Latest Global Warming Report Already Obsolete

On Point No. 81

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is conducting a campaign of fear to convince us that energy suppression is our only salvation.  The “Summary for Policymakers” of the group’s latest report – the report itself has not been officially released – paints a horrific picture of a climate system gone mad.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />


The new report, known as the “Third Assessment Report” (TAR), is expected to be the focal point for policymakers for the next five years as they decide what to do about global warming, just as the 1995 Second Assessment Report has guided policymakers for the last five years.  Indeed, the bureaucrats driving the global warming process are using the IPCC to justify their anti-energy policies.  Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, said, “The scientific consensus presented in this comprehensive report about human induced climate change should sound alarm bells in every national capital and in every local community.”[1]


In the midst of this campaign, however, the science continues to move apace, leaving many of the IPCC’s underlying assumptions and subsequent conclusions in shambles.  A sampling of scientific studies published after the completion of the final drafts of the TAR is presented here to give the reader a taste of the constant flux of scientific inquiry and our rapidly changing understanding of the climate system.  Indeed, if recent studies are correct there would be little justification for Kyoto-style policies that would ultimately impede humanity’s ability to provide itself with the wealth- and health-enhancing benefits of modern civilization.


Water Vapor Feedback.  The biggest uncertainty in climate science remains “feedback” effects on the climate.  The conventional explanation by proponents of global warming theory always assumes that human-induced increases in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, could lead to catastrophic warming of the planet.  Man-made greenhouse gas emissions, however, are only an indirect cause of the forecasted warming.  A doubling of carbon dioxide concentrations alone would lead to slight warming of about one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) over the next 100 years.  This small amount of warming, according to standard global warming theory, speeds up evaporation, thereby increasing the amount of water vapor (a major greenhouse gas) in the atmosphere.  This “positive water vapor feedback” effect is where most of the predicted warming comes from.  This assumption has never been tested.


A recent study in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society suggests that the reverse is true.[2]  The authors find a negative water vapor feedback effect that is powerful enough to offset all other positive feedbacks.  Using detailed daily observations of cloud cover from satellites in the tropics and comparing them to sea surface temperatures, the researchers found that there is an “iris effect” in which higher temperatures reduce the warming effect of clouds.


According to a NASA statement about the study, “Clouds play a critical and complicated role in regulating the temperature of the Earth. Thick, bright, watery clouds like cumulus shield the atmosphere from incoming solar radiation by reflecting much of it back into space. Thin, icy cirrus clouds are poor sunshields but very efficient insulators that trap energy rising from the Earth’s warmed surface. A decrease in cirrus cloud area would have a cooling effect by allowing more heat energy, or infrared radiation, to leave the planet.”[3]


The researchers found that a one degree Celsius rise in ocean surface temperature decreased the ratio of cirrus cloud area to cumulus cloud area by 17 to 27 percent, allowing more heat to escape.


In an interview, lead author Dr. Richard S. Lindzen said the climate models used in the IPCC have the cloud physics wrong.  “We found that there were terrible errors about clouds in all the models, and that that will make it impossible to predict the climate sensitivity because the sensitivity of the models depends primarily on water vapor and clouds. Moreover, if clouds are wrong, there’s no way you can get water vapor right. They’re both intimately tied to each other.”  Lindzen argues that due to this new finding he doesn’t expect “much more than a degree warming and probably a lot less by 2100.”[4]


The study is the best empirical confirmation to date of the negative feedback hypothesis proposed by Lindzen early on in the global warming debate.  It builds on earlier empirical work by Drs. Roy Spencer of NASA and William Braswell of Nichols Research Corporation.  Their 1997 study also cast doubt on the assumption of a positive water vapor feedback effect.[5]  They found that the tropical troposphere, the layer of air between 25,000 and 50,000 feet, is much dryer than climate modelers previously thought.  Further empirical work will no doubt confirm whether this phenomenon is common throughout the tropics, which act as the Earth’s exhaust vents for escaping heat. 


Black Carbon.  In 1995, the IPCC had to explain in its Second Assessment Report why its previous predictions of global temperature change were nearly three times larger than observed in the actual temperature record.  The SAR concluded that emissions of sulfate aerosols from burning coal were offsetting the warming that should be caused by carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.  Sulfate aerosols, according to this explanation, reflect incoming solar radiation back to space, thereby cooling the planet.


