One of the world’s most…
From being a largely speculative…
We couldn’t pin down global warming, exactly, so now it’s re-labelled as climate change, which is an incredibly vague loaded term that no-one fully understands. The difficulty of pinning down this “wicked problem” has produced more uncertainty than ever and rendered the subject the purview of politics that has polarized the public and turned the issue into something reminiscent of the dark ages and conjuring up of weather-focused demons.
Amid these dark ages, the voice of former TV meteorologist and meteorological instrumentation specialist Anthony Watts has become unusually controversial. The knee-jerk reaction of a polarized public has been to place him in one of two climate change camps, and to categorize him as a “denier”. But Watts insists his latent climate change scepticism is pragmatic and based on his experience as a meteorologist and a long process of connecting the scientific dots. His message, he says, is misunderstood, and he best describes himself as “lukewarm” on the issue. He believes that climate change is happening, but that there’s no need for panic.
Anthony is also the publisher of the most visited website on climate science in the world, www.wattsupwiththat.com
In an exclusive interview with Oilprice.com, Watts discusses:
• The difference between “global warming” and “climate change”
• Why CO2 is partially responsible but oversold
• Why recent major weather events cannot be linked to CO2
• Why we should be more worried about another ice age
• Why carbon taxes won’t have any effect on the whims of Mother Nature
• How the climate debate has taken on religious proportions
• Why the Keystone protests are all for show
• Why Mother Nature will be the final arbiter of truth
• What we should and shouldn’t be doing to address global warming
• Why “climate change” has become a favorite bogeyman
• Why scientifically we’ve only scratched the surface of climate change
• The simple physics of the urbanization “heat sink” effect
Interview by. James Stafford of Oilprice.com
Oilprice.com: We see a lot of confusion among readers over the terminology here. What is the difference between “Climate Change” and “Global Warming”? Which is the more loaded term, and why?
Anthony Watts: “Global warming” suggests a steady linear increase in temperature, but since that isn’t happening, proponents have shifted to the more universal term “climate change,” which can be liberally applied to just about anything observable in the atmosphere.
Right now, the favoured tactic is to link any severe weather event to climate change while ignoring the history of such events, claiming they are new and unique. "Climate change" is like a universal bogeyman these days; the problem is that climate has always changed. For example, the climate of the past has been warmer than today as well as colder as indicated by ice core isotope records.
Oilprice.com: No one seems capable of walking a pragmatic line on this issue, and the process of thinking and connecting dots appears to be entirely disallowed by both camps. Would you agree that the main problem with this debate—and the reason it has been so successfully hijacked by politics and business interests—is that the masses cannot digest it in anything other than black and white terms?
Anthony Watts: The premise of the issue for proponents can be summed up very simply: You put CO2 in the atmosphere and it makes it warmer, that’s bad. The reality is that the Earth’s climate system is far more complex than that: It isn’t just a linear relationship between CO2 and temperature, it is a dynamic ever-changing one, and climate is tremendously complex with hundreds of interactive variables and feedbacks.
Predicting an outcome of a chaotic system over the long term is a very, very big task, one that we’ve really only scratched the surface of. Dr. Judith Curry of Georgia Tech describes it as a “wicked problem”. But it is being popularly portrayed as a simple black-and-white problem and few really delve much beyond the headlines and the calls for action to understand that it is really many shades of grey.
Oilprice.com: As a former TV meteorologist and a developer of weather data dissemination technology, can you tell us more about how your background lends to your “pragmatic scepticism” on climate change?
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Anthony Watts: In TV, if I was wrong on the forecast, or the temperature reported was inaccurate, I’d hear about it immediately. Viewers would complain. That immediate feedback translates very quickly to making sure you get it right. With climate, the forecast is open-ended, and we have to wait years for feedback, and so the skill level in forecasting often doesn’t improve very much with time. Also, I’ve had a lifetime of experience in designing and deploying weather instrumentation, and like with forecasting, if we don’t get it right, we hear about it immediately.
