Tag Archives: climate change

New “evidence” for global cooling?

The climate change pseudo-sceptics/deniers/contrarians are at it again – claiming the earth is cooling. This time their “evidence” is the extent of ice in the Arctic ice cap. Of course they have to cherry pick the data. The MailOnLine (see Global cooling: Arctic ice caps grows by 60% against global warming predictions ) declares:

“A chilly Arctic summer has left nearly a million more square miles of ocean covered with ice than at the same time last year – an increase of 60 per cent.”

And

“Some eminent scientists now believe the world is heading for a period of cooling that will not end until the middle of this century – a process that would expose computer forecasts of imminent catastrophic warming as dangerously misleading.”

You can “prove” anything with statistics, can’t you? Suitably cherry picked of course.

To save you the trouble of searching out the real situation for yourself Skeptical Science provides us with Arctic Escalator. This puts the MailOnLine “evidence” into context. (Animated gif – if it doesn’t work for you click to show the graphic.)

ArcticEscalator2012_med

Don’t believe everything you read on these climate pseudo-sceptic/denier/contrarian web sites.

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News media influences public trust in science

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No one will be surprised at the headline on ‘s Guardian blog - Fox News found to be a major driving force behind global warming denial. Still, the article references a new research paper by Hmielkowski et al. in the Public Understanding of Science (see An attack on science? Media use, trust in scientists, and perceptions of global warming). The conclusions from this research affirms we are right not to be surprised, but also shows links between climate change denial and trust in science and scientists. They also conclude that the news media people read can influence both their attitude towards climate change issues and their trust in science and scientists.

Trust in science related to your news sources

These researcher found that:

“the more Americans use conservative media, the less certain they are that global warming is happening. Conversely, the more Americans use non-conservative media, the more certain they are that global warming is happening.”

This confirms previous findings. But they went further and found their results:

” . . demonstrate that the negative effect of conservative media use on global warming belief certainty is due, at least in part, to the negative effect of conservative media use on trust in scientists. The positive effect of non-conservative media use on belief certainty is likewise explained by the positive effect of non-conservative media use on trust. Furthermore, the use of within-subject panel data and longitudinal analysis shows that media affects people’s level of trust in scientists.”

I find this last point disturbing. It’s one thing for a group of people to disagree with current scientific findings, but far more serious if they are motivated to disagree by lack of trust in scientists. That does create a defense mechanism for the protection of beliefs against the evidence of reality.

Conservative media promote distrust in science

Further disturbing is the implication that such distrust is actively promoted by some conservative media.

It is probably not surprising that trust, or lack of trust, are cognitive mechanisms enabling people to draw conclusions without the need for intensive analysis of the evidence. consequently people are effectively programmed, by the nature of their normal news media reading, to draw politically motivated conclusions, whatever the evidence.

There are two implications from this work. Firstly, changes in public perceptions on climate change have probably had more to do with media either promoting or undermining trust in scientists than in evidence:

” . . it appears that climate change contrarians have successfully raised questions about scientists in the public mind. Polling data from 2008 showed that 83 percent of the US population at least somewhat trusted scientists as a source of information about global warming; however, trust declined in 2010 to 74 percent. By contrast, these results demonstrate that use of non-conservative media outlets increases trust in scientists, suggesting that mainstream and liberal-leaning media coverage plays an important role in limiting (and countering) the effects of the climate skeptic movement. Therefore, continued use of mainstream news media outlets by the public should help sustain the credibility of scientists as a source of information about global warming. Thus, mainstream news media should be cognizant of this role and continue to highlight scientists as a trustworthy source of information on climate change.”

