raise sea level by 20 feet. But this will not not happen in the next 100 years. 2-17-06

The land is disappearing under residents of the Arctic. In Russian towns built on permafrost, buildings are warping, twisting, crumbling as the land melts xlnk.gif below them. The shore line is moving 15-18 feet closer to the oil storage tanks each open water season. The longer season brings more oil and gas drilling to endanger the world's largest stocks of cod and herring. 

The melting ice sends cold fresh water into the north Atlantic. This could lead to a reduction in the flow of the Gulf Steam.


Eight countries have Arctic territory and can claim a part of the new sea.

Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Russia, the United States (Alaska) have arctic coast lines. Iceland, Sweden and Finland have arctic territory but no coast line there. From well outside the Arctic, China and India are interested in helping develop the oil and gas resources exposed by the shrinking ice. 

At stake are not only gas and oil, but shipping lanes - the fabled Northwest Passage - and fishing rights and national security.  

The rules aren't clear. The Law of the Sea, Article 76 describes how ownership of the Arctic might be settled. The United States has not ratified the Law of the Sea because some senators claim it would infringe on American sovereignty. Proponants of the treaty, including the Pentagon, point out the obvious -- if you don't sign, you can't vote.
Who owns the Arctic.pdf xlnk.gif

Canada and Denmark xlnk.gif are disputing the ownership of a 1.3 square kilometer island revealed by the melting Arctic ice.

Scientists Predict Melting of Ice Cap at Pole  Alarmed by an accelerating loss of ice in the Arctic Ocean, scientists are striving to understand why the speedupxlnk.gif is happening and what it means for humankind. If present trends continue, the sea surrounding the North Pole will be completely free of ice in the summertime within the lifetime of a child born today.

Some researchers fear that the polar region already may have passed a "tipping point" from which it can't recover in the foreseeable future. Others think the Arctic ice pack is nearing a point of no return but hasn't reached it yet.  


Gulf Stream

Slowing the Atlantic Conveyor
The Gulf stream, first mapped by Timothy Folger, Benjamin Franklin's cousin, brings warm water to the north Atlantic and especially to England. That is why London, which is as far north as the southern tip of Hudson's Bay, is warmer than Boston in the winter. It is part of the Atlantic Conveyor shown below. About 10,000 years ago, this shut down and cause a relapse of the last  ice age. It is believe that melting polar ice can lead to a shutdown. Not much is know yet about how likely this is, but current models seem to indicate a complete shutdown is quite unlikely this century.


Atlantic conveyor

The result would be more or stronger hurricanes caused by the warmer tropical waters. Because hurricane formation is so sensitive to sea temperature (one degree F may nearly double annual hurricane energy) the impact could be significant. 

Europe, and especially England, will become cooler if the Gulf Stream shuts down, and the tropical part of the Atlantic warmer because less warm water will be sent north. Increasing flows of cold fresh water from the melting Arctic are thought to block the northern path of the warm Gulf Stream. 

What Can We See?

Glaciers are melting faster. In 1996, the amount of water produced by melting ice in Greenland was about 90 times the amount consumed by Los Angeles in a year. Last year, the melted ice amounted to 225 times the volume of water that city uses annually. This cold, fresh water of the melting glaciers blocks the gulf stream. 

New measurements by NASA satellites of the Antarctic ice sheet show it losing 36 cubic miles of ice a year. Although minimal in terms of rising sea level, it is not what was predicted by an earlier study. "That's a wake-up call. We better figure out what's going on," one glaciologist said. 

'Drift ice', which usually closes ports in northern Japan for several months a year, has shrunk by 40 percent. Masaaki Aota, director of the Okhotsk Sea Ice Museum of Hokkaido, said he believed that the most likely cause was global warming, though he added that there was no conclusive evidence. "I don't think this is a problem particular to this place," he said. NYTimes


What Might Happen?

A slowing of the conveyor currents would the diminish the entire marine food chain.  The warm nutrient-rich water encourage plankton production, feeding larger fish. A 20% loss of the humble phytoplankton would have a major repercussions all the way up to the human food supply.


Stop Warming

Global warming has not been proven.  Neither, for decades, was the link between cancer and cigarettes, as tobacco companies kept telling us. But there’s even less proof that your house will burn down. Does that mean you shouldn’t buy fire insurance? We don't need absolute scientific proof before we take precautions.

