The Distribution of Summer Temperatures,1950-2011

by on September 7, 2012 at 7:30 am in Data Source, Science | Permalink

Here is an animation from NASA showing the distribution of summer temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere. The initial smooth distribution is based on data from 1950-1980. The video advances in yearly increments showing data for 10 year periods from 1950-1960 through to 2001-2011. As the data advances one can see a pronounced shift in the curve to the right and also, a little less clearly, the curve gets shorter and fatter. Thus, not only are we seeing an increase in the mean temperature but also a greater possibility for extremes in temperature around the increased mean.

The visualization is an extension of ideas from a paper by Hansen et al. which includes additional, global data.

Addendum: Here are graphs using 1930-1980 as the baseline.

1 dearieme September 7, 2012 at 7:37 am

“based on data from 1950-1980”: that’s rather like a Hollywood film “based on real events”.

2 JWatts September 7, 2012 at 11:33 am

I generally believe in Global Warming, but that being said. The 1930’s were extremely hot and temperatures trended downward into the 1950’s. Using the 1950’s as your starting point is cherry picking.

3 Rahul September 7, 2012 at 12:01 pm

That Addendum puzzles me. Is it “temperature” or “temperature anomalies” and how are they different?

4 Doc Merlin September 7, 2012 at 3:48 pm

temperature anomalies are local differences from some mean temperature.

5 JWatts September 7, 2012 at 1:21 pm

The video is US temperatures. The addendum is Northern Hemisphere temperatures. The result is cherry picked data followed up by an apples to oranges comparison.

6 Stuart September 7, 2012 at 1:36 pm

NASA says the video is for Northern Hemisphere same as the addendum. Not sure where you are getting that it is US only.

7 Bill September 7, 2012 at 2:00 pm


Support your claim that the video is cherry picked when Stuart above says Nasa claims it is norther hemisphere.

Do you care to correct your statement? Or, support it.

8 JWatts September 7, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Sorry, yes I was wrong. The Fig. 4 & 5 in the Columbia paper are from different data sets. Fig. 4 is Northern Hemisphere and Fig. 5 is Contiguous U.S.. I mistakenly believed the data for the video came from the Fig. 5 data.

The Fig. 5 data shows much hotter temperatures for the 1931-1940 vs 1991-2000 than the Northern Hemisphere data.

9 sam September 7, 2012 at 10:03 pm

Such insightful review by posters who are all, doubtless, professional climatologists. To compare decade to decade and thus say global warming is bunk is no different than saying because it rained yesterday and didn’t today that we are in a drought. Climate is not weather, boys.

10 jqhart September 7, 2012 at 11:13 pm

In other words: “trust us, we’re climate scientists.”

11 joshua September 7, 2012 at 8:02 am

Are these based on daily maximum temperatures or daily averages? Some assert that daily minimums are going up in cities, and thus daily averages, but not so much for daily maximums… I haven’t seen enough data, though supposedly most of the US state maximum records are still from previous decades. The northern ice cap reached to a sharply lower record for the satellite-era this year, FWIW.

12 prior_approval September 7, 2012 at 8:33 am

Are you referring to the fact that various climate models continue to poorly reflect current Arctic conditions, especially in terms of sea ice extent?-

‘Arctic sea ice falls below 4 million square kilometers
September 5, 2012

Following the new record low recorded on August 26, Arctic sea ice extent continued to drop and is now below 4.00 million square kilometers (1.54 million square miles). Compared to September conditions in the 1980s and 1990s, this represents a 45% reduction in the area of the Arctic covered by sea ice. At least one more week likely remains in the melt season.’

A key point to be made here involves albedo – essentially, much of what used to be a more or less reflective surface for solar radiation has now been an energy absorber, hastening the shrinking process.

The real time data shows just how poorly even the most pessimistic climate models are when talking about Arctic conditions. It is likely we won’t even have decades, much less generations, before the Arctic is essentially ice free in the summer months.

As for the methane likely to be released if such trends continue? – keep tuning into reports of the only real time laboratory we currently have for exploring how various processes interact on a planetary scale. This experiment is ongoing, one should add, and we are all participating in it. However, after a few thousand short years, any doubts concerning cause and effect should be completely cleared up.

13 Jody neel September 7, 2012 at 9:13 am
14 Dredd September 7, 2012 at 9:52 am

“… the ice sheet in West Antarctica is melting right now, faster than any other part of the frozen continent. It’s melting fast enough to contribute nearly 10% of global sea level rise, but researchers have never really understand why West Antarctica has become such a melting hot spot.

Well, here’s a possibility …” (Time, 7/30/2012).

15 prior_approval September 7, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Which is one of the few things that current climate modelling actually seems to be gotten correct, as growing Antarctic ice has been a predictions stretching back for decades. Mainly due to the fact that Antarctica’s extremely cold air carries essentially no humidity, meaning that any increase in temperature will lead to greater precipitation.

From wikipedia –
‘According to a 2009 study, the continent-wide average surface temperature trend of Antarctica is positive and significant at >0.05°C/decade since 1957.[12][13][14][15] West Antarctica has warmed by more than 0.1°C/decade in the last 50 years, and this warming is strongest in winter and spring. Although this is partly offset by fall cooling in East Antarctica, this effect is restricted to the 1980s and 1990s.’

