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The Phony War: Lies, Damn Lies and the IPCC

Posted on 25 September 2010 by gpwayne

It seems ironic that one key version of this argument – that The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ‘misleads’ by misrepresenting the science of climate change and its potential consequences  - is itself a gross misrepresentation of a statement made by Professor Mike Hulme, a climate change scientist who works at the University of East Anglia. He was also co-ordinating Lead Author for the chapter on ‘Climate scenario development’ for the IPCC’s AR3 report, as well as a contributing author for several other chapters. This is how Hulme dismissed the claim:

"I did not say the ‘IPCC misleads’ anyone – it is claims that are made by other commentators, such as the caricatured claim I offer in the paper, that have the potential to mislead."

The same argument also has a broader scope, demonstrated by the claim that within the IPCC, there is a politically motivated elite who filter and screen all science to ensure it is consistent with some hidden agenda. This position turns the structure of the IPCC into an argument, by claiming that the small number of lead reviewers dictate what goes into the IPCC reports.

Before considering this argument in full, it is prudent to observe that the IPCC does no primary science or research at all. Its job is purely to collate research findings from thousands of climate scientists (and others working in disciplines that bear on climate science indirectly, such as geology or chemistry). From this, the IPCC produces ‘synthesis reports’ – rather like an executive summary – in which they review and sum up all the available material.  It is necessary therefore to have an organisational structure capable of dealing efficiently with so much information, and the hierarchical nature of the IPCC structure is a reflection of this requirement.

How does the process work? The IPCC primarily concerns itself with science that has been published in peer-reviewed journals, although, as it makes clear in the IPCC’s published operational appendices, it does also use so called ‘grey’ material where there is insufficient or non-existent peer-reviewed material available at the time the reports are prepared. See IPCC principles, Annex 2: Procedure for using non-published/non-peer-reviewed sources in IPCC reports. Many people are involved in this complex process:

“More than 450 Lead Authors and more than 800 Contributing Authors (CAs) have contributed to the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4)".

Source: The role of the IPCC and key elements of the IPCC assessment process, February 2010

To suggest the IPCC can misrepresent the science belies the fact that such misrepresentations would be fiercely criticised by those it misrepresented. Considering how many lead authors and contributors are involved, any egregious misrepresentation would hardly remain unremarked for very long.

The Broader Consensus

As with all such disputes, it is helpful to consider if there is any evidence of credible independent support for the reports the IPCC has produced, and the conclusions those reports contain. If the accusations were true, such misrepresentation would also be problematic for official bodies, particularly national science academies and the like.

On that basis, it is reassuring to note that nearly every major national scientific body e.g. the Royal Society (UK) or the National Academy of Sciences (US), unreservedly supports the work and findings of the IPCC. An expanded list can be found here, including this statement:

“With the release of the revised statement by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists in 2007, no remaining scientific body of national or international standing is known to reject the basic findings of human influence on recent climate change”.

In 2010 an independent investigation of the IPCC was launched. Conducted by the InterAcademy Council, which represents the world’s scientific academies, the report highlighted a number of organisational and procedural areas that the council felt could be improved. However, the recommendations did not detract from the council’s appreciation of the IPCC’s work:

“The Committee found that the IPCC assessment process has been successful overall. However, the world has changed considerably since the creation of the IPCC, with major advances in climate science, heated controversy on some climate-related issues, and an increased focus of governments on the impacts and potential responses to changing climate”.

Source: IAC Report Executive Summary

Like all organisations, the IPCC can improve on its performance. Recent defensiveness regarding errors or ambiguities in the AR4 report may be mitigated in light of unpleasant attacks on the organisation and its director, but the criticisms are valid none the less.

However, claims that the IPCC does not accurately represent the views and findings of the scientists, on whose work the IPCC reports are based, are not supported by the facts.

 This post is the Intermediate Version (written by Graham Wayne who rewrote my rather brief and rushed original version) of the skeptic argument "The IPCC consensus is phoney".

