Wall Street Journal Offers a Skewed Climate Perspective from Judith Curry

, , former science communication officer | October 10, 2014, 1:58 pm EDT
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The Wall Street Journal has published an op-ed from Dr. Judith Curry, a researcher who is often at odds with many of her colleagues when it comes to both the severity of future climate change, as well as how policymakers should view climate risks.

Arguments like this are all too typical for the Journal’s editorial page. A previous analysis we conducted found that the paper’s opinion pages offered misleading views on climate science about 80 percent of the time.

Like other op-eds, Dr. Curry’s is framed as “contradicting” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and suggests that any reduction in potential risks from climate change can justify delay in reducing emissions. More broadly, Dr. Curry has argued that the existence of scientific uncertainty in climate change lets policymakers off the hook for responding to climate risks to some degree.

I asked my colleague Peter Frumhoff—our chief scientist, a former IPCC lead author, and the co-author of a recent study on climate science and policy—if I could share his reaction to Dr. Curry’s argument.

Here’s what he wrote:

The ocean is absorbing much of the excess heat from human emissions. If the model Curry and colleagues discussed had incorporated the latest ocean heat content data, their relatively low best estimate for climate sensitivity would have been more in line with previously reported, higher estimates.

It would be a mistake to set policy based solely on low estimates. That’s why we have advisory bodies like the IPCC and National Climate Assessment that examine all the available science, including higher estimates. The risks of far greater climate sensitivity can’t simply be discounted or dismissed.

The bottom line is that we know enough about where we’re heading to reduce emissions even as scientists grapple with homing in on precisely how much the Earth is expected to warm.

It’s also worth pointing out that current emissions are currently on track to be higher than any of the scenarios the IPCC examined. Further, the path we are on does not take into account the amplification of carbon release to the atmosphere from Arctic permafrost that is likely to dramatically accelerate over the next decades.

It would be great if climate sensitivity were as low as Curry thinks it is. But we can’t base climate policy on wishful thinking. Using arguments about low climate sensitivity to delay action is like refusing to treat a patient because you can’t tell if their fever is 103 or 104 degrees. The risks are clear, even if we’re still figuring out just how big they are.

RealClimate has also published a more in-depth examination of Dr. Curry’s recent research. Dr. Frumhoff also reminded me of a good Scientific American piece from Dr. Michael Mann that tackled some of these issues, too. Finally, my colleague Dr. Brenda Ekwurzel wrote about the “speed-bump” in surface temperatures, which is a partial focus of Dr. Curry’s op-ed.

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  • truth_machine

    Curry has abandoned science (which she was never very good at) to her right-leaning political ideology.

  • Leslie Graham

    Now that human-caused climate change is simply an obvious everyday reality all over the world the denial has become desperate, pathetic and, frankly, more than a little insane,

    Fact:
    The earth is losing over a trillion tons of ice per year:

    – 159 Gt Antarctic LAND ice volume………McMillan el al, GRL (2014)
    + 26 Gt Antarctic SEA ice volume…………Holland et al, J Climate (2014)
    – 261 Gt Arctic sea ice…………………………..PIOMAS
    – 378 Gt Greenland, Enderlin et al………….GRL (2014)
    – 259 Gt other land based glaciers…………Gardner et al. Science (2013)

    TOTAL ICE LOSS PER YEAR = 1,031 Gt.
    In fact, even the increase in seasonal Antarctic sea ice was predicted by Manabe et al 1991, nearly 25 years ago.

    And, of course, the melt is accelerating as global temperatures continue to rise. And make no mistake – the laws of physics did NOT magicaly cease to apply to the radiative properties of the CO2 molecule in July 1998 no matter how much the carbon corporation’s propaganda machine tries to insist they did.

    Between 1997 and 2003 Greenland was losing ice at 83 cubic kilometres a year. From 2003 to 2009 it was up to 153 cubic kilometres a year.
    Last year, using 14.3 million data points across Greenland collected by CryoSat, the research team were able to show it was up to an extraordinary 378 cubic kilometres per year – nearly 5 times faster than just a decade ago.

    If you think that’s bad – or even if you don’t – check out Antarctica.
    Antarctica is also losing ice mass at an accelerating rate.
    The 159 Kt loss reported by the McMillan el al study is the long term average which obscures the detail.
    Between 1992 and 2001, ice was melting from the two main ice sheets at a rate of about 64 Gt a year.
    From 2002 to 2011, the ice sheets were melting at a rate of about 362 Gt a year – an almost six-fold increase.

    Is it any wonder there is more ice in the seas surrounding Antarctica when there is 362 cubic kilometres melting into it every year now.

    If you are not ‘alarmed’ by these figures then you’re clearly not paying attention.

