A crisis in climate science?

Reiner Grundmann has a post on Die Klimazwiebel called the coming crisis of climate science? I don’t really know what to make of the post overall. As far as I’m aware, Reiner Grundmann is a sociologist/political scientists who has an interest in the public discourse on climate change. The post is about the upcoming IPCC report and focuses on the so-called “hiatus” in surface warming that was not predicted by most climate models. Additionally the post mentions the new, and lower, estimates for climate sensitivity but, in some sense, these are related. The “hiatus” means that surface warming has been slower than expected and, hence, if you use recent observational data to constrain climate sensitivity, your estimate will be lower than other earlier estimates (many of which use much more detailed calculations anyway).

Reiner’s post actually says

I chose as title for this blog post ‘The coming Crisis of Climate Science?’ The question mark is intentional and important. It could well be that in the coming year global surface temperatures pick up as expected. Existing models would be vindicated, end of story.

It appears as though the entire premise for a potential crisis in climate science is based on the current mismatch between the observed surface warming and the estimates from climate models. Firstly, why would this be a crisis? These types of things are normally seen as opportunities by scientists. The system is more complicated than we realised, I wonder why? If there is a crisis it is associated with the climate science policy, not the science itself. Mismatches between observations, theory and modelling is a fundamental part of science, not something that should be perceived as a potential crisis.

I do have, however, a more fundamental issue with Reiner’s post though. The potential crisis is supposedly a consequence of a roughly decade long “hiatus” in surface warming. What the post ignores is all the other scientific evidence associated with climate change/global warming. The post does mention ocean heat content but a bit dismissively. Does he think it’s not that important. It’s telling us that despite the slowdown in surface warming, overall warming continues. He ignores paleo-climatological evidence for climate sensitivities. He appears to ignore the recent work that attempts to explain this current “hiatus” and indicates that it is likely a temporary situation resulting from a period of cool sea surface temperatures in parts of the Pacific. I know that understanding the evolution of surface temperatures is very important, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of global warming/climate change.

Having read Reiner’s post I then came across another by Stefan Rahmstorf called The Known Knowns of Climate Change. With all due respect to Reiner Grundmann, I think this a much better and more informed post (at least with respect to climate science). It discusses much more of what know about global warming/climate change and doesn’t simply focus on the one area where there is a mismatch between models and observations. Maybe the one criticism it will face is that it doesn’t actually mention the “hiatus” in surface warming at all. Personally I don’t have a big issue with this as, in my opinion, the significance of the “hiatus” has been overblown and has been used to make unsubstantiated claims about the credibility of climate science. I’m sure others will, however, disagree. I, however, recommend reading both and making up your own minds.

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16 Responses to A crisis in climate science?

  1. Rachel says:

    The so-called “crisis in climate science” is the complete fabrication of those who wish to do nothing about climate change. The only crisis that I can see is the one in which we sit back on our lazy, greedy arses doing nothing about it.

    There’s a really good editorial in Nature this week about the upcoming report – http://www.nature.com/news/the-final-assessment-1.13757

    Something I found interesting was how little word count was given to the “plateau” in warming over the last decade and also this bit:

    In particular, the temperature range of the warming that would result from a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels is expected to be judged as 1.5–4.5 °C in next week’s report — wider than in the last assessment and exactly what it was in the report of 1990.

  2. johnrussell40 says:

    That website publishes articles from both sides of the ‘climate fence’ and I think the author of this article, Reneir Grundmann, is trying to ‘mend bridges’, or ‘bridge the gap’. Frankly it doesn’t work. Neither ‘side’ will ever see the others point of view: scientists because there’s no place for debate as such when you’re dealing with observable facts; the contrarians because they’re in denial and will only see what they want to see.

    This is a propaganda war and the sooner we all see it the better. Scientists will of course ‘win’*, because, as events unfold, there’s a very high probability (95% at the moment) that they’ll be proved right. We’ll know we’ve won because the other side will go quiet. Let’s hope it’s not too late.

    [*All the signs at the moment are that it will be a very hollow victory. ]

  3. It is unfortunate that it does indeed seem to have become a battle of sorts and that one side will be seen to have won and the other have lost. I even see that in some discussions. If you want to extricate yourself you’re accused of having no answer and hence having lost. I’ve even had people claiming that you can’t win unless you’re part of the game. So, I think you’re right. The evidence will probably become very clear reasonably soon that the science is robust. We really shouldn’t be happy about that though.

  4. Wott,

    Perhaps you’re not acquainted with New Left stuff.

    This might get you up to speed with Reiner:

    Human beings have no fixed place where they must live; virtually every place on this planet can be inhabited by them. By this they distinguish themselves from most other animals (and, of course, plants) which survive only within a limited geographical, biological, climatic zone. How are human beings able to survive in an ‘insecure environment’? The answer is: by constructing a second ‘nature’ around themselves. [60] This artificial, human-made nature is the embodiment of their necessity to fight against nature; it is the solution of the apparent contradiction that they are in and against nature. But something further follows from this. Because human beings organize their lives in the described way, they have no ‘natural enemies’, in contradistinction to all other species. However, there are times when they are opposed by specific elements of nature; nature exerts its resistance upon them. As John Stuart Mill observed, the powers of nature ‘are often towards man in the position of enemies, from which he must wrest, by force and ingenuity, what little he can for his own use.’ [61]

    http://newleftreview.org/I/187/reiner-grundmann-the-ecological-challenge-to-marxism

    Just a random quote using “clim” as a search term to illustrate that Reiner could be considered Marxian. You know, the guys who come from the planet Marx. There are gals too, and I know at least one occurence of a sexy one, who shall remain unnamed for the moment. We’ll call her V, because she must inhabit Venux. Some may imagine she has a spaceship to go on Marx.

