Thursday, 27 March 2014

Global warming? What Global Warming?

I might regret this but I have decided to pen a piece on “global warming”; or to be technical Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) or to be melodramatic Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW).
Why do it? Because I fed up with the rubbish being peddled by the media.  
For those who don’t know I was first and foremost a scientist (a chemist in fact) and whilst I’m now retired science is still a subject close to my heart. Science is about collecting data, developing theories from those observations, making predictions based on those theories and seeing whether the theory is correct ( ie the predictions come true) – and when things don’t work out as expected refine the theory until it does work or drop the idea and look at something else. Whilst many scientists still adhere to this tried and tested method of establishing what is going on in the natural world some seem more interested in headlines – either for fame and fortune or simply to keep the research funds rolling in. Whatever; it is the headline seekers that seem to get the attention of the news media and politicians and their views and predictions, however flawed, can become “fact” in the public eye.

Around 30 years ago I was convinced by the claims by scientists that increases in carbon dioxide would warm our planet, the ice would melt, sea levels would rise and we needed to grow fins and gills……. or move to higher ground.  The would be a local upside as Deal became Mediterranean in its climate and if sea levels rose enough the water would flow into the valleys around Kingsdown giving them a fjord like feel; I was looking forward to opening a marina at the bottom of my garden (though for that to happen sea levels would have to rise 60 feet or so).
The threat of rising sea levels was a factor as to why my wife and I didn’t buy a house in the Sandwich area (that and the house we were looking at not having a mains sewage system) and why I wouldn’t consider living in North Deal (having seen it flood in 1978). Needless to say the house in Sandwich is still there and hasn’t been flooded once in the following 27 years, and neither has North Deal. I can’t say what happened to the sewage system.
So why was I a believer back then?  Simple, I knew carbon dioxide was a greenhouse gas, coal and oil was being consumed at ever increasing rates and when men of science said something I listened and believed. Seems naive now.
Now roll the clocks forward 30 years to the present.
I started to get really interested in global warming when I started bird watching. Was global warming affecting our bird population or not. Listen to the BBC and the RSPB and the answer would come across loud and clear - it was the reason for any and every decline in bird numbers being seen (and anything else going on in the world for that matter). However the more I read the more convinced I became that there was not a lot of truth in what was being claimed and it became clear that those predicting our future climate were, to say the least, prone to exaggeration and hype.
My first study was when British (mainly Scottish) seabird colonies had a string of terrible breeding seasons and a warming sea around our coast was cited as the cause (a local manifestation of global watering). But I knew no such problem was occurring in the warmest seas around these islands (West Wales) so I had a look at the data. My conclusion? Yes the sea have warmed a little but it was over fishing that decimated the North Sea sand eel population and caused the poor breeding success of the sea birds; it was nothing at all to do with global warming. (I posted a blog on this a few months ago). 
Some of our common birds, especially farm birds, are also suffering a marked decline in numbers. Reason given? Global warming. Again I couldn’t understand why birds that live and breed successfully from the Mediterranean to Scandinavia would be affected by a degree or so of temperature change.  For those birds on the limit of their range a small change in temperature may well cause a rise or fall in population (eg Dartford warbler; a couple of cold winters and their population plunges) but it just didn’t make sense for those that live across wide temperature zones.
So I started looking at the data and the more I looked the less convincing the arguments looked.
And so to the point of this little essay - what is happening to global temperatures?
Oh such a simple question but one where the more you think and read about it the more difficult and confusing the picture becomes.
Firstly it is remarkably difficult to determine what the actual global temperature is. A lot of the planet is uninhabited, a lot covered by sea, or ice, or deserts, etc consequently huge gaps exist in temperature data. These gaps have to be filled with estimated values to build up the global picture - not exactly black and white. A lot of weather monitoring stations are also in towns or airports and these areas exhibit increases in temperature over the surrounding countryside due to human activities (the “heat island effect”) so again adjustments have to be made. All in all an estimate of the global temperature involves a lot of estimates and adjustments.
In these days of satellites it should be easier to get an overall global picture of what is happening but I don’t know enough about what it is they are measuring from up there – the temperature at ground level being much higher than those a few thousand feet up and above 10-12,000 feet it is bloody cold all the time. Also the data doesn’t go back very far.
So with all these caveats here’s what’s going on with the temperatures.