The public role of scientists

Secondly scientists should attempt to make sure their public role on issues like climate science promotes trust, rather than the opposite. They need to defend their credibility when attacked by conservative media in this way:

“Scientists could remain on the sidelines and exclusively produce research for peer-reviewed journals and reports. Although this strategy may help keep scientists above the fray, this does not mean that they will remain neutral actors in the eyes of the public. Indeed, climate contrarians and conservative media outlets are already attacking the credibility of climate science and individual scientists. Remaining uninvolved gives climate contrarians and conservative media free rein to redefine how the public thinks about climate scientists and their research. Alternatively, scientists could use their trusted position in society to engage the public by providing them with understandable analysis and information about the causes, risks and potential solutions to climate change. However, this proactive stance may lead some members of the public to view scientists as increasingly politicized. In both scenarios, some members of the public may lose trust in scientists, which may be difficult to regain . Importantly, however, the sidelines strategy will likely lead to a greater total loss of public trust than the public engagement strategy – especially among the Cautious, Disengaged, and Doubtful audiences identified in prior research, if climate contrarians are allowed to shape public discourse uncontested. Regardless, scientists will play an important role in how different publics perceive the issue of global warming. The question is whether it is on their terms or the terms of climate contrarians and their allies.” My emphasis.

It’s an important issue for scientists – particularly in the US where the news media is so polarised and political factions concentrate around specific examples. The authors finish by stressing how important the role of the media there has become:

“This political polarization is contributing to national climate change policy paralysis in the USA, and it is becoming clear that the news media itself plays an important role in this process.”

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The “consensus message” in communicating science

Here is an interesting talk by John Cook from the University of Queensland. He is presenting results from his PhD research on the effect of consensus information on public attitudes towards climate science. He surveyed representative samples of Australians and Americans about their political ideologies and the effect of consensus on their acceptance of human-caused global warming. After being shown evidence of the consensus on human-caused global warming, Australian acceptance of this scientific reality grew across the political spectrum, but especially among conservatives.

I found his debunking of several myths about the negative role of consensus information valuable.

Cook is the founder of the climate science blog Skeptical Science will be a red flag to some of the conservative commenters here  who will no doubt lauch into personal attacks on him. But his message is valuable. And, I think, worth extrapolating (intelligently) to other areas where scientific consensus gets attacked.

AGU Chapman Conference — Climate Science: John Cook.

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Michael Mann’s defamation lawsuit on track

Anyone interested in the political struggles around the science of climate change will be aware of the attacks made on climate scientist Michael Mann. These go back a long time and are detailed in his book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines (see The truth about the hockey stick for my review of this book). Despite a number of enquiries clearing Mann of any wrong-doing these attacks have continued.

Screen-shot-2009-11-24-at-03.03.162

But the National Review and Competitive Enterprise Institute went too far when they accused him of illegal acts, (like manipulating data and outright fraud). Mann filed a defamation suit against them. This week the Washington DC Superior Court came down with its first ruling in the case – and it’s not good news for those attacking Mann. It refused to throw out Mann’s on the grounds that the plaintiff’s statements were protected speech under the First Amendment, mere “opinion,” “rhetorical hyperbole,” or “fair comment.”

The ruling said that CEI defendants had produced:

“numerous articles that characterize Plaintiff’s work as fraudulent, combined with the assertions of fraud and data manipulation”

and this went beyond free speech. It added

” In Plaintiff’s line of work, such an accusation is serious. To call his work a sham or to question his intellect and reasoning is tantamount to an accusation of fraud (taken in the context and knowing that Plaintiff’s work has been investigated and substantiated on numerous occasions).”

The defamation case will now go ahead with the next hearing at the end of August.

It’s heartening to see this progress being made as many commentators were cynical about Mann’s chance of success.

As one commentator, Dan Satterfield, said - Wearing A Tinfoil Hat Is Getting Expensive

via DC Court affirms Michael Mann’s right to proceed in defamation lawsuit against National Review and CEI .

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Communicating climate science – Michael Mann comments

Here’s a relatively short talk by Michael Mann talking about his own experiences in communicating climate science, and the political attempts to intimidate him. He is an interesting speaker and his story is important.

via AGU Chapman Conference — Climate Science: Michael Mann – YouTube.

Mann is the author of the book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines. It’s very informative and easy to read. Essential reading for anyone interested in the science and politics of climate change.

See “Good faith” science – and its enemies for my review of Mann’s book.

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Scientists, political activism and the scientific ethos

The recent decision of the Hamilton City Council to stop fluoridating its water supply caused a bit of discussion among New Zealand scientists. Discussion of the ethical and practical questions related to scientist involvement in political activism.

