A Few Things Ill Considered

A layman's take on the science of Global Warming featuring a guide on How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

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This is Just a Natural Cycle

(Part of the How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic guide)

This article has moved to ScienceBlogs

It has also been updated and this page is still here only to preserve the original comment thread. Please visit A Few Things Ill Considered there. You may also like to view Painting With Water, Coby Beck's original fine art photography.



  • At March 13, 2006 2:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "While it is undoubtably true that there are some cycles and natural variations in global climate, anyone who wishes to insist that the current warming is purely or even just mostly natural has two challenges."

    No, it is up to those who insist that the changes are due to increased CO2 concentrations to provide compelling evidence to support their claim. Natural variability is the "null" hypothesis, and a CO2/AGW effect needs to be compellingly shown over and above that null scenario.

  • At March 13, 2006 8:54 PM, Blogger coby said…

    The hull hypothesis is a statistical test and might be a reasonable approach if we were looking only for correlation. But we're not, there are known mechanisms involved whose effects can be predicted and measured. But even putting that aside, we are well outside the realms of natural variability outside of catastrophic geological events like the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum.

    And after yet again putting even that aside, we do in fact have compelling evidence.

  • At March 14, 2006 7:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Natural cycles do have causes and we are far from understanding all of them and their effects. Another way the uncertainty of the science is reflected is in the wild range of warming predictions. The science of warming is rapidly changing too, because our knowledge of climate is rapidly advancing.

    Several years ago, global warming for the future was all the rage; now it has quickly shifted to climatic instability. If the models of global warming are so solid, why this major shift? Because knowledge has advanced and models have been revised.

  • At March 14, 2006 7:40 PM, Blogger coby said…

    You are absolutely correct that there is much to learn, but I think the understanding of natural climate changes is better than you imply. The biggest challenge in fully understanding the past is not weakness in the theory, but rather a lack of comprehensive, well resolved data. As for today's climate change, the available data is much much richer and more complete allowing the elimination of natural factors and definitive attribution to anthropogenic effects.

    The reason for the "wild range" of model predictions has much more to do with the uncertainty in how emissions will play out in the coming century than it does in the climate sensitivity to CO2 forcing. If we slow and stop emissions thing will go much differently that if we barrel ahead at full steam. See here:

    Not sure I get what you mean by a language change. It is true that "climate change" is often preferred to "global warming" but this is to better reflect to disparity in regional responses not to say models no longer predict global warming.

  • At March 15, 2006 4:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The term "climate change" is prefered by those attempting to study the effects on agriculture. Here both temperature and precipitation matter a great deal, both in quantity and variablity. The term "global warming" is not considered to be sufficiently inclusive. However, both terms refer to the same predictions, and now observations, of instability in the climate system.

  • At March 31, 2006 12:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    """"but I think the understanding of natural climate changes is better than you imply."""""

    As far as I know from reading the IPCC, not much progress has been made, appart from the indisputable progresses in computational capapilities. And people misuses simulation, as for example the recent publication by Science of a "study" which, on faith of simulation shows that sea levels may rise up to 11 m by 2100 whereas the IPCC "consensus" talks of +60 to 80 cm values !

    The CO2 forcing of +1.5 to +4.5 °C has been estimated... more than 20 years ago, and this range has not changed.

    What has progressed is that the flaws of the anthropogenic climate warming theory seem clearer day after day (the flawed "hockey stick", the flawed Oreskes meta-review, the false affirmation of more frequent cyclones, the mismatch beetwen satelite and surface temperature measurements...).

  • At March 31, 2006 7:52 AM, Blogger coby said…

    Hi Demesure, thanks for the comment.

    I don't know what to tell you about progress if you don't see it, it is being made in leaps and bounds. Compare the SAR and the TAR for example, and since then we have many more proxy reconstructions to consider, the satellite analyses corrected, new data about energy imbalances, better observations of ocean currents and temperature, ice sheet behaviour in Greenland and Antarctica and much much more. You are correct that there has been very little change in the overall climate sensitivity estimates, but sometimes progress is made in terms of increased certainty rather than overturned earlier findings.

