President Obama: Why the Rush to Ration Carbon? Temperature Increases Are Slower and the Models Are Too Hot

ObamaCredit: Toledo BladeToday, President Barack Obama unveiled his plan to ration carbon, and boost the development and adoption of renewable energy technologies as a way to combat the looming threat of catastrophic climate change. Perhaps the president is anxious to proceed because he thinks that Robert Weissman, the head of the activist group Public Citizen is right when, in a press release in response to the president's speech, he declares:

Catastrophic climate change poses a near-existential threat to humanity. We need a national mobilization – and indeed a worldwide mobilization – to transform rapidly from our fossil fuel-reliant past and present to a clean energy future. We need a sense of urgency – indeed, emergency – massive investments, tough and specific standards and binding rules.

Weismann, however, asserts that the president's plan is "a day late, and a dollar short." Of course, the president is relying on the projections made by computer climate models that show significant warming in response to ever increasing levels of carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels. So it would really be interesting to see how the models compare to actual global average temperature trends. As it happens, University of Alabama in Huntsville climatologist John Christy has done just such a comparison. The Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 5 (CMIP5) aims to  

  • evaluate how realistic the models are in simulating the recent past,
  • provide projections of future climate change on two time scales, near term (out to about 2035) and long term (out to 2100 and beyond), and
  • understand some of the factors responsible for differences in model projections, including quantifying some key feedbacks such as those involving clouds and the carbon cycle.

In an effort to see how well the model projections match actual temperature trends as measured by satellites and weather balloons, Christy ran accessed (in response to a query from me) 73 of the models involved in CMIP5 from 1979 (when the satellite data starts) through 2025. Christy uses the representative concentration pathway 8.5 (RCP 8.5) in his computer runs analysis, noting that the various emissions scenarios only diverge after 2030, so when comparing with observations (i.e. through 2012), it doesn't matter which scenario (2.6, 4.5, 6.0, 8.5), they all have the same forcing through 2012. See results below:

CMIP5John Christy

The graphic above depicts the global lower troposphere temperature projections from 73 CMIP5 models from 1979 to 2025 compared to an average of the satellite data from UAH and RSS (blue boxes) and weather balloons (green circles) for the global lower troposphere temperatures since 1979 until now. Note nearly all the model runs project much warmer temperatures than the globe has recently experienced. The thick black line is the average projection of the 73 models.

Christy's calculations are consistent with some recent good news with regard to climate sensitivity that suggests that humanity may have the luxury of more time to address whatever problems man-made global warming may pose. As I reported last month, researchers in a study published in Nature Geosciences have estimated significantly lower equilibrium climate sensitivity and transient climate response numbers. Climate sensitivity is conventionally defined as the amount of eventual warming that would occur if carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are doubled and transient climate response is the actual temperature rise the planet will have experienced at the time this doubling happens.

From the study:

The most likely value of equilibrium climate sensitivity based on the energy budget of the most recent decade is 2.0 °C, with a 5–95% confidence interval of 1.2–3.9 °C. ...

The best estimate of TCR based on observations of the most recent decade is 1.3 °C (0.9–2.0 °C).

The new climate sensitivity estimate (and a slew of others) is well below (1 degree centigrade) the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's old estimate of climate sensitivity of between 2 to 4.5 degrees Celsius with a best estimate of 3 degrees. The upshot is that these lower estimates give humanity, as the popular science journal New Scientist explained, "a second chance to save the climate." In other words, draconian measures to reduce carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels may not be necessary to prevent the worst outcomes (whatever they would be) of future man-made global warming. So again, are you really sure that we need to rush into carbon rationing, Mr. President?

Heads up: I will be doing an analysis of the specific economic effects of President Obama's carbon rationing proposals later this week.

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  • John||

    President Obama: Why the Rush to Ration Carbon?

    Because liberals are angry about the NSA but won't be if they get their AGW pony.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Ghafla, the distraction.

  • InlineSkate||

    They're angry about the NSA? Not from what i've seen.