The Hamilton City council had been exposed to large numbers of submissions from anti-fluoridation activists. Most of them misrepresented the science and gave misleading, often incorrect, information. Scientists could have corrected these mistakes and distortions, but the job was left to a few representatives of the District Health Board and the Ministry of Health.

Many scientist think, as do others in the community, that they must play a greater role countering distorted information and pseudo-science. But the scientific ethos of objectivity, evidence-based debate and peer review conflicts with the political nature of such activism.

It’s a problem that scientists, especially younger scientists, will have to face increasingly in the future. Quite a few of us have solved the dilemma for ourselves by blogging – a sort of half way point between ivory tower science and political activism.

But here is something to think about. Climatologist James Hansen has thought about this issue throughout his life. Sometimes he has opted for pure science, these days he is opting for pure activism. Here’s an excellent video of one of his talks from February 2012 explaining his motivations and history on this issue. It’s also a simple and clear explanation of the climate change problems we are facing now and in the future.

James Hansen: Why I must speak out about climate change 

Hansen has also written about these issues in his book   Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity. Have a look at  Global climate – and your grandchildren for my review of the book.

See also: Fluoridation

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When science is under attack

Another image picked up on social media
Nuez-webA cartoon from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

This must be what it’s like for some climate scientists at the moment.

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A New Zealand climate change pseudosceptic apologises!

Credit where credit is due, and I admit I never thought I would say this about local climate pseudosceptic Richard Treadgold – but “good on you mate.”

richard1

Richard Treadgold, New Zealand climate pseudosceptic and blogger

I have often got into heated debate with this guy – my main concern being his willingness to effectively accuse honest climate scientists, include New Zealand scientists, of scientific fraud. He also has a bad habit of misrepresenting climate science and climate scientists on his blog Climate Conversation Group. I have often raised with him his moral obligation to apologise for such misrepresentation and accusations (see Apologies would be nice).

Without result. But now he has apologised for recently misrepresenting local climate scientist Dr James Renwick (see Hide sticks it to Renwick Renowden a scaring warmist,  and  Renwick blames drought on man-made global warming, which has been now changed to Renwick doesn’t blame AGW for drought).

In his post today, Climate porkies from TV One, Richard actually says (and we have to get this on record):

“I apologise to Dr Renwick for misquoting him so badly — that is, over a statement so disastrously incorrect.”

So, good on you, Richard.

This whole incident started with Richards thoughtless endorsement (Hide sticks it to Renwick) of a snakey NBR article by failed NZ ultra-conservative politician Rodney Hide (see Faith, not facts, drives global warming) and I won’t rehash the time line here (read my posts “Incontrovertible” is it, Rodney?,  Confusion and distortion – has global warming stopped?   and  Pseudosceptics are at it again – misrepresenting and attacking climate scientists for details).

Richard admits he wrote his misleading posts “after reading the transcript and studying the video,” but the final blow for him seems to be Renwick’s email which “politely confirmed that he never blamed the drought on global warming: “This is just not so.””

I believe the transcript and video were extremely clear and am surprised Richard’s apology only came after personal confirmation from Renwick  (see transcript at Lack of govt leadership on climate change – Renwick, and video of interview at Q+A: Corin Dann interviews Dr James Renwick).

Mind you, some other climate pseudosceptics are more resistant than Richard. On of the commenters on Richards blog responded to Renwick’s confirmation by accusing him of “splitting hairs.” And one faithful climate change denier on twitter I debated  refused to take the video and transcript as evidence – instead claiming that the offending claim had been made while the camera wasn’t running, or had been edited out. Poor soul.

I am also aware that local climate change pseudosceptics will have not qualms twisting Renwick’s confirmation into another misrepresentation. Some of the commenters on Richard’s blog already seem to be doing so. Renwick’s confirmation – that he never declared global warming had directly caused our recent extreme drought and that there was no other explanation -  to mean he claims that global warming will play no role in future extreme weather events. Richard himslef comments:

“. . it’s useful to have his firm statement on record that weather events are not caused by global warming. Everyone and his dog has been looking around at this warm record or that storm and saying that’s global warming, we’re all doomed. It will be handy to slap them with Renwick’s authoritative statement.”