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 67:

  1. " it is prudent to observe that the IPCC does no science or research at all"

    Precisely, its a politcal committee, enough said.

    Except it should be called the ICCC. They couldn't even present their name right.

    Intergovernment Committeee for Climate Change
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  2. @miekol: I don't get it. Aren't panel and committee synonyms?
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  3. "it is prudent to observe that the IPCC does no science or research at all"

    Nope this is incorrect. Collating the work of others, and subjecting it to analysis is an important part of the research process. Perhaps Graham means that "it is prudent to observe that the IPCC does no primary scientific research"?
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  4. You use IPCC without defining it. That is rude. It forces readers unfamiliar with the subject to go elsewhere for a definition.

    Always define an acronym when first introduced.
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  5. John,

    On a couple of occasions when the subject has been Tamino and his ilk you have deleted my use of the quote attributed by Mark Twain to Benjamin Disraeli:

    "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics."

    Now you are paraphrasing the quote to head this post but I do not object. You hit the right target!
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  6. Re: gallopingcamel (5)
    "On a couple of occasions when the subject has been Tamino and his ilk you have deleted my use of the quote attributed by Mark Twain to Benjamin Disraeli:

    "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics." "
    GC, your usage of "ilk" in conjunction with your quote should be in violation of the comment policy, as it is tantamount to an accusation of deception and/or dishonesty. The fact that you openly admit to doing this previously and having it deleted each time is troubling enough.

    It is hard enough to maintain one's own decorum & be a positive factor on this blog without comments like yours inviting a likewise response.

    I've already "really not helped" once tonight. And you're not helping me now.

    The Yooper
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  7. gallopingcamel #5

    Presumably this is because that quote can be used in an ironic / self deprecating sense, or it can be used in an attempt to reject the entire field of statistics. This latter usage is destructive solipsistic nonsense.

    As someone who is reasonably experienced at using statistics, I can assure you that used appropriately statistics can be highly informative. Understanding how to do so is a fairly arduous task, and I have particularly enjoyed teaching undergraduate science some of the core skills for the appropriate use of statistics.
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  8. What I get out of this article. The IPCC is an impartial bureaucracy with a name that implies climate is changing.
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  9. Re: RSVP (8)

    Perhaps you should read more than just the title then.

    Or if you'd like a different place to start to learn about our changing of our climate, ask.

    "Fill your mind with the coppers of your pockets and your mind will fill your pockets with gold."

    The Yooper
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  10. #8 RSVP

    What I get out of this article. The IPCC is an impartial bureaucracy with a name that implies climate is changing.

    Sounds like what you get out of it is what you bring to it.
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  11. Would it be reasonable to compare the IPCC process with the way Wikipedia tries to collate knowledge in general, trying to have a neutral point of view, and not contributing original findings, but to refer to information published elsewhere.

    Only the IPCC work is not done by random volunteers, but by actual experts in the field. And the requirements for the referenced literature are much more serious. And the editing process is more strictly defined and negotiated.
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  12. Meikol - to call it a "political" committee would require you produce some proof that it advocates some political perspective. Instead the panel seeks to inform the political process by reviewing the best opinion of science. Can you honestly say that you dont think WG1 represents the published science?
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  13. GC - do really believe that quote (which I think is accurate about misuse of statistics by politicians) applies to science? Science in all fields absolutely depends on statistics. How else to understand error? Your quote illuminates nothing in my opinion.
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  14. 1 miekol -- "Precisely, its a politcal committee, enough said."

    No, it's an apolitical panel of scientific experts. The only way the panel and the experts are political is in the way they are used as political footballs by politicians and economically vested organisations.
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  15. "Precisely, its a politcal committee, enough said."

    I love this kind of approach. It's like reading a paper then finding a sentence like "the uncertainty range is..." and nailing it: "aha! they just don't know it!"

