Climate Change Endgame In Sight?

In my Weekly Standard cover story about the fallout from the “Climategate” email scandal three years ago, I offered the following question by way of prediction:

Eventually the climate modeling community is going to have to reconsider the central question: Have the models the IPCC uses for its predictions of catastrophic warming overestimated the climate’s sensitivity to greenhouse gases?

The article then went on to survey emerging research (U.S. government funded!) casting doubt on high estimates of climate sensitivity, along with alternative explanations on some climate factors, such as “black carbon.”  The question in my mind at the time was how long this would take to begin to break out into the “mainstream” scientific and media world.

Figure 1

That day appears to have arrived.  The new issue of The Economist has a long feature on the declining confidence in the high estimates of climate sensitivity.  That this appears in The Economist is significant, because this august British news organ has been fully on board with climate alarmism for years now.  A Washington-based Economist correspondent admitted to me privately several years ago that the senior editors in London had mandated consistent and regular alarmist climate coverage in its pages.

The problem for the climateers is increasingly dire.  As The Economist shows in its first chart (Figure 1 here), the recent temperature record is now falling distinctly to the very low end of its predicted range and may soon fall out of it, which means the models are wrong, or, at the very least, that there’s something going on that supposedly “settled” science hasn’t been able to settle.  Equally problematic for the theory, one place where the warmth might be hiding—the oceans—is not cooperating with the story line.  Recent data show that ocean warming has noticeably slowed, too, as shown in Figure 2 here.

Figure 2

So The Economist story, though hedged with every reservation to Keep Hope Alive, is nonetheless a clear sign that it’s about over for the climate campaign.

While climateers continue to beat the drum that each year is among the hottest since Satan opened his first furnace at Hades Hostel for Hapless Heathens, there has been an embarrassed silence, if not outright denial (heh), that temperatures have flattened out over the last 15 years.  Now even the leading climateers can’t maintain a straight face over this any more, as The Economist notes in its lede:

OVER the past 15 years air temperatures at the Earth’s surface have been flat while greenhouse-gas emissions have continued to soar. The world added roughly 100 billion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere between 2000 and 2010. That is about a quarter of all the CO₂ put there by humanity since 1750. And yet, as James Hansen, the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, observes, “the five-year mean global temperature has been flat for a decade.” . . .

The mismatch between rising greenhouse-gas emissions and not-rising temperatures is among the biggest puzzles in climate science just now. . .  The IPCC’s estimates of climate sensitivity are based partly on GCMs [Global Circulation Models]. Because these reflect scientists’ understanding of how the climate works, and that understanding has not changed much, the models have not changed either and do not reflect the recent hiatus in rising temperatures.  (Emphasis added.)

And the story adds this zinger: “If climate scientists were credit-rating agencies, climate sensitivity would be on negative watch.”

The Economist goes on to provide a brief tour of new research that argues for a lower climate sensitivity, with upper bounds that would still present difficulties, but short of the blood-and-Gore catastrophe that has been the staple of the climate campaign from the beginning.  As usual, we see an environmental phenomenon that the environmental Politburo overestimates, and which always demands that we surrender more political power into their hands as the solution.

Even The Economist’s accompanying “leader” on the issue sends out a subtle surrender signal:

Bad climate policies, such as backing renewable energy with no thought for the cost, or insisting on biofuels despite the damage they do, are bad whatever the climate’s sensitivity to greenhouse gases. Good policies—strategies for adapting to higher sea levels and changing weather patterns, investment in agricultural resilience, research into fossil-fuel-free ways of generating and storing energy—are wise precautions even in a world where sensitivity is low. So is putting a price on carbon and ensuring that, slowly but surely, it gets ratcheted up for decades to come.

Except for the “carbon price” bit at the end, this represents a huge retreat from the Kyoto-cheerleading of The Economist in years gone by.

It’s enough to drive a Mann crazy.

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