Archive for the ‘GHGs’ Category

Climate models and climate "sensitivity" for dummies (me too); a recent bibliography

October 14th, 2008 No comments

Inspired by Bob Murphy’s Mises post on “Economic and Climate Models“, I decided to put together a few links to (i) further information on global climate models, (ii) criticism of them (and responses), and (iii) the state of the science on climate “sensitivity” (that is, the range of temperature increases that are expected to eventually result from a doubling of atmospheric levels of CO2).

1. General information on climate models

Spencer R. Weart, “Simple Question, Simple Answer … Not”, Forum on Physics & Society, October 2008, American Institute of Physics

Discovery of Global Warming site at the American Institute of Physics, created by Spencer Weart with support from the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation 

Modelling the climate, by

A model approach to climate change (Feb 1, 2007,, by Adam Scaife and Chris Folland of the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, Met Office, UK, and John Mitchell, chief scientist at the Met Office, UK.

The physics of climate modeling (Physics Today, Jan 2007), by Gavin Schmidt, research scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

The IPCC: (regional models)


Principles of Planetary Climate, detailed online book on the physics and modelling of climate by Raymond T. Pierrehumbert (U. Chi.)

The Global Warming Debate, 8. Climate Models


2. Shortcomings of Models, Environmental Information Coalition (EIC), National Council for Science and the Environment.

“A climate of alarm”, Feb 1, 2007, (interview of Richard Lindzen) (Lindzen PowerPoint) (Lindzen – Stephan Rahmstorf dialogue)

“The Sloppy Science of Global Warming”, Roy W. Spencer, Mar. 20, 2008,

Roy Spencer interview,


Lay criticism:, Warren Meyer, who describes himself as “a small business owner and author of Coyote Blog” with “an engineering degree from Princeton and an MBA from the Harvard Business School.”


Responses to critics:

The following posts at Skeptical Science by John Cook, an ex-physicist (majored in solar physics at the University of Queensland): (review of Lindzen’s “iris” theory)

Brian J. Soden, Darren L. Jackson, V. Ramaswamy, M. D. Schwarzkopf, Xianglei Huang, The Radiative Signature of Upper Tropospheric Moistening

“Climate models predict that the concentration of water vapor in the upper troposphere could double by the end of the century as a result of increases in greenhouse gases. Such moistening plays a key role in amplifying the rate at which the climate warms in response to anthropogenic activities, but has been difficult to detect because of deficiencies in conventional observing systems. We use satellite measurements to highlight a distinct radiative signature of upper tropospheric moistening over the period 1982 to 2004. The observed moistening is accurately captured by climate model simulations and lends further credence to model projections of future global warming.”

3. The state of the science on climate “sensitivity”

“Sensitivity” refers to the expected equilibrium temperature increase expected to result from a doubling of atmospheric levels of CO2.  The sensitivity reflects not simply the direct warming effects of increased CO2 levels, but the short- and long-term of feedbacks, which are generally expected to be positive, such as increases in atmospheric water vapor resulting from higher temperatures, reduced surface reflectivity (albedo) as ice melts and darker ocean and land surfaces absorb greater solar radiation, and releases of methane (a much more potent GHG than CO2) from permafrosts (and possibly also ocean floor deposits).  Equilibrium effects are expected to be felt over hundreds and thousands of years, so we are already committed to future climate change – of an imperfectly known degree – as a result of the current 1/3 increase of atmospheric CO2 over preindustrial levels.  Plus, atmospheric levels continue to increase, and at increasing increments, as fossil fuel use grows worldwide.

Climate models have been used to estimate a fast-feedback (changes of water vapor, clouds, climate-driven aerosols, sea ice and snow cover) CO2 sensitivity of 3 ±1.5°C., but models cannot define climate sensitivity more precisely, as it is unknowable whether models realistically incorporate all feedback processes.  The model results reported by the IPCC do not include long-term sensitivity (including the effects of changes to long-lived atmospheric gases, ice sheet area, land area and vegetation cover).  Further, as a recent paper (Dana L. Royer, Robert A. Berner & Jeffrey Park) notes, “Most estimates of climate sensitivity are based on records of climate change over the past few decades to thousands of years, when carbon dioxide concentrations and global temperatures were similar to or lower than today, so such calculations tend to underestimate the magnitude of large climate-change events and may not be applicable to climate change under warmer conditions in the future.”

Studies of the Earth’s history provide empirical inferences of both fast feedback climate sensitivity and  long-term sensitivity.  Climate sensitivity has been estimated based on the 20th Century data, the constraints from responses to volcanic eruptions, and the last glacial maximum (LGM); these data have been combined on a Bayesian basis by one group to conclude that fast-feedback sensitivity is very unlikely (< 5% probability) to exceed 4.5°C, but some evidence is inconsistent with this range.  Jim Hansen has argued for a long-term sensitivity of up to 6°C.

