April 16, 2009

Who is Behind the Current Emissions Trends?

There is a lot being made in some circles about how we are currently on an emissions pathway that exceeds even the worst case projections used by the IPCC. This is used to support pleadings that we take immediate and significant action to reduce our profligate usage of fossil fuels, or we risk making the planet inhospitable to human societies.

The problem is that it is unclear who “we” are. Since most of these pleadings seem to be aimed at the current U.S. Congress to get it to pass legislation to limit the lifestyle of those under its control, it would seem like “we” are Americans.

But it this really a very effective course of action? Are Americans the reason that the current pathway of total global carbon dioxide emissions exceeds the IPCC’s wildest expectations? Or is there a more appropriate target audience?

To help you decide for yourself, we plot below the annual (energy-based) carbon dioxide emissions from various portions of the world for the past 10 years (through 2006, the last data available from the Energy Information Administration).

Figure 1. Annual energy-related carbon dioxide emissions from various portions of the world, 1997-2006 (source: Energy Information Administration)

Notice that one of these things is not like the others. And that thing is…China.

The emissions growth in China over the past 10 years (actually over the past 6-7) is simply astounding. Since 2000, China has increased its CO2 emissions by nearly 50% more than the rest of the world combined. In fact, had China’s CO2 emission changes for the past 10 years paralleled those of the United States (which was responsible for only a few percent of the global emission growth since 2000), the world would be on an emissions pathway that would lie very near the lowest scenario considered by the IPCC.

If other words, “we” (Americans) have little responsibility for “our” (global) emissions growth during the past 5-10 years.

Here is another way to look at it.

China has increased its national emissions since 2000 by an amount equivalent to about half the total annual U.S. emissions. That means, just to offset Chinese emissions growth, each and every one of us (Americans) would have had, on average, to have reduced our CO2 emissions by 50% during the same period. And this would only to be to offset China’s growth! Give China a few more years (although the global recession will slow things down a bit—temporarily) and China’s emissions growth will have exhausted our (Americans) potential to effect any more offsets—in other words, even it we (Americans) in 2000 had eliminated all our CO2 emissions, China, by the end of this decade, would most likely have completely replaced them through growth of its own. In only 10 short years, our (Americans) tremendous sacrifice would be forever erased by China’s growth.

The bottom line is clearly thus:

The loudest the pleas to limit carbon dioxide emissions should be being made in Chinese (rather than English), for without reigning in China’s emissions growth, America’s impact on future global climate change will be minuscule. So the alarmists should quit pestering us (Americans) about our energy usage until they have made some serious inroads with China. Recent trends show that “we” are not the problem.

April 8, 2009

Has the climate recently shifted?

“Has the climate recently shifted?” is the title of a just-published paper in Geophysical Research Letters by researchers Kyle Swanson and Anastasios Tsonis from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Their examination of this topic was undoubtedly prompted by the recent behavior of global temperature which shows that the rate of warming has dramatically slowed during the past 7-12 years.

Updating a methodology that they had previously developed and used to identify several changes in the climate state that occurred during the 20th century, Swanson and Tsonis examined the temperature data from recent years to see if another state change had taken place:

Here, a new and improved means to quantify the coupling between climate modes confirms that another synchronization of these modes, followed by an increase in coupling occurred in 2001/02. This suggests that a break in the global mean temperature trend from the consistent warming over the 1976/77–2001/02 period may have occurred.

In other words, the authors think that they have identified another in a string of break points that signal a change in the general state of the earth’s climate.


March 5, 2009

Feedbacks and Climate Sensitivity

A week or two ago, Andrew Dessler and Steven Sherwood published a “Perspectives” (largely opinion) piece in Science magazine that argued that the water vapor feedback was unassailably strong and positive. This means that the warming from the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations leads to more water vapor in the atmosphere which leads to even more warming (water vapor is a strong greenhouse gas itself). This positive feedback results in roughly twice as much warming as would occur from anthropogenic greenhouse gas increases alone.

Dessler and Sherwood concluded:

There remain many uncertainties in our simulations of the climate, but evidence for the water vapor feedback—and the large future climate warming it implies—is now strong.

This conclusion has drawn a lot of attention within the community of researchers investigating the behavior of water vapor and the role of water feedback in climate change—and most of it has been highly critical.


May 2, 2008

China is #1!

Thousands of websites present the usual view of global warming claiming that greenhouse gases are increasing in atmospheric concentration, this is causing the planet to warm, and if we don’t act immediately, an endless number of calamities are certain to become reality. These sites then make every effort to make you believe that much of the problem can be placed at the feet of President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and just about anyone associated with the gas, oil, and coal companies in the United States. There are mentions here and there of contributions from other countries, but you will constantly be reminded that the United States is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, that the relatively small population of the USA has an immoral per capita emission level, and that no one on the planet should feel more guilty about global warming than folks who voted for the current administration.

To be fair, there have been news reports recently that China’s total emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) has surpassed the emission from the United States. Along these lines, an important article has appeared in Geophysical Research Letters that shows China is now our global leader in CO2 emission, which is certainly newsworthy, but other results presented in their article may be received as bad news by the global warming alarmists. The research was conducted by three scientists at the University of Maryland, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Austria’s International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis; a portion of the research was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Biological and Environmental Research Programs.