What I learned is that the government weather service (NOAA) had it right at one time, but they’d dropped their guard, and my recent study (preliminary) shows that not only is the deployment of weather stations faulty in siting them, but that the adjustments designed to solve those issues actually make the problem worse.
Oilprice.com: Is there any way to remove the “camp” element from the issue of climate change? How far do disastrous weather events—like Hurricane Sandy—go towards reshaping the climate change debate?
Anthony Watts: The idea that Hurricane Sandy, a minor class 1 storm, was somehow connected to CO2 driven “climate change” is ludicrous, especially when far worse storms existed in the same area in the past when CO2 was much lower. Hurricane Hazel in October 1954 is a case in point.
In my view, the only way to null out the “camp” element is via education. Looking at the history of severe weather, there really aren’t any trends at all. Both the IPCC and The Journal Nature say this clearly, but activists persist in trying to link severe weather and CO2 driven “climate change” because since temperature increases have paused for about 15 years, it is all they have left. But even that doesn’t hold up when you study the data history:
See this image from Dr. Roger Pielke Jr
There is also some peer-reviewed analysis which goes into some depth on this subject. This analysis concludes that "there is no evidence so far that climate change has increased the normalized economic loss from natural disasters."
Oilprice.com: Your message on climate change has been controversial among those who believe this issue is the gravest one facing us today. In what way do you think your message is misunderstood?
Anthony Watts: They think and promote that I’m categorically a “denier” in the pay of “big oil” (for the record, I’m paid nothing for this interview) in an effort to minimize my views, while ignoring the fact that I was actually on the proponent side of warming at one time. Now, I’d describe myself as a lukewarmer. Yes, it has gotten warmer, CO2 is partially a factor, but catastrophic predictions of the future just haven’t held up when you look at the observed data compared to the early predictions.
Oilprice.com: An article that recently appeared in The Independent said that public concern over climate change has slumped to a 20 year low. In fact, only 49% of people now consider climate change a very serious issue--far fewer than at the beginning of the worldwide financial crisis in 2009. Why do you believe this is and how do you see public perception changing in the future?
Anthony Watts: Most people aren’t stupid. When they can observe for themselves that the claims of the past 30 years aren’t adding up, and that the only ones left sounding the alarm are the activists, it tends to color one’s viewpoint.
Mother Nature will be the final arbiter of truth on this matter, and so far she simply refuses to cooperate with the claims that have been made about “catastrophic warming”. In addition, most people see climate change as something intangible--they can’t sense it, so they tend not to worry about something they can’t perceive.
Finally, many of the “solutions” that have been proposed are to increase taxes on energy, and even the simplest person knows that a tax won’t have any effect on the whims of Mother Nature. For example, efforts to reduce gasoline consumption for the supposed benefits this will bring to climate in California have succeeded, and now that gasoline tax revenue has declined, the state plans to increase it 3.5 cents in June. That’s certainly not a good way to reward people for reducing energy use. That voracious appetite for mandates of “consume less, tax more” turns people off to such causes.
Oilprice.com: Would it be fair to say that the debate has taken on “religious” proportions?
Anthony Watts: Yes, because like some religious issues, facts don’t seem to matter to true believers much anymore. The graph of global weather-related disaster losses from Pielke Jr. and the recent editorial in Nature where they say “Better models are needed before exceptional events can be reliably linked to global warming,” haven’t made a dent in many believers’ efforts to turn regular everyday weather events into something they claim should be feared as part of “climate change”.
We think we’ve come so far from the dark ages where people feared the weather as the work of demons and witches, yet here we are today with an nearly identical argument where demons and witches have been replaced with energy companies.
Oilprice.com: You’ve spoken at length about urbanization and the “heat sink” effect. Can you explain how this does or does not tie in to the overall concept of global warming?