The above chart shows what is believed to be the global temperature variation over the last 450,000 years and was cribbed from “Watts Up With That” who cribbed it from somewhere else (see the Watts Up With That ref). I say believed because it is estimated from materials trapped in ice cores. Anyway let’s just assume these are correct because if we don’t there’s nothing to discuss!
In these charts temperature has been plotted against the “normal temperature” so warmer than “normal” are positive numbers and cooler than normal have negative numbers. I have no idea how this normal temperature was chosen (or what it is for that matter) but what is indisputable is that the temperature has fluctuated widely from ice ages (below the zero line) to interglacial periods (like now) where the temperature is above the line (well sort of). So temperature goes up and down without our influence and warm periods, like the one we are enjoying, are actually rather unusual; most of the time it is considerably colder than it is now………… we call these cooler periods “ice ages”.
If we look at the latest warm period in a bit more detail we see:

This chart begins at 11,000 years ago where the global temperature increased as we came out of the last ice age. The temperature then bounced around the norm (0.0 on right hand scale of top graph) with it being about 1 degree warmer around 3250, 6900 and 7800 years ago (the highest 3 peaks), about 0.75 degrees colder around 8200 years ago and about 0.5 degrees colder around 70 years ago when the planet started warming (and where the blue line flicks up on the extreme right hand side of the graph). So far it looks like we are in a very normal period of temperature fluctuation.
The red graph is interesting in that it shows carbon dioxide levels for the same period. From 11,000 to 7500 years ago these were dropping slowly and since then these have been rising. I have no idea why but it certainly wasn’t us and our consumption of oil and coal causing it.
From these charts there is no compelling evidence that carbon dioxide causes global temperatures to increase. In fact you could say the data seems to suggest the opposite – the last 3000 years show a temperature declining (albeit erratically) whilst carbon dioxide levels have been increasing.
I have one more chart to show you. This concentrates on the temperatures of the last 160 years and so should be the most accurate (with all the caveats outlined earlier). It also encompasses the temperature kick up seen in the extreme right of the previous chart.

This chart shows the temperature bouncing around 0.4 to 0.5C below “normal” from 1850 to 1910, it then rises rapidly from 1910 to 1942 (ish) to our “normal” temperature where it holds steady till 1980. From 1980 till 2000 it rose rapidly getting to 0.5C above the arbitrary “normal” and since then there has been NO increase. I repeat there has been NO increase in global temperature since 2000.
And what was been happening to carbon dioxide levels during this 160 year period?

Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations 
and global annual average temperatures 
over the years 1880 to 2009

This graph covers the same time period as the previous one but with atmospheric carbon dioxide levels on it (from Facts and
This is the plot that has got the global warming believers hot under the collar. On this time scale overall there has been an increase in carbon dioxide level and there has been an increase in temperature. However this observation does not prove one was caused by the other. The British Empire has been in decline over the same period of time so was that the cause? Carl Benz patented the first motor car in 1885 so are cars the cause?
If the cause of global warming was truly carbon dioxide it should stand up to examination. It doesn’t.  Note the time period between 1880 and 1910 – the temperature was falling but carbon dioxide was rising – no evidence there that carbon dioxide was causing global warming. Between 1940 and 1980 the temperature was steady but carbon dioxide levels were rising. And from around 2000 to present the temperature has been steady again yet carbon dioxide levels have been rising more strongly than ever. So would you say carbon dioxide was the cause of the temperature changes seen? I wouldn’t and I hope anyone with an open mind wouldn’t either

From what I have read it is generally believed that carbon dioxide emissions before 1950 were regarded as too low to have an effect on temperature. That being the case what caused the 1910 to 1942 warming. Why did warming stall between 1942 and 1980 just as global emissions took off and finally why has warming stalled since 2000 – this latest stall being when carbon dioxide emissions are increasing faster than ever and are at at an all-time high.

So where are we with my original question – what is going with global warming?