    To be a denier, you must carefully keep distance from the big picture.
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  16. The actual acronym is IPoCC not - as miekol @1 implies - IPfCC. Roger @4 is right- it should have been defined. If it had been then RSVP @8 wouldn't have needed to do the research he clearly didn't do. So although the advice "The Yooper" @9 presents is good, actually simply reading the correct title (rather than miekol's misrepresentation) would have been sufficient.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
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  17. The critique as spoken by the critic is very reasonable.
    http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/the-climate-desk/audio-after-glaciergate-un-panel-on-climate-change-mulls-reforms/3673/

    When the information gets into the hands of the deniers... different story.

    I doubt there are many sincere skeptics anymore. There are of course many members of the denier cult. I don't think they can be reached.
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  18. Despite strong political reasons for them not to endorse, the following countries endorsed the IPCC 2007 reports because the science was undeniable:

    United States of America - Fossil fuel-based economy, strong lobby efforts opposed to regulating fossil fuel emissions

    Saudi Arabia - World's largest producer/exporter of oil

    China - Rapidly industrializing using coal-fired power plants

    India - Rapidly industrializing using coal-fired power plants

    The IPCC WGI Report (2007) concluded: “Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.”

    130 countries endorsed the reports, and since 2007, no scientific body of national or international standing has maintained a dissenting opinion.

    Politics?

    Hardly.
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  19. scaddenp (#13),
    You need to lighten up. When I use the "lies" quote it is invariably a caution to be wary of statistics, especially when you have no way to check the data yourself. I think the M&M demolition of the MBH 08 & 09 papers illustrates this point.

    You object to my use of the "lies" quote but fail to criticize John for doing the same thing. I guess what really matters is who you agree with. Here is a link to an article on the use and misuse of statistics.

    http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=1928
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    Moderator Response: Not to be hot on the "redirect" trigger but over the last couple of days we've had a spate of possibly useful conversations on a variety of ongoing topics left orphaned in the wrong threads. For those who feel compelled to respond to GC's remark as it specifically pertains to the threadbare hockey stick controversy, please follow up on M&M versus MBH at the Is the Hockey Stick Broken thread.
  20. Daniel Bailey (#6),
    It is not often that I agree with sentiments expressed on this blog and from time to time my comments get a little pointed. Sometimes I get a nudge from John Cook to tone it down

    Nevertheless, I have a profound respect for John and almost all the folks who show up here even while expressing dissent. Anyone who has tried posting a dissenting opinion on Joe Romm's "Climate Progress" or Tim Lambert's "Deltoid" will tell you that "Decorum" takes a back seat to "Ad hominem" or complete censorship.
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  21. @GC: "You object to my use of the "lies" quote but fail to criticize John for doing the same thing. I guess what really matters is who you agree with."

    Actually, what really matters seems to be if you're attacking the credibility of a respected statistician or not. That's what you were doing with regards to Tamino, and that's why such snide comments were deleted.

    Because his work is devastating to the goals of the Climate Denial Machine, Tamino gets attacked a lot. The lesson to learn here is that such behavior won't be tolerated on any serious science site, such as this one.
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  22. KDKD: yes, primary science. Now changed.
    Roger A. Wehage: apologies for my insolence:) Acronym now defined.

    And thank you both.
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  23. Re: gallopingcamel (20)

    Just because people have differing opinions doesn't mean that they cannot be civil while discussing those differences. My experience, on this blog and on the two you cite, is that discourse is pretty well-behaved until someone barges-in in full drive-by fashion, comments something to the effect of "You're all wrong and are idiots for even thinking you're right" and then the brouhaha begins.

    The mistake most run afoul of, that I see happen most often, is those commenters that mistake a science-based forum for a debate forum (minus the science to back it up). They typically don't have a good fundamental understanding of critical thinking and the scientific method, let alone are up to speed on the core studies in the field/thread in question.

    As archiesteel (21) points out well, my main objection to your post at (5) is your linkage of the quote directly to a specific person. The title of this post uses the quote you reference, yes, but doesn't name anyone in specific; that's the difference. Making it personal. We can have a science-based discourse, disagree in toto, and still keep it civil and not make it personal.

    But we have to choose to do it that way.