Anthony Watts: It is rather simple physics really. First, let’s draw on personal experience. Anyone who has ever stood near a brick wall that was exposed to sun during the day can feel the heat radiating off it at night. That’s the heat sink effect for the energy from sunlight, and it is re-emitted as Long Wave Infrared (LWIR) at night, which has the propensity of heating the air near the surface due to its interaction at the molecular level with water vapor, CO2, and other gases. That’s the basis of the greenhouse effect.
Our society has metamorphosed from mostly rural agrarian to one with a great amount of modern infrastructure in the last century. While cities certainly have more infrastructure, so do even our small towns. Readers that grew up in small towns 30-50 years ago can surely note the addition of infrastructure by their own personal experiences. This infrastructure is primarily asphalt, steel and concrete, all of which will absorb solar energy during the day and re-emit it at night as LWIR, warming the local environment near the heat sink.
The issue that I have documented--thanks to a new weather station siting rating system from Michel Leroy and endorsed by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)--is that weather stations with a greater surface area of such heat sinks within their thermometer view shed (~10 meters radius) tend to have a warmer temperature trend for the past 30 years. The signal manifests itself primarily at night by elevating the minimum temperature, which in turn elevates the average temperature.
Oilprice.com: And is there any coherent data out there that would demonstrate how much of the rise in temperatures over the last 100 years is a result of carbon dioxide?
Anthony Watts: I think what is left of the signal--i.e. the trend from the compliant weather stations that don’t have heat sink effects--can be attributed to CO2. That value appears to be half of what NOAA claims.
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Oilprice.com: Ultimately, then, do we have the ability to accurately determine how much of global warming is attributed to man-made causes and how much is evolutionary climate change, so to speak?
Anthony Watts: Again, as Dr. Judith Curry says, climate is a “wicked problem”. Separating the definitive signals from the noise is a real challenge, especially when the signals are so small. In my view, the uncertainty is larger than the signals being coaxed out of the noisy data.
Oilprice.com: With all of this in mind, what should we be doing to address global warming? What SHOULDN’T we be doing?
Anthony Watts: I think on the issue of energy-related CO2 right now, energy conservation and energy efficiency efforts will bring the most gains. Wind and solar require fossil fuel backups to manage their inconsistent energy production, which changes with the whims of weather, so they really aren’t making much of a dent.
For the long term, I think we need more efficient uses of the fossil fuel-based energy we harness now, perhaps with more emphasis on cleaner natural gas, combined with a long-term better nuclear energy program, one that adopts a method that doesn’t have long-term radioactive waste storage issues. A Thorium-based rather than Uranium-based reactor program would address this problem, and China has already started this because the Chinese have the long view.
Thorium reactor designs have been around since the beginning of the Atomic Age, but they were discarded in favor of the Uranium designs due to the availability of refined Uranium as part of the burgeoning nuclear weapons programs initiated world-wide.
Thorium reactors are a much cleaner way forward to a stable electrical energy supply in my opinion, and maybe in 50-100 years, we’ll finally get fusion to work in a way that gives us a production level net gain, and by then fossil fuels for electricity generation will be a thing of the past. In the meantime, we just need to have the courage to take it slow and steady, rather than panicking about “catastrophic climate change”, which clearly isn’t happening.
Oilprice.com: Are there any genuine environmental concerns about the Keystone XL pipeline? Are there genuine long-term climate concerns over this pipelines dirty tar sands content? What about other concerns—like the dubious methods being used by TransCanada to acquire private land in Texas, for instance?
Anthony Watts: Well, here’s the thing: That oil is going to be burned no matter what. Either it ends up in the US via Keystone XL, or it ends up in China and India via a West coast pipeline through Canada if Keystone is rejected in the US. The line in the tar sands environmentalists are drawing over KXL isn’t going to make a bit of difference to the use of the oil and its effects on climate. The environmental protests are all for show and without substance.
Oilprice.com: On your blog, you posted the results of an LSU study suggesting that “Snowball Earth”—an event 635 million years ago in which Earth was covered by ice—was real and that this was reversed by an ‘ultra-high carbon dioxide atmosphere’. The basic premise of the study is: “The story is to put a time limit on how fast our Earth system can recover from a total frozen state. It is about a unique and rapidly changing post-glacial world, but is also about the incredible resilience of life and life’s remarkable ability to restore a new balance between atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere after a global glaciation.” How can this contribute to the on-going climate debate?