Compared to the ice ages the planet is significantly warmer but it’s no warmer than it has been on several occasions over the last 500,000 years.
Since 1910 the planet has warmed by around 1C with the rise coming in 2 bursts one between 1910 and 1942 and the other between 1980 and 2000 and it has been stable since.
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and so could play a role in global temperatures modulation but from the evidence presented above the link is not very strong (being kind) or not there at all (being objective).
So why all the fuss.
As I suggested at the beginning science was once conducted in dark corners of laboratories and the exponents only came out into the daylight when they had something to say to like-minded soles. These like-minded soles would evaluate the claims (face to face or via the learned journals) and the findings become the new truth…………………. or the theory got kicked into touch. Now we have the media machine where the prime objective seems to be to sensationalise - remember measles mumps and rubella vaccine?

Are we and our consumption of fossil fuels the cause of the recent temperature rise? 

I see nothing compelling in the evidence to say we are despite carbon dioxide levels rising recently and despite my belief that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas.
I do believe (very strongly) that the global population is too large and in the long run unsustainable and I do believe that our generation is consuming too many of the planet’s resources (especially oil and gas) too quickly.
But there’s little evidence that our consumption of fossil fuels is driving an increase in global warming.
The planet has gone through a couple of periods of warming recently but carbon dioxide does not seem to be the cause. To find the real reason we need the scientists to get back to the old way of working develop theories that fit the facts. NOT develop theories then refuse to move from those theories when the data says they are incorrect.
There’s a lot more that could be said about this subject; our poor knowledge of what really drives climate, the shortcomings in the computer models, the industries that have grown up around the fear of climate change (wind farms), the billions being shelled out to fund research into climate change and its impact……………… but I won’t. I don’t know enough about many of the subjects and there would be no point because global warming has acquired all the characteristics of a religion.   You either believe or you are a heretic. And when has logical argument and common sense prevailed in a religious war?


  1. An interesting read Steve and I probably go along with your conclusion providing all the data can be trusted. We had a talk from a 'met' man a couple of years ago and he quoted much the same and we cannot measure the temperatures over such a short period as they appear to do today. I also remember reading Canterbury recorded a record high of 93 degs F in the early 1900s and I think only just pipped by Gravesend the other year. I've always thought its the sun which mainlly dictates our climate, again reading that we receive the heat from about one sq. metre from the sun's surface and that can change by a 1000 degs or more which we probably cannot detect as we may not know from which piece is aligned to radiate to the Earth. Its certainly a complex subject with many variables coming into play and many unknown or yet to be realized. eg. Do we monitor the underwater heating caused by geological erruptions eg in the mid-Atlantic ridge, probably not. Could go on all night with this subject. Lets hope some birds come our way in the next week and brighten our days. Must sign off now as 'An Idiot Abroad 2' is about to start!

    1. Mike,
      The data used is the official data, it's not data dreamed up by those who disagree with the official view.
      My view is that the sea is the key - the thermal capacity of water being far higher than that of air. As far as I know the models that predict the warming cannot predict El Nino events (know to affect global weather/temperature) and I'm pretty sure they do not include changes in the suns. As for underwater eruptions I'm sure these are not included as no one knows what(quantitatively) what is going on.

  2. Discover the cause of the warming, the end of it, why temperatures are headed down and what to expect.

    There are only two primary drivers of average global temperature change. They very accurately explain the reported up and down measurements since before 1900 with R2>0.9 (correlation coefficient = 0.95) and provide credible estimates back to the low temperatures of the Little Ice Age (1610).

    CO2 change is NOT one of the drivers.

    The drivers are given at

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  4. Mike, one met man does not a summer make - whatever he said then he's out of line with most colleagues and I'd guess his views are now seriously out of date. Similarly, no climatologist would suggest that odd temperature readings from the past couldn't be higher - the point is that in recent years readings across the world have been consistently higher. Equally, no climatologist would disagree that the sun is a major driver of temperatures - how could they? However, it not the only factor and the question is whether changes in the sun could be responsible for what we observe. Professional climatologists did think of checking this and found it cannot account for the recent changes.