16 rjs September 7, 2012 at 8:38 am

i covered all the low ice records that were set over the last few weeks in the 1st two paragrahs here, with over a dozen links to official sources…

17 Nicoli September 7, 2012 at 8:33 am

Clearly the best way to fix this is to defund NASA.

18 France September 7, 2012 at 8:35 am

FRANCE, it’s a conspiracy!!!

19 Brian Donohue September 8, 2012 at 3:22 am

Thread winner!

20 TMC September 7, 2012 at 8:36 am

Cherry pick much? 1950-1980 was in a cool period. try adding the 30s and see what it looks like.

21 Zachary September 7, 2012 at 9:13 am

+1 This is one of my favorite, and easiest, points to mention with any data set!! The question should always be asked “Why is the data set where it is and not one period earlier or later”? Also, “Why use the specific measure”? What makes average temperature more or less relevant than highs, lows, medians, etc? AND, for what are you controlling? Are those things appropriate things to control? Should those things be endogenous? What assumptions are made for extrapolating ‘missing’ data? I always write a defense of my data set period and report alternative set numbers in order to avoid such simple and discerning challenges.

22 MikeF September 7, 2012 at 10:10 am

The authors did exactly that in a follow-up paper available here:

The results did not change much and the conclusions hold.

23 aaron September 7, 2012 at 10:55 am

Try using only data sources that exist throughout the whole time period.

24 Major September 8, 2012 at 3:45 am

Cherry pick much? 1950-1980 was in a cool period. try adding the 30s and see what it looks like.

It doesn’t look much different. The long-term trend of a rise in average global surface temperature is unmistakable.

25 Vernunft September 7, 2012 at 8:39 am

I’ll remember that when it’s single digits in winter and my car won’t start (again). More warming, please.

26 prior_approval September 7, 2012 at 8:45 am

Well, it is already in the reasonable single digits here at night. Oh, wait, I bet somebody using ‘Vernunft’ as a name would never be using Fahrenheit measures, or be confusing weather with climate.

27 The Original D September 7, 2012 at 2:18 pm

If you don’t like the weather, move. That’s basically what we’re telling the Maldives.

28 Jenkins September 7, 2012 at 8:42 am

…and just what is the Margin-of-Error in this “initial smooth distribution…based on data from 1950-1980” (?)

It has to be very large and very significant, given the measurement system & data “smoothing”.

You can’t precisely measure the mean temperatures in your own house, last week … much less across wide swaths of the globe over ten years.

If there’s no mention of error-margins in the data — it’s propaganda, not science.

29 Vangel September 7, 2012 at 8:51 am

“If there’s no mention of error-margins in the data — it’s propaganda, not science.”

Yes it is but you are talking about economics people falling for a scam perpetuated by activists here. It makes me wonder about the value of those online courses they are offering. They may help with the signalling but not with the learning.

30 prior_approval September 7, 2012 at 8:51 am

‘If there’s no mention of error-margins in the data’
Strange – I would have thought that real time data as reported from satellites or bouys (see the above points about Arctic sea ice) wouldn’t have much in the way of ‘error margins,’ much the same way that one rarely encounters error margins when talking about how many days have gone by without rainfall, or the flow rate of a river, or the height of a reservior. Mainly because we all accept that absolute precision in illusion, especially when talking about older data, though some people do have a hard time accepting the difference between reasonable and perfect. Good try though.

31 Cliff September 7, 2012 at 10:31 am

Okay, smart guy, you tell me how “global average temperature” is calculated. Then we can judge whether it is the same as measuring the height of a reservoir.

32 RSPD September 7, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Wouldn’t you be inclined to say that the results of the data fall well outside any margin of error?

When the weather man says it’s 75 degrees outside, do you wear your snow boots? Or do you only limit your disbelief to positions you have a political stance with.

33 Vangel September 7, 2012 at 8:43 am

As others have pointed out above, temperatures fell between the 1930s and 1950. Picking a low point does not help the idea of the analysis being unbiased and scientific. Then there the effect of the UHI effect on minimum temperatures. And finally, there is the data itself. Is the above data as measured or the adjusted data after GISS/NOAA add their artificial warming signal? In either case I would expect the effect of the UHI or the outright manipulation to show in the reported changes. But if we look at the instrumental record as it is and begin in the 1930s we find that there has been no warming in the US over that time period. As Hansen pointed out not that long ago, 1934 is still the warmest year and the 1930s are the warmest decade.

34 Neal September 7, 2012 at 8:54 am

In related news, global warming is still a hoax perpetrated by activist environmentalists (sigh)

35 prior_approval September 7, 2012 at 8:58 am

Let’s just re-emphasize this link for real time data on Arctic conditions for those unused to the idea that the Earth encompasses more than the fairly small land mass of the U.S., or that what they see outside their window constitutes ‘climate.’

36 Michael Foody September 7, 2012 at 10:43 am

As we all know environmental activist are a politically powerful coalition who are able to perpetrate a grand hoax to the point where they can convince the vast majority of scientists of their claims. Much more reliable is the minority report science sponsored by billion dollar energy companies that stand to lose large sums of money should carbon be priced. Really now? Environmental activists are only powerful when they advance the concentrated interests of powerful incumbents. Thus environmental activists are powerful when they can stop development in wealthy areas, stabilize property values, etc. They have some power when it comes to certain sentimental species like polar bears.

