The Cato Institute has recently published a new book by Pat Michaels and Robert Balling Jnr about climate change science — caled “climate of extremes”. It’s a valuable read for people interested in the science debate. The short version is:
The earth is getting warmer, and humans are contributing… but it’s not that big of a problem so calm down and stop being so scared.
The longer version:
“The overall picture seems quite clear. Humans are implicated in the planetary warming that began around 1975. Greenhouse gases are likely to be one cause, probably a considerable one, largely becaue the warming is accentruated at high-latitude land areas in the Northern Hemisphere, and because it is more prevalent in winter than in summer. A stratospheric cooling trend is also consistent with greenhouse warming as well as stratospheric ozone depletion.
“Counterfactual is the observation of no net warming (and probably a cooling) of Antarctica, and very conflicting data on Antarctic snow-fall, which should increase eas a result of warming of the surrounding ocean. Another problem is that there is a clearly “nonclimatic” warming in the temperature history, owing to local site and regional and national factors. In general, destitute nations will not make maintaining a high-quality weather or climate network a high priority. It is interesting that when the UN’s surface temperature histories are adjusted for this, the frequency distribution of very far above-normal months is modified, and that it much more resembles the satellite data (which are insensitive to local economic or land-use influence). The main change is there are fewer months that are very far above normal.
“As far as ‘iconic’ climate change is concerned, the picture is very ambiguous. This is particularly true for hurricanes. The most severe stroms in the Atlantic and Western Pacific have become about as frequent as they were in the 1940s to the 1960s, long before the second warming of the 20th century began. Actual observations of hurricane strength and frequency in these two regions are probably reliable back to when ‘hurricane hunter’ aircraft first took to the air. But other ‘proxy’ records of storms, such as cave stalagmites or datable sediments from periodic overwashes, go back hundreds and even thousands of years, indicating nothing unusual in the current regime.
“Historical temperatures turn out to be much more problematic than once thought. The three major records (surface thermometers, weather balloons, and satellites) have undergone major revisions, which create ‘more’ warming out of the same initial data. This is like flipping a coin and getting all heads or tails, as presumably it is equally possible that each record would suffer from methodological or technical flaws that would give an equal probability of either raising or lowering the temperature trend when revised. At any rate, the probability for the records to be initially unbiased but to change in one direction for two revisions is 0.016, or less than 1 in 50. What’s happened is certainly possible, but it is not very probable.
“With regard to theice and sea-level rise, again we find conflicting data, even though there has been a tremendous amount of press coverage about the demise of Greenland. The most recent decade was certainly no warmer than several in the early 20th century, and long-standing temperature records even hint that it may have been just as warm in the late 18th century. The big to-do about the discovery of ‘Warming Island’ turns out to be a farce. It’s shown as an island in a map accompanying a book by aerial photographer Earnst Hofer, published in 1957, near the end of several decades of warm temperatures. Greenland then cooled down adn extended anice bridge to the ‘island’, which was uncovered again in 2005.
“Arctic temperatures are going up — and beginning to exceed those observed in teh 1930s. Still, there’s some pretty strong evidence from the tundra of Siberia and Scandinavia that conditions were much warmer for millennia after the end of thelast ice age. If the summer sea ice is receded now, it was probably gone then (despite that, the polar bear and the Inuit survived).
“Satellite-sensing of sea ice extent began in 1979, when the Arctic was at the end of its coldest period since the early 1920s. Consequently, ice there had to have expanded when that record began, and much of the early decline was merely a return to normal. Since then, late-summer ice has continued to decline because of increasing temperature. But on the same planet, what is to be made of the fact that summer sea-ice extent in the Southern Hemisphere reached record levels in 2007-08, that most ‘warming’ in Alaska is explained as a one-year jump in 1976-77, or that the glaciers of Kilimanjaro were receding when the planet was cooling in the mid-20th century?
“The IPCC expresses ‘low confidence’ in any estimate of future temperae-latitude storms. That’s probably because, despite a jillion stories in the Euro tabloids, there’s no evidence for any long-term trends in storminess there. Here in the States, rainfall is increasing, but the proportion from heavy rainstorms remains the same.
“Politicians blame wildfires in Southern California onglobal warming, with absolutely no supporting evidence from the local climate history. Recent, highly publicized drought in the Pacific Southwest pales when compared with a whopper in the 12th century. Despite a warming trend, satellites show us no global trend whatsoever in fire frequency or extent.
“It turns out that Europe’s killer heat wave of 2003 was a small atmospheric bubble embedded in a summer known worldwide for its relative moderation. Nonetheless, themore frequent heat waves become, the fewer people die. It’s called adaptation, which is physiological as well as political. Consequently, when a similar heat wave hit three years later, there were fewer deaths than would have normally been generated bysuch temperatures. Speaking of a real catastrophe, it turns out that the North Atlantic’s circulation has been quite stale, quashing scare stories of an imminent ice age in Europe.
“But perhaps the biggest piece of science that has been kept out of public view is the tremendous number of lives that have effectively been saved by the technology powering and developed by our fossil fue-driven society. When life expectancy doubles, as it has in the industrialised world in the last 110 years, that’s equivalent to saving one of every two lives. No one will ever know the number of people who would have otherwise died, but somewhere around a billion of us is a reasonable estimate.”