Good News About Climate Change!

Summary: To start your week on a pleasant note, here are articles giving good news from climate scientists. It’s easily lost amidst the predictions of apocalypse soon. At the very least, these suggest that we have more time to prepare than commonly expected.


  1. Update on the rising seas
  2. New research about the effect of more CO2
  3. The big picture about climate change
  4. For More Information

(1) Update on the rising seas

Many experts have disputed claims that rising sea levels were affecting Pacific islands, attributing the damage to their inhabitants wrecking their ecosystems. Slowly the news media takes notice: “Shape-shifting islands defy sea-level rise “, New Scientist, 10 June 2010 (gated) — The full article is gated. For more details see “Pacific islands growing, not sinking“, ABC News. Opening:

For years, people have warned that the smallest nations on the planet – island states that barely rise out of the ocean – face being wiped off the map by rising sea levels. Now the first analysis of the data broadly suggests the opposite: most have remained stable over the last 60 years, while some have even grown.

Even better news comes from new research that shows the oceans continue to rise at the same rates as during the past several centuries, although forecast to accelerate. See “Seas will rise no more than 69 centimetres by 2100“, New Scientist, 14 May 2013

A comprehensive study of the behaviour of ice sheets suggests that … sea levels will rise by 16 to 69 cm {7″ – 27″} by 2100. That’s not too far off the best estimate in the last report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007: it predicted 18 to 59 cm {7″ – 23″} by 2100.

See the actual research for details:

(2) Important new research about the sensitivity of global temperature to rising CO2 levels

One of the active fronts in climate science is research to determine the effect of rising CO2 on global temperatures, with several high-profile papers published this year.

(a) The news media reports the debate

Climate slowdown means extreme rates of warming ‘not as likely’“, BBC, 19 May 2013 — Excerpt:

Since 1998, there has been an unexplained “standstill” in the heating of the Earth’s atmosphere.Writing in Nature Geoscience, the researchers say this will reduce predicted warming in the coming decades. But long-term, the expected temperature rises will not alter significantly.

A second chance to save the climate“, New Scientist, 19 May 2013 — Opening:

“Humanity has a second chance to stop dangerous climate change. Temperature data from the last decade offers an unexpected opportunity to stay below the agreed international target of 2 °C of global warming. A new analysis took temperature rise in the most recent decades, and worked out what this means for the coming ones. It suggests that Earth will warm more slowly over this century than we thought it would, buying us a little more time to cut our greenhouse gas emissions and prevent dangerous climate change.”

Study opens new cracks in scientific front on climate change“, Gerard Wynn (columnist), Reuters, 21 June 2013 — Opening:

A major recent study has put the cat among the pigeons on climate change, challenging the size of the problem in the near-term and the role of a recent slowdown in warming. The paper, published in the journal Nature Geoscience in May, involved scientists from 14 institutions and calculated that more extreme climate change was now less likely, after taking into account slower warming in the past decade.

The notion of changing a view as a result of a single decade of observations is somewhat controversial, given that natural patterns can span several decades. And the paper applied a method for estimating future climate change which is known to produce lower warming estimates than a corresponding measure used by the U.N. climate panel, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA).

(b) A climate scientist discusses the new research

For more detailed coverage of the debate, I recommend reading these articles by Judith Curry (an eminent climate scientist) at her website, Climate Etc. They describe the major new papers, put them in a larger context, and describe the trend of the debate.

  • New perspectives on climate sensitivity, 19 March 2013 — “Here is a summary of some important new papers on the topics of climate sensitivity and attribution.”
  • Mainstreaming ECS ~ 2 C, 19 May 2013 — “IPCC lead authors are paying attention to the lower sensitivity estimates. It will be very interesting to see how the IPCC AR5 plays this … {and} if the IPCC budges from the 2-4.5 C range that has remained unchanged since the 1979 Charney report.”