    The Yooper
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  24. archiesteel (#21),

    Tamino is to CAGW folks as McIntyre is to skeptics. No doubt they are good at what they do but one needs to recognize that they both operate with blinkers on.

    My doubts about Tamino are based on his support for papers that deny the historical record. If "Climate Science" chooses to ignore history you can't expect anyone to take it seriously no matter how clever your statisticians may be. John Cook has already noted that these arguments belong on another thread so I will leave it at that.
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  25. GC - my apologies. I had misunderstood your reference (read everything but the article title) and was too quick on the trigger. I will try to take your advice :-) and lighten up.
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  26. Tamino is certainly abrasive but I value his expertise (especially when it crosses over into my time series problems). However, I wonder what "denying the historical record" papers you mean? Perhaps you could comment on an appropriate thread?
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  27. Daniel Bailey (#23),

    When people publish papers they must expect criticism. How dare you suggest that it is uncivil to mention a person's name when discussing technical issues? Newton's "Laws of Motion" and Einstein's "General Relativity" were widely criticized in contrast with the non-scientific world where the name "Lord Vol**mort" must not be spoken.
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  28. Re: gallopingcamel (27)
    "How dare you suggest that it is uncivil to mention a person's name when discussing technical issues?"
    OK, now you've completely lost me. My point solely was that to link a person's name with the quote represented by the title of this post was being uncivil.

    PERIOD.

    Hey, disagree all you want. We're disagreeing right now. You don't see me casting character aspersions on you just because you're reading more into my comment than what was actually in it.

    If you can't disagree and be civil at the same time, that's where I draw the line. Is that your position, GC, that you reserve the right to be uncivil when discussing technical issues?

    Than you don't have the good character I thought you had. And that's a sad thing.

    The Yooper
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  29. scaddenp (#26),

    Absolutely no question that Tamino and Berenyi Peter are way above my pay grade (even though I studied statistics under J.C.P. Miller).

    John Cook (#19) suggested the following thread for the discussion of MBH 08 & 09:
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/broken-hockey-stick.htm

    Hope to see you there shortly!
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  30. @gc: "Tamino is to CAGW folks as McIntyre is to skeptics."

    I don't think this is a fair analogy to make. I also don't understand why you mention BP in the same sentence as Tamino.
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  31. archiesteel, (#30),

    All of these guys are smarter than I am so they have my respect even if I disagree with them.
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  32. Daniel Bailey (# 28),

    Let's disagree without being disagreeable. I certainly have no reason to cast aspersions on your character.

    Before TV degraded our debating skills, folks like Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde gained fame by creating pithy sayings like the one that started this argument.

    Mark Twain could be abrasive (to use scaddenp's term) as illustrated by the following:
    "In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made School Boards."
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  33. I think this is relevant.

    "Climate Scientists Defend IPCC Peer Review as Most Rigorous in History"
    by Stacy Feldman - Feb 26th, 2010 at Solve Climate.com
    *
    "Nicholls, a professor at Monash University in Victoria, Australia, said the IPCC 2007 Fourth Assessment report was subjected to several rigorous tiers of review. The study cites over 10,000 papers from the scientific literature, "most of which have already been through the peer-review process to get into the scientific literature."
    *
    "The report went through four separate reviews and received 90,000 comments from 2,500 reviewers, all of which are publicly available, along with the responses of the authors, Nicholls said."

    As J Bowers @14 comment implies, any political bias is more likely toward watering down the report to satisfy economic and political interests.

    You still hear skeptics asking why they changed the name to climate change, from global warming. Yet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was named as such, over 20 years ago.
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  34. The biggest problem with the IPCC is the predictions:

    "Best estimate for a 'high scenario' is 4.0 °C"

    Since the MSU era, not even close.

    "Best estimate for a 'low scenario' is 1.8 °C"

    Close but no cigar.

    For all measures ( MSU-MT-RSS, MSU-MT-UAH,
    MSU-LT-RSS, MSU-LT-UAH, CRU Land/Ocean, GISS Land/Ocean, Hadley SST).