I don’t believe for a second that fabulist scientists have the inclination or the power to cause the vast majority of people to make unwanted changes to their lifestyle without having reason grounded in fact. I have yet to hear a credible way that environmental activists gain anything from creating the ‘myth’ of global warming. It is possible that most scientists are wrong, it is possible that the costs of halting global warming are greater than the benefits, but it is incredibly unlikely that there is a conspiracy environmental activists have made up global warming as a cynical ploy to pursue mysterious aims. Suggesting that this is the case proves that your very method of inquiry is broken.

37 The Original D September 7, 2012 at 2:21 pm

You underestimate the reach of the nefarious tentacles of ACORN and the New Black Panthers. /s

38 prior_approval September 7, 2012 at 8:55 am

‘1934 is still the warmest year and the 1930s are the warmest decade’
In some parts of the world – again, see the real time data concerning Arctic sea ice extent and accompanying termperatures. This isn’t about just the U.S., which represents a not exactly large amount of the planet’s surface area.

39 TMC September 7, 2012 at 10:32 am

Is this what you are referring to?

‘Unprecedented’ Greenland Surface Melt – Every 150 Years?

40 prior_approval September 7, 2012 at 12:10 pm

Nope, I’m referring to Arctic sea ice extent as measured through real time instrumentation. Greenland tends to be a small (though certainly not trivial) part of the sea ice dynamics of the Arctic Ocean, but the ice on Greenland itself is generally not being measured in this context.

41 TMC September 7, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Yet the temps seem to be normal

42 Major September 8, 2012 at 4:01 am

No they don’t. The average temperature has increased by about 1.5c since 1950. You can’t see that change by eyeballing the graphs you link to.

43 paul September 7, 2012 at 8:56 am

This post is below the usual caliber of MR posts; for all the reasons cited above, this visualization is not remotely an appropriate way to think about whether climate change is real. Visualizations like this do damage to the actual science behind climate change, because they reinforce people’s priors that scientists are cherry-picking their data, and that climate change reports can’t be trusted.

44 Zachary September 7, 2012 at 9:16 am


45 Rahul September 7, 2012 at 9:18 am

I agree. I’m not a GW-denier at all , but this video by itself is hardly any evidence unless supported by a base-line of longer term historic data.

Something like this seems more convincing:

46 Reg September 7, 2012 at 11:14 am

Numbers go up and down in a random walk.

47 Duh September 7, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Numbers also go up and down in non-random walks.

48 The Other Jim September 7, 2012 at 12:31 pm

>Visualizations like this do damage to the actual science behind climate change

Er, no. This IS the “science” behind climate change. And the Federal grants are coming through very nicely, thank you. No damage done!

49 Sam September 7, 2012 at 10:10 pm

Jim, what are your professional credentials and ares of expertise…oh, wait…never mind. Unless you also want to discuss the latest research in the effects of interferon-α-transduced tumor cell vaccines and blockade of programmed cell death-1 on the growth of established tumors, or perhaps the “science” behind flexible metal-oxide devices made by room-temperature photochemical activation of sol–gel films….oh, wait…you’re an expert there, too, and know what you’re talking about?

50 Nyongesa September 7, 2012 at 10:58 pm


51 magilson September 7, 2012 at 9:15 am

A small (very small, actually) amount of searching (due diligence?) reveals this “paper” has already been shredded. Sorry, Alex, but this post fails pretty hard.

52 Orange14 September 7, 2012 at 10:56 am

By whom, Fred Singer and the usual travelers?

53 magilson September 7, 2012 at 11:58 am

It can be quite difficult to find people willing to speak out against The Great Research Money-Maker of the 21st Century. But they’re there. And they’re armed with a lot less rhetoric and a lot more math than the people they critique would like.

54 CPV September 7, 2012 at 9:20 am

Extremely embarrassing. You guys stick to economics please!

55 Brian September 7, 2012 at 9:38 am

Only a moron would fall for this pseudo-scientific propaganda. God is testing our faith in him by altering measured temperatures. Who are you going to believe? Jesus or some crank scientist with an agenda?

56 prior_approval September 7, 2012 at 9:58 am

Poe’s Law in action.

57 Brian Donohue September 7, 2012 at 9:54 am

I think the critics of this make some good points, but I would find much more comfort in seeing what this trend looks like with suggested modifications (going back to 1930s, using daily highs rather than averages.)

It’s not like raising these points, by themselves, proves anything. Is it just really hard to make such adjustments?

The video is pretty striking.

58 Dredd September 7, 2012 at 9:56 am

If we switch drug dealers from foreign oil peddlers to local oil drug peddlers that will solve … what?

59 Hosed September 7, 2012 at 10:11 am

“Let’s include 2 of the 3 coldest decades of the 20th century as part of our baseline!”

60 8 September 7, 2012 at 11:59 am

There are a lot of predictions of cooling coming down the pike, from people who study long-term weather cycles to those looking at solar cycles.

61 TMC September 7, 2012 at 12:00 pm

So you change the baseline from some of the coldest years to some of the warmest and there is not change in the results? Seems to be a bit of a disconnect between the data and the results.

62 tt September 7, 2012 at 12:14 pm

or else the result is robust to your concerns.

63 MikeF September 7, 2012 at 2:12 pm

If you change the baseline for the Northern Hemisphere time series to include decades that were quite warm in the U.S. but not particularly warm in the rest of the hemisphere, why would you expect the results to change?