    Hell they appear to be fellating it even more in light of the leaks.

    I mean how do you expect to get free stoof if you do anything but support big government?

  • John||

    The media, whose livelihoods depend on obama are not all liberals. Many liberals are angry and demoralized over the NSA thing. This is why Obama is pushing AGW. He figures liberals will take it as a gift and forget about the beating he just gave them.

  • fish||

    This is why Obama is pushing AGW.

    Obama is pushing AGW/Carbon rationing for the same reason his predecessors and Prince Albert of Gore was pushing AGW/Carbon rationing.....because it is the ultimate untapped supplemental revenue source.

  • Paul.||

    because it is the ultimate untapped supplemental revenue source.

    ...Of government power...

  • tarran||

    Yeah, but as their prices start going up, the low information guys will get pissed.

    Moreover, he is going to encourage more investigation of the EPA, and I think the secret emails business is covering up a great deal of corruption.

    The last thing Obama needs is to for people to start pulling at that string.

  • tarran||

    I forgot: this is Obama; the more forcefully he orates, the less wiling he is to do anything.

  • fish||

    He doesn't have to do anything but orate. He has his minions for the details....a whole herd of Ezra Klein clones all wonkily doing their masters bidding. He doesn't even need to sully his hands by involving....ewww...congress.

  • Finrod||

    The true low-information voters won't even make a connection that it has anything to do with government regulation. They'll just whine that those greedy businessmen are raising prices again, or they'll kvetch about the oil companies, or whatever the target of the Two Minute Hate is this week.

  • acidovorax||

    Many liberals are angry and demoralized over the NSA thing.

    Not many of the average Obama supporters I see on forums such as Yahoo News. They reject the NSA scandal, and every recent scandal, as fictions contrived by the "evil Repukes".

  • Paul.||

    See: Shrike.

  • Finrod||

    Yep. Those types are permanently in "Dead men DO bleed!" territory.

  • LarryA||

    That, and because he thinks one green job is much better for the economy than the twenty icky jobs it will cost.

  • Cytotoxic||

    This. Obama is desperate for something to grab hold of to get back on track. He doesn't need to produce results talk of appeasing Gaia will be enough.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Obama is in danger of losing his base's love. He doesn't care about the effect on employment, on the economy. And he doesn't care about the science behind climate claims. He wants what he wants, and he knows the talking hairdos in the media will lead cheer for the effort.

  • albo||

    This speech is just sop to the long-haired and leafy faithful. As someone posted on asymetrical info, it's easier to loudly oppose sin than it is to eliminate it.

  • JWatts||

    University of Alabama in Huntsville climatologist John Christy

    Well this guy is going to be tarred and feathered. We can't have supposed climatologists disagreeing with the consensus.

  • BiMonSciFiCon||

    Ron: have the proponents of CAGW ever shown why the warming caused by AGW is worse than warming the Earth has experienced in the past? Why is it a catastrophe this time? Unless I'm mistaken, the Earth has had warmer periods than what we have now (and perhaps what's predicted, correct)?

  • albo||

    It will suck more than previously because we got billions of people now, and lots of them live in places that have boardwalks and funnel cake shops. Sea level rises will harsh them severely.

  • BiMonSciFiCon||

    Yeah but that's what federal flood insurance is for. They have a right to have their boardwalks and funnel cake shops subsidized by the rest of us. /tony

  • some guy||

    Also, AGW is supposed to change things much more rapidly than any of the natural drivers of climate could, so modern ecosystems won't have time to adjust to higher temperatures this time around.

  • LynchPin1477||

    I'm not sure of the answer to your question, but I'll hazard a guess and say there are a few things:

    1) While this may not be the absolute warmest period in Earth's history, comparison with estimates of the historical temperature trends puts it up there, at least in recent geological times. You may or may not trust the historical reconstruction, but this is what is commonly used for comparison.
    2) I suspect most would say the change is likely to be quicker and open ended (assuming no cut in green house gas emissions), so the potential for much warmer temperatures on short timescales is there.
    3) Rising sea levels, which are usually cited as the biggest threat from climate change, would impact a lot of people and be very costly because of how populations are concentrated near coastlines. This wouldn't have been as much of a problem many millenia ago, and it wouldn't have been a problem at all prior to the rise of people (at least from a human perspective).