    In fact MSU-MT-RSS, and MSU-MT-UAH are below
    even the low end limit of 1.1C per century rate.

    When was the last time you heard that global
    warming was at a rate better than even the
    most optimistic scenario?
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  35. ClimateWatcher, the "MT" (mid-troposphere) trends are misleading because their weighting function extends over both the troposphere, which is warming, and the stratosphere, which is cooling.

    The RSS lower troposphere trend and the various land/ocean trends are at about +1.6C/century for the past three decades. However, it's inappropriate to extrapolate this rate for the next nine decades. First, there's additional warming "in the pipeline" due to lags in the climate system. Second, the warming is projected to be nonlinear -- due to increasing population, GDP, and energy use on the one hand, and saturating CO2 sinks on the other.
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  36. @ClimateWatcher: I don't know about you, but looking at RSS and UAH trends I get 1.8C/century and 1.5C/century, respectively. I think your calculations might be wrong.

    For a time frame similar to available RSS and UAH data, we get 2.2C/century for HADCRUT and GISS.
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  37. Ned,

    It is correct that the MSU channels do overlap:


    However, reflect that:

    1. the amount of overlap (with the strat.) is small

    2. The co-located RAOB data tend to confirm the MSU data and

    3. the lower stratosphere has not been cooling for the last fifteen years:


    I do not find it appropriate to speak of
    acceleration in trends when the all but the
    most extreme IPCC scenario is modeled to have DEcelerating temperature increases:


    This is to be expected with the logarithmic
    decrease in forcing modeled by the IPCC.

    Further, it is not founded to speak of saturated CO2 sinks, when the oceans can
    and will absorb all available CO2
    and when anthropogenic forces are
    excluded, CO2 is in IMbalance with the oceans:

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  38. archiesteel,

    I use January, 1979 to start.

    The data set starts with December, 1978,
    but starting with January makes annual
    comparisons easier.

    There is nothing special about the MSU era,
    but it does provide the best comparison
    among all the available data sets.

    I did not notice a slope value on the
    WoodForTrees site. Is it there but I am
    missing it?
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  39. ClimateWatcher #37: "Further, it is not founded to speak of saturated CO2 sinks, when the oceans can
    and will absorb all available CO2"

    Can and will... but isn't currently.

    One of the early arguments against AGW by actual skeptics was that the total volume of the oceans would be able to absorb any amount of CO2 which humans released and thus we could not cause an increase in the atmospheric CO2 level. This was found to be false because the RATE at which we are releasing CO2 is greater than the rate at which the oceans can DISTRIBUTE CO2 throughout their volume.

    Thus, it is totally accurate to speak of sinks becoming saturated... in the short term. If the ocean surface waters were not saturated with CO2 we would not be seeing the increasing atmospheric values we have been.

    Sure, it will be a different story several thousand years from now... but that's not exactly relevant.
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  40. ClimateWatcher, it's simply a fact that the IPCC temperature projections aren't linear over the period 1990-2100. As shown in Rahmstorf 2007, recent temperatures are well within the IPCC model predictions.

    Here's an updated version of Rahmstorf's graph, showing the comparison between observed and projected temperatures:



    Observed data are from RSS lower troposphere and GISSTEMP land/ocean (monthly, and 5-year LOESS smoothed). Gray envelope shows IPCC model projections, from Rahmstorf.
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  41. @ClimateWatcher:

    "I use January, 1979 to start.

    The data set starts with December, 1978,
    but starting with January makes annual
    comparisons easier."

    One month does not significantly change the trend, so it really does seem as if your calculations are incorrect. I'll venture so far as to say that, since you clearly have a wrong idea of the current warming trend, the rest of your arguments are tainted by this mistake and need to be adjusted accordingly.

    In other words, you have failed to adequately challenge the current science, i.e. that the current warming trend is in the range estimated by the IPCC.
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  42. Since there seems to be a bit of confusion on this point, some trends (Jan 1979-Aug 2010):

    GISSTEMP land/ocean: 1.65 C/century
    RSS lower troposphere: 1.63 C/century
    UAH lower troposphere: 1.39 C/century

    I just went back to the original sources, re-downloaded the data, and checked this.