64 JWatts September 7, 2012 at 12:26 pm

Regarding the Addendum. I’m calling shenanigans. Look at the Fig. 5 and visually compare the data from 1931-1940 with the 1991-2000. Now compare it with what you see in Fig. 4 for the two periods (1931-1940) vs (1991-2000). There’s a clear mismatch, it’s pretty obvious in Fig. 5 that the 1931-1940 period is the warmer of the two. However, Fig. 4 leads one to the exact opposite conclusion.

Video is US data; Fig 4 (addendum above) is Northern Hemisphere data, Fig. 5 is US data. This is an apples to oranges comparison. Misleading.

65 MikeF September 7, 2012 at 2:07 pm

The video is Northern Hemisphere, from the video link:

“This bell curve graph shows how the distribution of Northern Hemisphere summer temperature anomalies has shifted toward an increase in hot summers.”

Figure 4 is Northern Hemisphere as well. Figure 5 is U.S. – the authors make the observation in the paragraphs below Figure 5 that:

“the 1930s heat [in the U.S.] was exceptional. It was not until 2012 that the 1936 extreme temperature was exceeded by a significant amount. However, Fig. 4 shows that the 1930s were not so exceptional on a hemispheric scale.”

I don’t see any shenanigans.

66 JWatts September 7, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Yes, you are right. I stand corrected.

67 Floccina September 7, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Clearly earth is warming but to us novices the question is what it the magnitude.

68 jimi September 7, 2012 at 12:54 pm

How about a 1931-1950 baseline? We can do this all day…..

69 aaron September 7, 2012 at 1:23 pm

“Let’s include 2 of the 3 coldest decades of the 20th century as part of our baseline!”

That’s irrelevant. His point is that the variance increases with temperature.

This is most likely due to changes in sample and measurement.

You need to make sure you are using the same locations and methodology throughout.

70 Bill September 7, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Explain the logic to me of your statement:

“His point is that the variance increases with temperature.

This is most likely due to changes in sample and measurement.”

Show by logic or facts that “This is most likely due to changes in sample and measurement.

Otherwise, you leave me in suspense of your knowledge.

71 aaron September 7, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Paper isn’t published yet, but analysis of US data (BEST) shows that most of the warming is due to siting quality issues.

Roger Pielke Sr. has lots published on land use affects on climate. Agriculture has profound effects that aren’t yet represented in the mainstream.

The measurment locations and methodologies have changed significantly over years. The data in the 1970s isn’t the same as the 1990s.

My guess is that if you used only quality stations that have existed for the whole time period, you won’t see much change in variance with temperature.

72 Rahul September 7, 2012 at 3:24 pm

My statistics is rusty; but isn’t there some relation of variance with sample size? Assuming for a moment that there was no global warming and we were essentially drawing samples from the same distribution. Over time assume that the datasets became larger.

Would this say something about the variance increasing / decreasing? I can’t figure the math out. Darn.

73 Ling September 7, 2012 at 1:26 pm

Garbage In, Garbage Out

74 Steven Kopits September 7, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Hansen is not a credible source. There are credible sources; he is not among them.

Also, where are the 1930s in this distribution?

75 Bill September 7, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Why, is Hansen not a credible source…because you don’t like him or agree with him> Why the adhominem..just address the facts. What is the factual basis for the disagreement.

76 jqhart September 7, 2012 at 11:43 pm

But we’re not supposed to address the facts, because we’re not the experts. We are supposed to use the scientific method, which is to blindly trust the climate scientists.

77 Andrew' September 7, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Hmmm, it has come to our attention that something is changing without our permission…

78 IVV September 7, 2012 at 2:21 pm

How have the winter temperatures shifted over the same period of time?

79 Ruth September 7, 2012 at 2:26 pm

I think the most helpful thing for all those who are confused about the data points, their validity and interpretation would be to engage in a minimum of two activities. The first is to actually read all the corresponding papers and if you have questions remaining, read the papers referenced in those papers, etc…
The second helpful thing you can do is to acquire an education in a valid scientific field that requires a knowledge of math, statistics, chemistry and biology beyond the high school level – and folks with engineering degrees
that arent augmented with natural science, this means you too. I read these comments and am struck by the pedestrian nature of them and alarmed as I consider this to be a fairly educated forum. It brings home how lost and impressionable the general public is regarding these types of complex topics
The result is that we will not act, we will not change, it’s far too late anyway.
We will, however, be able to observe and say
“…we told you so…”.

As we do day after day, data point after data point.

A scientist working in this field of research for 30 years.

80 magilson September 7, 2012 at 2:55 pm

As a working engineer, I’m curious to hear your defense of just simply the mathematical errors in the papers as exposed by so many others who have all the qualifications you require as you described. I get the math. The mathematical methodologies are flawed on their own. How does knowledge of natural science augment the need to be mathematically correct?

Please, explain in detail or provide a link to an explanation you feel sufficiently covers (some) of our concerns. I genuinely like to go over the science of it. I’m not interested in your arguments to authority.


81 Doug September 7, 2012 at 2:58 pm

“I’m a scientist, I’m only persuaded by direct observation and empirical evidence. And so should you. Now here’s an argument by authority and ad hominem about why all the empirical evidence cited above should not be listened to.”

“Climate science” is no more a science than astrology. It’s a field created and centered around a per-forgone conclusion. All of the research done in it is about making the myriad complex evidence fit what was already predetermined to be true. The old adage about any field including “science” in its name not being a real science is definitely applicable here.