Anthony Watts: The Earth is resilient and self-regulating--just look to the past to see how it has self-stabilized. It has a built-in thermostatic mechanism and the temperature has been remarkably constant during the recent Holocene, though it was warmer in the past. Via technology, we can always apply ways to keep cool, but we really can’t get out of the way of advancing mile-thick ice sheets when the next ice age starts making an appearance. I think we worry about the wrong problem; cold is the biggest threat to humanity, not warmth.
Oilprice.com: You call yourself a “pragmatic skeptic” when it comes to the concept of global warming. What makes your skepticism pragmatic?
Anthony Watts: I believe it is happening and always have since 1988 when I first saw Dr. James Hansen make his pitch before the Senate. Though later, I discovered it was ginned up with some stagecraft. (seen in this video). CO2 is certainly a factor, but the issue has been oversold, and in many cases the solutions to limit CO2 are far worse than the problem to begin with. Humans have adapted to changing climate for millennia. The idea that we have to maintain a static climate is patently absurd. One of the big oversells is the way CO2 in the atmosphere and its effects on returned heat are portrayed as a linear relationship, when the actual response of long wave infrared (LWIR) in the atmosphere is logarithmic and can reach a saturation point where additional CO2 has little additional effect. The Long Wave Infrared (LWIR) response to CO2 in the atmosphere is finite, once the effect is saturated, no further temperature gains will be possible.
Given that CO2 has a logarithmic, not linear effect in returning a portion of outbound LWIR energy to Earth’s surface, slowing the transfer to the top of the atmosphere, this suggests that a crisis of temperature from a doubling of CO2 is not likely. This low sensitivity near saturation is supported by the lack of observed warming at the surface for more than a decade. Why then do we need to act now?
So I’m pragmatic in the sense that yes, CO2 will heat the Earth somewhat, but by the time we get to full saturation we’ll have likely have moved on to other energy sources anyway. And, there seems to be some tangible benefits from a warmer planet, though activists only want to point out the negatives.
I was once very much sold on the idea that we needed to do something and do something fast. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that I started to question the issue because the data didn’t fit the claims. One piece of data that was a “light bulb moment” for me came from a small study published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society in 1996 by Jim Goodridge, former California State Climatologist.
I reasoned that if CO2 was the dominant effect as I was being told, why did population density matter to temperature?
Oilprice.com: Anthony, thank you for taking the time to speak with us.
Anthony has just published one of the most important posts in Watts Up With That history and strongly suggests you visit the following link: A bridge in the climate debate – How to green the world’s deserts and reverse climate change
James Stafford is the Editor of Oilprice.com
Even as the scientific evidence and our personal experience continues to tell us that climate change is happening, articles like this now promote the "wait and see" attitude so that the biggest emitters of greenhouse gas pollution can continue to wring profits from externalizing the cost of preventing and cleaning up the pollution they KNOWINGLY pump into our collective atmosphere.
More extreme weather, rising seas, and escalating risks to our health. That's what we can expect as climate change gets worse.
"More extreme weather": the IPCC has finally caught up with the skeptics and concluded that there are no detectable trends in extreme weather. Read last year's special report on extreme weather (IPCC SREX) and the draft chapters on extreme weather from the upcoming 5th Assessment Report (AR5).
"Rising seas": NOAA has reported in the last year that both the satellites and the tide gauges report a secular sea level rise of just over 1 millimeter per year -- less than 5 inches per century. In any practical sense, that is absolutely negligible.
"Escalating risks to our health": 25,000 more Americans die in an average winter month than summer month. Greenhouse warming, according to the theories, is supposed to warm the most where and when it is the coldest -- at night, in winter, and at high latitudes. So the biggest effect will be to reduce extreme (and killing) cold events.
