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A sane view on the 'climate change' issue

By Don Aitkin - posted Friday, 24 May 2013


The Oklahoma City tornado brought forth a few excited claims that this was all due to 'climate change', but even IPCC Chairman Pachauri has pooh-poohed that notion, which saves me from the task of showing how tornado frequency is historically low in the US (as is cyclone frequency here), and that it has been geographic distribution that has kept most tornadoes in the countryside up until this one. And I was going to write this post anyway. Most of the text comes from a highly respected Swedish climatologist called Lennart Bengtsson, who has been a leading figure in European meteorology since the mid 1970s, picking up medals and honours on the way. He is regarded as one of the founders of numerical weather prediction.

What follows came from a German source, picked up by Judith Curry and presented on her Climate etc. I have extracted some of it, and modified the English, because the translation wasn't exactly right. In my judgment this is a cool, professional summary of where we are in this vexed domain. I have only one demur about its content, which I'll mention at the end.

'Natural processes drive climate, and practically all kinds of extreme weather have always been part of the climate - and are practically unrelated to the modest warming we so far have had. The effect of increasing greenhouse gases is a slow but relentless process that will have to be dealt with but will require more time and better insight into key processes. Some events are seen as very dramatic, such as the reduced Arctic summer ice, while others, even more puzzling, such as the surprising lack of warming in the tropical troposphere, are hardly discussed.

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'Global temperature has not increased steadily, but in irregular intervals. Typical features are a distinct warming trend 1910-1940, a slight cooling trend 1945-1970, followed by a sharp warming trend until the end of the 20th century, and finally our last 15 years without any clear warming trend. The lack of any significant warming in the tropical troposphere since the beginning of space observations in 1979 is particularly intriguing, as present models show a warming trend over the same time of 0.3-0.4°C on average. Such results, scientifically very puzzling as they are, have hardly received any media attention. Instead the public has been overwhelmed in recent years by excessive reports of a rapid and threatening global warming very soon running out of control, unless the most drastic steps are taken to stop it. If there are no obvious global signals available [to buttress these reports], suitable arguments are created from an endless number of extreme weather events. The fact that similar extreme weather has been found to be a property of climate [in the past] is not recognized. [Discussions of] global warming have been taken out of the hands of the meteorologists and traditional climatologists and are now run by professional media experts and different, well-recognized members (political or otherwise) of the general public, who have found the present climate hype to be a suitable way to remain, or obtain a place, in the media limelight.

'In the emotional climate debate today is it hardly possible to have a sensible and balanced exchange of views. If you do not support climate catastrophes as the one recently [issued] from the World Bank, you are placed into a 'deniers' box and accused of supporting the interests of the oil industry, or alternatively that you are a man of a senior age and therefore unable to understand the concerns of the younger generations. Some of our colleagues are exposed to a powerful group pressure, or [to] that of a politically correct boss. Real genuine interest in climate and climate processes is fading away as the interest is confined to the concept of climate [now possessed by] the general public - or rather, I should say, the predominant or politically correct concept of climate.

'However, the observational records are clear, and global warming is proceeding much more slowly than was generally anticipated. Instead of being grateful for this comforting result the reaction is rather the opposite. In the almost hysterical climate hype of today a less dramatic warming is not very well received, as all politically correct members of the public would prefer to hide this uncomfortable fact by following the popular maxim of letting the ends justify the means. From the standpoint of the Green movement all political efforts, even extreme ones, are required as they wish to abandon fossil energy as well as nuclear energy - and this at a time when the world's population is increasing and where the lack of suitable energy is a primary obstacle towards a better life.

'We do not yet know how to best solve the Earth's energy problems but many things may happen in the next 100 years. A modest climate sensitivity that is supported by observations combined with a transition from coal to natural gas will provide the world with a waiting time of half a century or so but not very much longer. This will make it possible [for us] to avoid unnecessary and highly expensive panic-type subsidized investments, driven by political whims and the expectations of quickly earned money, and instead invest available means in a well-thought-through long- term energy research programs.'

I don't know why he thinks we have only fifty years up our sleeves, and there is a suggestion here that warming must eventually lead to disaster, which is based only on modelling. But I would agree that in fifty years we will know much more about climate and its causes and effects, and be in a better position to know what to do, if indeed we need to do anything.

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This article was first publishd on Don Aitkin.



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About the Author

Don Aitkin has been an academic and vice-chancellor. His latest book, Moving On, was published in 2016.

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