Climate Debate Reboot!

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Hurricane / Climate Scientist Judith Curry wonders what it would be like if the two camps in the climate science debate, the skeptics and the warmists, would stop yelling at each other and find some common ground. Note that her post does not cover those who simply do not believe that either there is any warming at all, or that the science is a fraud. This distinction is important because many scientists and layman who agree with some (most) of the principle conclusions of greenhouse gas theory but don’t have confidence in some of the certainty – what is often labeled as the “consensus” – are often labeled as deniers.

Here is Judy Curry’s post in its entirety:

On Lucia Liljegren’s Blackboard (commonly categorized as a “lukewarmer” site), Zeke has a post titled “Agreeing.” Zeke’s motivation for this is:

My personal pet peeve in the climate debate is how much time is wasted on arguments that are largely spurious, while more substantive and interesting subjects receive short shrift. While I’m sure a number of folks will disagree with me on what is spurious vs. substantive, I think it would be useful to outline which parts of the debate I feel are relatively certain, are somewhat uncertain, and quite uncertain.

I attempted something similar on an earlier thread “What we know with confidence,” which was based on the conclusions of the IPCC FAR, which have been out there long enough to have stood the test of time (or not). I also attempted to put to rest debate about whether or not the greenhouse effect exists, on the Slaying the Sky Dragon threads.

Zeke puts forth a list that is pretty consistent with the IPCC AR4, and he doesn’t get much push back from the comments (which are well worth reading). A very different response from the earlier confidence thread here.

So lets try this again, with Zeke’s statements, and i will append my own comments, as a spring board for discussion.

Zeke’s assessment

What is extremely likely [>95% probability]

  1. The greenhouse effect is real, albeit poorly named. While reams of comments have been written on this subject (witness the whole Sky Dragon debacle over at Judy’s blog, or Science of Doom’s heroic efforts to explain every facet of the issue), I’d hope that readers here won’t argue with this one. JC: OK
  2. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. JC: OK
  3. Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations are increasing. Folks like Beck notwithstanding, there is no serious challenge to Keeling’s measurements, especially as they have been verified by hundreds of additional methods in the subsequent decades. JC: OK
  4. Anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide are increasing. We have reasonably good data on the consumption of carbon-heavy fossil fuels over the past few centuries. JC: OK
  5. The majority of the increase in carbon dioxide concentrations since pre-industrial times is due to anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide. This is confirmed both by the isotopic signature of the carbon and the fact that concentrations rise proportionate to emissions. JC: OK

What I think is very likely [>90% probability]

  1. A doubling of carbon dioxide, holding everything else equal, would lead to a global average surface temperature increase of about 1 C. This follows from a basic derivation of forcing from changes to absorption bands, though it is complicated by the inherent difficulty of defining what exactly a no-feedback system is. JC: I have a problem with the way this is formulated, but agree that more CO2 will warm the surface.
  2. Stocks of atmospheric carbon have a relatively long lifetime. While any individual molecule of atmospheric carbon remains in the atmosphere for only a few years on average, the growth limitations of sinks means that the stock will not decline quickly should emissions stop increasing. As a corollary, arguments that 95 percent of annual CO2 emissions are natural rather miss the point. JC comment: the lifetime of CO2 in the atmosphere is debated, so as a qualitative statement this is ok.
  3. Water vapor primarily acts as a feedback rather than a forcing in the climate system due to its short atmospheric residence time and the limitation to absolute humidity at a given temperature for saturated air. Science of Doomcovers this rather well. Pointing out that water vapor is Earth’s dominant greenhouse gas does not minimize the climate’s sensitivity to carbon dioxide. JC: OK
  4. As a corollary to 3., a warmer world will have an atmosphere with more water vapor. This will tend to enhance the greenhouse effect, though the situation is complicated by the difficulty in both projecting changes in cloud formation and determining the radiative forcing effect of clouds. JC: the coupled water vapor and cloud feedbacks are uncertain, doesnt belong in very likely IMO.
  5. Direct solar forcing has played a relatively minor role in the last four decades, as TSI has been flat-to-modestly-decreasing during that period. JC: this is still being debated, in terms of calibrations of the satellites, etc. I would bump this down to likely.

What I think is likely [>66% probability]

  1. Climate sensitivity is somewhere between 1.5 C and 4.5 C for a doubling of carbon dioxide, due to feedbacks (primarily water vapor) in the climate system. This is supported by multiple lines of evidence, including GCMs, paleoclimate evidence (including climate response to forcing during glacial periods as well as millennial proxies), the instrumental record, and the climate response to volcanic forcings among others. That said, this range is large enough that it could mean that climate change will be a moderate issue (1.5 C) or potentially quite dangerous (4.5 C). JC comment: I think we can bound this between 1 and 6C at a likely level, I don’t think we can justify narrowing this further.
  2. Land and ocean temperature measurements over the past century are largely accurate at a global level, though there are some regions that have limited data, especially toward the earlier part of the century. That said, factors like UHI, instrument change, siting issue, and other data quality issues could potentially change the global trend modestly. JC: I’m waiting to see the results of the Berkeley analysis (coming soon) before passing judgment. I have serious concerns about the ocean data.
  3. Indirect solar forcing is not particularly significant in recent decades. While the role of cosmic rays in cloud formation is interesting and deserving or more study, the lack of a trend and large uncertainty in modalities precludes it being a major player in modern warming. JC: even the IPCC AR4 did not have confidence on this one; it is at the knowledge frontier, border with ignorance.

What I think is more likely than not [>50% probability]

  1. Intrinsic (unforced) variability plays a relatively large role globally at an intra-decadal scale, but is relatively insignificant at multidecadal scales. In this view, the early 20th century warming was due primarily due to solar forcings and a volcanic lull. JC: I disagree with this one.
  2. Recent warming is unprecedented over the past millennium. While there are plenty of problems with paleoclimate reconstructions, enough corroborating work has been done to at least elevate this to more likely than not in my personal judgment. Were there reconstructions clearly showing MWP temperatures comparable with, say, the running 50-year mean of the instrumental record I would be less certain. JC: I don’t think we know; the white part of the Italian flag is very big on this one.

I would love nothing more than to see people stop yelling at each other over this, and just agree that some of the science isn’t so settled. Of course, it won’t happen, because there is pressure to craft policy based on this branch of sciene, and once you get politics involved… then things get a very wonky and nasty in a hurry. Add that curious quirk of human nature that compels us to have to be right….

Oh well… One can dream.

3 Comments to “Climate Debate Reboot!”

  1. By The Last Bass Player, June 10, 2011 @ 4:42 pm

    I’m not suggesting we don’t tidy up after ourselves – the state of the planet is quite shameful – but I have to agree that climate science as it stands isn’t a genuine science. Genuine science is not the search for ‘truth’ (for what is truth but perspective?), but simply a matter of making predictions based on observed paradigms. Climate scientists haven’t yet made a prediction that has come to pass.

    Having said that, maybe a white lie about the robustness of the science is necessary to get the evil corporations to pull their finger out on this one and stop polluting everything in the name of profit.

  2. By Jeff Alberts, June 11, 2011 @ 6:31 pm

    I’m a denier in that I don’t see anything global occurring. Some places have warmed, some have cooled, and some have remained relatively static over the instrumental time frame.

    I also deny that “Global Mean Temperature” has any meaning.

  3. By Jeff Alberts, June 11, 2011 @ 8:10 pm

    Oh, and I also deny that “excess” CO2, or any CO2, is a pollutant.

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