The misconceptions of an impending climate catastrophe are deeply entrenched in some quarters as demonstrated by the first comment above. New studies are showing that the effect of CO2 on the climate has been significantly exaggerated.
Thanks Anthony for providing a more realistic viewpoint of what the future holds and for your continuing efforts in educating the public.
The much villified Anthony Watts is a soft-spoken, intelligent, modest fellow who didn't mention during the interview that he has solar panels on his roof, drives an electric car and lights his home with low wattage LED lights and has installed energy efficient systems and applicances. He probably has the smallest carbon footprint in the climate community from raging change-the-world lunatics to sceptics alike. He has no reason to change his thinking from no warming to warming ain't so bad. There has only been rhetoric, unscrupulous data torturing and cherry picking on the extremest warming side, so what would be motivating him to hedge. He devotes his blog to exposing this. His is one of precious few blogs that invites all to comment. His posting rules relate to decency and behavior,not ones persuasion or politics. You are free to remark as negatively as you like although you will be asked for support links. Give his site a visit and you are in for a surprising treat and a better education than University can offer. He covers all sides of the debate - there is no need for censorship- the gang of intelligent, scientifically literate regulars and thoughtful laypersons can handle any BS and shenanigans.
Also, he covers new technologies, discoveries in space,the animal kindom, and a host of non-climate type stuff.
oil is too good/precious to burn for energy
let's mass produce LFTRs (as kirk and others have mentioned)
it seems govts never tire of trying to frighten people and then point out that only they can save them...
if we have an issue let's be open and honest about it
crowd-sourcing with incentive is a great way to solve the grand challenges
i just don't see the wisdom in putting bankers in charge of a global carbon derivatives/trading scheme as a solution
if we can use science(sci-method) to identify a problem, shouldn't we use it to address/answer it too?
just a thought
Check the facts, there are NOT more extreme weather events, despite the alarmist propaganda. They are just trying to use weather to scare people who just blindly accept what the media says.
There are less hurricanes, tornadoes. The IPCC, saints or the alarmists say there is no clear trend linking severe weather to CO2 induced warming. I can find the link if your Google skills are not up to it.
The seas have been rising since records have been kept for hundreds of years, and geological records since the last ice age. The point is that the rate of rise is NOT accelerating as the alarmists would have you believe. (search University of Colorado and sea level in Google, and you will see the graph with no acceleration).
And what escalating risks to health are you talking about. Warmer weather means less deaths compared to cold temperatures. And there is more food.
Anthony's website is a mixture of facts and opinions of all flavors because he is open to all views if you are civil and bring data and value to the discussion. You should visit there and see how open to discussion they are-unlike realclimate of skepticalscience, where debate is shut down as they press their politically motivated agendas.
Anthony Watts is not a scientist. He spent years claiming the temperature record was unreliable, and collecting photos of meteorological stations to "prove" his case. Ultimately, when he enlisted some friendly experts to conduct a proper academic exercise in statistical analysis, the result proved that what Anthony Watts had been saying for years wasn't just incorrect, it was diametrically opposed to the truth: the temperature record is reliable, AND, the "unreliable" stations he was complaining about were in fact giving a *cooling* bias to the temperature record.
Subsequently, Richard Muller's BEST research conclusively proved that what Anthony Watts has been saying for years was wrong.
Watts has not been able to face up to being wrong, he can't admit it, hence his not-so-subtle shifting of the goalposts from a "it's not happening" stance to a "it doesn't matter" stance.
Somebody who can't admit they are wrong, who conducts no science research of his own (doesn't even have a science degree), and who is in the pay of professional misinformation merchants the Heartland Institute is absolutely *not* somebody whose opinions on climate change carry any worth whatsoever.
In any event, science degrees are often over-rated. I have an applied science degree and I can tell you that many of the worst morons I've ever met, I met at university.
