Commentary: The Latest Climate Change Embarrassment (October, 2013)

by John McClaughryJohn McClaughry

“The latest pronouncement of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change doubles down on the menace of human-caused global warming – but the science and the planet aren’t playing along.”

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released its long awaited “Summary for Policymakers”. This 36-page document boldly reaffirms, with no trace of embarrassment, that “it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century”

The casual reader may wonder what to make of the phrase “extremely likely”. Notwithstanding the array of weasel word qualifications used throughout the summary, the IPCC wants us to believe that “most” of the rise of global average temperature since the mid-20th century was “very likely” caused by human-generated greenhouse gas emissions.

In the last report (AR-4, 2007) the IPCC experts were “90% confident” – whatever that meant – of this statement. Now they are reported as being “95% confident”. One critical review (SEPP) notes that “The IPCC presents no physical evidence substantiating that it is ‘extremely likely’ that more than half of the [global temperature] increase during the past 60 years stems from rising greenhouse gas emissions or a rigorous method of calculating the 95 to 100% probability that the term ‘extremely likely’ embodies.”

The most crucial linchpin in the IPCC’s argument is its assumed sensitivity of climate to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide. The new Summary report defends its previously assumed sensitivity. As climatologist Dr. Roy Spencer points out, “this is the entire political issue. Is the climate sensitive to human emissions of CO2 or not? Does an increase in the molecules of CO2 from 3 to 4 per 10,000 parts of air make a difference in climate?”

Spencer continues “A best estimate for climate sensitivity — unarguably THE most important climate change variable — is no longer provided, due to mounting contradictory evidence on whether the climate system really cares very much about whether there are 2, or 3, or 4, parts of CO2 per 10,000 parts atmosphere. Yet the IPCC claims their confidence has DOUBLED (uncertainty reduced from 10% to 5%) regarding their claim that humans are most of the cause behind the warming trend in the last 50 years or so.”

The Summary also runs away from the fact that that there has been no statistically significant rise in surface temperatures for over 15 years. The Wall Street Journal offered this translation: “Temperatures have been flat for 15 years, nobody can properly explain it… and the IPCC doesn’t want to spend much time doing so because it is politically inconvenient and shows that the computer models on which all climate-change predictions depend remain unreliable.”

Dr. Richard Lindzen, the dean of American climatologists recently retired from MIT, observes “The latest IPCC report has truly sunk to level of hilarious incoherence. It is quite amazing to see the contortions the IPCC has to go through in order to keep the international climate agenda going.”

It should also be explained that contrary to the practice in almost every scholarly profession, the IPCC releases its always-alarming Summary months before the release of the scientific working group reports on which the Summary is supposedly based. During the intervening months the IPCC’s political commissars are tasked with making very sure that the working group findings corroborate the Summary.

Critics have recently graphed the 73 different computer projections of global temperature since 1990, and added in the actual observed temperatures over the same period. The result is an eye-opener. Beginning in 1998 the actual temperatures on the graph lie below every one of the 73 projections on which the IPCC has based its scary predictions.

Furthermore, the computer projections utterly fail to reproduce global temperatures beginning in 1950 (or 1900), the actual trends in which are already known. At least the IPCC deserves some credit for abandoning Michael Mann’s notorious “hockey stick” graph contrived 15 years ago to terrify policy makers and the media about Planet Earth progressively boiling in its own juices.

The earth has been warming since the end of the Little Ice Age around 1850. There is no evidence that human release of greenhouse gases has any detectable effect on global temperatures. Those who want to put governments in charge of all fossil fuel combustion (and shower subsidies on “renewable energy”) need to find a scientifically respectable case for their claims. So far they have embarrassingly failed, and the forthcoming IPCC report won’t do them much good.

- John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen institute (



{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ken McPherson October 15, 2013 at 10:03 pm

Sadly, this commentary shows more about John’s inability to understand hypothesis testing, analysis of variance, and the scientific methodology used to evaluate statistical analysis of climate change models than about weaknesses in the climate change report. As a quantitative forensic economist (in plain English, an economist who uses complicated statistical analyses to determine whether, for example, an employer is discriminating against women in pay and promotion,) I have used similar terms in many cases. The confidence levels can be calculated by estimating the proportion of the total change in, say, a measure of climate change is associated with a specific action – say CO2 emissions. Basically, 90% confidence is wha6t we commonly understand in court cases as “by a preponderance of the evidence.” 95% and 99% confidence are described as ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.” the jury in the OJ Simpson trial found that the evidence did not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In the civil suit the jury found that OJ was guilty by a preponderance of the evidence and basically gave all of OJ’s property to his wife’s family. The actual mathematics used in calculating the confidence intervals for climate models is in fact rocket science – the procedures are the same but the names of the factors considered differ. The climate change people need to work on their messaging, but it is difficult stuff to explain. The EAI, with its access to renowned mathematical economists like Bill and Art, seems like an ideal organization to help explain the underlying concepts to the Vermont public rather than pretending that the concepts are false/.