There is of course an actual scientific field that deals with the study of the atmosphere, weather, temperature, precipitation and the interaction of all of these things. It’s centuries old and has an impeccable pedigree and integrity. It’s called meteorology. And guess what this real scientific field overwhelmingly rejects your pseudo-science’s loony conclusions.

So all the people with a political agenda got together with those who couldn’t cut it in the actual scientific discipline of meteorology. Then they left and created a anti-capitalist political activist coalition and called it “climate science.”

When your physics is criticized by Lubos Motl, your computer models are criticized by Eric S Raymond and your entire conception of how the atmosphere works is criticized by the much older, much more rigorous school of meteorology it’s time to introspect. Because it’s probably not others lack of grasp of basic science that’s causing the disagreement, it’s probably your own.

82 Andrew' September 7, 2012 at 3:53 pm

A visual graphic commits everyone to require an advanced degree in natural science?!?
There are, hmmm, about 4 questions I can think of.
What happens if we don’t stop?
What happens if we do stop?
How in hell could we stop?
What is the discount rate?
Not very much of those are found in climate science. For example, what does ocean acidification have to do with temperature? Maybe something I suppose. And the answer we already know is safe nuclear and cheap solar. And the answers don’t actually require you to keep convincing me with nice visuals or climate science degrees.

83 Jimbo Trakins September 7, 2012 at 4:05 pm

You seem to not know the difference between climate and weather. I think that is why Ruth is concerned.

84 Doug September 7, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Pretending that there’s a difference between “climate” and “weather” reeks of Orwellian newspeak. “Climate scientists” claiming their domain is different from meteorologists because “climate” is different from weather is like astrologers claiming that their domain is different from astronomy because there’s a difference between constellations and groups of stars.

85 Jimbo Trakins September 7, 2012 at 4:09 pm

Also, I just read this quote from your link. Didn’t you read it before you posted?

A very large majority of respondents (89%) indicated that global warming is
happening; in contrast few indicated it isn’t happening (4%), or that they
“don’t know” (7%). Respondents who indicated that global warming is
happening were asked their views about its primary causes; a large majority
indicted that human activity (59%), or human activity and natural causes in
more or less equal amounts (11%), were the primary causes. Relatively few
respondents indicated that the warning is caused primarily by natural causes
(6%), although a substantial minority (23%) indicated they don’t believe
enough is yet know to determine the degree of human or natural causation.

86 Doug September 7, 2012 at 5:03 pm

“For example, among those meteorologists who believe global warming is happening, only a modest majority (59%) believe humans are the primary cause. More importantly, only 38% of respondents who believe global warming is occurring say it will be very harmful during the next 100 years.”

Far cry from what Ruth A would say, which would be something along the lines that if something is not done about carbon emissions in the next 100 years civilization will suffer severe catastrophes. 2/3 of the real scientists, meteorologists, not the quack political activists, think global warming is not a serious problem. And all of this in an environment of political propaganda telling us that unchecked global warming is the biggest threat since nuclear war.

87 jqhart September 8, 2012 at 12:31 am

“Climate science” is no more a science than astrology.

And just how many books have you read on astrology? Have you read the articles? Have you read the articles cited by the articles? Unless you’ve wasted half your life studying astrology, you have no right to comment on its validity, regardless of what errors and bad assumptions therein you might find.

88 Rahul September 7, 2012 at 3:45 pm

“engineering degrees that arent augmented with natural science”

And pray which may these be? I don’t know what kind of natural science Ruth studied, but that snark about engineers is a bit amusing.

89 Andrew' September 7, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Especially since the solution is going to be produced by engineers, some of whom won’t care a whit about climate.

90 Andrew' September 7, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Just assume everything was 100% true BUT that noone would ever believe you. What would you do? Get to work on cheap energy.

Now, maybe there is some benefit in motivating larger numbers of people to work on the problem. But a lot of good that has done for “the war on cancer” and other such.

91 Poland, 2 Sept, 1939 September 7, 2012 at 4:29 pm

Totally with you.

If something’s hard, you shouldn’t do it.

92 lolol September 7, 2012 at 4:32 pm

lol. love the science on this thread. Why didn’t anyone think of working on “cheap energy” before?

for that matter, your economics is pretty busted, what’s a cheaper energy than natural gas today? unless you had major investment, you couldn’t work on this “cheap energy” because there already is “cheap energy”.

93 Andrew' September 8, 2012 at 5:35 am

So, what you guys are saying is that the solution to too much CO2 is NOT alternatives that don’t release CO2?

94 Andrew' September 8, 2012 at 5:42 am

“If something’s hard, you shouldn’t do it.”

It is not that it is hard, it is impossible…currently. There is no market out there for the solution at any price, even if you were unwisely willing to pay any price. What it will take is time and focused dedication on fundamental research.

95 Andrew' September 8, 2012 at 5:45 am

The other point is what if you stopped wasting all the effort trying to convince everyone because everyone woke up tomorrow believing everything.

You would be no closer to the solution. You’d be starting at zero point zero. After convincing people to reduce their lifestyles by conservation failed your next move might be to try to convince people to stop the entitlements from crowding out public goods like fundamental research from the government budget.

96 Paul September 7, 2012 at 4:03 pm

I’m a computer engineer.

97 Ricardo September 7, 2012 at 4:04 pm

“It brings home how lost and impressionable the general public is regarding these types of complex topics”

I don’t know who to believe on this one, but I do know that the issue has become highly politicized. As a concerned scientist, your top objective should be to work on ways to depoliticize it.

