The media has made a big deal about the recent NASA/NOAA announcement proclaiming that 2014 was the hottest year on record. Googling “NASA 2014 hottest year” generates more than a million hits, and the first page has stories from all of the major news outlets. To them the “hottest year” determination confirms that global warming continues apace and that all science points to catastrophe, putting the final nail in the coffin of the skeptics’ claim that there has been no warming for 10–15 years. The obvious conclusion, to them, is that we need to get rid of all coal, then oil, then natural gas and prepare to run our economy on pinwheels.
Let’s leave windmills vs. coal for another day and avoid for now the important debate over NASA’s use of a very noisy and messy surface-based temperature database instead of its own satellite temperature record. Instead, let’s focus on the logic behind claiming that the warming projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is confirmed if 2014 is the warmest year on record.
The Margin of Error
NASA used a dataset known in Climate Wonkville as the GISS dataset. GISS stands for Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The GISS data, given the current (and almost certain to change) adjustments, show 2014 to be hotter than the next highest year by 0.02 degrees Celsius. Actual NASA scientists admit that this difference is a good deal smaller than the level of accuracy for such measurements. So, like the best horse in most races, 2014 may be the leading candidate for hottest year, but overall the odds are against it being the hottest.
One commentator/scientist argues that it doesn’t matter since the second and third likeliest candidates for warmest year have been in the past decade. For that matter almost all the years since 2000 are within the margin of error for being the hottest year.
Got it? Since the recent decade is the hottest, it must be getting warmer rapidly.
My Son’s Height
Now to the topic of the headline: my son’s height.
I have a 22-year-old son who is 6’4”. From 6th grade to 12th grade he grew an average of 2 inches per year. IPCC modelers might project that if he keeps on eating he will be 8’4” tall by the time he is 30 years old. To most people such a projection would have seemed laughable when he was 18. Now that he has not grown at all for four or five years such a projection would be beyond absurd.
However, if we measured him to the nearest quarter millimeter every year on his birthday there would be some variation in measured height. Maybe he wore socks some years or got a haircut in others. IPCC modelers and their supporters could then call us deniers and science haters by pointing out that his height measurements for the past four years have been among the five highest of his life. Further, it’s likely that some year his imperfectly measured height will beat all previous years by a quarter millimeter, and the modelers will be able to crow that he is the tallest he has ever been and that their projection that he will be 8’4” in 2022 is on target. They could keep making such statements until 2022 when my son will be no taller than he was in 2010.
That is close to the current situation for world temperature. Just as my son is as tall as he has ever been even though he has stopped growing, the most recent decade is the hottest on record (a very short record by geological standards) even though warming has essentially stopped.
This stagnation contrasts sharply with the projections of the climate models. The IPCC projections of climate catastrophe depend on the world continuing to warm at past rates and even faster. For instance, a NASA-award-winning scientist ran the 90 IPCC climate models. (If the climate science is so settled, why isn’t there just one settled-on climate model?) He found that the models, on average, show that world temperature should have risen about 0.3 degrees C since the mid-1980s. The measured increase using either the Goddard Institute’s non-space-based data or NASA’s satellite data has been half or less than that amount. Further, instead of continued or accelerating temperatures increases, the data show no significant warming for the past 10–15 years.
Yes, the past decade has been warmer for the most part than the previous years on record, but they have been essentially constant. Will there be decades-long periods in the future with warming? Possibly. The fact that my son will not grow to 8 feet tall doesn’t mean there can never, ever be any future warming.
So what? The important question is “Does the current record support the dramatic warming necessary for catastrophic climate changes?” The answer is “no.” Whether 2014 is or isn’t 0.02 degrees warmer than 2005 or 2010 is trivial and does more to confirm the lack of recent warming than to argue for impending doom.