    But the ice melt is the least of the problems that global warming is causing.
    Far more immediate will be the crop losses due to droughts and floods and the damage to the global economy – as we can already see. Well – most of us can.

  • Leslie Graham

    Globaly, 2014 is, so far, the hottest year on record.

    “…An unprecedented rise in global ocean temperatures contributed toward making the summer of 2014 the hottest on record, according to a report published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. The reading puts the entire year on track to become the hottest ever since records began.

    From June through August, the average global temperature was 62.7 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 1.28 degrees higher than the 20th-century average. The global sea surface temperature was 1.17 degrees Fahrenheit above the previous century’s average of 61.4 degrees, breaking the previous all-time high set in June. This, according to the report, made not only the month of August the hottest August since records began in 1880, it also made the summer of 2014 the hottest ever.

    The report stated that record-high temperatures were reported not only during the summers in the northern hemisphere, but also during the winters in the southern hemisphere during the months of June, July and August. During these three months, the winters in the southern hemisphere were the fourth warmest on record.

    http://www.ibtimes.com/summer-2014-was-hottest-ever-noaa-report-1692348

  • Alan Poirier

    Curry is not alone in having produced a study that shows both ECS and TCR are much lowere than originally thought. A new paper published in the Open Journal of Atmospheric and Climate Change by professor of physics and expert on spectroscopy Dr. Hermann Harde finds that climate sensitivity to a doubling of CO2 levels is only about 0.43C, about 7 times less than the IPCC claims, but in line with many other published low estimates of climate sensitivity.
    Abstract:
    “We present an advanced two-layer climate model, especially appropriate to calculate the influence of an increasing CO2-concentration and a varying solar activity on global warming. The model describes the atmosphere and the ground as two layers acting simultaneously as absorbers and Planck radiators, and it includes additional heat transfer between these layers due to convection and evaporation. The model considers all relevant feedback processes caused by changes of water vapour, lapse-rate, surface albedo or convection and evaporation. In particular,
    the influence of clouds with a thermally or solar induced feedback is investigated in some detail. The short- and long-wave absorptivities of the most important greenhouse gases water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane and ozone are derived from line-by-line calculations based on the HITRAN08-databasis and are integrated in the model. Simulations including an increased solaractivity over the last century give a CO2 initiated warming of 0.2 ˚ C and a solar influence of 0.54 ˚ C over this period, corresponding to a CO2 climate sensitivity of 0.6 ˚ C (doubling of CO2)
    and a solar sensitivity of 0.5 ˚ C (0.1 % increase of the solar constant).”
    There are other studies that have produced similar results (Lindzen, for example) so Curry’s study is hardly an outlier.
    What all of these studies show is that CAGW is not likely in the least and that we have considerable time to look at out options.
    That would be a good thing, because so far we have wasted billions on boondoggles.

    • Leslie Graham

      Dr. Hermann Harde is a lone voice in the wilderness with his ridiculous “It’s the sun” nonsense.
      The temperature has already risen .85C and solar activity has been flat or even fallen slightly during that period.
      I would rather accept the verdicts of the estimated 28,000 climate scientists worldwide who say he is talking nonsence.
      And why would you accept the opinion of such an outlier paper as opposed to the thousands of papers that say the opposite?
      Well – we know why really dont we?

      • Alan Poirier

        The last seven papers on the subject of ECS and TCR are all showing lower sensitivity. There was even a study showing that ocean temperatures have not increased. The tide is turning on the issue. Even the IPCC was forced in 2007 to downgrade its findings. Be thankful that there are still scientists with enough integrity to analyze the data and not simply rely on failed models. As for the sun, three solar cycles are bottoming out in the few years (we’re still at the peak of C24) — de Vries (200 year cycle), Gleissberg (80 year) and Schwabbe (20 year). It looks as if we are headed into another Maunder minimum which you may or may not know wreaked havoc during the Little Ice Age. There’s another 1000 year cycle ending in 2060 (Eddy) which could really cause problems for climate. So I wouldn’t be quite so dismissive of the sun. There are a lot of people who know considerably more about the topic than yourself that take the sun quite seriously. You do know, after all, it is the sun and only the sun that can heat the oceans. Water is opaque to LW IR radiation from GHG. You did know that, right? It’s basic physics, a subject near and dear to my heart. Look it up and get educated.

      • Dano2

        There was even a study showing that ocean temperatures have not increased.

        You were duped on the contents of this paper too.

        Tsk.

        Best,

        D

      • Alan Poirier
    • Barton Paul Levenson

      Why was he only using two layers? Even with my home-made RCMs, I usually use at least 20.

      • Alan Poirier

        And how do they fare at replicating climate patterns past and present? Do you have a link?