January 30, 2008

What the Future Holds in Store

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) recently released its new and improved “position statement” on global warming. Andy Revkin of the New York Times featured the AGU’s release on this DotEarth blog site and asked AGU members to chime in on their opinions of the statement that was developed by the AGU’s ruling Council. While there were definitely members who expressed dismay at the position statement, a majority of commentors gave it their hearty endorsement. Apparently, most of the endorsers have not given a very in depth consideration of all that is contained in the AGU’s statement, for otherwise, (we would hope anyway) that they would have been a bit more reserved.

For instance, the AGU’s position statement includes the following sentence: “If this 2 degrees Celsius warming [above 19th century levels] is to be avoided, then our net annual emissions of carbon dioxide must be reduced by more than 50 percent within this century.” This is akin to stating “If pigs had wings, they could fly.” Sure, you could endorse the statement, but to do so would seem a bit foolish. First off, pigs don’t have wings, and it would take nothing short of a miracle for them to acquire them, and secondly, even if they had wings, it is not guaranteed that they could fly. The most pig-shaped bird we can think of—the penguin which is large and rotund and flopping around on its belly a lot of the time—has wings, but can’t fly. Thus even if the impossibility of pigs sporting wings was overcome, it wouldn’t insure a successful flight.

The same is true of the AGU’s statement about a 50% CO2 reduction this century and its impacts on global temperature. First off, it will take nothing short of a miracle for the 50% reduction to take place, and secondly, it probably wouldn’t stop the temperature from rising 2ºC above “natural” levels. Endorse it if you want, but it doesn’t reflect well on your scientific reasoning skills.


November 2, 2007

Fires Contribute to Global Warming?

The recent wildfires in California have certainly provided an opportunity for the greenhouse crusade to further claim that global warming is already increasing fire frequency, duration, and intensity all over the planet. In the midst of the disaster in California, Nevada Democrat and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters that “One reason why we have the fires in California is global warming.” However, when pressed by astonished reporters on whether he really believed global warming caused the fires, he appeared to back away from his comments, saying there are many factors that contributed to the disaster. Since then, literally hundreds of newspaper articles appeared throughout the country reinforcing the idea that emissions of greenhouse gases have warmed the earth, dried the forests, and made fires a lot worse.


August 8, 2007

Clouding Asian Warming

In 1998, Balling et al. published an article in Climate Research dealing with summer and winter warming rates in several widely-used gridded temperature time series. As seen in Figure 1 below, the Balling crew (which includes several World Climate Report team members) found that winters were warming far more than summers, based on near-surface thermometer records, for a large part of northern and central Asia over the period 1946-1995. We repeated the analyses for the satellite-based lower-tropospheric temperature measurements over the period 1979-1995 and found the same red blob (wamer temperatures) over northern and central Asia. We suggested in the article that the build-up of greenhouse gases would most impact the coldest and driest air masses of the world, which just happen to be the air masses that cover northern and central Asia in the winter. Elevated greenhouse gas concentrations in warm and moist air masses would have less of an effect given the overwhelming greenhouse effect of naturally occurring water vapor. We had produced what appeared to be a smoking gun – the greenhouse “fingerprint” looked rather obvious in our analyses. Of course, finding that the coldest and driest air masses of the planet were warming slightly is seen by some as a blessing and not a great cause for concern – are residents of northern Siberia really worried about their winters being a bit warmer?

Figure 1. Seasonal difference (winter minus summer) in temperature trends (°C per decade) for the thermometer-based near-surface data over the period 1946-1995 (from Balling et al., 1998).

Well, the smoking gun has become a bit cloudier given a recent article in Nature entitled “Warming trends in Asia amplified by brown cloud solar absorption.”


May 24, 2007

Cooling the Permafrost Scare

The global warming story is told over and over, and today every school child in America is aware that burning fossil fuels increases the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, and they have learned that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that will warm the Earth as its concentration increases. Of course, the United States is largely responsible for this mess, and children are given terrific suggestions on how they can get their parents to stop global warming.

Should someone begin to look more into the global warming issue, they will uncover literally hundreds of additional gems in the greenhouse apocalypse – they will rather quickly discover that Arctic region permafrost is melting at an unprecedented rate, and somehow this will lead us to a runaway greenhouse effect that might warm the Earth far more than any of us ever feared. The melting of permafrost is a solid, never-weakening pillar, of the greenhouse – global warming story.

But all is not as it seems (or as Al Gore would have you believe).


April 13, 2007

Methane Matters

We all know the story – humans are burning fossil fuels, greenhouse gases are increasing in atmospheric concentration at an alarming rate, the temperature of the earth is soaring upward, the ecosystems are struggling to cope with all the related changes, and if we don’t act now, we will soon push the entire system past the dreaded tipping point. We at World Climate Report have presented evidence from a growing number of scientific papers that challenge this simple but highly popularized and publicized global warming story. Now another recent paper calls into question one of the most basic assumption – the article questions whether the second most important greenhouse gas, namely methane, is continuing to increase in atmospheric concentration.


April 10, 2006

Dialing in your own climate

This week an interesting paper was published in Geophysical Research Letters by climate modelers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. They estimated future temperature changes if the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) were held constant at current levels (well, actually 2000 levels). The results are shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Global average temperature change projected from 16 different climate models for the 21st century if atmospheric CO2 levels are held constant at the year 2000 levels.


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