98 Rick September 7, 2012 at 4:26 pm

How do you propose to do this, Ricardo? I’m legitimately curious.

Should evolutionary scientists stop doing their work to focus on teaching people who don’t believe in evolution? Or would that be a massive waste of time for people who are really just taking data and presenting it, without any political commentary to begin with?

I guess my point is: Science isn’t political. The way people react to science is. How do you propose a scientist depoliticize his or her science?

Full disclosure: I’m not a scientist; I am an engineer. I believe in climate change, though, just the same as I believe in evolution, and black holes, and a whole bunch of things that have passed through the lens of science to be presented to me, that I have to believe because no one who has studied the data has given me anything else to believe.
I don’t think I’m political about the issue. I don’t want higher gas prices, because that means I can’t buy that new laptop I want.
From my perspective, though, a whole heap of very smart people who have devoted their lives to the study have pretty much agreed on one set of conclusions: that the earth is undergoing climate change and it’s at least partially man-made. A much smaller group of less credible people have disagreed. I’m going with the first group, because that’s how I’ve approached all scientific matters (despite what many people say, I’m a firm believer in evolution). Does that make me political, Ricardo?

99 jqhart September 8, 2012 at 12:37 am

Science isn’t political.

Of course not. No scientist is funded by politicians. Especially not climate scientists.

100 Brian Donohue September 8, 2012 at 3:42 am

If you don’t see an enormous difference between the science of evolution and “climate science”, mebbe you don’t have a good grasp of either.

101 jdm September 7, 2012 at 4:20 pm

While scientific literacy is undoubtably desirable, there seem to be deep seated
psychological reasons why some people don’t want to believe in global warming,
just as some people don’t want to believe in evolution. The journal ‘Nature’ has devoted a number of articles to this topic in recent years. The general conclusion is that merely presenting the evidence, no matter how compelling, will not be insufficient to persuade these people.

Here’s an excerpt from an article in the August 30th edition of Nature 488, 583–585 (30 August 2012) by Chris Rapley titled ‘Climate science: Time to raft up’. The full piece is unfortunately gated. It’s an interesting, if rather depressing, topic.

Why don’t they get it?

A great deal is known about why people reject the messages of climate science. According to Daniel Kahneman in his 2012 book Thinking Fast and Slow (Penguin), the human mind can believe almost anything. Unconscious values, attitudes and beliefs filter our assimilation of evidence1. We are influenced by the views of those with whom we identify, and whose esteem we seek.

Once a mindset is established, dissonant facts are met with resistance. As the economist J. K. Galbraith observed, “faced with the choice of changing one’s mind and with proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.” The more an individual has invested in their position, the more strongly they will seek to justify it2. The greater their scientific training, the more effective they will be at doing so.

We know from Oreskes and Conway’s book that vested interests have worked to sow doubt. And the media practice of offering ‘balanced reporting’ has reinforced public perceptions of scientific disagreement, which is a barrier to engagement and belief3. But the misinformation campaigns resonate because they tap into deeper human needs.

People go to great lengths to avoid or eliminate anxiety4. The implications of climate change are profoundly worrying, so people discount, disavow or deny the discomforting news. Blaming or denigrating the messenger is a common next step.

However, anxiety alone does not account for the fervour of those who are dismissive. An association between climate-dismissive attitudes and people with an individualistic outlook and libertarian politics5 suggests an ideological root to such beliefs. The implications of climate change challenge fundamental premises about the governance, funding and fuelling of the modern world. Polarized reactions are not surprising. As I have found in my discussions with politicians, far from having been ineffectively communicated, the messages of climate science may have been understood, in a visceral sense, all too clearly — especially by the political right.

102 Go Kings, Go! September 7, 2012 at 5:23 pm

It’s a bit naive to believe that “presenting the evidence” should be enough to convince. The “evidence” is derived from proxy and short-cuts, which is typical of all of our beliefs. The most dedicated climatologists doesn’t “know” all the evidence, he fills in gaps on faith in what colleagues have told him about this or that, on conjectures, and on models-that-are-not-the-thing, he rejects things from Oil-Company funded studies, snarks in his emails about persistent critics, etc. That’s fine, it’s normal, it’s how we advance, but it’s absurd to call skeptics dishonest for assessing the human element in the evidence. Skepsis means investigation in Greek, and I think it should still mean that.

The evidence is adjusted (by humans) raw temperature data, extrapolated (by humans) over land mass where no raw readings occurred, and programmed (by humans) into computer models that replicate dynamic, nonlinear natural systems (as theorized by humans). The evidence & presenters have previously erred (i.e., the IPCC, Hadley, and NASA analysis & projections change, just like normal science) and admitted to exaggeration in raising the alarm (just like a normal, concerned person).

103 Brian Donohue September 7, 2012 at 5:24 pm

Those who question the policy prescriptions for dealing with global warming are hardly unique in suffering from confirmation bias and other mental tics discussed by Kahneman et al.

104 Tununak September 7, 2012 at 6:18 pm

And what explains why the political left doesn’t “believe in” the lack of danger in genetically modified foods and fracking? Merely presenting the evidence will not convince these people. Why don’t they get it?

Anti-science attitudes aren’t found only on the right, unless that’s the only place you’re looking.