    NOAA-NCDC and HADCRUT are also in the 1.6 C/century range.
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  43. Right with you:

    1979 through Aug 2010 least squares fit
    ( deg C per century to the nearest tenth):

    RSS MT 1.0
    UAH MT 0.5
    RSS LT 1.6
    UAH LT 1.4
    CRU 1.6
    GISS 1.7
    Had SST 1.4

    All less than the IPCC best estimate.

    MT, where warming is modeled to be
    maximal, below the significance limit.
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  44. ClimateWatcher writes: All less than the IPCC best estimate.

    Or, actually, right in the middle of the IPCC projected range for 2010.
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  45. archiesteel,

    Fortunately for us,
    all of the above trends are completely below
    the range of the IPCC 'high end scenario':

    "Best estimate for a "high scenario"[10] is 4.0 °C with a likely range of 2.4 to 6.4 °C"

    Most of the above trends are IN the range
    for the 'low scenario':

    "Best estimate for a "low scenario"[9] is 1.8 °C with a likely range of 1.1 to 2.9 °C"

    But ALL the measurements are below the
    'Best Estimate' of the 'low scenario',
    which the IPCC describes as the "most optimistic".

    Hence, my point that warming IS taking place,
    but at a rate LOWER than even the "most optimistic"
    per the IPCC.

    The middle troposphere measurements,
    which are modeled to contain the "hot spot",
    and warm at a rate higher than the surface,
    do in fact exhibit a trend which is completely OUT of range for the SURFACE
    as modeled by the IPCC "low scenario".

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPCC_Fourth_Assessment_Report#Model-based_projections_for_the_future
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  46. Ned,

    The IPCC also said this:

    "A temperature rise of about 0.2 °C per decade is projected for the next two decades for all SRES scenarios."

    Some may contend that internal variability
    makes two decades too brief a period to
    predict for. And clearly, the briefer the
    period, the more the starting time matters
    to the trend.

    But that is not my prediction, but rather
    the words of the IPCC. And analyzing
    the results of predictions is how
    we test theories.


    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPCC_Fourth_Assessment_Report#Model-based_projections_for_the_future
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  47. @Ned: thanks for the precise figures. I confess I was eyeballing (Wood for Trees should update their tool to provide numerical values on a mouseover...)

    @ClimateWatcher

    The trend since January 1979 is indeed slightly under the low scenario estimate (by 0.2C, or 11%), but that estimate is not based on that time period. It is based on data sets (such as GISS and HadCRUT) that go further back, and thus provide a better statistical basis to establish trends.

    As I indicated, if you use 1975 as your start point (25 years, a nice round number) then you get trends that are higher than the low estimate.

    Cherry-picking to make a point isn't the right way to test theories.
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  48. @ClimateWatcher: also, you should stop using the MT values since the IPCC predictions do not deal with that area of the atmosphere.
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  49. ClimateWatcher quotes the IPCC: A temperature rise of about 0.2 °C per decade is projected for the next two decades for all SRES scenarios.

    That "about 0.2 °C per decade" is a rough approximation of the middle of the distribution of model runs through 2020, not the "Best estimate of the low scenario as of September 2010".

    Please stop posting misleading claims about the IPCC projections.

    Again, here is the actual comparison of observations to the range of model projections:

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  50. "As I indicated, if you use 1975 as your start point (25 years, a nice round number) then you get trends that are higher than the low estimate."

    Very well, since 1975 (35 years),
    Least squares fit, nearest tenth degree per century:

    1.7 CRU
    1.8 GISS

    We may note that:

    1. the CRU indicates a century warming rate
    below the best estimate for the most optimistic scenario

    2. the GISS indicates a century warming rate
    right at the best estimate for the most
    optimistic scenario

    3. both rates indicate DEceleration from
    the 1975 to present period to
    the 1979 to present period.
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