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Will 2014 be the hottest year ever?

By Don Aitkin - posted Tuesday, 16 December 2014


A few days ago the World Meteorological Organisation came out with a strange press release or media statement with this headline:

2014 on course to be one of hottest, possibly hottest, on record. Exceptional heat and flooding in many parts of the world

The ABC faithfully followed, and gave the media statement prominence. Why would the WMO not wait until January 1st, when it could say whatever it wanted to say with at least 365 days of data? Ah, well, you see the statement was to coincide with the meeting in Lima of the organisers of next year's epochal, historic, unprecedented meeting in Paris that is to agree, finally and at last, on something about climate.

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Now the media statement sounded scary, and in my view it was a political, not scientific, statement that ought not to have been issued at all - and it speaks abundantly to the dreadful state 'science' has achieved in the field of climate. The WMO became a UN agency in 1951 to provide good information about weather, but it has become hijacked by people who believe in climate doom. I now find it difficult to take anything the WMO says as being accurate or unbiassed.

And what is the point of saying that 2014 is on course to be the hottest year on record? Well, it suggests that 'warming' has resumed, and that the 'pause' or 'hiatus' is over. But is it? Well, no one knows, and that includes the WMO. Judith Curry thinks all that stuff is a red herring (I agree with her), and that the real issue is the growing divergence between the models and their projections, on the one hand, and what is really happening, on the other.

I want to make a slightly different point, and to do it I'll take advantage of a diagram that Steven Mosher developed for Dr Curry when she was presenting testimony to the American Senate. There is a real disjunction in discussions about temperature. On the orthodox side there are those, like the WMO, who see evidence of a possible new 'warm' record as clear indication that warming has resumed (or never stopped) and that carbon dioxide is having its wicked way. Or they say that the years of the last decade have all been on average hotter than the 1990s.

On the sceptical side there are those who look for the trend over time in warming and cooling. Yes, I know that time series are dubious constructs, because I wrote about it recently. The doubtful will argue that if CO2 is the villain, then there is something odd about the last fifteen years or so, because carbon dioxide has gone on increasing in the atmosphere, but temperature has not followed suit. And here is Mosher's graph.

The vertical axis shows the dear old global temperature anomaly, with time on the horizontal axis. Five datasets are used, and you can see that they show a strong measure of agreement: the story they present for the last 35 years is essentially the same. And what is it? Well, the anomaly goes up and down, with a great peak in 1998 (the super el Nino of that year). Very generally, the anomaly hovered around the 0.2 level from 1980 to 1997, when it shot up. Since then it has hovered around the 0.5 level. Though the graph doesn't point this out, the highs and lows have a strong correlation with el Nino and la Nina events.

Now 2010 was a warm year, too, and maybe 2014 will approach it; the graph is foreshortened with respect to 2014 data, so we can't be confident. Nonetheless, there is no indication in this graph of a resumption of the very rapid rise (given a hiccough or two) from say 1993 to 1998. And more: there are six little peaks since the 1998 el Nino, and all of them are higher than the ordinary years of the 1990s.

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And that is what people do when they talk about the last fifteen years having been hotter than the 1990s - they look at those peaks. There is no doubt about it. Those years are hotter than anything before 1998. But what is also true is that they haven't gone on getting hotter and hotter. No - they fluctuate around the 0.5 C anomaly. And that is important too, for a couple of reasons. One is that that if CO2 is the control knob for global warming, and its presence in the atmosphere is growing every years, then it has to be said that temperature is not following suit. And that suggests that CO2 is not a powerful control knob.

The second reason is that the GCMs, the global circulation models, have predicted that temperatures will rise, and they haven't. So the models, too, because they are fitted with the CO2 control knob, are just wrong. This is the issue that Dr Curry thinks is most important, in part because it is the models, not the observations, that seem to drive the climate policies of the world. And they are not well suited for such a task at all.

We are bound to hear, I think, that 2014 was a hot year, and one at least of the datasets (GISS) will probably show it to be the hottest, or close to the hottest, since records were made. None of that means much unless 2015, then 2016 and 2017 go on be hotter than 2014. If that occurs, then it will be possible to say that warming has resumed. But we have a while to go before that happens.

And you'll notice that every little peak so far in the past fifteen years has been followed by a drop. My guess is that this will happen in 2015, too, as the not-quite-el-Nino we are in passes. But, you say, what about Lima? What has happened there? As I press the Publish button, nothing at all. Even though the meeting has been extended, no one can agree on anything, which is what I expect to happen in Paris next year.

[Update: After I had written this post I read another similar essay by Chip Knappenberger and Pat Michaels, which uses different data but comes to the same conclusions. You can read a version of it here.]

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About the Author

Don Aitkin has been an academic and vice-chancellor. His latest book, published in 2015, is Turning Point, the second novel in The Hogarth Trilogy.

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