Global Warming 101

by Jonah Goldberg

Richard Lindzen has the best “explainer” column on global-warming skepticism in a while. An excerpt:

That said, the main greenhouse substances in the earth’s atmosphere are water vapor and high clouds. Let’s refer to these as major greenhouse substances to distinguish them from the anthropogenic minor substances. Even a doubling of CO2 would only upset the original balance between incoming and outgoing radiation by about 2%. This is essentially what is called “climate forcing.”

There is general agreement on the above findings. At this point there is no basis for alarm regardless of whether any relation between the observed warming and the observed increase in minor greenhouse gases can be established. Nevertheless, the most publicized claims of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) deal exactly with whether any relation can be discerned. The failure of the attempts to link the two over the past 20 years bespeaks the weakness of any case for concern.

The IPCC’s Scientific Assessments generally consist of about 1,000 pages of text. The Summary for Policymakers is 20 pages. It is, of course, impossible to accurately summarize the 1,000-page assessment in just 20 pages; at the very least, nuances and caveats have to be omitted. However, it has been my experience that even the summary is hardly ever looked at. Rather, the whole report tends to be characterized by a single iconic claim.

The main statement publicized after the last IPCC Scientific Assessment two years ago was that it was likely that most of the warming since 1957 (a point of anomalous cold) was due to man. This claim was based on the weak argument that the current models used by the IPCC couldn’t reproduce the warming from about 1978 to 1998 without some forcing, and that the only forcing that they could think of was man. Even this argument assumes that these models adequately deal with natural internal variability—that is, such naturally occurring cycles as El Nino, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, etc.

Yet articles from major modeling centers acknowledged that the failure of these models to anticipate the absence of warming for the past dozen years was due to the failure of these models to account for this natural internal variability. Thus even the basis for the weak IPCC argument for anthropogenic climate change was shown to be false.

Of course, none of the articles stressed this. Rather they emphasized that according to models modified to account for the natural internal variability, warming would resume—in 2009, 2013 and 2030, respectively.

But even if the IPCC’s iconic statement were correct, it still would not be cause for alarm. After all we are still talking about tenths of a degree for over 75% of the climate forcing associated with a doubling of CO2. The potential (and only the potential) for alarm enters with the issue of climate sensitivity—which refers to the change that a doubling of CO2 will produce in GATA. It is generally accepted that a doubling of CO2 will only produce a change of about two degrees Fahrenheit if all else is held constant. This is unlikely to be much to worry about.

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