Incidentally, the best climate science blog on the web is Judy Curry’s. She’s a Georgia Tech prof and posts on uncertainty, modeling, and “postnormal” science. Her blog is Climate Etc., at

105 Nyongesa September 7, 2012 at 11:11 pm

I will be copying and pasting this wherever appropriate

106 Brian Donohue September 7, 2012 at 5:20 pm

You should respect science more. If you think there is anything like a scientific basis for a statement like “It’s far too late anyway”, you are mistaken.

Also, if “it’s far too late anyway” why on Earth would you be troubled by anyone’s view.

Also, many people accept that the science is telling us something about humans warming the earth, yet feel that scientists often know shit about economics, and once you ask the question “What are we gonna do about it?” you are at least partly outside of your realm.

107 jqhart September 8, 2012 at 1:03 am

once you ask the question “What are we gonna do about it?” you are at least partly outside of your realm.

But they are climate scientists, you see, and that makes them entitled to comment on engineering and economics despite often having zero education or career experience in same. So of course we need to switch to solar and wind power soon — the scientists say so. And who are you to question a scientist? A mere engineer? A mere economist? Go sit in the corner where you belong.

But an engineer who has taken many hours of university-level math and science (not counting all the math and science in the engineering curriculum itself)? Not entitled to point out obvious errors or bad assumptions in the graphs and papers and slick videos produced by climate science, unless they’ve gone through the scientific brainwashing Ruth has gone through. Which seems to primarily consist of how to excuse away said errors and assumptions by waving hands rapidly about how they’re the scientists and you’re not, they’ve spent their lives reading the papers of their fellow climate scientists and you have not, so shut up you pesky “deniers”.

108 Brian Donohue September 7, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Allow me to add that I am also surprised at what seems like a bit of a knee-jerk reaction here.

However, the reaction of doom-mongers also troubles me.

They divide the world into two camps: the deniers, and those who accept that we must massively restructure our economy to meet this challenge.

In my view, these are both dangerous positions.

109 Nyongesa September 7, 2012 at 11:11 pm

well said

110 jqhart September 7, 2012 at 11:45 pm

folks with engineering degrees
that arent augmented with natural science

Who would this be?

111 Andrew' September 8, 2012 at 5:47 am

Scientists look for questions. Engineers look for answers.

112 TMC September 7, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Reasonable request. Now will climate scientists get a better than high school level education in statistics? Most are horribly lacking, odd in a field that relies on it so much.

113 aaron September 7, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Climate Science is where failed physicists go.

114 Proton_Neutron September 7, 2012 at 4:11 pm

…Do you both know a lot of Climate Scientists?

115 NAME REDACTED September 7, 2012 at 3:51 pm

This is not content with CO2 caused global warming. Greenhouse gas caused global warming should result in an increased mean temperatures but decreased extremes.

116 NAME REDACTED September 7, 2012 at 3:53 pm

s/content/consistent/ darn autocorrect.

117 aaron September 7, 2012 at 4:04 pm


Dign! GHGs increasing variance defies all logic.

118 NAME REDACTED September 8, 2012 at 5:01 am

Cool, you read what I meant instead of what I actually wrote.

119 Frank September 7, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Do you have anything to back that up?

120 NAME REDACTED September 8, 2012 at 5:07 am

Temperature variance should decrease as a result of increased GHGs.

A good example of this is jungles vs deserts. Deserts have very high temperature variance, jungles have very low temperature variance. (even above the tree canopy). The primary difference is GHG content of the air (in this case water vapor).

121 gorobei September 9, 2012 at 9:12 pm

Nice misleading comment. The primary difference is water vapor in the air. It’s a GHG, but that has nothing to do with its effect on local temperature variance. Would you seriously claim that adding CO2, methane, etc to a desert’s air would significantly change its day/night temperature differential?

122 aaron September 10, 2012 at 9:12 am


And that’s another problem with the surface station data. GHG concentration do vary consideriable at the very near surface. Most of our measurements are taken near sources.

123 aaron September 10, 2012 at 9:15 am

“Would you seriously claim that adding CO2, methane, etc to a desert’s air would significantly change its day/night temperature differential?”

That’s a yes.

We also seem to get greening of deserts.

124 NAME REDACTED September 8, 2012 at 5:11 am

This is also why scientists look at the day/night temperature difference as a sign of GHG lead warming. If that number is decreasing then its evidence that points towards GHGs causing the warming.
Note: I used to do atmospheric physics. Its a hobby of mine.

125 NAME REDACTED September 8, 2012 at 5:01 am

Gaaa but “decreased extremes” should be “increased extremes.”

126 NAME REDACTED September 8, 2012 at 5:04 am

No, I was right the first time. Sigh, I need to clean my glasses.
Anyway my point is that GHG lead heating should result in decreased variances.

127 Gabe September 7, 2012 at 4:03 pm

I went to MIT and am impressed by a good scientist, but no fancy degree in any science is going to convince me that a new government tax is going to give us a better climate. I’ve studied the rot and corruption of institutions for far too long to be fooled by this malarky.

128 Bill September 7, 2012 at 6:17 pm

I’m a lawyer too, and while I might actually agree with you on the tax issue insofar as it is likely to land on the poor, I am sure that we can agree on one thing:

We should be able to eliminate subsidies..

Let’s say you believe that there is a 50% chance that global warming is caused by carbon emissions. Under all cases where there is a subsidy for the production of carbon, we are worse off–worse off if global warming is caused by carbon, worse off it is not caused by carbon. In other words, unless there is some case that carbon production should be subsidized, both the thermal warming and the non-thermal warming person should agree on eliminating carbon subsidies. In all cases you are worse off, and in one case much worse off.