    You are very mislead to think any article in Science has suggested an 11 metre sea level rise by 2100. There was alot of exagerated press and some just plain wrong in a similar way as you, but the worst I saw was the claim that the recent papers said 6m by 2100. In fact the research said that we may be committed to 6 metres rise by the end of this century, and it is very uncertain how fast it might happen, but the exageration you attribute to that research is your own. (Have a look at William Connolley's discussion of those papers and the related press). Nor is it based on model simulations, it is based on noting where sea level was the last time temperatures were as high as they will be this century (the last interglacial, ~125K yr bp) and noting how fast sea level has risen at times since the last glacial maximum (see here).

    As for the gattling-gun drive by you end with:
    Please see this discussion of the alledged flaws in Oreskes paper.
    Please see this article for a different take on the (not new, BTW) Hockey Stick controversy, there are dozens of other reconstructions that have supported the same conclusions.
    Please see this entry to correct your outdated concerns about satellite readings, they are well in line with the models now after numerous error corrections.

    You are similarily misinformed about the direction the research on hurricanes and cyclones is taking. See this Real Climate article and the links therin.

  • At March 31, 2006 8:54 AM, Blogger coby said…

    Hi RCO,

    Well, to start with there are often very good and objective reasons to limit the datasets you want to analyze. With respect to the temperature, I might agree that choosing 1970 is a cherry-pick if you are talking about the land record in general, but looking at the whole record seems to be the fix for that, not looking only at 1940 to 1970, another, though opposite effect, cherry-pick. I have an extensinve article here on temperature records of various lengths.

    If you are discussing temperature with satellite records in mind, then 1970 is the correct starting point as that's when the first satellites were available.

    This is the reason that the recent hurricane studies emphasis 1970 onwards, not for any bias advantage.

  • At April 04, 2006 4:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Be careful--even the author of that graph on Wikipedia admits that past temperature records are naturally much smoother than modern instrumental records. The sharp spike in recent temperatures might well be unusual, but I don't think we can quite say for sure that it's unique. (Compare the scale, for example, of temperature on that graph of Antarctic ice cores, for example, with the sort of temperature fluctuation we are seeing today. I can easily imagine that such fluctuations are hidden by the scale of that graph and the impossibility of yearly measurements on that scale.)

  • At April 04, 2006 4:56 PM, Blogger coby said…

    This is a good point, it is indeed impossible to strictly rule out very short lived anomalies on the basis of these proxies alone.

  • At June 27, 2006 3:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Are human beings not a part of nature? Is everything we do not natural? If what we do is going to cause such widespread devestation, then why do we continue to do it? Who are we trying to convince with these arguments, facts and statistics? The US, the worlds largest contributor to the global problem aren't interested, and other countries are only making a small effort, and the general masses don't care, so where is this message going? It is all to illogical to me.

  • At November 08, 2006 4:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You could argue that humans are *not* a part of nature in the strictest sense, because our brains have allowed us to step outside of it. We are in a unique position to make concious decisions that have global repercusions. We chose what to eat, what to grow, where we live, where we travel, how we treat others, how we look after ourselves. We have built machines that have taken us to the edges of the solar system, and machines that can quite literally move mountains.

    To say that we are a part of this world, is true. To say that we are just a 'part of nature' is to play down the roles we have evolved into.

    -- Jason

  • At November 22, 2006 8:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Yet, we have never built a machine with near the power of a volcano or major earthquake or heavenly object impact. We have many theories about the results of those events.

    In the end, if we are to believe the basics of the theory of evolution, it really doesn't matter. We and the rest of nature will either adapt or die. One could argue that we might have a greater chance of adaptation due to our perceived abilities. But, crocodiles, ants and lots of other creatures and plants could raise a reasonable argument that they have as great a chance than us youngins.

    I do find it interesting that in many cases, the only apparent solution is bigger government, more control or restrictions on individual activity. This results primarily by force- force of the gun or force of the tax. Yet, what examples are there that force has worked? Indeed, something simple like hunger should be easily solvable when compared to this very complex climatic issue. People are hungry and want food. Force didn't solve this problem. Ask those in the Soviet republics. I seriously question anybody's presumption that a solution lies in such means.

  • At November 23, 2006 11:49 AM, Blogger coby said…

    I don't think people can be both thoughtful and sincere in using the "it's just evolution in action" angle to argue against mitigating the potentially severe consequences of human caused climate change. If you really want to follow that logic completely well then I think you must also believe that infants with illness or disabilities should be left to die, that is evolution in action too. This may be a fine conclusion for some, but it is at the least well outside of the range of what is the acceptble moral compass for policy making in modern societies.

