Graphs to ponder – Temperature and global warming

Some polls suggest  the public seems to be cooling a bit to concern about global warming. For some reason, this graph comes to mind, and reminds me how remarkable it is that scientists alerted us to global warming as soon as they did.

I did two college class projects in the late 1980s on global warming. If you cover up the 90s and 2000s in the graph at left, you can see that the increase in global temperature by that date was not that dramatic. Yet at that point, climate scientists had pretty much established the likely trajectory and nature of climate change as it has unfolded over the past two decades.

I worked briefly at the US EPA on climate change in the early 1990s: Even then, it was pretty clear to me that it would be around 2005 when the temperature change would be substantial enough to create a firm public impression that change was underway. Although not everyone remains convinced, in part due to the pervasive effort of the climate deniers, that was roughly when the national debate turned from maybe? to maybe!

Best way to experience global warming? Go for a long swim.

Best way to experience global warming? Go for a long swim.

I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that the global warming conspiracy theorists continue to spew outright falsehoods and simply ignore the facts. It is disturbing to read such nonsense, but since there doesn’t seem to be anything new here . . .

The other graph I would like to highlight is this shocking illustration of how much of the “global warming” is actually taking place in the ocean, rather than the atmosphere. With growing concern about ocean acidification I cannot help but think that the angry god of global warming may be Neptune, not Ra.

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The debate is not whether or not there has been warming (as your graphs demonstrate) but whether it is caused by man. You only give one piece of evidence in favor of that in this blog entry, that it was predicted.

I am an Engineer, not a climate scientist. So I’m not an expert. I’m not here to debunk your post, or anything. I consider myself a skeptic, like there have been skeptics in science since science began. I find the personally insulting phrases like “denier” and “conspiracy theorist” (like you use) and “alarmist” (like the “deniers” use) to be distracting from the actual debate. It is an inevitably fruitless tactic to use those phrases, because it further entrenches the other side in their viewpoint, pushing science further and further from the heart of the issue. Both sides seem to have some compelling evidence, and I have found it difficult to find a purely rational discussion of all of the evidence w/o bias.

Comment by Louis on October 26, 2009 10:03 am

According to you argument, had scientists predicted global warming in 1910, by 1940 they would have been correct. By the way; don’t use the term global warming, it’s climate change.

Comment by Thom on October 26, 2009 10:50 am

These graphs all use the warming since 1880 or thereabouts for their starting point. Look at crop production in the first part of the century through to about 1940, and then look at the last 20 years. Better crop growing conditions in terms of growing days and CO2. Which period would you choose to live in?

It was warmer during the medieval warm period and people thrived.

I would never argue against curbing waste and pollution or overfishing. But as an Engineer I like to see theory and empirical evidence translated into meaningful applied science. So far from hours and hours of reading, my suspicion is that the ball of gas around which we orbit is mostly responsible for the warming … although you have to assume man has a contribution … the heat island effect is obvious. But the sun’s energy contribution makes man’s portion pretty small. IMHO

Comment by Wayne Delbeke on October 27, 2009 3:56 pm

Louis, I’ve yet to see compelling evidence to indicate humans are not causing global warming. A close inspection of global warming skeptic arguments show that they present a small piece of the puzzle but if you look at the whole picture through the peer reviewed scientific literature, it’s quite clear that human emitted CO2 is the major cause of global warming.

And yes, Thom, global warming is an apt term. The globe is warming. The planet is accumulating heat. That’s what the Total Heat Content graph shown above tells us. More energy is coming in than radiating back to space, because of the enhanced greenhouse effect.

Wayne, any positives that may come from global warming are far outweighed by the negatives. Just on the subject of crop production, agriculture is hit hard by global warming, particularly at low latitudes:

Re the sun’s contribution to global warming, the sun has actually shown a cooling trend over the last 50 years. But the trend is so slight, the long term impact from solar variations on global temperatures is pretty minimal – if anything, slight cooling:

Comment by John Cook on October 27, 2009 10:53 pm

Thom said, “don’t use the term global warming, it’s climate change”
You are mistaken to make that comment, in scientific terms global warming can be quantified, whereas climate change is a variable and will certainly happen as a consequence of high temperatures.
I agreed with the pioneer scientists, decades ago, that temperature was rising, we were all considered lunatics.
I have followed this debate from the beginning because I have studied the weather all my life.
I certainly believe that we need to check pollution but to dress that up as climate change you only divide the community.
I am not yet convinced that we are the cause of temperature changes and will continue to have an open mind on this subject until I see the formulas that actually work.

Comment by Albert on October 28, 2009 9:31 pm

Thanks for the comments.

I will stand behind my characterizations, especially characterizing the opinion I linked to as “conspiracy theorist” work. A small group of people, promoting an agenda behind intentionally manipulated computer models: sounds like the Star Chamber to me.

And regarding “global warming,” I have two reasons for preferring that term. First, it is the more understandable term to most people. I prefer to be understood than to please technical purists, as long as what is generally understood by most is what I meant to say.

Second, from a technical point of view, there is actually a very good reason to prefer the phrase “global warming pollution.” Air pollutants like NOx and SOx degrade air quality from a health pollutant. However, CO2 degrades air quality from the perspective of unnaturally altering its thermal properties. So from that perspective, what we are “polluting” with excessive CO2 emissions might be called the “thermosphere” – and we may pollute it by either unnaturally cooling or warming it.

And by the way, I do actually consider some people to be “alarmists” on global warming. There are people who make excessively wild predictions regarding the potential impacts of global warming pollution, and some of them are even “conspiracy theorists.”

Comment by John D. Wilson on October 29, 2009 8:01 am

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