  5. Interesting, but I think it’s misleading to judge the case for “CAGW” on the basis of media reports. Many of the scientists – dare I say most – whose work confirms “CAGW” aren’t chasing headlines in the way that is suggested and the calumny that they’re simply doing it “to keep research funds rolling in” appears to me to be unfounded. I’m not a scientist so I look to those who are and, more to the point, those that are specialists in the relevant field, for guidance. The fact is the overwhelming majority (95+%) of climatologists – often people with decades studying the subject - agree that climate is changing and are in broad agreement why this is so. Although being in the majority doesn’t necessarily mean they’re right, when it consists of specialists in the field then evidence to the contrary needs to be very solid indeed. This doesn’t seem to be the case. As I see it the real culprits who persist in peddling “views and predictions, however flawed” to the media are people like Lords Monkton & Lawson.
    I don’t think the RSPB have maintained that the collapse in seabird colonies was solely the result of global warming And my recollection is that the difficulties you note have been tackled (I’m trying to find the reference). The decline of farmland birds has largely been attributed to changing farming methods rather than climate change and still is (see “BTO Bird Atlas 2007-2011”).
    With regard to what’s happening to global temperatures, I’d be very cautious about relying on the website “Watts up with that”; a biased source heavily criticised for his poor grasp of the relevant science by climatologists (and others). The ‘problems’ with the role of CO2 has been noticed by climatologists and I find the rebuttals convincing. Having looked at both sides of the argument I have consistently found the ‘global warming’ stance more firmly based in science than the critics (see and Youtube channels greenman3610 and potholer54). According to some sources the amount of money thrown around by the anti-lobby (always so cautious about acknowledging exactly where they get their money from see - is much greater than the sums available on direct climate change research. Oddly they seem far more interested in funding PR than sound scientific research. Interestingly the tactics, methods and even some personnel used by this lobby closely resemble that deployed by ‘big tobacco’ to rubbish the link with cancer (see the book “The Merchants of Doubt”)
    Again contra to your own views it seems to me that if any group has the characteristsics of a religion it’s the “denialist” camp who continue to believe with a fervour despite the accretion of evidence to the contrary. The way in which Michael Mann (originator of the ‘hockey stick graph’) has been subjected to death threats etc does nothing to disabuse me of this view.

    1. Alcalabirder,
      Thanks for the comment but I'm not going to change my mind. I am not paid by anyone so the thoughts presented in my blog are MY interpretation of the published results of official climate data. To me the facts speak for themselves and I don't need a climatologist to explain a graph, I can do that myself. The data is shown so anyone reading the blog can make up their own mind - one way or the other.
      As I said in the blog climatologists and their models cannot explain what is going on (or not going on - the lack of warming since around 2000) so why should their models be believed when rolled forward 50 or 100 years? As I said a theory should fit the facts, if it doesn't then improve the theory or find a new one.
      My comments on the RSPB (and I'd tar Spring Watch with the same brush) was made because I never once heard or read a comment that over fishing was the cause of the sea bird problem. It was always Global warming. I haven't paid as much attention to the farm bird problem because I've given up reading/listening to what those groups say.
      I have no idea what proportion of climatologists support the current IPCC stance/report (I know one has asked for his name to be removed from the latest report) but once it was common knowledge that the world was flat; it was also accepted that the sun moved around the earth, indeed it was heresy to say otherwise (ask Galileo), and once the experts said it was impossible for stomach ulcers could be caused by bacteria due to the pH of the stomach....that is until an Aussie doctor showed that could with Heliobacter pylori...and got a Nobel prize for it.
      The rest of your comment is just your opinion, one you are entitled to have but one I happen to disagree with.
      Finally, and this is to inform the casual reader, there are some on the Pro Climate warming lobby who are suggesting climate change deniers be jailed (just Google "Jail climate change deniers" if you want to read about it). What happened to freedom of speech? The climate change lobby have their say via the UN and the worlds media so those that disagree should be allowed theirs. and that includes me (even if it only though my lowly blog).