  • At December 10, 2006 9:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Anonymous: While I believe some notion of "force" may be necessary to solve the issues of reducing carbon emissions, it does not have to be the type of force you are considering.

    It could be "force" applied by a government to ensure every citizen has a realistic view of the economics of their decisions. If we are only able to emit x amount of carbon per person per year in order to prevent disastrous effects to our environment, then we must be made fully aware how much carbon we have emitted so far, and how much we have remaining.

    This could be achieved by making use of some sort of rationing system, for example.

  • At January 29, 2007 1:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Interesting that the industrial revolution is always the base line for climate increases. No one mentions the little ice age that ended at that same time and was a major motivator in spurring the industrial revolution. What caused the little ice age if it wasn't a natural cycle? All those factories in Europe emitting acid rain?

  • At January 29, 2007 2:18 PM, Blogger coby said…

    The fact that the current climate change is anthropogenic does not in anyway imply that all climate change must be anthropogenic. The current thinking about the cause of the LIA is heightened levels of volcanic activity and a drop in solar activity. The correlation of the industrial revolution and the end of the LIA is an interesting thing to note, but don't forget correlation does not imply causality.

    The LIA is certainly discussed in the IPCC TAR report, so saying "no one ever mentions" is inaccurate. I also mention it frequently.

  • At January 30, 2007 7:51 AM, Blogger Azayleah said…

    we r destroying our home by sending c02 into our air. we are the cause

  • At February 20, 2007 3:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I always find this one a little amusing in the sense that you might as well call it "magic", because natural cycles do in fact have causes. So this is really just trying to insist that the climate science community is as ignorant as whoever it is writing this objection.


    You find counter-data amusing? What are you, a non-scientist or something? Oh yeah, oooops, you are.

  • At April 26, 2007 10:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Oh, the magical sun! Last I heard, it was expelling more "magic" now then it has in over 8000 years. Oddly, 8000 years ago marks a period when a climatic warm period was nearing an end. That period was about 1000 years long, & was much warmer than it is now.

    There are approximately 5,000,000 other variables that contribute to climate change; I guess that those are considered magic too, since only one of those is CO2.

    If you want to talk about magic, explain how it is that humans, who produce about 1% of all CO2 released into the atmosphere, are responsible for a 30% increase in total atmospheric CO2?

  • At April 27, 2007 12:02 AM, Blogger coby said…


    Sorry for a rushed reply, please see the "its the sun" article and the "natural emissions dwarf humans" article.


  • At December 25, 2007 8:01 PM, Blogger Will Nitschke said…

    This series of articles should perhaps be retitled "How to talk past a climate sceptic." Before we have to worry about how to disprove the CO2+climate change hypothesis, alarmists first have to demonstrate that there is unusual or dangerous levels of current warming. You've assumed in your article that this has been proven beyond doubt. Only a tiny handful of scientists have provided research to demonstrate this claim, and serious flaws in their methods and maths continue to be raised.

  • At January 05, 2008 2:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hey, we are rapidly running out of fossil fuels anyway, we know they wont last..... so why argue about it? What's the argument for not changing over to renewables? Even if AGW IS overstated?

  • At February 11, 2008 3:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    First challenge answer: Milankovitch cycles. Look them up on wikipedia, it explains it at a level you can understand. The earth's orbit, tilt, etc all vary over different time periods, causing "ice age cycles" when their effects are additive or the opposite.

    Second challenge answer:
    Even the IPCC admits that the rise in CO2 FOLLOWS the rise in temperature by 800 years. this is due to the release of CO2 by the oceans CAUSED by an increase in temperature.

  • At June 13, 2008 10:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Judging by your emphasis on CO2 following temperature rises, I think you're arguing in the 'against' camp. Otherwise it's difficult to tell what you mean.

    You've just described two natural processes. That's fine.

    Regarding the Milankovitch cycle, we are in a current cooling phase (but the planet is warming at a remarkable rate).

    Regarding the CO2 lag, check out the post on it from this site;


    The two points are related.

  • At July 11, 2008 10:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

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