Let’s be clear, the current scientific thought is that while one can never prove a direct link to specific events, global warming will probably increase the frequency of such extreme weather events in the future. Renwick made this clear in the interview – read the transcript Richard.

Meanwhile, I hope Treagold’s ethical chickens really have come home to roost for good – there are still a few apologies outstanding. For example his egregious  claim that NIWA scientists had manipulated New Zealand temperature data to create evidence for warming (see  his infamous article “Are we getting warmer yet?” and my posts New Zealand’s denier-gate and Painted into a corner?).

However, let’s celebrate this rather rare event – a scientists getting an apology foir their misrepresentation.

There’s a few other New Zealand bloggers who should take note and start thinking about their own ethical obligations.

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Pseudosceptics are at it again – misrepresenting and attacking climate scientists

I have already mentioned the irony of a failed politician attacking climate scientists, accusing them of treating science like a religion while declaring his own faith that:

“The world stopped getting warmer 17 years ago. That’s incontrovertible.”

(See “Incontrovertible” is it, Rodney? and Confusion and distortion – has global warming stopped?).

But another factor in this sordid little story was the way that Rodney Hide attempted to portray New Zealand climate scientist Dr James Renwick as a religious fundamentalist in his science. Basically he did this by misrepresenting Renwick – Hide told a porkie.

Hide claimed that Renwick “was in no doubt that man-made global warming was causing the summer drought” and went on to give this quote as “proof;”

” . . climate change, global warming. Put more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and things warm up.” The host Corin Dann double-checks: “And you’re of no doubt of that?”

“Oh, no, no. There’s no other explanation that’s remotely plausible.”

Hide then went on to declare:

“That’s religious zealotry in action. Science is never that certain.”

Creating the impression that Renwick had “no doubt” that greenhouse gases were responsible for New Zealand’s recent extreme drought.

Problem is – at this stage of the interview the drought had not even been mentioned.

Interview transcript

Here’s the transcript of the interview from its beginning to Hide’s quote:

CORIN DANN: Good morning, Dr Renwick. How are you?

DR JAMES RENWICK: Good morning, Corin. Very well.

CORIN: Listen, thanks for coming on the show. I know you’re literally just back off the plane this morning. Tell us what is happening to NZ’s climate. Paint us a picture of what’s going on.

JAMES: Well, like the rest of the globe, NZ’s climate is warming up gradually. Temperatures have risen by the best part of a degree in the last century, and they’re set to rise by two or three degrees or maybe even more over the course of the coming century.

CORIN And this isn’t some normal- What is this? Is this climate change at work?

JAMES Yeah, it is. Yeah, climate change, global warming. Put more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and things warm up.

CORIN And you’re of no doubt of that.

JAMES Oh, no, no. There’s no other explanation that’s remotely plausible.

Full transcript available at: Lack of govt leadership on climate change – Renwick

Simply a clarification that New Zealand’s climate is part of the global climate and that greenhouse gases contribute to global warming. The New Zealand drought had not even been mentioned at this stage.

The informal confidence Dr Renwick expressed was  consistent with the current understanding of the role of greenhouse gases in global warming – not, as Hide and fellow pseudosceptics and climate change deniers have claimed, that greenhouse gases were the direct cause of our recent drought.  That claim was a complete misrepresentation, clearly motivated and knowingly dishonest as the perpetrators also had access to the transcript of the interview.

Should Renwick have any doubts on role of greenhouse gases?

Dr Renwick did display, informally, a high degree of confidence that greenhouse gases are contributing to climate change. But that is hardly surprising because that is the current understanding of most climate scientists. Consider what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said.

The figure below shows the results of simulations of global temperature from 1900 to 2005. Figure a included all the natural and anthropogenic influences.  The black line is the actual measured global temperature anomaly (obtained by subtracting the average temperature for 1901 to 1950).  The individual simulations are shown as thin yellow curves. The red line is the multi-model ensemble mean (see Figure 9.5 – AR4 WGI Chapter 9: Understanding and Attributing Climate Change).

Figure b is a similar plot using simulations which consider only the natural influences on climate. The individual simulations are shown as thin blue curves. The thick blue line is the multi-model ensemble mean.