Quite a lot can be done rather cheaply.  The trick is good economics:

  • Use smart incentives.
  • Not dumb command and control.
  • Read about Carbonomics

Command and Control:  This means telling people and companies what they can't use and can't do. For example Environment Canada is planning on telling coal plants (and even different parts of a single coal plant) how much power they can produce. But isn't that necessary, if you are going to stop them? Not at all. It's perfectly possible to tell the owner of a group of plants, that it must cut output to you-name-the-target, and then let the owner decide which plant to cut back how much.

That saves a lot of money and works just as well as telling the owner what to do in detail. So why doesn't Environment Canada get this (as of 2011)? A lot of environmentalists do, but quite a few are still back in the stone age economically speaking. I've talked with them about this and they are not that dumb, so it is either politics or a sort of religious feeling about environmentalism. In any case, it's terrible for environmental progress. It just makes enemies needlessly.

That's and extreme case, but there are lots of other cases that are less extreme, but where environmentalist are shooting themselves in the foot because they are still half stuck in the old command and control world .

Even Worse:  Perhaps an even worse that command & control is the frequent refusal by environmentalists to do things cheaply.  (California: how to waste a lot of money.)

Half Way Right:  To avoid using command & control on coal plants, a couple of economists invented cap and trade. Environmentalists like it because it gives them a lot of control, camoflages that with a market. They also like it because it provides a less obvious way to bribe coal plants. Coal plants like it becuase they can make money off of it. Economists bless it because it uses a price that helps minimize the cost of getting the job done.

Pricing Carbon:  Cap and trade is not the best way to price carbon, but it's usually good step. It has a couple of problems: (1) The price is very hard to predict and scares people so they make the cap weak. (2) Anyone who does better voluntarily just makes it cheaper for someone to do worse and there's no net benefit. (3) The price risk makes investment cost a lot more, so it wastes money. (4) Internationally it's a disaster -- China is not going to buy credits from the US and India is not going to be capped at our emissions level in 1850.

The Best Incentives:  The untax and feebates are the best way to price carbon. They are completely predictable. They work like taxes except the government collects no money. You can read about these here: Amazon and there will be more about them on zFacts in the comming months.


Should We Do Something about Global Warming?
That depends on how costly the problem is and how much it costs to reduce it. Almost always, and this case is no exception, doing a little is worthwhile but the more you do the more costly it becomes to improve things. This means the question should be "how much should we do?" and not "Should we do something?"

The fact that we are not completely sure that global warming is increasing the destructiveness of hurricanes is no reason to do nothing. We are not completely sure that terrorists will again attack the U.S. but none of those who claim that "not knowing" is a good reason to "do nothing" about global warming would follow that logic with terrorists. Taking some precautions is almost always a good idea.

We do not know that our house will burn down. In fact we are quite sure that it will not. Yet we all buy house insurance. We do not wait until the scientist can give us a better prediction of the chance it will burn down in the next 50 years. The bigger the risk and the more likely it looks the more we should do about it. The idea of doing nothing until we are completely sure is almost always a bad idea, and it is silly when dealing with a problem that will take decades to bring under control. We will probably not be 100% sure until it is  20 years too late to avoid what we just became sure of.

This does not mean we have to bankrupt the country. For the cost of Katrina or the Iraq war, we could do a huge amount. Why not budget 20% of that for global warming and to reduce international tensions over oil.


Living Dangerously

Years of Living Dangerously: A climate-change documentary comming April 2014. Big name actors, but is this science? Let's check:

"Hurricanes are twice as bad as they ever were." —the legendary Jerry Weintraub (at minute 1:11 in the in the sneak preview).

The problem is, this is a flat out lie, and that brings discredit on those trying to do something about the most serious environmental problem ever. It's easier to get people worked up with extreme statements and scare tactics. It worked getting us into the Iraq war. But does fear and misinformation lead to good solutions?

It just might. Sometimes even lies and deceptions can bring out the best in people. But not always. And climate change is a problem that requires long-term cooperation, not herioc self sacrifice. So I'd rather bet on on an honest approach. And the honest case for action is strong enough:

  1. Scientists really don't know how bad the climate will get by 2100.
    • There's roughly a 10% chance it could get only say twice as bad.
    • There's roughy a 10% chance it could be devistating.
  2. We're talking about the whole world and permanent damage.
  3. It doesn't cost much (1% of GDP well spent) to play it much safer.

And as for right now, science doesn't tell us huricanes are twice as bad they would have been, or even 10% worse, but it does tell us #1 and #2 above and basic economics tells us #3.