      Steve Ray

    2. Of course everyone's entitled to their own opinion and I assumed that your blog was made to open up a discussion. However, saying you're not going to change your mind doesn't strike me as very scientific! Do, please, have a look at the sites I mentioned since they do address your concerns. I'm very happy to look at the sources you suggest. With regard to the recent IPCC report I gather that "nearly 500 people have signed off on the wording" and the single person who dissented was an economist, not a scientist in any relevant field. Further as I understand it his dissent wasn't about the science but that he felt it was alarmist and more things could be done to 'soften the blow' as it were. Interestingly, 'British Birds' this month has an interesting resume as to why warming seas are causing problems for our seabirds - and it looks to me to be based on sound science involving an observed change in the marine ecosystem. Naturally I abhor any call to 'jail climate change deniers'. Far from the 'climate change lobby having their say via the world's media, a recent report found that the BBC gave disproportionate attention to unqualified, non-scientific climate change deniers, John Cantelo (aka Alcalabirder)

    3. Hello John,
      I didn’t know you were Alcabirder.
      I have looked at some of the articles in the references you posted and to be frank I wasn’t that impressed. Most are from people just re-stating their position and/or selecting snippets of info that support their stance.
      There were a couple of interesting articles in one of the web sites – one discussed sea ice coverage/melting (the same article was published in “Whats Up With That” by the way) and another on Extreme Weather Events. I’m not taking a stance on the latter because my knowledge of statistics is insufficient. Both articles were interesting because they contained data. Yes they reached conclusions but with the data presented you were in a position to agree/disagree/sit on the fence. Too many articles just recycle opinion and un-provable “facts”.
      The literature/blogosphere is full of quotes/misquotes/seemingly solid data which when looked at are not quite what they first appeared to be.
      Take the 97% of climatologists believe in Anthropogenic Global Warming that you used. I looked for the source of this oft quoted statistic.
      A survey was done by the University of Illinois for the American Geophysical Union and was sent to 10,257 “climatologists” of which 3146 replied and “97.4 %” agreed with the first question asked.
      So what was asked ?
      “When compared to pre-1800 levels do you think global temperatures have generally risen, fallen or remained relatively constant?”
      Here things get a little murky in that whilst 3000 people responded it has been suggested that only the views of 77 were used to generate the 97.4% (75 of the 77 accepted respondents.) The others were excluded because they weren’t publishing (I’ve not managed to find the source document so can’t comment on this level of details). Whatever the number used to generate the statistic what is amazing is that the answer wasn’t 100% because everyone who takes an interest in the subject knows (see the graphs in my blog) that temperatures have risen over the stipulated period – we were coming out of the little ice age (remember the pictures of ice fairs on the Thames).
      The second question is a little more pertinent to the subject.
      “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?”
      Now 82% reported yes to this question and it would seem all 3124 respondents were registered in this statistic.
      A better question and a more reasonable number of participants but if you think about the question carbon dioxide is not mentioned and those active in the field would know that humans do all sorts of things – we cut down forests, we drain wetlands, we concrete over vast amounts of the country and everyone knows the latter causes local warming (heat island effect) which is why London is always warmer than the surrounding countryside and holiday airports are so darned hot when you have to walk across the tarmac to the terminal building. The statistic has been used to support carbon dioxide as the cause of global warming so why wasn’t that specific question asked?
      Since only 30.6% of the 10257 asked replied those who actually agreed with the question was a lowly 25% of those polled.
      So there are a lot of stats out there (both pro and con) that have to be taken with a pinch of salt. There are a lot of opinions out there that to me are equally dubious. In my blog I stuck to the facts as agreed by all participants and these just show changes in temperature and carbon dioxide levels over time and being my blog I posted my interpretation.


  6. Interesting views, Steve, and conclusions I broadly agree with. When next I see you over a pint (or two) I will be pleased to tell you about the only really credible explanation about the effect of pollution on our environment which I heard and understood back in about 1966 when I was commencing my studies on atmospheric pollution and air quality. This related to the commencement of Concorde flights across the Northern Hemisphere and the effect of the resultant high-level emsiions on our climate. So far, the predictions advanced by the scientist concerned have turned out to be pretty accurate, and include a period of apparent cooling as the melting of ice-caps accelerated. There's some good in being an old git after all. See you soon - Peter W

  7. PS - about that proposed birding trip to Nord pas de Calais, better go soon for if sea levels rise the crossing will be longer and more expensive!!