    • Dano2

      BTW, you are gullibly parroting the text from the site that led you to believe this paper is compelling – the paper came out in 2011. And has not passed peer review.

      Best,

      D

    • truth_machine

      Sorry, Alan, but we aren’t stupid or ignorant here, so your dishonest tripe has no purchase.

      • Alan Poirier

        So you don’t like science?

      • Alan Poirier

        What’s dishonest about now the pause? Even Trenberth accepts the pause — travesty and all.

  • Saying the WSJ offers a skewed perspective is being kind. It routinely has the entire issue wrong, as does Curry, who is a professer who once worked on it, but misunderstand the basic issue, and promulgates massive and highly self reinforcing misinformation on her website under the hilariously ironic guise (and belief) of perspective and “various opinion.” My question for her went unanswered. http://theworldofairaboveus.blogspot.com/2014/08/heres-thought-refutation-of-scientific.html

    And she has the entire issue wrong when it comes to both this idea that skeptics are simply trying to look broadly at the issue, and regarding the pause, as if climate change is some sort of predictable, smooth, short term consistent linear phenomenon, a belief that is common, but belies almost any understanding of the issue. http://theworldofairaboveus.blogspot.com/2014/10/the-crux-of-climate-change-issue-and.html Shocker that the WSJ should turn to Curry for its wildly “Skewed” but in essence highly misinforming editorials.

    @David Rice. Agree, their are very very few climatologists or those who professionally study this issue who would “agree” with Curry. Here’s one (same blog but gives background to non science views driving skewing of science) http://goo.gl/ZHt6ZA who does, and who has essentially acknowledged that his science is driven by an interest in “limiting government” (rather than sticking to the science, but rather finding results that might help the gov not weigh in on an issue) and who also seems to be driven by quasi religious doctrine in a higher divine order that will make keep the earth goldilocks perfect for mankind, physics notwithstanding (Sort of like GAIA both existing, and existing for mankind’s benefit and protection, and having some sort of ability to alter physics and self regulate the planet, as if it wasn’t just a ball of rock and subject to the laws of physics, with life upon it.

  • John Borowski

    Good ol’ Judith Curry………..

    Favourite climate myths by Judith Curry

    Below are many of the climate myths used by Judith Curry plus how often each myth has been used.

    Climate myths by Curry
    What the Science Says
    Usage

    “Global warming stopped in 1998, 1995, 2002, 2007, 2010, ????”
    Global temperature is still rising and 2010 was the hottest recorded.
    1

    “Scientists tried to ‘hide the decline’ in global temperature”
    The
    ‘decline’ refers to a decline in northern tree-rings, not global
    temperature, and is openly discussed in papers and the IPCC reports.
    1

    “IPCC is alarmist”
    Numerous papers have documented how IPCC predictions are more likely to underestimate the climate response.
    1

    “There is no consensus”
    97% of climate experts agree humans are causing global warming.

    • Leslie Graham

      “2010 was the hottest”

      Not any more.

      Globaly, 2014 is, so far, the hottest year on record.

      “…An unprecedented rise in global ocean temperatures contributed toward making the summer of 2014 the hottest on record, according to a report published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. The reading puts the entire year on track to become the hottest ever since records began.

      From June through August, the average global temperature was 62.7 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 1.28 degrees higher than the 20th-century average. The global sea surface temperature was 1.17 degrees Fahrenheit above the previous century’s average of 61.4 degrees, breaking the previous all-time high set in June. This, according to the report, made not only the month of August the hottest August since records began in 1880, it also made the summer of 2014 the hottest ever.

      The report stated that record-high temperatures were reported not only during the summers in the northern hemisphere, but also during the winters in the southern hemisphere during the months of June, July and August. During these three months, the winters in the southern hemisphere were the fourth warmest on record.

      http://www.ibtimes.com/summer-2014-was-hottest-ever-noaa-report-1692348

      Yes – it is just feasible that November and December global temperatures will plummet to such a degree that 2014 will not beat 2010 but it’s exteremely unlikely,
      And this is without an El Nino! Amazing really.

  • Rob Painting

    And what about ocean acidification and ecological responses to both warming and acidification? Lower climate sensitivity of the scale implied by Lewis & Curry makes very little difference over the next 50 years, but ocean ecosystems could be in freefall.

    The climate sensitivity argument is but one in a line of distractions that obfuscators use to draw attention away from what’s going on in the real world.

  • David Rice

    “… who is often at odds with many of her colleagues….”

    Er, you mean “almost all of her colleagues.” Out of some 30,000+ climatologists one might find two more other than Dr. Curry who agree with her public statements. (Her private assessment, I suspect, probably matches the consensus.)

    • CS

      There are 30,000 climate scientists?