A recent paper concludes, based on a comparison of estimations of carbon dioxide concentrations over the past 420 million years with a proxy record, that (1) “a climate sensitivity greater than 1.5 °C has probably been a robust feature of the Earth’s climate system over the past 420 million years, regardless of temporal scaling”, (2) “deep-time geological records exclude the possibility of weak climate sensitivities … the amount of warming for every doubling of carbon dioxide must be at least 1.5 °C.”, and (3) although high climate sensitivities cannot be entirely excluded, their best fit for the past 420 million years was about 2.8 °C per doubling.

Further, scientists have shown that, given the existence of net positive feedbacks, that there is an irreducible uncertainty about the climate effects of GHG increases, but that this uncertainty is not symmetric – rather, physics-based models and empirical evidence force the conclusion that climate change has a long tail on the “bad” side and a very short tail on the “good” side.   Gerard H. Roe and Marcia B. Baker recent article in Science “Why Is Climate Sensitivity So Unpredictable?” concludes:

“we show that the shape of these probability distributions is an inevitable and general consequence of the nature of the climate system. Further, we show that the breadth of the distribution and, in particular, the probability of large temperature increases are relatively insensitive to decreases in uncertainties associated with the underlying climate processes.”

“… it is evident that the climate system is operating in a regime in which small uncertainties in feedbacks are highly amplified in the resulting climate sensitivity. We are constrained by the inevitable: the more likely a large warming is for a given forcing (i.e., the greater the positive feedbacks), the greater the uncertainty will be in the magnitude of that warming.” (italics added)

A quick explanation of the Roe and Baker paper is laid out by John Cook here:  Does model uncertainty exaggerate global warming projections?


Categories: climate change, GHGs, models Tags:

"Environmental Kuznets curve" and Onion’s spoof of China’s Status as World’s Number One Air Polluter

July 12th, 2008 No comments

Sorry; this was too good not to share:

China Celebrates Its Status As World’s Number One Air Polluter

China has now outstripped the rest of the world in GHG emissions, as well.

Government ownership of (and favoritism to) much of industry, a lack of clear or enforceable property rights and an inability of injured citizens to seek recourse for damages will all delay Chinese progress along the “environmental Kuznets curve” – which in my mind simply reflects the various information costs and transaction costs within a society in becoming aware of and responding to environmental problems.  Environmental problems are “problems” only because a lack of information or social infrastructure means that certain producers (and consumers of their products) are able to shift costs of production to others, who either may be unaware of the risks, unaware of who is producing them, or unable to organize and lack institutional abilities either to protect their rights or to transact with those who generate the harms.

Institutional deficiencies in China unfortunately mean that China will experience a higher peak in environmental damage than if it openly acknowledges its environmental problems and moves quickly to widely publicize pollution information, and to strengthen property rights, tort rights and access to fair courts (or, alternatively, to follow the Western example by abandoning common law approaches in favor of stronger statutory, regulatory and criminal measures).

Up is Down: Irrational & unscientific (?) "Alarmists" dismiss senseless alarmist hype

July 11th, 2008 No comments

Yes, NF3 (nitrogen trifluoride) is a potent GHG.  But its use in electronics manufacturing does NOT make a significant AGW contribution, much less one greater than coal.

More at Rabbet Run and Real Climate.

Alarmists being … reasonable?   While the “reasonable” are being alarmist?  Maybe the world IS about to come to an end.  Either that, or my head is about to explode!

[Update] Another Clear Thinker at Mises warns us about "The vicious lie behind the global warming scare"!!!

June 26th, 2008 No comments

This time it`s David Veksler, with a post on the main LvMI blog, with the title I`ve quoted above.

Why is it that so many Mises commentators flee from reason and prefer a fever-pitched focus on strawmen when it comes to addressing environmental issues?

I copy below my comments on the thread [note:  I’ve added a few links, along with bracketed comments]:

David, I read your post with interest, but came away disappointed, for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, you didn`t identify the “vicious lie” behind the global warming scare.  What`s the lie, what`s vicious about it, and who`s behind it?