So, climate scientist have considered both natural and anthropogenic influences. And they are unable to reproduce the global temperature changes since 1970 unless anthropogenic influences are included.

That is why the IPCC has concluded that there is a high probability (>90%) that human influences are contributing to the current observed global temperature increase.

Notice also that the experts talk about probabilities. It’s a complex field and things are rarely cut and dried. We are more certain about some influences than others. And the IPCC doesn’t hide this fact – far from it. It doesn’t make sweeping claims in the way that some of their opponents do.

I am sure Dr Renwick accepts this – his comment “Oh, no, no. There’s no other explanation that’s remotely plausible” is simply an informal recognition  of that.

While on the role of greenhouse gases this short video provides some of the data supporting current scientific assessment – in this case not relying on computer models or the IPCC.

Was our recent drought caused by CO2?

Later in the interview Renwick did comment on our drought. Here’s the relevant section of the transcript:

JAMES: Well, no, I don’t think panicking is very helpful.

CORIN : But it feels like that with this drought, though, doesn’t it?

JAMES: It’s a pretty exceptional event, yeah. It’s probably the first time in 50 years that it’s been this dry over this much of the country. So, sure, it’s exceptional. You know, a farmer would only see this once in a working lifetime.

CORIN: But if we’ve only seen it once in 50 years, should we not be that worried? That suggests it’s not going to happen for another 50 years.

JAMES: Well, the way the climate’s changing, the likelihood is that summers will become drier, so what’s a one-in-50 year event now will be, say, one in 20, one-in-25 year event by the middle of the century. And in some parts of the country, it might be a one-in-five year event by the end of the century, which means the farming sector’s going to have to adapt to that. We’ve got time – it’s decades we’re talking about, and farmers are very adaptable, but things will have to change.

Again, I think Renwick was just informally conveying what seems to be the current scientific assessment of the role of global warming in extreme weather events, like New Zealand’s drought and US storms. This is that one can’t prove a direct link of atmospheric CO2 to single specific events. However, scientific analysis analysis suggests that such events will become more frequent as the planet warms.

As Dr Renwick expressed it - “what’s a one-in-50 year event now will be, say, one in 20, one-in-25 year event by the middle of the century.”

Given the informal nature of such interviews I think Dr Renwick presented the scientific assessment pretty accurately. But of course this won’t stop the pseudosceptics and climate change deniers. Most of these, and certainly Rodney Hide, have a ultraconservative political agenda. They commonly paint scientists as plotters and schemers, part of an evil world-wide conspiracy wanting to bring in a One World Government. And claiming scientists have manipulated global temperature records to create false evidence for fclimate change.

And, yes, despite the availability of the interview transcript local climate change pseudosceptics are still misrepresenting Dr Renwick’s statements. (see Hide sticks it to Renwick and Renowden a scaring warmist). They are studiously avoiding the transcript and instead interpreting reporter’s comments.

And, of course, sticking the boot in while they are at it.

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Confusion and distortion – has global warming stopped?

There’s a mantra circulating at the moment claiming that global warming “stopped 17 years ago.” It is of course being pushed by the pseudosceptics in the climate denial echo chamber. However, even people who should know better have been heard to repeat something like that.

Rodney Hide, a former New Zealand ultra conservative politician has assured us “The world stopped getting warmer 17 years ago. That’s incontrovertible” (see my post “Incontrovertible” is it, Rodney? for my take on that). And one of the commenters on my blog at  SciBlog seems willing to treat Rodney’s assurance as a simple fact. Of course the pseudosceptics proudly and loudly reassert similar claims.

But many of those repeating this mantra are attributing the claim to authoritative sources, like the the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) and leading climate scientists and institutions.

So what’s the truth. Has global warming “stopped?” Are climate scientists saying it has stopped?”

Short answer is actually no. Slightly longer answer is along the lines that the current rate of global temperature increase seems to have slowed, global temperatures may even have plateaued, but that doesn’t support a claim that global warming has “stopped!” Or stopped 17 years ago.

IPCC Chairman misrepresented

Firstly – lets deal with the use of Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the IPPC, as a source for this mantra. This appears to go back to a report in the Australian which claimed he  “acknowledged a 17-year pause in global temperature rises.”