(c) For the full story, read the articles in peer-reviewed journals

Evaluating adjusted forcing and model spread for historical and future scenarios in the CMIP5 generation of climate models“, Piers M. Forster et al, Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres, 6 February 2013

The upper end of climate model temperature projections is inconsistent with past warming“, Peter Stott et al, Environmental Research Letters, 19 February 2013 — Abstract:

Climate models predict a large range of possible future temperatures for a particular scenario of future emissions of greenhouse gases and other anthropogenic forcings of climate. Given that further warming in coming decades could threaten increasing risks of climatic disruption, it is important to determine whether model projections are consistent with temperature changes already observed. This can be achieved by quantifying the extent to which increases in well mixed greenhouse gases and changes in other anthropogenic and natural forcings have already altered temperature patterns around the globe.

Here, for the first time, we combine multiple climate models into a single synthesized estimate of future warming rates consistent with past temperature changes. We show that the observed evolution of near-surface temperatures appears to indicate lower ranges (5–95%) for warming (0.35–0.82 K and 0.45–0.93 K by the 2020s (2020–9) relative to 1986–2005 under the RCP4.5 and 8.5 scenarios respectively) than the equivalent ranges projected by the CMIP5 climate models (0.48–1.00 K and 0.51–1.16 K respectively). Our results indicate that for each RCP the upper end of the range of CMIP5 climate model projections is inconsistent with past warming.

Energy budget constraints on climate response“, Alexander Otto et al, Nature Geoscience, 19 May 2013

The most likely value of equilibrium climate sensitivity {ECS} based on the energy budget of the most recent decade is 2.0 °C, with a 5–95% confidence interval of 1.2– 3.9 °C , compared with the 1970–2009 estimate of 1.9 °C (0.9–5.0 °C). Including the period from 2000 to 2009 into the 40-year 1970–2009 period delivers a finite upper boundary, in contrast with earlier estimates calculated using the same method. The range derived from the 2000s overlaps with estimates from earlier decades and with the range of ECS values from current climate models (ECS values in the CMIP5 ensemble are 2.2–4.7 °C), although it is moved slightly towards lower values. Observations of the energy budget alone do not rule out an ECS value below 2 °C, but they do rule out an ECS below 1.2 °C with 95% confidence.

… The best estimate of TCR based on observations of the most recent decade is 1.3 °C (0.9–2.0 °C). This is lower than estimates derived from data of the 1990s (1.6 °C (0.9–3.1 °C) or for the 1970–2009 period as a whole (1.4 °C (0.7–2.5 °C)). Our results match those of other observation-based studies and suggest that the TCRs of some of the models in the CMIP5 ensemble with the strongest climate response to increases in atmospheric CO2 levels may be inconsistent with recent observations — even though their ECS values are consistent and they agree well with the observed climatology. Most of the climate models of the CMIP5 ensemble are, however, consistent with the observations used here in terms of both ECS and TCR.

An objective Bayesian, improved approach for applying optimal fingerprint techniques to estimate climate sensitivity“, Nicholas Lewis, Journal of Climate, in press

Incorporating six years of unused model-simulation data and revising the experimental design to improve diagnostic power reduces the best-fit climate sensitivity. Employing the improved methodology, preferred 90% bounds of 1.2–2.2 K for ECS are then derived (mode and median 1.6 K). The mode is identical to those from Aldrin et al. (2012) and (using the same, HadCRUT4, observational dataset) Ring et al. (2012). Incorporating forcing and observational surface temperature uncertainties, unlike in the original study, widens the 90% range to 1.0–3.0 K.

(3) The big picture about climate change

While cheering madly for their faction of scientists, laypeople often lose sight of the big picture — the key elements for making public policy about this important issue.

  • The major global temperature measurement systems tell — broadly speaking — the same story since the late 1970s: two decades of warming, followed by a pause.
  • This is consistent with the larger firm conclusions of climate scientists: two centuries of warming, coming in pulses (ie, waves), with anthropogenic factors becoming the largest (not the only) drivers since roughly 1950.
  • The work of the IPCC and the major science institutes are the best guides for information about these issues.
  • There is a debate about the attribution (causes) of past warming — which probably varied over time — between natural drivers (eg, rebound from the Little Ice Age, solar influences) and anthropogenic drivers (eg, CO2, aerosols, land use changes). The IPCC reports make few claims about attribution of current climate activity to warming to date, as that remains actively debated in the literature.
  • There is an even larger debate about climate forecasts, both the extent of future CO2 emissions, and the net effects of the various natural and anthropogenic drivers.