    ***

    Anyway. If you wish to see how the Left adapted the populist themes of the right to its own market share of ideas, which leads to some kind of reactionary academism, start with the Frankfurt School:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankfurt_School

  5. BBD says:

    I’ve even had people claiming that you can’t win unless you’re part of the game.

    Have you ever come across this little gem?
    ;-)

  6. In a scientific sense what’s important are the TCR and ECS and a reasonable short hiatus should not have much impact on these. Maybe on the TCR, but not on the ECS. Focusing on the hiatus is probably the wrong focus, hence why some choose to focus on it rather than on what’s actually important.

  7. I have seen that before, but it is very apt.

  8. Martin says:

    This is odd. The first part of Ryanair Grundmann’s post seems sort of reasonable: he simply notes how all that ‘hiatus’ stuff is perceived – and everybody aligning according to their political priors (actually, he notes mostly how skeptics and right-wing media are reacting). I guess he could tell us something informative about all this. But then Reindeer Grundmann goes into the science itself and seems rather clearly to express a preference for climatology taking some damage. Strange stuff.

    Btw, I think you got Grundmann’s name wrong at the beginning.

  9. I did indeed get it wrong, thanks. As I said in the post, I didn’t quite know what to make of Reiner’s post. Part of it seemed quite balanced and other parts, as you say, seemed to be suggesting that climate science should be in crisis if surface temperatures don’t rise in the next few years. Quite odd indeed.

  10. Interesting, thanks. I was unaware of the Frankfurt School.

  11. Martin says:

    I have no idea why people seem to have a tendency to jump from topics where they have expertise to topics where they have none, and rather comment on the latter. (Also, too, I have no idea why people invariably obsess with people talking outside their field of expertise, and ignore everything else, but that’s another question, about comment section warriors).

    Also, sorry for the silly name jokes, but honestly, I am already astonished that I manage not to make dick jokes (that’s what the internet is there for, after all).

  12. BBD, willard and Martin, you guys are responsible for quite a bout of laughter ;)
    Not the first one in this context to be fair. Gavin once made my day with this gem of a comment: klimazwiebel.blogspot.co.uk
    He isn’t too impressed either. Rather than being food for thought, Klimazwiebel has become a constant source of desire for Popcorn. This has mainly to do with the odd fact that they keep confusing activists/environmentalists with actual scientists who demand action (whatever action that might be). I stopped wondering why that is, as Reiner conveniently provides the answer in each and every posting. So do others over there.

    That the initial graph is incorrect (as Tamino pointed out a while ago) is barely more than a minor nit in this ingenious piece of argument. Why wait for the correct version. Btw, I’ll wager that someone of the usual suspects starts to crow about the fact that the two graphs are going to differ. Someone else wanna bet? ;)

    But credit where credit is due. Just the other day, Eduardo (with whom I had a rather unpleasant scientific encounter on another occasion) had a posting on the recent Eurasian winter temperature anomaly, which is indeed the second-most important internal contributor (after ENSO) to the slowed warming (apart from the many external forcing factors). Although he misses the Arctic sea ice link (which is profoundly important in that regard), the gist of the posting is quite right (though not new): The intriguing stagnation
    Might be interesting to note, that said anomaly is in fact the very reason for the colder than expected 2012 global temperature. Without the extreme Siberian cold in all winter months (Jan, Feb, Dec + Mar), the 2012 average would have been back on a 30-year trend line when regressed with the FR11 method. So far, this year looks more “normal” …

  13. BBD says:

    Although he misses the Arctic sea ice link (which is profoundly important in that regard)

    Yes, he does, doesn’t he? Unlike Cohen, who points to it directly. By coincidence, ignoring the Arctic sea ice connection makes it easier to focus on the NAO and SC24 – 25. Of course there is no deliberate intention to downplay the anthropogenic influence on Eurasian DJF temperature trends but the failure to consider the role of Arctic sea ice is IMO unfortunate. Especially as HvS himself stresses in comments that it is properly scientific to consider all the available hypotheses.

  14. In fact, I’ve already discussed the sea-ice-link in relation to the somewhat surprising preponderance of NAO negative in the last decade with HvS und Eduardo. So I agree, no reason to leave it out this time.

    But anyways, I just noticed that our dear host already closed the comments in the Monckton-Thread (with good reason). I feel, however, obliged to add my final 2 cent to the comment made by Dennis Bray to which I provided the link. Wotts, you may edit my comment accordingly. Please accept my apologies for the trouble I’m causing. Here it is:

    Hi Dennis,
    I’m afraid I now know more about you then I would ever have wanted. Sadly, I am also afraid that it is you who didn’t do yourself any favour with your last reply to me. Not sure you understand why this is (inevitably) the case.

  15. Pingback: Another Week in the Ecological Crises, September 22, 2013 – A Few Things Ill Considered

  16. You couldn’t make it up: Fixing the Facts
    Why the heck did none of you guys accepted my bet? Too smart a bunch of people I’m afraid ;)
    Btw, it’s worth looking at aunt Judith’s comments. Priceless!

    I now need energy bars to make my way through this excessively detailed report. Thanks to Victor Venema who already started the first round of reviews! I’ll try to deliver soonish …

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