  • tarran||

    Actually, it would be worse many millenia ago: people were closer to the edge of starvation and civilizations were economically less robust back then.

  • LynchPin1477||

    I was thinking pre-ice age, before the rise of civilization, when people would have been less concentrated near coastlines. Thus a smaller fraction of the population would have been impacted. But maybe I'm wrong on that?

    In general, though, you're of course right that we are much less at the mercy of nature today.

  • Sevo||

    LynchPin1477| 6.25.13 @ 5:13PM |#
    "I was thinking pre-ice age, before the rise of civilization, when people would have been less concentrated near coastlines. Thus a smaller fraction of the population would have been impacted. But maybe I'm wrong on that?"

    Anecdotally, in CA there are typically mounds of discarded bi-valve shells near water, and it's not surprising. You can catch fin- or shell-fish with out much danger of them biting back. Plus if you're near water, there's a good chance edible green stuff is growing nearby.
    I would bet that proportionately more people lived near the coasts.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    I would bet that proportionately more people lived near the coasts.

    This. We didn't suddenly say "let's go see what this whole coast thing is about" after 150k years of living inland.

  • Sevo||

    "We didn't suddenly say "let's go see what this whole coast thing is about" after 150k years of living inland."

    Ouhga: "Folks, I got some great waterfront properties..."

  • PapayaSF||

    Indeed. Vast numbers of human settlements are now below sea level, because of the rise of the oceans since the last ice age.

  • Jerryskids||

    Sure more people lived near the coast - in a twig hut they could move in about 2 minutes. If the shoreline moves 20 miles in 50 years for a civilization of hunter/gatherers, or even farmers, it's no big deal. Nowadays, it's tougher to move a city.

  • ||

    1. Weren't all of those warm times followed by really fucking cold times?

    2. The change hasn't been quicker. Also, CO2 emissions in the US are down to 1992 levels, so we're already cutting back those emissions absent the president forcing carbon rationing schemes.

    3. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm unaware of any significant rise in sea levels. Granted that if they do rise, it will affect a lot of people who live right on the coast (mostly liberal elitist here in the US at least).

  • PapayaSF||

    According to this, sea level rise this century, even under the worst assumptions, is pretty insignificant.

  • Finrod||

    For a while the CAGW proponents were trying to deny that the Medieval Warm Period even existed, or if/where it did that it was a local phenomenon only. Never mind that temperature proxies all over the globe have record of it. One of them even had eviscerated the Wikipedia article on the Medieval Warm Period for a while, until it eventually got reverted months later because it became obvious even to Wikipedia editors that this douchenozzle was screwing up everything that didn't comport with his comfy little world view.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Shorter Obama: "Squirrel!"

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Yeah, the scandal de jour really has him shaken.

  • Sevo||

    Palin's Buttplug| 6.25.13 @ 5:49PM |#
    "Yeah, the scandal de jour really has him shaken."

    Dipshit, he seems 'way less than pleased with the response of every other country he's asked to give Snowden back.
    He may not be shaken, but he's damned pissed and can't do a damn thing other than ask Kerry (of all people) to try to find some favors.
    Your fave lying asshole has a ton of problems right now.

  • Brett L||

    Wow, we're about to fall off the bottom end of the models.

  • Ted S.||

    I don't want to fall off a model's bottom.

  • Enough About Palin||

  • Ted S.||

    I don't think I'd be anywhere near that model's bottom, thank you very much.

  • LynchPin1477||

    Ron, there actually do seem to be a couple models that are roughly in line with the measurements. What sets those apart from the others?

  • tarran||

    How recently they were "tuned".

    Basically, they alter coefficients for various functions until the model predicts the past, then allow it to continue running forward into the future.