The TAR takes the sulfate aerosol idea even further.  The SAR had predicted a temperature rise of 1 to 3.5 degrees C (1.8 to 6.3 degrees F) over the next 100 years.  The TAR goes even further, anticipating a 1.4 to 5.8 degrees C (2.52 to 10.44 degrees F) rise in temperature.  The extreme case scenario of a 5.8 degrees C of warming, for instance, is based partly on assumptions that the whole world will raise its level of economic activity to that of the U.S., will equal U.S. per capita energy use, and energy use will be carbon intensive.  The primary assumption behind the new scenario, however, is that sulfate aerosol emissions will be eliminated by government regulation, giving carbon dioxide free reign.[6]


Sulfate aerosols, then, are a key component of catastrophic global warming scenarios.  Without them, the IPCC cannot explain why the earth is not warming according to their forecasts, nor can they reasonably claim that global warming will lead to catastrophes of biblical proportions.


A new study in Nature eliminates sulfate aerosols as a corrective for the models. [7]  The author, Mark Jacobson, a professor with the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at Stanford University, examines how black carbon aerosols affect the Earth’s climate.  Unlike other aerosols that reflect solar radiation back into space, black carbon (soot) absorbs solar radiation, thereby raising atmospheric temperatures. 


Until now the warming influence of black carbon was thought to be minor, leading researchers to ignore it.  James Hansen, with the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in a paper published in August 2000, first suggested that black carbon plays an important role in global warming.[8]  Jacobson found “a higher positive forcing from black carbon than previously thought, suggesting that the warming effect from black carbon may nearly balance the net cooling effect of other anthropogenic aerosol constituents.”


There you have it.  Soot offsets the cooling effect of other aerosols, meaning we are back at square one.  Scientists still do not have a plausible explanation for why the Earth has failed to warm in line with climate model results.  Indeed, all the prognostications of the IPCC are wrong if the Nature study is right.


Natural Cycles.  The main propaganda device of the TAR is the “hockey stick graph.”  The graph is a temperature record derived from tree rings dating back to 1000 AD and running through 1900, with the 20th century thermometer-based temperature data attached at the end.[9]  It claims to show that global temperatures have remained steady or even decreased during the last millennium until the industrial age, when there was an anomalous warming represented by the blade of the hockey stick.  The hockey stick is largely bogus, however.  The margin of error is so large that nearly any temperature trend could be drawn to fit within it.    The hockey stick features prominently in all of IPCC Chairman Robert Watson’s speeches, and to the uninitiated it is very persuasive.  Senator John McCain (R-AZ), for example, expressed alarm when he saw the graph at Commerce Committee hearings last May.


Watson uses the hockey stick to claim that current warming is greater than at any other time in the last 1,000 years.  The Medieval Warm Period (MWP) and the Little Ice Age (LIA) were two naturally occurring events during the last millennium where the range of global temperature change exceeded that of the 20th century.  During the MWP, global temperatures were higher than they are today.  The MWP, however, does not show up in the hockey stick graph.


The hockey stick has effectively been dismantled in a recent study in Science, however.[10]  Wallace Broecker, of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, argues that the MWP and the LIA were indeed global phenomena.  Referring to the hockey stick, Broecker notes, “A recent, widely cited reconstruction leaves the impression that the 20th century warming was unique during the last millennium.  It shows no hint of the Medieval Warm Period (from around 800 to 1200 A.D.) during which the Vikings colonized Greenland, suggesting that this warm event was regional rather than global. It also remains unclear why just at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution and before the emission of substantial amounts of anthropogenic [manmade] greenhouse gases, Earth’s temperature began to rise steeply.”


Broecker reviewed several scientific studies which reconstruct the Earth’s temperature history into the distant past using various proxies.  He concludes, “The post-1860 natural warming was the most recent in a series of similar warmings spaced at roughly 1500-year intervals throughout the present interglacial, the Holocene.”[11]  In other words, the current warm period may just be attributable to natural cycles.


Flawed Temperature Data.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) claimed that the year 2000 was the sixth warmest since 1880.  Other temperature records find less warming.[12]  Last year was only the 14th warmest, or 9th coolest, year since 1979 according to the satellite temperature record,[13] and only the 9th warmest, according to records that include only measurements from meteorological stations.[14]


The NOAA data, which is cited by government officials and the news media, may be the least accurate, according to a study that recently appeared in Geophysical Research Letters.[15]  The NOAA datasets “are a mixture of near-surface air temperatures over land and sea water temperatures over oceans,” according to lead author Dr. John Christy, professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.


Since actual air temperature data over many large ocean areas are nonexistent, the NOAA uses sea surface temperatures as a “proxy,” assuming that sea surface temperatures and air temperatures move in lock step.  This is not the case, according to the data compiled by Christy and his colleagues at the Hadley Centre of the United Kingdom’s Meteorological Office, who worked on the study.  The researchers used buoy data in the tropical Pacific Ocean to compare “long-term (8-20 year) trends for temperatures recorded one meter below the sea surface and three meters above it.”


