Harvard University researchers have resolved a conflict in estimates of how much the Earth will warm in response to a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We observe the irrationality of the doctrine of global warming, the naive belief that small variations of global temperature we experience have an anthropogenic origin!

Regulations run amok in the climate change agenda. The costs of successfully countering the buildup of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere are huge—far larger than described in the media and by advocates. It requires the rapid, total phase out of fossil fuels (the leave them in the ground strategy), raising energy prices, and fundamentally changing production and consumption patterns, which would reduce living standards worldwide. The poor will be disproportionately harmed, both within the United States and everywhere.

That conflict — between temperature ranges based on global climate models and paleoclimate records and ranges generated from historical observations — prevented the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from providing a best estimate in its most recent report for how much doubled CO2 emissions will warm the Earth.

“Historical observations give us a lot of insight … but there is no perfect analogue for the changes that are coming,” said Professor Peter Huybers. 

The researchers found that the low range of temperature increase — between 1 and 3 degrees Celsius — offered by historical observations did not take into account long-term warming patterns. When these patterns are introduced, the researchers found that not only do temperatures fall within the canonical range of 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius but that even higher ranges, perhaps up to 6 degrees, may also be possible.

Slow climate mode reconciles historical and model-based estimates of climate sensitivity

SEAS researchers Peter Huybers and Cristian Proistosescu resolved a major conflict in estimates of how much the Earth will warm in response to a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

It is well documented that different parts of the planet warm at different speeds. The land over the northern hemisphere, for example, warms significantly faster than water in the Southern Ocean.

The costs of reversing GHG emissions could be 1% of global GDP annually—or about $800 billion each year, which is approximately the size of the economy of Holland. Specific industries will be particularly affected—including manufacturing, energy production, mining, transportation, and some types of agriculture. Generally wealthy elites will not bear many of these costs; they will fall squarely on general middle-class citizens. A candid weighing of (very uncertain) benefits and costs and their distribution among populations for compensation is essential for any effective, durable action to address possible climate change.

Any reduction in global GHG emissions and a decline in the stock of GHG already in the atmosphere requires coordinated and major cutbacks in fossil fuels worldwide. Greenhouse gases circulate the globe, meaning that some countries will receive the benefits of costly mitigation taken on by others. Under these circumstances, the incentives to free ride are irresistible. Internal pressures to free ride will be particularly great in those countries that will incur the greatest mitigation costs, that have the weakest government institutions and limited rule of law, and that are big enough to chart their own course regardless of international shaming—Russia, China, India, Brazil, and even the United States. Successful international mitigation will require more than the small “feel good” adjustments currently portrayed by advocates, agency officials, and politicians. But high costs make durable international cooperation unlikely—at least until benefits are much clearer than they are now. Attention to the size of GHG mitigation costs and the corresponding global free-riding problem directs policy toward more fruitful aims.

The current state of debate about climate change is spitting science in the face and treating science like a piece of rubbish. Carbon dioxide is treated like a toxic gas by proponents of radical policies on climate change. Next it will be oxygen, it will be anything that you want on the chemical table. The Sun is a primary driver of climate change — and has a far greater impact than changes in CO2. Climate science is dangerously corrupted and co-opted by multiple anti-science forces and players.

Much of the reporting about climate change in the mainstream media is fake news. There are many fads and fashions that have sprung up around climate change. For example, the locavore movement, which stresses eating locally-produced food to save energy, actually increases greenhouse gases, because of the energy efficiencies achieved by larger and more established farms that benefit from economies of scale. Governor Jerry Brown had warned of a drought of immeasurable magnitude — a meaningless phrase, in scientific terms. The movement toward renewable energy sources, he said, was not a sign of progress, but regression toward the lower energy densities of the pre-industrial age. Belief in carbon pollution is like the superstitious beliefs of primitive civilizations, such as a 1933 newspaper article describing a drought in Syria that was blamed by locals on yo-yo toys!

For all the focus on carbon dioxide, the most important greenhouse gas in the climate system is water vapor. And carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, as the term is conventionally used. While it was true that the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide had been increasing and had passed 400 parts per million, the dominant effect of water vapor had helped flatten the greenhouse effect, such that the rise of global surface temperatures had slowed significantly.

Some climate scientists manipulated graphs to make climate change seem more severe than it was — for example, by representing temperature anomalies rather than absolute temperatures.

There is, in fact, some surface temperature warming, albeit less severe than conventional data sets showed. But the effect is more likely the result of fluctuations in energy output from the sun, which in turn affects water vapor. The major effect of cutting carbon dioxide emissions to zero would be to kill and hurt poor people and greatly harm animals and the environment.

“The historical pattern of warming is that most of the warming has occurred over land, in particular over the northern hemisphere,” said Cristian Proistosescu, Ph.D ’17, the first author of the paper. “This pattern of warming is known as the fast mode — you put CO2 in the atmosphere and very quickly after that, the land in the northern hemisphere is going to warm.”

But there is also a slow mode of warming, which can take centuries to realize. That warming, which is most associated with the Southern Ocean and the Eastern Equatorial Pacific, comes with positive feedback loops that amplify the process. For example, as the oceans warm, cloud cover decreases, and a white reflecting surface is replaced with a dark absorbent surface.

The researchers developed a mathematical model to parse the two modes within different climate models.

“The models simulate a warming pattern like today’s, but indicate that strong feedbacks kick in when the Southern Ocean and Eastern Equatorial Pacific eventually warm, leading to higher overall temperatures than would simply be extrapolated from the warming seen to date,” said Peter Huybers, professor of Earth and planetary sciences in the Department of Earth and Planetary Science, and of environmental science and engineering at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), the co-author of the paper.

Huybers and Proistosescu found that while the slow mode of warming contributes a great deal to the ultimate amount of global warming, it is barely present in present-day warming patterns. “Historical observations give us a lot of insight into how climate changes and are an important test of our climate models,” said Huybers, “but there is no perfect analogue for the changes that are coming.”


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