    What's comical is that the models fall apart the longer into the future they go. Which essentially means that the tuned models are no better at predicting the future than they were in their pretuned state.

    Yet another clue that CAGW is an unscientific religion.

  • LynchPin1477||

    Interesting. I would have assumed that all the models were constantly tuned as new data came in, and that the major difference between models would be the underlying functional forms, the inclusions of various feedbacks (positive or negative), etc.

  • Enough About Palin||

    "and indeed a worldwide mobilization"

    Fuck you President Liberty Thief. Right up the ass.

  • albo||

    C'mon. When has collective action EVER turned out badly?

  • Ron Bailey||

    EAP & a: Be fair, President Obama did not say that - Weissman at Public Citizen did.

  • BiMonSciFiCon||

    Premature worldwide mobilization worked out great in 1914.

  • Enough About Palin||

    "We need a sense of urgency – indeed, emergency – massive investments, tough and specific standards and binding rules."

    http://reason.com/blog/2013/06.....nt_3827892

  • Michael S. Langston||

    Why now? Because a crisis is a terrible thing to waste...and with urgency, they can also skip normal things like... reading or analyzing the bill before voting on it or signing it into law.

  • ||

    Fascinating how good the most optimistic model turned out to be.

  • Marshall Gill||

    nearly all the model runs project much warmer temperatures than the globe has recently experienced.

    As pointed out by tarran, not only do these bullshit fantasies get really stupid the farther out they run, it is the stupid long term predictions on which Armageddon is predicted. The level where we supposedly effect "climate sensitivity" is not in the near future where the models are mostly wrong, but in the more distant future where they are all fabulously outside any historical experience. They write the fucking models to produce a certain result.

    What is really fuck-all stupid about this idiotic issue is the fact that global warming would almost certainly be a fucking God Damned boon to mankind. Unless I am mistaken we have a global history of glaciation, not the reverse. The only real question for the believers of this bullshit is "Why do you hate humanity?".

  • Sevo||

    "The only real question for the believers of this bullshit is "Why do you hate humanity?"."

    Post mosaic religion:
    Mankind and the world were once in blissful synchronicity, evil knowledge/technology has diverted man from that golden age, we're looking at the new rapture, mankind is to be punished for its sinful behavior.
    Anyone who uses the term 'mother nature' is a fucking religious idiot.

  • Finrod||

    Ditto all of that, every single word.

  • ||

    Have any other countries tried subsidizing green energy? Maybe we could have a look at thier efforts and see how that works out.

  • Sevo||

    Now, THERE'S an idea! Maybe we should look around at the evidence!

  • Dweebston||

    Define your metrics, else it's healthcare and the NHS all over again. Spain apparently has a lot of infrastructure spending sunk in turbines, ergo SUCCESS.

    Nevermind that nuclear is huge in France, nuclear isn't green enough.

  • ||

    No anonbot. No he does not.

  • ||

    I dont understand how y'all can so quickly forget that he thinks diddling little kids sounds like fun.

  • PapayaSF||

    I will be doing an analysis of the specific economic effects of President Obama's carbon rationing proposals later this week.

    That will answer one of my questions, and the other is: How much difference will it make? I suspect that it will be something like: "For $10 trillion, we'll be able to lower the average world temperature by .0001 degrees F." In which case the obvious response is: "You're kidding, right?"

  • MJGreen||

    Whereas, if the major effects really are inevitable, we'd be best served by promoting as much economic development as possible. If your heart truly bleeds for poor Africans effected by evil Western carbon, your focus should be on making them richer, not trying in vain to slightly reduce the CO2 emissions here.

  • PapayaSF||

    Also, the richer we are, the more technological and scientific progress we can make. Being trillions richer over a 50 year period might well mean we could come up with a global warming solution we wouldn't otherwise figure out, or couldn't otherwise afford to do.

  • grmderpson||

    Aw fuck! --eh, I don't know why massive overspending like this continues to upset me. It translates to massive amounts of money being pumped into the beltway, and I live within the beltway. Thanks Obama! Maybe I'll buy a boat...

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