CO2 alone, even if its atmospheric concentration were to double from whatever source, can bring about only a 1.2 deg.C increase in global temperatures- bringing us back up to the pleasant conditions of the Medieval Warm Period when civilisation emerged from the colder Dark Ages and flourished. If the positive feedbacks of the Alarmist camp actually existed, past warm periods would have pushed us into oven-like Venusian conditions long ago.
It didn't happen. Therefore the Alarmist premise is clearly wrong. End of story.
The Alarmist position, as described out of their own mouths, is that a pause in warming of more than 15 years would show with 95% certainty that the computer climate models are wrong. There has been no statistically-significant warming for longer than 15 years. Therefore, again, the Alarmist premise is wrong.
The latest Alarmist position is to conflate any extreme weather event with man-made climate change, and yet the data show no such connection. In fact hurricanes and severe tornadoes have declined as CO2 has risen.
Yet again, the Alarmist premise is demonstrably wrong.
What else do you need?
Besides the fact government is alarmist:
1. There is a history of ice ages-not a burn up.
2. Al Gore-proven in court he lied.
3. The Team would rather destroy the data than release it with FOIA demands.
4. The Team will keep research out even if it means redefining peer review.
5. The Team has to hide the decline.
6. Gleick lied and stole for the cause.
7. Alarmists are paid well to talk the talk but they don't walk the walk.
9. Nothing good is said about CO2.
That's some of my reasons for not accepting the doom and gloom.
For those who are seeking the best forum to discuss your ideas and thoughts stop by http://www.wattsupwiththat.com
Join the conversation.
They discuss the weather or whatever.
We all have so much more to learn.
You couldn't be wore wrong about Anthony Watts's data or his reaction to the BEST results.
During the inception of the BEST study Anthony was more than a bit apprehensive about Dr. Muller using an incomplete record of his data. He decided to provide his Surface Station Project findings at the time as a service to science in general.
His complete findings show not only a strong UHI in effect in urban areas, but also that NOAA's adjustments to the temperature record are inverse to reality (well-sited station temps have been adjusted upward to match poorly-sited trends).
You should really give WUWT a read before making assumptions about the man and his work.
=Errr, nice try Craig Thomas. BEST had to use a start up "science" journal to get published. They had to go with SciTechnol Vol 1, Issue 1. Really? This is what's known as "Pal Review". =
You leave it open to interpretation, but I guess you imply that BEST is so wrong that it couldn't get published, right? But maybe the results were just so uncontroversial - and indeed they were - that they didn't merit the publication.
That reminds me to ask you: which journals have published Watts' papers?
(Stretches arms with smug grin) "Aaaaaah we win the debate as always :)
Wait, it must be the complete lack of a mid tropospheric hotspot disproving positive feedbacks and proving the climate models wrong.
Wait, I've got it, it's the fact that the mediaeval Warm Period was hotter than today.
It could of course be the 800 year lag where CO2 rise follows temperature rise in the ice cores (no amount of fiddling averaging northern and southern hemispheres to create a statistical trick will change that)
Perhaps it's the fact that solar activity and cloud cover correspond with climate in the record.
Stop me if I getting warm, oh wait....all I'm going to get is negative feedback, so I guess I'm not.....just like the climate.
Perhaps you would be well advised to review Ross McKitrick's referee report on the Wickham et al. submission to GR, coauthored by Mueller, before you make any further comments regarding A. Watts.
The report on Wickham and Mueller's Berkley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) analysis titled "Influence of Urban Heating on the Global Temperature Land Average Using Rural Sites Identified from MODIS Classifications," is available at
McKitric's review was thorough, cogent and damning.
Please note BEST analysis was rejected for publication be GR due to the contradictions, substantial procedural and theoretic inadequacies described by Mckitrik.
Craig, It is quite telling that one who implies the "BEST" analysis as disproving in any way research conducted by Watts et al. clearly has no capacity for scientific skill assessment.
The math associated with the BEST report was excellent; however, the downfall of that report was its utilization of the misleading surface station readings, readings that Watts revealed in his survey of them which showed the temperatures to be biased by UHI.