Robert Rich October 17, 2013 at 2:24 am

Mr. McPherson,

When one does not like the message, the messenger is often called into question. No news there. It would be interesting to hear your response to the facts presented in the Forbes article posted below. The true question is not the messenger’s ability or lack thereof in quantifying data, but rather is the earth really warming or cooling, and what is the reason for either.

Best regards,
Robert Rich


Robert Rich October 17, 2013 at 2:17 am

From Forbes Magazine online – author Peter Ferrera:

The increase in global temperatures since the late 19th century just reflects the end of the Little Ice Age. The global temperature trends since then have followed not rising CO2 trends but the ocean temperature cycles of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). Every 20 to 30 years, the much colder water near the bottom of the oceans cycles up to the top, where it has a slight cooling effect on global temperatures until the sun warms that water. That warmed water then contributes to slightly warmer global temperatures, until the next churning cycle.

Those ocean temperature cycles, and the continued recovery from the Little Ice Age, are primarily why global temperatures rose from 1915 until 1945, when CO2 emissions were much lower than in recent years. The change to a cold ocean temperature cycle, primarily the PDO, is the main reason that global temperatures declined from 1945 until the late 1970s, despite the soaring CO2 emissions during that time from the postwar industrialization spreading across the globe.

The 20 to 30 year ocean temperature cycles turned back to warm from the late 1970s until the late 1990s, which is the primary reason that global temperatures warmed during this period. But that warming ended 15 years ago, and global temperatures have stopped increasing since then, if not actually cooled, even though global CO2 emissions have soared over this period. As The Economist magazine reported in March, “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.” Yet, still no warming during that time. That is because the CO2 greenhouse effect is weak and marginal compared to natural causes of global temperature changes.

At first the current stall out of global warming was due to the ocean cycles turning back to cold. But something much more ominous has developed over this period. Sunspots run in 11 year short term cycles, with longer cyclical trends of 90 and even 200 years. The number of sunspots declined substantially in the last 11 year cycle, after flattening out over the previous 20 years. But in the current cycle, sunspot activity has collapsed. NASA’s Science News report for January 8, 2013 states,

“Indeed, the sun could be on the threshold of a mini-Maunder event right now. Ongoing Solar Cycle 24 [the current short term 11 year cycle] is the weakest in more than 50 years. Moreover, there is (controversial) evidence of a long-term weakening trend in the magnetic field strength of sunspots. Matt Penn and William Livingston of the National Solar Observatory predict that by the time Solar Cycle 25 arrives, magnetic fields on the sun will be so weak that few if any sunspots will be formed. Independent lines of research involving helioseismology and surface polar fields tend to support their conclusion.”

That is even more significant because NASA’s climate science has been controlled for years by global warming hysteric James Hansen, who recently announced his retirement.

But this same concern is increasingly being echoed worldwide. The Voice of Russia reported on April 22, 2013,

“Global warming which has been the subject of so many discussions in recent years, may give way to global cooling. According to scientists from the Pulkovo Observatory in St.Petersburg, solar activity is waning, so the average yearly temperature will begin to decline as well. Scientists from Britain and the US chime in saying that forecasts for global cooling are far from groundless.”

That report quoted Yuri Nagovitsyn of the Pulkovo Observatory saying, “Evidently, solar activity is on the decrease. The 11-year cycle doesn’t bring about considerable climate change – only 1-2%. The impact of the 200-year cycle is greater – up to 50%. In this respect, we could be in for a cooling period that lasts 200-250 years.” In other words, another Little Ice Age.


Mike Rogers November 1, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Richard Lindzen? The Dean of American Climatologists? Find anybody — ANYBODY — who ever said that … look up Broeker, Revelle, Charney, Manabe, Solomon….
Lindzen, an atmospheric physicist by the way – big difference – is one of many scientists who has weighed in on rather arcane bits research related to climate sensitivity. But unlike most, he doesn’t stay away from controversy (especially when the only place he could get some of his ideas on the relative re-radiative forcings of CO2 and water vapor was in his hometown newspaper!

can’t even begin to talk about SEPP or the claims about the hockey stick… wow. Like a child with sharp objects, this guy needs to stay away from climate science commentary when out in public


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