A new climate panic is gripping the far-Left profiteers of doom. Those few of Them who are climate scientists have made fame and fortune by telling us the world is toast unless the once-free West (though responsible for only a fifth of the world’s sins of emission) commits economic hara-kiri. The cost of placating climate Communism is already in the quadrillions.
However, They are becoming aware that Their official climate narrative is rooted in a grave error of physics – an error so elementary that it can be described here. At a vital point in Their calculation of how much warming we may cause, They forgot the Sun was shining.
By 1850, before we had any measurable impact on global temperature, direct warming from naturally occurring greenhouse gases other than water vapor was about 8 degrees absolute (Kelvin). Yet the total natural greenhouse effect by that year was 32 K – the difference between the measured global temperature of 287 K and the sunshine-only emission temperature of 255 K.
The 24 K difference between the 8 K direct and 32 K final greenhouse-gas warming up to 1850 was temperature feedback response, a knock-on, additional warming chiefly caused by more water vapor in warmer air.
Thus, They imagined, the system-gain factor – by which direct warming before feedback response is multiplied to give final warming including feedback response – was about 32 / 8, or 4. Since direct warming by doubled CO2 is little more than 1 K, they imagined that final doubled-CO2 warming – roughly equivalent to all the final warming we may cause throughout the 21st century – would be about 4 K.
That was Their mistake. They had forgotten that the water-vapor feedback (all others broadly self-cancel) must respond not only to direct warmings, such as greenhouse-gas warming but also to the surely observable fact that the Sun is shining.
After correction to take account of the feedback response to the 255 K sunshine temperature that would subsist on Earth if there were no greenhouse gases in the air at all, the system-gain factor in 1850 was not 32 / 8, or 4, as They had imagined, but (255 + 32) / (255 + 8), or 1.09.
After that strikingly simple correction to allow for the fact that very nearly all feedback response in 1850 was a response not to preindustrial greenhouse gases but to the sunshine, if the feedback regime today is as it was in 1850 we can expect not 4 K warming this century but a net-beneficial 1.1 K. That ends the “climate emergency”.
Sure enough, the rate of global warming since the end of the Second World War has been equivalent to about 1.1 K per century, or about a third of the 3.3 K/century-equivalent medium-term warmings confidently predicted by IPCC in 1990. What is more, as has been widely unreported, there has been no global warming at all for approaching eight years (see below), and no statistically-significant warming for about a decade.
What is global warming?
But what if feedback strength is greater today than it was in 1850? After all, the influence of the Sun is so dominant that an increase of little more than 1% in feedback strength compared with that year would push up the 1.1 K final warming to be expected from greenhouse-gas warming this century by 250% to Their officially predicted 4 K.
Their problem is this. When James Hansen, the far-Left agitator at NASA, first published the error in 1984, he imagined the system-gain factor was somewhere between 2 and 4 – a tacit admission that we do not know the feedback strength to within 100%, let alone 1%.
The uncertainty in feedback strength in IPCC’s leaden, prolix Assessment Reports is still greater. It ranges from little more than zero to not far short of infinity. It is one of the least well-constrained quantities in the whole of physics.
That means climatology has not the faintest idea how much – or, rather, how little – global warming we may cause. All those multi-thousand-page reports are pure guesswork. There is very little reason to suppose the feedback regime today is not exactly as it was in 1850.
The error arose when Hansen, copied by all climatologists since, borrowed feedback math from control theory, a mature branch of engineering physics, without understanding what he had borrowed. That is the curse of interdisciplinary compartmentalization in science.
Correcting the error removes Their near certainty of large and dangerous anthropogenic warming. It destroys Their pretext to shut down the West.
Here is why. In the past 30 years, notwithstanding the increasingly hysterical rhetoric at the UN’s interminable annual climate gabfests, anthropogenic greenhouse-gas forcing – our influence on temperature – has increased in a near-perfect straight line by one-thirtieth of a unit per year. With no mitigation, that increase would continue for another 30 years till 2050.
If the whole world were instead to go in a straight line to net-zero emissions by 2050, about half the 1 unit of forcing that would otherwise have arisen between now and then would be abated.
Misled by Their error, They imagine that each unit of forcing abated would abate global warming by 3/4 K. Thus, abating half a unit of forcing would cut global warming by 3/8 K. Since the West accounts for just 20% of global emissions, even if all Western countries achieved net-zero by 2050 (which we won’t), the warming abated would be less than 1/13 K.
After correcting Their error of physics, make that just 1/50 K – far too small to be measured. Yet the cost would be in the quadrillions. That is why the profiteers of doom are panicking.
A year ago the Argonauts, my distinguished team of ten climate scientists and researchers, including a former head of the U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program, a tenured professor of control theory, and an expert on the global electricity industry, submitted a paper explaining climatology’s error to a leading climate-science journal whose editor has said that those whom he calls “climate deniers” have no credible argument against the Party Line.
In all that time, he has not been able to find any reviewer who can refute our result. That, gentle reader, is why the climate Communists are trembling with fear. It’s game over, and They know it.