Where's the Party?

(From CO2science website)
The Greening Earth Society

Preliminary data indicate 2004 likely will register as the fourth-warmest year in the world's surface temperature record. Yet despite all the gloom-and-doom scenarios, we haven't experienced an all-time record-setter since the big El Niño back in 1998. Our planet may be warming, but not at a torrid clip.

If global climate really were to respond the way climate models project it should, the “warmest year on record” would be announced every other year or so after natural variation in annual average temperatures was factored in. But the “warmest year” designation only is proclaimed every five years or so. At that frequency, earth's climate appears to be warming at a rate somewhere near the low end of the range of estimates hypothesized by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC projects a temperature rise somewhere between 1.4º C and 5.8º C by 2100. The upper end of that range is a result of the IPCC researchers' climate models routinely being fed extreme emissions scenarios that result in an extreme rise in global temperature.

Another indicator that “global warming” is an under-achiever is that the overall warming trend since 1976 has been 0.17º C per decade. Things began to warm back then after 30-plus years of cooling – a trend that prompted a mid-1970s fear we were plunging into an imminent Ice Age. There is no evidence the trend since 1976 is picking up despite claims things are getting worse at an ever-increasing rate (see Figure 1). A rudimentary calculation reveals the IPCC low-end warming rate to be 0.14º C per decade with its upper-end 0.58º C. Obviously, we are experiencing something akin to the lower rate.

This should be cause for celebration! If we can't stop the warming no matter how hard we try (and we can't) and we are pretty much “stuck” with the fossil-fueled energy infrastructure we have, then we should be thankful things only appear to be warming up at a relatively slow rate. If you don't feel especially thankful and are convinced there are alternative means to energize the needs of 6.5 billion people, that's fine. We celebrate your optimism and idealism. Happy New Year!

But here's our scenario: If the past three decades are any indication (we believe they are), then earth's climate will continue its modest warming. In time, human dependence on fossil fuels will run its course and we'll move on to other sources of energy and the environmental challenges that inevitably will accompany their use. Global average temperature will be a bit higher than now – as will agricultural productivity and average human life span. So here's to realism, pragmatism, and the fourth-warmest year on record – 2004!

Figure 1. Global average temperature anomalies (from the 1961-1990 mean) since 1976. The established warming trend is 0.17ºC per decade. News reports of an “increasing warming trend” are hogwash. (Note: We choose our terminology carefully.)
Have comments or questions? - Contact us at editor@CO2andclimate.org

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