It’s Really, Really Cold Out There!

2008 is being recorded by many as the year when global warming theory died. Michael Asher, for example, writes:

2008 was the year predicted to be the “hottest in a century”. Instead it became the coldest of the decade. It was the year the North Pole would “melt entirely, allowing you to swim to it”. Instead, nuclear-powered icebreakers became trapped in unseasonably thick ice. It was a year of record-breaking cold and snow, everywhere from Baghdad to the beaches of Malibu. It was the year the “Gore Effect” entered the public vocabulary, as whenever global warming protestors got together to march, they were met with blizzards and ice storms. …

As a moderately well known skeptic, I sometimes surprise people when I say I believe in global warming. If we define the term as, “man is having some impact on global temperatures”, then the evidence is fairly clear. That statement in itself, though, means nothing. Are we impacting it enough to matter? Can CO2 cause catastrophic climate change?

That debate revolves around a single number, one so important we have a special name for it.

How much will the earth warm if we double the amount of atmospheric CO2, or its equivalent in other greenhouse gases? That value is called climate sensitivity. If all else remains equal, it’s fairly easy to calculate: about half a degree C, a figure accepted by most proponents and skeptics of AGW alike. It’s also a value far too small for concern. With that sensitivity, the planet would warm by maybe a quarter of a degree by the year 2100. Yawn.

But there’s a wrinkle in that simple calculation. As greenhouse gases rise, other things change as well. Some are positive feedbacks, which lead to more warming. Some are negative feedbacks, which counteract the warming. Scientists in the modeling community tend to believe positive effects predominate; they bandy about sensitivity values from 2C all the way up to 6C or more. Observational earth scientists (primarily geologists, meteorologists, and some atmospheric physicists) tend to believe negative effects dominate, and that the actual value may be even smaller than 0.5C.

The problem is that no real evidence exists for strong positive feedbacks. Worse, they seem contradicted by the paleoclimatic history of the planet, which has never experienced runaway warming even when CO2 levels were ten or more times higher than they are today. …

There is other evidence against a high sensitivity. But the real point is this. Whichever side is right, the media (and a few researchers) have forgotten one of the basic rules of science. Until a theory can predict the unexpected, it should always be viewed critically.

In recent years, the scientific debate has shifted decisively in favor of the “skeptics.” I’ve long thought, however, that to drive a stake through the heart of Al Gore-style alarmism, the climate would have to start cooling again. Otherwise governments, which love anthropogenic GW theory because the “solution” is to give them near-total control over their countries’ economies, would likely declare the scientific debate over and impose carbon controls notwithstanding the public’s lingering skepticism.

And, in what may be the nick of time, it has: the Earth’s climate stopped warming a decade ago, and is now getting colder. Here in Minnesota, we’re having a winter reminiscent of decades gone by. This morning it was 20 below in the Minneapolis suburbs; there were accidents everywhere because of snow, cold and black ice. That was balmy, though, compared to conditions up north. It was 40 below in International Falls this morning. (That’s temperature, not wind chill.) That’s colder than I’ve ever experienced in Minnesota.

This winter has been brutally cold all over; Europe is experiencing “the worst cold snap in decades.”

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Pravda, meanwhile, predicts that the next Ice Age is nearly upon us. I hope that’s not true. It would be nice to go at least a few years before we have to deal with the next wave of hysteria.

Alarmists, of course, say that the current cooling is just an instance of natural weather variation that doesn’t disprove their theory. The problem is that, for them, nothing disproves their theory. No matter how resolutely the Earth’s climate refuses to conform to their models, they ignore the evidence and cling to their theory. This isn’t science, it’s a combination of faith and politics.

The global warming theory has been around for quite a while. I first learned about it in 1970. But the theory was hatched during a cold period in the Earth’s climate, so it initially went nowhere. Instead, the alarmists spent the 1970s warning us that the next Ice Age was imminent. It was only when the climate fortuitously started to get warmer that the global warming theory began to get traction. If it now becomes clear to everyone that the climate is cooling, not warming, government proposals to destroy advanced economies in a bizarre war on carbon–a trace ingredient in the atmosphere that is necessary for life on earth–will be non-starters.

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