Trouble is, there is no record to back up the claim and the IPCC communications office said it does not accurately represent Pachauri’s thoughts on the subject.

The only statement the Australian article actually attributed to Pachauri on this subject is that “global average temperatures had plateaued at record levels and that the halt did not disprove global warming.” And that is paraphrasing Pachauri and not quoting him directly.

As the blog Skeptical Science pointed out (see Did Murdoch’s The Australian Misrepresent IPCC Chair Pachauri on Global Warming?) if he “had he said that global surface air  temperatures have plateaued and that this doesn’t disprove global warming, he would be 100% correct.” And that is what a number of well-known climate scientists also have said. Usually no mention of 17 years and certainly no claim that global warming had “stopped” 17 years ago.

To help clarify I repeat below two figures from my recent post “Incontrovertible” is it, Rodney? These show global air temperatures for the last 17 years and for the long-term – since 1880.

17-years

Global temperature anomalies for 1996-2012 (Average annual temperature data from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Sciences),

Line plot of global mean land-ocean temperature index, 1880 to present, with the base period 1951-1980. The dotted black line is the annual mean and the solid red line is the five-year mean. The green bars show uncertainty estimates. [This is an update of Fig. 1A in Hansen et al. (2006).]

As I said about the first figure in my recent post:

“There’s a lot of noise so all we can say from that data is the warming rate is in the range of  -0.02 and 0.17 °C/decade (95% confidence level). That’s the problem with such short time periods.”

Putting short-term trends in context of long-term record

The data in the first figure must be put into the context of the longer term changes. And as the 2nd figure shows a number of short periods over the longer term which had a similar pattern to that in the first figure. It would be silly, especially with hindsight, to claim that global warming “stopped” in 1990, or 1985, or 1975, and so on. Yet this is what some people are doing.

It’s easy to find short time periods where the global temperature trend is not significantly different to zero – that’s the nature of a record with this sort of variability or noise. A record which also results from a number of factors and is therefore not a simple correlation with one cause.

So it is silly to cherry pick a short period and then make an absolute claim (global warming has stopped) – and especially to claim that somehow something happened in 1975 so that “global warming stopped 17 years ago. Think about it. Take that first figure a just select the last 10 years. The trend will also not be significantly different to zero – are we then going to claim something happened in 2002 to “stop” global warming?

No, of course not. The only reason 17 years is mentioned is that one can’t go back further than that without the trend being significantly different from zero. It’s a cherry-picked date – cherry picked to produce a non-significant trend.

Have IPCC models been disproved

Another common claim is that the very recent plateau, or decrease in the rate of global warming proves the scientific climate models are wrong.  More specifically I have often heard the claim that since this plateau has occurred while atmospheric CO2 levels continue to increase this proves that CO2 is not driving global warming. Even the claim that the plateau has somehow shown the scientific understanding of the fundamental properties of greenhouse gases is wrong.

The naivety of the last claim is to think that climate scientists  consider CO2 to be the only factor influencing the climate – they just don’t. Consequently one should not expect to see a simple correlation between global temperature and atmospheric CO2. Any attempt to understand or model climate change must include many more inputs than CO2.

As for models in general here is a couple of factors:

  1. All models are inaccurate. That’s just the nature of the attempt to understand complex systems – we can’t expect to get things perfect. And when anomalies occur this may actually help us improve the models by incorporating other factors or more realistic physical parameters. Despite this models have important uses as long as we understand their limitations.
  2. Models require inputs – inputs which may change, often unpredictably, over time. Therefore it is silly to expect model projections to always be correct or accurate further down the track.

For example, there could be weather conditions increasing heat inputs into the deep ocean which could not have been incorporated several years ago. Or there could have been an increase of particulates from increased coal use which had not been predicted. Political changes can produce economic changes which influence inputs. These are some of the ideas that have been suggested to help explain the current plateau or reduced rate of global temperature increase.

So the real test of the model is not to use inputs based on predictions made several years before, but to update inputs so that the model more correctly represents current situations.

But, more basically, it’s important to recognise that the global climate is complex. Simple mechanisms are not going to explain the details in the global temperature record. So be careful of people who advance simple explanations to discredit the science.

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