Hansen in NYTimes: I’m not Sayin’ “I Told you So”, but…

May 10, 2012


GLOBAL warming isn’t a prediction. It is happening. That is why I was so troubled to read a recent interview with President Obama in Rolling Stone in which he said that Canada would exploit the oil in its vast tar sands reserves “regardless of what we do.”

If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.

Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk.

That is the long-term outlook. But near-term, things will be bad enough. Over the next several decades, the Western United States and the semi-arid region from North Dakota to Texas will develop semi-permanent drought, with rain, when it does come, occurring in extreme events with heavy flooding. Economic losses would be incalculable. More and more of the Midwest would be a dust bowl. California’s Central Valley could no longer be irrigated. Food priceswould rise to unprecedented levels.

If this sounds apocalyptic, it is. This is why we need to reduce emissions dramatically. President Obama has the power not only to deny tar sands oil additional access to Gulf Coast refining, which Canada desires in part for export markets, but also to encourage economic incentives to leave tar sands and other dirty fuels in the ground.

The global warming signal is now louder than the noise of random weather, as I predicted would happen by now in the journal Science in 1981. Extremely hot summers have increased noticeably. We can say with high confidence that the recent heat waves in Texas and Russia, and the one in Europe in 2003, which killed tens of thousands, were not natural events — they were caused by human-induced climate change.

How accurate was Dr. Hansen’s 1981 paper compared to observations since then?  Skeptical Science took a look.

Projected Global Warming

Now we arrive at the big question – how well did Hansen et al. project the ensuing global warming?  Evaluating the accuracy of the projections is something of a challenge, because Hansen et al. used scenarios based on energy growth, but did not provide the associated atmospheric CO2 concentrations resulting as a consequence of that energy growth.  Nevertheless, we can compare their modeled energy growth scenarios to actual energy growth figures.

Figure 4 shows the projected warming based on various energy growth scenarios.  The fast scenario assumes 4% annual growth in global energy consumption from 1980 to 2020, and 3% per year overall from 1980 through 2100.  The slow scenario assumed a growth of annual global energy rates half as rapid as in the fast growth scenario (2% annual growth from 1980 to 2020).  Hansen et al. also modeled various scenarios involving fossil fuel replacement starting in 2000 and in 2020.

Figure 4: Hansen et al. (1981) projections of global temperature. The diffusion coefficient beneath the ocean mixed layer is 1.2 cm2 per second, as required for best fit of the model and observations for the period 1880 to 1978. Estimated global mean warming in earlier warm periods is indicated on the right.

Since 1981, global fossil fuel energy consumption has increased at a rate of approximately 3% per year, falling between the Hansen et al. fast and slow growth scenarios.  Thus we have plotted both and compared them to the observed global surface temperatures from GISTEMP (Figure 5).

The global surface temperature record has improved since 1981, at which time the warming from 1950 to 1981 had been underestimated.  Thus Figure 5 uses a baseline of 1971 to 1991 (sets the average temperature anomaly between 1971 and 1991 at zero), because we are most interested in how well the model projected the warming since 1981.  As the figure shows, the model accuracy has been very impressive.

The linear warming trends from 1981 through 2011 are approximtely 0.17°C per decade for Hansen’s Fast Growth scenario, 0.13°C per decade for the Slow Growth scenario, vs. 0.17°C per decade for the observed global surface temperature from GISTEMP.  Estimating that the actual energy growth and greenhouse gas emissions have fallen between the Fast and Slow Growth scenarios, the observed temperature change has been approximately 15% faster than the projections of the Hansen et al. model.

If the model-data discrepancy were due solely to the model climate sensitivity being too low, it would suggest a real-world climate sensitivity of approximately 3.2°C for doubled CO2, although there are other factors to consider, such as human aerosol emissions, which are not accounted for in the Hansen et al. model, and the fact that we don’t know the exact atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations associated with their energy growth scenarios.

Predicted Climate Impacts

Hansen et al. also discussed several climate impacts which would result as consequences of their projected global warming:

“Potential effects on climate in the 21st century include the creation of drought-prone regions in North America and central Asia as part of a shifting of climatic zones, erosion of the West Antarctic ice sheet with a consequent worldwide rise in sea level, and opening of the fabled Northwest Passage.”

We can check off all of these predictions.

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49 Responses to “Hansen in NYTimes: I’m not Sayin’ “I Told you So”, but…”

  1. Mo seems to not realize that SkS *is* in fact written and edited by an actual climate scientist.

    What a fucking dipshit.

    • MorinMoss Says:

      Sebastian, can i ask you to please tone it down a little?
      I think it would be enough to respond directly to Maurizio and point out that SkS does, in fact, have an actual climate scientist as an editor.

      • You can ask, but I frankly have had enough interactions with the guy to finding “toning it down” more courtesy than he deserves.

        These aren’t people interested in intellectual honesty or decency in the least. Being nice to them is actually counter productive as it makes clear to them they can continue to spew their bullshit largely untrammeled by anyone calling them on it forcefully. Time for people who accept climate reality to quit being pushed around and turning the other cheek for the benefit of the Maurizios of the world.

        Maurizo non e uomo decente, periodo.

      • And here’s the real rub: Mo *knows* this already. It’s not news to him that John Cook is a real, actual scientist (who actually to be fair doesn’t consider himself a climate scientist per se…but clearly is a professional working physicist and a fellow at the University of Queensland). Suggesting that he’s an amateur or not a professional scientist as Maurizio has done over and over and over in this thread isn’t merely an innocent mistake, but rather the hallmark of a deliberately disingenuous campaign.

        This sort of reprehensible behavior frankly calls for more than a simple “sorry kind sir, you appear to be mistaken” handshake.

  2. […] wat tot klimaatverwarming leidt. Dat deze verwarming plaatsvindt heeft de Amerikaanse klimatoloog Jim Hansen inmiddels onomstotelijk door grootschalige temperatuurwaarnemingen aangetoond: sinds 1980 wordt de […]

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