For the past five years my recommendations have been the same:

  • More funding for climate sciences. Many key aspects (eg, global temperature data collection and analysis) are grossly underfunded.
  • Wider involvement of relevant experts in this debate. For example, geologists, statisticians and software engineers have been largely excluded — although their fields of knowledge are deeply involved.

(4) For More Information

(a) See the posts listed on these Reference Pages:

(b) About forecasts of climate change:

  1. Global warming means more earthquakes!, 19 June 2008
  2. About those headlines from the past century about global cooling…,
    2 November 2009
  3. The facts about the 1970’s Global Cooling scare, 7 December 2009
  4. Global warming causes earthquakes and volcanic eruptions (yes, this story is real), 27 April 2010
  5. Looking into the past for guidance about warnings of future climate apocalypses, 17 October 2010
  6. Hurricane Sandy asks when did weather become exceptional?, 28 October 2012
  7. Checking up on past forecasts about climate change, a guide to the future, 6 January 2013

(c) About rising sea levels:

  1. About that melting arctic ice cap, 17 April 2010
  2. Fear or Fail: about the melting Greenland ice sheet, 24 May 2010
  3. Today’s good news, about rising sea levels, 3 June 2010 — Esp note the links to articles and studies!
  4. It’s time to worry (again) about disappearing arctic ice, 8 June 2010
  5. Climate Armageddon postponed (again): the melting polar ice, 9 October 2010
  6. More about the forecast for flooded cities in the late 21st century, 16 October 2010
  7. About the coming sea ice Armageddon!, 19 June 2012
  8. Shaping your view of the world with well-constructed propaganda, 21 June 2012 — About rising sea levels.
  9. Run from the rising waves! (The latest climate catastrophe scare), 27 June 2012
  10. The seas are rising, and have been over ten thousand years. What comes next?, 27 December 2012

This piece is cross-posted from Fabius Maximus with permission.

4 Responses to "Good News About Climate Change!"

  1. EzioP1   July 17, 2013 at 8:55 am

    The rationales that support discussion about climate change seems to equate the ones supporting the discussion about the angel sex. It is now many years that we hear about risk rising and risk decreasing but the relations between causes and effects are quite careless, so far missing of the classic scientific strong correlation that links cause and effect in the recurring repetitive events. The atmospheric event like the earthquake ones are so far from our full knowledge that any take on these are more an hypothesis than an expected forecast. This is not to say that we must quit this prediction but that we must not take these as thrue scientific based ones.

  2. David   July 17, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    I think the 2 recommendations by Fabius are good ones.

    We need a serious, widespread, informed and transparently unbiased approach to climate implications, the clear effect we may have and the net effect of any programs to alter the environment by altering the human environment. We do not need closed minds that prefer to think of the issue as a done deal.

    Above anything else, rational and objective analysis should not be reduced to the level of a political or cultural plaything or a photo-op device by control-minded fools.

  3. benleet   July 17, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Bill McKibbens in 2012 put out his Global Warming Reader, a collection of essays on the topic, related to this article. Elizabeth Kolbert's 2006 essay "The Darkening Sea: What Carbon Emissions Are Doing to Ocean" is an interesting read, page 377. In it she states that since the Industrial Revolution mankind has burned 250 billion tons of carbon, half of which has been absorbed into the ocean creating carbolic acid causing a 30% increase in the surface acidity of the ocean. Each carbon dioxide molecule will trap 100,000 times more heat in the atmosphere than it released on combustion. And still the consensus seems that atmospheric temperature will rise by 3.5 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. It is estimated that it will take 10,000 years for the oceans to recover to pre-Industrial Revolution levels.

  4. Pecos Banker   July 23, 2013 at 4:09 am

    Pardon me for lowering the level of discussion here, but I understand that chemtrails are used to cool the climate. Avoiding discussion of whether they are poisening the environment, perhaps this anthropogenic global cooling should be factored in to the trends discussed above, assuming they do exist and are used to reflect the sun's rays back into space. Or are we supposed to not notice the almost daily aerial tic tac toe games?