What they found was a significant discrepancy.  “For each buoy in the Eastern Pacific, the air temperatures measured at the three meter height showed less of a warming trend than did the same buoy’s water temperatures at one meter depth,” the study said.  The difference is a near-surface seawater warming trend of 0.37 degrees C per decade and an air temperature trend of only 0.25 degrees C per decade during the 20-year period tested.  Replacing the sea surface temperatures with the air temperature data reduces the Earth’s global warming trend by a third, from 0.19 to 0.13 degree C per decade.


This is significant due to difficulties with reconciling the various global temperature data sets, particularly the discrepancy between tropospheric temperatures measured by satellites that show little to no warming, and the surface-based temperature data that show slightly more warming.  Last year, the National Research Council stated that both temperature records are correct and speculated about an explanation.[16] 


This brings up another problem, however.  The standard explanation of the greenhouse effect suggests warming occurs first five kilometers above the earth’s surface in the atmospheric layer known as the troposphere.  How events at the surface are connected to what happens high in the atmosphere is not clear, but it is believed that surface warming would follow tropospheric warming through climatic processes such as air circulation.[17]  If both temperature records are correct, then this explanation of the greenhouse effect is wrong.  Christy et al. brings the surface temperature data into closer agreement with the satellite data, suggesting that a better explanation for the discrepancy is flawed surface data.


Progressive Science.  At a press conference at the National Press Club on April 18, Mr. Jan Pronk, chairman of the Sixth Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change said most issues were still on the table in the ongoing Kyoto negotiations but the scientific basis of catastrophic global warming could not be questioned.  That would be like going back ten years, he said.  This is a myopic and erroneous view of science.  Science is not static but dynamic.  It reaches tentative conclusions at best, and those conclusions constantly give way to new data.  The IPCC is a static process, however.  The Third Assessment Report is already obsolete and it has not even been released yet.  With these four recent studies, it may be time to bid catastrophic global warming theory a warm farewell.




[1] “Evidence of Rapid Global Warming Accepted by 99 Nations,” Environment News Service, January 22, 2001.

[2] Richard S. Lindzen, Ming-Dah Chou, and Arthur Y. Hou, “Does the Earth Have an Adaptive Infrared Iris?, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 82:417-32, March 2001.


[4] “Is Globe Warming?  Sure, But Far Less than Alarmists Say,” Tech Central Station (, March 5, 2001.

[5] Roy W. Spencer and William D. Braswell, “How Dry is the Tropical Free Troposphere? Implications for Global Warming Theory,” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 78:1097-1106.

[6] In correspondence with Nature magazine, one of the IPCC’s coordinating lead authors, Thomas Stocker of the Physics Institute at the University of Bern in Switzerland, wrote, “First, although climate modeling has advanced during the past five years, this is not the main reason for the revised range of temperature projections.  The higher estimates of maximum warming by the year 2100 stem from a more realistic view of sulphate aerosol emissions.  The new scenarios assume emissions will be reduced substantially in the coming decades, as this becomes technically and economically feasible, to avoid acid rain.  Sulphate emissions have a cooling effect, so reducing them leads to higher estimates of warming.”  See “Climate panel looked at all the evidence,” Nature, 410: 299, March 15, 2001.

[7] Mark Z. Jacobson, “Strong radiative heating due to the mixing state of black carbon in atmospheric aerosols,” Nature, 409: 695-72, February 8, 2001.

[8] James D. Hansen, Makiko Sato, Reto Ruedy, Andrew Lacis, and Valdir Oinas, “Global Warming in the twenty-first century: An alternative scenario,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 97:9875-9880.

[9] The tree ring data originated with Michael E. Mann, Raymond S. Bradley and Malcolm K. Hughes, “Northern Hemisphere Temperatures During the Past Millennium: Inferences, Uncertainties, and Limitations,” Geophysical Research Letters, 26: 759, March 15, 1999.

[10] Wallace S. Broecker, “Was the Medieval Warm Period Global?” Science, 291: 1497-99, February 23, 2001.

[11] Also see H.H. Lamb, Climate History and the Modern World, (New York: Routledge, 1985), and Brian Fagan, The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850, (New York: Basic Books, 2000).




[15] John R. Christy, David E. Parker, Simon J. Brown, Ian Macadam, Martin Stendal, and William B. Norris, “Differential Trends in Tropical Sea Surface and Atmospheric Temperatures since 1979,” Geophysical Research Letters, 28:183.

[16] Reconciling Observations of Global Temperature Change, National Academy Press: Washington, D.C., 2000.

[17] Richard S. Lindzen, “Climate Forecasting: When Models are Qualitatively Wrong,” George C. Marshall Institute, Washington, D.C., 2000.