So, why aren’t we talking about eliminating carbon subsidies, and why are we talking about carbon taxes.

I suspect it is the incidence of the effect of change on one group over the other.

129 jqhart September 8, 2012 at 12:06 am

What are the carbon subsidies to which you refer?

130 Bill September 8, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Oil and gas tax breaks. Virtually free lock and dam access for coal barges.

131 jqhart September 8, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Oil and gas tax breaks.

That don’t also apply to other kinds of businesses? Citations, please?

Virtually free lock and dam access for coal barges

But other kinds of barges have to pay?

132 Bill September 9, 2012 at 9:37 am


From wiki post on energy subsidies and OECD studies:

“A 2009 study by the Environmental Law Institute[5] assessed the size and structure of U.S. energy subsidies over the 2002–2008 period. The study estimated that subsidies to fossil-fuel based sources amounted to approximately $72 billion over this period and subsidies to renewable fuel sources totaled $29 billion. The study did not assess subsidies supporting nuclear energy.

The three largest fossil fuel subsidies were:
1.Foreign tax credit ($15.3 billion)
2.Credit for production of non-conventional fuels ($14.1 billion)
3.Oil and Gas exploration and development expensing ($7.1 billion)”

Re barge subsidies–Yes, raise the rates for grains and other users of the inland waterways. Why are we subsidizing one mode of transportation over another. Hint: regional politics.
There are many good ways to both raise money and increase the efficiency of the inland waterway system. Google: charles plott and inland waterways You might find Charlie Plotts study at Caltech.

133 Brian Donohue September 8, 2012 at 3:32 am

Why are we talking about the Sans-culottes?

134 Andrew' September 8, 2012 at 5:52 am

Let’s talk about the disaster that is The Fed and how the only sane solution being discussed is to demand 5% NGDP year after year…

135 tt September 7, 2012 at 4:42 pm

i’m just a simple country hyper-chicken lawyer from a backwoods asteroid
and no high falutin words are gonna convince me….

136 Bill September 7, 2012 at 6:19 pm

tt, I responded to your post in Gabe above by mistake.

137 Noah Yetter September 7, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Given only 60 years of data, how do we know this isn’t noise? Doesn’t climate change on a geologic timescale? If so there could easily be fluctuations of this size on short scales, and we have no way of truly knowing if it’s normal since we have no direct observations from thousands or millions of years ago.

138 Law Schools Lie September 7, 2012 at 9:15 pm

Given only 60 years of data, how do we know this isn’t noise?

The climate doesn’t change for fun. It has no will. It changes when its inputs and components change. Over the past 150 years or so, we’ve changed the atmosphere from ~280 ppm of CO2 to ~400 ppm. The sun’s output is basically the same, and actually down a bit from the 1950s. Our orbit hasn’t really changed. The only thing that has changed significantly is the GHG concentration of the air.

Moreover, the Earth is not just warming, but warming in the pattern predicted by AGW theory: nights faster than days, winters faster than summers, the Arctic faster than anywhere else on Earth, etc. The basic model is now 30 years old, and Hansen’s 25-year old model predicts this pattern and gives a most-likely temperature remarkably close to our current temperature. (He estimated more emissions than we actually had, so his temperature estimate is a bit high.) We also have satellite data that shows the Earth is emitting less radiation into space, and the radiation drop is occurring at the wavelength that CO2 absorbs and reflects. That heat goes somewhere, mostly into the oceans.

Doesn’t climate change on a geologic timescale?

Usually, yes. It can change more quickly if its inputs and components change quickly. Consider “nuclear winter”, or the rapid freeze-up after the K-T meteor wiped out the dinosaurs. By contrast, our climate is changing much more slowly than either of those 2 scenarios. By the standards of, say, the Miocene turning into the Pliocene, it’s very, very fast.

139 aaron September 8, 2012 at 7:35 am

Hansen’s projections have been no where near accurate.

The greenhouse effect is not in question. What is questionable are the feedbacks which will determine if the result will be anything but beneficial on net.

Observations have not supported significant lags over 8 years. Nor have the supported feedbacks that would cause concern. If there was danger, it should be obvious by now.

140 Dismalist September 7, 2012 at 8:38 pm

Models, schmodels. Can’t a time-series econometrician use several data series — preferably going back well before the time Greenland was green –and examine these claims? Some series, using proxies, of course, go back one hell of a long time. What’s a hockey stick or two worth over several eons?

Disclaimer: I have a completely open mind about what’s happening, but I don’t have a hole in my head, yet.

141 RJ September 8, 2012 at 12:15 am

It comes from Hansen, a known crank. Therefore the default assumption should be that the numbers are bogus.

142 mulp September 8, 2012 at 3:13 am

If only economists were as skeptical of economic theory and data as they are of the vastly larger set of theory and data for the natural world. Economics is in comparison back in the Stonehenge era,

143 Brian Donohue September 8, 2012 at 3:50 am

Ohhh! Krugman BURNED!

Wait what?

144 Dismalist September 8, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Stonehenge was in fact a great machine for predicting events such as the solstice.

145 David N September 8, 2012 at 11:26 am

The visualization is dramatic but I don’t see how it conveys more information or is easier to understand than a plot of mean temperature and variance vs. time. It seems to eliminate useful information like the value of one standard deviation and the size of the population of “anomalies.”

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