Second, even if THERE BE VICIOUS LIARS behind the AGW scare (the monolithic movement of envirofascist/commie/watermelon man-haters), you really haven`t helped me figure out why it`s so important  that we should focus our attention and energies on the vicious liars

Do they occupy the entire universe of people who have announced their concern over climate change, man`s likely role in it and what if anything we should do on  a organized basis about it?  Or do they so predominantly provide the driving power and strategy for such concerns that we should simply ignore everyone else as mere puppets of the All Powerful Enviros – that is, all of the prestigious National Academies of Science (East, West and South), other scientific associations, the period internationally reviewed digests of ongoing scientific work regarding climate change, all of the world leaders who have backed study and action for the past twenty years, corporate leaders (including captains of insurance, finance, industry, power and fossil fuels), leaders of established religions, and defense and intelligence heads?

Third, assuming again that there are vicious enviro-liars, you clearly overstate their views on geo-engineering, which run the gamut from reflexive opposition to a nuanced recognition that, given the long-lasting effects of GHGs and the continued ramp up in emissions worldwide, some degree of geo-engineering may be desirable. [Enviro-liars like me have made a number of blog posts on geo-engineering]

Fourth, you paint, without support or discussion, a rosy picture of how cheap and effective geo-engineering is likely to be.  I`m not very well-read in this, but from what I`ve seen, they are not cheap or certain and offer potential negative consequences as well.

Fifth, you ignore the fact that the institutional settings in which geo-engineering will occur are clearly statist.  The firms that have started to explore “ocean fertilization” have done so in the expectation that carbon capture and sequestration efforts would be compensated under incentives created by carbon-trading schemes.  While your tacit approval of use by states of tax dollars to cure problems that our industries have created for us seems hardly libertarian – in the face of adamant opposition to the decades-old arguments (by vicious liars like Stephen Hawking [whom you link to], Joe Stiglitz, Kenneth Arrow, Thomas Schelling, Robert Mendelsohn, William Nordhaus, Martin Weitzman and Gregg Mankiw [many whom I’ve referred to a number of times]) that governments introduce disincentives to GHG releasing activities – it certainly seems rather prevalent.  [In effect – the principled/preferred approach seems to be to let industry transfer costs to others and THEN use government/tax dollars to pay for remediation; that way, politicians can dole out pork twice – first, by looking the other way; then, by regulating in a way that locks in advantages for established firms.]

Dr. Reisman, for example, has thought long and hard and come up with a number of brilliant statist ideas, for which he longs for a good old-fashioned heavy industry-loving left to spearhead, including the following:

“there is a case for considering the possible detonation, on uninhabited land north of 70° latitude, say, of a limited number of hydrogen bombs. … This is certainly something that should be seriously considered by everyone who is concerned with global warming and who also desires to preserve modern industrial civilization and retain and increase its amenities. If there really is any possibility of global warming so great as to cause major disturbances, this kind of solution should be studied and perfected. Atomic testing should be resumed for the purpose of empirically testing its feasibility.”

Sixth, you fail to explain to your readers on the basis of Austrian understandings – from von Mises through Block and Cordato – why we should not take seriously the expressed concerns of the vicious enviro-liars (or others) about AGW.  Are there no problems that arise when property rights are not in place for open-access resources or are not clearly aligned to external costs, or if homesteading and private transactions are not practical?  Or when resources are “owned”, but mismanaged by governments and fought over by rent-seekers in political battles?  In such cases, do Austrian insights tell us to ignore the preferences and frustrations of particular groups of people, in favor of other groups that apparently have done a better job of purchasing political influence? 

Seventh, as a tactical matter, are essays like this the best approach to productively engaging the all-powerful enviro-liars?

Shall we ignore any underlying commons problems simply because we hate the vicious enviro-liars?  Or is it your view that, in hating the enviro-liars, we most effectively resolve commons issues – by clarifying that powerful industries (those few not controlled by enviro-liars, that is) have first dibs on them, and that those with other preferences need to pay off industry (and their political handlers)? [Of so, then have we just clarified the applicable property-rights rules?  Great!  Now citizens and other groups will know how to proceed to with “market” transactions!]

I could go on, but as you can see, I`m simply puzzled and lack your clear views about whom we should hate and what we should do.

Sadly, my confusion seems to be shared by a number of others here, who also seem confused about the principled basis and efficacy of hating enviro-liars, whomever and wherever they may be.

In fact, the responses by others here are almost enough to make a good Austrian wonder whether even the Mises board has been infiltrated and infected by vicious enviro-liars!

You might consider asking the blog administrators to take close note of those who are clear sympathizers of the enviro-liars, and where appropriate to suspend commenting or blogging privileges, such as for particularly vicious and unprincipled man-haters.  Watermelons should be roasted whenever and wherever found, I say!  Enviro-haters, unite! 

Or maybe you`re way ahead of me on that? 

[There’s gotta be a good way, after all, to remove the “stain” of those nasty enviros or to at least to contain the infection threat posed by their evil but insidious views.  Let me know if I can make any further suggestions.]